Backseat angels.

January 25, 2011 | Posted in Philosophy | By

I’ve been a little under the weather the past couple of days and, true to form, I choose times like this to take on major projects around my home. This time happens to be the massive project of getting my library in order. With a couple of thousand books to organize, I’m now starting my third day and I’ve still got a long way to go! The good news is one particular book I came across inspired today’s story.

I’m a big believer in the saying, ‘The book you don’t read won’t help you’. This particular book has saved me a fortune and maybe even kept me from going to jail. No joke. The book? Random Acts of Kindness. I don’t know if you’ve ever read it but it’s very precious. Only takes a couple of hours to read cover to cover and has the ability to transform your life if you let it. Wiki describes the premise of the book this way:

random act of kindness is a selfless act performed by a person or persons wishing to either assist or cheer up an individual. The phrase may have been coined by Anne Herbert, who claims to have written “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a place mat at a Sausalito restaurant in 1982 or 1983.[1][2] Either spontaneous or planned in advance, random acts of kindness are encouraged by various communities

My first hand experience of this book started when I picked it up in 1993. And learning from Mary Kay Ash (in the decade prior) that if you don’t put something you’ve learned into practice within 24 hours of learning it, it’s as if you wasted the time spent getting the knowledge. Translated this means, use it NOW!, or lose it. On this particular day of using it or losing it, I ended up working especially late and I was running out of time.

As the story goes, I was driving home down the interstate highway at 11:30 PM when I happened to notice a highway patrol car in front of me. I found myself thinking, “I would love to let this officer know how much I appreciate him for all the things he’s done for me. He risks his life to be out here keeping the roads safe. He’s away from his family when he could be home sleeping in a warm bed with his wife. He has a dangerous job and I’m so grateful to him for his dedication. I wish there was a way I could get his attention. Maybe I could flash my headlights at him. Maybe I could pull up next to him, honk and wave him over to the shoulder. Maybe, maybe, maybe … but how can I do this without making a fool of myself? … or getting in big trouble? … or whatever?!! … because I really, really, really want this highway patrolman to know that he is appreciated and respected by me?!!!”

I keep at this thinking for quite a while, but, alas, I couldn’t find a reasonable way to get the job done, so I finally gave up on letting this particular officer be the recipient of my first official random of act of kindness. So … be careful what you ask for … you can only imagine how delighted I was when the patrol car slowed down, dropped to my right, pulled in behind me, and turned his lights on.

Here it is nearly midnight and I’m being pulled over, hip-hip-hooray!!! (For those who know the area, it’s the turn on the Superstition going into Tempe just before the Mill Avenue exit. I still pay homage every time I drive by!) Incredibly happy at my good fortune, as the officer made his way to my car, I reached over to the glove compartment to get my registration and then pulled out my wallet to get my driver’s license.

With me smiling from ear to ear, the officer got to my window and shined his light into my face while saying, “Good evening, ma’am. Do you have any idea why I pulled you over?” to which I responded, “No Officer, but I’m SO glad you did, truly I am!” to which [in a slightly surprised tone of voice due to my being overly chipper to see him] he said, “I pulled you over because you’ve been tail-gating me for the last three miles and tail-gaiting is a very dangerous thing to do.” to which I responded, “Forgive me, Officer! I normally don’t tail-gate but I read Random Acts of Kindness today and I was preoccupied because all I could think about was how much I wanted to pull you over and thank you for all the wonderful things you do for me and for others. I couldn’t figure out how to do it so I finally decided to give up on the idea, which is to say it’s probably why I was tail-gating you.”

At this point, I’d already handed him my registration and license and [as he read my information] without skipping a beat continued with, “I can’t believe my good fortune that you pulled me over and now that you have, thank you for risking your life for me on a daily basis and for keeping our roads safe. I so love and appreciate all the brave men and women of the Highway Patrol! I’m grateful for their families, too, for sharing you with us! I don’t mind that I’m getting pulled over for tail-gating because it’s given me the opportunity to say thank you. So thank you Officer for giving me the opportunity to tell you that I appreciate, respect and admire you!!! I don’t mind getting this ticket. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!”

I wish you could have been there. It only took a minute to say but it was one of the most delightfully sublime learning experiences of my life and years later, I’m still tickled to tell you the story. But the best part of the story isn’t what I’ve just relayed, it’s the officer’s reaction!

After my happy little speech, he looked at me and said, “Lady! I’ve heard it all! And this crock

absolutely positively beats anything I’ve ever heard!!” And with that, as well as with a simultaneous flick of his wrist, he literally threw my drivers license and registration back in through my window (I can still see them fluttering down into my lap as if in slow motion!), straightened his back ramrod straight, and while pointing down the road, yelled at me in an overly stern voice, “Get outta here!” As loud as he barked, part of me could still hear the note of disbelief [and genuine gratitude] in his voice.

As I put away my things away and while taking extra precaution getting back onto the highway, I was beyond happy. But it gets better!

The next thing I knew, the officer got back into his patrol car and as he pulled onto the highway behind me, he [briefly and for one instant] turned on his lights and flicked on his siren. And, as he passed me, he made eye contact, saluted me, and smiled as he sped off down the road. Little did I know that this random act of kindness on my part would have him leave behind nothing short of Two Angels that I’ve come to call my Backseat Angels of the Highway Patrol. Angels that are with me anytime I’m on the road.

I’ve traveled hundreds of thousands of miles in the 18 years since that night and I’ve tested them every which way to Sunday and, still, these Angels are always sitting in my back seat. I’m not kidding. Here’s proof.

Though I’m a good driver, I’ve been known to do things that are evidence that I’m not a perfect driver. I’ve been pulled over for excessive speed on long, lonely stretches of desert highway between Wickenburg and Wikieup (doing a 110 in a 70 mph zone is considered excessive by some, go figure) and though I was lectured and threatened to be taken to jail if I got caught doing it again, my Angel of the Highway Patrol didn’t give me a ticket. I did thank him for being my angel and I’ve never once driven 110 again (though it would be interesting to see if he’d keep his promise about hauling me off to jail!).

I once ran out of the house in a hurry and ended up getting pulled over for not having current tags on my plates, not having my drivers license on me, not updating my records after my move, speeding in a residential area and not wearing shoes while driving (yes, 5 separate things!). The officer looked at me and said, “Ma’am it’s Christmas [eve]. Please don’t do this again. Slow down. Get your records changed. Wear shoes. And have a Merry Christmas!” He smiled as I drove away and, yes, I (secretly) thanked him for being my Angel of the Highway Patrol’s Christmas Division.

Years ago I received a beautiful letter from the former head of the Highway Patrol, Chief Joe Albo. He told me that earlier in the day he’d witnessed me driving through the gore (that place between the white stripes leading onto and off the highway), and stated that he knew I was ‘probably in a rush to get to an important meeting, but please don’t do it again’. He told me that his officers use that space in order to do their [already dangerous] work and then reminded me that one of his officers had just been killed as a result of this type of bad driving habit. He told me that he would have given me a ticket had he been able to get through the traffic. Short of that, he felt the issue was important enough to warrant a personal letter. He concluded by thanking me, including his official photography and a couple of stickers with the Highway Patrols emblem. I cried. And, I learned that the Angels of the Highway Patrol have an Archangel and because of him I’ve never once driven through a gore again.

