Let Your Dim Lights Shine


Back in the day, when Oakland Raider Starter Jackets were cool and Don Mattingly was our hero, I had a friend named Matt(named is changed). Matt was an interesting guy, he was sincere, sweet, and thoughtful but he prone to finding trouble.  He was the type of guy who could say something deep and thoughtful one moment and then do something regrettable or embarrassing the next.

Today, he is still a great guy and he eventually ironed out some of his rough spots. He has a family, a job and he is such a great guy. I am very proud of him.

When we recently spoke, he shared an uncomfortable memory that he had been pushing away for years.  It was the night he tried running away from home.  With his permission, I’ll tell you some of his story:

It was a Saturday night.   Matt and his father were walking home together.   In those days Matt was really “at-risk” and he drove his parents crazy.  He stayed out way past curfew, he got into fights at school, he tried drugs, he tried cutting, he broke the law (misdemeanors mostly but some felonies too).  Matt felt misunderstood and in general things were not going his way.  His parents were good, loving, stable, hard-working people but they were so fed up with his behavior.  There was palpable friction there.  On that walk home, his father tried to talk some more sense into his wayward son.

He remembers his father speaking evenly and calmly as they walked together.  Matt just looked at the ground. He heard everything his father was saying before and –even if his father was right- he was done listening.   He could not hear it anymore.   Anger pulsated inside.  His whole body tensed up; his fists clenched, his shoulders tightened, his neck stiffened, his body was shuddering.  He had to get out of there.  In his head, a voice was screaming “Enough!”

Adrenalin took over.  He bolted across the street, around a car and into a big, open field next to a school.

“I can remember running.  I was just running.  I had no plan where I wanted to go. In that moment, I just wanted to be away from wherever I was for good.”

I remember from playing football that Matt could flat-out run.  He must have liked his chances of getting away being a swift-footed 14-year-old pursued by a man in his fifties wearing a suit and dress shoes.  Matt turned on the jets and figured if he kept running he could escape and make up a plan later.

“If that happened, I probably wouldn’t be telling this story. That’s the truth”

“I ran full-speed for I don’t know how far, maybe a hundred yards and I started to get out of breath and I looked over my shoulder and my father was right behind me and he was catching up.  I started to panic. I was like: ‘How? How is this even possible?’”

He was in shock that his father had kept up.  He would not let his son go.  What was pushing this man forward?

“I wasn’t even going in a straight line, it was really dark, but I could see the reflection off his glasses and his dark outline running.  I’m all gassed out and he’s gaining on me…the moment felt so intense.  I was thinking ‘what’s he gonna’ do here? How is he keeping up?’”

“I think I shouted ‘go away!’ as I zigged around a slide and he just zagged. I got a bit deeper into the playground by the swings and I just gave up”

“Then, my dad and I were just standing there in the dark, in the middle of a playground.  During the day, parks are places where kids run and play and smile, parents take pictures.  I don’t remember him saying anything memorable, but his being there was a big statement.  We walked home together.”

Things weren’t perfect all of a sudden; they argued, Matt still got into plenty of trouble before he straightened out, but he never felt unloved.  Matt would never, ever doubt that his father loved him. It was a huge turning point.

“I just didn’t think about it for lack of a context to put it into… only recently it all hit me. I used to be embarrassed about what I did.  Now I’m proud.  I learned from it and I’m proud to have a father who loves me.”

This story makes me think of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah (coming up soon).

Chanukah is not really the Jewish equivalent of Christmas where we get eight presents (1 good present and 7 other nights of socks or gift cards) eat oily foods and listen to Adam Sandler.  It actually carries a deep message.

In case you are unfamiliar with the story:

During the time of the Second Jewish Temple (about 2,000 years ago), The Jewish people were in the midst of a terrible conflict with the Syrian Greeks.  The Greeks called the shots, made oppressive proclamations and threatened the existence of the Jews.  Eventually, a small group of Jews banded together and unbelievably defeated the Greeks.  When they retook control of their temple, they wanted to light the menorah.


One last flask of pure oil was found and they lit up their heretofore darkened temple expecting it to last for one day.  An open miracle happened and the oil burned for eight days instead.

One way to understand Chanukah is to see it as a reminder that we are never alone and never unwanted and that to appreciate the light, sometimes you have to go to some dark places.

It is is a time to step back and appreciate everything we have and realize that we are still loved and miracles are everywhere, hiding in plain sight.

The light illuminated the world for what it is so we can see all the things we were missing when were clumsily feeling around in the dark not sure if we were alone or not wondering if anyone would plunge into the darkness after us.

Whoever we are, we all reach low points in our lives. We convince ourselves that things are so bad.  Here’s the thing, sometimes we need to exist in the dark to appreciate the light. If we feel blinded and scared,  remember it’s dark but not completely dark.  Our eyes adjust and we can slowly start to see.  Like the light from the hallway creeping in from under the door, a small bit of light makes its way in.  There is always some light hiding somewhere in the darkness.

That night in the park with Matt and his father, rays of love started to crack their darkness.  Maybe it was a dim glow but it radiated enough to illuminate a path out of the darkness, into the light.

When days go from gray to black remember:  even the darkest, longest nights are followed by the sun rising.


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