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Treasuring the Earth

Affirmations: I treasure our planet Earth and recognize my responsibility to care for it.

 

51AzgOzdjuL._SY344_BO1204203200_Carolyn Tobin was the presenter at A Place for Women to Gather for the program titled, Sacred Time but the topic on which she spoke was broader and deeper than that of time. I didn’t think that was possible but I was wrong and I was immediately enamored with her subject. She was there to speak about saving the human race, saving the universe and saving ourselves. I’m ready! Tell me there’s a way to help in this most important work and I shall do my part, although I was very doubtful about what I, one little lady living in the comfort of North Carolina could possibly do that would help save man-kind or woman-kind. Once again, I was being challenged to rise up and exert whatever power I did have to make a difference in this frightening world
of ours. Is this my Lenten mission? This same topic of making a difference in the world had appeared numerous times over the last few weeks, actually over the last couple of years. I am being led to “do more” or at least to “do something.” What was Carolyn offering me that would enable me, no, empower me to heal the world?

This woman was a student of Thomas Berry and she had recently published a book about their conversations, Recovering a Sense of the Sacred. What philosophy was being promoted? Is it an approach in which I can be active? Is it an approach in which I can believe and adopt? Actually, it was even more than that; it was a life lesson for making a shift in my life with the added effect of changing the world. She and Thomas are calling us to reconnect with the earth, to reconnect with nature. I was being asked to embrace my roots. I was being directed to fully embrace our universe by taking the time to appreciate its gifts and to protect them and to reach out and share this approach with anyone and everyone within my life’s circle. So, here I am sharing this philosophy, maybe even better described as a theology, with all the people who read these missives.

conservatory-2Once again my lesson is coming to me in many different forms. The first was Carolyn’s lecture, then I read her delightful, insightful book and within the same week, I had the opportunity to visit the Conservatory in Washington, DC and marvel at the variety of plants our earth provides. The Conservatory takes you from the early 1800s when plants were first being collected until today and also from the mountain foliage to that of the jungle and tropical. The first plant we saw when we walked into the greenhouse was a cacao tree. It took my breath away. There were these huge yellow pods just hanging off the side of the tree. They were ready to be harvested and turned into cacao butter and chocolate. Each turn took us to another miracle: banana trees, fruit trees, ferns and cacti, lovely succulents and gorgeous orchids, every kind of tree and plant imaginable. I was more aware of the gifts in front of us because of the lecture I had recently attended.

embracenatureI’m not much of a gardener. I’m not even too good at houseplants. I have had gardens over the years, mostly vegetables but I’m a city girl raised on a very busy highway with about eight square feet of lawn in front of our house and a small strip of dirt in the back for the dog to relieve himself. We never grew anything. We tried planting watermelon seeds one spring but other than a massive vine, we didn’t get any fruit. As an adult, as the care of the inside of our homes became more demanding, I spent less and less time outside in the dirt. Now, I was being called to reconnect with the earth. After Carolyn led us in a guided mediation, she asked us what we believed we could do to make a difference. I had had a very clear message, “Jean Anne, go outside.” I have begun to work out a way to start and to nurture that process. Why? What is the message Carolyn is relaying from Thomas?

god-is-always-within-feel-god-working-in-your-heart-through-your-heart-and-as-your-heart-2The only way to save the earth and humankind is to embrace nature. We are being called not to simply see our world as a place to meet our needs but as a place for which we are responsible and which needs our care and nurturing. It is time for me to recognize that unless we embrace our universe and all its majesty and miracles, it will not continue to thrive and if it is depleted and not appreciated, our existence will be compromised, if we are not made extinct. Thomas Berry declared, “As we practice a presence to the natural world through our intuition we come to know ourselves, not simply as physical beings, but as spiritual beings. We humans are modes of the Divine presence who have forgotten our identity with creation. We are one earth community that lives or dies together. We depend on the earth to sustain us in body and soul. We come into relationship to it instead of establishing an identity over and against it.”

the_four_elements___wallpaper_by_bydgx-d6ukig2-2The rest of this week’s lesson came when we entered the Native American Museum in DC. We began our tour on the fourth floor where several of the larger tribes had been invited to display their heritage. There were stories about their costumes, their dances and songs and especially about their reverence for Mother Earth: for the plants, the animals, the stars and the wind. They honored all four of our elements: water, fire, wind and earth. They not only experienced nature, they treasured it. They don’t just consume it. Even more important is that their major concern is teaching these lessons to the next generation and letting them know that they were responsible for all their future generations. “How will this decisions affect my seventh generation?” was and is one of their key lessons.

