Jean Anne Costa
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Believing in Angels

Affirmation: I choose to believe in Angles.

 

angle-2Do you ever think about angles? Not the LA baseball team but the ones that appear in mythology and theology. They are a part of all the major religions. Do you believe in angels? Do you think they all have wings? Are they male and female or gender neutral? Do they ever appear in their true form or do they take on human characteristics? Do you think we really have guardian angels? What if you did believe, truly believe that there was a powerful spiritual presence hovering over you, advising you, and guiding you? How would that feel? Would it make you feel calmer? Would you become more conscious of your choices?

There have been many movies made about angles. My favorite is very old. It’s the black and white version of The Bishop’s Wife with Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young. There was the TV series that ran from 1994-2003 called Touched by an Angel and of course, Hallmark loves stories that have an angel theme. I’ve also read several books about angles. There are stories about people who see angles, talk to angels, and receive guidance from angels. One of the books I read many years ago offered a journaling process to help you “hear” the wisdom of the angles involved in your life. And, of course, there is the ultimate angel book, the Bible.

The whole salvation story begins with the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she is to be the mother of the Messiah. They go on to announce the birth of our Savior to the shepherds and then continue to guide and protect the Holy Family throughout the beginning of the New Testament. Was that it? Did they stop visiting after that?

angel-104-2For many years one of my affirmations has been, “I have a very active guardian angel.” I don’t know when I began to truly believe that she (yes, she) was actively looking after me but looking back on my life, I completely believe that someone very powerful was helping me make decisions that were to my benefit rather than my detriment. There has always been a greater force in my life planting thoughts and ideas that led me along a path that has resulted in the life I now relish, a force that was not recognizable, not tangible. I look back and I am in awe of how I’ve been guided. I mean let’s face it, we all have those moments when if we went left instead of right, we know without any doubt that our lives would have been much harder, maybe even shorter, had we gone in that perilous direction. I simply look back and feel blessed. I know it has been my Guardian Angel, Saranna.

I’d been talking to her, Saranna, for many years when my dear deceased friend and massage therapist, Valerie Kelly, one day announced that there was an angel in the room with us. She took a deep breath and seemed quite startled. I was not surprised. Then she asked me if I wanted to know her name. I had named my angel many years before. Someone told me it was a good idea. I had named her Anna. It seemed like a nice angel name. Valerie stopped and listened for a moment and then said, “Her name is Saranna.” And so she is.

I call on her guidance quite often. I invite her to lead the way or to pave the way. Sometimes, I request that she speak with her fiends who are my loved one’s angles and ask them to smooth the way or direct the way. I know if you are a realist and don’t believe in the spiritual world, you probably have stopped reading by now. I know if you’re a therapist without any faith in a power greater than us, you have diagnosed me as someone with a problem or at the very least an overactive imagination. I haven’t heard the angels and sadly I haven’t seen them, in their natural state but I know they are here. I simply know it.

My husband, Sandy, will not pass a homeless person without giving him or her money. He always tells me that they could be an angel in disguise. The weekend of April 25th, 2015 was the twenty first Angels Among Us Walk for the Preston Robert Tish Brain Tumor Center at Duke. They open the walk with the song, “Angels Among Us” and the survivors lead the way for several thousand walkers who are there to raise awareness and money for brain tumor research. This year they raised over $2,094,000. Two of the first patients treated with the new polio virus technique led the way. They are cancer free of glioblastomas, an unheard of accomplishment until the last couple of years. I didn’t “see” any angles that Saturday but I am sure there were many, many of them present.

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Archangels-2In May my friend and massage therapist invited me to be part of a chain begun in 2000. She explained to me that I would be inviting the Archangels into my home for five days and when they left I would invite three other friends to host them. Why not? I followed the directions and set up the little welcome station that had a candle, a white flower, three slips of paper with a personal request, a family request and a community request and an apple to absorb the blessings of their presence. They arrived at 10:30 PM on the date I was told and as far as I was concerned they were using my home as their base for the next five days. Were there any unusual happenings? We’re there any miracles? Did I see or notice anything unusual? No, no and no but I felt difference. I had a sense of peace and comfort that was beyond my normal. Just the thought that they were blessing my home and family gave me comfort. They are “gone” now but I’ve decided since I’ve opened my home to them, I can now consider them to be close friends and when I have a pressing need, they will return.

I looked up the mythology revolving around the Archangels. It seems there are somewhere between three and seven. I don’t know how many were here during their visit. I know Michael, Rafael and Gabriel were here for sure. I attend St. Michael the Archangel Church. I live off of Rafael Drive and have several people in my life named Gabriel. It’s all a mystery, isn’t it? I am comfortable with mystery at this time in my life. I don’t have to understand everything that I believe. That’s what faith is all about, believing the unbelievable. I choose to believe in angels. I choose to believe there is a higher, compassionate, wise power that wants to lead us to a better, more fulfilling life and with that belief, for me, it brings peace and comfort and hope.

Choosing My Words

Affirmation: I carefully choose my words.

WTRCover_left-2The May/June 2015 Issue of Where to Retire had an article about things recommended to help oneself develop habits to improve the quality of one’s life. One of the suggestions was to “create affirmations.” The example they used revolved around the discipline of daily exercise. Now, everyone knows that a body needs to move in order to stay healthy. There are some that say exercise is “the fountain of youth” and others have said that if there were a way to bottle all the benefits and turn them into pill form, it would be like an “elixir of the gods.” Knowing and doing, however, are two very different things. What guidance could the article offer to get people more involved in exercise? I was pleased to see their approach was to reframe what one said to oneself about his or her activity. According to the article, if you tell yourself you’re a swimmer, runner, walker, tennis player, golfer, etc. you will be more likely to actively pursue that activity. Not only will you be telling yourself, you’ll probably use those same words to describe yourself to others. It’s the process of labeling ourselves and don’t we do that all the time, with or without intention and sometimes to our detriment, not to our benefit?

