Passport Photos

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I greet my friend at the pharmacy. (He works at the pharmacy, and we always say ‘hello’.) He asks me my last name as he logs it into the photo printer computer in front of me, and we find out we have the same last name. Something we had not discovered yet, despite us talking every time I set foot in there. He is a nice middle aged Hispanic man who is always by the photo area and magazines. When we see each other, we chat politics, life in the neighborhood, etc. “Maybe you are my long-lost twin sister,” he says to me. He sets up the chair I will sit in for my set of passport photos. He looks at me, and we both laugh. “Maybe,” I tell him smiling. He gestures for me to sit and starts telling me, “Chin up. Ok, now down a little,” he says with slight irritation toward a man who is tapping the plexiglass divide at the photo booth. “Sir, can you wait a minute? I will be right with you,” he says to him.

He gives me a look that says he is gonna knock the other guy out clean and wanders over to the photo booth. I see their tense interaction and also see my photo pop up on the screen behind him in the booth. He starts clicking.

“Make me look like a celebrity,” I tell him, joking. “I gotchu,” he says laughing as he clicks. I look at my photo, and there is something interesting about it. Passport photos look so stripped, you know? I am sitting there with a psychiatric hospital white background in a Steve Jobs turtleneck, with just my features. I cringe at the wisps of baby hair near my sideburn area. They were all messy. Grr… What gives? My eyes are naturally downturned with zero lift, as I am not smiling. My skin looks good. It looks just like me, but also not like me. Maybe it’s the fact that I am expressionless that makes it look unlike me. I am very expressive.

Looking at a passport picture is like when you hear your own voice in a recording. It doesn’t feel like you, but it is you. It makes you immediately think, “Is this how the world sees me?” Not that this would be a bad thing– it’s just different. Self-perception is interesting. I am not sure we ever see or hear ourselves the way the world does, but it’s interesting to try.

La Vida Alternativa

By: Gabriela Yareliz

Aveces, cuando nos pasan cosas que nos cambian la vida, uno se queda preguntándose si hay una vida en un universo alternativo que le tocaba a uno. ¿Es que me tocaba otra vida y termine aquí?

En estos días observando a desconocidos, me he preguntado si ellos se preguntan cómo hubiera sido la vida de otra manera. Si no hubiesen cometido ciertos errores o si no hubiesen sufrido ciertas desgracias.

¿Será que la vida era otra ausente el engaño, la cobardía, y la confusión?

¿Es que hay un bolsillo en el corazón que contiene todas esas emociones o los anhelos por esa vida que se perdió?

¿Se va ese sentimiento de que nos estamos perdiendo algo o nos sigue por el resto de nuestros días? ¿Olvidamos a las personas o será que en parte las seguimos esperando?

¿Será que la otra vida posible es un invento, similar a la nostalgia? ¿De verdad nos tocaba otra vida o es eso otra mentira que nos hacemos creer? ¿Hay vidas que siguen el Plan A y nunca llegan al Plan B?

En un salón lleno de personas presentes en cuerpo pero ausentes en mente, busco la respuesta en las miradas perdidas y en las tensiones oscuras que noto en los gestos.

Quizás hay cosas que no nos toca saberlas. O quizás hacemos preguntas ya sabiendo las respuestas.

Spring State of Mind

Manorcottages.co.uk

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I laugh as I ask Alexa whether it’s raining. She says it won’t rain tonight and a downpour begins simultaneously. Guess she didn’t get the memo. It’s the first day of spring tomorrow, and it sure feels like it. Today was a sweater only day, filled with sunshine and a lovely cool breeze.

I woke up itching to be outside. I slipped on my favorite yoga pants and walked some donations over to a drop-off bin I frequent for seasonal cleaning before remote church started. I wished a local church was open. I was in the mood to just sit a while in the sanctuary and watch the light come through the windows. Just sit and pray. My soul really yearns for that. I used to do that like every other day when I lived in the Village. It was a special time I really miss. Nowadays, churches are bolted shut or checking papers. (I hear thunder at a distance!)

March always makes my mind wander to literature. It’s like the world is one big book. The grass looks greener, and the buds on the trees are ready to burst. I think of that scene in Amazing Grace when he wanders his own garden and stares into a spider web. I think of the walls of the secret garden, and the mysteries behind covered walls.

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My mind is like a maze of those Cotswolds cottages soaked by torrential rains.

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I think of that scene in P.S. I Love You, when she is lost in the national park, lost in wonder and amazement.

