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The Church Done Left the Buildin’

“Looked like her lungs were full of glass”. That is how my nurse friend described the x-ray of a woman who recently died alone in a hospital room from COVID-19.

Has the government and media taken a low to mid-level concern and elevated it to Defcon 1? If so, why would they do such a thing? While, we seem somewhat divided on this debate, the purpose of this blog post is less about diving into that and more about the Church, professing Christians and the modern day church-goer’s response during this current crisis. And yes…all 3 need differentiated.

What is “church”? Let’s start there. I’ve heard some say it’s a “hospital”. I’ve heard others refer to as a party hall of sorts. There are those who see it as a country club. Some say it’s a place they go to to get fed spiritually. Others use it as their place of sole location for worship. Some view church as merely a place to find clarity. Others use it as a “worm on the hook” to lure sinners inside. Some see church as a way to support lavish lifestyles of pastors. Some see it as an event that must take place at least once a week. Others see it as a biblical obligation. Some folks see “church” as critical. Others do not. Some feel “church” is for weddings and baptisms only. Others see it as a chore to accomplish on Easter. Some see it as a stage to display their talents. Others see it as medicine for their soul. Some see it as place to gather to encourage and be encouraged. Others use “church” as the fuel they’ll need to drive them thru the upcoming week. Some see it as a place to meet good and positive people.

“Hey, you going to church tomorrow?”. “Hey, we missed you at church yesterday”. “Man, church was so good today, wasn’t it?”. “Can’t wait to wear my new dress to church on Easter Sunday!”. “I don’t like church. Too many hypocrites”. “Oh, you’re a Christian? What church you go to?”. “Why don’t you come to church with me sometime?”.

Post Christ’s death, the Romans’ aim was to eradicate Christianity altogether. Their relentless efforts pushed Christians underground. But, the phenomenon was…the Christian population only grew! 300 years later, Emperor Constantine enters the picture. He not only declared that Christianity would be tolerated, but he would create a place that all Christians were to gather for corporate worship. Christians left the underground for a stand-alone building. And just like that…Constantine single-handedly turned “church” into an institution.

I think this all matters, in order to set the table, so-to-speak.

Somewhere along the way, it went from “We are the Church” to “Let’s go to church”. This is a much bigger problem than we give it credit for. Our focus almost entirely shifted from making disciples to the action that takes place inside the steepled building. Our faith’s peak became predicated on a touching sermon or an emotional song. It became less about fellowship and more about entertainment and attaining a feeling or sense of accomplishment from attending. We disguise our gathering as “fellowship”, but typically it’s just a show for spectators to watch from seats facing a stage. The lighting is Hollywood-like. The sound system could double as concert equipment. The decor stimulates a desired mood. The building itself is seen as a house suited for God’s dwelling, as if God takes up residency in a place that man has crafted.

Many people’s favorite scripture passages can be found in John 3:16 or Jeremiah 29:11. But, not mine. No. My favorite verse is Matthew 28:19 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make church-goers of all the nations…”. You might know that passage? Something wrong with that scripture? What do you mean it’s suppose to say “disciples” instead of “church-goers? How dare you attempt to correct God’s words! Oh…wait…God didn’t write that. The modern day “Christian” penned that in.

Let me circle back for a minute. When Constantine institutionalized church, paid clergy became a thing. While that might make some business sense, it doesn’t work well with personal spiritual responsibility. You see, once paid clergy took the script, the lay person took their seat in the audience. Now, in order to make a disciple or carry a voice in the religious realm, you must have a college education or draw a paycheck from a church. This brings relief to a church-goer because it eliminates the possibility for rejection and uncomfortable obligation.

So, why am I saying all of this? Well, simply put…I am appalled by what I’m hearing from some pastors and their followers. They are screaming “THE GOV’T IS TRYING TO TAKE OUR FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS AWAY!” and “WE CAN’T FOLLOW THESE NO-GATHERING ORDERS LIKE BLIND SHEEP!” and “OUR FAITH IS BEING THREATENED!”. Let me preface this by saying that those who are proclaiming such things only represent a very small percentage of pastors/clergy/lay people. What I think most are really on edge about though, is that their comfortable little Sunday production has been disturbed. Some are angry that they don’t get to be featured during a morning service and hear “Wow, Pastor. What a fantastic sermon you just delivered!”. And dare I say it? Many are angry that the usual tithe has been hampered/interrupted. I mean, how will they fund elaborate additions and upgrades to their already breathtaking sanctuaries? However, perhaps the best theory I can conjure up for why the current panic, is that maybe, just maybe, preachers and professing Christians have made the act of going to church their center – their God – instead of making Christ and God their core? When you see what you do on a Sunday morning inside of a church building your sole act of faith exercise, then you will feel it has ripped your soul out entirely when it’s forbidden to do so. I’ll just go ahead and say it. Going to church for an hour or 2 on a single day of the week has become the 2020 definition of “Christian”. Perhaps we should coin a new term “Churchianity”? Ehhh…maybe it’s what William Booth said, it’s Christianity without Christ.

