Dear Maggie

*During the month of November, I like to write letters–and feature guest writers who write letters–to thank people and to express gratitude. Since my entire blog centers on gratitude, this letter writing project during November is just another way to express my gratitude. The act of living in gratitude is something I practice as part of my lifestyle already, but it never hurts to kick it up a notch.*

Dear Maggie,

IMG_4819It seems appropriate that I’m writing this letter to you minutes after spending a painful hour putting you to bed tonight. I changed your diaper twice at your request, fed you grapes in your high chair, opened a miniature wheel of Babybel cheese (which you then refused to touch), put said wheel of cheese into a baggie for lunch tomorrow, and prompted you to take sips of milk. I allowed you to sit on your little potty (fully clothed) simply because I don’t want to discourage you from potty training, but I can’t help but wonder if you have learned that it’s a great way to distract me from putting you to bed. I even paused to scribble a red heart for you because I cannot resist your little voice when you hand me a crayon and beg for hearts. 

You clearly have mine.

After I finally carried you into your room and began singing quiet songs to you, songs of God’s love for you and my love for you, your little body began to relax. You requested a book. Be still, my beating heart. I turned on the white milk glass lamp and let you stand atop the dresser, searching for the perfect book to take to bed. This process always takes longer than anticipated, but who am I to question another girl’s taste in literature?

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

Before I put your tiny frame into the crib, you wrapped your arms around me and nestled your head into my chest tonight and let me sing a little longer than usual. You always demand “hugs” and constantly repeat “I love you” when we put you to bed, but you could never demand too much affection from me; I will always want to give back to you tenfold.

As I sat down to write this letter to you, I realized that I was already completely exhausted and that my best writing would not be done tonight. If I wanted to produce a brilliant letter, something captivating for the world to read, I’d better wait until tomorrow after sleep, coffee, and sinus medication had done their jobs.

But I decided to write this letter to you anyway—just as I am, wearing pajamas, looking wretched, and feeling similar. Thirty minutes ago, before you fell asleep, you held me and told me you loved me, just as I am.

And that has been the greatest gift you have given me, Maggie—the ability to become even more of who God made me to be, to let go of all of my plans, to be right where my hands are with you every single day, and to be just who I am.

Thank you, Maggie.

Mama loves you.

 

Day 18: Dear Perfect Baby

*Day 18 of the Dear Gratitude project is really special; my former boss and friend, Jenny Cannon, shares her reflections on her decision to forgo having an amniocentesis procedure prior to delivering her daughter, Claire, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth.*

It has been six months.  Six months since I anxiously timed contractions and took a warm bath to ease the pain.  Six months since my husband and I nervously laughed and joked about my labor starting one day before my scheduled c-section.  Six months since I delivered the most beautiful baby girl I had ever laid eyes on.  And six months since we received the diagnosis– Down syndrome.

Claire DSI have a lot to be thankful for in the last 6 months:  a healthy baby, no medical complications, an amazing husband and the love and support of my friends and family.  But one thing I’m surprisingly thankful for is that I did not have a prenatal diagnosis.  Don’t get me wrong; I did not feel this way in the beginning.  In fact, initially I was angry that I didn’t have a prenatal diagnosis.  I had 3 high-resolution ultrasounds–how did the doctors not know!?!  I said many times “if only I had known, I would have…”  But when it comes down to it, what would I have done if I had known that my precious little angel would have 47 chromosomes? I can say for certain I would not have terminated my pregnancy, but that’s where my certainty ends.

Would I have let the myths and stereotypes of Down syndrome negatively affect the remainder of my pregnancy?    Would I have let my tears and disappointment get in the way of the love growing in my heart?  Would sadness and depression have stopped me from decorating the nursery or buying every piece of baby gear available?  Would the nervous laughter and excitement I felt on the way to the hospital have been replaced by dread and fear?  Would grief have prevented me from truly celebrating my pregnancy or Claire’s birth?  Would a prenatal diagnosis have caused me to give up without giving her a fighting chance?  I don’t know.

What would have been different if I had a prenatal diagnosis . . .  I will never know, and for that, I’m thankful.

Claire pageant picA prenatal diagnosis could not have convinced me that my little baby would be perfect.  Or that her smile would light up every room she enters and that she would immediately calm all my worries and fears.  Or that the love I would feel for her and the pride I have for her accomplishments would equal the love and pride I have for my firstborn child.

