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Expanding Your Gaze

Affirmation: I choose peace and love.

 

Jean2-2Have you heard of Yogaville? It is a yoga ashram located on 750 acres in Virginia. It was founded by Swami Satchidananda. The shrine, called the LOTUS was opened in 1986. It’s an acronym that stands for Light Of Truth Universal Shrine. I was looking for something to do with my granddaughter, Isabelle (age 17), for my birthday because my husband, Sandy, had told me he would be traveling at that time. Isabelle and I had been practicing yoga together for a while before this and I thought it would be a great adventure for us to share. It turned out to be only a three-hour drive from our home. I signed us up for a course called “Healthy Relationships in Yoga & The Path of Heart.”

God bless my granddaughter. What a light she is and what a good sport! The diet was strictly vegan and we were quite challenged to find something on which to focus other than kale and tofu. Also, she was the youngest by about ten years. Her youthful spirit and presence alone brought joy and smiles to everyone we encountered. We laughed, we ate weird food, we met new interesting people and most importantly we created some wonderful memories.

Jean3One of the first things we were told when we arrived was not to miss seeing the shrine. We were in the middle of nowhere and I envisioned a small concrete or wooden structure with maybe a Hindu deity in the middle. The next morning we headed out to walk about a mile through the woods to take photos and see what there was to see. We reached a road and followed it up a hill and then from out of the valley below rose a giant pink and blue lotus shaped building. It was, I guessed, as large as the White House in DC but it wasn’t white. We were stunned. It’s one of a huge complex consisting of three buildings that started at the top of the mountain and ended down in the valley. What would we find inside?

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On Tuesday, February 2nd, 2015 Kate Cook was the yoga teacher at Fire Fly Hot Yoga here in Cary, NC. She leads an hour and a half Intensive Slow Flow class. She’s one of the best Yoginis with whom I have ever studied. She is so precise in her language and she always brings a lesson with her to deepen our practice. This last week she instructed us to gaze on the ball of energy we created when we cupped our hands and placed them in front of us. As we breathed in our hands moved together, as we breathed out, they expanded. Then as we were doing our balance poses, she encouraged us to “change our gaze.”

Normally, when one is balancing the instruction is to focus on one point. In Yoga it’s called a “drishti.” Kate reminded us that our mat practice is a metaphor for our life practice. What we learn on our mats, we have the opportunity to take with us out into the world. As far as I’m concerned developing balance is one of the most important qualities we can cultivate for ourselves. I do like to remind myself, however, that as one yoga teacher said, “There is no balance, there is only balancing.” We are either coming into balance or falling out. I know this is true for me. As I stood there on one leg with my fingers wrapped around my big toe and my lifted leg straight out to one side, my drishti was on some unmovable object in front of me. Trying to stay upright and trying to remember to breathe, Kate then suggested we “change our gaze” and look in one direction and then the other. I fell over and I tried again and I fell over and again. I lost my balance. Without a focus I couldn’t stay steady with a focus I couldn’t see the rest of the space. Which is better? I decided neither. Sometimes one is needed and other times, a grater perspective is essential.

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It’s good to be focused. It helps me accomplish the tasks I set before myself but when it’s limits my perspective on life, it shrinks my world into a smaller box and I need to get smaller to fit into it. I don’t want to be small. At five feet tall, I’m small enough. I want to take a big giant breath and expand my world to include all sorts of people, places and ideas. Then I have to decide what to allow to stay with me and of what I want to let go. What is “of God” and what is not. What will enhance my life and what will diminish it? It’s a mediation, don’t you think? We are faced with this choice day in and day out. Sometimes it’s about food. Sometimes it’s about activities. It can be about people and most certainly it’s about our ideas, our beliefs, our concepts.

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The shrine in Yogaville is dedicated to all religions in the world, those that are well known and those that are yet to come. There are twelve altars in the lower level with reminders of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, the Moslem faith and eight others. It was respectful and well presented. It was a home for all, even the atheist. My initial reaction was small minded but I prefer to be an inclusive person and Kate’s recently taken yoga class helped me respond in a more open, accepting, non-judgmental mode.

