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LIVING IN LOVE AND JOY BY JOSEPH J. MAZZELLA joemazzella@frontier.com

Get my books WALKING THE PATH OF LOVE and A JOURNEY OF LOVE at www.amazon.com

BADLY NEEDED GLASSES

Beep! Beep! Beep! My arm swung over to my dresser and grabbed the alarm clock that had awakened me. I shut it off and pulled it to my face to see the hands pointing to 6 O’clock. Slowly I reached over and put it back down. I threw my covers off and swung my legs out of bed. I stepped over my still snoring beagle and stumbled into the bathroom. Then after I was done I walked back into the bedroom and started to get dressed. Something seemed off, though. Things didn’t look quite right. Everything seemed fuzzy and out of focus. The world around me looked both blurry and scary. I rubbed my eyes thinking something was wrong with them. Then I realized what it was. I hadn’t put my glasses on yet.

I wish I could say that this was the first time this has happened, but it isn’t. Too often in this life I have rushed through my day, deprived myself of sleep at night, and woke up the next morning with a drowsy mind that wasn’t working quite right. Still, I can laugh at times like this and use my forgotten glasses as a reminder to take better care of myself.

There is another set of glasses, however, that I try never to forget. I try to remember them no matter how tired my mind and body are. These are the glasses of love. They help my heart and soul to see things clearly. They help me to see just how much God loves me. They help me to see how much I can love as well. They help me to see just how beautiful this world can be when we all love each other. They help me to live as I was meant to live. They help me to make this world a better place. And they help me to become the person God wants me to be.

Without love this world can look fuzzy and out of focus. It can seem blurry and scary. It can look alien and threatening. Yet, when you see through the eyes of love the world becomes warm and friendly. It is God’s world. It is a world in which everyone is your brother or sister. Put on those badly needed glasses of love then. Let yourself see things clearly. Let yourself live a life of love, vision, and joy today, tomorrow and forever.---------------

DINNER

When I was a boy growing up, after church on Sundays, we would always have a delicious Italian dinner. My Nana’s slow cooked sauce was the key. In it were cooked potatoes, chicken, steak, and meatballs. Mounds of spaghetti would also be boiled and dropped into the red sauce. We also had loaves of homemade Italian bread covered in butter. Every now and then there were also big chunks of Provolone cheese. We would all eat, talk, and laugh until both our bellies and hearts were full. After Mom and Nana passed away my Dad would still make the sauce from time to time and invite me and my brothers over to his little home for a dinner full of fine food and happy memories.

When my Dad died he passed the family recipe on to me and my daughter. We often made the sauce for dinner but for some reason it never tasted quite right. At first I thought we had gotten the recipe wrong but one day I realized what was missing. On that day right before dinner I closed my eyes, opened my heart, and imagined my Dad, Mom, and Nana all sitting at the table around me with smiling faces. Then I placed the pasta on my fork and slowly slid it into my mouth. It tasted perfect just as it always had when I was a boy growing up. The secret ingredient was, of course, what it had always been: Love!

Love is the secret ingredient that makes all of life taste better. Love is the meal that God wants all of us to feast upon. In the book of Proverbs it says: “Better a dish of herbs when love is there than a fattened ox and hatred to go with it.”

Make all of your meals with love. Fill all of your days with love. Live all of your life with love. Share your love with everyone you meet. Then you will be truly ready for the reunion dinner that awaits you in Heaven. --------------

IN THE SUNSHINE AND IN THE SHADE

I was driving home on a day in late May. It seemed as if Spring had skipped this year and we had gone straight into Summer. The heat was bad and the humidity worse. The mountains had all turned green but at the moment they were shaded by huge, gray, ominous looking clouds. It looked like a storm could hit at any minute. As I rounded a curve, however, something wonderful happened: a crack appeared in the clouds and sun shone through. The dark green leaves of the mountains were now shining in a glorious, golden light. The road too seemed to shimmer in the sunshine. And I felt my own mood brighten as well. I turned on the car radio and John Denver was singing, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.” I laughed at that minor miracle and thanked God for it. My own smile sparkled as I started to sing along.

Then just as quickly as it opened the crack in the clouds closed and the world went gray again. I didn’t go with it, though. That brief moment in the sun had connected me again with the greater light of God’s love. I felt at one with Earth, Heaven, and everyone everywhere. I felt my own love and joy shining through my soul. I kept singing as the clouds grew dark and sang even louder as the rain began to fall. It felt like all the angels in Heaven were joining in.

In this life we are all called upon to love. We are all called upon to shine. We are all called upon to share God’s light in this world. It is easy to do so on sunny days when life’s pains and problems seem so far away. It is harder to do so on days when the shade of this world seems to darken everything. Yet, God wants us to do so in the sunshine and in the shade.

Let your soul shine bright then. Let your love flow freely. Let your light help others to find their own way out of the shade. Let each day of your life add to the light of this world until you reach the never ending light of the next. ---------------

MOWING THE LAWN

It had been raining on and off for several days and the weather forecast called for even more rainy days ahead. The only break seemed to be for several hours this morning so I knew that I would have to cut the grass now. I had several large lawns to do so I quickly pulled out my old push mower and hoped that the wet grass wouldn’t choke it up too much. I got to work cutting 20 inch swaths over and over in the thick grass. I took my time and did my best to mow around the patches of buttercups and dandelions so the butterflies and bumblebees could still have something to snack on.

As I worked I let my mind wander. Bits of songs bounced around my brain and I let myself sing along with them. Old memories made me smile and I let myself delight in them. Plots from old books and television shows popped up too and I allowed myself to enjoy them. As I grew tired from cutting the large lawns, however, my thoughts grew more serious and turned to the questions that I often mull over.

One in particular stuck in my mind today. “Why am I here?” I knew that I wasn’t just here to mow lawns, do laundry, and wash dishes. I knew that I wasn’t just here to write my stories and share them with the world. I even knew that I wasn’t just here to care for my two mentally handicapped sons. In a sense I was here for all of these things but I was also here for something more. As I was finishing cutting down the last of the grass I felt a warmth come into my heart and a Divine answer enter my mind. It was the same answer I always get but often forget. It said, “You are here to Love!”

We are all here to love! We are here to love God! We are here to love ourselves! We are here to love everyone as ourselves! Live your life in love then. Bring your love to everything you do. Let your love flow when you work at your job. Let your love flow when you hug your family. Let your love flow when you laugh with your friends. Let your love flow when you share a smile with a stranger. Let your love flow from your every thought and prayer. Let your love flow from your heart right up to Heaven. And don’t forget to let your love flow even when you mow the lawn. ---------------

ONE MORE RIDE

I was ten years old riding my bicycle at break-neck speed down a hill near my home. This was long before bike helmets were used and I am sure I was making my poor, old, gray-haired guardian angel work overtime again. Only a month before I had hit a rock in the road, flown over my handlebars and smashed open my skull. I had walked home bleeding, terrified my Mom, and gotten a trip to the hospital to have my skull stitched shut again. The memory of a boy is brief, however, so here I was back on my bike, flying fearlessly down a hill again.

I was picking up speed as I neared a curve in the road. I started to hit my brakes when I saw it: a pothole in the road. Not wanting to go flying over my handlebars again I twisted my wheel and stomped on my foot brakes as hard as I could. I could hear the tires skidding as I flew off the bike. Thankfully, this time I landed on my back and in the soft grass of the field along the side of the road. I got up and laughed. I was happy to be alive and ready for one more ride before heading home. I doubt that my guardian angel felt the same way.

These days I am fifty one years old and my bike riding days are far behind me. I try not to stress my guardian angel too much these days either. I am sure I made him work hard enough when I was a boy. These days my adventures involve hugging my boys and petting my dogs. Still, each day when I wake up in the morning I am happy to be alive. Each day when I open my eyes I am ready for one more ride through this life before heading home. I am not sure how many days, months, or years I have left but I am determined to live them all in laughter, love and joy.

Life is a glorious adventure. Its most exciting parts, though, aren’t when you risk your neck. They are when you share your heart. May you give your love freely then to God, to yourself, and to everyone else. May you make your ride through this life a joyous one for everyone you can.----------------

KEEP SINGING

It was just before dawn when my beeping alarm clock woke me up. I stumbled drowsily out of bed and slowly pulled my clothes on. I was already thinking about my morning cup of coffee when I opened my bedroom door. There waiting on me was my son’s big, white dog, Fluffy. I looked down at his smiling, furry face and knew my morning coffee would have to wait. Fluffy needed no caffeine to jump around happily while I put his leash on. Then as soon as I opened the door he dragged me outside.

The sky was mostly cloudy and the sun hadn’t yet come over the horizon. The Maple and Oak trees were still budding and held no leaves as yet. Still, my ears told me it was Spring. The forest surrounding my home was alive with birdsong. I could hear at least a hundred birds singing at once. Dozens of species were making their own unique music and it all blended together perfectly in a chorus of joy. I breathed in the cool, morning air and smiled. I let the sweet songs of my feathered friends flow through my ears and down to my heart. Their music awakened me more than any coffee ever could. It felt so good to hear it. It felt so good to be alive in God’s world. I kept Fluffy out for a while longer while I enjoyed this symphony. I knew not to take it for granted for by Summer most of these birds would be parents too busy to sing.

Thankfully, we human beings have an advantage over our feathered friends. We are guided by choice rather than instinct. We can sing in the Winter as well as the Spring. We can sing each and everyday of our lives. We can sing when we are busy. We can sing when we are stressed. We can sing no matter what happens to us in this world. We can sing from our lips, our hearts, and our souls. We can sing songs of love and joy to each other and to God. Keep singing then. Let your song live through your life. Let all of Earth and Heaven hear you sing.---------------

SEA OF INFORMATION

When I was a boy I was the remote. Not only did I get up to change the television channel, I also walked outside to turn the antenna to pick up the other network. My i-tunes were a stack of vinyl records under our plastic record player. My Google was a pile of books in the corner of the living room. My e-mail was a sheet of paper, a pen, and an envelop. My video games were played in my mind while I romped outside in the sunshine.

Today, however, we live in a sea of information. There are dozens of social media sites. There are hundreds of cable television channels. There are e-mails and text messages that make our computers and smart phones beep constantly. There are video games that eat up our time. There are news shows that only feed our anger and prejudices. There is so much information that we rarely have time to think about it, let alone reflect on our lives here.

What can we do in such a sea? How can we navigate it? How can we sail it to find the truth about our world and ourselves? I think the key comes in asking ourselves a few important questions. When the waves of information come at you then ask yourself these things. Is this information uplifting my heart? Is it inspiring my soul? Is it educating my mind. Is it making me feel happier about my life here? Is it making me kinder and more loving? Is it urging me to help make the world a better place? Is it bringing me closer to God? If the answer is no then turn it off, disregard it, and dismiss it from your life.

Our lives here are too brief to be awash in a sea of negativity. God loves us and put us here to love each other and to make this Earth more like Heaven. If the information around you isn’t helping you do this then it is wasting your time and your life. Your life is what you allow into your heart and soul and also what you share from your heart and soul. May it always be love.-----------------------

A GROWING HEART

I was selfish as a teenager. This I freely admit. I usually spent my time thinking about myself and taking care of my own needs. I let my older brother do most of the chores around the house until he left for college. I let my Mom and Dad worry about our bills and problems while I read books, played, and lost myself in my own imagination. This didn’t change even when I went to college either. I studied hard but only to make my own life better. Even when I started to explore my faith and spirituality, it was only to increase my own happiness.

I married while still in school and decided to start a family. Of course, I had no idea what hard knocks reality had in store for my selfish soul. Soon I found myself unemployed, deeply in debt, and with a new baby on the way. I found out that modern life has little sympathy for spoiled, pampered people. In fact, all of the struggles I was going through were beating the selfishness slowly out of me one problem at a time.

Still, I didn’t give up on happiness. I knew that there must be a way to find it. I finally realized, however, that it had to include more than just my own needs, wants, and desires. The answer began to make itself clear one night shortly after my baby boy was born. My wife was asleep in the middle of the night when I heard him stir in his cradle. I got a bottle and held him in my arms. As I was feeding him I looked down and saw his big, innocent, trusting eyes staring up at me. I smiled and talked soothingly to him. Then he smiled and I could feel my heart growing, expanding with love. I felt such peace and joy. In that moment I had a hint of the truth: it is by growing our hearts with love that we find our happiness. It is by sharing our love with others that we create joy, serve God, and make this world a better place.

Carolyn Arends wrote: “The more people you let into your heart, the bigger your heart gets. The more love you give, the more love you have to give. It just keeps growing.” Keep loving then. Keep living. Keep laughing. Keep caring. Keep sharing. Keep helping our Heavenly Father to heal this world. Keep growing your heart today, tomorrow, and always.----------------

A FEW MINOR REPAIRS

The frame of my 23 year old car had finally become so rusted that it was unsafe. Sadly, I decided it was time to trade it in for a less old one. I found myself then at a local used car lot looking at a 12 year old sedan. There was no way I could afford a new car, but this one seemed in fine shape. I made the deal and drove it home.

It wasn’t long, however, before I noticed a squealing when I turned the steering wheel too tightly. I made an appointment at a local garage and drove there on a bright Spring day. While I was driving I unfortunately fell back into old habits of fear, fret, and worry. The heat of the day made me turn on the air conditioner but no cold air came out of it. This only made me worry more. I wondered if I had made a big mistake buying this car.

When I arrived at the garage the mechanics took the car in while I sat in the waiting room. The warmth and beauty of the day, though, was too good to ignore. I walked outside and felt the refreshing breeze on my face. It had been a late Spring after a long Winter and the 70 degree day felt like a blessing from above. I strolled contentedly around the parked cars and noticed a small patch of dandelions growing out of a crack in the concrete. As I looked down at them a single white butterfly floated down and landed on them. Butterflies had for years held a special place in my heart. They remind me always of my late mother and her love for me. I smiled when I saw this one and felt in my heart a peace and joy that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I realized then that while the mechanics were preforming a few minor repairs on my car, God was preforming a few minor repairs on my soul.

Life is too short to allow fear, fret, and worry to rule our days. God put us here to love each other and God reminds us of this in countless ways everyday. My “new” car is running fine now and I am doing my best to keep my soul doing the same. May you always keep your own soul open to whatever minor repairs God sends your way. ---------------

ONE BIG THANK YOU

Today I awoke to the sound of my heater kicking on, warming my home on this cold Spring morning. Today when I bent down to put a lease on my dog for his walk he nuzzled his head up against my leg to be petted. Today when I walked outside I saw the sun rising above the trees and bathing the world in its golden light. Today my oldest son walked up to me with a cheerful “Good morning, Dad!” and gave me a hug. Today my youngest son started his day as he usually does with a big smile and a bigger laugh. Today my breakfast of warm oatmeal and hot coffee made my belly feel full and my insides feel toasty. Today as I was doing my morning exercises I realized that I hadn’t thanked God for any of these things that had happened this morning. I quickly remedied that situation and suddenly felt the powerful love of God filling my heart and expanding my soul. I thanked God again for His glorious love and promised to love too with all of my heart.

The truth is that I have spent far too much of my life here focused on the wrong list. I am talking about my wish list. It is the list I wanted to achieve for my life to be the way I wanted it to be. It led to anger, frustration, jealousy, and guilt. It made me constantly compare my life to some ideal and not enjoy the life I had been given. These days I am trying more and more to live from the right list, the thankfulness list. I am accepting life as it is and seeing the countless, loving, blessings that our Heavenly Father gives us each day. It is leading me to more joy, peace, kindness, and love than I have ever known. It is helping me live the life I was meant to live.

It is fine to work to achieve your wishes in this life, but don’t forget to count and cherish your blessings as well. God loves us so much and He wants us to be happy and grateful in our lives here. May we all turn our lives into one big Thank-You then. May we all live with love and joy.----------------

FAMILY REUNION

Epiphanies often come to us at the strangest times and wisdom often awakens in us in the most unusual places. It was a late Friday afternoon and my family and I were at the grocery store. We usually shop on Saturdays but the early Spring weather forecast had predicted a Winter snowstorm. Thus, here we were grabbing groceries in time to beat the storm. Unfortunately everyone else in town had the same idea. The store was both crazy and crowded. Everywhere I turned shopping carts were blocking my path. The more I tried to maneuver the less progress I seemed to make. We were stuck and stressed and it looked like we weren’t getting out of the store anytime soon.

It was at this point that somewhere deep in my heart I heard a voice speaking to me. “Why are you rushing?”, it said. “Relax and enjoy this moment. Look around and see who you are with.” Thankfully, I listened to it. I opened my eyes, cleared my mind, and relaxed my heart. I let go of my stress and smiled. It was then that I saw something very beautiful: my family. I wasn’t just seeing my own children either. Everyone in the store was my family. The old lady pushing her cart was my sister. The little girl grabbing for her favorite cereal was my daughter. The big guy with the bushy beard was my brother. I didn’t know the names of any of them but at that moment we were all one. We were Children of God on a wonderful journey of learning and love. I wasn’t at the store. I was at the family reunion. I slowed to a stroll then and spent my time sharing smiles, kind words, and friendly laughter with my family.

Our Heavenly Father loves us so much. He created us to love each other as well. He created us to be one family here on Earth. May we always live then as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers. May we always live as one. ----------------

THE LIGHT IN HIS EYES

After I graduated college I struggled to find work. I applied everywhere but no one was interested in hiring me. Finally I was able to find a job in a group home for mentally disabled adults. It wasn’t easy work. We were responsible for the feeding, dressing, hygiene, and safety of our clients. We had to keep them on a schedule, take them to their supported jobs, and help them to control their behaviors when they acted out. It was a difficult job emotionally and I really wasn’t ready for it. The truth be told I didn’t look forward to going to work each day.

One of our clients in particular was a young man who couldn’t talk and would often act out when frustrated. He did enjoy walking outside, however, so the other workers would often have me take him for a stroll up the road to calm him down. One day when we were out walking I suddenly felt something touch my fingers. The young man was trying to hold my hand. Instead of pushing it away I took his hand in mine and we walked along together in the sunshine. Then as we turned to head back to the home I saw it. There was a light shining in his eyes. It was full of love. It was full of joy. It was full of goodness. In that moment I saw past his troubling behaviors and his handicapped mind. In that moment I saw the angelic spirit that lay within him. In that moment I saw who he really was.

Little did I know that God would use that experience to help prepare me for my own two son’s Autism. It would help me to see the light that lay within them as well. It would help me to learn that caring for them was not a duty but an honor. It would help me to realize that they were to be my greatest teachers in how to live and how to love.

The handicapped can teach us so much in this life. They can show us the divinity that lies within each of us. They can show us that the only way to make sure that laughter, love, and joy live on our planet is to put them there ourselves. They can show us that light, love, and kindness are the essential parts of our being. Don’t ignore the lessons they teach. Embrace them with love. And always remember that every child of God is precious and holy.---------------

A BROKEN BB GUN

When I was a young boy my favorite toy was a BB gun. It was shaped like an old fashioned Winchester lever action rifle. When I had it in my hands I suddenly became all the heros of the Western movies that I watched. I was John Wayne riding to the rescue, fighting off train robbers along the empty train tracks that ran next to our yard. Occasionally I would shoot BB’s for target practice but most of the time I just pretended to be a cowboy with it.

One day I walked into the house carrying my gun in my hand. I was imitating a John Wayne movie where he swung the rifle by its lever and shot it with one hand. As I did so, however, I heard a pop. I hadn’t totally cleaned the BB’s out of the gun when I was shooting it the day before. I watched in terror as the BB parted the hair of my Dad who was snoozing on the couch. A half an inch lower and it would have shot him in the head. My Dad woke up instantly and saw what happened. With a lot of anger and cursing he grabbed my BB gun, walked out to the railroad tracks and smashed it on the rails. I wouldn’t have another BB gun for a long time after that and when I did I refused to put BB’s in it.

What bothered me the most, though, was seeing the anger in my Dad’s eyes. I hid in my room for the rest of the day not wanting to face him. I was afraid he didn’t love me anymore. At dinnertime he finally walked into the room and put his hand on my head. “It’s ok, Joey”, he said. “I forgive you. Now come and eat.” I felt so relieved and joyful at that moment. I felt safe, happy, and loved once again.

In the years that followed I would disappoint my Dad more than once. I would also disappoint my Heavenly Father time and time again. I was a slow learner and suffered the consequences of my own actions. I hurt myself and others. I cried and struggled and grieved. Yet, through it all I always felt loved. No matter how many times I messed up I knew that God loved me and forgave me. I knew too that He was helping me to become better, kinder, and more loving. I just had to do my part.

God loves us all so much. His love is unconditional. He forgives our mistakes, failures, and bad choices. He guides us along the path of love and helps us to become the people we were meant to be. He helps us to find the light and love that lies deep within our own souls. Whatever you go through in this life then remember, you are loved! Remember, you can love! Remember, YOU ARE LOVE! -----------------

DIXIE

On a cold, snowy day in March my cat, Dixie died. I walked into the bathroom to find her lying motionless. I stroked her head, and gently held her in my arms. Then I carried her to the woods behind my house to bury her. I tried not to cry as I walked. She had lived sixteen years, after all. I knew her health was fading too. Always a skinny cat she had been eating less and less lately until I could feel her bones through her gray fur when I petted her. Still, the tears fell.

Dixie like most cats was quite a personality. She enjoyed napping in the sunshine on top of my desk by the window and after I would make dinner I would often find her sneaking a snooze on the still warm kitchen stove. She loved attention but only on her own terms. She didn’t like to be picked up but would climb on my chest when I was in bed, curl into a ball, and fall asleep. She would walk off if I tried to pet her but would later curl into the crook of my arm and purr while I read in the evenings. She would never meow unless she could get food out of it and sometimes she would sneak in like a panther on the prowl and steal the food right off our plates. She disliked our house full of dogs and spent her time either irritating them or hiding from them. Yet, she will always have her own special place in my heart and I know I am going to miss her.

I have lost so many dogs and cats in my half-century of living. It is one of life’s cruel ironies that we get to live so many years and they get to live so few. In spite of the loss, hurt, heart-break and tears, however, I couldn’t imagine myself living without them. They have taught me again and again that you have to live this life with an open heart. You have to love and keep loving even when it hurts and even when you lose the ones you love. You have to know that the love and joy are worth the pain. That may be one of the greatest lessons that God has for us to learn here. I am just glad He gave us dogs and cats to help us learn it. Keep loving then, always!---------------

A BIT OF SONG

It was a beautiful morning. I was still asleep in my bed when the rising sun sneaked through my curtains and tapped me on my eyelids. I quickly woke up and walked into my living room. My cat was sitting on top of my desk soaking in the sun that shone through the widow. I smiled at her as I leashed up my dogs and headed outside. I took my time walking them too. It was cold and frost was on the grass, but I didn’t mind. After weeks of overcast skies I delighted in the light. I watched as the pink and purple clouds slowly turned a brilliant gold. Then I smiled up at the sky and thanked God for the beautiful morning and for another day here on Earth.

Later in the day I was grabbing a few odds and ends at the local grocery store. I was exchanging pleasantries with the cashier when I heard a giggle behind me. I turned and saw a little girl holding her Mom’s hand. She looked up at me and said: “You sing when you talk.” Her Mom looked embarrassed and apologized, but I just smiled at the little girl and laughed along with her. It was only then that I realized that I had been feeling so fine on this glorious day that my voice had even changed. It had become so light and airy that my “Good morning”, “Thank you”, and “Have a great day” had taken on a song like quality. Instead of feeling embarrassed by it, though, I felt even better. It was so wonderful knowing that I had been singing when I talked and that I had made that little girl giggle with joy.

Henry Ward Beecher once wrote: “The sun does not shine for a few trees or flowers, but for the wide world’s joy.” May the same be true for all of us. May we all share our love not just with those around us but with everyone we meet. May we all shine our light not just in our own homes but for the whole, wide world. May we all give our joy to God, ourselves, and everyone else. And if a bit of song should sneak into our voices when we do then all the better.---------------

HUMMINGBIRDS

I got a lovely gift in the mail last week. It was a pair of framed pictures. Both were high resolution photographs of birds. They were so beautiful. One in particular caught my eye. It was of a hummingbird frozen in mid-flight. It was flying upside down with its tail feathers held up to hold it steady while its little wings beat. Its long, needle nose was reaching deep into a drooping flower to feast on its sweet nectar. It looked so small, yet so full of life.

I have always loved hummingbirds ever since I was a little boy. I would eagerly wait for Spring and Summer to arrive so I could watch them. I was amazed by their aerial acrobatics. I would gaze at them for hours as they zoomed in and out of flowers and fought for places at the bird feeders we would set out for them. They seemed to defy the laws of nature with how fast their wings would beat, how they could hover in midair around a blossom, how they could fly sideways, backwards, and even upside down. They were a true miracle to behold and every time I looked at them I would smile. They were a wonderful reminder of the complexity of God’s creation and the power of God’s love.

Albert Einstein once said that “There are only two ways to live your life, as though nothing is a miracle or as though everything is a miracle.” I will always choose the latter. I will always see the miracle that is life: be it the rising sun, the roar of the ocean, the cry of a newborn baby, or the sight of a hummingbird in flight.

Always remember that life is a miracle and always remember that you can be a miracle too. You can be a miracle of love. You can be a miracle of kindness. You can be a miracle in the life of another. You can be God’s miracle in this world. Be the miracle then. Let your soul fly through this life and into the next.--------------

NOW, TODAY, AND ALWAYS

I have a little clock on the bottom right hand side of my computer screen that always tells me what time it is. I also have a clock hanging on my wall. I have two alarm clocks in my bedroom. I have a clock in my car. Every time I look at my cell phone or house phone too, there is the time looking up at me. But the older I get the less I find myself paying attention to any of them. I stopped wearing a watch years ago and don’t miss it at all. These days I try to live my life as timelessly as possible; which isn’t easy in our modern society. Yet, it has made such a major difference for me. It has allowed me to embrace each moment as it comes. I know too that whatever it says on that clock on the wall, it is always Now.

It took me a long time to realize this and I still forget it from time to time. Now that I have passed the half century mark in my own life, however, I have started to cherish each day and every second that God gives me on this Earth. I know that I will never have time to do all that I want to do but at least I can live today in love. Today I can spend my morning in prayer. Today I can look at the sun shining in the sky and feel its warmth on my face. Today I can give my sons and daughter a hug. Today I can play fetch with my dog and revel in his delight. Today I can laugh at a good joke and share a warm smile. Today I can quietly commit an unseen act of kindness. Today I can write a few words that will touch a few hearts.

There is an old Hindu saying that goes: “Yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow only a vision; but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.” Make sure your today is well lived then. Make sure your Now is filled with love and joy. If you do this your past will be beautiful, your future will be wonderful, and your eternity will be spent in God’s loving arms. ---------------

A LITTLE YELLOW FACE

It had been a long winter. Bitter cold, snowy days had hit us again and again. On the warmer days there had been little sunshine only cold, icy rain. The sun had become such a rare sight that I had taken to looking at a picture of it on my wall calendar to remember what it looked like. The grass had remained brown and dormant in the meadows. The deer had come out of the woods and started digging through the fallen leaves in our yards looking for what acorns they could find. My own backyard had turned into a muddy mess that tried to steal the shoes right off my feet as I walked on it. My heart ached and longed for Spring and my own good cheer had trouble rising up against the continuous, cold, gray days.

The rain poured down on me as I walked my dogs, holding their leashes in my icy fingers. I looked up at the sky hoping to see the sun smiling down with its warm, golden face. But it was no use. The sky was as overcast as ever and Spring still seemed an eternity away. It was then, however, that I saw it. It wasn’t the smiling face of the sun in the sky but a little, yellow face peeking through the mud. It was a dandelion, the first of the year and it filled my heart with hope and joy. I smiled and thanked God for this little sign that Winter would soon be over and that Spring would arrive bringing life to this world once again. I felt my good cheer rising up at last and I promised God that I would share it with everyone I could.

One day that tiny dandelion’s seeds will fill the meadow with little, yellow faces smiling up from the ground. Its work will make this world a better and more beautiful place. May we all do the same. May we all shine our light and share our love even on the coldest and grayest days. May we all help God to share a bit of Spring in the midst of Winter. May we all work to make this world better and brighter even when it is at its darkest.---------------

GOD’S MATH

When I was young I was great at math. I had started playing cards with my Mom, Dad, Nana, and brothers when I was only four years old. All of those pleasant evenings at the kitchen table playing “Knock” and “Rummy” had made me very good at addition and subtraction. It gave me a head start over the other first graders. I was soon at the top of my math class and I stayed there until high school when a thing known as Algebra both kicked my butt and befuddled my mind.

After I was grown up, however, I was introduced to an even more complicated form of math: “God’s Math”. It was quite different from any math I had ever known and I had a terrible time learning it. It was based on the truth that “It is in giving that we receive.”

I am sorry to say that I fought learning this for a long time. I hoarded my money and spent it only on my family and myself. I never gave a dime to charity and ended up feeling poor, miserable, isolated and alone. This finally changed one day at the local grocery store. There was a box there for donations to the local food pantry. I had already bought my family’s weekly groceries and was about to check out when something stirred in me. I picked up another big bag of rice and put it in my cart. As I was walking out the door I quietly dropped it in the food pantry box. I left the store feeling like the richest person in the world. I felt joyous, connected, at one with God and everyone else. My wallet was a little lighter but my heart so much fuller. It was the beginning of a wonderful journey of learning about love and giving that goes on to this day.

If you want to truly live your life here you have to do God’s math. You can’t live just for yourself. You have to give of yourself. You can’t just love yourself. You have to love others as yourself. Give from your heart then. Give your goods. Give your talents. Live your life with love. If you do then you will receive so much more from life and from God.---------------

WINTER WORK

It was Groundhog Day and the furry rodent had just predicted 6 more weeks of Winter. A winter storm had hit overnight too. I tried to open my backdoor only to find six inches of wet, heavy snow piled up against it. I knew I had quite a job of shoveling out ahead of me, so I reached over to grab my snow shovel. It looked a lot more ready to work than I did. I sighed and pulled on my boots, gloves, and heavy coat.

The wind chill was below zero and cut into my face as I slowly shoveled off my deck. After that I started my way over to my daughter’s house shoveling the path as I walked. It took awhile to get her driveway clear and I knew I still had a lot to do. Next came the paths down the hill to my own cars covered in snow. I had grabbed the broom to sweep them off as well. I winced when the breeze blew the swept snow back into my face. Then I started to shovel out my driveways. My back was aching as I worked. I wished I could be building a snowman instead of shoveling. Winter sure had seemed a lot more fun when I was a boy.

When I was done I examined my work. It didn’t look half bad. I smiled and looked at the woods covered in white. They were such a special sight. I leaned on my shovel and took it all in. Then I thanked God for the beauty of the day and started up the hill with the snow shovel in one hand and the broom in the other. Suddenly, an urge came over me and I dropped them both. I spread my arms, fell back into the blanket of white and happily moved my arms and legs to make an angel in the snow.

As you go through the seasons of this life take joy in your work. Take joy in your play. Take joy in your life. Remember that the course of your days rests in your own hands. And always know in your heart that God loves you through the snowstorms as well as in the sunshine.---------------

HAND ME DOWNS

Aside from socks and underwear at Christmas and an occasional new pair of sneakers, I never got any new clothes as a child. What I got were hand-me-downs. My coats, jackets, shirts, sweaters, pants, and even belts were all clothes that my older brothers had out grown and then been given to me. My clothes were often torn, sewed, and patched. They were never “in style.” I didn’t resent having to wear them, though. We weren’t rich and new clothes were a luxury not a necessity. That is just the way it was. Most of my friends in school were dressed in hand-me- downs as well.

Even today I often shop at thrift stores and rarely buy new what I can find used. It is just who I am. I happily reject the march of materialism that so many others follow and find my true treasures not in money but in people, not in stuff but in ideas, not in things from the stores but in feelings from the heart.

Looking back too I realize that clothes weren’t the only thing my Mom, Dad, and Nana handed down to me. They also handed down a deep compassion for other people and a desire to help them. They handed down a respect for this world and a delight in all living things be they flowers, plants, birds, or bugs. They handed down a sense of justice and fair play. They handed down a sense of pride in hard work and a job well done. They handed down a thirst for knowledge and wisdom. They handed down their kindness, good cheer, and happiness in doing good for others. They handed down a faith in God, awe for His creation, and joy in His love for us. Most of all they handed down their love. They loved me and instilled in me a love for God, myself, others, and life. They also instilled in me a desire to share all of these things with my own children and with everyone else.

What are you going to hand down in this life? What are you going to pass on to others? What are you going to share with the world? Whatever your hand-me-downs are give them with love. Make them gifts from the heart that touch the hearts of those around you. Make them treasures from your soul that others will treasure as well.----------------

A SMALL KINDNESS

I had abruptly run out of printer ink just when I needed it, so I found myself making the long drive to the only store around here that sells it. It was the worst possible time to shop. The store was packed with people and the wait at the checkout counter was long. I could see the stress and frustration on the faces of the people around me. It was no better in the parking lot and I found myself in the middle of a long line of cars waiting to pull out on the highway.

As my car was inching forward I saw her. She was a young, thin woman with black skin and a tattered coat. She was holding up a cardboard sign that read: “Homeless. Please Help!” I watched as car after car drove past her while their drivers averted their eyes. As I came closer my better angels whispered in my ear and I quickly grabbed my wallet and pulled out the little cash I had left. I stopped next to her, rolled down my window, and quickly put it in her hand. She looked at me with a small, sad smile and whispered “Thank You” before the honking of the car behind me forced me to drive on.

I drove away saying a prayer for her and hoping that I had helped her even a little. Did my small act of kindness make a difference for her? I don’t know. Did it change the opinion of the driver behind me? Probably not. Was it important in the eyes of Heaven? Definitely So! In this life we all want to make great changes and do great things, but sometimes a small kindness is all God asks of us. Sometimes a small kindness is all we can do. Sometimes a small kindness is enough.

Robert Fulghum once wrote: “Maybe being a bleeding heart is always better than having no heart at all.” Let your heart guide you then. Fill your days with small kindnesses. Fill your life with love. And know there is always a home waiting for you: in Heaven.-----------------

THE HILL

It was a cold, dark Winter’s night during my freshman year of college. I was at the local pub drinking steadily with my friends. My body was starting to feel it too. My brain was numb and fuzzy. My vision was getting a bit blurry. My fingers were tingling and my stomach was churning. I felt like I could throw up at any second. Not wanting to embarrass myself in front of my friends I said I was heading back to the dorm and walked out of the bar.

I stumbled my way across the road and took a side street through town to the intersection. The worst part of my journey lay ahead, though. Our campus was in the mountains of West Virginia and the dorm I lived in was built at the top of a long, steep hill. I looked up warily at it and started to walk up the sidewalk. Suddenly, I was face down in the snow. The sidewalk was covered in ice. I had caught myself with my hands, spraining both wrists but keeping my head from cracking into the concrete. I got up again took two more steps and was down again. This time my knee took the worst of it and started bleeding through my blue jeans. I could see some students near the top of the hill laughing at me as they watched me fall again and again. The steepest part of the hill was still ahead too and I didn’t know how I was going to get up it without seriously hurting myself. Then, all at once, my steps seemed to get steadier. The ice was still underfoot and I was still terribly drunk, but I was no longer falling. Slowly, step by step I made it to the top of the hill safely. I decided to give up drinking soon after that and have never missed it since.

It is only now, however, that I see that I must have had some unseen help to make it up that icy sidewalk on that cold, Winter’s night. Even though I didn’t ask for it, God and His angels kept me safe that night just as they have kept me safe many times since then.

I know this life can often seem like a long, icy hill that we must climb and stumble our way up. Yet, it is good to know that we don’t walk it alone. God loves us and is with us every step of the way whether we realize it or not. Why not reach out and take His hand? Why not walk with Him with love in your heart and joy in your step? Why not bend down and help up a few others who have fallen along the way? If you do you might find the hill isn’t quite so steep. If you do you might even find yourself dancing instead of slipping.--------------

LAUGH A LOT

Enlightenment is a curious thing. It comes in unexpected moments. It comes in all shapes and sizes. I received a moment of enlightenment just recently from the mouth of a babe. I was heading into the local post office to mail out a few checks to pay a few bills. I saw a young woman who had gone to school with my oldest son. On her hip was her little daughter who was no more than three years old. After talking for a few minutes she shared a story of her high school days with my son and we both smiled. Just then her little girl pointed up to the heavy folds of wrinkles around my eyes. “What are those?”, she asked. I smiled again and said they were laugh lines. She looked at me for a second and then said, “You must laugh a lot!”

On my way home that funny, enlightening moment stayed in my mind. “Yes”, I thought to myself. “I have laughed a lot over the years. I have smiled a lot too. I have been blessed. I have been happy more often than not. And if my heavy wrinkles are a sign of that, then it is a sign I am pleased to share with everyone I meet.”

Our laughter, love, and smiles don’t just produce wrinkles in our skin either. They also help our hearts. They also line up our lives. They also carve out the shape of our souls. Every act of kindness, every act of sharing, every act of caring ripples out to touch the lives of countless others. Every moment that we love each other here on earth shines so brightly that it is seen in Heaven. Every smile we share makes God smile as well.

Learn to love your laugh lines then. Learn to embrace your wrinkles with joy. The next time you look in the mirror: touch, smile and admire them. They are a sign that you have laughed a lot. They are a sign that you have loved a lot. They are a sign that you have lived a lot. They are a sign that you are being the person God meant for you to be.------------

WINTER JOYS

When I was a boy growing up I never looked forward to January. It was a time of short, gray days and long, dark nights. The bitter wind here in the mountains made waiting outside for the school bus very painful. The windows were covered in frost, the sidewalks were slick with ice and the water pipes to the house would freeze at times. Even the floors were cold when I got up in the morning. The Christmas decorations had long since been taken down and the tree thrown away. The holidays were over and now it was just Winter.

Over the years, though, I began to find that Winter had its own unique set of joys. Snow days off from school were a pure pleasure with sled riding, making snowmen, and snowball fights with my brothers. The winter sunrise was a sight to behold. Its beauty made my heart warm on the coldest days. The woods seemed to take on a special beauty when they were covered in snow. They sparkled like crystal on the quiet mornings. Thick socks and warm sweaters were a delight. I would pull them on and then sit in my chair by our stove to read books on the dark Winter eves. Warm meals around the table seemed to hold an extra happiness in the Winter months. They made our bellies full and our hearts fuller. Watching Cardinals at the bird feeder with my Mom always made us both smile. They were a special reminder to her of God’s love during those bleak Winter months. And the sunshine after a snowfall made the whole world glow with light. It was almost like a hint of what Heaven must look like.

The seasons of our lives here all have their own unique joys. It is just up to us to find them. It is just up to us to create them. Let God keep your heart warm even on the coldest, darkest days then. Fill your life with the sunshine of kindness and joy. And let your love fly like a Cardinal ,from heart to heart, during the Winter as well as in the Springtime.---------------

MOMENTS, DAYS, YEARS

When I was a young man I had a lot of ego and very little empathy. I thought I knew everything. I looked forward to fame and success. I can even remember once in college arrogantly telling one of my friends: “If only everyone listened to me then they would all be happy.” I finally left school ready to take on the world. Little did I know the world was about to take on me.

In the years following college instead of success I found struggles. I had trouble finding work. The jobs I did work at were either temporary or back-breaking and none of them paid well. When my wife and I had children we were shocked to learn that not one but both of our sons had Autism and would need to be taken care of for the rest of their lives. I had no idea why this had happened to us and I was very angry at God.

In time, however, I began to change. My formally massive ego was shrinking fast and my empathy was beginning to grow. Instead of success, I found my joy in moments of love. Playing and laughing with my sons brought me so much happiness. My boys taught me more about peace, patience, kindness, joy, and unconditional love than I could have ever learned on my own. I began to share the lessons I learned through my writings and my life. I finally realized too that my purpose in this world had nothing to do with fame or success and everything to do with allowing God’s love and light into my life and sharing it with everyone I could.

Always remember that moments of love become days of love and days of love become years of love. You may not be happy 100% of the time. No one can be in this world. Yet, in God’s love you will find a joy no earthly success could ever give. Put all of your moments, days, and years to good use then. Live them with love.---------------

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

It was the middle of December several years ago. I had some old Christmas records playing. A light snow was falling outside but I didn’t mind. I was getting ready to head to my daughter’s college to bring her home for the holidays.

The weather forecast had only called for light flurries and I was an experienced driver in snow so I wasn’t worried as me and my two sons put on our coats and walked down to the car. As we got out on the road, however, I realized that the weather forecast had been wrong. The light flurries had turned into heavy snow squalls falling fast and covering the roads. The snow plows were rapidly falling behind and I knew at once that it wasn’t going to be an easy drive.

It was a 3 hour round trip to my daughter’s college, but I knew it was going to be a lot longer today as I slowed my car to match the slickness of the roads. The narrow mountain road I usually took as a short cut hadn’t been plowed at all so I stayed on the main roadways knowing it would add another hour to my trip. Once I was on the interstate, though, conditions only worsened. I slowed down further but four wheel drive trucks sped past me throwing huge showers of slush onto my windshield. I slowed my breathing and tried not to grip the steering wheel too hard. During the last 20 miles the road switched back to two lanes and I suddenly found myself behind a very inexperienced Winter driver. Instead of driving slow and adjusting when he hit a slick spot he was braking hard and swerving all over the road. I braked hard myself to keep from hitting him and slid off the asphalt into a ditch.

I tried pulling out again and again but could only hear spinning tires. I was half-way out in the road and a truck zoomed by us missing the car by inches. I looked at my two sons with my heart pounding in my chest and prayed: “God, I really need your help right now!” I tried to pull out again and miraculously the car stared to move. It felt as if it was almost being pushed out of the ditch. I pulled back on the road and said: “Thank you God!”

By the time I reached the college the sun was out and the plows were beginning to get the roads clear again. I picked up my daughter and slowly headed home. When we arrived the dogs greeted us happily at the door and I could see the Christmas tree lights blinking brightly. It felt so good to be safe and home again. I could feel God’s love all around me and within me as well.

In his book, “The Story of the Other Wise Man” author Henry Van Dyke wrote: “He who walks in love may wander far, Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.” Wherever you go then and however dangerous your journeys may be always remember that you are watched over by God with a love more powerful and more beautiful than you can ever imagine. ---------------

FEARLESS LOVE

I was looking at some photo albums today. That is where us old folks used to store our pictures before smart phones were invented. Anyway as I was going through them I found a worn and dusty one at the bottom of a pile and opened it gently. As I slowly turned the pages I suddenly saw a picture of my beautiful daughter, Beth that instantly grabbed my heart and transported me back in time.

It was 25 years ago. We were in a community center of an old coal town. The little children were all waiting for Santa to arrive. My daughter was only two and a half years old and this was her first time meeting Saint Nick. Most of the other young children seemed scared and uncertain when he first walked into the room but my daughter’s eyes lit up. She clapped her hands and laughed. She jumped up and down. She sparkled with happiness. Maybe it was that she was used to beards because one of her grandpas had one. Maybe it was that it was her uncle under the red, Santa suit. Whatever the reason at just that instant we took the picture and forever captured that moment of simple joy, sweet innocence, and fearless love.

Whenever the problems and hassles of the holidays start to bother me I think back to that moment with my baby daughter and remember again the spirit of the season. It is that fearless love that another baby in a manger so long ago came here to teach us. It is that fearless love that we can carry in our hearts not only at Christmas but all the year long. It is that fearless love that can still save this world and make it into the paradise it was always meant to be.

May your heart always be free of fear and full of love. May you share the light in your soul with everyone you meet. And may you make the rest of your life here a Christmas celebration of caring, sharing, giving, and loving.--------------

WHY ME?

It was many years ago. I was a college graduate with a degree but no job. My substitute teaching work had dried up and I was getting desperate. I had a family to feed and little money left. Fortunately, my oldest brother had been able to get me a job at the local lumber mill where he worked. While I was grateful, my first day there was quite a blow to my ego. The job paid barely above minimum wage. The work was hard and back breaking. It was full of bending, lifting, and carrying heavy wood for eight hours a day. Splinters were soon my best pals and every day I went home aching and exhausted.

When Winter arrived my gloves tore and my fingers split and bled in the cold air. I found myself using more band aids and duct tape than I ever thought I would just to keep my hands working. The turn over rate at the mill became so high that at the end of two years only four other people had worked there longer than I had. Every morning I would pull myself out of bed and go to work knowing it was going to be another difficult day. I tried my best to keep my spirits up but many times during those years I found myself saying, “Why me, God? Why am I having to go through this? Why has my life not turned out the way I dreamed it would?” I never got an answer.

It is only now many years later that I have a hint of why I had to go through those tough times. I think maybe in a way I needed them. I needed them to shrink my ego and grow my humility. I needed them to deepen my faith in God and learn to trust in His guidance. I needed them to become more caring, compassionate, and loving. I needed them to learn that every person in this world is my sister or brother and that they all deserve my help and kindness.

I think that it is the “Why Me?” times of our lives in which we grow the most. It is these times that bring us closest to God. It is these times that mature and refine our souls. If you are going through some “Why Me?” times then don’t give up. Use them to become stronger. Use them to become better. Use them to become kinder and more loving. Use them to grow into the person you were meant to be in this life, so you can take that person with you into the next. ---------------

THE WRONG WOLF

Ever since I was a boy I have loved and collected Native American stories and myths. Their wisdom and love of nature have always spoken to my soul. The one that sticks out most in my mind, though, is the story of the two wolves.

One night a wise Cherokee elder sat his grandson around a campfire and told him about the battle that goes on inside of all people. He said, “My child, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ that live inside us all. One is fear, anger, hatred, jealousy, self-pity, resentment, and unhappiness. The other is love, laughter, joy, hope, peace, kindness, and happiness.” The grandson thought on this for a long time and then asked his grandfather which wolf would win. The elder simply said, “The one you feed.”

I think that most of the problems in this world come from the fact that far too many of us, far too often, feed the wrong wolf. We let our fears lead us. We react with anger. We hate those who are different than us. We allow our jealousy, judgment, and resentment to rule our lives. We do so many things to create unhappiness in our hearts when all we really want is to be happy.

We don’t have to feed the wrong wolf, however. We can choose love. We can select joy. We can laugh often and well. We can smile and sing. We can pray and have peace. We can fill our thoughts with happiness. We can fill our lives with kindness. We can welcome God’s love and light into our hearts and souls and then share it with everyone, everywhere.

Which wolf are you going to feed today? Which life are you going to live? Fear and love are the two greatest forces in this world. Yet, only one will bring you joy. Only one will bring you back to God. Only one will help bring Heaven here to Earth.---------------

BE THE LIGHT

I was walking my dogs on a dreary, dismal day in November. A cold, misty rain was falling. The colorful leaves of the month before were now on the ground slowly rotting away. The trees looked like brown and gray skeletons in the woods. The grass in the meadow had gone yellow and dormant as well. There wasn’t a butterfly or flower to be seen. Overhead the sky was a dozen shades of gray. Being light sensitive I was finding it hard to keep my energy or spirits up as I walked along. The weather forecast had said it might be days before we would see the sun again.

As I tramped along the wet grass, however, I suddenly saw a light. A tiny break in the clouds had appeared and a sunbeam had shot through to the earth right next to me. I walked my dogs over to it and let it fall gently on my face. It was so bright and beautiful. I stood still and let it wash over me. My face felt 10 degrees warmer and I could feel the fire in my own soul being rekindled. It was a wonderful reminder that the sun was still shining bright behind the clouds. It was a wonderful reminder that God’s love is always with us even on the darkest of days. The break in the clouds lasted only a minute more but the light I took in from it stayed with me for the rest of the day.

Sometimes we all need a little light to keep us going when the world seems dark. Sometimes we all need a little reminder of God’s love for us to keep us strong and shining bright. And sometimes we need to be that light ourselves.

The next time then that this world seems dim and gray be the light that makes it bright once again. Share your love, your warmth, and your smile. Give your goodness, your kindness, and your joy. Break through the clouds and let God’s light shine through you. ---------------

WITH OUR DOGS’ HELP

It is very quiet here as I write this. That wasn’t the case for most of the afternoon. My daughter had brought her four dogs over to my house. This was in addition to my two. For a few hours then the house was full of noise. There was running, barking, growling, and general furry roughhousing. Toys were chased after, laps were leaped on, and faces were licked. Doggie treats were devoured, heads were petted, and bellies were rubbed. Now that they have throughly worn themselves out, all six dogs are napping peacefully and the cat has finally come out of hiding again.

I have had dogs as my companions for almost all of my life here. They have given me a devotion, loyalty, and friendship that no amount of money could ever buy. Of course, they have had their flaws too. Their breath hasn’t always been the best. Nor has their body odors. They have gone to the bathroom on my floor and thrown up on my bed. They have woken me up far too early, far too often. Their sudden barking has made my ears ring and my heart rate jump. They have stolen my covers and slept on my pillows. They have covered my clothes and carpets in fur. They have chewed up my shoes and sometimes my furniture. And I have seen them eat things that I won’t dare describe here. Still, I have loved them all unconditionally. Why? Because they have all loved me unconditionally.

In this quiet moment with them all napping around me, I can’t help but reflect too on what this world would be like if we all loved each other as unconditionally as our dogs love us. Would there be an end to war, hunger, hate, and fear? Would we try only to help each other and not hurt each other? Would we at last create the world that our Heavenly Father always wanted us to? I pray that one day with our dogs’ help we will finally find out.---------------

TYPING

“Hands on home keys. Eyes on book. Ready. Type.” It was 1980. I was a 14 year old high school freshman and I was struggling to type a letter on an electric typewriter without looking at the page. Most of the other people in the class were juniors and seniors. I had decided to take the class early to get out of taking a foreign language. I had enough trouble with English and learning French or Spanish seemed a lot scarier than learning to type. I was regretting my decision, though, as I struggled to touch type without looking at the keys. I didn’t really see myself ever using a typewriter again after the term was over.

Fast forward 20 years. My wife and I had bought our first computer with a word processor program. I had been writing my stories by hand for a long time but decided I would try to type one out instead. Amazingly, my hands went automatically to the home keys and I began to write. Like riding a bike my body remembered after all of these years how to type. Soon I was not only writing stories on my computer but sending them out on the internet as well. Where once I had been able to touch hundreds of readers of our local paper now I was able to touch thousands of readers all over the world. It was such a blessing and I thanked God for it.

Now here is the question. What part of me knew all of those years ago that one day I would need to know how to type? I had no desire to be a writer at that time. I had nothing to share and nothing to write. Yet, somehow a part of my soul decided that I should take that typing class and learn a skill that I would need 20 years later.

It seems that even if we don’t know what we will need in this life, God does. God sees our eternal past and future. God sees the interconnectedness of us all. God loves us and guides us and helps us to use our talents and love to help each other. All we need to do is trust Him. All we need to do is listen to the deepest parts of our souls.

Life is a long journey full of loving, learning, and helping. You never know what you will need along the way either. Trust in God then. Use every talent He gives you to make this world a better and more beautiful place. Use every choice He gives you to type out a life of love here.----------------

YOUNG WHERE IT COUNTS

Beep! Beep! Beep! I rolled over in the dark room and turned off the alarm clock. I started to get up but my 51 year old back ached in protest. I sat up in bed and stretched it to no avail. It still hurt a lot. I wondered if I was going to need some aspirins to make it feel better today. I slowly stumbled into the bathroom to grab a drink of water. I turned on the light and saw a hurting, haggard face staring back at me from the mirror. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

I pulled on my clothes and coat and started to untangle the dog leases on the kitchen table. Suddenly, two white paws thumped on the table beside me and a huge, furry head snuggled in against my chest. I gave my dog, Fluffy a hug and smiled. Then I noticed my oldest son walking down the hall already in a happy mood about the day to come. He too joined in the hug before I took Fluffy out for his morning walk. The grass was frosty but the heavens above had just started to change. The sky was full of pink and red clouds that seemed painted with our Heavenly Father’s love. I looked at them for a long while and then said my favorite prayer: “Thank you God!” I noticed something too. My back was no longer hurting. Later when I looked in the mirror again to shave all I saw was a young, loving soul staring back at me.

Jeanne Moreau wrote: “Age doesn’t protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age.” No matter how old, aching, stooped, gray, or wrinkled your body gets then always keep your love burning bright. Love God. Love yourself. And love everyone else. Love animals. Love music. Love this world we live in. Love life itself. If you do then no matter how old your body seems to be, you will always be young. You will be young where it counts. You will be young in your heart. You will be young in your soul. You will be young in your life. You will be the eternal Child of God you were meant to be.---------------

DANCE IN THE LEAVES ALONG THE WAY

It is an old memory. It may even be a dream. The older I get the more the two seem to merge together at times. I was a little boy and I was falling backwards. I wasn’t afraid, however. In fact, I felt thrilled and safe at the same time. It was like I knew I couldn’t be hurt. Suddenly, my back made contact with something soft but crunchy as well. I was falling into a huge pile of freshly fallen leaves. They were dry and had the wonderful smell of Autumn about them. I fell further and further into the pile as the leaves flowed over my face and body. When I finally stopped all I could see was a few pinpoints of sunlight shining through my leafy covering. I smiled and started to half climb and half swim my way out of the pile. I could hear other kids around me yelling and laughing in the warm sunshine. They were dancing in the leaves, crunching them underfoot, and burying each other under them. When I finally got out of the pile I joined in. Then I looked up and saw the last butterfly of the season circling around looking for a daisy or dandelion to land on. It was a such a glorious day in Fall that I wished it would last forever.

Of course that day didn’t last forever and as I grew up I became more afraid of falling and failing. I became afraid of this world with its anger, competition, and hatred. I became afraid of not having enough to care for myself and my family. I became afraid of not knowing what trouble or problem would come next. I let that fear separate me from God too. I was no longer the trusting and happy boy who had played in the leaves.

It took me many years to regain that child’s trust and wisdom and still be an adult. It came from learning time and again just how much God loves us here. It came from the realization that this life is only temporary and that the love, joy, and light that awaits us are eternal. It came from learning that the only thing that really matters in this life is the love and kindness that we share with each other.

I think that this Fall I may do a little playing in the leaves once again instead of just raking them up and throwing them away. This life, after all, is best lived in laughter, learning, love, and joy. This life is best lived with the trust and wisdom of a child. We are all God’s Children. We are all on a journey to Heaven. And there is no reason why we shouldn’t dance in the leaves along the way.---------------

NO GOOD DEED

Someone online sold my mailing address so now instead of just getting letters from the few charities I can afford to support, I am also getting letters from a dozen other charities asking for my help. One of my more cynical friends spouted the old adage, “No good deed ever goes unpunished.” I just smiled and didn’t argue knowing it wouldn’t change his mind. My own mind, however, was remembering another moment from many years ago.

It was a windy, snowy day in December. I was a young Dad who had saved just enough cash to buy my children a few presents for Christmas. As I walked to the store I saw the Salvation Army kettle with a man ringing a bell standing beside it. Next to him was his daughter, a little girl no more than three feet tall, bundled up against the biting cold. I took a dollar bill out of my wallet and dropped it into the kettle. As the man was thanking me, though, I felt a pressure on my legs. I looked down and saw that the little girl was giving me her own thank you hug. I smiled down at her, bent down and hugged her back. Then I went inside feeling a warmth that no winter wind could ever take away.

Thinking back on that moment in time reminded me that no good deed ever goes unrewarded. We may not always get an instantaneous, heart-felt hug but in time every act of giving, every act of goodness, and every act of love that we make flows from heart to heart and soul to soul, around the world and back to us again.

No good deed is ever wasted. Every good deed brings a little bit of Heaven here to Earth. Don’t let this sometimes cynical world get you down then. Don’t let the problems and pains of life pull you from your purpose. Share your love today! Give from your heart. Fill your life with acts of kindness. Let God’s light shine through everything you say and everything you do. ---------------

EVERY DAY IS HOLY

It was late September. I was driving through a heavy fog to a store to pick up a few things. When I got there I strolled through the store looking for what I needed. I grabbed a bag of dog food for my dogs, a pack of batteries for my son, and a bite of chocolate for myself. As I turned the corner to head for the checkout register, though, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. A two foot tall skeleton wearing a tuxedo was staring across the room at a two foot tall stuffed Santa Claus, I slowly shook my head and walked on.

As I was driving home the fog lifted and the loveliness of the Autumn leaves started to shine in the sunlight. There were reds, yellows, oranges, burgundies, and browns. It was so beautiful. It was as if God had hand painted each one, Himself. As I watched them I realized why I had been so bothered by what I had seen in the store. It wasn’t that Halloween was a month away and Christmas 3 months away. It wasn’t that the stores were doing all they could to take money from our pockets and add debt to our credit cards. It wasn’t that all of these former “holy days” had been turned into “holidays.” I had known all of these things for quite a while. It was the simple fact that we had forgotten that every day is holy. Every day is sacred. Every day is precious. We had created a world in which we regret the past, live for the future, and spend all of our wealth trying and failing to buy a few moments of joy here and there.

God doesn’t want us to live months in advance. God wants us to Love, Today! God wants us to share our smile, our kindness, our warmth and our joy with each other. God wants us to love each person we are with, each day of our life. God wants us to live as if each day is holy because every day is holy. Ignore the Santas in the stores then. Share the love in your heart instead. Make your life your gift. And give that gift joyously to God and to everyone you meet.----------------

A MOMENT OF CLARITY

It was a long drive to the nursing home where my Grandmother was living, but at least twice a month I got into the car with my small children to make the trip to see her. We had already lost my Mom to cancer and I wanted them to be able to remember Nana. I wanted to be able to remember her as well, especially because she was beginning to forget me.

Nana had Alzheimer’s disease. It was slowly starting to eat away at her memories. Sometimes she recognized us when we visited and sometimes she didn’t. Most of the time she spent her days in bed, not wanting to be put in her wheelchair anymore to visit the living room or dining room.

On one visit we did coax her out of her room and wheeled her around to visit the nurses and go out into the garden. After I put her back to bed and kissed her good-bye I started to walk my kids back to the car when suddenly a tiny hand grabbed mine. “James!”, a happy voice said. I turned and saw a smiling, wrinkled face with snow white hair. Like my Nana she had Alzheimer’s disease but was still able to walk and get around well. She had mistaken me for her son before. A nurse told me that he had died years ago. I held her hands and let her joyfully go on. Even though her eyes didn’t know who I was, I could see the sparkle in them when she spoke to her son through me.

On the visits that followed I always made time to visit her as well as my Nana. I always got a smile and sometimes even a hug from her. The nurses told me that she was always calmer and happier after seeing her “Son”.

Then one day I noticed that she wasn’t there. I spoke to the nurses and they sadly told me that she had died a few days before from a stroke. I put my head down and went quietly into my Nana’s room.

Her loss didn’t really hit me until I had gotten the kids back home. When it did I decided to go for a walk in the woods. I looked at the sky, wiped my wet eyes, and asked God to wrap her in His loving arms for all eternity. Then in a moment of clarity I realized something: for a while I really had been her son. In this world we are all family. In this world we are all connected by invisible strings of love. Even now many years later I thank God for letting me be there for her in the last days of her life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” Never pass up a moment to share your kindness and joy. Never pass up a second to share your love. Take every opportunity to give your goodness to others and to God. Live as if everyone in the world is your family. Because they are!---------------

AT THE CROSSROADS

When I was a young father and Autumn would spread her colorful carpet across the hills and mountains of my home, I would often load my kids into the car and embark on a Fall foliage tour. We would take the back roads and look at the leaves shining in the sunlight. There would be glittering golds, blazing reds, and outrageous oranges, sometimes all on the same tree. We would drive and stop and look and be in awe of the beauty of this world and the glory of God’s creation.

I remember one time driving a long way down a back road I was unfamiliar with. At one point I came to a crossroads. Down one lane the road was still paved and looked in good condition. The other road, however, was gravel and didn’t look quite so good. Ignoring my better instincts I decided to take a chance and go down the gravel road. It didn’t take long to realize that I had made a big mistake. The road was full of pot holes and rocks that dragged under my car. I almost got stuck in the mud once and the road seemed to worsen as I went along. Finally, I stopped the car and looked around. There was no going forward and no place to turn so I decided to put the car in reverse and drive a mile and a half backwards until I reached the safety of the crossroads again.

Sadly, that wasn’t the only time in my life when I reached a crossroads and took the wrong way. I have done so more times than I can count. Thankfully, each time with God’s guidance I realized my mistake and put my life in reverse until I was on the right road again.

Herbert O’Driscoll once wrote: “Crossroads call for choice, and the choices we make will change the pattern of our lives.” There is no shame, though, in changing your choice if you see you are on the wrong road. There is no guilt in reversing your life to make things right. God loves us, guides us, and forgives our mistakes. Choose wisely then. Let God guide your days. Make your choices with love. And correct your mistakes when you need too. Then all of your changes will lead you to joy and the pattern of your life will become as beautiful as a forest in the Fall.---------------

MY FIRST REVIEW

The first review I ever got for my writing happened in the middle of the night. I was a young adolescent going through the pains and trails of being a teenager. I knew too I had been a pain many times to both my Mom and my Dad. One day, however, I realized just how kind, loving, and supportive my parents had been to me during this time and in fact for my whole life. I was too shy to tell them how much I loved them and appreciated them, face to face, so earlier that evening I had poured my heart into a letter and placed it where I knew they would eventually find it. Then I went to bed.

Hours later my parents burst into my room, shook me awake, and hugged me. I was in shock. I didn’t know what was going on until I saw the letter in my Mom’s hand. It was one of the few times I could ever remember seeing tears in my Dad’s eyes. I didn’t know what to say as I saw the love and joy in their faces. I just hugged them back and blinked my sleepy eyes as they held me. My simple note had touched them in ways that I couldn’t then understand. All I knew was that it had made them happy and that was enough.

I still carry that memory in a special place in my heart. It reminds me again and again of the power of a single act of love. It reminds me again and again of how a kind word can heal a heart and change a life. No writing review I have ever gotten has meant as much as that first one did. It put me on a path that I am still traveling today. It showed me that in this life the only thing that truly matters is love.

