everything is going to be just fine

As another year comes to a close we turn our thoughts to the rush and tumble of Christmas, and I have to confess that I do love it. Amidst the high-paced madness found in buying gifts, meeting friends and consuming food there is so much fun to be had. I mean, Christmas gives us an excuse for parties, presents and feasting, and who amongst us doesn’t enjoy such things?xmas-540x405

That said most people will find the silly-season a little overwhelming (or completely all-consuming) at some point, and if you’re anything like me you may also find yourself asking… ‘why?’

Why am I so stressed?

Why am I so busy?

Why am I so time-poor?

Why am I so debt ridden?

Why am I so preoccupied with everything other than the things that really matter?

Why am I subjecting myself to the chaos of Christmas yet again and when will this madness end?

Whilst I understand that such questions emerge as we are faced with all things Christmas, I do think we are being a little bit hard on ourselves. Make no mistake the very first Christmas was chaotic! A pregnant teenager and a shocked father-to-be homeless and on the road, it doesn’t get more messy than that! One can only imagine what they must have been experiencing. (Check out the short clip below made by my good friends at YesHeIs.com for a modern day spin on Mary & Joseph’s journey).

G O D  W I T H  U S

I’ve often pondered what Mary and Joseph must have felt as they approached that very first Christmas. Perhaps the chaos as we know it today is not that different to those who lived out the very first Christmas? And if this is the case, perhaps we have more in common with those who were expecting the birth of Jesus than we care to admit?

You see, when a child is born (expected or not) EVERYTHING changes. People pause to stare at new-life and they believe for a moment that hope is somehow real. Their hearts soften. They marvel at the beauty before them, a new-creation with the freedom to write a new story through a life unfolding. The blank page of possibility reflects from their blurry big eyes and it’s unlike anything else ever seen. This is true for newborns today, and this was especially true for the Christ child born in Bethlehem.

For many, a baby born in a manger two thousand years ago to a teenage girl and unsuspecting father is completely unbelievable. Even more unbelievable is that this child is claimed to be the Saviour of the universe – the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us. Some were unsure about this at the time of Christ’s birth, and it comes as no surprise that people today would still find this difficult to believe. I mean how could a perfect God be present in such an imperfect situation?

I happen to believe that ALL of Christmas, even the manic crazy and chaotic aspect of it contains something of the subtext of Jesus’ coming into this world. I guess no matter which way you look at it Christmas can only ever be about Jesus. Preparation for His coming, His arrival, and His life-giving presence all point us to the redeeming nature of God in this world. And I believe that God can be found in this time, even in the lives of unlikely, unmarried, expectant teens.

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(c) 2014 The Babes Project, photo taken by Kipindi Photography. Used with permission.

U N L I K E L Y  H E R O E S

There are thousands of young women and men in Australia (and abroad) who enter this season as Joseph and Mary once did – experiencing all of the doubts, fears, and anxiety known at the very first Christmas. They too are about to become parents. For them it’s messy, challenging, unexpected and perhaps we owe it to them to offer an alternative perspective of their situation?

If it was good enough for the God of the universe to enter human history this way, maybe it is possible these struggling parents-to-be also bear the image of the same God in the context of their circumstances? Perhaps we would do well to point that out rather than pointing the finger and adding further condemnation to their already difficult situation?

I have witnessed first hand the work of organisations like Compassion* and The Babes Project* who continue to do exactly that. They offer practical support and care to young people facing crisis pregnancy. Their efforts extend beyond giving them stuff (although they do this too and it is extremely helpful). They offer love, acceptance, care and hope. Their resounding message is ‘you are not alone because we are with you!’

It is their presence alongside these often frightened and vulnerable people that is the reaI gift of hope.

I can only lament that these incredible people and programs did not exist when I was faced with the prospect of becoming a Dad for the first time, for if ever there was a sign of the hope of Christmas they are it!

