Jean Anne Costa
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Coronavirus – My Day 40

There are new words now in our language and we have all learned them, regardless of whether or not we even speak English.  They arrived suddenly one day and like company that stays too long or is purely obnoxious, they are still with us even after several months.  For some the arrival has brought fear, anxiety, chaos and even death.  We are all facing a strange, unknown threat and most of us are doing our best to “follow the rules” as to not become ill or even worse, to make someone else ill and perhaps be the reason for their demise.  No matter who you are or where in the world you live, you are probably experiencing at the least some sort of stress.  I’ve spoken to many people who seem to have some sort of new physical ailment or one from the past that has reappeared.  It is not uncommon.  Besides many of us find ourselfes wondering whether or not that sore throat or queasy tummy or ingrown toenail might be a sign that the enemy has found a weak spot in our defense.  It’s simply an extremely daunting, challenging time and we, as American are at our best in times like these but I don’t know if any of us understood how long this time might last. 

The Easter Holiday brought the following message to my inbox:

Haven’t seen you lately so here’s an update. I have been working out 2-3 times a day, lost 25 pounds, almost all muscle now. Took up learning Mandarin and have become quite proficient. Have finally got to finish War and Peace as well as all of the works of Tolstoy, Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut which I have always wanted to get to. I’ve taken up the guitar and have Smoke on the Water down pat. Have tried to write a few songs, sent them to a music house and they tell me some guy I never heard of, Post Malone, wants to record them. I have also become a concert pianist and expert at ice sculpture. It’s been very boring but we all do the best we can. Happy Easter, stay safe and may the force be with you. 

I so appreciated the humor and I am sure anyone reading this has also found some relief in the humor that has come along.  I, on the other hand had to reply that the skills my husband and I have honed have been a little more mundane.  He has taken charge of the cleaning, including the vacuuming.  I am his “new” supervisor. 

About forty years ago, we had a friend who won the “sexiest man alive” contest in upstate New York.  It was I recall, a lunchtime event and several men were called up on a makeshift stage and questioned about why they should win the title.  As you can imagine, there were many creative and somewhat risqué answers but our friend won with not only his good looks (which he had) but with the simple statement that he loved to cook and he did the cleaning.  He was unanimously given the title.  I’ve tried to convince my hubby of fifty-two years that there is nothing sexier than a man who likes to cook and clean.  It just took a pandemic to push him into the role I always thought should be his.  

Again, humor has come in many many forms and for the most part, I have let it feed and nurture me.  We had one email that said a couple had decided to not have children and they were going to tell them after dinner.  But, the winner for me so far has been:

It was LOL for at least two days and it still brings a smile to my face when I think about it.  I don’t know who this lady is but I would love to meet her and I would love to have her as a friend.  

Also don’t miss John Krasinski’s YouTube segments called Some Good News.  It’s the kind of news I wish were published by our mass medial. It’s kind, funny and uplifting. 

https://youtu.be/F5pgG1M_h_U

In one of my favorite books, Spiritual Insights for Daily Living by Elizabeth Fenske, the March 25th reading tells of an old Arab folk tale where Pestilence once met a caravan in the desert on the road to Baghdad.  “Why must you hasten to Baghdad?” Asked the caravan chief.  “To take 5,000 lives,” was Pestilence’s answer.  Later, they met again and the caravan chief said, “You deceived me, Pestilence, instead of 5,000 life’s you took 50,000.” “Nay,” replied Pestilence, “5,000 and not one more-it was fear who killed the rest.”

I know, we all feel like we are living in a Twilight Zone episode.  I know I do.  I keep thinking any day now, I will wake up from this dream, this bazaar state of the world.  Fear! Anxiety! Stress! Grief! Loss!  Most of us are facing all of these emotions.  Most of us are fairly familiar with them but not on such a continual constant level.  Being who I am, I look for ways to see the silver lining in all the events of my life; sometimes to the annoyance of those around me.  In my first book Creating Positive Affirmations, Living an Intentional Life, I write that, “We cannot control the wind but we can decide how to set the sail.  The wind may blow you all over the world and take you to places you do or do not choose but it is your attitude during the journey and when you arrive that will determine every aspect of the adventure and you can determine that mindset by carefully choosing your self-talk.”    

I am not proposing that you ignore any of your emotions.  As Rumi says, “Welcome and entertain them all.  Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”  Then, take steps to move through those negative feelings.  Most of us know what is required to lift ourselves out of the pit but sometimes we need a reminder and many times we need a friend.  

Here are some of the tools that help me.  I share them with a hope they may also lift you to a “better place.”

 

  1. Believe in a Divine Power that loves you and wants only your best.  It may look nothing like you think it should, but work hard on trusting your God.
  2. Reach out either to help another or get help.  Don’t hesitate to ask.  Be humble.  Pick up the phone, write an email or even more unique, send some snail mail.  
  3. Exercise.  Find a way.  Take a walk, go up and down the steps, turn on a video, dance to a favorite song or two.  It is a panacea for the blues.
  4. Laugh.  Read those silly jokes or find a movie that tickles you funny.  How about anything by Steve Martin but especially my favorite, My Blue Heaven?
  5. Eat some chocolate or a little ice cream.  Be kind to yourself.  Be compassionate with yourself. 
  6. Take a bath, put some bubble bath in it and light a few candles.   

The list can be endless.  You know what you love.  You know what nourishes your soul and feeds your heart.  Have hope.  Have faith.  If it’s simply too windy for you at any point, lower the sail and take shelter in a safe place and wait.  The time will come again when we can all raise our sails and embrace the adventure of this life.  



@Home Retreat – Creating Sacred Time

Affirmation:  Sacred time is an integral part of my spiritual well-being.    

In February of this year a group of four women gathered to talk about holding a woman’s monthly morning retreat at our church, St. Michael the Archangel.  The process actually began after Christmas during my stay in the North Carolina mountains.  For me, it is a very spiritual place and during my week there, God spoke to me.  Actually, I think it may have been Mother Mary but whoever wanted my attention, they got it.  Oh, not at first.  “No No No,” I answered but after the third morning of no, I gave up and said, “OK, if you want this to happen, send help.”  Here’s the story.

I awoke the first morning and as I journaled, I got the inspiration to create a woman’s monthly morning retreat.  ”NO!  I do not have time.  I don’t want to spread myself so thin.”  There!!  The second morning, the message arrived even before I sat for my quiet time.  “NO!  I cannot commit to a monthly engagement.  I like to travel.  I couldn’t possibly be available.”  The third morning, I woke up with the same message.  Again, I refused.  “No!  I couldn’t do this on my own.  I would need help.”  That was all the spirit needed, that tiny, “maybe.”  I imagined the person I would like to help with such a project and within an hour, I received an email from that lady, even though we did not communicate regularly.  The rest is history.  I contacted her and she immediately answered, “Yes.”  I think she has a more willing spirit than I.  We asked a few other women and two more agreed to help.  Then I contacted the church.  It seemed like a good idea since we wanted to use their space.  They agreed.  We put a few notices in the bulletin and on February 15th, eighteen women showed up.  It ran for two hours and the feedback was very positive.  We scheduled four more sessions.  The next one for March 21st.  

