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Peace Be With You

Affirmation:  I live a Christ centered life of love,
peace, joy, gratitude and compassion.
Once upon a time
an amateur golfer could purchase hole-in-one insurance.  If the golfer made a hole-in-one, he or she
would receive an all-expense paid trip to anywhere in the world.  I knew this because one of my husband’s
business associates at that time had just returned from a trip to Hawaii that
he had “won” through this program.  My
husband had a birthday coming up and I thought this would be an excellent
present for him (for us!)  I probably had
a slight attack of conscience because I mentioned it to him to make sure this
was something he’d really enjoy.  He
would not, he told me.  What he really
wanted was a new set of golf head-covers. 
That’s what I bought him.  He was
happy.  The following week my husband had
his first hole-in-one.  It did not make
him happy.  He certainly didn’t want to
call me to tell me about it.  I think if
he could have kept it from me for the rest of his life, he would have but we
lived in the tiny town of Norwich, New York and word would reach me probably
sooner than later.  As you can imagine I
was very disappointed.  I can think of
several things I might have done differently had I known he was to have this
hole-in-one after telling me not to buy him the $40.00 hole-in-one
insurance.  But, it’s always easier in
retrospect, isn’t it?  We’re always so
much wiser in retrospect, aren’t we? 
What would life be like if we were people who knew ahead of time what
was going to happen?  
I love those
sci-fi movies about people who are time travelers.  I especially like the ones where people go
back to the past.  Two of my favorites
are Back to the Future with Michael
J. Fox and Peggy Sue with Kathleen
Turner.  In both films they were able to
impart helpful knowledge to people in their past to help them improve their
lives in the future.  In Peggy Sue,
Kathleen Turner had a nerdy friend who believed her story that she was from the
future.  He wanted to know what he should
invest in.  “Panty hose,” she
suggested.  What should I invest in now
that will insure my future success?  Do I
need to be able to see the future to make those decisions?  Maybe I would be able to pick out the winning
power ball number or I could buy some sort of unknown stock, like Apple, before
it went through the ceiling.  Perhaps one
would know who not to marry or what job not to pass up.  Oh, the places one could go and the things
one could do without any concern, without any confusion. 
I have several
dear friends whose early married lives were very difficult.  One friend’s husband left her with three
children and declared bankruptcy.  Right
after he left, her house burned to the ground. 
These were only a few of the challenges she faced at that time. Her husband
then began a new relationship and a new business and she was left to figure out
how to survive.  The really good news is
she did more than survive, she thrived! 
It’s been a few decades now since all this began but recently she found
out he was dying.  She held a lot of
justified resentment towards him but she picked up the phone to talk to him and
instead of venting all her frustration and anger, she found herself thanking
him.  For what?  For her three wonderful children, for her
stamina and fortitude and for the life she now lives.  If she could have seen into the future with
all the travail she would face, she probably would have still chosen the same;
a different choice would have meant she would be a different person and she’s a
marvelous human being because of the trials she’s overcome.  She has made peace not only with her
ex-husband but with life.
In the Catholic
Mass we have one phrase that is used three times.  “Peace be with you.”  Three times the priest says, “Peace be with
you.”  No other phrase is repeated even
once but this one is repeated three times. 
Why?  Because it’s the one gift
everyone desires, peace.  When we are in
the middle of war most of the population wants it to end.  They want peace.  When we are in the throes of caring for someone
in pain, we pray for their peace.  When
someone has experienced the death of a loved one, we ask for them to have
peace.  When we or someone we know is
faced with any sort of difficulty, financial or physical, we want to see them
come to a peaceful place.  Peace.  What does it look like?  Can one find it in any situation?  Recently, an acquaintance confided that his
job might be at risk.  We reacted with
alarm.  He, on the other hand told us he
wasn’t worried.  There was nothing he
could do about it right now, so he wasn’t upset.  He was at peace.  We may not have a definitive definition for
peace but we all know when it’s missing. 
We all know when we are not at peace. 
It is one of God’s greatest gifts. 
We can claim it whenever we want.  Sometimes all it takes is a short prayer, a deep breath and a silent few moments.  Once we are at peace with ourselves, we can radiate that peace out into
the rest of the world. 
It might seem like
foreknowledge might be a better gift than peace but it doesn’t matter.  There is no such thing, no matter what the
psychic tells us.  There’s no guarantee
that we’ll ever know what the future will hold. 
But, we can find peace with whatever life has brought us.  We can let go of the disappointments, the
trials, the hurts, the not so wise choices and we can ask God to let us go
forward with the gift of peace.  We can
go forward knowing that our lives, the good, the bad and the ugly are exactly
as they are supposed to be and that with God’s gift of peace, we can rest in
all of it.  

