Saturday, December 31, 2011

This One Doesn't Warrant A Name

Well it happened again. I let myself get busy. I hope you all had a relatively stress free holiday season. This one is going to be a short post. An interesting thought came to me yesterday and I just want to share it.

My first response to hurting someone or something is to avoid that person or thing. So if I get in an argument with a friend and upset them, I do my best stay away from them. When I mess up a transaction a work, my tendency is to want to leave the counter and go in the back. I've never given this pattern much thought until recently. I realized that I do the same thing with God, and I think a lot of people do. When we do something that we feel or even know that God is displeased with, we avoid him. Innate human reaction dictates that we run from it. My thought was this: at what point would we not run from God? When we're absolutely perfect? That was my first assumption, but as I thought about it more, I rejected that notion. If we were perfect people we would not need God at all. He sent a savior for the broken and hurting; for imperfect people. Why would we need help if we were perfect?

I truly believe that in the the time following our failures, we all turn to something for solace. I also believe that God is keenly aware of this trend and opens his arms as wide as they can stretch. Why then do we run? Would a dehydrated runner turn away from a glass of water? I've been there and no they would not. Neither should we turn.

I would like to share something that I've been working on lately. I think it applies. It's part of an Ellison's Cage song. I actually haven't shown the other guys in the band this yet (sorry boyos...), so feel special:

I wish the oceans weren't so deep when the rains came.

I wish my thoughts weren't buried so deep inside my brain.

I wish this house wasn't cold all winter long.

I wish I had the nerve to sing another song.

But we all change.

In ways we cannot understand.

We all grow.

Like a grain of sand becomes a pearl.

I don't have much more to say, I just wanted to share a thought. I hope that we all learn to accept outselves as God does and understand that every failure is a blessing in disguise. I pray you each have a safe, blessed new years.

(As always, thank you for joining me here. I typed this on my phone so please overlook and typos :) hit me up on my new Twitter name @MattHillEC.)

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Trees and People

Hey everyone! Sorry that it's been so long since I posted anything. I've been  pretty busy with life, but here we are again; together in the virtual world of words. That was weird, I apologize. I feel like words are oxygen to me, and I feel like I've been holding my breath lately. So allow us to breathe together and perpetuate the lovely lives that we lead. That had nothing to do with today's topic by the way.

Here we go for real now. Lately I've been noticing that a lot of areas of my life have been thriving on stop and start patterns. What I mean is that I have a tendency to dig my toes into something, and then jump right back out; get excited about something else, and then drop it; over and over again I fall short of the longevity that I need to continue these things. I am grateful that I've gained the cognizance to realize that this pattern is forming, but still I lack the understanding necessary to climb out of this hole. I'll be honest with all of you guys, I'm kind of struggling with this right now. Most of the writers and blogs that I follow tend to propose answers and theories, and I partake in my fair share of that, but today I really don't have any answers. Only questions.

Did you know that it takes a minimum of 70 years for pine trees to reach maturity? Some take up to 250 years. I'll admit that I did not know this until I just googled it. That is an impressive fact to me though. I commonly look at trees and marvel at the fact that such huge, dense creatures came from mere seeds that could rest easily in my palm. I wonder how many people looked at those trees before they reached their prime though? How many eyes brushed over them as they slowly reached their potential. 70 years is a very long time. In the time that a baby is born, grows up, grows old, and subsequently passes away, a pine tree has only just begin to live. And some take 3 lifetimes to reach the age at which they can begin to thrive. Want to know something else interesting about pine trees? I knew you would (or you're questioning whether this blog has any point and you're considering getting on Facebook, and I understand.) The tap roots in pine trees often grow between 5 and 10 feet down into the ground, and can grow up to 20 feet downward if the conditions are right. The support and nutritional systems of these trees are largely unseen. I think there are some powerful parallels that can be drawn between those trees and my own life. If, over the next few minutes, you find that my extrapolations from tree life to real life are going off the deep end, feel free to stop reading. Let it begin...

