And Just Like That-My 2017 Story

Our beautiful Beagle boy finally laid calm in my arms after a 30-minute full Grand Mal seizure. He had been in our family since his birth nine years earlier. An injection of valium calmed him down long enough for what was about to come. The cancer had spread to his brain and the seizures he was having daily were unbearable to witness-it had to end today.  I cradled him like a baby one last time.  The vet asked us if we were ready.  Of course not!  But out of love and mercy I nodded to proceed.  The injection worked quickly, and just like that, this once full of life furry friend lay motionless in my arms as his life came to a merciful end.  I sobbed like  little boy and continued to hold him until the vet finally took him from me and carried him out of the room.  Thus 2017 was ushered in.

In January and then again in February I was served with two different lawsuits stemming from a business I was forced to close through foreclosure in 2014.  I thought that chapter had been closed but aggressive attorneys thought otherwise. The amounts of the lawsuits coupled with the legal fee estimates to defend them were staggering.  I had received nothing from the business when it closed and had lost my entire savings that I had invested when it closed down.  These unexpected court actions left me with little recourse.  My finances and credit were now in shambles.  And just like that a lifetime of perfect credit history was now, well, history.

The following March, thinking things could get no worse, things got much worse. The love of my life asked for a divorce after a twenty year relationship.  What began as a Hallmark fairytale romance that others envied had now been reduced to a signature on a legal document.  To save money, with vision blurred by tears, I drafted the legal documents that would terminate my own marriage.  Upon their completion and our signatures, I proceeded to the courthouse and waited in line for what seemed like an eternity waiting to file them.  Upon the clerk’s stamp, I took them up to the Judge’s inbox and deposited them for final signature, which took just one day.  And just like that the air I breathed for twenty years was taken from me. I felt abandoned, unloved and alone.

The following May I was scheduled for my quarterly check-up with my nephrologist.  I suffer from Polycystic kidney disease for which there is no cure.  I was advised by someone close that with the year I had experience thus far perhaps I should cancel-I should have listened.  I was informed the disease had now progressed to stage Four and I was nearing the need for dialysis.  And just like that an otherwise health-minded man was forced to consider life-altering choices and my own mortality.

In a mere span of just five months every aspect of my entire being had come under severe attack.  I had lost a dear friend, I lost my financial security, I  lost my health and most tragic, I lost the love of my life and best friend.  I was, and in many ways, still am quite the mess.  Any one of these life-changing events would be enough to take down the strongest of men.  But seriously , all in one year?  I was left alone in a 2000 square foot house with empty rooms having nothing but the haunts of the past as a companion.  Funny thing-I never realized that quietness could echo!  Few knew of the numerous challenges I faced this year.  More than one person, perhaps not fully disclosed, reprimanded me for wallowing in self-pity.  My closer friends shared concerns over what I might do.  After all, many have pulled the trigger for much less.

It would be at this point in the story that some, just like friends of Job, would ask how I could still trust in a God who had allowed such destruction to overcome me.  I will confess that God and I had some serious “come to Jesus” conversations as I wrestled for answers or purpose.  If this is what perseverance looks like, I wanted no part of it. But as a long-time believer I knew that faith was not based on feelings or emotions but on knowledge and trust.  My heart wasn’t in it, but I forced myself to find words of hope within the Psalms.  David and I became close friends. He could cry out and lament to God over his turmoil in one breath and confess his hope and faith in the very next breath.  David always went back to what he KNEW to be true even when he was hiding for his life. In a twisted irony He who allowed these things to invade my 2017 was the One who I had to turn to and lean on in order to survive them.  I have surely walked this year through the valley of shadows but Christ has been my comfort and His spirit has been my  lifeline when I had little sense or worth, purpose or direction.

