Divorce Sucks

Endings and Beginnings

The best stories end with a new beginning. There is a resolution of conflict and the promise of tomorrow. Hollywood love stories often end with crowds cheering, whether it’s on a crowded street, at a church, or a dining room. We’ve seen it over and over again, but the typical romantic comedy doesn’t delve into what happens after that triumphant scene, because that’s when reality kicks in. Nobody wants to watch the doldrums, the long gray of disappointment and work and cold silence and that crushing feeling of loneliness when you share a home with someone who no longer loves you. When couples divorce, it is both an ending and a beginning, and it’s terrible and wonderful, even at its best.

People use the phrase “going through a divorce” because it’s like entering a dark tunnel where the walls crush in and the light on the other side appears eternally distant. But there is that hope of getting “through” to the other side, emerging into a new valley of hope where the sun is warm on your face and the air tastes like hope and the pain and regrets remain in the past where they belong. When you are still going through the darkness, it can feel like it’s forever. It’s not. That’s what my friends keep telling me, and I believe they’re right.

The end of us is the beginning of me

After more than a decade of waking up next to the same woman and kissing her good-morning and raising children, and laughing, fighting, crying, dreaming, destroying, and sharing everything important, I face the task of defining myself apart from her. It’s excruciating, for it is the unraveling of my life, the annihilation of a future I believed in. It is the death of the man I am and the birth of someone new.

I must learn to define myself apart from her, for I was always more than her husband, yet after all these years, it is difficult to recall what I was, because I changed to accommodate her wants and needs and I wanted to see her smile. I wanted to make her happy, I worked really hard to do it, but in the end I wasn’t enough.  I didn’t make her happy in the end, and she let me know it. It doesn’t matter anymore, and now I’ve got to see the truth of it, embrace the inherent freedom.

I haven’t been spear-fishing in years. I’m making plans now, with true friends I haven’t been friends to since she and I got together. “It takes a friend to be a friend,” is one of my mantras, and only shared history and the memory of the man I used to be keeps the door open now, and I intend to dive in. The best advice I’ve heard so far on how to deal with divorce is “do the stuff you love to do.” I’m going to reconnect with old friends, repair relationships with family, and become the best version of myself that I can possibly be.

I’m not ready to jump into a long-term relationship, and I know it. I still love scent of the ocean at dawn and the sun going down on the beach, long kisses beside the juke-box, the taste of salt on a women’s neck, and that whisper of hope in my ear.

Phoenix

From destruction comes rebirth. The fire burns along the mountain slopes of Yellowstone, and the forest emerges better and stronger and more vibrant. The undergrowth burns away, the stout trees remain, and the canopy emerges again.

Character and strength burst forth in the wake of destruction, and the things that try to kill us make us more resilient, even though it doesn’t feel that way when we are crushed. We are destroyed in divorce, and can either surrender to the past, or be reborn.

I yearn to share a sunrise with a woman who grins, sand between her toes and music in her soul and goodness in her heart who lights up when she sees me, and shares the feeling that everything is right when she is beside me. I want to drink red wine and joy with her long into the night until the sun comes up, and hear that song in my chest, for that is the glory, those moments of peace and promise where the air is sweet and the world is right and tomorrow is better because we are together.

When we find each other, we will know.

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Free short story: Sand

kelli at the end

Sand

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The ocean this morning is that special blue, deeper than any color can be alone, truer than the sun playing golden on easy waves, warm and inviting. The sweet breeze and the singing feeling in my chest and the taste of salt and life and the way light and shadows dance against a vast horizon are all part of one color.

I am an artist, feeling what I see, seeing what I feel, and right now in this moment I have discovered a new color. Hope.

Standing in the surf, hard packed sand beneath painted toes and wind tossing my long hair, hope embraces me, a brilliant color and emotion I have yearned to find. There is freedom and forgiveness and exhilaration in it, but it is more than those things, for it is akin to explaining the sunrise to a blind woman or the joy and pain of childbirth to a man. There are some things that only make sense with color and context.
Henry launches himself into a wave, laughing and carefree and seven, bursting with light and potential, and I am filled with joy and gratitude as I gaze upon my son, and for a moment a cloud passes overhead and there is regret mingled with wonder at his resilience and my own.