The sub-title of my book, Creating Positive Affirmations is, Living an Intentional Life. I believe with my whole heart and mind that what we choose to say to ourselves affects every aspect of our being, all the way to our cellular structure. When we choose those words and phrases that nurture and empower us, our whole being responds to them. It’s no different when we choose to degrade and demean ourselves. My husband, Sandy, is always reminding people to be compassionate with themselves. He reminds them that we are usually our own worst enemy. We can treat ourselves harder than we would treat even an enemy, no less a friend. We filet ourselves over something we did or said over and over whereas we have already forgiven and probably forgotten something someone else mistakenly did.

positivethinking-2I’m not speaking here of becoming narcissistic. We aren’t here to live lives of conceit and contempt. We are here to be powerful through humility and service. One way to achieve that balance is to carefully choose your language. Louise Hay has been guiding us to powerful words and phrases for decades. Norman Vincent Peale wrote about “positive thinking.” It’s no different than exercise. It’s a simple concept but it can be hard to put it into practice but once you do; once you start to see the amazing uplifting impact it has on your life, you won’t want to live any other way.

That’s why I began writing this blog. It was because I felt I had discovered the best “shoe store in the world.” These shoes were so good looking and you could wear them forever and they would never hurt and they were on sale!” That’s how I felt about discovering positive affirmations. My life shifted. My mood shifted. My health and my relationships became better. I felt I had an obligation to share this tool with others. I know not everyone is interested in what I have to say but I don’t really care. I’m so excited about how this skill has made me feel, I need to shout about it.

I have a dear friend who once told me she has “a healing body.” She’s had several serious ailments that she has overcome and she truly believes that her body likes to heal. Now, I know it can be foolish to not seek help when one is ill. I don’t believe in denial but I can tell you from experience that if you believe your body is supporting you in your efforts to heal, you will heal. You may not be cured of all that is affecting you but healing will definitely take place. I’ve watched many friends go into life threatening illnesses with attitudes of powerful warriors and been amazed by the outcome of their battle. Inspired would be a better word. So many have overcome and for those that didn’t, their strength and courage brought their world to a whole better place.

ScreenShot2015-04-24at11.27.08PMSixty Minutes did a special segment in March of 2015, on the latest successful research being done at the Robert Tish Brain Tumor Center at Duke Hospital. Dr. Mattias Gromeief has been modifying the polio vaccine and injecting it into tumors. He’s been working on it for over twenty-five years. The tumor dies. The center has been using the virus to successfully treat glioblastomas, an up until now always terminal brain tumor. Sandy and I know a lot about this since both his father, Joe Costa and my father, Frank Grolimund died from a “glio.” The TV special interviewed two people who were completely cured. It was a miracle! They also interviewed people who were part of the clinical study who died because of not yet knowing the correct dose of the virus to administer. They were all brave battle ready warriors. Their strength and courage lifted all in their story to new heights and hopes.

Words! What words do you choose to label yourself with? My daughter, Melissa, has given me several very meaningful gifts. She had a tote bag and a shirt made for me that said, “Happy is a habit” and this Christmas I received a teapot hand decorated with the phrase, “I am a bold adventuress.” I can as easily fall into, go down into those places of despair, sadness and self pity as the next person but I have discovered that I can also recognize what I’m doing, thinking and saying and with some effort and practice, I can turn those phrases around and choose to create not just sentences that sound cheery and upbeat but a life that is rich and meaningful and marvelous. And, who among us would not want to share those tools with others? Who does not want to help the world to a better place? Who doesn’t want a cheap pair of the nicest, most comfortable “shoes” ever?

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Treasuring the Earth

Affirmations: I treasure our planet Earth and recognize my responsibility to care for it.

 

51AzgOzdjuL._SY344_BO1204203200_Carolyn Tobin was the presenter at A Place for Women to Gather for the program titled, Sacred Time but the topic on which she spoke was broader and deeper than that of time. I didn’t think that was possible but I was wrong and I was immediately enamored with her subject. She was there to speak about saving the human race, saving the universe and saving ourselves. I’m ready! Tell me there’s a way to help in this most important work and I shall do my part, although I was very doubtful about what I, one little lady living in the comfort of North Carolina could possibly do that would help save man-kind or woman-kind. Once again, I was being challenged to rise up and exert whatever power I did have to make a difference in this frightening world
of ours. Is this my Lenten mission? This same topic of making a difference in the world had appeared numerous times over the last few weeks, actually over the last couple of years. I am being led to “do more” or at least to “do something.” What was Carolyn offering me that would enable me, no, empower me to heal the world?

This woman was a student of Thomas Berry and she had recently published a book about their conversations, Recovering a Sense of the Sacred. What philosophy was being promoted? Is it an approach in which I can be active? Is it an approach in which I can believe and adopt? Actually, it was even more than that; it was a life lesson for making a shift in my life with the added effect of changing the world. She and Thomas are calling us to reconnect with the earth, to reconnect with nature. I was being asked to embrace my roots. I was being directed to fully embrace our universe by taking the time to appreciate its gifts and to protect them and to reach out and share this approach with anyone and everyone within my life’s circle. So, here I am sharing this philosophy, maybe even better described as a theology, with all the people who read these missives.

conservatory-2Once again my lesson is coming to me in many different forms. The first was Carolyn’s lecture, then I read her delightful, insightful book and within the same week, I had the opportunity to visit the Conservatory in Washington, DC and marvel at the variety of plants our earth provides. The Conservatory takes you from the early 1800s when plants were first being collected until today and also from the mountain foliage to that of the jungle and tropical. The first plant we saw when we walked into the greenhouse was a cacao tree. It took my breath away. There were these huge yellow pods just hanging off the side of the tree. They were ready to be harvested and turned into cacao butter and chocolate. Each turn took us to another miracle: banana trees, fruit trees, ferns and cacti, lovely succulents and gorgeous orchids, every kind of tree and plant imaginable. I was more aware of the gifts in front of us because of the lecture I had recently attended.

embracenatureI’m not much of a gardener. I’m not even too good at houseplants. I have had gardens over the years, mostly vegetables but I’m a city girl raised on a very busy highway with about eight square feet of lawn in front of our house and a small strip of dirt in the back for the dog to relieve himself. We never grew anything. We tried planting watermelon seeds one spring but other than a massive vine, we didn’t get any fruit. As an adult, as the care of the inside of our homes became more demanding, I spent less and less time outside in the dirt. Now, I was being called to reconnect with the earth. After Carolyn led us in a guided mediation, she asked us what we believed we could do to make a difference. I had had a very clear message, “Jean Anne, go outside.” I have begun to work out a way to start and to nurture that process. Why? What is the message Carolyn is relaying from Thomas?

