Presence and Peace

Sheros: Olivia Newton-John, My Friend Helshi

The June 19 edition of People was on top of the stack of magazines in the waiting room where I “relaxed” before my recent mammogram.

I had time to read the entire article that caught my eye and was probably the disconcerting reason that the magazine was on top of the pile: “Olivia Newton-John’s cancer returns–how she’s staying strong.” The copy read, “25 years after first facing breast cancer, the star, 68, learns it has spread.”

Definitely not the grabbing (no pun intended) coverline a gal should see before heading in for the annual smash job but I’m glad I read the article. In fact, I brought the magazine home (with permission!).

Her cancer returned

Two months ago, Newton-John announced that she is facing breast cancer again. This time, the disease has metastasized into her sacrum, a bone in the lower back. According to her doctors, taking 25 years to reappear is good news. The bad news is that metastatic breast cancer is incurable and in this case, because of the location, causes an extreme amount of pain.

My takeaway from the entire article is not the details about the cancer, however. It’s this quote from her husband: “We both have the same unshakable belief that she’s going to have a wonderful success story,” said John Easterling. “We’re not trying to be positive. We have an absolute knowing that we can turn this around.”

Here are the things that Newton-John has working for her, I believe. 1) Her husband is a natural health entrepreneur, according to People, 2) Her sister Rona called her Pollyanna because she always sees the good in everything and focuses on the positive and, 3) She gets treatment on two continents–the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre is in Melbourne, Australia.

I love that her husband (they’ve been married nine years) says, “We share a complete world. We can appreciate the joy in nature and the little things. We wake up and start each day with gratitude and we are able to maintain a sense of humor.” Their closeness is apparent in the photo that accompanies this post (First printed in People, the pic carries both the sweetness and the fierceness of their love.).

Speaking of a sense of humor . . .

Helshi in the middle flanked by Becky and me

My friend Helshi Lockwood was also recently diagnosed with breast cancer. To say we were all relieved to hear that it is stage 1A with clean margins and lymph nodes is a tremendous understatement. But then, we also know that Helshi–I call her one of the original Amazon women–is as tough as they come and probably flat-out told God that she would only do cancer if it was manageable.

That’s the way my 6-foot-plus friend rolls. She, like Newton-John, has a faith that is completely convicted and totally grounded. She knows what she knows and that’s all there is to it.

Helshi has the sharpest wit and will not hesitate to state what needs to be said. And, she will tell you that she doesn’t give a shit who needs to hear the truth.

I have to assume that Newton-John has an incredible life force. I know for a fact that Helshi’s force is strong like Luke Skywalker; I don’t know many other 76-year-olds who can get a cancer diagnosis, take a pill for it (so very grateful for no chemo or radiation!) and then take her Golden Retriever on a two-mile walk.

While I have huge admiration for Olivia Newton-John and wish her the very best, I love me some Helshi Lockwood and want her around forever!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my mammo results are all good!

Photo courtesy of Robert Lynden

And Still I Rise

“And still I rise,” Maya Angelou nearly cries out the refrain in her achingly beautiful poem that feels wholly comforting to souls that wake weary these mornings.

I wrote Angelou’s words in my journal on January 16th, the day we celebrated the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. On that day, so many gave pause to honor the man whose eloquent voice rang out, “I have a dream,” in what seems a lifetime ago when considering today’s tumultuous times.

On August 28, 1963, when King called for an end to racism and for civil and economic rights, I’m sure many dared to hope as they hadn’t for a very long time.

And now, here we are, perched hesitantly on thin branches as the new president threatens hopelessness again. Oh God, I pray it isn’t so.

Maybe this 10-day-old period of rushed presidential edicts will turn into an eventual time of quieter order and understanding–miracles do still occur. In the meantime, we cannot ignore the real civil uprising that is occurring in cities and towns across our still-great nation.

The people need to speak. They need to be seen. They need to raise their voices against what seems at the moment like abuse of power.