“Momma, did you see that? That wave almost got me. It didn’t though.”

“I saw, honey. You beat that wave.”
“Look out,” he shouts, grinning with his hands in the air. “Here comes a big one. Get ready.”

Yeah. I know about that.

Behind us, the castle surrenders to the water, walls sliding into the sea, a work of art doomed to memory from its inception because it was built in the only place it could have been with the materials at hand: Hope and love and sand.
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I saw something in him when I first laid eyes on him, and part of me still wonders about that. Doubts my sanity. That’s a man, I thought. Tall and handsome and cocky, a guitar on his back and a searching kind of loneliness in his eyes at the same time. A road trip with some girlfriends to Panama city with a detour to Nashville cast ripples I never could have imagined. Probably we should have gone to the beach.

I’m from a little shithole southern town where everybody knows everybody, even though they never really do. They think they do, and make up lies to fill in the blanks. Don’t get me started. That’s a whole separate ball of wax. It’s part of it, though. Part of why I stayed when I should have left after things went like they did. There is hope now, and for me back then in those hard years between the folds, I saw hope in that guy with a guitar and wounded eyes and silver words.

You work with what you’ve got, and sometimes it’s sand. You build where you can, and if it’s the damn beach, then that’s better for the moment than anywhere else if that’s the only place you think you can build.

Worse, if that’s where you want to make something lasting even though you know better, because there is that thing that you can’t explain to anyone with a brain, including yourself. That love and passion and color and self-delusion wrapping around each other in a heady mix of blue sky and Cinderella and faith and kisses.

There are hotel rooms where people to this day cannot go because of us. We fucked like wild animals and it was glorious, mattresses askew and cushions on the floor and people calling the front desk. It was like that; that was the good part, the beginning, that thing that was real in its own way but painfully elusive in the life I eventually lived. The life we lived for a damn decade.

I wasn’t happy where I was when I met him, raging against the small town and small minds and big egos, and there was this huge man with song and gentle touch. A caress and a look around the eyes that unlocked parts of me I didn’t want to face, but which ignited a tingle and desire and a longing for something I’d almost given up on believing could be real. I wanted to believe. I truly did. I was divorced, he was divorced. I had a boyfriend, he had a girlfriend. We lived 550 miles apart…here we go.

I should go back and slap myself upside the head, but it’s a little late for that. I try to tell my daughters not to make the same mistakes I did, and I pray they hear my plea. They likely haven’t learned the things I wished they would, the right lessons that could have been lived and not said, and it makes me sad still.

That son of a bitch. The man I loved destroyed me and he hurt everyone I loved. There was darkness in me and surrender because I didn’t see anything else.

I am better than that. I remain undefeated, and with the sky true and the ocean sweet, I feel it. He was my enemy, implacable in the way of the tide claiming a castle built upon the sand. He did what he did, hurting and acting and reacting. Hurting me. Harming our family. The tide has no choice, serving the moon, but he made choices the ocean never has. Later, I made choices too. I don’t have many regrets. He can keep those.

The bitterness in my heart devoured me, and that I lay at his feet. That he fell in love with me for a second time when I wasn’t in love with him doesn’t matter anymore. I’d already moved on before I moved on, he just didn’t see it. Truth is often painful but always worth the price, even when it’s paid in heartache.divorce-2

I am a woman, a mother, and an artist, and my past does not define me. I fought like hell to get here to this moment and feel these colors. I earned this ocean and this light. I paid the price with tears and years and parts of me I should never have surrendered.sand3

I hear a laugh behind me, a joyous hearty thing, and I spin, my toes digging in the sand and the sun on my face and smile at the man I love and want to spend the rest of my life with.
He is not the same man I built castles in the sand with.

