"with the time I spent on the life I never had, I could have turned myself into a better man"- Toad the Wet Sprocket, from the song Throw it All Away.
My friend Mark calls it malaise, describing my state of being when we are together- in fact, I have seen him withdraw from me at events, probably due to this. He used to call it melancholy and, being a non-Southerner, chalked it up to the Christ-haunted "Southern Thing." Upon reading, at my suggestion, Walker Percy (whom my son is named for), Mark told me that his suspicions were confirmed and he told me that he truly understood me (I think he read The Moviegoer).
Ignoring the inherent arrogance in such a statement, I took it to heart. I am a melancholy person, even though I look for hope in all things and believe that good things are just ahead. I believe that change is possible and people are not good and not bad (remember I thrive in the shades of grey, not black and white), but finite, limited, imperfect, selfish and unable to save themselves (what I understand "depravity" to really mean). My wife even tells me that I trust friends too much to do the "right" thing.
In fact, while some my construe my critical nature as negative, it is not. I am critical because I believe in good and better. I believe in a positive outcome and possibility. I criticize so situations will change or people will look at something different and have higher expectations. I am not a whiner or complainer and tire of such people.
At the darkest moments I do not struggle with cynicism. I embrace it and hold to the adage that a cynic is a disappointed dreamer, someone who believes something "Good" is possible, yet is surrounded by less than that ideal.
I have dealt with disappointment and broken dreams, often of my own making, my whole life. I have never reached the measure of success I had always assumed would be mine by age 38 (sheez- I never admit my age)- no great ministry led by me, no book deals and financial security. Everytime it seems close, something short circuits it (usually- but not always me) and I am disappointed once more that I did not become the star I always assumed I would become. In the circles I run in there are many stars and I struggle with the desire to be one of them- and the competing desire to be a guy that is simply a good husband and dad (and dog owner).
If I am particularly angry at the situation and the success of others and what has not happened for me, I wish that God was not so concerned with my character. I wish God was more concerned with the character of the stars. In the sickest moments, I want to look back after success and reevaluate, coming to understand that I know need to work on the character issues and serve others (after the boat, car, recognition and travel). However, I look at my wife and children and desire the other road- but with pieces of the star road I had laid out before me at 17.
Searching for this success, coupled with a desire to do something important for God (analyze that) and truly believing God was leading my family in certain areas, I have journeyed from stability and success in Virginia to instability, real community and the stench of the marked territory of a Star in Texas (hoping my closeness to a star would bring stardom- not understanding that some stars do not want competition). I then took my wife to Boston to become that star, thinking that I could create something "for God" in Boston that had never been done. Boston brought the closest friends Kristi and I have, 2 wonderful children and regional comfort for myself (I felt at home for the 1st time in my life).
However, Boston also brought debt (for the first time due to the high cost of living and a ministry salary, along with 2 extra mouths to feed, etc.). As much as I loved the city, I came to realize it was not a sustainable lifestyle, especially for my spouse. With the displacement from the city I loved, came shattered dreams and over 2 years of journey in the wilderness of my home state. It took 14 months in Florida to find a real career, one that I am presently in. It took longer to find (more than 2) friends, a church and a path (one that I did not like though).
The hardest thing for a disappointed dreamer, cynic and man full of malaise (according to others), an introvert who can turn it on when a microphone comes into his presence (or the chance to be the life of the party and tell my stories) is to deal with the reality that one will never be The Star, that life is hard and there may be times when you cannot find a friend close at hand- to know that you are not really all that talented, funny, smart, special, called or good- to realize that the lack of hype was reasonable, not just because you never got the chance.
And when the consequences of a life of displacement lived for the future come to roost; when the lack of responsibility in important areas stare you in the face (in every direction, when you look away from one, another is there); when you see arrogance is not even attractive for a president (so it cannot be for a normal guy); when you see that talent, decent looks, passion, smarts and being a nice guy get you only so far (and those qualities are not particularly useful to others); when you are lazy, self-absorbed and easily bored- only hiding those qualities through the use of others (mentioned above) and a natural ability to help others and serve them (not because it is right, but because it is easy for you to do)... you are not equipped to assess the damage done and rebuild the crushed sand castle you created now using bricks and mortar.
Looking at this mess I have created, I am tired. Yet I cannot rest long. I have too much work to do to rebuild it properly. I want out of the wilderness right now, but know God kept the Israelites there 40 years for a reason. I want to be given more talents, but have squandered what was given to me.
I have found great counsel and know the future is potentially very bright (I am frightened that my positive spin can be less than useful though). I also realize that there are many dark days ahead and things can get much worse before they get much better (as they have already done as I have tried to change myself and fix my mess). I know that I will be very disappointed with myself during this time and very disappointed with others.
About a month ago, because of a huge thing that happened at work, coupled with some other heavy duty stuff, I had a 2-3 or period I could describe as among the worst of my life so far, especially my career-life. On day in particular, I told Kristi, "this is the worst day I have ever had, and I know in the near future, there will be many others that top it." Funny thing is, looking back that day was much, much worse than I had thought at the time.
Since then at least 2-3 days have shattered that day (Tuesday being the new record holder), with a few others near to it. Most days have been "less bad" ("better" is a stretch), but not by much. In fact, a few surprising successes (to my boss) at work and the Cardinals post season success have been the only bright days in the midst. I know many others are on the horizon before those Better Days a friend of mine sings of visit.
As I write this, I am keenly aware of how lucky (God Blessed) I am. I live in the safest country in the world. While in debt and facing financial situations mostly of my making, I am still very rich (I have a nice place to live, share a solid car with my wife, eat well, and my kids will not starve). I have 2 amazing children (our son will be either a rock star, senator or actor, CEO or druggie rock star/ actor, corrupt Senator, CEO of Enron or impressive criminal, our daughter will be our son's campaign manager, publicist or defense attorney) that I understand will continue to amaze me, frustrate me, frighten me and expand my horizons (I also understand I have hard work to keep them on the right path). I have a good job that pays well and plays well in my community (it is where a man of my age should be, even if it is not where I want to be). I have an internally and externally beautiful wife that has put up with more #*%! from me that any person should be expected to and loving parents of undying support. I even have a few friends that would take a bullet for me. Most importantly, I have been given the chance to be a Christ follower, knowing that my redeemer lives and cares.
At a particularly self-loathing moment yesterday, I found "My Deliverer" by Rich Mullins on my iPod. The reminder that although I lack faith and my eyes deceive me, I can rest assure that my Deliverer is coming, that my deliverer is near (yes, my deliverer is here and has been all along) brought tears to my usually dry eyes. I know I will look back upon this wilderness journey in Florida as the seminal point in my life, when I could head down the dark road of my past or forge a new path, taking those lessons of my F#!% ups and become the man I need to become, that God has called me to become. I look forward to that future day in hopeful anticipation.
(I hesitate to even allow comments. This is not some pity party or me looking for sympathy or any other such crap- it is an honest attempt to put my sh-t out there and deal with it. It is an attempt to present myself and not my image of myself. It is an attempt to be vulnerable and talk about me and not what I think. It is for me, not you.)