Living a Paradoxical Life

“The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.”
― Kent M. Keith, The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council

Do you ever feel like you are trying to hold 25 corks underwater, but to the best of your ability you can barely keep one down under? Life is hard. There are a lot of corks, a lot of things to think about. There is your own life (and the aspiration and dreams you wish to chase). There are you own problems and battles to fight. There are your own inner struggles and outer turmoil with which to deal. Not to mention, everyone else around you living out their own stories amidst the backdrop of your own life. Somehow, their story gets intertwined with your story and then it is no longer just your life anymore: it’s our life you must think and worry over. In a world that is bent on breaking us down, I wonder: can we do things differently? Can we live a paradox? Can we live harmoniously?

Yes, but only:
If the expectation is hatred, let us then rather love.
If the expectation is blame, let us then exercise forgiveness.
If the expectation is shame, let us then give grace.
If the expectation is frustration, let us then exercise patience.
If the expectation is to react, let us then rather turn the other cheek.
In so doing, we live out life the Father’s way.

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
The Beatitudes
He said:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5, NIV)

To which I say: Blessed then are those who live their life in paradox. For this is far from the natural bent our hearts would follow after.

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A Letter to My Children About Alan and Galib Kurdi

My Own Precious Four,

The air felt chill and brisk as I headed to the local dairy bar with ‘two in tow,’ for one last treat before school officially begins on Tuesday. One had an English Toffee Milkshake and the other tried her luck with the Nutty Chocolate Dip. We watched the server hold the decadent cone of cold, creamy ice cream smothered in nuts and dripping, rich chocolate upside down, so as to let the excess drip off into the bowl underneath. It came to you with a hardened shell of chocolate shellac. Prime real estate for little girls with eyes bigger than their tummies.

We drove home contented tonight, bellies full, hearts tender.

Did you know on the other side of the world there lived two little boys, who up until mere days ago, craved as their favorite treat a half a banana? Their father would purchase one banana which he would split between the pair. One half for Alan and the other for Galib. Perhaps, my loves, they ate it like candy — just like you with your creamy dairy bar treats.

We came into our house, shivering with the temperature drop of dusk and flicked a switch. Behold! Light flooded the kitchen, welcoming and warm. One of you played with toys we had earlier retrieved from the basement…toys which we should really get rid of (through one method or another) as your toy bins and cubbies overflow with trinkets and gadgets galore. But you pleaded for them to stay, and I acquiesced. You spent a lovely half hour chatting with your newfound furry friends, who had been beforehand lonesome for company due to all that time spent waiting for you in the dark recesses of our bottom level.

Did you know that Galib, who was five, would have done just about anything to get his heart’s desire: a shiny, new bike. He just recently asked his aunt: “Auntie, can you buy me a bicycle?,” because all he ever wanted was to run and play and explore like all the other kids. Having extra would never even have registered in Galib’s mind. Because having just one would surely have been more than he could imagine.

I went back down to the basement after making steaming cups of tea for your Daddy and I…with one more saved for your older brother. One of you asked for sips of my fragrant brew (flavoured with sugar and milk), stating that it was “mmmm…my favorite kind”. I savoured mine while sorting through all our extras in the basement that we plan to sell in the yard sale tomorrow. I had you try on skates that were too small until we found just the right fit from our burgeoning stash saved for figure skating lessons upcoming in October. We placed the near dozen extra pairs in a bin. Because we just don’t need them anymore.

Did you know that Little Alan, who was three, wore little black shoes? That he favoured red t-shirts and shorts on the last voyage he would ever take? Did you know that his eyes sparkled when he smiled? That he was so loved…just like you are, my loves. Just like you are.

It is quiet now. The children all settled, candles both blown out. But I can still smell the aromatic scent of “good cheer, golden apples and spice” laden heavy in the air of our kitchen. It is almost stifling, this sweetness and beauty. It smothers my senses. For in my heart I know that there are others for whom good cheer will not be reality. Not now. Perhaps not ever.

There are precious others in this world who have never seen “a good life at all” nor will they this side of eternity.

We have so much. And yet we understand the bounty of that ‘much’, so very little.

