Sorrow From the Sandlot

This morning I found out that my childhood best friend lost her father yesterday.  I haven’t stayed in close touch with Dawn over the years, but she was my best friend during the best years of my childhood.  In the late 70s, we had moved from California to Little Rock, AR as a result of my dad’s job.  Dawn was the first friend I made, and it seems we almost instantly became fast friends.  We spent three years in Arkansas – just three years out of my 48 – but those three years were the best years of my childhood.  Sometimes I think they were the best three years of my life.  I was at an age where I was old enough to be allowed to go out, run around the neighborhood and woods, and play without supervision – living a  tomboy’s dream.  But I was young enough that I didn’t know all of the bad things that could happen or were going on in the world.  There was a lot of upheaval, as there always is in life, and yet for me, none really existed.  It was just a great time in a great place with the best of friends.

Dawn DeannaDawn and I both had a strong tomboy spirit.  We didn’t mind getting dirty and we played football and all kinds of other sports.  We even competed together against a bunch of boys in a Punt, Pass and Kick competition.  I’m pretty competitive, and so was Dawn, so when she beat me in that competition, I wasn’t real happy about it.  What I was happy about was that she and I took 1st and 2nd place in a competition in which we were the only girls.  It’s one of my great memories, and the truth is we were girls who could kick butt!

Dawn had an amazing family.  She had the most beautiful mom of any friend I ever had.  She was stunning, and she was kind.  I didn’t spend much time with Dawn’s dad.  I dare say, he probably didn’t even remember me after a number of  years went by, but I remembered him.  I remembered the family he led and raised, of his influence on his family and what wonderful people they all were as a result.  Over the years after we moved back to CA, I lost touch with Dawn until 16 years later when we reconnected.  We spoke on the phone and said we would stay in touch, but then like most people do, we got busy with our lives and lost touch again.  It would be another 12 years or so before we eventually reconnected on Facebook, and in doing so have been able to keep up with each other’s lives even though we haven’t seen each other in more than 30 years, nor have we spoken voice-to-voice since that day in 1996.  Facebook can be a curse sometimes, but in circumstances like this, it is a blessing beyond belief!

So this morning, when I found out about her dad’s passing, I was surprised at how it affected me.  I just sat there and cried and cried, brokenhearted for her, her mom and her family. Pucek family I’ve experienced a lot of loss in life, and I’m always touched and have deep sympathies for the loved ones that are left behind, but this was different.  Maybe it’s because I’m dealing with my own aging parents and the health struggles they endure.  That is a reality my generation is now facing with our parents, aunts and uncles.  We don’t like to think about the losses that may be coming in our own lives, so it hits us harder when that reality is right in front of us.  But it is more than just that piece.  This loss affected someone incredibly important to me, with whom I have such a deep connection in my heart and spirit.  Someone whose friendship I have carried with me and inside my heart all these years.  This loss reminded me of something, and not just the truth of how painful loss can be.  It reminded me of how special and uplifting true connections of the heart can be.  It reminded me that when you love and care about someone, it transcends time, space, and circumstances.  It makes them a special kind of chosen family.  Our experiences with them shape our lives.  They open a vault in our memory in which these experiences are placed, and it lasts forever.  It preserves them forever.

Both Dawn and I have undoubtedly gone through many things in our lives that have been difficult to endure.  Difficult losses or the challenges that come with day to day living.  But you know what?  She is my friend.  In movie terms, she is my “Sandlot” friend, my “Stand By Me” friend.  And today, she and her family are grieving.  Today I weep and I grieve with them.  I honor the life of my dear friend’s father and lift prayers for the entire family and all the friends whose lives he (and they) have touched.

So today, I want to remind you all to take a few moments and open the vault that contains all the memories of those meaningful relationships and amazing friendships you’ve had over the course of your life.  If you are still in touch with them, remind them of how much they have meant to you and the difference they made in your life.  If you have no idea where they are or what ever happened to them, stop and send up positive thoughts and prayers of gratitude for their role in your world.

shutterstock_184599686The movie “Stand By Me” ends with the following words:  “It happens sometimes.  Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in restaurants. … I never had any friends later on like I the ones I had when I was twelve.  Jesus, does anyone?”

