Friday, December 19, 2014

Appreciating Others

Having an attitude of gratitude for everything we have in our lives is very rewarding because when we are in a state of gratefulness, the better our outlook on life and we tend to have a more optimist attitude not only for ourselves, but for the world around us.  When you look for the good, the more good you will find. 

We know how important this is when finding things to appreciate that matter to our own everyday lives, but what about the appreciation we show for others?  When was the last time you let someone know how much you appreciate them or said thank you for all they do?  When was the last time you even said the words ‘thank you?’ 

There are so many people who show up in our lives, who have done a service or a kind deed, and we need to show our appreciation, not just towards those individuals, but towards groups of people.  There are a couple of groups, out of many, whom I would like to show my appreciation in this article.  One is towards first responders.  This can include law enforcement, EMT’s, firefighters, our military, and anyone else who puts their lives on the line to be of service to humanity. 

Currently, all law enforcement is taking a hard hit because of the harm a few officers have done to others.  Of course, when anyone harms anyone, they do need to be held accountable.  But there are many, many more who do so much good in the world and who help so many people.  These are human beings who care and just want to be of service.  They never know when that one day will be that don’t make it home to their families.  They’re constantly on guard and have to make split second decisions to decide if someone has a gun and/or is going to cause harm.  So, to all law enforcement….I thank you!

Firefighters are another group that are under-appreciated.  Some get paid and others serve on a volunteer basis.  Again, they never know when they might get caught in a fire, be burned, or not make it home to their families.  They risk their lives to save others, including our beloved pets, and our belonging.  To all firefighters…I thank you!

EMT’s and other emergency personal also risk their lives to help people.  They save lives through medical procedures until they can get the victims to the hospital.  Many citizens belong to groups that respond to emergency events by volunteering their time.  To all emergency responders…I thank you!

Our military personnel are also doing a service to our country for little pay, and risking their lives to help keep America safe.  To all our military personnel…I thank you!
All the above groups see things and deal with things no one should ever have to see or deal with.  After seeing horrific events, they then try to be with their families and go about their day.  It’s tough on all of them. 

Another group that needs our appreciation is our teachers.  Until I started subbing in the schools, I didn’t have a clue what teachers were dealing with.  It’s not like it was even a generation ago.  I gained a whole new appreciation for what they deal with on a day-to-day basis.  They don’t just work 8:00 to 3:00 as most people think.  They work evenings, weekends, on their vacations, and many will spend their own money for their students.  So, to all teachers….I thank you.

There are many other groups that need our appreciation as well and you can add your own.  Of course, there are many in any profession who need to be weeded out because they’re not doing a good job or they may be causing harm to others.  But let’s not hold what those do against the whole. 

How can we show our appreciation?  Saying thank you, sending a card, and giving flowers or gifts are a just few of many ways.  When you give the gift of appreciation, you not only make the other person feel good, it also makes you feel good, too.

Voltaire said “Appreciation is a wonderful thing.  It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”  Randy Pausch stated “Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”

And to all my readers, I’d like to say thank you for your love, support, and encouragement, and I appreciate you!

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper December 19, 2014.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Stop and Smell the Roses

“Hey Mister, where you going in such a hurry; Don't you think it's time you realized; There's a whole lot more to life than work and worry; All the sweetest things in life are free; And they're right before your eyes.

Before you went to work this morning in the city; Well, did you spend some time with your family; Did you kiss your wife and tell her that she's pretty; Did you take your children to your breast and love 'em tenderly.

Well, did you ever take a walk through the forest; Stop and dream a while among the trees; Well, you can look up through the leaves right straight to heaven; And you can almost hear the voice of God in each any every breeze.

Oh, you've got to stop and smell the roses; You've got to count your many blessings everyday; You're gonna find your way to heaven is a rough and rocky road; If you don't stop and smell the roses along the way.”  (Written by Mac Davis and Carl Severinsen; Published by EMI Music Publishing.)

The above is one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite entertainers, Mac Davis.  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard this beautiful song, but the words ring just as true for me today as they did back then.  What was interesting was that while I was watching TV and trying to come up with topics to write about, including this one, at that exact moment someone on a TV show said “you have to stop and smell the roses.” it. 

So many times in our lives, we get bogged down by so many things.  We think they’re the big things, but I really think they’re all the little things that keep adding up.  Let’s admit it, the big things don’t happen that often, but the little things are almost every day.  Some have the attitude of ‘when it rains, it pours’ or they’ll affirm Murphy’s Law ‘if anything can go wrong, it will.’  Anyone who is familiar with the power of our thoughts knows that if we have that attitude, then yes, bad things will continue to happen because we tend to get what we expect. 

I’d like to offer another option.  How about if we stop and smell the roses?  Literally and figuratively.  Think instead ‘if anything can go right, it will!’  Or, ‘when it rains, it pours so many good things in my life.’  There is so much good that happens every day if we will just look and notice, and once you get in the habit of noticing all the good, big or small, the more you will notice.  When I look outside my window or when I drive to work, I’m so grateful for the beauty of nature.  I thank the trees, the clouds, the critters, the flowers and everything else for being in my world.  I’m grateful that I do have some work to help pay the bills, that I have a car that runs, a roof over my head, a warm bed to sleep in, food to eat, clothes to wear….  There are many who don’t even have any of these. 

Another thing I do is to mentally tell everyone and everything I see that it’s beautiful.  “Hello, beautiful tree!  Hello, beautiful bush!  Hello, beautiful mailbox!  Hello, beautiful person!”  You’d be surprised how changing your perspective to seeing everything as beautiful can change your outlook on life and the way you see your world!

Yes, there is a lot of ugliness in the world when it comes to people harming one another, war, poverty, hunger…  That doesn’t have to be the reality that we focus on, though.  That also doesn’t mean we ignore the ‘ugly’ as we should always keep trying to make the world a better place.  But when we see more beauty than ugly, then we have something to strive for because we see how beautiful the world can be.  We will create what we believe.

Therefore, as we go about our day, let’s practice by stopping and smelling the roses.  Look for the good and the beautiful in everyone and everything.  We can start with our family and friends, and then extend it outwards to people in our everyday lives.  Find something loving and kind to say to them even if it’s just a simple compliment or a smile.  Brighten someone’s day with the beauty of your own magnificent soul and let your light shine! 

Confucius said, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”  And Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper December 12, 2014.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Letter from a Prisoner

At one time, I was corresponding with a convict in a prison.  He seemed to be sorry for whatever put him there and really wanted to change his life around.  We were both concerned about children and the state of the world.  So many children, from little ones to young adults, are suffering in the worst ways.  Many come from broken homes, feel unloved and unwanted, are desperate for love and a sense of belonging, and many will do anything to fill that need.  Some will join gangs to feel accepted, some will commit crimes, many drop out of school, some run away, and some will commit acts of violence where lives are taken.

