Divinely divorced

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” — James 1:2-4

 

keeping-the-peaceAs April winds down and May arrives, my memories of my once beloved filter into my daily life. I remember our wedding day in May 26 years ago. Many of our family and friends who were at my wedding are no longer with us and have passed on. Visualizing their faces, they mirror mine and my groom’s filled with the hope and promise of tomorrow. I see my parents dancing contently as if age will never push through and steal their healthy, vibrant lives. I am young and naive, too, and have total faith that the years will be carefree and blessed. Sometimes where we end up isn’t where we thought we’d go.

“I did it all right, and it ended up so wrong.”

Those words echoed in my mind everywhere I went when the once impossible became the reality. Divorce was not part of my plan, but it knifed through my life like an assailant in the dark of night.

Twenty-one years of life had been pulled from off my core and tossed away like wilted pieces of lettuce. And so it was in the material world, but in the spiritual world the cornerstone of my heart that was rejected was being chiseled in a splendid masterpiece in His masterful hands.

Seven years later, many times falldivorce-is-not-the-end-150x150ing but trying desperately to hold onto the faith, I have finally come to feel “mature and complete, not lacking anything.

My cup is so full, that I can turn back around and remember my wedding day and feel a bounty of gratitude over the experience of such a lovely day full of promise and faith. It was our time to live in the moment, and we did it thirstily and squeezed every last drop. Now when I need a lift, I can drink from the memories that are a blessing and not a curse through faithful eyes that look up only at Him in preparation to climb the mountains yet to come.

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

true Christian faith

touched by an angel

 

 

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!

Mind Confusion: Good for you?

dance_school-1280x1024 (2)Body confusion sounds bad but is good. As my yoga coach explained, when your exercise routine becomes routine, your muscles get bored and slack off. You can schedule the same exercise routine every week, but after awhile it becomes old hat, and your body does not benefit from the workout. In other words, you have to challenge—shuffle things around; in essence, confuse the body to keep it at its best. Challenges and new moves keep you in healthy grooves!

In this same vein, if the body slacks off, wouldn’t the mind do this also? Not to minimize the impact of a life crisis, but one thing it does do is shake you up and orbit you to unfamiliar places that may feel foreign and scary at the beginning, but later as the journey unfolds, recharges the imagination and ignites the creative problem-solving juices.

For instance, before our family’s personal crisis in 2010, I could have continued to hide under some fifty extra pounds of weight and allow myself to fade into the buttermilk color walls of my house, vaporizing behind my then husband’s emotional tailspins.

Instead, nearly four years later, “mind confusion” has kicked me into over drive. Tons of new challenges undertaken…daunting jobs, grubby courtrooms, and a longtime friend who threw me under the bus just when I was about to get my bearings! With the challenges, new joys have also unfolded…dating again since 1989, the last time I had a date; neighborhood kids who come to the door with shovels during a blizzard and a late-life love who surprises me with a kiss that transplanted me back to feel sixteen again when my high school’s gym class cheered me on as I did a tap dance atop the trampoline.

Thanks to the element of surprise, total mind confusion, I not only shed the pounds, okay, some of them, but I have also had a love affair—with my femininity, my individuality, my sometimes tragic, miserable, highly interesting, amazing life, and I learned that courage doesn’t come to me naturally, but that I have to have faith and work at it…not face danger and freak out and bolt, but face danger, freak out and stare it down—a little bit longer at each new perilous zone.

In the end, I still have “the bad” confusion in my life and I struggle as a single mom. It remains an everyday challenge to be stable and balanced, especially when the mortgage due date draws closer, every month, and my mind becomes a 24-hour melee in which I must battle it out with beasts that can and will flex their muscles to frightening proportions. Then there are those days when my body joints tell me I have been squeezed out of so much youth.

Through it all, I have learned to get my shine on and dance through life as if my experience on this earth has been a skip through a meadow of wildflowers and not a plunge into an abominable pit of hot coals, employing grace and dignity at all times when tears mar the vision, but faith carries me forward through the downpour.

Cliff: The Final Curtain

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“But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” ~Hebrews 11:6

Five weeks ago, when my daughter Alexandra and I took that dreaded trip to the vet, I, thinking it was “the end” of our beloved Cliffy, felt too fragile to euthanize the cat.  Without overanalyzing, I was working arduously not to lose my grip on my insides that felt like a flyaway kite. Fortunately, we found out that it wasn’t quite time for our tough Maine Coon Cat to make his final bow.

The strain of each passing day was unmistakable. My daughter reached a good level of acceptance with the situation, but my son Marshall held hope; held on. Though I was upset about the cat, my restless nights were spent on obsessing about my children’s wellbeing.

