Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Facing the Future with Faith

After struggling for the past four months with what I've called "episodes"(said with my Southern accent) related to a sensation in my lower throat/neck, heart area, and down my arm, I recently had an angiogram with three stents put into the main arteries of my heart.  While waiting to get the angiogram, I was asked if I had an Advanced Directive which I did not. I have never come so face to face with my own mortality as I did while having the episodes and facing potential surgery.  As a former hospice bereavement counselor and now a crisis counselor, I am used to listening and talking about life and death issues.  An aspect of my job is to go into companies that have experienced unexpected deaths. There have been quite a few opportunities this year to do this.  I have become increasingly aware during those times that the unexpected death could be my own.  No, I've not been thinking morbidly, just realistically.  

I have to say that at 62, I do not feel old.  In fact, in many ways I feel like my life has just begun.  It has taken a lifetime to come to this point of understanding what some of my gifts and talents are, and I'm having a ball exploring them.  The cowgirl in my art expresses who I want to be(fearless), and a message I want to pass on, that it's not too late to be who you are meant to be.  

Back to reality though.  I am 62, have a genetic propensity to heart disease, and have health issues that need to be addressed.  All the basics would apply - how I eat, sleep, move, etc. Having these stents put in has been an awakening to take my health more seriously.

I am, also, still reflecting on the fact that I need an Advanced Directive. There is a website called Aging with Dignity that has a link called Five Wishes http://www.agingwithdignity.org/five-wishes.php Please wait before you judge the name of this website(that it's just for older folks). Five Wishes is a legal document expressing my desires for the final stages of my life when I'm not able to make decisions on my own.  These relate to who can make decisions for me when I'm not able to, the kind of medical treatment I want, comfort care, how I want to be treated,and things I want to say to others.  Filling out the Five Wishes has risen to the top of my priority list.  Having this information ahead of time really does lift burdens from loved ones regarding decision making.  A man on the site's video https://fivewishesonline.agingwithdignity.org says anyone from 18 on up can do this.  Eighteen is young, yet no one knows when their last breath will be.  Again, I don't want to come across as morbid.  It is just much better to discuss these things while we are alive and well.  Whether we like it or not, none of us will escape taking a last breath on this side of Heaven. 

As many of us have so much in common, each of us is a unique human being with different beliefs about living and dying.  It would be an interesting study to research the various religions, cultures, etc.  In my work, I'm meeting people that admit to not having spiritual beliefs.  Even though I refrain from telling anyone what to believe, I do encourage them to begin seeking.  Having some faith can serve as a strong resource when it comes to any of the hard things in life.  

At the end of this blog post, I have listed some resources that will encourage anyone going through the grieving process. Just maybe our thinking about death and dying can be transformed into strength and even beauty.  Here is a lovely quote by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross:

There are numerous excellent resources regarding this topic.  Here are some of my recommendations:

A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss, Jerry S. Sittser
Center for Loss, Dr. Alan Wolfelt
Glad No Matter What, Sark
Glimpses of Heaven, Trudy Harris, RN
Good Grief, Granger E. Westberg
Grief, Dying, and Death, Therese Rando
Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis
Heaven is for Real, Todd Burpo
Hello from Heaven, Bill Guggenheim & Judy Guggenheim
Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well, Billy Graham
Necessary Losses, Judith Viorst 
On Death & Dying, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
The Art of Comforting, Val Walker
Tracks of a Fellow Struggler:  Living and Growing Through Grief, John R. Claypool 


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Being Open

Jessica Brogan and I became friends on Facebook through our mutual interests in art, creativity, and business.  Jessica created The Altered Card Deck Swap (http://www.carddeckswap.comwhere people from all over the world made 52 pieces of art out of a deck of cards to exchange with one another.  Somehow I got involved, and have participated in a number of swaps.  Once I made 26 cards for the families in Newtown, CT that lost their children in the horrific school shooting.  Jessica put together 26 decks of individual cards for the 26 families. This has been an opportunity for me to learn more creative techniques using the small canvas of cards in a deck, to meet people throughout the world,to give to others without getting anything in return, and to develop a special friendship with Jessica.