And that makes all the difference.
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Dawn comes slow and warm, the surf an easy whisper on the beach. Lying on my back beneath a sand dune, the sky is turning from black to gunmetal gray, becoming something new, painted with swirls of pink and orange until the sun breaks on the horizon. I’ve always loved to watch the sun rise; it’s a wondrous transformation, as darkness surrenders to light. A kind of rebirth which only comes through time.sand2

Endings are really beginnings; I often forget that. I remember it now.

The fresh sea breeze soothes my soul and there is the taste of salt and the coming sun on my lips mingled with peace. The kind of peace you don’t know you need until you find it again and see how much you’ve been missing it.

I am a writer, and I’ve sacrificed much at the altar of love. The love of words, and the love of a woman.

Maybe that’s how it had to be.
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Sometimes when you meet the love of your life you know it right away; that’s how it goes in the movies. It wasn’t like that for me.I didn’t know it until it was too late.

I met her in Nashville years ago, rebounding and hurting and she helped heal me. Made me feel loved and safe. There was a whirlwind romance with this unlikely woman from the deep south with wild hair and blue eyes and a hunger in her I found intensely desirable. Within six months of divorcing my previous wife of many years, I found myself married again, an expectant father and stepfather of two girls, living far from home in a new town.
I wanted to be that guy. I really did. I wanted to believe.

I wasn’t ready to meet her, but it happened the way it did and went to hell from there. I hung on through kids and demons and heart break, inflicting my own upon the way. Resentment grew in that void and bitterness festered. There were actions and reactions until it was impossible to know what was true and what was false. It’s not an uncommon story, and I wish I’d written a better one for my life, mine and her’s.

We hung onto eachother and our children through years of quiet desperation. Clinging to the hope that one day things would change, that light would break through the looming clouds and we would feel that shine on our hearts again. That God would bring purpose and healing to us together, not individually. To our family. That our faith would sustain us.
It happened for me, but it never did for her. I only thought it did.hourglass

On a perfect day right before the blue sky fell, the sun was gold dust glittering on the water and in the air and we were a family. I recall the sense of wonder and glory, savoring that moment with my children in the waves, holding hands with my wife, a deep gratitude and awe in me that things were good. I can wrap those memories around me now and hold them tight

Just because we wish a thing to be true does not make it so.

I defined myself as a father and a husband and an author, and it’s been a process to remake my life and my existence. I will always be a dad, and being away from my boys for any time has wounded both me and them. I’ll always be a writer, too and I embrace that part of me. Words don’t keep you warm at night, though, don’t hold you when you are crushed.

She was my muse and best friend, inspiring me, making me a better man and better author. It’s an anguished thing to loose, knowing that that has faded away. I hope forgiveness finds me. For the moment, there is peace. There is hope in the growing light.

The tide eats the beach and blue waves claim the sand as they have forever, and when the wind blows right and the ocean calms, the sand blows up onto the rolling dunes and the beach is born again.

The sky is bright now and I turn away with a certain wistful sadness; I’ve got pages to write. Later, I’ll come back with my boys and we’ll build a sand castle. The memories will remain long after my footprints are gone, and they will be true and good.

The End

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Where Was God?

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A twisted gunman burst into a church and murdered Christians in an act of hate and cowardice. My heart aches for the fallen, and weeps for my country which seems broken. Where was God when the bullets tore through believers in His house? How is it that darkness appears to be defeating light?

The struggle that I’ve been through the last few years, the problems that I’ve faced, pale in comparison to those of others. I’m not looking at imminent death. Still, it’s been a brutal road for me and my family, with poverty looming, the loss of a job, and emotional battles raging. I have found myself asking, more than I’d care to admit, where was God?

In my novels, this is a central theme, the ongoing erosion of faith in the face of evil and despair. For the Fox family, there are epic battles and catastrophic losses, and still William and Crystal are never truly destroyed. Their faith is stronger than my own has been, the sort of belief I long for and which I see in some of the strong Christians I know. I’m praying, learning, trying to guild myself with the Armor of God.

Often, the hardships we face make us question the beliefs we hold most dear. I believe that God uses times of tragedy, loss, and inexplicable pain to draw us closer to Him, to bring us to a better understanding of His nature. Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

It’s easy to blame God when terrible things happen. I know, because I’m guilty of this arrogant, human act. The truth is, evil in this world is committed by man. God did not cause that crazed, racist nutcase to enter a church and kill people. That was a decision that kid came to all on his own, one of free will. Our actions have consequences, for good or for bad.

