Sunday, December 30, 2012

Celebrating Christmas

Affirmation: I know by meditating on Jesus, throughout my day, I am in union with the Divine; Miracles are created and without struggle my life is transformed in ways beyond my imagination.

As I write this we are in the final week of Advent.  It is that season when many are preparing for Christmas. Christmas! What emotions does that word stir in you? I must admit many times throughout the season, the one emotion I feel is panic. But, I love the season. I love the music, I love decorating the house (It looks so warm and inviting with the tree and the lights.) I love sharing stories via cards, I love buying gifts for my family and friends, I love the opportunity to give to some who are less fortunate than I. I love the cold, because I snuggle in, wrap up, eat more soup. I love preparing for the miracle of the season, Christmas day.

Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate one of the most widely recognized holidays in all the world. For some, it's simply a secular holiday: time off from work, time to be with family and friends, a time with some sort of rituals that hopefully bring comfort and peace.

But, for me, it's about the birth of my savior.

For others, however, it is a time of sadness, loneliness, or perhaps a time of emptiness.  In some of the conversations Ive had during Advent the word "hate" has actually come up along with the word Christmas. Some have shared they hate the pressure, they hate the shopping, they hate trying to meet other peoples expectations, they hate being alone, or they hate being with everyone.  For them, its too much or too little and theyd just like it to go away.

What do you think? Is it good to recognize that you hate something?  What do you do with that emotion?  How does it affect your spirit, your whole being? You certainly don't want to disregard how you feel about something but how can you use it to improve you life?  Once you recognize it, would it help to reframe it into something more positive? And then, how do you do that? What if this has been a horrible time for you in your life? I'm sure you can think of difficult experiences youve had that have taken place at certain times of the year and that you carry in your memories and your cells. But, can one turn that around? Can you go from acknowledging the pain but eliminating the suffering? How would one do that?

I must admit when it comes to my faith I seem to have more questions than answers.  I need and seek out experiences that affirm my faith as I see it and that encourage it to deepen, to strengthen. I decided to dedicate Advent as a time to do just that. I have made a conscious decision to invite Jesus, the Blessed Mother, my Angels and guides to join me, to stay with me, throughout my entire day. I believe, actually, that they never leave me, it is I in my busyness, my attention to worldly activities, who leaves them. But, for this season, and hopefully going forward, I have made a conscious effort to pray unceasingly. What does that look like? Well, it includes morning and evening prayers. It includes readings from some book I read before I journal like, In Conversation with God, and it includes taking a deep breath throughout the day and simply saying "Jesus." It's a perfect prayer to go with a deep inhale and a long exhale and I feel like it brings me back to that place I so desire to be; in the presence of God.

Yes, I can understand that some people suffer through the holidays.  Some people don't need to wait for a holiday in order to suffer, they suffer through all of life.  You've met them.  They are grumpy and dissatisfied with whatever happens, like Mr. Wilson in the Dennis the Menace cartoon.  Everyday we get to choose.  We get to choose how we are going to think about our day, our lives.  A powerful way to neutralize your suffering is to find at least one thing every day that brings you joy, one small thing and let yourself absorb it? If you can recognize the blessings that come at this time, you'll feel differently about the season.  You'll feel better about it and about life.  If you find the blessings, your heart will soften towards that day of hope which will inevitably arrive. 

Christmas! Christmas Day!  A day to celebrate, to celebrate the birth of the Christ child; a day to celebrate the miracle of God becoming man.  Every year we get to relive that day more than 2000 years ago when Jesus entered this world to save us from ourselves.  Christmas, a day of blessings then and today if you choose to focus on the miracle that took place then and continues to present itself to us forever more. 

A Year End Review: Looking Back Before You Go Forward

Affirmation: I examine the past with an eye on my best future. 

 The conversation revolved around how different generations use technology.  Adam, my daughter's fiancĂ© spoke me about how those over 50 had to learn about social media; how for those in their late 20's and 30's it was simply an extension of the computer skills they learned as children and how those in their teens today have grown up with social media.  It's an integral part of their life, like radio or TV is to some.  He then went on to tell me that my 15 year old granddaughter will have a complete photo history of her life not because we have been photographing her since birth, which we have, but because she posts photos and everyday events on the social media sites and has been for several years.  She has been carefully schooled by her parents about the dangers of sharing too much information or about sharing inappropriate information. So far, so good. After our discussion I found myself thinking how nice it would be nice for me to have a complete record of my life.  The older I become, the more there is to remember and the more I seemed to have forgotten.

