As I Lay Dying

car accidentI never saw the ice.

Awakened by a tapping on the window, I look around. My head is bloody and resting on the door of the car, which is resting on the ground. The steering column is pressed against my chest. Each breath is very painful as I feel several broken ribs grinding on each other. My legs are pinned to the floorboard while a pool of blood begins to fill the broken glass to my left as the driver’s side window rested on the snowy ground.

Tap Tap Tap…

I look up across the width of the car too see a face looking down to me.

“I’ve called 911, there help coming for you man. Hang in there.”

I recognized the face of the trucker who had done his best to avoid hitting me. His face now showed grave concern. He had no way to get to me and I imagine I looked terrible.

Another agonizing breath.

I know I’m in trouble. I have a lot of blood coming out of my arm, my head is swimming. It will take them some time to get me out, probably too much time. My thoughts drift to Sam and the kids, what they will do without me. How will they be financially, emotionally, spiritually? Who will walk Rosie down the aisle at her wedding? Who will shovel the driveway? Who will support my boys through the disappointments of life?

I begin to panic. I need to survive. They need me. They need me to survive this. Yet a quick look at the blood I am losing reaffirms my belief that I am certainly dying.

“Sir,” I said weakly.

“Yeah man, I’m here.”

“I need you to tell my wife something.”

“Now don’t go talking like that. You’re gonna make it. You’re gonna tell her it yourself.”

“Shut up! I need you to remember this.” I yelled weakly. “I need you to tell her that I love her and that I am so sorry I can’t walk through life with her.” I inhaled with a harsh gurgling sound. “I need you to tell my boys that I love them and that I am proud of them.” Another painful breath. “I need you to tell Rosie that I have loved being her Daddy and that she is so beautiful.” Another breath, this one came a little easier. “Promise me you’ll tell them.”

“Dude, I don’t need to tell them. You’re gonna tell them. You’re gonna come out of this.”

“Promise me you’ll tell them.”

“OK, I promise. Now you tell me that you’re gonna make it.”

I was going to make no such promise. The reason for my pessimism was the same reason for the urgency in his voice. In our hearts, we both knew I was, in fact, not going to make it.

I saw some blue and red flashes on the man’s face and he quickly left to direct them to me. I passed into unconsciousness…

It is a strange sensation to die. The pain begins to fade as my grip on this world loosens. It is more pleasant that I would have anticipated before. The grinding of my ribs fades to obscurity. As my physical eyes close, I begin to have another sense. An awareness of things that must have always been there, but indiscernable.

It is like sight, but not like it. There is awareness of direction of things, of a beauty to the worlds that I missed before. It is like seeing the significance of something directly. Before I would use a poem or a painting to show me what I could not see, now I see it.

This is most acute with persons. I can feel the paramedics coming toward the car and I can see them. Not their bodies, their spirits. I see the man whose exhausted from a long shift and wishes he was home. There is another younger man who is excited to be on a real accident site for the first time. I can see the apprehension and guilt of the truck driver who is questioning whether this was his fault.

What is striking though, is the crowd of people there I hadn’t seen before. Thousands of them, tens of thousands. They stood in a wide half-circle looking at me. Sweet expressions of anticipation. They had been waiting for me. Waiting with excitement.

I recognized a young and beautiful woman toward the front. “Grandma Brushaber,” I said.

She smiled and nodded. I had never seen a soul smile along with a face before.

Looking over the crowd, I saw them. So many faces I recognized. Souls I recognized. Nanny, Jean Viar, Miss Quincy, Grandpa Gruver, and a vibrant and healthy Joshua Gruver.

It was strange to see Joshua’s childlike delight in the whole affair. While much of the crowd was somber and serious, he was honestly thinking of jokes about how I had found such a dramatic way to die. It was strange because the jokes were actually hilarious.

The other striking feature was the brilliance of the lights. So many lights. They were so crisp and bright.

“Grandma Hanson, I know what you meant when you talked about the lights!” I said. She smiled sweetly back at me.

But I knew there was someone missing.

“Jesus?” I said.

“We’ve come to bring you to him,” said a genial Danish relative who had prayed for me before I was even born.

It was then that I realized my body was still speaking even as I struggled to leave it. A paramedic had climbed down into the car with me and was doing his best to stop the bleeding. I couldn’t hear his words, but his urgent heart screamed, “Don’t you die on me. It’s not time to go to Jesus yet.”

But he was wrong. It was time.

