friends

Exit 216. Knowing that I haven’t been forgotten.

I’ve been away from this site for a few weeks. Sorry. Life just got in the way.

I’m ready to hide from the world for a long time. The world is quickly descending into madness.

Yesterday I got something completely unexpected in the mail. I have a friend on Facebook who observes National Handwriting Day. She asked for anyone who wanted her to send a handwritten card in the mail. I said sure, as I had in a previous year as well. National Handwriting Day is in January; she got behind this year, but the card still came in the mail, finally yesterday. I had completely forgotten about this until I saw who it was from. She isn’t someone I see on a regular basis anymore. Life just changes, and I haven’t seen her in person since she made the post about National Handwriting Day in January.

Even in this mad, chaotic world, little things like knowing that I haven’t been forgotten can really make my day sometimes.

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Exit 215. Time to tear it down.

Something came up this morning at church that I had never noticed before, something very relevant to my life currently.

Moses delivered the nation of Israel from slavery under Pharaoh, but because of their unfaithfulness, God did not let them enter and conquer their rightful home for 40 years, until all the unfaithful have died. They don’t learn their lesson, and at one point, they complain to Moses about the living conditions in their nomadic state.  God punished the unfaithful by making some of them die of snake bites.  The survivors asked and prayed for forgiveness, and God told Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and put it somewhere for people to look at it, to remember God’s faithfulness to them.  Anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and live (Numbers 21:4-9).

Hundreds of years later, Israel is an established nation with a king… well, briefly. They plunge into civil war and divide into two nations. The northern kingdom did not follow the commandments of God, and the southern kingdom mostly did not either, although there were a few southern kings who did bring the people back to following God during their nonconsecutive reigns.  One of those was Hezekiah, who lived about 700 years before the coming of Jesus.  The Second Book of Kings says that “He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his [ancestor] David had done.  He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles.  He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.”  (2 Kings 18:3-4)

The bronze snake that Moses made was still there, over half of a millennium after Moses’ time. But its original purpose had long since passed. All of the people who looked at it to heal their snake bites had been dead for a long time. For the new generation, it was not helping them to look to God and worship him, or to remember what God had done for them and their ancestors; instead, it was doing the opposite, serving as a focal point for the worship of other gods.  God himself had completely disappeared from the worship that was happening at the snake.  So Hezekiah finally realized it was time to tear it down.

God does not always work among us in the same way.  God’s work in one place at one time might not work in another place and time, and God might have not intended it for that place or time.  At first, this didn’t really seem right to me.  Isn’t God constant and unchanging?  Well, yes, he is, but these two statements are not necessarily in conflict with each other.  God can still be constant and unchanging while working in different ways specific to certain times and situations.  God worked through the reformers of the 16th century to bring knowledge of the Scriptures to the common people and work against corruption in the church.  But in the USA in the 21st century, most people know how to read and have access to the Bible, and taking down the kind of corruption that churches today may see will require God working in a different way, even though the ultimate principle of turning people back to him and away from corrupt and fallen earthly institutions remains constant and unchanging.

Another example just came to me now as I was writing this.  Many people who have not studied Christianity in detail tend to think that God was so different in the Old Testament compared to what he is like in the New Testament or now.  In the Old Testament, God often told his people to make war with and destroy and kill neighboring countries.  And, as we just saw, once he sent snakes to bite those who questioned him.  How does one reconcile this with all of his commandments about love, or with Jesus’ self-sacrificial love?  The short answer is because in the time of the Old Testament, the time had not come yet for God to send his Son to Earth.  First, he had to prepare a nation through which Jesus would be born, and in order to this, he had to remove all the corrupting sinful influences from this nation… hence, the making war with neighboring countries.  God no longer tells us to make war with countries that have different beliefs, because this is a different time.  Jesus came to bring the message of salvation to all, and we can send missionaries to teach other cultures about Jesus, and we can lead by example.  God is no longer preparing a nation to give birth to the Messiah; that happened already.

This concept extends beyond the idea of Christianity, and it makes me think a lot of my struggles in trying to figure out life and adulthood.  Twenty years ago, I made friends by being involved with two college-age Christian student groups.  That was good.  Some of my closest friends over the years have come from doing that.  But that does not work anymore.  I now live in an area where most churches are geared toward families, not college students, because that is who lives here.  And very few churches have youth groups for 42-year-olds.  So I have had to look for other ways to make friends.  Nothing has changed, and I don’t have to change any of my core beliefs.  But what worked in one place at one time doesn’t always work for other places and times.