My awareness of God’s miracles seen in nature and my responsibility to honor and treasure those gifts, have already begun to blossom. I am determined to “go outside” more often and to meditate on the stars as well as the weeds. I will tenderly hold a flower or attentively listen to the bird’s song. I may not be able to care for the whole planet but I am more than capable of caring for my small piece of it here in North Carolina and perhaps by heightening my awareness my tiny steps will make a difference in our universe. I believe that my efforts will have the added gift of not just appreciating our earth, but will lead me to a greater appreciation, perhaps a greater connection to the Divine and to my God. By learning to treasure the earth, I’ll be able to have hope that my seventh generation will not only still be here on this planet and not off living on Mars or a satellite but thriving right here on this amazing planet Earth.

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Transforming Suffering

Affirmation: I choose to find the blessings that arise from my suffering.

 

2015-Predictions-World-War-3-Fears-Tick-The-Doomsday-Clock-Close-To-The-End-Of-The-World-665x385-2The newspaper article explained that the Doomsday Clock has been moved forward to two minutes before midnight. It is closer now to the bewitching hour than it has ever been since the end of World War II and the creation of the atomic bomb. The Doomsday Clock is an internationally recognized design that conveys how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making. First and foremost among these are nuclear weapons, but the dangers include climate-changing technologies, emerging biotechnologies, and cyber technology that could inflict irrevocable harm, whether by intention, miscalculation, or by accident, to our way of life and to the planet. (http://thebulletin.org/overview#sthash.KlhM9quB.dpuf.)

I wasn’t surprised. The world as we know it will end. I’ve seen all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator movies and the ones about the meteors and the aliens. How about a worldwide virus or the bird flu? Hollywood and fiction writers have been predicting our demise since its inception. How about the Walking Dead or the movies about the Rapture? Yes, the destruction of our lives as we know them can happen in many different ways and any day now. If the world doesn’t blow up, it’s also true that our own personal world may implode or explode.

BePrepared-2Recently the magazine Cincinnati had an article about being prepared for the challenges of life, especially as we age or as our loved ones age. It was about being aware and taking steps to bolster our resources. As you probably know if you read this blog I am the ultimate Girl Scout. “Be prepared” is their motto. I am the queen of preparation and while it’s true I see the changes taking place in my life and the lives of my family and friends, I don’t want to walk around always waiting for the “other shoe to drop.” It is so very easy to await the next mishap or disaster. It’s so easy to allow my mind and imagination to go to the difficulties that might arise, to enter into “the cave of phantoms.” So, I’m working on finding a balance between being overly prepared and letting go of the probability of pain and suffering.

The word “transform” keeps showing up as I search for an answer to this question. The first time it appeared was in Richard Rohr’s, The Art of Letting Go. He talked about developing the ability to transform our suffering because everyone does suffer and the longer one lives the more suffering one will experience. Oh my! Therefore, you need to find a way to transform it or it will transform you into a sad, mean, worn out human. The second time the word appeared was in Father Ryan’s sermon at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church. He used it to describe what happens to someone who finds themselves connected to the Divine, either through prayer or when they receive the Sacraments.

TheArtofLettingGoThe secular approach to pain and suffering is to simply be the obverse of whatever is, not to judge it, not to get caught up in the dualistic mind of good or bad, right or wrong, black or white. It’s one of life’s simple concepts that is without a doubt one of life’s most difficult to practice, impossible to master. The Christian faith, however, takes the simply observing concept to a whole other level. That which we judge as pain and suffering, if laid at the foot of the Cross or placed in the arms of The Christ is transformed into blessings beyond our wildest imaginings. The naked, tortured body of God, nailed to wooden beams over two thousand years ago was the ultimate gift. His message was not clear as he was going thorough His persecution. Once He had given up His spirit, however, this poor, itinerant, misunderstood preacher turned our civilization inside out and upside down.

