Entering the Gates of 🌤️Heaven

While checking into the Hilton in Long Island, New York, this past weekend with my daughter to attend her former college roommate’s wedding celebration, across the lobby, we witnessed a platonic embrace between a man and a woman that stopped us in our tracks and, for a few seconds, so did our world.

Nineteen years ago, shortly after my brother Mike died suddenly from a stroke, someone gave me a wallet-sized, inspirational card with an illustration of a beaming Jesus hugging a young woman. On the card it said, “Entering the Gates of Heaven.”

Whether you are a Christian or not, the image represents the essence of universal love. In real life, if you are fortunate to experience the magnitude of this type of love, it would equate to living a thousand lifetimes onboard a peace train of which the grandest theme is acceptance and harmony so powerful, it reaches and washes out your deepest, darkest, ugliest, most shameful crevices and allows the sunshine to warm, caress and heal every wound, scar and trauma.

Watching this young couple across the way at the hotel, I saw the young man’s face in the face of Jesus pictured on the prayer card, along with the woman’s windblown hair whose silhouette also resembled the image on it.

The woman could barely catch a breath in between her tearful cries, because of the emotional exhilaration, and it felt like the hotel walls would pop open from the joy. For a moment, superimposed on the man was my now deceased son and on the woman was my daughter. Obviously, I don’t know what my daughter’s take on the sight was, but what I saw was a reunion between the living and the dead unfold on a white marble floor of a Hilton hotel.

After the dramatic embrace, it turned out that my daughter knew both of the people, and, in fact, they were all part of the bridal party. The man had just flown in from Los Angeles, California, and the woman had flown in from Richmond, Virginia. The two people, who had embraced, once shared a semester abroad, along with the bride, in Germany. The reunion between them was a telltale sign of how a connection grows through the passage of time and memories shared, painted in easy, carefree, lofty and heavy highlights.

This is how the wedding weekend began. It was a postponed wedding due to COVID-19. A wedding I dreaded attending, knowing the pain points it would touch. Fortunately, I was prepared; warned by a dear friend about the “Mother and the Groom” wedding song. My defense tool was advice from another dear friend Michelle: In essence, I was there to be happier for the bride and groom than sadder for myself. The advice worked! (Thank you, Michelle!)

The wedding began with love between friends reuniting and then moved to a couple sealing their vow of love. One of the readings at the church was from Corinthians 13, 4-7, a favorite among ceremonies and, in fact, one of the readings at my wedding over 30 years ago, a now dissolved marriage. The famous last line states, Love Never Fails.

The way I interpret the passage is that love failed in our family, because many falsehoods prevented it from forming a pure, genuine love and, ultimately, our unit failed. I’m okay with that for today, because if I do not work in truth, there is no hope for love.

Anyway, the wedding crowd was composed mostly of young, brilliant adults who are changing the world in positive ways. During the reception, I never dreamed I would dance without guilt, but I did! I saw it as long overdue exercise, and it worked. I was, however, overpowered by some flashbacks sitting at the table during the reception, remembering how at the last wedding I attended in 2018, my son kept me glued to my cellphone for a good part of the wedding, despairing about his agonizing love life. The last wedding he ever attended was when he was seven. Deep in my pained gut, I knew he would never have an opportunity as an adult to attend a wedding function, which included his own. By the end of that night, half the male bridal party was commiserating with him outside on the patio on my cell phone. I laughed at the situation, feeling we were all working in the solution mode and on that night, it was true.

At this past weekend’s wedding as the night rolled on, when the traditional wedding songs began, I darted into the restroom until they ended. I can participate in life, but also allow for human limitations by guarding myself.

Looking back, the weekend moved along smoothly, a few hiccups, but no hacking or fevers. I’m left meditating and pondering upon genuine, unconditional love and different types of love. When I first married my husband, in my heart of hearts I believed it would last forever. I believed we would retire, rent an RV and take a year to drive to Alaska, adopting as many old, unwanted shelter poodles as we could along the way. In his own words, he wanted the same ending, but midway through the book, I turned the page, and he disappeared. Though he verbalized what he thought I wanted to hear, he failed to verbalize the truth and allow me to accept it and risk my not responding with unconditional love. In this manner, love failed. Fake love always fails.

