Beyond the Veil

I’m a couple of weeks into another flare up.  Like all other flare ups, I cannot see the end.  I’m reminded of when I wrestled my brother in the pool.  That moment he got the upper hand.  That moment he had me underwater.  I remember the burning lungs and the panic.  I remember the struggle for just a breath of air.  Oh, that brief respite that is unceremoniously interrupted by another trip under the surface.  That’s what we did for fun.  We tried to drown each other.

I’m laying on the couch because my knees are throbbing, my left sacroiliac joint feels like it’s crushed under an elephant, and my lower spine–my bones feel like they are burning.  I just need a short hiatus to catch my breath.  I’m drowning and I’m at the mercy of my body in revolt.  You would think that you could grow accustomed to chronic pain.  Maybe some do, but I can’t.  I cannot see beyond this veil.

I’m told that people outside my prison cell thrive and enjoy life.  I just want to catch my breath before I go under again.

Two Sizes Too Small

Growing up, Christmas was a mixed bag. True, I got presents, but they came at a cost. Along with the gifts came strife between my parents–not just at Christmastime, the constant threats of divorce from my mom along with the manipulation from my dad kept our household in turmoil. It’s just that this nonsense was amplified around the holidays. They finally divorced when I was in my early 20s–about 20 years too late.

After I finally grew up and left home, I coped with the hurt by emptying bottles of booze. For years. During this time, I eliminated my parents and siblings from my life. That wasn’t difficult because we were never close. 

Maybe five years passed before I somewhat repaired what little relationship I had with my mom and sister. Up until around six years ago I was a godless heathen. I committed to attending my grandmother’s funeral four years ago before I realized that her son–my dad, would be in attendance.

Surprisingly, we made amends and he would remain in good standing as long as he would respect my boundaries. Sadly, both of my parents lost their minds November 4 by demanding that they bring my now-estranged meth-addicted sister for a visit. Against my better judgment, I agreed to this precarious arrangement under duress only for them to cancel their plans the following day replete with vitriol and shenanigans–all of this after I already told my children that they will be seeing three special gifts.

This partly why I’m typically grinch-like around the holidays.  The rest of my grinchiness comes from the pain from my AS which is my constant companion.

Fortunately, my family is going to Dallas this weekend to spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ to serve the homeless with Mercy Chefs. Through service, I’m reminded of the true meaning of Christmas which ultimately points to the cross.

So for those who have a nightmarish family, when your heart feels two sizes too small–look to the cross.

Authentic Cliché

When I hear the term “authentic” in reference to faith, I die a little on the inside. It’s been reduced to a Christian cliché along with terms like “real” and “relevant”. The truth is that we are trying too hard at branding ourselves as if Jesus is a product to be consumed.

We are all hypocrites. We are all broken. It’s time that we stop trying to look like the world in an attempt to lure goats into church. Watered down gimmicky theology saves no one. It damns them. To preach “love” without preaching repentance is not loving at all. To share a pseudo-gospel where God wants you to have “your best life now” inoculates people from the real Jesus.

It’s time we stop telling half-truths in an attempt to make Jesus palatable and share the whole Gospel which includes Jesus’ command for repentance so that people might be saved. We can be loving and compassionate in sharing the truth, but if we confuse “niceness” with love by ignoring the seriousness of sin because we are scared of hurt feelings, we are complicit in the subsequent damnation of the very people we are trying to save.

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/has-authenticity-trumped-holiness-2

BBQ Chronicles:  Pecan Lodge–Dallas, TX

It’s been a month and a half since I last noshed on barbecue.  Last time I was in Nashville, TN, and in Rooster Cogburn fashion, it didn’t hold a patch to Texas BBQ.

I was inspired by the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ joints some time ago, and I always enjoy the adventure, though there are times when Texas Monthly boogers up their ranking–they apparently like Cousin’s BBQ.  I’ve had it and I’ve had better BBQ at Dickey’s, and they serve crap. 

A nice variety of meat to gauge Pecan Lodge’s deliciousness.

