There’s nothing to be afraid of

My mother grew up in the hills of Tennessee where she recalls an elderly gentleman who used to spin yarns. He’d tell his tale and then, in his folksy Southern accent, say, “You can believe it or leave it alone.” That’s how I feel about the blog post I’m about to share. You can believe it or leave it alone. 

I share this story in the hope that you, too, may find peace in whatever life brings this year. There is nothing to be afraid of.

*******

I tend to worry. Believe me, I’ve prayed endless prayers to trust more in God, to be healed of the anxiety that often grabs at my gut and stares me down with its unsettling eyes.

I can tell you all the reasons I get anxious, but that knowledge doesn’t help when I’m in the midst of some health-care challenge involving dad or mom, or someone I love, or some concern about my own health. I can tick off the numerous causes that prompt my “inner child” to become so fearful.

None of those reasons matter. Because in the end, the fear — and let’s call it what it is — is about me wanting to be in control and not having faith in a Higher Power. 

Thankfully, I’m not always anxious. Sometimes, grace will enfold me and I’ll be more at peace. Being human, however, I can be pulled away from trust in a nanosecond and find myself face down in the ugly muck of fear.

But the last two weeks, something happened.

A friend recently died. I’ve been praying for her spirit because that’s what I do. I pray not only for many loved ones still here, but also those in that space you can call “heaven” or “the other side” or whatever name you want to give it.

Ultimately, we are one energy. And whatever dimension or space our spirits inhabit when they leave our bodies, I believe we are always connected and in need of prayerful love and attention. So, I had been praying for my friend.

The week before Christmas I put out my decorations, including a small stuffed bear in a Santa outfit. When you press on its left paw — and you must press very hard (envision a dog’s squeaky toy and that’s how hard you must press) — the bear plays in tinkling chimes “Jingle Bells — dashing through the snow.”

Two days before Christmas I had been out shopping in a soft, falling snow. I had entered my place and sat my bags on the floor by the chair where the bear rests. And then it happened. The bear began to play.

How could that be? I hadn’t touched it. I stood there, baffled, listening. The music stopped for a few seconds, then it started again.

What was happening? I’d had the bear for 10 years and not ONCE had it done this. Ever.

I let it go, attributing it to some fluke, but a whisper of something else nagged at my soul. Could it be my friend letting me know she was OK?

I woke up on New Year’s Eve morning and walked into the kitchen to make coffee. When I turned on the light, half the power went out in my place. I’ve lived here for some time and that had never happened. I called our maintenance man and he was baffled. None of the switches on the fuse box were tripped and nothing was amiss. He tripped the master switch anyway and the power came back on.

Again, I dismissed it. But that pull to listen returned. I kept feeling a message wanted to be heard. But what?

Yesterday morning, I was getting dressed and next to the stuffed bear.  It hadn’t played a tune since that last mysterious occurrence. But once again, the bear began to play.

As before, the music stopped for a few seconds. Then it started again and wouldn’t stop until I finally said out loud, “I know you’re here. You can stop now.” And the music immediately stopped.

In my heart, I felt something wanted to be conveyed. But I had no idea what that might be. I prayed and asked that if my friend — or another angelic being — was trying to tell me something, that I might be open to hearing it. Nothing came.

I don’t watch much television. Hate commercials and usually turn them off. But last night, I caught one advertisement for TurboTax. A strange pull came over to me that I was meant to see this. What? A tax commercial?

The TV ad showed  a toy bear, about the size of my own stuffed bear without the Santa outfit, toddling a step at a time toward a frightened woman. This lady peeked out from behind a closet, terrified, believing something terrible was waiting for her.

And then, as the bear giggled and danced toward her, the words read:

THERE IS NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF.

I sat there in awe.

I shared all this with a friend who pooh-poohed it, attributing it to natural causes. You might, too, and that’s OK. As I said in the beginning, you can take this tale or leave it alone.

But for me, it was a clear and direct message from God that my prayers have been heard, that the Divine does want me and all of us to be healed of worry and fear.

I know experiences will come this year when I will be tested, when fear will shove me back into old patterns. Will I truly have learned to “let go and let God?”

I don’t know. But when challenges come, I will hold on to these words: “There is nothing to be afraid of.”

