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The Confidence Man and The Burden of Belief

Lately, I’ve slipped. The blog has been neglected. I have more stories to tell, but it’s been hard to gather myself to write and post. I’m scattered most of the time. Not that I was ever the most grounded person, but I’m worse lately. Granted, my wife and I have been stretched thin. Between Texas and what’s left of our lives back in Santa Fe, it’s been a strange time. We don’t know exactly where to be.

Well, that’s not really true. We know where we want to be, and that’s Texas.

We want to be home.

The problem is that we don’t know exactly where we want to live and what we want to do. Conveniently, my wife and I are going through a bit of a mid-life crisis at the same time. She has been on her journey and I ‘ve been on mine. Some days it’s difficult to depend on each other. There isn’t always a stronger party. We both feel shattered.

Bear with me, this probably isn’t going to be the most coherent of posts, but I’ll do my best to ramble as little as possible.

Life has been turned upside down since Ginger’s mother died. God has provided at every turn, but waiting on Him has been difficult, to put it mildly. To give you an idea of where I’m coming from, I want to fill in a little of what’s happened in the past couple of years.

I’ll be brief.

In August of 2008, the construction company that I had been with for almost seven years went under. That was scary at the time, but it turned out to be a blessing. On October 31st, 2008, my brother-in-law, Josh, moved in with us. He was 25 at the time. That proved to be a whole other layer of difficulty, although he has risen to his potential on so many levels. Frankly, it’s been a miracle to watch him change and grow. Anyway, I’ll talk about him some other time.

The day after Josh moved in, November 1st, my wife and I had to put our dog, Bear, to sleep. He wasn’t yet three years old, but he had a congenital defect and over the course of several months his health declined. He was still young, so when he would have his bad times, he would be able to rally. Ultimately though, he just had nothing left in the tank. Food wasn’t absorbing into his body. He was slowly starving.

At the end he could barely walk, much less eat. After going from vet to vet, and having test after test performed, we came to the conclusion that there was nothing left to do for him. I could ask no more of him. It was one of the worst days of my life. I still feel like I failed him. I could not make him better. I couldn’t take the pain away.

I know that some will say he was just a dog. Okay, that’s true, but I’ll say this: I loved him unguardedly. That may seem like an odd thing to say, but it’s true. For someone who has been so closed off with the majority of his human relationships, it was good to know that I had the capacity for letting the castle gate down over the mote. Bear was the beginning of something, I believe. An opening up. When he died it was devastating. I mourned for that dog. I was pissed at God for not doing anything. It’s taken a long time to get to where I can talk about Bear without tearing up.

Now, we have a new dog, Toto. We got him a little over a month ago. He’s no Bear, but no dog could be. He’s Toto. And that’s a good thing.

Sorry, I kind of got sidetracked, but that’s what life is, right? Sidetracks. If life were a straight line with no curves and no detours, what would be interesting about that?

Anyway, at the beginning of 2009, I started trying to lose weight. I’ve written about this before. At the time I started, I just wanted to feel better. I wanted to lose 20 lbs. I ended up losing 65 that year. I played tennis. I walked almost every day. I ate better. At the start of 2010, I took a full load at the Community College in Santa Fe. Photoshop. Photographing Artwork. Portfolio Development. Office Technologies. Something else, but it’s slipping my mind right now. The classes were geared to get me to embrace technology, but I also had a foggy notion of getting my art career off the ground. I mean, really trying to get my stuff out there. I had been somewhat of a go-getter in the early days, but after my museum show in 2003, I had done less and less to promote my work. The work kept piling up, but it didn’t go anywhere. Occasionally, I would sell a piece to a friend, but that’s it. When I began to take the classes in 2010, a funny thing happened. I lost my taste for painting. It didn’t happen overnight, but I noticed that I was becoming more interested in other mediums like photography.

And writing.

At the end of the year, I moved out of the studio. I had been in that building for close to ten years. In the process of moving out, I threw away four dumpsters full of work. It was intense. Hüsker Dü was in heavy rotation, blaring out of the speakers every day. Probably annoying the neighbors. I have a whole new appreciation for ‘Zen Arcade’ and ‘New Day Rising’ now.

I kept some paintings: all of the work from the museum show and some scattered pieces. I also kept almost every Confidence Man painting. This was my dark western self-portrait. It’s sort of like a graphic novel. I kept around sixty of them. When I was working on them, I didn’t know I was working on an autobiography. Everyone else that saw them seemed to know that, but they never told me. The paintings are good. I just wish someone else had done them. In my hands, they have little chance of seeing the light of day. They will sit in storage because I’m crouched in the corner licking my wounds. Nursing my defeat. I failed. That’s the way it feels. I’ve got nothing to show for all those years of my life.

What a waste.

