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Strengthening Our Spirit

Affirmation: I have a healthy spirit because I pay attention to
those practices that strengthen it.

As I write this the United States is passing from celebrating the
holiday of Thanksgiving to preparing for Christmas.  Every year the space between Thanksgiving and
Christmas gets smaller and smaller, actually there is not any space unless you
claim it because retail begins Christmas right after Halloween.  Recently there was a very sad cartoon in the
paper.  An older couple was standing at
the head of an empty but fully set dining table.  They had the roasted turkey on a platter and
were ready to serve but no one was there. 
The wife’s comment was “We should have known what to expect when
they announced the sales would begin on Thanksgiving Day.”  My good news is that except for my youngest
daughter who lives in England, our table held the entire family including my
grandson’s (Joe) fiancĂ©.

My husband and I love Thanksgiving.  We love any occasion that brings our family
to our home and to our table.  Sharing
time and stories and our lives with the people we love the most is the highest
blessing of our lives.  It is
heartwarming that our family responds in kind. 
They did not leave early to start their shopping or to go to the movies
or to escape for any other reason.  We
shared the meal, had coffee and dessert and then our grandson, Sam played and
sang three original songs he has written. 
My heart overflowed.

Madonna, the singer, prophesied what has become reality.  We live in a material world.  I am as guilty of liking and wanting nice
things as anyone else.  I love it when
the house is all pretty inside.  I like a
new pair of shoes or a new outfit.  I
love a gadget or two.  I like my comforts
and my security but my age puts me closer to the end of my life than the
beginning and I recognize that the material things of this world are not where
my ultimate happiness lies.

As you know if you read this blog my mother is in assisted
living.  She’s a strong 91 but I see her becoming
more and more frail. I visit there often both to see her and to bring communion
to the Catholic residents in the entire facility from the independent living to
the Alzheimer’s unity.  It’s a gift to me
to share the lives of the residents even in such a small way.  It makes me very aware of my phase of life
and very grateful for the stage I am in today.

“I worked on my external well-being in the early part of my
life and recognized I needed to work on my internal well-being for the later
part of my life.”  This was the
statement from an older woman I know who hosts weekly gatherings at her home to
examine different spiritual concepts. 
About fifteen women attend each week and if she’s away, someone else has
her key so the group can still gather. What are you doing to work on your
internal well-being?   What steps need to
be taken so that when you may no longer be able to do all you want to do, you
will still feel safe and comfortable and alive!

It’s a fact that we all age differently.  I’ve written before about one of my heroines,
Eleanor Cioffi, my mother’s best friend. 
She still lives alone and yesterday there she was at the gym working out
on the weight machines.  She’d adjust the
machine, put her cane down and then do her reps.  One of the aerobics instructors recently told
me she was shocked to see Eleanor’s age on a form, “She’s 94.” she
claimed.  I asked her to go back and redo
the numbers.  I knew that Eleanor has a
birthday this month.  She’ll be 99!  I want to be an Eleanor.  I’m doing all in my power to stay as healthy
as possible and I know I am in charge of some of my physical well-being but not
all of it.  I know too that fate can be a
life changing influence, so I am also working on strengthening my spiritual and
emotional well-being.

I am always open to opportunities for inner growth.   My yoga practice is an excellent exercise in
being open and flexible.  I often have
people tell me how they “can’t do yoga.”  They tell me they are not flexible
enough.” Yes, if they think yoga is about standing on your head or
twisting up like a pretzel, they are right but if one can breathe, one can do
yoga.  As the body changes, the practice
can change.  It is not a competitive
sport.  It’s all about connecting your
mind, body and spirit.  At one time you
may have been able to do a hand stand (or not) and that’s nice but now your
practice may have a softer, more gentle feel. 
You’re still breathing.  You’re
still being aware.  You’re still
connecting the three major elements of your being: mind, body and spirit.  The same may be true of your life as you
age.  You’re still breathing.  You’re still aware.  You can still connect the three major
elements of your being.  You just may
need to do it in a different, perhaps a more gentle way, than in the past.