Much love and prayers for the Don Pucek family

And blessings to everyone.

When You Don’t Feel Thankful…

shutterstock_159498437It’s that time of year again when everyone is supposed to stop and count their blessings and be thankful for all the things in their lives.  But what if things feel so bad in your life that you’ve lost the ability to see the good things, or to even believe they exist anymore?  What if you are depressed by current events or financial problems?  What if you are in the middle of a difficult or challenging situation that is overwhelming your mind?  Or what if you are experiencing sadness, hurt or disappointment that is overwhelming your heart?  What if you don’t FEEL thankful?  I ask because I need the answer myself.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time for us to gather together to count our blessings and remember all God has done for us.  Most of us have time off at some point for the holiday weekend where we have the opportunity to stop and reflect, but often that reflection never happens or it is clouded by all the distractions going on around us.  Thanksgiving, for many, has become nothing more than a long weekend filled with family arguments, frantic shopping, and stress of other obligations. For some, it has turned from an opportunity to relax and reflect, into four days of elevated heart rates, packed schedules and frustrated hearts and minds.  For others, it is nothing more than a reminder of what they have lost or never had in life – whether it is family, love or material possessions.

It’s hard going into the holiday season when there are things in your life that are weighing you down.  I think we’ve all experienced that sensation one year or another.  For me, there is a lot on my heart and mind.  Much of it I cannot share with anyone because it is something that needs to stay between me and God for right now, but it weighs heavily on me.  Then you add the loss of holiday traditions that I used to love, and stresses of work and home, and I find myself overwhelmed by it all.  shutterstock_213079855Then I look around, and all I see is a coming weekend of frenetic activity that revolves around everything BUT something positive.  It doesn’t make me feel very thankful at all.  It makes me feel depressed, which then causes me to start thinking about everything that’s wrong or all the stuff I need to do.  It sucks the gratitude right out of me, because the majority of the negative things I’m thinking about are valid.  There ARE things that need to be resolved, things that ARE frustrating, things that DO hurt me.  It’s all true, so how am I supposed to stop and be thankful?  We must find ways to stop the madness, both externally and internally, so that we are able to find peace in the midst of the storms and thankfulness in the midst of our chaos.  Here are some practical things to consider…

  1. Learn to say “No.” – I know it sounds selfish, but we all need to learn the word “no,” especially around the holidays. Do not commit to so many events, cooking, volunteering or family get-togethers that you are running continually from one thing to another.  It’s okay to want to do all these things, but there are only 24 hours in a day and if you do not learn to say no, you will drain yourself to a point where you cannot do any more.  Trust me, you will eventually break down in some way.  Instead, decide what is most important to you and let the rest go.  Besides, when you take it upon yourself to do everything someone asks you to do (or you think you need to do), you may be robbing someone else of the blessing of being able to step in and help or participate.  You aren’t a martyr, so stop acting like one and set some boundaries.
  2. Create your own personal tradition – Traditions can be wonderful but life happens and sometimes those traditions end up changing or even disappearing completely because they involve others. Consider creating some traditions for yourself that do not depend on anyone else.  For example, decide you are going to spend a certain amount of time doing something you enjoy.  It might be taking a walk, listening to music, getting coffee, painting, or whatever floats your boat.  Make it something you can do whether someone else joins you or not.  If you are a person of faith, you can decide to set aside an amount of time – whether it is days, hours or even just a few minutes – where you get by yourself, turn off all the technology that is constantly pinging at you, and spend that time with your heavenly Father.  It can be talking to Him or reading His word, but make it time just for you and Him.  It is GREAT to have traditions with family and friends, but make sure you have some traditions just for you that are totally in your control.  That way you won’t feel so sad or resentful when someone else fails to uphold traditions you used to treasure.
  3. Rest – I suppose this could go hand-in-hand with learning to say no, but you NEED to find time to rest. The holidays are filled with frenetic activity and even if you aren’t actively participating in all of it, the pace swirling around you will inevitably affect you.  It’s like standing in the middle of a crowd that is fighting with each other even if you aren’t fighting.  The stress of it all will still affect you even if you just stand there.  Not participating in the holiday madness, doesn’t automatically mean you are resting!  Resting is something we have devalued in our society and we need to get back to taking time to stop now and then.  Go to bed at a decent hour and rest so that you are able to truly enjoy the things you choose to do each day.  If you choose to participate in something that has you out late (or all night) then prepare and plan to take time the next day to rest, instead of engaging in all kinds of activities.  If you don’t take time to truly rest, you will find yourself much more susceptible to the natural stresses that occur during this time of the year.  Your fuse will be shorter and it will be almost impossible to not feel drained on all fronts.
  4. Pray – You can pray anywhere, any time. I’m not talking about the prayers you hear in church or on TV where it is filled with the “right” things to say and a bunch of “Lords,” “Fathers”, “thees” and “thous” but the kind of prayer that God actually takes delight in!  TALK to God.  Talk to Him like you would your best friend.  If you’re angry, then tell Him.  He already knows it anyway so you might as well be honest.  If you’re sad or confused, then tell Him.  Ask Him to help you because He has promised that He will!  You don’t have to spend a certain amount of time praying or get on your knees.  I pray all the time in my car, just talking to Him and telling Him what I’m afraid of, worried about, or need help with.  I tell Him things that I thought were funny or things that made my day.  Sometimes it is as simple as me saying, “Hey God, I was just thinking about how much I don’t want to go to work this morning, so would you please help me get through the day?  ”  That’s it.  No fanfare and no righteous verbiage.   I think He would much rather have us, as His children, just call Him like we do anyone else we have a relationship with.  He already knows everything, but when you talk to Him like you would anyone else, it makes your relationship much more real and prayer no longer feels like an obligation.  He enjoys hearing from us just like we enjoy it when our kids (or others) talk to us and want to keep us in the loop of their lives – even if we already know what they are about to tell us.  And when God becomes real to us, then everything else changes.