Joey's Sky Diving Team
For me, recalling the past can sometimes be quite a challenge.  Unless, the event is tied to a significant emotional response.  I have at least one friend who can remember the names of all her teachers from elementary school through high school.  My sister can recognize people she hasn't seen in years and my husband's ability to remember where we've traveled and what we've done is amazing.  I on the other hand really struggle with those skills.  I do, however, remember holding my oldest daughter's hand as we walked together to her pre-school. I remember when my youngest crawled into bed with me early in the morning to hug for a while before she went off to school and I can recall every one of my son's projects and there have been many, because of the excitement he generated as he took them on.  

The TV show Sixty Minutes had two separate programs about memory issues.  The first was about people who cannot remember faces, not even the faces of their loved ones.  They are not ignorant by any means but that part of their brain simply doesn't hold that information.  The same program also looked at people who had no directional skills.  They were lucky to get out of their own homes.  That part of their brain didn't provide that skill.   On the second program they interviewed people who could recall every moment of their lives as if they had a file cabinet in their brains and they could access whatever information they needed whenever they needed it.  At the time of the show, there were only about a dozen people know world wide with this skill.  I am pleased to say,  I do not have any of these issues or skills.  My memory is selective and challenging but I can easily recognize my loved ones and many others and I have a fairly strong sense of direction but whereas I would like to more clearly remember my past, I would not want to carry every one of those memories with me throughout my life.  I think that would be overwhelming and exhausting.  

It is, however, very important for me to review the past. It's probably why I keep a journal and a little pocket calendar where I write the day's past events. For me it's like looking in the rear view mirror of the car before changing lanes because them I am aware of what's going on around me.  I have found it to be very helpful to put together a yearly family photo calendar.  Going back over the year's significant events really helps me to recall that which was important to me and what brought me joy.  Otherwise, the year all blends together.  Then the years all blend together and those highlights I so enjoyed and those lessons I learned get lost.  It's the difference between living a life of many different colors and tastes and living one that's gray and bland.

I have a monthly and a yearly practice of asking myself 10 questions that I feel will improve the quality of my life going forward. I gathered these several years ago from a newspaper article by Sharon Randal from Henderson, Nevada.

1. What was the hardest thing I had to do this year?
2. What was the most fun?
3. What were the milestones?
4. What was my biggest accomplishment?
5. What's something I wanted to do but didn't?
6. What was my biggest surprise?
7. What was the best thing I did for another?
8. What was something I worried about that I don't worry about now?
9. What made me proud?
10. Describe a moment I want to remember.  

For me the moment I most want to remember is when most of my family took a trip to Disney World.  On our last evening there the other adults chose to go back to the condo.  I however, chose to hang out with my four grandchildren.  We spent the night watching the light shows, the fireworks and the people.  It warms my heart and feeds my soul to remember that evening.  

I feel the only reason to review the past, is to find a way to live better in the future. Look it over, learn the lesson and then let it go. The last part may be the hardest lesson of all.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Why God Allows Evil

Affirmation:  I fully trust in God's loving care for me and for all those who ask for it even in times of unbelievable tragedy.

The answer to "why" do such horrific events happen will never be within our grasp here on this earth.  I did find Brian Stiller's enlightened view, however, into the Christian theology of the presence of evil in our society and especially about the evil present this week in Newtown, CN. to be very insightful. Therefore, this week I share his essay on "Why God Allows Evil."

Why God Allows Evil?

“The Cry,” Munich’s painting of a young woman’s primeval scream standing on a bridge in a sunlit day came to mind as I witnessed unbelievable horror and tried to feel the unimagined suffering of parents as they raced to the elementary school in Newtown Connecticut to find their children.

Questions about “who” died quickly shifted to “whys.” Why this town? Why this school? Why my child? Syrians in a refugee camp asked me weeks ago what millions through millennia wonder, “Why does God allow evil?”

I know attempts to answer will not bring back a child, erase memories of a shooter blazing away at little children, extract justice for the community or ease the fright of a possible reoccurrence in another school. Even so, a framework for discussion (called theodicy – why God allows evil and suffering) matters for those in Newtown and us on the sidelines, as we grieve and wonder.

There are two paths down this road of a theodicy: first are questions of logic – how is it that God who is sovereign and good doesn’t or can’t eliminate suffering? Secondly, we follow the biblical narrative – the Jewish-Christian scriptures leading us through generations, learning over time what God is doing about evil. The first is humans examining God, questioning him in the courtroom of human reason. The second is a story of human life in its genesis, often devolving, yet given a lifeline from its seeming inevitable slide into chaos.

The first path is logic: Why doesn’t God who is loving and all powerful eliminate evil? Hume (18th century philosopher) asked, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” On neither score God wins. But what if we explore beyond Hume’s two options (if he is willing, but unable he is weak; if able but not willing, he is not good) with another: He wills to allow choice, and thus is both sovereign and good.

