Before the Phoenix can Rise

We have all heard about the phoenix rising from the ashes. Of course, it’s a metaphor for coming back to life after apparent total destruction. Too many times we burn down our own lives through our bad decisions or self-destructive behavior. Sometimes others burn our lives down through their bad decisions or self-destructive behavior. And, occasionally, circumstances such as health problems, job loss, or natural events burn our lives down. When we face such catastrophic times, we are, understandably, devastated. We feel overwhelmed. We mourn the things we have lost. Sometimes we feel like giving up.

But, maybe, we can look at these seasons in our life in a different way. In order to have the opportunity to be a phoenix, by definition, we need to first face total destruction. We can’t rise again as new creatures unless and until the old version of us is destroyed. It’s kind of like trying to restore an old house — you can add on, expand, renovate and redecorate to try to make that old house better. But sometimes you get to the point where it just becomes apparent that it is easier, and probably more cost efficient, to tear the old house down to the foundation and start again. In that way, we don’t have to work around the old plumbing, electrical, shifting foundation, or persistent mold. We get to start anew and re-design and re-build the house that we really want.

So it is, also, with people. Sometimes in order to rebuild ourselves into the person we want to become, we have to do a complete tear down. Maybe we have to walk away from a career, or from some relationships. Maybe we need to root out unhealthy bad habits. Maybe we need to take a break from the rat race of life and take time to reflect and reevaluate. And sometimes the bad things that cause disruption and “burn down” our lives force us to do just that. If that happens, we have the opportunity to rise again from the ashes and re-create ourselves as the person we wish to be. Not that it is easy. Not that we won’t be tempted to give up. But if we focus our thoughts on the goal — of the phoenix we want to become — we may receive the strength to rise.

You are NOT Worthless!

I have spoken with so many different individuals lately who have expressed feelings of worthlessness. Maybe it’s just my perspective, but it seems to be an epidemic. Life is full of difficulties; we all face challenges and times when we struggle. We can’t control many of our circumstances and we are bound to have times when we feel discouraged, beat up by life, stressed, or even powerless. I have faced my challenges and know there will be more to come. However, it breaks my heart to hear more and more people say they feel “worthless.” They say things like, “I am a waste of air,”,”No one cares if I live or die,” or “I wish I was never born.”

I imagine the source of this level of hopelessness may be varied. Perhaps it comes from abandonment, traumatic life events, failed relationships, or other types of loss. In today’s global environment, it is easy to feel small and insignificant. But I also suspect our current culture of social media greatly contributes to this problem of feeling worthless. On the internet, we see surface-level images of people designed to make others admire them. Judgements and criticisms are made in a snap second, without any real knowledge of a person. We have no idea if that person’s accomplishments are real, or what struggles they may have behind that glossy image they show the world. If we do not have sufficient “likes” or “followers” in this internet world, or if people say unkind or even cruel things about us, we can feel as if we are not valuable, that we don’t matter.

Every single human being on this planet has worth. Our Creator does not make errors; he does not have “seconds” in the production line that should be cast in the trash. How financially successful, or politically powerful, or even popular we are should not be the measure of our worth. Likewise, the fact that some ignorant, callous individual may tell us we are worthless does not, by any means, make it so. It must be tremendously painful and disheartening to feel as if one has no value.

How can we discover that inherent value in ourselves? First of all, maybe we can make a list of all our strengths and abilities. Then, we can think of people in our lives that actually care for us. Finally, and I think this is very important — if we want to feel worthwhile, and of value, we should seek out ways to make ourselves needed or useful. Look for others who need assistance in areas which we can provide it. These “others” can be family, friends, neighbors, or total strangers. There are many volunteer organizations that can use an extra set of hands. When we take a break from examining our own pitiful situation and look outside to others’ pain, we gain a certain perspective. Even more beautifully, if we can be part of the solution (in whatever small way) to someone else’s difficult circumstance, we immediately receive a feeling of being needed, useful and…. worthy.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31

Walking on Water

The Bible, in more than one Gospel, gives an account where Jesus’s followers were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee during a storm. Jesus came to them, walking on the water. One of his disciples, Peter, said to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) Jesus summoned Peter to come to him. Peter stepped out of the boat and began walking on the water toward Jesus. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!'” (Matthew 14:29) Jesus reached out his hand to Peter and pulled him back up. “You of little faith”, he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

How many times am I like Peter in this story? I think my faith is strong. I am sure I can walk on water and bravely step out of the boat. And, at first, I am succeeding. Look at me! I’m a spiritual rock star! And, then, the wind kicks up. The storm rolls in. I notice the waves all around me and I freak out. When I take my eyes off Jesus, and focus on the danger around me, I begin to sink. But, fortunately, and reliably, He is always there to reach out his hand and snatch me from the raging sea. It is my lack of faith that causes me to despair. May I remember that my faith will allow me to do what is seemingly impossible, and that my lack of faith will allow me to falter. When you face the storms of life, keep your eyes above the waves and summon your faith. Hopefully, you, too will be able to do the impossible.