Sometimes I feel like the last one standing for God, like I am desperately hanging on to God’s truth while the world descends into chaos around me.  But maybe it’s not that black and white.  Maybe some of what I hold on to is ways that God isn’t moving in my life anymore, and maybe it is okay to let go of some of these ways without having to compromise my core beliefs.  Maybe this is what is getting in the way, why I feel like my life isn’t exactly progressing in the right direction.  But how do I know what to hold on to and what to let go of?  As always I will only know with prayer, and listening to the Holy Spirit, and knowing God’s Word.

Exit 213. All of this has taken a heavy toll.

August is almost over.  It has been good so far.  The new school year is mostly starting well, although I have one class with all of the behavior problems together in the same room.  And I have had a lot of fun times with friends and family.

But all of this has taken a heavy toll on me.

I am exhausted all the time.  I have been having trouble sleeping again.  And at times, I have been short-tempered and irritable over insignificant things.

I need to get back into some healthy habits that have gone by the wayside during the last extremely busy few weeks.  Getting more exercise.  Eating less junk food.  Time in prayer and Scripture.  Stuff like that.

Hopefully September will feel a little more normal.

Exit 211. I see them running too.

I discovered classic rock in the early 1990s, my high school years.  As my teens wore on, I realized that I was enjoying less and less the R&B and rap that the remaining radio station of my childhood played.  By the middle of my high school years, the stations that played what I considered good music of that time period were gone.  MTV still played music in the mornings, and they had the show where they played the most requested videos of the day that came on in the early evening.  I watched a lot of that, especially during school breaks when I was home in the morning.  But when I was listening to the radio while in my room doing homework, or in the car once I started driving, I wasn’t finding anything I liked among the numerous R&B, rap, country, and Spanish-language stations that Monterey County was in range of at the time.  There were a couple of classic rock stations, playing rock music from a time period that spanned from the mid-1960s (my parents’ teen years) to the mid-1980s (my childhood).  Most of these songs were before my time, and I didn’t remember them.  Some of them were by artists I had never heard of.  But I came to discover that I enjoyed it.  Good music.

Some of these songs remained background music to me for decades, coming up every once in a while while flipping around the radio, without me actually paying close attention to the lyrics.  And sometimes, I will actually listen closely to the lyrics of a song like this for the first time, and I’ll have a sudden realization and find some meaning in the song that I had never found before.

Like this one.

Running On Empty was first released in 1977.  I don’t remember 1977.  I wasn’t old enough to eat solid food or wipe my own butt in 1977.  I probably was in high school listening to classic rock radio in the car when I first heard this song.  Or possibly it might have been while watching Forrest Gump, during the montage in which Forrest is running across the country; that movie was released a few months after I graduated from high school.  But I think I already knew of the song’s existence by then.

And I did have some idea what the song was about.  Life on the road.  Constantly moving from one place to another with no clear destination.  And that is a feeling I know well.  Sometimes I don’t know where my life is going.  Sometimes I feel like my direction and goals are unclear.  And I literally spent four months on the road in 2005 trying to find myself, not knowing the specifics of where I was going more than a week or so in advance at the most.

But then, a couple years ago, the song came on, and one part of the lyrics really stuck out to me, at the end of the third verse:

I look around for the friends that I used to turn to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too…

I see them running too.  Everyone around me has their own struggle to find their destination and meaning in life.  It’s not just me.  I’m not alone.

Knowing that doesn’t always help me find my answers or my destination.  But it still helps to know that my struggles are not unique, and that there are others running on the same road I am.

Exit 201. Bullet points and thoughts about the weekend.

I missed last week.  Sorry.

And I’m not sure what to write about this week.

But I had a great weekend.  So I’ll just share some bullet points and thoughts about the weekend.

Friday night, a friend went out for sushi and issued an open invitation.  Three of us plus her showed up.  My mom noticed that my friend had tagged me in a Facebook post and said that she didn’t know I liked sushi.  I don’t know when I tried sushi for the first time, but it was definitely in adulthood.  I probably would have thought the idea of sushi was disgusting as a kid, but it’s good to try new things, because sometimes you like them.

