Exactly Where I Need To Be

It’s 7:45 on an overcast Saturday morning and I can’t believe I’m already out on the road. Great time to drive, though; no traffic at all.  It’s easier to speed, too, and I steal a glance at the speedometer—five miles under the speed limit. God, when did I become such an old man? Eh…I continue going fifty anyway. It’s relaxing.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made this trip; the men’s prayer group used to be a regular Saturday jaunt, but it’s been awhile. The music’s low and the wind lullabies its lyrics through the slightly-open window, causing my mind to wander. When was the last time I attended? It was soon after Bill died…that’s right…and Buddy was terminal with cancer.

Buddy had been fighting a brave battle for awhile, so the group was prepared for his eventual outcome, but Bill just up and dropped dead one day. Completely out of the blue. He said something to his wife, sat down in his chair, made a raspy guttural sound, and was gone. He literally croaked. I liked Bill. He was a hoot. And I missed him. It’s funny how the mind wanders.

Buddy died not long after on a Sunday. The choir had just finished the anthem and was slowly shuffling down from the loft. As I waited graciously for the ladies to file out (being the Southern Gentleman I am), I thought of him at home under hospice care. Something within me said to skip the sermon and pay a visit, so during the commotion, I slipped out the side and headed over.

When I arrived, I rapped on the door’s window and walked in like I always did. His daughter, rubbing his feet with lotion, gazed up from the hospital bed in the living room and eked out a half-smile. There’s something about Christians and feet—an innate servile thing. “Mikey! Look Dad, Mike’s come to visit you.” Buddy was oblivious, with the rhythmic hum of the respirator the only sound coming from his direction. The scent of aloe vera lotion cloaked the smell of impending death with a cool freshness.

I sat by his side and held his hand, said hi and talked to him awhile. He died moments later, before church ended, surrounded by his loving family, another close friend from out-of-town…and me. Had I stayed for the rest of the service, I would never have had the chance to say goodbye, and I loved Buddy. His daughter was one of my best friends and he was my quirky surrogate uncle.

It was the first time I ever witnessed a person die. I called the hospice nurse for the family and tried to reach a staff member at church, but everyone was still in the service and the answering machine picked up. What to do? I left a message.

“Brian’s number’s on my cell phone on the counter,” came a shout from the living room.

I cocked my head and stared at the smartphone like Neanderthal Man, but took it outside and started randomly pushing buttons and tapping the screen like I knew what I was doing. Ugh! My trembling fingers had grown huge and clumsy and sweaty and I worried I’d drop the phone and break it before ever figuring out how to use the damn thing. The door swung open, banging against the inside cabinet, as the other family friend ran to get a box of tissues from her car. I waved her over. “Argh. Phone. Brian. Ugh,” grunted Neanderthal Man.

She connected me and went about her business, grabbing the Kleenex and dashing back up the stairs, slamming the door behind her. I mumbled the news to Brian, then cracked the door and set the phone on the counter and quietly left. As I pulled out of one end of the curved driveway, a flash in the mirror caught my eye. It was the nurse’s Bronco pulling into the other end. For some reason, I needed to be there for that moment, and then I needed to leave.

I think it was all in preparation for things to come, and that’s why my mind wanders there today. Today is the first time I’ll face anybody from my church since Mom died.

The parking lot is empty as I pull in and stub out my cigarette. No biggie, I’ve got a key. Armed with a huge travel mug of coffee, I make my way up the breezeway to the side door of the fellowship hall and let myself in. It’s dark and quiet…peaceful.

Normally I’d brew a pot of coffee for the guys, but I don’t even know if they still meet. I only know I should be here in case they do. Something compels me to stay.

The silver clock ticks 8:15 as I swig down another jolt of coffee, and it looks like it’s just going to be me and God today. I allotted an hour for the meeting, so an hour I will stay. The peace and undisturbed meditation should do me a world of good.