I can now see some light as I enter 2018.  The demise of my marriage prompted me to write a book that has already made an impact in other couples’ marriages.  Claiming a promise of healing, my last check-up on my kidneys revealed the progression of the disease had halted for now-I am claiming a miracle.  The Christmas and holiday season which had left me with old familiar and painful memories of years past was spent with my children, all alive, healthy and well.  And my first gift, the announcement of a new grandchild’s arrival this coming Summer, brought tears of joy, the first in a long while.  My faith sustained me through an impossible year and I now see some sense of purpose and a restored reason to continue the race the Apostle Paul describes. I know I am not alone.  Many this year suffered tragic and heart-wrenching losses-death of spouses or loved ones, serious illnesses, broken relationships, unemployment and the list is long.  When you are shut in by the surrounding thickness of storm clouds it is challenging to see the sun or feel its warmth, but yet it remains.  I want to encourage-no, implore you to seek shelter in the hope and promises of God’s Word and the comfort of His Son, Jesus.  David understood it while hiding in caves-the Apostle Paul got it while singing songs in prison chains.  I’m no David or Paul, but I get it too.

May the hope, the comfort and the love of our Father bring you into a glorious, prosperous and healthy new 2018.  May His will and purpose be revealed in your spirit and inspire you to do great things this year!  May you find in Him the strength and courage to boldly face and navigate the storms that may pop up out of nowhere with full knowledge that the Son is always there!  Happy New Year!

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There’s a Little Mary in All Of Us

Each Christmas I attempt to find something in Luke’s Christmas story that is meaningful and sometimes glossed over.  This year I am drawn to the verse in Luke 2:19 that reads “…Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart“. I would guess that many who read this simply believe that Mary was content and peaceful with all that has happened, having reconciled it all and found it to be good.  I might suggest that is not at all what this passage means.

Ponder, from the Greek word ponderare means to weigh.  Defined it means to carefully consider, to examine, specifically, something that is not completely understood or determined.  Remember, the passage records that everyone around her was rejoicing over the good news, but Mary was pondering, contemplating, perhaps partly in personal reverence but also partially in great confusion.  Her first words upon hearing from the angel gives us a clue, when she replied, “why me?”  We refer to her as bless nd she is depicted as this Holy, saintly mother of God, when in fact she was a teenager at best, never married, never sexually active, and now the mother of someone being hailed as the Messiah.  I personally feel she pondered because she was perplexed and a bit less than confident.

How many of us actively seek God’s will or purpose in our lives but become confused at the events He causes or allows to invade our world?  Even for the rare few who can say they heard God’s voice, there is still trepidation when it comes to being obedient to something when we don’t fully understand the purpose or know where it will lead us.  When Mary was told by the angel that she would soon be pregnant, she must have pondered how Joseph and her family would receive her. When she and Joseph hear the words from Simeon that “a sword will pierce your soul too“, she must have pondered those words as well.  When she and Joseph had to flee to Egypt with full knowledge that all infants under the age of two years  were about to be slaughtered because of her son, she must have pondered these things.  When Mary witnessed the brutal beatings and stripes her son bore she must have been pondering.  When she wept at the foot of the cross she surly pondered all these things.  In fact she may have spent thirty-three years “pondering these things in her heart” until the time her son was resurrected from the grave and she finally understood!

I’m fifty-six year old and I ponder things and events all the time.  Why would God allow this event to shatter my world?  What purpose is there in going through this particular situation?  What can possibly be worked out for my good from this impossible situation? If we are to be honest, we all have seasons where just like Mary, we ponder these things.  And guess what?  It doesn’t upset or Father in the slightest that we have honest questions, so long as at the end of the day, like Mary, we have a servant’s heart and can honestly say, just as she did, “very well, let it be unto me just as you have spoken“.

This Christmas many are in an unfamiliar situation, missing loved ones, suffering diseases, enduring trials unknown to others, and may be pondering, weighing, contemplating things for which there are no apparent answers.  My prayer is that you find peace, hope, joy and love in the Christ Child we celebrate with full knowledge that His purpose in our lives is clear and perfect, even when we are left pondering.

To all my followers, let me say again how humbled I am that you read and subscribe to papaswords.com. I wish all of you, from the bottom of my heart, a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.

book cover 3    my soul cries out  Available on Amazon Kindle.

