“All there is is love!”

Love conquers all

Love conquers all

Do everything in love. ~1 Corinthians 16:14 

A bush of gray messy hair. Dusty work boots. Though he had a small frame, my friend John had a linebacker’s shoulders and a voice that could make an angel’s words sound mean.  A tough bird living a tough life, for many years he was a chronic alcoholic and as unapproachable as a rat in a gutter.

Fortunately, he did find recovery from the disease of alcoholism for nearly forty years. Don’t get me wrong, John did not travel the easy street of sober life. Demons always engaged him in battle, one in particular, an uncontrollable rage issue, threw him behind bars during his mid-sobriety.

Nonetheless, whether he was up or down, his all-around mantra was “All there is is love!”

I’ve had my own demons over these last 31 years. Though uncontrollable rage, fortunately, has not been one of them, at least not for the last 21 years, anger and resentment is another story. I have a collection of easy-to-reach injustices in the form of people, places and things. In fact, they are attractive and invade my mind dressed in fine jewelry and inflate my ego and puff me up to feel like I am PROactive and righteous; but the truth is, no matter how powerful they feel, anger and resentment undermine our lives and throw us in the chamber of darkness, cloud our vision and defeat our primary purpose(s) in life. To become stuck in destructive emotion is to kill motion. Without motion, there is no life.

Therein lay the legacy that John left me. If you are running out of faith, try Love first. Love is the pill that the pharmaceutical companies can’t compete with. Whenever I feel upset, I hear John’s words, “All there is is love!” The minute I hear those words, I breathe, feel at ease, accept. My blood pressure deflates along with my ego, and the road ahead is clear and manageable; not easy, mind you, but in the right frame of mind, gratitude unfolds its magical carpet.

Don’t get me wrong, don’t expect the uneven terrain to disappear; instead, a happy surrender means a cease fire to an unnecessary fight and only then can we allow our vision to move from the uneven terrain and, instead, shift our focus on the new flower shoots along the path.

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

touched by an angel

touched by an angel

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.

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.

thCAH47HPZ

Robert Smuniewski

September 25, 1992 – January 8, 2011

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My name is Stacy, and I am an Analysis Paralysis Junkie

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered.

“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”Mark 11.22-24

486700646_5a6c7cb706I have another confession. I am an Analysis Paralysis junkie.

It is not so much a defense mechanism I use in order to procrastinate on things as it is to throw myself into a whirling dervish.

Go-to source Wikipedia provides a comprehensive description of the state.

A couple of weeks ago the state threw me into the throes of this zany mindset.

My thoughts fell loosely into the Personal Analysis category in which Wikipedia defines, “Casual analysis paralysis can occur during the process of trying to make personal decisions if the decision-maker overanalyzes the circumstance with which they are faced. When this happens, the sheer volume of analysis overwhelms the decision-maker, weighing him or her down so much they feel overwhelmed with the task and is thus unable to come to a rational conclusion.”

The only difference was that there was no decision to be made. I began over-analyzing a current state of affairs. Before you know it, I was in the “What if my job phases out?” “What if I lose the people I really care about?” stage.

Granted, a part of this obsessive, unhealthy thinking may stem from the fact that I am still teetering from some major setbacks.  Another part is because I am afraid. Afraid to lose what I have worked so hard to get/hold onto. Afraid that I’ll never shift out of crisis mode. You know, that old adage about “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

To make matters dire, someone reminded me that my thoughts manifest into my behavior that creates the reality around me. Although there is a lot of pop psych about this brand of positive thinking, it can be traced back to the bible as quoted above,” Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

So, back to a couple of weeks ago: I’m a whirling dervish, over analyzing, feeding on my Analysis Paralysis addiction and making myself and anyone with a listening ear CRAZED. The outcome amounted to nothing—nothing earth shattering happened. I still have a roof over my head. Food. Friends. A pretty nice Jersey Strong to lean on.

The thing I did lose, however, by allowing Analysis Paralysis to overtake my week was my physical and mental well-being. I was tired, drained; thus, I could not accomplish some of my routine chores, and I was by no means present to the ones I love in the manner I like to be. The result was that I had to cancel some pleasure time in order to play weekend catch-up.

The problem with Analysis Paralysis for me is that it kicks me to the abyss of a swampland. There I spend idyll time stuck, going under, sinking while the rest of the world moves on.

To have faith is to trust in the process of the good. Unlike a swamp-like, sinking environment, it is a positive forward movement, which nourishes our needs.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

This is a positive affirmation if I ever heard one. We don’t say things like “have a little faith” and mean that the barrel of a gun awaits!”

Of course when I pick up my Analysis Paralysis addiction, I pick up my imaginary gun; it may not be real, but it is still a hazard.

The best defense for me is a three-P approach:

Prayer…

Positive People

Actually…four, Patience.

I am currently in remission. Things are looking up. I hope.  I’m thinking…oops, that’s one of my downfalls.

A Message to the Boston Marathon Bomber(s)…You cannot kill us

He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” And they went out quickly and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Mark 15:43-16:8

rainbow-scenic-on-sky

Never fear people. Mortals can only kill our bodies, our flesh, but never our spirits. In this vein, we should be in fear and awe of only spiritual matters.

