My Hope In The Shadows…

     Sitting here at my computer and staring out the window, I ponder how it is an unusually overcast and gloomy day for late March. Outside, the wind blows noisily through the trees, stirring up a chill that permeates the spring air and causes me to release an involuntary shiver from within. Belatedly, I realize that I have left the bedroom window cracked open, and now the whistling wind rushing through has brought with it a coldness that begins to fill the room.

     Oftentimes when I become distracted, my mind tends to drift away and carry me to a faraway place somewhere in my past. Although there are quite a few moments in my past that I repressed for many years, there are still many that I remember quite fondly. It is these moments that come flooding back during idle daydreams, bringing a warm touch to fill my being. Indeed, they bring a smile to my face as I vicariously relive them through my memory. The gloomy chill that fills the air on this cold Saturday slowly gives way to a warm summery day as I sit and let my mind carry me to another time.

     I often like to tell people that as a child and adolescent of the 80s and 90s, I grew up in a world that was simultaneously analog and digital. As a kid growing up in rural Mississippi in the late 80s and early 90s, electronic objects to occupy our time were far and few in between; in fact, they were virtually non-existent in my household. As a result, my younger brother and I were often left to our own devices in the summertime, and it was up to us to create our own forms of entertainment. Although we grew up in a small rural town and lived part of those years in the remote countryside, I do not recall us ever being bored. Whether it was having mud-track races behind the shed with our toy cars, fishing in the pond, or zipping through the pasture in our two-seater go-cart in search of our next adventure, we were never bored. One of our favorite pastimes, and a real summertime treat to us, was going to one of three local creeks for an adventure day. Within the wide banks of these creeks, the noisy waters flowed swiftly and created a wonderful backdrop for many summertime adventures. My brother and I were both accomplished swimmers, and the creeks were not big enough to ever permit a fear of drowning to enter our minds.

      Our favorite creek was the beautiful White Sand Creek just down the road from our home. We could literally walk to it from our house and for two young Mississippi boys, it might as well have been heaven. This magical place was the setting for many a summer adventure; in this place, the waters flowed swift and clear, and the beautiful white sand bars felt like a fiery powder under our feet as we ran across them chasing each other. We spent our time alternately splashing around in the water and then searching for treasures such as pieces of driftwood or unusual rocks that we would find lining the banks of the creek. We delighted in digging crawdads out of their holes. If we were lucky, we might spot a frog or perhaps a turtle or two sunning itself on a log. Attempts to catch the turtles were usually futile, as the elusive reptiles seemed to have an inherent sense of our presence and jump into the water before we could reach them. There were times when we would engage in games of hide and seek as we hid in the bushes that lined one bank of the creek. Other times we would float on our backs and see how far the current would carry us downstream before mother began to holler at us and tell us to come back. Sometimes, we would simply sit at the water’s edge in a shallow pool of water and watch the water as it ebbed and flowed around our bodies. We had moments where we would roughhouse, as young brothers are often apt to do, taking turns dunking each other in the water. I remember sometimes just simply sitting there on the banks of the creek, basking in the warm summer sun as I watched the waters flow by.  

     Even as a kid, I had a very active imagination, and I was often prone to daydreaming (which sometimes happened at the most inopportune times such as during lessons at school). One day, I noticed how at times, the clouds would cross the sun’s path, creating dancing shadows that would dart across the landscape. On one side of the creek, was a large forest that seemed scary to my young self. It was filled with bushes and giant hardwood trees that towered as high as the heavens. On the other side of the creek was a broad meadow of Technicolor green filled with cows who would briefly pause their grazing to look up and watch us as we swam in the creek. I loved to watch the shadows move across the meadow, and I took notice of the various shapes and patterns they would make. Sometimes, the clouds would come and the shadows would stay in place, signaling an impending summer storm looming on the horizon. When the clouds covered the landscape, they brought with them, temporary relief from the blazing summer sun. The air would get cooler, and the swiftly flowing waters would for a moment in time, seem darker and scarier. The cool waters that we had played in only moments before suddenly became a bottomless pit of eternal inky depths. Eventually, the clouds would part and I would turn my face to the sky, embracing the return of the sun’s warmth.

