Crossing Wires

While I’ve been accused of “crossing wires” many times, my heart literally challenged this concept for multiple hours over the past weekend.  Gratefully, this story has a positive outlook…

I’ve lived with atrial fibrillation most of my life, experiencing occasional flutters or skips at times including a stronger episode following the birth of our first child.  Each time, my heart naturally converted itself back into natural rhythm in a relatively short amount of time.  Not so, this time; it presented as a full-scale, ambulance-riding, cardiac-concierge event.  This was an excellent example in thankfully knowing my body really well and paying attention to its specific warning signs in order to seek medical assistance in a timely manner.

In spite of the trauma, the silver lining (after a full cardiac workup) is the professional affirmation my heart is a “strong, much-younger-than-my-age, remarkably boring muscle,” performing well in form, shape, size, and functionality.  My new cardiologist reports my issue “is strictly electrical, because your mechanics are impeccable.” He did note, however, “a slightly larger halo-effect surrounding your heart, but it’s simply due to the fact you were a long-time educator.”  🙂   Oh yes…I adore this man.

A-Fib is not to be taken lightly because it’s a leading cause of strokes. Losing the beloved Luke Perry to a stroke on the very day I’m laying on a cardiac table receiving a transesophageal echocardiogram and cardioversion is absolutely not lost on me. Eating less, moving more, listening, and paying attention to my miraculously aging body are lifelong goals–getting old and staying healthy continue to be a full-time job!  And ladies, as natural nurturers, we must help each other find more ways to graciously attend and give back to ourselves in the midst of giving to everyone else around us!

Longfellow observed, “the heart, like the mind, has a memory; in it are the most precious keepsakes.” Here’s hoping your heart (and mine) find natural ways to maintain the keepsake of the steady rhythm it knows so well.  Just know I’m walking in rhythm with you, my friends…

Grace-filled living…

It’s cold and our frayed quilts and blankets are working overtime around here.  Knowing I needed to mend and wash the favorite one in dad’s favorite chair, he insisted I provide another one in its place (and I did).  The one I gave him started an unusual conversation about family quilts.  In the midst of his story, he profoundly commented, “just like the changing of these quilts comes the transitions in our lives, many with uncertainty; others with excitement and, your favorite word, Bethy, ‘JOY.’ ”  

Yes; my mouth fell open.

Combining a multi-generational family into one home during this season of our lives obviously doesn’t come with an instructional manual…at least one I can understand.  Home is still where our stories begin and continue, and with that being said, we’re a little over a full year into tenderly stitching dad and Princess Sassypants (Poppy) into our home.  While nothing is perfect (remember, I despise that word), through grace, we thankfully haven’t lost our sense of humor yet.  Laughter, teasing, and smiles are some of the greatest tension relievers on the tough days.  My mom often noted how “the shortest distance between two people is always laughter.”  Daddy subscribes to the philosophy of “a good time to laugh is when you can.”  Even with his growing health concerns and loss of memory, he is remarkably full of life, laughter, and lots of stories.  He is the proverbial rose-colored glasses guy because he whole-heartily believes there is always, always, always something to be grateful for each day.  He chooses to walk to the sunshine in order to leave the shadows behind him.

On the really long, tough days when none of us have much strength left to deal, we work to gently remind one another to reach a little deeper into our personal well of grace where more resources pour out to move us forward.  And then there’s the tiny spark in daddy’s eye before he gracefully reminds me how “flexible people never get bent out of shape.”

His brain is astounding…one minute not remembering how to tie his shoelaces, and the next minute, spouting pearls of wisdom rendering me speechless.

You‘re right daddy; families are like our old quilts…carefully crafted and pieced together in colorful memories bound tightly in love.  Although they tend to unravel at times, each can be stitched back together with kindness, understanding, patience, love, and lots and lots of grace.

If you’re on a similar journey, just know I have thread, scraps, and sewing needles…along with kindness, understanding, patience, love, and lots of grace to share, my friends…

The gift of giving…

My family knows me so well…their personal choices for bestowing gifts upon me during the holidays were overwhelming on an whole new level.  From a Gratitude Box, a unique journal, and books to luxurious self-care bathing products, stunning jewelry, and tickets for musical events in the coming year, I was well-spoiled beyond imagination. Each giver took valuable time to really think about my interests, my needs, my wants, and my dreams while thoughtfully nourishing my mind, body, spirit, and soul in extraordinary ways.

