Jean Anne Costa
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Miraculous Happenings

Affirmation:
My
life is Joy filled, Miracles occur, Love surrounds me and permeates every
aspect of my existence.

We all know that
in the classic Alice in Wonderland, Alice jumps down a rabbit hole into a whole
other unknown, full of adventure, self-examining world.  Sometimes we are pushed down that hole and
sometimes we choose to jump but either way, we get to decide what we’ll learn
and what we’ll take away from our experiences.


After being
treated for breast cancer in 1999, I was left feeling very unsure of what I
should be doing for myself.  During the
intense treatment, which for me lasted almost a year, I was well cared for and
in constant contact with my doctors and other caregivers.  Then the day came when I was
“released.” I had had my last radiation treatment.  We, the family and I, actually threw an
“end of radiation celebration.” Sure, I was scheduled for follow up
mammograms and yearly checkups but other than that I was on my own.  Yes, in many ways we are always “on our
own” as we go through cancer but for me, being released, while a reason
for celebration, was also very scary.  I
began looking for those things that might help me feel supported, educated and
uplifted.

As a long time
yoga practitioner, I turned to the yoga world to see what might be out
there.  It was in 2000 that I made my
first trip to Kripalu Yoga Center in The Berkshires of Massachusetts.  It was there that I had the thought about
creating a yoga retreat for breast cancer survivors.  I envisioned several days at the beach,
yogaing, resting, swimming, talking, and breathing!  In 2005 the first Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat
for women breast cancer survivors became a reality.   My jump down the rabbit hole had taken me to
one of the most amazing, fulfilling adventures of my life.

As of this writing
here in 2012, a few hundred women have experienced all the things I envisioned
and so much more than I ever imagined. 
This retreat has been Spirit Driven and Divinely Blessed since its
inception.  Have you ever been involved
in something like this, something that takes on a life of its own, something
that comes together and blossoms with a miraculous aura?

I have never
approached an individual or an organization that has not generously agreed to
help us in whatever way they could.  The
first person to say yes was Rhonda Bailey, a yoga instructor and friend.  She set the standard for everyone else.  After that, with the support of The Duke
Cancer Patient Support program, we were ready to go.  Our teachers generously volunteer their time and
talent.  Our friends and family come
forward every year to help defray the costs and to provide scholarships for
those who are unable to pay. One woman took it upon herself to buy cushy beach
towels for everyone.  We had homemade
biscotti and pound cake.  A local
ice-cream shop donated sundaes for everyone and one of our committee members
made the supreme effort to go taste several of the flavors beforehand.  Every year we raise enough money with the
efforts of my husband, Sandy, to help pay for anyone who wants to come on
scholarship.  It’s phenomenal how it all
comes together and it’s obvious to all of us there that the success of this
event is beyond anything most of us have ever experienced.  It has to have the hand of God in it.


Who comes to a retreat
like this?  Well, obviously, women who
have experienced breast cancer. 
(Although we have many people who want to come but don’t want to qualify
to come.) But, really what type of individual attends an event like this?  I am here to tell you, they are amazing
individuals.  They come from all over the
country.  Most of the women have heard
something about what goes on but it really is an unknown entity.  Many have never practiced yoga; many come
without knowing anyone else.  Some are in
the middle of treatment others have been out of treatment for years.  They don’t know what the accommodations are
like, who their roommate may be or what the food is like but they come
anyway.  They are the type of person who
isn’t afraid to jump down the rabbit hole. 
They are amazing, brave, adventurous human beings and when we gather we
get to share the adventure.
The focus of the
retreat, believe it or not, is not breast cancer.  Yes, we all have that in common and yes, the
subject comes up and people share experiences and more often than not, they
share what worked for them.  The focus of
the retreat is living life to the fullest. 
Each year, as in most yoga practices, we take an intention.  The first year the intention was that “it was
a joyful experience for Everyone involved.” 
One year we focused on an “Open Heart.” 
We also took the intention to “Stay in the Moment.”  In 2008, our intention was to “Marvel in the
Mystery.”

The retreat
provides multiple healing modalities. 
Besides yoga, which in itself is multi-dimensional; there’s the ocean,
art-therapy, massage therapy, silent walks and Yoga Dance.  Some people relate to some and not to other
modalities.  Other people need a little bit
of all of them but either way they all lead to an increased sense of well-being
and support. 

We begin and end
the retreat with a Sharing Circle.  I’m
sure there are many such rituals involved with other gatherings but I was
introduced to this ritual at Kripalu. 
There are many guidelines.  The
first, of course, is confidentiality.  We
go on to talk about using the “I” word, not the community “we.”  Only one person is allowed to speak at a time
and it’s highly recommended that everyone actively listen and not plan what
they might want to say.  In between each
speaker we take a collective in breath and sigh it out.  We imagine clearing the psychic white board
in the middle of the circle.  There are
other suggestions but these are the main ones. 
What happens during the circles? What happens during the four days?  Miracles occur.

Miracles, you say? 
What is miraculous about ice-cream and beach towels and homemade
goodies?  Well, for one thing they simply
appear, like the manna in the dessert. 
We never ask for these treasures. 
But, what is really miraculous is what happens to the mind, body and
spirit of each of the ladies and our one man (He’s the breast cancer counselor
for the DCPSP.)  by the end of the four
days.  A light comes on in each person.  There has been healing; there’s been a
renewed sense of hope.  The women have
found camaraderie and acceptance.  We
have laughed, cried, played, swam, created, danced and done yoga.  We have found power, the power in each of us
and as a group.  The event is laced with
miracles especially the overwhelming feeling of love that permeates each person
including me, as the retreat comes to a close.
 

If you’re interested in attending, you can look us up on
PinkRibbonYoga.org.

Imaginary Conversations

Affirmation:  I
release myself from imaginary conversations and fully trust in God’s loving
care.

