Last Sunday, Freedom Life Church pastor and bible teacher, Rohan Samuels covered the Lord’s Prayer. This was the second installment of FLC’s Teach Me How To Pray series where we study whether prayer is efficacious or not.
Some of us spend time on our knees doing nothing but mumbling unintelligible things to God and falling asleep where we are without realizing what happened until we wake up snoring and drooling all over the place.
Prayer sleep is some of the best sleep I’ve ever gotten and hey, listen, taking a nap before God is a great thing if that’s what we went there for. But if our initial pursuit was to seek God’s providential will for our lives in this humbling medium of communication and the result was our brain slipping into a catatonic state then something went wrong somewhere.
Prayer involves communication, not just monologues where we dispense our righteous anger, relay our seasonal depression to God, divulge our momentary anxieties and then wipe our tears, stand up or lay down from our one-sided FaceTime session with God and off we go with our lives or into oblivion to dream about other things.
Prayer is more than one-sided monologues and information dumpster fires we drop at God’s feet. If we’re not making time to stand or kneel or time to just ‘be’ in the presence of the All-Mighty then we’ll find it harder and harder to receive Guidance and Perspective from Someone we seldom stop and sit long enough to listen to and understands our destiny.
Dr. Derwin L. Gray, pastor at Transformation Church, Indian Land, South Carolina, defines prayer this way:
“Prayer is more than talking to God. Prayer is a sacred journey of becoming who you were meant to be.”
Pastor Rohan with the Lord’s Prayer in mind deciphers a better way for us to communicate with God and at the same time dispels the harmful ideas we’ve come to make tradition and doctrine over time regarding prayer that is not true and eventually turns out to be not biblical as well.
Here are just a few ideas from Last Sunday’s message I managed to jot down to add to my prayer life.
“Prayer is not about us even though it requires our participation.”
This is true. Biblically speaking, prayer is truly about us being conformed to the will of God.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
Prayer is not just a means through which we communicate with God but also a place, an act, an action, a state of being in which we are molded into the person God has created us to be and also where we align our will to His will, which, thankfully, is always good for us. [Romans 8:28]
“You are not entitled to what you pray for.”
This point is critically important but emotionally damaging if our goal in prayer is to gain everything we want from God without knowing for sure if what we want is within His will.
When we bow a knee (which isn’t necessary) to pray we are again called by God to commune with Him and walk with Him. This intimate act calls for us to subjugate our will, which isn’t always in the right place, to His direction.
Us asking for that multi-million dollar residence in Texas, the three Mercedes -Benz Brabus rockets, and a multi-million dollar business to run without ever having taken a business management course, not knowing how to properly administer funds, and never having taken driving lessons, acquiring a driver’s license, having no auto insurance will only place us in a legally and financially compromising situation.
God sees the future as if it were the past. We must trust that when we ask for things or blessings we must first adhere our hearts and aspirations to the will of God and trust His best for our lives otherwise we’ll end up getting everything we want and not knowing how or what to do with these things.
Imagine someone asking for kids and once they’re blessed with them their kids are neglected, abused, and dismissed. We need to be in a state of peace and contentment with God over the things we get from God.
“Everyone should enter the school of prayer but no one graduates from the school of prayer.”
This is a given. No one is a prayer warrior as if there were a school somewhere where men and women go to train like samurai of yesteryear to kneel and stand for hours on end. Where they practice crying, on and off, and raising hands to strengthen their shoulders for lengthy intercessory prayer sessions. Where they carry on hours-long standing sessions to demonstrate their ability to withstand twelve-hour vigils. There isn’t a place where men and women go to train their speaking voice and then their praying voice.
Prayer is a lifelong commitment to communicating with and listening to God. Understand also that God listens to you.
You won’t graduate from a prayer program the same way one graduates from a Ninja Warrior class on how to climb walls and free-run across the surface of a building.
Humility in the life of a believer is demonstrated in this way: he or she is always willing to seek God for guidance in all things instead of relying on their history, wisdom, know-how, etc.
We are all here to learn from God and learn more about how He guides us through His word and His Holy Spirit. The moment we step away from these and onto our wisdom, we have damned ourselves to our folly.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Way to pray not the words to pray.”
Pastor Rohan recites the Lord’s Prayer, the one easily found in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
The beautiful message Jesus portrays in this passage is that we needn’t get caught up in the religiosity of prayer where performance and eloquence are the goals.
Jesus relays to his disciples then and us today the simplicity of prayer: we acknowledge our Creator and are also acknowledged by Him by the grace of being heard.
We are blessed with the grace of His will, which reminds us that we are not alone in this journey without a guide or direction.
We are blessed with the grace of honesty in our moment of need. When we lack or when sustenance is something we rely on, which we do, we can gladly ask of it of God. Pastor Rohan alludes to the reality of how a first-century Jew would read this prayer, one who did not have the convenience of supermarkets and logistics we do today to get food and bread. Back then, if harvest went sour or if war swept the land, there was a very high chance you or your neighbor would die from starvation and malnutrition. So understand that sometimes we go through thirst or hunger of sorts, which may or may not pertain to physical hunger, where we desperately need to present this need to the Lord.
