Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: A Year in Review


In the year of our Lord two thousand fifteen, there has been many ups and downs. I think though that in many ways, it will be remembered as a year of crossroads. In January of last year, I was in a miserable job that was getting more miserable each day. I was teaching high school. I had students who didn't care nor did they want to try. I was more of a babysitter who felt like he was herding cats than a teacher. From January to April, I suffered from one long chronic headache which had actually begun the previous November. At times, the pain was unbearable, but I was finally correctly diagnosed with cluster headaches instead of migraines. I was given the correct treatment, which seemed to work. I was pain free for the first time in six months. I still experienced minor cluster headaches, but nothing like what I'd previously experienced. I was feeling more hopeful.

Then on the last teacher workday of the school year, I was called into my headmaster's office and told that my contract would not be renewed. So instead of enjoying my summer off, like all teachers are entitled to because of the horrors and stress of the school year, I had to hunt for a job. The job hunt became a full time job in itself. I worked on applications from the time I woke until I went to bed. I made the decision though to get out of teaching. I still applied to some college teaching jobs but after looking for seven years already, I didn't see much hope in that direction. However, I made the decision to move into the museum field. I began to volunteer at a local museum to gain some experience. My volunteer work was the highlight of my summer.

With the love, support, and advice of my readers and some dear friends, I made it through the summer. In July, I set up a GoFundMe site to help pay for new training in museum studies, and to get a new laptop to help with writing a novel I began to write. More on that later. Without those donations, I'm not sure I would have been able to make it through the summer or had the money to ove and begin a new life in the fall. I receive so much help from many of you that I can't thank you enough. I had days and weeks when rejection letters poured in, and I became despondent and sunk into a deep depression. I kept faith though that God would guide me to the right job. My faith took me through that ordeal.

In August, I was checking out a new job posting site when I came across a job that seemed ideal. They were looking for someone who had my qualifications, and I even met the preferred qualifications. If you've ever been on a job hunt, you know how hard it can be to fill all of the requirements for a job. Jobs often post a wish list as opposed to what they really need. I turned out to be this museum's wish list. It took a month, but I finally got called for a phone interview, which went well. Then I got called for an on campus interview. The last call was to hire me for the job. I accepted immediately and began packing to move to Vermont.

The drive up to Vermont wasn't what I expected. As I was driving through Knoxville, Tennessee, I hit something on the interstate that ruptured my gas tank, and I was stranded there for a few days while a new gas tank was found and installed. I finally made it though safe and sound and moved into my new apartment. I fell in love with Vermont immediately. I'm still in the honeymoon phase. As I settled into my job, I found out just how perfect a job it was for me. Yes, there have been challenges. The two people who had the job before me couldn't have been more different, so I've been working to standardized the job and get things in order the best I can. I couldn't ask for a more wonderful group of people to work with though. They have been so accepting, supportive, and kind.

Just as I was settling into my job, my world came crashing down again. My best friend and closest confidante who I loved like the brother I never had was suddenly killed in a car accident. I'd been devastated when I lost my job, but the loss of my best friend was world shattering. With the loss of my job, I had faith that God would guide me on the right path, but the loss of my friends tore holes in my faith. I couldn't understand (still can't) how God could allow this to happen. Why God didn't save him. My days have been lost without him. I've had friends who have offered tremendous support, and I've received some wonderful words of wisdom from my blog readers. I'm finally able to discuss my friend without bursting into tears, but my depression has grown and the frequency of my panic attacks have increased.  Also, my cluster headaches are back, and while the medicine that I take to prevent them somewhat lessens the intensity, they are back to waking me in the middle of the night. They'd begun again before my friend's death, but had only come on weekends, but for the past month since his death, they have been constant. Pain relievers help for a few hours, but there is only so much pain medication you can take without it becoming a problem.

I'm hoping that on a whole, 2016 will be better. While I've made a new home for myself in Vermont and it's been a tremendously positive change, so much of the rest of 2015 was unexpectedly horrific. I went to my doctor's office here in Alabama yesterday, and I was given medicine to help with the headaches as well as a new antidepressant that will help with the one I am already on. Hopefully, the combination of the new medicine and the therapist I've been seeing will help alleviate the depression, which in turn I am hoping will help end this new cycle of cluster headaches.

I have a lot of hopes for the new year.  The novel is still in the works, and I expect to finish it sometime in the coming year. It will be dedicated to the friend that I lost not only because he was the greatest friend I've ever known but he was the one who encouraged me to write a novel and he read and helped edit the parts of the novel that has already been written. I see great thing on the horizon for my new job and my new life in Vermont. I'm also working to lose weight and get in better shape. I got a Fitbit for Christmas. Since I've been in Alabama, people have already told me that I look like I've lost weight. I don't know that I have but maybe there's been some fat replaced by muscle. I have two years until I turn 40 and I plan to be in good shape when I hit that milestone year.

This past year will probably always live in my memory for two reasons: a beginning of a new life and the loss of the life of my friend. If I could, I'd trade my new life for that of my friend's lost life in a heartbeat. I'd do anything to have him back, but unless time travel is invented, I cannot change what happened. I can't bring him back, no matter how much I wish I could. The year has also been a dichotomy of faith. My faith brought me through losing my job and finding a new and better one; however, the loss of my friend has cracked my faith. It hasn't shattered it, but it has caused me to question some of my long held beliefs about my faith and God's role in our lives. I'm working through those questions. I don't expect answers, but with the help of some very good friends, I hope to work though my current crisis of faith.

May you all have a wonderful 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Once You Snap, You Can't Go Back



Monday, I wrote about how Millennials are doing their best to hide their nudity in the locker rooms, but on the flip side, they are all too willing to trade naked selfies with one another, be it through texts, snapchat, or various other ways.  A growing numbers of youngsters are swapping naked selfies.  When I was teaching one of the first things that the computer teacher taught was that once an image is uploaded online, it is there forever. Kids may think they can delete it or that a SnapChat is only there for a few seconds, but once there, someone can always find it if they know where to look.

As a teacher, I heard a lot of students talking when they didn't know I was listening, or didn't care that I was listening. One of the things I heard a lot was that so and so sent a naked selfie on SnapChat or they would talk about other students sending often naked or revealing pictures of themselves in text. It was happening earlier and earlier. I'd heard of this with kids as young as fifth grade.

When these Millennials get to college, they are even freer about sending nude selfies. Take a look on Twitter any day and at all the "Anon" accounts and there are constantly headless pictures of nude or nearly nude guys. I have no doubt that it is the same with women, but I don't particularly want to see that. Anon Twitter accounts will often show their face with these pics for a limited time and then delete them, but the picture is already out there. 

