To The Man Who Never Stops Fighting
Every life provides obstacles, many of which we overcomplicate in hopes of receiving pity. Yet, there are some obstacles reserved for a variety of brave souls to endure. For every obstacle I hyperbolized in hopes of receiving attention, I am humbled to remember each obstacle you conquered despite a lack of preparation. Life led you to a point that would cause many to drift slowly into the forfeiting abyss; however, you overcame. Even today, years after life's greatest obstacle stood in your way, you inspire those who are still blessed to call you a friend.
Very few will stand before the Lord having endured the pain and hardships life have brought to your door. Slowly death dragged you down a road of no return; nevertheless, you turned the other direction and ran toward the light. Tweets are littered with quotes about getting up when life knocks you down but you are a living testament. A lighthouse guides in the darkness and reminds all those at sea that someone is still fighting. It is my honor to consider you to be a lighthouse for those who call you brother.
Distance ceases to disparage the unimaginable things you have accomplished with your life.
For those who said you wouldn't wake back up, you shot out of bed.
For those who said you would never walk again, you ran.
For those who said you would never be the same, you left behind teenage years and became a man.
And for those who will continue to tell you that you cannot, you will forever shatter their expectations until God guides you into eternity.
For my friend who has continued to remind me what it truly means to fight, have faith, and overcome, I simply wanted to remind you that you continue to inspire all those who love you no matter how many miles separate our souls. On days where life seems to throw more problems than solutions, always remember that God has prepared that season for your life. Life tried to take you away; however, you kept laughing, living, and loving in a way nobody thought possible. You have been created to be the hope for a generation in need of a brother who never quits. So when life gets hard always know you have brothers thinking about you knowing that you can overcome.
We love you Mark the Shark.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4: 9-11
A gentle breeze sways the branches of the autumn mourn as decay renders a canvas of color. Tribulation breaks the strong bond between immovable and replaceable. Slowly the once vibrant leaf descends gently until it's face rests upon the darkened floor.
Time in which the leaf could grow has passed, though its life has gone unnoticed. Little contributions to the shade of summer seemed to blind the gratefulness of those in need. Once warm air has blown away, the cold a reminder of a death to bear.
Brisk turns bitter as time ellipses; the fragile leaf continues its pace. Though feeling abandoned, it is not alone, though not connected, it has it's home.
Yet little of the home it sees. It's only hoping for a summer breeze. Flakes fall gently from the sky. Moving quickly, hoping not to die.
Little did it think of its drift. Riding the cool air, tumbling throughout new rifts. Ships passed by for the leaf to see. And only hoping to stay alive, the leaf had no home in which to hide. For just as soon as the leaf would settle, the autumn wind would awake anguish.
Each day in passing reveals a life that's fragile. The leaf's survival holds no value. Away it drifts toward the sea, to be cast toward a new identity.
That breeze failed to provide new life. Each day blowing and then away each night. The pride of staying alive left a tumultuous life with no hope inside.
Then a wind blew strong toward a familiar place. A summer breeze and familiar face. One wind gust touched a branch to a vine. A reminder of the passing time.
Slowly drifting toward the earth. The ground much warmer than before. Safely in a fragile state. The leaf decayed and took it's place.
For once at home, it was no longer alone. Leaves filled in to replace old friends. Weakness bore a strength anew. The leaf absorbed into the tree that grew.
It was painful to watch. Wrapped in a coat littered with holes seemed useless. Jason was dying and nobody even cared.
Growing up I was taught a church is a family that would be there even when your real family had abandoned you. Our Sunday School Classes each had their own family name. We loved being our own family and adopted the idea of being adopted. Pastor Jim stood in front of us every week talking about how the church family was growing and how we should rejoice that we have more people coming to worship. Little did I know it was a lie. More people meant more money for the church. That's all they ever cared about.
It was -15 degrees as we walked into church the week before Valentine's Day. I couldn't tell what had less color: the sky or Jason's skin. Still seemed foolish to throw that worn-out coat over his shoulders. There were too many holes in the coat to keep anyone from freezing. Everyone was staring at us. Mom held Jason's hand as tight as she could. She knew our time with him was short. Dad parked the car down the street. Construction tape covered the west wing of the church and piles of wood took up half the parking lot. Dad must have been freezing as he suffered the half-mile walk. I guess adding the west wing couldn't wait until the summer.
As we walked into church the crowd parted quicker than the Red Sea. They were scared of us. Well, they were scared of Jason. Red blotches covered the yellow rag he used as a scarf. No small talk was made. Jason might have been sick, but our church was infected with a deadlier disease.