My dear Children, do you know how loved you are? And did you know that because you are so loved, you must also love others? Must love them with that same intensity with which you have received? Love requires we watch and listen. Love requires sometimes we cry. It also demands action. We must love, for we are loved ourselves. We must care because we have known care in ways that defy understanding.

We know love. We must find it within our hearts to also give it, one small act of hope and justice at a time.

My dear Four: Alan and Galib are gone, their souls departed. But we have their footsteps to trace. These tiny tracks leave a legacy of love. A legacy of hope and possibility. For Alan and Galib are Love’s Ambassadors. And so are we, my loves. So are we.

I love you so. So then, I say to you: “Love one another.

Always and Forever,

Your Mama

On Beauty in Sadness

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We spend much of our time pursuing happiness, joy, contentment. Peaceful bliss. But what of the experience that sadness brings? When grief descends upon us, enveloping with a haze of memories and emotions, do we try to escape its embrace? Do we turn our hearts from pain? Shelter our feelings from any knowledge of the unpleasant?

The sun blazes down. It is a scorcher of a day- 30 degrees in the city, where we find ourselves looking for one particular church. We are headed for a celebration of fifty years of married life, an occasion designed to praise the commitment two people made to forge a  jointly-lived life complete with its joys and sorrows. Complete with its highs and lows. But for today, of course, perspective is largely focused on the bliss. Attention is given to the delight found in exquisite beauty cultivated from meshing two lives into one.

These are for them the golden years. Just like the song says.

But there is something about the lyrics so sweetly sung by a daughter and her father that make me turn my eyes away. I find tears would come quickly- too easily, but for my attempt to re-focus my attention on the people around me. I scan the room while the duo at the front bring their song to a close. This music- it ignites within memories and feelings that are particularly tender and vulnerable today, a day marking another kind of anniversary. An anniversary within an anniversary.

Two months. Fifty-two years.

It suffices to say: it has been a beautiful day; but it has also been a difficult day.

I hear myself offering a word and the possibility for quenching the dark cloud: “I don’t want you to feel sad” I say to the one I love. But I wonder within the moment if this is truly wise. We must feel the melancholy that searing sadness and pain can bring. For grief is what helps us heal; it is what enables us to feel better. It is what enables us to find joy again. Rejecting those early feelings of seeming despondency so as to only accept the forced happiness we crave is to reject the necessary emotion that enables us to mend our broken hearts. Sadness serves a purpose that joy cannot: it is there to bridge the gap from one joyful moment to the next. Without the sadness, we are often stuck in stagnation. We are immobilized and halted.

We need to let ourselves feel.

Jonathan Safran Foer contends that “You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” If we are to experience a life rich with emotion, we must allow our hearts to burst with joy when the moment decrees, and then break with sadness when we experience loss and pain. This is all part of being and becoming human. Allowing ourselves to be in the moment who we must be and yet enabling ourselves to become who we are meant to authentically be in response to what is happening in our lives.

This poetic Biblical passage says with eloquence what I am feeling tonight:

A Time for Everything

3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes Chapter 3: 1-9, NIV)

Everything is beautiful…in its time. Beauty in sorrow. Beauty in delight.

He has made both joy and sadness beautiful in their time.

Radical Care

I remember driving in the old Chevrolet with my Dad behind the wheel, going to pick up some kids for church when I was about 8 or 9 years old. And while my father had a compassion for the family we were connecting with, I remember that I did not. For some reason, I didn’t like the little girl belonging to this particular family. Didn’t think she smelled right, nor did I think she wore the right clothes. Just didn’t like the look of her. And I sure as heck didn’t want to go to her house and pick her up. Something about her just rubbed me the wrong way. And I got my ‘back up’. I decided she wasn’t someone I needed to be kind to.

So I wasn’t kind.

Throughout the years, I have never forgotten that girl. Never forgotten the uncalled for dismissal of her in my mind. And perhaps because of her, I now as an adult have decided to be more deliberate and intentional in my choice to show kindness.

But I have noticed something all the while and throughout this learning process: there are some people to whom it is hard for us to be kind. For whatever the reason- right or wrong. They set something off in us; and those emotions push our buttons. Or maybe it is that they don’t really like us either, and that creates a tension all its own. Perhaps it is something longstanding that has come between two people that has been left unresolved. Or maybe it is just one little hurt after another that has built up a wall of disappointment and fear.

It’s not easy being kind to those we love. How can we ever hope to be kind to those we don’t love- those we don’t care for much at all?

And why should we anyway? Do we really need to love and care for everyone in our life? Surely not our enemies. And what about our ‘frenemies’? Do they deserve our care?

Watching the news, one doesn’t have to search far to find dislike and tension between groups. Currently, around the world there are four ongoing armed conflicts that have resulted in 10,000 or more deaths in the current or past year, there are eleven armed conflicts that have resulted in 1000- 9,999 deaths in the current or past year and there are twenty armed conflicts that have resulted in 100- 999 deaths in the same time frame; seventeen with fewer than 100 deaths (Wikipedia). These stats do not take into account ongoing civil unrest or violence against protestors not resulting in armed conflict. These stats do not take into account tensions that are mounting between cultural groups in North America as well as around the world. These stats do not take into account personal conflicts or private conflicts that fall below the radar that are still disruptive and disturbing- even here in Canada. These stats don’t take into account familial and interpersonal strife.

What these stats do tell us is this: it’s hard to get along. And they give us a hint at what this world needs so as to even begin hoping for a transformation. What we need in this world is radical, transformative love.

Radical kindness. Radical love. Radical compassion. It is what we need in this world to make a change.

I write a great deal about care, kindness, love and compassion. And when I send my writing out into the larger media ring (the national news circuit) for consideration, I have found that kindness is a topic that doesn’t interest many. The response of the public readership is rather blasé. They’d rather read about something controversial, something that ignites a strong reaction. Kindness is just too sweet.

But what the world doesn’t seem to know about kindness yet is this:
“Within our human connectedness, what matters the most is something so simple it can almost be overlooked. Something so ordinary in its application that its intense impact can be disregarded. It is simple, but not easy. Unpretentious, yet so difficult to maintain. That’s the thing about kindness: it seems basic. Yet its impact is astronomical. And the ways in which our interactions are affected by its absence are profound. In this life, amongst all our human relationships both intimate and otherwise, what matters beyond all else is that we are authentically kind to one another. Kind, in each and every encounter we undertake” (Gard, 2015)

It takes courage and guts and stamina and backbone and grit to be kind. Each and every day that we are given breath in our lungs. Kindness isn’t always natural like breathing. It’s far harder. It’s like grasping out to hold onto a small twig as you slide down a cliff on some days. It’s like planting your feet securely in the waters as wave after wave of salt-water impact tries to knock you over. It’s like holding up the corner of a crumbling building with your bare hands when all that is in you is telling you to let go. It’s like a storm raging overhead while you crouch beneath it, determined to ride out the rains.

No, kindness is not always easy. Sometimes it is the hardest choice you will have to make.

I still have people in my life that I am willing to admit- they are hard to be kind towards. I can also attest to the fact that I am a person in other peoples’ lives that they feel exactly the same way.

What helps me is this: I cannot control what others do/say/think about me, but I can be aware and intentional in my response to them. Because at the end of my life, when I lie on my own deathbed and time slips quickly from my hand, what matters is how I have lived my life. That’s it. And if I have lived life compassionately — with caring and kindness EVEN TO MY ENEMIES — I have done life well.

What this world needs now is love- radical love. And that loves starts right here.

Starts with me.

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Matthew 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

Brokenness is better than a hallelujah

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God loves a lullaby
In a mother’s tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

She was just a mess, broken pieces, shards of glass. And as she sat on a bridge one fine October day, feet dangling over the water’s edge, all she could think of was how much she hated him. How much he drove her crazy. They would never make it, him and her. They were too different. Too opposite. And he didn’t understand her- what made her tick, what fueled her tank.

God loves the drunkard’s cry
The soldier’s plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

Months had passed into years, and she had all but given up hope. Things were just too far gone. There was no hope for this situation- they would never get it right. Some things were not meant to be. And they were one of these things: mismatched, unevenly aligned. Two people going in two different directions.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

She had talked about it for quite some time to the one person she trusted the most with these kinds of details. And that person had supported her through it all, but had also stipulated that they believed God was in this marriage, even if the Girl didn’t yet see it. That person said they were praying. They could see the best in this impossible situation. The Girl wasn’t so sure. In spite of her limited faith, the hope that the One Praying had, seemed to do for both of them.

