I had a dream last night (2/9/2014) that was still alive in me as I awoke this morning. Somehow I know it was about the year and a half I spent in Zanesville, Ohio from about May 1996 to November 1997, a period of time which literally began with 40 days and 40 nights of rain followed by a nightmarish existence that ended with a drunken binge leading up to God speaking to me to go back to Virginia Beach, Virginia.
In the dream I reached for and took out some letters from a pigeon-hole-style mail slot, and grabbed two brown-grocery-bag-papered packages from off the top of a mail cart, one about two times as large as the other. The dream didn't show anything more about the letters, but each of the two packages contained business cards, the larger one too plain and picture-less, the smaller one correctly formatted and with my professional picture, but with wrong information printed on it. As I was looking at them, feeling quite disappointed and even a bit irritated by the errors, I started to get wind of a funky odor. As I looked down at the black patent leather dress shoes I was wearing, I noticed they had "dog crap" smeared all over the tops and bottoms of them.
I then walked out of the office in search of a water hose to clean my shoes. The office was a modest rectangular shaped single story home on a small flat parcel of land situated directly in the middle of it. The home/office had equal parts lawn on all four sides, and dog manure strewn across every inch of it. There was so much “crap” in fact (and it was so equally distributed across the entire property) that it was impossible to avoid stepping in it.
As I began to wake I found myself washing my shoes off while standing in the middle of the backyard in the middle of a minefield of it. The cleaning was effective if I remained where I cleaned it, but it was obvious I could not move if How was I going to get out of there without re-soiling my shoes? I awoke with that question lingering in my mind.
A few ideas of its interpretation struck me: 1. The idea that as a Christian, each day needs to end with foot washing to remove dust (the residue of walking on the valley path of earth), not dog crap (the substance of walking on the pathless waste-land of an imprisoning dog pound off the course of life) occurred to me; instead of needing a mere dust washing at the end of each day, I needed a washing and scrubbing away of a caked on mess for each day of all the wasted days I walked about there. It was a year and a half of wilderness wandering, a self-imposed exile; wasted time and an expenditure of vain effort. It was a crappy time indeed. 2. Thoughts of where I am now, and where I should be is on me hard. God is gracious, but lost time is lost opportunity and a less solidly formed character in the mold of Christ’s image; God, please help me!
More thoughts: What did the unopened (and not even further considered) letters mean? What is to be made of the two different sized plain packages, one too generic to be useful, the other wrongly imprinted?
As I write this, these interpretive thoughts are striking me: perhaps the unopened and never considered letters represent opportunities only grasped out of the slot (understood when God first spoke it to me), but never opened, and therefore never experienced (never obeyed and therefore never accomplished). The larger package of a bunch of too common and indistinct business cards seem to represent a too common and indistinct of a life in a vein of existence not specifically prescribed for me. The smaller package of wrongly imprinted business cards is about me in perhaps the right vein of existence, but in a disfigured way.
Cleaning away the crap was fine and necessary, but being still in a situation where I could not get away from stepping into more of it as I walked out of it, was a hopeless situation and the feeling which weighed heavily on me as I awoke.
Basically, I'm a failure in business and life in extraordinary measure; now at 53 years old and broken down physically, I see no hope of changing that. Even though I now have a firm sense of utter victory because of whose I am, and I know He will eventually turn all things around for my good (and by His work alone), I feel as though there is something important to glean from this particular past chapter of my life.
The answer: I got saved in 1979 and was destined to serve in a pastoral function with a wife at my side whom God presented to me in the early 1980s. Instead of following on to know God and life in that vein, however, I deviated, became deviant, and ruined that particular course of my life. The time I spent in Zanesville, Ohio is perhaps the peak of that deviance, and is therefore symbolic of the whole tragedy. It was from there, from the bowels of the hell I was putting myself into, that God picked me up by His kind Hand (extended to me by His Almighty Right Arm [Jesus]) by a tender and divine intervention, and took me back to my spiritual roots in Virginia Beach, VA and planted me back into the soil of my lot in life.
But before He replanted me and before my wanderings culminated in Zanesville, I began those wanderings in the military in 1983. I still remember the tenderness in God’s voice as He asked me (before my wanderings began), “Are you willing to bear the yoke?” I knew this question arose out of the thoughts behind these words from the prophet Jeremiah: “It is good for a man that he should BEAR THE YOKE IN HIS YOUTH. Let him sit alone and be silent since He has laid it on him. Let him put his mouth in the dust, perhaps there is hope” (Lamentations 3:27-29). I could not say no to the Lord, my God whom I had come to know, and love dearly. I didn’t know, however, how dark and painful it would get. I relate to the prophet’s sentiments:
“I am the man who has seen affliction…He has driven me and made me walk in darkness and not in light. Surely against me He has turned His hand repeatedly all the day…He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship. In dark places He has made me dwell, like those who have long been dead. He has walled me in so that I cannot go out; He has made my chain heavy. Even when I cry out and call for help, He shuts out my prayer. He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; He has made my paths crooked. He is to me like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in secret places. He has turned aside my ways and torn me to pieces; He has made me desolate…He has made me cower in the dust…So I [said], ‘My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the Lord’” (Lamentations 3:1-18).
