Jean Anne Costa
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Blessing Adversity

Affirmation:  What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger and being stronger makes life easier and richer.  
“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, stronger” so goes the saying and the now popular song by Kelly Clarkson.  I wonder would I want to be tested to the point of dying to become stronger?  I have been tested by breast cancer.  I wouldn’t have chosen it but it has made me stronger.  It seems like a given that most people believe becoming stronger is a good thing.

I do work at being physically strong.  I fully recognize the advantages of having a strong body.  Besides practicing Yoga regularly, twice a week I participate in a class called Rep-Reebok.  It’s weight lifting to music and since I began it, I do feel I’ve gained quite a bit of muscle.  I’m not so concerned about how it affects my shape but I know the stronger I  am, the less likely I am to injure myself.  Having physical strength makes my daily activities easier.  I also work at having mental and spiritual fortitude. It makes my whole existence easier.

Sherri Shepherd recently released a book entitled Plan D: How to Lose Weight and Beat Diabetes.  Presently she’s one of the talk show hostesses on The View.  She’s very funny and she’s always been a very large lady, actually the word is obese.  She was interviewed by Doctor Oz this week and shared the diabetic history of her family.  She said they called it “the sugar” and no one took any steps to deal with it, regardless of how much the disease had progressed.  She too was guilty of the same behavior.  Denial is the term for the way some people deal with situations they don’t want to face.  She was in denial until someone asked her in so many words if she was ready to die one amputation at a time.  She changed her life.  She took charge.  She changed her diet and began exercising.  She changed a lIfe threatening situation into a life enhancing practice.  She shared some of her new healthy eating techniques and said she now works out at a gym and has turned her home into a gym, not a fancy room with all the bells and whistles. The stairs are her “stair-master.”  Her kitchen sink is her “ballet bare” and she never rests her bottom on the toilette.  That’s her opportunity to do squats!  Diabetes changed her life, for the better.   

The conversation I had with a woman I had recently met revolved around her brother’s recovery from drug abuse.  He too had a devastating disease.  He too had taken steps to become healthy.  When speaking about his life, she shared that he had become a wonderful father.  He was raising his son by himself.  The mother was also an addict and had given up her son.  He had shared with his sister that the challenge of being a single parent was his greatest blessing.  His life was as good as it was because his son needed him and helped him rise to the challenge of creating a healthy, loving life.  
It’s an old saying, “We can choose to make lemons into lemonade.”  Life is full of adversity, all different levels.  Diseases of the mind, body and spirit are faced by all of us at sometime or another.  Where do we find the resources to lift ourselves from the darkness back into the light?  For many, it’s their faith but not everyone has that gift.  It is a gift to believe in a loving, beneficent God or at least to believe that our pain is serving some higher purpose. We all have pain. Others must find another way to rise above their adversity.  For most help comes in the form of others: family, friends and community.  

This second of week of May, 2013 the media has been full of news about Angelina Jolie and her choice to have a prophylactic double mastectomy.  It’s not an unusual story.  It’s a decision thousands of women have faced and many of whom have chosen the same path.  Angelia’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when her mother was in her forties.  She died at 55.  She decided to undergo the gene test to see if it was indeed a hereditary condition and it came back positive.  She had an 87% chance of dying of breast cancer.   She chose not to wait for fate to decide her future.  She chose to take radical steps to insure that she would not have the words “breast cancer” on her death certificate.  Her popularity, perhaps we could even say notoriety, propelled her decision to the front of the news.  I personally commend her for making her decision public.  It opens the avenue for important discussions.  It’s similar to when Betty Ford stepped forward as First Lady and shared she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.  We sometimes need celebrities to she’d light on issues that might otherwise go unexamined.  

How can one see a prophylactic double mastectomy as a blessing?  How easy it would be to perceive oneself as a victim.  How easy it would be to wallow in self pity.  Brad Pitt, Angelina’s fiancé told the media they didn’t view her surgery as a loss.  They viewed it as a gain; they had gained years of life. They believed his wife and the mother of their children would now be a part of their lives for many years to come.

When we are in the middle of some challenge, it’s almost impossible to see it as beneficial.  I believe we need to move away and outside of it before we can begin to see ways it may and can bless our lives.  It’s all about the whole package, all of life’s lessons are valuable.  We are all going to be faced with adversity.  Most of us will come through it; there’s no going around it.  How we perceive our experience will be determined by how we view our lives.  Do we wake each morning and see the blessings the day may bestow upon us or do we rise in fear and dread? What are we focusing on?   How do you view the glass, half empty or half full?  I’m not talking about not recognizing your sadness and fear.  We must acknowledge all our emotions but once we’ve done that and walked through the “valley of death” do we want to continue to suffer (maybe some do.)  I, however, would prefer to let the experience teach me whatever lesson I needed to know and then take that knowledge and use it to make me “stronger! stronger! stand a little taller!” as Kelly sings and to enjoy a tall cool glass of that lemonade.

Journeying Through Motherhood

Affirmation:  Being a mother is my greatest joy.
As we walked around the lake the geese couple were crossing the path and next to them was a gaggle of goslings.  The female goose raised her head and stared right at us daring us to come closer.  Behind us was another walker and her dog.  The mother goose didn’t hesitate.  She took off charging, squawking loudly at the dog. It had come too close to her babies.  
I’ve been a mother for over 40 years now.  Now, I’m also a grandmother.  My adult gym now offers toddler swim lessons on Saturday mornings.  I feel a deep ache as I watch the parents interact with the children.  I have an even stronger reaction when I see them holding out their arms for the child to jump into and holding their little hands as they lead them to and from the pool. I’m nostalgic for that time but I remember those lessons when I did them and I am just fine that now I’m simply an appreciative observer.  

