INNER PEACE ON EARTH

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INNER PEACE ON EARTH

Tis the season.  The Christmas holiday is almost upon us, and most of us—myself included—are doing the dance.  Again.

We shop.  We decorate. We bake.  We send cards (I don’t, sorry).  We plan and attend parties.  We eat.  We hope we bought the right gifts for the right people in the right amounts.  We wonder.  We worry.  We stress.

Then we wonder why we worry and stress.  At least, I do.

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I spent the day yesterday with a dear friend.  A friend, who, while we are not close in the sense that we see each other often and talk frequently, we remain close.  Months can go by, and we are able to—you guessed it—pick up where we left off.

Except this time things have changed since we left off.   She is making some major life changes that, she reports, need to be made.  I found this out when I called her last week, apropos of nothing.  Just to talk.

It had been too long, and it was time to get together.  I realized she needed to talk longer than the time we had on the phone, so we made plans for the weekend.

We shopped.  We ate.  We sipped.  We puzzled and colored.  We talked.  We laughed.  We shared.  We understood.

Our day started with a one-hour car ride.  She talked for most of that.  I realized she needed to be heard, and I needed to listen.  So, I did.

If life truly is a dance, then she is changing her steps.  Changing them in a way she needed to for herself.  Except her dance partners now don’t know her new dance, and they don’t like it very well.  None of us want to be made fools of on the dance floor of life.  So, while her new dance moves feel good to her, they have been met with disdain from the other partners.  They don’t know these new moves.

Yet, she keeps dancing the new dance because she knows she cannot go back to the old one.  It feels good to her.  It feels like she is finally making peace inside herself, even if the dance partners feel like she is creating strife and waging war.  She is going with it, and I am cheering her on.

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As I write this Sunday morning, I am mentally cataloguing all the Christmas preparations I need to complete today.

*Wrap gifts.

*Bake cookies.

*Shop online, maybe even go to town to a real store, even though I just did yesterday.

It is causing me a bit of stress.  I really just want to take a nap.

It’s not supposed to be this way.  It’s supposed to bring me tidings of comfort and joy.  It is supposed to help me spread peace on earth.  It is supposed to be a Holy Night, and a Holy Day as well.  And I just want to rest ye, merry gentle-woman.

So, I am taking a moment to re-align.  A few minutes to stop, look and listen, because I feel like I am doing all the talking here.

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In my work as a speech language pathologist–a.k.a. speech therapist, we talk about the two-sided coin of expressive language and receptive language.  When a person has a stroke, head injury or some other compromise to the brain, we assess how well they can express themselves mostly through speech, but also by writing and other non-verbal means.  We also assess how well they receive information, mostly by listening, but also by reading and looking.  They must be able to understand incoming information before they can process it and turn it into outgoing expression.

When most of us speak of communicating, we tend to focus on our expression primarily, and what our listeners understand secondarily.  Both sides of the coin must be considered in effective communication.

In this Christmas season of busy-ness, bustle and hustle, perhaps more listening is what we all need.  I know I do.

In my grade school Catholic education, I recall learning the four pillars of prayer:

1:  Praise God

2:  Give thanks.

3:  Ask for forgiveness.

4:  Ask for help.

This is a well-rounded formula for talking to God; it covers the bases of what we should say in prayer.  However, I don’t recall learning that we should also flip the coin over and listen.  Perhaps we were taught this, but clearly, I wasn’t listening.

No being—human or divine—enjoys a one-sided conversation.  Who wants to listen to someone talk without ever listening?  No one I know.

Be still, we are told in the Bible.  That’s the tough part.  Just sit still and listen.  Some people call it meditation, but if that’s too woo-woo for you, then don’t call it that.  It is, at its core, simply listening.  Downloading information instead of constantly uploading.  And there is a lot of good information out there, if we simply listen.

Whomever you pray to, in whatever fashion, whenever you do pray, don’t forget to also listen.  That’s where the good stuff is.

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Mom wanted us to live our lives by the Prayer of St. Francis.  I’ve referred to it many times, and I will continue to refer to it in the future.  It is the perfect prescription for a life well-lived.

In order to be this Instrument of Peace that Mom and St. Francis so kindly asked us to be, I have discovered in my efforts that in order to share this peace, one must first possess it.  You can’t give away something you don’t have.  Further, the best way I have found to possess this peace is to start by simply listening.

Listen to people.  We don’t know what their lives look like on the inside, and listening is the only way we can determine how to best understand them so that we can share peace with them.  I listened to my friend for the first hour yesterday so that I could formulate a response that would help her the most.  She told me her story, and I told her mine.  I shared my past struggles that I felt would help her with her current struggles, even though I have never walked in her shoes.  I think it made her feel less alone.

Listen to your little voice inside.  It is the voice of reason and intuition, and the older we get with more life experiences, it is ultimately the voice of wisdom.   Don’t deny it or shush it.  It may end up screaming to be heard if you do.

Listen when you pray.  Whatever you believe in, in whatever way you choose to believe it, there is always wisdom greater than our own to be downloaded.

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When I got ready to decorate for Christmas last week, I found myself stressed just looking at those totes we brought up from the basement.  Four of them.  Ugh.

So, I listened.  I left a lot of it in the box instead of feeling obligated to put it up.  I gave some of it away, too.  I rearranged a few things.  I cleared the coffee table and put up my favorite Jim Shore pieces, the artist who created the Thanksgiving angel I wrote about two weeks ago.

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I have another angel he made with the Nativity scene on it.  I put her on Mom and Dad’s table next to the Thanksgiving angel.  It brought me peace.

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I made it a little simpler this year, and it felt good.  I have a little more peace inside to share now.   I plan to keep going.

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In Our Favorite Gifts of 2017 (December 31st, 2017), I wrote about the annual hand-made ornament I receive from the young boy I worked with for several years in private speech therapy.  Although it had been more than a year since I had worked with him, I received a third one from him last year.  Last week, there was another box from him at my door, over two years after we stopped working together.   It is the first gift I have received this year, but I’m pretty sure it will be one of the best.  He made it himself, from the heart, with appreciation and kindness.  I’m sure his kind mother helped him send it.  I treasure all four of the ornaments he has now made for me.

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In the interest of privacy, his name is covered.

What will be the best gifts you give this year?  Will it be the ones you purchased in a frantic mode, spending too much money and wondering if it will be the right one?  The right size or color?  The one you bought that will bring them joy all year?  I doubt it.  I think perhaps it will be the ones that aren’t bought.

Perhaps it will be the gift of listening to a friend who needs to be heard.  Maybe you will take them to dinner, or better yet, cook for them.  Maybe it will be the permission you gave yourself to decorate less, or maybe spend less.   Maybe you will give away a possession of personal value to someone you know would enjoy it more than you do.  Maybe you will buy yourself something you know you need and/or want, and very likely deserve.  Perhaps you will even create some new dance steps for yourself that you know you need to make, even if your dance partner(s) don’t like it.  Maybe you will create a home-made gift from the heart like the young boy does for me every year.

Perhaps it will be a gift to yourself of listening when you pray.  Maybe you will forgive someone, which turns out to be a buy-one-get-one gift, because in the end, forgiveness benefits you more than them.

Bonus.

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When January comes and the holidays are gone, we should start preparing for the holidays again—in our hearts.  Christmas should not be one day in one month within one season.  If the true spirit of Christmas is to be celebrated, is should be within us every day of every month of every year.  If we can make peace within, we can share it with everyone else all year.

If you are unable to celebrate with your loved ones at Christmas, have a celebration later and call it Christmas.  Or whatever you want to call it, as long as you treasure the time spent with them.

There will be no Sister Lode post for the next few weeks.  I am taking some time to celebrate with my family, taking some time off work, and probably taking more naps.

I plan to do a lot of listening.

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Me, middle sister Kathleen at Christmas, circa 1972.  I asked Gail and Suzanne for Christmas pictures, but no luck.

Merry Christmas from Gail, Kathleen and Suzanne, the sisters of The Sister Lode.  Peace on Earth, starting with peace within.

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I took that nap after lunch, and started on the cookies.  I had my Christmas cards stacked on a pile on the counter as I mixed.  This one was on the top of the stack.  It came from the young boy who makes my annual ornament; every member of his family signed it.  Its message is exactly what I am trying to say, too.

ANGELS AMONG US

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ANGELS AMONG US

I had a welcome guest last night.  He hadn’t visited in awhile, even though he knows my door is always open for him, and I would so love to see him more often.  I can’t predict when he will show up, but it always seems to be at the perfect time.

Be careful what you wish for.  I think I have given this admonition a few times before.

I had a dream about my dad last night.  He stopped by our house for a casual visit, as if he had never been gone.  All my dreams about Mom and Dad—and there aren’t many—are always in the context of a normal gathering, interaction or visit.  They are still on earth in my dreams, never having left.

In this dream, my dad stopped by our house just as I discovered a water leak.  It appeared to be coming from the top floor, draining two floors below to the basement.  I immediately brought it to my husband’s attention, my Mark of all trades and master of all—especially plumbing, and he was more concerned that we get going to wherever we were going at the moment.  “We’ll take care of it when we get back,” he said.