Oh my. Some will be so mad at me for saying all of this and you can tell how much I care about that by the fact that I still hit the “Publish” button. This all needs to be unearthed and addressed and what better time to do it then during a point where we are being forced to become mobile, resourceful and creative, just as the early Church was. I mean, I am a Believer and a disciple and I in no way feel like I’m being persecuted. I am not feeling like “they” are targeting me. No one is pounding at my door, forcing me to surrender my Bibles or threatening to seize my laptop when I Zoom an online spiritual gathering. Some people’s self-righteousness is leading them down a very scary path. If “church” to you is an merely an event on Sunday morning in a particular building, then yes…I see why your big ol’ bloomers are all knotted-up. But, if you are a true disciple of Jesus and you love Him and humankind (our neighbors), then you might actually be pumped to do things a bit unconventionally. What about being a disciple is comfortable? A church-goer is nice and comfy, though. You budget your 10% tithe, you sit in the same seat each week and you wait to be entertained by preacher and program. But, a disciple (as the Bible depicts it) lives a more uncomfortable and unpredictable life. Life is risky and requires walking by faith. You’re determined to find fellowship beyond an established building and your excited at the opportunity to “go”.

Let me say this as clearly and as bluntly as I possibly can say it. Many churches are actually counterproductive in making disciples for Christ. I’ll repeat it because I’m not sure I can trust some of you to track back. Many churches are actually counterproductive in making disciples for Christ. These churches that I am referring to have removed the need to live by faith. They teach that the pinnacle of one’s walk with God takes place in a building made by human hands. They refer to worship only when speaking of singing songs in that same building. The word “disciple” is only mentioned when referring to men who lived long ago. These churches needed upended and my prayer is that they do not return to their former state. But tragically…I fear many will.

No, I am not “anti-tithing”, nor am I “anti-assembling”. Offfffffff COURSE we wanna gather together face to face. Offfffffff COURSE we wanna hug and shake hands and corporately worship and receive a piece of candy from that old creepy guy that never seems to run out candy. That’s in us (except for that last one lol)! But, we are being asked to move from that for a bit in order to bring relief to hospitals and our heroic healthcare staff. Nowhere do I find an order that says “Christians (and the like) must not practice their faith during this pandemic”. It isn’t persecution. Don’t be foolish. What it is though, is an attempt to save real lives and prevent as many people from dying alone in a hospital room as we possibly can.

My spirit is renewed by those Believers who still find ways to meet and yet still keep their distance. I am inspired by the loving acts of real Christians who are taking care of the most vulnerable (as Jesus would be doing). I’ve enjoyed meeting with other believers virtually, sharing stories, challenging one another, praying, being prayed for, encouraging and being encouraged. After all, that’s exactly what the early Church’s gatherings intended to do and undeniably accomplished.

How dare you spend this time that you’ve been afforded to fight a fight that is emphatically pointless to fight! How dare you waste your life and lead others down a path that leads to nowhere! Perhaps it’s long overdue for you to redefine what “church” really is and means. And please tell me that you aren’t solely relying on 2 hours on a Sunday morning inside a piece of human architecture to feed your soul or to “feel Christian”. If you would answer “yes” to this, then the time you’re wasting crying “PERSECUTION!” is misplaced and your attention should be redirected inwardly. Maybe it’s time to get back to basics and shed what you’ve accepted as being “normal” and “right”? Now, before you go gettin’ all defensive, do me a favor and at least internalize this for a few. Not all of this can be wrong…can it?

Some of your gatherings are doing it right. They are Christ-centered and not entertainment-based. You’ve placed Christ at the center and intentionally keep Him there. You are disciple factories. You wield the type of love that Jesus displayed always. You realize that the work is done beyond the 4 walls of building, but you won’t fail to assemble together. You are about Kingdom work; not about building your own little domains. I thank God for you all. I really do. Please keep doing what you are doing. I pray that you won’t grow weary.

