Turner Tales

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My friend Turner taught me two things: one, to never underestimate the power of a door and two, to never underestimate the power of God.

After a few minor scrapes with the law as a juvenile, Turner committed multiple armed robberies in his early adulthood. He paid gravely for his crimes, spending more time behind bars than on the outside. After his final incarceration, he participated in a number of rehabilitation programs, determined to keep himself on the straight and narrow. I met him in a support group two years after his final prison release, and he remained in my life for over twenty years until he died of cancer about five years ago.

Turner acquiesced wholeheartedly into society and became a respected, hardworking, tax-paying citizen, not to mention a mentor to many, including me. However, he functioned in a state of high alert in the free world and could not escape the tight grip of hypervigilance. Whenever he saw or heard a door in motion, he couldn’t help but flashback to the echo of heavy metal. It spilled over him like a slow-motion train slipping off the track.

Turner explained that in lockup, the opening and closing of the security doors follow the daily schedule of a prisoner and attentiveness to prison doors stands above clock-watching. Life seems as predictable as peeling a potato, but over the years, the deafening, resonant clang of the metal doors knifed Turner’s brain more than the constant bellow of insults and orders behind prison walls.

In fact, the first time Turner faced the dungeon gate, he tumbled backward. His one-time youthful hopes, dreams, plans dissolved. When you serve time, he said, no matter if they open or close, prison doors lead to nowhere. You begin where you end, like hopping into a prop car bolted onto a stage floor. Needless to say, ten years after his release, he bought a house and removed every single interior door.

Over the decades, Turner acquired a deep faith in the God of his understanding and never forgot to thank his higher power for his new life and the freedom to do such things as remove doors at will — at least in his home. He also never failed to express his gratitude to our group. As is our tradition, we encouraged Turner in the same way we did each other. Despite our empathy and understanding, we experienced a few occasions when the subject turned to God and His will for us. Typically, a few members plowed into a tangent and looped themselves into an esoteric, high-pitched dialogue about the nature of the supreme influence over the universe.

Rising like a three-hundred pound totem pole, Turner’s nearly seven feet of height would tower over us. His reddened face reared with bulging eyes, turning side to side above his vintage leather jacket that crackled like kernels changing to popcorn.

“God? God? You want to talk about God? Go ahead! I’m out of here, because who the hell am I to hear or talk about God and try and figure out what his or her plans are or aren’t? I’m nothing in the face of God, the divine, the almighty. Nothing. I have less significance than a roach racing around a prison cell compared to him. Her. It. And that’s a good thing because all I know is: I matter. You matter. We matter. And if we get all holed up and locked into trying to figure out things that aren’t to be figured out, we’ll lose sight of what really matters today. There’s no guarantee of tomorrow.”

Each and every time, Turner instantly deflated our egos, a sense of peace saturated the room into an unplanned moment of silence. An outsider could have felt the brotherly-sisterly connection of those thirty or so people in the group. We sure did. Fortunately, Turner never barged out of the room, and the meeting resumed in a calm, collective spirit. You see, this former Hell’s Angel was our angel of wisdom. He opened the door that led us to a spiritual space where the door shut tightly behind us. We were safe because self-seeking was left on the other side of the door. Our holy ground we secured under our feet among notorious sinners who, in our eyes, were on their way to sainthood. What I’ve learned from Turner and so many like him, is: if false pride is the deadliest of all sins, then humility is the greatest virtue.

To this day, every time I get into the war zone of my crazy, little, take-charge head of mine, I remember Turner. I inhale deeply, swing open the confinement of my mind’s door and run wild and free.

Faith Muscle

Faith in a Nutshell

Faith Muscle

Blessed 🎂Birthday

Hurricane warnings canceled my birthday “celebration” plans this past Sunday. Honestly, I was happy as a clam, relieved that I didn’t have to venture too far. Although I didn’t hide under a clam shell as I wrote about in my last blog post, I did hide under a rain hat and enjoyed a light, enjoyable brunch at a restaurant in close proximity to our house.

