Category Archives: my life with God

Of birthdays and milestones: Part 2

Where I’m at now, it feels like the sky is not the limit anymore…sad as that may sound… As it is, I’m all grown up so my dreams do not begin with, “When I grow up…” Nowadays, most of them start with, “God willing, when I get money…” In addition to that, even as I dream, I’ve slowly learned that not all dreams are viable; so again, unlike when I was a child, I try to be a bit pragmatic when I’m setting my own goals.

Now as I turn a year older, every birthday becomes a point of reflection, where I analyse the milestones I’ve made so far, and the dreams, which like my childhood sweetheart, have fallen by the way side. Anxiety sets in, when I feel like I’m growing older and I haven’t gotten where I want to be yet.

One interesting thing I’m starting to note about matters age is that where someone has achieved so many things… climbed great heights and all, they’re mostly termed, ‘young’. However, where one hasn’t achieved much, society perceives them as ‘old’. For instance, where one becomes a company’s CEO, say at 26, society views them as very young. On the other hand, where a person of the same age is working but hasn’t moved out of their parents’ house, they’re said to be ‘too old’.

The long and short of this is that, once a person leaves high school, everything they do will in one way or another be weighed on the ‘too old for…’ or ‘too young for…’ scale by society. And that’s just how it is, in my humble opinion.

Some of the very depressing movies I’ve watched in relation to age are ‘Ass Backwards’ and ‘Lifeguard’, starring Kristen Bell. For a young person growing up, these movies remind one that dreams might just be that, dreams! But God-forbid!

Looking back at the far I’ve come, I’m not sure what I would do differently if I could move back the hands of time… and this is not to mean that I have achieved everything I would have wanted so far. It’s just because, most things in my past were shaped by people who at the time wielded authority over me, say my parents… so it wasn’t about me making choices.

However, if I met my younger self, I would tell her not to worry too much because God’s always in control; and when you give Him time and room to work, He’ll take you, right where you need to be. I’ve struggled with anxiety for a very long time, and this is the one part of me I would wish was different. Nonetheless, I believe God doesn’t err. He made me this way for a reason.

For all the experiences that have caused me so much pain and anguish, I celebrate them. Because as they say, ‘We can’t have a rainbow without a little rain’… So as I turn a year older, I’ll continue to dream, because one thing I’ve learned these past few years is that God answers prayers. Furthermore, when you seek His guidance, He’ll align your will with His, so all dreams will be like great visions of what is to come.

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Of birthdays and milestones: Part 1

In slightly over a week I turn a year older. Yaaay! Funny thing is I’m feeling excited, but mostly anxious about it. Excited, because birthdays are that one day in our lives, when we annually celebrate the anniversary of our births and for most people it’s a day that’s arguably characterised by festivities, big or small; and anxious because nowadays birthdays to me, don’t just mean cake and fun.

When I was growing up, I waited for my birthdays eagerly. All I had to worry about was whether I’d get a new dress or not; mom had made it a tradition to buy my sisters and I dresses to celebrate our birthdays. I remember this one time I fell and sprained my ankle on the eve of my birthday… just hours to my big day. Thankfully, the special treatment I received for being the ‘birthday girl’ far outshined every ounce of pain I felt.

As birthdays come and go, I feel I’ve reached a point where, each year sort of signals an evaluation point. See, thing is, when I was a child, I had dreams…so many dreams, which were always introduced by the phrase, “When I grow up I want to/I will… and to be honest, it was fun. The sky, as they say, was the limit. All I had to do was dream it… the rest I would leave to God, and only time would tell whether those dreams would materialize.

Some dreams as I’m realizing, fell by the way side; for one reason or another, they are unattainable. My childhood sweetheart for instance; this far I’ve come, I don’t quite remember loving a guy as much as I did him. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been in a relationship I would term ‘serious’ per se. For an entire decade, he’s the only guy my heart beat for…even on a dull day, thoughts of him would give me that warm, fuzzy feeling and the dark clouds would scud away.