Listen, no one ever said life was easy.  We all have things that hit us and knock us down and steal our joy or gratitude, but making changes so that it can be restored can sometimes be just as hard.  When you start setting boundaries and taking care of yourself, there are others around you who will not be happy.  Don’t expect otherwise because it often requires them to adjust also, and change isn’t easy for most people.  There are others who will have strong opinions and be more than happy to share them with you.  They may try to make you see how “selfish you are being,” or get upset because you won’t join in everything they think you should be doing.  But you see, they aren’t the ones who have to live with those choices or who have to answer to God for them.  We are told to be thankful and to give thanks in ALL things, not just the good stuff or what we think is the good stuff.  That being said, in order to clear the clutter out of your head and heart so that you are able to be thankful, you have to sometimes make difficult choices or change the way you approach things. Taking some of those steps listed above may initially cause stress for others but the bottom line is you are not responsible for everyone else.  You are responsible for doing whatever is necessary so that you can prepare your own heart to be reminded of everything that you truly do have.  That is often easier said than done.

shutterstock_223186420There is much for which to be grateful.  If you’re reading this, it means you woke up this morning.  It means you took another breath.  It means your heart beat another time.  That means anything is possible today, tomorrow, or any time to come.  What’s in the past is past, and the possibilities are endless for the future, but you will never be able to step back and appreciate that truth without a conscious effort.  You can’t wait until you FEEL thankful, because the cares of this world will absolutely choke you until you can’t see anything else.   You will never begin to feel thankful until you actually become thankful, and becoming thankful is something we should all strive for. When we take care of ourselves (in all areas), our hearts become softened to the whispers of our Father.  When we rest, we are able to contemplate.  When we reflect and contemplate on things, we begin to see the true meaning of life and nature of God.  And when we see the true nature of God, we cannot help but become thankful.  Becoming thankful is a choice based on what we know to be true.  Once we become thankful, we begin to feel thankful, and it is then we are able to deepen our roots so that we are able to reach out in greater ways to the world around us and share a true spirit of gratitude and love.  And that, my friends is what thanksgiving is all about.

Blessings!

