Jean Anne Costa
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Let Go of Worry

Affirmation:  I let go of worry.
She just announced she’s going to Cuba.  It’s not her first trip.  She’s gone there before.  My first thought is “She is so brave.”  My second thought is “I hope she has a safe trip.”  My third thought goes to my greatest fear, “I hope she’s not abducted by a band of rebel guerrillas and made to traipse through the jungle where she gets all wrinkled and dies ugly.”  Worry.  I’m already worrying about her safety and for that matter, my safety and I’m not even going.  

My mediation reading this morning was about worry.  It said worrying about something was akin to having a headache and banging your head against a wall to get rid of it.  I can be an active headbanger but I have decided to stop worrying.  I have decided to give up worry for Lent. Do you think that’s possible?  

The famous comedienne George Burns once did a whole routine about worry.  He said he gave up worry when he realized how futile it was.  “It serves no purpose to worry about something you can’t do anything about and if you’re worried about something you can do something about, well just go do it!”  

My paternal grandmother developed Alzheimer’s at a very young age.  She died at the age of 72.  I believe they first started to notice a change in behavior at the age of 55.  I now bring communion for my church to an Alzheimer’s unit.  Most of the residents are women.  I began worrying about getting Alzheimer’s when I first heard it could be hereditary.  I was in my early 30’s.  I even considered getting some sort of long term care health insurance.  I shared my concern with my young teenage daughter.  Her response, “Oh, Mom, that’s so silly.  By the time your that age, they’ll have a cure for it.”  I stopped worrying.  She was wrong, but it didn’t matter.  I was able to let it go.

Worry can permeate our lives like a cancer, slowly growing without our ever recognizing the detrimental affect it is having.  Not only does it undermine our sense of peace but physically it causes the body’s sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol. It is natural to be concerned about our lives but there is a difference between concern and obsession.  Once we become obsessed with a concern we are in a place that won’t allow us to clearly view our situation, we become muddled.  It truly is a useless exercise, waisting so much of our precious energy. Sometimes, however, all the positive thinking in the world will not decrease your anxiety.  There is a condition known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder and it is treatable with medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.  It’s not always just in our mind, sometimes it’s chemical and in order to turn things around, one may need some additional assistance.  

 

Last week a meteor, the size of a school bus, 10,000 tons with the power of an atomic bomb, landed in Russia.  A number of people died. There were numerous videos of it streaking across the early morning skies.  It appears all the cars in Russia have cameras on them to record any accident that takes place.  The cameras are designed to act as a third, impartial witness.  I couldn’t help wonder how many people that day were worrying about an asteroid landing on them? In my husband’s book, Humanity at Work, he tells the story of the fish and the pelican. There’s the fish swimming along watching out for the barracuda or some other predator when along comes a pelican and swoops it up, a creature from another universe totally foreign to the fish’s world.  We have no idea what life is going to present us with, a meteor or perhaps a pelican. I felt like a meteor landed on my life when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999.  I know I speak for many when I say that many of the physical diagnosis we receive come as total shocks.  Sometimes they are conditions we have never even heard about.  We may not even be able to pronounce them or perhaps we have heard about them but never considered they would affect us.  Truly, if we really wanted to worry all the time, I’m sure we could make up lots of stuff.  Actually, most of our worries are fantasy driven because we can never know what the future will bring, we can only guess. Let go of your concerns for the future, focus on the now.  

This is one of the wonderful side effects of prayer and mediation.  When we have a practice that brings us back to the present, we can use it in times of concern to recognize we have jumped off into the unknown and to bring ourselves back to the here and now.  Prayer and the belief in a benevolent God can bring great peace.

In Conversation with God, Father Francis Fernandez addresses the passage from Matt 6:34, Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. He goes on to say, “What matters is today. Worry magnifies the difficulties and diminishes our ability to fulfill the duty of the present moment. We can live only in the present. Anxieties almost always arise because we fail to put all our effort into the here and now.” If we believe we will be given the graces we need in order to contend with anything that crops up. We will be victorious! 

Perhaps with continued practice, I will let go of worry.  Perhaps I will even be able to celebrate in my friend’s trip to Cuba and instead of feeling anxious about it, send her along with heartfelt blessings and a vision of a wonderful adventure.   

Rising with Christ

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.