This affirmation was created during a visit to our mountain
retreat place.  It’s a small two bedroom
condo in the North Carolina mountains, in a community called Hound Ears.  It’s called that because the two mountains it
lies between look like doggie ears, or so I am told.  The condo looks out over the hills, a few
ponds and a pristine golf course.  I
journal in the morning sitting on the porch. 
Many mornings I watch the mist rising from the hills as the sun begins
its ascent.  One morning there was a
heron flying through the mist.  I put up
a couple of potted plants containing Petunias so that there is food for the
humming bird who visits.  We have one
dear friend who calls it Shangri-La. 
Shangri-La being a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost
Horizon
by British author James Hilton. Hilton
describes Shangri-La as a mystical, harmonious valley. Shangri-La has become
synonymous with any earthly paradise but particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia — a permanently happy land,
isolated from the outside world. In the novel Lost Horizon, the people
who live at Shangri-La are almost immortal, living years beyond the normal
lifespan and only very slowly aging in appearance. (www.wikipedia.org)  Hound Ears is our Shangri-La and if you saw
the number of healthy, hearty octogenarians and nonagenarians who reside here,
you might think so too.

When I am in Hound Ears, I never want to leave but unlike many of
the residents who are retired and can come for six months, we are lucky if we
get to stay for a few weeks.  Most years
we have a lot of family and friends come visit and we enjoy many moments of
sharing time and making memories.  Then,
towards the end of our vacation we have some quiet time.  It’s a nice balance and gives me time to
reflect, write and pray. As the time to leave gets closer and closer, I have to
use all my tools to help me to not go home “early.”  I have to do all in my power to stay in the
moment and to relish the present so that I don’t leave this healing place
before the actual time.  Truly, it is a
mediation, a moment to moment meditation. 
As soon as I let go, my thoughts jump to home.  Home, some years, can mean I am returning to
what are for me, some challenging situations. 

I’ve been guilty of having many imaginary conversations with many
people.  Why do I say guilty?  Well, I am usually thinking about what I can
say, or what I would say or what I should have said or how about, what I could
have said!  What words would have been
more effective.  Will I have the right
words?  Are there any words?  Do I have the power to help someone else “see
the light” or the power to make someone else go from being sad and anxious to
happy and calm?  Can I say anything to
improve and lighten another person’s load? 
Have you ever been here?  Have you
ever had a continuous, one way conversation over and over?  The essence of suffering is wanting things to
be different than they are and that’s what I’m doing.  I am creating my own suffering  because I want to change the way another is
perceiving something.  Certainly, there are
communication tools that can sometimes achieve this desired result but it can’t
happen if I only have the conversation in my mind.  Writing, journaling helps me but this kind of
self-talk usually leads me to a very unsettled feeling.  How can it not?  There is no resolution.  It never really ends. It’s like a recording
on repeat.  But, it serves no purpose,
does it?  It takes one away from the
moment.  It takes me into my imagination
and unless I choose to paint it, sculpt it or as now, write about it, it has no
closure. 

According to the Myers-Briggs personality test all of us fall
either into the “introvert” or “extrovert” category.  There is a range in each section so one’s
score can be high or low on the scale. 
What the authors of this test are referring to when they use the words
introvert and extrovert are not how you relate to people but more, how you get
your energy.  An extreme introvert might
need to be alone most of the time while an extreme extrovert might need to be
out with people all the time.  The
category also refers to how one may communicate.  One type of personality says exactly what
they’re thinking when they’re thinking it. 
The other personality type ruminates on what they want to say, sometimes
over and over depending on the degree of introversion before they say
anything.  Just ask yourself if you have
to “practice” what you want to say before you make a phone call, especially a
call involving something that requires a resolution.  Your answer will give you some indication of
whether you’re an “E” or an “I.”  I am a weak
“I.”  I practice and depending on the
situation, I can find myself practicing way too much.

Mind you, I’m not practicing for the best.  I am usually practicing for what I think will
be an uncomfortable conversation.  One of
my other affirmations is “The best is yet to come.” but when I’m facing some
potential confrontation, it’s really hard for me to call that one into
existence. 

When I began creating the affirmation about “imaginary
conversations”, I found myself using the phrase “obsessive thoughts.”  I release myself from “obsessive
thoughts.”  But, the longer I worked on
it, the more I realized it was more than that, it was the whole motion picture
I was developing or perhaps even a mini-series. 
Wow, I was really good at writing this story.  I found that what I really wanted to
accomplish was to stop writing fiction, at least with regard to the issues I
was facing when I would return home.  I
began writing, “I release myself from imaginary conversations and fully trust
in God’s loving care.”  I know I am much
better off letting God write the story. 

After several days of writing the affirmation in my morning
pages, I began to feel my body relax. 
All the tension would seep away. 
What else did my new thought call to me? 
Mornings of journaling as I watch the mist rise from the hills, joy from
the presence of the hummingbird as it flit around my planters and an invitation
to share my yoga practice with a friend who’s looking for some calming
tools.  As I prepared for the session, I
renewed several of my own peace giving practices; daily breathing rituals,
guided mediations, gratitude and release sun salutations and regular deep
breaths. 

My new affirmation brought peace, contentment and a sated
feeling.  This is a perfect moment.  I am blessed and resting in God’s loving
care.  As the pastor at St. Bernadette’s
in Linville, NC said in his homily, “People, we have it all.  We want for nothing.”  That’s it. 
I want for nothing, that is my meditation, at least for this moment and
truly, isn’t that all we have?

Living a Compassionate Life

Affirmation: I
live a Christ centered life of love, peace, hope, gratitude and compassion.

One of the most
compassionate people I know is my mother-in-law, Yolanda. She’s always been one
of my heroines and an amazing role model. 
I have never heard her criticize anyone. 
And, I’ve known her now for well over 43 years. 

Compassion is
defined as co-suffering but that’s not enough. 
For one to be truly compassionate you must try to do something to
alleviate another’s suffering.

