Thursday, December 31, 2015

Resolutions and Reflections

“What the New Year Brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year”- Vern McLellan

Well, it’s the end of another year and soon the beginning of a new year. And you know what that means? Time to create a New Years Resolution which will be in effect for maybe the first few months or weeks or days…

We all do this, don’t we? We create lists of promises to do healthier things or be better people or something to benefit ourselves or other people, but somehow, they fly into the past of our other promises and we give up on them over time.

Why do we do this? To that question, I do not know the answer to, but I do have a suggestion for everyone who struggles with keeping their New Years Resolutions: Don’t make them.

Well, at least don’t make a New Years Resolution. I mean, it’s a nice tradition of making promises for a new year, but to me, it seems way too unrealistic. And worse, it creates this imaginary barrier in our minds that states, “Well, if I stop trying to work on what I wanted too early, I can just stop and try again next New Years”.

My question to you is…why wait? Instead of making a new years resolution, why not make a daily resolution? Each day, you make short term goals instead of a long term yearly goal.

For example, I hear from almost everyone that their New Years Resolution is going to be, “I’m going to be a better person”. Well, why not have that be a resolution when you wake up every morning instead of once at New Years? I guarantee that if your resolutions transitioned from being a yearly task to being a daily task in your life, they would be much more effective and helpful.

Now as for me, I’m not going to make a list of things I want to do better for next year. I’m going to start following my own advice and after each morning, I’m going to write down five simple tasks that I want to accomplish for the day. And each day, I will continue to make more simple tasks that will benefit me, benefit others, and maybe even benefit the Divine as well.

Every day is a new opportunity for positivity. So let us not wait every year to begin the opportunity. Let us start now.

But…since it is almost the end of the Year 2015, I do feel called to look back on all the events that I had encountered this year. And as I go through my events, I invite you to reflect and even share your own 2015 journey and how you got to the place that you are standing (or sitting) right now.

Looking back on my 2015, it is almost strange to see just how different my life was at the beginning of the year to where I am with my life now.

I was finishing up my final semester at Barton College. I had five classes: American Decade (1960s), World War II, Religion and Self, Health Healing and Religion, and Senior Seminar. These were some of my favorite classes that I took during my time at Barton, so not only did I get to take awesome classes for my final semester, but I also was able to finish with all As.

I was also working as the Ministry Intern at St. Paul’s Christian Church, which I started in August 2014. The interesting part was for the first three months, I was not only the Ministry Intern, but took on more responsibilities at the church when Diane Faires, the associate minister, went on her sabbatical. During that time, I lead the Chi-Rho and CYF youth groups, organized the mission trip for the summer, took on Sunday worship roles like communion, pastoral prayer, and even preaching. Once Diane returned in April, I was extremely relieved that she was back! Mostly because having Diane around makes everything so much better. But during the months that she was gone, I had a much clearer look on what it means to be a minister (from the practical viewpoint mostly) and though my preferred ministry career choice would be to not work in a church setting, I gained enough knowledge and observation that I would be able to manage working in a church setting if God leads me to that specific profession.

Speaking of preaching, I not only had a chance to preach at St. Paul’s in March and later in August, but I also had the opportunity at one of Barton’s Tuesday Worship services, and my home church, Wake Forest Christian Church. Through these opportunities, I grew to appreciate the power and task of preaching to a congregation and though it is still not my favorite thing to do, I learned that it is not a bad thing and can be even fun sometimes.

It’s also strange to think that my final moments as the College Delegate of RCYW were this year at the CYF Midwinter retreat. RCYW was one of the highlights of my college career, but it came the time to pass the torch to new future leaders. I have high hopes for the future of RCYW and I am proud to have served such a wonderful ministry for the CYF in North Carolina.

Along with these events, I also got to experience several adventures at the beginning of the year as well. I volunteered for my first Chi-Rho retreat at Camp Caroline. I participated in the College Retreat at Camp Caroline. My best friend, Mary, and I traveled to Black Mountain for Spring Break and even got to hike up under a waterfall! Mary and I also went to our first Gay Pride Festival in downtown Raleigh! And finally, I got to see several of my friends and family graduate from either college or high school: Matthew Friedley from Gilford Tech, John Friedley from Franklin Academy High School, and Jacob Fonner (my cousin) from Washington High School.

I guess, I also can’t omit that this year was also the year I graduate from Barton College. It feels strange to be a college graduate, but it is real nonetheless. I am proud of my hard work at Barton, achieving Magna Cume Lade, and earning my Bachelors of Arts in Religious Studies and History. I still have a lot of learning to do and a lot more challenges up ahead, but this one victory I will never forget.

And then came the summer adventures!

For the first time since being at Barton, I was not working over the summer at a camp ground. However, that didn’t stop me from being a volunteer at several camps throughout the summer.

At the beginning of the summer, I journeyed to Camp Caroline to work on the Prayer Labyrinth with the camp manager Casey Perry. Though the Labyrinth needs regular touch ups, it still was awesome to get the Labyrinth ready for summer use.

A week later, I traveled to the mountains of North Carolina and volunteered for Camp Sunshine I. The week was stressful, especially since I was the only male volunteer and I had to watch over two cabins, but it was still an enjoyable week nonetheless.

Another week had passed and before I knew it, I was back at Camp Caroline getting ready to volunteer for an awesome week of CYF Conference! The camp was so much fun to work with and the theme about learning other religions and being good neighbors to everyone was too perfect for words! Thanks to Diane Faries and Mallory Magelli for creating such a wonderful week!

And right afterwards, I got to experience another awesome week of CYF Conference at Christmount. Though the great Jamie Brame was unable to do many of his “Bramy” things for the week, it was still a great camp nonetheless and all the campers had a wonderful time, which makes me happy. And the best part was getting to lead a small group together with my best friend, Mary!

Before I knew it, I was traveling back up to Christmount for another week of Camp Sunshine. But this time, I wasn’t traveling alone. I led a Mission Trip with St. Paul’s youth to volunteer for Camp Sunshine. Diane, Hannah, James, and I were the adults and the youth included Zach, Jordon, Jackson, Nap, and Karyn. At first, I wondered if everyone would get something out of the trip and have a good time and thankfully, everyone said they had such a wonderful time! I even was told that a few of them wanted to do it again, which is always something you want to hear your youth say about a mission trip! Overall, a great week and a successful mission trip.

Right after the mission trip, I was once again back at Camp Caroline but only for a day. I traveled to see my friend Mallory be ordained by the North Carolina region of the Disciples of Christ Church. It was the first time I ever saw anyone being ordained and it was such a lovely event and I could not be more proud of Mallory for all her hard work and the future ministry she is going to do in her life!

For several weeks, I relaxed after traveling so much, but for the last time, I traveled back down to Camp Caroline only this time, to work as a staffer. Casey needed an extra hand for the week and was offering to pay me a week’s salary so I told him that I would take the job for the week. My job was almost exactly the same as the previous year (I worked at Camp Caroline in 2014), but I will say that Casey’s management skills and leadership made my experience that one week become so awesome! He is doing such incredible work and ministry at Camp Caroline and they could not be more blessed to have him! I am glad to have worked under him (even for only a week) and even more blessed to have him as a friend.

Immediately afterwards, I traveled all the way up to Washington PA to visit family for a week. It was going to be the last time I see them before moving down to Texas for graduate school. During this time, I took a day to just travel to different parts of the town that held a lot of old memories for me. I saw my Elementary school, my old trailer, my aunt’s old apartment, the park that we used to have Fourth of July picnics at, and many other places. So many memories filled my mind on that journey. It was nice to walk down memory lane, but soon it was going to be time to walk up the path that is called, my future.

After getting all my things packed, after seeing friends and family, it was time for me to begin my trip down to Fort Worth Texas to begin my new education career at Brite Divinity School. The journey was long…I mean SO long! But eventually I got to Fort Worth and moved into my apartment the next day.

The first few months were the most difficult. I was alone. I had no family or friends for a while and I was in a completely new setting. I fell into a very depressed state for a long time, but thankfully I had gotten help from several areas:

I began to attend Zen Meditations that were offered on Mondays and Thursdays. I was able to make friends at Seminary and was even included into their, “Squad”. And I even began to see a counselor every two weeks, which was one of the best decisions I could make for myself at the time.

I also had new adventures while in Texas:

Of course, my first semester at Brite Divinity was itself an adventure. I took four classes: New Testament, Theology I, History II, and Congregational Leadership. Each class was tough and challenging in a different way, but also extremely informative and made me think about myself and future ministry, which is very helpful.

I participated in another Gay Pride Parade in Fort Worth and even got to stand with my fellow Brite Students against the protestors that continuously preached hate and rejection.

I volunteered for the CYF and Chi-Rho retreats at the Southwest regional camp: Disciples Crossing.

Took a trip to have Thanksgiving with such a wonderful and incredible friend and her family.

And now, I’m back in North Carolina, visiting family and friends again and getting ready for 2016 to begin.

So that is my 2015 journey and reflections. Now it is your turn to reflect back on your 2015 journey and how much things have changed since January 1 to December 31.

But always remember…You are Awesome! You are Amazing! You are Loved!

May you continue to be loved and experience that love with your entire Ruah for the next year and more!


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

As a Mother Comforts Her Child

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you”- Isaiah 66:13

I was assigned in my Introduction to Theology class to write a theological proposal about God’s Love. The assignment, though simple, required a lot of reflection on my part.

I mean, we talk about God’s love all the time. “God loves us so much…” and fill in the rest. Just think about the song, “How He loves” by David Chowder Band and other mainline Christian songs and you will see the theme of God’s love everywhere.

But what does it really mean for God to really love us? What does that love look like?

In the course of writing my paper, I came to two conclusions:

First, in total honesty, we can never really know what God’s love looks like. To say that we, as human beings, can totally understand the nature and love of God is indirectly limiting God. God’s nature and love is so vast and so deep that it is impossible to truly comprehend its wonder.

However, humans can come close to having an idea what God’s love looks like and this was my second conclusion.

The best way that people can come close to understanding the love of God is by watching a mother with her child.

When a mother delivers her child into the world, she is creating life for that child and throughout that child’s life, she protects the child, she nurtures the child, she loves the child without any conditions.

God does the same with us. God created not only the world, but everyone in the world. God nurtures us to go through the trials of life, but also protects us as well. God loves us like a mother.

Perhaps this is why Jesus did not come to this world from the skies or from the Heavens directly, but through the love of his mother, Mary?

While writing my paper on God’s love being close to a mother’s love, I discovered there were a few implications to my conclusions:

If God’s love is like a mother’s love, wouldn’t that make the image of God motherly? Yes…and No.

Typically, the image of God for most Christians is that of a man or that of a Father. However, I feel that God by assigning a specific gender on God, we are still limiting God to a human image. We do this so we can understand God better, but in the process, we block out all other possible images that God is and/or could be.

The majority of biblical scriptures do portray God as male. However, there are also several biblical scriptures that portray God as female. In the Hebrew language, there is a word named “Raham”. The word has two meaning.

The first is Compassionate. Most Christians would agree that God is a compassionate God. However, the word also means Womb. So if God is compassionate, yet womb-like, wouldn’t this give God a more feminine image as well?

Also, at the end of the book of Isaiah, Isaiah is comforting the people and trying to give them hope for a future. One phrase that he says, from God, states, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (66:13)

Thus it is possible for God to have a masculine and feminine qualities and it is also possible that God is beyond both of these qualities. Thus, we must be open to all the different ways that God can reach us and see God is more than one light.

The other implication is that of how do we receive God’s love. Does everyone get to have God’s love or are there certain conditions in order to receive the love of God?

I have found that many people are comfortable with saying that in order to receive God’s love, you must repent. You must stop sinning or else you will be thrown into Hell….really?

Would an all loving God throw God’s children into hell just because they sinned or didn’t repent or even if they didn’t believe? I don’t believe so. Believing in a God that has conditional love seems to me that again, we are limiting the true and all loving nature of God.

Again, look at a loving mother. When a child is born into this world, a mother does not require anything from that child. A mother doesn’t say, “You can only receive my love if you believe in me, don’t cry, and don’t do anything sinful”. A mother loves the child, no matter what without any conditions. If a mother can love her child without any conditions, then how can we say that God has conditional love? Again, we are limiting and even lowering the love of God.

It does state several times in the bible that forgiveness is important from God. However, why is it important? Does God really need our forgiveness? I don’t think so.

The act of forgiveness has nothing to do with receiving an apology. An apology is not necessary in order to forgive someone. A person who forgives, forgives not because the person who harmed them deserves the forgiveness, but because the person who forgives deserves peace.

My Grandmother used to tell me that she would forgive my Pappap every single day. My Grandmother and Pappap lived in the same house, even after they divorced. My Pappap had his negative qualities, including being rude, crude, and sometimes just down right mean to other people. My Grandmother was the opposite. She was always kind, compassionate, completely caring, but my Grandmother was also a tough woman as well and did not take crap from anyone. She had a lot of righteous anger at my Pappap, but instead, she forgave him, every single day. My Pappap never apologized for his actions to her. He never even changed his behavior. But still, my Grandma would forgive him every day, not because my Pappap deserved forgiveness, but because my Grandma chose the path to peace.

To say that God needs our repentance in order to receive God’s love has the whole equation backwards. God wants us to forgive ourselves and bring back peace into our lives. God is the definition of peace and love, because God forgives us all the time. God lives in the realm of peace instead of wraith and anger. God wants us to live in this realm of peace as well so that is why forgiveness is so important to God.

In regards to the proposed condition that, “We must believe in God in order to receive God’s love” is also incorrect in my belief. This condition implies that God must be known or recognized in order to receive God’s love. I will admit, it is very difficult to feel or see God’s love, but that does not mean that the love of God is still not present.

Take a look at the biblical story of the Prophet Moses’ birth. During those days in Egypt, baby boys were taken from their mothers and killed in order to keep the population down of the Hebrews. Moses’ mother could not allow that to happen to her child. So she did the only possible thing she could do in order to protect her child. She placed Moses in a basket and placed him in the Nile river. Moses would then be found by Pharaoh’s daughter and he would be raised in Pharaoh’s house, separate from his Hebrew family. Now, Moses’ mother did not just stop loving her child once her child was gone. Moses’ mother loved him for her entire life, even when Moses’ was not even aware of her existence.

We do not need to acknowledge God’s existence in order to receive God’s love. When we do acknowledge it, it is seen as a blessing, but not a requirement. God does not require anything from us in order to feel loved. Just like a mother does not require anything in order to love her child.

God’s love reflects that of a mother’s love and yet is far greater than we can ever imagine. So, if you have believed that you need to repent for your actions or have faith in God in order to have God’s love, I want to give you encouragement that you have already received God’s love.

God’s love cannot be stopped and it cannot be taken away. God’s love is given freely to everyone, even those that may not want it or feel like they deserve it.

You are loved, completely, totally, and forever.

Always remember, As a mother comforts and loves her child, so will God comfort and love you.

May you all have a Blessed and Loved Filled Mother's Day and may you embrace the Love of God with your Entire Ruah!


Friday, November 20, 2015

Why Love Our Ruah?

“While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation”- Maya Angelou

It recently occurred to me that perhaps my first blog post should have explained the significance of loving one’s Ruah and what the purpose of my blog will be.

Immediately after my first post was written, I had many people ask, “What is Ruah?”

In short, Ruah is a Hebrew word that has multiple meanings in English.

The first translation of Ruah is Breath.

So why should we love our breath?

I would counter, why shouldn’t we love our breath? Our breath is essentially our life and who we are. Without our breath, we wouldn’t have life. We wouldn’t have our identity. Our breath is so important.

And loving our breath is even more important. When we don’t love our breath, we are not loving ourselves. We do not love the life that we have. I have mentioned in previous posts the importance of practicing self-care and self-love and how I have struggled with this concept for so long. Loving ourselves, the identity that we have the share, is not a bad thing. It’s actually extremely healthy. When we love ourselves and the instrument that gives us life (our breath), the quality of our lives improves. We can appreciate the gifts that we have and learn from the mistakes that we make. We recognize that we are not perfect and that is okay. We recognize that we have love and can share that love with other people.

So how can we start loving ourselves? Start by recognizing your breath.

When was the last time that you noticed your breath? Throughout the day, especially on a busy day, we tend to not even recognize that we are breathing. Of course, we know that we are breathing because if we didn’t, we would be dead. But how many times do we actually stop and think about each and single breath we take?

Recently, I’ve begun to practice Zen meditation at Brite Divinity School. In Zen, your concentration is focused on your breath. You breathe in. You breathe out. For 20 minutes, your breath is everything. The first few times I meditated, I noticed how my thoughts, my anxieties, and my concerns relaxed and flowed out of my mind.

There is a reason why whenever we are angry or upset or anxious that people suggest we “take a deep breath”. There is truth behind this seemingly simple advice. When we breathe, we move our focus away from the negatives that invade our mind and return our focus on loving the life that has been given to us.

Now, there is also a deeper, spiritual level to our Ruah as well.

The second meaning for Ruah is literally Spirit. There are two ways to interpret this word spirit: Either our human spirit or the holy spirit aka God.

In my personal understanding of Ruah, I would say that the spiritual dimension of Ruah is a combination of our physical breath, our human spirit, and God.

So…would this mean that when we breathe, are we breathing God? Is God present every time we take a physical breath? Is God in relationship with our human spirit by taking the form of our breath?

There are many people that I have talked to that are very comfortable with a God that is separate from our lives. A God that resides in heaven and looks down on us on earth. And whenever we need our God, in times of trouble or pain or suffering, all we must do is pray and hope God will answer those prayers.

Many other people would expand this by saying that God is present in our lives, such as in the middle of our church services every Sunday. However, if God can be present with us during times of worship, then why can’t God be present the rest of the time in our lives?

I find this concept of God to be troubling. It almost seems as if God is being limited to some sort of Genie or Santa figure that only has the purpose of serving our needs and that is it.

So I want you to imagine this: What would it look like if God was always present in everything we do in our lives?

A simple trip to the grocery store? God is there.

Spending time with someone you deeply care about? God is there.

Driving several hours and getting frustrated with all the other drivers around you? God is there.

Everywhere we go and everything we do, God is present.

Now, how would your life change when you become aware that God is not just present when we want God to be present, but present all the time?

This is why loving our Ruah is so important!

When we love our Ruah, we love the human spirit, the very breath that God gave us. We begin taking care of ourselves.

When we love our Ruah, we love God. We love the God that is present throughout our entire life and are in a constant relationship with God.

And when we love our Ruah, we love the breaths and the presences of God in other people.

As Maya Angelou once said, while we are creations of God, everyone and everything else is also God’s creation. We all share the same breath. We all contain the spirit of God.

Our neighbors are breathing God. Our enemies are breathing God. All the strangers in the world are breathing God.

Perhaps this is why Jesus said, “Whatever you do to your neighbor, you do to me”.

So if you are hateful to someone who has treated you wrongly, are you also hating God?

If you judge someone for being homeless instead of taking the time to know that person, are you at the same time judging God?

If a refugee from another country begs to seek refuge in your home and you refuse, are you also rejecting God?

There is this Hindu phrase that reminds me that God is present in all of us. It is called “Namaste”. And in my opinion, the best definition to this greeting is, “The Divine in me loves and recognizes the Divine in you”.

It is my hope that if everyone in the world saw God in all people; the world would begin to heal and be at peace.

So I invite you to begin the process of loving our Ruah.

Love the very life that we breathe. Love the God that resides in you. And Love the God that resides in everyone else.

Much Love, Peace, and Namaste, 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Days of Remembrance

November 3rd. A day that continues to haunt me. A day I can’t forget. A day I will never forget.

I’m almost certain that we all have at least one day in the year that we just can’t erase from our memories. That one day that gives us just a little more pain, a little more heartache.

As a nation, this day would be 9/11. Almost everyone that I speak to about this subject has a vivid recollection of what they did that day. Even people who were nowhere near New York City seem to remember that day. This includes even me and I was just in the 3rd grade.

However, not all days are shared across the nation. On an individualized level, we all have that one day that is very personal to us and reminds us of all the pain and grief that is always present in our heart.

This pain can take many forms: Loss, Separation, Impossible Life Choices, Death.

And sadly, no matter how long it was since that day occurred, it somehow never leaves our memories nor our hearts.

For me, that day will always be November 3rd, 2011. The day my mother passed away.

2011 was not a good year. A lot of change happened within that year. The biggest change was my transition from High School to College. During these times of transitions, it helps when you have a support system to keep you grounded. Throughout my life, my support system has always been my mother.

There has never been a time in my life that my mom did not support me or aid me in my life. When I was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2, she worked hard to make sure that I still got the best education I could get. She fought with difficult teachers who wanted to go against my IEP in school. She helped me understand my homework. She supported me when I had difficulty socializing but still gradually aided me into coming out of my turtle shell. She took me to a loving and supportive church that became my extended family for many years. She showed me what it means to love someone like a neighbor and how to stay true to yourself. There are so many life lessons, so many memories about my mom that to list them all could take forever. Overall, my mother was a great woman.  

If it weren’t for my mom’s support, I would be a completely different person today.

After a few weeks of being in a new environment, a new educational system, a completely new way of life, I discovered the awful truth that began the process of what I call the worst few months of my life: My mother had stage four cancer.

For the next two months, all I could do was my school work. It was the only thing that I knew to do and the only thing that helped me to forget my pain. I was thankful that I never had Tuesday and Thursday class so I was able to drive every other day to the Hospital to see my mom as much as I could. Seeing her alive gave me joy. Seeing her in the hospital though brought me back into reality and made me question, “How much longer do I have?”

Several weeks passed and one Sunday I was riding back from a College Retreat in the mountains. I got a call from my family that I need to come back to Raleigh immediately. My friend Allison Lanza drove as fast as she could from Black Mountain to Raleigh. I was terrified that I was never going to see my mom alive again. The good news was she was still alive…the bad news was that she was given one to two more weeks to live. I wanted my mom to fight. I wanted her to get a second opinion or transfer to a better hospital to receive greater care. But my mom was done. All she wanted was to go home.

Waiting was hard and not knowing was even harder. But finally the day came. November 3.

Aside from my mother’s condition, it was ironically a joyous day. My sister and her husband were getting married, which was something my mother wanted to see before she passed away. We had a small ceremony at our house and my mom was finally able to give her daughter away to her husband. While my Grandma stayed with my Mom, the rest of us went to the church where the official wedding occurred. Before we left, I kissed my mom and told her I love her. She replied, “I love you too”.

Seeing my mom weak and tired always made my spirit depressed. But surprisingly, I was having a good time at the Wedding and reception afterwards. I got to spend time with my friends, my church family, and my biological family. Somehow, I managed to forget all my struggles and just enjoy the moment with everyone.

But the day was not over. When we returned, my grandma was still beside my mom in her bedroom. As one of the oldest cousins, I decided to play a board game with my three younger cousins so they would be entertained. In the midst of the game, my father walked into my room and said the words I had been dreading since I first found out my mom had cancer. “Kevin, Mom is gone”.

Nothing. All emotions stopped. Time itself stopped. My surroundings were a complete blur. I knew the entire house was in the midst of grief, but I literally stopped feeling anything. Somehow, my body rose and followed everyone into my mother’s bedroom.

I saw my mother’s body. The image haunts me to this day. I didn’t stay long and I walked into the living room, still feeling numb. My Aunt came to me and wanted to pray with me. She prayed, I simply stood, thoughtless.

Eventually, I walked to the outside porch and just sat on the bench. In the course of several hours in the middle of the night, many family members came out to see me, to check up on me. They held my hand and cried in front of me. I simply ignored them. I didn’t acknowledge their presence. I didn’t even want them around. I wanted nobody around. I didn’t even want God near me. In fact, that night was the first time I ever turned my back on God.

Not only was I numb emotionally and mentally, but physically my body was still cold because of the weather outside. But I didn’t care. I was not moving. My minister at the time, Jamie Eubanks, came out and tried to get me to come back in, fearing I was going to freeze to death. I fought with him. I told him, I could not go back into the house with my mother still in there. He explained that Hospice care took my mother’s body away and somehow that helped, because before I knew it, I was back inside. The last thing I remember was lying down in a solitary corner in the house and eventually falling asleep from emotional exhaustion.

So now, every November 3rd, I remember these events. I remember the emotions, the pain, my mother’s face…and I grieve all over again. It’s been 5 years and I still grieve and the hard part is that I know I am going to be grieving for the rest of my life.

Yet somehow, despite all the pain and suffering that I experience from my mother’s loss, in the end, I know I am going to be okay. My mother knew I was going to be okay and would remind me that I was going to continue and that I was going to succeed and do good things in the world. Even in the midst of death, my Mother was a strong person and her words provide me comfort that I am going to be okay.

And I want to let you know, that you will be okay too. I want to express how deeply sorry I am for your pain, your loss and help you to realize that you are going to be okay.

It’s hard when we are in the midst of our grief to remember that life goes on. It’s hard to remember all the good things, all the blessings that are still in our lives.

We all have these days when our past comes back to haunt us and we become entrapped in the grief that suffocates our souls. And even though things will never be the same as they were before, I do believe that we have a choice.

We can choose to let these days beat us, by giving up on happiness and joy and instead allow our grief to become our entire world.

Or we can continue our lives, live the best we can and know that even though our pain will always be with us, it does not control our lives.

After my Mom’s funeral, I made many choices that I do not regret: I continued to do the best I could in school and graduated with honors. I did not give up my dreams of becoming a minister even though I walked away from God on that night five years ago. I did not hold on to bitterness and hate, but instead transformed my pain to see the suffering of others and support them to the best of my ability.

It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to get angry. It’s okay to feel depressed. The pain you are feeling from your loss, it’s okay. You are going to be okay. I love you and even though we come from difficult situations and have different pains, I want you to know that you are going to be okay. You are loved, by me, by your loved ones, and by God and all of us are going to comfort you and love you and help you to realize that you are going to be okay.

I think Rev. Rob Bell said it best in his video called “Matthew”.

“May you realize that God is sitting shivah with you, fully present, grieving your loss, but also restoring. And in that, may we find hope”.


In Memory of Doreen Toth
Loving Mother, Daughter, Sister, Wife, Aunt, and Friend

Friday, October 23, 2015

Washing Our Dishes

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing?”- Edmund Burke

This quotation has always moved my spirit in many ways. As a person who has a trouble with conflict situations, I remember this quote and it reminds me that doing nothing is still an action, but it’s an action that allows bad things to happen.

However, for the longest time, I have always looked at this quote and believed that its message is for us to stand up for the oppressed. It calls us to participate in social justice and not be silent when we have the chance to do some good. I do not believe that this is the only message that can be interpreted from this quote.

I believe that Edmund Burke intended this statement to be a way for us to think about our actions when we are in the face of evil. However, when you think of evil, what are your first thoughts?

Oppression, Hatred, Apathy, Violence, Murder. I’m sure the list can go on and on.

Now where does this evil come from? That is a complicated question and many theologians and religious teachings have wrestled with the source of evil in our world. For the most part, when we think of evil, our first thought immediately comes from some outside source.

This outside source can take many forms: other people who perform evil things, or some evil being (e.g. devil) outside of this world. In this perspective, something is bringing evil into the world and if we do nothing, we allow evil to not only continue, but to get larger and larger.

However, there is also an inside source of evil. And it lives inside of you and me.

Think about it. How many times have you put yourself down, told yourself how worthless you are, or how you don’t matter or that you don’t deserve happiness? These are only a few negative statements that originate within our own thoughts.

These thoughts come from an evil source that lives inside of us. Oppression, Hatred, Apathy, Violence, and Murder are not acts of evil that can only happen from outside sources. I know so many people who oppress themselves, who hate themselves, who don’t care about themselves, who hurt themselves and who even kill themselves, emotionally and even physically.

It breaks my heart when I meet a beautiful soul who commits harmful acts on him and herself. And I know it breaks many of my friends and family member’s hearts when they hear about how I commit harmful acts against myself. There are many days that I tell myself that I hate myself. I oppress myself in many ways: I don’t think I am worthy of social interaction or finding love so I hide myself away. I call myself negative names and these negative names warp my identity from a beautiful creature into a hideous monster.

And the sad truth is that I am not alone. In different and similar ways, we all struggle to love our true selves and give into the voices that constantly bring us down.

But remember, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good [people] to do nothing?”

If we allow these voices to reign in our minds; if we do nothing to help ourselves, the evil in our minds continues and will lead to negative and unhealthy actions.

But how do we act within our own minds? How do we remove these thoughts from our minds? This has always been a struggle for me and the unfortunate truth is that these voices never truly go away forever.

A comparison model that I like to use for this topic is washing the dishes (or doing any cleaning activity). Think of yourself as a single plate dish. At the beginning of creation, a dish is clean, just like we are at birth. But the plate never stays clean. It gets used and it continues to accumulate more and more food. Eventually, the plate needs to be cleaned. But after the plate is cleaned, the plate never remains clean. The plate is used again and needs to be cleaned again. It’s an unending cycle of cleaning. But it is necessary.

It’s the same with us. The negative thoughts in our minds are not purged from our minds once. It is a continuous life process to heal our minds from the negative thoughts that seek to control our lives. And there are many techniques to clean our dishes.

The best technique I am learning is to begin the process of loving who you are as a person. If you do not find yourself worthy, then cleaning our dishes becomes so much harder to do.

For those who struggle to love your true, beautiful selves, here are some ideas:
-Every morning, face yourself in the mirror. Tell yourself that you are beautiful, you are worthy, and you are a blessing. The more times that you do this and repeat it, the more easier it gets to believe.
-Add notes around your living space that affirm who you are so you have a constant reminder.

It’s also important that you realize that you are worthy enough to get help. Shame is a terrible curse to bear especially when you have been living with a dirty dish for a long time.

But I assure you that you have someone, at least one person, in your life who loves you so much that they want to help you. And there are even strangers out there who want to help you just as much.

Almost two months ago, I realized that I had a lot of dirty dishes in my sink. I was depressed, I was still grieving, I was alone in a new place, and I listening to the voices inside of me telling me that I was worthless. Eventually, I knew I had to clean my dishes so I decided to see a counselor.

I was ashamed at first and so embarrassed to step foot into the Counseling Center. But I found courage. I decided that I was not going to do nothing anymore and since that first meeting, I have felt a lot better about myself.

I know my dishes will continue to get dirty. I know that I will still have to live with the negative voices in my head and struggle with the daily challenges that are in our lives. But after cleaning my first dish, I began the habit of cleaning my dishes on a regular basis. Learning how to clean our dishes will make the trials and pains of our life so much easier to manage.

So this is my invitation to you. I invite you to learn what is on your plate. What do you need to do in order to begin the process of removing what’s on your plate? And who do you need to talk to in order to not feel ashamed, but happy and glad that you are the best person you can be and that is all that matters.

Don’t be afraid to do nothing and let the evil voice in your mind continue.

As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. The first step to change begins with you.

I love you for who you are and May you embrace who you are with your entire Ruah!


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Embracing Your Story

“The world is made up of stories- not atoms”- Muriel Rukeyser

One day, I was discussing the art of story telling with my spiritual adviser. And after our discussion, I came to the conclusion that he is one of the best story tellers that I know.  And he is a great story teller for many reasons: he gives great details, he express emotion, and makes the audience interested in every word. However, the reason he is one of the best story tellers is not because of how he tells his stories, but because the majority of the stories he tells are his own.

How many stories can you name off the top of your head? Two, Five, Ten? How well do you know them and can retell them to other people?

Now how many of those stories are your own? And are you proud of the stories that belong to you?

Another way to ask this question is, “Do you know who you are?”

I have observed that so much of our pain can originate with the inability to not answer this question. And I often wonder why some of us have such difficulty with this question. 

Perhaps, in the process of searching for our story, we allow someone else to tell it instead?

How many of you rely on someone else to tell you who you are instead of taking the time to reflect and answer the question yourself?

I am guilty of this dilemma all the time. And while it is alright for people to comment and make observations of their interpretation of your identity, accepting their interpretation as the whole truth can be very problematic.

I have the same view with religious teachings. According to Charles Kimball in “When Religion Becomes Evil” when a religious teaching, primarily an absolute truth claim to a religious teaching (the first warning sign), is not questioned then that creates blind followers to the teaching (which is the second warning sign). Asking questions is a huge part in our self-reflection process. 

If we do not take the time to reflect on our own stories, then our stories become lost to the interpretations of other people who believe they know our stories but in reality, they don’t. Only you know your whole story and can tell it in the best way. 

But what if our stories are not worth anything? What if we believe that the stories we have should not be expressed for others to hear? It breaks my heart to hear someone say that their story is not worth telling. However, truth be told, I have also fallen into this belief as well.

How do you know when this has happened to you? Take a moment to reflect on how many times you wish you were like someone else or looked like someone else instead of accepting how you look and act as worthy enough.

Envy is such a terrible trap to fall in and even those with the utmost confidence in his or her story can become enslaved to it. Throughout my life, I have fallen and become stuck into the trap known as jealously.

A prime example was when I worked on the Christmount Camp Staff in 2012. During the summer, I worked with four other college students and each of us has a very different story that we brought to the summer. One of my co-workers was an extremely popular guy with all the kids and the rest of the staff. He was fun, he was exciting, he was full of so much energy, and was a joy to be around. And as much as I absolutely loved working with him, I was also jealous of him. And the root of my jealously was that I wanted to be like him. I wanted to have his story instead of mine.

And it’s especially worse when you noticed that everyone else wants to hear that person’s story instead of your own. If no one else wants to hear your story, then why do you want to listen to your own? Why keep your own story?

But then, why do we want approval on our stories? Is a story good because of how many people enjoy the story? I don't believe so. While my co-worker's story is one that a large amount of people enjoy to hear, my own story should not be forgotten either. And though I am in the process of learning how to tell my story, I learned a great lesson from my co-worker: Never be ashamed of the story you have, because it is what makes you you and there is nothing greater than that!

You are you. You have an identity. You have a history. You have a name. You have a story. And I assure you that no matter what your past. No matter how different you are from the crowd. No matter how many people want to listen to your story, Your story is unique and you are worthy to share it!

So, I invite you to begin to share your story. I invite you to begin the reflection process of knowing who you are. The true You. Not the you that people interpret your story to be, but the You that loves oneself and does not need approval from anyone else. 

I would love to know your story, so please share your story, big or small, if you so desire! Remember, the universe is full of stories. Don’t allow your story to be silenced or forgotten! Add your story to the world!

For those interested, here is a brief glimpse of my story:
I am an old soul contained in a young form. I have had my struggles, through school, through society, through temptations, through loss and grief. I know I am loved and I intend to share that same love to everyone I meet. I have my mother’s stubborn will and kind heart and for that I am proud. I have a bleeding empathetic heart. And I know I am worthy and so are you!

Be You and Only You and May you embrace You with your entire Ruah!