Saturday morning, I played Pokemon Go and helped some friends move.  I watched exactly none of the royal wedding.

Saturday night, I had people over for another one of my retro gaming parties.  It was a small crowd, only 10 of us, but we had fun.  Sometimes a small crowd is a good thing.  I feel more connected to everyone.

This morning, I went to my old church in Davis, because the youth pastor, under whom I volunteered in my early 20s, is leaving the church staff and changing careers after having been there for over two decades.  They had a reception for him after the service.  It was heartwarming and uplifting to hear so many stories about his work in youth ministry.  I shared about how, in addition to having such a heart for the young people of the community, he invested in the lives of the volunteer leaders the same way.  It was also inspiring for me to be greeted by so many old friends who are still at that church, and some who came just for that event as I did, almost 17 years after I moved away.

Then I came home and took a long nap, so I hope I’m able to fall asleep tonight.  If I’m not, I have plenty of cleaning to do to tire me out.

How were all of your weekends?

Exit 200. Emotional clutter.

As I said recently, I have been wondering again whether or not it is time to cut my losses and start over somewhere else other than California.  This is a very difficult decision, and I have a lot to lose if I don’t make the right decision.  It isn’t as simple as, say, getting groceries from a different store or taking your money to another bank.  Those decisions can be reversed with relative ease compared to leaving a job I love and the only state I’ve really known as home.

I’m not here to announce a conclusive decision.  But in thinking and praying about this over the last few weeks; I have come to one important conclusion: My life is too cluttered, both physically and emotionally.

Physical clutter is easy to identify and remove. Put stuff away when I’m done with it.  Make a place to put things away instead of just tossing them on a table.  Throw away or donate things I don’t need that take up space.  Although physical clutter is easy to identify, it is very time consuming to deal with completely, but this is something I can work on over time.

Emotional clutter is a bit more complicated.  When I say emotional clutter, I mean things that are clouding my head and my moods and feelings that don’t need to be there.  Emotional clutter takes a variety of forms.  All the hundreds of people who I follow on social media just because we were acquaintances briefly in the recent past, despite the fact that they are not the kind of people I would normally be friends with, are emotional clutter.  Situations in which I put myself and stress myself out about, despite the fact that these situations are not enjoyable to me, that is emotional clutter.  Pages and blogs that I follow because I used to know the author, but which cover topics that are of no interest to me, those are emotional clutter.

I have been spending time the last couple weeks fiddling with my Facebook settings, making some tough decisions about who can see my posts and whose posts I see.  I have also been thinking a bit about how, and with whom, I spend my time, and if I need to cut certain activities and places out of my life.  These aren’t easy decisions.  Cutting people out of my life isn’t in my nature.  I spent too much of my childhood and young adult years being lonely and not having many friends, and it hurts me to think of friendship as expendable.

A few months ago, I wrote (part 1, part 2) about having unfriended five people on Facebook in one day, something I don’t believe I had ever done before.  One of these people was SN1604, the girl I dated off and on in 2015.  I made this decision on the grounds that, even though there was a time when SN1604 and I were very close, and there were times that it was looking like we would stay good friends despite our history, her more recent behavior has shown that it was not realistic for me to hope that things would ever be like that again.  The few times we did communicate in 2017, for example, all started with me hoping that maybe we would be close again, and ended a few minutes later with her not replying to a message in a conversation she technically started.  I never see her in person anymore, and keeping her in my life on social media was just causing more disappointment and pain.

I am realizing that I can, and should, apply the SN1604 Doctrine in other areas of life.  Maybe some of the activities that I enjoy aren’t worth it, because the other people involved with those activities are not the kind of people I want to be friends with.  Maybe some people I’ve known for decades aren’t worth staying in touch with, because all they want to do is spew hateful political rhetoric.  These are tough decisions, though, because there are things I enjoy about these activities themselves, and some of the people spewing hateful political rhetoric were a big part of my life at one point.  I don’t know.  But at least I’m asking the right questions now.

Exit 197. I went by myself.

