Take out a mental sheet of paper, and a mental pen or pencil (to whichever you prefer). Jot down some things that you like to do in your free time. That free of class and work. Then start a new list under it. Title it, Really Now, What Do I Honestly Like To Do In My Free Time. In other words, free from what you feel others may think, friends, family, GOD. Make the mental note. Now cross off the things that you know people, universally, would accept. What do you have left?
I'm guilty of it as well. Hiding things from plain sight, so that no one will see our struggles. We call these things our vices. Now that we have identified them, which I'm sure we all have before, what do we do with them. In the past, I have made this mental list, AND checked it twice (a little Santa-esq). Then decided, subconsciously, that it wasn't important enough for me to give it up. So, what drives us to give up our vices and turn ourselves over? When we evaluate this, it becomes evident that we aren't doing ourselves much good at all, in an attempt to rid the vices from our lives. (Hence why we keep falling back to them) But when we open up to someone about our vices, generally, the person is very understanding, and takes time to help us out. We may be able to rid some of our vices, but some still remain, and there is a great chance that the vices that have been sent packing, may just come back for another visit.
What am I getting at here?
I am attempting to figure out solving my own issues with Mr. & Mrs. Vice, along with their kids, Joe Vice, Jane Vice, and Mike Vice Jr. The worst of it all, is that once the kids move out, they always seem to come back to pay a visit, or try to stay for elongated periods of time. When I am in re-evaluation mode, these vices seem easy to conquer, and I generally tend to put them out of heart and mind for a while. Some stay away permanently, and some tend to wander around, only to come back to me. Yes, I have gone to friends and family for these issues. Usually a vent session, or a deep discussion. But am I REALLY listening!? I pay attention, hear the words, comprehend it, but something doesn't stick. See, a seed can be planted, but it will never grow into a plant unless it is given necessary attention. Okay, so we need to pay more attention.
How are we supposed to pay attention? What are the methods of this, "pay attention"?
There are a few ways I have learned this (and still learning it), but I have found that the overwhelming push to reach for God, is the ultimate way of paying attention. In other words, pay attention to God. And yes, do this before you go run and give advice on how to conquer a vice which you haven't gotten past. And most of all, do NOT deem yourself vice-less...ever! These things are hypocritical. We are told, "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." -Matthew 7:5.
A vice is defined as an immoral or evil habit or practice. In other words, a vice could also be defined as a sin, correct?
We already know that sin is not something that we should be doing, by any means. "We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind." -Isaiah 64:6. Man, that sounds harsh!! Praise be to God that He sent His son, Jesus Christ to cleanse us of our sins, "If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." -Romans 10:9.
So if it is so wicked and evil, God obviously sent his son for us, so we are free from all of our vices anyway, right?
The thing is, you have to "believe it in your heart". And upon doing that, it becomes easier. Have I conquered all of my vices? Again, no I have not. But am I saying here, right now, that I am going to declare myself rid of the vice that clouds my mind daily, and tempt me more than anything, on an hourly basis? Yes, a resounding yes!
How am I so confident?
Because I have remembered someone that is very close to me. With the wise words that have been spoken in the past, have been translated into the present. I have to stop now. I have battled with the vice for years, and it is time to hang up the bad habit, for good. I have finally listened, and understood. Words I have heard were spoken to help me. How or why did I encounter such a helpful person? One who can't even relate to me, in this aspect. One who does not share this vice with me. But that is just it. It is a simple equation. God has given me the opportunity, and all I have to do is believe. "I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." -Philippians 4:13.
Friday, July 8, 2011
I can't see through the smoke, but I know someone is in here!! I search around with my hands, staying low to the ground. "Help!" I can hear her now. I feel my way through, into the adjacent room. I can make out a figure in the corner, hunched over, protecting her face. I swiftly move towards her and pick her up. I make my way out of the room. The side door is off to the right of the house. I move through the family room, and turn the knob. But I have lost my breath.
