Tag Archives: spirituality

The slingshot, adultery, and forgiveness

No matter what your religion of choice, you have most likely heard the story of David, the boy who slew the giant Goliath with a slingshot and grew up to ascend the throne of Israel and become its king.

But if that’s all we remember about him, we miss so much of what made this baffled king worthy of the title.

David was no saint. In the Olympics of sinning, he is one of the Bible’s gold medal winners.

God constantly tested David to bring out the best in him. In the process, it also brought out the not-so-best in him. 

David was already king when he faced — and lost — his greatest battle.

He’s the one who inspired Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelujah.” 

His faith was strong but he needed proof
He saw her bathing on the roof

The bathing woman was Bathsheba, and David just had to have her!

But there was one small problem. Bathsheba was married. David, however, wouldn’t let that detail get in the way.

So, he did what was in his power to make the problem go away. He sent Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to the front lines of battle so he would be killed. 

Problem solved.

“But wait,” you say. “I don’t like that David. I prefer the little guy with the slingshot. Why did you bring up that lying, cheating, murderer and ruin the story for me?”

Why?

Because it’s by “ruining” the story that you learn its greatest lesson.

It’s later in the narrative, when David recognizes what he has done, that he becomes an even greater king. 

But the road between recognition and repentance is littered with guilt and regret.

It’s a cold and it’s a very broken Hallelujah

In a secular translation: Recognizing his sin and vowing to never do it again, leads David to the peace and purpose he had been so desperately seeking. 

He must also recognize that God put temptation in his path and allowed him to sin for the very purpose of bringing them closer together.

God does the same for us. She uses our humanity, our flaws, and through the trial by the fire of Her unconditional love, transforms us.


Love is not some kind of victory march; It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

You don’t relate to the God thing?

OK, let me again translate this lesson so you can understand it in a secular context to which you can better relate.

If we never do really, really “bad” things — if we never miss the mark (which, by the way, is what the word “sin” means) — we can never have compassion for those whose humanity leads them to stumble over and over again.

“The Hallelujah, the David’s Hallelujah, was still a religious song,” its composer said. “So I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion.”

I’m not advocating committing a moral misstep so that you get closer to God. But I am suggesting that you shed the sins of your past, and know that it’s by accepting your flaws that you touch the unconditional love of Eternity.

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand right here before the Lord of song
With nothing, nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Give thanks. Embrace your flaws. Rejoice in them. Because it’s only those who are most flawed who can fully open themselves to receive Life’s gifts.

Hallelujah (k.d Lang) – words and music by Leonard Cohen

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That Person …

… who pushes buttons that open the door to the great unknown within you.

That person who leads you to touch the edge of Heaven, then plunges you to the depths of Hell while you’re trying to find your way back to the comfort and safety you once knew.

That person who simultaneously inspires you and strips you of inspiration. 

That person who refuses to see things the way you see them because once she does, you will stop seeking answers to the deeper arguments within.

That person who dangles the keys to both happiness and despair in front of you then snatches back the one you choose, knowing the other one is the better choice.

That person who dismisses you with indifference, then comes back just as you’re ready to give up on the lessons she was brought to teach you.

That person who stirs unimaginable passions within you and shows you that fear is nothing to be afraid of.

That person who understands everything about you but loves to pretend she doesn’t know you at all.

That person who will never meet you in the middle because it’s there that life becomes safe, bland, and meaningless. 

That person who is seeking answers from you as desperately as you are seeking answers from her.

When you find that person, hang on to her (or him) for dear life, because the journey on which she invites you is the magic carpet ride to everything you’ve ever wanted.

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The Beauty of Madness

Photo by Barbara Besteni

The blue and gray digital beauty of “Starry Night” welcomed me into its embrace as the words of Don McClean’s “Vincent,” his anthem to the tortured soul of Vincent Van Gogh, whispered in my ears.

Before me, the walls of the monstrous Miami sound stage that once gave life to the modern-day masterpieces of Miami ViceBad Boys, and countless long-forgotten music videos, displayed the digital renditions of Van Gogh’s masterpieces in a 360-degree canvas that seamlessly dissolved one painting into another.

I wept.

I had not been listening. I had not known how. But I was listening now.