Tears shed, the most difficult part of detaching and letting go of him was that in our many years of what amounted to a domino effect of crises, Cliffy was our stronghold. Whether I was dealing with divorce, death or finances run amuck, his face expectedly gawked at me from the other side of the kitchen’s sliding door, waiting, above all else, to nosh. Unlike the whirlpool of the world, we all knew what to expect from our pudgy, frolicking showman, who looked so pomp and cool in his fur of black and white, promenading with his head tall.

Nearly at the end of that awful five week period, my son finally realized Cliff ‘s increased frailness. He blurted out, “Do it tomorrow! I can’t take it anymore.”

With few words exchanged between us, the game plan was, I was doing it alone, and I somehow had to muster the courage, which I found in my taking tiny steps instead of projecting the big picture of Cliff’s demise.

“God is in the details.” My BF Pat reminded me that I used to tell her that all the time. So I made a resolution. No worries, just do the motions. Move forward. And so I did, as it happened, God orchestrated every little thing and the appointment was set for 4:30 that afternoon.

At 4:00, Cliff, cradled calmly in my arms, had one last grand tour of the house where he once had run and frolicked, slept, and eaten, always filling the quarters with love. Paramount to the both of us was the sweeping view from our back porch and the acres of land that once filled him with a safe sense of belonging.

“Cliff…Cliff!” I called over the sprawling grounds below, in a voice that I had used thousands of times before for more than 13 years while we resided at the house.

“Cliff!”

“Crouton!” Still outside, I found myself calling as if our beloved deceased poodle was frolicking in the springtime next to his Maine Coon cohort.

“Cliff! Crouton! It’s time to come home!”

A bit late, 4:40, and frazzled over the area’s traffic; God is in the details. The vet’s waiting room was empty. The staff, caring, accommodating, ultra sensitive to our privacy, guided us into the examining room.

“Cliff! Crouton!” I called quietly into Cliff’s ear.

Even before the anesthetic, Cliffy in his customary lounging-like manner, reclined on the doctor’s table; his characteristic lazy self, so peaceful. He briefly stirred prior to the sedative administered as I made the sign of the cross on him numerous times with holy oil from Greece. His ears felt so silky. His eyes open but dimmed now to the physical world. He lay still; placid without the slightest quiver and within seconds after the second injection, so content and serene.

I thanked him for the privilege of his company for more than 16 years; I thanked him for always being on the sidelines when our family was void of cheering sections. I thanked him for commanding the center stage when I thought for sure the show would not go on.

“Cliff! Crouton!” my voice rang in a final whisper as I applauded him, our perfect cat who always looked so dashingly handsome in what appeared to be a tuxedo. I rose and turned away. Upon my exit, I felt humbled and honored to take part in one last standing ovation of God’s signature showman as the final curtain descended.$_57

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Cliff Lytwyn Maxwell ~ July 4, 1997 ~ January 28, 2014

Until next time….Faith forward!

And the seasons go round and round….

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.

February032012 012Last week in my mind I scheduled an appointment on Thursday for my beloved French poodle Crouton to be euthanized. His tumor bled. He did not eat. He threw up. I was distraught.  Loving him so deeply for the last 10 years of his life, Crouton’s eventual demise was a poisonous thought that I allowed into my mind on very limited occasions.

The week was full of lots of emotional unrest; I realized that this was a first for me. Thirteen years ago, my dad died in my arms after a long battle of emphysema at the hospital, then a couple of years later I lost my brother to a stroke, but I never had to deal with a pet’s death before. The last time I lost a pet was an old cat Rocky about 26 years ago. During my earlier years, I was spared by my father who had the task at hand to put down my cats.

‘I’d take it a second at a time. I’d take it as it unfolded,” I told myself while daunting images of Crouton’s sad eyes magnifying into my heart as if to ask ‘why mommy, why are you forsaking me?’ shot through my consciousness like inescapable darts.

Through thick and thin, through lots of comings and goings and lots of changes, over these last ten years, Crouton never changed. Not in appearance and not in companionship. At the end stretch of my marriage, on one of the last nights that my then husband and I would share the same house, my then husband brought Crouton into the bedroom, and handed him to me.

“Why don’t you take him to bed with you tonight?”

“I will,” I replied, knowing that the sad truth was, I preferred Crouton’s company above his; and, admittedly, Crouton was my preferred companion over many other people in my life and sometimes, yes, even over the kids on a few difficult occasions. Everyone did wrong; I would joke, but never Crouton. When my world rotated off the axis, Crouton symbolized my safety net.

