Jean Anne Costa
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Hope is a Choice

Affirmation:  The best is yet to come.

“Can you get to a place where you believe your best is in front of you?”  This is the question John Ramsey was asked by a friend years after the death of his daughter, JonBenet Ramsey.  He has a book out about his years of grief and recovery, John Ramsey’s Journey from Grief to Hope.  His young six year old daughter was a child beauty pageant queen and she was found dead in the basement of his home in Bolder Colorado in 1996.  The murder has never been solved and there has been an enormous amount written about the case.  He and his deceased wife and family were the target of the investigation for quite a while and were eventually cleared of the charges but doubts still linger. 

I don’t normally follow the sordid details of such stories but just by being alive and keeping up with current events, it was impossible not to know something about this sad story.  I’m not here to pass judgment.  Certainly, I know only the hearsay evidence to which I’ve been exposed and in my heart I want to believe in his innocence.  What I was struck with during his interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America was how very sad and tragic this entire story is.  It made my heart ache. 

But, back to the question, I’m sure it’s a question many of us could ask ourselves at many times in our lives.  We have or are going through a really difficult time, a challenging experience and we can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.  We think this is it; life will always be this grim and difficult.  What does it take to find the ability to turn that around?  Hope, it takes practicing the characteristic of hope. 

Oh, there have been times in my life when hope was missing and who’s to say that that won’t happen again.  But, it’s so wonderful to be with people who give and share their hope when everything looks so dark.  Have you had that experience?  My father and father-in-law died of brain tumors, the same rare type, twenty years apart, a glioblastoma.  I had hope with my dad.  I knew so little.  When my father-in-law was diagnosed, I gave up immediately.  I knew the results.  I’d already experienced them.  But, Joe, my father-in-law was treated at Duke by Drs. Henry and Alan Friedman. (They are not related.)  And, the motto of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center is “At Duke there is hope.”  It was inspirational to be with the people who worked there.  They really believed they could cure him.  They believe they can find a way to eliminate this disease and while I must tell you, Dad died, so many more have lived.  They have lived and they have thrived.  There are many stories of people who are living long and wonderful lives because there are people at Duke who believe that they can make a difference and who have made a difference.

Hope is a feeling of positive expectation.  How can one go from despair to hope?  Can one go from despair to hope?  Yes, I believe they can.  Sometimes we may need others to help us.  I remember a woman who was going through breast cancer treatment telling me that if her friends hadn’t pulled her up out of the dark pit she was in, she didn’t think she’d ever have gotten out.  But, also hope is something we can develop, like a muscle.  We can practice it when we’re not in such dire straits.  We can practice believing “The Best is yet to come.”

There’s a book out about The Emotional Life of Your Brain.  It revolves around what is being called “The New Science of Feelings.”  One of the examples of the neuroplasticity of the brain talks about virtuoso musicians and how the part of the brain that involves the movement of the fingers, is larger for them.  It also refers to a study where adults were asked to pretend practice the piano for several weeks and they found they too had enlarged that part of the brain. 

So, as adults we can still change the condition of our brain if we choose.  I know with the epidemic condition of Alzheimer’s many of us are concerned with the health of our brains or those of our loved ones.  It was once believed that adult brains were fixed, permanent and change could not take place.  It’s nice to know they were wrong.  And, once again, it shows the power of choosing and creating our thoughts.  We get to expand those parts of our brains that support our desires to live more positive lives. Remember that which you think about, you bring about.  We can choose to tell ourselves “The best is yet to come” and rest in the knowledge that our brains are receiving that message, our bodies are responding and our innermost desires are being completely supported.

The Fabulous Female

Affirmation:  I treasure and celebrate my femininity.

I was in my late twenties when I read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.  I remember being stunned to find out there were other women who felt the same frustration I felt.  I was not alone.  I was already married and had one child and had left my teaching position and the only area of New York I had ever lived in and had followed my husband to a small town in upstate New York so that he could pursue his career.  It seemed like a logical move.  I had worked for a few years to help support our tiny family while he went to school and finished his pharmacy certification.  We now had a new baby and he had a new job and I was ready, I thought, for a new adventure.  I didn’t have a clue what I was getting myself into.  Oh my!  There I was in a new town and I knew no one, No One!  And, I had a new baby, I was unemployed, my husband left every morning for his job and it was snowing.  It snowed all the time, 110 inches on the average every year. 

