When A Vacation Felt More Like Hell Than Heaven…

I always try to write with the intention to inspire others by making myself fully transparent to the masses, sometimes even painfully so at my expense. As I write this on my travels back from a long-planned and somewhat COVID-delayed summer vacation to Mackinaw Island and the Upper Peninsula, I’m struggling to find that and hope by the end I can.

Three years ago, my partner Chris gave me an envelope for my birthday on June 11th. In it was a heart-felt letter wishing me a truly wonderful birthday, a promise to take me on an all-expenses paid trip to Mackinaw Island and the surrounding vicinity, including room, transportation, and meals, and a map of the area. Sadly, my health issues kept getting in the way of that from ever coming to fruition with each passing year. But when 2020 arrived, I felt tremendously better, mind, body, and soul. I was getting more physically active and so with renewed vigor and excitement for life, I finally opted to redeem Chris’s vacation coupon that had sat on my desk for over 1000 days gathering dust.

We were going to take an extended Memorial Day weekend trip to St. Ignace, Michigan, where once there, we would stay in a waterfront room at a Best Western resort. From there our plan was to spend a day up in Sault Saint Marie to see the Soo locks and another over on Mackinaw Island. The two other days planned away were going to either be chill days at the outdoor pool and hot tub or local travel to other touristy type of things.

Then COVID hit in early March and began to expand quickly. The health improvement I had been experiencing rapidly disappeared leaving me wondering if the trip should be postponed again, as trying to go on vacation when my health issues are seriously problematic is as much fun as sitting in a car on a 100-degree day with no air conditioning, stuck in bumper to bumper traffic moving at 5mph.

But, I kept the faith and left the trip booked. That is, until hotel management informed us they might not be open by Memorial Day and even if they were somehow, that restaurants and attractions probably wouldn’t be yet. In light of that, we made the frustrating decision to postpone to the last weekend of August with the hope that things would be far better by then, both with my health and with COVID. I spent the summer doing everything I could with the former. I exercised more, got out more, helped others more, and even took a number of short trips where walking was involved, and somehow all if it helped me enough to feel ready for the trip again. As for the latter, I was ecstatic to see how Michigan’s number of cases drastically decreased by the time August arrived and our trip mere weeks away.

On the day we were to leave, August 26th, we both were excited. I spent a few hours in the early AM cleaning up the yard and ponds, watering, and getting everything done outside, while Chris cleaned up the inside, so our housesitter didn’t have to worry about it. As we put our final things in Chris’s car prior to departure, a huge windstorm swept in and blew a bunch of debris back into all the places I had just cleaned up. Immediate annoyance set in for my OCD self. Was this an ominous warning of more of what was to come? My partner convinced me it wasn’t and helped me to let it go as we pulled out of the driveway and headed northwards.

I really want to say that everything just kept getting better from there, that loads of stress came off my back, that I felt better on every level with each passing mile, and how amazing the trip ended up being overall. While I do have gratitude for some of the things I saw and experienced, which will be covered in the next Grateful Heart Monday entry, everything felt more upside down than right side up the entire time we were away. First it was with a number of health issues returning I hadn’t seen in years. Next came a drastic increase in my partner’s back pain, along with his negativity surrounding it, that prevented him from doing much of anything that involved walking. That was followed by someone on a balcony near us constantly smoking weed that made it next to impossible to enjoy the scenic views. The weather turned unseasonably cool, cloudy, and rainy after that. And finally, it all came to a head with constant bickering between Chris and I. After four days of this and totally vexing our friends who had met us up there, we decided to cut our losses and head home a full day early.