My list of these types of stories is very long including the fact that if I happen to be in the car with you and you get pulled over … I swear, you won’t get a ticket. Time and time again its been tested (my husband will vouch for this fact!). But I’ll conclude today’s story with my favorite story of all.

I got called in for jury duty and it happened to be a case involving a highway patrol officer. As they were sorting out the possible jurors, one of the questions was whether or not we had an opinion about law enforcement officers, highway patrolmen in particular, the DPS and ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation). Several hands went up including mine. Everyone got to speak and, to the letter, everyone said they were biased against the officers.

When the judge came to me, I told her, “Your honor I love the Highway Patrol and if selected I would most definitely be biased in favor of them.” Though she hadn’t asked the others why they opposed these law enforcement officers, for whatever reason, she asked me to explain why I felt this way, and, being the story teller that I am, I told her everything from reading Random Acts of Kindness to running headlong into the Angel I tailgated — flashlight, wrist flicking, lights, siren, salute, Chief Albo, my Back Seat Angels of the Highway Patrol and all. I concluded by nodding towards the officer and saying, “If I’m picked for this jury, there’s no way I’d be able to do anything but be on this officer’s side.” The judge, the officer, the attorneys, the defendant, the bailiff, and the remaining prospective jurors, all laughed, after which the judge pounded her gavel and sairandomactsd we’d take a short break. We were excused to the hall. About 30 minutes later the bailiff stuck his head out the door and told us a plea agreement had been reached and we were all dismissed (seems he winked at me and smiled when he said it). I’d like to think I had something to do with the decision to not go to trial. At the very least, I know I made the officer’s day.

Friends, speaking from experience, the book you won’t read won’t help you. The ones you do and especially the ones you take action on … could make all the difference in making ours a better world.

So go out there and hug the next officer you see. It just might insure your having a couple of Backseat Angels of the Highway Patrol (or Fire Department, or Army, or Navy, or Air Force or Marine Corp) of your own. Now if I could just find a couple of Angels of the Chicken Soup Patrol or the Library Book Patrol, I could get over this cold and put my library back together again …  🙂

 

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Love. On purpose and by design.

January 22, 2011 | Posted in Family | By

I have been very lucky in love. It was no accident. It was a very determined choice on my part.

I met the love of my life, Bob Samuelson, just short of my 21st birthday. I fell hopelessly in love with him when I was 23. I married him when I was 25. Last year we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. Falling in love 30 years ago was a difficult journey for us because, sadly, we were married to different people at the time. The painful lessons learned from breaking up two homes are stories for another day. Today’s story is about making the decision to love and be loved.

I don’t know if every child fantasizes about what it means to fall in love. I know I did. I can remember being in first grade and having a crush on Thomas Addison, an adorable little boy at East Elementary in Brownsburg, Indiana. I wondered what it would be like to kiss him and be kissed (sweet little kisses on the cheek and maybe the lips but as a six year old I couldn’t imagine love being anything more intimate than this!). I imagined we’d live happily every after in our treehouse, holding hands and swinging on our swingset forever and ever. This, to me, was how love looked when I was six.

When I was 11, my father was very ill (with epilepsy) and he and my mother and two youngest siblings moved to Arizona to find a better life. In order to finish the school year, my sister Cheri, my brother Chip and I were staying with our Aunt Millie and Uncle Ernie in Lafayette, IN.

Oakland Elementary. 5th grade. And there he was. My next great love, Mark Carrel. In Mr. Johnson’s class. A more angelic boy you’d never seen. Three days my senior, I was crazy, crazy, crazy about him.  I loved that he’d carry my books home every day. I wanted our walks to last forever.

We were so young, so innocent. I can remember our after school hours of playing hard kicking balls [or chasing fireflies] until we were called in for dinner. I’d think, “This must be what it means to be in love. Laughing and playing and walking home through life together.” Without so much as a hint of him even trying to steal a kiss, I loved Mark with all my heart.

Later that summer, I moved to Arizona to be with my family and Mark and I went on to become penpals. To this day, we still stay in touch and I still love him. I can only imagine what would have happened had I stayed in the ideallic hamlet of Lafayette… I undoubtedly would have ended up marrying that chivalrous boy next door … and we’d probably be chasing a whole collection of little fireflies of our own. (That said, Mark’s living happily ever after with the love of his life, Heather. They are a beautiful couple! Thank you, Mark, for being my friend nearly my entire life. You represent all that is good about childhood.)

From there my concepts of life and love became much more complicated. When I was 13 my father started showing the outward signs of being mentally unstable. Life became far more difficult and increasingly alarming for all of us. There was never any money. Dad couldn’t keep a job. He was angry all the time. And frightening to be around. For safety’s sake I knew better than to think of boys very much. I was far more interested in school and doing what was necessary in order to have a better life when I grew up.

The next love of my life came along when I was 16. Geno De Santa. A good Catholic boy. So sweet and brave and kind. That said, my father had already crossed the brink of insanity and he was more violent and brutal with each passing day. As the oldest, I was the one on the receiving end of the blunt force trauma. Geno, who came from a very loving family, attempted to protect me from my father but he was no physical match for a man who was possessed by powerful demonic forces. He was chased away by my father and as I watched him [reluctantly] leave, I felt as if my protector had been vanquished.

Geno holds a special place in my heart because during the time we cared for one another, I received the most brutal of three life-threatening beatings I would receive from my father. And it was during this particular beating that I made the decision that if I could make it out of my house (and childhood) alive, I would never ever be abused again. The precise moment the decision was made was one of my life-defining moments.

I was struck that it wasn’t made after the beating as one might expect. Nor was it made while I was licking my wounds over the next two weeks. It was made at the height of the beating with my back forced against the recliner and my father’s fist pummeling my face, loosening my teeth, blackening my eyes, bruising my body.

I am amazed that to this day I can remember the entire incident in stark detail but that I don’t remember the physical pain. I can only remember the calmness of my innerself. The 16 year old girl who was observing the incident in a-matter-of-fact sort of way. And all the while making a life defining decision, throughout the worse of the struggle, that would impact the rest of her life.

Afterwards, Geno and my two best girlfriends in high school (Mary McCabe and Pam Freund) held my hands while I healed from that beating. No criminal charges were filed against my father. No adults at my school said anything to me as I returned to school wearing dark sunglasses and sporting a black and blue body to match my blue and black uniform. It was 1973 and I guess people didn’t question how people treated their children. How far we’ve come since then.

Geno aside, a few months later, my father was in jail for committing a capital crime. Murder in the first degree. He was never a free man again. When he was convicted I said a silent prayer for it was then that I realized I was going to make it out of my house alive. I was 16 and free to choose a better life for myself. And I knew, for certain, that I would only choose to love men who loved me and cherished me and protected me. As a woman in her 50’s looking back on how her life has turned out, I realize being lucky in love didn’t happen by accident. It was a choice made for me by a 16 year old girl.

When I was a child, I loved as a child. But I loved wisely. And I am very blessed by my priceless childlike love relationships with both Mark and Geno.

As an adult, I’ve been deeply in love three times. All three are  wonderful men. I married the best of them.

I share this story with you today for one reason. It makes me very sad to see people suffering so when it comes to unhealthy and toxic relationships. Especially when those relationships are do-it-to-yourself situations.

