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Blessings Recognized

Affirmation:  I recognize
the blessings I receive when I share my time, treasure and talent with those in
need.

On two occasions during this October, 2013, my husband, Sandy
Costa was invited to be the Master of Ceremonies for the Ronald McDonald House
of Durham, NC.  The events began at 7:45
AM and lasted an hour.  A full breakfast
was served along with some of the most heartwarming and heart rendering stories
I have ever heard.  For me, the stories
that revolve around the struggle to live are always both inspirational and in
many cases achingly sad.  This event
revolves around the challenges being faced by children, little tiny ones and
their families and the service, the hope and the comfort that this organization
provides for them regardless of who they are or how much they have.  The Ronald McDonald House had set up these
two breakfasts, among other events, to give others the opportunity to be of
service to their residents and future residents.  They are giving people the opportunity to
reach out and to make a difference in the lives of someone who is suffering,
someone they probably do not even know.

The first event of the month was at The Tobacco Warehouse in
Durham and about 400 people attended. 
Sandy didn’t really say much to me about his role and he’s often invited
to speak to groups, both large and small so I didn’t pay a lot of attention to
his project.  Sometimes he speaks for a
fee but many times he speaks to simply be of service.  This, of course was an example of the
later.  I was pleased for him that he was
asked and to be given the opportunity but I didn’t attend.  Actually, he didn’t invite me and I wrote it
off as simply another of his speaking engagements.  Wow, did I get that one wrong!

He invited me to the second event held in Raleigh at the NC State
McKimmon Center.  A friend and pet
therapy volunteer, Ann Henderson, asked me to sit with her group of
invitees.  I was delighted to be
included.  Ann brought Bailey, her
wonderful warm friendly doggie.  The two
of them also visit my mom once a week at my mom’s assisted living
apartment.  It is the highlight of my
mom’s week.  So I can imagine how much
joy Ann and Bailey bring to the residents of The Ronald McDonald House.  They raised an amazing $260,000 during the
one hour breakfast.  Why?

Sandy wasn’t the only host. 
He had a co-host, Sosa.  Sosa is
thirteen.  She had on a black dress with
silver sequins across the top.  She
walked to that podium like she did it every day.  I was once told the second greatest fear
after death is speaking into a microphone. 
It was obvious Sosa had already conquered her 1st fear.  You can watch her at: Watch Sosa  She then started by apologizing for not
wearing the red sneakers with the orange laces that she had been given, her
Ronald McDonald sneakers.  “They
really don’t go with my outfit” she said. 
Then she shared what it meant to her and her family to have a place, The
Ronald McDonald House, to stay at while she was receiving her second bone
marrow transplant.  Her mother had slept
in their car for two months until space became available at “The
House.”

During the breakfast there were four other speakers, three sets
of parents and Oie Osterkamp, the director of the Durham Ronald McDonald
House.  There was also a video which
showed the journey of another teenage girl. 
I cried on and off throughout the entire program.  Who wouldn’t? 
Who can be among families who have undergone so much in an effort to
make sure their child survives and not be emotionally moved?  Obviously, not many of us.  When Sandy finally made the plea for money
the audience responded with generosity and caring.  The pledge card was not just for money.  It also included a section for visits and
volunteers.  They accept any help they
can get.  I have friends who shop for,
purchase and cook one meal a month for the entire RMH in Greensboro, NC.  Time, treasure and talent were all greatly
appreciated.

My experience has taught me that whenever I think I’m being
magnanimous and generous to someone or to some cause, I discover that I am the
receiver more than the giver.  It’s a
gift to me when someone invites me into their lives and permits me to be of
service.  The book I’m now reading, Catching
Fire, Becoming Flame
says our first responsibility is to be of service to
those who are less fortunate than we. 
Discovering what our gifts are and how we can best help another is
actually a responsibility.  We are called
to service.  We are called to help and
support one another.

If you watch the news we are led to believe we are not a caring
species.  The media almost never reports
on something uplifting and positive.  But,
Sandy and I are involved in many different charities and we know people both of
our church and of no church, who lead lives which epitomize the phrase
“giving back.”  It seems to me
if we watch our fellow man and woman carefully we will see we are a caring,
generous, even loving species.  We like
to help others.  We like to make a
positive difference in the lives of those around us, both those we know and in
the case of these two breakfasts, in the lives of complete strangers.  We must be an amazing group of beings.  These two events, two one hour events raised
over $400,000 and I am sure generated a lot of interest for volunteer
opportunities.  Most people want to help
others.  Sometimes it simply takes being
presented with an opportunity.  These two
events were a perfect example of creating an opportunity for people to feel
good about themselves by sharing their bounty with others.  For me, the blessing was to be included in my
husband’s caring spirit.  Actually, one
of my greatest blessings is that I am an integral part of Sandy’s generous
loving heart.