Hippie in Heels

My mind goes to the wet Michigan springs and every corner filled with daffodils. I think of the worms that would writhe on the running track in the back of the school, bright pink against the soaked black pavement. I would tiptoe around them and sometimes move them with sticks.

For some reason, my mind remembers the exact smell inside of the house when my mom would make bread in our 90s bread machine. The way the butter would melt on a slice from the giant square loaf– it’s vivid.

I remember late nights in my room in Florida, where I would tune into the Moody Radio show called Himscapes (I believe that’s what it was called). I can’t find a trace of this show, but it was my favorite segment on the radio station. This segment was at like 11 p.m.-12 a.m. It was mostly instrumental music and soft hymns (think Fernando Ortega), and it was typically Celtic instrumental versions of old hymns. I loved this show. Sometimes, I would listen to it to fall asleep. My favorites were the ones on piano, guitar and bagpipes. There was a calming energy to this segment. I don’t know why on earth someone would get rid of it. Sometimes, I would record songs on my MP3 player right off of the radio. Maybe it was all the Scottish and Irish sounding music– but that music always comes to mind when spring comes around. I wish I could still tune in and let the music transport me to fields of flowers and green. Few things can match the sense of peace I felt when I would listen to that music, and I am not someone who listens to music very often.

I felt like the winter was a bit stagnant and slow; I wasn’t very energetic. But these brighter mornings and rainy nights have started to fill me with that wonder that accompanies spring. I hope that as we embrace the new season, you too are feeling renewed and filled with energy. If you are looking for me, I will be in my maze of cottages.

This kind of song would have been played on Himscapes.

The Flaws in Our Requests

By: Gabriela Yareliz

What does it mean to ask for forgiveness of our sins? I found C.S. Lewis’ reflections on this so on point that I wanted to share his thoughts. He says that we often think that this idea of forgiveness of sins is pretty basic to our faith (and we gloss over it), but in practice, we are terrible at it. We often approach God with our excuses and extenuating circumstances and think that a request for forgiveness is a presentation of why we were justified in our mistake(s).

His thoughts:

“If you had the perfect excuse, you would not need forgiveness; if the whole of your action needs forgiveness, then there is no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call ‘asking God’s forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses.”

C.S. Lewis

I found this to be a very powerful thought. A thing to reflect on. When we approach God for the forgiveness of our sins (forget everyone else, and we focus on ourselves), what does that look like? Am I presenting excuses and anxiously pointing out things He already knows and sees through? We try to overcompensate and cover up our mistakes by making it seem like it was ‘inevitable’ or ‘meant to be’, but God isn’t fooled by any of this.

Asking for forgiveness is not a form of self-preservation. Instead, the key ingredient is always humility.

Change in the Air

By: Gabriela Yareliz

Change is in the air, I was telling my friend Nikki not long ago. Sometimes, you just sort of feel it. We have had sunny days that hint at spring. They remind me of the hours I spent wandering the West Village toward the library on Leroy St. to go watch the shadows as the sun hit the corners of the sidewalk and public pool just right.

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Last Sunday was cold. The kind of cold that settles a blanket of stillness over everything and ends in magical dancing flurries as the gray sky turns black. But then, the weather fluctuates, and it’s sunny. The influencer wives of rich old men wear their trending cat eye sunglasses as if a memo has been sent out. There is a warmth that makes me dizzy and makes me regret wearing the leggings under my pants while I ride the subway, pressed up against a flimsy door and a woman clutching a bunch of plantains in a clear bag.

Do people sense the change in the air? I wonder as I sit on the train next to someone in a shiny plastic coat that squeaks every time she or I moves. We all do our best to ignore each other, except for the man sitting across the way from me, who has decided to make me his focal point. Maybe he is dizzy, too, I rationalize. Maybe he is trying hard to focus or not throw up. I shift my eyes back down to my Kindle, feeling his eyes on me, still. I look up again and make direct eye contact as an act of slight defiance. (Very me) I then turn my attention to a group of children with geriatric parents. (Very Brooklyn)

Thank God for the warming weather. There is no place I have seen more than NYC where people underdress their children. I can’t count how many children I see wandering around in frigid temperatures without a jacket or socks. It’s a strange thing. The kid will have a hat or a t-shirt but no jacket. Now, nature will help keep these children warm. I think about this as I spot an exception to the general observation. A little child bundled like the Michelin Man.

Some people jump into the train without a mask and then fumble to pull one over their faces. Others step on confidently without and smile. Some are masked up to their eyeballs, and they judge those who step on without and use their eyes to direct the object of their judgment to the advertisement/propaganda banners above us, hanging like gargoyles, that have been vandalized and covered with inappropriate stickers. The air is thick with psychological warfare, silent but loud communication and irritation. More people step on, and others step off. A door closing warning is issued.

