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Christmas All Year Long

Affirmation: I possess the Christmas spirit all year long.

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

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


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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

Searching for Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strengthening Our Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing in Faith

Affirmation:  Something wonderful is about to happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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