I will allow myself to breathe into the fear, knowing the Divine spirit of Love has got my back. And I will learn to trust. A step at a time, toddling toward faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another Christmas story

As children we are sometimes oblivious to what our parents are going through. Especially at Christmas. Dad used to tell this story in his inspirational lectures before he had the stroke. Perhaps it’s time I share it now, with some modifications.

*******

We had just moved from tropical South Texas to the Philadelphia area. Dad’s work had transferred him to what I felt was an alien planet — cold, bleak and unfriendly — but my siblings and I adapted.

As Christmas approached, we were excited and rambunctious.

Little did we know that even though dad now had a better job, making ends meet was difficult because of the move. I was 10 years old and had no idea we might be poor.

My mother was worried about Christmas. Dad kept telling her to have faith.

“But we don’t enough money for toys, a Christmas turkey … or even a tree.”

“God will provide,” he assured her.

My mother trusted God but she also knew that we would expect toys and a Christmas tree. On Christmas Eve day, my father phoned my mother from work and said he had an extra $10. In the early 1960s, that amount of money could buy a great deal. Not enough for a tree or toys. But at least we’d have Christmas dinner, he told my mother.

On the way home from work, my father stopped into a church. He knelt and prayed. He thanked God for taking care of his family. He asked that this be the best Christmas ever for his wife and children.

He held back tears, not knowing how God was going to do that, but his faith was deep and strong. He knew God would answer his prayer.

As he walked down the aisle, a man approached him.

“Sir, my wife is ill. I have an infant son and I’m out of work. We have nothing on this Christmas Eve. If you can spare even a dollar, I would be so thankful.”

My father stood there, not knowing what to do. He needed this money for his own family. But it was Christmas Eve and this man was in need. Dad dug into his wallet and handed the man his last $10.

“Go and take care of your family. Merry Christmas.”

The man began to cry.

“God bless you, sir,” he told my father, hugging him.

As dad left the church he wondered what he was going to tell my mother. He knew she’d be upset. When he got home and shared what had happened, she looked at him with tears in her eyes.

“But what about our Christmas?”

A knock on the door interrupted their conversation. The neighbor across the street and his adult son stood there, holding a huge, fresh-cut Christmas tree.

“We’re not sure you could use this,” said our neighbor, “but my son came into town for Christmas and didn’t know we already had a tree and bought this one. Can you use it?”

“Yes, we can!” my father said, thanking him, as we all stood there, our eyes growing wide.

Then came another knock. The local volunteer fire company was delivering Christmas dinners, complete with turkey and the trimmings. My father was having a difficult time settling us down at all the excitement.

“But what about gifts for the children?” my mother whispered, as we decorated the tree.

“God’s come through so far. Just wait.”

My mother still wasn’t sure, but at least she knew we had a tree and a Christmas dinner.

Later that evening, as it grew colder and a soft snow fell, my mother thought she heard another knock on the door. When she went to open it, she found two huge boxes, brimming with wrapped gifts.

“Someone must have known we were in need and delivered them,” my mother whispered.

I still remember that Christmas. Life was hard and we may have been poor, but in hindsight, I see how rich we were. My parents gave us the greatest gift of all — one of faith, that all things are possible with God.

We witnessed firsthand the true meaning of Christmas, how God was manifest and born through the love and kindness of neighbors and strangers.

And God had answered dad’s prayer after all. It was indeed the best Christmas ever.

*******

Thank you all for the gift of your readership and presence here. I wish you and your loved ones a joyous Christmas, a blessed holiday season and a Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift

Here in the Northeast, the weather is turning colder, leaves are falling and geese flock in chevron flight across sullen-gray skies. This time of year — one of giving thanks — seems right to share this essay again. Some of you have read this before. For those who haven’t, here is The Gift.

*******

I have started walking again in the park. This has become a prayer, a way of grounding myself.

When my feet are pulled to earth, my body centers, then my mind and finally my spirit. It does not always happen this way, but when it does, it’s as if irritating gauze has been lifted from my eyes, as if the earth beneath my feet becomes the salivated soil the Messiah used to heal the eyes of the blind man.

The park has a pond at its center, thick with geese. They are there now, but soon they will be gone. They know it will be time to go.

