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When the White Dove flew up…

January 28, 2014

The air was cold where I sat in the Denver International Airport as I waited for my delayed flight. I didn’t want to go back to Portland. It was snowing outside, the wind was blowing, the roads were miserable, I didn’t want to leave it behind. After spending a full week at home in Cheyenne and Laramie, the weight of the last year and half came crashing down on me.
     “How did I get here?” I have asked myself time and time again since I left Laramie for the Northwest in the summer of 2012.
     I was asking myself that as I waited in the busy airport. The week home had been refreshing and just what I needed to ground myself for the New Year. But, I wanted to stay in the comfort of Laramie. I wanted to stay in the thin, cold, blowing air; with the best collective group of friends I’ll probably ever have. That week, I was the happiest I’d been in a long time, that is until my flight back began to loom over my head like a storm creeping over the horizon. The questions relentlessly fluttered around my brain, asking if I had done the right thing in moving to Portland.
     If I feel happier here, why should I have to leave?
     What have I gotten myself into?
     Regardless, I was there at DIA, with no way out of the airport but flight 945 to Portland. Even though I had just finally finished the final chapter of Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel the night before, it was the only book I took in my carry on. So, I started it over from the beginning. I read the entire two hours my plane was delayed, and aside from a forty-five minute nap, the entire plane ride.
     And I prayed as the plane began its decent.
     I prayed that God would save me from my doubts and fears.
     And I felt peace.
     When I opened my eyes, everything seemed different somehow. The people on the plane, the colors of their clothes, the looks on their faces – it all seemed more vivid, real.
     Sometimes, I wonder if that day I left Laramie to live in the great Northwest I fell into a very long, elaborate dream. I’ve always loved my dreams. I love how weird they are sometimes, and how real they are other times. They’re always fun to me, because I get fully absorbed in them and every time I wake up from a deep dream, I feel disappointed that it couldn’t be the other way around, that reality is my dream world and my dream world is reality. I love how weird they are, that logic bends and everything with it.
     When I was a child, I remember having this recurring dream that terrified me. I couldn’t explain it to anyone though. It was like this world completely different from our own – with a different language, a different concept of time and space and color and shapes. But while I was asleep, it was completely real. Though I considered the dream to be a nightmare, there was a part of me that enjoyed having it.
     Maybe that’s the perfect way to sum up my experience in Portland thus far – it’s often felt like a nightmare, sometimes one of those dreams that is total bliss,  but it’s always felt like a dream, and I love dreaming because I am the main character in the dream and exciting and strange things happen. That’s why going home was tough, it was like waking up from a dream and I couldn’t tell which sense of reality was real.
     When everything is happening as fast as it does for me in Portland, there’s not a lot of time to take a step back and observe what has happened. I feel the constant pressure to keep my legs and arms pumping and that’s where I have to put all my energy to do so. It took a year and three months for Charlie and I to summit our first mountain out in the real world. We almost didn’t know how to handle the summit after working so hard to get there. We almost forgot to stop and enjoy the view.
     Two days back into work, I was right where I was before Christmas and before going home. We were descending the mountain with the knowledge of another, bigger one ahead of us. My day was going pretty well – I was enjoying my driving time with an audio book of Lord of the Rings and most of my interactions with customers at work were positive – but then, my work phone began to glitch out on me and I couldn’t load any e-mails, therefore see if I was getting any calls. Though this didn’t typically happen to me until I moved to Portland, the days where I feel content are often interrupted by a sudden mix of emotions – as if my soul begins to fight, wiggle, and scratch trying leave my body. At one point, I caught myself yelling obscenities into the air like an angry old man with Turrets. As the Blazers rallied in the forth quarter to win the game on the TV in front of me, my phone settled down, and rang twice. I opened my e-mail with crossed fingers, but when I saw both calls were in my area, I reluctantly put my boots and my Pop-A-Lock hat, and ran out to my car. I didn’t want to leave the comfort of my home; I wanted to stay there and rest, and not worry about the world outside, but it didn’t matter – it never does when you’re on call for work.
