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Category: Rise Above

I Am Here

I Am Here

I distinctly recall taking what I thought would be my last mortal breath.  Life and circumstance had beaten me down and whittled me away to a mere shadow of my former self.  I was rapidly wasting away.  At 90 pounds less than what I weighed just a few months before, my active heart rate was 32-33 beats per minute.  My digestive system was paralyzed.  I couldn’t eat.  I was on a feeding tube.  And, as much as I wanted to live, I was so weak that I remember consciously choosing to take my last breath.

Breathing had become a chore.  Even blinking my eyelids felt like it exhausted me, at times.  I was ready to let go.  I’d had enough.  So in the deep of the night, I closed my eyes.  I inhaled one last time as a voice deep within me said “let go.”  And then I let go, sure that this was it.

Do you really choose your next breath?

But then, somehow, somewhere; somewhere from beyond me but within me I found my next breath.  In fact, it wasn’t really “me” that took that next breath at all.  At least it didn’t feel that way.  My chest rose.  My lungs filled with air.  It was not by my own doing.  And as I felt this strange invader fill my chest with air, I heard an instinct that sounded like the quiet, thunderous, soothing voice of a thousand rumbling whispers declare from a place deep within the universe of my soul, “I am.”  It then rushed out of me, echoing, “here.”

I am here!

It happened again. Inhale.  “I am.”

Exhale.  “Here.” Again.

Inhale.  “I am.”

Exhale.  “Here.”

I AM.

Here.

As my mortality persisted one breath at a time, I was deduced to the cosmic realization of my own nothingness, which revealed the mystery of my existence—that my existence had always been breath-to-breath and, so long as I had mortal breath, the great “I AM” of scripture (Exodus 3:14) and the little “I am” of “me” existed and spoke with a univocity I’d never realized.  God was in there somewhere inside of me.  And I was part of him.

The breath of life is more than a mere instinct.  It is God in us.

“Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10) meant something entirely new to me.  My existence was proof of God’s existence.  He was right there, in me, all along, breath by breath.  I now realize what an illusion it is to think that we somehow control our own mortality and live apart from God.  Do you really choose your next breath?

“God the Lord, he … created the heavens, and stretched them out; he … spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he … giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein.”  (Isaiah 42:5.)

The breath of life is more than a mere instinct.  It is God in us.  The very breath of life in us is Existence itself captured and condensed in broken, frail and feeble mortality.  Our Existence means God wills and purposes us to live.  Therefore, so long as you are breathing, there is beauty, meaning and purpose to your existence, whether you see it or not.

So I took another breath.  And another.  And another, each breath a reminder of God’s loving presence inside of me.  And then I was filled with God’s overwhelming love.  Actually, “filled” is a bad way to describe it.  Yes, it was in me.  But I was also surrounded and immersed in this atmosphere of love, as if in a womb or cocoon.  And yet even that is an inaccurate description.  It was more like the realization that in my nothingness love was reality.  It was the atmosphere I breathed.  Love was the foundation of reality.

You’ve never been in control and you never will be.

It is true that “in him we live and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:28.)  It is true that God is love.  (1 John 4:8.)  And having been reduced to my essence, my wonderful nothingness, I wanted nothing more than to share God’s love and to be the embodiment of love.  I realized that I was part of God, that God is love and that I was built to love.  This purpose is what sustained me through years of living without food, subsisting on a feeding tube.

Our fears are like imaginary pirate ships on the sea of consciousness.

When you are so broken and so weak that you can no longer hold on, you have no choice but to let go.  When you let go, you look upon the fears and worries that tormented you and, suddenly, they are no longer a part of you.  Instead, they’re like pirate ships drifting away on the sea of consciousness … and you just let them float off to the horizon because they are no longer a part of you.  They are “out there.”  In fact, they were never real to begin with.  They were mere illusions, created by my refusal to embrace my innate worthiness and godliness, byproducts of my lustful pursuit of the illusory oasis of control and perfection.

Truth is, you’ve never been in control and you never will be.  You’re never “perfect” in the way you think of perfection.  If you give up, fail, lose, or whatever else you fear, you’ll keep breathing.  So surrender the imaginary battle.  Stop trying and repent.   After all, repentance is nothing more than an awakening to your innate lovability and worthiness.  It is re-discovering that lovable, innocent child of God you once were, filled with love, filled with a sense of wonder, filled with light and innocence, ignorant to fear and avarice.  That child of God is still there inside of you and a new and hopeful world awaits you.  But you must let go and die to discover that.

Each breath witnesses that you are an extension of the great “I AM.”

Now, like a newborn child, I sometimes feel a bit alien in this confusing world.  I miss the cocoon.  I miss the womb.  It’s when I’m fighting the evil pirates out there, labeling who the bad guys are, and judging and assessing that I feel this way.  That’s when I feel lost.   But when I get back to my core purpose, when I put the things I’m trying to control out of reach and then reach out and love another person with real intent, I find God again.  I feel that connection and closeness once more.  I see the enemy pirate ships float away and then evaporate on the horizon once again and say to myself, “Why was I so worried?”  “Home” really is where your heart is.  Living love is living with God.  It’s heaven on earth.

It’s the little things that keep me grounded in true reality.  Buy lemonade from a kid at the lemonade stand.  Compliment someone.  Write a nice email or text to encourage someone.  Give hugs.  Pat someone on the back.  Be courteous in traffic.  Buy someone lunch.  Just little stuff like that can keep you grounded in the reality of your existence and purpose.  These things create atonement and connection.