He was my Velcro. Ever mindful of falling over him, he was like my third shoe. He knew me more intimately than any human. He never abandoned me the times I spent bawling behind closed doors in my office or bedroom. Through good and bad and the rainbow of life in between, he was my stronghold. I always thought, if I took him on a boat and threw myself overboard, he would wait until I reappeared…or die waiting. As far as I am concerned, a human can’t hold a candle to a dog’s loyalty.

On the other side of the dog bone, I mean coin, to Crouton, I represented his pork chop as I sometimes joked about his love towards me. He was totally dependent on me for his livelihood. Feeding, walking, trips to the vet and the salon, coordinating alternative travel arrangements when I hit the road, nuisances these responsibilities were sometimes, but the motivation behind these acts was one hundred percent unconditional love; and, in return, I got so much more.

Whether a long day or a short hour, whenever I came home, it was a bang of a celebration. Crouton maintained his usual welcome: jubilant, barking, and twisting around me. He puffed up my ego bigger than Alaska and California, bigger than outer space, because every day in Crouton’s eyes, I could do no wrong in his world either. I was his prized pork chop, and as far as he was concerned, that was the only Academy Award to achieve that mattered. To grieve so intensely last week made sense.

Oddly enough, right after my dearest friend Pat said, “He’s a tough dog,” while she was dog sitting Crouton last week, he rallied. He ate! He took a short walk! And, thankfully, in my mind I nixed the vet’s Thursday appointment. It was a miracle I announced to my friend Anne at church this past Sunday, a miracle! Crouton would live, and everything would be back to normal.

Here we are a week later; Crouton has again stopped eating. He throws up and has withered away so suddenly. His breathing is labored. He has given up, as if saying, “It’s time, mommy.  We can do this, peacefully.”

Somehow those miracle days of him rallying grounded me. I am able to exhale normally again. And between not accepting Crouton’s impending death, fighting and resisting, I am at the stage of acceptance. Earlier tonight with no one home, we had our alone time. I cradled him in my arms and just wept, begging, crying, “Please don’t go. Please don’t go.”

Then I realized, Crouton, while we forged ahead, the dog that we used to call the “dancing dog” had lost his bop, hop and boogie spirit very, very slowly. Since August 16, 2013 when the doctor diagnosed his tumor, he faded like summer’s end into fall.  I know in total faith his season has arrived.

My tears diminished. The dog that lay in my arms was just a coat, emptied, worn down of each beautiful fiber.  The moment marked a span of forty seasons that began when we rescued a poodle, and he rescued us by dancing into our lives, making each step worth the effort.

“It’s time, Crouton. We can do this, peacefully,” I whispered.

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Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

Watching Crouton earn his new set of wings

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.

MOM 004[1] (2)Crouton&ME1“You understand, your family is the worst possible choice for Crouton to go home with, you understand, don’t you?”

The animal shelter’s volunteer conveyed to me in confidence after my two children and I had been shown an apricot toy poodle at PAWS, “Pet Animal Welfare Society,” a nonprofit “no-kill” organization in Norwalk, CT, following my 8-year-old daughter’s discovery of him the night before on petfinder.com.

The memory is so branded on my mind that I still remember the woman’s name, Noreen. While my daughter and her brother waited in a separate room, I had nodded, but inwardly was relieved. At the time, we had two cats at home, and my then husband did not have the slightest notion that we were spending our day at the local shelter just looking.

Yes, of course, I understood, I told Noreen. The other two families, also in line with high hopes to bring a new two-year-old poodle home, were much better suited. One had only a twosome, a mom and her young daughter, and no pets at home. The other five-member family looked responsible enough.

I alone, I reasoned, would make a terrible dog owner. I always had cats. The only dog I had was a dachshund for a day. My older brother Paul had brought him home when I was eight years old as a surprise. Unfortunately, we had to bring him back to the shelter because my parents did not want to shoulder the burden of the extra responsibilities of an animal. After the dachshund’s return, my brother and his girlfriend at the time had bought me a banana split. I ate the whole thing, but my sorrow persisted along with a belly ache too. From then on, I vowed I would have a dog of my own one day and keep it forever.

Keep dreaming, that was my motto! When the kids were toddlers, one of our weekly visits was to a local pet shop where we would spend the time as speculators to some pretty fancy poodle cuts on some impressive show dogs by a groomer who rented space in the store. She herself owned five poodle show dogs. There, we learned everything there ever was about a poodle, and once you learn the innermost workings of a poodle, there is no other recourse but to fall in love; and so I was, head over heels, or tails, in this case, however, at a distance. Who, after all, was I, a mom/freelance writer with limited funds to own the most perfect dog that cost upwards to thousands upon thousands of dollars?

So, fast-forward from this point, and there I was at Paws with Noreen telling me that we were not suitable dog owners and—presto—a blue leash hit the palm of my hand like a surprise snake.