The same is true with webcams. With sites like Chaturbate and Chatroulettle, people do all sorts of things for others to see, often showing their bodies but not their face. I guess this is the big difference, they don't mind showing off to others as long as they don't show their face. Others though don't have a problem showing their face, and even when they don't show their face, most everyone knows their friends SnapChat name, so whether it shows their face or not, their peers know who it is and they are showing off what they are hiding in the locker rooms.

Celebrities and non-celebrities alike often have no problem showing their nude butts, especially men (women it often comes down to their breasts), but butts have become so commonly shared that they are almost not considered nudity anymore. Let's face it, mooning has been a thing for high school and college students for many, many years. It is the penis that is most hidden, and celebrities with particularly large ones will often allow themselves to have very brief frontal nude scenes or they "allow" their own nude selfies to be leaked online. It is always claimed to be an invasion of privacy, but once you take those pictures or videos of yourself, you have to realize that the possibility of it being leaked online is quite high.

The point that I am trying to make is that live and in person Millennials don't want to show off their bodies and they hide behind their towels in the locker room, but these same guys who do the towel dance will send out naked selfies to all their friends later that day. While certainly not everyone, or probably even a majority, send naked selfies, a large number of Millennials do. While SnapChats, tweets, texts, and the like might be contained with just a few people, often those they hide from in the locker room, all you need to do is check out a dating app to see more dick pics than you might ever want to. Granted, dating sites are a different beast than all the others, but it shows that they don't mind showing off the "goods" as long as a face isn't attached or if it will get them laid.

I think that nudity is probably less an issue for gay men than straight men, but it is more of a body conscious issue with gay men.  However, the SnapChat and texting phenomenon that I heard so much about as a teacher was with guys and girls (mostly guys) sending out pictures of themselves to both genders. It was a joke, at least that's the way they saw it. Of course, like the celebrities who have their pictures leaked, there are always people who are proud of their goods and have no problem sending out dick pics. I had one incident when I was a teacher of a kid whipping out his penis to a girl in class. From what I was told, for a small guy he was quite large and quite proud of his size. In another such incident, the guy claimed that he'd been scratching his balls when it just flopped out when he removed his hand. Both instances were ridiculous, but the point is they had something they wanted to show. 

Not all guys are that brazen. Many, if they can get away with it, will post dick pics online anonymously to get a response and see how they measure up. Without the more free nudity in locker rooms, guys don't necessarily know the vast array of penis sizes. Even when there was more nudity, I don't think many understood the difference between growers and showers, because that is a secret you only find out with an erect penis. It is one of the advantages to being a gay man, we get to see the penis at all stages from flaccid to erect.

I have a feeling that the selfie is here to stay. With all things people will get more and more extreme with the selfie and the headless nude shot will become ever more common, while the towel dance will continue in the locker rooms. Privacy it seems is something that is only desired in live interaction, but behind a camera, privacy means very little as long as you can hide your face.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Feast of Stephen by Anthony Hecht



I

The coltish horseplay of the locker room,
Moist with the steam of the tiled shower stalls,   
With shameless blends of civet, musk and sweat,   
Loud with the cap-gun snapping of wet towels   
Under the steel-ribbed cages of bare bulbs,   
In some such setting of thick basement pipes   
And janitorial realities
Boys for the first time frankly eye each other,   
Inspect each others’ bodies at close range,   
And what they see is not so much another   
As a strange, possible version of themselves,   
And all the sparring dance, adrenal life,   
Tense, jubilant nimbleness, is but a vague,   
Busy, unfocused ballet of self-love.

II

If the heart has its reasons, perhaps the body   
Has its own lumbering sort of carnal spirit,   
Felt in the tingling bruises of collision,   
And known to captains as esprit de corps.
What is this brisk fraternity of timing,   
Pivot and lobbing arc, or indirection,   
Mens sana in men’s sauna, in the flush
Of health and toilets, private and corporal glee,   
These fleet caroms, plies and genuflections
Before the salmon-leap, the leaping fountain
All sheathed in glistening light, flexed and alert?   
From the vast echo-chamber of the gym,
Among the stumbled shouts and shrill of whistles,   
The bounced basketball sound of a leather whip.

III

Think of those barren places where men gather   
To act in the terrible name of rectitude,   
Of acned shame, punk’s pride, muscle or turf,   
The bully’s thin superiority.
Think of the Sturm-Abteilungs Kommandant
Who loves Beethoven and collects Degas,
Or the blond boys in jeans whose narrowed eyes   
Are focussed by some hard and smothered lust,   
Who lounge in a studied mimicry of ease,   
Flick their live butts into the standing weeds,   
And comb their hair in the mirror of cracked windows
Of an abandoned warehouse where they keep   
In darkened readiness for their occasion   
The rope, the chains, handcuffs and gasoline.

IV

Out in the rippled heat of a neighbor’s field,
In the kilowatts of noon, they’ve got one cornered.   
The bugs are jumping, and the burly youths   
Strip to the waist for the hot work ahead.   
They go to arm themselves at the dry-stone wall,   
Having flung down their wet and salty garments   
At the feet of a young man whose name is Saul.   
He watches sharply these superbly tanned   
Figures with a swimmer’s chest and shoulders,   
A miler’s thighs, with their self-conscious grace,   
And in between their sleek, converging bodies,   
Brilliantly oiled and burnished by the sun,   
He catches a brief glimpse of bloodied hair   
And hears an unintelligible prayer.

The Feast of Stephen

You may know of this poem if you are a huge James Franco fan.  He used this poem as the basis for a student film he made in college.  When he was at NYU, he made three short films based on the following poems: "The Feast of Stephen" (Anthony Hecht), "Herbert White" (Frank Bidart), and "The Clerk’s Tale" (Spencer Reece).  Of the three poems, he said that this was the one that had the least character development. It has characters in it, and there is a progression, but until the last stanza, the characters are described as a group, rather than as distinct individuals. The first two stanzas, set in a locker room and a basketball gymnasium, describe boys coming into their new bodies. The boys are not differentiated. Sometimes there is subtle distancing from these boys, like the last two lines of the second stanza that seems to be describing the gym from a distance. Even when the boys are described as inspecting each other, it doesn’t sound as if the voice of the poem is their voice. It is too sophisticated, the metaphors are too advanced, the diction too high. There is another kind of consciousness present, even if it isn’t described within the actual substance of the poem. 

In the third stanza, there is a sharp change in the development of the poem’s subject. The pubescent and exploring boys are now described as violent. They are compared to an SS officer and are at an ominous hangout where there are cracked mirrors and weapons like gasoline and knives. The members of the group are not distinguished from one another, but the group’s identification has changed. The boys have become evil and potentially destructive. 