Life is about growth and learning to adjust to change, not just
adjusting but also thriving within it. 
Another one of the gentlemen I visit at Woodland Terrace bemoaned his
physical limitations but then he told me he had a new toy; he’d bought a computer
and was learning to use it.  He was
excited by this whole new aspect to his life. 
It was helping him with his physical limitations.  I am always inspired by those who adjust
their life poses to accommodate their new circumstances and find joy and even
excitement in their new position.

So, I now not only do physical exercise, I also do spiritual
aerobics.  I actively seek those
practices that strengthen my emotional and spiritual muscles.  I look for community that nurtures and
inspires me.  One of my favorite groups
is a study group where we discuss different self-help books.  We meet twice a month and have done so for
years.  I’d like to think we have years
to go.  When recently discussing this
topic of physical changes, one friend reminded me “We can always
talk.”  It’s a gift for me to have
the support of these friends in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. We are
working on our “internal well-being” and I do feel stronger and
healthier because of our sharing and camaraderie.

Some of my other spiritual “push-ups” consist of prayer
time, journaling, reading, connecting with friends and family and always being
open to new experiences.  Whatever life
throws at me, I am hoping and yes, praying that I will have developed the
strength and fortitude to pull myself up above the fray.  If faced with an emotional marathon I am
hoping to have trained well enough to be able to cross the finish line
regardless of my physical limitations. 
What nurtures your mind and spirit? 
Whatever it is invest in it.  Put
your time, treasure and talent into those practices that will enable you to be
internally strong and powerful.

Growing in Faith

Affirmation:  Something wonderful is about to happen.

On
Belleruth Naparstek’s chemo tape she has a phrase she uses about getting a
sensation that something wonderful is about to happen and about how you may
have not felt this sensation in quite a while but right now you do.  Have you ever had a sensation like that?  That sense that something marvelous is coming
your way?  I wonder if that happens when
we are preparing for an event or a trip or maybe a change in our career.  Perhaps, it’s that feeling when a loved one
and you are to be reunited.  I know a
change and new things can also bring with them a feeling of anxiety and maybe
we get anxiety and excitement mixed up. 
But, when Belleruth describes this marvelous feeling of expectation, I
know it; I feel it. I fully recognize it even though I can’t remember when I
last felt that way and it feels good!

For
the past several months I have had a growth in my faith experiences.  As I’ve shared before I have been
“working” on my faith for many years ever since I met my evangelical
neighbor, Shaun McLean in Cincinnati, Ohio and when shortly thereafter my
father died.  When Shaun showed up at the
back gate of my new home she proceeded to become a constant thorn in my
faith.  I am so grateful to her for that
nudging. She was so certain about her relationship with God and with Jesus
Christ and I was a cradle Catholic who didn’t feel sure about anything. I
didn’t envy her but I did find myself questioning, questioning, and questioning
even more.  What did I truly
believe? 

Let’s
admit it, the story of Jesus Christ, his birth death and resurrection is quite
unbelievable.  It defies natural
law.  I for one have had my doubts.  I have not been a compliant subservient
faith- filled follower.  I wanted
proof.  I’m sure if one searches for
proof that the “Good News” is not factual, one will find answers
supporting that premise but I chose to go the other way.  I’ve chosen to seek out reasons to
believe.  I have also found that at some
point if one is to truly have faith, one must set aside disbelief and just
decide to have faith in the mystery.  I
decided to believe. 

I’ve
watched movies about the “facts” of His life and ministry.  I’ve read the bible and listened to lectures
and homilies.  But, the reason I believe
is because I want to believe.  I want to
believe He came to change the world.  He
came to teach us to love.  He came to
eradicate sin and evil.  He came to show
us, to show me unconditional love.  He
came to prepare a place for me in the afterworld and to show me that this life
is not the end.  This life is simply a
transition before the next, before I can finally rest in a place of peace and
pure love.  I want to believe this and so
I do and once I made up my mind to accept this belief system amazing events
have taken place to support my journey.   