One day a young mother shared with a group of us that her 15 year old teenage daughter and husband had had their first terrible blow out.  She was worried they would never have a trusting, loving relationship.  The other mothers present assured her it was all normal growing pains and if it had taken this long for them to have this type of interaction, they were probably going to be just fine, probably even better than fine.  Many years ago the New York Times ran an article about the happiness level of parents.  The research reported that in general the parents of teenagers were unhappier than parents at any other stage.  I don’t remember being unhappy when my children were teenagers but I do know that now that they are adults, I thoroughly enjoy their company and that of their spouses.  It’s pure joy when I have the opportunity to spend time with them. I think what we spend our money on reflects that on which we consider to be the important and I’d rather spend my money on events that bring us all together than on anything else.
Today when I see a young family together I want to run up to them and tell them it’s a “short long journey.”  I want to embrace them and shake them and make sure they know it and tell them to savor every moment of it.  Motherhood is work.  It’s painful and it’s challenging.  It’s demanding and it’s tiring.  It’s frustrating and it’s confusing.  It’s also an amazing journey.  

As a young mother I was never around family.  Our first move was when my oldest was 6 weeks old.  Our second move five years later was when my middle child was 18 months old and then ten years after that, we moved when Ellen was just three.  I never had a support system.  Every time we moved, I was completely on my own.  I didn’t have a clue how very hard it was but looking back I can see how hard it truly was.  Each time we moved, I had to create a new support system.  It was easier sometimes than others.  It was exciting to go to a new place but it was also lonely.  Our last move brought us here to North Carolina over 26 years go.  We began again.  Now, I live close to most of my family.   

My oldest girl, Melissa and her kind, loving husband, Larry and my four grandchildren live about 2 miles away.  My son, Joey and his beautiful (inside and out) wife Belen also live close.  My mom lives nearby and I’m blessed to still have my husband of 45 years in my life.  My youngest is in London but I’m optimistic about her future.

My years of motherhood are not over.  Once a mother, always a mother but this stage, being the mother of adult children is for me a rich blessing.  While the children were growing, I was too busy with the cares of life and daily activities to savor all the precious moments they offered me but now, I can relish each moment.  I can relax in their company.  When I was doing my MSW I decided I would ask each of them, all adults at that time, how I did as a mother.  Truly, this has been my life’s work.  I wondered how they felt I did.  When I look back I remember each of their births.  I remember all the times they were sick and needed care.  I remember all those miles in the car to different sporting events or classes.  I remembered making dinner almost every night.  I remember reading stories and grabbing hugs and kisses as often as possible.  I remember helping with homework and visiting schools.  I remember helping find colleges and going to ceremonies.  I remember a home that I always hoped felt safe and secure. I welcomed their friends and eventually their spouses.  I encouraged them to follow their dreams and listened when life went a different way.  I hadn’t had any training and other than my wonderful husband, I hadn’t had any family around to guide me but it appeared I’d done alright.  What did they think?  I was curious and I was brave.  
Yes, it’s been a “long short journey.”  If I could do it again what would I change?  I wouldn’t change much.  If I were as wise at 20, 30 or 40 as I am now, what would I do differently.  I’d not clean the house so often.  Occasionally I’d have cereal for dinner instead of taking time to cook each evening.  I’d read even more stories, hold hands even more often.  I’d sit and just listen whenever they wanted to tell me something.  I’d know this moment will soon be gone and I’d treasure it for the gift it was.  
They were kind to me when they answered my question.  That response alone was an answer in itself.  I’d done OK.  I must have done OK.  They’re still hanging out with me.  In fact as I write this today, Mother’s Day the family is on their way over.  All except Ellen.  She’ll be here next week.  We’ll celebrate then.  Yes, I might change the way I did some things, go slower, be more mindful but I wouldn’t change choosing to be a mother, especially to these three remarkable people.  I’ve been blessed and at least now I can go slower and relish each and every moment I get to spend with them. 

Golf & Lessons Learned

Affirmation: 
Every
life experience leads to wisdom and knowledge.

On
June 19th, 2011 Rory McIlroy won the US Open in golf.  I am married to a golfer and my adult son,
Joey, has given up sky diving and taken up golf.  (Thank You, Lord!)  Considering Sandy and I have been married for
almost 45 years, I have learned a lot about the sport.  I have never considered myself a golfer but I
have played golf for over forty years, ever since I married.  Sandy is an amazing golfer.  Truly, his game is superb and it’s such fun
to watch him play.     

I
use to resent his dedication to this past time. When I had three young
children, the time away from the family required by golf and desired by my
husband was onerous for me.  But, now with
the children grown and on their own, I can see the sport in a different
light.  Actually, over the last few
summers, I might even occasionally refer to myself as a “golfer.” 

Many
years ago I read James Dobson’s, Final Rounds.  It completely changed the way I saw the
sport.  It truly was a life changing
read.  It helped too that my children
were older and I had a little more free time. 
But, when I read the memories that he and his dad had collected
together, I better understood the appeal of the game.  Golf wasn’t just “a good walk spoiled” as
Mark Twain said; it was about so much more. 
It was about relationships and adventures and shared experiences.  I took it to heart and started focusing on
those aspects and not how many times I was hitting (or swinging) at that little
ball.  Yes, something changed. I started
having more fun and truly valuing the time I spent with Sandy and now with my
son.  Sometimes my daughter-in-law, Belen,
joins us on the course as Joey’s chauffeur. 
It can be a delightful day and I really have learned to value the
experience.

Part
of our shared interest lies in occasionally watching the major tournaments with
my family.  The US Open is one of
them.  The 2011 US Open was especially
exciting.  Rory McIlroy (22 years) won.
He’s from Northern Island.  Not only did
he win but he broke all sorts of records. 
He shot 65-66-68-68.  He was as
much as 17 under par at one point.  He
went into the tournament winning by 8 strokes. 
These are unheard of accomplishments. 

That’s
all wonderful and exciting but for me it was the story behind his win that
touched my heart.  His father was there;
it was his Father’s Day present.  The
story that emerged was of a family of very hard working people.  His dad had worked as a janitor and when his
son showed an interest in golf, he became the bar tender at the golf club so
that they could afford his lessons.  When
he accepted his award, he didn’t’ leave out his “mum” either.  He said it was because of their hard work and
sacrifice that he was there today. 

The
media spent a great deal of time talking about this young man’s loss at the
2010 Masters in Augusta.  They kept
talking about how he was winning by 4 strokes when the final round began, and
then he “fell apart.”  Everyone was
amazed that he had pulled himself together so quickly and was doing so
well.  Some thought he might never
recover from such a devastating loss.  It
was one of the questions presented to him several minutes after accepting the
US Open trophy.  The announcer asked him
to speak about losing the Masters and what that had been like.  Ready? 
“The Masters was a very valuable experience for me.  I learned a few things about myself and my
game.” 

