A Letter to My Brother

Damyon,

There’s a song that makes me think of you every time I hear it. As you go through this period of transition in your life, I hope that you’ll listen to it. And I hope that you will experience the transformation in your life that it talks about.

Ever since I left when I was nine, our lives have turned out to be completely different. Opposite, really, in many ways. I never meant for things to be like that, but it’s how they happened anyway.

Now that you’re in a place in your life where you can read what I’m writing to you—and since I know an actual letter would probably get lost—I want to talk about the lyrics to this song. It’s by one of my favorite bands called “Anberlin,” who I’ve listened to since I was in high school. You know how it goes: Friends introduce us to all kinds of bad music, but sometimes there are bands that stick with us. This is one of them, and they’ve been with me since I was a teenager. They have songs that have gotten me through just about every season in life you can imagine.

The song I want to tell you about is called “Hearing Voices.” It’s on the last album that they produced, and it’s by far my favorite song that they’ve written. Really, it’s one of my favorite songs of all time, and probably always will be. Here’s how it starts:

I feel lost
Conflicting thoughts course through
Clarity, she’s gone
Took everything I thought I knew

Everyone wants to see heaven, but no one wants to say goodbye
Everyone wants to see heaven, but no one wants to die

You’ve been lost ever since mom died. And honestly, it seems to me like you’ve been lost for much longer than that. Wandering in darkness. Not sure how to live your life or what to do with it. We’re all lost in some ways, and we don’t always know how to find the way. I still feel like that too. There are many impressions you might have about me that are wrong. I’m just as lost as you are, even if I haven’t been where you’ve been.

Sometimes thoughts just happen to us, whether we like it or not. Imagine sticking a butter knife into an outlet in the wall: That electricity will course through you, and there’s not a thing you can do about it. It’s just the way the world works. You and I have the same blood, the same genes, and the same problems that affect our minds. You know as well as I do that they come from mom. These things weren’t her fault, of course. It’s just the way her body and brain worked, thanks to her genetics. Because of those genetics, a part of her body and brain are inside you and me. That’s why we have thoughts, moods, and drives that just happen to us.

Imagine if I wrote that entire last paragraph without any punctuation: no periods, commas, capitalized letters, and no spaces between the words. I bet, with a little work, you could make out what I was saying. But it would be hard work. There wouldn’t be clarity there. You’d have to piece it all together yourself, and you might even become confused. There could be things you thought I said, but I actually didn’t.

I have trouble sleeping on most nights. Even though my body is tired, my thoughts race and blend together. I can’t shut it off, so I can’t sleep. I’ve tried breathing exercises, but they don’t work. Melatonin? Nope. Alcohol? Doesn’t help either. My thoughts race through my head like a paragraph without punctuation, and the sleep I hoped to have is taken away. Then the next day my head is so full of thoughts that it puts me in a mood I didn’t ask for. I bet this happens to you too.

What do you think heaven is? What do you think it’s like? Do you even think it exists? You know that I do. Even if you don’t agree with me, people still talk about heaven in some abstract way. For there to be “heaven,” for some people, is just to be happy. To be in heaven is to be in a place that we’re not in now, since the world we live in is full of pain. You’ve done things (and I have too) that put you in a state you’d call “heaven.” But it’s never been permanent, has it? No matter how you understand “heaven,” to get to it permanently means you’ve got to say goodbye to some things. It means to die somehow so that you can live in a better way, forever. Since people don’t understand that there are forms of death that lead to life, they don’t want to die. Even though everybody wants some piece of heaven, nobody wants to do what it takes to get there.

This is what the song says next:

Can’t explain this feeling (there’s a void inside)
Can’t escape this feeling (how can I deny?)

I hear voices (voices) in my head
Choices (choices), I can’t contend
I hear voices (voices),
And they all know your name
They all know your name

A void is a place where something should be, but there isn’t anything there. Think of a cavity in your tooth: Something should be there, but instead you’ve got a hole in your tooth. What’s really weird is that you can actually feel that cavity, even though it’s just a place where tooth enamel should be.

Evil is like that cavity. I’m convinced that evil is a lack of goodness where goodness should be. Where is that goodness located? In a way, in everything at all that exists. To exist is, in a way, to be something that is good. The human soul contains evil, and we can feel it. I haven’t seen or experienced everything you have, but I know you’ve seen and felt evil. Maybe you couldn’t explain it. But I know you can’t deny that evil has been right in front of you even though, of itself, evil isn’t a thing to be experienced. I’m sure there have even been times where you felt like you couldn’t escape the evil either.