My
faith journey has led me many places.  It
is not just about things related to my church. 
I was reminded this week by Sister Judy Hallock one of the women who
facilitate A Place for Women to Gather that our lives are interconnected with
our faith.  If we are truly faith-filled
people we cannot separate our mind, body and spirit.  Every aspect of our lives, every single one
of them, is affected by our faith. 

 
I
am on a continual search for a deeper, richer relationship with God.  I want to feel that peace that I believe
comes when one connects to spirit but even more importantly when one develops a
relationship with a personal God, not just some ethereal concept.  This last week I have been feeling that sense
of expectation that I have not felt for a very long time.  Something wonderful is about to be
manifested.  I haven’t a clue what it is
or how it will come or from whom but I can feel it.  The feeling is palatable and I am simply enjoying
it and waiting to see what or who appears.

My
faith journey this year has taken me to some amazing destinations.  I’ve shared some of them with you here in
this blog but as the holidays approach and the end of the year comes closer, I
find myself thinking about all that has taken place.  One of my affirmations is, “When I stay
connected to the Divine, miracles occur and without struggle my life is
transformed.”  I think that’s
exactly what’s been happening.  I don’t
know why I’m so surprised.  I’ve never
created an affirmation and focused on it where it hasn’t worked.  Never! 

 
Several
months ago I discovered a new prayer that I’ve incorporated into my nightly
prayers.  “Come Holy Spirit, fill
the heart of Your faithful.  Enkindle in
me the fire of Your love.”  I found
it to be a comforting prayer and truly the desire of my heart.  I think the Holy Spirit has accepted my
invitation.  I’m always a little curious
about where my faith journey will take me. 
It shouldn’t surprise me that it has brought me further into the fold of
the Catholic Church.  I’ve gone off
looking for alternatives many times but I’m always led back to the church of my
birth.  Certainly, I have kept an open
acceptance of other modalities. I’ve studied Reiki.  I practice yoga and I love the insights
afforded me with the Enneagram.  I
facilitate Artist Way programs and have attended many mediation sessions with
leaders of different faiths.  I read many
different books about different spiritual concepts.  All of these experiences have led me to a
deeper faith and a greater awareness of a personal god. 

This
year, however, has brought with it the additional gift of several new female
friends who are practicing Catholics and it has been a wonderful, heartwarming
experience.  We certainly are not all in
the “same place” in our faith journey but there’s no judgment.  We simply are accepting of our different
stages, accepting and yet still supportive. There are many studies showing the
healing qualities associated with belonging to a support group.  I feel like I’ve discovered a gift with the
friendship of these women, the gift of being supported in my faith journey and
I am grateful that this new community has added to this feeling that something
wonderful is about to happen.  Now,
there’s an affirmation I can focus on and wait for it to come to fruition,
“Something wonderful is about to happen.”  The really cool part of this affirmation is I
have discovered that that Something Wonderful is having this feeling of blessed
expectation and that that in itself is just marvelous.

Not if, When

Affirmation:  I know life will present many challenges and
I have a tool box filled with lots of helpful equipment.

 
The
conversation was about the chaotic state of my home because of a
renovation.  Oh, I fully recognized the
blessing of being able to perform a renovation but the project had now been
going on for months and was running much longer than had been estimated.

I was
tired.  Way too much energy was being
expended on this, not to mention money and I wanted to put my home back in
order.  The homeowner I was speaking with
had just completed building a house, not on her own but she was responsible for
all of the decisions and it was a beautiful home, the most stunning home I
could ever remember being in.  She
explained to me that one shouldn’t be asking themselves about the
“ifs” one might experience during the building process but one should
recognize that there would be “whens” and the real question was how
was one going to deal with them?  What
did one need to do to be prepared when issues would come along?
 
I am an
optimist by choice.  When someone tells
me something is going to go well and work out, I choose to believe them.  It’s not always the truth.  Stuff still happens but I haven’t focused on
what might go wrong. I am that person who creates positive affirmations.  I am that person who expects things to go
right. 
 
