A life is like a vapor. Here today, gone tomorrow. I think of my own. What can I show for half a vapor? How can I make the next half count more? The sharpening realization that life is precious, and not guaranteed, makes me reevaluate my vision of life for the future I assume but cannot see.
I can make my plans, but it’s the Lord’s plans for me that will prevail. He moves in both large and infinitesimal ways, many remaining unseen. One day, beyond the here and now, I believe a better understanding will come of why some things happen as they do.
I’ve entered a place of letting go, or at least of hanging-on-loosely—to anything, really. A place of complete trust in the Higher Power; surrender, and a call to turn the other cheek in social situations.
Whatever the vision of life, as it tends to shift, hold, then redirect, there is a desire that grows solidly within me in a take-advantage, unforthright-tending society. To be a vapor of integrity. Steadfast in kindness, fairness, honesty, and purity. That's a quality model for both personal and business operations, wouldn’t you say? To stay in the spirit of self-regulation, even as others might boldly mistake lenient niceness for stupidity. Details don’t go unnoticed by a detail-oriented God. As Christ has loved us, so must we love. To be a vapor of integrity even if others have done us wrong. So very hard, but not impossible.
I might have done a strange thing as a child when I asked for wisdom... I’m not sure. I wasn’t around peers too much to find out if this is what they did too, since my formative years took place in the boonies. My only friends were animals, especially horses. It’s just the way things were. I don’t mind. I had a solid upbringing with loving parents and siblings, and I adored my lot of furry companions who didn’t seem to mind my quirky quests.
And I couldn’t say I understood what or who God was, although I’m quite certain of his presence. My mother was my primary spiritual teacher, and she’d tell me stories about important things—things I embrace even stronger today. Because I still hear her voice, though she has passed from this life into the next. Wisdom was something she spoke and sang of often, and her multi-layered lessons, like colors in paintings, enthralled me so much that I remember being not older than five, six, or seven years old and asking for Wisdom to grace my life in bright hues.
“Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Proverbs is one of my favorite books, touching often on wisdom, and this verse comes from 4:6-7.
I’ve heard others use the expression, sometimes jokingly, that a person gains wisdom by making mistakes; the more mistakes made, the wiser you are. Is this what it means for something to cost all you have to gain? Well, when I, owning a catalog of cringeworthy mistakes, walk into any crowded room, all eyes should fall on me, and in unison the people cry out, “All hail the Wisest One of All.” But that never happens—thank God!
Circumstances beyond control cause a person to open their eyes, see reality for what it is instead of through a bubble (if there was a bubble to begin with). And choices. And mistakes. And results, as well as responses from others. If I knew then what I know now... You’ve heard the phrase. It goes along with the error of one’s ways.
All this to say, Wisdom is good; cherish her. One day, her benefits and nurturing rapport will shine through.
“Wisdom comes alone with suffering.”—Aeschylus
I’ve moved a lot in life. In fact, we’ve relocated again during this COVID-19 era. It’s not the woodsy rural environment I prefer, but more urban with constant buzz and people present. First time in the real burbs, but there are viable reasons for making this transition and, honestly, I look at it as temporary anyway. I’ve lived in exceptional situations, sucky ones, and in-betweeners. As far as materialism, I know what it is to have little, a lot, or thrive in moderation. I’ve gained and I’ve lost, so I don’t get too attached when I regain. Life can present us with all kinds of living situations and circumstances—sometimes changing on a dime. Some we bring on ourselves by choices we make; other times it’s circumstances beyond our control. But we have the means within us to adapt to life’s seesaw.
Life on earth is transitory. And because we are spiritual beings destined for eternal life, heaven is our true home. So in a big-picture sense, if you ever feel like a stranger in a strange land, it’s because we all kind of are. Strangers passing through in what is a privilege to live a purpose-filled, lungs' air-filled life… wherever we are… by mindset. We can bloom wherever we’re planted. It’s not where we are, but how we are.
We can bloom from whatever situation we’re handed, too, even the self-inflicted ones. Because no matter where we move, or how things pan out, what we do, or who moves in or out of our lives, the one constant is that Yeshua, Jesus, loves us unconditionally, as we are, where we are, without terms or conditions. By the time you reach a certain age in a fallen world full of broken people, you’ll have experienced friends who wound you, partners who break you, situations that hurt you and you hurt back. We are flawed, but God takes it all and loves us, as us, anyway, just like that.
The other day, I listened to an artist I admire, Kendall Payne, in a shuffle mix. I was on the treadmill maintaining my half-century-old body; I was also musing over blooming and belonging when her track “Belonging” played. Gah, if my heart didn’t ache to hear it just then. The timing, the bittersweet message of the song, the relatability, made me realize again how profound faith is and the absolute love God has for us as he waits for us on the other side (home, at last) with arms open wide.