I asked this gentleman if he would be interested in writing a letter to our children, which he happily did.  I never had the opportunity to share it, so I would like to do so now.  I hope this letter will help those of any age who are thinking about making a wrong choice in life and that they will know that all choices have a consequence.  And if you know a child who is hurting, who is one of the desperate ones, maybe you can become a mentor, show him/her that you care, and help him/her to live a good and positive life.  Sometimes all it takes is for one person to make a difference in their lives.  In the meantime, here is the prisoner’s letter: 

"As I write this, I am sitting inside a fence at a large prison facility.  I am not going to try to lecture you or tell you how you should live your life.  That decision is yours and yours alone.  Have you ever heard the saying, “I’ve been there and done that?”  Well, I have been there and done that, and that is why I am writing this.  Hopefully, what I say will mean something because I am speaking from experience.

One of the most important tools you are going to need to face the world is a good education.  I dropped out of school in the eighth grade, and even though I later got my GED and some college credits, I still regret not completing high school.  Though you may think your teachers, parents, and others who try to help you may not care about you…they do.  The advice they try to give you is based on both their experiences and the fact that they do care about what happens to you.  The first piece of advice I want to give you is to get an education.

I was like a lot of you when I was growing up.  I thought I was the coolest and toughest thing on two feet.  I also thought I knew it all and nobody could tell me anything.  Looking back over the years, I now realize that I was a total jerk, a loser, and I really didn’t know anything.  I also wish I would have listened to the many people who tried to help me along the way.

The old story about being from a broken home, or growing up in a bad environment, is the reason for me messing up, and it is a bunch of crap.  My parents divorced when I was twelve years old and I grew up in the projects in Pennsylvania.  We had very little to eat most of the time, and besides rummaging through trash cans for clothes that others discarded, I also resorted to stealing in order to have the things I thought I needed to be cool.  That isn’t why I ended up where I am today, though, or why I have spent so much of my life in prison.  I am here because, I, and I alone, made the wrong choices in life.  Nobody held a gun to my head and made me do anything.  That is the second piece of advice I want to give you.  Always be willing to take responsibility for your own actions.

I thought it was cool to get drunk all the time, get high on drugs, raise hell, and have a good time with the ladies.  Sure it was fun.  Or so I thought at the time.  For everything we do in this life, there is a price, and I am paying that price now.  There is nothing more precious than your freedom.  The freedom to go where you want, when you want, and to do what you want.  My every movement is controlled in this place.  I am told when I can eat, when I can take a shower, what time to go to bed and get up, and when to go to work.  In the thirteen years since I have been locked up, I have only seen my family three times.  I have a son who was born shortly after I got locked up that I have only seen eight or nine times.  He is presently in foster care and I don’t even know where he is.  I cannot send him letters, a birthday card, Christmas card, or anything.  Although I love him very much, he probably feels I do not.

As far as prison itself….  The best words I could probably come up with is that it sucks.  It is true that many of us have our own television, radio, and so forth, but none of the “goodies” we have can make up for what we don’t have, and what we have to endure in here.  No matter how tough you think you are there is always someone trying to prove he is tougher.  Every day you live on the edge.  You have to worry about defending what you have because there is always someone wanting to take it from you.  You have people in here who will kill you just for looking at them the wrong way.  If you are black, you have the pressures of being forced into a gang, and even the gang members are not safe.  If you are white, you are constantly on your guard against the other gangs because most of the gang members see you as just another white dude who is part of the system they feel put them here.  And there are other gangs of various races.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are a lot of good white, black, and other races in here, but they are in the minority.

You can never let your feelings or emotions show because at the first sign of weakness, the so-called tough guys will be on you like white on rice.  I am fifty-five years old and I am very capable of taking care of myself, but there is not a moment that I let my guard down.  You have to watch everybody, even your so-called friends, because even they will take advantage of you if you let them.

Do you think I am still cool and tough?  Only within my own mind because the reality is, the really cool people are those on the outside of this place.  The cool ones are those who can work where they want, enjoy their time off with their families and friends, go to sleep at night possibly holding their partner, instead of a pillow for comfort.  The cool ones are like you, the people who have a choice of what they want to do with their life, and not have someone else tell them what they are going to do. 

I regret my past life with every ounce of my being, but I cannot change any of it.  If I could, I would do it in a heartbeat.  I have twelve months left until I get out of here, and I am counting the days until I can again be like you…free and able to enjoy life on the outside.

Whether anything I said in this letter matters to you or not is up to you.  If you do not care about your life, and you do not want to listen to the people who care about you and are trying to help you, that’s fine.  They have a bed waiting right here for you.  The one thing you never have to worry about is the system running out of beds.  They might even let me out early so that they can give my bed to someone who doesn’t give a heck about their life.  I hope that someone isn’t you.

People can bend over backwards to teach you, but only you can learn."

Published in the Putnam County Visions magazine December 2014 issue.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Holidays Are Coming!

It’s that time of year, folks!  Holiday season!  Anyone remember when the Christmas season didn’t begin until after Thanksgiving?  You wouldn’t even see Christmas commercials on TV, Christmas shows or movies, or decorations in the stores until after Thanksgiving Day.  Today, some stores start putting out their Christmas decorations and items at the beginning of fall if not before!  They may as well keep the Christmas items out all year long because Christmas season just keeps getting longer and longer and it’s become all about the commercialism.

I love the Spirit of the holiday season and seeing all the colorful decorations.  People tend to be a little nicer to each other and we feel a little more joyful.  Various groups and organizations make large feasts for the homeless and hungry, toys are gathered for children in need, and we donate a little more towards various charities.  I just wish we could do this all year long rather than just one month of the year.

It seems that in recent years, the Christmas season in particular has taken on a life of its own.  People start fighting and arguing over what greeting to say; whether we should say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.  If someone doesn’t receive the greeting they think they should get, they take it personally and get upset.  Some smart off at the other person and then complain that their greeting and/or religious holiday is under attack.  Personally, I’m just happy that anyone says anything to me because there have been so many times that people have completely ignored me when I said hello and walk by me like I’m not even there.  So if you see me, I’ll embrace whatever greeting you say to me!

People also fight and argue over which religious holiday displays should be publicly shown and if the display is not of their religion, then people get in an uproar.  I love the diversity of our religious holidays and would be happy to learn of other holiday and cultural customs!  They don’t offend me at all!  And let’s not even talk about fighting in the stores especially during the Black Friday early morning sales!