Winds Of Change

Affirmation:  I may not be right all the time but sometimes
I have some really good ideas. 

Several
years ago I took a work shop at Duke Integrative Medicine with Sarah
Susanka.  It revolved around her book, The
Not So Big Life
.  Sarah is an
architect who was one of the first people to present the concept of living in
smaller, more efficient homes.  She
encouraged people to use all their space and not to have a bigger footprint
than necessary but not to give up those things that add to the quality of a
home.  In fact, in her first book, The
Not So Big House
, she recommends adding special features to make small
space even more inviting, like round windows and rich warm woods and moving
walls.  I loved her first book and when
our study group, The Seekers, were ready for a new study we chose her book
about The Not So Big Life.  It
took us a long time to go through it.  It
is chocked full of self-discovery questions. 
When the workshop presented itself, it seemed like a natural fit.  Two of us went for the weekend.  It was the worst run workshops and yet it was
one of the most insightful workshops I ever attended.

 

Sarah had
what appeared to be a very general outline. 
There were about 50 people there and it was obvious from the start that
her approach was to simply let the presentation evolve.  We never saw the book.  She never mentioned the book. 

There are
guidelines for group events.  You can ask
any therapist.  The first thing you do is
assure everyone that they are safe in this group.  You do that by asking everyone to hold in
confidence whatever is shared during the time together.  That wasn’t done.  In fact, there wasn’t one guideline
mentioned.  It was never suggested that
those who like to talk give some thought and space to those who are
quieter.  It wasn’t mentioned that a
participant should only talk about their own experience and not lecture the
group about their expertise. There were no guidelines whatsoever.  Well, there was sort of one.  Don’t run away.  Go towards that which you want to go away
from.  I was ready to leave after the
first hour.  I also almost didn’t return
for the last day but I kept that one suggestion from her in my mind and hung in
there.  It was good advice. 

At one
point in the session a list was distributed. 
You were to read the list and circle the comments you have ever said to
yourself.  Comments like, “Boy, am I
stupid” or “I am such a loser” or “I am so
unattractive.”  I’m sure you get the
picture.  It was all the negatives things
we sometimes say to ourselves.  It was
very sad.  The list took up two columns
on a full page.  I was doing pretty well
with the self-talk list.  I hadn’t
circled anything when I came to, “I know how to do it” and “I’m
right.”  Well, yes!  I find myself saying that a lot.  What’s wrong with that?  I mean I had just been thinking how maybe
Sarah needed someone to help her run her workshops, someone like me who knew
how to structure such an event. “I know how to do it.”  Was that a problem?  How did that interfere with my life and my
relationships?  Then the light went
on. 

Who wants
to be around someone who always thinks they know the best way?  Who wants to be around someone who is always
right?  No one, that’s who.  What I perceived as strength was also one of
my greatest weaknesses.  It was an
epiphany!  It was a personality shadow on
which a light had just been shone. 

Now, I
try harder to let people do it their way, not mine and not to judge it as right
or wrong.  It’s just different.  I try harder to listen to other people’s
concepts and ideas and once again accept that they aren’t seeing things the way
I do but that’s ok too. But, sometimes I still look around and think I could
help an organization or two run better than they are running, like the government.  So, when I received this hoax email recently
I found myself agreeing with most of the suggestions presented.  If I ran the government, this is what I would
want to see happen.  This seems
right.  Well, it’s my government so in a
way I am responsible for its operation. 
I am sad to admit that considering the terrible state it’s presently
in.  But, even though Warren Buffet never
said what is written below, I support these ideas.  I’m sure they are right.  Our government needs to change and since I
like to tell people how to improve their organizational skills, I am sharing
this latest group of suggestions with my readers with the hope that maybe
together we can help congress to finally get it right.

Warren Buffet is asking each addressee to forward this email
to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those
to do likewise. At least 20 if you
can. It has to stop somewhere!

*Congressional Reform Act of 2013

1. No Tenure / No Pension. 
 
A  Congressman/woman
collects a salary while in office and receives no
pay when they’re out of office.
 

2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in
Social Security.

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the
Social Security

system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social
Security system and Congress participates with the American people. It may not
be used for any other purpose.

 
3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as
all Americans do.

 
4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.
Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5. Congress loses their current health care system and
participates in the same health care system as the American people.

 
6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on
the American people.

 
7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women
are void effective 12/31/13.

 
The American people did not make this contract with
Congressmen/women.

Congressmen/women made all these contracts for themselves.
Serving in Congress is an honor not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned
citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back
to work.

 
If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it
will only take

three days for most people (in the U.S. ) to receive the
message.

Don’t you think it’s time?

THIS IS HOW

YOU FIX CONGRESS!