It was the 70’s and the woman’s movement was in full bloom but I was off in my own little world wondering what the heck was going on in my life.  And then I met a few other women who were wondering the same thing and we began to talk about it and read about it.  Oh, we didn’t burn our bras or go out and picket the legislature but there was a growing sense of awareness about where we now found ourselves but that we never had before explored.  One of the elements of this self discovery was how many choices we now seem to have and also a certain sense that it wasn’t enough to be “only” a wife and mother.  This raised a lot of questions in my mind and also brought on a life-long struggle to find the best place for me to fully express myself; a place of balance between motherhood, wifedom and self-sufficiency.  I’m there now, 40 years later.  It’s been an interesting journey but finally, I’ve arrived. 

March 8th of every year is International Woman’s Day.  March has now been officially declared International Woman’s Month.  I celebrated this year’s day with over one hundred other women and at least one man.  Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Judy from A Place for Women to Gather threw a party and what a wonderful event it was.  There were all ages, races, sizes and shapes and we had all come together to give thanks and praise for being a woman.  It was a reminder of our grace and beauty and also of the price so many brave men and women have paid for us to live the lives we are able to live today.  Oh, let’s never forget the cost of the freedom we have.  It wasn’t that long ago that even here in the United States women couldn’t vote, had limited availability to education, didn’t receive equal pay for equal work and weren’t valued for their contributions to society. 

This was a time to acknowledge and remember the abusive treatment of women that still exists in the world today.  It breaks my heart and makes my skin crawl when I read of and am told about the atrocities that so many women are subjected to in so many parts of the world.  And, don’t think because you may not live in a third world country that it isn’t going on in your part of the world.  It’s going on around the corner, down the street and maybe as close as next door.  But, as far as we need to go to eliminate such abuse is as far as we have come.  This month is our special time to create awareness and to celebrate our femininity.  Don’t forget the rights and privileges we have earned in such a short period of time and the price so many have paid to bring us to this place in time. 

In my study group one of the questions we asked ourselves was, “What other time and place would you have liked to live in and would you prefer to be a man or a woman?”  Think about it.  What is your answer?  We then had the opportunity to discuss what it was like to grow up as a woman in our families.  I am the oldest in my family and my father desperately wanted a son.  He didn’t get one until twelve years after I was born.  I remember his joy.  I was glad it took me so long to fully realize how important it was to him to sire a son.  Up until then, I simply felt like the favored child and for some reason I felt I could do anything.  But, societies restrictions were very heavy and I fell into the role somewhat expected of a young woman.  The saving grace was St. Agnes Academic High School for women.  The women there didn’t know about limits.  Many of my teachers had masters degrees and doctorates and many of my fellow students were looking at careers in medicine and government.  I remember looking around and wondering why I wasn’t pursing a college education and then, because of their examples, I did just that and without any help or guidance from anyone applied and was accepted to St. John’s University.  And, because I didn’t know any better, I applied to the Mathematics program.  There were five women in that program; five women and about fifty men.   

I’m a lucky woman, a very very lucky woman and I don’t want to forget it.  I am my own person.  I get to choose all things in my life, All Things.  I chose my path in life: educations, religion, spouse, career and my government officials, all because of the brave men and women who went before me.  And, now, it is up to us, all of us to pave the way for the rest of the women in the world.  What is the first step?
We must recognize and celebrate our gift of femininity.  We must bring that feminine energy and spirit fully into our world and into the world.  Claim your feminine power and beauty.  Embrace fully your precious wisdom and sensuality.  Know you are an amazing creation.  You can bring forth life for heaven’s sake!  You are a miracle.  Let all the earth shout with joy, “This is woman, honor her and love her.”

Worry and Anxiety

Affirmation:   I avoid all thoughts that weaken me.

Do you ever feel anxious?  Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night with so many things on your mind you can’t get back to sleep?  If you don’t you must already have developed a system that keeps you calm and centered.  It’s not something you can develop when you’re in the throes of what is or appears to be a crisis.  It must be something, some tool you’ve created and use regularly when you are calm.  Then when you are not feeling calm, you use that tool and your body responds with the conditioned reflex, relaxation.
I had a friend tell me that he had a mantra (a repeated phrase or word) he used every time he was at the airport (one of his most stressful environments) but it really didn’t seem to make any difference.  He didn’t see what purpose it served.  He never felt any calmer.  I asked him if he used this tool at any other time and he said, “No.”  Can you see the problem with this?  Every time he found himself stressed, he repeated the same phrase.  He conditioned his response to anxiety.  He needed to practice his mantra when he was feeling calm and centered. 

