Persistence With A “P”

October 21st, 2010


Three syllables linked together: so easy to say, yet so hard to own.

I’ve been wondering lately about persistence. What is it in a human being which says, “I know it’d be easier to give up, and I keep thinking I should… but I just can’t – I won’t.”

An on hand dictionary says that to persist is “to continue unwavering or resolute or firmly in some purpose or course of action.”

Unwavering… resolute… purpose…. I like those words. I like the idea of their being part of what defines us.

Yes, “unwavering” has connotations of being stubborn, but in this context it implies focus and refusal to be distracted. Sounds good to me: I admire people who have the wherewithal to abstain from three hundred cable channels of inanity and compulsive crossbreeding with their PDA of choice.

“Resolute” sounds like Thomas Jefferson – the good parts. Words like “bold” and “courageous and “intrepid” come to mind. Jeez, wouldn’t you just love for someone to call you “intrepid”?

“The intrepid composer persevered boldly and courageously through the Broadway establishment and found a producer for his new Musical.”  Yeah baby, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

And last but not least: “purpose”. What’s a life without dreams and goals and destinations? Isn’t your day so much more delicious when you’re on a mission?

And we don’t always have to be persistent on a grand scale, do we? A lawmaker in pursuit of passing an equal rights amendment is really no more relentless than a student studying day and night for her S.A.T., or a teacher who refuses to give up on a difficult child.

Personally, I’m finding persistence to be an elusive suitor. In the last week I’ve experienced moments when heady terms like “brilliant” and “masterpiece” were being heaved at me – yet seconds later when I was still feeling like another nose pressed against the glass.

But though I’ve often felt like saying I’ve had enough, after a few hours of licking my wounds I’ve found myself continuing to try, fueled by recognition that I won’t be able to live with myself if I don’t.

And isn’t that the essence of it for all of us? As usual, it’s about choices. We choose to live either with sorrowful regrets or in the satisfaction of knowing that there were chapters in our personal stories when, despite the odds, we were resolute and focused and determined.

But here’s the kicker: we don’t have to do it alone. We don’t have to take the world on our shoulders in the pursuit of our goals. It’s not our job – it’s God’s.

Oh yeah… “God”. I almost forgot.

Now I remember: we’ve got a God who loves us. We’ve got a God for whom our little goals are less than a snap of His holy fingers. We’ve got a God who has a plan for us – and we’ve got a God with whom all things are possible.

Come to think of it, He’s the One who gave us the gift of persistence.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling better now. I’ve got a renewed sense of unwavering, resolute purpose. Of course I have to continue being persistent, because my God’s walking alongside me – and He’s got my back.

I think I’m actually feeling a little bit intrepid.

How about you?

Clarity At Its Own Pace

September 25th, 2010

With all their majesty, for me this year’s High Holy Day services of my religion-of-choice had a flavor all their own.

For those who may not be familiar, reform Jewish High Holy Day services are divided in five: an evening and morning service celebrating the Jewish New Year, and a week or so later an evening and two separate daytime services experiencing the Day of Atonement – the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar.

After a lovely first evening’s services, my arrival at the sanctuary the next morning was greeted by an excited friend with magazine in hand. “Congratulations, congratulations! Have you seen it yet?”  I asked what she was talking about, and she said, “the article about you in this week’s Los Angeles Jewish Journal! Here, I’ve brought a copy for you!”

And there it was: a column by Journal editor Rob Eshman titled “You Don’t Know Jack.”

I decided to hold off looking at it until after the service concluded, and excited anticipation became an ingredient of my morning’s experience. Immediately afterward, at the first quiet moment I sat down to read.

My first reactions were gratitude and admiration. How kind of Rob to give me such a generous, sensitive spotlight. And as I read, I was taken both with his usual exceptional writing abilities and his display of integrity and insight.

A beautiful present and notable way to start the Jewish New Year.

But as I read, I also began feeling some regret that much of the column detailed my past, and what happened fifteen years ago. I know – it’s a major part of my life’s story, but still….

And immediately I began dreading the following week’s Day Of Atonement services – ironically fifteen years to the day since my children were taken – and the miserable prospect of being viewed as a victim all over again.

It’s not that I’m in denial about my past – how could I be? But early on I made a choice that I’d fight the impulse to let it define me as an object of tragedy, and I’ve worked hard for a long time to minimize that perception.