93df774313ec5583c878fb90c91ea8f8-2I’m reading Pope Francis’ encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel.” He too talks about accepting all faiths, not judging, even accepting the non-believers. Peace. I believe this is Peace. I know we are instructed to “spread the good news.” We are actually commanded to do so. The best way I know to do that is to try to always be a kind and compassionate person but when someone tells you they are right and you are “so very wrong,” what is your reaction? It’s not normally a peaceful one, is it? The course Isabelle and I took was led by two of the founders of Yogaville, Jeevakan & Priya Abbate. They were kind, gentle, compassionate people. I could see why so many are attracted to this place. It radiated peace and acceptance. One of the lessons was around the concept that, “We can be right or we can have peace.” I’ve also heard it phrased, “We can be right or we can love.” This is the difference between having a focus and seeing the broader picture.

I’m a Christian. I’m a Catholic. Here I sit with a focus on Christ but for me, God is everywhere. God is everything. I am not here to limit God’s unfathomable power. Yogaville was a good place for me to share an adventure with Isabelle. It was a great birthday weekend. I was outside of my comfort zone. I had to broaden my horizons and see God in all things, even within a giant pink and blue concrete flower rising out of the Virginia valley.

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?

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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

Embracing Lent

Affirmation: The challenges of Lent enhance my life. 
Wednesday of this last week, March 5th, 2014 was Ash
Wednesday.  For Catholics it marks the
beginning of one of the holiest seasons of the church year.  Practicing Catholics go to Mass or at least
to a Lenten service and have a thumbprint of ashes smeared on their
forehead.  The words accompanying the
ritual are “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt
return.” (Genesis 3:19) The ashes normally come from the palms that were
blessed for the previous Easter season. 
At my church, St. Michael the Archangel, here in Cary, NC, the practice
includes sprinkling holy water into the dishes holding the ashes.  That makes them pastier and then the priest
or the minister can really smear them on. 
I don’t remember them being so black and pronounced when I was a
child.  We are then encouraged not to rub
or wash them off until we would normally cleanse our faces.  I found myself eating lunch at the local
Panera on Ash Wednesday and was charmed by the number of Catholics who proudly
proclaimed their faith that day.  Let’s
face it, it’s hard to miss a big black smudge on someone’s forehead and it’s
the perfect opportunity to share your faith without saying a word. 
I live in the Bible Belt which I understand to mean we have a lot
of practicing Christians in this area, many of whom are evangelical.  They have a mission to convert the world, the
whole world to Christianity.  This is not
the place to live if you are wishy-washy about your faith, unless you’re living
in Chapel Hill.  (That’s a little hint
for anyone reading this who is thinking of moving to our beautiful state.) I’ve
lived in the Bible Belt now since 1976. 
First, I was in Cincinnati, Ohio for ten years and now, I’m here.  How is that different from other parts of the
United States?  If you look at one of USA
Today’s graphs, you will see that the south east and mid-west areas are shaded
darker when the shading represents the number of people calling themselves
Christians.  As the map expands to the
west, California, Oregon etc., the shading becomes lighter and lighter.  My experience with this part of the world has
been wonderful.  I have noticed that the
people here who are working to be faith filled are kind, caring and
compassionate.  I don’t think one need be
religious or perhaps even spiritual to have those qualities but when your faith
is an integral part of your life, I believe you are enjoined to raise yourself
up to a higher level of responsibility to lead a more exemplary life. 
I know all about the hypocrites, those who
show up at services all holy and righteous only to lead small, mean lives.  My experience has not led me to be surrounded
by that type of practitioner.  My
experience, especially that of living here in NC, has been one of support and
kindness and compassion from the people who are actively participating in their
faith, especially lately.  Perhaps, I’ve
just been lucky because even some of my friends don’t belong to an established
religion are loving and compassionate. Could it be, however, that the God
energy of this area has permeated more souls than elsewhere?  It’s a nice thought.  It brings me comfort and hope.  Maybe mindfulness in itself encourages people
to live lives of caring and service.  Supposedly
there was a study done many years ago that showed when a Transcendental
Meditation seminar was being held, that section of the country had less
crime.   
Lent is my favorite time of the year. My part of the world is
gray and wet and soft right now but I know that in just a few weeks everything
will be in full bloom, the Dogwoods, Azaleas, and Daffodils to name a few will
come forth and brighten and color our entire area.  It goes from dreary to delightful.  It’s slow and deliberate and if you pay close
attention, you can see the metamorphosis taking place.  That’s what I like to imagine is happening to
my inner life too.  Lent offers me the
opportunity to grow and blossom, to go from dreary to colorful.  It’s up to me how I use the time.  For me, it’s a more deliberate time, an
opportunity to be even more mindful, than any other time of the year.  I always hope the changes I’m making stay
with me, as I move into the rest of the year, and hopefully some of my Lenten
practices do just that and that’s exactly the reason we are called upon to set
aside this time to develop more self-discipline and to be of greater
service.  We are called to pray more,
give alms and to practice acts of denial. 
We are called to be more mindful, more intentional about our lives.  It’s a practice we could use every day not
just during Lent but with Lent comes the deliberate intention to grow our inner
lives, to make us and our worlds kinder, gentler and more compassionate. 
The main question at Lent is, “What are you giving up for
Lent?”  I know I could give up wine
or chocolate or some such food item and have the added benefit of reducing my
waistline. This year, however, I chose a more difficult practice. I decided to
give up doubt.  When Oprah interviewed
the famed televangelist, Joel Osteen, she asked him if he had ever doubted
his belief in Jesus Christ.  He
emphatically answered, “No.”  I
am not a Joel Osteen.  I am more of a
Thomas.  After all these many years of
practicing my faith I still have my doubts. 
Let’s face it, it’s quite a story! That however, is not how I want to
live my faith, the promises are too great. 
I want to believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ is God incarnate
and that I can have a personal relationship with Him that will enhance my life
and lead me to a place where I reach out to others with pure love.  I want to believe that with Him, not only
will I and my loved ones have eternal rest and peace, but that this life will
be a more rewarding experience.  I
haven’t yet had any direct messages from the spirit world that would allay my
doubts but I don’t care.  This is how I
want to live my life and for me it seems to require practice and Lent, my
favorite time of the year, offers me that perfect opportunity.  “Loving Father, help me to better know
and love Your Son.  Amen.”

