Jean Anne Costa
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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? 

Faith or Fear, You Choose

Affirmation:  I let go
of fear and anxiety.
The paper the technician handed me read, “We are pleased to inform you
that the results of your recent mammogram show no evidence of cancer.” I
had dodged another bullet.  I had escaped
death once again.  I could breathe a
little easier for another year.  It had
been over a decade since I was treated for cancer but somehow it didn’t matter
on the morning I had my appointment. 
It’s usually been a very early appointment.  I have an hour’s drive and I have trouble
getting out of the house.  I know
why.  I have the same trouble getting to
the dentist on time.  I was afraid.  I was nervous.  Mind you, I am not planning on getting cancer
again.  Of course, I wasn’t planning on
getting it the first time.  I know a lot
of people who carry around the worry of a cancer diagnosis, especially if
there’s a family history.  My elderly
aunt had breast cancer and my father died of a brain tumor at the age of 62 but
I took really good care of myself.  You
know, I ate right, I exercised and I monitored my thoughts.  I never dreamed I’d have breast cancer.  I was truly shocked when I was told the
diagnosis.
I have since discovered it’s not an unusual reaction.  Many many people are simply rolling along
when they receive this diagnosis.  The
truth is we should be less surprised to not receive some sort of health
challenge at some point in our lives rather than the other way around.  One man who is a patient at the Preston
Robert Tish Brain Tumor Center told a group of us that he had a headache and
surprisingly woke up from it in the hospital. 
He was a very robust man with an abundant amount of energy and a big
personality.  He heard them saying,
“You have a brain tumor, a glioblastoma.”  He laughed and said, “You’re talking to
the wrong person.  You’ve made a
mistake.” But, they hadn’t.
These diagnoses are like terrorist’s attacks.  One day you’re walking down the street and
BOOM, a bomb goes off.  There might have
been a warning sign but many times there is not. One of my physicians
graciously told me that the cancer wasn’t anything I did or didn’t do; it was a
“random act of violence.”  In
one way, that gave me a lot of comfort. 
I didn’t need to find blame either within or without but it meant that I
was vulnerable to the whims of the world and with that thought, I found I felt
unsafe.  It left me fearful.  I wondered what else was going on inside my
body that I was totally unaware of?  And,
I was afraid.
Fear can be a debilitating disease. 
It can rob us of our joy, of some of our happiest moments.  It can steal our whole lives from us if we
let it but how do we deal with it?  When
I was invited to join my daughter-in-law on a trip to Ecuador, I didn’t
hesitate to say yes but I want to confess I was afraid.  I have read many stories of people being
abducted in third world counties and taken off into the jungle, or worse and
being held for years and years.  I knew
this fear of being kidnapped was irrational but was it?  Maybe I simply wasn’t listening to my
spiritual guides who were telling me not to go? 
But, I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity, so my guides and angels
had better step up and protect me.  I was
also extra vigilant and extremely careful. 
As I sat on the steps of the Virgin de Panecillo at the top of Quito
looking out over the evening lights of the whole city, I cried.  I thought, “Fear might have kept me from
having this experience.  How horrible
that would have been.” It wasn’t the first time I shed tears on that trip
and it wasn’t the last.  It was an
amazing journey. 
So, on that early Friday morning when I was heading off for my yearly
mammogram, I recognized the visitor who had arrived with the ringing of my
alarm clock.  Fear was here. I recall the
first time I heard the phrase; Faith or fear. 
It was in a sermon at a church I was visiting.  It was one of those moments when I felt a
light go on.  I knew exactly what the
priest was talking about.  I had a
choice.  How was I going to live my life?  Well, I decided right then and there, I was
not going to have my life’s choices dictated by fear.  And, I have been deciding that every day,
ever since.  I have had to make it a
meditation.  There are days, like on that
early Friday morning of my appointment when I had to decide moment to moment to
stay centered and calm.  Deciding was the
easy part; making the choice, putting it into practice, well, that’s a whole
other story. Once again, I was faced with finding a way to live with Faith and
to let go of the fear.  That’s when I
created the affirmation:  “I let go
of fear and anxiety.”  It’s evolved
over the years.  I now not only focus on
the letting go of those emotions that don’t serve me; I now focus on
strengthening my Faith.  I have several
affirmations that I say to increase my sense of well-being; to make me believe
that no matter what is happening, I am alright because my Faith is strong and
helping me stay in a good place.
I am now officially a “cancer survivor.” You actually get to
claim that title whenever you want. 
There are no hard and fast rules. 
A few years back my breast oncologist approached me with the concept of
creating a Survivorship Clinic which women like myself, women who were out of
treatment for several years and appeared to be doing well, would visit for
their yearly appointment, instead of seeing him.  I agreed. 
My visit at Duke this Friday morning was to be in this clinic with a
physician’s assistant who specialized in breast cancer treatment.  It included an hour group session, the
mammogram and a full exam.  Well, I
really didn’t need a group session. 
There wasn’t really any more information I could gather.  I was fine. 
Right! 
There I sat with six other people, only three patients and a
nutritionist, a breast oncologist and the PA. 
The topics quickly turned to how to stay optimally healthy, what effect
a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment has on one’s long term health and what
our best choices might be.  It was a
delightful morning, informative and empowering. 
The other people in the group were very interesting.  The information they shared was extremely
helpful. I invited a dear friend to join me for the mammogram appointment.  We had a nice visit.  Actually, I had a really good time.  I was given that wonderful paper announcing
my cancer free breasts, I learned some new things, I had a wonderful exam and I
visited with a dear friend and met a few really interesting new people.
My daily affirmation to deal with the uncertainties of life focuses on
my faith in God.  One, I tell myself
that, “When I stay focused on the present, my life is peaceful.”  And, along with that I tell myself, daily,
sometimes moment to moment that, “Because of my relationship with my Lord
Jesus Christ, I can let go of fear and anxiety and fully trust in His loving
care for me.” 
I made it back from Ecuador without being kidnapped.  I made it through my yearly breast
appointment without a cancer diagnosis. 
I know I will experience other challenges in my life, things I may not
even be able to imagine but with my focus on Faith, by letting go of the fear,
I hope that whatever life brings, I will have at some point in the experience
tears of joy and be saying to myself, “Fear might have kept me from having
this experience.  How horrible that would
have been.”