The Church done left the buildin’. Let’s see these funky times as the nudge I think we all so desperately needed and make the absolute most of it.

[feel free to comment and share your thoughts]


Fad & Faith

Air Jordan. I mean, how could a human and a fad coexist in the same entity? There was no one in the 80’s that didn’t claim they were the biggest Michael Jordan fan. No one. Ok…just one. I actually hated the man. Not because I thought he was overrated. He wasn’t in my estimation. The dude was other-worldly with that little leather air-filled sphere. No, I despised MJ simply because everyone else was madly and hopelessly in love with him. Jordan and the Chicago Bulls felt like a mindless cult and I wanted no sip of that Kool-Aid . I loved basketball too much to worship the man they insisted walked on air. Instead, I latched onto Stockton and Malone. I made the Utah Jazz my team and they would unknowingly keep me from bowing to “His Airness”.

This “defiance” (some might dub it “stubbornness”) is in me. Perhaps I was born with it. I loathe walking the path of the masses. Hate it! I just typed that with a scowl on my face and a vein appearing just above my left temple. So, when fads sweep thru the religious world, I tend to sprint fast and far the other way. Most of them sicken me. Except for pants pegging. Loved that one. Here’s to hoping it makes a comeback. You first, though. Anyway, I watch the modern day church-goer dive-in head first without thought. They think it’s what they’re “supposed to do”. It makes them feel more religious. A canned prayer hits the market and millions are reciting it. A faith-based book goes to print and countless pre-order it. And most recently, if a “Christian movie” hits the silver screen and you don’t go see it, well, you just ain’t very Christian, now are ya? The 2020 church-goer seems more robotic than human these days and that fact engages my gag reflex.

It’s been said that everyone has a guilty pleasure. If I were being completely honest, mine is probably movie watching. I love them. Going to the theater is one of my favorite pastimes. My dream is to have a super dope theater in my house one day where my boys and my friends can come to watch the big games and the blockbuster movies. Oh and I did the math. If I were to give plasma 3x every week for the next 5 years, I think I could pull it off. Anyway, I watch movies for the sheer entertainment of it. It’s an escape from reality for me and sometimes I find that quite necessary. What I don’t find entertaining, though, is a flick with a crappy plot and dreadful acting. That is actually counterproductive in my world. I end up getting ultra offended, pushing the “Stop” button on the remote harder than I should and spending some time trying to figure out just exactly how I’ll reclaim the life these time pirates have savagely pilfered from me. And perhaps there have been no bigger offenders in the last 10 years than Christian movie makers.

“Wait. You’re a pastor and you haven’t seen Fireproof yet?!” I actually had someone say that to me. You can imagine my rebuttal, but why in God’s sweet, succulent earth did I even have to defend myself in the first place? Part of my defense was that I found most movies like that to be painfully corny. I went on to express how I watch movies to be entertained…not inspired.

Enter “I Still Believe”. I was immediately intrigued when I heard this movie was releasing, since it was a true story based on the life of one my all-time favorite musicians/artists Jeremy Camp. His songs have always felt refreshingly real to me. Like musical Polaroids of his actual life. It’s a bit difficult for me to explain the power behind his music. It’s different. It just is.

Now, if I were to tell ya that I physically went and saw “I Still Believe” on purpose, would you be surprised? Yeah…I kinda am too. I can tell ya, though, I was moved in a way I didn’t really anticipate. “God is worth trusting…even when you can’t see”. This line stuck out to me, but the part that moved me most was watching Jeremy’s dying wife raise her hand to the sky as he sang “I will walk by faith, even when I can not see”. She submitted to God, with her hand pointed to the sky as if to declare “I’ll trust you to the very end!” I was trying to keep it together during that part, but I kept having flashes of my sister in her last days.

