The golden ticket essay

*One of my students, Jared Tickner, in Comp II this semester gave me permission to share this essay with all of you. This is his first essay for the semester; I read it after reading a stack of other essays that were good essays but didn’t quite measure up in one way or another. Some of the essays contained interesting content and fit the assignment criteria (write a 2-3 page essay explaining your core beliefs and how those beliefs impact your daily choices) but fell short in the grammar, style, and mechanics departments, or were more polished grammatically but somewhat boring or unorganized. I kept looking for my “golden ticket” essay–a real winner in each category. 

Then I read the opening line of Jared’s essay. I was hooked. I literally stepped out into the hallway and did a happy dance and announced that I’d found my golden ticket. I’m sure my fellow faculty members were thrilled by my discovery :). The essay isn’t flawless, but it’s beautifully written and impacted me upon reading it. 

Thankfully Jared agreed to allow me to share this essay with all of you. Thank you, Jared, for your honesty and the sharing of your gift of writing. As my former professor (and wonderful poet), Andrea Hollander, used to always say, “Keep writing!”

 

I saw my first murder when I was four years old. I don’t remember much about my childhood, but I remember that. I grew up in a town of 100,000 people in central California. My family tree is not one that would be considered ideal. I come from a long line of addicts and abusers. I am the only male in my immediate family who has not been to prison; therefore, I never had any good examples when I was growing up. I did, however, have plenty of bad examples. I never noticed just how abnormal my life was when I was a child. I never expected or strived to be different from anybody else, but what I’ve come to understand is that I am not ashamed by anything that I have done or anything that I have been witness to. The events of my past have shaped me into the man who I am today. I am not proud of some of the things that I have done in order to survive, but I am not ashamed of any of my actions either. I was physically abused by my father, and I watched my brothers quite literally attempt to kill each other.

I was fifteen years old the first time that I realized that I was destined to be a failure in life. My father had come to visit me for the first time in five years (he had been in prison). I was excited because I was old enough to attempt to get into his head and try to understand why he made the decisions that he had. I had gone through a multitude of questions that day while I was waiting for him to come over. When he finally showed up, he said hello to me and then ignored me for the rest of the time that he was there. My father chose to sit outside with my half-brother and talk to him. I could not understand why he didn’t want me, why he chose my brother who wasn’t even his biological son. I had never felt more unimportant in my life, and it made me angry. I decided on that day that I was going to accomplish everything in life that he wanted and failed at. That was the day that I began to live my life for all of the wrong reasons. That was the day that I chose to let my inner rage control me, instead of me controlling my inner rage.

In November of 2005, I lost my ability to know love. That month, my grandmother died, and I felt my sense of normalcy die with her. My grandmother is the women who truly raised me. I lived with my mother, but I spent all day with my grandmother. My brother was born with a very rare bone disease in his left leg, and he had to have it amputated when he was eight years old. My mother spent the majority of her time in San Francisco with him. When she wasn’t at the hospital with him, she was at work. When my brother was a teenager and into his early twenties, he made life hell for all of us. He had been addicted to morphine since he was eight years old and spent the majority of his time fighting, drinking, doing drugs or stealing my mother’s car. Due to his misgivings, he received all of the attention which I perceived as love. The only person who ever showed me unconditional love was my grandmother, and once she passed away, I felt alone. At this point, I felt wronged by my family. I had never been in trouble; I had never done a fifth of the things my brothers did, and yet all of the love went to them. I now understand that my mother did the best she could, but at that time, it just made me hate the world. My trust issues come from this time in my life. I felt that I couldn’t trust those closest to me because I was not appreciated. I had nobody left to turn to for help, so I turned to prescription pills.

Being addicted to pain pills is what changed my life. I was numbed to all of the outside world. I did not care about anything, and it was amazing. All of that changed on January 9, 2008. My fiancé at the time left me and took my one year-old son across the country. It was the first time I openly wept since I was a toddler. As my depression grew, I sank deeper and deeper into my vice until one day I put a loaded nine millimeter pistol into my mouth and pulled the trigger.

It did not fire. Something greater kept me alive that day, and I started to realize that I have a purpose in this life. I dropped the gun and cried even harder. I then looked in the mirror and decided I was no longer going to accept the stigma that comes with my last name. I stopped taking the pills, I stopped drowning in self-pity, and I started looking for my purpose in life. The thing I believe in is that nothing can guide me down a path that I don’t want to walk. I am the creator of my own destiny, and I refuse to accept anything but redemption and success.

The most influential and guiding force in my life is my past. I am now able to reflect on the way I grew up and let all of the hate go. I am a better man than my father, and I have the ability to raise my children to better understand their emotions. My goal in life is to give my children every opportunity I had to sacrifice for. They will not grow up in a home where they are scared to go to sleep at night. My greatest fear is that my children will grow to be like me and not want to look at themselves in the mirror. That is a fear that will not come to fruition. I am no longer going to be part of a broken chain. I am starting a new chain with my family, and I will be the strongest link. I will raise my children to be confident and curious.