I T ‘ S  L I F E ,  B U T  N O T  A S  W E  K N O W  I T

Pondering the first Christmas a friend of mine once mused,

“… I was struck by the outrageous way that the reputation of Christ born into a patriarchal society, was tied in with that of a young unwed woman. Why wasn’t someone chosen of more proven moral standing? Anyone wishing to deny Christ only need deny the character of a teenage girl. It’s not the most watertight basis for a claim of divinity. But isn’t this like our God that he throws his lot in with the unproven and stands in solidarity with the unlikely? And when the character of those he stands with is rubbished, his image is tarnished too.” – Laura Florisson

New life is always a gift. This is true today and we can be sure that this is true of Jesus born over two thousand years ago. A baby born is always good news and Jesus birth is the Ultimate good-news story of the day. It was (and is) God screaming to all creation ‘you are not alone – I AM with you!’

In your fears, I AM with you.

In your anxiety, I AM with you.

In your shame, I AM with you.

In your pain, I AM with you.

In your uncertainty, I AM with you.

In your brokenness, I AM with you.

In the chaos of Christmas, I AM with you.

The great I AM comes in the form of new-life and new-life is to be found everywhere. Can you see it, even amidst the chaos? Because paradoxically the joy and peace of Christmas can also be found there. So pause. Remember Him. Examine His life. His words. His actions. Look for the many signs of new life all around you. Oh… and of His birth? Consider what it is His birth represents.

“All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”

For when it’s all said and done everything is going to be just fine. A baby has been born.

Merry Christmas.

BK

*Not sponsored. I simply admire their work

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3 simple words that could save your life – part 3 of 3

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A Youth Worker a Nun and a drunk are seated on a plane together… I know, it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke but the story I shared in the short clip above is 100% true. I (the youth worker, just to be clear) found myself in a near impossible situation stuck in the middle of two people with whom I was unable to connect with or escape. To the left of me, a person who was about to share the inside of their stomach, to the right of me a person that represented all things good and wonderful and holy. And then there’s me, completely and utterly stuck in the middle.

Everyone feels stuck from time to time. Life has a way of sometimes taking us to some very tough places. We look one way and we see challenges and struggles, it feels as though the proverbial bile of the universe is moments away from dropping into our lap. We look in the other direction and we see all things good, beautiful and wonderful, we desperately want to find our way there but it seems as though there is no conceivable pathway to get there.

Stuck.

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Stuck somewhere between the fear that our challenges will never ease and the hope that maybe one-day we will somehow come through the other side. You know the feeling?

Like when we crave the restoration of a relationship gone wrong.

As we deal with the rejection of a lost a job whilst trying to find another.

Like when we face the bully who won’t go away.

Like living in a period of ill-health without a foreseeable improvement.

Or just feeling ‘blah’ for no apparent reason. All of these can leave us feeling totally and completely STUCK with no way out.

Situations like these might take us to the end of our tether, but they do not need to be the end of the story. There’s more to be written. A new script. A new day. A new story. Full redemption is possible and it begins with a conversation.

It’s exactly at this point that we need to call on the most valuable of all our assets. We pull out the big guns, the high-end ammunition and attack it with the full arsenal of weapons at our disposal –

W E  A S K  F O R  H E L P

So I’m sitting on a plane, stuck between fear and hope. My anxiety was paralyzing and my feelings of panic were off the chart. What did I do (aside form panic) you might ask? Well I did the only thing I could do. I reached out and hit the button. I called out for HELP. The flight attendant came to my aid, ushered the spanish speaking Nun from her seat. I was able to get out, the vomitus vixen to my right was able to get to the bathroom and do whatever she needed to do. Shortly after we all resumed our seat and continued on the journey. Problem addressed. Sometimes all we can do is call out I NEED HELP and sometimes that is enough. But how will we ever know unless we speak up?

I have felt really stuck many times, and many times I have had to ask for help. On one occasion it saved my life. I suspect that you might be surprised at just how many people there are who are also willing to help you. But in order to unlock this support it’s possible you need to speak up. Talk to a friend, your family, your parents, your doctor. Or if you prefer contact one of the many HELP lines available (I’ve listed some below).

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The bottom line is you’ve got to seek some HELP and now is the time to do it. Coincidentally today is R U OK? day, so consider yourself asked! Should you need to I hope you can answer with these three simple words:

I  N E E D  H E L P

Say them, repeat them, type them, write them, send them to someone, SCREAM them if you have to.