I tire of political ads, speeches, campaigns wherein the focus centers on dissing opponents. Can’t recall when this became customary, but it has always struck me as poor taste. I hate few things. This is one of them. It might be the especially volatile climate of today and weighty bitterness and injustices witnessed cities-wide, a shaking pandemic, or that I’m just getting older and less tolerant of subjecting myself to this much negativity. Because I seem to have developed a recent habit of turning off the radio or television just as soon as a politician begins this focused rant—and it’s usually by the third or fourth word. I know I’m idealistic to a fault, but I just wish I could hear a passionate speech on proposals, personal principles, and persuasive stands with the strength to stand on its own merit without the use of harsh words ripping another by ugly comparisons and throw-downs.
Years ago, I’d served as a ghostwriter for political content. It can be well-paid, eye-opening work, but not for me I finally realized. I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. Am I tainted by the experience? Sure. I’ve had more than my share of exposure to those who like to rule with brutal words and iron fists. But I always end up asking: Do unsavory words for the purpose of propelling an agenda (or for any reason) add virtue or honor? Do they truly enlighten or inform us on the issues at hand?
Yet, instead of growing harder, I seem to be softening under iron fists. I suppose I’m yearning for people, leaders, who dare to operate by a different slogan; one I’m trying--really trying to implement in my own circle: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8). While I’m aware we will not all have unity of mind in this lifetime, on this earth, with such a range of discordant issues and beliefs, I think if we practice sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (that is, putting the welfare of others before our own)—even just one of these—then maybe we’d behave a little better toward one another. Take better care with the words we use for each other, our fellow humans. We might even earn respect. Today, I value kindness to a much greater degree, and I beg, I beg it begins within me.
The swell of despair over disease, injustice, hostility, and chaos can be debilitating. The giant mountain of unemployment is heartbreaking; many are out-of-work for an unforeseen time. I’m feeling the angst of the entire struggle (I know I’m not alone), and the political system stinks (sorry). Things are feeling way off, different, wouldn’t you say? But this isn’t new, this troubling season, this has happened before in history. And humankind finds a way. We find a way to survive. We do. We will.
I’d say it’s a time of transition. Yet transitions often are painful, crushing. But transition usually redirects us towards something better. I believe two years from now will look very different from what it does today. Today never lasts, so if today is bad we have tomorrow’s sunrise.
The horizon is difficult to distinguish on a cloudy day. We can’t always see beyond, but we know the beyond is there. This is like faith. When we believe without seeing that the sun will crack through and shimmer over the waters once again, and we can feast our eyes on the fresh, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. God holds the future.
“Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’”—Isaiah 46:10
Today, I’m restless. The weather is cooler and I’d like to take advantage and go on an amazing hike. However, I had oral surgery yesterday, and while the procedure went well, I’m down for recovery.
I’m fortunate there are areas nearby allowing for a four or five-mile wooded trek I can speed through at a clip. These are my short excursions and all I’m allotted these days. But today at home, I’m only daydreaming about the trails… and of healing. And it dawned on me that I’ve unwittingly practiced a ritual on my nature jaunts. I sing the same Hebrew prayer for healing when I set out. Adon Ha Kavod comes quietly from my lips, sometimes a little louder. It hasn’t always been this way; I’ve also been reckless out there. But for some time now I’ve been doing this, singing this prayer, and the revelation took me by surprise today.
No doubt, I’m happy in the woods. I can think clearly and reflect deeply. I enjoy watching the birds, and if I can be honest, I envy them too. Adon Ha Kavod comes from a state of worship—to the Lord of all that surrounds us, the Lord of all glory, and he has healing in his wings. By his wings, he heals our brokenness and gives us flight when we worship him. Adon Ha Kavod prepares our hearts for worship, a place we need to dwell, in the shadow of Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) wings, to receive healing. I guess from this perspective, it’s not a usual hike. I’m going on Adon Ha Kavod, the Lord of Glory trek. To worship, give thanks, deepen trust, and from the process, heal. Because life and people dish out so much that we need healing from—and healing is a process, as is forgiveness. In these strange times, we all need healing, and we might practice forgiveness more.
There is another prayer of Jewish healers and sages, Mi Shebeirach, The One Who Blessed. This one is special because it is never spoken over oneself or in a general sense; it is recited only over specific others on which your mind is drawn. Wherein we ask the One, Almighty, who blessed our ancestors to bless those in physical and spiritual need with complete healing. So my trail outing transitions from Adon Ha Kavod to Mi Shebeirach—and it didn’t dawn on me until now. That’s where we find the greatest healing anyway, I believe, by dwelling over and praying on behalf of others; putting others first.
