by Gwen M. Plano
Have you ever wondered about prayer? How it works or if it works?
Recently, I faced a medical challenge because of a CSF Leak. As part of the pre-treatment, I underwent 3.5 hours of radiological testing which required cage-like restraints. I could not move and because of this fact, I grew anxious. As I lay confined, I began to pray for help, as I didn’t know if I could manage the situation.
It was then that the first miracle occurred.
I saw in my mind's eye, a friend praying for me. I looked into my friend's eyes and focused on her kindness. I felt her genuine care, trusted it, and let go. Temporarily, I surrendered my fear.
With this release came the second miracle.
I became aware of an absorbing silence. And, I realized there were many, many others with me - my deceased mother and aunts, unnamed angelic figures, as well as friends and family. I was buoyed by love; I just hadn’t noticed it before, because my attention was on fear.
Finally, the third miracle.
I had longed to understand prayer. Through this experience, my questions were answered. I realized that prayer is simply love extended.
Some may pray loudly, passionately; while others might pray quietly, meditatively. Whatever our mode of prayer might be, the only thing that matters is the heart’s intention. Is love offered or restrained?
I believe the heart reaches what the mind cannot fathom. The truth is, we are loved beyond belief and when we participate in this powerful dynamic, miracles occur.
Thank you one and all for your caring thoughts during my medical adventure. I don’t know how to adequately express my deep gratitude. I can only hope that you know that your kind thoughts touched me deeply, giving me strength when I had little, hope when I lost my way. Know this, your goodness continues to reverberate profoundly throughout our universe. Prayer, heart felt, can indeed move mountains.
Thank you for helping me realize that love is our destiny.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
Three more days and it will be Valentine’s Day. For Hallmark Cards, online and local flower stores, and all vendors of chocolate, this is the day for trumpeting Love – new love, old love, healed love, remembered love. It is a time when hopes and memories meet at the hearth of life, and emerge either invigorated or scorched.
For Jan Sikes, an award-winning author, screenwriter and songwriter, love is the heart of life. She learned this the hard way, after her fiancé was incarcerated for 15 years for a crime he did not commit. When he was finally released, they married and began the difficult journey of creating a life together. Music was integral to their relationship and livelihood, and remained so until her husband passed away in 2009.
Jan has written a four-book series about her one love, Rick Sikes. In the books, she refers to Rick as "Luke" and herself as "Darlena." It was easier for Jan to write about their love through fictional names.
The books follow the stages of their relationship. Flowers and Stone is set in raucous Texas honkytonks where Rick sang and played his guitar. The Convict and the Rose chronicles the time behind bars in Leavenworth Penitentiary. Home at Last captures the years after Rick was released from prison, and Till Death Do Us Part brings the reader to his final goodbye. I just finished the last book; it was a powerful, beautiful story.
Jan is a friend and fellow member of the Rave Reviews Book Club. If you are looking for a real love story, this series is one to read. It will warm your heart and fill your senses.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
Recently I was asked about finding joy in life. As I thought about this, I realized that at the core of joy is forgiveness, and I will explain what I mean.
Tragedy is part of our lives; we cannot escape it. We may suffer from a debilitating illness or live in pain from a careless accident or face financial ruin through our fault or that of another. Perhaps we were betrayed by someone we trusted, someone we loved. Whatever the circumstance, we stand on common ground through our tears and broken hearts.
How do we traverse injustice, affronts, or violations? Fundamentally, I believe we do so through forgiveness. And, Bishop Desmond Tutu offers the best description I have found. He says: Forgiveness … exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the degradation, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking, but in the end, it is worthwhile because in the end dealing with the real situation helps to bring real healing. In forgiving, people are not being asked to forget... Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It means taking what happened seriously and not minimizing it; drawing out the sting in the memory that threatens to poison our entire existence.
It is the last line that is so vital to our wellbeing. Until we do the challenging work of forgiveness, we relive the event, the pain, the affront over and over again through one circumstance after another. We see through the clouds of life and miss the magic because we are not free.
Emotions lead us to our unforgiveness. They are our road-map. Anger or rage, resentment, criticism, guilt, paranoia, fear are signs we may not have forgiven the injustice, or violation, or tragedy. We may not have done the hard work that Bishop Tutu says we must do.