Life From Death

shutterstock_156553007I watched a video recently from the Smithsonian Channel that was showing how plants have their own version of nerves and electrical impulses (video link posted below).   Although this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone since they are living organisms, it still made me stop and think about a few things.  Just stay with me for a few moments on this.  First of all, after seeing the video, I joked about the fact that this creates a very difficult position for people who don’t eat meat because they claim they don’t want to “kill” something.  I am mostly vegetarian for health reasons but it’s always interesting to listen to those who see themselves as more holy, compassionate, enlightened or evolved than others because they claim to be treating all living things as equal.  I’ve always said that everything we eat was alive at some point (if you exclude the processed crap that is out there).  If you say you refuse to eat anything that has life, then you will most likely starve.  Even most dirt contains particles from things that were once living.

Call me a “hippie” if you want, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that the things we eat have given their life for ours, regardless of what it is.  We are sustained by consuming plants and/or animals that had to die so we could live.  If we stop to think about that truth, it should cause us to be more grateful and respectful toward the things we eat.  Eating should be an honorable endeavor.  Quite frankly, it should make us a little more humble and a little less arrogant about the life around us.  Just because we must eat to survive doesn’t mean we should do it without thought or appreciation for the sacrifice.

shutterstock_133769489This is Easter weekend.   People of faith around the world are commemorating the death, burial and resurrection of their Lord and Savior…and I am certainly one of them.   As I thought about this whole thing with food, I found a striking similarity for those of us who identify ourselves as “believers.”    I have been redeemed and changed by the fact that Jesus died on a cross for my sins.  I am forgiven.  I am spiritually alive.  I am alive because God promised me I am alive.   John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  And the reason I have everlasting life is because Jesus  (who is God Himself)  was willing to lay down His life and sacrifice it for mine.  He endured the most terribly painful, humiliating and horrific torture and death…and He endured it all for ME.  He endured it for YOU.  He did it because He loves us with a love that we can’t completely understand.  He did it before we loved Him.  He gave His life for mine, and just as I should respect and honor the sacrifice of the living things that died so I can eat and be nourished, I should even more so honor and respect the sacrifice the God of the universe made so that I can live eternally.

shutterstock_177898622You see, nothing comes without some kind of sacrifice.  There are no free rides in life.  Somewhere, somehow, someone or something paid (or will pay) the price.  How amazing it is that God knew I had a debt that I could never repay so He humbled Himself and confined Himself to an earthly body so that He could live among mankind and redeem me by taking my place on the cross.  He took my beatings.  He took the ugliness of the torture and the betrayal of His friends.  God, the creator of the universe,who could have called ten thousand angels to kill everyone involved, let them spit on Him for my sake.  He allowed them to nail Him to a tree and mock Him as He hung there.  And then, when it was time, He said “It is finished,” and dismissed His spirit.  They didn’t take His life from Him, He dismissed it Himself.  He willingly gave it up…and He did it for me.

But that wasn’t the end.  Praise God that wasn’t the end!  Because on Easter morning, the stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus came out alive!  It isn’t just His death that gives me life, it is His resurrection!  That is why people of faith around the world celebrate this holiday.  That is why we gather in churches across the world with fellow believers and sing praises to the One who didn’t just die for me, but He ROSE for me!  He conquered death and hell and as a result, has both the ability and authority to set me free forever!  I cannot help but sing out the words to that song…”My chains are gone!  I’ve been set free!  My God, my Savior has ransomed me.  And like a flood, His mercy reigns…unending love, amazing grace.”

shutterstock_74847238So this Easter season, I pray we are all filled with the assurance that we are loved beyond comprehension by the One who has the power to redeem us not only for eternity, but for every day and every moment.  I pray we pause to consider His sacrifice and honor it by spending more time living a life filled with genuine love, not judgment, for others.  We are all just sinners saved by His grace, and the sooner we realize the only reason we live is because He died, the sooner our arrogance and pride will fade into a humble gratitude for the unspeakable gift He gave.

Blessings!

Click here to watch “Do Plants Respond To Pain?”