Why God Allows Evil

Affirmation:
 I fully trust in God’s loving care for me and for all those who ask for
it even in times of unbelievable tragedy.

The answer to “why” do such horrific
events happen will never be within our grasp here on this earth.  I did
find Brian Stiller’s enlightened view, however, into the Christian theology of
the presence of evil in our society and especially about the evil present this
week in Newtown, CN. to be very insightful. Therefore, this week I share his
essay on “Why God Allows Evil.”

Why God
Allows Evil?
“The Cry,” Munich’s
painting of a young woman’s primeval scream standing on a bridge in a sunlit
day came to mind as I witnessed unbelievable horror and tried to feel the
unimagined suffering of parents as they raced to the elementary school in
Newtown Connecticut to find their children.
Questions about “who”
died quickly shifted to “whys.” Why this town? Why this school? Why my child?
Syrians in a refugee camp asked me weeks ago what millions through millennia
wonder, “Why does God allow evil?”
I know attempts to
answer will not bring back a child, erase memories of a shooter blazing away at
little children, extract justice for the community or ease the fright of a
possible reoccurrence in another school. Even so, a framework for discussion
(called theodicy – why God allows evil and suffering) matters for those in
Newtown and us on the sidelines, as we grieve and wonder.
There are two paths down
this road of a theodicy: first are questions of logic – how is it that God who
is sovereign and good doesn’t or can’t eliminate suffering? Secondly, we follow
the biblical narrative – the Jewish-Christian scriptures leading us through
generations, learning over time what God is doing about evil. The first is
humans examining God, questioning him in the courtroom of human reason. The
second is a story of human life in its genesis, often devolving, yet given a
lifeline from its seeming inevitable slide into chaos.
The first path is logic:
Why doesn’t God who is loving and all powerful eliminate evil? Hume (18th
century philosopher) asked, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then
he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both
able and willing? Whence then is evil?” On neither score God wins. But what if
we explore beyond Hume’s two options (if he is willing, but unable he is weak;
if able but not willing, he is not good) with another: He wills to allow
choice, and thus is both sovereign and good.
Or what if we posed
this: Could God create a world in which there is free choice but only one
choice and that to do good? The counter argument would be, “But that’s hardly
an exercise of free will. It sounds more like angels.” Which in turn begs the
question, is there something God cannot do? Can he make a world in which humans
have the freedom to choose for themselves, but only allow one choice in their
choosing? Logic disagrees. So there is something God cannot do which is to be
self-contradictory.
We do know that being
made in his image – imago Dei – we are wired with choice. Augustine, 4th
Century theologian put it this way:
“Such is the generosity
of God’s goodness that He has not refrained from creating even that creature
which He foreknew would not only sin, but remain in the will to sin. As a
runaway horse is better than a stone which does not run away because it lacks
self-movement and sense perception, so the creature is more excellent which
sins by free will than that which does not sin only because it has no free
will.”
God, who is both
all-powerful and good, gave human will space to choose good or evil. Keep in
mind that the biblical story describes our human parents in a state of
innocence, not perfection, and it is within their innocence they made their
choice to obey either their Creator or evil. Philosopher Alvin Planting sums up
the heart of the argument: “God can create a more perfect universe by
permitting evil.”
A second path of this