It is comforting to know that God accepts these petitions and hears them.
Our relationship with God is measured also by our relationship with our neighbors. Vertical only faith is no faith at all. When we place an emphasis on relationships we need to be aware that we are earthly beings with heavenly blessings, meaning, we need to care for both. Meaning, we need to properly administer both.
We must not only forgive others, but we must also love them as well. Displaying a forgiving character toward all, as hard as it may be.
We are graced with the ability to seek refuge in our Heavenly Father from spiritual uncleanliness and filth. We seek refuge and protection from spiritually impure and tenebrous spirits whose sole purpose is to disrupt our relationship with our Divine Creator.
God listens to us. And because He listens to our heart and our words, we ought to then communicate our innermost workings with Him more freely.
There is nothing that you can say that’ll surprise Him nor anything you can say that will hurt Him.
This is liberating news.
So you don’t have to pray this exact prayer as if it is holier, brighter, better, more effective, and somehow a talisman against evil itself, because it is a way for us to pray, not THE WORDS we ought to pray.
Jesus set forth a foundation for us to approach God our Father, but you are free to express your heart before Him your way, without using someone else’s words.
Give it a go!
Praise Him. Trust Him. Walk with Him.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Professor Wade Mullen, Ph.D., wrote a book on deciphering the veiled tactics abusers and abusive institutions use to maintain power and deceive victims into submission and silence. This book opened my eyes to the sketchy behaviors corporations and their ilk of lawyers and suits use to deviate blame, shift shame, and avoid guilt at all costs, all while saving face in the face of evidence, wrongdoing, malpractice, and abuse.
“Abusers and abusive organizations may concede the basic reality of the wrong—“Yes, this happened”—but quickly add statements that either soften their responsibility or promote their integrity: “We value all people and only want what is best for everyone involved.” If these concessions do their job, the accused will stay in power, stay in favor with the community, and stay far from the shame their actions deserve.”
There’s always that ‘but’ in our apologies, is there not? I believe it’s a defensive mechanism to protect our ego from one, being exposed for what it is, two, admitting wrong, and three, having to deal with the consequences of that initial or sequential wrongdoing we’re responsible for.
I’m guilty of this as well. Many times over.
I’ve apologized to others with the intent of protecting my image for the sake of my ego. No one wants to be destroyed in the public sphere or the public marketplace. Nowadays, being denied social capital is at times worse than actual capital because of ostracism from people on social media which, if left unchallenged, can last years, if not decades; or a lifetime.
“I’m sorry I did that to you but you kind of asked for it.”
“I’m sorry you felt that way but that wasn’t my intention.”
“I’m sorry this happened, it did, and I’ll put it behind me. You do have to forgive me, you know.”
These are just a few of the facades and barriers we create and put up to defang the brunt of our consequences. We’re not only afraid of the ramifications of our wrongs but we’re resistant to any form of discipline, especially if that discipline is meted out by the victim of our wrongs.
They pinpoint 23 identifiable traits abusive leaders can exhibit which, after a closer look, are patterns and behaviors we see in our own lives as well. I mean, I see a few of these in mine. It’s daunting.
Take a look:
Doublespeak—Language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts or reverses the meaning of
words using euphemisms, inflated language, jargon, or just plain nonsense
Unteachable Spirit—Claims to want to hear people’s opinions, yet talks down to and/or argue with the people who share them; pretends to listen, agree, and learn, yet makes no significant change
Corrective Theology—Use meetings or written messages to correct things that were said by others
Semantics—Distort and distract from what they and others say and/or mean by parsing every word
others say while refusing to allow their own language to be dissected
Blame-shifting—Refusal to take real responsibility; often directly blames other people and/or use
statements such as, “They just don’t understand my heart,” or “You are not listening”
Demand Loyalty/Respect/Trust—Often remind others of all the good they have done even as they
demand unconditional and blind loyalty/respect/trust
Sabotage—Ministries are secretly undone, content they can’t control is criticized, relationships are
Distorted Relationships—Heavy demands may be put on relationships, relationships tend not to be
reciprocal, they may speak well of you in-person while talking badly of you when you are not present
Demand Unity—Sincere sounding calls for unity turn out to be demands for conformity to the leader’s beliefs, ideas, and preferences
Gaslighting—Specific forms of manipulation intended to cause others to question their perception; may take the form of “remembering things differently,” withholding information, denying having said or done something, and/or lying
Credential Flashing—Degrees, position, titles used frequently to establish an air of authority
Paranoia—Concern that others are undermining their authority, talking behind their backs, or leaving them out
Image Obsession—Inflated concern about how others perceive them; often takes the form of public
name-dropping (though in private they may berate the very names they drop) and building a façade as a godly and/or deeply religious person
Blackmail—If challenged will used whatever he/she thinks he has on the challenger to quash the
challenge; may take the form of forcing a resignation, tying severance to NDAs
Public Admiration of Others—Publicly make highly positive comments about others (often fellow
leaders/co-workers) while privately tearing them down
Entitlement—Claim the right to the highest-ranking positions without having to do the actual work to achieve the position
Absence of Conflict Resolution—When approached about conflict swiftly and deftly to turn the conflict into the other person’s problem entirely
Distress is Highly Distressing—Often unable to handle the difficult emotions of others and will shut them down swiftly
Purposely Provocative—Will intentionally provoke distressing situations/emotions for/in others to
accomplish their own ends
Multiple Personas—Who they are in public, private, and specific ministry situations changes as if they are chameleons; when confronted about this lack of authenticity they will deny having multiple personas
Persistent—Above all, abusive leaders persist, don’t take no for an answer, overtly or covertly, passively or aggressively pressing themselves and their agendas on others
Best & Brightest—While not necessarily the best and brightest by training or ability, abusive leaders
work to be seen as the best and brightest in every room they enter
False Vulnerability—self-disclosures about past sin, attempts to evoke tears and emotionality in others
Now you may have noticed that the descriptions above reflect an array of leadership abuse traits within any structure but the authors focus primarily on leadership structures within faith communities. Namely, Christian church environments.