I am in a house. It's foreign to me. There are old pictures on the wall, family pictures, in different places. "Matt!" I turn to my right, and see someone sitting at a desk. She looks familiar, but I can't make out who it is. I walk over to her. "Why are you making that face at me!? Don't you remember me?" I shake my head, and turn my attention back to the open living room, analyzing it, trying to get some sort of clue as to who's house I'm in. "Come with me, I have to show you something." I follow her through a doorway, off to the side of the room. As I enter, it is as though we have walked right into a different house. She leads me over to a desk, a different one this time. I look as she points to it, on the computer screen. Facebook.com. My old profile picture, my old information...my old page. I look at her for an answer, but she remains silent. Instead, she leads me across the room, into a bedroom. There, lays a girl on the bed, sobbing. This girl looks familiar to me now. "That was me, back in 2010." I turned to my right, and notice that my guide has changed. She looks different than she did when I entered into the house from the beginning. I recognize her now. I put my hands over my face, and try to hide the tears that have welled up in my eyes. She puts her hand on my shoulder, "it's okay, Matt, that was a long time ago. Come, I have to show you something." We walk back, out of the door, through the house. We reach the front door. She opens it. I follow her out, but there is no grass, no trees. We are inside of a building. It looks eerily familiar to me. I am led up a flight of stairs and brought down a corridor. At the end, there is an open door. We take a step inside of the room, into what looks like a meeting. I can now recognize a young version of myself, in the front of the classroom, talking about upcoming events. I survey the room. A Best Buddies meeting. It concludes soon after we stepped into the room. The supervisor calls the meeting to an end, and asks the young leader of the meeting to go see her. He walks over to the instructor. "Matt, I'd like you to meet Ashley. She's a buddy. She is fun, friendly, and just wants someone to talk to." They shake hands and begin to talk. I turn to my right, and I am standing alone in the room, watching as the scene plays out. I know where this is going, and I want to get out of here. I turn and make my way down the corridor, hoping to find out where my guide was. I think, 'what kind of sick joke is this!?' Right then, as I step out into the main hallway of the school, she appears. "Matt, it's me, Ashley. I wanted to show you what happened to me. So, I took you back to my old bedroom, as well as back to our high school, where we met. You know how hard it was to grow up and be different from everybody else!? You know that I couldn't help it right!? It wasn't my fault. All I wanted was a friend. I called you numerous times. We spoke a few times, but then you stopped picking up the phone. Then I went on the computer one day, and saw that you had deleted me off of your friends list. Those things made me sad. I remember crying for weeks on end, uncontrollably." My throat locked, I try to speak, "I--uh...didn't mean to...I'm so sorry!" I look down and close my eyes, in utter embarrassment and guilt. I look up, she's gone. Silence.
"He is risen! He is risen, indeed!" I stand in the back of the sanctuary, watching as Dr. Berry recites the famous lines. It's Easter Sunday, and what appears to be a bright and sunny day. It has been so long since Dr. Berry was the pastor at our church. Why is he preaching now? Had the church rehired him since I have been here last? Impossible. "Matthew", a voice calls out to me. I look in the pew directly in front of me. A man, maybe in his early thirties. He looks familiar, like someone that I may have seen in pictures before. I know I have never met him! I stretch out my hand to introduce myself. I blink, and he is standing up, in front of me. "Get that hand outta here!! You act like you don't know me!" My mind draws a blank...who the heck is this guy!? Before I can argue, I am in his grasp. He gives me a big hug. He takes a step back. "I knew you wouldn't recognize me!" By now, he is yelling. His voice sounds like he belongs in Little Italy in New York. I still can't place it. Strange enough to my eyes, I see that no one in the congregation has turned around, as if they don't hear his booming voice. As my attention comes back to focus on the man, he has disappeared. Not this again, I think to myself. "I'm over here!" I look off to my left, in the mid-left section of the sanctuary seating. He is standing in the middle of the pews, nearly on top of the members of the congregation. I find myself walking over to him. Do I really have a choice now!? As I approach him, I feel like I have entered some sort of sick, twisted dream. He is standing directly in front of my family, but everyone looks younger. I glance down. My mother pulls her hair out of her face as she recites the Doxology, I catch the date on the bulletin. April 16, 2006. Why am I here right now? I don't get this. I look up and the man is standing by the door, which leads out of the church. He motions for me to go towards him. We walk through the door, and we are in the dining room in my old house. How many years has it been since I have eaten here? West Tropical Way? Is it still 2006? My dad turns to my mother, "I can't believe what has been going on in the Middle East! It doesn't look too promising to me. How many more years do we have to stay over there before we retreat?" I survey the room. Dad sits at the head, directly across from my grandpa. He looks sickly and frail. My memory is back. He died that year. Just two weeks after Easter dinner. It was his 'last supper', if you will. It looks as though dinner has been long over. Only one chair remains vacant. I quickly realize that I am the one who is missing from the table. I can hear some music coming from down the hall. My old room. Why did I leave the table so soon? Before I can comprehend that I had said that aloud, "You were only 16...you had a lot going on. You made family the last on your list of priorities." I hang my head, listening in on the back and forth conversation at the table. My grandpa's voice is so clear and distinct. It immediately jogs my memory. Pieces in images of our times together flash in my mind. Palm Coast, St. Augustine, South Florida. He sounds like he belongs in Little Italy or something. I look up, in an attempt to make the connection. The man is gone again. I walk down to the hall. I open the door to my old room. I am in a hospital room. Did they change my room? I look around and see my family gathered around the hospital bed. Again, I am not in the room. I make my way over to the bed. I stare into my sick grandpa's face. There are wires going every which way, around him and in him. Dad is holding his hand. "Hey Dad, Matthew couldn't make it. He's on a school trip. But he sends his love." My grandpa's face turns into a grimace. I can't bare to look at him like this any longer. I turn to walk away. I am met face-to-face with my grandpa. He's standing right in front of me. "Hey, it's me, your grandpa. I knew you wouldn't recognize me before. You didn't know me when I was that young." I remain silent. My mind is a jumble. "I took you back to the last time you saw me, on Easter. And I know you were on your school trip when I was admitted into the hospital. Plus, I never wanted you to see me like this. I hope you learned something valuable out of all this. Family is the most important thing. You put all of your things in life before your family, and the memories that we have together are a blur to you now. I see you still have my dog tag..." I look down, and his dog tag is resting on my chest. "I love you Matthew...I always have." I turn my head to his voice, but he has left me again.
Water is dripping from my face, as I swing my arms around the room, in search of a towel. Darn it, I knew I should have just hung it back up on the rack. I open my eyes. The dripping water doesn't make my vision any better. Shoot, I need to put my contacts in! I open the bathroom drawer and fish around for my contacts case. I quickly open the top and place the contact in the middle of my right index finger. I move it into my right eye, then follow with the same procedure for my left eye. I blink. I see a towel on the rack next to me. Man, I would never make it as a mole. I'm blind as a bat these days. I dry my face off, and look into the mirror. Wait a second! That can't be right. I wipe the mirror with the towel. This doesn't make any sense. Why are there burns on my face? I walk into my bedroom from the bathroom. I notice clothes laid out on the bed for me. I don't remember doing that. As I approach the bed, I realize that the clothes are charred. That is, what's left of them. I open my closet. Nothing. I leave my room, and make my way out into the hallway. I am in my old house in Miami. I run downstairs. I look into the family room. There is a trail of blood that is leading to the front door. I open the front door. I am in a stadium. It looks like the Orange Bowl. It's a night game. A balloon is being hit around the crowd. I hear murmuring. As the balloon gets closer, I notice that it is actually a blown up condom. I blink. It's hot outside, and extremely bright out now. Did they play through the night!? I hear screaming and pointing. I follow everyone's finger to a woman in the front row. She seems very drunk. The crowd roars, as she lifts up her shirt. I am in my grandparents house in Palm Coast. I am in the bathroom. I ran out of toilet paper! I look under the sink. Two magazines catch my attention. I figure it'll provide as reading material, and pick them up. I flip through them as I sit there. I decide that I am going to take the magazines home after this trip. I am in the cottage on the computer. Dad comes into the office and tells me that he has to talk with me. "Matthew, we see that you have been getting around our parental controls. Can you explain the websites you have been visiting?" I close my eyes and shake my head. I open my eyes, and I am alone. The room is dark. I do not know where I am. I hear a voice. It sounds like my own voice. The voice that never sounds right when you view the video of you being filmed, candidly. "Why did you do the things you did? No, no response to that!? How can you ever expect to be looked upon with respect? Honor? You have disgraced yourself and your family. What if no one was ever forgiving!? Yes! It was your fault. You took it upon yourself to pick up a nasty addiction. It led to your demise! I don't care if you think I'm overreacting, because you know that you were wrong. I was never happy with how you handled things! I remember listening to your stupid sob stories about how you couldn't control yourself!! You even went as far as searching for help. No one is going to help you, Matthew. No one." I put my hands over my face. I let out a scream. God save me from my self.
