The Epiphany

Okay, so here it is (O-dark-thirty) – 0226, or 2:26 AM to be exact, and here I am typing, as opposed to sleeping, on a project that was never intended – well, at least I didn’t intend on it.  God?  Now, that is a distinct possibility.  In fact, I so believe it is God inspiring me to be up at this hour, typing this message, that I am actually doing it.  Trust me, the selfish side is yearning for sleep, but I shall not cave.  What’s it called?  Obedience?  Yes, indeed.  So, I know you must be asking, “What is it that is so important it can’t wait until tomorrow?”  Well, my friends, I had an epiphany.  Epiph-a-what!?!  Epiphany!  Yes, of course, I fully intend to explain.  Why else would I be up at this Godly hour?  God said jump.  I didn’t ask “How high?”  I just started jumping.

This all started sometime last evening – yeah, let’s see, that would be Friday night, ’cause this is now Saturday.  So, I was on Twitter – I don’t remember what time it was – but I ran across this ‘retweet’ [aka re-shared, or forwarded message – for those of you who aren’t Twitter(ers)].  The original tweet was from controversial author and political commentator Ann Coulter.  I know; I know.  Haven’t we been down this road before, Kevin?  Put down the politics and back away.  Yeah, well, another epic fail was imminent.  I won’t go into the petty details.  Let’s just say, I took the bait in addressing her provocative rhetoric.  Why do I let these people get under my skin?  Why!?!

Now, again, I did not use profanity, cuss her, etc.  I didn’t attack her, per se.  HowEver… I might have suggested she was behaving in a “despicable” manner.  In fact, I can’t say for sure – it’s kind of fuzzy and all – but I might have actually called her despicable.  Yes… I… did.  But, listen, you should have read what she… no, never mind.  It doesn’t matter.  Did she write about and perpetuate a provocative and utterly ridiculous narrative?  Yes she did.  That said, she wasn’t talking to me.  She doesn’t even know me.  She was simply doing – right or wrong – what political commentators do.  She’s not responsible for how I react, or don’t.  I am responsible for my own actions.  I cannot, and will not, blame her.  Besides, at the time I tweeted my response, I was feeling rather justified.  That bully, Coulter, wasn’t going to bully people around – not if I can stop her.  Someone had to put her in her place!

Alllllll-righty-then…

So, having successfully given her – Coulter – the “What for…” I wound myself back down, went to bed, and drifted off to sleep.

Bleep, bleep… buzzerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… Yeah, that would be the annoying message-received notification on my cell phone… the one I forgot to silence when I went to bed.  Oh, goody, I got a reply from Jeannie Ortega (at 12:24 AM, no less).  “Jeannie Ortega?” you ask.  Yeah, I don’t know much about her, but I know she just debuted a new song I listened to last night.  I know that I really liked it.  And, I know that I tweeter her – earlier in the evening, when people were still awake in certain parts of the world – to tell her I thought her voice, the song, and the song’s message were beautiful.  How nice of her to thank me – at 12:24 AM.  Do I sound bitter?  You know, I actually was not – am not – at all bitter.  In fact, this is where the story gets good, interesting, whatever.

Miss Ortega’s song, Never Been Hurt, really – as I shared with her – struck a chord with me.  The message is clear.  She wants to “love” like Jesus.  Despite being hurt and scarred, she wants to move beyond the pain, and love, unconditionally, like Jesus did.  She wants to know and share the same love Jesus had for us when He asked The Almighty Father to “forgive” us, as He hung there on The Cross, in our place.  It is a powerful, powerful message, indeed.  So, lying there at 12-something, my mind began to race, drifting back to that ill-advised tweet.  Why could I not just let that go?  Why could I not have met her hate with love?  What is wrong with me?  Nothing like having a pity party at O-dark-thirty!  But, seriously, it was bothering me.

I laid there, relaxed, and began to collect my thoughts.  This is important.  It’s important I resolve this, once and for all.  Why am I so tempted, feel so compelled to intervene?  Why do I have this propensity for engagement, particularly on behalf of others when I see them as being or having been wronged?  This, I must answer.  Then, out of nowhere, it hit me.  I am hurting!  This is about me!  No, no, no…  That cannot be.  After all, I am the tough, broad-shouldered, thick-skinned guy, the one who charges in to defend the innocent, the weak, the oppressed.  I’m not the one who’s hurting.  I don’t have open wounds.  What scars!?!

Wow… All these years fighting other people’s battles, and I’m the one who needs saving.  I was the one who needed to be defended.

(More on this to come – I assure you – in my Your Life Matters series.)