Or what if we posed this: Could God create a world in which there is free choice but only one choice and that to do good? The counter argument would be, “But that’s hardly an exercise of free will. It sounds more like angels.” Which in turn begs the question, is there something God cannot do? Can he make a world in which humans have the freedom to choose for themselves, but only allow one choice in their choosing? Logic disagrees. So there is something God cannot do which is to be self-contradictory.

We do know that being made in his image – imago Dei – we are wired with choice. Augustine, 4th Century theologian put it this way:

“Such is the generosity of God’s goodness that He has not refrained from creating even that creature which He foreknew would not only sin, but remain in the will to sin. As a runaway horse is better than a stone which does not run away because it lacks self-movement and sense perception, so the creature is more excellent which sins by free will than that which does not sin only because it has no free will.”

God, who is both all-powerful and good, gave human will space to choose good or evil. Keep in mind that the biblical story describes our human parents in a state of innocence, not perfection, and it is within their innocence they made their choice to obey either their Creator or evil. Philosopher Alvin Planting sums up the heart of the argument: “God can create a more perfect universe by permitting evil.”

A second path of this theodicy begins with the Hebrew Scriptures as we search for an explanation of God’s dealing with evil. Here a narrative of people, events, choices, interventions and consequences answer to evil. Beginning with creation we learn of the Divine and human, its subsequent unraveling of relationship and generations of disasters interspersed occasionally with flashes of brilliance and goodness.

Here, let me insert a comment on the notion of evil itself. 20th century wisdom tended to discount evil as real and substantive, making it an effect (what happens to someone) rather than its own reality (what causes something to happen). Instead dysfunction and brokenness in life and society, it was reasoned, was due to many factors – social decay, chemical imbalances, genetic malfunctions, hormonal roller coasters, and the explanations go on. Surely much of what we know today as medical and psychological was in the past categorized as evil. Even so, American psychotherapist, Scott Peck, an atheist came to Christian faith in part because he saw a larger force at work in some patients, a factor he called “evil” which he outlines in People of the Lie. 

 We feel the tension in the Divine’s offering of freedom, sometimes taken and creatively managed, but most often dissipated by greed, anger and lust. Abraham, father of both Jews and Arabs, accepted the promise to beget a nation, yet lied about his wife to an Egyptian Pharaoh and distrusting the promise of a son, bred another and in the end was called on to sacrifice his son, ending with two people forever at loggerheads with each other, as Israel and Gaza demonstrate.

We see in many stories a maneuvering of human will to exercise freedom, at times leading to doing good but often exploring the deep places of moral depravity, all the while wrapped in fig leaves to camouflage the Divine from knowing.

How then does God wrestle with his choice to give humans freedom to be good or bad? The constant double thread woven through the old and new Testaments promise presence – God is with you – and promises of future – the coming Redeemer who will recompose the human heart and destroy cosmic forces of evil.

Jesus of Nazareth fills out that narrative – he enters as king of creation and child in a stable. The fusion of Divine and Human – we call it “incarnation” – brings together the two and in course of his mandate in death asks what parents of Newtown asked last week: “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

And his answer? I’ve come so you might have life, with abundance. Evil – the prince of this world (John 16:11) – is defeated and will be no more. While the good of God wrestles yet with evil, the triumphant Easter morning declaration of Jesus rising declares that evil, an earthly constituent, is defeated. The Christian hope puts the finality of that defeat in the future, but in faith, that too is assured.

The arguments of logic are feeble at best. Yet they frame a wider picture of our world in which God gives us the right to choose. For parents in Connecticut, Syria or Afghanistan, that won’t fill the emptiness of a child gone. But it reminds us that each has the right to make choices. The cause(s) of the killing rampage need not go unaddressed. We can rise the next day and make changes for good.

The promise is thus: in the midst of suffering, Jesus of Nazareth lived under the strains and burden of evil. Twenty children in his village of Bethlehem were killed by a ruling mad man, within months of his birth. Violence he understands. Then it was through cruelty of death and breaking out in resurrection that evil was overcome. So in today’s moment, we find comfort knowing that death is not all there is to dying. One only needs to listen to the songs and words of the many funerals in Newtown to know that the promise of life, free from evil, is really, just around the corner.

Brian C Stiller

Global Ambassador

The World Evangelical Alliance

December 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

How to Get Ready for End Times


Affirmation: When I stay focused on the present my life is richer and more peaceful.

The world is about to end, again.  It's true.  It must be.  According to the Mayan calendar the last day is December 21, 2012.  They have a calendar that's 2000 years old and their last date is 12/21/12.  They were an extremely intelligent race.  Some have even speculated that they were helped either by visitors from another solar system or another spiritual realm.  What must be done to get ready?

