A Post About Nothing

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Before there was something, what was there?  Nothing?  Is that even possible?

I am trying to imagine nothing.  Okay, that’s wrong.  Nothing is not a thing that can be imagined because it is not a thing at all.  It is a lack of all things.  Wait, but that’s wrong too.  How can I use the word “it” to describe something that doesn’t exist?  Shoot!  Now I used the word “something” to refer to nothing.  Describing nothing is impossible because there is nothing there to describe.  Aaaaahhhhh!!!

Alright, before I go crazy, let’s set aside all of my word choice problems.  I can’t get around them.  Let’s stretch our minds a bit.  Let’s try to imagine nothing.

On the surface it sounds easy, right?  Just a lot of empty space.  Except that “space” is something; it takes up room.  Even the word “empty” suggests there is something there that has nothing in it.  Try it yourself.  Imagine nothing.  How far can your mind take you?  My guess is no farther than mine.  It is unimaginable, as unimaginable as a universe without time.  If you want to stretch your mind some more, try that.  If you do something in a timeless universe then there must have been a point before that thing was done and a point after that thing was done.  But how can there be a “before and after” without time?

Okay, so “nothing” cannot be imagined by human brains, agreed?  Personally, the closest I can come is an endless dark space.  Now, granted, my endless dark space is not nothing. Even darkness is something but it seems less like something than light.  And endlessness implies something that doesn’t end.  My nothing has air, not necessarily oxygen, but some kind of gas, because it is space that takes up room, endless room, infinite room.  And in my imaginary nothingness something must take up that room.  I know, I know.  How can nothing take up room?  How can there be something to take up all the room that isn’t there?  How can nothing be infinitely large?  Well… ummm… I don’t know.  But how could nothing have boundaries?  There cannot be an end to nothing.  This is as close as my puny, human imagination can get, so don’t argue with me.  Clearly, I have no idea, but bear with me; I do have a point.

So, let’s forget for the moment that you are something and place you in your own imaginary nothingness. Can you see yourself there, floating in your pajamas?  Now, in all this nothing(which you are a part of) let’s add… something.  It doesn’t really matter what it is, but suddenly, instead of nothing, there is something.  Let’s say it is a microscopic grain of sand.  In your nothing, there is now something.  Your nothing can’t even be called nothing anymore.

So, let me ask you: How could that grain of sand possibly have come into existence? And… if a grain of sand exists, then it must be somewhere, meaning there is such a thing as “where”.  It has a location.  And… if there was no grain of sand and now there is, then there is a before and after, meaning there is such a thing as when.  There is time.  And… if there was no grain of sand and now there is, then something happened to cause the sand to exist, meaning there is such a thing as how.  There is cause and effect.  But… if there was nothing in the first place, then there was nothing to cause a grain of sand to exist, at a certain point in time, in a certain location.  Meaning, if you follow me, that something predates nothing.  Meaning, there was always something, or someone.

So, tell me… What does that suggest to you?

You know what I think.

A.J.

Reefer Madness

I smoked pot once…

then I smoked it again…and again…

Because we were moving all the time after my parents split, I went to a different school for six straight years, from fifth grade to tenth.

The first couple moves weren’t too bad and I did okay at the new schools finding new friends fairly easily. But as I moved into my junior-high years it became harder and harder to fit in. In general, middle schoolers are not very welcoming to new kids, especially ones who are tired of trying to fit into new circumstances every year.

There was one group, however, who was very inclusive–the stoners.

Most of them were like me, outcasts from broken families, tired of trying to fit in with crowds who mostly didn’t want us there. We accepted each other as we were, for the most part, and that was what we needed. The pot just went along with it somehow.

I never fit in with the mainstream crowd anymore, not really, but high school was better. I had a large group of friends, all accredited members of the party crowd. The stoners had moved on to alcohol and thereby intermingled with the rest of the mainstream crowd, who were just discovering marijuana.