Ironically, and quite appropriately, the day before the terrorists’ attacks in Boston this past week, the above quote was part of the Sunday sermon that I heard at St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Sunday’s Gospel was about the angel asking the holy myrrh-bearing women in front of Jesus’ empty tomb to go tell the disciples the news that they would meet the risen Lord in Galilee. Instead of obeying the angel’s command, the women flee from the tomb: “for trembling and astonishment had come upon them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” 

If we had a supernatural encounter with an angel, our response would probably parallel the myrrh-bearing women’s reaction of trembling (fear) and astonishment (total surprise). The priest expounded that we, though far removed from biblical times, still tend to heed to the physical law rather than the spiritual law. Instead, he said, our principles should be reversed.

Modern spirituality is centered on the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” For Christians this means things like a belief that there is everlasting life after physical death…however, how we navigate the road to the final destination is up to us.  I do not want to get into a fire and brimstone discourse, but simply stated, there are spiritual laws to follow and that if these are broken, there are consequences—perhaps, not always apparent in this life, but certainly apparent in the next.

To me, my heavenly father, loving in all ways, is also a great teacher and disciplinarian; and I’m not talking about the penalty, punishment, and all that awful-sounding stuff that religious zealots shoved down our young minds for the littlest wrongdoing in order to scare us into submission as children. God is loving and also just. Here is how it is…and these days, in my fifth decade of life, what I have come to believe, people who rape, kill, and model other Hitler-kind-of-acts, whether you believe in hell or not, do not go to a place like heaven. (How exactly holy you need to be to get to heaven, I will leave for another discussion!)

In other words, as a God-fearing (as in reverent) adult following the Ten Commandments to the best of my ability, I have nothing to fear. The meaning, in fact of Sunday’s gospel is “Do Not be Afraid.” In the end, the myrrh-bearing women (and apostles) get beyond their emotions, and obey the angel’s command. That is the happy ending.

In turn, we too can depend on a happy ending in our lives. The bottom line is, if we try and live right, we should cast fear away from our house of faith. Even with earthly death, there is no fear for we are reborn into the spiritual for eternal life. Thinking about everyone affected by the violent acts in Boston, as much as we want to make sense out of the senseless, we must take comfort in the idea that evil never wins. Sure, the evildoers may rob our physical lives, our limbs and our bodies; however, they cannot kill our spirit. It lives forever in His unyielding love.

I pray we heal together, rise up and keep our faith, which will help us to prevail through this painful, senseless time.

As we say in Ukrainian,

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Христос воскрес! Воістину воскрес!

(Where’s) Wear your joy

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Ecclesiastes 9:7

thJoy

Lucinda Williams

I don’t want you anymore
cause you took my joy
I don’t want you anymore
you took my joy

you took my joy
I want it back
you took my joy
I want it back

Over two years ago, when the relationship that I had for 21 years started to peel apart like old asbestos-laden paint (hear a tad of anger in that statement), lip-syncing Lucinda’s words loud when I was alone in my car was one of the most healing cathartic tools. It is a rough song with rough lyrics. And the Yankee rebel in me, my alter ego, just had to, short of shooting a gun, had to have rough. Rough never felt so good.

Man, justified anger can beat out a scoop of thick and creamy vanilla ice cream any day. The truth, of course, is no one or nothing can rob you of your joy. I know that. Victim, however, is such a nice unaccountable spot to park yourself in. When you are a victim, you don’t take responsibility. The world revolves around your bellybutton, and there is great safety in living a couch potato status where the greatest question of the day is, “What TV channel should I turn on?”

Okay, so there I was with the bag of chips…a head full of woes and an earful of Lucinda’s blasting lyrics. After a while, I knew I had to put, like someone told me, my big-girl panties on. Sitting around feeling sorry for myself can be a dangerous place. So I discarded the chips, shut the head-knocking lyrics off and flicked my living switch on.

How do you find joy in the midst of heartbreak and crisis? First, you have to know that it is not a rare commodity. Every living being possesses it organically.

Oprah Winfrey said it best, “Joy is a sustained sense of well-being and internal peace—a connection to what matters.”

joyoftheLordTo me peace and well-being are synonymous with faith. In other words, God lives in me. I just have to want that state of God being. Anything we want in our lives starts with, duh, desire.

My God, fortunately, has a sense of humor that is contagious. Humor inspires me. Humor saves me. When all else fails, being able to see the humor in everything sustains me. It is my joy. Even during the darkest moments, I share a joke with a friend and, suddenly, my gust of laughter is like a breath of life; it sustains me.  Laughter gives me faith like nothing else, saying, “I am your oxygen, and I will see to it that your organs not only survive, but thrive ‘cause I’m going to tickle them pink!”

Every day, I make a very conscientious decision to take back my life. It’s not easy to wear the big-girl panties, but when I do, it’s so worth it. Every now and then, I slip back to the stinking thinking that someone or something took my joy away, and that’s okay. These days, I have a drawer packed with an assortment of big-girl panties to choose from, so my flimsy excuses not to have joy—even in the eye of crisis—cannot breach a carefully selected pair of briefs.

Until next time….Faith forward!