As all of you know, the world has stopped turning.  We will not be gathering for a morning retreat or for lunch or to play.  We are all doing our best to follow the recent National guidelines for stopping the spread of the corona virus and yet, it seems even more important, more relevant to bring our intentions together and to invite the Holy to bless our lives, our country and the world.  With that in mind, I am presenting a @Home Retreat. As of this writing, there are about two dozen of us who will take an hour and a half to pray and to listen to the Divine.  I’m sharing the format in case anyone who reads this is interested in joining us.  If you know me personally, you are welcome to email me for more information, otherwise all you need to know is below.  

The agenda is below but I want to emphasize that it is only a model and it is not written in stone.  Please feel free to adjust it to your needs and perhaps the guidance of your guardian angel.  

It is very important to recognize that you cannot do this “wrong.”  If you finish early or late, that’s just fine.  If you decide to read something you prefer over the suggestions, that’s fine.  This is a time of NO JUDGEMENT.  It cannot be viewed as, “right or wrong,” “good or bad,” or “successful or unsuccessful.”  It is simply time you have carved out for yourself to develop a closer relationship with Our Lord, with the Divine.  It will be different for each person and that’s just fine.  

There is a great power in silence. 

Triangle Women’s Monthly Morning Retreat 

Home Program: Saturday 3/21/2020 9:30-11:00am

*Prepare your space:  Find an area where hopefully you will not be disturbed for your quiet time.  Perhaps you want a  blanket for yourself (or a teddy bear?). 

*Gather your supplies: Timer (preferably not a phone, try to make your space – media free), note paper and/or journal, pen.

*Create an “altar”: Put a few meaningful items out, include a candle.

*Opening Song – Your Choice, sing one or listen to one.

Lyrics for Amazing Grace:  

Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now am found

T’was blind but now I see

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear

And Grace, my fears relieved

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils and snares

We have already come.

T’was grace that brought us safe thus far

And grace will lead us home

*Opening Prayers – The Sign of the Cross/Our Father/Hail Mary/Glory Be or your choice.

*Intention:  This is a reflective, healing time and we ask that it be filled with the love of the Holy Spirit, the care of Mother Mary and the guidance of all our guardian angels.  We are here to learn from one another and to support each other on our journey towards a closer, more intimate relationship with Our Lord.

*Write out a prayer request or a few and add them to your “altar.”

*Reflection – Think of one thing you’ve added or deleted from your life for Lent.  

*Scripture Reading – Lectio Divinia – Slowly read the following daily scripture three times.  Read the passage slowly and carefully.

        

       

Gospel for this day, March 21st:  LK 18:9-14

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness

and despised everyone else.

“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;

one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.

The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,

‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —

greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.

I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

But the tax collector stood off at a distance

and would not even raise his eyes to heaven

but beat his breast and prayed,

‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;

for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,

and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

*Journaling Time – What did you hear God sharing with you?  What do you want to share with God? (10-15 minutes)

*Centering Prayer – 10 to 20 (recommended) minutes of silent time (you decide.)

*Centering Prayer – Guidelines 

  1. Sit comfortably.
  2. Choose a sacred word on which to focus.
  3. Set a timer.
  4. Don’t judge, just observe.
  5. Take a few breaths at the end to return to the present moment and to reflect on the experience.

*Closing Prayer – 

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”  

Amen.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

 *Sharing a Word Exercise – choose a word from your reading or your quiet time (your sacred word?) and share it here.  Feel free to share any other thoughts or insights you have gained from this sacred time. 

Finding the Can in Cancer

Affirmation: I find the can in cancer.

In 2007 Nancy Emerson, Susan Moonan, and Terri wrote, Finding the Can in Cancer. They were a group of women who were influential in the early stages of what was then called, The Duke Cancer Patient Support Program. Nancy Emerson was a woman with a mission. Her mission was not to let cancer become her identity. It was a part of her life’s quilt but not the primary thread. She and her co-authors shared a vision of hope and presented a message of living life to the fullest, not sitting back and waiting to die. They already knew what Jimmy Buffet sings about when he croons, “I want to die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”

Recently cancer has been even more present in my life than usual. My hubby was diagnosed with an aggressive-rare form of neck cancer (two words no one wants to hear when cancer is being described.) My dear traveling buddy also is presently undergoing treatment for breast cancer and my young, sweet neighbor is being treated for stage four lung cancer. Along with them my friend, Dr. Carmen Wagner is also being treated for lung cancer.

Carmen, is a brilliant business woman who has been involved with the health industry for most of her career. She has decided to use her organizational skills to create a cancer support group here in Cary, North Carolina. She too wants to focus on living life to the fullest and gathering and sharing information that will help people be the healthiest they can possible be. Her goal is to look at the whole person. One cannot heal the body without addressing the issues of the mind and the spirit. There’s a quote from the Mayo Clinic that says, “Three fourth of our patients are passing on the sickness of their minds and souls to their bodies.” How is that for a wake-up call?

How many of us have the power to control our minds to overcome disease? Even the holiest of holy die. Life has a way of bringing us to our knees and maybe that’s one of the most important “tools” we can sharpen; our ability to connect to the Divine, our ability and desire to find The Holy and to fully understand that we are, “spiritual beings having a human experience.” Perhaps, our greatest tool is to grow our faith in a power greater than ourselves, greater than anything we can even imagine. A power that can create a galaxy and a flower, a human and a microcosm.

After the initial diagnosis of cancer, what I found to be the second scariest event was the day I was released from treatment. I know I am not alone. I know too in many ways I was one of the lucky ones, to be released at all. However, a few years back, Duke changed the name of the DCPSP to the Duke Supportive Care and Survivorship Clinic. They finally recognized the need for cancer patients to receive care that addressed all the issues they had gone through during their treatment and perhaps with which they would continue to deal. For example, people who had undergone the type of chemotherapy I had undergone, needed an Echocardiogram every five years. I had been out of treatment (yes, luckily) for over 15 years and had never had an Echo! There’s a thread of cancer that is always with you even after you’ve been told you are “cancer free.” Ask any cancer survivor what come first to their minds when they have a headache, a backache or a shoulder pain? These concerns and fears need to addressed and alleviated. Education and support are essential to continued healing and that’s exactly what Carmen is focusing on, as is the Survivorship Clinic at Duke.

