Assessing Your Strength and Building a Stronghold

Photo by M.A.D.

I wrote this blogpost as a second part to the previous post.

After a devastating life event, how do you come back to living?

A devastating event will be different for every person, as well as its lasting effects, physically, emotionally and psychologically, as well as materially. When your life has been uprooted and turned upside down and around, how do you recover? During a life storm, everything is taken out of place, including your center, your sense of self and well-being, especially, your sense of self in relation to your Creator.

The recovery and healing process and timeline, assuming that you want it, will be different for everyone, but there are key steps that you can take to start and continue on your way up.

  • First, acknowledge the situation, what has happened, how it happened, but don’t linger on the why looking for blame. Just acknowledge it for what it is at the moment. Know that stagnation or the present condition are not forever unless you decide so.
  • Decide that you want your life back. You want to own your life again, and not be a victim of the circumstances.
  • Acknowledge that you need help, and that help doesn’t equal weakness or handouts. Help can come in many forms: as faith in a higher power, help from above, from a friend or family, from community resources or private resources …
  • Assess your strength. What is good right now? What do you have that is an asset to your healing and recovery? Whether it is in character, spirituality, people, or material resources, make a list of each blessing and look at it. You are not alone. You will feel better.
  • Start visualizing your stronghold, your safe place; it is unique to you. See it in your mind, but also in your heart, no matter how impossible or far away it may seem right now.
  • Start building your stronghold one brick at a time.
    • Brick 1 – Faith, in God and yourself. You need to strengthen it because this block will be the foundation to build over it.
    • Brick 2 – Velocity. Take it one step at a time. Learn to manage the little things first. When you are hurt and vulnerable, anything seems like a huge crisis, unsurmountable, and sometimes it is; however, when in pain, smaller issues are magnified.
    • Brick 3 – Strive for balance. When the weight is out of place, it is easy to feel off balance. Know that a sense of balance will come back as you start managing smaller issues and details one by one. It will strengthen you to keep on going and feel equilibrium. During this time, talk to God; He listens.
    • Brick 4 – Live with intention. By now, you feel a new sense of purpose and desire, even if that is only to come back to the living. Make your days count for you and your loved ones. Live intentionally each day. After all, each brand-new day is a gift the second you open your eyes. Do the best you can with what you have.
    • Brick 5 – Use any resources available to you wisely and carefully. Plan the application of these resources in your life. Don’t waste or overuse these. Develop a sense of responsibility in their inception.
    • Brick 6 – Become selective. Choose carefully the things and people you will give your full attention. This might seem common sense, however, how many times have we placed our attention on things and issues that will not benefit us, whether it relates to time management, frivolous pursuits, unfruitful projects, toxic people, toxic behavior or habits, unhealthy thoughts … Actively choose what enters your space, your sanctuary, your new stronghold. But also, what you will go after from now on, your pursuits.
    • Brick 7 – Build your financial security. This starts with an honest appreciation of your everyday blessings, whether material or immaterial. Be grateful for what you have now and learn to manage it well. Not until that will you be able to define financial health (or any other type of security) for you. However, during that time, you should be working on a few simple skills.
      • Keeping your expenses as low as you can so you can do as much as you can with what you have.
      • Managing your money/resources better. Budgeting.
      • Being intentional with every purchase and on/or below budget.
      • Eliminating your debt one step at a time. It will take time. Stay away from new debt.
      • Building savings slowly. Set an amount, even if low, to start. Savings never stop.
      • Defining your standard of living according to the needs of the stronghold you set out to build. That is why your definition of financial health is important. It will help you discard anything that does not fit in your safe stronghold, whether expensive habits, behavior, or unnecessary purchases. You cannot build a new stronghold while living in an old one that crumbled.
    • Brick 8 – Don’t focus on other people’s strongholds, mind your own. Their blessing is their blessing, yours is yours. It is easy to become distracted by other people’s wants and achievements. It is good to celebrate those and admire, even having someone successful as a mentor. However, when you take your eyes off your stronghold for too long, you will end up neglecting it and even devaluating it. Focus on continuing to build your safe place. Admire others, dream, but don’t neglect your own. This ties back to gratitude.
    • Brick 9 – Realize that stuff and money do not make you rich or more valuable, and it certainly does not make you secure. You do and are with the help of God. When you realize where your true sense of security comes from, that is when you will have built your stronghold. You might have started building it from the outside, in the material, little by little, one small step at a time, one small achievement at a time, however, you will continue to build and improve it on the inside, inside of you, and that is a lifetime’s endeavor.