God is alive and at work, and I’ve seen miracles with my own eyes. I’ve witnessed it in my life, and the lives of those that I love. Too often, I forget, for my faith is not as strong as it should be. In a world of seven billion people, there are tragedies every day, and the news will focus on the ten worst things and beat it into our brains, giving the impression that the world itself is bleeding and slipping into madness, that evil and peril lurk around every corner. We hear the bad but not the good, and this creates a pervasive, ongoing illusion, a destructive one, a lens through which we view the world shaded by darkness, one that filters out truth and light.

For the ten stories of accidents, shootings, disasters, and fires (the media is obsessed with fire of all sorts, from bombs to brush fires) there are a hundred stories we never get to hear. Lives saved, random acts of kindness, hope restored, faith found, and illness cured.

Where was God? He never left. He didn’t move, I did. Sometimes I forget.

“For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Ephesians: 5:8

A Christian Writer’s Journey

Journey

I’ve always been a dreamer, something that my father instilled in me from a very young age because he would say things like, “son if you work hard, you can be anything you want to be. Follow your dreams.”  I saw my old man write books, toil as a carpenter, and then go to law school. He practiced what he preached, rising from abject poverty to success through discipline and years of burning the candle at both ends. When I left the University of Florida to pursue a songwriting career, my dreams were vast and my ability limited. I had no idea how hard my road would be.

It occurs to me that I’ve had a lifelong problem managing my expectations, and this character trait has tarnished my relationships, my career, and my soul. When you shoot for the stars, mostly you don’t wind up where you thought you were going. The heart of the matter is pride. Leaning much upon my own understanding rather than upon God. So here’s my story, and perhaps some other folks can avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made, and perhaps with the telling of it, maybe I’ll finally wrap my head around the truth.

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I moved to Nashville way back in 1992 with a heart full of dreams and a cheap guitar. Those first years were heady, back when I knew I would  “make it,” and I figured that within a few years, I’d be living the dream. I played the Bluebird, penned hundreds of songs with fellow songwriters,  and wrote every single day. I saw, quickly, that I had much to learn. I’d been in town for about a month when I saw a writers round with Bob DePiro and Mike Reid… they slayed me with their talent. Every song was perfection, their vocals were mind-blowing, and their musical ability was so far beyond me that I saw there was an entire mountain yet to climb. I embraced it, and I learned, worked on my craft, mentored by some great writers. I had songs on hold for major artists, went to number one parties, and rubbed elbows with the movers and shakers of Music Row. Then I started doing a dangerous thing.

I began spending too much time gazing at where I wanted to be rather than what I needed to do to get there, and worse, whether that was where I should go. Enter the bitterness, the, sense of betrayal and the resentment. The great Harlan Howard, whom I had the great pleasure of spending time with, once said to a disgruntled songwriter, “well, nobody called and asked you to move to Nashville.” Right.He didn’t say that to me, but it would have bee spot on. Nobody told me to decide to become a writer..that was my choice. But the desire to succeed was eating my soul, clouding my vision and ultimately hurting my music. Some of my fellow writers nicknamed me “Doctor Doom.”

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I moved back to Florida following a divorce and the feeling of being let down in my songwriting career (or lack thereof,) thinking that I could leave writing in my rear-view mirror. I was wrong, and I started writing fiction, which didn’t require the same sort of schmoozing and glad-handing that songwriting seems to. When I got my first publishing deal, I was ecstatic. I’d signed a contract for a trilogy, and I hadn’t even written two of the books yet. I decided I would be a wildly successful author within perhaps a year or two. I’m hard headed, obviously, though my wife uses more colorful words to describe my frequent and woeful lack of understanding.