Based on what you’ve told me, there’s a certain kind of evil in your mind. Where you should have clear thoughts that seem to come from only yourself, you feel like there are thoughts inside your head that come from somewhere else. It’s a mental illness, and it’s one that many people would rather not talk about. If my life had gone differently, I bet I’d have the same problem. It’s because it runs in our blood, as I’ve already talked about.

You’ve heard voices in your head. Those voices have spoken choices to you that have led you to do things you wouldn’t have done otherwise. You couldn’t escape them. They’d only find you again. Those voices are just like the Law: When the Law knows your name, it can find you no matter where you go.

What’s the result of all this? Well, the song continues:

Trapped inside a cell that I built myself
Felt so very empty, cold, dark, and lost

Everyone wants to know God, but they’re afraid of what they’ll find
Everybody wants to know God, but they want to live like he died

Let’s be honest. The voices in your head weren’t always there. They were lurking beneath the surface of your mind, but they floated to the top because of choices that you made. I’m not judging you; I’m only telling you what I think you’ll admit is the truth. This cell that you’re in now is one that you built. I have built my own cells too.

You know better than I do what a cell feels like. You’ve been in many. They aren’t always empty, because sometimes you have to share them with somebody else. Sometimes somebody way more messed up than you. You’ve told me about some of these guys before. But even if you’re in there with somebody else, that cell is a place filled with boredom, and it makes you feel empty inside.

There was recently a prison in New York that lost power, leaving many inmates without heat for days. They were cold, and I think what they experienced was unjust. It was a form of torture, really. I’m sorry if you’ve ever experienced that too. Have there been times when it’s been dark as well? I don’t have a clue how our state governments run these places. But I’m sure it’s been dark a time or two. Too dark for comfort.

Now back to the cell that you’ve built in your mind. If you freely built the cell, I think you can freely choose to tear it down. You might not be able to do it on your own at this point, and that’s okay. But you can still choose to change, however that change might come. It will mean trusting in other people to help you. I understand that you might have little reason to trust others at this point in your life, but I think you’ll find that there really are good people in the world who want to help you.

Mom told me many times she knew God—that she’d found Jesus, in fact. On mom’s side of the family there are a lot of Mormons, and she grew up around them. There are probably more Mormons in our family than I’m aware of. Mom had heard of God and Jesus before, but what the Mormons teach is something other than what mom said she believed.

I’m compelled to tell you just one thing that Mormons believe, if only to show you how ridiculous some of their beliefs are. Our hometown is part of Mormon territory, so to speak, and my guess is you’ll run into what they believe at some point (if you haven’t already).

At mom’s funeral I gave a speech, if you remember. Mom died at the end of October, and my daughter Rylie (your niece) was born on December 11th. Mom was only a month away from meeting her first grandchild, and she was so excited. She flipped out (in a good way) when I told her she was going to be a grandma. Honestly, I think when I told her it was one of the happiest moments in her entire life. That’s one reason, by the way, that I don’t think she intended to die the way she did.

Anyway, after the funeral I was kneeling at the altar. I wasn’t praying, like you normally do at an altar. I was crying. I could hardly speak. Then one of our Mormon family members began to speak to me in my ear. She meant those words as comfort, yet they were anything but that. She said that she believed mom had already met Rylie, and so I could feel a little bit better knowing she had met her granddaughter after all. She said this because Mormons think we all pre-existed our births in heaven. We don’t remember it, but we have a “premortal” life anyway. Based on that belief, this Mormon family member of ours said mom already met Rylie before Rylie was even born.

Bro, this defies common sense. If mom had already met Rylie, do you think she’d be as happy as she was? Do you think she would have been surprised that she was going to become a grandma? Mom was happy that she would be a grandma precisely because she knew already that she wasn’t one. And she was happy because she learned that she would become one. This is impossible on Mormonism, since things we “learn,” for them, are things we actually remember from a past life. We have the appearance of learning, of feeling surprise, and all the rest. But those are illusions, for the Mormon. Don’t believe this nonsense. Trust your common sense. That’s what mom did, and that’s why, when she said she found Jesus, she didn’t believe what her Mormon past tried to tell her. Mom was a smart woman.