One evening, my boys and I took a dvd over to my parents’ to watch with them and my sis. My sister Amy was being cared for by my parents at this point and very beautifully, I might add. The movie we wanted to watch with her was by Louie Giglio called “How Great is Our God”. My boys and I had seen it before and found it to be exceptional. The movie so elegantly illustrated the vastness of God, while simultaneously showing just how personal our great Creator is, too. We popped the movie in and watched Amy watch the movie. We were desperate for her to find something in it that would bring her some real peace and real comfort in her last days. Then, that moment came. Louie was talking about how all things are held together by Jesus. He went on to say “God doesn’t always change your circumstance…He didn’t change them for Christ. But, God does promise that He has a purpose for your circumstance.” The atmosphere woke up in that room at that very second. My sister, laying nearly horizontal in that medical bed, sat strait up and began clapping and cheering and crying and praising God! I’m reliving that moment as I type. Wow. It was undeniably God’s presence. She heard a truth that agreed with her very spirit. We were all crying in that living room (that had become a sanctuary) and it’s an experience that will remain with us all for an eternity.

When my sister took her last breath, I was so angry with God. I couldn’t understand why He didn’t heal her. Truth be told, I still don’t understand it. I knew He was more than capable. Looking at it, I can see how it’s adversely affected me even to this day. I don’t see things the way I once did. I wish I could tell you that I do, but what’s the point putting on that mask? I was so convinced that Amy would be healed and I was very much looking forward to witnessing how it would change countless lives because of it. I really felt like we all needed to see that power, and her 3 boys were no exception.

I still desire to believe like I once did. Heck, I’d love to believe even deeper than I once did. I tell myself, that when I quit wanting that, I’ll be in a very scary place. I pray that day never comes and for now, I choose to keep searching. And who knew that a “Christian movie” would provide me with a lil more gas to put in ol’ faith tank?

“God is worth trusting. Even when I can not see.” A potent proclamation that I pray permeates my battered faith. I’ll certainly let it.

Food Review: Mic’s Italian Restaurant

24 years. No, that isn’t how long Mic’s Italian Restaurant has been in business. And no, that also isn’t the average age of the customer that moseys on into this quaint lil eatery. The “24 years” thing is actually what separates my sister and her husband in age.

10 years. No, that’s not my maturity level. It’s far lower than that. It does, however, represent the total number of years my sister and her hubby have been married.

Scratchin’ your head yet as to why I’m sharing this? Here, allow me to remove the mystery. My sister’s last name is Downey. That just happens to be the last name of the owner of Mic’s Italian Restaurant. Mike Downey is my brother-in-law. Mike owns both Mic’s and my sister. That was weird to type. She will wanna pistol-whip me and Mike for saying that. Maybe, she’ll just pistol-whip Mike instead. Mike, if you’re reading this………………

I remember hearing whispers within the family about some dude whom my sister was takin’ some interest in. I was hearin’ that he owned a restaurant called “Mic’s” and I was curious as to what city that was in. I had lived in Springfield for nearly the entirety of my life and was confident Mic’s didn’t exist here. I was wrong. Mic’s had actually been in business for over 20 years in Springfield and I never knew. Now that I know how delicious the food is there, I remain bitter at the reality of trying to live life without Mic’s in it.

My sister invited me to go with her one evening to Mic’s. Her goal was to stalk Mike. My goal was to get lasagna-wasted. However, I was curious not only to see and meet this guy, but to check out this new-old restaurant. We pulled up to a very unassuming building with a gravel lot. Now, I had driven by this place hundreds of times before and never got a single whiff of rigatoni in the air. My sister and I walked inside. We took our place in line and while my eyes were fixed on the menu displayed on the wall, my sister’s were wandering in hopes to catch a glimpse of a one Mr. Mike “Mic” Downey. I ordered lasagna and my sister ordered Mike to emerge. I saw a guy creep out of the back and I thought maybe it was the owner’s dad. In the creepiest way imaginable, my sister mumbles “There he is. That’s him.” I broke my neck to see what she was seeing, but to no avail. Eventually, I realized that she was speaking of the older, grey-haired fella who appeared to be the age our very own pappy. Come to find out…he wasn’t all that far off.

