Take Heart

He clutches his ‘nearly-the-size-of-him’ backpack tightly to his chest. His shoes, somehow having landed on the wrong feet, stand motionless- flaps to the wind. But thankfully we remembered the bus pass. He holds the tiny stub of paper with the little bit of tape I stuck on for good measure, absently rubbing it against his cheek.

There is fear in his eyes.

He is going on a different bus today, but because he is right now alone, this experience is terrifying to him. It is unthinkable. To get on a vehicle you have never before traveled and trust that it will end up somewhere familiar is beyond his capability right now. All he wants is something sure and someone familiar. Someone recognizable to travel this road with him that will eventually take him toward home.

Don’t we all?

Life is lonely. And so very hard.

We were never promised easy. Never guaranteed a trouble-free road.

That road might look different depending on where you stand, but the road remains the same. Challenged with obstacles, roadblocks, detours, barriers and obstructions of every kind.

{“In this world you will have trouble.” It’s a certainty. A sure thing.}

I stand beside him with my hand on his back. I see the tiny tears welling up in his eyes, and my own heart breaks in two. Breaks into a piece for him and a piece saved for all the others that I will stand alongside in comfort and offer my heart of hope.

I crouch down beside and whisper those very words of hope that I believe. Words that I trust will bring him peace of mind and ease of trouble.

I tell him that his brother is on his way. It won’t be long, they will soon be reunited. We both look toward the door in anticipation. For when that older brother appears, all anxiety will subside. Brothers offer that kind of sustaining optimism sometimes. When they do, it is a powerful thing to behold.

{“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.”}

Sometimes we wait for things to come to us. But sometimes we must move towards those things we know are waiting.

We two walk toward the outside door, through it and then up the stairs and towards the classroom buzzing with voices where we know Big Brother patiently waits for his own release.

The lost is found.

{“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”}

We know this world is fraught with tribulation, difficulty, pain and hardship. We are all located somewhere on that continuum of trouble. Where we are located is different depending on the story, depending on the variables. But the outlook is hopeful no matter what the situation.

For He has overcome the world.
And that very fact makes all the difference.

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Little is Much

The moon shines to an almost full sphere of milky white luminosity, its opaque form growing clearer each minute we walk this warm autumn evening. I comment that I am sure this should have been a full-moon tonight. It’s been that kind of atypical day. Duty on the playground complete with emotional breakdowns, fights and bullying. In-class issues that I feel ill-equipped to handle. After school meetings. After supper meetings.  Interpersonal conflicts that I have no idea how I got involved in them and an even lesser idea of how to handle them. And I’m just spent. Just spent.

And then this: the last straw, a phone call that does me in completely.

So this is what it feels like. Discouragement. What it is to be- to feel completely disheartened. To feel the weight of it all pressing down on your shoulders. To feel despair wrapping like powerful tentacles as if proffered by some vast sea creature- tightly enclosed around your soul, squeezing the life out of you. Threatening to strip you of all you know for sure. Threatening to steal even your belief in the good. Threatening to take you for all you’re worth.

This is what it feels like to be at the bottom.

She and I talk. I can hear it in her voice- the fear of the unknown. The worry, the anxiety. The stress. We talk about what’s next- the mysterious, unspecified tomorrows. And all the days after that. Of all that is to come. We talk of the sheer ridiculousness of it all, but we keep coming back to the fear. The feelings of concern and anxiety. The apprehension. The what-ifs.

We talk. And I grow more and more frustrated with the situation- and then more and more frustrated with all the other crazy situations I come to find myself involved in. Those predicaments and dilemmas that more or less define my life. Making it appear that the only peaceful moments are those I live in-between the insanity. And I think of how small we humans truly are- how little we must seem in the sea of humanity. We’re just a drop in the bucket, are we not? A tiny, miniscule little droplet. What do we matter in the grand scheme of things? Who really cares?

It’s hard to see our purpose when we’re busy caught up in fear of what lies just around the corner. It’s hard to trust when we’re too busy caught up in worry. Hard to look up when we’ve got our eyes focused on the ground.

