Today’s guest contributor is one of my English Composition I students, Ryan Clack. He’s graciously given me permission to share his first essay of the fall semester with all of you. I was inspired and touched by his essay; I’m sure you will be, too.
What Makes Ryan Clack, Ryan Clack?
Answering the question above is neither simple nor complicated, but somewhere right in between. In order to start this “Who I Am” essay, I’ll begin with an introduction. My name is Ryan Clack. I am a 20 year-old Caucasian red-headed male from Temecula, California. I was born into this beautiful, yet harsh world on May 18, 1998, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I have three other siblings. Two are my half siblings, and my parents’ names are Ron and Heather Clack. I am not afraid to admit that I’m a little bit of a mama’s boy and have been that way forever, so it’s safe to say I love her very dearly. My father and I share a huge bond in the game of baseball, and he has been such an important piece to my maturity and manhood throughout the years. With that being said, baseball has been my identity my entire life; it’s where I’ve met just about all of my friends, and it has given me the blessing of an opportunity to play collegiate ball on a scholarship on this very campus.
If I were to ask my friends or peers, they would likely tell me that I’m a very outgoing, funny, loving, kind, and smart guy. These are some attributes about myself I cherish and am very proud of. My mama always said, “You’re the most like me,” because she is the same exact way.
Throughout this year I’ve dealt with a great bit of adversity, and that adversity is what makes the overall question a little difficult to answer. Why? I’ve had to learn many lessons since January 17, 2018, the date of my mother’s passing. I feel as if my attributes include being outgoing, funny, loving, kind, and smart. These have not changed due to the fact that those are practically my foundation as a person, but a lot of other things have changed. My mom passed away after a year-long battle with stage 4 colon cancer. The messed up part about everything is the fact that she beat breast cancer in 2016 only to find out six months later that she would be fighting another battle for her life, being diagnosed with colon cancer.
Throughout being there for the process of chemotherapy sessions, sores, and week-long streaks of her being so tired and weak she wouldn’t leave bed, I witnessed a woman who was literally dying become the most positive, loving, fierce, and fearless warrior goddess of all time. Whilst on hospice, she would write on paper because she could no longer speak.
One thing she wrote is so beautiful and powerful that it is what I live by and identify with on this day and every other day. She said, “I live every beautiful day and I can find beautiful on even the worst day.” Since the day that I watched her write this on her deathbed, my whole life changed. I learned to embrace the good, bad, and ugly and endure everything with a smile on my face. I learned how to cope with such immense pain and how to overcome the depression that comes with it.
If you ask “What makes Ryan Clack, Ryan Clack?’ today, I’d be able to give you a great answer. Adversity.
Adversity has turned me from a teenage boy to a man, and although going through it is never easy, I wouldn’t want it any other way. With adversity I have learned countless lessons, great and awful, and it helps me learn through real life experiences. Those real life experiences are free, stone cold, and hard life lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. As of now, I couldn’t be happier with my situation, and I’m extremely blessed to be a part of such an amazing opportunity for me to continue to grow, obtain a degree, and continue to work on becoming the best person that I could possibly become.
Each morning, I spend time reading, praying, and meditating. This morning I started reading the book of Joshua in the Bible. I came across a line in verse five that resonated with me.
“I will not fail you or forsake you.”
I underlined that portion of the verse and meditated on it briefly before gathering cookies for Maggie’s classmates, my cup of coffee, car keys, and cell phone. I whisked Maggie out the door and cranked up the heat. It’s that time of year when I feel false hope about autumn coming until about 10 a.m. By noon, I’m sweating and shedding my sweater.
After dropping Maggie off at school, I returned home to a peaceful, quiet house. We live in the woods, and the sunlight strives to shine through the grove of trees on the eastern hill. The verse I selected came back to me as I stood staring at the sun.
“I will not fail you or forsake you.”
God isn’t failing or forsaking the leaves on those trees and has provided them with exactly the right amount of moisture since spring. God doesn’t fail the trees either; the only trees that fall are those ready to die, decaying at the core. I looked at the light reflecting off the dew on our grass and spider webs in the forest. He maintains the smallest bits of creation we overlook.
Of course he is not forsaking me either.
He provides me with just the right clients at the right time. Last week, one of my favorite clients notified me that this year, funding wasn’t available to hire me. My heart sank. A few hours later, a potential client called me and said he was ready to start working together. Maybe that timing was coincidental; I prefer to view it as providential. God always knows what I need when I need it, even if it’s just to confirm that He’s going before me and planning in love.
