On Hosting…

To help Angelina (see details at end of post): https://www.gofundme.com/angiefightslyme

October is nearly upon us… I don’t know about you, but for me, October tends to be the second busiest month of the year (after December), and it is quite possibly my favourite month of the year. Between apple picking, pumpkin picking, Thanksgiving, and Halloween, the weeks fly by so quickly, we can’t believe summer morphed into frost while we were busy dancing.

October signifies parties to me. Lots and lots of parties. And so this brings up the question of hosting and gathering people together under one roof, typically my roof, to share a good time.

People often ask me: “how do you have the time?” or “how can you make the annual commitment?”

They ask: “why do you invite so and so? We never see them except here!”

My perspective on hosting has been fairly consistent over the years. My philosophy is simple: the door is open and all are welcome.

However, this year, something is a little different. For the first time, I have noticed things that I turned a blind eye to before. The people who I shared the last 5 Thanksgivings with consist of two groups: one that I see regularly, because they call, and another that I only see at Thanksgiving. It never mattered to me before. All were welcome anyway.

What’s different this year?

Whenever people asked me why I insist on inviting strangers and distant acquaintances who never invite me back, I quoted Jesus. After all, He had the right answer: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”

My argument was that what I was doing was not nearly enough. I am not inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame, or the blind… I am inviting acquaintances who never repay me. I do not expect anything in return. Maybe that can bridge the gap between what I do and what God expects of me.

That usually sufficiently answered the question, at least for me.

Until this year. This year, I am being extremely picky with my guest list. What happened?

After some soul searching, I’ve finally come to the answer: I am hurt. How many years have I spent making room in my heart, in my home, and in my life for people who never returned the favour? How many years have I been deeply hurt and shoved the frustration under a rug in an effort to follow in the footsteps of the Greatest Love of all? What has come of it? Of course, this is a very human question. It’s a situation that Jesus would never be confronted with because He wouldn’t be hurt at all. You cannot hurt if you have no expectations. But I am only human.

I have been married nearly a year. Half of the people I celebrated Thanksgiving with for the past 5, some even 10 years, didn’t come by once to visit me to check if I was doing alright, if I needed any help, or to congratulate me. It was a difficult year. None of them picked up the phone. I was lucky if I got a text message. And so, I am hurt.

“What would Jesus do?”

Well… my first instinct is that He would invite everyone anyway. He would forgive and keep the door open. But, something is wrong with that picture. Jesus said: “Do not invite your friends” and urged us to, instead, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”

Jesus would wrap up the party and open an evening soup kitchen. He would serve the most delicious turkey and wine. He would ask His friends to show up to help, and to partake in the feast. He would tell me to stop wasting my efforts on the absent and unavailable, and use the love in my heart to help somebody instead.

What can I do to get a little closer to that goal?

This year, my house will be a little quieter than usual. If I haven’t seen someone in a year, they will not be invited. This is not to be spiteful, nor is it because I’m angry, but rather because I would prefer to make a donation. God teaches us to be kind and loving, but He also reminds us every day that we are also worthy of love. This is not the equivalent of opening my doors to the homeless, I know… but one step at a time.

This year, I will ask my guests to help me raise some money for Angelina, a beautiful young girl who is fighting Lyme disease (with her father). She needs our help. My guests will be asked to place donations instead of bringing a dish to the party. At the time of this writing, Angelina is $4000 CAD short of her goal. If you would like to help me help her, you can find her campaign here: https://www.gofundme.com/angiefightslyme

A happy October awaits, full of light and love for you all.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Love…

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” – Stephen Chbosky.

What is love and where does it come from? Like luck, love is often perceived as a manifestation of random fate. Anyone who grew up with Hollywood (or Bollywood) movies playing in their living room recognizes the socially held notion that love just happens. It is out of our control, and is left completely to the whimsies of Cupid and his arrow.

I won’t deny that there is an element to love that is entirely coincidental. That being said, I don’t believe that coincidences are accidents. They are manifestations of the thoughts and desires that we project to the universe.

“How is that fair?!” my friend argues with me. “Do you want to give me the responsibility for never meeting a half decent guy?”

Yes. I do. We are all at least partially responsible for everything that happens to us. Bear with me.

Nothing is an accident, not even a car accident… our fearful thoughts can manifest in very real ways. Feeling undervalued? When was the last time you gave yourself a pat on the back and thanked yourself? Feeling unwanted? What words did you use this morning when you greeted yourself in the mirror? Are you in an abusive situation? How many times have you been in that situation with the same person, or with different people?

Our lives can be mapped onto very clear and repetitive patterns. If we pay attention, and track our thoughts through writing or recording, we may look back in ten years and realize that the cycle of thought is repeating itself. It is only when we recognize this, and take ownership of it, that we can forge a new path out of the cycle.

I always had a knack for inviting people into my life who had their own severe insecurities, because I felt called to “help them”. These insecurities would very quickly be projected onto me because I was like a sponge, ready to absorb everybody’s pain. Every guy I met seemed to be dealing with some great heartache, and every one was quick to deflect that heartache towards me.