The last stanza finally differentiates some of the characters. The description recalls the martyrdom of St. Stephen, described by Luke in Acts 6–8. The character of Saul functions on two levels. In the context of the poem, he is the witness who observes and does nothing to stop the violence. Without Saul, the attack would unfold at a distance, with no possibility of outside intervention. To have him there but doing nothing places the reader there as well, asking us to consider occasions when we have stood by in the face of injustice. The boy who is being beaten is another new character freshly differentiated from the group. He is compared to a martyr. It is not clear why he is being beaten, although the first two stanzas lean heavily on homoerotic descriptions, suggesting that violence is homophobic in nature. If the first stanzas show the boys in a state of discovery and uncertainty, the later stanzas could be read as moments after the boys have decided that the innocent observations that took place in the early stanzas were wrong, that that kind of behavior should be punished.

Anthony Hecht

One of the leading voices of his generation, Anthony Hecht’s poetry is known for its masterful use of traditional forms and linguistic control. Extraordinarily erudite, Hecht’s verse often features allusions to French literature, Greek myth and tragedy, and English poets and poetry stretching from Wallace Stevens to John Donne. Hecht, who died in 2004, was often described as a “traditionalist.” George P. Elliott contended in the Times Literary Supplement that "Hecht's voice is his own, but his language, more amply than that of any living poet writing in English, derives from, adds to, is part of the great tradition." Though his early work was often slighted as ornate or Baroque, his collection The Hard Hours (1967) is generally seen as his break-through volume. In that book, Hecht begins to use his experiences as a soldier in Europe during World War II. The often unsettling and horrific insights into the darkness of human nature told in limpid, flowing verse that characterize the poems in the collection would become Hecht’s trademark. According to Dana Gioia: “Hecht exemplifies the paradox of great art…He found a way to take his tragic sense of life and make it so beautiful that we have to pay attention to its painful truth."  

Anthony Hecht was born in New York City in 1923. Though a self-described mediocre student, he nonetheless counted his first three years at Bard College some of the happiest of his life. His college career was interrupted, however, when he was drafted into the army to serve in World War II. As an infantryman, he fought in Germany, France and Czechoslovakia. His division also helped liberate Flossenburg concentration camp. Ordered to collect evidence from the French prisoners, the experience marked him for the rest of his life. Hecht returned to the United States and finished his degree at Kenyon College where he studied under John Crowe Ransom. At Kenyon he also formed friendships with poets like Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Tate and Randall Jarrell. Hecht’s first book, A Summoning of Stones (1954) displays great technical skill, but for some critics, the style seems mannered and dated. 

A longtime professor of poetry at the University of Rochester, Hecht also taught at institutions such as Georgetown, Yale, Harvard and Smith College. He was the Poet Laureate Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1982-1984, and won many of America’s most prestigious poetry awards, including the Bollingen Prize, the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize, the Wallace Stevens Award and the Frost Medal. His collected poems were published in two volumes, Early Collected Poems (1993) and Later Collected Poems (2005). His death in 2004 was marked by a great outpouring of tributes and eulogies. In the New York Times, David Yezzi offered this praise: “It was Hecht's gift to see into the darker recesses of our complex lives and conjure to his command the exact words to describe what he found there. Hecht remained skeptical about whether pain and contemplation can ultimately redeem us, yet his ravishing poems extend hope to his readers that they can.”


If you are interested in seeing the complete short film by James Franco based on this poem, it can be found at the following link:  http://m.sinemalar.com/mobileweb/movieInfo/169207. It's only 4 min. long and is quite interesting.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Locker Rooms

 


Early in my blog, I did a post called "Naked Male Camaraderie," which has been the most popular post on this blog. A friend recently shared a New York Times titled "Men’s Locker Room Designers Take Pity on Naked Millennials." One of the things I talked about in my previously mentioned blog post was that guys these days don't like being naked in front of each other, which was part of this NYT article. In the article, it states:

But gyms are still unable to provide the one thing younger men in particular seem to really want: a way for them to shower and change without actually being nude.

Each day, thousands upon thousands of men in locker rooms nationwide struggle to put on their underwear while still covered chastely in shower towels, like horrible breathless arthropods molting into something tender-skinned. They writhe, still moist, into fresh clothes.

If you've been in a locker room recently, you know how sad and true this is. When I was in grad school, I used to frequent the gym there. In the locker room they had the gang showers (which was supposedly a major gay hook up area), three private showers, and a sauna. I never saw anyone use the group showers unless they kept a swimsuit on and most guys kept a towel on in the sauna, the only exception being Asian guys. Except for the swimmers who'd shower in their swim trunks the guys who wore speedos tended not to have a problem with being fully nude. So with the exception of swimmers wearing speedos and Asian guys in the sauna, most other guys did the towel dance. 

According to the NYT article, this is because:

Showering after gym class in high school became virtually extinct in the ’90s. And if Manhattan’s high-end gyms weren’t riddled with ab-laden models or Europeans (or both), there would be few heterosexuals under 40 who have spent any naked time with other men.

A generation ago, when most schools mandated showers, a teacher would typically monitor students and hand out towels, making sure that proper hygiene was observed. In schools with pools, students were sometimes required to swim naked, and teachers would conduct inspections for cleanliness that schools today would not dare allow, whether because of greater respect for children or greater fear of lawsuits.

In a striking measure of changed sensibilities in school and society, showering after physical education class, once an almost military ritual, has become virtually extinct. This is beginning to change, especially with athletes in schools, as health officials are increasingly warning that not showering after gym class leads to MRSA infections, the potentially deadly staphylococcus infection that is resistant to most antibiotics. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has practical advice on preventing staph infections. Showering right after exercise is at the top of the list. 

If showering can help prevent a deadly disease from spreading to school children, why aren't more schools making showers mandatory? There are several reasons, which seem as varied as insecurities about body image, heightened sexual awareness, and a lack of time in a busy school schedule. The lack of showers in schools leads to a shyness about bodies that is virtually nonexistent in older generations. Old men seem to have no problem walking around locker rooms naked but young men do.

In March 2015, Men's Health had an article about locker room etiquette called "Are You the Gym Locker Room A**hole?" in which they outline their do's and don't's of locker room etiquette. Here's the problem with this article, they asked a woman about male locker room etiquette. What does a woman know about men's locker rooms? (No offense to the women who read this blog.) Two of the things she warns against are nudity and conversations in the locker rooms. Really? According to her, men should not be nude in the locker room nor should men talk to one another. I find that utterly ridiculous.

