Choices make destinies. Destinies can also change.
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“Forgive, Release, Bless…” It’s a mantra that’s grabbing my attention wherever I look and listen.
We can say we forgive someone. But if we then turn around and complain to another about how something was unfair, or someone hurt, stole, cheated or abused us, then we haven’t really forgiven. We’ve developed a grudge. That kind of emotional baggage gets weighty, a burden to carry around and unpleasant for everyone.
Writing is sometimes my therapy. I write a lot. Some I publish, some I pen under different pseudonyms, some go unpublished because it was the process that I had to go through to learn and grow, climb out of my cesspool. While creating another’s wilderness in story-form, I often go through my own spiritual wilderness. It can be tough sometimes. But the typed expressions help me breathe again, rejuvenate. I’ve had a lot of underwater dreams lately involving murky water, flooded caves, barriers, and scuba cylinders gone defunct. In one, I shout distinctly (because I can do this, it’s a dream, and I’m not a diver) to someone indistinct, “Breathe, brother, breathe!” Then there are explosions where barriers blow away, water clears, and breathing is miraculously unassisted by flung-away tanks, and I hear, “Live, sister, live.”
The tombs of our past regrets and afflictions teach us and model us for brighter futures. But some of us have focused on the tombs far too long (note to self). It’s time to step out of caves with flint-eyed focus on what’s ahead, and the life-giving promises thereof. This hinges around forgiving to where we can truly release the damage of our hearts, let go, and bless the damagers!
Even if you’re trapped in the middle of toxic, dysfunctional, or complicated situations, or have suffered inner turmoil for a long period. Maybe over decades you’ve experienced relational distress, cultural oppression, or unending sick-of-it conditions (whatever “it” might be), and you’re weary. Dead inside. Yet your sluggish legs somehow get you from point A to point B in a day, or you’re trying to move underwater wearing too many weights, burdens, baggage.
Matthew 18:18 tells us that whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. That’s the one thing we can control when we’re stuck. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, Luke 6:45.
One of my favorite Hebrew names for God is El Roi. It means, “the God who sees me.” When we are alone, aching, forgotten by everyone else, cast aside by society, suffering in solitude, or feeling invisible, it’s the name we use to say, “but God sees.” He does. And with faith (our believing without seeing) we trust, knowing that God’s promises endure. He cares. The muck we wade through does not endure unless we allow it. So, keep hope alive in the secret chambers of your heart. Make the petitions of your lips daring prayers to El Roi, the God who sees, and Yeshua/Jesus, our guardian. Embrace the Ruach Ha Kodesh/Holy Spirit, our infuser (regulator?) and comforter. Hold fast to the Word, our way-maker, and the protractor for navigating uncharted areas.
I’ve spoken to others who sense a current spiritual movement or theme. Feels like a season of cultivation, and of internally letting go, despite circumstances, for walking into a new era. “Forgive, release, bless,” I hear again. Forgive the wrongdoer, cancel out the crippling, and bless. Following that, I hear, “double portion” where Increase marries Wisdom, because a greater harvest is looming.
God’s blessings are irrevocable. Even if they fall dormant for a time, they will flourish again and better than imagined. Wherever you are, whoever you are, here’s to new beginnings, fresh seasons, big visions, strong clarity, and abundant joy beginning in the heart and bubbling up out of your mouth. Breathing words that heal and help you walk into the freedom of your greatest dreams fulfilled and hopes restored.
In hindsight, last year gave us the means to sharpen our vision for the future, to balance what is important, and find a better way to manage and appreciate life. The means to seek a clearer vision according to God’s perfect vision for us (his will, not ours) and be grateful for each day we have despite what storms around us.
We’ve been rocked—and not in a good way—by the pandemic and politics. We can’t help these things… or… can we? To some extent, we can. It’s our responses to these things that make the difference. I’m fond of the phrase, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Here’s another by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” Our behavior should correspond with the root of our beliefs. So now, I’d like to address some of my fellow believers in Jesus.
Call this a heart’s cry, but I’m crushed by what I see. Most disheartening, the attitude and angry speech from quite a few of my Christian peers who are spouting steam worse than an old locomotive. How persuasive is the demonstration of anger and the spirit of hate, which is contrary to God’s spirit, when the entire world rolls in hate-hysteria? Where’s the differentiation? Where’s the hope and encouragement? What difference does political affiliation make in loving your neighbor? Some of us have lost sight, are losing sight. If there was, God forbid, a massive earthquake in your neighborhood and people were trapped under rubble, would you reach in there and offer a helping hand or would you stand by and say, “What’s your affiliation? Because I’m only helping you if it lines up with mine.”