Now is a time for care and caution. As a person in long-term recovery, I am not immune from rapidly accelerating thoughts that can lead to wrong action. I urge all my brothers and sisters in recovery to stay vigilant on their respective recovery paths and to stay “prayed up.”

Remember too that no one can take your joy or change you without your permission. Hear the rest of Angelou’s words:

“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

In the Daily Word  on January 16, the passage about the word Dream, read, “I must act, pursue, and above all else, live in faith-filled awareness.”

I must remember that my life is about action now, not passivity laced with complaint. The latter was a part of my old life.

Today, I have a dream. I have a purpose. I will rise.

From James 1:25: “But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.”

A Savasana Gift

If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliche that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal. ~ John Lennon

Yoga practitioners say that savasana, or corpse pose, is a favorite because it is a restorative pose that often concludes a yoga session.

I certainly look forward to the few moments of savasana that wrap up my Thursday night practice. Usually, I melt into relaxation after an hour of stretching and pushing my body to its physical limits. Last Thursday, however, I received an unexpected gift while “practicing” the corpse pose.

I had a vision.

I “saw” my abdomen as a smoothly hollowed out, bowl-like space, as if the edges dropped off below my sternum and rose again at my hips. Oddly enough, I didn’t freak out. I had the sense that all I was supposed to do in that moment was breathe into the space.

That’s it. Just breathe. I remember being vaguely curious about when I would fill the space and with what. Or even whether I would be the one to fill the bowl to its capacity again.

Weird, right?

Along with the mild curiosity, I remember telling myself that all was well. Nothing was unusual or off about having a bowl-gut.

I hadn’t told anyone about my vision until last night when my sweetie asked about my blog topic. Just speaking the words, “I had a vision” felt weird, like I’ve gone a little bit cuckoo, as my friend Helshi says.

When I remember what happened before yoga that night, things begin to add up.

Recently, the Interfaith Peace Chapel at my church–Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ–was tagged with some pretty hateful graffiti aimed presumably at our primarily LGBTQ congregation.

In addition, the Texas lieutenant governor, held a press conference announcing that a bill–turns out it’s SB6–would be introduced prohibiting transgender people from using restrooms reserved for the gender with which they identify. There is much idiocy and insanity in this bill, particularly the statement that it protect women and students.

Five people were killed and eight injured during the terrible tragedy at the Fort Lauderdale airport last week.

A hate-crime beating in Chicago was videoed and posted on Facebook.

A terrorist attack killed 39 in Istanbul on New Year’s.

Peace, where are you?

Give me an epiphany with a little e.

Last Thursday–the Day of Epiphany–while many Christians and others celebrated the manifestation of Jesus in their lives, I had my own little epiphany. My vision of the concave space represents filling myself with love and all its byproducts like generosity and kindness, peace and patience, gentleness and respect, trust and presence and so much more.

May my bowl, my vessel, be filled to overflowing so that none of the evil stays with me for long. Instead, let me be called to pray.

Let me be urged to focus on goodness.

Let me summon the belief–and hold it tightly–that God is working through even these evil times.

Let me continue to wait for moments to pour from my bowl of love, for God has chosen each of us to be his people and to spread one gospel.

It’s love. It’s always love. Now and forever more.

Peace be with you, my friends.

2017: Let’s Do Some Spiritual Shifting

Whew! Thank God THAT year is behind us!

While there was much that was bright and brilliant about 2016, we had to spend an inordinate amount of time looking for it. So many of us are bone-weary from the animosity that flanked the presidential election season regardless of whether our preferred candidate won or lost.

It feels like so much more was lost than won.

I propose that we make 2017 a return to decency and respect.

While it’s a relief to draw a deep, cleansing breath now that our shiny and new 2017 is here, there is damage from last year that needs repairing.

Please know that I’m not writing about politics, but about taking responsibility for one’s humanitarian footprint. In other words, leaving the past behind, how do you wish to care for and connect with your fellows throughout this year to make it a better one than last?

