This is an image of a graveyard with a blue tint.

Hold Your Breath

Old Lady Dour was reputedly known as a poor, begging recluse who only appeared at nighttime, and even then only when the moon was out. Whenever she made her rare ingressions, she donned an outfit of tattered and torn black clothing. Her eyes were a cool, stone gray…an icy silver that flickered in the moonlight…

“…and I’m telling you,” Dougie bravely affronted as he and April approached the cemetery gate, “I bet I can sit on her grave for half an hour and not run away.”

“Just make sure you hold your breath when you do,” April meekly reminded him, “so you don’t take her with you.” She was alluding to the belief that if one breathes while nearby a freshly dug and recently occupied grave, one could accidentally inhale a restless spirit that hadn’t yet accepted death.

On this night, Dougie was there at the city graveyard to challenge that superstition as well as show April how brave he was; what better way for Dougie to prove himself to April than to fight off any evil spirits that would try to possess him.

Dougie took the first step inside the hallowed space, but April wouldn’t move. Dougie then reached back and offered her his hand. She hesitated for a brief moment, and then at last reciprocated his grip. To him, her hand was soft and warm, and he felt lucky enough to catch her eyes at the same time her eyes caught his. She then joined Dougie inside, and the couple set off into the night.

The cemetery looked sullen enough. Old and new headstones for the dead glistened in the moon’s pallid hue. Dougie felt a reverent fear as the two of them tepidly trod over granite and grass. Autumn’s leaves crunched underfoot as the two made their way through the nocturnal necropolis to find Old Lady Dour’s grave – wherever it was.

“Do you even know what her headstone looks like?” April asked.

“Not really,” Dougie honestly replied. “I’m surprised she even had enough money for a real headstone.”

They looked and looked, but they found nothing. Neither one of them thought to bring a flashlight, and even with the moon giving all the light it could, it was still hard reading the names on all the different grave markers.

After half an hour or so of bending over at the right angle only to find the wrong names, they agreed that they needed a break. Dougie found an old, smooth tree stump and laid his jacket on it for April to sit, and she gladly accepted his chivalrous gesture.

Dougie stepped back to give April her space, and it was then when he realized that the earth around the stump was really soft, as if it had been freshly dug. A tremor in his blood began to race through him. He slowly crept around to the other side of the stump and froze as he saw the name DOUR carved into the bark.

He couldn’t blink as he then saw the apparition of Old Lady Dour herself hovering over April, her lithium eyes piercing the black shrouds that fluttered around her. April then, too, realized that the stump on which she was sitting was the “headstone” they had been looking for.

“Hold your breath,” Dougie managed to mutter before following his own advice. The ghost remained over April and the tree stump as Dougie’s cheeks inflated with the expired breath that desperately needed to release and replenish itself. He felt a heaviness on his chest, and he began losing his focus on reality as he thought he saw the spirit get ever closer to April…

…then Dougie fainted to the ground.

He woke up a few minutes later, still a little dizzy from holding his breath for that long. Still on the ground, he quickly patted himself all around to make sure nothing about him had changed. Dougie then let out a sigh of relief; he hadn’t been possessed.

Wanting to leave, he got up and quickly grabbed April’s hand just as she grabbed his before, but he stopped walking and his heart sank when he felt that her hand was no longer soft and warm like it was before; it had turned cold and despondent – even lifeless. He lifted his head to look into April’s eyes only to find that they weren’t April’s eyes anymore; instead, they were a cool, stone gray…an icy silver that flickered in the moonlight…

The Gray Lady

“Dave, are you up there?” Katie called as she opened the front door to the house. The lights in the house were a sharp contrast to the nighttime atmosphere outside.

The couple had bought the house just a few months earlier, and they were still getting acquainted with it and the town. Katie had a day job as a clerk in a dress store on the square, and her husband Dave was a counselor and youth minister at one of the churches in town. She usually came home first, but occasionally he would be in the attic shuffling some boxes around. They had a relatively small amount of items from their previous quarters, but the attic of this new house was so small that it was already almost full with them.