Let’s start with the brisket.  I ordered both fatty brisket and some from the flat for my less enthusiastic family members.  The fat was perfectly rendered and the meat was incredibly tender.  I was immensely happy with the flavor, but it’s not as good as Lockhart in Dallas or Black’s BBQ in Lockhart.  I also have to say that Bartley’s BBQ in Grapevine, TX produces superior brisket.  Regardless, their brisket was noteworthy.

The sausage was also nice.  We tried both the regular smoked sausage and the jalapeño/cheddar sausage.  Both were enjoyable.  The skin had a beautiful snap when you buy into it and the meat had a coarser grind than typical.  This sausage was definitely better than average.
While the spare ribs were tender, they didn’t have a lot of flavor.  Stanley’s in Tyler, TX is far superior. 

These links weren’t magical, but they were good.
 The beans were adequate.  They didn’t taste as if they came straight from a can, but they weren’t stellar, either.  Normally, I would gorge on beans, but these weren’t gorge-worthy.  Again, Stanley’s beats Pecan Lodge.  But if it’s beans you’re after, try Hutchins in McKinney, TX. 
These beans look fantastic, but it’s the unassuming slices of brisket in the background that are the winners here.
 Texas Monthly gives Pecan Lodge high marks with a 4.0/5.0.  Because of the shortcomings, I think I’ll have to award a 3.4/5.0.  

Drowning

I told my physical therapist the other day that this angry flare-up makes me want to drown myself.  She asked, “With vodka?”  I replied, “No, in the tub.”  That is still apparently serious voodoo in the medical field.

I was only half-joking, but she told me to call them if I ever feel that way again.  I told her that I’m not going to do anything–I’ve had chronic pain for six years and I always pretty much feel that way.

I’ve dealt with these thoughts since I was five or six.  They are only magnified now that I cannot escape this cloak of agony.  Let me be clear–I am not going to harm myself.  Still, the endless loop in my mind isn’t puppies and rainbows.  

I push those thoughts out almost daily.  I don’t dwell on them.  They invade my mind.  And the images are graphic.   

From “The Message of Daniel” by Dale Ralph Davis
 Anyone who has dealt with terrible pain has struggled to hang on just five more minutes.  Then another five minutes.  You wake up one day and realize that five minutes turned into a year.  Then two.  Now six.  I told my wife last Saturday that I don’t know if I can do this another thirty years.  I’m only forty and every day is a marathon, yet I still have hope.

Witnessing to Witnesses

This morning I was greeted by two Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They were trying to give me some pamphlet when I said that I was a Christian.  One of the guys responded that people have a misconception about Jehovah’s Witnesses.  He said that they are Christians and that we believe the same things.  I set the record straight by telling him that we share a lot of beliefs, but the differences that we have are eternal.

I quoted John 1:1 and then told him what his bible says.  The difference is a simple article.  A doctrinally sound translation says, “the Word was God.”  The Witnesses’ translation says, “the Word was a god.”  

For thirty minutes we discussed the differences in our view.  They believe that Jesus is the Son, but not God.  Then one of the gentlemen quoted Colossians 1:15 to prove Christ’s position as the firstborn of all creation, not God.  In my studies, I have come across CARM which I believe explains this verse not as a matter of physical position, but as a matter of headship.  Genesis 25 establishes this by naming Jacob the firstborn over Esau even though he was physically the second-born.  Bible.org has an extensive explanation of the prototokos concept.

I gently told them that they were going to hell if they do not believe that Jesus is God.  I told them not to take my word for it.  I advised them to read other translations.  Even better, with the Internet, they can easily see what was written in the Greek and the Hebrew.

I don’t know if I was able to reach them or not, but at least they heard the truth.  We live in an age where we don’t want to offend or hurt feelings, but regarding eternal matters, we must not be squeamish. It seems that people only want to emphasize some “permissive love,” which is not loving at all.  God is not some zen swami witch-doctor who teaches hippy love.  God will judge us all accordingly and I would not want to end up in hell because someone did not want to undertake the distasteful task of telling me that I’m wrong and must repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

We are tasked with proclaiming the Good News.  Let’s not forget to warn of the bad news.