One night we were
watching the TV show The Amazing Race.  I
was visiting Yolanda to help her prepare for her move to Savannah.  (She had lived in the same house for over 56
years and now, at the age of 90 she was moving to an independent living facility
in Georgia.  This was her choice.  She made the decision herself.  I keep hoping that when and if, I’m 90 I’ll
get to choose some adventure on which I want to embark and not have the
adventure chosen for me.)  This episode
of The Amazing Race had a young unmarried couple who were racing from country
to country.  They were doing fairly well
and were leading the race when this episode began.  When the episode ended they were in last
place.  They lost because one of the
challenges was to go down a huge water slide through some sharks and into a
pool.  The young woman of the team was
terrified of heights and sharks.  With
two of her greatest fears combined, she chose not to finish the race.  I was amazed and felt very impatient.  “For heaven’s sake” I thought,
“just get on the slide and get it over with!” Really, it would have
been over in 3 minutes.  And, then there
was Yolanda, “Oh, the poor thing! 
What are they doing?  Why don’t
they just let her walk down?  I can’t
stand to see her suffering so much.” I think if Yolanda had been there,
she would have jumped on that slide and gone down it in place of the young
woman, even though she too is afraid of water. 
Me?  I’m sad to tell you I would
have suggested to her partner to just pick her up, put her on his lap and go
for it.  It really was a wonderful lesson
for me to sit there and share this experience with my mother-in-law.  I don’t think I would have seen it any
differently if I hadn’t been exposed to her point of view.  Then, the final lesson came when the emcee
interviewed them and asked her boyfriend how he felt about the whole
episode.  I thought, “Here it
comes!  He’s going to be so angry!”
instead, he was as compassionate about it as Yolanda had been. 

In Al-Anon, one
of the suggestions given is to learn to take care of yourself.  It’s not an easy concept, especially for
someone who has been caring for a loved one with an addiction.  A lot of the time, many people who attend
Al-Anon are enablers.  One of their chief
skills is taking care of others, sometimes with total disregard for
themselves.  In the book, The Courage
to Change, One Day at a Time,
one of the readings tells a story about a
woman who had recently become an Al-Anon member.  Every night when she went to bed, she found
her drunken husband fallen out of bed and lying on the floor.  She’d help him back in bed, cover him up and
then finally get to go to bed too.  After
her Al-Anon session, she decided she’d just step over him and go straight to
bed. When she shared her new approach at a meeting, they gently told her she
had gone to the other extreme. So, the next night she used a different
approach.  She gently placed a blanket on
him, stepped over him and went to bed. 
She managed to find a place where she could both be compassionate and
take care of herself.

My friend works
out with a trainer.  I knew this personal
trainer when he was having terrible back pain and when I saw him again I asked
him how his back was doing.  He said it was
fine.  Then he told me he was pleased
he’d had the bad back experience because it made him a better trainer.  It made him more compassionate.

I know many
people take tragic experiences and use them to better the lives of others.  There is story after story of people who
chose to use their tragedy as a stepping stone not only for their own recovery
but for anyone else who is looking for help with the same type of
situation.  I am sure it wouldn’t take
much for you to recall some of the more well known examples.  How about the Amber Alert program?  I regularly see the signs for missing
children on the freeways.

Twenty five years
ago Rachel and Saul Schanberg lost their young daughter Linda to cancer.  Before Linda died she asked her mom to make a
difference in the Duke Cancer Center.  She
asked her to help people feel cared for and not just cared about.  Rachel began the Duke Cancer Patient Support
Program with herself and four volunteers in an office the size of a
closet.  Today her efforts have created a
program world renown for their care of cancer patients and their loved
ones.  It’s all free.  Most hospitals wouldn’t consider supporting a
program that doesn’t bring in any revenue but because of Rachel’s passion and
compassion, we have over 300 volunteers and the most amazing services you can
imagine.  The impact the program has made
on the new Duke Cancer Center can be seen in the center’s warm, inviting
atmosphere.

Our challenging
life experiences offer us two choices. 
We can become more caring, gentle and compassionate or we can become
bitter, hard and reclusive.  My intention
to be a more compassionate person, to be more Yolanda like, is a quality I
always want to be developing.  Recently,
I read a book to help me better understand and care for an aging parent.  The main lesson in the book encourages the
reader, the caretaker, to try to see life as their parent may see it.  When they rephrased some of the concerns of
the parent using language based on the author’s years of experienced, it
brought me a greater understanding of that which my parent is concerned.  And, with understanding I felt a deeper sense
of compassion. 

I am an ardent
believer in the power of prayer.  I don’t
know how it works but I believe it does. 
I keep a list in the front of my journal of all the people for whom I am
currently praying.  I always add “And,
especially for those who most need Your mercy.” 
Since practicing compassion requires one to “do” something along with
experiencing feelings of empathy, I can pray. 
If there is no other way for me to bring help and solace to those I am
concerned about, it gives me great comfort to know I can offer them up in
prayer and to believe that God is blessing them in ways beyond my
comprehension.  Truly, that’s how I want
to see myself; that’s the person I want to be. 
If when I die my obituary refers to me as compassionate, I will rest
with the satisfaction of a life well lived.

Field of Dreams

Affirmation: “If I can imagine it, I can achieve it; if I can dream it, I can become it.”

“If you build it, they will come.”  Do you remember that phrase?  It was used in the movie Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner.  He was a farmer in Iowa who kept seeing the spirits of old baseball players in his corn field.  He decided to mow down his crop and build a baseball field for his spiritual visitors.  Most people thought he was crazy but he went ahead anyway and at the end of the movie, they show lines of cars coming to his farm to see, well, I guess they’re hoping to see what Kevin was seeing, the late, great baseball players.

Over the years, I’ve been fascinated by people who decide to build a field of dreams somewhere hoping, sometimes expecting, people to come.  One example of this is my fiddle teacher.  She’s a marvelous teacher and a wonderful person. A few years back, she decided she’d sponsor a fiddle class at our local Senior Center.  Now, how many older adults do you think there are who want to learn to play the fiddle?  It didn’t seem to matter to Mara.  The center told her she needed to have at least 4 people for the class to happen.  Four people signed up.  Some weeks only one person was there and that didn’t matter to Mara.  She was always there.  It’s been about four years now that she’s been having her Thursday morning class.  Four years and every year there are more students attending.  This year, we are up to six fiddlers.  And, there’s little doubt that every year, there will be more and more of us.  