Now, I write. The problem is that I start all these projects, but don’t follow through, now. I’m gun-shy. Anytime I think about continuing on the short stories I’ve started or the novel, or the screenplay, I think about the years I spent painting. All the hours and the commitment that I put into that. All for nothing. They sit in a storage unit. In a few weeks, I will remove them from that location and transfer them to a big red trailer. There, they will sit. Waiting for someone to rescue them from oblivion.

When I think of writing, I think of the dust collecting in the brushstrokes of those paintings. I don’t want that to happen again. But, it’s overwhelming. I tell people that I write now, and I’m embarrassed of what they will think. He’s on to something else, now. What a loser.

A couple of years ago, I read a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters. She wrote “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, a couple of novels and a bunch of astonishingly brutal short stories. She was a devout southern Catholic who raised peacocks. She died at 39. Within this large collection of correspondences, there are religious discussions, recounts of daily life, schedules of some of her upcoming speaking engagements, some advice to other writers and the occasional review. Flannery had wildly eclectic tastes in literature and was very forthcoming in her praise or damnation of other’s work. One particular review was of a new book by Martin Amis. She said that the book was rather weak and shallow. His first book had been noteworthy and interesting, she explained, but she probably would not pick up another. Her reason was that Amis seemed to be a man who was not “burdened with belief”. In other words, the struggle for faith had been conveniently removed from his work and when that happens, all that is left is surface.

Whether we choose to believe it or not, the search for something that is greater than ourselves is the central concern of mankind. It always has been. You can’t just take a black magic marker and blot out God. Well, you can, but you’re destroying what makes you human to begin with. It is built into our natures to seek for a higher power. We may settle for things that are less, but somehow we know it’s incomplete. U2 said it best in “Mofo”, I’ve been looking for a way to fill this God-shaped hole.

Exactly.

My character, the Confidence Man, was on this journey. Searching for a higher power, settling for something less. Much less, in most cases. The final painting that I worked on in that series featured the Confidence Man naked and passed out in a chair. A woman was lying in the small bed beside him, struggling to get up. I was imagining an opium den. The light in the painting is orange and oppressive. The brushstrokes slash. It was the first time I showed the Confidence man up close. There are no barriers. He is defenseless. I left him in that den. I left him with no salvation, no redemption, and no hope.

I left him in hell.

Why did I do that? Maybe I left him there because I felt that he deserved no better.

That wasn’t my plan. The Confidence Man, in truth, was a fictional imagining of the life of the thief on the cross. The one that was crucified beside Christ. The one who was told by Christ that he would be in Paradise later that day.

The man was a thief. That’s all the Bible says about him. And that’s the reason I chose the name for my character: the confidence man. It is a term that originated in the 19th century. A confidence man was a deceiver. It was shortened in later years to its more familiar form: con man.

Again, I ask myself, why did I abandon him? That’s not the end of the story. That’s not what’s supposed to happen.

Perhaps I just gave up on him.

The disturbing thing is that the Confidence Man seems to be my doppelgänger. And if that’s true, then what does that say about me? Have I given up as well? Have I given up on myself, like I gave up on him? Do I feel like I deserve no better than to be abandoned to the darkness? I feel like I have promoted myself to judge, jury and executioner. The sentence is death, or at least anonymity. I have cast myself into the outer dark.

 

I realize that this seems like a rather deep analysis of a character from a group of paintings that haven’t seen the light of day. But it’s more than that. I worked on those for almost five years. I got to know this guy. I got to know a little about myself as well. Eventually, all those paintings would make their way into the world at large. That’s what I thought would happen. But it didn’t.

 

Maybe this comes off as whining. I don’t know. But, for all those years I believed that I was on the road to something great. Something extraordinary. Perhaps I’m in the midst of it, but it doesn’t feel that way. It just feels like failure. I didn’t think that I would be some anonymous eccentric creating strange outsider art in his garage. I wanted more than that. Now, I feel like all I have left on the creative front is uncertainty.

Don’t get me wrong. This is my fault. The world didn’t fail to understand me, or anything like that. I quit trying. That’s it. And now, I can’t seem to shake this feeling that anything I do from here on out is bound to fail. This is a bad place to be. A dangerous place.

I have no answers, but I will say this: the Confidence Man deserves better from me.

I deserve better from me.

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Posted by on April 8, 2011 in The Burden of Belief

 

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You Forgot Something…(Hey Joe)

I was leaving the bank in front of Pier One when I saw Joe. He caught me by surprise, so I didn’t have time to pull over, park the car and get out. It was sometime in the afternoon. Still cold. This was in late January of this year. I eased the car over, rolled down the window and held out a five. He put his left hand on the car door and leaned into the car slightly.

“Here ya go, man,” I said.

“Hey, thanks,” he said and his hand lingered on the door and he kept looking at me.