I’d like to think that my life, my music and my writing today have become about praise of God, love, creativity and service to others… and profound gratitude for every blessed moment.  I’ve become convinced that, like it or not, our worst challenges afford us extraordinary opportunities to better the world. I believe that every day God provides us with circumstances and scenarios in which we can be of help to others, but our eyes and hearts must be open to recognize them.

When others hear of my story and my music today, rather than sadness, I’d far rather they come away with hope, inspiration and a bit more certainty that they can survive any of their life’s trials – as long as they remain in alignment with the God who so clearly loves and cherishes them.

Ironically, the cover story of the following week’s Journal – with the word “Hope” emblazoned across the front in big letters – talks about the message I’d like to think that I stand for and share with others.

But as a dear friend says to me when I’ve manufactured turmoil in my life, “Pal, you’re right on schedule. There’s no accidents in God’s world.”

And he’s right again. It all turned out the way it was supposed to. Yom Kippur had its emotionally bumpy moments, and some people came up to me with that familiar look of pity in their eyes.  But even more said that, despite the fact they were so sorry I had undergone such trauma, they came away inspired.

And again I got to play music and conduct my choir – once more having been granted the privilege of utilizing my art to be of service to God.

And yet again, I was so grateful.

For those who didn’t know me before, after reading the article I’m not sure whether or not they still don’t know Jack – at least this year’s edition.

What a great new challenge I have for this New Year: to find other avenues to let them know.

As stated: a beautiful and notable new beginning.

Thank You God for the gift of  clarity – even if it comes at its own pace.

The Gift Of Desperation

September 15th, 2010

Having been around the Recovery Community for a number of years, I’ve heard an assortment of venerable, insightful slogans. No doubt you’ve heard some of the more familiar ones: “One Day At A Time”, “Just For Today”, “Easy Does It”, etc.

However, this morning I heard a new nugget of insight, and it resonated with digital clarity. It came from someone I hadn’t previously met – a seemingly articulate, accomplished, successful individual.

Her statement was, “I’m grateful for the gift of desperation”.

Yes, I know: we’ve all heard the essence of that thought before. But nevertheless, there’s something about hearing the words “desperate” and “gift” in the same sentence that whisper a unique sense of truth to me.

“Desperation” usually means we think we’ve hit bottom. Our luck appears expired and “hope” is for somebody else. Fear’s about to overtake us and we’re on the brink of panic. Some might describe the feeling as being incomprehensibly demoralized.

But aren’t those the moments when we’re willing to try anything? Aren’t those the times when we’re most prone to recognize that we can’t live our lives run on Self Will alone? Aren’t those the junctures at which we’re most willing to finally turn to the God who loves us?

And as a result, those might actually be the holy moments when our lives really begin to change. Previously undreamed-of options start to appear. Obstacles we thought insurmountable are slowly, systematically conquered. Agonizing, self-sabotaging impulses over which we felt utterly powerless – gradually, miraculously become surmountable on a daily basis, with God as our Director.

Desperation’s no fun – no one asks for it. But I feel a sense of comfort and encouragement hearing that there are those who’ve concluded that some of their worst moments turned out to have been God’s most profound gifts.

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

June 25th, 2010

It’s one of those moments in life when I decide whether or not to put my money where my mouth is. I can either walk the walk or acknowledge to myself that, in some respects, I’m a fraud.

Over the past several years, whenever friends and acquaintances have been in difficult times, when appropriate I’ve sometimes offered up their potential choice of faith over fear. I’ve made a humble friendly suggestion that a path of relying on God could be far less painful than dwelling in fear of what might or might not happen.

And as I write this, there’s a handwritten sign taped on the wall over my desk which says, “With God all things are possible.”

I know I’m not a deliberate hypocrite. There have been numerous bumpy times in my life when I adapted a mantra of “Thy Will, not mine be done” to get me through – and in the end, it always does. It’s one of the primary directives by which I live my life.

But sometimes more than others, it’s a tough posture to maintain. It’s an admission that although we’re trying our best, and doing everything we need to do – we’re ultimately powerless over the results. And alongside our heartfelt prayers for a good outcome, we’re kinda saying to God that, no matter what happens, it has to be O.K. with us.

No, not kinda… we’re saying it.

Whew, what an order! I’m not sure if I can go through with it right now.

This adventure in which I’m currently entrenched isn’t an unusual one. The initial results of a minor surgery I underwent about three weeks ago were spectacular. I felt better than I’ve felt in years – as if someone had given me a drink from the fountain of youth. More importantly, it made me recognize how impaired I’ve been in some areas lately.