It takes years of hard work, multiple books, and networking, and talent to make it as an author. Like any other artistic endeavor, it’s a subjective thing, and people will buy what people buy. I find the writing in Fifty Shades of Grey to be awful, but tens of millions of people strongly disagree; E.L. James reached the stars by connecting with her readers, and more power to her. I could undoubtedly learn a thing or two from her. So, I’m writing, working, knowing it takes time, and trying not to chafe against that knowledge. Trying to enjoy the journey, and not focus on the destination.

During these decades of writing, I burned down one marriage and almost destroyed another. One of the central reasons this happened is because I expect things to go my way, and when they don’t, I get rankled. My essential impatience, my propensity to reach beyond my means to grasp. Marriage is hard work, and when things go south, which they will in any marriage at some point, I’ve had the feeling that things should be right again quickly. Wounds should heal, others should change, I should change…if not overnight, then within a time frame that I deem acceptable. Utter nonsense. It’s destructive. Because, once again, that resentment sets in and things only get worse. You end up feeling like you’re wasting your time, and when a sense of futility becomes pervasive, it’s already almost too late. It takes discipline and hard work to make it back from that.

Against this backdrop, I’ve experienced the same sort of impatience with God. It sounds as dumb as it is, yet when I’m in the midst of it, I can’t see it, missing the forest for the trees. I cry out to God, asking for help with more selfishness than humility: Help me make it as a writer, help my marriage, please send a briefcase full of money from the sky!  When I don’t get the quick results I desire, I feel betrayed. Like no one is really listening. Like the songs on the radio are full of false promises, and that the Word itself has misled me. But I have misled myself by choosing to focus on the wrong things, by hearing what I want to hear instead of the truth.

The truth is, life can be terrible, hard, and mean. And there is no assurance of a good outcome for any of us on this earth simply because we choose to follow God. The whole idea of abundance theory preached in many mega-churches is dangerous drivel.  It’s connected to Calvinism and the idea that success is predestined, a concept which helped to form the Protestant Work Ethic and build a nation, but which in many ways undermines the deeper message of the gospel. This Calvinistic attitude spawns the belief that poor are poor because God has decided it, and conversely that the wealthy are wealthy because they have earned favor in the eyes of the Lord. This belief system is insidious. Ask the Paul, Peter and Timothy about that.

Because the assurance and peace Jesus and the Apostles talk about is the eternal kind, not the earthly kind, and the our peace on this rock is found in knowing this and feeling fulfilled and joyous despite our circumstances. Salvation, peace, and joy are not things we have earned, but which come, ultimately, through the grace of God. Apart from God, I can do nothing. I am worth nothing. And this, perhaps, is the central truth I’ve missed over and over again.

The story isn’t mine. It never was. Paul extolls us in Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our fate…”  I’m an author, yet I’m not THE author. I focus on the things which I want, the tangible trappings of success, and I fix my gaze upon that which I cannot obtain alone. I cling to my pride like a talisman and wonder why I become disillusioned. I truly want to reach people, to touch lives and be a force of light, but I’ve been going about it all wrong, putting my own story ahead of the most important story.

It will take hard work and discipline, and faith, but when I look back twenty years from now, I pray I will be able to say that I was living and writing for the right reasons, not the wrong ones, and that I released my foolish pride, my selfish expectations, and human arrogance. By emptying myself, I pray that God will fill me with His spirit and that the kind of peace which matters is the peace I will have found.

I still have a mountain to climb, and my way is unclear. I have much to learn, and am certain I will falter. I am not alone, and in this knowledge I will rest assured, striving to fix my eyes on Jesus, my sole destination.

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Friends, Followers and Vanity

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Why the “Duck Face?” What IS that? The woman who wants to be a girl, the girl who wants to be a woman, both of them holding an iphone at arm’s length. Or it could be an absurd man-child with an over-abundance of love for both self and tight shorts, all of them with the lips protruding in a way that conjures a platypus on crack.

Who is it that finds these creatures suddenly intriguing, as though an uninteresting, average person has miraculously morphed into something more and greater, something to be “liked,” and “followed,” and “commented” upon. I don’t understand it even a little bit, but the phenomenon is inescapable.