Troubles are endless. Prayers should be too; therefore, striving to lead a life of prayer is monumental. When we do it often, pray, it becomes a subconscious part of our existence. Maybe that’s what I’m really missing on this day: a sort of pilgrimage communion with the only One who can rescue, deliver, grant freedom, and heal by his mercy.
This is a time to build/rebuild and uplift rather than destroy. So Adon Ha Kavod and Mi Shebeirach, these long-sung prayers with far-reaching sentiments… may they be yours too, regardless of your cultural ties or background, walk in life, or predicaments.
Just a thought for today. Shalom.
Being human today means you can hardly do, speak, or blink anything without making waves. So the waves will come: small ones, large ones, and the inbetweeners. But one must persist, unwaveringly, in the turbulent surf by exhibiting kindness, love, and integrity. It’s hard being human. A gentle answer turns away wrath...? (Proverbs 15:1). Okay. But if somebody is especially wrathful, a tsunami, then maybe we just gently turn away. Find another spot in which to wade.
*Image by Patricia Alexandre from Pixabay
On an early morning walk this week, a great white heron flew in front of me. I felt the flush of wind from its powerful wingspan—it was that close. I might be misidentifying this magnificent creature, but I do know it was not a color-morphed junior—the thing was gigantic and entirely white, no black legs or darkened bill. I suppose I should have been startled by its sudden presence, but I stood in awe as it glided across my path at eye level and then soared skyward. I could have been envious of the bird for its freedom and fearless flight. Instead, I wondered curiously what the view was like up there over the treelined marsh in this Sweetwater valley of Tennessee.
I grew up mostly (or mostly grew up, haha) on Fidalgo Island in Washington State. I used to hike to a couple special spots just to watch the heron(s) in complete harmony with earth, water, and sky. I’d sit for hours as one would move in stately silence, fish with purposeful patience, pass from complete focused stillness to the majesty of commanding aviation in a blink. Strong birds. Confident loners, I somehow took comfort in watching them. Never before have I seen a white one, though, so this unexpected recent encounter was extra special.
There’s an inclination I have to read symbolism in everything, see a spiritual sign beyond the physical, spot an allegory. Probably stems from my Judeo-Christian background, and this nature is quite strong in me. My sister/BFF says that I walk between two worlds. Because it’s true, my mind and heart were heavy and I was seeking God that morning. Though my feet were firmly plodding forward on the path, my cognizance was somewhere else completely. So now I ask what, exactly, is the Lord saying to me? Herons in Hebrew culture represent long-suffering, wisdom, and protection, are forbidden to be hunted or eaten. Early Christians believed herons shed red tears when under stress and their emblem came to represent Jesus’ agony of sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet somehow there seems to be more here, something else I’m not perceiving.
“The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”—Romans 8:26
Or maybe there wasn’t meaning in that encounter at all. Maybe that moment was just meaningful in that the heron was neat to look at and nothing else hinges there. Maybe I read too much into things. Except, as the week continues to churn, images of the white heron paint my mind in pure flashes and I’m inspired and hope-filled and utter thanks to the Lord. Regardless and always, God is sensitive, compassionate, merciful, and good. I trust him. And I certainly appreciate that he created that standout heron.
Now back to my chips-n-salsa which I also appreciate. You see? Two worlds, lol.
A problematic social issue, a unit called to respond.
A man struggles to right his wrong.
“If I had said ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ when they asked me to do this thing, then maybe I would have turned out a hero instead of what I’ve become.
We were trained, hired with the promise of a good wage, to take care of a problem, to get things under control. As a man, I needed to succeed for myself, for my family living in a cycle of poverty in the sertão, the backlands. The earnings proved excellent, and far outweighed the promises made by the controlling peasant guerrillas. But the other part of it… If I knew then what I know now…
I can’t live with myself…
I can’t live.
If I could take it back. Everything I’ve done--
Ach, who could do such things? And if one could, then who would forgive such things?”
This is the story of one man's dark path to redemption.
Black Sheep, you are different not undesirable; misunderstood not disreputable. Honor is a power of the heart not a reflection of surroundings or surrounding attitudes. Your heart is strong. You do not fail, you climb. Failure is for those who do not move their hooves. Your hardy little even-toed hooves go, go, go! You ascend at your own pace. If you trip, you bleat, but you try again. Resilience. Among the scrutinizing eyes of your compeers I feel your pain, and yet I applaud—for there is no shame in being who you are or what God made you. No embarrassment, only delight. No shame, only honest pride. Some look at you and see deviation from the flock. I see straightforwardness.
Black Sheep, you are beautiful, and as you should be.