In our last review we will all be asked the same question: “Did you Love?” Start today to make sure that your answer to it is “Yes!” Love God. Love yourself. Love others. Make this world a better and brighter place with the love you share and the life you live.---------------

HOW YOU GIVE

I was a young, substitute teacher trying to make American history exciting to a class of bored sixth graders. I was going over a list of things the founding fathers had done for our country. Going off the lesson plan I mentioned that today people can still give a lot to their country, community, and people around them. “What do I have to give?”, asked a cynical voice from the back of the class. I looked over heads to the tired, sad face of the boy who had asked the question. Thankfully, God gave me just the right thing to say. I looked the boy straight in the eye, smiled and said: “Everything!”

It was true too. Everything we have and everything we do can be a gift that we give to this world. Every smile we smile is a gift. Every kind word we say is a gift. Every hug and kiss we share is a gift. Every penny we give to the poor is a gift. Every action we take to help another is a gift. Every offering we make from the heart is a priceless gift in the eyes of God. In fact, our whole lives here can be a gift that we share.

There is something, however, that is even more important than the gifts we share in this life and that is how we give them. Any gift we give expecting something in return is worthless. Any gift we give only out a sense of duty or obligation is meaningless. In order for a gift to really be of worth it must be given in love. Only the gifts we give in love have value in the eyes of Heaven. Only the gifts that come from the heart can truly make this world a better place.

What do you have to give in this life? Everything! How should you give it? With Love! Open your heart then. Let your love flow through all the gifts that you give to others. Let your days here be a joyous celebration of sharing. Make your entire life here a gift of love to God, yourself, and the world. ---------------

A GRATEFUL SOUL

It has been a rough time for my family this Summer. We went through weeks of stress and strain. New problems continually popped up that drained on our patience and taxed my meager savings. I worked harder than I had in a long time and didn’t keep my good cheer nearly as much as I wanted to. I found myself praying and talking to God a lot, asking for us to just make it through this rough patch and get back to our normal lives.

Now that our lives are almost back to normal I find myself being much more thankful for the things I normally took for granted. In a sense my struggles opened my eyes to my blessings. Now I thank God for electric lights and dry clothes. I thank God for hot showers and clean dishes. I thank God for air conditioning on hot afternoons and heat on cold nights.

In addition, I have gained a heightened appreciation for all the blessings our Heavenly Father has given me in this life. I thank God every day for my wonderful children, for my dogs and cat, for living in these beautiful mountains with their colorful leaves and breath taking sunsets. I thank God for my daily bread and for always having just what I need. I thank God for the ability to share His love and light in my writings and in my life.

I have also learned something very important from this difficult Summer: a grateful soul helps you to create a happy life. When you open your eyes, your mind, your heart and your soul to the billions of blessings that our Heavenly Father gives us every single day then it is easy to be happy. It is easy to share your love. It is easy to find joy in this world and to bring joy to this world. A grateful soul awakens within you the knowledge of just how much God loves you. A grateful soul reminds you that you too are a Child of God, capable of doing so much good in this life. A grateful soul helps you to become the person you were always meant to be. ---------------

YOUR HAPPY PLACE

I was reading a book in my chair in the living room while my son watched an old comedy show on TV. Suddenly, I heard someone yell, “Go to your happy place! Go to your happy place!” I looked up to see the television characters panicking while my son laughed at the silliness of it all. Hearing those words, however, made me put my book down and think of all the happy places I have had over the years.

When I was a little boy my happy place was sitting on my Mom’s lap while we shared a freshly made bowl of popcorn. When I was in elementary school my happy place was a tree in the woods where I could sit and watch the leaves go golden and red in the Fall. When I was a teenager my happy place was my bedroom where I could lay on my bed and listen for hours to my favorite songs on the radio. As a young man my happy place was an old rocking chair where I could hold my newborn babies in my arms and gently rock them to sleep.

As I got older, though, I realized that the very best happy place of all was deep down within my own soul. It was there that I realized just how much God loved me. It was there that I saw that I could love too. It was there that I learned that my happiness was in my own hands and that I could create it one loving choice at a time.

When you have your own soul as your happy place then your happy place is wherever you decide to go. When your happy place lives in your heart then you get to give it to everyone you meet. When your happy place is the very life you live then you make the world around you a happier place as well. Create your own happy place then. Fill your heart with love. Fill your soul with kindness. Fill your days with joy. Take this glorious gift of life God has given you and live it, one loving choice at a time.---------------

WHY WAIT

When I was in college I had big dreams. I was going to be a psychologist, then a teacher, then a world renown speaker, and then a best selling author. I couldn’t make up my mind. Each dream seemed better than the last. Amongst them all, though, was my burning desire to make things better. In my young heart and naive mind I felt like I could change the world all by myself. And I couldn’t wait to get out of college and get started.

Of course, God had other plans and I still had a lot of learning and growing to do. I never became a psychologist. I was only a teacher for a short while. I never went on a speaking tour. I wrote many things that touched many people over the years, but I was never a best selling author either. Instead, God let me be the father to three wonderful children. God let me be a friend to many people. God helped me to love and care and work and share. God helped me to shine His light and to brighten my own light as well.

I learned too that I didn’t need to be famous or have a certain job to make things better. I saw that while I can’t change the world all by myself, I can help to change my own small part of it. Most of all I realized that I didn’t have to wait to get started changing this world. I saw that every single thing I did changed this world in some small way. I learned that these lives we live are far more interconnected than we could ever know and that God is guiding us all to do what we need to do here.

Anne Frank wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Why wait then? Start improving the world around you today. Share your love, laugher, and smile. Spread your joy and kindness. Make the world a little bit brighter by shining your light in it. Let God guide you in this life and into the next.--------------------

A RAINBOW IN THE ROAD

It had been raining on and off for three days straight. I was driving home trying to see through my windshield. My old pair of wipers weren’t doing a very good job of clearing the water off the glass. I noticed that my fuel was getting low too and decided to pull into the local gas station to refill my tank. I pulled in behind an old car with a young mother filling it up. Her daughter was looking out the window at the falling rain.

All at once the little girl exclaimed, “Look at the rainbow, Mommy!” Both her Mother and I craned our heads to the sky but there were only gray clouds overhead. “Not there, Mommy. Here!” The little girl pointed to the pavement. There in a small puddle of leaked oil was the rainbow shining up at us. I smiled at the little girl’s innocence and at her wisdom as well.

There have been many times in my own life when I wished I had eyes that saw as well as that little girl’s did. I wished I had eyes that saw from the heart rather than the head. I wished I had eyes that saw the thousand times something good happened rather than the one time something bad did. I wished I had eyes that saw the million miracles of life that surround us everyday. I wished I had eyes that recognized the countless signs of God’s love that are all around us. I wished I had eyes that could see a rainbow in the road as well as the sky.

I think that those clear-seeing eyes still exist deep in the souls of all of us. We have just forgotten how to use them. With a little patience and a little practice, though, I think we could all learn to use them again. Open your eyes and your heart wide then. See the beauty of this world that surrounds you. See the love of God all around you. See the goodness within yourself and others. Then go out and share your sight and your love with the world.----------------

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

I love the story of the starfish on the beach. I have read it many times in several different forms over the years but I am always struck by its simple truth. One form of it goes like this: A man was walking down the beach one day when he saw a young boy coming towards him. Every few feet or so the boy would stop, bend down, and pick up a starfish. Then with a huge effort he would toss it back into the ocean. The man asked the boy why he was doing this. The boy said, “These starfish will die soon out in the heat of the sun. I am tossing them back into the water so they can survive.” The man laughed and explained to the boy that there were millions of starfish stranded on beaches like this all over the world. How could he possibly hope to make any difference with his efforts? The boy just bent down, picked up another starfish, and tossed it into the sea. “It makes a difference to this one”, he said.

The simple truth is that every single thing we do in this life makes a difference either for good or for ill. The choice is ours which one. Our actions are far more powerful than we think. Each thing we do is like a pebble tossed in a pond. Only God knows how far the ripples will travel or who they will touch.

Make a difference for good in this life then. Share your smile with a stranger. Give another a lift with your car and your kindness. Pick up a piece of trash on the side of the road. Pet a dog. Donate to a charity. Stop and have a long talk with your neighbor. Share a good laugh with a friend. Write a note of encouragement to someone who needs it. Give your children and grandchildren a big hug. Toss a starfish back into the sea. Share your love with everyone you meet. Pray and let God guide all of your days here. You will be amazed at how much good you will do. You will be amazed at the difference you will make. ---------------

SOMETHING MORE

“Na-Nee!” The words jarred me from the book I was reading as I lay on my bed. I put the book down and looked up. My youngest son, Casey was smiling down on me. He was 24 years old but his severe Autism had left him with the mind of a very small child. His words were limited so every time he said something it was a joy to hear. He was pointing to the picture on my wall of my Italian Grandma’s 90th birthday party. We had always called her “Nanny” since I was a small child myself. I had taken Casey and my other children to see her as often as I could when they were young, both at her home and later at the nursing home before she passed away.

There was something more, however, than just him remembering her and pointing at her picture. There were times when I could see him staring over my shoulder and smiling. When I would turn around nothing would be there, but he would still laugh and say “Na-Nee!” After a while I realized that maybe my old Italian Nana was keeping a special eye on my special son from Heaven. It was comforting to think that she and God’s other angels were watching over my two boys. I am sure they were also watching over me and my daughter as well. We just lacked the “special” sight needed to see them.

In this world we get so wrapped up in the concrete problems, tasks, and jobs of our everyday lives that we often forget that what we see here is only a small part of what is out there. There is something more than just this life that we see with our eyes. What is unseen is far greater than what is seen.

Know then that your Heavenly Father loves you so much and that He and His angels are watching over you always. Do your best to make them smile by sharing all of your joy, your laughter, your kindness, your goodness, your light, and your love.----------------

FREE FROM FEAR AND FULL OF LOVE

As I write this we have been disconnected from the electric grid for 4 ½ weeks now. On a routine inspection, the meter boxes that ran our home and the homes of seven of our neighbors were found to be a safety hazard and had to be taken down. It has been a long wait for the replacement parts to come in so the work can be done. My daughter lived in one of the other houses and has had to move back in with me. For the first week we were fortunate to have family take us in. When it became clear, however, that we weren’t getting back on the grid soon I bought a portable, gas-powered, generator so we could at least move back home.

The generator has been powering the refrigerator, fans, television, and computer but lacks the power to handle the stove, clothes dryer, AC, and hot water heater. The lights except for two lamps can’t be used either. It amazes me too how much gas it uses. I am making two trips a day to the gas station just to keep it going.

Through all of this, though, I have learned a few things: I would have made a lousy pioneer. The smell of gas makes me sick to my stomach. You can meet a lot of interesting people at the laundromat. Cold showers hurt at first but after a minute you get used to them. Hot water gets dishes a lot cleaner than cold water does. It gets dark awful early in the evening when you don’t have electric lights. Cooking with just a hot plate and electric frying pan takes a lot of creativity. Flash lights work far better than candles do. It is hard to change the oil on a generator without banging your knuckles loosening the bolt on the oil pan. Summer heat is no fun with just a few fans to keep you cool. Yet, people are good and kind especially when you are hurting.

More importantly I have learned that family is the most important thing in my life. The love they have blessed me with in this tough time has uplifted me and kept me going. I have learned that bad things happen to good people just as good things happen to bad people. The key is to take both the good and the bad and use it to become better, kinder, more compassionate, and more loving. I would like to say I did this all the way through the past month but the truth is I succeeded in doing so only some of the time. I am human, a work in progress, and God isn’t finished with me yet. Still, I can feel Him using this time to deepen my love.

When tough times come your way then do your best to face them with a smile. Do your best to learn and grow from them. Do your best to become better because of them. And always try to live your life free from fear and full of love.----------------

CHERISH TODAY

It was 25 years ago. Every seat in the church was filled. But it wasn’t for a happy occasion. The coffin sat in the aisle by the front pews. Inside of it was my Mother. After a heroic 4 year battle Cancer had finally taken her body but not her spirit. She had only spent 55 years on this Earth but everyday she had made it a brighter place for those of us around her. I was only 25 years old that day of the funeral and I wasn’t sure how I was going to go on without her.

I can’t remember any of the service. I can only remember sitting in the pew with my family while it felt like a two ton rock was crushing my heart and soul. For days afterward I walked around numb and in a daze. Finally one morning I woke up coughing and having trouble breathing. My wife rushed me to the emergency room and the doctor diagnosed me with double pneumonia. My health had broken as well as my spirit.

In the days to come my body healed much faster than my heart and soul did. In a few weeks I was physically fine, but I still had a lot of grieving to do. It was a long process and a part of it still continues today. A part of us never completely heals from losing someone we love. I did learn many lessons and gained a lot of wisdom as I grieved. Sadly, one of the most important things I learned didn’t stick. I have had to relearn it time and time again in my life. I am praying that this lesson stays with me from now on and I won’t have to learn it again.

The lesson that I learned was that most of us don’t fully cherish or appreciate our lives here until a vital part of them is taken from us. We take things and people for granted. We go through our days rushed and stressed without gratitude or love. We don’t thank God for this glorious gift of life we have been given and for all of the loving people in it.

Don’t make the same mistake that I have made. Learn this lesson now. Take it into your soul. Make a home for it in your heart. Cherish today. Cherish each moment you have been given in this life. Let the people around you know just how much you love them. Let your Father in Heaven know just how thankful you are for the life and the love He has given you. If you do this then you too will make each day better and brighter for those around you and my Mom in Heaven will be smiling down on you. ---------------

MOMENTS OF PEACE

The cable went out this afternoon. I could see through my bedroom window the white trucks parked next to the pole and the cable guys working on the line. I didn’t mind too much, though. With all the channels I had on my television I rarely found something I wanted to watch. I put an old DVD on for my sons, retired to my bedroom, and put on some old records for myself. I lay down on my bed while the music played softly, picked up an old book, and began to read. Before long my old, gray cat snuggled into the crook of my arm and purred quietly. I began to scratch her head with one hand while I held my book with the other.

Suddenly, I felt a pressure on my bed. I turned my head and saw the furry, smiling face of my puppy, Fluffy. We had rescued him almost a year ago and with good food and lots of love he had grown from 4 to 64 pounds. He leaned down his head and gave my chin a good licking. I laughed, put my book down and scratched his tummy. With both hands busy I couldn’t read anymore but it didn’t matter. It was one of those moments of pure peace that make our days here better. It was one of those moments in which life made sense.

In this modern world we all seem so rushed and busy all the time. There doesn’t seem to be enough moments of peace. There doesn’t seem to be enough moments of kindness. There doesn’t seem to be enough moments of love. There doesn’t seem to be enough moments of joy. But it is these moments that make life worth living. It is these moments that make Earth more like Heaven. It is these moments that bring us closer to God and to our true selves.

Embrace these moments every chance you can then. Make time for them. Welcome them into your heart and soul. Do all you can to create them in your life. Choose to fill your days with moments of peace, joy, kindness, and love and help others to do so as well.---------------

GIVE LIFE MEANING

“What is the meaning of life?” This is a question that we all ask ourselves at one point or another of our existence here. It is a question that I have asked myself many times over the years. The best answer that I ever came across was written by the great psychologist, Viktor Frankl who had survived the Nazi Concentration camps in World War II. Frankl wrote that “The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”

When I was a young boy I gave my life meaning by simply playing, running, jumping, swimming, laughing, and riding my bike. When I went to school I gave my life meaning by learning, studying hard, getting good grades and trying to make my Mom and Dad proud. When I was a teenage boy I found meaning in playing sports, hanging out with my friends, and trying to impress girls. In college I found my meaning by deciding what I wanted to study and what career I wanted to prepare for. When I was working as a teacher I found meaning in helping to open young minds to new ideas and old wisdom. When I married and had children I found meaning in protecting, providing for, and watching over those I loved. When I found out both of my sons were mentally handicapped I found meaning in loving them, caring for them, and learning so much from them about life, love, compassion, patience, faith, and joy.

As I got older too I began to realize that meaning isn’t something that comes and goes. We can give meaning to every moment of our lives here. We can bring meaning to the thoughts we think. We can bring meaning to the things we do. We can bring meaning to the hearts we touch. All we have to do is love. It is love that gives life meaning. It is love that makes life worth living. Love is our Heavenly Father’s gift to us. Love is our gift to each other. May all of your days be full of meaning then. May all of your days be full of love.-------------------

WATCHING FIREFLIES

It was a Summer evening almost 30 years ago. I was rocking my baby boy in my arms and when he fell asleep I put him gently down into his crib for the night. My wife worn out from a long day of work was half napping and half watching TV in the living room. Not caring for the show I poured myself a glass of iced tea in the kitchen, took a lawn chair off our porch, and walked into the front yard to gaze at the stars.

As soon as I stepped onto the yard I heard the sweet sound of laughter drifting through the air. On the hill next to our house the neighbor’s children were chasing fireflies, hoping to catch one in a mason jar. I sat down in my chair and watched them for awhile. As fast as they ran, though, they couldn’t seem to catch the slow moving lightning bugs. Finally, exhausted they both sat down in the grass and just watched the little guys flying through the air, blinking their lights on and off. I sipped my tea and joined them in their awe and appreciation. It felt so good getting to see one of God’s many miracles lighting up my front yard on a warm, Summer night. It made me feel a bit closer to the Divine and a part of something far greater than myself.

Over the years since then I have appreciated and enjoyed all of the glorious light in this world. I have taken it into my heart and welcomed it into my soul. I have found it in nature, books, music, animals, prayer, and most of all in the lives of those around me. I have never tried to catch this light, however. I have learned that true light and true love must come from within. It must flow freely between us and can’t be captured in a jar.

The next time you see some fireflies then, take a seat and enjoy their light. Let them remind you to shine your own light as well. Let them remind you to fill your life with the brightness of your love. Let them remind you that you too are one of God’s miracles in this world. ----------------

EVIDENCE

I was preparing to shave my fifty year old face this morning when I noticed something: my wrinkles no longer disappear when I relax my face. They have become permanent etchings in my skin. I know too that the television and internet are full of advertisements for creams, treatments, and botox to ease and lessen these permanent wrinkles but as I looked at mine in the mirror I decided that it would be far better just to let them be. They are, after all, the evidence of the life I have lived.

When I looked at them more closely I could see the lines on the bridge of my nose and between my eyebrows that have been cut from a lifetime of dealing with back pain. There are also some pretty deep ones above my eyebrows that have come from all of the times I have been stressed, angry or frustrated. On my forehead are even deeper ones that have come from all of those moments when my eyes opened wide in astonishment, fascination, or learning. The thickest and deepest ones of all, though, seemed to be the curving lines around my eyes. They are the evidence of my every laugh and my every smile. I noticed too that the happier my smile the more their cousins in my cheeks appeared as well. All in all then I wouldn’t erase the evidence of this life I have lived here. It has been a good life. It has had its pains and sorrows but also its loves and joys. It isn’t over yet either. I can’t wait to see just how deep my wrinkles will one day become.

The evidence of our lives doesn’t just lie in our faces either. It also lives in every heart we touch, every person we help, and every life we make better. It lives in the love and joy that we bring to this world. It lives in the light that we carry around in our souls. May the evidence of your own life always bring a smile to your face and to God’s as well.----- ---------------

WHERE YOU GROW

When I was a boy growing up in my Nana’s old house we had 4 huge gardens. Come June my Dad would be working the tiller while my Mom, brothers, and I would be planting the seeds. One garden held enough potatoes to feed us all year round. Others held corn, carrots, cabbages, onions, tomatoes, cantaloups, and watermelons. There were also so many flowers. My Nana had a special love for them and nurtured them. Flowers surrounded her old house and every year she would put down potting soil, plant new ones, and sing while she worked.

One June I can remember helping her go around the house pulling weeds and watering the freshly planted flowers. She was so gentle with them and gave them such love and care. I thought it was no wonder they grew so fast. When we where done I ran to get my bike to ride awhile. As I was getting on it, however, I noticed something. I got back off and knelt down on the concrete walkway that led to our porch. There growing out of a crack in the concrete without water, soil, or love was a single dandelion.

At times in my own life I have felt my growth nurtured, watered, and cared for like Nana’s flowers. At other times I have felt like I was that dandelion having to grow through solid concrete. Through it all, though, I never stopped growing. Through it all, I never stopped loving. I realized that it doesn’t matter where you grow. It just matters that you grow.

God loves you so much and God wants you to grow in this life. Make the choice to keep growing then no matter what your circumstances. Keep growing in love. Keep growing in goodness. Keep growing in kindness. Keep growing in oneness with God. Keep helping others to grow as well. Always remember that to live is to grow whether it is through the richest soil in the world or through a crack in the concrete.-------------

TOO MUCH STUFF

I was driving to the grocery store on a warm morning in May. The trees which had looked like skeletons only two months before were covered in lush, robust, green leaves. Birds were flying to and from their nests to gather food to feed their newborn babies. Butterflies were floating along the roadsides looking for freshly blooming wild flowers. The fields were full of buttercups and dandelions. The sweet scent of clover was filling the air as well. I smiled as I watched the golden sunshine reflecting off the leaves. It was such a peaceful and heavenly time. I felt happy to be alive.

My calm was broken, though, as I rounded a curve. A huge U-Haul truck was coming my way several feet over the center line. I swerved as far onto the berm of the road as I could to miss it. It was followed by not one but two other U-Haul trucks just as large. I wondered if all the stuff inside of them belonged to the same person. I slowed down my car and waited for my heart rate to follow. It was then that I noticed a self-storage business along the side of the highway, building new units for all the people who couldn’t fit their possessions into their houses. I saw a young couple carrying boxes into one of the units. It seemed strange that a couple just out of their teens could already have too much stuff.

I lost my own taste for owning stuff when a house fire in the middle of the night destroyed everything my family owned when I was only eleven years old. The only thing I had left was the underwear I was wearing. Yet, our whole family had awakened in time to escape and we thanked God for our lives. In the weeks that followed friends and family gave us a lot of stuff to get us back on our feet, but none of it seemed as important any more. What was important was seeing my Mom’s smile, giving my Nana a hug and a kiss, and watching my Dad snooze in his chair after a hard day’s work. What was important was the stuff of the soul, not the stuff of this world. Since then I have tried to limit the things I purchase. I didn’t want too much stuff crowding up my life. I wanted to only buy what I needed and to spend my days in learning, growing, and loving others.

In this life we are given a limited amount of time. We can spend it loving each other, enjoying this beautiful world God made for us, and making it a better place or we can spend it acquiring stuff. One gives us joy. The other gives us work. One builds us treasures in Heaven. The other takes our treasures here on Earth. One fills our lives with peace, kindness, and happiness. The other fills our days with worry, fear, and regret. Make your choice wisely then. Fill your life with love not with stuff.-----------------

YES YOU CAN

A friend who was down in the dumps wrote me a letter a few weeks ago. His life was full of problems. His heart was full of worries. He was low on hope. He ended his letter to me with this question: “We can’t really change this crazy world we live in, can we?” I answered him immediately and started my own letter with these words: “Yes, we most certainly can!”

I can still remember one of the first times someone changed my world. She was the music teacher at my elementary school, the guitarist at our church, and a family friend. I had a huge crush on her too and wanted to impress her more than anything. I had no talent at any instrument, however, and my singing while enthusiastic was quite awful. One day she let me try playing her guitar. I did my best but could only stumble along. When I was done I put my head down. “I guess I am not very good,” I told her. She looked at me with her kind eyes, smiled, and said: “We are all good at something. You just need to find out what you are good at. Then you can share it with the world.”

Those simple words changed me. They planted a seed in my soul that continues to grow to this day. They made me realize that I had something to give to others. I had something inside of me that was good and that could change this world for the better. I just had to find it, bring it out and share it. And that is what I have tried to do all of the years since that fateful day.

Can you change the world? Yes you can! You can change it and make it better every single day of your life. You can change it one choice, one person, and one kind act at a time. All you have to do is share your goodness. All you have to do is live your love. Mother Teresa once said: “God doesn’t ask us to do great things, only small things with great love.” Make your love great then! Live well! Do good! Change the world!------------------

A HIGHER LOVE

I can still remember the first time a girl broke up with me. I was just a teenager. I was riding that hormonal high that a young love brings. The sky seemed brighter. The clouds looked whiter. I went through my days with a silly grin on my face. I held up my Mom’s phone line with calls to my girlfriend that lasted for hours. Then suddenly she said that she didn’t want to see me any more. I was crushed. My heart felt like it had fallen off a cliff. I was lower than low. The sunniest sky still seemed dark and gray. I went through my days sulky and sad. My Mom got her phone back because I didn’t want to talk to anybody. Instead I went for long walks in the woods with only my dog for company. I wondered if I would ever feel happy again.

Of course, in time I did begin to heal and feel happy again. I learned too that young, romantic love is only a drop in the ocean of love in this universe. In the years to come I learned the love of being a son. I learned the love of marriage. I learned the love of being a father. I learned the love of caring for animals. I learned the love of friendship. I learned to love this world. I learned to love life itself. I also learned of the highest Love of all: the Love that our Heavenly Father has for all of us. It is from this Love that all the other loves flow. It is from this Love that we were created. It is to this Love that we all seek to return. It is this Love that I welcome into my heart every single day and try to share with the world.

Always know that you are Loved! You are Loved by a Higher Love than you can ever comprehend here on Earth. You are Loved by God today, tomorrow, and forever. Open your heart to this Love. Allow God to Love you. Allow God to guide you. Allow God to strengthen your own love so that you can make this world a better, more beautiful, and more loving place. If you do then happiness will be yours to enjoy and to share.---------------

GOD’S WORLD

For a long time I wanted to live in a world of my own making. I carried this world around in my mind like a secret treasure and did all I could to bring it into reality. In my world I was famous for the things I wrote. I was on television, gave speeches, and was respected by all the great minds of this world. In my world I was rich beyond belief. I had money, mansions, cars, and boats. I went on vacations and lived in the lap of luxury. In my world I was loved by all whether I deserved it or not. I got anything I wanted from the people around me and my days were spent in comfort and ease.

Of course, this world never came to be. It remained in my mind and after a time lost its luster. I realized that it was full of the hollow, egotistical dreams of an immature mind. It took me a while to give up this world and accept another but when I did I got more happiness than I could have ever dreamed.

The world I finally accepted was the world God had in mind for me. In God’s world I wrote without thought of reward. I wrote to share the truth and love He had placed inside of me. I was amazed too at how many people I touched by sharing it. In God’s world I wasn’t rich by the standards of this world but was rich in the treasures of Heaven. I was full of kindness, compassion, and the true joy that only God can give. In God’s world I was called to love others whether they deserved it or not. I was called to give, share, and care and my days were spent in work and growth. I am still here in God’s world today. I am living in His love. I am becoming the person I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to do and my life has never been better.

May you always choose to live in God’s world. When you do you will have love. When you do you will have joy. When you do your life will be forever full of meaning and purpose.----------------

ALL ROADS LEAD HOME

When I was a boy there were no smart phones, computers were something you saw on STAR TREK, and our television only got one channel clearly. Still, I was never bored. The fields, hills, and woodlands around my home were the perfect playground whose adventures were only limited by my imagination. I can remember once hiking to a nearby lake and slowly walking around it. At the backside of it I was amazed to find an old, one lane, dirt road that I had never seen before. I immediately set out to travel it. It was full of potholes and muddy tire tracks and deep woods bordered it on both sides, but exploring it still seemed like a fine adventure.

I walked on and on for what seemed like hours. I am sure my guardian angel was whispering in my ear to turn around and head back home but I was stubborn and even a bit stupid, so I walked on. The dirt road gave way to a gravel one and then a paved one, yet there was still neither a car nor a house in sight. My legs were getting tired. I noticed that the sun was starting to go down and I grew scared. I didn’t want to end up trapped on this road in the dark of night, but I was sure it would be dark before I could make my way back to the lake again.

I continued to walk on with the fear growing inside of me. My heart was pounding and my legs were aching. I was almost in tears when I turned one last curve and saw something in the distance. It was a house that I recognized. My heart leapt up! I jumped up and down and laughed out loud. I knew the way home! It was still over a mile away but my legs felt like feathers and I hurried back to my house in no time. I walked in with a big smile on my face just in time for dinner. Then I ended my adventure with a good night’s sleep.

I remembered this recently when I saw a sign that said: “All roads lead Home.” This is true. In this life all roads no matter what their twists and turns can lead us home again. They can lead us to our homes here on Earth. They can lead us to our homes in our hearts. They can lead us to our Home in Heaven. What is important, though, is how we travel them. Are we going to go forth in fear or are we going to go forth in faith? Are we going to take each step in selfishness or are we going to take each step in love? Are we going to make this life a terrible trip or are we going to make this life a joyful journey? The choice is ours.

May you always walk your path with love. May you always go forth with a smile on your face and God in your heart. May you always help your fellow travelers along the way. And may your roads always lead you Home again.-----------------

MOST ALIVE

Spring had come to the mountains of my home. Fresh green grass was coming up in my yard. Yellow dandelions and buttercups were blooming in the meadows. Tulips and purple Phlox were growing in the flower boxes. Bumblebees and butterflies were dancing among them. In the woods white, purple, and pink blossoms were rapidly turning to green leaves on the trees. It was the most alive I had seen the world in a long time.

Yet, today dark storm clouds and heavy April showers had taken the sunshine out of Spring. It was gloomy and dreary as I drove to the local store for another week’s worth of food. I walked in and wiped the wet out of my hair and off of my glasses. After filling my cart, I paid for my groceries, and headed towards the door. Nature suddenly called, however, and I found myself leaving my cart and rushing into the rest room. After answering the call I was cleaning up when I heard a loud thud. I turned and saw that an older man with a walker had slipped and fallen to the floor. I rushed over to see if he was alright and with the aid of another man helped him to his feet. He was unhurt and thanked us both several times. I headed back to my cart and pushed it to my car. The rain had stopped but the sky was still overcast. That didn’t matter, though, because on the inside, I was shining.

In this life I have found time and time again that we are most alive when we stop to help another. I have found that we are most ourselves when we are sharing love, spreading joy, and doing all we can to make this world a better place. I have found that we are closest to God when we are giving our kindness and compassion to everyone.

Don’t go through life just existing then. Live! Be the most alive you can be by sharing all the love, joy, and light that is within you. Let yourself shine on Earth and in Heaven.-----------------

THE COMFORT OF LOVE

Our old couch had seen better days. The fabric of its cushions was ripped and torn in places. I had covered the spots in duct tape but foam was still leaking out of them. The springs inside of it were broken. The sheet we covered it with was torn, sewn, and torn again. The right front leg had worked loose and fell off whenever we sat down on it. All in all our couch had become beaten, battered, and very uncomfortable.

For several months then I saved what money I could in order to buy a new one. Finally, I had enough and got a new, slightly smaller sofa that I hoped would last for years to come. We carried it up the steps and got it in place. While the delivery men hauled off the old one I looked over our new addition. It was strong and straight and soft and sturdy. With the day’s work done I looked forward to having a seat on it. I made myself a tall glass of iced tea and walked into the living room. I stopped short and stared. There on my new couch were my dogs curled up contentedly for a nap.

I smiled and didn’t shoo them off of it. Instead I sat down in my computer chair and watched them peacefully sleep for awhile. I didn’t mind sharing my comfortable new couch with them. After all, they had for years blessed me with the comfort of their love.

Love truly is the most comforting thing in this entire world. Nothing comforts us like knowing that God loves us. Nothing comforts us like knowing that we are here to love as well. Nothing comforts us like sharing our love with God, people, animals, and the world around us. Carry your love with you always then. Let it be your cozy chair and comfy couch. Let it give rest to your heart and revitalize your soul. Let it comfort you on Earth and carry you to Heaven.-----------------

A STRONG HEART

I may be a bit old school but I think that people who store all of their pictures on their smart phones are missing out on something. There is nothing like seeing a loved one’s smiling face looking down on you from a picture frame on your wall. It is both comforting and reassuring, almost like they are watching over you while you work at your desk. As I work at my own desk I can see my Mom’s picture smiling down on me. She left us too soon. She was only 55 years old when cancer took her. If one’s years here were based on merit then she should have lived to be over 100. My Dad’s kind smile is next to hers. It has only been a few years since he passed. Sometimes I still pick up the telephone wanting to call him and tell him something that has just happened to me only to remember that he is gone. My Nana’s picture is there too, holding the 90 years young sign at her birthday party 16 years ago. How I wish I could walk into her kitchen again, have a talk, and share a big slice of homemade Italian bread with her.

Sometimes looking at these pictures gives me a touch of melancholy and sadness. I still miss them all and I don’t feel ready to be the oldest generation yet. Most of the time, though, I only feel the warmth and joy that comes from a million loving memories that these pictures bring back. It makes me feel blessed knowing that I had them all in my life for the years that I did. It makes me want to follow their loving example in my own life as well.

A lot of people say that you have to have a hard heart to get through life. Others say a soft heart is better. I myself think that a strong heart is best. We need a heart that loves through the pain. We need a heart that keeps loving even when we lose the people we love the most. We need a heart that knows that “Anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him.” May your heart be strong then. May your love shine from your pictures and from your life.----------------

THE IMPORTANT THINGS

I was headed out the door the other day with my two sons. We were going to drive to the local grocery store to pick up a few odds and ends that we had run out of during the week. I shut the door quickly because my dogs were already barking at being left behind in the house. We headed down the hill to my car, climbed inside, and buckled our seat belts. Then I reached into my pocket for the car keys. They weren’t there. I tried my other pockets with the same result. Shaking my head, I walked back up the hill, opened the door, and saw my keys still dangling from the hook where I always hang them.

This, of course, isn’t the only time I have forgotten something recently. In fact, it seems to be happening more and more. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t forget something and then remember it later in the day or misplace something and have to go looking for it. The medical professionals all reassure me that this is a normal part of getting older. It seems that our aging minds begin to have trouble after a while remembering the million and one things that we need to remember every day to function in our modern world. They say not to worry about it and to take it with a smile. I am doing my best to do so.

I think I will be alright with my forgetful mind too as long as I can keep remembering the important things in life. I don’t mind misplacing my keys as long as I can remember that God loves me. I don’t mind forgetting what I came into a room for as long as I can remember what I am in this life for. I don’t mind being a bit absent-minded as long as I am being loving-hearted.

May you always remember the important things in life: You were created in love. You were created to love. You are called to kindness and made for joy. You can make a difference in this world with every choice you make. You can live your life in God’s light today and forever. -----------------

SAY YES

I can remember my Mom telling me once that after I learned to say, “Mama” and “Dada” my third word was “No!” Sadly, I used that word much too often as a boy. I didn’t want to eat my vegetables. I didn’t want to go to bed on time. I didn’t want to work in the garden. I didn’t want to stay in the yard when I played. I would much rather read books than help my Mom and Nana with the household chores. In other words, I was a bit of a brat. Being the youngest of three sons and the “baby” of the family, I probably got away with saying “No” a lot more than I should have. I was slightly spoiled to say the least.

At some point in my childhood, though, I began to say “Yes!” a lot more and “No!” a lot less. I can remember carrying heavy pails of slop to feed the pigs we raised for meat and being proud that I was able to do so. I can remember carrying wood for our stove and fresh spring water for us to drink and being happy knowing that I was helping out my Mom and Dad. I can remember studying hard to get good grades in school and the pride in my parents eyes when I got into college. I can remember learning that saying “Yes” could bring more joy into my life than saying “No” ever did.

At some point in my life too, I also began to say “Yes!” to God. I began to ask for His guidance and accept His love. I began to try and be the person He meant for me to be and live the life that He meant for me to live. I began to love myself and others as myself.

I am still learning how to say “Yes”. I still selfishly say “No” far too often. But I know that God is patient with me and is not done with me yet. My only advice to you then is not to wait as long as I did. Say “Yes” to God. Say “Yes” to life. Say “Yes” to love. Say “Yes” to helping others and making this world a better place. Yes may only be a word, but it can change your life.----------------

ONE PERSON

In his many books and lectures the great educator, Leo Buscaglia showed us time and again how the love of just one person can change a life and change the world. I remember especially his story about the noted psychologist, Dr. Skeels.

In the early 20th century orphaned children were often warehoused in badly understaffed institutions where they received little if any attention or love. At one time Dr. Skeels took 12 of these orphaned children and let them be cared for, a few hours each day, by mentally retarded adolescent girls at a nearby institution. He also studied 12 other children who were left in the orphanage all day long. He followed these children until adulthood and the results he found were shocking. Of the 12 children left all day in the orphanage without love and attention all were either dead, in institutions for the mentally retarded or in institutions for the mentally ill. Of the 12 children cared for and loved by the mentally retarded teenage girls all were self-supporting, most had graduated high school, and all were happily married. The only difference in the lives of these children had been the love of one person.

God loves us all so much and His greatest wish is for us to love each other as well. Let us never forget then just how vital our love can be to another. Patrick McCauley wrote “ Some of us will reach millions, most of us will reach a few, and some will reach only one person. However, given the infinite significance of each person, there is no difference in the end.”

Give your love, your kindness, and your heart to others today. You never know whom you might touch, whom you might help, and whose life you may save. As Thomas Merton said: “How can anyone tell how much he owes to the goodness of those who love him?” You may be just one person and you may touch just one person but that alone can change the world.--------------

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Today I made the mistake of turning the news on. I found my senses instantly assaulted with stories of fighting politicians, corrupt corporations, and countless crimes. It seemed like the only news worth showing was mankind at its very worst. It seemed like the only thing they wanted to talk about was what went wrong today.

After a few minutes I turned the television back off. I poured myself a glass of iced tea, sat down at my kitchen table, and instead thought about what went right today. Today the sun came over the horizon and bathed the world in its golden, life-giving light. Today my little house once again kept me warm, safe, and dry. Today I had 3 meals of wonderful food that kept me healthy, alive, and energized for the work of the day. Today whenever I reached my hand down I had a furry head to pet as my dogs and cat shared their unconditional love with me. Today I got to hug and encourage my handicapped sons and see the boundless joy that they share with the world. Today I talked with my daughter and was once again amazed at the incredible, young woman she has become. Today I got messages from friends and family both online and off sharing their lives and their love with me. Today I shared a few messages of love and joy myself. Today I felt God’s love for me flowing through all of His creation and encouraging me to once again spread His love, tell His truth, and shine His light.

When you are at the end of your days in this world are you going to dwell on what went wrong or rejoice in what went right? God showers this world in goodness and we need only to open our hearts to see it. Rejoice in everything that goes right in your life then. Give thanks for it. And do your best to add your own goodness, kindness, and love to it as well. By doing this you will be helping God to make this Earth a lot more like Heaven.----------------

BEAUTIFUL DAY

The sun was just coming up over the mountains today as I took my dogs for their morning walk. I smiled as I watched the purple, pink and red clouds slowly turn to white and gold. The air was cool rather than cold and the sweet sunshine was warm on my face. Even though there wasn’t any leaves on the trees, I could still hear the birds singing songs of Spring. I looked up and saw both a cardinal and a blue jay flying through the sky above me. Even my dogs seemed to notice the difference in the air. They were prancing and playing instead of just doing their morning business in the grass. The golden disk of the sun had just cleared the hillsides in the distance and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. As I headed inside, though, I realized something. The beauty of the day didn’t come from the warmth of the sun. It came from the warmth within my own heart and soul.

You see, every day that we wake up alive in this world can be a beautiful day if we make it so. It doesn’t matter if it is gray and rainy or cold and snowy outside. It doesn’t matter if our lives are full of struggles, pains, and frustrations. Each day we are given a chance and a choice to make it a beautiful day.

Make today a beautiful day then. Give the day all the warmth within you. Share your smile with others. Give a hug or an encouraging word to a struggling soul. Be kind to those who need your kindness. Offer a helping hand to a hurting heart. Do what you can to make this world a better and more beautiful place. Share the love that our Heavenly Father gives you with everyone you meet. It is your day and it is your choice how you live it!

May all of your days be beautiful ones. May they be full of love, laughter, and light. May they help to bring you closer to God and this world closer to Heaven. ----------------

ONE KIND ACT

It was many years ago. I was a young father on my way home to my wife and baby boy after spending all day taking college classes. I had gone back to school to get a degree in Education. I wanted to secure a teaching job that would help me to build a better life for my growing family. It was a two hour round trip to the college, though, so everyday I would pray for my 20 year old gas guzzler to make it all the way.

As I started down a lonely stretch of highway about 12 miles from my home I noticed a car parked along the side of the road with its emergency flashers on. On the side of it a small woman was struggling to change a flat tire. This was long before the age of cell phones and I knew that any other help might not arrive for a while. I pulled up behind her car then and offered to give her a hand. Her own hands were bruised and bleeding from struggling with the lug nuts and she had tears of frustration in her eyes. The lug nuts were rusty and tight and the lug wrench a little small but after a while I got the flat off and the spare tire on. As I said goodbye the little lady hugged me with tears of relief this time. I waved and drove off a little embarrassed at her appreciation. After all, it had just been one kind act.

It took me a lot of years after that to learn the true power of one kind act. One kind act can change the world. One kind act can teach more love of God than a million words. One kind act can save a lost soul, heal a hurting heart, and mend a broken life.

Never pass up the opportunity then to do one kind act. Never pass up the chance to share your love. Never pass up the possibility that your own kindness can do God’s will and make this world a better place. Every day we are given the choice to be loving or selfish. Every day we are given the choice to be cruel or kind. Always choose to be kind.-----------------

YOU HAVE TO STEER

When I was a boy we used to live across the road from a big hill with huge Oak trees growing out of it. When Winter would arrive and thick, heavy snow would fall my two brothers would grab their sleds and head over to the hill for a day of fun. I remember watching them with envy because I was still too small to go sledding. Finally, one Winter I was deemed big enough and joined my brothers as they carried their sleds up the long hill and prepared to ride down it.

The first few trips I rode with one of my brothers and had the time of my life. It was so exhilarating feeling the wind whip across my face as I flew down the hillside on the wooden sled. Near the end of the day I was overjoyed too when my oldest brother decided to let me try riding the sled all by myself. I climbed on it full of excitement and laid on my stomach. Then with one big push my brother sent me zooming down the snowy hillside. I was doing pretty well too until I hit an old stump hidden by the snow and went off course, straight towards one of those big Oak trees. My eyes bulged in my sockets, my heart pounded in my chest and I could hear myself screaming. At the last possible second I rolled off and the sled crashed into the tree. I could hear my brothers running down the hill yelling, “You have to steer! You have to steer!”

Sadly, that wasn’t the last time I failed to steer when some obstacle knocked me off course in my life. Many times problems, troubles, and my own failings have sent me crashing into the trees of anger, frustration, and despair. I am still learning that life isn’t always safe sledding. I am still learning that sometimes it is up to me to steer myself back to love, back to kindness, back to goodness, and back to God.

Life is a trip, but no one ever said it was a smooth ride. Steer well then. Steer straight. Steer true. Steer your soul towards the light and the love we are all meant for.---------------

EVERYWHERE

I have always believed that reading books can expand the mind, touch the heart, and enrich the soul. They can also cause your imagination to do some funny things at times. I can remember several years ago reading a book where the hero went through several tragedies and at one point in the midst of his pain and torment cried out: “Where is Love?”. At that moment in my imagination I leapt into the story, grabbed him by the arm and told him: “It’s everywhere! It’s everywhere!”

Love is everywhere. You just have to open your heart to see it. For me it is there every time I watch the dawn break upon a new day. It is there every time a brisk winter breeze blows across my face. It is there in the first flower of Spring. It is there in the green grass of Summer. It is there in the last leaf of Fall. It is there every time my handicapped sons give me a hug. It is there every time my daughter laughs at one of my dumb jokes. It is there in the adoring eyes of my old beagle and my new puppy. It is there in the purring cat that naps on my chest. It is there in the smile of the clerk behind the counter. It is there in the old man who opens a door for me. It is there when I read a letter from a friend. It is there every time I pray. It is there in everything I write and every act of kindness I do.

The Bible tells us that “God is Love.” And since God is without beginning or end then so is love. It fills all of His creation. It fills us as well every time we open our hearts and souls to it. Don’t shut out love then. Don’t live your life in pain. Open your heart instead. Share your love instead. You will find that the more love you give away, the more love you will have. You will find that the more love you share, the more God’s love will surround you. You will find that when you live your life in love, you will find love everywhere.--------------

YOU’LL LOVE ME LATER

I was in a local store recently when I saw something that opened a window into my soul and let in a little more light. I had just picked up some shampoo and was headed to the pet supplies to get some more dog food for my furry friends. I decided to take a shortcut through one of the toy aisles. Blocking my way, however, was a young father and his four year old daughter. The little girl was pleading with her Dad to buy her a new doll. The Dad was being gentle but firm telling her they couldn’t afford it right now. Finally, the daughter burst into tears and said angrily, “I hate you!”

I thought that the father would get mad at her for this outburst. I know that I probably would have when I was his age. Instead he just smiled down at her, put his hand on her head, and said, “That’s alright. You’ll love me later”. I stood there in amazement as he took her hand and they walked off. Then it dawned on me that I had been in this situation many times myself over the years but not as the father.

Many times over the years I have cried and thrown a fit when I didn’t get what I wanted. Many times I grew angry at God when I felt my prayers weren’t being answered. Through them all, though, our Heavenly Father was patient, loving, and kind with me. He knew that I didn’t understand why certain things had to happen the way they did. He knew that my anger was a part of my growing up spiritually in this world. He knew that I would love Him later.

God loves us all so much. We are all His Children. But we are still growing up spiritually in this world. We don’t know all the answers. That is why we need to trust in our Heavenly Father’s Love and give Him ours as well. It is never too late to love God. It is never too late to invite Him into your soul. It is never too late to let His light guide your life.-------------------

CONNECTED

One of my earliest memories was watching my Mom talk on our old rotary dial telephone. I was fascinated that she was talking to someone who wasn’t actually in the room with her. When she finally hung up and left the room I slowly walked over to the phone and stared at it for a minute. Then I gently reached down and picked up the receiver. When I put it to my ear I was shocked to hear voices still speaking on it. I quickly and quietly hung it back up not knowing what to make of it. Later my older brother explained to me that we were on a party line and couldn’t make a call while someone else was using it.

That, of course, was a long time ago. We switched to a private line soon after that and then later got a push button phone. Next came mobile phones that you could carry around the house with you. After that came computers, cell phones, and smart phones. These days I can send an e-mail half way around the world in a second. My daughter’s smart phone has a hundred apps and a dozen social media accounts. She stores all of her information in a mysterious place known as the cloud. We are it seems more connected in this world than ever before.

What bothers me, though, is that as much as we are connected to each other, we rarely connect with each other. Few people write letters to each other these days. Few take the time to talk face to face. Instead of talking on the phone we text. Instead of looking into our loved ones’ eyes we stare down at our phones. Instead of holding hands we scroll and swipe. It seems like the most connected generation may also be the loneliest.

Don’t let that happen. Don’t let technology take your time and your life away from you. Make the time to talk, to live, and to love. Make the time to meet, to pray, and to touch. Take a walk on the beach with a friend. Sit on the porch and watch the sunset. Play a game of chess or checkers. Hold hands and say Grace before a meal. Have a long conversation with the phones off and the hearts on. Connect offline as well as online.

Remember that God put us here to love each other. God put us here to help each other. God put us here to make this world a better place. When your technology can help you to do these things then use it. But when it can’t turn it off. ---------------

NOT DONE YET

Life is full of miracles. They surround us every day. One of these miracles happened to me recently. I was filling my car’s tank at a local gas station. It was only 10 A.M. but I already felt tired. It was a cloudy, gloomy and rainy day and I hadn’t slept well the night before. After I paid for the gas I turned my car towards the main road. I looked right and left then my brain sent the signal for my foot to push on the gas pedal but nothing happened. Shocked, I shook my head to clear it and gazed down at my foot.

Just as I did, though, a semi-truck roared past my car doing 60 mph. My weary, bleary eyes hadn’t seen it when I had looked just 2 seconds earlier. If I had been pulling out when I should have been my little green car would have been smashed and I would have most likely been killed. I sat there for a long time quietly thanking God for sparing my life before pulling out on the road and heading home. This time both my brain and foot worked perfectly.

As I looked back on that moment later I still couldn’t understand it. Did God prevent my brain’s signal from reaching my foot? Did an angel grab my toes to keep them from pressing on the gas? One question kept coming back into my mind as well: why? Why did I get this miracle? Why did God spare my life this day? Finally, I felt the answer forming deep within my heart and mind. I heard the words coming from my soul saying: “You still have more to do. Your work is not done yet!”

Richard Bach wrote: “Here is the test to find if your mission on Earth is finished: if you are alive it isn’t.” Wake up each day then knowing that your mission isn’t done yet. Wake up each day knowing that you still have more to do. You have more love to share, more people to help, more kindness to give. You have one more day to be the miracle God meant for you to be.----------------

I DON’T KNOW WHY

For all of my days in this world I have been struggling to understand life with very limited success. It seems that the more I learn the more I see just how much I don’t know. I think that the singer Carolyn Arends said it best when she wrote: “Life is messy. Life is mystery.”

In the messy mystery that has been my own life there has been so much that I don’t understand and won’t understand at least while I am in this world. For example, I don’t know why a house fire destroyed everything my family owned when I was just a boy. I don’t know why my soul often felt lonely and isolated in high school even when surrounded by my friends. I don’t know why my back was injured when I was a teenager and why it has given me daily pain since then. I don’t know why I lost my beautiful, loving Mom when I was only 25 years old. I don’t know why my sweet, Italian Nana had to slowly lose her memories to dementia before she too passed away. I don’t know why both of my sons have had to struggle with Autism for all of their lives here. I don’t know why I never became that rich and successful person my ego thought I should be. I don’t know why just when my relationship with my Dad was achieving the closeness I always wished it would have that he too would be taken away by cancer.

Yet, there are other things that are also a mystery to me. I don’t know why every time I see the sunrise my own heart rises with it. I don’t know why whenever I pray my heart feels happier and my spirit feels closer to Heaven. I don’t know why my sons, daughter, dogs, and cat love me even when I act like a jerk at times. I don’t know why so many people around this world have found inspiration and joy in my simple writings. I don’t know why God loves us completely and unconditionally whether we deserve it or not. I don’t know why when we love too we not only change ourselves for the better but the world around us as well. I don’t know why love brings us joy in the best of times and also in the worst of times. I don’t know why everything in this life both “good” and “bad” can help us to learn, to love, to grow, and to become better Children of God.

I guess when it comes right down to it life is unknowable, no matter how long or hard we try to understand it. All we can do then is embrace the mystery. All we can do is embrace the mess. All we can do is Live and Love our way through the questions until one day we find the answers. ---------------

JUST WINTER

I can still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a dark, dreary day. The Christmas decorations had been taken down. The old year had given way to the new. Now it was just Winter. Outside a bitter wind was blowing. Gray clouds covered the sun. Several inches of snow lay on the grass and trees. Inside my water was dripping so my pipes wouldn’t freeze and I was sipping coffee so I wouldn’t freeze either. I asked my dog if he was ready to go for a walk, but he just turned around and lay down next to the heater. I shook my head, zipped up my sweater and slipped on my thick socks while I looked out my kitchen window. I wasn’t looking forward to another 3 months of this. I sat wearily at the kitchen table to eat my oatmeal. Then suddenly I saw him! A beautiful, bright red cardinal had landed on a low hanging limb of the bare tree in my backyard. I looked lovingly at him while he stared back at me. He gently stretched his wings, gave me a final, knowing nod, and flew into the sky. His visit had left my spirits a little higher, my heart a little lighter, and my soul a little closer to Heaven.

Sometimes in our lives it is just winter. Sometimes the gray gloom of this world piles on the problems and troubles. Sometimes life feels both cold and bitter. Sometimes it is very hard to see the light. It is times like these when we need to call on our own inner cardinal. It is times like these that we most need to shine our own light, share our own love, and let ourselves fly. It isn’t always easy and often takes effort, but with Heaven’s help it can be done.

Just remember that God loves you in the Winter as well as in the Spring. Life may not always give you what you want but it does give you what you need to grow kinder, better, more loving, and closer to God. Let your inner cardinal fly then. Let God’s light shine through you. Let your love help warm this world in the Winter as well as the Spring.----- ---------------

THE FACE IN THE MIRROR

Bend! Push! Lift! Toss! Bend! Push! Lift! Toss! I was slowly shoveling out my driveways, porches, and pathways from five inches of freshly fallen snow. My new snow shovel was working well but my body was feeling its fifty years and my bad back was feeling more like eighty. Still, I had shoveled out from deeper snows than this before, so I kept at it. I breathed in the frosty air and hummed a few songs as I worked. After about forty minutes the job was done and I stretched out my stiff and sore back. Then I did something I hadn’t done in years. I fell back into the snow and made a snow angel.

Suddenly, I felt five again and I laughed as I walked back into the house. I think a part of me expected to see my five year old face staring back at me when I looked into the bathroom mirror, but it was not to be. There instead was my unshaven, fifty year old face with its salt and pepper hair and deep set wrinkles. There were lots of laugh lines but some pain lines as well. When I looked a little closer, though, I saw the five year old twinkling in my eyes. It was good to know that he was still in there and that on the inside I remained both ageless and forever young.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross once wrote: “Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms, you would never see the beauty of the carvings.” My own face has seen a lot of windstorms over the years. It has suffered a lot, learned a lot, and loved a lot. It has also grown kinder, more compassionate, and closer to God. I think I prefer it to its younger versions that I can still see in the pictures on my walls. Every time it smiles I love seeing it crinkle up and love seeing that eternal five year old still shining behind those eyes.

Our lives will always line our faces and our souls will always shine in our eyes. All we can do is fill them both with all the love, laughter, and light we can. May you do so always.-------------

PUPPY WISDOM

I was lying in bed trying to work my way through a new book that I’d recently bought. The wording was difficult to read. The plot was incomprehensible. The meaning was struggling to say in two hundred pages what could easily have been said it two. After yet another difficult page I shut the book and closed my eyes. Suddenly, I felt the book being gently pushed down. I opened my eyes and saw a white, furry nose on top of it. It was Fluffy, our new puppy who had grown from four to forty pounds in the last four months. “Can I help you?”, I asked. My answer was a quick face licking that soaked my chin to my nose. I laughed, threw the book aside, and petted my newest, furry friend. He had reminded me again that the true wisdom of life is to be found in simple love rather than in complex words.

I have gained a lot of wisdom from my different dogs over the years. I have learned to always take pleasure in a simple snack. I have learned that a nap in the middle of the afternoon is good for the soul. I have learned that it doesn’t matter if you catch the ball as long as you have fun chasing it. I have learned that a smiling face like a wagging tail is something you should always be happy to share. I have learned that couches are for cuddling. I have learned that there is always room on the lap for one more. I have learned that it is ok to growl once in a while as long as you don’t bite. I have learned that running in the sunshine and fresh air is pure pleasure. I have learned as well to always shake off the rain. Most of all I have learned that every problem in this world can be solved with just a little more love.

I think God must have given us dogs to remind us of things like these. For thousands of years they have walked by our sides, napped by our fires, and blessed us with their friendship. They are and will remain one of our greatest teachers of love. May we always follow their example.---------------

A BIGGER HEART

A beautiful, young girl is smiling at me from a picture frame on my desk as I write this. She is my sponsor child from the Philippines and even though I have never met her in person she has found a special place in my heart. It doesn’t cost me much to help her, about a dollar a day. Yet, millions of people in this world live on less. The joy that helping her gives me, however, is beyond price. It connects me to her, to life, to love, and to God.

I can still remember the first time that I decided to help a child overseas. It was many years ago. I was only a teenager myself and for the first time in my life had a little extra money each month. I didn’t feel like buying anything, though. We had lost everything we had in a house fire a few years before and going through that had taught me a lot. I had learned that I didn’t need a lot of “stuff” to be happy. I had also read a lot about the suffering of children in poor countries around the world. It seemed like a far better thing then to give what I could to help them. With my Mom’s love and support I soon found a few organizations like Children International that were serving others around the world. It felt so good being able to reach out and help another in need. It felt so good being able to make even one life better. I could feel the compassion and empathy growing within me and beginning to change me.

Empathy does change us. It makes us into better people with bigger hearts and a clearer view of life. It shows us that we truly are one family on the Earth. It helps us to love, to be kind, and to make this world a better place. It connects us with God and allows the Kingdom of Heaven to live within us.

Let your empathy grow then. Let your love grow. Let your heart grow bigger and bigger every single day. Let yourself grow in Heaven while you help others here on Earth.---------------

AT CHRISTMASTIME AND ALWAYS

I have always loved Christmas music and I don’t just listen to it in December either. I have been known to listen to “The Christmas Song” on the first day of Spring, “Jingle Bells” during the worst heat of Summer, and “Let it snow” while the leaves are peaking in the Fall. This year thanks to the gift of a new record player I was even able to play some of my Mom’s old Christmas records from my childhood. For the first time in years I was able to put a vinyl album on a turntable and listen to the sweet sounds of Christmas coming from it. As “Joy to the world” flowed from the speakers I smiled, closed my eyes, and allowed the music to awaken a thousand Christmas memories that still lived in my heart.

There was my Mom laughing when she caught me under the tree opening all of the presents before anyone else woke up. There was my Dad smiling and cutting down the world’s ugliest Christmas tree that I had picked out over my brothers’ objections. There was the sparkle in my Mom’s eyes when she opened the gift I had saved my money for months to buy her. There were the cheers I heard as I went from room to room in my fake beard and red suit, playing Santa Claus for the elementary school I was teaching at. There was the time when I could only afford a few stuffed animals for my children on Christmas and their eyes shone with delight anyway. There was the time when my son who had struggled to speak because of his Autism spoke his first full sentence when he saw the Christmas tree all lit up at his elementary school. There was the time when I drove through a blizzard to bring my daughter home from college in time for the holidays. There was the year we decided to ditch the turkey and instead honor my Dad and Nana by making a big, Italian style Christmas dinner thus creating a whole new family tradition.

I opened my eyes as the record played on and felt so much joy. I felt too what had made all of those memories so special: LOVE. It was the Love we had for each other. It was the Love our Heavenly Father had for all of us. It was the Love that lived in that tiny baby, born in a manger who would change this world forever.

The spirit of Christmas will always be the spirit of Love. It is Love that we were meant for. It is out of Love that we were created. It is to Love that we will all return. May your heart be full of Love then at Christmastime and always.-----------------

IT’S CHRISTMAS

It was a few days before Christmas many years ago and it looked like it would be a lean one for my family. The saw mill that I was working at had laid a lot of us off while machinery was being repaired so we didn’t have much money. My wife and I had scrimped and saved to buy our young children some toys, but an unexpected car repair had taken most of our cash. We decided then that we could only afford to get one small gift for each of our children.

We arrived at the store and walked down the parking lot past people loading gifts into their cars. I envied them a bit, because it sure didn’t feel like Christmas to me. We hurried into the store past the Salvation army bell ringer with our heads down. I had always enjoyed putting something in his kettle before but wasn’t sure if I could afford to this time. We searched all through the store hoping to find one thing each of our small children would like. Thankfully, we were able to get them each someone sweet. We headed for the checkout, bought the toys, and were amazed that we even had a few dollars left over. As we walked out of the store into the brisk, Winter air I stopped and dropped those dollars into the bell ringer’s kettle. I didn’t have a dime left but that didn’t matter. Suddenly, it felt like Christmas.

I think the wonderful actress, Dale Evans put it best when she said: “Christmas is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give it’s Christmas.” It doesn’t have to be a gift of money either. When we give our time, it’s Christmas. When we share our smile, it’s Christmas. When we give others our kindness and compassion, it’s Christmas. When we do anything at any time to help another, it’s Christmas.

May you do all you can to make it Christmas every day of the year and every day of your life here. May you always share God’s light through the love you give and the life you live. ---------------

ONE DAY AT A TIME

It was many years ago. I was a young dad sitting on the couch reading a fairy tale to my little girl. She sat next to me with her head on my arm as I told the tale. When it came to the end I finished with those famous words: “And they lived happily ever after.” As I looked over to her with her wavy, brown hair and big, innocent eyes I could see the smile on her face and I never wanted it to end. It dawned on me then that the ending of the book was what I wanted for her. I wanted her to “live happily ever after.”

Still, deep in my heart I knew that this couldn’t always be so. I knew that there would be times when her heart was broken. I knew there would be times when she cried in grief and I couldn’t comfort her. I knew there would be times when all she felt was fear, sadness, sorrow, and despair. As I stroked her hair and smiled at her I hoped that those times would be brief and that she would have joy in her life more often than not. Living happily ever after, though, seemed out of the question.

It took me a lot of years to realize that it IS possible to live happily ever after. You just have to do it “one day at a time.” Happiness you see isn’t some reward that you get at the end of your journey. Happiness isn’t something dependent on what life hands you. Happiness is something you create in your life choice by choice and day by day.

The truth is happiness comes when you love and love is not a slave to circumstances. Love is a gift from God. It is love that mends broken hearts. It is love that heals grief. It is love that defeats fear, soothes sorrow, and brings light to darkness. It is love that gives us joy. It is love that connects us to God and brings us back to Heaven. Choose to love today then! Choose to “live happily ever after, one day at a time.”-----------------

MAGIC

When I was younger I was entranced with stories of magic. I devoured books where wizards and warriors battled the powers of darkness in strange worlds. I rejoiced when they triumphed bringing peace and happiness to their lands. I guess like most of the readers of these stories I secretly wished for magical powers for myself. I wanted to be able to magically make my pain disappear, to make my problems go away, and to have power over this world that so often has power over us.

As I got older, however, I realized that there was no such thing as magic and the harsh reality of life set in. I struggled through a long period of poverty. I had daily pain from a back injury that never healed right. I felt sadness and sorrow when both of my sons were diagnosed with Autism. I still sometimes daydreamed of magic but in time even that faded away.

Then one day I am not sure when I began to discover a different kind of magic. This magic grew stronger in my heart, soul, and mind day by day and year by year. This magic was called LOVE. This magic connected me to God, because God is love. It also connected me to my own highest self and to all of the other souls in this world. It didn’t eliminate my poverty but it made every day of my life feel richer. It didn’t make my back pain go away but it helped me deal with it so much better. It didn’t cure my sons’ Autism, but it helped me see them as the beautiful, loving, eternal, and joyful souls that they truly are. It didn’t make me a wizard or a warrior but it helped me to dispel the darkness of this world with my own light.