Today I say thank you to the doctor who discouraged me from having an amnio; thank you to the nurse who emphasized the risks involved with having one; and thank you to the sonographers for maintaining their belief that there was nothing wrong with the little girl growing in my tummy.  They were right—there is NOTHING wrong with Claire.  She is perfect just the way God made her–all 47 chromosomes!

You can go your own way

My boyfriend in college once told me that I reminded him of the female character in a Celtic song who was forever “chasing cannonballs.”

Checking out a cannon in Mammoth Springs, Arkansas with my husband

Checking out a cannon in Mammoth Springs, Arkansas with my husband

He was right.

I have been notorious for stubbornly making my own decisions. I often refer to this tendency as my “God versus Bethany” struggle. For years, mostly due to some tragic situations in my past, I chose to trust Bethany rather than God. Against all rationale, good advice, concerned friends, promptings from my conscience AKA the Holy Spirit of God, and even learned lessons from my past, I continued to choose to make choices based on Bethany’s will, not God’s.

This led to many uncomfortable, painful, and costly consequences. Thankfully, with the help of my anonymous program of recovery and sponsor and growing dependency on God, deferring to God’s will seems to be my go-to more often than not these days.

God continues to give me opportunities to choose, though, and sometimes letting go and letting God is not easy for me.

After having my daughter nearly eight months ago, I decided to eat an elephant–all at once. Finish grad school, with all A’s, of course. Prep for comps and read countless pieces of in-depth literature. Nurse my baby 6-8 times a day. Care for her the rest of the day. Write posts for my two blogs. Volunteer to edit documents for several friends. Maintain a super tidy, clean home. Continue to work my program of recovery. And of course, lose all that disgusting baby weight that had bruised my ego to a deep, dark purple.

Jogging with strep throat and doing the Rocky dance, February 2013

Jogging with strep throat and doing the Rocky dance, February 2013

I learned the hard way–by trying to start running again (and having some success) while recovering from a blood transfusion, an injured back, and two rounds of strep throat–that losing weight at my age after having a baby is not easy. It does not happen quickly. And it should probably not be on my to-do list until I’m finished nursing.

As has been the case in the past, it took a painful “aha” moment for me to realize that I’d overfilled my own plate. No one had done this to me or for me. I was not a victim. I had done it to myself in an effort to do everything as perfectly as possible.

My husband and I are blessed with plenty of land and many hiking trails. After having wide fire lanes created with the help of the Forestry Commission, my husband offered to watch our daughter so I could hike the fire lanes and take some photos. I jumped at the opportunity for fresh air and alone time, even though I felt miserable, lacked anything resembling energy, and had multiple other to-do’s on my ever-important list.

As I hiked along, I quickly realized my body had not recovered fully from my recent bout with strep throat. Every step was torture. To make matters worse, searing pain radiated through every square inch of my back and neck. But I kept going.

I took a wrong turn along the way and wound up at the bottom of an incredibly steep ravine. The only way out was up.

What an order. I could not go through with it.

So I sat down in the dirt with my panting companion, my cat Shao Hou, and cried.

Then I mustered enough energy to hike back up the ravine and head back home. I have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know. I don’t do “east” or “north.” I do “left” and “right.” That’s it. I found myself turned around on our own land, feeling like an idiot, and physically beyond the point of exhaustion and nearly crippled with pain.

I decided to cut through the woods in the general direction of “DOWN.” I figured eventually, I’d either come to the road or to our house. I clawed my way through briars and piles of brush and finally reached one of our trails.

As I reached the trail, with Shao Hou still patiently panting alongside me, I noticed a huge rock covered in moss, shaded by a large oak tree. It looked like a cool, beautiful place to rest for a  moment to catch my breath.

But you know me.

I didn’t stop. Oh no. I was going to finish this darn hike if it killed me. So I kept going rather than allowing myself to let go of my standards for performance in lieu of realistic expectations for my sick, aching body.

I cried the whole way home.

I felt sorry for myself. I felt angry at my body. I felt out of control. I felt that I’d wasted my precious “me” time on a failed effort to enjoy nature and get some exercise.

After letting my husband hug me and taking a hot bath, the “aha” moment hit me.

I needed help.

A healthier version of myself... slow and steady this time around. 10 more pounds to go! July 2013

A healthier version of myself… slow and steady this time around. 10 more pounds to go! July 2013

I could continue to go my own way and potentially do long-term damage to my body. Or I could listen to my body and stop pushing myself beyond my limits. And visit my doctor. And find a physical therapist.