On the Kentucky Canard

I have seen a lot of news regarding the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses in protest to the homosexual “marriage” debacle.  To be honest, I don’t know what to think about Kim Davis and her refusal to carry out her duties.  

As a Christian, my knee-jerk reaction was to simply obey the law of the land as dictated in Romans 13.  After all, she could resign to satisfy her conscience.  Then I read Matt Walsh’s article and determined that my initial response may have been rash.

I’m still considering Romans 13–specifically Romans 13:2, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”  At the risk of sounding circular, all rulers are ultimately appointed by God.  History is rife with unjust rulers and government, but are we forbidden from ever opposing the government?  

I’m aware that many people are in agreement with same-sex “marriage”.  Even many professing Christians support this movement.  I’m left wondering if they are even familiar with the Bible or if they are rejecting parts that they feel are unreasonable.  If they reject parts of the Bible, why accept Christ’s resurrection?  Why believe at all?  These people are already demonstrating that the Bible is untrustworthy.  All that aside, this particular situation should focus on Kim Davis’s conscience.  Even if she is wrong, should she be compelled to violate her conscience?

Had Davis simply resigned, we would not be having this discussion.  This is a perfectly reasonable response and her conscience would be unblemished.  I think this is the approach I would have taken.

I also have to consider Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego and the firey furnace in Daniel 3.  They could have bowed to the idol and avoided the furnace.  They don’t have to mean it, they just have to obey the law of the land, right?  Their dilemma was whether they should obey God or man.  They chose the former so Nebuchadnezzar cast them into the fire.

Ultimately, I believe this is an individual matter for the Christian.  I think one could construct a biblical case to support Davis’s resignation or her decision to refuse to issue marriage licenses.  The Bible does not consent to the participation in the commission of sin, though.

If anything, I think Davis’s conviction (however misguided it may or may not be) is commendable.  How many of us would crumble so that we could avoid jail or even an unpleasant glare?  Do you have any convictions worth defending at any cost, or is it all relative?

More of the Same–Only Worse

It’s days like this that really make it hard to live.  Even before I was stricken with ankylosing spondylitis, I found it exceedingly difficult persevere at times, but now it’s unbearable.  What happens when the pain gets worse?  Is life more unbearable?   

This was fifteen days ago. It was a Sunday morning and as you can see, it was a pretty good day.
You would think that once you reach the point where you cannot possibly bear any more pain, it increases.  It multiplies.  It goes beyond unbearable.  It shatters all notions of normalcy and grinds you to dust.

I’ve been dealing with a minor flare up for a couple of months, but the past week or two, the pain has been increasing exponentially where I’m continually thinking that I’ve hit my plateau.  As I unwrap a new day, I find that I was horribly mistaken and the previous day could easily be compared the greatest landmarks of my life–my wedding, the birth of my children, or the first time I tried hot chicken.

It’s times like these where I cannot hide from…myself.  I still have dreams and aspirations.  Granted, these have been muted as I have come to realize that my life has been forever changed.  Oftentimes, these dreams and aspirations have been reduced from the realistic (I mean who doesn’t want to be an astronaut), to the impossible–like twenty minutes of normalcy.

It’s funny that I have a disease that traps me inside a shell of myself.  It’s amusing that I’m cocooned in a broken body in which there is no escape.  It’s comical only because I am what I have always feared–a cripple.

Of the many things I have feared, two are notable:  fear of pain and fear of being trapped from within.  

I remember a small cut or insignificant burn could ruin my day.  It sounds ridiculous now that there is no such thing as life without pain, but if I stubbed my toe or skinned my knee, it was time to close up shop because my day was wrecked.  Life was on hiatus.  

When life wasn’t interrupted by bruises and scrapes I was occasionally overcome by the dread of living in a body that didn’t work.  More specifically, I was afraid of being paralyzed.  I still am because I know how quickly it can happen.

One Minnesota winter night when I was nineteen, I was outside in the snow with a bunch of friends.  I was teasing my buddy Shawn and the angrier he got, the more delighted I became.  Apparently, I went too far because he punched me right as I turned to walk off.  No warning.  I just remember the jolt of electricity that shot through my body as he punched me in the back of the neck.