“What?” I asked, shocked as she let go of the leash.

“And even though you seem like the least likely family to adopt Crouton, I am giving you the dog, because your children were the ones who interacted with the dog the best.”

By now, I knew if I hadn’t manipulated or initiated a situation’s outcome, God was at his handiwork. So who was I to argue with the big honcho?

In hindsight, I always say give a rescue dog a 90-day trial before you make a final decision. You see, even though my husband did not bat an eye when we brought Crouton home, and the cats realized after a day with their “new master” who was in charge, it wasn’t until the 91th day that Crouton stopped piddling all over the couch and soiling the rug! In fact, if my then husband did not have a snag at work, we had decided that morning that he would come home in the afternoon on that 90th day of owning Crouton to bring him back to PAWS!

So call it another God thing, but that darn messy dog turned into an angel during his third month with us and as my son pointed out, became a part of our pack of which I was the top wolf. Although he was supposed to be my daughter’s dog, Velcro he was to me, and I learned about loyalty and the kind of unconditional love where if I really did jump off a bridge, guess who would shadow me in an instant?

Soon after those initial 90 days, the common denominator in my life was that “everyone made mistakes, but not “Crouty,” because he was perfect, an angel, my angel dog. Life without him did not and could not enter my thoughts…not for many years…..

Until  that awful morning when our groomer uncovered a growth on Crouton’s hind leg. After the biopsy a few days later, I received the word on August 16, 2013; our little angel dog had a tumor, an aggressive tumor. Without recapping the horrific details, our vet felt it was a reasonable decision on my part that I decided against surgery.

Basically, for the last six weeks, I have watched Crouton die with the latest vet run this past Monday.

During this time, I realized it is not just about the person or pet you are losing. It’s about our own death on a different scale and how each passing day will sooner or later change the face of things forever. I look back about ten years ago when we first brought Crouty home, and out of the many vivid memories, I picture my son, in the middle of a snowy winter, sliding Crouton down our cul-de-sac buckled into a “dog sled,” his genius invention for a fourth-grade project. I see my daughter in her young innocence sprinting with Crouton on an early spring day, who in his dog days, could run miles; my daughter’s blonde hair reminiscent of his ears flopping in the wind. I see him too in his Cujo alter ego, as the kid’s so often referenced, with him playing attack with our dear departed Rob, my son’s best friend; head to head, nose to nose, to the secret delight of us all.

One of my best memories was on a Sunday morning eavesdropping on Crouton, my then husband and two young kids roughhousing on our queen-sized bed, wanting to pinch myself because no greater could the joy have been than at that time at those moments.

The face of any death reminds us of the sunset of our youth; our children growing and going; it is about how temporary life is and how even in its most tormented moments, if looked at closely enough, how beauty still resonates if we have the grace to dive deep below the surface.

In 2010, with the dissolution of our family, when our world, the one we knew, collapsed, I took a downward plunge and sat in the playroom alone, seriously considering the unthinkable…plotting…over thinking…while seeing images of the car’s exhaust in a closed off garage. Immobilized, not knowing what to do, or not do, in this case, a pair of indigo eyes came at me.

“Damn dog,” I said out loud to him. “Damn, angel dog.”

I called my dearest friend Pat, 24/7 savior in our family, and said crying, “I can’t do anything drastic. Crouton would die if I did anything rash.” She, as always, was at my side in human form.

So, I made a promise to Crouton, I would survive. Ironically, a few weeks later, Crouton was savagely attacked by our neighbor’s German Sheppard. Pat, who was with Crouton at the time of the incident, rushed the mangled poodle to the vet.

When I found out, I cried, traumatized. I begged God to save him. Miracles of miracles, the Lord heard my prayer and the vet’s staff called my little angel “Brave Boy” throughout the ordeal.

A lot has happened since those first few crisis-filled autumn months of 2010. For the first time in my life, I took up jogging with Crouton. He was my inspiration behind every single run. We ran in the same pack, and after all that we had been through, we felt invincible.

In the spring of 2010, me, hairspray queen, started to open up the sunroof and all the windows in my BMW, allowing for the first time my hair to run savage wild, and bolted down our little town’s rural roads with Crouton in the passenger seat, listening to Johnny Cash.stoplights 018 stoplights 0111

“I’m goin’ to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around,

Yeah, I’m going to Jackson,

Look out Jackson town.”stoplights 012

Soon thereafter, I took an outside job, and Crouton, momma’s boy that he was, was not amused. In fact, he was pretty darn angry at me in the morning and would stall doing his morning business, but by the time I got home, I knew I was totally forgiven, since he could not stop jumping for glee the moment I pulled into the driveway.