Fast foward 10 years, Mike is one of the best human beings I know and certainly the way he loves my sister plays into that. They genuinely enjoy each other’s company. And even though Mike and I are family now, I have to review his restaurant fairly, void of bias. Luckily, Mike has made that pretty darn easy on me. This one shouldn’t cause a family feud. Here’s what I got:

  • Atmosphere = 7 out of 10
  • Cleanliness = 9.5 out of 10
  • Bathroom(s) = 8.5 out of 10
  • Service = 9 out of 10
  • Food Quality = 8.5 out of 10
  • Taste = 9 out of 10
  • Bang for the Buck = 8.5 out of 10
  • Community Presence = 6 out of 10
  • Overall = 8.5 out of 10

Now, it’s a known fact that I am a lasagna connoisseur and junkie (said in my “A Christmas Story” narrator voice) . Over the course of my life, I’ve enjoyed ordering lasagna at various eateries spanning this great country. My favorite lasagna has to be Fazoli’s. That was a joke, people. Gas station lasagna is so much better. Again…a joke. Anyway, some lasagnas out there are a bit runny. Others lack flavor and that is largely due to the weak sauce they use. I’ve had super expensive lasagna that attempted to trick you into thinking they’ve figured it out. Almost all of them hadn’t. I’ll say Mic’s lasagna is, without question, the best I’ve ever tasted. If I were rating his lasagna individually, I’d give that bad boy a “9”. It’s only not a “10” simply because I have to believe there’s some lil old lady living in Italy that crafts a lasagna (secret family recipe) like she’s effortlessly putting together a 5000 piece puzzle.

60,000. Know what that number represents? It’s about how many people reside in Springfield, Ohio. 60k Springfieldians and I’m guessing only 10% or less of us even know where Mic’s is located. An even lesser percentage have actually ever dined there. I’ll be honest…the location is weird, but “weird” can’t keep ya from blessing your taste buds and supporting a terrific local restaurant. You might not like lasagna and if that’s the case…your life really doesn’t matter all that much. Just kidding. It doesn’t matter at all. Sorry…only joking. Kinda. Mic’s has a great selection of Italian dishes, but if you aren’t in the mood for Italian, he has things like Taco Salad, coney dogs, subs, burgers, pizza, soups and a lot more.

Oh and if you happen to see Mike there, could you tell him that a 20% family discount is sorta outdated and unfair? Realistically, I think it should be somewhere between 50-75%, so if you could negotiate that for me…that’d be great. You can even threaten to leave a poor review of Mic’s if ya want. #whateverittakes

Be A Birtha.

In my mind, it’d be a near impossible feat to find a bigger stud in the fifth grade than me. I mean, sure I rocked a pair of hard plastic imitation Jordans with a little duct tape on ’em to keep the high top attached. So what my go-to shirt was a turtleneck. And yes, the rumors were true, the only way I could get myself to ask a girl to “go with me” was with the aid of a piece of wide-ruled paper, a tie-dye pencil and 3 empty boxes labeled “yes”, “no” and “maybe”. None of that really mattered though, since I was the daggum elementary playground Tetherball Champ!

With the coveted title of “Playground Tetherball Champion”, a 10 year old kid could easily let that go his head. If not careful, wielding that much power can tragically destroy a young man. For me, I felt invincible. Like I could say anything to anyone and I often times did.

I very vividly remember this one particular day, as I was coming off the best game of my legendary career. The crowd around me was only feeding my ego and yet despite all the cheering and high fives, my eyes locked onto the one hater in the entire crowd. This “hater” happened to be the biggest kid in the entire school. She proudly wore an asymmetrical bob style haircut and sported a promising mustache. As for her armpits…well, they smelled strikingly similar to leftover pot roast. She was a “girl” of few words, but when she did speak, her breath usually reeked of rotting bluegill and a pack of Camel Lights. Birtha smoked. On the playground. In front of the teachers. The faculty remained conveniently oblivious.

Ever have a vision that you know would be all bad if played out, but you ignore the voice of reason anyway because you’re a prisoner of the moment? That unimpressed mountain of a human being annoyed me so much that I found it impossible to hold my tongue. I looked her in the eyes from about 8′ away and said “Gotta problem, Birtha?” It was in that very moment that I knew I needed to swiftly get my affairs in order. I was going thru a list in my head of all those whom I didn’t get a chance to tell that I loved them. I was so young…I had so many dreams and aspirations, and sadly…I wouldn’t live to see any of them come to fruition. The crowd noise was quickly silenced as we all waited to see how Birtha would choose to spill my blood. “You better not be talking to me, freckle face!” she yelled. That was me. She was talking to me. It was I who had the freckles that she apparently had much disdain for and it was also I whom she hated more than wearing deodorant.