As much as we stand on common ground in our tears, forgiveness is a journey uniquely designed for each of us to travel alone because it is about us and not about the offender. Only we can pull out the sting; no one can do that for us. When we have forgiven, we no longer react as we have in the past. We are at peace and therein rests our joy.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
There are days we want to forget. Flying back from San Diego, CA to Springfield, MO shouldn’t have been one of those days, but it was. It was raining in Dallas, where I needed to connect to another flight. Though I didn’t think much about that fact, I soon learned that rain meant the airport gods were angry.
The AA flight from sunny San Diego departed on time, with only one straggler who managed to secure an Exit Row seat in front of me. His carry-on, much larger than permitted, had to be stored several rows behind him – near mine. As soon as we were airborne, he began his unrelenting appeal for the flight attendants to move his luggage near him. When they finally conceded an hour later and moved the luggage of other passengers to accommodate his, I asked to relocate to the back of the plane just to be away from this nonsense.
Settling into my new seat, the woman next to me asked, “What did you do? Are they going to throw you off the plane?”
I laughed so hard, I could barely get my breath; but I now realize, it was the beginning of the end. Did I mention, it was raining in Dallas, an omen not to be ignored?
When the plane landed, people were pacing the hallways. I soon learned why - the flight to Springfield was canceled. We were told to get in line to reserve another flight. I did this. Two hours later, however, my new flight was also canceled. Again, I got in line, to find another seat on another flight. Finally at 9:30 pm, the third flight was canceled. There was no crew, and after all, it was still raining or at least sprinkling.
I got in another line to try to find a flight for the next day, only to be told that all seats to Springfield, MO were taken. Who knew this metropolis was a destination site? But, staff reassured me that there was a flight to Joplin, MO, and it had four empty seats. (Joplin is 1.5 hours from Springfield by car.) I leaped for joy. My husband could pick me up. I had a chance to escape my cement prison. (I will skip the hotel trauma drama.)
The next day, I went to the Joplin gate. Four delays later (no crew, mechanical issues), the flight finally landed in Joplin at 3:30 in the afternoon. Then the announcement from the cockpit:
“Sigh…just when we thought it could not get any worse, we have learned that the tire on the jet-bridge is flat.”
Passengers erupted in laughter. Yes, we needed to climb down the plane's stairs, and those who could not walk would be carried – somehow. But, now the gods were laughing with us, for it was the perfect ending to an otherwise imperfect travel saga and it was sunny outside!
The moral of this story is simple: be prepared for the unexpected, know whom to call for help and if you have a hammock and it’s raining in Dallas, bring it.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
I’ll be traveling to New York next month, to my youngest son’s engagement party. He called last night to ask if I would feel comfortable if he invited his father to the celebration. I told him very honestly that I hoped he would do so.
We all face junctures where the past and present collide, where memories demand our attention and crowd our mind. Sometimes these collisions evoke fear or anger or revenge, sometimes they simply remind us of a forgotten part of our life.
I read a fascinating book recently entitled Journey of Souls. The author, Dr. Michael Newton, presents case studies of clients, who while in a trance, speak of a life before this earthly life. There is a great similarity between one client and another, which is even more intriguing for me. And, one of the similarities involves our purpose in life.
Often, we associate purpose with our jobs or roles. But perhaps, purpose has less to do with what our title might be and more to do with how we live that title – of mom or dad or director or professor or whatever.
I can identify myself as a mom of four, but such an identifier tells you little about me, for you don’t know how I try to live that title, which gets to my purpose, I believe.
Dr. Newton’s clients speak of learning to love, and I wonder if that is our sole purpose. If it is, then our circumstances are a means to reach that end. Tragedy and sorrows transform to a challenge to dig deeper into our hearts. Could it be that through these hurdles, we are given the opportunity to go beyond our limits and in that stretch, become more than who we have been?
When my son asked if my past could step into my present, I paused for a moment, for I needed to retrieve that past. Strangely, I found that it was no longer there. When the past is depleted of its usefulness, all that remains are faded photos and the person we have become – through our reach for love, for joy, for happiness.
by Gwendolyn M Plano - a reposting from 12/22/14
Yesterday an angel took flight. I knew Kathryn C. Treat only through her writing, but I wept at my loss. She was a new friend, a fellow writer in the Rave Reviews Book Club, a person who had walked the back roads of life. She had struggled for years with severe allergies and had helped me understand my own, but it was a hemorrhagic stroke that finally set her free.
It seems many weep this Christmas: those of us who have lost friends or family, those of us with notable health challenges, those of us who struggle to make ends meet. The brightly lit trees, the gifts mounting high, the frantic last-minute-shopping, the Christmas carols in our churches and stores—all have opened our hearts and heightened our vulnerability. And, in the midst of it all, we remember the baby born in a stable so many years ago.