god-is-always-within-feel-god-working-in-your-heart-through-your-heart-and-as-your-heart-2The only way to save the earth and humankind is to embrace nature. We are being called not to simply see our world as a place to meet our needs but as a place for which we are responsible and which needs our care and nurturing. It is time for me to recognize that unless we embrace our universe and all its majesty and miracles, it will not continue to thrive and if it is depleted and not appreciated, our existence will be compromised, if we are not made extinct. Thomas Berry declared, “As we practice a presence to the natural world through our intuition we come to know ourselves, not simply as physical beings, but as spiritual beings. We humans are modes of the Divine presence who have forgotten our identity with creation. We are one earth community that lives or dies together. We depend on the earth to sustain us in body and soul. We come into relationship to it instead of establishing an identity over and against it.”

the_four_elements___wallpaper_by_bydgx-d6ukig2-2The rest of this week’s lesson came when we entered the Native American Museum in DC. We began our tour on the fourth floor where several of the larger tribes had been invited to display their heritage. There were stories about their costumes, their dances and songs and especially about their reverence for Mother Earth: for the plants, the animals, the stars and the wind. They honored all four of our elements: water, fire, wind and earth. They not only experienced nature, they treasured it. They don’t just consume it. Even more important is that their major concern is teaching these lessons to the next generation and letting them know that they were responsible for all their future generations. “How will this decisions affect my seventh generation?” was and is one of their key lessons.

My awareness of God’s miracles seen in nature and my responsibility to honor and treasure those gifts, have already begun to blossom. I am determined to “go outside” more often and to meditate on the stars as well as the weeds. I will tenderly hold a flower or attentively listen to the bird’s song. I may not be able to care for the whole planet but I am more than capable of caring for my small piece of it here in North Carolina and perhaps by heightening my awareness my tiny steps will make a difference in our universe. I believe that my efforts will have the added gift of not just appreciating our earth, but will lead me to a greater appreciation, perhaps a greater connection to the Divine and to my God. By learning to treasure the earth, I’ll be able to have hope that my seventh generation will not only still be here on this planet and not off living on Mars or a satellite but thriving right here on this amazing planet Earth.

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Buddy, Answered Prayer

Affirmation: I believe in answered prayer.

 

iStock_000001272766Small-2Buddy was a Brittany, not a Brittany Spaniel which is a common mistake because the breed looks like a Spaniel, somewhere between a Cocker and a King Charles. They are, however, their own special breed and special was Buddy. He was orange and white and as far as we were concerned he was the most beautiful dog ever, inside and out.

I was searching for a new dog. We’d had dogs most of our lives and at the time we only had Misty, our cat that had adopted us a few years earlier. She was only allowed in the garage because the children were allergic to cats. That lasted about month and now she ruled the entire house whether people were sneezing or not.

This time I was determined to get a dog that was appropriate for our family. We hadn’t always been successful with our adoptions. Ralph was a prime example. He was a hyper Dalmatian who consumed a picnic table, did several thousand dollar’s worth of damage to one of our cars when he wanted to get in and play with the children and sprayed all the furniture to insure that his territory was marked. After a year or so we were able to find a farmer that wanted to care for him. It had been a very trying experience. He wasn’t the only dog we had issues with and I was very hesitant to take on another pet with which I would fail. I am not the best “dog person.” I might as well admit it. I am not a Caesar Milano, the dog whisperer. I’m not sure I have a single gene that enables me to respond appropriately to a dog’s deepest desires. I’m a good caregiver, please understand. I feed, shelter, offer warm cozy beds and long walks and good medial care. I even undergo lots of training sessions but I can’t seem to hear their inner most concerns. It didn’t matter with Buddy. Perhaps one of the reasons we did better with him was because he came to us at eleven months of age and was already somewhat trained or maybe it was because I had asked God whether or not to adopt him and God had sent a very clear message.

IMG_0005-2When I “found” Buddy I had gone and sat quietly to pray about adopting him. I don’t know what I expected but I’d read a lot about praying for specific answers and I was desperate. I didn’t want to disappoint another animal with my inability to create a livable space for it and for the family. I was afraid. So, I went and sat. I prayed, “God what should I do? Should I allow this animal to come into our home?” and then I waited. I was prepared to wait for as long as it took. It wasn’t more than a couple of breaths when I “heard,” “It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.” I was stunned but there it was, my answer. I stood up, called the breeder and a week later Buddy was being delivered to us by the New Jersey breeders who “happened” to be driving to their new home here in North Carolina. It was destiny. I’m here to tell you, God was right. I had my struggles but it was really really worth it. Buddy lived with us for fourteen years and he was the best dog ever. He’s been gone now for six years but we still have his ashes and his photo in our bedroom! I’m crying as I write this. I know many of you completely understand.

My friend, Mary Ann Scope, recently put down her English Bulldog and long time friend. That’s what prompted this story. She said she cried for days, she’s probably still crying, like me. My other friend, Tracie Barton-Barrett is in the process of writing a book about grieving for our pets. It’s a reality, isn’t it? There are so many life lessons we experience through them. The most important lesson being that of unconditional love. I have one photo of Buddy where he had gathered all of my sneakers. He had a “soft mouth” because he was a bird dog. He dropped them all around his bed and then snuggled in for a nap.

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My husband, Sandy, loves to tell the story about when I was gone for six weeks doing my yoga training at Kripalu. Buddy waited outside the back door, in the garage, every day until I finally returned, He had slept with Sandy every night in our bed until the night I came home when he wouldn’t come up even when called. He was just fine going back to his own bed next to ours. I was home and he was good again. Amazing!

Sandy shared his tiny family home with a dog named Missy. She was a Doberman they found in their back yard. She was very protective of that family! When he went to see his father’s office, he was struck by the fact that the only picture Joe had on his desk was of the dog. He asked where the other family photos were and his father told him, “Missy is the only one that runs to the door to greet me when I come home.” There it is again, unconditional love, total devotion; all the qualities we wished we and our loved one’s emulated.