It has been easy to encourage this young single mother of one strong four year old son to keep sharing her gifts and talents with the world. Jessica is someone confident enough to write about her life in the most authentic ways, and I have been captivated by her ability to write out her thoughts and feelings so beautifully.  Not only a writer, but a photographer that has been able to share through her photos her life experiences as well. Enjoy her website and blog:  http://jessicaleighbrogan.com

How excited I was to find out that Jessica was coming out west to teach at her first art retreat, and wanted to begin her trip by staying with me in San Diego, CA.  Not being sure how she'd feel about spending too much time with someone 30 years her senior, I gave her the option to back out :) She seemed shocked that I'd even suggest such a thing. So, on March 19, I met my friend in person for the first time at Lindberg Field in downtown San Diego.  I definitely was not meeting a stranger, and from that first moment it seemed as though I had always known Jessica Brogan!  

Now for the gifts she brought to me, and the world around her.  For starters, she had a treasure box for me of cut out hearts that had been sent to her from another artist, and other thoughtful gifts including my own handmade inspiration card.  

These tiny cards were like the ones Jessica would abandon in stores, on benches, and share with someone she thought might need some encouragement. She generously shared the website with me that printed the cards: https://www.kanvess.com  On the back, she would stamp an inspiring quote. Such a simple way to give, yet one that could potentially change someone's day or even a life.  I kept tucking Jessica's ideas away like she tucked these cards in secret places for just the right person to find.

Here are two more surprises that Jessica had hidden away for me to find. Now I'm showing them off to friends, people I've just met, and/or anyone that will pay attention.  

When Jessica was here I dared to be brave enough to show her my cluttered art studio/office.  It was a danger zone, a place I had almost broken a limb or two.  It was a huge area of stress for someone that could be in there for hours intending to organize, yet could not seem to find "homes" for all of my treasures.  When Jessica saw the room, she expressed her passion for organizing, and immediately began putting like supplies together.  She gave me a job, too, of deciding what I only (not the groups I imagined being in there) needed to create.  With a bottle of Tommolo from Trader Joe's, the two of us worked magic in that room.  Well, Jessica worked magic, and I did what I was told.  Here is my room after my new friend's visit.  

Jessica's gifts keep being discovered even after she has been away for weeks.  I want to share another gift/talent that she has. She is a writer with a degree in English Literature from Notre Dame University.  For some fun, creative reading, pick up one or both of these magazines.  While she was with me, I got to witness the signing of another contract for another one of my favorite magazines.  I believe this is only the beginning for Jessica as her wings are starting to spread wide, and she is beginning to soar. 

This blog post feels important for me to share for different reasons.  When I told a few people I was having a house guest that I had not met in person, they were amazed, and said they could not do that.  Thanks to social media, I did know my house guest, but just had not met her in person.  The reason I shared the age difference between Jessica and me is that age doesn't matter if people have interests in common.  As I've stated before, I am a constant learner.  I learned so much in the time Jessica was here, and have grown in ways that are benefitting my life,and, hopefully, the lives of others.  To watch Jessica give anonymously thrilled my heart, because that is one of my "love languages."  Jess taught me a new way, an affordable way, to give.  Although we have differences, I was beyond blessed with all that we have in common.  I believe those differences can teach people to learn from each other if we are open to new learning and growth.  So, I end this post filled with gratitude for the gift of friendship in my life, a gift that can arrive unexpectedly like Jessica Brogan coming through my door. 

Photo by Michelle Adamski Jones

Friday, March 14, 2014

Something Beautiful, Something Good

The title to this post is the first phrase to a song that I heard sung by Ann Kiemel in 1974. 

"Something beautiful,Something good
All my confusion He understood.
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife, 
But He made something beautiful out of my life."

Nineteen seventy four was the hardest year of my life at that time.  It was my first year of marriage, a time of adjustment, a time of too many losses, and a time of the deepest depression I'd ever known.  

This post is about my faith experiences.  There is no intention here to proselytize   I have no agenda that way. 