We have two choices in life. Healthy relationships or unhealthy ones. If you’re in a healthy relationship, I’m rejoicing with you. If it’s unhealthy, we can either say, “Because of my past, I am going to keep choosing bad relationships.” Or we can say, “If I can get out of this relationship alive, I will never EVER be involved in a bad relationship again! I choose to be honored, loved, cherished and protected. I will love deeply and be loved deeply in return.” It’s as simple as that.

As one adult speaking to another, I assure you, once the decision is made, you will find the world is full of people willing to love you on your terms. From experience, our world is filled with good and honorable men and women waiting to love and be loved. This 16 year old girl knows, first hand, that you can make a decision to choose wisely. Claim what is yours, and then make it happen.

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The love of my life, Bob Samuelson. His love has made my life worth living. (Thank you, Darling, for being more wonderful than the dreams I dreamed as a child. And, thank you, too, for being the man I needed most to heal my heart and soul. As a woman, you are what love looks like to me. I love you. On purpose and by design.)

 

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My love affair with laundry.

January 20, 2011 | Posted in Family | By

I know exactly when it happened, my love affair with laundry.

My children were little. Greg 4, Chelsea, new. As a stay-at-home mom, I was beginning to come to terms with the fact that I was being buried alive in mountains of dirty clothes. As I sat there folding a load of whites and lamenting my fate, I decided I could either love this job or hate it. With that, the next piece of clothing I picked up, a tiny white onesie, I kissed. I had no idea where the spontaneous idea came from, but I went with it. I’ve never been the same.

I went on to kiss every article of my family’s clothing that day. T-shirts. Jeans. Underwear. Pajamas. Socks. Everything. I kissed each piece deliberately and with full awareness of what I was doing. Holding everything up to my face. Breathing deeply. Kissing playfully. With genuine affection. Or deep tenderness. Each piece making its own impression as I thought about its important function in caring for my loved one. My heart was grateful and I felt blessed to be playing the role of wife and mother to this remarkable young family.

Years later, at an appreciation luncheon for the volunteers at my children’s school, I had the great fortune to sit at a table where a half-a-dozen young mother’s were commiserating about our exhausting lives. “Grocery shopping! Cleaning! Cooking! Chauffeuring! Homework! Scoutorama! Karate lessons! Brownie troupe meetings! Laundry! The list is too long and OMG, I’m too tired for sex!” You can hear it now can’t you? 🙂

Seated at our table was a lovely woman, a grandmother volunteer, who hadn’t said a word as she listened to our chatter. Finally, with a wisp of sadness flashing across her smiling face, she said, “Girls. Be grateful for all your exhausting days. One day you’ll wake up and all the hard work of raising your families will be over. You’ll find there is nothing sadder than when it takes two weeks to have enough dirty clothes to do one load of laundry. That day will come sooner than you think. Enjoy every minute of this time in your life. They are the best years of your life.”

Wow. A Zen moment.

Though I never remember seeing this woman around the children’s school campus again, her wise counsel strikes me as profoundly today as it did back them. And, for years, I’ve known without doubt, she was an angel sent to deliver a life-changing message.

It’s been 20 plus years since these two events. My children have long since left home. Life remains demanding as I care for my husband, my life, and my business. It still doesn’t take me two weeks to get a load of laundry together but, with the passing of years, I can now see how quickly 12 loads a week became three. And, in the autumn of my life, I can see [that sooner than I could ever imagine] these three loads will be a distant memory.

Today, Thursday, is laundry day. As closely as I paid attention to this labor of love [and worked to enjoy every minute of caring for my children’s cradle-to-college clothes], I’d do anything to be able to relive those finite hours of grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, chauffeuring, homework, Scoutorama, karate lessons, Brownie troupe meetings, being too tired for sex, and folding and kissing all that laundry.

I’m probably older today than the grandmother who set me on the right road about enjoying the hard work of caring for my family so I feel comfortable in handing out some advice to all you younger householders. It might make a difference in the quality of the long life that lies before you.

If the exhaustion of caring for your family has you dreading the mundane chores of life (like going to work or picking up a mountain of toys at the end of a very long day or having to fill a babies prescription in the middle of the night), I encourage you to have a love affair similar to mine.

First, it doesn’t have to be with laundry. Choosing to love mowing the grass your children play on, or washing the car your wife drives, or running endless errands generated by your crew, is a wonderful alternative to feeling put out, overworked or under appreciated. Second, a day comes, much sooner than you think, when there won’t be a thing to hold tightly, to breathe in deeply, and to kiss tenderly. So mow and wash and cook and clean and fall into bed at night, completely spent, and, finally, hold on tight and kiss as if your life depends on it. Because, in truth, it does.

Baby

Chelsea at about the age I fell head over heels in love with laundry.

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Twenty-four years later, my granddaughter, Sophie (at about the same age as Chelsea was when I fell for laundry) and, yes, I’ve kissed every single piece of her clothing that I’ve been privileged to wash.

Time passes quickly.

Choose your love affairs carefully.

Did I tell you I love laundry?

Life well spent [doing laundry] is long.” ~ Leonardo Da Vinci

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The silver thread of family.

January 18, 2011 | Posted in Family | By

Recently I came across the most beautiful book dedication I’ve ever read. It’s from Bobbi Illing’s, Moments, and is made to her three grown children:

And to my children, I want you to use up every ounce of love in your body before you die. I want you all to get up in the morning, devour your coffee with total enjoyment and start looking for a place to put your love. Do you have an elderly neighbor that would love a homemade pie … or a single mom, teach her son how to ride a bike. Love yourself enough to a keep a garden … even if it’s not a masterpiece, it’s your gift back to God. Never be without an animal, they show you joy and love wrapped in one hairy, bouncy wiggle. Always love each other. You were born together and you need to always keep the silver thread of family connected. Love each other’s spouses as your own. Work for each other and play together. Remember, their children are also your children. You were loved by a mother who was honored to be in your life.”

Though I find the whole dedication meaningful, I highlighted that which touched my heart the most profoundly. I was especially taken with her well chosen wording, silver thread of family. It made me weep as I reflected on how my mom did such an amazing job of keeping her five children together through the most difficult circumstances of life.

As siblings she made it clear from the cradle that we were born together and throughout our entire lives she expected us to love one another; to remain connected; to embrace each others spouses; to work for one another; to play together; and to love each others children as our own. I can’t imagine a mother instilling a better message into her children’s lives and psyches.

The five of us were born within seven years of each other. 1957, 59, 61, 62, 64. Tightly knit, for sure. Three girls, two boys. I’m the eldest. Cherisa and I, born in the Philippines; Chip conceived there, born in Chicago; Lisa and Clif, born in Indiana. Best friends through childhood we would willingly die for each other as adults.

I believe our relationship was forged in great part because we moved a lot when we were growing up (I’m not sure about my siblings but I know I went to 10 schools in 12 years!). Our father’s hot temper played a roll in his not being able to keep a job. Oftentimes it seemed we moved when the rent was due. As children we learned early we couldn’t count on were we’d be living in the morning but we could count on the fact that the five of us would be together. Life as rolling stones gave us the opportunity to become best friends and constant companions without a hint of jealousy, turmoil or anger. It’s a good thing because by the time I was 14, insanity ran rampant in our home and we’d be in dire need of each other in our lives.