Joshua and Grandma Brushaber helped me out of my body. I was a bit unsteady, but they are magnificently strong, not wavering a bit even though I am taller than both of them. We walked together as the crowd parted to allow me to pass.

Then he arrived. A small man, not taller than five and a half feet, came running through the crowd. He was obviously middle eastern, but even more obviously the God of all things.

He jumped to me and hugged me with an intensity I could never have imagined. Even though I could not see his eyes in our embrace, I could feel his heart. He loved me like I love my little baby children. It is a sweet and intoxicating love. It shouted off my soul and echoed back to his.

We may have embraced for a second or a thousand years, I couldn’t tell. But I had something I had to ask.

“Jesus, what about Sam and the kids. They need me.”

He answered with some words that I don’t remember, because what mattered was how concerned he was for them as well. He was worried for them too. It was not the desperate worry of the powerless but the delighted concern of one who can act. He was concerned for them and would make sure they were cared for. That was good enough for me.

“Let’s go meet our Father,” he said, “He has been looking forward to having you home.”

We walked through a bright doorway into a place that words don’t describe. It’s not because words haven’t been made to describe it, it is because words cannot be made to describe it. The place was like an explosion of joy filled an enormous room and kept bouncing from soul to soul and back to the God who started it all.

We walked together with Jesus occasionally stopping to tell me how happy he was that I was with him. I was struggling to understand why he kept saying that. Why would he be so happy to see me? I am the one who got to be happy to be with him.

As unimaginable as the place is, it is a pale gray shadow compared to the Spirit in the center.

He is magnificent of all magnificence. Even with my new eyes, I needed to shade them from his intensity. As Jesus approached him, I could feel the vibrating energy between them. It was just on the edge of being seen. It moved in an eternal and endless dance between them.

Of course that energy was not a thing, but a part of God himself. No one will ever see that mysterious Spirit, but his quiet presence is everywhere.

“Daddy, I want to bring you one of your boys. This is Chip.”

It was like watching a seemingly endless sea of joy breaking into a storm. The delight that Daddy felt at me being there was so…wrong. Why would he be so happy to have me? I am the one who is lucky to have him. I am the prodigal and he is the Father and Older brother who are delighted to have me back.

Questions like that do not last long in this place. There is simply too much to experience to think overly long about myself. Even as I bathed in those opening moments of Heaven, I knew I had an eternity left to explore this place and this God.

And that is how long it will take.

-Chip

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Count Vicegrim’s Letters: Chapter 10 Graduation

The Count Vicegrim LettersThe Demon Mudpot’s Annual Review regarding the Temptation of the Patient in His 24th Year

My Dear Mudpot,

I’m going to regret saying this. I know I will. You are making real progress Mudpot.

Don’t make me regret that.

So lets get to your review.

Successes

I have to say I never expected the success you are having with causing depression in your patient. It seems that he is prone to depression and you have a gift for causing it. In a way, this is a real failure of yours because you waited so long to exploit it. Hopefully you didn’t wait too long.

It is so delightful that you were able to drive him back to pornography in his depression. It is so delightful to see the vermin medicate their pain with sexual images. The short term relief he feels when looking at the images will only drive him deeper into despair. I want to caution you on beating on his conscience too hard. It has the potential to drive him deeper into his depression but it also could drive him to repentance.

It is far better to find a way to burn his conscience out. Try to work our old staple conscience killers like “Nobody’s getting hurt” and “God would want me to be happy.” He is in a culture that sees no problem with pornographic images but scandalizes sexual affairs (I still can’t figure out how the Western Culture Department pulled that off). If we can destroy his conscience, we have almost won.

As he heads to his seminary graduation, it is important that he be driven deeper into a double life. Seminaries are well designed for encouraging a double life and the seminary he attends is even better suited than most. He is intellectually sharp and the faculty is much more interested in a strong theological argument and being culturally savvy than they are in being morally right.

It makes me chuckle as I write this. Mudpot, this is when our job gets fun.

These months leading up to graduation are crucial. If you can get him back into the slow spiral downward now, I suspect you will be able to continue it into whatever church work he has afterward. There is a real opportunity to neuter him.

But the risks are great. Should he be recovered by the Enemy’s Spirit, he will be much more dangerous. He will sympathize with sinners and yet struggle to resist his own sin. A vermin with his potential could be…I don’t want to think about it.