God is not failing or forsaking me.
I worried off and on for a year about how my daughter would adjust to starting kindergarten. Each time these fears came to mind, I attempted to let go and trust God. Sometimes I felt relief. Other times I wasn’t sure God would come through for me, even though His track record is stellar. But of course He came through. She was placed in a classroom with the most caring, committed, and well-trained teacher I know. She’s thriving. I’ve seen huge leaps in her ability to write and communicate in just three weeks’ time. And almost every day when I pick her up from school, she yells with glee, “This was the best day EVER!”
God is not forsaking or failing my child.
There is no space for fear when I focus on the ways God has come through for me in the past.
There is no room for fear when I focus on how God is providing for me today either.
I remember attending my first Twelve Step recovery meeting ever. It was an open meeting, and I attended with a friend. I listened. I learned a lot and felt that even though what people were sharing didn’t totally apply to me, there was something warm and familiar about it all the same. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
A few months later, I understood that warm and familiar feeling to be home. I related to the feelings shared, even though the details were different, because I had been affected by similar problems and situations.
I never stopped the Twelve Step movement in my life after that. This summer, I celebrate my eleventh year in recovery. When I attended my first meeting, I was dating an alcoholic (I later married him, and subsequently divorced him). He insisted I find my own program of recovery because I was driving him crazy. Truthfully, I was probably driving him completely nuts, regardless of his behavior and his contributions to the chaos in our relationship.
Fast forward 11 years. A lot has happened in the gap, but one thing has remained steady and constant in my life–my relationship with God and my growth in recovery. Divorce, financial ruin, relocation, grad school, pregnancy, major health concerns, marriage, legal stress, parenthood, entrepreneurship … you name it. Life happens to us, right? That doesn’t change just because we choose to align ourselves with healthier people, attend Twelve Step meetings, and pursue a better path for ourselves. Life keeps happening. Will we avoid as many potential pitfalls if we’re making better choices? Probably. But life rolls on, and we cannot prevent that.
I’ve observed something interesting over the past decade which sometimes seems strange. A dissonance, a distinct difference, even tension between the way I view (and choose) to view the world, and the way others view and choose to view it.
Why the dissonance? Why the difference? Why the vast chasm?
Yes, I follow Christ, and that certainly sets me apart from a large group of people who do not. But it’s not those people I’m referencing here. There are many of my friends and family members, most of whom follow Christ, who truly seem to be unable to relate to my perspective and worldview. What’s changed? Me or them? If it’s me, what is it about me that’s changed so much?
I’ll never get inside others’ heads to figure this out entirely–and honestly, I don’t want to–but I do find it interesting. Here’s one thing God brought to my attention a few weeks ago: When two people have experienced reality entirely differently, it is nearly impossible for them to perceive the world similarly.
I chatted with a friend of mine who works in Christian ministry a few weeks ago, and that’s when this really hit me. He shared with me a situation that occurred years ago when many folks in ministry conflicted over changing a denominational policy. Some of the people stood by their beliefs without becoming petty or criticizing individuals (maintaining a polite, cordial attitude toward others involved). But a few people lashed out at the group, posted hateful messages online, and demonstrated the exact behavior that makes Christians cringe in embarrassment. We lamented about the situation together.
“I don’t know why, but that’s just one of those hot button topics that always gets people going,” he mused.
“Yeah, I guess so. I can’t relate to that anymore. I think there was a time when I had an opinion about that stuff… not now. I can’t even muster an ounce of concern about that if I try.”
I wasn’t being sarcastic. I was serious. My entire perception of what really matters has completely changed. I really did join in on splitting doctrinal hairs in the past, and I enjoyed those conversations and would defend my soapbox to the bitter end. And not just that–I used to pride myself on serving as vigilante of almost everyone or anything. I loved that stuff. I LOVED THAT STUFF. If you’d asked me the question, How important is that, really? I would have responded, It’s VERY important!
Then I lived in alcoholism for a decade. And I faced PTSD during that time from multiple incidents of sexual assault and other situations. I finally sought counseling and help through the Twelve Steps, but not until my life began to crumble into bits at my feet. It was not the best time of my life.
When your reality has been lived in mire, in fighting dark spiritual battles for quite some time, your perception changes. First world problems aren’t problems at all. You don’t have room on your plate for things like bickering, gossip, and scandal.