Our father simply lost his mind.  The combination of a bitter entitlement mentality (the world owed him something) and a long battle with epilepsy. I also don’t discount my belief that the pharmaceutical drugs he’d been taking to control his gran mal seizures weren’t partially to blame for his mental state. Without details, suffice it to say our days were filled with sheer madness. Ironically, the worse it got the more tenaciously my siblings and I clung to one another. No matter the tempest, we were each other’s shelter and safe harbor. In retrospect, we were keepers of each other’s sanity.

The day our father killed an innocent man remains difficult for me. It happened in the afternoon on a sweltering August day in 1973. Within minutes of the shooting well meaning family came to my mother’s rescue. Aunts, uncles, nephews, cousins. There was no shortage of those who were deeply concerned for us. Feeling life was going to be too hard for a (now) single mom with five children, each volunteered to take us and raise us. “We’ll take Cindy and Cheri.” “We’ll take Chip.” “We’ll take Lisa and Clif.” And they meant every word.

It all happened so quickly, none of us had time to think. One minute we were together and the next we were whisked off to different locations around the city. For the next few days, we walked around in mind-numbing silence. We could hear the adults talking amongst themselves [about our futures] but nothing was sinking in except for the idea that the five of us would be flung to the wind landing somewhere between the Grand Canyon and the Mississippi River. How could this be happening?!

One of my most treasured memories throughout those dark days happened three days after the tragedy. August 25, our mother’s 44th birthday. Mom pulled up outside the home where my sister and I were staying and knocked on the door. When our treasured cousin, Rick, answered, she told him how much she loved and appreciated him but that she’d come to take her daughters home. In her lovely Filipina

accent, she quietly said, “No matter what, my children belong together. No one will be better to them than they’ll be to each other. It would be a terrible thing to split them up.” She uttered these words with absolute conviction.

As Cheri and I climbed into the car, our little brothers and sister were waiting for us. Out of sheer joy we wept and clung to each other. For me, as the oldest, it was especially heart-wrenching and I couldn’t help but feel the deepest sense of gratitude for how strong my mother had become under the circumstances. And, though I can’t speak for my siblings, I can barely put into words how much I love our mother for doing the right thing by us.

As children we weathered things no children should ever endure … but life isn’t fair and we must all learn to play the hand we’re dealt. The circumstances of our life caused much heartache and pain, not only to our family but to the families our father harmed. But somehow, through it all, we carried the burden together. With little to laugh about, we found ways to laugh. We stood together. We cared for one another. And, as we all began to make our way into the world, leaving home one by one, we cheered each other on and prayed for each others successes and happiness.

Would that all children emerging from traumatic childhoods could share this “you were born together, love each other” philosophy instilled in us by our mother. Thank you Bobbi Illing for putting into words what my mother lived and breathed.

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This is the last portrait of the five of us together. Taken in 1991, our youngest brother, Clif, died just a few years later from liver and pancreatic cancer. Though we remain heartbroken by his death, the silver thread of his life is woven throughout each day of ours (we’re especially grateful Lisa and her husband named their son after him).

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A favorite picture from a recent family gathering. Our beloved mother, Corazon de Jesus (Heart of Jesus), is between us.  We’re only missing our sister, Cheri, who lives in New Jersey and can’t make it to near enough family gatherings. We love you, Sis!

In the years since we all left home, there have only been a handful of issues that have divided us. None so serious that they could keep us apart for very long.  I’ve certainly learned the value of family can never be under estimated and is infinitely more priceless than one can imagine. To me, my family has always been the silver lining behind every dark cloud. The hope that tomorrow will be a better day. And, as I enter the autumn of my life, they become more important to me than ever before.

With that in mind, how’s your family? If your relationship with them is wonderful, I’m rejoicing with you. If it needs some work, I encourage you to not delay. Pick up the phone. Bury all the worthless hatchets. Make peace … and do whatever it takes to pick up the silver thread that weaves together the rich tapestry of your lives. You were born together and you might as well use up every ounce of love in your body [on each other] before you die.

And, Mom, you are loved by a daughter who is honored to be in your life. If we are the silver threads of your life, you are the spun gold of ours. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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Waffle House Wisdom.

January 14, 2011 | Posted in Philosophy | By

Though I’ve deep roots in Phoenix (having arrived in 1968), I’m a bit of a vagabond at heart. As a little girl I knew I wanted to see the world, to wander and explore (founded in great part because the ability to read opened up an entire world of possibilities). With the exception of traveling from the Philippines to America (courtesy of Uncle Sam and the USS Patrick) my parents had very little money for indulging my desires. With five children they only took us on a few trips throughout our entire childhood. All but one of them was limited to visiting family in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. That said, part of the reason I’m so crazy about my husband, Bob, is from the moment we became a couple, travel became part of our lifestyle.

We’ve not seen the world … but we’ve seen an awful lot. Our first major trip was in 1981, our first year together. Tahiti. Heavenly. Especially for my husband who, until falling in love with me, had never thought of travel as something he aspired to doing. Since that incredibly romantic trip, we’ve been to 20 countries and have visited more than 1200 cities (TripAdvisor.com helps you keep track of this type of info!). Athens, Rome, London, Paris, Sydney, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur. The list of cities and countries goes on and on.

I love travel because as Mark Twain says, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” I found that to be true.

Because of travel, I love all types of people, all types of cuisine, all types of cultures. And I’ve learned that no matter where we come from, we all want the same things. Hope. Prosperity. Health. Happiness. Love. Peace. I’ve also learned, in profoundly moving ways, the people of any given country are not messed up. If a country like Iran is a ticking time bomb … it’s not the fault of the citizenry. It’s always the fault of those in charge. Doesn’t matter if it’s a democracy, theocracy, or dictatorship. Those in charge are the ones making a mess of things. But I digress.

An enormous part of why I love travel stems from the fact that it satisfies my near insatiable desire to learn as much as I possibly can. I never come home from a trip that I haven’t expanded my horizons with something significant or life-changing. For instance, the strength and integrity of Japan’s Samurai soldiers impacted me in such a way as to cause me to study them in an attempt to learn the source of their indomitable sense of duty and honor. Walking the Turkish ruins of St. Paul’s, Ephesus (his inspiration for the writing of Ephesisans), created an enormous sense of humility and led me to intently study his inspired contributions to the New Testament. The indescribable generosity of every single person in Australia (from the Gold Coast to Perth!) touched me so deeply and has served to remind me how to treat visitors to my own country. G’day mate!

Over the last few years, my current career path has limited my international traveling to a handful of trips. The upside is it dramatically increased my need to travel throughout America. Though visiting all 50 states had always been on my bucket list, I kept delaying it because I thought I’d get so much more

surprised than me to uncover the amazing wisdom found within our own backyard.

Every city, every town, every state has something incredible to offer. I learned that most people love where they live not only for the fact that they’ve deep roots there, but that there’s genuinely something wonderful to love about their little piece of the universe. But the most important thing I learned is that American people are amazing and, whether it be homespun or sophisticated, have a downright tremendous amount wisdom to share.

As an immigrant to America, I have always loved this country, but even I was taken aback by how amazing we are as a people. Kind. Gracious. Loving. Tender-hearted. Generous. And mostly wise. From San Diego to New Iberia, LA. From New York City to Bayview, ID. From Chicago to Canyon Lake, TX. Doesn’t matter if it’s a major metropolitan city or a quaint one horse town. Good people, great lessons, everywhere.