You are your stronghold and in it reside God’s strength, love, and blessings, because you placed Brick 1 as the foundation.

Disclaimer: I know because I’ve been there.

Spatial Disorientation

Photo by M.A.D.

We hope for fairness and constancy in life, but many times during our journey, we find ourselves on the opposite side of it, and most likely, not knowing up from down, and feeling that life has handed us the worst card, feeling sort of a spatial disorientation that numbs our senses and leaves us without a sense of direction, and many other feelings and emotions we rather not experience.

“It is not fair,” accompanies the anger and disillusion. During that time, how can we look up when we don’t even know where up is? Our compass, our radar, is not working properly. Everything might seem out of place in life, foggy, distant … It is hard to make sense of it all or make intelligent decisions. However, there is always a constant, one thing that remains the same when we don’t know our up from down, and that is the knowledge that help comes from above, wherever that might be. In an upside-down situation, help is a prayer away, and we don’t need to know our orientation because it is a matter of faith, and faith has no limits, no boundaries; spatial rules don’t apply here. When you feel that you have been handed your worst card in life, start by looking up, no matter if you don’t know your up from your down. All you need is a little bit of faith as your compass, and let God, the pilot, take you out of the storm and bring you to a safe place.

I will turn the darkness into light before them.

Isaiah 42:16

The Simple Life – Simplicity and Beauty

As I have slowly learned to embrace a much simpler life, I have also learned to find simplicity and beauty in the everyday flow. Easier said than done at times. When we are presented with good and rosy days, a lot easier, but more challenging when what we perceive is the not so nice or the ugly. Embracing a simple life taught me to find beauty and simplicity even in those circumstances. Never easy at the start, but willing, the focus and vision became clear, and I realized that even in less than perfect or idyllic circumstances, one can find something good, even beauty, and learn appreciation for what truly is. It is through challenges that we grow the most, although I believe that one can experience growth looking at a beautiful sunset or watching a fire, more so when in the midst of it. In both circumstances there is beauty and simplicity, that is, if we care to see in humility. I have experienced both extremes and can honestly say that from both there is much to learn and appreciate. I’ve found that simplicity and beauty are always present, inviting us to learn a life’s lesson. Maybe not so easy to recognize when we are in the midst of a challenge, when things don’t seem too pretty, when anger and bitterness dominate our thoughts and hearts, but much later on, when we have surrendered our will to God, and experienced a shift in disposition, acceptance, the beginning of clarity.

A clouded vision cannot see beauty, even when in front of it. A heavy heart cannot experience simplicity because it is burdened at the moment, in a complicated state, far away from simplicity. Only when we let go and open our mind and heart to receive a new beginning can we see the new dawn. In learning to live a simple life, I had to let go, but I received so much more.

Photo by M.A.D.

When No Face Equals All Faces

What if your main character did not have a face but had them all? When I wrote The Five-dollar Miracle I took a risk, and unusual approach – I did not describe the main character physically, instead, I described every character in the story, except Pastor Neil Beckham. However, I had a clear purpose for doing this. I wanted the main character to appeal to every reader, this due to the nature of the story. To be able to get away with a faceless main character, I made sure to focus on the character’s personality, psyche, emotions, and personal history. In this way, the physical attributes took a secondary place and were able to disappear, blend with the story, thus becoming less important. By describing every other character, their stories became alive as well, however, always strongly linked to the main character. Every other character in the story became a support for this faceless main character. In this way, the reader could imagine him in his own way, and tailor him to his/her own reading experience, but mostly because The Five-dollar Miracle is an inspirational story. Because of the nature of the story, I was able to get away with it, however, this approach would not have worked for any other of my novels. Three readers who enjoyed the story very much, did not even realized that there was no description, and each person imagined him in a very different way. I took a risk taking that route, however, in order to do that, the rest of the characters became an important part on this decision, So far, it seems to have worked out.