People I know use meditation to create this sense of peace, others use prayer.  Many in the catholic faith say the Rosary, a set of Our Fathers and Hail Marys that are repeated over and over while moving one’s fingers along a set of beads.  Many meditators finger beads called mala beads while they repeat their mantras. 

When I was going through radiation, it was an extremely stressful situation and I was very anxious.  I also didn’t feel too well so that added to the anxiety.  One of the Duke Cancer Patient Support Counselors set up an appointment with a nurse practioner named John Seskavitch.  In my experience John was a unique nurse.  He focused on healing the whole person; mind, body and spirit.  He had already created several meditation tapes and sponsored many mind-body workshops.  He sat with me and asked me about my faith, my practices and then suggested I repeat the Hail Mary during treatment. 

My walks take me around Apex Lake, a beautiful path close to my home.  I’ve walked it for over twenty years and often use the quiet time to say the Rosary.  I dedicate each decade (a group of ten Hail Marys and one Our Father) to a specific group of people; my family and friends, my church group, the support people in my life, all those special intentions I have in my heart, our military and their loved ones and our world leaders. (I figure they could use all the help they can get with the condition of the world today.)  As soon as I lied down for my radiation treatment after that first session with John, I was no longer anxious.  I was on that path around Apex Lake!  The sun shimmered on the water, the geese and ducks called out, the great Blue Herons stood perfectly still in the water, people nodded and said, “Good Morning!” and I was calm and all was well.

I once read about someone who kept a “worry box.”  All week long, if something came up that he was concerned about, he would put it in the box and he’d tell himself that he’d worry about it on Friday at 5 PM.  Each Friday, he’d go to the box and lay our all his concerns.  What do you think happened?  Most of his concerns had been addressed, had been resolved.  Part of my journaling practice is to look back each month and do a general review of how my life went.  One of the questions I ask myself is, “What was something I worried about that I don’t worry about now?”  There’s always an answer that reflects something that’s been resolved or even more profound, something that never even came into reality. 
George Burns the famous comedienne once said he never worried; it was a useless waist of his time. “Why would I worry about something I can do something about?  I’ll just go do it.  And, why would I worry about something I have no control over?”  Really, isn’t that a futile exercise in self-absorption? 
Not worrying takes practice.  If you’ve developed the worry habit, you can develop the habit to not worry.  You can find some tool, some process that will effectively help you control your anxiety.  One of those tools is affirmations.  “I avoid all thoughts that weaken me.”  Turn your thinking around.  Use your quiet time to assure yourself that all is well, all is well!  Take God’s peace and love and your sense of well-being with you out into your life and into the world.  It’s the work of a life-time but it’s well worth it, don’t you think?   

Manifesting True Dreams

Affirmaion:  I am always manifesting, I manifest to my highest and best.

This week, the third week of February 2012 marks the opening of the new Cancer Center at Duke University Hospital and my husband, Sandy and I were invited to a couple of the ceremonies marking the occasion. 

The new center was the dream of Victor Dzau, the chancellor and CEO of the Duke University Hospital system.  Many people told him it was a crazy idea, an impossible idea for many reasons but especially because of the economy but he refused to believe them.  He had this vision and he set out to make it come true.  This week it became a reality.

I love to see dreams come true.  It’s one of my daily prayers for my children and my grandchildren.  It’s great when I’m a part of it but even if I’m just the observer and can be present for the event, I am thrilled.  Sandy and I went to Nashville for one of my significant birthdays and for part of our trip, we toured the Ryman Auditorium.  It’s the home of the original Grand Old Opry.  We were on the tour with one other couple.  They seemed like simple people.  They were farmers from somewhere in the south.  When we reached the dressing room that use to be Johnny Cash’s the man from the other couple became very quiet.  His wife leaned over to us and said, “Being here is his dream come true.”  To this day I can remember the feeling of honor I had at being present when this man’s dream came true, even something as simple as a trip to the Ryman Auditorium.
It’s been twelve years, almost thirteen that I’ve been out of cancer treatments but I can still feel, with every one of my senses what it was like to walk into the old cancer center.  It filled me with dread.  It was dark and overflowing with people and it had a strange odor.  If my husband had not been at my side, I’m not sure I could have remained standing.  After the visit with the doctor, we then toured the infusion center, the chemo room.  If the hospital seemed to me like a foreign country, the chemo room seemed like an alien planet.  I couldn’t breathe.  And, I knew this was my future, my destiny and my hope.