The woman holding on for life
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

Besides, it was not due to wrongs that either she or the Man had done to one another in any moral sense that this Great Divide had been created: it was due more to those little hurts that come by way of more intangible situations. From depriving one another love, from holding back. From the cold that grows inside a heart that is turned off love. And in time, little hurts like these can give way to bigger ones: anger, resentment, fear, insecurity, sadness, isolation, anxiety, panic and loneliness.

The tears of shame for what’s been done
The silence when the words won’t come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

So when she found herself telling him that she wished it was over, wished that she had never even begun, it was almost like the floor had finally given way in a dilapidated old house that had served its purpose one too many years. Everything fell apart.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

And while I still don’t know quite what happened, I can say that one day the Girl woke up and there was a change in her heart. She couldn’t quite put her finger on the exact moment, the time and day. But she knew somehow, someway- something had changed. She was different- and so was he. There had been something miraculous happen to bridge the Gap between them, something had toppled the massive walls that had been erected to separate, fortresses made from the strongest of materials. Something had changed between them. They were no longer enemies, at odds with one another. They were friends.

Better than a church bell ringing
Better than a choir singing out, singing out

The Girl and the Boy tentatively adjusted to their new life, lived in freedom from the former chains. Chains that had once held them captive and enslaved to their own self-serving interests were now broken. They were gone. And the Girl and her Boy lived in peace with one another, free to love each other. Free to love themselves. And free to serve one another in love.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

And because they had witnessed nothing short of a miracle, it was right to tell the world. That their broken mess of a marriage had been made into something beautiful. Just like a broken hallelujah from the lips of one breathing their last. Just like a melody from one who has lived to see another day. Their lives were a living testament to grace. Their lips could do nothing less than sing of God’s amazing grace.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

When we share with one another the brutal in our lives, along with the beautiful, we are able to clearly see the truth on which our lives are built. Unashamed and unconcealed. Broken and free. We are unchained melodies.

For we are more than just the pretty details we show one another in social media, more than the cute pictures we post on Facebook, the funny stories we share in our news feeds. We are more than just the casual “I’m fine” that we say so flippantly when asked how we are doing. We are people with real lives, real stories. Real pain. And none of our lives are perfect. None of us has that market cornered yet. We live lives of suffering that can be marked on a continuum that measures the varying degrees. And none can judge the shoes another walks in because we cannot ever know the pain we feel inside. Cannot really know the emptiness of wondering, “Is this all there really is?” This has to be one of the greatest points of despair in a person’s journey: wondering what is the purpose of a pointless life that seems to be heading nowhere. This is grief at its lowest, this is emptiness in its fullest.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

Can we believe this truth?
Our lives are better than a beautiful melody sung by angels.
Our tears are better than a hallelujah uttered in church on Sunday morning.
Our cries are better than an Amen.
Our rage is better than apathy.
Our anger is better than indifference.
Our acknowledgement of the brokenness of our lives is better than a hallelujah.

Bearing truth to the messy, complicated in our lives is better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

(It’s better than a hallelujah sometimes)

Words to the song “Better Than A Hallelujah” are written by Amy Grant

Only love

There is only love.”- Gretchen Rubin

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I am crouched in a crowded hallway with children bumping into one another, bumping into me from every side. It is almost 3:00 p.m., and we are all anxious for the day’s closure and a change of routine. My hands hold a backpack that belongs to a little guy. He snaps orders at me like a little drill sergeant while I try to process exactly how to respond. And I plan on responding- I just need a moment to think; I want to make use of this opportunity to teach as well as admonish. He continues with the tirade. “Stand up”, “help me”, “hold this”- words come pouring from his mouth in an accusatory cascading torrent.

As if I owe it to him. As if I was there solely for this purpose.

I take his little hands in mine and look him in the eye… and I try to remember (I tell it to myself): ‘there is only love’.

My own four children are fighting later- someone pushes, steps on, name-calls. There is always something happening at any given moment, or so it seems. And one mean remark sends me over the edge- flying. And it makes a woman weary- all this spite. All this cruelty. It pulls at her patience like a varmint looking for scraps, leaves her taut and twisted. So she snaps. And she wonders, “Is there only love?”

