Tag Archive: Spirituality


Question. If you were told you are going to die in three months, what would you do? That’s a similar message I received twenty months ago. The March 2019 prognosis went something like this, “Subsequent diagnosis indicated cerebrovascular disease .. with proper medicine and dietary changes, maybe minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or a couple of years.” I’ve been living in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years since. In clinical terms, I met expectations, with some physicians claiming I even exceeded expectations. Tuesday, that “progress” was updated. ‘Years’ was removed. The subsequent redefinition becomes more impactful when life gets reduced to “minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months.”

Those in the medical profession (like me) talk about that one moment when a dying person first comprehends, on a gut level, that death is close. Nessa Coyle summarized that the habit of allowing thoughts of death to remain in the background suddenly becomes impossible when it can no longer be denied. Instantaneously, death is in your face.

Intellectually, I’ve had a long time to accept being terminal. And throughout the past twenty-months, I tirelessly treated (for lack of a better word at the moment) the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual domains of my soul. Even now, I feel neither feel depression nor anger. I am more horrified by death’s methodology than the literal act of dying. Monday morning’s episode revealed that the process of dying (for me) would either be long or swift. I fear the lengthy.

Clearly, I inherited my father’s computer wiring (brain schematic). For years he seemingly suffered endlessly with Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA, a fancy name for short-term strokes) that arrive at night and leave by daybreak. Until it didn’t. Five years later, my father entered Hospice (a month ago). His demise has been slow, painful, and completely compromising, not only for me but also for my mother, who lived day and night by my father’s principal caretaker. 

My TIA arrived like a freight train after midnight and departed before dawn. Similar to early 2019, this was another warning shot, only bigger. It was a massive detonation. Sure I survived, but I was assured Mr. TIA would reappear and probably won’t leave. Doctors experts ran the statistics. About 1 in 3 (some studies claim 1 in 5) who experience a TIA are likely to experience a stroke within six months. The odds of experiencing this within 90 days are 2%-17%. My thought after being told I was going to die in months? In the immortal words of Burn Notice character Michael Weston, my physicians were saying, “Don’t make retirement plans.

One fortunate outcome (thus far) is that I’ve never lost control of who I was. This is an essential point for all facing death (or will face death). I may have lost control of the body, but I never lost control of me. Even during Monday’s TIA, I understood who I was, from where I came, the day, date, time, the problems facing me, the problematic discussion about whether one would find me with an unclean butt. Therefore, I hope that no matter how far I progress through this process, I believe there will be some part of me that will exist. It is a part I can knowingly take with me into the future to whatever lay beyond. 

As stated in many spiritual teachings, helping another die with a peaceful, positive state of mind is one of the most extraordinary acts of kindness we can offer. I think that should be everyone’s focus. Indeed, this will not be easy. Just the physical aspect of dying will be challenging. My goal is to be treated with respect, kindness, and love; to talk and be listened to; or, at certain times, to be left alone and in silence. People like me have spiritual needs – to make sense of life, their suffering, their death, have hope for what lies beyond, feel that they will be cared for and guided by someone or something wiser and more powerful than themselves. I am fortunate, for I believe someone awaits me and will provide guidance. 

After the doctors guided me through their updated prognosis, I momentarily reflected upon a recent Zoom business seminar. A seminar leader asked the roundtable of healthcare leaders what they had learned thus far through the pandemic. Most provided rather mundane versions of being a better spouse, parent, friend, or mentor. One person silenced the room. “I learned to humanize people and how not to be afraid of others, for everyone has value. It is a privilege to be a part of — even a small part of their life. And it’s a privilege to help them move on to wherever is beyond [death]. All of you inspired me to do that.”

And that’s been my goal. Hopefully, that’s what this blog has been about. May each of you be the part that helps people to move beyond. When things seem dark, find the power of love in those who surround you.

If you want to verify how clean hardwood floors are, spend a couple of hours face down sliding your face over each board. It is a cleaning tip I have neither known nor read. It certainly wasn’t on the front page of Good Housekeeping, on the back of a Mr. Clean bottle, or seen on YouTube. Nonetheless, there I was at 2:00 AM early Monday: rubbing my face across my hardwood floors because I could neither sit, stand nor crawl. I rolled over in bed and something went ‘bink.’ Maybe it was a ‘bink.’ Sounded like a ‘bink.’ Then again, it could have been a ‘boink,’ or possibly a ‘dink.’ I cannot accurately describe the internal sound. Doesn’t matter. What I tell you is the subsequent several hours trying to find a way to simply exist. 