There is such a thing as magic in this world. There is such a thing as magic in each one of us. This magic is called LOVE. May you choose it, share it, and live in it every single day of your life. May you use it to help others, to heal this world, and to build a bridge to Heaven. ---------------

THANKFUL

It was a cool November afternoon and I was standing ankle deep in leaves with a rake in my hand. The trees were almost all bare and it was time to rake the leaves before the first snows started to fall. The sun was low in the sky and I knew it would be dark in just a few hours. Still, I was thankful for the smell of the dry leaves, the stark beauty of November, and the chance to get a little exercise while I cleared the yard. I wasn’t always so thankful for things like these but I had grown wiser over the years. I smiled as I raked and let my thoughts wander to other things that it took me awhile to be thankful for.

There were hand me down clothes, thick socks, and our warm, wood stove in the Wintertime. There were spaghetti dinners after church on Sunday. There were Nana’s hugs and kisses. There was my Mom’s kind smile that reappeared in the faces of my children. There was my Dad’s quiet strength that kept our family going through the toughest of times. There were my two brothers who picked on me, teased me, toughened me up, yet loved me all the same. There was every mongrel and mutt that ever licked my hand and gave me the gift of their unconditional love. There were musky old books so full of wisdom, tough teachers who made me try my hardest, and coaches who taught me to never give up. There were friends that I laughed with, played with, and grew up with who helped me to become the person I am today. There were tough times, poverty, pain, my son’s handicaps, and many other things that brought me both sorrow and joy. There were millions of moments and memories that all kept me moving up the path of love on my journey back to God. And there was life itself!

It is never too late to be thankful and there are so many things and people to be thankful for. Let gratitude fill your heart then. Let gratefulness bring you closer to God. Let love light your way. Let everyday be Thanksgiving. And always remember that the most powerful prayer in the world consists of just two words: “Thank You!” ----------------

TROUBLING TIMES

At the conclusion of this last political election ending with my beloved country being more divided than ever a friend wrote me a letter sharing her fears and concerns for the future. She ended it with this sentence: “We live in troubling times.” I couldn’t help but agree with her, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that these current times aren’t the only troubling times that mankind has lived through.

Ancient times were troubling times when crops could fail and half of all children died before the age of five. The first Christians lived in troubling times where they were persecuted, tortured, and even killed for their beliefs. The fall of the Roman empire and the coming of the dark ages were troubling times. The Bubonic plague killed half of Europe and the rest struggled with starvation and petty wars. The hundred years war, the crusades, the American and French revolutions, the Napoleonic and American Civil wars were all troubling times where hundreds of thousands died. In World War I and World War II those thousands became millions. With the end of them the Cold war with its threat of nuclear destruction made for more troubling times. Then came the troubling times of terrorism and the fear they bring. In addition to these were the troubling times that included the struggles of slavery, segregation, prejudice, poverty, greed, the Great Depression, the Great Recession, the struggle for equal rights, the loss of jobs and security, population explosions, natural disasters, the threat of starvation, the risk of epidemics, and even the fate of our planet being at risk.

It is clear then that we do live in troubling times and that we always have lived in troubling times. The question is how are we going to LIVE in them. Are we going to feed them with our fear or lessen them with our love? Are we going to grow apart in hatred or come together in kindness? Are we going to continue to go from war to war or are we finally going to bring lasting peace to this planet? Are we going to grab for ourselves or are we going to give to others? Are we going to be selfish or are we going to save the world? The choice is ours. I think we all know, however, which choice our Heavenly Father wants us to make. May we all then make our troubling times less troubled by living our lives in love, joy, goodness, kindness, and oneness with God.------------

WHAT I WANT

When I was a freshman just starting college I really wanted to be rich. I even had pictures of a big luxury car and a huge mansion that I had cut out of magazines and pasted in my notebook. I wanted to become a wealthy businessman or a best selling author. I wanted to be both famous and successful. Of course, I never did get any of those things and I thank God for that everyday.

You see, in time I realized that what I really wanted was the happiness that my swollen ego thought those things would bring me. It took me many years to realize that happiness comes from the love we give and not the things we get. It took me many years to shrink my ego, grow my humility, and accept what God wanted for me. As a result what I want now has become a lot different from what I wanted back then.

Now I want to do the things that fill my heart with love, my spirit with joy, and my soul with God. I want to start each morning with the prayer, “I love you God and I thank you for my life!” I want to give my sons hugs and tell them how much I love them. I want to kiss my daughter’s hair when she shares her problems with me. I want to play fetch with my puppy and laugh when he climbs on my lap and licks my face. I want to pet my old, gray cat and smile when she curls up on my chest to take a nap. I want to read and write inspiring words that help hurting hearts. I want to feel God’s love when I look at the flowers of Spring, the sunsets of Summer, the leaves of Autumn and the snows of Winter. I want to share my smile, my strength, my laughter, and my love with the world and do everything I can to make Earth more like Heaven.

What do you want out of life? What do you want to give to life? Maybe they are the same. Always remember that it is in giving that you receive. It is in loving that you are loved. It is in sharing your joy that you create happiness in the hearts of yourself, others, and God.----------------

BOOKS

I have always loved to read ever since I was a child so it goes to say that my house is forever full of books. I have new books, old books, hard covers, paperbacks, fiction, and nonfiction. My two tiny book shelves are full of photo albums and scrap books. I have three boxes of books in my closet, two boxes of books on the floor of my bedroom, and a box of children’s books waiting for my future grandchildren. I have books stacked on the night stand by my bed. I have several books including my old, black Bible on top of my desk. I have even more books including the two I wrote on top of the filing cabinet beside it. I do try to keep the books from building up by donating as many as I can to the local library but as soon as I donate a few I find myself buying a few more.

Books I find keep my mind young, my heart warm, and my soul bright. They bring me learning, laughter, and joy. They connect me with the wisdom of the past and the new ideas of the present. They keep me moving on the right path as I journey through life.

I have learned that people are a lot like books as well. Some have bright and shiny covers but don’t have very much to say inside of them. Others are old and musky but so full of wisdom and light that reading them can change your whole life. One difference between books and people, though, is that while a book can have an ending the writing inside of us goes on forever.

Take care when writing the book of your own life then. Fill it with God’s love for you. Fill it with your love for God. Fill it with love for yourself, others, and this world. Fill it with all the wisdom you have learned, goodness you have done, kindness you have shared, and joy you have spread. Keep writing it everyday too. Make it everything you are and everything you want to be and then open it to everyone. I know it will be a wonderful read.----------------

HEAVEN SENT

It was a chilly Autumn morning a few years ago. I was driving along the mountain roads slower than usual trying to take in all the Fall colors. It seemed like all of the leaves had changed overnight. It looked as if God in His good-humor and love had painted the mountains themselves while we slept. The yellow and gold leaves were sparkling in the sunshine. The red and orange ones were fluttering brilliantly in the breeze. The deep, rich burgundies and earthy browns were appearing as well. The few remaining green ones looked even better being surrounded by the others. It was so glorious. It was a day made for happiness. Yet, a part of me still felt sad, small, and insignificant in the midst of all of this heaven sent beauty.

As I rounded a curve I suddenly saw an old man hurrying along the side of the road. As soon as he saw me he raised his thumb, hoping for a ride. I braked and pulled over to the side of the road. I opened the door and the white haired man got in with a smile. He was hoping to make it to the local post office and still have time to catch a bus. As I drove along we laughed and talked about what a beautiful day it was. Then just as I pulled over to drop him off he turned to me and said: “Thanks son. You were heaven sent.”

I drove away with a smile on my face and a light in my heart. I wasn’t sure if I had been “heaven sent” for him but he certainly had been “heaven sent” for me. He had reminded me that I too was an important part of God’s creation and that I should enjoy taking my place in it.

In God’s eyes none of us are small. None of us are insignificant. All of us are Heaven sent. We are here to help each other. We are here to share our love and our kindness. We are here to make this world a better and more beautiful place with our lives. May you always take your place in God’s glorious creation. May you always love well and shine bright.---------------

THE CALCULUS OF LOVE

When I was a little boy my Mom, Dad, Nana, and brothers would often play cards at the kitchen table in the afternoons. It was a fun way to pass the time and after watching countless games of Rummy, Black Jack, Knock, and Poker I started to join in. I was only five but I learned quick and was soon winning as often as I lost. When I started school I found out something too: all of those hours playing cards had made me good with numbers. Soon I was getting 100% on my math tests and it stayed that way until high school. That was when I discovered they had a thing called Algebra. I was shocked to see letters mixed in with the numbers and I struggled to learn it. Then one day I opened a Calculus book. One look was all I needed to know that I wasn’t going to be majoring in Math when I got to college.

Instead I found myself studying many things both inside the classroom and out. I studied Literature, History, Psychology, Philosophy, and Theology. I learned from them all and they all put me on a path that I am still on today: it is a journey of learning all I can about life and about love. One thing I did learn was that love has its own unique math that isn’t rational yet makes perfect sense. In the Calculus of Love the more love you give away the more love you have. Sharing sorrows means subtracting them. Sharing joys means multiplying them. And when you allow God’s love to fill your heart it doesn’t burst but keeps growing bigger and bigger for all eternity.

Love like life is often more than we can understand. It isn’t rational, but it is beautiful. It isn’t logical, but it is wonderful. The mind can’t comprehend it, but the soul understands it. It doesn’t always make sense to us, but it makes perfect sense to God. May you always major in love then. May you choose it, share it, and learn of it. Only then will your life add up right.---------------

ACTS OF KINDNESS AND LOVE

When I decided to major in English in college I thought it would be fun because I loved to read so much. It turned out to be a lot more difficult, though, than I thought it would be. The differences in the language over hundreds of years made many passages hard to comprehend. Trying to understand Shakespeare gave me headaches and Chaucer was even worse. Reading Byron, Keats, Shelly, Emerson, and Thoreau was easier but still took a lot of effort. There were times, however, when I read passages that illuminated my mind, opened a door into my heart, and shared their wisdom with my soul.

One of these was by William Wordsworth. It went: “The best portion of a man’s life, his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.” The first time I read that I could feel it speaking to the deepest part of myself. I vowed then and there to build up the best portion of my own life. I vowed then and there to fill my days with acts of kindness and love. I didn’t always succeed, of course. But over the years I slowly but surely began to love more and more. Over the years I did more and more to be kind, to help others, and to live the way I knew God wanted me to live.

What would happen if everyone followed Wordsworth’s wisdom and lived from the best portion of themselves? What would happen if everyone of us filled our lives with acts of kindness and love? Would we cease to hate? Would we put an end to war? Would we make sure that no child on this Earth was hungry, lonely, or neglected? Would we all start to work together to make this world the beautiful, loving place that God meant for it to be?

Let’s find out. Let’s all fill our days with acts of kindness. Let’s all fill our lives with acts of love. Let’s all be our best selves for each other, for this world, and for God. --------------

EAT DESSERT FIRST

My wonderful daughter made me a red velvet birthday cake this year using her own special combination of creativity and love. It was huge and I cut myself the biggest piece. With the first bite I closed my eyes and smiled. It was so moist and sweet. The butter cream icing on top was delightfully thick. It had countless calories and it was so delicious without being necessarily nutritious. I didn’t mind, though. I savored every bite and added a few scoops of ice cream as well. My sons and I polished off every bit of it. When we were done our bellies were full, our souls were satisfied, and dinner was still four hours away. We had followed that wise saying of a happy existence: “Life is short. Eat dessert first!”

I have spent way too many years of my life putting off the desserts I was given until everything else was done. Like far too many people in our society, I thought that work came first, duty came second, and joy was somewhere way down the list. It took me a long time to see God’s simple truth that: “We work to live but we live to love.” Without love, without laughter, without joy, without goodness, without all the simple pleasures life can bring, our existence becomes a dull and miserable journey. Thankfully, I finally realized that when you put love first in your life, everything else tastes so much sweeter.

Don’t put off the simple joys that life can bring. Don’t put off the beautiful love that you can give. Eat dessert first! Give your kids hugs before homework. Jump in the leaves before bagging them. Dance on the floors before sweeping them. Do random acts of kindness and goodness. Play with your dogs. Pet your cats. Watch the sunset. Give thanks to God. Shine your smile. Spread your sunshine. And share your love with everyone. You will be amazed at how wonderful life will be when you “Live to Love” while you “Work to live.” ---------------

SWEET SOUNDS

My birthday present came in the mail a little early this year and my children being the sweethearts they are let me go ahead and open it. It was a new record player to play my old records on. I set it up in my bedroom. It looked like a black briefcase but it had speakers built into the sides and when I opened it up there was a turntable ready to go. I went over to the record collection that I had kept since childhood and pulled out a 35 year old record. I took it out of its tattered jacket and placed it gently on the turntable. I pushed on the power button. Then I carefully picked up the needle and placed it on the spinning record. There was a loud hiss, pop, and crack. Then suddenly the sweet sound of music flowed from the record player into my ears and down to my soul. It was one of those moments of pure joy that makes life so wonderful. I closed my eyes and swayed to the sound. In my mind I was fourteen years old again, singing and dancing to the music in my Mom’s living room.

I opened my eyes again and smiled. My old beagle fearing that I might start singing soon turned and ran out the door. My young puppy, however, bounced around my feet and barked happily while I danced with delight to the sweet sounds coming from my birthday present.

I have been blessed by so many sweet sounds in this life. I have heard the first birds singing in the Spring. I have heard the wind whistling through the trees. I have heard my newborn babies’ first cries. I have heard children laughing and playing. I have heard the wonderful words, “I love you.” I have heard beautiful, glorious music. And I have heard the sound of God’s love flowing through my own heartbeat and all of creation. I hope to keep adding the sounds of my own love, laughter, kindness, and joy to them too. I hope to do all I can to make this earth sound a little more like Heaven. May you do so as well.-------

HOW OLD ARE YOU?

I have another birthday coming up soon. With the card, cake, present and hugs will, of course, come the inevitable question, “How old are you?” I have gotten to the point now where I can honestly say, “I’m not sure.” This body of mine is going to be 50 years old. This vehicle that carries around my soul will have been here half a century soon. Parts of it look younger and other parts of it feel older. My energy level has certainly gone to the dogs. Some of the time I feel like my two month old puppy who is chewing on my toes right now. Some of the time I feel like my twelve year old beagle who is napping by the fan. Mentally my age varies too. In some things I feel like a wise old sage. In other areas I feel like a first grader. Emotionally there are times when I feel like a five year old playing in the sunshine. There are other times when I feel like a nineteen year old looking forward to the rest of my life. There are still other times when I feel like a ninety nine year old wondering where all the years have gone. Spiritually it is just as confusing. I feel like the eternal soul that I truly am. Yet, that eternal soul is also forever young. From now on then I am just going to live each day with all of the love, laughter, and joy that I possibly can and let the years take care of themselves.

After all, it isn’t the number of years you live that matters. It is how you LIVE them. For all of us here the longest life is too brief. Why then should we waste a single moment not living our lives to the fullest? Why should we pass up a single opportunity to love, to share, to help, to care, to smile, to pray, to laugh, to sing, to dance, or to be kind?

How “OLD” are you? Are you the slowly aging body you see in the mirror or are you the forever young soul within it? Are you a collection of wrinkles and gray hairs that will one day turn to dust or are you a Child of God meant for an eternity of love? ---------

AUTUMN MEMORIES

There were a hundred hints of Autumn in the wind when I took my dogs outside this morning. The air was cooler and drier than it had been for months. The Queen Anne’s Lace and Black Eyed Susan’s seemed to be shivering in the September Sun. Our puppy, Fluffy was carrying around a freshly fallen leaf in his mouth. Overhead a flock of ducks seemed to be debating whether or not it was time to head south. I breathed in deep and smiled. This was my favorite time of the year. I closed my eyes for a moment and was amazed when a thousand Autumn memories mixed and mingled in my mind.

I was a four year old carrying an armful of colorful leaves into the house to give to my Mom. I was a young boy riding my bike down a hill with the wind whistling past my face. I was standing on the football field before practice laughing with my friends. I was riding the school bus watching the changing leaves with my lunch box on my lap. I was walking in the woods wondering why some leaves turn a rich red, while others turn a brilliant yellow and still others turn an awe inspiring orange. I was a young dad pushing my son and daughter on the swings at the school yard on a Saturday afternoon. I was raking a crunchy carpet of Maple and Oak leaves into a pile in my Dad’s front yard so my niece and nephew could jump in them. I was walking around a local lake with my children taking in the Fall colors and wondering why the prettiest season seemed to be the shortest. I was sitting on my back porch drinking tea, thanking God for another glorious Autumn afternoon and wondering if in Heaven it was Autumn all of the time.

As I bathed my mind in these memories I looked forward to another wonderful Autumn here and thanked our Heavenly Father for this special season. I remembered what Ralph Waldo Emerson had once said: “Beauty is God’s handwriting.” I wondered too if God had a special pen just for Autumn.

We are all traveling through time in this world. We are all strolling through sweet seasons in this life. We are all creating memories every moment of everyday. May we always take the time then to appreciate all of God’s wonders. May we always take the time to add our own love, joy, and beauty to them.-------------------

GIVE IT YOUR BEST

I have been trying to fix up my old house this Summer. The work I was able to hire people to help me with looks pretty good. The work I tried to do myself, not so much. The tiles aren’t lined up right. The caulk is messy. The screws are crooked. The nails are bent. One of the door knobs is broken. And the dogs are sliding into the walls every time they run across the new rugs because I didn’t secure them to the floor properly. I have to say that home repair is not what I am skilled at. Still, I did give it my best.

The main regrets I do have in my life are the times when I didn’t give it my best. I regret the times I didn’t stop to help a stranger in need. I regret the times I was angry with my kids rather than understanding and kind. I regret the times I gave in to despair rather than praying to God. I regret the times I hid behind my walls instead of sharing my love. I regret the moments when I could have made a difference in this world but didn’t because I didn’t feel like trying. I regret all the missed opportunities I had to scatter sunshine, to share joy, and to give my love to others.

I know that God forgives me for all of those times when I didn’t do my best and I am doing my best to forgive myself as well. I know that carrying the regrets of the past will only keep me from doing my best in the future. I know that time spent in regret and sadness is time taken away from love and happiness.

When it comes to this life then always give it your best. Give it your best smile. Give it your best self. Give it your best effort. Give it your best love. Give it your best kindness. Give it your best joy. Give it your best heart and your best soul. It doesn’t matter if your life isn’t perfect. It doesn’t matter if parts of it are bent and broken. All that matters is that you give it your best every single day. If you do, then all of Heaven will smile upon you.----------------

FLUFFY

Recently a kind lady found a six week old puppy abandoned in her driveway. It was skin and bones, covered in fleas, and close to death. It was beyond belief how anyone could do this to a little, baby dog. This wonderful woman, though, rescued this tiny, white ball of fluff, took him in and bathed him a long time to kill the fleas. Then unable to raise him herself she put a notice on Facebook trying to find him a good home. It was there that my daughter saw it. She knew that I was hoping to get my oldest son, JJ a new puppy. It wasn’t long then until we were bringing this little guy home. My son named him, “Fluffy.”

After another bath, a few good meals, and a trip to the vet Fluffy no longer seemed sick or sad. Instead his true personality emerged. Just this morning he chewed on my ankles, my toes, the rugs, his chew toy, and his own tail. He wiggled out of his new collar. He whined his way onto my lap while I ate breakfast. He wolfed down his puppy chow and pooped on the floor. He barked at his toy bone, chased the my old beagle all over the house, and french kissed the cat. He also melted all of our hearts with his happiness and unconditional love. It looks like he is going to be quite a handful as he grows up but we don’t mind. I am sure that he was meant to come to us at this time and to bring his love into our lives.

Isn’t it incredible how our Heavenly Father can use even the worst acts that some of us do to bring out the best in the rest of us? I thank that sweet lady who saved Fluffy’s life and I want her to know that he will always be loved and cared for here.

We are all connected in this life. We are connected with each other. We are connected with God. We are connected with all of His creatures. We can weaken those connections with acts of evil or we can strengthen them with acts of Love. May you always choose Love.-------------

WET EYES

I was looking through some old photo albums the other day. I had already looked through them many times before but I felt a sudden urge to see those old pictures again. I found myself reliving so many beautiful memories from my childhood. There was my dear Nana giving me a bath when I was a baby. There was me and my brother standing in front of the world’s ugliest Christmas tree. There was my first dog: Duke snuggled up next to me on the couch. There was my beautiful Mom holding me on her lap. Then all of the sudden the pictures seemed blurry. I realized that the pictures were blurry because my eyes were moist. Tears were dripping down my cheeks. I wiped my wet eyes and wondered what was going on. I hadn’t cried the last time I looked at those pictures. What was different now?

I soon saw that it was I who was different. Since I had last looked through those photos I had grown. My empathy had risen. My compassion had strengthened. My spirit had walked a little further down the path of love. I realized too that wet eyes were nothing to be ashamed of as long as they came with a warm heart. I smiled and closed the photo album up once again. I felt Mom and Nana smiling down on me from Heaven. I felt my Heavenly Father’s love inside of me and all around me.

Leo Buscaglia once said: “I’m not afraid to cry. It cleans out my eyeballs.” I think it cleans out our insides as well. It helps us to wash away our pain, fear, and grief. It helps us to reconnect to our love, goodness, and oneness with God. It helps us to become who we were meant to be. The next time you feel your own tears starting then just let them flow.

Life is full of smiles. Life is full of tears. Only by allowing them both can we truly live. Only by embracing them both can we truly love.--------------

THE WAY YOU FEEL

When I was eleven years old my family moved to a new home on the top of a mountain. It was a lovely, little house, but it only had well water that was heavy in iron and the only source of heat was a wood stove in the kitchen. My Dad had become disabled with a back injury so it was up to me and my brother to chop and carry in the wood for the stove and to carry home five gallon containers of drinking water from a nearby spring. I hated both chores and avoided them whenever I could. For the first few years there then my older brother did most of the work.

When my brother left home for the army, though, it was up to me to take over these chores. At first I grumbled to myself a lot but after a while I found that I didn’t mind doing them at all. Maybe I was growing up or maybe I was becoming a little less spoiled. All I knew was that it felt good being able to help Mom and Dad. It felt good being able to show my love for them in this small way. It made me feel alive, happy, and closer to God even while I was straining my muscles and working up a sweat.

There is an old Zen saying that goes: “Before enlightenment, chopping wood, carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood, carrying water.” When I first saw it, I instantly remembered those boyhood chores and I realized at once what this saying meant. It isn’t the work that matters. It is the way you feel when you do the work that matters. In this life we are all going to have hard work of one kind or another. It can be a misery to us or it can be a joy. The choice is ours. When we do our work with love, however, it ceases to be work at all. It instead becomes a gift that we give to ourselves and to others.

May all of your work be filled with love. May all of your life be filled with love. And may God’s light shine bright within you always.----------------

TO LOVE LIFE

During the last four years of her life my Mom fought a valiant but losing battle against cancer. During that time she lost her health, her hair, and 40 pounds. She was in and out of the hospital more times than I could count. In the end as her life’s energy ebbed away we all gathered at her bedside and said goodbye. She was only 55 years old.

For a long while after her death I was depressed and angry at God. My own health broke down and I contracted double pneumonia. In time my body healed and my heart as well. It was the love of my children that finally pulled me out of my despair and helped me to begin to live again. Still, I continued to ask God why my Mom had to die so young.

It was only years later that I began to see clearly what my Mom had done in those last four years of her life. While cancer was beating her body, it certainly wasn’t beating her soul. In her last four years here my Mom lived as she had never lived before. Even with cancer she worked outside of our home and touched the lives of her co-workers with her gentle humor and kind spirit. She reconnected with old friends that she hadn’t seen in years and made special memories with each one of them. She and my Dad grew closer in those last four years than I had ever seen them before. There was a love and a tenderness between them that touched us all. Mom was there for me and my two brothers as well. During her time with us she brightened our souls with her love and she helped us to grow strong enough to go on without her.

In her last four years my Mom completed her mission here. She showed us how to love God. She showed us how to meet death. She showed us that fear always flees in the face of joy. She showed us that to live life is to love life, no matter how much pain you have and no matter how much time you have left. Thanks Mom! I will always love you. ----------------

MORE TO DO

It was a hot and humid day in July. I was driving to the local grocery store because the heat had made my bananas go from yellow to brown overnight. My air conditioner in my car was on high, but it still wasn’t cooling me down. Suddenly, the car in front of me signaled that it was pulling off. I pressed on the brakes and slowed down. Out of the corner of my eye I saw several teenagers standing in the sweltering, Summer sun. They weren’t playing, goofing off, or hanging around though. They weren’t drinking, smoking, gossiping, or looking at their cell phones. They were working on a porch.

I recognized them immediately as one of the church work camps. For more years than I can remember these young men and women have volunteered their Spring and Summer vacations to come here and help repair the homes of poor people. I smiled when I saw them there sweating, straining, and working hard to do some good in this world. While the news headlines were so full of murder, hate, and violence, these young people were doing their best to share some love and light with others. In my heart and mind I heard the words once again: “I was hungry and you gave me food...I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me.”

There is so much good we can do in this life. There are so many people we can help. There is so much love we can share. And as long as there is life, there is more to do. Whether it is repairing a house, sharing a smile, offering a hug, adopting a dog, visiting the sick, giving to charity, praying for others, sharing a kind word, or doing any act of goodness, every single thing we do is precious in the eyes of Heaven.

God loves us all so much and His greatest wish is for us to love each other as well. Choose to love then. Chose to love and you will have joy. Choose to love and you will share joy. Choose to love and you will help others and make this world a better place. There is no greater way to live and there is always more to do. May God bless and guide you always.---------------

THE TRUE TREASURES

There was a long line at the local convenience store the other day. Apparently the multi-state lottery prize had grown into the hundreds of millions again and people where lining up to buy tickets. As I waited to pay for my gas I wondered if I should fish the two extra dollars out of my wallet to buy a ticket myself. I thought for a second about all the things I could buy with that much money. Then I stopped and thought about the true treasures in my life, the treasures that brought me happiness, the treasures that warmed my heart, the treasures that uplifted my soul.

There was the time I spent with my two handicapped sons, caring for them, hugging them, laughing with them, and loving them. There was the long talks with my daughter and gentle kisses on her head I gave her before she headed home in the evenings. There was the unconditional love I saw in my dog’s eyes every time she looked at me. There was watching the sun come up in the morning and the stars sparkle at night. There was standing on my back porch sipping an iced tea while watching the fireflies on a Summer evening. There was listening to my old, vinyl records on my ancient record player and singing along with them. There was sitting by my reading lamp on a dark, Winter’s night reading a musty, old, paperback book. There was helping a friend, a neighbor, or a stranger in need. There was smelling flowers, walking in the woods, and taking deep breaths of the crisp, morning air in the mountains. There was eating a home cooked meal with my family using the old, Italian recipes passed down from my Dad and Nana. There was talking to God and feeling the joy in my heart and the smile on my face when I remembered just how much He loved me. There was sharing smiles, writing stories, and doing random acts of kindness. There was hundreds of other things as well, far too many to ever write down here.

There was one thing about all of these treasures too. They cost me little if any money. Most of them, in fact, were free gifts from Heaven. Still, each and every one of them was priceless. I kept the extra two dollars in my wallet then. I didn’t need the false hope a lottery ticket would temporarily bring. I didn’t need the things its money would buy if I won. I was already rich in the eyes of Heaven. My days were full of the true treasures of this world. Love was mine to choose. Joy was mine to share. Life was mine to live.

May all of your days be full of the true treasures of this world. May you enjoy them all and use them all to walk with God through this life and into the next.---------------

LITTLE BLINKERS

I was walking my beagle, Snoopy the other evening while the last light of the setting sun colored the clouds purple and pink. I looked up to the sky and smiled. After a minute Snoopy started pulling at her leash. She was more than ready to head inside for a bowl of dog food and a bacon treat. I wasn’t quite ready to go in yet, however, so I knelt down and patted her head. I was waiting for my friends the Little Blinkers to appear.

It wasn’t long either before I saw them switching their lights on and off. They were fireflies, of course, also known as lightening bugs. Over all the years that I have lived here they have never failed to appear at this time during the Summer to do their mating dance of light and love. They have never failed to delight me. They have never failed to amaze me. They have never failed to make the world a little brighter. It has always been such a joy too knowing that God created such wonderful creatures that can shine their own light and make the dark meadows look like the starry skies above. They make me want to share my own light as well, even if it isn’t that bright and even if it does tend to blink now and then.

Robert Fulghum wrote, “I know some people who give off a lot of light. Because they have absorbed a lot of light themselves. They Shine.” I don’t know how much light I have absorbed over the years, but I do know that I won’t keep it hidden under a basket. I will shine it. I will share it. I will use it to bring as much goodness, love, joy, and wisdom into this world as I possibly can.

May you always shine your light as brightly as you can. May you always share it with others as well. Remember too that God doesn’t ask you to illuminate the whole world. He just wants you to make your little corner of it a bit brighter.---------------

HOUSE GUESTS

My daughter has been having some unique house guests at her place this Summer. For the second time now a family of robins have built a nest on the crossbeams of her porch just underneath the roof. It is incredible watching how they weave grass, twigs, and mud into a sturdy home to hatch their eggs and raise their babies. It is amazing to observe the dedication with which they continuously hunt for food to feed their brood. It is funny too seeing how the Momma robin will fly to the nearby tree when I approach the porch and chirp some not so kind things at me until I leave again.

It is seeing the baby birds grow, however, that is the best thing of all. In less than two months they go from growing in little blue eggs, to napping in a bundle together, to looking like ugly, little vultures with their mouths open, to flying out of their nest to soar in the skies along with their parents. It is wondrous to watch. Anyone who sees this up close can only be filled with awe for the miracle that is life.

My daughter’s house guests have taught me a few things too. They have taught me about hard work and craftsmanship. They have taught me about dedication and sacrifice. They have taught me about growth and life. Most of all, though, they have taught me that while it is safe and warm in the nest, it is better to fly.

The poet Rumi once wrote: “You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” I for one don’t want to crawl. I want to fly! I want to leave the nest, spread my wings of love and let my soul soar. I want to live the way God intended for us to live with our hearts in Heaven even while our feet are here on Earth. May your heart always fly high then. May your wings of love carry you to Heaven and help you to lift others there as well.----------------

COMING TOGETHER

On a day in late June it started to rain here and didn’t stop for 14 hours. When it was over flash floods had roared through our state destroying homes, businesses, roads, bridges, and towns. Many lives were lost. After it was over people walked through the mud left behind to find what few things they could. Some wept in sorrow at what they had lost. Others wept in joy when they found their loved ones alive. Some bent their heads in despair and asked “Why me?” Others lifted their heads to Heaven and said, “Father, please help us through this!”

When the waters had receded, though, an amazing thing happened. People immediately started to help each other. Some donated food, water, clothing, and cash to help those who had lost everything. Others went looking for missing people and lost pets. Still others went out in the deep mud and began to help clean up the damage. Men, women, and even children started coming together to do all they could to help. Churches were soon filled with supplies to help the flood victims and volunteers spent their days carrying those supplies to the people who needed them. Government help arrived too but before it even got here a higher help was already at work: the help of loving souls caring for their neighbors. I am sure God must have smiled down on us when He saw all of this LOVE in action.

It is incredible how often the worst things in life bring out the best things in us. The love, caring, and compassion that I have seen in these last few days has touched my soul. It has reminded me how good people really are. It has shown me once again that we are all Children of God and that we are all one family in this world. May we always come together in both good times and bad. May we always care for each other, help each other and work together to make this world a better place. May we always do all we can to fill this life with love.-----

SOMETHING BETTER

I can still remember the first moment I saw my first born son. He looked so perfect even with his red face and wrinkled skin. All I could do was sigh with delight. We named him Joseph John or JJ after me. JJ had a very normal infancy but when he hadn’t started talking by the age of two my wife and I grew worried about what might be wrong with him. It took a long time and trips to several doctors before he was diagnosed with Autism, a spectrum disorder that affects one’s speech, behavior, emotions, and even thinking. It was a terrifying thing realizing that my son wasn’t normal. I remember praying to God over and over again to heal him, to make him normal, and to make his Autism disappear.

Those prayers were never answered. Five years later after the birth of our daughter we found out that my wife was pregnant with a second son. I remember praying to God again that this boy would be normal. Those prayers weren’t answered either. My second son, Casey had an even more extreme form of Autism. His language would never develop beyond some simple words and his behaviors and mood swings were much more severe than his brother’s. He would cry often, destroy things, and hit himself. I can remember being angry at God at times, not understanding why He had given me two handicapped sons and why He had answered “No” when I prayed again and again for Him to heal them.

After a long while, though, I began to realize that God hadn’t answered “No” to my prayers. Instead, He had said, “I am giving you something better!” You see, over the years my sons have taught me more about love, caring, and compassion than I could have ever learned on my own. Watching JJ give his friendliness and kindness to everyone he meets every single day makes my heart open with joy. He truly is an earth angel and a friend to the world. He knows more people by name than I do and he greets everyone with a smile straight from Heaven. Hearing Casey’s laugh is like hearing the angels sing. Over the years and with medication his mood swings and destructive behaviors have grown less severe while the love and joy inside of him have grown only stronger. He makes me laugh and smile every single day. He has never been able to say more than a few words at a time to me but his soul has spoken volumes.

Now I thank God everyday for giving me my sons. Caring for them is neither a duty, nor a burden, it is a joy. Without them in my life I wouldn’t have become the person I am. Without them in this world, it would be a darker place. God truly did answer my prayers then. He didn’t give me what I wanted. He gave me and this world something better.

The three most beautiful words in the Bible are “God is Love.” I know too that both of my boys were made in His image as are all the handicapped people in this world. They like us are God’s Children. They like us are created in LOVE. They may not be normal by the world’s standards but they are forever special in Heaven’s eyes. May we always help them to share their love and light.---------------

WE ARE LOVED

The other day my two sons and I got into my old car to drive to the local post office. I backed out of my drive slowly like I normally do and then pulled to a stop at the side road that leads to the main highway. When it was clear I pulled out and stepped on the gas. As I stepped on the clutch and tried to shift into second, though, I immediately knew that something was wrong. The normally solid gear shift now felt like a spoon in a bowl of soup. I tried quickly to get it to lock into any of the gears but to no avail. Thankfully, the steering wheel was still working fine and I allowed the car to coast to the end of the side road where I was able to pull safely into a wide spot and turn the engine off.

My sons and I walked back to my house, borrowed my daughter’s car, and drove to a local garage to arrange to have my car towed in for repairs. It was only later in the day that I finally realized how blessed and watched over I had been. I could have been on the main road when that stick shift failed. I could have been doing 55 miles per hour instead of 15. I could have been in the middle of a curve with no place to turn off the road. I could have had a car too close behind me that wouldn’t have been able to stop in time. A hundred things could have made this incident dangerous or deadly. Yet, the gear shift broke at just the right moment to keep me and my boys safe.

Far too often we only see the bad things in life. We get angry with God when things don’t go our way, and we fail to see the thousands of times that they do. We are loved and watched over in this life more than we can ever know. God loves us and His angels protect us every single day. Yes, my car broke down. Still, my sons and I are safe. We are loved. And we have been given more time here in this world to share our own love and light. Thank you God!----------------

A FEW COINS

Life is full to overflowing with miracles if you only open your heart to see them. I saw another one just the other day. I had been running errands all morning and was about to head home. The morning heat, though, felt more like a Summer afternoon than a Spring morning and my mouth was parched. I decided then to stop by a local convenience store to get something to drink first.

As I walked in I heard a mother talking to her son. “Are you sure you want to spend your birthday money on ice cream?” The little boy who couldn’t have been more than five years old nodded, yes. I stood behind him as the cashier filled a small cone with vanilla ice cream. The lady handed him the cone and he handed her his money. He was about to turn around when the cashier told him to wait and dropped a few small coins into his hand. The little guy looked at his change for a moment and then lifted his hand up to a charity box on the counter and dropped them in it. He turned around and our eyes met. He smiled at me and I winked and smiled back. Then he walked out of the store with his Mom, happily eating his ice cream.

After watching that little miracle of love my heart felt lighter and the world seemed brighter. Life made sense once again. It felt so good to be a part of God’s creation. It felt so wonderful to be on a world that had such kindness in it. I knew too that all of the angels in heaven must have been cheering when they saw that little act of love.

In the eyes of God no gift is too small. In the eyes of God every act of love is priceless. By simply sharing a few coins that little boy had made this world a better place and me a better person. By simply being kind that little boy had given life another miracle and made Earth a little more like Heaven. May we all do the same.-----------------

TIME FOR HUGS

After all of these years I can still remember the first time I placed my newborn baby son into my Grandmother’s arms. Nana by that time was 77 years old and needed a walker to get around her tiny home. Yet, the second I came in the door she stretched her arms out to me for a hug and kissed me. When she had settled into her favorite chair I placed my son into her arms and watched her rock him gently while her eyes sparkled with joy and her face filled with smiles.

By that time Nana had already been through so much in her life. As a little girl she had survived a German U-boat attack on the transport ship taking her to America from Italy during World War I. She’d learned English as a second language and worked hard even as a child to help her poor family survive in their new home. She’d married and raised 4 sons, growing 4 huge vegetable gardens to help feed them. Then she’d helped to raise me and my two brothers when my Dad and Mom moved back into her home after Grandpa died. When I was 11 years old she’d watched in tears as a fire destroyed that home in the middle of the night. She’d also survived brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her head.

As I watched her hold my baby son in her arms I wondered how much longer she would be with us and hoped it would be for a long time. Thankfully, Nana lived to be 92. I guess God knew she still had more babies to hold, more kisses and hugs to give, and more love to share.

Now my newborn baby is 28 years old and I have gray hair and wrinkles. Still, I don’t feel old. Like Nana I know that I have more kisses, hugs, and love inside of me to share. Life may have pain, struggles, and sorrows, but God loves us and helps us through them all. Life here may be brief, but there is always time for love. There is always time for learning. There is always time for joy. And there is always time for hugs.---------------

A MORNING IN MAY

It was a morning in late May. The clouds had cleared from the rain of the night before. The sky was blue and the sun was smiling its golden grin upon the earth. The trees in the woods were now covered in light green leaves. Some of the birds were still singing their morning songs but many were too busy searching for food for their newly hatched chicks. There was a hint of the warmth the afternoon would bring but the air was still cool, fresh and clean. Even my aging beagle seemed delighted by it all and bounced around like a puppy taking in the thousand scents of Spring. As I walked him I felt a joyfulness in my own heart. It felt like Mother Nature herself was giving me a hug. I could feel the love of God all around me and within me as well. I breathed in deep and smiled at the morning before heading back inside.

That smile was still on my face when I walked into my bathroom and looked in the mirror but I noticed something else was there too. I had a white spot on the very tip of my nose. It was of all things a pimple. The very sight of it on my 49 year old face made me laugh out loud. Then when I popped it the white spot was replaced with a red one. This made me laugh even harder. It was so silly and I looked ridiculous. Still, it didn’t subtract one bit from my joy on that wondrous May morning. It added to it instead.

It is joy that holds this universe together. It is joy that we all want out of life. Joy comes to us when welcome God’s love into our hearts, souls, and lives. Joy grows when we share our own love with others as well. Joy appears whenever we cease to fear, to hate, to judge, or to complain. And joy travels the fastest when carried on the wings of laughter. May you fill all of your days with joy then. May you find joy and bring joy wherever you go. May you make your entire life here as bright and as beautiful as a morning in May. ----------------

CHILDREN OF ETERNITY

With the ever increasing speed of change in today’s world I have to admit that for the first time I am beginning to feel my age. When I was a boy being online meant helping my Mom hang up my jeans on the clothesline behind our house. Twitter was what you heard from the birds in the trees. There was no Facebook although I often had my face in a book. A smart phone was one with a long cord so you could walk around while you talked to someone. A mouse was something our cat chased. And a computer was that strange thing with the blinking lights I saw on the science fiction television shows.

These days I have learned how to work a desktop computer and I am grateful everyday that I took a typing class in high school. Yet, it seems like there is always a message on my screen asking me to update my software and I am concerned that as soon as I learn the new system it will already be out of date. My daughter can work her smart phone with the skill of a concert violinist. Whenever I need the answer to something fast I ask her, she asks her phone, and we have the answer. Still, I am thankful that she turns it off from time to time. Everyday I see teenagers with their heads permanently bent to their phones while life passes them by.

I am not worried about where this technological trip is taking us, though. I know that all roads lead to the same place. We are children of eternity and eventually we all must return to God and His Love. Our smart phones and social media won’t be making the trip with us, either. The only things we can take with us are what we have learned and the love we have shared. The only computer we will be carrying into the next life is the software of our souls.

Don’t give your life over to technology then. Instead use technology to help you share your love, shine your light, and spread your joy. Use it to help others and make this world a better place. Use it in a way that makes God smile and the angels sing. And then after you are done turn it off. Remember, what is essential is inside of you. You may be a child of technology, today but you are child of eternity, forever!---------------

THANKS DAD

I was six years old walking along the railroad tracks that ran next to my Nana’s house where my family lived. I could see the old, green house about 300 yards away through the tears in my eyes. My hand was hurting and my feet were stumbling, but I kept crying and walking towards my home. On one of my walks through the woods I had come upon something metal sitting in the grass and leaves. I had reached down to grab it and sprung a leg trap meant to catch foxes and raccoons. I tried to pull it apart but couldn’t. I did manage to loosen the chain, however, and then headed home with the trap on my fingers and tears running down my face.

As I approached the house I saw my Dad hoeing the weeds in our garden. I started crying even harder and ran up to him holding out my hand. My Dad sprang into action and had the trap off in a second. Then he knelt down and checked my fingers for a long time to make sure I didn’t have any serious damage. Finally satisfied that I would be alright he smiled at me and patted me on my shoulder. He took my hand and had me walk him back to where the trap was originally. Then he dropped it without resetting it.

On the way back home I wondered if he was going to punish me or even scold me for being so foolish, but he never said a word. I guess he felt I had learned my lesson and would never dare touch one of those traps again. Remembering that day my only regret is that I don’t remember ever having said, “Thanks Dad!” for what he had done.

Still, looking back made me realize that it is never too late to say what needs said. Even though Dad is now in Heaven with Mom and Nana, I know he can still hear me say, “Thanks Dad for being so strong, wise, and kind that day. Thanks for letting me screw up, make mistakes, and find my own way in this world. Thanks Dad for the things you taught me and the love you gave me. Thanks for watching over me while you where here on Earth and for watching over me now that you are in Heaven.”

Over the years too I have done a lot of things far more foolish than I did that day. Through them all, though, my Heavenly Father never punished me. He let me learn my lessons and offered me only love and forgiveness when I ran crying into His arms. Like my earthly father He watched over me with unconditional love and let me find my own way back to Him. That is why I am who I am today. That is why I now say, “Thank you God” every chance I get. May you do the same. May you fill all of your days with love, learning, thankfulness, and joy.--------------

SHOE BOXES OF MY MIND

I was looking through some of the shoe boxes of my mind today. Those are the places where I store all of the wonderful moments of learning and loving that I have had in this life. One such memory is of a simple picture drawn for me by a 5th grade student when I was a very young substitute teacher. I lost the real picture in one of the several moves I have made over the years, but the picture is still there in one of the shoe boxes of my cluttered, middle-aged mind.

It was drawn in crayons and colored pencils. There were lovely, red, Fall trees, green grass, and flowers under a golden sun. Under it were written the words: “You are the best teacher I’ve ever had.” Now the strange thing was that I had only been her teacher for one day and I would never teach in her classroom again. That was the life of a substitute teacher. You hardly ever got the same class twice. Still, I was young and idealistic. I believed in what the great educator Leo Buscaglia had said about using positive, caring, and encouraging words with your students. That day I had taken the opportunity to tell that young artist how great her English paper had been and that she should “Keep up the wonderful work!” As school ended that day she handed me the picture, smiled, and ran out to her bus. I kept that picture in a special folder on my dresser and in a special shoe box in my mind. I was amazed at how my one kind comment had meant so much to her, and I thanked God for giving me the wisdom to say it.

Now that I am old and idealistic I see that every caring word we say, every act of kindness we do, and every bit of love we share makes a difference in this world. God loves us all and God created us all for a purpose. We are to love each other and make this world a better place in our own special way. May you do so today. May you fill all of your days with love and kindness. May you fill all the shoe boxes of your mind with memories of joy.------------------

LISTENING TO MOM SING

When I was a teenager I used to take long walks in the woods behind our home. I found it a great way to clear my head, a good way to calm my spirit, and a wonderful way to connect to something greater than myself. I cherished the peace that it gave me.

As I was walking back to our house one day, I heard something that gave me even more peace than my stroll through the forest had. A window of our home was open and I could hear music playing from our old record player. Carried along on that stream of music was something I hardly ever heard too: the lovely sound of my Mother singing.

Now my Mom rarely sang unless she was alone. I guess she was shy about having others hear her. She would quietly join in on the hymns at church but I could never make out her voice among all the others. This time, though, I heard her singing sweetly and softly. I didn’t want her to stop so I snuck softy up to the side of the house and sat under the open window. It was so beautiful. Her loving spirit seemed to flow through every word. I felt like I was a baby boy again listening to her lullabies and feeling safe, warm, and loved. I sat there for a long while with a smiling face and a happy heart.

As I think back on that day I am reminded of the story of a boy who was weeping inconsolably because his pet canary who had sang so beautifully and brought joy to the entire family had died. His tears only stopped when a wise lady reminded him that “There are other worlds to sing in.” I know that one day in the world to come I will see Mom again and hear her sweet voice sing once more. Until then I will do my best to sing my own song here in this world. Until then I will do my best to share the love and music God gave me. May you do the same. May you make your entire life a song of love, sweet to hear and joyful to sing.---------------

THE BEAUTY OF THE SOUL

I was walking into the store today to buy a bar of soap. I had no idea why I had forgotten it on my regular shopping trip but my soap bar was now down to the size of a quarter so I had to get one. I wasn’t in a hurry so instead of heading right to it, I found myself walking among the aisles amazed at all the products. There were several brands of soap and bottles of liquid soap too. There were shampoos for oily, dry, and baby’s hair. There were so many types of toothpaste and mouthwash. There were shaving creams, shaving lotions, and aftershaves. There were acne pads, deodorants, and body sprays. There were hand lotions, face lotions, and body lotions. There were hair dyes, lip sticks, eyeliners, foundations, and blush. There were dozens upon dozens of items all designed to keep us looking young and beautiful.

As I walked among them, though, I kept remembering a picture I had seen the other day. It was of an old woman. She was so ancient that it was impossible to guess what her age might be. Her thin gray hair was pulled back on her head. Her skin had grown coarse and leathery. Her forehead, eyes, nose and cheeks had the deepest of wrinkles. All of her teeth were gone except for one small one in her lower jaw. By all of our modern day beauty standards she would have been called ugly. Yet, when I saw the sparkle in her eyes and the happiness in her smile I could tell how beautiful she was. She had lived. She had loved. And her face was a testament to that.

Saint Augustine wrote that “Love is the beauty of the soul.” That beauty doesn’t just stay in the soul, however. It shines forth in our faces and in our lives. It radiates out in everything we say, everything we do, and every smile we share. It is seen by God and everyone else in this world. Fill your soul with love then. Fill your life with living. Fill your days with joy. Make yourself beautiful from the inside out, today, tomorrow, and forever. ---------------

SASSY

After battling health problems for over two years my son’s beloved cat, Dusty passed away. I held her in my arms as she breathed her last breath and with a heavy heart carried her gently up to the woods behind our home to bury her.

As the days passed it seemed strange not hearing my son, JJ talking to Dusty in his room. He handled her loss better than me, though. His beautiful, simple, childlike faith accepted that she was in Heaven and that he would see her again one day. Still, he longed to have another cat of his own again. I decided to rescue one then from a local animal shelter as soon as I could. God, however, had other plans, because the very next day I got a message from a friend looking for a home for a six month old female cat named Sassy.

I agreed to take her in and my friend and I met up on a sunny afternoon. Sassy was a long haired grey and white cat with a personality that didn’t match her name. She was shy, sweet, lovable, and extremely laid back. She took to JJ right away and spends all of her time in his room napping in the sunlight through the window, and soaking up the love and attention my son showers on her. She has happily accepted her new role in life of sharing purrs, meows, and caring cuddles with my son. I think that Our Heavenly Father was waiting for just the right moment to bring her into our family and I thanked Him for doing so.

We are all connected in this life. We are all one family. We are all one world. Strands of our love go out from heart to heart and soul to soul. God sees them all, guides them all, and weaves them all into a glorious tapestry of light beyond our ability to fully see. Take your part in the tapestry then. Share your love. Share your joy. Share your light. Help God to make this world a brighter place for cats, dogs, and people everywhere. -----------------

SIGNS OF SPRING

After a long, cold Winter the wonderful signs of Spring are finally appearing here in the mountains of my home. Golden daffodils and dandelions are growing in the meadows and along the sides of the roads. In people’s yards red and yellow tulips, purple phlox and hyacinths are pushing their heads through the soil. The forests are turning a thousand shades of green. The dogwood, apple, and cherry trees are all in bloom, filling their branches with beautiful flowers and the air with their sweet smell. The green grass is growing again and rabbits and deer are sneaking into my backyard at dusk for an evening snack. Jacket mornings are giving way to short sleeve afternoons as the strengthening sun slowly warms the Earth. Bluejays and red cardinals are flying overhead. Robins are gathering twigs for their nests. In the trees a hundred birds are singing their love songs while a woodpecker drums along.

As I walked out of my house this morning too I saw another sign of Spring that brightened my soul and filled my heart with joy. A single, white butterfly floated by my face, circled my head, and flew off again. It reminded me again of my Mom watching over me from Heaven and my eyes moistened while warm sunshine kissed my cheek. I knew then that Spring was here to stay and I thanked God for a beautiful beginning to another day.

We all go through Winter times in our lives. We go through times of cold loneliness, bitter disappointment, and frigid despair. We go through times when we feel frozen to our very core. God’s love, however, is always there for us. Like the strengthening sun, God’s love is there to warm our hearts, thaw our spirits, and bring life back to our souls. Allow God to fill you with His love then. Allow Him to awaken the love within yourself so you can share it with the world. Then all of your days will be filled with light, laughter, joy, and Springtime. ---------------

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN

After all of these years I still find myself picking up pennies I find on the ground. When I was a child I always delighted in seeing those little, brown circles on the sidewalk. I would save them up and when I had enough buy a pack of gum or even a bag of chips. Of course, that was when things cost a lot less than they do today. I’d also heard several times growing up that God, His angels, and even our departed loved ones sometimes would leave pennies on the ground in front of us as a sign that we were loved and watched over from above. I never doubted that story even as an adult. After all, it is rare that you find a nickel, dime, or quarter on the ground but pennies are there all the time. Maybe that is why I still enjoy seeing them and picking them up no matter how dirty or grimy they are.

A few months ago I was walking to the local post office to mail a letter to a friend of mine. As I started down the sidewalk to the door I saw not one, not two, but four separate pennies shining in the sunlight. I smiled, bent down, and picked them up. I kept them in my hand as I walked in the door. Inside a lady was digging through her purse at the counter desperately looking for change to mail a package to her daughter. She was exactly four cents short. I laughed to myself at this minor miracle and placed my pennies from Heaven on the counter. The smile I got in return was worth a thousand dollars.

Every small act of kindness, every little, loving gesture, every moment of compassion and sharing is a treasure in the eyes of God and blesses the world around us. Always pass on your pennies from Heaven then. Always share the love in your heart and the love you get from others. Always make your life here a gift. It is a joyous way to live. It is a Heavenly way to live. It is the best way to live.--------------

RICH ON THE INSIDE

God has worked with and on me for all my days here. He has helped me in so many ways to become the person I was meant to be and the Child of God I was called to be. He has touched me through experiences, memories, books, stories, animals, angels, and most of all other people. He has moved me and molded me with moments of love and examples of kindness. He has guided me through times of joy and times of sorrow. He has walked with me every step on my journey through life.

One time on the day before Christmas many years ago when I was a minimum wage mill worker, I found myself with very little money and very little time to buy my small children a few simple toys. I knew that they would have to be cheap ones and I hoped my children would like them. I hated not having enough to give them more. I hated being poor. And I hated feeling bad at Christmas rather than happy.

I pulled into a store parking lot and counted my money again. It wasn’t much but maybe I could get something small with it. As I was getting out of the car I noticed the Salvation Army bell ringer at the entrance. I felt bad again because I didn’t feel I could spare anything to give him. I started walking towards the entrance when two cars pulled into empty parking spots in front of me. The first was a shiny, new Cadillac and I felt a twinge of jealousy when I saw it. “How nice”, I thought, “would it be to have enough money to buy a car like that.” The second car, though, was an ancient sedan more beat up and rusty than the one I was driving.

A man hopped out of the Cadillac and hurried into the store right past the bell ringer without a second glance. Out of the old sedan came a young mother with three small children in tow. Her clothes looked as worn out as her car, yet she stopped in front of the bell ringer, smiled, opened her purse, and dropped a bill in his red kettle. I stood there for a minute in astonishment while God spent another moment working on my heart, soul, and mind. “Maybe”, I thought to myself, “It’s better to be rich on the inside instead of the outside.” In that second a warmth touched me, my jealousy and hatred left me, and all the love and joy that is Christmas filled me. I fished a bill out of my own wallet, dropped it in the Salvation Army kettle, and wished the bell ringer a “Merry Christmas!” I found a few fun things to give my kids and drove home with my heart singing. I knew it was going to be a wonderful Christmas and I felt like I had traveled another step closer to Heaven, God, and the person I was meant to be.---------------

WHEN IT’S CLOUDY

It was a glorious, sunny day. The purple clouds of the morning had given way to golden sunshine that kissed the world with its warmth. Birds were singing in the trees even though Spring was still a few weeks away. The breeze was fresh and clean and just being outside filled me with joy. It was one of those special reward days we get from time to time when both the weather and the world seemed right. I took some extra time walking my dog and talking to God. I thanked Him for the day. I thanked Him for my life. I offered Him the rest of my time here to share His love, shine His light, and spread His truth.

As I walked along too I kept my eyes open for the first Daffodil, Tulip, or Dandelion to pop its head through the soil. I knew it was only a matter of time before the lengthening days and warming sunshine awakened them all. It would be such a delight seeing them stretch toward the sun and share their beauty with the world once again.

After a while I kicked off my shoes and walked barefoot on the cool grass. I looked once again at the sun shining down on us all. At that moment, however, I realized something. While I have always been the happiest when the sunny days of life blessed me with their goodness, I have grown the most when it’s cloudy. Maybe that is why God gives us clouds and rain as well as sunshine in this world. Our joy may be easier when the sunlight of blessings fills our days, but our love grows the most when the clouds block the light.

The next time the clouds of life cover the sunshine above don’t despair. Turn to the light that always shines: the light of God’s love within us. Let your own love and faith grow stronger. Use what you learn to be better and to help others as well. Life is full of both sunshine and clouds but the light within us can never be covered unless we let it.----------------

JUST A DREAM?

For the last few months I had noticed the brakes on my car getting weaker and weaker. They still worked but it took longer for my car to stop and I had to push the brake pedal further to the floor. I knew that I needed a new set of brake pads put on, but it was the middle of a rough Winter and I had so many other things to do. I kept putting it off then and babied my brakes as much as I could. The other night, though, I had a dream. I was driving my car on a bright, sunny day when suddenly a stalled car appeared in the road in front of me. I stomped on my brakes but they didn’t work and I smashed into the back of the other car. The dream wreck awoke me with a start and I decided to get my brake pads changed the next day. When the mechanic took off the old ones I noticed that the pads were worn paper thin.

The day after that I was driving home from the grocery store with my daughter beside me and my two sons in the back seat. As I neared a tight, mountain curve I saw a Semi-truck coming from the other direction. It took the curve too fast and slid two feet over the center line. I hit my brakes and simultaneously steered my car towards the side of the road. We gasped as the huge truck missed us by only a foot. It was only later when I was home safe in my bed that I realized that if I had still had my old, worn-out brake pads on I wouldn’t have been able to slow down fast enough to have missed that truck. My children and I would have either been injured or killed. I closed my eyes and gave thanks for that dream. I guess God still had some more for us to do in this world.

Now many would say that it was just a dream and it was all only a coincidence. I, however, stopped believing in coincidences a long time ago. I know how much God loves us and I know that He interacts in our lives here more than we can even imagine. The threads of our lives weave in and out with the lives of everyone else in this world, but only God sees the full tapestry. He knows that every moment we live and every choice we make are important. He sends us messages, dreams, thoughts, angels, and countless coincidences then to keep us on the right path, the path of love, the path of kindness, the path of goodness, the path that leads us back Home again.

Don’t ignore those messages from above. Listen to your better angels. Pay attention to your dreams. Follow those urges to do good, give kindness, share love, and spread joy. Notice those countless “coincidences” that fill your days. They can lead you. They can guide you. They can even save your life. ----------------

TAKE THE TIME TO DANCE

It was over twenty years ago. My young family and I had just moved into the house I live in now. I could hear my children playing in my son’s bedroom while I washed the breakfast dishes in the kitchen sink. Our television was on the country music video channel and I was humming along to the tunes while I scrubbed the frying pan. Suddenly, I felt a gentle tug on the leg of my blue jeans. I looked down and saw my little daughter looking up at me with her sparkling blue- grey eyes. She had snuck back into the kitchen unheard. I smiled down at her, dried my hands, reached down and picked her up. I held her in my arms and we swayed back and forth for a few minutes to the music coming from the TV. Then she giggled, gave my neck a big squeeze, and motioned that she wanted down again. I gave her a final spin around, set her down, and watched as she laughed and ran down the hallway to play again.

I knew that she probably wouldn’t remember this moment, but I made sure to place it carefully in the treasure chest of my soul. Even then I was aware of how fast she was growing up and knew that if I blinked I would miss it. I was right too. The days flew by far too fast. Soon she was too “big” to dance with Dad anymore and hugs and kisses had to be done in private so I wouldn’t embarrass her in front of her friends. Before I knew it she was in high school, then college, and then living on her own. Yet, when I look at my adult daughter these days part of me still sees that bright eyed little girl so full of laughter and love.

Time in this life is brief. Always remember then to take the time to dance. Take the time to love. Take the time to pray. Take the time to laugh and to sing. Take the time to give hugs and kisses. Take the time to watch the sunset. Take the time to thank God for every day you have. Take the time to cherish each moment you are given. Life is too short not to be lived in joy.---------------

A TIME TO HEAL

Our white cat, Dusty is my son, JJ’s favorite pet. They have a special connection that is a delight to see. After she finishes her dinner at night Dusty will run into JJ’s room to sleep on the pillow beside him. During the day she will follow him around, nap peacefully in his arms, and even answer with a “meow” every time he calls her name.

A few months ago, however, Dusty began to lose weight. She ate less and less and lost some of her fur. She stopped following JJ around and found a hiding space in my daughter’s old closet. She came out only to drink water and then quickly retreated to her hiding spot each day. I was sure for a time that we were going to lose her and prayed to God that she would return to health. I didn’t want my son to lose his furry friend. Thankfully, after a few weeks she started to spend time outside the closet again. She began to drink some milk and even started eating her cat food once more. Soon her fur grew back and she gained weight. Once again she became my son’s constant companion and I thanked God for bringing her back to him.

I can understand too why she had gone off by herself to take the time to heal from her illness. There have been many times in my own life when I have been beaten and battered by the troubles and pains of this world. There have been times when fear, sickness and sadness have overwhelmed me. There have been times when I have just needed to find a quiet place in my own soul to heal, to think, and to talk to God.

Joyfully, every time I have done so God has been there to fill me with His love and to heal my heart. Each time God has brought me back to the world better and stronger than I was before. When life beats you down then don’t give up. Go within. Go to God. Allow His love to fill you and to heal you. And then go out and share that love with the world.-----------------

GIVE YOUR LIGHT

The first time I saw Kai, she was sitting in my front yard hugging my dog. I had just pulled into my driveway and there she was. She stood up, smiled, and waved. She introduced herself as my new neighbor while she continued to pet my black Lab, Harley. I liked her immediately but didn’t know then what an impact she would have on my life.

Soon we were not only neighbors but good friends as well. When Kai greeted you with her high pitched voice you always felt like the most special person in the world. The deliveryman, the repairman, the other neighbors, and anyone who came to her door was treated like family. Kai had four cats but when a stray beagle was injured by a bear, she adopted the dog and nursed her back to health. Whenever my sons, daughter, and I visited her she would welcome us in with a smile, sit us down, and cut us a piece of cake. When she found out I loved Hawaiin shirts she gave me a beautiful one that still hangs in my closet today. She was always helping others, giving to others, and encouraging others. She always had a wise bit of advice, a kind word, and a gentle hug for everyone. No matter who you were you always left her house feeling a little better and a little happier.

All of the time I was getting to know Kai, though, she was dying. She had told me that first day I met her that she was “terminal”. She was battling several health problems at once and was slowly losing the fight. Her husband Sean and her owned their own cleaning business, but after a while Kai was too weak to work there anymore. During the last months of her life she grew weaker and had to spend most of her time in bed. Finally, on a cold, dark, Winter’s day her body gave out and she died in her home. She was only in her fifties and had left us far too soon. The day she passed I walked back to my house, closed the door to my bedroom, and cried. She had touched my life so much in the brief time I knew her. I had become a better person because of her and I knew others had as well. I still miss her today.

Desiderus Erasmus once wrote: “Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.” That is what Kai did. She gave her light. She shared her love. And this world was so much brighter because she was in it.

Kai taught me something too: We are all “terminal.” But it is never too late to give your light. It is never too late to love without fear and touch others with your kindness. This short life here is God’s gift to you. Make how you live it your gift to God.---------------

MAKING A LIFE

I have had a lot of jobs over the last 30 years. I have bussed tables and washed dishes. I have mopped floors and carried out garbage. I have chopped wood and stacked lumber. I have shoveled sawdust and pushed a broom. I have substitute taught every grade from seniors to kindergarteners and every subject from English literature to Algebra. I have cared for the handicapped in first a group home and then in my own home. I have worked with my brain. I have worked with my back. I have worked with my hands. I have worked with my heart. I have done everything I could to make a living so I could take care of those I love.