How is it they have this inner sense of rightness, of being, without questioning? Is it the scent of snow crystallizing in the upper atmosphere, the blustery skies, the days of dim and muted light?

I think it is none of those, but an act of trust in the highest good of which they are a part. So they surrender. And in surrendering, they are protected.

Winter is coming and I dread it. I liked this season once, appreciated the mystery of snow, the way it coated roof tops and tree limbs with layers of whipped-cream softness. It smothered the world in comforting silence, the muffled sounds of cars lumbering by, a child on a sled, her squeal of delight echoing across a hill, pure and clear as a soprano’s piercing the frigid night air.

Now, as I have grown older, I wonder where and how I lost those childlike eyes, the thrill of innocence in the present moment, the staccato crunch of snow beneath my boots.

When did I lose the joy of building a snowman until my nose and cheeks were pink and my gloved fingers tingled? When did I abandon the delicious act of spreading my arms and legs on mounds of white to carve out angels?

I had become blinded by the winters of life, by deadlines and adult duties, meeting others through mist and fog — vaporous and not present — and hibernating, waiting for spring, hope and life.

One day, at the pond filled with geese, Sara Maria gave me hope. To say she gave me hope is to say everything. That day God was revealed to me and was embodied in this girl-child. She became Yahweh and Emmanuel, the ever-present moment of I AM and God with us.

In my life, I believed in God and often prayed to know God better. I sought direction and signs. I asked the eternal “why” but often, God was silent. Why then did God listen that day and choose to speak in that way? Was it because that afternoon as I sat on the park bench, watching geese lift from the pond and glide off into the dusky sky, a young father and his child filled my heart with an unexpected thanksgiving?

The sun was low, soft light filtering through the leaves, dappling field and wildflowers. Father and daughter walked hand-in-hand in the distance.

Patiently, he waited as she stopped at times to bend down and scoop up something in her hands. Even from afar I could sense his love for her, she, free to explore, and he, watching and protecting.

As they walked closer to me, I could see she was a pretty child, a round face and curious eyes, taking in all of life without question or judgment. Her thin legs would break into a happy skip and then she would squat, exploring the earth in great detail.

I knew they meant to pass me by, and I, in turn, would offer a simple hello. Then, the child did something unexpectedly — she stopped before me. She stood there, frail and elfin-like, her silent stance embracing me in acceptance.

She asked my name. I told her and asked hers in turn. We began a conversation of the highest realm, of her walk by the pond, of her father, of her mother at home, of the geese on the pond.

It was then I noticed she clutched something in her right hand — a bouquet of tattered and mottled goose feathers.

These were special, she told me, showing me the unique designs of each and then sharing what she would do with these when she returned home — dust her doll furniture, tickle her brother, tuck them in her hair and pretend she was an Indian princess. Her body was a ballerina’s as she spoke, tiptoeing around her father’s legs, lowering her eyes and then lifting them to meet mine.

Words spent, she cocked her head and grinned. She tugged at her father’s leg and he bent close to her small face as she whispered in his ear.

“Fine,” he said. “That’s a wonderful idea.”

She paused shyly, then extended her arm and hand, straight into my space, straight into my heart.

“For you,” she said.

I could not speak. What could I say to this gift from this stranger-child, a gift she had gathered with joy and love?

“Thank you,” I whispered. “Would you like to take one home with you? Pick the one you’d like. It will be our special feather.”

She nodded and after a few seconds of deliberation, chose one. Then, holding her father’s hand she said good-bye and walked away.

For days after when I walked in the park I would look for Sara Maria, hoping to see her again so that I might truly thank her. But I never did. I finally decided that this was the way it was meant to be. She was there for me at one moment in time when I needed her.

I took the feathers that day and gave them to the water, one by one, a symbolic gesture that I could not hold on to anything in my life, not even the blessings.

I let them float on undirected breezes, knowing that my journey had to be a letting go, a trust that wherever I am is good, secure and protected because of a higher power at my side.

Each feather became a prayer.

******

(Blogger’s Note:  In 2012, this essay placed fifth — among thousands of entries — in the inspirational category of the annual writing competition of Writers Digest Magazine.)

