Category Archives: Spirituality

Jesus Took The Wheel

I was making my usual morning trek to Starbucks, where I like to sit and write while enjoying a low-fat vanilla latte. My mind was blank as I drove down the all too familiar roads—I guess you could say I was operating on autopilot. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot, I surprised myself by saying out loud, “This isn’t where I want to be.“ I found myself steering the car to The Good Shepherd Catholic Church which was just a few blocks away. This was completely out of character for me since I haven’t been a practicing Catholic for over 25 years.

I had recently read a book called, “Medjugorje: The Message” by Wayne Weible. It tells the true story of a Protestant being personally called by the Blessed Virgin Mary to experience and write about the six visionaries in Medjugorje who have been receiving daily visitations of the Blessed Mother since the early 80s. This simple book had a large impact on me, so much so that I called my mom and asked her to please find and mail my rosary to me so that I could begin reciting it. (Yet another Catholic ritual that I haven’t participated in since I was a child.)

For various reasons, I stopped going to Mass when I went away to college. I considered myself more spiritual than religious. In fact, I often referred to myself as a Spiritual Mutt since I was attracted to elements of several different religions, yet didn’t formally practice any of them. I have always believed in my heart that we are all praying to the same God, we just have different roads leading us to Him.

But today the road was undeniably leading back to my Catholic upbringing.

The main church was locked, but I discovered a small side chapel that was open. Inside, it was completely quiet and very, very charming. There was only one other soul there besides me, and she was quietly praying the rosary, oblivious to my presence. I sat down and started flipping through the pages of the church missal to see if I even remembered the flow of the Mass. I was surprised at how easily it all came back to me. I also noticed that a few of the words and responses had changed. You know you have been away from the Catholic church for a long time when the Vatican has made tweaks to the Mass during your absence!

As I was re-familiarizing myself with the Catholic church, I noticed that several other ladies had entered the little Chapel. About 5 minutes later, the church bells began ringing, announcing the noon hour. It was unexpected and beautiful. Almost immediately the women stood up and began praying aloud. Not wanting to stick out like a sore thumb, I popped up too and joined them as best I could. When they finished, music began softly playing through the speakers. Just one beautiful, instrumental song and then silence. It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.

I paused for a few moments and then stood to leave. I attempted to genuflect and quickly realized how out of shape I am when I had to struggle to get upright again. It was just one more reminder of how long it’s been since I’ve been to church. Kneeling and genuflecting was not this difficult or painful when I was a child.

On my way out, I quietly approached one of the women and asked what the noon prayer was called. She smiled and said it was The Angelus. Sitting back in my car, I had to look up The Angelus on my iPhone. It was worth a Google.

Turns out, it’s a Catholic prayer to Mary honoring the Incarnation. It is traditionally recited at 6am, noon and 6pm. French painter Jean-Francois Millet’s famous painting bears the same title. It features two peasants pausing in a field during sundown to say The Angelus. It now resides in The Louvre Museum in Paris.

Photo Credit: From Wikipedia, Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Angelus”

Photo Credit: From Wikipedia, Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Angelus”

I don’t think it was a coincidence that I was there to experience The Angelus. It felt like it was meant as a gift. I made sure to say thank you.

 

 

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Lessons Relearned

Today my dog Hooper decided to wake me up at 8:30am. For most of the working world this would be considered “sleeping in”, but since I’m not currently working I just call it obnoxious. I like to sleep. I love to sleep. It’s a time when my brain shuts off and stops worrying about the “didn‘t dos”, “should have dones”, or “what ifs“. So at 8:30am when Hooper started barking like a banshee, I defiantly pulled the covers over my head and willed him to go back to sleep for a couple more hours. Unfortunately, my telepathic doggie snooze button didn’t work.

I grumpily stepped into my already laced tennis shoes and with Phyllis Diller-styled bed head accentuating my braless pajama attire, I headed out to the living room to let Hooper out of his crate. Normally he wouldn’t even be in a crate but since he is still recovering from ACL surgery, we have to keep him in there at nights and on a leash at all other times. This means I get to personally escort him via his leash to Pooh Corner in the backyard so he can fertilize our dying grass. “What a way to start the day!”

Now you probably just read that last line as being sarcastic, and while I was still inside my house, stumbling around with sleepy eyes, looking for Hooper’s leash, it was quite the cranky sarcastic internal thought. But once I got outside, and saw the fresh dew on the grass, the way the sun was shining through the trees and the neighbor’s magnolia tree in full bloom, I genuinely meant it in the most positive of ways, “What a way to start the day!”