I went overboard at times as did many of my friends; I smoked too much, drank too much. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t. Sometimes I wish I had been strong enough to go to each new town or school and just let people accept me for who I was or not. Sometimes I wish I had been strong enough to jump in and fight for the starting shortstop job in high-school, whether I won the position or not. Sometimes I wonder who I could have been and what I could’ve done had I saved a few of the brain cells I partied away. Sometimes I wish I had applied myself and gone to college and studied something that could have put me on a path to make a difference in this world.

Mostly I don’t, though. Mostly I live where I am, in the moment, and I am grateful for that moment, this moment. I am grateful for the incredible life God has blessed me with. Some would call my life average. I call it an infinitely awesome gift; A Gift That Gives.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

I am not living a life of regret. I was a clueless kid whose life had been turned on its side. Maybe he could’ve done better but God would give that kid some grace, don’t you think? That’s what I received, anyway.

Not only was I given grace but he worked all my choices for my good and hopefully for the good of a few others as well. I still count some of those crazy stoners from school among my best friends and I see them often. And the uncertainties and ups and downs of my imperfect blue-collar life has prepared me to be the man I am, to be the average joe voice you are reading right now.

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Tears On My Keyboard

I know before I write this, there will be tears on my keyboard, but this couldn’t be a more joyful post…

The day after our mom died, my brother and I went to a restaurant/bar to have a drink and talk.  Predictably, we both teared up several times as we talked and as we were leaving I mentioned how it must have looked like we were breaking up.  We chuckled a bit, then he deadpanned, “Isn’t it funny how couples who have been together a long time start to look like each other?”

Humor can help us through the toughest times.  So can miracles.

I have wanted to tell the amazing story of my mom’s death for a long time, but I didn’t think I could do the moment justice.  But, I guess I can’t do it justice if I never tell the story.  As you can imagine, it is a difficult story to tell, no matter how amazing.

The medical circumstances, themselves, don’t seem all that remarkable, not really, til the end, that is.  My mom got sick right after Christmas three years ago; a cold or the flu maybe, but that led to something worse.  She called 911 on a Thursday morning in early January when she woke up short of breath.  She seemed okay when I saw her in the hospital that afternoon; enjoying the attention, actually.  That evening, though, her breathing became very labored and her heart (which was not in great shape) became stressed.  So, they decided to put her on a ventilator and sedate her for a day or two until the antibiotics kicked in.

I guess it was Saturday morning when they weened her off the sedation but she still had the ventilator tube down her throat.  The plan was to wait until the vitals looked strong enough, then they would take her off the vent.  Several of us were there when she woke from the sedation and motioned for us to give her something to write with.  Her first question:  “Am I dying?”

My brother didn’t know he was lying when he told her she wasn’t going to die.  At the time, everything seemed to be going as planned and even when her heart became stressed again when they tried to take her off the ventilator and they decided to put her back under, we felt okay.  Even though they said it could be pneumonia, we were encouraged. Her vitals were good, they told us, she should recover.  So they sedated her again with the plan to take her off the vent the next day.

Sunday morning they weened her off the sedation just like the day before, only this time she didn’t wake up.  All the vitals still looked good so they surmised it was just going to take a while longer for her to wake up.  They had a few theories that supported a longer waking time.  As the day went on, though, the doctors became more and more perplexed.  Every reading they were getting was showing that she should be awake.

Sunday turned into Monday and Mom still slept despite all efforts to rouse her.  Her  vitals weren’t so encouraging anymore, though, and that afternoon her organs began to shut down.  We had to make the difficult decision to take my mom off the ventilator, knowing that her life would be over within minutes of doing so.

At this point, for her comfort, they sedated her once again.  We all said our goodbyes in our own way; and we prayed over her as a family.  Then, with a dozen of her family members gathered around her bed, holding her, touching her, and loving her, we allowed them to pull the breathing tube from my mom.