Pull out all the stops to get him to become sexually involved with another female vermin. Your work driving a wedge between him and his wife has been most fruitful. With them having sex less often, there will be more opportunity for temptation. Be ready.

Your work using his depression to drive him into video games, very good. I am more old school than that. Video gaming has never been my favorite temptation. Maybe I need to modernize a bit. Obviously it has been very effective with your patient. He is failing to carry out his responsibilities and then complains when his wife notices and brings it up. You are masterful in guiding him to use words like “controlling” and “nitpicking” and yet he avoids working on the fact that he is lazy. It is lovely to see.

Failures

I am pleased to say that these are fewer than in previous years. They are still serious and need addressing.

Remember that even thought you are having success with overwhelming him, he is still in a seminary and there is still a great deal of the Enemy’s Book around. He is often reading the book and the Enemy’s Spirit can, at any time, use those word to crush you. As much as you can, keep your patient away from the Enemy’s Book.

Additionally, you seem cavalier about the Enemy’s Spirit. He is smarter and much stronger than you are. He is patient and cunning. He is merciless and cruel. He will surprise you and overwhelm you. Be prepared for him. If there is one thing I have learned in my millennia of  work it is that he is never to be underestimated. Be very cautious and vigilant. Watch for his subtle movements and be ready to battle them.

Finally, be very aware that your patient is still claimed by the Enemy. There is nothing you can do to change that. It is not in our power to win him back. There are always plan to find a way to reclaim a vermin that the Enemy has taken, but for now, we cannot do it. The Enemy may have plans for this High Risk that we can’t anticipate.

Overall, your work is good. Don’t screw it up.

-Count Vicegrim

Image created by Cavin and used with permission

Porn and the Christian Guy: Part 1 My Story

One of the upsides of being a sinner is that when I have talked about my sin with others, I have found that they feel more comfortable discussing their own sin with me. There is a real grace to when we “confess our faults one to another.” I have many times talked about my struggles with pornography with people as the occasion permitted, but I have been reluctant to go public with my sin.

This has changed now. This is not a story of unbridled victory. It is the story of a foolish man who knows that porn is chocolate covered death. You know that dog that returns to his vomit, that’s me.

But this is not really my story alone. This is my wife’s story as a victim of my sin. It is my family’s story of not being really loved by me because I was too distracted by my sin. But most of all, it is Jesus’ story. I have often reflected that Jesus may love me, but only because he must have very poor taste. Praise God for God’s poor taste. I would be screwed otherwise.

I was an awkward teenager. I remember watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and I had a crush on Deanna Troy. It was innocent enough, but I started masturbating to thoughts of her. This was the middle 90s so the internet was really spreading throughout the US and became affordable for us living in East Tennessee. It turns out that the pornography industry had jumped on the web faster than just about anyone else and I accidentally discovered it.

Back then, there were no content controls on the web. To be honest, the ones that are there now are terribly ineffective. So I somehow knew I should hide what I had found. I kept looking on the web whenever I had the opportunity. I learned to be careful as well. There are ways of viewing a web page that made it not show up on the drop-down history in Internet Explorer. At times, I would have to panic when I saw an explicit site show up in the history and I would have to visit ten or fifteen legitimate sites to move it out of view. Even then, I was always nervous that someone would check further down the history and find the site I had visited.

Then, one day, disaster struck. Our internet stopped working. When my parents called the ISP they were told that we were “attacking sites.” My trying to hide a web history had caused our internet to get shut down. My conscience was killing me. Eventually, I fessed up to my parents what I had done. I’m not sure why I did, but I am thankful for it. That decision that the Holy Spirit pressed me to make was very possibly the difference between a life of secret sin and a life of living in grace. God was kind to me that day.

Problem solved. I learned my lesson and never looked at porn again! Not quite. This began a journey of sin, compulsive sin  repentance followed immediately by compulsive sin. There were breaks. I spent several summers on Teen Missions International working overseas. there was victory there. It helped not to have a computer. It helped even more to have a mandatory Bible time every morning. I would come home refreshed and ready to overcome my pornography problem at home only to have nearly certain defeat within a few months.

It amazes me how creative i can be when I want to hide porn from the people I care about. One time I recorded a movie on HBO (ironically, one of the Star Trek movies) with the purpose of recording the porn that would come on after the movie. Another time, I downloaded an erotic story to the computer and put it in some deep file in the computer for future retrieval. imagine if all of this creative energy had been spent at work or school.

