Jean Anne Costa
-1
archive,paged,author,author-jean-anne-costa,author-2,paged-11,author-paged-11,stockholm-core-1.1,select-theme-ver-5.1.7,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-6.0.3,vc_responsive

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

How to Get Ready for End Times

12/1/12
Affirmation: When I stay focused on the present my life is richer and more peaceful.
The world is about to end, again.  It’s true.  It must be.  According to the Mayan calendar the last day is December 21, 2012.  They have a calendar that’s 2000 years old and their last date is 12/21/12.  They were an extremely intelligent race.  Some have even speculated that they were helped either by visitors from another solar system or another spiritual realm.  What must be done to get ready?
Prophets and seers have predicted the end of the world since its beginning.  You’ve probably seen one or two doomsayers standing on a city street corner wearing a placard or shouting the slogan “Repent, the End is Near!”  The Apostles, especially Paul, were sure the Second Coming was to take place in the near future.  John wrote about his visions of the world’s demise in Revelations.  Nostradamus the world renown seer from the 1500‘s predicts quite clearly the path of our destruction.  There’s a special about his predictions that’s been aired for years on the History channel that I find be quite unsettling.  Edgar Cayce, the “Sleeping Prophet” from the early 1900’s also had some predictions about end times and Jean Dixon an American actress and famous astrologer was pretty sure she too knew when we would disintegrate. There have been too many willing to tell us when we will destruct.
One of the movements that is preparing for Armageddon is called the “Preppers.”  They have shelters, stocks of food, water and weapons.  They rotate their supplies so that they are always fresh and ready.  They say it’s a way of life, being ready for the inevitability of the end times.  In the 1960’s people were preparing just like today.  Many built bomb shelters with the same sense of doom that’s presently exists.  I wonder if some of the Preppers are using those same shelters for their preparations?  When I was a child we use to have air raid practices where we would have to hunker down under our plastic school desks.  I can’t imagine how that would have saved us from anything especially from something as destructive as a bomb.
I’m the queen of prevention.  Tell me something that might help keep me safe and healthy and I’m all over it.  I brush and floss, moisturizer, exercise, pray and meditate.  I’m ready!  I take my vitamins, calcium and keep a bottle of baby aspirin next to the bed and in my travel bag.  I’m ready!  I go for my yearly physical, dental exam and mammogram.  I’m ready!  Give me some guidance about how to stay strong, healthy and safe and away I go following the rules.  Recently I signed up for a class that’s being offered by my town about “disaster preparedness”. I want to know what needs to be collected, ready for instant departure should a hurricane, tornado or a tsunami threaten us even if I don’t live anywhere near the ocean.  One cannot be too careful.  Edgar Cayce has predicted that large parts of the United States coast line will fall into the ocean and those of us living inland will have prime beach property.  It doesn’t matter that it was suppose to happen in 1998.  A prophet can get their time lines a little skewed.  If the apostle Paul could be off by a few thousand years, Edgar can be forgiven for missing his target date by a few decades.

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

I am here, however, to tell you the prophets are right.  The world is going to end.  Our world as we know it will one day be gone.  Certainly, we will all at some time forfeit our personal space on this earth.  Each of us will at some time in the future no longer be here. Perhaps too, our earth as we know it will also no longer be here.  I’ve read where plans are being made for the creation of colonies on other planets in case we may need to evacuate. Life as we know it will change. 
I am, however, not joining the Preppers.  I’m not sure how I would react should I be faced with Armageddon and I’m hoping I won’t find out but I don’t want to believe I would be someone who would want to survive at the expense of my friends and loved ones.  I can’t imagine my having food and shelter and denying it to those in need.  If I did, who would I be?  Not someone I’d want to know or someone of whom I’d be proud.  I’m sure that would not be what my Lord would want of me either.
We all leave our mother’s wombs reluctantly.  We have no desire to leave the warmth and comfort of our known existence for the cold, new world we are destined to enter. For most of us it’s so much easier to stay in our comfort zones but just like the child at birth, we are thrust out into the new, into the unknown.  Every ending has a beginning.  If our global world as we know it does end, what will our new world be like?  Perhaps, as many are saying, we are on the cusp of a new age.  Perhaps, it will be a world that is kinder, gentler, more loving.  Perhaps!  Personally, we too will move on.  I believe we will move from this life into another and that too will be a place of comfort and peace and love.  I am, however, not going to focus on the future and the unknown.  That was part of Father Bill’s homily on September 12, 2001.  He reminded us that our responsibility was to live each day as if it were our last.  We get to choose to focus on living life to the fullest each day, each moment.  We can choose to focus on our relationships, our gifts and the preciousness of our existence and not to spend our energy futility preparing for the unknown.  By choosing to focus on the present, with a rational awareness of the future, we can live lives that are richer and calmer and more compassionate.  I’m ready!
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
Mother Teresa

Perfecting Christmas

Affirmation:  I let
go of perfection.

