Jean Anne Costa
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Christmas All Year Long

Affirmation: I possess the Christmas spirit all year long.

My favorite holiday movie is The Bishop’s Wife with Cary
Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young.  It
was made in 1947.  I know many people
have a favorite holiday movie.  My nieces
and nephews like A Christmas Story
Many people watch the classic It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy
Stewart.  Then to name a few others
there’s the Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street.  Recently, the AMC channel did a whole special
about all the different Christmas movies. 
Even watching the small clips they showed warmed my heart and made me
smile. I love a corny movie, especially the Christmas movies.

Do you have a favorite?  Do
you have something that you and your family like to sit down and watch once a
year during the holidays?  Why?  What is your choice?  What appeals to you?  Is it something funny or touching?  Is it a classic or is it something new?  In The Bishops Wife Cary Grant is an
angel.  The bishop doesn’t believe it but
he’s so desperate for help that he withholds judgement and so for a brief
period of time Cary Grant settles into their lives.  Henry, the bishop is very consumed with trying
to raise the funds for a cathedral and he thinks Dudley, the angel is there to
help him with that project but he’s so wrong. 
Dudley has come to help Henry rediscover what’s really important to
him.  It’s a similar theme as the one in It’s
a Wonderful Life
.  An angel has been
sent to earth to guide the suffering hero to value those aspects of his life
that he has failed to treasure, his friends and family.  It’s something we’d probably all like to have
an angel come and remind us of periodically.


There are a lot of expectations around the holiday season, those
we believe others have of us and those we take on ourselves.  I want to remember, no I want to luxuriate in
the season.  I want the tree and the red ornaments
and the twinkle lights to stay on always, not just for the few weeks labeled
“the holidays.”  I want to have
every day include the word “Christ” not just those days when I get to
say and write and hear “Merry Christmas.”  I want to possess the Christmas spirit of
love and joy all year long.

This year, as for the past three years, my Small Christian
Community adopted two families for Christmas. 
We do this with the help of Rachel Monteverdi.  Rachel is responsible for the North Carolina
Cooperative Extension Franklin County Family & Consumer Sciences program.  I have tried adopting a family on my own and
found it to be a very daunting experience but once I discovered that I could
bring together a group to make a difference for another family I was excited
and motivated and what a group we are! 
My SCC has been together for over 25 years.  We have a core group who has been there all
along and then we have about twenty five other people who have joined us over
the years.  Like all groups we have
different levels of commitment but the one constant is their generous,
compassionate nature.  We are connected
by a very strong common bond.  We all
believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and we all believe in answered prayer.  We have an ongoing prayer list that everyone
covers in prayer at all times and if there’s a special request, it can go out
to the group and I for one find comfort knowing I have this group of Prayer
Warriors lifting my concerns up to God.

We had two families this year. 
The first one was a grandmother and a seventeen year old girl who had
been homeless last year and didn’t have any Christmas.  The other family was a widower and his three
young sons.  They needed shoes and
gloves, blankets and cleaning supplies. 
They wanted some games, perhaps a CD or a few books.  Our list includes their first names and ages
and I simply send out the list to the SCC and to my daughter and son and ask
for whom they’d like to buy.  After all
the gifts arrive I fill in anything that is missing from the list, divide the
gifts by family and put the gifts into black garbage bags (for safety
reasons.) The people in the SCC went over and above in making this holiday
special for these families.  They wrapped
everything and made sure there was not only the needed items on the list but
the wanted items too and if they thought of something special, like a bracelet
with a little “bling” or a remote control car for the boys, that was
in there too.  This year my car held ten
bags.  It was filled to the brim.  My heart was filled to the brim.  I am so very grateful to be a part of a group
that so willingly and generously reaches out to help others.

We won’t know how our efforts affect the families.  We won’t hear anything.  We have to trust that our efforts have made
their holiday and their lives richer and more joyful, perhaps even more hopeful
about their futures and about how they see the world.  I know in our giving efforts it made me feel
more joyful and more hopeful.   It made
me feel the same way those corny Christmas movies make me feel.  It made me feel like the world can be a
kinder, gentler, more compassionate place. 
The world can be a place filled with peace and love.  Jesus Christ was born over 2000 years ago for
just this reason, to guide us to creating a world of peace and love.  If we can hold that concept in our hearts and
minds not only during this holiday season but for the whole year, Christmas
won’t end.  I may have to take down the
tree and the red ornaments and the lights but I don’t have to put away the love
and the peace that makes our lives and the lives of all those we care about,
richer and blessed and neither do you. 

Merry Christmas!

Searching for Service

Affirmation:  I pray
daily for those who most need God’s mercy and open myself to be of service to
whomever She sends me.
 

Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has inspired the world.  He was elected pope in April of this year
following the historic resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.  He didn’t want to be Pope.  He didn’t expect to become the Pope.  He had already purchased his return ticket
for Argentina.  Immediately after his
election all sorts of tales began appearing in the news.  It appears he is a very newsworthy person.  One of the first stories was about him paying
the bill for his hotel room, himself and then taking a taxi back to where he
needed to be.  Now, I’ve done those
things many times in my life as I’m sure you may have, but no one ever thought
it was of so much interest that they announced it in the media!  The behavior and words of Pope Francis have
since been announced and scrutinized.  He
is both applauded and criticized.  He is
unlike most world leaders and yet he is subject to the same scrutiny as all of
them.  He comes up short for some but it
appears as of this date, he is mostly being hailed as a man of humility and
wisdom, two qualities we all should strive to possess but which if possessed by
our leaders make for a kinder, more compassionate society. 

This month Pope Francis was named Person of the Year by Time
Magazine
.  It appears the criteria
for this acknowledgement is who Time believes has had the greatest
impact on society during the year.  It is
not always someone who has had a positive effect on our world. The opposite is
true for Pope Francis.  They named him
because of his philosophy or a better word would be theology.  His mission is to provide care and dignity
for all human beings.  Mother Teresa also
had that mission. It’s what Jesus Christ’s mission was when He walked on this
earth and according to our Catholic tradition Pope Francis is His
representative here, today.  He is the
266th pope and so far he has shown himself to be quite unique in his role as
Pope.  There’s been a photo circulating
on the internet that shows Pope Francis in one half and Pope Benedict XVI in
the other.  It says “Can you see the
differences?”  Unlike the Sunday
cartoon quiz which makes it difficult to pick out the different character, this
“quiz” is very easy.  Pope
Francis has abandoned the fancy trappings used by the pope’s of the past.