Do I know this guy? I thought. What is he waiting for?

I couldn’t park and pray for this man. Cars were behind me and there was no way to pull off to the side.

“God bless you,” I said in weak consolation.

“You too,” he said and removed his hand from the window.

He was young. Maybe early thirties, maybe close to forty. It was a little hard to tell. He didn’t look to be as road weary as some of the other people I’ve met. I pressed the gas and threaded the Explorer into traffic.

Stopping at the traffic light at Zafarano, I kept trying to figure out if I knew this guy or not. He didn’t look familiar, but maybe his face just wasn’t clicking. His expectant look was gnawing at me though. Did he know something? Did he have some kind of intuition about me? That seems crazy, but so does praying for strangers on the side of the street.

Should I go back?

I already knew the answer to that.

I looked over my shoulder and eased into the lane to my right. Then I did it again. I knew I could make my way back if I turned at the Giant store. Traffic was getting to be heavy and it took me a few minutes, but I pulled into the lot by the Blue Corn Café and parked the car in front of Pier One.

I got out, walking towards this guy, feeling strange about coming back. At first he didn’t see me. Then a car honked and the man seated on the concrete in front of me returned the wave of the person in the car, who, I think honked because of the sign the seated man was holding; enigmatically, it said, You Dropped Your Smile. I hadn’t noticed it the first time I drove past.

When the man finally noticed me, a thin smile crossed his face. He didn’t appear to be confused by my reappearance. I think he knew I might return.

“So, I was told to come back here and pray for you,” I said with both hands stuffed into my pockets. Looking at his eyes, I was searching for a sign, or something, to tell me that I was supposed to turn around and come back here.

“Cool,” his watery blue eyes offering nothing but a greeting.

“I’m Chuck,” I said, trying to remain in the moment.

“My name’s Joe.”

“Nice to meet you, Joe.”

Joe was recently clean-shaven. He had dirty blond hair and dark, formerly black, jeans. He wore a black and yellow plaid shirt and a black jacket. I can’t remember what material the jacket was made of. Denim, maybe.

“Where you headed, Joe?”

“Not sure, I’ve been up in Cuba. You know, for the Rainbow Gathering?”

“Yeah…yeah, of course.”

Not Castro’s Cuba, New Mexico’s. It always throws me.

“I was there for a while, but I’ve been in New Mexico for about three years, I guess…”

Then Joe launched into a convoluted story about why he’d been in New Mexico for so long. His tale suggested that it wasn’t by choice and I recall it having a vague conspiratorial air to it. I don’t remember any of the details.

Joe had never gotten up during our exchange. He sat on the ground leaning against the stop sign, looking up at me. His short, dirty-blond hair gusting in the winter wind.

“Joe, do you mind if I pray for you?”

“Sure, that’d be cool.”

“Is there anything that you want me to pray for?”

“I guess…just in general. You know…everything.”

“Okay.”

I stood over Joe and prayed for him, my hand resting on his shoulder. Joe had bowed his head and placed his elbows on his knees. He looked to be staring at the concrete between his legs. Joe still held the sign; it rested on his bent legs while I prayed.

God help Joe. Let him know You love him. Help him find his way.

I patted Joe on the shoulder as I left, and once more told him that it was nice to meet him. Lingering a little, I suppose, thinking that I was going to receive some secret message. A word from God. Why else did I have to make such an effort to get back here?

Walking away, it struck me.

I had to come back for Joe. God wanted me to stand in the gap for him, even though I didn’t pray for anything in particular. It was for Joe. Not for me.

That’s easy to lose sight of. I’m constantly questioning God. Asking Him why I need to do something. What am I going to get out of this? Is this good for me? How am I going to be blessed? That day, I didn’t have choirs of angels of singing, simply because I obeyed. That never happens, anyway. What I got was a guy named Joe, a man sitting on the side of the road holding a sign.

I got the opportunity to pray for that man.

I got the opportunity to pray for another human being. Another soul.

There is no greater honor.

As I was still walking towards the car, Joe called out, “Hey!”

I turned around, and Joe held up his sign and pointed at it, grinning.

You Dropped Your Smile, the sign told me.

Joe lifted his hand and waved.

I waved back, and got in my car, smiling.

 

Thinking back on it, maybe I got my message after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in Joe

 

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Rocky and Bullwinkle

When I met these two, the sun had already gone down. Winter had truly set in and they were standing in front of Wal-Mart holding a sign. They were in their early twenties, at the most. They could have been teenagers. For the life of me, I cannot remember the guy’s name. Let’s call him Bullwinkle, which actually sort of fits.

You’ll see.