Being in a church all alone is a little weird. I scout around for something spiritual to read—a Bible, or better yet, a hymnal—because I feel like I’m supposed to be in prayerful devotion or something. Meandering down the hall to the choir room, I check out the current happenings on the bulletin boards and flip one of the lists to tomorrow’s date, wondering if anybody dedicated flowers to me for my birthday (no, they’re for a 16th anniversary). Oh, well.

New chairs in the choir room. A lot of changes in a short couple of months. The director has straightened the room and has it looking nice and organized, but where are the hymnals? A faded blue book sits atop a box in the corner, old and forgotten. It beckons.

Treasury of HymnsA Treasury of Hymns. I can barely make out the title; much of the gold embossing has worn away. “This will do,” I say out loud, as if there were someone else in the room to agree with me, then scurry back to the table where my coffee waits.

Glancing through the table of contents, I don’t recognize a single song title. The Spacious Firmament on High? Who uses firmament in a song? I close my eyes and picture a lanky old preacher with a long black coat, bad teeth, floppy Colonel Sanders tie, and a moth-eaten round brimmed hat. Jeebies. I flip further and see some old standards: Rock of Ages and Nearer My God to Thee and start humming while reading the words.

What year was this published? Turning to the front I discover it was 1953 by Simon and Schuster, but that’s not what grabs my attention. Inscribed is a note, dated 1955, to our former choir director from her mother, saying how proud she is of her musical service to the Lord.

A mother’s love.

I absolutely lose it. The fellowship hall has now become my private confessional, where I break down and cry out to God without words, only indecipherable gasps, sobs, and moans of heartache. But He knows exactly what I’m saying. He brought me here to have this conversation.

I don’t know exactly how long this goes on before finally calming to short, breathless whimpers, but I am exhausted. Amid the last of my panting and sniffling, in the dim silence of the room, I distinctly hear a soft voice, singing:

Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side.

Startled, my eyes scan the room and see no one, yet from somewhere unknown, the voice continues:

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.

Who IS that?

Leave to thy God to order and provide. In every change, He faithful will remain.

And then I realize the words, the music—this prayer in song—is coming from within me. I embrace the thoughts and finish the arrangement in full voice. It’s the first time I have sung in months, and it feels liberating. My burdens seem an eternity away.

It’s 9:00 and another car arrives; it’s the maintenance crew, here to repair and paint some lightning damage. That’s my cue to go as I slide my shades over puffy, tear-stained eyes and emerge into the comforting warmth of the sun. It was a great meeting.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with everything that life throws my way. This includes all the aspects of this writerly world: read, write, rewrite, read some more, blog, visit, comment, visit, comment, study, learn, revise, query, write, write, WRITE!

It’s easy to feel like I’m running in circles.

Perhaps this story is a little odd for a writer’s blog, but I tell it to show that, somehow, some way, I’m always exactly where I need to be, whether I recognize it at the time or not. To everything there is a purpose under heaven.

Had I not experienced the deaths of these church family members who were dear to me (and there were many others that year), I would have been ill-prepared to cope with the loss of my mom. God strengthened me for my biggest trial to come and I still felt like a weakling. I can’t imagine how broken I’d be if not for facing those earlier blows.

In hindsight, I see where He’s done that all my life; where He’s put me in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

I hear from other writers who tell me they should be doing this or doing that, who are ready to throw up their hands and quit, who cry out, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” As I contemplate that question, it dawns on me that I totally forgot about the Progressive Book Club this month…it just slipped my mind. Too many things on my plate have fallen by the wayside that I need to get back on track. I need to revise my novel. I need to finish that poem. I need to submit that short story. I need to write about Mom’s journey. I need to, I need to, I need to…

I begin to spazz out again.

