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What Do You Live For?

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

Why Be Vulnerable

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

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

Shame On You!

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

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

The Demise of Cursive Writing

Affirmation:  I am a life-long learner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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