She finds herself after all this, tired to the bone. Exhausted. So that love seems the furthest thing from her mind. For love seems too narrow in scope, at times, to explain everything. Too free. Too lenient. Too open. Too forgiving. Too kind. Love seems to cover for so much. Why must there be only love?

Much later, she listens to stories of abuse coming from the mouths of those who have been deeply wounded. And she wonders if hate would ever mend a wound like love can.

She watches her own father- and other loved ones too, coping with the progression of a debilitating disease and she wonders if bitterness could ever fill the void like gratitude can.

She sees the grace in which friends deal with change and trouble (of every sort) and she wonders if intolerance could ever cope like mercy can.

She watches children who bicker and fight and squabble and scrap and she asks herself if frustration could ever tolerate like patience can.

And she reminds herself that love is stronger than she thinks. Wider in scope than she ever realized. Abler than she first believed. Love is enough.

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Because there is only love for a reason: it’s the answer for everything.

Ephesians 4:2 “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,”
Proverbs 10:12 “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses”.

Our Hope

Oh, Canada

Oh, Canada- our home…and native land.

This has been a very difficult week.  A difficult week for Canada. A difficult week for us all. And for those of us struggling personally- with private issues that remain largely unseen, what happened yesterday might feel like the straw that broke the camel’s back. The last remaining fiber holding fragile hearts together. Causing us to feel a sense of hopelessness- causing us to feel bereft, discouraged and desperate. These are difficult times by anyone’s standards. Whenever I turn on my inspirational Christian radio station these days on Sirius satellite, the songs all talk of hope. It seems to be what we crave, what we desire more than anything else in a world gone horribly wrong. Listen to the words of this song:

“Hope sleeps without me Her sweet dreams surround me, But I’m left out I’ll need a fix now To believe, to feel These rooms are dark now These halls are hollow, And so am I She is hard to find now To believe, to see Hope is what we crave, And that will never change So I stand and wait I need a drop of grace To carry me today, A simple song to say It’s written on my soul: Hope’s what we crave I won’t turn to dust now Let these tears rust now On my face Give me the spark now To believe, to see Hope is what we crave, And that will never change So I stand and wait I need a drop of grace To carry me today, A simple song to say It’s written on my soul: Hope’s what we crave…”

It is indeed- it’s what we want more than anything. When all is crumbling around us: we crave for hope. When the lights dim and the spark’s snuffed out: we crave for hope. When the embers are dying and the fire has been all but extinguished, we want nothing more than hope. Hope is what we crave.

“To live, to die, To lose, to care, To rise above To love again To love again Hope is what we crave, And that will never change So I stand and wait I need a drop of grace To carry me today, A simple song to say Hope is what we crave I need a drop of grace It’s written on my soul: Hope’s what we crave It’s written on my soul: Hope’s what we crave Hope’s what we crave Hope’s what I crave.”

Hope. It’s there- within our grasp. It stands in front of us- luminous and free. And we can claim it- it’s ours to hold onto. And all because of this- Hope was found rising just 2000 years ago. Hope rose. And Hope still lives today. Hope might be what we crave- but as sure as I’m standing, hope is what He gave.

And that hope’s in front of me.

“I’ve been running through rain That I thought would never end Trying to make it on faith In a struggle against the wind I’ve seen the dark and the broken places But I know in my soul No matter how bad it gets I’ll be alright There’s hope in front of me There’s a light, I still see it There’s a Hand still holding me Even when I don’t believe it I might be down but I’m not dead There’s better days still up ahead Even after all I’ve seen There’s hope in front of me There’s a place at the end of the storm You finally find Where the hurt and the tears and the pain All fall behind You open up your eyes and up ahead There’s a big sun shining Right then and there you realize You’ll be alright There’s hope in front of me There’s a light, I still see it There’s a Hand still holding me Even when I don’t believe it I might be down but I’m not dead There’s better days still up ahead Even after all I’ve seen There’s hope in front of me There’s a hope still burning I can feel it rising through the night And my world’s still turning I can feel your love here by my side You’re my hope You’re the light, I still see it Your Hands are holding me Even when I don’t believe it I’ve got to believe I still have hope You are my hope.”

God, you are our Hope