During the first week of January 2017, when I wasn’t busy being blown away by God’s healing touch, I decided to back up my phone voice notes onto another hard drive. I regularly make voice memos of song ideas, dreams, and whatever funny thing my kids are up to. I lost several years’ worth of kid photos on my phone in a freak accident at work one time; so I make a point of backing up everything pretty regularly now. By the first week in January it had been longer than usual since I’d done a backup. I’d been preoccupied with holidays; health; and destiny or lack thereof. The nagging voice that prompts me to back up my data was finally getting loud enough to be heard of the din of life, however.
I sat down one evening and cabled my phone to my computer and began working my way through the backlog of voice notes. Most of them were song ideas. There were relatively few dream memos in that round of backups. I recall a long stretch of time in the fall where I didn’t remember much about my dreams on any given morning. Also, I wasn’t feeling any need to be diligent about recording dreams during those months; after all, I was right on the cusp of whatever great thing was supposed to happen, right? Recording dreams was only necessary when I was trying to piece things together in relative darkness. I was about to see the whole thing realized in real-time, so why waste time recording dreams?
I began moving notes over to my computer. I listened to a few of the dream memos. The two from mid-December that I highlighted in the first January 2107 blog post were nauseating. In those memos I sounded like my usual sleepy self, much like I sound on pretty much any recording that I make right upon waking. I knew in mid-December, even right after waking, that those dreams likely did bode not well for the future. In the memo about the bomber, I even made mention of my dis-ease with that particular dream. But there was still a certain ignorance on December 18 that I did not have in early January. In those few short weeks, I’d grown soberly aware of the dream implications; and I was really starting to freak out.
I copied those depressing dream notes over to the computer and scanned the remaining memos that I hadn’t backed up. There were a few that I knew I could trash rather than save. And there was one memo that still bore the default name written by the recording program. I typically customize the title of memos, depending on the subject matter. I had no idea what this one memo was, but I assumed it was a dream note, since it was recorded at 4:45am. It was dated in mid-September. I listened to the memo. Most of the memo detailed a dream about a woman I know from work. In the dream the woman had an unusual Bible. The Bible was written in symbols, each symbol representing a cultural idiom. Anyone who knew the idioms and representative symbols could read that Bible.
Then there was a bit at the end of the memo, about a dream that was mostly an idea conveyed in voice or something hard to explain. There wasn’t much imagery associated. The general idea of the dream was that some guy was supposed to receive a great unnamed honor but was declared ineligible to receive said honor. He had disqualified himself somehow. Those parties responsible for bestowing the honor decided to make him an honorary whatever-it-was. Instead of becoming a full-fledged thing, he would be an honorary one. I wondered in the dream about the possible differences between honorary and earned. I’d mentioned in the memo that I awoke in a panic immediately after the dream. Was the dream about me? There was one brief image at the end of the dream of a guy who was very heavy-set and had a full head of hair. He looked quite a bit like a guy I used to work with and nothing at all like me, for whatever that’s all worth.
I thought it was interesting and sickening that I’d found that memo when I did, months after I’d had the dream and right in the middle of really coming to terms with possibly disqualifying myself from a great honor. Had I indeed blown it but was going to be made an honorary…Joseph? Something else? Would it be less miserable to be an honorary anything in God’s kingdom, versus just a legitimately failed experiment? Would anyone of us be able to tell the difference between honorary or legit in our own lives, if it came down to it? All these stupid questions and more can be avoided simply by being obedient to God in the first place.
I assume that I didn’t initially bother titling that dream memo because I didn’t want to think about the one dream long enough to create a title.
I was a child of the Seventies. That meant, among other things in those days, that John Denver was like wall paper in the only bedroom you’d ever had in your whole life. He was always nearby – in the foreground and in the background, effortlessly. Whether on radio, on TV, or in movies, John Denver was everywhere, all the time. Omnipresent John Denver wasn’t good or bad, in my young estimation. John Denver just Was.
Then I grew up and passed through something like seven more bedrooms and probably didn’t think about John Denver in any of them. Sometime in the mid-00’s, my wife inexplicably gave me a John Denver ‘greatest hits’ CD for my birthday. I was and am positive I’d never said word one to her about John Denver before that birthday. I never listened to the CD. I’d heard almost all the songs a million times before and wasn’t interested enough in hearing them again that I would remove the cellophane wrapping and pop in the CD.
Then my wife and I stayed married a few more years after that birthday. Then we separated and eventually divorced. Then I became very interested in finding CD’s that my kids and I could listen to without my worrying about what the kids were hearing. I remembered the John Denver disc one day a couple of years ago and browsed through my collection until I found it. Smug with paternal satisfaction, I knew that I had kid-friendly gold in my hands. I played the CD for my offspring, and they immediately loved it. My youngest was especially taken with this new music. (For the record ((ba dum tss)) the performances sound at least as much like a soundboard recording of a live show as a studio recording. And the piano solo in Dreamland Express screams “Bruce Hornsby”.) We three had John Denver on regular rotation for a few months. Then John Denver fell by the wayside, as inevitable replacements moved onto the scene.
