The title says it all. I may be back, or I may not.
The title says it all. I may be back, or I may not.
This is a photo I took of three items on the top of my bookcase in my bedroom. I had just moved the bookcase to my room, and I wanted to choose three things that are significant to me right now.
So, I chose a plastic statue of the Virgin Mary, a brass camel, and a rock painted with the Texas flag. Why did I choose these?
The Mary statue represents my desire to get closer to Christ through His mother, Mary. The small plastic figure was blessed by a priest in a nearby church.
The camel represents the past year and a half of my being in Saudi Arabia for my job. It was a very fun yet challenging time. I grew a lot from the experience. It helped me in good ways as well as in bad ways. I am still dealing with the bad effects.
The painted rock represents my mental anguish and my mental battle during these rough times with the Covid-19 isolation. My wife started a hobby of painting rocks, so I decided to paint one.
I chose the Texas state flag because that’s where my family and I have been living for the past 12 years. My children were born in Japan, but they’re basically Texans. I also love the flag because Texas has a rich history. You can read about it here.
Anyway, the real reason I am writing this post is because I was reminded of something last night. A promise that I made to myself when I first started this blog.
See, I was under the illusion that my blog would be a beacon of light in this dark world of ours, that my writings and examples from my life would impact others and turn people from a life of suffering to one of Christian joy and freedom.
But through the years and after countless blog posts, I couldn’t see where I even came close to any of that. In my mind, my blog turned from a righteous ministry/apostolate to a series of whiny posts about my depression and anxiety, offering little to nothing in the way of hope and faith to my readers.
Until last night.
I remember making the vow that I would keep trying to use my platform to reach at least one person a year. To me, that was enough for me to keep it all going. If I could touch the life of just one person in the course of 12 months, then it would all be worth it.
Well, I received a comment from a reader that brightened my whole evening. She said that she was a long-time reader of my blog. A long-time reader! Wow. I was touched. It meant so much to me that someone would take the time to write an encouraging comment on my blog.
I feel that I need to end this post with something positive since at least one person is reading and (hopefully) being encouraged by my words.
So, I’ll end with a quote that my cousin wrote on Facebook recently. Usually I don’t read her posts because they don’t interest me, but this one caught my eye.
Because I’ve recently been treated very unfairly at work by people who don’t like me. I’ve been an emotional wreck to be quite honest. This Bible passage really spoke to me. It is from Romans 12.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The older I get the more I realize that even if things do get better, it’s always temporary. The good days feel like a tease and a cruel joke because when the bad comes, it’s like it laser. It targets all those things to make sure I feel the maximum amount of pain.
People always give laughable examples of what could be my thing to fight for, but what is and isn’t worth it are very personal things to a soul. I need something to cling to that makes ME feel like I have a purpose.
For the last several years I had several things. They meant everything to me. One by one they all were taken. I don’t have it in me to start over again. Every few years I cycle through this. Just because it might be good again a few years from now doesn’t make it worth the suffering now.
Each and every time it gets harder. Each and every time I am more alone in the fight. And with the direction the world is heading now, I see only darkness and hopelessness for us all. I am amazed that so many people can just keep going on like things are fine. -Brona Storm
Well, I’ve completed three months here, so I’m officially one-fourth of the way from finishing my deployment.
Things are up and down all the time. It’s fun when my friends and I get a chance to leave the compound (We have to have a “battle buddy” when we leave), but other times it’s depressing to be stuck inside the tall barbed-wire walls.
When I first got here, I heard a few variations on how people end up on this compound in the Middle East. Things like: You either end up as a hunk (meaning all there is to do is work out); a chunk (becoming a couch potato); or a drunk (there is access to “tea”).
I heard one officer explain it this way: After a year, you either weigh 300 pounds or you can lift 300 pounds (meaning there are only two things to do on the compound: work out or eat snacks every night in front of the TV).
With my fragile personality and my mental issues, I tried working out at the gym which is pretty modern; it has everything that one would find back in the States. It gets old, however. So then I started taking walks around the compound which takes about 30-35 minutes – except I would do it right after work when the temperature was/is 110-115 F (43-46 C).
Why would I choose to walk in the heat of the day? I was silly and pretended that the hot sun was burning off my fat. With an average summer humidity of only 10%, it really wasn’t that bad.
That was back in June and July. Then I got a membership to the “tea room” where I ended up spending up to $200 per month on “tea” that I would binge on during the weekends. I never expected that I would become a “tea addict” in a country where it’s officially unavailable. I never did this in the States. Why was I doing it here?