The basic health care rules apply whether or not you’re in or out of cancer. Exercise, eat healthy, get a good night’s sleep and stay connected to friends and family. These are proven ways of maintaining optimal health. The way you approach them really depends on the individual. People go crazy trying to figure out the best approach to their diet. In today’s world there are so many options and every one of them is touted as the “best” diet.” You’ve seen them. You’ve read about them. I don’t have to list them. The only way to know if they’re for you is to try one for a time and see how you feel and how your body responds. It’s not an easy path. What is good for one, really is not good for all. But is there any one thing that’s good to help cure the sickness of our minds and souls?

It’s Lent, 2020 as I write this missive. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. It is a time to focus on prayer, fasting and alms giving according to the tradition of my Catholic faith. It’s forty days to broaden our perspectives, to learn more about ourselves, to grow closer to our God and perhaps change our relationship to ourselves, the world and Our Lord. It’s really all up to us and our intentions and that, I believe is the cure. Oh, you may not heal yourself of every ailment you have and yes, you will still die. Let’s face it, no one gets out of this life alive. We do, however, get to choose how we live. We get to choose how we perceive what we are experiencing. It’s one of God’s greatest gifts to us, this gift of freedom of will and thought. Dr. Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen writes that sometimes in our pursuit of becoming whole, we still may not be cured but be assured, we will be healed.

What choices can one make to assure they will be healed? There are many just like a diet but two of the most important one can learn are to forgive and to love. Don’t hold onto that hot coal of resentment expecting it to harm anyone other than yourself. Do whatever it takes to heal your heart of hurt, anger and bitterness. Write about it, paint about it, meditate on it, pray. Don’t give up until you are whole once more, until that wound in your heart and soul has scared over. It’s hard work but it’s so worth it and don’t expect it to happen like a one and done. It may appear over and over. You may need to make a conscious decision maybe many times before you find peace. Forgiveness and love, the two cornerstones of a healthy, full, enriched life. Truly, if your life is full of peace and love what else could you possibly want or need to live it to the fullest?

Dr. Wagner, The Duke Survivorship Clinic, and the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat that I have been leading for the last fifteen years all focus on finding the positive outlook in life. We recognize the pain and challenge and then we choose to look for the, “can in cancer.” It’s there. It may take the help of others seen and unseen to discover it, but even in the most difficult of times, one can find a way to see the blessings. They are there in the faces of our loved ones, in the calls and cards from our friends and neighbors, in the prayers than encircle our whole being; mind, body and spirit. May your cancer journey help you to see the “can”, the blessings and may they lift you up to a place of gratitude and possibility.

A Safer World

Affirmation:  The world is safer than we believe it to be.
She didn’t phrase the affirmation in the positive, so I had to re-wright it.  She actually said, “The world is not as dangerous as we imagine it to be.”  She was backpacking through So. Africa.  She was crossing the border from Zimbabwe into Botswana.  She was all alone, no travel buddy along and she would be spending the night in a camp site, somewhere about which she knew very little.  “Will you be in a tent?” I asked.  She didn’t know.  She appeared to be in her early thirties and while I was dressed to be sure the mosquitos didn’t find a free square inch on me, she was in a tank top and shorts.  Her name was Anya.  I told her she was one of my newest heroines.  I have many but she was definitely the latest and I was so pleased to meet her, to share a little time with her and to learn from her.  “The world is not as dangerous as we imagine it to be.”  I felt like someone had opened a door in a stuffy, small room,  Yes, I was in So. Africa too.  I had only been here a few days when we were traveled to Chobe to cruise the river and ride through the jungle to see lions and giraffes and elephants and whatever other exotic creatures chose to show themselves.  I, however was with a buddy, Susan Auman and we had hired a guide to help facilitate the transfer across the border.  I was in awe of Anya.  
This was towards the end of our trip.  

It can be hard to imagine the world as safe.  The news is so gruesome most days.  It is the focus of the media and it leaves many feeling anxious and afraid.  Fear can be useful.  We are genetically wired to use fear as a warning system but when we always are in a “flight or fight” response, it becomes debilitating, cortisol levels rise and our systems are overloaded.  

Susan and I had already visited Cairo.  We had seen the pyramids, the Sphinx and visited mosques and several holy sites where the Holy Family had lived, according to the legends told.  We had also sailed the Nile and visited temples as old as three thousand plus years old.  (We had used some toilets that we were sure were just as old. Toilette paper was handed out by the sheet and that only with the payment of a dollar or more.) We had danced and hiked and rode in a hot air balloon over the desert but I still wasn’t sure if the world was more or less dangerous than I imagined but I was beginning to see the world differently, more like Anya.  

We were traveling during Lent and finishing our Egypt segment at the end of Holy Week.  Egypt is 80 percent Muslim and I was feeling very unsure about our journey.  I always wear a small cross necklace and I just wasn’t sure how advisable that was.  I took the cross off for a few days but I felt very uncomfortable without it and so, I put it back on.  I once read a story about a man who decided to wear a large (I don’t know how large.) wooden cross around his neck for Lent.  He was fairly sure people would react to his new pendant, he just didn’t know how they would react.  Imagine his surprise when no one reacted at all.  His decision to wear the cross was a very brave statement.  The only thing that mattered was how it made him feel.  That’s how I felt about wearing my little necklace.  The good news is no one reacted to it, positively or negatively but it was very important to me to openly claim my faith.  I felt very brave. 

So. Africa was a very different environment than Egypt.  I fell in love with the people.  We arrived and were eventually met by Sindy.  He was definitely one of the highlights of our travel.  Actually, for me, meeting the people wherever we went was the most fun.  Whoever we met, we were greeted warmly and courteously.  Susan and I did always present with a smile and I think that’s a universal language.  Very seldom was there not a response in kind.  

We had both prayed that God would send his angels ahead to pave the path with grace, ease, compassion and love and I must say, we were in awe of how well our travels went.  When met by our last tour representative we knew our prayers had definitely been answered.  His name was Blessing.  The names of the people we met in Victoria Falls were inspiring.  One of our waiters was named Tadiwa. He told us it meant, “We are loved.”  I asked him if it were true and he said, “yes” he was loved.  Sindy’s wife’s name is Simangaliso.  Her name means, “Great wonder” and according to Sindy, she is.  

Sindy had stories galore for us.  His enthusiasm for the falls was contagious.  As we walked the path to the Danger Point and the Devil’s Pool, he quoted Livingston.  “These are signs so wonderful that the angels must have gazed upon them in their flight.”  As we were leaving, this unassuming, gentle man he told us one last tale about being invited to speak in 2015 at the “Be the Change Conference” in Atlanta, GA.  It was his first time to fly and when he arrived, he spoke to five thousand people about helping women develop their own businesses because they are the mothers who nurture our future. 

The quality of the So. African people I found most striking was how they looked you right in the eye.  When you asked them how they were, they would always smile and engage you in a way that I found to be endearing and unusual.  