P.S.  Because of Sandy’s career we have not only traveled to Hawaii, we have traveled the world.  We really didn’t need that hole-in-one insurance.  

A Year of Love

Affirmation:
I am fully open to love, human and divine. 
Love surrounds me and permeates every aspect of my existence.

When I
went to visit Paul I noticed the wedding pictures on his wall.  He was one of the few men in the Alzheimer’s
unit and he was a flirt.  He was good
looking, tall and lean and always had on a baseball cap.  He was in the beginning stages and I could
easily have a conversation with him. 
Then I also noticed the memorial card with what I guessed was his wife’s
name.  I asked him if I were correct and
if the card referred to his wife.  It
did.  “Were you married a long
time?” I asked.  I didn’t really
expect an answer.  I was just making
conversation.  “Sixty-one
years,” he replied.  “Wow”
I responded, “that’s a long time.” 
He came right back at me, “Not long enough!”  That was several years ago but even as I
write this my heart aches and my eyes tear up. 
“Not long enough.” What a lesson!  It came at me like a speeding train and left
me dazed by the side of the tracks.  Life
is precious and life for many is “not long enough.”

One of my
dear friends recently lost her mother to Alzheimer’s.  It was a long, difficult battle.  My friend lives in North Carolina but her
“mum” lived I England.  She
would often fly over to visit and to care for her mother.  When her mother was finally admitted to a
care facility, my friend would get up every morning she was there, take the bus
and spend the entire day visiting and helping with the other residents.  The facility eventually offered her a
job.  Her mother stopped recognizing her
daughter but one day she told my friend, “I don’t know who you are but I
know you love me very much.”

“I
know you love me very much.” 
“Not long enough.” 
Words spoken emanating from a place deep within, nothing trite or
superficial.  The murmurings of the
heart, not just of the mind.  If I were
to look at my life today, search my soul, what heart murmurs would I hear?  And if I lost my mind would the messages be
about love?  I’ve dedicated this, my 68th
year, as The Year of Love.

My
church, the Catholic Church, dedicates each year to some worthy theme: The Year
of Faith or The Year of the Eucharist, etc. 
Why not let it be an example for me and dedicate a year of my life to
some worthy concept?  The Year of
Love!  It’s my ultimate goal, to love
deeply, unconditionally, non-judgmentally and without attachment.  It’s the work of a lifetime.  It seems worthwhile and appropriate to take
at least a year and to focus on love.

One more
Alzheimer story.  In the video for the
song “Raymond” by Bret Eldridge an elderly woman has the mistaken
idea that the maintenance man is her deceased son, Raymond.  The video shows that Raymond died in the
Vietnam War but Kathryn, the lady in the video, has no memory of that.  Her memory only goes back to 1943.  She’s a blessed woman.  She appears comfortable in her surroundings
and the cleaning man is kind and gracious. 
“I bring her morning coffee every day,” he sings.  “Sometimes I find myself wishing I’d
been there.”  He seems to love her,
this woman who believes he is her son. 
He knows she loves him.  It’s such
a small act of kindness but it’s such a grand act of love. The video reflects
love in its purest form.  It seems to
seep from the page out into the room.  I
never fail to weep when I watch it. 

What is
more important than creating a life filled with love?  Once we can learn to accept love, we can more
generously give love.  We may not like
everyone, that’s a given but it is possible to still love them or at least to
hold them in a space of love.  You can
pray for your worst enemy and I don’t mean for evil to invade their lives.  It is possible to find a place in our hearts
to ask for the best for everyone in the world, both those we find easy to love
and those who challenge us.  Remember,
you can’t make your world any brighter by blowing out someone else’s
light.  The heart is a muscle.  If we want it to become strong and healthy,
we have to exercise it just like any other muscle. 

If I lose
my mind, which I must confess seems more threatening some days than others, I
want to know that my heart is still full of love and my body, my spirit is
filled with the blessings of a life filled with love.  I want to live a life where I can say
“not long enough.”  A life where
one day someone will look at me and say, “I know you love me.”  Hopefully, they will also know who I am and I
will know who they are.
 

Blessing Adversity

Affirmation:  What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger and being stronger makes life easier and richer.  
“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, stronger” so goes the saying and the now popular song by Kelly Clarkson.  I wonder would I want to be tested to the point of dying to become stronger?  I have been tested by breast cancer.  I wouldn’t have chosen it but it has made me stronger.  It seems like a given that most people believe becoming stronger is a good thing.

