Jean Anne Costa
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Blessed are the Balanced

Affirmation:  I am fully
aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy balance.

Balance is another gift of yoga. 
There are the obvious asanas that offer the yogi the opportunity to
practice balancing: head stand, dancer’s pose, warrior III and the classic tree
pose to name a few but unless one is lying on his or her back or stomach, balance
is always involved in a pose, just like in life.  We then have the opportunity of taking our
balancing practice with us out into our day and into our world.  What does it mean to balance?  Is one ever balanced or is there only the
practice of balancing? 

Recently, I have taken on caring for a loved one.  The care requires much more effort than was
required or desired in the past.  I’ve
spent a great deal of time at the hospital, the rehab and on the phone or the
email connecting with caretakers, family and friends.  I’m happy to do it.  I love her and am pleased to have the
opportunity to do whatever is necessary to be of service but life has been
extremely full.  I now have the
additional activities required for this care-taking and my normal full
life.  When I was guided to do tree pose
in a recent yoga class, I immediately placed all my weight on my right foot,
the soul of my left foot against my inner thigh and chose one spot on which to
focus.  I then put my hands over my head
and became a tree.  I’ve done this
hundreds, maybe thousands of times.  I
was then guided to switch sides.  I
couldn’t do it.  My left leg would not
hold my weight on its own.  I needed
help.  I went to the wall in order to
maintain my balance.  The imbalance of my
life at the present time was reflected in my yoga practice.  I was stunned that the imbalance in my daily
life was so glaringly presented to me in my pose.  I didn’t feel too worried about it because I
recognized that while I was out of balance at the moment, I was now fully aware
of it and I needed to attend to whatever it would take to help me level out.
There are all kinds of balance: work and play, self-care and
community service, calories in versus calories out, time alone and time with
others, spending and saving money, exercise and rest.  The list can go on and on.  I’m sure you can think of a few, perhaps some
on which you’ve been working.  One
challenging part of achieving balance is it’s so personal. What is good for one
person may not be true for another.  Like
any life skill one is trying to improve upon, the very first step is awareness,
actually recognizing when you’re out of sync. 
Another factor is the time frame it’s placed within.  Are we looking to be in balance every moment,
every day, once a week or are we content to look over the whole year and think
something like, “I worked hard for most of the year and now I’m going to
take it easy for the end of the year.”?  
The truth is it’s no different than dieting.  First we need a focus point, perhaps that’s a
specific weight we are trying to maintain. 
Every day we make choices and each choice will lead to a better balanced
life.  When we are watching our calories
you can have a heavier day one day and a lighter one the next day to balance
out your intake or perhaps you are fairly conscientious during the week and
that allows you to eat a little heavier on the weekend.  If we take it one step further, perhaps
you’re fairly restrictive most of the year but let yourself relax while you’re
on vacation or at a celebration.  As long
as you can maintain your healthy weight, it doesn’t matter how you do it but
you’re going to have to balance out those calories or your weight will either
climb up, or get too low.  It’s no
different with anything else to which you want to bring balance. 
Many years ago a very spiritual woman told me a story about her
volunteer work.  She was determined to
become more faithful and with that she decided to spend more time at her church
and then that became even more time. 
Finally, she was at the church all the time and her family and her work
were falling apart.  She couldn’t figure
out what was wrong, if anything, because she was sure she was following the
better path to God.  Before her world
came crashing down upon her, the parish priest counseled her to look at the
imbalance of her life.  She examined her
priorities, made several changes and saved herself. The path to holiness
requires that we attend not to just the spirit but to the mind and to the
body.  That means the path to holiness
requires balance or at least an ongoing attempt at balancing. 
In order to walk the tight rope of life, we must be vigilant and
place one foot gingerly and mindfully in front of the other.  It takes practice.  It takes the lessons from the yoga mat and
from wherever and from whomever we can learn them.  Perhaps with enough practice one will even be
able to stand on one’s head.  If not,
perhaps at least on one foot at a time, or even just both feet without toppling
over.  The following week I took some
extra “me” time and when I returned to class I once again was able to
become a tree, on the right side and, on the left side.