Prophets and seers have predicted the end of the world since its beginning.  You’ve probably seen one or two doomsayers standing on a city street corner wearing a placard or shouting the slogan “Repent, the End is Near!”  The Apostles, especially Paul, were sure the Second Coming was to take place in the near future.  John wrote about his visions of the world's demise in Revelations.  Nostradamus the world renown seer from the 1500‘s predicts quite clearly the path of our destruction.  There's a special about his predictions that's been aired for years on the History channel that I find be quite unsettling.  Edgar Cayce, the "Sleeping Prophet" from the early 1900's also had some predictions about end times and Jean Dixon an American actress and famous astrologer was pretty sure she too knew when we would disintegrate. There have been too many willing to tell us when we will destruct.

One of the movements that is preparing for Armageddon is called the "Preppers."  They have shelters, stocks of food, water and weapons.  They rotate their supplies so that they are always fresh and ready.  They say it's a way of life, being ready for the inevitability of the end times.  In the 1960's people were preparing just like today.  Many built bomb shelters with the same sense of doom that’s presently exists.  I wonder if some of the Preppers are using those same shelters for their preparations?  When I was a child we use to have air raid practices where we would have to hunker down under our plastic school desks.  I can’t imagine how that would have saved us from anything especially from something as destructive as a bomb.

I'm the queen of prevention.  Tell me something that might help keep me safe and healthy and I'm all over it.  I brush and floss, moisturizer, exercise, pray and meditate.  I'm ready!  I take my vitamins, calcium and keep a bottle of baby aspirin next to the bed and in my travel bag.  I’m ready!  I go for my yearly physical, dental exam and mammogram.  I’m ready!  Give me some guidance about how to stay strong, healthy and safe and away I go following the rules.  Recently I signed up for a class that’s being offered by my town about “disaster preparedness”. I want to know what needs to be collected, ready for instant departure should a hurricane, tornado or a tsunami threaten us even if I don’t live anywhere near the ocean.  One cannot be too careful.  Edgar Cayce has predicted that large parts of the United States coast line will fall into the ocean and those of us living inland will have prime beach property.  It doesn’t matter that it was suppose to happen in 1998.  A prophet can get their time lines a little skewed.  If the apostle Paul could be off by a few thousand years, Edgar can be forgiven for missing his target date by a few decades.

When we experienced the terrorist’s attack on September 11, 2001, I know I was not the only one who thought the world was on the brink of destruction.  Just like Alan Jackson’s song mentions in “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” I found myself in church, holding hands with strangers.  I needed the comfort of my faith and my belief system took me to Mass.  I periodically attend daily Mass and usually we have about twenty people present.  On September 12, 2001, the chapel was full.  Father Bill Schmidt said the Mass that day.  His sermon was very powerful.  He shared that no one knows when the end of the world will take place, no matter what they claim. 

I am here, however, to tell you the prophets are right.  The world is going to end.  Our world as we know it will one day be gone.  Certainly, we will all at some time forfeit our personal space on this earth.  Each of us will at some time in the future no longer be here. Perhaps too, our earth as we know it will also no longer be here.  I’ve read where plans are being made for the creation of colonies on other planets in case we may need to evacuate. Life as we know it will change. 

I am, however, not joining the Preppers.  I’m not sure how I would react should I be faced with Armageddon and I’m hoping I won’t find out but I don’t want to believe I would be someone who would want to survive at the expense of my friends and loved ones.  I can’t imagine my having food and shelter and denying it to those in need.  If I did, who would I be?  Not someone I’d want to know or someone of whom I’d be proud.  I’m sure that would not be what my Lord would want of me either.

We all leave our mother’s wombs reluctantly.  We have no desire to leave the warmth and comfort of our known existence for the cold, new world we are destined to enter. For most of us it’s so much easier to stay in our comfort zones but just like the child at birth, we are thrust out into the new, into the unknown.  Every ending has a beginning.  If our global world as we know it does end, what will our new world be like?  Perhaps, as many are saying, we are on the cusp of a new age.  Perhaps, it will be a world that is kinder, gentler, more loving.  Perhaps!  Personally, we too will move on.  I believe we will move from this life into another and that too will be a place of comfort and peace and love.  I am, however, not going to focus on the future and the unknown.  That was part of Father Bill’s homily on September 12, 2001.  He reminded us that our responsibility was to live each day as if it were our last.  We get to choose to focus on living life to the fullest each day, each moment.  We can choose to focus on our relationships, our gifts and the preciousness of our existence and not to spend our energy futility preparing for the unknown.  By choosing to focus on the present, with a rational awareness of the future, we can live lives that are richer and calmer and more compassionate.  I’m ready!

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
Mother Teresa

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Perfecting Christmas

Affirmation:  I let go of perfection.

As of this writing the Christmas season has officially begun.  Today is the first Sunday of Advent. My entire family will be here, all our children, all our grandchildren, all the in-laws and my 90 year old mother. There might even be a few coming of whom Im not aware. I feel blessed to be surrounded by so many loving people and the really good news is everyone usually likes everyone else. I am also blessed because I have the good health and the energy to do everything I like to do for Christmas.

