Be Strengthened…..

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He leads meIMG_0381

A friend recently commented on how emotional she feels when she reads my posts and uncharacteristically requested that I write a happy post. Happiness and Sadness, Joy and sorrow, Riches or poverty, life and death….these are like the two sides of a coin. It is what makes the balance in life, knowing that no matter how thin a slice of bread is, there will always be two sides. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” is a declaration based on divine revelation. Many would, if presented with the choice, probably opt not to go through that valley but you cannot be whimsical about the order of things. Like ill-mannered kids, picking only the good stuff from the bag when it gets to our turn to pick, you just cannot eat your cake and have it.

Now this is no dirge or eulogy, this is simply the musings of one who has, not by personal choice, being given the opportunity to reach out and touch lives. Sometimes my feelings want to conflict with purpose but not anymore, as long as this heart beats and there is breath in my lungs. I have not yet had the wondrous experience of walking the streets of gold in God’s celestial city but what I have is the opportunity of witnessing how trials bring out the best in us…..when we do not collapse and keel over in defeat. This is not a journal of every pain and sentiment I feel since I got diagnosed with dystonia in 2012, it is almost impossible to do that – how do you describe accurately the feeling of helplessness as you watch everything that you thought was you being stripped away? How do you chronicle the sheer frustration of trying to rebuild a life from the rubbles or pen down the emotions that well up in you as you are faced with medical bills without knowing how those bills will get paid? How do you narrate the disappointments that come from being told you cannot do this by your own body or illustrate in clear terms that the way and the will are two different opponents that must be conquered concurrently? The proverbial town crier might regale in the sonority of his voice in the stillness of the African dawn but when the market is at its busiest, nobody needs to tell him what an exercise in futility it would be to cry out a message.

Money answers everything but what good will all the wealth of the earth amount to when you are confronted with situations that transcend the realm of physical riches. This morning, I answered a knock at my front door and there stood a delivery lady (slightly dampened by the early morning shower) with a huge envelope. Tucked inside the envelope was one of the prettiest handmade card (the largest I have ever received or thought of making) with the words “Be Strengthened” boldly inscribed upon it. Beautifully crafted between the covers of the cards were signed handwritten notes from several of my College/University mates, twenty names in total, if precision means a thing to you as it does to me. Just a few minutes before that I had hung up the phone, thoroughly exasperated with a call agent because she explained that my phone line would only be restored if a specific amount (to the cent) was paid. Opening that card and reading every note contained in that card was quite emotional because these notes were from my mates, now scattered all around the globe-most of whom I haven’t seen in the last 17years. Hold on just a second, if you may please, almost simultaneously I got an email informing me that my PayPal account had just received some funds from these guys who I know have their personal issues to attend to.

I have always loved surprising people, I would rather surprise than be surprised because the logical and analytical part of me usually categorises surprises as something akin to reading a 300 paged book; but commencing at page 85 and ending at page 200, or a shirt half tucked in (in itself, a very glaring and incomplete design, entirely unsatisfactory and requiring me having to work my way; back to page 1 and forward to page 300). Oh yes, I do have mild OCD, so that really can be aggravating at times and so I tend to tell people right off the bat that I do not like surprises! Juxtaposing mild OCD and dystonia is a chemical equation of horrifying  proportions, it almost always have a disastrous result. However I have learned to change what I can and force myself to walk away from what I cannot change (the walking away part is really difficult but in order to prevent triggering an episode, I must walk away). When you find yourself in certain situations, you must quickly adapt or face the option of getting steamrolled, that is what I have learned on this journey with dystonia. There is so much I have had to learn in order to adapt – I have learned that faith is not just a word, it is a lifestyle. Love is not a word, it is an action. Sacrifice is not just an action, it is a painful decision expressed through actions that are quite unsavoury. And that giving, especially when you have to deprive yourself of something, has a longer lasting benefit than the extremely short high of receiving.

I have learned that worrying only extends inconvenience, all activity and no progress and so being told that I am a source of inspiration by men and women from different origins, categories and location is something that is extremely humbling. All I aim to do with each new day is to make someone else’s life and struggles just a little bit lighter even as I struggle with dystonia. Proclaiming that even though I cannot control the storm, I can smile even in the darkness because the strength to go through each day is not mine to dispense, it comes from an inexhaustible Source. All I try to do each day is choose to stick with the design that He has laid out for me, I choose to acknowledge that even when it seems like the ominous winds of life is about to snuff out my candle light, He is still there with me. I choose to acknowledge that even though I am about running out of resources, He has promised to supply my every need and so I have learned not to bother myself with how or when because He always shows up on time.