I do work at being physically strong.  I fully recognize the advantages of having a strong body.  Besides practicing Yoga regularly, twice a week I participate in a class called Rep-Reebok.  It’s weight lifting to music and since I began it, I do feel I’ve gained quite a bit of muscle.  I’m not so concerned about how it affects my shape but I know the stronger I  am, the less likely I am to injure myself.  Having physical strength makes my daily activities easier.  I also work at having mental and spiritual fortitude. It makes my whole existence easier.

Sherri Shepherd recently released a book entitled Plan D: How to Lose Weight and Beat Diabetes.  Presently she’s one of the talk show hostesses on The View.  She’s very funny and she’s always been a very large lady, actually the word is obese.  She was interviewed by Doctor Oz this week and shared the diabetic history of her family.  She said they called it “the sugar” and no one took any steps to deal with it, regardless of how much the disease had progressed.  She too was guilty of the same behavior.  Denial is the term for the way some people deal with situations they don’t want to face.  She was in denial until someone asked her in so many words if she was ready to die one amputation at a time.  She changed her life.  She took charge.  She changed her diet and began exercising.  She changed a lIfe threatening situation into a life enhancing practice.  She shared some of her new healthy eating techniques and said she now works out at a gym and has turned her home into a gym, not a fancy room with all the bells and whistles. The stairs are her “stair-master.”  Her kitchen sink is her “ballet bare” and she never rests her bottom on the toilette.  That’s her opportunity to do squats!  Diabetes changed her life, for the better.   

The conversation I had with a woman I had recently met revolved around her brother’s recovery from drug abuse.  He too had a devastating disease.  He too had taken steps to become healthy.  When speaking about his life, she shared that he had become a wonderful father.  He was raising his son by himself.  The mother was also an addict and had given up her son.  He had shared with his sister that the challenge of being a single parent was his greatest blessing.  His life was as good as it was because his son needed him and helped him rise to the challenge of creating a healthy, loving life.  
It’s an old saying, “We can choose to make lemons into lemonade.”  Life is full of adversity, all different levels.  Diseases of the mind, body and spirit are faced by all of us at sometime or another.  Where do we find the resources to lift ourselves from the darkness back into the light?  For many, it’s their faith but not everyone has that gift.  It is a gift to believe in a loving, beneficent God or at least to believe that our pain is serving some higher purpose. We all have pain. Others must find another way to rise above their adversity.  For most help comes in the form of others: family, friends and community.  

This second of week of May, 2013 the media has been full of news about Angelina Jolie and her choice to have a prophylactic double mastectomy.  It’s not an unusual story.  It’s a decision thousands of women have faced and many of whom have chosen the same path.  Angelia’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when her mother was in her forties.  She died at 55.  She decided to undergo the gene test to see if it was indeed a hereditary condition and it came back positive.  She had an 87% chance of dying of breast cancer.   She chose not to wait for fate to decide her future.  She chose to take radical steps to insure that she would not have the words “breast cancer” on her death certificate.  Her popularity, perhaps we could even say notoriety, propelled her decision to the front of the news.  I personally commend her for making her decision public.  It opens the avenue for important discussions.  It’s similar to when Betty Ford stepped forward as First Lady and shared she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.  We sometimes need celebrities to she’d light on issues that might otherwise go unexamined.  

How can one see a prophylactic double mastectomy as a blessing?  How easy it would be to perceive oneself as a victim.  How easy it would be to wallow in self pity.  Brad Pitt, Angelina’s fiancé told the media they didn’t view her surgery as a loss.  They viewed it as a gain; they had gained years of life. They believed his wife and the mother of their children would now be a part of their lives for many years to come.

When we are in the middle of some challenge, it’s almost impossible to see it as beneficial.  I believe we need to move away and outside of it before we can begin to see ways it may and can bless our lives.  It’s all about the whole package, all of life’s lessons are valuable.  We are all going to be faced with adversity.  Most of us will come through it; there’s no going around it.  How we perceive our experience will be determined by how we view our lives.  Do we wake each morning and see the blessings the day may bestow upon us or do we rise in fear and dread? What are we focusing on?   How do you view the glass, half empty or half full?  I’m not talking about not recognizing your sadness and fear.  We must acknowledge all our emotions but once we’ve done that and walked through the “valley of death” do we want to continue to suffer (maybe some do.)  I, however, would prefer to let the experience teach me whatever lesson I needed to know and then take that knowledge and use it to make me “stronger! stronger! stand a little taller!” as Kelly sings and to enjoy a tall cool glass of that lemonade.

