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God’s Garmin

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

Love is Your Only Job

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

Blessed are the Balanced

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

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

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

The Bigger Picture

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

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

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

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