During those years of making a living, however, I realized something. I wasn’t making a life. I was earning money to feed my family, but I wasn’t feeding my own soul. I was doing enough to keep a roof over our heads, but I wasn’t doing enough to keep love in our lives. I was working hard to keep clothes on our backs, but I wasn’t working hard to keep God in our hearts.

When I realized this I slowly began to not only make a living but also to make a life worth living. I began to pray more. I thanked God for my life and welcomed Him into my heart. I took more than just a second to glance at a rainbow in the sky or to watch the sun rise in the morning. I hugged my children more. I laughed with them more. I told them I loved them more. I spent more time playing with my dogs and petting my cats. I began to read more and watch television less. I allowed inspiration from above to take my own writing in a new direction and I delighted in writing about how much God loves us. I loved more from the depths of my heart and saw how the more love we share, the more joy we have. I took the time to help others in every way I could and to contribute to my community. I did everything I could to become a better person and along the way I realized that I was helping to build a better world. In making my life here I saw too that I was also making my life for the hereafter.

Don’t be so busy making a living then that you forget to make a life. Bring your love to your days and your joy to your work. Be the Child of God you were meant to be and delight in this life you were given. Give the glorious gift of YOU to this world! If you do then you will have a life worth living. If you do you will have a love worth sharing. If you do you will have a Heavenly happiness in your soul, today, tomorrow, and forever.---------------

MAKE YOUR LIFE SING

I have always loved to sing. When I was a boy I sang in church, in my room, and even in my backyard. Growing up I always sang along with the songs on the radio. These days I sing in the shower. I sing when I walk my dogs. I sing when I do the dishes. My wonderful, loving, tech-savvy daughter has even downloaded music from the internet and made her old school Dad CD’s so I can sing along with all of my favorite songs.

There is one problem, though. While I love to sing, the sound coming from my voice never seems to match the sound I hear in my soul. It always comes out too high, too scratchy, and way too off-key. I have seen people wince when I sang near them. I have had my dogs join in when I sang too loudly. I once heard myself sing on tape and wondered how that voice could have possibly come out of my mouth. I am sure that even my guardian angels have had to stick their fingers in their ears many times over the years. I have learned to sing quietly then unless I am alone. Then I belt out my songs so all of Heaven can hear. I am sure God doesn’t mind my off- key voice as long as I am “Making a joyful noise.”

Thankfully, there is more than one way to sing in this life. We all can sing out our love and joy by what we do. We all can share the music within us with the lives we lead. We can shine our smiles. We can share our laughter. We can open our arms for a hug. We can pass on a kiss or a kind word. We can rescue a stray dog or cat. We can help the poor and visit the lonely. We nurse the sick and uplift the fallen We can encourage everyone around us. We can spread our joy. We can make our lives a living testament of goodness. We can love others the way God loves us: unconditionally! Make your life sing then. Sing well. Sing long. Sing with all the light and love in your soul! ----------------

A GLIMPSE OF HIS SOUL

YEEEE! The sound jarred me out of my dreams on a cold, Winter’s night. I sat up, threw aside my blankets, and fumbled for my glasses in the dark. I opened my bedroom door and saw a light coming from the bathroom. I knew then that it was my youngest son, Casey.

Casey has had a severe form of Autism all of his life. He speaks only a few words and is bound by his daily routines. Small changes that we handle easily feel like the end of the world to him. Sometimes when he’s upset he will cry uncontrollably, scratch his face, or hit himself.

This time, however, I knew from the noise he was making that he was happy. He was engaging in his favorite Winter pastime, sitting on the closed toilet seat while warming his feet on the heating vent next to it. I walked into the bathroom and said, “It’s late son. Time to go back to bed.” Then I leaned over, kissed his forehead, and looked into his eyes.

At that moment something happened that touched me to my soul. Suddenly, there was no Casey and no me. There was only light. I felt like I was floating on a lake of love and joy surrounded completely by a Divine presence. It was a moment of perfect peace. Then I blinked and when I opened my eyes again there was only my son smiling up at me. I think that for a moment God had allowed me to see a glimpse of my son’s true soul, unlimited by his handicapped mind. I knew that it was one far brighter, stronger, and more loving than my own. I felt so blessed being able to see it. I thanked God again for my son while I watched him walk back to his bedroom.

For all of human history the mentally handicapped have been looked down upon in our societies. They have been ostracized, tormented, neglected and ignored. Yet the truth is they are the best souls among us. They are here on a special mission from Heaven to teach us about love, patience, compassion, and selflessness. They are here to help our own souls to grow in beauty and light. They are a blessed gift from God and we should accept them all, welcome them into our hearts, and embrace the lessons they teach. May we always do so.-------------

A LOVING HAND

In the middle of Winter when a thick layer of snow covers the ground and the bitter, North wind is banging against my frosted windows I sometimes close my eyes and daydream of Spring. I imagine that snow melting into the ground and nourishing the tiny seeds beneath the soil. I think of those seeds springing to life and turning into thousands of red, yellow, pink, and purple flowers. I imagine the dry, brown grass turning green and growing lush and thick. I think of the bare trees budding with flowers and new leaves. I see the birds building nests and the robins singing in their branches. I imagine the air turning warm once again and the sun nourishing the world with its golden light.

Then I allow my mind to take me even further in time to balmy Summer nights. I hear the crickets making their music by the local lake. I see the fireflies flashing their love lights on and off. I see myself looking up at the thousands of stars in the night sky and wondering if around some of them turn planets like ours so full of life. I imagine all the countless galaxies in this universe with their own stars and planets and wonder if on some of them there are people like me. I see all of this glorious complexity of creation and know it couldn’t have just happened. It had to be created by a Divine Mind and a Loving Hand.

It is that same Loving Hand that made each of us. It is that same Loving Hand that lives in our hearts, strengthens our souls, and guides our lives. It is that same Loving Hand that connects us all. Our Heavenly Father loves us all so much and His hand is always open for us.

Place your hand in His then. Allow His love into your soul. Let Him guide you through the Winter days of this life and into the eternal Spring of the next. Take your place in His Glorious Creation and spend the rest of your life adding your own love to it.-----------------

LIGHT

It was a cold, January morning. Frost covered the grass and a bitter wind was blowing. I was standing out in my yard watching the stars slowly fade from the sky while I waited for the return of the dawn. It felt good knowing that the solstice had passed and now we were finally getting a few more minutes of light each day. As the sky started to turn blue my beagle started to tug at her lease to go in for her breakfast. I let her lead me back inside, fed her, and poured myself a cup of coffee. Then I walked to my window and resumed my sky watch.

The clouds had turned purple and were beginning to get more and more yellow. The north star was gone and only the moon remained visible in the morning sky. I sipped my coffee and waited with the delight of a child. Soon I noticed old Sol slowly rising over the hills. His golden sunbeams kissed my spirit good morning and I smiled. It felt so wonderful seeing the light awaken the world. I knew that it was going to be another glorious day to live and to love. I gave the sun a gentle salute, closed the curtain, and thanked God for the light.

Why do we humans so love the light? Maybe it is because we all came from the light. Maybe it is because we all long to return to the light once more. All I know is that the light warms my heart and uplifts my soul. It can be the rising sun on a cold, Winter’s day or the light of a loved one’s smile. It can be the flames from a crackling fire or a bright hug that comes straight from the heart. It can be the light of my reading lamp or the light that shines from the love I share.

I pray that all of you do your best to share your own light in this world. Your light is your love. Your light is your joy. Your light is the kindness, gentleness, and goodness within you. Share it often. Shine it bright. Always remember too that God loves you. God is love and God is light. And when you shine your light you grow closer to the Light that never ends. --------------

AN OPEN BOOK

When I was in school I could always tell when my class was about to take a test. You could feel the fear, anxiety, and worry in the air. People’s muscles were tense. Their foreheads were creased. Their smiles were tight. Eyes were blinking more often. Feet were fidgety. Pencils were tapping on desks. A few students were trying to crack jokes to ease their nerves. Others were trying unsuccessfully to act like they didn’t care. Most of us were just wanting it to start so we could get it over with.

Every once in a while, however, a teacher would give us a break and announce as the test papers were being handed out that this test was going to be an open book one. As soon as they said that you could feel the collective sigh of relief from the class. Smiles returned. A few students would laugh and you even heard a cheer or two. The pressure of knowing everything was gone. As we took out our textbooks all of us knew that the answers would be right in front of us. All we had to do was find them.

A lot of people say that life is one long series of tests that we have to face. This is true. What most people don’t realize, though, is that they are all open book ones. The answers are always right there in front of you and they are so simple. You just have to open the book of your soul to any page and you will see the words: “JUST LOVE”. Just love God. Just love yourself. Just love everyone as yourself. When you do this you will pass every test that life throws at you. When you do this you will make the world a brighter, better, and happier place.

Now a lot of people would also say that knowing the answers is not the same as living them. This too is true. Loving God, yourself, and others takes work everyday. Still, God loves you and God is always ready to help you to love. God is ready to fill you with His love so you can share it with the world. God is ready to help you love yourself and become the Child of God you were meant to be. God is ready to give you the strength to love the unlovable and to forgive those who have hurt you. God is ready to help you through all the tests that this life gives you and to walk with you into the greater love and life that awaits you.

Face all of life’s tests without fear then. Face them all with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Use the lessons they teach to learn and to grow. Keep the book of your soul open and just love.---------------

LEARNING TO WALK

I was 22 years old, sitting on my Mom’s couch, waiting for the kinks in my back to ease up. A lack of work and money had forced me, my wife, and our baby boy to move back in with my parents. We were all cramped together in my old bedroom and I was feeling down. Thankfully, I had found one new job: helping my son learn how to walk. He had already gone from creeping to crawling, and had started to pull himself up too. Anytime he took a few steps, however, he would stumble, fall on his tush, and cry. I had taken then to bending over and holding his hand while he walked along and my back wasn’t handling it too well.

As I sat there with my eyes closed rubbing my sore muscles I suddenly heard my Mom whisper: “Joe look!” I opened my eyes and watched my son grab the edge of the coffee table, pull himself up, and smile. Next with a giggle he started walking around it, keeping his hands on it for balance. Finally, when he reached the end of it he took two big steps and made it to the wall. He smiled at us again and then started walking down the hall with his hands balancing on the wall the whole way. I laughed, clapped, and cheered. Suddenly, being unemployed wasn’t so bad, because my boy had learned to walk. It wasn’t long either before I was losing weight chasing after him in the front yard while his little legs ran as fast as they could.

Learning to love in this world is a lot like first learning to walk. We far too often fall on our butts and cry. Yet, our Heavenly Father is always ready to take our hand and walk with us while we try again. His love, guidance, and protection are always with us too even after we find our own feet, even when we start to walk on our own, and even if we run away from Him. Don’t be afraid to step out boldly and love then. Don’t be afraid to fall. God loves you and will always be there to help you to love and to walk with you into eternity. ---------------

ANGEL SMILES

When I was a boy growing up I made my guardian angel work overtime. It still amazes me that I survived it all. I climbed trees and jumped off rocks. I took long walks in the woods and nearly got lost more than once. I sledded down hills in Winter narrowly missing trees. I fell off our family’s wooden swinging bridge and ruptured myself. I rode my bike down hills at break neck speeds with no helmet and wrecked once, splitting my head open. I swam all day long and often was so tired I barely made it out of the water. I lost a few fist fights, was in a motorcycle crash, and fell off a ladder once. I was scrawny and undersized but played football anyway and got pummeled daily. I tried to muscle up in the off season by lifting weights unsupervised and ended up damaging my body instead of building it. I narrowly avoided accidents several times as an inexperienced teen driver. When I finally reached adulthood I had several scars and a bad back but thankfully was still alive. I am sure, though, that by that time my guardian angel had gray hair, a nervous twitch, and some serious stress lines because of me.

When I grew up and saw the real meaning of life I decided that it would be best to get to Heaven the long way around and it would be far more fun to give my guardian angel laugh lines rather than worry wrinkles. I started to do my best then to make my angel smile. I gave my own smile to everyone who needed it. I spoke positively and encouraged others. I did random acts of kindness. I helped others and donated what I could to charity. I loved and raised my children. I hugged more, cared more, and shared more. I rescued dogs and cats. I wrote about how much God loves us, how we can love too, and how when we love we create joy.

Do your best to make your own angels smile. Love God. Love yourself. Love others. Create joy. Make your way to Heaven while bringing a little more Heaven here to Earth.---------------

NANA’S NATIVITY

Right after Thanksgiving this year, my son who has more Christmas spirit than anyone I know wanted to decorate our house for Christmas. We put on some Christmas carols then, went into the closet holding the decorations, and dug them out. The artificial tree took a while to set up. I had misplaced one of the bottom support legs. Thankfully, my son soon found it. After that things went smoothly. The tree was wrapped in lights and tinsel. Ornaments were hung. Tiny statues of Santa and Dicken’s era Christmas carolers were set out. Stockings and old Christmas cards were tacked to the walls.

Finally, with great care I took out the last of our decorations: my Nana’s old, battered Nativity scene. The section with the wise men had broken off and been lost years ago. The wire to the lightbulb signifying the star of Bethlehem was also gone. Still, in the manger lay the sweet, baby Jesus with Joseph and Mary beside him. And behind them were the peacefully kneeling cow and donkey.

I looked at the Nativity for a long time. I remembered how my Nana used to bend down and lovingly kiss the baby Jesus when she would set it down. I remembered how when I was a child the Christmas story had seemed so strange and left me with so many questions. Why hadn’t they let them in the Inn? What were frankincense and myrrh? Was the baby Jesus cold being born in a barn with only a straw filled manger to keep him warm?

I know now, though, that this baby will never be cold again. He lives in the warm hearts of everyone who open themselves to Him. He lives in the light of Heaven and in the love we all share with each other. He walks with us in our lives and can help us to make every day Christmas. May you always welcome Him into your home, your life, and your soul. ---------------

THE BEST CHRISTMAS GIFT

The best Christmas gift I ever got was both early and late. My first born child came into this world on December 16th, nine days before Christmas. He was supposed to be a Thanksgiving baby, however, so when my wife went into labor 3 weeks late he had to be delivered by an emergency Caesarean section. My first word when I saw him wasn’t even a word but a sigh of relief, love, and joy. My early Christmas present had a red, splotchy face from being overdue but it was washed several times over the next few days with happy tears from me, my wife, and several grandparents.

My son was named Joseph John after me and “J.J.” as he was called soon became the most cuddled and photographed child around. He was the first grandchild on both sides of the family and spent his first Christmas going from arms to loving arms as everyone wanted a chance to hold him. I looked forward to a blessed life watching my first born grow up to be a strong and smart man.

That dream, though, wasn’t to turn out the way I thought it would. As my son entered his second year we realized that his language wasn’t developing as it should. He only seemed interested in a few things and would jump up and down over and over to amuse himself. We finally got him tested but were given no answers. We were only told that he wasn’t normal. It was raining that day as my wife and I drove home and finally we pulled the car over, held each other, and added our own tears to the storm.

With the end of that dream came the birth of another. We decided to find out exactly what was “different” about our son do all we could to help him become all he could be. Soon a local Doctor saw what the specialists hadn’t. Our son had Autism. In that day very little was known about Autism or what could be done to treat it. My wife and I read every article and researched every treatment there was to help our son. We put our anger at God aside and asked instead for His love and guidance to help us with our boy. We enrolled J.J. in Special Education at school and worked with him everyday at home. We were blessed to get a loving, kind-hearted, and patient personal-aide for him at school and she became like a second mother to him. It was by her side during another Christmas season that my boy spoke his first sentence about the beautiful Christmas tree at the school.

As we continued to work with my son I noticed something else too; his loving spirit was also working on us. His smile was contagious, his cheer was infectious, and his innocent love was purifying. Over the years I became a better, kinder, more loving, and more spiritual person just by being around him. He taught me so much about love, so much about joy, and so much about embracing life. His language continued to improve and he became beloved by his teachers, fellow students, and especially by the school football and basketball teams where he worked as the equipment manager. His loving presence became a comfort to my days. His gentleness helped me to deal with money struggles and career problems. His sweetness helped me when his younger brother was born with an even more severe form of Autism and I gave up teaching to care for them both.

Now as the best Christmas gift I ever got approaches his 28th Christmas with me I have realized that he is the gift that keeps on giving. Like a ray of sunshine he brightens the day of everyone he meets. Like an earth angel he touches the souls of others with his gentle love. He shares his smile with everyone and calls everyone by name. He goes through his life making this Earth a little more like Heaven. He lives out God’s dream for him which is a far better dream than mine ever was.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas. May your Christmas and all of your days be full of the best gift there is, the gift my two special sons give me everyday-the gift of LOVE. God bless you always. ---------------

THE END IS THE BEGINNING

With Winter coming on I finally decided to replace the worn and torn blanket and quilt on my bed. Years of washing and dogs and cats jumping on them had left them threadbare and full of holes. I found a nice blanket cheap at a local store and dug an old quilt out of an older dresser in my room. When I looked at the quilt, though, I noticed that underneath the corner was a piece of tape with my Dad’s name written on it. Then I remembered that this was the same quilt he use at the nursing home during the last months of his life. I pealed the tape and held it in my hand. I looked up to Heaven and smiled. I didn’t think Dad would mind me using his old quilt now. I knew that he was in a place of never ending warmth, love, and light.

Spreading out my Dad’s quilt on my bed I remembered the greatest paradox of life: the end is really the beginning. Everything we go through in this life is a preparation for the greater life to come. Everything we face in this world can help us to become better, stronger, kinder, and closer to God. The love we choose in this life is the love we carry with us into the next. Knowing all this doesn’t diminish your love for life here on Earth either. It intensifies it instead. Life here may be momentary, temporary, fleeting and fragile, but it is a gift from our Heavenly Father. And how we live it is our gift to Him.

My advice then is to live like today is your last day. Wake up in the morning with your voice and soul saying: “Good morning God. I love You too and I thank You for my life.” Go through the day with an open heart that gives your love away freely. Embrace all the joy that the day gives you and share all of that joy with others. Help all the people you can. Learn all you can. Cherish every second you are given. Make your day a quilt of love that warms everyone you meet. Then your last day will be your best day and your end a new beginning. ----------------

TENDING YOUR FIRE

When I was a boy every summer I would spend a wonderful week at 4-H camp. It was always so much fun. Delicious meals were served in the dining hall three times a day. There were fun classes to go to in the morning and sports and swimming in the afternoon. There was a friendly competition between the four tribes for the spirit stick all through the week. And there were long nights spent lying awake, laughing, and talking with our friends. We seemed to sleep only a few hours a night but we were enjoying ourselves too much to be tired.

At the end of the week we all gathered together at the final council circle. The campfire in the center was carefully tended until it blazed brightly, lit up the circle and flickered off our happy faces. Songs, cheers, skits, challenges, and laughter would fill the air as the night went on. Later the awards for the week were given out. Everyone got something to take home and cherish as well as a tiny candle to hold. At the very end of the night the person who was awarded the spirit of the camp would take his candle and light it by the last embers of the dying fire. Then he would light the candles held by the people around him who would in turn light candles held by others until everyone of us held a little light in our hands. As the camp ended we all walked out into the night with our own little fires beating back the darkness.

Remembering those nights makes me wonder what this world would be like if each of us tended our own fire. How great would it be if we all fed the fire of goodness within us? How beautiful would it be if we all let our love burn bright? How wonderful would it be if we all shared our light to help others beat back the darkness?

God gave each of us a fire of love in our souls. It is up to us to tend it, though. It is up to us to turn it into a brilliant blaze for all to see. It is up to us to share its light with the world. ---------------

CHANGES

As the year rushes towards its end here in the mountains of my home, changes are everywhere. The sunlight suddenly seems scarce. The blue skies are more gray. The leaves have fallen and the trees are bare. The grass has gone yellow and snow will be coming soon. The winds have turned bitter making my coat a necessity. Inside my home it is time for thick socks and warm sweaters. Hot soups have replaced sandwiches for lunch and oven roasts heat the whole house as they cook for dinner. I look forward to reading my books with the warmth and comfort of my furry dog napping on my feet and my purring cat sitting on my lap. Christmas carols are playing on the radio and I find myself softly singing along. As I gaze out my kitchen window, though, I know that a long Winter still lies ahead of me and that it will be months before the world warms again and I see the first flowers of Spring.

Yet, amidst all of these bittersweet changes I am not sad. I know that all the seasons of life have changes that we must go through. Some of them are pleasant and some of them are tough. Some of them bring us instant joy and others force our souls to grow. All of them call on us to love. It is only when we love that we can fully enjoy the green grass and new flowers of Spring. It is only when we love that we can overcome the darkness and cold of Winter.

Throughout your life here you will be faced with countless changes. Know in your heart that God is with you through them all. God loves you through them all. God is helping you to use every single one of them to travel closer to Heaven. Meet each new change that comes your way with a loving heart then. Meet each new change with a soul full of compassion. Meet each new change by loving more, learning more, caring more, giving more, and helping others more. Life is full of changes, but you can make them changes for the better. ------------------

I CHOOSE TO SING

God loves us all so much and He speaks to us in more ways than we can imagine. Just the other day I was driving my son to the part-time job he has at a sheltered workshop for the disabled. The sky was a dark grey. A cold rain was pouring down. The world seemed silent and sad with both people and animals taking shelter from the storm. I turned on the car radio for a little music to lift my spirits. When I did, however, Karen Carpenter’s sweet, haunting voice came out singing “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” I turned the radio back off. That was not the song I wanted to hear on such a gloomy day. Still, the song kept playing in my head as the showers continued throughout the day.

Later that afternoon I was walking out of the bathroom when I saw my son turn the television on. A classic movie was playing and suddenly I heard these musical tones coming from Gene Kelly’s voice: “I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain. What a glorious feeling. I’m happy again. I’m laughing at the clouds so dark up above. The sun’s in my heart and I’m ready for love.”

In that moment I saw that God in His loving-kindness had reminded me once again that all of life is a choice, a choice to love. Rains and problems will always come. We can let them get us down or we can choose to sing. We can let the showers soak our souls or we can use them to help our souls to grow. We can allow the darkness to depress us or we can use it to awaken the sunshine and love in our hearts.

What are you going to do when the rains of life fall down upon you? I for one choose to sing. I choose to sing with all the love God has put in my heart. I choose to share my sunshine even on the darkest days and never let my music die within me. May you do the same.---------------

THE DECISION

I can still remember the first time I truly felt my heart break. I was 25 years old, sitting in a hospital room with the rest of my family. My beautiful Mom was in the last day of her courageous 4 year fight with Cancer. I looked down on her withered body lying on the bed and saw the sadness in her eyes. She could no longer speak but we all still felt her love for us. Together we waited while her breathing grew more and more shallow. When at last the machine signaled her heart had stopped I heard an anguished cry escape my lips while I felt my heart break. On the drive home tears overwhelmed me again and I had to pull off the side of the road. I didn’t know how I was going to go on without her.

Later after her funeral my own health broke and the doctor diagnosed me with double pneumonia. It took me a long time to heal physically and spiritually I still felt dead inside. For many months afterwards I just went through the motions of living. I did everything I was supposed to do but could not put my shattered heart into any of it.

Finally, one day I was sitting in my chair with my two small children on my lap. I could see too where my third child was rapidly growing inside my pregnant wife. As my arms held my giggling babies I realized that I had to make a decision. I had to decide to live again. I had to decide to love again. I knew it was the only way to heal my broken heart and give my children the Dad they deserved. Day by day after that I made the choice to love and each day I felt a little stronger and a little better. Also for the first time I began to feel my Mom’s spirit around me, watching over me, and loving me. I knew too that she had always been there. I had just been too depressed and hurt to feel her presence. By choosing to love again, I had slowly lifted my soul and mended my heart until I could feel her healing love inside me.

The decision to love is one that we are all called to make everyday of our lives. We are called to love in joy and in heartbreak. We are called to love on our best days and on our worst days as well. Victor Frankl who suffered through the Nazi concentration camps and survived wrote that “Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

Make the decision to love today. Make the decision to love God. Make the decision to love yourself. Make the decision to love everyone as yourself. “God is Love” and God made us from love. Embrace your true self then and just love, today, tomorrow, and for all eternity.----------------

SIMPLE PLEASURES

When I was a boy I didn’t have a smart phone, home computers were unheard off, and our 13" television could only get one channel in clearly. Yet, I was never bored. When Spring arrived I would pull out my trusty bike and ride. I would pedal for hours, feel the wind on my face and laugh with joy as I rode down the hills. When Summer came I would find myself swimming every day at the local pool or the river down the hill from my home. I never got sunburned either because I was never out of the water long enough. When it was Fall my friends and I would play football for hours and when the leaves fell would rake them into huge golden and red piles to jump in. The first snows of Winter didn’t stop the fun either. My brothers and I would have snowball fights and hike into the woods to cut down our Christmas tree. Later I would sit in my favorite chair by the warm, wood stove and read books that carried my imagination away to different lands and endless adventures.

Those simple pleasures always brought me so much fun, so much laughter, and so much happiness. There was nothing to be bored about because there was always something to do, something to enjoy, and something to love. I feel a bit sorry for the children of today because they are spending so much time watching and so little time living.

One thing I am sure of, though, is that even in this technological world the simple pleasures of life can still soothe your soul. A hug still warms your heart. A walk in the woods still calms your spirit. Petting a dog, playing a game, holding a hand, and saying “I love you” still makes you feel JOY. God loves us so much and God gives us the simple pleasures of life to enjoy and to share. Embrace them all. Welcome them into your day, take them into your heart, and share them with everyone. Live and love as a joyous Child of God today and always.-----------------

JUST A SPIDER

I was sitting at the kitchen table finishing my morning oatmeal. A little taste of Autumn sadness had crept into my soul. The lessening sunlight, cooling air, gray skies, and falling leaves all hinted of the Winter to come. I took my last drink of coffee and carried my empty oatmeal bowl over to the sink to rinse it out. Sitting on top of the kitchen counter my two cats sat transfixed, staring above them. I focused in and saw that they were both eyeing a tiny spider propelling down on a single web strain from the lightbulb above. Just as the spider came within reach both cats started to bat at him. I quickly took a paper towel and snatched up the little guy before he became a kitty treat. I walked out the back door to let him go. As soon as I set him down he quickly crawled to safety under my porch. As I shut the door I noticed something too. I was smiling and my sadness was gone.

Now I know a lot of people would be confused about how saving the eight-legged acrobat could have lifted my spirits so quickly. After all, it was just a spider. As I thought about it, though, I remembered two quotes I had recently read that spoke to my heart. The first was: “The only true thing is love.” The second was: “Do everything out of love.” I realized then that no act of love no matter how tiny is insignificant in the eyes of God. I had only spared a spider to live another day, but it had touched my heart, uplifted my spirit, and reconnected my soul with Heaven.

When it comes to life always live from love. Always do everything out of love. When you do you will feel truly alive. When you do you will help not only yourself, but others and this world. When you do your soul will hear all of Heaven cheer. In God’s eyes every smile you share is a treasure, every kind act you do is a triumph, and everything you do in love is Divine. --------------------

UP TO YOU

The college I attended as a young man was a collection of beautiful, red brick buildings built along the side of a hill. At the bottom of the hill was the closest town. Getting back to the dorms from town during the cold, Winter months was a treacherous trip even for the sober students. For those who had been drinking at the town bars it often led to many slips and falls as they stumbled up the slick sidewalks

On one December day a friend and I were debating going into town to grab a bite to eat at the local convenience store. We didn’t like the idea of walking downhill on a sheet of ice, but the dinner at the cafeteria that day had left a lot to be desired. Finally, we decided to head down and grab some sandwiches and sodas. We gingerly made our way and after about ten minutes got to the bottom of the hill. As we walked towards the store a shivering man approached us. His clothes were worn and dirty. His gray hair was wild and unruly. His face was unshaven. He didn’t have a lot of teeth left either. He smelt strongly of sour liquor. When he got close he stopped and seemed a bit ashamed of what he was about to say but finally he asked for a few dollars to get something to eat. I stepped back at first and all of the warnings that I had heard others say against people like him played in my mind. Yet, when I looked into his sad eyes I felt a warmth in my heart. I pulled out my wallet and gave him the money. As we walked on my friend said that the man was probably going to spend that money on alcohol. I thought about it then said, “What he does with the money is his choice. Sharing it was mine.”

I have looked back on that memory so many times over the years. If I had it to do all over again I think that I would have talked to the man longer, gave him more money, and maybe shared a hug with him as well. Even to this day some 30 years later I keep that man in my prayers. I pray that he found his way back to health, back to a home, and back to God.

We all come into this world from LOVE and when we leave it we will return to LOVE. Whether we love while we are here, however, is up to us. What is your choice going to be? Are you going to live by the rules of the world or the rules of Heaven? Are you going to help just yourself or are you going to help others as well? Are you going to let fear rule you or are you going to love others as God loves you? It is up to you!-----------------

YOU CAN LEARN SO MUCH

You can learn so much in this life. This entire world is a spectacular school full of friends, experiences, books, animals, nature and so many other things to learn from. My own learning has come in a million different moments and in thousands of different ways. Here are only a few of the many things I have learned in this life.

Forgiveness is the best revenge. Petting a dog will lower your blood pressure and lift your smile. No television screen can ever match watching a sunset. Petting a purring cat is a peaceful way to pass the time. Smiles are like boomerangs. Whenever you throw one of them out there it comes right back to you. No handshake can ever take the place of a hug. Wisdom comes in all shapes, all sizes, and all ages. A disabled mind doesn’t mean a disabled spirit. No matter what the question, Love is the answer. A good book should uplift your soul not kill your time. The best music brings the best joy. Christmas isn’t about presents. It is about loving each other as Christ loved us. Prayer should be less about asking of God and more about thanking God and connecting to God. The handicapped can teach us more about unconditional love than any book, any lesson, or any lecture.

I have also learned that all we ever really want is to be happy. The rest is just a means to that end. I have learned that God loves us whether we deserve it or not. I have learned that we can love too. We can love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We can love ourselves. And we can love everyone as ourselves. I have learned that when we do love we will have JOY. All of that happiness we seek in other ways can be ours if we just choose to love. I have learned too that no matter what life throws at us we can keep growing, keep loving, and keep learning. God wants us to learn and God wants us to love on Earth and later in Heaven.-----------------

I WANT TO FLY

When my kids were young we bought them two pet cockatiels. These beautiful, white birds would whistle and chirp all through the day. We had a big cage for them with perches, toys, and a mirror, plus food and water dishes. We couldn’t let them loose in the house because of our dogs and cats, but they seemed content in their cage or so I thought.

One day in the Springtime when the sun was awakening the earth and the air had turned warm, I cracked the window to let in the breeze. The songs of dozens of different birds filled the air and our two cockatiels whistled with excitement. I went over to their cage to replace their water, but as soon as I opened the door one of them flew out and headed for the window. He banged into the glass, fell over onto the couch, staggered back up and then started to fly around the living room. The cats chased after him, hoping for a quick meal. The kids screamed and I rushed to save him. It took several minutes to corral the cats, catch the bird, and get him safely back in his cage. After that day, however, I always felt a bit sorry for my cockatiels. I knew that no matter how comfortable their cage was they still wanted to fly.

Many of us in this life live in cages of our own making. We close our minds, lock away our hearts, and limit our lives. We refuse to see the love that God has for us and the greatness that lies within us. We sit in our cells day after day and never dare to once open the door.

I for one don’t want to waste my days sitting bored in a cage. I want to fly! I want to fly to new heights of love every single day. I want to zoom through the sky on wings of kindness and joy. I want ride on the winds of God’s love and help everyone I can to do the same. Heaven may seem high above us, but Heaven is within us as well. Don’t stay stuck in your own cage then. Let yourself fly! ---------------

TRUE COLORS

To me Fall will always be the most spectacular of the seasons. By the end of Summer the bright, green buds that gave the promise of new life in the early Spring have turned into dark green leaves. Having grown all they can they are content to just exist, sleepy and satisfied. Then one day a single leaf begins to change and release its true colors hidden within. As the cool night gives way to a warm morning this single leaf turns a brilliant red that stands out beautifully in the sea of green.

Soon other leaves join it lighting up the Maple trees with their red radiance. Golds begin to appear too in all their glory. Other leaves decide to become yellow and shine like little suns in the daylight. Still others glow orange and flutter in the Autumn breezes. Some leaves even decide to become unique combinations of all of these colors. As the weeks pass deep, rich burgundies and earthy browns appear on the Oaks as well until the mountains of my home are a cascade of colors that delight the heart and uplift the soul. Even after they fall to the ground the season is still not over because now there is a colorful, crunchy carpet for the children to run and play on. And when the cold days of Winter finally cover these leaves in snow they still continue on, nourishing the soil to provide new life to the next generation of leaves and thus completing their part in God’s glorious creation.

We all should follow these leaves’ example and allow our own true colors to shine through. We all have a unique brightness within. We all have a love and light that we are supposed to share. We all are meant to take our place in God’s loving plan.

Share your true colors then. Let your love, laughter, kindness, and joy brighten the souls of everyone around you. Make your life both a brilliant Autumn and an eternal Spring. ---------------

SINGING FROM THE SOUL

I was 8 years old, squirming on a hard wooden pew in our church. I tried to follow the sermon but it was a bit over my head at that age. Finally, it was time to sing the closing hymn. I stood up with a smile. Our church guitarist and hymn leader was my music teacher at school and a family friend. I always loved hearing her sing and I also loved joining in. She started to play and everyone in the church began to sing. When we reached the chorus, though, I felt a sharp elbow hit my shoulder. It was my brother letting me know that I was doing it again. You see, even though I always sang from my soul by the time it reached my lips it was more often than not, much too loud and far too off-key.

As I got older I learned how to sing much more quietly to blend in with the music and not damage the ears of the people around me. Occasionally, when I am alone I still burst forth in full voice and even get my dogs to join in. Sometimes when I am driving my car down the country roads of my home I will even sing from my soul at the top of my lungs. I am sure my guardian angels don’t mind. After all, God only asked us to make a “Joyful Noise” unto Him, not one with perfect pitch.

There is more than one way to let your soul sing, however. We can sing from the soul when we do an act of kindness. We can sing when we give a hug, a pat on the back, and a word of encouragement. We can sing every time we share a smile and cause those around us to smile as well. We can sing when we offer a caring heart and a helping hand to another. We can sing every time we shine our light and share our love.

Let your soul sing then. Make your life a “Joyful Noise” that all of Heaven can hear. Sing with all the love inside of you even if it is sometimes loud and off-key. ---------------

PARADISE

I dreamed I was in paradise the other day. It was so beautiful. Golden-white light bathed everything. Rainbows filled the sky without a drop of rain. The trees stood tall and strong. Some of their leaves were green, others were red, and still others were yellow. Birds flew from tree to tree and their sweet songs filled the air. There was a peaceful music coming from everything and the birdsongs blended into it perfectly. In the meadows the grass seemed to dance in the wind. Thousands of flowers were blooming. They were every color imaginable and they radiated joy. As I walked along every dog and cat I had ever had ran up to me to be petted. All of them were young and healthy once again.

My Dad, Mom, and Nana were there too along with my neighbor Kai. They were so vital and full of life. I could feel the happiness flowing from their hearts. Their spirits were shining with wisdom and light. Their light reached out to me and I was instantly filled full to overflowing with a love beyond comprehension. I was finally HOME and I was full of JOY.

I awoke with a start but when I opened my eyes the memories of that dream didn’t fade. I sat there for a long time with a smile on my face. I knew, however, that no matter how glorious and beautiful that dream was the real paradise would be a million times better and far beyond my feeble powers to describe.

I knew something else too, something that gave me so much hope. I knew that each of us carries our own paradise within. God lives in each of us. Each of us has love and light in our souls that we can nurture and share. We can do more than just dream of paradise. We can use our prayers, love, and light to help God build a bit of paradise right here today! Be a paradise builder then. Use all that you have to make Earth more like Heaven. ----------------

WHY ARE WE HERE?

When I was a boy we lived 4 miles from town and most of my friends. As a result I ended up playing by myself a lot. I didn’t mind the solitude, however. I enjoyed riding my bike for hours, swimming in the river, and taking long walks in the woods. It felt good being alone with my own thoughts and my own imagination. Sometimes I even pondered a few of the big questions we all have. I would think, “What is this world all about?”, “What is the meaning of life?”, and “Why are we here?”. I never could think of a good answer, though, and soon went back to playing again. It took me many years and a lot of searching to find the answer I was seeking and when I did it was so simple that I almost didn’t believe it.

The answer is LOVE. It always has been and it always will be. The rest is just details. God loves us all so much and He put us here to love as well. We are here to choose love. We are here to share love. We are here to learn of love. We are here to grow in love. We are here to pray for love. We are here to delight in love. We are here to become one with Our Heavenly Father’s Love. We are here to complete our missions in love and to help others to complete theirs. We are here to fill ourselves full to overflowing with the Love that created and maintains the universe. We are here to love God. We are here to love ourselves. We are here to love everyone as ourselves. We are here to find our own special ways of sharing all the love that is within us. It is our gift to God and our answer to life. And even if we haven’t done the best job of it up until now, each new day gives us another chance.

When the big questions of life leave you lost then, don’t give up. Just love. The answers will come to you, if not in this life then in the next. Always remember that “God is Love” and that when you love you will grow closer to God, Heaven, and your true self.---------------

THE TREASURES OF HEAVEN

Several years ago I was driving to my daughter’s college to bring her home for the Summer break. It was a long trip so I stopped at a little gas station halfway there to refuel. I pulled up to the pumps behind a beat up old car. It was at least 20 years old. The metal was rusting, the tires were balding, and the muffler was held up by a coat hanger. A young teenage girl sat in the front passenger seat and two much younger girls were in the back.

After filling my gas tank I walked in to pay. The mother of the girls was at the counter desperately digging through her purse. She had bought some small snacks for her children but still needed five more dollars to pay for them. She sighed and started to pick up the snacks to put them back. “I got it,” I said and tossed the money on the counter.

The Mom turned and looked at me with moist eyes. Then suddenly she stepped forward and hugged me. I felt a burst of warmth in my heart that I am sure traveled to my cheeks as well. The Mom let me go and said, “Thank you.” She smiled, grabbed the snacks and hurried out to her children. I stood there watching them leave and said a prayer for them. Then I walked out into the sunshine feeling lighter than the air around me.

Looking back on that memory reminded me too of the passage in the Bible where Jesus asks the reluctant, rich man to give his wealth to the poor so that he would have “Treasure in Heaven”. I felt so sad for that rich man. He had given up so much in order to keep so little. The treasures of Heaven are beyond anything this world can give us. I know this because we carry some of these treasures within us. The love we share, the good we do, and the kindness we give to others are all treasures of Heaven. They bring us so much joy. They give us so much peace. They light our paths here on Earth and lead us back to Our Father in Heaven.---------------

THE GIFT OF GIVING

When I was a boy I enjoyed getting gifts. I remember the night before my birthday I would lie awake all night wondering what I would get. In the morning I would be running all over the house almost bursting with anticipation. When the time finally came to open the presents I would tear into the wrapping paper like a wild tiger until I reached the treasure underneath. I always loved what I got too. It didn’t matter if it was a book, ball, or bike. I cherished it with the pure joy of a child.

When I got older and had my own kids, however, I discovered something far more enjoyable than receiving gifts. I discovered the delight of giving them. I would watch with a smile while my children opened the gifts I bought them. The sparkle in their eyes was priceless. The smiles on their faces were invaluable. The laughter on their lips and the happy hugs they gave me were treasures beyond compare. Nothing brought me as much joy as giving them happiness with the gifts of my heart.

Our Heavenly Father has given us so many gifts in this world. He has given us the gifts of love, kindness, and compassion. He has given us the gifts of goodness, laughter, and joy. He has given us the gifts of our minds, talents, and skills. Most of all He has given us the gift of sharing our gifts with others.

Don’t waste the gifts of Heaven then. Use them. Share them. Give them to others. You were given a heart to love. You were given hands to help. You were given a mind to think. You were given a soul to shine. You were given gifts within to share with all. You were given your time here to make a difference in this world. Do so today! Nothing will bring you more love. Nothing will bring you greater happiness. Nothing will leave you feeling closer to God.----------------

SMART PHONES

I was driving to town on a beautiful summer day. The sky was full of fat, fluffy clouds. Queen Anne’s Lace, Daisies, and Black Eyed Susans were growing on the hillsides. The sun was dancing through the green trees with its golden light and I was smiling at the wonder of it all. Suddenly, a truck rounded the curve in front of me, two feet over the center line. I jerked my wheel to the right and my tires spit up gravel along the side of the road as I just missed the truck on one side and the ditch on the other. As I glanced up I noticed the other driver gazing at his cell phone totally unaware of the near miss. I clenched my teeth in order to keep from saying the words I promised myself I would no longer use.

Later in town I was coming out of the store when a yellow butterfly whom I am sure was sent by my Mom in Heaven started to circle around my head. I smiled peacefully and held out my open palm. To my joy the butterfly landed on it briefly and fluttered its wings before flying away. I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed this minor miracle but the only two people near me had their heads bent down looking at their cell phone screens.

I am beginning to think that life is what happens while people are busy staring at their smart phones. Now I know that social media, computers, and smart phones are here to stay but that doesn’t mean that they have to dominate our days or take over our lives. Amazingly, they all come with a power button. We can turn them off any time we wish.

Don’t let your smart phone take away your smart mind. Don’t let technology take over your soul. Use it when you need it but turn it off when you don’t. God loves us and He gave us this life to love each other. Love well then. Turn your heart on more and your phone on less. Share your kindness, your joy, your hugs, your laughter, and your life and make God smile. ---------------

TWO BOOKS

When I was in college one year I signed up for some Summer classes. The college was quiet and mostly empty during the Summer months and I spent most of my time in the huge library with its air conditioning to beat the July heat. It felt like every book in the whole world was there and I took my time going through the shelves looking at as many as I could.

One day in particular I found two very different books there. One was “Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler and the other was “The diary of a young girl” by Anne Frank. Being curious I decided to look through them both in my usual fashion, skipping through the pages and looking for passages and paragraphs that would speak to me. I soon found that Hitler’s manifesto was not only muddled and confusing but also full of ideas that chilled my soul and felt like poison in my veins. After a short while I tossed it aside and started to read Anne Frank’s diary. In page after page I felt her wit, wisdom, spirit, love, and joy. She filled me with hope for humanity, for myself, and for this world. I grieved that she had been taken from us so soon by Hitler’s Holocaust, but I thanked God that her writings had survived.

Anne Frank wrote that “Nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” When I started to write myself then I knew whose book’s example I wanted to follow. I wanted to share ideas that uplifted the hearts and souls of others. I wanted to write of God’s love for us and our love for each other. I wanted to write words that brought more love, more joy, and more light into this world.

Each of you is writing a book too. This book is called “Your Life” and you write it with every thing you do and every choice you make. Make it a great story, one that uplifts, inspires, and makes this world a better place. Make it a love story so beautiful that even Heaven smiles. ---------------

FISHING

I was a young boy sitting on a big rock by a river with a pole in my hands. My Dad was next to me trying to show me the fine art of fishing. Being an impatient boy I wasn’t a very good student. I hated just sitting there and longed to be playing ball or riding my bike. After a few more attempts my Dad finally gave up and let me go play so he could fish in peace.

It wasn’t until I was older that I finally began to appreciate fishing. It was a way to escape the stress and strain of daily life. It was a way to be quite and peaceful. It was a way to sit in solitude and enjoy the beauty of nature and the love of God that was all around us. When I had my own children I took them fishing a few times, but my sons’ Autism made it too hard for them to be quiet and sit still. We soon gave up fishing and instead found our peace walking around the local lake while others fished it

As a boy I was often puzzled by the part of the Bible where Jesus told his disciples that he would make them “fishers of men.” I thought, “How can anyone fish men?” As I got older, however, I began to understand. You can’t catch fish or men by screaming and shouting. That only scares the fish and men away. Instead you have to ready your nets and cast off your boat quietly. You have to set your line peacefully and patiently. You have to dangle the bait of God’s unconditional love to all the hungry souls out there. You have to joyfully cast your net of love and truth and let them come to it.

Perhaps it is best if all of us fishermen follow the advice of Mark Twain and “so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.” For it is by living a life of love that we catch the hearts of others. And it is by sharing our peace, joy, and kindness that we become the “fishers of men” that Jesus called us to be. ---------------

PACKING LIGHT

Our neighbors had to move away recently. An older couple they were headed North to help take care of her sisters who were in ill health. I am going to miss them. They were both so good and kind-hearted. He was a Rembrandt when it came to home repairs and helped both me and my Dad fix up our homes. She was always ready to share a sweet smile, an encouraging word, and a delicious dessert.

The day of the move two friends and I helped him to load their belongings into the moving van. As we squeezed out every spare inch of space we could in it, I thought of what I would have to carry and load if I ever had to move again. Even with my tiny home there would be couches, tables, chairs, beds, blankets, and box springs. There would be televisions, stereos, computers, desks, dressers, and drawers. There would be a washer, dryer, stove, microwave, refrigerator, and freezer. There would be boxes of books, plates, dishes, cups, silver ware, pots, pans, a coffee maker, and a popcorn popper. There would be closets of clothes, suitcases, old writings in shoe boxes, and even more boxes full of food, pictures, mementoes, and other miscellaneous items. My back started hurting just thinking about it.

Thankfully, the last trip that I take I will be packing light. There will be no u-hauls on my hearse. The only things we can take with us into the next life are the wisdom we have gained and the love we have shared. True wisdom never weighs you down and sharing love only leaves you feeling lighter.

Keep filling those empty boxes in your mind with wisdom. Keep sharing love from the suitcase of your soul. Pack your life full of faith, goodness, kindness, and helping others. Then you will be ready when God’s moving company finally brings you home.---------------

THE WHOLE COOKIE

I was in the bakery section of a local supermarket the other day when I spotted a huge, delicious-looking, chocolate cake on sale. I was tempted to put it in my shopping cart but lately I have been trying to keep my middle-age spread from spreading, so I walked on. Just as I was passing it by, however, a little boy no more than four or five years old ran up to it and yelled, “Mommy, Mommy, Let’s get the chocolate cake!” His Mom walked up and patiently explained that they couldn’t afford that cake even on sale, but maybe they could get a couple of chocolate chip cookies instead. I expected the little boy to be upset, but instead his smile grew even wider as he said, “Yes, Yes, I love cookies!”

How I wish I had the wisdom of that little boy. As I have gone down life’s path over the years I have far too often rejected the delightful bites of cookie that God has offered me because my eyes were fixed on the giant chocolate cake at the end of the road. All the little joys that I could have cherished were ignored because I couldn’t take my eyes off the prize. It took me so many years to see that that chocolate cake was only an illusion of my own making.

That chocolate cake was the desire of what I wanted my life to be, but all of those bites of cookie was the life that God gave me to live. These days I delight in every one of them. I embrace every chance to do good, to share love, to help others, to create joy, and to grow into the person God meant for me to be. I know too that at the end of my days here God will allow me to see the whole cookie that was my life and I pray that it will be a delicious sight to see.

Don’t pass up your cookies for some imaginary cake. Enjoy every bite of this life that God has given you. Rejoice in His glorious love for you and share your own love as well. Make your life a sweet treat for your soul and the souls of everyone you meet.----------------

PLANT A FEW FLOWERS

In this hectic, crazy, mixed-up world that we live in there is an old saying that reminds us to “Take the time to stop and smell the flowers.” I think that we should also take the time to plant a few as well.

My old, Italian Grandmother knew just how to do that. Nana always filled her porches with hanging, potted plants overflowing with flowers. She nurtured them with soil, love, and water and would smile when the sun shined down on them. Around her home she planted flowers as well. Red, purple, violet, orange, white, and yellow blossoms surrounded it. My Mom and I used to walk around it happily taking in the sweet smells and watching the beautiful butterflies fly down to feast upon them. Nana didn’t ignore the wild flowers either. She would send me and my brothers out to pick hundreds upon hundreds of dandelion blossoms and would then turn them into a delightful, golden wine.

Nana didn’t just plant flowers around the house, though. She also planted them in our souls. Her delicious dinners made with love not only filled our bellies but filled our hearts as well. Her sweet smile when we came into her house always made our spirits feel lighter. The hugs and kisses she shared so freely was the sunshine that kept our own love growing everyday. I am sure that she is still planting flowers somewhere in Heaven right now.

Take the time to plant a few flowers yourself today. Be God’s gardener in your life and in the lives of those around you. Sow your smiles, your kindness, your laughter, and your love. Plant your prayers, your goodness, your talents, and your joy. Brighten this world with your sunshine. Give all you can to help keep God’s garden growing here on Earth as well as in Heaven. ----------------

PRAYERS

Over the years I have said many prayers to God, and I haven’t always gotten the answers I wanted. When I was a little boy I prayed for my lost dog, Duke to come back home but he never did. When I was in high school I prayed that I would become a big football star, but God had other plans. In college I prayed to become a huge success and be both rich and famous. Thirty years later I am still waiting on that one. When I married I prayed that my children would be healthy, happy, and smart. Yet, my two sons were both born with Autism and mental retardation. While they are often happy everyday is still a struggle for them. As my sons were growing up I prayed time and time again for God to heal them and make them normal. Instead, He used them to heal my own soul and teach me patience, acceptance, and love.

What I have learned from all of these unanswered prayers is that what we most want isn’t always what we most need. We muddle through this world trying to find purpose and love. God, however, sees the vast tapestry of our lives and how they connect with the lives of countless others. God also sees clearly where we have been and where we are going. He lovingly guides us on our eternal path of growth and answers the prayers that most strengthen our souls and help us to love.

Losing Duke helped me to open my heart to the love of many other dogs and people. It also helped me to deal better with the later deaths of my Mom, Nana, and Dad. Being a football star in high school would have been horrible for me. My ego needed shrinking and my kindness needed growing. Being a bench warmer did both. As for being a big success in the eyes of the world, I think God thought it more important that I become a success in the eyes of Heaven first. While my two sons were never healed of their Autism, they have become a light in my life that brings love to my heart and joy to my days. They continue to teach me and all those they meet lessons on living and loving that are priceless.

I have found too that my prayers have changed a lot over the years. Now instead of asking for things I want I ask God to help me to do His will and to be the person He meant for me to be. My main two prayers are “Thank you God for my life” and “Please help all of us to Love.”

May all of your prayers lead you to greater faith, greater joy, and greater oneness with God. May all of your prayers strengthen you on your journey through this life and into the next. May all of your prayers connect you forever with Love.---------------

FINDING THE RIGHT WAVELENGTH

When I was a boy we had a small 13 inch color television set in our living room. It had a knob to change the channels on it. We rarely turned that knob, however. We lived in the country and our rusty, old antenna could only pick up one channel clearly. If it was cloudy outside, I could go out and hand-turn the antenna half way around to try and pick up a second network, but usually it was only static. When I would go to school my friend who lived in town would describe all of the shows he watched on the channels we couldn’t get and I would share the shows I watched that he didn’t get to see. It was a fun way to pass an afternoon especially if it was raining at recess.

These days I have cable with over one hundred channels. I can click my remote through them at lightening speed. More often than not, however, I find myself watching some rerun from my childhood on an oldies station. On my computer there are shows, videos, and stories from all over the world. Yet, time and time again I find myself getting bored, turning it off, and picking up an old book to read instead. My daughter has a smart phone that she can work with a skill that makes my head spin. She can get any information she needs from the internet in mere seconds. Still, it seems a bit too fast for me at times. I don’t mind slowly browsing through the dictionary or an encyclopedia instead.

Sometimes I think I was born a little too early for this world. Yet, one thing that I do know is that in this crazy, mixed-up, super-information society you still need to find the right wavelength. You still need to tune into God. You still need to turn your antenna to love. You still need to connect daily with kindness. Without these things life has no meaning. Without these things you gain no wisdom and have no joy. Without these things your soul is just static.----------------

LISTEN

As a writer I am always looking for inspiration. I can always tell that God has a sense of humor too, because my best inspirations often come at the most inconvenient times when I have nothing to write them down on. I can remember once years ago when I was walking with my children around a local lake in the Summertime. The sun was sparkling off the crystal clear waters. Butterflies were dancing above the wild flowers. The shady trees were full of chirping birds. It felt so peaceful there. I smiled and relaxed. Of course, that is when the idea for a new story suddenly appeared, fully formed, in my mind. We were still a half-mile away from our car and I was afraid my aging brain would forget part of the story before I got there. I took my pen out of my pocket then and started writing it down on the palm of my hand.

Later after I had transferred the inspiration to paper and was washing the ink off my hand I laughed and asked God why He always seemed to speak to my heart at the strangest times. As soon as I said it, I heard in my mind: "Because that is the only time you are listening!"

Maybe if we all want to hear from God more often we should just shut up and listen. God speaks to us in the silence of our souls. God whispers to us in the quiet of the storm. God talks to us but never talks over us. If you want to hear God’s inspiration and guidance in your heart and mind, you have to shut off your own noise. If you want to feel God’s love inside you, you have to silence the chattering monkey within.

We are all Children of God and He is forever ready to love us, inspire us, guide us, improve us, and help us to grow into the people we were meant to be. His inspiration comes to us through our thoughts, our intuition, our experiences, and our lives. All we have to do is let Him in. All we have to do is open our hearts and close our mouths. All we have to do is listen. ---------------

I’M GOING TO LET IT SHINE

It was a warm evening in June. I was a young dad, sitting in a lawn chair, holding my baby boy on my lap. My wife and I had just rented an old house with a big yard. Her uncle along with his wife and two, young daughters had dropped by to pay us a visit. As we adults sat outside, sipping iced tea, and watching the sun go down, the two girls raced around the yard, laughing, yelling, and trying their best to catch lightening in a jar.

The lightening was lightening bugs, of course. Dozens of fireflies were floating freely around the yard, moving slowly, but always just evading their pursuers. Soon my young cousins got me to join in the hunt and we safely captured two of the little shiners and put them in a mason jar with a lid on it. We sat and watched them blink on and off for a long time. Finally, one of the girls looked at me and said, "They look sad. We should let them go." I slowly opened the lid and we watched as they flew away to freedom. Then we laughed and sang several verses of the song: "This little light of mine. I’m going to let it shine."

As I think back on that night so many years ago it makes me remember all the times I have kept my own light sealed in the mason jar of my soul instead of sharing it with the world. Fear, anger, jealousy, and doubt have made me hide my light so many times over the years. It has taken me a long time to see that like those lightening bugs God wants all of us to shine our light as bright as we can, as long as we can, and every single chance that we can.

Don’t let fear keep you from shining your light. Don’t let this world keep you from living your love. God loves you so much. God meant for you to shine. Share your love then. Be kind. Help others. Do good. Bring joy. Make your life a beacon for all the world to see. Take all that lovely light within you and "let it shine, let it shine, let it shine." ---------------

SECOND CHANCES

I was in fifth grade and about to take a science test. Since first grade I had always been good at school. I loved to read and remembered things easily. Simple math was a breeze for me and I always did well on tests. When it came to fifth grade science, however, I was struggling. I couldn’t seem to understand it no matter how hard I tried. I was scared. Mom and Dad had always been so proud of my good grades and I didn’t want to let them down. Just before the test then I had written several of the answers on my desk top in barely legible pencil. I sat nervously as the teacher started to hand out the tests. I didn’t want to get caught, but I didn’t want to fail either.

As the teacher was starting down my row suddenly the fire alarm went off. It was an unscheduled fire drill. We all headed out the door and stood together waiting for the all clear signal. As I stood outside in the warm sunshine I realized what a fool I had been. I knew my Mom and Dad would be proud of me and love me no matter what my grades were. As soon as we were allowed back in I spit on my hand, walked to my desk, and wiped the answers away. I had been given a second chance and I wasn’t going to waste it. I took the test, did my best, and felt at peace. I don’t remember what my grade was but what happened that day has stayed in my heart and mind ever since.

I am not sure why God gave me a second chance that day. It wouldn’t be the last time, though. God has given me more second, third, and fourth chances than any man deserves. His patience and love have been with me through all the mistakes, stumbles, and falls I have made. His second chances have allowed me to grow into the person I am today.

Life is full of second chances but you have to be willing to take them. You have to be willing to ask God’s forgiveness and begin again. You have to be willing to release your mistakes and grasp your inner goodness. You have to be willing to give up your fear and just love. Every day when you wake up you are given a second chance at life. Embrace it! Cherish it! And use it wisely! --------------

A PART OF GOD’S CREATION

I was sitting in my car with the windows rolled down. My daughter had a meeting in the building in front of me and I was waiting to give her a ride home. The eighty degree day was wrapping the world in its warmth. A gentle breeze was blowing. Fat, fluffy clouds coasted lazily across the sky. The sun was washing the world with its golden light, making everything more beautiful. It sparkled off the green leaves filling every tree and made them glow. On the ground a bumble bee buzzed around a patch of yellow dandelions while a patient butterfly fluttered above him. Dozens of different birds were singing. Each of their songs was unique but they curiously combined into a symphony of delight. Even a squirrel seemed to stop and listen to them for a moment before zipping away across the pavement and up an old Oak tree.

As I sat there I noticed that I was smiling peacefully and that my heart felt full of contentment. It was like I could feel the Love of God all around me and within me too. It made wonder why more people didn’t make the time each day to take in all the beauty, peace, and love that surrounds us.

Archibald Rutledge wrote: "God ministers to our spirits by the beauty that adorns creation." Perhaps the best thing each of us can do then is to care for God’s creation, to add our own beauty to it and to do our best to share it with others.

Do your best then to add your loving soul, sweet smile, and kind heart to God’s creation. Add your goodwill and helping hands to it as well. Add your optimism and enthusiasm. Add your wisdom, skills, and talents. Add all that you are to make this world a better place. We are all a part of God’s glorious tapestry of creation! How big or small a part of it is up to us, however. Don’t let yours be as small as a grain of sand when it can be as huge as Heaven. ---------------

DUKE

I was blowing the dust off of some of my Grandma’s old photo albums the other day and looking at pictures of that little boy I used to be. One in particular caught my eye. I was smiling, sitting in a corner chair by an old bookcase, hugging my best friend in the whole world. That friend was my dog, Duke.

Duke was a strange name for such a little dog. He couldn’t have weighed more than 20 lbs. He was a mixed breed with a light brown coat. He had long legs with white paws and a white stripe that ran up his nose and head. He was my constant companion from the moment I could walk until I was ten years old. He curled up with me in that chair when I read books. When I went outside to play cowboy he would herd our cats up the trees and then walk off looking proud of himself. When He was hungry he would carry his food dish in his mouth and drop it at my Mom’s feet. He would sleep on top of my bed covers at night and when I had the mumps he refused to leave my bed until I got better.

I learned a lot from Duke over the years too. I learned a nap in the middle of the afternoon could be good for you. I learned that sometimes you need to growl a little to get your point across. I learned that you can never give or get too many hugs and kisses. I learned that the simplest dinner can be delicious when you eat it with gusto. I learned that life can be good when lived with love and joy. Sadly, I also learned that life in this world is short especially if you are a dog. I lost Duke way too soon in my young life. Being an adventurous soul, Duke would often let his nose lead him away from home. Usually he would return days later hungry and exhausted. When I was ten, however, he went off one day and never returned. I cried and my Dad and I went on long walks searching for him but to no avail.

Since I lost Duke I have had many dogs in my life. All of them have been special. All of them have been unique. All of them have taught me to open my heart and love more. I hope to see them all again one day in Heaven. I would like to ask God too why our dogs’ lives here are so short and ours so long. I think maybe that I do know at least part of the answer. If one of the reasons we are here is to learn how to love then our best teachers certainly wouldn’t need to be here as long as we would. May you learn much, love well, and live your live with the heart of a dog. ---------------

ETERNITY’S EYES

Over the years I have gotten so many letters and e-mails of appreciation for these simple stories I write. These letters always warm my heart. Once in a while, however, I get a letter from hurting soul who is angry with both God and life. I got one of these the other day. The man wrote: "If God truly does love us then how can He allow the poor to suffer, children to starve, and the homeless to die in the street? How can He allow so much war, cruelty, and violence in this world?" I looked at the letter for a long time and then wrote this back to him: "God doesn’t allow this. We do."

There is more than enough food in this world to fill every child’s stomach. There is more than enough wealth in this world to give everyone a home where they can feel safe. There is more than enough love in this world to overcome cruelty, violence, and war. Yet, we hoard, fear, and steal. We seek power instead of love. We close our homes, our hands, and our hearts. We shut ourselves off and refuse to see that everyone is our brother and sister.

Perhaps our problem is that we don’t look at this world through the eyes of eternity. We don’t see that a better home and happier life awaits us after this one. We don’t see the love of God within us. Instead we chase after the things of this world. We don’t see that in eternity’s eyes all the wealth and power in the universe isn’t worth a bucket of spit. We don’t see that in the next life we won’t be judged by our fame and accomplishments. We will be judged by the good we did, the people we helped, and the love we shared.

I pray that all of those hurting souls out there will find their way back to faith, love, and life. I pray that every one of us will feel just how much God loves us and realize just how much we can love as well. I pray that all of us will one day see this life through eternity’s eyes --------------

FORWARD

My daughter and I finally got around to converting all of the electronic pictures stored on our computers and cell phones into printed ones that we could actually hold in our hands and put into photo albums. It was amazing looking through decades of our lives. There were proms and graduations, birthdays and Christmas, playful pups and napping cats. I looked at myself and saw my wrinkles disappear, my hair darken and regrow, and my waistline shrink. I looked at my children and watched them grow younger and younger. I looked at my dogs who had passed and wiped away a tear or two. I even looked at some pictures from 40 years ago that my relatives had e-mailed me.