What do
you think?  I agree.  Do you think I’m right and I know how to do
it?  Maybe it’s OK once in a while to
share what I think are some really good ideas.

 

 

 

 

And Then the Wind Chime Rang

Affirmation:  When I practice an attitude of gratitude, I
let go of regret and disappointment.

My energy
was really low.  The house was in the
middle of a renovation.  We were leaving
for a trip that morning and I had received three calls from family members the
day before, each regarding a different issue and each presenting a fairly
serious, if not life threatening problem. 
I’d had a terrible night’s sleep. 
It had taken a long time to fall asleep and by 4 AM I was wide
awake.  I’d lain there and said the
Rosary and all the memorized prayers I knew and I think I dozed on and off but
by 6 AM I was wide awake.  I silently
slipped out of bed because my husband was still resting peacefully, grabbed my
daily meditation book and my journal.  I
put on my slippers and a cover-up and made a cup of tea and headed downstairs
to the sun room but it looked like a beautiful warm morning and so I chose
instead to sit on the patio. 

At the
Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat the month before this particular day, we were led in a
guided mediation by TJ Martin, one of our dedicated founding yoga teachers. Our
intention for our yoga-off-the-mat was to help the participants find their
heart space, that place where they felt safe and calm.  Once they were able to visualize it they were
then encouraged to draw it and finally to paint it.  Irene Talton, our yoga-off-the-mat
facilitator and TJ Martin showed us how to use the water colors to achieve our
goals, or at least to come close to them for those of us who didn’t have a clue
how to paint.  The guided meditation led
me to my back yard patio.  It wasn’t the
first time I was stunned by the place mediation had taken me.

One time
many years ago I had been invited by a doctor friend to come to his home and to
do some “imaging.”  Once I was
in a relaxed state he too had me imagine a safe place.  Whoosh! 
There I was sitting on a bench in front of the Eseeola Lodge in
Linville, NC.  We had visited there many
times with very dear friends but I had never considered it a safe or sacred
place.  I was so surprised to
“be” there that I gave a small gasp. 
I can still remember that session with Dr. Telfer.  It was in 1999 but every time I recall it,
it’s as clear to me now as it was then.

 
Now I was
“on” my patio.  We had lived in
this particular house for a little over six years.  It isn’t my dream house but it’s a good
house.  It’s spacious and I’ve had it
painted lots of bright colors, yellow being the primary one.  We’ve spent a lot of time and treasure spiffing
it up and making it the way we’d like it to be but I still missed the house I
had left, my former dream home.  It was
not an attitude of gratitude and I knew it but I was still lacking in
thankfulness.  Now here I was at the
retreat visualizing my sacred space; it could be anywhere in the world or
anywhere in my imagination and where was I, I was on my patio!

As I sat
down this morning with my tea and my journal I felt blessed to actually be in
my sacred space.  It was coolish but I
had my hot tea and my cover-up so I was comfortable.  I opened the journal and began to write.  I noted I wasn’t well rested and then a stiff
breeze blew and the wind chime in the tree rang out.  The sound went right into my chest, my heart
and reverberated up and out all of my limbs. 
I was stunned by the feeling.  I
stopped writing and listened.  There’s a
small waterfall off to the side of the patio and it was rippling joyfully.  The birds were waking up and their chirping
was lyrical.  Then I heard the young
children who live behind me talking with their parents.  They were giggling.  Tears sprang to my eyes.  Thank you I wrote.  Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

The day
before this epiphany I had walked the local lake with a neighbor friend.  I always wondered why she didn’t always
understand what I said to her.  I had
decided it was my NY accent and her foreign ears but this morning she shared
with me that she had been very ill as a young woman and had lost half of her
hearing.  It hadn’t slowed her down and
she went onto a very blessed life but as I sat there on my patio this morning,
I was even more aware of the gift of my hearing. I have continued the practice
of listing each morning three joys from the day before.  On this morning I listed the joys I had
discovered at sunrise.  The joy of waking
to a new day.  The joy of having a sacred
space I could actually walk onto.  The
joy of being married to a man who supports me and my dreams, no matter how
daunting they may seem.  The joy of
taking time in the morning to pray and write. 
The joy of being the person her family turns to when they need
support.  I know that’s more than three
joys.  Most mornings there are way more
than three.  This morning I also listed
the joy of the gift of my hearing.   My
attitude of gratitude had finally overtaken my thanklessness and that sound of
the wind chime had pierced not just my chest and my heart but it had pierced
and healed my soul.

The Movie of My Life

Affirmation:  I live a Christ centered life of love, peace,
joy, gratitude and compassion.
 