“The world is not as dangerous a place as we imagine it to be.” I am so grateful to my friend, Susan, for inviting me to join her on this pilgrimage.  Her desire to see and experience the world and her willingness to share it with me, dragged me out of fear and into love.  It’s not the first time she has led me this way.  It was she who led me to walk the Camino in 2017.  I can fall into fear very easily but she reminds me that “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”  We said our prayers and then stepped out into a whole new world.  She would tell me periodically that “You knew you weren’t in Kansas any longer,” when you had warthogs on the front lawn, elephants crossing the road, baboons climbing out of inn windows and monkeys waiting to steal your breakfast.  We were in a different world and I had conquered my fears, again.  It’s a gift I gave myself. It’s keeping me excited and enthusiastic about life, about the future, about our future.  It’s a reminder of a phrase I heard while at the Haden Institute, “God loves me exactly as I am but She loves me too much to leave me there.”  Thank you, God!  Thank you, Susan.  

Embracing Lent


Affirmation: Lent is a time dedicated to strengthening my faith. 
Today, February 14th, is not only Valentines Day it’s Ash Wednesday.  For Catholics it marks the beginning of one of the holiest seasons of the church year.  Practicing Catholics go to Mass or at least to a Lenten service and have a thumbprint of ashes smeared on their forehead.  The words accompanying the ritual are “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” (Genesis 3:19) The ashes normally come from the palms that were blessed for the previous Easter season.  At my church, St. Michael the Archangel, here in Cary, NC, the practice includes sprinkling holy water into the dishes holding the ashes.  That makes them pastier and then the priest or the minister can really smear them on.  I don’t remember them being so black and pronounced when I was a child.  We are then encouraged not to rub or wash them off until we would normally cleanse our faces.  I found myself eating lunch today at a local cafe and was charmed by the number of Catholics who proudly proclaimed their faith that day.  Let’s face it, it’s hard to miss a big black smudge on someone’s forehead and it’s the perfect opportunity to share your faith without saying a word. 
I live in the Bible Belt which I understand to mean we have a lot of practicing Christians in this area, many of whom are evangelical.  They have a mission to convert the world, the whole world to Christianity.  This is not the place to live if you are wishy-washy about your faith, unless you’re living in Chapel Hill.  (That’s a little hint for anyone reading this who is thinking of moving to our beautiful state.) I’ve lived in the Bible Belt now since 1976.  First, I was in Cincinnati, Ohio for ten years and now, I’m here.  How is that different from other parts of the United States?  If you look at one of USA Today’s graphs, you will see that the south-east and mid-west areas are shaded darker when the shading represents the number of people calling themselves Christians.  As the map expands to the west, California, Oregon etc., the shading becomes lighter and lighter.  My experience with this part of the world has been wonderful.  I have noticed that the people here who are working to be faith filled are kind, caring and compassionate.  I don’t think one need be religious or perhaps even spiritual to have those qualities but when your faith is an integral part of your life, I believe you are enjoined to raise yourself up to a higher level of responsibility to lead a more exemplary life. 
I know all about the hypocrites, those who show up at services all holy and righteous only to lead small, mean lives.  My experience has not led me to be surrounded by that type of practitioner.  My experience, especially that of living here in NC, has been one of support and kindness and compassion from the people who are actively participating in their faith.  Perhaps, I’ve just been lucky because even some of my friends who don’t belong to an established religion are loving and compassionate. Could it be, however, that the God energy of this area has permeated more souls than elsewhere?  It’s a nice thought.  It brings me comfort and hope.  Maybe mindfulness in itself encourages people to live lives of caring and service.  Supposedly there was a study done many years ago that showed when a Transcendental Meditation seminar was being held, that section of the country had less crime.   
Lent is my favorite time of the year. My part of the world is gray and wet and soft right now but I know that in just a few weeks everything will be in full bloom, the Dogwoods, Azaleas, and Daffodils to name a few will come forth and brighten and color our entire area.  It goes from dreary to delightful.  It’s slow and deliberate and if you pay close attention, you can see the metamorphosis taking place.  That’s what I like to imagine is happening to my inner life too.  Lent offers me the opportunity to grow and blossom, to go from dreary to colorful.  It’s up to me how I use the time.  For me, it’s a more deliberate time, an opportunity to be even more mindful, than any other time of the year.  I always hope the changes I’m making stay with me, as I move into the rest of the year, and hopefully some of my Lenten practices do just that and that’s exactly the reason we are called upon to set aside this time to develop more self-discipline and to be of greater service.  We are called to pray more, give alms and to practice acts of denial.  We are called to be more mindful, more intentional about our lives.  It’s a practice we could use every day not just during Lent but with Lent comes the deliberate intention to grow our inner lives, to make us and our world kinder, gentler and more compassionate. 
The main question at Lent is, “What are you giving up for Lent?”  I know I could give up wine or chocolate or some such food item and have the added benefit of reducing my waistline. In 2014, however, I chose a more difficult practice. I decided to give up doubt and now, in 2018,  I confess I still have “work” to do.  I must say, I feel I am now stronger in my faith than in the past but for me, it seems to be the work of a lifetime. When Oprah interviewed the famed televangelist, Joel Osteen, she asked him if he had ever doubted his belief in Jesus Christ.  He emphatically answered, “No.”  I am still not a Joel Osteen.  I am more of a Thomas.  After all these many years of practicing my faith I still have my doubts.  Let’s face it, it’s quite a story! That however, is not how I want to live my faith, the promises are too great.  I want to believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ is God incarnate and that I can have a personal relationship with Him that will enhance my life and lead me to a place where I reach out to others with pure love.  I want to believe that with Him, not only will I and my loved ones have eternal rest and peace, but that this life will be a more rewarding experience.  I haven’t yet had any direct messages from the spirit world that would allay my doubts but I don’t care.  This is how I want to live my life and for me it seems to require practice and Lent, my favorite time of the year, offers me that perfect opportunity.  “Loving Father, help me to better know and love Your Son.  Amen.”

Affirmation:  I pray unceasingly.  

Do you pray?  How do you pray?  Are your prayers silent or out loud?  Do you only pray when you go to church?  How about before meals?  Maybe you only pray before meals in your home, never out in public?  Maybe your prayers are only in the evening before bedtime, like many of us were trained to do as a child.  Maybe you make up your own words, or maybe you only use the rote prayers of your faith.  As you can see there are many forms of prayers, some might even say their best prayer is when they are on the golf course or watching a football game.  “God, help me get over this water!”  “Lord, please be with our team today.”  Some wouldn’t even use the name of God.  Perhaps, their faith won’t allow that or perhaps their faith leads them to only a universal concept like, the Divine or the Universe.  Of course, we also have those people who don’t believe in prayer at all and think it a waist their time.  This may not be the blog they will want to read.  That’s ok.  I think they are praying every time they send their energy out into the world with their thoughts, or into their bodies with their intentions.  
Recently, I read, “Ron DelBene’s Breath of Life Series: A Simple Way to Pray (The Jesus Prayer). To tell the truth, I didn’t expect to learn much from this tiny book but I am presently in the midst of training to become a certified spiritual director at the Haden Institute in Hendersonville, NC (I mentioned it In my last blog, Walking the Camino.) and I have a list of monthly assignments.  This was one of the suggested.  As usual, I was wrong; wrong, wrong, and wrong!  
If you’ve been following this blog, you already know I am a prayer warrior.  I pray all day and I have lots of tools to help me with that.  I have all those memorized prayers most Catholics learn as children and several I’ve memorized as an adult.  I have the one I wrote myself that I occasionally use before I journal.  I have the Rosary which I always say as I walk the lake and if not then, during some quiet time in the afternoon.  I have Sunday Mass.  There’s grace and my ujjayi yoga breath to which I add the name of Jesus.  So you see, I’m pretty immersed in a prayer life but I know there is always lots of room for me to improve my relationship with the Lord.  It’s my life’s primary focus, especially now as I move closer to meeting Him. 
  

