A life in the fourth dimension

Fourth_dimensionAs one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you. 
— Isaiah 66:13

The following essay, Dad’s Messenger, turned blog post, I wrote shortly after my dad’s death. I chose this particular piece because it illustrates life in what I, and many of my cohorts, refer to as “the fourth dimension.”

In the fourth dimension, among other things, we live on pure faith. Moreover, I am sharing Dad’s Messenger with WTF readers as a dose of comfort, especially for those who have lost loved ones.

Note: Living in the fourth dimension, however, does have its challenges, and I will expound on that idea later in the week.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Dad’s Messenger. I hope it brings you the faith you need for living through challenging times.

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Dad’s Messenger

During the last days of his life, I wearily entered the hospital’s crowded elevator on my way to visit my 86-year-old father in the intensive care unit.  A dark-haired man dressed in a white-striped and blue cotton shirt, black pants and loafers met my eyes and smiled. I wedged myself next to him in the only empty corner of the elevator. My eyes focused on the numbers over the door as they alternately glowed red: L-1-2-3. Abuzz with noontime traffic swarming in and out, we traveled to the speed of molasses. Exhausted from the effect of my father’s deteriorating health, which had escalated over the prior month, the last thing I wanted was to engage in small talk.

“I’m visiting my mother. She’s in the ICU,” the man who had met my eyes stated.

“My dad is in ICU,” I blurted, irritated at his intrusiveness.

“My mother is in the final stages of cancer,” he whispered with puppy-dog eyes.

Suddenly, my empathy overrode my desire for privacy. “Yeah, it’s not easy,” I said letting down my guard. “I’ve been in and out of the hospital since my dad was diagnosed with emphysema four years ago. They say, it won’t be long…he won’t go home.”

“My mom was diagnosed with cancer eleven months ago,” the man elaborated as we exited the elevator. For a moment, we stood there. “She was doing great, up until a week ago.  That’s when she took a turn.”

“I’m sorry,” I said and meant it.

We parted, going to opposite ends of the ICU facility. After walking past the sound of the familiar beeping of IVs, I sat quietly in front of my dad’s bed. Although in a coma, his body still resembled a NFL linebacker’s physique. The rhythmic movement of his chest put me in a trance.

His booming voice, thick with accent, rang in my mind. ‘Get out of here!  There is nothing for you to do. Go on with your life.’ Since my youth, I regarded him as a Ukrainian-born stallion; strong, sometimes ornery, but always keeping a watchful eye on his herd. My father never dwindled from his priorities and approached life with an overdose of common sense. He was not one for saccharine behavior. Instead of a sentimental “I love you,” he opted to say things like “Stay out of trouble,” spoken in true John Wayne vernacular. Both our characters defined the elements of conflict in fiction: The dreamer living under the rule of the pragmatic father.

As the afternoon wore on, I finally arose from the over-sized vinyl chair. “I love you, pops,” I said the three words to him that were so foreign to his own repertoire.

I had accepted his stoicism many years ago, because I realized that if we were in a lifeboat and one of us were to die, instinctively he would have given his life for me—as he would have for my two brothers.  Despite a decade of turbulence, in the end, forgiveness had sealed our relationship. In the process, I had learned to love him unconditionally.

Roaming back outside the unit, to my surprise, I ran into the dark-haired man at the same spot where we had last seen one other. We exchanged smiles.

“No change,” he said as we rode down an empty elevator.  I nodded my head in return.  As we silently exited the elevator, he walked a couple of steps behind me.  In the parking lot, we met up again.

“You know, this is where the maternity ward was when I was born,” the man said.

“What?”

“Yeah, right where we are standing.  I was born here 40 years ago,” he explained.

Upon hearing this statement, I froze. “You were born here, 40 years ago?  So was I! That’s so weird…don’t tell me…August…”

“…August 22nd.”

“Wow!  What are the odds of that? We were roommates, and now here we are,” I interjected.

“That’s right, oh, by the way, your dad…”

“Yeah?”

“Loves you very much! He’s proud of you, too.”

Suddenly, unexpectedly, my throat burned and tears fell. Regaining composure, I looked up to ask him how he knew this. However, without a trace, the man had vanished. Wiping the last few tears, I pictured our bassinets so many years ago in this identical spot. Then I studied the hospital’s facade and knew it had all come full circle, everything had been mended without a rift left to darn.