 
Jason
Becker, Not Dead Yet
, is the name of the movie we were invited to
view.  It was the premier and it was
being held to benefit Jason Becker and the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,
aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) Foundation.  We
were guests of Cytokinetics which is a drug development group doing research to
aid in the treatment and cure of these types of diseases. We didn’t know Jason.
We knew nothing about his story but the invitation was for a group of us to
travel to a club, Bimbo’s, in San Francisco and have dinner and watch the
film.  We were already in California at
the time so it was an appealing invitation. 
We entered the club, got a beverage and then went to meet Jason.  He was in a motorized wheel chair and there
was a line to meet him.  He could no
longer move any part of his body other than his eyes and some facial
muscles.  He was surrounded by what I
assumed to be family members and caregivers. 
 
 
My first impression of him was how handsome he was.  We had been told a little about Jason’s story
before we arrived.  He was a guitar
virtuoso from the time he was five years old until he was eighteen when he was
diagnosed with ALS.  The disease
progressed very quickly and while he was able to record a lot of his work
before his upper body deserted him, he had to drop out of the David Roth world
tour. He had been recruited as Van Halen’s replacement. He was now 41. His
father had developed a system of communication that allowed Jason to
“talk” with his eyes.  It was a
matrix system and it depended on how many times he blinked and what direction
he rolled his eyes.  His parents and
caregivers could spell out the words Jason was indicting and then they would
share his comments with the visitor.  We
were next in line to meet him.
I’d
never met anyone with ALS and I’ve never really tried to have a conversation
with a paraplegic.  But, he had his
interpreters with him so I wasn’t too concerned.  We approached and I confessed to him that I
was new to his story but I was looking forward to becoming one of his newest
fans.  He made a few eye movements and
his father told us he had just responded, “awesome.”  Awesome was exactly what I was thinking and
after we watched the film, awesome was exactly the word I would use to describe
this young man’s talent, the dedication of his amazing family and friends and
his undaunted courage.
 
A
diagnosis of ALS is considered a terminal diagnosis.  There is no cure.  There is no treatment.  There is no hope.  Normally, one would die within a few years of
the diagnosis.  As of this date, Jason
has been alive for 23 years after the diagnosis; he’s “not dead
yet.”  Not only is he still alive
but he’s still composing music.  His
father has come up with another way to help Jason compose the music he can
still hear, the music he’s still creating in his mind.  My husband, Sandy and I were inspired by
Jason story.  We are inspired by Jason
himself and by the love and support he has gathered around him.
 
 
The
next morning I sat with another event attendee and we began to discuss all we
had learned from the night before.  We
shared our newfound appreciation for Jason and his family.  I then shared that after last night’s
experience I found myself asking the question, if someone was to make a movie
of my life, what would be in it?  Jason
is only 41.  Most of the movie revolved
around his first eighteen years and the accomplishments he had already
made.  It appeared he was on his way to
becoming one of the all-time great guitarists. 
He was on his way to becoming a legend. 
I’m not a guitar aficionado but even I recognized several of the names
of the people in the movie who spoke about him. 
He had already commanded such respect as an artist and as a human being
by the age of eighteen that twenty-three years later, these famous musicians
were still giving testimony to him and his talent.
 
I
don’t know about you but I must admit that if my life’s reputation had to depend
on what I’d accomplished up until my eighteenth year, it would be very lacking
in accomplishments.  I’m sixty-seven as
of this writing and I would hope that I have finally achieved some measure of
respect for a lifetime of loving effort. 
What would a movie of my life include? 
What would a movie of your life look like?  When discussing this with my friend, we found
ourselves focusing on the virtues of kindness and love.  As long as our movie focused on promoting
those two qualities, we decided it would be a good film.
 
I
once saw a really scary movie with Robin Williams about an internal camera
device that was implanted in everyone at their birth and was extracted when
they died.  His profession was to put
together their obituary in film form from their camera.  He was supposed to be one of the best because
he could edit the film of even the most cruel, horrendous behavior and make the
obituary a glowing commendation of the deceased.  It was so disturbing that I shut it off
almost at the beginning but the concept left me with a lot to think about.
 
The
day will come when someone will be piecing my life together to help others
remember me.  It’s inevitable.  What will my “movie” say about me?  Will I need a professional editor?  Will it be a comedy or a drama and what will
it be rated? Have you heard the advice about writing out your own obituary so
you can decide before you die how you want to be remembered and then take the
steps necessary to paint that picture?  I
know no matter how we craft our lives not everyone will appreciate what we’ve
attempted to do no matter how kind and caring we have acted.  If it happens so be it but I shouldn’t expect
to be recognized for my good works. 
Really, the most important part of all this is if I did my best, my utmost
to live a life worthy of my own respect and that of my God.  Kindness, forgiveness and love are the three
qualities I’d like the movie of my life to revolve around.  Hopefully, I have a few more years left to
make sure the ending of my movie is as close to my ideal as it possibly can be.