Station-12-Jesus-Dies-Upon-the-Cross-2Many can’t and don’t fully appreciate how he changed the value of human life and dignity. If we lived in some of the third world, repressed regimes today we might better appreciate the impact of Christ’s teachings. He came to teach us that no matter what happens to us it is all redeemable and we get to choose how we perceive our lives. We can see ourselves as victims or as victors. His message was that we are all children of the Divine and we are loved. Our afflictions are not punishments.

I once heard someone say, “Suffering is one of our common denominators.” We all suffer. Some suffer more than others, of that I have no doubt. It doesn’t take too much awareness to know of the horrors that have taken place or are taking place in our world today. Once we head out into the world figuratively or in reality and listen to the ailments with which so many of our fellow humans are dealing, we are faced with story after story of sadness and challenge. If one has not developed the ability to simply be an observer of one’s suffering, how is it to be transformed?

1-Finding-the-Answers1

I don’t know. I want to place an answer here for everyone who is suffering and I know there are the wise, learned people out there who might be able to do that but I’ve decided I am not one of them. In bringing this topic to several of my friends and guides the only “answer” that has presented itself is for me to look at how I personally can and do transform my pain and suffering. What has worked for me in the past? How will that work for me in the future?

My personality lends itself to looking at the bright side of most situations. It can be quite obnoxious for others but it sure has helped me get through some really tough experiences. I’ve studied what is recommended to help one deal with life altering challenges and have taken note of those skills, which I believe will strengthen me when I am again faced with those issues. Simply writing that last sentence out gives me a sense of strength and hope. Hope. I carry hope in my heart. I believe, truly believe that every event I label “daunting or miserable” I will eventually see as a blessing. I believe each challenge no matter how sad it makes me is an opportunity for something amazing. I know on my own, I may not be able to transform all the difficult happenings in my life into something wonderful. There will be many times I need the support of my family and friends. Let them come! I accept. And I know I will also need my faith.

What has worked for me has been to trust God, not that nothing difficult or unpleasant will happen to me but that I will be able to transform what happens to me into something that will give glory to God, or at least peace to myself. Even if I’m faced with the end of the world, I am hopeful that with my trust in Christ, His Blessed Mother and all my Angels and guides that whatever comes my way, I will be that person who sees the good, who rises to the high ground and if I can’t, I am trusting that someone will come along who will help me overcome my grief or my despair.

How have you dealt with your pain and suffering? Have you developed a philosophy that will support you in the future? What can you do today to “be prepared” for the adversities that life will surely present to you? Be a light for others. Share your coping mechanisms. Perhaps one of your pearls of wisdom will be exactly what someone needs to help them turn their suffering into a blessing.

God-always-has-something-for-you-a-key-for-every-problem-a-light-for-every-shadow-a-relief-for-every-sorrow-2

