Mighty kind

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Kindness is the mightiest force in the world,” according to One Day at a Time (299).

In the past, I didn’t feel kind. I didn’t even feel like being kind. I felt like stabbing my ex-husband’s eyeballs with a handful of forks. If you know me now, you may be laughing and trying to imagine me doing this. You may be thinking, “Now Bethany… surely you’re exaggerating!” No. I am not.

That anger and resentment masked my disappointment, bitterness, depression, anxiety, sadness, and fear. I was in pretty sad emotional shape a decade ago (and in the preceding years as well). Thankfully I chose to reach out, get help, and get better.

I have learned I have a choice in every situation. The truth of this notion made me sigh (or gag) for a few years. Martyrdom had become a way of life. I couldn’t see the efficacy in changing my ways because it was tough to take actions and let feelings follow, and I was afraid to admit my part in problems, particularly in relationships. It was much easier to let men, bosses, or relatives take the blame, allow all of you to feel very sorry for me, and go on with life.

I didn’t just omit the truth of my mean part in situations. I also behaved in mean ways. Just ask one of my exes. I’ll spare you the details, but trust me… I’ve been cruel, cold, and calculating.

I haven’t just struggled with being kind in intimate relationships. I still find it tough to be kind—even courteous—to family members who don’t live life the way I do. When someone interrupts me repeatedly, or when a relative tells racist jokes in front of me, I absolutely do not feel motivated to treat them as God’s precious children or want to pinch their adorable cheeks and bless their little hearts. It’s really my problem because “when I am disturbed, it is because I find… some fact of my life… unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment” (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, 417).

Kindness blooms from acceptance.

Acceptance really is the solution to all my problems.

Another root of kindness is gratitude. “When I focus on what’s good today, I have a good day” (Big Book, 419). Three long years of creating detailed, original gratitude lists helped instill this principle in my heart, but it’s still easier when I feel disgruntled to focus on the problem rather than the solution. When I choose to focus on the solution, I feel better. Many times the quickest way out of a grump is to create a gratitude list. Sometimes I write the items on paper. Many times I pray aloud and say, “Thank you, God, for the chance to stay home and spend time with Maggie right now. Thank you that she cared enough about my reaction that she asked me to quit writing and to come see her new space heater. Thank you for the 30 minutes to write this morning before James left for work.” Hearing myself express gratitude verbally brings me back to where my hands are; the present is where I find the solution.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I am thankful, I treat people around me with kindness and compassion. When I am thankful, I am more likely to accept others as they are. And lastly, when I am thankful, mindful, present, and accepting, I like myself. This is something I struggle with but am willing to grow toward today. In moments when I like myself, I’m kind to myself. I don’t lash out in my head with judgmental and critical statements. I smile more often. I relax. I listen well. I laugh. And when I love myself, I love others well.

And kindness and love really do cover a multitude of sins.

It works!

My turkey painting by Michelle Young of MY Moments

My turkey painting by Michelle Young of MY Moments

I have a friend who sells fat-burning wraps which apparently really work–the name of the company is It Works, after all. I can’t personally attest to the company’s claim, and I don’t know anything about the science behind the products, but I do know one thing: whatever works for me is what I’m going to keep doing.

Recently I read an article by John Piper about gratitude and motivation. Piper reasons with readers and outlines a theological basis for his claim that gratitude is “a species of joy which arises in our heart in response to the good will of someone who does (or tries to do) us a favor.” He goes on to discuss what gratitude is, isn’t, and what it ought to be. And I agree with Piper.

At the same time, I’d like to go on the record by making the most important claim of all about the habit of gratitude: it just works.

That’s it. Is it selfishly motivated? Maybe, at times, depending on the person and circumstances. Is it right or wrong to be thankful for material things rather than people and higher concepts? I don’t know. If my motives for making a gratitude list are to improve my emotional state or attitude, am I being selfish?

Who cares?

I’m the first to admit that I have cared about lofty, heady issues way too much in the past. I cared more about being right than I cared about being happy. I minored in religion and philosophy. I’ve read countless articles, books, and blog posts arguing this point or that, providing plenty of rhetorical arsenal for people like the old Bethany who still need to search for the answers and convince others that their answers are incorrect.

That’s just not me anymore (most of the time, thank God!).

Six and a half years ago, I reached a spiritual breaking point. I found help climbing out of the pit through an anonymous 12-step recovery program for families and loved ones of alcoholics.

I had developed lots of bad habits. I’d become controlling, manipulative, judgmental, critical, cynical, depressed, anxious, and desperate. Ugh. Thankfully, the way of life I found worked for me, and today, the real Bethany keeps emerging little by little.