Now, if you know my husband, you know this is preposterous, he would have been on it in a cloud of dust; no hesitation.  The plumber from my hometown even showed up in my dream, and took a look at it.  He couldn’t figure it out.  My husband did take the time to check it out, but couldn’t find the leak, either.

My dad–my brilliant father, took one look and found a faulty plug on a nonexistent toilet in a nonexistent bathroom in our home.

Problem solved.

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Any essence of creativity for today’s blog didn’t show up yesterday, as I was trying to get it going.  I had several started, and several waiting in the wings, but nothing came together.  I thought perhaps I may have to crap out for this week, and try again next week.  I am at the mercy of this fickle force; if it doesn’t show up, there is nothing I can do to find the words.

At the end of the day yesterday, I prayed for some spark of inspiration, some guidance; some ideas.  I woke up with ideas swimming this morning, courtesy, I’m sure, of my dad’s visit.

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I put the Thanksgiving/autumn decorations away yesterday.  I felt a bit blue, as Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  My husband suggested we get started on the Christmas decorations, and this made me even more blue.  I wanted to enjoy the space between the holidays with a bit of nothingness; I wanted to savor the lingering Thanksgiving tidings before hauling out the Christmas ones.

I feel strongly about the meaning of Christmas, but I don’t feel so good about how our society commercializes it.  I struggle with this every year.  I languish in the element of gratitude Thanksgiving brings; enhancing the practice of giving thanks can only be a positive formula for the striving toward peace on earth that Christmas should bring.

I decided to change one thing to try to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving more alive all year.

Several weeks ago, I found a Thanksgiving angel created by Jim Shore, one of my favorite artists.  He has become a favorite because Dad used to buy his pieces for Mom, having discovered them at their local drug store/gift shop.  He had bought her several pieces which we divided among us, and I have added to them with my own.  Mom loved angels.  We decided to engrave one on her side of their tombstone.

When I found this “Joy In The Harvest” angel, I knew she needed to come home with me.  So she did.

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When I put her away yesterday with the other Thanksgiving decorations, it brought me down.  When I woke up this morning, the first thought I remember was this:  Get the angel back out and leave her up all year.  Put her by your parent’s picture.  Perhaps that was the parting message Dad left me in the dream, right after he diagnosed the water leak.  Perhaps he wanted this special piece from the special artist displayed.

So, I did.  But this presented a new problem.

I have a small, family-heirloom table that serves as an altar; a shrine for my parents.  It is crowded already, as there are pictures, multiple other angels and small keepsakes to remind me of, and honor, Mom and Dad. Mom’s favorite saint–Saint Francis, as well as his prayer, is honored there, too.

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Give away one thing of great value,” was the advice given on a favorite daily calendar.

As these words from several months ago rang in my head, I knew what I must do.  I must part with one angel to make room for this one.  “One in, one out,” is the rule I try to live by when adding new possessions.  This is hard, and just this morning over coffee, my husband reminded me that I don’t necessarily need to one in just because I one out.  We will table this discussion for another day.

Today, however, is a special day.  December 2nd is my neighbor Diana’s birthday, and she, too, loves angels.  She speaks the language of angels, understands loss and forges on, having lost a son 21 years ago, the same way I lost my parents.

This beautiful angel, a gift from a family friend, was given within a floral arrangement at my parents’ funeral.  Her beauty must be shared, so I am passing her on to my angel of a neighbor, Diana, in honor of her angel in Heaven, Mark.

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This gratitude thing can be hard.  Some days, I don’t feel very grateful.  If I didn’t sleep well, which is a hit-or-miss affair at age 52, and especially if certain joints have decided to act up again, then I lose my focus.  I find myself angry because sleep escaped me, which makes everything gray and more uncomfortable.

I take some quiet time each morning to write, especially by hand, in a journal.  One practice that I keep is this:  write down three things I am grateful for, three things I haven’t written before, as well as all the big ones I write every day.   Most days, before I do this, I wonder what on earth I will come up with.  I think I can’t possibly think of three new things again, yesterday and the day before were hard enough.

Yet, I do.  I have become skilled at taking a glass that is half-empty, and calling it half-full.  It’s all in how you look at it.

And the how you look at it is the key.

It is your choice to see the glass as half-empty or half-full.  No one gets to dictate those thoughts inside your head.  It is always your choice, and I am here to testify that I have tried it both ways, and half-full always feels better.

When I get really desperate, when I feel there is no way I can possibly find even one more thing to be thankful for that I haven’t yet written down, I get quite creative with my gratitude.  Among the things I have written down on these lowest of low days include:

*electricity:  there was a planned power outage from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. 

*French press coffee during this power outage, courtesy of my husband heating the water on the gas burner on his grill in order to press the coffee, our morning life-giving drink.

*flannel sheets

*six 25-cent CDs at a garage sale from several of my favorite artists

*no sign of bedbugs after being exposed to them (again) on a home health visit

*a beautiful, intricate spiderweb on the porch

While it has taken me a long time—years—to sense gratitude for the following, I can say, with peace,  I have arrived at a place where I am thankful for these gifts:

*my parents didn’t have to leave each other behind when they died

*they didn’t have to suffer for one moment, like so many of my patients do

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Angels are among us, within us and all around us.  If you don’t sense this, turn some thoughts around.  Look around.  I hope you find them close, within your own home, even.  If you are lucky like me, you will have one or more as your sister/sisters.

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Perhaps you may even have one next door, like I do.

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Happy Birthday Diana

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May every day be Thanksgiving Day for you.  May you take the spirit of gratitude into the Christmas season with you to find the peace that is within, so that you may do what you can to create peace on earth, just like Mom and Saint Francis asked us all to do.

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HOW DOES SHE DO IT? PART TWO: SUZANNE

 

 

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HOW DOES SHE DO IT?  PART TWO:  SUZANNE

After Gail moved out to go to college, Suzanne moved into the bedroom with me to fill Gail’s spot.  It felt like my domain now that I was the senior resident, and I let Suzanne know I was essentially the landlord and she was the tenant.  I was the big sister, and I was determined to show her that.

Our decorating styles were essentially nonexistent except for a few teenage heartthrob posters.  Gail had moved out and took her flair with her. Our housekeeping styles, however, were in stark contrast to each other.  You would never know it now, but I was tidy and minimal, and Suzanne, well, she wasn’t.

I recall being frequently frustrated at her clutter and crap—junk, stuff, whatever she called it.  Motivating her to keep her part tidy was a chore.

So, when I was tasked with an experiment in a high school social science class to find a way to change someone’s behavior, I devised a plan.  A plan that turned out to be an evil scheme, and I am more than a little embarrassed to write about what I did to poor little innocent Suzanne.

If Mom were here, she would tell you about it and laugh about it now, too, so let’s just consider it funny.

I was tired of her lack of tidiness.  I wanted to change that behavior.  Because money seems to be a great motivator for most people, I decided I would pay her.  I had some change in hand, and when she and I were alone in the room, I instructed her to tidy up, and she would be rewarded for it.

So she did just that.  She picked up one thing and put it away, and I immediately reinforced her a coin—probably a quarter to bait her; saving the smaller change for the end.  She was thrilled with the prospect of earning while tidying, so she continued to tidy.  And I continued to pay her.  One coin per item picked up and put away.  This was working out well for both of us.  I got my room tidied up, and Suzanne got paid.

Except for one small detail:  the pile of change that I picked up and paid her with belonged to her, so I was essentially paying her with her own money.

Cold, I know.  I did what I had to do.

Now, Suzanne is the tidy minimalist, and I am the not-quite-as-tidy not-so-much-a-minimalist.  But we have both found what works for us, and we are content with our own ways.

I think she has forgiven me for that dirty trick I played on her.

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Like the post for Gail last week, this one honors Suzanne.  For no special reason; just because.  Her birthday, however, went relatively unnoticed this year.  She was under the weather, and has opted instead to change it to another day later this year.  In keeping with her favorite line in one of her favorite movies—Mean Girls—Suzanne will celebrate her birthday on October 3rd this year.  Perfect, because that day coincides beautifully with our departure to Colorado to make up for the Labor Day trip we had to bypass.  You will hear some of the celebration story, but again, as with any trip, not all of it.

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Imagine that, instead of your car having enough gas to make it go, it’s always out of gas, and it simply will no longer hold fuel.  Imagine you have to push it everywhere you want to go, because it can’t create enough energy to move itself.  Every day, everywhere you go, you have to push your car.  And you can’t leave it behind, because it’s your only vehicle.  It’s your only means of functioning.

Sounds absurd, I know, but Suzanne has likened life without her thyroid to being continually “out of fuel.”  When the doctor handed her a thyroid cancer diagnosis on her birthday six years ago just after her thyroid came out.  One of the long-term effects is continual lack of energy.  Most people without their thyroid suffer this scourge.  And she is cold.  All the time.

Never, though, will you hear her complain.  She may make a joke about it, and she may offer a few details if you ask, but she will not let on that she struggles every day.  That’s not her style.