I believe it is critical to be aware of these deviations and character malformations because in the church we tend to value leaders based on their gifts instead of their character. If their performance and the results of their theatrics bring people to faith or balloons the attendance within our church circles, then, by all means, let us ignore their shouting bouts behind closed doors. It’s okay if the leader manipulates the board into giving him or her more executive and financial power without boundaries or accountability. It’s alright for the leader to exhibit multiple personas inasmuch as they visit the elderly, the imprisoned, and the orphan. It’s seen as a minor moral scruple when they sabotage relationships in the church, are obsessed with corrective theology; namely, his perspective of the ancient book is the only correct one, as long as the church stays full and tithes keep rolling in for years.
I mean, just look at the new church building we purchased! Isn’t just grand?
That is why it is so important to confront leadership abuse and abusers in every facet of society but more so within religious circles because leaders in this sphere are seen as intermediaries between us and God.
They’ve been given the keys to privileged access to the Divine. When they pray for guidance, Providence listens. When they preach the Word it seems as if the very Creator is present to reemphasize the gravity of the truth within the homiletical utterances of the minister behind the pulpit. When they counsel it is not the counsel of man but the very words of God.
And this isn’t a divinely ordained calling. These are positions, attitudes, and authority structures we create and honor and place men or women in the center of because we want palpable identifications of God here on earth.
Because our reliance on the supernatural is only efficacious if we can find a man or a woman of God to corroborate our faith. When that happens we then elevate them above the rest and call them Men of God or Prophetesses of God.
The problem with this spiritual sucking-up, if you will, is that the nefarious agents, namely, abusers who are talented, gifted, and amazing liars and chameleons of every form of good abuse their power every chance they get. They shape-shift their way through social tests of affirmation and acceptance, end up finding a way to lead the flock just by being performative.
Their results speak for them and in a results-driven society, they tend to rise to the top. Every. Single. Time.
It always ends up this way because church people are too gullible, conflict-avoiding, and kind-hearted to confront one another on these issues.
“Let us maintain the peace, please, brothers, let us have peace.”
And I am not innocent here. I have exhibited quite a few of these traits as a leader.
From unapologetic arrogance in being the corrective theologian in the room to being obsessed with how others viewed me in the church or para-church ministries. I’ve had my fair share of cringe-worthy public admiration of others moments, theologians and apologists I had never even met, who I would glorify and elevate to near-divine status. I avoided conflict because I didn’t want to confront the issues in me and less so in others, therefore so many issues would go without resolution in my circles.
I was only an authority over them as a teacher or youth leader but what the hell was I supposed to do about their personal lives? I’m not a guru!
The host and co-host of this podcast asked the authors of this list if these traits are mistakenly attributed to abusers alone because they have exhibited them from time to time as well.
The authors of the list stated that we humans tend to dip our fingers into selfish or self-preservative behaviors from time to time but these are just regular human mistakes we tend to make.
What they depict in this list of twenty-plus leadership character flaws are red flags that are persistent aspects of a person’s nature and how they deal with life and people on a daily basis.
The abusive traits we exhibit from time to time ought to be contradictory to our character, not complementary to it. There’s a difference.
In a moment of weakness or stress, we may lean on a certain practice because of a weakness or stress. We’re not naturally prone to sabotaging relationships, yelling at people who disagree with us, obsessed with correcting someone else’s theology, obsessive double-speak behaviors depending on the group we’re with. We’re not known for having multiple personas, one at home, one with a secretary, one with the board, one with the preaching team, one with this and that group. We’re one and the same all the time, just more professional in one sphere and more relaxed in another.