In fact at the Haden training this last weekend we were handed a picture of a tree and the title was “Contemplative Practices.”  There are several branches: stillness, generative, creative, activist, relational, movement and ritual/cyclical.  It would appear according to this diagram that almost any form of activity can fall into a contemplative category as long as one is wholly present to their actions.  I’m sure that’s true but I still feel most of us will benefit from finding a way to silence and stillness.  It’s a busy noisy world out there and “in here” and to take some time and just be, can be life changing.  In fact, it has now been scientifically proven that the part of brain that deals with stress changes with meditation and we respond with less tension and anxiety. 

Ron DelBrene’s book was for me like discovering a magic lamp, with a genie inside.  The genie popped out and I was asked to make a wish, only one.  Oh, what was so important to me that I would want to focus on it all the time?  Ron suggests you find a short phrase that you use as an all-day prayer.  He recommends it be around six words or so.  You then repeat it throughout your entire day.  You can say it at a red light, standing in line, waiting in a doctor’s office, walking to you employment, in the shower.  Anywhere, anytime is the perfect time.  You “rub the magic lamp” and you actually ask, “God, what prayer would best serve our relationship?”  You take some of that quiet time I just mentioned and you listen.  What phrase comes to mind?  For now, that’s the prayer.  Sure, you can change it.  You can tweek it but for now, own the words that you have been gifted.  Breathe in, deep breath and let them settle into your heart and your spirit.  Give the prayer a few days to take root and then be prepared for when it begins to blossom.  That’s when you’ll know the “genie” has heard your one wish and it is being manifested.  The prayer isn’t for anyone or anything other than yourself.  Selfish, you think?  Remember the Prayer of Saint Francis?  “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  Until we change ourselves to be centered in the gifts of the Sprit; love, joy, peace, hope, compassion and generosity, nothing outside of us will ever change.  Let God take up full time residence within, you only need ask, and then throw away that lamp because now the miracle of finding God within will bring about the miracle of revealing God without and I believe life will never again be the same.  

Give it a try.  If you like, write me and share your prayer and anything else that manifests from your newest practice.

“Holy Spirit, fill me with Your pure love.”


Walking the Camino

Susan & I beginning the journey

Affirmation: Even though the walk along the Camino has ended, the journey continues.

It’s said that the Camino journey continues even when you’ve finished walking the path.  Perhaps that was the whole theme behind the movie, The Way.  A few days after walking the Camino, my friend Susan Auman and I re-watched the movie together.  Have you had that goose-bump feeling of watching a film and remembering the places you’ve visited?  That was our experience as we watched the film a second time.  I have been hesitant to write this blog summarizing my Spain adventure.  I can’t find all the words I would like to use to tell you about it.  People ask me and I find myself stuttering, smiling, shrugging.  The feelings are still here with me and we came off the path over a month ago and to be honest, I don’t want the feelings to go away.  I’m thoroughly enjoying being in a state of awe and wonder and gratitude.  

Roads Scholar Camino Tribe, May 2017


I attempted to share a bit of our trip on the local Camino blog site in case someone else was interested in going with Roads Scholar but the conversation quickly turned to how much more it cost to go with a tour than it would cost to go on one’s own.  I don’t think the people who commented had a clue; I don’t believe I would have ever gone “on my own.”  I almost didn’t go with the group. Yes, it cost more than a solo hike but for me, it was worth the expense. I had many moments beforehand of wondering what the heck I had signed up for.  We walked 60 miles in 10 days.  We walked up mountains, through forests, through small villages and in the 
rain and through the mud. We didn’t get a certificate and we had a lot of guidance, thank God!  But I left with a wonderful sense of accomplishment and an amazing storehouse full of memories that will last me a life-time. 

One of the many highlights was when we attended the pilgrims’ mass on our first day in Santiago.  We had just finished a guided tour and we were told that the swinging of the incense, the Botafumeiro, was only done periodically and no one knew when that would happen.  I know I was very disappointed by that news and so was Susan.  We decided to get to the mass early so we were assured of a seat.  When we arrived there was a special ceremony going on and we were delayed admission.  Finally, they let us into the church and as we began to take our seat, five robed men moved into the center of the sanctuary and filled the Botafumeiro with incense and began the swinging.  If you’ve ever seen this done, you will know how goose-bumpy it is.  It moved me to tears.  Then the mass began and when it ended they again swung the Botafumeiro.  Twice!  We experienced this rare, unique blessing twice in one day.  We then discovered it was the one-hundredth anniversary of the miracle of Lourdes and not only did they honor it with the incense swinging but with a procession through the streets honoring the Virgin Mary.
St. James Cathedral, Santiago

Other highlights included stopping at several churches along the way where we were blessed by the local priests and in one of the churches, a visiting Italian choir broke out in melodic song but for me, the most moving event took place, once again in Santiago.  After the pilgrims’ mass, one of my fellow walkers shared with me that she had just come back into the Catholic church.  Her adult son had died with ALS and before he died he had asked her to return to the church but she hadn’t felt moved to do so until she walked into Saint James Cathedral in Santiago de Compestella.  She had actually gone to confession there (the priest didn’t speak English, so he took out a little book of “sins” and had her point to the ones for which she wanted forgiveness) and she had received communion.  She glowed from her experience and I glowed with the honor of her sharing with me her amazing act of courage.  These are just a few of my favorite memories.  Of course I kept a journal and if I were to share all the highlights, I’d have a book written, not just one of my longest blogs.

I’d tell anyone who had this opportunity to grab it and go.  Don’t miss this pilgrimage.  I think it’s life-changing. I know it’s been life changing for me and I’ve only been off the path a very short time.  How, you may ask?
The Rosaries in Finisterra

Remember the blessed Rosaries I collected?  I mentioned them in the last blog.  My first night with the group, I explained that I had been given a “message” to bring Rosaries and I knew that sounded weird but I had collected about fifty of them from a lot of different people.  “Please take one or two if you like.  If you don’t want one, that’s fine too.”  The rest of the Rosaries walked the Camino with me.  When I was finished, I again passed the bag around with the same instructions.  Between our group of twenty-three and the other people I met on my trip, I came home with 5 Rosaries.  I was in awe of how many people I met who wanted to talk about their faith. If that happened, I eventually offered them a finger Rosary and everyone accepted; the tapas tour leader, the taxi driver, the hotel receptionist, the German pilgrim in Finisterra. I didn’t feel any pressure to give away the Rosaries.  I just let it happen, and so it did, and it was so rewarding to share this small gift of my faith.  