When I reemerge for air, the sidewalks are packed with women bagging cilantro and produce. The air smells like fish. I see buckets filled with ice sitting on the sidewalk. There are more people out than I have seen in recent time. A drunk man walks into the gate of a notary service/psychic storefront that is currently closed. He hesitates and then tries again.

I shuffle into the intersection and feel the sun. Every day, we face different weather but so much more is fluctuating. Spring, our new beginning, is just days away. I glance into a sneaker shop that has its gate half up and see its colorful spring merchandise in the window.

It’s clear we are all stepping into something new.

Accountability and Abuse in the Church

My question is, how can we hold abusers in leadership accountable and also make it so that there are less vulnerable people falling prey.

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I won’t forget the day the bombshell regarding Ravi Zacharias’ sexual exploits became public. The board of his ministry, RZIM, released an open letter regarding the investigation. The truth was that this person who was a global speaker, teacher and frequent guest at Oxford through his center for apologetics was a sexual predator who committed sex crimes against vulnerable women around the world. All of this exploded shortly after his death, sadly, because everything was covered up for years until then. I wish his victims would have gotten what they strived for. They should have had their day in court. Someone should have listened. Accountability matters.

I addressed the fall of Ravi Zacharias quite extensively on the Modern Witnesses Instagram around that time. I realized not long ago that I don’t think I mentioned anything here, and it was worth mentioning as I have probably hundreds of posts that quote him or were inspired by things I learned from him and his books. When it came to asking hard questions, he was a hero of mine. (Sadly, he lacked the guts to face the hard questions directed at him for his actions). And it’s odd to think that someone like that can shape us so deeply, but he shaped me deeply and nothing takes that away. He taught me how to look at faith and Scripture critically, and that doesn’t invalidate the lump in my chest that I felt when I heard the horrors he committed. His life just goes to show that an intellectual knowledge and pursuit of faith is not enough. We must be transformed by it. I was and am heartbroken for the women who had tried to seek accountability and were ignored.

Even before Zacharias, due to my own personal experience, I have always known that people are deeply flawed and can appear to be one thing and then do unthinkable things. I have known this deeply in my bones. My life has been shattered by it. So, when Zacharias fell from grace, he didn’t fall too far down in my world. (This is when trust issues come in handy). I didn’t hold him on a pedestal, but I still was disappointed. Mostly, I just felt angry. I felt angry that someone would hurt the cause of Christ in such a shameful way, because unlike us fallen and wretched creatures, God is good. He is loving. He is pure. He is just. He is a protector and healer. He redeems. Those lives harmed by Zacharias’ actions are precious in God’s sight.

There has been a lot of talk about abuse in the church, and I have noticed it has been framed in a way to write off the church as a useless, outdated and harmful institution. I feel that I see more about abuse in religious circles than I do about abuse in secular environments, where abuse happens equally or more so. I think it’s because we expect more from people who claim to be something, but it’s a weird thing to do that knowing what Scripture says about our shared nature.

Being a victim these days can mean many things, and I don’t minimize any of it. As an attorney, I believe in accountability, justice, and I believe in trying something, weighing evidence and testimony and having people pay for their actions. One hundred percent. We need consequences.

No matter what setting it’s in, if someone with more perceived or actual authority/position/status takes advantage of someone in a more vulnerable state, it’s wrong.

Something I find interesting regarding the Zacharias investigation is that women came forward and did seek accountability, despite their poverty, lack of status (one could say for lack of a better term) in ministry and vulnerability. This got me thinking about how do we stop the rampant abuse in the church? What makes us members vulnerable to this and to certain types of engagements and dynamics?

I think when it comes to abuse in the church and elsewhere, we need to shed a naivete that we tend to carry around about who people are or may be. This may sound harsh, but in the words of Bobby Sausalito, “the world is trash,” and you know what? Many people behave like trash, too. I think that the accountability we need to have to end abuse in the church setting needs to go all the way around. We not only need to hold leaders accountable (which is happening more and more and being ignored less and less, thank God), but we need to hold ourselves accountable and need to educate ourselves more. This isn’t victim blaming, it’s just using our God given abilities.

I don’t minimize abuse in the church. I have my own stories of pastors (married, mind you, but trash is trash) who only wanted to meet with me in private settings, who vengefully passed out my number when I declined, leaders who told me I would go to hell and was behaving unChristian like when I declined advances, churches I left because leaders had mental health issues– I got stories. I think part of it is the way I was raised, but I have always had a strong sense of self. Listen, I am petite, had no family nearby, hadn’t had a relationship with my father in a decade and was a young and naive country girl who looked like a ripe target. But even if you are vulnerable as most of us are when we go into a house of worship (we seek community, healing, guidance and other things), even if you weren’t raised to have a strong sense of self that isn’t afraid to tell someone where they can go, God still offers us all discernment.