I run up the stairs to kiss my sleeping babies who are growing fast and becoming their own unique and beautiful person so very quickly- I gently kiss their foreheads. And I think of the little speck of faith that keeps me trusting- keeps my eyes focused on my very next step.  keeps my feet firmly planted. And I think of all that which might seem so very little in my eyes- how it can be made into something far greater. Can be multiplied. Just like the five loaves and the two fish. Just like the jar of oil. Just like those vats of wine. And I remember:

Small is mighty.  Less is more.  And little is much.

For God is in that little.  And what might seem like a small offering can be multiplied beyond my wildest imaginings.

Even a shred of faith that is as small as a mustard seed.

On secrets and toppling walls…

I watch him build the wooden walls of his tower, painstakingly. One by one.  They stand in solidarity for mere moments, only to topple before even I can add another brick. This is child’s play, and it is fascinating to watch him. These walls are made for crashing, in his view. In his mind’s eye. This is amusement and discovery and cause-and-effect. This is pure delight. His sole reason for creating is to therefore demolish. To knock down, tear down- flatten. He is happiest when things fall over. When walls come down.

And so am I.

These walls we’ve built up to protect us- they are false protection. We build them high and bolster them with whatever is at our disposal. We claim we haven’t enough time to explain the reasons for their existence- we’re too busy. And no one would even understand their purpose anyway. That’s what we say. We say they’re necessary- we need these walls. They are protection. It’s a cruel world out there- someone is always trying to attack. To assault. And we’re always on the defensive. We need these walls, or so we think- we’d be devastated without them. We’d be naked. Wide open for onslaught.

Our walls. Built to shut the world out. To keep the world from knowing. Knowing our little secrets, that is.

Those shameful, little secrets.

Secrets…that we are trying to keep hidden.

About marriages which are failing.

About struggles we’re having with anger. With doubt. With depression. With disappointment. Fear. Anxiety. Disillusionment.

Secrets about our struggle with abuse.

Secrets about our addictions.

We keep these secrets because we are afraid. We’re scared.

Petrified that someone will find out.

Because if anyone ever knew our secrets, they might come to discover our frailty. Our weaknesses. Our imperfections. We’d be exposed and heaven help us- what could happen then?

No one ever enjoyed feeling bare and exposed.

Wide open for humiliation.

But what if in toppling those walls, we were known. Truly known.

Known for our humanity. For our beauty. For our uniqueness.

What if we were known and loved for our imperfections. Known and loved in spite of our flaws and failings?

What if telling- what if sharing secrets brought us freedom? What if speaking our truths allowed us to breathe again?

What if we were lovingly held, even in our brokenness? And rebuilt anew?

Again and again and again.

Because that’s what living sometimes entails: a process of starting over. A renewal. A chance to have a new beginning. A chance to say, “I’m not hiding anymore.”

What if beauty were to come from ashes.

Sometimes it takes feeling scared to bring us closer to the Sacred. And while we might falter, while we might fall- we are held. In Arms of Love.

May we never forget: Our secrets are merely precious stories waiting to be told.  And walls are meant for toppling so those stories can be re-written. Retold.  Time and time again.

Life Lived in Hope…

Is it possible to live life without regrets?  To ‘do it up right’?   To both live and finish life with a feeling of satisfaction, with a sense of accomplishment and pride that one has given one’s best?  And lived one’s life to the fullest of potential?

And if so, how is this done?  If not possible, what then?

I am sitting in the dentist chair, waiting the verdict.  Another tooth ache.  I’ve known this pain before, and the last time, it cost me thousands.  The dentist looks my mouth over, carefully inspecting the problematic incisor, finding not just one, but two hair-line fractures in two separate teeth.  The unfortunate result of grinding my teeth at night.   My unconscious world, where frustrations are vented with a merciless malevolence.  I wish there was an easy answer, a quick fix for this latest dental discovery.   But she and I both know the difference.  There is not.

My mouth and aching teeth are in bad shape.  And it all comes down to stress.

“You need a vacation,” she says smiling.  I grin wryly and pretend like this all is half-funny.  But it isn’t.  It’s my life.  My reality.  And the only set of genuine teeth I’ll ever own.

I wish I could keep them.