Tipping point

Most times I feel I’m stumbling through life. Poorly.

I turn on the morning news, only to catch the weather forecast. I don’t watch news as a rule. Bad energy. This time, the energy is vile and foul. Another mass shooting. I am aware I am assaulted by fatigue. Weariness. And my life, other than bumbling about, already feels weary.

I want to crawl back in bed and hide under the covers.

But I can’t. Like many of you, I have responsibilities. I care for a father who had a stroke and is 90. I’m struggling to revise the manuscript of my new novel. I’m trying to find part-time work in the midst of caregiving and in the midst of it all, have some kind of personal life.

I also realize I am sad. I am struggling to stay away from the news. The media is covering this event as it has every other blood-drenched massacre, with each detail drawn out, focused on, expanded. Watching too much can be addictive and drag me deeper into the morass of our country’s sorrow.

I make a cup of coffee and go over my day. Doctors to call. Sitting with dad for a time. I look at the news again to learn of any new developments. I shut it off. I go to Facebook. Everyone is offering prayers. Posting photos with candles and expressing their sorrow. All this is good. But haven’t we done this what feels like a thousand times before? Does it change anything?

I am a big praying person. Each day I ask the Divine for peace in the hearts of all people and our world. In my heart. But as I sit in prayer and meditation, I wonder: Is it working, helping at all? I ask a friend this and she says, “But you don’t know if your one small prayer won’t be the tipping point to peace. Keep praying.”

The truth is, my empath-self is on overwhelm. After the hurricanes in this country and then the aftermath of Puerto Rico — now this — I can only absorb so much. Shields up. Shields up. I am feeling the sorrow of our humanity and what we keep doing to each other. Of our disconnection to each other and Mother Earth.

I feel powerless. And weary.

I shut off the TV and laptop and start my day. I head outside into fall weather, with brilliant blue skies, sunshine, crisp cool air, tree tops ablaze in oranges and golds. The day seems to mock the agony in our world. I meet a neighbor who smiles and I smile back. He asks how I am and truly means it. I offer the usual “I’m OK” and ask how he is. He is OK, too.

I hear small birds twittering in the bushes and watch another neighbor help a woman get her groceries out of the trunk of her car. I stop for a crossing guard who guides children across the street. He grins at me and waves me on. When I get to my parents’ home, I hug dad and ask him in Spanish how he is. “Estoy bien,” he says, and this warms my heart.

This is life, I remind myself. The little things we do each day that stitch together the fabric of our lives and being. The kind and loving gestures. The acknowledgment of each other as part of the same family.

I can not change what happened in Puerto Rico or Texas, Florida or Las Vegas and before that at Sandy Hook Elementary. And I may not be able to do great things — feed starving children in other countries or even in our own country, provide shelter for the homeless, or help the thousands of women and children who are sold into sex trafficking each year.

But I can control how loving I choose to be in this moment — in this day. I can, as Mother Teresa said, “Do small things with great love.”

This can be my intention and focus with each breath as I stumble through what seems my small, meaningless life. I can also choose to take some kind of action about violence of too many kinds in our country; I can write to politicians to make my voice heard. I can become involved in grass-roots groups, from faith-based to local government.

I can write. These words. They often save me. Perhaps help others.

Or I can sink into the weariness and powerlessness. Wait for the next mass shooting.

I gather up courage and whisper another prayer for peace. Perhaps it will be the tipping point.

The grace to remember

I went to the Garden of Reflection in Yardley today. The park commemorates 911 and the lives lost — in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, Shanksville, Pa.

The energy of the space belies the horror and evil we all felt and experienced. The memorial exudes peace. Two fountains spurt upward, an ethereal remembrance of the towers, and a circular wall lists the names of those who died.

Surrounded by vast green farmlands and thick, sweet woods, the garden is surrounded by an other-worldly silence. Today, many came to walk there, as I did. And remember.

The weather was much the same was it was that day in 2001. Deep blue skies without a cloud, bright sun, a temperate breeze.

I read the names. These people came to work that day, perhaps were thinking about meetings, phone calls, what they would be doing later that evening — dinner with family or friends.

And then.

I kept walking the circle. Some family members had placed vases with roses, or a single rose, beneath their loved one’s name. Many who died were from this area, including one of the pilots.