Another example of this is the water aerobics class at my mountain community.  We “lost” our instructor four years back.  So, one of our members offered to facilitate the class.  She’d never taught before but she’d taken a lot of water classes and it was her main form of exercise.  She has an issue or two with her back and she’s never injured herself in the water.  She’s been sponsoring this class every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning during the summer months for a few years now.  If no one comes, she exercises alone.  Initially, there were about six of us.  We couldn’t figure out why everyone wasn’t there; it’s such a wonderful experience.  She’s a marvelous teacher.  Now, three years later about fifteen people are attending.  She built the “field” in the water and people are definitely interested.

I know it’s true that people may not come to what you think is a good idea even if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to it.  At one point in our lives, my daughter and I opened a stationery store.  We had it for five years.  We were there every day except Sunday and we were knowledgeable and very responsive to our customer’s needs but during those five years, the popularity of the internet blossomed.  We found we were a great place in which people could actually see and touch the product that interested them but then they’d go home and buy it online from a large distributor.  Sometimes they actually brought it back to us if they weren’t satisfied or if they had made a mistake in ordering.  There was nothing we could do except to encourage them to order it from us.  We guaranteed all our work.  The internet sold our products for less retail than we could buy them wholesale.  By the time we closed the store, we had days when we wondered if we had forgotten to take down the “closed” sign.  But, if we hadn’t tried at all, we would have never known and we would have missed out on an experience that for the most part we really enjoyed.

When I decided to have a beach retreat for women breast cancer survivors (PinkRibbonYogaRetreat.org) I wasn’t sure anyone would come.  I had no idea if anyone else would be interested or if I could find people that would want to help.  At our first meeting a dozen people showed up and volunteered to help.  Our first year we had brochures and flyers that we distributed anywhere we could.  We had about 23 women attend.  In our eighth year we merely opened registration up online and we had 35 women register almost immediately.  That’s our maximum number, 35.  I wish we could take anyone who wants to come and so far that’s what we’ve been doing but this year, we had to close registration.  It made me sad but just like the fiddle class and the water aerobics, we had built our “field of dreams” and people are coming.  

Do you think that most successes are determined by sheer dedication and determination?  I often think of Thomas Alva Edison and the fact that it took him 12 years and 1000 tries to develop the light bulb.  How about Pistol Pete Maravich, one of the greatest basketball players of all time.  He never put the basketball down.  He slept with it.  He could spin it on his hand for over an hour without stopping.  Sister Mary Margaret of A Place for Women to Gather had a dream.  She was the first in her community to create a place for women to share their insight and knowledge.  As of 2012 A Place has been opened for ten years, serving hundreds of women in their quest for personal and spiritual growth.

My husband is one of my heroes.  His dedication and determination has led him to professional and personal success beyond that of most people.  We often find ourselves looking around at our life and being awed by the blessings we’ve reaped.  Blessings that came from hard work and integrity and a close connection with our God.  Sandy is now on his 3rd or 4th career.  I’ve lost count.  He’s become a motivational speaker.  He wrote a book called Humanity at Work; encouraging spirit, achievement and truth to flourish in the workplace.  And then he began building his “field.”  I was fascinated to watch him go about creating and pursuing his dream.  There is little doubt in my mind that the day will come when people will be lining up to hire him for their inspiration and education.  (You can find him at: www. SantoCosta.com.)  In fact, many people have already discovered him.

I am sure you too can think of many examples of “true dreams.”  Some may be of famous people, some may be those of friends and family. “If you build it, they will come.”  What about you?  What have you thought about creating?  What have you already created?  Do you have a dream you’re willing to commit to?   “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.” (William Arthur Ward)

Opening to Miracles

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

My mom has always
been a very self-sufficient, independent woman. 
Truly, her spirit was the reason I went to college.  I was the first generation in my family to
attend and graduate from a university. 
No one encouraged me to go on after high school.  It was 1960 and I was a girl from the blue
collar working class.  My future
according to societal norms and my dad was to develop good clerical skills,
marry and raise children.  But, my mom, a
very smart lady, had tasted the life of financial independence and knew there
were larger opportunities and would nudge me every so often to check them
out.  I guess it didn’t take more than a
little nudge, especially since I was at St. Agnes Academic High School for
girls and was with all these brilliant young women who were planning their
futures and their first step was college.

My mom, Margaret (never
Maggie, Peg or Peggy) moved to North Carolina when she was 75.  She made the move with little help from the
family and started to create a new life almost immediately. She volunteered at
The Food Bank, took a part-time clerical position with a non-profit, became an
officer in the Cary Senior Association and became a Raleigh Ambassador, touring
the city and assisting at dozens of special events, including the Special
Olympics.  She was one of the first
people to join the Cary Senior Center and instrumental in bringing line dancing
to the facility.  (She always loved to
dance.)

She went from
living in a condo, to a senior apartment complex and then to an independent
senior complex with some services.  Then
at 89 1/2 her body seemed to start to shut down.  We did everything in our power, everything,
to make her comfortable, to make sure she maintained her dignity.

The calls for
help came more and more frequently and they were filled with more and more
panic.  My heart ached.  Part of me wished she would be spared the
dying process and just go to sleep and not wake up. We’ve had several friends
and relatives who died in their sleep. 
Ann Landers once said her life goal was “to die healthy.” I
want that too.  I want that for my mom,
for all of us but, that’s not the usual, is it? 
When we took mom to the cardiologist to make sure her heart was ok, he
said “I only hope I have a heart like hers at age 89.” So, I wasn’t
holding much hope for her for a quick, easy death.

The decision I
was faced with after the last panic filled phone call was, “How can mom be best
cared for and who can help me decide this?” Certainly, I was so
emotionally involved I wasn’t very clear-sighted.  I called both her doctors, compassionate,
kind women and they did what good doctors do best, they listened and guided
me.  Then, I called my family.  But, I must say I had been calling my Lord,
the Blessed Mother, all our Angels and Guides for many years and especially for
these last few weeks, asking for them to pave the way, to smooth the path and
to light the dark road of my mother’s care. 
And, on that day of the most recent panic phone call all the forces of
nature and God came together.  For any of
you that have dealt with this kind of situation, you will recognize the hand of
God.