The morning kicked off with flower deliveries, as well as thoughtful wishes from my blogging community, and I want to thank those who remembered, Alec, Prema, Judy and Kathy specifically! In fact, shortly before I turned on my computer that day, I thought of my “Karmic Sister” Prema. She not only provides assistance to me through this grief journey, but is instrumental in helping me keep the faith and not lose my footing. And wouldn’t you know it, as part of her birthday greeting, Prema wrote: “Let us show our faith in the divine by being cheerful, surrendering to Cosmic will. We are blessed as pain has a purifying effect on us.”

Blessed? What?

After surviving some harsh realities over three decades ago, in comparison to my old life, it was easy to count my blessings. Every moment was an abundance of gratitude. After our family tragedy 21 months ago, I certainly did not feel blessed and removed the word from my vocabulary since I no longer had a clue to its meaning. Now, thanks to Prema, I am beginning to comprehend that “blessings” are not necessarily people, places and/or things to tick off my personal agenda list.

One example that puts the word “blessed” back into my vocabulary is calling to mind the people like Prema who have been brought into my life. They are the brave ones who do not shy away from mortality and pain, but are less self-centered and, thus, confident and courageous enough to accept their own human vulnerabilities. Call them the chosen ones, or the lucky ones who walk into the dressing room of life with ease and without a desperate need to cram themselves into too-tight, ill-fitting “attire.” Instead, they accept what is appropriated to them and walk with their heads held high.

These are the people I am blessed to be around. They are the people who value me instead of judging me, because they manage to accept “what is” and not “what isn’t” and this peaceful state enables a channel of love to radiate and multiply. These are the people who are the ones that blaze a path for me to follow.

Transparency is natural above normal with them. As a matter of fact, I found myself this past week sharing secrets of the harrowing, graphic details involving my tragedy with another grief-stricken friend. After I took the risk of baring my soul, I looked into my friend’s eyes and knew I had reached a plateau of holiness; a sacred space where I no longer had to suffer in silence, but where I was heard and appreciated and allowed to cry out and feel that I really matter in the big world where it is so easy to get lost and flushed away. I mean, how many people are blessed to experience this type of intimacy that goes beyond reason?

Another blessing I thought of, thanks to Prema, is how the pain and suffering I have endured have washed away murky and meaningless priorities and people in my life. I now understand that phoniness carries no meaning. With meaning comes courage to speak personal truth.

I am finally heeding to 12-step advice I learned so long ago. “Say what you mean, but don’t be mean.”

As far as I am concerned, the art of true living is honesty. l am working hard on telling people how I really feel and, in turn, I hope they are comfortable enough with me to reciprocate. One recent test that I scored an “A” in was for confronting a neighbor about a charity pledge she promised, but did not deliver. Unfortunately, after our conversation, she skirted the entire issue. I did not get the intended result, but I did gain a new confidence in myself. In essence, I feel purer because I did not compromise myself by putting her needs above mine. In addition, I did not enable her to make a promise to me she did not intend to keep. No, we cannot control someone’s behavior, but we can control our words and behavior. Ultimately, if I am in the full spin cycle of purification in my life, one of the things that doesn’t serve me any longer is being nice for the sake of being nice and not hurting someone’s feelings, especially when he or she has wronged me.

I looked up the word “purification.” Among other things, it means, “the removal of contaminants from something.”

At this point of my life, I do not want to carry the burden and weight of heavy contaminants. I am overweight enough. So I’m purging. I’m uncluttering. I’m simplifying. I’m seeing truth for what it is and sharing my feelings. Feelings, after all, are not right or wrong, they are simply a part of what makes us who we are. If, however, they fester, build up inside me, they will eat me or explode in an inappropriate way and cause an unnecessary pain, a false representation of who I am.

What I am finding in the process is that most things like the political or religious affiliations that we carry really don’t matter. For the most part, our words and how they are carried out by our actions define us.

Carrying the grief, finding a sacred space for it, is among my many accumulated treasures in my long journey. It weaves a silver lining ribbon through this final chapter of my life in which the working title is “Blessed.”

Faith Muscle

Prayer House

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Every night for four years, with few exceptions, my dearest friend Pat, a former religious sister, now layperson member of the Carmelite Order, and I prayed for ourselves as well as dozens of other people … Mark, Sarah, Rebecca. As the years passed, we squeezed in new names … Joey and Anthony …. We squinted to read the growing names and intentions on the list that was about the size of an index card.