The journey didn’t end in Spain.  The journey hasn’t ended yet.  The first Camino synchronicity that took place was about a week later when I arrived at my daughter’s home in London.  When I had visited her in March I walked to mass at the local church as is my practice.  As I was leaving mass a very nice lady introduced herself and proceeded to walk along next to me.  She was very gracious and said the next time I was in London, perhaps I’d like to come to her home for tea; she lived close by.  I contacted her when I arrived at my daughter’s and made arrangements to meet up.  I mentioned in my email that I had just come off the Camino.  As we walked along, I asked her if she’d ever walked the Camino.  “I have walked the Camino for three weeks every year for the last eighteen years.”  I had goose-bumps.  When we arrived at her home, she had all the original tour books for the path, before one had access to cell phones or computers.  She had them in English, German and French.  She also had a walking stick engraved with El Camino.  My new friend worked for the non-profit, L’Arche.  An organization that helped mentally disabled adults transition to independent living.  It’s a world-wide organization.  She then went on to tell me she had two American Gurus, Richard Rohr and Marshall Rosenberg.  As you may already know, Richard Rohr is someone I follow very closely.  He’s appeared in my writing quite a bit.  I didn’t know about M. Rosenberg but I downloaded one of his books and read it on my eight hour flight home.  He is the developer of the Non Violent Communication process. If that wasn’t enough of a synchronicity,  when we went to a communication session to help our grandson, one of the five recommended books was….you probably guessed it, Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC. 

I now carried a vision of the Camino path continuing along mosaic stepping stones.  Where would the next stepping stone be found?  Many months before I left for Spain, I had a trusted friend tell me about a local woman, Sherrie Dillard, who might offer some spiritual guidance.  My appointment with Sherrie was the week after I came home from Europe.  During my visit she told me it appeared I would be presented with an “opportunity “ sometime in the coming fall, a very intriguing prediction!  Was this another mosaic stepping stone?  Would I only know them after I had walked on them?

The very next day after visiting Sherrie, I was invited to attend a Soul Collage workshop.  Over the years, I had done a lot of collaging.  Our yoga-off-the-mat art activity at our annual Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat (.org) has often focused on meaningful art work, many of our projects were guided to help us create wonderful memorable pieces.  This workshop, however, took this art form to a whole different level.  It was designed to help one tap into those innermost places that are usually well hidden from ourselves.  When my two collage cards were complete, I noticed one part of one of the cards had a picture of a stone pathway.  The woman, Becky Hambrick, who led the workshop was certified in this process and was also a spiritual director.  She mentioned she trained at the Hayden Institute in North Carolina.  I invited her to dinner.  I was very interested.   
I’d seen Sister Judy Hallock at A Place for Women to Gather over the years for spiritual direction and I had a few friends who were also certified in this field.  I’d looked into the certification several times but the programs and the timing were never right.  I decided I’d take a few baby steps and see where this path might lead.  

It led me straight to an available slot in the fall session at the Hayden Institute for training as a spiritual director.  Yes, even when I’ve finished walking the path, the Camino journey continues.  This image that I now carry in my mind and heart leave me feeling excited, hopeful and awed.  It’s such a marvelous gift and I feel so blessed to have received it.  Thank you, Lord, thank you, thank you!


Additional Photos:

Unmet Expectations

Affirmation: I let go of affection, security and power.

Lee Smith, one of our beloved North Carolina writers spoke at the Olli program at NC State University this April. Her topic was, I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool. She spoke for one and half hours and never missed a beat. She was funny and clever and very entertaining. I took out my phone at one point, not to check my messages, I hope she knew that, but to write down one of her shared quotes, “Expectations are the breeding ground of resentment.” This, I felt, deserved some reflection.

I’m preparing for a walk along the El Camino de Santiago in Spain. I’m going with my friend, Susan Auman. We are going with Roads Scholar.
We are not walking the whole 500 plus miles. We are “only” walking about 50 miles or so, the last part of the famous pilgrimage. After my adventure last year with Isabelle to Alaska I realized how important it was to me to step outside of my comfort zone. This is way outside of my zone and it’s been an interesting journey before I’ve even packed the suitcase. (More about that later.)

I’ve read the information packet and I’ve watched the movie, The Way, with Martin Sheen. I’ve got my plane tickets, hiking boots and hiking poles. I’ve got new walking pants that roll up and my old Outward Bound hat. I have sunscreen and Biofreeze. I’ve spent the last few weeks dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s.” I have had moments of complete panic and moments of total calm. At one point, I called Roads and spoke to a woman named Gale. I told her how anxious I felt and that I wanted to speak to the guide; that was not going to happen, she told me. Then she asked me what I was anxious about. “Everything!” I replied. At some point in the conversation she reminded me that millions of people have already done this. They’ve walked the entire path. She also reminded me that this is a pilgrimage and “a spiritual journey.” With those words, the anxiety seeped out of me. It was like I had been in the dark and she came in and flipped on the light switch. I’d like to tell you that I’ve been calm ever since but that would not be true, although I have been calmer and that’s been nice.

After listening to Lee Smith, I’ve tried very hard not to have any expectations for my trip. I have prayed that it be “uneventful.” I think that’s what people mean when they speak of “traveling mercies.” If you’ve been watching the news lately, it appears travel is filled with situations that are far from pleasant and may even be life threatening, or deadly. Of course, that describes most of life, don’t you think? I however, once again, get to choose on what I want to focus. I have asked my Guardian Angel to go ahead and pave the path with grace and ease. That practice brings me peace. I expect this to be an adventure, perhaps one of my life’s most daring after breast cancer. This adventure however, I’ve chosen.

As I sat quietly one morning trying not to mentally pack (again) and to stay in the moment, I received a message, “Bring Rosaries.”  I haven’t had a lot of direct communication with God or in this case, Mother Mary, but I was very sure this wasn’t my idea. When I rose from my sitting, I sent a note to all my Catholic friends asking for Rosary donations.  I felt I wasn’t supposed to buy them.  I believe I am to bring the prayers and energy of my dear ones from home onto and into the walk.  What a wonderful response I’ve gotten.  Some came with notes wishing us well.  Some are from the Vatican, recently blessed by Pope Francis.  Some are homemade by the ladies of St. Michael the Archangel.  Others belonged to loved ones who have passed away.  There are even finger Rosaries.  Who knew there was such a thing?  I’ve already given a few away.  I know the dear ones I gifted will be holding us in their prayers as we walk along.  I like knowing that.  It makes me smile.