I had forgotten how pretty mornings are when the world is just starting to wake up to a day full of new possibilities and promise. As I heard the birds chirping and felt the breeze go by I found myself taking in a deep breath, filling my lungs with fresh air and mentally thanking God for a day well made. “Good job, God. You made a good day this morning. The weather is beautiful. Thank you.“

I figure we all want to be acknowledged for our efforts, and told that we’ve done a good job. Why would God be any different?

As I left the house to run my errands for the day, I thought about how so often I forget things that I already knew—like how beautiful mornings are and how peaceful it is to just take a few moments to appreciate the natural beauty around us. Or how it’s important to mix up the daily routine to keep life interesting—taking the scenic route, getting lost on purpose, trying a different coffee shop, etc.

Sometimes I think that I am just sleeping through life even when I’m fully awake. Just running on autopilot, and not living fully in the present moment. Maybe that’s the reason I like zombie movies so much—they’re not too far off from most people’s daily reality. World War Z may be real (metaphorically speaking of course) and we have to consciously fight it every day.

Cover of the book World War Z, soon to be released as a movie starring Brad Pitt.

Cover of the book World War Z, soon to be released as a movie starring Brad Pitt.

It’s now 11:08am and I am sitting alone at a table in the upstairs outside eating area of my neighborhood grocery store sipping coffee and enjoying the cool weather. I’ve been visited by two birds hoping for a bite to eat and a tiny albino spider who upon further inspection appears to be a master web designer.

Maybe one of the points of me doing this blog is so that I don’t forget lessons when I learn them the first time. And if I do, I can always reread my posts to remember.

“What a way to start the day.“

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View from outside my local Marketstreet grocery.

 

 

A Tale of Three Mats

Photo Credit: someecards.com

Photo Credit: someecards.com

When our dog, Hooper, had knee surgery, we were told to keep him off of slick surfaces like hardwood floors to avoid him slipping and re-injuring his knee. Since our entire downstairs flooring is hardwood, sans two small rugs, this presented a significant problem. I started searching within our home for an inexpensive solution. SCORE! I found not 1, not 2 but 3 yoga mats in the process. We created a slip-free walkway leading from the back door to Hooper’s crate and to his “recovery” bed that we set up on the living room area rug. It was a perfect and economical solution albeit not a very attractive one.

My happiness at solving this dilemma was short-lived when I realized that having 3 yoga mats meant that I had the very good intention of developing a yoga practice at least 3 different times and never saw it through. Why?

I remember 10 years ago buying a yoga mat because my office was going to offer yoga classes during lunch once a week. I gladly signed up because I was interested in the practice and I desperately wanted to get in better shape for my wedding which was a year away. My instructor was amazing! She was patient, kind and taught yoga from both a physical and spiritual perspective. I enthusiastically looked forward to her classes each week. And then, unexpectedly, she moved away and my office never hired a replacement.

Several years later I saw an ad for yoga classes being held at my local recreation center. The price was inexpensive so I decided to give it a try. (I’m sure that’s when I bought the second mat, having long since forgotten where my first one was stored.) I wasn’t impressed with the instructors. It was a husband and wife team that would take turns teaching the classes. It was supposed to be a class for beginners but they moved so quickly from one position to the next that I got quickly frustrated. Their class was also missing the spiritual aspect that I desired. My beloved previous instructor would always begin class with a poignant story and end class with a beautiful meditation. This class just seemed cold and a little pretentious. Not what I was looking for.

I truly believe that “outer reflects inner”, and this situation was no exception. Even my clothes seemed to be repelled by this class. My shirt and glasses kept falling down while I was in the “Downward Dog” pose, my pants didn’t seem to fit right, and my hair kept slipping out of its pony tail. I was uncomfortable physically and emotionally—just all-around not a happy camper, so I quit after only a few classes. And I stayed away from yoga for years.

In the past year or two I have been thinking about yoga again. My intuitive mother-in-law gave me a yoga mat for Christmas to encourage me to take up the practice. In her mid 60s she is in much better physical shape than I am! I have seen her spring into a “Sun Salutation”, rapidly transitioning from one pose to another before comfortably resting with her legs in a pretzel and her back perfectly straight. She’s pretty amazing.

Two weeks ago I was ready to start trying my hand at yoga again. The mats spread across my living room floor are a daily reminder of this unfulfilled promise to myself. Unfortunately, I had an attack of vertigo that prevented me from starting. It’s a symptom of my Meniere’s Disease—an inner ear disorder that manifests itself with unannounced episodes of extreme vertigo, dizziness, nausea and exhaustion. The attack can lasts minutes or hours but the after effects lasts for days or weeks. There would definitely be no “Sun Salutations” for several days.

