Sunday, November 24, 2013

Growing in Faith

Affirmation:  Something wonderful is about to happen.

On Belleruth Naparstek's chemo tape she has a phrase she uses about getting a sensation that something wonderful is about to happen and about how you may have not felt this sensation in quite a while but right now you do.  Have you ever had a sensation like that?  That sense that something marvelous is coming your way?  I wonder if that happens when we are preparing for an event or a trip or maybe a change in our career.  Perhaps, it's that feeling when a loved one and you are to be reunited.  I know a change and new things can also bring with them a feeling of anxiety and maybe we get anxiety and excitement mixed up.  But, when Belleruth describes this marvelous feeling of expectation, I know it; I feel it. I fully recognize it even though I can't remember when I last felt that way and it feels good!

For the past several months I have had a growth in my faith experiences.  As I've shared before I have been "working" on my faith for many years ever since I met my evangelical neighbor, Shaun McLean in Cincinnati, Ohio and when shortly thereafter my father died.  When Shaun showed up at the back gate of my new home she proceeded to become a constant thorn in my faith.  I am so grateful to her for that nudging. She was so certain about her relationship with God and with Jesus Christ and I was a cradle Catholic who didn't feel sure about anything. I didn't envy her but I did find myself questioning, questioning, and questioning even more.  What did I truly believe? 

Let's admit it, the story of Jesus Christ, his birth death and resurrection is quite unbelievable.  It defies natural law.  I for one have had my doubts.  I have not been a compliant subservient faith- filled follower.  I wanted proof.  I'm sure if one searches for proof that the "Good News" is not factual, one will find answers supporting that premise but I chose to go the other way.  I've chosen to seek out reasons to believe.  I have also found that at some point if one is to truly have faith, one must set aside disbelief and just decide to have faith in the mystery.  I decided to believe. 

I've watched movies about the "facts" of His life and ministry.  I've read the bible and listened to lectures and homilies.  But, the reason I believe is because I want to believe.  I want to believe He came to change the world.  He came to teach us to love.  He came to eradicate sin and evil.  He came to show us, to show me unconditional love.  He came to prepare a place for me in the afterworld and to show me that this life is not the end.  This life is simply a transition before the next, before I can finally rest in a place of peace and pure love.  I want to believe this and so I do and once I made up my mind to accept this belief system amazing events have taken place to support my journey.   

My faith journey has led me many places.  It is not just about things related to my church.  I was reminded this week by Sister Judy Hallock one of the women who facilitate A Place for Women to Gather that our lives are interconnected with our faith.  If we are truly faith-filled people we cannot separate our mind, body and spirit.  Every aspect of our lives, every single one of them, is affected by our faith. 

I am on a continual search for a deeper, richer relationship with God.  I want to feel that peace that I believe comes when one connects to spirit but even more importantly when one develops a relationship with a personal God, not just some ethereal concept.  This last week I have been feeling that sense of expectation that I have not felt for a very long time.  Something wonderful is about to be manifested.  I haven't a clue what it is or how it will come or from whom but I can feel it.  The feeling is palatable and I am simply enjoying it and waiting to see what or who appears.

My faith journey this year has taken me to some amazing destinations.  I've shared some of them with you here in this blog but as the holidays approach and the end of the year comes closer, I find myself thinking about all that has taken place.  One of my affirmations is, "When I stay connected to the Divine, miracles occur and without struggle my life is transformed."  I think that's exactly what's been happening.  I don't know why I'm so surprised.  I've never created an affirmation and focused on it where it hasn't worked.  Never! 

Several months ago I discovered a new prayer that I've incorporated into my nightly prayers.  "Come Holy Spirit, fill the heart of Your faithful.  Enkindle in me the fire of Your love."  I found it to be a comforting prayer and truly the desire of my heart.  I think the Holy Spirit has accepted my invitation.  I'm always a little curious about where my faith journey will take me.  It shouldn't surprise me that it has brought me further into the fold of the Catholic Church.  I've gone off looking for alternatives many times but I'm always led back to the church of my birth.  Certainly, I have kept an open acceptance of other modalities. I've studied Reiki.  I practice yoga and I love the insights afforded me with the Enneagram.  I facilitate Artist Way programs and have attended many mediation sessions with leaders of different faiths.  I read many different books about different spiritual concepts.  All of these experiences have led me to a deeper faith and a greater awareness of a personal god. 