Koko-Red-Dog-Kelpie-Australian-movie-poster-famous-dogs-film-canine-cinema-star-girl-guy-motorbike-desert-2011-2There have been hundreds of doggie movies about their journeys around the globe in an effort to return to their owners. One we recently watched is Red Dog, an Australian film about a dog and his deceased owner. It’s a great example of how much they love us and affirm us regardless of who we are or how dumb we are.

My adult daughter, Melissa and my grand-daughter, Isabelle, volunteer at the Wake County SPCA. They are “dog people.” They always have at least two dogs in their home. Recently, they brought home Gibson, a six weeks old mixed breed. What joy! Gibson discovered a pin cushion on the top of the dining room table. He didn’t eat it, but he did eat the thirteen pins and one needle. Their rescue dog needed several thousand dollars of surgery. They were saving for a new roof but their priorities were with this new guy who has brought smiles and giggles and once again, the unconditional love of a pet.

We are presently “pet free,” but I am beginning to open my heart and mind to maybe adopting another dog, maybe! I haven’t found one yet who is asking to come here. Once again, however, if one does come a knocking, I plan to sit with God and find out what the message is for us. It won’t surprise me at all if once again I am told, “it won’t be easy but it’ll be worth it.”

 

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Lenten Hopes & Prayers

Affirmation: I let go of resentment.

 

9781561708758_p0_v1_s260x420-2Wayne Dyer in his Ten Secrets of Happiness tells his readers that one of the secrets is to affirm, “There are no justified resentments.” That means we are called on to forgive every action that has bothered us, intentionally or unintentionally. How are you at doing that? Have you ever thought you were “over” something and then it reared its angry head when you least expected it? For me, I can nurse an injury to death! It can be years after the perceived hurt has occurred and the name of the offender will cause me to sit up straight and grimace and re-live, perhaps even re-tell, the horrible act committed. Boy! That will show that person. I will be justified and they will suffer because of my anger and my indignation. The truth, however, is there is only one person suffering, it is I and I have created it myself.

I was discussing with a friend that several of her dear friends had not reached out to her and her husband after he had undergone surgery. She was angry. I understood. When I was treated for breast cancer, some of the people with whom I was closest never sent a note or picked up the phone. Hundreds (and I am not exaggerating) of people reached out with such caring and generosity. It was healing and affirming but every now and then, I’d wonder about those few people who hadn’t taken the time to even send me an email. When I thought of them, I’d feel resentment. I wondered why I would chose to focus on those that appeared to ignore me and not the amazing people who showed such love and care? Why is that?

lent-purple-2We are presently in the season of Lent. I love Lent. I’ve felt this way for many years. It’s a time of quiet. It’s a time for additional reflection, a time to really focus on what is important to me in my relationship with God and others. It’s a time for me to develop a new good habit or two. It’s a time of hope. It is the dormant time before the rise of the flowers and blossoming of the trees. It’s that time when I wait with joyful anticipation Spring and the resurrection of Christ. It’s a time when my heart feels full with what is to come.

Lent has taken on a very different meaning for me over the years. As a child we would be encouraged to give up some favorite food and also to fill a small paper box with coins for the hungry children of a far off country. I’m sure I tried to honor the requests. I’m sure I didn’t do too well at it either. Then, as a young adult I rebelled. I decided all those rules and regulations were silly. What purpose did it serve to give up anything and how much of a difference did my small contribution make to the poor and destitute of the world? The thing that helped me recognize the wisdom of my church’s traditions was staying connected to my church. This is my home and one of the many gifts has been learning to honor our Lenten tradition.

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I’ve taken two intentions for this 2015 Lent. The first is to dedicate each day to one person. Their name goes on the top of my journal page and I write a small prayer for them. If it seems appropriate, I send it to them. I tell them that on this nth day of Lent I am lifting them up in prayer for the entire day. I tell them how they have blessed my life and how much I treasure their friendship and I end with wishes for a day filled with love, peace and joy and many times, improved health. I sit, first thing in the morning to see who comes to mind and I make that my person for the day. Today, someone “appeared” with whom I’ve had quite a bit of struggle. I didn’t want to offer up my day for that person. I don’t really want to think about that person at all, no less keep her on my thoughts for an entire day. I felt myself retreat from the idea and see for whom else I might pray. Certainly, many other people deserved prayer more than the person I resent.

41Mnaika3aL__SL500_AA300_-2The February 24th reading in Spiritual Insights for Daily Living begins with a quote from the Mayo Clinic; “Three-fourths of our patients are passing on the sickness of their minds and their souls to their bodies.” It goes on to say, Be careful of the beliefs you hold and the thoughts you repeatedly think. In Proverbs (6:27) the writer asks, “Can a man take fire unto his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” More specially, we can ask: can a man (or anyone) take fears, doubts, hated, resentments, worries into his mind, and his body be unaffected?

The Buddhist saying is, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” The teacher appeared in my reading and Jesus told us, “Forgive.” How many times? “Seventy times seven.” Mathew (18:21) At a recent Pink Ribbon Yoga Committee planning meeting, Nancy Hannah, one of our dedicated gifted yoga teachers had us take the pain and suffering of others, surround it with love and then breathe it transformed back out into the universe. I’ve been struggling with the suffering of our world. This year’s news of twenty-one Coptic Christians being beheaded, people being put in cages and burned to death and the stories of the girls and women being kidnaped and abused has left me feeling weary and sad and powerless. What can I do to help the world?

ScreenShot2015-02-24at1.25.59PMIn the USA today on February 23rd of this year they had a marvelous story of a women, Nareen Shammo, who gave up her job as a reporter and has tirelessly worked towards the freedom, the salvation of any woman being held hostage. She’s succeeding one woman at a time. I don’t feel I have that kind of power but perhaps here on this page as I share my concerns, I can encourage and enlist those 30,000 plus people who have opened this site to join me in praying for them, praying for an end to war and hatred and religious intolerance. Use a rote prayer, make up a prayer, breathe prayerful energy into this world but do something!

The second intention I’ve adopted for Lent is, “I let go of resentment.” It means I have to dig deep within and forgive those I have struggled with. It means I must pray for not only those I comfortably hold in my heart but for those I don’t want to embrace. It means I have to pray for my enemies and even the terrorists. Perhaps, through the power of prayer, a heart will soften; maybe many hearts and the torture and abuse of the innocents of our world will decease. It all begins with me. It all begins with you. We must be the, “change I wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi.