Photo Credit: The Big C

Photo Credit: The Big C

Last night I was watching an episode of “The Big C: Hereafter”. The main character, Cathy (Laura Linney) has been battling cancer for several seasons. Now, she is off chemotherapy and has moved into a hospice. He husband, Paul (Oliver Platt) has slipped into a deep depression causing him to stay in bed for days at a time eating nothing but Funyuns. When he finally makes it out of bed to visit his wife in hospice, she chastises him saying, “I can’t get out of bed, but you can, so you have to!” That one sentence struck a chord with me.

Now that I am feeling better and I can get out of bed, I have an obligation to do so. I may not be ready just yet to contort myself into crazy yoga positions but I can certainly stretch, walk and meditate. As they say, “it’s the journey not the destination”, and this journey starts with a single step and maybe a “Downward Dog” for Hooper’s amusement.

Grace Under Pressure

Hooper 3 days post TPLO surgery

Hooper 3 days post TPLO surgery

The last couple of weeks have been particularly challenging.

It began with my dog having TPLO surgery (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) for a torn ACL. I’m not sure which was more troubling, the $4,000 hospital bill or the news that our overly active dog needed to avoid all exercise for 14 weeks. Strong sedatives were prescribed for the dog but they refused to prescribe some for me. I guess they thought I was joking when I requested them. I wasn’t.

After a week-and-a-half of playing nursemaid to Hooper 24/7, I got an unexpected early morning phone call from my mom. She was calling to let me know that my 87 year-old dad had fallen and broken his hip. Surgery was scheduled for the next morning. The typical “mad scramble“ ensued, with arrangements being made to kennel the cat and the recuperating dog. While my husband was negotiating taking off of work so we could make the 10 hour trip to be with my family, I was busy washing underwear, socks and jeans which I determined were the most important clothing items to have clean and packed. I also decided that the next most important to-do item was to get waxed in case things took a turn for the worse. I didn’t want to potentially look like a gorilla if I had to attend my dad’s funeral. Apparently, fear and anxiety do NOT trump vanity.

During the long drive to New Orleans, we received a call from my husband’s dad informing us that my mother-in-law had also been hospitalized and required surgery. She was in a different hospital than my dad on the opposite side of the river. Looks like we would be hospital-hopping over the weekend. We used to go bar-hopping in college, but hospital-hopping would prove to not be nearly as fun. The only similarity between bar-hopping and hospital-hopping is that you feel equally tired and sick after both. Particularly on this trip, since I managed to acquire a nasty stomach malady of an unknown origin.

But this post isn’t supposed to be about me. It’s about family.

Today, a friend posted the following quote on Facebook by Andy Griffith:

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I started to look for the gifts of grace, strength and peace of mind that had been bestowed upon my family members during this difficult time. I didn’t have to look very hard, as it was easy to spot.

Strength: My mom had been praying for months for God to keep daddy healthy until she was able to better care for him. She had been recovering from a series of major health issues of her own including multiple eye surgeries and a hip replacement. She just recently got the “all-clear“ from her doctors to begin driving again, which has allowed her to resume visiting my father in the nursing home and now to care from him in the hospital. Had my dad fallen a few weeks earlier, this wouldn’t have been possible.

Peace of Mind: My husband and I recently made the difficult decision to close my struggling business. As a result, we got a nice tax refund this year which allowed us to pay for our dog’s surgery, some needed car repairs and funded the emergency trip back home to be with our family during this difficult time. It also gave me the confirmation I needed that closing the business was the right decision. I am now free to leave at a moment’s notice to be with my family when they need me.

Grace: My father, besides having a broken hip, also has advanced Parkinson’s Disease, Congestive Heart Failure and Dementia. On his “good days” which are occurring less frequently, he believes that his dreams and memories from the past are happening in the present.

Some people say that before you die your life flashes before your eyes. I believe, that for my dad, he is experiencing the highlights of his life in sequential order every time he sleeps or day dreams.

Two years ago he was speaking as if he was still living in his childhood home with his parents and siblings. Last year he was talking as if he was a young bachelor just starting his engineering career and enjoying being a Navy man. Two days ago he was speaking as if he was a middle-aged husband and father. He’s getting closer to the end. While it makes me very sad at times, I think it’s been an odd comfort to my dad and me. He gets to experience all of the best parts of his life again—filled with excitement, laughter and joy. He is reconciling his life in preparation of saying goodbye.