I  N E E D  H E L P

Oh… and if someone trusts you enough to share these words, please respond well. Sometimes it is as simple as just listening as they talk about what is troubling them, but this simple act can indeed save a life. (You might like to check out the R U OK site for some excellent tips and resources for both helpers and those seeking help.)

Saying ‘I need help’ reminds us of our worth.

Saying ‘I need help’ moves us toward others and an experience of connection and belonging.

Saying ‘I need help’ is an important step toward hope, change and becoming un-stuck.

So remember these three simple words. They could very well save your life.

This is the last of the three post series on the topic. Thanks for hanging in there with me, I know it’s been pretty heavy. As always, I’m keen to know your thoughts. Where have you found help? What or who gives you hope? When have you said ‘I Need Help’?. Lets keep this important conversation alive.

BK

If you’re in need of immediate support or medical assistance call 000, or contact:

Lifeline    |    Beyond Blue    |    Man Therapy    |    Kids Help Line    |    Headspace


3 simple words that could save your life – part 2 of 3

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As the adage goes ‘no man is an island…’ and don’t we know it to be true! Whilst every human being is unique and valuable it is also true that we are not able to exist entirely on our own.

In part one of this three-part-post we explored the concept of I. We discussed questions of identity, personal value and life purpose (if you haven’t already, you can read part one here). In this post I want to look at the second of my three life saving words to further explore a simple yet profound truth about what you and I really NEED. But, before we begin let me remind you of the journey we are all on and reiterate why I’m writing these posts in the first place:

“If you are ever conflicted about your existence, especially to the point of thinking that it’s not worth living I want you to remember these three words – I  N E E D  H E L P . Say them out loud, to others and to yourself. Say them louder, again and again especially if you think that others have not seen you, heard you or understood you. And keep saying them for as long as your life depends on it. These three words might just save your life. – I   N E E D   H E L P !” 

So let’s continue the conversation – NEED.

I  W A N T  T O  D I S A P P E A R

I love going out to listen to bands. Something special occurs when people get together to feel the raw emotion of live music and engage in a couple of hours of hero-adulation. The musicians, the crowd, the venue and the music all intertwine to create something of a spiritual experience for me. It’s more than a ‘gig’. There’s a connection that occurs, or at least that’s what I think is going on.

I recently got to see one of my favourite Australian artists, and as I stood there and listened to her music with about a thousand other admirers I began to think about how great her life must be. I mean she gets to experience this feeling, this connection, as part of her every day working life!

She began to share something of her story and how it informed the next song she was about to perform. I listened as she completely dismantled my perception of her life. She talked about loneliness, disconnect and feeling ‘invisible’ a lot of the time. She then performed a song inspired by her celebrity musician existence that tells the tale of having many admirers, but few real friends – long flights, always away from home, she lamented

‘If one more person looks through me I could disappear… It could be sweet release, but I don’t want to cry, not here…’ – Kate Miller-Heidke, Nightflight

I looked around the room and people nodded with solace as if to identify with every word she said.

It seems my favourite celebrity muso is not that different to the everyday regular person. People today are more connected than ever. With the click of a button we can discover personal information about pretty much anyone. There are over a billion active FB users worldwide, hundreds of millions active Twitter users, over three billion hits a day on YouTube… LinkedIn, Google Plus, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr… the list goes on (and some people still use MySpace!?). But for all this connection and ability to engage with the world around us it seems we are not much better off. Some of the biggest challenges facing people in the 21st century stem from issues related to loneliness and isolation. It would seem that despite of our over connected technologically obsessed society, many within it feel completely… and utterly… INVISIBLE. Just like my favourite artist, we are surrounded by crowds of people and the more that others look through us, the more we feel like we are disappearing.

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So when did we shift from being a culture that esteemed the worth of people and become a society where people are consumed, accumulated and ignored? And more importantly how can we recover from this? Maybe we could learn a thing or two from cultures that seem to do this better. Perhaps the best way to ensure that people don’t feel invisible is to truly ‘see them’.

I love how Zulu people exchange these words upon greeting. One says Sawubona, (I see you) the other says Ngikhona (I am here). Some things are lost in a literal translate of this conversation, because what is actually being said in the midst of this exchange is,

until you saw me I did not exist.