There are numerous religious holidays in December and I honor and respect all of them.  Some of them are Hanukkah, Christmas, Bodhi Day, Kwanzaa, Yule, Immaculate Conception of Mary, Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and I’m sure there are others that I missed.
The Spirit of the holiday season should be of love, peace, compassion, kindness, family, friends, and celebrating with each other.  When we are secure in our beliefs, we do not feel threatened by other holiday traditions, and we have no need to force our own on anyone else. 

Jesus was one example of being the epitome of unconditional love for all people.  I can’t think of a greater way to honor him than to show love and respect to my fellow travelers in this life, to embrace the diversity of their holidays, and to do so with respect.  If we want to honor the spiritual masters of our religions, then we should do so by honoring and respecting others and their right to celebrate their holidays in peace.

If you really want to discover your core beliefs about your holiday, then don’t decorate, don’t put up a tree, don’t take your children to see Santa, don’t give gifts or go to parties, don’t put up any displays, and don’t eat holiday food.  When you strip away all the symbols, commercialism, and celebrations, you may find out your true beliefs.  And if you believe in the true Spirit of your holiday, then you will find that none of those things matter.  But we should also rejoice that we do have the freedom to celebrate our holidays in any way we choose as long as those beliefs are not being forced on anyone else. 

I totally believe that our religious holidays should have the foundation of unconditional love for all regardless of whose holiday it is.  If we could all show love towards each other during the holiday season, then we can really say, “Peace on Earth, good will towards men” and mean it.

Hamilton Wright Mabie said, “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!”  And when it comes to Christmas, Calvin Coolidge stated, “Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper November 28, 2014.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Things Aren’t As They Seem

The other day, I saw another great video on Facebook.  It opens with a blonde man wearing a long dress coat and carrying a business bag walking down a city street.  Once he’s out of sight, we see a Muslim man dressed in his traditional clothing walking the same street carrying a large black bag.  A white mother walking with her young daughter is walking in the opposite direction on the other side of the street.  Seeing the Muslim, she stopped to watch him and you could see the concern on her face as she wondered what he could possibly be up to.  As she watched, a car screeched to a halt at the end of the block and several law enforcement officials came bursting forth running towards the Muslim.  Except they didn’t stop at the Muslim.  They continued past him running toward the white business man carrying the work case.  We then see them nab the white man, search him, pull out large amounts of drugs, cuff him, and take him away.  The woman and girl turn their attention back to the Muslim and see him happily greeting his wife, young daughter, and son.  From the bag, he pulls out a pink fold-up bike for his daughter.  They all hug and he puts his son on his shoulders as they continue on.  The white mother and daughter smile at each other and then go on their way.

Another great video tells of a tough motorcycle gang.  The members are dressed in their traditional clothes of black leather and their bodies are covered in tattoos.  Seeing them ride on their motorcycles, you would wonder what they were up to.  Except this gang meets every day to make hundreds of sandwiches for children’s lunches throughout the school systems because they don’t want to see any child go hungry.

Another video shows an experiment where an adult man was walking down the city street asking people he sees with food if they would share some of it with him because he is very hungry.  No one would share even a morsel.  A friend of his gives a whole pizza to a homeless man, leaves the scene, and the homeless man starts to eat it.  The previous man then stops to ask the homeless man if he would share some of his pizza saying he’s really hungry.  The homeless man was more than happy to share his pizza with him. 

There are so many people we judge wrongly in society.  Why do we judge?  One reason is because it can make us feel better to put others down or to gossip about them.  It makes us feel that we’re better than they are or that we’re right and they’re wrong.  We do it with religions, cultures, races, politics, and so much more. 

I used to be one who judged, but once I learned it doesn’t serve me or anyone else to do so, I now do my best not to judge anyone.  Of course, my biggest struggle is to not judge the judgers.  We need to stop the broad sweeping of judging all one group as bad.  There’s good and bad in all.  Personally, I look at each individual’s heart.  Does that mean we don’t hold people accountable for their actions when they hurt others?  Not at all! 

It’s interesting that if a white person does something to a white person, the harmed white person doesn’t hold it against the whole white race.  (You can replace the word ‘white’ with black, red, brown, Christian, Muslim, Jew, American, Mexican, British, or whomever.)  So why hold things against a whole group of people when we don’t hold it against the very group we consider ourselves to be in?

The Christian Bible states "Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.”  In fact, most all religions teach us not to judge.  And yet we still do it.  Will we ever learn?  We’re getting there.  Now that so many are learning that unconditional love really is the answer, more and more people are looking past outward appearances and seeing into the heart of the other person.  In the book “The Afterlife of Billy Fingers,” Billy said, “If we could see each other’s souls, Earth would become one big love-in.”  In the movie “Avatar,” the Na’Vi people would say “I see you” to each other meaning they recognized the soul or Spark of the Divine within the other. 

When we listen to the language of our soul, love prevails.  All souls are sacred and we should learn to greet that place where we are all One.  Doing so is how we honor the Source of All That Is.

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper November 14, 2014.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Man at the Back of the Church