The music started playing when we sat down in the sanctuary. Members filed into crowed pews as the pews we sat between remained empty. Dad sat down next to us as Pastor Jim walked to the lectern. He gave an introduction welcoming new faces in the church and followed with prayer about growing the church. Jason coughed throughout the whole prayer and daggers were shot at him from every eye in the service as the prayer concluded.
Hymns proceeded though Jason's coughing seemed to break up their rhythm. People were not thrilled with Jason's contribution to the worship; then again, I suppose worship is only meant to be performed using monotone vocals and an organ. Slowly the hymn concluded and Pastor Jim stood behind the lectern and led another prayer asking God to bless the offerings made by the congregation. His prayer was specific as he thanked God for the highest annual donors and also mentioned the top three donors for the new wing being added to the church. Apparently our $2 donation in the offering plate was too small to catch God's attention. As the prayer concluded I looked over at Jason leaning on mom. She held him and wiped the dried blood from the corner of his mouth. We sat down and Jason struggled to refrain from coughing. Usher passed out wooden bowls to collect the offering as Jason's face fell into his hands. As the bowl came to us they looked at Jason, blood beginning to drip from his palms, and passed the bowl to my dad. Another $2 offering. Seeming disgusted with the offer, the usher retrieved the bowl and walked off. I suppose we could have offered Jason, his life was about to end anyway; yet, I doubt that would have been enough to get our name in the prayer.
We walked out of the sanctuary only to see the ushers piled behind a desk counting the offerings. Bills were stacked on desk and checks had begun to pile up. Sitting on the desk was enough money to cover medical bills for years; yet, instead of using that money to help Jason find a cure the church spent it on an auxiliary gym that would be open to church members once a week. The rest of the week the gym would be opened to the highest bidder. Money that should be used to help take care of members of the church, but will be likely used to purchase new antique furniture for the pastor's office.
We walked out of the church with mom carrying Jason on her back. Doctors and nurses, all members of the congregation, walked by seeing Jason pale and covered in blood and didn't say a word. They jumped into their sports cars at the front of the parking lot, a spot they purchased from the church, and drove home. It was the first time I realized the reality of what church had become. Nobody was there to help or care for the needy. Members of the church ran in fear of the disease Jason carried and those capable of helping tossed their money in a bowl and walked right out the door in front of us.
Finally I saw that church isn't a family. The goal of the early church passed away and now the church is the only place in the world where the house always wins. People bet their money in hopes of winning salvation; yet, they miss the real opportunities to place an offering with eternal value. Money piles up and mega-churches are built while faithful servants are abandoned in pursuit of a false kingdom. Members rejoice over new “brothers and sisters," but are the first to ignore them when they are in need; furthermore, they suffer from a disease that will keep them dead for eternity. Even though Jason's disease might have caused an end to this life his disease never destroyed his love for those who ignored him. The saddest thing for me is walking 20 feet behind the new wing of the church just to be able to see my brother, the one this church could have helped save.
Admitting one has an unexplainable experience in a generation that lives on social media is essentially social suicide; however, what my best friend and I experienced our sophomore and junior years will forever be left in the realm of the unexplained. Yet, due to the idea that every answer can and will be found on the internet if one searches long enough has led most who have heard our stories to scoff at experiences and discount our perception of what we experienced. Admittedly, I would love to be able to explain the experience; instead, I have been left scratching my head as to what we experienced and perhaps it was my dull perception of the unknown that led me to be struck with fear when my friend and I had our first encounter with an unidentified flying object (UFO).
First, allow me to preface my memoir by saying prior to my sophomore year, I had no experience UFOs and I quite frankly laughed at the idea that aliens flew around in flying saucers in the sky to spy on us. Portraying this level of disbelief in UFOs came from around 4th or 5th grade when I saw a picture of a sky with a saucer-like object in the frame. Inquiring about this picture, I asked my teacher if UFOs did in fact exist; however, much to my disappointment, the teacher informed me that the picture was taken using a unique photography trick where a cardboard cutout of a saucer was made to appear to be flying in the sky. Since that moment, believing in alien UFOs seemed childish and because of all the ridiculous rumors I would hear about Area 51 it seemed more and more like a science fiction story than actual events occurring on earth. Furthermore, Giorgio A. Tsoukalos from Ancient Aliens is well known for his crazy hair and ridiculous claims to extraterrestrial beings that watching that show seemed more like comic relief opposed to scientific proof that aliens do exist. Needless to say, I felt confident UFOs were an invention of man.