Now, going into our third year of our “new normal,” I am able to let him go, slowly, gently, lovingly. Three years ago, I was too broken to lose him. I was gifted three more years of having him; my strength always.

The vow I made to myself so long ago, to have my own dog one day and to keep forever, I accomplished. You see, I have faith that long after Crouton’s final rest, he, like my other memories, will live in me forever until I cruise down that final country road, wind messing up my hair, where my angel dog and all the other angels will await to celebrate a party that has no end time, only operates on dog time.stairway_heaven

We rescued Crouty and he rescued us!

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

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To Robert Smuniewski, heaven’s angel at 21

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. stairway-to-heaven-at-morning-time

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Unforgettable he was. He was my son’s best friend and like my own son. He didn’t do what was hip, cool, or mimic the latest media blitz. He didn’t do pop culture. He did “his” culture. He didn’t do what was appropriate; he did what was “Rob,” which meant he was filled with piss an’ vinegar. He possessed his own creative, unique style; a spontaneous jokester, who could impersonate most anyone or anything like, for example, our toy poodle. The minute Rob’s lanky figure, typically wearing well-worn sneakers crusty with mud, appeared at our door, both of them, dog and kid, were on all fours, lunging at each other in a barking match.

Sometimes he provoked me, but I couldn’t stay mad at him for long. He was so damn sincere. He had a quick wit, a mechanical, dare-devilish mind; a hellion on wheels. When Rob was around ten, for instance, after we had a new pedestal bowl-like sink installed in our remodeled bathroom, he persisted to turn the single-spout faucet on and off and kept fiddling underneath the contraption to try and comprehend how the pipes worked.

I’d hear the stream, or should I say geyser, of water coming from the bathroom. “Rob-bbbbb! Get out of there,” I’d shout.

“Awwwww. Ms. Max (that is what he called me), I’m just washing my hands….”

“Rob-bbbbb!”

One night, my now ex-husband and I went out for dinner. Upon returning home, I staggered when I heard what sounded like Niagara Falls on the other side of the bathroom door.

“Rob-bbbbb….”

After witnessing the scene of the crime, he swore to me again he was only washing his hands at the sink, which, laying on the floor, we could only shut off that night at the main water line. The next day, when the plumber came to repair the damage, we discovered that Rob wasn’t solely responsible for making the sink go pa-Boom. The bathroom floor did not lay straight and its uneven surface had contributed to the sink plunging on the floor…so we installed a more practical, Rob-proof sink.

Unblushing he was. If he came around, man, be prepared for 214 questions about a collector’s plate or funky light fixture or anything that was distinctive. While other kids were chatterboxes on a tailspin about the latest sneakers or video game crazes, Rob would be zeroing in on things like our antique toy tractor that we stored in our garage, asking a million and one questions like, ‘Is this the original blue color, man?’ Rob may not have been a book scholar, but he was a life scholar.

Unstoppable he was. And like a gassed up Chevy, he always took the highroad and never, ever stopped, no matter how jarring the bumps were, cruising through life. He innately knew life was for the living, and he was going to lap up every single iota. Wow, did he put those miles on the odometer! It made sense the kid loved cars—anything that moved—really. Without trying to schmooze anyone, he made the most skilled mechanic’s jaw drop at the fountain of his knowledge. Get him talking about a Ferrari, and his ecstasy was that of a natural kind variety!

Once, when the boys were shy of 15, I was driving home turning on our road with my son in the passenger seat, and spotted a familiar SUV in front of us.

“Isn’t that funny…looks like Mr. Smuniewski’s car…looks like…oh no, don’t tell me… Rob-bbbbbbbbbb. What are you doing driving your dad’s car? Do you know you can get arrested? Are you kidding me?”

There he was in my driveway, jumping out from behind the driver’s wheel of the SUV like a kid who just swallowed the natural happy pill.  He begged me not to tell his parents. Softy that I am, I died from worry, until I got the call that he had arrived home safely in the SUV.

Unblinking he was. Nothing would thwart his true, unique self and it shined no matter where he went or who he was with; whether he played golf with the high school golf club at the Redding (Connecticut) Country Club or was the only white kid in attendance at an all-black church service where he occasionally went with one of his best friends who was about 50 years older than he was or when he worked moving rocks for his employer/friend who owned a construction company. In other words, you couldn’t take him anywhere because he would never compromise his distinct voice, and you never knew what he would say or do, but, man, you wanted to take him everywhere because he had never lost his self-value. He had courage, spunk, a sense of humor that reached out infinitely to everyone, and I mean to everyone; compassion and an intuition too. In 2010, when things took a turn in my household, and I knew a divorce was imminent between myself and my husband, but dared not say too much, Rob phoned me out of the blue.

