God is in control;
My future is secure,
Jesus owns my soul.”
The journey continues…
One of the ways that I have begun my healing journey is through the Yoga Warrior class through the wonderful folks at the Military Family Ministry at Hope Community Church. Every second and fourth Thursday I continue to stretch the envelope on my ligaments (gently though) and learn to be aware of my breathing. We all do it but have you ever stopped, closed your eyes and concentrated on each breath as it enters and exits the body. Of course, this is similar to what Amy Gressler at Harbor Reins has been teaching me as well as part of the Equine Therapy. Being more cognizant of the NOW, the sensations of air moving past your body as well as the movement of the body (and the horse beneath you). Amy had me matching my breaths with that of the horse; it amazed me how once I’d done that, it seemed the stress and tension just flowed away.
Coming home from the Warrior Yoga class tonight, a song played on HIS Radio (107.7 here in Durham) that has always reminded me that no matter the pressure to DO, all I need to do is “…just breathe…” Breathe is one of those songs that not only is firmly based on Scripture, but is a reminder in today’s chaotic world, that peace IS possible. The mantras that the Yoga instructor has taught us I have replaced with another reminder that is far more biblical:
“I am in Christ,
God is in control;
My future is secure,
Jesus owns my soul.”
Amy sent me a self-evaluation to go over again (I’ve done it before as it is a good measure of where I am in the healing process). Considering where I was when I first started with Harbor Reins and now, the difference is night and day. Most of the nightmares, the self-loathing and ennui, are fading replaced by a knowledge of who I am in Christ and where I am NOW. It fills me with gratitude to my God for directing me as he has in ‘finding’ Harbor Reins and Warrior Yoga as those two have had much to do with how far I have come in the past months. I am also thankful to an incredible woman who has put up with me over the years (yeah, she even stuck it out while I was in prison for about 24 ½ years), but mostly I am grateful to a God, who took me in my filth and welcomed me with open arms. And, though I do continue to blow it (oy vey, how I still blow it at times!), he is there telling me, “Just breathe.”
The journey continues…
What a day!
When I pulled up, I noticed that Liza had already put Bob in the ring, so I decided to go over and say hello. I called out to him, and he came sauntering over to where I was standing which blew my mind, considering our last session. I rubbed on his nose and ears for a bit, and then he turned and walked away; shortly after Amy and Liza came out, and we began our session for the day.
Bob was standing at the far end of the ring, so I placed the grooming tray on a stand in the center and walked toward him to begin. He seems to like most of the grooming (at times he does take a nip at me whenever I clean his right front hoof), but Friday he seemed more relaxed and willing to allow me to do whatever I wanted. As I moved to get him to lift his hoof, he did indeed lift it but then brought it down on top of the toes of my boot (thank God for steel toes). Yep, it hurt like a son of a gun, but I was able to flex the toes inside the boot so figured nothing had been broken.
Throughout the session, Bob seemed a different animal (compared with the previous session when he ignored and resisted my efforts to get him to come to me). It was almost too easy; at one point whenever I would walk away after he came to me, he would follow without being told! Amy had spoken to me about two phases of this; one where I have him come to me, another where I stay in the center of the ring and have him move around the periphery of the ring. I started to attempt this, but each time I called to him, he would walk to me. I would speak to him while rubbing his ears and nose; finally, Amy and Liza told me that by doing this I was reinforcing his behavior, that I needed to be more firm with him to get him to circle instead of approach.
They had given me a ‘carrot stick’ (a metal rod with a length of rope attached) that I had used at times to get his attention so he would approach me. I called to him and, as he had before, he turned and began walking toward me. I popped the rope to one side and said, “No!” while pointing to the other side. He stopped, then walked to the inner part of the ring and began to walk around it. I continued to stand in the center with my arm pointed to the side while I turned with him, continuing to tell him to move on.