And I am not saying in this post, be like me. No, I am just stating I am not blind to the depths of the trash that poses as leadership out there. I am saying that I know God has shown me many a red flag, and I had to make some hard and sometimes swift decisions. In all these cases, I fled these trash leader environments and had some firm ‘no’s. I attribute this to God not myself.

I think that just as we are taught to take responsibility for ourselves and how we position ourselves in other aspects of life, we need to teach people to do the same in the church. We need to stop idolizing people and putting them on pedestals. We need to stop expecting the super-human from mere humans who are often hungry for all the wrong things. We need to be in environments because they make us holy, not because of friends, ambiance, distance, tradition, music, a nice time or a false sense of security or community. We need to get police and authorities involved. Call the district attorney’s office; let’s go. We need to evaluate the fruit in people’s lives and listen (really listen) to those around us. We need to stop seeking from people the things we can only find in God’s presence and through relationship with Him.

I think that if we started raising children like this and started empowering members like this, our churches and what happens in them would look differently. Let’s stop acting though, like the church is the only place abuse happens. Unfortunately, it’s not. The world is filled with abuse, and the unsanctified lives that wreak havoc in churches reflect the mainstream exterior. We do not control what is done to us, like someone assaulting us, but we often do control a lot of the response. (And I recognize that there is a lot of psychology involved, here. People respond differently to trauma, but this is why we need to educate people to seek help because this is empowerment. God can do the impossible and give us the courage we need to move forward). We can talk to someone, we can report it, we can flee before anything happens, if circumstantially that is possible. We can seek help from someone else, if we don’t know what to do or feel trapped (and this someone doesn’t need to be a “leader”. In fact, it’s often better if it isn’t).

As a church body, we need to take accountability for what we are bringing into the church. Our attitudes, our family dynamics and our addictions. This is just one example– I can’t tell you how many times I have seen or heard messages (or posts) about sexual abuse or violence against women (and I support anti-abuse messages) from people where I see a pretty clear acceptance of pornographic type materials (photos, literature, etc.) or an acceptance of nonbiblical sexual standards and values by the way a person lives, etc. Not saying this to judge but to simply ask the question, what makes one better than the other? (Especially, when so much of pornography involves exploitation of women and children). Studies have shown that many who are perpetrators of abuse have similar addictions or enjoy similar content. I can talk about this at length in many examples and ways. I know of places of worship where members were having affairs with other people’s spouses, leaving an insane tangled web of families and brokenness. Perhaps something that hinders accountability in churches is the fact that there is rampant secretly held sin. Who in their right mind, knowing their secret vices, will go and report someone else? Will they even have the sight to see it? My point is: what are we bringing to the church as a church body? Are we connected to God in a way where we really can discern His voice and hold ourselves accountable?

It’s important to hold the church accountable. I vocally do this. I write here and speak to leaders about things I observe all the time. But I don’t do it to write off the church. WE ARE THE CHURCH. I talk about these things because I love the church. Despite every church I have had to flee, every minister creep I’ve had to block, and the church that turned its back on me and my family in our greatest time of need– I love the church. Christ died for this church. I am an active part of the church. And with every bad thing that has happened to me in a church setting, I recognize the grace and help God granted my family and me by members of that same body of Christ followers. The church has been a source of deep rescue, as well.

The church is deeply flawed, and yet Scripture tells us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

For every person who has been deeply hurt by the church, my heart breaks. I am sorry. The church needs you to shape it into what Christ wants it to be. You aren’t alone. I pray that you find a community that can uplift you and help you find the healing you are looking for. A place where you can serve safely. They are out there. I know it. No one deserves abuse or betrayal of trust. No one. I will add that I promise you, you won’t find anything better in a world that glorifies and celebrates sin. The flaws and unholiness we see in ourselves should make us hate sin that much more, knowing the pain it causes. I pray for restitution and justice. Nothing will escape God’s justice. A thing that brings me so much comfort. God is not mocked or fooled. I pray for discernment.

And whether we have suffered abuse or not– I pray we can each look at our lives and before we hold another accountable, let’s hold ourselves accountable. What are we bringing to the table? Have we led with Godly example? Have we bestowed unmerited trust in someone? Do we see or sense things that are off? Do we know it’s ok to say ‘no’? Do we know that it’s ok to leave everything behind and run? Do we know someone we should encourage to seek help or justice? Can we be a voice for someone dealing with trauma?