His mom adored me, and she was hopeful I’d be married to her son someday. That’s the beauty of childhood. All dreams are valid. At the time we were around eight years old since he’s only one week older than me. As we grew up though, we started forging out our own different paths and a year after we finished high school, my sister invited him for lunch one afternoon when she bumped into him on her way to school.

At the time we had moved to a different neighbourhood so we didn’t see each other much; not to mention all the adventurous spirits brought to life by teenage hood. It’s usually a time of trying out new things…actually come to think of it, it’s like shopping; trying out all things to see which fit better. It’s all about self-discovery. Therefore, we had not gotten an opportunity to sort of synchronise our dreams.

That afternoon, when he came over for lunch we talked a lot, and somehow it felt we were going to rekindle things. The chemistry between us was intense. However, the next time he came over it was unannounced; and after spending some time together that day it dawned on me, we were never going to be an item again. He had changed, and I had changed as well. Simply put, we were incompatible.

That evening as I saw him off, all the fire that had burned in my heart for years died abruptly. It was then I realized I needed to move on. Interestingly, we have never ended our relationship formally. So just like that, a dream I had held onto for ten whole years went up in smoke. That, is just one of the many beautiful dreams I had as a child that with time proved unfeasible.

Power of forgiveness

Joel Osteen, in one of his sermons, gave an illustration of how our flawed humanity makes us try to avenge ourselves, though we all desire to be forgiven when we falter. He talked about a woman who had died and gone to heaven. When she got to the golden gates, St. Peter asked her to spell a word so she could get in.

“What word?” She asked.

“Any word you choose”, Peter replied.

“LOVE,” the woman said, before going ahead to spell. “L.O.V.E.”

With that, St. Peter opened the gates and allowed her to get in. Needless to say, she was beside herself with joy. She’d made it to heaven. Moments later, he asked her to stand in for him for only a short while. Dutifully, she agreed.

While the woman was manning the golden gates, her ex approached her. “What happened?” She asked.

“I had a heart attack”. He answered. “So, I’m I in heaven already?”

Begrudgingly, she said, “Not yet. First you have to spell a word.” She went on to give him a very hard word to spell, just so he she could deny him the chance to get to heaven. If we had that chance to condemn people to eternal damnation, how many of our foes would we sentence to hades?

Biblically, that illustration resonates with the story of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18: 21-35. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times should I forgive him? Seven times?”

Jesus answered him, “No, not seven… but, seventy times seven. Because the kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants’ accounts. He had just began to do so when one of them who owed him millions of dollars was brought in. The servant didn’t have enough to pay his debt, so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave with his wife and children, and all that he had in order to pay his debt.

The servant fell on his knees before the king. ‘Be patient with me, he begged, and I will pay you everything!” The king felt sorry for him and he forgave him all his debt and let him go. The man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and started choking him. ‘Pay back what you owe me’, he said.

His fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back’. But he refused; instead he had him thrown in jail until he should pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very upset and went to the king and told him everything. So he called the servant in. ‘You worthless slave!’ He said. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you’. The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount.”

And Jesus concluded, “That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

In reality, most of the time we act like the unforgiving servant; we desire to be forgiven, but are so reluctant to forgive those who wrong us. It is that behaviour that our Lord condemns. When He taught his disciples how to say the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13), He still emphasised on that ‘thorny’ aspect of forgiveness. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

Furthermore, in Matthew 6: 14-15 He says, “If you forgive others, the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.

In roughly four weeks, we’ll be celebrating Christmas and a week after that, we’ll be ushering in a new year. November is almost ending and that means this year is pretty much over. Many things have happened; we’ve been wronged by people, and we’ve also wronged others. As this year draws to a close, it is imperative that we start mending fences…

We need to make peace with those who have stepped on our toes, or with those whose toes we’ve stepped on. I doubt anyone would want any differences they might have had with others to spill over to next year. Personally, I don’t… Let’s forgive… Every time I’m watching news I see so many atrocious things happening across the globe.