Bullwinkle was a thin, white kid with curly, dark brown hair. Think Harry Hamlin in “Clash of the Titans”. He wasn’t quite as strapping as Harry, but he was a good-looking kid. He wore a white shirt with thin blue stripes. In my mind he’s not wearing a jacket, but that can’t be right. It was cold that night. After several months, my memory of him is that of a kid who could be working at the mall. Maybe at a place like Hollister’s. You know one those kids wearing a flannel shirt that has the sleeves already rolled up for you.

 

Bullwinkle had a drum. It was a tom-tom, really. He was slowly beating it as the cars passed him, pulling out of the Wal-Mart parking lot. As I crossed the grass towards them, I began to be a little intimidated. I’m almost forty years and, I’m still spooked by kids who seem cooler than me. Adolescent pain runs deep, apparently.

 

What are these two numbskulls doing out here? I thought. I’ll bet they have a tattered copy of “On the Road” tucked somewhere in their packs. Is this some sort of traveling fantasy? The Great American Quest for the Self? This bitterness blazed through my head, and I felt like a fool. Self-defense had kicked in and within a few seconds, I had written off these two as silly children, in over their heads.

Even so, I held the money in my hand. This time, since there were two people, I pulled out a little more than five dollars. I believe that I had eight bucks. I gave them seven.

“How’s it going?” I asked as I handed the five and two singles over. I was trying hard to act casual.

“Wow, thanks man. We might have enough to get a room tonight,” he said as he looked over at his companion whose face was hidden within a furry gray hood pulled over her head. She was sitting on one of their bags. The sodium lights gave of all of us an orange glow, and the traffic light punctuated the scene with green, red and yellow.

Bullwinkle looked back at me, “Hey, man. How are things with you?” Bullwinkle threw my greeting back at me with a disarming openness. His eyes were unguarded and 100% focused on mine.

“Good…good. Where are you guys from?” I looked away from his gaze. My annoyance was beginning to dissipate.

I can’t remember what Bullwinkle said, but the girl stood up then and said, ”Utah.”

“What are your names?” I asked both of them, but I was looking at her. The girl was beautiful. Dark, olive skin. She could have been Hispanic. What was this girl doing on the streets? What were either of them doing out here? I didn’t think they were on a voyage of self-discovery anymore. These two were running from something. Or someone.

He told me his name, which, of course, I ‘ve forgotten. She said her name was Rocky. They said some vague things about the journey they were on, but I can’t remember a word of it. Then the conversation drifted to the Youth Hostel in Santa Fe. I was the one who mentioned that place. I was becoming more and more concerned with their safety. The idea of them being new inmates struck me. They were not hardened enough for this world, not matter what they thought. They were too fresh faced and, maybe not innocent, but inexperienced to say the least.

“That place is expensive. We tried to stay there last night. The Motel 6 was actually cheaper. It was crazy…” Bullwinkle said. He was becoming more animated and spacey as the conversation wore on.

“Really? That sucks…my wife and I were gonna stay there like ten years ago when we first rolled through town. They wanted us to do chores. I didn’t realize it was so expensive now. I guess that place is like everything else in Santa Fe, it’s not for the people who need it,” I said.

“Yeah…”

“Would it be okay if I prayed for you guys? I mean if that’s okay…” I asked.

“Sure, man, that’s cool. I feel like I’ve been praying for people, too. Every time someone passes by, I beat the drum for them and it’s like a prayer. So, I’m praying, too, ya know?” Bullwinkle said as he looked at all the cars passing us by, a goofy grin across his face.

“That’s cool…” Why not? Why does prayer have to be so rigid? I was smiling, too. The kid was loopy, but endearing. He still had these reserves of hope.

Rocky hadn’t said another word. She stood a few feet off to the side, unsure of me, I think. So, I went to grab their arms to start praying, but I didn’t realize that she was so far away. I retracted my right arm and held it to my side. She didn’t try to close the gap.

So I prayed, holding just Bullwinkle’s arm. I didn’t ask for prayer requests this time. But I made sure to pray for their protection. That, most of all.

As I walked back to my car, I was thinking about my studio. They could spend the night there, I guess. At the time, I still had it and it was close by. Of course, there wasn’t a bed, but they would be out of the weather and it had a heater.

But, I didn’t say anything. I had neighbors, and I just couldn’t drop off strangers to spend the night. Maybe I could have. I don’t know. They would have been in my space, I suppose, but it doesn’t matter, now.

When I got in my car, I looked back at them under the sodium light. Bullwinkle was beating his drum again and Rocky had returned to her seat. I drove past and waved and I think Bullwinkle gave his drum an extra few whacks as I pulled out onto Cerrillos.

 

So pray for these two.

Pray that God will protect them.

Pray that He will keep them out of the jaws of the enemy.

Pray that He will keep a watch over them.

 

Pray that He will show Rocky and Bullwinkle their place in this world.

