Jean Anne Costa
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When the student is ready the teacher will appear.

Affirmation: When I am open to knowledge and guidance, it comes
to me.
 
In the TV mystery series Murder She Wrote starring Angela
Landsbury, Jessica Fletcher was renowned for her sleuthing abilities.  The series ran for twelve seasons and in each
episode, Jessica was somehow involved in solving a very mysterious murder.  She did this because of her remarkable
ability to notice and remember all the little details that led up to the
crime.  I was in awe of her ability.  Certainly, she’s not the only sleuth to have
amazing powers of observation.  In my
opinion the most famous of all characters with this ability is Sherlock.  Yes, Sherlock Holmes.  I’ve always loved the works written about him
and Doctor Watson.  I mustn’t be the only
one considering there never seems to be a time when there isn’t some sort of
series or new movie about the famous British detective. 
How are your powers of observation?  I decided after watching Murder She Wrote
that I would not become a sleuth.  I
don’t pay close attention to the daily minutiae that occurs in my life.  I have a tendency to see the bigger picture.
Sometimes I think it’s simply because I’m going too fast.  Have you noticed how different a street or a
neighborhood appears when you walk through it versus when you ride through
it? 
Recently I was with a friend at a restaurant that we’ve been
going to for over thirty years.  She
turned to me and pointed out a new logo they had designed.  It was hung on one of the walls and
practically covered half the wall. 
“Wow,” she exclaimed, “that is beautiful.  I wonder when they created that?” she questioned.  “At least twenty five years ago,” I
replied. She didn’t believe me but when we checked with the owner, we found out
it had been there for well over twenty years. 
She had just never noticed it before. 
She hadn’t been ready to see it until this visit. 
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear,” is
a saying some attribute to the Buddha even though that’s not true but whoever
said it presents us with an interesting concept.  When we are ready and only when we are ready
will we learn what we need to learn.  How
many times have you heard someone state that they wish they had known about
something before now?  They might have
been given the information many times but they didn’t hear it.  They couldn’t hear it until it was the right
time. 
Recently my study group was presented with the question,
“What do you have the most difficulty remembering?” I have a lot of
difficulty remembering the dates of significant events, like when my children
graduated or when they married.  I have
to have it written down to know the right answer.  I am very envious of people who can recall
that information without hesitation.  I’d
love to be someone who remembered everything I ever learned.  My husband, Sandy, is amazing when it comes
to recalling information.  He can still
remember most of the science he studied in pharmacy school.  He remembers dates and historical facts to
name just some of his recall.  Not
me!  Thank heavens for Google! I don’t,
however, get upset with myself when I fail to recall that which I am trying to
uncover from the recesses of my brain.  I
am aware, however, that I am aging and sometimes that presents physical
challenges to the brain.  I desperately
hope that’s not the reason I’m not recalling the information I’m seeking.  With that caveat in mind, I have learned that
what is really important to me and that which I need to know, I usually do.
I took a private yoga class once because my hip was very sore and
I needed some extra guidance.  I was
concerned at the end of the session that I hadn’t written everything down about
which I was told.  When I voiced my
concern to the teacher, she told me not to be concerned, I would remember that
which I needed to remember and it was true. 
The rest of the stuff just drifted away. 
When I need that information, I am sure it will come to me.  It usually does. 
This is about more than just our visual intake.  I have discovered that answers to many of my
life’s challenges arrive just when I need them most.  I don’t think I’d receive them if I weren’t
actively looking.  I can’t get the answer
if I’m not willing to open the book, to check on the computer or to believe
that the solution or even better, the miracle is out there somewhere and I need
to wait with open arms the “teacher” for that situation. 
Back to being a world class sleuth.  I had an appointment with someone I visit
once a week.  One week recently I noticed
some delightful feathers she had strung along the mantle.  They were all different shades of blue and
fluttered in the light breeze of the room. 
“When did you put those up? I asked.  You probably guessed the answer, “Several
weeks ago.”  Once again I was
grateful I didn’t need to make my living by being intensely aware of my
surroundings.  I am gentle with myself.  I remind myself that it’s OK not to be able
to remember everything.  If I remain open
that which I need will come to me, either through a deliberate effort or
through Divine intervention.  I remind
myself to relax, to breathe and to embrace the concept that all is exactly as
it’s supposed to be at this very moment and that might include not having the
answer to all of my questions.