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Calm in the Storm

This past week I have been watching the coverage of Hurricane Ian and the survivors. I was particularly intrigued by the interviews with people who did not evacuate and rode out the storm. People stayed for a variety of reasons: old age, infirmity, lack of the funds to pay for gas and a hotel, as well as those who were skeptical of the predicted strength of the storm, wanted to protect their property from looters, or were just plain stubborn. People knew the storm was coming; it was predicted days in advance. They did what they could to prepare: they boarded up windows, assembled sand bags, stocked up on food, clean water and batteries. They tied their pleasure craft securely, away from the shoreline. They charged up their cell phones, laptops and power banks. And then they waited. Just before the storm came, the weather was reportedly gorgeous. Folks walked their dogs, enjoyed the beach, and took selfies in front of the mounting surf. And then Hurricane Ian reached landfall. It was a Category 4 (out of 5) storm, and among the top five storms to hit the U.S. It turns out people were, in fact, not prepared. Calls for help swamped the emergency hotlines. Panic ensued.

It made me start thinking… I try to mentally prepare myself for life’s metaphorical storms. I know storms are inevitable. I know they will come. I can’t avoid troubles in life. And so I try to prepare myself. I hone my skills and coping methods. I familiarize myself with Bible verses and Scripture passages that can reassure me. I practice my yoga, meditation, and deep breathing. I tell myself I am ready to handle adversity. But, then the storm comes, am I tempted to panic?

I think most of us, when the storm actually hits with a fury, are tempted to panic and may even start down that path? But how can we snatch ourselves back from the proverbial edge and not lose our cool? In my experience, first of all, we need to remember and recall our preparations. Soldiers do the same drills over and over so that when real combat ensues, they will automatically recall their training. We must do the same thing.

So, what do we do when the storm hits? First, calm ourselves. Do deep breathing, meditate on calming thoughts, do yoga, listen to nature sounds. Second, once our heart rate has slowed to a normal level, do activities to gain perspective. Review Scripture verses and passages that remind us God is in control. Remind ourselves of other trials and adversities we have gone through and survived, or even, thrived. Remind ourselves that the current situation is probably temporary and will not last forever. Finally, take action. Do what we can to improve our situation, or, at least, mitigate the damage. If possible, reach out and help someone else; helping others almost always gives us perspective.

The storms are going to come. May I prepare myself to the best of my ability and may I do my best to remain calm in the face of the tempest.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned.” Isaiah 43:1-2

Seeing Yourself Through Others’ Eyes

I See You!

Not long ago, I was at a Women’s’ retreat in Napa Valley. I was with some amazing, accomplished, Godly women whom I did not know well, or at all, before that weekend. Over the course of our weekend of activities and self-reflection, various members of the group allowed me to see their perceptions of me. Because they are kind and positive people, those perceptions were flattering. I felt honored and seen. A few of the ladies also shared their visions of what they thought I could achieve in the future and what impact I could possible have. I have to admit, their vision far outreached the dreams I have dared to dream for myself. It really made me reevaluate as to whether I sell myself (and my God) short by not setting higher goals.


I have generally been a proponent of not paying too much attention to what others think of me. I certainly don’t want to allow myself to be limited by the skepticism of others or brought down by the haters. However, sometimes it may be beneficial to at least listen to what others are saying. Maybe they will see me better than I see myself. The flip side (and the side requiring more bravery) is that we might learn some hard, but true, facts about ourselves. Maybe we say or do things that, unbeknownst to us, hurt or offend others. Maybe our view of ourselves is overinflated. The tricky part is being able to gain perspective. In seeing ourselves as others see us, we gets a different perspective. The next step is to honestly and bravely examine that other perspective. Is it valid? Is it partially valid? Or is it just empty flattery or hateful lashing out? To discern the difference requires introspection and some knowledge and understanding of the source. If we can make that distinction, a lot can be learned from seeing ourselves through the lenses of others.