If you’re one of those screaming about injustice, remember that Jesus, the one in whom you believe, suffered the greatest injustice of all. Yet, he went as a lamb to the slaughter--as a lamb—for the sake of us all; not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s coming back as a lion, but that time hasn’t come yet—and it’s his right to roar when it does. In the meantime, by his grace we’re commissioned to be examples of light, salts of the earth, human versions of God’s steadfast love. Instead, social media, especially, reeks of an old famous bar where everybody knows your name and has to prove a point, prove a point, prove a point! It’s a frenzy; it’s an addiction. Easy to get caught up in—but where is the higher standard if we do as the world does? Where are the lambs?
I hope that instead of heated tongue-wagging, name-calling, and other adverse reactions, we can create an element of infectious peace—even, and especially, if we don’t agree with the climate. If you think I’m saying that we need to strive much harder to live and lead by Jesus’ example, then you are absolutely right—and I’m speaking to myself first.
Finally, if the present affairs are just too ugly and you feel like a loner going against the whitewater current of popular hysteria, then find a nice quiet place to pray. Because in the Lord’s presence is peace. There, we can find the strength to hold higher, a shield of honor, emblazoned with the blood of Jesus, this scripture:
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” — Colossians 3:12-14
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.
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.
A woman solo hiked the PCT. This is her engaging rite-of-passage memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I could hardly put the book down, strong was my desire to gobble up every trail and survival detail. I love hiking, along with exploring the backcountry on horses, and primitive camping. While my own two feet have traversed sections of both the PCT and the AT (Appalachian Trail), I can only, thus far, live vicariously through those who have actually “thru-hiked.” Cheryl Strayed didn’t exactly hike through, having started in the Mojave Desert in California and finished at the Bridge of the Gods connecting Oregon to Washington, but she covered 1,100 miles on her weary, blistered, nail-less toes, having started out ill-prepared and untrained. That’s nothing to scoff at, by any stretch. That’s gutsy.
**potential spoilers below**
The writing is sharp and the storytelling vivid. I trekked into the pages assuming I could relate to the author as I, too, lost both my parents. I know what it’s like when your family unit sort of disintegrates due to grief; when the strong root is dug up, or the anchor is hoisted leaving you feeling adrift. Yet, I couldn’t grasp the author’s perspective on a number of levels. From her form of recklessness and promiscuity, to feeling a life force—though the size of a grain of rice—recognizing she was pregnant, and then using “I got an abortion” and “learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes” in the same sentence. I couldn’t comprehend why her editors kept in the dalliance with “rad” man, as it had nothing to do with the story and certainly didn’t move it along. I didn’t understand why she unreasonably obliterated a solid marriage to a great guy, or how she expressed pain. And the incident with her mom’s horse, Lady: horrid. Choices, choices!
Still, her descriptions of nature when compared to her state of being proved starkly eloquent. When she hadn’t seen another human for weeks. When silence was tremendous. When she expressed that she was nothing to pebbles, leaves, and branches, yet they were everything to her. “Everything but me seems utterly certain of itself. The sky didn’t wonder where it was.”
When she did have encounters with other characters, they were interesting. Clyde’s words moved me while he said he didn’t believe in reincarnation when Cheryl had asked him. He said, “I believe we’re here once and what we do matters.”
And Cheryl’s mom having cancer that consumed her before she reached 50. I understood the tragedy of it. And the painful truths that came also from the mom’s mouth, about how she never got to conduct her own life—to be in the driver’s seat. She always did what someone else wanted her to do. The most uncomfortable sentiment, “I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.” Sorrowful authenticity is a killer.
So, you see, Wild was a weighty, ugly-beautiful book. Hard to rate. It’s like life, you take the good with the bad—which I suppose is the theme of this chronicle. Although I’m a different-thinking person from that of the author, with a contrasting belief system and grief display, and I didn’t quite see in my mind a “healing” take place, I admire Strayed who “strayed” and wrote for us a compelling memoir to digest.
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.
The Unspeakable (Puma) is now in its second edition, a version with the same storyline but repackaged. Newly categorized under Christian Suspense, and International Mystery & Crime, if you have not yet read this book I invite you to do so – though it might keep you up at night.
When bad things happen to good people, what then?
When a furtive conflict is pitted between violent leftist guerrillas and a rightwing paramilitary group in Colombia, a North American woman mistakenly gets caught in the middle.
“I spent four months, one week and two days in a clandestine prison referred to as The Water Cave. Every day I stared hell in the face, and each day I wanted to die. I don’t want to share too much too quickly. To understand fully, you must join hands with me, fasten your heart to mine, and course through my book. Stumble over the incomprehensible human rights journey with me. I've pondered it to the brink of questionable sanity, and it's the only way to explain. I suppose I should consider myself lucky I survived at all—for many did not—yet, perplexingly so, that’s not the premise of this narrative.
He altered my life, marked me forever.
But it’s not how you might imagine.
This is a story involving Horacio Botello, my torturer known as Puma.”