Reflections

Affirmation: I choose to see myself as beautiful.
What is your reaction when you look in the mirror?  Do you look? 
I know some people who avoid mirrors at all costs and I know others who
can’t seem to turn away when they see their image.  What if I told you that you can make a
conscious decision about how you perceive your image? 
As I write this it’s Spring. 
North Carolina looks like the Garden of Eden or a fairyland right
now.  Everything is in bloom.  The Dogwoods are breathtaking.  The flowering pear, cherry and apple trees
are awesome.  The Azaleas, pink, white
and rose colored have just gone into full bloom and all the bulbs, daffodils,
crocuses and tulips to name a few are up and showing off.  Along with all this beauty comes the natural
instinct of the birds and the bees.  We
have a flock of Robins living in our wooded area and one of them has gone
insane.  She, we believe, is protecting
her nest.  She’s doing this by slamming
her beak and her body into any of our windows that she perceives harbor an
enemy.  It’s been going on for
weeks.  All day long, thwack, thwack,
thwack
. There isn’t a solution other than to wait it out.  I know, I’ve researched it and tried half a
dozen suggestions.  None of them
work.  Her bird brain defense towards her
reflection makes me wonder how often my perception is so skewed that I too see
what isn’t the truth.
Did you hear about the Dove beauty patch?  It’s an ad on You Tube.  Normally I skip the ads but this one caught
my attention right away.  I was
intrigued.  It showed a psychiatrist
interviewing several young women and applying the Dove beauty patch to their
upper arms and explaining to them how to use it over the next week or so.  The ladies videoed their reactions and the
first few days they reported no significant changes but by the end of the trial
period, they all reported an increased sense of well-being.  They felt more beautiful.  The psychiatrist then showed them the secret
ingredient in the patch.  Can you guess
what it was?  Nothing.  It was empty. 
They felt better because they believed they were going to feel
better.  Several of them began to
cry.  They were actually pleased that
their thoughts and not some random drug had been the key ingredient in their
new sense of beauty. 
One of my dear friends told me that as she aged she was startled
to see her mother every morning looking back at her from her bathroom
mirror.  Then one morning she woke up to
find her grandmother looking back at her. 
She decided right then and there to put an end to that reflection.  She did not go get a face lift, Botox or any
fillers.  She did something a lot cheaper
and probably much more empowering.  She
decided to greet her daily image with the phrase “Hello beautiful.”  She said at first it was hard to say but
after a while she realized it was causing her to smile and she found it easier
and easier, until she actually began to believe it.  When she writes me a note she always begins
it with, “Hello beautiful.”  It
makes me smile too.
“Beauty is only skin deep” “Don’t judge a book by
its cover” and, ” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” are some
of the adages about our outside appearance. 
But, the truth is most of us live in a society that has a standard for
attractiveness and few of us are able to completely disregard how we are viewed.  The Twilight Zone with Rod Sterling had a
show that revolved around a society that forced every young woman to choose a
physical model from a menu of womanly styles when they reached the end of their
teenage years.  One young woman refused.  She didn’t want to look like everyone
else.  She liked herself the way she was
but this was not an option.  She was
forced to undergo the procedure.  Her
parents chose from the menu for her and the powers that be took her away for
the process.  When the last scene is
shown we see this Barbie like woman looking in the mirror and being very
pleased with what she sees.  Yes, it was
extremely disturbing but like so much science fiction, it is becoming a present
day reality. I’m not against getting some “help” if that’s what
someone needs to do to feel better.  As a
cancer survivor I know the importance of looking good in order to feel
good.  My friend Greta Schiffman has
presented the Look Better, Feel Better program to hundreds of women cancer
survivors.  The Duke Cancer Patient
Support Program provides wigs, turbans and prosthetics for cancer
patients.  There are times in our lives
when we need to take a few extra steps to enhance our sense of well-being and
that’s just fine.  
The lesson learned from the Dove beauty patch is fairly obvious;
we can feel better about ourselves if we think differently. If we think we are
beautiful we will feel more beautiful. 
I’m not talking about a narcissistic obsession with ourselves.  I’m talking about a healthy view and
appreciation for who we are and how we look, regardless of another’s
opinion.  We can decide to feel better by
changing the way we think, by changing what we think.  We aren’t limited to our outer appearance
either.  How we choose and shape our
thoughts affects every aspect of our lives. 
It affects our relationships, our work, our health and our spirit.  We get to choose what we want to focus on and
what we want to believe about ourselves and the world and with those choices,
we determine the quality and maybe even the quantity of our lives.  What’s your choice?   Do you want to look in the mirror and see
ugly and sad or like my dear friend, do you want to see happy and beautiful or
perhaps, handsome? Give it a try, “Hello Beautiful!” or “Hi
Handsome!”  Maybe you can avoid ever
becoming a crazy Robin and banging your head into something that won’t ever
make you feel better and only makes you feel worse.