I’m not sure who was more thrilled at what was happening, but Amy had a big grin. Earlier she had remarked Bob had begun trusting me more as evidenced by his being more comfortable with my ‘snuggling’ with him; all that had happened that day seemed to reinforce this. I guess our next session will be the ‘proof in the pudding,’ but I am excited at the changes in Bob and me. One of Amy’s observations was that I was obviously more at peace with myself, and Bob had sensed this and so was working with me as a team.
A great day; a wonderful session and an indication that we (as a team) are going in the right direction.
So, what’s new with you?
Another 24 hour period passes and the world seems to pause to celebrate this particular day more than another simply because it marks the passing of one year (2015) and the beginning of yet one more (2016). Spending multiplied millions (if not billions) on the gaiety of such an event and, with the new risks we face, add to that the billions in added security to protect the revelers who gather around the globe.
Why do we do this every year? We eat special meals, supposedly to influence events in the coming year that will bring us additional money and good fortune all the while laughing off such and telling each other that we are not taking such folk-wisdom seriously. But those meals are served with the same regularity as we light up the night sky with brilliant displays of fireworks each year.
Multiplied millions share resolutions to at least attempt to improve their lives, if not that of some attempt at improving the world around them; such promises for change often forgotten in the passing of days (hours?) that the ‘new’ year brings. We hope, perhaps, that this year can be different; that governments can work together, and that industry as well will work more for the benefit of the world and the people who live on it rather than chasing after the amassing of more and more in the coffers of those same governments and businesses.
But what is new with you? Is it vain to hope for improvement as Jiminy Cricket once sang, “When You Wish Upon A Star?” or are we doomed to continue the same circling of the drain as we await the final push of a button to end it all with nuclear oblivion or some other form of destruction? Can that be the underlying cause of such careless and hopeful abandon each New Year Eve? We did not blow ourselves up (at least in the case of the majority) and can hope that such will be the case next December 31st all the while nervously watching the growing tensions between religious groups, countries, and individuals.
Dare I say it? Is there hope in something (Someone) outside of our control? Events that I participated in while in the Navy back in the 1970s make me less hopeful of man’s efforts to obtain “Peace on Earth.” As more countries and the despots who rule them become members of the nuclear club, it seems that we are indeed circling the drain of our demise unless there is Another who will, as the bartender in a pub I once visited in Scotland said, “All right, gents. Closing time.”
We have no means to stop our maddened rush to eventual destruction. A perusal of any news media or just looking within our hearts will demonstrate this truth. Mutual Assured Destruction Doctrine is no guarantee of peace (as I learned in the 70s) and the vehement argument between scholars of different (or the same) religions give me little cause for hope. It is only in one Person that I can look and see hope; a baby born in a slum of a forgotten part of a subjugated people brought that hope to all mankind. A baby foretold for centuries, who was born to die and lived his life in complete obedience to the Law of His people, then executed putting an end, the authorities thought, to this sect of Jews.
But hope arose and continued to grow despite the efforts of any politician or imam; the Light of all men provides a newness in the most despicable of us (and I have, at times, been such and will be again). Scattered around the world, the followers of this One look into a future that is New and filled with a Hope that the world scorns. As this ‘new’ (but far too much the same) begins, I invite you to consider this Jesus and ask yourself what answer He would give you to the question with which I began this.
So, what’s new with you?
“Get over it!”
I’ve heard that many a time; have to confess to saying it myself at times either directed toward myself or some other person. Life can hurt, but to be successful it seems important to put a brave face on and ‘soldier on’; to keep on no matter how you may feel. I’ve done this for years, I thought somewhat successfully, until this past weekend when Kathy and I attended a workshop/seminar on Post Traumatic Stress and the impact it has on lives.
William Tecumseh Sherman once opined regarding war,
“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”
One of the speakers, a Marine combat veteran, stated it rather succinctly when he said that war kills the soul of any who participate in the hell that is all too real for those who have ‘seen the elephant,’ a descriptive phrase attributed to first being used in the mid to late 19th century as a way of describing someone who has encountered something (usually combat) that results in overwhelming emotion and disturbance.