There I was not even 5 years old with chubby cheeks and innocent eyes. I looked at that boy and all those younger versions of myself for a long time. I wondered too what I would say to all of those Joes if I had a chance. I knew that I would tell them to relax and not worry about life’s troubles so much. I would tell them that they would solve all the problems they could and get through the ones they couldn’t. I would tell them to enjoy and cherish each day as it comes. I would tell them that everyday has its own delights and simple pleasures and they should appreciate them all. I would tell them to hug more, laugh more, and say "I love you" more. I would advise them to take in more sunsets and to turn off the television every so often and go watch the stars. I would tell them to sing along with the radio and read a good book every chance they get. I would tell them to never pass up the opportunity to pet a dog or help another human being. Most of all, though, I would tell them to just love, because that is what God put us here to do.

Of course I know that none of us can go backward in this life. Life can only go forward. After I put the photo albums down then I went into the bathroom and gave all of that advice to the man in the mirror. I think that he appreciated it too. He may have been 48 years old, with graying, balding hair and a face full of wrinkles, but when he smiled his young soul shined through and I could see the loving light of God in his eyes.

As you go forward in your own life then always take with you the wisdom you have gained, the kindness you have shared, and the love God has given you. As you go forward always strive to be the best Child of God you can be. As you go forward always remember to just love and have joy in that love. ----------------

A NATURAL HIGH

I was 12 years old and had talked my older brother into taking me with him to a drive-in movie. I felt so grown up hanging out with him and his friends. When I found out that one of them had smuggled a bottle of cheap wine into the drive-in, I even talked my way into getting a few drinks from it myself. It was a big mistake. The wine hit me like a grape sledgehammer. Within minutes my brain was buzzing and my body felt numb. When my brother and I arrived home I did my best to walk straight and appear normal. It didn’t work. Dad knew the second I walked in the door that I was drunk. I can remember him yelling at us for quite a while and I woke up the next day both hung-over and grounded.

That experience did serve to teach me one thing, however. It taught me that I definitely prefer a natural high over an artificial one. You can get a natural high from so many things too. I get a natural high when I talk to God and feel His love inside of me. I get a natural high when I walk in the sunshine and watch the birds flying across the sky. I get a natural high when I exercise my body, mind, and soul. I get a natural high when I pet my dogs, hug my children, and share my smile. I get a natural high when I read a letter from a friend and write one back. I get a natural high from reading a good book, singing a joyful song, and sipping a glass of iced tea. I get a natural high from feeling the morning breeze on my face and smelling the first flowers of Spring. I get a natural high from every good thing I do and every act of kindness I share. I get a natural high every time I choose to laugh and choose to love.

You too can fill your life with natural highs that lighten your heart, uplift your spirit, and calm your mind. All you have to do is choose them. May all of your days be full of natural highs then. And may all of your natural highs bring you nearer to Heaven and closer to God. ---------------

A MILLION ACTS OF LOVE

It was the first day of 4-H camp. I was 10 years old and in the middle of a fist fight with another boy my age. I can no longer remember what the fight was even about, but I do remember that it wasn’t going very well for me. I was fortunate then when the camp counselor suddenly showed up and stopped the fight. He made us apologize and shake hands to make up. You could tell by our eyes, however, that our hearts weren’t in it.

It was the last day of 4-H camp. My Mom had arrived with a surprise for me and my brother. She had baked several homemade pizzas for us to share with our friends. As I was finishing up my last two slices I saw my opponent from day one sitting alone, outside, at the bottom of the stairs to our cabin. I don’t know why but at that moment my heart opened. I walked down the steps and shared one of the pieces of pizza with him. It was just a little act of kindness, but it made the day brighter and healed any hurt feelings we still had between us.

It took me many years to realize just how important and vital those little acts of love and kindness are in this life. They matter more than our wealth and accomplishments. They matter more than any fame or popularity. They matter more than all the things this world holds so dear. In the eyes of Heaven they are priceless. In fact, they are the only things we get to take with us when we leave this world for the next.

When we get to meet God face to face and look back on our lives here, it will be these little acts of love that we will be looking at. Don’t miss a single opportunity then to share your love and kindness with another. Don’t miss a single chance to brighten this world with your inner light. Fill your life here with a million little acts of love and kindness and watch yourself grow closer to God and Heaven with each one. ----------------

SEASONS

There was something in the air this morning. I paused as I walked outside, raised my head, and breathed it in. It was Spring! I looked down at my lawn and saw wild onions and fresh green grass growing. My flower box had new purple Phlox stretching towards the sunshine. Tulips and Daffodils were in bloom too. Their reds and yellows were brightening up countless yards. In the meadow dozens upon dozens of dandelions were also soaking up the sun. The formerly barren trees were budding away too. When I walked under one of them I could hear a protective Mother Robin scolding me from her nest.

I smiled at all of this and took a long walk in the warming sunshine. The air was cool and fresh without being cold and I could smell a thousand different scents dancing upon it. My coat was sitting unused in my house and I hoped that it would rest there for many months to come. I felt as young and alive as a child. When a hornet buzzed by me I danced away without a hint of ill will. I knew that it was time as well to the one thing I had wanted to do all Winter long. With a laugh I kicked off my shoes and walked barefoot in the grass. I listened to the dozens of birds singing their songs. They all blended together in a chorus of joy. Finally, I stopped walking and watched the morning sun rising in the sky. Then I said a prayer of thanks to God. I thanked Him for the warmth and golden sunlight. I thanked Him for the flowers and the trees. I thanked Him for the green grass and the insects. I thanked him for the birds and their music. I thanked Him most of all for my life and for making a season as glorious and special as Spring.

A friend of mine asked me last Winter why I had never moved south to escape the cold here in the mountains of my home. I think that the answer is that these mountains ARE my home. They are where I feel the happiest. They are where God meant for me to be. I also think that I wouldn’t appreciate the Spring so much if there were no Winter.

When we go through the seasons of our lives we should always do our best to appreciate them all. We should cherish every moment of our Spring and enjoy every second of our Summer. Yet, we should also delight in the special beauty of our Autumn and share our warmth and light when the cold days of Winter arrive. We should embrace every season and every day with thankfulness and love. Because that is how God meant for us to live! May you always have love in your heart and Springtime in your soul. ---------------

WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY

I was the third car back in a long line. We were stuck in the middle of town while the water company dug through the pavement to reach a leaking water line. I looked around the street while I waited not knowing that I was about to witness a minor miracle.

As I looked at one old house I saw a young mother walking quickly into it. Her face held a curious combination of stress, worry, and silent desperation. Her eyes looked like they had been crying for a long time. In her arms her 3 year old girl seemed to have absorbed her fear and was clutching tightly around her Mom’s neck. Ten minutes later I watched as the mother and child came back out. Their faces had been transformed. The mother’s smile was big and her eyes were bright. The little girl was laughing and skipping around her Mom. The one other difference was the big bag of food the Mom now held. The old house I later learned was the home of a local food pantry.

Since that day I have twice used what little I had to help that food pantry to restock their shelves. It felt so good to be able to help them help others. It felt so wonderful knowing that I was working with God to keep the miracles going. It felt so right sharing my love to make this world a better place.

What can you do today to make this world a better place? Today you can help fill a hungry child’s belly. Today you can give a struggling family hope. Today you can ease another’s sadness with your smile and kindness. Today you can uplift another with your joy. Today you can make a minor miracle with your caring heart. Today you can send out ripples of love that have no end. Today you can use what you have to make Earth a little more like Heaven. Today you can make God smile and the angels sing. Do what you can today! ----------------

WHERE A FOREST HAS GROWN

I was giving myself a bad time of it the other day. It was one of those moments when you question your life. I kept wondering if I had done enough to learn, to grow, to help others, and to make this world a better place. I was being a tough judge on myself too. It was then, however, that God in His infinite wisdom gave me peace by awakening in my mind an old story that I had read many years before.

The story begins when a young man taking a lone hiking trip loses his way and finds himself stranded without water in a desolate treeless valley. He is saved, though, when a widowed shepherd finds him and leads him to a spring. The man learns that the shepherd after losing his wife had decided to restore the ruined landscape by single-handedly planting a forest, tree by tree, with only a curling pole and acorns that he had collected from many miles away.

Many years later the man returns and finds a growing forest in the valley and the shepherd, now a bee keeper still at work cultivating and nurturing the woodland. The man continues to visit the valley each year and watches as over four decades the tree planter turns the valley into a Garden of Eden. In the end the man helps his friend to get the government to protect the forest and many people move there. He also visits him one last time as the now very old tree planter peacefully passes away.

Thinking of that story made me realize that each of us is a tree planter too. We plant trees of goodness with every loving thought we think, every kind word we share, and every caring act we do. We plant these trees each and everyday of our lives. We should waste no time judging ourselves then while there are more trees to plant. And at the end of our lives when we face our Heavenly Father, we can smile and see where a forest has grown. ----------------

PATCHING POTHOLES

There is an old joke that I hear every Spring here in the mountains of my home. A police officer sees a car swerving erratically on the road ahead. After pulling the car over he walks up to question the driver. The man looks out his car window and says: "I know what you are thinking officer, but I am not drunk. I was just trying to miss all of those potholes."

That joke rang true to me today as I found myself swerving my own car whenever I could to miss the huge holes in the pavement caused by another rough Winter here. Sometimes, though, I couldn’t swerve because of the traffic. When that happened I would hit the brakes but still ended up with a bone jarring thud every time my car hit the pothole.

The potholes we get on the road of life are often much worse than the potholes we find on the roads we drive. A pothole on the highway may cost you a flat tire or a piece of your car’s tailpipe. A pothole in your life might jar you to the very center of your soul. I have hit more than my share of these over the years too. Poverty, pain, unemployment, sickness, my sons’ Autism, and the deaths of my Mom, Nana, and Dad are just a few of the potholes I have hit hard in my journey through life. Yet, as much as it hurt going through them I somehow found myself growing stronger, kinder, more loving, and closer to God after each one.

None of us can completely avoid the potholes in this life. But with the help of God and each other we can all patch them as we go and make the way smoother for those who follow. Don’t let the potholes wreck your life then. Become a pothole patcher instead. Fill the holes in your life with the love in your heart. Patch each one with prayer, faith, goodness, and God. Help others to fill theirs as well. And always remember that God didn’t promise any of us an easy road through this life, but He did promise that one day He would lead us Home! --------------

RAIN

I was driving home in a gloomy rainstorm on a cold, March morning in the mountains of my home. Part of me was enjoying the rain thinking that it would clean the slush, salt, and grime that covered my car from weeks of Winter driving and save me a trip to the car wash. Another part of me was keeping a watchful eye on the creeks and rivers hoping that the melting snow and freshly falling rain wouldn’t lead to any flooding.

A deeper part of me, however, was quietly dreaming of the warmer weather and strengthening sunshine to come in the weeks ahead. I knew that they would join with this nourishing rain to turn the yellow grass green, to bring new buds and leaves to the trees, and to cause the million flowers sleeping underground to push their heads through the soil and start the Spring. It would be that glorious time when the whole world comes back to life again and it was all starting with this steady, March shower.

The rains in our own lives can bring mixed blessings as well. Storms of problems and troubles can flood us with stress, strain, and pain. They can make our days seem dark and dreary. They can make our hearts feel heavy and sad. Yet, these same storms can also strengthen our spirits. They can help our souls to grow. They can lead us to learning and wisdom. They can cause our hearts to reach out to God and to each other.

There is a reason why a world with only sunshine and no rain becomes a desert. There is a reason why a life with no problems becomes boring and barren, devoid of both learning and growth. God wants us to grow. God wants us to learn. God wants us to love each other as He loves us. God wants us to embrace His light in both the sunshine and the rain. And God wants us to shine and share our own light as well even on the darkest of days. ---------------

MORE

As I have gotten older one thing I have realized is that I really want more out of life. Now I am not talking about bigger bank accounts, more money, a huger house, or a fancier car. What I really want more of are the things that money just can’t buy. I want more of the things that strengthen the spirit and nurture the soul. I want more of the things that bring us closer to love, closer to others, closer to Heaven, and closer to God.

I want to watch more sunrises and more sunsets. I want to spend more time smelling the flowers in the Spring and looking at the leaves in the Fall. I want to listen to more music and sing more songs. I want to read more books and gain more wisdom. I want to give more hugs and kisses to my children and hopefully one day to my grandchildren. I want to spend more time watching my dogs play and listening to my cats purr. I want to pray more to God and listen to His voice in the silence of my heart, mind, and soul. I want to think more inspiring thoughts and share them with others. I want to speak more words of encouragement. I want to do more acts of kindness. I want to help others more. I want to lift more people up and let more people lift me up as well. I want to share more smiles. I want to enjoy more laughter. I want to select more joy, create more happiness, choose more peace, and then give it to others. I want to spread more sunshine, eliminate more darkness, and make Earth more like Heaven. I want to write more truth, let more people know that God loves them, and show them that they can love too. I want to do more and more to make this world a better place for everyone.

I pray too that all of you spend your days getting and giving more of what is essential in this life. May you have more love. May you share more joy. May you get more wisdom. May you give more goodness. And may you forever grow more in oneness with God. ----------------

HOMES

I saw an interesting news story the other day. It seems that ultra-rich billionaires are now spending millions to buy up huge mega-mansions just to tear them down. And then they are spending many millions more to build even larger giga-mansions in their place. I shook my head sadly when I watched this and thought of how crazy this world has become.

I also thought back to the very first place I had as an adult. I was newly married and still in college. The only place I could afford was a tiny two room apartment built above a laundromat. The kitchen and living room combination could be crossed in a few quick steps. Two burners on the kitchen stove didn’t work. Springs stuck out of a couch that was older than I was. The mattress in the bedroom was full of divots. The water pressure was a sprinkle and the rattle and hum of the washers and dryers below us was constant. Yet, I can remember being very happy there. We needed little. We wanted little. Each day brought its own joys. And that rundown, little place was home.

When it comes right down to it homes aren’t made by the things you own. Homes aren’t made by the square footage you live in. Homes are made by the love you share. Every place that I have ever lived in has been modest at best. Every place has been small, crowded, and cluttered. Yet, they have all been home. They have all been full of love and laughter. They have all been full of hugs and happiness. They have all been full of goodness and God.

There is an old saying that goes, "Home is where the heart is." Where are you going to put your heart then? Are you going to put it in things or are you going to put it in people? Are you going to put it in money or are you going to put it in God? Are you going to give it over to this crazy world or are you going to use it to make this world a more loving home for everyone. ----------------

THE LONG VIEW

I had just finished shoveling out my driveway, my porches, and a walk path over to my daughter’s house after yet another heavy snow. It was the fourth time I had shoveled out in a week and I was wondering if my sore back was going to make it through the Winter. During two of the times the wind chill had been so cold that my breath had frozen into ice on my glasses and moustache. As I leaned my aching arms on my snow shovel, however, I heard something that brought a burst of hope to my heart.

It was the birds singing. Their song spoke of Spring to my Winter weary heart. Even though the start of Spring was still a month away and two feet of snow covered the ground the birds were taking the long view. I closed my eyes and listened to their sweet music. In my heart I could feel the green grass beneath my bare feet, I could see thousands of dandelions blooming in the meadow, and I could warm myself in the Spring sunshine. It was a thought of pure joy that lifted my spirits while I walked back home with a smile on my face.

I have always delighted in embracing the present moment, but sometimes when life is cold and dark you need to take the long view. Sometimes you need to wrap your arms around hope when joy seems too far away. Sometimes you need to look forward to Spring when your days are too full of Winter. Sometimes you need to reach out for God’s hand even when you can’t see it.

As you travel through life don’t be afraid to take the long view then. Embrace your present moments and fill them with all the love and joy you can, but look forward to the future as well. Know too that the love you share and good you do today builds the better life you will have tomorrow. And always remember that at the end of your journey is a place where there is no hatred, fear, cold, or darkness only peace, love, warmth, and light. -----------------

THE REAL GIFT

I was watching some reunion videos the other day. Those are the ones where the serviceman or servicewoman returns home after many months to surprise their families. One in particular widened my smile and moistened my eyes at the same time.

In it a five year old little girl was celebrating her birthday party. After blowing out the candles on her birthday cake it was time to open her presents. She seemed especially delighted when she opened up a box holding a new doll. Just then, however, her Dad walked out from behind a wall and tapped her on her shoulder. She looked up at him, screamed, dropped her doll, and jumped into his arms. Then she began to cry tears of pure joy while telling her Daddy how she loved him and how she had missed him. During all of this the doll lay forgotten on the floor. That wise little girl knew what her real gift was.

In this life we all need to realize that the real gift we give isn’t just reserved for birthdays. The real gift we give every single day. The real gift we give is ourselves. The money we spend and the things we buy mean little in comparison. The real gift is in the love we share. The real gift is in the hugs we share. The real gift is in the smiles we spread. The real gift is in the time we spend. The real gift is in the very life we live.

Leo Buscaglia once said: "This life is God’s gift to you. How you live it is your gift to God." May you make your real gift the best gift imaginable then. May you increase your wisdom, nurture your love, build up your kindness, and grow your joy. May you make yourself the best person you can possibly be. And may you give that glorious gift of yourself to others, and to God. If you do so you will have happiness. If you do so you will spread goodness. If you do so you will bring a whole lot of Heaven down here to Earth. -----------------

THE ONE THING YOU NEVER RUN OUT OF

It was a sweltering hot, Summer’s day and I was longing to go swimming at the local pool. Instead, I was riding in the back seat of the car as my parents drove to a friend’s house. They were going to lend a hand to a church work camp repairing her roof and porch. As an eight year old boy I knew that there wouldn’t be much for me to do and I was right. In the end I fetched a few hammers, threw away some scrap pieces of wood, and spent the rest of the time sitting in the yard watching.

The work camp was mostly made up of teenagers who had given up part of their Summer vacation to help others. They were supervised by the pastor and a few skilled carpenters who were also working free of charge. I spent most of that afternoon sitting in the shade while they sweated in the sunshine. They were cutting boards and hammering them in place. They were pulling out rotted tiles and nailing in new ones. They were scraping off the old paint and brushing on the new. They were doing it all too with an energy of joy. They shared stories and smiles. They shared jokes and laughter. They shared a Heavenly spirit of caring that was beautiful to behold.

Finally our friend called me into the house to help her pay them with the two things she could afford: sweet tea and smiles. I gingerly carried out the glasses to the workers who downed them with gusto. By the end of the day the three gallons of tea were gone. The workers were out of nails, paint, and lumber but the job was done. There was one thing left, however. It was the one thing that you never run out of. It was the one thing that you can’t give away without having even more of it. It was Love. It lightened our spirits. It lifted our smiles. It made us feel at one with both Heaven and God. I went home with a heart full of it and was happier than any day at the pool could have made me.

Don’t be afraid to share your love every chance you can then. Share it with your work. Share it with your smile. Share it with your life. You will never run out. You will always have more. And you will forever feel our Heavenly Father smiling upon you. ---------------

A LITTLE HURT

I was laying on my bed relaxing after a long day. Music was playing in the background and I was taking the time to read a good book. Just as I turned the page an old song started playing that always reminded me of my Mom. I put the book down and listened. Even though it had been 23 years since cancer had taken her from us, sometimes it still felt like it was only yesterday. I closed my eyes and allowed the flood of memories to wash over me. I thought of Mom’s sparkling eyes and shining smile which lived on in the faces of my own children. I thought of her sweet voice and gentle laugh that never failed to lift my spirits. I thought of how she brightened up every room she walked into. I thought of how she was a friend to everyone she met and how her kindness touched the hearts of so many. I thought of how she made this world a better place just by being in it. And my heart ached as I thought of how I still missed her so much. I wiped the tears from my cheeks as the song finished, looked out my window at the night sky, and sent an "I love you, Mom" from my lips to Heaven’s ear.

Now some people would ask why I didn’t shut the music off the second that song came on. Why did I subject myself to the pain it brought? I think the answer is that sometimes you have to let in a little hurt in order to let in a lot of love. Sometimes you have to open your heart in order to truly live. Life here will always be a mix of the bitter and the sweet, but you can’t shut down your soul. At times you have to embrace the pain and then let it go. When you do you will find that what is left is love.

May you always keep your heart open to love. May you always keep your heart open to God. May you always keep your heart open to messages from Heaven. They can come at the strangest times on the winds of a memory or the wings of a song. --------------

PURE PEACE

I was driving home the other day after taking my son to the sheltered workshop where he works part time. The clouds had parted and the newly freed sun was slowly warming the Earth. The radio was playing and Louis Armstrong was singing, "What a Wonderful World." I was joining in with my scratchy voice. I rounded a curve and saw the distant mountains alight with golden sunshine. It was so beautiful. In that second the music, the light, and the view came together and filled my heart with peace. I felt like I was where I was meant to be. I felt like I was who I wanted to be. I felt like I was the person God called me to be. I drove on letting that moment of pure peace uplift my spirit and thanked God again for my life here.

I have noticed over the years that as I have gotten older and thankfully wiser those moments of pure peace have become more and more frequent. In my quest for peace I used to feel like I was searching for a treasure. In my soul I was scaling mountains, crossing rivers, and traveling long and far to find that elusive peace. What I finally found when I stopped my searching and striving, though, was that I was carrying that peace inside of me all along.

How do you find peace? The answer I feel is to just love. Love God. Love yourself. Love everyone else. Love nature. Love music. Love animals. Love books. Love learning. Love this world all around you. Love life itself. When you love you find that the storms of life can never break you. When you love you find yourself connected to the very energy that created the universe. When you love you find yourself growing ever closer to God today, tomorrow, and forever. Love is what leads you to your true self. Love is what makes peace your permanent companion. May all of your days here be full of love. May all of your days here be full of peace. May all of your days here carry you one step closer to Heaven. ---------------

MY BACKUP ALARM

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! I sat up groggily as my alarm went off. The bedroom was still dark and I fumbled for the alarm clock and switched it off. My body and mind just weren’t ready to get up yet. I groaned, laid back down, put my head on my pillow, and closed my eyes. It was then, however, that my backup alarm went off. It jumped up on my bed, put its paws on my chest, and started to rapidly lick my face. It was my beagle dog, Snoopy Girl. She was ready and raring to get the day going and wasn’t about to take no for an answer. I sat up with a smile and pulled her off of me. I turned on the light, rubbed her belly with one hand and wiped off my wet moustache with the other.

I have often wished that I could wake up with the same love, joy, energy, and enthusiasm my dogs have. It would be a great way to start the day with a wagging tail and a happy pant. But I am just an aging human being and it takes me a while to stretch out the knots in my back, wipe off the crust in my eyes, awaken the love in my heart, and thank God for another day. One thing I have found, though, is that when I do finally get the day going right my face smiles, my soul sings, and everything in my life goes better.

I am grateful then to my backup alarm for being such a wonderful teacher in how to live and in how to love. I am grateful to all the dogs who have blessed my life with their joy, their energy, their antics, and their zest for life. I have given them food and shelter and in return they have given me the priceless treasure of their unconditional love.

God gave us the best friends to walk through life with. They may be furry and have four legs, but they will always be by our sides. Take a lesson from them then. Live simply. Love deeply. Greet each day with zest and happiness. And always share your joy with the world. ----------------

WATCHING THE SUN COME UP

If you have never taken the time to watch the sun come up in the morning then you really should do so. It is so good for the soul. You need to go out early when the night sky is still dark and full of stars. Then find yourself a comfortable place to stand or sit and take it all in.

The black sky will slowly begin to transform into a dark blue while the dimmer stars and then the brighter ones fade from view. Then as the air warms the blue will begin to lighten and red, pink, and purple clouds will magically appear. It will look like God is finger painting them Himself as they float across the sky. And just as you finish welcoming this beauty into your heart the sky will change again. The blue will turn to orange and then yellow and you will find yourself transfixed as the sun slowly climbs over the horizon and showers the world with its light. Next the birds will begin to awaken in their nests. Some will sing with joy and others will take to the sky, flying through the heavens and taking your spirit along for the ride. And as you watch them the morning breeze will kiss your face while it makes the leaves dance and the trees wave. Few people can watch something this miraculous without feeling blessed with peace and without feeling loved by our Heavenly Father.

Take the time to watch the sun come up every chance you can then. Keep it shining in your soul too all the day through. Be a sunrise unto yourself as well. Send your light when you pray, laugh, and sing. Spread your light when you stretch out your fingers to offer a helping hand to another. Scatter your light when you offer your smile, your kindness, and your compassion to others. Shine your light when you connect to the glorious energy of love and share it with the world. Do the good you were meant to do. Be the person God meant for you to be. Live the life you were meant to live. Be a giver of God’s light in this world and in the next. ---------------

A GOOD LAUGH

It was a bitterly cold, Winter’s morning. The snow that had started to melt the day before had frozen again. I was walking my dogs, wishing that I could teach them to use the bathroom indoors. Every breath in hurt a bit and every breath out was a cloud of frozen mist. I looked up and noticed the morning sunrise. Thin pink and purple clouds drifted across the sky. Even with the cold it looked like Heaven was smiling down on me.

I thanked God for this beautiful gift as I took another step in the snow. Only it wasn’t snow that I stepped on. It was ice. My feet flung into the air. My body crashed to the ground. My shoe slipped off my foot and I found myself still staring at that sunrise but with an aching butt, my back on the ground, and two worried dogs licking my face. A strange sound was coming out of my mouth as well. It wasn’t a moan or a curse. It was a laugh. I lay there for another minute laughing and enjoying the absurdity of it all, before getting up and heading inside.

That wasn’t the first time a good laugh had saved me from anger and pain and I am sure it won’t be the last. Laughter is one of our greatest gifts from God. It exercises the body. It clears the mind. It lightens the heart. It comforts the soul. It takes the fear out of life and replaces it with joy. It reminds us that no matter what this world throws at us we can overcome it. It reminds us that we can choose happiness over despair. It reminds us that we can live in love today, tomorrow, and forever.

The next time you feel like laughing then don’t hold it back. Let it out. Laugh long, laugh hard, and laugh well. See this crazy, confused world for what it is and laugh at it anyway. God made us to love and God made us to laugh. To do both is to truly embrace life. May all of your days be full of giggles and grins. May your soul always sing with the song of sweet laughter. ---------------

THE MOST EXCITING ADVENTURE OF ALL

One year when I was in college my friend and I decided to skip the crowds going to the beaches for Spring break and instead go skiing at a local resort. It sounded like an exciting adventure to both of us. There was only one flaw in our plan, however. Neither one of us knew how to ski. We spent the first day there then falling over and over, trying to gain our balance and learn how to ski on the children’s slopes. Finally, by the end of the day we started to get the hang of it and began to head down the snow covered hills a little better.

Just as I was beginning to enjoy the feeling of zooming down the icy hillsides another skier accidently cut in front of me. Instinctively, I turned to the left and found myself headed straight for a tree. They say your life flashes before your eyes in times like these and mine certainly did. One thing I realized too was that I didn’t want it to end so soon. With no other choice I fell hard and rolled in the snow with my skis in the air.

Laying there bruised and covered in snow I realized that skiing down mountains, sky diving, base jumping, and driving race cars weren’t my type of adventures. I preferred sipping hot chocolate by a fireplace, walking in the woods, reading a good book, and talking with a friend. It was good thing to know and I was happy I didn’t have to break a leg to learn it.

Over the years too I found that the most exciting adventure of all in this life is simply loving each other. No other adventure brings you as much joy. No other adventure brings you as much peace. No other adventure brings you closer to God. Don’t be afraid then to participate in this exciting adventure of love. Ski the course. Throw open your heart. Share your smiles, your talents, and your kindness. Build others up instead of bringing them down. Live your life with so much love and light that God smiles and the angels sing. ---------------

LITTLE FRANKIE

When I was a boy growing up we lived across a river from the main road next to a set of rail road tracks. The only way to our house was across an old, wooden swinging bridge. We only had two neighbors as well. Both lived in houses on the hillside behind our home and both were named Frank. Big Frank was a large, heavy set man who lived with his wife in a small, white house and grew plants that they would sell to home gardeners. Little Frankie lived across from him in a much bigger but much older house. His house, in fact, was a crumbling wreck that was over a hundred years old. Only three small rooms on the far left side of it were still usable and it was in these rooms that Little Frankie lived.

Little Frankie was already nearly 80 years old when I was born. He was a first generation, Italian immigrant who had never married. He had worked on the railroad for over 40 years before retiring but still worked hard every day. Only five feet tall, with gnarled hands and a bent back he could still outwork a twenty year old. I would watch him with amazement slicing down hillsides full of weeds with his large, hand-held scythe. Little Frankie was smelly by today’s standards. He had no electricity or running water and would bath once a week with water he boiled on his cast iron stove. I never seemed to mind the smell when I visited him, though. He would fry me eggs and potatoes and we would talk. His English remained broken even after all his years in America but somehow I never had any trouble understanding him.

Little Frankie was also my Godfather. He was at my baptism and pledged to guide me in my spiritual growth. He did this mainly by example. He never lectured or taught. He just showed me how to live with honesty, kindness, and goodness. He showed me the joy of nature. He showed me the peace that can come from just sitting outside on a sunny day. He showed me the oneness with God that can come from a loving life. Little Frankie always had a light in his eyes. It shined deep, right from his soul and you could see it sparkle when he smiled.

When Little Frankie died my Mother was the executor of his will. We found that he had over 40, 000 dollars in the bank, a fortune at the time, from a lifetime of saving. It was sent to his brothers and sisters still living in Italy. We often wondered why he hadn’t used it to buy a better home and live more comfortably. Looking back now, however, I think I know the answer. He had all he needed and all he wanted. He had food, shelter, clothes, and warmth both in his house and in his spirit. He needed nothing more to be happy in his life. Like thousands of generations before him, he lived simply and in closeness with his Heavenly Father.

When I look at how much I have now I sometimes think of how much of it is really necessary. In the last 100 years we have gained more wealth and technology than in the entire history of mankind. Yet, in truth, we need very little. A little food, a little shelter, some clothes, people to love, work to do, things to learn, quiet time to think, pray, and connect with God are all we need to live in joy.

The next time you feel weighed down by too much to do or overwhelmed by what you have ask yourself this question. "Is this helping me to love?" If the answer is no then cancel it, turn it off, or toss it in the trash. Learn to live simply. Learn to live lovingly. Learn to live like Little Frankie. ---------------

WARM SOCKS ON A WINTER’S DAY

When I was a boy the one Christmas present me and my brothers never wanted but always got was socks. Every year under the tree there would be a package of thick, white tube socks for each of us. They were always quickly stuffed in a drawer and forgotten about while we played with our real presents and enjoyed Christmas day.

In time, however, the lights were taken down, the Christmas tree was thrown out, and only Winter was left. It was during the cold, dark, long, snowy Winter months that those socks began to take on a new importance. On those bitter, windy mornings in January me and my brothers would be huddled by the stove in my Nana’s drafty old house hopping around while we pulled on those thick socks to warm our icy toes. Nothing felt better than feeling them thaw our frozen feet. It was then that I was thankful to Mom and Dad for spending what little money they had on not just what we wanted but also on what we needed.

As I sit here 40 years in the future on a cold, Winter’s day with warm socks on my feet I can still smile back on those childhood days so full of simple joys. I realize too that my Mom and Dad provided not just warm socks for my feet but warm socks for my soul as well. In this often cold world they showed me the warmth of love. They showed me that giving is better than getting. They showed me that hard work can fill the heart as well as the wallet. They showed me that laughter and smiles are more valuable than stocks and bonds. They showed me that what is important isn’t what you accumulate in this world but what you take with you into the next.

May all of your days be full of warm socks and warm hearts. May they be full of smiles, laughter, kindness, goodness, peace and joy. May they be full of God’s love for you and your love for others. May they feel like Summer even in the midst of Winter. ---------------

AFTER THE PRESENTS

When I was a boy I used to look forward to Christmas morning with all the eager anticipation of a child. I couldn’t wait to crawl under the tree, pull out my presents, and rip off the paper. Yet, the best part of the day came after the presents. Once those presents were opened I would spend hours reading the books I got with pure pleasure and playing with the toys I got with joyful abandon. Yet, the best part of the day came after playtime. Christmas dinner at our house was more often than not an Italian style feast fit for a king with spaghetti in slow cooked tomato sauce full of meatballs, steak, potatoes, and chicken all topped off with freshly baked loaves of bread. Yet, the best part of the day came after dinner.

The best part of the day was in the evening when the whole family sat down together in the living room. My brothers and I would be crowded together with my Mom on the couch. My Dad and Nana would be relaxing in their chairs with warm smiles on their faces. Our little dog, Duke would be curled up at my feet napping. Freshly popped popcorn would be passed around while we watched some old Christmas movie on the television. More often than not, though, I would be watching everyone else instead. I could feel the peace, the love, and the happiness that connected us all. In my child’s heart too I knew that God was present with us. It was the best part of the day of the best day of the year. It was Christmas!

As I grew older and had children of my own I did my best to create special days like this with them not just at Christmas but all through the year. I realized something special too. I realized that each day here was a present from God. I realized that each day we lived in love was our present to God. I realized that each day can be Christmas if we choose. May all of your days feel like Christmas. May every day feel like the best day of the year. --------------

ERASING THE EVIDENCE

I woke up in the middle of the night with a start. My aging and aching back had jolted me awake with a sharp pain. I got up and stretched in the dark until it eased, laid back down again, and shut my eyes. I couldn’t go back to sleep, though. Finally, I gave up and switched on the television. One of those early morning infomercials was on. Two women were going on and on about a new product that hid the wrinkles around their eyes and mouths. I watched for a minute then switched it back off. One thought came to my mind: "Why are they erasing the evidence of so much laughter and so many smiles?"

I walked into my bathroom, turned on the light, and looked into the mirror. My own laugh lines were deeper and more numerous than ever. They rippled out from my smile and my eyes like waves of joy and I loved the way they looked. There was nothing ugly about them at all. They spoke of countless thousands of smiles, wonderful moments of laughter, and a life lived in happiness as much as possible. I certainly didn’t look as young as I once did, but I still wouldn’t trade my wrinkles for the world.

There are many parts of aging that I could do without. I would love to have the energy, eyesight, and muscle mass I had at eighteen. My aching back I would give up without a second thought. But I want to keep my laugh lines right where they are. They are the roadmap of my life. They are a painting of my choices. They are the evidence of a life well-lived and a life well-loved. I think that the Hand of God helps to draw those lines around our eyes and mouth so that we can recognize the kindness and goodness in ourselves and in others. Don’t cover yours up then. Show them off. Give them a workout. Make them deeper with every smile you share. Let them shine in your laughter and in your love for all your life here. ---------------

A REAL WINNER

I switched off the morning news today while I sipped my morning coffee. The constant chatter about sports stars, celebrities, billionaires, and politicians had numbed my ears and left a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t really care to hear anymore about what this world considers winners. Instead, I gazed out my kitchen window and thought about the true winners in this life. I was sure too that Heaven was smiling down on them all whether they realized it or not.

Who are these real winners? They are all around us but we so often fail to see them. The single Mom who works all day to support her child is a winner. The person who gives up their one day off from work to volunteer at a food pantry or homeless shelter is a winner. The grandma who both bakes cookies and relearns algebra to help her grandson with his homework is a winner. The hospice aide who holds the hand of a dying person in their last hours here is a winner. The volunteer firefighters who risk their lives for no pay are all winners. The health care aide who dedicates her life to help the elderly and disabled is a winner. The adoptive parents who give a forever home to orphaned children are winners. The person who gives a Christmas present to a poor child he will never meet is a winner. The family who lovingly open their hearts and homes to furry, four-legged friends are winners. The young men and women who spend their Spring and Summer vacations repairing the homes of the poor are winners. The person who puts love ahead of money, kindness ahead of fame, and people ahead of power is the real winner in this life and in the next.

Everyone who loves others completely and unconditionally is a winner in the eyes of Heaven. Every person who spends their lives helping others is a winner in the eyes of God. May you be a true winner then, today, tomorrow, and always. ---------------

TEARS AND LAUGHTER

I am finding that my eyes are a little more moist these days. I seem to be tearing up from time to time. Now it isn’t because I am sad. I am neither depressed nor stressed. Nothing bad has happened to me either. In fact, I find myself smiling and laughing more often too. The simple truth is that while my love and joy have grown over the years, my empathy has grown along with them. When I see an act of love, kindness, and goodness towards another then, my eyes moisten. When I see another soul hurting they grow damp as well. I don’t mind the tears, though. They mean that my heart is open and loving as it was meant to be.

It took me many years to tear down the walls around my heart and I am still not done yet. With God’s love and support, however, I am taking them down one brick at a time. Yes, this leaves me more open to pain, but it leaves me more open to love as well. And love always heals pain. I find that God is not only helping me to remove the walls around my heart but is also putting that heart to work. I find that heart moved to give, to help others, to share love, to spread joy, to uplift and encourage everyone I can. I find it full of empathy, kindness, caring, compassion, and ever increasing love. If a few more tears come along with it as too then that is a price I am happy to pay.

Don’t feel afraid then if you feel your own tears increasing along with your love. God is just bringing you closer to others and to Himself. The author Leo Buscaglia said "Tears are good for you. They clean out your eyeballs." They also strengthen your soul and heal your heart. Embrace your tears along with your laughter then. Embrace your empathy along with your love. Embrace your compassion along with your joy. God loves us all and God wants us to love each other as well. May you always do so with both laughter and tears. ---------------

A GREEN THUMB

As a boy I learned so much growing up the way I did. We didn’t have very much, yet we were rich in all that mattered. My Mom, Dad, brothers, and I all lived with my Grandma in her ramshackle house built from old shanty cars. It was cold and drafty at times but we could always count on a hot meal made with love to warm our bellies and our hearts. "Nana" had an old root cellar, four different vegetable gardens and a green thumb when it came to growing things. We could always count then on a delicious dinner every day.

Nana wasn’t content with just growing food, though. She wanted something beautiful for the soul as well. She had flowers growing all around the house and potted pants hanging on the back porch. She always knew how to nurture each plant too. She would give each one the perfect amount of water and turn it regularly so it wouldn’t grow crooked as it stretched toward the sunshine. I can even remember her once chasing a stray cat away with some harsh Italian words for daring to use one of her precious plants as a litter box.

Sadly, I didn’t inherit Nana’s green thumb for growing things. I have grown vegetables even rabbits wouldn’t steal and I have found that my flowers do far better when I just leave them alone. I did, however, learn one thing from Nana: how to nurture the soul.

I do so each day helping it to grow. I give thanks to God for the food in my stomach and the flowers in the field. I spend time in prayer. I cherish the beauty of this glorious world. I read works that uplift and inspire. I pet my dogs. I laugh often. I hug my sons and daughter. I share smiles with strangers and my stories with everyone I can. I help others. And I plant seeds of love, joy, kindness, and encouragement everywhere I go. May you do the same. May your green thumb nurture your soul and this world with love always. -----------------

INNOCENCE AND WISDOM

I was walking out of a local library recently when I heard the most wonderful sound in the world. It was children laughing. The Kindergarten class had just gone out for recess on a warm, Autumn afternoon. They were running, shouting, and playing with all the joy inside of them. It was music sweeter than any concert. I stopped to watch and listen to them for awhile. I could feel my smiling lifting, my eyes sparkling, my heart warming and my soul brightening. It felt so good to see and hear such innocent happiness.

For a moment it made me wish for my own childhood innocence again. It had left me so many years ago. I knew that it was gone for good too. I had seen too much pain, too much suffering, and too much heartache. I had witnessed too much injustice, too much hatred, and too much bigotry. I had looked upon inequality, misery, hunger, and war. I had felt the sting of loss and death. I had known fear, confusion and doubt. I had seen all the ugliness and darkness of life. I knew I would never be innocent again.

Yet, in place of that innocence I knew that God had given me something better: wisdom. In the midst of life’s darkness I had found light. In the middle of life’s ugliness I had found beauty. In a world full of fear I had found love. In all of my confusion and doubt I had found God. On my long journey through life I had learned that God loves us. I had learned that we can love too. I had learned that when we love we will have joy.

We may never have the innocence of our youth again, but with age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes choice. Choose to sing, smile and dance then. Choose to pray and to play. Choose to love, laugh, and have joy. Choose to grow daily in oneness with God. Choose to share your happiness and wisdom with everyone you know every second of your life. --------------

ETERNITY

In the days following the first anniversary of my Dad’s death, I couldn’t help but feel sad. I still missed him so much. I would pass a beat up blue pick-up on the road and think it was him. I would walk over to his old house where my daughter now lived and still expect to see him sitting out on his front porch. I would see him in my dreams, looking young and strong again.

I felt bad too because I regretted not spending more time with him while he was here. I wished I had visited him more, talked with him more, and listened to him more. I wished I had asked the questions that I never did. I wished I had given him more hugs and told him I loved him more often. I wished I had cherished the time I had with him here instead of taking it for granted. I was mad at God because Dad, Mom, and Nana had all passed away before I was 50 and I was mad at myself because I hadn’t made the most of the time I had with them.

Today, I found myself walking under an overcast sky, staring at the leafless trees and wishing that I had that time back again. As I prodded along, though, God in His infinite love and understanding had another of His moments with me. The breeze picked up and one of the last golden Maple leaves let go of its tree and sailed on the wind until it landed in front of me. I picked it up and smiled. At the moment of peace I felt God’s sweet voice whispering in my heart and mind. "Death is momentary," He said. "But Love is eternal."

I knew at that moment then that my relationships with Mom, Nana, and Dad were not over. We would see each other again in a place of love, joy, and light. We would make up for the time I wasted. We would spend our days in learning, laughter, and love. We would be a family again bathed in the love of our Heavenly Father. We would embrace that final adventure together and walk hand in hand into eternity. ---------------

WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT

When I was in college I didn’t attend many football games. I didn’t go to many functions. I wasn’t to be found at the bars or parties either. When I wasn’t in class, my dorm room, or spending time with my friends there was usually only one place to find me: the library.

I would spend hours there after class and on the weekends surrounded by books. I was fascinated by the amount of knowledge that was stored between their covers. I devoured volume after volume. I read books on psychology, sociology, history, and philosophy. I read books on theology, faith, and self-help. I explored every area I could in an obsessive quest to find out one thing: "What is the meaning of life?" I was driven to discover why we are here. I had to know what it’s all about. Sadly, four years and a thousand books later I graduated with a degree but no real answer to my question.

I didn’t give up after college, though. I kept looking in books, in nature, in prayer, and in my own heart and soul to find the answer. I never gave up through all the work, struggles, pains, and losses that I went through. After many years too I think that I finally learned the answer to that question and it was so simple. The answer was Love!

Love is what it’s all about. Love is what we are all about. From our first cry as a newborn baby to our last breath before death, love is our purpose. Every hug, every smile, every laugh, every tear, every word of encouragement, every kind act, every helping hand, every moment of compassion, and every thought we think can lead us to greater love as well. Three of the most important words in the Bible are: "God is Love." And when we become one with love we become one with God. Don’t spend your life on anything less. Choose love. Share love. Grow in love. Walk the path of love through all of this life and into the next. ------------------

THE TRACKS WE LEAVE

When I was a boy I used to love walking in the woods around my home. My Mom warned me several times never to travel so far that I would lose sight of the house. Being a typical boy, however, I soon found myself hiking further and further away, testing just how far I could go into the woods without getting lost. After losing my way once for two hours, though, I decided that I had better leave a trail the next time I went for a walk.

The very next day I decided to try it. I walked into the woods until the house was out of sight. Then I broke a small branch on a young tree to mark my place. I wandered further in and broke another limb and then another. In a few spots where there was no limbs small enough I snapped the heads off Daises and Queen Anne’s Lace that were growing where the sunlight broke through the trees. After a while I finally got tired and decided to head back. Turning around I easily found my tracks, but instead of being proud I felt sad. I could see the trail of destruction I had left in the woods going on and on. Looking at the broken limbs and dead flowers I wandered if God was disappointed in me and I vowed never to do that again. Instead, I started to cherish my times alone in the woods with God. I’d sit by the streams and listen to them sing. I’d watch the birds and squirrels. I’d bend down to smell the flowers. And I even buried an acorn or two hoping that one day an Oak might grow.

There is an old Native American Saying that goes "We will be known forever by the tracks we leave." As I have grown older and wiser I have done my best to never leave a trail of destruction in my life as I did in the woods that day. I have instead strived to leave tracks of love, kindness, goodness, and compassion and I have strived to show others that they can do the same. May you always leave tracks of joy as you follow your own trail of love to God. ---------------

LITTLE DOTS OF LIGHT

I was in my backyard the other night. The evening, Autumn air was blowing. It was fresh, clean and cool without being cold. My dogs were sitting on the freshly fallen leaves and looking up at me, wondering why we hadn’t gone back inside yet. The reason was that I was taking some time to gaze at the stars. The sky was almost completely clear of clouds and the heavens were twinkling.

It had been too long since I last looked at the billion stars in the night sky. Those little dots of light felt so warm to my heart and inviting to my soul. They seemed to radiate peace, joy, and Heavenly love to all who watched them. Suddenly, one of the few clouds left in the night sky drifted over the large patch of stars I was pondering upon and they disappeared. I frowned as the sky grew a little darker and finally decided to go inside.

As I opened my backdoor I thought of how each one of those little dots of light was special. Each one of them made the night sky a little brighter. Each one of them made the heavens a little more beautiful. I thought too of each of our lives here and how much our light was needed as well.

Don’t let the clouds of this world block out your light. Let it shine everyday for God and for yourself. Your light comes from love and love is brighter than a billion galaxies. Let your own love glow from your smile, your laugh, and your life. Let it blaze in your acts of goodness and kindness. Let it be a beacon to help others to share their light as well. Let it be so luminous that the angels sing and God smiles. You may think that you are just a little dot of light in this universe. But without you everything is darker. Share your light always then and bring brightness with you wherever you go. ------------------

FREE OF FEAR

Driving in the mountains of my home can be very interesting at times. Today I was driving home and taking in the Fall scenery. I smiled as I glanced at the changing leaves on the trees. They had become as bright and beautiful as the flowers in Spring. Just as I drove past a wonderful, red Maple tree I saw a large doe deer bounding across the road ahead of me. Knowing what might be coming next I stomped on the brakes and screeched to a halt just as a fawn jumped out of the woods and followed its mom onto the road.

I stared at the frightened, frozen fawn and waited while its mom came back to get it. I smiled as I watched them both run down the hill and disappear back into the woods. Then I laughed and thanked God for keeping me and "Bambi" safe. As I drove on I realized something too. Through the whole near miss I hadn’t been afraid at all. My heart rate had stayed calm and breathing normal. It seems that as my love and trust in God have grown more and more over the years that worry and fear have largely left me.

Years ago I lived in fear of tomorrow. I worried about money. I worried about work. I worried about my children. I worried about my health. I worried about my future. I worried about death. I wasted far too many days on fear and worry. One day, however, I finally realized that God isn’t afraid of tomorrow, so why should I be?

God loves us so much. He watches over the flowers. He watches over the trees. He watches over the deer. And He watches over us. He guides us, protects us, and helps us whether we realize it or not. Do your best then to live a life full of love and free of free. Do your best to trust in God. Do your best to give up worry and embrace joy. Do your best to help our Heavenly Father build a better, safer, and happier world for us all. -----------------

OLD IN BODY, YOUNG AT HEART

As I get closer to my 48th birthday I have decided on the one present I want the most: a new body. The one I have now seems to be aging way too fast. I do try to take care of it. Yet, my back still aches no matter how much I stretch it, exercise it, or rest it. The enamel on my teeth has worn down and become sensitive. My glasses have turned into bifocals. I am not eating more but have still gained weight. My skin has more wrinkles and age spots than ever before. My thick brown hair has turned into thin silver hair. And when my aging body walks into a room my mind sometimes forgets what for.

I guess the reason I feel so disappointed in my aging body is because at heart I still feel 18 not 48. On the inside I still feel a zest for life and a delight in living. On the inside my optimism and enthusiasm remain strong. On the inside I still have so much hope, faith, and love. On the inside I know that I am an eternal soul and not an aging body. On the inside I still long to make myself and this world better. On the inside I still want to share kindness, spread joy, and do the will of God. I just wonder sometimes if my body is going to be able to keep up.

I know too that I am not the only one out there who is old in body but young at heart. I think that there are far more of us than we know. The truth is in spirit all of us are ageless and eternal. All of us are vital and forever young. These bodies are just the cars that we drive around for awhile, and we can’t let the wear and tear on our vehicles hold us back. We have to do what we can with what we have to make this world a better place. We have to use our gifts and talents to bring a little Heaven down here to Earth. We have to do our best and let God take care of the rest. Live from your heart then. Stay young. Love always. Bring joy and scatter sunshine wherever you go. You body will one day grow old and die but your spirit never will. ---------------

CIRCLES OF LOVE

It was over 20 years ago. I was holding my baby son in my arms while my two other children played under a big tree in the front yard of an old house. The house was also a local food bank and I was watching my children while my wife went in. I had been laid off work for a long time and we were out of food. I tried to laugh as my children chased each other around the tree but my heart was too heavy. Despair hung around me like a cloud. All I could feel was fear. Finally my wife came out holding a large bag of food and we smiled at each other. Thanks to the kindness of others our children would not go hungry that night.

It was yesterday. I found myself outside the doors of another food bank. Thanks to the kindness of a kindred spirit I had some extra money in my wallet and a longing to share this gift with others. I went to the local grocery store and bought what I could with what I had. Then I carried in the bags of food to help restock the food bank’s sparse shelves. The people there thanked me several times, but I felt a little embarrassed as I accepted their gratitude. I was, after all, only completing a circle of kindness that began over twenty years ago.

This world is full of circles of love. Every smile we share, thing we give, and act of kindness we do flows out from us to touch others. Then it continues on going from heart to heart and soul to soul until it circles the world and returns to us again. I was just happy to take my place in one of those circles yesterday and to pass on the loving-kindness that had been shared with me.

Don’t be afraid to take your own place in these circles of love. A kind word, a caring smile, a gentle touch, a helping hand, or a simple act of charity can change another’s life and this world as well. Circle all of your days with love then. Love will warm your heart. Love will bring you joy. Love will spiral you to Heaven and always lead you back to God. ---------------

BITTERSWEET

If there is one thing I have learned over the years it is that life in this world is bittersweet. It always has been and it always will be. I realized this early on and everyday I see further evidence of it. It is something that we all just have to accept.

When I was a boy I cherished my books and toys, but then I lost them all when our house burned down in the middle of the night. Growing up I loved the isolated woodlands and meadows that were my playground, yet more often than not I found myself playing alone. In school I found learning fun and easy, but I never was as popular as I wanted to be. When I played on the sports teams I loved the fun and friendship we had, but I spent most of my time sitting on the bench. In college I enjoyed the excitement of being out on my own, yet my heart still ached for the love and comforts of home.

As I grew into adulthood I fell in love and had my heart broken. I graduated college, but I never gained the success I thought I would get. I had three beautiful children that taught me so much about love, yet I watched my two sons struggle daily with Autism. I cherished the love that my Mom, Nana, and Dad gave me then I watched them all die before I was 50.

Yes, life is bittersweet. It is full of ups and downs, twists and turns, triumphs and tragedies. Whether life makes us bitter or sweet, however, is up to us. God loves us and He put us here to love each other. This is easy when life is sweet, but it can be a struggle when life is bitter. Still, it is during the tough times that we grow the strongest. It is during the bitter times when our sweetness and love are most needed. It is during the dark days that we learn the most about our own goodness and light. Don’t let life make you bitter then. Stay strong. Love much. Live well. Share your goodness and light everyday and make this world a sweeter place for us all. ---------------

WHEN YOU KNOW YOU ARE LOVED

What do we all want in this life? The answer is simple. We want happiness. We may take many different paths to reach it, but happiness is the final destination we all are trying to reach. Many of us pursue it in things, work, and people. Others try to create it in what they think and do. Yet, happiness remains elusive. Like a butterfly it flies away each time you try to catch it, but can come and land on your shoulder when you least expect it.

The times that I have found to be the happiest in my own life have been the times when I knew I was loved. I can remember as a boy sitting in a chair with my Mom by the warm stove while she read books to me. I can remember coming in the door after playing outside to a warm hug from my Nana and a piece of freshly baked Italian bread. I can remember squeezing into a recliner with my Dad when he got home from work so we could watch my favorite TV show. I can remember playing touch football with my brothers. I can remember the first kiss I ever got from a girl. I can remember holding each of my newborn children in my arms for the first time. I can remember seeing them get off the school bus and running into my arms. I can remember all the hugs, laughs, smiles, and "I Love You’s" that they filled my life with.

I can also remember the countless times that God showed me how much He loved me. These miracle moments came in glorious sunrises and beautiful sunsets. They came in cool morning breezes full of birdsong. They came in the changing leaves, the first snow of Winter, and the hot Summer afternoons. They came in flowers, fireflies, and butterflies. They came in words I read and songs I heard. They came in quiet moments of silence, peace, and prayer. They came every day whether I noticed them or not. I just hope to spend the rest of my life taking them in, passing them on, and thanking God for them with all my heart.

Know that you are loved then. Know that you are loved eternally and unconditionally. Know that God loves you with a power beyond understanding. And know that you can love as well. If there is one thing greater than the joy of being loved, it is the joy of loving. Share your own love today. Love God. Love yourself. Love everyone else. Love life, this world, and all of your days in it. Love and be happy today, tomorrow, and always. ---------------

LOOK A LITTLE DEEPER

It was the middle of August and I was looking out on the first red leaves as Summer gave way to Fall here in the mountains of my home. I knew that soon the forests would be awash in glorious colors painted by God’s own hand. The yellow leaves would be shining like the sun above them. The golds would be gleaming like priceless jewels. The reds would be radiating joy to everyone who gazed upon them. The oranges would be blessing us with their beauty. The browns would be bringing us their earthy peace and wonderful smell. The burgundies would be hinting at the happiness all around us. And the wonderful combination leaves would be reminding us again of just how spectacular life can be.

As I gazed at my own reflection in the window I only wished that people could grow more colorful and beautiful as we aged too. At first my thinning, silver hair, sagging skin, and wrinkles all seemed to say no to this, but as I looked longer I began to think that maybe we could. As I saw the sparkle in my own eyes and light in my own smile I realized that perhaps God was just asking us all to look a little deeper beyond the surface and into our souls.

As I remembered all the people I knew in the last years of their lives almost all of them had a beautiful Autumn spirit about them. My Mom’s loving, joyous nature shone brighter than a forest of red and yellow Maples. My neighbor Kai had a golden goodness in her heart that touched the lives of everyone she met. My Nana and Dad were both as sturdy and earthy as Oak trees and they freely shared their peace and happiness with the world.

The next time that you look at your own self then, look a little deeper. Look beyond your face, clothes and body. Look into your heart and soul. See the love that is there, thank God for it, and share it with the world. Make your life here as bright and beautiful as an Autumn day. ---------------

I DON’T KNOW

Being an inspirational writer I get a lot of letters from readers asking a lot of questions that I can’t answer. I have learned a lot of things in this life, but there are many things I don’t know and may never know.

I don’t know why people have to die. I don’t know why a disease will take one person’s life and spare another’s. I don’t know how some people can rationalize hurting and humiliating others. I don’t know why some people start wars, crave power, and live in selfishness. I don’t know why children are starving when there is enough in this world for everyone. I don’t know why some people go through so much suffering in this life. I don’t know why we hate. I don’t know why we fear. I don’t know why we kill. I don’t know why we create so much pain, problems, and misery. I don’t know why we divide this wonderful world up into us and them. I don’t know why we choose to live in conflict instead of cooperation. I don’t know why we blind ourselves to the fact that we are all brothers and sisters.

There are, however, a few things that I do know. I know that God loves us. I know that our Heavenly Father wants us all to live as one family in this world. I know that love is stronger than hate. I know that faith drives out fear. I know that death is only a doorway. I know that pain can bring growth. I know that hardship can make wisdom. I know that while this life can be a struggle it is worth it. I know that a far greater life awaits us too; a life full of love, joy, and light. I know that Heaven isn’t just above us but also within us. I know that we can share our Heaven with every choice we make and everything we do. I know that when we LOVE we will have JOY. I may not know everything, but what I do know gives me hope for the future, for our world, and for us all. ---------------

COMPASSION

Compassion is such a wonderful thing. It is full of sympathy, empathy, love, goodness, kindness, and caring for others. We are all made by God to be people of compassion. Far too often, though, we fail the test. I myself have failed the compassion test more times than I care to remember. Yet, as I grow older and wiser I still strive daily to fill my soul with compassion and to share my compassion with everyone I can every chance I get.

I live in a poor area. Jobs are scarce and good paying jobs are even more scarce. Many people have to travel a long way to work but can’t even afford an old, used car. I saw one of these people yesterday. I was driving home when I spotted a man walking wearily down the road and trying to hitchhike a ride from the passing cars. The two cars in front of me passed him by and I almost did the same but God stirred the compassion in my soul and I pulled over to give him a ride.

We struck up a conversation as I drove along and I learned that the man was struggling to support his family while working a temporary job. Every penny he had was going to rent and food and I could see the strain on his face. But as I pulled up to the broken down rental house he was living in I saw his tired eyes grow brighter. His little girl was playing in the front yard and ran into her Daddy’s arms the second he was out of the car. I smiled, waved goodbye to them and said a prayer for their future happiness. Then I drove off thanking God for compassion, love, and the chance to do good in this world.

Compassion is one of the greatest gifts that God gives us. If we don’t use it, however, we lose it. Share your compassion often then. Make it grow. Let it shine. And always remember that compassion is contagious and you can be a carrier. ---------------

THUNDER

I have developed a love of thunder lately. Now, I am not talking about the kind that rumbles across the sky. I still prefer my rains to be gentle without noise, lightening, or high winds. The Thunder I am taking about isn’t a storm but rather a bundle of puppy energy.

Let me explain. A few weeks ago my daughter was looking through a local newspaper and saw pictures of dogs and cats up for adoption at an animal shelter. One dog in particular looked up from the paper and right into her heart. We soon found ourselves then at the shelter signing the papers to bring a new furry friend into our lives. My daughter named him, "Thunder" and he immediately brought "FUN" into our lives. He was a mixed breed and looked like an Australian Shepherd shrunk into a fifteen pound body. He also possessed the energy of a dozen Chihuahuas. We smiled every time we watched him zoom through the house chasing a tennis ball. We laughed as he wrestled and tried to herd our two beagles. And we melted into his love every time he leapt into our arms to be cuddled. Our little "Fun Fun" makes our home a happier one with his boundless zest, doggy smile, and frequent puppy kisses. Our newest kibble cruncher gives us his love freely and makes our hearts lighter with his presence. As fearless as he is in sharing his affection, though, "Thunder" is scared of one thing: thunder. The last lightening storm here sent him scurrying and trembling into my daughter’s arms.

I have often wondered why I have opened my heart to so many different dogs over the years. I’ve found that the answer is love. Our furry friends love us. They love us unconditionally. They give us a love that is pure and free. They show us how we all should love each other. They are one of God’s greatest gifts to us and we should cherish them always. That is why I thank God for giving us "Thunder" and will happily comfort him whatever storms may come. ---------------

MY INHERITANCE

I turned on the television as I made my breakfast this morning. The commentator was going on and on about a family’s bitter fight over a dead celebrity’s estate. I shook my head and turned off the TV. I went back to my breakfast and ate in silence. I thought of my own inheritance. Mom, Dad, and Nana are all in Heaven now. They didn’t leave me any mansions, millions, stock, bonds, planes, or yachts. What they left me was far more valuable.

My Nana left me a recipe for homemade spaghetti sauce that fills the stomach and comforts the soul. My Dad left me his short stature and thinning hair so I wouldn’t take my appearance too seriously. My Mom left me her slightly crooked chin, unique smile, and love of laughter. My Nana left me her hugs and kisses and the desire to share them often. My Dad left me his silent strength in the face of trouble so I could grow better during the hard times of life. My Mom left me her love of reading and the encouragement to write as well. All three of them gave me the gift of forgiveness when I messed up. They gave me their love and support to become who I wanted to be. They gave me a love of animals, an awe of nature, a reverence for life, and an appreciation of family. They all showed me too a courage and faith when facing death. They left me all this and so much more. A thousand books couldn’t contain it all. That is my inheritance and I wouldn’t trade it for a hundred billion dollars.

My Mom, Dad, and Nana also helped me to open my heart to an even greater inheritance, the inheritance that our Heavenly Father gives us all. We are all born with a heart made for loving, a soul built for kindness, and a mind designed for goodness. We are all called to share this inheritance too with everyone everywhere. God loves us all. We are all His Children. We are heirs to Heaven and we are here to bring Heaven to Earth. May we all do so. ---------------

YOUR LIGHT

The heat of the July afternoon had finally passed as I took my dogs out for their last walk of the day. The cooler air of the Summer evening felt so refreshing on my face. I breathed it in deep and gazed up at the magnificent full moon sitting alone, smiling down on me from the still blue sky. It was a moment of pure peace that was only made more perfect when I saw my old friends the fireflies in my backyard, doing their dance of love and light. There were hundreds of them. As one flew near, my beagle thought it would be a good snack and snapped at it. I quickly pulled back on her lease and the firefly escaped. The missed meal then flew up to my face, blinked a "thank you" and glided off. I watched it rejoin its friends with a smile and as they lit up the evening I pledged once again to do my best to share my own light in this world.

It hasn’t always been easy living up to that pledge. On many days I have felt like the "Splendid Torch" that George Bernard Shaw spoke of, burning bright with the light of love. Yet, at other times I have felt more like a little candle struggling to give out any light at all. After many years, though, I finally realized that even the smallest candle can make a sunny day brighter and even the tiniest firefly can light up the night.

As I bid my lightening bug buddies goodnight and went back into my house I remembered that God doesn’t ask any of us to light up the whole world. He just asks us to light up our own little corner of it. We all can spread joy and share love here. We all can give the light within us to the world around us. We all can add our little glow to the radiance of Heaven.

Take good care of your light then. Nurture it. Grow it. Fan its flames. Share it with others. Join it with the light of Heaven and the love of God. Use it to brighten the sunny days and illuminate the darkest nights. And always remember that your loving light is who you really are. ---------------

GRAND ADVENTURE

can see a lot of life in a small town grocery store. All you have to do is stand back, open your eyes, and watch it go by in all of its wonderful diversity. Just the other day I saw a young couple holding hands while they walked down the aisles. I saw two little girls begging their Mom for the more sugary cereal instead of the plain one to no avail. And I saw a serene, smiling, old man with more cans of dog food than people food in his shopping cart.

most delightful thing I saw, however, was when I got to the checkout line. I found myself behind a young mother with a cranky, two month old infant in her arms. As the baby fussed and the mother patiently patted a burp out of him a sweet old lady nearly ninety walked up to her and told her how beautiful her baby boy was. Then she said something that still makes me smile. "Take good care of him. He is just starting out on his Grand Adventure here!" Now I could tell by her stooped body and deeply lined face that this little old lady’s own adventure here had been full of not only love, laughter, and joy but also pain, loss, and heartache. Yet, she still saw it as a grand one.