Simple. 1) I was bored. 2) My family wasn’t here.
I’m having to ration my psych meds because I don’t know if they would clear customs if/when my wife ships them to me. Maybe that’s why I turned to “tea.” But that only helps on the weekends. During the week, I’m all alone to face my demons at work and to deal with life in Auschwitz (as my combat veteran friend refers to the compound).
The Army chaplain on the compound means well, but, no offense, he’s an Evangelical Protestant who graduated from Liberty University (the home of Jerry Falwell). Needless to say, he appears pretty phony and insincere.
The Catholic “Mass” happens every week, but since it’s so hard to get ordained priests to come to this location, most of the time lay leaders give their versions of homilies and distribute the consecrated hosts. The majority of the parishioners are Filipino laborers, so I have trouble making friends with them; I feel out of place and have trouble finding things in common with them.
I have a Catholic Bible app and a Rosary app on my phone, but with no one to hold me accountable, it’s hard to maintain any kind of spiritual life. Since the Qur’an is legal here, my friend who’s on the path to conversion loaned me a copy. I have read parts of it and find it comforting.
(By the way, some trivia: Mary is the only woman mentioned in the Qur’an by name, and she’s mentioned more in the Qur’an than in the New Testament.)
I finally confided in a friend at work (the one who is converting to Islam) about my depression, and she told me I’ve got to get hold of myself, give up “tea,” and start exercising again.
I agreed with her. I’m at that crossroads where either path could determine the course of my future. I choose the good path. No more “tea” for me. I honestly do not like exercising, but my friend encouraged me to at least walk around a sand “track” that is outside the gym, after dark of course so it’s not scorching hot. I think I will give that a try.
My youngest son just started middle school, so both of my sons sit together on the bus and go to the same school again. I try to Skype with them whenever I can, but with our schedules and the time difference, it’s hard.
My point, I guess, is that God is always with you and will use unlikely tools and people to help you in any situation, whether you’re in your own country, in a country where your religion is forbidden, or in a country where every religion is forbidden.
Hang in there. It will get better. I’m living proof.
Military families know all about this: It’s hard being away from family for long periods of time.
Although I’m not military, I work for the government which requires me to be deployed to remote areas for anywhere from six to twelve months.
My main heartache comes from missing my two sons, ages 13 and 11. I get a lot of benefits for volunteering for deployment, but it’s still really difficult to miss one of my son’s birthdays, to miss their summer vacation when they go with my wife to the beach or water park, and other occasions.
It’s just plain difficult not being able to see them while they’re still young.
A previous supervisor (who I hated) told me once that I should stop working volunteer overtime and go home to my kids because “they’re only young once.”
There is so much truth in that. Earlier this year I missed my oldest son’s birthday. Ever since he turned 3, he has always wanted to celebrate his birthday at a restaurant called Rainforest Cafe. We have continued that tradition up to now, except for the first time in 11 years, I wasn’t there at the festive table in the middle of mechanical jungle animals that come alive ever so often.
And later this year, my youngest, my little baby, will turn 12. 12 years old! I can’t believe it. I won’t be there for that as well.
I won’t see their first day of school; my youngest will start middle school this upcoming school year.
And, most of all, I will be breaking a promise I made to them before I left for the Middle East: I won’t be able to take them to grandma’s house for Christmas. It’s the highlight of their year.
I won’t be there to watch the final installment of the Skywalker saga, Star Wars Episode IX. This has been a family tradition ever since my mom took my sister and me to the therater to see the original (Episode IV) back in 1977.
I know it sounds weird, but I was looking forward to coming full circle and seeing Episode IX with my mom and my sons, especially my oldest who has become a Star Wars fanatic.
But none of that will happen, either.
Being in the middle of the desert, stuck on a fortified military compound (I’m still able to see the local sights; it’s just hard to get clearance, and it’s a challenge to actually get off the compound) has given me lots of time to think.
I spend my free time exercising: going to the base gym or walking laps around the compound in 110-115 F (43-46 C) heat. On weekends I’ll grab a “battle buddy” and we’ll go into the local city for shopping, going out to eat, and just enjoying the freedom to move around that the compound doesn’t offer.
Before I was deployed, my psychiatrist took me off everything except Xanax and Quetiapine. They don’t help much when I’m feeling down, though. For the most part they make me feel tired and groggy. That’s why I’m trying to exercise daily: to make up for my lack of effective medication. I’m getting by.
All I can say is thank God for Netflix. I don’t know what I’d do without it in the evenings.