It can seem like God has walked away when our hearts break. But then, we notice—the cardinals in the trees, the sunset over the lake, a child’s delight in the playground; and, we are reminded that we are not alone. When held captive by beauty, we need to pause and listen carefully—for the angels dance in our reveries. They may have taken flight, but their journey has brought them closer--to you and me.
A reposting of Nonnie Jules' blog
Thursday was not a good day for me. I was feeling all sorts of blue, and that’s never me. I mean, in some parts of town, I’m called “Sunshine” because I always have a smile on my face for someone. I woke up not feeling all that grand and if my memory serves me correctly, I went to bed feeling the same. I was tired, mentally and physically and my heart was racing a little…which is always my queue to get up, turn off the lamp and walk away from my office. I turned in at a decent hour Wednesday night (for me, that is), which was probably before 3 am. I slept a little late the next morning, but still woke up with a horrible headache and a mood that wasn’t so pretty.
As I went about my work day, I could feel that certain irritability growing inside me, which I’m pretty familiar with by now, and my intolerance for little annoyances, even in my work, was steadily growing. (I think my family could feel that storm brewing, because they were gone a lot longer than usual yesterday…the poor things).
Later that night, my daughter called and said that they were on the way home. I was excited for their arrival, because I really hadn’t seen them much that day and I don’t like when our days are that busy. When she got home, she walked in with a package in her arms. She kissed me on the cheek, laid the package on the table and said “Lucky you, Mom, the package is for you,” as she headed up the stairs. For me?
Since I get books to be reviewed by the dozens every day, I just assumed that it was a really big book inside the package, as I wasn’t expecting anything else.
When I opened the box, I pulled out a beautiful coverlet, which I would later find out, after pulling envelopes from the box, that it was a “prayer shawl.” First, I opened the smallest envelope and inside was a beautiful card, hand designed and signed by the artist.
I was just as excited for the card and this message from the artist as I was for the real gift! And then, I read the little pamphlet inside, explaining the “prayer shawl” and its purpose. I won’t post the entire thing, but will share the part of it, that moved me most (I am re-typing it exactly as is written on the pamphlet):
“SHAWLS…MADE FOR CENTURIES UNIVERSAL AND EMBRACING, SYMBOLIC OF AN INCLUSIVE, UNCONDITIONALLY LOVING GOD. They wrap, enfold, comfort, cover, give solace, mother, hug, shelter and beautify. Those who have received these shawls have been uplifted and affirmed, as if given wings to fly above their troubles…” ~ Janet Bristow
“This prayerful ministry reaches out to those in need of solace and comfort… Many blessings are prayed into every shawl. The maker begins with prayers and blessings for the recipient. The intentions are continued throughout the creation of the shawl. Upon completion, a final blessing is offered before it is sent on to the recipient. The recipient may continue the kindness by creating a shawl and passing it on to someone they know that is in need of comfort and blessings. Thus, the ministry has a ripple effect, from giver to receiver, the unconditional embrace and sheltering of a nurturing and loving God. The shawls must always be given away unconditionally and never sold. They are created in prayer for the recipient, that they may be embraced by the prayers and blessings contained in each stitch.”
Now, I wouldn’t refer to me as a highly religious person. Hold on a minute, though, don’t confuse what I’m saying, because I do have my religion, but I would say that I am more of a spiritual person and the two are clearly defined differently. So, after reading over all the material that was enclosed with my gifts, I slowly and carefully unfolded the beautiful shawl and wrapped it around my shoulders. I cannot tell you what happened in that moment, but I felt a warmth come over me like never before. I was instantly “calmed.” I stood in my dining room, trying to make sense of what was happening to me, but my mind was still, and my heart no longer racing. I felt so safe, I felt so loved and just thankful. All of the stress of my day disappeared instantly!
I picked up the card and read the inside because I hadn’t done that yet, as I was so moved by the sentiment of the drawing of the card. It was from someone very special to me, someone who may not even know that she is such a calming force in my life and she makes me want to be a better person, and from her calm strength, I am searching for my own calm strength.
When the initial shock of the feeling that I was getting from the “prayer shawl” had moved on, and my feet felt that they could now do what they were made to do, I gathered all of my gifts and walked in the direction of my office. I sat down, shawl still draped about my shoulders, closed my eyes, laid my head back and prayed…thankful for the gift which was sent to give me peace and solace.