theodicy begins with the Hebrew Scriptures as we search for an explanation of
God’s dealing with evil. Here a narrative of people, events, choices,
interventions and consequences answer to evil. Beginning with creation we learn
of the Divine and human, its subsequent unraveling of relationship and
generations of disasters interspersed occasionally with flashes of brilliance
and goodness.
Here, let me insert a
comment on the notion of evil itself. 20th century wisdom tended to discount
evil as real and substantive, making it an effect (what happens to someone)
rather than its own reality (what causes something to happen). Instead
dysfunction and brokenness in life and society, it was reasoned, was due to
many factors – social decay, chemical imbalances, genetic malfunctions,
hormonal roller coasters, and the explanations go on. Surely much of what we
know today as medical and psychological was in the past categorized as evil.
Even so, American psychotherapist, Scott Peck, an atheist came to Christian
faith in part because he saw a larger force at work in some patients, a factor
he called “evil” which he outlines in People of the Lie. 
 We feel the
tension in the Divine’s offering of freedom, sometimes taken and creatively
managed, but most often dissipated by greed, anger and lust. Abraham, father of
both Jews and Arabs, accepted the promise to beget a nation, yet lied about his
wife to an Egyptian Pharaoh and distrusting the promise of a son, bred another
and in the end was called on to sacrifice his son, ending with two people
forever at loggerheads with each other, as Israel and Gaza demonstrate.
We see in many stories a
maneuvering of human will to exercise freedom, at times leading to doing good
but often exploring the deep places of moral depravity, all the while wrapped
in fig leaves to camouflage the Divine from knowing.
How then does God
wrestle with his choice to give humans freedom to be good or bad? The constant
double thread woven through the old and new Testaments promise presence – God
is with you – and promises of future – the coming Redeemer who will recompose
the human heart and destroy cosmic forces of evil.
Jesus of Nazareth fills
out that narrative – he enters as king of creation and child in a stable. The
fusion of Divine and Human – we call it “incarnation” – brings together the two
and in course of his mandate in death asks what parents of Newtown asked last
week: “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
And his answer? I’ve
come so you might have life, with abundance. Evil – the prince of this world
(John 16:11) – is defeated and will be no more. While the good of God wrestles yet
with evil, the triumphant Easter morning declaration of Jesus rising declares
that evil, an earthly constituent, is defeated. The Christian hope puts the
finality of that defeat in the future, but in faith, that too is assured.
The arguments of logic are
feeble at best. Yet they frame a wider picture of our world in which God gives
us the right to choose. For parents in Connecticut, Syria or Afghanistan, that
won’t fill the emptiness of a child gone. But it reminds us that each has the
right to make choices. The cause(s) of the killing rampage need not go
unaddressed. We can rise the next day and make changes for good.
The promise is thus: in
the midst of suffering, Jesus of Nazareth lived under the strains and burden of
evil. Twenty children in his village
of Bethlehem were killed by a ruling mad man, within months of his birth.
Violence he understands. Then it was through cruelty of death and breaking out
in resurrection that evil was overcome. So in today’s moment, we find comfort
knowing that death is not all there is to dying. One only needs to listen to
the songs and words of the many funerals in Newtown to know that the promise of
life, free from evil, is really, just around the corner.
Brian C Stiller
Global Ambassador
The World Evangelical Alliance
December 2012