You know, I’ve had epiphanies before, but this light bulb was brighter than any I had ever seen.  It shone all around.  It illuminated and made clear that which had been buried in the farthest, darkest reaches of my mind.  It was troubling, but it was also liberating.  To think that while I was, my entire life, defending others, I was at the same time, exacting revenge and justice, vicariously.  To realize I had been harboring such resentment all these years.  Now, I could exhale.

Still, there is much work to be done.  While, as one of my new friends so articulately wrote, I have “named” that which ails me – now, the real trials begin.  I must now survey each of my wounds, each scar, and assess them.  I must confront my affliction.  I must ensure I have forgiven those who have injured me.  I must ensure I have forgiven myself.  If I truly want to “love” like Jesus, like I have, as Miss Ortega sings, “Never Been Hurt,” I must take up this yoke.

Friends, I apologize for this diversion from the path I asked you to accompany on.  I must admit, though I told you it was a journey and I, for one, was prepared to go wherever it might take us, I was surprised by this.  It truly was unexpected.

[Incidentally, I do recommend Miss Ortega’s song.  You can find it on YouTube.  I will attach a link later – but… I am tired.  Blessings, my friends.]

 

 

Sir John Dalberg-Acton, aka Lord Acton, famously posited, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Moreover, he added, “Great men are almost always bad men.”  To be sure, Lord Acton’s claim is bearish, even to the pessimist.  In these remarks, the baron affords us very little hope – might we call it an “eye of the needle(s)” chance – of rising to power without forsaking our virtue.  Well, if he is right, the obvious question is:  Why?  Why is it so difficult for one to attain power without succumbing to – its power?

It’s a common theme, is it not?  We rise, and we fall.  Countless authors, artists, composers, filmmakers, etc., have captured the torment, isolation, and exile that hounds the mighty, the powerful, amidst their nosedive into the abyss.  Given the fact – can we call it that? – this is so common, why have we permitted history to repeat itself?  Why do we acquiesce?  Is power simply too powerful for man to bridle?  Is it the ‘bronc that won’t be broke’?  Or, is it, perhaps, that we haven’t taken the right approach?  What do we need to control, or check power?  I submit, wisdom.  But not just any wisdom.  Source matters.

I found an answer, where I often do:  my Bible.

Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.  [James 3:13-18]

Rays in Repose

Rays in Repose

[I captured this radiant, yet tranquil image not far from my home on April 3, 2016.  In this case, beauty was effectively the “backyard” of a populous residential area.  The backdrop for “Rays in Repose” is the outskirts of a swath of yet-to-be-developed woodlands and a somewhat undisturbed creek.]

I have always been fascinated by imagery, in all its forms.  My mother instilled in me and, hence, I came to share her appreciation for God’s ‘handiwork’ – all the splendors He hath created.  I have often heard her say, “Give me my tall trees and running brooks…”  Oh, it took a while for me to realize how much I appreciated these things – years, in fact.

It might have been different had technology been as advanced in my teen and young adult years as it is today.  When I was a young boy, I wasn’t the one taking the pictures.  That was what the adults were supposed to do.  And, while I often relished the images I observed at any given time and place, I had yet to develop the profound sense of nostalgia I have today.  Heck, I didn’t even keep up with the pictures the adults did take.  Consequently, I have only fuzzy memories of The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore.  Enough! I’m getting ill just thinking about it.

Oh, the regret.  Even once I began to recognize my particular appreciation for imagery, for the arts in general, I was in the “throes of adolescence” and, thus, completely averse to any and all things “uncool.”  So, sporting about bulky cameras or camcorders was simply out of the question.  I wasn’t about to be caught dead resembling a tourist – as if the locals couldn’t pick us out of a crowd, regardless.  Thank goodness some of my friends had some sense.  If not for one of my dear friends, I would have no evidence of my having been part of a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.  What an honor, by the way!

To make a long story short, I  believe I would have thousands of images in my portfolio today, if only I’d had my do-it-all device (a.k.a. cell phone) back in the day.  If I could have carried, inconspicuously, this modest device and had it ever at-the-ready… yeah, well, water under the bridge.

The bottom line is, those images are lost.  It’s time to move on.  And, that’s exactly what I intend to do.  Beginning with “Rays in Repose,” I am adding my own, personal gallery to this blog.  I am no professional, so don’t think for a moment I will be renowned for my works, but I owe it to myself, if no one else, to do this.

We have often heard, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  In “Vogue” Madonna lyrically boasts, “Beauty’s where you find it.”  I think she was on the right track, but I would submit beauty is everywhere, yet only rarely beheld.

Thusly, from this day forward, I dedicate each and every photograph I take and share to all the worthy images never to have been, nor ever to be captured.  I hope you enjoy.