Strength, Grace, and Peace of Mind: My mother-in-law was very fortunate that her emergency surgery occurred when her sister was in town visiting. Aunt Sandra has been the most gentle and attentive caregiver ever. She has slept at the hospital for days, and is always at the ready to jump up and attend to her sister’s needs or simply offer soothing words and a loving hand squeeze. Knowing that she is at my mother-in-law’s side has been an enormous comfort to all of us. I believe in my heart, that although traumatic, this experience has brought an odd sense of peace to my mother-in-law. She now knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that she will never have to go through difficult times alone. Her sister, children, ex-husband, best friends and daughter-in-law will be there for her. Always.

Thank you God for my wonderful family and for all your blessings.

“I Spy…”

“I spy…something red.” – Parent

“Is it the apple?” – Child

“No.” – Parent

“Is it the lady’s shirt?” – Child

“No, but you’re close.” – Parent

“Is it the Exit sign?” – Child

“Yes! You got it! Good for you!” – Parent

I think we’ve all played the “I Spy” game at one time or another. It’s a parental favorite, right up there with “The Quiet Game”, which much to my mom’s chagrin, I never won. I did however, excel at “I Spy”. I’ve always been very observant and I enjoy a good puzzle.

Lately, I’ve felt like the universe has been playing a game of “I Spy” with me. I keep finding clues everywhere, except I don’t have someone to tell me if I’m getting close to the right answer.

I’ve been trying my hand at writing lately—the blog, children’s stories and the occasional freelance job. My husband and I have been tossing around the idea of designing, marketing, and hopefully selling our own line of products and books—perhaps even starting our own publishing house! I‘ve been thinking a lot about this possibility lately.

The other day, while flipping through the TV channels, I happened upon the second half of the movie, “Wanderlust”. In this movie, starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, a couple in their 40s loses their corporate jobs and finds themselves in search of employment and a new place to live. (Hmmm…strikingly similar to my situation sans the new place to live part.) Along the way, they meet a very interesting and comical cast of characters, find themselves in some absurd situations, and eventually end up OPENING A PUBLISHING HOUSE. (Whoa.) Also, the wife writes a children’s book, which they self-publish. (Is this a sign that I’m on the right career track?)

But the “coincidences” don’t stop there. They are popping up everywhere, and about everything I am thinking, considering or pondering at the moment. Thinking about my dog, Hooper, I see an ad with his name in big bold letters in the headline. Considering going back to school to become an Art Therapist—I randomly meet two different therapists that week. Up all night with an aching back and thinking about making a chiropractor appointment the next day and—POOF!—I run into an old friend that I haven’t seen in months, and he now works at a chiropractor’s office!

Now, I do believe in fate—sort of. I believe we have certain “check point destinations“ that we are supposed to reach in life, but how we get there is up to us. We are graced with certain talents to help guide us on our way and helpful people and “signs” appear as needed to steer us toward our destiny or confirm that we are “on the right track”. Case in point, I was driving and listening to Oprah radio and the topic was “following in the path of grace”. Just then, I realized that I was driving behind a giant white truck with the word GRACE written across the back. I was literally following in the path of GRACE! (GRACE is a non-profit relief agency which provides food, clothing, financial assistance, and other vital necessities to people who are struggling with a limited income or recent emergency.) 

I love the movies, “Serendipity” and “Jeff Who Lives at Home” which both deal with the topics of fate and synchronicity. In “Jeff Who Lives at Home”, Jeff, at 30, lives in his mom’s basement, unemployed, and looking for signs about what to do with his life. He answers a wrong-number call for “Kevin”. Later, on a bus, he sees someone wearing a jersey with “Kevin” on the back. He keeps searching for and following the signs that the universe is providing until his destiny or “special purpose” is ultimately revealed.

It all works itself out in the end, but he runs into quite a few problems when he greatly misinterprets some of the “signs”.

I would very much like to learn to reduce the amount of signs I misinterpret in my own life. I can definitely spot the signs, I just need the universe to say, “Yes! You got it! Good for you!”

(Photo Credit: www.redbeacon.com)

(Photo Credit: http://www.redbeacon.com)

Faith the Size of a Willow Leaf

I have always had very vivid dreams.

As a child I was plagued with night terrors, which are like nightmares on steroids complete with night sweats, rapid heart beat, and bed linens being thrashed about while sleeping. The next morning I was always able to recount my fiendish dreams in great detail. The retelling of the dream seemed to take forever, and my mother was always amazed by my recollection.