I Still Believe…

Every year I get out my Christmas decorations and put them up the weekend after Thanksgiving.  In the midst of my decorations each year sits a framed letter I wrote to Santa when I was only nine years old.  I don’t always stop to re-read it but this year I took a few extra moments to do so and decided to share it with all of you.

photo 2As cute as I find that letter, it strikes me how much I can see my adult self in that little girl’s note.   I loved Christmas…and still do.  Even though I was starting to get older, I still chose to hold to the truth there was a Santa Claus out there who spread love and joy around the world.  I had a wonderful childhood and it wasn’t that I was trying to live in some fantasy world, but I just loved Santa and what he represented. I’ve often said I was not a normal kid and it’s so true!  I remember writing that letter and truly believing everything I said.  First of all, I knew that I could always be a better person.  I didn’t care about material gifts but gifts of the heart.  To me, love was the greatest gift you could give or receive.  Love also meant you were honest, which is why I couldn’t even get through my letter to Santa without correcting my opening statement that I had been “good.”   I felt like I didn’t deserve anything not because I was so terrible, but because I felt like I hadn’t done enough to help others.  I wanted “stuff” for other people (or animals)! Yeah…I was a sappy child.  All I wanted was for Santa to know that he was important to me and that I loved him.  And if there was something he could bring me, I didn’t want stuff because it didn’t matter to me at all.  More than anything, I just wanted him to know that I was grateful and that I cared about him and loved him with all my heart.  It’s interesting to me that what I said or asked for in my letter is still reflective of the way I think today.   Material things still don’t matter to me.  Sure, they are nice to have, but what really matters is the connections and relationships we have with the people around us.  What matters is love.  THAT is the true magic of Christmas.

So in this season of overspending and over-committing to activities, let us remember to stop and show our love to the people in our lives…not with gifts we can buy but with the gift of ourselves and our time.  In a season where the world tries to distract us from the true reason why there IS a Christmas, let us be thankful to our Father who IS love.

And may my grown up Christmas letter always be filled with the same sentiment it had when I was nine. Blessings!

A Huge Milestone

Annette new york 001This post is the sharing of something personal because today was a huge day in my world.   For over a year now, I have been working toward completing a book that tells the story of the journey I took with my best friend, Annette Christophe, as she fought brain cancer.  It has been an interesting process for me as I relived every moment, every joy and pain.  There were times I thought I couldn’t stand the emotional toll any longer and feared I would have to abandon the project, but my soul wouldn’t let me quit.  As a result, I got to take a new journey with her spirit that affected me in so many ways.   Today that book was published and made available to the public.  I thought I was prepared for the emotions of the book finally becoming reality, but I underestimated it all.The moment I found out the book was published early and was now in the public realm, I was elated!  In some ways it was like a huge weight was lifted and I was overwhelmingly joyful.  I wanted to shout from the mountain tops and share the moment with those closest to me!  Then things started to settle a bit, and I became extremely weepy and unable to control my tears.  I suddenly missed Annette terribly and at the same time felt her presence stronger than ever.  I feel like she is looking down right now, so proud of the accomplishment and endurance of what it took to bring our story to life.  I believe she is celebrating with me in spirit and I would swear I feel her hugging me.  When I stop and get quiet, it is almost more than I am able to stand or wrap my heart around.

How We Said Goodbye is, to date, my greatest creative accomplishment…for so many reasons.  But it’s more than that.  It is a journey that has changed my life once again.  It has opened me up completely again to Annette’s spirit and what she represents in my life.  It has been almost 17 years since she passed and the telling of our story felt long overdue…until I understood that God’s timing is perfect.  Even if I had tackled the writing of the book years ago, I would have been swallowed up in the intense emotions that accompanied its creation.   Instead, it happened when it was supposed to happen, and I am thankful for the fact it has finally come to fruition.

So I guess I want to say thank you to those of you who have been with me on this journey.  Some of you knew Annette and have known of our journey from the very beginning.  Some of you feel like you know Annette through knowing me and hearing me talk about her over the years.  Some of you never knew Annette and some of you have never met me….but ALL of you have been a part of this process in one way or another.  Whether through your support of me by simply reading this blog or by being someone in my literal world who has held my hand or my heart throughout the process in the past year…I would not be here without you and I am overwhelmed by your support.  Annette would love to see how she has brought so many people together…even those she never met.

It’s a beautiful and emotional day.  And today, I celebrate Annette’s spirit and thank God for the gift of her presence in the most amazing ways.  I will carry her with me always.

Blessings!

p.s.  You can read about the book by clicking on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.