Our morality doesn’t change depending on who we’re with or around.
We’re not given to moral virtue signaling in front of the church in the morning and then off to rob banks, abuse kids, and cheat on our spouse in the afternoon.
We are all guilty of exhibiting one or more of these traits but out of a moment or a sequence of character weakness. We can find redemption from this by desisting from them immediately, confessing the wrongs, and rebounding within the community.
We’re here to restore people to fellowship, not power, remember that.
But if you find you are exhibiting these traits on a daily basis, that you are wholly reliant on them to control the narrative in your life and that of others, perhaps it is time to admit that you are an abusive leader. Or that you are obsessed or controlled by abusive traits.
And in that admittance, in that openness, it is time to seek help.
You can be helped but you must want it.
Again, we’re here to restore broken people to fellowship, not power. Fellowship helps build the individual. Power destroys the individual and their community.
So seek professional counseling today. Be it in the church or outside of it. Seek help to get your life and your character, back on track.
Because if you wait any longer your victim count will only increase with time. Eventually, you will lose the people you love and you will also lose yourself on this journey of life and faith.
Today marks five years since my wife and I (and our little Maya) moved to Canada. Who were we five years ago? What motivated the move? Do we regret leaving the sunshine state of Florida for the blizzardy winters and smoky summers of the far north?
So, we were broke five years ago. Not that we’re rich now but back then we were living with family, working two jobs, and barely making enough to pay our car and auto insurance every month. We struggled to have enough for diapers and formula. Yes. We saved a ton of cash by living with family but the alternative was to live in our spot, in abject poverty, under a bridge somewhere in the second wealthiest water-side city in the country.
Life was great in one sense. We lived no more than twenty minutes from the Naples Pier. Fifteen minutes from Coastland Center Mall. Twenty-five minutes away from Mercato and Waterside Shoppes.
We lived in the most beautiful city in all of Florida. Yes. My bias is kicking in here and I loved that city. We loved it. My wife still dreams about it too and would love to have a summer home there, just to escape the distasteful winters here, not that she’d move back though. But you know, have a place to go back to visit once in Naples. She loved it while it lasted. She has a thing for luxury. I mean, look at me.
My most prized friendships were formed in this city. Some of my most prized memories are from there as well.
But with such a life and city comes the cost of living there and we could live comfortably there. The industry I worked in, which didn’t pay me very well; and my wife not having the documentation to work in the US, would have eventually led us into poverty, without a doubt.
So we decided to move to the great white north to see if life could be more prosperous outside of the false American dream narrative.
Let me add, as a family of faith, we believed in following God’s voice to make this move when the opportunity presented itself. Long story short, as I received a prophetic word on two separate occasions to have my bags packed and be ready. We had peace amidst all the unknowns when the opportunity presented itself with the great family trip to Brazil, to make our move.
We spent a few weeks in Brazil after we left the US. We left nothing behind but a few furniture pieces and a ton of books that I miss dearly, but other than that we had no other earthly possessions to take with us. Our car loan was taken over by someone else. Like, we had nothing to our names so it was easy to leave. This was a bittersweet realization.
And, while in Brazil we applied for my visa to go to Canada. We left the US without knowing for sure if I would be granted access to Canada, to begin with. We could have been living in Brazil right now, for all we know. Maybe Germany, if Canada had not granted me access.
Once I left the Canadian consulate in Sao Paulo I was both ecstatic and uncaring about the future. Never before had my life been in such uncertain circumstances and for some reason, I felt at peace. Granted, being a person of faith you must understand my ease of trust in God through these times of utmost anxiety and stress and I had no other alternative. I trusted God and well, whether we got into Canada or not, I knew God would keep watch over us.
The visa didn’t take long to arrive and I used its arrival as a way to scare my mom into thinking I got denied and that my wife, my daughter, and I would stay in Brazil. This idea frightened the life out of her. Thankfully, however, it was a prank.
My parents helped purchase our tickets from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Toronto, Canada and we left Brazil. My uncle and aunt drove us to Sao Paulo from my hometown of Campinas and dropped us off at the airport. We hugged everyone. Thanked everyone for their help, their care, their hospitality, their food, and love. All without charge. It was so good to be with family, surrounded by people who spoke the language you grew up with and a culture you had come to love so much.
It was great but we had to go. We were somehow divinely ushered into these next steps.
Once we arrived in Canada, after my wife got into a verbal skirmish with a customs officer about her permanent residency status and whatnot; I was scared something was going to kick off and we were going to get deported before we even left Toronto. But we were granted access into Canada once in Toronto. We left that lovely and massive airport and flew to Calgary, Alberta.
And for you to understand just how delicate a situation we were in just check this out.
Once there, I realized it was very cold out. I didn’t like this because I left Brazil, in October, and it was warm out. We arrived in Calgary, in October, and it was cold. Ha. I hated it already.
But returning to the delicacy of our move. We set off to rent a car to drive from Calgary to Edmonton, where we would stay with my in-laws.