Honestly? I could easily fill books with what I’ve seen, heard and done these past four years on the road. I’ve literally conducted several hundred events, most of which were in people’s homes (much preferring the intimacy of working with small groups than the gigantic meetings my profession requires me to attend several times per year). Being a guest in someone’s home is always an enormous gift and I walk away a better person for their opening their hearts and hearth to me. Invariably, when I leave, I’m taking part of them with me and my heart always soars forever after. But today’s blog isn’t about covering all of these experiences. Just my attempt to whet your appetite for future stories and to tell you about one of the most profound lessons garnered as I vagabonded around the country.

Late October, 2010. We were at a Waffle House diner in London, Kentucky (somewhere between the major metropolis’s of Bear Branch and Crab Orchard). We were half way through a 6,000 mile trip. On a professional level, and as a result of our fascinating economy, I was searching for solutions to the suffering so many people are currently enduring. On a personal level, I was grappling with what would be the next big step for the direction of my life and was feeling the stress that accompanies big decisions. On a physical level, I was feeling a little worn out (having just completed several months recuperating from a serious injury). Little did I know that the quick decision to have breakfast at this particular diner would help answer so many of the issues pinging around in my head.

As we waited to place our order an overheard comment from the waitress at the next table helped lift an enormous weight off my shoulders. When asked how she was doing, she cheerfully said, “The first thing I do every morning when I wake up is read the obituaries. If my name ain’t there … it’s going to be a great day!”

Wow. Isn’t that profound? London, KY. Population 6,100. Average income per capita, $18,500. The GNP of the entire town of London can’t be what I find here in my above average income suburban neighborhood. Undoubtedly our economy has hit this woman hard. If there’s no disposable income, people eat out less and that means tips are less. She probably had kids to feed. She could have been a single parent. If married, her husband might have been recently laid-off. And, yet, here she was as cheerful as she could be and grateful to be alive to boot.

The weight I’d been carrying simply disappeared.  Poof!

I walked out of that restaurant transformed. If I’d been thinking properly, I would have stopped, turned around, gone back in and had my picture made with this Tibetan monk masquerading as a Waffle House waitress. I would have loved to been able to share her picture with you today. Sadly, having her picture is a missed opportunity for all of us. But if you’re anywhere near London, anytime soon, would you be so kind as to stop by and tell her what she means to me?

On a somber note, yesterday, a casual friend and business acquaintance, woke up to find his name in the obituaries. He leaves behind two little girls.  The saddest part of this news is he took his life.  A permanent solution to a temporary problem. Devastating. Would that he could have gone to London instead.

I didn’t wake up to  find my name in the obituaries today and sure enough it’s been a great day. What say you?

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A beautiful piece of statuary on the patio of the Oasis Restaurant in Austin, TX. With every breath of life, let our souls take flight and let everyday be a GREAT day. God rest your troubled soul, precious David, and may those who love you find peace.

 

 

 

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What’s cookin’?

January 13, 2011 | Posted in Friends | By

Sorry I’ve been MIA for a couple of days. My hearts been broken by a young person I love and I found myself flung across my bed weeping … but that’s a story for another day. Until then I want to tell you about something that’s brought my family much happiness through the years and it’s something I encourage everyone to learn how to do. Cook.

Until I got married, I’d never cooked a thing in my life. My mom was a good cook, but she only had about 10 recipes and as a single parent, in our home, cooking was a purely utilitarian chore. Mom did all the cooking, we, her five children, were expected to be good students and be devoted to each other. That was that.

When I married my high school sweetheart at age 20, both of us went from our parents home to our home. Nothing in between. No dormitory or apartment life. No trial period. Just a new marriage accompanied by a new little house in the suburbs. Busy working and making our house a home, my first husband was an angel about everything from housework, to lawn care, to laundry … but he was especially wonderful when it came to my learning how to cook.

In his opinion I could do no wrong in the kitchen. No matter how inexperienced or how borderline mediocre the dish, everything I made was always followed with, “That was delicious! What a wonderful cook you’re becoming!” Didn’t matter if it was scrambled eggs and toast or something more complicated like meatloaf, he was precious in that he went out of his way to make me feel special and appreciated. It made learning how to cook a joy. I share this with you because it’s a very different story from another young couple we ran around with at the time. Jim and Faith (I’ve not changed their names in order to protect them!). Goodness, what great times the four of us had together, many of them over dinner.

Faith, like me, didn’t know how to cook when they got married but unlike me, she grew up with a mom who was a gourmet cook. The love for good food made it a shoe-in that Faith would follow in her mother’s footsteps. Crazy in love with Jim, Faith knew there was going to be a “Wow!” factor when it came to her cooking for her new husband. Anxious to get started she dug in as soon as they got home from their honeymoon. Laboring over the stove and oven all day, and a bit frazzled by the time dinner was ready, she still managed to turn out a delicious meal (I can’t remember exactly what it was but it was something elegant like osco bucco. Very different from my ground beef tacos!).

By the time dinner rolled around, Jim, a good old boy, with an extremely refined palate [for hamburgers and pizza], was tired and hungry. The table was set, he sat down to dinner, took one bite, and without even thinking took the plate of food and flung the contents into the trash directly behind him! He then made the gigantically enormous mistake of simultaneously saying, “What the HELL was that?!”

OMG! What in the world was he thinking?!!! Would you EVER say or do something this dumb?!!!

The rest of the story is that Faith burst into tears, ran out of the kitchen and never cooked another meal. To this day it remains one of their most hilarious stories because the bottom line is, repentant hubby, Jim, learned to become a gourmet cook in order to apologize [for the rest of his life] to his sweet bride for his incredibly stupid behavior. The most ironic part of this story though is Jim’s palate hasn’t changed.  He doesn’t eat the gourmet stuff he prepares and staves off hunger by keeping a stash of mac and cheese for himself (such is love!). And one other thing. It’s nearly impossible to find the trash can in their kitchen what with their having taken great pains to move it as far away from the kitchen table as possible! The formula seems to have worked. They’ve been happily married for 35+ years. Isn’t their’s a great love story?!

Unlike Jim and Faith, my first marriage didn’t make it to our fourth wedding anniversary. Though we divorced, I still love and appreciate the wonderful human being he has always been. An incredible father to our son, he remained gracious to me and has never been anything but a perfect gentleman to my second husband. But the thing I love and appreciate the most about my first husband, was how he put me on the road to becoming an excellent cook which, in turn, set me up to feel the love that preparing great meals can bring into our lives. (Thank you, Brad. My life wouldn’t be the same without you.)

I’m incredibly blessed in that my second husband, Bob, picked up the mantle and made sure I was appreciated for the love and effort I put into cooking.  Though I was a significantly better cook the second time around, from the very beginning, he raved about my cooking. He loved that when our children were little, dinner time was always a great source of happiness for our family. An opportunity to laugh and talk and get caught up on the days events over delicious meals. Some of my sweetest memories are of seeing my children’s eyes light up because I was preparing one of their favorite dishes. Even when they were barely verbal they would say, “Mommy, you’re such a good cooker!” Made my heart sing every single time.

My philosophy is this, if you have to eat, and if there are people in your life that have to eat, you might as well make cooking one of the things you love to do! It will pay off in untold dividends. Also, it’s not complicated to learn to cook. If you can read you can cook! Cooking classes, dinner group, great cookbooks, all designed to help you enjoy the process! Currently I’m crazy about anything by Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. If you’re not a good cook but you’re interested in learning, start with her. I promise you … NOTHING will end up in the trash!