I have lived this past couple of years believing I could have gotten lucky. Death would simply fail to notice me. We all do. And for the past couple of months, for the most part, I started thinking about two years plus 1. Then, out of nowhere, ‘bink.’ Sudden onset of severe & constant dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and imbalance. Did not matter if I stood (which I could not) or sat (which I could, only by leaning against a wall). Therefore on a cool crisp night, I lay face down on the hardwood floor. Struggling to coordinate a response, I realized a few critical points that impeded my ability to do anything but ride it out.

Both my overpriced iPhone 12 Pro Max and fancy-dancy Apple iWatch 4 were in the other room. My telephone? You guessed it: in the other room. If you read my blog, you’re probably asking, “Why did you do that?” My response is similar to that of my cat Cougar after being caught climbing the Christmas tree. “Cougar! Why did you do that?” He sheepishly shrugged, “I don’t know.” That’s one of the tricks to fancy-schmancy technology, it is all absolutely of no value when face down on the floor at 2:20 AM in the morning. Siri can’t hear. Mr. Google is asleep. Amazon is off. It’s just you and your thoughts. 

Believe it or not, my first pressing question was “How will I take a dump?” Second question.”I manage to sit on the toilet, can I wipe?” Agreed. These are not life and death questions, but at 2:50 AM, they seemed important. Ok. Important to me. Of course, I should have been trying to figure a way out of this mess. I should have been deciding how to call paramedics, a friend, or a neighbor but the thought of an unwiped behind permeated my thoughts. No. Thought of the Angel of Death finding me with an unwiped behind never occurred to me. It was just thought of an old, bald, fat man lying dead with an unwiped behind. 

“What we have?” asks the corner.

First officer, “An old, bald, fat dude with an unwiped a**.”

“Geez. Third time this week.”

“Yup,” nods the second officer.

As you know, I made it out alive. My doctor reminded me that I am, in fact, dying. Just not today. She also stated March 2021 is just around the corner, that I should expect more problems when nearing the point of no return. Five months is not that far away. Deep down, I know my body is getting worse. I may refuse to show it, but I feel it.

As a spiritual person, a Buddhist, for these 8 years or so, I know the time of death is uncertain but the truth of death is not. I take hope in knowing that everything is intertwined and linked. Like all things, we are constantly changing and regrouping. This means that transitoriness and change are basic features of spiritual life. The same applies to the human body: it too is constantly changing. And even laying on a cool hardwood flow, openly ready to vomit, my body teaches impermanence.

It is a fundamental error to think of one existing separate from others. The fact that I have a human body is considered a rare privilege. I am unsure what I did in some previous life to earn that privilege, even with the understanding I have not nourished it properly for a decade. I disown neither it nor God. I am not my body, but rather I am an inhabitant. I am the renter. I am sorry for the pain I caused my lessor, but I am proud it served me, even unto the end.

Kamma! It Just Is.

I’ve been off radar recovering from ongoing medical conditions. A week ago, one of my eyes decided that going on the fritz was imperative, and for whatever reason, vision blurred. Being the alpha male of my home (Ok, the only male in said home), I decided it was nothing — that the visual part of my anatomy awoke to have a bad morning. Indeed, once I drop coffee down my throat, all will be well, sharp just like the night before. It turns out the alpha male of the home was completely wrong.

There is backdrop. February 2018, I woke up with primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) — called open-angle glaucoma — which is the most common type of glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma is particularly dangerous because those who have it don’t know anything is wrong until significant, irreparable vision loss occurs. Until all hell broke loose, I had no pain, no noticeable vision loss, or any other hint that something is amiss. Yet the “silent thief of sight” struck. Four eye surgeries later, I was a new man. “Go forth and procreate,” clinicians said. (I was told everything was ok.) Until this week.

“Ocular hypotony is usually defined as intraocular pressure (IOP) of 5–6 mmHg or less.” The doctor said. “So, instead of having too much pressure, you’re experiencing too little pressure. Also, the cornea in your eye looks like sandpaper. That’s why you’re experiencing blurred vision. The problem is, we don’t know why you’re experiencing low eye pressure. Every test we’ve performed is normal.” For the time being, blurred vision is my life, and the forecast reads like a weather forecast: partly cloudy to rainy.