 

Your Life Matters – Pt. 1

If you haven’t already read “about” me anywhere else, you may not know I am both a veteran of law enforcement and my Marine Corps.  I will always feel privileged, honored to have served in those capacities, and thankful for having been physically and mentally able to do so.  There are many things which define me, and anyone who knows me – even those with whom I have had very little contact – will tell you “He’s a cop alright,” or “You know he was in the military.”  I know they will say that, because they’ve said it.  The tip-off, they say, is in how I “carry” myself, how I present myself.  But I digress.

The point is, people do tend to judge the proverbial book by its cover.  First impressions are everything, we’re told.  Well, let me stop you right there.  I’m living proof that’s not completely true.  The front I put on every day, is just that – a front.  I expend vast amounts of energy not revealing myself.  Most of who I truly am is bound up inside of me.  If I seem “calm, cool, and collected,” and “squared away,” it’s because I had to learn to “maintain my bearing,” as a police officer and jarhead.  Now, I’m not suggesting that’s not who I am, a proud public servant – it most certainly is – but it is only part of who I am.  The rest of me – the other me – I unleashed only a few days ago.

I introduced myself to… myself, after I started reading a stirring personal account written by one of my newest friends.  Again, she can tell her own story – which she has done – but thanks, in part, to her and others, I finally relented, and let God take – have control.  Thus, I embarked on my mission, that which I believe He has set before me.  [I am all in Father] S0, you might ask, “What’s this ‘mission’ God has supposedly charged you with?”

Thanks for asking!  Well, I stated in On With It, Then my mission is to reach you, convince you Your Life Matters, and point you to One Who loves you more than anyone.  That’s the short of it, but if you want the full answer, I must ask you to accompany on that journey I mentioned.  Coming?

I accepted Jesus Christ as My Lord and Savior at the age of nineteen, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, He had called me to serve others.  Now, I realize, He calls each of us to be servants, but I mention this because I had a distorted view of what my “calling” was back then.  I didn’t fully understand God’s plan for me.  [Note to self – You still don’t]  Anyway, I was only 19 and a newcomer to Christ; consequently, my early sense of service was rooted in delusions of grandeur.  Yep, God had placed me here to “save the world.”  Had I possessed a more comprehensive understanding of The Bible and Christ’s teachings, I likely would not have been so misguided early on.  Unfortunately, the “soil” in which the seed of the spirit was planted – me, was fertile; yet, I lacked wisdom.  So, as the “weeds” grew up around me, they obstructed my view and muffled the sound of His voice.  It was difficult for me to grow straight and strong.  Yes, I grew, but askew of what I now believe was His intended path.  I only thought I knew which way He wanted me to go – no, I was certain of it.  I was to be a dashing superhero.

Of course, this didn’t help:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne day – gorgeous day, in fact – I was sunbathing with friends at one of our “regular spots” nestled at the base of the Sierra Nevada’s, a place we locals dubbed “Slick Rock.”  Slick Rock, or more formally, Three Rivers, was a nice place for adults to unwind, swim, and soak in a few rays.  That said, the waters of the river abruptly transitioned from shallow and tranquil to deep and treacherous.  Since I had been training hard subsequent to my enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps, I was in remarkably good shape.  I was also an avid and seasoned swimmer, so when I heard a desperate mother screaming for help, I didn’t hesitate in diving into the rushing waters to retrieve her struggling child.

The boy likely would have drowned, had I not intervened.  I know that.  My friends knew that.  Yet, there was virtually no acknowledgment from the mother.  Did that bother me?  Perhaps.  Frankly, I think I was more surprised than anything.  Moments earlier, she was screaming frantically for help, and now that I had likely snatched her boy from the jaws of death, my reward consisted of an indifferent “Thank you,” and half-hearted wave?  No, I didn’t feel I deserved more.  That’s not why I did what I did.  Still, it did feel somewhat inadequate.  In the movies, after all, she would have utterly squeezed the life out of me with a giant bear hug and kissed me on the cheek, tears streaming down her face.  Right!?!  But, alas, this was not Hollywood.

Truth be told, I didn’t need any recognition for what I had done, but I was perplexed by the mother’s reaction, or lack thereof.  Oh, my friends literally bowed in acknowledgment of my wondrous act of heroism.  I, encouraged them by accepting with a bow in return, and we had a few good laughs.  But, still, that woman’s inexplicable response confounded me.