It happened one beautiful spring Sunday morning when the daffodils were blooming, the grass was an emerald green, and the sun was shining brightly with its magnificent golden rays.  It is also an experience I will remember for a lifetime.
The church was a little country church that sits in a valley.  It had a large steeple which held the huge bell that rang when the services were about to begin.  Under the steeple were the double doors that welcomed its visitors into the comfortable interior of pews which faced the small stage at the front.  There was one isle down the middle of the pews.  The sun shined through the beautiful stained glass windows on each side of the church walls and cast a wonderment of colors over the sanctuary.
I was sitting near the front and it was a good Sunday attendance with people filling most all the pews except the very back two.  Pastor Drew was really into his sermon and had everyone’s rapt attention.  
Suddenly, a man walked in the back door.  Out of normal curiosity, people began turning around to see who would walk in so late.  What they saw shocked even the most liberal of churchgoers.  The man had long, shoulder length brown hair, a beard and mustache, his clothing was a long, dark, purple robe, and he wore brown sandals on his feet!  The man stood for a moment looking around and then quietly took a seat in a pew at the back of the church.
Murmurs and whispers were heard as people wondered why this street vagrant would walk into their church.  Others wondered where he came from and why he would even show up in their little town.  Old Mrs. Simmons, the church gossip, was being sure to take everything in so she could let all the ladies in the church group know exactly what went on this Sunday morning.  Children snickered and a few pointed at ‘that man.’
Pastor Drew noticed, too, and seeing the way he was dressed caused him to stutter over his words, but he was able to compose himself rather quickly.  Actually, inside he smiled as he thought it was wonderful that this man felt comfortable enough to walk in as he was.  Heaven forbid, though, that he let any of the church people know so he decided to keep these thoughts to himself.  To get everyone’s attention again, he THUNDERED his voice, and sure enough, people began to turn their attention back onto him.
Through all this, the man at the back of the church sat quietly listening to the sermon as if it were the most natural thing in the world to come in off the street, walk into a strange church, and sit down.
After things quieted down, my curiosity began to get the best of me, so I slowly turned around to look at this strange man.  He seemed so content, and his eyes…. There was something about his eyes.  I didn't mean to stare, but I just couldn't stop watching him.  Suddenly, he turned his gaze towards me and he smiled.  Not a big smile, but just enough to let me know that he knew I was watching him.  Again, those eyes.  They were so full of love, peace, and compassion.  I felt myself being drawn towards him like I was in some sort of trance.
Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer.  I slowly got up from my seat and walked towards this man at the back of the church.  When I got to him, he quietly stood up to let me sit next to him.  He looked at me, smiled that smile again, and then he turned his attention back to the preacher.  I did the same, and we sat like this for the rest of the service.
When the service was over, people got up from their seats and began walking back the isle to leave the church.  The man and I just sat there as people stared and whispered when they walked by us.  Not one person greeted this man, nor welcomed him to our church.  All along, the man just sat there and didn't seem uncomfortable at all.  I had the feeling it had happened to him so many times before that he was used to it.
When every last person had shook hands with the preacher and had left the building, the man stood up and began walking out the door with me following in his footsteps.  When he came to the preacher, he took the preacher's hand in both of his and quietly said, "It was a nice sermon.  Don't be so concerned about what other people think.  Say what comes from your heart."  At that, he left.  I gave the preacher a quick shake of the hand and followed after the man.
I didn't know where he was going, but I kept a silent pace beside him.  I wasn't afraid at all.  I just felt I had to be near this man, speak to him, find out what he was about, but I was apprehensive about speaking.  I didn't know what to say.
We found a country path that led into the woods and began following it.  I knew I was taking a chance walking into the dense trees with a man I didn't know, but still, I followed.  Finally, in a meek voice, I asked him, "Sir, may I ask your name?"  In a quiet voice, he answered, "My name is Jesus."  I just had to ask, didn't I?  I mean, who else would he claim to be dressed the way he was.  For some reason, though, I didn't disbelieve him.
We walked a ways more when he quietly asked, "Do you believe that I am Jesus?"  My goodness, what was I to say?  I didn't want him to think I thought he was just some nut that happened into our part of the woods.  What if he really was Jesus?  I thought for a moment on how best to answer this and replied, "I won't say that you're NOT Jesus."
A few moments went by and the man didn't say any more.  If he really was Jesus, there was so much I wanted to ask him, to talk to him about.  But if he was just some guy who thought he was Jesus, then I'd be making a real fool of myself asking him all my innermost, sacred questions.  Then I got to thinking…  What did I have to lose?  No one would know I was asking him these things.  This was just one chance I could not pass up.
"Please forgive me for doubting.  You have to understand that there are hundreds of people all over the world who claim to be you.  How are we to know if one of them was really you?  Or if you're really you now?  Why did you come here to our church today?"  He replied, "I visit many churches around the world." 
I continued.  "You know, there's one thing I've always wanted to ask you.  There are millions of people on this earth with just as many different beliefs and thousands of different religions, how are we to know which one is right or wrong?"
Slowly, he said, "The important thing is, what do you believe?"
"But how do I know if what I believe is right?  What am I supposed to believe?  Everyone is always telling me I should believe their way.  Even with the Bible, it seems that everyone has a different interpretation of what it says and means, and each says that their interpretation is the only right one.  It can all be pretty confusing." 
He glanced at me for a moment and replied, "Trust your own heart.  Your own faith.  The Spirit that is within you.  Besides, fighting and arguing sort of defeats the purpose of why I came to begin with.  I came to teach unconditional love and for you to be the greatest expressions of who you were meant to be.”
We were both silent for a few moments as we continued walking up the path to a large, open meadow surrounded by trees.  The meadow was filled with the most beautiful yellow and purple flowers.  I noticed that as we walked, everything seemed to be so much more alive and beautiful. It could have been my imagination, but I could swear that animals of all kinds were peeking their heads out of the bushes to watch him go by.
"Sir, why do people judge each other so much?  They judge the way people look, the way they dress, the way they live, the way they believe…  Just because someone believes differently or has different opinions…."
He seemed to contemplate this for a moment and answered, "People judge what they don't understand because it is easier than to love, to have compassion and understanding.  People fear the unknown so they wrap themselves in their beliefs like they would a blanket, to protect themselves and their feelings.  It makes them feel safe that what they believe is the right way.”
We stood in the clearing for a few moments just enjoying the breathtaking sight before us.  My mind was going a mile a minute trying to think of things I wanted to ask this man, but at the moment, I couldn't think straight, so I just stood there enjoying being in his presence.
A few minutes passed when I happened to look down and found a beautiful little flower that seemed to stand out among the rest, so I bent down away from the man to pick it out from the blanket of color it rested in.  While my back was to the man, he spoke to me.
"Karen, there is one thing that I want you to remember.  I will always love you, no matter what.  Remember this always."
Just as he finished speaking, I stood and turned to give him the flower, but he was gone!  I looked around to see if he had wandered off, but he was nowhere to be seen!  He couldn't have gone off into the woods that quickly.  I stood there stunned, wondering what happened to him, how he could have disappeared so fast.  There was only one explanation, one that I was almost afraid to admit, but hoped that it would be so.
I really didn't want my time with him to end.  There was so much more I wanted to ask him.  Not knowing what to do, I sat down where he last stood and smelled the flower I had picked for him moments earlier.  I don't know how long I sat there.  The first I noticed that it might be getting late was when I felt a chill from the evening air as the sun started to go down.  I felt like I could sit there forever, but I knew it was time to go home.  As I stood, I looked around again and then began walking back towards the church.
Thoughts continued to run through my mind as I thought about what had happened to me that day.  Was the man I spoke to really Jesus?  Or was he just a man off the street who thought he was?  Or was it all just a dream?  I will probably never know the answer to these questions.
I do know that I will not deny that I met Jesus and spent some time with him.  But I also know that I don't think I am going to tell people that I actually met and spoke with him.  No, I think that this will be an experience that I will keep for myself.  My very special secret.  A secret that has changed my life forever.

Published in the Putnam County Visions magazine November 2014 issue.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Face of God

Two of my favorite movies are “Bruce Almighty” starring Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman, and “Evan Almighty” starring Steve Carrell and Morgan Freeman.  What I loved about these movies is that they had to do with humans and their struggles, and whatever relationship they had with God.  Enter Morgan Freeman as God.  I have to say that Morgan Freeman is my all-time favorite God out of any movie where an actor portrays God.  If I had to imagine what God looked like and how he acted, Mr. Freeman would be it.  His portrayal of God was one of kindness, compassion, and love. 