War twists the psyche in unimaginable ways, often not surfacing for years or even decades when sleep disturbances, bursts of anger, paranoia and hyper-awareness can turn an apparent normal person into a quivering echo of their former self. It will take you where you do not want to go, but you cannot gainsay it’s overwhelming command and find yourself watching almost from a third person viewpoint as you either explode or implode.
Thankfully there is help, really only one solution for the horrific damage that war does to people. That solution, the only real hope for any so afflicted is to recognize your inability to handle it and to seek help outside of yourself.
Gary Cunha is the Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs; his task is monumental because as of today we are losing one veteran to suicide every 62 minutes. He spoke on the spiritual component of obtaining help, of experiencing hope in the midst of despair. While speaking to experienced counsellors like Gary will help, there is only one solution to bring light into such dark places.
If you are a veteran, you are not alone. No matter what may have happened to you, there is help readily available through the Veterans Crisis Line. Call 1-800-273-8255, press 1 and you will have a ready ear who does understand to share your burdens. An additional resource for all Veterans (and one not directly linked with the VA) can be found here. For those who have not served; please, pray for our military and veterans and thank God that you have been shielded from the horror and hell that is war by those who volunteer to face it for you.
How can I understand all that has happened? At times I feel like a plaything, a toy boat tossed about on a pond by the dirt clods some boy is throwing at it. Can I be sure that it is God who is talking to me? Does it not seem presumptuous on my part that the Lord would communicate with this son of Eli? The dream or vision, could it not have been that spicy meal I had eaten or maybe some sour wine I’d drunk? I am no priest or scribe, how can I expect God to speak to me?
Lord, those who laugh at me openly don’t hurt so much, but I grieve at the sneers and whispers about my beloved Mary. Others shake their heads at me when they think I don’t see; am I a fool to believe all that I think you have told me? When she told me that she was with child, my heart stopped, Lord. She of whom I have loved and longed for had been with another! After all, that is what is needful for such to happen isn’t it, Lord? How could I marry her now, but if I publicly confront her, she’d be stoned! Lord, how can I let such happen to my Mary? I still love her, Lord, and I am trying to understand all that is happening. How can I, a simple carpenter who has become a plaything of God?
She looked so beautiful at the betrothal. My breath left me whenever our eyes met; so much promised in a look! How I worked to prepare a home for us, then the whispers began. Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth already showing her condition- and the story she told me! How can such things occur in our simple village? We are not related to the priests in Jerusalem, Lord. We are simple people!
Have I erred in keeping Mary as my wife? The dream I had, what the angel said about her – and the child within her! I would have to be mad to believe it! But when I talked with Mary, the tears in her eyes… Lord, I love her so!
Now, here outside this ….CAVE! Dear God, I would expect such a child to be born in a palace with many attending to Mary. But this filthy place! How can I but wonder where this child came from when we are forced to a hovel such as this to bring a child into the world. God of Israel, help me to understand! Help me to see your hand in all this. How can Messiah be born in such a place?
There! I said it! The Messiah! After all these years of waiting is it really the time we've yearned for, or am I the victim of a hoax? Help me, Adonai to see you in all this. Calm my heart that I may comfort Mary and protect her son. Her son! Is it pride, God, that has me so worked up? Am I jealous of the father of this child? But who is he? What the angel said. How is that possible? Am I, like our father Jacob, wrestling against God? Help me to know what is true, Lord. Calm my heart.
If this child is indeed Messiah, how can I teach him? How does a carpenter raise God’s Son, the King of kings? Lord, every time I accept this, more questions come. What do I do, Lord, to provide for all that will be needed? My shop and my customers are all in Nazareth. How can I hope to begin all over again here when I can’t even find a clean home – such a provider to birth a baby in a cave?
A baby, your Son? Incredible! The Son of God coming to visit us by being born to my Mary? Here? In a stable? Insanity! Dare I really believe this? Dare I not?