The side trip to Arles

Three years ago, a trip to France took me through the town of Arles, the place that inspired so many of Van Gogh’s paintings, including my all-time favorite, Starry Night. It was the view he saw every night from the window of the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence to which he’d voluntarily committed himself.

At the time of my visit to Arles, I was more interested in continuing on my journey to Barcelona than stopping to explore the trees and daffodils that Van Gogh sketched. But the spirit of my surroundings moved me. I didn’t know why, but something stirred inside my soul and insisted that I write it down to save the memory.

I know better than to question The Muse when She commands, “Write it now!” With nothing else at my disposal, social media and my iPhone would have to do.

I posted a quick Facebook message, quoting McLean’s “Vincent.”

“And when no hope was left inside on that starry, starry night, you took your life as lovers often do.”

Within seconds, a private message from my friend Tara Gilani across the Atlantic startled me.

“You OK? That Vincent post was “funky.” Xo

“I’m in Provence … land of Van Gogh inspiration!” I replied. “I love you for checking in though!!!”

“Hooray!!” she wrote back, after I apologized for my cryptic message. “Enjoy!! Xoxox”

My quick response to Tara’s question, however, did not tell the whole story. There was something about Arles that moved me. But it wasn’t until three years later, at the Ice Palace Studios soundstage in Downtown Miami, that that something became clear.

Beneath the surface of the $100 million ‘pauper’

The legend that surrounds Van Gogh is one of darkness bordering on the edge of insanity … his severed ear, his ultimate suicide … all shrouded in mystery and stories to which layers upon layers of myth have been added so that the truth is no longer recognizable. It’s a historical game of telephone that seems to have no ending.

But what we don’t hear, what Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience captures in such visual eloquence, is the soul of the man who was haunted by a need to serve, accomplish his purpose, and struggled to be understood.

The digital experience inside the soundstage is the main course, but if you rush through the frames with the quotes and paintings that lead up to it, you miss understanding the beauty of the artist responsible for combining the ingredients into a recipe that no other artist has been able to duplicate.

The prelude to the experience itself is the appetizer that gives perspective to the works Van Gogh created. Without that perspective, he is just another painter.

Clinically, Van Gogh was believed to have suffered from epilepsy, acute insanity, and hallucinations. While at the asylum, he was supposedly getting better. But he relapsed, and it eventually led to his suicide.

But what came first? Did the madness inspire his masterpieces? Or was his inability to completely express himself a catalyst to the mental illness that would eventually lead to his suicide? 

If you’re sane enough to question your sanity, to commit yourself to an asylum, could it be your brand of madness is the closest thing to sanity to which you can aspire?

What was guiding this “mad” man to create such timeless works of art that move people in ways that even those who know nothing about him can appreciate?

We can write the tortured, starving artist off and romanticize his plight. But beneath the surface lies a soul struggling to be understood, to celebrate their differences instead of fitting into a status quo.

Van Gogh was not exactly a pauper, but he didn’t have a lot of money while he was alive. 

Starry Night is currently valued at about $100 million.

Perhaps …

I left the Van Gogh Experience a changed woman, one with an appreciation and understanding of those who suffer from mental health issues, issues with which we all struggle in one way or another. 

I also came away wondering if what we call madness is genius in disguise.

As a writer who struggles to get out of the way of inspiration and let the Universe use me as Her messenger, I relate to Van Gogh’s struggles. My demons are by no means as dark as Van Gogh’s, but releasing them through the written word is my therapy of choice. And when I don’t, the darkness returns.

Having those who read what I write learn from what they read — even if they don’t agree with me — is my purpose in life.

Don McLean stated it perfectly in the line that keeps repeating throughout “Vincent”:

Now, I think I know what you tried to say to me
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free

That song, written so many years ago, ends on a less-than-positive note.

They would not listen; they’re not listening still
Perhaps they never will

But perhaps Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience will change that. Perhaps the refrain from earlier in the song will now become reality.

Perhaps they’ll listen now.

I’m listening, Vincent. I’m listening.

——–

“Vincent” words and music by Don McLean

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I Will Miss The Pandemic

Photo by Barbara A. Besteni

Nearly 16 months after it began, the pandemic prompted by COVID-19 shows signs of loosening its grip on what we once called normal and allowing us to return to how we once were.