So I did. Slowly but surely, my body is recovering, but not without plenty of effort and some pain.

The difference is that the pain I feel now is due to making the right choices to take care of my body and get help to heal it versus the pain I felt due to my refusal to slow down and accept reality, which never mimics anything like perfection.

Next time I hike the fire lanes on our land, I’m going to stop at that mossy rock, pet my panting buddy Shao Hou, and drink some water while I admire the miracles of God’s creation surrounding me. And I won’t feel bad about taking a break, either.

 

 

Things never change

Gratitude rarely actually changes things.

Not in my life, anyway. Things stay the same. Circumstances come and go, as all circumstances do.

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My family members who irk me continue to irk me. The one who never says “I love you” may never say “I love you.” My sisters will probably never agree with my lifestyle choices. I will probably never agree with all of theirs. My mom and mother-in-law will probably always dish out unsolicited advice, despite multiple attempts to curb this behavior.

The people I know and people I love who are addicts may or may not get sober. If they do get sober, they might or might not stay sober. They may never accept that their lives are unmanageable. They may never find serenity or the courage to change the things they can.

The turds in my life will probably always be turds. When I worked for a miserable woman I affectionately referred to as Satan, my writing a daily gratitude list didn’t change her attitude one bit. She did not become more kind or human. She might still be a turd to this day.

The list of things that stay the same, get worse, or may never change is endless. It overwhelms me if I let it.

Thankfully, I don’t have to. At the advice of my mentor, I began writing a daily gratitude list about five years ago. Since then, the practice of gratitude has morphed me into a more gracious, loving, and appreciative person. It’s restored a sense of wonder and adoration in my heart. It hasn’t changed my life. It has changed ME.

This morning, for example, my baby girl woke up at 5:15 a.m. Her normal wake time is about 7 a.m., and sometimes later. She also happened to fight sleep for quite some time last night. That, coupled with some annoying health issues, resulted in this mama getting about five hours of sleep in comparison to her usual 7 or 8.

As I rolled over to look at the clock while listening to my daughter coo over the monitor, I groaned. I did not want to move. I did not want to get up and make the doughnuts. I wanted someone else to nurse my baby. I wanted breakfast in bed with extra shots of espresso, please.

But I couldn’t change the fact that my baby woke up early. I can’t change the fact that she fought sleep last night, either.

All I can change is me, and sometimes, that’s a struggle, too.

Switching my attitude from one of contempt, grumbling, negativity, self-pity, and cynicism to one of gratitude almost always changes me. It changes the way I view those things that I can do nothing about.

Yes, my daughter woke up early and went to bed late. Yes, this caused me to get way too little sleep.

The three of us, May 2013

The three of us, May 2013

But she woke up this morning.

She is alive.

She suffered no ill effects from any of the annoying symptoms I faced during pregnancy. She recovered like a champ from a somewhat traumatic delivery with no side effects. She has slept in her own crib since she was two weeks old, and has slept through the night since she was about six weeks old. She smiles. She eats well and has no digestive problems. She is, as I often pray, healthy from the top of her head to the bottom of her toes. She laughs and tries to talk to me and touches my face and lights up my world every single day.

After thanking God aloud for these gifts while nursing my daughter in a semi-conscious state, I realized that between 6:15 and 6:20 a.m. this morning, nothing changed.

But I did.

My attitude switched gears.

It works every time, if I work it.

 

Day 14–Love that lasts

*Big thanks to my friend Judy Woolf, who has lived a love story in front of me and set a great example of what real love is, in good times and bad. Love you, Judy, and you too, George. Happy anniversary to one of the most amazing couples I know.*

Judy and George

Judy and George

This story of love and gratitude began 38 years ago today on Feb 14, 1975, when my sweet Valentine proposed!  It actually began 4 ½ years earlier with a blind date, but that’s a story for another day.  Although he was one of the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate people I have ever known, he rarely showed that through overt action.  This day he came through in spades!  I guess when it is most often subtle, those rare moments are all the more meaningful.  His romance would sneak up on me and just overwhelm.  I remember one day during our first year when he came home from work and said he had to put in days for vacation.  When I looked at his dates, one week was during the time of our one-year wedding anniversary.  What man would think of that? Overwhelmed!  He just made me smile – a lot!