Within the next
six hours mom was living in an assisted living facility.  Her new apartment was completely decorated
and fully operational, even cable TV.  My
husband had immediately come home from work. 
By the time we arrived at mom’s home, my daughter had spoken with the
administrators of her facility and had secured mom a place in the assisted
living facility.  Her doctors came within
the hour and signed all the forms.  My
son brought in lunch and my daughter-in-law took mom to another room in the
building and shared lunch with her and kept her entertained while we dismantled
her apartment and moved everything to her new space.  My brother who lives in another state  “just happened” to have a meeting
close by and was already on his way towards us when I called him.  His wife and daughter were also on their way.

When my
daughter-in-law wheeled mom into her new home, the look on her face said it
all,  even mom’s drapes were
installed.  She said “This is
amazing!” It was amazing.  It was a
miracle!  And, I fully realize I can only
see the tip of the miracle.  All the
forces that had come to support us may never be revealed.  My prayers, the prayers of our family and
friends had all been answered.

What if I lived
my whole life believing God, the Universe, had only miracles in store for
me?  Think of the power I could rely
on.  Think of the calm that would
permeate my mind, body and spirit. 
Think of the joy that would fill my heart!  To truly believe that God wants only my best
and it’s up to me to be completely open and trusting in order to receive the
blessings.  Yes, my job is to stay fully
connected to God, to allow Her to do the work She wants to do.  For me, that means praying incessantly; a
deep breath, sighing the name of Jesus and opening my heart to the miracles of
life.

Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

Affirmation: I invite God’s divine healing light into my mind, body and spirit creating a state of total well-being.

One day someone asked me if I liked my body.  I said “no.”  Afterwards, I was so disappointed.  I’ve been affirming for years how much I value my body but my gut reaction to the question in no way reflected my intention. Not only am I an integral part of American society with all the hang-ups presented to us through the media about the female image, I have also had quite a bit of pain, not to mention, cancer.  I haven’t always felt safe in my body, especially after breast cancer.  I mean I was feeling great.  I wasn’t sick and then “boom” and I was now being operated on, chemoed and radiated!

During one of my visits to my Chiropractor our discussion turned to healing one’s self. She spoke to me about how the beliefs we have concerning our health have a direct impact on our state of well being, or ill being.  She and her assistant have a practice they use to make life changes.  She explained that not only did she find a phrase or sentence to affirm the desired change, but they also took time to visualize it.  I left with a new found sense of power.  I had been struggling for years with this sense of anxiety about my health and especially with a sore hip and here I was being told, I could change that by thinking differently about it.  I’ve been practicing affirmations for years but truth to tell, I never thought about re-framing the ache in my hip. 

Then, I was led to re-read John Sarno’s book: Healing Back Pain.  There it was again, the same message.  How you think about your body, your health, has a direct effect on its state.  At one point in the book, Dr. Sarno says that you either believe the theory or you embrace it simply because you’re so desperate for relief.  I happen to fall into the first category. I know one must be careful believing we are fully responsible for everything that happens to us. It can lead to a blame the victim mentality. But, I choose to think I am responsible for almost everything that happens to me.  However, sometimes forces beyond our control overcome our best intentions. Believing that can be scary but it also takes away the blame.  I read where people who think of themselves as resilient have fewer health problems.  I wonder if they have fewer problems all together.  After talking to my chiropractor and re-evaluating how I visualized my body, I decided it was time to change my thinking and so, I came up with the above affirmation.  Oh, there’s much more to it.  I tell myself I am strong, resilient, flexible, and powerful, any words that affirm this body in a positive light.  When I took the time to closely examine how I could feel about my body, I realized I was only focusing on the negative and had totally neglected the positive aspects; like the fact that most of my body does not hurt, or that I have produced the miracle of three healthy children.  My body is a miracle unto itself.  I understand so little of how it operates but it does; most of it is in good working order, miraculously. So, I am making a very conscious effort to value my body, to believe in its ability to heal itself, to be strong and healthy.  I believe it begins by loving it.

An article in USA Today talked about a study done to help women increase their sexual desire.  Apparently there are many many women who are interested in this because this study involved several hundred of them.  As in most studies there was a control group.  This group was told they were taking a “magic” elixir which would do all they would hope it would do.  It was however a placebo.  Can you guess what happened?  Most of these women had a definite increase in their level of desire.  This study took place over several months and their levels did not decrease.  I don’t know if they were ever told it was a placebo and for all I know they are all still out there enjoying themselves without knowing it’s all in their minds.  And, that’s just the point. What else is just in our minds?  What else can we change to our benefit by simply believing it is true?  That’s the purpose and secret of positive affirmations; say it as if it already is; believe it as if it’s already true.  Fake it until you make it!  It’s without a doubt a great way to live your life.  Sexy?  Well, if that’s one of your intentions, go for it.  If hundreds of women can feel that way by simply taking a sugar pill, certainly it’s available to those of us who decide to choose to believe it to be true.
The message is clear.  How you think has a direct impact on how you feel.  So, the next time someone asks me if I love my body I know I will say, “yes.”  I affirm:  “I have an awesome body.  I invite God’s divine healing light into my mind, body and spirit; creating a state of total well being.” 

Love and Grief

Affirmation: We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

What do you think happens after someone dies?  
It’s interesting that we here in America seem to act like death isn’t a reality.  I often get the impression that most American’s simply avoid the topic.  I wonder if most people believe that as long as they don’t think about it or talk about it, it won’t happen.  

My dad, Frank Grolimund, died when I was 34.  He was 62.  He died from a glioblastoma brain tumor.  At the time, I didn’t recognize how young we both were.  Now that my age has passed his by several years, I am fully aware of how young he was.  The diagnosis was a mystery to us and to him.  They did the surgery and then we had one meeting with his doctor who explained to us that my dad would be alright for a short while and then the tumor would return.  He didn’t explain what that meant but we knew it wasn’t a good thing.  He never told us, “He’s going to die.”  I’m not sure we would have heard him or believed him.  My dad was not in the room for this conference and no one came to offer us guidance about how to deal with all this.  He died about 18 months after the surgery.  His death had a profound effect on my life.  I don’t think I ever stopped thinking about death after he died.  He had such a zest for life.  It was remarkable!  He was my hero and I loved him dearly.  It’s been over 30 years and it still makes my heart ache that he’s no longer on this earth.  

