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.

Looking Up to God

Photo by M.A.D.

Have you ever felt so discouraged, disenchanted, challenged to your maximum breaking point, and ready to quit it all? I believe that at one point, every one of us will confront “the big test” of life, and if you haven’t, then count your blessings because these are many. It doesn’t matter how responsible, good person, perfectionist, excellent planner … you are, one day your challenge will come. It is only designed to make you better, to teach you, if you are willing to learn, to show you, if you are receptive, to open your eyes, if you want to see. However, when human strength and courage doesn’t match your hope, look up to God, and accept the help that is already there, waiting for you to extend your hand and grab it. God will see you through; He will help you conquer your challenge.

I once heard a speaker say, “It is not over till’ you quit.” “It is as you will it.” I believe it is so, but when my human strength fails or doesn’t seem enough, there is peace in knowing that the one who made me stands beside me.

I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.

Jeremiah 1:5

The Simple Life – Sweet Satisfaction

Photo by M.A.D.

There is no “perfect life,” only life surrounded by circumstances and what one makes of it all. A simple life is as simple as one makes it, and as sweet as one wants it to be, despite the ups and downs that living on this imperfect world brings. One can do it alone or approach it simply with faith. It is then that it becomes sweet. As a person of faith, I understand that there is so much I can do on my own, and when my efforts are not enough, I give it all to the one that makes things sweeter and simpler, Jesus Christ.

Realizing my human limitations and weaknesses has made me understand my spiritual strength and power in Jesus. It truly changes perspective and expectations. We are about to enter a new phase for this country and the world. Depending on your stance in faith you will find it a blessing or not. Simple living isn’t devoid of challenges and troubles; it is not perfect, but it can be sweet. The difference is simply faith. The shifting of one’s focus to see the everyday blessings instead of the troubles, and the certainty and knowledge that God is always a prayer away, and that is next to you.

The pursuit of a simple life is what you make of it, and you don’t have to move to the country to find it. It is a knock-knock away, when you answer His call.

I hope you have enjoyed The Simple Life series of posts, and that somehow you have found simple inspiration. I wish for you a blessed life of sweet satisfaction.

Love and light.

The Simple Life – Joyful Faith

Photo by M.A.D.

When we moved, we took a leap of faith. We knew that we would have tons of work ahead of us, limited resources, and no permanent income, as we had left our jobs behind. Looking back, it was a stressful period; however, there was a degree of excitement, unpredictability and change, but mostly, we operated on faith. I think that part was the one that counted and kept us going until we finished the job. I will not pretend it was easy, totally the opposite, but our faith in the Lord Jesus kept us going day by day, from sun up till’ sun down, and the job was done. We would wake up before sunrise and head back at sundown, every single day. We had to make a dilapidated house a home in a short time with a very tiny budget (You can see our progress in Restoring an Old Farmhouse series of posts).

It is easy to forget challenging times when things flow to our contentment and life seems balanced. Living a simple life draws a great deal from living by faith. Learning to trust that all things work for the best to those who trust in the Lord is part of it.

Romans 8:28“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Knowing that when the future seems far away, and things are not as perfect as one would want, faith bridges the gap and brings what is needed to accomplish the task at hand, whether one has energy or not, resources or not. Somehow, it all falls in divine order, one step at a time, one miracle at a time. The simple life is full of small miracles day in and day out. Joyful faith keeps all the essential pieces of the puzzle together until one is able to see the whole picture. Living in joy and by faith, even when things are in disarray for a season and not as perfect as we wish, is done by keeping our eyes on a higher power and not solely on the circumstances that surround us.

In my journey, I had to learn many new things, leave many behind, and have the disposition to embrace new ones. When days seemed too long, energy and resources at their end, I took my eyes off these things and learned to trust that it would all work out for the best. It is not easy, but faith and prayer fill in the gap in those moments. Simple days are shaped by faith. As someone whose faith rests in Jesus Christ, I can tell you that I have seen the hand of God working alongside me, even when I thought I was holding on to the last string. Whatever was needed at the time materialized in a perfectly timed and orderly fashion. Today, I view faith as an intricate main part of my simple life. When in doubt, I remember, I pray, and I give thanks. Joyful Faith is another important part in living a simple life. Hope you enjoy this post.