One
day I went to play golf with the “big girls.” 
These are the ladies who play golf often and for the most part, quite
well.  I was way outside of my comfort
zone.

Golf, yoga, and tennis are the three main physical
activities in which I’ve participated.  I
think there’s so much to learn about myself and sometimes others from watching
the behavior that is exhibited during the event, the match.  Concentration, perseverance, balance,
forgiveness, humor, humility and graciousness are required of the civil player
and many times, more than one aspect at a time is required.

The psychology of 18 holes of golf is again a microcosm
of our lives.  How do we interact with
others?  Are we kind, considerate,
deferential, polite, encouraging?  And,
how do we treat ourselves?  Do we berate
ourselves when we hit a bad shot?  Are we
annoyed when someone else does better? 
Can we focus regardless of what else is going on?  What are we thinking about; is it lunch or
dinner, or are we present to the experience? 
Do we notice not only the condition of the course but the topography,
the fresh air and the beautiful vistas?

Whatever we are doing on the golf course, we are
repeating in our daily lives.  Our
behavior both towards others, ourselves and the experience reflects our
behavior through our lives.
Yes, it’s the same in many sports.  If you watch carefully, you’ll see all your
faults surface but keep watching, be aware and you’ll be able to notice your
strengths too.  Perhaps, it will be as
simple as being able to share time with your loved ones, your buddies, a kind
partner and when asked how you played, even if the game didn’t go as you had
hoped, even though you didn’t feel you played your best game, you answer,
“Wow!  I had a great time!” 
Rory
McIlroy was much wiser than his 22 years. 
It takes some of us a lifetime to discover that every life experience leads
to wisdom and knowledge.  It’s all up to
us how we perceive it and whether or not we value every single one of them,
both the accomplishments and the disappointments.  Like Rory, it can lead us to championship
skills, the skills of leading a rewarding, fulfilling life. 

And, just in case you’re curious, I played ok on that
outing with the “big girls.”  I would
even say, on that day, I was really and truly a “golfer.”

Owning My Own Behavior

Affirmation:  I am only responsible for my own behavior.

In 2000 my
husband and I attended a workshop at Canyon Ranch called Sex, Body and
Soul.  It was the year after I was
treated for breast cancer and I asked him to go with me.  I had been there several months earlier and
heard Dr. Lana Holstein speak and decided it would be a good thing for us in
which to participate.  We’d been married
more than 20 years by then and it seemed to me we could use a little more
knowledge other than what we’d brought to the relationship when we were in our
early 20’s.  My husband Sandy is a kind
and gracious man and he has spent most of our married life doing his best to
make sure I’m happy.  I am a lucky woman
and I know it.  In the case of accepting
this invitation, it took a lot of courage and humility to go along with me and
I was very grateful when he accepted. 
Dr. Holstein and her husband, Dr. David Taylor led the group and set up
some ground rules right away and I never felt uncomfortable.  Yes, we learned a great deal but as with many
learning experiences the most important lesson had very little to do with the
curriculum.

It was obvious
from the beginning that one of the couples, there were about 15 in attendance,
was a strange match.  She was all bubbly and
floaty and he was just plain grumpy.  He
did not want to be there and he told us right away but, he said, he was there
because he loved her and this was what she wanted.  We were there for four days and he complained
the entire time.  Watching her was my
greatest learning experience at the workshop. 
She never paid any attention to his moaning.  She just let him be himself and did whatever
she wanted to do.  She never grimaced or
cringed when he would speak.  She never,
ever apologized for his behavior.  After
a short time, it was obvious she didn’t hold herself responsible for his
behavior and because of her detachment no one in the group held her responsible
for his behavior.  For me, it was pure
enlightenment. 

I’d like to tell
you that after that experience I never again acted embarrassed because someone
I was with acted inappropriately, or acted in a way I judged reflected poor judgment.  But, while I could grasp this lesson
mentally, it will probably take me a lifetime to absorb it emotionally. 

In the Al-Anon
book One Day at a Time one of the readings tells a story about a woman
who had just begun the program and after a short time decided the best way to
deal with her alcoholic husband was to ignore him.  Up until that time, she would find him after
falling out of bed, asleep on the floor. 
She’d help him up, put him back in bed and then cover him up.  Then she’d go to bed.  After a couple of Al-Anon meetings, she
decided she needed to take better care of herself.  So, she decided she wouldn’t help him.  She’d leave him on the floor, step over him
and just go to bed.  She shared this at
one of the meetings.  Members explained
that wasn’t exactly what the program promoted. 
She then came up with a happy medium. 
She decided to cover him with a blanket and then step over him and go to
bed. 

One time my
husband and I found ourselves having dinner with a couple we had just met.  As the dinner progressed, the fellow kept
ordering drinks.  By the end of the
dinner it was quite obvious that he was very drunk.  I kept waiting for his wife to try to stop
him from ordering.  When that didn’t
happen, I began to wait for her to correct him. 
When that didn’t happen, I thought maybe she’d get him away from the
dinner and take him home.  When that
didn’t happen, I thought she’d begin to look embarrassed.  You guessed it.  She never responded in any way.  Once again, I saw myself completely absolve
her of her husband’s behavior.  She
simply allowed him to be responsible for himself.  She was sober and elegant and classy and I
was in awe. 

I had a friend
tell me once that if her husband ever fell asleep in church, she would be
furious.  I wondered why?  Maybe he snored?  Would his being asleep embarrass her?  Why should it?  She would still be awake.  Would someone look over, or maybe the preacher
looks out and sees him sleeping and says, “Look at that woman next to the
sleeping man.  I bet that’s his
wife.  She must be a terrible person to
allow him to sleep during the service.”? 
If someone is judging you because of your companion’s behavior, is that
someone you care about?  Is that someone
who you even want to know?