The nightmares that scared me the most seemed to run on a loop. My five-year old self called them my “reruns”, and dreaded going to sleep each night to see which dream would be airing. The worst of the nightmares involved a gothic castle, gargoyles, tribesmen and one magical weeping willow tree.

The dream begins with me finding myself attending a huge gala with my parents at a very creepy Gothic castle. All of the adults are dressed in their best attire and are drinking cocktails and enjoying the evening filled with music and laughter. The children were dressed in their party clothes as well and were running around playing hide and seek. The castle was an endless series of hallways, doorways and staircases. I found what I assumed was a closet door and thought it would be a good place to hide. Upon turning the big brass doorknob, the heavy door opened and there was nothing but a sea of blackness inside. It was a frightening vision, made worse by the dismembered skull that came flying toward me yelling that the wine the adults were drinking was poisoned.

I raced through the interior labyrinth of the castle to my parents and begged them not to drink the wine, but they couldn’t see or hear me. I then ran out of the building to find help. Around the bend was a small wooden bridge that led to a strange, primitive village filled with raised huts. As soon as I crossed the bridge, angry tribesmen carrying spears and wearing war paint came pouring out of the huts and began chasing me back to the castle.

Once I reached the castle grounds, I saw that all of the party guests (my parents and playmates included) were standing under a bare willow tree, staring ahead blankly, and holding a single leaf. The giant clock on the face of the castle was starting to gong the midnight hour and the stone gargoyles began to crack from their casing and become alive. Intuitively, I knew that I had only seconds before I was to be brutally mauled to death by the savage beasts. The key to avoid certain death was to hold one of the leaves from the weeping willow tree, but the tree was now barren. 

The tribesmen clan was at my back preventing me from running away, and the almost-freed gargoyles were growling on my right. I started to cry as I looked upon my parents and friends for the last time. And then, as the clock struck midnight, a light gust of wind blew a small previously unseen leaf off the top of the tree and placed it gently in the palm of my hand, saving me from a horrible fate.

I had this particular “rerun” so many times that I was eventually able to alter the script slightly and experience it from a different perspective. I came to recognize the flying skull as a friend warning me of impending doom and not someone to be feared. I decided that the tribesmen were heeding my call for help, and had sprung into action to defend me, ready for battle. The wretched growling gargoyles were just cranky and achy after being trapped in stone for centuries. They didn’t want to hurt me, they wanted to get the heck out of there.

But just in case I was wrong, I always knew that in the end God would save me by sending that precious little leaf on a soft cloud of air. Now the real trick is having that kind of faith when I’m awake.

I’m still working on it.

“I’m Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. DeMille”

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To say that I was a ham when I was little is an understatement. I was playful, loud and very creative. I would dig through mom’s “rag bag” where worn out clothes found a second life as car cleaning rags, or if I discovered them first, they would be elevated to costume status in my latest stage performance. Mom’s half slips became floor-length sleeveless dresses for the princess, and old knee-high socks with the toe tips cut off became a pair of elegant long white gloves. A way-too-big pair of pants paired with dad’s funky shirt from the 60s and a random beret became an artist’s attire. You get the idea.

The costumes always dictated the story line, and although there was a loose script, most everything was improvised. The best seats in the house (the sofa) were always reserved for my parents who were our only audience. The wooden louvered doors served as our stage curtain with the foyer being backstage, and the green shag carpet as the stage itself. The play always contained several acts to allow for costume and set changes. Each sold-out performance ended with a full cast bow, a standing ovation and glowing reviews for the lead actress, writer, set designer, costume designer and director—all of which were me.

Then one day the curtain fell for the last time.

I don’t actually recall when or why this happened. Maybe I just outgrew pretend play, or maybe I started to become too insecure to be in the limelight. At some point, I became very aware that my parents were predisposed to applaud and love me no matter what I did, but the rest of the world didn’t have the same obligation. In fact, I would learn that they are very often harsh critics.

In 6th grade, the nun taught us this Bible verse (1 Corinthians 13:11), “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

At the time, I interpreted this verse as a call to grow up and become more serious, more responsible, more like my parents. It was exciting as a pubescent teen to think that I was being considered in a more mature light, and I feverishly highlighted the Bible quote. But now, as a middle-aged adult, the same quote that once inspired me, makes me a little sad. I would love to recapture the unbridled sense of play and creative freedom that I had as a child on that green shag stage. Creating from the heart and free from worry of judgement or rejection. Confident that after every performance, there will be a standing ovation—and maybe even ice cream.

Definitely, there will be ice cream. Of that, I am certain.