The Simple Life – Simplicity vs Lowering Your Expectations

Simplicity is at the core of living a simple life, along with frugality (not to be confused with poverty or lack), best use, gratefulness, and beauty, among many other things that I will write about on this blog, according to my experience. When pondering about this topic, it occurred to me that many people do not want to live a simple life; simplicity does not entice them, and that is fine too. Other people may have a misunderstanding of simplicity and may think that by embracing simplicity, or overall, a simpler existence, they will be lowering their expectations, standard of living and even quality of life. That is a misconception that may scare them away from simple living.

Simple living is about appreciating every aspect of one’s life, environment, and possessions. It is about only allowing what serves us now in our spaces and enrich our lives. It is about enjoying those aspects/things that will best fit our lives and also, making room for those things, dreams, aspirations … that will enrich more our life and the lives of others by default.

When we live a simpler, balanced life (not perfect) in turn, we can give more to others, whether that is materially, in time, or by giving of ourselves. For me, that is the opposite to lowering one’s expectations; on the contrary, it is about raising the bar because I am operating from a place and disposition, of generosity and gratefulness, and not of lack or disillusion. To put it in terms of the material as an example, when we live simply, we will bring into our environment that which we value (not necessarily monetary value). If I value durability in a product (clothes for example), I might forgo cheaply/fast made items which will cost less and will be easily affordable in quantity, and instead, bring one piece that will last for many years but will cost a bit more. This can be applied to every aspect because I am operating from a value system, what is important to me. This is far from lowering one’s expectations in life. Living simply opens space, time, and energy (mental, physical, even emotional) to welcome new opportunities and enrich our existence. This is far from lowering expectations.

Simplicity can be beautiful and breathtaking. (Photo by M.A.D.)

How Do You Begin Anew?

Photo by M.A.D.

For many, the start of a new year signifies a blank canvas, a new opportunity, a fresh start, a chance to do better than in previous years, a hopeful outcome. It is a chance to start anew, new beginnings, a chance to erase, to forget, to try once more, to take inventory of one’s life, and to view the new year with fresh eyes. It is why so many people receive a new year with joy, new hope, and a refreshed outlook. Somehow, it signifies leaving the past behind and moving forward. Rarely one views the start of a new year with a gloom and doom outlook; most likely, it is viewed in a positive way, hopeful.

For me, this year represents much of that but also, the opportunity to look at different areas of my life and be humble, honest, at answering crucial questions: What works? What doesn’t? What would I like to change? What doesn’t fit my lifestyle anymore? What should I simplify more? What are new areas of interest? What would I like to learn? What needs improvement? What needs to be left behind?

These questions can be applied to any areas of one’s life, even projects, or household management. The answers will vary and change throughout a lifetime because we are always evolving. These simple questions help me focus on the year ahead, but also free me from remaining stuck in something that doesn’t “fit” anymore, and also, in not viewing issues as failures thus bringing discouragement into the new year. I do what I can, my part, but also rely on my faith to seek direction/guidance from God when things might not be as clear. For me, starting anew is asking the question, answering honestly, and following through in faith.

The Day I Almost Died

This is a short story that came to me this morning, and I decided to include it as today’s blog post. It is a bit grim but not so grim. Eventually, I would like to publish a few of my short stories in an anthology. I hope you enjoy this one.

It was a sunny day; I saw it cloudy. The silence was too loud inside my head. The stillness, a cloak for the raging waters of my soul. I glanced outside my window. The trees moved to the gentle breeze as a dance of death began inside my head. I could hear the deaf sound of loneliness; it had become my lullaby. Isolation became the clothes I wore daily. I searched the empty corridors of my heart over and over; I found nothing. It had morphed into an empty shell of despair, a chamber of hollow beats. There, I found nothing that would justify the next heartbeat.

A chilling breeze danced nearby; Death awaited. I could feel her mutable presence begging me to speed up the process. I was ready. How did it get to this moment? Did it matter? I didn’t require an answer. An answer made things complex. I heard the doorbell. I ignored it. It rang a second time, and a third, until it became noise. I placed the gun next to an empty picture frame. Somehow, I never got to place a picture in it. I counted twelve steps to the door. I opened it. I didn’t bother to bolt it anymore. I had no cares. I forced a smile. It almost hurt at the corners of my mouth. No one was at the other side to return my crooked smile. I looked around; no one was there. I stepped out on the front porch. No one was there.

I saw a splash of red fluttering to my left. A cardinal perched on the Forsythia bush surely made a nice contrast to the bright yellow buds. How did I never noticed that before? Something scurried up the old cedar tree. It was a squirrel, then came another, and they chased each other up and down the old cedar.