Fifty thousand people came to be treated at the Duke Cancer Center in 2011.  They came from all over the world. One of the speakers at the ribbon cutting called cancer “the scourge of the 21st century.”  I am sure it has touched your life either you personally or someone you know and love or worse yet, knew and loved.

When I finished treatment, I had an End of Radiation Celebration and invited anyone who had helped me along the journey: family, friends, doctors, nurses and technicians.  I took the opportunity to accept donations toward the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program.  They had helped me so much through some very difficult stages and I wanted to give back.  A friend and I made an appointment with the then head of the Cancer Center and gave him the donations and told him something needed to be done to make the place softer, more comfortable, less frightening.  He said he understood our concerns and he agreed but it was an issue with money and it probably wasn’t going to happen.

Yesterday when I walked into our new building and then into our new Self Image Boutique, I cried.  I know I’m not the only one.  One other survivor was there with me and she too had tears in her eyes.  It’s a beautiful room full of light and soft colors and hope.  The lobby of the new building has a fireplace and a piano and light pouring in from cathedral like windows.  The floor has inscribed in it word of faith and hope that came from the book Finding the Can in Cancer written by four women cancer patients who worked and volunteered with the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program.  The infusion center has small private rooms with TVs and recliners and looks out over a roof top garden. 

I know people who come there for treatment will still be frightened, confused and overwhelmed.  Cancer creates those emotions in the patient and their loved ones but maybe now with a softer, kinder environment and state of the art technology, people will know they will not just be cared for but as the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program mission statements says, “they will be cared about.”

Victor Dzau looked at me that evening and said, “Jean, you have been a big part of this happening.”  I thought. “He’s such a nice man and so good at his job.  No wonder he’s accomplished this amazing feat.  He makes everyone feel important and valued.”  But, that’s not fair is it?  It’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to him.  Our program which began twenty five years ago by Rachel Schanberg at the bequest of her young daughter Linda has been working for compassionate care of the whole person since its inception.  It began in a closet with eighteen volunteers.  Now, they have over two hundred and fifty volunteers and four counselors.  All of their services are free of charge. 
I’ve been a part of the program for over twelve years giving time, talent and treasure.  My husband Sandy has been right by my side supporting me and my efforts in their mission.  We have been working towards creating an atmosphere of love, nurturance and compassion for the whole person, mind body and spirit.  “Treat the whole person, not just the disease!” we’ve shouted.  “Listen to me!  Listen to us!  Listen to all those who have had this disease!  Hear us!”  I’ve shouted it with all of my being, every cell, every way I know how and last night I was told by a gracious visionary, “I listened.”  Thank you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart and from all of us who have worked so very hard to create a place of true healing.  Let the healing begin.

Ingratitude

Affirmation:  I let go of ingratitude.
Lent is almost upon us.  Ash Wednesday is next week.  Lent in the Catholic faith is the time to prepare for the death and most importantly, the miraculous resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Wow!  What a story!  And, we are called to travel with Him on His journey.  We are called to stay present to the time, the season, the death and the rebirth.  It’s a time that takes many of us out of the depths of “winter” and into the fullness of “spring.” 
One of the challenges offered to us during Lent is to make it a time of Sacrifice.  We are encouraged to deny ourselves and to do works of mercy.  Oh, I don’t think it has to be any great effort but we are called to do something so that we are more aware of the 40 days; so we stay more present to the Lenten season.  It’s a gift we give ourselves.

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

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

I live a life full of abundant blessings.  I am a very lucky woman.  I am loved by my family and have many wonderful friends.  I need and want nothing.  I am beyond lucky and extremely grateful.  I have hit the jackpot of life.  I am safe, secure, and healthy.  But, every so often envy slips into my psyche.  I’m admitting it.  I can still find myself listening to or watching others and wonder what I did wrong.  Why didn’t I make that choice; why didn’t I travel that path; why do their lives appear so easy, so full?  Sometimes it’s little things that I find myself dwelling on and other times, it’s some major issues.  But, that doesn’t serve me or anyone else.  Whether I credit to God, to fate or to my own hard work for the life I now live, being ungrateful is plain wrong.  With my newest affirmation; “I let go of ingratitude” I find myself noticing when I am undermining my own happiness and I stop and let it go.  Perhaps by practicing letting go of ingratitude for 40 days, I’ll develop a new habit.  Maybe by the end of Lent, I will rise too, to a new awareness, a new way of thinking about my life; a way that brings me and those in my life, a sense of greater peace and joy.