A Place for Mystery

Affirmation: I let Mystery have a place in me.
Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air was interviewing Bart Ehrman, a
professor of religious studies at UNC, Chapel Hill.  He had just written another book.  This one is called How Jesus Became God.  I had a feeling I knew where this interview
was going but I love to learn about anything to do with religion, any religion
and I love talk radio, so I stayed tuned in.
NPR had this introduction on their web site, “When Bart
Ehrman was a young Evangelical Christian, he wanted to know how God became a
man, but now, as an agnostic and historian of early Christianity, he wants to
know how a man became God.
When and why did Jesus’ followers start saying “Jesus as
God” and what did they mean by that? His new book is called How Jesus
Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.
‘In this book I actually do not take a stand on either the
question of whether Jesus was God, or whether he was actually raised from the
dead,” Ehrman tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I leave open both
questions because those are theological questions based on religious beliefs
and I’m writing the book as a historian.'”
I gave up doubt for this year’s Lent this Easter Season.  For me, it’s easy to doubt.  It seems to me that our egos are so involved
in our identity that most of us believe we need to be able to understand
everything.  If we can’t understand it,
it must not be true.  But, over the years
I’ve discovered I actually understand very little.  There is so much that is simply unknown.  I could list all the questions I have about
life and the Universe but I’m sure that you have many of your own.  The simple question about what happens to us
after we die is one very prominent unknown. 
One of life’s greatest mysteries. 
I was surprised by my reaction to Professor Ehrman’s interview.  I know I have only that segment on which to
base my response to his theories but his words left me feeling very sad. 
I did listen carefully. 
Certainly his research was very factual.  There didn’t seem to be much one could
dispute.  He had gathered his facts very
carefully.  His research confirmed his
beliefs.  Like the web site stated, he
had gone from being an Evangelical Christian to an atheist. It appears the New
Testament gospel stories about what immediately took place after Jesus died is
fictitious.  Oh yes, Jesus was tortured,
humiliated and crucified but there was no way he was then taken down from the
cross after his death, placed in a tomb and rose three days later.  According to Roman tradition, that’s just not
how things were done back then.  Back
then?  As far as I know that’s not how
things are done now.  Rising from the
dead sure isn’t the norm even in today’s world. 
Father Alapati of St. Michael’s Catholic Church here in Cary
recently told a joke as part of his homily. 
It appears a gentleman rose one morning to find his obituary in the
paper.  He was shocked and immediately
called his friend and said, “Did you see my obituary in today’s
paper?” His friend responded, “Yes, but where are you calling from
heaven or hell?” 
Facts supporting the Resurrection would be lovely.  The Apostle Thomas seemed to feel the same
way.  “But he said unto them, Except
I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the
print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
(John 20: 25) I’ve always been fascinated by the Apostles.  So afraid, so timid, so uneducated hiding
away in a room somewhere, waiting for those angry crowds to come and pull them
off to the same torture and death their leader just endured.  I can feel the fear.  I can almost taste it.  We’ve seen what angry crowds do.  We’re watching it now in all parts of the
world.  I would be terrified.  What happened to change them so?  What facts can be gathered to explain why they
would leave that room and go out into the crowds and begin to preach the Good
News?  These men (and let’s hope a woman
or two) left their safe space and changed the world forever.  How does one explain that?  It’s a mystery.
My fellow yoga teacher, friend and mentor, Nancy Hannah, shared
with me a saying with which her mother, Bunny Stone, would guide her.  “Let mystery have its place In
you.”  According to Nancy, her mom
was a remarkable woman who made amazing in-roads and created life changing
programs here in North Carolina.  In
Rachel Remen’s The Will to Live and Other Mysteries she writes about the
fact that our western culture is more a culture of mastery than mystery but
life is more about mystery than mastery. Most of us, however, refuse to
recognize the mystery that permeates our lives. 
We need to understand all things because by understanding we believe we
are in control.  It’s a fallacy.  After controlling our thought process, there
is very little else of which we are in control. 
How our egos interfere in the really important values of our
lives: peace, hope, love, gratitude, compassion and yes, faith.  What facts are available to prove these
qualities exist?  Can we ask to place our
hands into them, our fingers?  Here is
where faith must triumph over facts. 
Faith, trust on steroids, is believing in something so completely
irrational because one has let go of their ego. 
The test here is to decide to believe and to let God work within and
through us.  This is when we are called
upon to let mystery have its place in us. 
I find comfort in my faith.  I
find peace.  I like resting in the
mystery and not trying to figure it all out. 
We might not be able to hold the proof in our hands but if we choose, we
can hold it in our hearts.

Just Breathe

Affirmation:  When I
focus on my breath, I feel calmer and when I am very attentive to it, I
recognize I am connecting to the Divine.
 