The car rental company accepted my payment for the car and whatnot but because I was using an American debit card and not a Canadian credit card they requested I place a damage deposit of something around 400 Canadian dollars or something.
I didn’t have that. I had little to no money left. No dollars to my name to buy my wife and my daughter a juice box, a sandwich, or a gumball. I had nothing to my name.
I walked outside as light snow began to fall. Tears welled up in my eyes as we were well over 200 kilometers away from our new home with my in-laws and there was a chance we would not be able to make it out of Calgary nor have a place to stay in that night because we were broke.
America has this sad mesmerizing power of making people very rich but the truth is that the American dream makes a lot of people rich but in the meantime, it makes millions more very very poor. We left America and charted north in a delicate financial situation.
I pulled my phone out and reached out to a friend to explain to him the delicacy of our situation, the cold, the snow, and the inability to rent the car. This friend, a gentle soul, wired me the money without question and suggested I never pay him back.
Through tears, I thanked him and promised to pay him back, well knowing I had nothing left to my name to honor this statement. With time, however, I did pay him back.
We rented the car and then drove north through the cold Albertan plain.
We arrived at our in-laws, hugged each other, ate a hearty meal, rested, and then lived for a time, without worry. Like, a day or two, because my wife had to find work because our work situation had flipped.
In the US I could work but she could not. In Canada, she could but I couldn’t. We needed money to apply for my papers (work permit and permanent residency). So she applied in one place and then another. Applied here and then there. And she finally got a job at a car dealership. A fancy one at that.
Problem is that we didn’t live in Edmonton just yet. Well, my in-laws didn’t live in Edmonton. They lived in a country area 70 kilometers south of Edmonton. And her new job was on the northwest side of Edmonton which meant she would drive about 80 kilometers to get to work and then 80 kilometers to get back home. We borrowed enough money to buy a car, cash, off of some wealthy guy in town, and by this point, it had begun to snow outside.
I would wake up around 5 am, drive this dusty and rusty old Hyundai Sonata through the snow for ten to fifteen minutes and then come back so that once my wife got into the car, the engine was warm enough and the heat was blowing hot in it. And off to work, she went. And she would get home very late at night because her job was so far away.
Eventually, this car would break down. I kept hearing creaks and cranks, metal bending and twisting, and I would tell my wife about the noise, how the car would veer to one side more than the other, and how it would groan when we turned this way or that way. She said it was nothing to worry about because Edmonton roads are just full of holes and whatnot.
They were. They are. Roads up here are horrible.
And one day, while driving nearby her work, caring for chores and whatnot, the car began to make louder sounds and my wife suggested we pull into the nearest Canadian Tire car shop for an inspection. Once there, I pulled into the parking lot and when I put the transmission in reverse, the front end of the car dropped to the floor and the car would not budge.
My wife saw the car drop and saw the panicked and desperate look in my eyes, as she stood outside trying to help me with reverse parking it slowly and she began to laugh a kind of laugh I hadn’t heard before. Whether it was stress or panic or fear or just pure comedy, I don’t know, but she laughed so much. She could not control herself. It’s the kind of laugh that happens when you sit in church and something embarrassing happens and you know you shouldn’t be laughing, but you can’t help it and it bursts out. But times 10 in this case.
This happened late in the day and it was so cold out. I kept the car on so that Maya, our little one, could stay warm in the car. Our gas was running low and we didn’t have money for a cab back to Wetaskiwin, where we lived with our in-laws. We were in a rut. We were stuck. Literally. It was snowing out. There was ice on the sidewalks. Ice. That’s the strangest thing ever. You could die if you slipped on that stuff.
Anyways, my father-in-law, that gentle soul, who also worked in Edmonton was on his way home to Wetaskiwin when we called him to rescue us in Edmonton. He turned his car around and drove toward us, picked us up, and well, we went home.
That car experienced so many issues. We borrowed money from family and paid to have it towed from Canadian Tire to Wetaskiwin and then somewhere else and finally to a Hyundai dealership. We dropped it off at the Hyundai repair shop because a buddy of mine from Lehigh Acres diagnosed the issue after a brief conversation and determined the issue was a recall which placed the fault of the malfunction on the manufacturer. The repairs cost us nothing. The tow truck costs were eventually covered by Hyundai. The car was repaired. It broke down again and again but Hyundai covered those costs as well. At that point, we were allowed to trade that old junk in and get a newer car, which, we did on the spot.
We ended up getting a tiny Hyundai Elantra that suited our family needs just fine… had we not been living in a polar vortex. Driving a tiny front-wheel-drive car in flat sun-scorched Florida is an amazing experience. But driving that four-cylinder baby up a hill through a blizzard is one of the most devilish things one can attempt. Many a time I thought the car would stall mid-climb and we would slide down an icy road to a wintery death in the Edmonton Saskatchewan River.
Thankfully that never happened. We got close, but never.
