In the Eclipse……

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“The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?” – Oscar Wilde

I remember vaguely the first time I witnessed a solar eclipse, and though there had been the usual fore-warnings, it still seemed very eerie. Suddenly but gradually watching the day turn to night and feeling as though time was standing still. I recollect wondering if that was how the end of the world would look like however several years later, with the benefit of knowledge and the chances I encountered, I know with absolute certainty that we will never tell what the future holds but we can with absolute certainty live our lives each day as though it were our last.

In the space of three days, I have sadly witnessed the passing on of three lives – three individuals who at different stages of my life left an impression on me. Even as I write now, it is still almost unreal however I know how fleeting life can be and how with the appropriate knowledge, we can make our lives at the very least count for something. A high school mate in his 40s, leaving behind a wife and two little kids. An amazing pastor in his 60s leaving behind a wife, two daughters and grandkids and most painful of all, a friend and sister succumbing to cancer just today. How do I feel? Shell-shocked and sorrowful but mourn them I will because it was indeed a privilege to have crossed paths and shared in each other’s life tales.

In the middle of the darkest phase of my life, when I was diagnosed with myoclonus dystonia, I remember how numbing it was to have my life turned upside down. And as I grappled with comprehending this major shift in my life, I desperately wanted to be left alone because I needed the time to process what life-transforming changes were taking place. Nonetheless, it is not unnatural to grieve but how we allow these moments of sheer grief and sorrow shape us is entirely up to each one of us. I remember how painful it was to lose everything that hitherto seemed priceless and begin to re-learn what the word priority meant and what things truly counted in life. I remember listening to the sermon titled ‘An ordinary life in the hands of an Extraordinary God!’ and bawling my eyes out as I sat unnoticed and brand new in Bethel London Riverside Church. For me, that was the beginning of another chapter of my life as I gradually began to make choices that counted for something.

That was where I met Pastor Ken Williamson; soft spoken and mild mannered along with a couple of others that I am truly honored to still call my friends. When I could barely afford the devastating fees associated with dystonia management, least of all muster the strength to feed myself, the church was there (a family of strangers bound together by the love of God) picking me up for service and dropping me off. Getting a welfare package regularly and getting to meet some of the nicest people on earth, I learned that it is really an awesome responsibility when your current location is but a vantage point that allows you see a need, because you see the need in order to attend to it. It is not all about money (that is a vital resource), it is the ability to put your storms/issues behind and stretch out a hand to someone else who is at the risk of succumbing to their own storm. Life is a journey whose distance we will never know and so how wise is it to ensure that each day is lived as an expression of gratitude to God as well as an expression of kindness to the lives we come across.

I remember vividly the first day I met Christina – jaunty and with a twinkle of mischief in her eyes and smile, clad in a simple black skirt and plaid shirt with tails tied together above her skirt. I remember how independent she always wanted to be, yet she never spared an ounce of kindness and concern wherever she was. That was the beginning of a relationship that would span a lifetime, through the good times and bad times. I remember being treated as a son by her parents, their house probably the only place I could get to without asking questions (I really suck with directions/navigation). I remember being there at the start of what would eventually be her marriage (recall her twinkly disbelieving laugh when I told her this was going to be it), and working very hard behind the scenes on her wedding day. Neither of us knowing where our paths would take us but completely eager to live a purposeful life.

And when my storms all but broke me down, she was there with me helping cater to the needs of my daughter and I. Selflessly setting her own issues afar and loving the best way only she could. And even when I got her to talk about her challenges, she did so with that unique style of making it sound as though it was nothing at all. A loyal friend, easy to talk with regardless of the thousands of miles that separated us – she was that friend who sticks closer than a brother. I remember the call, utter disbelief in her voice, informing me that she had been diagnosed with cancer. As always, I listened and together we encouraged ourselves, with me being the one with the ‘most’ experience. Reminding her that medical science can have its say but as long as we never give up, someday the eclipse would be over. Experience has taught me never to ask why because we actually lack the ability to comprehend even if we are privy to the answer. And when she told me that the doctors had said the chemotherapy was not working, I told her what I tell myself every morning – “this is my life and I choose to live it without surrendering!”