My father-in-law also died of a glioblastoma brain tumor.  It was 20 years later but not much had changed except now we knew what it was and we knew what the doctor meant when he told us after the surgery that it would return.  I, for one, had no doubt about what the doctor was telling us.  My father-in-law, Joe Costa, fought a valiant battle with his wife, Yolanda next to him every step of the way.  He too died about 18 months after his diagnosis.  He too was a remarkable man very much loved by his family and many friends.

Yes, I have many other friends and relatives who have died but these two men were dearest to me.  My father’s death left me with a sense of urgency.  I fully recognized that I didn’t want to miss a thing.  I also don’t put many dreams on hold.  One of the questions in my monthly review is, “What did you want to do that you didn’t get to do?”  I must admit most months I don’t have an answer to the question.  Most months if I had something I wanted to do, I went and did it.  I know there may not be a next month.  That was the gift I was left with after my father’s death.  I was left with an awareness of how important life is today.  I’ve been gifted with the appreciation of the people I love and how fragile their existences are.  

Sometimes there are concentrated periods of time when death is more present than others.  There was one two week period in my life when I received notice of two friends dying, the mother of another friend & the sister-in-law of another.  During that time, I was also invited to sing for our church’s Resurrection Choir.  The funeral was for a 75 year old woman.  I kept it together until the dead woman’s daughter hugged her father and the deceased’s husband of 57 years.  57 years!  That’s a lifetime.  How does one go on?  How do widows and widowers do it?  How do parents who lose a child continue to live?  
I did my Masters in Social Work training at Hospice of Wake County.  I was one of the bereavement counselors.  I had been a patient care volunteer for years and was very excited to be accepted into their organization.  What I observed during my time with Hospice and have continued to see is that people heal from grief.  Some people heal more quickly than others but at some point people get back to living their lives. It’s actually one of the Five Stages of Grief, first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying.  It’s the last stage, “acceptance.”  

In the Irish movie, A Shine of Rainbows a widower is left with the care of a young boy that his wife was in the process of adopting.  The young woman who dies loved color.  She herself had red hair and bright green eyes and she wore bright rainbow colored clothing and decorated her home with lots of bright colors.  One day the young boy comes home from school to a house denuded of all the woman’s things.  The husband has gathered them all together and is burning them.  The young boy runs to the fire and saves his “mom’s” favorite scarf.  They grieved in two very different ways.  One was trying to erase all his memories (which, of course, one cannot do) and the other was trying to hold onto all of them (which, of course, one cannot do).  Eventually, they find healing.  They find it by sharing the love they both have for their dead loved one.  They come full circle and you can see them entering the final stage of grief, healing is taking place.

That was the wonderful part of being a bereavement counselor,  I could see people heal.  It left me with such a sense of hope.  There are so many strong, brave, loving people who have suffered such loss and grief but who manage to continue to live full, rich lives.  It’s inspirational.  
For me, the greatest gift my faith has given me is a belief in the afterlife or perhaps a better phrase is the eternal-life.  I believe we are pure spirit and while our bodies die, our spirits live on.  In The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale writes, “Another profoundly curative element in the prescription for heartache is to gain a sound and satisfying philosophy of life and death and deathlessness.  When I gained the unshakable belief that there is no death, that all life is indivisible, that the here and the hereafter are one, that time and eternity are inseparable, that this is one unobstructed universe, then I found the most satisfying and convincing philosophy of my entire life.”  I too believe as he does.  While the heartache of losing a loved one can be unbearable, the belief that they are not gone, but in a place I cannot yet be, brings me comfort and with that comfort, acceptance.  

Who Would You Die For?

Affirmation:
I
recognize and fully appreciate who and what are important to me in my life.

The
story was about Greg Gadson, a lieutenant colonel with the Second Battalion and
32nd Field Artillery.   He was stationed
in Bagdad when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. 
He remembers being placed on a stretcher with his severed feet in his
lap.  The next time he was conscious both
his legs had been amputated above the knees. 
The picture in the paper showed a broad shouldered strong looking man
with shorts on and two artificial legs. 
The story went on to say that he had recently been given a role in the
movie Battleship.  His inspirational journey to healing had
brought him fame.  But, his journey
wasn’t just focused on himself; he had a message, a mission statement that he
had developed through his challenge back to wholeness and he was sharing it
with other service members.  His message
is, “Whenever you have a formidable task, instead of looking up, look
down.  Literally take it one step at a
time.  You’ll be overwhelmed by the
broader view.” I was inspired but I was also surprised by this
statement.  It seemed to me that he would
be very hesitant to look down.  The
article went on to say that this amazing man didn’t show one ounce of self
pity.  Wow!

I’ve
often wondered how I would respond, who I would be in times of great
challenge.  I’ve always wanted to believe
I’d be a heroine, that I would act honorably and bravely.  Certainly, I’ve had challenges in my life and
mostly I’ve responded with courage and integrity but when I read stories about
people like Greg Gadson, I do find myself wondering “what if that happened
to me?” There are so many tales of amazing people who have made
extraordinary efforts to help others at great cost to themselves, for some it
has cost them their lives.  These people
are not all past heroes, there are many with us today.  There is so much to be learned from them.

In
my Small Christian Community we often discuss the great sacrifice made by Jesus
Christ to lead us to a different, broader, more loving perception of God the
Father.  Often, the question arises
“Who would you die for?” And, I find myself thinking about all our
soldiers who have given their lives for us, in most cases for total strangers.