Nudity in America is so puritanical that it's nearly nonexistent. The NYT article makes some interesting observations about what gyms are doing to attract more members. The main thing is providing more privacy. Men are afraid to see each other naked. They are afraid they won't measure up, whether that is with whether they are a shower or a grower or whether they are just insecure about the way their body looks as a whole. Men need not fear being naked in front of one another.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Lost



12 What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.  Matthew 18:12-14 (NRSV)

You may have noticed that there was a different post here earlier. For several different reason, I chose to delete it. I started these Sunday posts to better understand my relationship with God, and I have lost my way. I feel as if I am the lost sheep mentioned above, but that my Shepherd has left me to the wolves. That feeling was all to apparent as I sat in church this morning. I felt so disconnected and sad, and it horrified me. With very rare exceptions, the church I grew up in has always been a source of comfort. No matter how far away I may have roamed, I could be in that church and feel closer to God. Today, I didn't. Today, I only felt sorrow and abandonment. The music did not ease my heart as it has in the past. The sermon offered no comfort. I even got choked when I took communion. I so wanted to feel God within me after I took communion, and I almost did for a few short moments, but it quickly faded. I couldn't bring myself to sing along. When we sang the song "How Beautiful Heaven Must Be," I cried and tears flowed down my face.

The friend who I lost was not perfect, none of us are. He had his problems like we all had, but he'd always believed me when I told him that God would always be there to love him and care for him. I believe that he is with God right now. It's the only comfort I can take from all of this. I feel as if God did not protect my friend as He should have. Few people in this world are truly selfless and giving but my friend was. I know that he is blessed in the hereafter, and that I will see him again but I needed him here longer. He needed to be here longer so that he could fulfill all the wonderful things he was going to accomplish. My friend still had a lot of love to give, and I am sorry that he won't be able to do so. I am making it a point to carry on his legacy. I want to be as giving and as loving as he always was. I don't expect to ever be able to fill his shoes, but I will do my best.

By the way, if you think that I am exaggerating on the goodness of my friend, then you'd be wrong. If he thought someone needed it, he'd literally give them the shirt off his back. If you were upset, no matter what his problems were, he made sure that you were okay first. If there was something you needed, he'd either get it to you, often without taking credit, or he would help you get it. I've honestly never known a more selfless and loving person. While some may think it was just the way he was with me, I don't know of a single soul who truly knew him that didn't love him and feel the same way. That is one of the reasons that this has been so difficult to deal with.

Maybe one day I will be back to being more idealistic and optimistic about God, but I have a lot of issues to work through right now. I have not given up, nor will I, but there are a lot of things to work out and reality can be a bit too harsh at times. One of the hardest things has been my feeling of separation from God. I miss my friend, and I miss my relationship with God. While my therapist may help me deal with the loss of my friend, I need someone to help guide me spiritually. I am begging someone to help me.

I know that there are ministers and former ministers who read this blog, and I want to ask a favor of you. For now, until I work out my own issues with God, I cannot wrote my usual Sunday posts. I do not feel the guidance of God that I had felt before. Therefore, I beg of one of you to please help me. I would love it if one of you would write my weekly devotionals for me. I need help to be guided back to God and I cannot do it alone, so if you are willing to help, please email me at jec1918@gmail.com. I know that I cannot do this alone, which is why I am asking for help. Many of you have written such encouraging comments and emails, and I know some of you are up to taking over this task for a short while. I cannot write about overcoming grief and dealing with issues of sadness and feelings of abandonment by God any longer. After a while, it is just the same thing over and over, and for my sake and others who read this blog, I want this to be a positive place. I am unable to being that positivity and optimism at the moment. I hope someone will agree to help.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Post-Christmas Post



Let your imagination run wild with this lovely picture.  To be honest, my internet connection is so limited at my parents' place, where we spent Christmas night, that this post is by necessity brief.  I hope that all of you had a very Merry Christmas.



My tradition of Saturday Moments of Zen will return in the new year. I haven't felt like posting them this month as a way of mourning the death of my best friend in a tragic accident. I haven't felt many "moments of zen" in the past month. In fact it may be quite a while before I do so again, but my friend loved my moments of zen and he'd be sad that I hadn't posted any since his death. The new year, 2016, will be just that a new year. I have been so sad since his death, but I know I need to start living again and doing my best to enjoy life, because that is what he would want. I have to honor what he told me once. He said that if anything did happen to him to not be sad for long, that it mean that he was not longer battling the demons of his depression and the trauma of his youth. He knew I'd have a long period of mourning over his death and with his death being such a tragic and sudden accident, it has made it even harder.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas



The Birth of Jesus

Chapter 2 

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Luke 2:1-20 (KJV)

When I was young, my mother had a Book of Christmas, I think that was the name, and it had all kinds of Christmas stories and legends. There were three things she read to my sister and me each year at Christmastime: "A Visit from St Nicholas" aka "'Twas the Night before Christmas," the editorial from the September 21, 1897, edition of The (New York) Sun commonly known as "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause," and she would read us Luke Chapter 2:1-20. While the first two, I will always remember in her voice, it seems like I can only ever hear Luke 2:1-20 in the voice of Linus from the Peanuts' classic " A Charlie Brown Christmas." The thing is, I hear the whole twenty verses in Linus's voice; however, in the Peanuts' special, Linus only recited Verses 8-14.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and I hope all of you have a wonderful day.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

I Made It


Merry Christmas Eve, everybody! What a long day yesterday was. I did a few update posts yesterday, and the only highlight was that I got to fly first class to Atlanta. If you've never been through the Atlanta Airport then you probably don't know that the whole place is one big cluster fuck, which is why originally I had been happy to be able to miss it. I should have known I'd end up there anyway.

Anyway, this post is really all about the picture above.  You see, my friend who passed away had a special affinity for nutcrackers.  Since he was a kid, he'd loved nutcrackers. I had planned it to be a tradition to give him a nutcracker each year for Christmas, but sadly I want able to give him one this year. I will always love him and miss him, but I missed him a little less yesterday. He knew I was terrified of flying, and it seemed like he was with me the whole way home. From the moment I stepped on the first of the two planes I flew on yewterday, it seemed like,he we right there with me and doing his best to keep me calm.  


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sorry, American Airlines.


Thank you for upgrading me to FIRST CLASS, so I could get home before Christmas.

Fuck You, American Airlines!