“Thanks, dad, for the message, which I already knew since you ingrained the truth,

not with words but with actions, on my heart so long ago.”

As I walked towards my car, the tar beneath my feet gleamed with a glint of sparkly quartz that could have been angel dust.   gold_dust

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

true Christian faith

touched by an angel

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Memorial Day …. Remembering those who spare themselves from remembering.

“The Lord is near to those who are discouraged; he saves those who have lost all hope.” –Psalm 34:18

hardships

My brother Mike was a highly decorated Vietnam Vet. Among his medals, his highest honor was the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart with “V” for acts of valor and heroism.

From the start, God had generously gifted my brother with brilliance and qualities that made bystanders stop and stare. Unfortunately, he had experienced a rough home life. In his teenage years, solace arrived in form of alcohol that turned its thieving head, stole his free will and enslaved him for the rest of his life.

After graduating high school, he signed up for the military, hoping to escape. Little did he realize that he left the home of hell only to saunter into a corridor of despair that lead to a door of destruction and death. Serving two tours of combat, with a six-month stint at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., in between.

When he left home to Vietnam, Mike was broken in half. Upon his return home, he was a shattered man. My brother, who bore the soul of a gentle giant, with nine fingers on two hands–one lost in battle–lived a life of soul sickness and hurt, a walking PTSD statistic. Faith alluded him as if it was someone else’s shadow.

“What is the meaning of life?” I asked my older brother on numerous occasions.

His answer, short and sweet. “Survival.”

His answer flat, his macabre (Is that all there is?) slant on life apparent.

I know he believed in God, but did Mike have faith in a greater good? I do not have the answer to that question. I do know, however, between the war in Vietnam and the war he lived through in civilian life, his wounds ran deep.

Fortunately, in his later years Mike found peace in nature. In a tiny cabin alone in the woods, he found predictability in his sunflowers and vegetable gardens.

Shorty after Mike experienced a stroke, I looked into his eyes, and saw what felt like the opposite of infinite. Through my prayers and tears, that was all there was.  A few days later, at 55 years old, he finally met the peace that alluded him his entire life.

On memorial Day I especially feel his presence. I visualize him again the last time I saw him 15 years ago. Standing with his dog tall and proud like the tree behind him. I picture myself waving good-bye to him as I had on that last day, saying how I loved him, wanting so desperately to twist the emptiness out of him like a sponge and in its place sop up abundance. Goodness. Joy. Peace. Instead, I met his empty but forgiving eyes and accepted him as his own man with his own faith; knowing you cannot present faith to someone like a medal. Fortunately, if you love with faith, you will discover endurance even in the bone dry pieces of the heart.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

true Christian faith

touched by an angel

I met a vet

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4poppy-field

I met a vet. I met Frank two days ago at a business function, 18 days before Memorial Day. We were two strangers dressed in business suits. Business topics connected us until the divine spark in our hearts led us to a more personal level. I learned Frank had a 10-year army career; three combat tours. After his discharge from the military, he then entered the corporate ranks until he decided to live his true passion and work as a counselor assisting small businesses procure new contracts. In his spare time, he is founder of a non-profit that helps black-owned business enterprises grow.

Frank’s career background, including a master’s degree under his belt, is impressive but it is not what I carried home with me after day’s end. What inspired me and imprinted my heart most was a photograph he showed me. The year: 1991. Two 19-year-old army soldiers happily nested in a jeep. I couldn’t see the photo on his phone clearly, but I espied a pair of military dog tags on the white guy, Frank’s best bud in the army. In fact, they were so apparent to me, a proud sister of two army veterans, I could hear their ting in my mind.

“It’s my birthday today. That’s the day he was killed. Every year on my birthday, I send this picture of us to everybody I know,” Frank explained.

For over two decades, Frank celebrates his birthday by celebrating his friend’s memory. Not his friend’s death, mind you, but his life.

In-Flanders-Fields

“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.”

Season after season, Frank’s ritual has ensured that his friend is not forgotten and accents his short life with meaning

Even though I only spoke to Frank for less than a half hour on his birthday, what impressed me most was his loyalty. His courage. Most of all his faith. Despite experiencing trial and anguish in his young life, Frank’s pilgrimage is gallant and glorified. I am certain, he has felt shattered a million times over, stumbled and fell, but always managed to pick up and re-bandage the pieces of his heart if only to bring promise and hope of a new day to others.Poppy-1jzy3h8

And what of his friend? His friend is alive, always young, brimming, too, with a promise and hope that tings from heaven. He is relishing in every glorious breath Frank has taken in all the years that have passed since the early 90s; all along whispering to Frank: “Soldier on.”