Today, I got the dreaded message and in this case, the third time wasn’t a charm in anyway. After a year of fighting hard, long after the date given by doctors, she finally succumbed and I envy her because I know for certain that she is finally rid of it all. She is in a place where there are no eclipses, where the horrifying grip of pain and anguish is not allowed….but still I mourn! I mourn because so many have intentionally deceived themselves into believing that money will get them the best boat, boats that have been certified ‘indestructible’ by men just like them. I mourn because amidst a world filled with hurting people, many intentionally turn a blind eye and when they are forced to see, their response is a torrent of meaningless ‘well-wishes’, copied prayers and total apathy. We will not be judged by what we have but rather what we have given, and someday when the inevitability of the end arrives, it will be clear what a life of misery and selfishness we have lived.

My battle is far from over but today I celebrate the lives of my friends whose giving has influenced who and where I am. I hoist aloft a banner of victory on their behalf, praying that when my time comes, someone will do the same for me. As I journey on with tattered sails, a battered vessel, I hear the voices rooting in my corner for me and the only option I choose is to pay it forward, regardless of recognition or reward. I choose to remember the words of William J.H. Boetcker that ‘the difficulties and struggles of today are but the price we must pay for the accomplishments and victories of tomorrow’ and so I press on even in the darkness of the eclipse, eyes searching out those who have all but given up. Giving a helping hand, listening ears and a piece of my bread so that together we will press on armed with the knowledge expressed by Elie Wiesel, ‘There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win!’

פרידה עד שנפגשנו שוב בתזמון שלו, וייתכן שאהבתו של אלוהים להיות אמיתית לך!

Adios!

Staying True…..

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Staying True

In a few weeks, we will be saying farewell to 2017 and ushering in, with bated breaths and the hope of better things to come, a brand new year. And again as usual, many journals, note pads et al will be whipped out so that the annual yet publicly unrecognized event of New Year Resolution writing will begin. For me, it is a time of evaluation, assessment and preparation because what future will there be to look forward to if we are still perplexed as to our purpose here on earth. Has the dystonia been cured? Nope! Are there new proven medical approaches towards ending this relentless battle with dystonia? Not to my knowledge but the ultimate question I ask myself is “what was there to be thankful for?” And my answer is, much more than I anticipated because it is really not about if my eggs were scrambled right or my account balance is quite ‘attractive’, it is about realizing that I have been through 365 days and still standing.

I recently unearthed my quotes book from one of my many traveling bags, brown and well thumbed, ink slightly fading (thank God I used red and green ink) and the first question my daughter asks me is, “Daddy, can I keep it?”……..Uhmmm! Of course not, you have more writing and reading materials that I had at your age but in that brief exchange, I can truly be grateful for the prayers answered, those pending and those that I received when I didn’t ask for. It is weird when people are taken aback at how leisurely I handle some stuff but then there is always a back story, and it is within those stories that life lessons are passed down from generation to generation. I am not a witness to any man-made life transforming physical attribute, the emergence of an Adonis or the perfect being but I am and will be a witness to the countless things that we take for granted because we are in our carefully carved out comfort zones.

I am thankful for the many friends that have passed through my life, some still there for the long haul while others have moved on as their life purposes direct them. I want to without permission talk about the relationships that have left indelible marks on who I am becoming and as I write I cannot help but marvel at the laurel, awards, certificates that bear my child’s name because she represents the next generation and whilst there is breath in my lungs, together we will journey for as long as I can and even when the wagon wheels fall off and I am unable to put them back on, I know that there’s help just around the corner. One thing I do not mind telling her everyday is that she is not an option but a priority and I am thoroughly stoked that we journey together and when the time comes for her to leave the nest or for me to transition to grander lodgings, I will proclaim that I do not have any regrets.

For me, regrets are an admission of not being able to retrieve a learning point from every experience and like I tell my few friends, I have seen more than my fair share of curved balls. And so it is not about how hard the balls hit but what they made me acknowledge even as I move on. Photography will always be a hobby of mine and even though it is becoming increasingly difficult to engage in it as much as I would want to but the stories that my pictures tell are worth lifetimes. It is in the brief or prolonged encounter that I have had with the lives that I have been greatly privileged to meet that make me truly say I have no regrets and to a great extent, I have stayed true to who I am, which is just another way of saying that I have tried to walk the paths laid out and defined for me by God. He truly is the bane of truth and no compelling discourse will change the foundations upon which I have built my life.

