Memorial Day …. Remembering those who spare themselves from remembering.

“The Lord is near to those who are discouraged; he saves those who have lost all hope.” –Psalm 34:18

hardships

My brother Mike was a highly decorated Vietnam Vet. Among his medals, his highest honor was the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart with “V” for acts of valor and heroism.

From the start, God had generously gifted my brother with brilliance and qualities that made bystanders stop and stare. Unfortunately, he had experienced a rough home life. In his teenage years, solace arrived in form of alcohol that turned its thieving head, stole his free will and enslaved him for the rest of his life.

After graduating high school, he signed up for the military, hoping to escape. Little did he realize that he left the home of hell only to saunter into a corridor of despair that lead to a door of destruction and death. Serving two tours of combat, with a six-month stint at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., in between.

When he left home to Vietnam, Mike was broken in half. Upon his return home, he was a shattered man. My brother, who bore the soul of a gentle giant, with nine fingers on two hands–one lost in battle–lived a life of soul sickness and hurt, a walking PTSD statistic. Faith alluded him as if it was someone else’s shadow.

“What is the meaning of life?” I asked my older brother on numerous occasions.

His answer, short and sweet. “Survival.”

His answer flat, his macabre (Is that all there is?) slant on life apparent.

I know he believed in God, but did Mike have faith in a greater good? I do not have the answer to that question. I do know, however, between the war in Vietnam and the war he lived through in civilian life, his wounds ran deep.

Fortunately, in his later years Mike found peace in nature. In a tiny cabin alone in the woods, he found predictability in his sunflowers and vegetable gardens.

Shorty after Mike experienced a stroke, I looked into his eyes, and saw what felt like the opposite of infinite. Through my prayers and tears, that was all there was.  A few days later, at 55 years old, he finally met the peace that alluded him his entire life.

On memorial Day I especially feel his presence. I visualize him again the last time I saw him 15 years ago. Standing with his dog tall and proud like the tree behind him. I picture myself waving good-bye to him as I had on that last day, saying how I loved him, wanting so desperately to twist the emptiness out of him like a sponge and in its place sop up abundance. Goodness. Joy. Peace. Instead, I met his empty but forgiving eyes and accepted him as his own man with his own faith; knowing you cannot present faith to someone like a medal. Fortunately, if you love with faith, you will discover endurance even in the bone dry pieces of the heart.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

true Christian faith

touched by an angel

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I met a vet

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4poppy-field

I met a vet. I met Frank two days ago at a business function, 18 days before Memorial Day. We were two strangers dressed in business suits. Business topics connected us until the divine spark in our hearts led us to a more personal level. I learned Frank had a 10-year army career; three combat tours. After his discharge from the military, he then entered the corporate ranks until he decided to live his true passion and work as a counselor assisting small businesses procure new contracts. In his spare time, he is founder of a non-profit that helps black-owned business enterprises grow.

Frank’s career background, including a master’s degree under his belt, is impressive but it is not what I carried home with me after day’s end. What inspired me and imprinted my heart most was a photograph he showed me. The year: 1991. Two 19-year-old army soldiers happily nested in a jeep. I couldn’t see the photo on his phone clearly, but I espied a pair of military dog tags on the white guy, Frank’s best bud in the army. In fact, they were so apparent to me, a proud sister of two army veterans, I could hear their ting in my mind.

“It’s my birthday today. That’s the day he was killed. Every year on my birthday, I send this picture of us to everybody I know,” Frank explained.

For over two decades, Frank celebrates his birthday by celebrating his friend’s memory. Not his friend’s death, mind you, but his life.

In-Flanders-Fields

“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.”

Season after season, Frank’s ritual has ensured that his friend is not forgotten and accents his short life with meaning

Even though I only spoke to Frank for less than a half hour on his birthday, what impressed me most was his loyalty. His courage. Most of all his faith. Despite experiencing trial and anguish in his young life, Frank’s pilgrimage is gallant and glorified. I am certain, he has felt shattered a million times over, stumbled and fell, but always managed to pick up and re-bandage the pieces of his heart if only to bring promise and hope of a new day to others.Poppy-1jzy3h8

And what of his friend? His friend is alive, always young, brimming, too, with a promise and hope that tings from heaven. He is relishing in every glorious breath Frank has taken in all the years that have passed since the early 90s; all along whispering to Frank: “Soldier on.”