I watched her slowly exit the store I saw in her a lesson for us all. All of our lives are full of peaks and valleys, ups and downs, twists and turns, triumphs and tragedies. All of our days are full of things both good and bad. Yet, we can have them all bring us closer to God. We can use them all to make us better and wiser Children of our Heavenly Father. We can embrace them all and make each day here an adventure if we choose.

e is full of wonderful diversity. It is full of pleasure, pain, learning, growth, happiness, heartache, love and loss. If we embrace it with all our hearts, though, it can be a Grand Adventure, and it can lead us to an even Greater Adventure in the life to come. ---------------

TRY AGAIN TOMORROW

I have been driving for over 30 years now but I can still remember my first time behind the wheel like it was yesterday. My Mom had driven our big, blue Plymouth to a narrow, deserted back road and parked it. The road was only one lane and had a wall built with old, river rocks along the side of it, but Mom knew there was little chance of meeting any traffic on it that day. With a smile she gave me the keys and switched seats with me. Then she told me to start the car, put it into drive, and gently push on the gas pedal. In my excitement, though, I miscalculated what gently meant. I pushed on the gas hard, the car sped forward, and before I could turn the wheel I heard the scraping of metal against the stone wall. I stopped the car and looked over at my Mom. Her face was pale and her hands were trembling. Slowly she opened her door and looked at the scratched paint along the side of the car. Then she walked quietly around the car to the driver’s side door. I kept waiting for her to yell at me but she just sighed and said, "Well, that’s enough for today. We’ll try again tomorrow."

As I look back on that day I am amazed at the amount of kindness and patience my Mom showed me then. I had terrified her, damaged her car, and probably added a thousand gray hairs to her head, yet she forgave me and continued to teach me how to drive. She gave me a wonderful example that day of the love and forgiveness that God has for us all.

In the years that followed I messed up many times in many ways. Often I didn’t feel worthy to be forgiven, but each time I could feel our Heavenly Father’s love around me and could hear my Mom’s gentle voice from Heaven saying, "We’ll try again tomorrow."

When you stumble and fall today then don’t stay down. Rise up and remember that God loves you. Rise up and share your own love once more. Rise up ready to try again tomorrow. ---------------

NOW

I haven’t worn a watch for a few years now and I must say I don’t miss it. I don’t miss the band rubbing the hair off my wrist. I don’t miss the heat rash it always gave me during the Summer. Most of all I don’t miss constantly checking it to see if I am late. Still, when a little girl walked up behind me in the store the other day and asked me what time it was I found my arm going up to my face and my eyes glancing down to my bare wrist. When I caught myself I just smiled, showed my empty wrist to the girl, and said, "Now!"

For a long time I missed out on the magical moment of NOW. Instead of enjoying it, I wasted my time playing two very destructive games. The first was called, "I’ll be happy when." In it I would make a list of things I had to have or accomplish in order to be happy. No matter how many of them I achieved, though, happiness never came. And for everyone I crossed off the list I added two more. The second game was called, "If I knew then what I know now." In it I would look back at the years I had already lived and regret the mistakes I had made in the past. I would also dream of living them over with my current wisdom, but since I knew I couldn’t go back in time I guess I wasn’t being very wise.

Finally, after God had given me more than a few taps on the shoulder and kicks in the butt I realized that I was wasting my precious NOW mourning the past and pining for the future. I saw too that if I wanted a great life and true joy I had to live and love today and let yesterday and tomorrow take care of themselves. They were, after all, just former and future nows.

When is the time to live? Now! When is the time to laugh? Now! When is the time to love? Now! When is the time to do good, help others, share joy, and serve God? Now! Now! Now! Don’t miss out on life then. Live each moment in the eternal, glorious NOW. ----------------

COINCIDENCE

I don’t believe in coincidence. I haven’t for a long time now. As I look back at all the trials, changes, and moments that have steered my life I can’t believe that they were all just coincidence. Too many times something has put me on a different path. Too many times a triumph or tragedy has helped to shape my soul. Too many times an unexpected event has moved me to grow into who I was meant to be. Far too much has happened for me to believe that anything other than the Loving Hand of God was responsible.

I got a letter in the mail today. It was from someone I didn’t know who had recently been sent a story that I wrote over ten years ago. That story had floated around the internet landing on different sites and being read on different computers. Finally, one person who saw it thought that it might appeal to a friend of his. His friend had no computer so he copied it out on his printer and mailed it to him. At that moment his friend was in a crisis that no one else knew about. He was questioning himself, God, and even if life was worth living.

Just at the right moment the letter arrived in his mailbox. He opened it up and saw the copy of my story. He read it and it spoke to his soul. He realized again that God loved him and that life was worth living. Then he sat down and wrote to his friend and to me. As I was reading his letter I could take no credit for helping him. God had given me those ideas and the words to share them over a decade ago. God had kept those words alive online. God had moved someone to share them at just the right time to change his friend’s life..

Now some people may say that this was all coincidence, but I know better. This and things like it happen every day to all of us. We are all connected. We are all part of a Divine, Loving Tapestry. Coincidence? There is no such thing. ---------------

A MOMENT OF KINDNESS

After all of these years I can still remember my first moment of kindness. It was the first day of Kindergarten. I walked in with my mom and was amazed at all the toys against the walls. It was like having my own tiny, toy store. I smiled and immediately ran over to them and started to play. Most of the other kids were doing the same while the parents talked to the teacher before the start of class. In the corner, though, I saw one girl sitting by herself. She was small and frail looking. She was the only one in the class shorter than me. Her red eyes looked like she had been crying. None of the other boys and girls seemed to notice her there.

I went back to playing with the toy cars but after a minute looked up at her again. She seemed so sad and alone. Something inside of my chest started to stir. I wasn’t sure what it was. Being the youngest in my family I had become a bit spoiled. My older brothers had always taken care of all the chores while I was free to play. It felt strange then to be thinking of someone other than myself, yet I couldn’t stop looking at that lonely, little girl. After a moment that stirring in my heart moved up to my mind and down to my feet. I picked up two of the toy cars and went over to her. "Do you want to play?", I asked. She smiled at me and shook her head yes.

What made me remember that first unselfish act was a letter that little girl wrote me after we were both grown. She told me how she had been sick all of her life and how her illness made the other kids avoid her. Then she told me how that moment of kindness had changed her life. She had cherished the friendship I had offered her and carried it in her heart even after she moved away. I wrote her back that very day and we continued our friendship through the mail for several years before the bad health that she had always fought finally took her life.

I was thinking of her again today and thanked God for stirring my selfish little heart that day and moving me to be kind to a little girl who needed a friend. I thought too of how a moment of kindness can mean so much to another. I thought of how a simple, selfless act can make the world so much better. I thought of how a little bit of love can move a heart, touch a soul, and change a life.

May all of your days be full of acts of kindness. May they be full of love, laughter, and smiles. May they be full of giving, caring, and helping. May they bring joy to you while you bring joy to others. And may you always move your feet when God stirs your soul. ---------------

A PIECE OF BREAD

I was sitting in my car in a convenience store parking lot nibbling on a biscuit that I had bought for lunch. The morning had been busy and full of errands and the afternoon looked like it would be even busier still. It was one of those days that we often get in modern life with too much to do and too little time to do it.

I had decided to take a five minute break then and eat my biscuit slowly instead of wolfing it down while I was driving. I had found that little breaks like that were essential to keeping my heart happy, my mind clear, and my soul at peace. I said a little prayer of thanksgiving to God for the food and beautiful day and watched the green leaves of the nearby trees dancing in the breeze. As I was taking another bite of biscuit I noticed a little bird flying from the trees to the parking lot looking for any crumbs it could find. It was so small and yet so beautiful. I watched it for a minute searching for food and then heard the gentle voice of my Heavenly Father in my heart and mind, "No act of sharing is ever insignificant in my sight," it said. I smiled when I heard this. Then I tore off a piece of my daily bread and tossed it to the bird. It hopped over, grabbed it with its beak and flew away.

I drove away laughing and spent the rest of the day with a little more joy in my heart. My sharing had done even more for me than it had for the bird. It had reunited me with myself. It had brought me closer to God. It had reminded me that in the busyness of our days here, it is our little acts of kindness and our little moments of love that are the most important things of all.

We are all put here to love. We are to love God. We are to love ourselves. We are to love everyone as ourselves. We are to love life. We are to love this world and all its creatures. No act of love is ever too small either. Even a piece of bread is priceless in the eyes of Heaven. ---------------

JULIE

The day we brought Julie home I knew that we were in for quite a ride. She was more than just a dog. She was a Pekinese-Poodle with personality to spare. Always the smallest dog in the house, she didn’t let that stop her from trying to run the show. She made me laugh the way she would stroll up to the dog food bowl and bark away a dog ten times her size. She never once begged, but she wasn’t afraid to ask for attention either. Too many times I would find my toes being tickled by her tongue until I finally moved her up to my lap or on to my desk.

Julie didn’t mind being petted but wouldn’t abide being carried around like a doll. The kids soon learned just how to treat her: with both love and respect. Julie loved a good dog treat and an enjoyable belly rub. When it came to haircuts and bathes, however, she wasn’t afraid to show her displeasure about them with a gentle growl or nip to your hand.

Julie had her bad habits too. She thought the kitty litter box was gourmet dining and in her later years tended to use the bathroom on my floor just as I was getting her leased to go outside. Despite her faults, though, she still loved everyone who came her way and delighted in each new day God gave her here.

Julie lived on and on while some of my younger dogs passed away over the years, but her health slowly got worse and worse. She lost weight and had trouble walking. She became both blind and deaf and we had to look for her favorite napping places when it was time to walk her. Sometimes she would sleep so deeply that I would be afraid that she had finally passed away. Yet, she always lifted her head when I gently touched her old, frail body. That is until last night.

Julie died in her sleep after living well over 100 in dog years. She had brought us so much laughter and given us so much love. She had shown us how to handle a body’s gradual decline with dignity and grace. She had reminded us how to cherish every moment that life gives us in this world. She had made a home in our hearts that will last forever.

I buried Julie in the woods behind my home with wet eyes and a hurting heart. I asked myself too why I have taken so many dogs into my life over the years when the pain of losing them is so great. As I was walking home remembering Julie, God gave me the answer: "The love is always greater than the pain."

Thank you dear God for giving me Julie. I will miss the old girl. I will try my best to honor her memory too by cherishing every moment, delighting in each day, and loving everyone who comes my way. ---------------

INTERESTING TRAVELS

The curvy, rugged roads here in the mountains of my home can make for some very interesting travels at times. In the last few weeks I have had my nostrils stung when the smell of a squashed skunk got sucked through the open windows of my car. I have screeched to a stop to let a group of whitetail deer cross the road. I have swerved to miss a wandering dog who was paying more attention to his nose than his eyes. I have run over an already dead opossum who didn’t quite make it across the road during a midnight stroll. I have played more than a few games of miss the tire punching potholes that seem to be everywhere. And I have spent way too many minutes inhaling exhaust fumes, waiting in line while repair crews replaced those potholes with little patches of pavement.

I have also, however, happily watched the bare trees fill up with light green leaves as Spring arrived. I have observed the gravely roadsides grow golden with a million blooming dandelions as the Earth itself seemed to come back to life again. I have seen the schoolyard playgrounds fill with children and heard their joyous laughter as the warm, May sunshine arrived. I have seen people having yard sales, taking walks, and sharing smiles with their neighbors after a long Winter shut up in their homes.

Life too is full of interesting travels that can be both difficult and joyous. Life is certainly full of potholes, pains, troubles, and strife. Yet, it is also full of giving, growth, learning, and love. Perhaps the secret is to enjoy the ride, to thank God for it, and to use it all to become better, stronger, and happier. Perhaps the secret is to give a loving lift to others along the way. Perhaps the secret is to know that our interesting travels will one day lead us home again to a place where the light is always on and loving arms await us. ---------------

WHAT ARE YOU GIVING TO LIFE

One of my favorite stories comes from the life of teacher and author, Leo Buscaglia. When Leo was a college professor he used to require that every student come and visit him in his office so he could get to know them on a more personal level. When they arrived he would ask them about their hopes, dreams, plans, and life. More often than not, however, the students would have nothing but complaints about college, relationships, and their lives in general. One day a particularly negative, female student whined and complained to Leo for what seemed like hours. Finally, she said, "I am just not sure what I want out of life."

At this point the usually calm and happy Leo could take no more. He lost his temper and yelled, "What do you want out of life? What the hell are you giving to life?" This led to a long discussion that helped the girl to finally see past her selfishness and misery and to realize what life is really all about.

When I first read that story I saw myself in it and not in a good way. Like that girl I was always complaining about what life had given me and was always demanding that life give me something better. Like a selfish toddler I was throwing a tantrum at God because I hadn’t gotten what I believed I needed and deserved.

It took me a long time to realize that the true joy in life comes not from what you get but from what you give. When you give to life you receive back so much in return. Every bit of love you give to others brings even more love into your heart. Every smile you share makes your soul smile as well. Every tiny act of kindness you do makes the Earth feel more like Heaven. Life, after all, isn’t here to give you what you want. You are here to give life what it needs. Like Leo, himself once said, "Life is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to God." ----------------

PUTTING ON MY GLASSES

I was in the middle of a delightful dream last night when suddenly a loud CRASH startled me awake. The dogs in my bedroom all started to bark loudly. With my heart pounding I stumbled out of my bed and stubbed my toe on the dresser. I yelped and hopped on one foot as I fearfully opened my bedroom door. A dark form flashed by me and banged into the bedroom door. I jumped back, tripped over my smallest dog, and fell back onto my bed. Then I finally woke up enough to realize that I needed my glasses. I put them on, turned on the light, and walked into the hall again. The dark form turned out to be my grey cat. She had gotten into another midnight wrestling match with her sister and had knocked over a dining room chair. I shook my head and then hopped back to the bed. I sat down, smiled, and thanked God for keeping me safe from things that go bump in the night. Then I took off my glasses and went back to sleep.

Some people have said that I go through life wearing rose colored glasses, but in truth the lenses I wear in my soul help me to see everything clearly. I see all the problems, pains, tragedies, and troubles in this life, but I see them without the blurriness of fear. I can see that this is God’s world, that His love is all around us, and that in the end all things will work out for our good if we only trust Him. This helps me go forth everyday to do my part, to share my love, to give my gifts, and to make this world better with my life.

Living your life in fear is like going through life half blind. Everything seems blurrier, scarier and more ominous than it really is. When you realize that God loves you and that you can love as well, however, it is like putting on a new pair of badly needed glasses. Everything becomes clear and you get 20/20 vision for your soul. Don’t stumble through your life in fear then. Put on your glasses and enjoy this wonderful life that God has given you. ---------------

WHAT WONDERS

There comes a day in the mountains of my home when I can finally say that Spring is here to stay. That day was today. April was getting ready to give way to May. A rain the day before had made the air so fresh that I could feel my lungs expand joyfully with each new breath. The sunshine had chased the clouds away and seemingly over night a million little dandelions had appeared to reflect its yellow light. Butterflies and bumblebees were bouncing from flower to flower collecting food and giving back beauty and delight. Woodpeckers were knocking out their own drumbeat in the woods beyond the meadow behind my house. A Mother Robin had returned to rebuild her nest in a nearby Maple. Dozens of different birdsongs were filling the air and when I looked skyward I could see a Hawk gliding gracefully on the wind high above my head. In the distance I could see a little girl running and laughing while a playful puppy chased behind her.

I stayed outside walking my dogs for a long time, rejoicing in the day and laughing as my dogs barked and barked at two rabbits before the bunnies finally bounced away. I thought about the wonders of this world, its endless beauty, and the intricate complexity of it all. Then I said to myself, "If God could work such wonders in His glorious creation then what wonders could He work in our hearts if we only let Him?" Perhaps we could finally love freely, openly, and fearlessly. Perhaps we could finally create a world where no child ever went hungry, where war was a distant memory, and where each generation felt more loved than the last. Perhaps we could finally succeed in bringing a whole lot of Heaven down here to Earth.

Keep your hearts open to God then. Be as willing as a Spring day to accept His love, joy, and light. Let God work wonders in you and through you today, tomorrow, and forever. ---------------

RING A BELL

I love the sound of ringing bells. The sweet music of church bells always brings a sense of peace to my soul. One of my favorite Christmas carols too is the Carol of the Bells. Even when I was a boy in 4-H camp I loved listening to the wonderful ringing of an old bell on a pole that would call us all to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I had a dream recently. I was walking alone in a beautiful meadow full of green trees and colorful flowers. The sun was shining bright in the sky and everything around me seemed to glow with light. As I reached the middle of the meadow I saw that old bell pole from 4-H camp. I laughed with delight, grabbed its rope and gave it a pull. The ringing was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. Then as I let go of the rope I saw my Mom, Dad, Nana, and all of my friends and family who had passed from this world walking towards me. Their smiles were contagious. Their joy was infectious. Their love was unconditional. I could feel it all vibrating in my spirit. I knew that I was home. I reached out my arms to hug them all. Then just as I was about to speak to them I felt my dog’s wet nose on my hand, opened my eyes, and found myself back in this world again.

I couldn’t be mad at my dog. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stay there much longer anyway. I still had more to do here. I was grateful, though, for the little glimpse of Heaven I got that day. I knew too that the sound of ringing bells would always be even richer from now on.

I think that perhaps we are all bell ringers in this world. Every kind thing we do, every helping hand we offer, every bit of love we share rings a bell that God and all of Heaven can hear. Ring your bell well then. Ring it loudly. Ring it often. Ring it with all the strength of your soul and love of your heart. ---------------

SHARING A LITTLE LOVE

It had been a long, hour and a half drive to the Veteran’s hospital. My brother and I had gone to visit my Dad who had been admitted days earlier, weak, sick, and confused. The doctor had diagnosed pneumonia and found cancer cells on his brain. My Dad looked so sad lying there in bed. It wasn’t just the illness that was getting to him. It was also being so far away from his family and friends.

As I sat by his bed a little woman with a big smile walked into his room. She was eighty years old if she was a day but seemed to have the vitality of someone sixty years younger. She was a volunteer delivering handmade get well cards from the local elementary school. Gently, she took my Dad’s hand and thanked him for his service to our country. It was the first time since he got sick that I saw my Dad smile. I followed her into the hallway as she left and thanked her for lifting my Dad’s spirits. "I am just sharing a little love, sweetie", she said with a smile as she walked into the next patient’s room to share a little more.

That eighty year old angel reminded me again of what is essential in this life: sharing our love. When we share our love we create joy not only in the hearts of those around us, but in our own hearts as well. When we share our love we find ourselves doing what we were always meant to do. When we share our love we make our souls lighter, our lives brighter, and the world better.

Sharing love is scared, precious, and holy. Sharing love does the work of God. Sharing love makes the Earth feel more like Heaven. May you share a little love every single day of your life. May you share it with a smile on your face and a smile in your heart. May you make that love your gift to God, your gift to others, and your gift to yourself. ---------------

THE FACE OF LOVE

There is a wonderful, old story about the great Leonardo Da Vinci that I love. When Leonardo was painting the Last Supper it took him several years to complete it. He had decided to use live models for Christ and each of the twelve Apostles. He chose the model for Jesus first when he found a man whose face radiated both beauty and unconditional love. As the years went on Leonardo completed each of the Apostles except for Judas Iscariot. Finally, he found a man whose face seemed full of avarice, viciousness, deceit, and hypocrisy. After he finished painting the man as Judas, the man asked if Leonardo knew who he was. When Leonardo said no, the man replied, "I am the same man you painted years ago as the figure of Christ."

Now while this story is almost certainly fiction it does reveal a spiritual truth. No matter how old or young we are, the appearance of our faces can often show the condition of our souls. I have seen rugged, scarred, weather-beaten faces that when they smiled still shown with the beauty of angels. I have also seen young, wrinkle free faces with eyes as cold as ice and bitter smiles full of both fear and hate.

The good news, however, is that it is never too late to change your face, your heart, and your life. It is never too late to fill your soul with love and let it shine through your eyes and actions. It is never too late to turn your anger creases into laugh lines.

I only hope that my own face no matter how old or wrinkled it gets is always the face of love. I hope it is a face of kindness, goodness, gentleness, helpfulness, hopefulness, and joyfulness. I hope it is a reflection of God’s love for us all. May your own life always sparkle with goodness and God. May your eyes always shine with the light of joy. And may everyone who looks at you always see a face full of love. ---------------

YOUR JOB

God definitely has a sense of humor. As a writer I know this because He always gives me the deepest, most profound, and touching insights when I am far away from anything that I can write them down on. I think He must smile while I strive to keep them straight in my aging brain until I can put them on paper. Perhaps this is the way He makes sure that they settle into my soul as well.

This happened to me again today. I was driving my car miles from home. The sky was clear and the shining sun bathed the hillsides in light. It was so beautiful that I started to think of this wonderful world we all live in. What kind of place would this world be if there was no fear? What kind of place would this world be if there was no selfishness? What kind of place would this world be if we all could just love each other unconditionally? There would be no war. There would be no hunger. There would be no hatred. We would all care for each other. We would all help each other. We would all work together. The world would be alive with the sound of children playing, friends laughing, and people singing. What a glorious place this world would be then.

Suddenly, I heard the laughing voice of God in my heart and mind. It said, "such a place does exist my child. It is called Heaven. It is your job, though, to help bring Heaven down here to Earth."

I drove home keeping those words alive in my soul where they will stay forever. As soon as I could I sat down to share them with you as well. May you always live fearlessly. May you always live selflessly. May you always live lovingly. May you always strive to do your job well and bring a little more Heaven down here to Earth every single day. ---------------

LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

I walked into the living room and turned on the radio early this morning. The old rock song, "Life in the Fast Lane" blared loudly out of the speakers because my son had left the volume turned up too high again. Startled, I jumped back then reached over and turned the radio back off again. "I think I prefer life in the slow lane," I said to myself.

I really do prefer life in the slow lane. I decided long ago to let the Jones keep up with themselves. Instead, I prefer taking the time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. I enjoy taking the time to watch the sun climb over the mountains in the morning and I am never in too much of a rush to say "Thank You" to God for it either. I enjoy taking the time to sip my coffee and savor every bite of my breakfast. I enjoy taking the time to pray in the morning and all through the day. I’ve found that life goes best when you fill both your stomach and your soul. I enjoy taking the time to hug my children, talk to my friends, write letters to my family, and share smiles with strangers. I enjoy taking the time to say a kind word, do a good deed, and offer a helping hand. I’ve found that these investments in love make our hearts grow rich and our souls grow strong. I enjoy taking the time to read a good book to nourish my mind, cook a fine meal to nourish my body, and pet a happy dog to nourish my spirit. I enjoy taking the time to count my blessings and to make new ones as well.

Why do so many of us live our lives in the fast lane on a road to nowhere? It is the slow lane that leads us to love, to joy, and to God. Slow down and enjoy your life then. Slow down and smile. Slow down and live, laugh, and love. You can’t hurry your way to Heaven. You have to let God lead you there one slow and steady step at a time. ---------------

SPRINGTIME IN OUR SOULS

When Springtime finally comes to the mountains of my home the days feel like a preview of paradise. Spectacular sunshine arrives to bath the woodlands in its golden glow, and there is hour after hour of lovely light. The temperatures rise and wrap everything in their wonderful warmth. Winter coats are tossed aside for t-shirts, and children laugh and play outside. Red, pink, and purple tulips start to appear in people’s yards while yellow dandelions and buttercups pop their heads up in the meadows. Apple, Cherry, and Dogwood trees start to blossom and fill the air with their delightful fragrance. I can hear the Woodpeckers pounding out a beat on an old Oak and see a Robin building her nest with the skill of an engineer. The sounds of singing birds are everywhere and there are more love songs coming from the trees than from the radio. The dormant grass suddenly starts to turn green again, and my Beagle strains at her lease whenever she spots an Easter bunny munching on it.

When I walk outside on days like these my heart feels light, my soul shines bright, and life seems to hold the hope and promise of endless growth and unlimited love. Often I think to myself on my Springtime strolls that, "It is a shame that Spring only comes once a year."

The good news, however, is that Spring can come every single day in our souls. It can come on the coldest Winter’s night and the hottest Summer’s day. Everyday we can decide to love God, life, ourselves, and everyone else. Everyday we can strive to live in the light. Everyday we can do our best to grow in goodness and oneness with God.

There is an old saying that goes, "In Heaven it is always Springtime." The same can be true for our hearts and souls as well. God loves us and want us to forever live in the Springtime of our souls. May we always choose to do so. ---------------

POTHOLES

I found myself driving the curvy road near my home slower than usual this morning. My eyes were open as wide as I could get them and I was scanning the road as intently as I could. I was swerving my car to the left and to the right. No, I wasn’t drunk, sick, or sleepy. I was just trying to miss all of the potholes. An especially brutal Winter had produced a bumper crop of them this year.

As I rounded a curve I saw one that I couldn’t miss. I hit it with a jarring thud and in a moment of anger one of those words I try never to use anymore slipped out of my mouth. I shook my head and slowed down even more. As I rounded another curve I saw a man in the road and slowed to a stop. He was directing traffic while his work crew was throwing shovels of asphalt into the worst of the potholes. I smiled at them all and gave them a little wave as I drove on. I knew that their patch job wouldn’t last for long but was grateful that it was at least making the road a bit smoother for now.

As we all travel down the road of life we can’t help but see that in places it is full of potholes. Pains and problems, difficulties and troubles, challenges and obstacles, sickness and death all lie along that rough road. There is no way to ignore them. There is no way to avoid them. There is no way to travel around them. What we are left with then is a choice. We can curse their existence and rail at God and life or we can take a shovel full of kindness, a shovel full of joy, and a shovel full of love and do our best to fill them in. We can work and pray and have faith that we are making the road a little less rough for those who follow us. And we can remember that while God didn’t promise us a smooth road in this life He did promise to help us to smooth the road ourselves, one pothole at a time. ---------------

ONE CHOICE AT A TIME

My dad left me a treasure when he died. It wasn’t a mansion or a car. It wasn’t cash or gold. It wasn’t bonds or bank accounts. In the eyes of the world my Dad died a poor man. He was a simple mechanic who worked hard to support his family. My Dad’s treasure rather was in a thousand wonderful memories that he gave me over the course of his life.

One particular one stands out in my mind today. I was just a boy playing in the backyard of a friend’s house while my Dad spent the afternoon under the hood of her beat up old car trying to get it running again. It seemed to take hours and I wasn’t sure he could bring the ancient auto back to life again this time. At long last, though, he closed the hood and turned the key in the ignition. There was a sweet smile of satisfaction on his face as the engine purred. There was a twinkle of joy in his eye when he shook his head and refused to accept anything for his work. And there was a quiet hum of happiness in his voice as we drove back home that day. This memory made a home in my heart and became a priceless pearl for my soul to cherish.

Time and time again my Dad showed me that a good life, a kind life, a giving life, and a Heavenly life was created one choice at a time. Not all of his choices were the right ones, but most of them were. He did the best he could. He lived the best he could. And he helped to bring out the best in me too. As I look back into that treasure trove of memories my Dad left me, I realize that each one of them inspired me to live and to love: one choice at a time.

How do you build a better world: one choice at a time. How do you live a loving life: one choice at a time. How do you make Earth more like Heaven: one choice at a time. May all of your choices be driven by love, inspired by joy, and guided by God. And may all of your choices bring memories of happiness to those around you. ---------------

THE BEST MEAL I EVER HAD

"What was the most delicious meal you ever had?" That was the question in an online survey that popped up on my screen the other day. I moved my mouse over and clicked out of the survey, but the question stayed with me. As I thought about it only one answer came to my mind: Ramen noodles.

It happened years ago during Hurricane Sandy when 3 feet of wet, heavy snow hit the mountains of my home. Trees were snapped, power lines were down, and my children and I were stuck in the house bundled up in coats and shivering in the cold. We had no heat, no lights, no television, no telephone, and no internet. The meat in the freezer had already gone bad and any food that wasn’t spoiled had already been eaten. All the stores were closed due to the storm too. I felt shaky from not eating and when I looked in my youngest son’s eyes I could see how hungry he was as well.

Thankfully, though, I still had several bags of Ramen noodles. Taking them and an old pot I walked over to my Dad’s house. He had lost power too but still had his propane grill to cook with. I set the noodles simmering on the eye of it and watched them slowly boil. Trudging back through the snow I held the pot gingerly. Then I poured myself, daughter and sons each a big bowl of them. They were so delicious. We ate and ate until our hunger faded and then sat around the table and smiled at each other. It was the best meal I ever had. We all felt so happy at that moment and our joy only grew greater when the power came back on later that night.

I learned something special too from that meal. I learned that the greatest happiness comes from a grateful heart. Since then I have been more and more thankful to God for every blessing in my life. I thank Him for every sunny day, every meal, every smile, and every bird singing in the trees. I thank Him for my heat, lights, and all the modern conveniences we too often take for granted. I thank Him for each new day he gives me here to live, to learn, and to love. I thank Him for His love. And I thank Him too for every adversity and challenge that comes my way, because I have learned to use them as well to grow stronger, better, and kinder.

May your best meal always be the one you are eating right now. May the best you always be the person you are right now. And may you always live with a grateful heart full of love, joy, and God. ---------------

IN AND OUT

It was my freshman year of college and I was sleeping in my bed after a long day full of taking tests. Suddenly, a loud knock woke me from my dreams. Wondering who could be knocking so late at night, I stumbled out of bed, turned on the light, and opened the door. It was my best friend and roommate. The girl he was dating had just broken his heart and he had attempted to drown his sorrows with 13 Whiskey Sours. While his sorrows were still swimming along fine his mind and body weren’t doing so well. He hadn’t even been able to get his key into our door lock. I took him in my arms and walked him over to the bunk beds. His was the top bunk so it took a lot of pushing on my part to help him get in it. After about ten minutes, though, I was helping him off of it again and walking him to the bathroom because he felt like he was going to be sick. He didn’t throw up in the toilet, however. Instead he threw up on his bed as soon as I had helped him back into it. I shook my head, stripped his sheets, and helped him back into bed for a third time. Then I laughed quietly while he groaned himself to sleep.

My best friend recovered from that night. He went on to a fine career in the army, married, and raised two children. He is a grandfather now. Yet, I will never forget the lesson that he taught me then. He showed me that the poisons we put in ourselves will always come back out in the worst ways imaginable.

Since then I have tried my best to avoid taking in the poisons of this world. I have stayed clear not only of drugs and alcohol but also hate and fear. I have instead tried to keep my heart full of love, full of laughter, full of joy, and full of God. I have done so because these are the things I want to share. These are the things I want to flow from my soul. These are the things I want to bless others with as well. May you always take in only the best and give out only your best. ---------------

THROUGH THE VEIL

My two sons have Autism. It makes life difficult for them on even the best days. The condition is insidious. It hurts them and chains them in so many ways. Even though they are both full grown neither of them will ever be able to live on their own. Autism hampers their learning. It strangles their communication. It limits their interests. It traps them in their own minds. Autism makes them overly sensitive to touch and sounds. It binds them to their routines. It makes any change feel like the end of the world. Autism causes them obsessions and compulsions. It makes their moods rise and fall like a roller coaster. It causes them stress and makes it so hard for them to find peace. Autism fills them with fear and frustration. What I take for granted they never can. Life for them is one endless mountain to climb. Often daily living feels so painful and out of control for them that they even hurt themselves. Autism forces them to go through their days wearing a heavy veil that obscures their minds and limits their lives. My heart aches too, knowing that I cannot take this burden from them.

There are times everyday, however, times that touch my heart, times that bring me such joy when my boys’ spirits push through the veil and I see their love and light shining bright. One of these times happened today after a morning full of difficulties. I was just starting dinner when I heard, "Daddy!" behind me and turned from the stove to see my youngest son smiling at me with his sparkling eyes. I stepped forward and gave him a hug. He laughed and rested his chin on my shoulder just as he had when he was a baby. Then I saw my oldest son walk into the room. He smiled too and said, "I love you, Dad." He leaned his head forward and I kissed the top of it. I smiled back at him and said, "I love you too, son." Then I held them both in my arms and thanked God again for giving them to me.

Seeing my two sons shine through the veil of Autism reminds me everyday to do my best to shine as well. Everyday I strive to follow my boys’ example. Everyday I try to love more, to live better, and to bring some light into this often dark world. Everyday I seek to help others to do the same.

My prayer for all of you is that you shine as well, that you love as well, and that you live a life that makes God and the angels smile. Let no challenge chain you then. Let no obstacle stop you. Let no veil obscure your light. Let nothing keep you from being the Child of God that you are called to be. ---------------

THE LONGEST WINTER

It has been the longest Winter this year. First came the weeks of the polar vortex accompanied by record breaking, below zero temperatures, frozen water pipes, and wind chills that cut into your bones like an icy knife. Next came the snowstorms one after another burying our cars, driveways, and homes under several feet of wet, heavy, snow. Day after day I spent my time shivering and shoveling with an aching back and frozen feet. Even those "Winter break" days of forty degree temperatures and sunshine were few and far between. Instead it was week after week of clouds, cold, gray, and gloom.

It wasn’t any of these things, however, that made it such a long Winter for me. It was something else entirely. This was the first Winter I had ever spent without my Dad. My Dad had always been a rock of support for me in this life. It was his amazing resilience that kept the family together when my Mom died during another cold, dark Winter 22 years ago. It was his kindness, and gentle, good-humor that lifted my spirits when his own Mom, my Nana passed away years later. My short, stocky Dad was always a tower of strength that handled everything that life threw at him. When cancer finally took him from us last fall, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t feel ready to face this world without him.

In this longest of Winters, though, I found myself depending more than ever on another Father, a Heavenly one. It was God’s love that saw me through. It was God’s love that helped me to grow, to learn, and to discover the strength that I never knew I had. It was God’s love that healed my heart, touched my soul, and made me determined to make this world a better place before I leave it. I know too that when I do depart I will see Dad, Mom, and Nana again in a place where it is always warm and forever Springtime. ---------------

HAPPY IN THIS LIFE

"How can you be happy in this life?" That was the question at the end of the letter. It was sent by a troubled, young woman who had read another of my stories on the internet. She had written about how she had tried all the ways popular in this world to find happiness. She had spent money, gambled, had casual sex, and tried both drugs and alcohol. All of it had only left her with pain in her heart and longing in her soul.

I answered her simply and honestly with these words. I am happy when I watch the birds flying towards the setting sun and thank God for the day. I am happy when I pet a purring cat or a devoted dog. I am happy when I eat a simple, healthy, home cooked meal. I am happy when I hear an uplifting song and sing along. I am happy when I read a story that touches my heart. I am happy when I share a smile and find it returned. I am happy when I walk my dogs on a starry night and find the man in the moon smiling down on me. I am happy when I hear the birds singing in the trees on the first day of Spring. I am happy when I see a butterfly floating by my head or feasting on a dandelion. I am happy when I sip a glass of iced tea on a hot Summer’s day. I am happy when I breath in the fresh, clean air after a soaking rainfall. I am happy when I smell the Cherry blossoms on the trees in the Spring and the freshly fallen leaves in the Fall. I am happy when I hug my daughter and hear my sons’ laughter. I am happy when I do a simple act of kindness that helps another. I am happy when I share a kind word and I am happy when I receive one. I am happy when I see the goodness in other people, when I see their happiness shining in their faces, and when I help to bring that goodness and happiness out of them.

Most of all I am happy when I love. I am happy when I welcome God’s love into my heart and share my love with Him in return. I am happy when I love myself and when I love everyone as myself. You see, when you love you will truly be happy in this life, and when you love you will build an eternal happiness in the next. Then I wished her happiness just as I am wishing you now. May all of your days be full of love and full of joy. ---------------

WARM ON THE INSIDE

It was the latest of a series of arctic blasts that had made for a brutal Winter here in the mountains of my home. I woke up shivering and shook my head as I saw the frozen ice patterns on the inside of my windows. After a hot breakfast I bundled up to go down and warm up my car before driving out. The house door opened with a loud crack as the ice broke on the door knob. I stepped out into the deathly quiet of the bitter, morning air. Almost instantly I could feel the hairs in my nose freeze. As I walked down to my car the wind started to blow and I braced myself against it. It felt like being hit. The pain from the wind chill was incredible. My bones ached from it. I wiggled my toes to keep the feeling in them. Even breathing in the crushingly cold air made my lungs hurt. I turned on my car and the thermostat inside it read eleven degrees below zero. I started scraping the ice and snow off the car windows and wondered again how long it would be until Spring arrived. Finally, I climbed into the car and looked at my frosty mustache in the mirror. It looked so ridiculous that I laughed out loud. "Well, at least I am not cold on the inside," I said to myself.

You see, over the years I had learned that there are a lot worse things than being cold on the outside. Being cold in your heart, frozen in your soul, and isolated from God and love were far worse than having chattering teeth on a January morning. I thanked Heaven again that I had finally learned to invite God’s love into my heart. I knew that no matter how cold this world could be at times that I could always count on that love to keep me warm.

May your own heart always burn bright with the fire of God’s love. May your spirit shine with its light. May you share your love too with everyone around you. And may you always make this world a warmer place just by being in it. ---------------

THERE IS NO APP FOR THAT

There was a new commercial on television the other day doing its best to sell the newest smart phone on the market. It made it sound like you could solve all of your problems if you just bought this device with its countless functions and applications. After it was over I looked down at my simple flip phone that I used mainly as a pocket watch and sometimes to call my daughter. Then I smiled and slipped it back in my pocket. I didn’t want that fancy new phone. I knew there were no apps for the things that were truly important in my life.

Apps can’t give you a child’s love. They can’t give you a dog’s loyalty. They can’t give you God’s grace. Apps can’t give you a hug. They can’t share a smile. They can’t kiss your cheek. Apps can’t hold your hand. They can’t share your troubles. They can’t touch your heart. Apps’ eyes don’t twinkle when they tell a story. They don’t laugh at a good joke. They can’t sing when the spirit moves them. Apps can’t breath in the cold, fresh air on a Winter’s morning. They can’t watch the sunset over the mountains. They can’t count the stars at night. Apps can’t make you a home cooked meal. They can’t smell a Spring flower. They can’t hear birdsong in the trees. Apps don’t do acts of kindness. They can’t share moments of joy. They can’t spread love to another’s heart. Apps can’t thank Heaven for a new day. They can’t pray. They can’t connect you to God, His love, and His light.

A new study, in fact, says that cell phones can actually drain our daily happiness from us. Perhaps it is because they distract us from what truly makes us happy. Don’t be afraid then to turn them off once in a while. Take the time to watch a sunset, pet a dog, and pray. God didn’t put us here to stare at a screen all day long. God put us here to live, to laugh, and to love. God put us here to help each other, to be happy together, and to make Earth more like Heaven. ---------------

IF I KNEW THEN

My daughter was leafing through some old photo albums the other day when she laughed and pulled out an old picture to show me. There I was a skinny 12 year old with thick, bushy, brown hair. I looked down at the picture and smiled. Only one thought was on my mind: "If only I knew then what I know now."

If I knew then what I know now: I would have slept in less and watched the sunrise more. I would have went barefoot in the grass earlier in the Spring and later in the Fall. I would have ate Nana’s Sunday dinners more slowly, savoring every bite. I would have read more books and watched less TV. I would have played fetch with my dog every time he wanted to. I would have paid less attention to how I looked and more attention to how I treated those around me.

If I knew then what I know now: I would have hugged my Mom and Nana everyday and told them how much I loved them. I would have listened better when my Dad told me stories of his youth. I would have argued less with my brothers. I would have been kinder to that little girl in school who liked me so much. I would have rejoiced in the joys of each new day and not worried about the problems of tomorrow.

If I knew then what I know now: I would have danced more, laughed more, and sang more no matter who was watching. I would have not cared a bit what other people thought of me. I would have cared a whole lot more, however, about what God thought of me. I would have been fearless in showing my love, sharing my joy, and living my life.

Sadly, I didn’t know then what I know now. None of us do. All we can do is continue to learn, to grow, and to love. All we can do is make our future better than our past. All we can do is our best and hope it makes God and the angels smile. ---------------

SMILES

It happened to me again the other day. I was shopping for groceries in a local store getting stocked up for the next Winter storm that was coming. Apparently everyone else had that idea as well, because the store was far more crowded than usual. Every aisle I pushed my shopping cart down was an obstacle course full of carts and people. I said, "excuse me" over and over as I zig zagged through them throwing oatmeal, cereal, rice, milk, and dozens of other things in my cart. Each time I passed another person, though, instead of a stressful or annoyed look I was blessed with the warmest of smiles. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening until I pushed my cart by a woman with mirrored sunglasses and saw my own smile reflecting in them. I had been sharing smiles again without even knowing it.

In all the years of my life here in this world I have never seen an ugly smile. Every genuine smile seems to throw open the windows of our souls and allow our light and love to shine through. A good smile isn’t just showing the teeth either. It travels up the face like a wave of joy, lifting our cheeks, raising our eyebrows, softening our expression, and making our eyes sparkle. It is priceless and yet doesn’t cost us anything to share. It warms our hearts, lightens our loads, and strengthens our souls. A good smile is contagious too. The more you pass it on, the more you get it back whether you are aware of it or not. A good smile is eternal as well. Every single smile you share here on Earth will follow you to Heaven.

May all of your days be full of smiles. May you give them freely, openly, and happily expecting nothing in return. May you use them to brighten another’s day and find your own brightened as well. May your smiles share your love, your light, and your soul with everyone you meet and allow God’s love and light to live through you always. ---------------

KNOWING YOU ARE LOVED

As a boy I was always small for my age. I was also five years younger than one of my brothers and seven years younger than the other. As a result I often felt left out when their friends came over to play. I was either too small or too young for whatever they were doing and they didn’t want their younger brother listening in on their conversations either. More often than not I found myself outside playing alone and feeling forgotten.

I remember one Spring afternoon feeling especially lonely as I sat in the yard behind our house. We lived miles from town and I rarely saw my own friends outside of school. I heard my brothers laughing from inside the house and felt a single tear coming down my cheek. At that moment I saw a large, shaggy, brown dog walking over to me. His face was panting happily and his tail was wagging as well. Even though he didn’t know me he greeted me like a long lost friend, licking my chin and sitting beside me on the Spring grass. It must have been at least an hour that I petted and talked to this four-legged angel. He let me pour out all my troubles and share my deepest thoughts before he kissed my cheek goodbye and ambled off either to Heaven or his home. I went back inside feeling happy, knowing that no matter what life may hold I was loved. Now over 40 years later I still remember that furry angel with a smile. I believe that God sent him in that moment of sadness to remind me just how much He loved me.

In truth, nothing brings us greater joy than knowing we are loved. Knowing we are loved gives us the strength to love others as well. Knowing we are loved helps us to be the people God meant for us to be. Knowing we are loved aids us in making Earth more like Heaven. Remember then just how much God loves you. Embrace that love. Take joy in it. Welcome it into your heart. And then go out and share your own love with the world. ---------------

NEVER TOO OLD TO BE YOUNG AGAIN

An early morning winter storm had dumped several inches of snow here in the mountains of my home. Schools were cancelled, roads were treacherous, and all I wanted to do was stay in bed. Still, I knew I had to get the day started so I bundled up and walked outside. The snow was over my shoes. The cold wind was chapping my lips. My 47 year old back ached in anticipation of the shoveling I would have to do if the snow didn’t stop soon.

Yet, when I looked out on the crystal blanket that covered the ground I couldn’t help but smile a bit. It was so beautiful. It softened the bare trees and hid the dead grass. In the distance I could hear the sound of the snow plow on the road, the barking of a happy dog, and the laughter of children playing outside, enjoying their day off from school.

The sweet music of that laughter brought back a hundred memories of Winters past. I remembered catching snowflakes on my tongue, building snowmen, making snow angels, sledding down hills, and always losing the snowball fights with first my brothers and then my own children. Standing there in that warm coat of remembering made the wind a little less cold and my back a little less sore. I turned up my head, stuck out my tongue, and for the first time in years caught a snowflake on it. It tasted so fresh and clean. It tasted like youth, like joy, and like love. I looked up to the Heavens and Thanked God for all of my memories and for the simple truth that you are never too old to be young again.

May you always feel young in spirit no matter how old or achy your body may be. May you always delight in the simple joys of life. May you always share your happiness with the heart of a child. And may you always give your love, your light, your laughter, and your warmth to others even on the coldest of days. ---------------

YOUR WONDERFUL LIFE

I just finished watching my copy of the movie "It’s a Wonderful Life" for what seems like the six thousandth time now. It is one of those movies that never gets old. I don’t just watch it at Christmastime either. I have been known to pull it out and watch it in the middle of January, on the first day of Spring, and in the midst of a Summer heat wave. Anytime my spirits and self- worth feel down all I have to do is watch this movie to set them soaring again.

It is the story of a good man named George Bailey driven to the edge of despair and thinking of ending his own life on Christmas when an angel appears to show him just how many lives he had touched and people he had helped here. The angel shows George what life would have been like if he had never been born and George sees that it is a bleaker, nastier, and sadder world without him. In the end you want to stand up and cheer along as an uplifted George runs through his hometown wishing everyone a merry Christmas and rejoicing in his second chance at life.

Every time I watch this film I never fail to see just how important each life is here in this world. We all may be only a single thread in a tapestry wove by God’s master hand, but if we were to pull that thread out what a gapping hole it would leave.

As you go through your life today remember just how important you are. Every kind act you do is precious. Every bit of love you share is priceless. Everyday you touch others in countless ways that you cannot even begin to understand. We are all Children of God given a special purpose and mission in this life. We are all loved by our Heavenly Father. We are all called to love each other as well. Embrace your wonderful life then. Share your wonderful love. And make this world more wonderful each and every day you are in it. ---------------

A CHRISTMAS MEMORY

"Christmas is no fun when you’re poor", I thought to myself as I slowly climbed the steps to my cold, damp apartment. I was a young, struggling, substitute teacher whose calls into work had been few and far between. Money was tight, bills were due, and it was Christmastime. My wife and I couldn’t even afford to get gifts for each other and the only gifts we could get for our young daughter and son were a few stuffed animals that I had found on sale.

I opened the door to the apartment and brought in the gifts I had hidden in our old car’s trunk until Christmas. Then I handed them to my 4 year old son and 18 month old daughter. I watched with a sad smile while they did their best to tear off the wrapping paper. As they pulled out their toys, though, I noticed their own smiles grow wide. Their eyes lit up and they jumped up and down with glee. My daughter happily hugged her stuffed animal and then hugged her Mom and me as well. I laughed as I watched my children play with their stuffed animals for hours that day, and I thanked God for the greater gift they had given me.

It has been over twenty years now but I still remember that Christmas like it was yesterday. It was one of those special days that stays in your heart and soul forever. It was one of those special moments that helps to shape the rest of your life. I still cherish the gift of pure love that my son and daughter gave me that day. I still strive to share it in my own life as well.

The great inspirational author Leo Buscaglia once wrote that: "There is no lesser or greater gift if the gift is love." In truth, the most priceless gift of all time was a gift of love from God given to us as a poor baby warmed in the hay of a manger. It was a gift that changed the world forever. It was a gift that showed us all how to live and how to love. May your every Christmas be rich in love and may all your days be full of goodness and joy. ---------------

THE LADY WITH THE SAD EYES

It was early December and I was driving my children over an hour to a distant mall to do some Christmas shopping. We were finally nearing the exit that would take us there. I smiled and sang quietly along to the song playing on the radio. Then just as we pulled off I noticed a figure holding a sign at the end of the highway exit. "It is probably someone trying to catch a ride south," I thought to myself.

When I got close enough to read it, however, I saw that it said, "Homeless. Please help. Willing to work for food." I drove past unable to stop because of the flow of traffic to the mall. As I went past the person I saw that it was an older woman in worn, dirty clothes with an incredible sadness in her eyes.

I took my children into the mall, but all the Christmas spirit had left my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking about the woman by the exit. I couldn’t stop thinking about her standing outside in the cold, without a home, while the cars drove by her. I couldn’t stop thinking about how we as human beings could allow anyone to be homeless and hungry in this plentiful world that our Heavenly Father had created for us.

Later after we left the mall my children and I stopped at a local convenience store to buy some snacks for the long drive back home. We got in the car and I pulled out. When I got to the exit that would get us back on the highway, though, I found myself driving past it and back to the exit we had driven in on. She was still there holding her sign in the December air. I pulled off the side of the road, pulled out the money I had left in my wallet and gave it to my daughter in the seat beside me. She then rolled down her window and gave it to the sad eyed lady. The woman stood there with the money in her hand and thanked us, half not believing that someone had given her so much. Before she could finish her sentence my daughter reached out, took her hand, and gave her the food she had bought for the trip home.

We pulled back out on the highway and made small talk for the rest of the way home. None of us felt proud or even happy with what we had done. We only wished we could have done more.

I found myself praying to God for the sad eyed lady without a home. I asked Him to wrap His loving arms around her, to send her the help she needed, and to be with her always. In the end, I trusted that He would in His infinite love see her home again.

I remembered too that Jesus was born in a manger not a mansion, that He often had no place to lay His head, and that He asked us all to find him in the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and the destitute. I also remembered that He asked us to love each other as He loved us. And that is what I will continue to strive to do at Christmastime and always. ---------------

A GLASS OF EGGNOG AND A HEART FULL OF MEMORIES

It was a white Thanksgiving. I looked out my window at the 4 inches of snow that had fallen the day before and smiled. It made the meadow and woodlands look so beautiful. It felt like it was Christmas already. I poured myself a glass of eggnog and walked quietly into my bedroom. My daughter was cooking most of our Thanksgiving dinner this year so I had some time to relax and thank God for all of the blessings in my life.

I sat down on my bed and glanced down at the photo albums in the bookcase by the wall. I reached over, pulled one out and opened it. There I was as a baby sneaking under the Christmas tree and ripping open the presents under it. I didn’t understand Christmas yet, but I knew something good must be inside that wrapping paper. There I was a few years later standing by the world’s ugliest Christmas tree that I had talked my Dad into chopping down over my brothers’ objections. It was so scraggly it could barely hold up the decorations. There I was as a full grown, young man standing with my brothers, Mom and Dad on Christmas Day. It still amazed me that we had grown taller than them.

I took a sip of eggnog and picked up another photo album. I opened it and saw my daughter’s delight the first time she saw Santa Claus. I turned the page and there were my daughter and oldest son playing in the cardboard toy box instead of with the toys we had bought them. I flipped to another page and watched my kids grow older, celebrating their first Christmas in our new home. It was shocking to realize how quickly the years had flown by. Another turn of the page and there I was holding my brother’s grandson in my arms at my Dad’s house. My hair had grown sparse and gray and my face had gained some well earned wrinkles, but the joy in my eyes when I held my Great Nephew on Christmas sparkled with a youth that would never fade.

I slowly closed the photo albums and took another sip of eggnog. My heart was full of beautiful memories. I closed my eyes and let all the Christmas’ past, all the Thanksgiving feasts, all the memories of a lifetime flow through my heart, soul, and mind. There I was picking flowers for my Mom on the first day of Spring. There I was swimming in the pool as a boy on a hot Summer’s day. There I was playing with my kids in the Fall leaves. There I was losing another snowball fight to them in the Winter snow. There I was doing my best to share my life with smiles, laughter, love, and joy. There I was delighting in all the love, kindness, and happiness that was shared with me.

I finished my eggnog while the smell of turkey and mashed potatoes floated into my bedroom. I watched the sun shining off the white snow outside my window. I thanked God again for all the loving memories He had blessed my life with. And then I went into the living room to create some new ones.

May all of your days be full of loving memories. May you make new ones every chance you get. And may you always remember just how much God loves you. ---------------

ONE GOOD DAY

I had one good day today. It started out with a morning walk with my dogs under the starlight before dawn. It was so beautiful. Looking up I thanked God for the stars, the Earth, and my life. After the walk it was time for a warm breakfast followed by some exercises and prayer. Then I headed out to the office. The sun was out and glistened off the melting snow. The sight made me smile and since I was alone with nobody else’s ears to offend I sang along with the CD playing in my car with a loud voice and a happy heart.

My good day was just beginning, however. I helped it along by giving a cheerful greeting to everyone I met. I shared smiles and was happy to have them returned. I offered a helping hand to one friend and a pat on the back to another. Later at the store I opened the door for a lady with her arms full of packages. I bought a few boxes of pancake mix to put in the food drive collection bin. I told a tired cashier what a good job she was doing and watched her whole face light up.

When I got home I gave my daughter a hug, kissed my oldest son on the head, and laughed and played with my youngest son before doing some work on the computer. Then I answered letters trying to share a little good humor, a kind word, a bit of inspiration, and a loving thought or two with my friends around the world. Later in the evening I spent some quiet time reading a good book, petting my dogs on the head, and scratching my old grey cat under her chin. Finally I ended the day the way I started it: walking my dogs under the starlight, and thanking God for this world, my life, and the chance to live for one more good day.

Perhaps the key to having a great life is to live it one good day at a time. Perhaps the key to being happy in this world is to love all we today and let God take care of our tomorrow. May all of your today’s be good ones. ---------------

GLIMPSES OF HEAVEN

I have always loved watching the sunset. I do so every chance I can. There is something about it that stirs my soul. I sit on my back porch and watch as the sky becomes a tapestry of ever changing colors. Blue, white, yellow, gold, red, orange, pink, and purple all weave together to create something so beautiful and so glorious that it is transcendent. When you look at it for a brief instant it is like you are getting a glimpse of Heaven.

It isn’t just sunsets, though, that can give you a glimpse of Heaven. With a loving heart and a grateful spirit you can see that they are everywhere. They are in a baby’s laugh, a little girl’s smile, the wag of a dog’s tail, and the loud purr of a contented cat. They are in an uplifting song, and a beautiful painting. They are in the first flower of Spring, cool breezes on a Summer day, the colors of the Fall leaves, and the first snow of Winter. They are in a heartfelt hug, a gentle touch, a caring kiss, and an encouraging word. They are in every loving thought, every prayer from the soul, every simple act of kindness, every single act of charity, and every joyful "Thank You" you give to God.

Anything that brings us closer to love gives us a glimpse of Heaven. Any act that helps another soul gives us a glimpse of Heaven. Any thought that makes us more one with God gives us a glimpse of Heaven. In fact, our highest calling in this life is to bring as much Heaven as we can down here to Earth. When our hearts are full of Heaven, then Heaven will be our home in this life and in the next.

May you fill all of your days here with love and joy. May your heart always be full of thanksgiving. May you find Heaven everywhere you look and bring Heaven everywhere --------------

PASS IT ON

Growing up in my Grandma’s house as a boy was an experience that would shape me for the rest of my life. We were poor in everything but spirit, yet I learned so much about life there. My Mom, Dad, Nana, two brothers, and I were crowded into a home made from two old shanty cars and several built on rooms. I always knew what my next set of clothes would look like because I had seen my older brother wearing them the year before. I always knew what we were going to be eating in the Winter, because I had weeded it in the garden during the Summer. Still, I never felt poor. No king ever ate as good as we did on Sundays after church when Nana cooked her homemade meatballs, spaghetti, and freshly baked bread.

Even though we had so little I can still remember Dad, Mom, and Nana giving so much. We were always sharing with others. Everyone who visited us could expect a plate of spaghetti, or a mason jar of canned vegetables, or a flower pot full of fresh blossoms to be given to them. I can still remember the sparkle in Mom and Nana’s eyes whenever they passed something on to others. We never felt richer or more blessed than when we shared what God had given us. I learned early on that the greatest joy comes from giving rather than getting. Giving fills your heart with love. Giving fills your soul with God. Giving brings your spirit closer to Heaven.

Don’t be afraid to pass on your blessings, riches, gifts, and talents to others. That is why God gave them to you in the first place. Share everything you have. If you have a beautiful smile then pass it on. If you have a lovely laugh then pass it on. If you have a few extra dollars then pass them on. If you give great hugs then pass them on. If you have a special talent then share it with others. If you have a heart full of love then give it to the everyone. No life is ever truly lived until it becomes a gift in itself, so make your whole life a gift to the world. ---------------

A FEW CANS OF SOUP

I woke up a little chilly this morning. I could feel the cold air seeping through the windows and under my front door. The bitter, North wind had brought me an early taste of the Winter to come. The weather forecast called for cold, rainy days for the rest of the week too. "It is time to break out the sweaters, thick socks, and hot chocolate", I thought to myself.

Later in the day I headed to the grocery store to pick up a loaf of bread. As I walked in I noticed the cans of soup stacked high along the wall. They were all on sale and I decided to stock up for the rest of the week. I had always loved a can of hot soup on a cold day since I was a child. I could remember shivering after bringing in firewood to our house during the Winter and having my Mom smiling in front of a bowl of steaming soup, freshly made for my lunch. The warmest part of it all, though, was the gentle touch she would give the back of my head when I would sit down to take that first sip.

I walked to the checkout line with my bread and cans of soup. I was looking forward to a warm lunch when I noticed the food pantry bin near the wall. It wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t full either. I thought for a second of all the loving Moms in the area with no cans of soup to give their own children. I glanced upward and thought of my own Mom smiling down on me. Then I paid for my food, grabbed my bag full of soup cans, and placed it in the collection bin.

As I walked outside the cold air did its best to bite into me, but it couldn’t chill the God-given warmth I felt inside. I drove home with a heart full of love happily remembering the words: "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you gave me clothing; I was sick and you took care of me." May all of your days here be warm ones full of love, giving, and God. ---------------

TO DANCE AGAIN

A strange but miraculous thing happened the other day. I was washing the dinner dishes in our kitchen while my youngest son was watching television in the living room. Suddenly, I heard an old song from my childhood playing in a commercial. As the sweet music drifted into the kitchen. I found myself humming along, singing a few words, and even doing a little dance step or two while I placed the plates in the dishrack. Then it occurred to me that this was the first time I had danced in a very long while.

In the days following my Dad’s death I had done my best to live again. I had hugged my children and told them I loved them. I had petted and played with my dogs. I had watched the Autumn leaves with their beautiful colors and taken in a few sunsets as well. Yet, through it all I had felt like I was just muddling along. My heart was still hurting and my moments of joy were few and far between. More than once I would be on the road, pass an old, beat-up, blue pickup truck like my Dad used to drive, and tear up. I missed him so much. It was so hard not having him here in my life anymore.

When I found myself dancing again even for a second, however, I realized that I was doing just what my Dad would have wanted me to do. He would have been mad at me for wallowing in my sorrow. He would have wanted me to dance again, to sing again, to smile again, and to laugh again. He would have wanted me to choose joy again and share it with others. He would have wanted me to LIVE and to LOVE here on Earth while he and God looked down on me from Heaven. And in that miraculous moment of wisdom my heart began to heal.

I promise you Dad that I will continue to heal. I will continue to sing. I will continue to dance. I will continue to say "yes" to life and to live in God’s love all the days I have left here. ---------------

SUNSET IN THE MOUNTAINS

After enjoying a glorious day of Autumn sunshine here in the hills and forests surrounding my home I decided to take a seat on my back porch and watch its final act. Sunsets here in the mountains are a beauty to behold. They are not as sudden as the ocean or desert sunsets where nightfall follows so quickly after Sol drops over the horizon.

Here it is much more gradual. This evening it started when the sun dropped low enough in the sky to be partially blocked by the towering oaks a hundred yards behind my house. The ground below them grew shaded and the shadows slowly started to creep down the wood line surrounding the meadow and old graveyard behind my porch. Yet, while all this was happening beams of sunlight were still peeking through the branches and lighting up parts of the forest on the other side of my home. The red and golden maple leaves seemed to delight in this last kiss of sunshine and glowed even brighter than usual. I watched peacefully while this dance of light and dark, sunbeams and shadows continued on while the evening air cooled in the growing twilight. Last of all the sky itself began to change slowly going from blue and yellow to red, pink, and purple and finally to black.

As this Heavenly show ended the night settled in and the stars began to appear in the sky. I pulled my coat closer around me for warmth and smiled. I was sorry that it was over, but I knew that tomorrow the sun would rise again to warm and brighten the Earth once more.

Each morning we too are given the chance to let the sun rise in our souls. We are given the choice to live in God’s love and light. We are given the opportunity to share our love and make this world a warmer, brighter, and better place. And when the sun finally sets on our lives here we are also given a home to go to where the light is eternal and the love never ends. ---------------

BY MY DAD’S BEDSIDE

It is hard to write when your heart is breaking, but something deep inside me needs to say this right now. At this moment I am sitting in a chair by my Dad’s bedside in the nursing home where he has lived for the past few months. His breathing is slowly getting more labored as he sleeps. Fortunately new medications have eased the pain and seizures he was having, but it is only a matter of time until he leaves this world now.

It has been a long struggle for him the last few years. C.O.P.D, repeated bouts of pneumonia, lung cancer, prostrate cancer, brain cancer, radiation, and chemotherapy have slowly battered both his body and his mind. In the end it was the brain cancer than did the most damage leaving him confused, paralyzed on his left side, and having horrible seizures. In the end it will take everything but his spirit. Thankfully, that will rest in God’s loving hands.

The last few days my brothers and I have been spending most of our time by his bed. Sometimes it has been all three of us, sometimes two, and sometimes just one. Most of the time we have just held his hand and talked to his spirit still trapped in his body. And we have all prayed to God to let Dad’s suffering end soon so he can join my Mom, Nana, and the rest of his family who have passed on into the love and the light.

A few minutes ago the nurses and aides came in to check on him. Even though they too know his time is near they still treated him with the same love and tenderness they have since he arrived here from the Veterans’ Hospital. Their kind words and soothing touches always calmed his spirit even as his body and mind continued to weaken. They were not afraid to see death even in its most horrible form. I am so thankful that he had them here as well.