Always topping the list were the names of my two children and ending the list were the names of those who had passed over.

For the first two years, we prayed on the telephone. The last two years after Pat moved in with me, we congregated at our kitchen table. We prayed for health, wealth, romance, reconciliation or safety for those near and dear. No one could have convinced me that our prayers were left unanswered. Jobless friends obtained job offers. Sick friends became well again … at our table, it was as if we ordered from an a la carte menu … two burgers and one large order of fries, no special sauce. Bottomless bounty was served!

In 2018, we witnessed a miracle. A man in his early 30s, whom we did not know, but heard about from our priest, was run over by a car at a busy intersection. He survived the crash, but he slipped into a coma. Odds of recovery, grim. Through the grapevine we also heard, he was the only son to a mother who had recently immigrated to America. At that time, I could not imagine if something that horrific happened in my cozy,  little life. I prayed, “Please God, help this young man. We ask a miracle … if it is your Holy Will.”

.… “If it is your Holy will.” We capped off each prayer this way, because it reconfirmed our humble servant status. It reminded us that we were not the creators of this world and powerless to perform God’s work. Looking back, I was only kidding myself. When that young man came to consciousness and recovered, everyone called it “a miracle.” My egotistic self knew it was through the specific prayers we prayed at the kitchen table night after night for a month that he was alive and well.

As I said earlier, my young adult children always topped off the prayer list. Year after year, our intentions for them were consistent: good physical and mental health, good jobs and good spouses. For my son, there was always one constant request: help him find a friend.

Week after week, month after month, I knew we were getting closer to our intentions being granted. After we concluded our 20- or 30-minute prayer sessions, Pat gently placed the list under a statue in the kitchen of St. Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus. In the Catholic Church, he is recognized as the patron saint of workers. The statue is about three and a half inches long, and the saint is depicted lying on his side, sleeping. The reason behind the supine pose is that it is believed that an angel spoke to St. Joseph in a dream on two occasions to give him much needed direction. We liked to believe that every night while we slept, he “worked hard” and assisted us with his powerful intercession, and obtained for us from the Divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. We recited specific St. Joseph prayers and they sealed my concrete-like faith.

On the night before our personal tragedy blew our little bubble world into smithereens leaving the hot shrapnel embedded into every crevice of my mind, heart and spirit, we recited our routine prayers. Less than 15 hours later, I laid on the floor like the St. Joseph statue. Of course I was orbits away from being in the state of placid rest. I pleaded, beseeched and begged the invisible air to change what had occurred, my body in a convulsion state. And, so it was. The unspeakable and unimaginable from that day forward was a hard blow and, for me living with grief means crawling, because I feel like I carry 900 pounds of hot shrapnel day after day, week after week, over 17 months later.

I was the one who did not have another prayer request left in me, and Pat and I haven’t prayed since that fateful night. Memories of the last time praying together, and I can still visualize the lit candle dancing around the kitchen, coating our faces within a warm glow, and our spirits free to cavort with the frolicking candlelight.

As my lips fall to silence, Pat, with her religious zeal, that I so admire, has not slackened one bit in her prayer life. If anything, her prayer time has accelerated. For me, right now, I am trying to reckon with my powerlessness and I just listen. Be and leave the BElieving alone, because I don’t want to spark my ego into thinking I have any control on the ways of the world. Just as I possessed no control over the young man who baffled science and fully recovered from a near-fatal car accident. In the same way, I possess no control over my son’s unspeakable set of circumstances.

As a trained journalist, I always wanted the know the answers. Now, I don’t even know the questions to ask. I just know that I don’t mind seeing the statue of St. Joseph asleep and allowing it to remain in our kitchen. He looks comfortable, but, strangely, lonely. Sometimes I have a hankering to say, “Pat! Where’s the list? Can we pray?”

Instead, I remain silent. I can’t fathom another disappointment or letdown. Now, I automatically take cover and duck and don’t stand in the way of life. Especially at night, I reckon with the feeling of loneliness and stark silence in the kitchen, even with the background music. I use what remaining energy I have to BElieve the sun will rise, and I don’t have to lift a finger to help that fireball to ignite.