I tried to rationalize the woman’s behavior.  She was in shock.  That’s it.  Or, maybe she hadn’t yet processed the gravity of the situation.  Perhaps, she was embarrassed, or angry with herself for not having learned to swim.  No, you know what it was, she was caught up in the moment, angry with her son for scaring her, but equally thankful he was alright.  She was focused on him.  Sure, that made sense.  Or, you know, maybe, just maybe, that’s how people treat “heroes” in real life.  Oh, now, I didn’t actually consider that at the time, but little did I know how true it can be.

As the lady – her son’s hand grasped firmly in hers – walked toward the parking area, the boy looked back at me, as if to offer a thank you of his own.  I waved, and in that moment I knew, God had placed me there, at that moment in time.  He had done so because I could and would rescue the boy.  And, sincerely, the gratitude I saw in the boy’s eyes spoke volumes – was more than enough thanks.

That, of course, is not the end of the story.  Well, yes it’s the end of that story, but not mine.  On the contrary it was just the beginning.  You see, there was a downside in all of this.  Remember I said, “this didn’t help.”  It actually made things worse, for this experience ultimately narrowed my perspective.  That day ended with we me feeling all the more assured God was calling me to be superhuman; when, in fact, He was calling me to be a humble servant.

[This is an ongoing series, Your Life Matters, set in order (i.e. Pt. 1, Pt. 2, etc.)  The next installment will be Your Life Matters Pt. 2]

On With It, Then

path-in-woods-11284544214sV05At the advent of this blog, I asserted this was to be a “journey” of sorts – an opportunity to rediscover ourselves, and so forth.  Well, admittedly, I have been ducking this charge.  You see, rather than delving inside myself and following the path I set before us – somewhat presumptive, I suppose, that you will be joining me – I have been addressing (a.k.a. hiding behind) some of today’s issues.  Now, while I believe it is likely most reasonable people would excuse me, given how captivated the public and media are by the challenges we face here and abroad, it was never my intention to board the train steaming along the track that is a 24-hour news cycle.  Undoubtedly, were I a highly opinionated lad – I am – or, perhaps one who might be inclined to mount his high horse and pontificate debatable issues from time to time – I am – then I might occasionally weigh in on such matters.  But, that is most certainly not the direction this blog will take – not so long as I have anything to say about it!  Still, one must admit, there’s a lot to talk about. (Just sayin’)

Seriously!  I mean… Okay, for example, when was the last time an election provoked such palpable contention?  When, at any time since, say, the L.A. riots, have we seen such racial tension in our country?  There are so many “movements” spawning other “movements” and “counter-movements.”  Depending on who you are engaged in conversation with, what channel you are watching or listening to, black lives, blue lives, or all lives “matter.”  Well, this is where it all comes together.  This is where I get back on track, where I open up – peel back a layer or two.

Why now?  Having so successfully suppressed my inner-most feelings for so long, to what do I attribute this impending eruption of my inner volcano?  Well, there are a number of factors.  First, I have simply, and finally come to the realization I must step off sooner than later.  Second, I have recently befriended some very special people who, despite my having yet to actually meet them in person, have inspired me to “get off my duff.”  Their stories are sincere, deeply personal, and revealing, yet too powerful and informative to withhold.  I, however, will not be sharing their stories, for their stories are theirs to tell.  But you – and they – should know their disclosures have inspired me to follow suit – share the trials I have faced, so others may know they are not alone.

I commence with my story, not once upon a time, somewhere in the distant past, but a mere three or four days ago.  My story begins with a new beginning, prompted by recent events and newfound friendships.  I have given you two contributing factors which account for my sudden change of course – or should I say, course correction.  While it is true the aforementioned factors were key in nudging me out of my comfort zone, I would be remiss in failing to address another, major factor – the impetus, in fact, for Your Life Matters.

Earlier, I referenced the Black Lives Matter movement, among others.  While the activists behind these movements may feel justified in their own right, I find it deeply disturbing anyone finds justification in suggesting any one life holds greater value than another.  At a time when so many are being persecuted, killed, sleeping under bridges, starving, battling afflictions, mental and/or physical, emerging from broken relationships, agonizing over the loss of loved ones, struggling with addictions, depression, PTSD, etc. – when, the list of those feeling at least some degree of despair is seemingly endless – how anyone can have the audacity to set aside one life, any life, as having more value than the next, is beyond me.  I have been troubled by this for some time now, with it only recently coming to a head.  Truth be told, that bubble was about to burst, regardless.  Consequently, the perfect storm, comprised of these three key elements, developed rapidly and somewhat unexpectedly.  My friends, I am relieved, for it is time.