My first Army duty station was Ft. Greely, Alaska. The beginning of my wandering about in the wilderness. I arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska on December 7, 1983, on the 42nd anniversary of that date in our history which will live in infamy, an auspicious beginning for me indeed. The fact that there were 42 stops along the wandering-wilderness-way for Israel before they reached the Promised Land is not lost on me.
Ft. Greely, located at the termination town of the famous Alcan Highway, Delta Junction, was in the cold and barren landscape of a desert region of southern Alaska. Dark, bitterly cold, and unending (40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit with 40 mile an hour winds being a typical winter day there), it seemed to reflect my inner sense in the exact terms of the sentence imposed upon it by the verdict feelings of my isolation.
Like a dog returning to its vomit, I returned to wine, women, and song; I drank often and much, interspersed with seasons of turning back to God. I married an unbeliever and got my heart ripped out of my chest. God came to me, not so much angry, as hurt and jealous for my wanderlust affections. That moved me back to Him for another season, but alas, when my deviant heart could not accept the answer to my wanton prayer of saving my wrongly premised marriage, I fell away again into a base existence.
Alas, I only superficially got the message! I meandered along in spiritless way for many years, occasionally coming to my senses in small doses. And of course, as was inevitable, because I hadn’t yet learned the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I repeated my history. I married again outside of God’s plan (and if it weren’t the case that God’s love is more outrageous than my sin is egregious, it is doubtful I’d ever learn to stop making the same old mistakes). As they say, “The definition of insanity is to keep doing things the same way and expecting different results.” Only because of His grace and mercy towards me did I marry someone this time who, although not a perfect match for me, was someone less despicable and more godly than the first.
But it too ended in divorce. It had to! She has since passed away, and in Christ I might add joyfully. I did get a wonderful step-daughter, her husband, and two grandchildren out of the otherwise debacled affair. I am now sitting clothed and in my right mind because God removed legion from me (inclusive of a few Goliaths). And the wonderful thing about God is that He is a know-it-all, not like delusional man who feigns to be. He told me in advance that I would go astray; it is therefore a comfort to me that He did. It assures me that I cannot leave the reservation without reservation. Knowing that He knows all things, past, present, and future, in addition to seeing that He is always kind and gentle even with that knowledge, comforts my heart beyond words (and beyond words to me is huge, because words to me are already enormous). Anyways, these are the words He used to assure my heart before I entered into my wilderness experience:
“The Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men. To crush under His feet all the prisoners of the land, to deprive a man of justice in the presence of the Most High, to defraud a man in his lawsuit—of these things the Lord does not approve” (Lamentations 3:31-36).
And in the next two verses it is explained who (me) that had to be utterly corrected:
“Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?”
And after that, in the next verses still, it gives the reason why:
“Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins?
Finally, in the last verse in this chain, the answer:
“Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.”
Thank God I did, but more importantly, thank God for Jesus Christ, the ground upon which I was afforded the opportunity to return by the simple but effective means of repentance, changing my mind and attitude about myself. By God’s help, I broke the insanity circle.
I am now more certain than yesterday that God will restore everything the cankerworm has eaten and fix all the brokenness I alone inflicted upon my foolish heart. And one day, the only day, that endless day of eternity realized, after all my tears are wiped away, my failure will no longer be remembered, at least with the sting of sorrow and the strike of pain still attached to it. I know that He has already made all things new for me (and I can honestly say that it now real in my experience today). And I am inclined not to waste another minute occupying my thoughts and feelings with remorse and guilt, but I wanted to testify of God’s incredible mercy and longsuffering love to me (and which is no doubt available to all the brokenhearted).
**FLASH UPDATE! I took a silly quiz 2/14/2014 on a link from a friend on Facebook; here is what happened, and my words attached to the results of the quiz: “I just had a dream about two nights ago about my time in Zanesville, Ohio, 96-97 timeframe, and I interpreted it as epitomizing wasted time in servitude to God, wilderness wandering time. Then here I go wasting my time doing this silly horoscope-like quiz and lo and behold I get Ohio! Go figure, huh?”