I remember a time when it was considered absolutely blasphemous and unforgivable to portray God or Jesus on screen or stage, and now it’s quite common even in movies produced by Christian organizations.  We’ve come a long way.

What I loved about Bruce and Evan is that they had moments in their lives when they questioned their beliefs about God, their relationship with God, and at times, if God even existed.  Most all of us, if we’re being totally honest, have had those moments and they’re perfectly normal.  Even though we’re spiritual beings having a human experience, we’re still filtering everything through that part of us that is human.  And it’s okay to question God.  If we don’t ask, we don’t learn.  Some people believe that it is wrong to question anything that has to do with God and that we have to believe whatever others tell us to believe.  But it is only when we ask questions that we get the answers, which then leads us to becoming more enlightened about who or what God really is, and it can allow us to have an even closer relationship.

Since the beginning of time, people have wondered what God looks like and what form this Deity takes.  The Bible states that we are to never see the face of God.  We only have early artist depictions of what they thought God looked like.  In the only way they could relate, they painted God to be a human-being in the sky.  This is where we got the idea that God is an old man sitting in the sky with a long white beard and white hair.  There are many people who believe that this is actually what God looks like.  But in truth, no one knows.  The same with Jesus.  We only have early artist’s depictions of what they thought he looked like.  Those are the visuals we continue to think of to this day, but again in truth, no one knows.

Today, many people call this Deity ‘God,’ but that’s a more recent name given to the All-That-Is.  In Exodus, the Bible tells the story of Moses talking to God in the bush, and when Moses asked what name the voice should be called, the voice replied, “I Am That I Am.”  “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”  Yet somehow since then thousands and thousands of names have been given to this Source.  People will fight and argue over what name should be used.  Honestly, I don’t think it matters one bit to God what name we should use.  A person’s religion, culture, language, belief, and where they live will define the names they use.  Many people in the Christian religion use ‘God.’  Christians and Muslims in the Middle East both use ‘Allah.’  Other names that I sometimes use are Spirit, Universe, Life, Nature, Source, or the God of our understanding. 

Are any of these wrong?  I don’t believe so.  Personally, I don’t feel threatened at all what name one uses or even if they say that this Deity is a he, she, or it.  (Did that push anyone’s buttons?)  Genesis 1:26 says, “Let US make mankind in OUR image.”  Who is ‘us’ and who is ‘our?’ I leave that one for you to question.

It is said that God is Love.  If that’s the case, Love is genderless.  If we could be the example of God’s love and stop all this fighting and arguing over who is right or wrong, think how much more good we could do in the world?  If we could just respect everyone’s right to their own religions and beliefs, maybe we could see more peace in the world, and we could actually live the love that all the great Spiritual Masters taught. 

At the end of “Evan Almighty,” God appears to Evan and says that the way to change the world is by doing one act of random kindness at a time.  I think that’s a very good idea and a great place to start to show that Love really is the face of God.

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen October 31, 2014.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Love and Aloha

Today I read a newsletter written by a Unity friend of mine who is the minister of the Unity of Little Rock in Arkansas.  James is very connected to Hawaii and I love it that he sometimes includes Aloha in his Sunday services and uses a lot of their language.  Hawaii is my dream vacation and one of these days, I am going to get there for a visit.  Not for the commercialism, but for the spirituality of the land and the people.

In the Hawaiian language, they use the term Aloha, which means affection, peace, compassion, and mercy.  Most people only know it as a greeting to say hello or good-bye.  What a beautiful way to greet someone than with a word that basically means love!

As I did more research on the word Aloha, I found that there is an even deeper meaning.  Pilahi Paki, a Hawaiian philosopher, came up with a code that was derived from the acronym of Aloha.  It is as follows:  “A, Akahai, kindness, to be expressed with tenderness; L, LĂ´kahi, unity, to be expressed with harmony; O, `Olu`olu, agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness; H, Ha`aha`a, humility, to be expressed with modesty; and A, Ahonui, patience, to be expressed with perseverance.”  Kahuna David Bray interpreted this code as, "Come forward, be in unity and harmony with your real self, God, and mankind. Be honest, truthful, patient, kind to all life forms, and humble."  He said that to the Elders, Aloha meant ‘God in us.’

Also in the newsletter, James mentioned that someone questioned how much we use the word ‘love’ and thought we used it too frivolously as in saying “I love my car,” “I love my puppy,” and so on.  I’ve seen this question before in some of the things I’ve read, and some people were very adamant that we shouldn’t use it except for the people we really love.  My thought is that we don’t use it enough and we’re seeing the results in our personal lives as well as in our world around us.   We seem to be seeing more hate than anything, especially if we believe everything we see and hear in the media and from some religious leaders and politicians. 

I’m a huge believer in telling everyone, humans and animals alike, that I love them.  I sign my letters with ‘love’ or ‘love and laughter.’  I tell my family, relatives, and friends all the time that I love them, and I expect nothing in return.  If you’ve read my columns or heard me speak, you know one of my main topics is unconditional love for all regardless of color, race, religion, culture, sexual preference, or whatever.  This is what all the great spiritual masters taught!  A friend once even affectionately called me “the Love Minister.” 

Am I perfect at it?  Heck no!  I struggle like anyone to love those who make it hard for us to love them for whatever reasons.  During those times, I try to see them as an innocent baby or child knowing that, as an adult, they are the way they are because of what they’ve been taught and the things they’ve experienced in life.  Everyone has a story and not everyone’s story has been easy. 

I love to love!  Sometimes, when I go for a walk, I’ll tell everything I see that I love it!  “I love you, trees!”  “I love you, sky!”  “I love you, dragonfly!”  “I love you, mailbox!”  It’s also important to love ourselves and to be able to look at that reflection in the mirror and say “I love you!”  When I’m out in public, I’ll sometimes shoot people Spirit wads of love!  Is all this silly?  Maybe.   But it’s a way of learning to be so filled with love for everyone and everything around us.  The more we say it, the more it fills us!  We have to empty that cup of love in order for more love to pour in! 

A great verse from the Bible states, "Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

Love really is the answer!  Call it God, Life, Universe, or whatever you want to call it.  Love is a powerful force and with it, we can change the world!

Wishing you and yours much Aloha!


Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper October 24, 2014.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fear or Faith?

Fear.  According to an on-line dictionary, fear is described as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”  Note the word ‘belief.’  It is only a belief that something bad is going to happen.  Not a fact. 

