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

Divinely divorced

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

true Christian faith

touched by an angel

 

 

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!

 

New year solutions instead of new year resolutions

I was cleaning my daughter’s room and found a somewhat flat carton smaller than a toddler’s shoe box.

My daughter had used a black Sharpie to pen the front of the box.“I can’t keep this stuff anymore.”

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Since it was my daughter’s private domain, I did not peek into the box. However, the discovery inspired me to reflect on the idea of Letting Go of the negative things in our lives. For example, ridding ourselves of tangible belongings like photos or mementos that don’t make us feel good anymore or liberating ourselves from things like dark thoughts.

Consider making this year the year to permanently clear mental and physical clutter. Then you can make room for new stuff. Better stuff. Or no stuff. With the new year upon us, maybe instead of making resolutions, you can clear the old things that tie you down and make room for solutions.

What kind of “stuff” can you rid yourself of in this new year? Perhaps, hurtful memories, regrets and/or negative thinking. Maybe there’s a toxic relationship that’s too painful to hold onto; perhaps you need to dump a stale frame of mind and spark it with new interests like enrolling in a foreign language class.

Plenty has been written about the benefits of eliminating the physical-mental clutter; for instance, the process can help you increase productivity.let-go

I read and reviewed a book a couple of years ago, Do the Clearing by John Benz. Admittedly, I wrote one of the few reviews that wasn’t a four or five-star review, which, in retrospect, I might change, because the premise that the author makes in the book sticks with me all these years later. Here’s an excerpt from the book, “Do The Clearing helps you let go of what’s holding you back….It’s your restart. It’s your chance to remove what’s in the way, to connect with what’s special inside of you so you can perform better, live better, and simply be happier.”

Of course, for people who are living in crisis or experiencing profound loss, there isn’t an on/off switch for their streams of emotions that can swallow them whole.

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Losing jobs, people and experiencing catastrophic things are serious and nothing can replace the natural process it requires to get through these times. But if, perchance, you can ditch even one negative thought and, instead, maybe take a brisk walk in a “no stinking thinking zone,” it can help you in the healing process.

Sometimes you have to work at faith; like thinking outside the box by filling another box, real or metaphorically, with the “stuff you can’t keep anymore.” Happy New Year!

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

true Christian faith

touched by an angel

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

prayer for strength and courage

prayer for strength and courage

I hope you are still with me on our spiritual journey as we meditate 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 4, Day 4 is: *

“Taking, as Jesus did,

This sinful world as it is,

Not as I would have it”

Sin has gotten such a bad rap, it’s sad. When you examine sin, you examine consciousness. The only time sin imprisons us is when we disown our dark side or disengage from it. No matter what we do to look and feel wholesome, pretty, innocent, smart, handsome and savvy, we are sinners. We comprise the world. If we don’t accept this, we fight a lost battle.

The good news is the first step, acceptance, is the hardest, but it is the answer to everything. The most courageous thing we can do is see ourselves the way we really are, not the way we would want to be. We don’t do this alone. God works through people. God works through you. He is the ever-present anchor. He wants you to hold your head up, look squarely at yourself and reckon with the fear. Only at that point can you embrace change. And when you change yourself, the world shifts for the better.

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

* Yesterday was a day off, so I skipped a day!

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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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.