And then I understand. Everything is on track. Everything is exactly where it is supposed to be. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. God will hand me everything I need long before I need it. I only have to trust.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And lean not unto your own understanding.
Acknowledge Him in all your ways
And He will direct your path.”
—Proverbs 3:5-6

I realize this post is much lengthier than I normally write, or the average blog reader wants to read, and I appreciate your attention. I simply had to write until it felt complete. But the story is not finished. There are many more chapters ahead—for me and for you. We’re all exactly where we need to be.

Peace,

ML Swift

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50 thoughts on “Exactly Where I Need To Be

  1. Oh Mike– what a journey you have and are on. But what a peaceful place to feel like you’re exactly, pain and all, where you should be in this moment. And really, that’s all we have– complete with all the feelings, emotions, and decisions this day carries. Cast all your cares– you’re doing that. Blessings to you as you take today’s step, then tomorrow’s and the path unfolds for you.

    1. Thanks Julie. I began to write what I thought would be a short anecdote, but the words just flowed. Sorry if it got a little long, but even the telling relieved me of some heaviness. And Buddy’s wife was very touched, so that was a blessing in itself.

      Thanks for always coming by and being so supportive.

  2. Mike, Amen. That was just beautiful as well as bittersweet. God does prepare us and wherever we are in life, if we are still devoted to Him, we are where we are supposed to be. He’s always with us, even when we don’t think we can handle it. Most of the time we can’t. But He can.

    1. Alex, thank you. I know from your posts and comments that God is in your life in a mighty way, and your words ring so true. I appreciate you and am blessed to call you friend.

  3. This post really touched me as my Dad died last year and I was with him when he died. Seeing a person die is a powerful experience to say the least. I used to work for hospice many years ago and was with many people when they passed, and I do think this may have helped prepare me for the time when hospice came into my own life to care for my dad.

    I have been spazzing out a lot lately about writing things so this post spoke to me in that way as well. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Julie. Yes, I was with my mom in the moment that she passed. It tore me up. I really miss her and needed a day like Saturday to work through a little more of the grief.

      I never feel caught up in my writing or blogging, but instead of letting it overwhelm me anymore, I know that I’m right where I need to be.

      Thanks for coming by.

  4. This post isn’t strange at ALL for a writer’s blog: you’re writing your story. You’re telling us stories, and that, like Jeannette Winterson says, is entirely the point.

    Even more to the point, you told a beautiful, vulnerable, moving story with your heart shining through every word. What more could any reader want?

    Thank you for sharing this will all of us – with me.

    1. Thanks, Liz.

      You make a point. This may not be your typical writer’s “lesson,” but then again, I’m not your typical writer and this has never been a typical blog.

      I appreciate your words. They meant a lot.

    1. I hope this helped with feelings of grief around your grandfather, Morgan. I thought of you as I wrote. You are a blessing to others (me, included) and may you be blessed tenfold. Thanks for coming.

  5. Mike, Do not apologize for length when it is so obviously a cathartic and beautiful outpouring of your heart. This is a wonderful post. It reminded me of something I miss from my ministry years…I love being in a sanctuary alone. As the janitor, decorator, pastors wife and a worshipper who loved to sneak in and be alone for hours at a time! Wonderful peace when alone with God in a place that is dedicated for that purpose.
    Thank you for that sweet memory and for being so real with us Mike.
    Susie

    1. Susie…there have been many times I’ve been alone in the church, doing things, getting prepared for an event, even cleaning the sanctuary, but this experience was totally different. This was a closeness to God that was as individual as it can get. And refreshing.

      Thanks for coming by, and for sharing the post on Facebook. Bless you.

  6. oh my…that was so beautifully written, so grateful that Susie shared it. What an honor to come into that place with you, and KNOW that God had me right where He wanted me to be in that moment. Thank you for sharing your heart and story with us all. Feel honored to have a glimpse of you…you, and your writing are a gift…

    1. Christine,

      I’m glad that you followed the link and came by. God and spirituality are very important to me and I see everything as one of His Divine Acts. I may not see it at the time, but it always works out that way.