Let’s ask these questions more. Christ said the wheat and the weeds grow together, but at the harvest, they will be separated. The weeds will be thrown into the fire. Let’s seek wisdom and discernment, which He gives liberally to all who ask. (James 1:5; Phil. 1:9-10) I know this to be true.

People close to Zacharias said he justified his actions and felt no remorse. I’d say that’s chilling, but we humans have a way of doing that. We excel at this. We are really good at justifying our own actions, lifestyles and conclusions. We forgive ourselves so easily (or feel there is nothing to be forgiven); it’s everyone else who has the problem. We are humble like that. (Sarcasm noted.)

Christ said, “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) It’s time we really accept the fact that the church is not some “sheeps only” pen. There are wolves. We should beware, and we should also make sure we aren’t one of them.

The Thing with Dark Ponds

Photo by Xuan Nguyen on Unsplash

“People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.”

Celeste Ng

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I am not going to lie– I can be an annoying person to watch something with. I dislike things that resemble the harshness of our reality. Don’t sit me down to watch some war film when there is an actual war happening out there (if I wanted to see a war, I would turn on the news). It is not my jam. I am a rom-com type girl. Give me a funny protagonist in some faked-up version of NYC with an unrealistic wardrobe, and I am there.

Giphy

My movie and show preferences have come to my attention extra when my fiancé and I sit down to choose something to watch. He likes a good drama, and the movies I like aren’t always his jam. By now, I have watched a good handful of movies I would have never chosen on my own to watch. (And he has watched two handfuls of movies he likely would have never watched had I not picked them). Many of his picks are good and interesting; worth the risk and time. I have been pleasantly surprised. But when it’s choosing time, I can be picky.

Recently, I got to pick Pilgrim’s Progress as one of our films. It’s a beautiful film (in my opinion). Today, after a hearty meal, we were deciding what to watch to relax since neither of us has time to watch anything during the week, and he mentioned a newish show. It looked like a drama (with great actresses), and I pushed back. Eventually, at an impasse as he still refuses to watch White Chicks (LOL), we settled on The Office, a safe mutual favorite.

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I reflected, though, and realized I wasn’t fair in my assessment of the new series. I hadn’t watched a minute of it, and he had watched a favorite of mine, so I decided to give it a shot. Guys, all my trigger fears were realized immediately. In the first 20 minutes, I kid you not, I saw a piece of my past unfold as we were watching. I saw the houses on the show looked exactly like houses from an Ohio neighborhood where I lived for several years. The mom and daughter are close, and the mom is a single parent. The show opens where the mom and daughter are sleeping in their car, and then, they go to a public restroom at the grocery store where they proceed to take a refresher bath with wipes and brush their teeth. The protagonists have moved a million times. I have shared all of these experiences with my own mother. As I watched on the screen so many things I have lived before, I was stunned. It was triggering. So much so, that tears sprang to my eyes without warning, and to cover up my emotional reaction, I laughed. (Not a normal laugh, but like a nervous crazy laugh– I am being honest here).

Buzzfeed

I still can’t really believe I have seen scenes of my life sort of play out in front of me on some random Hulu show. (It’s fresh, y’all). But I learned something important today, I’ve been repelled by and shut out many things that made me feel like I might be reminded of something or because I am afraid certain emotions will be summoned from some dark recess of my soul. Today, it was like that fear came true– and pretty dramatically. It was bizarre.

What we watched was interesting and intriguing. Maybe we will watch another episode some other time, or maybe not. What I did find interesting was that on the day I finally decided to give something a chance, it ended up being some weird recounting of maybe some of the most strange and unrelatable moments of my life. It was almost too on point (to the point of being creepy). Creepy and all, I survived it. The tears came spilling out in a weird reactive moment of realization, but I was able to then sit back and detach from it. Part of me has felt like, This is why I don’t watch dramas or things like this. Another part of me felt less alone. Seen, almost.

It intrigues me to think that maybe the things that have the biggest potential as art are the things that make us feel deeply. They make us shifty in our seats and make us laugh and look away as we discretely wipe away tears. We all, in our own little ways, avoid the things that make us uncomfortable.

We avoid dark pond waters, sometimes, as we don’t know how deep the pond actually goes. At times, we don’t want to know. We pick the clearer light distractions, but these distractions, like clear water, reveal a shallow bottom. Sometimes, in our quest to avoid pain, we forget that it’s when we look into the dark pond waters that we can catch a glimpse of our own reflection and see ourselves.