Yet even when you move from darkness to light–and thank God, that has happened for me–you may still feel permanent dissonance between the way you see the world and the way others see it. Does that mean those who don’t see it the way you see it are wrong, or that something is inherently wrong with you?
Not at all. It’s just a reminder that the world is varying shades, that not every human experiences trauma, and that God works through each of us differently. It’s a reminder that we cannot go to the bakery expecting to purchase hardware. That we can’t expect people who’ve never been in a pit to feel comfortable sitting next to us in the bottom of one while we work our way out, one Step at a time. It’s a reminder that God goes before us, plans in love, and converts what was meant for Evil into our Ultimate Good.
My daughter earned her first $1 bill today. Is that legal? Surely not. Well, it happened, nonetheless.
We enjoyed lunch after church at a local diner. Our waitress, a young, cheerful woman who told me she had a five year-old son, went out of her way to express kindness to my daughter, and I was thankful. She brought Maggie chips before our meals arrived. Any parent understands the magnitude of this gift (if this doesn’t happen, your child morphs into some sort of monster in 5.2 minutes). She entertained all of Maggie’s detailed questions patiently. Maggie enjoyed her gigantic flower-shaped pancake, coated in margarine and syrup, and had a grand old time. After the meal, the waitress jokingly asked Maggie if she wanted to help clear the table to help pay for the meal. And lo and behold, Maggie agreed to help.
She jumped up from the table and followed the waitress around, asking what she could do to help. My mama heart burst with love and joy, watching my daughter serve. She didn’t expect anything in return—she genuinely wanted to clean, serve, and assist our waitress. Our waitress allowed her to help clear the table and then gave Maggie a $1 bill as a gift for helping out. Maggie thought she’d won the lottery and beamed from ear to ear with pride, clutching the money and her stuffed puppy dog, Homer, as we headed to the car, waving goodbye to our new waitress friend.
I remembered all the times that week I’ve felt grumpy and cantankerous about doing laundry, cleaning up after dinner, and loading and emptying the dishwasher. How many times had I begrudgingly washed my daughter’s hair or felt annoyed that I couldn’t enjoy my coffee alone in the afternoon? I specifically recalled feeling disgruntled about trying to hurriedly finish editing a presentation while Maggie attempted to crawl in my lap. And while I have to extend grace to myself–because parenting is difficult, and I am not perfect–I can also learn a lot if I watch my daughter closely. Maybe if I attempt to approach life with just a little bit more of her attitude of service, enthusiasm, and joy over what seem to be tiny moments, I’ll feel less overwhelmed, less disgruntled, and less annoyed when I’m juggling parenting, housekeeping, friending, and working. And maybe if I find pleasure right where I am, I’ll also feel a little less brokenhearted when she slams the car door and walks into school morning after morning, year after year, in just a few short months.
Last night, my friend Janet and I shared our dreams with one another.
I’m not talking about lofty dreams about life goals. No. I’m talking about couches. Yes. Couches. #MomGoals
“I just want a deep, rich blue couch. I love blue. Royal blue, you know, and textures. Lots of textures.” I think Janet might have begun drooling at this point. Pretty sure.
“I’ve always wanted an emerald-green couch, like dark emerald green… Oh! There! That color right behind you on that metal wheel. That’s it!” I, too, salivated a little while sipping my 8 p.m. cup of coffee while sitting on Janet’s floral sofa. The same sofa cushion Janet admittedly accidentally scorched on her wood stove that very week after one of her children peed atop it.
Yeah. Our lives are super glam.
While we dreamed about couches, we both recognized that we lacked gratitude for our current couches. Sure, the couches are worn. Our children have peed on the cushions. Do you know how to remove urine from couch cushions? It isn’t easy, and honestly, the smell never fully dissipates. And milk? Same. Then there’s the glue, the markers, the Sharpies, for the love of parenting.
But at the end of the day, we both own two couches. We can sit on the couches and even sleep on them if we must. The couches serve a purpose, right? Yep. So even though we dream about luxe versions, we’re okay with what we have, ultimately.
Sometimes it helps to sound off to a friend. And sometimes it helps to have a friend remind you that she wants your worn floral sofa! Here’s a video capturing some of our conversation from last night.