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

true Christian faith

touched by an angel

Divinely divorced

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” — James 1:2-4

 

keeping-the-peaceAs April winds down and May arrives, my memories of my once beloved filter into my daily life. I remember our wedding day in May 26 years ago. Many of our family and friends who were at my wedding are no longer with us and have passed on. Visualizing their faces, they mirror mine and my groom’s filled with the hope and promise of tomorrow. I see my parents dancing contently as if age will never push through and steal their healthy, vibrant lives. I am young and naive, too, and have total faith that the years will be carefree and blessed. Sometimes where we end up isn’t where we thought we’d go.

“I did it all right, and it ended up so wrong.”

Those words echoed in my mind everywhere I went when the once impossible became the reality. Divorce was not part of my plan, but it knifed through my life like an assailant in the dark of night.

Twenty-one years of life had been pulled from off my core and tossed away like wilted pieces of lettuce. And so it was in the material world, but in the spiritual world the cornerstone of my heart that was rejected was being chiseled in a splendid masterpiece in His masterful hands.

Seven years later, many times falldivorce-is-not-the-end-150x150ing but trying desperately to hold onto the faith, I have finally come to feel “mature and complete, not lacking anything.

My cup is so full, that I can turn back around and remember my wedding day and feel a bounty of gratitude over the experience of such a lovely day full of promise and faith. It was our time to live in the moment, and we did it thirstily and squeezed every last drop. Now when I need a lift, I can drink from the memories that are a blessing and not a curse through faithful eyes that look up only at Him in preparation to climb the mountains yet to come.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

true Christian faith

touched by an angel

 

 

“All there is is love!”

Love conquers all

Love conquers all

Do everything in love. ~1 Corinthians 16:14 

A bush of gray messy hair. Dusty work boots. Though he had a small frame, my friend John had a linebacker’s shoulders and a voice that could make an angel’s words sound mean.  A tough bird living a tough life, for many years he was a chronic alcoholic and as unapproachable as a rat in a gutter.

Fortunately, he did find recovery from the disease of alcoholism for nearly forty years. Don’t get me wrong, John did not travel the easy street of sober life. Demons always engaged him in battle, one in particular, an uncontrollable rage issue, threw him behind bars during his mid-sobriety.

Nonetheless, whether he was up or down, his all-around mantra was “All there is is love!”

I’ve had my own demons over these last 31 years. Though uncontrollable rage, fortunately, has not been one of them, at least not for the last 21 years, anger and resentment is another story. I have a collection of easy-to-reach injustices in the form of people, places and things. In fact, they are attractive and invade my mind dressed in fine jewelry and inflate my ego and puff me up to feel like I am PROactive and righteous; but the truth is, no matter how powerful they feel, anger and resentment undermine our lives and throw us in the chamber of darkness, cloud our vision and defeat our primary purpose(s) in life. To become stuck in destructive emotion is to kill motion. Without motion, there is no life.

Therein lay the legacy that John left me. If you are running out of faith, try Love first. Love is the pill that the pharmaceutical companies can’t compete with. Whenever I feel upset, I hear John’s words, “All there is is love!” The minute I hear those words, I breathe, feel at ease, accept. My blood pressure deflates along with my ego, and the road ahead is clear and manageable; not easy, mind you, but in the right frame of mind, gratitude unfolds its magical carpet.

Don’t get me wrong, don’t expect the uneven terrain to disappear; instead, a happy surrender means a cease fire to an unnecessary fight and only then can we allow our vision to move from the uneven terrain and, instead, shift our focus on the new flower shoots along the path.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

touched by an angel

touched by an angel

The joy of the LORD is my strength

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).”

The spring season launches First Holy Communions and other celebrated milestones of youth. For any parent who has witnessed a twisted destiny, blissful occasions can sometimes drive the vulnerable participant into a dangerous rewind mode. For instance, if a parent has lost a child through death or addiction or other means, it is beyond the realm of restraint to not surrender to the allure of “When”….When…the child was alive, happy and thriving. When…innocence painted life’s mural and life seemed fair and just and defenselessness against unforeseen life-changing forces seemed to be locked out of the picket-fence blueprint.