Not only did they cancel my flight yesterday and were rude about it, but today when I get to the airport my plane is delayed which means I cannot meet my connection. There are apparently no other possibilities to Montgomery because Delta and American won't cooperate.  My only option was to fly into fucking Atlanta and have my sister and brother-in-law, who hates me, come pick me up in Atlanta.  Maybe I should have just made American fly me to Philadelphia and let me spend the holiday there at their expense while I tour the city. I have a feeling this is the last time I'm going to deal with American Airlines.

Ugh! Holiday Travel



I got a call yesterday morning from American Airlines saying that my fight out of Burlington had been cancelled and to please call back to be rescheduled. So I called and the woman I talked to said that the next American flight out was today at the same time, but it was booked and the next available flight would be at 7:58 am Chrsitmas Eve. I thought, Well, that sucks. So I asked if there were any flights from nearby airports.  Her response, "Nearby to what?" I told her that I was in central Vermont and was there anything out of New Hampshire. She hung up on me put me on hold, so I had to call back and begin again. Luckily, the guy on the phone the second time was much nicer and booked me flights from the same time today as I had yesterday, but the only difference is that I'm flying our of Manchestee, New Hampshire. Since the forecast is for thunderstorms when I land and takeoff from any of the airports (Philadelphia and Charlotte), please pray that none of these flights are cancelled and that I don't get stuck in an airport over night.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Home for the Holidays



(There's No Place Like) Home For The Holidays
By Al Stillman

Oh, theres no place like home for the holidays
Cause no matter how far away you roam
When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze
For the holidays, you cant beat home, sweet home

I met a man who lives in Tennessee
He was headin' for, Pennsylvania, and some home made pumpkin pie
From Pennsylvania, folks are travelin' down to Dixie's sunny shore
From Atlantic to Pacific, gee, the traffic is terrific

Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays
Cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways
For the holidays, you cant beat home, sweet home

Take a bus, take a train, go and hop an airplane
Put the wife and kiddies in the family car
For the pleasure that you bring when you make that doorbell ring
No trip could be too far

I met a man who lives in Tennessee
He was headin' for, Pennsylvania, and some home made pumpkin pie
From Pennsylvania, folks are travelin' down to Dixie's sunny shore
From Atlantic to Pacific, gee, the traffic is terrific

Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays
Cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be a happy in a million ways
For the holidays, you cant beat home, sweet home
For the holidays, you cant beat home, sweet home

I am heading this afternoon " down to Dixie's sunny shore," actually it's the heart of Dixie and it's supposed to rain all week, but I will be home for the holidays. Though Vermont is now my home, a part of my heart will always remain with my family in Alabama. If you are fortunate enough to be able to spend the holidays with your family, please think of all those who aren't able to do so. They many in the LGBT community who have been disowned by their family. Many of these people make their own families.  I was fortunate to be part of the family of friends that surrounded my dear departed friend. I remember the first Christmas that I knew him, he was going to be alone. I got up early the morning of Christmas and purchased a Santa Claus gift card from Amazon.com to be delivered by email to him. I couldn't stand the idea of him not having something to open. I sent him a text on Christmas morning saying that Santa had visited his email. We were separated by some distance and I wasn't able to be there with him, but he knew I was in spirit. I had my gift all planned out for this year, but I never got to order it or send it to him. So please remember those who are separated from their families. Everyone needs someone for the holidays.

As it gets closer to Christmas, I am trying to think about the good things and remember some of my favorite moments of our friendship. Christmas songs have always gotten me in a more festive mood, but I haven't felt much like listening to them. However, since I am going home for the holidays, I chose to do something that I haven't done in a while and post a song for my Tuesday poetry post. I've always loved this song, but my holiday favorites have always been "O Holy Night," "Winter Wonderland," "Silent Night," "The Christmas Song," and "Happy Holidays." Of course there are many others that I love, but those have always been my top five.

The music for "Home for the Holidays" was composed by Robert Allen, while the lyrics were written by Al Stillman and was published in 1954. The best-known recordings were made by Perry Como, who recorded the song twice. The first recording, done on November 16, 1954, was released as a single for Christmas, 1954, by RCA. The flip side was "Silk Stockings." The next Christmas it was released again, with "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" as the flip side. Como's second recording of the song, in stereo and with a different musical arrangement, was made on July 15, 1959. It was released with "Winter Wonderland" on the flip side.

While it's been hard for me to do the last few weeks, smile this holiday season. You never know when a simple smile can warm someone's heart. And if you find yourself under some mistletoe, grab the cutest guy nearby, pull him under the mistletoe with you, and give him a kiss he will never forget. Happy Holidays, everyone.


P.S. Keep me in your thoughts tomorrow. I have severe anxiety about flying and can never do so without Xanax. I have two different layovers, one 1.5 hours and the other 2 hours, so I may have to take an extra dose. When flying between Burlington and Montgomery, there are no direct flights. It is going to be a long day.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Cranberry Cake



If you look over to the top left corner, you will see something new (actually it's been there about a week). It is a post that I will be featuring. Currently, it's of a cookie recipe that is one of my favorites, but not one that I'm making this year (Occasionally. I will be changing my featured post, so keep a watch for changes in that space). This year, I'm making another of my favorite recipes, this one is for Cranberry Cake. It's an old fashioned butter cake, very rich, but the cranberries offset the richness with just the perfect tartness. As you know, I've been feeling pretty low, but baking, and cooking in general, tend to make me feel better. If you try this recipe, please let me know what you think. This recipe is originally from The Kitchn, but I made a few modifications. Enjoy.

Cranberry Cake

Makes one 10-inch springform cake. Alternately: Four 4-cup loaves or 24 to 30 cupcakes.

All ingredients should be at room temperature before you begin.

3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature for 1 hour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract, optional
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups cranberries (12-ounce bag)

Optional pecan topping: 
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup pecans, unroasted

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan (or a collection of smaller pans. This make 10 to 12 cups of batter.) I used two 6-inch springform pans.

Use a stand mixer or hand beaters to beat the eggs and sugar until very smooth and increased in volume. If using a stand mixer, beat on medium speed for 4 to 7 minutes, using the whip attachment. If using hand beaters, beat on high speed for 6 to 8 minutes. The egg and sugar mixture will double in volume and turn very pale yellow, leaving ribbons on top of the batter when you lift the beaters.

Beat in the butter, vanilla, and almond extract, if using. Beat for 2 minutes or until the butter is smoothly incorporated.

Use a spatula to fold in the flour, salt, and cranberries. The batter will be quite thick. Spread gently into the prepared pan.

To prepare the optional pecan topping, heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir. Add the pecans and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, until the butter and sugar mixture is shiny and smooth and the nuts are well-coated with the butter and sugar. Spread over the cake batter.