Olvido

By: Gabriela Yareliz

I heard Erwin McManus say that when cultures do not change, they repeat behaviors. We see this in how the world operates. Political systems showcase this.

Just the other day, I was looking at an article in The New Yorker which reminded me of the Pacto del Olvido (the pact to forget), which was Spain’s way of trying to move on from Franco’s rule once he died in 1975. The truth is nations have their spiritual and political baggage. We don’t just shed that baggage by pretending nothing ever happened. I mean look at the way nations governed people throughout the pandemic and the policies enacted. Has anything really changed? Many countries’ policies mirrored roots from the past.

While reading Eric Metaxas, he brings the great point that we often think ourselves more superior and sophisticated than people in the past. Not sure why we think of them as dumb peasants or something, but the truth is we are no different. Granted, the things available to us are different, (technology, abundance, etc.), but our propensities, emotions and our nature remain the same.

Clearly, the Ukraine-Russia conflict is front of mind. My heart aches for all who are suffering. As I have thought about the conflict and had discussions about it, I couldn’t help but think about history. What makes what Putin is doing different from what all empires and imperial powers have done in the past? (Note this doesn’t justify it at all). But my point is, just as people see Putin as the devil incarnate, plenty of invaded and subjugated peoples and lands see the U.S., Britain, France, Spain and other world powers in a similar, if not the same, way. Humans don’t change in the way they operate.

This led my thoughts to, Why do people invade places or conquer people? When we look at history, we could just say power and wealth and move on. The answer, however, has always been more complex. (Note again that this doesn’t make it right).

What does power mean? If we look at history, it has not been just the ability to hold onto something, and pillage or annex it. The reason power means so much to us (as humans) is the implications of it. It’s influence and a legacy of strength (and often cruelty). As humans, we are all seeking influence. Both Putin and Zelenskyy are not only fighting a fight of land and sovereignty but one of influence. Putin comes from a power that once had more influence than it does now, and he is on a mission to restore that influence.

When it comes to world powers, influence has always been key, and its effects last for generations. It not only means a political ideology– it means language, religion, and lifestyle/culture. Lifestyle (food, conflict, behavioral responses, traditions) has such far-reaching effects that it affects our epigenetics. It has an impact on our health and DNA (how we process foods or respond to trauma), and we pass this on to our children, and they pass it on to their children. It’s wild when you think about it.

Just look at Spain and the impact it had in the Americas. It brought with it architecture, foods and ingredients, language, religion, and traditions. It’s undeniable, regardless of how one feels about it.

We all wonder what is next. Will China make a bold and swift move toward Taiwan? Does anyone else in Europe have eyes set on neighboring land and people? To be honest, Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco were not that long ago. There are generations alive who have vivid memories and feelings about what transpired and how to move forward. Colonialism isn’t dead. Puerto Rico is the oldest colony in the world, at the hands of the U.S. We humans subsist on incredible double standards in how we analyze the world and world leaders.

Societies change. The fierce attitude of the Roman or Greek empires has passed away. I’d say that by comparison, our countries are led by men of weakness, but ambitious men, nonetheless. Will history repeat itself? It feels like the inevitable answer is ‘yes.’ Further, now that attacks are cyber and nuclear, it feels like all of us (and our bank accounts) are dragged into this.

As we watch how things continue to unfold on the world stage, we must remember what is at stake. Every time influence is won, its impacts reach beyond present times and influence shifts history.

Empires rise, and empires fall. And unfortunately, we are all just in the middle of it. No one can ignore it, and the ones of the past cannot be forgotten.

February 2022 Favorites

By: Gabriela Yareliz

It has been a rollercoaster of a month. It was warm on some days and bitterly cold on others. We did our Adele series. There is war. Apparently, Putin eliminated the pandemic by invading Ukraine (thanks, Putin?). Inflation was through the roof even prior to the Ukraine-Russia conflict (thanks, Biden?). There is change in the air. We are on the fast track toward Easter.

I am sharing here the things that had me thinking this month:

Top Post

Our most read post was We Start at Nothing, where we discuss being well-rested and joy. (Honorable mention to (Friend) Speech).

Provider

He (Jesus) continuously inspired them (His followers) to dream great dreams and challenged them to trust God to do unimaginable things through them. He seemed determined to teach them that if they would commit themselves to the care of humanity, they would discover the endless reservoir of God the Great Provider.” Uprising, Erwin McManus

Every morning this month, in my prayers and journaling, I continued to remind myself that God is my great provider. Heaven has my back. There is nothing He can’t do.

