David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Jesus”

Not for Men

“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  

                                                      –Colossians 3:17


Growing up Catholic, I had the opportunity to serve as an altar boy. My brothers and I started soon after we received our First Communion, and I served from third grade until well after high school. If the priest emerged from the sacristy with one or both of the altar boys absent, there was an obligation (and expectation) to leave the comfort of the pew, hurry to the back of the sanctuary, throw on a cassock and surplice, and join him as he opened the mass. I would have rather remained with the congregation, a mere observer and not a direct participant, but when duty called, I always answered.

Being on regular rotation meant I had to be available to serve as either the cross-bearer (and bell-ringer) or the book-bearer, not only on Sundays but during the week as well. When school was in session, mass took place at 7:00 in the evening, and during summer vacation, church started at 8:00 in the morning. Nine times out of ten we had to find our way to church on our own, traversing the one-and-a-half miles from home and back either on foot or on our bicycles. Many times one of my brothers and I hoofed it through snow, ice, and rain to make it on time to silently and respectfully (i.e., no giggling or horsing around) don our sacred vestments and queue up in front of the priest.

For the most part I didn’t mind serving. I fulfilled my duties when I was on the schedule, and I substituted when other boys didn’t fulfill theirs. For the ten or eleven years I served, however, one thing made always made me feel uncomfortable: emerging from the sacristy when the church was completely empty, accompanied only by the echoes of our swishing vestments or the squeaking of the priest’s black shoes. This seemed to happen more often in the evenings during the school year than in the mornings while on summer break.

I don’t know why it bothered me so much, but in the back of my mind I always hoped the priest would cancel mass so I could get back home and play Space Invaders or Breakout. He never did. And it seemed someone always showed up at the last minute to fill a seat or two. I don’t remember what prompted the priest one day to provide an answer to my question of why he officiated mass even when no one was in attendance, but I do remember the answer: “God is here.” And that was enough.

For years—decades—I did things only to serve myself, to bring attention to myself. I remember buying a knock-off Rolex watch soon after I graduated from college and had a real, paying job. I wore that watch to my grandmother’s funeral, not missing the chance to show it off to my family and later confessing it wasn’t a real Rolex but a cheap Chinese-made copy. For years—decades—I did things only to serve myself, even to the point of convincing myself that the foolish ways I sometimes handled money aligned with my own will for me to write for a living rather than carry out the duties supernaturally assigned to me by the Father. For years—decades—I did things only to serve myself, never really bothering to ask God what He had in mind for me, always assuming the burning desires of my heart and not my present reality were what God meant for me. As a consequence I lead a life of James 1:8 double-mindedness that cost me not only financially, but also relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. Lucky for me God was ready to pluck me out of the pit of failure when my way didn’t work. Again.

Thus the reason it’s been a year since I’ve written a blog post. My way didn’t work. My expectations completely misaligned with God’s desire for my life, a desire way bigger than me. But the Father, in His infinite kindness, let me barrel down the highway of selfishness, and the Father, in His infinite mercy, led me back to Himself with a soft whisper and a harsh lesson, yet another teacher gathered with all the other teachers He’s sent.

“Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,” the prophet Isaiah wrote, “your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, ‘Away with you!’” (Isaiah 30:20-22, NIV®).

I tearfully, humbly, confessed to my wife, Mary, that I’d failed in this writing endeavor, and I apologized for putting us into a stressful financial situation. “You didn’t fail,” she insisted over and over. “Look what we got instead!” A paid-for fixer-upper as the chasm between income and outgo opened its jaws wide in an attempt to swallow us up monetarily. Freedom from a mortgage. Lower bills. Our own little piece of the country, our own little corner of the lake. Flexibility in work schedule, more family time. But most importantly, a lesson in perspective and alignment of expectations. What failed is doing it my way instead of God’s way. What failed is putting myself first rather than God first. What failed is the enemy’s attempts for me to serve the idol of self-sufficiency and not the God of all Providence. A realization that, as a man of God, my work is not for me or for other men, but for the Creator of man Himself. My teachers are no longer hidden, and what lessons they have taught!

So, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others” (Colossians 3:23 NABRE), I am now seeking to live my life for the Lord moment-by-glorious moment. As a planner and a worrier, this is sometimes hard. As a people-pleaser cut from the Proverbs 29:25 cloth, this is sometimes painful. As a self-focused introvert, this is sometimes excruciating. And so I write this blog with no more expectations that you will find it and read it; I do it to serve the Lord as He gives me the words to share for His glory. I do it because I’ve been called to be a light to His people and a witness to His glory, enjoying my Daddy. If you benefit from it, then praise be to God, but I’m now doing it to praise God. Period. As the priest answered my question as to why he officiated mass even when no one was in attendance, his simple answer is one of those teachers Isaiah spoke of: “God is here.”

Isn’t that enough?



Copyright © 2017 by David C Hughes


Don’t Look Back (2016-02-12 Daily)

Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac.

A little voice inside my head said:

“Don’t look back, you can never look back.”

—Don Henley, “The Boys of Summer”


I pull open the darkly-tinted glass doors and step inside the bowling alley, my brother Ron tagging along behind me. The doors swing shut with a clunk, abruptly cutting off the stream of bright sunshine slicing across the brown patterned carpet. Why is walking into a bowling alley like stepping into a time machine? I wonder. I glance at the chrome-plated cigarette machine standing next to the ancient candy dispenser. Cellophane-wrapped packs of Camels, Winstons, and Kools stare at me through the yellowed Plexiglas. A single guttering fluorescent tube illuminates the case. Bowlers wearing shirts stylish in the 1950s sit at burnt-orange tables and change into multi-colored bowling shoes. No wonder they keep the lighting so dim in here, I think. Who’d want to be seen dressed like that in broad daylight?

I adjust the bowling bag strapped over my shoulder and hustle past the U-shaped front desk toward the far end of the alley. Ron and I scope out the lanes glimmering in the dull light—many are still open, but I feel a sense of urgency to choose one, knowing the alley will soon fill up.

“Look what I got, Dave,” Ron calls. I stop. He hands me a box. The search for the perfect lane is suddenly forgotten.

“Oh my gosh,” I breathe. “Where’d you get this?” He remains silent as I take the box, a  model kit of Richard Petty’s blue and red Dodge Charger from the heyday of his racing career. The #43 is emblazoned on the roof and doors. STP is splashed across the hood. The kit includes not only the car but the van and the trailer as well. “I had one of these when I was a kid,” I tell him. But he knows that—for years the sloppily-painted van, trailer, and car sat on a shelf in the bedroom we shared when we were kids. The box is yellowed, the colors faded, like a Kodachrome photo from the 1970s. To me it’s a treasure, a time capsule, a breath from the past. I open the box, dig through the white sprues holding the parts, and fish out the instruction manual. I flip it over. 1969. Holy cow, it’s an original! I am totally absorbed by it. Totally mesmerized. Totally distracted.

After gawking at the box for Lord knows how long, I look up. The alley is buzzing with dozens of bowlers. All the prime lanes are now full. “C’mon,” I blurt. “Let’s find an open lane.” I give the box back to Ron and we move from one end of the alley to the other. The only lanes available are the two against the walls, and both of those are, for some reason, curved, hilly, and badly-lit, like a backwoods road. The only straight lane remaining leads not to a rack of pins but to a utility closet. I can see the yellow mop bucket behind the half-opened door. We’ve missed out big time.

I wake up.


The dream lingered while I stood in the shower, warm water splashing over my head. The night before, Hannah and I had watched Napoleon Dynamite, the surprisingly successful indie movie that debuted more than two decades ago. To me Napoleon Dynamite was an accidental gem—I had no idea what it was about when I walked into the cinema in 2004, and being one of the only adults in a theater full of tweeners and teenagers somewhat disconcerted me. But after the wedding scene closed and the lights came up, I knew exactly what the word “guffaw” meant. I even owned a “Vote for Pedro” T-shirt. So when I sat on the couch with Hannah that evening, munching popcorn and laughing out loud at the total absurdity of such a dysfunctional family living under a cloud of delusional fantasy, the deeper meaning of the movie’s theme came to light: the past can be a pitfall.

From Grandma’s wood-paneled, split-level house to Kip’s clunky CRT monitor to Deb’s side pony and Glamour Shots studio to Napoleon’s cassette Walkman, the entire town of Preston, Idaho, in 2004 appears to be bogged down, if not completely mired, in the 70s and 80s. Time and its ability to transform yesterday into tomorrow has passed it by, it seems. But the character most obviously stricken with unhealthy nostalgia is Uncle Rico.