Lent is upon us. As I write this Ash Wednesday has passed. Lent is
one of my favorite times of the year.  In
the Catholic tradition, ashes are smeared on one’s forehead in the sign of a
cross with the words, “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt
return.” Genesis 3:19.   It is a
reminder of our mortality and of the promises of Christ of our life to come.
Lent in the Catholic faith is the time to prepare for the death and most
importantly, the miraculous resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Wow!
What a story! And, we are called to travel with Him on His journey. We are
called to stay present to the time, the season, the death and the rebirth. It’s
a time that takes many of us out of the depths of “winter” and into the
fullness of “spring.”

One of the challenges offered to us during Lent is to make it a
time of sacrifice. We are encouraged to deny ourselves and to do works of
mercy. Oh, I don’t think it has to be any great effort but we are called to do
something so that we are more aware of the 46 days; so we stay more present to
the Lenten season. It’s a gift we give ourselves.
 

If you grew up with this concept of Lent, you know the first
question most people are asked about their Lenten practice is, “What are you
giving up for Lent?” While I understand it is a season of fasting and
abstinence, it’s also a time to rest in the Lord, to take time to listen to
God’s voice, to the voices of our Angels and Guides. It’s a time to share those
things that are truly precious to me; my time, talent and treasure. It’s a time
to plant some seeds and to tend to them so they may produce the flowers and
fruits of love and joy. Now, that is something that takes quite a bit of
guidance. What needs to do be done to create such a bountiful harvest?

Several years ago, Father Emmanuel from Africa gave the Ash
Wednesday homily. He had a very eastern approach to Lent. He said he had
watched our American culture take on more, do more and struggle more during
Lent and he wondered if maybe we shouldn’t consider “doing less.” Doing less!!
Oh my, now that’s a self-discipline I might find very difficult to embrace. I
like to “do.” I like to be busy, busy, busy. I like to think I’m making a
difference in the world. I’m contributing; I’m making the world a better place
to live. And now, I am being challenged to do less.  At another time another visiting African
priest also presented the concept of doing with less.  This time he suggested we fast not only from
food but from the internet, the TV, radio and newspapers.  Instead of focusing on worldly events, he
suggested we use all that free time to connect to God.

How can denial and service be a gift we give ourselves? Well, it
takes 40 days to develop a habit and this type of exercise can be seen as an
opportunity. I know many people who use the Lenten sacrifice as a time to diet.
I can’t count the number of people who have shared with me that they give up
chocolate or sugar. Maybe that’s worked well for them. Perhaps every time they
have that craving, they find themselves more present to Christ and his
sacrifice. But, besides a restrictive diet, we need to take up the badge of
service, find something we can do for another. There are so many in such dire
straits right now. How can I be of more service than I already am? Maybe I need
to go through the house and give up a few coats and other items of clothing.
One of my dear friends is always reminding me that someone else could be using
the items I have left untouched for months and in some cases, years. Perhaps,
it’s a time for me to be a prayer warrior. How can I add more prayer to my daily
practice especially for those most in need? Maybe I can send a note or make a
call once or twice a week to friends I haven’t touched base with in a while? I
can pray for them, offer up a day for them, and send them a visible sign of my
love, like a note or a card, even an email might work. I’m sure you can think
of many other ways to give back.
 

And, what can I give up? What new habit can I develop over the
Lenten season that won’t simply reduce my waistline but will add to the quality
of my life, my life and hopefully the lives of all those I touch? I decided to
give up ingratitude. Ingratitude is defined in the dictionary as “forgetfulness
or poor return for kindness received.” A synonym is “thanklessness.”

I live a life full of abundant blessings. I am a very lucky woman.
I am loved by my family and have many wonderful friends. I need and want
nothing. I am beyond lucky and extremely grateful. I am safe, secure, and
healthy. But, every so often envy slips into my psyche. I’m admitting it. I can
still find myself listening to or watching others and wonder what I did wrong.
Why didn’t I make that choice; why didn’t I travel that path; why do their
lives appear so easy, so full? Sometimes it’s little things that I find myself
dwelling on and other times, it’s some major issue. But, that doesn’t serve me
or anyone else. Whether I give credit to God, to fate or to my own hard work
for the life I now live, being ungrateful is plain wrong. By giving up
ingratitude I found myself noticing when I undermine my own happiness and I
stop and let it go. Perhaps by letting go of ingratitude for 46 days, I’ll
develop a new habit. Maybe by the end of Lent, I will rise too, to a new
awareness, a new way of thinking about my life; a way that brings me and those
in my life, a sense of greater peace and joy.