Nor is it her style to worry about the specter of cancer hovering over her.  She has six years under her belt, but even before that, she knew in her heart that she would be okay.

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Sometimes okay is the most we can hope for, and some days that is all she has.  Most other days, she will make it clear to you that she is more than okay, even if she has to fake it.

Next week, she will see her endocrinologist for her six-month check-up.  She has no worries.  An important fact to recall from Not Her Type (February 4th), is that, just as she told Gail’s daughter Lydia after her diagnosis of Type One Diabetes is this:  “Only the cool girls get to see an endocrinologist.”

Suzanne is a fighter, as you already know.  I am recalling the episode when, before she started school, we came home to find her motionless on the living room couch.  Her lips were blue.  I thought we had lost her.

“MOM!”  I remember yelling as we came in the door.  “Suzanne is dead!”

She was simply napping.  After she had eaten frozen blueberries.

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Both Gail and Suzanne struggled, but emerged victorious as single mothers.  I don’t know this challenge, I only know that raising children with a great man who is also a great father is still a tough chore.  I have no idea how they did it, but they did.  And their single-mothered children are now amazing young women.

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Unlike Gail, Suzanne and I do not possess, nor do we wish to possess a work ethic that drives us to seek out more work than we already have.  We are happy with whatever comes our way in our work.  We don’t feel the need to be seek any further employment as Gail does, we don’t extend ourselves to can zucchini and salsa.  We have no aspirations to engage in other ventures that may take up our free time that we reserve for working jigsaw puzzles, taking naps, coloring or reading books.

We weren’t tasked with the multiple responsibilities Gail was; as the fifth and sixth children of seven, there wasn’t as much mothering to do.  We all had our work for us on the farm and in the house, but Suzanne and I did very little extra mothering.  We didn’t have to.

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I am adoring my new baby sister.  She had a lot of black hair when she was born.

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Suzanne and David in their younger, happier years, before he ruined their relationship with the skunk episode.  (Just kidding, they are both over it now.)

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Suzanne has always loved Halloween–and she still does.

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Mom bundled us up for one of those big snows we never get anymore in these parts. 

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Suzanne and me at Sunset Park, a beautiful park in our small city that we used to picnic at annually, meeting other family there from Wichita.  It was the halfway point.   Perhaps we should go back to that park now and re-enact this picture…

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I am four years older than Suzanne, so perhaps I was somewhat responsible for her, but Gail likely had that base covered.  She had been a second mother to all of us for so long, she likely did it without thinking, without effort—just like she completes her work now.

But this is about Suzanne.

Suzanne and I enjoy our geographical closeness now.  When she lived in the same town as our parents, we were about 90 miles apart.   We did manage to get together quite often, but now I could see her every day if I want to.  I do want to see her every day, but I don’t always get to.  I find myself stopping at the bank more frequently than I used to, the bank she works at that has been my bank for 20+ years.

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Suzanne at work.  Tana and Amy ( July 9th, 2017:  Swheat Girls, & July 8th, 2018:  Stars and Stripes and Sisters Forever) stopped to see her last year.

We have an annual tradition of traveling to the pumpkin patch an hour away.  It was equidistant from her former home and mine.

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We used to meet there when our kids were younger, but they no longer want to go.  We do, so we go without them.

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I must come clean on another crime against Suzanne:  there was a time in our shared bedroom days that I didn’t like her so much.  While I adore her now, and I wish I had more time to spend with her, I recall wanting her to be away from me in our younger years.  Like, downstairs while I was upstairs.  Like, forcibly down the stairs.  Like, I wanted to push her down the stairs.

While we frequently shop together now and enjoy it, our limited shopping trips in our younger years weren’t so pleasant.   I recall that she could rarely find anything she wanted when we were shopping.  That is, until I bought it, then she wanted one just like it.  She would typically decide this after the trip, then beg me to let her wear what I had just bought.

I should have been flattered, but I wasn’t.  I was frustrated.  I wanted my own look, my own style, and I sure didn’t want my little sister looking just like me.

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Easter Sunday morning in our teenage years.  We possessed such style–and still do.

Having Suzanne here after her scare with cancer is a gift.  Now, we can sometimes wear the same size clothing again, and I am so honored to share some of my clothes with her now.  That is a gift, too.

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Sharing Dad’s pants surely was a unique fashion statement.

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Perhaps I shouldn’t brag too much about having any style in my younger years.  Suzanne delights in sharing this picture, and I already made peace with it by sharing it in an earlier post.  She is so proud of it; she framed it in this “subtle” frame for me last Christmas. 

I already told you one of Suzanne’s strongest qualities:  her strength.  Her strength as a single mother.  Her strength as a cancer survivor.  These are her quiet strengths.  You don’t know about them because she doesn’t let on, and that is a strength as well.

If you spend any amount of time around her, you will quickly notice her visible, louder strength:  her sense of humor.

When she left her job nearly two years ago to move to my small city, her co-workers threw her a party, complete with a custom-made cake.  They understood and appreciated her sense of humor, too.  One of her former co-workers said that it’s no fun at their workplace anymore without her.  I believe her.  And I’m pretty sure she has livened up her new workplace.

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I look up to Gail.  I always have, and I always will.  I look up to Suzanne, too, even though she is younger than me.  Apparently, there was a day when she looked up to me—as this picture taken with the framed one above shows.  I hope I am worthy of that upward look from her now.  Some days, I’m not sure.

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I know in my heart that both Gail and Suzanne are my lifelong companions, my closest confidantes; my dearest friends.  We have to be, we have no choice given Mom’s letter to all of us.  Peace is the mission we all accepted from Mom, and I like to think that even without her missive, we would have chosen this path of togetherness and harmony then, and now.

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Suzanne–I’m so glad I didn’t push you down the stairs all those years ago–you’re the best little sister ever!  XOXO  middlesisterkathleen

 

 

LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR SOME

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LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR SOME

“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”

As a child, I recall hearing and saying this many times:  “I can do what I want.  It’s a free country.”  It was typically in response to some perceived offense, and when confronted, the offending party would often respond with that phrase.

I don’t hear kids—or adults—saying that much anymore.  But we should never forget the meaning behind it.

“And I won’t forget the men (and women) who died, who gave that right to me.”

On Saturday of this week, my husband’s family celebrated his father’s 80th birthday with a large gathering of 50-plus family members.  The host led grace just before the meal, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, then “Happy Birthday” sung to the birthday boy from the crowd.  This trifecta was the perfect display of gratitude first for the food, then for the freedom, followed by a family honoring a strong and deserving patriarch.

“And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.”

After the singing, my father-in-law and the uncles who served our country were asked to stand to be recognized and honored.  There were seven .  We applauded with our hands and with our hearts.

This will never be enough to let them know how much we appreciate their service, but they don’t expect any more than that.  They simply served; they were honored to give.

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Our dad didn’t serve in the military.  He was deemed not fit enough due to flat feet.  Now, most of his seven children have flat feet, but we might not be here otherwise.

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Memorial Day is a wonderful bonus Monday off for many people, myself included.  But, as this Facebook post so painfully illustrates, it goes so much deeper than that.  Deeper than the vast majority of us will ever know.  Deeper than our worst nightmares can conjure, to a depth that that should always be seared upon our minds, hearts and souls how supremely fortunate we are to live in a free country.

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OUR FREEDOM ISN’T FREE.

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Gail, Suzanne and I got to spend the weekend together.  Gail traveled the 230 miles to our small city, and we savored this gift of time together in the sisterhood.  We are supremely fortunate to have each other, and we know it.

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We are celebrating our parents this weekend too, as we do every time we are together.   None of us felt the need to visit their graves; we know they are not there.  Mom made it clear before they died that we were welcome to visit her plot when she was gone, but we wouldn’t find her there.

And we don’t.

We find both of them in our togetherness, wherever we go.

Our brothers and their families who live on their farms close to our hometown take tender, loving care of their graves there, and for that, we are so grateful.  We visit when we are there at other times throughout the year.

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I was a kid during Vietnam.  I watched news coverage of the Gulf War and the other foreign conflicts that took place as I grew up, and unfortunately, continue to take place around the world.  Often, I simply turn off the news when more coverage is aired.  I simply cannot take more bad news of war.  I didn’t fully realize the depth of our freedom NOT being free until I watched the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, unfold on live television.

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”    Jimi Hendrix, a famous 1960’s rock musician, is credited with this statement.  Online sources list other similar quotes, which may have inspired him.  It summarizes what I feel is the answer as well.  Ironically, Jimi Hendrix enlisted in the U.S. Army and trained as a paratrooper, and was granted an honorable discharge.

But how to find this peace?  What can each of us do, as Average Jane and Joe Citizen, to bring this about?  What on earth—literally-can we do to stop the fighting across the world?  We all think that, as just one person, our actions–good or bad–cannot possibly make a difference.

These hundreds (thousands?) of years, these scores of generations of violence toward our fellow man in the name of one’s god, one’s country, one’s pain, scorn and oppression cannot easily be turned around.  This is the way of life for so many, so many fellow humans who have never known a day of peace.  So many who don’t even know there is a better way.

So many, just like ourselves, who think there is nothing, as an individual, that can be done.