She took a few labored breaths, coughed some, took a few more deep and raspy breaths spaced far enough apart that each seemed like it must have been her last, then… something amazing happened.  Her breathing calmed a little and her eyes began to open.  Despite all efforts to wake her for two days, despite her organs shutting down, despite now being sedated again… my mom woke up.

Her head was tilted to her left and she focused on my brother first who was holding that hand.  Then very slowly, eyes wide with wonder she looked all the way around her at a dozen sets of loving eyes, her daughter was there, three sons, our spouses, several of her grandchildren.  We smiled through our tears and cheered her on and told her we loved her, and when her eyes got to me, I said, “It’s okay Mom, you can go. We’re going to be okay.”  After she looked at every one of us, she closed her eyes for the last time, took a few more breaths, and went home.

I think my brother summed it up best.  He is an above average joe.  That night at the bar, after our mom died, he told me he believed that when Mom wouldn’t wake up those last couple days, when there was no medical reason for her not to wake up, she was talking with the Lord.  He said he believed He was preparing her to come home; it was her time.  My brother said that when she inexplicably woke up–when her body was shutting down and after just being sedated again–he believes it was the Lord who opened those eyes one last time, using them to show her the fruits of her life: All her loved ones who seek Him because of her, not just the dozen people in the room that evening, but dozens of other friends and family who couldn’t be there, redcharlie-672182-unsplashas well.

I have wondered about my mom’s expression in those last moments of her life.  It didn’t match the circumstances.  Yeah, I know she was dying and her perspective was changed and all that.  But she was seeing more than the loved ones gathered around her bed.    There was genuine wide-eyed wonder in her eyes, like a three-year-old girl seeing Santa putting presents under the tree in her own home.  We were there; she looked at us, saw us and felt our love, not just our love for her but our love for God.  But that childlike expression of wonder tells me she was seeing something more, way more, seeing something for the first time, like the truth of her worth to God’s Kingdom.

A.J.

 

 

 

P.C.

If I were a public figure, it wouldn’t be for long; my fifteen minutes of fame would last for two…

It wouldn’t take long for me to stick my foot in my mouth.  When you write, you always have that chance to look over and reconsider your words.  When there is a microphone in your face, however, you can’t take them back.

If you are in the public eye, you must walk on eggshells with your words, or the media will sensationalize and demonize them.  This politician said this, or this actor said that.  Senator So-and-So said that people from Mexico are Mexicans!  OMG!  Miss Rock and Roll Diva called her drummer black instead of African American!  Cancel the tour!  And just now, Average Joe is in hot water cause he called Rock and Roll Diva “Miss” rather than “Ms”!  Get the tar and feathers!

Christians are square in the middle of the media’s crosshairs.  Political correctness will not allow us to say anything absolute or exclusive, like boys can’t be girls because they  actually ARE boys.  We aren’t allowed to say that men were created to be united with women–or no one at all.  Likewise women were created to be united with men–or no one at all.  Oh look, Average Joe just got himself in trouble again!

You know what?  Average Joe doesn’t give a shhh…  Phew!  Saved that one; good thing there wasn’t a microphone here!

In general, Christians aren’t very good at holding God’s line; we cave-in easily.  In fact, we have become cave-in kings.  To avoid offending anyone and calling attention to ourselves, we have become experts at choosing our words very carefully, thereby compromising God’s words.

God’s Word, though, is completely uncompromising.  He is not P.C.  There is nothing wishy-washy about the way the Bible identifies and condemns sin, nothing uncertain about God’s justice, and there is zero compromise in the way sin is to be punished.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is Grace.

It is not a compromise.  God’s Justice is completely served.  He did not let up on my sin one little bit when it went to the cross on Jesus’ shoulders.  The penalty for my sin was unspeakable–but I will speak of it…  They did not look for the Roman garrison’s ninety-jonathan-wheeler-n1PFjN_--Xk-unsplashpound weakling to administer the stripes on Jesus’ back.  Nor did they remove the bits of bone or metal from the strands of the scourge that ripped the flesh from Him.  He wasn’t given the ancient day equivalent of morphine beforehand.  The spikes that held Jesus’ feet and hands to the cross weren’t made of velvet.  He wasn’t getting a hydrating intravenous drip as the sun beat on His beaten, scourged, and bleeding body that terrible afternoon.  God’s wrath for my sin came down on Jesus–uncompromisingly.

The least I, or we, should be able to do is not compromise His Word to avoid offending people, people who actually need to hear the whole of God’s Word.

No compromise.

A.J.

Missing Mom

I’m a big boy now, all grown up…

Been through a lot.  Travelled some rocky roads.  Been injured, been sick, lost jobs, lost friends, seen trouble, been in fistfights.  Worked hard for a lotta years, raised kids, lived and died with their troubles too.  Still do.  But I am still standing.

Nevertheless… Sometimes I want my mommy.

It’s her birthday today.  She would’ve been… let’s see… um… old.

She’s been gone almost three years now.  A lot of people are missing her today.  She’s a very miss-joris-beugels-9Af1xSn7Jkw-unsplashable person.  I could go on and on about her but I will spare you, plus I don’t want to get all blubbery.

I have been at peace with her passing ever since, but especially those first few days and weeks.  Not that I ever had any doubts about my mom’s eternal future–she loved Jesus with her whole heart–but right after she died I was absolutely overwhelmed with assurance that, after a rough life, she was truly home.  I can’t explain it exactly, but I had a feeling of great joy at her homecoming, like some of the heavenly joy of that great celebration leaked over to me.

I tried to hold onto that feeling but it has mostly faded to head knowledge rather than heart.  I remember it though.  I remember that it was God who comforted me when I needed it the most, just like it was Him who helped me along my rocky roads.  He is the reason I am still standing, hope intact.  He is My Rock.  I will never be shaken.

Thanks for pointing me to Him, Mom.  Happy Birthday.  I love you.

A.J.

I have told you I am sure that a serial killer considered murdering me. (That post was from January 23rd of this year, if you missed it.)  What I didn’t tell you is–a conversation I had with that man might have been the strangest moment of my life–although I didn’t know it at the time…
 