This program is one of action. It demands that I take action based on what is right, not based on my feelings. One of the ways I do this is by practicing gratitude.

God used the habit of gratitude to help change my attitude and outlook on life. The first step in developing this habit was to keep a daily gratitude list of three items–wholly unique every day. At first, it didn’t change any of my feelings or actions. I kept the list begrudgingly at first because I had been asked to do it. My attitude was not yet transformed :). After a few months, I noticed myself paying more attention to the good moments in my day, to the kind acts of the people around me, and to the beauty in the world. Why? I was looking for items for my gratitude list. I’d become accustomed to focusing on the good, and my focus on the good had minimized the appearance of the bad.

Lo and behold, a few years later, gratitude had become the norm, and grumbling, whining, pitying myself, and worrying began falling to the wayside.

The more I focus on what I have to be grateful for, and the more energy I expend thanking God and thanking others–either in words or actions–the less time and energy I have to dwell on things that bum me out, make me worry, or piss me off.

I make gratitude lists, in my head and on paper. I choose to bite my tongue when I want to whine and moan and try, instead, to say something positive–usually expressing gratitude for someone, or pointing out the good around me. I give gifts–whatever I have to give–because my heart is full of gratitude for God’s love and the miracles He’s done in my life. Giving to others gives me an outlet for that love. I deliberately look for opportunities to thank people who’ve made a positive difference in my life. I try not to post negative comments or updates on my personal social media pages or blogs; instead, I choose to share what’s good. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing negative in my life today. I just don’t feel like focusing on the negative anymore. I also encourage others to be grateful because if the people around me are positive and thankful and mindful of God, then they’ll encourage and motivate me in return.

Isn’t that selfish?

Probably. But that’s okay with me.

I just want to do what works–what helps me make progress.

glory of God quoteI’m primarily concerned with becoming more of who God wants me to be–more of who He made me to be. The Bethany I want to be  is happy, joyous, and free. She worries less and trusts more. She smiles in the face of adversity and laughs over spilled milk. She takes pleasure in spending time with people she loves and loves the people God has put in her life. She celebrates beauty. She is, as John Eldredge puts it, “the glory of God–[wo]man fully alive.”

Life is too short to spend my time picking apart something that works. Gratitude works.

I’ll take it, chalk it up as a blessing, and keep doing it.

 

 

 

 

Never say never

At the homestead, 2011

At the homestead, 2011

I’ve said NEVER about plenty of things.
And eaten my words plenty of times, too.

“I will NEVER get divorced.”

Done. Twice.

“I am NEVER going to be one of those people who moves back to the middle of nowhere as an adult!”

Done. Here.

“I’m never going to date another alcoholic or addict, EVER!”

Done. Remarried one. Subsequently divorced him.

“I am NEVER going to wear leggings. Gross.”

At my friend's infamous Festivus party, 2011

At my friend’s infamous Festivus party, 2011

All right, maybe I came close to holding true to this one, but I did don a sweet pair of leggings with the ugliest Christmas sweater EVER a few years ago.

When it comes to saying “never” these days, I try to catch myself and rephrase things.

“I can’t say I will NEVER have another baby, but I’m leaning that direction.”

Our daughter's christening, 2013

Our daughter’s christening, 2013

 

“I won’t say I will NEVER join another Baptist church, but I’m pretty happy attending our Methodist church right now.”

“I won’t say I will NEVER teach again. But I’d rather work as a waitress than teach again.”

Well. This has proven false.

I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to put my recently earned Master’s degree to work and to teach one course this fall at our local community college. Not only am I glad to be able to use my degree, but I’m excited about TEACHING. I can’t wait to wade through the text and create my syllabus, incorporating things I’ve learned and ideas I’ve mulled over the past few weeks. I look forward to being on campus, even for a few hours a week, and helping students in some small way to better themselves and prepare themselves for the world of work that lies ahead.

My first experience as a teacher left a bad taste in my mouth. I taught, as my second job out of college, as a high school teacher (teaching English and Religion/Philosophy) at a private high school in an affluent area of the city. I was the third teacher that year–and I started in the middle of September. That probably should have raised a red flag, but it didn’t. I was naïve and assumed that teaching there would be easier because the students would certainly be better behaved due to their upbringing. And the Christian environment would be really supportive, encouraging, and positive.

I do keep in touch with many of my students. And I built some great relationships with many of them. If I could have stayed inside the four walls of my classroom without any interruptions from the outside world–namely parents and administration–I think I might have stuck with it. But that didn’t happen.