Simultaneously, I’ve been listening to the news. Depending upon whom one hears, President Trump is either near post-COVID treatment and is ready to leave, requiring oxygen, has a long road to recovery, or has no clear path to recovery. Trump and I are alike in many ways. Both of us probably have “no clear path to recovery.” Each of us has received medical treatment not afforded to the average person living their life on Mainstreet, U.S.A. Trump received medication that neither you nor I will ever receive. Yet, both of us have avenues to better healthcare than most.

I have known for nineteen (19) months that time is short. Specifically, my time is short. Maybe Trump and I are on a similar path, just different roads. I also affirm that this present life is only a part of the round of existence (samsara). This current life I am experiencing was conditioned by others who influenced me. In turn, my next existence will allow me to learn lessons in this life.

In COVID, there are usually some people who succumb while others escape, even though both are exposed to similar conditions. According to the Buddhist view, the difference between the former and the latter is inherited from the past. Other examples are the cases where though the treatment was given was successful, and the patient died, and wherein spite of ineffective treatment, the patient lived. There have also been cases of remarkable and unexpected recoveries when modern medicine has given up all hope for remission. Such cases strengthen the Buddhist belief that besides the physical cause of disease, illness can be the effect of lousy Kamma in past lives. An infection from Kammic cause cannot be cured until that Kammic result is exhausted. But the Kamma of every person is a mystery both to himself and others.

In reality, all of us know suffering is an inevitable part of life. Like old age and death, sickness is unavoidable. In other words, in this life, “it just is.” This does not mean that I will mitigate every ache and pain through available medical means, but I will accept and mindfully endure if suffering remains. Within the spiritual tradition, physical pain and illness can provide an occasion for the cultivation of healthy and desirable mental states, including forbearance and patience. Therefore, it is not an illness but rather our response to it that has spiritual value.

And maybe that’s my Kamma to learn.

My mother sent me to Sunday Morning Bible study early in my childhood. Much of it was unremarkable, except for a few lessons. One such lesson I remember. The teacher fashioned an animal from Play-Doh and held it out to the class. “Check out this awesome animal I just made! Pretty cool, huh? You know what, maybe this animal has special powers. What do you think?” Of course, we knew there were no special powers. Our teacher was not an artist. Soon, we moved onward to producing our images than the merits of hers. The lesson remains clear 50 years later. Most human inhabitants create a strange set of ‘gods’ which we’ll throw ourselves upon without exception. 

Jesus dramatically showed how the highly educated and the deeply devoted craft words and images about God versus the reality of knowing him. Rather than choose’ knowing God,’ a golden calf is substituted for truth. By instilling the virtues of an ornamental object, they are encouraging intellectual assent. As such, when the false God gets embedded, the outcome becomes tragic. 

In embracing the calf, we lean into vast swaths of character flaws. Instead of discernment, we embrace bankruptcies, self-medicate, and dive into the idolatry of individualism. The dissonance between faith ideals and faith are rerouted to the calf where populism, sexual abuse, environmental destruction, and moral failure to authenticate the message are carried out by people gathering at rallies and weekly worships for Christ. “Yes,” we exalt. “This person (our calf) is our Christ.”

In doing so, we absolve ourselves, and those elected, from responsibility for any action. “Ah,” we scream. “Damn that deep state (or family issues, skin color, economic background). It’s cause and effect, never accountability. “Don’t look here, look yonder. He’s responsible. They’re responsible. Not me.”

We kill Christ with a perverted form of truth and religiously wash our hands. We practice our sabbath through the willful and systemic murdering of dignity, truth, and honor. We condemn those labeled ‘different’ only to elevate our reputation among followers. 

America’s current calf has a long history of scandals: financial, sexual, and political. Yet our caricature of Christ appears as a wealthy republican or paranoid dictator as we neglect the real image of God, like those found in a lowly sharecropper, picking fruit, in the heat-soaked sun. Instead of a religion of peace, hope, love, and joy, our calf offers none.

Many evangelicals misunderstand our calf is a false prophet, as though all his words come from God. Like Children of Israel trying to find God in wrong places, supporters align. Some will protest, saying our calf puts prayer back in school, fights abortion, and meets with religious leaders. In doing so, we fail to ignore cruelty.

Christ said one can’t serve God and mammon. For either, you’ll love the one and hate the other (Matthew 6:24). Christ also said that inasmuch as you had done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me (Matthew 25:40). When Christians praise a rich man who is cruel to the poor and cheats them, when we praise asylum seekers’ cruelty, we are worshiping mammon. When one idolizes the vile, we exclaim, “Fuck you, God.” 