 

Pray that He will show them the way.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2011 in Rocky and Bullwinkle

 

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Hey…I know that dude (Keith-part 3)

Out of all the people that I’ve met on the street, Keith is the only one that I have talked to more than once. In an earlier post about him, I said that I had prayed for him twice. Really, I’ve prayed for Keith three times. Strange, but it’s almost become a relationship. I have a feeling I’ll see him again.

Anyway, this post is about the second time that I stopped to pray for Keith. Actually, I wasn’t looking for him at all; I was chasing down some other guy so I could pray for him.

That day, as I pulled into the Sunflower Market on Zafarano, I noticed a young man sitting beside the entrance. He was playing a guitar and wearing a black fedora, a gray and white flannel shirt, black slacks and a black leather jacket. I think he may have been Native American. I passed him by and parked.

I’ll get him when I leave, I thought, I’m hungry.

My stomach was rumbling. I was there at the hippie-mart to get some lunch. Hunger won out over compassion. After I bought my Clif bar, banana and some trail mix, I sat in the car and ate. I had a good view of the guy from across the parking lot. While I listened to sports talk radio, I periodically glanced up at him through the dirty windshield making sure he didn’t leave.

To be honest, I felt awkward about this guy and this location. Sometimes it’s hard to know how receptive someone is going to be to a stranger’s prayer. The young ones give me the most anxiety. No one has ever refused prayer, mind you. This is in my head. But, on that day I was in the enemy’s camp. That’s probably not fair to say, but I was in the parking lot of the Sunflower Market and if you mention God or prayer to some of those people, you may as well be handling snakes, foaming at the mouth and speaking in tongues. Quite a few of the so-called “open-minded” liberals I’ve met are violently unreceptive to Christianity in any form and they are not shy about voicing their opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bash the libs, but it’s true that many of them think that nuts like Pat Robertson are the norm for Christianity. The truth is, I think Pat Robertson is a nut, too.

A lot of other Christians feel the same way.

The flip side of is that “liberals” are often labeled as godless fools and that’s not fair. I’ve said the same thing, myself, on occasion. The truth is, while I lean to the right, my politics often trend back to the left. Many times I am embarrassed by what the Evangelical Right says. Sometimes it feels like someone has hijacked my faith and is speaking for me. I hate that. Back in southeast Texas, my wife and I were considered liberal/hippie Christians. In Santa Fe, when we happen to mention that we vote mostly Republican people think we’re hard-liners. It’s all perspective, I guess.

Sorry, I got slightly off track, but the point is that this irrational fear of liberal/hippie retaliation was in my head. So, truthfully, as I sat watching this young man from the safety of my car, I think I unconsciously ate a little slower.

I was stalling.

Then the guy began to pack up his things.

Before I could even put the car in gear, he was halfway to Cerrillos Road. The dude was fast.

The chase was on.

Guitar bouncing on his back he strode toward the intersection. There was a large median separating us, so I had to go through the light, hoping that I would be able to pull into the parking lot and cut him off.

No such luck.

He crossed the street and continued up Zafarano. The easiest thing for me to do was to make the block and come back up behind him.

Maybe he’ll set up shop at the next intersection, I thought, possibly at the four way stop, not at the traffic light. Okay, I’ll roll through and give him a chance to catch up.

By this time, I had lost visual contact, but I was confident that I would run across him again on my next trip up Zafarano. I turned right onto Rodeo, right onto Cerrillos and picked up where I had left off, at Zafarano and Cerrillos. This whole escapade was beginning to feel a little like Cops or Dog: The Bounty Hunter. Only, I wasn’t trying to arrest this guy, I trying to pray for him.

It was funny, but I didn’t see him again.

What the hell? I wondered, wasn’t this the guy I was supposed to talk to?

Was I a jerk for sitting in my car and eating and not praying for him first? I just assumed that I would catch up to him, so I wasn’t in a big hurry. Now, my day was beginning to go downhill. Like when you don’t exercise, and you’ve convinced yourself that you’ll do it later. The hours pass by and the sun sets, and, suddenly, it’s too late to run and the downward spiral begins.

When I realized that I wasn’t going to catch up to this guy, I began to feel that initial twinge of remorse. Now, I was on a mission. Something felt unfinished. Don’t get me wrong; talking to people on the street is not a daily occurrence. I don’t have any kind of weird quota system. Something just felt off. Incomplete. So I needed to keep looking. Not necessarily for this guy, who seemed to have disappeared, but for someone. Anyone.

So, much like at Christmas, when I had all those cookies to give out and no one to give them to, I went trolling. I was looking for someone to pray for.