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Not only do I love to cook, I surround myself with girlfriends who are wonderful cooks! Here’s a shot from last Thanksgiving. We had 40 friends and loved ones here for a sit down dinner. I prepared 14 separate dishes. Amy, Laura and Jenny brought fabulous gourmet dishes as well. YUM. So many of life’s celebrations revolve around food. You might as well make them memorable by pouring lots of love into well prepared dishes!

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One of my best friends in the world, happens to be my neighbor, Melanie. One of the greatest gifts in my life is that she also happens to be a fabulous cook! I can’t tell you how many hours we’ve spent together cooking and laughing in my kitchen. Thank you, Melanie, for cooking up so many good times in my life! I love you!

Gotta run. Lots of celebrating to do today (honestly, FOUR loved ones have birthdays today including my one year old grandson!). Having lunch with my fabulous girlfriends as well as an exquisite engagement dinner party tonight! Bon appetit!

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Turned off.

January 10, 2011 | Posted in Philosophy | By

Of all the things rattling around in my head today, I feel compelled to tell you how much I dislike TV (we’ve got them in our home … but they are NOT my friends). I find the programming inconsequential at best and [devastatingly] destructive at worse. For the last 20+ years I’ve been lobbying against them in my home in great part because my beloved husband is literally addicted to the cable news channels (he’s been taking them intravenously since 1991’s Desert Storm).

Despite my protesting the incessant loop of negative blather, my sweetheart felt it was important to keep the news on in order to ‘stay informed’. No matter how vocal I got, having the news on two to three hours a day remained a reality in my home. Argh! But as Helen Reddy says, I am woman, and I learned long ago how to get what I wanted from my man. Girls, you know how to do it, too. It’s called timing … and timing is everything.

This past year when Bob got around to earnestly asking me what he could give me for Christmas, the timing was right.  “YOU — wrapped in nothing but a big red bow … and an unplugged TV for the next 12 months.” (insert sweet, coy, smile here). What more could the man say but, “Ok”? And, that’s how I ended up getting the best Christmas present ever! Especially now.

Though we don’t have the TV on, I’m still fully aware of last weekend’s tragic Tucson shooting of several innocent people as well as House Representative Gabby Giffords. Horrific. The cold blooded murders continue to assault my senses and make me cry. The continuous loop of a beautiful nine year old girl gunned down by a psychopath. Good men and women clinging to life. The walking [emotionally] wounded that attended the event but escaped life-threatening injuries. The incessant vitriolic rhetoric of the Left vs the Right. The insanity of it all does nothing but make us want to find a dark closet in which to hide. And, this from someone who hasn’t read one single article or watched any of the gruesome details.

First let me say that my heart is completely and utterly heartbroken for everyone who’s lives have been touched by this situation (and that includes you and me). 9/11 proved to us that we as a nation suffer these tragedies together. Sadly the Tucson incident is different in that 9/11 knitted us closer together while this one is being manipulated by the media to drive us apart. I blame TV.

The crazy finger pointing of the radical fringes (both on the right and the left), aided and abetted by a blood thirsty media who fuels the drama by providing a constant regurgitation of every single thing they can get they’re dirty hands on. I’m not watching but I know it’s happening. It’s what they do. It’s what sells. And it’s what’s killing our very hearts and souls.

When I was little TV was very different. The Andy Griffith Show. Leave it to Beaver. Ponderosa. I Love Lucy. Walter Cronkite. Good stuff. Back then, an average minute of programing gave us seven different scene changes. We could easily follow the dialogue between Opie and his father without being over stimulated. As TV has evolved, we’re now seeing our children bombarded with as many as 32 scenes per minute and, as my friend, Andy Waltrip [an expert on these types of statistics] tells me, there’s proof this over-stimulation is one of the main culprits in producing ADD and ADHD in our children!

It takes 25 years for the human brain to become fully mature. The rush of over-stimulation is organically too much for our children’s brains. TV is killing their ability to follow a story line and to stay connected to what’s happening in real life, the life that moves significantly slower in real time. They’ve become like Pavlov’s dog. The hyperactivity of TV means if they’re not being constantly over-stimulated, they’re GONE. Off the edge. Chasing rabbits down endless rabbit holes created for them by the likes of MTV gangsters. All I can say is, “Would you like some milk with your Ritalin, Bobby?” And, by the way, your brain is fully formed and TV isn’t doing you a lick of good either.

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It couldn’t be more true than with TV. How can we expect our lives to get better when we constantly over-stimulate it with nothing but the tragic and deeply disturbing things we see on TV? Rather than put on our coat and take a walk with our loved ones; or spend time volunteering at a retirement center; or taking underprivileged children on a field trip to the library, we sit glued to that worthless box and lament the sorry state of our world. I’ve simply had enough. I’ve no choice in the matter but to do my part to wake those I love out of their senseless stupor and encourage them to have 2011 be the year they turn off the TV.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Turning it off (or unplugging it as in our case) is much easier than you think.

My ‘gotta stay informed’ husband, found he didn’t miss the news near as much as he thought he would. And, it didn’t hurt when he turned in the multiple cable boxes to find he’d saved a $1,000 over the course of the next year. That said, he’s still not crazy about playing Scrabble with me every night (he thinks I have an unfair advantage because I know how to spell a lot of seven letter words!), but he’s coming around to the fact that he’s enjoying spending that precious hour with me — rather than with Bill O’Reilly.  😉

Though it took me twenty years to get my way on this issue it was worth the wait. While the strategy rumbled around in my head, I remember being in deep contemplation about how turned off I was to TV as I walked around Walden Pond (in Concord, MA) in 2007. My hero, Henry David Thoreau, spent two years living alone on that pond and then went on to chronicle his experience in his masterpiece, ‘Walden’, one of my favorite books of all time.

‘Walden’. It’s literary genius of the most inspired order. To me, it simply reads like poetry and prose. Stimulating. Pensive. Thought provoking. A real game changer. There’s a particular passage in the book that’s one of my favorites and is in great part why I’m so turned off to TV. Thoreau writes about the worthlessness of reading a daily newspaper (the TV of his time), and here’s what he says:

And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter — we never need to read of another. One is enough.”

This, my friends, is timeless wisdom that I’ve been carrying around in my heart for years. I thought deeply into it while my husband and I walked the beaten path to Thoreau’s cabin. His words are what influenced my daily thinking as I tried to get my husband to understand the need to unplug my nemesis, those horrid looped cable news images of burning houses, murdered children, brutal rapes, genocide, war, and the disgustingly glorified, smarmy piccadillo’s of insignificant-here-today-gone-tomorrow-celebrities … and now, those of a 22 year old deranged killer.  Sickening.

Like Thoreau, I’ve no desire to watch the same house burn or the same murderer kill over and over again. I know, first hand, the heartbreak that everyone is enduring from last weekend’s tragic event. But … wisdom is denied the young and obviously I’m a slower learner than Thoreau. He got it the first time around. I on the other hand had to watch similar scenarios play out 180,000 more times before I could say, “Once is enough!”

In conclusion, in the event this message got your attention, but you’re trying to justify the fact that not all TV is bad, I hear you. Yes, there are a few good programs worth watching. The History and Biography channels for example. But 99.9 percent of TV viewing is of no real value. Sitcoms, fake reality shows, and in-your-face-bad-behavior. It is pure insanity to think that seeing anymore of this negative stuff is going to make our lives (or our children’s lives) one whit better.