Wearing a too-tight blue polyester T-shirt with a white bib, hair rolling over his ears, he spends the entire movie lamenting his high school football coach’s decision to not put him in the game at the last minute. Back in 1982. “Ohhhh, man I wish I could go back in time,” he says to Kip, his face contorted with frustration at the memory. “I’d take state.” His desire to go back to 1982 and change history drives him to purchase a “time machine” online, which, of course, does nothing but administer an electric shock to body parts most sensitive to the direct application of 120 volts A.C. “Don’t you ever wish you could go back with all the knowledge you have now?” he asks. My answer to Uncle Rico’s question? Yes, sometimes I do.

At the office where I work we listen to ‘80’s music, and there are days when that music stirs in me a nostalgic pang. Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ‘69” reminds me of a fishing expedition I took with several college buddies one cool summer evening on the Raquette River in Potsdam, New York. “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” takes me back to dollar Heinekens, 10 cent Buffalo wings, and dancing at the Rusty Nail. “Conga” by Miami Sound Machine transports me back to the summer of 1985, when I worked at IBM in Boca Raton, Florida. I dressed like Sonny Crockett and spent evenings after work playing Kadima on the beach. I made Top 40 mix tapes (I still have them), appreciated The Thompson Twins, relaxed with Frankie, and experienced the rise of Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna. I saw U2, Genesis, and Elton John in concert, and even now “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” brings back memories of old relationships.

But why does the past hold such attraction? Why do we long to relive the “glory days” Bruce Springsteen sang about? I mean, for me it wasn’t exactly easier back then—I had to make $25 stretch for a week. We turned the thermostat down to 55 degrees at night in the house we rented at college to keep our monthly gas bill affordable. I never ate so much overcooked spaghetti or Ramen Noodles in my life. And The Rocky Horror Picture Show really was a pretty bad movie, saved only by the antics of a crowd who answered dialog with lines of their own and threw toast into the air at the prescribed time. Oh, and because Meatloaf was in it. So . . . why does the past hold such attraction?

Perhaps, despite its difficulties, the past was simpler. Or perhaps, as Uncle Rico implied, the past still holds unaddressed problems, unanswered questions, unmitigated experiences, unrequited loves, and unconfessed sins. Maybe it’s because life-changing decisions flew at me like tennis balls launched from a pitching machine—I connected with a few of them, but the majority sailed on by. Or maybe it’s because I looked at opportunities in the face and walked away from them because I was too afraid to do anything about them. Or maybe, just maybe, the past still calls out because I’m a product of it, sweetly reminding me that the entire tapestry of who I am now is woven out of the threads of who I was back then. I smile at that, secure in the knowledge that, like Fleetwood Mac sang, “I wanna go back / (can’t go back, can’t go back).” Yes, Uncle Rico, sometimes I do wish I could go back, but miss all this now? Never.

Like the model car kit in my dream, the past can be a huge distraction, an idol we worship either subtly or obsessively. Dwell on it too long and we can miss the now. Worse, we can miss forever. In whatever way we bow down to it, the past can take us captive in our own minds. What regrets have you held onto that have kept you from moving forward? What missed opportunities do you dwell on that turn your eyes away from seeking God’s face in the here and now? What failures have derailed you from this moment and left you sidelined, ineffective for the Kingdom of God? You may be able to throw a football over the mountains, but if you don’t pick up the ball in the first place, your capabilities and intentions are moot. It’s imperative, then, to root out and destroy those strongholds before you too jump onto eBay and place the winning bid on a useless time machine. Or, worse, a vintage model kit.

Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 NIV®). And in Matthew chapter 6, Jesus taught the people to ask the Father for “our daily bread,” and to not worry about tomorrow, “for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34 NIV®). Jesus commanded us to resist the temptation to dwell on the past and thus become trapped by it. And likewise, not to worry about the future, either. Live for today clothed in the tapestry of all the yesterdays, comforted but unencumbered by it.

At the end of Napoleon Dynamite, Pedro, the transfer student from Mexico, looks up and smiles knowingly after winning the election to become the new class “presidente.” Kip leaves town with LaFawnduh, his online soul mate. Uncle Rico’s estranged wife, Tammy, rides up to his travel trailer on a bicycle. And Deb, sans side pony, accepts Napoleon’s invitation to play a round of tetherball on the school playground. In the end, everyone seems to come of age, even Uncle Rico. In the end, the movie suggests, everything will be all right. In the end, as Depeche Mode sings, “I promise you.”



Copyright © 2016 by David C Hughes


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