 

Twas the night…

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through my pad

There was not much remaining of the life I once had

No stockings were hanging where they did once before

No holiday trimmings or wreath on the door

The only reminder that Christmas was soon

Were the tv commercials and some Christmas cartoons

The holiday tree, once my annual display

Was still packed in boxes tucked safely away

A candle or two with some holiday scent

A familiar aroma of what Christmas once meant

For most it’s a day filled with high expectation

Shared with family and friends in great celebration

While for others a haunting of those who are missing

It’s a day much like others, alone and just wishing

In moments of silence and thoughtful reflection

We relive Christmas Past from now faint recollection

A tragic mass shooting, diseases like cancer

We approach Christmas morning with more questions than answers

Where is the fairness in being left all alone

Could I have done something different if only I’d known

The heat and the passion I once felt from love’s fire

Now replaced by the chill of extinguished desire

But then a still voice softly whispers the reason

The purpose and meaning of each Christmas season

In the midst of the trials and the turmoil on earth

We pause to reflect on the night of Christ’s birth

He came for the lonely, the forgotten, the least

The God of creation now the Prince of our Peace

To comfort those mourning and to dry up their tears

With a promise of hope that removes all our fears

It’s but one special moment we pause to remember

But it goes far beyond just one night in December

He came as Messiah, the one perfect light

To chase away shadows on those dark lonely nights

To offer redemption to those who believe

Like he did for the shepherds on that first Christmas Eve

It’s a gift for regifting you won’t find at the mall

No need for a sale, offered freely to all

So for us left alone, the ones brokenhearted

Due to severed relations or the recent departed

Don’t be chained to the sorrows of Christmases Past

But find hope for the future and a peace that will last

In the birth of a child and a King’s coronation

Come and let us adore him, the God of creation

So the day that once seemed much too painful for some

Yields to child-like excitement when Christmas Day comes.

 

Merry Christmas from Papajoe, 2017

 

Finding Peace During a Stressful Christmas

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Christmas-it can be a most magical and reverent time of year, especially for believers who find the significance in the celebration. However, it can also be an overwhelming and depressing time of the year for many who feel alone maybe for the first time or are missing a special someone present just a few months earlier.

We are bombarded with all manner of media stimulus that implies the beauty of sharing the holidays with someone else, from commercials about giving them that special gift, to Hallmark holiday movies that always end with someone finding an unexpected love at Christmas, to even many of the modern songs we hear about love during the holidays.  We can’t escape the message that Christmas is for couples as well as for children.  It is easy to feel left out during the holidays if you are single or worse, recently widowed. You shun dinners or parties comprised mostly of couples and you tend to stay to yourself wandering through the weeks preceding alone with your thoughts, memories or in some cases, haunts of Christmases that now seem a long time ago.

These feelings are genuine and can not be easily discounted by those who do not understand, and yet they are a result of a false perspective or narrative on the true meaning of Christmas.  Santa, jewelry sales and romance movies aside, Christmas is about a commemoration of an event that changed forever the world, the incarnation, or the God becoming his own creation, the arrival of the Christ child.  Among other titles, he was heralded as the Prince of Peace. He came to reconcile and restore us, to heal broken hearts, to give us worth and value and a full and fulfilling life.  In the midst of stress, chaos, depression, loneliness and feelings of worthlessness, He says “I give you my peace”. Peace is hard to accept often times because it is first, an intangible, and second, a deliberate decision.  It is difficult to choose peace when everything in your life feels wrong or off.  Feelings, though real are often false indicators of reality.  Feelings are real but thought processes and focus are often skewed.