After I finished praying, I got up, draped the shawl over my desk chair…and started to walk out the door of my office. I stopped, turned around and looked at the shawl, draped neatly over the back of my chair, and said to myself “I don’t want to leave it here. I want to take it to bed with me tonight so that I can feel its warmth and security as I sleep.” So, I turned around and gently lifted it up from the chair and headed to my bedroom.
I got into bed without kneeling to pray last night, as I wanted to, for whatever strange reason, pray, while lying on my back, looking upwards, with my “prayer shawl” safely covering me. And I did. I closed my eyes and slept like a newborn baby last night. When I woke up this morning, that headache of mine was present again, but yet, I felt extra safe and secure, still wrapped in my shawl....
....to read more, go to WATCH NONNIE WRITE!
by Gwendolyn M Plano
My father slips slowly into his eternal life. Hospice angels help him in his journey, while family and friends tearfully walk through the years of the life he once lived.
Death takes everything from us, except that which is most important. By his bedside, I realize that he is teaching still – about dignity, about loving one another. Though he is but a shadow of the man he once was, his whispers stretch deep within our hearts. He leaves us, but he doesn’t.
Days, weeks pass without much change. But while he sleeps, he helps all of us see the preciousness of the moment. Old grudges fade and new joys emerge as my brothers and sisters reunite through the lens of pain. Perhaps this is Dad's final gift...
The words of Canon Henry Scott-Holland provide hope and comfort, and echo what I believe:
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we always enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow in it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
by Gwendolyn M Plano
Decades ago I lived in Japan, and during those important five years, I studied the ancient art of Chanoyu (Tea Ceremony). This beautiful ritual involves the preparation and serving of a cup of tea. Each step of the process is designed to draw a person deeper into silence. Words are sparse, and movement is predefined.
There is a give and take to Tea; while one prepares the cup, another accepts it. Together, host and guest, kneel and listen—to the steam rising from the kettle, to the bamboo whisk against the tea bowl, to the song of birds outside. Friend or foe, together they remain in the silence.
When participating in this ceremony, the world of financial worries and health crises, of marital problems and political turmoil, fades—until time itself stands still. Tea Ceremony brings one into the unseen present.
In December our house was flooded with 35,000 gallons of water, spewed by a broken water filter. When I searched through the weeping mounds that once was a home, I discovered a few of my Tea utensils—a thin bamboo tea scoop and a fan. They are worth nothing of course, but at that moment they represented beauty to me.
During times of distress, we may forget what is important, consumed as we might be by terror or grief. But, as I have discovered, we can be rescued by a keepsake, a sunset or a sunrise, a kind gesture or a warm embrace. A heart-holding moment can return us to ourselves—and to the world we have not been able to see.
When I found the Tea utensils, I wiped them dry along with my tears, and then I sat in silence. Numb though I was, these simple tools are what brought me back to an experience of peace.
I did not realize the attachment I had to household belongings, until they were no more. But, as the weeks have passed, things have become increasingly unimportant to me. The perfect couch is after all, just a couch. The comfortable easy chair, just a chair.
With this realization, I’ve begun to see that more than belongings were taken from me. I had grown comfortable with the way things used to be, and living with dis-comfort has helped me see: the homeless, the lonely, the hungry, those who are disenfranchised—like you and me.
As walls and floors are slowly restored, I’m grateful for the contractor and his teams, but more than anything else, I am grateful for the restoration occurring deep inside of me.
I’ve learned that gifts sometimes arrive in unwanted packages, but their preciousness awaits our readiness to receive.
I wonder, will I grow comfortable once again? If I do, I suspect another gift will arrive to awaken me, for storms carry the much needed rain.
Through the Rave Reviews Book Club, I have met many wonderful friends, most of whom are also writers. Harmony Kent from Cornwall, England is one of those dear friends. In addition to being a prolific multi-genre writer, she is an extraordinary human being. When you read her blog post below, you will know what I mean.
Take a moment and savor beautiful writing. If you are like me, you will also need a Kleenex or two. With much gratitude and respect, I welcome Harmony to this humble site.
I wasn’t always the woman that I am today. The pathway I took to get here wasn’t a straightforward one, and—in fact—I ended up getting lost on purpose: It seemed the only way to find my way.
In the same vein, although I’ve been writing since being knee high to a grasshopper, I have only recently become ‘a writer’.
So, what changed?
I have nothing to show for my life-that-was, except for my life-that-is. And my smile.