You were built to love.  That is your purpose.  And living your purpose brings peace and happiness.  That is why the breath of life persists inside of you.  Each breath witnesses that you are an extension of the great “I AM.”

Victimhood

Victimhood

During the apex of my physical suffering, I found myself in court, not in my usual role as a lawyer, but as a defendant in a $1 million malpractice lawsuit.  There was no merit to the lawsuit.  But there I was in court, listening to my lawyer argue why the case against me was baseless and should be dismissed.  There I was, barely holding on to life, and listening to the hum and whirl of my infusion pump push formula into my small bowel through my feeding tube, feeling quite angry and quite justified in my anger and self-pity.  The case was dismissed as meritless.  But the anger I felt towards the former client and friend who had betrayed me in my darkest hour lingered.

Victimhood, at its core, is a rejection of the Victim—Jesus Christ—supplanted by the trinity of victimhood: Attention, Admiration and Affirmation.

The former client that betrayed me didn’t seem to care.  He was looking for an easy way to avoid a $1 million judgment against him (in a fraud lawsuit) that he couldn’t pay.  I didn’t lose his case.  I dropped his case after this client stopped paying me and owed me thousands of dollars in unpaid attorney’s fees.  Then, more than 18 months later, another lawyer, who didn’t have malpractice insurance, finished the case and lost.  So, my former client apparently told the lawyers that sued him to sue me for malpractice because he knew I had insurance.  A story of my alleged wrongdoing was fabricated, the body of my work was falsified and then it (and my large insurance policy) was cast into the waters for the sharks to attack.  Fortunately, the judge saw through the subterfuge and tossed the case out.  I won the case.  But would I lose my soul?

I always had two choices ….

No matter how I looked at it, I always had two choices.  I could hate or I could love.  I could forgive or I could hold a grudge.  I could move on or I could seek revenge (if only just reimbursement for the $15,000.00 deductible I had to pay the insurance company for my defense attorney which was a devastating financial blow in light of all my medical bills, not to mention the thousands of dollars this guy owed me).  What should I do?

I learned that there is no joy in victimhood.  In fact, the longer you cling to your status as victim, the more you will suffer.  Yet we see more and more victims every day.  They are all around us.  They are everywhere.  We all know one.  They are like crack addicts, just waiting to get their next fix of sympathy or pity.  But the narcotic effects of attention wear off quickly and soon the victim clamors for another round of condolences.  Complaining.  Crying.  Shouting.  Raging.  Whatever it takes to get that next hit.  But it’s never enough.

It’s a ravenous, insatiable beast.  It becomes an addiction.

Perhaps that’s because victimhood, at its core, is a rejection of the Victim—Jesus Christ—supplanted by the trinity of victimhood: Attention, Admiration and Affirmation.  Victimhood is the polar opposite of everything Jesus offers you.  The victim wants to be thirsty and parched.  But Jesus says if you come to me you’ll never be thirsty again.  (John 4:14.)  The victim wants to be hungry and starving.  But Jesus says come to me and you’ll never be hungry.  (John 6:35.)  Jesus was wounded so we could be healed.  (Isaiah 53:5.)  The victim rejects healing so as to remain wounded.  Jesus was the great and final sacrifice.  (Hebrews 10:1-18.)  In contrast, the victim is the continual and insatiable martyr, egotistically substituting himself for the Savior.

The narcotic effect wears off quickly and soon we clamor for another round of condolences.

Why do we choose victimhood?  And, make no doubt about it, victimhood is a choice.  Like the choice to shoot up or choose any other false substitute for the atonement of Jesus Christ to ease your pain, it’s a very sinister and self-destructive choice that will take you to very dark places.  It’s a ravenous, insatiable beast.  It becomes an addiction.

Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44.)  Why?  Not because it is some grand requirement to get into heaven.  But because it will make you happy … now.  It’s actually very good therapy.  It’s wise living.

Victimhood is the conscious decision to turn your back on the cross and move far enough away from it that the only mournful voice of pain you hear is your own.

What was I going to do when I saw this friend and former client?  I would run in to him a lot.  In fact, I would see him at church every Sunday.  I decided to experiment upon God’s word.  I stopped praying that God would change him and I started praying that God would change me.  I prayed that God might fill my heart with empathy, compassion and charity and remove the hatred and anger I felt.  I prayed for the courage to hold my tongue.  I prayed for the strength to love.  And the next time I saw him, I hugged him.

I hugged him ….

What did that feel like?

It felt like I was in a holy place.  I felt love.  I felt the love of God come through me and empower me.  I felt his presence, telling me that everything would be okay.  I felt God tell me that I didn’t have to trust this person ever again.  I didn’t have to have a relationship with this person ever again.  I didn’t have to excuse what this person did to me or deny that it hurt me.  I didn’t even have to like this person.  I just had to love him.  And there’s a big difference.

Victimhood is the conscious decision to turn your back on the cross and move far enough away from it that the only mournful voice of pain you hear is your own.  Not only that but this self-imposed distancing also requires aiders and abettors to feed the hungry, self-centered werewolf that hatred and anger make of us all, thus drawing others away, too.  In contrast, the decision to let go of your victimhood and love is unitive, filling and fulfilling.  It is transformative, ennobling and uplifting as you experience the incredible love of God flowing through you and lifting you to higher ground.

Embracing the sinner is embracing the bloody and wounded Christ.

Embracing the sinner is embracing the bloody and wounded Christ who suffered, bled and died for him and said, “[i]nasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  (Matthew 25:40.)  As difficult as it is, I would much rather hold on to the Victim than the dark and endless abyss of victimhood.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

If-

If-

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make a heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling, 1895

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.