2017 has been a tragic year that has left many families facing the holidays missing special people in their lives.  From the numerous mass shootings like the one here in Las Vegas on 1 October, to the unusually devastating hurricane and fire casualties, to the constant mortality of loved ones due to incurable diseases, to the trauma and aftermath of failed relationships, there will be many empty chairs around family tables this holiday season. It may sound ironic or contradictory to suggest that the season that seems to steal our peace is the same season in which we can best find our peace.  Trust me when I say I am struggling with that this year along with many of you.  For the first time in forty years I am going into Christmas without that special someone to share the season with-I know-me too!  But it is at this most Holy occasion that I am compelled to allow my intellect, that is my knowledge of the Christmas significance, to override my feelings of loneliness and to remind me why we celebrate and remember.  There would be no Easter, no sacrifice, no triumph over death and the grave, no forgiveness of sins if not for the Virgin birth that put into motion the divine plan that is our salvation.  When viewed and considered in those terms, there is nothing more meaningful or worthy of our focus than that Bethlehem birth and our reconciliation.

Yes, this will be a difficult if not different celebration for many this year missing those special people in their lives due to one event or another, but a reverent acknowledgment of the reason for the season is still possible if through your feelings of despair, you can see the star and follow your heart back to the holy nativity to be reminded that Christ came for you, for me and for all the broken people so that through the Prince of Peace we may be healed of all hurt, sorrow and discouragement.  It is a gift available to all.

Please remember that my new book, Sex Begins in the Kitchen is available through Kindle as an eBook or paperback and may make a great gift for someone in your family struggling with relationship issues.  I hope you will check it out.  Blessings as always!

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Sex Begins in the Kitchen, new book

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I apologize to my followers for not posting for a while but I have been in the finishing stages of my new book, Sex Begins in the Kitchen, A Marriage Manual for Men, available on Amazon Kindle as an eBook or paperback. I began writing it about 8 months ago after a painful failure.  My approach and objective in writing it was to help men recognize and avoid many common mistakes that can have negative or terminal consequences in their marriages before it’s too late.

The book is not all about sex, per se, but it is about intimacy and how everyday acts lend themselves to an intimate attitude that women need and expect from men. Men and women approach intimacy from very different perspectives.  Men tend to view it as an event.  Women however, see it as an attitude, a lifestyle.  For example, there is intimacy in compliments, manners, helping out, encouragement, listening, etc.  All these things and more are intimate ways of letting wives know they are always on our minds and in our hearts.  But sometimes men get complacent, especially after wedding vows are recited.  Some take the attitude that they rang the bell or knocked over the milk bottles at the carnival and won the big prize, so now they can take it home and put it on a shelf as a reminder of their achievement. Instead, we need to be winning that big prize every day.

This book covers many topics, such as continued dating, making the domestic life anything but boring, proper communication, effective fighting, those just-because tokens, overlooking the little things, allowing her to chase dreams, and several others.  In a nutshell, everything a man feels he needs in a relationship, women need as well.  I contend men and women aren’t from different planets, as some suggest, but maybe just different areas of the same planet. We are much more alike than different.  We most certainly both feel the pain of loss and failure when a relationship comes to an abrupt end, which was my motivation for writing Sex Begins in the Kitchen. I wanted to help men avoid the pain, the separation of families, the loneliness of non-involvement after a breakup and the helplessness and hauntings of constant regret.

While I may not have learned or perhaps applied what I already knew until it was too late, I wanted to help other men recognize the signs of trouble so they can be proactive in finding resolutions before they find themselves on the outside looking in.  They say hindsight is 20/20, and it’s true, but this book will help men see things as they occur so they can make provisions and correct things that are of concern to their wives.  It certainly takes two to make a marriage strong, but this book addresses the role of men and how they need to become vulnerable and humble in learning ways to keep their marriages in more of a honeymoon state than a boring, predictable, overly comfortable state that has dire consequences for both men and women.  There is a line in the book that says one shouldn’t be able to guess how long a couple has been married by their countenance or if they can’t keep their hands off each other, and I believe that can be true, but it is largely up to the men in the relationship to create the atmosphere and attitude of constant intimacy.

I truly hope you will read and recommend this book to others as the credible marriage repair tool it’s intended to be. For those who wish, there is also a Facebook page by the same name, Sex Begins in the Kitchen, for reviews and open discussion so we can work together to strengthen marriages and keep families together.  I would be humbled and honored to hear your reviews if you purchase this book.  Please know also that this is my second book. the first, My Soul Cries Out, is also available on Amazon Kindle.  Love and blessings!