But do we really want to go back? Do we want to retreat to the comfort of what once was and risk losing the possibilities of what can be?

A pandemic is defined as an “event in which a disease spreads across several countries and affects a large number of people.” Finding a cure for that disease is a noble cause. However, to “cure” a disease by forgetting it existed is to plant the seeds of its return. And once it does, it can be deadlier than it once was.

If we look beneath the surface and consider COVID-19 as a symbolic representation — a metaphor — of the challenge we call life, we find the cure for the virus known as living.

Hidden within the challenge of that virus is the whisper of its cure. But are we disciplined enough to quiet our minds and pay attention to the still, silent voice within that is patiently waiting for us to listen to its cry?

The new normal awaits

Once vaccines became widely available, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lifted the mask mandate for those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, the world moved one very big step closer to “normal.” And while this brought much joy and celebration, it comes with a huge dose of bittersweetness, one that even a spoonful of sugar won’t counteract.

The normal we are now entering is nothing like the normal we once knew. Hopefully, many of the habits we adopted to keep us and our loved ones safe from COVID-19 will stay with us long after herd immunity has been reached.

Regardless of where in the science vs. conspiracy theory side of the aisle your opinion on the virus and the world’s response to it fall, some things should stick around post-pandemic.

Things like:

  • Curbside pickup: Nothing quite compares to dining inside a restaurant, but there’s a lot to be said for popping your car’s trunk and having someone put your meal order inside. Not having to get dressed for the occasion is like eating dessert before dinner.
  • Instacart grocery deliveries: Enough said.
  • Sanitizing surfaces, especially when dining outdoors: You don’t realize how much dirt is still on a table at your favorite restaurant until you’ve wiped it down after your waiter “cleans” it.
  • Making sure our hands are clean: How many times did you sing Happy Birthday during the past 15 months?
  • Working from home: It doesn’t get much better than this.
  • Unexpected visitors during Zoom meetings: Cameos of cats, dogs, and humans in pajamas reminded us that important work meetings lose their importance when the Zoom squares on your screen utter a collective “Awwwwwww!”

These things might stay with us post-pandemic, but unless we remain vigilant, others are in danger of fading into the distance, making us forget the gifts living in quarantine brought us.

The gifts of quarantine

Although living in quarantine had its share of challenges, I chose to look at the opposite side of those challenges.

For example, making sure my 93-year-old mom was well taken care of and entertained was a struggle, to say the least. But praying for those who were kept from their parents and families because of the inability to travel or because the places where they were living forbid them face-to-face human contact, kept me thankful and humble.

I may also have temporarily lost the ability to socialize with friends, but I got closer to my immediate pack of family members, the people who will stop whatever they are doing at a moment’s notice to make sure I am well cared for — and for whom I will stop at nothing to do the same.

I learned to appreciate the meaning of home. Coincidentally, or not, I was at Miami International Airport ready to board a flight to Buenos Aires when we went into lockdown. I never left Miami. I could not be more grateful for having made that decision. 

Throughout the pandemic, I laughed harder than I had laughed in a long time. I mean, seriously, when nature calls while you’re out enjoying a drive through the empty streets, and the closest thing to a public restroom is a porta-potty left behind by a construction crew, you have no choice but to get creative. I now know of at least a half dozen places in South Florida to do your business outside without the risk of being seen by a security camera. 

I learned that bras, shoes, work clothes, and most of the items in my wardrobe are not necessary. Combing my hair is an option that can be left for Zoom calls. And if I can’t get to a comb in time, saying my computer’s camera is “acting up” is an acceptable excuse.

I learned that staying in on a weekend night, alternating between binge-watching and napping through the Netflix series du jour and eating takeout right out of the box, is a luxury I will never be able to live without.

I experienced small-town living in a big city; no people, no chaos, no distracted drivers to run me over during my morning bike ride.

I discovered the beauty of masks – because when all you can see are people’s eyes, you are blessed with a glimpse into their souls. 

On the lighter side of the mask mandate, now that I have a facial covering to go with just about every outfit I own (thanks to my life’s traveling companion), I’m finding it difficult giving up this wonderful fashion statement.

