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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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Buddy, Answered Prayer

Affirmation: I believe in answered prayer.

 

iStock_000001272766Small-2Buddy was a Brittany, not a Brittany Spaniel which is a common mistake because the breed looks like a Spaniel, somewhere between a Cocker and a King Charles. They are, however, their own special breed and special was Buddy. He was orange and white and as far as we were concerned he was the most beautiful dog ever, inside and out.

I was searching for a new dog. We’d had dogs most of our lives and at the time we only had Misty, our cat that had adopted us a few years earlier. She was only allowed in the garage because the children were allergic to cats. That lasted about month and now she ruled the entire house whether people were sneezing or not.

This time I was determined to get a dog that was appropriate for our family. We hadn’t always been successful with our adoptions. Ralph was a prime example. He was a hyper Dalmatian who consumed a picnic table, did several thousand dollar’s worth of damage to one of our cars when he wanted to get in and play with the children and sprayed all the furniture to insure that his territory was marked. After a year or so we were able to find a farmer that wanted to care for him. It had been a very trying experience. He wasn’t the only dog we had issues with and I was very hesitant to take on another pet with which I would fail. I am not the best “dog person.” I might as well admit it. I am not a Caesar Milano, the dog whisperer. I’m not sure I have a single gene that enables me to respond appropriately to a dog’s deepest desires. I’m a good caregiver, please understand. I feed, shelter, offer warm cozy beds and long walks and good medial care. I even undergo lots of training sessions but I can’t seem to hear their inner most concerns. It didn’t matter with Buddy. Perhaps one of the reasons we did better with him was because he came to us at eleven months of age and was already somewhat trained or maybe it was because I had asked God whether or not to adopt him and God had sent a very clear message.

IMG_0005-2When I “found” Buddy I had gone and sat quietly to pray about adopting him. I don’t know what I expected but I’d read a lot about praying for specific answers and I was desperate. I didn’t want to disappoint another animal with my inability to create a livable space for it and for the family. I was afraid. So, I went and sat. I prayed, “God what should I do? Should I allow this animal to come into our home?” and then I waited. I was prepared to wait for as long as it took. It wasn’t more than a couple of breaths when I “heard,” “It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.” I was stunned but there it was, my answer. I stood up, called the breeder and a week later Buddy was being delivered to us by the New Jersey breeders who “happened” to be driving to their new home here in North Carolina. It was destiny. I’m here to tell you, God was right. I had my struggles but it was really really worth it. Buddy lived with us for fourteen years and he was the best dog ever. He’s been gone now for six years but we still have his ashes and his photo in our bedroom! I’m crying as I write this. I know many of you completely understand.

My friend, Mary Ann Scope, recently put down her English Bulldog and long time friend. That’s what prompted this story. She said she cried for days, she’s probably still crying, like me. My other friend, Tracie Barton-Barrett is in the process of writing a book about grieving for our pets. It’s a reality, isn’t it? There are so many life lessons we experience through them. The most important lesson being that of unconditional love. I have one photo of Buddy where he had gathered all of my sneakers. He had a “soft mouth” because he was a bird dog. He dropped them all around his bed and then snuggled in for a nap.

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My husband, Sandy, loves to tell the story about when I was gone for six weeks doing my yoga training at Kripalu. Buddy waited outside the back door, in the garage, every day until I finally returned, He had slept with Sandy every night in our bed until the night I came home when he wouldn’t come up even when called. He was just fine going back to his own bed next to ours. I was home and he was good again. Amazing!

Sandy shared his tiny family home with a dog named Missy. She was a Doberman they found in their back yard. She was very protective of that family! When he went to see his father’s office, he was struck by the fact that the only picture Joe had on his desk was of the dog. He asked where the other family photos were and his father told him, “Missy is the only one that runs to the door to greet me when I come home.” There it is again, unconditional love, total devotion; all the qualities we wished we and our loved one’s emulated.

Koko-Red-Dog-Kelpie-Australian-movie-poster-famous-dogs-film-canine-cinema-star-girl-guy-motorbike-desert-2011-2There have been hundreds of doggie movies about their journeys around the globe in an effort to return to their owners. One we recently watched is Red Dog, an Australian film about a dog and his deceased owner. It’s a great example of how much they love us and affirm us regardless of who we are or how dumb we are.

