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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.

10 Hugs a Day

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

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

Carpe Diem

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