I wonder if we
learn this kind of reaction from being a parent.  I think most people would agree that a parent
is judged by their children’s behavior. 
How many times have you been in a situation when a child behaved poorly
and you just wanted the parent to “do something” to correct the
problem?  In Steven Covey’s book Seven
Habits of Highly Successful People
he tells the story of a man on the
subway with a couple of poorly behaved children.  People were obviously annoyed.  Finally, the father looked up and said,
“My wife just died and I don’t know what I should do.”  People were no longer annoyed but why did he
have to share that?  Why were people judging
in the first place?  Why, if they were,
didn’t they give him the benefit of the doubt? 

Is this a control
issue?  Do we feel we should be able to
shape the atmosphere and therefore influence the behavior of those to whom we
are close?  Once we recognize that we
can’t change anyone else; we can only change ourselves, perhaps then we can
learn to just let go and let people be whoever they are, even if they’re
complete jerks. 

Another story in
the One Day at a Time Al-Anon book refers to a tombstone that reads,
“Here lies ‘Morty Mort’ he’s finally minding his own business.”  I hope by the time I’m laid to rest, I have
finally absorbed the lesson that I am only responsible for my own behavior
into not only my mind, but my heart and my spirit. 

Looking for Halos

Affirmations:  I see the holiness of people when I pay close attention to their loving spirits.

It is said Saint Francis of Assisi taught, “Preach the gospel at all times and when needed use worlds.” I am fond of this quote.  It means I don’t have to go around evangelizing the world, or at least my world, in order to promote my faith.  It relieves me of any anxiety I might feel because I am not a preacher and I’m not someone who likes to push their ideas on others, or am I?  Is it simply a matter of what I feel is safe?  Certainly, if I found the greatest shoe store ever or the best place online to order cute clothes, I’d share that without hesitation.  But, sharing my faith seems so different.  What’s the saying about never discussing religion or politics?

At the Ignited by Truth Catholic Conference this April, Scott Hahn talked about St. Francis’ teaching but he took it one step further.  He asked the two-thousand people attending, “How many people have you met who are so holy, their lives exemplify their faith.”  How holy is my life?  Is it so holy that when people see me or interact with me, they are thinking, “Wow, I need to go check out Jean’s belief system.”?

I’ve inventoried my life and made a list of all those things I do to build my faith and to contribute to society.  I think it looks pretty good.  I’m not comparing it to anyone else’s accomplishments for that is always a fatalistic exercise.  I’m simply saying that for a someone with my background and imperfections, I’ve made and continue to make a concerted effort to make the world, mine and the world in general, a better place.  As I compiled my list I wondered if God would be pleased?

My deceased friend and healer, Valerie Kelly, could see auras and the chakra colors.  When I walked in for a massage session with her, she immediately knew how I was feeling.  I never questioned whether she had that gift or not because she always gave me such comfort with her care.  I felt healed when I left her presence and part of that was when she would tell me one of my chakras, especially my heart chakra had opened and was an inviting green color.  Sometime, she would stand at the end of the table and be quiet for a minute and then say, “Good!  Your energy is flowing evenly and freely from your toes up through the crown of your head.”  I always left there feeling like I was glowing.  It was such a gracious and glorious gift.

I can’t see auras and I can’t see chakra colors.  I don’t see energy flowing through people bodies but lately, I think I can see halos.  In fact, this weekend, I saw halos everywhere.  I saw people who were so holy, they didn’t need to preach.  I have no idea what religious traditions they follow but they dedicate their lives to the betterment of society and I was in awe.  I spent the weekend at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor events.  On Friday there were a series of lectures and informal presentations from the scientists, physicians, staff and patients associated with the program.  On Sunday the Angels Among Us Walk was held.  It was it’s 20th year and there were 5000+ people present and they raises $2,015,000 for brain tumor research.  Both my father, Frank Grolimund and Sandy’s father, Joseph Costa died from glioblastomas.  We are very invested in the eradication of brain cancer if not all cancer.

The dedication and commitment of the people I listened to and met with is phenomenal.  The brain tumor center at Duke is the premier center in the world.  This is where Senator Ted Kennedy came to be treated.  He’s not the only well know person.  It is not uncommon for the influential and well-to-do to eventually arrive at the door of the Tisch Brain Tumor Center.  The research alone is enough to give one hope.  Recently, they have begun successfully injecting the polio virus with unparalleled success into qualified tumors.  I could see a few halos as theses dedicated Duke people shared the miracles they’ve seen.  The brightest halos however, were the ones hanging over some of the patients and their caregivers.

They shared stories of walks taken, bake sales given, basketball games played, and bike rides across the state or even the country.  They shared stories of reaching out to others even when they were in the depths of personal crises.  They were husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers.  They were neighbors and fellow parishioners.  They were friends and they were community.  They had faced death in an upfront and very personal way and many had emerged with the strength and courage of an angel.  One of my favorite stories was told by Tony McEachern.  He’s been battling brain cancer for almost ten years, a rare length of success.  He has begun the Team Tony Foundation.  He is a “lifelong jock” and now he has re-channeled his energy to focus on reaching out to other cancer patients.  Tony teases that the only place he isn’t asked about his bad hair-do is at the brain tumor clinic.  He has many challenges as a result of his struggle but like so many I met this weekend, he is more concerned with bringing comfort and strength to others than he is with his own struggle.  I am sure I could see his halo.

You don’t have to go to the Angels Among Us event to see halos.  I’ve decided they are everywhere.  There are so many amazing people who shine brightly because of their caring, generous, loving spirits.  I think the reason I haven’t seen many halos before now is because I wasn’t looking closely enough.  There are so many, thank God, who never need to use words.  Yes, preaching the bible can be a powerful exercise but I think St. Francis was righ-on when he encouraged us to lead by example, regardless of our religious preferences.  We can be be the light of God in this world if we choose to focus on others with a loving heart and maybe even form our own personal halos.

The Fragile Ego

Affirmation:  I have a childlike ego.
The yoga teacher took us from Warrior II into Side Angle.  The pose requires you to bend your front leg and lean over it and rest your forearm on your thigh.  Normally, your palm is faced downward.  “Turn your palm up” she said, “pretend you are holding something fragile, perhaps your ego.”  I laughed out loud.  This is why I practice yoga.  I look everywhere for those messages that will enrich my life.  I search every day for those insights that will enable me to know myself better so that I may live a fuller, more meaningful existence.  This day, it came to me from my teacher, Karin Johnson, at Rex Wellness here in Cary, NC.  How fragile is my ego?