All of this is to say that on January 18 of 2016, at the exact hour that my ex was getting married on a beach in Hawaii, I was miserably walking through the store down below our office. I had taken a break from writing content for the first miserable blog post of this year. On my way down the hall from my office to the stairs, I had seen a huge computer clock display showing 11:11. That wasn’t the actual time of day; someone was configuring that computer for first use, and they hadn’t set the clock yet. I used to love seeing 11:11, especially in oddball situations like that one. On January 18 it was not a comforting sight. If 11:11 signaled transition, it appeared transition was indeed happening, but not in any way that I’d expected or desired.
Anyway, I was downstairs, miserably passing through the vinyl LP section of the store, when something interesting happened: on one row of LP displays I saw ten or twelve or however many LP’s faced out into the aisle. All of the LP covers were more-or-less neutral in presentation, with little art work or color saturation. They certainly were all low contrast with regard to one another…with the exception of one LP – a John Denver LP that I’d never seen before (Which would be most John Denver album covers.The only one I can say for sure I’ve seen is the greatest hits where it’s a close up of his face with the hat and glasses. And the one that my wife gave me, which is a distant profile with hat minus glasses). The cover art was a photo of John Denver against a black background, in what appeared to be a live performance. That album cover stood out like a beacon against the background of the surrounding muted covers. I hesitated for a fraction of a second before veering into a detour to the John Denver album. How could I not go look at this album that was practically blaring my name?
I picked up the album and looked for any indication that it was a live performance recording. I flipped the album over and scanned the songs, assuming I’d see familiar tunes as performed in concert. I didn’t recognize any of the song titles. I keep scanning. I found a song called ‘Joseph and Joe’. Everything appropriately slowed down and got really weird. The day was already weighty with spiritual implications. Now this – ‘Joseph and Joe’? Are you kidding me? No…no, you were not kidding me. I didn’t know exactly what it meant that I’d found a song called ‘Joseph and Joe’ on a previously unknown John Denver LP, and that I’d found said LP and song under somewhat suspicious circumstances, and that it was at perhaps the exact minute my ex was getting married. I didn’t know what it meant. But I knew it meant something.
I finished my business in the store and went back up to my desk. I wept. Big things were happening that day, and I couldn’t shake the belief that those big things were happening in a way that was radically different than if I’d just…not. I emailed Mary to tell her about the John Denver find. She immediately replied that I should buy the album. That seemed like sound advice. I went back down to the store and put the LP on hold. By the time I’d returned to my desk, Mary had emailed me the lyrics to ‘Joseph and Joe’. The lyrics didn’t do anything to minimize my suspicion that I’d found the LP by divine appointment. To the contrary, every single line of the song seemed to have some relation, however minor, to my own life. I’m too tired of it all now to give background on some of the things in my life that made the song lyrics fit so well. Suffice it say, somehow the Creator of the Universe tied my ex and kids; her new husband; John Denver; that song; that exact copy of that album; AND me all together in one pregnant moment.
Seriously, there nothing He cannot do.
One song lyric that I will mention, just because it’s still loud in my head as of this writing (March 22), says something about “another man’s family”. Random song lyric winner, right there. What song mentions another man’s family? ‘Joseph and Joe’, by John Denver, of course, which I was discovering right when my kids were on a beach in Hawaii, becoming stepchildren to a man that I’d first seen in a dream almost three years prior. And while my own Joseph and Joe expectations seemed to be unraveling all around me.
This is as good a time as any to bring up a topic that requires some hashing. The massive personal and spiritual failure I’m chronicling can serve as a valuable teaching opportunity. Way back in 2012 I began attending prophetic equipping classes at Upper Room. My attendance each Wednesday for some months initiated (or continued, after hiatus) an undeniable succession of prophetic encouragements for me from people who, by and large, didn’t know me at all. I’ve mentioned the nature of these prophecies many times in this blog; so I won’t go into all that again. The point here is that I began to believe that God was telling me, “Hang on for a while. I’m going to blow your mind. You just need to wait it out in the interim.” None of the prophesying prophets ever said anything that would have made me think differently…EXCEPT one time in class, the instructor clarified for us. He told us something to the effect that, when you receive an encouraging prophecy like the kind I was getting on a minute-to-minute basis back then, you would do well to consider the thing an invitation by God into a possible and not-necessarily-guaranteed future. That is, don’t assume that it’s a promise merely contingent upon your waiting long enough for it to come to pass. The invitational aspect implies that something is expected of you, the recipient of the encouraging word. You must bother to show up. God isn’t necessarily bringing the party to your couch.
I didn’t like the implications of anything being expected of me in 2012. I was constantly warring against my ultimate belief that God had directly called me to give up a practice that was usurping His position as my chief comforter. I did not want to give up anything; but I DID want to receive the lavish gifts that He seemed to be promising. I wanted all that to be on my own terms. “I’m sitting right here on the couch, God. You can just drop all that cool stuff by whenever works for You. I’d also like an i Fratelli pizza, BTW. Surprise me. Sooner is totes better than later.” (I actually don’t think I was all that flip about it, then or ever. There was always a sense of awe and mystery around the process. But I’m bitter and cynical right now.)
So I chose to minimize any understanding that God was proposing an exchange of sorts: that is, if I was (were?) to give up my self-gratification, He would bless me and the world around me in ways that were reminiscent of some of the most dramatic parts of the Bible. I never let myself see it all in those terms until it was too late. And to be honest, I don’t think I totally grasped the true “exchange” nature of the whole thing until February 2017, a couple of months after the Big Fail. And in another post, I’ll (probably) provide some clarification of the exact nature of that final failure.