Loving Speech

Affirmation:  I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening.
What do you like to talk about?  What topics make you sit up and get interested in the conversation?  I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit here by me.”  It was in the movie Steel Magnolias and it was spoken by Olympia Dukakis.  It’s a famous quote from Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980) who actually said, “”If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”  All I can say about that is I hope I’m remembered for saying something more along the lines of John Lennon, “Let’s Give Peace a Chance” or for something like the above affirmation, “I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening” by Tich Nhat Hanh as written in Coming Home
When I heard those words in Steel Magnolia I was shocked.  I was so surprised that someone so openly relished talking badly about another.  I don’t know why I felt that way.  I think most of the people in my life make an effort to be kind to and about one another.  Sure, there’s the occasional slip but I don’t I have a lot of people in my life who talk maliciously about others. I must confess that I can be guilty, guilty, guilty about getting caught up in the conversation when it becomes “gossipy.”  I can be very curious about what they have to say and there have been times in my life when I have had a tough time with someone and felt a desperate need to share the experience with another, all from my slanted point of view. 

Is it alright to talk about others?  Do you think it’s OK to tell tales about people?  When you begin talking about another is there a way to do it with love and kindness even when they have injured you?  When I am wounded or slighted, I usually seek support from loved ones by telling my story.  It’s not usually just the facts.  It’s usually about my emotional reactions. Most of us need to seek comfort from others when we have a difficult experience.  We need to tell our story but we get to choose how we tell it.  Do we tear down and berate the other or do we do it with kindness and gentleness, even towards our enemies? 

I am very judgmental about judgmental people.  When someone in my life has a tendency to label people as “good or bad”, “nice or mean”, or as “someone they like a lot” which means there are others they don’t like at all; I find myself recoiling from them.  It seems to me if they are going around judging everyone else, they must have a very definitive opinion about me and I become very leery. 
Many years ago I hired a young person to help me do some painting around the house.  In the process I needed to empty out my closet and I was somewhat embarrassed by the number of shoes I owned.  I mentioned it to him adding an apology and he stopped me before I even got all the words out.  “I’m not here to judge anyone.”  I’m not here to judge ANYONE!  Yes, I would like to claim that as a character trait.  I do affirm “I love unconditionally, non-judgmentally and non graspingly.”  It’s an intention I’ve set for those who are close to me in my life but when it comes to the rest of the world, can I be non-judgmental?  Probably not, but, I can try.  The truth is I seldom have the whole picture.  I only have that little piece that I can see.

I belong to a gym that has a huge senior population.  When I was there this week, there was a new plaque on an easel and I stopped to check it out.  It was a photo of a plane from WWII with a huge hole in the right wing.  Framed with it was a thank you from one of the members, Hal Shook, for the service of the people who work at our gym and an award, The Legion of Honor, that he received in 2011 more than sixty years after the end of the war.  He had sent it to the facility as a token of his gratitude.  After I viewed the framed presentation I found myself wondering about all those people I usually see there.  I began to wonder about what I’ve been missing by not getting to know some of these individuals.  I am sure this gentleman is not the only hero that’s walking around that gym.  I wonder if I were to see him, what sort of judgment would I form?  I would not have even guessed at his honorary past.  Why then should I judge at all?  My job is simply to observe.

In Kripalu Yoga they incorporate BRFWA into their practice.  It means we “breathe, relax, feel, watch, and allow.”  Nowhere does it tell me I need to judge my practice or myself.  The other lesson is not to make Yoga into a completive sport.  “Stay on your mat; don’t go invading someone else’s practice, watching them and comparing yourself to them”.  These are the same lessons we can take with us into the world. 
I actually think the affirmation should be, “I am committed to cultivating loving thoughts and deep listening.”  Maybe if I worked on that regularly, the loving speech would simply become second nature.