Growing up in the South, in the Bible Belt, I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church.  I was drawn to my faith in God at a very early age.  At around 11, I decided I wanted to be baptized, to show that I had given my heart to Jesus Christ.  In that church, my roots grew, and my faith was strengthened.  In 1974, I married my boyfriend of over four years.  I was quite young emotionally, and had a very difficult time adjusting to just about all aspects of marriage.  During that year, too, I experienced a number of deaths that were unexpected.  At one point, I worked both day and night teaching at a business college. We had bought a rundown, "hippy" house that even had a lava lamp that had dripped wax all over the floor. The house needed a lot of repair which we did ourselves or Jim and his Dad did.  I was a little girl literally, because I weighed about 85 - 90 lbs.  I really didn't like myself, and felt like a failure in marriage especially.  My doctor put me on the drug, Valium, to help me relax. Well, after about two weeks of that, I felt suicidal, and flushed the pills down the toilet.  This led to a deepening depression.  At night I would cry out to God to help me.  That's all I could pray as I wept gut wrenching tears alone in the dark.  

One day my mother mentioned that a young woman was coming to speak at our church, and that I might like to hear her.  Ann Kiemel had written a little book called, I'm Out to Change My World.  I bought the book first, and read it through in one sitting.  Everything in me resonated with this young woman's faith, and her relationship with God.  When I went to hear her speak, she confirmed in me that I needed and wanted a personal relationship with Jesus.  Through circumstances, I met Ann, and we became friends for awhile.  She invited me to her wedding in 1981, and I flew to Boston to be there when she married Will Anderson 

In 1986 when I moved to California, Ann and I stopped writing.  Our friendship drifted away, yet I knew that she had given me a gift that I'd always cherish.  

Recently, I read on Ann's blog that she was going into a rehab facility to withdraw from pain medicine.  Ann had a number of surgeries on her feet that were excruciatingly painful.  While in the facility, she began to get sicker and sicker.  Rehab sent her home, but she was too sick to stay, and had to go to the hospital.  Tests first revealed spots on her lungs, then metastasized cancer throughout her body.  Within another week, Ann at 68 years old was gone from this life.  I was and am still shocked that Ann is no longer on this earth.  Her twin, Jan, said this is the first time in her life to be without her sister.  Those who love Ann know that she is with her beloved Savior, and feeling healthy now, yet it is bittersweet that she is no longer here.  I put a message on Ann's Caring Bridge site sharing that I was praying for her, appreciated her, and will always love her.  Maybe she saw it, maybe not, but it was my goodbye with gratitude for the greatest Gift of all, my personal relationship with Jesus.  For me, Christianity is not about religions or denominations, but about that closeness with the One that extends grace and courage day after day.   

Here is a link to Ann's sweet, authentic memorial service.  I think you'll like it.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Retreat to Silence

What is spirituality?  What is a silent retreat?  Who is God to me at this time in my life?  Do I have doubts?  What is a pilgrim heart?  

The questions above were ones I recently encountered at a silent retreat at The Cenacle, a Retreat Center in Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans), Louisiana that has as it's mission to minister to women in all stages of life.  I have a close friend that had been to a number of silent retreats, and I've wondered if I could ever go to a place of silence for a weekend.  The thought of staying silent in the midst of others seemed an impossibility for someone that is a talker like me. The idea intrigued me though.  So, when an old friend from college posted on Facebook about an upcoming silent retreat, I felt a nudge inside to go. It seemed like the perfect timing.  Since the retreat was only an hour away from my hometown, I could visit my parents as well.  On a leap of faith, I signed up for this retreat ready to meet the challenge of quietness for the sake of growing closer to God. Another interesting fact is that the retreat was going to be a Catholic one, and I am not Catholic.  The friend that posted the retreat I had not seen in over 27 years.  I had no idea what to expect except rigid silence and very plain monastery type food. 
Arriving at the retreat center late that Friday afternoon, I was greeted by my old friend who informed me that we'd be sharing a bathroom.  I was somewhat relieved, yet a little anxious about this first in our friendship.  There were over 50 women eating dinner that night that talked nonstop.  No plain food there.  We had delicious gumbo!  After dinner and our introduction to the retreat by the Director of the Center, Dr. Paul Ceasar, and our speaker, Father Philip Chircop, we began our silence.  The topic for the weekend was "A Big Heart Open to God".  How open was my heart going to be this weekend?  All I knew was I wanted my heart to be open enough to take in all of these new experiences.  I wanted my heart to stretch to hold more of God and His love for others, and even for myself.  After the night's talks, back to our small, simple, comfortable rooms we went to begin our silence.  