Of course, I didn’t see anyone. I drove up and down Cerrillos road, and through intersections where I’ve talked to people before. Nothing. Passing through the traffic light in front of Wal-Mart, I finally saw a guy with a sign. This time I knew him, but I couldn’t remember his name. I had prayed for him before, right near my studio. As I was making tracks back to Wal-Mart, I was rapidly thumbing through my internal Rolodex, trying to figure out this man’s name. The only thing that I came up with was K. His name starts with a K.

Red and blue jacket, a hat, red hair, pale skin, a scraggly beard, and large white teeth, tall: he could have passed for a Viking. That’s him. When I crossed the parking lot and was within earshot, I asked, “Do you remember me?”

“Yeah, I’m bad with names, though.”

“I’m Chuck.”

“Keith.”

“Right, right…I knew your name started with a K. How are things coming with the surgery?” Keith has a slipped disc in his back, causing his gait to be painfully exaggerated. The long sweeping arcs of his legs make his hips look to be knocked out of joint every time he takes a step.

“Still trying to make enough money to have it done,” he said.

Keith had told me in our last conversation that it would cost $50,000 dollars to have the procedure.

That’ll never happen, I thought. It was the first thing that popped into my head. Why is doubt my initial response to most things? To quote Darth Vader: I find your lack of faith…disturbing.

“Where are you originally from, Keith?” I asked, trying to find out a little more about him.

“Hawaii. I lived there for a long time. I even had a pretty successful stone business…masonry. I built all kinds of stuff. Really technical things, like fountains, and water features. I’m really into detail, I mean, I could build you the best fountain, and it would be incredible,” he said.

“That’s cool, I do construction work, myself…handyman work, I used to work for a custom home builder, but I do my own thing, now.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yep, it’s not too bad…so what happened to the business?” I asked. Normally, I try to let people talk and not ask questions, I don’t want to be intrusive. But, I felt like I needed to probe a little with Keith.

He looked over at the traffic slowly pulling out of the parking lot and said, “Well, I got hurt, you know…my back. Then I couldn’t work anymore and the business tanked. It was just me, anyway. There weren’t any other employees. Then my wife left. I couldn’t do anything,” he said, still looking at the cars pulling out.

“Man…” I uttered quietly. What can you say?

“So I left Hawaii, it’s expensive there, and I got to the West and…” Then he trailed off and shrugged.

Keith had relayed all this to me with very little emotion. These are the facts, he seemed to be saying; now, you can decide what you want to do with them.

Keith didn’t say a whole lot after that, so I prayed for him. One thing was different this time, though. I asked him if there was anything that he wanted me to pray for. I was taking prayer requests. That was new. Normally, I pray my standard prayer, shake hands and get going. When I asked him, he said that he wanted me to pray for his surgery: that somehow God could make it a reality.

Okay…I didn’t even believe that this was going to happen. How could I pray for it? I did, but I don’t know how effective the prayer is of a man who only believes a little of what he’s saying. I always think of the passage in Mark about the man who begs Christ to help his son. The boy was possessed by a demon, the father told the Jesus, he’s been like this since childhood; if you can do anything for him…

“If?” Jesus asked the father. Then he added, “All things are possible to him that believes.”

Poignantly, the man replied, “Lord, I believe…help my unbelief.”

Help my unbelief.

I feel like that on a daily basis. My faith is so full of holes and flaccid sometimes. On occasion even nonexistent. God knows this about me. The amazing thing is that He’s willing to help me with something as fundamental as belief. Not even that has to be perfect.

Christ healed the young man that day. Not because his father’s faith was complete, but because that man had the guts to be real with God. Faith isn’t about perfection. We are human beings, after all. When we can’t stand and wholeheartedly give in to belief, then sometimes we need to trust God to fill in that gap. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: sometimes you just need to show up. God will take care of the rest.

So I left Keith that day. Weeks later I would meet him again. He would still be walking with the same limp and wearing the same red and blue striped jacket.

Still on the street.

Pray for Keith.

He needs surgery.

He’s out there trying to be somewhere else.

Aren’t we all?

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Keith

 

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The Roadside Prophet (Cash-part 3)

We talked more that day under the darkening sky. Thankfully, we moved on to another topic besides the End. Cash was a very insightful man and he made me feel like I was on the right path. When he asked me how long I had been witnessing to people on the street, it surprised me, but I was grateful, too. It made me consider what I was doing. In a good way. It was difficult to stand in front of this man and listen to all the theories about the end of the world and not argue, but I did. That was humbling.

Before I left, he asked me what church I belonged to.

“Well, I sometimes go down the road here, but not very consistently. I have to be honest; I have a real problem with church, in general. Not that church, necessarily, it’s a good church. There’s more to it, I guess, for years it’s been this way… I’ve been burned before,” I felt like I needed to explain why I didn’t go to church consistently. I wanted to say more, but I had to stop. I don’t even completely understand it, so how could I explain in a few words why I stopped going completely for so many years. A lot of people would say that it was simply because I was running from God.