Bake 60 to 80 minutes for the springform. For smaller pans, start checking after 30 minutes, but expect small loaves to take at least 40 minutes. I have found that it usually always takes at least 60 minutes. Tent the cake with foil in the last 30 minutes of baking to keep the top from browning (this is especially important for the pecan topping).

Cool for 20 minutes then run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and remove the cake. Cool for an hour before serving.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Abandoned



When I wrote this post, I was in an extremely dark mood. I want to emphasize that I do not feel abandoned by family and friends, but the abandoned feelings are only directed at God. In a way, I guess I understand the Deists of the Enlightenment. They believe that God was the creator, and then left us alone. The problem that I have with that is that Christ came and died for our salvation. Even Jesus had doubts of abandonment. In the cross (Matthew 27:6), Jesus said " Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" which translates to "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Maybe Christinity is only a salvation religion. Maybe we are to live a good life in hopes of being welcomed home to God in heaven, and God doesn't protect us here on earth. Maybe there is no power to prayer, except when we ask forgiveness. This post was what I was feeling last night when I wrote this, but I think it's important to put those thoughts into words. Maybe someone can help me through this grief. I'm not sure that God is there to do so.

Honestly, I have no inspiration for a Sunday post. I feel abandoned. I have friends who check on me, and they try to comfort me. I've been told that my strong faith will bring me through this period of sorrow, but at the moment I feel like God has abandoned me.  It seemed like he made my life as bleak as possible when I lost my job, all the money worries I've had, the chronic headaches, and a myriad of other problems. Through all those my friend that I lost had been like the voice of God.  He'd always encouraged me.  He allowed me to fully be my true self. He knew me better than anyone on this earth ever has. With him and God, I felt like things would turn around and things would be better. I had hope and I thought I'd been rewarded for my faith when I did find what was the perfect job for me.

Suddenly it seemed like I had been rewarded for my faith.  My headaches were gone. I was happier than I have ever been in life. I had a job that was an absolute dream. I had friends who loved me, one in particular who I loved back so very much. I looked forward to waking up each morning. Then on my thirty-eighth birthday my world came crashing down. I found out that my friend had died in an automobile accident. I've tried to come to terms with the loss. Friends have done their best to comfort me.  I have tried to appear happy again, but I can't. I can't because my faith can't bring him back to me. God ripped him away.  My headaches have returned. My depression is worse than it has ever been. I am constantly on the verge of tears. I feel as if the happiness I'd experienced when I moved was mere false hope. I honestly feel abandoned by God. The hope and happiness that had filled my heart are gone.  I hate feeling this way, but no matter how hard I try, no matter what inspirational words I read, no matter how much I study the Bible for answers, and no matter how much I beg God for some relief, the sorrow won't lessen. I don't doubt that God exists, I know he does, but it's my faith in Him being a part of my life that is what's in doubt.

When I moved to Vermont, one of the things that I'd feared, really my only fear, had been how I'd be able to handle driving in winter conditions. I thought it was inevitable that eventually I'd have a wreck. If I did and didn't survive it, then the world would continue.  It wouldn't be a great loss. My mother could stop fearing that someone would find out that she had a gay son. My father would have the one child left that he'd always loved the most anyway.  I've always been a disappointment in his eyes. My friends had their boyfriends, husbands, and wives to love them. They would survive.  I have no one who is that close, and I fear that I never will again. Yes, I have friends, and they would mourn, but they have someone to comfort them. The one person who I had, the one person who loved me unconditionally, the one person who accepted me just they way I am, had a boyfriend that he loved and could comfort him.  Yet, when my best friend died, I am alone and a long way from home.

Yesterday, I was awoken by the pain of one of my cluster headaches.  This is something that hasn't happened in nearly a year. I've had headaches, but none have caused me to wake up from the pain. I got up, took some medicine and was able to fall back to sleep. I woke up a few hours later and felt much better, so I decided to go do the shopping that I desperately needed to do. For the most part, my shopping day was successful (I found some great winter boots), even if I never did find the 6 inch springform pan that I was looking for. As I was driving home, it was snowing, not bad and not enough to really make conditions terrible for driving, but it made me think about what I'd originally thought about being in a car accident. This might not make sense, but I always figured if anybody in my life would die in a car accident it would be me. Never did I imagine that it would be my best friend who would die. Nor did I ever imagine that he would end up back in the hands of the parents he was abandoned by. I couldn't believe it when I found out that his parents refused to let any of the people who'd become his family, when they declared that he was no longer a part of theirs, to attend a funeral for him.

By the time I got back home, not only was my headache back with a vengeance, but I was intensely depressed. As my head pounded and I dreaded the idea of a new cycle of cluster headaches beginning as they have for the past several weeks, I thought about how I felt abandoned by God.  Last Sunday's I talked about my anger and doubt. I am still angry. I am so angry that God would let such awful things happen in this world. The ironic thing is, my friend used to say he didn't quite understand God, and that if he really existed, how could he let the terrible things that happen in this world happen? My friend had many awful things happen to him personally, and he couldn't understand why God had allowed it to happen and why God did not protect him. I'd always consoled him and said that God loved him and some things weren't God's fault because humans are given free will. Humans are to blame for these tragedies. To be honest I'd never known how to answe those questions. It bothered me that I couldn't, and I couldn't find the answers. Now I find myself with the same doubt.

I spoke with his boyfriend after my friend's death. He talked about how I'd helped my friend with his faith. He had struggled with it a lot, but ultimately he said that God must love him because God had brought me into his life. My friend had never told me that. I always felt a connection to my friend that we were destined to know one another, and apparently he thought I was a gift to him from God. Now I wonder, if he was a gift in my life as I'd believed he was (and apparently he felt I was God's gift to him), then why did God take back his gift.  Why had He only allowed me to have him for a short time? Why didn't God let me say goodbye? I just don't understand why, and I don't understand how God has seemingly left me. I want to understand. I've searched for answers but they all ring hollow to me. I feel like I've been abandoned.

For the friends who are still in my life who are reading this, please don't think this lessens my love for you or that I don't greatly value your friendship and all the love and support you have given me. The thing is that the relationship that I had with my late friend transcended mere friendship and love. It was a connection that went to my very soul. All I can say is that as much as I love and appreciate my friends, I feel like I lost part of my soul. How do you get back your soul? He and his boyfriend had been perfect together.  There love was so strong from the very beginning, but he was my soul mate. It was a love that transcended romance. He was more like a brother to me (and even that doesn't describe the connection well enough), and I always felt that our souls were connected. I'm certain, I know the moment he died, because that night when he would have still been on his way home, I became violently ill and began vomiting. My head began to hurt worse than anything I'd experienced in a long time, and I had a sudden feeling of dread. That dread built throughout the following twenty-four hours or so before I got the news of his death. I have not felt whole since, and I haven't felt the presence of God since that moment either. I've only felt abandonment.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Where's My Snow?