I love to decorate the house. I would like to leave my Christmas tree up all year long. I love having red sparkly and gold glitzy things all around. It makes me feel warm and enlivened. I love to put together the Christmas cards and I love to snail mail them out to all the people on my list. I like recalling the memories associated with each one as I write their names and try to take enough time to say a small blessing over each envelope. I usually send a photo card and I love to go through the years photos, re-live the memories and choose the best picture of each person. I also like to do a photo family calendar. I was so excited the first time I saw such a thing. I knew it would be something I would try. The first year, it took me days to get it done. The good news is now it only takes hours. Im sure someday Ill be even more efficient but its OK either way. I love going over the years photos and putting different memories on each monthly page and then putting my loved ones photos in the date box of their birthday.

In the South Christmas starts the day after Thanksgiving. Yes, it starts much earlier in the stores; earlier and earlier each year and some of my neighbors have their houses decorated before Thanksgiving. But, for many of us here in North Carolina, at least in the area I live in, the decorations go up Thanksgiving weekend. I love that too. I get to enjoy the festive sprit in my home for about a month.

But, even though I am crazy about all the activities involved in our celebration, I can stress out. Yes, there is good stress and there is bad stress but stress is stress and it can be exhausting. Most of our traditions seem to be activities that I have taken on as my responsibility. I purchase most of the gifts. I plan the menu. I buy most of the food. I wrap most of the presents. You can probably add to the list. Most women reading this probably have many other items for which they feel responsible. I usually handle most of our activities fairly well unless life happens. You know about life. Life is what happens in between all our plans.

I like order. I like things neat and clean. There are times when Im sure my desire for order borders on obsessive-compulsive. But, the truth is there is only so much time and energy and money and at some point, I have to let some things slide. Its a requirement to maintain my mental and physical health. I have several artist friends and they occasionally speak about what happens to their art work when they strive for perfection. They add one more dab of paint, one more stroke of the brush, one more line to the drawing or one more turn to the potters wheel and they have ruined their work. From them, I have taken the lesson that while I strive to do my best, I cannot always expect perfection from myself. When I do that, I will consistently ruin my work and ruin the enjoyment I take from the process. I must tell myself, I let go of perfection. The more I practice releasing myself from unrealistic expectations, the more joyful I am. The more I practice letting go of going for the gold, the more relaxed I am. And, when I can be centered and calm, my Christmas, my life and the life of many of those around me is filled with the things that are truly important to me and to the world; peace, love, joy, compassion and gratitude.

May you and your loved ones have a Blessed Christmas, a Happy Holiday season and a Happy New Year.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Answered Prayer