I could go on a rant about the objectification of women, and while I do think that’s a part of this trend, I think it goes deeper, and in some ways is more insidious. It’s harmful, any way we slice it. People crave connection and validation, and do stupid things to satisfy that innate thirst. I’m an author, so there’s a certain irony there. I’m trying to do it with words, not pictures, and while I’d like to believe it’s more meaningful that way, perhaps it’s not.

Next to war, social media is the most unsocial thing mankind has invented. We are invested in documenting life without living it, more concerned with the appearance of happiness than the experience of joy, showing memories rather than making them. It’s a collective sickness of the soul.

We want to matter. To make a difference, and believe our short time on this rock is something other than nasty, brutish and short; rather than make it so, we try to convince others we are something we are not, and hope that we can sell ourselves in the process, even if it’s a fleeting illusion. When we look back on the time we’ve squandered in this manner, we’ll no doubt see we’ve been deluded fools.

The things that matter in the moment are often the things that matter the most, and when the time has slipped away, there’s no getting it back, no matter how many pictures we took. Sometimes it’s better to be in the moment, and let the moment be.

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The Last Thing I’ll Ever See

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Her face was the last thing John saw there in that hospital bed with the beeping sounds and sad thin sheets. Her eyes were the placid blue of the reef in the afternoon, a kind of wistful hope shining from her while she held his hand at the end. Her hair was close cropped and grey and her oval face lined with worry and years and the love of a man she’d walked through hell and back with.

John’s eyes remained open, and he saw her for who she was, for who she had always been, and he perceived this not with his eyes but with his soul, floating, unfettered now and able to walk through a door to yesterday, lingering above each memory, tasting the truth of each moment as though for the first time, savoring the fleeting preciousness in a way he wished he had before.

A tumble of long dark hair falling over her shoulders the first night they’d met so long ago, sultry and whispering, her skin smooth and pale in the night, an eager vulnerability about her which seemed to fill a  deep need in John, a missing piece he hadn’t known existed until he met her. The rush of falling in love, the wedding down in the Keys beside the ocean, when she put on his ring and life stretched out before them full of possibility.

He saw their first child born, her lying on the table of this very hospital, on a different floor, a happy place of life and rebirth. Her face shimmering with sweat and the tears in her eyes when John placed the infant against her breast. He saw her on the beach, the waves surging while she held a small child’s hand, giggling and laughing, the sun bright and warm and good.

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The journey darkened then, and John found himself drifting through a murk he would rather not face, a certain truth which makes a man hurt. He saw her anguished tears and heard her sobs and felt a deep pain emanating from her wounded spirit. There was a bitter taste to that time, to those memories which wrapped around each other until they became years interspersed with moments of light, but which were not well lit, and there was a heaviness in that time, and the darkness had a kind of weight. There were demons there, and they were mean and bent upon destruction.

He heard the angry accusations, the shouting and the denials and felt a loneliness creeping cold into his bones, for it was in both her and him back then, and now it felt worse than it did at the time. Perhaps because it was done and there are things a man can’t take back even though he wishes he could, and sometimes it’s years and that’s a hard thing to face, there at the end. There was an eroding of the soul, a depletion of spirit which caused her to retreat into herself, and neither of them knew it until it was almost too late.

The journey was not yet finished.

There was rebirth and renewal, and he saw her shedding the weight she’d gained over the course of four children and a decade and she was emerging again like a rose which has lain dormant through the cold hard winter, only to blossom once more under the kiss of the warm spring sun. She laughed and sang and danced and looked upon him with eyes bright again. Her canvas was fulll of color and swirls of crazy dreams and she found a truth and validation in her art because it was meaningful and good and true and there was healing in it.

Her childish nature radiated from her, not in a petulant way, but in the way of wonder and glory, and she grew, becoming herself at last, transforming into the woman she’d always wanted to be because she was finally discovering who that woman was. He watched her gaze in awe upon the streets of Florence, a glass of red wine in one hand and her head tilted back to embrace the gentle sun. He felt the wind rushing at his face, top down, her singing beside him as they crested the Golden Gate Bridge, driving without a destination in mind for the journey then was the purpose, the little things and shining moments of glory. The years were happy and tinged with a sort of golden light and they went by too fast.