A couple of weeks ago, I drove through the night with tears cascading down my cheeks because no matter how many tough storms you have been through, the reality is that each storm actually reveals layers that you might never have known existed. And I have learned that even when you are down, you will always find strength to reach out to a friend who is desperately in need. In my opinion, there are those people who for some unfathomable reason are unable to grasp how important they have been to me and so it is not uncommon to tell people that I love them just for who they are. And so the tears were for a friend who is counting down the days to a miracle or to a transition to loftier dwellings. I have since learned the futility of asking why does it seem that bad things happen to good people because I have also realized that it is because those events are suited for a particular cadre of people, who do not even know their own strengths and so inadvertently it is not so much about bad things happening but the evolution and growth of truly unique individuals.

Keep hope alive

I know first hand, what a torrent of feelings you experience when you are told that the medical issue that you have persistently battled with is not going away. It almost seems like a black hole has just opened up in front of you and is desperately tugging at you but what if you refuse to give in and just fight. Sometimes every other person will tell you that it is pointless to do however remember that people did not give up on you, and so even if it’s seeming like your twilight has come, remember that the choice is ours to create memories that will not be so easily forgotten. Even when you are being pummeled and the obvious option is to just give in, remember that there are lives around you and regardless of the time of day, hope is like a little flame that shines through the darkness that seemingly grows in magnitude every day. I may not be as mobile as I used to be however when I realize with stunning clarity the countless privileges I have received, the least I can do is to pay it forward. And so even when it hurts to smile, and you can can barely get up from your bed because the slightest pain causes you to break out in sweat, when it seems like curling up in the fetal position looks quite appropriate, let this fact not escape you – there’s something you can still do.

More often than not the battle of life rages in the mind and so its not about how many iron man competitions you have participated or how many marathons you have run or your ranking in obstacle races, when life hits you – the battlefield rages in your mind and yours only, and as long as you do not give in to the wilting of the mind by focusing on the horrifying monster in front of you, you can still be a beacon of hope. Hope that you live is hope that heals and you may have been written off by people but in the fullness of time, God always comes through on your behalf. That is a message that you must share because in all reality the world is increasingly becoming like the Dead Sea but the sliver of hope that you hold, the little spark of kinder can light someone else’s candle and so that in itself is a purpose and one thing I know is that one of the greatest gifts you can ever have is the opportunity to finish strong. Refuse to let the circumstances around you – the hair loss, the painful torquing of your spine, the inability to keep food down, the weight loss etc do not let them define you because I know you and I have loved every moment I spent with you.

Those moments where your laugh rang out, when your eyes twinkled in mischief, when your company was the only thing that kept me going – there is more than enough for me to treasure you forever. And when you hear that the chemotherapy is not working and your life is reduced to the slowly running out sand in the hourglass, stay true because you may not have gotten all the gifts others take for granted but you still have time to share the tale of a walk with God or the life transforming event that has over the years given you the grace to press on. When the finish line looms ahead, be thankful for being able to run this race, be thankful that you chose to be you because that is who God made. We will never in all entirety have all the answers but there is a certainty that cannot be questioned and that is you were made for a purpose. Cancer may be wreaking havoc in this fragile body but I am glad that I ran alongside with you, I am glad for the sacrifices you made but above all I am glad for the love that we shared, the conflicts we had, the disagreements etc because I can say that I lived amongst angels. This for me is not an eulogy and yes every loss requires grieving however I choose not to dwell on the inevitability of saying farewell because we part today to meet again in a place where sickness, stress, loss, sorrow cannot dwell.