While diagnosing the problem, the “s” word comes up.  Stress.  She and I both know it, it’s the culprit here.  And what can be done about it, really?  It’s everywhere.  At home, at work, in relationships, woven inside each and every aspect of my life.  An element of feeling that life is pressing in on me with demands of one kind or another.  And it makes me wonder.  What can be done to remedy my situation, knowing that some things in life just ‘are what they are’?

Some sicknesses are visible.  They are easy to see and therefore more accessible for garnering support.  Those high-profile sicknesses.  We all know someone with this unfortunate fate.  And life is like that sometimes: it allows us to live emotionally unarmed and in full, open view.   Because there is no hiding with cancer.  Or Parkinson’s.  Or Multiple Sclerosis.

But other sicknesses are less visible. Less high-profile.  They allow the bearer of such misfortune the occasion of pretending that all is well.  That they are fine, that life is good.  And that they are not really sick, or stressed or overwhelmed.  They’re just “having a bad day”.  One with such knows the difference, but all the same.  It’s an easy way out when neither the explanations are forthcoming, nor the listeners sympathetic.

Sometimes one can mask signs of greater problems behind a facade, failing to convey the true gravity of the situation.  And these signs, symptoms and perhaps even diseases vary greatly in scope of intensity and severity.  One can suffer from depression, anxiety, panic-disorders and yet, at times, hide behind a mask of wellness pretending that life is fine.  That things are okay.

But in truth, things are not okay.  And that is the problem.  Not only are things not okay, the person living with such must also at times pretend that things are still fine and well.  Even in the midst of life crumbling around them.  Teeth crumbling inside them.  And there is more where that came from, ground down teeth are just the tip of the iceberg.  This I know for sure.  Add to this unflattering visual, loneliness, isolation, despair,  exhaustion and fear.   The complete formula for a toxic brew.

Yes, these hidden sicknesses are less visible.  But just as deadly.  It might take longer, but they are out for the throat.  For blood.  And they will show no mercy.

It is not easy to find solutions when life feels empty.  When life feels hopeless.  And to think we only have one chance at this gig.  We can’t go back and undo the past.

I recently read an article called 5 Top Regrets People Have At The End Of Their Lives.  And it made me think.  We all come to a final point, a destination where we will have to face our life as it has been lived.  At that time, we will be faced with the following questions.  Have we had the courage to be true to ourselves, living the life we knew was our destiny?  Have we worked harder than necessary, squandering the most precious of all resources: time?  Have we had the courage to express our feelings?  Have we made lasting relationships with the people that matter the most?  Have we allowed ourselves the luxury of choosing happiness over the tragic settling for a life lived in fear and sadness?

These are important questions, worthwhile to ponder and reflectively answer.  And if there are one or two for which one can find it in themselves to truthfully answer and then instigate a change for the better, than the questioning has been a valuable exercise.  These questions needs be asked before the end, before it is too late.  Because life is never lived in reverse.  And if one knows better, they are then able to at the very least choose to think better.  If not live better.

I add to these former five, a final question.  Are we ready for our next life?

In this world, we have been promised there will be disappointment.  There is a longing inside us all for something better.  For something more.  For home.  For me, that home of which I speak is a better place than earthly here.   Here, life is what it is.  I can’t always change everything in my life that causes me stress.  Even through the power of positive thinking.  Some sadnesses and heartaches follow to the grave.  Freedom is possible from the power of some, yes.  This is the present hope.  But not from all.  That is the reality of living.

But there is always hope.

My hope is placed firmly in something better.  Someone better.  Whom I will one day meet face-to-face.  At another time and another place.  Whom I shall see, touch and know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  And while it is true that my teeth will not always last me.  That I will always dye my hair because I am growing gray. That I ache in places I never use to.  That I have regrets.  That my life is not all I thought it would be, that life has not lived up to my wildest expectations.

I still have hope.  For somewhere more than this.  For a better then, beyond the darkness of now.  And for the One who truly understands.  That this life was never meant to be the be-all-and-end-all of living.

It’s just our practice run.

This I hold to, like unto a drowning man holding fast to that life-giving flotation, thrown overboard.  Holding fast.  To the belief that there is more.  So much more.  And that the best is yet to come.

Isaiah 40:28-31:

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the Everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.