Confidence is the key, but it wasn’t easy pulling that particular trick out of the hat; still, it saved my life. If not for already having delved deep and tunnelled down to pure gold, when I suffered my catastrophic injury it would have buried me.
As a child and young woman, I had big issues stemming from a too-small ego. I had zero self-confidence, and a huge dollop of ‘imposter syndrome’: you know, that feeling that you don’t belong and that one day soon ‘they’ will find you out? The constant, nagging feeling that you’re a fake, and one day your nearest and dearest will discover what you really are. I limped from day to day, never content, always concerned.
One day, I realised that my external life situation was no longer threatening. Or, at least, not in any outward way. For once, I could say that I had everything I wanted: A home, a good relationship, a job I loved, and—while not rich—enough money to get by. And still it felt as if something were missing. And I still felt like I didn’t have a place in the world. That I never should have been born. I also believed that the world was this big, nasty place. The world had to change, not me.
Then, I did something for which nobody was prepared, least of all me. I gave up my lovely house, my relationship, and my job. I gave up everything. I went and ordained as a Buddhist Nun in a Zen temple, and stayed there for thirteen years. This was both the worst thing and the best thing that I ever did. Before long, I realised that actually, it wasn’t the world that had to change, but me. This person right here.
Then the hard work truly began. It took grit and determination. The discipline of my chosen life was huge. More than anything I’d ever experienced before. And you didn’t get a day off. It was 24/7 and 365/365. Even in the military, with their strong discipline, they get R&R … not where I went, we didn’t. There was a good reason for it, though. Who knew that by giving up my freedom, I would find my freedom?
It took me six gruelling years to pop that balloon of fear that had sat on my shoulder my whole life. I remember a senior monk telling me one day that I had to allow the anger. I was like, ‘What anger? I’m not angry.’ Meanwhile, growing more and more annoyed! Ha ha. Joke was on me. By then, I had recognised that I spent every day in the shadow of some unnamed terror. What I hadn’t yet seen, and this monk had, was that I was too afraid to allow myself to feel (let alone express) the anger. Instead, I strove to maintain the peace and never rock the boat, often compromising my heart in the process. It just seemed safer than any alternatives I could think of. I’d done this since early childhood. The thing is, while anger is only ever a false emotion that masks what we truly feel, we can’t move past it until we see it, name it, and wriggle out of its grip.
Why do I say that anger is a false emotion? Well, we never feel anger in isolation. And if we look through the eyes of honesty, we will see at least one other emotion lurking beneath it. Usually hurt or despair or some kind of pain. It often feels easier and safer to go with the anger rather than that other emotion that leaves us so much more vulnerable.
So, first of all, I had to work with the fear, then the anger, and then what was really at the source of it all. With all those layers, it was like peeling an onion, and just as uncomfortable. What I found is that it’s all about the kinds of things I told myself. And, believe me, I victimised myself so much more than any other person in my life ever had. I took them all together and rolled them up into one mean SOB. The good news is, that as soon as I saw it, it lost its power over me. In the seeing, I was able to cease and desist. While the work was slow and arduous, and I hit many a roadblock and detour, the eventual ‘awakening’ came all of a sudden.
It was liked I’d pulled open the curtains and the sunlight streamed in, in all its glory. A whole world existed out there that I’d never seen before, or even suspected. Life suddenly became easy and joyful. I was content.
In most religions, there is a saying that tells us that we are never given more than we can cope with at any one time. This seems to have been all too true in my case. I had six months of grace, where life was full, smooth, and I felt content. Then routine surgery went as badly wrong as surgery can go. I almost died. I ended up severely disabled from a leg injury, and three years later I underwent an amputation. I had hoped that this would give me a fresh start and more mobility, but by then the nerve damage was too severe, and so—to this day—I suffer with high pain levels daily and limited mobility. I am grateful though. Grateful that this didn’t happen before I’d burst that balloon and faced my fears, before I’d found that confidence and contentment and no longer relied on some self-imposed perception of who I was and what my role in life should be.
Eventually, not being able to participate much in the temple schedule and doing my training mostly alone by this point, I took the decision to return to lay life. By then, I was forty years old. As hard as it had been going in, it felt ten times more so coming back out after all that time. I wasn’t the only one who’d changed. The world had too. Smart phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, gigabytes, and the value of money. Everything cost so much more. I had no possessions, nowhere to live, little money, and a disability. By then though, I’d learned not to turn away just because something scared me. I took a big breath and a small step: one step after another.