THE FIVE-DOLLAR MIRACLE is available via Amazon in eBook and paperback formats.

All Creation

IMG_4415

Photo by M.A.D.

With everything that is going on these days, pandemic news, and all, sometimes one has to look elsewhere and see. This is one of my favorite psalms, and I find it beautiful, so I decided to share its beauty here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do because it is truly lovely and sweet.

 

Psalm 148 (All creation summoned to praise)

I

Praise the Lord from the heavens;

give praise in the heights.

Praise him, all you angels;

give praise all you hosts.

Praise him, sun and moon;

give praise all shining stars.

Praise him, highest heavens,

you waters above the heavens.

Let them all praise the Lord’s name;

for the Lord commanded and they were created,

Assigned them duties forever,

gave them tasks that will never change.

II

Praise the Lord from the earth,

you sea monsters and all deep waters;

You lightning and hail, snow and clouds,

storm winds that fulfill his command;

You mountains and all hills,

fruit trees and all cedars;

You animals wild and tame,

you creatures that crawl and fly;

You kings of the earth and all peoples,

princes and all who govern on earth;

Young men and women too,

old and young alike.

Let them all praise the Lord’s name,

for his name alone is exalted,

majestic above earth and heaven.

The Lord has lifted high the horn of his people;

to the glory of all the faithful,

of Israel, the people near to their God.

Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

My Common Thread, Good vs. Evil

A common thread in my novels is the theme of good vs. evil/the divine/angels/devil. This topic has fascinated me since I can remember. I don’t know if it has to do with my Catholic upbringing by a very strict grandmother or not, but the curiosity about this topic has always been present. I have regretted not studying theology instead; I think it would have been more purposeful. Aside from my Christian faith, I’ve asked myself, why this interest? Other than it responds to human nature – the search for a being bigger than ourselves, and by default the archenemy, the yin and yang/positive and negative, or the dichotomy of the natural world, I don’t have a straight answer.

At this point, I can comfortably write in this way, and I assume future works will continue to reflect this interest. It permeates heavily through Moonlit Valley, The Dinorah Chronicles trilogy, and in a different way in The Five-dollar Miracle. I have been open to know myself a bit more as a writer, and I don’t see myself writing without this underlying theme. I enjoy reading a variety of genres, which is why this question arises. I’ve heard this advice over and over – Find your niche. I guess I’ve found mine.

Beauty Remains

Among all the chaos during these challenging times, beauty remains untouched, nature prevails in its own way as it has always been since the beginning of time. When we are feeling sad, scared, hopeless, and searching for a silver lining, God blesses us in many ways, even when we cannot see it right away or understand it.

I have been taking pictures of birds from time to time, and many times, I have shared a few on this blog. Birds are beautiful. I took a few pictures the other day, and these were taken from the inside of my home and through window glass, so they are not perfect. However, looking at them I saw something I had not seen before. I looked at those bird’s faces and expressions, and there I saw a miracle, I saw beauty, but more than that, I saw innocence, purity, hope; I saw the love of God. Here, I share a few with you.

IMG_4470

Photo by M.A.D.

IMG_4471

Photo by M.A.D.

IMG_4447

Photo by M.A.D.

IMG_4448

Photo by M.A.D.

IMG_4460

Photo by M.A.D.

IMG_4462

Photo by M.A.D.

IMG_4481

Photo by M.A.D.

IMG_4483

Photo by M.A.D.

IMG_4485

Photo by M.A.D.

IMG_4463

Photo by M.A.D.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I have.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or stow away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. (Mathew 6:26)

I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are Mine. (Psalm 50:11)

 

 

Your Way is My Way

Every soul has its journey, every person a purpose for living, but sometimes, it is not as clear as we would like it to be. The following words are according to my journey.