From that point, the three of us that were left behind tried to survive best as we could. I will always harbor a tremendous amount of guilt today knowing and realizing the mistakes I made as a mother. One thing I always put my faith into, though, was the greatest thing that mattered to me: seeing both my children grow up as happy, thriving adults. I had faith with fabrication. My son held back nothing from me. Incapable of meeting him on his level, because I believed that the solution that worked for me would work for him, I spoke to him as if he were my twin. It was only a matter of time, when everything backfired and my dream shattered in half, with only one-half remaining, my daughter. I never thought I could be more grateful to have her. She is brilliant and compassionate, much like my son was and also gregarious, positive and confident – in that respect, a total opposite of my son. I am over-the-top grateful these days for her existence.

Now, for damn sure there won’t be any earth-stopping reunions in this life between my daughter and her brother or me and my son. I might dance for the sake of exercise, but not for the sake of pure joy. Those days are done and useless to think about like disposed tattered socks.

Fortunately, I have the mental capacity to still love a little and feel a big happy heart for others while throwing off the pitiful feelings for myself. In this way, I did receive a surprise bonus during our wedding weekend. The groom – quiet, introverted, kind, a good listener, considerate and compassionate – reminded me so much of my son. His image comforted me to the point of giving me such a sense of fulfillment that it felt like a spiritual reunion akin to a group hug teeming with lace, glitter and a gown’s trail long enough to almost reach heaven.

Faith Muscle

Faith-scape

Happy Valentine’s week to my blogging community. There is a space in my heart for every one of you!

Faith Muscle

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

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

Effective Prayer

The prayer of the day

Yesterday, I hope you joined me in a spiritual journey when we began meditating on one line of prayer a day.

We are using the second part of 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 2, Day 2 is:

 “Enjoying one moment at a time.”

During a time of loss, crisis or hardship, balance is key. His love can help ease the scale when it is tipped to one side from the heavy-laden burden, cumbered with hurtful emotion.

It’s okay even for a few seconds to feel something other than pain. God’s joy abounds; always evident in the simplest form in this complex, modern world. Whether it is hearing the peepers sing outside at night at the first sign of spring or meeting the kind eyes of a stranger who stops to say “hello” amidst the day’s bustle.

“Enjoying one moment at a time” brings a few things to mind in my own personal life:

  • My friend who asks, “How are you?” And really means it. Someone who is willing to listen and provide a sounding board without judgment or advice.
  • Another friend in my life to whom I can purge my secrets to without threat, the one I would have never known had it not been for a crisis. The one I have reinvented myself with. The one I have learned to live a “new normal” with.
  • Colleagues who reach out to me after I lost my job because they actually like my authentic self, because a job role ended doesn’t annihilate the human roles we play.
  • So many decades of feeling like the invisible phantom scribe and receiving a text in the morning from a dear friend telling me how instrumental my blog post was in her life
  • People I know who pray for me, as I do for them even if it is in a simple one-line prayer.

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

Correction from the last blog post. The second half of the long version of the Serenity Prayer breaks down to 6 lines of thought, not 10.

 

How to pray short-shorts

Healing prayer

Healing prayer

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

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

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

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

  • God
  • Serenity
  • Courage
  • Wisdom

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

Dance like nobody’s watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

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

~ Corinthians 4:16-18

Strive to be happy

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 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your hears be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27
There is a very special non-denominational chapel at High Watch Recovery Center in Kent Connecticut where I spent a good deal of my younger years. In that very place, a mishmash of everything religious and spiritual, for the very first time in my life, a life filled with pain, desperation and sadness, I felt true faith because it came from within. One of the things that influenced me so much was what was printed on the wall…”Desiderata….Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” desiderata_by_striveforpeace
I left High Watch on a venture; to sing my unique song fully as my heart cried in despair; to fail in the eye of defeat—get up, fail again; to love without reserve, on an uncertain, sometimes unsteady path, step up, trudge forward, head up, eyes fixated on a mustard seed of hope.thCAHUMSUY
Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!
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