As I took in the energy of these names, I was reminded: Each was loved. Each had a mother, father, sister, brother, aunt or uncle, daughter or son, a friend — someone who cherished them.

I sat on a bench beneath a shady tree. I thought of all that has happened in our world since then. All that is still happening. Those suffering from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, an earthquake in Mexico, wildfires and excessive heat and droughts, the threat of nuclear war.

I thought of my own personal situation, how each day dad declines and his care becomes more difficult, and how so many in our world are struggling and suffering in even more horrendous circumstances.

In his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold Kushner writes:

“Pain is the price we pay for being alive. Dead cells—our hair, our fingernails—can’t feel pain; they cannot feel anything. When we understand that, our question will change from, “Why do we have to feel pain?” to “What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?” 

I’m still struggling with that question.

I have met those in my life who have transformed their suffering — those who have lost spouses or children who end up helping those in similar situations, or those who have been addicted who get into recovery and then become drug and alcohol counselors. And some, who because of the pain they’ve suffered, open up to others with more compassion and love.

And I’ve met yet others who have sunk into their grief or sorrow with bitterness and despair.

Many times we want it all to go away. Or we pray to God for miracles. Kushner says:

“We can’t pray that God make our lives free of problems; this won’t happen, and it is probably just as well. We can’t ask Him to make us and those we love immune to diseases, because He can’t do that. We can’t ask Him to weave a magic spell around us so that bad things will only happen to other people, and never to us.

People who pray for miracles usually don’t get miracles, any more than children who pray for bicycles, good grades, or good boyfriends get them as a result of praying. But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of they have lost, very often find their prayer answered.”  

I left the park, praying for all of us — for courage and strength to bear the unbearable, to remember with gratitude what we have left, instead of what we have lost.

As I offered the words up to the heavens, I watched a child escape from his mother and run with abandon through the grass, laughing.

A small joy amidst the sorrow. I smiled.

 

Walking on three legs

I took a brief walk in the park the other day.

The wind whipped leaves past my feet, a frigid blast taking my breath away. But the sun was shining. I was happy to be outside, to feel comforting warmth on my face.

Step by step I meditated and prayed, my usual practice when I walk.

What filled me this time, however, was a tsunami of dread and fear. As a sensitive and creative spirit, I pick up energies. And those of the world have flooded me lately, so much so that I feel I am drowning.

I do what I can to balance what I call the “negatives” that I’m absorbing. I wake without media of any kind. I play soothing music, then meditate, pray and send love to the world, to those in need. I write. And when I can, I walk.

fear-of-love-7-21Still, as I walked that day, I kept wondering why we are in such turmoil on the planet right now. Why we can’t seem to find balance or at least respect for one another. Why I’ve been feeling and sensing so much hate that has left me depleted and exhausted.

And why we can’t see that fear and hate just don’t work, that when you come down to it, we’re all connected as part of one human family, God’s family.

All spiritual traditions teach us to love one another and Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In truth, I feel he meant something quite different. I believe he meant “Love your neighbor because that person IS yourself.”

I kept walking, a few folks with dogs passing by. In the distance a young woman approached with a black dog on a leash, running in abandon before her. As they came closer, I could see the dog was hobbling. He had three legs.

They stopped and he approached me, panting, tail wagging, full of unbridled joy, wanting to be petted.

dog-sunset“He’s wonderful,” I said. “What’s his name?”

The woman smiled.

“Brody. He’s a rescue and I was told he was born this way.”

I gave Brody more love said goodbye and continued my walk.

Brody held no strong opinions, no judgment, no “poor-me-I-have-no-leg” attitude. Brody was simply running on three legs with delight.

That cold afternoon, Brody became my teacher. I saw that like him we all have some kind of handicap, whether it’s visible or not. Our childhoods and life experiences have molded us to hold certain beliefs, to behave in certain ways.

Perhaps we have prejudices about a certain group of people.

Perhaps we have learned not to trust men or women because of the ways our father or mother treated us.

Perhaps we grew up believing that the other guy is out to get us or that life is cruel.