My adult daughter, Melissa and my grand-daughter, Isabelle, volunteer at the Wake County SPCA. They are “dog people.” They always have at least two dogs in their home. Recently, they brought home Gibson, a six weeks old mixed breed. What joy! Gibson discovered a pin cushion on the top of the dining room table. He didn’t eat it, but he did eat the thirteen pins and one needle. Their rescue dog needed several thousand dollars of surgery. They were saving for a new roof but their priorities were with this new guy who has brought smiles and giggles and once again, the unconditional love of a pet.

We are presently “pet free,” but I am beginning to open my heart and mind to maybe adopting another dog, maybe! I haven’t found one yet who is asking to come here. Once again, however, if one does come a knocking, I plan to sit with God and find out what the message is for us. It won’t surprise me at all if once again I am told, “it won’t be easy but it’ll be worth it.”

 

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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.

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Loving Mother Earth

Affirmation: I treasure Mother Earth.


The Light shines within each of us for we are the dwelling places of the Holy Spirit….it is not enough to know the Light is within.  We have come to earth as servers.  Our calling is to stand aside, let Spirit shine through our lives, and thereby to reach out and trigger the illuminating of the light in the lives of others.  And so we join together with kindred souls to let the light of peace, joy, love and truth flood over and transform the quality of life that is manifest on Planet Earth.


Paul Brecht Fenske from Spiritual Insights for Daily Living

The retreat day topic presented by Sisters Mary Margaret and Judy from A Place for Women to Gather was “Oh Earth I Cannot Hold You Close Enough.”  It revolved around a lovely painted image taken from The Cosmic Dance by Joyce Rupp.  The morning was devoted to quiet time and reflection time for us to attune to the beauty and bounty that the earth offers us with the final intention of finding ways we as individuals will support and care for our planet.

The Sixty Minute segment presented on Sunday November, 16th of this year, 2014 was about our water consumption throughout the world.  I live in Cary, North Carolina and we have had water restrictions for years, way before there was much of a visible issue and way before we even had any major problems with our water supply.  Right now I believe we are at a healthy water level for our area but we haven’t always been “safe” and our community does an excellent job of encouraging people to be conservative with their water usage.  They offer rebates for low flow toilettes, inexpensive rain barrels are for sale and watering for lawns and shrubs are on restricted days.  The Sixty Minute segment showed that small steps like ours are more important than I ever imagined but they are not enough to keep our planet green and healthy.  We are drilling for water like we do for oil and we are sucking the earth dry.

The folks who monitor our water levels have for years used the primitive method of simply measuring the water table with a long tape measurer lowered into holes throughout the world and they have seen a huge decrease in the water table, more so over the last decade than ever before.  Now, there is a satellite that takes photos of the whole world and whose sensitivity to moisture allows it to color the computer image based on how much water is present in the area.  Green is healthy, red is sick, black is death.  Over the last several years, the computer images show that many of our world’s major water tables have died.  I know this is a simplistic explanation of a very complex and serious issue.  It did however, cause me to be even more aware of a very serious issue of which our beautiful planet is suffering.
Once again I am faced with the question, “What can I do to affect a change in this world, me one tiny woman living in Cary, North Carolina?”  My first thought is to pray.  I’m praying for many world wide issues, especially for those who are suffering the most.  I know God knows who they are.  I am trusting She will hear my prayer and along with those of others, someone or even many will be comforted.  On NPR this week the head of the UN’s humanitarian services stated that there are now 59,000,000 displaced people in the Middle East.  Our world is in dire shape and I must say the media brings that news right into our homes and I am sure, into many of our hearts.  What more can I do to help the world?

As I write this, we are approaching Thanksgiving.  I am sitting comfortably in a warm home with all the comforts one can need, even enough water to bathe and to have a cup of tea.  I am grateful.  I do count my blessings.  My daughter, Ellen, has just arrived from England and my granddaughter, Isabelle, is spending the night.  My whole family will be here this week and especially on Thursday.  The turkey is in the fridge and I can’t wait to begin cooking.  I love to make the pies.  My husband loves to grill the turkey.  It fills my heart and soul to sit here and recognize my bounty.  I do not take for granted all I am blessed with and from that bounty I have taken measures to help others, besides my prayers, although I do fervently believe that my prayers are the first and most important step.  It’s been shown that when many pray together for the same outcome, things do change for the better, including the prayer.  