Our life together was not always easy, but always full of joy and contentment and commitment.  I never questioned his love for me, and I think he felt that in return.  I have often told people I was fully committed to living the rest of my life with that man!  But another fateful February day changed that when on Feb 2, 2009, he slipped into eternity.  February now had a whole new feel for me, full of sorrow and grief and questions and . . . I don’t even know how some of the feelings can be described.  How are you supposed to go on when you had worked so hard at this “two becoming one” thing, and now you are no longer whole?  Then I happened upon some writings of C.S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed”, that he had penned after the death of his wife. In it he discovers that we must be careful to separate our emotions of the loss with the memories of the person else those memories become tainted with sadness.  So therefore, I choose to be grateful for the time we did have together. And now you can be grateful that I turn to the gratitude part of this.

George's namesake, Georgia Leigh, with Grandpa's guitar and hat

George’s namesake, Georgia Leigh, with Grandpa’s guitar and hat

George and his girls

George and his girls

I am so grateful for our three beautiful daughters that our union produced.  Each so unique in their own ways, yet to me they each also mirror a little of their father.

Sarah has such a sweet spirit, loyal, tender-hearted; Cindy has a quiet resolve about her, competitive, steadfast, committed (but  not always so quiet); and our February blessing, Amy, is her own self, has a special sense of humor, and has developed into a strong woman and just the best mother around to our next February blessing, Georgia Leigh.  Two years ago, this little sweetheart came along and again changed the feel of February.  We celebrate her life as his namesake and know that he would have been just the best “Grandpa George”.

Little Georgia Leigh

Little Georgia Leigh

I am so grateful for the time we had together, the lessons learned, the things he taught me.  George was content to be at home with his girls around him. Or to be at their ballgames cheering them on and encouraging them and their teammates.  I think he had an extra dose of the gift of encouragement.  And time with family was important to him.

George did not finish college – I did – yet I never felt smarter than him (well, maybe in some things, but generally, no).  God endowed him with a special wisdom.  He became my sounding board, always had a wise word, but never too quickly.  Again, his words carried weight because they did not come fast and furious.

George taught me many things, like maximize the positives, minimize the negatives.  Also, the importance of reading instruction manuals, the most valuable one being that one for life, the Holy Bible.  He spent time there, thus arriving at aforementioned wisdom.

No story of love and gratitude would be complete without focusing a little time on the ultimate Love, and gratefulness for the eternal Hope found in Jesus Christ.

These last four years have not been easy, but my faith has never wavered.  I think maybe the Lord gave George some “Hezekiah days” (look it up).  Three years before, he had a pretty serious health scare that could have resulted in death, but the Lord saw fit to leave him yet a while with us.  During those years we had opportunity to grow in our faith together and spend a lot of time just the two of us together.  I am so grateful now for those days; they are so special to me.  Did the Lord provide that as preparation for what was too soon to come?  Maybe.  It is hard for me to worship now without my soul mate and with a broken heart, yet my faith remains strong.  It is a puzzlement.  I am still at times mad at God, question God, and cry out to God. Yet Scripture promises that His mercies are new every day and I hold to that.

There is a popular worship song that has a fitting message by which to close.

It says,  “Higher than the mountains that I face, stronger than the power of the grave, constant in the trial and the change, one thing remains: His love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me. On and on and on and on it goes. It overwhelms and satisfies my soul.”

And this old hymn speaks to me about that unexplainable peace that passes understanding which only comes through faith and knowing this Great Love:

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Transcending my reality

*Special thanks to Gloria Bolton, a former student of mine, who has grown into an even more beautiful and enlightened person over the years, for serving as today’s guest contributor.*

Transcending my Reality: How I Found Christ  

Image “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” Marianne Williamson

Let me first preface this by saying, you aren’t going to agree with me. You just aren’t. Many people, when I tell them about my beliefs and my spiritual journey, assume that I am not a Christian. Or that I am a “bad” one. But I’m not going to tell you about my Christianity. I’m going to tell you about my Reality. The two just happen to coincide. Thus begins my story…

This is the story of a journey-My Journey, as you now know. It is not filled with adventure, and we will make no stop at the ancient sacred temples of Earth, except to mention that I am fascinated with awe by them. Instead, this is a journey I traversed in the mind, with Christ as my guide, and the re-emergence of my Soul in a state of elevated-if not quite enlightened-Consciousness.