I found myself at a crossroad. Do I coward out in front of all my fans or do I courageously stick my head in the proverbial guillotine? “What Would The Other Tetherball Legends Of Yesteryear Do” (WWTOTLOYD)? I knew the answer to that, so I quickly spouted off “At least it doesn’t take me a year to do a Rubik’s Cube!” Now, what you need to know here is that fear paralyzed my mind and my ability to be witty. I became simple in my thinking. My brain shriveled up. I could tell by the reaction of the crowd that I was rapidly losing their respect. Just as I was winding-up to deliver yet another devastating blow, ol’ Birtha interrupts me with a line that would forever change the game……………”I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you”. Crickets. I think we all over-analyzed Birtha’s rebuttal for a solid 20 seconds. I know I did. I couldn’t wrap my mind around what she had just proclaimed. Seemed she was putting everyone on notice, and especially me, that no matter what was said about her, it wouldn’t bother or offend her even in the slightest. An unprecedented comeback for a bully who could effortlessly rip your head off and tie a knot with your neck meat, all with her off-hand (her strong hand would of course be holding her lit, unfiltered cigarette).

Just the other day I was riding shotgun in a friend’s car. We were headed down a 2 lane road when someone driving the opposite direction flashed their lights at us. It was daylight, so I knew the person was warning us of a cop nearby. I found that to be courteous and I assumed my friend did, too. I was wrong. He began flyin’ off the rails saying things like “Why would that idiot flash me? I ain’t doing anything wrong. Not speeding…I’m wearing my seat belt…tags aren’t expired. I don’t care that there’s a cop around!” Wait. What in God’s great creation just happened? I stared at him, rapidly blinking in utter disgust. I even contemplated throwing myself out of his moving vehicle for a split second. This dude was legitimately offended by a perfect stranger’s good deed.

STOP GETTING SO BENT OUT OF SHAPE OVER EVERY LITTLE THING! That’s what I wanna scream to nearly everyone these days! Perhaps our anxiety levels are spiking because we allow too many things to become agents of offense? We need to live in a space where we more often than not, give people the benefit of the doubt. We gotta stop assuming the worst. That person just flashed their headlights at us in hopes to save you and I some money and a headache. We must learn the ancient art of letting things roll off of your backs. We have that luxury. Our skin has gotten too thin. We need to teach our kids that their value isn’t found in man’s opinion of them. We all wish this little blue rock housed only nice people that only spoke nice things. It’s just not reality. And should someone be blatantly trying to offend us, why don’t we kick it old school…mentally hit ’em with the classic “I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.”? Remember Birtha? Yeah, be her. The deodorant-wearin’ version of Birtha, though.

Hope this didn’t offend you.

I Didn’t Fail Him.

“I don’t want kids. I just want puppies.” That’s the answer I gave my mom when she asked me how many kids I’d want when I grew up. I mean for cryin’ out loud, mom…you can’t ask me that kinda question when you know I’m still watchin’ Looney Tunes on Saturday mornings and peggin’ my acid washed jeans. I mean, havin’ kids of my own would put a serious damper on my plans to impress the ladies at the skating rink every Friday night.

Funny thing happened. I started to mature (that doesn’t mean I’m mature) and having children was becoming less and less of a repulsive concept. Fast forward a few years. I’m 19, married and making plans to become a dad. I just gulped like I was reading someone else’s story.

June 4th, 1999. The atmosphere quickly shifted in that hospital room. I looked at the doctor and saw some panic in her eyes. The baby’s heart rate was dropping. Doc’s movements and methods were fluid, but her face told a different story. She resorted to a primitive suction device that she placed on the crown of my unbirthed son. She pulled and maneuvered the lil poopy plunger-like tool as I watched in trepidation. Finally. Some progress. Then, a little more progress, At last! My son was born and I cut that umbilical cord like a boss. Sylas Alan Ray. Adorable lil cone head (temporary battle wound) baby boy who learned how to fight for his life far too early.

I had plans to be the world’s best dad. I couldn’t wait to rock that shirt, but I uhhh sort of had an early setback. The nurse asked me if I wanted to change Sy’s (Sylas’ nickname) first diaper. I said yes. I can still see his tiny new body when I close my eyes. He was wearing the littlest diaper ever crafted. It was as if they pulled it straight off of a Build-A-Bear and fastened it around my son’s pelvis. I hate the word “pelvis”. I had a new diaper on-deck, so I was feeling like a seasoned vet. I unfastened the diaper, revealing a black sludge of sorts he’d been smugglin’ inside him for I can only assume 40 weeks. I stared at it for probably 3 seconds in total disgust and that was precisely where I erred. 3 seconds for a baby’s exposed dinky is an eternity. Baby Sylas peed. In his own mouth. You read that right. I cried. It was then that I realized that I would mess up a lot in my new role, no matter how badly I wanted to be super dad.