The latest picture being circulated is of Pope Francis kissing
the head of a severely disfigured man. 
There’s a rumor that he goes out into the slums of Italy and provides
solace for the populace.  It is a fact
that he did this when he was in Argentina, so it’s not too farfetched to
believe he’s continued this practice. 
His first encyclical addressed the distribution of wealth throughout the
world.  He doesn’t believe the system
most countries, including ours works to the benefit of the neediest.  Conservatives who only focus on economics
aren’t very happy with the Pope’s message but the Pope isn’t concerned with
their opinion.  He is only concerned with
how society will respond to the needs of the most poor and the most suffering
of us. Yes, I said us. 

In my daily reading Spiritual Insights the focus for the month of
December is unity.  Each day I am
reminded that we are all one.  Once you
begin to believe that, you will recognize that if one of us is suffering we are
responsible to find a way to alleviate that suffering and the world is
suffering of this there is no doubt.  It
takes very little awareness to recognize the distress of this world.  Sometimes when I hear some of the stories, I
am completely overwhelmed by what’s going on. 
I am horrified by the cruelty.  I
fully recognize that I don’t even have a clue of the horrors that are taking
place in our world even as I write this and to be honest, I really don’t want
to know the details.  I only know they
exist and as the year has passed I have found myself called to step up and to
be more aware of the poor and suffering and to reach out in a way that
alleviates their suffering, perhaps even brings them joy and peace. 

It’s the message I have been receiving these last few
months.  It began before Pope Francis was
even elected.  It has been here all along
as all important messages are but I wasn’t ready to fully embrace it.  I mean what can I do to help those most in
need?  The second part of that question
is, what will I be called on to do and am I ready and willing?  The clearest message came from Albert Haase’s
book Catching Fire Becoming Flame
He says that focusing on Christ 
“leads us right into the heart of a suffering, needy world where we
are sent to respond lovingly to the unmet need or required duty of the present
moment.”  It is our mission in
life.  It is our reason for existing, to
make the world a kinder more compassionate place.

As my friend and I walked around the lake we talked about how we
can help change the world.  It was a good
walk!  What can we possibly do to aid in
the conversion of hearts to bring them to a place of love and peace?  We can begin with ourselves.  The first place where the transformation must
begin is within our own hearts.  Luke
1:68-79 says “Let there be peace on hearth and let it begin with
me.”  After that the soul is open to
the flame of transformation.  If you take
some time every day to connect to the Divine, you will be led to opportunities
to ease the suffering of another, of others. 
The opportunity is there.  There
are so many ways to be of service if one is asking to receive them. 

A friend of mine once stopped to talk to a man who looked quite
deranged and was obviously homeless.  She
asked him how he was doing and engaged him in a very nice discussion.  The rest of us had walked past, quickly.  Afterwards I asked her why she had done
that.  She told me she asked God every
day to send people to her who were in need and to whom she could respond.  She told me she never knew where they would
appear and she couldn’t take the chance of passing someone by that might be an
answer to her prayers.  Do you think her
kind words made any difference?

A study that took place in NYC had two groups of people passing
by pedestrians on a busy sidewalk.  One
group would nod and smile at the stranger passing by them.  The other group would ignore the
stranger.  The researchers then asked the
stranger a few questions about how they were feeling.  (How they got someone in NYC to stop and chat
with them was amazing to me but they did.) The people who were smiled at had a
higher level of contentment than those who were ignored.  If just a simple smile from a stranger can
add to the joy of this world, what a difference we can make if we are making an
effort to ease the suffering and pain of whomever we meet and hopefully,
whomever we are holding in our prayers. 

Trust me, just like my friend, once you ask God to allow you to
be of service, opportunities will present themselves and once you open yourself
up to caring about the marginalized and suffering of this world, not only will
you make a difference in other’s lives, you will make a difference in your
life.  Your heart and this world will be
transformed.

Strengthening Our Spirit

Affirmation: I have a healthy spirit because I pay attention to
those practices that strengthen it.

As I write this the United States is passing from celebrating the
holiday of Thanksgiving to preparing for Christmas.  Every year the space between Thanksgiving and
Christmas gets smaller and smaller, actually there is not any space unless you
claim it because retail begins Christmas right after Halloween.  Recently there was a very sad cartoon in the
paper.  An older couple was standing at
the head of an empty but fully set dining table.  They had the roasted turkey on a platter and
were ready to serve but no one was there. 
The wife’s comment was “We should have known what to expect when
they announced the sales would begin on Thanksgiving Day.”  My good news is that except for my youngest
daughter who lives in England, our table held the entire family including my
grandson’s (Joe) fiancĂ©.

My husband and I love Thanksgiving.  We love any occasion that brings our family
to our home and to our table.  Sharing
time and stories and our lives with the people we love the most is the highest
blessing of our lives.  It is
heartwarming that our family responds in kind. 
They did not leave early to start their shopping or to go to the movies
or to escape for any other reason.  We
shared the meal, had coffee and dessert and then our grandson, Sam played and
sang three original songs he has written. 
My heart overflowed.

Madonna, the singer, prophesied what has become reality.  We live in a material world.  I am as guilty of liking and wanting nice
things as anyone else.  I love it when
the house is all pretty inside.  I like a
new pair of shoes or a new outfit.  I
love a gadget or two.  I like my comforts
and my security but my age puts me closer to the end of my life than the
beginning and I recognize that the material things of this world are not where
my ultimate happiness lies.

As you know if you read this blog my mother is in assisted
living.  She’s a strong 91 but I see her becoming
more and more frail. I visit there often both to see her and to bring communion
to the Catholic residents in the entire facility from the independent living to
the Alzheimer’s unity.  It’s a gift to me
to share the lives of the residents even in such a small way.  It makes me very aware of my phase of life
and very grateful for the stage I am in today.