We eventually saved enough of my wife’s recent earnings, to the last penny, to move into Edmonton so that we could be closer to my wife’s work. We looked into one apartment after another and we found one where the owner was understanding of our delicate situation.
I mean I wasn’t working. My wife was and we barely made enough to cover our costs but he saw that we were honest folk struggling to get by. His life story in moving from India to Canada, he would later tell us once he invited us to his home for tea and cookies, was similar to ours. His heart in all this was a heart of gold.
We got the apartment, my wife was pregnant, and wait, yes, my wife got pregnant again. How? I don’t exactly know but here we were in Canada, newly moved into the country, a newer car, added costs, it’s winter, and while we moved from Wetaskiwin to Edmonton a blizzard descended upon our vehicles thus proclaiming to us that to get to Edmonton we would have to sacrifice our firstborn.
We didn’t, of course.
We moved into our two-bedroom apartment, without a bed frame, just a mattress. No table, just, linens, sheets, a couple of plates, and cutting utensils. No TV, no cable, no internet. My mother-in-law was kind enough to take my wife and Maya to the store to purchase our new home essentials for us. From towels to dishes and pots and whatnot.
We had barely enough food in the fridge because, again, we had borrowed so much cash just to cover things, borrowed money to apply for my residency and work permit, borrowed money for a damage deposit on the apartment, but only paid the owner half and promised him the other half in two weeks when my wife got paid. We couldn’t afford it and so we were behind on a lot of things. We survived on the graces and food of our in-laws and the random acts of kindness from a select few church people we had met along the way.
My wife revealed to her employer that she was pregnant and within two weeks they had dissolved her position in that company.
My wife comes home after that depressing revelation, jobless and pregnant with our second child. I was home with Maya, jobless and unable to work. Bills were looming over us. Stress. Hunger. Stress. Worry. And so on.
My mind was not in the best of places.
Anywho, a few days later, miraculously, my work permit arrived in the mail and the very next day I set off to apply for work everywhere. I set up a new bank account, updated all of my info to reflect my residency in Canada. And I applied everywhere. I applied in so many places that I lost count.
One place was willing to hire me on the spot and at another firm, the finance guy who would oversee my work wanted to have a sit-down and chat.
I was exasperated for work and this dude sees me and wants to just chat. Like… I don’t have other places to be, dude.
That guy would hire me the following week and would also become one of my friends.
We worked at this construction association for just short of two years before this same guy helped me get a better paying job within a better work environment in a different company.
At this point, we had met a faith community that welcomed us in (we would later leave this community for many reasons) and we had made so many friends that we cherish to this very day.
As we worked, earned, paid back some people, borrowed here, lent there, helped here, were helped there, we moved to a bigger place, got a better car, and a better job, we kind of just kept moving forward.
Five years in and we’ve added three girls to our family. Four girls under our belt!
We’re not rich. Not even close. We’re not wealthy. Not even close either.
But compared to our life in sunny Naples, Florida, (aka, paradise) we are lightyears ahead in life. Like seriously, I’m not putting the US down but life and lifestyle up here are a thousand times better because, by God’s grace, we managed to accomplish in five short years in Canada what would have taken us ten-to-twenty years in Florida.
Life was a struggle there but it was an embarrassing life because all you saw around you was exuberant wealth.
Here, even though we struggled at first, and continue to do so (we are able to actually support ourselves and live in our own place now), we see that everyone is pushing and growing through something of their own. It feels more normal to work and strive and push and grow through things up here knowing that everyone is in the same boat.
Except for the Chinese-Canadians. They’re on another level of affluence that is equal to or greater than the wealth of Naples folk.
We still lend money to friends. Friends return the favor. Debts are canceled. People are helped. And whatnot.
That part of our lives is still a work in progress we hope to one day overcome.
But what I love about living up here is that the dream of actually making it is still very much possible and attainable. And I don’t mean Bezos or Musk kind of making it. I don’t mean Gates or Jobs either.
My wife keeps assuring me that we will make it one day, whatever that means. She has that Naples mindset.
No, what I mean is the opportunity at a normal life is attainable in Canada without sacrificing life and limb.
Plus, should that be the case, I can just rush to the nearest hospital or clinic where I will be attended to and cared for at no added cost because my taxes pay for my healthcare.
That’s unheard of in the US.
My kids visit their pediatrician and there’s no co-pay involved. Nothing like that. They go, get their check-up, get prescriptions for whatever, we pay cents on the dollar for their drugs because my work benefits… work.
I can get eye exams and dental check-ups for free. To an extent. New glasses and frames, covered.
I can fracture my knee into ten places and go in for surgery and come out without a single bill.
In Naples, when Maya was born, we spent three days in the hospital. Once we got back home we receive two bills from the hospital totaling up to $30K.
How…. how could we ever pay that off? We didn’t. We wouldn’t. We couldn’t. We never will. Trust me on that one.
We’ve had two babies here in Canada and the only bill we had to pay was the parking spot for our car at the hospital parking lot.