This was originally written while I was incarcerated; in it I sought to imagine myself in Joseph's place, how would I react to the events surrounding the birth of the Christ-child? How this man must have wrestled; how many of us still do with the idea of Immanuel entering His creation in such a manner. A blessed and wondrous Christ-mas to all.
Not a topic that is comfortable in any context, but especially within the church today. So many teach and/or believe that once you have surrendered your life to Christ that life will be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere. As with Job’s friends, when someone does not fit that mold, many question the individual’s walk with Christ; accusations flow and fingers point, but how many harbor their own pain, hiding it to prevent others from treating them in the same way?
Thankfully I am in a fellowship whose members do “…come alongside…” the person who is hurting, from whatever source. Still, it is hard to ask for help; when I see others in the body at the Chapel Hill Bible Church who are wrestling with much worse, how can I ask for help when they seem so much more in need of that help? Indeed, one of the men I would go to for counselling is himself struggling with a battle with cancer; what is depression when compared with something that could take his life?
As I related in an earlier blog, with Job I can state categorically that I do know that my Redeemer lives; that He holds onto me is a solace and comfort that is beyond measure particularly now that my strength is all but gone.
A day is coming for all of us in Christ when such pain and confusion will be forever banished; for now, we do struggle and wander in a dark world. I have no answers or expectation of when (if?) this greyness will end, but I do know that I am loved and, as Elisabeth Elliot quoted so many times, “…underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 32:27)
It has been a bit over three years since I was released from prison; in that time I have applied to over 400 different jobs with little to show for it other than the expenditure of time and, hopefully, a growing sense of reliance on God’s provision of grace and patience. I have continued working part-time on a very episodic schedule with Measurement Incorporated as a Reader/Evaluator and, while the work is usually fairly interesting, there usually isn't a lot of work to be had (last year my total income from that position was less than $4,000).
Recently it seemed that I was being pushed in a different direction; I had no idea what that direction would be, but began examining other options than a full-time position in some business or company. As many of you can recall from earlier blogs, I have continued to volunteer with the USO-NC and Our Children’s Place including in those venues my growing skills as a photographer. I had considered for a time beginning a small business in photography, but elected not to pursue that as it seemed that some other employment would certainly come along.
When a friend who has a property management firm in the area asked if I’d be interested in doing the listing photos for him, I began to reconsider my reticence of entering the photography business; having a Realtor I met at Fitness World ask me the same question seemed to cement the idea in my mind and heart and so I have begun the process of getting this going.
Several have agreed to help me with advice and I've also begun searching to find what kind of help the VA can provide for my launching Tony’s Take Photography. Completing the Coalition of Prison Evangelists Mid Atlantic conference in Greensboro as their photographer and receiving some great feedback from them concerning the images I captured while there has served to further hearten me. It promises to be an adventure, all part of my journey Home.
One of the cats with whom we share our home (rather from their viewpoint, who allow us to live in their home and meet their needs) is C.J. who, like the others, is a rescue cat. When Kathy picked her up she was full of worms and the treatment to rid her body of these pests was rather extensive and somewhat neuro-toxic. Her behavior is at times ‘different’, but in general she does fine and is an adorable addition to our home.
She is rather insecure though; this morning during my morning reading, she seemed hesitant to approach me even when I called to her. I finally got down on the floor and picked her up and spoke to her with what I hoped was an encouraging tone of voice. She did seem to relax for a time, but soon wanted down and walked some distance away to lay down.
Isn't this a picture of our relationship with God? We too are damaged goods hesitant, even fearful of approaching the One who loves us more than we’ll ever understand in this life; He loves us and wants us to be with Him now and forever but we hesitate, flinching back from His embrace as though He were going to strike us.
We all are damaged goods, broken by decisions made by our far distant ancestors Adam and Eve when they chose the appeal of Lucifer’s lure over the promises of God; we all too frequently replicate that decision, turning from the God who loves us to embrace the dubious comfort of the world and its pleasures. Why do we flee from the One who has demonstrated His love unequivocally?