I have accepted the challenges presented to me for this season and
have decided that with my “free” time, I will pray more and I will listen
harder. I believe that with these steps in practice, I  open myself to God’s grace and move forward
in whatever direction I am led. I’ve decided not to be in charge but am hoping
that by focusing on my faith, on my relationship with Christ, I will be led to
that place where it’s not up to me how I use my time, treasure and talent, but
up to God and that with the guidance of my Angels and Guides in those quiet
moments, I will be used as their instrument.

This is my Lenten practice.

Nurturing Relationships

Affirmation: My friends bless my life, I accept them as
they are and treasure their relationships with me.

I like people. When I’ve taken the Meyers Briggs Personality Test,
I come out evenly between the introvert and the extrovert. The test doesn’t
tell you how well you relate to people, but whether or not you get energy from
being with people or being alone. The goal is to find a middle ground. For me,
I need some of both and the challenge can be finding that balance.
 
 
I remember when I was in graduate school getting my Masters in
Social Work. My very first course was taught by a dynamite young woman. She was
so energetic and knowledgeable. It was a fun and interesting course. She came
in one day and it was immediately noticeable to me that she was not her usual
self. She went on to teach the class. It was a three hour class. As the class
progressed, she seemed to be feeling better. Her energy level seemed to be
rising and she seemed to be enjoying the process more and more. When the class
ended, I took the time to chat with her and I asked her how she was feeling.
She told me she felt great but that when she had first arrived for the class,
she had a migraine headache. Teaching the class had helped her eliminate the
headache.
 
I, too, am a migraine sufferer. I’ve had a few “doozies.” I can
tell you, standing in front of a classroom for three hours and teaching would
not be the way for me to eradicate a headache. I need medication and a dark,
quiet room. I decided there and then, this woman was getting her energy in a
very different way than I was. She’s probably a high level extrovert.
 
I work very hard at staying connected to my family and friends. I
know how important it is for my psychological and physical well-being. It’s
easier sometimes than others. I seem to be able to putter around the house
forever. I love a day when I have nothing scheduled and I get to go about town
doing my errands and perhaps stopping somewhere fun for a quiet lunch and an
opportunity to people watch.
 
Sometimes I fall into the trap of finding fault with my family and
my friends. But, how does that improve the quality of my life? If I’m finding
fault with them, what are they thinking about me, if they’re thinking anything
at all? I want to simply enjoy my relationships, even those casual ones that
come from interacting with people who are working to help me with all my
different projects and errands. I want to like and to appreciate everyone. I
know that isn’t feasible but I can make an effort.
 
When I heard the story about an elderly woman’s funeral who had
kept a Prayer Pouch, I was intrigued.  It
appears she had only lived in her new community a short while but was very
involved in the lives of all those with whom she interacted.  When people shared a concern, she would write
it out and put it in her Prayer Pouch. She then made an effort to reconnect
with the person to see how they were doing. Her funeral, I was told, had people
from every phase of her life; they were from the grocery store, the deli, the
church and the restaurants she frequented. 
She was described to me as a saint because of her positive effect on the
world.  She was a missionary in her own
part of the world.  She cared and so
people cared about her.
 
Relationships can be a tricky thing. I think most of our problems
and issues relate to our relationships. There have certainly been a million
books about them and how to improve them or deal with them, or understand them.
Some of the most famous TV shows revolved around relationships: Seinfeld, All
in the Family, Raymond and my favorite, The Golden Girls.  How do you do with your relationships? Are
you more at ease with strangers or in your family circle? 
 
I’ve been married a long time, almost 43 years at this writing.
Every so often, my husband, Sandy, speaks about his “good friend” and then he
gives me a name. I cannot tell you how many times I have not had a clue who the
person is that he has mentioned. One day, I asked him how come he thought of so
many people as being his “good friend.” He told me, he chose to think of them
that way. He chose to think about and refer to many of his acquaintances as
good friends. Sandy is an unusual man in many ways but one quality he has which
I have been told by friends that their husbands do not have, is he has a huge
range of friends and he does a remarkable job of keeping in touch with most of
them. I loved the idea that he also claimed them as his good friends. Why not?
How we think about others is very often how they think about us. I believe it
must be very unusual to have someone in our lives that we dislike that likes
us.
 