My church, St. Michael the Archangel is in the throws of putting together boxes and boxes of food to give away this week, thousands of them. We are but one of thousands of organizations who are doing the same thing.  We have a “Jesse Tree” in the foyer with paper ornaments with children’s names who need a present, usually clothing.  There are adopt-a-family notices in our bulletin.  We are a country with an abundance of resources and from what I can see here in my community, we want to share those with whomever needs help.  As a family, we aren’t ever generous enough.  It seems no matter how much we donate, or step up to assist others, we could always do more, more and more.  We aren’t called to be missionaries working in the really needy part of the world.  We are called, however, to be compassionate and that means not just thinking sad thoughts but actually stepping up and making a difference.  It means donating to the Thanksgiving Basket drive, taking at least one ornament off the Jesse tree, spending time in service.  It means recognizing our bounty and our blessings and making a difference.  We want to donate our time, treasure and talent to improve the condition of our world, even if it’s just our small part of the world.  

After my day retreat, I also realized I need to be more caring of our planet.  My first step was to realize I wasn’t taking enough time to “smell the roses.”  So much of my day is spent running around doing, that I’ve forgotten to embrace the beauty and appreciate the bounty of my planet.  Growing up amid the highways, sidewalks and brick buildings of a city was not the place to get in touch with nature.  I did spend my summers on Jones Beach and fell I love with the ocean.  I love the salt water and the waves and the sound but it took a move to North Carolina before I was stopped in my tracks by nature.  Perhaps too, it’s more about being older and getting closer to being reunited with the earth that has me paying more attention to its grandeur and miracles.  My first step, therefore, is to slow down and to daily savor the miracles that surround me.  Ah, another opportunity to meditate!  My second step is to find more ways to sustain our resources, even if it’s just me taking one small step: walk when I can, use less water less often, recycle even more fervently, don’t print something I can save on the computer, plan my errands all at once rather than heading out randomly.  

I am always looking for ways to be of more service to the world.  In this case, our day retreat has given me a greater awareness of the responsibility to literally give back to Mother Earth, that planet which so tenderly holds us here. I use to have the affirmation, “I treat Mother Earth gently” but now, with awareness I claim with more fervor, “I treasure Mother Earth.”  Therefore, on this Thanksgiving, 2014, I give thanks for ALL things but especially for the treasures of our miraculous world.  

The Holy Plan

Affirmation: I trust and rest in God’s Holy Plan.

What if we believed, truly believed with every fiber of our being, that we were here for a purpose, that we had a role to play in the creation of life? What if we knew that we were here on earth, living this life because a greater power needs us to serve His or Her mission for the betterment of mankind? How would that change what we do, what we think and what we say?

I would imagine that sounds like a sci-fi story. If not, it might sound crazy or irrational. If not that, perhaps it simply sounds like too much work and responsibility. I, however, have reached a stage in my life when I am ready to believe I am here for a purpose and I am ready to release myself to that purpose and let God take me where She wants me to go or perhaps, to stay.

My intention this year, as you may recall, has been to be “connected to the Divine.” Once again, I didn’t know what that meant but I loved the sound of it; I loved the feeling of it. It’s been at the top of my journal page everyday now since January 1st. I know it’s a mediation. I might feel connected or simply be aware of my intention for a short time or even just a moment, and then I leave. I head out into the “world” or even more often, simply into my world.

Recently, I read the phrase “Holy Plan.” As soon as I saw the words, I knew that was my next intention. For some reason those two worlds brought me great peace. I felt my whole body relax, I was breathing deeper and easier. I began to carry the phrase with me all day long. It’s there as I sit quietly wondering what and whom the day will invite and it’s been there as I roam around participating in the many activities of my life. I fully recognize this does not mean nothing difficult will enter into my life or the lives of my loved ones but I still feel peaceful. I have this sense that all will work to my good, even the “bad.” It’s so comforting to me. Joel Osteen says, “With faith, what man has meant for our bad, God will make good.” Maybe yes, maybe no but I sure feel better when I trust that Joel is right.