 

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Expanding Your Gaze

Affirmation: I choose peace and love.

 

Jean2-2Have you heard of Yogaville? It is a yoga ashram located on 750 acres in Virginia. It was founded by Swami Satchidananda. The shrine, called the LOTUS was opened in 1986. It’s an acronym that stands for Light Of Truth Universal Shrine. I was looking for something to do with my granddaughter, Isabelle (age 17), for my birthday because my husband, Sandy, had told me he would be traveling at that time. Isabelle and I had been practicing yoga together for a while before this and I thought it would be a great adventure for us to share. It turned out to be only a three-hour drive from our home. I signed us up for a course called “Healthy Relationships in Yoga & The Path of Heart.”

God bless my granddaughter. What a light she is and what a good sport! The diet was strictly vegan and we were quite challenged to find something on which to focus other than kale and tofu. Also, she was the youngest by about ten years. Her youthful spirit and presence alone brought joy and smiles to everyone we encountered. We laughed, we ate weird food, we met new interesting people and most importantly we created some wonderful memories.

Jean3One of the first things we were told when we arrived was not to miss seeing the shrine. We were in the middle of nowhere and I envisioned a small concrete or wooden structure with maybe a Hindu deity in the middle. The next morning we headed out to walk about a mile through the woods to take photos and see what there was to see. We reached a road and followed it up a hill and then from out of the valley below rose a giant pink and blue lotus shaped building. It was, I guessed, as large as the White House in DC but it wasn’t white. We were stunned. It’s one of a huge complex consisting of three buildings that started at the top of the mountain and ended down in the valley. What would we find inside?

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On Tuesday, February 2nd, 2015 Kate Cook was the yoga teacher at Fire Fly Hot Yoga here in Cary, NC. She leads an hour and a half Intensive Slow Flow class. She’s one of the best Yoginis with whom I have ever studied. She is so precise in her language and she always brings a lesson with her to deepen our practice. This last week she instructed us to gaze on the ball of energy we created when we cupped our hands and placed them in front of us. As we breathed in our hands moved together, as we breathed out, they expanded. Then as we were doing our balance poses, she encouraged us to “change our gaze.”

Normally, when one is balancing the instruction is to focus on one point. In Yoga it’s called a “drishti.” Kate reminded us that our mat practice is a metaphor for our life practice. What we learn on our mats, we have the opportunity to take with us out into the world. As far as I’m concerned developing balance is one of the most important qualities we can cultivate for ourselves. I do like to remind myself, however, that as one yoga teacher said, “There is no balance, there is only balancing.” We are either coming into balance or falling out. I know this is true for me. As I stood there on one leg with my fingers wrapped around my big toe and my lifted leg straight out to one side, my drishti was on some unmovable object in front of me. Trying to stay upright and trying to remember to breathe, Kate then suggested we “change our gaze” and look in one direction and then the other. I fell over and I tried again and I fell over and again. I lost my balance. Without a focus I couldn’t stay steady with a focus I couldn’t see the rest of the space. Which is better? I decided neither. Sometimes one is needed and other times, a grater perspective is essential.

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It’s good to be focused. It helps me accomplish the tasks I set before myself but when it’s limits my perspective on life, it shrinks my world into a smaller box and I need to get smaller to fit into it. I don’t want to be small. At five feet tall, I’m small enough. I want to take a big giant breath and expand my world to include all sorts of people, places and ideas. Then I have to decide what to allow to stay with me and of what I want to let go. What is “of God” and what is not. What will enhance my life and what will diminish it? It’s a mediation, don’t you think? We are faced with this choice day in and day out. Sometimes it’s about food. Sometimes it’s about activities. It can be about people and most certainly it’s about our ideas, our beliefs, our concepts.

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The shrine in Yogaville is dedicated to all religions in the world, those that are well known and those that are yet to come. There are twelve altars in the lower level with reminders of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, the Moslem faith and eight others. It was respectful and well presented. It was a home for all, even the atheist. My initial reaction was small minded but I prefer to be an inclusive person and Kate’s recently taken yoga class helped me respond in a more open, accepting, non-judgmental mode.

93df774313ec5583c878fb90c91ea8f8-2I’m reading Pope Francis’ encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel.” He too talks about accepting all faiths, not judging, even accepting the non-believers. Peace. I believe this is Peace. I know we are instructed to “spread the good news.” We are actually commanded to do so. The best way I know to do that is to try to always be a kind and compassionate person but when someone tells you they are right and you are “so very wrong,” what is your reaction? It’s not normally a peaceful one, is it? The course Isabelle and I took was led by two of the founders of Yogaville, Jeevakan & Priya Abbate. They were kind, gentle, compassionate people. I could see why so many are attracted to this place. It radiated peace and acceptance. One of the lessons was around the concept that, “We can be right or we can have peace.” I’ve also heard it phrased, “We can be right or we can love.” This is the difference between having a focus and seeing the broader picture.

I’m a Christian. I’m a Catholic. Here I sit with a focus on Christ but for me, God is everywhere. God is everything. I am not here to limit God’s unfathomable power. Yogaville was a good place for me to share an adventure with Isabelle. It was a great birthday weekend. I was outside of my comfort zone. I had to broaden my horizons and see God in all things, even within a giant pink and blue concrete flower rising out of the Virginia valley.

Transforming Suffering

Affirmation: I choose to find the blessings that arise from my suffering.

 

2015-Predictions-World-War-3-Fears-Tick-The-Doomsday-Clock-Close-To-The-End-Of-The-World-665x385-2The newspaper article explained that the Doomsday Clock has been moved forward to two minutes before midnight. It is closer now to the bewitching hour than it has ever been since the end of World War II and the creation of the atomic bomb. The Doomsday Clock is an internationally recognized design that conveys how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making. First and foremost among these are nuclear weapons, but the dangers include climate-changing technologies, emerging biotechnologies, and cyber technology that could inflict irrevocable harm, whether by intention, miscalculation, or by accident, to our way of life and to the planet. (http://thebulletin.org/overview#sthash.KlhM9quB.dpuf.)