“Why can’t you be more carefree like those other girls?” asked the one who would walk into a room a completely changed man depending on who he expected to meet inside. He couldn’t bear to be unlike others because he couldn’t bear to be unliked.

“Why don’t you lose some weight?” said another who didn’t want to go anywhere or see anyone because he was unhappy with the way he looked.

“You’re such a nerd. No wonder your friends are all nerds!” whined the fully grown man-child who was too embarrassed to be seen with thinkers because it only highlighted and confirmed his insecurities about his own intelligence.

“Why are you so conservative?”

“Why don’t you drink more?”

“Why do you need to travel so much?”

“Why do you dress like this?”

“If I were you, I wouldn’t tell them about your belief in God. People will think you can’t think for yourself!”

… because following the status quo of secularism equals thinking for yourself, eh champ?

It took me a very long time to recognize my pattern. All of that time, I thought these people were highlighting flaws in me and wondering what I had done to deserve it… was I made weird, or something? Did I like being a punching bag?

Over time, I began realizing that all of these statements came from men who felt very small. Why they felt small, and whether or not their smallness was warranted, is besides the point. They all used the same strategy to feel better about themselves, and that was through keeping women in check by repetitively verbally crushing them. They believed they were unworthy, and expected to be left behind, so they attempted to cripple people from walking away by instilling the fear in them that they, too, are unlovable.

This type of relationship is a good example of cyclical and repetitive thought manifestation. On the one hand, one party feels unworthy and he keeps attracting partners with strong personalities that cannot easily be “tamed”. On the other hand, the other party feels called to help and heal others, and this extends into her personal life by attracting people who feel “broken” to her. As a result, both people come to painful realizations: 1) You cannot force someone to love you, and inspiring love from others is especially difficult when you do not love yourself; 2) Mending someone else’s heart could require breaking your own.

Around the time I started seeing clearly, I came across a fragment of Rumi’s wisdom. He wrote: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

I decided to drop the pattern. I know I make it sound easy… because it is easy. The hard part was recognizing that something was wrong. Breaking the cycle is easy when you see it clearly. It was only when I decided that I did not need to “fix” anybody in order to love them, that I met someone who is pretty whole all by himself. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t need me. It just means he doesn’t need me to fill an endless void. As for him, being unafraid of being left behind means that he doesn’t need to break my spirit to keep me around. He’s fairly confident that I’m not going anywhere.

It is 100% true that “we accept the love we think we deserve.” 

Love is a choice. It is a series of actions and decisions. You are at a crossroads every day, and you have to decide what’s next. But, until you know the answer, until you know what you really want, it will feel nearly impossible to find it. Can you find a lost object if you don’t know what it is? No. You wouldn’t know what to look for.

And for those of you who prefer to believe in a little bit of coincidental magic… an Arabic proverb (derived from the Qur’an) affirms the role that fate plays beautifully: “What is meant for you will reach you, even if it is beneath two mountains. What is not meant for you will not reach you, even if it is between your two lips.”

Knowing what we want, and identifying the constraints that prevent us from reaching where we ought to go, removes the obstacles from the path of fate and allows it to do its good work.

Food for thought.

And remember… we design our own luck! 

M.

On Paying it Forward…

We have all been offered a hand up at one point or another. It could have been something as simple as a smile, as complex as a chance, or as generous as a financial blanket. Whatever it was, it helped us survive. But how many of us are paying it forward?

I am surprised by how often people criticize others for the same faults that once belonged to them. For example, the man who has survived the gruelling life of homelessness looks upon a homeless man today with contempt, rather than mercy or compassion. The now successful man believes he achieved his success by the sweat and blood of his own brow and judges the homeless man for sitting on the ground and begging for money. Does he remember that, before he could stand up, many people passing by lent him a hand? How could he not remember?

The confident executive, with chin up, may look at the young woman biting her nails during an interview with a piercing gaze. The candidate has glowing credentials, but she isn’t dressed well. Her hands are shaking. She looks like a deer in headlights. Does the exec recognize her reflection sitting there? Does she remember that she once was that girl, and that someone looked beyond her fears and chose to be confident for her? Or does she walk away with eyes rolling, wondering why kids these days have no spine, and never give the young woman a call back? How can she not remember?

The man and his wife having breakfast at a family restaurant snap at the new parents beside them because their children are being too loud. “Can you control your kids?! Some of us are trying to have a good time! What’s the matter with you?” they exclaim. They react without considering the embarrassment they are subjecting the parents to in front of their children. When the young family goes home, the dad might tell his child to go do his homework, and his child may snap back: “what’s the matter with you?!” Society has successfully taught him how to disrespect his father like that. And meanwhile, the couple trying to enjoy their time do not recognize the harm they have caused, nor do they remember how difficult it was to raise children in a judgemental and impatient society. How can they not remember?