Will Smith said, “Fear is not real.  The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future.  It is a product of our imagination causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist.  Do not misunderstand me.  Danger is very real.  But fear is a choice.”

At the current time, there is a lot of fear being propagated by the media, some religions, and the medical and pharmaceutical industries when it comes to Ebola.  I would like to help us put things in perspective.  It’s not an epidemic in our country.  Yes, a few people have been diagnosed mainly from bringing it back from West Africa and my heart goes out to them.  But the key word is ‘few.’  Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it would be "extraordinarily unlikely that it will be an outbreak at all because of the way we take care of people, how we have the capability of isolating them, how we understand what one needs to do to protect the health care providers, and the kinds of health care facilities we have."  According to disease experts, Ebola is spread via close and personal contact with bodily fluids from an infected person during the late stages of infection or after death.  It is also not airborne.  We also have to remember that these other countries do not have the sanitation, medical facilities, or medical personnel that we have here.

Julia Shaklee Sammons, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at the Children's Hospital states, “Ebola is not easy to get, and that measles, one of the most infectious diseases in the world, is far easier to catch than Ebola.”  And according to the Baseline of Health Foundation, “You should be far more concerned about dying from lightning strikes (about 73 a year in the US), traffic accidents (about 33,000 fatalities a year), gun shots (30,000), and alcohol abuse (100,000). To put that in perspective: the number of people who have died from Ebola contracted outside of Africa in the entire history of mankind is zero. To date, no case of Ebola in humans has ever been contracted in the United States.”

Also consider this…  In 2011, lethal infections from hospitals affected an estimated 722,000 patients in the U.S. with about 75,000 of them dying from those infections.  According to the CDC, these infections affect one in 25 patients.  Compare this to the few with Ebola in our country and you will see how we should keep this in perspective. 

So, who gains from all this fear mongering?  The media gains because they know you will keep your eyes glued to their stations and will buy their papers and magazines.  The medical and pharmaceutical communities will gain because they know you will be buying the drugs and vaccines.  Always follow the money.  Let me be clear.  I am NOT saying that we should ignore the threat of Ebola and not do anything about it.  Let’s just be smart about it and keep it all in perspective.

Where does faith come in all of this?  The point I am trying to make is let’s not give our power to others in the name of fear to the point that we lose faith in Source/God/Spirit.  Let’s not let fear thoughts take over our minds and beliefs to the point where we are going to literally attract that which we fear, and let’s not let others scare us to death!  Literally!  We still need to keep our focus on love, good health, peace, harmony, and the belief that we have what it takes to handle this issue in our country, as well as in other countries.

Some of us in Unity believe that fear is ‘False Evidence Appearing Real.’  Fear does not have any meaning except for the meaning that you give to it.  Therefore, are we going to let fear rule our hearts, minds, and souls?  Or are we going to have faith in God (or the God of your understand)?  As Khalil Gibran said, “Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.”  Personally, I refuse to let fear rule my life and am going to continue to focus on love.

Are you ready to let fear go?  Are you ready to be at peace?  Then believe it and it is so! 

Addendum:  To clarify, not all pharmaceuticals/drugs/medications were developed just so someone could gain financially, but many of them are.  Many times, these corporations will use fear just to get people to buy their drugs so that they can make millions/billions of dollars when there are many other safer alternatives than using drugs. or the threat is not a threat, but they make it sound like an epidemic so that people will go out and buy the drugs.  Please do your research before taking any medication and be informed.   

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen October 10, 2014.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Inner Voice of Spirit

Life sure is an adventure!  From the time we are born when we take our first breath, we are shot out of the starting gate and we keep going until we reach that finish line and take our last breath.  Everything in between is a journey to discovering who we really are and why we are here.  For many of us, those lessons come easily.  For others, we may leave this earth plane never knowing.  It is only when we become aware of who we really are that we learn that life is the question and we are the answer!  Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is within, and when we go silently within, into our minds, our hearts, and our souls, we can hear that still, quiet voice of Spirit talking to us and it will never steer us wrong. 

Over the years, I’ve learned to listen to that inner voice of Spirit (or the God of your understanding), and when I listen, it gives me words of love, guidance, encouragement, comfort, and wisdom.  That inner voice has even kept me safe from harm so many times.  It’s given me words to say to others in their time of need.  And when I speak and/or write, it guides me to say and write whatever needs to be said at the time. 

Besides speaking to you, Spirit can and does give you signs.  After I moved here, I joined the wonderful organization called Toastmasters so that I could learn to speak in front of a crowd.  My first few times speaking at Toastmasters, and in the first couple of contests I entered, I was so nervous that I had to grip my hands together so that people wouldn’t see them shaking.  Before my first big contest, I was a nervous wreck.  While driving on the way to the contest, I was freaking out and asked Spirit for some kind of sign that everything was going to be okay.  At that very second, I happened to look up in the sky, and I saw a cloud in the shape of a beautiful angel!  It only lasted a few seconds, so if I had not have looked up when I did, I would have missed her.  I also heard the words within, “Just do the best you can and have fun!  Leave the rest up to me!”  It was then that I knew everything was going to be okay no matter the outcome.  I went on to the contest and won!  Remembering the angel’s message, I also went on to several other contests and made it to the District level winning third place.

It is said that the number one fear people have is the fear of public speaking.  My theory is that people don’t fear speaking so much as they fear what people will think of them while they’re speaking.  If someone knew their talk would be wonderful, they wouldn’t worry so much.  Besides, Terry Cole Whittaker said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.”  In the beginning, I would use notes and tended to rely on those notes.  Then many years ago, I went to hear Wayne Dyer speak and he said he used notes in the beginning, too.  But then he said something that taught me a great lesson.  We need to trust that what’s meant to be said will be said, and what isn’t meant to be said will be left out.  We need to trust that Spirit will speak through us and people will hear what they are meant to hear.  What a great concept and one I use to this day!  That doesn’t mean that I still don’t beat myself up sometimes wishing I had said or not said something (and this includes my writings), but when I do, Spirit will give me a loving spiritual smack on the back of my head and gently say, “Stop it!  It’s over!  Let it go!” 

There are many people who don’t believe that Spirit/God (or whoever you believe that voice to be) doesn’t speak to us directly, and that’s okay.  For those of us who do, it’s so reassuring to believe that something greater, which is also within us, is in charge.  We can connect to Spirit’s voice by praying, meditating, communing with nature, listening, and so much more.