This year, however, has brought with it the additional gift of several new female friends who are practicing Catholics and it has been a wonderful, heartwarming experience.  We certainly are not all in the "same place" in our faith journey but there's no judgment.  We simply are accepting of our different stages, accepting and yet still supportive. There are many studies showing the healing qualities associated with belonging to a support group.  I feel like I've discovered a gift with the friendship of these women, the gift of being supported in my faith journey and I am grateful that this new community has added to this feeling that something wonderful is about to happen.  Now, there's an affirmation I can focus on and wait for it to come to fruition, "Something wonderful is about to happen."  The really cool part of this affirmation is I have discovered that that Something Wonderful is having this feeling of blessed expectation and that that in itself is just marvelous.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Not if, When

Affirmation:  I know life will present many challenges and I have a tool box filled with lots of helpful equipment.
The conversation was about the chaotic state of my home because of a renovation.  Oh, I fully recognized the blessing of being able to perform a renovation but the project had now been going on for months and was running much longer than had been estimated.

I was tired.  Way too much energy was being expended on this, not to mention money and I wanted to put my home back in order.  The homeowner I was speaking with had just completed building a house, not on her own but she was responsible for all of the decisions and it was a beautiful home, the most stunning home I could ever remember being in.  She explained to me that one shouldn't be asking themselves about the "ifs" one might experience during the building process but one should recognize that there would be "whens" and the real question was how was one going to deal with them?  What did one need to do to be prepared when issues would come along?
I am an optimist by choice.  When someone tells me something is going to go well and work out, I choose to believe them.  It's not always the truth.  Stuff still happens but I haven't focused on what might go wrong. I am that person who creates positive affirmations.  I am that person who expects things to go right. 
The Buddhists say one should imagine the glass broken.  The Christians refer to the "practice of faith" and the yogi studies a Klesha called raga which refers to an attachment to pleasure.  Whatever faith you look at they all have one very important feature in common; they recognize that life is not a bowl of cherries.  Life has pits and we should be aware of that teaching.
The question that arises is how does one prepare oneself for the difficulties life will present? Certainly going around waiting for the next shoe to drop or for the clouds to appear is not a very joyful way to live one's life but we all know stuff will come along, little things and difficult things with which we will have to deal.
I am someone who is all about maintenance.  I was a great Girl Scout.  I try to always be prepared.  If there is some step I can take to hopefully make life easier or smoother, I will usually take it.  I am that person who gets her flu shot every year.  I take my vitamins, especially that calcium and fish oil and now extra vitamin D.  I brush and floss my teeth twice a day.  God forbid they should rot away and fall out.  I exercise daily to keep everything in good working order and to hopefully avoid becoming immobile and decrepit. I am the person who buys travel insurance.  I'm not worried about any of these things.  I just feel like if I can take steps to insure my life goes along smoothly, I should.  I have many friends who do not think like me.  I have one friend who has never gotten a flu shot and as of this writing, has never gotten the flu.  Thank heavens!  I also have a friend who never does any maintenance on her home.  I am always looking around my house and trying to spiff it up before something drastic happens, like an exploding hot water heater or an ant infestation or, well you can probably add your own stuff to that list.
I have a huge red tool box.  I mean I need all those different type of screw drivers just in case the screw is a Phillips or a Flat-head or it's big or very tiny.  I know many of you completely understand but my friend, she never does anything to her home until it becomes some sort of an issue for her.  She cannot for the life of her understand why I am always doing my best to forestall something in the home from becoming a major investment.  I believe that if I take care of it now, it'll be a little problem rather than a huge one.  We just don't agree but that's ok.  We love one another anyway.  Unfortunately, the results of my maintenance approach to life really doesn't seem to make my life that much easier than her life is for her.  Things I never even dreamed would occur, occur.  So, the question is, "How can I best prepare for the whens of life?  What tools do I have in life's tool box for when a screw comes loose or falls out and everything it's been holding together, falls apart?"
Pray, it's my first defense.  I believe in answered prayer.  I don't understand how it works but I fully trust that it does.

Journal, I write. It centers me and helps me see things more clearly.  It makes me calmer.

Exercise, it is known to increase endorphins and reduce stress.  It doesn't matter if you go to your mat to do yoga or take a walk or go play golf.  It takes you out of your routine and helps calm you.

Talk to a friend or find a counselor.  Pick up the phone or go visit a friend.  Don't try to go it alone.  Most people like to be helpful and most of us need help to get through life's challenges, sometimes even the little ones.

Watch something funny, laugh.

Give or get a hug or two and finally, remember to Breathe.  Take a few deep breaths every so often and don't hesitate to sigh them out.  Even if you haven't fixed the entire problem with that deep breath, you've at least released it for that moment and life really is about living one moment at a time. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Blessings Recognized

Affirmation:  I recognize the blessings I receive when I share my time, treasure and talent with those in need.