We have all been given a hand up. Whichever way you slice it, even if you are convinced you are the victim in every situation in your life, or believe you have succeeded single handedly, you have been helped. One hand cannot clap alone. Perhaps you have not noticed the help. Perhaps you don’t remember it. But that doesn’t mean that it was not offered to you. And so, when you have a chance to be helpful and kind to others, take it. Try to see the world through other people’s eyes. Be compassionate and kind. Remember that, no matter how successful one might become, he is worth nothing if he cannot love.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Flying Solo…

Photo republished courtesy of Dean Petersen ©2018 all rights reserved. Check out his work at: @deanventures

Picture this:

You have a brilliant idea! You’re inspired to do something tangible to bring it to life. You excitedly call someone to bounce the idea, hoping for some cheerleading. They offer you a few “mhm” and “yeah” as you explain what you are setting out to do. You finish speaking and eagerly wait for the response. When it comes, it sounds something like:

“I mean, sure, everyone could do that if they could afford risking the money.”

“Are you sure this is such a good idea?”

“Why do you want to do that? You have it better than all of us! Just be grateful.”

“Well. Sounds interesting. Hopefully you’ll actually stick to it.”

“You don’t need more work!”

“That’s a great idea! I’m going to do it too. No harm in a little competition between friends, right?” Smirk.

“How are you always in dream land? I’m too busy keeping my feet on the ground.”

“Yeah, yeah. You and your big ideas. You’re always lucky, so I don’t need to wish you good luck.”

Sound familiar?

Each of us bears his/her own collection of dismissive, negative, and discouraging statements from friends and family. Over time, we carry more and more of them, and they become grey clouds hanging over our future adventures. Everything from taking a new job to changing up our nutritional menu is contested by people around us. Now, don’t go trying something really crazy, like moving across the world or going back to school to become a doctor.

Eventually, we start to doubt what it is we really want, and what we can really achieve. Whose voice is in your head telling you that “it can’t be done”? 9 times out of 10, it’s somebody else’s.

Keeping this in mind, I’ve learned something extremely valuable which I only put into effect recently. When trying to achieve a goal, there is nothing more powerful than keeping it secret. Being very selective about who we divulge personal information to is fundamental to our success, because we are easily manipulated creatures. No matter your confidence or faith in your idea, it requires protecting while it’s still a budding thought so that you can focus all your efforts on bringing it to life, without risking being swayed by others.

People can be risk averse self-doubters. Often, when standing in front of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, I’ve overheard tourists say things like “it’s impossible!” Even while cranking their necks back 90 degrees to look at the peak of the tallest building in the world, they express disbelief. If people have this reaction to what is already there and has already been achieved, why entrust your dreams to them?

People will tell you to fight for your dreams and be deterred by no-one. They will throw cliche quotes at you like a hail storm. That is, until you have an idea. It is only after the idea is born that the same people who once wrote you soliloquies about reaching for the moon suddenly become doubters.

When you set your mind to something, wisely and carefully select who you let in. If you cannot think of someone who has already proven unfailing confidence and support, someone whose criticism only serves the purpose of elevating, rather than destroying, your ideas – fly solo.

There will come a time when the idea has manifested powerfully enough that you can share it without leaving it vulnerable in destructive hands. Even then, be on guard. Remember that Burj Khalifa has an elevator that swiftly and smoothly moves up 148 floors in 60 seconds without a single hiccup, and that people make it all the way to the top and still don’t have the capacity to believe that it can be real.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Homesickness…

Anyone who knows me knows that I struggle with the occasional bout of homesickness. A privilege reserved for Third Culture Kids, expats, immigrants and refugees, this is the sense of belonging everywhere and nowhere, all at once.

Every year, September brings a crisp freshness and a promise for change. We know what’s coming next… a cold, hard winter that will most certainly seem impossible to crawl out of. But, before that, there is Fall… the time for contemplation.

The homesick among us quickly learn to greet the changing environment with open arms. We know that it is futile to hang on to the fleeting, so we might as well enjoy the new view. It is during this season that we remember the cyclical nature of life, and recognize the absurdity of existence. Here today, gone tomorrow. The Phoenix must burn to ashes before it can be reborn.

Only when we stand amongst the trees do we begin to understand the nature of our own lives. As we feel the first and final breaths of life at our fingertips, the homesickness begins to bubble up again. The imminence of death sparks the nomadic instinct to go, go, go. Hit the road, Jack, it’s time to go back home.

Every year, I ignore this instinct, nestle into Autumn jackets and decorate my house with pumpkins. I cocoon myself into that warm shelter, close my eyes, and visualize the places and people I love. I vow that my love will persist, even through the piercing winter. Over the years, as I braved every falling leaf, I somehow learned to love the foreign just enough to let my anchor rest a little longer.

But Spring is always just around the corner, despite the perceived endlessness of the winter, and the wind of change is bound to blow. Every year, it’s a little louder. How long can sleeping dreams lie?

Hit the road, Jack. It’s time to go back home.

And remember… you design your own luck!

M.