To be clear, my goal, my mission, is (1) to reach you – YOU – whomever and wherever you may be, (2) to prove to you that you matter, just as much as anyone else, and (3) point you to The One to Whom you matter most.  Please don’t recoil, fearing I am about to saddle up that high horse of mine and start preaching at you.  On the contrary, my wish is for us to venture, together, into our past – wherever the journey leads us, for that matter – in search of who we once were, who we have become and, ultimately, who we wish to be in the months and years ahead.  Hence, more than lead you, I wish to accompany you on this journey.

So, “On With It, Then!”  Shall we?

[This is an ongoing series, with the preceding text serving as an introduction.  The next installment will be Your Life Matters]

The following is an excerpt from a Charles Spurgeon devotional he wrote in summation of Matthew 15:21-28 – The Faith of the Canaanite Woman.  A dear friend of mine shared the quote (below) and I located and read the entire devotional piece at:

http://www.heartlight.mobi/view.php?resource=se&date=0327&dateformat=md

If you have a few moments, I would recommend you read the entire piece, as well as, Matthew 15:21-28, for context.

This is the royal road to comfort.  Great thoughts of your sin alone will drive you to despair;  but great thoughts of Christ will pilot you into the haven of peace.

These are wise words, spoken/written by a wise man.  Spurgeon reminds us Christ has unimaginable power in overcoming anything we might consider impossible.  After all, Christ overcame The Cross.  We often quote from scripture (i.e. Philippians 4:13) “I can do everything through (H)im who gives me strength,” but perhaps we sometimes forget, He can do all things!

Have faith, my friends, in Jesus.  At your lowest point, seek Him in the midst of your darkness, for He is nigh.  Think “great thoughts of Christ.”

The Ninth Hour

CrucifixionLast evening, and for the second consecutive year, my church observed Maundy Thursday in commemoration of the Last Supper and the Maundy (Washing of the Feet).  And, for the second consecutive year, I struggled to hold my feelings in check.  The confluence of emotions, the melancholy associated with grave loss, mixed with immense gratitude and a euphoric sense of triumph, is not only difficult to describe, but also to process.  That said, today, Good Friday, I find myself nearly as troubled as I was a night ago.

For many people, it’s just another Friday.  Many are thankful to be off work or out of school, but not particularly concerned – if at all – with the significance of the holiday many observe.  For many, the significance of Good Friday is the highly coveted 3-day weekend.  Many will cook out, go fishing or water skiing, play a round or two of golf, or break out the 4-wheelers.  Others will gather with friends and party late into night – starting early, of course.  Some, given the extra day, will take a road trip, maybe visit friends or family.  If it sounds like I’m ‘going all holier-than-thou on you’, please don’t misconstrue.  My intent is not to guilt anyone.  After all, I have partaken in many of the same, aforementioned activities in years past.

But, having really gotten to know my Lord and Savior in recent years, immersed myself in The Bible, and participated in rituals and celebrations commemorating the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I have come to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of and for that which He did for me [us] nearly two millennia ago.  Thus, while I condemn no one who misses this point, it disturbs me nonetheless.  In particular, I was saddened by those who took to Twitter and other social media outlets today to once again, and without respite, disparage one another in the most revolting ways.

As I uploaded an image of Christ upon the cross with a somber reminder of His loving sacrifice, I couldn’t help but notice what was ‘trending’ at the time.  Even as I was writing this, #CruzSexScandal was fending off #GoodFriday as the most ‘tweeted’ topic.  Yes, that’s right, more than half-a-million ‘tweets’ wherein people were engaged in the most acrimonious of ‘debates’ over a likely spurious tabloid article indicting a reputable U.S. Senator.  I don’t care who you are, what you believe, who you intend to vote for, nor why.  What I do care about, is the utter disregard for civility and the fact so many, on a day on which Jesus of Nazareth lay down His life, a day after commanding His Disciples, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34),” millions are doing anything but.

Have we no decency?  On this day, just under 2,000 years ago, a sinless human being – whether you recognize Him as God’s only begotten son, or not – was mocked, brutalized, and crucified, for no other reason than He loved and forgave all sinners, all God’s creation.  In the “ninth hour (Matthew 27:46)” Jesus would breath His final breath.  Would you do that for anyone?  Would you endure such barbarism in place of a child, your child?  Who, in your life, do you love enough that you would sacrifice your life so they may be spared?  Well, Jesus did it for everyone, even those who nailed Him to that cross.  He loved and forgave, calling to The Almighty “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

When Jesus knelt before His Disciples and washed their feet, He was setting an example for not only them, but all of us to follow.  It was an example of humility and service.  He called us to be servants, and He demonstrated, Himself, for all to witness.  He called us to love one another and, again, He demonstrated, Himself, for all to witness.  Do we not owe Him obedience in following His lead?

Of course, I must leave that to you to decide for yourself, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)