I’ve had my struggles. I try hard to get along with everyone but I
find some to be easier than others. I have a friend who refers to herself as a
“low maintenance” friend. It’s the truth isn’t it? Some people we simply flow
along with, others are often trying to pull us upstream. In Conversation with God, the author talks about
“affability.” He says it’s not a trait most pay attention to but when it’s
missing, it’s always noticeable.  It’s
defined as the ability to be kind, pleasant and gracious. I have found one way
to appreciate people is to simply accept them for the way they are, not to
judge. I value the people in my life and along with valuing them, offer up
prayers for their well-being and for that of their loved ones. If I choose to
believe my friends bless my life, they will. If I choose to believe they are
draining my energy and causing me angst that too will be true. Once again, it
depends on me and the way I choose to think. I want to be affable to all the
people in my life and I hope they will respond in kind.

http://www.santocosta.com/

Embracing Adventure

Affirmation:  I am a bold adventuress.

This is a
very clear example of creating an affirmation to change the way I want to
think.   I want to believe with all my
heart that I am not afraid of most things, especially an “adventure.”  There are all types of adventures some we
choose and some which are chosen for us. 
I don’t care; I want to embrace every one of them.  I want to embrace every aspect of life and I
think most of life is that which happens between our plans and usually that
requires a sense of adventure.  Perhaps
being a daring adventurer requires all those skills I’ve worked on over the
years and have in my “tool box?”

It seems
to me an adventurer or adventuress needs to be flexible. My husband and I were
on our way to a vacation and it required us to fly there.  We were meeting our daughter and future
son-in-law in the Caribbean.  I’ve come
to believe anytime flying is involved, some sort of adventure will present
itself and all the survival skills I’ve been practicing over the years will be
needed to finish the journey.  On this
particular occasion I was right.  It
seemed anything that could delay a flight, delayed our flight from a malfunctioning de-icer to a sick passenger, to mechanical difficulties.  There we sat going nowhere.  After a three hour delay, we took off.  If there were a miracle we would make our next
flight.  There might have been one but we
weren’t aware of it.  We missed the next
flight by 20 minutes. All of the flights the next day were full.  They could send us through Puerto Rico and
then onto our final destination.  We’d
arrive, hopefully, 12 hours after our original time.

The
greatest loss I experienced with cancer was the loss of my intuition.  I always trusted I knew, without reason, what
was going to happen.  I had had many life
experiences when I knew ahead of time how things were going to work out even
when no one else could see it.  When the
word “cancer” was first mentioned to me, it didn’t register.  I had no forewarning.  I couldn’t imagine what they were talking
about.  I didn’t believe them.  The poor physician who first uttered
“breast cancer” to me, I just about attacked him.  What did he know?  That was ridiculous!  I knew he was wrong.  They weren’t wrong and there I was going on
an adventure I hadn’t chosen and of which I’d never even dreamed. 

I’d
always worked hard to be healthy.  I
exercised, I gave up smoking, I only drank alcohol periodically and I really
did try to eat healthily.  After the
cancer treatments were discontinued I began to look at more modalities I could
enlist to stay healthy. I’ve spoken with many people who go searching for those
things that will keep disease at bay.  It
doesn’t have to be cancer.  It can be
heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure.  The list is long.  Sometimes I hear about ailments that only a
tiny portion of the population ever experience and hope that I never have to
deal with something so rare but rare or not, there’s always that tiny,
sometimes not so tiny, voice that is questioning what is going on inside my
body that I have no knowledge of and of which I have no control over.  Oh, I’m trying to control it.  That’s what all those extra measures for
staying healthy are all about, vegan eating, no alcohol, exercise every day,
take my vitamins and have my yearly screenings. 
It’s my attempt to keep illness at bay, to trick myself into believing I
have control over what’s going on but I don’t really, do I?  Certainly, I can do all within my ability but
after that, who really knows?

My
husband handed me a short story about a young man who was so anxious about his
health that he had stopped living.  It
revolved around an older professor and his assistant.  After the professor listened to his young
friend’s concerns, he went to tell him about his great-grandfather.  His great grandfather had had all sorts of
health ailments, including losing an arm in one of the wars but he wasn’t as
concerned with disease and death as he was with living.  He had a zest for life and it couldn’t be
dimmed.  He wasn’t going to go quietly
into the night and if he did, he was going to go with the vast, colorful
memories of a life well lived. 