On two occasions during this October, 2013, my husband, Sandy Costa was invited to be the Master of Ceremonies for the Ronald McDonald House of Durham, NC.  The events began at 7:45 AM and lasted an hour.  A full breakfast was served along with some of the most heartwarming and heart rendering stories I have ever heard.  For me, the stories that revolve around the struggle to live are always both inspirational and in many cases achingly sad.  This event revolves around the challenges being faced by children, little tiny ones and their families and the service, the hope and the comfort that this organization provides for them regardless of who they are or how much they have.  The Ronald McDonald House had set up these two breakfasts, among other events, to give others the opportunity to be of service to their residents and future residents.  They are giving people the opportunity to reach out and to make a difference in the lives of someone who is suffering, someone they probably do not even know.

The first event of the month was at The Tobacco Warehouse in Durham and about 400 people attended.  Sandy didn't really say much to me about his role and he's often invited to speak to groups, both large and small so I didn't pay a lot of attention to his project.  Sometimes he speaks for a fee but many times he speaks to simply be of service.  This, of course was an example of the later.  I was pleased for him that he was asked and to be given the opportunity but I didn't attend.  Actually, he didn't invite me and I wrote it off as simply another of his speaking engagements.  Wow, did I get that one wrong!

He invited me to the second event held in Raleigh at the NC State McKimmon Center.  A friend and pet therapy volunteer, Ann Henderson, asked me to sit with her group of invitees.  I was delighted to be included.  Ann brought Bailey, her wonderful warm friendly doggie.  The two of them also visit my mom once a week at my mom's assisted living apartment.  It is the highlight of my mom's week.  So I can imagine how much joy Ann and Bailey bring to the residents of The Ronald McDonald House.  They raised an amazing $260,000 during the one hour breakfast.  Why?

Sandy wasn't the only host.  He had a co-host, Sosa.  Sosa is thirteen.  She had on a black dress with silver sequins across the top.  She walked to that podium like she did it every day.  I was once told the second greatest fear after death is speaking into a microphone.  It was obvious Sosa had already conquered her 1st fear.  You can watch her at: Watch Sosa  She then started by apologizing for not wearing the red sneakers with the orange laces that she had been given, her Ronald McDonald sneakers.  "They really don't go with my outfit" she said.  Then she shared what it meant to her and her family to have a place, The Ronald McDonald House, to stay at while she was receiving her second bone marrow transplant.  Her mother had slept in their car for two months until space became available at "The House."

During the breakfast there were four other speakers, three sets of parents and Oie Osterkamp, the director of the Durham Ronald McDonald House.  There was also a video which showed the journey of another teenage girl.  I cried on and off throughout the entire program.  Who wouldn't?  Who can be among families who have undergone so much in an effort to make sure their child survives and not be emotionally moved?  Obviously, not many of us.  When Sandy finally made the plea for money the audience responded with generosity and caring.  The pledge card was not just for money.  It also included a section for visits and volunteers.  They accept any help they can get.  I have friends who shop for, purchase and cook one meal a month for the entire RMH in Greensboro, NC.  Time, treasure and talent were all greatly appreciated.

My experience has taught me that whenever I think I'm being magnanimous and generous to someone or to some cause, I discover that I am the receiver more than the giver.  It's a gift to me when someone invites me into their lives and permits me to be of service.  The book I'm now reading, Catching Fire, Becoming Flame says our first responsibility is to be of service to those who are less fortunate than we.  Discovering what our gifts are and how we can best help another is actually a responsibility.  We are called to service.  We are called to help and support one another.

If you watch the news we are led to believe we are not a caring species.  The media almost never reports on something uplifting and positive.  But, Sandy and I are involved in many different charities and we know people both of our church and of no church, who lead lives which epitomize the phrase "giving back."  It seems to me if we watch our fellow man and woman carefully we will see we are a caring, generous, even loving species.  We like to help others.  We like to make a positive difference in the lives of those around us, both those we know and in the case of these two breakfasts, in the lives of complete strangers.  We must be an amazing group of beings.  These two events, two one hour events raised over $400,000 and I am sure generated a lot of interest for volunteer opportunities.  Most people want to help others.  Sometimes it simply takes being presented with an opportunity.  These two events were a perfect example of creating an opportunity for people to feel good about themselves by sharing their bounty with others.  For me, the blessing was to be included in my husband's caring spirit.  Actually, one of my greatest blessings is that I am an integral part of Sandy's generous loving heart.