A third baby is on her way to be born here and we’re not worried about $30K bills coming in the mail.
Life is different up here. I’m not saying life is better for everyone but it has been better for us. We have struggled and we will continue to struggle and strive for sustainability so we can give our girls a better opportunity at life up here, the same way my family moved to the US to give us a better opportunity at life.
Every generation makes a sacrifice for their kids and not the other way around.
I thank my parents for going through what we went through but for decades when they moved from Brazil to the US. I can’t count the many jobs they worked, cleaning offices, laboratories, clinics, on top of their day jobs just to provide for us. Kept us in school and well-nourished, fed, loved, and cared for.
But when we, my wife and I, set off to start a life for ourselves, the US just wasn’t as profitable or as conducive a place for our wellbeing as Canada has been so far. I’m generalizing the US, and for that, I apologize, but the wealthiest country in the world also produces a hell of a lot of homeless people too.
Something’s wrong there.
Either way, Canada has been good to us in the sense that the opportunities promised to us by a meritocracy like the USA were only attainable and fulfilled outside of the USA.
I don’t know how many struggles we’ll face in the near future but we’re somewhat a bit more prepared, maybe, to tackle them now.
I’m older now. My wife got younger in the face but older in the heart because of my antics. We’re wiser. Four kids in. Fourth in the womb but still with us.
If someone were to ask us if we’re ready to leave Canada we’d say, no.
If someone were to ask if we’d be willing to move, say, to Germany. I mean, I love the place and I’ve never been. I’d say I would visit, first, and, this depending upon my immediate disdain or unabashed love for the country, I would pray about it.
I am not averse to the idea of moving to Europe someday or anywhere else.
It’s just I feel we’re not done doing what we’re meant to do here.
I don’t have that same agitation in my heart as I did when we were beckoned to leave Florida.
That utterance that pushed us enough to consider leaving the US.
My heart is at peace here.
And I’ve also played in a band!
Anywho, do pay us a visit. Don’t just show up because we won’t open the door. Visit Jasper, Banff, Calgary, Edmonton, and well… yeah, that’s about it for Alberta. Ha. Visit Vancouver, Whistler (winter, preferably), and Toronto.
Canadians aren’t all nice, you know. Some of them have a nasty temper. They’re just like you and me with the exception of the moose riding fetish thing. It’s a cultural thing. Don’t try to understand it.
Other than that, give the Canadian way of life a chance. We did and it worked out… so far.
Side note from my wife; if anything, this season only strengthened and grew her faith and trust in God. You’d think a life filled with struggles, month after month would make a person bound to give up, to doubt. However, she reiterates, indeed it proves rather how every time we were close to breaking God came through. She sees his hand in everything. I mean the times we’d see no food in the fridge and $0.04 in the bank account and the confidence she would have by saying “God’s going to provide” and He sure did. Somehow, someway we saw him working where obstacles and struggles came yet He made a way for us to be here, right now.
Welp, that’s five years in Canada for us. Let’s see what happens in the next five!
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Someone needs to hear this: God is love and God loves you.
Some of you were taught otherwise and it shows. The myopic view of God as a spiteful, rage-filled deity has discouraged many from seeking God.
Many of us grew up in faith communities that spoke bounteously about God’s punitive justice (abatement of evil) and sparingly about God’s reparative justice (restoration of good(s) lost in the sinful state).
And God’s justice is not punitive alone as many of you have been taught to believe. (Hellfire and brimstone preaching, anyone?)
Here is Timothy Keller on Herman Bavinck’s interpretation of divine justice:
“In his magisterial work on God’s attributes, Herman Bavinck argues that in the Bible, God’s justice is both retributive and reparative. It not only punishes evildoing, but it restores those who are victims of injustice. Yet interestingly, “God’s remunerative [restorative] justice is far more prominent in Scripture than his retributive justice.” God stands against “perverting the justice due the poor… slaying the innocent and righteous… accepting bribes…. oppressing the alien, the widow, and the orphan…” God “raises them to a position of honor and well-being… Doing justice with an eye to the needy becomes an act [also] of grace and mercy.” And therefore, God’s restorative justice “is not, like his anger, opposed to his steadfast love but is closely akin and synonymous with it.” His justice is “simultaneously the manifestation of his grace (Psalm 97:11-12; 112:3-6; 116:5; 118:15-19).”
One of the reasons why some of us hold hostile notions toward organized religion and suspicious sentiments toward communities of faith is because our understanding of God’s love and justice was twisted by nescient individuals within these institutions whose goal was to enslave us, not liberate us with the gospel message.
Our receptivity of God’s love for us is either amplified by a healthy understanding of God and His word or crushed by men (and women) who improperly use that same word to control people.
God reassures us that justice is a great thing. Especially when that justice is meted out to thwart and abate evil. God’s justice is also reparative in the sense that it is necessary to restore dilapidated souls, relationships, families, and communities.