Other than a sense of calm and peace and even excitement, what results have I discovered from this new affirmation? I have been watching life more closely for opportunities to rest in the Lord and also to be His tool. I know that sounds a little weird and perhaps even obnoxious, believing that I can connect to The Divine and She will use me, me little Jean Anne Costa, to do some sort of life giving work for the world. Yes, there have been others who believed this and they were crazy! I don’t think, however, that I’ve “lost it.” Somehow, I feel I’ve found that for which I’ve been searching. I don’t have visions of grandeur. I simply want to walk though the day and my life, bringing hope, peace, love, joy, and compassion wherever I can and not add to the fear and pain that is so prevalent in our world today. Does that sound unreasonable? When I carry that hope with me into every day, won’t that make a positive difference?

I’ve been reading Mathew Kelly’s, Rediscovering Catholicism and finding it to be very supportive of my faith and my general spirituality. I had two copies at my home and as I left the house the other morning I decided to take the extra copy with me. I had the thought that maybe someone would like to have it. I couldn’t imagine who but I grabbed it and threw it in the back of the car. I had an appointment for a pedicure (Yea!) and before I headed into the shop I went to the trunk of the car to put on my flip-flops and there was the book. I already had the newspaper in my hand but I grabbed the book too. I didn’t get to it. I fell asleep but I had laid it on the table next to me. Another patron looked at it and began to ask me about it. She too was a Catholic and really struggling with her faith and asked me about it. I told her I knew this sounded weird but I had it with me because I felt I was supposed to give it away. Would she like it? Yes, she would love to read it. I was awed. I felt like I had closely listened. I felt well “used.” I felt Divinely used. I felt quite right. I knew that this was how I always wanted to feel and believed my 2014 intention had definitely clicked in. Wow, I thought, “I might actually be in the midst of the Holy Plan. How cool!”

No, the book episode has not been the only serendipitous event this year. There have been many and each one has left me feeling the same way, peaceful and awed. In an effort to increase my faith and strengthen my understanding and relationship with Jesus Christ, I developed an affirmation many years ago that is close to the top of my affirmation list. I know by meditating on Jesus throughout my day, I am in union with the Divine, miracles are created and without struggle my life is transformed in ways beyond my imagination. That’s how I feel about life today. I’m 68 years old and there’s a peace and a sense of excitement I can never before recall experiencing.

I share these affirmations and this revelation I’m in the midst of with you with the hope that a few of these sentences or words will resonate with you and you too, if you’re searching, will find this same sense of peace and exhilaration, at least for right now and perhaps