The
Buddhists say one should imagine the glass broken.  The Christians refer to the “practice of
faith” and the yogi studies a Klesha called raga which refers to an attachment to pleasure.  Whatever faith you look at they all have one
very important feature in common; they recognize that life is not a bowl of
cherries.  Life has pits and we should be
aware of that teaching.
 
The
question that arises is how does one prepare oneself for the difficulties life
will present? Certainly going around waiting for the next shoe to drop or for
the clouds to appear is not a very joyful way to live one’s life but we all
know stuff will come along, little things and difficult things with which we
will have to deal.
 
I am
someone who is all about maintenance.  I
was a great Girl Scout.  I try to always
be prepared.  If there is some step I can
take to hopefully make life easier or smoother, I will usually take it.  I am that person who gets her flu shot every
year.  I take my vitamins, especially
that calcium and fish oil and now extra vitamin D.  I brush and floss my teeth twice a day.  God forbid they should rot away and fall
out.  I exercise daily to keep everything
in good working order and to hopefully avoid becoming immobile and decrepit. I
am the person who buys travel insurance. 
I’m not worried about any of these things.  I just feel like if I can take steps to
insure my life goes along smoothly, I should. 
I have many friends who do not think like me.  I have one friend who has never gotten a flu
shot and as of this writing, has never gotten the flu.  Thank heavens!  I also have a friend who never does any
maintenance on her home.  I am always
looking around my house and trying to spiff it up before something drastic
happens, like an exploding hot water heater or an ant infestation or, well you
can probably add your own stuff to that list.
 
I have a
huge red tool box.  I mean I need all
those different type of screw drivers just in case the screw is a Phillips or a
Flat-head or it’s big or very tiny.  I
know many of you completely understand but my friend, she never does anything
to her home until it becomes some sort of an issue for her.  She cannot for the life of her understand why
I am always doing my best to forestall something in the home from becoming a
major investment.  I believe that if I
take care of it now, it’ll be a little problem rather than a huge one.  We just don’t agree but that’s ok.  We love one another anyway.  Unfortunately, the results of my maintenance
approach to life really doesn’t seem to make my life that much easier than her
life is for her.  Things I never even dreamed
would occur, occur.  So, the question is,
“How can I best prepare for the whens of life?  What tools do I have in life’s tool box for
when a screw comes loose or falls out and everything it’s been holding
together, falls apart?”
 
Pray,
it’s my first defense.  I believe in
answered prayer.  I don’t understand how
it works but I fully trust that it does.

Journal,
I write. It centers me and helps me see things more clearly.  It makes me calmer.

Exercise,
it is known to increase endorphins and reduce stress.  It doesn’t matter if you go to your mat to do
yoga or take a walk or go play golf.  It
takes you out of your routine and helps calm you.

Talk to a
friend or find a counselor.  Pick up the
phone or go visit a friend.  Don’t try to
go it alone.  Most people like to be
helpful and most of us need help to get through life’s challenges, sometimes
even the little ones.

Watch
something funny, laugh.

Give or
get a hug or two and finally, remember to Breathe.  Take a few deep breaths every so often and
don’t hesitate to sigh them out.  Even if
you haven’t fixed the entire problem with that deep breath, you’ve at least
released it for that moment and life really is about living one moment at a
time. 

Blessings Recognized

Affirmation:  I recognize
the blessings I receive when I share my time, treasure and talent with those in
need.

On two occasions during this October, 2013, my husband, Sandy
Costa was invited to be the Master of Ceremonies for the Ronald McDonald House
of Durham, NC.  The events began at 7:45
AM and lasted an hour.  A full breakfast
was served along with some of the most heartwarming and heart rendering stories
I have ever heard.  For me, the stories
that revolve around the struggle to live are always both inspirational and in
many cases achingly sad.  This event
revolves around the challenges being faced by children, little tiny ones and
their families and the service, the hope and the comfort that this organization
provides for them regardless of who they are or how much they have.  The Ronald McDonald House had set up these
two breakfasts, among other events, to give others the opportunity to be of
service to their residents and future residents.  They are giving people the opportunity to
reach out and to make a difference in the lives of someone who is suffering,
someone they probably do not even know.