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

Answered Prayer

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

The Path to Health; Forgiveness

Affirmation: I freely forgive myself and others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings & Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning to Love Your Life

Affirmation:  I savor life.  I glory in life.  I love my life!
I love my life. 

I haven’t always felt that way but I wanted to feel that way and isn’t that what affirmations are for, to empower us to create our own reality?  
I can remember very clearly the first time I heard someone say, “I love my job.”  I was a teacher in a rural middle school.  I’d been teaching for several years.  The gentleman who spoke those words was the English Chair of this very small school, three people in his department.  How much money could he have been making?  I knew that wasn’t the reason for his happiness.  I didn’t ask him why but over the years, I listened for others to say the same thing and I very rarely heard it.  How often have you heard such a declaration?  
Then, one day many years later, I heard a woman say to me, “I love my life.”  She had shared with me in the past how unhappy she was, so this time I asked why.  She had made some very conscious choices and some very drastic changes.  She had moved to Italy, took up painting and dancing and fell in love with life.  Was it necessary to make such drastic changes in order to love life?  Were there other tools she could have used to find happiness without moving to another continent?  

Our dear friend Oie Osterkamp is the director of the Ronald MacDonald House here in Durham, NC.  Most of his life has been dedicated to helping other people.  His writing is all about making the lives of others better, richer. 

His first book is called Sharefish  (the opposite of selfish.)  He then went on to create Sharefish Int’l (http://www.sharefish.org) an organization dedicated to “bringing  hope to the hopeless” in Honduras.  I don’t know the exact number of people who interviewed for the directorship of the Ronald MacDonald House but I remember it was a very large number.  My husband and I were with him right after he received the news of his appointment.  Of course, he was ecstatic.  He told us “I was born to do this.”  What a gift, to be employed doing something you love.

At the time of this writing, Earline Middleton, Vice-President of Agency Services & Programs for the North Carolina Food Bank (http://www.foodbankcenc.org) has worked there for many years.  I came to know her through the Young Women’s Christian Association.  She and I sat on the board together many years ago.  Then, my mom, Margaret Grolimund, became one of their dedicated volunteers when she moved here.  One day, Earline shared that she had when she first took the job at the Food Bank she had no idea she’d be with them for so long.  She said she was “lucky” she had taken a job and found a passion.  

We’ve read about them, we’ve met them, perhaps we are them, one of those people who knew from an early age what they were destined for, what they were created to do.  Patricia Sprinkle, prolific writer and teacher shared with our class that she picked up a career brochure one day when she was fourteen which defined “writer”. She finished reading it and thought, “Oh, that’s me.  I’m a writer.”  And, so she is. Her passion for writing is palpable.  It truly is a gift, don’t you think?  When someone is born with a talent that presents itself to them at any point in their lives, but especially at an early age. 

I have always been fascinated by Dale Chihully, the famous glass blower.  His works are stunning, massive and he has exhibits all over the world.  He once created The Tower of David exhibit in a section of Jerusalem.  It was one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever viewed although I had to imagine the full effect by relating it to the exhibit I actually viewed at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.  I can’t imagine how he discovered that he was to be one of the best of such an unusual talent.  I think if most people had been born with such a rare gift, it would go unfulfilled.

Have you ever heard an adult say “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up?”   It seems to me, that’s most of the population but it’s never too late.  When I facilitate Artist Way workshops, we use Julia Cameron’s process to discover what it is that brings us fulfillment and joy.  What nurtured our creative spirit when we were children; what nurtures it now?  What is it that we get lost in doing?  I have watched many people come through the program with a sense of awe when they discover what they have set aside and almost lost in the name of surviving only to see their passion for their gifts is still there.  It’s just been lying dormant waiting for a little sunshine to bring it forward.  

Sure, if I moved to Italy or even went to visit for an extended period maybe, maybe I would feel like my friend.  But, maybe I can create, here and now, a life that I can claim to love.  I am the author of my own life.  I am the sculptress of what I want my life to look like.  With some soul searching, prayer and a supportive community, I can shape a life I love.  One of the most powerful tools to us is to come up with an affirmation affirming how one feels about their life.  Can one change the way they feet about life by simply stating “I love my life?”  I decided to try.  So, I created the affirmation,  “I savor life.  I glory in life.  I love my life!”  And, I claimed it, I wrote it, I read it every morning.  Then, it happened.  I realized, I did love my life.  I have surrounded myself with love, love of God, family, friends.  My life is really cool and I feel wonderful about it.  This is what I believed happened.  By the power of my affirmation, I slowly began to change.  I became more conscious about my decisions, about what I chose to do and not to do, about who I chose to be with and who I did not want in my life.  The affirmation worked just like affirmations do.  It slowly permeated every fiber of my life and without struggle I was off “living in Italy” painting, dancing and loving my life.