“Yeah, I’ll be down in a second,” a familiar voice from the ceiling replied.

Katie walked into the kitchen and set her things down on the table. She turned around and started walking toward the refrigerator to relieve a day long hunger, but stopped when she heard Dave enter the kitchen. He placed a musty old wooden jewelry box beside her black leather purse.

“Okay,” Dave said. “Open it.”

Katie opened it and found a circular golden locket with the image of a bird engraved on the top and a keyhole on the right side. “Oh, wow,” she said after a few seconds of gazing at it silently. “Where did you get this?”

“I found it in the attic,” Dave answered. “It must have belonged to the lady before us, some widow. She probably lost it and eventually forgot about it.”

“It’s beautiful,” Katie said as she took the locket out of the box and proceeded to fasten the golden chain around her neck.

“I thought you’d like it,” Dave said smoothly.

Suddenly, the lights in the house flickered and then shut off completely, turning everything black. Katie heard footsteps, a drawer open, and then she was blinded by a flashlight.

“Don’t worry,” Dave said, “I’ll go to the garage and check the fuse box.” After he stopped talking, the two both turned to the staircase, where they heard a horrible screeching sound. Dave shined the light at the stairs, and they both gasped as they saw an old lady.

The old lady had messy white hair that settled around her neck. Everything else about her was gray, except her angry eyes, which were more like white circles with little, black dots for pupils. She wore a tattered shawl that came down to where her knees should have been, but she didn’t have any. No knees, no legs, nothing below the frazzled ends of her shawl. She hovered silently still at the bottom of the staircase for a moment, and then she lifted a withered right arm and pointed a decrepit finger at the couple, still in the kitchen.

Dave got in front of Katie, protecting her. “What do you want?”

The spirit slowly moved through the living room, finger still outstretched toward the couple. As it got closer, however, her focus became clearer; she was pointing at Katie, who was now clinging to Dave’s arm.

“Why do you want her?” Dave asked, shaking with nervous apprehension.

The spirit didn’t respond. It moved closer to Katie, and the couple then realized that it was pointing at the locket. Katie quickly handed it to the figure. The woman took it and as soon as the locket touched her hand, she started to transform. Waves of light pulsated from the locket, and starting with the hand, the woman started to radiate a beautiful gold aura. Her decayed finger became healthy, and the health soon took over the arm, the shoulders, the head, and in seconds she was a kind-looking older woman with beautiful black and gray hair flowing in the air. She opened the locket with a key and showed the inside to Katie, who began to cry. After this, the woman vanished and the lights came back on.

“What did she show you?” Dave asked.

“It was a picture,” Katie weakly replied, “of her and her husband.”

This is an image of an outdoor archery range in a wooded area.

Searching for Better Ways: A Reflection on Eugene O’Neill and Hitting the Mark

While working backstage for the Fly Arts Center’s most recent play Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got The Will, I was aptly reminded of how creatively taxing and draining being in a production on either side of the curtain is.

For the actors on stage, they were telling the story by creatively blending the playwright’s words, the director’s blocking instructions, and their own vivifying actions. They were actively listening to and watching each other to ensure everything that needed to be said and done was in fact and indeed said and done. (If anything, this is another image of how engaging live theatre is for the players as well as the audience.) The story on the spectrum of “light” and “dark” spanned all the way from comical levity and lightheartedness to antagonistic gravitas. And it takes a deep well of creativity for an ensemble cast that can constantly vary and navigate its position on that spectrum, especially while maintaining that energy in front of an audience.

I was in a wholly different world backstage. My job wasn’t to entertain and divert the audience; instead, it was my duty to help the actors fulfill that role by providing them the property – simply, the props – with which to continue to tell the story realistically. I had cues just like everyone else, except my reactions to those cues weren’t spoken; instead, my response was handing from a cup of coffee to a full pot roast dinner to an actress so she could “act” like her character has just prepared it as if she were real person bringing these food items from a real kitchen. Very engaging stuff.

We closed the show Sunday. If you got a chance to see the show, I honestly hope you enjoyed yourself. For myself, the cast, and the rest of the crew, we are worn tired and are spending this week in recovery mode.