My wife’s birthday was recently, and I was able to get her present in the mail weeks ago so that it would arrive on time. It was fun imagining her opening the box and seeing the gift that I bought for her over here.
This may be my last deployment. As a civilian, I have the luxury of volunteering. The money is pretty good, but at my age (and at my kids’ age), is it really worth it? I mean, it’s true. They’re only young once, and I’m missing out on some great times in their lives.
I guess the true test will be to ask myself 10 years from now: Was it worth earning a few extra thousand dollars while missing precious time in my children’s youth? Was it really worth breaking my promise by staying overseas instead of spending my family’s favorite holiday away from them?
I’ve read many studies where senior citizens on their deathbeds list things that they regret. Usually at the top of every list is regretting not spending more time with family. I think we can really learn from this.
My wife has a friend whose husband spends years at a time in Eastern Europe working for a contractor because he’s raking in tens of thousands of extra dollars per year. However, he has two daughters that he never sees.
They have gotten to the point where they’ve become numb to it; they prefer him staying there and sending all that money home. The girls seem like they’ve lost connection with their father. To me, that’s very sad. But that’s them. It’s their choice.
Speaking of Netflix, I really like a series called Black Mirror. There’s a melancholy song that is recurring throughout the series. It sort of sums up my mood. It even makes me feel better after listening to it, like I’m not the only one going through hard times. Click here to listen: Irma Thomas – Anyone Who Knows What Love Is
I’ve been having a hard time lately. My wife and I are to the point where we actually hate each other and are bringing up divorce. My faith is at an all-time low, and I have no friends to talk to.
We bought our dream home last year, and now it looks like we’ll have to sell it and get two apartments: one for me and one for her and the kids. I honestly can’t afford two apartments plus child support on my salary, so she will have to get a job before any of this happens.
I’ve been thinking about suicide again. I know I’d be able to see my sons anytime, but it wouldn’t be the same.
I’m not being recognized at my job no matter how hard I work…
Et cetera, et cetera.
So what did I do yesterday morning? I went to Mass. Every nerve in my body said No! Stay in bed and pout.
But I refused to listen.
I prayed on the way, God, please give me a jolt of the Holy Spirit and show me what to do about everything. My life is a mess. It’s too hard to go on.
I’ve asked God to show me certain things about myself during Mass, and he always has.
This time I was desperate. I was at the end of my rope. Actually I still am.
The first reading during Mass was God’s answer to my prayer. It was Isaiah 35:4-7:
Say to the fearful of heart:
Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then the eyes of the blind shall see,
and the ears of the deaf be opened;
Then the lame shall leap like a stag,
and the mute tongue sing for joy.
For waters will burst forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the Arabah.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water.
The first two lines spoke to my heart. My heart is full of fear. However, God says to be strong and not be afraid. He doesn’t say that He will do these things for me; rather, I need to make the decision to be strong and stop being afraid.
It gave me peace and hope. Later that day, my son was scheduled to sell popcorn for the Boy Scouts in front of a supermarket. I went with him, and we ended up having a good time.
Normally I hate Sundays because it’s like I’m just waiting around for Monday morning to come. But it was a good day.
Then at 8:00 last night my wife and I ended up fighting again.
I want to lie right now and say that I kept that Bible verse close to my heart for the rest of the day, but I really didn’t. I ended up forgetting about it.
But the good thing about God is that we can repent and believe again.
Then I went to work this morning to find out that I was passed over for a promotion for no apparent reason. So I forgot about the verse yet again.
But now I’m sharing it with you. Hopefully you’ll remember it.
I felt the need to write. I have started several novels over the years, one chronicling my suicide attempts and hospitalizations. I just can’t seem to make myself sit down and write them. That’s the problem.
So I have this blog. I sit myself down right now to write, but I don’t really have anything encouraging to say. Ha. That is usually followed by what turns out to be an encouraging post.
I started this blog in hopes of offering positivity to those who suffer mental illness among other things. The Catholic part comes from my faith tradition, which I am trying like mad to hold onto. (Most days I’m a religious hypocrite.)
I wanted my very own ministry (‘apostolate’ in Catholic terms), but it turned out that I’m just as broken, sinful, and run-down as the people whom I wanted to encourage.
So, here I am talking about how miserable I am. I suppose I could give a lesson on what not to do.
As a father and husband, I use my own dad as an example of what not to do. See, he was a real prick during my childhood. The problem is, I’m turning into him, whether I like it or not.