I am particularly grateful for the immense privileges of sharing paths with men and women of such incredible potential, purpose and focus. Grateful for the recent opportunity to be in such awesome support groups, because with every life I have been blessed to encounter, I have come away with truths that truly liberate – truths that are so deeply engrained in the entirety of my being that even when I am knocked down, I know that there is but one option available – ‘Pick yourself up and press on!’  For the bonds of friendships that have stayed true and the accepting hearts that still receive me till this day. The true description of fulfilment surpasses Rupees, Dirhams, Pound Sterlings, Dollars; it lies in the ability to allow yourself become a vessel through which someone is blessed because when the time comes for the curtain to drop, no stack of gold will prevent it from dropping. For those, who like me are struggling through their own storms, I encourage you to share these words with me, ‘Be Strengthened!’ No life yet created was ever created to be confined to the dumpsters of failures, despondency and hopelessness; your life is no different.

And so, as I reel with gratitude from the sacrifices of these few and others who have refused to just be bystanders, I just want to say that every penned or spoken word comes from deep within my heart. Knowing that we are all on a journey, and as you press on and still choose to give freely even if you are yet to get the spelling of dystonia or insomnia or myoclonus or Parkinson’s right, realise that “there is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.” – Proverbs 11:24. Within our hearts, desires lie; noble and pleasing but if we refuse to apply our hands, then we amount to nought but mischief makers, truncating the cycle of life. A soothing word, a little prayer, a look of genuine concern, a little token of compassion; these are what should define us as humans. And when a need is seen, do not first concern yourself with the genealogy but rather do something about it, because if you can see the need then you can do something about it even if reality kicks you in the teeth about your lack. Our lives are more than just a string of academic and professional titles, they are more than the string of mansions and stockpiled gems, they are easels that God uses in writing out a message of love, hope and perseverance to those around you.

Do not bask in the euphoria of your acclaimed fame and status because that in itself is no purpose, do not delight in the flurry of high-falutin verbage because that in itself is no purpose, do not pride yourself in your finely honed skill of bashing people with your beliefs because religion is just a word and not a purpose. Instead I choose to awaken myself each new day with a thankful heart for life and another opportunity to make the day count. Remember ‘Be strengthened’ might just be two words but the value of those two words are beyond the grasp of a life that is devoid of purpose.

עד שנפגשנו שוב, אולי התענוגות שלו להיות העונג שלך לעשות

Adios!

Stripped bare……

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Stripped n bare

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Admittedly, I have been yearning to get back to doing what I love best – this! however it has been a tumultuous period in the last two weeks and just when I desire to get back, something else comes up and yet still I strive to do my own little bit in the lives of the few people who I have been blessed to encounter. Now it feels like what has been dammed these past weeks just wants to gush out and that would inadvertently drown quite a few including myself and so I have to apply self-control or stand the risk of sounding like a blithering idiot. Like I have chosen to inculcate, each day is such an amazing experience whether I am down under, burdened by the travails of this medical challenge and besought by the emotional desolation that so doggedly accompanies this disorder or I am infused by the joys and beauty of life in every waking moment – I choose to make each day count because every day is a Present in itself and like a kid, I carefully unwrap it…….I cannot do otherwise anyway, being obsessively compulsive has its pros.

A few days ago, I travelled to beautiful South Yorkshire and even though travelling is wearisome and I have to make it as comfortable as possible, it is still a necessity. I actually fell in love with the region and above all I loved the fact that it was colder than London because I have learnt to accept that I am also a Super hero – Mr Exothermic, that is also one of the merits of this condition – accelerated metabolism enhanced by the regular tremors I experience, which translates to the need to be in a cooler atmosphere than most people would like. I was privileged to meet Ibrahim, Mark(s) and Hilary – sharing the stories of their own lives and the beautiful attitude they exuded even whilst doing their jobs. Such encounters make me realize that you can choose to continue to mourn what may have seemingly be lost or choose to celebrate that which you are blessed with finding each and every new day. Of course there were the ignorant ones who thought the shakes were quite amusing or those who seemed to be freaked out by my super hero outfit. All put together, it makes every day such a blessing because I know something that can never be taken away from me as long as I breathe – everything is working together for my good. Try as hard as you may, deride me, ignore me, withhold from me – I will still smile because you don’t and can never define me.