“Rob?” I asked a bit surprised since he did not ask to speak to my son.

“Yeah,” he answered, only for us to wait through a pregnant pause.

“What is it Rob?”

“Ms. Max…”

“Yeah…” totally bewildered, I probed.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, Rob, I am. Hey Rob…”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

“Okay, Ms. Max. Gotta go!”

Unbelievable he was. Random acts of kindness were just an everyday occurrence to Rob. I always told him, “I can’t wait to watch you grow up Rob.”

Today, I imagine he would be on his way to owning an excavation empire; but far more important than that, he would have been on his unwavering mission to mend hearts, spread hope and make everyone he met believe that life was so worth whatever fare you had to pay for the trip!

Unspeakably, during a blizzard on January 8, 2011, close to his home, while pushing his disabled all-terrain vehicle on one of our main roads in our small town, Rob was struck and killed around midnight by a car.10874016-paradise-road-stair-leads-to-the-sky

Over the years, I have lost a brother, a father, and lots of good friends, but I never hollered and wailed on my knees when I heard the news. I certainly know I was not alone in my grief. None of us will ever be the same; certainly not his mom or his twin sister, celebrating her 21st birthday today also, or his older sister or friends; not our community or teachers or bus drivers or the many people from all walks of life that he befriended and inspired to go forward gallantly and without regret. We will be looking for him until our own last days.

And, today, on September 25, 2013, the day that would have marked his 21st birthday, ironically enough, my own dad’s birthday who is also in heaven, I salute you Rob. I salute you Rob with a glass of courage you can’t bottle and sell; the kind to die for that so many of us want and dream about, but so few of us acquire, so deep and far into our comfy little zones to reach out and grasp for.

I think, though, with his passing, among his sky’s-the-limit quantity of inspiration, his legacy consists in our realizing that we have to have faith and believe that we are so much more than cool, so much more than conforming and, instead, just us, foibles and all, unabridged, unpolished, unabashed, unwilling to accept the mundane, every day rigmarole, and always take the effort to wear our best dress attire as Rob did, and step into the day like it is not a dress rehearsal, but our moment of glory, always conscientious that the curtain could close at any random moment.

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Robert Smuniewski

September 25, 1992 – January 8, 2011

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Believe, just believe

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. –Romans 12:2 

HumilitySince my divorce proceedings in 2010, I have been trying to save my house. Down to the wire, my former husband will not cooperate in the process. PERIOD. Finger pointing, to me, is part of politics; a total waste of productive time.

On my end, to work with a bank is like having a second job—one in which you do a lot of overtime! Then the process stalks you all day…deep into your nighttime dreams—or shall I say nightmares.

Wait a minutes. WTF…where’s the faith here? Okay, Lord, thank you for this opportunity. I get to pack up a household and leave the premises, not having the foggiest notion where I am going. Yet another good-bye that I am totally powerless over….Oh, that’s right, this is a temporary setback. So why does it feel like I am about to walk off the face of the moon?…the ride down is one-way, not picturesque and definite.

Oops, there I go again. Not Believing that God is watching out for me. I need to praise Him and thank Him for the memories….

Losing houses, marriages and the like, it’s not just about bare-bone statistics. Statistics are meaningless next to a heartbeat of a person. A house is as good as its people; it evokes the times that made you feel secure, alive and thriving—so removed from just surviving. It’s about baking “Welcome Home” cookies on the first day of nearly every year of grammar school. Remembering the times you stayed up until 2 a.m. preparing for the best Easter egg hunt on the block. Visualizing your six-year-old daughter dancing around the kitchen like a hula dancer in her Brownie uniform. Recalling your seven-year-old son frantically turning his closet upside down trying to find his neckerchief slide so he could properly complete his Cub Scout uniform–for the tenth billionth time! Memories that take you back to painting the bedroom with your now former spouse and your best friend and going beyond the tiredness, knowing the chosen color was perfect and would last for years…years…a stretch of time that felt so comfortably forever. It’s about sitting on the couch in the playroom long after the kids had gone to bed and sitting with your former spouse, crying, saying, “I’m sorry. I love you.”

I suppose beyond wanting stability for the kids, the pets, beyond it all, my house holds a piece of our innocence. Our youth. A hope of tomorrow. A joy knowing that love once existed here—and still does in another, wonderful, but very different way.

Late last night, in my melancholy of telling myself yet again that nothing stays the same (unless we are insane believing so!), I came upon a very healing post…one that tells me He is watching over me…when I have a hard time watching for Him. I thank a very gifted fellow blogger and photographer for writing this post. Let me take the liberty to share a little of it.