Answered Prayer

Affirmation: 
I believe in answered prayer.
Faith, what does that look like to you?  My husband says it’s “trust on
steroids.”  It has also been said the
opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty. 
I am not certain.  I have listened
to others talk about their faith and their relationship with God or for Christians
like myself, with Jesus.  I have heard
the stories of the “born again.”  Many
times I am filled with envy and always I am filled with quite a few questions.  My faith journey has been slow and steady,
climbing up, slipping down, ever hopeful that I don’t slip below my last
starting place.
I have not found it easy to be faith
filled.  I have to work at it every
day.  I appreciate being told, “It’s the
work of a lifetime.”  I hope, too, that
my lifetime is long enough to get me to a place where I can fully trust in
God’s love and care for me and for my loved ones.
I love to read and hear the sermons about
God’s bountiful love and care for us, His or Her children.  There are many preachers who see God as this
entity that only wants what’s best for us. 
And, they lead me to believe that His/Her best is also my best.  There is where the difficulty lies. I keep
wondering where martyrs fit in this picture of divine love and care.  On February 22, 2011 a group of four
Americans were captured and killed off the coast of Somali.  They were
sailing around the world since December 2004, on the yacht of Jean and Scott
Adams.  The Quest was their home, this couple from California.  The
two other Americans on board were Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle,
Washington.  When I first heard about Jean and Scott, they had been
captured by pirates and were being held hostage.  They were then
surrounded by the US navy and other helping vessels but, before they could be
rescued, they were shot dead.
I
was truly inspired by their adventurous spirit when I first heard the story of
their mission.  I know there must be many
people who have the same spirit and I just haven’t heard about all of
them.  But, Jean and Scott were in their 70s and they were sailing to
remote parts of the world to share the word of God.  Yes, I know a lot of
people are missionaries and I am usually in awe of anyone who lives a life so
far out of most people’s comfort zone.  They were not what I consider
young and here they were so far from their support systems.  What would
they have done if they got sick, or injured, or needed a dentist or as a friend
commented to me, “If Jean needed a massage, or a facial?” 
Obviously, their mindset was very different than most people.
But,
if they died doing God’s work, as have so many martyrs, why should I believe
that Jesus will take care of me?  Oh,
yes, I would like to believe that.  We
don’t get everything we ask for, sometimes it seems like someone isn’t’ even
out there.  Thankfully, sometimes we get
something even better than we could have imagined.  I can recall several specific times in my
life when I was praying in general for one thing and something so much better
came along.  It can take my breath
away.  When my oldest daughter, Melissa,
was a single parent we, her father and I, prayed daily for her well-being.  We didn’t know exactly what that would look
like but we knew we didn’t want her and her children to endure undue
hardship.  We were there for them in
every way we could be but we wanted her to be able to care for herself and her
children.  We wanted her to be
independent and self-sufficient in every way possible.  Our prayers were answered beyond our wildest
expectations when she met Larry.  Not
only did she find someone amazing to share her life with but along with him
came two wonderful new grandsons.
One
day I was overcome with worry about my mom. 
I was at a loss about how to help her and she was not capable of helping
herself.  I was so overwhelmed with the
responsibility that I simply turned it over to God.  I prayed, “Lord, I do not know what to
do.  Please send help.”  Then, I waited.  It wasn’t long before the phone rang and
right after that my family arrived, called and accompanied me to my mom’s
home.  A new “on call” physician arrived
and before I knew it, mom was feeling better. 
I hadn’t even had time to stop and thank God for His/Her response.  As I reflected later, I began to see the
blessings that had been sent and then I had to choose.  Was it just the universe stepping into
support us?  Would it have happened even
if I didn’t say a prayer?  Maybe, but I
did pray and it gave me great comfort to believe the help we received was
answered prayer.  I want to believe in
answered prayer.  I know I will never
understand it but I believe with every fiber of my being that prayer makes a
difference.  If I can tap into the belief
that my prayers are always answered, in a way that only benefits me, think of
the peace that can be mine.  It has been
promised, you know, Mathew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you
will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
I believe God never leaves me, if I ask
Him/Her to be with me.  It is I who comes
and goes.  I believe that through my
faith, I will be able to deal with whatever life throws at me.  And, that whatever that is, through faith, it
will be miraculously transformed into something good, maybe something great,
something beyond my wildest imagination. I need to believe.  I have chosen to believe.  I have chosen the theology and doctrine that
I grew up with.  It’s not perfect but it
enables me to live life with less fear and anxiety than I could without
it.  I believe it because I want to
believe.  That’s what most of my affirmations revolve around, what I want
to believe.   Yes, a loving caring God.  I know this question
has been asked and examined many times around topics even more horrendous than
what Jean and Scott endured.  Topics like:  war, famine, child abuse,
cancer and other life threatening or debilitating diseases.  Perhaps, it’s
not what happens to us, no matter how difficult; perhaps it’s how we perceive
what happens to us?  Perhaps if we practice trusting God, we can go to our
death with dignity and grace regardless of the circumstances, knowing that this
life is temporary and because of our faith, because of my faith in Jesus
Christ, I will share in the glory of heaven.  My faith and trust in Him,
will secure me life everlasting, with Him and all the Saints and Angels. 
That’s why I believe and why I am still working on it.   