10 Hugs a Day

Affirmation:  I gather ten hugs a day.
My mother
is of English-Scottish decent and my father was an only child whose father was
Swiss-German.  I don’t know if that’s why
we didn’t do a lot of hugging but we didn’t. 
My husband’s family is pure Italian. 
Some are from Naples and others are from Sicily but both his mother and
his father’s family immigrated from Italy. 
When Sandy took me to his house to meet his family the front door flew
open and his mother, all five feet of her, threw open her arms and hugged me
with all her might.  I was home.  I think I had waited my whole young life to
be embraced with such ardor.  This was
where I belonged.
I read
many years ago that we are supposed to gather ten hugs a day.  I know some people don’t like being
touched.  I know it’s not appropriate to
go around hugging everyone but oh, how I love to give and get a hug.  I’ve found it fascinating that once you tell
someone about the ten hug a day quota, or at least the people I see regularly,
they are excited about sharing a hug.  I
have adopted Yolanda’s warm greeting with almost everyone who comes to our
home.  I feel my hug says
“Welcome!  I’m so glad you’re
here!  Come in and share the warmth and
safety of our home.” 
Most of
the groups I belong to greet each other with a hug.  Touch is an essential part of staying
healthy.  During World War II
psychologists noted that orphaned infants who were not cuddled suffered stunted
growth both physically and mentally and in some instances actually died. Now we
have all sorts of programs that insure babies will be held and even massaged to
promote their healthy development.  We
all need to be touched.  Massage has been
shown to be an amazing tool in the arsenal for staying healthy.  The elderly need touch.  When I did my MSW at Chapel Hill, NC I
focused on gerontology. One of the topics discussed was how as we age many
people don’t get enough affection.  Now,
whenever I visit the assisted living or the Alzheimer’s unit I make sure to
hold hands or touch their arms or shoulders. 
If they seem agreeable to a hug, I freely give one.  
There are
so many ways to greet people and so much of it is determined by the culture in
which we reside.  Of course it’s also
determined by the relationship we have with a person.  In most cases we greet a complete stranger
with a nod, perhaps a smile or a handshake. 
I’ve been in European countries where I was kissed on both cheeks by
someone I’d just met.  When I was at
Kripalu studying Yoga, we had one full day of silence.  It was not the first time I’d been in a
silent mode at a retreat but this time the teacher instructed us to not even
make eye contact.  She explained that
even that type of communication required energy and the purpose of this exercise
was to completely focus within.  It was
the first time I was so aware of how much effort I put into my casual
contacts.  I can remember walking the
quad in college and making an effort to acknowledge everyone I passed that I
knew or that even looked familiar.  I
still do that.  My walks around Apex Lake
here in North Carolina contain many nods, smiles and greetings.  It seems so natural to me.  I am always perplexed by those who have on
their ear pieces and don’t even look my way as they pass by, perplexed but I do
not judge them.  Perhaps this is their
“silent retreat” time. 
My
husband, Sandy, believes the Italians invented hugging but my daughter-in-law
is from Ecuador and they too are great huggers. 
She has taught even us how to greet every family member.  You get up from wherever you are and you go
to the person who has just arrived and you give them a warm hug and maybe even
a kiss.  Her greetings say, “I love
you and you are important in my life.” 
It’s been another gift she has brought to our family.
There are
many different types of hugs.  There is
the one arm hug, the wrap your arms around someone and hold them tenderly hug,
there is the bear hug, there is the spoon while lying down hug and there is the
heart to heart hug.  If you rest your
left cheek on the other’s left cheek and shift your weight to the right, your
heart will rest on top of theirs and you’ll feel the heart’s rhythm.
How do
you greet people?  What comes
naturally?  Do you think you can learn to
hug if it doesn’t come naturally?  Once I
was with a friend in a department store and I went and asked a sales person a
question.  The sales associate had on a
name tag and I called her by her name. 
My friend was shocked that I would use someone’s name to whom I had
never been introduced.  I love a name
tag.  I make every effort I can to read a
service person’s tag and to call them by name. 
For me, it’s another type of a hug, a verbal hug.  It’s the same message we each send when we
greet someone warmly, “I care about you. You are important.” 

Ten hugs
a day keeps the doctor away.  Yesterday I
walked into the choir room at St. 
Michael the Archangel to sing for a funeral.  I am a member of the Resurrection choir.  The room was packed with people because our
former pastor was being buried and the regular choir from two churches were
singing.  I was immediately embraced by
several people.  I found myself counting,
“one, two, three, four, five.” 
Five hugs plus Sandy’s early morning hug, “six.”  “Only four more to go,” I thought,
“this will be an easy goal today.” 
Ten hugs a day keeps us healthy and keeps those healthy with whom we
share them.  A simple heart felt hug can
brighten your life and the lives of all those you care about.  Can you gather ten hugs today?  Be careful, it’s a random act of sharing joy
and affection.  Once you begin you might
have to hold back with that stranger walking past you. 