I would go on to have another son and name him Barik Anthony Ray. He didn’t pee in his mouth, though. Sylas feels like Barik should have to experience what that’s like, though. I’m not sure he’s wrong.

Sylas was my first born. He had pretty severe Colic, so often the only way to calm him down would be laying his bare belly to mine. I didn’t mind it, really. Felt like we were bonding a little more each time. I guess I felt important to him. Like he needed me like he needed mommy’s teet. There is just an unexplainable connection with your first child. This would play out as Sy would mature.

A’s. Honor Roll. Dean’s List. 4.0 GPA. All thru high school. Athlete. Star pitcher. Teachers adored him. Landed the role of Hook in his school’s Peter Pan musical. Finalist in Springfield’s Got Talent. Counselor for The Salvation Army’s Summer Day Camp (camp for kids with disabilities). Follower of Jesus. Great sense of humor. Witty and analytical. Hair like Vanilla Ice. I watched as Sy would challenge himself to travel beyond his comfort zone time and time again. But, I started seeing signs of something being “off”. It wasn’t ’til much later that we realized Depression was his agent of change.

Here is a glimpse into what Sylas battled every single day; his own words: “I felt hopeless and worthless. I started to focus on those who walked out of my life. I felt they saw me as unworthy of their friendship. I would focus on who wasn’t in my life as opposed to who was. The lowest I ever got was when I would do things to increase the risk of dying. I would purposely not wear my seat belt or I’d walk down the worst streets at 1 a.m. I remember crying a few times screaming to God that I didn’t wanna be here anymore. It made me not wanna make new relationships with people because I felt like I only made their lives worse and they would just walk away, decided that I wasn’t worth it anymore. I began evaluating what about me I thought people didn’t like. There were times I wondered what was mentally wrong with me. I couldn’t sleep more than 2 or 3 hours a night because of the constant nightmares. I wasn’t eating much, either. Couldn’t focus on school or music or family or anything I once had passion for. I began doubting God. I was so lonely, though I had people all around me.”

I cry as I type this. To think all this was happening in my son’s life and I could do nothing to stop it. This disease was robbing the world of a very bright light. It was changing our relationship and that was perhaps the hardest piece of reality for me. As I watched this thing called “Depression” ravish my son, I started to fall at its hand, too. There were so many nights I would cry myself to sleep. I was so mad at God, too! Why wasn’t He fixing this? I was sure He could. I found myself doubting. I began seeing myself as a terrible dad. I failed him. I put him thru a broken marriage and a divorce. He deserved so much better and I vowed to give him so much better, but I broke my promise. These thoughts tormented me.

I felt very alone. I’m just a single guy. There was very few I could share my real feelings with. I was worried of portraying my son as anything but happy. I was scared to portray myself as anything but capable of managing my sadness. There were many who leaned on my shoulder and I knew if I led-on that I wasn’t okay, they might cease trusting me with their own “stuff”. Depression was doing its job and doing it well. I was literally imploding.

Sylas and I would meet for dinner near his college and he would share his feelings with me. I would often leave feeling inadequate. Sometimes I’d share what I felt God was bringing to my mind and heart. He would listen and I could tell he was hoping to hear something that would take this all away. I longed for those magic words, too, but they never came. I soon began to realize my role in this whole thing was just being available to Sy. A constant. I had to make sure that he’d leave knowing there was at least 1 person in his life who would always be there. Not hoping that there was, but knowing there was. What I didn’t fully grasp at the time was that there was already 1 constant in his life. That was his brother. I would be the “other” constant. I can not tell you how proud I am of that kid for all he meant to Sy in his darkest hours.

The light began to show from behind the clouds. My son slowly got his smile back. His laughed returned. The Sylas, the real Sylas, was resurfacing and I thank God every day for that. He still battles with this crafty adversary known as “Depression”, but it’s losing. Small victories seemingly everyday. As for me,well, I have my days. I still struggle with the feeling of guilt. I don’t dwell on that for too long, though. I didn’t fail him. I’ll repeat that for myself……………………….I didn’t fail him.