As the night star shines brightly, that is what you will always be to me – an angel, a bright star. Like the balance scale, good will always triumph over evil and even if we do not experience the victory physically, we know without an iota of doubt that there is a future that awaits us where treasure that cannot be defiled by man lies in store for us. A place where man’s opinion does not count, where there are no pity parties – that is the ultimate hope that we have, that’s something that no sickness or nightmarish conditions can take from us and as long as we breathe, every breath is an offering of thanksgiving to a Creator whose best cannot be grasped by our feeble minds. And when the breath ceases, we know for sure that the finish line has been breasted because it is not about how far but how well. Today is a day that I am thankful for and despite the inexplicable relapses that have plagued me in recent weeks, I am still standing and obviously not on my own strength (heck I can barely walk 500 feet without stifling the cry of agony) but on The Source that is inexhaustible, for that I am thankful.

“The great miraculous bell of translucent ice is suspended in mid-air. It rings to announce endings and beginnings. And it rings because there is fresh promise and wonder in the skies. Its clear tones resound in the placid silence of the winter day, and echo long into the silver-blue serenity of night. The bell can only be seen at the turning of the year, when the days wind down into nothing, and get ready to march out again. When you hear the bell, you feel a tug at your heart. It is your immortal inspiration.” – Vera Naz

פרידה עד שנפגש שוב בתזמון שלו עצמו

Adios!

Second chances, One change…..

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Make that chance count!

 Make it count!

Separation is almost as applicable to man as is the desire for the achievement of set goals and dreams. When a man (or woman) is stripped bare of the fineries of material riches and geographical comfort, our response or reaction usually marks the distinguishing factor between individuals. I’ve had friends break away from glitz, glamour and fame just to go into isolation and rehab because the clarity of realisation suddenly dawns on them that there’s so much more to life than what today’s world offers. Am I inferring reclusion as being the best way of life? That I certainly am not doing….however I acknowledge that most times, change is preceded by separation or else how would you achieve any change by remaining in just that one spot?

I was recently faced with a friend’s dilemma (and when I say friend, I mean that he’s not just kicking cancer’s butt, but he is also one of the nicest and most modest people I’ve been blessed to meet). It was actually one of those ‘moments’ for me, when he told me that he’d been diagnosed with cancer, and yet you could see that he was committed to making every moment count each time we interacted.  It’s funny but the best perspectives are usually gotten from people who have had their fair share of life throwing both the kitchen sink and the entire plumbing at them. Now it’s more meaningful to me why he was so beat up when I recall our last conversation. He’s an instructor and as is the norm today, a basic requirement for any career/job/internship is the inevitable drug test. What was his dilemma? He just lost a couple of his bright student trainees because they failed their drug test/urine-analysis and he was so beat up about it because he felt that these people were trying to turn their life around and for some reason, the system would not let them.

Now that right there is the beauty of association, it offers a different perspective because when I heard the news, I took the well trodden path that people should assume responsibility for the consequences of their actions (more of harsh truth, less of tenderness…oops!). I opined that it is common knowledge that you must pass a drug test prior to being accepted as a new employee or as an intern, and just incase my opinion is skewed….it is always clearly stated in bold print usually that one of the first requirements is that you are subjected to and must pass a drug test. It’s done everywhere; sports, blue and white-collar jobs, even in jail and so more often than not, you have the opportunity to discontinue what wrong habit you have been indulging in (separate yourself) because chances for change do not come everyday. I feel bad hearing such news and it’s closer to heart when I am somewhat involved with such persons. Why is it so difficult for people to admit to themselves the truth that they’ve made mistakes or are still making them but are man enough to be willing to face the consequences? From experience, the consequences (when there’s an admission, realisation and repentance) are a little more than a smack on the back of their hand because not only is forgiveness divine but there’s a love so profound that when we do acknowledge and give in to it, we luxuriate in the truth that He’s borne it all just for you.

The startling truth is that, more often than not, we reject the most profound of loves and the best of relationships and naively or ‘wisely’ choose the ever-present short cuts in life and convince ourselves into believing that we can get to a destination on our own terms without breaking a sweat. Nope! Life is one hard task master; so experience has taught me that the short cuts in life are usually still under construction and so in our bid to be smart, we find ourselves stuck all by ourselves surrounded by others like us amidst tons of debris, completely unable to make it to the other end. (And I kid you not when I say that’s definitely not a venue for making worthwhile relationships, heck!you cannot stay calm or be at your best whilst you’re being smothered and sucked under debris). Is life unfair? It sure has to be in order to accommodate everyone, the difference is our response to our perceived unfairness of life. Separation is indeed a hard choice to make, sometimes we don’t even get to claim the bragging rights, because it’s just what it is at that moment of intervention. In hindsight however, separation precedes change. We have all been given second chances, some are on their ninth chance but irrespective of it being your second or ninth, it’s still another chance and could very well be the last.