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

true Christian faith

touched by an angel

Peace Prayers

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:6

girl-218706_1280

Peace, solitude, tranquility

Peace, solitude, tranquility, regardless what you call it, I believe the best way to offset any turbulence in life is to become a homing pigeon led to a space that may not necessarily be your physical home, but present an undisturbed place of respite.

Over these last thirty years, one of my refuges is Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Brookfield, Connecticut.

Whether I am in praise, joy, anguish, exhaustion or discourse, I come here to realign my thoughts and spirit and awaken my soul.I have never witnessed a burning bush experience, magically cured an ailment or miraculously transformed in some way. But I am always removed from the stressful boom of the secular. Humbled, I feel peace at my core, and I am ready to return my higher self to the world. That is, the selfless self that can stop ruminating about ME, turning the “M” into a “W” and forming the word “WE” and actually giving completely of myself to someone else.

Though the grotto is as solitary as its brick edifice, I have never come here without being overwhelmed by the sense of union that I feel as I kneel before the candles, religious statues and personal mementos that others have left, and I discover. This is another way that I get unstuck from my own navel gazing and feel part of a larger whole.

Oddly, over these many years, why others don’t flock here like they would a rock concert, I can’t figure out. Rarely, have I seen one other person visit the grotto while I was there.The grotto is off a busy road, buzzing with motorists that accelerate a good ten miles over the set speed limit. I always think how ironic that these motorists don’t see “it.”

Upon leaving, I always want to call to them.“Eureka!” I want to shout. “Look what’s here!”

But that is like asking a stranger to take a road without surface or form.That would be like something akin to faith.

That would be like saying to the passing motorists, “Come feel how small you are and how little true control you have.”

Most of them would likely rather attend a rock concert.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

touched by an angel

touched by an angel

The joy of the LORD is my strength

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).”

The spring season launches First Holy Communions and other celebrated milestones of youth. For any parent who has witnessed a twisted destiny, blissful occasions can sometimes drive the vulnerable participant into a dangerous rewind mode. For instance, if a parent has lost a child through death or addiction or other means, it is beyond the realm of restraint to not surrender to the allure of “When”….When…the child was alive, happy and thriving. When…innocence painted life’s mural and life seemed fair and just and defenselessness against unforeseen life-changing forces seemed to be locked out of the picket-fence blueprint.

During these times, the fast-forward mode too can be a risky place to park for not only the parent who has lost a child but for the one who cares for a special needs child. To them, broken promises of passage supersede each tomorrow. The allure of “When” becomes “What if?” What if my child could one day dress himself or herself? What if my child could discard the crutches and dance on two feet? What if I could watch my child graduate from…?

encouragement for the day

encouragement for the day

Then there are other kinds of parents that have fallen into the hole that is far removed from any wonderland. These are the ones who have spent a better part of their lives pouring over childrearing books, helping with their children with their homework, providing a listening ear to them, buying healthy food for the family and during those upcoming special occasions, agonizing over finding the loveliest suit or dress for their child to wear; these are the parents who has done all these things and so much more, only to watch their son or daughter plummet into life-threatening behaviors like drug addiction, promiscuity and all the markings in a soul sick young adult perpetrated by the ugly side of a society riding high on profitability, vulgar profiteering from the ruin of vulnerable lives. For these parents, believing in life’s innocence, purity and goodness does not seem like a viable option, at very least it is a tall order.

Unimaginable also is the added barrage of feelings from the grief-stricken parents who are divorced and widowed. Those who have experienced a multitude of loss and still stand upright, though their thoughts pull them in an opposite direction.

So for all you parents this season who feel more like you must tolerate these truly wonderful passages instead of enjoying them, I salute you. I salute you for showing up. I salute you for not showing up. I salute your silent, sometimes apparent, tears. I salute you for your fortitude, your grace at “playing hurt” even though you are of sound mind and body to know you threw away your dud of a card hand the moment you learned the god-awful truth that forever changed but never dared stopped your world. I salute and honor you and pray this season that you heal and receive a hopeful heart, reminding you that the world was created to be a perfect place and that He holds you in his perfect hands.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

touched by an angel

touched by an angel

HOW TO BE A PRAYER WARRIOR, ONE LINE AT A TIME–FINALE!