Affirmation:  I believe in answered prayer.
Faith, what does that look like to you?  My husband says it’s “trust on steroids.”  It has also been said the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty.  I am not certain.  I have listened to others talk about their faith and their relationship with God or for Christians like myself, with Jesus.  I have heard the stories of the “born again.”  Many times I am filled with envy and always I am filled with quite a few questions.  My faith journey has been slow and steady, climbing up, slipping down, ever hopeful that I don’t slip below my last starting place.
I have not found it easy to be faith filled.  I have to work at it every day.  I appreciate being told, “It’s the work of a lifetime.”  I hope, too, that my lifetime is long enough to get me to a place where I can fully trust in God’s love and care for me and for my loved ones.
I love to read and hear the sermons about God’s bountiful love and care for us, His or Her children.  There are many preachers who see God as this entity that only wants what’s best for us.  And, they lead me to believe that His/Her best is also my best.  There is where the difficulty lies. I keep wondering where martyrs fit in this picture of divine love and care.  On February 22, 2011 a group of four Americans were captured and killed off the coast of Somali.  They were sailing around the world since December 2004, on the yacht of Jean and Scott Adams.  The Quest was their home, this couple from California.  The two other Americans on board were Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle, Washington.  When I first heard about Jean and Scott, they had been captured by pirates and were being held hostage.  They were then surrounded by the US navy and other helping vessels but, before they could be rescued, they were shot dead.
I was truly inspired by their adventurous spirit when I first heard the story of their mission.  I know there must be many people who have the same spirit and I just haven’t heard about all of them.  But, Jean and Scott were in their 70s and they were sailing to remote parts of the world to share the word of God.  Yes, I know a lot of people are missionaries and I am usually in awe of anyone who lives a life so far out of most people’s comfort zone.  They were not what I consider young and here they were so far from their support systems.  What would they have done if they got sick, or injured, or needed a dentist or as a friend commented to me, "If Jean needed a massage, or a facial?"  Obviously, their mindset was very different than most people.
But, if they died doing God’s work, as have so many martyrs, why should I believe that Jesus will take care of me?  Oh, yes, I would like to believe that.  We don’t get everything we ask for, sometimes it seems like someone isn’t’ even out there.  Thankfully, sometimes we get something even better than we could have imagined.  I can recall several specific times in my life when I was praying in general for one thing and something so much better came along.  It can take my breath away.  When my oldest daughter, Melissa, was a single parent we, her father and I, prayed daily for her well-being.  We didn’t know exactly what that would look like but we knew we didn’t want her and her children to endure undue hardship.  We were there for them in every way we could be but we wanted her to be able to care for herself and her children.  We wanted her to be independent and self-sufficient in every way possible.  Our prayers were answered beyond our wildest expectations when she met Larry.  Not only did she find someone amazing to share her life with but along with him came two wonderful new grandsons.
One day I was overcome with worry about my mom.  I was at a loss about how to help her and she was not capable of helping herself.  I was so overwhelmed with the responsibility that I simply turned it over to God.  I prayed, “Lord, I do not know what to do.  Please send help.”  Then, I waited.  It wasn’t long before the phone rang and right after that my family arrived, called and accompanied me to my mom’s home.  A new “on call” physician arrived and before I knew it, mom was feeling better.  I hadn’t even had time to stop and thank God for His/Her response.  As I reflected later, I began to see the blessings that had been sent and then I had to choose.  Was it just the universe stepping into support us?  Would it have happened even if I didn’t say a prayer?  Maybe, but I did pray and it gave me great comfort to believe the help we received was answered prayer.  I want to believe in answered prayer.  I know I will never understand it but I believe with every fiber of my being that prayer makes a difference.  If I can tap into the belief that my prayers are always answered, in a way that only benefits me, think of the peace that can be mine.  It has been promised, you know, Mathew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
I believe God never leaves me, if I ask Him/Her to be with me.  It is I who comes and goes.  I believe that through my faith, I will be able to deal with whatever life throws at me.  And, that whatever that is, through faith, it will be miraculously transformed into something good, maybe something great, something beyond my wildest imagination. I need to believe.  I have chosen to believe.  I have chosen the theology and doctrine that I grew up with.  It’s not perfect but it enables me to live life with less fear and anxiety than I could without it.  I believe it because I want to believe.  That’s what most of my affirmations revolve around, what I want to believe.   Yes, a loving caring God.  I know this question has been asked and examined many times around topics even more horrendous than what Jean and Scott endured.  Topics like:  war, famine, child abuse, cancer and other life threatening or debilitating diseases.  Perhaps, it’s not what happens to us, no matter how difficult; perhaps it’s how we perceive what happens to us?  Perhaps if we practice trusting God, we can go to our death with dignity and grace regardless of the circumstances, knowing that this life is temporary and because of our faith, because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I will share in the glory of heaven.  My faith and trust in Him, will secure me life everlasting, with Him and all the Saints and Angels.  That’s why I believe and why I am still working on it.   

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Path to Health; Forgiveness

Affirmation: I freely forgive myself and others.

What does it mean to forgive someone?  What does forgiveness look like?  Does it mean you must now become the offender’s friend?  Does it mean you must forget whatever happened that unsettled you or brought you pain?  Is forgiveness an emotion or a conscious decision?  Once you make that decision, are you done or is it a process?

Have you ever had something happen in your life that you could not let go of? Something that seemed to haunt you? Something that you were sure you had "gotten over" that kept appearing? Something that kept coming up even in your dreams?

Forgiveness is a topic that appears in all spiritual teachings and in many writings about improving one’s physical health. Of course, one can’t really separate the two. Forgiveness is a letting go of resentment and hurt.  It offers one the opportunity to let go of perceived or actual injuries and move forward.  It does not demand that you dismiss someone's poor behavior or that you and your offender need to continue a relationship.  It is not an emotion, it is a conscious decision and it can take a lot of work!

I can be fascinated by my own reaction to what I think is a “done deal.”  I’m sure I’ve put that issue behind me.  I’ve prayed about it, I’ve journaled about it and I’ve made a conscious decision to not hold onto whatever it is that has caused me pain, whether or not it was intentional.  “I’m good with that,” I tell myself and then something happens, there’s some recollection of the event and whoosh, I feel like I’m starting all over again and I probably am but if I’ve worked on it, I’m probably starting a little further up the spiral than in the beginning. 

The Buddhists say when you don’t forgive someone it’s like holding a hot coal in your hand and expecting it to burn the other person.  Christ’s main message was about love and forgiveness.  Even after he had been tortured and humiliated, He asked his Father to forgive His persecutors.  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  (Luke 23:34) The one prayer he taught us, The Our Father, says, “...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  One of the church studies in which I have participated, focused on forgiveness as a tool to bring one closer to God and at one of the yoga workshops I attended which was taught in the tradition of TIch Nat Han, the focus was also on forgiveness.

