“Why would you be given wings if you weren't meant to fly?” ― Leslye Walton

“Why would you be given wings if you weren't meant to fly?”  ― Leslye Walton
“Why would you be given wings if you weren't meant to fly?” ― Leslye Walton

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Graven on His Hands

Free stock photo of sunset, hands, love, woman

I want to share a little story with you in today's post. It's not a story about me. It is, though, a story that's personal for me. That's because it illustrates an aspect of this life of mine that is very important to me: my belief in, and relationship with, a loving being who created me. So if you're the kind of person who enjoys such topics, or who enjoys learning about what others think and believe, I invite you to continue reading. If you're someone who doesn't, you are still invited but no hard feelings if you decide to skip this post. Please come back again to check out the next one, which is about something completely different.

Coming into relationship with the Divine changed my life in many good ways. But I often think that faith is made overly complicated, or barricaded by erroneous requirements that make peace and joy in God's love nearly unattainable. Sometimes, too, people have a misconception that it is attainable only for those who are “good enough.”

While visiting a church I heard the testimony of a young mother that speaks very plainly and simply. She had been trying to teach her little daughter about how much Jesus loved her. At every opportunity, she explained in simple language how he gave himself for her on the cross so that the child could be free from sin and its burden, and have forgiveness and eternal life in a happy and holy place.

One day the child came to her mother and said with wide-eyed exuberance, “Mommy! Mommy! Jesus has something written on His hand. Do you know what it is?”

“What is it?” asked the mother, eager to hear about her daughter’s discovery.

“It’s Haley! It’s my name!” she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling with delight. She raised her own little hand to her mother’s face and, pointing to her palm for emphasis, explained, “He wrote it there with the nail that held His hand on the cross.”

The mother’s eyes welled up with tears as she realized the Holy Spirit had revealed to the opening mind of her daughter what is meant in Isaiah 49:15-16: “Can a woman forget her sucking child that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.”

And that is just how much Jesus loves each and every soul, even before that soul ever takes a breath. God doesn't consent to enter into a relationship with someone because they are good enough. He loves us enough that he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, hoping that we would consent to a relationship with him.

God loves you and cannot ever forget about you. He remembers the very moment you were conceived. He knows the life you’ve lived. Every tear you’ve ever cried has been gathered up in His bottle. He knows the pain you’ve felt, the burdens you’ve carried, the trials you’ve been through, the sins you’ve committed. And none of it has diminished His love for you one iota. His love is genuine, true and steadfast. You can never mess up so badly that He won’t love you or can’t forgive you. He is with you even when you are so overwhelmed by numbing circumstances that you can’t see or hear Him. And through it all, He is working.

If you aren't in a relationship with Him, I encourage you to get to know Him. Being in a love relationship makes the good better and the bad bearable. The same is true for a relationship with the Divine. He will give you comfort, strength and help. He will bring blessings out of losses, pick you up when you stumble, turn your weakness into strength and give you beauty for ashes. He has promised, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” He has, indeed, graven you on the palms of His hands.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Living to Love

I wrote "Living to Love" years ago, but its lesson has become even more relevant to me in the last several years. In fact, the longer I live on this earth and the more heartbreak and injustice I witness and experience, the more I need to be reminded of it. I need to stop and reflect and remember that I have a choice to make. I can let the evil that is in the world change me, or I can change the world. "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." This month, January 31, is the anniversary of my brother's death and I also post it again in remembrance of him. Nathan R. Goff died on January 31, 1995, at the age of 32. A short time on this earth, forever in my heart.


Images of Nathan emerge from my memory like pages turning in a mental photo album.
​No, not that one!
I reject a vision of my brother’s disease ravaged body, sallow skin stretched over a frail skeleton.
​   I quickly conjure up another, on a beach. The image crystallizes in my mind, becoming clearer as my memory stretches back in time to grab hold of it. He’s squatting down at the shoreline, sun glinting off his tanned, muscle-toned body. His face has a glow of life and health. Dangling securely from the safety of his uncle’s encircling hands is my infant son.
The memory takes on a life of it’s own now. I hear the breaking of the waves on the shore and the giggles of delight from Josh. He draws up his chubby legs and plunges them back down into the ocean waves foaming over his toes. Nathan is beaming, happy to share this moment of joyful discovery with his nephew. 


​   Nathan’s life was not all sunshine and giggles. He knew pain and loss, including our father’s sudden death when Nathan was a small child and the troubled home that resulted. When he was a teenager, an automobile accident killed two of his best friends and left him with permanent injuries. Though it prevented him from achieving his dream of becoming a pilot, he dreamed new dreams and encouraged others to pursue theirs. His generosity and trust often led to being taken advantage of. He suffered unprovoked and unwarranted violence when gay men didn’t even merit a blip on the domestic abuse radar.
​In spite of it all, I never saw him yield to hatred or bitterness. He lifted others up, finding peace in relieving their pain. He loved to make people laugh. The more cruelly the world treated him, the more he looked for ways to show love and compassion to those around him.
Near the end of his short life, he watched with horror and heartbreak as friends lost their careers, homes and then their lives to AIDS. When he became sick himself, barely out of his twenties, he regularly visited the pediatric AIDS ward at the local hospital. He brought stuffed animals to the abandoned babies until he was too weak himself to go anymore.
​   Throughout his life, in the face of betrayal, loss and unjustifiable violence and when mercilessly battered by a vicious and relentless disease, he refused to succumb to bitterness and hatred. And amazingly, after every blow that knocked him down, he would get back up, look inside of himself and find more love to give away.
Nathan has been gone a long time. The nephew he played with on the beach is now a grown man with a wife and child of his own. But no matter how much time passes, the lesson Nathan’s life taught me is always fresh, speaking to my heart when it’s battered and breaking with sorrows, trials and injustices: Refusing to live in self destructive bitterness or paralyzing self-pity – living to love – defies all that is evil in this world.