The next day, Saturday, consisted of two talks by Father Philip, a Mass, and two meals before we had an afternoon of time to just "be" with God. When I got to Mass, I saw a friend that I had grown up with in Baton Rouge.  She was able to come to the retreat after someone else cancelled. It was hard not to speak out loud to her, so we hugged, and at meals sat across from each other and smiled.  After lunch, I chose to have a meeting with a Spiritual Director which was a recommendation by my friend. The time with her was another confirmation that I was to be there.  Afterwards, I headed over to the levee next to Lake Pontchartrain which is located behind the Center to walk and take pictures.  For me, photography is a form of worship.  Through my camera lens, I see so much more of God's world  The air was crisp, and it felt good to be back to my Southern roots where my spiritual walk began.  My prayer was, "Speak, Lord, I am listening."  

Be Still
After dinner and another inspiring message from Father Philip, there was a Reconciliation Service in the Chapel.  We were to come up with one word that described what we were most grateful for presently and one word to describe the "thorn in our flesh" or a sin we needed/wanted to confess. I had a difficult time in the afternoon coming up with my one word sin. My friend said, "Why don't you ask Him (God)?"  I thought that was a good idea, and was humbled that I had not thought of it. (Yes, we broke the silence for a few moments.)  Right before the service a word came to me that described the "sin" I was to share.  During the service we went up to Father Philip, spoke our two words, listened as he said prayers of forgiveness and blessing over us, and wished us peace.  Simple and sweet is how I'd describe reconciliation.  It was only 7:30 p.m., and time to go to our rooms for more quiet and sleep.  With gratitude, I closed my eyes and slept with peace.  

The final day consisted of breakfast, Mass, our final message, and goodbyes.  I looked around at all of the women, and felt a kindredness with them.  Each had a story to tell that involved heartache and joy.  In the silence, I had experienced kindness, thoughtfulness, and smiles of affection.  I had experienced God through other human beings.  Without words, there was communication.  As we left with hearts stretched wider with love for God, it was time to go down into the valley of reality.  I felt excited to leave knowing my heart was full, and that there were still words and experiences to process.  

Here are my answers to the questions in the first paragraph. Spirituality is to "wake up" to God in my life, to experience Him in everyone and everything.  A silent retreat is one that is contemplative, not rigid, but has a purpose to only draw me closer to God.  To me, God is the great I Am.  He is the most gifted Creator, Author, and Artist. He is the One that came to earth in the form of a human being, Jesus, to be able to relate better to me, someone that struggles again and again in this life. Yes, I have doubts at times.  Father Philip said doubts are positive. Without doubts, we cannot experience faith.  Doubting Thomas was one Jesus' disciples.  Doubting Thomas gives me someone to relate to. A pilgrim heart is a heart journeying to a sacred place.  My pilgrim heart had traveled far to meet with God, and He gave me more gifts than I deserved. 

A Fountain of Blessings
Wherever we are on this road of life, may we all take time for the silence, to draw away from a hectic world, and to pull inward to discover the answers to our deepest questions.  May all of us be blessed with God's grace, joy, and always His love.   

Friday, January 24, 2014

Stop, Think, Speak

Here it is the end of January, and I haven't posted until now.  Sometimes a subject has to come to me in the form of a slap in the face. I confess to not finishing Christmas gifts(calendars for 2014), and committing to projects that took much longer than I imagined.  Enough of that, because there is a subject that keeps coming to mind.

My blog is about being brave.  So much of the time, I encourage myself and others to speak up, to be assertive vs. aggressive.  On the other hand, I believe it takes as much courage to be quiet, not say what runs across our minds, and right out of our mouths.  It takes self control to stop and think before speaking.  No matter how bad something wants to fly out of our mouths, it is best sometimes to just keep our lips sealed. As a talker, this is something I've been practicing for years now.  I decided that no matter what anyone says that is hurtful, I do not have to react in kind.  Responding is different than reacting. Responding includes thinking first.  