I wasn’t surprised. The world as we know it will end. I’ve seen all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator movies and the ones about the meteors and the aliens. How about a worldwide virus or the bird flu? Hollywood and fiction writers have been predicting our demise since its inception. How about the Walking Dead or the movies about the Rapture? Yes, the destruction of our lives as we know them can happen in many different ways and any day now. If the world doesn’t blow up, it’s also true that our own personal world may implode or explode.

BePrepared-2Recently the magazine Cincinnati had an article about being prepared for the challenges of life, especially as we age or as our loved ones age. It was about being aware and taking steps to bolster our resources. As you probably know if you read this blog I am the ultimate Girl Scout. “Be prepared” is their motto. I am the queen of preparation and while it’s true I see the changes taking place in my life and the lives of my family and friends, I don’t want to walk around always waiting for the “other shoe to drop.” It is so very easy to await the next mishap or disaster. It’s so easy to allow my mind and imagination to go to the difficulties that might arise, to enter into “the cave of phantoms.” So, I’m working on finding a balance between being overly prepared and letting go of the probability of pain and suffering.

The word “transform” keeps showing up as I search for an answer to this question. The first time it appeared was in Richard Rohr’s, The Art of Letting Go. He talked about developing the ability to transform our suffering because everyone does suffer and the longer one lives the more suffering one will experience. Oh my! Therefore, you need to find a way to transform it or it will transform you into a sad, mean, worn out human. The second time the word appeared was in Father Ryan’s sermon at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church. He used it to describe what happens to someone who finds themselves connected to the Divine, either through prayer or when they receive the Sacraments.

TheArtofLettingGoThe secular approach to pain and suffering is to simply be the obverse of whatever is, not to judge it, not to get caught up in the dualistic mind of good or bad, right or wrong, black or white. It’s one of life’s simple concepts that is without a doubt one of life’s most difficult to practice, impossible to master. The Christian faith, however, takes the simply observing concept to a whole other level. That which we judge as pain and suffering, if laid at the foot of the Cross or placed in the arms of The Christ is transformed into blessings beyond our wildest imaginings. The naked, tortured body of God, nailed to wooden beams over two thousand years ago was the ultimate gift. His message was not clear as he was going thorough His persecution. Once He had given up His spirit, however, this poor, itinerant, misunderstood preacher turned our civilization inside out and upside down.

Station-12-Jesus-Dies-Upon-the-Cross-2Many can’t and don’t fully appreciate how he changed the value of human life and dignity. If we lived in some of the third world, repressed regimes today we might better appreciate the impact of Christ’s teachings. He came to teach us that no matter what happens to us it is all redeemable and we get to choose how we perceive our lives. We can see ourselves as victims or as victors. His message was that we are all children of the Divine and we are loved. Our afflictions are not punishments.

I once heard someone say, “Suffering is one of our common denominators.” We all suffer. Some suffer more than others, of that I have no doubt. It doesn’t take too much awareness to know of the horrors that have taken place or are taking place in our world today. Once we head out into the world figuratively or in reality and listen to the ailments with which so many of our fellow humans are dealing, we are faced with story after story of sadness and challenge. If one has not developed the ability to simply be an observer of one’s suffering, how is it to be transformed?

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I don’t know. I want to place an answer here for everyone who is suffering and I know there are the wise, learned people out there who might be able to do that but I’ve decided I am not one of them. In bringing this topic to several of my friends and guides the only “answer” that has presented itself is for me to look at how I personally can and do transform my pain and suffering. What has worked for me in the past? How will that work for me in the future?

My personality lends itself to looking at the bright side of most situations. It can be quite obnoxious for others but it sure has helped me get through some really tough experiences. I’ve studied what is recommended to help one deal with life altering challenges and have taken note of those skills, which I believe will strengthen me when I am again faced with those issues. Simply writing that last sentence out gives me a sense of strength and hope. Hope. I carry hope in my heart. I believe, truly believe that every event I label “daunting or miserable” I will eventually see as a blessing. I believe each challenge no matter how sad it makes me is an opportunity for something amazing. I know on my own, I may not be able to transform all the difficult happenings in my life into something wonderful. There will be many times I need the support of my family and friends. Let them come! I accept. And I know I will also need my faith.

What has worked for me has been to trust God, not that nothing difficult or unpleasant will happen to me but that I will be able to transform what happens to me into something that will give glory to God, or at least peace to myself. Even if I’m faced with the end of the world, I am hopeful that with my trust in Christ, His Blessed Mother and all my Angels and guides that whatever comes my way, I will be that person who sees the good, who rises to the high ground and if I can’t, I am trusting that someone will come along who will help me overcome my grief or my despair.

How have you dealt with your pain and suffering? Have you developed a philosophy that will support you in the future? What can you do today to “be prepared” for the adversities that life will surely present to you? Be a light for others. Share your coping mechanisms. Perhaps one of your pearls of wisdom will be exactly what someone needs to help them turn their suffering into a blessing.

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Let Go

Affirmation: I let go of struggle.

 

IMG_2839-2The immaculate Conception parish in Durham, North Carolina held it’s annual woman’s retreat this last weekend. It was at the Baptist retreat center on Oak Island, North Carolina. Approximately fifty women attended. They were of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. There was one man, Father Jude Siciliano but as one of the women tried to explain to me, he was such a remarkable man that the women attending would be very comfortable with his presence. She was right, very right.

As you probably know if you regularly read this blog, I am very familiar with creating and presenting retreats. This year will be our eleventh Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat. At the time of this blog, our first planning session is about to take place. It takes a solid six months to get an event like ours together.

IMG_2830-2The committee for the Immaculate Conception retreat also works on their event for many months beforehand. It was very obvious. They didn’t miss a thing. It was everything I’d want a spiritual retreat to be. The design was very gentle with lots of free time. The rooms were comfortable and well appointed. The setting was originally Fort Caswell with remnants of the cement bunkers and walls in the midst of lovely houses and stunningly beautiful ocean vistas. We were able to watch the sunrise and the sunset. The theme was, Reclaiming the Gifts of Sabbath Living and we were encouraged to come with something written out that we wanted to eliminate from our lives. We were then encouraged to “take an intention” to help us accomplish our desire. I was right at home. I must admit I also felt a little smug; I mean I’d already looked at the year and I had set an intention. I was ready! I really was but just like all adventures there was so much to experience than I could even imagine.

