The Aftermath – What Remains?

 

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Credit: Pixabay

The shaking is intended for certain heartbreak and our fainting.

How do we deal with the aftermath?  The consequences of a significant unpleasant event lingers like a bitter aftertaste. It is the rumble left behind when our foundations are jolted out of alignment by an unexpected earthquake. It is when embedded chains even invisible to us are brought into full focus and we have to deal with our new reality. Are we going to stay bound or break free from false foundations? Anything that can be shaken should not have been trusted in the first place.

I would not confuse
the bogus
with the spurious.
The bogus
is a sore thumb
while the spurious
pours forth
as fish and circuses.  (An excerpt from Spurious by Rae Armantrout.)

We hold fast to wrong  foundations as the definition of our core identity till a slip-up exposes the hollow circuses  we’ve allowed to define and be responsible for our happiness. I held on to the love of a certain boy long ago, whose lopsided smile took my breath away till fishes and circuses rained on my parade. It was a fantasy interrupted by a rude rap on my door.

Who goes there?

Rain.

I’ve been a Californian for so long –  I don’t know how to behave in the presence of rain.
Especially a torrent propelling me down fury’s road of liquid drama featuring three deranged and frazzled people needing Dr. Phil’s intervention. Metaphors are always adept in helping me manage painful realities. I closed my eyes and refused to see rain – messy, distressing and unwelcome.

Marriage, friendships, job or career, beauty or charm, money, wealth, sexual orientation or even race, make pretty wobbly foundations.  I’m not sure race should even make the list but in the context of self-worth for some pathetic folks, it is an over-aching standard.

Still I refuse to give up on family and children – pain and joy comes with the territory and privilege of loving and being loved by others. I found out through my experience that only faith can withstand the tremors and earthquakes.  Faith is what remains. God is able to turn what was intended for our unravelling for some sort of good – like stripping us from clutches, laying a new foundation of greater faith and exposing our false gods.

“When you connect your purpose to your perspective, nobody else holds your keys.” Pastor  Steven Furtick 

The venom of anger and hate would only serve to shackle my future to my past. Praise is the only tool powerful enough to break every chain. Indeed life is so much more than these disappointments that now loom so large but in a few years will be so insignificant when compared to God’s greater vision for our lives.
May each aftermath find you and me standing in faith, with hands raised so high the chains are broken. There is only One worthy of our trust because He will always be faithful in His love for us.

Peace to all our broken pieces.

 

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A Part of Me has Died

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The Scar Head Sculpture from the Balearic Islands of the Mediterranean, Spain. (Mallorca Monuments)

We ask a lot of questions, we humans. This gift of speech and language can sometimes seem like a curse. We transitioned seamlessly at the age of two from sweet innocent babies to obnoxious toddlers – if you ask me that’s why it is called the terrible twos. The unending quest for answers to everything rages on like a California forest fire.

Why? Why? The annoying, nagging questions that can drive you up the wall as a parent, surely irks God. Instead we should be asking, How? As in, how can this set of circumstances work out for my good?  Or What?  As in, what can I do now? Why is the proverbial split milk, the water under the bridge, the shattered glass on the kitchen floor. As humans, we desperately want our scars understood. MercyMe‘s song, The Hurt and the Healer, reminds us that “Healing doesn’t come from the explained.”

Nobody asks why something good happens, when it does. Like Julie Andrews in the classic movie, The Sound of Music, we are quick to assume that the grand old universe is paying us back because we “must have done something good.” I’d like to know how the nineteen year old boy in Chino Hills, CA who bought ONE lottery ticket deserves the huge chunk of the recent $1.5 billion dollars jackpot. King Solomon, the wisest and richest man who ever lived said, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”*

There’s little gain in wallowing in pain, till tears carve a permanent groove on our faces. There’s only One who’s there during the dark nights of the soul, who comforts us during the winters of the heart. If we believe He is with us, we will not ask dead-end questions. God never promised that we would never NOT feel His presence – but that He will never leave nor forsake us. For sure He is real, His promise is sure even when we’re deep in a spiritual gloom. When He feels distant, we are simply being weaned of our emotional dependencies.

What makes a difference is reminding ourselves of His promises because they have not changed and neither has God, not one iota. This is maturity – the ability to discern the difference between God’s omnipresence and the manifestation of that presence in the midst of suffering. My new prayer has become, “Lord, find Your glory even here.” That whiny toddler in me has died.

 

Image Credit – PixCove . *Eccl.9:11

 

An Even Better Story

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Credit: Pixabay

I had envisioned telling a very different story this morning but this is the one that unfolded. Today was a particularly windy California morning and I raced home down Balboa Boulevard in my gleaming, silver car anticipating some hot French roast coffee, when from my peripheral vision I caught the sight of what looked like a hunched man, battling the elements. He clutched a threadbare cloak around his thin shoulders. His eyes were squeezed tight and all he had between him and the whirling sandstorm was a weather-beaten red donation receptacle.

Suddenly I couldn’t relax in my warm, toasty home with a clear conscience and pretend I didn’t see a brother out there. While I was so terrified of walking up to the homeless man (Let’s call him Bob), I stilled my nerves and rounded the corner with a cup of coffee, a bag containing a toasted turkey sandwich, a delicious red apple and some loose change, but Bob was gone. Gone! I walked further up the street and scanned every shaded area, it was like the wind had whisked him away.  As I walked back home dejected, my story flipped.

If Bob was gone, was there anyone else who could use a hot breakfast? I scanned the alleys, then behind the liquor store at the crossroad and found no-one. None. How many mornings have I driven down this road and not spared a thought for anyone but myself (The drum major instinct). I wondered, is this how God feels holding out gifts, looking out for us, wanting to bless our socks off but we are too selfish, distracted or too busy wandering aimlessly, that we miss His outstretched hands.