The first event of the month was at The Tobacco Warehouse in
Durham and about 400 people attended. 
Sandy didn’t really say much to me about his role and he’s often invited
to speak to groups, both large and small so I didn’t pay a lot of attention to
his project.  Sometimes he speaks for a
fee but many times he speaks to simply be of service.  This, of course was an example of the
later.  I was pleased for him that he was
asked and to be given the opportunity but I didn’t attend.  Actually, he didn’t invite me and I wrote it
off as simply another of his speaking engagements.  Wow, did I get that one wrong!

He invited me to the second event held in Raleigh at the NC State
McKimmon Center.  A friend and pet
therapy volunteer, Ann Henderson, asked me to sit with her group of
invitees.  I was delighted to be
included.  Ann brought Bailey, her
wonderful warm friendly doggie.  The two
of them also visit my mom once a week at my mom’s assisted living
apartment.  It is the highlight of my
mom’s week.  So I can imagine how much
joy Ann and Bailey bring to the residents of The Ronald McDonald House.  They raised an amazing $260,000 during the
one hour breakfast.  Why?

Sandy wasn’t the only host. 
He had a co-host, Sosa.  Sosa is
thirteen.  She had on a black dress with
silver sequins across the top.  She
walked to that podium like she did it every day.  I was once told the second greatest fear
after death is speaking into a microphone. 
It was obvious Sosa had already conquered her 1st fear.  You can watch her at: Watch Sosa  She then started by apologizing for not
wearing the red sneakers with the orange laces that she had been given, her
Ronald McDonald sneakers.  “They
really don’t go with my outfit” she said. 
Then she shared what it meant to her and her family to have a place, The
Ronald McDonald House, to stay at while she was receiving her second bone
marrow transplant.  Her mother had slept
in their car for two months until space became available at “The
House.”

During the breakfast there were four other speakers, three sets
of parents and Oie Osterkamp, the director of the Durham Ronald McDonald
House.  There was also a video which
showed the journey of another teenage girl. 
I cried on and off throughout the entire program.  Who wouldn’t? 
Who can be among families who have undergone so much in an effort to
make sure their child survives and not be emotionally moved?  Obviously, not many of us.  When Sandy finally made the plea for money
the audience responded with generosity and caring.  The pledge card was not just for money.  It also included a section for visits and
volunteers.  They accept any help they
can get.  I have friends who shop for,
purchase and cook one meal a month for the entire RMH in Greensboro, NC.  Time, treasure and talent were all greatly
appreciated.

My experience has taught me that whenever I think I’m being
magnanimous and generous to someone or to some cause, I discover that I am the
receiver more than the giver.  It’s a
gift to me when someone invites me into their lives and permits me to be of
service.  The book I’m now reading, Catching
Fire, Becoming Flame
says our first responsibility is to be of service to
those who are less fortunate than we. 
Discovering what our gifts are and how we can best help another is
actually a responsibility.  We are called
to service.  We are called to help and
support one another.

If you watch the news we are led to believe we are not a caring
species.  The media almost never reports
on something uplifting and positive.  But,
Sandy and I are involved in many different charities and we know people both of
our church and of no church, who lead lives which epitomize the phrase
“giving back.”  It seems to me
if we watch our fellow man and woman carefully we will see we are a caring,
generous, even loving species.  We like
to help others.  We like to make a
positive difference in the lives of those around us, both those we know and in
the case of these two breakfasts, in the lives of complete strangers.  We must be an amazing group of beings.  These two events, two one hour events raised
over $400,000 and I am sure generated a lot of interest for volunteer
opportunities.  Most people want to help
others.  Sometimes it simply takes being
presented with an opportunity.  These two
events were a perfect example of creating an opportunity for people to feel
good about themselves by sharing their bounty with others.  For me, the blessing was to be included in my
husband’s caring spirit.  Actually, one
of my greatest blessings is that I am an integral part of Sandy’s generous
loving heart.