Oh, but there is.

There is one beacon, one guiding principle that each of us can put to work every day.  The key word is work, because it takes a lot of that.  If you have even one iota of self-induced strife in your heart, it has the potential to create a negative ripple, and it can be worked upon.  If you think there is nothing you can do to bring peace to the world, think again.

I have written about it before, and I will write about it again.  I offer no apologies to anyone who doesn’t want to hear anything remotely related to religion, because this only has to relate to humanity.  It comes to you and me as fellow humans, breathing the same air, co-existing on the same earth, from another human being.  A man who walked this same earth, breathed this same air from 1181-1226.  A man who gave up riches to pursue a life of humility and peace:  Saint Francis of Assisi.  He is venerated worldwide as the original Instrument of Peace, the man who wrote the prayer.

He is the saint my parents modeled their lives after, leaving us a tremendous legacy, as well as a tough act to follow.  Specifically, our mother wrote a letter to be read at her funeral asking us to live our lives by this prayer.

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So, we try.  For myself, I stumble and fall, get up and keep trying to try.  Some days, that’s the most I can do.  Some days I do a little better.  But I never stop trying.  I can’t.  Mom saw to it that we were handed those marching orders, and we saw to it that it was written in stone on the back of their tombstone in their honor.

 

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I did something recently that didn’t make me feel very good about myself.  Something that, in the parlance of my Catholic upbringing was very likely very venial, was still very wrong.  And my hyper-developed conscience wouldn’t let me rest until I did something about it.  It was more than a white lie, perhaps a shade of light gray.  Nothing damning, nothing that would incite violence or crush someone’s soul, but wrong, nonetheless.  At the time, it felt like an eye for an eye, but in hindsight, it really was something more like an eye for a toenail clipping.

So, I came clean.  I went to the person who would be affected by this transgression, even though it was known only to me.   I confessed.  I owned up to the infraction, made reparations as best I could, and they forgave with open arms.  They asked only to allow them the chance in the future to help to prevent it from happening again.  In a turn I wouldn’t have imagined, they were an Instrument of Peace to me.

So, if an offense is committed deep in a forest and no one hears or sees it, did it really happen?  Is it really wrong?

Undeniably, unequivocally, YES and YES.

If your little voice tells you that you can make peace by righting a wrong, or even creating a right where no wrong existed, then you’d better listen.  That voice is not only your conscience and your voice of reason, it is a much wiser, deeper part of your soul speaking.  It is your opportunity be an Instrument of Peace.

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“Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,”

I do love this land.  I love the open fields and rolling hills of my home state, and there are so many other parts of this land I want to explore.  My away-from-home favorites are the mountains of Colorado and the beaches of Florida, but there are so many more places in these great States I want to visit.  I don’t even have a strong desire to travel abroad because there is so much in America I haven’t seen yet.  Places open to me and you and everyone else to visit because this is indeed a free country.  We are at liberty to travel where we want to go.

For that, and for every other liberty small and large, our military is to thank.  The brave men and women who served and those in active duty as well.  Those who may never know the liberty they deserve.  Those who gave up their liberties so that we may have ours.  Words will never be enough to express our gratitude, but it is a start.  God bless them, and…

“God Bless the USA.”

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Please observe Memorial Day with gratitude for all the liberties you possess.   Please thank any active or former military service man or woman.   And, because I know it never goes away, I extend my sympathy to you for anyone you are mourning.

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Thank you for your continued support.   My sisters and I are grateful for the opportunity to reach out to each of you through this blog.  We want to take our mother’s dying wish and make it work not just for us, but for the world.  In the face of conflict, in what appear to be war-torn families and relationships, we are often asked what we do to make it work and to keep it all together.  So many people, we have learned, don’t have even a taste of what we have.  If we can help you in any way to find it, please let us know.  Send an email through the blog, or message any of us privately on Facebook.  Please reach out.  

 

 

 

MARCH FORTH

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MARCH FORTH

“Our lives are made by the deaths of others.”   Leonardo Da Vinci

This may very well be the shortest, but hardest post to write.  Yet it may carry the most meaning, at least for the three of us.

I write as I sit alone in our beautiful, spacious, Victorian-style room in Cripple Creek, Colorado on Saturday, March 3rd.  Gail and Suzanne are off doing their things, and I am doing mine.  We love our togetherness, but alone-ness is great, too.   We are relishing this time away in this beautiful mountain town.

I opened my laptop, and turned on the TV, searching for inspiration just to begin this post.  How do I find words on this day, this sacred day ten years ago when we last saw our parents alive at our grandmother’s funeral?  This day before March 4th, the day our  parents died?   What words of adequate weight can I possibly conjure?  Common sense told me to leave the TV off to let the thoughts gel into words, but I turned on a rerun of Criminal Minds, just for some noise.

As it began at 4:00, the first words spoken for this episode were “Our lives are made by the deaths of others.”  Sometimes the perfect words just show up at the perfect time from sources we would never expect.

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Gail, Suzanne and I are having more fun and adventure than mere words can possibly confer, but my attempt to do just that will wait until next week.  Of course, it won’t be a tell-all; it never is.  A tell-some is what you will get, as usual.  There are some things we don’t share with everyone, and this, I feel, is the way it should be among sisters like us.

Sisters like us who loved our parents beyond words, and lost them beyond words too.  But this loss has made us who we are; it is the crucible that forged us into the women of strength we are.  When their deaths brought us to our knees in complete and searing heartbreak, it also planted within us seeds that would grow from barren devastation into amazingly strong, resilient and joyful living beings.

And so here we are.  Here we are every day, for the last 3,653 days. And every day builds on the next.  Every day we move forward, and every day we do what we can to find joy, to make even more joy for ourselves, for those in our lives, and hopefully on a grand scale, it will be shared and spread far and wide.   Every day we try to live our lives in honor of our parents, trying to further their legacies of love and peace.  Every day we March Forth.

Our lives are not perfect or painless, but they are full, rich and beautiful, just like theirs were.  Our lives—as we know them today—were made by the deaths of our parents.

Thank you for joining us on our weekly adventure.  Next week, I promise, I will share enough to give you a really good idea of just how much fun we are having this week—but I won’t tell all.

This week, I ask this of you:  whatever your hardships or heartbreaks are today, please know there are brighter days ahead.  With faith, love and a little elbow grease, things are going to be okay.  They might even be more than okay.  If you forge through the pain, do the work and have faith, you, too, will find yourself marching forth into a place of greater strength, hope and happiness.   We are living proof.

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If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, so my child can have peace.”   Thomas Payne

The Criminal Minds episode ended as I finished this post, and it closed with this quote.    Sometimes the words really do come at the perfect times.

MARCH FORTH, my friends.  

 

GO WEST, YOUNG WOMEN

 

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GO WEST, YOUNG WOMEN

We have been looking forward to this trip for a long time.  Six months, to be exact.  Six months have passed since our last trip there.

On Thursday morning of this week, we will wake to a magnificent view of Pikes Peak.

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If you recall from Something To Look Forward To (January 7th), we return from our Labor Day trip to Colorado and begin the anticipation again.

Anticipation is at least half the fun.

The other half, as I alluded to in last week’s post, is somewhat of a secret.  We engage in all manner of fun, meet new people, make new friends and new memories, and, of course, we leave a mark—in a good way.  We know this because people remember us with a smile when we return.

All this fun, however, takes a little work.

Planning is the first stage.  Marking ourselves off the calendar at work is our first step.  Suzanne hasn’t been able to join us in Colorado for two years; her new job prevented time off.   We didn’t go to Colorado for Labor Day 2016 because we had just returned from Florida, as detailed in my very first post.

So this trip is long overdue for her, and right on time for Gail and me.   A single day longer, and we would implode with anticipation.

Planning our wardrobes and jewelry is a prolonged labor of love for Gail and me; Suzanne throws hers together at the last minute—in a very small bag.  Perhaps a bit larger than the Zip-lock bag she professes to be able to use, because we are going to a cold climate, and she may need a few extra layers than she would, say, on the beach. Several years ago, when I picked her up for the March trip, we were headed out of her driveway when I realized she got in my car without a heavy coat.  Good thing I asked; her minimalism kept her from remembering to pack a heavy coat.  We were, after all, going to the mountains in March, and she may need an extra layer…

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Many people hear about all the fun we have, and see our Facebook posts, and apparently think they, too, could have a lot of fun with us.

They probably could, except, they can’t.  No one else can.  Our sisterhood is the exclusive admission to this highly anticipated, sacred, sisterly excursion.

No exceptions.

We will maintain our tradition of singing Rocky Mountain High on our final stretch.

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Just in case the satellite radio gods don’t play it at the perfect time for us like they did last time, I have already packed my John Denver CD.

Gail will make her grand entrance into Cripple Creek:

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We do publicize some of our activities; we give a little hint of the fun we have.  We don’t plan much of our weekend, we let the spirit move us.  We have even been known to let the horses move us:

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And we move ourselves too.  Perhaps we will do a little nice-not-naughty North Pole dancing, maybe not.  We’re not telling.