Seeing people is more than just looking at them. To really see someone is to recognise that what stands before us more than just flesh, and blood and bones. Seeing people requires an intentional and honest look into the life and being of another human. It’s more than a passing glance, its pausing long enough to be present to those who are before us, to acknowledge their value simply because they ‘are’. Here’s the thing, when we truly see another person, we give them permission to see us and then begin to connect in quite a profound way. Perhaps that’s how it’s supposed to be?

W O L F  P A C K

We humans are highly social beings, pack-animals if you like, and I don’t believe it was ever intended that we live in isolation. A large portion of personal meaning is discovered in belonging, so it comes as no surprise that without positive interpersonal connection we’re bound to struggle. It has been well documented that loneliness is one of the most significant issues in our day and time. More people, young and old report as feeling isolated and lonely than in any other point in history.

Whilst food, water and oxygen might keep our heart beating and our physical well-being in tact, it would be fair to say that these essential elements on their own are simply not enough to sustain us. We NEED meaningful contact with others, friends, relatives, even contact with strangers is important.

Developing meaningful connections can be a complicated business and this is all the more reason to ensure that we are intentional with our efforts. In a recent visit to Australia Dr. Daniel Sweeney (George Fox University, USA) was asked what do people need in order to connect meaningfully and belong. His response,

Everyone needs to know that someone is  H E R E  (present to them in body and mind).

That someone is  L I S T E N I N G  (fully attentive to them).

That someone  U N D E R S T A N D S  them (identifies with them and their circumstances).

And that someone  C A R E S  (demonstrates like or love of them in some way by their response).

In other words what we really need to know from our interactions with others is

“I see you. I hear you. I understand you. I care for you.” We all NEED this.

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A strong relational connection to an individual or community is crucial to everyone’s health and well-being. You might be ok as far as a roof over your head, food for your belly, stuff in your garage, but if you are struggling with thoughts of suicide and self-harm it’s definitely time to revisit your relationships and broader community connections. We all NEED to belong, especially when we’re struggling. And when we’re not struggling we NEED to see, hear, understand and extend care toward others. It’s confronting to think that we might be just what someone else needs to survive their current circumstances, but I suspect it is true more often than we realise.

In my final post in this series I will look at what it means to offer and receive HELP, but for now it’s over to you. Where do you find positive connection and belonging? How is this NEED met for you and how do you meet that need for others? I’m always interested in your thoughts!

BK

If you’re in need of immediate support or medical assistance call 000, or contact:

Lifeline    |    Beyond Blue    |    Man Therapy    |    Kids Help Line    |    Headspace


3 simple words that could save your life – part 1 of 3

BLOG_IneedHelpBannerThe recent suicide of Robin Williams is tragic on so many levels. Many have written reported and commented on the details regarding his struggle with depression compounded by his recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. My heart breaks for Robin and his family and I cannot begin to imagine what they must be feeling right now. I do not wish to add further comment to the circumstances surrounding Robin Williams death, but needless to say a life lost to suicide is always tragic.

This phenomenon is not isolated to Hollywood e-news. When we look a little closer to home we see that at least six Australians end their lives every single day.

That’s 42 every week.

183 every month.

A whopping 2190 people take their own life every year.

I am not a therapist, counselor or health professional. I am not qualified in the formal sense to dish out advice to those who are really struggling (incidentally if that is you please stop reading and contact your nearest health professional or helpline). But for the record I find it heartbreaking to think that anyone should feel so helpless, hopeless and worthless that they would want to end their lives. I am not ok with suicide and I’m not about to accept that this social scourge cannot be different.

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Stats source: beyondblue, Suicide Information Paper, 2012 (Internal Document) cited on http://www.mantherapy.org.au/man-facts/man-stats

You see I have stood at the graveside of people who have ended their life. I have also found people who were in the process of attempting suicide. I have attended the funerals of young people for whom it became all too much, and also visited with communities and families who are dealing with the reality of this devastating occurrence.

No matter which way you look at it suicide is all too common in our culture and the effects are far reaching and devastating.

It seems that as long as life exists there will always be people who want to end it on their own terms. But… what if it didn’t have to be that way? I want to suggest that there are some simple words that can make the difference between life and death. Three powerful little words that can be a pivot point toward freedom a and a gate through which healing can be sought.