When I heard Lee Smith’s quote, however, it was not travel that first came into my mind. The reason I believe it resonated so loudly with me is because I recognized the frustration I’ve experienced over the years with several important relationships. I’m guilty of expecting people to behave in a certain way or to respond to me in a certain manner and they don’t always meet my expectations. I’ve got some amazing people in my life and I’m not proud of judging them as wanting because they didn’t live up to my expectations and perhaps because I didn’t even let them know what I wanted. I’ve been on the other side of this also and it’s a very exhausting experience to try and meet someone’s expectations whose needs are quite extensive but who doesn’t want to appear needy and so doesn’t tell you what they are.

The phrase I have adopted this year to begin my meditation with is, “I let go of affection, security and power and accept this moment exactly as it is.” I say it before I begin meditating and have to say it several times during my quiet time. “I let go.” How powerful is that? When I stop attaching my wants and desires on my loved ones, I give them permission to be whoever they are and I am then called upon to love them and accept them exactly as they are. Perhaps, once I can achieve that state, I can also allow myself to be the best I can be and not feel an obligation to create someone else’s happiness, or even comfort. As I examine this new phrase, I wonder how much of my life has revolved around my expectations and if that’s served me well or not? I think there’s a difference between expectation and hope. The first is about the destination and the later is about the journey. I can be guilty of focusing on the destination when It comes to every aspect of my life not just my relationships or my travel but my faith, my material possessions, my health, my social life. None of that has brought me happiness or contentment. It’s time to let go.

Maybe by letting go I will make more room for God in my life. Perhaps by letting go over and over again, just like I do in my mediation, I will finally be content and peaceful. I think my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella began the day I signed up for this journey and the lessons I am to learn and share started showing up almost immediately, including in Lee Smith’s talk. Although one of my affirmations is, “The best is yet to come.” Well, who is responsible for that? Perhaps that too can refer to the journey and not the destination. I’ll let you know as I walk along. Look for an update or two but don’t expect too much!

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
An Irish Blessing

My Rosary Collection

Journaling for Health and Healing

Affirmation: I am a Journaler.  


Why Journal?  Why put pen to paper?  Is it true that writing makes a difference in one’s health and can even speed up the healing process?  What other benefits arise from sitting with a notebook or a pad or perhaps some colored pencils or markers?  Are there techniques that help one become a more consistent, insightful writer? These are the questions that arose as I prepared to present Healing through Writing at the 2017 Cancer Survivorship Summit here in Raleigh, NC.

If history is any indication of the importance of keeping a diary, it appears there is little doubt that most successful endeavors were meticulously recorded.  In the past an adventurer or explorer never seemed to leave home without a notebook and pen or pencil.  Certainly, Lewis and Clarke would not have been able to share every important detail of their expedition if they hadn’t been charged to write down everything that they encountered.  Why then shouldn’t we write?  Aren’t we all on an adventure?  Aren’t our explorations as important as any explorer’s?  True, our journeys may take us less out into the world, than in towards our minds, hearts and souls but those may be the journeys where we discover the most relevant truths of our lives.

Research has been done for years regarding the practice of journaling or expressive writing and anything you Google will tell you that writing can make a positive difference in whatever you’re experiencing.  It doesn’t matter what the challenge, writing can make a difference in everything from depression to dementia, from aches and pains to high blood pressure, from your outlook to your sense of well-being.  Truly, it would seem if they could bottle the process and sell it, it would be the miracle cure-all so many are seeking.  Unfortunately, like many healthful habits (exercise and healthy food choices to name just two) it requires discipline and a belief that it is going to enhance your life.  
One reason given for the clarity that journaling can bring is that you are being called upon to use both sides or your brain, the rational and the creative.  I, personally, can get very muddled when faced with some situations but once I begin writing about them, I can find solutions at which I would have never arrived if I hadn’t written about it.  
Beginning the Practice
*Grab a pen and some paper, not a keyboard.  
*Decide to set aside some part of your day, preferably in the morning to just sit and write, maybe      just a few minutes to begin.
*Adopt a few comforting rituals to go with the practice.  For example, make a cup of tea or coffee, play some soothing music, light a candle, perhaps say a prayer or take a few deep breaths, burn some incense, wrap up in a blanket, find a comfy chair.  Make this a nurturing experience. 
*Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or two.  Feel good about any time you’ve managed to sit and write.
*Find an approach that feels good to you.  I follow the Julia Cameron approach from The Artists Way of writing three pages every morning.  She never mentions how big or small the pages are to be or how big or small your writing is to be.  You decide that.  Once you’ve found what works for you, try it for a while but stay flexible.
*Don’t edit anything.  Don’t worry about the spelling or the  grammar.  It is never a good or bad entry; it’s simply a learning experience.  
*If you don’t know what to write about, write, “I don’t know what to write about.”  If you write something that unsettles you, go back to it when you’re done and see if you can rephrase it or learn from it or perhaps when you return to it, you will feel better about it and you can simply let it go.  Perhaps the exercise is calling you to seek professional help. That too can be very good information.
*I personally like to write a phrase or intention that I have adopted for the year at the top of my daily entry.  I then like to write about three joys I experienced from the day before and one joy I am hoping to experience that day.  That part of my practice comes from The Joy of Appreciative Living by Jacqueline Kelm.
Journaling Prompts

Free Writing – Put the pen to the paper and just go.  Whatever comes to mind.  My experience has been that after writing my “stream of consciousness” for a few pages, a gem or two appears towards the end of the entry, not always but enough to make me feel like the time was spent well.