This journey begins when I was very small.

I was born into a special state of being, blessed before birth. A contract was constructed, and my Soul became the daughter of my Mother. My Mother- a special woman, a walking angel among men. Her Soul is not from here- and I have always recognized a strong but silent power within her. My mother has always been my spiritual leader- we congregated at home and she loved reminding us that “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am among them” Matthew 18:20. Thus I began my spiritual life much where it may possibly stay for all time: with a Knowing. Knowing that Christ was with me. Knowing that the Creator loved me- and knowing that my study and solitude would be the key.  

So-you may be wondering if I am a nun and if this journey ends in some misty-mountain-monastery where we bake bread for orphans and perform last rights for the devout. No-it does not. I’ve never even been there. Not even on drugs. I guess this journey begins with me, a small kid, surrounded by personal gurus and open hearts of Love. My mother and grandmother have been the two singly most important influences on my path toward awareness. There were many others along the way- too many, in fact to credit here; some have been human, others have been beast. And what I know for certain is that God, and the powers that be, have always provided me with the people, places, events, books and mind to carve my path in this mountain that is life.

As a teenager, I traveled on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays from church to church, joining in communion with my friends. I met a lot of open-hearted people. I felt like a traveling Christian soldier- welcomed by the open arms of many communities. Still, I had my issues with organized religion. Surprisingly, the non-denominational churches I visited were the least welcoming-but perhaps the most inspiring. A paradox-I know. I had always been told by my mother that we, in fact, were non-denominational Christians. Because of this, I was wholly surprised when, at two separate churches, and by two different pastors, I was sought out, or at least felt sought out, to be told that I was in fact- not saved!

What an outrage, I thought! And I told them so. You do not know me, I would say. I am saved- I have been saved many times. I had not only accepted myself as a sinner, but had also asked Christ into my heart, many times. I felt like a dog being reminded that I am just a dog. And I didn’t like it.

Suddenly within me, I felt moved to separate the curd from the cream. That’s not what these pastors had intended. They had intended for me to give myself over. To latch on to the bosom of their churches and suckle the existing cream, cultivated to Grade A Fancy, by the knowledge encased therein. But, I could not do this. I knew that if I was ever to be happy, to be truly fulfilled, I had to make my own cream. And thus the journey continued….

As a child I had been aware of the several religions that existed. I knew about the metaphysical “realm.” I had listened to my grandmother speak about the Christian Mystics. I knew what Judaism was and its basic elements and commonalities with Christianity. I knew what Buddhists were, and was vaguely familiar with Hinduism. I was also keen on many Native American beliefs. I believed that dinosaurs were in fact real, but also felt wholeheartedly that there must be truth in the Creation. I knew even then that the seed of Truth and Love resided within the heart of all these communities, and I hungered to finish the puzzle.

I began studying more feverishly than ever before. I read Cosmic Consciousness at the age of 13. I flocked to the most open minded hearts and Souls I could find. I met a man named John Chiaromonte, a personal guru, and admired his intermingling of Buddhist and Christian beliefs. In college, I took classes that opened my eyes to the interconnectedness of different religious groups. I studied the cultivation of religious extremism, particularly among Christian and Islamic groups. I became at peace with the trinity of the three dominant dogmas: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. I read, and read, and read. I became aware of the occult, learned about the teachings of Aleister Crowley. I was fascinated by Numerology, and dabbled in Astrology. I joined the Society for Learning All Cosmic Knowledge of Epistemology and Religion (SLACKERS). I was part of faith based organizations dedicated to the growth of love and knowledge between people of every faith. I celebrated uncommon “pagan” holidays. I loved it. But, I became tired.

You see, in college there were four dominant levels of spiritual awareness. A reality I dealt with on a daily basis. There were: 1. Atheists, most common. 2. Agnostics, usually their fathers or grandfathers had been priests or pastors and turned them off of any religious beliefs. 3. More agnostics, these ones had no beliefs, but claimed to be cool with everything. 4. Hard Core Christians. My kind of religion didn’t seem to fit anywhere. I was a Questioning Christian and Soul Searcher. The environment became stagnant. Until I met my Adam (as in, the first man J)

Adam is my boyfriend. We live in sin, ha ha, because it is not financially wise in today’s world for us to marry. With my student debt and a shady credit history, I do not want to burden him with my financial ineptitude. He says he can’t afford the ring I deserve. But- we are married, body and soul, in so many deeper ways.