It’s here that I want to draw attention to the words of one of modern theatre’s founding fathers Eugene O’Neill.

A man’s work is in danger of deteriorating when he thinks he has found the one best formula for doing it. If he thinks that, he is likely to feel that all he needs is merely to go on repeating himself. I certainly haven’t any such delusion. And so long as a person is searching for better ways of doing his work he is fairly safe.

Eugene O’Neill was an Irish American playwright in the Golden Age of Broadway (late 1890’s to late 1930’s) who focused his work on the gritty fringes of society as opposed to the “high life” that the rest of the Golden Agers were highlighting in their plays.

O’Neill’s words here should resonate with Christians on several levels (unfortunately including the brief blip of braggadocio). I want to focus on emboldened phrase “searching for better ways.”

The phrase alludes to a true Standard that we – not just as people in general – will often fall short while trying to meet, even though we hope to meet it with every attempt.

Imagine an archery range. You’ve got the tools you need – simply the bow and the arrow – with you on your side and the target on the other. You know that you at least have to load the arrow in the bow, but from there everything is a technique. employed to hit the bullseye. How far back “should” you pull? How high “should” you tilt your bow? How much “should” I allot my actions for undetermined gusts of wind that may or may not affect my shot?

Finally you shoot, and you either hit the mark or miss the mark. Any more shooting after this point is then determined by either the hitting or the missing. When we miss, we subsequently strive to hit, and when we hit, we subsequently strive to keep hitting. Welcome to being human: the constant struggle between hitting the mark and missing the mark.

So let me encourage you here.

Remember all the times when you have missed the mark. Remember how bad it felt to miss and how guilty you felt for missing it. Bring that to God, and let him carry it.

Now remember all the times when you have hit the mark. Remember how good it felt to hit and how fulfilled you felt for hitting it. Bring that to God, and let him increase it.

This is an image of a roadside billboard that memorializes Robin Williams after his death.

When A Celebrity Dies

Yes, we will die, too.

One of the elemental truths God has established in this created world is that man will die. It used to not be like that; in fact, I sometimes wonder how long Adam and Eve would have lived had they not succumbed.

The truth remains that we die, and it is always a sad event.

Death’s sting is never too far. Just this week, I’ve been affected by two deaths in my own community. One was of a man who lived right up the road from me. He was a lover of humankind, and he showed that love by leading countless Habitat for Humanity projects and helping homeless people build their own houses. The other, though I didn’t know personally, was the father of one of the most knowledgeable and prestigious history professors this area has been blessed to have.

My generation here at home has also experienced numerous deaths this year. Numerous car crashes and vehicular accidents have claimed the lives of people with whom I’ve shared some school life, whether in the classroom or in extracurricular activities. It’s harrowing to read the names of contemporaries in the obituaries (a sentiment that transcends my own generation, I’m sure) when we shared the same high school hallways just a few years ago.

But something strange happens when a celebrity dies; in fact, several strange things happen.

Maybe the most poignant phenomenon that revolves around a celebrity’s death is the communal sting that everyone feels.

A sting is present just the same as when someone within your family, sphere of friends, or community dies, but it’s different in its scale of how far it reaches. It’s one thing when you can join in with people you know and mourn the loss of a communal figure; it’s another thing for a world full of strangers to collectively mourn the death of a solitary figure who, in a way, uniquely touched and affected each person individually.

An odd occurrence that stems from the first is that social and political enemies can become friends and sojourners as they both try to figure how to live in a world without their mutual celebrity friend (and unfortunately they will probably turn it into a sympathy vote, but whatevs).

Certain celebrity deaths bring attention to certain problems…with the unspoken hope that these problems will no longer remain problems.

Just three hours ago (1:30 PM), news broke about the death of Joan Rivers, and the social media trending began. How weird that five days ago, CBS Sunday Morning syndicated this clip of Rivers from 2002 in which she speaks of getting older and being okay with it.