If you are ever conflicted about your existence, especially to the point of thinking that it’s not worth living I want you to remember these three words. Say them out loud, to others and to yourself. Say them louder, again and again if you think that others have not heard you. And keep saying them for as long as your life depends on it. The three words?

I  N E E D  H E L P

So lets start with – ‘I’

Humans have been asking ‘Who am I?’ for as long as they have existed. For the person that is finding life especially difficult this question plays like an iTunes track on repeat. The dulcet tones of negative self-speak ring louder and louder the longer they’re left unattended and at the centre of this script are the core questions of personal identity, value and purpose. Whilst there are many variations to the words we might use, in one way or another we are essentially all asking the same few questions.

10455700_10153074533941959_9054346836794167956_nW H A T  A M  I  L I K E ?

We can’t help but compare ourselves to others as we endeavor to better understand the self. This is not all bad, however when we do this we risk missing the incredible beauty, creativity and capacity that exists within each individual. Perspective is useful, but measuring our own sense of self in comparison to others can be risky business. Inevitably we begin to notice the best of others and weigh it up against the worst of ourselves and ultimately we can begin to take on attributes of others that are not indicative to our true self. The result of this is this? The I (that is you) dies a little bit more each moment until you are left with very little.

I’ve addressed this more thoroughly in my previous short video post Create or Copy, but for what it’s worth,

“You are a full colour one-off original, be careful not to become a second rate grey-scale version of everyone else.”

W H A T  A M  I  W O R T H ?

I do not believe that personal value is as subjective as many would argue. In my humble opinion every life is priceless because it is a life – your life, my life and every other person on the planet. We fight for life because we know that life is valuable. People, governments and corporations spend billions of dollars on health care and biomedical sciences, because life is valuable. A rational healthy human exhibits a desire to live and will do everything they can to preserve that life and the lives of others around them, because life is valuable. You are valuable beyond measure, even (some would say especially) when you don’t feel as though it is true.

W H A T  C A N  I  D O ?

If your basic premise is that I don’t matter, then it follows that what I do does not matter. This could not be further from the truth. Every person has a contribution to make to others around them and therefore the world at large. Part of the problem is that we frequently confuse our purpose (and therefore our meaning) with the expectations of our culture. I’ve heard it said that the grand narrative of our culture is this:

You WORK… in order to ACCUMULATE… so that you can CONSUME… then you DIE.

That’s it. Nothing more nothing less. Kind of depressing if you ask me.

10626564_10153312687311959_397179055589727105_nEven those who conquer this pattern of living still struggle with their own sense of self. Note where and with whom this post began!? Some of the most competent, wealthy, and successful people on the planet are the most desperate, lonely and lost. It stands to reason that here has got to be a better way. If it is true that we crave the opposite outcome for our lives, then perhaps there is good sense in a counter-cultural approach to living. What if we flipped this way of doing-life on its head?

That is rather than simply ‘working’ we pursue our true V O C A T I O N.

Rather than earning just to accumulate money and possessions we are G E N E R O U S with our lives and our stuff.

Rather than consuming as much as we can we could endeavor to C O N T R I B U T E  to the needs of others and the world at large.

And perhaps then at the end of our earthly existence we don’t just die, but we are far more likely to leave a lasting L E G A C Y that continues to have a positive effect long after we’re gone.

Now that sounds like a life worth living. Not easy, not trouble free, but certainly meaningful and a far cry away from the devastating place of ‘I don’t matter’.

At our best we know that there is incredible value in I. We generally believe that I matter, that I am unique to others and this is good. We inherently know that I am valuable, that I can and do make a positive contribution to others and the world at large. We know that I can live a fulfilling and purposeful life.

But when this script changes so does our overall well-being. We lose our sense of identity, value and purpose and at that point we are not left with much. At our worst we begin to think that I am not worth fighting for, that I am a hassle to those around me and that I may as well not exist. The I becomes inconsequential and irrelevant… Heartbreaking.

BLOG_IneedHelp I.002We need to recover the value of I and in doing so address our existential crises through a lense of hope rather than a lense of despair. So next time you find yourself pondering the question ‘who am I?’ and its many variations, remember:

“I am valuable beyond measure.”

“I am worth the effort to live a full and healthy life.”