Letter Form – Choose a person and tell them your story. It could be someone from your past, or maybe that special someone in your future.  It could be a stranger who showed kindness or a doctor or technician who is part of your healing process.  Maybe it’s a former sweetheart to whom you never really said goodbye to or a parent, living or deceased you never told, “I love you.”  Once you begin your list, it might provide you with material to write a book.  This letter is yours, however, don’t send it unless you’re sure that’s the right next step.
Life Map – Write out some of the highlights of your life.  I’m sure a few immediately come to mind.  Start with one of them and journey to the next one, go back, go forward.  It doesn’t matter, just reminisce in writing.  
Questions – I know have I more questions about life and the world than I have answers.  There are questions about the unknown, about relationships, about what’s going on in my body, about why I respond a certain way to certain people.  It’s an endless list.  Ask one and let the pen help you find an answer.  
Listing – Begin by making a list, a list of anything; colors, shapes, scents, foods, places, etc.  Choose five or so and begin writing about whatever comes to mind about that topic and each item.
Quotations – I usually read something motivational every morning and inspirational every night.  They aren’t necessarily long reads, some are just a paragraph or two but many times they lead me to some wonderful quotes.  I like to record them and perhaps see where they fit in my life and how I can use them to enhance the way I live.
Interviews – Check in with what’s going on in your body once in a while.  Find out why that tummy is upset, or perhaps why your back is achy.  Maybe you want to dialogue with a new condition?  I’m not trying to say your brain caused your ailment, but I am saying there is always a lesson to be learned and journaling about the issue can be very enlightening. 
Inner Child – Take an inventory of what brought you joy as a child and write about it and see if there isn’t a way for you to incorporate some of that joy into your present life.   
Focus on Nature – One sure fire way to step outside of ourselves and bring us to a greater sense of awareness is to step outside into nature.  Focus on the miracles of this world or perhaps those outside of the earth, the stars, moon and galaxies.  Write about the flowers, the rivers, the wind and the sun.  Focus on all of the amazing gifts we have been given and so often take for granted.  
Log of Success – It’s easy to beat ourselves up, especially when we aren’t feeling our best.  Take a look at what you consider the highlights of your life and journal about those.  Then take a little while to examine them and allow a sense of accomplishment to resonate within.
Question Your Higher-Self – Many journalers have asked their higher-selves questions to which they simply could not get a clear answer and then allowed the pen to write out the answer.  There are several books about writing out a question to one’s guardian angel or spirit guide and how rewarding and surprising it can be when the answer appears.  
Draw, Paint, Color, Collage – There are many ways to journal and some days you might just want to try something different, a picture, a collage, a Mandela.  Let it appear on the page and then see what it “tells” you.  
Prompts – Many writers use “prompts” to begin their writing process.  It can be a photo, a statue, a bit of nature, a quote, a painting.  It really doesn’t matter.  Once you use a prompt and see where it leads you, let go and go crazy with it, you will never again have nothing to write about.  
There are many approaches and a lot of scientific data to back up the exercise of keeping a journal or a diary but the best proof of its effectiveness is when you notice that you’re feeling better, perhaps calmer, more grounded, not as anxious, surer of your direction or more ready to give and receive love.  When qualities that enhance your life and nurture your spirit start to appear as a regular part of your daily existence, you won’t care why this discipline works; you’ll only care that you’ve finally discovered it and put it into practice.

A Blessed Life

 Affirmation: I enjoy every moment of this blessed life.

The conversation revolved around the needs of the poor and destitute and what we are capable and willing to do to alleviate their sufferings. The news stories revolving around the excitement of the 2016 Summer Olympics were in a sharp contrast to those of the sport stories. They were grim and horrific.  The photo on the front of the August 14th Wall Street Journal was that of a little toddler, Omran Daqneesh, 5, who was rescued after an airstrike in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Within hours, this photo of his dust and blood-covered face captured the world’s attention.  You can google it if you like.  It was taken by Mahmoud Raslan.  It has been compared to the photo of the little girl running from the napalm blast during the Vietnam War.  It’s a single image that brings into our homes and hearts the complete devastation caused by hate and evil.

The question, however, always seems to remains the same, “What can I do?” What can I do?   I know I’ve written about this before and as you might know I do volunteer and raise money and send money to different charities especially those that help children.  I do pray daily for “those most in need of God’s mercy.”   It’s a part of my morning ritual and part of my Rosary but is that enough?  Yes, I would like a magic wand to wave. I’d like “all the money in the world.”   I’d like to be a mini Mother Teresa but I do not have those gifts and some days I simply feel helpless in the face of such suffering and agony.

As you probably know. I live in North Carolina.   I think it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the states, if not the world.  We have the ocean at one end and the mountains at the other.  We have Carolina blue skies and when you fly into this area all you see is green green green.  If that isn’t enough we have flowering bushes and trees that dot the landscape wherever you go.   Most days I am in awe of living here.  How did this happen?  Why am I living in this paradise?  Did I “do” something right?  Did I “do” something to deserve this?  Am I a favorite child of God and so She/He placed me here in the midst of Shangri-La?  Why do I get to live this life of abundance and comfort when so many are making do with so little or perhaps nothing at all?

I know some would tell me that I chose this experience before I was even conceived, smart me.  Some others might say that this is karma, what I did in a previous life earned me this life I now have.  Good job, Jean!  I, however, do not have an answer that makes any sense to me.  Maybe you do?  I know my Christian faith tells me I am called to give much because I have been given much.  I’m not even sure I understand that.  How much is enough?  I have heard many religious people talk about how everything we have is a gift from God.   I don’t really get that either.  I’m grateful for everything I have, even those things I didn’t think I wanted but received anyway but really did God bestow those on me?  Does God really look down and say, “There’s little Jean Anne and I think she should enjoy a piece of chocolate, a good husband, wonderful children, a beautiful sunset or a stunning vista?”   I don’t think so!  I do believe, however, that we get to choose how to view whatever it is that comes into our lives and we can choose to be grateful to a God that can create the beauty and pleasures and even the challenges of this life. That’s what free will is all about; we get to choose how we perceive whatever is or has occurred in our lives, especially those of us who live a life of comfort and privilege.

I am re-reading Christiane Northrup’s, Goddesses Never Age, with my study group, The Seekers. The chapter on optimal health revolves around the concept of finding pleasure.  I know it sounds hedonistic but the lesson Dr. Northrup is teaching is about fully embracing the joys and gifts of our lives.  It’s not just about the concept of pleasure but of how to affect a healthy response to what we enjoy.  She’s not telling us to simply notice those aspects of our lives that bring us joy.  We are being encouraged to not only be grateful, which I know for many is a challenge in itself; we are being called to savor those experiences, to taste them, to feel them, to let them raise us up beyond our wildest dreams and fill every cell in our bodies with tingling sensations.  She is suggesting that when we have that piece of chocolate or see that sunset or hold the hand of a loved one, we take the time to fully embrace the feelings of the experience. What happens when we allow ourselves to completely experience such pleasure?  There is a physical reaction where our bodies emit Nitric Oxide and NO has healing properties that cause all sorts of wonderful effects including a delicious sense of well-being.

I believe God does care about us. I believe God loves us beyond our wildest dreams and that He/She will and does intervene in our lives in a very personal way but we have to ask and we have to be open to those gifts and then, the most important part is that we must fully appreciate our gifts, even those we didn’t think we wanted.  The conversation I was having about the poor and destitute and our responsibility took a completely different turn than I had expected.  The wise woman across from me said with emphasis, “Well then, Jean, you must fully enjoy every moment of this blessed life.”  That felt like quite a challenge.  I had another person tell me they thought when we arrived at the pearly gates St. Peter’s question would be just that, “Did you fully enjoy every moment of your blessed life?”  I’m working on having that answer be, “Yes.”  Perhaps with an attitude of gratitude my healthy healing body and spirit will in itself spread out and make a difference in someone’s life that is less fortunate than I.  Perhaps part of my giving back and sharing my bounty doesn’t lie in only giving time, talent and treasure.  Perhaps it also requires unconditional love and bringing hope and joy into every part of our lives and therefore, the world.