When I interviewed for my present job, they kept warning me about the harsh winters. When it snowed the first weekend after I moved, I thought, okay, I can handle this. It was so beautiful, and I got excited. We haven't had but one other small snow since. I came up here hoping for cute college boys and snow. The cute college guys, I see all the time. One thing about Vermont, there is lots of eye candy up here. My three disappointments up here: 1) the days are short and I literally work from sun up to sundown; the weather is kind of gray; and it's rained more than it's snowed. Where's my snow?

For those of you in New England and all points north who are going to say, "It's coming, and you'll be sick of it soon enough," I know it is and I will be wishing for it to go away in another month or so, but I'm from the South.  I'm from a climate that it's rarely even cold enough to wear an ugly sweater to an Ugly Sweater Christmas Party.  According to the weather forecast, I will fly back to Alabama next week and find thunderstorms and temperatures in the high 70s. For the past few weeks, we've barely gotten below freezing here in Vermont. While I may have frost on my windows in the morning, I haven't even seen frost in a week or so. I'm told, so far, this is one of the warmest winters Vermont has had in many years. Several people have blamed it on me for bringing Alabama weather up north. Haha. One friend, who's in northern Massachusetts, wrote me and said, "I think you brought your Alabama winter with you.....this sure isn’t typical for this time of year.  Some of our flowering bushes are budding...this is not a good thing!!!!!" I know this isn't typical. Where's my snow?

I've never really seen snow in my life.  We had a few times that it snowed in Alabama or Mississippi, when I lived there. I can count those on one hand.  Even then, it was mostly ice storms not really much snow. I still get excited about snow. It snowed some yesterday morning, but none of it even stuck to the ground. In fact at one point it was snowing on one side of a building but not on the other. I watched it for a little while, but then it got so sparse that it was hard to see it out of my office window, so I went back to working. I'm looking forward to seeing everything blanketed in white. I know the novelty will wear off.  It's like in the movie White Christmas, they head to Vermont expecting a ski resort, but there is no snow. Granted, I won't actually be up here for Christmas, and it might actually snow before I get back, but I'm still wondering: where's my snow?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Emptiness



I'm not sure what the above painting is called or who the artist is, but for me, it summed up a lot of emotions I've been experiencing. After two weeks, I thought I'd be able to come to terms with the loss of my friend, and while I can keep from crying, there is still an emptiness that I cannot deny. This will be a short post because if I wrote any more it would just be a repeat of emotions I've already discussed.


I was glad to see that Jordan Smith was the winner of Season 9 of The Voice.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sonnet: I Thank You



Sonnet: I Thank You
BY Henry Timrod 

I thank you, kind and best beloved friend,
With the same thanks one murmurs to a sister,
When, for some gentle favor, he hath kissed her,
Less for the gifts than for the love you send,
Less for the flowers, than what the flowers convey;
If I, indeed, divine their meaning truly,
And not unto myself ascribe, unduly,
Things which you neither meant nor wished to say,
Oh! tell me, is the hope then all misplaced?
And am I flattered by my own affection?
But in your beauteous gift, methought I traced
Something above a short-lived predilection,
And which, for that I know no dearer name,
I designate as love, without love’s flame.

These last two weeks have been some of the most heart wrenching of my life. I finally stopped crying constantly, but I've now moved on the random panic attacks. Someone will mention something that reminds me of my friends and my emotions come crashing down on me. While I can often hide my panics, I feel completely on the verge of tears. I don't know what will trigger them, but someone will mention something that is innocuous, but it brings back strong memories of my friend. I know that this too will get better. I've never experienced such grief when I have been so alone.

However, with your comments and emails showing your love, support and friendship, I don't feel as lonely. All of you have been a lifesaver these past two weeks. You've shown what beloved friends you really are. Your gestures have meant so much to me, because I know it's the love you send and the meaning that it conveys. This poem conveys much of my thank for all you've done, but it can't come close to how thankful I really am. While I'm not out of the deep dark hole of despair, you have helped me to begin pulling myself up again.

Thank you all for also being patient with me and offering your kind words. I answered some of your emails yesterday but I haven't answered any of the comments many of you left on my posts these past two weeks. Some of them are written so beautifully that I don't want to mare them with responses that would never fully be able to convey the gratitude that I feel.  I hope that the above poem will at least begin to let you know how thankful I am.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Blogging



Some of you may or may not have noticed this, but I removed a blog from my "Blogs I Like" in the lefthand column. Some of you came to my blog from that blog. Some of you already know why because I've seen that you commented on the last post of that blog. The thing is, this person had written a blog as three different people for years. Suddenly yesterday, he told the "truth" that he was a man more than twice the age of the people he pretended to be and that all of it had been a lie. He claimed there were grains of truth, but who the hell really knows at this point. A few weeks ago, the same thing had happened on another blog (not one I read, the one from yesterday I did usually read). The blog from a few weeks ago turned out to be a female author pretending to be a gay man.

Gay romance is filled with women who write under a male pen name. That doesn't bother me, because mostly it's an open secret to those who pay attention to the industry. Also, it's nothing new, women have been using male pen names for centuries. When you're trying to sell books, it really is about getting published and actually selling the book. That's an entirely different debate and not the same thing.

If you've ever been on a gay dating site, you know that people on the internet lie. That's one of the thing about the Internet, there have always been and there always will be people who lie and deceive.  They will always make excuses for why they do so, but it is still lies and deception. Lies and deceit just hurt other people, and ultimately it will bite you in the ass. I think what hurt the most and angered me about this situation is the memory of my friend who recently died.  He had the real issues that this guy described in his blog.  He looked up to "these guys" and it gave him hope that things could be better for him. If he had lived, he would have been completely devastated by this. The thing is that I know my friend wasn't the only person who did identify with that blog, and I'm sure they are now devastated as well.

I sure these blogs I've mentioned won't be the only blogs who reveal they are all lies. I think of all the gay bloggers who are out there and are real. For everyone of these fakes that emerges more people will doubt the validity of others.  That's the saddest part. Because when I say, I'm real, I sure there are people who will doubt that.  The truth is that I'm just not creative enough to make all of this up and I'm certainly not cruel enough to do so. When I pour out my emotions on this blog, I do so with my whole heart. Over the course of this blog, I have been devastated by three major losses in my life: my grandmama, my beloved cat Victoria, and my best friend. I'm not even going to count he loss of my job, because that turned out pretty damn well in the end, but the other losses devastated me. You've been there with me, offered your support and shared my pain. You've been there when I was happy and excited over other events in my life. There have been many ups and downs, and believe me when I say that I like happy ending and happy stories.  If I was making this stuff up, I would never have included the downs. I know the many people who follow me feel my ups and downs. I couldn't live with myself if I were making this stuff up because I'd know I was allowing people to be hurt over things that weren't true.