When I met Adam, I had really hoped he would be the like-minded Christian Soul Searcher that I had been searching for. Alas, he was not. “What are you then?” I asked, “Atheist or agnostic?” “Neither,” he told me, “I believe in Energy.” Hmm…Energy- that is interesting.

Let me stop a moment and rewind. All my time spent studying the beliefs of other people left me with just one, unshakable conclusion: as long as there is Love, there is Christ. And as a Christian, I still believed what my mother had taught me. A Christian is someone who follows Christ. I mean, seriously, I saw God everywhere. The puzzle pieces weren’t fitting together quite smoothly, but they were all there for me to do the work.

Energy-ah- that force that keeps the Universe together- keeps the Earth rotating around the sun and on its axis. The same Energy makes up every atom of my body, the table I’m sitting at, the pen in my hand and it is Energy that triggers the synapses of my brain as I write. I had to know more about this Energy. Adam was talking about his Reality though, not his religion. And his Reality was founded on the basis of the Law of Attraction. For anyone unfamiliar with the Law of Attraction (LOA), a brief definition: like attracts like; good attracts good, bad attracts bad. Makes sense, huh? When it rains, it pours, good or bad, happy, sad, neurotic or normal. The Energy you emit comes back to you. Sounds a little like the Western understanding of Karma, right? Here I’d like to ask the reader, are you familiar with the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Either way, go listen to their song “Minor Thing:” You make a sound the spell is bound to come around. I didn’t have to study too long before again, I found Christ.

You see, the LOA can be used for attracting to your life more of what you want. This practice is rooted in the requirement of pure, blind faith- like most religious belief. In order to attract, or manifest good things in your life, you must first state those good expectations and know that if it is wanted, it exists already in Creation. After declaring your expectation of the gift, you must release all resistance by becoming detached. You have to know you want it and that it exists, but also live as if the having or not having of this good thing cannot, will not and does not affect your state of being. In other words- You put the wheel in God’s hands, and remain happily anchored in your present state of being. Remember, I’m talking about a Reality here, not a religion.

It made perfect sense to me. Say what you want, believe it is so, and it will come. After all, my own family had experienced first-hand this sacred knowledge of the power of faith, as pertaining to a certain Miracle Baby.   

No! Not me, (although I will say I caused a rather fair amount of physical commotion upon my arrival) thank you though! Actually my sister had at birth suffered a massive stroke. Mom was told that Nicki wouldn’t live, but that if she did, we would be lucky if she ever reached the ability to make her own bed. My sister was given a death sentence at birth. The doctors and hospital really did their best to prepare my mother for the death of her first child. They didn’t want any surprises. Not this child though-

My mom had been told as a teen that she was incapable of carrying a child to term. Scars on her uterus would prevent an embryo from attaching- and mom’s prospects to become a mother were grim-doomed to a life riddled with half-termed miscarriages. Mom prayed, together with Nicki’s father, that God would send her a baby, and when He did, at the age of 19, she was filled with nothing but gratitude for the soft human body growing inside of her. Mom was not gonna let Nicki die. She prayed to God- “Why? Why my sweet, innocent child?” She opened her Bible- “Nothing clean can ever come from anything unclean.” Job 14:3

Stop! I’m sure you can guess mom’s reaction- surely remorse for her sinful ways. But just once more I must weave the fabric of this Miracle Baby’s story with my own journey of self-awareness. Nothing clean comes from the unclean. In practicing LOA I have learned that “problems” still arise in my life. Life is not always smooth and besides, I wouldn’t want it to be. Contrast is healthy. But, for the first four years of my knowledge of LOA, I did not understand why I was not attracting the good that I so desired. Bad situations just became worst. Now I know this: the solution to an issue can never come to you while you are still offering the vibration or the energy from whence that problem was created. Even Einstein knew that- look it up!

The second time my mother opened her bible that day she read “Therefore, I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them and they will be granted to you.” Mark 11:24. Law of Attraction and faith in action. Ask, believe it is already yours, open your heart and receive.    

And guess what? My sister is alive and well, mother of my beautiful nephew, age 10. She recovered in less than two years- with a lot of faith and a little consistent work to strengthen the Miracle Baby’s body (at that time, it was also unknown that the rate of brain cell regrowth in newborns is as high as it is). Mom still says it was the easiest faith she ever had. The words were from God and the faith from something higher than body or mind.