For your sake, and for those you love, consider turning it off, if not for a year, then at least a week or two. If neither of these choices work, then consider reading Thoreau’s masterpiece “Walden”. Or better yet, come walk with me on Walden Pond. We’ve so many important things to talk about, so many significant things to accomplish, and so many lives to touch.

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Walden Pond. Admittedly more beautiful today than when Thoreau was alive merely for the fact that he walked its shores innumerable times.

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No bigger than a shed this is an exact replica of the house in which Thoreau lived during his two years on Walden. Nothing to do but think … and leave behind powerful thoughts that will live forever.

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to their graves with the song still in them.”

~ Henry David Thoreau

To honor the lives of those who died last week, stop living a life of quiet desperation. Don’t die with your song unsung. Don’t watch American Idol. Rather, do what it takes to become an American Hero. Sing your song. Dance your dance. And, following in Representative Giffords footsteps, be the change you wish to see in the world.

Turn it off.

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Is there a God?

January 7, 2011 | Posted in Philosophy, Uncategorized | By

So, I woke up at 4 this morning and the story I wanted to tell you yesterday [but lost to the ethers of the universe] was still in me … but this time there were big red flags everywhere! Warnings that were kinda like that children’s show in the ‘6o’s, Lost in Space, “Danger Mrs. Robinson, danger!!!” Remember THAT show?!!!  I LOVED that show!!! One of my favorites!!!  But I digress …

The title of yesterday’s [lost] blog was, “Is there a God?”  In today’s rewrite, I kept the title, but this time there’s a caveat, a warning, that needs you to know this particular story ISN’T about religion. Yesterday’s version wasn’t fit to be read because I put far too much emphasis on religion, blah, blah, blah. It’s NOT about religion. It’s about a remarkable experience in a little girl’s life. And the little girl just happened to be me.

Now that I’ve gone this far in setting up today’s blog not being about religion, I might as well tell you a few things about me from the perspective of religion so you’ll know where I’m coming from as well as being able to decide whether or not you want to continue walking down this road with me.  🙂

My beliefs about religion start with my mother.  She’s a wonderful full-blooded Filipina woman and, seeing that our country had been conquered by the Spanish Conquistadors several hundred years ago, she’s devoutly Catholic.  My father was an American serviceman of German-Irish descent.  He claimed he was Presybeterian but in truth he was a wandering generality. He abdicated the religious upbringing of his five children to my mother which of course means we were raised in Catholic churches and schools.

I am by no means a scholar when it comes to religion, but I am a very serious student, with a strong emphasis on very and serious. In trying to find peace and happiness in my adult life, I studied a lot of different religions and attended a large variety of churches, temples and synagogues.  My library is filled with lots and lots of books on the subject and I’ve read most of them.

Fervently ‘born again’ in my mid-20’s, I left the Catholic church and embraced my husband’s Methodist upbringing.  I wanted to provide our children with religious training so I taught their Kindergarten Sunday school classes and then sent them to Catholic school for a parochial education.  After my youngest brother died of liver and pancreatic cancer in 1994, for deeply personal reasons, I stopped attending church.  Let’s just say I encountered a David Koresh type (not my pastor, someone else’s), took him on in verbal hand-to-hand combat … and won.

I am decidedly not religious. As I’ve grown more comfortable in my skin I no longer feel it’s my place to preach to anyone about anything. That said, as it pertains to me, I know what I believe and, if asked, will happily share my thoughts, opinions and beliefs on any given subject.

As it pertains to religion, in the fervor of my youth, I did my fair share of bible thumping only to learn I’m not in the convincing business.  Why?  Because many of the people I love are deeply religious, several are atheists, lots are confused. Regardless of where they stand on the issue my role isn’t to be right or to make them wrong in what they choose to believe [or not believe].  My role isn’t to preach, plead or cajole.  If they’re over 21, they’re old enough to make their own decisions about the most important issues in life. My role, however, is to love them and to support them in their quest for happiness, meaning and peace.

I’ve learned that my responsibility is to live my beliefs in actions rather than to sit back comfortably and proselytize, condemn or judge those who don’t believe as I do. I came to this conclusion because (forget about Buddhism or Islam or the other 20 major religions in the world!) there are more than 3,000 schisms of Christianity alone! How unbelievable is THAT?! One Christ and 3,000+ divisions! From my personal experience, I’ve learned most religions have some of it right and none of them have all of it right. Therefore, I remain steadfastly not religious.

And one last thing. Ever since we found ourselves in the projects East of Eden, we’ve been debating the issue of “Is there a God?” Great minds. Crazy minds. Philosophical minds. Theological minds. GeoPolitical minds. Scientific minds. All have been arguing about it for eons. Blood continues to be shed and there’s no end in sight to what men will do to prove THEIR version of God is the version that will prevail. All I’m saying is, ENOUGH!!! Thank you very much!  I’m getting off at the next stop …

Now that I’ve got the ‘religious thing’ behind us … I’ll tell you the rest of the NOT religious story.  🙂

I was born in the Philippines and lived there until I was four.  I remember quite a bit because I became conscious of life when I was around 18 months old.  In other words, that which thinks of herself as me, arrived, and her/my memories and life lessons began to accumulate from that point forward.

Lots of things I remember in great detail. Lots are remembered in fuzzy, warm sensations in great part because of my youngness. I was the first born granddaughter into a very large family of aunts and uncles. I was cherished by all of them and didn’t lack for love and attention. They made the first years of my life wonderful therefore much of what I remember of my time in the Philippines is precious to me. But one of the most profound memories, one I think about everyday, had everything to do with being at church with my mom.

We, my mother and I, attended morning mass on a regular basis and on this particular morning, I simply showed up. By ‘showing up’ I mean as in being ‘consciously aware’ — I knew exactly where I was and I was cognizant enough to be able to pay attention to all the details going on around me. It was 1960. I was three years old. We were in the chapel at Clark Air Force Base in Angeles City. I was sitting on the pew and my legs were so tiny they didn’t hang over the edge. I could easily see the shiny patent leather of my shoes. To my right my mom was on her knees in silent prayer, the traditional long black lace veil flowing down across her head and shoulders.

In child like wonder, I watched the priest and altar boys come down the aisle carrying holy water, the golden chalice, and incense. Beautiful. Somber. Holy. Genuinely sincere. The mass was said in Latin and though I couldn’t understand it, I knew it was important.

And, suddenly, it happened.

I no longer heard the priest. The room fell silent.  It was as if someone had pushed the mute button on a current day remote control.  My attention was then drawn to the window panes across the aisle and to my left.  Simultaneously, the light that came in through the windows became more intense.  Brighter on the outside.  Slightly dimmer on the in.  It began to shimmer and sparkle, dancing before my eyes and covering me with warmth and happiness.  It tingled and tickled (in a good way) and overall it was a simple sensation of pure love.

There was no gender attachment.  No he or she.  It was purely neutral.  And, as clear as anything it told me, without words, that God wasn’t in that room.  That s/he couldn’t be found in ancient languages or in symbols, or steeped in traditions and pomp and circumstance. The presence told me God was outside, in the light, waiting, and I was being beckoned to come outside and play.

