Thursday, December 21, 2017

Changing the Lyrics of My Life

 I had an interesting revelation recently about the timbre of my life journey. I realized that because of a heartfelt song I wrote decades ago, I had set the tone for my spiritual journey with the words and message of that song. Part of the lyrics read, “Keep taking me through those fiery trials, Lord. Keep the dross from collecting in my heart. Keep my eyes on the things above, Lord. Keep me, keep me set apart.”

While I definitely don’t want dross (impurities) from collecting in my heart, I need to write a new song/prayer that connects God’s purifying power to something a lot more gentle than “fiery trials.” I have had enough of those to last more than a lifetime.

My prayer now is that God will purify my heart with gentle, nourishing love. I’ve had a lot of that too in my life, but I definitely need to focus on connecting with divine love through quiet meditation and gentleness. Fire purifies, but so does water and it’s much more gentle and soothing. Maybe I needed fiery trials early on in my life, but what I need now is tenderness and comfort. I don’t want to live in stagnation and complacency, but I want to walk with God in a gentle way. Jesus said that his yoke was easy and his burden light, but like many fervent believers, I ignored that message and went along the hard path.

It’s time to embrace my journey with a 23rd Psalm perspective: “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

These words met me in a dream one night when I was enduring a very difficult psychic attack by a woman who claimed to be a Christian. The vicious nature of her attack proved to be darker than any energy I have ever encountered, definitely not at all Christ-like. These words came to me in a dream following the most vicious assault that occurred in a dream. I’m not one to have nightmares, but that night I had a nightmare that made me completely black out in the middle of it. When I returned to consciousness, it was with words of this gentle psalm reverberating through my mind.

At the time, I knew it signaled the end of those horrific psychic attacks both in the daytime and during the night. That has proven to be true. When I reached out in the moment and took God’s hand and let him lead me to a safe place, things began to shift in my life. While I have been through a number of “fiery trials” since then, they have been physical and emotional ones. Gone forever are the psychic attacks. I know this with a surety that comes only from having a divine connection.

Now I will continue to look to the gentle shepherd to lead me on the rest of my journey. I chose the “fiery trials” of my earlier life, but today I choose green pastures and still waters. God has always been waiting to lead me in the paths of righteousness by way of green pastures. It was me who chose the desert and fiery trials. I didn’t realize that until yesterday when the words to my song came back into my mind. I chose that path, but now I choose the route of green pastures and still waters. I choose the gentle life of a sheep with a kind and trustworthy shepherd who will lead me where he wants me to go —“in the paths of righteousness” — and I will be safe and protected and blessed.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thunder Shirt Comfort

I used to dogsit for a collie named Bess, who was a Hurricane Katrina rescue. I didn't know then about thunder shirts for dogs, but that sweet girl needed one for sure. If we had a thunderstorm while I was taking care of her, I had to sit on the sofa and hold her shaking body until it was over and she finally calmed down. Bess required a human thunder shirt to make it through the smallest thunderstorm, which are a daily occurrence during most Florida summers. I was glad to be her thunder shirt during those times when she was in my care. Even though the thunderstorms seemed like no big deal to me,  it was apparent that her life experience had been such that even the smallest reminder of Hurricane Katrina sent shock waves through her entire being. The more she trembled, the more closely I held her and spoke softly to her. 

Since Hurricane Irma plowed through the state of Florida, and covered nearly the whole state, most of the residents of Florida have needed the comfort of a thunder shirt, both animals and humans.  We have all needed a little comfort and had only each other to give it. I know it took a toll on me. When I was finally able to go back to my usual routine, I started hearing more stories of devastation and power outages that still hadn't been restored. There are still piles of tree debris lining the residential streets, even though trucks have been rumbling through our neighborhoods for days. I am finally feeling less shell shocked now that our power has been back for nearly a week. I have stopped feeling the need to reach out to try to find anything that would serve as a thunder shirt for my shattered nerves. 

It is important in times like these to realize that even though we survived the same hurricane, we all experienced it a little differently. The hurricane was worse for some of us and not as bad for others. Some people are still without power, even though the majority of us have electricity again. Some lost homes, while a few lost their loved ones or their lives. No matter what happened to us or how we experienced the storm, we need to remember that sometimes the earth kicks up storms that frighten some beings and enthrall others. Sometimes life itself kicks up its own kind of storm even in the midst of a calm day. Everyone has their own experiences and it is important to remember that there are some who may need a thunder shirt at times while others can provide one. It is not always easy to tell which is which until the trembling begins. Listening compassionately to others will aid us in knowing when someone is in need of comfort. 

While I was saddened this year to hear that Bess is no longer on this earth, when I think about what Irma might have done to her, I am glad that there will be no more Katrinas or Irmas for her to face. Her gentle soul is at rest. I pray that I will always remember to be a thunder shirt to the ones (human or animal) around me who need one. Even when I need one myself, may I remember to be one.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

God's Timing in Our Healing

"Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way."

(Psalms 139:23,24)

In my youth, I wrote music to  David the Psalmist's, words. There's no telling how the original music sounded, but I often used to write contemporary Western melodies to scripture verses. One day when I was reading the Bible, I came across this psalm. The words nearly leaped from the page, and the music flowed from my heart in response.