One party strikes, and the other retaliates in an attempt to avenge itself… the effect of this is loss of innocent lives and the destruction of property. Earlier this year, I was watching the news where President Trump proposed the reintroduction of waterboarding –an outlawed torture tactic of interrogation- as a form of countering terrorism. He said that with respect to terrorism, he would fight fire with fire.

In my very humble opinion, fire can’t put out fire. And you know how that saying goes, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Unfortunately, in most cases, this is the approach we use to deal with those who offend us. We come out guns blazing so at the end of the day we leave things worse than they were.

From my experience, forgiving is very difficult, especially if there was searing pain occasioned by the transgression. However, Jesus is calling on us to forgive… it is not easy, but it is the right thing to do… and right now, what the world needs is tonnes and tonnes of forgiveness, as this will create room for peace, love and unity to thrive. What we need to remember is that love heals… and there can be no love, without forgiveness.

These swords we wield

Arguably, we’re always talking… whether verbally or by the use of gestures. But question is, how often do we take a moment to contemplate the effects our words have on others? Do we build people or we destroy them? Our tongues, like Joel Osteen was saying in a sermon I was listening to last week, are like swords, depending on how we use them. If we use condescending words on others, to make them feel small and insignificant, we destroy. On the other hand, when we utter polite, encouraging words, we build them.

Take the case of a young child; every time the parent tells them they’re bad, these words, though not always said in bad faith, but for chastising purposes, create a negative mind-set. If it’s a statement that’s made repeatedly, the child starts to internalize it and they grow up with a low self-esteem. The same also happens, where two people are in a relationship, and the perceived dominant partner constantly tells the other that they are unattractive. Such words have the potential to impact someone so negatively, that their self-esteem ebbs, leaving them completely devoid of any sense of worth…

Joel Osteen looked at the issue from both sides; it could be a person in authority using their words to demean their subordinate, or it could be the latter, lashing out at their senior in a moment of rage during a heated altercation. “You might experience a high for about ten minutes, high five other colleagues because you drove the point straight home… But a few minutes later, you’ll realise the boss still has his job and you don’t”.

Hurtful words said in anger could torment one for years, though they might have been uttered in just a second. The one saying them might live in constant regret, whereas the one on the receiving end will always feel scarred. Sometimes we might say sorry, and that is good; nonetheless, the sorry, however sincere, will never erase the scars caused. That is how deep our tongues could cut. The damage caused might be irreparable.

I remember this one time my mom gave me a piece of paper, where she had written a story she had stumbled upon while browsing online. I don’t remember the particular facts, but it was about a young girl who was given a small plank of wood and a set of nails by her mom. She was instructed to hammer in a nail every time she said hurtful words to someone.

As per the instructions given, she drove nails into the plank of wood whenever she offended someone. One day her mom asked to see the plank, which by then was full of nails. Handing her a hammer, she asked her to pull them out and again, she did as instructed. As one would expect, when the girl had completed her assignment there were several holes visible on the plank.

Subsequently, the mom went on to explain what the little assignment was about. “This is what happens every time you say hurtful words to someone. You can take the words back, but you can’t erase the scars.” This in my opinion, is similar to what Joel Osteen was trying to explain. Words have the power to scar someone, inflict excruciating pain… and you know that saying, “You can forget the words, but you can never forget how those words made you feel.”

This is what we need to remember when we’re addressing others. It should be a personal reflection which we’re required to make before we speak. Furthermore, when others say hurtful things to us, we should just take a minute to contemplate the effects of the words we intend to throw back at them. What’s worth noting is that nasty words can’t be used to put out a fire; they only fuel the flames.

Contrary to common belief, an honourable person is he who walks away from a fight. Taking the high road doesn’t automatically imply that one is a fool or weak for that matter. Contrariwise, it shows one has enough grace to walk away.