My life-as-it-is began at forty. Faced with empty days begging to be filled, I sat down one day and wrote. Within a few months, my first book was born. Now, I have six books published and more on the way. I also offer editing services to my fellow writers. I’ve met many friends, both online and in the flesh. I have built my life from the ground up. I’m not that mobile with my legs, but my fingers do my walking for me.
Confidence is the key. It will open any door. That’s not to say that I don’t worry sometimes, that I don’t doubt; of course I do. But I don’t let that stop me. This includes letting a door close completely behind me, leaving me in the dark and not knowing what comes next. Not once has another door not then opened. The confidence comes in knowing that whatever happens, you will be okay. You can deal with it. You are strong and capable. And knowing, too, that this situation right now will change. Change is the one constant that we can always rely upon. Nothing, whether it be good or bad, lasts forever. You have to be able to let go.
With confidence and the ability to go with the flow, to accept change as a fact of life, we can achieve what we want and be who we want to be. If I can do it, you can too. I’m nobody special. All I did was to stop beating myself up, and instead, started believing in myself. From that new perspective, I could more than handle whatever life threw my way. And just because my old habits had a long history, I didn’t have to turn them into a life sentence. What I did do, and continue to do, is to build upon them. All the hard stuff makes great bedrock on which to base our lives. It makes us strong and resilient. That’s not to say rigid, though. The safest buildings sway in the wind.
Thank you for revisiting my journey with me.
Thank you, Harmony. Your journey and your message go to the core of who we are. I've read your post several times and discovered truths that have hidden from me. Thank you for being radiant YOU.
To find out more about Harmony and her books, go to http://harmonykent.co.uk. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook, as well as Amazon author pages: UK and US.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
This has been a year of sorrows. Terrorist attacks, global warming, racial divides, and violence in our streets. No one has been spared. At times the weight of pain has so burdened our hearts that we have not known what to do.
There have been nights that I have awakened with tears that hid during the daylight hours: tears for the children who cry out why, tears for loved ones who have said their final goodbyes, tears for our beautiful earth that begs for life. Sometimes the silence of night frees my heart to weep, and this has been a week of midnight eruptions for me.
My husband and I celebrated Thanksgiving with family in California. Driving across the plains, deserts and mountains, we marveled at the natural beauty around us. The drive home was similarly extraordinary. Even so, we eagerly looked forward to resting in the comfort of all things “home.”
When we arrived, however, our dreams were shattered. The water filter beneath our kitchen sink had split from metal fatigue, sending a continuous deluge of water throughout the home, destroying everything it reached. The remains of floors, walls, and some ceilings are now pieces inside a large dumpster resting in our driveway. There are no words for this type of violation.
A magazine cover softens my sadness. It is a painting by Nellie Kranz Edwards entitled, Mother of Life. In this image, Mary is kneeling, adoring the unborn child she carries. She does not know where her child will be born or how he shall die. She is simply in awe of the precious miracle she holds. When I think of this image, I let go of fears of what might be; and, I focus instead on the miracle of life.
We all carry preciousness within the aching body we call our own. And you, dear reader, are precious to me. May abundant blessings fill your heart and home, and may we all experience the miracle Mary discovered so many years ago.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
We were driving to the grocery store, my son at the steering wheel and I in the back seat with my two grandchildren. Giggles and gyrations entertained us, while buildings and manicured yards zoomed past.
And then, the unexpected occurred.
With one simple statement, my four-year-old granddaughter silenced the frivolity.
“Grandma, if you were still with grandpa, you’d have a dog!”
A look of horror went over my grandson’s face. Three years older than she, he bore the weight of propriety in that moment and quickly whispered in his sister’s ear,
“You’re not supposed to talk about that!”
Unfazed, my granddaughter frowned at him and then turned to check on my reaction.
I met her quizzical look with my own declaration, “I could get a dog if I wanted too, sweetie; in fact, I think I will!”
With that, she smiled and excitedly pointed to the neighborhood park, which she had just spotted. She wanted to play there—not later, “right now!”
Order had been restored.
I often think back to this exchange. The unencumberedness of my granddaughter helps me see how the “stuff” of life can color our perspective. She could care less about what had happened years before; she was focused on a dog.
And I wonder, when Jesus told his disciples, “…unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” was he speaking about this?
When I’m with my grandchildren, I’m brought into a world of play and immediacy that otherwise can elude me. Amidst the chaos of darting little feet and flying objects, I’m focused entirely on the present. I have to be! And in that space of frantic activity, I don’t think about politics, my “to do” list, or the past. I am simply present.