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No matter what it is, it is all good, clean fun.10435009_10202836301292505_5243879323619352101_n[1]

Gail will likely strike her Audra Barkley pose on the majestic staircase at the historic hotel we now call our Colorado home:

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(The Big Valley was an integral part of our 70’s television lineup.)

We will renew our friendship with the proprietors of this magnificent and historic hotel:

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The local, free-roaming donkeys will be appreciated and honored, as they should be.

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Other wildlife is revered as well.

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We may put ourselves in the local spotlight with our antics, both on-stage, and off:

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We are there for each other to avert any possible disasters–after we get a picture:

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And if something doesn’t look right with one of us, we will come to each other’s aid:  we found Gail like this one morning, and the mystery of how it happened remains.

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The truth is, we don’t know yet what we will do.  When the occasion calls for a memory to be made, we will make it.  We do know that we will do whatever we can to further the memory and mission of our parent’s lives of peace and love.  It is up to us now to carry it forward, and on this ten-year anniversary, we are cranking it up a notch or two–or more.  Now more than ever, our world needs their message of peace.

We hit the mother lode–and the father lode, too with our parents.  This small Rocky Mountain town is still an active gold-mining town, with the mother lode struck here years ago.  The idea of The Sister Lode was born here; we know that what we have with each other is gold.

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Memories made in times of great fun are golden, savored; sacred.

Memories made in times of great sadness can be dark, sometimes avoided, but always sacred.  Our memories of March 4th, 2008 are still very much with us.  It will be ten years since that fateful, faith-full day.

We have chosen to March Forth from that dark day when we lost our parents in a car accident.  We marched forth back into the light, after our private and shared struggles to find joy and hope again.  It is now sweet-bitter to relish the memories of our parents, not bittersweet any longer.  The bitter still stings, sometimes as sharp as a knife through the heart, but only now for a quick moment, then the pain subsides as quickly as it ambushed us.

These moments are more few and far between, and will, with continued faith and grace, continue to space themselves out in the future.  We will continue to gain strength from our faith, our family and the friendship we have forged as sisters.

We have chosen to celebrate our sisterhood with our travels, and these trips have become an integral part of our yearly calendar.  We carve out the time, save the money and prioritize it just as we would regular and possibly life-saving medical checkups and/or treatment, because for us, it is.  It is survival and sustenance in our lives that now have a heightened sense of what is most important—those we love.

And I do love my sisters.  I’m pretty sure they love me, too.

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My wish for you is that you take the time to celebrate those in your family and/or circle of friends whom you love the most.

Take them on a trip, or take them to lunch, or anywhere in between.  Find a good starting place, and take off from there.

Tell them you love them, and if you need to, tell them you are sorry.  Forgive, if necessary.

Tell them you are glad they are a part of your life.

Tell them if they were gone tomorrow, your life would be richer for having had them in it.

And every day, treat them like they could be gone tomorrow, because sometimes, they are.

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CRIPPLE CREEK, COLORADO, OUR ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH

 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY GAIL: A GIFT OF PEACE

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY GAIL:  A GIFT OF PEACE

“When I first met Gail, I was impressed by her friendliness, her outgoing nature, and how she always was so funny, kind and generous.”  –Mark, my husband.

“Gail is always so friendly, and she always takes care of everyone.”  –Joel, my son.

“I love Gail.  She is so much fun.” –Skip, my neighbor.

The reviews are in, and they are all five stars.  Gail is all these things, and so much more.

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Gail will celebrate her 58th birthday on Wednesday, February 21st.  She doesn’t care that I divulged her age.  She is proud of it; we all know age is a gift.  She is planning a giant 60th birthday party already.   Gail, Suzanne and I will leave for our annual trip west a week after that.  We will celebrate in high style there—high in the Rocky Mountains.  We probably won’t tell you many details about how we celebrated, though.  Those are privileged secrets.

Gail is six years older than me, and ten years older than Suzanne.  She is the Big Sister Extraordinaire, the acting matriarch of our family now.  She had big shoes to fill, and she is filling them like no one else could.  She stepped into them in her usual grace, striding into her new role that she didn’t want, didn’t sign up for, but was heaped upon her.

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Whoo has the best big sister in the world?  Suzanne and I do!

Gail has always accepted whatever is laid at her feet.  No matter how small or how great, she tackles any challenge with an “I got this” attitude, long before “I got this” became a frequently used catchphrase by women of lesser strength—like me.

So, because she is my sister, and because there are stories to tell, I am going to share a few.  I have already shared my earliest memories of her working non-stop.  If, like most children, my earliest memories are recalled from around age four, Gail would have been ten.  She was already a small-scale Swiss Army Knife, helping Mom with all those tasks that must be performed for a large family:  child care, cooking, cleaning, laundry and on and on.  Mom used to tell the story of Gail waking up from a nap, still drowsy with eyes half-shut and walking by Mom changing the latest baby—it could have been me or my next older brother, or maybe even Suzanne—and she picked up the dirty cloth diaper as if on cue, taking it to the diaper pail while still waking up.  She didn’t need to be told; she knew.

It only intensified from there.  She picked up her pace and productivity, knocking out all that needed to be done without question or complaint.

She continues to knock it all out, and usually knocks it out of the park.  Gail does nothing halfway.  If a job is to be done, it is to be done right.

When she managed the Pizza Hut in Osborne, Suzanne worked for her for a time.  Suzanne confirmed that she did indeed run a tight ship.  She posted a sign that read:  IF YOU HAVE TIME TO LEAN, YOU HAVE TIME TO CLEAN.

Gail works hard, spins those plates I spoke of earlier.  If one plate is done spinning, she throws another up in its place.  She runs on more horsepower and cylinders than any of us dream of possessing.

Every time I hear the term “elbow grease,” I think of Gail.  As a young child who was learning that our language is filled with non-literal terms that don’t really mean what they say, I recall exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard that term, and of course, who said it:  Gail.

I was standing beside, or perhaps behind her as she washed dishes at the kitchen sink—an automatic dishwasher was unheard of; our parents had seven human ones.  She said something about scrubbing a dirty pan with elbow grease.  I remember looking at her elbow to see if there was any grease on it, or coming out of it.  I asked her if there was, and she said, yes, it did indeed have grease inside it, and that is what she was using to get the dishes clean.

I have never forgotten that, and I think of it every time I hear “elbow grease.”  So, as I was trolling eBay for her birthday gifts, I came upon this Rosie gift:

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Even though this effectively spoils the surprise for this small part of her gift bag of goodies, I had to include the picture of the small bar of soap in her bag.

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Mom and Dad had studio pictures taken of each of us around one year of age, and they hung on their living room wall.  As a child, Gail said she thought the reason her hair stood up on top is because she was sitting up on a stool.

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Gail does show kindness and empathy, but ultimately, she helps you get through whatever brings you down with a get over it/toughlove approach, even from a very young age as demonstrated here with me:

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If I stopped here, and you didn’t know Gail, you would think she was all business.  As we all know, all work and no play makes Rosie, Gail, or any other woman a dull girl, so I must tell you also how much fun she carries with her, and brings to anyone in her midst.

My earliest memories of Gail having fun are not necessarily good ones, at least not for her anyway.  I recall waking up at 2 a.m. early one Monday morning to the sound of Dad’s stern voice—it was only stern in such circumstances—when Gail arrived home from a Sunday “afternoon” at the lake with her friends at this hour.

She was grounded for I don’t know how long, and then Suzanne reminded me that as soon as she was released from house arrest, she committed a similar crime, and she was grounded again.

Not that it matters, but just for the record, Suzanne and I were never grounded.

From these earlier episodes of misbehavior grew a matured and more responsible sense of fun within Gail.  I wasn’t part of the train trip from Denver to Las Vegas that Gail and Suzanne went on with a handful of other thrill seekers, but I wish I had been.  I don’t know where I was or what kept me from this excursion, but if I had been able, I am sure I would have signed up too.

Apparently, the train staff didn’t anticipate that many thrill-seekers on one trip, so extreme measures were necessary:  On one stop, one male patron—I would call him a gentleman, but apparently he was not—had to be removed from the train for disorderly behavior.  While he was not initially part of Gail and Suzanne’s group, he apparently knew how to have fun, and was indeed having fun with their group.  Unlike Gail though, he apparently did not learn how to have mature and responsible fun.

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When Gail’s second daughter got married in Hawaii about seven years ago, Gail realized a long-held dream:  she zip-lined.  I, being less adventuresome, will likely never do this.  Nor will I bungee jump, like she has also done.  She is fearless, compared to me.

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When my husband and I were dating, he had a four month long out-of-town project in Osborne when Gail lived there.  His evenings were destined to be monotonous and boring as he stared at four motel room walls—until Gail reached out.  She invited him to join her bowling league, invited him to dinner at her home and always treated him like family.

One of his unique tastes is for anchovies on his pizza.  While not a topping she had listed on her menu, and not typically kept in stock (and not eaten by typical people), she made an exception for him.  She always had anchovies available for him when he wanted them on his pizza.

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Now, it’s time to get down to business.

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IT happened again.  I can’t put a name on IT, because it is so unspeakable.  We all know what IT is.