Balance
is another skill I’ve worked on over the years. 
In yoga you normally have one or two balance poses you practice in every
session.  There is a balance between
living recklessly and living so small that you might as well already be
dead.  That’s where being an adventurer
or adventuress comes in.  It’s deciding
to embrace the experience whatever it is or whenever it presents itself.  

As we
boarded the second plane to Puerto Rico a petite blonde women came and sat in
the window seat next to me.  I don’t
remember how the conversant started, probably with just a nod and a hello, like
so many casual meetings.  We exchanged a few
niceties about where we were going and why. 
I on vacation with my family, she returning to one of her two homes, one
in Majorca and one in Antigua.   She
lived on a ship.  It was being restored
in English Harbor, Antigua.  It was a
classic and she invited me to come see it. 
The name?  The Adventuress. 

We took
one day from the delights of the resort and headed out to see some of the
island.  We finally reached English
Harbor.  I guess I wasn’t really thinking
about how to find her ship, I thought I’d just ask.  There were hundreds of ships in the
harbor.  After a while and a few
questions a delightful young man offered us a ride in his Zodiac.  He thought the ship at the very end of the
other side of the harbor might be the one we were looking for.  Off we went. 
Yes, it was her ship, The Adventuress. 
No, she was nowhere to be found but with the mention of her name, we
were invited aboard for a short tour.  It
was stunning and certainly something far removed from my realm of
experience.  I’ve not been on a lot of
sailing ships.  In fact the person who
gave us the tour was the “sail master.”  I didn’t even know there was such a title. 

I kept
thinking about my intention to be grateful for all things at all times.  If we hadn’t missed our flight, I never would
have met the owner of The Adventuress. 
Once again I was faced with the belief that if I’d just relax, trust and
rest in God’s infinite care, I’d be so much happier, so much calmer.  Perhaps I’d even begin to trust my instinct
again.  Perhaps I’d be able to see the
adventure thrust on me with the onset of breast cancer.  Maybe if I could embrace that aspect of the
diagnosis, the one that lets me see all of life as an adventure, maybe then I
could finally fully claim the intention I’ve had for so very long, “I am a
bold adventuress.”  I’m not afraid
to fully live life and with that, perhaps, like the old man in the story, I’ll
go to my death with the vast colorful memories of a well lived life. 

You Can Change the World

Affirmation:  All
things are possible through God.

Forty
women were present at the weekend retreat. 

The
command was “Women of God, you are called to change the world.”  I panicked. 
Maybe now would be a good time for me to run out of the room.

I’m
working hard enough trying to be the best me possible or somedays I’m working
on simply accepting myself just as I am. 
I really couldn’t imagine being responsible for the entire world.  I’ve felt responsible for my entire world for
years, my family, friends and community. 
It’s a daunting exercise and now here I am being told, not asked, but
told I am being called to take on the entire world. 

Yes, I
believe the world needs help.  I believes
it needs to change.  It doesn’t take much
awareness to know our world is very troubled and sad.  I pray daily for wisdom for our world
leaders, a prayer introduced to me by a friend of long ago and I pray daily for
world peace.  Can you imagine how
different life would be were we all at peace with one another?  At the least maybe they’d take away the
security lines at the airport and we could leave on our shoes, belts and
watches. 

“Let
there be peace and earth and let it begin with me.  Let there be peace on earth a peace that was
meant to be.” We sing this song often in church, The Prayer of Saint
Francis.  My dear friend and guide,
Valerie Kelly, use to emphasize the need for more feminine energy in the world
and how much better off the world would be with a stronger female
presence.  I would hope that if we have
not moved too far away from our feminine selves, women running the world would
lead to a kinder, more nurturing place and people.  I believe most women are very protective of
the greatest product of their lives and would do all in their power to prevent
sending their children off to suffer war and perhaps to die. 

At the Not
So Big Life Workshop
, Sarah Susanka encouraged us to “run towards
those things” of which we are afraid. 
She suggested some of our greatest learning experiences would come from
not retreating from that which repels us. 
I took a deep breath and decided to continue with the church program for
which I had registered.  After eight
weeks of study, a weekend retreat was being presented and I decided to go all
the way and see what other life lessons might come my way. 

The
number of women who had taken the time and made the effort to attend this
event, made me realize how much need there is for women to spiritually feed
ourselves and to join forces.  I had
decided not to worry about the command to “save the world” but
instead to allow the richness of the rest of the program’s material and the
power of the women’s spirit to empower and nurture me.  Our first speaker was Theresa Davis. 