Today completes our daily spiritual inspiration, meditating on the long version of the Serenity Prayer, which breaks down to 6 lines of thought for 6 easy, but effective days of prayer.supremely happy

We are not moving in chronological order, so please join us as we continue.

Line 7, Day 7 is: *

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

During my adolescence, I discarded religion, leaped on the fast track of a sinner’s life and, finally, in my mid-twenties haphazardly tumbled into the spiritual Land of Oz. Right before the new dawn in my life, I became gravely ill, was rushed to the hospital and had a near-death experience. The slap of the nurse’s hand was a rude awakening back to residing in the bowels of the personal hell that I had built. You see, I had a positive experience clinically dying. I had entered a dimension where I had been freed and stripped of the confines of my physical and mental state; in other words, all pain, worry and necessity.

It’s been a long time since that slap back to the real world. Through the many decades of recovery, I now belong to a group of peers whose jam-packed history involves, among other things, the agony of playing hurt.

In fact, we have an ongoing joke, “Thank God we don’t have much longer.”

To an outsider, this statement may sound morbid. But to us, we’ve survived many trials, in addition to the world’s garden variety of evil; the stuff that double locking your front door forever is all about. Despite it all, we hobble forward, many times still tripping along the way. We are not victims, instead survivors. Advancing in age, we habitually pray to retire from the challenge of letting go and healing and, more so, for the ordinary life.

Whether we are a cursed bunch or a blessed flock is debatable, depending on the given day and circumstances. One thing certain, we are relieved to know that this world does not mark the finish line; meanwhile, dwelling here “reasonably happy” is the best blessing we can get. Innately we know, the spiritual Land of Oz is underrated compared to what awaits behind the gateway of our eternal home with Him.

Amen.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

* Off one day!

How to be a prayer warrior, one line at a time

prayer for strength and courage

prayer for strength and courage

I hope you are still with me on our spiritual journey as we meditate on the long version of the Serenity Prayer, which breaks down to 6 lines of thought for 6 easy, but effective days of prayer.

We are not moving in chronological order, so please join us as we continue.

Line 4, Day 4 is: *

“Taking, as Jesus did,

This sinful world as it is,

Not as I would have it”

Sin has gotten such a bad rap, it’s sad. When you examine sin, you examine consciousness. The only time sin imprisons us is when we disown our dark side or disengage from it. No matter what we do to look and feel wholesome, pretty, innocent, smart, handsome and savvy, we are sinners. We comprise the world. If we don’t accept this, we fight a lost battle.

The good news is the first step, acceptance, is the hardest, but it is the answer to everything. The most courageous thing we can do is see ourselves the way we really are, not the way we would want to be. We don’t do this alone. God works through people. God works through you. He is the ever-present anchor. He wants you to hold your head up, look squarely at yourself and reckon with the fear. Only at that point can you embrace change. And when you change yourself, the world shifts for the better.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

* Yesterday was a day off, so I skipped a day!

HOW TO BE A PRAYER WARRIOR, ONE LINE AT A TIME, Day 3

Prayers for Strength

Learning to pray

I hope you continue to join me in a spiritual journey as we mediate on the long version of the Serenity Prayer, which breaks down to 6 lines of thought for 6 easy, but effective days of prayer.

We are not moving in chronological order, so please join us as we continue.

Line 3, Day 3 is:

“Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace”

  • Why do I have to go through divorce or breakup?
  • Why did my spouse/mother/father/sibling/child die?
  • Why is my spouse/mother/father/sibling/child ill/struggling?
  • Why can I not find a job?
  • Why am I so depressed?

“Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace” eliminates the “Why” out of “bad things” that happen to “good people.” This idea has transformed my life.

About a year ago, as I reflected on my life, I saw “failure” stamped all over my past; betrayal from people I trusted, heartbreak from ones I loved, cruel bosses, unfulfilled hopes and dreams and missed opportunities.

As I played the deadly game of comparison, the words came to me.

“Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.”

When I mulled over this, split down the center of my chest, deep and solid, I realized this was the conduit for my life flow. It was the fingerprint of calm that ruled above all the footsteps that have brought me to where I am today. Were it not for striding through a storm-ridden landscape, the victory would not be mine.