My
oldest daughter is an amazing mother. 
She’s exceptionally young looking. 
She’s always looked much younger than her years. (I like to think she
got that quality from me!)  She was
engaged when she was in her early 20’s. 
One day we went to the local department store to shop for a few wedding
accessories.  The saleswoman was shocked
when we told her we were there for my daughter’s wedding.  She said to my daughter in an indignant tone,
“How old are you?” I smiled because I knew she was going to be amazed
by the answer, in fact I’m not sure she believed us.  The reason I’m sharing this story is because
when my grand-daughter started school, the teacher took a very superior
attitude towards my daughter.  She really
thought she was a child raising a child but my daughter was older than she
realized and much much wiser than she ever imagined.  When it comes to her children, my daughter is
like a mother bear.  You do not want to
mess with her and I’m really proud of her for that.  Not that she dismisses the concerns of the
teachers but she carefully examines their reactions to her children and demands
a nonpartisan, professional attitude from them, as she should.  I mention this because most mothers will do
whatever it takes to protect their children.

I
took a one night self defense class many years ago and was instructed to
“bite the nose off” of my attacker. 
All the women in the class moaned in disgust.  Then the instructor said “Make believe
he’s attacking your daughter.” The entire atmosphere then changed.  There was not one woman there who wasn’t
ready to do whatever it took to make sure their child was safe.  I’ve never watched Sophie’s Choice.  I know the premise of the story was she had
to choose which of her children would live and who would die.  I can’t even imagine such a situation and I
don’t want to watch someone have to make such a decision but many people are
faced with impossible decisions many of which I hope I’m never faced with.

The
question not only revolves around “who?” but “what?”.
“What would you die for?” “What do you hold so precious that you
would give up your life?”  The young
men and women who serve in our armed forces hold our way of life here in
America so precious that they are willing to die for it.  I don’t fully agree with all of the wars
America has chosen to participate in. 
I’m not sure how I would have responded to being drafted to fight in
Vietnam.  It was one more decision I
wasn’t faced with.  But, we have lost so
many young, very young, men and women to so many conflicts.  It’s heartbreaking.

I
was sitting in a waiting room at UNC hospital one day when a young man in
uniform walked in.  I watched in awe and
with a sense of shame as one of the other women who was also waiting, got up
and went over to the soldier and simply said “thank you.” Thank  you!  I
found it to be such a powerful gesture. 
I haven’t let a soldier pass me by since then without stopping them and
saying “thank you.”

What
is the message here?  All of us have
something or someone we are willing to die for. 
And, all of us have something or someone we are willing to lived
for.  It’s important to know, to take the
time to recognize what’s important to you. 
It’s nice to have the luxury of not being in a horrible situation before
you find out what or who they are.  Think
about it and maybe you’ll be able to fully recognize and appreciate who and
what are of the greatest importance in your life and be grateful while you
still have the time to say “thank you.”

Living An Unexpected Life

Affirmation:
I let go of regret.

What
did you dream your life would be like? 
Do you still have dreams and expectations about how your life will be in
the future?  It seems there’s been so
much written about “bucket lists,” things people always wanted to do
but never got around to and so they are making an extra effort to do it now
before it’s too late.  There’s been a
movie by that title and there’s a country-western song about it too.  I certainly have a list.  Mostly it involves places I’d like to see
before I die.  My husband bought me a
book called, A Thousand Places to See Before You Die. I immediately
started going through it to see where I had not been.  He was looking at it too but he was noting
all the places we’d already been, two very different perspectives.

According
to my Ennegram type, type 7, I am always looking for the next experience, the
next adventure.  My “type” is
not easily content.  I am always on the
lookout for what I might have missed.  In
some ways it makes life exciting but in other ways it can prevent me from
relishing the present, always looking forward. 
For me, dreaming and planning for the future lead me to feeling
optimistic.  I like believing there will
be a future to plan for.  But, I believe it’s
also important to let go of things we imagined might have been.

I
once mentioned to a woman that as a young woman, I had dreamed of living and
working in Manhattan.  She told me it was
never too late to pursue a dream.  I
believe that but I think sometimes it’s better to let go of some dreams.  I expected to graduate from college and head
off to NYC.  I never dreamed of being on
Broadway, I wanted to be on Wall Street. 
But, my life took me in another direction.  No, I made decisions which led me to suburbia
and even further out into rural America. 
I’ve lived in several states but I’ve never lived in “the
city.” Sometimes, I found myself fantasizing about the life I had dreamed
about.  It was very different from the
life I had.  Boy, was I good at imagining
all the wonderful experiences and adventures I would have had.

I
attended a retreat once with a woman who had six children.  She also had a sister who had become a
cloistered nun.  She told us she was much
younger than her sister and was very confused and saddened by her sister’s
choice.  She said she could only go visit
her once a year and it was so quiet and seemed so lonely.  Then, she shared that after being married for
twenty years and raising six children, she’d had many moments when she wished
she’d joined the convent.  I know she was
teasing us but there was also an element of truth in her statement.

The
story in the cartoon UP, revolves around a married couple who had a dream about
moving to an exotic country and living above the waterfalls.  Every year they saved for their travel and
every year something came along that derailed their adventure.  When the wife dies, the man who is now quite
elderly and very depressed decides it’s finally time to give it a go.  He attaches hundreds of balloons to the top
of his house and he floats away to find the waterfalls.  Once again, he’s derailed but this time he
has a new friend, a young boy who has hidden away in his house, who helps him
see the world differently.  In looking
over his wife’s “dream journal” he realizes she had added pictures to
the album that had nothing to do with their ultimate goal of moving to the
exotic location, she’s added pictures of their life together.  She’s added pictures of the adventure they’d
had, pictures of their life’s journey.

There’s
a study that shows people age better when they can let go of regret.  Carol Klein addressed this issue in her book
“Overcoming Regret.” What happens when we hang onto regret is that we
idealize a situation that may have turned out completely different from our
imagination.  Once we realize that we
don’t have a clue how something would have turned out, perhaps if we could even
imagine how horrible it might have been rather than some fantasy we’ve been
clinging to, maybe then we can let go of that regret and fully appreciate the
life we have.