The unforgivable sin is specified in several Synoptic Gospels passages, including Mark 3:28–29, Matthew 12:31–32, and Luke 12:10. All of us need to reread these passages. For right now, we are God’s greatest blasphemy.

Did He See That?

Stuck in bed from excessive pain and excessive blood loss, l watched the world from a window. Laying horizontally, one views a different perspective of the world, its beauty, frailties, and trivialities. In the hours, and the hours after that, life’s opportunities are thrown to viewers to ponder, but only those who see.

I was taught God knows us. And, in an ideal world, not one shall fall ‘cept by His will. Christ said so. “Yet not one of them (sparrow) will fall to the ground without the will of your father.” Am I afforded the same? Does God willfully wish me to die painfully, either from a tumor or Parkinson’s like a multitude of others? If God sees sparrows fall, does He see all animals? How about cats?

A cat died today crossing the street. Naively darting into traffic to cross the street, its hind legs were trapped under a tire. In excruciating pain, it tried to maneuver back to safety, but could no longer function and finally succumbing to fate’s last breath. We were both unable to move: the cat and I, helpless, and unable to move. Hours later, the moment we both participated remain frozen. My only words, “Dear God!”

“Dear God? Did you will that? Was that YOUR will?” The driver who saw the cat drove on. Other vehicles passing by looked at the struggle and simply passed by. “Not my job,” one might say. “No time,” another may claim. In 2018, Five teenagers who taunted a drowning man while recording his death. Did God see it? George Floyd died with an officer kneeling on his neck. Was that God’s will? Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back. As Blake was shot, did Christ believe the will of YOUR Father was completed? What the hell was He thinking?

When an Antioch, Illinois teenager shot protesters in Kenosha, WI, was HE good with that? If Trump refused to condemn the shooter (and the act), was that God’s will? When Trump plays golf while many painfully die from COVID, are we good with that?  If God does nothing, should we? If our leadership willfully throws children in cages on America’s southern border, is that the type of tough love God condones? If we remove the Affordable Care Act and thousands die, does Christ say, “Cool.” I come to ask these questions because I know of no better forum to bring such grief. As the Apostle Peter once said to Jesus, at a moment of confusion and doubt, “Lord, to whom else can we go?”

During my incapacitation, In Fakebook’s show Sorry For Your Loss, the lead character typed a deep heart penetrating comment. “Everyone says it’s not the end of the world. That’s because it’s not the end of THEIR world.” I truly believe our world no longer feels grief because we no longer experience connection.  I had no close ties to the cat, but in a searing single moment, part of us shared a body of pain. As the cat suffered, I suffered.

Many of us will succumb similarly to the cat. We come. We live. We get ill. We succumb. However, in order for us to get past the ideology of the day (whether Trump, QAnon, GOP, Democrat, whatever), we’ll need to feel scars, In the presence of Jesus’ scars, Jesus instructed Thomas to “Feel my hands” and “Touch my side.” In a flash of revelation, Thomas saw the wonder of a God who in some way, stooped to take on our pain. In that sense, I can attest that where there is misery, there is Love (God).

In moments of pain, I want answers. “(Looking at Trump’s antics) Like God, why?” Yet God appears to remain aloof. Or does He? Frederick Buechner said, “I am not the Almighty God, but if I were, maybe I would in mercy either heal the unutterable pain of the world or in mercy kick the world to pieces in its pain.” God did neither. He sent love (Christ). God joined our world in all its unutterable pain to set in motion a slower, less dramatic solution … one that involves us.

All that has happened in these past four years demonstrates that your life—the decisions you make, the kind of person you are—matters now. Neither the cat nor I have a future. I would like to promise an end to pain and grief, and that one will suffer again. I cannot. I can, however, stand behind the promise that all things are redeemable, and can work together to a greater good. It’s a lesson God, Kanako, and that cat taught.

Trump’s fifty-plus minute diatribe in Charlotte, North Carolina reminded me of a Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .” I flashed to 1963.

In June 1963, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc publicly burned himself to death in a plea for President Ngo Dinh Diem to show “charity and compassion” to all religions. By November 1963, Diem was overthrown. Students of history, all of us should compare such self-sacrifice against the tyranny of the current administration. To be fair, Trump doesn’t hate protests, only dissent.