      I am blessed that you were touched by this. Thank you for your kind words.

  7. Very beautifully crafted memoir Mike. It’s an engaging read, and I don’t think any writer will think it’s out of place. Wonderful that you feel encouraged to return to your writing.

    1. Thanks, Charmaine. I’ve been hit and miss on the creative writing (mainly miss), but have a newfound energy and desire to start cranking out some words again. I appreciate your words. You’re so busy and I haven’t had time to go by all your sites, but I will! Hugs.

  8. I am so glad I ran across this today. For the past week I have been wanting to touch base with you to see how things are going. Well done, sir. Love and miss you and hope to see you again very soon!

    1. Kristin,

      What a treat it is to find you here! Yeah…it was a bit of an experience at the church. Things are going…eh…and I find myself randomly breaking into tears, but it passes. It’s hard. Thanks for coming by (I deleted the MaestroK comment, since it was a duplicate). Love and miss you, too, and I’ll see you soon.

  9. Swifty,

    Wow. I first read this from my phone this morning. Since then I have been all shook up, in a good way. This morning I couldn’t comment because I was wiping tears from my eyes. For me it is the very rare moment, when I let someone inside to know what I feel and where I hurt. In reality, my wife and my kids to a smaller extent are the only ones that I let in there. I try hide my feelings and be a nasty onion. You can peel me open but I am going to make it painful.

    I admire your openness and your willingness to allow people like me a front row seat into your soul. It is so refreshing to find a man like you.

    I have always believed that nothing can separate me from the Love of God. Because the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts. I also believe that prayers are more than a spiritual e-mail to be read by God. I see a prayer as an opportunity to dispatch one of my Guardian Angels directly to you. That Angel will arrive full of Faith, Hope and Love as a gift from me to you.

    I am sorry about the loss of your friends. I am sorry about the loss of your Mom. I am so thankful that you are able to turn towards God during your time of need. I am so excited that you found the special closeness to God. And I am proud of you for finding the courage to get back into life.

    Love You My Brother!

    rob

    1. Rob,

      I’m touched. Truly touched. I’m glad the post moved you, and thanks for telling me just how much. That itself was courageous.

      As men, we don’t like to say we’re weak…vulnerable. But I am finding that the more I express who I truly am, the better writer I become.

      Thank you for your support and your friendship. Both are invaluable assets.

      Mike

  10. All I can say is “Wow!” Normally, I don’t read blog posts as long as this one. I tend to scroll down and decide if it’s interesting enough for me to keep reading. (Sorry, but it’s true.) But, yours sucked me right in. It was so well written and I just HAD to read until the end. And I agree with the others who said this IS a writerly blog post. It’s a wonderful memoir-type writing that I love (especially since that’s my genre!) As I wrote my memoir, I began to look at certain things differently; certain people, situations, etc. It’s the most cathartic writing there is, in my opinion. And I’m still writing….working on the sequel! Thank you for sharing such intimate feelings. It’s truly rare for so many people/writers….especially men. Oh, and one more thing. Here is part of one of my mantras that goes with your thoughts about being where you’re supposed to be:
    “….I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.” — Joseph Campbell

    1. Becky,

      Thank you so much for your kind words! Where this came from, Lord knows, but it just spilled right out of me needing to be told.

      Yes (and there’s no shame in it), sometimes length can scare me away from a post before ever really giving it a chance. But like you said, if it’s engaging enough, before you know, you’re done with it. I’m glad mine was engaging enough to carry you through to the end.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Mike, just sitting here with tears close to coming out. Thank you so much for posting this. You’re right.

    So often, things happen in our lives that we don’t understand, that makes us want to doubt in God’s love. But everything, even if our comprehension is imperfect is for our own good.

    1. Thank YOU, Crystal, for confirming that this story wasn’t such a bad idea. After I put it out there, I was very insecure in what its reception might be. I’m glad you liked it.

