Float it to the Heavens

NM3

Photo Credit: Anne Yoken

Living in the past gives you sorrow.

That’s what my friend Tippy IM’d me a few weeks ago.

She is right. She refers to what the 12-step community calls “morbid reflection.”

So one year ago, this past Memorial Day Weekend, the Saturday my 26-year-old son arrived home for what would be the last time I would ever see him, the sky was clear as a lens, the air floated gently, spiked with excitement. My friend Pat, his Godmother, but closer than a grandmother, and I went to pick him from a shuttle stop nearby. In a typical “Marshall story,” an hour and a half shuttle ride from the airport turned out to be three hours. Incredibly, the driver avoided highways and traveled only via major route. We later surmised that the man had an irrational fear of highways. It made no sense, but again, it was a typical “Marshall story.”

In typical Marshall fashion, my son didn’t complain. He was unnerved from the three-hour shuttle ride. Calmly, he shook off the entire nightmare of a trip the minute he stepped out of the van as he towered over me, healthy and vibrant with a big, big white smile and goofy giggle so much like my own and my brother Paul’s.

That weekend, we enjoyed lovely weather and spent some of the best quality time day tripping to Stonington, CT, the place that he loved the most. The three of us, Pat, my son and I spent the holiday with a ribbon of velvety fabric moments, a cocoon of unconditional love wrapped around us. At one point, I watched my son stroll out to the tip of the beach’s jetty and peace resonated around him as did the sun and sky and the world held an oyster of pearls and promise in its palm.

How I want to reach backwards and snatch what has been stripped from our shells of happiness.

Little did we know the future would not be long and how, the Memorial Day weekend a year later, I would dread the clear azure sky and the memories it brought with it. The sorrow of seeing him for the last time.

Living in the past gives you sorrow.

I began this past weekend feeling like I was going to jump out of my skin and as if I necessitated a padded room for my brain on fire. I hit the off switch and isolated and insulated to protect myself. No Facebook. No glances at my son’s text messages from a year ago. No peaking at last year’s beautiful big, blue sky photos in which we all smiled without being prompted, “Cheese!”

So, as it turned out, my sister friend Anne in New Mexico, started to text me photos (she’s #1 photographer on this blog) during the weekend and asked me and my daughter to visit her in the future. I explained that I am, among other things, riddled with survivor’s guilt. Marsh wanted nothing more than to visit the desert, not me.

Living in the past gives you sorrow

“Survivor’s guilt holds you down, so please float it to the heavens and know how much he loved you. At least you can visit the desert and leave a memento of his.”

So out of the ill-luck hand I was dealt, loser cards of sorrow, faith comes in Anne’s text. Instead of sorrow, I am forcing myself to not look back but look forward and think about what memento or two I can bring when we are ready to visit New Mexico, so we can leave a little piece of him in the desert. Some people believe that faith isn’t a tangible thing that you can just pull out of your pocket. I disagree. Under the heat of the desert sun, sometimes the restorative qualities of a bottle of water pulled out of your pocket will saturate you with all the faith you will ever need.

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Faith Muscle

Unbearable Beautiful World

Today marks six months since my 26-year-old passed away. I am learning to break down each 24-hour interval into manageable milliseconds. There is no turnoff switch for me to prevent explosive emotions from erupting. However, when I feel I will fizzle into smithereens, I have discovered that people’s kind words and gestures become like a pressure relief safety valve.

Most recently, my safety valve was a friend and mentor. Betsy choked up as she spoke about her 28-year-old son, who took his own life 11 years ago. She shared about how more than usual she felt his presence that day. Listening to her, I not only felt great empathy, but my degree of sorrow for her matched my sorrow, if, perhaps, was greater than my own sorrow. And for that turn-of-the-pressure-relief-safety-valve moment, I exhaled, gifted with pain relief.

But wait, there’s more. As Betsy, generally a proud and really, really humorous fortress of a woman, continued to share, she spoke about how her son’s death only magnifies the beauty around her and gives her faith. That’s a tough order for me right now. Every beautiful pink-blushed apple blossom, magnolia flower and springtime landscape framed in natural beauty reminds me of my son, and I long in anguish for him even more. I cannot fathom the beauty through Betsy’s personal window. That is until I realize deep grief stems from deep love, and what is more beautiful than love? Now, I’m in the process of flexing my faith muscle so I can open up my window just a tad wider and let the sun spread it healing rays.