Carpe Diem

Affirmation: This is the day The Lord has made, let me rejoice
and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
 Benjamin Franklin said, “The only things certain in life are
death and taxes.”  I’m sure there
are those who hope to avoid taxes; I would imagine most get caught. Willie
Nelson and Al Capon are two who come to mind. Some others, however, don’t make
enough money to have to pay taxes and that seems very sad to me.  When it comes to death, however, no one, I
repeat, no one gets out of it.  There is
no avoiding it, we are all caught in the end. 
It seems to me that many people especially here in the west
believe if you don’t think about death, it won’t happen.  Certainly it’s one of our greatest
fears.  I’ve read that’s because it’s the
greatest unknown.  Those who have a faith
have reasons to believe in an afterlife and that can bring a great deal of
comfort.  I myself have chosen that
belief but I haven’t met anyone who has returned from the great unknown.  I do know one or two people who have had
near-death experiences and from what I’ve read that is usually a very positive
experience but other than the tales I’ve read about people who claim to have
had life-after-death events, I can’t claim any personal experience.  I guess part of the good news is those who
have those experiences report something, not a total void, not completed
nothingness.  In the Naked Now, Richard
Rohr shares his belief that our spiritual development here on earth will
determine our after death experience.  He
says that the relationship we’ve developed with God here on earth will be the
relationship we have after death.  I once
had a dear friend tell me she thought Christians would be met by Christ,
Muslims by Allah and Buddhists (even though they don’t believe in an afterlife)
Buddha.  Does that mean an atheist is met
by no one? 
Death has been very prominent in my life during the first half of
2014.  I lost my mom in March and that
was difficult but much of my life’s work revolves around supporting people in
crisis.  The two Duke advisory boards I
sit on are both for cancer programs.  The
DCPSP is for the patients and families of cancer patients and the other is the
Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Advisory Board.  My passion for the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat
brings me in contact with many people challenged by breast cancer and I sing
for my church’s Resurrection Choir during the funerals and belong to two prayer
groups.  I don’t know if you know this
but most prayers on a prayer list are not prayers of praise and thanksgiving,
they are prayers for the healing, peace and comfort of the afflicted.  Lately, I’ve been inundated with requests for
prayers for a lot of people who are faced with some very serious life-threatening
challenges.
Even though I have practiced yoga for over 40 years I had never
given too much thought to the final resting pose, savasana or in English,
Corpse Pose.  When I attended the Raleigh
Yoga Fest, one teacher, Jill Stockman, told us that Corpse Pose is called that
to bring death to our attention.  At the
end of our practice she instructed us to imagine we were dying, to imagine
letting go of Everything.  She presented
it as an opportunity for growth and awareness. 
It was a very powerful exercise for me. 
It made the rolling over to one side into a fetal position before coming
to a seated position, even more meaningful. 
My practice is taking me from death into rebirth.  I’m beginning again, a new start and that’s
what I believe death is.  It’s a new
beginning, hopefully for me with Christ as has been promised.  However, even if I’m practicing, I’m not
ready.  What has happened, however, with
all of the news I’ve been receiving lately, is I’m even more aware of how
precious every day is.
Let’s admit it; we may be only one breath away from this life and
the next.  I cannot tell you how many
people have come into my life in the last two weeks who have had a prognosis of
less than a month to live.  These people
were not ill.  They just started feeling
yucky, finally went to get it checked out and boom, they were given the news
that they were terminal!  It’s really
scary.  It didn’t help that I then picked
up the book, The End of Life Book Club which came highly recommended by several
friends.  What was I thinking?  I know we have no way of knowing when our
final day will occur.  Sometimes there’s
absolutely no warning.  I heard a tale
about a man who went to market in Samaria and returned ashen.  When he was asked what was wrong, he shared
that he had had a brush with death.  He
asked a friend if he could borrow his horse so he could get away and go to
Bagdad.  His friend obliged him and then
went to the market to see what was going on. 
When he arrived he ran into Death and asked him why he was looking for
his friend.  Death said that he wasn’t
looking for the friend and was simply surprised to see him in Samaria because
he had an appointment to meet him tomorrow in Bagdad. 
Ever since my dad died in 1980 when I was only 34, I’ve tried not
to waste a day.  I became very aware of
the preciousness of each and every day.  Its
mediation, however, and I’m not always present to it.  But, after these last few months and
especially these last few weeks, I’ve been even more aware of enjoying every
day to the fullest.  I even ate
MacDonald’s french fries one day for lunch which for me is very daring. This is
it!  Seize it! Live it! Be joyful in it,
count the blessings, and be grateful for what is and what is not.  Do not utter a complaint or a criticism.  Look around, recognize what truly is a
problem and what are “ha ha” problems; those problems most of the
world wishes they had and then give praise and thanksgiving. Go ahead, eat
dessert first and even more important, and tell your loved ones how you feel.
Don’t let the day slip away without living it and sharing it to the fullest.