We are so much greater than we believe we are!  As Neale Donald Walsh stated, “You think of yourselves as humans searching for a spiritual awakening, when in fact you are spiritual beings attempting to cope with a human awakening. Seeing yourselves from the perspective of the Spirit within will help you to remember why you came here and what you came here to do.” 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper October 3, 2014.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Life of a Free Spirit

I admit it.  I’m a free spirit.  Have been most of my adult life.  Once in awhile in conversations with someone and telling them some of the things I’ve done in my life, they’ll comment, “Boy!  You sure have done a lot in your life!”  That statement would always catch me off guard and cause me to think, “Have I really done so much?”  Then I would wonder if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. 

Mainstream society would label it as a bad thing.  They would say that those who have done so much don’t know what they want out of life and are basically goofballs.  They expect everyone to get married, settle down, have children, and stay at the same job for years.  I don’t know how many times it has been suggested to me to get married and settle down.  Settle down to what?  Settle down to a life that isn’t or wasn’t meant for me?  Crush my spirit and force me to conform to society’s standards?  I’m definitely not putting down marriage or holding a long term job so please don’t misunderstand!  Those are perfectly fine!  Sometimes I think I would love to be married and share the rest of my life with someone.  Right now, I’m okay being single.  I have married friends who envy my being single!  As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the septic tank! 

What are some of the things I’ve done and/or accomplished?  I lived on an Indian Reservation in British Columbia.  Went to both a Bible college and a horse management college.  Worked for Wayne Newton on one of his horse ranches outside of Las Vegas.  Was a nurse’s aide in a hospital.  Lived in Hollywood, California, and Nashville, TN, pursuing my dream of an acting and dancing career; was in movies, TV shows, commercials, and music videos.  Studied martial arts and was awarded a black belt.  Achieved an Associates’ degree in Natural Health and Nutrition.  Went on two cruises to the Caribbean with health guru Richard Simmons.  Belonged to Toastmasters (speaking club).  Write for the Religion Section of the Herald Citizen, Putnam County Visions Magazine, and other magazines.  Was secretary and later president on the board of my church, and am currently a Chaplain.  Volunteered as a Chaplain at the hospital.  Became a substitute teacher.  Achieved my Bachelors and Masters as a minister, and then a Doctorate as a Doctor of Holistic Ministry.  During these times I had a few full time jobs (good and bad) and many temporary jobs with temp agencies.  But I always paid my own way and paid my own bills.  Oh, yes, and came close to getting married a couple of times. 

Can we say, “Whew?”  Now some people may look at all of my experiences and wonder what the heck was wrong with me that I couldn’t stay at one particular thing.  My answer to that question is, “Why?”  Looking back on my experiences, they have all been blessings.  No, not all of them were totally fun-filled adventures, as I’ve also faced my share of challenges.  I’ve had many experiences along the way with some not-so-nice people who treated me horribly, and I had a breakdown that completely took me off the grid causing me to give up my dreams of a career in the entertainment business.  But in hindsight, I wouldn’t change any of these experiences because they have all taught me so much. 

Living on the Indian Reservation introduced me to an extraordinary culture and some really amazing people.  I also gained some treasured friendships that I still have to this day.  They became my family and I theirs.

The Bible College was very stringent and I couldn’t do a lot of the things I enjoyed because of their beliefs, so I quit.  I learned on my own that I could have my beliefs without being so strict and judgmental towards others.  I could still dance, go to movies, and enjoy life without a religion using guilt and fear to try to control me. 

Working at a hospital taught me to count my blessings because I saw so many who were so much worse off than me.  I learned how to treat people with compassion and kindness.

Living in Hollywood and Nashville pursuing a career in the entertainment business was a fabulous adventure as I met and got to know some really famous and not so famous people.  Before I moved to Hollywood, I was told by several, including my minister at the time, that if I moved out there and became an actress, I would go straight to hell because all Hollywood people were evil.  But I met some of the most wonderful, loving, and caring people!  I learned that those in the entertainment business were just like any of us, but doing a different kind of job.  I also learned that you find what you’re looking for and I found so much good!

I loved working for Wayne Newton!  He was always kind to me, though I can’t say that for everyone who worked on his ranch.  I learned some insights into what it is to be a famous entertainer.  

Studying the martial arts gave me more confidence and I learned to defend myself if I needed to.

Achieving my degrees in nutrition, as a minister, and as a Doctor of Holistic Ministry has been a wonderful journey in learning.  The wisdom and knowledge I’ve gained will last me a lifetime.

Everything I have experienced in my life has made me a better and stronger person and has made me who I am today.  I like who I am, though I may not always like who I’m not.  There is still so much more that I want to do and accomplish.  I want to travel the world!  Write a book!  Become a successful speaker!  Do what I can to help make the world a better place!

The reason I write this article is not to boast, “Hey!  Look at all I’ve done!”  The point is that there may be many of you, or even your children, who are also free spirits.  You may be frustrated because you feel that you have to conform to your family’s or society’s demands to be who or what they think you should be.  Or maybe you’re doing this to your children; trying to force them to live your unfulfilled dreams for you.  Trying to make them be, do, or have everything according to your wishes for them.  I know that most parents only want what’s best for their children, but we really should want what they think is best for them as long as they harm no one, including themselves.  Let them make their own decisions as to what they want to do with their future.  Let them learn from their own mistakes.  They, and only they, are the ones who have to live and answer for their lives, and that’s also true for us. 

How many of us grow up looking back and regretting not so much the things we did, but the things we didn’t do just because someone else said no, or our dreams were belittled or made fun of, so we gave up?  Whatever we’re doing now, maybe we’re happy or maybe we’re not.  If we’re not, we stay anyway because we think that’s what’s expected of us.  So we learn to be happy being miserable.  Many turn to addictions to try to numb the pain and fill that void of not being able to fulfill our life’s purpose.

My motto is you never know unless you try.  There are countless people who had others try to quash their dreams, but they persevered and became very successful in spite of whatever obstacles were put in their way.  Maybe they won’t fulfill that particular dream, but that dream lead into something else more fantastic and exciting!  My dream of an entertainment career got side-tracked into a speaking career.  I say that I’m still entertaining, but now I’m entertaining with a message!

Even though you may still have dreams you’d like to pursue, it’s not too late.  The important thing is to not regret the past.  Everything we’ve experienced has brought us to where we are today.  But we don’t have to be defined by our past!  We can change our future!  Everything we’ve experienced, on a soul level, was meant to be experienced.  Wherever we are right now is okay.  A beloved minister and friend of mine used to always say “You’re in the right place, at the right time, right now.” 