Faith Muscle

Pink Elephants

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.  The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists.  In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist!” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King

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Over 20 years ago, as an “art in a cart” lesson volunteer, I tried to teach first-graders to draw pink elephants, but failed. By first grade, I realized these children couldn’t think beyond gray elephants and resisted coloring them in any other hue.

Don’t get me wrong, gray elephants have merit, but with an abundant palette, why not risk using an “unconventional” color?

As a writer and appreciator of art and culture, I have a penchant for asking the “Whys.” As a matter of fact, I was expelled for a day from sixth grade for “asking too many questions.”

Most people, myself included, are conformists who work in the framework of norms and respective boundaries. As I’ve grown older, I aim to find the courage to target the time when it is necessary to speak out, not freak out and act out disrespectfully and become the disciplined non-conformist.

Rep. John Robert Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and civil rights leader, who died last week is a prime example of a disciplined non-conformist. May he rest in peace and may we live up to his legacy.

My daughter illustrated another perfect example of a disciplined nonconformist. She was traveling in the Pennsylvania back roads and she spotted a sole white male holding a “Back Lives Matter” sign. He soldiered alone in his mission and, perhaps, in this particular area, risked his life doing so.

I put my faith in people with guts. People who are typically lone, unique voices.

This command not to conform comes not only from Paul but also from our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, the world’s most dedicated nonconformist, whose ethical nonconformity still challenges the conscience of mankind.

Everywhere and at all times, the love ethic of Jesus is a radiant light revealing the ugliness of our stale conformity.

In spite of this imperative demand to live differently, we have cultivated a mass mind and have moved from the extreme of rugged individualism to the even greater extreme of rugged collectivism.  We are not makers of history; we are made by history. ~

~ Excerpt from Rev. Dr. King from one of his sermons preached in November 1954 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

Here is another one of my favorite quotes from that sermon: “Or to change the figure, most people, and Christians in particular, are thermometers that record or register the temperature of majority opinion, not thermostats that transform and regulate the temperature of society.

Everyday for nearly 36 years, I’ve been grateful to consistently aim to live my life on a spiritual plane. I work very actively for this ambition through tools I’ve learned in the 12-Step Community. Basically, the first nine steps are known are ego-deflation steps. After we work the first nine and begin to shed our egos, life in the spirit begins (Steps 10, 11 and 12).

Here’s the benefit of living life in the spirit. You don’t HAVE to look like a paper doll in the chain. You don’t have to buy anyone’s faulty bag of judgmental goods. You have your own timeline. And you get to be straight, gay, trans, polka-dotted, black, white or absolutely no gender, race or religion, if it feels as natural as the finger pads on your hands feel. You are free to be who YOU are because you are free from the bondage of self (and the bondage of society). You are free from the Ego. In other words, YOU are free to draw pink elephants and like them even when the herd poo-poos them.

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Better yet, toss a few purple elephants into the mix and as you are mocked and feel mortified, realize you are on the trailblazing journey of setting the world on fire, and that’s what having faith is all about.

 

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Faith Muscle

Good Fortune Prayer

The following post is a guest post from my son’s Godmother Patricia Grassi. She is one of the most faithful women I’ve ever met and serves as an inspiration to me always.

Chervony, the firey orange and tan long-haired cat was showing signs of distress.
Saturday, June 13, he stopped drinking and eating. The expression on his sweet
face resembled a stone. His eyes appeared overcast as he stared into space.
Maybe this is the way eighteen-year-old cats act before they die. His
disappearamce into the neighbor’s tall bushes the following day also pushed us into
thinking he wanted to go into the woods to die.

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Early Monday morning, before Stacy called his vet, I was sitting at the kitchen
table, drinking a cup of coffee while engulfed in sadness. Like the distant note of
a songbird, a feeling of hope broke through my sorrow. I sensed a lightness within
me as I turned to my left and saw Marshall standing in front of the dishwasher,
smiling at me. I knew intuitively that he was a vision–a momentary gift from
heaven to bring me comfort and perhaps a message regarding Chervony. He was
dressed in dark blue jeans and a darker blue T-shirt. Everything about him
glowed, especially his face, which was clean-shaven.