Pandering to cult leadership is not new. However harmful we thought previous leaders were, I don’t recall the overly targeted criticism of athletes who knelt, silently and peacefully, during the national anthem. Public rebuking NFL players in a series of tweets ended the NFL quarterback (Kaepernick); goodness of evil was emphasized when white supremacists marched; and black men and women are wrongly shot, most recently in the back. And most Americans sat on our asses and watched it all while the ‘shit-show’ ran amok.

In four short years, America witnessed institutional dismantling, justice to the preferred, truth for those who lied under oath, and rapping U.S. coffers for personal gain. In four years, healthcare dismantled, environmental standards ripped apart, legal norms suffocated, sought election interference from foreign powers, separated children from immigrant families and threw them into cages like stray dogs, told citizens to inject bleach (or maybe a light), spouted unproven medical quackery, and by December, will have witnessed 300,000 U.S. citizens die. We watch, all the while acknowledging the damage.

The president’s sister described him as a liar and fake. A former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security deemed him a danger to the country. CNN claims a prominent Fox News anchor had once called him “batshit crazy.” John Bolton, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have described our leader as a danger to America. Sadly, none of these men or women were able to rise above the moment to demonstrate something greater. Perseverance of love failed miserably.

In his death, Thich Quang Duc demonstrated his compassion love – the need for bridges, not hatred. Presidential Historian Jon Meacham echoed Duc’s sentiment at the recent Democratic Convention, “Extremism, nativism, isolationism and a lack of economic opportunity for working people are all preventing us from realizing our nation’s promise, and so we must decide whether we will continue to be prisoners of the darkest of American forces or will we free ourselves to write a brighter better nobler story. Our (the American) story has soared when we have built bridges, not walls.”

Which story will you build? Bridges? Or walls?

Keeping It Real

Sometime in the coming months, this blog will either stop, or a huge gap between writing could occur. I may be out of pocket, or I must determine how to write one-handed. God, nature, or life gifted the metacarpophalangeal joint in the middle finger (my writing hand) a lump. The doctors do not believe this is a Ganglion cyst. The doctors explained that since conclusive diagnosis appears improbable, they suggest surgically removing it. I, however, must think of some way to explain it to my employer.

There are some notable examples. Entering on stage with a shoulder spica cast, Phyllis Diller opened with something like, “I want to report a typo on page 164 of The Joy of Sex.” Another person said she sliced her hand, opening a frozen waffle. Another claimed to have broken her nose while adjusting her bra. (She was fitting her bra and slipped, releasing her fist into her nose.) Having such examples provided a creative license. 

“Hey everyone. I was coming into work and saw a cat (correct that: kitten) stuck on an overpass ledge. I saved the kitten but cut my hand. I will be out of pocket for two to six weeks.” There is an attacker’s excuse. “I saved a person from being attacked. The attacker cut my hand. I will be out of pocket for two to six weeks.” Then there is this one. “My girlfriend and I were play wrestling. My cat came to defend her and bit me. Stupid cat. I will be out of pocket for two to six weeks.” (The last one was real.) I want a great story, for truth is boring. 

Which is better? You fought off a shark, or you have cancer? I was free-climbing and cut my hand or arthritis created a node (bone spur) that must be removed? I saved a child from falling over a cliff or waking up this lump and having no idea what the hell caused it? Yet, capturing my cat’s identification tag forces me to keep it real. 

Houdini was my adopted cat for six months in 1998. His name was provided by adoption agency staff who swore to his ability to escape from anything. Place Houdini in a kennel cage for dinner, and he would be out by dessert. One afternoon, I went to see Saving Private Ryan. Houdini was placed in his cage, double pad-locked, and inserted molded concrete around the exterior. He was out when I returned. 

What keeps all this real was his death. Houdini passed away in my arms. He was real. He was alive, and to some extent, remains active in me. Houdini never complained about being weak. He never allowed himself to feel life’s sorrow, nor did he tell a tall tale. And secretly, he is probably the single essential inspiration for living today. Houdini’s aim was to love everyone and everything. He lived a pure life love, for pain was inevitable, suffering was optional.

All lives will be fraught with some measure of pain, but it is in leaning away from that pain instead of accepting it with a grace that suffering occurs. Anthony de Mellow said let the Spirit work. Stop straining your spiritual muscles. Become attuned to your deeper self and let the force of love take over. Let the Holy Spirit take over. 