During these times, the fast-forward mode too can be a risky place to park for not only the parent who has lost a child but for the one who cares for a special needs child. To them, broken promises of passage supersede each tomorrow. The allure of “When” becomes “What if?” What if my child could one day dress himself or herself? What if my child could discard the crutches and dance on two feet? What if I could watch my child graduate from…?

encouragement for the day

encouragement for the day

Then there are other kinds of parents that have fallen into the hole that is far removed from any wonderland. These are the ones who have spent a better part of their lives pouring over childrearing books, helping with their children with their homework, providing a listening ear to them, buying healthy food for the family and during those upcoming special occasions, agonizing over finding the loveliest suit or dress for their child to wear; these are the parents who has done all these things and so much more, only to watch their son or daughter plummet into life-threatening behaviors like drug addiction, promiscuity and all the markings in a soul sick young adult perpetrated by the ugly side of a society riding high on profitability, vulgar profiteering from the ruin of vulnerable lives. For these parents, believing in life’s innocence, purity and goodness does not seem like a viable option, at very least it is a tall order.

Unimaginable also is the added barrage of feelings from the grief-stricken parents who are divorced and widowed. Those who have experienced a multitude of loss and still stand upright, though their thoughts pull them in an opposite direction.

So for all you parents this season who feel more like you must tolerate these truly wonderful passages instead of enjoying them, I salute you. I salute you for showing up. I salute you for not showing up. I salute your silent, sometimes apparent, tears. I salute you for your fortitude, your grace at “playing hurt” even though you are of sound mind and body to know you threw away your dud of a card hand the moment you learned the god-awful truth that forever changed but never dared stopped your world. I salute and honor you and pray this season that you heal and receive a hopeful heart, reminding you that the world was created to be a perfect place and that He holds you in his perfect hands.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

touched by an angel

touched by an angel

HOW TO BE A PRAYER WARRIOR, ONE LINE AT A TIME–FINALE!

Today completes our daily spiritual inspiration, meditating on the long version of the Serenity Prayer, which breaks down to 6 lines of thought for 6 easy, but effective days of prayer.supremely happy

We are not moving in chronological order, so please join us as we continue.

Line 7, Day 7 is: *

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

During my adolescence, I discarded religion, leaped on the fast track of a sinner’s life and, finally, in my mid-twenties haphazardly tumbled into the spiritual Land of Oz. Right before the new dawn in my life, I became gravely ill, was rushed to the hospital and had a near-death experience. The slap of the nurse’s hand was a rude awakening back to residing in the bowels of the personal hell that I had built. You see, I had a positive experience clinically dying. I had entered a dimension where I had been freed and stripped of the confines of my physical and mental state; in other words, all pain, worry and necessity.

It’s been a long time since that slap back to the real world. Through the many decades of recovery, I now belong to a group of peers whose jam-packed history involves, among other things, the agony of playing hurt.

In fact, we have an ongoing joke, “Thank God we don’t have much longer.”

To an outsider, this statement may sound morbid. But to us, we’ve survived many trials, in addition to the world’s garden variety of evil; the stuff that double locking your front door forever is all about. Despite it all, we hobble forward, many times still tripping along the way. We are not victims, instead survivors. Advancing in age, we habitually pray to retire from the challenge of letting go and healing and, more so, for the ordinary life.

Whether we are a cursed bunch or a blessed flock is debatable, depending on the given day and circumstances. One thing certain, we are relieved to know that this world does not mark the finish line; meanwhile, dwelling here “reasonably happy” is the best blessing we can get. Innately we know, the spiritual Land of Oz is underrated compared to what awaits behind the gateway of our eternal home with Him.

Amen.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

* Off one day!

HOW TO BE A PRAYER WARRIOR, ONE LINE AT A TIME, Day 3

Prayers for Strength

Learning to pray

I hope you continue to join me in a spiritual journey as we mediate on the long version of the Serenity Prayer, which breaks down to 6 lines of thought for 6 easy, but effective days of prayer.

We are not moving in chronological order, so please join us as we continue.

Line 3, Day 3 is:

“Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace”

  • Why do I have to go through divorce or breakup?
  • Why did my spouse/mother/father/sibling/child die?
  • Why is my spouse/mother/father/sibling/child ill/struggling?
  • Why can I not find a job?
  • Why am I so depressed?

“Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace” eliminates the “Why” out of “bad things” that happen to “good people.” This idea has transformed my life.

About a year ago, as I reflected on my life, I saw “failure” stamped all over my past; betrayal from people I trusted, heartbreak from ones I loved, cruel bosses, unfulfilled hopes and dreams and missed opportunities.

As I played the deadly game of comparison, the words came to me.

“Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.”

When I mulled over this, split down the center of my chest, deep and solid, I realized this was the conduit for my life flow. It was the fingerprint of calm that ruled above all the footsteps that have brought me to where I am today. Were it not for striding through a storm-ridden landscape, the victory would not be mine.

In this sense, looking back on my life, I have led a life of triumph.

Here is another point in case, as a certified biographer, I interviewed a woman, who was in her 70s, whose life was probably the most painful and awful one I’ve ever heard about. She grew up dirt poor. Being physically beaten by her father and later by her husband made her no stranger to the ICU at the hospital.

Finalizing hours of interviews, an incredulously spiritual woman, this is what she said to me, “It is my hope for my children that they have half as wonderful a life as I have had.”

Whoa. Wait-a-minute! “Did she say that?” I wondered. How could that be? Then I realized.

She got it. It’s a supreme psychic thing that so few achieve in this life; the rarest form of success ever lived.

The woman had accepted every single awful hardship that came along and by doing this gained a supernatural state of being, the gift of peace.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

Dance like nobody’s watching

Life is either a great adventure or nothing. ~Helen Keller

In the newly planted courtyard at Joel Barlow High School, about an hour before nightfall on a cool misty evening in May, some one hundred of us hovered together, sharing umbrellas. Since 2011 we had waited for the memorial sculpture to be dedicated to the memory of Robert Smuniewski. In front of us it was draped along with a newly tree in memory of a beloved teacher in the paraprofessional center Cindy Boas who had passed away in 2012 after a brave fight to breast cancer.

Underneath the cover, the sculpture was a good five feet tall; from the start, we knew the sculpture was a mobile, intended to capture his living spirit and “move,” a mobile.

He, like the cars, off-road vehicles and heavy equipment that he loved, was made to move. Perhaps that is why those of us who knew him still feel the aftershocks of his dead. That is why I have delayed this blog so long; the cost of sitting in the pain prompted my avoidance. Rob was so damn alive; but just because he ran and sprinted more than he walked through life, didn’t mean he didn’t soak up every iota of breath he took. Special he was, because everything to him was special; his life was not contingent upon external forces. He did not seek worldly recognition, because he had a Popeye attitude of “I Yam what I Yam!”

He lived creatively, spontaneously and was happy, independent of anyone or anything in his life. Impossible it was for anyone who came in his range to not soak up his radiance. Rob’s greatest legacy was for us to learn to dance like nobody’s watching, with or without a partner and especially dance if you feel you have two left feet.

sculpture1The wait was worth every bit of seeing the completed sculpture. How appropriate for it to stand tall in the courtyard of the high school, a place designed for mediation and reflection; a place that will hopefully serve as a solace for an overtaxed and “over-everything” kid—or adult— pressurized to excel above the genius mark, stressing, overextending, driven to seek approval from a hypercritical world, a place to let the mind run wild, find one’s self and remember that to breathe is to live.

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

~ Corinthians 4:16-18

What a wonderful world

 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 

thCAAS8R0T

A number of months ago, one of my dearest friends called my cell phone and left a message on the voicemail. The catch was, she forgot to hang up.

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
The colours of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shakin’ hands, sayin’ “How do you do?”
They’re really saying “I love you”
I hear babies cryin’, I watch them grow
They’ll 
learn much more than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world
Oh yeahanimatedRainbow

You would think my friend was an opera singer in her car, booming those words alongside Louis Armstrong. My tears were not only a response to her astonishing vocal abilities but to the fact that, she, a mother who lost her son at 18, only to become a widow shortly thereafter, was the epitome of what a wonderful world it truly is as long as we can find that tiny hint of sanctuary within ourselves that we can build when we make faith the cornerstone. Again and again, I listened to my friend on the voicemail, humbled.

In the face of injustice, who am I to question “why?”  Instead, I need to raise my eyes above the sins of the world, the Calvary of the journey, and fixate on God’s masterful creation of mountain tops, skis of blue, clouds of white, and all the things I may not be aware of, but are freely and generously the constant framework of my ever-changing world.

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!