Of course that’s true, but I was also running from His people. So much of what goes on in church is un-relatable to me. There’s a glossy, pretty haze to it that’s far removed from most people’s day-to-day reality. I get the impression that the church is more concerned with how people act than about their souls. Christ is not the president of some exclusive country club where everyone needs to mind their P’s and Q’s. He did not come to heal those who are well. He came to heal the sick. Who is the church trying to protect anyway? God? Are we trying to convince Him that we don’t have any real problems? Are we trying to protect His sensitive ears?

No.

The church is protecting itself. God has heard it already. He knows us. He’s God, remember? We don’t need to pretend that everything is just okay. Why should we?

Anyway, that’s the tip of the iceberg, and again I got sidetracked. Cash stirred up a lot of stuff and I know I’ve talked more about my deep-seated issues than about Cash. Well, so be it.

Let’s move on.

I know Cash is a good man. I should have let him pray for me. That’s the one regret that I have from our time together. I think that may have really been what God wanted from that encounter, but it didn’t happen. Which doesn’t mean I came away empty-handed. It just means that there could have been more. Like I said in the first post about Cash, we have to be ready for anything.

It was getting cold. I had to be somewhere, and I needed to make my exit. I shook Cash’s hand and told him good luck. Not sure why I said it, because I don’t think there is such a thing as luck. Then I think I covered it and quickly added a God Bless You.

As I was driving back out to Rodeo Road, I had to pass Cash again. A few cars were between us. It was Christmas time at the mall, so I had to wait for a few minutes to pull out. From my car, I watched him reach into his jacket and raise one of those chocolate chip cookies to his mouth. He took a bite and slowly slipped it back into his pocket. The line began to move and I waved as I passed. He watched me go by, and his lips were moving as his head followed me. Cash didn’t return the wave.

He was concentrating, and I believe he might have been praying.

Praying for me.

……

So pray for this roadside prophet. He’s out there somewhere challenging someone else, I’m sure, getting them to think differently about their lives. That’s noble work, and if it doesn’t deserve prayer of support, I don’t know what does.

So pray for this modern day Jeremiah.

His name is Cash.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2011 in Cash

 

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Running the Race to Win (Even If You Finish Somewhere In the Middle)

I’m going to sidetrack a little from Keith’s story, but I want to share something with everyone.

Today, I ran my first 5K. My time was 27:51. I started at the back of the pack and finished somewhere in the middle.

I have always been overweight, and it had seemed like running would never be a part of my life, not even when I played football in junior high and high school. I was in a little bit better shape then, I mean, I was still obese, but I could move a lot quicker. After high school, I just continued to get bigger and bigger. Then in 1997, I had to go to the doctor for the flu, but I had never been to this doctor before, so they had to weigh me for their records.

I weighed 334 lbs.

Oh my God.

That scared me, so in 1998, I lost over 60 pounds. I didn’t have an exercise regimen, I just changed the way I ate. I kept that off for several years, and then I slowly began to put it back on, about 25 lbs. of it. During those years, I felt horrible and the depression, that I had always struggled with, was defeating me. This wasn’t really about weight, though. Deep down, I knew that, really, I was just running from God, and, in the process, negating my life.

There are always deeper issues with any kind of vice. Everybody knows this. Food is an addiction like any other. The problem with addictions is that they derail you. It’s not just about what you are doing to yourself, it’s about what you’re not doing. It is the life that you are not living that is the tragedy.

I had been trying, in my way, to be closer with God. I started reading the Bible everyday. I read through it twice. This started in 2005. God wanted more for me and from me, though. He kept trying to show me during these years, that I was so wrapped up in self-loathing and self-destruction that I had no time for anything else. The fog had to be lifted. I had to take control of this life that I was flushing down the toilet. Again, this is not about food. This is about the things that we allow to become giants in our lives. Soon enough they are bigger than God, and they will diminish His light much like a mountain in front of the setting sun.

So, in January of 2009, I started eating better. Then, over the next several months, I began walking, playing tennis, going to the gym, etc. Just being more active, in general. In 2010, I quit smoking and began running. I had never run a mile before.

Never.

The first day that I did, I thought my heart would explode, but I felt alive. Later that year, a sciatic nerve in my hip rolled over some muscle tissue, putting me out of commission for about a month and a half. I had been running fairly consistently up until then and I didn’t think that I would recover from the layoff. But, I finally did. Of course, there was a lot of grunting and obscenity involved.

So, after two years of losing weight (85 lbs.), a year of sporadic running and a year of not smoking, I did it.

My first 5K.

The race was in Dallas and was sponsored by an organization that helps the disabled lead normal lives. The event was called Cupid’s Chase, and it took place, simultaneously, in 24 other cities. It was incredible and the weather was perfect. My mom and step dad were there, cheering me on and Ginger was yelling loudly for me from Santa Fe. It was pretty sweet.