There is a comfort in accepting that life is a continual ebb and flow between things going smoothly and going to hell. I think being a spiritual person means becoming a real human being. Thich Nhat Hanh said, “It is not so important whether you walk on water or walk in space. The true miracle is to walk on earth.” In other words, be real. Therefore, my medical condition will be explained as “I woke up this lump and have no idea what the hell caused it. The doctors believe it should be surgically removed. I will be out for two to six weeks.” Keeping it real.

Dominoes

“I wish your father were a part of our lives,” my mother blurted while playing Dominoes. Since suffering a stroke, my father’s health declined from a self-professed sports addict to being unable to recognize anyone, including my mother. In the wake of Coronavirus, many families are staring at walls, hoping for an idea ‒ or perhaps a miracle ‒ to come through those walls that will return life to the ‘normal’ once known. Such miracles rarely, if ever, occur, and we are remanded to rehashing previous events, hidden wrongs, and unquenched anger.

If the story correct, my grandmother said my father created chaos wherever he went. For our family of four, chaos spared none. Preferring to drink with ‘bar buddies,’ my father was absent for a significant portion of family life. Post-stroke, he disappeared again, shuttled off to assisted-living, left to manage his thoughts alone. Yet, each family member is left to balance inner thoughts, and as walls close inward, secrets begin oozing from the crevices.

Sixty or so years is a long time to carry grudges, but my mother’s pain appears just as raw yesterday as it did 50 years earlier. Like 40 percent of children sleeping in homes where fathers do not reside, my mother bore the responsibility of managing both the household and children. Dark secrets buried nearly half-a-century were suddenly barfed onto the dining room table. I can personally attest to the consequences of a life stuffed into canyons far more profound than anything created.

My father neither saw my brother or I as we were, he saw us only as he wished we were. Being quite adept at sports, my father drew nearer to my older brother as I struggled to find shelter, to hide or fit. To be anything else, I learned, often entailed humiliation. As the years went, I found a way to mingle while never exposing the inner child who desired love. Turning eighteen, I left.

I carried forth my father’s legacy: chaos. At times I skipped school and received poor grades. I committed a crime, but only by God’s grace, I was never prosecuted. I was promiscuous and was foundationally set for poor relationships, including several divorces. Unknowingly, I became my father, and the journey to unwind it has been long.

Being so flawed, I often reflect upon the nature of perfection. Recently, I asked Ms. K. why, out of all the people in heaven, she waits for me. “Because you are always seeking to improve. The danger for you is that you have become focused on shortcomings, that I would judge harshly, unable to accept and forgive your faults. I want someone real, not perfect.” And therein lay the hope for us. Maybe perfection in God’s eyes is the desire to improve. 

I should stress that we should not accept ourselves. By that, I mean that we shouldn’t swallow the notion to “accept ourselves” as a license for complacency. We shouldn’t say, “I’m going to accept myself. Therefore I have no desire to change.” I accept my desire to change. We need patience, kindness, and forgiveness so that we can bring change to our lives. 

To change means bringing more love into your family. And then, ultimately, to you. If we change, you end the repetition of family secrets, children cowering in fear, and unwanted legacies. You are your legacy, and the life you live, by choice or by fate, is the legacy you ultimately leave behind.

On the way to work, a small simple yard sign caught my attention. ‘Don’t Give Up.’ My first snarky reaction was, “Why not? Why shouldn’t I give up? I’ve been through all this crap and am likely to pass rather painfully, so why shouldn’t I?” The fact that this sign was posted in the front lawn of a home estimated to be in the millions didn’t help.

If one made millions from investments, is it fair to proclamate onto others who haven’t to not surrender? Free speech allows an author to erect such messages, but we gain zero context. Maybe that author’s cancer went into remission. So, don’t give up. Then again, what if the resident lost his business during COVID and is saying, “Don’t give up, I’m not.” Or, I beat COVID. I got sick, nearly died, but recovered. Don’t give up. We can celebrate such victories, but the author had not taken time to understand the reader’s pain, me.

Rollen Fredrick Stewart (a.k.a. The Rainbow Man) was known for wearing a rainbow-colored afro-style wig and, later, holding up signs reading “John 3:16” at sporting events. Known as a born-again Christian, he was determined to get the message out that whoever believed in Jesus would not perish. Seeing him in the background a golfer, nothing indicated he knew me or my life’s experiences. No one in my home, or that I knew, ever said “John’s got it down.” I never watched a sports program waiting for Rollen’s message. He never spoke to me and it’s doubtful such messages mean anything for the average everyday ‘Joe.’