RESPECT

Affirmation:  I expect to be treated the way I treat
others.

While
traveling through Ecuador I observed a family on the side walk.  There appeared to be two couples one much
older than the other.  The eldest woman
was in a wheelchair and the younger woman kept reaching out to hug the older
woman and pat her head and give her a kiss periodically.  The traffic in Ecuador is horrific, worse
than any city I have ever visited or lived in and I was born in New York City
where the Long Island Expressway was referred to as “the world’s largest
parking lot.” Because we were stopped for so long, I had the opportunity
to watch this family for several minutes and I was quite taken with the love
and kindness they were showing to the elderly woman. 

Life in
Ecuador for the elderly appears to be much different from what I’ve seen and
experienced in the United States.  Life
for most families revolves around the whole family.  Many homes consist of residents who are
multi-generational.  My husband’s family
was like that when he was a very young boy. 
He comes from an Italian background and tells stories about the large
gatherings they had at least once a week and for all the holidays.  When his maternal grandmother was 42 her
husband died leaving her with 11 children, her mother and her father-in-law all
living in the same house.   My
mother-in-law tells how the older children stepped in to help the family.  They lived in an area that had a huge mafia
influence but the children in her family never became connected to that
world.  The older brothers kept a very
close eye on them and on her.  When the
children were grown, her mother never lived alone.  One son and one daughter dedicated their
lives to her care.

I know
there are many subcultures in the US where this kind of “village
approach” is still in existence. 
Several years ago I was lucky enough to do a yoga presentation to a
hospital that served a huge minority population.  The day was designated as a “spa
day” for breast cancer survivors. 
One of the young women I found myself chatting with had taken the day
off from work to accompany her mom to the event.  When I commented on how nice that was of her,
she stopped me dead.  “All my life
my mom has cared for me.  It has been my
dream to be able to care for her one day and now I can.  We live together and she helps me with my
children and I would do anything for her.”

I love my
mother and I love my mother-in-law.  I
love my children and love my grandchildren and we spend a lot of time
together.  But, we don’t live
together.  Truth to tell, it’s not part
of our culture.  Somewhere along the way,
we changed that.  I think our family
still forms “a village” but it’s more of a virtual village. 