One day while attending a class we were encouraged to go into an asana known as Crow.  In this pose you squat down with your feet and knees wide and your palms between your legs, flat on the ground.  You are then suppose to raise up onto your palms while balancing your thighs against your upper arms.  I’ve done this pose.  It’s not easy and requires upper body strength as well as balance.  Another reason I practice yoga is to take me out of my comfort zone.  When I attempt a pose that I know does not come easily, it makes me feel brave.  It’s brave with a small “b” but it empowers me when I’m out in the world to be brave, sometimes even “Brave.”  I took the position and slowly raised up onto my palms and then fell straight over onto my nose.  I fell with a very loud “whack!”  This particular yoga class had about thirty people in it and I know everyone of them heard the sound of my flop.  I hoped they were so involved in trying their own pose that they didn’t look up but I was sure everyone was looking at me, if just to make sure I was still alive.

 “Yoga is not a competitive sport.”  I start most of my classes with that statement.  “Bring you attention to your mat, into your body.”  The purpose of yoga is to unite the mind and the body.  I usually add, “and the spirit.”  I believe when we only focus on the physical aspect of the practice, we deny ourselves the real essence of yoga.  When we practice we are called to be present, to stay in the moment.  That’s the reason the ancient yogis initially came up with all these contortions.  It’s almost impossible to stand on one leg with your hands high in the air, Tree pose, and to be thinking about anything other than what you are doing in that moment.  You are fully present.  It’s a gift.  It’s the main lesson of the practice, stay in the here and the now.  Once you learn to do that on your mat, it too is something you can take out into the world and practice in your everyday life.  

I was lucky and my fall didn’t result in a broken or bloody nose but it did result in a dented ego.  Most of the class knows I am a Registered Yoga Teacher and I pride myself on my ability to do some of the more advanced positions and there was my lesson.  I was prideful.  I am always telling people, “Anyone can do yoga.”  But, the response I usually get is that they are not flexible enough.  What they are really saying is unless I’m already good at something, I am not willing to try it.  Our egos have become the wall that keeps us imprisoned in our small comfortable space.  Whenever I think of that fall while attempting the Crow pose, I laugh.  It was a wonderful lesson.  It was humbling and it was exactly what I needed to learn from that day’s practice.  

Recently I attended the NC Senior Follies.  One of my fiddle buddies, Constance Belton, is the teacher and choreographer of the line dancing team, The Cary Cure Alls.  She and six other women did a mock strip tease to the song Fever.  They came out in scrubs and white coats with caps on their heads, surgical gloves and wearing stethoscopes and began to remove one item at a time while they tap danced.  (Look them up on YouTube.) They won one of the Gold Medals and were the overall champions.  There were about a dozen different acts.  Some of the seniors sang, some played musical instruments and one group call themselves The Shakers.  They are the Senior Game cheerleaders.  The event was pure fun.  

After being told to “hold my fragile ego gently in my palm.” I began to think of all those other times when my ego prevented me from fully experiencing life.  I wondered when did that begin?  Certainly, as a child I wasn’t afraid to try new things.  If that were true, one would never learn to walk or to talk.  One would never learn anything!  Those amazing seniors had put away their egos in order to go onto the stage and share their skills.  That’s another secret to a full, rich, fun filled life; hold your ego gently and don’t let it prevent you from trying something new, something at which you might not be good, something at which you might be terrible but who cares!  Life is too short not to experience it all.  Gently place your ego down and live life like a child whose is first exploring their world.

I heard a story about an older successful executive who was with a group of people when the topic turned to, “What have you always wanted to do that you haven’t yet done.”  He told the group he always wanted to try tap dancing.  That evening he looked up dance studios in his area and the next day he began his lessons.  He loved it!  For all I know, he’s out there somewhere competing in his local Senior Follies.  For me, well maybe I’ll try standing on my head in my next yoga class, maybe!    

Life is a Banquet

Affirmation:  “The world is an amazing place and the more I learn about it and its inhabitants, the more I learn about myself.”

If you’ve ever been to Disney Land or Disney World you’ve probably been to the Small World ride that plays the song “It’s a Small World After All”, over and over and over.  My children always seemed to enjoy the ride but after going on it just once, I found the song to be very disturbing.

While traveling out of the country I began to think about living in a small world.  I had a tour guide hand me extra passes to the Pope’s Wednesday morning audience and say “You never know who you’ll meet.  It’s a small world, especially in Rome.”  In this instance, even with a million people there I didn’t meet anyone I knew.  I must admit I have been very far from home when I’ve been stunned to meet someone from my local area. But, for the most part, I rarely meet an acquaintance when traveling.  Mind you I meet a lot of new acquaintances, just not a lot of old ones.  And, isn’t that one of the reasons to travel? 

I traveled with Owen, my thirteen year old grandson to London to visit with my adult daughter Ellen and her fiancé, Adam.  Then Ellen, Owen and I headed to Rome.  Two years ago I took the same trip with my granddaughter, Isabelle.  She too was thirteen at the time.  After visiting London on that trip we then headed to Paris.  Yes, I feel blessed to be able to share the world with them.  I feel blessed that they want to come with me.  As Isabelle and I deplaned in Raleigh and were heading towards customs, she asked me where we were going next.  “We need to go through customs, Honey.”  “Oh no, Grandma, that’s not what I meant.”  And she smiled.  Throughout this trip, Owen has suggested I adopt a “travel buddy.”  He has suggested himself. 

When Ellen, Owen and I were in Rome, the tour guide mentioned in passing that one corner shop had “the best gelato in Rome” and that “the line for the gelato is sometimes longer than the line to enter the Vatican.”  When we finished our Vatican tour I was ready to find our way back to our hotel and rest for a while but that wasn’t Ellen’s plan.  She whipped out her trusty iPhone and located that shop.  We walked this way and that way and what did we find, the best gelato shop in Rome. So there we stood in line with a group of nuns from Albania who had also discovered the shop.  When they told us where they were from, Ellen surprised them by announcing she’d been to Albania.  The nun told her to come visit the next time she had a reason to go there.  We would have missed out on that whole experience if it wasn’t for her desire to experience it all and to have the “the best gelato in Rome.”