Sometimes I think that I pretend to be a fully-grown tree when my roots are only a few inches deep. Imagine a 50 foot pine tree whose roots were only 5 inches deep. It would only take minutes for the wind to topple a giant tree that was loosely rooted in a few inches of soil. This idea seems silly to me, yet I choose to root myself so shallowly in my own life. I pretend to be a mature tree and I reach for lofty places, but I ignore the fact that even the slightest breeze can offset my balance and bring me down. To hone back in on reality, let me put it this way: I get excited about pursuing God seriously, or being more productive in Ellison's Cage, or even taking more initiative at my job, which are all very good things to long after, but again and again I seem to jump into the thick of things and then choke out. I reach for the heavens in my faith walk, but fall back into sin as soon as temptation arises. I set goals for writing songs, but succumb to the draw of tv or going to the movies. I resolve to sell more at work, but take every chance I can get to sit down and waste time. My intentions seem to be grounded in truth and sincerity, but I lack the patience to dig my roots deep enough to sustain my ventures. Maybe I don't even fully understand how to go deeper in my roots. I wrote last month about change, and I think I am beyond wanting to change right now in my life. I can see change so clearly, but it's behind bullet-proof glass and all I have is a water pistol.

How can I focus on digging deeper into the soil of life instead of reaching for high goals? This is where I am right now. It's midnight, I'm tired, I am uncomfortably cold for some reason, and I don't have an answer. For a lot of years I thrived on words and always having something to say, but I've come to learn that words are like cars sometimes; they can run out of gas. I feel like I've made some significant steps to overcome the downfalls I experienced this year, but still I want something more; something deeper. 

To be honest again, I have no plan for the rest of this blog; I'm just writing what comes to heart. Ernest Hemingway said "Write hard and clear about what hurts." Sometimes it's a good approach, sometimes it becomes rambling. I feel like I've used that quote before, but it still remains true. I just searched "deeper" in my bible app on my droid (I wonder what Jesus thinks modern conveniences) and came up with this: "They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built." (Luke 6:48) The part that sticks out to me is where it says "Dug down deep." That implies effort. Have you ever dug straight down into the earth? It reminds me of a time I was helping a friend wire the electricity for a house and we had to dig a round hole to place a power pole in. It's incredibly difficult to dig straight into the ground. Lots of effort was required, and progress was made very slowly. To again extrapolate, what does digging down deep mean in my life? I think it means that there is a lot of dense, hard material that is covering up the place that my foundation needs to be. There are some emotions and some scars that are most likely inhibiting me from being solid. I thank God even right now that he forgives my misgivings and mistakes, and that he understands my difficulty, and I pray for strength to remove that which blocks me from knowing him deeper.

Patience seems to be pretty key to this process. I cannot become firmly rooted overnight. It is going to take time and it is going to take effort. A fact about trees that sticks out to me in hindsight is that they don't all grow at the same rate. I know I already said this, but it can take anywhere from 70 to 250 years for them to reach maturity. I think I am on the long end of the spectrum. It takes me a while to grow, but deep down I am growing. I hurt for those of us who have a hard time appreciating small steps, and who judge ourselves very harshly. It is a flaw of mine, and I know other people struggle with it as well. So know that these words are about my own journey, but are meant for many different people. I want to end with a few words to our heavenly Father:

God, you know that I love you, and you know that I struggle. Give me and give us all the strength to see beyond the here and now into the days to come. Help us to put in the effort needed to build our foundation deep and firmly upon you, all the while appreciating and learning from each step in the process. Help us to love you and love one another. Amen.

P.S. This is unrelated to the post, but I am doing an experiment if any of you would like to participate. All you have to do is share this blog with one friend who has never heard of it before and encourage them to read a post. I am writing a post around the experiment, and I'll explain it further then. I'd appreciate your help :) 

(Thanks for reading my rambles today. I love and pray for you all. You can find me on Twitter at @matthewormand if you want to chat.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

10 Days Project

This post is going to be a little bit different. I just want to share with you all a project that I have been working on called 10 Days. It is a fiction project and this is just a small part of it, and is not indicative of the whole, but let me know what you think of it!

Fog. Breath that becomes condensed and inhibits vision when formed on visors. Why am I looking through a visor? Suddenly I can see and hear and feel so many new things all at once and I cannot remember how I came to be in the place in which I now am. I don't even know where I am. I have no point of familiarity around which to formulate an idea as to where I now find myself. A calm sensation washes over me, but I know panic is not far off. Have you ever heard of people who wake up from sleep walking in strange places and have no idea how to react? I think that's happening to me right now. My senses are on overload. 