Today was the result of a lot of answered prayers. Thanks everybody.

Thank You God for kicking me in the ass when I needed it.

Thank You for whispering you can do this in my ear when I needed that, too.

Thank You for giving me the opportunity to live this life.

Thank You for loving me.

Thank You.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2011 in Running the Race

 

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What Am I Supposed To Do With All These Cookies? (Keith-part 1)

Last year, a couple of weeks before Christmas, I decided to bake some chocolate chip cookies and hand them out to the people that I met on the street. I even bought some clear, plastic bags decorated with solid green trees, as well as some thin red ribbon to wrap around the bags. I’m no Sandra Lee, but I thought that was pretty festive of me. For the past few years I’ve made cookies at Christmas and handed them out to clients or co-workers. I even gave some to a young couple on the streets once (this was before I was getting out of my car to pray for people). Really, the cookies were just a variation on the tried and true Toll House recipe, but I would add Pecans and use better chocolate chips. Something like Ghiradelli, maybe. So I made close to thirty good-sized cookies, wrapped up a few and put them in the front of my car.

Then, a funny thing happened: I didn’t see anybody to hand them out to. I mean, for days. I normally don’t drive around searching for people. This time I did, however, but to no avail. How can I see nobody? This is ridiculous, I kept thinking, I did this out of a good place, I mean, I was just trying to be nice.

We were about to leave for Texas to be with family soon, and there were still cookies at the house and cookies in the seat of my car. I finally told my wife and brother-in-law (who was living with us at the time) that it was okay to start eating as many of the cookies as they wanted. I was a little frustrated and pissed off, frankly. In my head I had these visions of being some kind of Santa Clause for the homeless. Word would get out and I would be known as The Cookie Guy, or something. Maybe I would even be featured on the local news, or the front page of the paper. Man Spreads Christmas Cheer Through Chocolate! Homeless Rejoice!

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

No one is immune to vanity, least of all me.

At the time, I had a painting studio on Rufina Court. I had had it for years, but it had become mostly just a workshop. I don’t really paint anymore, but I was still there a lot, even though the ship was sinking. By now, I had, frankly, just about forgotten about handing out the cookies. The whole thing just annoyed me. The best laid plans of mice and men…

So one day I left the studio, the clear, plastic bags sitting in the passenger seat. The chocolate cookies had been out in the car for days and were beginning to lose their luster. I turned right onto Siler, heading towards Cerrillos Road and I saw Keith at the corner, only a block and a half from my studio. I knew that corner, and I had never seen anybody there before. I’ve driven up and down that road countless times, and, in all that time, I had never seen a soul asking for money on the corner of Siler and Cerrillos.

God’s timing is not our timing. Just because we’re ready to give doesn’t mean we always get an opportunity to serve right at that moment. He wants us to be vigilant and watch and be ready when He wants us to do something. He wants to see if we’re really committed to serving or if we just happen to be in the mood to serve. I’ll be learning that lesson for a while. God knows I’m a slow learner.

On that corner is a gas station with a couple of cheap motels behind it. Luckily, I saw Keith early enough to pull into the parking lot of the motel and stop beside the station. I fished out five bucks, grabbed a bag of cookies and walked toward the corner.

Keith wore a red and blue puffy jacket that was torn in several places with the cotton sticking out. He had to be about my age, mid to late 30’s and he wore a light gray Stetson. It was a big hat. I hadn’t seen too many homeless people with one quite like that. It’s not that the hat was in great shape, but it was definitely nicer than the jacket he had on. Keith had bushy red hair and an ungainly limp, which was far more pronounced than Mike’s (the older Vet that I met in front of Sam’s Club). Much like him, Keith had to swing his leg out in order to move forward. His body contorted, terribly, every time he took a step. It made me think of a tree that, suddenly, has been asked to walk and has no idea what it means to do that or how it should look.

God, how does he do it everyday? I thought, as Keith closed the gap and stopped in front of me. I held out the cookies with the five-dollar bill I had folded up lying on top of the bag.

“Thanks a lot,” he said. Keith had rich, blue eyes. They were still vibrant and alive. The world hadn’t stripped them of their color. Not yet.

I stuck out my hand, “My name’s Chuck.”

“Keith.”

Finally, I got to give out a couple of the chocolate chip cookies. I am well aware of how stupid that sounds. Oh well. It was important to me, but it led to something real, because I was supposed to meet Keith. I believe God was positioning the two of us so that we could cross paths.

You can’t force God to do anything. He will defy your expectations almost every time. That day I met Keith, I couldn’t have known that, of all the people I’ve prayed for on the street, he would be the only one that I would pray for twice.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2011 in Keith

 

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