“I can do whatever it takes, whatever is needed, for as long as it takes to get there. And that is one of the best contributions I can make to this world right now.”

If the I seems less than valuable to you right now please hear this – the I matters… and by I… I mean YOU.

You are valuable, you are wanted, you are loved, and you need to be here. This is why you must speak up, say it loud, say it again, say it even louder –  I  N E E D  H E L P .

Those three simple words may just save your life.

In part two of this three part post I want to address our NEED for experiencing positive connection and belonging. But for now, hit me with your thoughts. How do you understand the elusive I? How and where do you find personal meaning and purpose? I’m keen to hear your thoughts.

BK

If you’re in need of immediate support or medical assistance call 000, or contact:

Lifeline    |    Beyond Blue    |    Man Therapy    |    Kids Help Line    |    Headspace


Now that you are free…

Many a time I have told the story of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. After serving twenty seven years for daring to stand against apartheid, he was finally released. February 11, 1990. It was a remarkable day. A day where a man walked into freedom and the world was there to greet him. Even more remarkable though was the freedom his nation would inevitably experience as a result of his release. On that day chains were broken, eyes were opened, wrongs were acknowledged and lives were set free. Whilst it would take another four years before apartheid was officially over turned, his release was indeed a catalytic moment in the future redemption of his people. Nelson Mandela walked the path into freedom and he carried the freedom of his country with him.

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He was beaten, but not defeated.

He was muted, but never silenced.

He was isolated, but never alone.

He was abused, but not beyond repair.

He was imprisoned, but has been and will forever be… FREE.

I dreamed of one day meeting him, shaking his hand and thanking him for leading one of the most significant human rights movements of the modern era. Not that my thanks as a white Australian is as warranted as one of his fellow countrymen, but as one committed to the betterment of humanity through the restoration of of the world I have always been inspired by Mandela. I would have given anything to look him in the face, to see the lines on his skin caused by years of faithfulness, to listen to the stories of his life, and to look into the eyes that stared adversity in the face; and won. It just seems right that I would say ‘thank you’. Mandela is a hero of mine, a beacon of light who reminds us that it is possible to make a significant difference in the world even when our enemy has us backed-up against the wall.

As the world mourns the death of Mandela, I’m fascinated by the many articles and media reports that are circulating regarding his extraordinary life. Some are honouring of him and his cause, some are indifferent, and many simply reporting his death as another piece of news because he is a world leader. I have to wonder, does this typify the opinion of the average person and the general population toward Mandela? Is it possible that someone as remarkable as he can become simply another news item to be reported? Surely not. Surely the life of Mandela is worth far more than that.

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Nelson Mandela has taught me many things, but probably the single greatest lesson I have learned from this great leader and spiritual giant is that

Freedom is determined by our state of mind as much as it determined by a physical space…

You see it is possible to be free yet live as one imprisoned, Mandela knew this well. The day he was released from prison he was confronted with this reality. Mandela had every shade of human dignity removed from him over the course of his twenty seven years in prison. It was recorded on his day of release that he emerged an angry and bitter person. There was however a ‘moment’. As history records it, Mandela was informed by thirteen words that would forever change his life, his nation, and the world as we know it. Those words?

‘Nelson… now that you are free, do not let them make you their prisoner!

The life of Mandela serves as a constant reminder that imprisonment is not just about physical restriction and isolation, his life demonstrates the power of a person that is prepared to pursue an alternative future motivated by hope. And this is freedom.

Freedom from a system that would otherwise continue to control him.

Freedom from his own demons that would otherwise continue to torment him.

Freedom from vengeance that would otherwise thwart his cause.

And freedom from evil that will triumph when good people are not free to live different!

It seems our culture is somewhat confused about freedom. Many are afforded freedom yet frequently make choices that cause them to live as though they are imprisoned. Others seem more concerned with their right to be free, than they are concerned for actually living free. Either way, the outcome is the same. A distorted view of freedom that will not breathe life into the lifeless and bring light into the darkness. And then there is Mandela… A man who knew what it meant to live free and to be a giver of light and life in order that others would also be free.

Vale Nelson Mandela. In my mind you were not just a freedom-fighter, you were freedom-giver.  May your dream live strong, and may your legacy be found in our freedom.

BK