All I can see is a muddy path with hardened ruts that stretches on for miles. There's a dead smell in the air. My helmet must have an air filtering system as I can distinguish smells, but it also appears to be thoroughly sealed. I don't even know what air filtering systems are come to think of it. My vocabulary is adapting to whatever delusional experience I am currently in. I know that I am wearing a full body suit to accompany my helmet. How cute. I bet I look fantastic to the people walking towards me. There are people walking towards me! Maybe they can inform me of where I am. I try to speak out, but my mouth refuses to form words or sounds. I want so badly to call out to them. They are closer now. They look intimidating actually. Objects foreign to me adorn their suits. Weapon-like instruments are in their hands. Fear twinged with panic explodes through my veins into my brain as the figures draw ever closer. They could hurt me. They could kill me. Whatever system that is in charge of my respiratory processes fails me. My new body is receiving no oxygen, or whatever substance I am breathing. My vision becomes unclear and I stumble to my knees just as the two solemn creatures march deliberately past me. I can see the dull, metallic greens and grays of their uniforms. Their boots are so close to me that I am afraid of being trampled. Then they are gone. I didn't even receive a glance from them. Is it possible that they missed me? Of course not. I had been directly in their line of sight for the better part of 45 seconds. Why did they not stop to help me? Oh well, at least they didn't hurt me.

I struggle to regain my composure, pull my self to my feet, and keep wandering down the path with a heightened sense of awareness. As I walk, I begin to take notice of my surroundings. Barren wasteland dominates my entire view. There is no vegetation of any sort. No animals. No water. Nothing at all. The sky is devoid of life. The clouds are so low that I feel claustrophobic. All around me seems to have had the life sucked out of it. I am looking at the hollow skeleton of a world. I can remember watching black and white TV shows with my mother as a child and secretly thinking that they looked depressing, but not understanding why. I originally thought it was due to the lack of modernity, but now I realize it could simply be attributed to a lack of color. Where color is, there is joy. And the same can be said of the opposite. Oddly enough, I think I smell just a hint of salt in the air. There doesn't seem to be any signs of an ocean or salt water anywhere. Strange. I must have been imagining it.

Suddenly. I glance up and an old woman dressed in the same suit as the first two men is only three feet away from me. Startled, I quickly sidestep to my left to avoid a collision. How did I miss her? She seems to have appeared out of nowhere, and as she ambles through the spot at which I stood only seconds before, she too fails to even so much as look in my direction. I need to run back towards her to get her attention, but when I turn around she has vanished. Frustration consumes me. All I want is to be noticed by someone so they can help me. I take off at a brisk jog down the path in search of someone else. I see a group of five or six figures emerge over the horizon, and I take off at a full sprint towards them. It is only now that I realize how heavy my own suit is. It appears to be completely made of ancient steel. It creaks and groans as I urge it to move faster. At one point it must have been painted a vibrant red, but the aftermath remaining is something more like a rusty, dull red with many silver spots showing through the decaying paint. It fits in nicely with the lack of color all around me. My legs feel as heavy as my suit as I close in on the people. I wave my arms frantically, but all of them keep advancing towards me an a constant pace. None of them appear to be speaking to one another. They all have on the same greenish suits as everyone else I have seen. I wonder why mine is a different color. They are close now. Very close. How can they not see me? They must see me. They are all playing a terrible joke on me. They are mere feet from me now. I refuse to budge. Hit me if they must, but I am going to contact someone. Right before the crash into me, I can see into the first figures visor. It is perfectly reflective. I see the cold, dank landscape around me, but something is missing. I cannot pinpoint it at first. The dirt and clouds and sky are all there. It hits me hard and disturbingly. My reflection is not there. Somehow his helmet left me out of its reflection. It is as if I don't exist to him. Then, suddenly, my thoughts are interrupted by a different sensation. I feel a deathly cold so deep in my soul that I cannot describe it. An emptiness the likes of which I have never felt rakes through my body. I again am unable to breathe. Something is happening to me, but I don't know what. And they are gone. They walked right through me. They and I occupied the exact same space at the same time. How is that possible? It's like they stole my space. I spin around, but like the old woman, they are nowhere to be seen. It feels like the figure stole part of me when he walked through me.

Wildly, I tear myself from the path and careen into the wide open space in search of something. Absolutely anything; a rock, a deviation in the footing, a poisonous snake to bite and kill me. My lungs are screaming at me to slow down, but I refuse to acknowledge the pain and continue at a breakneck speed. Eventually I am forced to concede and sink to the path. The path? I left the path two minutes ago. It is impossible that I am still on it. I jump to my feet and spin around frantically trying to piece together what is happening to me. I see only one path; stretching out in a straight line forever. Panicing, I run completely perpendicular to the path off towards nothing. I want to be away from this place. It seems empty and expansive at the same time. Both terrifying and terribly dull. Ordinary but completely foreign. My eyes briefly find the sky. It looks exactly the same; low, pressing clouds that threaten to pour down rain or hail or whatever they were holding. I would love for a change in the weather. But like every other element of this dreadful place, the sky is taunting me. I know there will be no change. My eyes drift back down. I again see the same, rut-infested, dirty path. This is impossible. I curse at the hollow, empty sky. I feel like I am in a science fiction movie where the laws of time and space have been altered, and I have no power to control or even understand this place. Tears come. I cannot stop them. I am devastated, scared, hopelessly lost. Lost isn't the right word. I have no frame of reference to even be lost. I'm misplaced. A growing sense of panic builds in my stomach. This world seems so big and overwhelming, so I lay face down on the horrid ground.