Author Eckhart Tolle wrote, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.” I think children bring us into the Now, don't you?
Wow…another reason to visit my grandchildren!
by Gwendolyn M Plano
I’ve always enjoyed writing, even though I did not envision myself a writer until recent years. Busy with work and my growing family, there was little time for the play of words. Three years ago, though, I retired and decided it was time to write. On the surface, this was a simple decision, for I imagined that writing would be a process of connecting the stories that made up my life. But, I was mistaken.
I’d awaken in the early morning hours with scenes faded by time, and then would be guided through the corridors of my heart, where I wrestled with confounding flashbacks and elusive threads of connection. In my younger years, I had been in an unhealthy relationship and over time, I lost my sense of self. As I walked back into this experience, I felt the terror, felt the despair and my heart nearly broke. Then I realized—the tears and gasps came and went--because they could.
One story after another unfolded on paper, as sections from frayed journals and yellowed family photos came alive and spoke to me. The dramas that once controlled my life and held me captive were but ailing memories, soon to meet their demise. And as I gazed upon this human collage of struggles and apprehensions, a miracle occurred: I realized that my journey was everyone’s journey.
We all face challenges; we all struggle with adversity. Who doesn’t experience sorrow, fear or regret? And, don’t we all go through life trying to make sense of it all? When I realized the commonality of our collective quest, and saw how hardships shift our horizons, soften our hearts, and often bring us home to ourselves, I began to see the blessings inherent in life’s hurdles. And this, more than anything else, drove me to write.
The patchwork of memories that formed the outline of my book was ultimately given new life by the collective story of our human quest for the one Perfect Love. This is why walking through our past is a journey of the highest order. Not only do we redeem the broken remnants, we realize the hidden blessings.
Bishop Kallistos Ware wrote that, “at the Last Judgment, God will not ask me why I was not Moses or Abraham... God will ask me why I was not my own true self. That is our aim, to become truly ourselves…”
It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But, for me and perhaps for most of us, to become truly ourselves can be a lifelong journey. And writing? Well, it is one way to find that elusive self, but there are so many other ways. What is yours?
by Gwendolyn M Plano
I was saddened to read of the passing of Dr. Wayne Dyer, a teacher for so many of us. Like my dear aunt who passed a month ago, he had leukemia.
Their walk with death through life elicited the best in us, restoring our hope and opening our eyes and hearts to the miracles around us.
In thanksgiving I share the following sermon by Canon Henry Scott-Holland, delivered in St. Paul's Cathedral in 1910. His timeless words seem very appropriate today, for indeed, all is well.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
It happened in less than a second. As I leapt from the car, my foot got tangled in the strap of our travel bag. I tried to stop the fall with my outstretched hands, but I hit hard and broke the bones in my right arm. The asphalt, the pain, the crowd that encircled me, the rush to the hospital – all is a blur. Within a moment’s time, our travel plans and so much more changed.
Perhaps you have faced something similar; if not an accident then maybe an illness interrupted your plans, your life. And, perhaps like me, you wondered “Why?”
I’ve learned a lot over these past two months—about time, about relationships, about being conscious. And part of the answer to my “why” has to do with what I’ve discovered.
I’ve realized, for instance, that most of our interactions are spontaneous and non-reflective. We smile, we nod, and we reach out our hand to another – without thinking about it. We naturally try to connect with those around us and with life itself. It is part of who we are.
When this natural process of interaction is disrupted, though, our life changes dramatically. What was unconscious then becomes very conscious, because we have to think about how we are going to do something.
After the accident, there was little that I could do on my own because of my injuries – not the dishes, not the laundry, not anything to do with my beckoning unwritten book…nothing! And yet, I was so exhausted. My focus was reduced to simply managing pain and trying to use my less damaged arm. So why the fatigue?
Part of the reason for the fatigue was that my world had been turned upside down.
Most of us go about our day (eating, sleeping, bathing, etc.), absorbed in what we did yesterday or what we want to do today. We are not focused on the bar of soap in our hand or the fork with which we eat. We are not thinking about what we are doing in that moment.
An accident or illness can re-order our day such that NOW consumes us. Out of necessity, we concentrate on the immediate situation. Strange though it may seem, this redirection of attention can be a homecoming of sorts, similar to meditation.
I noticed more--the brilliance of the skies, the scent of flowers, the sounds of children playing in our neighborhood; and, I cared less--about social media and other obligations. Time rested in neutral for me during most of the summer.