I would love to hear from you. Are you going thru something similar? In the fight of your life against Depression? Perhaps you’re a parent of a child battling with Depression? Hope this reminds you that you aren’t alone. Talk to me…

Food Review: Fratelli’s

Ahhh the 80’s. I was still tucking my shirt into my underwear and feathering my hair, using a 1/4 can of Aqua Net to hold it in place. My hair. Not my underwear. All of my friends had dreams of becoming astronauts, sports stars and firemen back then. Me, though? Well, I wanted to be a Goonie.

I was about 7 years old when “Goonies” hit the big screen. I watched every minute of the almost 2 hour movie with eyes the size of manhole covers. The adventure…the danger…the hidden treasure…all of it thrust me into a world I so desperately desired. Chunk was my favorite Goonie. Now that I think about it, he may have actually helped shape me into the man I am today. He had an obvious unhealthy passion for good food. And now, proudly…so do I. Wish I could fist bump Chunk right now.

I mean, no good adventure flick is void of a villain. Enter the “Fratelli’s”. A notorious Italian family of criminals who printed their own money. 2 somewhat normal looking, yet moronic brothers, a 3rd exceptionally strong, but butt-ugly brother and a mom who might just have been more odious than her disfigured son. A repulsive woman. My eyes would water when she spoke. Like, if the Coronavirus had a voice, it’d sound just like Mama Fratelli.

Needless to say, when I heard that Springfield was getting a “Fratelli’s” restaurant downtown, my heart began to race like it does when I hear the name “Halle Berry” uttered. I just knew it was “them” and that I would be called-on to help the police pull back the curtain on their secret crime ring. But, then I started hearing rumors and whispers of it being a legit Italian restaurant, owned and operated by the Catanzaro brothers. I was torn. On 1 hand, I really wanted a chance for my childhood fantasy to be played-out in my adulthood. On the other hand, though, I longed for it to be an eatery that served up some mean Italian cuisine.

My son and I’s stomachs became belligerent a few days ago. We knew a delicious lunch would be the only way to stop the inhuman growls. So, we parked across from City Hall and took a pleasant stroll north to Fratelli’s. Unfortunately, we weren’t tied-up and held captive when we entered those doors, but here’s what we experienced nevertheless…

  • Atmosphere = 8.5 out of 10
  • Cleanliness = 8.0 out of 10
  • Bathrooms = 8.0 out of 10
  • Server (Torey) = 9.0 out of 10
  • Food Quality = 8.0 out of 10
  • Taste = 7.5 out of 10
  • Bang for the Buck = 6.5 out of 10
  • Overall Experience = 7.5 out of 10

Fratelli’s has only been open 2 weeks, but it seems they are figuring it out very quickly. To add another viable dining option to our growing downtown should be exciting for us all! I suspect that Fratelli’s will only continue to evolve and if their somewhat seamless start is any indication as to how they will operate in our beloved city, we who decide to frequent them are in for a real treat! undefinedundefinedundefined

Bravo, Fratelli’s. You’re building a sturdy foundation to bless our Springfieldian taste buds for many years to come. Oh and should you ever decide to add “making counterfeit money” to your “menu”………………….I want in.

Please leave your comments below. I’d love to hear what you think about this review and about your Fratelli’s experience.

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Hotblog. Like & Relish.

My passion for food is undeniable. The only thing I adore more than food is……………………………[crickets]. Wait. I’m suppose to say “God” and “My sons” there, aren’t I?

While, this blog will invariably encompass that which is edible, sometimes we’ll veer off a bit and talk beyond the ol’ proverbial “plate”. Sometimes, we’ll review local eateries. Other times, we’ll chat about life’s experiences (I’ll find a way to incorporate food in there somehow…I make ya that promise).

Life is unique for us all. It’s often fun to walk thru the door someone’s purposely left ajar. It can be a wild ride and highly entertaining. It can trigger emotion and leave ya breathless. As for my life, though, you might just find yourself thanking God all-the-more for yours lol. Perhaps you’ll smile your way thru some of it and if ya do, I pray that smile becomes contagious and does your body well. That “medicine” seems to be at a premium these days, but it’s the only “medicine” on the market containing zero adverse side effects and no label consisting of infinite paragraphs of tiny words you can’t physically read with human eyeballs, even with the aid of the most powerful and thick-lensed spectacles. That was a long, pretty meaningless sentence, but I won’t apologize for it. I blame the ultra-sweet sweet tea I guzzled just minutes ago.

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