How long I lay here I cannot determine. It feels like seconds. But the seconds feel like months. I feel like when I stand up I should be the same person, and an old woman at the same time. Rather when I pull my head up, I see a mirror. Life floods my body. It is the first bit of familiarity that I have experienced here. I pull the reflective surface closer and peer into it. What I see makes no sense. I see a tree; healthy and large; on a hill. All around it is an expansive meadow. Flowers and plants of so many colors that I cannot distinguish them all make up the scenery. It looks like a melting pot of artful landscaping. So incredibly many different things, yet they all come together in tasteful harmony The sky is magnificently blue. Almost like a picture of the ocean out of a travel brochure. The sight is breath-taking. All of the plants and flowers are pointed at the huge tree. Under the boughs of the tree I can see children playing on some sort of structure. At first I cannot make out what it is, but as I continue to stare it comes into focus. It is a fort built of metal. The pieces are a reddish color. They appear to have once been a vibrant red, but the years have taken their tole on them. The pieces are not very large. Perhaps they once made up a small vehicle. Or maybe a piece of furniture. Or a suit that could be worn to protect someone from that which they feared. Nevertheless, the pieces seem to have found their perfect place. They are indeed messed up, but beautifully constructed at the same time in a structure on which the children are enjoying themselves. One of the children points at the fort and then points towards me. Surely he can't see me can he? Maybe he can. It is a penetrating gesture. I feel like he is touching my heart and soul. Then all too soon, the scene vanishes, replaced by my current surroundings. Again, I cannot see my reflection.

I let my head sink back onto the hard ground. I will lay here until I die. What did that mirror mean? I cannot get over the haunting gesture and stare of that small child. Suddenly the ground is now shaking violently, which forces me out of my mind and back to my weary feet. What now? What more could possible go wrong in this god-forsaken wasteland. When I finally stand up, what I see is horrifying. There are more people in suits. Hundreds of people in suits. Probably thousands. An army is advancing on me. I'm so confused and tired that I cannot process what to do. Their footsteps thunder across the still ground towards me. I want so badly to lay down and be trampled, but I can't even seem to manage that. So I stand and await. As they come upon me, everything goes into slow motion. I don't mean that it feels like slow motion, things are literally moving by at a snail's pace. I am slowly surrounded by as many people as I have ever seen in one single place before. Seconds are thick liquid pouring down over me. I struggle to avoid being trampled, but it isn't necessary. I can simply step out of the way of these slow-moving warriors. The scene is actually comical. I risk a glance at a visor. No reflection. I am still not real to them. I meander about through the crowd observing these people. They are all equally stoic. None of their visors reflect me, and none of the seem to know I am there at all, yet as I move, they constantly reposition themselves so that I am in the center of them. It is as if they are trying to attack me, but they cannot see me. 

Without warning life speeds up significantly. Figures are running by me at incredible speeds. Colors blur into a scene made by an artist who used far too much paint, but all sound cuts out. Where is the sound? Why can't I hear anything at all? Violently I am knocked to my knees. I quickly try to get up, but am knocked right back down. I can't move. I reach up but my arms are swallowed in the people. My stomach is in knots with panic. I need out. All around me, these warriors are closing in further and further. My breath comes in choppy spurts. I can feel my mind slipping into unconsciousness. I am so closed in. I can't move at all. I can't think. I can't feel.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Don't Waste Pain

I recently heard a really interesting quote from a lady at the church I attend. Those of you who go to the same church that I do will recognize it. She said, "God doesn't waste pain." The simplicity of that statement is marginally misleading I think. There is a lot of depth packed into those four words, and they have led me to many thoughts that I cannot ignore. It entails that pain is currency. Pain can be spent and used for things that are inherently good, and God is a wise spender. While going through pain is obviously not ideal and is avoided in most cases, the outcome can lead to things that we cannot imagine. So is pain good? I'm not making that claim, or at least I don't think that I am going to make that claim; I just want to take an honest look at this very insightful observation. 

I am not sure if I fully understand the idea yet, but I can't get it out of my head so I decided  to write about it now. Let's think about it and discover it together. I'm no stranger to pain. I've done some pretty stupid things in my life, and have faced some pretty bleak circumstances. I know that God never planned for me to deviate from his path, yet I think it is entirely possible that he can use each and every mistake that I have made and every hardship I've encountered to strengthen his plan for my life. If I could go back and redo some things, I would definitely choose different routes, but time travel is unfortunately impossible. Instead I want to be able to embrace the negative parts of my past and allow them to be crafted into a story that I can share with people who have faced similar struggles. 

So how does pain become something bigger? Something beautiful? I would be lying if I claimed to understand that conundrum in its entirety. I cannot speak for anyone else, so I'm just going to look at my own story, and see if I can find the beauty through the pain. So here is a little look into my life. As I said, I've struggled with a lot of different things in my life. I've written here about my struggles with understanding God and who he truly is, and in the segments of my life where I walked away from God, I found myself in some very dark places. For a long time, I didn't believe that God was real. I resigned to face life alone, and whatever circumstances came along I would deal with. I separated myself from everyone that I was close to in an effort to forget God, but what resulted was a deep loneliness. A loneliness that I tried to fill with worldly things; Sex, alcohol, lust. Anything and everything that the world assured me was the gateway to wholeness, but I never found anything that felt deep or real. So many things in this life thrive on surface level connections, but fail to establish any sort of solid foundation. It's like a farmer planting all of his crops in soil that is only an inch deep. It might appear that all is well, but there is simply not enough earth to sustain bountiful crops. The same goes for what I was looking for. One of the darkest nights of my life was the night that I realistically considered the possibility of ending my life. I'm not trying to be dramatic or squeeze sympathy out of anyone, I just want to paint a picture of what I've faced. It has been a painful journey. Some days I think of all the people I've hurt and used up along the way in order to feel good. Or to feel anything. It's disheartening to say the least. I am fully aware that many people have faced far worse than I have, and I'm not downplaying people who have faced less than I have, I only want to establish my story so we can look at it. 

The journey home was long. Actually it IS long; it's far from over. Admitting that I was at fault and that I needed people to stand beside me and help me was not an easy task for me. But slowly over time, I became aware that I could not continue to live alone. It was killing me, and it was killing those who were trying to reach out to me. So there's a little bit of my story. I'm still not where I need to be. I don't think I ever will be, nor do I think anyone can be. A restlessness for continual change is healthy and necessary in an adapting world. I never want to find myself in a state of complacency.

How do we go from that story back to the fact that God never wastes pain? I think the best way is to share where I'm at now. I had a conversation with my parents not too long ago wherein we discussed reaching people. My mom said something that really affected me. She made the point that the circumstances we have faced affect who we are called to reach. Maybe all the months and years of searching that I did will one day help me share my story with other people who are and have been searching. It was such a revolutionary idea to me. The idea that not a single moment in our life is wasted. Every second that we are alive is part of our story. The band that I play in is planning some big things for this upcoming year, and I know that sharing our individual stories and our collective story is going to factor into everything that we do. That is where I feel called to go, and I am aware that some of the people I meet will be in need of hearing a story like mine. I think of a good friend that I met at one of the first shows our band played. I really connected with him and he began to open up to me that he struggled with understanding God. Over the course of the last year I've seen him grow in his faith, and have had the chance to have some very deep and meaningful conversations with him. I cannot wait to see that story replicated over and over again as I move into my future. 

As I've said before, I understand that some people who read the stuff on this site believe in God, and some do not. And, as always, I welcome you all here. I really feel like someone who reads these words needs to hear them in a special way today. Maybe some of you need to share this message with a friend who needs it. Whatever the case, know that these words are for you and that I care for each of you.

So is it worth it? Is it worth experiencing the pain in order to have the opportunity to see other people change? For me it is. That is not a conclusion that I came to lightly. It took a long time for me to see that God is not random. He has a plan more intricate and elaborate than we can fathom, and every second of our lives is part of it. Every high and every low will someday make sense and will someday be useful in sharing our stories. Don't lose faith at the sight of pain. I can be excited now that my pain is being transformed into something beautiful. It's the shadows that prove that sunshine exists, after all. On occasion, we have to see the negative elements that accompany a lack of God to realize how good it is when he is close. Sometimes we need to be content with not understanding, and be excited for the stories we will one day be able to tell.

(Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day. Follow me on Twitter at @matthewormand.)