Some of you know my last name (yes, my real first name is Joe, well actually Joseph, but most people just call me Joe). Some of you know where I live, or know my address. If you pay attention, it wouldn't be terribly hard to figure out where I work. Others have talked to me on the phone, some have even met me in person. Some really long time readers are friends of mine on Facebook. My Facebook, my GoFundMe account, and even the Facebook for where I work, has real pictures of me.

This post wasn't to convince you that I am real, but to talk about the deceptions of others. I am most certainly real.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Anger and Doubt




All of you know that I am a man who has great faith in God, at least I hope you think that.  These last two weeks have been so difficult. Why did God take my friend? Why would he let something so tragic happen to someone with such a beautiful soul? Some terrible things had happened in my friend's life when he was younger.  His parents disowned him for being gay, which had nothing to do with religion but pure homophobia. God brought wonderful people into his life and helped him through those difficulties. My friend had a difficult time understanding how such a great and loving God could allow tragedies to happen. Whether those tragedies were accidents or caused by someone hatred or cause by natural disasters, he wondered how God could let those things happen.  I never had a very good answer for him.  He had suffered in his life because of his family's rejection, and I've never been able to understand how they could be so cruel.

These past two weeks, I've struggled with the same issues. I can't help but wonder how God could allow him to die in an accident, while his hateful parents continued to live on. I admit that it has made me so angry at God. Being angry at God just compounded my sadness because I felt guilty for being angry at God and questioning the faith I have in Him to protect and provide for us. God took this beautiful man (and I don't mean in just physical beauty, which he was, but also in his soul.) He was beautiful and so kind.  God took him away from not only me, but the rest of the people who'd considered him part of their family: his boyfriend and other friends. For me, he was more than a friend. He was family. He was my confidante, and he was my confessor. He was the younger brother I never had. There are so many wicked and hateful people in this world that God could have taken, but he took someone who had the purest heart I have ever known.

One friend told me that I had to think of this as purely an accident, because horrible tragedies like this are not the hand of God. While I wish I could think that way, I was always told that God guides all things. God performs miracles every day, why couldn't He have saved my friend? I've always believed that everything happens for a reason. If so, what could possibly be the reason behind this? Being angry or disappointed with God is a troubling subject for me. If God is such a loving God, how can He allow such pain? It reminds me of a scene from Steel Magnolias.  I produced the play a couple of years ago as part of the drama club I was in charge of.  It's the most difficult scene in the whole play and one that I never did get through without tears in my eyes:

M'Lynn: [crying] I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine.
[screaming]
M'Lynn: I'm fine! I can jog all the way to Texas and back, but my daughter can't! She never could! Oh God! I am so mad I don't know what to do! I wanna know why! I wanna know *why* Shelby's life is over! I wanna know how that baby will *ever* know how wonderful his mother was! Will he *ever* know what she went through for him! Oh *God* I wanna know *why*? *Why*? Lord, I wish I could understand!
[in a firm tone]
M'Lynn: No! No! No! It's not supposed to happen this way! I'm supposed to go first. I've always been ready to go first! I-I don't think I can take this! I-I don't think I can take this! I-I just wanna *hit* somebody 'til they feel as bad as I do! I just wanna hit something! I wanna hit it hard!

The scene of course is followed immediately by a humorous scene that breaks the tension. While I've always found this an emotional scene, it's a very close description to how I feel.

I've read that being angry with God is something that both believers and unbelievers wrestle with.  When some extreme difficulty or tragedy happens in our lives, we naturally ask God the question — “Why?”  I've asked that question a lot in the last two weeks. I was researching ways to deal with my doubts and anger and came across the following passage written by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand:

This response indicates two flaws in our thinking — first, even as believers, we all have the tendency to operate under the impression that life should be easy and pleasant (especially if GOD is our God), and that God should prevent tragedy, difficulty and pain from happening to us (Jn 11:37); so when He does not, we get angry or disappointed with Him (Jn 11:32).  Second, when we do not seem to be able to reconcile the extent of God’s sovereignty, we lose confidence in  His ability to control all of the circumstances we go through in life.  When we lose faith in God’s sovereignty, it is actually because our frail human flesh is grappling with our own frustration  and our own lack of control over events.  All of us tend to live life in such a way that we can positively affect the outcome of situations… that everything will work out as we have planned;  as such, we believe that we are the ones who ultimately determine our fate — when good things happen, we generally attribute it to our own efforts; so when things go bad we are quick to blame God, and get angry with Him for not preventing it.  Deep down we believe we should be immune to unpleasant circumstances (flaw number one as noted above), especially if God loves us.

While I think this is a good answer to what I've been dealing with tragedy, he's flawed when he says "when good things happen, we generally attribute it to our own efforts." I don't.  I attribute it to God's guiding hand.  So if we give God the credit for what good happens in our life, why shouldn't He also take blame for the tragedies. Why does God continue to have us go through pain and loss? When will good Christians and faithful believers be rewarded? Is it only in death? If feel like in the past seven or eight years I have been constantly beat down. Finally something good had happened in my life and career, and I was thankful for God's guiding hand. Then suddenly, all of that joy and happiness was ripped away by the loss of my friend. While I am still thankful for my job, I have to wonder: is this God's way of reminding me that I will never be fully happy? It seems like in my life for every ten failures, I have one success. Is it my destiny to be knocked down each time God helps me up?

Dr. Ekstrand went on to say: 

Tragedies and suffering bring home the sobering truth that we are not in charge… that God is  the One who ultimately determines what happens in our lives… that everything is either caused      or allowed by God.  Remember, He is God.  We can complain, get angry, and blame God for what is happening, yet if we will trust Him and yield our bitterness and pain to Him, acknowledging the prideful sin of trying to force our own will over His, He can and will grant us His peace and strength to get us through any difficult situation (1 Cor 10:13). We can be angry with God for many reasons, so we all have to accept at some point that there are things we cannot control or even understand with our finite minds. 

This has not been the most upbeat of my post on religion. Maybe it doesn't even belong here, but this is where I think through my relationship with God and try to understand it.  Right now, I'm having trouble understanding it and maybe some of you have better answer than I do.  Quite frankly, I have no answers right now.