I have hopes that one day C.J. will accept my love for her; God as well seeks the day when we clearly embrace His love and will continue to reach out to us even more than I seek to demonstrate my care for C.J.
“Life goes on.”
I’ve heard this espoused by perhaps well-meaning folks when confronted with the pain others feel and, while it is true, it is rarely comforting to the person in the middle of a mess (even if the mess is of their own making). I’ve had some who tell me to “…get over it!” and I would dearly love to do just that, if only I knew how.
Awakened this morning at 2:30 with both fears of what to do, where to go, how to move forward when the walls seem so damned impenetrable and tall as well as the chorus to a praise song from this Sunday’s service at the Chapel Hill Bible Church. These two seemed to be circling each other in my mind; competing for preeminence in my heart reflecting the struggle I do have daily in ascertaining what God has planned for me.
I remember the naiveté with which I left prison in 2011; sure that with my educational background and desire to succeed that someone ‘out there’ would give me a shot. One company with whom I’d been employed through the work release program at Orange Correctional continued to offer me episodic, temporary, part-time work (my average annual income from them so far comes to about $4,000), but full-time, meaningful work has eluded me since then despite over 400 resume’s submitted to different companies since my release.
Recently I thought I’d had a moment of clarity that seemed to be redirecting me in a direction I’d not considered, but that too seems to be coming up empty so far. My wife continues to be the ‘majority share-holder’ in our home; I even applied for unemployment to try and supplement the meager offerings of Social Security I receive each month since ‘retiring’ in 2013, but was told by the Employment Security Commission that I had not earned enough income last year to qualify for unemployment this year!
It does seem that every time I think I feel I’m heading in the right direction, the walls appear and stymie any effort on my part to move forward. Friends tell me to keep pushing and I will, for lack of anything else to do, but it would sure be a refreshing change to hear anything in this dark hallway I’m in other than my head butting up against one more wall.
The phrase that came to me this morning, “…trust and obey…” is from a hymn written by John Sammis in 1887, seems to resonate and perhaps that is a lesson I am learning/re-learning through this time of waiting. I do have a hope that can carry me through this place I am in now and that will enable me to go on.
Well, this summer I’ve been working some of the time at Measurement, Incorporated (MI) as a Reader. The position is always considered temporary/part-time; only there if the company had a contract to score standardized tests. Once that was no longer true, as is the case now, all the Readers are ‘laid off’ until the next contract comes along. I’ve been there for some time now and have worked to varying degrees at different times of the year, but usually once the summer ‘crunch’ ends, that will be it for the year. So, officially unemployed, what now?
I've been here before; it’s no big thing really, just somewhat disheartening to know that my search (which really never really ends) will continue. Thankfully between Kathy’s full-time salary and my pitiful Social Security payment every month, we are able to live comfortably in our new home and I do enjoy being a house-husband (to an extent). My volunteer activities with the USO-NC, Our Children’s Place and Orange County Partners to End Homelessness provide me an outlet for my energies that are not expended elsewhere. Still, there is restlessness and not just about finding a Job; there is something else stirring within my soul that is hard to put a finger on.
I’m not content to sit idle; idleness drives me crazy (some of you who know me would add an –ier to that), but considering my efforts to date to find work, my ‘looking’ may seem as yet another exercise in futility. That perhaps is part of the something else I’ve alluded to in earlier blogs; when you try and nothing works, to keep plugging along with the expectation of anything different happening is, at least according to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity. So, recognizing that I am behaving in what Professor Einstein would consider an insane manner, I start my search for a Job, not in any real hope of finding a business owner who can overlook my felonious past, but because having the extra income would be nice, and such search is required for me to file for unemployment.
I don’t like asking for unemployment, not only because it does push me to more actively search, but because I feel it seems to be taking time from this something else and I would not want to get so enamored of my search (or any Job that could result from it) that I neglect or overlook what may be a new direction my King wants me to embark upon. Your prayers would be appreciated, to be honest not so much for a job, but that this something else will be clarified whether it is, in fact, the direction He wants for me or just a pipe dream.