At my church, we’ve kicked off 2017 with a sermon series called Time to Shift. While the focus is on growing our church and its ministries and our individual walks with God, the series has a deeply personal call as well.

I think the time is absolutely right for a spiritual assessment of massive proportions. It IS time to shift.

It’s time to go deep, my friends. It’s time to see what we’re made of. It’s time to learn and grow, and yes, to shift.

Can I get an amen?

Some of you know that I was baptized for the first time last October. As a new Christian and new member of Cathedral of Hope, United Church of Christ, I am passionate about all things Jesus.

Here’s my big HOWEVER: I cherish the notion of individual spiritual sanctity. Whatever your path, I honor it. I hope you share it with me, especially if you agree to move into a shift.

As you begin to take your spiritual practice to a new level, I offer these seven ideas to support you:

Let music, dance, works of literature or art tingle your senses and offset the negative voices of news reports (or any negativity, for that matter!).

Stand firm in your power. No one else will state your case as well as you can.

Believe that you are valuable and worthy. God does, so why shouldn’t you?

Plant your feet in today and keep them there. If you find your mind wandering into “what ifs,” look at your feet.

Honor who you are always. Do not try to be anyone else for anyone else. Ever.

Love wildly and freely. Love big. And please, by all that is holy, love beyond those who look, act, vote like, or eat in the same restaurants as you.

Finally, should you ever feel the need to complain, stop it. Instead, find a solution, or at least a beginning idea.

May you have gobs of courage, hope and faith in 2017, my dear peeps. Big love to YOU!

Surrendering to Election 2016: Let’s Move On!

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Election 2016 is nearly in the books. Nervous anticipation hangs everywhere; the words, “I’ll be so glad when it’s over,” are exchanged again and again in coffee shops, at train stops and every other locale where two or more are gathered.

Throw in a stewed  mess of negative campaigning (what an understatement!) that stirs people into an emotional frenzy and I’m beginning to believe that our next president will need a divine intervention to repair the damage done to the collective American psyche.

My Australian friend Patricia says watching the American presidential campaign is like watching the best reality TV ever!

Too, too much!

I find the entire spectacle childish and sad. There’s a downside to living in a time when our culture is seemingly controlled by social media. Don’t get me wrong, I love the connectivity and potential for good that social media affords us, not to mention that I make my living working with social media platforms.

But for months, every sound bite and pictorial moment among the political candidates has become embedded in the global Twitter feed and therefore deemed newsworthy. My journalist’s heart weeps.

In Texas, we can choose to cast an early ballot so last Wednesday I approached the polling booth, not with excitement as I usually do, but with trepidation. I did not want to vote for either candidate. I felt a surge of resentment just as the polling judge announced, “We have a first-time voter!”

The young woman looked so eager and fresh-faced as she waved to the room.

“Bless her heart,” I thought to myself. What an awful, worn out election to be casting her first presidential vote.

Then I found myself wondering who is blessing the nation’s heart.

A Sunday surrender

At church yesterday, I got the reminder I needed of who is blessing us all. As dark as our nation’s time seems right now, God–insert your name for the Divine–always offers light. The beauty of humanhood is we get to choose to walk in the light and to send the shadows away beyond our hula hoop.

With light comes hope and who among us doesn’t want to carry that torch? I was also reminded during Sunday service at Cathedral of Hope, United Church of Christ, that choosing to bear the light of hope is carrying the mission of countless other masters of hope and peace who came before us. Certainly Jesus, but also the Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. were saints in that they lived and walked in light and love.

We would do well to emulate them. And we do.

You are an everyday saint when you speak words of hope to another and each time you encourage inclusivity instead of division. You are an everyday saint each time to listen thoughtfully without judgment or derision. You are an everyday saint when you see the world with eyes of compassion and when you touch someone else with your peace.

The votes that we cast in this presidential election are crucial–I’m praying for a future filled with optimism and goodwill among those who win their chosen offices.

But we have a higher calling. May you be blessed with an abundance of hope, love and peace this week, and in your blessing, pay it forward.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile:maryhere