It has been hard on me and my brothers seeing my Dad’s body and mind grow so weak. He was always such a tough and rugged man. He was only five foot four but was as stout as a tree stump. He taught me so much growing up too. He taught me hard work. For most of his days he worked all day as a mechanic only to come home and work in our gardens in the evening. Every Spring too my brothers and I would help him chop and stack five cords of wood to heat our house in the Winter. After he was hurt and became disabled he taught me patience by letting me help him haul wood, carry fresh water from our spring, and change the tires on his truck. He taught me faith and strength as well. He could have given up on life when his beloved wife lost her own battle with cancer over twenty years ago, but he didn’t. Instead he took care of her in her final years and later took care of his aging Mom in her final years too. He never complained either. He just gave and loved unconditionally. In the end my Dad even taught me about growth and love. He had been raised in a different time when Men were supposed to be strong and not show their emotions. In his last months, though, my Dad outgrew that upbringing. He told me and my brothers again and again what we already knew in our hearts, that he loved us.

Now as I sit here by his bed I can only think of what a good life he has lived and what a good man he has been. I know that God at the end of our days here looks deep in our souls to see the love we have shared, spread, and given to others. I can only pray that one day I may have loved as deeply and as well as my Dad has.

I don’t know how much longer my Dad has now as I write this. It is like his spirit is ready to move on but his body hasn’t gotten the message. I take comfort in knowing, however, that the long and often difficult life he had here was only a day in the eternity of love, joy, peace, happiness, and light that he will be going to.

I love you Dad. I have loved you since the second I was born into this world. I will love you for all the seconds I have left here as well. And in the end we will share our love in Heaven forever. __________________

My Dad died several hours after I finished writing this just after receiving Last Rites. He will be missed and he will be remembered. ---------------

A BETTER PERSON

As the days ticked down to my 47th birthday this year, I had to admit that I was a little melancholy. I was looking back over the years of my life and remembering every mistake that I had made, every wrong path that I had taken, and every chance for growth that I had turned my back on. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

When the day finally arrived, though, I was overwhelmed with the love I received from so many. Gifts, cards, and birthday greetings from friends filled both my mailbox and my computer. My wonderful children took me out for dinner and then surprised me with a homemade cake, a homemade card, and a homemade gift all wrapped with their love. By the end of the day my melancholy had fled and my happiness had returned. I felt truly blessed and I remembered that life is about the love you share not the mistakes you make.

I realized too that I wanted to spend the rest of my days here becoming the person that God meant for me to be. I wanted to watch more sunrises, share more smiles, and spread more love. I wanted to fill my life with acts of kindness and moments of joy. I wanted to give my children wise words, kind thoughts, huge hugs, gentle kisses, loving laughter, and endless happiness. I wanted to help others every chance I could and in every way I could. I wanted to know that when I finally step out of this body and cross the threshold to Heaven that I would be taking a lifetime of love with me.

You too can become a better person each and everyday of your life. There is no greater adventure than to become the person God meant for you to be. There is nothing better than being a blessing to everyone around you. There is nothing more wonderful than to live all your days here in love, growing younger on the inside even as you grow older on the outside. ---------------

A POT OF SAUCE

My daughter made her first attempt at cooking her great-grandmother’s spaghetti sauce the other day and unlike her father she got it perfect the very first time. Using my Nana’s family recipe she carefully mixed just the right amount of tomato juice, olive oil, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and sugar together and set it to slowly simmer for hours and hours while the sweet Italian sausage cooked in it as well.

When it was done she opened the pot and my Italian nose inhaled with joy. The smell was heavenly. I slowly took a wooden spoon, dipped it in the sauce, lifted it to my lips, closed my eyes, and tasted her creation. It was delicious, delightful, and a feast for my soul. With that first taste I was immediately transported back to my childhood on memories of love. I remembered Nana’s food, felt her hugs, saw her smile, heard her voice, and basked in her joy once again. For that one moment time stood still, love was eternal, and Heaven and Earth were one.

I am happy too that my daughter will be passing on the family sauce recipe to her own children some day. I know that she will add her love to every pot and season their lives with her love as well. She knows that love is the secret ingredient to every good meal, every good life, every happy heart, and every healthy soul.

God loves us so much. God is love. And God wants us to pass on our love to everybody we can and in every way we can. Let’s have the time of our lives doing so then. Let’s share our sauce, our stories and our smiles. Let’s spend afternoons in the park. Let’s give hugs from the heart. Let’s pass on family heirlooms, precious memories, and letters written with love. Let’s season our days with caring, compliments, and acts of kindness. Let’s say "I love you" with our lives. Let’s make each day a feast of love and invite everyone we can to the table. ----------------

SOUL SHINE

If you have ever driven in the mountains on a cool, Autumn morning then you know what FOG is. I was rounding a curve today and drove right into a sea of this fog. I quickly slowed down and turned on my low beam headlights. Seeing the road ahead was now a struggle. The heavens above were gone and I felt like I had been transported into a shadow world. Everywhere I looked there was only a dismal grayness. Even the trees lining the side of the road had become frightening, ominous shapes out of some childhood ghost story. I drove on and on through the waves of murk and wondered if it would ever end.

After a while, though, the sun broke through the fog again and the world was transformed. Heavenly beams of gold now bathed the landscape. The red and yellow leaves glistened on the trees. The river alone side the road sparkled in the sunshine. Everything seemed full of light and joy once again. I smiled and drove on with a song in my heart. I thanked God too for both the sunshine and the fog, because it had taken them both to remind me again of just how beautiful this world can be.

In our lives the fog can roll in sometimes too. Things can go wrong. Problems can appear. Difficulties can continue. Pains, troubles, and trials can seem to surround us and block out all the light in this life. When this happens and the world seems covered in gray we need to remember that we too can break through the fog. We too can drive the shadows away with our love. We too can transform the world with our joy. We too can light a way through the murkiness for others to follow. God is ready and willing to fill our souls with His love and light. All He asks is that we share their shine. May all of your foggy days be brief then. May your soul shine bright. And may you forever strive to live in God’s light. ---------------

YES

I find that the older I get the pickier I get about what I read. I just don’t want to waste hours and hours of my life reading something that isn’t going to enlighten, inspire, or entertain me. I can still remember the last time I walked into a book store at a mall. I glanced down the self-help section and was amazed at the number of books there. There were books to help you lose weight. There were books to help you find a mate. There were books on exercising your body. There were books on exercising your mind. There were books about improving your work life. There were books about improving your sex life. There were books about making friends. There were books about making money. There were countless books taking you down countless roads all claiming to lead you to happiness.

I have found, though, that the most direct path to happiness is to just say "yes" every morning to one simple question: "Are you going to love, today?" Are you going to love God today? Yes! Are you going to love yourself today? Yes! Are you going to love everyone else today? Yes! Once you can say yes to love then you can say yes to all the other important questions in this life. Are you going to be kind? Yes! Are you going to help others? Yes! Are you going to face life’s difficulties with a smile? Yes! Are you going to take care of your heart, soul, body, and mind? Yes! Are you going to make this world a better place? Yes! Are you going to share laughter and spread joy? Yes! Are you going to do your best to live your life so that Heaven sings and God smiles? Yes! Yes! Yes!

Every morning you are given a fresh start, a new beginning, and one more chance to say "Yes!" to love. Every morning you are giving another opportunity to start writing a new chapter in your own book of life. Live well then. Write well. And love well today and always. ---------------

RUNNING INTO HIS ARMS

This life is so full of beautiful moments. All you have to do is open your eyes and your heart to see them. I saw one just the other day. The local elementary school had just let out and I found myself behind a school bus as I was driving home. The bus stopped by a house sitting on top of a hill. A little girl no more than 7 years old hopped down the bus steps and started running up the driveway toward the house. The smile on her face was contagious. Her long hair was bouncing off her shoulders and her pink backpack was trailing behind her as she ran. I looked up the hill to see where she was going and saw her Dad waiting on her. As she got closer and closer her Dad smiled and knelt down to greet her. The second she got to him he wrapped his powerful arms around her and gave her a huge hug.

My eyes watered a bit as I watched this scene and remembered all the times my own children had ran into my arms with smiling faces and loving hearts. Every single hug from them was a fountain of youth and a treasure of joy.

My lovely trip down memory lane was interrupted when I heard the car behind me honk its horn. I saw the school bus quickly pulling away and started to follow it again. I did so, however, with a fuller heart and lighter spirit than I had before. I took that beautiful moment and stored it safely in my soul where I knew it would remain forever.

One day we all will leave this school of learning and love and finally get to go home again. I know that when it is my time that I will sprint from that bus and right into my Heavenly Father’s arms. I know that my smile will be bright and my heart will be light. Enjoy your day here at school then. Teach, love, and learn. But know that one day you will be going home to where the hugs are eternal and the love never ends. ---------------

DANCING IN THE LEAVES

I was taking a walk in the woods on a late August evening. Suddenly, a cool breeze started to blow and a single red maple leaf broke off of its tree and circled down and around until it landed peacefully upon the top of my head. I took the leaf in my hand, looked at it with a smile, and dropped it gently to the ground. "It has started already," I thought to myself. "How early in the year it begins to be late."

I knew that soon the green mountains of my home would be painted by God’s own hand. Soon every leaf on every tree would become a masterpiece. Bright, beautiful reds would come first, followed by sunny yellows and glorious golds. Brilliant burgundies, outrageous oranges, and earthy browns would finally complete this colorful canvas.

As I walked on my mind was filled with memories of Autumns past. I remembered the crisp crunch as I walked on the freshly fallen leaves. I remembered the delightful dry leaf smell that filled the air. I remembered raking huge piles of leaves in the park for my children to hide in, jump on, and run through. I even remembered dancing on that colorful carpet while it crackled underneath my feet.

I also thought of how Autumn is the most bittersweet of seasons. It is so beautiful and yet so brief. It is so joyous and yet also a sign of the Winter to come. It is the ultimate reminder that our time on Earth is short and that we need to live now before it is gone. That is why I plan to thank God for everyday of this beautiful season. That is why I plan to take more walks in the woods while the colors last. That is why I plan to love more, laugh more, give more, share more, and smile more in the days I have left here. That is why I plan to dance in the leaves again this Fall and in Heaven when the time comes. May you do the same. ---------------

A NOTE TO MOM AND DAD

The first hint of what would become my life’s avocation and gift to this world came the night I wrote a note to my Mom and Dad. I was a young teenager and it was the first time I had ever written something that wasn’t a school assignment. That night I just felt a stirring in my heart to let Mom and Dad know how much I loved them, how much they meant to me, and how grateful I was to them for all they had given me. Being too shy to say these things face to face, though, I wrote them down in a note for my parents to find after I went to bed.

Later that night I heard a gentle knocking at my door. Sleepily, I walked over to it and opened it up. There were Mom and Dad with a look of such love on their faces. With trembling arms they hugged me awake and thanked me for my note. Seeing the happiness I had given them made my own heart jump for joy. I was amazed that my simple words could have touched them so. It was the first time I could ever remember seeing my Dad cry.

That beautiful memory has stayed alive in my soul ever since. It was with me when I wrote my first story and sent it to the local county paper. It was with me when I began to share my stories online with thousands of people all over this world. It was with me when I published my first book. It is with me now as I write these worlds. It reminds me that my writing is a gift from God and sharing it with others is my gift to God.

Don’t be shy about sharing your many gifts from God with this world. It doesn’t matter what they are. They can be talents, skills, brains, or brawn. They can be smiles, hugs, laughter and joy. They can be acts of kindness and a spirit of compassion. They can be your work or your avocation. They can even be a simple note written with love. All that matters is that you share them. All that matters is that you use them to make this world a little more like Heaven. ---------------

IN THE CAR WITH MOM

I was both excited and a little scared my first day of Kindergarten. The large classroom was full of books and toys, two things that I loved. But it was also full of kids all larger than me. Because my birthday was in late September I was allowed in at only 4 years old, and this meant that I was destined to be the smallest kid in my class until 7th grade.

I think that my Mom sensed I was a little afraid. That was why she was always there to pick me up right after school when I could have easily rode the bus. I would hop in the front seat next to her and tell her all about my day. Sometimes we would even read a book and wait until all the cars and buses had left before we drove home. I cherished those special times when I had my Mom all to myself. I felt so safe and peaceful when we sat in the car together. Beginning the new challenge of school didn’t seem so difficult when I knew that I could talk about it with her. Being a tiny, little kid in a big scary world wasn’t so bad either. I knew that my Mom loved me and that was all I needed to be loving, joyful, and strong.

As I look back on those happy times I can see now that they also prepared me for another special relationship that I would find later in life. All those times I spent talking to and being with my Earthly Mother helped me to later open my heart to my Heavenly Father. Her beautiful love led me to His. Her comforting arms guided me to His. Her gentle spirit took me to His. Even after she left this world far too soon, I could still feel her love flowing down from Heaven along with His.

The next time that this world seems too scary or hard then don’t run away. Instead invite God into the car of your soul, close the doors, and spend some time alone together. If you do you will know that you are loved. If you do you too will become loving, joyful, and strong. ----------------

AN OLD PAIR OF SHOES

I woke up with a stiff and sore back this morning. This was not unusual since my back has given me problems for years now, but today no amount of stretching or moving would loosen it up. Still, I had 5 dogs waiting patiently by the door to go out for their morning walk, so I slowly bent down, put on their leases, and started to pull my shoes on. When I did, though, I saw that my shoes like my body were showing signs of wear. A split along the seam of a sole let me know that it wouldn’t be too long before I would have to replace this pair. I only wished I could replace my back along with them.

Later after walking the dogs, watching the sunrise, eating breakfast, and talking with God I was feeling a lot better on the inside. My back pain had faded too and my smile had returned. It was then that I remembered a letter a friend had sent me recently. Inside of it she had pasted a delightful picture of an old, worn-out pair of work boots sitting on the ground by a porch. Their leather was cracked, their soles were spilt, and their laces were worn, but they still looked great because inside of them someone had planted a beautiful bunch of Impatiens. The flowers had grown tall and strong in spite of their curious container. This picture reminded me again that while my body may feel like a worn out pair of shoes at times, inside of it was a soul that continued to grow everyday in love, joy, peace, happiness, goodness, and oneness with God.

At some point in your life you need to decide who you really are. Are you the body that grows older everyday or are you the soul within it that remains forever young? One day the loving spirit within you will have to step out of its worn out pair of shoes and walk on without them. May it walk lightly along the path of love until it reaches its Heavenly Home. And may it bless everyone it meets along the way. ---------------

TRUE TREASURE

My daughter saw a colorful rainbow the other day after a thunderstorm. She called to me to look out the window and see it as well. Looking at it I was amazed at how its beauty could still uplift my middle-aged heart. As I gazed upon it, I also remembered one of the very first times I ever saw a rainbow as a boy.

I had been sitting in the house for an hour waiting impatiently for the rain to stop so I could go out and play. It had been pounding on the roof incessantly and I thought it would never end. When it finally did stop I raced outside and was greeted with the glorious sight of a rainbow curving across the sky. I had just recently heard the old legend of leprechauns hiding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Excited, I looked to where the rainbow seemed to be touching the ground in the far distance. I started to quickly run down the railroad tracks near our house in search of that elusive treasure. The quicker I ran, though, the more the rainbow began to fade. Finally, I found myself running as fast as I possibly could, but it was too late. By the time I got there the rainbow and its pot of gold were gone.

Sadly that wasn’t the last time I found myself chasing after false treasure. Over the years I ran after fame, success, money, and even relationships that I thought would bring me the happiness I always wanted. None of them did, however. It took me a long time to find the true treasure that doesn’t rust, break, fade, or flee. That treasure is the love of God and it is free to all. I welcomed this treasure into my heart, soul, and life and shared it with others as well. The funny thing too was that the more love I gave away, the more love I had within me.

God loves you so much. He is forever ready to light up your life with the rainbow of His love. Accept His treasure with joy, share it with everyone, and grow richer everyday. ---------------

WILD FLOWERS

It is Summer here in the mountains of my home. A season also known by another name: road construction time. There is paving, ditching, and tree trimming going on everywhere. This year there are also new water lines being installed in a nearby town so I find myself leaving home a half hour early because of all the delays. Today as I was stopped at one of the construction sites I took my eyes off the long line of cars in front of me and glanced to the side of the road. There I saw something that brought a smile to my heart and a "Wow!" to my lips. Stretched along the side of the road as far as the eye could see were wonderful wild flowers.

It was such a beautiful sight. I saw Queen Anne’s Lace growing regally by the road. Along with her were yellow Dandelions and Buttercups glowing bright in the sunlight. Sweet Clover and white Daisies were blooming as well. In spite of having to grow in gravel and dine daily on exhaust fumes all of these flowers were flourishing. With just a few drops of water and a daily dose of God’s sunshine they all were growing tall, healthy, and strong. Watching them nurtured my spirit and made the time spent stopped there a joy.

As I was driving home I realized something too. Each of us is a wild flower in a way. Life gives none of us perfect soil. Instead we find ourselves struggling to grow in the gravels of problems and pains. In addition we often feel choked in the smoking exhaust of this world’s selfishness. With these challenges each of us could easily feel like wilting into the dust. Yet, everyday God blesses us with the water of His Love and the sunlight of His Grace. Everyday we are given a fresh chance to bloom where we are planted and to share our beauty with others. Everyday we are given a choice to "Wow" the world with our wonder rather than wilting. Grow strong in the smoke then. Flourish in the gravel. Give your love to everyone along life’s road. ----------------

A GAME OF PEEK A BOO

I was in a local Goodwill store today looking for a shirt for my son. As I was glancing at the clothing racks I noticed a young mother with her two daughters. The youngest was barely a year old and sat patiently in the shopping cart while her mother browsed through the racks. Her oldest was about 3 years old and had curly, brown hair. When I looked down at her she slipped behind the low hanging shirts, popped back out at me, and laughed. It had been a lot of years since I played peek a boo with my own daughter, but I joined in, hiding behind the shirts when she did and popping back out with her. With each time her laughter grew louder and happier while her baby sister watched us and smiled. After the game I thanked the Mother for letting me play with her beautiful daughters, waved goodbye to the little girls, and headed out the door with my smile wider and my heart lighter.

Isn’t it amazing how the littlest things can bring us the greatest joy? Isn’t it incredible how the tiniest acts of kindness can make God smile? Isn’t it wonderful how the smallest sharing of love can make all of Heaven sing? The truth is it is these small things that make life worth living. It is these tiny acts that make the world a better place. It is this love we share that brings us closer to each other, to Heaven, and to God.

There are so many little things we can do everyday to share our love, to create joy, and to make God smile. A pat on the back can set a spirit soaring. A shared smile can bring another Child of God closer to Heaven. Even a game of peek a boo can help to build a better world. It certainly built one in my heart today. The joy I got from it was passed on to everyone I met. It rippled out in a wave of happiness that will go on forever. May you fill all your days with kind little things then. May you live well, laugh much, and love always. ---------------

SHARING SMILES

I walked outside just as the sun was coming up over the mountains this morning. It was such a glorious sight. The whole world seemed to awaken with it. The golden light made the green grass glow. The birds stirred in their nests and began to sing. A lone Monarch butterfly fluttered by my face. I could feel the love of God filling His creation and my soul as well. As I stood there taking in the beauty of the sunrise I found the corners of my mouth rising too. I smiled with joy and thanked God for another wonderful day here on Earth.

I decided to not let that smile fade as the day went on either. Instead I tried to pass it on to everyone I could. I found it very hard to give away, though, because I almost always got it returned. My sons’ smiles shined brighter than the morning sun had. My daughter’s smile made my heart feel lighter and my soul feel stronger. The smiles of all the people I met during the day left me feeling more connected to them, more connected to life, and more connected to God. Even my dogs had smiles and "happy pants" waiting for me when I petted them after returning home.

A smile is so much more than just a show of teeth. A smile is a prelude to laughter. A smile is a spreader of joy. A smile is a messenger of peace. A smile is a sharer of happiness. A smile is a giver of love. Smiles help to heal the heart. Smiles help to nourish the soul. Smiles help to build a better world one grin at a time.

The truth is you don’t smile because you feel good; you feel good because you smile. Don’t be stingy with your smiles then. Share them with joy. Let everyone see your smiling face. Let Heaven see your smiling soul. Let God’s love flow through your smile until like the morning sun you light up the world. ---------------

MY OLD DORM ROOM

My old college dorm room was very Spartan by today’s standards. It had no computer, no cell phone, and no television. The furniture was two plain desks, two hard desk chairs, and two lumpy bunk beds. The heater never kept the room warm enough in the Winter either. I can still remember sitting and shivering in one of those hard chairs, struggling to read and understand Shakespeare with my half frozen feet buried under my bed blankets.

Still, that tiny room was my home for several years. It was the place where my roommate, friends, and I would gather to talk about the professors we liked, the classes we hated, and what we hoped to do with our lives. It was there we discussed the difficulties in understanding women. Even Shakespeare seemed easier. It was there that we listened to music, missed our families, and helped each other laugh the loneliness away.

Living in that little room for all those years taught me a few things too. It showed me that no matter where you are you can still carry your home in your heart. Even during the hardest times there, the love of God and my family lived within me. That love helped me to do my best in school, to help my friends, and to find joy in each day. I also learned that a big heart beats a big room any day of the week. I found that with love the smallest shack and the humblest hut becomes a home full of happiness, and without love the most magnificent mansion and the costliest castle can feel cold, empty, and alone.

May you always carry your home safely in your heart then. May you always fill each place you live with God-given love, laughter and joy. The price of your place doesn’t matter, but the love you share in it is priceless. That love will go on with you from room to room and house to house until you carry it to your eternal home in Heaven. ---------------

FIREFLIES IN THE MOONLIGHT

It was the so called "Super Moon" evening the other night. That is when the moon is at its closest and brightest point. I decided to take a break from the book I was reading and go out to gaze upon it for awhile. A gentle rain was falling as I stepped out into my yard and looked up at the sky. At first I thought the rain clouds would ruin my view, but it wasn’t long before they parted right where the giant moon was resting in the sky. It was so beautiful to see. The bright, shining face of the man in the moon smiled down on me while the golden light from it lit up the sky. I stood there for a long time soaking up the sight and barely noticed the cold raindrops bouncing off my balding head.

When I finally took my eyes off the sky, though, I saw something else shining in the night. Dozens of little fireflies were blinking their own lights on and off. It was so wonderful seeing my lightening bug buddies again. They had always made my Summer nights more lovely with their lights. Their little blinks were so tiny compared to the giant, glowing moon, yet they too made the dark, rainy night look a little brighter.

You know, sometimes I feel like one of those tiny fireflies trying to shine my light in this world. God’s love and light are so powerful and complete that my own sharing seems unbelievably small in comparison. Yet, I know that if I don’t shine my light and share my love that this world becomes a darker place. I know too that the brighter I blink and the more I love the more others will share their own loving light as well.

Don’t let this sometimes dark world discourage you then. Shine your own light as brightly as you can. Invite others to shine theirs as well. Share your love with laughter and joy. Grow in oneness with God. And your soul will always dance like fireflies in the moonlight. ---------------

LIFE IS SIMPLE

My first born son is mentally handicapped, yet in so many ways he is far wiser than I am. He has an intuitive knowledge of what is important in life. When we go out he looks people in the eye, calls them by name, and shares his smile far more easily than I do. He goes through life with a soul full of love, joy, and kindness that he gives to everyone he meets. He makes others feel better. He makes each day shine brighter. He makes this world more beautiful just by being in it. He may not understand everything in life, but he knows how to live happily and lovingly. He shows me everyday that life is simple. It is we who make it complicated.

You see, life is just the choices we make each day. We can choose to love or we can choose to be afraid. We can choose to help or we can choose to turn away. We can choose to forgive or we can choose to hate. We can choose to be kind or we can choose to be cruel. We can choose to trust or we can choose to be suspicious. We can choose to give or we can choose to take. We can choose to serve or we can choose to be selfish. We can choose to laugh or we can choose to sulk. We can choose to cry or we can choose to hide our hearts. We can choose to smile or we can choose to stress. We can choose to be at peace or we can choose to be at war within ourselves. We can choose to live or we can choose to just exist. We can choose to believe God loves us or we can choose to live in doubt. We can choose to shine our souls or we can choose to dwell in darkness. We can choose to make this world more like Heaven or we can choose to make this world more like Hell.

My son knows these choices by heart and always makes the right ones. I hope to one day get there as well. Until then I will do my best to live simply, to be wise, and to choose well. Until then I will do my best to love God, myself, and others. May you do the same. ---------------

THE MOST YOU CAN DO

The Summer of my eleventh year was a wonderful time of joy and innocence. My days were spent riding my bike, walking in the bright green woods around my home, swimming in the crystal clear river that ran by my house, playing in fields full of wild flowers, and looking up at the clouds. I wished those lazy, peaceful days would last forever. But then it all changed.

It happened in the middle of the night when I heard my grandmother scream. A fire had started in her room and was rapidly spreading through our house. We all ran outside with only the clothes on our backs. I watched in shock as fire devoured our home. There was nothing left. That night I went from a happy and carefree child to a homeless and scared one. The following days were a blur. I didn’t know what the future would hold. All I could feel was fear. Thankfully, good friends took us into their home, fed, and clothed us. One night around their dinner table my Mom thanked them for all they were doing for us. Smiling, her friend said, "Honey, it was the least we could do." Later they began to share old stories and laugh. It was then that I smiled for the first time in days and felt the fear finally fading from my heart.

Looking back on that time thirty five years ago, I now see that it wasn’t the least they could do. The least would have been nothing at all. Instead they opened their home and their hearts to us. They shared their food and their kindness. They helped us to start over when we had lost everything. They helped a scared boy to feel safe, loved, and happy again.

The next time you are given an opportunity to help another then don’t just do the least you can do. Do the most you can do instead. Give from your heart. Share from your soul. Live a life that makes Heaven smile. God put us here to love each other, to feed each other, to help each other, and to make this world a better place for everyone. That is the most we can do. ---------------

SPARKLING BROWN EYES

I was in a local grocery store the other day sorting through some bananas, when suddenly I heard, "Daddy!" and simultaneously felt two tiny arms wrap around my right leg. I looked down to see a lovely little girl no more than three years old looking up at me. She wore a flowered dress and had shoulder length black hair. Her smile gleamed with newly grown teeth. The most beautiful thing about her, however, were her brown eyes. They sparkled with the brightness of her soul. I felt my heart warm when I looked into them. It was like the light of God had traveled down from Heaven to shine through this child.

She quickly saw that I wasn’t her Daddy, laughed, and said, "Oops sorry". Then she spotted her real Dad picking out a gallon of milk and skipped down the aisle to be with him. I smiled and stood there for a long time lingering in that moment of joy. It was one of those moments that you wish could have lasted forever. It was one of those memories that does.

Even now as I write this I can still see those eyes. They had that special sparkle that only happens when you give your love freely and unconditionally. I have seen that sparkle in the eyes of 9 month olds, 90 year olds, and every age in between. I have seen it in my Mom’s eyes, in my Nana’s eyes, and in the eyes of my children. I have seen it in the eyes of friends and the eyes of strangers. I have seen it shine through in pictures taken 70 years ago. I have even been blessed to see it in my own eyes from time to time.

May your own eyes always sparkle. May they sparkle from the love in your heart. May they sparkle from the kindness of your soul. May they sparkle from the goodness of your life. May they sparkle with the light of Heaven. God loves you and He wants you to shine bright, to love deep, and to make this world sparkle with joy. Start today then and live forever in light. ----------------

TWO FACES

I got my second picture of the little girl that I sponsor overseas the other day. It made me smile from ear to ear when I saw it. Over the years I have sponsored several children through the organization, Children International and I have always been amazed at the difference between the first picture I get and the second.

In the first picture I am always shocked by what I see. There is a gauntness in their cheeks that speaks of too many nights going to bed with not enough to eat. There is a hollowness in their eyes that reflects days spent in sickness and misery. There is no smile on their lips because there is no smile in their hearts. Instead their faces are full of fear and hopelessness. It is like their lives are over before they have even begun. When I get the second picture, though, my heart always leaps for joy in my chest when I see how they have changed. Their cheeks are full and well fed. Their eyes sparkle with joy and laughter. Their smiles are huge because their hearts are full of happiness and love. Their faces look so beautiful because the fear has fled and been replaced by hope. It like their lives have begun anew.

I remember once after I gave a few dollars to a homeless person, a skeptical friend asking me if it was really worth the effort. "Yes it is!," I said. "It is always worth it!" Now as I look down on those two faces of my little sponsor child my answer is the same. It is always worth it to give. It is always worth it to love. It is always worth it to help another person. The smallest smile, the tiniest gift, the littlest act of kindness can change another’s life forever.

Don’t pass up an opportunity to change a life. Don’t pass up a chance to make this world a better place. Give your time. Give your talents. Give your love. Give of yourself and make another smile. Give from your heart and let God smile through you. ---------------

WALKING INTO HEAVEN

I love sunrises. I always have ever since I was a little boy. There is something so wonderful about walking outside at the break of dawn and seeing that glorious light drive out the darkness. That is why last Winter during the darkest part of the year, I bought a calendar full of sunrise pictures. I wanted to be able to wake up in the morning and gaze at that lovely light, even if it was still dark outside.

When I turned to this month’s picture the other day, I was amazed. It was even more beautiful than the others and it spoke to my soul. In it there was a stone paved pathway with a little wooden fence on one side of it. This pathway was built along the top of a ridge line of rolling hills covered in green grass. You could see it continuing on as the sun rose in the distance. The entire sky too was full of wondrous, white clouds and streams of glorious, golden light. This peaceful pathway was so full of blessed beauty and divine delight that I wanted to step right into it. I felt like if I could just be on that path that I could walk right into Heaven.

Life’s path, of course, is a lot tougher than the one in that calendar picture. It is rocky, rough, and winding. It is full of problems and pains, trials and tragedies, falling down and getting back up again. Yet, you still can walk it into Heaven if you choose. You just need to walk it with a loving heart and a faith filled soul. You just need to reach out, take God’s hand and allow Him to guide you step by step. You just need to stop along the way, bend down, and help up any others who may have fallen as well.

God loves us and wants us all to travel home to Heaven. He wants us to walk the path with love. He wants us to make the journey in joy. He wants us to help people whose steps have stumbled. He wants us to leave a lifetime of Heavenly footprints for others to follow. ---------------

DO WHAT YOU CAN

I was in a rush to get my power bill payment in the mail today. I pulled my car into the post office parking lot, hopped out, and started quickly walking towards the entrance. Then I saw something green on the sidewalk. I looked down and saw a hummingbird laying on the concrete with her wings spread out. She was breathing slowly in and out but not moving otherwise. I squatted down to take a closer look. She appeared more stunned than injured and I wondered if she had accidently flown into the clear glass window on the side of the building. I was sure of one thing, though. If she stayed where she was for much longer she was either going to be accidently stepped on or end up as dinner for a stray cat. Taking the tiny bird gently in my hand I lifted her up, carried her over to the green grass, and with a few kind words lay her down.

I hoped that the camouflage of the grass would give her time to recover and said a prayer to God for her safety. Then I left her and went into the post office. The next day I returned and checked the area around where I had left her. She was gone. I smiled and imagined her flying happily around and feasting at someone’s bird feeder. It felt good knowing that even if I hadn’t done much, I had done what I could.

So often the things we do seem so small. What we don’t realize, however, is that every single one of them is important in the eyes of God. Do what you can then to make this world a better place. Do what you can to share the love within you. It can be as simple as a prayer. It can be as little as a hug. It can be as tiny as a few coins offered to help another. It can be as small as a kind word, a smile, or a wave. It can be as itty bitty as helping a hummingbird off the sidewalk. In the eyes of Heaven they are all priceless, they are all powerful, and they are all eternal. In the eyes of God they are all beacons of the light in our souls and the love in our hearts. ---------------

TEARS

It had been a rough week. A steady stream of bad news had battered my spirits and stressed my soul. Everything seemed to be going wrong at once. My fearful, worried mind wouldn’t rest and my tired feet kept pacing through my house carrying my body along with them. "If only I could clear my head", I thought to myself. "If only I could calm my heart"

I had turned the radio on earlier but its music had failed to relax me. I continued to ignore it until my ears heard a bittersweet melody that always reminded me of my late Mother. As the song slowly penetrated the wall of worry I had put up, I remembered my Mom’s love, her smile, her sparkling eyes, and the way she lit up every room she walked into. Then I felt something wet on my cheeks. Tears were flowing down them. When I was younger I would have blinked them back or tried to hide them but not this time. This time I just let them fall. After a few moments a peace descended on me. I felt loved. I felt loved by my Mom. I felt loved by God. All my worries seemed unimportant in the face of that love. I saw once again that I had been looking at life with cloudy eyes and had been missing what was essential. I thanked God and my Mom for that reminder, for that song, and for the gift of tears.

The inspirational author and speaker Leo Buscaglia said: "Tears are good for you. They clean out your eyeballs." They also clean out your soul. They wash away worry, fear, and stress and allow peace, love, and joy to take their place. They help remind you of what is important in life. They take away your pain and lead you gently back to God.

The next time that you feel tears forming in your eyes don’t blink them away. Don’t hold them back. Let them fall. Let them help clear your eyes, heart, mind, and soul. Let them wash away your pain. Let them carry you back again to your Heavenly Father’s loving arms. -----------------

HELLO FROM HEAVEN

I saw my first butterfly of the Spring today. I was carrying some groceries into my house when suddenly the little lady flew right down in front of my face. She stayed there for a long time gently floating on the invisible breeze. She was so beautiful that my eyes filled with tears and my heart beat with love. Then she departed to dine on some delicious dandelions growing in the meadow behind my house. After she left I smiled, wiped my eyes, and thanked God for the miracle of life, the miracle of love, and the miracle of butterflies.

Butterflies have held a special place in my heart ever since I lost my Mom to cancer when she was only 55 years old. She used to love it when the butterflies would land near her while she tended her flower boxes. She would even speak to them gently in her musical voice. After she died I would think of her whenever I saw one of the delicate angels flying by. I even told my young children that every time they saw a butterfly floating on a breeze, it was their Grandma saying "Hello" from Heaven.

When today’s butterfly dropped in to say "Hi", I once again felt a joy beyond words. I felt like I was in Heaven hugging my Mom and basking in her love. I felt like I was dancing on the clouds with her while a thousand angels sang. I felt at one with life, with love, with God, and with everyone in the universe.

Now some skeptics may say that I am just a foolish man who is deluding himself, but I know this isn’t so. Delusions don’t fill your life with love. Delusions don’t fill your heart with happiness. Delusions don’t make Earth feel more like Heaven. The next time that you get your own "Hello from Heaven" then don’t doubt it. Welcome it into your soul instead. Let its love uplift you and inspire you. Let it help you to be the loving person God wants you to be. ---------------

A WET FACE AND A WARM HEART

I woke up with a wet face again this morning. Five minutes before my alarm clock was set to go off my little dog, Snoopy jumped on my bed and licked my face until my eyes popped open. I was startled by the slurpy wake up call but didn’t have the heart to scold her. Even though my face was wet, my heart was warm with the knowledge that I was loved.

There is no better feeling than being loved. Snoopy’s morning kisses let me know how much she loved me. When I looked into the adoring eyes of my other dogs before I walked them, I knew that they loved me too. The happy smiles and morning hugs of my sons and daughter let me know that I was loved by them as well. And when I went outside to pick up my morning newspaper, the spectacular sunrise in the sky reminded me that I was loved by God with the same glorious, powerful, and unconditional love that created the entire universe.

The greatest thing about being loved, though, is the realization that you can love too. You can love God. You can love yourself. You can love others. You can love your pets. You can love the world. You can love life. You can fill yourself so full of love that you have no choice but to share it with everyone. And when you love, you will have all the joy, peace, and happiness that you have always wanted in your life. It doesn’t matter what ups or downs life may throw at you either. When you know that God loves you and that you can love as well, every single circumstance will be used to make you stronger, better, and more loving.

Just as no therapy is as good as a puppy licking your face, no knowledge warms your heart as much as knowing that you are loved. Remember then just how much God loves you. Allow His love to fill your heart and your life. And then like a happy puppy wake up each day ready to share your love and joy with the world. ---------------

THE HAND OF GOD

I think that most of us go through our days here with our eyes half-closed because we so seldom see the Hand of God working in our lives. It happens in countless ways every single day. Let me give you an example. Two years ago several of the Hawaiian shirts that I love to wear had become worn and threadbare. I really wanted some new ones so I saved any extra money I had for several weeks to pay for them. Finally, I headed to my favorite clothing store with a large denomination bill in my wallet to buy them.

When I got to the store I saw a local charity collecting money for the poor. I reached in my wallet for a five dollar bill to help them out. I grabbed it and dropped it in the bucket. As I let go of it, however, I noticed that it wasn’t the five dollar bill but rather the large denomination one that I had saved to pay for my new shirts. I went back home disappointed at my mistake, but I quickly made peace with it. I knew I could wear my old shirts for a while longer and it felt good knowing I was helping to buy food and clothes for people in desperate need.

The next week I stopped by the local Goodwill store to make a donation when I noticed several Hawaiian shirts brightening up the clothing racks. I went through them and picked out enough to last me a long while for a fraction of the price I would have paid for new ones. It made me laugh and smile when I realized that God had given me all I needed and also helped me to help others as well. I thanked Him for guiding my hand and for guiding my heart that day.

Saint Francis of Assisi said: "While we have time, let us do good!" Do all the good you can then in the days you are given here. Give all the help you can. Share all the love you can. Spread all the joy you can. Scatter all the sunshine you can. Utter all the truth you can. And don’t be surprised if the unseen Hand of God sometimes helps you out along the way. ---------------

THE FIRST FLOWER OF SPRING

I smiled when I saw the first flower of Spring the other day. A lone Blue Bonnet had popped its head through the ground and was looking around on a cool, April morning. I wasn’t sure what had made it finally decide to end its long, Winter’s sleep. Perhaps it had noticed that the ground around it was no longer frozen. Perhaps it had felt the warmth of the sunshine finally pushing the temperatures into the seventies. Perhaps it had heard the songs of the birds singing that Spring had arrived and it was time for the world to awaken again. Perhaps the roots of the trees had whispered to it that it was now safe to come out and that their own limbs were already budding.

Whatever the reason it was a joy to see the little guy soaking up the light and calling out to its fellow flowers to join in the celebration of life once again. I know that soon it will be joined by other Blue Bonnets, Buttercups, Tulips, Daffodils, and Dandelions. I know that soon the air will be full of Butterflies dancing above them all. I know that soon the meadows will be full of growing grass and the forested hills will be awash in bright, green leaves. I know that soon the mountains of my home will once again be alive with the glory of God’s creation.

We too are a part of that creation, but unlike the flowers in the field we have the ability to bloom even when the world around us is cold, dark, and harsh. We have the ability to share our beauty in the face of ugliness, our joy in the face of fear, and our love in the face of hate. We have the ability to make every day feel like the first day of Spring.

May you bloom well then today and always. May you shine your light. May you share your love. May you be truly alive in the glory of God’s creation. And may you forever make your Heavenly Father smile. ----------------

A HOG IN A TROUGH

When I was a boy my family used to raise hogs during the Summer to keep us fed through the Winter. As I got older it became my job to feed them everyday. My Grandma worked in the kitchen of a Summer camp across the road from us and the director let us have the leftover food scraps for the hogs. I remember lugging the huge pails of slop from the camp’s kitchen, down the hill and across the wooden swinging bridge that spanned the river by our house. Then it was another 50 yards up the railroad tracks that ran along the other side our home until I finally reached the pig pen. It always stunk mightily of mud and as much as my arms ached I still tried to fill the trough as fast as possible before my stomach soured.

One year we had a particularly big, brutish, and nasty hog that would bully the other pigs in the pen. Before I would even fill the trough he would climb inside it and stand guard. He would then eat until his stomach was about to burst before he would allow the other two pigs to eat as well. It was so disgusting to watch. Once or twice I even pushed him with a stick to try to get him out of the trough but it was to no avail. Even though there was always enough food for all three pigs. He was determined never to share even if he had to shower in slop.

I did learn one thing from that petulant pig, though, and that was the stupidity of selfishness. His selfishness didn’t add a single day to his life. Nor did it give him one moment of joy. I would shake my head when he groaned in pain from eating too much every day, but he never did learn his lesson.

As I grew up and the years passed I noticed a lot of other hogs in troughs as well. They may not have had four legs and a snout, but they were just as selfish and just as miserable. They would gorge themselves with money, sex, drugs, and alcohol day after day giving no thought to others, yet their smiles never widened and their hearts never opened. They never saw that they were stupidly spending their days chasing after sad substitutes of what really was important. They never experienced the joy of love and sharing that makes Earth feel like Heaven. They never allowed God to fill the emptiness they felt within. They never realized that it is in giving that you receive the most.

God loves us and always is ready to give us all we need. We can accept His love and abundance with joy and share it with everyone, or we can be a hog in trough filling ourselves with slop, selfishness, and misery. The choice is ours. Choose well. ---------------

LOOK UP

I had to get a new pair of eyeglasses recently. Stigmatism had started to mix with my nearsightedness making things a little bit blurry with my old prescription. Also I had to finally give in to another sign of my aging body and get my first pair of bifocals.

It has taken me several days to get used to the new pair. While it was great seeing clearly at a distance again and wonderful being able to read a book without it being an inch from my face, the combination lenses were a challenge for me. The problem was that whenever I was looking at something far away I had to keep my eyes up or else I got a wave of blurriness when I accidentally looked through the reading part of the lenses. I am glad that my eyes are now getting the hang of it. It is no fun living in a blurry world.

I am grateful for this new pair of glasses for another reason too. They have taught me a truth that I will hold close to my heart forever: whenever you need to see the road ahead clearly, Look Up! Too often in my life I have kept the eyes of my soul looking down to the ground. When I did the world seemed like a scary, blurry, and depressing place. When I raised those eyes up to Heaven, though, my vision always became breathtakingly clear. I saw that God loves me. I saw that this is God’s world. I saw that life is good and when I help others I make it even better. I saw that no matter what each day may throw at me, I can face it with a loving heart and a joyful spirit.

Whenever your life seems blurry then, look up! Whenever your life seems frightening or overwhelming, look up! Whenever you aren’t sure what you should do, look up! God is in His Heaven and He is in your heart as well. Open the eyes of your soul and see clearly just how much God loves you and just how much you can love as well. ---------------

WHO WE NEED TO BE

My Dad gave me a few of my Grandma’s old photo albums the other day. When I looked through them it was like taking a step back in time. It was so incredible to see my brothers, my Mom, my Dad, and my Grandma all looking so young. And on some pages I even saw a smiling six year old boy with my face staring up at me in sweet innocence.

I wondered what that boy would think if he could see what would happen to him during the next 40 years. He would have his home burn down in the middle of the night and lose everything he owned before he was 12. As a young man he would watch his Mom fight a losing battle with cancer and die far before her time. He would see his Grandma slowly lose her health and her memories to dementia before passing away as well. He would graduate college but still struggle financially for many years because he refused to move away from the family and community he loved. He would have two sons who everyday must live with the challenges of Autism. He would deal daily physical pain from an injured back. And he would suffer emotional pain too from all he had lost and all he had gone through. Yet, in spite of it all he would look back on the life he had lived so far and thank God for it, because it had helped him become who he needed to be.

Just as God writes straight with crooked lines, He also takes the many twists and turns in our lives and uses them to help us to become the people we were meant to be. Without all of that pain, struggle, and loss I would never have become who I am now. I would never have been able to love as deeply, to help others as much, or to appreciate life as fully as I do today.

When I look at that boy in the pictures I wouldn’t trade a second of his life. Even when his heart was broken again and again he never walled it up from the world. Instead he allowed his love to flow freely through the cracks. Every time he stumbled and fell along the way he took God’s hand, rose up, and tried again. And no matter how difficult the path he traveled got, he still walked it with a loving heart and a joyous spirit.

No matter what you have gone through in this life, no matter how many troubles you have faced and agonies you have suffered know that God can use them all for good. God can ease your heartaches with wisdom. God can heal your pain with love. God can temper your trials with joy. God can help you to help others as well. God can guide you to become the person you needed to be in this life and in the life to come. -----------------

A TOUCH

When I was 16 years old I had thick, wavy, brown hair that covered my head including my ears. I used to part it in the middle and comb it back. It was so heavy, though, that the bangs often slipped back down under my glasses when I lowered my head to read. Sometimes when I was doing my schoolwork at the kitchen table I could feel the hair starting to slide down into my eyes again. Usually I’d just let it hang there, but every now and then I would feel a gentle touch on my forehead moving the hair back into place. It was my Mom smiling down at me. She would then wash the dishes behind me while I finished my homework. I think that she enjoyed those little moments as much as I did. I was too old and too big to sit in her lap or be carried in her arms anymore, but she could still show me how much she loved me with a touch.

Now I am 46 years old. My hair is thin and light with more gray than brown. The wavy bangs have retreated all the way up my forehead with only a few strands resting on the very top. I no longer have to worry about it falling into my eyes. It is too busy falling out of my head. My Mom too has been in Heaven now for 21 years. Yet, there are times when I close my eyes and bow my head in peaceful, prayer that I can still feel the slightest touch on my forehead. When it happens I have such love surging through my heart. I know at that moment that my Mom loves me and is watching over me even now.

A touch can do so much to help others in this life. The touch of a hand can share love, ease pain, and bring joy. The touch of a kind word can catch a sinking spirit and give it wings. The touch of God’s love can change your heart, heal your soul, and make you a mighty force for good in this world. May you spend the rest of your days here then touching hands, touching hearts, and touching Heaven with your love. ---------------

IT’S GOOD FOR YOU

Growing up as a boy I was very fortunate to live in a house where a dinner of leftovers tasted even better than the original meal. A good example of this was when my Mom and Nana would make a huge pot of brown beans with cornbread. It would taste so great but we knew that the best was yet to come. The next day Nana would take the left over beans, throw in some pasta and Italian seasonings and create a delicious "Pasta Fasul" with a loaf of freshly baked Italian bread on the side. After we all sat happily at the table she would say, "Mangia, Mangia" which means "Eat, Eat", and she would follow this up with: "It’s good for you!"

It was good for me too. It was good for my body. It was good for my taste buds. And it was good for my soul. It wasn’t just the food that was good for me either but also the love that it was made with. Our family was far from perfect. We had more than our share of tensions, arguments, struggles, trials, and tragedies. We dealt with losses, hardships, poverty, disease, and even death. But through it all love was there. It was there to strengthen us, to carry us through, to make us better, and to bring us joy. It was there in the meals we ate, the troubles we shared, and the times we spent together.

It is this love that I have carried with me all of my life. It is this love that I have tried to share with others as well. If there is anything I have learned in this life it is that love is good for you. Love makes you feel good. Love makes you do good. Love makes you, good. And love brings you ever closer to the ultimate goodness of God.

May you always remember what is good for you then. May you go through all your days here with a full belly and a full heart. And may you share so much love that when you finally come to die even the undertaker is crying. ---------------

THE GIFT OF HAPPINESS

It was the Summer of my freshman year of college. Instead of heading home for a nice, long break three of my friends and I had decided to stay and take some extra courses. The four of us had rented the top floor of an old house to live in. My own bed was jammed into a stuffy former laundry room and each night was a new adventure in humidity. Still, it felt exciting to be out of the dorms and in my own place for the first time. After the first few weeks, though, the thrill faded and homesickness set in. I found myself sitting alone in my sweaty bedroom each night thinking of my home, my Mom, and my Dad.

My Summers growing up had always been a special time. I spent hours riding my bike, playing basketball and swimming. I sat on the porch and talked to my Mom while she tended her flowers. I took pride in helping my Dad haul firewood for the Winter. And every night I sat at a dinner table full of delicious food prepared with love while my family filled the room with the sound of sweet laughter. Now I found myself missing them more than ever.

Finally when my spirits were at their lowest I heard a knock at the door. I opened it and was delighted and surprised to see Mom and Dad standing there with big smiles to fill my hungry heart and a box full of food to feed my hungry friends. We spent the afternoon eating, catching up, and just being together. It felt so good, and I felt so loved.

Victor Hugo wrote that, "The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that one is loved; loved for oneself, or better yet, loved despite oneself." It was that gift of happiness that my Mom and Dad gave me that afternoon and everyday of my life. It was their love that gave me a taste of the even greater love that God has for us all. May you always know that you are loved. May you always feel God’s love within you. And may you always share your happiness with the world. ---------------

WATCHING THE STARS

I was visiting a friend recently when I got to see something special. Now, my friend lives on a small farm several miles down an old country lane. It is far from the street lights and business lights of the cities, towns, and suburbs. When darkness fell then he led me out to his back porch where we sat and gazed up at the stars. Where I live the street lamps block out all but a few of the brightest ones, but here it was like the whole sky was alive with light.

It was so wonderful to see. I had forgotten how breathtakingly beautiful the night sky can be. Instead of black it was a blissful blue and the millions of stars seemed to twinkle with happiness. I could see why our ancient ancestors spent lifetimes watching them, charting them, and cherishing them. Even though it was still the middle of Winter, I felt a warmth around me. Seeing this magnificent creation of our Heavenly Father was like being wrapped in a blanket of love. It was so perfectly peaceful. Having all the lights of the night sky shining above me I could see my own inner light shining brighter as well. I wanted to live long, love well, and shine bright. I wanted to fill my life with God’s light and then share it with the world. I wanted to spend all of my days and nights brightening the hearts and souls of others.

I wish that everyone could live off the beaten path so that each night they could go out and joyfully watch the stars. I wish that everyone could see the gloriousness of Heaven above them and feel the love of God within them. Too often we let the artificial lights of this world distract us from the light of the stars, the light of our souls, and the love in our hearts. Too often we allow the creations of man to overshadow the creations of God.

May you always keep your eyes towards Heaven then. May you always keep your heart filled with love. And may you always let your spirit shine as bright as the stars. ---------------

A SEAT ON THE COUCH

It had been a long, hard day at work. At the time I was in my early twenties but by the end of the day I felt like I was ninety. Times were tough financially and the only job I could find was in a local lumber mill. That meant long hours for low pay. My days were spent cutting, carrying, and stacking boards with an injured back that never stopped hurting. My fingers were covered in band aids but still split and bled through my torn work gloves. When each day finally ended it was all I could do to trudge tiredly out to my car.

The drive home was short but felt long. I was so worn out. Each day seemed to take more out of me and the money I earned was barely enough to feed my family. When I got to my front door I did my best to wipe the sawdust off my clothes before going in. Then I wearily hung up my hard hat, took off my cracked, worn, work boots, and collapsed on the couch. I sat there for a while with my eyes closed, trying to rest my aching back. Suddenly, I felt our little dog curling up in a ball next to me. I smiled and petted him for a bit before opening my eyes again.

When I did my smile widened because my young daughter was standing in front of me holding her favorite children’s book. She looked at me innocently with her beautiful blue eyes and asked if I could read her a story. I bent over, helped her to climb up on my lap, and said, "Sure Sweetie." I felt a warmth and peace around me as I started to read and fresh energy soon began to fill my body and spirit. I knew then that everything was going to be alright and I silently thanked God for His love, for my family, and for my life.

So many of us spend our lives in the pursuit of happiness. Yet, often all you need to do is take a seat on the couch and watch as love climbs on your lap, peace curls up by your side, and happiness fills your heart. May you always love freely and live joyfully as God intended. --------------

GUARANTEED DELIVERY

I got up early this morning, hopped in my car, and headed to the local post office. I drove along with eager anticipation that something I had been waiting for would be there. It had been ten days since I sent for it and I was sure that it would finally be waiting in my mailbox today. When I got there I slid my key into the box and opened the door. My face fell, however, when I saw it was empty. I sighed and shut the door. "Maybe tomorrow", I said to myself as I got in my car and headed home.

I didn’t blame the post office for my disappointment. It is amazing how many millions of letters and packages they deliver on time every single day. I didn’t blame the place I ordered it from either. They had said it could be up to two weeks before I got it. I only blamed my own impatience. I had never been one for waiting. I had always wanted everything in my life right away, and it had taken God many years to teach me to take the long view of eternity. Still, I was grateful to Him because there was one package I always got guaranteed delivery.

You see, everyday I open the door of my soul and find the shining package of God’s love waiting on the doorstep. Everyday I open it and find my spirit filled with joy. It is so wonderful knowing that God loves us all completely and unconditionally. It is so glorious knowing that His love is forever waiting to fill our hearts full to overflowing. It saddens me, though, to know that so many people out there refuse delivery.

When you open the door of your soul today don’t refuse delivery. When you see that shining gift of God’s love take it into your arms and welcome it into your heart. Then go out and share it with everyone you meet. And always remember that God’s love is not only guaranteed delivery but also guaranteed to grow in every heart that freely gives it to others. ---------------

CREATURES OF HOPE

It is almost Groundhog day as I write this. That is the day when all of America watches as two men in top hats and suits from Victorian England reach into the ground and pull out a giant rodent to find out if it will see its shadow. If Mr. Groundhog does see it then we are supposed to have six more weeks of Winter, but if he doesn’t we are supposed to have an early Spring. Of course, everyone knows that we will have six more weeks of Winter either way. We all know that a cubby groundhog has no power to bring about an early Spring. Still, every year we watch to see what the furry weather forecaster will do.

Why do we do this? I think that the main reason is that at heart we human beings are creatures of hope. We hope for an early Spring. We hope for a better life. We hope for a better future for our children. We hope for a better world. We even hope that we can grow into better people ourselves. And it is this hope that makes all the others possible.

You see, we can grow into better people. We can do so with each choice we make. We can do so with each act of kindness we do and each gesture of goodness we give. All our other hopes rest on it too. Only by being better people can we create a better future for our children. Only by being better people can we make a better life for ourselves. Only by being better people can we build a better world. Only by being better people and sharing our love and light with everyone can me make it feel like Spring even in the middle of Winter.

Yes, we human beings are creatures of hope, but we are also creatures of action. Let us all keep our hopes high then and our spirits strong. Let us all keep our hearts loving and our actions kind. Let us all build a better world, a better future, a better life, and a better soul within us. God is smiling down on us and ready to help us every step of the way. All we need do is begin. ---------------

WARMTH ON A WINTER’S DAY

It was the start of a typical Winter’s day here in the mountains of my home. Outside the grass was frosted and the ground crunched under my feet. The sun was rising but it did nothing to ease the cold. I could feel the bitter air seeping into my bones. My own breath froze in my nose while I walked my dogs. Still, I stopped to look at the magnificent pinks and purples in the heavens. It was so glorious. I gave thanks to God for another beautiful if freezing day. After a while even my dogs seemed to feel the chill. They quickly pulled me back towards the house and once inside wolfed down their breakfast and curled up in the sunbeams coming through the windows for their morning nap. I smiled as I watched them and then made a hearty bowl of oatmeal for myself.

After breakfast I pulled on my favorite sweater and slowly sipped a cup of coffee. I heard the gentle thumping noise as the heater kicked on again and warm air started to flow from the floor vents. I laughed too as I saw my youngest son hurry over to stand on one of the vents and warm his feet. In spite of the biting cold on this frozen Winter’s day, I felt a warmth in my soul.

I looked out my window and once more gave thanks to God for the day. I was grateful that while it was Winter outside my window, it was no longer Winter inside my heart. For too many long years it had felt like Winter there. For too many years the world had seemed cold and harsh. For too many years I had foolishly stayed away from the warmth of God’s love.

On this day, however, I felt the fire of His love heating my heart and lighting my soul. On this day I felt a Springtime of joy growing inside of me. I knew that God was with me and within me and that my own love would only grow warmer as well. Don’t let your own heart stay in Winter. Welcome God’s love and light into it today. Then go out and share your Spring with the world. ---------------

UNWANTED HOUSE GUESTS

Have you ever had unwanted house guests? I am talking about the ones who wear out their welcome in the first two minutes yet plan to stay forever. I am talking about the ones who trash the place, eat all the food, sit in your favorite chair, and take over your bed. I am talking about the ones that even your dogs avoid. I am talking about the ones that take everything and give back nothing. I am talking about the ones that only brighten up a room when they leave it.

I had two guests like this for years. Their names were Fear and Hate and they seemed like permanent squatters in my soul. Every time I would try and toss them out, I would look around a few days later and find that they had snuck back in. They also invited their friends Worry, Doubt, Jealousy, Envy, Frustration, Depression, and Despair to stay as well. It made for a miserable home and a miserable life.

Finally one day I could take it no longer. I cried out to God to help me get rid of these unwanted guests once and for all. It was then that I heard a gentle knock on the door of my soul. When I opened it I found Love there smiling at me. I invited Love in and watched as my unwanted house guests fled out the door and through the windows. They couldn’t leave quick enough. Then Love asked his friends Peace and Joy over to help straighten up the place. I soon realized too that Love was a guest I never wanted to leave. Every now and then Fear and Hate will try to sneak back in, but when they see Love sitting on the couch they run.

God loves us so much and He wants us to love as well. He wants us to choose love, share love, and fill our lives with love. He wants us to love each other as He loves us. He wants us to make Love our permanent house guest and best friend. Open your door then. Invite Love in. Let Fear and Hate hit the highway. Make your home a happy one now and forever. ---------------

SUCCESS

In the eyes of the world I am not seen as much of a success. I have a tiny house not a mansion. I don’t wear fancy clothes. I don’t own an expensive car, or a plane, or a yacht. My bank account is always empty at the end of the month. I am not a CEO of a corporation. I haven’t made a movie, won a Grammy, or sold a million books. I am not famous. My picture has never been on a magazine cover. I have never had my own reality television show. Yet, in spite of all of this there are many times when I do feel like a success.

When my grown up son gives me a hug and says: "I love you Dad", I feel like a success. When my big dog walks over to me, puts his head on my lap, and looks up at me with his adoring brown eyes, I feel like a success. When I share a laugh with the cashier in the grocery store, I feel like a success. When I give my smile to a stranger I am walking by and find my gift returned, I feel like a success. When I send what few dollars I can to a charity and know that I am helping someone in need, I feel like a success. When I get a letter from someone who has been touched by the simple stories I write, I feel like a success. When I remember that God loves me in spite of all my faults and failings, I feel like a success.

Perhaps what this world needs is a redefining of what success really is. Perhaps this world needs to recognize that fame fades, money is soon spent, power never lasts, and material things always turn to dust. Perhaps this world needs to see that the most successful life of all is one where you love God, yourself, and others. Perhaps we all need to realize that a successful life in the eyes of the world isn’t always a successful life in the eyes of Heaven.

May you always see the success in your own life. May you always be a success in loving, giving, caring, and sharing. And may you always succeed in making God smile. ---------------

THE BEAUTY OF THE SPIRIT

I was walking towards the store when I first saw her. She was between eighty and ninety years old. Her hair was thin, sparse, and as white as the snow on the sidewalk outside. Her face was red, chapped, and wrinkled from a lifetime of use. Her mouth was missing most of its teeth. Her gnarled hands each carried a bag full of groceries. She wore work boots that had clearly seen better days. As she shuffled slowly towards the door she stopped only once to put down her bags and button her thin, wool jacket.

I hurried my pace and opened the door for her. She smiled at me with her few remaining teeth and said, "Thank you young man." I touched my gray hair and smiled at being thought of as a young man again. Then I watched as this ancient angel slowly walked to the food drive collection bin and lifted the heavier of her two bags up to put into it. She made one last stop on her way out to say "hi" to a young mother she knew. The mother had her baby girl in her arms and the elderly woman gently reached down and tickled the child under her chin. The little girl laughed with joy and kicked her feet. The old lady laughed as well in her cracked voice and then continued happily on her way. I stood there watching her and thought to myself: "That was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen."

I am so thankful to God for teaching me over the years how to see clearly. I no longer look at the world through the eyes of society with its plastic surgery view of what is beautiful and what is not. God has showed me through His love, His grace, and His guidance to see with the eyes of my soul and to recognize the beauty of the spirit in each of us.

I hope that lovely old woman continues to touch others with her gentleness, kindness, and joy for years to come. May her beauty, love, and light shine bright on Earth and in Heaven. ---------------

THE GREATEST ADVENTURE OF ALL

When I was a little boy I used to love those nights when my Mom would read me a story before bed. I would be warm under my blankets while my Mom’s soothing voice would take me on an adventure to another world. As I got older I soon started taking those magical adventures myself. There seemed to be so many books and so little time to read them all. I journeyed along with Bilbo and Frodo in "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings." I walked excitedly into the closet with the kids in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." I traveled into outer space and went on quests with the Knights of the round table. I journeyed to the center of the Earth and swung through the trees with Tarzan. I fought in the battle of Troy and the traveled on the voyages of Ulysses. I went on thousands of great adventures all from the safety of my chair and comfort of my bed.

As I grew into adulthood, however, I came to realize something very important: the greatest adventure of all is the life you live here. Living your life with compassion, kindness, laughter and joy day by day and moment by moment is more exciting than the best book. Putting your heart on the line in the real world takes far more courage than putting your life on the line in some make believe fantasy. Offering hugs, sharing smiles, giving your love and help to others may seem like little things in a book’s plot line, but in life they are the things that help to make the world a better, more Heavenly place.

I will always love books and the adventures they bring to the heart and mind, but I will also forever embrace the greatest adventure of all. God put us here in this world to live, to learn, and to love. What greater quest than to do so every single day of our lives? What greater adventure than to become the people God meant for us to be? -----------------

BLESSINGS IN DISGUISE

The rain poured down on the car stopped by the side of the road. I had made my wife pull over a few minutes earlier when her tears had made it impossible for her to drive. My own heart ached with pain and my eyes were wet with tears too. It was the worst moment of our lives. I held her in my arms for a long time while the Heavens seemed to cry with us.

We had just come from a specialist office in a big hospital. We had taken our firstborn son there to be tested. He was nearing 3 years old and hadn’t started to talk yet. He also had displayed behaviors that weren’t normal. After a long wait and longer tests the Doctor told us that there was definitely something wrong although he couldn’t say what it was. He recommended more tests. We drove away in silence. I could see the hurt in my wife’s eyes as she tried to hold back the coming tears. All she had wanted was a "normal" little boy. Finally as the rain began to fall outside the car our tears began to fall inside it.