The Eternal Consequences of Denial

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Fifty-eight young, healthy people planned on a fun-filled night of music and hanging with friends and family.  Just a few hours later fifty-eight people stepped unexpectedly into eternity. A man in his thirties sits down for a meal and chokes on some food with no one around and discovers his own eternity.  Just this morning five workers entered their workplace in Maryland as they always do.  A disgruntled former employee sent three of them into their eternity, leaving two closely behind.

We see and hear the stories so often it seldom warrants a second thought.  Another weekend in Chicago leaves ten people dead.  With the exception of mass tragedies like that here recently in Las Vegas, these sudden and premature deaths are back-page stories or a simple line item entry in the city stats notices.  And yet families are faced with each unexpected passing with the grim reality of eternity.  And many questions arise.

What lies beyond death has been the subject of scholars and philosophers for centuries as we wrestle with the unknown. Humanists will tell you that life is the here and now-you only live once, and when you die, you are merely an entry on a family tree.  Others profess a belief in a reincarnation, that all living organisms return to life after death in some alternative form to go through the whole process once more. Believers and followers of Christ have their hopes pinned to the holy scriptures and the promises of eternal fellowship with each other and in the pesence of Christ.  Who’s rght?  What proof has been or could ever be presented of what really lies beyond this earthly existence?

I could not imagine the hopelessness of living a life, knowing that however good or bad it is, it is in fact all there is and that death is it’s own finality. The Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letters to the church in Corinth:

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

The one thing we know with certainty if we are but paying attention, is that none of us are guaranteed of tomorrow.  The probabilities of a young health person waking up tomorrow are high, but checck your local news outlets and witness how many people who were alive and vital yesterday are now in an eternal dimension through an unexpected passing. No one is protected from an act of evil, the path of another vehicle, an undetected medical episode or even a piece of food having deadly consequences.  This is in no way to be insensitive but rather to acknowledge the obvious-death is not just for the aged!

As it relates to our approach to living our lives, we really have but two aternatives.  Alternative #1 believes that this life is all there is and that there is no higher power or deity wating for us upon our last breath-live your best life, go for the gusto and deny yourself nothing.  Aternative #2 says that this life should belived to the fullest in full ackowledgment that we are to, in the process, love our neighbors and love our God and live in such a way that we are insuring our eternal destiny with the hope we live and believe.  So what consequence is there if #1 is correct and #2 is wrong?  Person #2 will have lived a life mindful of others and and will simply sleep to rise no more. But, what if person #1 is wrong? That person will have lived a life in denial of the very being he now stands before with no recourse and no “do-over”. In which scenario would you prefer to be wrong about eternity?

I am persuaded that life is more than what we experience on earth, and that time is only measured in the earthly realm and ceases to exist in eternity.  I believe St. Augustine said that eternity is the absence of time, and that nothing exists but a never-ending now. I have made so many wrong choices in my life that I would never dare to leave eternity up to my flawed thought processes.  I choose to believe in an eternal God and His written Word so that should the time come unexpectedly for me as it has for so many just this year, I am not caught in remorse over choosing the wrong alternative after life. And so should it be with you.

 

 

I Pledge Allegiance to the Christian Flag…

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It’s a pledge many Christians have never cited or memorized:

I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to its Savior, for whose Kingdom it stands; One brotherhood, uniting all true Christians in service and in love.”

It’s a flag that represents not an earthly country with manmade borders but an eternal kingdom that will exist long after the earth and its kingdoms are destroyed.  It’s a flag that recognizes a people bound by a heavenly citizenship that isn’t subject to limitations, temporary visas or naturalization. It’s an emblem that is common to Americans, as well as Asians, Hispanics, Africans, blacks, whites, young and old with belief in Jesus Christ and brotherly love as its only criteria.  It is my flag and I love all it represents.