The Mayo Clinic has a whole web site devoted to how forgiveness promotes health and healing. ( There’s also a healing movement that encourages people who have lost loved ones to violent crimes to connect with the criminal and to offer an olive branch.  I cannot even imagine the fortitude and stamina that such a process must take but there are those amazing people out there who accomplish such a monumental feat.  

My book group read, The Girl in the Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold Catherine Taylor. It's the fictional story of the wife of Charles Dickens. It created a great deal of conversation, which is one reason I am part of a book group. In the story this woman went about healing herself of every shred of animosity she had with regard to those who had mistreated her in her life. And, she was very poorly treated, even, some would say, abused. Her husband disowned her, made her leave her home and 6 of her 8 living children. Her sister took over the household and kept the family from contacting her. Her husband had what everyone thought was a mistress. Even after her children were grown, they did not connect with her. She had a lot to be angry about. She had a lot of justified reasons for resentment and she had quite a bit, as you can well imagine. But, after her husband died, she openly accepted those people in her family who wanted to make restitution. She didn't demand a thing from them, other than an open mind and heart. She even took herself to her husband's rumored mistress and made peace with her.

What do you think? Was she a weak, desperate person or was she wise and strong? Was she so used to being used as a doormat that she no longer knew how to stand up for herself, or was she so relieved to let go of years of loneliness and shunning? All I can tell you, is that I found her actions to make peace with her pain, inspiring. Oh, it's so easy to hold onto resentments, to work them over in our minds until we know we are right and our nemesis is oh, so very wrong, perhaps even evil. But, truly, when I do that, those emotions, those conversations I have with myself, don't disturb that other person in any way. The only one who is unsettled and disturbed is me.

One of my daily readings comes from a book called, Spiritual Insights for Daily Living.  I’ve discovered that some things have longer “tails” than others.  They can be draining and unsettling. Sometimes, I can't even imagine why these thoughts that keep coming up, have become so insistent, so obsessive. The reading from January 21st helped me with this issue. "I am now ready for a cleansing--getting rid of debris that I have harbored much too long. Anyone who at any time may have contributed to causing disharmony within me, I bring into consciousness and I see them clearly and honestly. As I visualize them, I say with feeling and complete sincerity: "I fully and freely forgive you."  

We are called to forgive “seventy times seven.”  (Matthew18:22)  One of my studies called the injuries we carry with us “wounds of the heart.”  We were encouraged to carefully look back on our lives and make note of every wound that had been inflicted upon us.  Certainly, I’ve been very lucky and didn’t see any reason to pursue this line of healing.  But, I would participate simply because I was part of the group and this was our assignment.  Once I cracked open the box that held all those wounds, I was stunned to see just how many were still in there.  I had things hiding in that box I hadn’t thought of in years!  Once the list began, I actually found some pleasure in making it.  Not only were old acquaintances on that list, but my church was there and once in awhile, God’s name came up.  Then too I found way down in the bottom, my own name.  So many things of which I had not yet forgiven myself. 

Wounds of the heart take up space, space that can be used for love and for compassion.  What to do with them?  Now that I could see them clearly, it was time to turn them over to God, an angel or two, maybe a spiritual guide.  I visualized my taking the list and folding it and placing it in a new box.  I closed the lid, locked the lock and placed it way up on a shelf that would take a lot of effort to reach.  I am surprised when I find it has popped open on its own and I have to reseal it. There are other more tangible techniques that you may choose.  One would be to actually burn the list. Do whatever it takes to begin the healing.  Yes, it takes me longer to let go of somethings than others. But, it really helps me to tell myself;  I freely forgive myself and others. I know by putting this affirmation into practice, I am happier, I am more peaceful and I am healthier. Truly, there are no justified resentments. Let them all go, especially, I repeat, especially the ones you hold towards yourself.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Blessings & Friends

I accept my friends as they are, fully appreciate the ways they bless my life and hold them in my daily prayers.

There has been much written about how a social support system can bolster one's immunity.  Not only do they increase our proclivity towards good health but they can increase our chances for a long, fulfilling life. 

Relationships take work.  Two people can meet and experience "love at first sight" but, if that relationship is to survive, better yet thrive, it usually means it needs to be nurtured.

Some friendships are low maintenance and others require a lot of effort.  Friendships can wax and wane.  How many people have you had in your life that seemed to just disappear?  It's all a natural part of life although sometimes it can be hard to understand. 

I've lived many different places and found myself almost completely on my own many times, especially those initial days after my husband and I had just moved.  When we moved to Norwich, NY, a town of 7,000 people in 1971, I spent my first day in a motel room with our six week old daughter while my husband began his new job.  The following weeks weren't much easier but this little town had a Newcomer's Club with child care that saved my sanity, if not my life.  Some of those women (yes, we were all women) are still in my life and we, my husband and I left there in 1976. 