The current situation with Justin Bieber throws a light on this topic. The actor, Seth Rogen, tweeted that, "Justin Bieber is a piece of s___," and person after person agreed with him.  Rogen may think that about Justin Bieber, but what possessed him to say it?  Why do multitudes of people have to agree with him?  What good does it do for such negativity to be put out into the world of Twitter or out into the world for that matter? As much as I know there are people who care about Justin, it seems the negative overshadows the positive.

A friend posted on Facebook today a comment about people bullying and being bullied on Facebook, and that she had decided to focus on her work, to not pay attention to such negativity.  I say good for her!  

Another friend had posted that she has been hurt by comments from people on Facebook, and owned the fact that she has hurt others although she didn't intend to.  I thought she was brave to take ownership of her own behavior.  

I am still replaying words from someone that spoke hurtful to me just days ago.  No, I don't think her intention was to hurt, but I don't think she would have spoken the way she did if she had thought about what she was saying.  Even though I've known this person a long time, and the way she can say hurtful things, it still bothered me.  For years I spoke up about this hurt, yet my words didn't seem to make a difference.  It was a victory the other day to remain quiet, to listen, and think about how I was reacting inside.  It was a victory to not have to get defensive, and to realize that her words were about her inability to think before speaking.  

So, as I begin this new year, I want to continue strengthening my ability to think before speaking.  Not only are my words important, but also the way they are spoken.  If I do speak, will my tone of voice be irritated, angry, or kind?  I declare that "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is false.  I want to be courageous enough to think before I say words that can penetrate and hurt someone else's heart and soul.  This includes the words I even say to myself.  

Monday, December 2, 2013


As I continue to get older, I seem to have this insatiable desire to learn new things.  In my profession, I need 40 continuing education units every two years to renew my counseling licenses.  Since I have zero for 2013, I will be active in the new year learning ways to improve my counseling skills.  This past year has been filled with taking blogging and art workshops online.  No grades or credits involved.  What fun it has been!  I cannot recommend enough for everyone to discover their own interests and pursue them.  If you can do this, I promise you will feel better mentally, emotionally, and even physically.  Any degree of feeling better is healthier, right?

Not everyone is interested in pursuing artsy things, so I'm going to list some ideas to think about pursuing in the days ahead.  Since I am interested in so much, I am learning to prioritize for focusing purposes. I consider myself "a Jack of all trades and master of none," so my desire is to hone in on what to master.  This is an idea list which I'm sure falls short of all there is to be interested in.  I just want to jumpstart for you some thoughts of what your own interests are.

~ blogs, books, magazine articles, poems, reviews, letters, journaling, etc.  