One of my
favorite shows ever was The Golden Girls. 
Do you remember the jingle, “Thank you for being my
friend.”?  The Golden Girls was an
American sitcom created by Susan Harris, which originally aired on NBC from
September 14, 1985, to May 9, 1992. Starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue
McClanahan and Estelle Getty, the show centers on four older women sharing a
home in Miami, Florida.  The Golden Girls
won several awards, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy
Series twice. It also won three Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy. 
All four stars each received an Emmy Award throughout the series’ run
and had multiple nominations. The series also ranked among the top ten
highest-rated programs for six out of its seven seasons. (wikipedia.org)

I must
admit to this day when I hear that jingle I tear up.  I know it wasn’t a real life situation.  In my mind it represented an ideal.  Four very different women sharing their
lives:  their dreams, their challenges,
their stories and their flaws.  Over the
years they went through every type of situation imaginable.  They laughed, cried, argued, hugged and
loved.  I know there have been many other
sitcoms that have stirred the emotions of many of us.  Fictional people who seemed to become our
family.  This, for me, was a prime
example.  I wanted to tell them if the
day ever came when I was left alone, I planned on moving in. 

After
having the opportunity to spend an extended period of time with my
daughter-in-law’s mother (three weeks), I think if I find myself alone, I would
thrive in such an environment.   When my
son’s in-laws first came to visit they stayed for three months.  I was quite concerned about how stressful
that might be.  I had always been told
company and fish had the same shelf life. 
At the time, my son and his wife lived in a one bedroom apartment and
the parents were not renting a car.  I am
pleased to tell you that not only was my daughter-in-law sad to see her parents
leave but my son was sad.

In the
United States today a relative who is visiting is restricted to three
months.  I’ve spoken with many people
whose relatives visit from other countries. 
When they come, if possible, they come for the whole three months.  Interestingly enough I’ve never heard anyone
complain.  I can tell some are not too
fond of the extended visit but it is not part of their culture to complain
about or criticize their family.

My
husband and I have had several opportunities to go to The John C. Campbell Folk
School in Brasstown, NC.  It is a school
dedicated to creating community through crafts. 
It’s over 75 years old.  It’s such
a treat to be there.  Every aspect from
Morning Song to family style eating is about community.  Many of the teachers are octogenarians and
older.  It’s one of the few places I have
been in the United States where the wisdom of the aged is honored.

Whether
there’s wisdom or not, it’s awe inspiring for me to see how some cultures
respect and honor the generations before them. I think many in the US feel the
senior citizen is a bother and a nuisance. 
For me I want what Aretha sings about “R E S P E C T.” That’s
what I want and if that’s what I want, it’s what I need to give.

 
There’s the story about the indigent farmer who
has made a box for his elderly father. 
He encourages his father to get in the box and then quickly closes the
top.  He begins to push it towards the
cliff.  He’s had it!  He’s finished!  Then, he hears knocking from inside the
box.  “What! What do you want old
man?” His father says, “Son, let me out.  You can just carry me to the cliff.  Your son will need this box for you.”

Easy to Unhook

Affirmation:  I embrace the concept of being “easy to
unhook.”