The Bigger Picture

Affirmation:  Because of my relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ, I let go of fear and anxiety and fully trust in His loving care for me

Have you heard the story about the farmer who lived in ancient times?  He had a lovely farm and one son and one horse.  One day they found the gate to the corral open and the horse was missing.  All his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh no, you poor man.  You’ve lost your only horse, how terrible!”  He answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”  His son then borrowed a horse and went to look for their missing animal.  In
a while, his father looked up and saw his son coming towards him riding
the missing horse and behind him was a whole heard of horses.  He opened the gate and all the horses ran into the corral.  All his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh, you lucky man.  You’ve not only found your horse. You now have a whole heard of horses, how wonderful!”  He answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”  His son began taming the wild horses and one day he fell off and broke his leg.  All his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh no, you poor man.  Your only son has broken his leg and now he cannot help you with all the work on your farm, how terrible!”  He answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”  While his son was recuperating, the local war lord and his men showed up.  They were conscripting all the eligible young men to fight in their war.  Of course, they could not take the farmer’s son because of his broken leg.  Once again, all his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh, you lucky man.  Your only son has been saved from fighting for the local war lord, how wonderful!”  I’m not going to tell you his answer.  I think you already know it.  

How
many times have you had something happen to you and you judged the
quality of the experience as good or bad and then, later, sometimes much
later, you saw it in a different light and realized you didn’t have a
clue at the time it occurred about how it was going to affect your life?  It’s so easy to fall into the pit of despair, anxiety and depression.  According to quantum physics negative energy resonates at a lower level than positive energy.  That makes it easier for us to connect with it and more difficult to tap into the positive.  We have to work harder to find the positive.  I’m sure you have many examples of events that created openings into opportunities of which you never dreamed.  In our family alone, we have experienced job loss that led to a new and better opportunity.  We’ve witnessed the sad disillusionment of a marriage that later led to a new, healthier, happier family unit.  We’ve seen so much suffering and struggle that in time brought reward and accomplishment.   Of course, that’s not always true.  But, doesn’t it bring comfort that it can work out for the better?
That’s not to say we shouldn’t allow ourselves our feelings.  Not only should we allow them, we need to experience them.  There is no short cut through grief; there is only the direct path through it.  If you try to skirt around it, it will catch up with you when you least expect it.  And, grief comes from many different types of loses, not just from death.  One
can experience grief over the loss of a dream; perhaps the dream of a
perfect marriage, a perfect job, what one thought a perfect career
should look like.  One can
experience grief over the loss of health, money, youth and even less
recognized events like that of thinning hair or a thickening middle.  It’s all part of our lives.  It’s important to acknowledge how we feel about loss and then move towards recovery.  But, it’s also important to realize nothing is stagnant.  Life
is always changing and whatever is causing you distress will change too
and it might just be the one thing to open a door to something
marvelous.  Why not simply watch and see how it works itself out?
We are only capable of seeing a small part of the picture.  Only God can see the big picture.  The
question is can you trust enough to believe He/She has your best
interest at heart; that that which was meant for your harm, God will use
for your good?   Garth Brooks has a country song entitled “Thank God for Unanswered Prayer.”  In it he tells the story of a man who meets an old flame, the one woman he prayed to God to make his wife.  It didn’t work out and now as he walks away from her, he realizes how lucky he was.  He’s married to the real love of his life and so he remembers to “thank God for unanswered prayer.”  It’s another example of loss and grief and an experience that led to something better.  I’m sure he couldn’t see it when it happened.  He had to wait to recognize the blessing that came from the breakup with his first love. 

For me, this is why I practice my faith.  I don’t want it to be all about life after death.  I
want to live this life with the trust that God really does want only my
best and that if I practice that, if I trust, all will be well.  It may not be the way I expected.  It
may not be anything like what I had asked for but if I believe that
whatever is happening is exactly what should be happening, think of the
peace I experience.  I must confess it’s not an easy process, simple maybe, but not easy.  It takes work.  It takes staying connected to the Divine at every possible moment.  I have a wonderful meditation tape by Belleruth Naparstak.  At
one point in the tape she speaks about all the angels and guides who
are surrounding the listener and then as they begin to fade away they
say, “Remember, we are always with you.  It is you who comes and goes.”  What comfort that brings me.  If I can stay focused, if I choose to stay in the presence of God, God will always be with me.  That’s
my choice; that’s my meditation; to remain in the presence of God and
with all my angels and helpers as often as possible and to trust in
their divine protection.  Then,
when faced with a challenging situation instead of labeling it ‘good or
bad, lucky or unlucky” I can simply watch it and think “maybe yes, maybe
no.”

Praying the Rosary

Affirmation: I am committed to cultivating compassion for
those who most need God’s mercy. 
Many years ago when my husband Sandy and I were in New York City
we went to Ellis Island.  It had recently
opened and I was very anxious to see it. 
I knew that both our ancestors had entered the United States through
that terminal and even if they hadn’t I felt it was an amazing opportunity to
experience at least a trace of the United States’ history in a very real way.  It was late in the day when we headed off for
the tour.  It was a rainy dark day.  We stood on the line to embark on the ship
and finally boarded and headed towards the island.  It was remarkable!  I was stunned by the size of the entry hall
and took time to imagine what it would have been like to come into it, wondering
if I would be allowed to enter the country or if I would be turned away.  I could only imagine the exhaustion and
anxiety that would accompany such an experience.  
We didn’t have as much time as I would have
liked because we’d started out so late but I was pleased that we had made the
effort.  The last ferry was about to leave.  It was still raining and now it was totally
dark.  We again waited on line to board
the ship.  When we finally got aboard,
there weren’t any seats but there was a little shelter towards the bow.  My husband and I were quiet with our
thoughts.  I decided to say the Rosary as
we headed back to port.  When you
disembark the ship at Battery Park there is not a que for the taxis.  One must search for transportation and if
you’re trying to get back uptown it can be a very daunting exercise.  There weren’t any taxis to be found
anywhere.  There were all these people
vying for a ride and it was crazy!  We
decided to head off in the opposite direction of the crowd, to take the
“path less traveled.”  As we
walked along we were quiet and I threw in a few more Hail Mary’s.  Roaming around that area in the dark was not the
best choice, even for two street wise people from NYC.   
We were becoming concerned when we turned a
corner and two people were exiting a taxi. 
We immediately got into it and took a few deep breaths.  I don’t remember the cabbie’s name and why,
you ask, would I?  Well, the first thing
we noticed is that he had on a classic music station; it was playing Pachelbel’s
Cannon. I could feel the tension drain away, not only from me but from my
husband and then we both noticed the Rosary hanging from the cabbie’s rear view
mirror.  I smiled.  I might have even giggled a bit.  My husband turned in the seat and looked
directly at me and said, “You’ve been praying the Rosary, haven’t
you?” 
Now, this was quite a while back. 
I say this because now if you hail a cab in NY, the driver probably
doesn’t speak English and they won’t have music on, they have TV screens with
advertisements that demand your attention but even then, many years ago, most of
the cabbies were from another country. 
The probability of getting an English speaking driver was very low.  The probability of getting an English
speaking, Rosary practicing Catholic cabby was miraculous. 
I have a young friend who is not a Catholic.  She was raised a Christian but her life has
taken her in another direction at this point. 
She recently shared with me that she was reading a book about Mother
Mary, the goddess.  It’s not the first
time someone has told me they thought of the Blessed Mother as a goddess.  I once went for an interview for a graduate
program and when I told the interviewer that I was a Catholic, she exclaimed,
“Oh, that’s so cool!  Your faith has
a goddess, Mother Mary.”  At that
time I was surprised.  So, I wasn’t
surprised this time.  What surprised me
is that my friend shared that she had begun to pray to Mary.  She shared that she’d had an issue with a
loved one who was not well and she didn’t want to add to her relatives’
distress.  Instead she wrote a letter to
Mary, burned it and asked for peace.  She
was sharing with me that peace came, almost immediately and it had remained
with her up to this point. 
Catholics are sometimes criticized for praying to others besides
Christ.  It’s true we do, or I should
say, I do.  It’s not that we’re really
praying to another.  We’re really asking
that spiritual being who we believe is closer to God at that moment than we
are, to intercede for us.  I pray to St.
Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, more and more often. It never
fails!  “Saint Anthony, Saint
Anthony please look around.  I’ve lost my
_______ and it needs to be found.” 
I recite a lot of memorized prayers and several I’ve made up.  I also pray the Rosary.  It was once explained to me that Mother Mary
can intercede for us by asking for what we really need, many times when we
don’t even have a clue about what we really need. 
It is part of the practice to meditate on one of the Mysteries of
the Rosary before beginning the prayers for each of the five decades of ten
beads.  There are four Mysteries each one
assigned to a different day or days of the week.  They take you from the conception of Christ
to the Assumption of Mary.  I’ve been
saying the Rosary since I was a child and love to pray it especially as I walk
around our nearby lake.  I find comfort
in the recitation.  With the reading of
Father Haas’ book, Catching Fire, Becoming Flame, I decided to make an
effort to recite the Rosary daily.  He
calls us to be of service.  He reminds us
that being of service is the purpose of our existence and we are especially
called to be of service to those most in need. 
I believe that to be true and while I am a volunteer in many ministries,
I wanted to do even more for the marginalized of society.  I wanted to find a way to bring comfort and
peace and hope to those most in need.  I
therefore, have committed to saying the Rosary, daily, for those God deems most
in need of help.  I believe in answered
prayer.  I achingly hope that my
thoughts, intentions and the energy I am sending forth into the universe are
tenderly touching the lives of those who are suffering.  I feel it’s a step, perhaps the first step
for me, towards feeling a greater sense of compassion for those who most need
God’s mercy.
If Mother Mary can bring peace to a non-believer and a NY taxi to
a couple of nervous, wet, cold travelers, I am very hopeful about what she can
do for the comfort of those who so desperately are in need of comfort.  Join me. 
Pray your set of prayers for those who are suffering.  Imagine our energy bringing solace, hope,
maybe even joy to those who are suffering more than we can even imagine. Every
thought we think, every word we say, every action we take affects everyone else
in the world. May our thoughts and energy bring peace, salvation and perhaps
even joy to those who suffer more than we can even imagine. 

Setting An Intention

Affirmation: 2014 is
dedicated as “The Year of Divine Connection.”
It’s January 2014, the beginning
of a new year.  I’ve already visited and
examined the past year and now I want to look forward.  Of course, I don’t know what whims of fate
await me but I’ve stocked the tool box with tons of coping skills so I’m not
going to go forward in fear.  I am going
forward in faith and with joyful expectation. 
What would you expect from someone who writes about Positive
Affirmations?  Last year was a good
year.  When I answered the 1st of last
week’s blog questions about the hardest thing I had to do, the answer wasn’t
really all that difficult.  It was a lot
better than some years that’s for sure. 
After I wrote the answer I actually felt myself smiling at how blessed I
am. 
Many years ago I owned a
refrigerator sized calendar that had the entire year on one piece of
paper.  I loved that calendar.  I loved looking at the whole year ahead and
planning our adventures and special occasions. 
I still like to look at the year ahead but now it’s all on my
computer.  Somehow it doesn’t feel as
satisfying but I’m adjusting. 

Taking an intention is a regular
part of a yoga practice.  I’ve expanded
that to my “off the mat” practice. 
I sometimes take an intention for the day. It’s pretty cool when it
appears in my daily journal.  We take an
intention for each of the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreats.  We’ve just begun the planning for this year’s
retreat.  I’m very excited to see what
will appear.  It usually comes fairly
quickly as the committee discusses on that which they’d like to focus.  Last year was the first time I decided to set
a personal intention for the whole year. 
I declared 2013 “The Year of Love.” 

I have always loved the color
yellow.  I live in a yellow
“submarine.”  It makes me feel
happy and yet I still feel grounded when I’m in a yellow room.  Not all yellows, however, it’s more buttery
than gold.  I’ve usually added other
colors to punch it up, like hot pink or purple. 
For the last few months I’ve had an attraction to the color green.  I mention this because it’s a new phase.  In the past I have avoided green.  There wasn’t any green inside my home or in
my wardrobe.  Now, I’ve painted my office
apple green. I’ve added a Kelly green print to a couch and then I went crazy
and chose green granite for the renovated kitchen.  Nothing I had in the former kitchen went with
the green color but I was irresistibly drawn to it and I just relaxed and let
it happen.  Why I wondered was this shift
taking place?  I was discussing my
intention for 2013 with a wise yogi and mentioned my new bent towards the green
color.  She reminded me about the chakra
colors.  Guess what color the heart
chakra is!  Yup, it’s green. 
I’d like to believe that my
dedication to The Year of Love led to more than just an attraction to green and
a new decorating scheme.  Personal growth
and internal development is a slow process. 
It’s just like most other changes one is attempting.  They take time.  There are subtle differences that may not
even be perceived for a long time.  It’s
like that with our affirmations.  We
choose them carefully, write them, read them, perhaps say them to ourselves and
let them slowly permeate our subconscious and eventually our cellular
structure.  Then one day we respond to a
situation differently than we had in the past, in a way that affirms us, not
diminishes us and we realize our affirmation has manifested. 
As I looked forward to 2014 I had
trouble deciding on what besides love was important enough to focus on for a
whole year.  I thought about choosing
faith as a focus and I considered forgiveness but neither of those felt
right.  I do however; want to keep a
focus on forgiveness.  One of my
affirmations is, I freely forgive myself and others.  And, I do want my faith to grow. I attended a
retreat many years ago with my friend Ann Baucom and her spiritual
director.  I was going over those notes
very recently and there was the spiritual direction for which I was
looking.  It entreated me to let my

faith
grow not because of a sense of obedience or even a sense of belonging but
because it is rooted in experience. 
Faith doesn’t only increase because of our religious experiences
although it is possible but for many, me included, my faith experiences happen
both in and outside of church and that’s exactly what I want.  I want to see the moon and the stars, I want
to feel the sun warm my skin, I want to relish holding someone’s hand, I want
to hear the bird’s song and the ocean’s road and I want in that experience to
feel God’s presence.  I want to feel
connected to the Divine.  I’d like to be
connected at all times but this is a mediation, a practice.  In order for me to achieve this relationship,
this intention, I need to pay close attention and focus on my ultimate desire.  Yes, that is something I would be willing to
spend a year cultivating, even a lifetime. 
I have dedicated 2014 as The Year of Connecting to the Divine. 

What are you willing to dedicate
of year of your life towards?  Perhaps,
it’s not one phrase; perhaps you have a list of intentions.  I have one of them too.  It hasn’t changed from last year. It reminds
me of God’s bounty and of the truth that I cannot fathom the riches that can be
found once we connect to the Divine. My ideal life always includes optimal
health but good health and an ideal life require more than care for the body,
the body will cease to exist one day no matter how well I care for it.  I need to focus on the spirit too.  As in past January months I carefully
considered what my ideal life would include. 
I have carefully crafted ten intentions. 
Pray Unceasingly
Forgive Continually
Accept and Give Love Freely
Hug Whenever Possible
Learn Constantly
Dance
Often
Eat
Mindfully
Recognize the Shadows
Smile Early, Laugh Daily
Be Grateful, Always and for All
Things
Happy New Year!  May your year be filled with abundant
blessings, prosperity and joy.  Take some
time and write down your intentions. 
Won’t it be wonderful when you do your 2014 review, if you find you’ve
manifested your dreams and aspirations? 

Year End Review

Affirmation:
I examine the past with an eye on my best
The
conversation revolved around how different generations use technology.  Adam, my daughter’s fiancé spoke with me about how those over 50 had to learn about social
media; how for those in their late 20’s and 30’s it was simply an extension of
the computer skills they learned as children and how those in their teens today have grown up with
social media.  It’s an integral part of
their life, like radio or TV is to some. 
He then went on to tell me that my 16 year old granddaughter will have a
complete photo history of her life not because we have been photographing her
since birth, which we have, but because she posts photos and everyday events on
the social media sites and has been for several years.  She has been carefully schooled by her
parents about the dangers of sharing too much information or about sharing inappropriate
information. So far, so good. After our discussion I found myself thinking how
nice it would be for me to have a complete record of my life.  The older I become, the more there is to
remember and the more I seemed to have forgotten.
For me,
recalling the past can sometimes be quite a challenge.  Unless, the event is tied to a significant emotional response. 
I have at least one friend who can remember the names of all her
teachers from elementary school through high school.  My sister can recognize people she hasn’t
seen in years and my husband’s ability to remember where we’ve traveled and
what we’ve done is amazing.  I on the
other hand really struggle with those skills. 
I do, however, remember holding my oldest daughter’s hand as we walked
together to her pre-school. I remember when my youngest crawled into bed with
me early in the morning to hug for a while before she went off to school and I
can recall every one of my son’s projects and there have been many, because of
the excitement he generated as he took them on. 

The TV
show Sixty Minutes had two separate programs about memory issues.  The first was about people who cannot
remember faces, not even the faces of their loved ones.  They are not ignorant by any means but that part of their brain simply doesn’t
hold that information.  The same program
also looked at people who had no directional skills.  They were lucky to get out of their own
homes.  That part of their brain didn’t
provide that skill.   On the second
program they interviewed people who could recall every moment of their lives as
if they had a file cabinet in their brains and they could access whatever
information they needed whenever they needed it.  At the time of the show, there were only
about a dozen people known world wide with this skill.  I am pleased to say,  I do not have any of these issues or
skills.  My memory is selective and
challenging but I can easily recognize my loved ones and many others and I have
a fairly strong sense of direction but whereas I would like to more clearly
remember my past, I would not want to carry every one of those memories with me
throughout my life.  I think that would
be overwhelming and exhausting. 

It is,
however, very important for me to review the past. It’s probably why I keep a
journal and a little pocket calendar where I write the day’s past events. For
me it’s like looking in the rear view mirror of the car before changing lanes
because them I am aware of what’s going on around me.  I have found it to be very helpful to put
together a yearly family photo calendar. 
Going back over the year’s significant events really helps me to recall
that which was important to me and what brought me joy.  Otherwise, the year all blends together.  Then the years all blend together and those
highlights I so enjoyed and those lessons I learned get lost.  It’s the difference between living a life of
many different colors and tastes and living one that’s gray and bland.

I have
a monthly and a yearly practice of asking myself 10 questions that I feel will
improve the quality of my life going forward. I gathered these several years
ago from a newspaper article by Sharon Randal from Henderson, Nevada.
1. What
was the hardest thing I had to do this year?
2. What
was the most fun?
3. What
were the milestones?
4. What
was my biggest accomplishment?
5.
What’s something I wanted to do but didn’t?
6. What
was my biggest surprise?
7. What
was the best thing I did for another?
8. What
was something I worried about that I don’t worry about now?
9. What
made me proud?
10.
Describe a moment I want to remember.
I feel
the only reason to review the past, is to find a way to live better in the
future. Look it over, learn the lesson and then let it go. The last part may be
the hardest lesson of all.

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) fiancé.

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.