Young Pip, following Estella in Great Expectations (1946)

     Life is full of light and shadows. Ever since those early days of my childhood, I have been continually fascinated with the shapes, sizes, and movements of shadows. Sometimes, when the opportunity presents itself, I enjoy sitting outside as I watch the shadows dance their perfectly choreographed dance routine, dancing and fading in and out, synchronized to a mysterious number known only to nature. Part of this fascination is what led me to write a Master’s thesis on David Lean’s use of light and shadow in his film adaptations of Dickens’ Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948). One of my all-time favorite books is Great Expectations, and Lean’s ending deviated significantly from that of Dickens’; this was done in order to give viewers a happier ending. In Lean’s adaptation, Pip rushes into the interior of a ruined mansion to rescue his childhood sweetheart, Estella. In this ruined place, Estella sits in the darkness surrounded by objects in various states of decay. In what I believe is one of the most memorable moments in post-World War II British cinematography, Pip rushes into the room, yanks down the rotted draperies and throws open the windows. He shouts out to Estella, “I have come back to let in the sunlight…. Look, Estella, nothing here but dust and decay!” Pip was aware that nothing can live or thrive in the darkness of night. As he threw open the windows to let in the sunlight, he symbolically saved Estella from the shadows that cloaked her life.

I Have come to let in the light, Estella!

     Sometimes in our own lives, shadows come and cast darkness over every aspect of our lives. Sometimes, these shadows are only temporary, and they quickly pass by as they did across the pastoral landscape on those long-ago summer days. Other times, the shadows come, sink in, and begin to weave themselves into the tapestry of our lives. When this happens over a period of time, we may not even be aware of  how faintly the diminished and filtered light illuminates our lives. Just a few short years after those summer days at the creek, I would begin to get lost in my own shadows. These shadows would follow me around for many years and would keep me from walking in the light that I so desperately needed to be walking in during my formative and adolescent years. I lost my way for a very long time. Finding the Samson Society nearly 5 ½ years ago marked the beginning of my being able to emerge from my own shadows. To be able to walk forward with boldness and courage in my life. To allow the light back into my life as I ripped down my own rotted draperies. To admit my great, and continual need for other men who would walk with me and keep me from making a wrong turn that would ultimately lead back into the shadows. Men who would also call me out and point me back to the cross of Christ.

     We’re living in uncertain times right now. All we need do is turn on the news and we feel that there is a metaphorical shadow covering our world right now. We can’t let these shadows of doubt fill our lives and take root. In my own life, living in the shadows led to hopelessness and despair and could have very well been fatal. I don’t know what kind of things or repressed thoughts hide in your own shadows, but I do know that nothing can grow or thrive in that space. Fortunately, with Samson, we have the gift of a lifeline given to us; it is crucial that we continue walking alongside other brothers and with them, stand in the light that Christ gives us. It is so easy for me to retreat into my own shadows, and that place, my brothers, is a dangerous place for me to be. In the darkness, it is impossible to see the roadmap of where we are going, and it is so easy to take a wrong turn. We have hope in the shadows and the promise of light that shows us the way.

     We recently learned a new song in church a few months ago. Our music director instructed us that when we sang the chorus, we should lift our hands up whenever we sang the words that proclaimed what Christ meant in our lives. And as I proclaimed the words “you’re my hope in the shadows…”, I gratefully lifted my hands in the air.

You’re My HOPE in the Shadows!

     Some time ago, I was travelling on a day trip with my family and passed through the town of my childhood; this town is a place that I avoided for many years and no longer claim a connection to. And as we passed by the place where a part of me had remained lost in the shadows for many years, I caught a glimpse of my eleven-year-old self hidden where he had been left behind all those years ago. Silently, I called out to him…. “It’s going to be ok.” It will take many years, but you will eventually be ok. And for the most part, I am. The shadows still come, dancing their mysterious number across the landscape of my life before dissolving away. But today I have hope. I always have hope in the shadows. And you do too.

Many years later, my son looking down at White Sand Creek, Circa. 2019.

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