Furthermore, Joel advised people not to be like the Israelites. Their sword-like tongues and negative mind-sets made a journey that was initially meant to take 11 days from Egypt to Canaan turn into a 40-year old journey. He said they went around the same hill for 40 years, would you believe that? They complained incessantly and resorted to idolatry. Such, was the height of their ingratitude.

We, have the chance to make different choices. God blesses the humble, so while we’re contemplating hurling insults at someone, we should keep that in mind. It may take all strength trying to will away the negative words waiting at the tip of the tongue to spill out, but the rewards of withholding them far outweighs any momentary gratification one might have gained from letting others have it.

Truth is, we don’t always have to say what we think… and some things, in all honesty, are better left unsaid. This is the fundamental mentality we could use to turn these swords we wield into instruments of building others, and ultimately, the world around us.

These jars that we are…

Ever been in a situation where you’re travelling, you’re done packing…or at least you think you have, and then you realise there are a few precious items you forgot and there’s no more space left? Normally, the first instinct is to try figure what’s not so important, so that it (they) can be taken out to create space for the more important things.

Essentially, that’s how we human beings are fashioned. We’re like jars; and as is common with jars, they do fill up at some point. So the million dollar question is, what’s your jar filled up with? Are they things which under normal circumstances you would want to get rid of? Personally I know there are so many things I would want to get rid of.

A couple of days ago I got a chance to listen to one of Joel Osteen’s enlightening sermons. It was edifying, Joel likened human beings to jars. He said that if one’s jar is filled with guilt, self-pity, anger…etc. there will be no room for good things like peace, love, confidence…

Every once in a while when I’m talking to my sisters, I’ll remind them that if one’s worrying too much about something it diminishes one’s faith, because one can’t believe in God and be afraid at the same time. That’s the same thing Joel said; if one’s jar is filled with anxiety, that takes up the space for peace and serenity. If one allows their inner voice to convince them they’re always making the wrong choices, then that takes up the space for confidence.

If we want to receive God’s blessings, then we must create space. So, like that suitcase we need to empty out to make space for a few valuables we left out, we need to empty our jars to make room for the good things God needs to fill us up with.

Empty out the anxiety, the anger; empty out that self-pity, that self-loathing; let go off of the remorse that has been burdening you…for all those things happening in your life that you don’t understand, let go off the thousands of questions which have been tormenting you; and God, who’s got everything in control will fill you with peace that surpasses all understanding.

It’s only by so doing, that we’re going to receive God’s blessings in our lives. Life’s too short to dwell on the negatives, and much as we may all agree unanimously that being happy is an uphill task, emptying out all the negatives will create room for joy and cheer.

Joel Osteen made me think of something I’ve never thought of before. In a hypothetical setting, Mary the mother of Jesus, bumps into another woman in heaven; the mother of Judas Iscariot. If you were Mary, how would you deal with her, taking into consideration the painful and humiliating death her innocent son was subjected to, thanks to Judas’ betrayal?

Most of us usually strive to get over the painful moments we’ve gone through in life. That might be a very high bar that will likely put us under so much pressure. Truth is, we might never get past the pain and the hurt, but we should endeavour to get past it; and gradually we’ll get to a point where that pain doesn’t feel like an earth-shattering experience. It’s just a matter of getting rid of the bad things, so that we can create space for the good things.

Like Joel said, we shouldn’t go through life looking through the rear-view mirror. The voice of the enemy will be there, reminding us incessantly of the failures we’ve had in life; the wrong choices we’ve made…but that’s the past. If we hold on too tightly to it, we won’t have space in our hands to receive the immeasurable blessings God showers upon us.

So when the enemy reminds you of your past, remind him of his future; he ain’t got one, because God’s got it all in control.

Broken! God, where are you?

God, where are you? Have you ever gotten to that point where you look around, and the pitiable state people are in; the deplorable state of affairs just makes you wonder if God exists for real, and if He does, why He’s watching quietly as everything goes (seems to go) awry? This past week I’ve found myself in related instances. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes might bring into view a very bleak perspective of things.