I received a handwritten letter from a student threatening to bring a gun to campus after my first month teaching because said student was failing my course and wasn’t thrilled about it. The principal blew it off and suggested I change her grade so she would have fewer worries about graduating. I was not wise enough at that point in my life to simply report the incident to the police, so I just moved on. Countless parents scheduled conferences with me to voice their concerns about my zero-tolerance policy regarding cheating and plagiarism. Couldn’t I be a little more forgiving and overlook those things? When I sent students to the office or reprimanded them, they were often sent immediately back to my classroom, receiving no consequences for their actions.

I wasn’t a perfect teacher, but I tried my best to stick it out (and I did, for a year) for the sake of the students, who were a year away from heading to college, to improve their writing and reading and critical thinking skills. I knew that what I was doing would prepare them for what they would encounter in college. But dealing with the lack of support from parents and administration proved too stressful for me. I opted out of contract renewal in May and went back to working with emotionally disturbed teenagers. Believe it or not, the environment at that facility was much more supportive, encouraging, and positive. And I felt the students truly appreciated my efforts to help them.

After that negative experience with teaching, I vowed to avoid teaching at all costs. And yet I continued to find myself in work environments and volunteer situations that demanded that I lead or teach. I led support groups for sexual assault victims. I taught summer courses for high school students as part of a grant-funded program. I led workshops for college students when I worked in career services. I created curriculum for training employees at multiple job sites. I led Bible studies for students.

And now I find myself preparing to teach college students.

One of the wisest women I know repeatedly tells me that “always and never are God’s words.”

She is right. I NEVER know what my future holds because I do not hold it.

God does.

And He ALWAYS knows what’s best. And I won’t say NEVER, but it’s rarely what I had planned :).

There’s always a rock

*I’m very thankful that Debra Dickey-Liang sent me this post for today sharing her 2013 word of the year with us. What’s your word or theme for 2013? What’s on your mind? What are you learning right now? What will you be grateful for 11 months from now?*

During my everyday life, with its various tasks and responsibilities, I am invariably looking for, and finding, life-analogies – serious analogies, hilarious analogies, and alas, analogies that hit the nail right on the head!

ImageThe other day, I was out for my weekend walk with Maddie, and we came to one of the usual places on the trek where we cross the branch from one side of the field to the other, and I began to pick our way through the vegetation and duck under tree limbs to find the best way to accomplish that without a mishap.  As this happened to be shortly after the last snow had melted and filled the branches and creeks more than usual, the water level was definitely up, there was quite a bit of run off, and the crossing was fairly wide with several deep spots.  But tada! Never to be disappointed, just where I needed to go, I saw a number of rocks, exactly the right size, perfectly spaced, sticking up out of the water, just enough to make it possible to step across to the other side with ease.  Isn’t that the way it goes?  Coincidence?  Hardly.  My preference is to refer to such occurrences as miracles !

Now before you scoff, let me clarify my personal definition of miracle.  I most often choose to think of a miracle as something ordinary moved to a position of extraordinary.  So see, it fits!

Please don’t misunderstand, I am fully aware that God is in the BIG MIRACLE business – note, creation, the parting of the Red Sea, the birth of Jesus, feeding the 5,000, just to mention a few.  But I choose to also acknowledge such everyday, out-of-the ordinary occurrences that regularly show up in my day-to-day life, as miracles too.  Time and time again, I have had the good fortune to be the recipient of many well placed ‘rocks’ in this existence known as my life.  My fear is that I have not recognized them all, but my hope is that I have remembered to praise the Heavenly Father for each and every one that has been bestowed.

ImageSo the word I have chosen, per Bethany’s example, is ‘MIRACLES’, because, honestly, I could use a couple right now.  There are currently two concerns at the top of my prayer list for which I ‘pray without ceasing’ . . . . and I’m sure those probably won’t be the only two!  Yet I trust, and I know in Whom I believe, that, somewhere at each crossing, there will be a ‘rock’ …. or two, perfectly placed, at exactly the right spot, to make it possible to get across to the other side, perhaps with ease, perhaps not, but safely, with God in the midst of that miracle.

So my personal challenge remains, to look for, recognize, acknowledge, praise, and thank God, not just for the many ‘miracles’ in my own life, but for everyone who seeks His blessings.

“If (Because) God is my Strength,

     Though I may be on a precipice of doubt

And fear and intimidation,

     He can make my feet walk over the high places

With safety and confidence.      (Habakkuk 3:19) 

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).