The Power of Prayer

Affirmation:  I pray unceasingly.
Do you believe that prayer makes a difference?  Do you have a theory about why it does or doesn’t work?  Have you ever “tested” your theory?  
The older I become, the more I pray; the more I value prayer.  One of the popular comedians said that’s very normal because as we age we realize we’re getting closer to death and we’re “hedging our bets.”  That could be true.  I also have more time to pray.  I don’t have to rush out every morning or get the children off to school.

I get to begin my day before I even rise with a prayer of thanksgiving and with the invitation to God to join me throughout my day & to bring blessings and favors on all those for whom I have promised to pray.  I pray for my spouse, my children and grand-children by name and then go on and list my siblings and their families.  Next, I include all my “dear, dear friends” and especially those who most need God’s mercy.”  I try to recall each of those special people by name who I know need extra prayers.  I can usually remember them.  If not, I do keep a prayer list.  After my friends I include all “the special intentions of those in my Small Christian Community.”  I then go on to add “all the support people in my life, seen and unseen and their loved ones.”  I so value all those people who make my life so much easier and richer because of their hard work.  I include our “fighting men and women and their families” and finally I pray for “wisdom for our world leaders and peace for this world.”  Then, it is time to rise.

Am I making a difference?  I’m making a difference in how I value those in my life and how I perceive them and the world.  I sometimes think this aspect is the most powerful effect of prayer; the change that takes place in me when I take the time and spend my energy to pray for others.  But, I believe prayer makes a difference in ways we cannot even fathom.  It is one of the most powerful tools available to us to tap into the Divine.  If we are spiritual beings having a human experience, why not connect with spirit and let that power work the miracles we are asking for in our lives?
According to Norman Vincent Peale in The Power of Positive Thinking, the whole world is made up of vibrations and prayer is one way to activate and send out positive vibrations to create change in the world.  Energy and how it can by directed and controlled has been written about to name just a few, by Eckhart Tolle and Gary Zukav.  That’s what prayer is.  It’s a form of energy.  Several years ago Duke Health did a study on prayer.  They had two groups prayed for by a variety of people from all different religious theologies.  The results of their study did not show any difference in the recovery of the patients.  But, I wonder what did change for those who were receiving the prayers?  Do you think it might have been something that wasn’t measurable like grace, peace, hope and other non-tangibles; things we all value and look for but for which there is no measurement?

Prayer changes lives.  The greatest challenge is believing in its power; believing that it really can have an effect on the situation.  The second challenge is believing that it will be a positive effect, even if it’s not the apparent answer for which we prayed.  Prayer and the belief in it and the ability to tap into the Divine do not remove our difficulties but it can make our difficulties, our challenges, easier to bear.  It can bring us a sense of peace and hope believing that there is a kind and loving Supreme Being who wants what’s best for us, especially if we’re willing to ask and then to listen. 

When we first moved to North Carolina I said a prayer that God would lead us to the best house and neighborhood for us.  And, then I asked for a “sign.”  I asked for some sort of burning bush.  Yes, I was testing.  Well, we drove everywhere and I never saw that bush.  We finally settled on a lovely house in a new neighborhood and I let go of my search for the perfect place for us.  I actually loved our new home and our new neighbors, so all was good.  Several years later, we were taking my in-laws around showing them the area and we saw a beautiful house that was for sale.  We were able to tour it on the spot and I loved it!  Soon, we had sold our other house and moved into the new one.  One day, I was walking with someone who knew a lot about shrubs and he was telling me about the different bushes around the house.  I stopped dead when he pointed to the bushes at the bottom of the driveway and told me they were called Burning Bushes (Euonymus).  There were six of them!  Was that answered prayer?  As far as I was concerned it was. 

I don’t go around testing God any longer.  I simply expect my prayers to be answered.  I know they are answered and I know they make a difference, a difference in my life and a difference in the world but I must remind myself that God’s plan may not be my plan and that God’s timing is something I will never be able to fathom. 

Fun!