I also continued my journey into the road less traveled known as sobriety. (You can’t drink socially if you’re not socializing.) It was a road that began with a 30-day no alcohol challenge nearly 900 days ago, and one on which I have chosen to stay.

While so many people struggled with addictions or chose to drink away the pains of the pandemic with a glass — or six — of their adult grape juice of choice, seltzer with lime was — and continues to be — my go-to beverage.

COVID-19 may fade into the background of history, but like any great teacher, the lessons it taught us, and the gifts it left behind, will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Sharing those gifts with others is the greatest gift of all.

It’s the one time re-gifting is not only an option, but a necessity.

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Filed under Alcohol, Barbara Besteni, COVID-19, Pandemic, relationships, sobriety, spirituality, Uncategorized

Painting Mary …

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She was looking kind of ragged.

Her royal blue robe was anything but majestic. Her feet were dirty. Her face and hands were worn. Her pedestal was chipped, and her heart was broken.

It was time to fix that.

Fourteen years ago, Mary had been rescued from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina by my father-in-law, a man whose rough exterior poorly hid the gentle soul who was capable of the detailed work required to revive Mary.

Mary, who had traveled 801 miles from Kiln, Mississippi, in the trunk of an Acura TL to our home in Miramar, Florida, to grace a corner of our yard and protect us from Hurricanes Wilma, Bonnie, Rita and countless other mini-natural disasters that had littered our neighborhood with downed trees, broken roof tiles and left us in the dark for days.

Mary, who, six years ago, made the move to our new home with spectacular sunsets in western Broward County and has shielded us from the ravages of Hurricane Irma and (and now Dorian) and the creatures that call the Everglades home: snakes, frogs, raccoons, alligators, and humans who prowl through our neighborhood at night, unafraid of the hundreds of security cameras watching and recording their every move.

For years, I joked that nothing bad ever happened around our house because Mary was protecting us.  But I was only half-joking. Her body was a warehouse of miracles waiting to happen. The storage capacity in her 2-feet, 9-inch frame could put an Amazon fulfillment center to shame.

But Mary was looking worn and tired.

She was still creating her miracles each day, but she needed a fresh coat of paint. We had gone as far as buying the paint and brushes, but they had been sitting in the garage for what seemed like forever, waiting for someone to move “Paint Mary” up on their to-do list and finish the job.

But that someone never seemed to raise their hand to say, “I’ll do it.”

Meanwhile, Mary was sending signs that she wanted to shine a little brighter. It was as if her never-ending storehouse of strength was charged by appreciation, love and care, as much as the humans she protects depend on a little bit of reinforcement every now and then to keep them motivated.

But I didn’t pay much attention to the signs. That is until Mary’s insistence became a little louder.

I had never seen a snake in my yard in the six years we have lived here.  My neighbors see them all the time but not me. I spend a lot of time outside, so by now, I should have seen my share of them.

A few days ago, I walked out my front door and right there, out of the corner of my eye, just inches from me, was a 3-foot-long southern black racer. That was about three feet too long for me, despite Google’s assurance that it was harmless and useful for keeping insects away. (I’ll take the fly swatter, thank you very much.)

Then there was the frog in the garage. (Anyone who knows me, knows that even the tiniest fake frog makes the hair on my body stand like a full-body Mohawk haircut spikey enough to be classified a weapon.) I had turned on the light to put something in the recycle bin, and there it was, all cute and cozy (to some people) and smiling at me. The fear rose from my solar plexus and turned into a blood-curdling scream that sent the frightened froggie out of the now open garage as I ran inside to monitor its departure through my security cameras. (I digress, but I assure you, I’m not making any of that up.)

Finally, there was the guy standing in our front yard with what looked very much like a rifle when we came home a few nights ago.  We made it inside safely while the guy disappeared to who knows where. The police nonchalantly dismissed it as a neighbor out shooting iguanas because “that’s legal now, you know,” but it was Mary’s loudest sign that I should pay attention to her.

She wanted to shine again, and sooner rather than later.