     The second call was a tire change, and after having difficulty finding the right phone number for the customer and then physically finding the customer, I pulled up behind him on the side of the road. He was a healthy looking man in his forties and looked perfectly capable of changing his own tire. When he walked up to my window, he was on his bluetooth talking to “a friend.”

     “Lazy, inconsiderate bastard,” I mumbled to myself as I went around to the back of my car to unload my tools.
     As I took down the necessary information for the paperwork, I noticed he gestured spastically when he talked, almost as if he had some kind of muscle-control disorder. His face had more wrinkles than what is typical for a man his age, and he was wearing an old thick coat I assumed was a hand-me-down, or a cheap pick-up from Goodwill. He explained to me that he was up most of the previous night in the cold, trying to fix the engine in his car to no success. He had rented the car with the flat that morning.
     “That’s why I’m hiring you to do the work for me,” he said with a confident shrug. “I’m just fed up and tired. I could do it myself, but I’ve had it with this whole thing. I wore myself out last night. I wouldn’t give up last night even though I never did fix the thing.”
     As I knelt in front of the tire to loosen the bolts, he stood behind me and said, “So, tell me about yourself. Where you from?”
     “Wyoming originally,” I said.
     “Wyoming? How much time you spent there?”
     “My whole life until a year ago.”
     “What’d you move out here for?” he asked.
     “Graduated college and wanted to experience something new, so I moved out here to see what would happen.”
     “What’d you graduate with?”
     “English,” I said and bent underneath the undercarriage to find the spot to place the jack.
     “You’re going to do great things,” he said. “I know that, cause you’re smart enough to graduate with a degree like English, and then work for a company like this. You’re not the typical person who has this kind of job. Usually these people have a high school diploma at best.”
     I chuckled. “That’s a sweet coat,” I said. Though it was old, it was inlayed with wool and looked warm enough to keep any hobo content on the rainy streets.
     “Ha! No, it’s not. It’s missing most the buttons. It is warm though. I got it at my church. Someone left it there and it sat for years. When we moved buildings, they were throwing stuff away and I told them to sell this thing on craigslist. It didn’t sell, so I took it.”
     I lifted the flat tire from the mount and lifted the other one on – began to screw in the bolts.
     “What church do you go to?” I asked him.
     “Church of Christ. It’s filled with the worst Christians around. The kind that grew up under these rules and habits and wanted desperately to break away from them, but they couldn’t cause they’re so conditioned to follow them. It’s called Church of Christ so their parents won’t question the church they attend.”
    “That’s awesome,” I laughed.
    “Let me give you some financial advice,” he said as I continued to work. “Don’t spend more money cause you make more money. You’ll never actually end up making more money. See, people think because they earn more money, means they need more stuff, but then you just end up making the same amount of money you were making before. You have to be satisfied with what you have. Save the money you make and you’ll be successful. Don’t buy things you don’t need.
     “I was hired by this company a while back to help them manage their funds so they made more profit. It was back when Starbucks wasn’t on every corner, when it was an uppity joint – back when we didn’t drink the coffee we do now, when it was Folgers. The guy walked in the office holding a Starbucks cup, and I told him, ‘Look, you can’t carry that cup in here so all the employees see it, or else buy everyone in here a Starbucks coffee. Keep that outside. You can’t let the employees know you’re reeking in all the profits and they’re not getting any more of it. They’re the ones doing the work, right? You have to let them think what they’re doing has meaning and they’ll stay happy. People need to believe what they do has meaning. You hired me cause I’m cheap and I’ll save you a ton of money. Don’t let your taste grow with your bank account,’ I said.
     “I’ll tell you what, people move to this country because they know it’s easy to make money. The people that are too lazy to move here are the people that are too lazy to make money. You don’t even have to speak the language. I know some of these people, they’re my friends. Some of the happiest people you’ll ever meet. They move here and start doing people’s yard work, or whatever. Then they hire their nephews to work for ’em and they work for their money, they’re frugal with it. And these people throw the best parties. The kind where they have several tables set up and they have to assign seats to avoid chaos. They invite everyone they know and they have a great time together.”