Affirmation:  I have fun, fun!
My affirmation used to be, I have fun, fun, fun!  But I was actually having too much fun.  I could exhaust myself running from activity to activity, so I took off one of the “funs.”  This may seem like a silly, trite affirmation but this one developed from the advice and example of a very dear friend and fellow breast cancer survivor.  No matter what she was going through in her life she always focused on the fun; she focused on the upside of the challenges.  She is inspirational in the way she attacks her experiences with joy and hope. 
When I went for tests to prepare for chemotherapy treatments, I had a young male technician ask me why I was undergoing the tests and when I shared with him that I was beginning chemo on Wednesday for breast cancer he said, “Boy, I hope you’re doing something fun on Thursday.”  I can still hear his voice and remember my shocked response.  I was just getting ready.  I hadn’t really planned for anything afterwards.  To be honest, I was wondering if I’d even be able to get out of bed afterwards no less plan for something fun.  But, that one statement sent me on a remarkable journey.

What was it that brought me joy?  What did I like to do that was fun?  Well, I had a list but my favorite thing was to invite my friends to my home for lunch or dinner.  I’d have an after chemo luncheon!  With the help of a dear friend, we sent out invitations to all those people who had reached out to me when they heard about my diagnosis.  We invited them to lunch at my home and we invited them to bring a dish to share.  Yes, I had several calls and messages asking me if I were sure about this decision and a couple of people who told me I was crazy but I assured them that this was what I wanted to do.

Seventy five people showed up for what was to be the first of four after chemo luncheons.  I was not feeling my best, to put it mildly but I was having company and I needed to pull myself together and greet my guests and receive all the hugs and warm wishes they had brought with them.  It was a marvelous event!  I invited my yoga teacher to open with some pranayama (yogic breathing) and mediation.  At each luncheon someone shared a meditation or a story with the group and helped us bless the food and the gathering before we came together to eat and visit and celebrate the healing process that I was undergoing.  At the last three luncheons, I was bald and I was suffering some of the other effects of the treatments but it didn’t matter.  I was surrounded by all these amazing people who had taken their time and energy and had chosen to come support me during this major life challenge.
Very few men came to the luncheons, although they were always included in the invitations.  I can clearly recall the ones who chose to brave the onslaught of women attendees and step into a situation that is mostly female related.  One of them was my brother.  To my complete surprise he and his wife drove down from another state.  This is one of the many gifts I gave myself when I decided to share my journey and my life with those who had shown me love and concern. 

The question asked on that day of tests by that wonderful technician completely turned around my breast cancer treatment from scary and onerous to one that was nurturing and yes, fun!  If one can turn chemo and radiation into a fun experience, I think she or he may only need to put two “funs” into their affirmation.  In fact they may only need one “fun.” How many do you want in your affirmation?  What’s something you are facing with trepidation that you might be able to turn around by finding some aspect that you can call “fun?”

An Ethical Will

Affirmation:  I discern well between those actions that empower me versus those that enable me and direct my energies towards the former.

What are you leaving your family when you die?  Have you made out a will?  Have you written down who will get the silver, the house, and the many treasures you’ve collected over the years?  When we moved several years ago, we had an attic and in that attic were many treasures I was sure the “children” would one day want.  I had saved their baby furniture.  All three children used the same cradle and the same baby carriage.  All three children used the same layette set to come home from the hospital.  We also had a huge doll house that my son and I had built.  You know the kind; the kind that has a shingled roof and into which people put tiny furniture and lights and decorations.  It took us months to glue it all together.  We did it on our dining room table.  These are just a few of the treasure we had saved over the years.  Now, it was time to pass them onto the people we thought would want them.  Have you guessed their response?  They had no desire to own these items.  The baby furniture was outdated and not considered safe any longer.  The doll house was just too big for their tiny apartments or small homes.  The layette may have had a lot of sentimental meaning for me but they could have cared less about the outfit they wore home from the hospital.  Wow!  What a learning experience.  All those years of accumulating stuff, caring for stuff and now getting rid of that stuff.  What else have I, we, been collecting that no one is interested in? 

But, there must be something my family, my children and my grandchildren would like to have.  There must be something that I can leave them so they will remember me.  Perhaps the best I can leave them is what life lessons I have learned over these many generations.  What are they?  What are the most important things I have learned that I can leave for posterity?  What words do I want to use?  What sentiments do I want to write down?  What would your shared life lessons look like?