Yesterday was a shamefully divisive day among Christians and non-Christians alike as we witnessed a sport we all love and anticipate in the Fall of each year become a necessary platform as players and owners alike showed solidarity on some form of protest against not a country they hate, as some believe and wrongly accuse, but a country they love who in many documented cases, has not been fair in it’s distribution of equality and justice for all.  How I wish that any other platform had been chosen but football, but alas, here we are, millions of people being made aware of continued and systematic pockets of racial prejudice, yes even in 2017, and forced to acknowledge its evil exisstence. It is not something that all whites are guilty of, nor is it something all blacks are victims of, but if few are affected, all are. The chosen protest is a perceived lack of respect for a country and it’s flag, as well as all who fought for its freedoms.  To say it’s a touchy subject is a severe under-exaggeration. My opinion is not popular among many people.

The argument as to whether players are on company time as salaried employees will be left up to others to debate.  My concern is not over rights, but over where our true allegiance should lie as Christians.  I thank God daily that I was born into a country of rights and freedoms and I’m genuinely grateful to be born American.  But my birth was not by my choosing but only by God’s providence.  I could have just as easily been born in Nigeria or Afghanistan or Myanmar, point being I had nothing to do with my birth origin. I honor our flag and all those who fought so bravely to assure my freedom, many paying the highest cost of their lives-I aknowledge that. I participate whole-heartedly in July 4th activities and festivals celebrating our freedom and uniqueness and yes, greatness as a country.  But at the end of the day, or quite literally, at the end of days, I will exist as a Believer and one of the elect, not as an American or any other nationality.

God caused the seas to divide the land, according the the creation story in Genesis.  It is man, however, who divided, conquered, plundered in some cases, and ultimately created the borders used to define countries as we know them today, creating laws and limits as to who can cross, who can benefit, who can be referred to as its citizens and share in its freedoms. When God refers to nations it is usually a reference to a people of common origin, not a people defined by borders.  Jesus clearly pointed this out when he was asked about paying taxes in  a scheme to trick Him.  His answer, give to God what is God’s and to a government what is the government’s, is self-explanatory-one does not necessarily belong to the other. What and who belongs to God is not determined by borders or restrictions established by man.

So what is my response as a follower of Christ?  Holy scripture assures me I will be judged on how I loved and treated my fellow brother, ala sheep and goats. I will not be judged on how patriotic I was to a country that on Judgment day will not be in existence. I will be judged on whether I practiced true religion as defined in the New testament, not whether I stood or kneeled during a song about a country.  Did I speak out against injustices when I witnessed or was made aware of them? Did I treat my brothers according to the Golden Rule? Did I classify men by their skin color or Nationality?  Did I pray for my enemies and all those out of my reach who are daily persecuted for their faith, not their allegiance to a country?  Will I receive a robe of red, white and blue on that glorious day or a robe of pure white with neither spots or wrinkles?

There is nothing wrong with showing love and patriotism for the country you were destined to be born into.  But when patriotism becomes instead nationalism, an idol has been erected and a very defined scriptural line has been crossed. Philipians is clear that Christian brothers and sisters are aliens to this world and no longer its citizens, but citizens of a heavenly kingdom anticipating the return of our supreme commander-in-chief, Christ. With that in mind, as much as one may love their country, the kingdom of God and it’s mandated treatment of its people, along with awareness and assistance for all those who are hungry, hurting, homeless, orphaned and widowed, i.e. true religion, “Trump’s” all other allegiances.  While it is possible to be both patriotic and Christian, as soon as one contradicts the other, Christianity must rule as absolute law.  We who are treated unjustly or are made aware of and stand, or kneel with others of our brothers who are, are not “sons of bitches”, but sons of God. We need to be sure the flag of Christ flies above the flag of country in our hearts and in our actions. Beleivers truly have no alternative response but that of Christ’s own words, love God and love others over yourselves.

I’m proud to be American, but I’m humbled, grateful and blessed to be Christian.  I will honor our national anthem, but I will shed tears of privilege with my fce to the ground over Amazing Grace, my eternal anthem.  Love and peace to my readers.