You haven’t told me if you currently believe in God or not. You did once; maybe you still do. Either way, you’ve lived like God doesn’t exist. In the end, this makes no sense. If God is the greatest being we could possibly imagine, then why does anybody live like he doesn’t exist? If he’s the greatest being there could possibly be, then he must be full of love beyond comprehension. Everybody wants to be loved.

The problem is that God’s love shines a light into our darkened minds, and this love transforms us. God’s love shows us that we aren’t who we should be, and that we aren’t who he made us to be. People don’t like to change, so people associate more pain with finding God than they do joy, and for that reason don’t seek after him. They are afraid of what they’ll find in this supremely loving being—and in themselves, really—so they live like he isn’t there.

Then there’s a part of the song that doesn’t seem to make sense. It sounds manic, almost:

I feel it all
I feel it all around

I heard it call
It doesn’t make a sound

Voice in my head
It never seems to leave

I know you’re there
I know you’re here with me

The writer of this song, up until this point, has been talking about hearing voices and what the voices make him choose to do. Now it sounds like he’s giving in to the voices. The voices—the others inside him—are things he can always feel and hear. They never go away. He knows they are there with him. Doesn’t he admit that these voices are really other people inside of his mind? And doesn’t he start talking to them? Doesn’t it seem like he’s comforted by them, and that he now wants them to be there?

Keep listening.

Can’t explain this feeling (there’s a void inside)
When the spirit moves you (how can I deny?)

I hear voices (voices), in my head
Can’t escape the Ghost when the Ghost’s not dead

I hear voices (voices),
And they all know your name
They all know your name

Did you notice the change in the chorus? Before this the chorus says, “Can’t escape this feeling (how can I deny?)” Now it says, “When the spirit moves you (how can I deny?)”

To the writer of this song, the escape from the void inside, and from the the voices, happens when it’s the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) who begins to move you. You were filled with the Holy Spirit at a young age in your Sunday school class. It was in grandma and grandpa’s old church, where you had to go down that L-shaped hall to the classrooms.

When you received the Holy Ghost, what was it like for you? Do you ever think about it? Do you hear the Spirit call? Has the Spirit reminded you of Jesus Christ? Do you remember that Christ died to save the lost?

You see, the remedy to all the problems in this song, the remedy to everything I’ve discussed, the remedy to the voices, the remedy to the human condition… The remedy to all of these things is being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Christians talk about the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit, so how can the remedy to all of this be only one of those three? It’s because we receive the Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord. And when we do that, both the Father and Jesus (the Son) send to us the promised Holy Spirit. When we receive the Spirit, we have fellowship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three cannot be separated.

There are too many ways for me to prove this from the Bible than I have space to write. But I think the letter to the Ephesians (in the New Testament) is a good place to start. There are just a couple of things I want to point out from this letter that a guy named Paul wrote nearly 2,000 years ago.

One of them is that it’s due to the Father’s love that, through Jesus Christ, we can be adopted as sons (Ephesians 1:5). Adopted. Look, I know that we don’t have mom anymore, and that things with your dad are shaky. Maybe it seems to you like you’re an orphan—like you don’t have parents. But by confessing Christ as Lord, as you have done in the past, you can be adopted into God’s family. Adoption isn’t something anybody has to do; it is something somebody freely chooses to do out of love. When you’re adopted into God’s family, you’re able to experience love unlike any you’ve experienced before.

Second, and as I’ve already said, we receive the Holy Spirit when we confess Christ as Lord (Ephesians 1:13). The Holy Spirit who dwells with us is the promise that we are a part of God’s family now.

Third, before anybody receives the promised Holy Spirit, they are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1). But God doesn’t leave us this way. When we confess Christ as Lord, we are “made alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). What’s the proof that God can bring something dead like us to life again? And why does he say we’re “made alive together with Christ”? It’s because the Father raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:20). If he can raise his beloved Son from the dead, then he can do it for those who he knows will be sons and daughters in his glorious kingdom.

Do you still feel that void, that evil, inside? Do you still hear voices? What the enemy of your soul intends for evil, God can turn into something good. These voices have made you suffer, and they have made you hate yourself. They have made you hate others. You’ve lived in isolation. But these evil voices are easily displaced by the voices of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let these voices be the ones in your head now.

The Ghost’s not dead, Damyon. You’ve felt the Spirit, and you’ve heard the call. It’s all around. Confess Christ as your Lord, and you will be led by divine voices that will change your life. You will find heaven, and God, even while you’re alive here on this corrupt planet. You will be a part of a family.

It’s what mom would have wanted.

Love,

Skylar


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