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Amazed by Grace

Amazed by Grace

What has three years without food and living on a feeding tube taught me?  Many things.  But today I want to talk about grace. Grace is not a one-time act of rescue.  It is not a one-night-only show.  It is a lifestyle.  It is a partnership with God.  It is the means by which we mortals access the enabling power of God.  Grace is not just an act of mercy or salvation.  It is a process of transformation.  Grace works.  It works on us.  It works with us.

To say that we are saved by grace is true but vastly understated and oversimplified. It’s like saying we are “saved” by oxygen. Grace makes spiritual respiration possible. It feeds the marrow of our souls. It sustains and transforms immortal metabolisms. We are saved by grace, changed by grace, sustained by grace and, consequently, amazed by grace.

Grace is even more than the enabling power of God.  It is the enabling presence of God.  It is the presence of God manifested not only through his Holy Spirit, but also through the kind and helping hands of others. It is the power that has sustained me for the past three years and allowed me to survive. Please watch this seven-minute video to learn more about my journey with grace:

For more ideas and discussion on suffering and utilizing love as a powerful coping mechanism for suffering, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

A Christmas Wish

A Christmas Wish

I haven’t written for a while because I’ve been down with pneumonia, followed by a SIBO infection.  I have lacked energy and inspiration for many weeks now.  The holidays are always a difficult time for me.  Surrounded by all of the candy, goodies, treats and sumptuous food I cannot eat, I am reminded of how abnormal I am.  It’s easy to feel sorry for myself.  It’s difficult to resist the urge to hide in the shadows of depression and self-pity.  But, as I am surrounded by food, I realize that I am also surrounded by family and friends.  I focus on the love I have for each one of them.  I stay busy cooking for them and trying to make their holiday memorable and, soon enough, I find myself happy and connected once again.  I am reminded that the reason we forget the gifts we get but remember the gifts we give is because giving is exponentially more rewarding than getting.

If God is love, then it must follow, as day follows night, that loving connects us not only to one another but also to God.  So if you want to feel the reality of the Christmas spirit then focus on loving, listening and serving those around you.  As I child I was devastated to learn the truth about Santa Claus.  But then I matured and evolved and discovered, as an adult, the joy of being Santa Claus.  Santa Claus was alive once more!  As a spiritually immature individual–a spiritual “child”–I was devastated to discover all of the flaws and imperfections in the Church, in religion in general, and most of all, in people.  Also, battling years of intense suffering, it rocked me to my core to learn that God was not who or what I had believed him to be.  But then I matured and evolved and discovered, as a spiritual adult, the joy of being.  Being love, that is.  God was alive once more!

Just as you can mediate the spirit of Christmas for others by being Santa Claus or just being your best self for a week or so each year, you can have that abiding joy and spirit all year long by choosing to mediate the presence and reality of God for others.  By choosing to be the “adult” in every situation and by focusing on bringing joy to others you can, once again, discover the magic of living … of being human.  This is the only thing that enables me to endure life on a feeding tube and life without food.

Be the one that reaches out.  Be the one that mends, rather than nurtures, grudges.  Be the one to say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong.”  Be the bigger person.

I recently heard from a reader who had been in conflict with a neighbor for years.  After reading my book she asked for advice on what she could do to start the process of reaching out to mend the rift.  I suggested she start with a smile, then maybe a wave and then, perhaps, a gift.  The plan was implemented without immediate results.  Then, just a few weeks ago, this reader reported that she took this neighbor some bread and a Christmas ornament.  She said that the neighbor was completely shocked.  I asked, “How did it feel.”  She replied, “It felt really good.”  And that’s the point.  If you want to feel good, do good.  Be good.  You cannot control what others think of you, but you can always control what you think of others.  And that means you don’t have to control others to control your happiness.

You don’t need food to be happy.  I’m living proof of that.  You don’t need money to be happy.  I think I’m also living proof of that.  All you need is to find the true “you”–the “you” that is not tied to ego, pride and image.  The “you” that emerges from behind the shadow of the false self and does incredibly good and wonderful things.

If you need God’s embrace, then embrace another.  To hug another human being is to embrace the divine.

If you cannot see God’s presence in the world, then look deeply into another person’s eyes and listen intently.  You will soon see the light of God and hear his voice whisper to your soul.  You will feel a connection.  You will realize that you are not alone in this world.

May God bless you this Christmas season and through0ut the coming year!  May you find peace and contentment through letting go of the false liberators of “success” and “prestige” by becoming like that lowly little babe born in Bethlehem more than two millennia ago, who changed the world forever by giving … not getting.  May the spirit of Jesus abide with you now and for always.

Can You Remember Him If You Forget About Me?

Can You Remember Him If You Forget About Me?

2016-27-9-16-50-23At 6’3” “Bob” weighed only 128 lbs.  He was very weak from starvation caused by a chronic illness.  He was slowly dying.  With tears in his eyes, he recently told me the story of how people in his faith community would drive by and wave to him as he struggled to mow his front lawn.  He would walk very slowly down one row, mustering every ounce of strength he had to push the mower, and then, at the end of the row, he would stop and rest for a few minutes, then start the lawn mower back up and tackle one more row.  No one stopped to help.  Bob eventually had a partial recovery and is doing much better physically—at least he is no longer dying.  But the emotional scars left by his faith community are still very evident.