We are all servants of humanity, blessed to turn around and be a blessing.  When we actively and purposefully receive all God has for us, we can truly help each other. Every act of kindness becomes part of our history and our family stories.They remind us that miracles are still possible, that there is still so much love to share because God first loved us. Those are stories I want to tell.

It’s crazy faith to expect good from unexpected places, to hope that the next moment could hold the very answers we seek, to look for the good in everything, even the mundane and imperfect.(This reminds me of Brené Brown’s, Gift of Imperfections.) I wish I had met Bob, that would have been a great story, maybe the start of something extraordinary or… not.

Still Bob would have known that he opened my eyes today and made me a better person. They say, you don’t have a story to tell, till you’ve been through something. Here’s to all the downtrodden and lost – no matter what life hurls at you, remember that you are infinitely worthy and your stories anchor our souls.

 

 

Lessons from Playing Monopoly – When the Game is Over

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A few weeks ago, I spent an entire Sunday afternoon playing monopoly with my son and before he rolled the dice, I said, “Honey, remember  you are already valuable, it’s not what you have that determines your worth. Ok? ”

Well, I could have saved my breath because he was completely and irrationally obsessed with acquiring every property his bronze, horse token landed on. If he could buy the jailhouse, he would have. The thrill of acquisition dissipated when his cash reserves ran low and he needed to liquidate properties, houses and hotels to pay rent, bank levies or taxes. Sean, still without guile at thirteen, started bending the rules and kept eyeing the bank vault, trying to keep his game afloat. My strategy was simple – service versus greed. So I set my targets on utilities, railroads and a few choice properties .

In life, we are valuable because God loves us, even before we were born. Our performance or accumulation of things like badges of status will not endear us to Him. His love is sure and does not waver.

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A life that has meaning does not hold on to riches and its inherent lie that money defines us. There are no tight fists in the casket. People with the intentional posture of opens hands believe in generosity and are channels of God’s goodness and love. Anything you own turns around and possesses you right back. Imagine the aggravation from every dent in your brand new car or the shattered screen of your new iPhone, your obsession with your home security etc.  I agree with Al Watt from  LA Writer’s Lab, “…hold your (story) elements loosely.”

“You have to ask yourself: When you finally get the ultimate possession, when you’ve made the ultimate purchase,when you buy the ultimate home, when you have stored up financial security and climbed the ladder of success to the highest rung you can possibly climb it, and the thrill wears off–and it will wear off–then what?” — John Ortberg

A modified version of a story I heard at a church service goes like this  – A grandson (Pastor John Ortberg) finally beat his grandma at monopoly one weekend after summer vacation and she lauded him,

“I see you’ve finally learnt that this game is requires a 100% commitment to acquisition.”
“Took me a whole summer, but well worth it!” He said, gloating in victory.
“Now you are ready to learn a second lesson – everything goes back into the box.”

Life is a game that ends at some point and player after player – the truck driver asleep at the wheel, a business mogul in a plane crash, a young model with a life of glamor in her sights shot by a jealous boyfriend, a dictator beheaded by rebels (all pretty grim huh?), a grandfather passing away in his sleep… we all go by way of the box, so why stress over stuff?

As King Solomon wisely said, ” All this is vanity…I hated all my labor in which I toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? ” (Proverbs 2:18-19 para.)

That’s why we hold things loosely, and love fiercely. When our game is over, we will not leave this planet with a single penny or one solitary thread.
The Beloved Sean and I now recite this declaration by Bobby Schuller (The Shepherd’s Grove):

I’m not what I do
I’m not what I have
I’m not what people say about me
I’m the beloved of God

That’s who I am and no-one can take that from me…

Lord, lead us by love to our authentic selves.

https://pixabay.com/en/sand-sculpture-monkey-selfi-gorilla-774467/

Selfies, Fleshly Cuffs – Much Ado About IT

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Credit: Pixabay Images

This is the way a certain man’s *story ends:
He had John beheaded in the dungeon. And John’s head, ratty with matted dreadlocks and a thick, scruffy beard, was placed on a gleaming silver platter and given to the girl, who served it to her mother, Herodias. Then his followers came, took away the decapitated body and buried it…
The it stopped me cold. Why didn’t the story say buried him?

In our self-obsessed culture, we tend to place people with the It-Factor on ivory pedestals, gawk at their sculptured (airbrushed) perfection in glossy prints and agree that they are entitled to a form of rarefied air and lifestyle. Somehow the image, this physical part of us has become our highest hope. We obsess about body image, contour, nip and tuck our angles and curves. In this selfie-crazed world, what chance does the soul, the spirit have to thrive?

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.” Luke 12:4

I live in LA, the most cynical city in the world and as Andy Warhol’s  Interview Magazine promotes their “The #ME Issue” an issue dedicated to the art of the celebrity selfie featuring eight covers profiling the “Instagang” – Victoria Beckham, Selena Gomez, Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, Mert Alas, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and Zayn Malik et al., I wonder if there’s a place for higher-level introspection, for God, for selflessness in our dizzy urban kaleidoscope.

Really??!

Really?!

It sucks, but at some point, everyone’s story will come to an end. What’s left behind becomes it and lest the decaying, decomposing carcass constitute a health hazard, it is buried in the original organic matter to bond with grave robbers, maggots and critters. For some, their real essence, (the genderless soul) will be shocked to find that beyond our fleshy cuffs, this shell of flesh, this body of death, what you look like doesn’t matter after all.

Neither does what you do or who you are. The most important attribute is who you believed in. Here’s wishing us all a selfless life and a happy ending.

*story @ Matthew 14 (paraphrased)