They will be loved, and they will know it.

–By Jared Tickner

 

Here’s your sign

*Today’s post is written by my friend and regular contributor, Debra Dickey. Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Debra!*

I agree with Moses.  “God, if You are not coming with me, don’t make me go!”  …but if have to, then please, please, please give me a sign!!   [Moses actually says, “If Your Presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.”  Exodus 33:15]

With each edict near or far, or for every crises, small or large, my dread-o-meter amps to warp-speed – what emotional expense, how much psychological toll, what mental, physical, or financial price am I looking at?    All the panic and fear of the unknown and my own very appreciable inabilities come crashing over me, landing with a thud in the pit of my stomach.  How will I ever be able to . . . . ?

Bowing #2In similar fashion to the conversation that God had with Moses regarding the arduous journey in front him, God has been having a long talk with me and the responsibilities He tasks me with also.  I truly believe in God with my whole being.  My continuing challenge is the part that gets me past the human need or desire to validate His power with my physical eyes!  But ‘might and power’ express human strength of every description – physical, mental, moral. (Biblestudytools.com)   What God tells us is:  “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.’  (Zach. 4:6)  Oh!  Wow.   ‘Let Your Presence go with us.’

Yet we are always looking for a sign, aren’t we?  Actually, God does provide signs for us. Granted, they aren’t like road signs, directional signs, billboards, or a writing in the sky, but when we walk with Him, they are all around us.  Interestingly, God never wrote Moses a message in the sky. He never laid a blueprint down.  Neither did He send a tweet or a text.   He did something better.  This was the better thing that God offered Moses –God promised Moses His presence.  [lifeway.com]

The certainty, the solid that I am being encouraged to learn from this very personal interaction is the deep-seated root of discipleship I so distinctly and unmistakably need to grasp, and that is:  He’s got this!

Each time I pray about a situation, a resolution, for a loved one, or for guidance, strength, and Providence, His Presence is all that is necessary to perform these miracles.  I know fully when I offer that prayer, that the Perfect outcome is in His Hands and already in motion!  (Do not be deceived, I’m frailly human.  Days and nights in ceaseless prayer, I still tend to fret and worry without end anyway!  How does one embrace such unconditional power??)  He even further promises, “. . .I will give you rest.” (33:14b)  Did I hear that right?   ‘A benefit of living in God’s presence is that we can snuggle up close to our Heavenly Father, knowing that we can rest confident, secure, and victorious.’ (lifeway.com)   Moses plainly, yet meaningfully, presented his heartfelt appeal, and God assured Moses, “I will do the very thing that you ask….” (33:17a)

I am slowly, not always surely yet, but bit by bit, investing faithful confidence, and asking God to “show me (His) Ways, so that I might find Favor in His Sight” (33:13), to trust God’s omnipotent capacity, then be rewarded with the beautiful, exquisite, and touching evidence that has been there all along.  It is most assuredly not a sign that I can see with my eyes.  It is better.  Described by Elijah in I Kings 19:12, it is the sheer Presence of God.  Just His Presence.   Not the wind, not the earthquake, not the fire.  God.  A palpable, cognitive, manifest Presence!  His essence being Divinely and lovingly written into every fiber of my life, day after day, concern after concern, prayer after prayer, miracle after miracle after miracle.  His Presence revealed in all that is.  It seems that my mistaken effort to equate earthly affirmations with heavenly confirmations is the very shortcoming standing between me and God’s Promises!

And finally Moses did something even more extraordinary!  He said to God, “Show me Your Glory, I pray.” (Exodus 33:18)  You know, I understand that part!  Probably not in the same parameters as offered there, but my take-away is almost the same.  After humbly approaching my Heavenly Father in prayer, presenting my appeal, seeking His Will, asking for Guidance and Help, then listening for His Assurance, there’s only one desire left: “Show me Your Glory, I pray!”  So with breathless expectance and a reverent flourish, I bow —–“You got this, God?” … “I’ve got this.” —–  then step back and watch His mighty Miracles to Perform!

For sure, I initially thought that my ‘word’ for this year should be strength (I SO need it!), but now I know that Presence encompasses that endangered sliver plus so much more:  strength, wisdom, ability, guidance, resources, help, protection, sustenance!  So I choose Presence as my word, because not only do I long for God’s Presence, His Presence shall be the path to all His mighty, mighty MIRACLES.

So…there it is.  That’s my sign!  The only one I ever have need of.  Stop looking . . . it’s already here.

Powerless

*Special thanks to my friend Debra Dickey for sharing her insights in today’s post.*

This is when we are lured to give up.  This is the time we want to quit.  This is the feeling that leads to defeat and sadness.  This is when our prayers become cries of despair.  This is the time we feel lost and abandoned.  This is the description of a cognizance, yet the thing we seek remains just out of our grasp.  We are exhausted, tired, broken, and struggling.

This is the time that temptations try us.  This is when we search for resources, answers, help, and strength, the time when our prayers are desperate, yet unfulfilled.  This is a test. This is the time that He is teaching us; that there is a lesson that He needs and desires us to learn.