 

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Faith Muscle

The Cure By Albert Huffstickler

When the pain of my grief becomes unmanageable, I read the The Cure by Albert Huffstickler. I especially refer to it when the clueless around me spew quick-fix mouth service like “Let it go!” “It will get better.” “He’s in a better place,” and all the sentences that begin with proper nouns like Jesus, God and Buddha.

This poem gives me faith that someday I will have “the faith that it will fit in.” One day I hope to frame the poem and display it prominently on the wall. I also think a framed copy would make a great gift for grief-stricken individuals. In the interim, I frame my painful heart with these words, and the poem holds the fragments together like a vase.

THE CURE
We think we get over things.
We don’t get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles,
But not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
The things that become part of our experience
Never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to “get over” a life is to die.
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish
But in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things
and be then not any less pain but true to form.
Because anything natural has an inherent shape and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That’s what we’re looking for: not the end of a thing but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life without obliterating (getting over) a single
instant of it.

biceps-2750460_1280

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

“All there is is love!”

Love conquers all

Love conquers all

Do everything in love. ~1 Corinthians 16:14 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

touched by an angel

touched by an angel

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

What God is

What God is

Today, I hope you join our community, if you haven’t already, in some daily spiritual inspiration 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 5, Day 5 is:*

Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will.

Ahhhh! Sweet surrender. To me, this is the stress breaker prayer. It defines the question, “What is spirituality?”

The proof of God is in the calming of my hyperactive thoughts. White flag surrender like sin has gotten a bad rap these days.

If you trust your higher power—God, Jesus—Good Orderly Direction, and feel He loves you, then isn’t it a practical move to allow Him, not you, the center ring in the watchtower that stands over your world? I cannot get into God’s mind, but I have to reckon with the fact that he IS God and sees the divine. I, within my mortal confines, only see a sliver of truth. I do not know why babies die or why floods wash away entire villages, but I do know that I reap my strength, comfort, courage and ultimate peace from Him.

If I believe he is the sole proprietor of the reset button, after all, he created it, then why should worry riddle me? I truly am powerless. When I am sharing the bed with my control freak, the fix-it visualization is a tree branch stricken by a violent storm. If it bends in the direction of the wind, the branch will never break or crack. I visualize my spine, limber like Gumpy. Then I can hobble forward and attempt a proactive action.

When I surrender to His will, I release my position in the command center and the false sense of controlling the universe. I am aghast at how stupidly powerful I think I am. I feel best when I hand over the steering wheel to Him and my ego takes a respite in the backseat.

Through my adolescence into my early 20s, fighting, in a constant rage, I was like a cracked, splintered branch, totally useless in a hurt form.

“Surrender to win. Surrender to win.”

My dear friend George, who accurately interpreted my will of steel, persistently repeated to me whenever I saw him, which back then was on a daily basis. Some five years prior to my knowing him, he was involved in a near-fatal drunk driving accident, driving his automobile into a tree. After the EMT team resuscitated him, he survived in a coma for six months in the ICU at the hospital. Astounding the medical experts, he gained consciousness.  After years of living super glued to his personal agenda, this one-time marine commander woke up; healed from the soul out and the bounce of youth even lightened the limp in his left leg, a leftover war injury.

“Surrender to win. Surrender to win.”

With a buoyancy under his heels, he still proclaims, beaming, like a schoolboy, willing and ready, excited to take on the next challenge.

I had fought George for years on that one; I resisted and bulked. Finally, about ten years after knowing him while on my journey of personal spiritual change, I began to repair all the damage that I had done to the branches of my spirit, soul and body. Now, nearly whole, I am the first to surrender to the battle ahead. By doing so, I have instant access to the switch that opens up the parachute. I like floating around life held by Grace, soaring with dignity. Ahhhh! Sweet surrender. If I could bottle this stuff, I’d make millions; of course, I’ve already hit the jackpot along with a very selective few, winners like my friend George.

* Sorry, since my life is mostly in crisis mode, I had a few days of delays in our daily prayer.

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

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!