In
Ecuador,in the home of my nuera, my daughter-in-law, there is not a TV in the
living area.  In fact, I’ve visited
several of their relative’s homes and none of them have a TV in the main living
area.  I know that there are homes in
many parts of the world that cannot afford a TV so that’s the least of their
issues and I know there are some homes in the United States who also keep their
living areas TV free.  A couple of my
friends actually have this practice but when I visit Ecuador I have the
privilege of staying with my consuegra, my daughter-in-law’s mother sometimes
for extended periods. Perhaps the simple fact that they have a word for the
mother or father of their son or daughter’s in-law is an example of how
different their culture is than ours.
Our
home is not TV free.  We have managed to
keep the TV out of the bedroom but it has a strong presence in our
kitchen.  When the families that I have
met in Ecuador gather their main activity is conversation.  I was lucky enough to be invited to the home
of one of the aunts for Fanesca.  We were
away from the city and her family was gathering for a traditional Ecuadorean
feast.  It’s celebrated after Easter
(Semana Santa.)  In the past, all the
farmers would come together after they harvested their grains, which normally
occurred after Easter. It was explained to me that different farmers grew
different types of grains and so each family would contribute to the fanesca, the
potato type soup.  It also contained many
different types of beans.  The
celebration I attended had a fruit salad as its first course.  In Ecuador the variety of fruit is
amazing.  I was told there are 40
different types of bananas.  After the
fruit came the soup. When the fanesca was served I was amazed that they had
enough dishes and glasses to serve everyone, no paper or plastic. The
accoutrements for the soup included empanadas, pickled vegetables, hard boiled
eggs and some sort of fish that looked like flaked tuna but tasted much
saltier.  You decided if you wanted all
or some of the sides to put into your soup. 
I tried them all but I had been forewarned about eating too much of the
grain-bean entree because visitors didn’t necessarily digest the soup
easily.  After the soup came birthday
cake and ice cream.  I knew I could
digest that just fine.
At
the aunt’s home there were three buildings. 
The first was the home of her son and his family.  Then, there was her home.  It was a simple stone building with 1
bedroom.  There is no heat or air
conditioning.  If it’s cold, you close
the windows; if it’s hot, you open them. 
The third building was the family gathering space.  The day I visited, there were around 30
people, all ages.  When we arrived I, a
complete stranger, was kissed by everyone there who could walk. If someone was
chatting with another or sitting down or running around playing, their activity
came to a halt and they came over to greet us. 
We
were there about 4 hours.  We talked and
then we talked some more.  Most of the
adults made an effort to come over and sit with me and let me share some of my
visit in my halting, stumbling Spanish. 
The really good news was how many of them are fluent in English.  I also watched.  The children even the teenagers either ran
around playing outside or just gathered and talked.  There wasn’t any type of electronic gadgets
being used by anyone.  Although many of
the adults had cell phones, few of them paid any attention to them.  I wondered if the existence of the cell phone
was the beginning of the demise of this delightful “unhooked”
tradition. 
Everywhere
we went during my visit it was the same. 
Warm greetings from all and people who seemed to value time and
connecting to each other more than what was going on somewhere else or what was
coming next.  Most evenings at home with
my host family, we sat and talked or my daughter-in-law spent hours helping me
with my Spanish.  One evening we sat and
played cards, four of us including one of the teenage granddaughters.  It was delightful.
I
had been thinking of redoing my living room to include one of those big screen
TVs that they show in all the commercials. 
We have a TV but it’s behind a cabinet and it’s seldom used.  After my Ecuadorian experience I’m wondering
if I shouldn’t remove it and the kitchen TV and try life “unhooked.”
I wonder if our family gatherings would include more talking or if everyone
would simply go off to find their personal way of connecting somewhere else.  My eldest daughter and her husband and his
boys are good at being present to family and friends.  I wonder if it’s a personality trait, a
cultural trait or if it’s something that can be learned?  I wonder if our American culture will allow
us to “unhook?”  I actually
find myself worrying about us loosing the art of visiting and
communicating. 
The
cartoon Wally was a satire about what will happen to us in the future if we
don’t make an effort to change.  The
people of earth were now living on a space ship because they had wrecked the
earth.  Their arms and legs no longer
functioned because they had floating recliners and in front of them they had
floating monitors and that’s how they communicated.  They weren’t even aware of the people next to
them until this rogue robot appeared and kept upsetting everything. 
I
know our monitors and chairs are not floating yet but have you watched people
on the streets or in the airports or at parties?  How many times have you been talking with
someone when their cell phone rang and they answered it, like you’re not even
there or  like this person calling is
more important than you or like the caller will never call back or not leave a
message?  Once again I am being called to
stay present to the moment and to the people I am with.  My daughter-in-law describes my son, a
computer programmer, as someone who is “easy to unhook.” He doesn’t
even take his phone with him when he plays golf.  I think that’s great!

There’s
my goal, I want to be “unhooked.” Actually, I’m pretty good at it.
The issue, and that’s a whole other story, is that I want my whole family to be
unhooked and I know I am not in charge of changing anyone except myself.  I think if I suggested removing the TV from
the kitchen, some in my family would revolt. 
Maybe I could just cover it with a towel and try doing without for a
week or two.  I’m also considering
putting a basket by the front door in which people can drop their gadgets.  Do you think anyone would come visit us
anymore?  What if I promised to still
feed them?  What if I promised they could
retrieve them at any time as long as they used them outside the house, like
most public places do with cigarettes.  I
can see it now, most of my family standing on the front steps or in the driveway
until I call “dinner is served!”