I watched the movie Ready Player One yesterday.  Those of you who have been reading this site for a long time know that I have read this book multiple times, and that I was apprehensive to see what Hollywood would do with it.  But that isn’t what I’m going to write about this week.  (If you absolutely must know, I’ll briefly address that in a bit.)

What I want to write about is the fact that I went by myself.  I rarely go to movies by myself.  It’s not just because movies are expensive, and it’s not just because I necessarily want someone to discuss the movie with afterward.

I rarely go to movies by myself because going to a movie alone feels like failure.  It makes me feel like I wasn’t good enough to have a friend to go with.  And it isn’t just movies; there are many things I’ve never seen or done because of some self-imposed stigma about doing those things alone.  With my past of often feeling like an outcast, and not having grown up with a lot of friends, and living in a world where people like me are told that we need to get out more, it is understandable that I would have developed this reaction.  And sometimes I do want to be with friends.  Sometimes I wish making plans with friends came easier to me.  Sometimes I wish that the friends I do have weren’t always busy when I’m free and free when I’m busy.

But there is nothing wrong with going to a movie, or to a cultural attraction, or to a sporting event, or on a vacation, alone once in a while.  I’ve missed out on too much by assuming that I have to be with someone to go certain places or else it won’t feel right.  So I really need to get over this.  It’s okay to do something by myself if I want to.

(And as for the movie itself: Everything I’d heard about it made it look like they took the same characters, the same basic premise, and the same general outline of the story, but wrote an entirely new story with different details.  That worried me, because the specific details that were used in the book were exactly what I loved so much about it.  But I didn’t hate the movie.  To me, the new details still kept enough of the spirit of the book to make it enjoyable to watch.)

Exit 191. More important than winning.

As I’ve mentioned before, I occasionally host an event at my house that involves staying up really late playing video games from the 80s and 90s and listening to 80s and 90s music.  I did that last night.  At one point I was playing two player Dr. Mario with my friend, whom I’ll call “Adhafera.”  Dr. Mario is a puzzle game first released for the NES in 1990, with subsequent rereleases on many other Nintendo consoles.  The object of the game is to match up colors in little pill-shaped pieces in order to kill viruses.  This game is often placed in a category similar to other block-moving games, like Tetris, and other games that involve matching pieces, like Candy Crush.  In the two player game, two players go head to head to see who can clear their viruses first, and special combo moves in which more than one row of pieces is cleared result in garbage blocks being dropped on the other player’s game, making it harder for them to clear.

Adhafera came to my last retro gaming party two months ago, with his girlfriend.  For most of the time they were there, they were playing games together.  I felt bad when they left, because I had hardly talked to them, and they came from 30 miles away.  This time, his girlfriend was not with him.  So at one point, I joined him for a two player game of Dr. Mario.  Adhafera is way better at Dr. Mario than me.  Usually I have to play about four or five levels below him (i.e., I get fewer viruses) in order for it to be competitive.

And this time, I got a chance to talk to him more.  We talked about life.  We shared stories from our respective childhoods and younger years.  I told him about my struggles at church and the new church I’ve been going to.  We talked about the sports fan cultures at our respective almae matres.  I told him about the novel I’ve been writing off and on (more off than on) since mid-2014.  And I didn’t do too well at Dr. Mario.  He swept me 3 games to 0 most rounds.  I think once, maybe twice, he won 3-1.

At one point he asked if the talking was distracting me from winning.  It might have been.  But I said, “I think getting to talk is more important in the long run than winning.”

Because it is.

Exit 188. A curious milestone.

I reached a curious milestone this week:  For the first time in at least a decade, probably longer, I have now gone a full year without making any new friends named Sarah (or Sara or any other creative spelling thereof).

First, some back story.  In 2009, over a span of just a few weeks, I noticed that had four new Facebook friends named Sarah (technically three Sarahs and one Sara), and that Sarah/Sara had become the most common first name among my Facebook friends, with ten.  Sarah has never relinquished this position among first names in the ensuing years.  I have a few inside jokes with friends involving having so many friends named Sarah (and some of the Sarahs are in on the jokes as well, like when I got a birthday card signed “Sarah #21”).  I’m not going to get into those too much now, because most of these are the kind of inside jokes that don’t make sense when I try to explain them.