Just like Clark Griswold

clark griswoldMy mom is the female version of Clark W. Griswold of the National Lampoon’s movies. Perhaps this is why the Christmas Vacation movie is one of her favorites (and one of mine, too). I am absolutely certain she can relate to Clark’s impossibly high standards for holiday fun, his desire to create bonding opportunities for his kids and family, and his inability to remember where he places gifts, discovering them covered in cobwebs years later in the attic. And she can certainly relate to Clark’s ideas about how to track down the best Christmas trees, counting frostbite as a necessary casualty in the name of good old family fun.

My parents celebrating Christmas a few years ago

My parents celebrating Christmas a few years ago

My mom loves to create memories. As a result, she loves holidays, particularly those with religious significance and those that emphasize the importance of family. Thanksgiving is her favorite, but Christmas probably runs a close second. As a child, I remember that my mom never told us that Santa was real, but she didn’t tell us he wasn’t, either. She let us draw our own conclusions. At five years old, I asked her about the character’s validity. She responded, “What do you think?”

“Okay, now I know he’s not real,” I answered, and returned to whatever game I was playing.

My disbelief in Santa Claus never hindered my love for Christmas at all. My mom created fun traditions and tried new ways of getting us involved in celebrating Christmas throughout the years. We baked the most delicious sugar cookies on the planet most years. She allowed us to trim the tree with our handmade ornaments from Sunday School, never opting for the “pretty” trees until we’d moved out of the house. She taught us how to string popcorn and cranberries and helped us make green and red construction paper rings for counting down to Christmas Day. She took us to Midnight Mass every year at the Episcopal church (when we were old enough to stay awake for it without grumbling incessantly) and then let us stay up to enjoy hot chocolate afterwards. And most importantly, she read us the real Christmas story, including the infamous baby the holiday is named after, and made sure that we understood the Reason for the season.

She might have even let us sing “Joy to the world, the teacher’s dead…. we barbecued her head…” (a terrible rendition, but as elementary-aged kids, we found it hilarious) in the back of our van as we drove around town admiring Christmas lights.

With my daughter, December 2012

With my daughter, December 2012

My mom may have her over-the-top Clark Griswold moments, but I wouldn’t trade the memories I have of Christmas for anything. I’m so grateful she is who she is. And I look forward to sharing special moments with our little Maggie, hopefully passing on some of the traditions my mom created 33 years ago.

 

 

I did it!

Thank you, Henry Petty, for serving as today’s guest contributor! Check out Henry’s blog for more of his reflections.

This past Saturday night, I was finally confirmed into the Catholic Church.  It had only taken 33 years to finish, but the point is, I did it.

Last night, my girlfriend Shannon and I, attended a nice reception with my fellow RCIA classmates whom I journeyed with to break bread, fellowship, and reflect on the past 8 months of classes and in our spiritual growth.  Fr. Tom gave us a chance to speak in front of our peers about our experiences during the process and what led us into the Catholic Faith.

One gentlemen spoke about how he was reluctant to become Catholic but after attending a few classes with his wife, he was touched, and it drew him in.

A young lady shared her story about the hurt she felt after serving in the military overseas and how she longed for faith and Jesus.

The most moving story was a couple who entered RCIA after being inspired by someone’s tragedy.  They were inspired because their close friend’s son had passed away in a car accident, and were moved that their family wanted to attend Mass the next day and how inspiring that was to them.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house after they spoke.

Guess who was next?

I spoke of my promise to Grandma before she passed away that I would complete the process since she started it by having me baptized Catholic and how other churches left me lost, empty, full of guilty, yet I felt “at home” when I embraced the Catholic faith.  To lighten the mood after the people I followed, I cracked some jokes about the process and stumbling along the way in my path.  I slipped up and mispronounced “Pentecostal” as “Pentecost-O” but recovered by saying that’s what Pentecostals are called in Mexico.  Probably not PC, but people were laughing so hard I thought they were going to fall out of their chairs!

Shannon was moved after our gathering and she said she was “so glad to have attended a church fellowship function (celebrating the completion of RCIA) with Henry tonight. It really reset my heart and mind. I think sometimes we all get so wrapped up in ourselves and our situations that we forget what is important. Hearing others’ stories of what led them to the Church and seeing how fulfilled they are spiritually as a result of the RCIA process really touched my heart. It was wonderful.”

The good news is this is only the beginning of our journey as Catholics and not the end.  I have made a lot of new brothers and sisters in faith and look forward to journeying in Christ moving forward.  I am humbled and deeply grateful.