Being Catholic

Affirmation:  I love being a Catholic
During this month, October 2014, the Catholic Church has been front-page news.  It’s not unusual for the Church to be in the headlines.  It seems to me it’s an easy target for criticism, especially in this day and time.  This time the initial news being reported was more positive.  Pope Francis called a synod, a group of bishops from around the world, and the discussion that came from that meeting was highly publicized.  It’s unclear if everything that was written about the meeting was true but that’s nothing new for the media.  The initial bent of the stories would lead most people to believe that the Catholic Church has decided to become more liberal. 
At St. Benedict’s Church in Linville, NC Father Christopher Gober’s homily revolved around the procedures that are required before the Church, or what I would prefer to refer to as the hierarchy, makes any changes in Church doctrine.  “It will take years.”  Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.  The two thousand year old church has never been quick to make any changes.  It took them several hundred years to forgive Galileo who they excommunicated because he claimed the earth revolved around the sun.  With a history like that those of us, which includes me, who are ever hopeful that our church will become more open and accepting are not holding our breath.  But, there are some signs that our Church, the people who make up the foundation of our parishes may see a greater shift towards compassion and inclusion that hasn’t appeared to be the main focus until lately.
Before the synod ever began I was listening to a Tapestry podcast with Mary Hines called, Liars, Cheats and Sinners and the writer she was interviewing, described as a Roman Catholic thinker, Mary Gordon, said she didn’t expect anything would be discussed that would make a difference for the laity.  She, however, I am pleased to say, was wrong.  Even if the doctrines are the same and it takes years, if ever, to make changes, Pope Francis seems to bring a whole different flavor to the meaning of our faith.  When the leader of an institution calls for compassion and inclusion, when a leader in an institution is humble and deferential and when a leader of an institution leads by example and not simply with words, the institution will reflect those qualities and that, it seems to me is Pope Francis.
I may be grasping at straws here, hoping that he will bring our church to a place where many times people feel as if they simply can’t ever get it right, where many people just find it too difficult to be part of such a restrictive environment.  I know in many ways the Catholic Church is a liberal institution if you compare it to many other fundamental faiths of the world but in my opinion some of the stands it takes on issues which affect so many of it’s faithful are just wrong.  My hope is Pope Francis will lead these men to a place of compassion and openness so that the fastest growing religion in the United States today is not “former Catholics.”
Our Church has so much to offer and because of all the bad publicity some of which is very justified, we aren’t recognized for all our Church has done and continues to do to make this world a better place.  For example, the Catholic Church feeds, educates and tends to the health of tens of thousands of people a day.  The people they serve aren’t asked about their belief system or about their religion, they are simply helped.  Why isn’t that ever written about in the news? 
I once had someone tell me she was an Protestant because unlike Catholics she didn’t have to leave her brain at the church door.  I can’t even imagine why someone would think it was all right to say that to anyone but trust me that’s not true. I have carefully considered whether or not I want to continue to be a Catholic.  I’ve headed out many times; I’ve studied many faiths; I’ve read many different theologies.  I finally had to recognize that I was always called back to Catholicism. That’s my home.  Maybe, just by being who I am I can make a difference in the way the church responds to some of these controversial issuers.  Certainly, I have a better chance than if I walked away, if I simply quit. 
I had one very powerful experience of asking God in prayer what path I should follow.  I didn’t’ know how the answer would come but I believe in answered prayer and I did expect an answer.  The answer came in a dream.  Jesus floated down, He wasn’t very clear but I was pretty sure a white floating being was divine and He said, “Jean, I am the answer for you.”  I believed it then and I still believe it now.  I have a dear friend who has told me for years, “I don’t let the Church interfere with my relationship with God.”  That’s not good enough for me.  My Church needs practices and rituals that enhance and strengthen my relationship with God and with that, my relationships with my family, friends and even my enemies and it does provide those practices.  Unfortunately, the emphasis on Jesus’ message of love and compassion gets clouded and our beautiful faith gets tied up in the rules and regulations.  
I love the Catholic Church.  I love being a Catholic.  Yes, I know it has zits and dysfunction.  What family doesn’t?  I have chosen to stay in this family, this place where the people I interact with are more often than not, kind, generous, compassionate and loving. I’m still a Catholic because of my belief in the sanctity of the Eucharist and the rituals of the Mass and our seven sacraments and because it has led me to this relationship with Christ that sustains me in all things.

The last headline I saw about the synod before I wrote this said, “Pope Francis: ‘God is not afraid of new things.'”  Yes, I believe we are presently in the hands and heart of a loving, compassionate person who will bring our church to a place of more acceptance and kindness; who will help our parishes become places of refuge and hope; who will guide the hierarchy towards being less rule oriented and more people oriented.  I’m not too hopeful about changes with the perception of women’s roles but that’s a whole other blog.  I do believe, however, that our Pope Francis hasn’t left his brain or his heart at the door and I don’t believe he expects us to live our faith and our lives without deep thought and commitment. 