But the symptoms have returned, and it’s a bit rough going for the moment. The doctor is taking an entirely new tack, using formerly unspoken terminology – some of which is intimidating. The good news is that I’ve asked the big questions, and I’ve been assured that ultimately everything should turn out O.K.

But it’s frightening. Who really knows for sure, right?

I don’t know about you, but in situations like these, if I’m not careful my mind will default to the most dire scenarios.

Immediately I thought of my last blog where I wrote about Randy Pausch and taking final inventory of our lives. “What if that was a Divine sign?” I’ve wondered. “What if God was giving me an opportunity to say my farewells, and I didn’t know it?” “What if this is one of God’s little ironic life and death scenarios and I’m the star of the show?”

“Holy Cow!” (or something similar…)

But a breath of sanity has just come to mind.

What about all the people I know who’ve undergone, and are undergoing some kind of health challenge? Jeez, the list is endless. Come to think of it, most everyone I know has had one – or more.

And suddenly I’m realizing the truth: all that’s happening here is that it’s my turn at bat.

No big deal – no matter the outcome – it’s just my turn at bat.

And how have all those others dealt with their opposing pitchers? As far as I can see: with courage, graciousness, resolve, humor and… faith.

Shame on me for faltering. I should know better and recognize the lessons all those friends are helping to teach me. All I can do is try my best and leave the results to the God who loves me.

I’m not a fraud – no need to belittle myself or think of myself that way. I’m not a hypocrite – just a human being experiencing understandable emotions.

But I can choose faith in the Almighty rather than dwell in a morass of “what if’s”.

And I can remember everything for which I am so grateful and say, “Thank You, God, for every day of my life.”

It’s another series of opportunities to put my money where my mouth is.

My only question: are five dollar bills less fattening than twenties?

At This Moment

May 24th, 2010

Last night I stumbled upon one of those films which tells the familiar story of a long-in-the-tooth philanderer who finally discovers the value of true love. In typical film fashion, he sees the error of his ways just in time to finally get the right girl, along with a real family and a slice of personal redemption.

I’m anything but a philanderer, but some of my friends apparently think of me as “relationship-challenged”. And though I’m sure it speaks to their inevitable appreciation of my fiance rather than their complete lack of faith in me, I’m amazed at the number of folks who, after meeting her have taken me aside and threatened – in varying degrees of colorful language – “Jack… don’t louse this one up.”

I’m trying not to, guys… I promise.

On another front, as of this writing I’m on schedule for some out-patient surgery this week. It’s a rite of passage which comes with age and, considering how many more serious scenarios could’ve been involved, I’m more grateful than concerned.

But still, truth to be told, I’m a little nervous. Surgery is surgery, and once in a while things don’t go exactly as designed. I’m sure I’ll be fine, but no matter what, I’ll be right on schedule for God’s plan for me.

However, the prospect of all this has gotten me thinking about Randy Pausch.

In case you haven’t heard, he’s the heroic Carnegie Mellon professor who, near the end of his courageous bout with pancreatic cancer, offered a brilliant, heartfelt public inventory of his life, values and hopes for the world, in a speech called “The Last Lecture”. At latest count, over six million people have seen video of the speech or read the resulting book.

I wonder what each of us would say to the world if we knew our lives were in their final acts? I wonder what I’d say if I knew this were my last column?

And the thought occurs to me that even if we’re not at a certain end-of-life circumstance, might it not be valuable to compose a similar fearless, soul-searching documentation every few years anyway? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a chronicle of our evolving priorities and values?

So let’s see… what would I really want to say in such an inventory right now?

At this moment I’d thank the ones I love for being in my life. I’d tell them over and over again how grateful I am for them, and for the pride I feel in who they are. I’d tell them that their presence are the measure by which I know that God loves me.

At this moment I’d thank my friends for their devotion, their laughter and their unconditional caring. I’d thank them for seeing me through my toughest hours and making the good times so utterly sublime.

At this moment I’d thank my temple for allowing me to ply my craft in praise of God, and filling me to the brim with gratitude, support and friendship. I’d tell them that my participation in this shuel gives my life meaning beyond my wildest dreams.

At this moment I’d tell my colleagues that their artistic and spiritual collaborations are oxygen for my mind and soul, and through them I allow myself to be the artist I’ve always dreamed of being.