For many years, I worried about not knowing my true purpose in life. I read and studied countless books on finding your purpose or “true purpose,” and became a “positive thinking book junkie.” Although it helped me very much and I enjoyed reading those, it left me feeling the same – yearning to know and find my purpose in life. I worked/trained for every interest I had as far as jobs/careers, and although I enjoyed those very much, I felt that was not it. I was far from my purpose. Agonizing about it did not help. I admired the people who seemed to have found their meaning of life, their way in life. When I heard people say, “If you love what you do it never feels like a job,” I became more confused about purpose. Well, I had fulfilled many interests that I loved, however, I still ended up feeling without purpose and hungry for meaning. A very smart woman who had been a teacher all her life and was now retired told me once, “I hope you find what you are looking for.” She said this after I told her that I could not see myself doing only one thing for the rest of my life. What a sharp woman; she saw what I did not at that time. Part of my misunderstanding was to believe that a career path/earning income and purpose were one and the same. These are two different things, and although one can find purpose through a career, a career does not have to be one’s purpose. Once I understood that, I viewed purpose in a different light.

Writing has always been in my heart, although put aside for a long time, as a career path that is. I found the path again after a series of unfortunate events, and because I felt I had nothing to lose, I gave it a try. I feel at home when I write. Is it my purpose? I don’t know, nor am I waiting for it to become. It gives me purpose. Only God knows what my purpose is; He created me. Once I realized this, I stopped worrying about finding my purpose. It did not make sense anymore. I don’t have to feel incomplete, hurried, or worried about time running out and not finding my way in life. Instead I say, “God, your way is my way.” By knowing this I am open to do, be, and exist just as He wants of me. His way is my way, and that is purpose enough for me. The search was over once I understood that.

I see and hear many people who are worried and stressed out about finding their true purpose in life. They fear that they will grow old not knowing. I understand how they feel; I’ve been there. It is the reason why I decided to write this post. When I understood it wasn’t my burden to know, I was able to see beyond the limits of material and earthly fulfillment. A Jon Bon Jovi song comes to mind – “you are where you are supposed to be” – or something along those lines. My journey is/has purpose, but my purpose is in part my journey on this earth, and it is much more. It is how I have come to understand its meaning. It doesn’t mean that I will sit around waiting for enlightenment and clarity of mind; for me, the process is the journey, and the journey, the pathway to a different kind of purpose. My aimless search for purpose took me to the understanding that my Creator’s way is my pathway to complete fulfillment. When I become restless or unclear for whatever reason it may be, the most sincere prayer I can say is – Your way is my way.

Image by M.A.D.

There are No Coincidences

I believe that what we call coincidences are tiny miracles that intertwine in this life. Every writer, at one point, questions his/her path and the issue of why keep on writing, or what difference does it make? I’ve have asked that question; I asked that question to God. A few weeks ago I got my answer in the most unusual way.

A few weeks ago, something happened that changed my perspective as far as my writing goes. During that time, I had received a shipment of copies of my latest book – The Five-dollar Miracle, and the next day, I gifted the first copy. It was an impromptu offering. I was talking to that person and the books where next to me. A few days later, I had a casual conversation with that person and she mentioned the many similarities she encountered reading the story. She told me the book spoke to her, and many things she had taken to heart. She was going through many of the challenges the story presented, and so was her church. The pastor had died three months ago, and the congregation faced new challenges as well. What caught her eye and made her read further on was the first paragraph. She asked me how I came up with that date. I found the question unusual, and I told her it was a random date with no significance to me – the day I sat to write the story. For her, it was the day her husband died. I did not know her during that time. She mentioned that she was starting the five-dollar miracle.

Later on, I pondered all the events that had lead to that conversation and weaved my tiny miracle. By then, I had put my question to God out of mind. Only when I pondered these things I realized that my question had been answered. I don’t know if she will find something more in this story, but as far as I know the writing of it mattered, at least for her. As soon as I understood this, I thanked God for his love. I had a new perspective on writing.

As writers, we never know for whom we are writing the stories we create, but sometimes, we are blessed to have a glimpse. As far as I am concerned, The Five-dollar Miracle fulfilled its purpose, and I was able to find a new perspective in writing. If you have asked yourself the same question I asked, I hope this post helps you in some way.

THE FIVE-DOLLAR MIRACLE

“My name is Jonathan. My official name is Zadquiel. I prefer Jonathan. The story that I am about to tell you happened in Jasper Falls, a small town in the north of Virginia, USA. It was a small miracle, a five-dollar miracle that changed a stranger, a pastor, an entire congregation, and a whole country. I will take you to that day – July 29, 2016.” (excerpt from The Five-dollar Miracle)