IMG_2834-2We were a carpool of four. We were the only four from our part of the Triangle. It was a delightful ride to the beach. One of the other women took on all the driving and another coordinated our pickups. I was honored to be with these three spiritual sages. They had all worked hard at getting in touch with God, each in their own way. I couldn’t wait to see what I would learn from each of them. The simple fact that I was not in charge of any aspect of this trip, other than packing my own suitcase, was a gift in itself. What a way to start a new year, in the company of three very loving, wise women and then to share in the journey of several dozen other women all with the same desire to know God better, to find a way to be better connected to the Divine.

IMG_2836-2Father Jude led us in several ceremonies but for me the most meaningful were the two Centering Prayer sessions, twenty minutes of eyes closed and emptying the mind. How easy that sounds but how difficult to put into practice. I’ve meditated now on and off, mostly off, for over thirty years. I’m great at praying and of course, I always journal but being called upon to just sit silently, without going to sleep, for twenty minutes, twice a day, is simply something I haven’t made happen in my life, probably because I really don’t want to. I am a busy person. There is so much to do and to think about and of which to be in charge! I do fully realize, however, the multiple benefits of meditation, of resting the brain and in this case in finally being silent so that I can listen to God, not always be dominating the conversation. That’s what we were given, two twenty minute sessions to simply listen. Did God speak to me? Yes, She did!

During both sessions I received images that I cannot explain. I went into the first session with a question to which I could not find an answer and somewhere in that twenty minutes, an answer came and one I feel I never never would have arrived at using any other modality. I was actually stunned and felt a great sense of peace. During the second session I was prepared to simply sit quietly and repeat my word or “mantra” but once again I was visited with an image. It was a warm, comforting person and I was so grateful for her care. I might have stayed longer but the bell rang and she left. She left and yet I still feel her with me. I’m not sure if or when she will ever leave again.

Unknown-2I’m curious now, will each time in Centering Prayer bring a new insight, a warm feeling, a sense of peace and calm or was it the power of almost fifty other people sitting with me that presented me with these gifts? A few years back I took a ten week course in Mindful Meditation at Duke Integrative Medicine. I sat quietly in lotus position, crossed legs, on the floor twice a day for twenty minutes for ten weeks and then the course ended and so did my practice. I know all the benefits meditation presents. I’ve read about lowering blood pressure, increasing self discipline, improving concentration and about how the brain actually changes its state with ongoing meditation. This January there was a Sixty Minute episode that showed a computer scan of the beneficial effects on the brain during meditation. I haven’t read a self-help book yet that doesn’t at some point tell the reader to meditate. Presently, I am listening to Richard Rohr’s, The Art of Letting Go. I just began session four this week. Guess what the topic was? Contemplation or meditation and why it’s so beneficial not only to our bodies but to our spirits.

Am I ready? Can I do it? Even as I sit here and write I can feel the resistance. “Be careful what you pray for,” I’ve been told. So, I’m not going to ask God to help me with this intention. Instead I’m simply going to allow the time to unfold and present itself to me. My intention for the year had already been set before I ever got to the retreat, this is, The Year of Trusting in Christ. The quality I left behind at the retreat to honor Sabbath living was struggle. My affirmation is, I let go of struggle, even the struggle to meditate daily. I’m simply going to see how the days evolve and maybe this time, with God in the picture, my desire to sit quietly and discover His/Her message will come as a welcome gift.

Stay tuned. I’ll report back in a few months. Maybe you want to join me in this journey? I’d love to know what you might discover.

Trusting in Christ

Affirmation:  I dedicate this year of 2015 to
trusting in Christ.
It’s January 1st, 2015 and that can be a time for
reflection and retrospection.  I know
many people make some sort of New Year’s
resolution.  It can be a very common
topic during the first few days of January; “Have
you set any New Year’s resolutions?”  We all
know how they usually go.  Most people
are lucky if they hold onto those resolutions for more than a day.  You know the usuals: lose weight, stop
smoking, begin exercising, eat healthy, spend more time in prayer and or
mediation, etc. and then life takes over. 
The holidays are finished and most of us head back to work or to our
normal routine and that routine doesn’t
include those good intentions.  There is
however, ways to make permanent changes in our life.  Some changes we choose, those can be a gift
we give ourselves.  Other changes are
thrust upon us, and depending upon how we approach those, they can also be a
gift we give ourselves.  
I’m
very excited about this New Year.  I must
admit coming out of Christmas and looking towards the New Year, I didn’t feel excited. 
I felt anxious but I’ve been consistently
journaling and reading as much inspirational and motivational writings as are available to me and I’ve decided that this is my
year to simply go with the flow, to let go of the struggle and the challenges
that I’ve always created for myself.  My study group, The Seekers, is presently
reading Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North
Star.
  I really had a difficult time
relating to the beginning of the book but midway through it took on new
meaning.  The section we are presently
studying is about The Change Cycle. 
Change, one of those elements that every human being experiences and
experiences all the time.  Sometimes we
are aware of the changes, they are dramatic and potent but most change is
subtle and insidious.  We go through life
not paying much attention to it.  It hasn’t really commanded our attention but it’s always there and how we deal with small changes is a
precursor to how we deal with large changes. 

My Enneagram type, Type 7, is
prone to anticipation.  It’s part two of Martha Beck’s Change Cycle. 
That may sound exciting but the truth is it can be exhausting and it
takes me “out of the moment,” out of
the experience of the present.  I miss
too much by not paying attention to the Now. 
Between Martha and the information about my personality type in the
Enneagram, I decided not to live like that this year.  This year my intention is to allow life to
unfold.  I want to live in the movement
of the spirit.  I can’t tell you what that will look like and I will tell
you I have prayed that I am not called to be a martyr but I’m still going to go with it. 