I instantly dropped to the ground as my body folded under itself like a marionette.  My body was numb and I couldn’t move.  I went from surprise, to terror, to anger in about three seconds.  I was laying in the snow on my back with my limbs askew when I began cursing Shawn for paralyzing me.  I thought my neck was broken.

Between my shouts for an ambulance and my colorful insults, everybody thought I was playing around.  I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t call the police as this went on for ten minutes.  By then, I was getting my feeling back.  I was able to clumsily flail my arms like a drunken infant.  I was staggering, then walking in short order, but the experience made me even more fearful of physical disability.

So here I am today passing the time on the couch waiting for bedtime.  Tomorrow morning will arrive too quickly for another day of work followed by an afternoon of couch surfing.  I’m not going to assume that today will be my worst day, but I’m not going to hold my breath for a better one either.

Imago Dei

I saw a homeless man guarding the entrance to the Walmart parking lot the other day.  I brought him some cold water and a gift card, but I also sat with him and spoke with him for ten–maybe fifteen minutes.  

I just got off work so I still looked presentable in my khakis and without my trademark baseball cap.  My nose told me that James–he told me his name was James–was probably sweating off a hangover and needed a shave, but he felt human again as someone was willing to listen to his story.

Several people shoved cash into his hand as they passed, and no fewer than five cars opened their wallets to him.  It was so unusual that James joked that he needed to keep me around as his good luck charm.  I estimate he collected twenty bucks in ten minutes and I’m left wondering if my presence made a difference.  

Do people give more if a “respectable” man is in the presence of a homeless man?  If so, are they motivated by some collective altruism or is it out of guilt?  I don’t know but James didn’t go hungry that night, and he told me that he was going to pool his money with some homeless friends to get a hotel room.  Perhaps he did get a room.  Perhaps he had a hot bath and enjoyed the a/c for the evening.  Perhaps he watched Pawn Stars or Swamp People.  

I don’t know what he did that evening, but when we hugged and parted ways, he saw what I saw.  I didn’t see a homeless guy or a seedy character I needed to guard against.  I saw a man created in God’s image and I hope he never forgets that.

Don’t Rue the Roux (A Homophonically Hackneyed Glorification of Gravy)

I’m a gravy animal. I like gravy on anything. In my world gravy deserves the coveted foundational spot on the food pyramid. But the pyramid I grew up with has been has been replaced with something bizarre.  I first encountered this new layout at Kroger when I saw some strange crop circle-esque food diagram.

I couldn’t decipher this new age pyramid as there is no base to build on. That’s not a proper food pyramid. I learned about nutrition from Slim Goodbody, the stalwart, creepy body suit wearing crusader. Mr. Goodbody may not be a gravy advocate, but I’m not deterred.

I’m such a gravy proponent that years ago I used to have listeners consume a thirty-two ounce glass of cream gravy when I was a disc jockey.  If you are a radio personality and need a game that is devoid of originality but will make some listeners say, “Eww,” you can steal this bit that I undoubtedly stole from some unimaginative liner jock who used it as a vehicle to giveaway blue plate lunches during his lunchtime request hour.  It’s amazing the lengths some people go to score a CD from some never was band like Zug Izland. Remember that band? Me neither.

I’m definitely no expert on sauces, but I have gained enough experience to make a half decent gel of grease and flour. Making roux for gumbo is a skill I have yet to perfect.  Gravy is easy.  At least for me, death-defying dark roux is not only challenging, but all of that stirring can be exhausting.  

I love a really dark roux, but I have had gumbo where the roux was scorched.  Needless to say, that restaurant isn’t around anymore.  When I make a roux, I always plan on making it the color of dark chocolate.  Once it looks like peanut butter I start getting nervous, and I invariably chicken out when the roux almost looks like milk chocolate.  

Justin Wilson terrifies me with this über-dark roux.  I can’t find the rest of the clip to see if the gumbo turned out.  I’m certain it was perfect, but next time I set out to make a dark roux, I’ll have to battle another bout of flop sweat or I’ll get tired and ditch the whole gumbo idea and bust open a can of biscuits and make a pan of cream gravy.

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