I know that I am not all God wants me to be.  I acknowledge my spiritual and worldly weaknesses.  I recognize that my faithfulness, strength and obedience cannot compare to the courage displayed by Jesus.  I yearn for God’s Presence, His Wisdom, His Strength, His Mercy, His Care, and His Miracles.  What more is being asked of me?  What words do I use to pray?

I believe in God with every fiber of my being.  I continue to meet the challenges that God gives me, work through them, and seek His blessings.  I have offered myself as the vessel, I have walked my faith, I have put on the armor, I have toiled up the mountains, I have trudged through the valleys, I have praised God to the heights, and I have pleaded to Him from the depths.  Yet often I am fearful and my soul knows no comfort.

mustard seedI know His Word tells us that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, that we can move mountains! (Matt. 17:20)  So I researched that.

And you know what! He actually says is, “if you had faith like or as a mustard seed.”  A type of faith, not an amount.  Jesus is saying that your faith should be like a mustard seed. That first, you have to sow it. You have to plant or sow your faith. Then, when you do, it will grow and grow and produce works in you that you never thought possible.  Jesus is speaking figuratively about the incalculable power of God when unleashed in the lives of those with true faith.  First, we know that the initial amount of faith is a gift from God.  Secondly, God gives all His gifts in seed form and He expects us to develop them.  Just plant the faith you have.  Because the results don’t depend on us, they depend on God.

A mustard seed is one of the smallest of seeds, yet the mustard plant grows to a remarkable size in comparison to the tiny seed, and will even grow abundantly in the most adverse conditions known to manIf your wilderness is fraught with woeful and grievous circumstances, then you’re living in the perfect environment for ‘faith as a grain of mustard seed’ to thrive!    ‘The bigger your giant, the closer you are to your promise.’  Mustard seeds need the same things other plants need to grow:  soil (your heart), air (Holy Spirit), water (Word of God), sunlight (Jesus), and one last thing…..time.   “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  (Hebrews 11:1)  When you have done all that you can do, hold up your shield of faith. Believe.  God is good.  Period.  But only the mountains that God wants you to move.   [Mustard Seed Faith]mustard seed 2

“Now to him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or imagine, according to the power that worketh in us, to Him be the glory….”  (Ephesians 3:20)

I do get that!  My faith IS planted; I DO believe!  I pray unceasingly for the manifestation of His Power!  Be the seed — not powerless, rather imbued with the incalculable power of God.  Immense.   Say ‘yes’ to God’s ability.  It is the One that faith is directed towards that will make miracles happen.  I know that!  Yet, there it is, the theme in all my lessons . . . the “time” circumscription, the ‘harness’, if you will — the element in that process that I struggle with most in my walk of faith, and my beggarly pleadings.  Just be the seed.
I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.  Mother Teresa

I did it!

Thank you, Henry Petty, for serving as today’s guest contributor! Check out Henry’s blog for more of his reflections.

This past Saturday night, I was finally confirmed into the Catholic Church.  It had only taken 33 years to finish, but the point is, I did it.

Last night, my girlfriend Shannon and I, attended a nice reception with my fellow RCIA classmates whom I journeyed with to break bread, fellowship, and reflect on the past 8 months of classes and in our spiritual growth.  Fr. Tom gave us a chance to speak in front of our peers about our experiences during the process and what led us into the Catholic Faith.

One gentlemen spoke about how he was reluctant to become Catholic but after attending a few classes with his wife, he was touched, and it drew him in.

A young lady shared her story about the hurt she felt after serving in the military overseas and how she longed for faith and Jesus.

The most moving story was a couple who entered RCIA after being inspired by someone’s tragedy.  They were inspired because their close friend’s son had passed away in a car accident, and were moved that their family wanted to attend Mass the next day and how inspiring that was to them.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house after they spoke.

Guess who was next?

I spoke of my promise to Grandma before she passed away that I would complete the process since she started it by having me baptized Catholic and how other churches left me lost, empty, full of guilty, yet I felt “at home” when I embraced the Catholic faith.  To lighten the mood after the people I followed, I cracked some jokes about the process and stumbling along the way in my path.  I slipped up and mispronounced “Pentecostal” as “Pentecost-O” but recovered by saying that’s what Pentecostals are called in Mexico.  Probably not PC, but people were laughing so hard I thought they were going to fall out of their chairs!

Shannon was moved after our gathering and she said she was “so glad to have attended a church fellowship function (celebrating the completion of RCIA) with Henry tonight. It really reset my heart and mind. I think sometimes we all get so wrapped up in ourselves and our situations that we forget what is important. Hearing others’ stories of what led them to the Church and seeing how fulfilled they are spiritually as a result of the RCIA process really touched my heart. It was wonderful.”

The good news is this is only the beginning of our journey as Catholics and not the end.  I have made a lot of new brothers and sisters in faith and look forward to journeying in Christ moving forward.  I am humbled and deeply grateful.