The flies were really bad on that warm autumn day, the worst I had ever seen.  Not only were they everywhere but they were in that weird, twitchy state that they always get into in the fall, when their favorite place to land seems to be your eyelid.  I am getting the willies just thinking about it.  The dock doors of our shop had to be open much of the day and the flies took it as an invitation.
We were at the big industrial sink, washing our hands (and maybe our eyelids), when R.P. started complaining about how awful the flies were that day.  Now I hate flies, and there is no one better with a swatter, so I kept the population in my work area livable, for me, not for them.  Anyway, I told R.P. where there was an extra fly swatter and that is when he said it:  With the most solemn and compassionate look, he said, “I don’t believe we have the right to kill any living creature.”
I know–you must think I am making this up–dramatizing the moment to make for a better post.  I assure you, though, I am not.  It couldn’t be the strangest moment of my life if it was fictional.
A serial killer who wouldn’t hurt a fly!?!
At the time, I just thought he was nuts and I am sure my facial expression made that clear.  We were talking about flies! Vermin!  They would go straight from a pile of dung to our upper lips!  I think I uttered something conveying my confusion and disagreement, but respectfully accepted his stance concerning the sanctity of the lives of flies.  Then I returned to my work area and my well-used swatter.  I didn’t forget his words, though, words that became the strangest I have ever heard a few years later.  That is when we found out that R.P. had murdered five women and one man over a span of a couple years, two of which were killed during the time span he worked with me.tanya-prodan-1627271-unsplash
I had looked into the eyes of a killer, someone who, on another day, considered murdering me (I am convinced).  In those eyes, I didn’t see hatred and anger; I saw what seemed like compassion, not for flies exactly, but for the living, for those whose lives he was ending.
I read about an interview he did shortly after he was arrested and saw a video interview he did from prison a few years later.  After seeing these interviews, I believe it was guilt I saw in his eyes that one weird day, a guilt as deep as deep gets.  In the interviews, he spoke of God and forgiveness–and said matter-of-factly that there was no way God could ever forgive what he did.  He was extremely open and honest and the shame and guilt and regret were clearly his constant companions.  It wouldn’t have mattered if he was in prison or on a beach somewhere, his sins were overwhelming him.  It seemed like he was already in hell.
Now, we might think hell is where murderers deserve to be and we would be right, they do.  They deserve the exact same fate as those who stew in anger.
“Wait!  What?”  You ask.   “You are equating those who have anger problems with murderers, serial killers?”
Well, no. Not me, exactly.  Jesus did that.  The one who came for the lost and broken, the one who came for the diseased rather than the healthy, He is the one who tells us that we too are lost and broken, we too are diseased.  One may be in heart failure and one may have the sniffles but both are sick–and quarantined from the presence of God.
Personally, I have a hard time forgiving the horrible things “others” have done.  There has to be a line, right?  Some things just shouldn’t be forgiven.  Someone give me a piece of chalk and I will put that line where I think it needs to be, below me somewhere.  The thing is–one of you might put that line a bit higher–above me, and another still higher–above you.
But God owns the chalk, the board, and the school.  The line has been drawn and it is above every one of us, both the jealous and the thieves, both the lusters and the adulterers, both the angry and the murderers.  God drew the line that none of us have reached… then gave Jesus the eraser.
A.J.

God Laughs

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I was joking in my last post.  I didn’t really marry my sister, humanly speaking…

Some get my humor, and some don’t.  I understand.  I often don’t get what others find funny, especially these days when disrespect, vulgarity, and downright meanness passes for humor.  That is a post for another day, though.  Today, I wonder… does God find us funny?

His is a serious job.  He sees every wrong being done to any and all, right?  People he loves are hurting, or heading down the wrong path. This is true, but he also sees every unselfish act of kindness and feels the joy when one of his prodigals turns toward him.

You know what else he sees?  Everything.  All the crazy, hilarious moments of our lives happened right in front of him.

When my youngest was getting into something she shouldn’t have, at nine months old, I gave her a sharp; “Hey!”.  She turned to my wife and I with a perfect little “It wasn’t me!” look, even though she was the only one there.  So that’s what I said, “It wasn’t me!” then spontaneously rolled into the next verse of the George Thorogood song of that name…

It wasn’t me!

No, no, Dad, It wasn’t me!

Noooo, it musta been some other baby, no, no, dad it wasn’t me!

You would have to know the song and seen my daughter’s look but my wife and I were rolling on the ground, much to our daughter’s delight.  Do you think God was laughing with us?  Cause I do.

When my brother, at my son and daughter in law’s wedding reception, took two of those little battery operated fake candles, screwed them into his eye sockets, put on a pair of shades to hold them in place and began to lament on “how mankind has become lethargic and you just don’t see the “light in peoples’ eyes” anymore…”  Do you think God found that funny?  Was he laughing with us that afternoon?

We are made in his image, right?  Does that mean God has laughed so hard he cried before?  Has God ever had milk come out his nose?  Has Jesus?

I know this may sound a bit irreverent to some but I don’t mean it to be.  We have God on a pedestal in our hearts and that is right; He belongs there.  He is King of Heaven and Earth, Creator of All.  The throne in every heart belongs to Him, and Him alone.  But God being so far above us doesn’t mean he wears a constant serious scowl.

Ecclesiastes tells us there is “…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…”

I think the inventor of laughter… laughs.  I believe the inventor of the smile… smiles.  I think it brings Him joy to see His children laughing joyfully–and I think He laughs with us.

A.J.