A couple of days ago, my small sis came home looking so broken. Her eyes were all droopy and, her shoulders slouched. I could tell all was not well with her. “I cried today”, she told me.

I was in the kitchen preparing supper, so I just paused, knife in hand to look at her. “Why?”  I asked her.

A dejected sigh escaped her, before she answered, “When I was coming home, I saw this child on the street. From my estimation, he couldn’t be older than five. He was seated, leaning against a wall. I wanted to give him some biscuits I’d bought because I figured he was hungry. He was asleep, so I tried waking him up but he wouldn’t open his eyes”.

I was expecting the worst at that point… and I started dreading that the next words coming out of her mouth would be, he was dead. God-forbid! She sniffled before continuing, “I thought he was on drugs or something. Maybe some other kids already introduced him to them.”

“For most street kids it’s some sort of coping mechanism,” I explained. Then I figured he was only a small boy. I don’t have much experience with babies that I can use as some point of reference but I know some fall into deep sleep when they do get to sleep. So I also told her the same thing; or maybe, he’d been hungry for so long so he was too weak. I hoped it was the former. I know how it feels to go for a long time without food and honestly, I wouldn’t wish that, even on my worst enemy.

“When I figured he wasn’t waking up I just tucked the packet of biscuits under his sweater so the older kids wouldn’t snatch them from him. Guess what Aly? That’s when I noticed he didn’t have legs”.

“What?” I couldn’t help my surprised look. It’s not unusual to see a street child whose legs have been amputated, or who was born with under developed limbs, but hearing that about a homeless boy, and who was of such a tender age for that matter, made my heart bleed. He was out on the cold streets alone, and helpless. It certainly had to be harder for him living out in this callous world, with no one to fend for him or defend him.

His mom must have left him out there when she figured he was going to be a differently abled child. How unfair, I thought. “I don’t know how I’m ever going to live, knowing I left him out there,” my sister interrupted my momentary thoughts. “I haven’t a clue where he is. I’m scarred Aly.” She seemed broken, as those words left her mouth.

It wasn’t hard to imagine how tormented she must have been feeling. She has a big heart, and half of the times she does things even I have trouble comprehending. Sometimes I ask her not to let people take advantage of her kindness, because that’s just who she is. If there’s any weakness in her, I can bet that would be her biggest weak spot. I fear it would make her too gullible. But that aside, there was a baby living out there on the cold streets alone. The thought itself made my heart ache.

“God knows where that boy is,” I told her, “so let’s pray for Him to provide for him and that He may also keep him from harm’s way”. Nodding, she acquiesced. I could tell she would have wanted to do more for the child, but as it is, we’re so strapped for cash it hurts. Nowadays we’re merely getting by…

This and some other incidents reminded me of this Lenten reflection/prayer:

“My Jesus, the world still has you on trial. It keeps asking who You are and why You make the demands You make. It asks over and over the question, ‘if You’re God’s Son, why do You permit the world to be in the state it’s in?’

Why are you so silent?”

“…Your humility frustrates me, and makes me uncomfortable. Your strength before Pilate as You drank deeply from the power of the Father, gives me the answer to my question- The Father’s Will. The Father permits many sufferings in my life, but it’s all for my good. If only I too could be silent in the face of worldly prudence- steadfast in the faith when all seems lost; calm when accused unjustly; free from tyranny of human respect; ready to do the Father’s will, no matter how difficult”.

“Silent Jesus, give us all the graces we need to stand tall in the face of the ridicule of the world. Give the poor the strength not to succumb to their privation, but to be ever aware of their dignity as sons of God. Grant that we may not bend to the crippling disease of worldly glory, but be willing to be deprived of all things rather than lose your friendship.

My Jesus, though we are accused daily of being fools, let the vision of quiet dignity standing before monstrous injustice, give us all the courage to be your followers. Amen”.

 

Red flags? Run, baby run… Part 2

In reality, when one loves for real, they lack the willpower to pull the plug on a relationship that already feels dead. One keeps holding on, tolerating all the pain, in the hope that the relationship will work out somehow. If experience has taught me anything, it’s that a failed relationship is just that; a failed relationship. Most of the time our instincts warn us, but we choose to ignore them.