Reflections

Affirmation: I choose to see myself as beautiful.
What is your reaction when you look in the mirror?  Do you look? 
I know some people who avoid mirrors at all costs and I know others who
can’t seem to turn away when they see their image.  What if I told you that you can make a
conscious decision about how you perceive your image? 
As I write this it’s Spring. 
North Carolina looks like the Garden of Eden or a fairyland right
now.  Everything is in bloom.  The Dogwoods are breathtaking.  The flowering pear, cherry and apple trees
are awesome.  The Azaleas, pink, white
and rose colored have just gone into full bloom and all the bulbs, daffodils,
crocuses and tulips to name a few are up and showing off.  Along with all this beauty comes the natural
instinct of the birds and the bees.  We
have a flock of Robins living in our wooded area and one of them has gone
insane.  She, we believe, is protecting
her nest.  She’s doing this by slamming
her beak and her body into any of our windows that she perceives harbor an
enemy.  It’s been going on for
weeks.  All day long, thwack, thwack,
thwack
. There isn’t a solution other than to wait it out.  I know, I’ve researched it and tried half a
dozen suggestions.  None of them
work.  Her bird brain defense towards her
reflection makes me wonder how often my perception is so skewed that I too see
what isn’t the truth.
Did you hear about the Dove beauty patch?  It’s an ad on You Tube.  Normally I skip the ads but this one caught
my attention right away.  I was
intrigued.  It showed a psychiatrist
interviewing several young women and applying the Dove beauty patch to their
upper arms and explaining to them how to use it over the next week or so.  The ladies videoed their reactions and the
first few days they reported no significant changes but by the end of the trial
period, they all reported an increased sense of well-being.  They felt more beautiful.  The psychiatrist then showed them the secret
ingredient in the patch.  Can you guess
what it was?  Nothing.  It was empty. 
They felt better because they believed they were going to feel
better.  Several of them began to
cry.  They were actually pleased that
their thoughts and not some random drug had been the key ingredient in their
new sense of beauty. 
One of my dear friends told me that as she aged she was startled
to see her mother every morning looking back at her from her bathroom
mirror.  Then one morning she woke up to
find her grandmother looking back at her. 
She decided right then and there to put an end to that reflection.  She did not go get a face lift, Botox or any
fillers.  She did something a lot cheaper
and probably much more empowering.  She
decided to greet her daily image with the phrase “Hello beautiful.”  She said at first it was hard to say but
after a while she realized it was causing her to smile and she found it easier
and easier, until she actually began to believe it.  When she writes me a note she always begins
it with, “Hello beautiful.”  It
makes me smile too.
“Beauty is only skin deep” “Don’t judge a book by
its cover” and, ” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” are some
of the adages about our outside appearance. 
But, the truth is most of us live in a society that has a standard for
attractiveness and few of us are able to completely disregard how we are viewed.  The Twilight Zone with Rod Sterling had a
show that revolved around a society that forced every young woman to choose a
physical model from a menu of womanly styles when they reached the end of their
teenage years.  One young woman refused.  She didn’t want to look like everyone
else.  She liked herself the way she was
but this was not an option.  She was
forced to undergo the procedure.  Her
parents chose from the menu for her and the powers that be took her away for
the process.  When the last scene is
shown we see this Barbie like woman looking in the mirror and being very
pleased with what she sees.  Yes, it was
extremely disturbing but like so much science fiction, it is becoming a present
day reality. I’m not against getting some “help” if that’s what
someone needs to do to feel better.  As a
cancer survivor I know the importance of looking good in order to feel
good.  My friend Greta Schiffman has
presented the Look Better, Feel Better program to hundreds of women cancer
survivors.  The Duke Cancer Patient
Support Program provides wigs, turbans and prosthetics for cancer
patients.  There are times in our lives
when we need to take a few extra steps to enhance our sense of well-being and
that’s just fine.  
The lesson learned from the Dove beauty patch is fairly obvious;
we can feel better about ourselves if we think differently. If we think we are
beautiful we will feel more beautiful. 
I’m not talking about a narcissistic obsession with ourselves.  I’m talking about a healthy view and
appreciation for who we are and how we look, regardless of another’s
opinion.  We can decide to feel better by
changing the way we think, by changing what we think.  We aren’t limited to our outer appearance
either.  How we choose and shape our
thoughts affects every aspect of our lives. 
It affects our relationships, our work, our health and our spirit.  We get to choose what we want to focus on and
what we want to believe about ourselves and the world and with those choices,
we determine the quality and maybe even the quantity of our lives.  What’s your choice?   Do you want to look in the mirror and see
ugly and sad or like my dear friend, do you want to see happy and beautiful or
perhaps, handsome? Give it a try, “Hello Beautiful!” or “Hi
Handsome!”  Maybe you can avoid ever
becoming a crazy Robin and banging your head into something that won’t ever
make you feel better and only makes you feel worse.