Who Would You Die For?

Affirmation:
I
recognize and fully appreciate who and what are important to me in my life.

The
story was about Greg Gadson, a lieutenant colonel with the Second Battalion and
32nd Field Artillery.   He was stationed
in Bagdad when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. 
He remembers being placed on a stretcher with his severed feet in his
lap.  The next time he was conscious both
his legs had been amputated above the knees. 
The picture in the paper showed a broad shouldered strong looking man
with shorts on and two artificial legs. 
The story went on to say that he had recently been given a role in the
movie Battleship.  His inspirational journey to healing had
brought him fame.  But, his journey
wasn’t just focused on himself; he had a message, a mission statement that he
had developed through his challenge back to wholeness and he was sharing it
with other service members.  His message
is, “Whenever you have a formidable task, instead of looking up, look
down.  Literally take it one step at a
time.  You’ll be overwhelmed by the
broader view.” I was inspired but I was also surprised by this
statement.  It seemed to me that he would
be very hesitant to look down.  The
article went on to say that this amazing man didn’t show one ounce of self
pity.  Wow!

I’ve
often wondered how I would respond, who I would be in times of great
challenge.  I’ve always wanted to believe
I’d be a heroine, that I would act honorably and bravely.  Certainly, I’ve had challenges in my life and
mostly I’ve responded with courage and integrity but when I read stories about
people like Greg Gadson, I do find myself wondering “what if that happened
to me?” There are so many tales of amazing people who have made
extraordinary efforts to help others at great cost to themselves, for some it
has cost them their lives.  These people
are not all past heroes, there are many with us today.  There is so much to be learned from them.

In
my Small Christian Community we often discuss the great sacrifice made by Jesus
Christ to lead us to a different, broader, more loving perception of God the
Father.  Often, the question arises
“Who would you die for?” And, I find myself thinking about all our
soldiers who have given their lives for us, in most cases for total strangers.

My
oldest daughter is an amazing mother. 
She’s exceptionally young looking. 
She’s always looked much younger than her years. (I like to think she
got that quality from me!)  She was
engaged when she was in her early 20’s. 
One day we went to the local department store to shop for a few wedding
accessories.  The saleswoman was shocked
when we told her we were there for my daughter’s wedding.  She said to my daughter in an indignant tone,
“How old are you?” I smiled because I knew she was going to be amazed
by the answer, in fact I’m not sure she believed us.  The reason I’m sharing this story is because
when my grand-daughter started school, the teacher took a very superior
attitude towards my daughter.  She really
thought she was a child raising a child but my daughter was older than she
realized and much much wiser than she ever imagined.  When it comes to her children, my daughter is
like a mother bear.  You do not want to
mess with her and I’m really proud of her for that.  Not that she dismisses the concerns of the
teachers but she carefully examines their reactions to her children and demands
a nonpartisan, professional attitude from them, as she should.  I mention this because most mothers will do
whatever it takes to protect their children.

I
took a one night self defense class many years ago and was instructed to
“bite the nose off” of my attacker. 
All the women in the class moaned in disgust.  Then the instructor said “Make believe
he’s attacking your daughter.” The entire atmosphere then changed.  There was not one woman there who wasn’t
ready to do whatever it took to make sure their child was safe.  I’ve never watched Sophie’s Choice.  I know the premise of the story was she had
to choose which of her children would live and who would die.  I can’t even imagine such a situation and I
don’t want to watch someone have to make such a decision but many people are
faced with impossible decisions many of which I hope I’m never faced with.