There she
stood a tiny woman perhaps in her late 70’s or early 80’s ready to share with
us the secret of leading a rich, powerful life. 
She had been with the lay ministry Madonna House for fifty seven years
and as she spoke, I felt the walls around my heart fall.  Her manner of sharing did not cause me to
erect any protective barriers. I had no resistance to her.  I just wanted to absorb all she had to
share.  It was a very unusual response
for me.  I must confess to being quite a
skeptic, always questioning but not this morning.  This morning when Theresa’s time was up, the
whole group moaned, “no, let her continue.”  She too was calling us, the women of God, to
change the world but not by ourselves, together and by allowing God to work in
and through each of us.  “Yes”
I thought, “all things are possible with God.” 

Theresa
went on to say that we are all being called to become saints.  Oh, no! 
I was just getting my head around “saving the world” and now,
I need to also become a saint!  Being a
cradle Catholic I’m somewhat familiar with many of the saints and I am here to
tell you, they did not have an easy time of it. 
The saints of old were tortured and killed.  Many appeared just plain crazy, hearing the
voice of God and going off to do really weird stuff.  Our most recent saint, Mother Teresa had a
very difficult life.  The women and men
of her order only posses a few worldly items: a sari, a bucket and a thin
mattress.  Certainly, she made the world
a better place and I am in awe of her and her works but I like the comforts of
home.  I like bathing in a tub or shower
and not using a bucket and I really like my bed, and my clothes.  No, sainthood is not something I’d ever had
on my radar.  But, Theresa Davis was not
going to let me off so easily.  Her words
and her tone had already drawn me to her and now she was going to give me a few
tools to help lead me down a holier path. 
The first tool was being present to “the duty of the
moment.”  So simple, so very
difficult. 

The call
of every spiritual discipline I have ever studied or read about is, “be
present to the moment.”  Live
consciously!  Theresa shared that
“God is only present in the moment.” 
Then came the second step towards sainthood. She echoed Mother Teresa’s
famous saying, “Do little things with great love.”  Again, so simple and yet so very
difficult.  Finally, she extolled us to
live more simply.  The question was,
“What’s holding you back? What is the baggage you are lugging
around?”  I immediately thought this
was going in the direction of the sari, bucket and thin mattress but no, it was
way harder than that. Our “baggage” Theresa said, was our: anger,
resentments, pride, self-deceit, envy and greed.  I immediately wanted to grab that bucket and
just go with that.  This was way more
difficult.  Yes, difficult but certainly
well worth working towards.  Certainly a
project which I’m sure God would like to be involved. 

My faith
teaches that once we die and enter into heaven, we all become saints.  I think this is a good thing because while I
want to do my part to “save the world” and I’m willing to accept that
I’m being called to be a “saint,” the probability of my achieving
these feats even with God’s help seems to me quite slim.  So, on days when I’m simply trying to accept
myself as I am, I’ll know there’s great hope for me, for all of us, in the
future, in the afterlife. 

Finding Your Joy

Affirmation:  I intentionally choose those things that bring me joy.

As I write this it’s the beginning of January.  My friend, Ann Baucom, a wise and gifted woman, once told me January was her favorite time of the year.  She loved the opportunity to slow down and stay in because she could look at the long range view of the months in front of her and plan her life.  She was very deliberate about what was important to her and what brought her peace and joy and she took the cold, dreary month of January to envision all those opportunities that she could create to nurture herself.  She presented to me a very different view of the long dark month than I had previously experienced.  Certainly, I had used the opportunity of a new year to make plans and to set intentions but I hadn’t really embraced sitting with my dreams for the upcoming year and appreciated the month as a time of gestation for those dreams to grow.  

I love to rise before the sun.  In Clyde Edgerton’s book Walking Across Egypt he writes about how Matti Rigsbee rises before dawn and sits outside as the blackness becomes gray and then light.  He describes how this is her favorite time of day.  She relishes the new day and awaits the gifts it will bring with it.  It’s one of my favorite passages.  I could feel her peace and joy as she waited for the light of day to seep through the darkness and wash away the night.  I once had the opportunity to go to one of Clyde’s readings and was delighted to hear him read the very same passage I so loved.   That description completely changed my perception of how I perceived the beginning of a perfect day, rise before the sun, make a cup of tea, light a candle or in the colder months, a fire.  Sit quietly, pray, write, breathe and go gently, softly into the day.  The way I choose to begin my day flavors the way I live that day. The way I begin my year, flavors the way I live that year.  It’s not very different, a dark morning opening into light of day or a dark month opening into a new year.