One of our moves took us to Cincinnati, Ohio.  I felt like I'd landed on the moon.  We arrived there with two small children.  One of my first calls was to the local Newcomer's Club where I was informed I couldn't join; I wasn't living within their accepted boundaries.  And, such a club did not exist in my area.  Goodbye!  As I stood there wondering what I should do next, I saw someone standing at the backyard gate.  She waved and entered my life, a new friend.  Thank God! 

While in Cincinnati one woman shared with me that she noticed some newcomers moving in down her street.  I asked if she'd gone to meet them.  "No," she replied "I don't have time for any more people in my life."  I was glad I hadn’t moved by her.  That's when I realized many of the people in our neighborhood felt the same way.  It made me sad.  It still makes me sad and that was many years ago.  When we moved from that community one of the neighbors said to me "Moving again, honey?"  We had been in our home almost ten years!  The interesting part of this experience was that those neighbors who maintained a more open, adventurous approach to new relationships were truly remarkable people, many of whom became very dear friends and who to this day we still consider dear friends. 

We have now lived in North Carolina for over twenty-five years.  We've been very active in the Triangle community, supporting, joining and working for many organizations.  We've been mostly blessed by the relationships and friendships we've forged.  I once heard a woman proclaim that once she stopped going to her children's school bus stop, she stopped making new friends.  I haven't been to a school bus stop in over thirty years but by embracing life, trying new things and staying committed to those I enjoy, new and wonderful friends keep appearing.  Both my husband and I embrace those good folks who open their lives, homes and hearts to new relationships. 

We need those relationships.  We need to have people in our lives, other than family, who care for us and for whom we care.  Each person in our life brings a different blessing.  One may be someone you can go to with health issues, another someone with whom you play.  Another may be of a similar spiritual proclivity, while another may not be and cause you to question and grow.  One may be someone who likes to take a walk and another who likes to sit and talk.  One may live close by and share in several of your activities and another may live far away and connects only periodically. 

Sometimes we choose to end a friendship and at other times that ending is chosen for us.  When there is a clear reason for the dissolution of the relationship it can be easier to let go and move on but when it remains a puzzle, it can be much more difficult to disconnect.  This rift can create a wound in the heart that may require a healing balm; prayer, counseling or both.  There is not always a clear vision of why someone has chosen to drop out of our lives.  We can find ourselves wondering what we did when many times it had very little to do with us.  I had a longtime friend who dropped me very suddenly and no matter how I reached out, there was absolutely no response.  I couldn’t imagine what I had done.  Several months later I ran into a mutual friend of ours and was told she had stopped contacting him too.  Eventually, we found out that she was suffering from severe depression and had disconnected herself from everyone.  It reminded me of calling someone and having them hang up on me as I stood there wondering what in the world I had done to cause such a reaction only to find out there was an emergency taking place.

There are times, however, when it is essential to end a relationship especially when that friendship has become toxic; when the friendship saps your energy and is causing you to become unwell.  When you have done all in your power but to no avail to sooth the distress this relationship is causing, it is probably time to walk away.  I feel it is best to let that person know you wish there was another way but for your well-being you need to separate.  It's never easy, although the other person probably also recognizes there's a problem.  But, even in our difficult friendships there are blessings to be found.  Even those people who drove us crazy added to the fiber and the color of our lives.  Perhaps they are the reason we are as strong and resourceful as we are; by dealing with them we learned how to care for ourselves without holding onto any ill will.

My favorite friendships are those that develop because of similar interests and scheduled activities.  They always seem like the easiest.  These remind me of baking a cake.  Once I've mixed all the ingredients and poured them into the pan, I simply have to put it in the oven and watch it rise.  But, not all relationships afford us with those easy opportunities.  Many of my friendships must be carefully nurtured to make sure they are sustained and continue to grow.  I may have to do this by setting aside specific times to share a meal; perhaps it means an email or even an old fashioned letter.  I love to send snail-mail birthday cards.  

My goal is to maintain healthy, enriching friendships while also keeping enough energy to care for myself.  It can be a very thin line especially with the availability of connecting via all the latest technologies; email, Facebook, Twitter etc.  It seems every day I decide how much energy is going into my relationships and how much I must reserve for myself.  One way I do this is by praying daily for my friends, those far and near, those dear and daunting, those easy and challenging.  I believe that my prayers will bless their lives and that way, even if I’m not actively contacting them, they are in my thoughts and in God’s hands.  My intention is to value each friend for who they are and what they bring into my life.  I'm not here to judge them.  I am here to simply accept them and whenever possible to love and support them.  It helps me to remind myself "I accept my friends as they are, fully appreciate the ways they bless my life and hold them in my daily prayers."