Her face was the last thing John saw, and that was how it should be.

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A Life, Well Written…Heroes, Villians, Lies and Truth. One Draft.

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I used to scoff at regrets, probably because they hadn’t yet accumulated enough mass. I was confidant and convinced, in the way young men are, that regrets are for for fools. I believed I could fight my way through life without the deep wounds and scars born of mistakes, and I charged with unswerving abandon and careless faith and speed straight into middle age. The truth hurts when it comes crashing. I’m an author, but I haven’t written my own life the way I should have, the way I would if I were a character in one of my own books.

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show,”
Charles Dickens opens David Copperfield with that poetry, my favorite first sentence in literature.  Not only would I like to write like that, I’d like to succeed in living that great commission. Heroes fall and fail and triumph in the end because they learn from their mistakes, because they are able to feel the sting of regret and overcome great obstacles and great odds. There is always adversity, the thing is to defeat it.

I write heroes in my books that would despise me if they knew me, because they’re better, these characters and constructs who are more brave and good than I am. I’m just a writer, not a hero.  I’ve been writing and dreaming and lost in words and acting as though I had an editor for my life. Someone to excise the mistakes, cut the fat, correct the regrets. I’ve got just one draft, though, here and now, which is my life here on this earth. No auto correct, no edits, no way to change the character arc or tweak the ending. One draft, all the way through, is what I’ve got, and if it sucks, then it does. It’s a lowsy story.

I think there’s a bit more to it, though, than that. I’m far from figuring it out, and I’ve got my scars and regrets. I’m writing this interactive video game, where the characters make choices that impact the ending, and I think the universe is like that. Sometimes there are no good endings, no matter what, not here in this mean world. Mostly, though there are endings which could be satisfying when we, the actors in the play, the characters in the story of our lives, listen to the wrong things. I know I do.

Paul says in Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”   I’m an author, but I haven’t been the author of my fate, not in the way I’d like to believe I’ve been. I certainly haven’t kept my eyes where they were supposed to be looking. One draft, one chance to get it right, and my choices make a difference, and I’m still hoping that my life will be written well, both by me and THE author.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425937096&sr=8-1&keywords=sean+t+smith

Prayers from the cave…

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I recently spent two weeks in Nashville, where I spent time with old friends, played music, and caught up on the years we’ve missed. I attended a function hosted by my publisher, and got to meet many fellow authors, and I made some new friends. It was a wonderful time, a period of self reflection, hope, and sentimentality all at once, and I learned a tremendous amount. The most important part of the trip, though, happened on the way home, somewhere between Valdosta Georgia and the Florida state line.

I’ve struggled for the last year or so with my faith. It’s almost funny, because one of the central conflicts in my first two books revolves around the battle between faith and doubt as darkness closes in. My own internal war ended up mirroring some of the strife I’ve put my characters through; my characters dealt with this better than I did personally, and when I wrote those books, I believed I’d put that particular struggle behind me. I was wrong. I’ve been embattled on a variety of fronts for the last year, and it took a hard toll upon my soul until it reached a point where I began to question that which I knew to be true. I wondered where God was, and I went so far as to question the validity of His promises, to wonder about His goodness. Heresy, I know, and wrong-headed, but I don’t think I’m alone in this kind of battlefield. Somehow, I’d managed to succumb to a sense of hopelessness, and I’d put myself in a cave.

A man bereft of hope is like body without bones; there is nothing to hold him upright and together. I’d become that guy, without really knowing it, without seeing a way out. And when that happens, the instinct is to retreat, to become defensive and withdrawn, to cast blame and doubt around with careless abandon. We isolate ourselves, which only makes things worse.I felt very much like an Object of Wrath, ignoring in my own mind the second part of that very important verse in Ephesians.

So, driving through the hills of Alabama, the long stretches of construction south of Atlanta along I-75, I had plenty of time to think. Mostly, I listened to music on Spotify, and I reflected on the new friends I’d made and the old friends I’d reconnected with. Right around Valdosta, my phone died, and the music ended. I couldn’t find anything to listen to, so I hit the “seek” button on the truck radio, and I heard Dr. David Jerimiah begin to speak.