"Matthew, my brother, open your eyes." I open my eyes. There is a very bright light coming into my room. Wait! I have seen this person before. "Don't fret! Yes, I know, you have seen me before." Is this person a mind reader!? "Get up." I stand up. In my room now. All of my things are scattered around. I search for something to bring with me. I see my cell phone on the desk. I reach for it. "Leave everything." Where the heck are we going!? "Come, follow me." I leave the room, quick on the heels of the person in front of me. I would only be able to identify this person as a male, based on some distinct features. He has a soft, yet deep voice. His hair is long. Course, but smooth. He wears what looks like a tunic, or a robe. Very ratty, by our standards, but very elegant in its own way. He walks confidently, but his demeanor is gentle. He leads me to an open field. The grassy plain is shadowed over by trees. "Do you know where we are?" I shake my head. "Here, let me show you." He walks down a pathway. We make our way to, what looks like, a lake. The water is calm, still, quiet. He turns to me, "don't fall behind. I need to show you something." He leads me away from the water, back onto the path. We make our way into the trees. It is hard to see any light, this far into the forrest. The trees wrap around the path, sucking every bit of life that ever inhabited these parts before. I am lost in my surroundings, and I seem to fall quite a ways behind him. "Come close to me, I will lead you out of this darkness. Do not be scared. They're not as evil as they look." I nod my head and come back on his heels. Up ahead. There is a break in the trees. He places his staff on the branch of the tree, and it makes way for us. We enter an open area. The ground is still, yet so alive. The plants sway in the wind, yet still stand erect. There is a waterfall. No, there are two. And I can see more in the distance. Where do they flow into? I am perplexed, to say the least. I see animals frolicking, with no fear of being someone else's prey. I see people walking around. They move slowly, yet still confident in each step. There is a soft hum in the air. The smell, is like nothing I have ever experienced before. It is refreshing and strong at the same time. The sky! Yes, how could I not notice. It is very bright, but it isn't hot. This doesn't look real. I turn to see my leader, bent down in a stream. He is running water over his hands. "Come, I want to show you something." I walk over to him. I crouch down, so I can see. "Look." He raises his hands out of the water. "This was done to me, so you could be free. Early on, your life was filled with confusion. You got caught up in a lot of things that you feel that you shouldn't have. But when you caught yourself, you asked for God's help. Why is that?" Silenced, I shrugged my shoulders. "Because God's grace was given to you, as a gift, through me. And in times of struggle, you turned to God. That is why you are here." Still trying to process all that was being said, I was able to mutter out a few words, 'where am I?' He put his scarred hand on my shoulder. "You are in God's expansive kingdom. Welcome."
That morning was hard for the Friedman family. All of his family and friends were there, clad in black. Tears were shed, and memories were shared. As people left the service, there was an overwhelming whispering about Matthew's fearless efforts. "He wasn't a fireman." "He wasn't even supposed to be there." A little girl, maybe five years old, walked up to Mrs. Friedman, "Thank you." "For what, darling?" "Mr. Friedman saved my life."