Beej- Christmas 1987
Dad and Eric--1988; the summer I won custody. Vacation, Ocean City, Maryland
Beej-- SanFrancisco 1999 and 1985
Dear Kids; A couple of months ago I had a patient where I work who was an editor for 'Guide Posts', a little magazine that was founded by Norman Vicent Peale the pastor from Pawling who also founded 'The Foundation for Christian Living (FCL) (now the Peale Center for Christian Living). I told him how Dr. Peale helped me and how I unexpectedly met him one day.
It inspired me to put the little Peale story down....it certainly doesn't tell the Whole story but gives a little picture....a thumbnail, so to speak.
In the fall of 1985 I was forced to put my kids in foster care, the same month my brother Philip lapsed into a coma on our mother’s living room floor, he died 54 hours later at the age of 33 from liver failure, due to seventeen years of a slow self-murder. I had hit the bottom ….hit the wall…all that was dear to me was gone or slipping away. Jarred eye-popping awake from the sirens of insanity, I had to find the courage to change……everything.
With my daughter Brittney (two) and my son Eric (eight) now in foster care with the state of
Now I was on the verge of leaving and losing my kids, the blame game was over, I was going to be a father, I had no real clue much less a template but I was going to be a father……… I had no idea of the battle that lay ahead, only an intense sense that it was up to me and no one else.
I was scared.
Little did I know how uncertain and tough this fight it would be, Little did I know of the trials, the tribulations that faced me; inter-state government agencies unbendable in proving my fathership, the suitable housing, psychological evaluations, the home studies, the “right job”, the “proof” of my parenting skills. A bureaucratic behemoth-like microscope to be sure, but the demons within me were the real fight….these demons were invisible, unrecognizable, unidentifiable….but identifiably imbedded in my very soul…..I was wracked with self-loathing and a self-esteem that was barely measurable.
During this shaky attempt of a comeback and it’s bright-with-hope road to fatherhood…. There were two books that became instrumental in these new uncharted waters—and now, these many years later, for the first time, I recently looked back on these two yellow, crumply paperbacks, the folded and torn dog eared pages, the underlined and highlighted passages, my scribbled notes along their paged borders, I can see, feel and remember…..the little light in this soul of mine. Although many times, barely a glimmer, it was a passionate glimmer, a glimmer of light called faith.
The first book-- “THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED”- “A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth” by M. Scott Peck ( 1978-Simon and Schuster). In it’s inside cover my friend Irene wrote, “ To Michael, Sometimes after the roads we’ve traveled, we have to look at the ‘road less traveled’. With warm regards, Irene” This book was, for me, remarkably painful to read. It cried out and screamed my truth to me….I cried while it taught me “to feel is to heal.”
I had found “the right job” in
In Pawling, as I would drive in and out of the village I would pass a campus-like compound. On it’s gate read “The Foundation for Christian Living” (FCL). Although the word “cult” did enter my mind…it seemed like an odd but welcoming place. And besides, anything connected with faith……I would make a beeline to, especially in these very jittery times.
I discovered that F.C.L.(and Pawling) was the home of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale the well-known pastor of
While visiting FCL’s book store, there was one book that jumped off it’s shelf with it’s pink cover and blaring title;
“Over Three Million Copies Sold” “Norman Vincent Peale” “The Greatest Inspirational Bestseller Of Our Time” “THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING”—“Read This Book & Change Your Life!”
I opened the book to it’s first chapter and read the first line; “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities!” I bought the book.
In the months leading up to my placing of the children in foster care….I would feel the simmer of my family’s demise, the craziness, the lunacy. I could sense it, know it was there, but my wife and I were left clueless time and again of how our demons had us by the ears, dragging us through this muck of madness ad infinitum. I contemplated suicide and then sit at night in the closet crying while reading the bible as hard as I could……maybe my death would save them or maybe God would save us, we needed to be saved…to be rescued. I couldn’t stand the pain and utter confusion anymore, It was the only way I could see….supernatural intervention.
I had a friend who was a self-described “born again”, a Christian …. swearing to me how Jesus had saved and changed his life, He asked me to come with him to his Pentecostal church….it would make a difference he promised. I had my doubts.
While living in
But it didn’t matter anymore, I was desperate and ready for complete surrender. My friend promised and I took him up on it....ready for a miracle. God had to save my family, envisioning a great swirling descending cloud of supernatural intercession that would cleanse us, purify us, finally, of this chronic mayhem. Little did I know that most of the time, for most of us, it starts within….as an inside job.
It was a Palm Sunday that would lay the foundation, opening me up for the “swirling descending cloud” that would “tune me up….turn me ‘round” for that inside job. I accompanied my friend and his wife to the Pentecostal church in
It was a rousing and spirited service lead by an inspired pastor who would thrust the crowd to it’s feet during his sermons. At the end of the sermon, as the music would softly sift and resonate through the congregation, scores of parishioners would have arms raised, many with tears streaming, outstretched arms with palms waving and pushing to the sky as if ready to levitate towards God’s pulsing beacon of Love…it was very real that morning….the air vibrated with the Energy of the Spirit….this pure power of Faith was bona fide and self-evident.
After many minutes of this tender and magical expression, the pastor asked all who were ready to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior to come down to the podium to be saved and put right. With eyes wet, I went down with about thirty others to be released and delivered.
With his new expectant flock tightly packed against the platform, our heads followed his every effusive and pacing move. Amid arms flailing and neck veins bulging, he admonished the Satan in our hearts, I could feel the steam from his words, We all felt it, how could anybody not, this rising volcanic rumble of consecration.