In recent months, all these decades later, I have been working on updating the recordings of my songs. This song has stuck with me amongst the hundreds of songs I've written over the years. Many of them have been preserved on cassette tapes. I had the tapes transferred to CD last year with only a relatively small loss of quality from the original (unprofessionally recorded) tapes. In replaying these old songs of mine, I was struck again both by the beauty of the words David wrote and the melody that came to me when I was reading that passage thousands of years after the lyrics were penned.

Today when I came across them again, it was only those two verses out of the whole psalm that were included in the mini Bible passage for the day. Simultaneously with the reading of the verses came the playing of the music in my head. I decided to read the whole psalm again. As I did, I felt and heard God speaking quietly to me, as he has before, with gentleness and love. It is not often that I have encounters of that depth, but when I have them, I am always profoundly changed by them. That I don't have them daily is my fault for getting so caught up in the urgency of the day that I don't create the space in my heart for those intimate moments to happen. Many times I have made the space in my head, but not in my heart. Many times I have allowed time and space for neither. I can't predict those times when I will hear softly spoken words from God, but when I do, I realize that God is always that close to me. It is me who loses sight of the close proximity, not God.

While I was focused on dealing with my physical frailties, God reminded me that I am "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139: 14). The vast majority of the times when my cells are damaged by illness, abuse, or injury, they restore themselves to health. Those that don't heal themselves quickly may yet heal themselves given more time and rest. Those that don't, may be healed through divine intervention. When they aren't healed quickly, or at all, there is a reason. You may discover that reason on this side of the veil or the other, but when you do discover the reason, you'll understand the wisdom behind the affliction and the delay in healing, if there was one. The trick on this side of the veil is to accept God's wisdom on the matter, be grateful for the teaching that is attached to the affliction, and trust God's timing as what is best for you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Take Aim at a Better Life by Taking Responsibility for It

(Reprinted from a now defunct web site of mine. Originally released October 11, 2011)

I started learning a lesson back in my twenties that has stayed with me through several decades. That lesson has to do with taking responsibility for our own actions and decisions in life. I was first exposed to this basic concept while I was working in an emergency shelter for teenage girls. It was a temporary shelter where the girls who had been brought there by county social workers were supposed to transition out of our facility within thirty days. So I met and bonded with hundreds of teenage girls during the years I worked there. Most of these girls had been removed from their homes because of abuse--physical, sexual, emotional--or the threat of it. Some were taken from homes where they had been greatly neglected. A few of the girls were considered status offenders, usually because they had run away from home to get away from the abuse they had been experiencing.

If anyone had a "right" to blame others for their lot in life, these girls certainly did, and yet I started learning then that the best way to help them (and myself too) was to encourage them to take responsibility for their own actions. That's when I started on that path, but somewhere along the way, I slipped back into old ways of thinking that someone else was to blame for at least some of the difficulties I was facing in life. While blame could certainly be attached to my father for giving my family a difficult start in life, now that I am an adult, I have to let go of that, heal it, forgive him, and make my own way. I have done this over and over and over again. That's the way it is with taking responsibility. You have to own up to your life and the events in it, and not just once. As many times as it takes, daily even, until you truly get it. Sure, there are a few things you might not be able to control or change, but most things you do control, not by controlling others but by acknowledging that you are the one who is drawing all your life experiences to yourself.

You may not be able to control the fact that someone in your life is an abusive person, but you do control whether or not you stick around for the abuse. If you stick around, you might as well be signing an approval waiver for that person, and anyone else for that matter, to treat you badly. If a person is so abusive that you feel that your life or the life of your child is in danger, then run to whatever helping hands are available to get yourself and/or children out of the danger zone. It's not your job to make someone else take responsibility for themselves, but it is your job to take responsibility for your own life and those who are in your charge who are incapable of defending themselves--children, pets, or invalids in your care. Get out and get to safety. Then you have to begin the task of building a life for yourself and your dependents that will better reflect what you truly want in your life. If you don't know what you want, then start by wanting the negative parts to change for the better.  You'll figure out soon what "better" means to you. Then you have to own the power you have to change your world. Don't worry about the rest of the world in the beginning. Get your own life to a better place before you start to try helping others get there. You will inevitably get to that point, but wait until you and your family are in a place of safety before you reach out a hand to help someone else. Otherwise you'll end up repeating the pattern of putting yourself last, which is how you got to a place of danger in the beginning. First get yourself and your family established then you can reach out to help the next person behind you.

So that's where you start. That's where we all start. We open our eyes to all the bad stuff, and good stuff too, in our lives and realize that we have the power to create something better than what we have. Once you became an adult (sometimes earlier), you were given the keys to freedom, whether you took them or not. They were there in your hands. The next part of your life is figuring out which key opens which prison door. That's where the responsibility kicks in. You can stay in your family-made, religion-made, society-made, or self-made prison, or you can choose to use the keys to freedom that are in your possession. Start with one key at a time until you find the right key to unlock the corresponding locks on your prison doors. You may have to try more than one, but one of them will fit and will help you walk into the freedom that awaits you. What are you waiting for? Now is the best time to start owning up to your participation in your imprisonment. Now is the best time to start figuring out what it will take to get yourself to a better place. Take responsibility for yourself. Let go of blame. Let go of shame. Take aim and go.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Chance Life

This is a new blog from a longtime friend of mine. Check it out.