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

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

Easter is upon us!

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. — Proverbs 22:6

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Growing up, I crushed Parent’s Open House announcements behind hedges in the backyard. I dared never misbehave at school. I dreaded the thought of my mother pleading on my behalf for any wrongdoing on my part in front of the principal. As far as I was concerned, school was off-limits to my mom. I never had to worry about my dad because he was busy working and rarely around.

The one time I missed the bus, and my mom drove me to school, my mother drove no more than 20 miles an hour, stopping at nearly every corner and pecking her head out of her tattered babushka like a scared rooster.

Luck would have it, Jimmy, my classmate, was late that day too. Being driven to school by his parents, his family’s car snaked behind us on the trek school. After the car ride when I encountered him outside the school, his face was red, roaring from laughter.

“Could you ever go any slower?”

Then when he spotted my mother, he asked, still falling over in laughter, “Who is that?”

I shooed her away dressed in her loose-fitting, androgynous to form, clothes that made her look flat and peasant-like and exactly what she was: A cleaning woman.
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And so it was, I spent my life shooing my mother, with her foreign tongue and history of mental illness sometimes harboring on cruelty, and erratic behavior. My full-time job in life became outrunning a litany of memories that flicked in front of me, beginning with her padding her shoes with wads of paper towels and ending with the occasions that she spit on me in the name of good luck. On the same token, she was never comfortable in her own skin either and folded herself into her house; her life spent hibernating in all seasons.

In my mid-20s, my life changed and so did my friends who viewed my mother’s idiosyncrasies as interesting, even alluring. And that is when I gradually rediscovered her and saw her as someone so entirely different from me that she became a type of novelty in my eyes. And as my behavior changed, so did hers. The time I spent with a soft, trusting mother grew much longer than the time I spent with a harsh judgmental tyrant. I looked forward to our trips running errands and grocery shopping.

As the years passed, her decline was like the moon in the sky during the day. It was not obvious, but always there. Now I know, it was a long good-bye. A few years prior to her passing, her four-time-a-day telephone calls to me turned less and less until she rarely called.

Mom’s roar, too, turned into a slight meow that out of the blue began asking for forgiveness.

“Forgive Me!”

A calm, affirmative voice, one she lacked during her younger years, still chimes in my memory over a year after her passing. The woman I spent my youth shooing away creeps up on me when I least expect it. In a quick glance at the mirror, I lose sight of me and see only her. A slight movement and I live in her body as if it was a preserved shell fitted for me. I have accepted this fate without emotion, like an envelope that I am taking to the mailbox.

In my journey as the grieving daughter, although I cannot see her, God has given me the grace to be her in a way that makes me stand proud. In a way that reaffirms my faith in life—and in dying. Sometimes it is only at the end that a serendipitous dawn breaks with the gratitude and plentitude of resurrection.

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

 

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

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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, 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!

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

What a wonderful world

 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 

thCAAS8R0T

A number of months ago, one of my dearest friends called my cell phone and left a message on the voicemail. The catch was, she forgot to hang up.

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
The colours of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shakin’ hands, sayin’ “How do you do?”
They’re really saying “I love you”
I hear babies cryin’, I watch them grow
They’ll 
learn much more than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world
Oh yeahanimatedRainbow

You would think my friend was an opera singer in her car, booming those words alongside Louis Armstrong. My tears were not only a response to her astonishing vocal abilities but to the fact that, she, a mother who lost her son at 18, only to become a widow shortly thereafter, was the epitome of what a wonderful world it truly is as long as we can find that tiny hint of sanctuary within ourselves that we can build when we make faith the cornerstone. Again and again, I listened to my friend on the voicemail, humbled.

In the face of injustice, who am I to question “why?”  Instead, I need to raise my eyes above the sins of the world, the Calvary of the journey, and fixate on God’s masterful creation of mountain tops, skis of blue, clouds of white, and all the things I may not be aware of, but are freely and generously the constant framework of my ever-changing world.

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

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.