Spring

If Spring came but once in a century, instead of once a year, or burst forth with the sound of an earthquake, and not in silence, what wonder and expectation there would be in all hearts to behold the miraculous change.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Is there ever a moment when I don’t have spring on the mind? When winter’s harshness settles in, I start daydreaming of flower crowns and sun showers. In my almanac, it caught my attention that Chinese New Year is often thought of as a spring festival. Seems like I am not the only one who starts daydreaming in the cold months.

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again,’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” G.K. Chesterton

And then, there is the aspect of miracles. I am currently reading Miracles by Eric Metaxas. There is so much precision in nature, that if we only paid attention slightly and were more mindful of it in the day-to-day, we would know God is ever watchful and present.

Empathy

Anything that destroys empathy steers us away from humanity.” Aaron McManus, Battle Ready

They are like, ‘I stand with Ukraine.’ And it’s like, ‘Do you stand with Ukraine? Because you didn’t stand with the kids in your own city. You didn’t stand with your own fellow Americans. You didn’t stand with Canada. You haven’t really stood for much, any time.'” Bobby Sausalito

There has been a lot of talk about how we can reconcile the rifts created during the pandemic. The Ukraine crisis has brought to the world stage yet another crisis people feel the need to take a side on. (And I don’t minimize the terrible suffering happening. It’s heartbreaking).

I heard Dr. Phil the other day (clip from the TSC Him/Her Podcast) discussing our pandemic response, and how it’s possible these two years of failed policy and stupidity will give us two decades worth of trauma to manage. I do hope for reconciliation and peace, but I am exhausted by people just being like ‘Sorry’ and onto the next drama. Real people’s lives have been affected. Real businesses and homes destroyed; real countries destroyed; real health destroyed; real families and friendships destroyed; real jobs and careers destroyed; real economic futures destroyed; real faith destroyed. I wish we could stop waiting until after terrible things happen to come together.

Why can’t we stand for each other when it matters– in the middle of the storm? Half of the world’s trauma was avoidable had we had enough empathy, understanding and courage to fight for one another. And many did, but I can tell you that the majority didn’t. Here in NYC, those who were standing their ground and fighting back fought a losing battle against a rabid majority (even with restrictions lifting, they still hate us). That is why we are here. We have failed as a nation, as a globe and more disappointingly, as a church. We failed. And I pray we can evaluate how we can prevent rather than apologize after the fact. It gets old. How can we gain courage instead of hiding until the skies are blue?

NYC from the eyes of a Spaniard

I loved Patricia Benito’s series on Elle-Spain on things she learned in NYC:

First Installment: “Esto me conectó con algo en lo que pienso mucho, especialmente en este viaje: los pequeños movimientos que te llevan a sitios. Las casualidades o causalidades. El destino, si me apuras mucho.”

Second Installment: “Cosas que aprendí en Nueva York: ‘Siempre hay que intentar ir por la acera a la que le da el sol'”

Third Installment: “Te debes un respeto. Y no hay más”. Cosas que aprendí en Nueva York

Fourth Installment: «Ojalá me atreviera a hacerlo»

I think there is change in the air. February, as all time does, has left us a bit altered and changed. We move forward with hope, faith and energy for sunnier and brighter days. As Benito writes, we need to walk on the sunny sidewalk side, not the shady part of the street.

Be strong. Be courageous. See the miracles that surround you. Walk in and toward the light.

xx

GY

(Friend) Speech

By: Gabriela Yareliz

We will get extra personal today. Uncensored speech. I have been thinking about this a lot lately in regard to friendship. Do we as adults need more friendships? Is there some sort of age cap? Modern friendships are weird. We have a world that wants to opinion check everyone. If you don’t agree, somehow you are out, and this has seeped into how we relate to each other not just public figures. (Neil Young has unknowingly become his own worst nightmare).

What I have found interesting is how we can sometimes self-censor ourselves based on who we are around. There are different levels of intimacy and also sometimes this means an appropriate level of discretion. Sometimes, we do it because we know that person can’t handle us or whatever we are about to say, but then, is it worth it? I have found that in relationships that end up being more one-sided where one person shares but is unwilling to listen, it’s something draining and not worth doing. But believe me, there is a price to pay.

Friendship has been an odd thing in my life. Maybe it’s because I was always the long-distance friend. I was always moving, so it’s not like many people would journey through different life phases with me. Still, I have some friendships I treasure very much. Friendships that have spurred me onto growth, have pushed me to see the world differently, ones where we have grown together and also ones that were a branch to hold onto when life felt like a waterfall. There are a handful that have stood the test of time and distance.