This year has also seen the passing of Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney, two celebrities that were the face of the generations that preceded my own. Their deaths brought on hordes of Tweets and Statuses with nostalgia dripping like honey.

Other celebrity deaths served as tinder to reignite discussions should never but always somehow manage to slip down to everyone’s back-burners.

Most recently, the death of Robin Williams reminded us all of how deep and true the cords of depression ring. Because of his death, several social media figures took to the browser to talk about their own bouts with suicide, as NBC’s Susan Donaldson James points out in this article.

Before that was the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman who struggled many years with drug abuse. In this aftermath, many celebrities came out and confessed to their own struggles with drugs, as The Wrap’s Greg Gilman reports.

All of this serves as a giant signpost that points back to God.

For one thing, it points to the fact that humanity is scary. Sure, we can think of monsters, demons, natural disasters, conspiracy theories, religious beheadings, and global terrorism all we want; we’re at a somewhat safe distance from such morbid grandiosity.

But when a celebrity dies – especially one that affects us – it’s a more staunch reminder of how mortal we really are, and, if the right seeds have been planted, it will remind people of how another famous and infamous Figure died not at the hands of suicide, drugs, old age, or natural causes, but because He had to die so as to rescue the members of the human race who fall short of God’s glory, whoever that is.

This is an image from the music video of the song SAVE ME by Gotye.

Christian Salvation in Gotye’s “Save Me”

In 2012, musical artist Gotye released his third studio album Making Mirrors.

This album was catapulted to international fame because of its third track “Somebody That I Used To Know” (click the link if you want to add to the over-500-million-and-ever-increasing YouTube views); however, I believe the best song on the album is the eleventh track, “Save Me.”

For this post, we’ll look at this song at how it can serve as a signpost that can point people back home to God.

But first, if you haven’t already (or if you want to again, like I do), listen to the song.

These convicting lyrics, though.

Something like a story exists in the lyrics of this song because they feature a conflict that is resolved in the end.

The persona of the poetry starts out by showing us how he was once in a state of hopelessness:

In the mornings, I was anxious,
was better just to stay in bed;
didn’t want to fail myself again.

Running through all the options, and the endings
were rolling out in front of me;
but I couldn’t choose a thread to begin.

Before the change, he was in a constant state of worry and anxiety so heavy and burdensome that he didn’t even want to get out of bed because a step out of bed would be a step toward recurring failure.

And even though he wanted to alleviate his distress, he was so overwhelmed by all the ways to do it that he became metaphorically paralyzed.

In the first chorus, he shows us how far down he really is in his despair because he can’t love:

And I could not love
’cause I could not love myself;
“never good enough, no”
that was all I’d tell myself.

And I was not well,
but I could not help myself;
I was givin’ up on livin’.

His deepest and scariest realization wasn’t that he’s hurting but that he couldn’t help himself; he needed something or someone stronger than himself to pull him out of this pit. And he needed this helping hand fast because he was on the verge of suicide.

In the second verse, however, the persona turns and introduces us to another figure into the narrative:

In the morning, you were leaving,
travelling south again,
and you said you were not unprepared.

And all the dead ends and disappointments
were fading from your memory;
ready for that lonely life to end.

The persona is now remembering a time when this other person was ready to leave him.

But something changed in the other’s mind, and they decided to not only stay but rescue the persona from his own depression with love:

And you gave me love
when I could not love myself;
and you made me turn
from the way I saw myself.

And you’re patient, love,
and you help me help myself
and you save me.

The glory thus shines for our persona. He is reinvigorated with the love shown by the other, and his sense of self-worth is revived. Ultimately, the other has rescued – yes, saved – our persona.

Just Like How Jesus Saves Us

I can identify and sympathize with the persona of this piece in that I’ve hit some immobilizing low points in my life. They were the kind of troughs that I couldn’t climb out of alone.

Even though I haven’t been diagnosed with clinical depression, it does run in my family, and I have several friends who either have been or still are thus afflicted (some who didn’t come out of their own troughs alive). I’ve been as close to depression as one can get without being there myself, and I can tell you that the sentiment of the first half of the song is accurate.

But when I realized that I couldn’t save myself from my own pit, that’s when I realized that I needed someone else – an “other” – to help me out. Such is the human condition when we realize that we’re not as good as we think we are. From here, we then realize that we deserve nothing more than to be abandoned by the God who we betray and crucify every time we want something more than Him and His love.

This hopelessness and despair is where our Lord and Savior’s hand reaches down and saves us. Whenever we forget how to love, He reminds us by loving us; when we feel like we’re worth nothing and don’t mean anything to anyone, this love restores the value within us.

Jesus is even so patient with us that He is willing to walk with us for the rest of our earthly lives and even throughout our heavenly perpetuity.

All of the above is how He loves us and continually saves us.

This is an image of the front facade of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Waiting In Line At The Holocaust Museum

Until now, I’ve neglected to share anything from my trip to Washington, D.C. As impactful as it was, I’ve been too busy ever since I returned home to solidify any thoughts and type any of them down (but that’s no excuse, and I know it).

These images, however, has been stuck with me ever since. It’s not a burden, though; I’m actually glad I was able to capture them. I didn’t know why I needed to take these pictures when I did, but I did anyway because I felt like it needed to be done (attribute it to being an INFJ if you must).

We begin at the waiting line of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

After driving through the Sunday night/Monday morning, we were too pooped for anything major on Monday night. Bright and early Tuesday morning, however, we were greeted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. However, we spent a good amount of time in the wrong waiting line. Apparently, we were lining up for specially guided Foreign Language tours. We didn’t know why we felt like we were on the back end of the Tower of Babel until some tour guides who could speak English were able to help us out.

Thankfully, they showed us where our waiting line was, and we booked it to the spot: a brick wall with built-in concrete benches that faced the side of the museum’s building and separated from it by a sidewalk.

I sat looking at two different edifices: the steel and the brick.

From my bench, my line vision of divided in half: the cold, gray steel on one side, and the natural red brick on the other. There exists an interesting, intriguing, and even poetic juxtaposition between the two.

This is an image of the outside wall of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Nuts and bolts bullet the steel frame which held the panels in place, and I think of the Nazi party and as “structured” and “firm” it was on the outside thanks to the facade its leaders gave it. This trait is also found in the harsh exterior of the concentration camps and the grotesque devaluation of human life which was housed and perpetuated within them.

The opposing brick then made me think of the people who were left on the outside of this stronghold and left defenseless: the Jews themselves. They began just as clay does as it is removed from its home in the subterranea of the earth and ended in being removed from the crematoria just as a horde of brick is removed from the kiln.

They were the bricks upon which the Nazis built their power and would have continued to fuel had not the camps been liberated.

It’s in this “liberation” where the branch in this picture comes in.

In this next picture, we see the steel panels and the brick wall side by side in the background. In the foreground, however, is a branch from a thankfully well-placed shade tree – one of many that also lined our concrete benches.

This is an image of the outer side of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with a sole branch in front of it.

The branch in the picture then becomes a symbol of everyone that came into the camps and abolished them. Armed forces from Great Britain, France, Canada, and the United States all stepped up and did their best to rescue any survivors from these hell-houses.

Because of these actions, the world was being prepared to be put back to rights, people could see the light at the end of the tunnel…

…and the value of human life was revived.

That’s what we have to remember about this whole ordeal, I believe.

Sometimes, we want to remember only the bad, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is full of plenty of the bad that the Jews went through – two out of four floors of it, to be exact.

It’s easy to not want to stop thinking about these atrocities because we see it all around us still today among the different peoples of the world, and we kinda put ourselves in a bottleneck of perception where we can only see what’s closest to us and lose all hindsight and foresight.

But the branch still grows, and life goes on. That’s the beauty of how God’s world works, and that should encourage you as much as it does me.

This is an image of a modern soldier's helmet.

The Helmet of Salvation

For the helmet of salvation that we don

and the trouble that we have to keep it on,

it’s no wonder that we falter

with the mind of a defaulter

when the hope to rest in Paradise is gone.