The trifling issue is if we are ready to make that change, then the harsh losses associated with separation is something that we must be ready to put up with. The pains arising from withdrawal symptoms, the discomfort of the transformation, the loneliness et al are things we must be prepared to face. I remember the words of my swimming instructor during my late teenage years when I had barely two weeks to learn swimming and prepare for a comprehensive certification exam; a prerequisite for working in the oil sector…”keep your eyes focussed on the prize (in this scenario, it was the end of a 50m pool) and as long as you see that wall, I know you’ll ace the test”. Needless to say, I did both of us proud by passing my certification exam in swimming and today, swimming still remains one hobby that is no longer just a means to an end but it’s become many things; therapy, an avenue to meditate and a place to clear my head.

Now, unfortunately for many of us, we convince ourselves that we can beat these tests of life – I’ve heard quite a few ‘intelligent’ comments –

‘buy a bottle of detox (I don’t even still know what that is) and drink it at least 48 hours prior, then you will be fine!’ (#geniusforfree)

‘get someone to pee for you, so you can swap the containers cos your employers don’t really care how you pass’

‘turn up your charm knob to the maximum, and talk your way through it, they’ll remember your personality and not care about your performance!’

I can go on and on but in all reality, there’s usually always one casualty and that’s you. When we realise that it’s in our nature to err, we must always realise also that for us to be better, we must separate ourselves from that recurring error (elementary mathematics!). Admission always precedes repentance! If we don’t, the change that you so desperately crave will be gone before you even realise it, and not only does it ruin your chance for change but it gets put on your personal records (personal yet public) – still grappling with what I just said? I leave it to your imagination to paint the domino effect you’ve just set in play that will irretrievably affect your future. Regardless of the errors we made in the past, remember that there will be an opportunity to right that wrong and therefore we must be prepared to recognise the chance when it comes and make that change we so desperately need.

‘He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, just to gain that which he cannot lose’ – Jim Elliot. We are all created for a purpose, the passion needed to fulfil that purpose is inherent in us but first we must pass through the ordeal of separation so as to emerge tried, tested and proven. As we face our fears, let us confront them with faith that despite the glaringly difficult and thorny road that stares us in the face, there are roses too, but run we must because the moment we stop running with God who alone can strengthen you, then we feel the thorns prickling us on all sides. God never promised us smooth sailing, but He did promise that He’d be with us through it all and guess what….we will see clearly when the rain is gone. Our lives depend so greatly on how much of our good (status, riches, comfort..) we are willing to sacrifice for the best that we deserve, and even though we be besieged on all sides be it in the form of dystonia or cancer or addictions or the relentless pressure from the world to be someone else, we must keep our eyes open and make that chance count.

The chance to be nice, the chance to be less self-centred and more selfless, the chance to be a shoulder for another, the chance to rewrite our story and give another hope just from reading it, the chance to surmount our physical limitations and soar on wings as eagles, the chance to give and not always take, the chance to empathise and share another’s burden, the chance to love even if we’re not loved back, the chance to just sow some good in the lives we meet, the chance to be a friend to some stranger and/or be rebuffed but still not give up on other strangers, the chance to spread a message of love, hope and faith….because not only do we actually become better people when we take these chances but we also reach out and touch someone who is going through tough times and give them a reason to forge ahead. We can make it if we really want, but we must try – allow The Perfect One all the room He needs so He can take the wheel of our lives and steer us right. That should be our story, long told after we are gone, that he fought the good fight and now there’s an example to follow.

Remember, keep your eyes focussed on Christ cos He’s the author and finisher of our faith. Strap yourselves in, we’ve got some smooth sailing ahead and even when the storm hits as it will certainly do, pick yourself up because someday you’ll hear these words……’Land ahoy!’

פרידה עד שנפגשנו שוב בתזמון שלו, וייתכן שאהבתו של אלוהים להיות אמיתית לך!

Adios!