This is my “ethical will”, I write:  Love-love yourself and love others.  It’s our first responsibility-our #1 job.  Look for, discover and grow a belief in a Higher Power.  Find a way to trust that you can tap into God’s love and concern for you as an individual.  Know you are exactly where you are supposed to be at any given moment; practice being in the moment, being in the present.  Write down your priorities; use them to guide you in all your decisions-stay true to them and to yourself.  Write down your dreams.  There’s power in putting them on paper, energy is born and without struggle they will be manifested.  We are always manifesting, beware of your words and thoughts.  Focus on joy.  Focus on compassion and gratitude.  Find a way to see the blessings and benefits in everything that happens to you in life.  Say thank you, thank you, thank you.  Forgive, Forgive, Forgive-yourself and all others.  Smile, Laugh, Play & Dance!!

What does your “ethical will” look like?  Give it some thought and write it out.  It’s small.  It takes up very little space.  You won’t need an attic for it, just a drawer some place and it’s a gift that will benefit them far greater than any piece of old clothing or furniture. 

Manifesting the New Year

Affirmation:  I am always manifesting; I manifest to my highest and best.
The beginning of a new year can be filled with mixed feelings and expectations.  Many years ago the cartoon For Better or For Worse had a New Year’s Day cartoon of Elizabeth, the young daughter, opening her new calendar and exclaiming “I can’t wait to put down all the wonderful things that will happen.”  If I were to closely examine my reaction to a new year it would not necessarily be filled with the expectation of delightful events.  I find I must be very aware of the feeling of dread that can present itself as I look forward to the future especially if I am dealing with post Christmas let-down.  It takes a conscientious effort to turn my thinking around and to prepare myself for the delights that I am sure are waiting for me.  Once again, I am faced with the choice of Faith or Fear.
I truly believe we manifest our own realities.  I am always manifesting and I want to manifest to my highest and best.  I don’t like to leave the quality of my life to chance.  There are always things I can be working on that will enrich my life.  One of my practices of many years is to take time at the beginning of the new year and to decide what’s important to me and what I’d like to see manifest itself.  I do this by looking at the different aspects of my life and seeing what I want to emphasize and concentrate on.

I divide my life into several categories.  Certainly, you can choose any that might work for you but mine are:  Spiritual, Physical, Mental, Family & Friends, Material, Community and Financial.  I set intentions and create affirmations for each section.   

Spiritual:  For example, one of my intentions is to meditate daily. I write:  I meditate once a day for at least 20 minutes.  Another Spiritual desire is to increase my faith so I write:  I pray daily and I attend church weekly.  I participate in my Small Christian Community and look for other  opportunities to participate in events that will increase my faith.
Physical:   My intention here is to be of optimal health.  What steps do I need to take that will lead to that state?  I write:  I fine tune my diet by eating clean at least 80% of the time.  I look for fun ways to exercise.  I do some form of exercise daily. 
Mental:  I know I am either green and growing or ripe and rotten.  I read a wonderful news article about a 93 year old man who recently learned to read and write.  He then went on to publish a book.  That’s my intention; to be learning as long as I’m alive.  So I write:  I look for opportunities that help me grow.  I am studying the fiddle, Spanish and doing a crossword a day.  I am open to all learning opportunities: travel, classes, lectures, documentaries, and new people and experience. 
Family & Friends:  When it comes to my Family and Friends category, I usually focus on what I’d like the most if they were considering me and try to create that intention for themselves.  I would like more of their time and attention.  So I write:  I carve out a regular time to spend with each of my loved ones and look for opportunities when we can share experiences. 
Material:  I include the Material category because I feel we live in a material world and it needs to be addressed.  In the past I’ve focused on living in a different house or perhaps making the house I live in, different, lighter, brighter, more comfortable.  This year I write:  I only keep the things I love and use and let go of the rest. 
Community:  Community is essential to everyone’s well being.  I write:  I volunteer my time, treasure and talent to help those who are within my power to be of help to.  I focus my talents on projects that I know make a positive difference in the lives of others.  I enjoy sharing my home with my friends and family and look for opportunities to do so.
Financial:  I attract financial prosperity.  I look for opportunities that increase our income and that decrease our expenses. 
 I don’t review them regularly.  I have found that there is great power in simply writing out my intentions and then letting them marinate.  I usually review last year’s at the beginning of the New Year.  I am always fascinated by how many of the intentions have come to fruition; fascinated and grateful that I took the time to work on manifesting the year ahead.  What do you want your New Year to manifest?  Claim some time, give it some thought and put it on paper.  Fill in your calendar now before the year starts.  Fill it in with all the things you want it to hold:  joy, love, hope, peace, great health, adventure.  It’s yours; it’s waiting for you to claim it and to manifest it.