Many years ago, two decades now, back in the day of AOL and dial-up, I used to frequent chat rooms on AOL. This was back when I was an evangelical. I got word there were atheists and pagans in certain rooms trying to convince Christians we were wrong. Challenge accepted. I was right there, trying to win them over to Christianity. I called myself an apologist and even had a webside, The Counsel for the Defense I learned a lot from those people. That experience jump started me on my spiritual path.
There was one woman in particular who impacted me. I eventually found out her first name was Linda. we all knew her as AlphaStar though. Everyone went by one-word handle. I never learned her last name. I never even learned what part of the country she lived in, but I admired her compassion, her commitment to doing good for others and her integrity. There were a couple of things she said to me that changed my life. This was the time when Kayla when Kayla was born and we were saying a nightly prayer over her. The prayer I learned as a child had the line “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”. That line terrified me as a child. Who knows? That may be where my fear of death came from since it was one of the first things I learned to speak. I could not teach that prayer to Kayla. AlphaStar was the one who suggested the alternate “Guide me safely through the night and wake me with the morning light”. Thanks to AlphaStar, that it what Kayla learned.
Another thing that she said to me that I will never forget is “This world is as close to hell as you will ever get.” At the time I didn’t know what she meant and I certainly didn’t believe her. I was in my mid-late 30s during the time we were interacting. Life was good. Life was far from Hell. I had just had my first child, my career was going well. I had my health. All of my friends and family were doing well. Sure, other people were suffering. But, planet Earth, in general, was “good”. Besides. there was the real Hell, the torture chamber our loving God had prepared for people like AlphaStar who didn’t acknowledge Jesus. If AlphaStar didn’t wake up, she would know what real hell was like.
A little while after I met AlphaStar, due to the pagans and the atheists constantly challenging my faith, I began to waver myself. I knew in my heart it was wrong, all along- from the time I was five. But, there was no choice. Due to the awesome power of the internet, I discovered Christian Universalism and I was immediately hooked. Earth still wasn’t hell, but there was no torture chamber waiting for us at the end either.
Twenty years later, and I now know what AlphaStar meant about hell on Earth. This is the place we experience separation, anxiety, fear, pain, suffering, all of the things we associate with Hell. Sure, there are distractions- our children, puppies, sunsets, vacations. But, I’m seeing now that there is always someone suffering. In fact, there are always lots of people suffering. I’m overwhelmed right now with all of the people I know having financial problems, problems with parents, problems with children (the great thing about being in your 50s is you get problems with both), problems with their own health. And, we have just elected a man who has no idea what he is doing to be the leader of the free world because about 25% of the country said “Fuck it. Why not?”
I can’t remember where I heard it, but a mantra that works for me is “When you’re going through Hell, just keep going.”. One foot in front of the other is not just a cliche for me. As I do my five miles every morning, I picture each step as another day in my life. Each time my foot hits the ground, It’s another yard or so further in my journey back home. I think of my five mile loop as my life’s journey out from Home and back again. And, each night when I close my eyes, I’ve taken another step out of this Hell, back towards my home. It’s 7 AM as I write this. I’ve just completed a step and am about to take another. I don’t know how long the road is, but I do know I’ll be closer tonight than I am right now.