Jill Sockman led the class. 
It was at the third annual Yoga Fest in Raleigh, NC.  This was Howie Shareff’s inspiration.  He heads an organization called “You
Call This Yoga” and his organization was sponsoring this event. There were
over 500 people attending the day long workshop and I had been “called”
to be one of them.  I hadn’t felt any
inclination to attend either of the first two but the message had come through
to me loud and clear that I was supposed to be at his year’s Yoga Fest.  I didn’t know anyone else who was attending
and I had a trip the next day for which I needed to pack but that interior
voice was screaming at me, “Go, you need to go” and so, I did.
I would be taking four classes over the course of the day and I
didn’t know one teacher from the other. 
They all looked interesting and I know I can always learn something new
from any experience so it didn’t really matter to me which class I took.  I decided to trust that whichever class in
which I found myself it would be exactly the class I was supposed to take.  
The first class was good, very good.  The room was packed and I learned a breathing
technique I had not consistently applied to my practice.  Nice! 
The next class was titled “Finding Your Edge.”  I wasn’t really sure I wanted to participate
in a dynamic flow class, which is what I assumed this class would be but I was
signed up for it and following my own advice, I decided to stay for it.  It was not very good, it was
inspirational.  Jill was a master
teacher.  She was young and wispy and
confident and all that is nice but those are not the qualities not that make a
teacher a master.  She was wise and she
clearly imparted her wisdom in a concise, universal language.  This, I knew was why I had been led to come
to Yoga Fest.  Where was my
recorder? 
Jill began by reminding us to take a full deep breath and to fill
our lungs and chest and a deliberate exhale with a reminder to draw in our
belly buttons to our spine and engage our Mula Bandha (the pelvic floor).  We then went on with some Kapalahbati
breathing, she incorporated several series of Ohms and she then ended with
another round of Kapalahbati.  I felt an
internal shift take place.  I
“returned” to Kripalu, the home of my training and a place where I
had absorbed the positive, calming energy of the yoga practice. 
The breath is the foundation of life.  We begin life with our first inhale and we
end life with our last exhale and yet, how many times during our day do we even
notice our breathing?  A dear friend gave
me a plaque one day that said, “Things I need to do today,
Breathe.”  One of the most important
yogic tools is the breath.  There are
dozens of different types of breathing, some are slow and deep, others are more
like panting and some require one to hold one nostril closed and alternate
between the two.  Yoga is not just a
series of poses or asanas.  The ancient
writings of Patanjali, the father of yoga, describes eight limbs or disciplines
involved in the practice of yoga.  The
breathing or Pranayama is one of them. 
They all interweave with each other. 
When you unite your breath with your movements, you unite your mind with
your body and with your spirit.  It’s a
very powerful tool.  I like to start my
yoga classes by inviting the practitioners to watch their breath.  “Watch the rise and the fall, the in and
the out, the up and the down. Do not judge. There’s no right or wrong, no good
or bad.  Just notice.”  Calm penetrates the atmosphere of the
room.  It’s palpable.  I decided I was at Jill’s class to be
reminded of how powerful life can be when I choose to focus on my breath. 
In the ten week course on Mindful Meditation at Duke’s
Integrative Medicine, the main teaching is how to calm the mind and therefore
the body by simply sitting quietly and watching the breath.  The basic teaching is to “watch” the
breath and when thoughts come along, which they always do, notice them, release
them and go back to watching your breath. 
Most meditation practices focus on the breath.  Many practices also invite you to create a
mantra, a word that you can repeat over and over.  I’d like to claim to be a devoted meditating
but I am not.  I pray, I journal but I
have only meditated sporadically, not religiously, even though I truly believe
it’s one of the best paths to optimal mental and physical health.  When I have meditated and searched for a
mantra, I found myself focusing on the word, “Jesus.”  My inhale led me to “Jees” and my
exhale to “us.”  Then I
realized that even if I’m not in a meditative state, I’m always breathing and I
could use my mantra any time I stopped and took a deep breath.  “Jesus”  It was a short prayer, a short prayer that
brought me home to my God.  Now, all I
needed to do was to put the exercise into practice, to make a conscious choice
to take that deep breath whenever I possibly could, whenever I would think to
do so.
The focus of my daily reading during the month of February in Spiritual
Insights
is on meditation.  Actually,
any of the self-help books I’ve ever picked up have at least one section
devoted to meditation.  I am presently
reading Richard Rohr’s, The Naked Now
He too speaks about the breath. 
He explains that the Hebrew term for God, Yahweh, is believed to be
derived from four sounds, Yod Hay Vov Hay. 
The sound of breathing.  It was
such a sacred sound, the name of God, that the Hebrews rarely spoke it.  They didn’t need to speak it, they honored
God, brought God to them, into them with every breath.  The breath is the life giving force which
sustains us and which, if we choose, can keep us connected to the Divine. 
I think I’ve figured out that I was “called” to Yoga
Fest for several reasons, some of which I may not even know just yet but one of
the reasons I believe was to help me refocus on the importance of paying
attention to my breathing.  I’ve had a
really rough start in 2014 and I’d lost touch with my breathing practice.  It was a wonderful gift to receive from Jill
and the other yoga instructors.  It’s
interesting to me how often my yoga practice helps me to strengthen my faith
and helps me to reconnect with my God. 
It’s amazing that something so simple, breathing, can be so complex and
so very powerful.  Join me, “Take a
deep breath, and exhale fully. Again. One more time.” When I focus
on my breath, I feel calmer and when I am very attentive to it, I recognize I
am connecting to the Divine.

A Secret Ingredient

Affirmation: Even when I am doing little things of service, I
include a large amount of love.
What’s your favorite food? 
Everyone has a favorite.  It’s a
great question to start a conversation or to open a group discussion because it
seems as if most people have an immediate answer.  My favorite food has always been my mother’s
chocolate chip cookies.  Her cookies were
probably the reason I could never lose those extra five pounds I’ve always
wanted to lose.  She’s told me it’s
simply the recipe on the back of the Toll House Chocolate Chip package but I
don’t believe her.  I think there’s a
secret ingredient, perhaps one of which she’s not even aware.  It’s a mystery!  I’m not the only one who loved her chocolate
chip cookies.  They were a favorite for
the whole family, especially my son Joey. 
For years she baked him a special batch. 
“Those are only for Joey.” 
I think he was one of her favorite grandsons.  Recently, I’ve had other people tell me she
baked special batches of cookies for them too. 
“She told me, these were only for me.”
I have many friends who like to bake.  It’s a gift to be a baker.  It runs in our family.  My mother passed on her love and skill to
both my youngest daughter, Ellen, my sister’s daughter, Samantha and to my
brother’s daughter, Stacy.  The food
doesn’t just taste good but it looks yummy. I was stunned when during one of my
visits to Ellen; she asked me if I’d like to see her journal.  I couldn’t even imagine where this offer was
leading.  Was she going to confess some
deep dark secret or worse yet have one of those mother-daughter “come to
Jesus” conversations?  Then she
pulled out her baking journal.  It was
beautiful. She had all the recipes she’d been trying and the adjustments
recorded to make them more to her liking and photos of the cookies and cakes.  I was honored to have her share her passion
with me. 
It seems to me the thing about baking is that most bakers want to
share their treats with their friends, family and whomever they think would
enjoy them.  I watched my mom and I’ve
watched other bakers go about giving away their cookies to whomever they wanted
to grace. It didn’t need to be a special occasion.  It might just be because someone needed a
pick-me-up or perhaps it was a way to say “thank you.”  My mom would give her yummy cookies to the
hair dresser, the auto mechanic, the nurse and doctors she frequented, to an
ailing friend or perhaps to her friend’s caregiver.  They were always warmly and graciously
received.  Many times our Christmas
presents to her were fancy “cookie” boxes with her initials on them
or several cookie tins with varying designs. 
She even began saving some of the small used plastic containers from the
grocery so she could package up just two or three cookies and present
them.  I envy people who like to
bake.  I too would like to be seen as a
warm, generous person who says “thank you” with a tangible yummy
treat but, I don’t like to bake, especially cookies.  So, I wondered what I could share in a
similar manner.
I’ve decided there is no substitute.  There is nothing as heartwarming as a
homemade treat.  Let’s face it even if you’re
not eating sugar or can’t eat sugar, the gift still warms your heart.  You know someone really cares and they’ve
taken the time and the energy necessary to let you know.  Perhaps sharing food in any way brings those
same warm feelings.  I’ve been to many
events where people showed up with food as a form of love and support.  My experience of living in the Midwest and
now here in the South affirms that belief. 
If someone has a tragedy or is going through a difficult time, people
bring meals.  During my many months of
cancer treatment we were supported with some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten
and on the flip side, I’ve dropped off meals whenever the opportunity presented
itself.  I usually make dinner and include
some sort of chocolate candy.  I don’t
bake.  I do, however, make every effort
to be affable and caring on a daily basis. 
As I go through my day, I readily share a smile.  I have found it uplifts not only my spirits
but usually the recipient too.  I’m an
avid hugger.  I learned that skill from
my husband, Sandy and my mother-in-law, Yolanda.  I know not everyone wants to be hugged.  If I’m not sure I open my arms and
hesitate.  It’s usually fairly obvious if
it’s not welcomed.  That doesn’t happen
very often.  I love to send snail-mail birthday
cards with a blessing over them and a few loving words inside.  I know these small gestures do not hold a
candle to a good chocolate chip cookie but it’s my way of letting people know
they are loved; they are an important part of my life.  I value them and their relationship. 
My mom, Margaret Grolimund, passed away this week.  We included in her obituary the fact that she
was famous for her chocolate chip cookies. 
When I spoke to the presided of her Requiem Mass, Father Doug Reed, I
shared her notoriety and he wanted to know her recipe.  I told him what she said that it was simply
the recipe on the back of the Toll House Chocolate Chip package.  I, however, knew she was not sharing the
secret ingredient.  Now, I know why.  I don’t think she was aware of it.  It was magical!  Her secret ingredient was her love.  She made those cookies, cakes and pies with a
heart filled with love.  We all show love
in different ways.  This was my Mom’s way
and she did it marvelously. Love is the secret ingredient in every special gift
we share with another.  It’s that one
thing that tells someone, “These are only for you.” I love you.

Embracing Lent

Affirmation: The challenges of Lent enhance my life. 
Wednesday of this last week, March 5th, 2014 was Ash
Wednesday.  For Catholics it marks the
beginning of one of the holiest seasons of the church year.  Practicing Catholics go to Mass or at least
to a Lenten service and have a thumbprint of ashes smeared on their
forehead.  The words accompanying the
ritual are “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt
return.” (Genesis 3:19) The ashes normally come from the palms that were
blessed for the previous Easter season. 
At my church, St. Michael the Archangel, here in Cary, NC, the practice
includes sprinkling holy water into the dishes holding the ashes.  That makes them pastier and then the priest
or the minister can really smear them on. 
I don’t remember them being so black and pronounced when I was a
child.  We are then encouraged not to rub
or wash them off until we would normally cleanse our faces.  I found myself eating lunch at the local
Panera on Ash Wednesday and was charmed by the number of Catholics who proudly
proclaimed their faith that day.  Let’s
face it, it’s hard to miss a big black smudge on someone’s forehead and it’s
the perfect opportunity to share your faith without saying a word. 
I live in the Bible Belt which I understand to mean we have a lot
of practicing Christians in this area, many of whom are evangelical.  They have a mission to convert the world, the
whole world to Christianity.  This is not
the place to live if you are wishy-washy about your faith, unless you’re living
in Chapel Hill.  (That’s a little hint
for anyone reading this who is thinking of moving to our beautiful state.) I’ve
lived in the Bible Belt now since 1976. 
First, I was in Cincinnati, Ohio for ten years and now, I’m here.  How is that different from other parts of the
United States?  If you look at one of USA
Today’s graphs, you will see that the south east and mid-west areas are shaded
darker when the shading represents the number of people calling themselves
Christians.  As the map expands to the
west, California, Oregon etc., the shading becomes lighter and lighter.  My experience with this part of the world has
been wonderful.  I have noticed that the
people here who are working to be faith filled are kind, caring and
compassionate.  I don’t think one need be
religious or perhaps even spiritual to have those qualities but when your faith
is an integral part of your life, I believe you are enjoined to raise yourself
up to a higher level of responsibility to lead a more exemplary life. 
I know all about the hypocrites, those who
show up at services all holy and righteous only to lead small, mean lives.  My experience has not led me to be surrounded
by that type of practitioner.  My
experience, especially that of living here in NC, has been one of support and
kindness and compassion from the people who are actively participating in their
faith, especially lately.  Perhaps, I’ve
just been lucky because even some of my friends don’t belong to an established
religion are loving and compassionate. Could it be, however, that the God
energy of this area has permeated more souls than elsewhere?  It’s a nice thought.  It brings me comfort and hope.  Maybe mindfulness in itself encourages people
to live lives of caring and service.  Supposedly
there was a study done many years ago that showed when a Transcendental
Meditation seminar was being held, that section of the country had less
crime.   
Lent is my favorite time of the year. My part of the world is
gray and wet and soft right now but I know that in just a few weeks everything
will be in full bloom, the Dogwoods, Azaleas, and Daffodils to name a few will
come forth and brighten and color our entire area.  It goes from dreary to delightful.  It’s slow and deliberate and if you pay close
attention, you can see the metamorphosis taking place.  That’s what I like to imagine is happening to
my inner life too.  Lent offers me the
opportunity to grow and blossom, to go from dreary to colorful.  It’s up to me how I use the time.  For me, it’s a more deliberate time, an
opportunity to be even more mindful, than any other time of the year.  I always hope the changes I’m making stay
with me, as I move into the rest of the year, and hopefully some of my Lenten
practices do just that and that’s exactly the reason we are called upon to set
aside this time to develop more self-discipline and to be of greater
service.  We are called to pray more,
give alms and to practice acts of denial. 
We are called to be more mindful, more intentional about our lives.  It’s a practice we could use every day not
just during Lent but with Lent comes the deliberate intention to grow our inner
lives, to make us and our worlds kinder, gentler and more compassionate. 
The main question at Lent is, “What are you giving up for
Lent?”  I know I could give up wine
or chocolate or some such food item and have the added benefit of reducing my
waistline. This year, however, I chose a more difficult practice. I decided to
give up doubt.  When Oprah interviewed
the famed televangelist, Joel Osteen, she asked him if he had ever doubted
his belief in Jesus Christ.  He
emphatically answered, “No.”  I
am not a Joel Osteen.  I am more of a
Thomas.  After all these many years of
practicing my faith I still have my doubts. 
Let’s face it, it’s quite a story! That however, is not how I want to
live my faith, the promises are too great. 
I want to believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ is God incarnate
and that I can have a personal relationship with Him that will enhance my life
and lead me to a place where I reach out to others with pure love.  I want to believe that with Him, not only
will I and my loved ones have eternal rest and peace, but that this life will
be a more rewarding experience.  I
haven’t yet had any direct messages from the spirit world that would allay my
doubts but I don’t care.  This is how I
want to live my life and for me it seems to require practice and Lent, my
favorite time of the year, offers me that perfect opportunity.  “Loving Father, help me to better know
and love Your Son.  Amen.”

God’s Garmin


Affirmation: I am in awe of the guidance God sends me, through people as I travel down a new and difficult path.
What is needed in order to navigate through new territory?  Lewis and Clark, Columbus and Magellan and Dr. Livingston are a few examples of pioneers who headed out into the world without any foreknowledge of what lied ahead and created trails for others to follow.  There are now maps for most anywhere one wants to go.  There is even Google Earth, where we can examine almost every square foot of our planet without leaving our home. 
When my daughter, Ellen, moved to London I desperately wanted to see where she would be living but flying over there was not in our plans.  She sent me a video from Google Earth with her apartment circled in red.  I could then move the cursor around on the page and see everything she could see from her front window.  It was miraculous.  Since then I have occasionally gone to the site to see the areas where I resided when I was younger.  It was fascinating to see how the areas had changed and to share the photos of the neighborhood with my children or with my friends.
Yes, it seems as if the whole world is mapped out and we aren’t in need of pioneers any longer.  Even the moon and Mars have “rovers” with cameras on them.  Of course there is the rest of the Universe “where no man has ever gone before.”  I don’t believe many of us will be faced with an adventure into outer space.  In addition to outer space, however, there are also the Olympics.  Right now, the 2014 Winter Olympics are taking place in Sochi Russia.  No one needed a map to get to Sochi and no one is following a geographical path that hasn’t been carefully laid out but these gifted, dedicated and determined young people are definitely blazing new trails.  The new gold medal winner for the Men’s Snow Boarding Half Pipe, Iouri Podladtchikov, not only performed an almost flawless run, he created and executed a new maneuver called the YOLO.  The men and women skiers and skaters broke all time speed records, and the Russian figure skating pairs gold medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, the 2013 world champions, broke at least four world records with their performances.  There were also many other records set.  All the athletes needed guidance to reach the peak of their skill.  They went higher and further along the path of their craft than anyone had gone before.  Their coaches and families helped them lay out the map for their successes.
I’ve always loved a map.  Maybe it’s because it’s a little like a puzzle, a maze which can help get you to your set destination.  I’ve usually been the navigator when my husband and I traveled.  My expertise wasn’t always in evidence.  For example, from my reading of the map, I once insisted we were are on the right road to reach the main highway when it dead-ended in someone’s driveway.  At one time, I used to contact AAA for little map booklets that had a different section of the road on each page to lay out our path.  I’m sure they don’t have them anymore. Now, my husband and I don’t use maps at all.  First we graduated to Map-quest and would have sheets of paper listing the twists and turns and the distances and the estimated arrival time.   We even used Map-quest for one of our European trips.  It was a lot easier than trying to read maps in a foreign language.  Then we went to a Nuvi or a Garmin and we had audible turn by turn instructions.  I must say in the beginning it would seem to me the device would sometimes take me to my final destination by way of another continent.  Now, we have the smart phone. The technology now seems to be much more accurate and I can rely on it anywhere I travel.  I’ve also become so used to having a computer map on my dashboard that I feel “lost” when I’m in a car without one even if I’m going around my neighborhood. Recently, however, I have had to chart a new path. 
There wasn’t a map or a Garmin for this journey.  My 91 year old mother left the hospital after her first two surgeries ever, a hip replacement and a pacemaker and was admitted to a rehab unit.  I needed a map or an audio guide.  I needed any direction and guidance that was available and there was very little “out there.”  I did do some research on the web to determine the best facility in the area and I did make the necessary phone calls to make sure that’s where she was admitted but after that I felt like I had just landed on an alien planet, not country, but a planet beyond our solar system.  I have never been so intimately involved in the care of a seriously ill individual, and to be honest my mom has led a very independent lifestyle up until her fall.  I wish someone wise and experienced had taken my hand and led me step by step down this road. 
I wish I knew in the beginning of this journey what I know now.  I’ve prayed for years for dignity for my mom and mother in law in their old age.  Now, I’m seeing what dignity can look like and may not look like.  After entering the rehab, mom contracted C.diff.  One more thing I knew nothing about, another huge detour on the road.  I’ve reached out to God and to everyone I know.  I actually sent an email to several of my communities that was titled “Help!”  Help has come and hopefully will keep coming.  Help not just for my mom but for me, the main caregiver.  Yes, I am seeing the blessings.  Some of the best help has been what I now consider to be “God’s Garmins.”  They are all those people in the know who have taken the time and effort to share with me what I need to be doing and in what direction I should be going. 
When Sandy and I traveled to Ireland several years ago, we found the most joyful part of the trip was getting lost because we would stop and ask an always delightful, friendly Irish man or woman for directions.  We stopped once on a back road and were invited in for tea!  That’s been my experience here with my mom and her illness, the people who have reached out to me explaining the path best chosen have brought clarity and joy to a very frightening and strange road.  I’ve decided there is very seldom an easy way through chronic illness or the dying process but like all our adversities there are blessings to be found and usually, they come in the form of loving, caring people who take our hands and our hearts and lead us along the path of what we call life.  I like to think of them as God’s Garmin, audibly directing us down the road to our final destination, Peace.

God’s Garmin

Affirmation: I am in awe of the guidance God sends me, through
people as I travel down a new and difficult path.
What is needed in order to navigate through new territory?  Lewis and Clark, Columbus and Magellan and
Dr. Livingston are a few examples of pioneers who headed out into the world
without any foreknowledge of what lied ahead and created trails for others to
follow.  There are now maps for most
anywhere one wants to go.  There is even
Google Earth, where we can examine almost every square foot of our planet
without leaving our home. 
When my daughter, Ellen, moved to London I desperately wanted to
see where she would be living but flying over there was not in our plans.  She sent me a video from Google Earth with
her apartment circled in red.  I could
then move the cursor around on the page and see everything she could see from
her front window.  It was miraculous.  Since then I have occasionally gone to the
site to see the areas where I resided when I was younger.  It was fascinating to see how the areas had
changed and to share the photos of the neighborhood with my children or with my
friends.
Yes, it seems as if the whole world is mapped out and we aren’t
in need of pioneers any longer.  Even the
moon and Mars have “rovers” with cameras on them.  Of course there is the rest of the Universe
“where no man has ever gone before.” 
I don’t believe many of us will be faced with an adventure into outer
space.  In addition to outer space,
however, there are also the Olympics. 
Right now, the 2014 Winter Olympics are taking place in Sochi
Russia.  No one needed a map to get to
Sochi and no one is following a geographical path that hasn’t been carefully
laid out but these gifted, dedicated and determined young people are definitely
blazing new trails.  The new gold medal
winner for the Men’s Snow Boarding Half Pipe, Iouri Podladtchikov, not only
performed an almost flawless run, he created and executed a new maneuver called
the YOLO.  The men and women skiers and
skaters broke all time speed records, and the Russian figure skating pairs gold
medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, the 2013 world champions, broke
at least four world records with their performances.  There were also many other records set.  All the athletes needed guidance to reach the
peak of their skill.  They went higher
and further along the path of their craft than anyone had gone before.  Their coaches and families helped them lay
out the map for their successes.
I’ve always loved a map. 
Maybe it’s because it’s a little like a puzzle, a maze which can help
get you to your set destination.  I’ve
usually been the navigator when my husband and I traveled.  My expertise wasn’t always in evidence.  For example, from my reading of the map, I
once insisted we were are on the right road to reach the main highway when it dead-ended
in someone’s driveway.  At one time, I
used to contact AAA for little map booklets that had a different section of the
road on each page to lay out our path. 
I’m sure they don’t have them anymore. Now, my husband and I don’t use
maps at all.  First we graduated to
Map-quest and would have sheets of paper listing the twists and turns and the
distances and the estimated arrival time.  
We even used Map-quest for one of our European trips.  It was a lot easier than trying to read maps
in a foreign language.  Then we went to a
Nuvi or a Garmin and we had audible turn by turn instructions.  I must say in the beginning it would seem to
me the device would sometimes take me to my final destination by way of another
continent.  Now, we have the smart phone.
The technology now seems to be much more accurate and I can rely on it anywhere
I travel.  I’ve also become so used to
having a computer map on my dashboard that I feel “lost” when I’m in
a car without one even if I’m going around my neighborhood. Recently, however, I have had to chart a new path. 
There wasn’t a map or a Garmin for this journey.  My 91 year old mother left the hospital after
her first two surgeries ever, a hip replacement and a pacemaker and was
admitted to a rehab unit.  I needed a map
or an audio guide.  I needed any
direction and guidance that was available and there was very little “out
there.”  I did do some research on
the web to determine the best facility in the area and I did make the necessary
phone calls to make sure that’s where she was admitted but after that I felt
like I had just landed on an alien planet, not country, but a planet beyond our
solar system.  I have never been so
intimately involved in the care of a seriously ill individual, and to be honest
my mom has led a very independent lifestyle up until her fall.  I wish someone wise and experienced had taken
my hand and led me step by step down this road. 
I wish I knew in the beginning of this journey what I know
now.  I’ve prayed for years for dignity
for my mom and mother in law in their old age. 
Now, I’m seeing what dignity can look like and may not look like.  After entering the rehab, mom contracted
C.diff.  One more thing I knew nothing
about, another huge detour on the road. 
I’ve reached out to God and to everyone I know.  I actually sent an email to several of my
communities that was titled “Help!” 
Help has come and hopefully will keep coming.  Help not just for my mom but for me, the main
caregiver.  Yes, I am seeing the
blessings.  Some of the best help has
been what I now consider to be “God’s Garmin’s.”  They are all those people in the know who
have taken the time and effort to share with me what I need to be doing and in
what direction I should be going. 
When Sandy and I traveled to Ireland several years ago, we found
the most joyful part of the trip was getting lost because we would stop and ask
an always delightful, friendly Irish man or woman for directions.  We stopped once on a back road and were
invited in for tea!  That’s been my
experience here with my mom and her illness, the people who have reached out to
me explaining the path best chosen have brought clarity and joy to a very
frightening and strange road.  I’ve
decided there is very seldom an easy way through chronic illness or the dying
process but like all our adversities there are blessings to be found and usually,
they come in the form of loving, caring people who take our hands and our
hearts and lead us along the path of what we call life.  I like to think of them as God’s Garmin,
audibly directing us down the road to our final destination, Peace.

Love is Your Only Job

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