I am dedicating this piece to Carrie Ann who has finally bested dystonia and every illness, today she stands on the other side victorious and free of all disorders and disease and whilst her passing is painful but yet again it presents us with an opportunity to live our lives continually grateful that we were blessed to know her.

Amazingly, it is no news that we may be having the best winter since 1947 and honestly I look forward to it – weird or not! Every time I gaze out my window overlooking the front lawn, I am drawn to Miss Betula Lenta (the Cherry Birch tree) and as usual she stands stripped and bare as she is readied for the months in winter. To many, she has lost her beauty and appeal – gone are the chirping birds, gone are her beautiful leaves, gone are the exquisite buds…..however she still stands and teaches lessons that are priceless if only they can be grasped. If only we can but stop, dare to liberate our minds of all the meaningless junk that we have chosen to walk with and just learn, what a world of difference it will make to us as individuals and creatures of purpose. WHAT A CHANGE THAT WILL BE WHEN WE LEARN AND REALIZE THAT WE ARE FOR CREATED FOR PURPOSE!

How much I love these words ….“Let’s tell the truth to people. When people ask, ‘How are you?’ have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you because, they, too, have knees that pain them and heads that hurt and they don’t want to know about yours. But think of it this way: If people avoid you, you will have more time to meditate and do fine research on a cure for whatever truly afflicts you.” – Maya Angelou……because humanity is like the ocean and its beauty is not defined by the few dirty drops. Walk with the few that God raises up for you when you are in need, determine not to dwell on the many that avoid you or that ignore you or worse still, the many that utter loads of balderdash and do absolutely nothing. My life, stripped and bare it may seem now is just a phase that is a precursor to the beautiful seasons ahead, and guess what, I am better off each passing day. I choose to continue to give from what I have, and whilst I may not have by the standards of many but I am so enriched each day by countless blessings that I have become attuned to appreciate even as I stand bare and stripped. And I am grateful to be stripped of all what I do not need now for this season, because it is such an awesome time to really acknowledge what I freely receive – from the new friends that prop me up each day to the lives that I can associate with despite their pain and challenges. I am thankful to be stripped of what has so long burdened me so that I can receive anew what truly counts.

I have seen seasons, experienced the lows and the highs and I have come to acknowledge without an iota of doubt that life in essence is simply a journey and each of us has a choice to make regardless of the circumstances we seem to have been thrust into unwillingly and seemingly without preparation. To realize that when we are forsaken by many,  it is yet an opportunity to be accepted by others. To acknowledge that when we are deprived by those that we thought would stand by us, it is yet an opportunity to give of what we have to those who stand alone like us and be cherished by others. To acknowledge that when we are disappointed by many, it is yet an opportunity to be a source of encouragement to another – choosing not to focus on the bleakness but painfully lift our eyes beyond and grasp the beauty of what lies just ahead. Acknowledging that when we can no more do what we used to, it is yet an opportunity to reach deep and pull out the potentials that have hitherto lain dormant within us. I choose to make the most of what I am blessed with daily, taking the taunts and the indifference and turning it inside out to be a stronger and better individual because the journey is one of endurance, perseverance and unrelenting faith in a Father who is able to perfect that which He alone began.

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” – William Shakespeare

I am ready for the winter!

lמסתדר טוב עד שניפגש שוב בזמן שלו

Adios!

Associating with knowledge……

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“A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving” – Albert Einstein

For the last two weeks, I have not only been in a roller coaster of emotions enhanced by the unpredictability of Myoclonus but had to shake off the feeling of being a dilettante and bestir myself from the bleakness of the present and focus on the beauty at the end of the tunnel and I must apologize for the short break from writing. Talking about the very things that constantly and endlessly swirl through my brain, which is one of the effects of insomnia, I choose again to make my life of some meaning whilst I yet trudge through this solitary journey, enjoying the company of the very few that God has placed in my path. In the last fourteen days, I have terminated some relationships, renewed some, re-birthed some and made a few new ones. For the very journey we all engage in would be as desolate as the cemetery without the presence of the variety of individuals we all come across – the good, the bad, the ugly and the different.

A couple of Fridays ago, I was opportune to attend the Old Students meeting of my alma mater, and expectedly it was a beautiful reunion; meeting with individuals after 2 decades and some odd years ago. Many had passed through before me, and ironically I was the baby of the group however there is nothing like a fora where you get to mingle with individuals, some of whom had left legacies or feats of daring and probably stupid acts. And as Pope John XXIII stated “Men (and women) are like wine – some turn to vinegar, the best improve with age”,  it was a stunning display of truth as we all mingled and regaled ourselves with old tales. Generations mingling with generations without the limitations of the dictates of high school. I was fortunate to attend one of the best Unity High Schools back in the days, of course with the usual mix of tyrants, bullies, the fair, the weirdos, the geeks, the beauties and the hotties. Unsurprisingly, each of us had some story to share and it was a beauty to see many who have distinguished themselves in their chosen paths.