A Secret Ingredient

Affirmation: Even when I am doing little things of service, I
include a large amount of love.
What’s your favorite food? 
Everyone has a favorite.  It’s a
great question to start a conversation or to open a group discussion because it
seems as if most people have an immediate answer.  My favorite food has always been my mother’s
chocolate chip cookies.  Her cookies were
probably the reason I could never lose those extra five pounds I’ve always
wanted to lose.  She’s told me it’s
simply the recipe on the back of the Toll House Chocolate Chip package but I
don’t believe her.  I think there’s a
secret ingredient, perhaps one of which she’s not even aware.  It’s a mystery!  I’m not the only one who loved her chocolate
chip cookies.  They were a favorite for
the whole family, especially my son Joey. 
For years she baked him a special batch. 
“Those are only for Joey.” 
I think he was one of her favorite grandsons.  Recently, I’ve had other people tell me she
baked special batches of cookies for them too. 
“She told me, these were only for me.”
I have many friends who like to bake.  It’s a gift to be a baker.  It runs in our family.  My mother passed on her love and skill to
both my youngest daughter, Ellen, my sister’s daughter, Samantha and to my
brother’s daughter, Stacy.  The food
doesn’t just taste good but it looks yummy. I was stunned when during one of my
visits to Ellen; she asked me if I’d like to see her journal.  I couldn’t even imagine where this offer was
leading.  Was she going to confess some
deep dark secret or worse yet have one of those mother-daughter “come to
Jesus” conversations?  Then she
pulled out her baking journal.  It was
beautiful. She had all the recipes she’d been trying and the adjustments
recorded to make them more to her liking and photos of the cookies and cakes.  I was honored to have her share her passion
with me. 
It seems to me the thing about baking is that most bakers want to
share their treats with their friends, family and whomever they think would
enjoy them.  I watched my mom and I’ve
watched other bakers go about giving away their cookies to whomever they wanted
to grace. It didn’t need to be a special occasion.  It might just be because someone needed a
pick-me-up or perhaps it was a way to say “thank you.”  My mom would give her yummy cookies to the
hair dresser, the auto mechanic, the nurse and doctors she frequented, to an
ailing friend or perhaps to her friend’s caregiver.  They were always warmly and graciously
received.  Many times our Christmas
presents to her were fancy “cookie” boxes with her initials on them
or several cookie tins with varying designs. 
She even began saving some of the small used plastic containers from the
grocery so she could package up just two or three cookies and present
them.  I envy people who like to
bake.  I too would like to be seen as a
warm, generous person who says “thank you” with a tangible yummy
treat but, I don’t like to bake, especially cookies.  So, I wondered what I could share in a
similar manner.
I’ve decided there is no substitute.  There is nothing as heartwarming as a
homemade treat.  Let’s face it even if you’re
not eating sugar or can’t eat sugar, the gift still warms your heart.  You know someone really cares and they’ve
taken the time and the energy necessary to let you know.  Perhaps sharing food in any way brings those
same warm feelings.  I’ve been to many
events where people showed up with food as a form of love and support.  My experience of living in the Midwest and
now here in the South affirms that belief. 
If someone has a tragedy or is going through a difficult time, people
bring meals.  During my many months of
cancer treatment we were supported with some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten
and on the flip side, I’ve dropped off meals whenever the opportunity presented
itself.  I usually make dinner and include
some sort of chocolate candy.  I don’t
bake.  I do, however, make every effort
to be affable and caring on a daily basis. 
As I go through my day, I readily share a smile.  I have found it uplifts not only my spirits
but usually the recipient too.  I’m an
avid hugger.  I learned that skill from
my husband, Sandy and my mother-in-law, Yolanda.  I know not everyone wants to be hugged.  If I’m not sure I open my arms and
hesitate.  It’s usually fairly obvious if
it’s not welcomed.  That doesn’t happen
very often.  I love to send snail-mail birthday
cards with a blessing over them and a few loving words inside.  I know these small gestures do not hold a
candle to a good chocolate chip cookie but it’s my way of letting people know
they are loved; they are an important part of my life.  I value them and their relationship. 
My mom, Margaret Grolimund, passed away this week.  We included in her obituary the fact that she
was famous for her chocolate chip cookies. 
When I spoke to the presided of her Requiem Mass, Father Doug Reed, I
shared her notoriety and he wanted to know her recipe.  I told him what she said that it was simply
the recipe on the back of the Toll House Chocolate Chip package.  I, however, knew she was not sharing the
secret ingredient.  Now, I know why.  I don’t think she was aware of it.  It was magical!  Her secret ingredient was her love.  She made those cookies, cakes and pies with a
heart filled with love.  We all show love
in different ways.  This was my Mom’s way
and she did it marvelously. Love is the secret ingredient in every special gift
we share with another.  It’s that one
thing that tells someone, “These are only for you.” I love you.