Maybe you can relate if you’re a mom struggling to get by with your crusty old couch for a few more years while your kids continue to trample over it. Or maybe you can relate because you don’t own a couch. You don’t own a home. You don’t even have a place to call home, and you’re reading this blog on a computer in the public library, wondering why this pretentious woman would ever find room to complain about a crusty old couch at all.
That’s exactly why I’m writing this blog. Because I need to remember to maintain perspective. What I have really is enough. It’s not enough for me to accept that “it is what it is.” I must sink into my couch, smell its stench, and remember that it stinks because we’ve lived here. WE LIVE here. And thank God for our lives.
And then, only then, can I live in contentment and peace. In gratitude.
There are times when I beat myself up as a mom. Then there are little moments of reward. Moments when my daughter lauds my motherhood skills, my spirit soars, and I believe I’ve finally got this.
That’s just before my paper airplane wings bend, and I crash into the coffee-stained carpet in her bedroom floor.
Last night when I put Maggie to bed, I watched her falling asleep. I imagined myself as Grandma Moses, tracing the lines of my precious baby’s face, fingers, and hair as slowly as possible, an ant in the Sahara. I wanted to remember her beauty forever. I didn’t want to think about kindergarten in the fall. I didn’t want to see her size five pants turning into capris.
She opened her eyes suddenly and smiled at me. I prayed aloud and said, “Thank you, God, for the best baby in the world.”
“Thank you, God, for the best mama in the world.”
My heart soared.
“Thank you, poop. Poop. Butt juice.”
Ah. There it is. Back to reality.
The great thing about being a mom is the constant snap back to reality—back to humility. There is really no way to remain in the clouds as a parent unless you refuse to spend any real time with your child. Maybe I could carry a black and white photograph around, displaying it for my friends, and only spend five minutes per week with my daughter? That might help me believe she’s some perfect little creature. Maybe.
But the reality is, I live with her. I see it all–the beautiful, breathless moments when I’m enraptured by the miracle of her life. The poop, butt juice, and snot, too. Children keep us humble. They remind us of the most obnoxious, humiliating, disgusting, human aspects of our lives on a regular basis. They also push all our defective buttons daily. They give us a chance to work the positive opposites of our character defects. Children show us the best and worst of ourselves. They also allow us second chances, over and over again, as they extend forgiveness to us even when we fail them–every day.
Thank you, God, for keeping me humble and teachable through my relationship with my child.
Today’s post is written by a new guest contributor, my pastor & friend, Rian Puckett. Thanks for this reminder, Rian.
My keys were lost, I was late, and my blood pressure was rising. I felt compelled to pray. Now I know that there are those who will hear this story and think “coincidence.” Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is that at that moment I felt compelled to pray and that which I prayed about was resolved.
That was the beginning of a series of small miracles that week. My daughter, who eats entirely too much sugar, had what we though was a routine cavity. However, when we went to the dentist, she refused to open her mouth. You want to talk about being frustrated? Here we were, taking off work to take her to the dentist and she is refusing to cooperate. A visit to the pediatric dentist in another town was scheduled for the next day which made me livid. My wife took off work to take her, and when they did their examination, they discovered that not one but two teeth on opposite sides of her mouth needed to come out. She had never even complained about the other tooth hurting! Fortunately we were in the right place to deal with the problem. I felt a little ashamed of my attitude the previous day. Because when all the events played out, I could see God working in mysterious ways, and I had to say “Sorry for not trusting you. Thank you.”
It is easy to forget to be grateful for the small miracles of every day. Those things that “just happened” at the right time. There is a story in the Old Testament about a prophet named Elijah who was looking for an encounter with God and had been instructed by God to stand on the side of a mountain. The account says that there was a great and powerful wind that tore the mountains apart but that God was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake and then a fire, but God was not in either of those. Finally, there was a gentle whisper, and Elijah recognized it for the voice of God.
I believe that many times the small miracles of our everyday are the whispering voice of God reaffirming involvement in our lives and reminding us that we are not alone. For this, I am grateful.
Today’s post is written by one of my current college students, Kaleb Mendoza. I love his expression of gratitude in this essay.
In everything you do and everything you accomplish, you should give grace for the opportunities you get in life. I am a very religious man, raised from two great parents who taught me the right way to life and to follow God. This one day changed my life for the greater good; it taught me to be thankful and to cherish my life, for some are struggling.