Of course, when it occurred to me a few weeks ago that I hadn’t met a new Sarah in a long time, the first thing I wondered was, is there a discernible reason for this?  And I think there is, but the reason has nothing to do with the name Sarah specifically.

I blame this on the fact that I just haven’t met many people in the last year in general.  I used to try to connect on social media with just about everyone I met.  I don’t do that anymore, at least not right away, because I came to realize that I just didn’t really want to be friends with everyone I met.  There are a lot of jerks out there, and people who are too negative in the kind of way I didn’t need to be around.  I also just don’t meet as many people as I used to.  Most of the people I met over the last decade came through dancing, and I just don’t go dancing as often as I used to.

And, of course, this isn’t a bad thing.  Quality is better than quantity when it comes to friendships and relationships.  I spent so much of my childhood having so few friends that it took me a while to learn this lesson, but it’s true.  I don’t need to stay connected with everyone I meet; I have control over who I do and don’t try to be friends with.  And that’s a good thing.

Exit 187. In an unfriending mood.

So I could be sitting here writing about how much I don’t care about this year’s Super Bowl, because I don’t particularly care for either of these two teams, and because I’m a little disgusted at the state of the NFL with all the protests and stuff like that.  But I kind of wrote about that already last year, when I also didn’t care much about the game.  I just now missed the Super Bowl kickoff by a few seconds because I was peeing; I suppose that says a lot about my level of interest in this game.

So instead, I’ll write about something else, continuing my post from last week.  Where we left off a week ago, I was contemplating unfriending some people on Facebook.  I had six people in mind specifically when I wrote that, and about a day after I posted, I pulled the proverbial trigger and unfriended five of them.  It felt like time to burn those bridges.  I’m a little hesitant to write this, because I feel like I’m airing other people’s dirty laundry behind their backs.  I generally feel that if you have a problem with someone, the best approach is to go to their face and have a conversation.  And I didn’t do this.  I thought about it, because I would have wanted to know why if someone was unfriending me.  But I didn’t, because I didn’t want to open myself up to any more hurt or disappointment.  Also, I’m going to write mostly in generalities, so I’m not gossiping behind anyone’s back.

I know that at least one of the people involved here used to read this blog occasionally a long time ago, and I know that the person on the chopping block who I decided not to cut off reads this sometimes as well.  On the off chance that you, reader, are one of those who got unfriended and you feel the need to confront me, you know how to find me.  I apologize for not talking to you first.  But be aware that I might not reply right away, or at all.  I don’t know if I’ll be ready to have that conversation.  I”m feeling hurt and confused about a lot of things right now.

Three of the people involved, my issue with them stems to an incident that happened approximately two years ago.  I talked to all of them around that time, and one of the people I was even on somewhat good terms with again for a while, before this person found another social circle to associate with and we grew apart naturally.  The main reason I cut off contact abruptly is because I wanted absolutely no lingering hope that things would ever again be the way they used to be.  Because they won’t.  These people are not who I once thought they were, and they have disappointed me one too many times.  I know that I should let things go after this much time.  But it’s hard, especially given the nature of what happened.  I feel too deeply, I care too much, and my life is not such that I can easily move on from this kind of thing and find other people to fill the void.

One of the other people is someone who mostly posts angry political rants against people like me.  There are lots of people who I have unfollowed for this reason, but kept on my friends list, just in case, and they don’t make me consistently angry.  And the fifth is his wife; I have no direct reason for unfriending her, except that I don’t really know her in a context apart from her husband.  So why unfriend them and not simply unfollow them?  I honestly can’t give a good answer for this.  I think part of it was just that I was in an unfriending mood after unfriending the three people I mentioned above.  Also, the way I know them, the role they played in my life, is one where the fact that this guy posts so many immature and angry political rants makes me particularly sensitive to what is going on.

I know that some of my friends are still friends with some of these people.  If you know who I’m talking about, I don’t have a problem with any of you staying friends with them, of course.  And don’t stop inviting me to things just because one of the people I unfriended might be there.  I’ll put on my big boy pants and deal with that when it comes up.

I might be willing to go into more detail in private conversations, but that’s all I’ll say publicly.  Maybe someday I’ll feel healed and ready to move on.  Part of me wants to say that maybe someday I’ll be on good terms again with all of these people, but honestly, I don’t know if that’s best, and I don’t know if that’s what I want.