It was not hard for me to accept the power of LOA, and many related teachings. I had seen, witnessed through my sister and mother, the power of faith. Different words, slightly different paths, one a religion, the other a Reality: One Destination.

So now I thought I knew the secret, but knowledge is not power when left unused. It is more like an atrophied limb stuck inside a plaster cast. And thus I spent four long years knowing that dormant Knowledge of the Cosmos. Until one day, not too long ago- November actually- I awakened to the awareness that I, in fact, was not using this power to create the life that God and the Universe had intended for me. So I started practicing. A little at first, as much as my mind and body could muster. I started with Gratitude-

Today, and for the last 67 days, I have started and ended my day by practicing Gratitude. It has become my prayer. And would you know- I was shocked to find what would come into my life when I opened my heart! At one point I declared my gratitude for all the “free stuff” I was getting. I also declared my intention to receive more. And it happened! The list of free stuff to feel grateful for is long, and would most definitely sound absurd to some. It includes clothing, classes and cookies 😀 But, it is real, nonetheless.

ImageI have also begun to meditate daily- and this is another instrument in the toolbox to my Reality. I realized and really felt- I am not my body, nor am I my mind. The essence of who I am is sourced from a higher power. A Divine power. That is what I am, and who you all are. We are much more than we were ever led to believe. Energy is everywhere and it is our job to choose how we interpret that great force. Look at your mother’s dining room table, for example. Most people will just see a table, modern or classic, wood or plastic. But your mother- you, your family- see a place where she feeds her family. A place where we play, laugh, joke, pray and reside in the hearts of each other. You can change your Reality, and you have chosen, are choosing, and continue to choose it for yourself.

Christ is everywhere, when we choose to see him. And so is God. That Christ Consciousness flows through everything and everyone. It is the Universe, to me. Good and bad no longer exist, unless I choose to see them. There is merely existence, experience, and the ability to harness your energy. In other words, nothing is “good” or “bad,” it just is, and what we choose prevails.

So where am I now? No closer to the end than from where I began, I’m afraid. But opened now. I opened my mind and body and felt my way to the Chamber of my Soul. The door was opened and when I looked within- I saw the sacred peacefulness that is to be my life. I found so much within.

I’m currently in the process of organizing and founding a non-profit corporation. My energy and faith therein, have carried me so far in such a short amount of time. My “organization” went from an idea within my mind on how to serve others- to an actuality in two months! I’m even meeting with potential partners on Sunday. This could not have happen in my previous “reality.”

I am healthy, invigorated, inspired and moved to action. The sun rises and sets for me. My once dormant orchid is now in full bloom (literally speaking, it has six flowers) and I know that it is all for me. There are no coincidences, only what you create or co-create with others.

I am aware that I have only really begun to scratch the surface of this: My life, as it should be, as it was intended to be. I don’t believe in hell or sin, because my Lord is Love, and in Love, the seeds of darkness never existed: they were all just lies. I have awakened unto my true self- and to reiterate, I felt my soul, and there I found Christ and Creation. I witnessed the birth of my Reality as a Spiritual Being experiencing a physical existence. In the words of Walt Whitman, “I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,” (Song of Myself).

Adventure bandana

*Special thanks to my nephew, Walter Pitts, for serving as today’s guest contributor. He recently returned from a whirlwind tour of Europe with friends, and following his journey via Facebook was entertaining and inspiring. I’m thankful he’s willing to share some of his adventure with you.*

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Our recent adventure crew

Freshman year I applied for my passport at the Fayetteville post office for my trip to Belize with Engineers Without Borders. Today, I trudged down Dickson Street headed to the same post office with the cold burning my cheeks, a bit jet-lagged and more than a bit in culture shock.  The most welcoming words I had heard all day were words like enthalpy, control volume, combined cycle, and a string of words about the accumulation rate’s relation to the conservation of mass. Sitting through the thermo review in power gen, it struck me how odd it was that I could not only completely understand the teacher’s words, but also that it would be possible to have a full conversation with any person I met that would last more than 30 seconds before my vocabulary became a limiting factor. I could make it last longer than a few phrases, than saying ‘good afternoon’, ‘thank you’, ‘I don’t speak Polish’, ‘you’re beautiful’, ‘how much?’  (Don’t worry, not in that order). Shaking some cold off, I grabbed a flat rate envelope and placed a dirty scrap of cloth into it.