OK, here’s what not to do. This week we took a family vacation to Houston, about a three-hour car trip. See, I have a decent job, but we’re not exactly rollin’ in dough. So we went to Houston because there are fun things there for our kids like NASA, the beach, The USS Texas battleship, etc., etc.
Our friends go to Hawaii. Spain. The Bahamas. We go to friggin’ Houston. But I digress.
I got angry several times and my wife and I fought. I’m sure it hurt out two children.
Now we’re back home. This evening I drove my two sons to their friend’s house for a sleepover. They had their little bags packed with all of their pool gear, swim wear, and change of clothes. On the drive there, I yelled at my youngest son for something really stupid. This was just before we arrived at their friend’s house. I didn’t apologize. I’m sure I hurt my son and put a damper on things.
Here it is, Friday night. My favorite day of the week. And I feel like crap. I’m fighting severe depression even though I took my meds for the evening. I feel guilt weighing me down like barbells on my shoulders.
On top of that, I’ve been stealing from my own mom. I use her credit card at will. She is retired by the way. She tells me to stop, but I don’t. My sister gets involved and texts me angrily. I take offense and delete her number. I even unfriend her from Facebook.
My life sucks now.
And now I sit here on this Friday night, pouring out my guilt and screw-ups on this blog. I could be partying (yeah, right) or enjoying a good movie. My wife is in her room, not to be bothered (ugh).
I decided to look through the Bible for passages about regret. I pored over lots of passages. One I found shows the nature of God (Genesis 6:6):
And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart.
This shows that God experiences regret. I think of myself in this Genesis passage, and then I think that God has every right to strike me down and send me to hell where I belong.
Then I read this passage from 2 Corinthians 7:10:
For Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
How do we get to the point of having Godly grief? I sure wish I knew. At least this is a compass setting for me. It’s something I can pray for, because I have no clue how to achieve it.
Tonight I cut up my mom’s credit card information. It’s a start, right? We have to start somewhere.
Baby steps. Hey, whatever it takes, my friend. Baby steps are alright.
Whatever is holding you down at this time, take baby steps to improve your situation. That’s what I’m doing.
Overeating? Eat a little less. Bad father? Give your kid a hug. Bad husband? Clean the kitchen. Missing too much work (like I am)? Take it one day at a time. I will be there Monday.
You get the idea.
Now, I’m going to go salvage the rest of my Friday night.
Let’s see. How can I sit down right now and write an encouraging blog post for you? As you know, I’m not the most encouraging blogger. I kinda suck.
Anyway, I’ve been reading a book. Actually I’ve read it, but I’m reading it again. That’s how good it is. The book is Blessed Are The Misfits: Great News for Believers Who Are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They’re Missing Something. For short, I just call it Blessed Are The Misfits. You can tell from the title just what kind of book it is.
I won’t get into the details too much, but it is a perfect book for someone like me. The author, Brant Hansen, spends time describing how introverts and “weirdos” like he and I don’t really fit into the whole Church culture. (He’s coming from a Protestant viewpoint by the way.)
What I like is how he says that, even though we don’t fit in or aren’t “fired up” to share Jesus with people, we as Christians still have an obligation to love people.
To love people.
This is super hard for me because I generally don’t care much for humans. I have to work with them and teach them, but that doesn’t mean I like them.
Topaz, how can you call yourself a Catholic when you hate people?!
I try to love them. I also fall short a heck of a lot. That’s where God’s grace and effort on my part come in. Here is an excerpt from the book:
I know I don’t fit in. But I also know I’m supposed to love people, even those who will never, ever understand me and don’t even want to.
Obviously he’s talking about the “popular kids.” You know. The happy cliques, the look-at-me types, the ones who I went to school with, and the ones who I have to work with. (Nope. The popular cliquish people are also found in jobs in the adult world. It doesn’t end in high school. *eye roll*)
Hansen says at the end of an early chapter:
He [Jesus] knows this world is both cruel and inhospitable to Him and His people. But He told us God “so loves” it anyway.
He even plans to rescue it.
This is what I get from everything so far: I don’t have to force myself to become an extrovert in order to be the best Christian I can be. I just have to deny myself and try and love people. Because Jesus loved people. He still does. He even loves the people on heavy metal blogs and websites that talk about how they hate Him and that the Church He founded is a pile of garbage that we don’t need. (It breaks my heart, but I still visit those metal blogs and sites because, well, I love metal.)
Anyway, I hope you got something out of this post today. If not, then just remember to love people because God loves people. Even if it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever tried to do. And try to love the misfit types and “different” types too. Because God does.