And at this moment I would express hope and optimism for the future of this world. I would emphatically state my belief in the inherent goodness of humanity.

I would reveal that every day I’m humbled by mankind’s undying quest for spirituality, love and companionship. I’d express my unwavering conviction that, despite seemingly unjustified challenges which befall us, God knows exactly what He (or She) is doing.

And I’d wonder how my thoughts today will compare to the next time I do this exercise.

And how about you? What would you want to say to the world at this moment?

Re-reading my list, I hope my intentions don’t change much. I guess a guy who’s formerly “relationship-challenged” can find some clarity too, even it he’s not in the movies.

Holding On To Cinemascope Dreams

April 26th, 2010

I remember years ago listening to one of radio’s first on-air psychologists, a lady named Doctor Toni Grant.

Toni was perfect for the gig. Possessing of smooth, dulcet tones and a reassuring, level-headed manner, she espoused traditional family values long before political fear-mongers expropriated them as weapons of mass manipulation. She never screamed, shrieked or deliberately belittled anyone. She was the gold standard by which today’s media shrinks should be measuring themselves, though regrettably few do.

It was on Dr. Grant’s shows that I first heard the two sagely phrases, “life is not a dress rehearsal” and “life isn’t always fair”.

In retrospect, they both appear hackneyed absolutes of today’s self-help culture in which everyone’s got an answer for everyone else’s problems.

But they’re still big pills to swallow – especially side by side.

On one hand we’re warned that we’d better live in the here-and-now, because today is yesterday’s tomorrow. If there’s places to go and people to see, the time to act is now. If our hearts are of cinemascope dreams, we’d best set about making them come true, because who knows what tomorrow may bring?

And it’s good advice which goes hand in hand with Rabbi Hillel’s famous words, “…and if not now, when?” We procrastinate at our own peril, because rehearsal time’s long since expired.

But then there’s the other guy.

That sneaky little scamp who warns us that we dare not let our expectations get out of hand; that “real world” warning which suggests we ought not dream too wide; that harbinger of defeat which screams that some people are destined to succeed – while it’s just not in the cards for others; that nexus of negativity which whispers that, despite our most herculean efforts, we’re destined to live lives of quiet frustration because, after all… life isn’t always fair.

So how do we reconcile all that when we’re at moments in our lives when we’re overrun with disappointment and disillusionment?

Don’t look to me for an answer because right now I haven’t got one. Huge issues in my life aren’t yet going the way I’d hoped, despite my certainty that I’ve tried my best and worked my hardest. On top of that, a spiritual philosophy to which I subscribe warns me not to have excessive expectations, and suggests I act as if I’m in acceptance, whether I really am or not.

But I’m not there yet. I’m not willing to accept that this is the way it’s gonna be, and that I shouldn’t expect the panorama of my life to expand beyond my wildest dreams if I continue to work for it.

I’m not gonna give up. I’m just not.

But between you and me, what I am gonna do is continue to pray. I am going to continue to turn my dreams over to my God, even if He’s not acting as the waiter I’d selfishly like Him to be and serving up orders on my timetable.

I’ve been at this life too long to believe He’s not listening. I’ve got no other choice than to continue working hard and trying to be the best man I can for the people in my life who love me. Damn the “life isn’t always fair” adage right now. More importantly, I’m not rehearsing for my life – I’m living it.

And I’m choosing to believe that God hasn’t carried me this far to drop me now.

Thanks Doctor Grant. You were a big help.

Why the Serenity Prayer?

November 18th, 2009

(from my other site

There are prayers for virtually every circumstance in life. We pray for trivial do-overs and crucial hope against the odds. We ask God for mundane favors and extraordinary miracles. 

With thousands of prayers written and available, why in moments of challenge do so many choose to utter the words of the Serenity Prayer? To find an answer, let’s examine some other regularly offered reverent prayers.

The Lord’s Prayer solemnly asks forgiveness and guidance: "… forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…"

The Prayer of St. Francis eloquently asks that we be of service to others: "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, I may bring love; where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness…"

The Prayer of Jabez asks for personal gain and protection: "Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory… that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain… "

The Serenity Prayer, in its most familiar twenty-five word abbreviated text, humbly asks for clarity, willingness, acceptance, courage and wisdom.

In moments of strife, what better asset than our own most clear judgment? The Serenity Prayer petitions God to grant us peace of mind and heart ("God grant me the serenity…") in order that we see through the clutter of fears, doubts and resentments which so often cloud our perception of our circumstances.