But who would paint her?  I was absent the day God gave out painting talents. So, I scratched my name off the list and went about the business of finding other to-do lists to conquer. But the paint cans sitting in the garage were too much of an eyesore to keep ignoring.

“Hey, Barb. Why don’t you paint me?” Mary whispered.

I looked around, and the smiling face of the frog in the garage popped into my memory.

“OK, Mary,” I’ll give it a try if you promise to hit the delete button on that frog vision from my brain,” I responded.

And so, I opened the paint cans, tentatively picked up a brush and trusted Mary to guide me, just as I trust the Muse when my hands hover over a keyboard and a blank page on my Macbook and the words flow like water from a broken dam.

Mary was restored to her shining glory.

Three days before South Florida was placed in the cone of Hurricane Dorian, I placed Mary back in the corner of our yard that she calls home.

My little statue was once again ready to pour her love and miracles on those willing to believe in her and trust her guidance.

It was a reminder that sometimes all it takes is a little “paint” and patience to make someone’s day brighter … to bring out the love hiding beneath an exterior that has been dulled by life’s elements.

Is there someone in your life who needs “painting?” Grab your brush of kindness and bring back the brightness that time has eroded.

And don’t be afraid to color outside the lines.

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God, Gifts, Guilt, Gratitude …

The Sunset After The Storm

Sunset at Barbs – May 16, 2018 – Copyright 2018 Barbara A. Besteni

“Be careful what you ask for because you might get it.”

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced the world to her theory of the fives stages of grief in her groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying.

I was 10 years old at the time, high as a kite because my favorite baseball team, the New York Mets, had won the World Series. My prayers had been answered.  All was right with the world.

Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – were as foreign to me as grief itself.

Joy, however, was all around me, and I devoured it with the reckless abandon of a wildfire hungrily consuming everything in its path, without question, without fear, without guilt, without regret.

Then, suddenly, I wasn’t 10 years old anymore. Overnight I became a teenager, a young adult, a grownup.

And the joy I once experienced at the gifts God placed at the table of life before me became burdens, joys I didn’t deserve. Guilt entered the picture to further suck the pleasure out of the gifts that I had once accepted without question.

Life became serious.  Sadness entered the picture as people I once considered invincible and immortal left this world to continue their spiritual journey.

It’s as if grief had swooped in and snatched the joy right from under me.

I still believed in joy, in answered prayers, but I got used to not having those prayers answered.  I think it happens to most of us.  It’s part of the human condition we come to accept as we “grow up.”

We are still disappointed when we don’t get what we ask for, but not as disappointed as we had been when we were children and our expectations were higher.

But what happens if, as adults, we pray for something and we do get it?

Now we’re entering into let’s go batshit crazy territory.

 

Instead of accepting it as a gift from God, we often reject it. Sometimes we cautiously open the gift wrapping, peek inside the box, and shut it closed.

Is it because it seems too good to be true?  Is it because we’re guilty that others don’t have what we are given?  Or is it because we don’t think we’re good enough to deserve the amazing gifts life places before us every day?

Could there be five stages of accepting the answers to our prayers … even if those answers are not what we expected? Or worse!  They’re better than what we expected!

Consider this:

Stage 1: I want this. Please, God, I want this more than anything else in the world, and if you give it to me, I’ll never ask for anything again.

Stage 2: I got what I asked for – Ooops, God answered my prayer. What do I do now?

Stage 3: Guilt – I don’t deserve this. “Hey, God, take it back.  I feel worse now because a gift like this should really go to someone who is like, say, Mother Teresa, not someone like me who sits in front of a computer all day editing copy and writing random thoughts in a blog.” (OK, so maybe this blog entry is just a bit biographical.)

Stage 4: Sabotage – “You know what, God? I’ll sabotage your gift to show that I’m not a selfish person. I know you gave this to me as a test to see if I was humble enough to deserve it.  So, here, take it back.  Did I pass the test?”

But no matter how hard we try, the gift doesn’t seem to go away.  In fact, God keeps wrapping it up and giving it to us over and over again, no matter how many times we reject it.

That’s because God’s gifts are unconditional.  We don’t have to do anything to deserve them.  And if those things for which we pray are in line with Her Will, if they will further Her love, then we only have one thing left to do when She answers our prayers.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Don’t judge the gifts.  Just say “Thank you,” and move on.