The
title of Queen Noor’s book is, A Leap of Faith, Memories of an Unexpected
Life.
I wondered when I saw that title how many people have lived an
expected life.  I took a small survey and
asked several friends if they’d lived an “expected life.” I only had
one person say “yes.” What is your answer? I can tell you right now,
I never dreamed of the life I’ve lived and am now living.  Never, never did I imagine myself living in
North Carolina surrounded by my family. 
I never thought I’d travel to China or Ecuador or some of the other
amazing places I’ve been.  My life has
been a series of adventures and mysteries and it’s been great!  Once I was able to let go of the “what
might have been”, like the man in UP, I was able to appreciate what has
been.

Perhaps
the secret is not let go of our dreams, even our “bucket lists” but
to let go of expecting life to be exactly as we imagined and to embrace it as
it is, to relish all we have experienced, all we have learned.  Perhaps the secret is to treasure whatever
life has afforded us, the expected and the unexpected. 

Love is Your Only Job

There
are many asanas (poses) in yoga that are designed to help one open their
heart.  For example, any sort of back
bend will put you in a position where your chest is raised towards the sky.  Even a slight back bend opens the heart as in
Fish pose.  In the book Eat Pray Love,
Liz Gilbert tells a story about a man she meets in the ashram in India who
shares he’s been seeking an open heart. 
She asks him what motivated him to come to the ashram and he tells her
he kept asking God to “open his heart.” One day he had a heart attack
and his heart was literally opened.  One
need not have surgery to create a more open heart.  There are many more gentle ways to accomplish
this worthwhile trait.

Many
years ago when my children were younger I found myself struggling with one
particular incident.  I felt very hurt by
this episode and was sharing it with a good friend.  It really wasn’t such a big deal looking back
on it but at the time I was upset and I felt I was justified in my complaining.  So, there I was moaning about the
situation.  She listened and then gave me
some of the best advice I have ever had in my whole life.  She said, “Remember, Jean, your only job
is to love.”
As
a journaler who has written three pages every morning for the last 20 years, I
have many many journals boxed up.  Every
time I begin a new journal I transfer a few things to the front paper pockets
and the beginning pages.  I transfer my
intentions for the year, my daily prayers, my list of people I am presently
praying for and my positive affirmations. 
I also write on the inside of the front cover, “Remember, Jean,
your only job is to love.” 
I
believe that with all my heart.  It’s the
main message Jesus Christ came to give us. 
When he was asked; Mt 22:36 “[Jesus], which is the great commandment in
the law?” He said to them, ‘’You shall love the Lord your God with all your
heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and
first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as
yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” 
Why
do some people seem to have a greater capacity to love than others?  Do you think it’s because of their DNA or is
it because of their upbringing?  Is it
“nature” or “nurture”? 
It’s probably like most of our traits, it’s a combination of both.  But, can we learn to love more, love greater?  Can we be people who can love no matter
what?  You’ve heard the stories about
people who forgive their worst enemies. 
Can you learn to love an enemy? 
Can one learn to separate the sinner from the sin?
I’ve
been very lucky in my life.  I married a
man who has a huge heart.  I believe he
was genetically predisposed to being a loving, kind man and then, he had the
additional advantage of having amazing parents who showed him by example
exactly what unconditional love is, especially his mother. I have never heard
my mother-in-law say anything, ever, that was derogatory about another human
being, and especially about someone in her family.  My husband teases that if we had a bank
robber in the family his mom would say, “He’s the best bank robbed
ever!”
On
my travels through Ecuador, I was kissed in three weeks more times than I have
been kissed in three years.  Almost
everyone I met gave me a kiss on the cheek and a warm hug.  One day we went to the soccer practice of my
consuegra’s (my daughter-in-law’s mother) granddaughter.  Six of us sat in the bleachers watching her
practice, her three grandparents, her aunt, my son and myself.  When the girls were finished practicing the
entire team came up to the stands to greet us. 
I watched these teenage girls start down the row kissing and greeting
all the grandparents, then they kissed the aunt.  I thought they’d stop at that point and was
amazed when they continued on to kiss my son and then me, two people they
“didn’t know from Adam.”
I
know it was a cultural response to greet us all in that manner but at thispoint
in my travels I’d been greeted like this for several weeks.  Greeted and welcomed into people’s homes,
lives and in some cases into their hopes and dreams.  As far as I could see these people in this
culture responded with more affection and respect than I normally experienced.  I had the honor of being hosted by my consuegra
and I can share with you that the hugs and warm daily greetings and goodnights
were freely shared with anyone who happens to be in her home.
When
I first received the directive to love no matter what, I remember thinking,
“I can do that.” But, I must admit it is easier said than done.  There are many in my life that I find very
easy to love and there are some I struggle to love.  Some days I feel like my heart is closed and
hard.  When I am aware of that state, I
engage my breath to help me open up.  I
take several deep breaths and visualize my heart expanding in my chest, like a
red balloon.  I’ve also done many other
“open heart” mediations.  These
mediations usually involve inviting loving thoughts and feelings into one’s
heart.  First, you invite those who you
find easy to love, then you invite someone you may be struggling with and
finally, you invite yourself.  You take
the time to allow each person to rest within the warmth of your bosom and then
you release them and yourself out into the universe, full of light and warmth
and wonderful energy, a release that blesses you, them and the world.
I
believe we can learn to love more fully, more deeply, unconditionally.  But, I think there’s a secret.  I don’t think we need to be born into a
family of warm blooded Latinos or Italians. 
It’s nice if we’re born into a loving, affectionate family.  It probably makes it easier but the secret is
to learn to accept love, to believe you are worthy of love, to believe that you
are truly loved, loved for who you are because you are and not for any other
reason.  We need to believe we are loved,
loved first and foremost by God.  We need
to know without a doubt that we are amazing wonderful beings who deserve to be
loved.  Once we can fully embrace that
concept, we can open our heart to receive and then to give that which we have
received.  If we don’t accept it, we
can’t, it is impossible, to give it out. 
It’s like filling up the car with gas. 
If you don’t open the gas cap and let the gas flow in, you won’t be able
to go anywhere.  You’ll be stuck in one
place, empty and dried out.
What
if you approached everyone in life with the thought, “Remember, (your
name), your only job is to love.”? What kind of an effect would that have
on your relationships, on you, on your life? 
What kind of an effect would that have on our world?