Despite our handicaps – whether we judge them as good or bad – we need to move past them. How? For me, the first step is always awareness. I can’t change anything until I’m aware of it. So meditation is my go-to process to sit down and really listen to what’s going on inside.

I think it’s easy for any of us to feel self-righteous about our beliefs. But many times, we need to sit in silence to hear what’s lurking beneath the surface. And then, we can choose to do something about whatever we’ve noticed.

holdingspaceforyourselffeatureIt might be sacred activism. Or it may be more sitting time in meditation. Or prayer. Or walking. Whatever brings peace to our souls and to the world is always my bottom line.

In her book How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life Susan Piver equates fear to those times when we simply lose sight of anyone but ourselves in our effort to secure what we think we must have.

“You want to walk over the backs of others in high heels and it feels gooood,” she writes. But that feeling is momentary and passing. What lasts is stepping back, taking a breath and looking at the bigger picture. Listening to ourselves. Listening to others.

I go back to Brody who was walking with his own handicap. He was able to overcome it — not by offering aggression or fear. But by simply giving and being love.

And isn’t that a good start for all of us?

 

Angel in flight

Here is one of many stories — slightly revised from memory — that my father used to tell. Sometimes we are sent a messenger, unexpected and not from this realm. May you find something here that heals, encourages or helps.

*******

My father had been flying home from one of his many inspirational and spiritual lectures.

He had traveled across the country, speaking to others about the greatness of God and how they, too, as children of God, were born for greatness. Why settle for less?

Because dad was always so open to the Spirit working in him, miracles often happened. People were healed of past emotional hurts and sometimes, physical pain.

darkness-to-light1As dad settled into his airplane seat, he was exhausted. Perhaps it was that fatigue that made him remember some of his own past hurts. As a first-generation Mexican American, he had worked hard to bring himself up from poverty and to create a successful career in broadcast engineering.

Still, while working at a TV station in South Texas, he remembered a fellow worker, an Anglo, who despised him.

After work one day, with the ruse of talking to him about a problem, he pulled my father into an alley behind the building and started beating my father, breaking some of his ribs.

“This is what we do to filthy Spics,” he screamed at my father.

It took some time, but dad forgave him from his heart. In fact, many of his talks were about forgiveness and how it was essential to our own happiness and well-being to forgive others.

Still, as dad opened that mental door to how he had been treated, other slights began pouring into his thoughts. He had just been lecturing and speaking to hundreds about letting go of the past and giving it to God for healing and there he was, feeling sorry for himself and all he had suffered as a Mexican.

As he sat waiting for the plane to take off, a woman slid in the seat beside him. She was quiet at first, but dad, always interested in hearing people’s stories, began talking to her, asking her questions about her life.

She was an older, attractive woman with a worn face and gentle smile. She told him she was Jewish.

flight of an angelThen she paused, as if debating whether to share something personal, and finally said, “I was in a concentration camp during the war. I survived. My family did not.”

She went on to tell him about the horrific conditions, about the emotional and physical pain — of the relentless hunger and cold.

“But I learned to forgive,” she said. “It saved me. And I prayed — to the one God who loves us all. Prayer is more powerful than people understand.”

They finished their conversation and dad, pondering her words, fell asleep. With the plane mid-flight, he roused to find the woman gone. Perhaps she had gone to the restroom, he reasoned.

When the captain announced the plane was landing, and the woman still had not returned to her seat, dad became concerned.

As they deplaned, he inquired about the woman. The flight attendant said she knew of no such woman — that no one of that description had been on the plane, nor had anyone been seated next to him.

Surely the attendant was mistaken, he thought. He had not made up this woman or the conversation. He insisted she check the restrooms but no one was there. He even waited by the gate — as the last members of the flight crew straggled past him — to see if she still might appear, but she never emerged.

Years later, dad told me he felt she was an angel, someone sent to remind him that no matter how much we suffer, we need to be thankful — for the precious gift of life.

healing energy handsThat we can respond to any given situation with love or hate. That we can grow from pains and hurts or we can choose self-pity. That we can rise above our individual and global hurts and with the grace of God, learn to love as God loves.

Did dad really see an angel?

It doesn’t matter. What does matter is the message, one we need to hear again and again, especially in today’s troubled world.

Forgive. Pray. Love.

Yes, most of all — love.