Today marks 39 weeks which means that sometime within the next seven days it’s overwhelmingly likely that Grand Finale Osborne will begin his reign of planet Earth. And the reality of what’s to come is finally taking full effect, causing my mind to race at warp speed, looking ahead to the future with hope as it looks back to the past for guidance. Back to the child who had it, yet never understood exactly what it was.
Image: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ via Creative Commons
Early one morning in 2002, my brother picked me up from the airport and drove me to the hospital to see my dad. He had been unresponsive since the afternoon before. His rapid turn for the worse was what had prompted the previous night’s phone calls urging me to catch a cross-country flight if I ever wanted to see him alive again.
Before molding his precious metal, the goldsmith must first melt it down until the material becomes ideal to work with. The gold reaches that point only when the goldsmith is finally able to see his reflection staring back at him each and every time he casts his patient gaze upon it. When this occurs, he’ll take possession of the metal, then carefully create the form in which it will forever remain.
It appears as if the Goldsmith is satisfied, indeed, with my sister. I have no doubt that He’s able to see the reflection of His likeness whenever He looks deep within her soul. As such, He’ll finally turn down the heat. Throughout the years, however, He has melted her time and time again, but Holliday never complained. She simply endured, and as she did, all who witnessed were warmed by the glow of her bravery and determination.
Each year Lovie is good enough to let me abandon my family and hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail for several days. Some of her friends give me grief about my annual sojourn. They seem to consider it nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse to have a three-day bender in the woods with my buddies. If they only knew.
Hours and hours are spent consulting our trusty maps as well as several guidebooks to carefully analyze topography, mileage, water sources, weather patterns, shelters, and campsites before we even decide upon our itinerary. It takes almost as long to organize our backpacks. The last thing you can afford on the trail is too much weight, which means many of the things I might have wanted to take get left behind. That’s okay, though. You get by better with only the things you need.
My friends and I temporarily trade our complicated but comfortable lives for simple, arduous ones. We hike up and down 5,000-foot inclines, covering up to 20 miles a day, armed with nothing more than 40 pounds of essentials, the clothes we’re wearing, and a desire to lead more meaningful lives.
I can’t speak for my companions, but while I’m in the woods, I feel the entire gamut of emotions—from exhilaration after cresting a two-mile incline, to wonder while witnessing the divine beauty at the top, to relief at beginning a much-needed descent, to despair when staring at yet another uphill stretch, to exaltation when I finally see the campsite I’ve dedicated the previous 11 hours to reach. It’s there I’ll rest and replenish all so I can experience another collage of emotions the very next day.
In 2001, I flew over 100,000 miles, visiting places like Vegas, Tahoe, and South Beach for fun and places like Birmingham, Tupelo, and Macon for work. I was a financial services wholesaler; a white-collared gunslinger, clad in a tailored suit—armed and dangerous with my carry-on, the Wall Street Journal, and a frequent flyer card.
After the first full year at my job, I won my company’s highest honor for sales excellence, the Reach the Peak award—an all-expenses-paid vacation for two anywhere in the world. But in spite of my professional success, I was a personal failure. And while this isn’t the forum to explain why that was the case, I will offer the following. I continuously molded myself to become whatever it was I thought people wanted me to be. In so doing, I had morphed from a person into a persona and was dangerously close to losing touch with who I really was.
I cashed in my Reach the Peak award on a two-week South African tour. It was in that foreign land I began the long process of rediscovering myself. It was there I realized how unfulfilled I was, as well as how much more I wanted from my life. I longed to fall in love, settle down, and have children. I also longed to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Finding love and writing the perfect novel weren’t exactly the typical topics my metro-sexual buddies and I discussed while clubbing in Midtown Manhattan, yet I was at a point where I needed to give such concepts the attention they warranted. I knew that if I was really serious about trying to find a more fulfilling life, I needed to change my playgrounds as well as my playmates.
So in April of 2002, I quit my job and blew up my world. BOOM. Done.
In the months that followed, I was lost as a bat. Many couldn’t believe I’d thrown it all away, but I didn’t care what such people thought. I was deep in the throws of a spiritual reawakening, thanks, in part, to a few special friends and a couple of books by C.S. Lewis. (Incidentally, if you’ve not read Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, it’s not safe for you to die yet.) I repeatedly pondered God’s will for me, near convinced that it included a wife and little ones, hopeful that it may even contain writing. I constantly prayed for God to show me the way, confident that something would soon reveal itself.
I was wrong.
Eventually, I moved back to my hometown and started a granite countertop business with my sister-in-law. The first two years were sheer hell. I found myself working doctor’s hours at janitor’s pay, much of them in the form of grueling manual labor. My dream of writing? There was simply no time. My dream of finding love? Though I was more true to myself than I had been before, I was still bouncing from one dysfunctional relationship to the next. By 2004, I was officially in a rut, often wondering if blowing up my old world was the right call after all. I grew skeptical that love and family were in the cards for me, but, regardless, I knew that God had something planned and I repeatedly prayed for Him to show me how to find it. Those prayers continued to go unanswered.
Enter Caroline, a girl I had known since 1980, but one I had not seen nor spoken to in over a decade. I was coming off of (yet another) dysfunctional relationship, and she was emerging from the wreckage of an unsuccessful marriage. We formed an immediate bond, and I was incredibly attracted to her. Sadly, however, I knew that our relationship had no future. Thanks to a few different trysts with single moms in my past, there was one thing I was certain of: I was not interested in becoming a step dad. Period.
But in spite of that preconceived notion, I fell madly in love with Caroline. And then something else happened. I fell madly in love with her daughter. Two and a half years later, Caroline and I got married. Thirteen months after that, we welcomed triplets into the world. Once worried that I’d never get married and have children, today I find myself happily married and the father of four. The business that used to suffocate me is now up and running to the point that I’m able to spend more time writing than I ever dreamed possible. Could it be that after all these years, I’m just now on the path that God had intended?
A close friend of mine, Dr. Michael Ruth, recently told me that, to him, God’s will is nothing more than each of us standing on the outside edge of an impossibly thick jungle armed only with a machete and the knowledge that God’s got our back. As I reflect on my journey, I believe my friend is right. God’s will isn’t something that’s magically revealed to you just because you’ve prayed about it. It’s not something that’s laid at your feet. It’s a feeling that’s deep in your soul. And that feeling is what you use to guide the machete as you cut your path through the jungle that lies ahead. That feeling is proof that God does, indeed, have your back. Other than Him and the machete, it’s all that you’ve got. Other than Him and the machete, it’s all that you need. The path you forge with the tools He provides is His will.
With Thanksgiving just a day away, I’m thankful for my beautiful wife, my four children, the successful small business I co-own, the time I’m able to spend writing, and the indescribable happiness all those things have given me. Not so long ago, it seemed unlikely that I’d be in such a spot. But I guess I just kept hacking away until I found them. I’m not naïve enough to think that my work is through, for I know how easy it is to get lost in the jungle. As I continue to forge my way, I’ll continue to uncover countless new challenges and will undoubtedly find myself lost as a bat again and again.
And daunting though that may be, it doesn’t change one simple fact. This Thanksgiving, above all else, I’m most thankful for the One who put me on the outside edge of this impossibly thick jungle. For without Him, the machete, and the feeling He placed deep within my soul, I would never have found any of the other wonderful things for which I’m eternally grateful, nor would I be able to continue making my way through His beautiful jungle.
Happy holidays, everyone. God Bless.