At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to tug at my mother’s arm and tell her what was happening — but I was already too well trained.  I knew not to disturb her when she was praying.  So I sat there, quietly, and took in the delightful beauty of what was happening.

Since that day, even through my darkest hours, I’ve never felt completely alone or utterly afraid.  Whether in a crowd of 10,000 people or on a quiet mountaintop.  Whether facing the terrible storms of life or holding on [with all my heart] to a newborn child.  Whether grieving the illness and death of a loved one or laughing and talking on the phone with a good friend in the wee small hours of the morning … I feel this presence of warmth and shimmering light that dances in my heart. It’s a feeling akin to what I felt that day. It reminds me that God is in every particle of sunlight, in and through everything in life. And to make it even more poignant, special and sacred, all I need to do is remember back to that exact moment when I was three, in church, with my beloved mother, and it’s as if I’m actually there. 1960 all over again. That said, there’s never a day that I’m not three. I’m serious.

In closing, until yesterday, I’d never put this story to paper (and, I must say, in today’s rewrite, I did a much better job of sharing it with you). I never shared it because how does one explain something like this to others? Seems to me people would have a tendency to look at you and, depending on where they’re coming from, would find you at worse, CAH-RAY-ZEE, or at best, would dismissively patronize you, patting you on the hand and telling you, “Oh, how cute” (while silently adding ‘weirdo’ to the end of their comment).

Weirdo or not, this blog is part confession, part helping hand. It’s all uniquely me. I clearly stated early on that it would be about what’s going on inside my head.  And it would be about the thoughts that changed my life. Well, a life-time of thinking about THIS particular thought has touched just about every single thing I’ve ever done. Through fair and frightful weather. It has brought me a sense of peace and calmness with which to build my life upon. I’m going to have to trust my instincts that I did the right thing by sharing it with you today. What you do with this information is your business. Believe it. Reflect on it. Discard it. Either way, I’m not here to convince you of anything. As for me, it answered one of the biggest questions of my life … the one about whether or not there is a God.

And, one final thing. Until yesterday, I had never felt the need to verify that everything happened exactly as I remembered. In making the decision whether or not I could possibly share this story, I needed to find out if my memories were correct. I began searching the Internet for images of the chapel at Clark AFB, circa 1960. Imagine my awed amazement when I found what I was looking for (at http://www.terryballard.org/clark.htm) and, more importantly, that it was exactly as my Three-Year-Old-Me had remembered:

chapel

(The four sets of paned windows (on the ground level) can be seen at the left of the double doors.  These are the windows where the light sparkled and shimmered and danced and whispered thoughts that influenced the course of my life.)

In, closing, I’ve said all I want to say about this matter of religion and God, light and love. I’ve told you everything there is to say about the details of that life-defining moment. There’s nothing more to say except that Three-Year-Old-Me (known as “Cynthia”) is waiting for you at the end of this message and she wants you to know she was much happier with today’s story and decided I could show you her picture. We believe in you beyond measure.

Now go outside and play.

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Lost in Space.

January 6, 2011 | Posted in Attitude, Personal Development | By

Even though it’s only the second day, do I know I’m on the right track with this blog? In a word — yes.

Every writer’s greatest fear is writer’s block. When I found I’d reached a crossroad in my professional life, writer’s block attacked me with a vengeance. For months I struggled to get the words to flow but the battle was in vain.  But … once I’d made the decision to follow my passion (to become a published author, public speaker and mentor) … my writer’s block vanished and my ability to write poured back into my heart, head and hands. Needless to say, I’m overjoyed.

Today, I enthusiastically woke up at 4 AM knowing exactly what I wanted to share with you.  It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time … but never have.

It’s very personal (not in an adult sort of way but rather in a-child-like-wonder sort of way). It’s about a profound experience I had when I was three years old living in my hometown of Angeles City in the Philippine Islands.  It’s something I’ve seldom [if ever] put into spoken words (I may have told my husband on one occasion but I honestly can’t recall … that’s just how personal and sacred it is to me).

Sadly, four hours into the work, I hit a wrong key stroke and search as I may, I could never retrieve [or even find] the document. Poof. Lost into the ether of the universe.  🙁

As much as I’ve written over the years, this particular story defines so much of what makes me me. That said, there was a decidedly mystical quality to it that defied even my ability to comprehend.

There were powerful images and things that I could recall as if I was actually there in real-time reliving the experience (and, quite frankly, it’s been 51 years since the event happened). Though I’m sad I lost the story, I guess I never wrote about it because I didn’t think anyone could possibly believe me. If not that, then they’d pass if off to childish memories. And, maybe, just maybe, I lost the story because the timing still isn’t quite right for sharing (this scenario makes me the most comfortable with losing the work).

But, from my perspective, here’s the good news about losing today’s blog. Because of the Internet, I was able to search out the location where this event actually happened. And there, before my very eyes, was EXACTLY the scenario where my life-defining event took place, oh joy!

The three-year-old-that-was-me was, in fact, remembering the precise details just as they were. Which leads me to believe that the encounter I experienced that day absolutely happened precisely as remembered (God bless WHOEVER for inventing the Internet!). That said, the story is going to have to wait.

The window of opportunity has passed. It might beg to be written again tomorrow … or maybe even further down the road … but only time will tell.  Until then, I thought I’d introduce you to the three-year-old-me that wanted to meet you today.  If you should ever have a bone to pick with me, you’re going to have to take it up with her.  She’s the one responsible for so much of what goes on Inside My Head.

Editor’s note and after the fact: Much to my chagrin, even the picture of Three Year Old Me refuses to be made public.  Try as I might she simply won’t make an appearance.  🙁

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Well, I’ve gone and done it now …

January 5, 2011 | Posted in Philosophy | By

Ok.  So I’ve been thinking about it forever.  Writing a daily blog.  Finally, after doing everything I could possibly do to avoid actually sitting down and getting it done, I sat down and did it.  Why?  After listening to trusted friends and loved ones encouraging me to write, I finally felt it was the right thing to do.

My passion in life is to teach.  It hasn’t been a profession per se [as in teaching elementary school children].  I’ve taught primarily as a business coach.  But over the last few years, I realize I’ve got a whole lot more to talk about than just how to build a business.  Life experiences have pulled me through some brutal knot holes, and somehow, someway, I came through them a much better person.  Doesn’t matter how down and dirty it got, I’m thriving.  And, it seems sharing my experiences are relevant to what many are going through right now.

First, I’m happily married.  Have been for nearly 30 years (granted there were a couple of very rocky years somewhere back there in the first decade). Bob.  My heart still races when I see him walking towards me — be it from across a crowded convention room or right here at home.  Between us, we have three children.  Yours.  Mine.  And ours.  They’re all grown-up now.

I’ve been self-employed for 28 years.  Started in direct selling in 1983.  It morphed into network marketing a few years later.  For the last 15 years I’ve been the primary bread winner.  It took awhile to get the role reversal thing to work for us, but we were able to figure it out.  By choice, my husband wears the pants in our family … but what I have to say is heard and seriously considered.  We’re equal as far as the partnership is concerned but oh so very different in terms of what we bring to the marriage.  I bring the vision, passion and energy.  He brings the strength, logic and stability.  We’re good together.

If you’re searching for some answers, or a little guidance, or maybe some coaching, and you plan to stick around, I’ve got lots to say about what it takes to build a successful marriage, family, business and life.  Your taking the time to listen matters and I’m glad you’re here.

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