     By this time, I had the tire changed, but we were standing on the curb behind the car. I listened to him as he continued with his advice.
     “I used to be in film,” he said. “Used to fly all over the world, sleep with different women all over the place, but, you know, I can’t remember their names. I got fed up with that, you know? I wanted to come home to the same woman every night, have a house of my own, and live in peace. I met a guy who was wealthy and I started to ask him questions. He told me how he did it. I didn’t have any confidence at the time, but he taught me how to be confident.
     “Da Vinci used to say architecture was the highest form of art. He loved buildings. He thought they were beautiful. I’ve always loved architecture and loved Da Vinci, but I didn’t have the skills or degree to design buildings, so I used what I knew and I just made 250k last month. You ever meet someone who’s climbed the mountain, ask them how they did it and they’ll give you a map.”
     I shook his hand and thanked him for all the advice.
     “What’s your name again?” he turned and asked before getting in the rental car.
     “You’re smart. I know you’re going to do great things. Most English majors wouldn’t be working the job you’re working, but you’re willing to work hard and see how the world works. You’re learning that all these dead people you read about are real and that you can be one of them.”
     This, I am learning, is how God works – through his people. David addressed the majority of the fears, worries, doubts, I had been going through the past couple weeks. I didn’t even ask him about any of it, he just started talking and put my mind at ease as if he knew exactly what I was going through and exactly what I needed to hear.
     Then, I got home and saw that Charlie was still up. I went into his room and asked him if he had any cigarettes.
     “No, dude. Only on the weekends now, remember?” he said.
     Saved again. I wanted to smoke a cigarette because I was overwhelmed by what had just happened. I didn’t want to believe it was God who had just provided like He did. This had become common practice for me throughout the year 2013, and a large reason why I became reliant on smoking – a form of denial.
     But this is 2014. The year of believing, the year to follow through.
     Right now, we’re descending a mountain, but the shadow of the next mountain is beginning to come down on us. Though I have moments of fear, I’m not intimidated because once you’ve climbed one mountain, the others don’t seem so bad even though they are in fact bigger and more treacherous – you already have the calluses on your feet and hands, you have the experience to fall back on in the moments where you feel like you can’t continue. The human spirit is an amazing thing. As long as you have purpose, it will always push you further than you thought you could go.
     Think of the most epic stories and fairy tales you’ve ever heard. The ones that fill you with wonder, fear, and excitement. They’re nothing compared to the story we’re all living, have been living, and will live. You know how I know? Those epic stories and fairy tales had to have come from somewhere. They’re only imitations of reality, and they’re written by human hands. Just think of the possibilities if a being as powerful as the creator of the heavens and earth is writing this our story.
     A lot of people move to Portland to run away from something, but I didn’t do that. I was running toward something – a hunch if you want to call it that. I wanted to go on an adventure like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit – (I find a lot similarities between Hobbits and Wyomingites), even though such an adventure seemed absurd at the time. But, that’s the great thing about stories – they’re realer than most things I see around me. Ask yourself, what’s the greater purpose of a story like The Hobbit, or Moby Dick, and then ask yourself, what’s the purpose behind your job, your evenings watching American Idol, your truck, etc. Is it something worth fighting for, or is it something you could do without? Is it something you can use to bring people together, or does it pull them apart?
     Fear has held me back my whole life. Whether it’s fear of being wrong, or fear of the unknown, fear of being disliked, or fear of making a mistake, or getting hurt – it’s been a constant theme, and I’m sick of letting fear dictate my actions, or lack thereof. Was David afraid of Goliath? Was Noah afraid of the flood? Was Peter afraid of walking on water? Was Jesus afraid of the cross? Was Ananias afraid of Saul? Was Paul afraid of himself? Yes. They were all afraid, but they all acted. They overcame their fears to do something, even if they thought it was close to nothing. So, what if these characters were real? What does that mean for us? It means  it’s time we start dancing around the fire.
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