The
question not only revolves around “who?” but “what?”.
“What would you die for?” “What do you hold so precious that you
would give up your life?”  The young
men and women who serve in our armed forces hold our way of life here in
America so precious that they are willing to die for it.  I don’t fully agree with all of the wars
America has chosen to participate in. 
I’m not sure how I would have responded to being drafted to fight in
Vietnam.  It was one more decision I
wasn’t faced with.  But, we have lost so
many young, very young, men and women to so many conflicts.  It’s heartbreaking.

I
was sitting in a waiting room at UNC hospital one day when a young man in
uniform walked in.  I watched in awe and
with a sense of shame as one of the other women who was also waiting, got up
and went over to the soldier and simply said “thank you.” Thank  you!  I
found it to be such a powerful gesture. 
I haven’t let a soldier pass me by since then without stopping them and
saying “thank you.”

What
is the message here?  All of us have
something or someone we are willing to die for. 
And, all of us have something or someone we are willing to lived
for.  It’s important to know, to take the
time to recognize what’s important to you. 
It’s nice to have the luxury of not being in a horrible situation before
you find out what or who they are.  Think
about it and maybe you’ll be able to fully recognize and appreciate who and
what are of the greatest importance in your life and be grateful while you
still have the time to say “thank you.”

The Power of Prayer

Affirmation:  I pray unceasingly.
Do you believe that prayer makes a difference?  Do you have a theory about why it does or doesn’t work?  Have you ever “tested” your theory?  
The older I become, the more I pray; the more I value prayer.  One of the popular comedians said that’s very normal because as we age we realize we’re getting closer to death and we’re “hedging our bets.”  That could be true.  I also have more time to pray.  I don’t have to rush out every morning or get the children off to school.

I get to begin my day before I even rise with a prayer of thanksgiving and with the invitation to God to join me throughout my day & to bring blessings and favors on all those for whom I have promised to pray.  I pray for my spouse, my children and grand-children by name and then go on and list my siblings and their families.  Next, I include all my “dear, dear friends” and especially those who most need God’s mercy.”  I try to recall each of those special people by name who I know need extra prayers.  I can usually remember them.  If not, I do keep a prayer list.  After my friends I include all “the special intentions of those in my Small Christian Community.”  I then go on to add “all the support people in my life, seen and unseen and their loved ones.”  I so value all those people who make my life so much easier and richer because of their hard work.  I include our “fighting men and women and their families” and finally I pray for “wisdom for our world leaders and peace for this world.”  Then, it is time to rise.

Am I making a difference?  I’m making a difference in how I value those in my life and how I perceive them and the world.  I sometimes think this aspect is the most powerful effect of prayer; the change that takes place in me when I take the time and spend my energy to pray for others.  But, I believe prayer makes a difference in ways we cannot even fathom.  It is one of the most powerful tools available to us to tap into the Divine.  If we are spiritual beings having a human experience, why not connect with spirit and let that power work the miracles we are asking for in our lives?
According to Norman Vincent Peale in The Power of Positive Thinking, the whole world is made up of vibrations and prayer is one way to activate and send out positive vibrations to create change in the world.  Energy and how it can by directed and controlled has been written about to name just a few, by Eckhart Tolle and Gary Zukav.  That’s what prayer is.  It’s a form of energy.  Several years ago Duke Health did a study on prayer.  They had two groups prayed for by a variety of people from all different religious theologies.  The results of their study did not show any difference in the recovery of the patients.  But, I wonder what did change for those who were receiving the prayers?  Do you think it might have been something that wasn’t measurable like grace, peace, hope and other non-tangibles; things we all value and look for but for which there is no measurement?

Prayer changes lives.  The greatest challenge is believing in its power; believing that it really can have an effect on the situation.  The second challenge is believing that it will be a positive effect, even if it’s not the apparent answer for which we prayed.  Prayer and the belief in it and the ability to tap into the Divine do not remove our difficulties but it can make our difficulties, our challenges, easier to bear.  It can bring us a sense of peace and hope believing that there is a kind and loving Supreme Being who wants what’s best for us, especially if we’re willing to ask and then to listen. 

When we first moved to North Carolina I said a prayer that God would lead us to the best house and neighborhood for us.  And, then I asked for a “sign.”  I asked for some sort of burning bush.  Yes, I was testing.  Well, we drove everywhere and I never saw that bush.  We finally settled on a lovely house in a new neighborhood and I let go of my search for the perfect place for us.  I actually loved our new home and our new neighbors, so all was good.  Several years later, we were taking my in-laws around showing them the area and we saw a beautiful house that was for sale.  We were able to tour it on the spot and I loved it!  Soon, we had sold our other house and moved into the new one.  One day, I was walking with someone who knew a lot about shrubs and he was telling me about the different bushes around the house.  I stopped dead when he pointed to the bushes at the bottom of the driveway and told me they were called Burning Bushes (Euonymus).  There were six of them!  Was that answered prayer?  As far as I was concerned it was. 