Being Worthy

Affirmation: I am worthy.
What determines the worthiness of a human being?  In 1997 the movie Gattica came out staring
Ethan Hawke.  It was a sci-fi film about
genetically altering the human fetus towards a specific occupation.  A child who was born without this alteration
was considered “imperfect” or “inferior” and that human was
deigned useful only for menial jobs. 
Ethan was one of those children born without the advantage of the
sophisticated science of the time.  He
was not happy with his pre-determined role and the movie revolves around what
he needs to do to give the illusion of being one of the perfect people.  As we all know, the science fiction of today
has often become the reality of tomorrow. 
With genetic testing widely available and with the mapping of the Gnome,
the theme of Gattica may not be too far removed from the very near future. 
When I’ve facilitated programs about creating affirmations people
are encouraged to create phrases that do not have any negatives in them.  A few years back, however, I had one person
who had had a very difficult childhood and she decided she was going to use
“not” in her affirmation because it was the best phrase to help her
feel better and so she did.  Most of the
time when we use a negative in an affirmation, our brains ignore the negative
and we wind up doing or feeling exactly the opposite of what we had intended.
She decided she did NOT need to do anything more or be anyone other than who
she was to be of value.  When she shared
her affirmation it was obvious to everyone present that it was going to have a
powerful impact for her even with the word “not” as part of it.
Recently I was involved in an activity that was more than
humbling.  I was actually embarrassed by
what I perceived as my poor performance. 
(If you’ve been following this blog you can probably guess what I was
doing.) I then became annoyed with myself for judging myself so harshly.  For me this was another experience that made
me wonder, what determines the value of a human being? 
When someone is asked, “What do you do?” the answer
generally generates a visceral response in both the questioned and the
questioner.  Have you watched the
physical response of both parties as this question is presented, have you
observed yourself?  I’ve seen the persons
being asked sometimes “puff-up”, stand taller, perhaps their
shoulders go back.  I’ve watched some
people slump over, maybe step back as if they’re preparing for battle.  Then there’s the person’s response when the
answer is given.  For example, if the
answer is, “I’m a brain surgeon” most people would probably have a
different response than if the answer was, “I’m a trash
collector.”  We generally judge and
many times value an individual based on what they “do.” 
I am fascinated by society’s value determination of occupations.  As far as I’m concerned if people were
financially rewarded for their services based on how they benefit society,
sports persons would not be making millions of dollars while teachers eek out a
living.  Movie stars would not be some of
the richest people in our country while those who care for the sick and elderly
barely make minimum wage. 
Where am I going with this? 
I want everyone to feel valued simply because they are a human
being.  My friend was right.  We don’t need to do anything more or be
anybody special to be worthy.  We need to
value each person simply because they are a creation of God.  If we don’t do that it would mean that the
sick, the infirm, the elderly, the mentally ill are of no value.  It will mean that someday society will allow
science to genetically alter or design a human being and those that don’t come
out “perfect” will be relegated to a subservient place or even worse
destroyed.
My faith, the Catholic Church, promotes the sanctity of life from
the womb to the tomb.  I know this is not
a popular concept and I understand how people because of dire circumstances
sometimes want to be in charge of who lives and who dies and when, but it seems
to me it’s a slippery slope towards devaluing the human being and life itself. 
Several years ago I was invited by a dear friend, Ann Baucom, to
join her and a group of women in developing a personal “charter of
compassion.”  I came up with six
steps: Pray, Embrace Silence, Listen for God’s voice, Affirm what is important
to me, Release it into God’s care, and Love, non-judgmentally, non-graspingly
and unconditionally.  When I shared this
charter with a friend, she thought it was too self-centered and not enough
other-centered but I feel I can’t affect
any change in the world until I change myself. 
Each human being is a masterpiece, no matter what the flaws.  The flaws can add color, depth and
texture.  We are each a precious treasure
and with that concept we should know that we are worthy; worthy of respect,
worthy of love, worthy of all the good and prosperity of a Divine
creation.  Once we believe in ourselves,
we will posses the wherewithal to give back to the world.
We can be of service by simply knowing God is always with us and
She is leading us and guiding us.  If we
are listening we will do it with love and honor and compassion.  We are of service if daily we rise with the
intention to bless the world in our thoughts and words and deeds. We can impact
the world regardless of what we do or, are unable to do if we simply hold our
fellow man or woman in our thoughts with blessings and love. I am a perfect
being created by a loving God regardless of what I do or don’t do and so are
you!