I have friends who have traveled all over the world.  They aren’t the least bit concerned with safety or even worse, Montezuma’s revenge and if they are concerned, well too bad, the adventure is more important than the worry.  I think of them as having a huge appetite for life.  They want to experience it all.  They don’t care if they encounter challenges along the way.  In fact, they relish the challenges.  Remember the movie Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russell? She says, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  I don’t want to starve to death.  I too want feast from the banquet of life.

What happens when one travels?  Your world becomes larger.  It’s true, life is a banquet.  There is such diversity, so many delightful flavors.  I think that’s why the Amazing Race is one of my favorite TV shows.  In it a dozen or more people travel around the world engaging in the local traditions and customs of the country they are visiting. What is of the greatest interest is not what they see or do and I certainly don’t recommend racing through any worthwhile experience.  What is of the greatest interest is what happens to one’s thinking when one steps outside of their box.  It’s what happens inside us that’s so amazing.
We get to choose whether or not we want to live inside a tiny little box, the known world or expand the box.  The world can be a scary place but at some point we will no longer be a part of it.  While we are here we should embrace the concept of living in a big space, of learning about our planet and its people and therefore, about ourselves.  It’s too easy to stay safe and comfortable and to let our world shrink to our size.  Maybe one doesn’t really need to hop a plane or a train in order to stay green and growing.  I see how small our world can become every time I visit an assisted living facility.  We get to choose if we want to eat from a buffet or have the same food over and over.  If travel is beyond your means, go to the library, go to the theatre, and borrow some travel videos.  There is no reason in this day and age to miss out on all that’s available in the world that can nourish our minds, hearts and our souls and help us to live a life of abundance and adventure, even if we’re confined physically by old age, illness or finances.

Because of Ellen’s sense of adventure we got to meet Albanian nuns.  How many people outside of Albania can claim that?  Because of my sense of adventure we got to go to Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and view the Pieta and see Pope Francis.  Owen’s interests took us to see some of Banksy’s London street art.  Each of us journeyed to a new place.  We discovered new people, new visions, and new appreciations and therefore, we discovered more about both our outer and most important, about our inner worlds.  I’m pleased my grandchildren and I have had the opportunity to travel together.  This trip certainly wasn’t the first but the trip to Europe was the farthest, not however, the longest. The longest journey is the one we take to know ourselves better, the one within and by spending time together, especially in a foreign location, we learned a great deal about each other and about ourselves.  We not only created some amazing shared memories but we ate from the banquet of life and it was great!

Seeking a Better Life

For four nights
during the week before Holy Week, Father Jim Sichko from Texas spoke to over
1000 people in my church of St. Michael the Archangel in Cary, NC.  We have a very large parish, over 16,000
people. The church has daily mass, Saturday evening mass and five masses every
Sunday.  Our services are blessed with
the gift of an amazing music minister, Wayne Cushner and a very dedicated group
of choir members.  I love going to mass. I’ve
gone my whole life and I love the ritual. 
I find it comforting.  I am also
grateful for the gift of the Eucharist. 
I’ve seen my church’s faults and I’ve chosen to stay and work at change
from the inside out. I’m blessed to feel this way. I know not everyone can
understand. I am one of the lucky ones. I was born into this faith in which I
feel so at home.  

Mass is an
obligation for Catholics.  We are told
that if we miss Mass without a legitimate reason, we have sinned.  Father Sichko began his introduction to the
parishioners by telling them they were welcome to leave if they were at the
Mass because of obligation and not because they wanted to attend.  I’m not sure if he had the church’s blessing
on that direction but I understood what he was saying; don’t show up without an
attitude of gratitude, embrace the gift, embrace the mystery.

How many times in
our lives have we simply shown up physically to some event but didn’t commit
emotionally?  What we invest in our
experience is directly proportional to what we receive from it.  How about school for an example to which we
can all relate?  Everyone knows the
amount of time and effort one puts into their education directly affects what
one learns.  Yes it is easier for some
than for others but that isn’t the point. 
If we aren’t fully invested in the process we miss out regardless of
whether or not the learning comes easily. 
We may not only miss out on how much and what we learn from the classes
but from our teachers, peers and the environment.

Catholic Mass is
not an entertainment form.  Regardless of
the music or the priest’s personality, it is a very traditional ritual.  We stand, sit, and kneel, over and over.  I’ve heard it called “Catholic
aerobics.” The readings change and the hymns are different weekly but the
words are always the same.  I can go to
Mass anywhere in the world, and I have, and regardless of the language, I know
most of what the priest is saying.  I
tell you this because I understand how other, more contemporary fun services
can attract people.  I can understand why
some people come to mass out of obligation and not out of want and it is
obvious when a church is filled with people who really would like to be
somewhere else.  Many won’t be singing,
they vie for seats in the back of the church; they don’t bother to say the
prayers and they leave as soon as Communion is distributed.  I understand why Father Sichko gave
permission to those unappreciative Catholics to leave. 

The people
attending the mission were there because they wanted to be.  How could I tell?  People came early.  A half hour before the mission began, the
church was almost full.  Everyone sang,
they were still singing after Father Sichko had walked out of the service.  It was an awesome sound.  I stopped singing for a short time to just
listen.  It was like the Mormon
Tabernacle Choir!  All those people
singing a joyful sound.  Why, I wondered
did so many people choose to spend four evenings here in this church?  What was of such value that they made an
effort to attend?  Certainly, this is not
the first event of its type.

I’ve never
attended a traveling preacher’s event. 
Even living here in the heart of the Bible Belt, I’ve never gone to hear
Billy Graham speak or Joel Osteen who regularly visits our area.  My only revival experience is from watching
the movie Elmer Gantry with Burt Lancaster a “hundred” years
ago.  I would hope that’s not a good
representation.  From the little I
remember he was not a very upright person. 
But, I can understand how one can get caught up in the experience.  I guess it is like the Super Bowl of
faith.  It’s exciting, all these people
gathered in one place with a similar outlook, rooting for the same team.  My question is why are they here?  What is everyone looking for?  What do they hope to gain? People seem to be
seeking something most of us cannot seem to find alone.