Hearing Bob’s story caused me to reflect deeply upon the words of covenant I hear each week as I attend church.  Evangelical churches typically recite these words when taking communion—or the Lord’s Supper: “Do this in remembrance of me.”  The Eucharists or communions of other Christian faiths typically have similar calls to action, which are based upon the admonition of Jesus, at the Lord’s Supper, to “do this in remembrance of me.”  (See Luke 22:17-20.)  My own faith tradition invokes a covenant to “always remember Him” each week as we take the sacrament.

But what does it mean to “always remember him?”

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For many, the call to action to “always remember Him” manifests itself in more rigid adherence to dogma, more faithful observance, more faithful attendance, more scripture reading, more praying, more thinking about Jesus during the week, all of which aren’t bad things.  For others, it results in visualizing the suffering of Jesus and trying to think more about all that Jesus has done for them.  But are you missing the point?  And can you remember Jesus if you forget about me?

Can you remember Jesus if you see a sad look on my face and don’t take the time to sit down with me, listen to me and find out why I’m sad or struggling?  Can you remember Jesus if you see me discouraged and don’t do what you can to offer encouragement and hope?  Can you remember Jesus if I’m sick and you don’t come visit me?

Can you remember Jesus if you forget to call your mother, your mother-in-law, your brother, your sister?  Can you remember Jesus if you forget to visit the sick and the shut-in?  Can you remember Jesus if you forget to hug, to encourage, to cheer up the sad?  Can you remember Jesus if you forget the dance recital or the soccer game?

Jesus saw no distinction between himself and all of those people.  He taught, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  (Matthew 25:45.)  So, to Jesus, remembering others is remembering him.  Forgetting others is forgetting him.

He also saw no distinction between himself and you.  Have you ever thought about why Jesus instructed the disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood?  (See John 6:53-66.)  Could one of the reasons be that he was trying to use the strongest metaphor possible to convey the message that you need to be Christ to others.  You need to be their Savior.  He needs to be in you and act through you.  He wants you to incorporate who he is in the very fiber of your nerves, in the very tissues of your skin, in every sinew, in the very marrow of your bones.

He wants you to be worthy of the name “Christian” in every sense of the word.  He wants you to be Christian, not just in thought, but also in deed.

So next time you take communion, the sacrament or whatever your faith tradition calls it, remember that to remember others is the way, the truth and the life that Jesus is calling you to live.

Don’t ever let the Bobs of this world mow the lawns of life alone.

We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

We'll Miss Making Him Smile
We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

My little friend and fellow tube feeder passed away a few days ago.  His name was Gabe (short for Gabriel).  Gabe had a very difficult life.  Born several months premature, his brain didn’t develop normally.  Burdened with cerebral palsy, quadriplegia, epilepsy and a host of other major health problems, Gabe also suffered from the inability to eat or swallow food.  Hence, he was a tube feeder like me.  He was only with us for shortly beyond half a decade.  Yet, in those 2003 days, he taught us all so much.  His angel mother, noble father and loving brothers and sisters taught us even more.

At Gabe’s funeral on Friday, Nanette, his mother, told the story of how Gabe’s older brother, Samuel, said he would miss Gabe’s smile.  Nanette, trying to offer Sam comfort said, “You’ll still see his smile in our pictures, in our videos and in your heart.”  Sam replied, “No, mom, what I mean is that I will miss making Gabe smile.”

What did this beautiful family learn in the 5.48 years of sleepless nights; through all of the vomiting, retching, and convulsing; after five solid years of changing diapers; with all of the carrying, lifting, and transferring … in and out of bed … in and out of the chair … in and out of the bath … on and off the exam tables … in and out of their arms; after more trips to the emergency room, the doctors’ offices, and the hospitals … more than you or I could ever comprehend; with no rest, no reprieve, no grand vacations?  They learned the wisdom of the ages.  It’s in giving that we receive.  It’s in building others that we’re built.  It’s in lifting that we’re lifted.  It’s in giving away our love that it’s received … and retained.  This wonderful family didn’t just teach this from the pulpit at the funeral on Friday.  They have been teaching those of us who know them for years now.

Despite all of their challenges, you would struggle to find a happier family.  Rarely did I ever see one of Gabe’s brothers or sisters without a smile.  They are living examples of the thesis that our happiness depends not upon what circumstance does to us but upon what we do with our circumstances.

Gabe’s family, which includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., has corroborated the thesis of the Dalai Lama, who said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”  And of Confucius, who taught, “He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own.”  And of Kahlil Gibran: “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy.  I woke and I saw that life is all service.  I served and I saw that service is joy.”  And, of course, the central message of Jesus from Nazareth is confirmed, as well:  He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”  (Matthew 10:38-39.)

Gabe and family, thank you for reminding us that a life of suffering is not about what you can learn but what you can teach.  And thank you for teaching us all that all happiness is a choice—the choice to personify Love regardless of circumstance.