Some of you will smile here with recognition; most will probably be a bit confused. This off-white scrap of cloth is a little something that has become endearingly known to me as the Adventure Bandana. A cheesy name given to a dollar bandana purchased at a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of the Smoky Mountains many years ago on a family vacation. I wore that bandana lashed between my bicep and tricep for the entirety of the trip, obviously looking very adventuresome, outdoorsy, and cool. There is a picture somewhere of me, in my long hair stage on this trip, flexing muscles with a man I met with a tattoo that he and a buddy had done themselves with some India ink and a needle. ‘Love Mom’ never looked so cool.

Since that trip the bandana has been with me through storms, up creeks, to the back of many caves, on death defying whippers, in death defying bike wrecks, sailing, floating, fishing, and a myriad of other adventures. It has been covered in blood and snot and more sweat than the great Bambino could shake a stick at. A book could be written on where all this bandana has been with me, but one day, a long time ago, I figured that maybe, seeing as how the bandana had served me so well, it could be something a bit more. 

This is where the story and the essence of the Adventure Bandana really came to fruition.  I started sending my bandana with my favorite people on their travels as a way to say that I was excited for their adventures and that someone back home had them on his mind. Heck, if I was going to let them get lost and take my bandana with them…  The bandana definitely isn’t a good luck charm; if anything it’s the opposite. I’d say the bandana stands for just about everything Superman stands for and maybe a bit more. As I filled out my address label, an old man recommended a different envelope. I could sense immediately that he didn’t really care about what envelope I used but that he needed someone to discuss the merits of various envelopes with. How these people find me, I never know. I think it’s genetic. I think I got it from my mom. 

With the long line I knew I was in for a long conversation. After he learned from me the vast amount of knowledge entailing only my major in school, he told me of his time in the Navy, his time at the Architecture school under Fay Jones and how he lost his job in Oklahoma City and ended up in Fayetteville doing odd jobs in drafting and Civil Engineering. I drifted off thinking of when, in Poland, we were asked by our Chilean friend, Maria, what the difference was in the word ‘trip’, and the word ‘journey.’  We concluded that a journey had something to do with discovering something new and that trip was generally a safer phrase to use in casual conversation to describe traveling. I sealed the package containing the bandana which had only recently been returned to me in Prague via Mr. Joshua Windsor, a friend of mine who lived just down the hall in Pomfret my freshman year. Josh had been studying in Cambridge and had
 graciously agreed to let it see some prestigious education.  Caleb Posey wore it in Indonesia, and Zach has some great stories with the Bandana in Egypt. It has been all over Western Europe and still has green oil paint on it from my first trip to Belize and sweat from my second one.

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Olympic torch from 1936, one of the many interesting finds on our European adventure

I drifted back into the conversation as the man told me that the word ‘job security’ was being taken out of the dictionary. The fact that this was actually two words didn’t strike me at the time, but it did strike me again that I could talk to a complete stranger without a phrase book. And then it struck me too how silly this whole adventure bandana thing was. I bought the darn thing at Wal-Mart; all that made it special was its stories, the blood and sweat, the places it had been. 

Hmmm. I looked at the man again, nodding for the 50th time, and thought about a hospital, and a baby being born. Blood and sweat, the places that baby would go, its story. Then it really blew my mind that I was talking to another human being. I walked to the counter where the exact same snarky Asian-American woman who had taken my passport paperwork over two years ago was standing. This is where my international travel had started. It suddenly seemed very fitting to be sending off the bandana here.

The bandana had only been in my hands for two weeks, through Prague, Berlin, Istanbul, and Budapest, and it felt very satisfying to have it for such a short time. Now the silly scrap of cloth is headed across America to Andy, my roommate and best friend who will be leaving for Rwanda in a couple of weeks. Five something dollars lighter, I wished the lady a good day and told the lonely old gentleman that it was nice talking to him. To me this moment in the post office is the literal end of my latest journey, passing the cloth baton once more on to a friend and fellow traveler. 

What I discovered that is new is up for debate, although I care very little what the consensus is.  I may be jet-lagged and in intense culture shock, but in all honesty, this is the best I have felt in a long time. My belt is tight, clamping my loose pants to my waist, but I am full for now with memories, raising laughter in my stomach that moves down to my gut.

Blood and sweat indeed.