How can this happen again?  When is this going to stop?  How can one person have so much evil inside them?  What can we do?

The easy answer is to think that since it happened far away from us, happened to people we likely didn’t know, is to say our prayers for the victims and go on our way.  That’s what most of us have been doing all along—myself included.  It’s a good start, but we must do more.

The hard answer is to take a look at ourselves.  Find any small or large seeds of discontent in ourselves and find a way to turn them around.  We all want peace in our families, our communities our country; our world.  But we have to have it in ourselves first.  We can’t give away something we don’t have.

But I’m just one person, my actions don’t really matter,” you may think.  I often think this too.

But they do.  They create ripples, good or bad. And those ripples are far-reaching; we have no idea how far they can spread.

Consistently, it has been found that the people who perpetrate these heinous crimes have been ostracized from their peers; they have been set apart in a negative way.

The innate need to belong to the human group cannot be denied, no matter how much we may want to–myself included.  I find myself wanting to hole up alone more as I age.  But I need people.  Just like everyone else.  Without that connection, we wither as humans, we cannot become the people we were meant to be.

So, back to what can I do?  I can reach out, and you can too.  We can do something as simple as smile at a stranger, or something as complex as forgive an enemy, even if they think they did nothing wrong.  Forgive them in your heart, bless them, and let it go.  Roll your eyes if you have to; that’s how I get through it sometimes.  Forgiveness is really about freeing ourselves, not the other guy.  Letting go frees up a lot of space in our hearts and souls to be filled with good things like peace and positivity.  Try to see the conflict from their perspective.  Remember, often times, there ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, there’s only you and me, and we just disagree.

I can’t take any more of this, and I hope you can’t either.  I am searching for ways to crank it up at least  a notch; to find a means to share more peace and positivity. It is in me, and I need to get it out.

It’s in you, too.  I hope you find your unique ways to get it out there, because we all need it now more than ever.  We all need to share our gifts of peace, whatever they are.

Start within.  Find those seeds of discontent, and weed them out before they grow any bigger.  Forgive, and if you can’t forget, then bless them and send them good vibes.  Smile more.  Say thank you.  Tell someone you not only love them, but you like them too.  Say your prayers, whatever they are.

Speaking of prayers, I must use this platform to spread one of the most timeless ones, one that, if we all simply followed it, we may never have to say not again again.

I have written about The Letter our mother left, and I will likely write about it again.  She asked us to live our lives by the prayer of Saint Francis, commonly known as The Peace Prayer.

Along with The Letter, she left seven prayer cards, one for each of her children.  Per her written instructions, they were handed to each of us by the priest at their funeral in front of 500-plus people.

Given that, and in light of this week’s tragedy, I’m having a little trouble feeling that I don’t need to do a little more than I am already doing.   I want to say that I was trying my best, but I can do more.  I have put it just below my bathroom mirror, so that it stares at me every day until I say that prayer at least once daily.  And then I must do something about it.

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***********

This is heavy stuff, especially after Gail’s birthday tribute.  However, Gail has a birthday gift request for you:  She has a Facebook group called Mom’s Message–Instrument of Peace (click on about tab) that she started many years ago. ( If you had previously joined, somehow, Facebook zeroed out the membership, so please re-join.)  Go to it, and consider joining to further Mom’s message of peace, if you haven’t already.   Then, figure out what you can do.  Figure out what gifts of peace you can offer those in your life.  Also, if you are on board, and you are reading this through Facebook, consider reposting this blog on your page.

And, in honor of Gail, never forget this:

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Happy Birthday Gail.  Here’s a toast to peace.

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It’s time we put some elbow grease on this problem.  And don’t forget the ripple effect–what you and I do matters, so let’s do something good.

WE CAN DO IT!

 

LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH

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Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.

If you haven’t read PEACE, SISTER, one of my earlier posts dated July 16th, that is required prerequisite reading prior to reading the rest of this post.  My mother had a plan for moving forward after a mess like this.

Sometimes, I am sorry to say, my posts will not detail an excursion with my sisters.  They will not tell a funny story about some aspect of our lives.  They will not be light and airy, and they will not have many pictures.

We have all seen enough pictures lately.

However, from time to time, I may spotlight one of our brothers.  Oh my.

With God as our Father, brothers all are we.

Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.

We all woke up last Monday morning to the news of more heartbreak.   We are all thinking the same things:  How can this happen again?  Why does this happen over and over again?  Who can do such a horrific thingWhere will it happen next?  When?  And ultimately, What can we do?

We can start within.  We can look inside ourselves and find any thoughts,  feelings or ideas that  may cause harm, even to ourselves.   Especially to ourselves.

Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.

With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow.

Because, after all, that is where it starts.  Peace isn’t out there somewhere, it is in here.  If the scientific axiom energy can neither be created nor destroyed is true for human interaction as well, then our job is to turn any negative energy into positive energy, starting with our own.

Pray for good things to happen. Send good vibes.  Do good deeds.  Smile more.  Forgive more–including ourselves.  Believe that humans are capable of more good than bad, and act accordingly.  Believe the world is a good place.   Above all,  do something.

The ripple effect is real, so make sure your ripples are positive ones.

To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally,

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

I wrote the next part of this nearly two years ago.  It has sat on my computer since then; I didn’t have a plan for it.  I simply wrote it because it came to me that day.  I found it a few weeks ago, and though about posting it for International Day of Peace, which was September 21st.  Obviously, I didn’t.  Now, it is time.

I have some work to do.  I am not fully meeting my mother’s challenge I described in PEACE, SISTER.  I am not doing all I can to let it begin with me.  As long as there is something I can change within, something I can work on to bring peace to others,  I cannot feel powerless.  I cannot feel like there is nothing I can do to prevent any more tragedies like the one last week.

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LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH

“…and let it begin with me.”

This was the opening line in a one of my favorite songs we sang in the church I grew up in.  It was typically sung as the closing song, sending us on our way with a positive message.   I remember the priest who sang it joyfully as he walked out of the church.  I won’t forget the song or the words.

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I went to a shop in Breckenridge, Colorado about six months ago while I was there with my son and his friends on a ski trip. (There were many shops I went to, but I digress…)  This shop—The Joy of Sox—had a wide selection of socks, but other gift items as well.  I am drawn magnetically to the clearance rack in any store, and way in the back, I found it in this store.  It was filled with various gift items, and several clothing items.  There was one shirt on this rack, a long-sleeved, rust-colored tee-shirt that featured the iconic PEACE sign, with these words underneath:  Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.  It was my size, and the only one there.  Like the peace sign, I took it as a sign.  So I took it to the register, and then I took it home.

Since that was in March, I put it away in my stash for the next season.   I pulled it out the other day, and decided it was time for its debut.  Today, Thursday, November 19th, 2015, I wore it for the first time.  I felt empowered by its message, I felt accountable to those words somehow, but I wasn’t sure how.  I didn’t act on it right away, I just wore it.  I looked down at the symbol and words on my chest several times throughout the day, and thought perhaps I should do something to be an instrument of peace, like my mother so kindly asked me to.

But I didn’t, really.  I just went about my day.

My last appointment of the day was with a woman younger than me who was rendered almost speechless by a stroke nearly several years ago, just days after her birthday.  She lived with her husband and young son in what I perceived as substandard housing in my perception of a substandard marriage.  When I arrived, there was no peace to be found.  She was in tears by an accidental, minor physical injury inflicted upon her by her husband, which was apparently overshadowed by the emotional injury due to his apparent lack of concern and caring.  Clearly, through her tears, we would not be accomplishing much today.  Her injuries needed to be examined, and our protocol was to call the Home Health nurse in charge of her plan of care, so I did.  I wanted to leave and let the nurse take over whenever she got there, but I sensed she needed me for the female companionship; the understanding I could provide until the nurse arrived about an hour later.  But–selfishly–I was impatient with this situation because I had things to do, groceries to buy, gas to put in my car and a sick teenage son to tend to at home, but I stayed.  I realized I needed to take the advice on my own shirt, so I let it begin with me.   I continued to attempt to provide speech therapy, mostly to distract her from her physical and emotional pain, not expecting any measurable results.

Perhaps rage can bring new strength, or a hotter fire burning inside to move forward and work harder, because on this peace-less day, in what a appeared to be war-torn marriage, in this shambled house, with one of her young sons present, she spoke her son’s name for the first time since her stroke.  It was a moment speech therapists live for.  The joy on her son’s face was priceless, and brought us all a small measure of peace.  It began with me.

I left her home an hour and fifteen minutes later after the nurse arrived–she was okay, and proceeded to the grocery store for my weekly triple-digit expenditure.  It usually takes me about an hour, and I typically treat a trip to the grocery store as the business it is, hoping not to make it a social hour.  In my small city, however, it is difficult to go out to any public place and not see someone I know.

Today, I kept my head down and my nose to the grindstone, and got my shopping done.  At one point, I thought I saw that one woman, the one, who, for reasons I won’t explain, I don’t feel completely at peace with.  I have toyed with the idea of seeking her out to offer an apology, but part of me doesn’t feel it was my fault.  Perhaps I should let it begin with me, but then again, maybe she should let it begin with her.  I’ll let you know how that works out.