Yes, he was happy, but he particularly wanted me to tell his mother that he loved her very much. As he slowly faded, I was struck by the fact that he was the embodiment of all the attributes of God, such as love, kindness, goodness, wisdom and especially joy, just to name a few. dark-clouds-173926_1920

After he left, I didn’t know exactly what Chervony’s situation was, but that whatever happened, it would be all right.*

*And it WAS alright. Chevony was found sick and with a fever, but post-vet care, he is making a full recovery.

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Faith Muscle

To My Brother in Heaven

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:32

It brings me great strength and joy to know you are in the loving arms of Jesus. Down here on earth, your arms were in the shackles of a disease that you did not want. I was four years old when I first tried to help you, but I was at a loss, wanting to contain your Niagara Falls amount of throw-up in a tiny pink cup.

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From that day forward, I felt like I trailed behind you through life, big brother, with a tiny pink plastic cup that could never contain the monster-sized remnants inside.

I won’t deny, that when you were alive, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about a replacement brother. The kind of big brother that takes you places above ground and not underground. The kind of brother who views life is lived on a rich, varied and textured terrain generous in rose-smelling opportunities. Like I told you a gazillion times, I never cared about your version of life lived in a flat-line region where the point of it all is survival.

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No doubt about it. We spent a lot of time in the mud hole: bickering, arguing and sometimes having a knock-down, drag-out fight. We landed in plenty of fox holes, too, where our prayers were “God Help!” Succinct ones, but as fervent as the long, formal prayers.

Seventeen years later, and I darn well know that if given the chance for a replacement brother or you, there is no doubt to the one I would choose. I attribute my choice to you. Underneath your disease. Underneath the monster. Buried under a mountain of hurt, you were one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. Not because you were handsome, strong, generous, compassionate, highly intuitive and intelligent and a war hero to boot, but because you knew that everything, no matter how utterly defective, stained, sinned or doomed, could root, grow and live under one condition: that it is planted in a bedrock of unconditional love.

Thank you for leaving me this bedrock of a legacy. To allow myself to be vulnerable, trust and carry the message tirelessly to those who suffer and those who need strength. Most of all, thanks for being my Angel Michael, right next to Archangel Michael, as I trudge this road of happy destiny.

Dear Big Brother in heaven, I can’t wait to see you in heaven someday. Feel your arms around me again, and see the sober twinkle in your eyes, when you radiate His love and gently whisper, “Peace.”

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

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Faith Muscle

FAITH ”AN IMPORTANT PART OF LIFE”

I am re-blogging this fantastic post from BE BLOGGER (OFFICIAL) 

via Faith ”An Important Part Of Life”

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

 

 

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Faith Muscle

Woodland #writephoto

Faith forward … into the light!

The Light Behind the Story

Forest path Photo Credit: Sue Vincent

The forest whispered, “follow me,” and laid down a path of gold.

“Oh, I dare not,” replied the voice of doubt, “for I fear what may be lurking in the shadows.”

“Oh, you are a silly lass,” the forest replied. “Can’t you see that I have given you the way through the darkness?”

“But I am alone. A mere child in an unknown wilderness where fierce beasts may lurk, waiting to attack,” doubt replied.

“Yes, yes, that is true. What you seek is also seeking you.”

“Oh, but you are wrong. I do not seek the beasts. They seek me.”

“Aw,” the forest replied with a clatter of branches. “Who do you think the beasts belong to?”

“You.”

“Oh no, they are not mine, they are yours.”

“I don’t want them, so how can they be mine?”

“Because you reject them. Come now, child, walk with…

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January Reflections: A Question a day to deepen your faith (31)

Never mind New Year’s resolutions. Angel4 Wrap your mind around January  reflections: A question a day every day for the next 30 days to deepen your faith.

31. What did I learn after a month of asking questions about faith? mustard seed

 

Plain & Simple: I  have mustard seed faith, but I have a mammoth God.  

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

 

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Faith Muscle