“I worked on my external well-being in the early part of my
life and recognized I needed to work on my internal well-being for the later
part of my life.”  This was the
statement from an older woman I know who hosts weekly gatherings at her home to
examine different spiritual concepts. 
About fifteen women attend each week and if she’s away, someone else has
her key so the group can still gather. What are you doing to work on your
internal well-being?   What steps need to
be taken so that when you may no longer be able to do all you want to do, you
will still feel safe and comfortable and alive!

It’s a fact that we all age differently.  I’ve written before about one of my heroines,
Eleanor Cioffi, my mother’s best friend. 
She still lives alone and yesterday there she was at the gym working out
on the weight machines.  She’d adjust the
machine, put her cane down and then do her reps.  One of the aerobics instructors recently told
me she was shocked to see Eleanor’s age on a form, “She’s 94.” she
claimed.  I asked her to go back and redo
the numbers.  I knew that Eleanor has a
birthday this month.  She’ll be 99!  I want to be an Eleanor.  I’m doing all in my power to stay as healthy
as possible and I know I am in charge of some of my physical well-being but not
all of it.  I know too that fate can be a
life changing influence, so I am also working on strengthening my spiritual and
emotional well-being.

I am always open to opportunities for inner growth.   My yoga practice is an excellent exercise in
being open and flexible.  I often have
people tell me how they “can’t do yoga.”  They tell me they are not flexible
enough.” Yes, if they think yoga is about standing on your head or
twisting up like a pretzel, they are right but if one can breathe, one can do
yoga.  As the body changes, the practice
can change.  It is not a competitive
sport.  It’s all about connecting your
mind, body and spirit.  At one time you
may have been able to do a hand stand (or not) and that’s nice but now your
practice may have a softer, more gentle feel. 
You’re still breathing.  You’re
still being aware.  You’re still
connecting the three major elements of your being: mind, body and spirit.  The same may be true of your life as you
age.  You’re still breathing.  You’re still aware.  You can still connect the three major
elements of your being.  You just may
need to do it in a different, perhaps a more gentle way, than in the past.

Life is about growth and learning to adjust to change, not just
adjusting but also thriving within it. 
Another one of the gentlemen I visit at Woodland Terrace bemoaned his
physical limitations but then he told me he had a new toy; he’d bought a computer
and was learning to use it.  He was
excited by this whole new aspect to his life. 
It was helping him with his physical limitations.  I am always inspired by those who adjust
their life poses to accommodate their new circumstances and find joy and even
excitement in their new position.

So, I now not only do physical exercise, I also do spiritual
aerobics.  I actively seek those
practices that strengthen my emotional and spiritual muscles.  I look for community that nurtures and
inspires me.  One of my favorite groups
is a study group where we discuss different self-help books.  We meet twice a month and have done so for
years.  I’d like to think we have years
to go.  When recently discussing this
topic of physical changes, one friend reminded me “We can always
talk.”  It’s a gift for me to have
the support of these friends in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. We are
working on our “internal well-being” and I do feel stronger and
healthier because of our sharing and camaraderie.

Some of my other spiritual “push-ups” consist of prayer
time, journaling, reading, connecting with friends and family and always being
open to new experiences.  Whatever life
throws at me, I am hoping and yes, praying that I will have developed the
strength and fortitude to pull myself up above the fray.  If faced with an emotional marathon I am
hoping to have trained well enough to be able to cross the finish line
regardless of my physical limitations. 
What nurtures your mind and spirit? 
Whatever it is invest in it.  Put
your time, treasure and talent into those practices that will enable you to be
internally strong and powerful.

Growing in Faith

Affirmation:  Something wonderful is about to happen.

On
Belleruth Naparstek’s chemo tape she has a phrase she uses about getting a
sensation that something wonderful is about to happen and about how you may
have not felt this sensation in quite a while but right now you do.  Have you ever had a sensation like that?  That sense that something marvelous is coming
your way?  I wonder if that happens when
we are preparing for an event or a trip or maybe a change in our career.  Perhaps, it’s that feeling when a loved one
and you are to be reunited.  I know a
change and new things can also bring with them a feeling of anxiety and maybe
we get anxiety and excitement mixed up. 
But, when Belleruth describes this marvelous feeling of expectation, I
know it; I feel it. I fully recognize it even though I can’t remember when I
last felt that way and it feels good!

For
the past several months I have had a growth in my faith experiences.  As I’ve shared before I have been
“working” on my faith for many years ever since I met my evangelical
neighbor, Shaun McLean in Cincinnati, Ohio and when shortly thereafter my
father died.  When Shaun showed up at the
back gate of my new home she proceeded to become a constant thorn in my
faith.  I am so grateful to her for that
nudging. She was so certain about her relationship with God and with Jesus
Christ and I was a cradle Catholic who didn’t feel sure about anything. I
didn’t envy her but I did find myself questioning, questioning, and questioning
even more.  What did I truly
believe? 

Let’s
admit it, the story of Jesus Christ, his birth death and resurrection is quite
unbelievable.  It defies natural
law.  I for one have had my doubts.  I have not been a compliant subservient
faith- filled follower.  I wanted
proof.  I’m sure if one searches for
proof that the “Good News” is not factual, one will find answers
supporting that premise but I chose to go the other way.  I’ve chosen to seek out reasons to
believe.  I have also found that at some
point if one is to truly have faith, one must set aside disbelief and just
decide to have faith in the mystery.  I
decided to believe. 

I’ve
watched movies about the “facts” of His life and ministry.  I’ve read the bible and listened to lectures
and homilies.  But, the reason I believe
is because I want to believe.  I want to
believe He came to change the world.  He
came to teach us to love.  He came to
eradicate sin and evil.  He came to show
us, to show me unconditional love.  He
came to prepare a place for me in the afterworld and to show me that this life
is not the end.  This life is simply a
transition before the next, before I can finally rest in a place of peace and
pure love.  I want to believe this and so
I do and once I made up my mind to accept this belief system amazing events
have taken place to support my journey.   

My
faith journey has led me many places.  It
is not just about things related to my church. 
I was reminded this week by Sister Judy Hallock one of the women who
facilitate A Place for Women to Gather that our lives are interconnected with
our faith.  If we are truly faith-filled
people we cannot separate our mind, body and spirit.  Every aspect of our lives, every single one
of them, is affected by our faith. 

 
I
am on a continual search for a deeper, richer relationship with God.  I want to feel that peace that I believe
comes when one connects to spirit but even more importantly when one develops a
relationship with a personal God, not just some ethereal concept.  This last week I have been feeling that sense
of expectation that I have not felt for a very long time.  Something wonderful is about to be
manifested.  I haven’t a clue what it is
or how it will come or from whom but I can feel it.  The feeling is palatable and I am simply enjoying
it and waiting to see what or who appears.

My
faith journey this year has taken me to some amazing destinations.  I’ve shared some of them with you here in
this blog but as the holidays approach and the end of the year comes closer, I
find myself thinking about all that has taken place.  One of my affirmations is, “When I stay
connected to the Divine, miracles occur and without struggle my life is
transformed.”  I think that’s
exactly what’s been happening.  I don’t
know why I’m so surprised.  I’ve never
created an affirmation and focused on it where it hasn’t worked.  Never! 

 
Several
months ago I discovered a new prayer that I’ve incorporated into my nightly
prayers.  “Come Holy Spirit, fill
the heart of Your faithful.  Enkindle in
me the fire of Your love.”  I found
it to be a comforting prayer and truly the desire of my heart.  I think the Holy Spirit has accepted my
invitation.  I’m always a little curious
about where my faith journey will take me. 
It shouldn’t surprise me that it has brought me further into the fold of
the Catholic Church.  I’ve gone off
looking for alternatives many times but I’m always led back to the church of my
birth.  Certainly, I have kept an open
acceptance of other modalities. I’ve studied Reiki.  I practice yoga and I love the insights
afforded me with the Enneagram.  I
facilitate Artist Way programs and have attended many mediation sessions with
leaders of different faiths.  I read many
different books about different spiritual concepts.  All of these experiences have led me to a
deeper faith and a greater awareness of a personal god. 

This
year, however, has brought with it the additional gift of several new female
friends who are practicing Catholics and it has been a wonderful, heartwarming
experience.  We certainly are not all in
the “same place” in our faith journey but there’s no judgment.  We simply are accepting of our different
stages, accepting and yet still supportive. There are many studies showing the
healing qualities associated with belonging to a support group.  I feel like I’ve discovered a gift with the
friendship of these women, the gift of being supported in my faith journey and
I am grateful that this new community has added to this feeling that something
wonderful is about to happen.  Now,
there’s an affirmation I can focus on and wait for it to come to fruition,
“Something wonderful is about to happen.”  The really cool part of this affirmation is I
have discovered that that Something Wonderful is having this feeling of blessed
expectation and that that in itself is just marvelous.

Not if, When

Affirmation:  I know life will present many challenges and
I have a tool box filled with lots of helpful equipment.

 
The
conversation was about the chaotic state of my home because of a
renovation.  Oh, I fully recognized the
blessing of being able to perform a renovation but the project had now been
going on for months and was running much longer than had been estimated.

I was
tired.  Way too much energy was being
expended on this, not to mention money and I wanted to put my home back in
order.  The homeowner I was speaking with
had just completed building a house, not on her own but she was responsible for
all of the decisions and it was a beautiful home, the most stunning home I
could ever remember being in.  She
explained to me that one shouldn’t be asking themselves about the
“ifs” one might experience during the building process but one should
recognize that there would be “whens” and the real question was how
was one going to deal with them?  What
did one need to do to be prepared when issues would come along?
 
I am an
optimist by choice.  When someone tells
me something is going to go well and work out, I choose to believe them.  It’s not always the truth.  Stuff still happens but I haven’t focused on
what might go wrong. I am that person who creates positive affirmations.  I am that person who expects things to go
right. 
 
The
Buddhists say one should imagine the glass broken.  The Christians refer to the “practice of
faith” and the yogi studies a Klesha called raga which refers to an attachment to pleasure.  Whatever faith you look at they all have one
very important feature in common; they recognize that life is not a bowl of
cherries.  Life has pits and we should be
aware of that teaching.
 
The
question that arises is how does one prepare oneself for the difficulties life
will present? Certainly going around waiting for the next shoe to drop or for
the clouds to appear is not a very joyful way to live one’s life but we all
know stuff will come along, little things and difficult things with which we
will have to deal.
 
I am
someone who is all about maintenance.  I
was a great Girl Scout.  I try to always
be prepared.  If there is some step I can
take to hopefully make life easier or smoother, I will usually take it.  I am that person who gets her flu shot every
year.  I take my vitamins, especially
that calcium and fish oil and now extra vitamin D.  I brush and floss my teeth twice a day.  God forbid they should rot away and fall
out.  I exercise daily to keep everything
in good working order and to hopefully avoid becoming immobile and decrepit. I
am the person who buys travel insurance. 
I’m not worried about any of these things.  I just feel like if I can take steps to
insure my life goes along smoothly, I should. 
I have many friends who do not think like me.  I have one friend who has never gotten a flu
shot and as of this writing, has never gotten the flu.  Thank heavens!  I also have a friend who never does any
maintenance on her home.  I am always
looking around my house and trying to spiff it up before something drastic
happens, like an exploding hot water heater or an ant infestation or, well you
can probably add your own stuff to that list.
 
I have a
huge red tool box.  I mean I need all
those different type of screw drivers just in case the screw is a Phillips or a
Flat-head or it’s big or very tiny.  I
know many of you completely understand but my friend, she never does anything
to her home until it becomes some sort of an issue for her.  She cannot for the life of her understand why
I am always doing my best to forestall something in the home from becoming a
major investment.  I believe that if I
take care of it now, it’ll be a little problem rather than a huge one.  We just don’t agree but that’s ok.  We love one another anyway.  Unfortunately, the results of my maintenance
approach to life really doesn’t seem to make my life that much easier than her
life is for her.  Things I never even dreamed
would occur, occur.  So, the question is,
“How can I best prepare for the whens of life?  What tools do I have in life’s tool box for
when a screw comes loose or falls out and everything it’s been holding
together, falls apart?”
 
Pray,
it’s my first defense.  I believe in
answered prayer.  I don’t understand how
it works but I fully trust that it does.

Journal,
I write. It centers me and helps me see things more clearly.  It makes me calmer.

Exercise,
it is known to increase endorphins and reduce stress.  It doesn’t matter if you go to your mat to do
yoga or take a walk or go play golf.  It
takes you out of your routine and helps calm you.

Talk to a
friend or find a counselor.  Pick up the
phone or go visit a friend.  Don’t try to
go it alone.  Most people like to be
helpful and most of us need help to get through life’s challenges, sometimes
even the little ones.

Watch
something funny, laugh.

Give or
get a hug or two and finally, remember to Breathe.  Take a few deep breaths every so often and
don’t hesitate to sigh them out.  Even if
you haven’t fixed the entire problem with that deep breath, you’ve at least
released it for that moment and life really is about living one moment at a
time. 

Blessings Recognized

Affirmation:  I recognize
the blessings I receive when I share my time, treasure and talent with those in
need.

On two occasions during this October, 2013, my husband, Sandy
Costa was invited to be the Master of Ceremonies for the Ronald McDonald House
of Durham, NC.  The events began at 7:45
AM and lasted an hour.  A full breakfast
was served along with some of the most heartwarming and heart rendering stories
I have ever heard.  For me, the stories
that revolve around the struggle to live are always both inspirational and in
many cases achingly sad.  This event
revolves around the challenges being faced by children, little tiny ones and
their families and the service, the hope and the comfort that this organization
provides for them regardless of who they are or how much they have.  The Ronald McDonald House had set up these
two breakfasts, among other events, to give others the opportunity to be of
service to their residents and future residents.  They are giving people the opportunity to
reach out and to make a difference in the lives of someone who is suffering,
someone they probably do not even know.

The first event of the month was at The Tobacco Warehouse in
Durham and about 400 people attended. 
Sandy didn’t really say much to me about his role and he’s often invited
to speak to groups, both large and small so I didn’t pay a lot of attention to
his project.  Sometimes he speaks for a
fee but many times he speaks to simply be of service.  This, of course was an example of the
later.  I was pleased for him that he was
asked and to be given the opportunity but I didn’t attend.  Actually, he didn’t invite me and I wrote it
off as simply another of his speaking engagements.  Wow, did I get that one wrong!

He invited me to the second event held in Raleigh at the NC State
McKimmon Center.  A friend and pet
therapy volunteer, Ann Henderson, asked me to sit with her group of
invitees.  I was delighted to be
included.  Ann brought Bailey, her
wonderful warm friendly doggie.  The two
of them also visit my mom once a week at my mom’s assisted living
apartment.  It is the highlight of my
mom’s week.  So I can imagine how much
joy Ann and Bailey bring to the residents of The Ronald McDonald House.  They raised an amazing $260,000 during the
one hour breakfast.  Why?

Sandy wasn’t the only host. 
He had a co-host, Sosa.  Sosa is
thirteen.  She had on a black dress with
silver sequins across the top.  She
walked to that podium like she did it every day.  I was once told the second greatest fear
after death is speaking into a microphone. 
It was obvious Sosa had already conquered her 1st fear.  You can watch her at: Watch Sosa  She then started by apologizing for not
wearing the red sneakers with the orange laces that she had been given, her
Ronald McDonald sneakers.  “They
really don’t go with my outfit” she said. 
Then she shared what it meant to her and her family to have a place, The
Ronald McDonald House, to stay at while she was receiving her second bone
marrow transplant.  Her mother had slept
in their car for two months until space became available at “The
House.”

During the breakfast there were four other speakers, three sets
of parents and Oie Osterkamp, the director of the Durham Ronald McDonald
House.  There was also a video which
showed the journey of another teenage girl. 
I cried on and off throughout the entire program.  Who wouldn’t? 
Who can be among families who have undergone so much in an effort to
make sure their child survives and not be emotionally moved?  Obviously, not many of us.  When Sandy finally made the plea for money
the audience responded with generosity and caring.  The pledge card was not just for money.  It also included a section for visits and
volunteers.  They accept any help they
can get.  I have friends who shop for,
purchase and cook one meal a month for the entire RMH in Greensboro, NC.  Time, treasure and talent were all greatly
appreciated.

My experience has taught me that whenever I think I’m being
magnanimous and generous to someone or to some cause, I discover that I am the
receiver more than the giver.  It’s a
gift to me when someone invites me into their lives and permits me to be of
service.  The book I’m now reading, Catching
Fire, Becoming Flame
says our first responsibility is to be of service to
those who are less fortunate than we. 
Discovering what our gifts are and how we can best help another is
actually a responsibility.  We are called
to service.  We are called to help and
support one another.

If you watch the news we are led to believe we are not a caring
species.  The media almost never reports
on something uplifting and positive.  But,
Sandy and I are involved in many different charities and we know people both of
our church and of no church, who lead lives which epitomize the phrase
“giving back.”  It seems to me
if we watch our fellow man and woman carefully we will see we are a caring,
generous, even loving species.  We like
to help others.  We like to make a
positive difference in the lives of those around us, both those we know and in
the case of these two breakfasts, in the lives of complete strangers.  We must be an amazing group of beings.  These two events, two one hour events raised
over $400,000 and I am sure generated a lot of interest for volunteer
opportunities.  Most people want to help
others.  Sometimes it simply takes being
presented with an opportunity.  These two
events were a perfect example of creating an opportunity for people to feel
good about themselves by sharing their bounty with others.  For me, the blessing was to be included in my
husband’s caring spirit.  Actually, one
of my greatest blessings is that I am an integral part of Sandy’s generous
loving heart.

Winds Of Change

Affirmation:  I may not be right all the time but sometimes
I have some really good ideas. 

Several
years ago I took a work shop at Duke Integrative Medicine with Sarah
Susanka.  It revolved around her book, The
Not So Big Life
.  Sarah is an
architect who was one of the first people to present the concept of living in
smaller, more efficient homes.  She
encouraged people to use all their space and not to have a bigger footprint
than necessary but not to give up those things that add to the quality of a
home.  In fact, in her first book, The
Not So Big House
, she recommends adding special features to make small
space even more inviting, like round windows and rich warm woods and moving
walls.  I loved her first book and when
our study group, The Seekers, were ready for a new study we chose her book
about The Not So Big Life.  It
took us a long time to go through it.  It
is chocked full of self-discovery questions. 
When the workshop presented itself, it seemed like a natural fit.  Two of us went for the weekend.  It was the worst run workshops and yet it was
one of the most insightful workshops I ever attended.

 

Sarah had
what appeared to be a very general outline. 
There were about 50 people there and it was obvious from the start that
her approach was to simply let the presentation evolve.  We never saw the book.  She never mentioned the book. 

There are
guidelines for group events.  You can ask
any therapist.  The first thing you do is
assure everyone that they are safe in this group.  You do that by asking everyone to hold in
confidence whatever is shared during the time together.  That wasn’t done.  In fact, there wasn’t one guideline
mentioned.  It was never suggested that
those who like to talk give some thought and space to those who are
quieter.  It wasn’t mentioned that a
participant should only talk about their own experience and not lecture the
group about their expertise. There were no guidelines whatsoever.  Well, there was sort of one.  Don’t run away.  Go towards that which you want to go away
from.  I was ready to leave after the
first hour.  I also almost didn’t return
for the last day but I kept that one suggestion from her in my mind and hung in
there.  It was good advice. 

At one
point in the session a list was distributed. 
You were to read the list and circle the comments you have ever said to
yourself.  Comments like, “Boy, am I
stupid” or “I am such a loser” or “I am so
unattractive.”  I’m sure you get the
picture.  It was all the negatives things
we sometimes say to ourselves.  It was
very sad.  The list took up two columns
on a full page.  I was doing pretty well
with the self-talk list.  I hadn’t
circled anything when I came to, “I know how to do it” and “I’m
right.”  Well, yes!  I find myself saying that a lot.  What’s wrong with that?  I mean I had just been thinking how maybe
Sarah needed someone to help her run her workshops, someone like me who knew
how to structure such an event. “I know how to do it.”  Was that a problem?  How did that interfere with my life and my
relationships?  Then the light went
on. 

Who wants
to be around someone who always thinks they know the best way?  Who wants to be around someone who is always
right?  No one, that’s who.  What I perceived as strength was also one of
my greatest weaknesses.  It was an
epiphany!  It was a personality shadow on
which a light had just been shone. 

Now, I
try harder to let people do it their way, not mine and not to judge it as right
or wrong.  It’s just different.  I try harder to listen to other people’s
concepts and ideas and once again accept that they aren’t seeing things the way
I do but that’s ok too. But, sometimes I still look around and think I could
help an organization or two run better than they are running, like the government.  So, when I received this hoax email recently
I found myself agreeing with most of the suggestions presented.  If I ran the government, this is what I would
want to see happen.  This seems
right.  Well, it’s my government so in a
way I am responsible for its operation. 
I am sad to admit that considering the terrible state it’s presently
in.  But, even though Warren Buffet never
said what is written below, I support these ideas.  I’m sure they are right.  Our government needs to change and since I
like to tell people how to improve their organizational skills, I am sharing
this latest group of suggestions with my readers with the hope that maybe
together we can help congress to finally get it right.

Warren Buffet is asking each addressee to forward this email
to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those
to do likewise. At least 20 if you
can. It has to stop somewhere!

*Congressional Reform Act of 2013

1. No Tenure / No Pension. 
 
A  Congressman/woman
collects a salary while in office and receives no
pay when they’re out of office.
 

2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in
Social Security.

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the
Social Security

system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social
Security system and Congress participates with the American people. It may not
be used for any other purpose.

 
3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as
all Americans do.

 
4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.
Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5. Congress loses their current health care system and
participates in the same health care system as the American people.

 
6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on
the American people.

 
7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women
are void effective 12/31/13.

 
The American people did not make this contract with
Congressmen/women.

Congressmen/women made all these contracts for themselves.
Serving in Congress is an honor not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned
citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back
to work.

 
If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it
will only take

three days for most people (in the U.S. ) to receive the
message.

Don’t you think it’s time?

THIS IS HOW

YOU FIX CONGRESS!

What do
you think?  I agree.  Do you think I’m right and I know how to do
it?  Maybe it’s OK once in a while to
share what I think are some really good ideas.

 

 

 

 

And Then the Wind Chime Rang

Affirmation:  When I practice an attitude of gratitude, I
let go of regret and disappointment.

My energy
was really low.  The house was in the
middle of a renovation.  We were leaving
for a trip that morning and I had received three calls from family members the
day before, each regarding a different issue and each presenting a fairly
serious, if not life threatening problem. 
I’d had a terrible night’s sleep. 
It had taken a long time to fall asleep and by 4 AM I was wide
awake.  I’d lain there and said the
Rosary and all the memorized prayers I knew and I think I dozed on and off but
by 6 AM I was wide awake.  I silently
slipped out of bed because my husband was still resting peacefully, grabbed my
daily meditation book and my journal.  I
put on my slippers and a cover-up and made a cup of tea and headed downstairs
to the sun room but it looked like a beautiful warm morning and so I chose
instead to sit on the patio. 

At the
Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat the month before this particular day, we were led in a
guided mediation by TJ Martin, one of our dedicated founding yoga teachers. Our
intention for our yoga-off-the-mat was to help the participants find their
heart space, that place where they felt safe and calm.  Once they were able to visualize it they were
then encouraged to draw it and finally to paint it.  Irene Talton, our yoga-off-the-mat
facilitator and TJ Martin showed us how to use the water colors to achieve our
goals, or at least to come close to them for those of us who didn’t have a clue
how to paint.  The guided meditation led
me to my back yard patio.  It wasn’t the
first time I was stunned by the place mediation had taken me.

One time
many years ago I had been invited by a doctor friend to come to his home and to
do some “imaging.”  Once I was
in a relaxed state he too had me imagine a safe place.  Whoosh! 
There I was sitting on a bench in front of the Eseeola Lodge in
Linville, NC.  We had visited there many
times with very dear friends but I had never considered it a safe or sacred
place.  I was so surprised to
“be” there that I gave a small gasp. 
I can still remember that session with Dr. Telfer.  It was in 1999 but every time I recall it,
it’s as clear to me now as it was then.

 
Now I was
“on” my patio.  We had lived in
this particular house for a little over six years.  It isn’t my dream house but it’s a good
house.  It’s spacious and I’ve had it
painted lots of bright colors, yellow being the primary one.  We’ve spent a lot of time and treasure spiffing
it up and making it the way we’d like it to be but I still missed the house I
had left, my former dream home.  It was
not an attitude of gratitude and I knew it but I was still lacking in
thankfulness.  Now here I was at the
retreat visualizing my sacred space; it could be anywhere in the world or
anywhere in my imagination and where was I, I was on my patio!

As I sat
down this morning with my tea and my journal I felt blessed to actually be in
my sacred space.  It was coolish but I
had my hot tea and my cover-up so I was comfortable.  I opened the journal and began to write.  I noted I wasn’t well rested and then a stiff
breeze blew and the wind chime in the tree rang out.  The sound went right into my chest, my heart
and reverberated up and out all of my limbs. 
I was stunned by the feeling.  I
stopped writing and listened.  There’s a
small waterfall off to the side of the patio and it was rippling joyfully.  The birds were waking up and their chirping
was lyrical.  Then I heard the young
children who live behind me talking with their parents.  They were giggling.  Tears sprang to my eyes.  Thank you I wrote.  Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

The day
before this epiphany I had walked the local lake with a neighbor friend.  I always wondered why she didn’t always
understand what I said to her.  I had
decided it was my NY accent and her foreign ears but this morning she shared
with me that she had been very ill as a young woman and had lost half of her
hearing.  It hadn’t slowed her down and
she went onto a very blessed life but as I sat there on my patio this morning,
I was even more aware of the gift of my hearing. I have continued the practice
of listing each morning three joys from the day before.  On this morning I listed the joys I had
discovered at sunrise.  The joy of waking
to a new day.  The joy of having a sacred
space I could actually walk onto.  The
joy of being married to a man who supports me and my dreams, no matter how
daunting they may seem.  The joy of
taking time in the morning to pray and write. 
The joy of being the person her family turns to when they need
support.  I know that’s more than three
joys.  Most mornings there are way more
than three.  This morning I also listed
the joy of the gift of my hearing.   My
attitude of gratitude had finally overtaken my thanklessness and that sound of
the wind chime had pierced not just my chest and my heart but it had pierced
and healed my soul.

The Movie of My Life

Affirmation:  I live a Christ centered life of love, peace,
joy, gratitude and compassion.
 
 
Jason
Becker, Not Dead Yet
, is the name of the movie we were invited to
view.  It was the premier and it was
being held to benefit Jason Becker and the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,
aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) Foundation.  We
were guests of Cytokinetics which is a drug development group doing research to
aid in the treatment and cure of these types of diseases. We didn’t know Jason.
We knew nothing about his story but the invitation was for a group of us to
travel to a club, Bimbo’s, in San Francisco and have dinner and watch the
film.  We were already in California at
the time so it was an appealing invitation. 
We entered the club, got a beverage and then went to meet Jason.  He was in a motorized wheel chair and there
was a line to meet him.  He could no
longer move any part of his body other than his eyes and some facial
muscles.  He was surrounded by what I
assumed to be family members and caregivers. 
 
 
My first impression of him was how handsome he was.  We had been told a little about Jason’s story
before we arrived.  He was a guitar
virtuoso from the time he was five years old until he was eighteen when he was
diagnosed with ALS.  The disease
progressed very quickly and while he was able to record a lot of his work
before his upper body deserted him, he had to drop out of the David Roth world
tour. He had been recruited as Van Halen’s replacement. He was now 41. His
father had developed a system of communication that allowed Jason to
“talk” with his eyes.  It was a
matrix system and it depended on how many times he blinked and what direction
he rolled his eyes.  His parents and
caregivers could spell out the words Jason was indicting and then they would
share his comments with the visitor.  We
were next in line to meet him.
I’d
never met anyone with ALS and I’ve never really tried to have a conversation
with a paraplegic.  But, he had his
interpreters with him so I wasn’t too concerned.  We approached and I confessed to him that I
was new to his story but I was looking forward to becoming one of his newest
fans.  He made a few eye movements and
his father told us he had just responded, “awesome.”  Awesome was exactly what I was thinking and
after we watched the film, awesome was exactly the word I would use to describe
this young man’s talent, the dedication of his amazing family and friends and
his undaunted courage.
 
A
diagnosis of ALS is considered a terminal diagnosis.  There is no cure.  There is no treatment.  There is no hope.  Normally, one would die within a few years of
the diagnosis.  As of this date, Jason
has been alive for 23 years after the diagnosis; he’s “not dead
yet.”  Not only is he still alive
but he’s still composing music.  His
father has come up with another way to help Jason compose the music he can
still hear, the music he’s still creating in his mind.  My husband, Sandy and I were inspired by
Jason story.  We are inspired by Jason
himself and by the love and support he has gathered around him.
 
 
The
next morning I sat with another event attendee and we began to discuss all we
had learned from the night before.  We
shared our newfound appreciation for Jason and his family.  I then shared that after last night’s
experience I found myself asking the question, if someone was to make a movie
of my life, what would be in it?  Jason
is only 41.  Most of the movie revolved
around his first eighteen years and the accomplishments he had already
made.  It appeared he was on his way to
becoming one of the all-time great guitarists. 
He was on his way to becoming a legend. 
I’m not a guitar aficionado but even I recognized several of the names
of the people in the movie who spoke about him. 
He had already commanded such respect as an artist and as a human being
by the age of eighteen that twenty-three years later, these famous musicians
were still giving testimony to him and his talent.
 
I
don’t know about you but I must admit that if my life’s reputation had to depend
on what I’d accomplished up until my eighteenth year, it would be very lacking
in accomplishments.  I’m sixty-seven as
of this writing and I would hope that I have finally achieved some measure of
respect for a lifetime of loving effort. 
What would a movie of my life include? 
What would a movie of your life look like?  When discussing this with my friend, we found
ourselves focusing on the virtues of kindness and love.  As long as our movie focused on promoting
those two qualities, we decided it would be a good film.
 
I
once saw a really scary movie with Robin Williams about an internal camera
device that was implanted in everyone at their birth and was extracted when
they died.  His profession was to put
together their obituary in film form from their camera.  He was supposed to be one of the best because
he could edit the film of even the most cruel, horrendous behavior and make the
obituary a glowing commendation of the deceased.  It was so disturbing that I shut it off
almost at the beginning but the concept left me with a lot to think about.
 
The
day will come when someone will be piecing my life together to help others
remember me.  It’s inevitable.  What will my “movie” say about me?  Will I need a professional editor?  Will it be a comedy or a drama and what will
it be rated? Have you heard the advice about writing out your own obituary so
you can decide before you die how you want to be remembered and then take the
steps necessary to paint that picture?  I
know no matter how we craft our lives not everyone will appreciate what we’ve
attempted to do no matter how kind and caring we have acted.  If it happens so be it but I shouldn’t expect
to be recognized for my good works. 
Really, the most important part of all this is if I did my best, my utmost
to live a life worthy of my own respect and that of my God.  Kindness, forgiveness and love are the three
qualities I’d like the movie of my life to revolve around.  Hopefully, I have a few more years left to
make sure the ending of my movie is as close to my ideal as it possibly can be.

 

Just Pick Up the Phone

Affirmation:  When I quickly and directly resolve an issue,
I feel less stressed and more peaceful.

This is the age of electronic
communications.  On Longmire, one
of my favorite TV shows, Longmire’s deputy checked the victim’s phone for text
messages rather than for phone calls. 
And, that was the correct method for finding out about the victim’s
activity.  It’s so very easy to send a
text, an email or a tweet but it isn’t necessarily the quickest way to
communicate with someone.  One day my
grandson texted me from another room in our home to ask me a question.  I thought he’d left without telling me and I
panicked but he hadn’t.  He’s 13 at this
writing.  If he continues along this
path, he may not make it to 14.

Recently, I’ve had several
situations that were making me a little anxious.  In all cases I had emailed the person or the
company and had either not received an answer or I didn’t get the answer I
wanted.  The first issue was with amazon.com. I had bought a faucet for our
kitchen.  The kitchen was being remodeled
and by the time the plumbers were ready to install the faucet, my return date
had passed.  The faucet didn’t fit.  When I went online to return it, I got the
pop-up that it was too late to send it back. 
I was quite annoyed and then I thought, “Just pick up the
phone.”  I had a quick conversation
with a very nice person and he waved the return date so I could send it
back.  It was easy but if I hadn’t made
the phone call, I’d still own that faucet.

I was on a roll now.  I’ve become my Mom’s financial
caretaker.  She’s always done an amazing
job with her resources but it had become too much for her.  Her credit card bill came and I put it on the
shelf.  For the first time in her life,
her next credit card bill came with a service charge on it.  Oh my! 
I was in trouble!  It was quite a
penalty for a very small overdue balance. 
I picked up the phone and spoke with a very nice young woman.  I guessed she could immediately see the bill
had never been late before and she immediately took off the penalty fee.  Whew!

It seems this is the lesson I
needed to learn at this time.  Once I
began looking at different situations with an eye towards finding easier,
quicker resolutions, more and more opportunities kept presenting
themselves.  I found with each episode
that came up if I acted immediately and directly rather than just mulling over
what to do, I was less stressed and more peaceful.

The faucet wasn’t the only
remodeling snafu.  We had hired a very
nice young man to be our contractor and he seemed quite efficient.  At the beginning of the project he put
together some sort of computer notification system than showed us the exact
time of each part of the job and the exact cost of every single step.  Over the next few weeks that program would
pop up almost daily with some sort of time change or even worse, some sort of
price increase.  Needless to say I was
becoming more and more anxious every time I’d see an email with his company’s
name on it.  At first I found my stomach
would knot up and my head would begin to ache but then I changed my approach
and when something was changed, I’d call him and many times he’d relieve my
anxiety with a detailed explanation or he’d remove the extra fee because he’d
made a mistake.  (I chose to believe it
was an error.) With that phone call came the ability for me to take deeper
breaths and relax about whatever was being presented.

Even with my family I’ve noticed
how often we now text or email one another rather than calling, although not as
readily as my grandson.  All too often I
wasn’t getting an answer to my questions or they were wondering why I hadn’t
replied to their queries.  Usually it was
because the emails got lost in the ether somewhere.  But, with a simple phone call, whatever
question we had would be resolved, immediately.

 

Since this was my
lesson for now, I began to wonder if I shouldn’t apply it to my prayer life
too.  How often did I obsess over some
life issue that needed to be let go of and turned over to God?  What if I took my new lesson and rather than
letting the issue weigh me down, I immediately “picked up the phone”
and shared it with The Lord?  What would
that look like?  What number would I
dial?  I closed my eyes and sat quietly
and envisioned the phone.  It wasn’t a
cell phone.  Interestingly, it was an old
fashioned phone like the one in Dr.
Strangelove
with Peter Sellers and it was red. 
Of course it was because in the movie the red phone was a direct line to
the President.  I didn’t need a phone
number at all.  I just needed to pick up
that old fashioned red phone and God would be on the other end.  God is always on the other end, waiting for
me to call.  Once I’ve taken the time and
made the effort to connect, I am connected. 
No, the situation may not be resolved as quickly as it was at amazon.com or LL Bean although it might be, but I
quickly realized I felt better about my concerns.  By taking the time to “call” God, I
felt less stressed and I felt more peaceful.