I know I didn’t go into much intricate detail of how off this vacation really was for Chris and I, but I didn’t think it would be of much benefit to dwell on those parts. What I think is more important to focus on is the reality that life sometimes doesn’t go anywhere near the direction we’d hope for. I’ve been experiencing this for well over a decade now no matter how hard I try, and have had to accept that sometimes the direction of our sails isn’t up to us. And sometimes our boat doesn’t feel like it has any sails at all and has left us stranded in the middle of nowhere, not moving at all. I find when those times happen, when trips like this one occur, when a vacation feels more like hell than heaven, where we can’t seem to adjust our sails into any positive direction, that all we can do is turn it over to God, and trust we’re still being guided, even when it feels like we’re not.

What’s the alternative? To bitch and complain? We did enough of that in the midst of all the sorrow and frustration during our vacation and it only made things feel far worse. So, I leave this where I started it, with disappointment and sadness, but also with hope and faith, that there will be other vacations, better days of health, more intimate moments to share with Chris, and brighter days with God to come. And maybe, just maybe, that perfect rainbow we saw literally a few hundred feet from our balcony right after we made the decision to leave early was a sign from God reminding us of that…

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

Praying For My Own Saul To Paul Conversion…

You know that guy named Paul who wrote a number of the chapters of the New Testament in the Bible? I’ve kind of been quite envious of him, especially in the past five years or so, and I want to explain why.

But first for those who don’t know Paul’s Biblical story, Paul was originally known as Saul. For years, it was said that Saul persecuted anyone who followed the teachings of Christ, sending many innocent souls to prison and even to their death. Then one day, on the road to this place named Damascus, he’s suddenly blinded by a piercing light at which point a profound voice comes out of nowhere and asks why Saul continues to persecute Him. Saul drops to his knees and asks who the voice is. The voice responds and says “I am Jesus, the one you continue to persecute.” Saul’s friends hear the voice as well and are speechless. Saul, on the other hand, asks what Jesus wants, who responds by telling him to go into the city of Damascus where he will receive further guidance. For the next three days, Paul remains without sight and chooses to not eat or drink because of it. Meanwhile in Damascus, one of Jesus’s followers, this guy named Ananias, is also approached by Christ, except this time it’s through some type of a dream or vision during which Ananias gets instructed to go to the house of a man named Judas, where Saul will be waiting and praying, and once there, he’s to lay his hands upon Saul.

When Saul eventually arrives in Damascus, he’s led to the home of Judas. Upon arrival, he too receives some type of dream or vision that shows Ananias coming to lay hands on him to restore his sight. When Ananias finally arrives at Judas’s home, he lays his hands upon Saul as instructed, and immediately something akin to scales fall from Saul’s eyes, restoring Saul’s vision. Saul is then baptized, takes on the name Paul, and from there goes on to spread the love of Christ to everyone he can for the rest of his life until his death, enduring great hardships, persecution, and some “thorn in his side” that’s never revealed what it is, along the way. But, through all of it, he constantly speaks of how much joy he has and how blessed he is, even in the midst all his pain and suffering, and even just before his life comes to an end through what many speculate to have been a beheading.

So, in a nutshell, Paul was once a terrible person doing terrible things to countless blameless individuals, who suddenly gets blessed, gets healed, and spends the rest of his life constantly feeling the awesome presence of God within him as he endures great pain and hardship from those he once worked alongside, until the day he dies.

So, why all the enviousness of this Biblical figure? Well, for several decades, I too did terrible things to countless blameless individuals too. And then in 2010, all that changed when I began to feel “blinded” through one health issue after another being piled upon me, none of which were to depart as each year passed into another. I still felt the presence of God though enough to keep going and enough to keep spreading joy in the midst of my pain. But then one day in early 2015, I no longer felt that presence, and it wasn’t because of anything I did either. Other than a few scarce days ever since, I haven’t felt the presence of anything Greater than me and instead been left with feelings of sorrow and despair on most days. Feelings that have left me feeling totally “blinded” from the presence of God. I have begged and pleaded God to remove my “blindness” year after year, to no avail. In the process, I’ve often thought of Paul and become envious. Envious that Paul hurt so many individuals in his life, yet only experienced a few days of “blindness” before it got restored. Restored to a level where he remained in touch with the incredible Grace of God, even as he experienced such pain and persecution up until the day he died.