But it was never worth it. I was paranoid and anxious about being discovered. I would enjoy it for a short time and then become afraid that where I kept it would be discovered. Then I would delete it or throw it away. I would repent. I would go back to the porn.

The toll on my spiritual life was profound. When I wanted the porn so bad, it comes to a point where life would be easier if God didn’t exist: if rules didn’t exist. I could do what i wanted with no guilt. I am convinced that many atheists are atheists because God told them when and who they can have sex with. It is easier to not believe in God and do what I want. In addition to this, when i would pray I felt an angry face looking down at me. My prayers may have made it past the ceiling, but I was sure they reached a God who was very, very angry at me.

One of the counter-intuitive parts of my journey is that I had to become the prodigal to understand the prodigal son. It is easy to say, “God will forgive anything if you bring it to him.” It is very hard to bring it to him. Does God really look down on me in my profound, compulsive, repeated, and ongoing sin and smile? Does he really love me in that moment?

To be sure, God was angry at my sin. my sin was not just an affront to him, it was me sticking my hand in the air and flipping God the bird! I stuck out my chest and stared into Heaven and said, “You don’t know how to make me happy. You don’t love me enough to give me what would really satisfy. If you really loved me, you would have naked women available for me to ogle when I want to.” I’m sure God was both angry and hurt deeply.

What is astonishing is not just the gravity of the sin, but that the cross is that much bigger. We have a habit as Christians of minimizing the sin to make the sinner feel better. It is a very bad habit. We need to say that the sinner was evil beyond words…and that God loved us enough to give us a rescue that more than overcomes that evil. What I meant for evil, God meant to teach me more about the cross.

My struggle continued for years. I got married and the problem went away for about a year. it helps to have a hot girl to look at and touch. But the hunger inside me returned. I remember my humiliation when Sam caught me looking at porn in our living room once. It was terrible not just because I knew it was wrong, but now it communicated to her that she was lacking somehow. God had given me a lovely and tender lady and now I was crushing her too.

After my struggle continued and I failed several times, Sam suggested that I go to a group for guys that struggle with porn. This was, of course, a ridiculous idea. I wasn’t that sick. Seriously, it’s not like I am a compulsive user of pornography that can’t ever seem to get it under control.

But that was me!

So I started attending a group of guys that meet at Ebenezer Counseling in Knoxville, Tennessee. If grace was a group, it would be in that small group of men. They were like me. They struggled compulsively with pornagraphy (and worse!). They were firm that I should not look at porn and gracious and redeeming when I did. The debt I owe to those men is profound.

For the first time in my life, I was beginning to experience some type of success in resisting porn. What was a times only going hours between looking at porn went to weeks between failures, then months. I was not just involved in helping my own porn problem, I was supporting other guys in their struggle. Finally, some hope.

The years since have involved failures and successes. I write this not as a man who has arrived. I will die as a man who is still weak against temptation to porn. In fact, I write this story in response to a failure. I looked at porn last on Monday, 9/9/13, at around 7 AM. Please, don’t regard me as a success story. Hopefully that will be the last time I look at porn in my life. John Newton said it well:

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am”

In conclusion, I want to publicly thank some people who have not been thanked publicly for their help and support.

Jesus, you forgave me. I’m not sure why you keep me around, but as long as you’re willing to have me, I am glad to stay with you!

Sam, I really couldn’t have asked for a better wife. You have suffered the most to my porn problems and have always been gracious to me. My debt to you is immeasurable. I love you.

Mom and Dad, parents don’t get the flashiest thank yous because the foundation of a person is not easy to see. Almost all the good in me was built on a foundation that lays hidden under what was built on top of it. The conscience that drove me to Jesus through those many years of struggle, you taught me that. The deep felt desire to honor the women in my life, you taught me that. Thank you….thank you.

Pastor James, you deserve a special Thank You as well. That boy that pestered you with questions. The one you went to lunch with at the Gondolier. That kid that probably irritated the crap out of you. He was paying attention. Behind Mom and Dad, you were the most influential person in my life. I once complained that I was a Timothy with no Paul, only to realize that I had a Paul all along. Thank you.

One final Thank You goes to the guys at the group at Ebenezer Counseling. Without them, I don’t know where I would be. God bless you guys. You changed my life. I don’t take your support for granted.

-Chip

For the sequel to My Story, see The Rest of the Story.

Up Next: Porn and the Christian Guy: Part 2 How Did We get Here?