My Momma often talked about the secret to a success life:  it’s in “the giving.”  GIVE is an action word and when we give, our lives are touched and changed forever.  All around us are daily opportunities to give; money is only a small part of what is needed in the world.  While we cannot give what we do not have, we are all wealthy in magnificent ways.  Instead, GIVE support, encouragement, time, attention, advice, honor, blood (literally, y’all–give a pint some day soon), praise, respect, enthusiasm, a smile (or ten), energy, ideas…this list is endless!  Each of us are givers and are gifted in miraculous ways.  Challenge yourself and others; dig deep if you have to, and then allow your natural generosity to spring forth from your personal well in some spectacular way as a “gift of giving” every single day…after all, it’s one more positive way to keep the season alive each day of the year.

New YEARnings…

As this season of hope, peace, JOY, love, gratefulness, thanks, and giving rounds out and we set our sights on new beginnings in a few short hours, reflecting on our potentials and possibilities becomes the next focus.  What can we do each day, each hour, or just each moment to make it better for someone else, to bring us closer together?  What can we do to help ourselves in the process?  Finding personal ways to focus on keeping the spirit of this powerful season with a constant sense of hope and love with you as companions each day, each hour, and each moment throughout the next year becomes a tall order…or does it?

A new year offers each of us a jump start and I’m grateful and thankful for this opportunity.  In taking time to reflect on the past year, remembering the triumphs and missteps, the greatest JOYs coupled with deepest sorrows, the times I opened myself up to grand spontaneous adventure or closed myself down from fear and sadness, this new year allows a fresh beginning to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, and most importantly, to love more.  There are just too many things in this life we cannot control (natural disasters, profound loss); it’s critical to focus our attention on what we can control (attitude, effort, forgiveness, second chances, fresh starts, embracing the what-will-be).

JOY in life cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn, or consumed (although I honestly tried my best on all fronts this past year, y’all!).  Being kind, compassionate, and loving are the real goals each day.  The spiritual experience of living these goals with great love, grace, and gratitude fill my soul with profound hope…and hope, my friends, prevails in our daily humanness.  I offer this hopeful challenge to us all in 2019 to:  BE, breathe deep breaths, forgive with grace, seek out an old friend, trust more, write letters, give soft answers, walk more, encourage one another, keep promises, forgo grudges, forgive with grace, apologize, work to understanding, smile at strangers, examine personal demands (this is me preaching to me), think first of others, be kind and gentle, laugh more, learn a new skill, appreciate the beauty and wonder of the world, explore nature, express gratitude, welcome others, and always speak your love over and over and over and over again and again and again and again…

Traditions are the stories we write together as family and friends; gratefully, we all begin another year of building on those traditions while continuing to write our stories.  It’s said no gift is too small or simple to receive when wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied in love.  I can only imagine the profound impact that another year bestowed upon us will truly have!

So, yes, please take time to ponder and remember the past year with fondness, but look forward to 2019 with anticipated eagerness, and reverently choose to challenge yourself and others to live each moment given to your personal fulfilled best, my friends.  Just know I’m holding your hand and we’re crossing into the NEW YEAR together…

JOY

Week Three of the Advent Season:  JOY

In the depths of my hurting and troubled heart, I cling to the message of the angel’s rejoicing:  “I bring you tidings of great JOY that will be for all people…”  Yet, what if JOY, in all its revelry, is in short supply?  How do we find the JOY?

Keeping JOY is good, but sharing it with others is even better.  It may be as simple as greeting someone, sharing a smile across the crowded room, handing your drink coupon to a fellow plane passenger, or creating a full-blown “pay it forward” opportunity.  Make no mistake; the message of Christmas is never-ending, yet it does not deny sorrow, hurt, and sadness its place in this world.  Instead, Christmas powerfully illustrates how JOY is greater than despair or sadness, PEACE outlasts the turmoil and trauma, HOPE prevails in the darkest places, and LOVE will ultimately crush hate and evil.

Norman Vincent Peale issued the challenge:  “I truly believe if we keep telling the Christmas story, singing the Christmas songs, and living the Christmas spirit, we can and will bring JOY and happiness and peace to this world…”  So, your Christmas Question for today:

How DO we keep telling the story, singing the songs, and living the spirit of Christmas JOY every day of our lives?

There’s truly a tumult of JOY and an overflowing of blessings as we light the third candle in Advent anticipation today.  A JOY shared is a JOY doubled, so let us accept the JOY with thanks and giving in our hearts.  May we always remain grateful for the JOY we spread and the JOY coming our way.  JOY, in all its glory, is really the simplest form of gratitude in daily living. #SpreadJOY

Leading and power sweeping…

Even in his final moments, he led with his strengths…and he did it in a profoundly calm and peaceful way… St. M’s oldest beloved brother, Tom, passed from this life to his eternal reward today.  While we’ve spent the remainder of this day preparing, pondering, and sharing remembrances, this one particular story keeps resurfacing as an illustration of a man with extraordinary strengths and gifts.  If you will, please indulge me in a moment of personal reflection…and Tom, this one’s for you, big guy…

The legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, once hosted a four-day football clinic for coaches and devoted two full days to just one play, the Power Sweep.  If you know football history, Coach Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers won five league championships, including the first two Super Bowl Games because of that one play (see, St. M; I DO listen to your football lessons).  Everyone, including Green Bay’s competitors, knew the Power Sweep was coming, and yet, they still couldn’t stop it.  Coach and his team developed a strength that became an unstoppable force of positive momentum, and they led with this strength every time.

As a part-time coach of YMCA football for 24 years, Tom often visited with me about teaching and learning.  He was fascinated how educators (and coaches) find ways to be masters of not only their own strengths, but of those in their care.  Tom understood how focusing energy and practice, mastering fundamentals, and developing individual strengths created a culture of personal excellence on the field, and off.  The more time spent developing and leading with strengths, the more each person became successful in them.

After one particularly lively conversation with Tom during a Van Am family meal, St. Michael shared this extraordinary moment from his young life, perfectly demonstrating Tom’s very truth:

“It wGreen Bay Packersas August 20, 1966. In May of the year, I was struck by a car sustaining severe, life-threatening injuries.  Living within a full-length body cast for several months, my father sought to provide encouragement and motivation for powering through during the long recovery process.  As a member of the Dallas Salesmanship Club, he secured sideline game passes for the Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.  My oldest brother, Tom, wheeled me in my stretcher chair onto the field at the 40-yard-line (what an experience of a lifetime!).  Late in the third quarter, the Packers were driving down the field using their infamous Power Sweep on almost every play.  When they reached the 35-yard-line, we had a perfect view to watch each play develop.  Bart Starr handed the football to Paul Hornung, who followed a parade of blockers around the right end.  The Cowboys defended the play well, pushing the onrushing team of blockers and runners to the sidelines exactly where we were located.  Sensing an imminent collision, my brother Tom sacrificed his quarterback body (because he was the star quarterback on the high school team) to block the blow by diving in front of the onrushing Packers and Cowboys.  Thankfully, eighteen players ran around my location without injury or incident.  After the game, Bart Starr walked over and presented Tom with an autographed chin strap from his helmet, saying, “Bud, you had the best block of the entire game.” 

Now THAT is knowing your strength…mentally, physically, emotionally…and leading with it, even in the midst of possible defeat and bodily injury!

Tom often said, “We don’t need an average team or an average “you;” we need the best you…and when you lead with your strength, you share your best always.”  He never forgot the power of one simple, clear truth:  lead with your strength.

Thanks, Michael, for sharing this most personal of stories and heeding the advice of your big brother all these years; he’s a part of the reason you’re called Saint.  Tom, thanks for sharing the true spirit of brotherhood and love with the world by actively demonstrating how to lead with your strengths as a part of your profound legacy.  May we all take a moment in this season of hope, peace, joy, and love to pause and powerfully reflect on our strengths and how best to lead with them.  Just imagine the possibilities when we genuinely find more ways to create positive Power Sweeps of our own in the coming year…

PEACE…

Week Two of the Advent Season:  PEACE

“When peace shall over all the Earth, its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.”  ~Edward H. Sears, 1849

In the profound stillness of an early snowy morn, the words to the familiar carol, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” vividly flow through my thoughts.  Coffee in hand and seated on the back screened porch wrapped in a blanket, the mesmerizing flakes softly fall in mass abundance as dawn begins to break.  Trees, heavy-laden with piles of white fluff, gently sway as birds scamper to the four feeders filled to capacity.  Addie (grandma cat) lumbers to my side mewing her thoughts while keenly watching her morning “Bird TV.”  This is a blessed quiet time to meditate, ponder, pray, and prepare…a peaceful, peace-filled gift of grateful abundance in the midst of a blustery winter blast on this second Sunday in Advent.

More often than not, our lives and actions are anything but peaceful or PEACE-filled.  It becomes a solitary mission on some days to capture a precious snippet of the PEACE we crave as humans and spiritual beings.  Finding some small way to slow down, to quieten the mind, the mouth, and the body, to just be still and invite peace inside, is an act of personal grace.  Whether celebrating the coming of the Prince of Peace or simply hoping for the promise of Peace on Earth, we continue to wait and prepare as we light the second candle of Advent.  Please give yourself a moment to ponder this Christmas Question today:

In what ways do you seek PEACE in your daily life and how will you nurture this need in the coming year? 

May our continued search and fervent wish for PEACE bring extraordinary blessings of promise, grace, and forgiveness into our lives, dear friends and PEACEmakers…

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…”  John 14:27