Animals ~ pets, fostering, volunteering, reading about, etc.  
Birds & Insects ~ feeding, watching, etc.
Photography ~ fine art, nature, animals, birds, journalism, portraits, babies, cameras, etc.
Children ~ playing with, learning from, taking care of, advocating for, etc.
Parenting ~ taking classes, participating in groups, reading about, etc.
Reading ~ books, magazines, blogs, Internet, reading to children, seniors, etc.  
Mentoring/Mentors ~ teaching, learning, influencing, being influenced, etc.
Environment ~ land, ocean, forest, air, etc.
Sports ~ watching, participating in, etc.
Spirituality ~ reading about, sharing with others, being still, going deeper, listening, retreats, etc.
Community Involvement ~ participating in, improving, sharing, etc.
Films & Film Making ~ watching, sharing, reviewing, etc.
Technology ~ computers, software, reading about, taking classes, understanding, etc.
Music ~ listening to different types, singing, playing instruments, attending concerts, etc.  
Nature ~ being in, experiencing, noticing, etc.
Humor ~ developing sense of humor, comedy, writing about, awareness in others, etc.
Teaching ~ passing on information, giving out, tutoring, volunteering, etc.
Giving ~ listening, watching, reading about needs, anonymous, gifts, etc.
Politics ~ running for office, getting to know & understand issues, voting, etc.
Walking/Running/Exercising ~ discipline, good health, classes, etc.
Meditating/Praying ~ asking, thanking, listening, awareness, alone time, sharing, etc.
Causes/Advocacy ~ diseases, health, children, women, hunger, etc.
Traveling ~ road trips, alone, sharing, seeing beauty, having fun, visiting, learning, camping, etc.
Culture ~ different types, languages, respecting, traditions, getting to know people, etc.
Archeology ~ history, digging, traveling, etc.
Psychology ~ study of human
nature,disorders,personalities,counseling, etc.
Business ~ marketing, developing, management, selling, etc.
Building ~ construction, estimating, tools, architecture, etc.
Astronomy ~ space, stars, planets, telescopes, travel, etc.
Science ~ brain, biology, functioning, diseases, medicine, etc.
Nutrition ~ vitamins, minerals, needs, supplements, improved health, etc.
Care Giving ~ seniors, children, animals, Hospice, etc.
Finances ~ budgeting, taxes, accounting, etc.
Friendships/Relationships ~ dynamics, sharing, communication, choices, etc.
Social Media ~ Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.  
Inventing ~ thinking, realizing what is needed/wanted, creating, patents, etc.
Television Industry ~ producing, writing, acting, watching, etc.
Entertainment ~ favorite celebrities, game playing, magic shows, circuses, concerts, etc.
Self Improvement ~ reading, going to counseling, awareness, practicing, changing, etc.
Gardening/Horticulture ~ landscaping, plants, water projects, etc.
Helping ~ meeting needs of family, friends, neighbors, and/or anonymously, fire fighting, police, etc.
Cars/Boats/Trains/Airplanes ~ various types, shows, riding in, racing, piloting, models, etc.
Jewelry ~ making, selling, etc.
Religion ~ reading about, respecting, sharing, workshops, churches, temples, etc.
Real Estate ~ looking at, developing, selling, etc.
Gemology ~ stones, rocks, digging for, looking at, workshops, etc.
Crafting ~ creating new things with different objects, taking workshops, etc.
Painting, Drawing, Collaging, Mixed Media ~ reading, watching videos, practicing, taking classes, art journaling, etc.
Research ~ on the computer, libraries, different subjects, finding statistics, etc.
Health ~ medicine, medical, science, reading, nutritional counseling, etc.
Sewing, Knitting, Crocheting, Embroidering ~ quilting, patterns, etc.
Cooking, Baking ~ reading cookbooks, online recipes and instructions, watching TV shows, practicing, eating, restaurants, etc.
Paper Making ~ kits, greeting cards, book making, designing, etc.
Organizing ~ order, helping, containers, etc.
Games ~ board games, puzzles, videos, etc.

Many of you know what your interests are, so I want to encourage you to never stop developing and growing in those areas.  And for those that are unsure of what those are, be inspired to have fun, try different things, and pay attention to how fast your heart beats when something excites you.  


Tuesday, November 5, 2013


I would like to introduce my little gypsy girl, "For the love of art." Last Saturday I took a workshop taught by Suzi Blu at Paper Tales, a scrapbooking store, in San Diego.  After posting my girl on Facebook, a friend asked if she was going to have a horse.  Not this time.  Gypsy girl has a horse, but she is out of the saddle today.  One has to spend some time out of the saddle in order to keep from getting sore.  

This brings me to the topic I keep pondering ~ the tension between being social and spending time alone.  With my growing new love for mixed media, I am realizing that I need "down time" or time out of the saddle. Gypsy girl represents the evolution of a cowgirl as I am still learning how to draw heads,faces, and bodies.  As much as I love Suzi Blu's girls, I want to create ones that model who I am.  To practice this kind of creativity, I need time to think, and to play on paper.  But there is a side of my personality that longs to be social, to be included in those special events that bring us together.  This week in particular I've been feeling the tension between these two opposites that reside inside of who I am. 

Spending time alone is nothing new to me.  Growing up, I played paper dolls for hours under my family's dining room table.  One day, my mother said, "You need to get out and be with people," so I crawled out from under the table, and did just that, went out and made friends.  The tension between alone and social time began a long, long time ago.  

I am realizing that to have the pull of the melancholy vs. the sanguine in my personality is how God created me.  The challenge is to find and keep the balance between the two.  The "how" to apply this balance is simple, yet difficult to practice.  It is knowing when to say "yes," and when to say, "no."  And practice is what I am doing at this later stage of life. I may not always get it right, but that's okay.  Most of the time I seem to be getting it right, and I'm sure as heck not sore from being in the saddle too long.