It was a sermon titled Praying From the Cave, based around Psalm 142. David (the king, not the preacher)  was in a cave, running from Saul. He was depressed, isolated to the point that other men did not care if he lived or died. Yet within that dark place, David cried out to God, thanking him and praising him, laying his burdens at God’s feet, recognizing his own pain, and turning to God for refuge.

About ten minutes into the sermon, something happened.

I’ve had times where I felt God’s presence, singing in church with hand held high, a joyful noise on my lips and a connection to the Creator, like an electric thrum of peace and rightness. I’ve been touched by a sermon or a verse, and felt convicted, nudged, and I’ve had verses jump out at me as though they were highlighted in bright yellow.

This thing that happened somewhere in Georgia was different; God hit me in the head with a ball bat. I was driving down the road with tears on my face, broken. Facing myself and my doubt, my mistakes and delusions and bitterness. God slayed me, and I was shattered. I prayed then, and I could almost see a darkness, like ashes swirling in the wind, leaving from my chest. It sounds nuts, but there was a palpable, physical sensation of great weight being lifted, immediately followed by hope and joy.

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I thought I’d cried out to God before, and I’ve been on my knees. But there was something in me left then, some element of reserve or doubt  or perhaps pride which prevented the profound kind of healing I so desperately craved. I understood that God had been right there with me all along. That no matter what happens, I’m still a part of his plan, and that even though it may not seem so at the time, in the end, all things do work for His good. I’d forgotten that my hope lies with Jesus, and everything else is really the small stuff.  I’d neglected certain things and ignored certain truths. These things were made clear to me in an instant. I’ve got some work to do, but I’m not alone, and I never was.

Somewhere in Georgia, I reconnected with my best friend, the most important friend I’ll ever have; he was beside me all along.

Ephesians 2:3-5

“We were by nature objects of wrath. Because of his great love for us, but God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved.”

Psalm 142:6-8

“Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. Set me free from my prison, that I may raise your name. Then the righteous will gather around me because of your goodness to me.”

ObjectsOfWrathcover

Hope: Light in the Darkness

When the world gets close and mean and hard, hope is what gets us through. Without hope, we succumb to depression, have the urge to curl up and crawl into an even darker hole. If we can’t envision a way out, then we stay and die, either slowly and metaphorically in a life of quiet desperation, or in an ultimate surrender to the abyss. Darkness will win if we let it.

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We battle the darkness with hope, and the struggle becomes  most important when it is the most intense. When the rough patch appears to be endless and all we see are hard times ahead, that is when we must stand up and fight the hardest. A man without hope is already dead.

There is no easy solution, no silver bullet. The path will be different for each person, but there are some things that will be universal. To feel hope, we must acknowledge it and seek it out. By focusing on what is good and true light rather than the evil and dark. Desperation and depression can have a gravity all their own, can pull in our will to survive and ability to smile with the force of a black hole, sucking all that is decent from our world. But if we battle the darkness, we can overcome it.

Connectivity is vital. We must feel connected to the people and the world around us. If we focus more on the real love we feel for others, and for the love reflected back upon us, we are less likely to feel isolated, alone, abandoned. Committing a random act of kindness for another helps, too. I stopped the other day on the interstate and helped a family whose car had broken down. It turned my bleak mood around.

Faith moves mountains. I believe in God, and I lean on Him. But for those who do not believe in a higher power, faith in loved ones, faith in humanity, faith in self are better than believing in nothing. When I find my faith faltering, I know I’m losing hope and darkness is winning. I try to regain my faith through prayer, interaction with others, and time outdoors. A walk in the woods or a stroll by the ocean can help me to feel restored.Image

Life is hard, too short, and often not fair. But it can be beautiful, too. I try to remember that when things get the hardest. I often don’t take my own advice, because knowing a thing and acting upon it are two very different things. But in the end,  light is  more powerful than darkness; light can always penetrate, defeat, and banish it. I am doing my best to look for it, and to be a light myself, lest the darkness consume me.

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