Preacher man suddenly whipped around, both hands and fingers wagging, thrusting them all in my direction, seemed to look me straight in the eye and growled, “Who over here has been thinking of suicide?”
Well, that’s all it took….I broke down, buckled and collapsed to the floor weeping….not just tear duct weeping but all duct weeping……nasal slop, tear slop, balling like a newborn.
He asked the flock to lay their hands on me, asked the congregation to pray as the choir began to sing “Amazing Grace”. Sounds like a movie? This is what happened, I wept and I wept….I thanked God, I felt Jesus, I felt “born again.” Little did I know how I was saved, just then, for that “inside job” down the line.
It was the fall of 1986 in Pawling and as I was diving head first in preparation of my new child-friendly home with hope, love and “The Joy of Cooking,” I was also diving feet first into the new job, “the right job”…..the right job? I was selling cars. I never sold a sack of tomatoes much –less an automobile… I was terrified. I would stand in the middle of the show room floor in my new tie and get-up… with wave after wave of overwhelm crashing against my lungs…”what am I doing here?”….I really was terrified!. I was much more comfortable in “menial” jobs; driving taxi’s and collecting rents for skeevy apartment buildings, nursing home/hospital orderly, cable TV guy…etc. I never graduated high school, college was another planet…..I was thirty five and a recently retired blame game pro.
I looked pretty good and spoke pretty good….I liked people…so I guess when you put these three things in a tie and jacket….you sell cars. Guess it was the right job at the right time! Although it took awhile to figure out the calculator….I did all right. All through-out though my dark ever-so-familiar friends of fear, shame and self-loathing… would lie in wait, persistently nipping at my loafers. And then to be sure that I was still vulnerable and not to far from their virulent grip, I would more often than not take a head-on assault by these wretched little fellows….necessitating a sudden jog to a far end lot of used cars for a prayer and a breath. I ran scared on many fronts; single father-ship…alone father-ship; no auntie Beatties, cousin Bobs or uncle Franks….zip, I was alone. The State of
The State had me fighting scared, while Dr. Peale was showing me where there was a will ….God’s will… and a faith…there was a way. “The Power of Positive Thinking” with Dr. Peale rode and walked with me everywhere, sat in my desk top drawer, accompanied me to the bathroom and on a sunny hillside afternoon. The book was a daily source of strength, helped to teach me prayer, trust, attitude, faith and perspective; “Sometimes Heaven is just a new pair of spectacles”.
After a Chinese dinner during this time, I opened my cookie…the little slip said “God helps those that help themselves”, that little slip floated ‘round my wallet for a long time. Peale’s message in cookie.
Recently, on one very yellow and crumply page (120), I found a prayer that I had highlighted (among many lines) and utilized countless times; “I believe I am always divinely guided, I believe I will always make a way where there is no way.” Amen. I also got to know Dr. Peale through his “prayer-line”…..a local Pawling number that I would call andto listen to his two minute recorded voice expounding daily prayer and affirmation, I’d sit down with my morning coffee, close my eyes. He’d speak directly to me in his warm gravely way, energizing me with strength and hope for the day.
My kids were in a foster home together (thankfully) in central
It was a maddening slow, frustrating process. For many, many months I would drive to
“The Power of Positive Thinking” was first published (Prentice-Hall) in 1952 and arguably became the father of the huge self-help movement that we enjoy and can become so easily confused…by it’s sheer immensity…today. It was a simple and easy message to appreciate. Solidly conveyed through the Christian vernacular that so many could understand. It has been sold over 20 million times in 41 languages.
Peale is also the person who was most responsible for bringing psychology into the Church, mixing the psychological with the spiritual…..the inside job. This model whether it being eastern or western religion or a hybrid….is the integration of psychology and spirituality now being utilized more than ever into this new millennium.
Unfortunately and sadly, fanaticism and man’s religious ego is rampant…. “Our way is the ONLY way”, and the mind boggling phenomenon of the suicide terrorist… “I’ll show you, I’ll kill me!“ Ego (In the name of God) run amuck….Edge God Out (EGO).
Peale denied the necessity of believing in the virgin birth, and contended that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists….all were “right” in their paths! Christ was one of the ways. And for me, Christ was huge, always will be with me, on this path. It’s my belief that God essentially is of the Heart. But there are miracles everyday…big and small….not just inside job miracles like my resurrection in the Pentecostal church but miracles that are only explainable (as if such a thing can or even should be “explainable”) by God or spirit intervention. These happenings are all around us everyday. As in the power of prayer, the power of faith, the power of belief!
In these last years I have been a clear witness to this power, most intensely when I began to research my family history, parent’s careers and my other family’s demise, and the pain that it would bear, strange happenings, over and over that kept pointing me back-to-track, confirming “that you have to do this!” I even coined a word to help me make sense in the midst of this swirl…
1-Concidence of multiple events that occur in a synchronous/ simultaneous and fortunate (?) way.
2- celestial orchestration beyond the five senses.
But all this has become and continues to become fodder for another (sometimes beyond my understanding) project for this very reluctant new-fangled writer.
Here’s the last couple of paragraphs from Dr. Peale’s EPILOGUE from “The Power of Positive Thinking”:
“I wrote this book out of a sincere desire to help you. It will give me great happiness to know that this book has helped you. I have absolute confidence and belief in the principles and methods outlined in this volume. They have been tested in the laboratory of spiritual experience and practical demonstration. They work when worked.”We may never meet in person, but in this book we have met. We are spiritual friends. I pray for you. God will help you—so believe and live successfully.” Norman Vincent Peale
In late November of ’86 I went to the local Grand
God bless you too Dr. Peale, God Bless you too!
Our first 'Joy of Cooking' Thanksgiving as a'threesome.'