It’s all come down to this . . . after more than two years simmering in the crockpot of imagination, research, inspiration, and prayer, it’s my humble honor to serve to you the first course of The Epiphany of Joy. I’m excited about posting the debut installment of this work-in-progress, and I’m even more excited to read your feedback, suggestions, and anecdotes to help move this project to formal release in book form (target for submission is June 2014). As I prepped the first few chapters for draft release, this process reminded me of how Charles Dickens published his works, starting with Sketches by Boz in 1833. Blogging provides a new twist on serialization, and I love that this work-in-progress is not solely my work, but our work. God revealed this to me during a worship service at New River Fellowship a year ago: “This is your resource,” He said, meaning the people surrounding me, worshiping, giving their all. Yes, you and I together will bring this book into a world sorely in need of a change of perspective.
So here’s the plan: once or twice a week I’ll post a quarter to a half of each chapter, starting with the first half of the Introduction today. First and foremost, please enjoy each post. Of course, you don’t have to respond to it, but I welcome your feedback, good, bad, or ugly. More importantly, please share your thoughts, anecdotes, and experiences on the topic at hand, and let me know if you’re okay with me including your inputs in future chapters and revisions of the book.
Thanks to all of you who have already contributed to this project, whether it be through an interview, an email, a text, a comment on my blog page, a kind word, or your thoughts and prayers. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
So without further ado, I present to you . . . . The Epiphany of Joy!
THE EPIPHANY OF JOY
David C. Hughes
[Installment 1 of 2]
. . .do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
–Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”
It happened January 2011 during a men’s retreat in Lake Fork, Texas. God wrote a letter to me. And the scales fell off my eyes . . . .
He followed up in June 2011 while on a business trip to Buffalo, New York. God spoke to me. And my world changed . . . .
A week later, while sparring with the devil in the shower, God whispered to me. And things solidified . . . .
I was raised a child of the 60’s and 70’s, immersed in a middle-class, hard-working, country-boy environment. Dad worked for IBM in Endicott, New York, the first of his immediate family to transition out of a blue-collar upbringing in southwestern Pennsylvania into the white-collar world of Big Blue. I grew up in the rural town of Maine, New York, with two younger brothers and a baby sister in a 1200-square-foot ranch-style house. The joke was our town contained more cows than people. The smell, especially on stagnant mid-summer afternoons, testified to the verity of that claim.
My parents instilled in my siblings and me a strong family experience, a Catholic Church-based spiritual foundation, and a solid work ethic, demonstrating the lessons daily as we lived life together in that cozy three-bedroom avocado green house with one bathroom. Thanks to my dad, I gained an appreciation for story-telling, walks in the woods, and being an involved parent. And thanks to my first-generation Italian-American mom, I gained an appreciation for polka music, hard work, meticulousness, and talking with my hands! Both of my parents came from humble and challenging backgrounds, and they used that experience to teach us love, family, and integrity. They made (and, after 50 years of marriage, still make) a great team.
When I was in elementary school, Mom put a duster in my hand and showed me how to run the old Kirby upright with the olive green bag. When I turned 12 or 13, Dad demonstrated the ins and outs of starting and using the simple but dependable Craftsman push mower to cut our half-acre, hilly lawn. To this day I remember having to yank the cable off the spark plug to stop that beast. I quickly learned what 15,000 volts feels like, and what it does to your hand muscles. I took on babysitting jobs at age 13, started working for a family-owned department store and ice cream store at 16. I maintained flower beds and lawns for the church and for neighbors, and I even helped a local dairy farmer harvest hay. I learned the value of hard work, of responsibility, and of making and saving money. There was no question I was going to continue my education straight out of high school into college, get a degree, and procure a good-paying job.
The joy of childhood filled my heart those days. I spent hours playing in the basement and romping in the woods with my dad and my brothers. I built plastic model airplanes, flew balsa wood radio controlled aircraft, and graduated to piloting full-scale sailplanes over the pasture-embossed hills of New York’s Southern Tier region. I spent endless hours rebuilding lawnmowers found in junk heaps, playing with small engines, and riding motorcycles in the woods. I tore down, cleaned up, and rebuilt a Honda CR125 dirt bike on the front porch with no maintenance manual and no previous experience with two-stroke engines. I just rolled up my sleeves and got to work, and the engine started right up after I put it all back together without a part left over!
My brothers, sister, and I spent cold winter days building forts in the snow drifts, and frigid winter nights sledding in the darkness down quarter-mile long bobsled runs Dad built for us and the neighborhood kids. I was happy in my creativity in junior and senior high school, enjoying drawing, writing, collecting butterflies, and producing a couple darned hilarious Super 8 movies. And even as my dream of becoming an Air Force pilot crashed due to a stomach ulcer developed in my junior year, I still pursued my creative outlets as I began my post-high-school education in engineering.
But somewhere between my sophomore and junior years of college, boredom, upheaval, and discontent roared in and body slammed joy to the mat while working a co-op job in the structured and demanding environment of a tech company. Another bleeding ulcer almost killed me. I had my duodenum and a third of my stomach removed, and I caught a brief glimpse of the power and enticement of Demerol. I read Stephen King’s The Talisman while in the hospital, and questioned deeply the path I struggled down. At that moment I stood in Robert Frost’s yellow wood, at the divergence of the two roads, and I made a choice: I took the one leading to the completion of my Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and the start of a career in the military aircraft industry which lasted almost three decades.
Dissatisfaction with my job, double-mindedness about my vocation versus my avocation, a failed marriage, a slump into clinical depression, a hyperactive sensitivity to the size of my bank accounts, and a six-year loss of my voice came close to pinching out the flame of joy between fingers of despair and hopelessness. Whatever joy I had left retreated to the dark corners of my memory, wide-eyed, shivering, waiting. It darted out to celebrate my engagement and marriage to my second wife, the birth of our daughter, the first flight of the jet fighter I helped build. Joy’s voice emerged occasionally to sing high harmony to the songs I made up for my daughter, and it listened with rapt attention to the stories we created and laughed about. But somewhere along the way I’d all but left joy on the side of the road to die.
Thankfully, it didn’t . . . .
Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes