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