The prayer asks that we be gifted with willingness to accept what is at hand ("…to accept the things I cannot change.."). It asks that we give up the fights which cannot or should not be won, the circumstances which cannot or should not be altered. It reminds us that, despite our most fervent desires and best of intentions, we are not God. We are mere mortals – albeit Divinely Created Children Of God – but still mortals just the same. We endeavor not to place ourselves in a position to control other people, places or things.

The Serenity Prayer nevertheless beseeches God for courage to overcome our innermost fears and, when appropriate, to take action ("…courage to change the things I can…"). 

Fear of ridicule can block us from speaking our minds. Fear of rejection holds us back from expressing love and admiration for others. Fear of injury bars us from adventure and exploration. Fear of failure sabotages our willingness to follow our dreams.

Through the Serenity Prayer we ask God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves – to silence the pervasive fears which undermine the quality of our lives. We ask for courage to conquer those personal hurdles we previously thought insurmountable. We ask for fortitude to right the wrongs which will help make our world a better place.

And finally, the Serenity Prayer asks of God that we may be wise at those times when we are least prone to be so ("… and the wisdom to know the difference.").

At times of emotional disturbance or indecision, the right course of action is often blurred. As we quietly say the Serenity Prayer, we pray for wisdom to discern between that which will be of most service to God and our fellows, and those ill-advised actions which will, in the long run, ultimately bring regret and misery to ourselves and others. 

And at the conclusion of the Serenity Prayer, many of us reaffirm to God our humble, grateful reliance upon Him by saying the words, "Thy Will, not mine, be done."

                                                                                        – Jack Bielan

P.S. If you get a chance, please visit my other site, which features my song, "Serenity (Serenity Prayer Song)" at

. . . in the blink of an eye.

June 3rd, 2009


It’s really true, isn’t it? Life does go by in the blink of an eye.


The last month has been a profound one for me. 


I’ve experienced an array of life passage moments, covering a vast spectrum of emotions.  And as I look back, yet again I’m in awe at the rainbow of meaningful moments which make-up my life.


In this short period of time, a dear friend’s daughter  – a dynamic 40-year-old woman – has been diagnosed with breast cancer, had surgery and reconstruction, and completed her first of six rounds of chemotherapy.


I’ve seen her go through understandable fear, and then conjure-up amazing courage.  She’s gone from “Why me?” to “Why not me?”  Last week I had the honor of sitting with her in an Oncologist’s waiting room as she comforted and counseled another young woman who had just been diagnosed. 


What I find most inspiring is that both my friend and her daughter took a spiritual attitude right from the outset.  After the initial tears, their discussion turned to wondering what lessons God had in store for them during this journey.  They manifested absolute certainty that opportunities to be of service to others would be forthcoming, and four weeks later, they’ve already been proven right countless times.   


Are they experiencing a walk in the park?  Of course not.  But I’ve seen it with my own eyes: their faith and their positive attitude have definitely made the process easier, and they’re constantly side-stepping painful self-induced negativity.


On the other end of the emotional spectrum, I’ve just started a four-week class of Kick-Boxing.  I was scared to death – especially when I saw that I was the oldest person in a class filled primarily with twenty-somethings. 


But even though I haven’t done consistent aerobic exercise in a long time, I guess the old adage is true: muscles have memory.  Though I look like a comparative Old Guy next to these kids, for the most part I’m keeping up!  At one point during the first class, I actually heard the instructor scream out over the music, “C’mon people – you’re slowing down!  The new guy is kicking your ass!”


Sometimes life is really sweet.


I received an email from my pal George Shelby, the genius sax player who’s played on all my stuff.  He’s currently on tour with a famous French artist named Johnny Hallyday.  George sent me a link to a French t.v. station’s page, and I got to see some segments of one of their tour stops at Stade de France.  Apparently they did three sold out nights, performing for over 80,000 people each night.  If you wanna take a look, go to:


And finally: you’re reading the first entry on my new blog….  which is on my new website that I’ve been working on for over a year…  which features my new CD, plus all my other music and books and sheet music.


Which has been my dream for a long time… and it’s actually here.


Thank you, God.


Life does go by in the blink of any eye.  But this month has reminded me again that we’re not meant to be only spectators.  We can savor the good times and choose to embrace the challenges.  We’ve got limitless opportunities open to us, if we’re just willing to grab ‘em.  


Have a blessed day.