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“I’ve been learning that life is fleeting.  We often realize that as a result of tragedy…allow your sorrow to spur you, not to bitterness, but push through it to the lesson, which will make you stronger. I lived my life as a unbeliever for 33 years and during those years, try as I might, I could never figure out how to do that.  But with the Holy Spirit living inside of us, we can forgive, be healed of the loss, grasp the lesson, and move on. Everyone has pain…it is the privilege of the Believer to reap a great harvest from it. Life is fleeting, don’t miss it!”

90327119_bd17bf7c49As painful as it all has been these last few years, I’ve taken a front seat and haven’t missed out. When people say, “live life fully,” do they really mean to pick and choose? Would that even be possible? To me, I have to remember, life is an experience. Good. Bad. All the gray. To live life fully is to embrace it all. I recall the words, “Nothing absolutely nothing happens in God’s perfect world by mistake.”

At this point I can really say, what a roller coaster…and what a glorious, thrilling ride it has been…and is. I am so grateful that I have had a seat reserved especially for me! I can’t wait to witness what’s around the next bend. I do Believe…divinity will greet me.

Until next time….Faith forward!

Fast-forward “reel” life

Whatever is born of God overcomes the world. I am born of God and I overcome the world. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even my faith. —1 John 5:4

thCAN5LS78computer  Last weekend, there was a glitch in my computer, and I was unable to get the desktop program up on the screen. Typically, I am an obsessive nut when it comes to troubleshooting computers, but by 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, I called it quits on trying to figure out what was wrong with the computer. I shut the office door to the mega pile of computer-related work that layered my desk.

I woke up Sunday and asked myself, “Where’s the faith?”happy-computer-clip-art

Immediately, a peace came over me. I knew it would be okay. As much as I wanted to skip church and, instead, seek a computer expert, I fast-forwarded my reel of life, and I visualized the computer functioning later that day when I needed it to get caught up on paperwork! Then I thought in tactical terms. How much fear did I have? (For me, any struggle—large or small—in my life, boils down to the fear factor.)

I calculated the situation as follows on a one to ten scale. The hard drive on my computer could have crashed; on a one to ten scale, ten being the most fear, this came out a TEN! I doubted, however, that this was the case, because I did see some of my software in place. This lowered the fear factor to a six. Then I thought of possible computer people/companies that could help me solve the problem and get my computer up pronto. That comforting thought wheedled the fear factor down by one. I summed up my fear factor at about a five. Tactically, I had to get a five or higher of faith to buffer and/or override the fear factor. I closed my eyes and visualized again the computer functioning and asked God to guide and direct me.

In church, I noticed a man who was an IT specialist. He had to be the answer. After church, the IT expert basically brushed me off! My fear factor went back up a notch. I countered it with turning the Faith-O-Meter up a notch…”God help me.”

Later, driving home on my road, I saw my neighbor and after chatting with him awhile and sharing my computer woes, he said, “Well, you are in luck. This is my son’s last day here before he moves out of town later today!”

He was referring to his son, another IT specialist, a recent college grad, who had found out-of-town employment in his field. Well, fast-forward to a couple of hours later, and my earlier affirmation had come true to life. My computer was up and running.

Two days later, back to crisis mode. After a rough three-year road, we may lose our house after all. In a nutshell, my –ex won’t sign some papers. That’s it. Fear factor? About a “3” today. Sure, when I initially received the news, the fear factor was about to bullet off the scale, but then, miraculously, I kept thinking about this blog post, which I had been in the process of writing. “Come on WTF? Where’s the Faith-O-Meter?” That’s all I could think of. I’ve had a couple of fantastic friends by my side (you know who you are!) Thank you! Thank you!

Hurt people hurt. That’s all I have to say. I am the victor not the victim.

So, here’s my Fast-forward “reel life.”

Under the watchful, caring eye of the Great One, I am lounging somewhere on one of the Hawaiian Islands with my soul mate…mango juice in hand. My kids are playing sand volleyball with a ball that looks strangely familiar to a pineapple. The rest of the family and friends are doing the hula. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” followed by White Sandy Beach and then What a Wonderful World by my all-time favorite artist IZ (Israel Kamakawiwo’ole) wafts through the scene. No slice of life can get better than in affirmation time.

Until next time….Faith forward!

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Physical, soulful…or lower selves?

Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.

Ecclesiastes 7:19sunshine_through_clouds

“Finding the pony in the crap.”

This was the idea behind a spot-on Huffington Post blog that Russell Bishop, an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, California, wrote. In the piece, Mr. Bishop talks about the concept of seeing the dilemmas in our lives through soul-centered eyes versus physical eyes and listening to your soul-talk versus self-talk.