Just as ‘May God Bless You’ and ‘Jesus Saves’ litter highway barns, were not specific to me. Prior to March 2019, I neither would have thought ‘Don’t Give Up’ as a divine message targeted solely for me, nor would I ever believe the author thought of me. God probably never told the author that “In July 2020, the Unknown Buddhist will pass your home. Post a yard sign saying ‘Don’t Give Up.’ He’ll know it’s from Me.” Nor do I believe God was messaging when I drove past the ‘Hell is Real’ billboard on Ohio’s I-71 either. Projecting such views quickly fades from the minds of those whizzing by during a daily commute.

Just as television viewers zoom through commercials, travelers quickly dismiss billboard proclamations. They have no recall ability. Do pithy billboard messages buoy one’s mind? Probably not. Walk out of a room during a radio broadcast and ads fail to engage. If the communication were real-if that communication ever came from God- it would never fade.

God’s communication fundamentally changes life. For Churchill, it was “We shall never surrender.” Roosevelt experienced similar awe when speaking “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” during his inaugural address during the Great Depression. Real communication challenges the soul, the very ideas about who are in the world, and provides the intellectual confidence to achieve great accomplishments.

Jesus said, “The Kingdom is like a mustard seed which a man sowed in his field. Mustard is smaller than any other seed but let it grow and it becomes bigger than any garden plant; it is like a tree, big enough for the birds to come and nest among its branches.” 

I envision the mustard seed fully grown, strong enough to bear the nests of birds. I sit before the full-grown tree and communicate with it. We talk about smallness in a universe so large. We discuss discouragement; risk-taking; change; fruitfulness; being of service; and finally, the power of God in life. I then kneel before God and tell him what the mustard seed taught. And I ask if He will teach me as well.

That, my friends, is the power of real communication.

Only One Song

I’ve been told music is good for the soul and that music therapy may assist those with Parkinson’s and other medical disorders. Listening to music may also be of great assistance, including improvements in balance, singing, voice command.

Harry Chapin is one of my favorite singers. Except for that which is available on YouTube, I’ve never saw him play in concert. Accordingly, a recurring dream is to play a number of his songs on a guitar. Part of this fantasy is an ongoing dream of being a famous singer. Part if it is forgotten time when my soul simply wanted to express itself.

Supposedly, age has nothing to do with learning to play a musical instrument. One could be 15, 30, 40, 50, 60, or 70. I used to play guitar as a teenager, but had neither the time, energy, nor devotion to learn to seriously study. I could read guitar music and play its associated chord, but spent little time learning the meaning behind the music, the words, or even the composer’s heart. 

Years I read Beethoven wrote of about hearing loss. Symptoms and difficulties caused him continual problems, both professionally and socially. An autopsy revealed he had a distended inner ear, which developed lesions over time. Still, regardless of distress, historians claim Beethoven’s hearing loss never  prevented him from composing music. He heard and played music for decades, so he understood how instruments and voices sounded and how they complimented one another. He could always imagine in his mind what his compositions would sound like. 

I took a similar approach when recently acquiring an Ovation classical guitar. I studied how the Applause guitar was manufactured and was overly critical of the small blemish in the binding. But, we’re all imperfect. And such imperfections shouldn’t prevent us from creating our own kind of music.

Therefore, I accepted my Applause as a living soul that will allow me to be creative, express myself and produce harmony at some level. Just as all things are interconnected, each one of us is part composer, part conductor. We shuffle through each day in hopes of creating our own music—to hear it, to play it, and to become inspired through it. 

I believe Chapin hinted at this type of synergy in his lyric “You Are the Only Song.”

“… when you sing from the inside
You hope that something shows
And that it why
Yes you are the only song, the only song I need
You’re my laughter and you’re my lonely song
You’re the harvest and you’re the seed
And you’re my first and my final song
For you own me indeed
Oh yes, oh yes,
Yes, after all is said and done
You’re the one song that I need”

In the end, I will try and create whatever music possibly. I will not become a star. I will not be ‘discovered’ by some record executive. I will study, learn the craft, the meaning, and soul. I do it for God and myself. Why? To reclaim an unfilled calling.

I will play these songs to silence
In empty rooms or crowded halls
I will sing to God in standing room
I’ll sing em’ to the stars

It’s just as God would want playing for the only song—the one song we need.

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