It’s O.K. to be Cheesy…Sometimes

Michael Buble’ at Canterbury

Not too long ago, while visiting Canterbury, England, my husband surprised me by announcing he had purchased us tickets to see Michael Bubble’ in concert. “But you don’t like Michael Buble’,” I replied. “You say he’s cheesy.” My spouse then admitted he, in fact, likes the singer, but was heretofore embarrassed to admit it. We went to the concert and had a fabulous time with hundreds of other people — from parents with their children, to young singles, to middle-aged and even old folks. We were all celebrating feel-good things like love, and relationships, and family, and birds and butterflies. And no one seemed embarrassed.
Somehow people have come to be of the opinion that it is only O.K. to like entertainment that is cynical and negative. Smart is equated with jaded and edgy. We are afraid to admit we like something that is positive or affirming, lest we be thought to be not intellectual. I fear that the negative, louder, members of society are silencing the optimists.

Not that I am encouraging being shallow; heaven knows TikTok and Instagram are flooded with the demonstration of a lack of thinking or depth. But, maybe, we should not be afraid to embrace a little positivity — listen to happy music, read a feel-good book or life-affirming biography, or (gasp) bask in a good romantic comedy. Take a picnic lunch, put on some Michael Buble’, and watch the bees, birds and butterflies. Life can be good!

Fear No Evil

Napa Wilderness

Earlier this summer I was at a women’s retreat in Napa Valley, California. One afternoon we were directed to go on a “meditative hike” in a wilderness area nearby. The task was to walk, think, pray, and write down my reflections or responses in my journal. After walking for awhile, I sat down at a picnic table. I was meditating and writing in my journal, lost in my thoughts when, in my periphery vision, I saw something move on the ground. Just as I looked down, a snake slithered over my left foot. He was about 3 feet long, with alternating brown and off-white rings. I gasped and quickly jumped up on top of the picnic table. My heart was beating a bit faster and my breath had quickened. I peered down at the ground under and around the table, but could not see the snake. I had no idea where he had gone. After a few minutes, I jumped from the table to the dirt path nearby and continued on my walk. Later on, when I had cellular reception again, I did some internet research on the snake, based on my recollection of its markings. I determined what I had seen was probably a California King Snake who, according to californiaherps.com, is “Not Dangerous to Humans.”

Later that day, I processed this encounter and discussed it with the other ladies. I found it somewhat curious that my reaction upon seeing the snake was less extreme than I would have thought. The snake surprised me, and I was concerned enough to move out of its path, but I was not terrified and did not scream or otherwise react in an extreme manner. It was almost as if I instinctively knew that, although the snake looked exotic and was not known to me, it posed no threat of harm.

Of course, the snake or serpent is, in Western culture, often representative of Evil, or Satan, or the Devil. In the book of Genesis in the Bible, Satan appears to Eve in the form of a serpent and tempts her into committing the first act of disobedience to God (sin). Genesis 3. In mythology, snakes were often portrayed as coming from the underworld, the purveyors of evil. Think of Medusa, whose gaze would turn people into stone. Shakespeare also used the snake to represent evil or treachery. Lady Macbeth tells her husband to be deceitful like a serpent. Macbeth later calls Banquo and his son snakes because they are an evil threat. Most Westerners are, on some level, afraid of snakes.

Although I am wary of Satan, or the Evil One, like the California king snake, I am not in danger of any real harm from him. The reason for this is that I am a follower of Christ; I have accepted Him as my Savior and have surrendered my life to Him. As a result, I wear a cloak of protection against the Evil One. The outcome of the battle between Good and Evil is already known; God will always triumph. The Bible is very clear on this point. Though evil may sometimes win the battle, God will win the war. As a follower of Christ, I rest assured that “the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3. I have seen and experienced this truth on many occasions. Although I may be tried, and may go through hard times, God has repeatedly protected me from real, lasting harm. I know this in my heart and I feel it in my soul. Because of this, I can remain calm in the face of danger and in the midst of the storm.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” Psalm 23:4

Renaissance Attitude

In preparation for a trip to Florence, I have been doing some reading on the Renaissance. Not to try to give a history lesson, but the early to mid-1400’s was an exciting time. Prior to that the European world was pretty much in the mindset of doing things the same old way, like they always had done. To be fair, the 1300’s were pretty challenging, with a lot of wars and the bubonic plague. But then, mainly in Florence, Italy, some people started to think that maybe things– like poetry, writing, art, architecture, and engineering– could be improve on. Dante, for example, decided to write a giant poem in the vernacular Latin (a form that the common man, not just the aristocrats, could understand). Brunelleschi promised he could build his famous giant dome, even though no one had ever built a dome so large and at the time of his bid he had no idea he could do it. Ghiberti, Donatello, Botticelli, and Michelangelo took painting and sculpture to a whole new level of realism, emotion, and perspective. And then there’s Leonardo da Vinci, in my opinion, probably the smartest man to ever have lived. He was an artist, mathematician, engineer and architect.