I’ll keep saying it over and over again; sometimes it’s better to walk out than hold on to a relationship that’s already dead. The consequences are just not worth it. For instance, the friend of my friend’s sister is only twenty six years old. That’s too young to be going through marital hell. She knows her husband cheats on her but she doesn’t seem to find that an issue, and why you ask? Because she loves him.

These past few days alone, I’ve witnessed mom going through untold hell. Dad’s only getting meaner with each passing day. He’s already said he won’t be paying my sister’s school fee and mine. He doesn’t seem to care that I’ve only two semesters of law school to go. So now I’m putting all my faith in God. Only He knows why all things are happening this way.

One of my greatest consolations is that my big sister finished her masters degree and she managed to do it without dad’s help. So maybe after all, we won’t need his help either. I live for the day we’ll be freed from his imposed dominance. For instance, I’m unable to point out when he errs because he holds my school fee over my head, so if I openly disagree with him he threatens to cut me off.

Nowadays I avoid him like a plague because I won’t feel the need to lash back if I don’t hear or see him doing irksome things; and as it is, that’s who he is. Unfortunately, he still gets under my skin because he treats everyone else with utter disregard for their well-being. I’m pretty sure I hate him, but I’m constantly asking God to grant me the grace not let hate corrupt my soul.

My sister tried talking to him the other day after he publicly threatened to call some young men to beat mom up, and that was after he’d almost run her over. I knew he has a dark soul, but deep down I hoped he had changed. This wouldn’t be the first time he hit her in public, but the last time that happened was about a decade ago. My small sister is still traumatised by the events of that day.

One thing I’m pretty sure of is that if mom could go back in time, she’d make different choices. Lately she’s been saying constantly that there were red flags all around her when she and dad started going out; but she was a young naïve woman, who actually believed love conquers all. Apparently, it doesn’t always. In my humble opinion, love only triumphs when both parties in the relationship are willing to fight for their love.

Yesterday when we were leaving for church in the morning, dad was getting home after spending the night out drinking. He even had the audacity to ridicule us. According to him, God’s punishing us while He’s blessing Him. On a bad day, that might have crushed my spirits; because on the face of it, that’s how I’d interpret this dreadful situation we’re in.

Dad’s getting meaner by the day, yet he doesn’t seem to be suffering in any way. On the other hand, every day my mom, sisters and I feel like God has given up on us. But deep down I know He hasn’t. He acts in time, so we just need to continue hoping in Him.

The things dad said when we were leaving for church had me thinking he’s become the devil incarnate. Worse still, when we came back from church we found he’d locked the door from inside and had left the key in the keyhole. We panicked. I rang the doorbell a couple of times, hoping he would be kind enough to open. But he didn’t.

My small sis tried pushing the key out with another key but she failed. My big sis, who had gone to sit on the steps in anguish, afraid we would stay outside until dad decided to show mercy on us just rose, deciding to try her luck.

After a few attempts she finally managed. I just can’t explain how overjoyed we were. That felt like a major triumph. The possibility that dad might have fallen into deep slumber, given his inebriated state had us terrified. Worst part is my big sis had locked the door herself when she was leaving but dad – in an unnecessary show of might- opened the door and locked it from inside, so that had us reading malice into the whole thing.

When we walked into the house, mom obviously went straight to their bedroom and lo, and behold! Dad was just standing at the window, casually looking outside. Meaning he had seen us walking to the house, and even heard the doorbell ringing, but he chose not to open the door. Where I am right now, I feel like we’re living with the enemy.

Financial dependence is incapacitating. I can only think of one reason why my sisters and I are still living with dad. But where I’m at, I’m so convinced that when I move out I don’t want to remember I have a father. So in my humble opinion, one should run if the relationship they’re in feels dead. There’s no need waiting up to a point where everything just comes crumbling.