In this sense, looking back on my life, I have led a life of triumph.

Here is another point in case, as a certified biographer, I interviewed a woman, who was in her 70s, whose life was probably the most painful and awful one I’ve ever heard about. She grew up dirt poor. Being physically beaten by her father and later by her husband made her no stranger to the ICU at the hospital.

Finalizing hours of interviews, an incredulously spiritual woman, this is what she said to me, “It is my hope for my children that they have half as wonderful a life as I have had.”

Whoa. Wait-a-minute! “Did she say that?” I wondered. How could that be? Then I realized.

She got it. It’s a supreme psychic thing that so few achieve in this life; the rarest form of success ever lived.

The woman had accepted every single awful hardship that came along and by doing this gained a supernatural state of being, the gift of peace.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

How to pray short-shorts

Healing prayer

Healing prayer

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.

When we live through loss or crisis, sometimes the foxhole prayer, when you turn to God in times of extreme trials, for example, “God Help ME!” is one of the most valuable assets we have.

I gravitate towards succinct foxhole prayers. To me, when those dark days pin you down under what feels like a tomb’s weight, lightening the day’s agenda, including in the prayer department, can help give you a sense of relief and control. Rather than not praying, condensing your prayer is a good option. Don’t get stuck on thinking that prayer has to be long, formal and dogmatic.

Take the Serenity Prayer. You can break it down to four words:

  • God
  • Serenity
  • Courage
  • Wisdom

Here’s an example of how we can use short prayer daily. Each day, reciting even a handful of words makes repetition easy, thereby providing us a channel of meditative prayer.

  • Day 1: “God, serenity.”
  • Day 2: “God, courage.”
  • Day 3: “God, wisdom.”
  • Day 4: “Wisdom, God.”
  • Day 5: “Serenity & courage, God.”
  • Day 6: “Courage & wisdom, God.”
  • Day 7: “God! God! God!”

These are just examples of “short-shorts,” but these few words can be a form of powerful prayers that work. What they lack in length they make up for by stamping out the negative thought process with a substitution of words of devotion. Ideally, these simple words can act as mind armor and help guard you as you navigate and tackle the complexities of the circumstances you face.

By incorporating a word or more into your day, you will likely be surprised to see how a powerhouse of prayer can be built on sturdy resolve, not rigid mindsets.

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

Dance like nobody’s watching

Life is either a great adventure or nothing. ~Helen Keller

In the newly planted courtyard at Joel Barlow High School, about an hour before nightfall on a cool misty evening in May, some one hundred of us hovered together, sharing umbrellas. Since 2011 we had waited for the memorial sculpture to be dedicated to the memory of Robert Smuniewski. In front of us it was draped along with a newly tree in memory of a beloved teacher in the paraprofessional center Cindy Boas who had passed away in 2012 after a brave fight to breast cancer.

Underneath the cover, the sculpture was a good five feet tall; from the start, we knew the sculpture was a mobile, intended to capture his living spirit and “move,” a mobile.

He, like the cars, off-road vehicles and heavy equipment that he loved, was made to move. Perhaps that is why those of us who knew him still feel the aftershocks of his dead. That is why I have delayed this blog so long; the cost of sitting in the pain prompted my avoidance. Rob was so damn alive; but just because he ran and sprinted more than he walked through life, didn’t mean he didn’t soak up every iota of breath he took. Special he was, because everything to him was special; his life was not contingent upon external forces. He did not seek worldly recognition, because he had a Popeye attitude of “I Yam what I Yam!”

He lived creatively, spontaneously and was happy, independent of anyone or anything in his life. Impossible it was for anyone who came in his range to not soak up his radiance. Rob’s greatest legacy was for us to learn to dance like nobody’s watching, with or without a partner and especially dance if you feel you have two left feet.

sculpture1The wait was worth every bit of seeing the completed sculpture. How appropriate for it to stand tall in the courtyard of the high school, a place designed for mediation and reflection; a place that will hopefully serve as a solace for an overtaxed and “over-everything” kid—or adult— pressurized to excel above the genius mark, stressing, overextending, driven to seek approval from a hypercritical world, a place to let the mind run wild, find one’s self and remember that to breathe is to live.

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

~ Corinthians 4:16-18