What I really like about all of these Renaissance innovators is that they didn’t just decide to go out and do something different or off the wall; they started first by looking backward. They studied the ancient Arab writings, the Greek philosophers and sculptors. Much of the advances in banking and accounting made by the Medici’s had its roots in Arab mathematics. Renaissance sculpture sort of picks up where the Greeks left off. Also, most of the Renaissance rock stars, while pushing back against the Church and established religion, didn’t entirely reject it or try to burn it down. Instead, much of their art incorporated religious themes, was commissioned for display in churches, and/or financially supported by the Church.

So, I want to have a “Renaissance attitude.” I want to learn from and emulate the great thinkers and artists and other creatives of the past while, at the same time, strive to innovate and improve on those ideas. In this way, we can honor the past and acknowledge those upon whose shoulders we stand and, yet, also keep evolving toward the future.

Accepting Loss

Me just before being pickpocketed

I was on vacation in Florence, Italy. I was relaxed. I was having a good time, taking in the sights, taking photos, posting to my Instagram. So I had my smartphone handy in the side pocket of my purse, ready to pull it out upon spying a good photo opportunity. The Point Vecchio Bridge, lined with jewelry shops, was busy and crowded. Vendors were hawking their wares, street performers were vying for attention, people were packed in close. And then I went to reach for my phone and realized it wasn’t there. I checked my pockets, searched my purse. Gone. In the press of the crowd, with all the distractions, someone had lifted my iPhone.

When I got back to my computer, I performed the “Find My” operation. The phone had been on the bridge at the time I had crossed it and then gone offline. The thief had cleverly immediately turned the phone off so it could not be tracked. Fortunately, I had it locked with a passcode. I very sadly gave the command to have all data on the phone erased.

It is shocking to realize how much we have come to rely on our smartphones. I felt lost, untethered. I felt I had lost an appendage. How would I take photos? Oh, yeah, I also have a Nikon camera. How would I check my email? I have an iPad and laptop. What about my past photos? They are in the cloud. What about all the notes and other information I keep on my phone? Well, those are lost. I will have to stretch my memory and recall. So, I came to realize that, in reality, I hadn’t lost much more than my physical phone. Because I need a new SIM card from my U.S. carrier, I wouldn’t be able to get a new phone until I returned to the U.S., but I would be able to replace the phone and keep the same number.

However, I still felt a little traumatized. First of all, I was pretty angry with myself. I know better than to leave my personal belongings exposed when in crowds. I think of myself as having pretty good situational awareness, but I had no clue when my phone was stolen. Someone was that close to me and had their hand inside my purse and I had no idea. I felt very stupid. I also felt violated. What right does anyone have to take my property? Also, I had to face the next ten days phone-less. How was that possible? What would I do? How would I function? My husband had three phone with him, so we managed.

But this experience made me think — am I too attached to material things? The loss of this one material thing really upset me. Some people have catastrophes like fires or floods or war that cause them to lose all their material goods. That is unimaginable to me. But, somehow, those people manage to go on. They rebuild their lives. They say these events made them realize that what was really important was that they and their family members were alive. And yet, I was pretty upset to lose one material item. After thinking about it, I chose to take stock of all the blessings I have (I had the means to vacation in Italy, for starters) and of the things in life that really matter — my health, my faith, my relationships with family and friends. No thief or disaster can ever take those things away from me.

Salute the Sunrise

I don’t necessarily consider myself a “morning person.” O.K., to be fair, I am not a night owl, either. I like sleep. However, I also really enjoy a good sunrise. Sunsets are great, too. But sunsets have a totally different vibe. Sunsets are the close to a good day, a reason to enjoy a cocktail, a time to relax and wind down. If you can force yourself to get up early enough to beat the sun up, you will be in for a very special treat.

First of all, in most cases, at sunrise you will encounter very few, if any, other human beings. Particularly in vacation spots, like the beach or a mountain resort, the other people stayed up late, don’t need to be anywhere at a particular time, and are enjoying their sleep. Secondly, if you are in a hot location and/or season, it is much cooler early in the morning, making exercise or just being outside more bearable. In addition, when you are up with the sun you get to see the animal world wake up and start going about their business of finding breakfast.

Here is my strong recommendation: Get up early. Go for a long walk. Do a little yoga. Or just sit, breathe deeply, watch the sky turn pink, then orange, then bright. Don’t play music. Don’t talk too much to your companions. Just be. Prepare your mind, body, and emotions for the day ahead and all it might have to offer. It’s a fresh start, a blank slate. Yesterday’s worries or stressors or conflicts are behind you. Today is a new day. Acknowledge, appreciate, and salute the sunrise. You might find you enjoy it so much you will want to repeat the experience as often as possible.