We have choices even if we think we don’t have a choice (even that is a choice).  We can choose to be a victim of our past, or a hero of our future.  Never give up on your dreams!  They may need to be adapted, though, because you have a family or other life obligations.  When it comes to your children, they may not want to do or be what you want them to do or be, but let them try to find their own way.  Give them a chance to live their dreams.  Remember how it felt not to be able to live your own?  Encourage them, support them, and help them if you can.  It’s their experiences, and they have to live their own lives.  Please don’t contribute to their looking back and regretting things they haven’t done just because you told them no.  But know, too, that’s it perfectly okay to expect them to pay their own way.

Our biggest dream in life should be to be happy!  Do and be what makes you happy!  Follow your bliss and everything else will fall into place!

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”  Walt Disney stated, “All our dreams come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”  Harriet Tubman exclaimed, “ Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”  And Henry David Thoreau said, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. 

Do you have a dream?  Do your children have their dreams?  It’s okay to be a free spirit!  Just remember….  You’ll never know unless you try! 

Published in the Putnam County Visions Magazine, October 2014 issue.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Be the Love

Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  I say, “Be the LOVE you wish to see in the world!”

Those who know me, have read my articles, or have heard me speak, know that I am very passionate about love…unconditional love for all beings regardless of color, race, religion, politics, culture, or sexual preference.  My favorite verses from Jesus that has become one of my mantras is, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  I quote this verse often, especially in my articles, because so many people still aren’t getting it.  Love, unconditional love for all, is really what it’s all about.  It’s what all the great Spiritual Masters from Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and countless others throughout history and today teach.  LOVE ONE ANOTHER!  No exceptions are mentioned!

Granted, this doesn’t mean that you have to agree with someone else’s beliefs or condone their behavior.  People still need to be held accountable for their actions, especially when they hurt others either through those actions or with their words.  Rather than judge, I try to see that innocent child they were when they were born.  I try to see that Divine Spark that is within every single being on earth.  The Bible says that we were all made in God’s image; not just some of us. Somewhere along the way, people were taught to hate and hate is a learned behavior; it is NOT who we are!   When people attack others and speak words of hate or commit acts of hatred, then I know that they are coming from a place of fear.  Hate is only a by-product of fear.  Marianne Williamson said, “Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us.” 

John Lennon also stated, “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

When I see people in fear, I can feel compassion for them because I know they dislike or even hate themselves so much, or are in so much emotional or spiritual pain, that the only way they can make themselves feel better is by putting other people down.  This is one reason people bully or find fault with others so they don’t have to look at the faults within themselves.  Again, Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”   I don’t know about you, but I have enough stuff of my own to work on than to spend time criticizing or finding fault with others.  Besides, acting ugly just takes up way too much energy and there are too many more important things to focus on, as well as too many people to help in this life. 

Sometimes people wonder how I can be so ‘happy’ and smiling all the time.  Truth is, I’m not.  I struggle just like everyone else.  I have days where I don’t even want to face the world.  Yet, I also believe in raising people up rather than tearing them down.  Mother Teresa stated, “Spread love everywhere you go.  Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”   I don’t ever want to be responsible for bringing someone down.  That doesn’t mean I don’t unknowingly hurt someone’s feelings or upset them or that I won’t stand up for myself when needed.  But I always try to let love be my guide…that pure, unconditional, perfect love of Spirit.  When you know that love, when you feel that love, then you can’t help but love yourself, the world, and everyone in it!

We’re awakening!  There’s a ‘Lovelution’ happening and more and more people are learning that love really is the answer!  Namaste!

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper September 26, 2014.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Aging With Grace

Recently, my high school celebrated their class reunion in Ohio.  I was unable to attend, but I have been seeing pictures posted on Facebook.  It’s astonishing that I only recognize a couple of people!  Everyone has gotten so much older and many don’t look like they did when we were in school.  Then it dawned on me.  If they’re looking older, then that means I’M looking older!  Where has time gone!?!  It seems like it was just yesterday that I was a majorette, marching in the band, and hanging with my friends.  I noticed that just about all of us have gained a little weight, lost a little hair, and have a few more wrinkles on our faces. 

Getting older isn’t for sissies, that’s for sure.  Our minds tend to remain young, but for some reason, our bodies continue to age.  We think we can still do all the things we did when we were younger, but our bodies tell us otherwise.  But try we do!  And then there’s the memory, or what there is of it.  I now tend to forget things a little easier.  In fact, I call them memoroids and I have more of them as time goes on. 

I’ve pretty much come to peace with getting older.  Peace with wrinkles, an extra flab here and there, fewer hairs, and not having the energy I had when I was younger.  There are times when I dread getting any older, but I also want to be one of those who ages with grace.  One who embraces the changes in my body and mind.  But I also know that I don’t have to accept the labels that society tends to put on older people.  I don’t have to expect age related illnesses just because someone says I should be getting them at a certain age.  I don’t have to conform to others who say I should act my age.  Personally, I don’t believe in age.  If Einstein proved that there’s no such thing as time, then there’s no such thing as age.  Besides, I refuse to be identified by a number whether it’s my age or my weight!

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve developed a pretty healthy self-esteem by now…most of the time.  I still have my moments of feeling insecure, inferior, and feeling unworthy, but usually I feel pretty good about myself.  I like the person I’ve become; I just don’t always like the person I’m not.  And sometimes I look in the mirror and think, “Who is that woman?!?”  Some days I think I look pretty good for my age, and then other days I think I look like an ugly hag. 

Healthy self-esteem sure is needed when hearing the honesty of young children.  I’ve been told I’m old several times.  One little one asked me how old I was and I teasingly said I was six.  She replied, “You can’t be six!  Six year olds don’t have squiggles on their face and you have squiggles!  My grandma has squiggles!”  So, now I have squiggles.

As I look back over my life since my days in school, I see how I have grown.  It hasn’t been easy and I’ve had my share of challenges.  Some I didn’t think I’d make it through, but for whatever reasons, I persevered and in hindsight, I see that those challenges made me a stronger and better person.

Certain segments of society tells us that we’re not good enough unless we look a certain way, act a certain way, or that we need to conform to what everyone else is doing.  We were made to be unique!  There is no one else like us in the world!  I wish we could all learn early just how wonderful, magnificent, and miraculous we really are!  We could live with our heads held high knowing that we are the best there is and it has nothing to do with anyone else!  With age comes wisdom, knowledge, and a knowing that age really is a state of mind.  The Bible also states that we were made in God’s image, which makes us glorious and splendid beings living a human experience!

Donna Lynn Hope said, “Youth.  I don’t seek it through another because I have it within; it’s a state of mind, a spirit that is free, and a mind that is playful.  The shell of my being is altered by the effects of time, but nothing will tarnish a soul that will never forget what it’s like to experience creation with endless wonder and appreciation.”

Embrace life!  Embrace your age!  Let’s all learn to age gracefully and be proud of our squiggles!  We’ve earned them!

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper September 19, 2014.