Sunday, December 27, 2015

My New Ancient Tradition

“New tradition” seems like an oxymoron. Traditions, after all, are passed down over time. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a tradition as “the handing down of information, beliefs, or customs from one generation to another.” But here I am, starting a new tradition from an ancient one. My reasons for embracing a new holiday are simple. For one thing, I don't like the materialistic focus of the “holiday season.” I also believe, from the historical facts, that Jesus wasn't born on December 25th, so the day itself is irrelevant to me. But all the same, it is the “holiday season” and I feel a need to have a holiday to celebrate.

So what are my options? Among the holidays celebrated at this time of year are Diwali, Human Rights Day, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, Humbug Day, Christmas, Milad un Nabi, New Year and World Peace Meditation Day.

The Winter Solstice stands apart from the other observations of the season in that it is an astronomical event, as well as a cultural and religious celebration. There are two solstices in the solar year: Winter Solstice and Summer Solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice occurs in December and marks the shortest day and longest night of the solar year, while the Summer Solstice happens in June and marks the longest day and the shortest night.

Between each of the solstices there is an equinox. The Spring Equinox takes place in March and the Fall Equinox in September. Both mark days and nights of equal length. All of these events happen as a part of the solar year that comprises the Earth's journey around the Sun. Each hemisphere experiences the solstices and their accompanying seasons at opposite times of the year. The December solstice is the official beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

In some traditions, the solstices and equinoxes are important waymarks in the agricultural calendar. In fact, The Twelve Days of Christmas may have originally been a blending of the Scandinavian Yule festival and the practice in some regions of slaughtering cattle and other animals used for food in the winter time. Animals that couldn't be fed off the farms during the cold, winter months were butchered and a community feast followed.

The solstices also mark important days in some religious traditions. Because it is the turning point in the length of days, daytime ceases to become shorter and light begins to linger longer. In pagan traditions, this marked the time of the rebirth of the sun. Because of this, solstice celebrations often include bonfires or candles to represent the triumph of light over darkness.

The Winter Solstice is a natural fit for my new tradition. It satisfies a growing desire to bring my life more into harmony with God's “times and seasons,” both temporal and spiritual, and to become more aware that I am part of my environment, a participant, whether by intention or default. I believe the heavens and the Earth are gifts from the Creator. Observing the solstice creates a pause in my life to stop and appreciate the natural world that sustains me.

The solstice is also symbolic of leaving behind darkness. I've passed through much darkness in my life. The past year brought two of the darkest moments I've experienced thus far, in the deaths of my mother and younger brother less than six months apart. The solstice offers a symbolic way acknowledge that darkness has an end and to welcome the growing light, the anticipation of brighter days and seasons of blossoms and bounty to come.

But starting a tradition from scratch begs a fundamental question: How do I do it? I had to work late into the evening yesterday and I don't know anyone else who observes the solstice yet. This time around, it was just me. A bonfire wasn't practical. I could have burned candles while I worked, but that seemed halfhearted when my focus had to remain on the work. What I opted for was a little different, something that accommodated my needs and schedule. I actually observed the end of the solstice. This morning, I welcomed the new astronomical year and celebrated the end of the longest night of the year by getting up early enough to watch the sunrise. I gave thanks for the light and that light, no matter how small, displaces darkness. I gave thanks for the bird songs that swelled with the advancing light and the marvelous revelations of creation that appeared as sunlight found its way through the jostling layers of clouds overhead. I reflected on the events I passed through during the last year and the fact that life, like the path of the sun across the sky, can only move in one direction. And, like the sun, it doesn't stand still. It may seem to be obscured by storm clouds, but it cannot be extinguished.

I'm calling my first observance of the Winter Solstice a success. My intention is to observe the equinoxes and fall solstice in their seasons. I'd love to know how others observe their own traditions. If you would like to share something about which traditions are dear to you and why, feel free to leave a comment below.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Holiday Wishes

However you may choose to celebrate the holidays,  may the best part of your day not be the presents but the presence of your loved ones. Have a blessed holiday!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Christmas Eve Message from Space

A Christmas Eve Message from Space

Moon,Space,Christmas Eve,Apollo 8

Earthrise from Moon, NASA, Apollo 8, Public Domain image

I was going to post a link to my latest article in The Appalachian Voice today, but it seemed out of season, and I decided to save it for a Throwback Thursday post after the holiday. I was wondering what to post instead, when I stumbled across a link to this video of a Christmas Eve message from space on my Twitter feed. It's definitely a Throwback Thursday post: I was only two years old when this message was broadcast. We won't talk about how many years ago that was, but the date of the image is available, if you want to do the math.

Whenever I view a video from space, I'm struck by the absurdity of some of things we strive for and fight about. A Christmas Eve message probably isn't the best time to bring up divisive issues, so I'll just leave this thought:

One planet, one people, one lifetime.

Wishing everyone peace and joy during this holiday season!