If we begin something, a day, a year, a job, a marriage, a project with an sense of excitement and joyous expectation does that make a difference in how that something proceeds?  In the book The Joy of Appreciative Living, Jacqueline Kelm recommends 3 steps that can be implemented in order to increase one’s sense of joy.  The first step is to write daily three gratitudes.  The second step is to think of one thing every day that will bring you joy and the third step is to take fifteen minutes once a week to imagine your ideal life.  The premise of the book is that if you do these exercises for 28 days, your level of happiness will increase and even if you then stop doing the exercises, your will maintain a higher level of joy than when you began the process.  After beginning the program I was driving home one evening right at sunset and the sky was breathtakingly beautiful.  “One gratitude to write tomorrow.” I told myself.  I would have appreciated it even if I wasn’t in the process of increasing my joy but I wouldn’t have made a mental note to remember it.  It was the difference between capturing the image and just noticing it in passing.  I realized I had begun to look for moments of joy to record and that simple process was making me happier. 

Shaun Achor has a short TED video on You Tube about using this process for your job.  It was originally sent to a dear special-education teacher friend of mine by her principal.  She told me looking for three gratitudes each day had the same effect on her as it did on me.  Certainly, looking for joy has got to be a better approach to improving the quality of one’s life the looking for sadness or worse.  One need not only look forward for joy.  You get to choose what you focus on in the past.  As part of a healing process my chiropractor, Joanne Noel in Chapel Hill, NC had me “reframe” an upsetting memory which she felt had twisted my body in ways I knew hurt but didn’t fully recognize.  “Why choose to focus on a painful memory.” she said, “Let’s change it or better yet, delete it like an unwanted, useless email.”  

Then there’s step two and three from The Joy of Appreciative Living.  For many years I’ve kept a small Hallmark Calendar in my daily journal.  Each morning i record one thing that brought me joy and one thing that I did to help another.  This concept of planning it was new to me.  it reminded me of being on a successful diet. I’ve read where one step is to write down everything you eat but an even more powerful step is to plan what you’re going to eat.  With step two of The Joy of Appreciative Living I plan what I’m going to feed my spirit.
  

I love my life, however, I still have dreams and once again I am reminded of God’s bounty and of the truth that I cannot fathom the riches that can be found once we connect to the Divine.  Why wouldn’t I institute a practice that might raise my level of joy?  When I feel positive, joyful and happy I carry those emotions out into the world and while some may find them to be disarming, most seem to need and appreciate a smile, a warm greeting and even sometimes, a hug.  My ideal life always includes optimal health and I work hard to maintain that state.  I eat as well as I know how, I exercise daily, I take my vitamins and I don’t smoke or abuse my body.  I’m invested in “dying healthy.”  But, good health and an ideal life require more than care for the body, the body will cease to exist one day no matter how well I care for it.  I need to focus on the spirit too.  As in past “planning” January months I carefully considered what my ideal life would include.  I didn’t take on any resolutions but carefully crafted ten intentions.  

Pray Unceasingly
Forgive Continually
Accept and Give Love Freely
Hug Whenever Possible
Learn Constantly
Dance Often
Eat Mindfully
Recognize the Shadows
Smile Early, Laugh Daily
Be Grateful, Always and for All Things

I share them here with you so that you too may take the time to write down your ideal life.  So you too may craft some intentions that will bring more light and joy into your life and into the lives of all those you love and the lives of all those your life touches.  

Don’t Make a Resolution, Create an Affirmation

How many new years have you tried to enact some form
of change for yourself?  New Year’s
resolutions present themselves every January, and once in a while a resolution
works but all too often they fail leaving us exactly where we started and
feeling powerless or just plain sad.  One
of the problems with a resolution is that most of them are phrased using the
future tense.  “This year I will begin
exercising.”  “As of January 2nd, I will
begin my diet.”  “I will stop
smoking.”  It’s like making a wish and
then sitting back and waiting to see if it comes true or not.
A more effective way to initiate change in your life
is to set an intention and then to create an affirmation.
When teaching yoga I encourage the participants to
“set an intention” for their practice session.  That’s all I say.  I could give them examples but it’s so much
more effective and powerful when a yogi forms his or her own intention.  I have carried this beginning practice step
into my life.  I make an effort to set an
intention for each day and especially for the beginning of the New Year.  Once my intention becomes known to me, I then
form an affirmation to cement it into my mind, body and spirit.
 