“If you find yourself in a room full of horse poop, your self-talk and physical eyes will correctly identify a pretty crappy experience. However, your soul-talk and soul-centered eyes will start looking for the pony. If all you focus on is the poop, you are unlikely to ever discover the pony.”

He goes on to say, “Obviously, you need your physical eyes when you are navigating your way down whatever path you are traveling. Obstacles do exist, and you will undoubtedly stumble into unforeseen horse poop along the way. Your physical eyes will be of great value in both avoiding some issues and identifying others; however, it is through your soul-centered eyes that you will have the opportunity to discover the most useful pathway forward as well as the hidden blessings along the way. You might want to start with asking yourself, “‘Where’s the pony in all this crap?'”

cloud_silver_liningMr. Bishop’s theme is not only to look for the silver lining in life’s obstacles (using your soul-centered eyes), but also incorporate problem-solving skills (using your physical eyes) to the particular dilemma. Taking it a step further, he says, that we should be open to the problem-solving process. In other words, incorporate some risk-taking and expand our pin-holed attitudes, desires and mindsets. For instance, if you lose a job, perhaps another similar job may not be the answer. Instead, using soul-talk and soul-eyes, starting a new business may be the next page that befits your particular book of life. Of course, getting out of in-the-box thinking and living takes a leap of faith, as he too talks about.

In 2010, for instance, it took a leap of faith for me to end my marriage of 19 years. It took even a bigger leap of faith for me to start “dating.” The last time I had dated was in 1989! That’s scary! It was even scarier with my physical eyes to navigate the modern-day dating scene, which included online endeavors. Plus, I had every naysayer in the world, too, telling me how awful the digital age dating scene was—from serial killers to perverts to monsters that make what we thought of as creeps in my day look like mild-mannered citizens.

In reality, jumping into the single’s scene, some pretty unimpressive things did hit my physical eyes, but my soul-eyes and soul-talk kept prodding me to move forward and ahead, and that is what I did. Through the journey, I have learned that there are great guys out there (one in particular!).

My dating experience has really shown me how sad it was for me to spend 21 years with someone who—well, let’s say—we didn’t mesh. Today, I am in a happy relationship; I don’t walk on eggshells anymore. I laugh without abandon and act silly without someone shaming me.

If someone (male or female) tried to shame me today, I would dump them, plain and simple! I have value today. Through oodles of therapy and a community of tight-knit friends, I am working on not being invisible anymore. Irony is, that during my marriage, I gained fifty pounds. The weight gain, for me, I figured out was a way to hide myself…which is so crazy, you just couldn’t miss me with all that padding; which, sadly, was heavy baggage underneath.

Taking Mr. Bishop’s ideas a step further, beyond the soul and the physical form of thinking, is the lower form of thinking.  As I have taken off the weight, taken care of myself and metamorphosed in every way, it’s amazing how many people find me a threat and want to dim out my light! In a nutshell, those people who allow their dark side to motivate them. This is the fearful, self-center part of ourselves (we, at least I believe, all have a lower and higher self) that screams at us, telling us that another one’s success throws us into doom. That another one’s success will bring us our own personal failure. The seed of our lower self is the sin of jealously, pure and simple.

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A former employer, much older than I am, for instance, felt very threatened by my spirited self.  In the end, she lashed out at me. Among the many dehumanizing things she said, one sticks in my mind the most, “You’re young at heart.”

Then there was the so-called friend who had experienced relationship issues for the core of her life.  Early on during my dating career, I had started chatting with a man by only a few years younger, and my former friend tried to squelch the excitement—that she was starved of, saying, “Oh, why don’t you find someone your own age!”

When people allow the dark side to roar, they utilize shaming tactics. They tear people down to raise their lowly selves up. These sharp-tooth bloodsuckers tell us we are too old. Too young. Too over qualified or too stupid. They will “too” us to death—if we allow them.

As we become in tune with our physical, soul thinking, we must become sensitive to those who are not at the same level and feel threatened enough to attempt to plow into us with their lower selves. You see, there is a price for everything, successes, however small or large, included.

We have to be aware that even though taking a leap of faith may be good for us, it isn’t always good for others—at least in the way their physical eyes see it. Couple this with their soul eyes dead and their lower selves taking the reins and we have a formula for disaster—ours—not theirs.  Again, in their darkened minds, our darkness is like gasoline that fuels their tanks.

Sometimes taking this leap of faith, I have felt guilty at reaping the benefits. What helps me most, is to be very conscientious at not allowing others to put the shade down on my light and to illuminate the roadway for my other fellow travelers who also deserve a sunny patch to bask in during the short, limited journey we are all on.

Until next time, faith forward!