Halloween night is well known for a night of costumes and candy; additionally, Halloween night is also a night known for evil pranks and cruel mischief. Yet, for two high school males who were in line to get their drivers license in the coming months, Halloween had become more about hanging out and having fun opposed to dressing up and pulling pranks. Besides, when we began our walk home it was already around 10 pm, we were in a safe neighborhood only 7 minutes from home, and most people were beginning to turn off their porch lights and get ready for bed and go to school the next day. From our perspective, we had enjoyed the night at our friends handing out some candy, we were not up to any mischief, and we were too old to be fooled by a juvenile prank by the local middle schoolers. Perhaps it was our arrogance that made the next sequence of events make us stop dead in our tracks, perhaps it was the fact we thought it was the beginning of the next world war, or perhaps what made us stop that night was the fact that was we heard shook us to our core.
Walking down the street, neither of us expected to hear a sound that literally vibrated our bones as in penetrated the silent night sky. Living in Sumter would lead one to argue a military aircraft simply broke the sound barrier; however, rarely does the sound barrier feel like it is breaking right next to you. A sound so loud that had cars been parked on the street I am convinced alarms would have sounded as the noise swooped down towards us that froze our bodies as the road shook beneath us and the sound swirled around us. Then, like the sound of one zipping up their coat, it shot off. Frozen, we gazed at one another unable to describe what we had just heard; consequently, we stood alone on the road just minutes from home frozen, puzzled, and without words. Trying to find words, we expressed our utter shock in a series of sounds as puzzling as the one we had just heard; however, the sounds we made failed to frighten us because in this case, we could identify the source. Remaining in disbelief, we continued our journey home, frightened, excited, and in awe of our experience. Once we came to the fork in the road that separated our two homes, we said goodbye and ran, still afraid of what we just heard. Less than 20 seconds from home, we took off out of fear of being alone that night. Perhaps it was mischief or one of the most incredible pranks we will ever experience; but, to this day, that sound still remains a mystery.
After almost a year had passed since that incredible sound shook us to our core, our lives had not ended abruptly, nor did either of us experience any sort of post-horror episodes as often seen in horror fiction; yet, our experience with UFOs had been singular until we drove home from our first home football game during our junior year. Having not mentioned our incredible encounter with UFOs in quite some time, neither my friend nor I believed we would experience anything quite as weird and inexplicable as we had our sophomore year; however, when we made a left turn into our neighborhood on our return home I looked into the night sky and saw something very odd. Turning to my friend, I interrupted our conversation to point out what appeared to be a blue orb moving in the night sky; likewise, he too saw the odd object and encouraged me to follow the object to the best of my ability. Continuing down the main street of our neighborhood, we began to eliminate the possibilities of the type of aircraft it could be. An airplane would have blinking lights as would a helicopter, a star or planet seemed improbable because the object was dancing across the night sky and was illuminated at too high of a degree to be a planet or star, and a military aircraft seemed unlikely because the object would remain stagnant at certain points then quickly move in sporadic directions. Opening the sunroof, my friend stood in the seat with his head poking out of the sunroof as we attempted to follow the oddball of light; however, the road was beginning to hinder our ability to follow the object as it veered away from where the object was located. As I slowed the car down to keep the orb in our sights, the ball of light began to dance in an almost small elliptical motion and then, from almost a dead stop, the orb shot off behind a treeline in a swirling motion. Disappointed we could no longer follow the object, we began our turn around to head back home, on the very same road that just a year earlier was vibrating at the sound of an unidentified flying object. Heading home, we turned to one another, once again in disbelief, neither of us having an answer as we took the same path home we had less than a year ago.
Three years have passed since our last encounter with the unknown and to this day we have no understanding of what we experienced. Each of us holds our own perspective as to the possibility of what we saw and heard those two nights. Being more of a believer in the idea that aliens are real, my friend holds hope to the idea that what we experienced that night may very well be aliens; consequently, I am not as optimistic that we had a true encounter with aliens, but can firmly argue that unidentified flying objects are not a myth. However, from my perspective, I am more of a conspiracy theorist in that my idea of what we experienced was likely military experiments or aircrafts that are kept top secret from the public; therefore, if the public is unable to identify what the object is, it becomes unidentified and since it is an aircraft it becomes an unidentified flying object. Likewise, my friend would agree with this argument, but also finds the existence of aliens fascinating and a plausible explanation for many unexplainable stories and events. Whatever the explanation may be, both my friend and I fully agree on what we heard and saw those two unexplainable nights, and will forever hold those stories as our weirdest memories.