Saving the World

Affirmation: I believe that my prayer to help someone in need is
always answered and is supported by God in amazing ways that I cannot even
imagine.
In the book The End of Life Book Club by Will Shwalbe, he
tells the story of his mother’s life. 
The story revolves around her battle with Pancreatic cancer and their
journey through her treatment and as you can figure out from the title, her
death.  They are a two person book club
with either the advantage or disadvantage depending upon your view, of not
having to provide food for the attendees. 
There is a long list of books they read and discuss over the two year
period of her treatment.  It appears they
have always been a two person book club but didn’t “officially”
establish it until they were sharing her final challenge.  It’s cleverly written in that with each book
read, he not only writes about the book but about his mother’s life.  I’ve made a list of each of the books with
the intention of reading some of the ones they shared. Some of them I’ve
already read.  I already know, however,
that I’ll be skipping some of his recommendations.  They are way too disturbing for my
taste.  Just listening to the struggles
of the protagonists on their reading list was enough to remind me of how cruel
the world and fate can be.  He is a
publisher at the beginning of the book. 
His mother is an activist and a heroine. 
She’s in her seventies at the time of her diagnosis and has been a
“first” for women in many fields and areas. For example, she was the
founding director of the Women’s Refugee Commission. 
She was an advocate for
women and children refugees all over the world and she’d traveled to many of
those areas. You can Google her or read the book if you’d like more
information.  Her final project was to
build a library in Afghanistan and she wasn’t going to die until that was
accomplished.  It was built.  I guess she was a lot like Angelina Jolie,
just not a famous celebrity.  I also have
the impression she didn’t have the protection, guidance or ease of travel given
to a famous movie star.  She was in the
trenches with those who most needed help. 
Mary Anne Schwalbe was a courageous and compassionate woman.  Her whole life regardless of the danger of
difficulty, revolved around being of service to others.
This has been a good book for me. 
I live a blessed life of comfort and the older I get the more I seem to
gravitate towards being comfortable. 
That includes an element of safety. 
I have not traveled to “dangerous” places, at least as far as
I believe.  I know sometimes going around
the block can sometimes be dangerous.  I
have, however, been working at seeing the broader, worldwide picture of those
in need.  I know there are people
suffering in ways I cannot even imagine and don’t want to imagine.  My husband, Sandy and I sponsor several
children in different programs around the world. We’ve always contributed to
our church’s appeals and those of nations who suffered natural disasters and we
make every effort to reach out whenever we are directly faced with a need we
can assist.   
Our church, St. Michael the
Archangel, has a sister parish in Honduras and we support that and more
recently we reached out to a charity in Tanzania presented to us by St. Bernadette
Church in Linville, NC.  We’ve also
supported Oie Ostercamp’s Share Fish organization which does work with the poor
in Honduras. Last year, after I read Fr. Albert Haas’ Catching Fire,
Becoming Flame
in order to do something more, I added praying the Rosary
for those “most in need of God’s mercy.”  It allowed me to stay safely in my comfort
zone and yet to become more sensitive and aware of the world’s plight.   I’m sharing these examples to illustrate
that I’ve really tried to be more “world conscious.”  I try to stay informed but not overly
concerned because I feel I only have so much energy and some days just caring
for myself and my family is all I feel I can do.  Let’s face it, the world is a very big place
and here I sit, one of billions of beings. 
What kind of a difference can I make? Yet, when I read about people like
Mary Anne Schwalbe, I wonder what more can I do?  What else can I add to my efforts that might
bring comfort, peace, hope and even joy to those suffering on this planet?
Then recently, one of my study groups began Anthony DeStefano’s, Ten
Prayers God Always Says Yes To.
  One
of the first prayers he offers is, “Please use me to help someone in
need.”  I hesitated.  My initial reaction was to back away.  I fully recognized this was a prayer God
would not deny but what would be required of me in order to follow Her
will?  Would I be asked to travel to a
third world country undergoing revolution or that had just experienced a
devastating weather event?  Would I be
asked to give up all I now have, like the young man in the New Testament and
follow God to poverty and perhaps martyrdom? 
Perhaps even worse would be if more and more was added to my already
full plate and in an effort to do be of greater service to the world, I became
neglectful of where my true service lies, my family and my community.  I could immediately see all the pitfalls of
such a prayer and yet, I felt ready to step out in faith.  I said the prayer.  I’ve been saying it now for several weeks and
as I’ve journaled I found myself relaxing in the prayer, relaxing in my belief
that if I’m called to do God’s work, to be of more service to those in need,
that God will provide the support to do just that.  I am stepping out in faith.  I believe that through prayer not only will I
be of greater service but that I will be given the discernment to know which
requests are from God and which are of my ego. 
Deep breaths, quiet time and prayers from the depth of my heart will
lead me where I am most needed.  Yes, it
could be to some third world country.  I
trust God will come with me there too. 
It could also be to a place I haven’t yet examined, a place within,
which takes me to a marvelous place not so far from where I am now but enables
me to see it in a different light, a light of service right here and right
now. 
 
What do you think?  Are you
willing to step out in faith?  Go ahead,
say it, “God, please use me to help someone in need.”  I hope you’ll let me know what you discover.

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.