On another front, when I hit the asphalt, flashes of past abuse frightened and confused me. Just as quickly, though, my husband was at my side trying to help. His tenderness moved me from the past to the present, from fear to trust. And, I saw in stark contrast the two worlds—the old and the new.
The greatest gift of this accident has been the deepening awareness of my husband’s abiding love. His patience and devotion throughout this challenging time have opened my heart in ways I could not have anticipated. Our fateful trip was to have been a celebration of our ninth anniversary. It was that—and so much more. And, it certainly is one we will always remember.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
My husband and I just returned from a marathon trip through much of California. We visited family, enjoyed the sunshine and remembered years past.
Most poignant for me was the visit with my mom on Mother’s Day.
Soon to be 89 years old, mom struggles with severe osteoporosis and arthritis. Her frail physique, however, is no match for her determined nature. If there is a task to be done, she is the first to tackle it.
Mom has an identical twin who is also her closest friend. They were the first twins born in this southernmost area of the Golden State and have never been far from each other. Sadly though, her sister (my aunt) has leukemia. We visited her after Sunday Mass.
Mom sat very close to her twin and asked how she was doing. I watched as my aunt smiled at my mom. Her gaze was almost angelic—soft and understanding. “I’m better,” she said weakly. And mom nodded in agreement.
In those few seconds, I realized that my aunt was helping my mom face the truth of her circumstance. Soon she would be leaving, and mom would be alone. With other family members also deceased, her sister's departure would be particularly heartbreaking.
When we drove away, mom asked about the difference between resignation and acceptance. And referring to her twin, she said, “Which do you think it is, Gwen?” I responded with another question, “Did you notice her smile and feel the peace?”
“Yes, yes I did.” And, then she added, “She has accepted her situation, hasn’t she. She is letting go." And with that, mom lowered her head as tears fell. She had begun her mourning.
C. S. Lewis wrote of the passing of his beloved, "Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything." I suspect when my dear aunt passes, her absence will stretch just as wide.
by Gwendolyn Plano
When I was a young child, countrywomen gathered to sew quilts for special events. My mother took us with her when she met with her friends in the basement of the local rural church. Sometimes I snuck under the stretched material on the large wooden frame and listened as the women stitched and knotted. They talked about their families, about their hardships and about love. When they cried, I cried–even if I did not quite understand. It was their emotion that spoke to me. The cloth leftovers rhythmically sewn one to another helped me see the interconnectedness of life. And as I began writing my memoir, I realized I was creating my own quilt of sorts—through a patchwork of stories.
Even before I put pen to paper, I was awakened in the early morning hours with scenes, faded by time. Drawn into the story they revealed, I began to write. Soon pages of text accompanied these reveries and though I captured some on paper, others hid and waited—for yet another night. My crowded desk of post-it notes became my companion and sometimes friend, helping me with the scattered pieces.
This process, unexpected and bewitching, guided me through the corridors of my heart, where I wrestled with haunting flashbacks and elusive threads of connection. The difficult years were long past and in tow—its numbness. I could feel again; and, the tears and gasps came and went—because they could.
Don’t we all carry stories deep within the chambers of our heart? Stories of hardships and triumphs, stories of love betrayed and love found, stories of cruelty and tenderness -- stories linked by people, places and time? And when these memories are awakened by new life events or midnight terrors, don’t we struggle to make sense of it all?
The person we were decades ago may have quietly slipped into the shadows of our life, but old traumas will haunt us until we find a way to let them go. Writing has become a means for me to make peace with the past. And as I have done so, gratitude has emerged. Not for the painful events, not for the human failures, not for the indignities. The gratitude I feel is for what was ultimately evoked by those sorrows: determination, courage, and wisdom.
Gratitude can transform how we see our past, when we identify the strengths that were evoked by our challenges.
What is your way of healing old hurts or disappointments? Do you write, paint, or dance? Perhaps you create music or get lost in nature’s mysteries?
By what means are you piecing together your patchwork of stories?
When I was about five years old, standing beneath a tall eucalyptus tree at our desert farm, I turned to my two younger sisters and said, “Someday we will be big and they will be little,” referring to our parents. Though I don’t recall the circumstance that evoked this declaration, I do remember my sisters’ nods as we marched off to play.
Last week, I visited my 95 year old father. For much of the time that I was there, he stared out the window to the fields he once tilled and talked about his early years. As I listened, I realized that dad had indeed become little with time, his body growing tired and his memories slipping from reach. He called me by name, but then thought I was his sister. And in that moment, my heart embraced his--as he struggled to make sense of it all.
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