 

My mother was a
great fan of Robert Schuler and the Crystal Cathedral.  Thousands of people attended his services and
millions watched every Sunday.  Joel
Osteen is very popular now.  His church is
a former basketball stadium and holds over 18,000 people.  It is full every week and millions more watch
his service from home.  You don’t have to
look to the media for popular preachers or venues.  Here in Cary alone we have other churches
that attract large throngs of people each week. 
It’s the same throughout the rest of the country.  They represent every denomination:
Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, Non-denominational, Muslim, etc.  Why? 
Why are people coming together? 
Is it simply for community or are they looking for something else?  And, why do they continue to return week
after week, year after year?  Why did
over 1000 people come to St. Michael the Archangel every night for four nights
the week before Holy Week?   Was it
because it was free?  Maybe they had
nothing better to do?  No, I believe it
was because we are all looking for something beyond ourselves, beyond our
understanding, beyond our wildest imagination. 
We are looking for that which will complete us.  We are looking for God. 

People came
hoping.  They were hoping they would hear
something that would inspire them to lead richer, fuller lives.  They wanted to know more about their faith
with the hope that that would lead them to lives of more value.  They wanted to know what knowledge their
faith has gathered over the last 2000 years that would bless them and their
loved ones today and in the future.  Did
they get that?  Did they enrich their
lives and their faith?  Father Sichko had
a very direct message, a simple one but not an easy one.  He told us to “live the
gospel.”  Have you read the
gospels?  Have you read the words of
Jesus Christ?  His lessons are very
clear; care for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the suffering of this
world.  Love at all costs, all the
time.  Don’t be attached to your material
possessions and trust that God is always here to care for you.  Simple, but challenging mandates.  Father Sichko repeated these directives.  He was able to weave them around some very
entertaining stories, some very humbling stories and at the end of the fourth
night, he received a standing ovation. 
His message seemed to reach everyone there.  It was a very inspirational experience.  The energy in the church was palpable.  It was exciting! I knew I was in a holy place
with others who chose to be there.  No
one I believed was there because of an obligation but solely because they
wanted to be there. 

One of my newer
affirmations is “I read something inspirational every night and
motivational every morning.”  For
the four nights of Father’s presentation I was inspired.  Listening to him was even better than doing
my reading.  It was the difference
between looking at a photo of a bowl of my favorite ice cream and actually
being able to eat it.  I came looking for
a way to enrich my life and to add to the blessings of my family and friends
and perhaps some part of the world and I found it.  I found it in Father’s reminder to “go
live the gospel.”  I know I’ll need
reminding.  I’m sure to find a reminder
in my daily evening reading of the New Testament.  That, along with Father Sichko’s lessons will
sustain me, I hope for quite a while to come. 
I only wish, and hope that some of those non-appreciative Catholics did
show up on a night or two and they too were inspired, inspired to the point
where they find themselves wanting to come to mass, not just showing up because
they think they need to in order to escape the everlasting fires of hell but
because something magical happened, something mystical and the veil that had
hidden the blessings of their faith from them was pulled back and they can
finally see the beauty, the gift of the Mass and especially of the
Eucharist.

Is God is a Feminist?

Affirmation: I
believe that when the gifts of women are recognized and honored, the world is a
better place. 

This week, the
second week of March, 2013 the Catholic Church elected a new pope, Cardinal
Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis. 
It didn’t seem to matter if you were a Catholic or not, the event
dominated the headlines around the world. 
World headlines are normally dominated by some dreadful disaster or
horrible tragedy.  I found this focus on
the election of a new the pope to be more uplifting and inspirational. The
election only took two days and five votes before white smoke, the symbol
announcing a new pope, rose above the Sistine Chapel.  Tens of thousands were there waiting in the
rain for the news.  Curiosity was
abundant.  There had been much
speculation about who the new pope would be and now, we were to finally find
out.  The questions were about whether or
not he would be a Vatican “insider.” 
Would he be from Europe as were most of the former popes or would he be
from another continent?  Would he be
younger than popes of the past?  Would he
possess a conservative or a more liberal theological perspective?  The questions and speculation were endless
and went on for weeks.  There was only
one question no one was asking.  Would
the new pope be a man?

This same week of
March there were at least two specials, one on 60 Minutes and one on Good
Morning America about a new book that had just been released by the COO of
Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.  When asked if she was trying to reignite the
feminist movement she said “yes.” 
She gave the statistic that only 4% of the Fortune 500 companies were
led by women and that women still only made 70 cents to the dollar that men
make.  “The woman’s movement has
stalled.” she said.

This year is also
the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, her
book being the reason many attribute to the beginning of the woman’s
movement. 

Whether or not you
consider yourself a feminist you cannot deny that the role of women here in the
United States and in many civilized parts of the world, has changed.  Many would argue it has not been for the
better.  Many would argue women have only
begun to make inroads into being the dynamic influential presence they need to
be in order to bring more balance and compassion into our universe.  It seems to be a topic with many emotional
ties and not a simple one.  Women’s roles
in the Catholic Church have always been a topic of discussion and
controversy.  Change comes very slowly to
my church but with the election of Pope Francis, I have renewed hope. 

In the short time
he has been pope, the one word that is repeated most often is
“humility.”  His first act
after being elected was to ask the throngs waiting in the rain to see him and
to hear him was to ask for their prayers. 
Stories abound about his association with the poor, not just in name but
in deed.  He cares deeply about his
people, us the church.  His theology is
conservative. There will not be any
changes made to the church’s stand on the sacredness of life from the womb to
the tomb.  I can guarantee that.  But, perhaps with his humility he will be
more encompassing of the role of women in our church and see them as not just
holding a place of service but also deserving a place of leadership. I once
heard someone say that Jesus Christ was one of the earliest feminists.  He promoted the ethical treatment of all
people without regard to their status, race or sex. 

My thirteen year
old grandson asked his mom if I was a feminist. 
The word feminist was said with a tone of derision.  “Why” she asked. He told her it had
been explained to him that feminists hate men. 
Thank heavens for the wisdom of my daughter.  “Yes” she answered, “grandma
is a feminist.  I am a feminist.  Your step-father and your grandfather are
feminists.”  She went on to explain
that a feminist doesn’t hate men.  A
feminist promotes the well being of all people regardless of their gender.