God is not only in the business of neutralizing evil in the human heart. It is just of Him to stop evil. We need God to stop evil ‘out there’ in the world, physical and metaphysical, and, His grace allowing, ‘in here’ in reference to our community and also to the human heart.
God is love and this love demands that justice must exist and that it must be effective in a fallen world. We’re taught that sin breeds evil and that sin is entrenched in every heart thus postulating that every person has the propensity for evil.
Justice demands that sin be excised and abolished because its ramifications if left unchecked, spreads in the heart of the individual and in his community thus producing sinful structures.
Sin is destructive to the self and it creates systemic evils.
God’s punitive justice demands the sin in us be abolished but that sin is so engraved in our nature that to destroy sin God would have to destroy us. That’s normally what many of us know about the gospel and about redemption. Outside of the substitution of the cross, we are left on this earth as the receptacles of the full weight of God’s punitive justice; deservedly so.
That’s all some of us know. That’s all some of us were ever taught.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Learning about God must entail we learn as much as has been made available to us about God, meaning, learning more about divine justice being both retributive and reparative.
Meaning, God’s justice is set in motion not only to confront evil, which is actually an amazing thing, but also to restore that which was lost, stolen, hijacked, kidnapped, and ruined in us by sin.
Imagine a court is set in motion to hold criminals accountable for their crimes, which is a necessary aspect of a civilized society. But we must also remember that the judicial system exists to restore that which was stolen, pay back that which was sifted, repair that which was broken, remunerate where and when possible in accordance with the law.
Our earthly courts have demonstrated just how problematic it can be to only exhibit one form of justice whilst ignoring the other.
Take, for example, an innocent man wrongly convicted and forced to serve a twenty-year sentence for a crime he did not commit. Someone falsely accused him of something, his public defender was too over-encumbered with other cases to take him seriously, he was offered a plea deal to lighten the time spent behind bars, evidence was falsified against him by law enforcement, and the jury was biased against him because of the color of his skin.
Imagine fifteen years into his sentence he is exonerated. His name is cleared by his initial accuser, who still walks about free. The court does not apologize for its missteps. His public defender abandoned him years earlier. The police officers who falsified his confession have since retired with hearty pensions, without consequence. And this exonerated soul is set free into a different world from the one he left once he was incarcerated and he has no money or land to his name.
The courts did right by punishing evil (or at least it thought it did by punishing someone for a crime) but it failed to restore and repair that which was broken once the truth came out.
Justice must punish wrongdoing and at the same time, it must repair the breach the initial wrong caused.
Divine Justice is equally retributive and reparative.
What would make this case end on a brighter note is to imagine the man exonerated, his accusers jailed and tried for falsifying evidence, statements, perjury, and fraud. And also, that the court apologizes for its initial mistake and then repays the man the millions and millions of dollars owed to him for the harms he suffered behind bars all those years and as a means by which he can restart his life with something rather than nothing to his name.
The police officers involved must then lose their pensions for falsifying evidence. This seems extreme but perjury is a crime that deserves a consequence.
Justice is set in motion to hold wrongdoing accountable and deliver the victim of these wrongs into a place, a state of being, an identification of being restored by the systems set in place to restore righteousness to the land.
Justice is righteous, you know.
The cross is where punitive and reparative justice intersects to benefit us spiritually and physically.
Christ is punished for our sins and Christ is also the avenue by which we are restored not only to God but also to one another.
“Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelations 21:5 is not indicative of just the new heavens and the new earth, but of a new people, transformed into the likeness of Jesus, living, breathing, operating, and working to live as He did on earth.
So, in light of this renewal, this indwelling, this transformative Person guiding us through life, we must walk as He did, restoring, repairing, and restituting wherever possible.
This is hope-inspiring for victims of abuse, mistreatment, violence, terror, and all categories of wrongs. It is refreshing to know that God is bent toward justice and He seeks not only to obstruct evil but also the infrastructure created by sin on which evil travels.
God’s justice abates evil and repairs brokenness.
If you are a victim, a destitute soul who has been harmed by a sinful world, seek God’s justice, not just in this life but the next.
To rectify wrongs and heal wounds.
Thank God we can seek both.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
What am I to you, World, but a passing stranger? A vagabond hitchhiking through your darkest corridors, going about shining the light of my Master. What have I to offer you World? A corpse. That’s all. Have I brought gifts; absolutely. Invitations really, to the greatest of all festivities, the grandest of all banquets; yes, even the largest supper you’ve ever witnessed, dear World. But, the truth is you will not accept this invitation from above, no, you will willingly crumble under the sins of past and present; oh yes, even the sins yet to be committed. Tell you what, soon to be destroyed World, the Lord is gracious and has promised to make you new as well. Did you really think the Creator would only focus on us humans? Absolutely not! Yes, your hopes are up even though you endure intense pains. Despair not World, for as a flower is crushed a perfume is made. With your death and destruction, a new place will be made and you will be new just like in the beginning. I cannot wait to meet you then and enjoy your beauty.