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The Fragile Beast …

 

Fragile Beast

Celebrating a Miami Heat NBA Championship

“She’s so fragile,” the basketball coach at St. Ignatius parish in Brooklyn, New York, said to my mom, giving her the best reason she could find as to why the skinny 10-year-old girl who could swish basket after basket from the free throw line and score on layup after layup with the best of them had not made the team.

Apparently, the coach didn’t think I had the cojones to play tough with others.  Scoring points was useless if you didn’t have what it took to take the hits that came with playing on a court with other people.

At that moment, the definition of fragile was born in my mind.  Basketball became a metaphor for life’s bigger picture.

Fragile was when you wanted something badly, but you couldn’t have it.  Fragile was when your gentleness and inability to knock other people down was used against you.  Fragile was when the lessons your parents had taught you about kindness and turning the other cheek collided with a world that didn’t care much for those lessons.

It’s a definition I buried, but one that has influenced every fiber of my being since then.

Fragile was bad, really bad.

Fast forward 50 years later.

In the last six months, this has happened:

I took a nasty fall off my bicycle and ended up with a right wrist swollen to twice its size and pain that well, at least for me, was manageable.  I didn’t see a doctor until about two months later, just to make sure everything was OK. An X-ray revealed that my wrist had been broken, but thanks to icing, elevating, and immobilizing — all things my significant other kept telling me to do — the bone had somehow set itself correctly and healed on its own.

When the doctor and his Physician’s Assistant walked into the examination room after seeing the X-ray, they both looked at me as if I were some kind of freak.  They were shocked that I had been able to withstand the pain that kind of injury inflicted.

I was an anomaly.  A beast, the doctor called me.

A fragile beast, I thought.  I kind of liked the ring that had to it.

So, I got back on my bike and continued my normal routine, conveniently ignoring the nagging pain in both my knees.

Two months ago, I tripped over my own two feet at home, broke four facial bones, and required six stitches to repair the damage.  I was not a pretty sight.  People would steer clear of me as I walked down the grocery store aisles while sporting a black eye and bandaged head to accessorize my outfit du jour.

I was upset.  Not because of the injuries, but because they meant it would be a while before I could ride the new bike I had gotten for Christmas. I was as disappointed as that skinny 10-year-old girl who still lived inside of me had been when she didn’t make the St. Ignatius basketball team.

I’m not 10 anymore, but sometimes I forget.  After all, I’m still fragile.

The facial injuries healed, but the bike was off limits for yet a little while longer.

In the meantime, I decided to get the pain in my knees diagnosed.  X-rays confirmed I had two dislocated knees (Which were probably the result of overtraining on the bike, not the fall at home.) I also had a dislocated shoulder that had most likely been there for a while but had been aggravated by my slip and fall at home.

I was three for three. YAY me! Broken wrist, broken face, dislocated knees and shoulder.  But that didn’t stop me.  I was, after all, a fragile beast!

All this downtime from my normal exercise routine has given me a lot of time to think, to remember people in my life who have influenced me in ways that I hadn’t even realized had made such an impact.

I bet that basketball coach forgot what she said to my mom the moment she said it.  So, why was I still holding on to the negativity I had attached to it?

What labels from the past are you carrying around that are hindering your way as you travel the path of life?  What names did someone call you that you believed at face value and are still today, as a fully functioning adult, allowing to drag you down or keeping you from living the life you want to live?

Today, I thank that basketball coach for denying me a spot on the team and teaching me a lesson it has taken me so many years to finally understand.

Yes, I’m fragile.  We all are.  But I’m not weak.  And neither are you.

 

 

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Temporary Insanities …

Those moments when your breath and your brain compete for your attention …

Those moments when what was, what is, and what you hoped would be laugh at your silly attempts to control them …

Those moments when you’re awake enough to realize there’s nothing you can do to stop the plans Life has in store for you.

Those moments when you thank Whatever You Believe In for introducing you to this moment …

Those moments when you pray that, no matter how painful, you are given more of these moments …

That’s the moment when the only thing left to do is get on your knees and give thanks.

I want more of these moments …

Do you?

 

 

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