I received the message
at an early age that I needed to be responsible for myself.  I needed to be independent.  It was before the feminist movement but it
was clear to me that I needed to find a way to care for myself. A married life,
if I married, of total domesticity would tie me to the success or failure of
another and of that relationship.  Many
women have suffered devastating losses because they did not take any steps to
create a life whereby they could care not only for themselves but perhaps for
others that might come to depend on
them. 

I clearly
remember reading The Feminine Mystique. 
It was a time before the Internet, before Oprah Winfrey and Doctor Phil.
I had just had a baby and quit my teaching job (not in that order) when we
moved to Norwich, NY, a town of 7000 people. 
I knew no one and I was lonely. I was lonely and I couldn’t figure out
why I was struggling.  I had, I believed,
everything I needed.  The baby was
healthy, I was healthy.  My husband was
kind and generous and we were beginning a whole new life.  Help! 
I think if I had already read Ms. Friedan’s book, I would have wondered
if my sense of frustration was created because of it but I had not.  When I read it, I knew she had written some
of it just for me.  I was not alone.  It gave me some comfort and a sense of
hope. 

I read that most
men today want their wives to work.  They
want them to bring in another income. 
The days of Leave it to Beaver, Dick VanDyke or even the more recent,
Raymond are gone.  The main issue however
is that women are still the main caregivers for the children and the home.  It’s a heavy load and I don’t have any easy
answers for how to lighten the burden other than to choose a partner who will
willingly do their share.  I am in awe of
any single parent who manages not only to balance all their responsibilities
but guides their children to successful, productive lives. 

I know there are
young women out there who never think about the opportunities they now have as
being hard won by women and men before them but they were hard won.  If it weren’t for their efforts, we wouldn’t
have women physicians, scientists, politicians, and attorneys.  It needs to be remembered there are women in
third world countries who are very aware of the opportunities available to
women in other parts of the world and they can only dream about them.   

Sheryl Sandberg’s
book and Betty Friedan’s book lead women to believe they can have it all.  I hope that’s true.  I hope it’s true too that with the
installation of Pope Francis my church, the Catholic Church will finally
recognize what it has been missing all these centuries.  They haven’t uplifted at least half of their
population, the women of their church so many of whom are keeping the faith
alive and vibrant.  Yes, I am a
feminist.  I’d like to see women
priests.  Id like to see a woman
pope.  I’d like to see women being
treated with respect and dignity and women having the same opportunities as
anyone else.  Who knows, if my wishes are
granted maybe I’ll even get to one day see a woman become president of the
United States.

Savoring Joy

Affirmation: I savor all the joyful experiences of my
life.

I have read that
most people remember their negative or sad experiences better than they
remember their positive, happy experiences. According to the article we have a
tendency to dwell on the negative and sad and to barely notice the joyful
experiences therefore, not fully absorbing them. The advice given was that we
take more notice of the uplifting events; that we let them soak into our
cellular structure by savoring them, not letting them slip by unvalued.

Recently, I
adopted the tool of each morning writing out three joys experienced the day
before.  The practice is helping me pay
closer attention to what enhances the quality of my life.  I notice those things that make me smile and
make a mental note.  Then by writing them
out the next day  I’m recording them
not only on paper but in my heart. 

My mother-in-law
turned 92 this year. Have you ever wondered what you’d be like in your
old age, or if you’ll
even have an old age? (That’s
a whole other topic.) My mom, Margaret is 90 this year.

My
mother-in-law is named Yolanda. They both live independently and are lucky
enough to live in adult communities that offer not only a myriad of services
but easy access to community. They are also in very good health.  I visit my mom regularly.  Getting old is not for the faint of
heart.  It can be a very difficult time
of life.  I often wonder what that will
be like for me.  I’ve been taking note of
how different people approach what appears to be the same situation.  I’m taking notes with the hope that I will
learn how to maintain my sense of joy and adventure.  Is it a deep abiding faith?  Is it cellular, once an optimist, always an
optimist?  Is it being able to review
your life and value, truly value, all you’ve accomplished?

My husband and I
usually travel to see Yolanda for her birthday. I spend the time soaking in the
joy that Yolanda eludes. She counts her birthday cards and reads each one to us
and tells us about the people who sent them, if we don’t already know them. If
we do know them, she tells us about them anyway. She tells us how wonderful
they all are. How kind and talented and smart they are. It’s such fun to
listen to her take pleasure in her family and friends. She’s one of the most
non-judgmental, unconditionally loving people I have ever met. I’ve been blessed by
having her for a mentor and a friend. I’ve
learned so much from this woman who readily accepted me as her daughter simply
because her son loved me.

We moved away from
the New York area very soon after her first granddaughter was born. Melissa was
six weeks old and we moved to a farm town five hours away. They must have been
so unsettled by our decision. But, they never let on, neither she nor Sandy’s dad, Joe. They
simply showed up any chance they got bringing home cooked meals and gifts
galore. I was young. I was a little defensive about keeping my own space, my
own house and I didn’t
fully appreciate what a gift I was being given. 
Now, a grandmother myself I fully appreciate all she and Sandy’s father
did for us.

She now lives in
Savannah. She moved there right before her 90th birthday. We drove
her to the airport; she got on a plane and began a whole new life. I was in
awe. I can only hope that when I’m
90 I will have the gumption to make a lifestyle change.

There are so many
lessons to learn about life from Yolanda. She has a deep abiding faith.  She loves people; they are usually good and
kind and generous, according to her. 
She’s lived a rich life caring for her family and pursuing a
career.  Her whole view of life is
flavored with love: love of God, love of family and friends, love of memories,
love of being alive each and every day. 
I’m
sure you have people in your life from whom you too have learned a lot. But,
one of the lessons I took away from
sharing Yolanda’s celebrations with her was how important it is to savor the
joys of our lives and to absorb them. I believe it will color our attitude, our
health, our quality of life not only now but for the rest of our lives and then
maybe we too can be 90 or 92 or 100+ and giggle and enjoy all the wonderful
moments and celebrations of our lives.