Unerringly, tales swirled around experiences back then, the lives of those who had passed on and the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with some who we had received a few slaps from, with those who had meted out corporate and non-corporate punishment. Standing with those whose names back then was enough to send us scuttling for safety. I recall vividly a couple of chaps who I felt were personally assigned to make my life a living hell, and also recalled the privilege of walking the same paths with the progression of years as those who had before us. I recall that as newbies, we were forbidden to walk on the pavement in front of the classes belonging to those in Upper Six (someone had aptly painted it red, so twas the red carpet for us and woe betide you if you had the boldness to step on the red carpet). We looked upon some as though they were giants and adored the likes of those who were remarkable enough to overcome the predilection for juvenile delinquencies and grasp the opportunity to positively impact the lives of those below them. Looking at schools today, one can weep because in our bid to give our kids what we didn’t have as kids, we have absolutely forgotten to also balance it with what we did get as kids – as a society, we are hopelessly shirking our responsibility as parents and as generations pass by, the kids have become the parents and we have devoted ourselves to doing their bidding.

One of my greatest appreciations is the years I spent in my alma mater and even though, back then it seemed as though it was horrendous especially in the early years but as the years progressed, I realized that without the experiences received back in the years, I just may not be who I have become today. And that is exactly what life does to us, sometimes it seemed as though we were (and are) being continually and persistently punished for just being there but guess what, our cores were being formed and just like I always say, we were making choices to be who we wanted to be regardless of the birthing pains of character development. Life is a process! I made friends, many I have lost contact with but the few who I am in touch with constantly sing the same tune – what a privilege it was to attend Federal Government College, Warri. What an association of brotherhood (and sisterhood) has been formed, one that with the years, forges bonds that are so strong but can yet be stronger. Scattered all over the globe, are individuals who were thrust through the furnace of FGCW and have emerged stronger and better. some more vile, a few departed but alas we are still a result of our choices.

Primolevi says “In modern times, it is only by the power of association that men of any calling exercise their due influence in the community” One truth rings clear, we must exercise our due influence in our community but the question that always go unanswered especially when men and women gather is what does our community really care about – how much we know or how much we care?

An old Swedish proverb that once hung down the rafters of ‘Ye Old Tavern’ Ronneby, Sweden says that ‘happiness when shared is double happiness, and sorrow when shared is half sorrow’. Looking around, we are witnesses to so much sorrow borne by ourselves and others and whilst some of us are capable of handling theirs, many around us are almost consumed and overwhelmed by their portion of sorrow – be it physical, emotional or spiritual. There can be no clearer appreciation of the labors of other men in our lives if we choose to turn a blind eye to those who are in dire need of a shoulder to lean on. There are needs to be met, and  it takes a supreme effort and a clear understanding of our purpose on earth to go beyond just asking ‘what is wrong with you?’ and actually do something. Yesterday, as I shakily boarded the bus, Madge (the driver) bellowed several times “Can someone please give this disabled man a seat?’ and as I made my way to the vacated seat, I cringed at the obvious term but I have refused to allow that becloud my ability to convert the little I know into expressions of care. Associating with my family of strangers, be it for a few stops or a few minutes, to let them know that I will not succumb to Myoclonus and there is enough joy to go round the world……if only they make the right choices.

Despite my struggles with Myoclonus, OCD et al, I choose to  do what I can with the little I have in making that one life just a little bit more bearable because I know that my core is and will always be strengthened by The One who alone can be relied upon. It is my core that remains unflinching in the face of all the bleakness, and whilst my body tries to adapt to these unpredictable bouts of incessant painful changes and weaknesses, my core remains strong in Christ alone and I can boldly tell you that regardless of what you are passing through ; Andrea, Shannon and the rest of us who are battling this, realize that I associate because I truly care. Putting aside my own troubles and pain and tremors, to share some humor and care to as many as I come across. I do not need good luck because I know that my end is pre-determined and there is only one outcome – no white flag is ever gonna hang from my door.

Remember that people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. Make a choice to live for something worth dying for. Do not be a dead sea!

lמסתדר טוב עד שניפגש שוב בזמן שלו

Adios!