I owe this year’s intention to one of my dear friends and study group
traveler.  She gifted me with the book, One
Word That Will Change Your Life
by Jon Gordon and she has shared with me
over the year the impact of focusing on one word, like taking a mantra.  I know my intention is more than one word but
the word I’ve chosen to focus on is Trust.  It’s been
here now for a few years, floating in and out of my consciousness and my
affirmations.  A while back I developed
the RTR principle: I fully Rest in God’s care,
I Trust in God’s love and I Release myself from any struggle.  It was helpful but it was a little like a
resolution; I didn’t hold onto it for very
long.  I have discovered that when I take
an intention for the year, miraculous things, subtle and not so subtle take
place and without a lot of effort my life takes on new meaning and color. 
This is the third year of taking
an intention, declaring the year a “year
of.”  This
last year you might recall was “The year of connecting to the
Divine.”  It’s been a wild roller coaster
ride with the publishing of my book in February, the death of my mother,
Margaret Grolimund in March and the marriage of my daughter, Ellen, to Adam O’Sullivan in May but through it all there’s been a peace and a sense of being in the presence of
a greater power.  Each morning my journal
had the year’s intention written at the top of the page and even
though I mostly left the thought as I went throughout my day, I still carried
it with me in my inner being.  As with
all affirmations I believe they first enter your consciousness, then our
subconsciousness and then they permeate our cellular being and we are
different, different in ways we might never even imagined but different in ways
that enhance our lives. 

I’m
ready!  I’m
excited about this year’s intention.  I am expecting amazing, miraculous
things.  I know life will still hold all
the challenges life normally holds and maybe a few I can’t even imagine and for which I would never ask but I’ll be good.  I’ll let this new intention seep deep within me and
whatever the world throws at me, I’ll be
breathing deeply and knowing that since I’ve made
a conscious choice, every day to trust in Christ, I’ll look back on this year, just as I did on 2014 and
see the miracles and the blessings in all the hills and the valleys that is the
ride of my life. 

Christmas Miracles

Affirmation: I possess the Christmas spirit all year long.  
Miracle on 34th Street was released in May of 1947.  It originally had the word Christmas in the title but because of the release date it was removed.  How do I know this?  My husband, Sandy and I went to visit his mom, Yolanda, this last weekend.  She lives in Savannah, GA and they were having a fund raiser at the local original Savannah theatre showing Miracle on 34th Street.  We had all seen it many times and we knew it was delightful but we went simply to share the afternoon together and to support the Humans Society.  Once again, I was wrong!  Watching this classic, corny movie in the midst of a crowded theatre was a remarkably different experience than watching it at home alone or in a small group.  We laughed, sighed, applauded and shared all the clever and tender moments that has kept this film so meaningful.  
It’s definitely a secular film.  There is no mention of a God or Christ, other than in the frequently used word “Christmas” but what I consider to be the spirit of Christmas permeates every scene.  Kris Kringle, The real Santa Claus only cares about making others feel valued, loved and important.  It’s not about the physical gifts he’s been told to promote, it’s what they represent to the child or adult that is asking for them.  He brings people together for their betterment and the betterment of all.  He spreads his charm and good will like a net over everyone with whom he comes into contact.  He converts the unbelieving, skeptical Maureen O’Hara and her disenchanted child, Natalie Wood into people with imagination and faith.  He even converts the USPS.  
I saw a cartoon this second week of December, 2014 in the USA Today where two children were standing in front of Santa and asking for world peace and good will towards men.  He asked them if they’d consider an Xbox instead.  The news this week was so sad and tragic that I couldn’t listen.  It only took a glance at the headlines to see the horror that we are perpetuating on our fellow human being.  Has the devil won?  Has “Satan” truly become the ruler of this world?  It would be so easy to believe we are at the end of times but it is Christmas.  It’s a time to promote hope, peace and love for everyone whether one is or is not labeled “Christian.”  We know what He came to do.  He came to show the world that we were put here to love and to serve and that I believe, is the one true truth.  He was here to raise our level of awareness to a higher purpose.  He wasn’t concerned with the rules and regulations.  He was only concerned with the person and their well-being.  He was here to bring comfort to those who most needed it and to make uncomfortable those who are able to be of comfort.
I know there are many believers who believe theirs is the only way.  There’s the joke about the Catholic, Baptists, Mormon, you choose, who arrive in heaven and ask St. Peter why he whispers every time he gets close to this huge wall that is there.  Why is there a wall at all?  He tells them that the Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, you choose, are on the other side of the wall and “they believe they are the only ones up here.”  Oh, to be so sure.  To know that because you are right, you are saved and the rest of the world is damned and how truly sad.  I read a wonderful quote recently, “You can be right or you can love.”   
One of my greatest strengths is my gift of perseverance.  I believe it’s the reason I have accomplished most things in my life.  I truly believe if I simply “hang in there” I will learn or finish whatever it is I’m working upon.  The other side of perseverance is stubbornness and I am as guilty of that as I am proud of my determination.  Just ask my hubby.  This summer, for example, I wanted to walk a new path around Bass Lake in the NC mountains.  We headed out and after an hour we hadn’t reached the lake yet.  Sandy reasonably wanted to turn around.  Turn around!  I couldn’t even imagine it.  We hadn’t even seen the lake yet.  Finally, a few minutes later we arrived.  I knew we were close.  I was right!  Now he reasonably wanted to go back the way we had come.  Go back the same way!  No no no!  We needed to follow the path and head up the other way.  I had been told it was the same distance.  I knew I was right!  He agreed and we got lost and four hours later, we finally found our way to our starting point.  

Sandy not only didn’t leave me, he barely scolded me.  He lives a life of love, not right.  It wasn’t the first time he’s had to put up with my set thinking and I am here to confess he is not the only person in my life with whom I’ve exhibited this trait.  It’s one of those personality shadows that interferes with the quality of my relationships and which I have only recently begun to understand.  Perhaps, this is why I’ve been granted these sixty eight years of life so I can continue to recognize how flawed I truly am.  What was Pope Francis’ first message?  “I am a sinner, pray for me.”  Oh, yes, we are all flawed but as long as we don’t believe we are above or beyond anyone else, we can embrace our humanness and know that God created us just as we are.  She/He created the the miracles of this universe and we are, each one of us, one of those miracles.

Christmas is not an easy holiday for many many people but perhaps it’s because the true meaning has been lost.  Christ is coming, God.  He comes again and again every year and I believe he remains with all those who choose to love, care and be of service to the world.  The Christ, the Savior is here in the hearts of all who know the importance of spreading the net of compassion and love over everyone whose lives they touch.  That miracle on 34th street is the miracle that can be ours should we choose to open our minds and our hearts to The Christ.

May you have a Blessed Holiday Season and a life filled with the awareness of God’s love.