  12. Your title says it all, your story confirms the truth of it. I too need to sit back, breathe, and know I am where I need to be! Thank you! So very well told, the length matters not!

    1. Such kind words, Yolanda! I was truly worried about the length. Thought people would take one look and run…but if I could just grab them with a good beginning that would keep them reading to the next sentence, the next word, there was a good message waiting at the end.

      Thanks for coming by. 🙂

  13. A very touching post, Mike. My condolences on your losses and I always believe that the Lord has a plan…whether we like it, or not.

    Sending peaceful thoughts your way.

  14. “Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side.” I’m writing that down and putting it in my pocket!! I often have the feeling that my mind is racing, but my body is getting so little done. And I sometimes find myself doing the 40ish lady thing of missing life as it was when all my peeps were with me, but then I have to remind myself this world is only a temporary stop, enjoy the scenery and be ready to move on when the whistle blows. Sorry for your losses. We know they are in a better placem but it’s hard not to miss them.

  15. Mike, this was absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing from your heart. I marvel at the timing of our meeting–you and I both working to come to terms with our grief.

    This was cathartic to read, I’m sure it was cathartic to write. It helps, doesn’t it?

    And as I am so gently reminded each of my days, we are all so vulnerable in our human existence. No man is an island, and no man is alone.

    Beautifully written, I wish you peace and gentle healing,
    Christy

    1. Christy,

      Thanks for coming by for this one. It was a cathartic write. I’ve been unable to release much of this…it trickles out. Sometimes explodes, like in this vignette. So I appreciate your affinity for my guts on the wall. 🙂

      Seriously, thanks again.

    1. No, thank you, Jennie. I appreciate the fact that this spoke to you. I understand the busyness of a parent, and your post today was spot-on about taking care of yourself. I hope this reflection helps you continue to do just that.

  16. And this story is exactly where it needs to be, Mike – here, at your home in cyberspace, shared with all of us. It’s an honor. You live and write with a pure heart and soul. You are a blessing to the world. [But please, Mike, do not create another “meme.” That word must be banned, because nobody knows what it means!]

    Back on point, I’m proud of you for sharing this story and I look forward to more. Thanks for all your efforts to comment on my blog, and I’m sorry it took a while for me to visit. So glad I did.

    Hugs to you,
    xoRobyn

    1. It’s like a block on bloglovin to not allow your comment box to pull up. And I don’t know how to tell you to fix it, either, but other comment boxes I have no problem with.

      I still don’t have an official OED definition of the word meme. I thought it was a Hawaiian goose.

      Thanks for your kind comments on the post. I just started writing about everything having a purpose in life and that’s where it ended up.

  17. A beautiful post. I’m glad you shared this, which shows not only your heart and your love for God, but also relates to so many of us in several ways. It’s so easy to forget that God does guide our steps if we are faithful, even in sadness, anger, when we’re anxious or when we fight where we’re at right now. Though it was quite a long post (I did skim to the bottom, read your last paragraph and returned to the top), I feel blessed to have read this.

    Thanks for coming by – I’d missed your comments.

  18. I have to say the first para freaked me out. I thought, how are you driving and typing at the same time? You’re gonna crash! (Pretty dumb, huh?) It’s great you have a place to go where you feel welcome and find such support. Have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

  19. It’s amazing, isn’t it? I mean those moments when you hear what’s inside you and find the message has the exact meaning you need at that moment–even if it releases a lot of pain that you must experience. That kind of listening requires silence and I find that silence on my hikes alone. You find yours in your church. We must all find the places to BE and to hear.

    1. I find silence and time with a divine presence in all places; this time it happened to be in church. Most times it’s while I mow or walk or am waiting in a doctor’s office or something. It could be quiet or bustling…it happens when it happens.

      I think the common denominator is to be open to a voice…to be receptive to what the universe has to say to you. And then act on it.

      Thanks for coming by, Lee. 🙂

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