What exactly is an affirmation?  An affirmation
is a statement that makes firm that which you believe.  It is a statement
about that which you perceive to be true. 
You can have positive or negative affirmations.  When I began
writing out my affirmations, I discovered the power of controlling my
thoughts.  Once you take charge of what
you’re thinking, you then take charge of your life.  For me there was also joy and power in the
process of creating the affirmations.  I
love testing the words, seeing what resonated and deciding what was so important
to me that I would focus on it day after day.
Not sure it will work for you?  Think about this.  All those negative statements you’ve been
telling yourself for as long as you can remember, how have they been working?  They’ve probably worked quite well but
unfortunately not to your benefit. 
Changing them to positive statements will work too and think how much
better you’ll feel.
What does your self-talk look like?  Sometimes,
you’re having the conversation when you’re alone.  Sometimes, you’re saying
the same things to yourself but you’re not alone.  And, sometimes you’re saying things aloud
about yourself that you would never say to or about a dear friend.  What are the phrases you’ve adopted over the
years?  “Boy, am I stupid.” or “I never get it right!”
How about, “I can’t do that.” or “It frightens me.”  An affirmation is about changing the things
you tell yourself in order to empower yourself and improve the quality of your
life.  It’s a powerful free tool that can
make a positive difference in your life.  Begin by noticing when your
self-talk weakens you, makes you feel powerless, or useless.  Pay
attention!  That’s the first step, awareness.
When creating an affirmation avoid the word
“not.”  It won’t work to your benefit; it may even work to your
detriment. I heard a story many years ago about a mother teaching her
daughter to drive.  There was a huge
bolder in the road ahead.  The mother
kept reminding her daughter about it. 
“Don’t go near the bolder.” 
“Don’t’ hit the bolder.”   What do
you think happened?  They were both so
focused on missing the rock in the road, they drove right into it.  It’s the same with negatives in your
affirmation.  You won’t hear the “not”
and you’ll move right into the place you’re trying to avoid.
There are phrases you can use instead of enlisting the
negative.  For example:  “I release” or “I let go
of.”  Two of my affirmations using those phrases are:  “I
let go of fear and anxiety.” and “I release myself from my childhood
limitations.”  It’s simply more
effective than saying: “I will not let fear and anxiety influence my
life.”  I have chosen to tell myself, “I eat mindfully”
instead of saying, “I do not eat foods that are bad for me.”  Another example is, “I attract financial
prosperity.” rather than, “I don’t waste my money.”  Can you hear the difference?  Can you
feel the difference? 
I sometimes write out the affirmation without too much
thought and then take time to fine tune it. Begin by taking a few minutes
and re-reading the words.  You are
looking for words that stir an emotion in you. 
Don’t over analyze it.  Let the
sentence be a statement of how you want to perceive your life.  Write it in the present tense.  It may be a statement you have a difficult
time believing but try it anyway. 
Sometimes those are the most powerful. I have a dear friend whose
affirmation is, “I am a gifted and talented artist.”  When she first claimed that, she did not feel
that way but that’s how she wanted to feel. 
It worked!  She now is a gifted
and talented artist.  Her affirmation led
her to the steps which led her to believe in herself and to expand her gifts
and talents. 
One example of an affirmation I use in my daily
practice is:  When I stay focused on the
present, I am calmer and more peaceful. 
I created this one because I believe what is truly important is
today.  Worry magnifies my difficulties and diminishes my ability to live
fully in the present moment.  Anxieties
almost always arise because I fail to put all my effort into the here and
now.  I am calmer and more peaceful when I focus more on the gifts of each
day, instead of worrying about tomorrow or reliving something unpleasant from
the past. 
The quality of my life is all about how I perceive
every event and person, including myself. 
If I can change myself for the better, won’t that help others? If you
did the same thing, wouldn’t that help you, the world, or at least your world?
It’s an amazing process. Take full advantage of it.  Write them down, write them every day, post
them on your bathroom mirror, by your doorway, on your computer and wait! 
Instead of another set of New Year’s resolutions you didn’t keep, you’ll have
created a set of affirmations that will change your life in ways you never
before dreamed possible.

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 people’s expectations, they hate being alone, or they hate being with
everyone.  For them, it’s too much or too little and they’d 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 you’ve 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 fiancé 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.

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