In 2008, on a windy Thanksgiving morning, I was in a car with my family driving to my Grandma’s house. Like always, I had my headset on listing to old school hip-hop, preferably Notorious B.I.G. We finally came to a stop light after about 20 minutes, and I didn’t notice at first but saw a homeless man sitting there with a cardboard sign in his hand. As always, I really didn’t pay any attention to him. The light was taking forever to turn green. Then I noticed the man stand up from where he was at. As he stood up with his dirty blue pants, holey brown socks, red champion sweater, and a black beanie, I noticed him showing everyone his sign. While sitting in the car, I looked really carefully at the sign. I even squinted my eyes a little to get a good view. In light green sharpie, the sign said, “Be thankful, for some will do anything to be where you’re at.” Even though it was just some writing on a cardboard sign, that quote hit me real hard.
During the rest of the ride to my Grandma’s house, I sat there thinking about it. I started to wonder how that man had gotten to where he is at right now, or how much stuff he has been through. I then looked around in my car to see my sister asleep, then looked to my parents in the two front seats while they were talking. I couldn’t tell what they were talking about, because I was still jamming out to my music. Then I realized how blessed I was to have this wonderful family, blessed to be where I am at right now in my life. I could be in that homeless man’s position, watching families drive by on a Thanksgiving morning, lonely.
This one thing was running through my head the whole day, going from one family member’s house to another. I kept thinking about how blessed I was to have my whole family safe, in one place, healthy as can be. At the end of the day, I spoke to my mom about it. She told me, “There are some things that can’t be replaced, and you can’t take these things for granted. Be grateful, son, and give praise to the one who makes it all happen.”
Ever since that day, I have been so grateful for the things in my life that cannot be replaced. I see things differently now; I cherish life a lot more than I used to. I give praise to God, for he makes everything possible in my life.
This life-changing experience was one I will always remember. The outcome of this was very positive, and it affected me in a very strong way. It is positive for many reasons. It changed the way I viewed life, to not take things for granted. To love others, even though they don’t love you. For the rest of my life, I will tell this experience to my friends, family, and my kids so that they can see what I see in life.
When you died about one month ago, you caught me off guard. You became suddenly ill, and 24 hours later, you were eating pizza, fruit cake, and pudding cups in heaven.
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. There was something inside of me that whispered, “Go see her more often” about one year ago. I don’t know if it was in reaction to Big Jim, my father-in-law, moving on to The Great Resting Place, or if it was because Maggie finally became a better traveler and visitor. Regardless, I’m eternally grateful for God’s voice nudging me to visit you more often.
Even though you suffered from mental illness, you were almost always pleasant, welcoming, and in good spirits. Your little smile and bright eyes let me know you were enjoying our time together, even if you preferred that I do most of the talking. When you had something to say, it was always smart, quick-witted, and on point.
I remember two turning points in my relationship with you.
One was when Mom and I visited you at the time of her high school reunion. We stayed with my uncle, but we came to see you almost all day long while we were there. As the day evolved into evening, we knew we needed to head to Mom’s reunion.
As we drove away from your apartment, Mom continually expressed that she just didn’t feel right about going and leaving you all evening.
“Mom, then we just don’t have to go to your reunion. What are you going to regret if you don’t do it in 10 years?”
That was about 10 years ago. And Mom still doesn’t regret turning the car around, picking up a pizza from your favorite diner, and surprising you by spending the evening talking and laughing, just the three of us.
The other turning point was when we visited after your mother died. We didn’t attend the funeral, but we’d been invited to look through her belongings to see if we wanted specific items before they were sold or given away. I’ll be honest–prior to that day, I lacked compassion for your mother and only saw her in negative light. Something about sifting through an entire apartment’s worth of silent items spoke to me.
Then we visited Mom’s cousin. I wanted to do nothing–even though I was only a junior high student at the time–but sit and listen to Mom’s cousin recant your life experiences, both as a child and into adulthood. These were stories you had never told me yourself, and chapters you rarely flipped back to, probably in an effort to avoid those memories. Being sent to live somewhere else as a child–not knowing why. Undergoing exploratory, inventive procedures in a time when doctors didn’t understand that what they were doing did more harm than good. Being homeless. Feeling alone.
When we remembered you the evening after you died, these untold stories are what I reflected on in my mind–not because I wanted to focus on what felt sad and painful, but simply because these moments made you who you were. I can be grateful for you even though parts of you were broken.
I do not regret who you were nor wish to change my time with you. I know all of you, and I accept all of you. You were always enough.