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? 

Year End Review

Affirmation:
I examine the past with an eye on my best
The
conversation revolved around how different generations use technology.  Adam, my daughter’s fiancé spoke with me about how those over 50 had to learn about social
media; how for those in their late 20’s and 30’s it was simply an extension of
the computer skills they learned as children and how those in their teens today have grown up with
social media.  It’s an integral part of
their life, like radio or TV is to some. 
He then went on to tell me that my 16 year old granddaughter will have a
complete photo history of her life not because we have been photographing her
since birth, which we have, but because she posts photos and everyday events on
the social media sites and has been for several years.  She has been carefully schooled by her
parents about the dangers of sharing too much information or about sharing inappropriate
information. So far, so good. After our discussion I found myself thinking how
nice it would be for me to have a complete record of my life.  The older I become, the more there is to
remember and the more I seemed to have forgotten.
For me,
recalling the past can sometimes be quite a challenge.  Unless, the event is tied to a significant emotional response. 
I have at least one friend who can remember the names of all her
teachers from elementary school through high school.  My sister can recognize people she hasn’t
seen in years and my husband’s ability to remember where we’ve traveled and
what we’ve done is amazing.  I on the
other hand really struggle with those skills. 
I do, however, remember holding my oldest daughter’s hand as we walked
together to her pre-school. I remember when my youngest crawled into bed with
me early in the morning to hug for a while before she went off to school and I
can recall every one of my son’s projects and there have been many, because of
the excitement he generated as he took them on. 

The TV
show Sixty Minutes had two separate programs about memory issues.  The first was about people who cannot
remember faces, not even the faces of their loved ones.  They are not ignorant by any means but that part of their brain simply doesn’t
hold that information.  The same program
also looked at people who had no directional skills.  They were lucky to get out of their own
homes.  That part of their brain didn’t
provide that skill.   On the second
program they interviewed people who could recall every moment of their lives as
if they had a file cabinet in their brains and they could access whatever
information they needed whenever they needed it.  At the time of the show, there were only
about a dozen people known world wide with this skill.  I am pleased to say,  I do not have any of these issues or
skills.  My memory is selective and
challenging but I can easily recognize my loved ones and many others and I have
a fairly strong sense of direction but whereas I would like to more clearly
remember my past, I would not want to carry every one of those memories with me
throughout my life.  I think that would
be overwhelming and exhausting. 

It is,
however, very important for me to review the past. It’s probably why I keep a
journal and a little pocket calendar where I write the day’s past events. For
me it’s like looking in the rear view mirror of the car before changing lanes
because them I am aware of what’s going on around me.  I have found it to be very helpful to put
together a yearly family photo calendar. 
Going back over the year’s significant events really helps me to recall
that which was important to me and what brought me joy.  Otherwise, the year all blends together.  Then the years all blend together and those
highlights I so enjoyed and those lessons I learned get lost.  It’s the difference between living a life of
many different colors and tastes and living one that’s gray and bland.

I have
a monthly and a yearly practice of asking myself 10 questions that I feel will
improve the quality of my life going forward. I gathered these several years
ago from a newspaper article by Sharon Randal from Henderson, Nevada.
1. What
was the hardest thing I had to do this year?
2. What
was the most fun?
3. What
were the milestones?
4. What
was my biggest accomplishment?
5.
What’s something I wanted to do but didn’t?
6. What
was my biggest surprise?
7. What
was the best thing I did for another?
8. What
was something I worried about that I don’t worry about now?
9. What
made me proud?
10.
Describe a moment I want to remember.
I feel
the only reason to review the past, is to find a way to live better in the
future. Look it over, learn the lesson and then let it go. The last part may be
the hardest lesson of all.

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.