I avoided the woman, just in case it was her.  I made it out of the store, and headed to the parking lot.  I reached my car with my cart, and had to turn around to do a double take.  It was another woman I knew; she and I had not always been at peace.  We resolved that about four years ago, just after her mother died.

I saw her at a public event shortly after her mother died, and, feeling her pain, I reached out to her.  I approached her, and offered her my heartfelt sympathy.  I told her how sorry I was, and that I knew the pain of losing one’s mother.  I knew her mother, she was kind and full of love, just like mine was.  I moved cautiously closer to suggest an embrace, perhaps a light hug, and she reciprocated.  We hugged that day, and the old pain fell away as we both felt the new and more acute pain of being motherless.  We soothed each other; I felt better too.

“Thank you for reaching out to me,” she said.  She meant it.  It felt so good to me, I had made peace.  The old hurts—whatever they were—had fallen away because both of us knew that pettiness had no space in our lives any more after a loss of such great magnitude.  We both spoke a new language, and we understood it too.

Today, in the grocery store parking lot, we hugged again.  We spoke of life after loss, and how good it can be; how good it is for each of us, and the peace we feel, as well as the feeling we both carry here:  I placed my hand on my heart.

“They are with us here now, all the time.  It feels good, doesn’t it?”  I asked her.

She smiled, and agreed.  “Yes.  Yes it does.”   We hugged again, and parted ways.

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Perhaps there is a space created in a woman after her mother dies, a space her mother so carefully carved throughout all her years on earth with us, a space she wanted us to fill with peace and positivity after she dies.  Perhaps all the love she showered upon us here on earth is the seed she so purposefully planted in her daughter’s heart for her work to continue through her daughter after she leaves her.  Perhaps the death of a woman’s mother, her departure from the earthly plane into the next dimension can ultimately propel a woman forward to create a life of greater meaning, depth and, of course, peace.  Perhaps, like the woman I saw today, I have accepted the challenge, and it will be a lifelong goal of mine to do my best to live it out.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. 

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Sitting with my brother, in perfect harmony.  Ryan and his family came to town last night, and we enjoyed the evening together.  It was the perfect time to wear the shirt.

 

Dedicated to all those affected by the Las Vegas tragedy.

 

HAPPY SISTER’S DAY

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HAPPY SISTER’S DAY

Typically, I don’t bat an eye at any specially designated day that is invented by someone trying to separate me—or anyone else—from time or money.

National Sister’s Day, however, is one I have decided to pay homage to.  However, Gail and Suzanne, you won’t get any gifts from me, not even a card.  You will get something better.

Let me first extend my heartfelt, genuine sympathy to any reader who is mourning the loss of their sister, and who may feel compounded grief from the observation of this day—without their sister.

It must be what I feel on and around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.   I wish those two days were wiped off the calendar.

They should be.  In my egocentric, the-world-should-revolve-around-me mind, nobody should be able to celebrate them if I can’t celebrate them.  When I am ambushed by the Mother’s Day Card display, or the ads for Father’s Day gifts, I roll my eyes and give a strong, glottal teenage-girl “uh.”

Not fair.

But fair, as we all know, comes only once a year, and it may have already left your town.

**

Today, as I write this, those who choose to are observing National Sister’s Day.  According to several online sources, its beginnings are traced back to 2011, when the first Sunday of August was designated as Sister’s Day.   I was not able to find any concise report on how it started, or who started it.

Nevertheless, social media—and other forms as well—are promoting it as a day to be observed.  So for worse or better–as it has become in our country–if social media reports it, then it is noticed.

I, for one, am observing it.  I have two great reasons to do so.

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The sun smiles down on Gail and me, and the moon is smiling upon Suzanne and me.

**

I will not see either of my sisters today, but I will call them to let them know how glad I am they are my sisters.

* I will tell them how much fun I have with them when we travel, or when we get together for any reason.

* I will tell them I couldn’t have hand-picked two finer sisters if it were up to me to choose.

*I will tell them I cherish all the memories we made as children, and especially as adults.

*I will tell them how much I appreciate that they accept me for who I am; faults, foibles, foolishness and all.

*I will tell them that I couldn’t have survived the loss of our parents without them.

*I will tell them that I love them.

They likely know all this already, but I need to tell them again.

**

My mother had three sisters, and no brothers.  She had a unique relationship with each of them because of a series of events in her young life.   Her older sister, Jeanne, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma—cancer in both retinas—at 18 months of age.   This was in the mid 1930’s.  Her eyes were removed, and she was not expected to live a long and full life, yet she did.

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She went The Kansas School For The Blind in Kansas City, so she was gone most of the time.   Their mother passed away when our mother was eight, which would have made Jeanne about 11.  Their father remarried a wonderful woman named Madeline when Mom was a teenager, who became the only grandmother we ever knew because our dad was an only child, and his mother died when he was eight as well.

In the last few years, I found out just how excited Mom was to have a new mother.   She wrote in a journal as an adult, reflecting back on her excitement about her dad’s new wife.  She was so impatient at the prospect of getting another brother or sister, and she started a rumor that she was indeed getting one.  That fact had yet to be established, but Mom yearned for a sister.

She got two more.  Reitha arrived when she was 17, and Sharon came two years later.

They became our cool, younger aunts, only 10 and 12 years older than me.  They would often make the 3-hour trip to our farm from Wichita.  Jeanne sometimes came along, sometimes she rode the bus part of the way, and we would pick her up.

Jeanne, against medical predictions, went on to marry, have two sons, become a medical transcriptionist at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Wichita, maintain an active social life and play the organ like nobody’s business.  She passed away at the age of 71.  Her husband continues to live alone in Wichita.  He is blind too, but lives independently with a little help.

Reitha and Sharon would first bring their boyfriends to the farm, then husbands, and finally husbands and children.

In my mind, as a child, my mother’s singular role was that of a mother to the seven of us; it has occurred to me only as an adult that she, too, treasured sisterhood.

Mom remained close to Jeanne until she died.  Reitha, Sharon and Mom were as close as they could be with three hours between them, and they worked together to take care of their mother until she passed six days before Mom and Dad.

We have honored that bond Mom had with her sisters; they are pictured below with one of our brothers several years ago at my home for an Independence Day celebration.  (My 2nd favorite holiday, if you recall.)  Left-right:  Reitha, David, Sharon.

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I realize I am a fortunate woman to have a close relationship with both of my sisters, and for them to be close to each other as well.

I realize this may be more of an exception than a rule for many sisters.  I know several sisters who, at best, despise each other.

I realize many of you have a sister or sisters whom you are not close to.  Perhaps you simply don’t keep in touch.  Perhaps you don’t get along well.  Or, worst of all, perhaps you are at odds, and choose to remain estranged.

In keeping with my mother’s last wish, I feel I have a job to do.  On this day created to observe the joys of sisterhood, I feel that perhaps, I need to try to be that Instrument of Peace that she so kindly asked me to be (see Peace, Sister posted on 7/16/17).

Perhaps you have no desire to ever speak to your sister again.  Perhaps you feel she wronged you past the point of reconciliation.  Perhaps you wronged her, and you simply don’t know where to start.

Or, perhaps you have no idea what came between you and her, and has kept you apart.  Perhaps she has no idea either.  Perhaps you are both waiting for the other to start the peace process.

Worst of all, perhaps you hold a grudge, and have no desire to let it go.  As ugly as a grudge can be, it may have become a part of you, and letting go in order to work toward peace would be, well, work.  It may be easier to just hang on to it, as wicked as it may be.

But here’s the thing about grudges.  They are toxic.  Grudges grant precious real estate in your brain to someone else, rent free.  They hurt you more than the person they are against.  It is as if you are drinking the poison, and expecting them to be poisoned.   Further, they may not even have any idea why you are carrying a grudge against them.

Worse yet for you, they may not care.  Perhaps they did at one point, but gave up hope.  Remember from several of my previous posts that giving up hope when it involves changing another person is a good thing.

In the event that you are thinking, I should reach out to her, but I don’t know what to say, you are in luck.

Because my profession as a speech-language pathologist involves helping someone who is struggling to find words to do just that, I am going to give you a free session, no strings attached.

Because I am a wordsmith with the written word, I am offering below a bounty of words, phrases and sentences to say to your sister, just in case, like my patients, your words are hard to find:

*Can we talk?

*I’m sorry.

*I have forgiven you.

*I was wrong.

*There are two sides to every story.  I will listen to yours if you listen to mine. 

*I think we are looking at this in two very different ways.

*I know we may never be as close as we once were, but I think we can make this better.

*I know I have changed, and that may be hard for you.

*I don’t want us to end our sister relationship because of this.

*I don’t want to feel like this forever. 

*We don’t have to try to be friends, but we need to try to get rid of these bad feelings between us. 

*Let’s agree to disagree.

**

If you need to make peace with your sister, please think about doing it today, or as soon as possible.  Help me honor my mother’s wish by allowing me to be an Instrument of Peace, or at least a catalyst.   Just pick up the 500-lb. phone already, and call her.  Or email her.   Text her.  Send her a snail mail card or letter.   Send her this post.

And if the shoe fits, remember the lyric from that great 70’s song I referred to a few posts ago:  There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, there’s only you and me, and we just disagree.

My wish for you is that you have a sister or sisters to share the love with today.  Just be sure to let her/them know.

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Gail, Suzanne, me; circa (about) 1974.

 

This post is dedicated to Reitha, Sharon, Marilyn, Tracy, Denise, Gwenna, Sue and Tisha, and anyone else whose sister is smiling down from Above.

 

 

 

PEACE, SISTER

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This post was written in January, as I was preparing to launch my blog.   (Clearly, it took me a bit longer than that.)  There will be no post next Sunday night, as one of my sisters and I are taking the trip we postponed as described below.  Of course, there will be a post about this trip when I get back—Thanks for visiting my blog!

PEACE, SISTER

If I live to be a thousand years old, I will never understand how a person can inflict harm, pain, injury and/or death upon any other human being in the name of peace, in the name of war, or in the name of their god.

Another mass shooting occurred in a major airport in our country just a few days ago, a day after I was scheduled to arrive in a nearby major airport—with one of my sisters.  We had already postponed the trip due to an ice storm here, and bad weather there.

In the name of my kind of peace, I am writing about this awful reality.  I didn’t mean to make it so heavy so soon, but it begged to be written, so here it is.  I promised to keep these posts optimistic, so I will bring you back up before the end.

**

Our mother used to ask “Why can’t people just get along?”  Good question, Mom.  Let’s dissect it.

Because we are human.  Because we are flawed.  Because we are inclined to believe we are always right, and the other guy is always wrong.  Because we are in agony inside.  Because we think the other guy needs to make peace.  Because we don’t all define peace in the same way.  Because we can’t see past our own perceptions.  Because we choose to see the darkness instead of the light.  Because hurt people hurt people.   Just because.

What in the world can we do to keep this madness from happening again in this crazy world?  We feel helpless, we feel paralyzed with fear, but that gets us nowhere.

FEAR:  False Evidence Appearing Real.  I found that acronym and its meaning written somewhere in Mom’s handwriting after she was gone.  I had seen it before, apparently it was one of her favorites; she wrote down what she liked.    It’s a good one.  Fear is paralyzing in itself, and it gets us nowhere.  And there is usually no good reason for it.  Like when I am flying.

Mom loved to write.  Not books or poetry or anything long, but she would write quotes, quips, and letters.  None, however, were more memorable than The Letter.

The Letter Mom left was a masterpiece, a directive; a treasure. She kindly asked us, after telling us this would be the last time she would try to tell us what to do, to live lives of peace.  She was specific about her request; she left it in no uncertain terms, no easy ways out; no loopholes.  (I’ve looked hard, there are none.)  She asked us in front of 500 people, leaving it with a note to be read at her funeral.  She asked us to live our lives by the Prayer of Saint Francis, commonly known as the Prayer for Peace.

Saint Francis was clearly a Christian, and while he is most commonly associated with the Catholic Church, he is revered and honored by many Protestant churches as well.  He is known as the patron saint of animals, and many churches observe his feast day of October 4th with a ceremony to bless animals.

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Please know that I respect any religious views, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else.  A major tenet of all world religions is kindness toward other humans, and this prayer exemplifies that very principle.   I am biased, I know, but I feel the core of this prayer is a universal message that needs to be heard, whether you are a Christian or not, a believer or an atheist.

Saint Francis was a living, breathing, imperfect human being who struggled like we all do, but also in a unique way that most of us likely never will.  He was born into a wealthy family who prospered in the textile trade.  He lived in Assisi, France from 1181-1226 A.D.  He chose to give up his riches, privilege and a life of comfort in order to lead the life that led him to write the following prayer.

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“Make me an instrument of your peace.”  It begins.  Note that it doesn’t ask for peace to be delivered on a platter to the person praying it, it asks for them to be a vessel, a tool, a worker bee.  It goes on to cover every possibility, every eventuality that any human could encounter, any situation whereby one may expected to be this instrument of peace in a situation that needs it.  It actually asks for work to be heaped upon the person praying it.

“Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”  We were never allowed to use the “H” word in our house, not in reference to a person.  We could hate their actions, but we couldn’t hate them.  She was grooming us for this task even then.

“Where there is injury, pardon.”  Mom loved the sitcom “Happy Days,” we all did.  Especially Fonzie, who could never say he was ‘sorry.’  He would drag the ‘s’ out, starting with “I’m ssss…,” but he could never completely say he was sorry; couldn’t utter that word.  For most of us—myself included, saying “sorry” is hard work.  Harder than that, is forgiving the person who cannot say they are sorry, even when they know they should—like Fonzie.  Hardest of all is forgiving the person who doesn’t even know they wronged you.

As a writer, I keep a prayer journal.  I try to write daily, petitioning for my own needs, as well as for so many hurting people.  In my imperfect efforts, I try—as much as it hurts—to pray for those whom I feel have wronged me.  It is hard, so hard that I can only write their initials.  There are seven sets of initials I write each time.  Not long ago, I looked back over those seven sets of initials, representing seven separate hurts I carry around.  I realized that if all seven could see their initials there, and know why they are there, five of them would likely say “What did I ever do to you?”  Some may even have the gall to say “You hurt me, I didn’t hurt you.”

Most of us, I feel, carry around such hurts, and the person who inflicted the pain on us has no idea, no sense that they did anything wrong.

Did they?  Or did I?  All I know is I need peace inside when I think of them, and I clearly don’t have it.   Dave Mason’s 70’s song comes to mind:  “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy.  There’s only you and me, and we just disagree.” 

Forgiving them, forgiving myself and moving on is the pardon this prayer speaks of.

“Where there is doubt, faith.”  Mom had an undeterred, rock-solid faith in God.  All she had to do for this one was set her example for us to see in her every action, every word, every deed, and every thought, when we were able to read them.  We usually couldn’t.  She remained a mystery in a good way.

Where there is despair, hope.”  None of my siblings remember her saying it, but I do.  One of her best quotes—I think—is this: “Since I gave up hope, I feel so much better.”  In her infinite wisdom, I believe she was speaking of giving up hope only when it involved changing another person.  The kind of hope she wanted us to bring is the kind that shows people that faith in God can chase away the dark clouds that hang over all of us from time to time, sometimes hanging over some people too long for them to dispel them by themselves.

Where there is darkness, light.”  I lived in several basement apartments in college.  Sunlight was a precious commodity in the little windows where it managed to seep in at certain times of the day.  After that, no matter where I lived, I maximized the sunlight through the windows.  I never shut the blinds during the day.  As I write this, I am just now realizing that perhaps my mother’s example in our childhood home set this tone for me. She pulled the curtains only when someone was lying sick in the living room—which became a temporary hospice room–in order to provide them the most comfort.  The curtains, where we had them, were always light colored.   We lived on a farm, so we didn’t have any peeping neighbors to worry about.   She always tried to live in the light.  Again, she was plotting.

“Where there is sadness, joy.”  At the expense of her own potential joy, Mom strived to bring joy to others.  She didn’t care about her own first, instead, she knew that if she brought it to others, then this would bring her the ultimate joy.  I continue to reap what she sowed, I find the seeds of joy she planted in small and large things in so many aspects of my life.  It is now my job to continue to harvest them, and most importantly, replant them for others.

**

“Oh divine master, grant that I may seek not so much to be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

**

And there you have it.  A perfect prescription for living peace in everything you do, think, feel and say.  A tall order, I might add.  Since she put it in writing, and made sure it was read in front of everyone at their funeral, we really can’t break this contract, even though we didn’t agree to it; didn’t sign it.

Every day, I try to live by these words.  Gail gave all the females in the family a bracelet with this prayer engraved on it, and I wear it nearly every day as a reminder.   Most days I fail, some days I fail miserably.  But I keep trying.  I must give it my best.  If you’re not already doing it, I hope you will take these words and let them seep in, and then let them be the words you try to live by, too.

That was Mom’s wish in The Letter.  If we all follow Mom’s order, then perhaps her question would no longer have to be asked.

Along with The Letter, Mom left each of us a prayer card with this prayer on it.  We learned from her friend that she wrote The Letter about ten years before she died, and likely prepared the envelope with the seven cards in it at that time.   It’s the last gift—and the most meaningful gift she gave me to carry, and to carry on without her.

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The original letter sits in a safe deposit box in a bank vault.  While it was read to 500 people at their funeral, it remains a valuable and personal treasure for the seven of us, her “Magnificent Seven,” as she called us.  Therefore, to honor this privacy, it will not be shared.

Instead, please know that my parents were incredible Instruments of Peace.  To honor that, we chose to have this prayer engraved on the back of their headstone.  Any act of peace—small or great—is a tribute to them, and to all of humanity.  We are all in this together.

It bears mentioning that Dad’s middle name was Francis.  And, our current pope–Pope Francis–chose his name in honor of Saint Francis.

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Peace, sister.  Peace, brother.  Peace, everyone.