Journeying Through Motherhood

Affirmation:  Being a mother is my greatest joy.
As we walked around the lake the geese couple were crossing the path and next to them was a gaggle of goslings.  The female goose raised her head and stared right at us daring us to come closer.  Behind us was another walker and her dog.  The mother goose didn’t hesitate.  She took off charging, squawking loudly at the dog. It had come too close to her babies.  
I’ve been a mother for over 40 years now.  Now, I’m also a grandmother.  My adult gym now offers toddler swim lessons on Saturday mornings.  I feel a deep ache as I watch the parents interact with the children.  I have an even stronger reaction when I see them holding out their arms for the child to jump into and holding their little hands as they lead them to and from the pool. I’m nostalgic for that time but I remember those lessons when I did them and I am just fine that now I’m simply an appreciative observer.  

One day a young mother shared with a group of us that her 15 year old teenage daughter and husband had had their first terrible blow out.  She was worried they would never have a trusting, loving relationship.  The other mothers present assured her it was all normal growing pains and if it had taken this long for them to have this type of interaction, they were probably going to be just fine, probably even better than fine.  Many years ago the New York Times ran an article about the happiness level of parents.  The research reported that in general the parents of teenagers were unhappier than parents at any other stage.  I don’t remember being unhappy when my children were teenagers but I do know that now that they are adults, I thoroughly enjoy their company and that of their spouses.  It’s pure joy when I have the opportunity to spend time with them. I think what we spend our money on reflects that on which we consider to be the important and I’d rather spend my money on events that bring us all together than on anything else.
Today when I see a young family together I want to run up to them and tell them it’s a “short long journey.”  I want to embrace them and shake them and make sure they know it and tell them to savor every moment of it.  Motherhood is work.  It’s painful and it’s challenging.  It’s demanding and it’s tiring.  It’s frustrating and it’s confusing.  It’s also an amazing journey.  

As a young mother I was never around family.  Our first move was when my oldest was 6 weeks old.  Our second move five years later was when my middle child was 18 months old and then ten years after that, we moved when Ellen was just three.  I never had a support system.  Every time we moved, I was completely on my own.  I didn’t have a clue how very hard it was but looking back I can see how hard it truly was.  Each time we moved, I had to create a new support system.  It was easier sometimes than others.  It was exciting to go to a new place but it was also lonely.  Our last move brought us here to North Carolina over 26 years go.  We began again.  Now, I live close to most of my family.   

My oldest girl, Melissa and her kind, loving husband, Larry and my four grandchildren live about 2 miles away.  My son, Joey and his beautiful (inside and out) wife Belen also live close.  My mom lives nearby and I’m blessed to still have my husband of 45 years in my life.  My youngest is in London but I’m optimistic about her future.

My years of motherhood are not over.  Once a mother, always a mother but this stage, being the mother of adult children is for me a rich blessing.  While the children were growing, I was too busy with the cares of life and daily activities to savor all the precious moments they offered me but now, I can relish each moment.  I can relax in their company.  When I was doing my MSW I decided I would ask each of them, all adults at that time, how I did as a mother.  Truly, this has been my life’s work.  I wondered how they felt I did.  When I look back I remember each of their births.  I remember all the times they were sick and needed care.  I remember all those miles in the car to different sporting events or classes.  I remembered making dinner almost every night.  I remember reading stories and grabbing hugs and kisses as often as possible.  I remember helping with homework and visiting schools.  I remember helping find colleges and going to ceremonies.  I remember a home that I always hoped felt safe and secure. I welcomed their friends and eventually their spouses.  I encouraged them to follow their dreams and listened when life went a different way.  I hadn’t had any training and other than my wonderful husband, I hadn’t had any family around to guide me but it appeared I’d done alright.  What did they think?  I was curious and I was brave.  
Yes, it’s been a “long short journey.”  If I could do it again what would I change?  I wouldn’t change much.  If I were as wise at 20, 30 or 40 as I am now, what would I do differently.  I’d not clean the house so often.  Occasionally I’d have cereal for dinner instead of taking time to cook each evening.  I’d read even more stories, hold hands even more often.  I’d sit and just listen whenever they wanted to tell me something.  I’d know this moment will soon be gone and I’d treasure it for the gift it was.  
They were kind to me when they answered my question.  That response alone was an answer in itself.  I’d done OK.  I must have done OK.  They’re still hanging out with me.  In fact as I write this today, Mother’s Day the family is on their way over.  All except Ellen.  She’ll be here next week.  We’ll celebrate then.  Yes, I might change the way I did some things, go slower, be more mindful but I wouldn’t change choosing to be a mother, especially to these three remarkable people.  I’ve been blessed and at least now I can go slower and relish each and every moment I get to spend with them.