Still, I have to say that recent friendships (or attempts at them) have been so strange. Things I noticed/learned in some recent weird moments: I found that because I am often amenable and a listener, someone built a fake image of me in their head based on assumptions or perceptions not based on what I actually expressed. This person came to visit and was trying to tell me who I was, which I think resulted in confusion for her because she realized that whatever she had decided about me in her head didn’t match my reality, which she had ignored.

I feel like I lost a friend who I was in touch with regularly based on a conversation we had where she expressed a lot of fear, and I encouraged her to not be afraid (I am not kidding). That led us down a rabbit hole where she realized we weren’t the same voice in an echo chamber. The conversation felt drenched in condescension and virtue signaling, and on my end, I was just frustrated and irritated that I couldn’t be accepted when I had often offered encouragement and solidarity to her because of who she was and not necessarily based on whether I agreed with her. That conversation amplified what I knew all along. I never pretended to be like her, I simply listened to her and respected her views. Apparently, that did not go both ways. She distanced herself, and that was that.

I have had friends who see me as accountability (I didn’t ask for that), and then when they needed to act against conscience, they fled. I guess the common denominator is that when it’s time for me to express myself and the other party pauses long enough to actually hear what I am saying, I often face a person lashing out at me. Have these past couple of years turned us into something weird?

I was listening to an interesting conversation on Battle Ready between the McManuses, and some things they said stood out to me:

[The discussion was on hate mail received when someone disagreed with something Erwin said. You wouldn’t believe the amount of hate mail I receive on the reg, so this caught my attention].

Erwin McManus: “They tore me to shreds, and I remember thinking to myself, So did you only listen to me because everything I said happened to always agree with you, and then the moment I said something that you disagreed with, you set me on fire? And I think that the reality is that most of us only listen to ourselves in other people’s voices.”

Aaron Mcmanus: “And there is something to that, right? I would say that something I am learning in the beginning of this year is that a prerequisite for friendship is if that friend listens to you or not. And not just on the other side of the table, but actually, when you ask each other for life advice, or don’t ask each other for life advice but the other one gives it or you give it, if they actually listen to it. I don’t know if I want to be friends– not even like cordial, well cordial yes, but not even like fringe friend with people who are unwilling to listen to each other.”

This hit home for me. I think I have realized that many modern friendships consist of people who want to be heard in their problems and insecurities and want affirmation or something, but when you talk, they aren’t listening. They only listen if you are saying what they want to hear. And then, when one day they take a pause and actually hear what you are saying, suddenly, it’s like, You aren’t what I wanted you to be!

The conversation continues:

Aaron McManus: “Are you open to accountability in your life? And it’s like, Oh my gosh, no one has ever asked that like that. And it’s like, Yes, but what does that look like?”

Erwin McManus: “I think it’s a great question because no one can hold you accountable to anything you don’t want to be accountable for. We are all too good at hiding and lying and faking, and so people are always asking me, Do you have an accountability team? And I say, Everyone I know whose life has crashed and burned had one of those. And the reality is that accountability begins with you, and then when you hold yourself accountable, your friends actually know they can speak into your life because they are trying to help you become what you already decided you want to become. No one can make you who you don’t want to be. But people can help you on your journey to become who you want to be.”

And I think that has been what I have been lacking and not had good discernment about. I am approached for advice and counsel type friendships all the time, whether it’s in my DMs or emails, or however people find me. And at times, people have expressed the desire for accountability and openness, but they aren’t there with themselves, and that has to happen first. When I heard this, it hit me hard.

I am a part of no one’s accountability team unless they keep themselves accountable and are constantly seeking growth. I am accountable for myself. And maybe that is why I search out people who are different than me, I really love to hear difference. Unfortunately, many on the other side of certain friendships with me didn’t desire that and weren’t ready for it.

I want more discernment. I want to keep holding myself accountable and growing so that others can speak into my life. I want to cultivate friendships where I am not lashed out at when I pitch my two cents, and it suddenly doesn’t match up with what the other side wants to hear. I want to find people who can hear me out and not invent me in their heads to their eventual disappointment. I don’t want people who see me as a conscience and flee from me. I guess it all comes down to the basic things we all seek, acceptance and sincerity.

I agree with Aaron, also in my 30s with him, I am learning that life is too short to be in intolerant dynamics. One should seek out different, but the different that is ready to go deep and in love and sincerity push toward growth. The other stuff isn’t worth the fringe. Many modern friendships look like manipulation.

Here is to the friendships that keep us sane. The ones that require no censorship. The ones that inspire us to reach our God-given potential for a life on fire. Burn bright.