“That old cedar must have seen so much,” I mumbled.

I sat on the front steps. A crow marched unpretentiously on the horizon. It almost shimmered as the sun hit its feathers. I felt the warmth of the sun on my skin. How long had it been? A busy party of little brown birds scattered throughout the ground looking for food. A reddish wasp rested atop a chair, as if thawing from a frost or waking from a dream, its wings resting downward. The sun’s warmth felt good on my skin. Everywhere I looked I saw signs of life. Life was everywhere; I could see it if I cared to see it. I felt something fuzzy rubbing my leg in a rhythm.

“Where did you come from, lil’ fellow?”

The disheveled black kitten was skin and bones; I could count its ribs. It kept rubbing against my leg, and I could hear a faint purr becoming louder. It was so tiny. I picked it up and it nuzzled against my arm, then it nestled. I sat out there for a while. The kitten fell asleep in my arms, and I observed the rhythm of life around me.

“What am I going to do with you lil’ fellow? It looks like you will be needing me for a while, at least until you fatten and grow up a bit more.”

The crow restled with a worm until it came out of the ground. The squirrels moved on to another tree.

“What should I name you? Hum, let me think. Aha, you shall be called Rigor, but we’ll leave the mortis out; how is that?”

Rigor became my inseparable friend for the next 15 years. To all, he was a black cat; to me, he was life, and a constant reminder. During that time, I never found out who rang the doorbell.

The Ever Presence of God

Today, I sat to write a blog post. I stared at the wall. Nothing came to mind right away. It felt as if the inkwell was dry. I thought about writing as a topic, maybe a secondary theme in my novels; the inspiration eluded me. Only one single thought kept crossing my mind over and over, a sort of phrase – the ever presence of God. After I dismissed it a couple of times, I went back to writing as a topic, and then, I surrendered to this phrase and decided to go with it wherever it took me.

Sometimes, we feel alone, lost, and the disappointments in life have piled up on top of one another forming a huge mountain, unsurmountable, at least to our human eyes – the mount of “if and nevers.” It starts eating away your thoughts, your inspiration, your confidence, your happiness, your trust. Then, you feel removed from purpose, far away from your Creator, unable to hear or feel the divine presence.

I looked up the word ever. Ever – At all times. At any time. In any way or case; at all. (American Heritage Dictionary) Then, I understood. The ever presence of God is constant, at all times, at any time, in any way or case; at all.

It is good to know this. It is a good reminder. It is of comfort to know this. The ever presence of God is. Whether we feel alone or far away. It just is, and ever present. Today, I sat to write a blog post. The ever presence of God was there.

Turmoil

Turmoil – Great confusion; extreme agitation. (American Heritage Dictionary)

 

Sometimes, it takes turmoil in life to be able to live as intended. It takes confusion and agitation to wake up a soul, to appreciate the little things and to understand what is meaningful in life. To slow down to the speed of now, and realize that now is all there is. To understand the fragility of everything else and its immensity, as well as its simplicity. To understand divine connection between all and between one moment and the next.

Sometimes, it takes turmoil to shake us to the core so we can center our being once more. So we can forget about purpose and become purpose, so we can indulge in being for the sake of being, and listen to the poem of life whispering its verses as we are and we become.

Sometimes it takes turmoil to realize that divinity is just a veil away, and that veil is always wrapped around us, and within us. Sometimes turmoil is all it takes.

Sanctum

SanctumA sacred or holy place. A private room or study. (American Heritage Dictionary)

As writers, we tend to be protective of our space, our writing space and writing time. We view interruptions as muse killings. We need our focus and total concentration on the piece at hand. Our space, whether a corner, office or other, is our sanctum. It is where we retire to create.

There is another type of sanctum, an emotional and psychological one, where we retire to recharge or survive when things are not going as expected or life brings on a new challenge. It is in that very private space in the heart and mind that we thrive, and because of it, we are able to come back, stronger and wiser.

Every person has a sanctum and the ability to access it depends in part of our vision of the now (the present events), and our vision of the future. Our vision is important, especially in times of duress and calamity, because from it depends if we have the courage to open the door to our sanctum. Opening that door means safety, in a way, and also that we give ourselves permission to rest before we fight back with all our strength and wisdom. Instead of hiding in plain view, we retreat to become stronger, wiser; we enter the safety and warmth of our holy place, our private space, in order to survive, be, and become.