I don’t go around testing God any longer.  I simply expect my prayers to be answered.  I know they are answered and I know they make a difference, a difference in my life and a difference in the world but I must remind myself that God’s plan may not be my plan and that God’s timing is something I will never be able to fathom. 

Manifesting the New Year

Affirmation:  I am always manifesting; I manifest to my highest and best.
The beginning of a new year can be filled with mixed feelings and expectations.  Many years ago the cartoon For Better or For Worse had a New Year’s Day cartoon of Elizabeth, the young daughter, opening her new calendar and exclaiming “I can’t wait to put down all the wonderful things that will happen.”  If I were to closely examine my reaction to a new year it would not necessarily be filled with the expectation of delightful events.  I find I must be very aware of the feeling of dread that can present itself as I look forward to the future especially if I am dealing with post Christmas let-down.  It takes a conscientious effort to turn my thinking around and to prepare myself for the delights that I am sure are waiting for me.  Once again, I am faced with the choice of Faith or Fear.
I truly believe we manifest our own realities.  I am always manifesting and I want to manifest to my highest and best.  I don’t like to leave the quality of my life to chance.  There are always things I can be working on that will enrich my life.  One of my practices of many years is to take time at the beginning of the new year and to decide what’s important to me and what I’d like to see manifest itself.  I do this by looking at the different aspects of my life and seeing what I want to emphasize and concentrate on.

I divide my life into several categories.  Certainly, you can choose any that might work for you but mine are:  Spiritual, Physical, Mental, Family & Friends, Material, Community and Financial.  I set intentions and create affirmations for each section.   

Spiritual:  For example, one of my intentions is to meditate daily. I write:  I meditate once a day for at least 20 minutes.  Another Spiritual desire is to increase my faith so I write:  I pray daily and I attend church weekly.  I participate in my Small Christian Community and look for other  opportunities to participate in events that will increase my faith.
Physical:   My intention here is to be of optimal health.  What steps do I need to take that will lead to that state?  I write:  I fine tune my diet by eating clean at least 80% of the time.  I look for fun ways to exercise.  I do some form of exercise daily. 
Mental:  I know I am either green and growing or ripe and rotten.  I read a wonderful news article about a 93 year old man who recently learned to read and write.  He then went on to publish a book.  That’s my intention; to be learning as long as I’m alive.  So I write:  I look for opportunities that help me grow.  I am studying the fiddle, Spanish and doing a crossword a day.  I am open to all learning opportunities: travel, classes, lectures, documentaries, and new people and experience. 
Family & Friends:  When it comes to my Family and Friends category, I usually focus on what I’d like the most if they were considering me and try to create that intention for themselves.  I would like more of their time and attention.  So I write:  I carve out a regular time to spend with each of my loved ones and look for opportunities when we can share experiences. 
Material:  I include the Material category because I feel we live in a material world and it needs to be addressed.  In the past I’ve focused on living in a different house or perhaps making the house I live in, different, lighter, brighter, more comfortable.  This year I write:  I only keep the things I love and use and let go of the rest. 
Community:  Community is essential to everyone’s well being.  I write:  I volunteer my time, treasure and talent to help those who are within my power to be of help to.  I focus my talents on projects that I know make a positive difference in the lives of others.  I enjoy sharing my home with my friends and family and look for opportunities to do so.
Financial:  I attract financial prosperity.  I look for opportunities that increase our income and that decrease our expenses. 
 I don’t review them regularly.  I have found that there is great power in simply writing out my intentions and then letting them marinate.  I usually review last year’s at the beginning of the New Year.  I am always fascinated by how many of the intentions have come to fruition; fascinated and grateful that I took the time to work on manifesting the year ahead.  What do you want your New Year to manifest?  Claim some time, give it some thought and put it on paper.  Fill in your calendar now before the year starts.  Fill it in with all the things you want it to hold:  joy, love, hope, peace, great health, adventure.  It’s yours; it’s waiting for you to claim it and to manifest it.