So, what do I long for? I long to wake up and no longer feel “blinded”, “blinded” from feeling the presence of God’s joy, because I know it’s there, although I’ve been unable to feel it no matter what I do. All of which has left me with great envy at times of someone from long ago, a figure from the Bible, who, even in the midst of great pain, hardship, and persecution, still felt joy, joy from no longer being blinded from feeling God’s ultimate unconditional love, something I’ve come to accept over time will only come from God himself. So, I wait for that with hope, and continue to pray for my own Saul to Paul conversion…

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

Listening Is Often The Only Thing Needed To Help A Person Going Through Prolonged Pain And Suffering…

Why is it that when we are going through great pain and suffering and choose to confide that in someone, that they often feel the need to give advice, provide guidance, and offer suggestions, instead of just listening?

Having gone through intense bouts of pain and suffering for years now, I’ve been on the receiving end of countless pieces of unsolicited advice, guidance, and suggestions. Regrettably, up until recently, I did the same with most who confided their trials and tribulations with me, always believing I was doing the right thing, that is until I realized not too long ago, due to how long I’ve personally been in pain and suffering, that people who share their sorrows and burdens in life with another are really only looking for one thing, an ear to listen. Yet, for whatever the reason, many of them tend to do the exact opposite of listening. The following is a top 10 list of the things that I, and plenty of others have experienced when sharing our pain and suffering with another, each of which has often made it worse for us than better…

  1. Telling the sufferer that there are people out there going through greater pain and suffering than we are.
  2. Telling the sufferer that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional (especially when they aren’t suffering in the same way, not suffering at all at the present time, or never suffered in the way we have).
  3. Telling the sufferer that some doctor, practitioner, healing modality, medicine, guru, guide, healer, class, book, etc. will help (especially when they don’t even know all that we’ve tried already). This often comes via a sentence that starts out with “Have you tried…”
  4. Telling the sufferer that maybe they’ve wronged God somehow and this is some sort of punishment, or that they haven’t done enough spiritual work yet to heal it, or haven’t prayed hard enough, or that their sin is preventing themselves from getting through it, or that their faith/beliefs need to be stronger.
  5. Telling the sufferer that it’s all in their mind and they just need more will power to overcome it.
  6. Telling the sufferer random clichés like “Everything happens for a reason!”, “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end!”, or “Acceptance is the answer to all our problems today…”
  7. Telling the sufferer that things will be much better if they just get out and help another suffering individual (especially when the person may already be doing that or has limitations that prevent them from doing that).
  8. Telling the sufferer that maybe it’s their karma to work out and they just need to see it through.
  9. Telling the sufferer that they just need to not talk about it, get over it, and pretend it’s not there.
  10. Telling the sufferer, “You just have to keep the faith…”, that God has a reason and a plan for our pain and suffering that’s beyond our understanding, and that the other side of this will be better than anything we could ever imagine (especially when not knowing the person’s spiritual background, level of faith, or belief system).

I’m sure there is plenty more I could list here that have been quite challenging for each of us who’ve been on the receiving end of unsolicited advice, guidance, and suggestions after sharing our pain and suffering with another. The fact is, what we truly need the most is just a hand to hold, an ear to listen and a heart to understand us, as healing often begins to happen the moment we feel heard.

So, please remember this the next time someone opens their heart and shares a little of the pain and suffering their going through with you.

JUST LISTEN.

And…if you do anything else, show a token of affection such as a hug, an arm around them, or holding their hand. While this may feel uncomfortable to you, know it’s only your ego that really is feeling that way. Because offering your own guidance, advice, or suggestions to any of what they share with you, especially when unsolicited, is more to feed your own ego than to help ease any of the pain and suffering they are going through…

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson