Jean Anne Costa
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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.

What Was I Thinking?

Affirmation:  I carefully choose my thoughts. 
 
This year’s 2013
Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat has just ended. 
It was our 9th retreat.  You can
gather more information about it from the web site, www.PinkRibbonYoga.org or you can find us on
Facebook.  The retreat provides women
breast cancer survivors with support, coping skills, and relaxation.  It is designed to be both nurturing and
empowering.   What happens over four days
and three nights?  Miracles happen. 
 
 
This year 29
people attended the retreat. We always take an intention to guide our planning
and this year our intention for this year’s retreat was “On Wings of
Joy.”  We borrowed a thousand paper
cranes from the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program and hung them from the
rafts and Nancy Soho, one of our committee members, created mobiles for
everyone.  She hand folded 5 paper cranes
for each one and then added a hand cut card from which they hung.  Along with Irene Talton, our gifted
yoga-off-the-mat instructor, they crafted inspirational words on the top of
each mobile.
 
We have a very
specific format that the retreat follows. 
It’s proven to be extremely beneficial for creating a healing
environment for each individual and for the group as a whole.  Over the years we’ve discovered that if we
provide a single meaningful word for each person they are more comfortable
speaking in our opening circle.  This year
we used the words on the mobiles to initiate sharing.  We then left the mobiles hanging on the back
of the chairs and reused them for our closing circle.  I think only one person got the same word for
both circles and that was me.  It was
“healing.”
 
Healing is one of
the miracles that take place during these four days.  I know because I always come away feeling
healed.  I like to hope that it’s a
complete healing from all my ailments: mind, body and spirit but I don’t know
that for sure.  There certainly could be
some rebellious cells floating around inside, although I hope not.  I do know, however, that I come away feeling
rested, valued, calmer, centered, nurtured and empowered.  I know too that all those positive emotions
can lead me, my body to a place of better physical health and even if I am not
cured of all my ailments, I know I am healed. 
There is a difference and I know I am not alone.  I know it because over the last nine years
the women, who have participated in the retreat, have told me so.  It is true.
 
 
 
The very first
thing we do when the retreat starts is to provide an atmosphere of safety.  We encourage everyone to respect the
confidentiality of any sharing that takes place.  We ask that only one person speak at a time
and that everyone else simply listen.  We
ask that each person use the word “I”, not the third person
“you” or “we.”  We
let everyone know that sharing is optional and that silence is not only
accepted but valued.  Before the next
person begins speaking, the last person must declare that they are
“complete.” 

We tell everyone
that this is their time, all four days and three nights.  We have all sorts of wonderful offerings but
their first responsibly is to take care of themselves and so if they need to
take a walk or a nap or to just have some quiet time, then that’s what they
should do.  Of course, if they want to do
yoga on the beach, try creating a water color of spirit, participate in yoga
dance, eat ice cream with the group, try the meditation sessions or experience
laughing yoga, they are welcome to join in. 
One other thing that quickly becomes apparent is the lack of judgment
that permeates the event.  For at least a
short while no one has to hide whatever might cause one to be embarrassed in
the outside world.  With that, the women
can simply be.  There is no striving, no
pretending.  It’s liberating.  It’s another modality that promotes
healing.
 
One of our
traditions is to jump into the ocean after the early morning yoga.  There’s something very magical about floating
on the warm waves early in the day with a group of friends.  One morning I was quite tired and I thought
maybe I’d skip the swim and just head back to breakfast but I wore my swimsuit
just in case.  The yoga ended and several
ladies headed towards the water.  I
joined them.  As I floated over and
through the gentle waves, I couldn’t imagine what I had been thinking that
would have kept me from this amazing experience and then I realized, I often
find myself in really neat situations that I was initially hesitant to
join.  Sometimes they involve big steps,
like when I joined my daughter-in-law and traveled with her to Ecuador and
other times, they’re small steps, like jumping into the ocean.  Each time, however, I find myself wondering,
“What was I thinking?”
 
Perhaps, if we
paid close attention we’d discover that most of the time we’re not very clear
about what we really want or what will make us really happy or perhaps what our
best choice is.  An example would be when
we choose to have that second helping of something that tasted really good but
which is not good for us.  How often have
any of us done that and then shortly afterwards wondered, “What was I
thinking?”  It would be wonderful to
always be clear about our decisions, to always be mindful but it’s a practice,
a life-long practice.  We can only stay
alert and be aware.
 
 
After the retreat
is over I find myself asking that same question about having this idea of a
yoga-beach retreat for women breast cancer survivors, “What was I
thinking?”  What made me think it
would become a reality?  Did I believe
that it would turn into such a powerful, healing experience for so many
people?  Where would the money come from
so everyone could afford to attend? 
Where would we find a place to stay? 
Who would volunteer to be our teachers? 
How would we advertise?  There
were dozens of questions and challenges to making this a reality.  “What was I thinking?”  I was thinking this was a good idea and if I
moved forward and it didn’t happen, well at least I tried.  It’s better to try and fail than to never try
at all but it didn’t fail.  It
happened.  It happened and it has
provided comfort and healing, support and respite to more people than I had
ever imagined.  “What was I
thinking?”  I don’t really know what
I was thinking but I do know I’m really glad and actually very proud that I was
thinking at all. I’m thrilled that the retreat exists and that because of the
work of so many wonderful people, we achieved the creation of such an amazing,
awesome experience.  As of today it’s
been over a week since the retreat began and I am pleased to say I am still
floating on the “wings of joy.”

What Do You Live For?

Affirmation:
Every day I invite God into my life.
In Rediscover
Catholicism
, Matthew Kelly asks many interesting questions and he presents
many topics for contemplation.  One of
the questions is “What do you live for?” He tells the story of
Abraham Lincoln calling in a soldier and asking the soldier to deliver an
important message.  The soldier tells
Lincoln, “Sir, I would die for our cause.”  Lincoln says, “Son, I have thousands of
men who will die for our cause.  What I
need is one man who will live for it.” 
I love that story.  It made me
question myself.  What do I live for?  Where do I spend my time, talent and
treasure? 

Rediscover
Catholicism
is a
three hundred page book which is distributed for free.  I received it at my church in Cary N.C., St
Michael the Archangel.  I think we were
encouraged to give it to someone who has “fallen away” from the
church but I felt I could use something to reenergize my faith and so I brought
it home and promptly put it on my shelf. 
There it sat for several months along with a whole stack of other
“mean to read” books.  Do you
have any like that? 

One day a fairly
new friend and I were discussing the Church and she began to tell me about
Matthew Kelly and his book, The Dynamic Catholic.  She’s seems more sure of our Church than I
and I was interested in what she had to share and quite taken with her
enthusiasm for this author and his passion. 
I then realized his book was sitting right there with us.  It felt like I was being directed by Spirit,
by God, to read this book.  I began using
it as a prelude to my journaling in the morning, as I like to do with different
reading material.  My intention is to read
something inspirational at night, I have recently been focusing on the New
Testament, and something motivational in the morning.  For the last few weeks, I’ve been reading Rediscover
Catholicism
.

It’s very easy to
focus on the faults of the Catholic Church. 
It’s no different than focusing on the faults of the world, the government,
any organization, friends or family. 
It’s very easy to sink to the level of non constructive criticism.  It’s easier to go to a negative place than to
a positive one and the Church is a magnet for that criticism.  It has had many serious problems as an
organization, devastating behavior that cannot be justified. When I refer to
the Church, I am referring to the hierarchy. 
The patriarchal leaders who determine the philosophy and tenor of
Catholicism. Even with all its blemishes the Catholic faith has provided me with the
tools to help me deepen my faith and to grow in my relationship with God.  Matthew Kelly’s book has helped me, my Small Christian Community
study group, another study group called the Women of Grace and recently a few
new friends.

One of the
concepts presented in the book The Celestine Prophesy by James Redfield
is that there are no coincidences; everything that happens is
“supposed” to happen.  We are
always in exactly the place and time within which we are created to be.  The choice of what we do and how we choose to
perceive the situation, however, at that moment is completely ours.  One  of
my daily prayers is “Come Holy Spirit fill the heart of Your
faithful.  Enkindle in me the fire of
Your love.” It warms my soul to say that prayer.  It truly is the desire of my heart.  I want to live a Christ centered life of love
and forgiveness and service and when I say that prayer and invite God to fill
me with Divine Presence, I feel hopeful. 
“Ask and you shall receive, knock and it will be opened.”  In my quest to unite my will to the will of
God I have been drawn to activities and people who are guiding me, inspiring
me.  I once had a friend who always
seemed to be running into people, even strangers, who needed her help.  I asked her about her propensity towards this
mission and she told me she asked God everyday to send her people she could
help.  It seems so simple, doesn’t it, if
we can just remember to ask?  I’m a great
believer in answered prayer.

My faith is
growing.  My relationship with my God is
becoming stronger.  Thank heavens because
it makes my life richer and more peaceful. 
I find more and more opportunities to learn about my faith and to sink
deeper and deeper into its comfort. 
Looking back on the last year alone, I can see several invitations I’ve
said “yes” to which have led me to a more appreciative attitude
towards Catholicism.  The strongest
influence has been the newer friends who have entered my life and have chosen
to reach out to me and include me in their lives.  It’s been a tremendous joy, an honor and a
privilege to become their friend.  Each
presents their faith in a different but vibrant, loving way and I am inspired
by it.  Recently, one of the women said,
“I love my Church.”  I love my
Church!  It was wonderful to hear someone
say that.  I too am guilty of focusing on
the faults and not the beauty of my faith. 
“I love my Church.”  I’m
not there yet but perhaps with my daily prayer the Holy Spirit will lead me to
fall in love with it too.  I know I’ve
fallen in love with the men and women of my church who are in my life and who
with each encounter lead me into that rich, deep relationship with God I so
desperately desire. 

   

Why Be Vulnerable

Affirmation:  By going outside of my comfort zone I empower
myself.
When I first
moved to North Carolina in 1986 my young neighbor invited me to walk with
her.  I’d always been physically
active.  I skated as a child, both ice
and roller.  I climbed trees, jumped
rope, played ball and rode a bike to name just a few activities.  As a young adult I played tennis but I had
never exercised for the sake of exercising. 
This invitation was inviting me to try something new.  She also wanted me to walk with her three
mornings a week at 5 AM.  I love the
mornings and I’ve always risen at a fairly early hour but to get up when it was
still dark and to be dressed and out the door and walking the streets was for
me quite a challenge.  We were to walk
several miles and initially I was not physically prepared.  I needed to ice my shins after each walk
because of shin splints, sharp pains in the front of my calves.  But, after a couple of weeks, the shin
splints disappeared and I started to look forward to our chats.  After a short time, a few of the other
neighbors joined us and now we were not only exercising our bodies but building
our community.  I moved from that
neighborhood in 1990 but walking has become an essential part of my quest to be
optimally healthy. I do not, however, walk at 5:30 AM.  I now have the luxury of heading out after
the sun has risen. The decision to say “yes” to my young neighbor’s
invitation was a life-changing experience. 
It not only opened my world to the importance of exercise but it
empowered me by allowing myself to see what I could accomplish if I decided to
unite my mind and my body. 
I had stepped
outside of my comfort zone.  It may seem
like a small step but for me, it was a giant leap.  It was the beginning of a lifetime pursuit of
staying strong and healthy.  It certainly
wasn’t the first time I had been outside my comfort zone.  When I arrived here in NC I was already 40
years old.  I’d moved many times, had 3
children and had taught for several years but somehow this was different.  Accepting and meeting this challenge was life
changing.  Perhaps, I didn’t think I
could make such a commitment, but I did and once I allowed myself to be proud
of this feat, I found myself wondering what else I was capable of.  I guess, looking back on it, it was one of
the most empowering decisions of my life.     
Every day we are
faced with decisions, small and large, important and trivial but each decision
shapes our lives and shapes our future. 
Certainly, I can look back on my life and see how some choices enhanced
my life and I can see how if I had chosen differently how very different my
life would be today.  Right now I’m
reading The Time In Between by Duenas. 
It’s a marvelous example of how choice colors our life.  We are not only charged with making choices
that will enhance our lives; we are then charged with making a conscious choice
to mentally frame that choice in a positive light, to make sure that the
consequences of that decision enhances our lives.  It’s easy if it was a choice that easily led
to some perceived blessing but when the decision led to a struggle or perhaps
even a disaster, reframing it can prove to be extremely difficult but with
practice, it can be done even if it’s simply to use the experience as a lesson
which empowers us going forward.
The second focus
of Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly is vulnerability.  (The first focus was about shame and I wrote
about it in the blog, Shame on You!) When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable
we open ourselves up to making mistakes but we also open ourselves up to
opportunity and growth.  One must walk
the fine line between humility and foolishness if one is to embrace the quality
of vulnerability.  What Brene Brown is
talking about is the opportunity to live a full, rich life because we are not
afraid to try something that makes us uncomfortable, to try something at which
we might fail.  That behavior not only
takes us outside of our comfort zone but it encourages the virtue of humility. 
What would one
try if one wasn’t afraid to fail, if one was willing to be vulnerable?  It’s not only what one might learn but who
one might become.  I have some of the
most amazing friends.  People who are not
just willing to try something new but look for opportunities to do so.  My only concern is that sometimes they don’t
see what remarkable things they are doing. 
They don’t or won’t take credit for their awesome spirits.  Sure, there are historical accounts of people
whose humility changed the world, people
like Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi.  I, however, love to look at those heroes who
are in my immediate life and relish their virtues.  There are so very many. 
There are the
writers who open up their lives to others. 
The painters who display their work. 
There are those who start their own businesses.  I have friends who have done mission trips to
all different parts of the world.  How
about those friends who begin a new career in their retirement years?  Some of the most remarkable women I’ve ever
met are the ones who attend the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat every year especially
the ones who come knowing no one and without a clue of where they are going or
what they’ll be doing.  I’m sure you can
think of many people in your life who step outside of their comfort zones.  They may not initially think they can but
that doesn’t stop them; they do it anyway. 
They know they might fail but they also know they might succeed.  It doesn’t matter one way or the other
because just by saying “yes”, simply by being willing to be
vulnerable, to be humble, their lives will be richer and more rewarding.

Yes, it was a
small step to agree to walk at 5 AM three mornings a week.  We need not take huge steps to initiate
change in our lives.  The little
“yeses” are the beginning which empowers us to one day take a giant
step and maybe not only change our world but The world. 

Shame On You!

Affirmation:  I release myself from shame.
“Shame on you!”  This phrase can sometimes be accompanied by an accuser wagging his or her index finger at you while they are saying it.  “Shame on you!”  Does anyone use that phrase anymore?  I hope not but whether it’s said or not, many people carry around a deep sense of shame even if they don’t understand its meaning.  My study group is in the process of reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and one of her main topics is shame.
Is shame different than guilt?  Can it possibly be a useful emotion, one that might help someone become healthier and more productive?  Could it possibly help someone at least become kind and compassionate?  No, I don’t believe it helps  
 in anyway.  In fact when I Googled it one of the phrases used to describe shame was an “unhealthy emotion.”  I think when someone is pointing their finger at you and saying, “Shame on you.” It’s no different than them cursing you and telling you to, “Go to Hell!”  There is no redeeming value in their condemnation. They are condemning you as a person; they are not condemning your behavior and that’s where the difference comes in between shame and guilt.  
Shame is when you feel like you are unworthy because you believe there is something inherently wrong with you; you are a bad person.  Guilt is when your behavior is faulty and because of it, because of your humanity, you’ve made a mistake, you’ve done something wrong.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have to be someone other than ourselves pointing that finger.  Many of us are very adept at saying, “Shame on me!”  That too is not doing anything to help you create a better life.  One needs to fully comprehend the difference between believing they are inherently evil and that they have done an evil thing and can make amends and go onto change their behavior. 
I believe many people suffer from shame because of what they were told as a child by some authority figure, either a parent, teacher or some other misguided authority figure or even worse, something that was done to them as a child.  Those who make it to adulthood and don’t suffer from the malady of shame are either completely skewed or had some wonderful people in their lives who with their affirmations diffused those who attempted to harm them.They gave them the gift of discernment.  I’ve had many people tell me their religion made them feel worthless and shameful.  I can see how that might happen but at some point don’t you think you have to shuck off that mantle and decide what empowers you and what is hurting you, instead of blaming it on something in your past?  How is that done?
That’s why I started this site.  To give people the opportunity to think about their beliefs and whether or not those beliefs are enhancing their lives or diminishing their lives.  When discussing this specific topic with a friend she told me SHAME was an acronym for “should have already mastered everything.”  I don’t think she was talking about our hobbies, although I believe how we approach our hobbies is a reflection of how we feel about the more important aspects of our lives, like our faith and our relationships.  Perfection is the birthplace of shame.  We may have a belief system that has led us to a point where we expect so very much from ourselves.  There seems to be a fine line between expecting to do something perfectly and setting the bar so low that we never excel at anything.  If you follow this blog, you know that I have recently raised the bar on both my golf game and my fiddle playing.  There’s no way to keep score for fiddle improvement so since I’ve been practicing almost daily, I’ll give myself credit for improving.  Golf, however, is very different.  Each swing no matter how big or small, near or far counts equally.  Gauging my improvement or lack thereof is very easy.  

Soon after writing the Never Give Up blog, but after some additional practice and a lesson I headed out to play with “the big girls.”  What a lesson in life for me.  I was abysmal!  Notice the phrase carefully.  I didn’t write, “My game was abysmal.”  I fully felt like there was something inherently wrong with me.  When describing my experience to a dear friend and life-long golfer I was hoping for some great insight to dispel how embarrassed and actually ashamed I was by my performance.  In retrospect I am so grateful to have had this experience.  It was non-threatening, even trivial in some way but because I’ve been studying Daring Greatly, it gave me a great opportunity to see how I can point that finger of shame at myself and suffer that unhealthy emotion.
My friend and her husband said all the right things.  There they are, the people we all need in our lives to lift us up and affirm our personhood.  I wasn’t being silly.  “It was easy to beat ourselves up over our performances.”  They had had exactly the same experiences.  With their encouragement and a few more lessons from my coach and number one fan, my husband, Sandy, I took the lessons of golf and life that I had just learned and headed out to play once again.  I headed out with a whole new attitude.  I would do my very best and no matter what, I would have fun.  I would enjoy my time.  I would not beat myself up.  I felt differently heading out and I think that alone helped me play better.  A life lesson for me.  Do my best and choose to enjoy whatever I’m involved with.  And, when I’m shamed either by myself or another, take it to those who love me and let them help lift me back up to a place of light and joy.
Shame is a disease of the spirit, not the mind.  This is probably why religion has been so successful at using shame as a tool to control their flocks.  We don’t really need to be reminded of our sinful nature, most of us are very aware of our imperfections.  What we really need is encouragement and healing.  That too is available through most faiths.  Unfortunately, we must sift through the fire and brimstone to find it but it is there.  That’s where the healing is too.  It’s in the attention to spirit.  In fact, I firmly believe once we ask for healing, the Universe will gather all its forces to begin the process and will come to us in ways in which we never even dreamed.  
I am a great believer in the Holy Spirit.  Oh I am sure there are many many names given  the Holy Spirit by all those that believe there is a power greater than anything of which we have an inkling.  Give it any name you like.  It’s that life force that penetrates the very core of every living thing.  It’s available to all of us but most of us are simply too busy or too thick to notice it.  When we sit in silence and invite Divine Energy into our lives and our beings, miracles occur, healing occurs.  This is the antidote to shame.  We invite God into every cell of our beings.  We are part of the Divine.  It is our birthright to share in the holiness and glory of God.  Once we acknowledge our connection and our heritage to God’s Divine gifts, healing begins.  

The Demise of Cursive Writing

Affirmation:  I am a life-long learner.

The
conversation with my children was about writing.  It wasn’t about creative writing, it was
about penmanship.  Well there’s an old
fashioned word.  I didn’t know how outdated
it was until we had this discussion.  I
was informed by my adult daughter, Melissa, that cursive writing was no longer
part of the core curriculum in the North Carolina school system.  After the third grade, children are not
taught how to write long-hand.  I’m still
in shock.  I’ve been writing three pages
of long-hand in my journal every morning for over fifteen years.  My adult son, Joey, went onto say that he
almost never uses a pen or a pencil. 
When he does, he finds them awkward to use.  His writing method is almost always a keyboard.  Penmanship is no longer considered an
essential life skill.

That
certainly wasn’t true when I was in school. 
The cursive alphabet was on long strips of black paper resting above the
black board.  Yes, the board was black,
not white and we used chalk not erasable magic markers.  There were several lines on the paper and
each one was a height that determined where a loop, a “t”, an
“i” or a capital letter was to land on the page.  We were handed blank lined pages and the
students tried to copy the letters onto the paper from the form above the
boards.  We used number 2 pencils with
erasers.  I loved it!  I liked the form and the lines for guidance
and the feel of the pencil on the paper and I loved seeing the letters take
shape and appear on the page.  I became a
math teacher later in life.  I was never
much for coloring outside the lines so it seems fairly understandable why I
liked the rigid format that was used to learn cursive. 

I’ve
always been fascinated by hand writing. 
Some is so legible and others completely illegible.  Some is neat and clean and others are
sloppy.  Some is flowery and others are
straight up and down.  People have made a
living “reading” hand writing. 
They are supposed to be able to figure out a person’s personality from
what their hand writing looks like.  Not
anymore!  Did you ever watch a detective
show where the sleuth looked at a type written note and determined whether
someone was right handed or left handed because of how some of the letters
appeared darker; they had been hit harder by the dominant hand?  Not anymore! 
I went to summer school to learn how to type.  My mother told me it was an invaluable life
skill.  She was right!  The key board I use today is laid out exactly
the same as the one that was on my manual typewriter.  If you don’t know what a typewriter looks
like, Google it. But, they don’t teach typing in school anymore
either.  I think it comes already hard
wired in the brains of anyone born after 1990. 
I’ve seen two year olds working a computer key board. 

Reading,
writing and arithmetic were the three “Rs” that we were told were the
core skills we would need for life.  The
question about why we needed to learn mathematics when most people would never
use it once they were out of school is decades old.  As a math teacher, I sometimes wondered the
same thing but I knew the value of making the brain work in different ways and
for me there was always a great satisfaction in solving a problem correctly.  I loved solving the “puzzle.” But,
it’s true; most people didn’t have any use for Algebra or Geometry or Trig.
once they have finished with the class. 
Now, most people don’t even need to know the basics of math.  There’s a calculator on every phone.  It appears to be one more life skill we no
longer need. 

So, that
leaves reading as the last core skill we were told we needed.  I can’t imagine not reading. I love a good
book.  Recently I had cataract surgery
and the lenses that were implanted were determined by whether or not I read
books and papers regularly or if I read from a computer.  Can you imagine not being able to read?  There are organizations dedicated to teaching
adults how to read.  It seems it still is
an essential life skill.  But, I wonder
will that always be true?  Recently, I
downloaded an app called OverDrive.  It
allows me to connect to my library and to download audio books onto my phone or
iPad.  I can then listen to the book
wherever and whenever I want.  I know
there have been audio books for decades but now they are prolific and free; for
many it’s their preferred way to “read” a book.  What does this foretell?

If we
don’t need to learn the three “Rs” any longer, what do we need to
learn or even more important, what do we need to be teaching?  What are the schools focusing on that is
preparing our young people to live meaningful, productive lives?  We have several people in the family who have
been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. 
I know it is more commonly diagnosed today than ever before.  I’m not sure if it’s because more people
struggle with it or because we’re more knowledgeable about it.  My youngest grandson was really struggling in
his traditional middle school because of ADD. 
We were fortunate to find a small private local school that had a
different, more hands-on approach to learning. 
Once there he blossomed both mentally and emotionally.  His learning “style” needed a place
with a different environment in order for it to take root.  What is he learning at his new school that is
different from the other one?  He’s
learning how to learn. 

Let’s
face it all the information we need or want to learn  is available to us
in one form or another.  Today it’s even
more readily available because of our access to the Internet.  I am in awe of the range of information
available online.  There are lessons on
everything!  There are lessons about
things I probably don’t want know anything about.  I have, however, looked up music lessons and
how to fix different things.  My son uses
the Internet to renovate equipment, like boats, cars, engines and all sorts of
electronic equipment.  The other day our
refrigerator broke down and the first thing we did, after throwing away the
perishables was to go online to see if we could diagnose it and fix it
ourselves.  Owen is always telling me
about different places he’s never been to or about scientific data he’s looked
up.  It’s beyond exciting!  Back in March of 2013 he pretended to be a
reporter and interviewed Galileo about his theories.  My husband, Sandy, played the role of the
famous scientist.  It was for Owen’s
science project.  Everyone learned
something and it was fun. 

I’d like
to think that our educational system is closely examining what our young people
need to learn in order to be productive healthy citizens.  What do you think the new core skills should
be?  It seems to me one of the most
important ones would be to learn how to learn. 
Owen is an experiential learner. 
Once he discovered that, he found he can learn whatever he wants.  I am mainly an auditory learner.  If I had known that earlier on, learning
would have come a lot easier to me.  Some
of us are visual; others need a variety of approaches. Once we’ve learned how
to gather the information, the rest is just doing it.  But what other core skills do we want our
children to master?  What are the
essential life skills?  If it’s true we
learn all we need to know in Kindergarten, what are we doing with the rest of
our years of schooling?  How about
focusing on the Golden Rule?  “Do
unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  How about the Ten Commandments?  What about relationship skills: how to
resolve conflict, how to create community, how to get your needs met without
hurting another?  What if the three
“Rs” morphed into the three “Cs”: compassion, communication
and cooperation? 

Yes, we
still need to know how to read and write, if not in cursive than at least we
need to know how to compose a grammatically correct sentence.  But, the key to all of this is it’s not so
much what we learn but that we do learn and not just while we’re in school but
for as long as we’re alive.  Expand your
knowledge.  Go out there and learn about
life, learn about living, learn whatever it is that makes you feel fully
alive.  Then perhaps you’ll write about
it.  Perhaps you’ll share it with the
world.  Who knows maybe someday someone
will download it and listen to it.