We sat there for the longest time crying and feeling powerless and unsure of what to do next. After a while the clouds parted and the sun began to shine again. We looked back at our son in his car seat and he smiled happily at us. We knew then that we had to go on no matter what the road ahead of us may hold.

Our boy was later diagnosed with Autism and mental retardation. He was five years old before he finally began to speak in sentences. Although he learned to talk and read we still knew that he would have to be looked after for the rest of his life. As the years went on, though, I realized that my boy was not only "special" mentally, but also "special" spiritually. Even with all the limitations and frustrations his handicap gave him, he still managed to give his kindness, love, and enthusiasm to everyone around him. He remembered people he met and called them by name. He gave out hugs as easily as the rest of us gave out "hi’s". He went through his days with a ready smile and a simple joy that were contagious. He gave up the role of "eldest child" to his younger "normal" sister, but still helped to look after his younger brother who had been born with an even more severe form of Autism. He became more than just my son. He became my friend. He became my helper. He became my teacher in how to live and in how to give. He became my inspiration on how to love and be happy in that love. He and his brother both became beautiful blessings in disguise.

As I look back on the years my boys and I have spent together and look forward to the times that lie ahead of us, I once again thank God for giving them to me. My first born son and his younger brother have both done what everyone of us longs to do: they have made this world a better and more beautiful place just by being in it. They have touched countless hearts with their love, laughter, and joy and they will undoubtedly touch countless more.

Many people look upon the mentally handicapped as something less than human. I now see them as something more. They have inside of them a deeper love, joy, and connection to God than the rest of us. And while we take care of them we should also take the time to learn from them as well. They truly are all blessings in disguise and while they sometimes bring us tears of sadness, they more often bring us tears of joy. ---------------

WORKING FOR DAD

When I was growing up my Dad would often give me chores to do to help out around the house. Some were easy but the three I remember the most were the three toughest of all. The first was helping to weed the four gardens we had. It was tedious work. I would much rather have been riding my bike than crawling in the dirt on my hands and knees pulling the thousands of weeds that choked our gardens. The second was stacking firewood for Winter. It was tough work and I got more than my share of splinters. I would much rather have been walking in the woods than stacking it in rows. The third was hauling water from a mountain spring to our house, because our well water had too much iron in it to drink. It was a long trip carrying five gallon jugs. I would much rather have been playing basketball than carrying them.

Over the years, though, I learned to see the rewards in all the things Dad made me do. Having fresh vegetables for dinner was a delicious delight. Enjoying a cold glass of iced tea made from the mountain spring water was a pure pleasure. Standing by the wood stove on a snowy December day was a wonderful way to warm up. I saw as well that all this work Dad had given me had gradually made me a better, stronger, and more caring man. Most of all, I realized that when I did my work with a happy heart it didn’t feel like work at all.

Over the years I have learned something else too. When we do the work of our Heavenly Father with a loving spirit it doesn’t feel like work either. It feels like joy. Every act of kindness, word of encouragement, and gift of love we share will only make our lives better, make our hearts happier, and bring our souls closer to Heaven.

I am so grateful then to both my Dad and my Father in Heaven. They showed me the value of work and more importantly they showed me the pricelessness of love. ---------------

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

Christmas is a time of great faith, hope, and love. As you get older it is also a time of cherishing wonderful memories. This happened to me as I was sitting quietly listening to Christmas carols today. I relaxed, closed my eyelids and felt my eyes tear up under them as I allowed the flood of childhood, Christmas memories to wash over me once again.

I remembered how we were a poor family by today’s standards. We lived in my Grandma’s old house that was a combination of two shanty cars and several other rooms that my Dad later built on. Yet, we were so rich in all the important things in life.

I remembered getting up on a bitingly cold, December morning and watching my Dad build a fire in the stove. I remembered pulling on my oversized winter coat that had been my older brother’s and warming myself by the fire before heading outside with my Dad and brothers to chop down a Christmas tree. I remembered Dad letting me pick the scraggliest, ugliest looking tree over my brothers’ objections and how the limbs could barely support the ornaments and lights when we decorated it. I remembered watching my grandmother, "Nanny," slowly pulling her ancient Nativity scene out of a box and putting it under the tree with such reverence, gentleness, and tenderness. I remembered too the kiss she gave the baby Jesus before placing him in the manger.

I remembered listening to my Mom sing along with the Christmas carols on the radio while she cleaned the house. I also remembered the beautiful look of pure peace and happiness she would get on her face whenever she sang, "Silent Night."

I remembered the note my Mom and Dad wrote for Santa and put on our front door, because I was worried that he would skip our empty house while we were at midnight Mass. I remembered as well trying to stay awake for the whole midnight service at our Church, but falling asleep on my Mom’s lap instead.

I remembered the Italian-American Christmas dinner where freshly baked bread was served along with the turkey, Pasta Fasul was served along with the mashed potatoes, and you could get Provolone cheese as well as pumpkin pie.

I remembered the eager anticipation of waiting to open my presents on Christmas morning. They were few in number and never very expensive, but they always brought joy to my young boy’s heart. I remembered playing with them too for months and sometimes years to come.

Most of all, though, I remembered the unwavering love in that house. It made everyday feel like Christmas. It was there in our hugs and smiles, laugher and tears, arguments and agreements, triumphs and tragedies. Even when that house burned down, the love remained. It gave me a hint of the Love that God has for us all. With it we felt like the wealthiest family in the whole world.

Mom and Nanny have passed on to Heaven now, but the memories of their love at Christmastime and all through the year live on in my heart and mind. It is like what the great author Leo Buscaglia once wrote: "Love never dies as long as there is someone who remembers."

May your life be full of loving memories at Christmastime and always. And may you create new ones every single day. Have a Merry Christmas. ---------------

SPILLED BEER  

It was the first semester of my Freshman year in college. I was sitting in a bar drinking beer, smoking a cigarette, and trying to look cool. I had just gotten my first set of grades and they were a lot worse than I thought they would be. Too many beer nights had seen to that. I felt lonely, sad, and empty inside. I wondered where my life was going. I thought a few more beers would make me feel better, but all they did was make my head spin and my hands feel numb.

The rock music blared from the jukebox. I shook my head and reached down to take another drink from my draft. My numb fingers, however, were no longer working well. The glass slipped from them and beer spilled on the table and my pants. Red-faced, I got up and quickly walked out of the bar followed by the noise of drunken laughter. On my way back to my dorm room I could only think of how stupid I felt. I began to realize too that even a billion beers wouldn’t fill the hole I felt inside my heart. I knew I had to take another path.

I stopped drinking and smoking soon after that night, improved my grades, and graduated college. I started looking too for the path that might lead me to true happiness. It took me years but I finally did find the Love, Grace, and Oneness with God that sent the loneliness, emptiness, and sadness away for good. It had been patiently waiting for me all along. All I had to do was invite it into my heart, soul, and life.

No amount of alcohol can ever drown your pain, loneliness, and despair. They all know how to swim. The only way to get rid of them is to daily replace them with something stronger: God’s love for you and the love that burns within your own soul. Do so and make your heart beat with happiness. Do so and make your life a gift of joy to the world. ---------------

WHAT WE DO WITH IT

One of my neighbors used to have a beautiful tree in her front yard. Her Dad had planted it for her when it was nothing more than a twig and for years it seemed to barely grow at all. Yet, after a time it started to shoot towards the sky with amazing speed. Soon it towered above her home and blessed her with cooling shade in the Summer and glorious, golden leaves in the Fall.

When the two day blizzard from Hurricane Sandy struck our town almost 4 feet of wet, heavy snow fell on the tree’s limbs that were still full of leaves. The weight was overwhelming and split that lovely tree down the middle. It was so sad seeing half of it laying on the ground after the storm. When I talked to my neighbor later she said that the damage had been too much and that the entire tree would have to be cut down. Thankfully, she had saved a few saplings from it that she hoped to replant in the future.

Still, it was a shock to drive by her house the other day and see nothing but a stump in her front yard. I missed that tree. I missed its beauty. I missed its leaves shining in the afternoon sun. I missed seeing its limbs reach towards the heavens. I thought that the stump would be a sad reminder of it’s loss for a long time to come. My wonderful neighbor, though, had another plan. When I drove by her home today I saw a tiny bird feeder sitting on that stump and a colorful songbird having its dinner. It was such an affirmation of life. It was such a joy to see. I could feel my heart smile.

Life by its very nature is a mixed bag. It hands us both beauty and tragedy, love and loss, pleasure and pain. What we do with it, however, is up to us. We can let is split us in two, or we can use even its hardest times to make our souls stronger and our hearts more loving. We can spend it complaining or we can use it to help others, share God’s love, and make Heaven smile. ---------------

OUR DAILY BREAD

It was the Christmas break from school almost 40 years ago. I had spent most of the morning like any young boy would, playing outside in the snow and soaking up the few hours of sunlight on the shortest day of the year. I had delighted in stomping through the freshly frozen flakes, making snowballs to throw at the trees, and watching the smoky breath float out of my mouth. After a while, though, the cold got to be too much and I went back inside my house.

I took off my wet coat and put on my favorite blue sweater. Then I walked into the kitchen. My Mom and Grandma had just finished baking two loaves of Italian bread. The smell was heavenly. Mom looked up, smiled at me and asked me what I wanted for lunch. I smiled back and pointed to the delicious looking loaves. Mom laughed, cut a slice off the end, and buttered it for me. Then she told me to go sit by the stove in the living room and get warm. Taking my slice with me I snuggled into my favorite chair, ate my bread, and felt the gentle heat from the stove warm my little body. It was a moment of pure peace and heartfelt happiness. I felt so good, so loved, and so content that I remember it to this day.

There is a good reason why when Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer He had us ask our Heavenly Father only for our daily bread. It is because nothing else is necessary. Our daily bread and God’s love are all we need in this life. They are all we need to live. They are all we need to love. They are all we need to have the joy we all so desire. Anything else is just an extra blessing to be used to make this world a better place for us all.

The next time you pray then thank God for the daily bread that fills your stomach. Thank God for His daily love that fills your soul. Thank God for the loving heart that beats in your chest. Then go out and with great joy share your bread, your blessings, and your love with the world. ---------------

MOONPIE

Over the last few months I have once again been reminded of two things: God has a sense of humor and God knows how to heal a hurting heart. It all started a few weeks after the death of our beloved dog, Harley. At the time I was in mourning and had no intention of adding yet another pet to a house still crowded with 4 dogs, 3 cats, and a turtle with a bad attitude. Little was I to know, however, that God had other plans. That very day my daughter came home from her walk carrying a small, sad-eyed bag of bones in her arms. She had rescued the poor, limping puppy after it had almost gotten hit by a car.

I knew that I would have to take this little dog into my home at least while we looked for her owners. I was worried too that she might not be easily accepted by our other dogs. Instead she quickly and happily took over the entire house. With a curious combination of cuteness and rambunctiousness she made us all laugh and love her at the same time. Her leg quickly healed. She put on weight and soaked up the love and attention we gave her like a sponge. Soon she was sharing my daughter’s bed, bringing out the playful puppy in our older dogs, chewing on my shoes, and touching my soul as well. She showed me something we all should know: the best way to heal is to open your heart and love again.

No one ever claimed this 4 legged angel so she joyfully made her home in our house and in our hearts. My daughter named her "Moonpie" because she was as sweet as the dessert. She was also ornery, full of energy, and more than a handful at times. Still, I thank God for bringing her into our lives. He knew just what we needed and just when we needed it. Thanks to little "Moony" our hearts have been healed and our days are even more full of love. And I am sure too that when we laugh at her antics, God and the angels are laughing with us. ---------------

THE HUMAN SPIRIT

While the mountains of my home escaped the greatest destruction from Hurricane Sandy they still received a devastating two day blizzard brought on by the storm. Over three feet of wet, heavy snow crushed our communities. The roofs of businesses collapsed. Thousands of trees lay split and broken on the ground. Roads were blocked. Power lines were down and countless homes were without phones, electric, and heat. We were trapped in the cold and the dark. All I could do was wrap my children in their warmest clothes, huddle under blankets, and smile when our newest puppy dog curled in a ball for warmth and fell asleep on my daughter’s lap.

When the storm stopped, however, people went outside and met this disaster with an amazing combination of rugged resilience and kind-hearted compassion. People pulled out their snow shovels and began to dig out their cars, homes, and driveways. Pick up trucks and tractors with snow plows lent a hand to the highway workers clearing the roads. The National Guard arrived to help cut up the fallen trees and free the tangled power lines. The linemen from the power companies worked 16 hours a day. People with generators offered their electricity and people with gas heat opened their homes to their neighbors. Food was shared. Work was shared. Smiles were shared. It was so wonderful to see. Watching it all I was in awe once again at the strength of the human spirit and the love of the human heart.

The author C.S. Lewis used the phrase, "Surprised by joy" to describe what he felt when he realized the immensity of God’s love for him and everyone else. I too was "Surprised by joy" when I saw how a horrible hurricane brought out such an immensity of love in God’s Children.

The human spirit is an amazing thing. Sometimes it shines brightest when the times are darkest. Sometimes its love warms our hearts even in the bitter cold of a blizzard. ---------------

YOUR JOB IS TO LOVE

My kitchen table was covered with papers. It was the end of the month and I was trying to get all of my paperwork done and taken to the office on time. I sat down in a chair, picked up my pen, and started writing on the first page. Just then a flash of motion caught my eye. I looked out my window and saw my neighbors’ white beagle standing on my back porch. She had gotten free from her yard and was having fun running loose.

Knowing my neighbors were at work I looked at my paperwork, sighed, and put down the pen. I headed out the backdoor and whistled for the dog to come. She looked like she might come to me for a second, but then she caught a scent in the air and headed for the woods. I ran after her calling and whistling the whole time. As I followed her further and further into the woods, I grew frustrated. "Come on!", I said to no one in particular. "I have work to do!"

Suddenly, I heard a soft, gentle voice that was not my own whisper in my mind. "Your job is to love," it said. At that moment my heart was filled with a warmth and love that are beyond my words to describe. My eyes moistened and I smiled at the same time. I squatted down and called my neighbors’ dog again. This time the beagle turned and ran happily into my arms. She licked my face over and over as I carried her the quarter mile back to her yard. Even though my arms were tired my heart was light. I was at peace doing my real job. The paperwork could wait.

God loves us all and His greatest joy is in seeing us love each other as well. To love is our job, our mission, and our purpose in this life. Do your job well then and have the time of your life while you do it. Love God. Love yourself. Love others. Love animals. Love this world. Love your life. Share your love in everything you think, feel, say and do. And rejoice in the peace and happiness it brings to you always. ---------------

EVERY STEP OF THE WAY

I saw something wonderful the other day. I was on my way to pick up some groceries with my grown children in the car. It was a brisk, sunny day with peak Fall colors blessing the trees and my heart with their beauty. As a car in front of us came to a stop in order to turn off the highway, however, I saw something even more beautiful. A young mother was walking along holding the hand of her toddler. When they reached the safety of an empty church parking lot the mother suddenly let go of her child’s hand and watched as the 2 year old joyfully ran ahead as fast as his little feet could carry him.

I smiled when I saw the little guy toddling along with his mom walking behind him. It took me back so many years to the first time I let go of each of my own children’s hands. It was scary watching them run ahead when they were barely able to walk, but I knew it was time. I had to let them go so they could grow. I had to let them walk, trip, and even hit the dirt knowing that they would get back up, dust themselves off, and try again. I had to let them run ahead trusting that at some point they would turn around and run back into my arms.

In a lot of ways we are like those little toddlers. We are Children of God just beginning to walk on our own in this world. While God lovingly watches over us we run ahead, stumble and fall, get back up and try again. We learn how to walk, we learn how to think, we learn how to live, and we learn how to love. And as we journey through this life hopefully we all one day grow wise enough to turn around and run back into our Heavenly Father’s loving arms.

On your own travels through this world remember that you never walk alone. God loves you and is walking with you every step of the way. May your every step lead you to greater growth, learning, and love. May your every stride bring you a little closer to Heaven. ---------------

THE MYSTERY AND THE MAGIC

When I was a young boy Autumn always seemed to be filled with mystery and magic. I would go to sleep on a warm Summer’s night with the mountains full of green leaves and awake on a cool Fall morning with the hills full of reds and yellows. I would be amazed at how one tree’s leaves would be one color and a different tree’s leaves another. I would pick up the freshly fallen leaves, take them inside and give them to my Mom like they were a bouquet of flowers. Later when the ground was covered with them I would dance along their crunchy, colorful carpet. I would lie down on them, inhale and delight in their wonderful smell. I would rake them into piles and jump in them again and again. And as Fall neared its end I would stare at the bare trees and mourn their loss. Still, I knew that the Winter’s snows would soon make the trees beautiful again in a different way. I also knew that in the Spring the leaves would return to the mountains of my home reborn in the warmth and the light.

As I got older my science classes solved the mystery of how the leaves changed in my mind. Yet, knowing why they changed didn’t take away from the magic of it. It was still a joy to wake up one day and see a different world outside my window. It was still a pure pleasure to walk in this new world and delight in its beauty. It still made me feel like a happy child again thanking God for giving us such a wonderful world to live in.

Life is full of mystery and magic. We can deny it with a frown or we can embrace it with a smile. I hope you always see the world around you for the miraculous creation it is. I hope you realize that it is a gift from God to be enjoyed, cherished, and cared for as well. I pray you see the magical power of love within yourself too. And I hope you use it well to create compassion, beauty, kindness, laughter, and joy everyday of your life. ---------------

TWO BOXES OF RICE

I drove to a local supermarket the other day. My shopping list was long and my wallet was light. Still, I needed to get a week’s worth of groceries for my family. I parked my car, looked down at my list, and hoped I could afford it all.

As I approached the door I saw a man with kind eyes and a gentle smile. He said he was collecting for a local food bank that helped to feed the hungry in my area. He handed me a second shopping list of things they could use and asked me to help if I could. I smiled back, took the list and walked into the store. I really wanted to help but wasn’t sure if I could this time.

I walked through the store getting vegetables, soup, spaghetti, bread, milk, cereal, macaroni, bananas, and a dozen other things. I slowly marked each item off my list until I was done. When I looked down at my full cart I wondered again if I even had enough to pay for it all. Then as I put my own list back into my pocket I saw the food bank list under it. I smiled and decided to trust in the Heavenly Father who loves us all. I went over and picked up two of the biggest boxes of rice the store had for the food bank and put them in my cart. It took another six dollars out of my wallet to pay for them, but my heart felt six times larger when I did. And when everything was totaled, I had just enough to pay for it all.

It takes so little to make our world a better place. It takes so little to do God’s work here. A few dollars can help to fill a child’s hungry belly. A smile and hug can help to heal a hurting heart. An encouraging word can inspire someone else to live and to love. A random act of kindness can change another’s day and life. It is up to you, though. You can think only of yourself and those close to you or you can see that we are all Children of the same God. You can save a few bucks on rice or you can share a love that will last for all eternity. ---------------

A LITTLE CLOSER TO HEAVEN

It is a lovely Autumn day as I write this. An evening rain has led to a brisk morning. There is a freshness in the air too that makes my lungs expand with joy. The sun is up, slowly warming the world with its heat and light. On the trees the green leaves are rapidly changing to wondrous colors created by God’s own hand. The yellows and golds are shining in the sunlight. The brilliant oranges are putting the pumpkins to shame. The bright reds are making the mountains ablaze with their beauty. The darker reds, burgundies and even browns are starting to appear as well. Just looking at them fills my heart with happiness. On glorious days like these it is easy to feel a little closer to Heaven.

It isn’t just in the midst of Autumn’s wonder that I feel closer to Heaven, though. I have felt closer to Heaven in the sweat of Summer’s hottest days. I have felt closer to Heaven walking home during the heavy showers of Spring. I have even felt closer to Heaven during the shortest, coldest, and darkest days of Winter. No matter what the season or the weather, I have felt closer to Heaven every time I have chosen to love.

You see, it is love that is the color of our souls. It is love that is the warmth of our hearts. It is love that brings the light of God into us and shines the light of God out of us. It is love that we all are called to give to the world. When we choose to love everyday is a glorious day. When we share love everyday feels a little closer to Heaven.

As you journey through the seasons of your own life here I hope that you always make love your traveling companion. I hope that each step you take together brings you closer to Heaven. I hope that you inspire other souls to join you as well until the day your travels bring you home again into your Heavenly Father’s loving arms. ---------------

CANDLES ON A CAKE

I have a birthday coming up soon, but I decided not to put any candles on my cake this year. I thought that 46 of them might ruin the icing or set off the smoke alarm. The funny thing, though, is that when I looked in the mirror this morning I didn’t see a middle-aged man looking back at me. Sure there was gray in the hair and wrinkles around the mouth and eyes. The skin wasn’t as smooth and the hair wasn’t as thick either, except in the ears. Yet, when I saw his smile and the twinkle in his eyes I felt as vital and alive as I ever had. I saw the young, loving spirit living inside this aging body and knew that is who I really am.

I remembered too one of the quotes on a beautiful plaque that my daughter gave me as an early birthday present. It was by Edward Bulwer Lytton and it said: "It is not by the gray of the hair that one knows the age of the heart.

It is such an amazing thing that we can grow younger on the inside while we grow older on the outside. Some of the most loving, joyous, and vital people I know live inside ancient bodies that have seen far better days. These people live from the soul. They love from the heart. They have an enthusiasm for life that is contagious. They smile often, laugh a lot, and take life one day at a time. On the inside they are far younger than I could ever hope to be. They remind me that old bodies don’t always make for old hearts.

I hope then that when your own birthday comes around that your heart will feel as young as ever. I hope that you will remember that you are not numbers on a calendar or candles on a cake. You are instead a being of light and a Child of God. You are an eternal, loving soul. You are a forever young spirit. Your body may age, weaken, and eventually die, but you never will. May you live all of your days with love, laughter, light, and joy. ---------------

ALL THE LITTLE THINGS

Over the years I have learned that the best lives are built one choice and one change at a time. They are not built on some big triumph or accomplishment but rather on all the little things we choose to do every single day. What are some of these little things that you can do to change your own life? Here are just a few of them.

Say "Good Morning God!" when you wake up everyday. Watch the sunrise. Watch the sunset. Watch the birds flying across the sky. Smell the flowers. Play in the leaves. Make snow angels. Pet your pets. Play with your kids. Pray. Smile at that person in the mirror. Smile at that stranger on the street. Wave. Hug your children. Hug your friends. Hug yourself. Care and sometimes cry. Sing and sometimes dance. Read an uplifting book. Write an uplifting letter. Laugh often. Encourage those around you. Offer to help another. Give a compliment. Pat a back. Shake a hand. Share a kiss. Say "Please." Say "Thank You." Say "Your Welcome." Take a walk. Take a nap. Take a moment to thank God for today. Enjoy a meal. Hum a tune. Whistle while you work. Listen to music. Listen to the birds singing. Listen to people. Be kind. Be compassionate. Do good. Live simply. Give much. Expect nothing in return.

Most of all, though, just love. Choose love. Share love. Learn of love. Grow in love. Pray for love. Delight in love. Become one with God’s love. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love yourself. Love everyone else in this world as you love yourself. Love and have joy in that love.

All of these little things build the best life. All of these little choices create a life of love and light. All of these little changes fill you with Heaven and happiness. Try them all. Build a better life, a better you, and a better world. ---------------

SOAKING UP THE SUN

When you go through this life with your eyes open, you soon see that everything in it is a miracle. You realize that you are a part of this miracle too from your first breath until your last sigh. You start to notice that you are connected not only with every person on this planet but also with every part of creation as well from the stones under your feet to the sun in the sky.

I got a beautiful reminder of this recently. I was taking a morning walk near the woods by my home. A cool, September rain had left everything smelling, fresh and new. I was enjoying the double delight of seeing the first leaves on the trees turning to bright reds and brilliant yellows while under them the wild flowers of Summer were still blooming away.

Suddenly, I felt the warmth of a sunbeam kiss my face. The gray, heavy clouds from the earlier rain were beginning to drift apart and shafts of sunshine were breaking through to light up parts of the woods. It was so beautiful seeing this glorious dance of light and shadow. As I was taking it all in I saw a tiny tortoise slowly crawling his way from the dark to the light. When he finally reached a spot where the sun was shining down on a rock, he stopped and started to soak up Heaven’s gift. I stood there and watched my shell-backed friend for a long time. And when I turned to head back to my home my heart felt warmer as well.

It is so great to be a part of God’s creation. It is so wonderful to be able to feel His love and His light. Thankfully, God’s light isn’t limited to just sunny days. It always shines. Even on the darkest and coldest nights it is there. All we need to do is to step into it and let it fill us with joy. All we need to do is soak up its warmth and love and share it with the world. All we need to do is to happily take our place in this miracle that is life. ---------------

MEMORIES OF MOM

Memory is often the source of our greatest joys as well as our deepest regrets. I cherish every memory I have of my Mom, but at the same time I regret no longer being able to create new ones with her. My Mom left this world when I was only 25 years old. I was far too young and foolish then to realize what a blessing every moment with her was. I never got a chance to say, "Thank You" to her for all of them. All I can do now then is to share these memories with you and pray that Mom will be reading this as well by God’s side in Heaven. I also pray that you too will take today to thank all those who bless your life with their love.

Mom, I remember all of those little bowls of cereal you would bring me as a bedtime snack when I was a boy. I remember all of those stories you would read to me before bed and how safe and loved I felt when you tucked me in at night.

Mom, I remember you showing me how to pop popcorn in our old cast iron skillet, how you smiled when I sometimes burned it, and how we would share it out of a big bowl when we watched TV together.

Mom, I remember how scared you were when I wrecked my bicycle and split my head open. I remember you rushing me to the hospital for stitches and calming me even though you were more frightened than I was. I remember too another time in the hospital when I woke up alone and terrified after having my tonsils taken out only to see you sitting by my side with a bowl of ice cream.

Mom, I remember the time you spanked my butt when I took something that didn’t belong to me and I remember looking into your eyes after it was done and seeing that it hurt you more than it hurt me.

Mom, I remember when you spent hours walking with me searching for my dog, Duke when he ran away. You never let me lose hope. I remember too you putting him in my bed after he finally found his own way home.

Mom, I remember every time you inspired me to work hard, do good in school, and go on to college. I also remember all those boxes of food you and Dad would bring to me when I was in college. You always kept my stomach full and my mind hungry.

Mom, I remember you teaching me to drive even though I nearly scared you to death when I got behind the wheel. You taught me well and never gave up, even when it cost you a scratched bumper and a few more gray hairs.

Mom, I remember you crying with joy the first time I ever wrote something about how much you meant to me. It was the best encouragement this writer ever got.

Mom, I remember how you never complained when you took me, my wife, and newborn baby son into your home when I was struggling financially the first years of my marriage. You showed me what it takes to love and raise a child.

Mom, I remember all the lessons you taught me about patience, humor, and courage when you faced your long battle with cancer. It may have finally taken your body, but it never got your spirit. I also remember how you always ended our phone calls those last years of your life with those three words that live on inside of me today: "I Love You!"

Mom, I would give everything I have for just one more hug from you. You gave me so much love. You helped make my heart and soul what they are today. I love you and will continue to love you more every single day of my life. ---------------

THE SECRET INGREDIENT

My Italian Grandmother’s spaghetti sauce was a wonder to behold. After church on Sundays our family would always gather around for a huge dinner that was more a feast than a meal. For hours before the smell of the simmering sauce would fill the house and I would breathe in deep with delight. My Nana would slowly cook Italian sausages, meatballs, potatoes, and pieces of chicken in it too. Then she would boil enough spaghetti to feed a small army and slice the loaves of Italian bread she had baked earlier. When I finally sat down at the table I could feel my tastebuds jumping for joy in my mouth. By the time dinner was done both my stomach and my heart would be full of happiness.

For years I tried to duplicate my Nana’s recipe but was never able to get it exactly right. I would always measure out just the right amounts of garlic, parsley, bay leaves, salt, sugar, pepper, and olive oil to add to the tomato sauce. I would simmer it slowly and stir it with care, but it never came out as good as hers. Finally one day it dawned on me that I was missing the secret ingredient that made hers so special: LOVE. You see, Nana always served her spaghetti with a big smile, a gentle hug, and the loving words: "Mangia! Mangia!" Which means "Eat! Eat!" I could always taste her love for us in every bite.

Love is the secret ingredient in life too. The more you love the more your life will taste like joy. The more love you give to others the more your days will become a feast of happiness that never ends. The more love you share the more you become like the greatest chef of all: God.

I think that I will try my hand at making Nana’s sauce again this week. It may never taste as good as hers, but cooking it will bring back the memories of her love and laughter. And while I am slowly stirring it I may even feel her and God smiling down on me from Heaven. --------------

A TINY WAVE

Life is full of miracles. They come in all sizes too. Most people only notice the big miracles, but the tiny miracles surround us everyday. They are gentle reminders of how much God loves us and how much we can love too.

I got one of these miracle reminders just the other day as I was driving my handicapped son to the sheltered workshop where he works part-time. The sky was full of gloomy, gray clouds, but they had not dampened my mood. I was singing along with the radio and indulging in a favorite past-time of mine: joy watching. I was keeping my eyes open for little things that would uplift my heart and nourish my soul. So far that day I had noticed patches of white Daises and Queen Anne’s Lace blooming along the side of the road, the first red Maple leaves of the year, and a smiling dog sitting on its front porch.

The best sight of all, though, happened just as I rounded a curve. A young mother was waiting to cross the road. Her five year old daughter was by her side. In the mother’s arms was another daughter about two. As I got closer to the family the little toddler in her Mother’s arms saw us, smiled, lifted her tiny arm, and began to wave at us. My son and I both smiled and waved back at this little angel. Just then the gray clouds parted for the briefest instant and a beam of sunshine broke through to kiss that little girl with its light.

That miracle moment stayed in my heart the rest of the morning. I felt God’s love flowing down from Heaven on that beam of sunlight. I saw His lesson for us all too in that girl’s tiny wave. May we all live as she does: joyously, lovingly, and enthusiastically. May we all share our own smiles, waves, and light with everyone we meet in this world. May we all be the miracle and help to bring a little more Heaven to Earth everyday. --------------

ONE

I was sitting in a chair, sipping iced tea out of a thermos, and trying to stay awake. The group of adults around me were trying to do the same. We were all there to renew our first aid cards for our jobs working with the handicapped. The room was an old converted day treatment area and wasn’t meant for so many people. Even with the air conditioning it felt hot and stuffy. All of us there had taken the class many times before and knew the material by heart. Despite the instructor’s best efforts then, it remained a struggle to stay focused.

Suddenly, several screams from the women in the classroom jarred me wide awake. A small field mouse had somehow gotten into the building and was scurrying by their feet. After a few more startled screams the mouse ran behind a bookcase on the far side of the room. Not wanting the little guy to be hurt, I found a clear plastic container on one of the bookshelves. After moving the bookcase aside I dropped the bottom of the container on top of the mouse. Then I slowly slid the lid under it until he couldn’t get loose.

Picking up the container I headed outside and walked over to a patch of woods near the building. I sat the container down and opened it. The mouse looked up at me for a brief second and then made a break for freedom. I smiled as I watched the little guy go. As I headed back to the classroom I looked up to the Heavens and felt my spirit soaring as high as the clouds above.

How many kind acts does it take to uplift your soul: one. How many gentle hugs does it take to help heal someone’s hurting heart: one. How many smiles does it take to brighten another’s day: one. How many gifts of love does it take to make this world a better place: one. How many prayers does it take to get Heaven’s help: one. How many good things do you have to do to make God smile: just one. Begin today then. One kind act starts a lifetime of love. ----------------

IT’S WORTH IT

The mattock cut into the ground again and again. Every time I raised it I slammed it down even harder. It felt as heavy in my arms as my broken heart did in my chest. Still, I powered through the pain and finished loosening up the dirt. I tossed the mattock aside, picked up a shovel and began to dig. Sweat and tears burned my eyes but I didn’t stop. I kept going until the aching in my arms and back matched the aching of my soul. Only when I was too exhausted to go on did I finally drop the shovel and look down at the body of my friend. My old pal of thirteen years lay stiff upon the ground. My beloved dog was gone.

Harley was a black Lab and Husky mix that we had rescued from a shelter. Over the years he had made friends with every neighbor I had. His gentle manner and wagging tail won over every heart. His big, furry body attracted hugs like a magnet. His fun-loving nature made everyone smile. He was as sweet, loyal, and loving a friend as any man could ever want. I was a better person because he was in my life, but now his time with me had passed.

I gently lifted his body into the grave I had dug and thanked God again for giving him to me for so long. As I covered the grave with dirt and heavy rocks I thought about what someone had asked me the last time a dog of mine had died. "Why do you have dogs when you are only going to go through such pain?" As I finished my work and wiped the dirt, sweat and tears from my face I knew the answer.

Because it is worth it. The Love is worth the pain! The Love is ALWAYS worth the pain! We are meant for love. God put us here to love. If death and pain are part of the price we must pay for that love, then I will pay it. Love is what makes life worth living. And love transcends even death.

As I walked out of the woods I pictured Harley young and healthy again. I smiled at him as he wagged his tail and told my old friend to return to the love that made him, just as we all will one day do.

I love you Harley. I miss you. You were my dog and my friend and you blessed my life more than I can say. Thank you for the love you shared and the joy you gave. ---------------

YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD

I changed the world today. It happened while I was driving home after going to the store with my son. I was just about to pull onto the side road that leads to my house when my handicapped son laughed in the back seat. I glanced in the rearview mirror to see his smiling face and then made the turn a little bit faster than normal. As soon as I did I saw a big dog walking down the road in my lane. Not having time to down shift I slammed on the brakes, screeched to a halt, and killed the engine in my car in the process.

As I sat there waiting for my heart rate to return to normal, the yellow dog stared at me calmly. I recognized it immediately as a neighbor’s pet. I had often seen their little boy hugging and playing with the dog in their front yard. I rolled down my window and sternly told the pooch to go home. The huge dog looked at me for a second more then trotted away happily to its front porch while I restarted my car and thanked God for giving me a fast foot when I needed it.

Now you may ask how stomping on my brakes changed the world. My answer is that one little boy will be hugging his dog instead of crying into his pillow tonight. You see, most of us look for some big thing we can do to change the world or our lives, but I think Heaven keeps track of all the little things we do in our lives. And it is those little things that do change this world day by day and moment by moment.

You can change the world too. You can fill your life with acts of kindness and God’s love everyday. You may not be able to end world hunger, but you can donate 50 pounds of food and keep a family from starving this month. You may not be able to bring peace to the world, but you can bring your peaceful spirit to the world around you. You may not be able to drive the hate and darkness from every human heart, but you can forever share the love and light in yours. ---------------

BECAUSE GOD LOVES YOU

There are stories that find their way into your heart and stay there forever. This is one that found its way into mine. There was once an elderly woman who lived in a violent, drug-ravaged, crumbling neighborhood in an old city. Her children had died before her. Time had left its mark on her too. She was no longer pretty in the eyes of the world. She had become wrinkled, stooped, thin and hollow-eyed. Her body was now half crippled with arthritis.

Still, this little old lady continually brought joy to the community around her. Everyone called her "Granny" and she was a loving Grandmother to all. As she moved slowly down the street she would sing hymns and share smiles. She had a kind word for everyone. She gave her gentle laughter as a free gift to all. She offered encouragement, said prayers for, and brought hope to the disheartened. She went about doing good every chance she could. No one who met her left without their heart feeling lighter and their smile shining brighter. Her serenity and tranquility remained a mystery to the neighborhood, though. No one could figure out how someone who had lost and suffered so much could live so beautifully.

One day a curious little girl ran up to the tiny old woman shuffling along with her walker and called out to her. "How do you do it Granny?", she asked. "How do you love so freely? How do you live so happily? How do you give so much to all of us everyday?" Granny just smiled at her and said, "Because God loves me child! Because He loves me, I love Him and you and everybody else!"

What a glorious truth she shared. There is no better reason to live and love than that. That is why this story will forever have a home in my heart. May you too make your life a beautiful gift of love, just because "God Loves You!" ---------------

BE A DONOR

My children gave me a new wallet as a Father’s Day present this year. It was the perfect gift choice considering the moldy, worn, lump of leather I had been using was well past its prime. I took the opportunity as well to toss out any cards, notes, or scraps of paper in it that were no longer needed. As I emptied out the old wallet I was amazed at how much it held. Gingerly I went through its contents piece by piece and moved them to their new home. As I was looking at them I came across the organ donor card that I had signed nine years ago. Thankfully, it hadn’t yet been called into use. Still, it felt good knowing that if something should ever happen to me I would be giving another person here a second chance at life.

As I placed the card into my new wallet I started thinking about all the other things we can donate to help others today. We can donate our time. We can donate our talents. We can share our wisdom. We can give our kindness. We can bless others with our laughter. We can shine our light into the darkness. We can donate every bit of love and joy inside of us. And the greatest thing of all is that when we do, we find that we have even more to share than when we started. That is one of our Heavenly Father’s greatest miracles: the more you give to others the more God gives to you. The more you shower others with your love, the more God showers your soul with His.

If you wish then by all means sign an organ donor card so you can give something back after you die, but don’t be afraid to also give something now while you are still alive. Be a donor. Make your entire life here a gift to others. Donate all those wonderful things inside of you to make this world a better and brighter place. Give with a cheerful heart and a loving spirit. Give from the fullness of your soul and then watch as God fills it even fuller. ---------------

ONE PAGE AT A TIME

I have the bad habit of skipping to the last pages of a book to see how it ends while I am still in the middle of it. This habit annoyed first my Mom, then my friends, and finally even my own daughter. Often my impatience wouldn’t be confined just to the books I read but also to what they were reading as well. Finally one day my daughter told me in exasperation, "Dad please just read a book one page at a time like everyone else!"

At times I haven’t limited this bad habit to just books either. I have also tried to skip ahead in my own life and figure out what to do months and even years from now instead of embracing each day as God intended. I knew that the book of my life wasn’t done yet and that I had many pages left to go. Still, that didn’t stop me from trying to write the ending half-way through. Time and again, I would foolishly jump ahead and try to solve every conceivable problem before it happened so I could reach that storybook happily ever after ending. Life, however, doesn’t work like that. God loves to surprise us, and you never know what new problem, change, or opportunity each new day will bring.

God in His loving wisdom has often had to remind me to relax, slow down and find His love and joy in each day. Recently when I found myself returning to that bad habit of rushing ahead and living in the future again, I found His truth coming from the lips of a special soul who gently told me I needed to "live one day at a time." When I heard those words I smiled, turned the book of my life back to the right page, and thanked God for today.

There is no skipping ahead in the book of life. Each of us has to live it one page and one day at a time. Each of us has to have faith in God to help us to write it line by line and moment by moment. Each of us has to trust that our Heavenly Father will bring our story to its perfect end. ---------------

BRINGING OUT THE BEST IN US

My community and state are still recovering from the catastrophe that struck recently. A wall of storms with hurricane force winds struck late on a Friday evening knocking down trees, blocking roads, damaging homes, and destroying power lines. Hundreds of thousands of people suddenly found themselves in the dark without water, electricity, air conditioning, telephones, internet, and television. They found themselves cut off from the modern world enduring sweltering 90 degree plus heat with no help and no idea when it would be over.

The most amazing thing happened, however, as the reality of the crisis sank in: it brought out the best in us. While there were a few acts of selfishness and stealing they were overwhelmed by the wave of love and compassion that came from the hearts of so many. People shared their food, ice, and gasoline. People who still had power opened their homes to those who had none. People rushed out to clear roads and homes of fallen trees. Selfless power crews worked around the clock to repair the damage and restore electricity. People gathered on front porches to talk, share hugs and offer words of hope and faith that God would see them through it all. Strangers came together as one family to help each other in this time of great need. It was such a joy seeing all these people acting like true Children of God under the most trying of circumstances.

Life’s disasters strike all of us from time to time. No one is spared. We all get hurt. We all get challenged. We all get squeezed by difficulties during our days here. How we respond to them, though, is up to us. We can let them bring out the worst is us or we can let them bring out the best in us. We can react to them like demons of selfishness or like angels of love. May you always bring the best from your heart and soul to whatever life may throw at you then. May you live all of your days here with so much love that Heaven sings and God smiles. ---------------

BETTER PEOPLE

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was often quoted as saying: "I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much." Over the years I have found myself often feeling the same way. I have had a blessed life, but it has never been an easy one. In my 45 years I have had to deal with sickness, injuries, accidents, and pain. I have had to deal with years of poverty and financial struggles. I have had to deal with my sons’ mental handicaps, the death of loved ones, and being separated from those I love. I have had to deal with anger, betrayal, confusion, depression and at times even despair.

Like so many before me I have asked the question: Why do bad things happen to good people? It is a question that has been asked throughout the ages. Books have even been written about it. It is a question that will never be answered completely this side of Heaven. Yet, looking back on my own life now I have to believe that at least part of the reason bad things happen to good people is to make them better people.

When I remember all that I have faced and gone through in this life, I realize that God has used all of it to eventually make me better. With pain came empathy. With grief came healing. With frustration came patience. With struggles came strength. With sorrow came joy. With depression came compassion. With anger came love. And with despair came trust in God. Every test, challenge, and tragedy eventually led me to greater goodness, greater love, and greater Oneness with our Heavenly Father.

None of us likes the negative experiences in life. None of us enjoys pain. None of us wants to go through sorrow. Still, the truth is that "God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him." May each day here then help you to grow better and more loving. ---------------

WORDS OF WISDOM

When I was a boy I never liked going to church that much. I enjoyed the Sunday potluck dinners we sometimes had after it. They were a feast of country cooking. I enjoyed the Sunday school classes too. I got to see my friends there. It was the church services themselves that I couldn’t relate too. They were full of symbolism and rituals that my young mind couldn’t yet understand. The sermons and Bible readings were largely tuned out by me too. It was struggle enough just keeping my little body still in the hard, wooden pews. I longed to be outside playing in the sunshine. I would look around at the people dressed in their Sunday best while I tugged at my own tie. Then I’d glance at my watch and wonder when it would end.

It was during one of those sermons, however, that I did hear something that would stick in my heart, soul, and mind from that day forward. It was the middle of Summer and the heat made me feel even more restless than usual. I was looking down at my dress shoes and dangling my feet from the pew while the sermon went on and on. Suddenly, the Priest’s voice rose and got very loud as he finished. "Remember this!," he said as I raised my head. "If you don’t remember anything else I have said. Remember this. You are loved! You are loved unconditionally by a greater love than you can ever imagine! God loves you, now and forever!"

Those words of wisdom found a place deep inside of me. I did find myself remembering them over and over again in my life. As I learned, grew, struggled, and stumbled those words stayed in my heart. They helped me to rise up and try again every time I fell. They helped me to find my own love for God, for myself, and for others. They became a central part of who I am and what I write. The one gift I hope to give all of you is this truth. May you always remember then that "You are loved!" May you always know that "God loves you, now and forever!" ---------------

THE ANSWER

Fifteen years ago I found myself working in a local lumber mill. The hours were long. The work was dangerous. And the pay was low. Everyday was a struggle physically. The heat was oppressive in the Summer and the cold was constant in the Winter. My back would burn with pain from the constant bending, lifting, and carrying. My feet would ache from standing the entire day. The skin around my fingernails would split and bleed from the continuous work my hands were doing. I tried to keep my spirits up while I worked there, but day by day I felt myself wearing down. Every morning I would place Band-Aides around my fingers and pull on my worn out work boots. And every night I would drag myself home smelling of sweat and sawdust and collapse on the couch.

One evening I felt like I could take it no more. I cried out to God as I drove home alone. "Why God?", I said. "Why am I working myself to death here just to survive? Why couldn’t I find a better job than this? Why am I having to go through this right now?"

I wasn’t really expecting an answer, but God loves to surprise us. As I struggled up the steps to my front door, I found all three of my young children waiting for me with smiling faces. "Daddy, Daddy!", my daughter yelled. I smiled and picked her up with my weary arms. Then after hugging and kissing them all, I laughed for the first time in days and sat down peacefully. Later, I thanked God for His answer. It had given me the strength I needed to go on.

Eventually I moved on to a better job, but I never forgot that answer to my questions. With it God had gently reminded me of the simple truth. We may have to work to live, but we live to love. May you always fill your days with love. May you always fill your life with joy. And may you always find God’s answers everywhere you go. ---------------

DROPPING THE SNAKE

It was a glorious day to be out for a drive. The trees lining the country roads were full of green leaves. White daisies were blooming along the sides of the hills. The sun was shining, giving the whole world a golden glow. My son and I were singing along to songs playing on the radio. Suddenly, an old favorite of mine came on and my son whose memory is far better than mine at times reminded me that we had once had it on cassette, but it was stolen from our car.

Quick as lightening that old memory flashed in my mind. It was 12 years ago. We had just finished shopping at a local grocery store, and when we walked out to our car we found that our cassette box, full of tapes had been taken from it while we were inside. I laughed when I thought of some young boys thinking they had stolen some great new music only to open the box and find instead my collection of moldy oldies.

I even tried to share my humor at the incident with a few friends but had to stop. They all expected me to be angry and outraged over it instead of just laughing it off. They just couldn’t understand my peace with the theft. I, however, remembered an old saying that I had read once. It went, "If someone hands you a snake, it is wise to drop it fast."

God doesn’t want us to carry those snakes around with us. God wants us to drop them and move on. God wants us to forgive and to smile. God wants us to let go and to heal. God loves us and wants us to love as well. God wants us to go through life lightly with laughter on our lips, a joy in our step, and the peace of Heaven in our hearts. The next time then that someone hands you something poisonous don’t hold it close. Drop it fast. Then you can spend your day happily holding your loved one’s hand, smelling the flowers along the side of the hill, watching the sun shine down on the leaves, and letting your own spirit sing. ---------------

STUFF

When Spring cleaning season arrived this year I decided that it was time to get rid of more than just a Winter’s worth of dust and dirt. I decided that it was the time to get rid of years worth of accumulated stuff as well. This stuff was lining my walls, filling my selves, and crowding my closets. This stuff was cluttering my home and my mind and not bringing me one bit of happiness. I couldn’t even remember how I got some of it, but I knew I wanted it gone.

It turned out to be an even bigger job than I thought. Twenty year old bills and receipts were tossed in the trash. File cabinets were cleaned of papers that were no longer necessary or needed. Broken bowls, dented pans, and cracked knickknacks were finally thrown away. Unworn clothes were hauled out of the closet and bagged up to be given away to the local Goodwill. Old books were boxed up to be passed on for others to read and enjoy. It took several days to get it all done, but in the end I was able to walk through a home that seemed a little less cluttered. My heart was a lot lighter as too. It felt so good to be able to get rid of all the junk and to just focus on the essential stuff in life again.

What is the essential stuff? What is the stuff that brings meaning to our days? A loving heart is essential. A joyful spirit is essential. A soul full of goodness and God is essential. And a life full of sharing all of these things is absolutely essential. The essential stuff can’t be bought, sold, or stored. It can only be chosen, created, and given away.

The essential stuff is the stuff we all really want. It is the stuff we all really need. It is the stuff that our Loving Creator wants us to have. This stuff is called the treasures of Heaven but the truth is you can have it even while you are here on Earth. And the more you share this stuff with others the more you find it filling your home and warming your heart. ---------------

TWO SIMPLE REQUESTS

The great, spiritual, Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama often ends his talks by warmly asking two things of his audiences. This is what he says: "Our greatest duty and our main duty is to help others, and please, if you can’t help them, would you please not hurt them?" These two requests are so simple, yet they are so powerful too. Within them are common sense, wisdom, kindness, the Golden Rule, and the great commandment to "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."

Just think of how wonderful this world could be if all of us helped each other. Think of every child being held in loving arms. Think of a hand up for everyone who has fallen. Think of sweet smiles between strangers. Think of hugs of happiness between friends. Think of words of encouragement for every struggling student. Think of the sick being cared for, the lost being prayed for, and the elderly and disabled being watched over. Think of acts of kindness everywhere, blessing our lives and uplifting our spirits. Think of all of us connected together by helping hands and loving hearts.

And think of what would happen if even when we couldn’t help others we at least didn’t hurt them. What would happen if every time we felt a nasty comment coming to our mouth we placed our hand over it? What would happen if every time we raised a hand in anger we grasped it with our other hand and said a prayer instead? This whole world would feel more like Heaven because so many of us would be bringing Heaven here to Earth. Everything would be brighter because God’s love and light would be flowing out of each of our souls.

These two requests are so simple, but they have the strength to change your heart, and your life. They have the power to make this whole world better. May you always answer their call. May you always live a life of love, helpfulness, and happiness. ---------------

A CHOICE

It was a beautiful, sunny, Spring day. I had just finished driving my daughter to the airport to catch an early morning flight. My sons and I then went to a fast food place for breakfast before heading back home. After eating we all got into the car and pulled out of the parking lot. The restaurant was at the very top of a hill. At the bottom of the hill was a stop sign so we found ourselves at the end of a long line of traffic waiting while the cars at the bottom turned onto the main road one at a time.

As I looked down to the bottom of the hill my eyes saw an elderly man standing by the stop sign. His clothes were old and worn. He held a cardboard sign with the words: "Need Help Please!" written on it. My heart went out to him and I imagined myself in his situation. As car after car turned onto the road without stopping for him, I reached for my wallet to look for whatever cash was left in it. As I was pulling it out of my pocket, though, I saw a young woman walk up to him along the side of the road. She was carrying a bag full of take out food from the restaurant I was just at. I watched as the old man thanked the young girl and smiled as she reached in to give him a hug.

Suddenly a loud "HONK" from the car behind me made me realize that I hadn’t been moving forward, because this simple choice for kindness had so captured my attention and my heart. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill both the man and lady who had helped him were gone. Yet, as I drove home the sun seemed to shine even brighter and Heaven felt a bit closer to Earth.

A choice is such a powerful thing. It can touch a heart and change a life. It can bring us closer to God and make Heaven smile. Each day we are given a thousand choices. May you make all of yours for kindness. May you make your whole life a choice for love, joy, and God. ---------------

PLANTING POTATOES

When I was a boy growing up we had several gardens around our old house. The largest one of all was used just for growing potatoes. I can still remember those potato planting days. The whole family helped. After my Dad had tilled the soil, my Mom, brothers, and I went to work. It was my job to drop the little seed potatoes in the rows while my Mom dropped handfuls of fertilizer beside them. My brothers then covered them all with the freshly turned earth.

For months afterward I would glance over at the garden while I played outside and wonder what was going on underneath the ground. When the harvest time came I was amazed at the huge size of the potatoes my Dad pulled out of the soil. Those little seedlings had grown into bushels and bushels of sweet sustenance. They would be turned into meal after meal of baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, and my personal favorite: potatoes slowed cooked in spaghetti sauce. They would keep the entire family well fed throughout the whole year. It truly was a miracle to behold.

Thinking back on those special times makes me wonder how many other seeds I have planted in this life that have grown unseen in the hearts and minds of others. How many times has God used some little thing that I said or did to grow something beautiful? How many times has Heaven used these little seedlings to provide another’s soul with sweet sustenance?

Every single day of our lives we step out into the garden of this world. Every single day we plant seeds that can grow into something wonderful. We may never see the growth that comes from the kind words or loving acts we share but God does. I hope then that you always tend the garden around you with care. I hope that you plant only goodness, peace, and compassion in the lives of everyone you meet. I hope that everyday you help miracles to grow. ---------------

DO OVER

I can still remember those games me and my friends played when I was a boy. There were no leagues that we had to join. There were no coaches telling us that we were doing something wrong. There were no officials blowing whistles and enforcing rules. There were just children playing and having a great time. The teams were made up of whomever showed up that day. The games were filled with joking, laughter and smiles. The rules were whatever we decided they would be. Everyone was allowed to play and more often than not we didn’t even keep score. If there ever was a dispute or argument during a game it could always be solved too by those magic words: "Do over."

I know that a lot of us would still love to have a "do over" at times. There isn’t a one of us who hasn’t wished that we could take back a mistake and start over again. Some people even wish that they could have a "do over" for their whole lives.

Well, the good news is that we can have a "do over" if we want. We may not be able to actually go back in time and take back the mistakes, missteps, and wrong turns that we have made in this life, but we can ask our Heavenly Father to forgive them and know that He will. Then we can begin again from this moment and start to live our lives the way we have always wanted to. Even if we stumble and fall again the next day, we can ask forgiveness again, rise up and start over once more. God doesn’t count the number of times we fall in this life. He only counts the number of times we pick ourselves up to try again.

In truth, every single day of our lives here is a "do over". Each day is another chance to get it right. Each day is another opportunity to love God, ourselves, and others. Each day is fresh start to live in peace and share your joy with others. Make the most of them all. -----------------

REMEMBER LOVE

My Italian Grandmother was a wonderful woman. "Nanny" had a loving, vibrant soul that she carried around in a short, heavyset body. She had a passion for life that expressed itself in so many ways. It was in the hugs she gave, the meals she cooked, and the flowers she grew. It was even in the temper she lost from time to time. I think one of the reasons I was never taught Italian by my Dad was he was afraid I might learn the meaning of some of those words Nanny said when she was upset.

Nanny raised four sons and then helped my Mom and Dad raise me and my two brothers as well. I always felt blessed growing up in her home as a boy. She worked hard, laughed loud, and was never afraid of what life threw at her. Life wasn’t that easy on her either. She suffered from health problems all her life and even survived an operation for a brain tumor. When she fell and broke her hip in her eighties, my Dad was forced to admit that he could no longer take care of her at home.

It was with a heavy heart that Dad moved Nanny into a nursing home. She lost weight and was confined to a wheelchair. Yet, even as her body shrunk and withered her spirit stayed strong. The nurses there loved her and her zest for life. Even her Italian temper brought smiles to them as they learned a few "choice" words of Italian from her as well. Our whole family gathered together for her 90th birthday in the nursing home dining room. It was a wonderful celebration of her life and the love we all had for her.

Shortly after that birthday, however, life gave her the toughest challenge of all as age and illness started to take her mind from her too. The Dementia grew worse and worse over the last few years of her life. At times when I visited her she didn’t know who I was. It was heartbreaking to see her this way. She spoke less and less and stayed in her bed more and more. Sometimes all I could do was just sit by her bed and hold her hand.

During one of these visits I was holding her hand while she slept and remembering the person she used to be. My soul was in mourning that life could take everything from her like this. At that moment she awoke. Her eyes gazed up at me and I could tell she didn’t recognize me. She looked down at my hand holding hers and instead of pulling hers away, she smiled at me. Then she closed her eyes and went peacefully back to sleep. I could see then that even though her mind didn’t remember me, her spirit still remembered love and that was enough.

In the end this life takes away everything we have except our love. Our love can never be taken away. It can never be destroyed. It can never be forgotten. Our love is eternal. It makes us one with God. It lives in us all through this life and it lives on into the next. It was my Nanny’s love that made her the special soul she was. And it is your love that makes you the special soul you are. Always remember to love then. It is who you are. It is what you are meant for. It is what life is all about. ---------------

A LITTLE MORE KINDNESS

I was running a few errands in my car the other day. The sun was out, the radio was playing, and I was singing along. The song was a joyful one and even my weak voice sounded good singing it. Then it happened, however. The sweet sound of the music ended and was replaced with the dreaded news break. I drove on while the announcer droned on. Gas prices were going higher again because of the competitive speculation on Wall Street. The race for the Presidency was getting nastier and nastier, Rioting had broken out when fans of a sports team had gone wild, celebrating their team’s championship.

Finally, I could take no more and turned off the radio. Silence seemed preferable to listening to anything else about the crazy, competitive society we live in. I slowed down as I entered a local town and watched the people as I drove by. A tall muscular man was helping an elderly lady out of a car and helping her position her walker so she could go into a local store. A smiling woman was tossing birdseed into her backyard while a dozen Robins flew down to enjoy the feast being laid out before them. A young man was walking along, carrying his two year old daughter safely in his arms. He tickled her gently when she pulled the hat off his head and they both laughed. I laughed too as I looked at all of this kindness. It felt like a glimpse of Heaven. The radio may have been off in my car, but in my heart I was still singing.

In truth, this world could use a little more kindness and a lot less competition. Kindness makes us all winners in this life. Kindness reminds us that we are all God’s Children. Kindness shows us that we don’t have to beat others in this world. We just have to love them. May all of your moments here then be full of kindness, love, and joy. And may your only competition be with yourself: to be the best possible you that you can be. ----------------

YOU CAN SEE GOD

I sat at my desk staring at the letter for a long time. It was written by a friend of mine who was going through some difficult times. It listed problem after problem and seemed full of despair. It ended with these words: "I would like to have faith, but I have always had a problem in believing in what I can’t see. You can’t see God, you know!"

After awhile I still hadn’t thought of how to answer my friend’s letter and help him. Hoping a walk would help, I put a lease on one of my dogs and headed out the back door. The warm, golden sunshine of Spring warmed my face as soon as I stepped off the porch. A fresh breeze carried the scent of a thousand budding trees on it. A butterfly danced above a patch of dandelions floating from flower to flower. Robins were flying back and forth to the Maple tree in my backyard carrying fresh grass and twigs to reline their nests. Across the road my new neighbor’s children were playing in her backyard with a big ball. It was such a delight seeing her toddler chasing after it with such joy.

I felt a nuzzle against my leg and looked down to see my dog cuddling in for a hug. I smiled and scratched his head while the laughter of the children and the sound of crickets in the woods blended together to create a unique and beautiful music. I started to walk back inside and saw my own son grinning at me from the window. Most of the world could only see his mental handicaps, but when I looked at him then his eyes sparkled with a divine light. I waved to him and laughed when his older sister snuck up behind him and wrapped him in a loving hug.

When I got back inside, I knew what to write. I went to my friend’s letter and wrote of everything I had just seen, smelled, heard, and felt in those brief moments outside. Then I finished by writing this: "I think we all can see God! We just need to know where to look!" ---------------

WORTHLESS OR PRICELESS

I was driving my son to the sheltered workshop for the handicapped where he works a few days each week. My seventeen year old car was cruising along while the Spring sun shined down. The trees were budding and flowers were popping up along the side of the road. I looked over at my son who was humming along to a song on the radio. He turned his head, smiled and said, " I love you Daddy." I smiled back and said, "I love you too son."

The green light ahead turned yellow and I slowed to a stop. Suddenly, a gold Mercedes Benz screeched to a halt next to me. The owner was yelling into a cell phone and slammed his hand on the steering wheel as he glared at the now red light. After a minute the light changed and he sped away with a scowl as big as his face. I drove on shaking my head and said a little prayer that the owner of that expensive car would one day realize the true treasures in life.

That miserable man in the Mercedes reminded me again of the worthlessness of wealth and the pricelessness of love in the eyes of eternity. All of his money hadn’t put a smile on his face. All of his things hadn’t given him peace. All of his wealth hadn’t filled his heart with happiness or brought meaning to his life. He seemed lost, separated from love, and separated from God. He was trapped in a golden cage and didn’t even know it.

Please don’t spend your life in the pursuit of the worthless "fool’s gold" that our society holds dear. Don’t try to gain the whole world and in the process lose your soul. Instead spend your days here building "the Treasures of Heaven" in your heart. If you do then your days will be blessed with sunshine, smiles, and sweet laughter. If you do then you will not only fill your soul with love but you will also scatter joy to the world around you. If you do then you will be able to give God the most priceless gift of all: your life lived with love. ---------------

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

I do believe that I have discovered the Fountain of Youth. Now it isn’t in some Florida swamp as Ponce de Leon thought. Nor is it in a handful of pills like the pharmaceutical companies would have you believe. My days pop without pills. It certainly doesn’t come from skin lotions and wrinkle creams in spite of what the television commercials say. My laugh lines rev me up rather than slow me down. Neither does it rest in a bottle of hair dye. I find my silver suits me. It shines in the sunlight.

My Fountain of Youth doesn’t come from liposuction. My fat cells are safe. It doesn’t come from facelifts or tummy tucks. A little loose skin never hurt anybody. It doesn’t come from botox. I welcome my wrinkles. They are the parenthesis around my smiles. And it doesn’t come from hormone replacement therapy. My hormones don’t want to be replaced.

My Fountain of Youth comes from the inside not the outside. It can’t be sold or purchased. It can only be chosen. My Fountain of Youth is a loving heart. It is a loving heart I have found that keeps me feeling young inside. It is a loving heart that makes me smile, laugh and sing. It is a loving heart that fills me with joy and fills me with life. It is a loving heart brings me closer to the God who loves us all. It is a loving heart that keeps my own soul’s light burning bright. It is a loving heart that fills my spirit with energy, vitality, peace, and happiness. Yes, my body is getting older day by day but the real "ME" remains both eternal and forever young.

Our souls are meant for eternity, our bodies aren’t. If you want to be young then don’t look in the mirror. Look inside of yourself. Welcome love into your heart and let your love flow like a fountain out of it. Make love your reason for living. Make love your mission in life. Then it won’t matter if you are nine, nineteen, or ninety, you will still be young. ---------------

TAKE THE TIME

Rush, rush, rush, hurry, hurry, hurry, check your watch, check your schedule, and worry, worry, worry! Gulp down your coffee, wolf down your breakfast, and head out the door! Think of the thousand things you have to do today and forget about your joy!

If any of you see yourself in those words then you have my sympathy. That was the way I lived for far too many days in my life. My eyes were always on what I had to do. My thoughts were always on not having enough time to do it. My feelings were always set on stress, fear, and frustration. At the time I thought I was living my life, but in truth there was very little living in all of that activity.

Finally there came a point one day when I decided that it didn’t matter if I got everything done or not. I realized that most of those things I had been striving to do didn’t add one moment of happiness to my life. Instead they ate up my days and squeezed out moments I could have spent loving others. They left no time for prayer, no time for appreciation, no time for simple pleasures or heartfelt joys. It was then that I ripped up my schedule and tossed it in the trash.

I remember that first day without it. I enjoyed my breakfast for the first time in months. I actually noticed the birds flying across the sky. I stopped my car, got out, and walked over to a Cherry tree to smell the blossoms on it. Instead of rushing my children home from school I took them to the park and let them run and play. I stayed outside longer than usual when I walked my dogs in the evening. I watched the sunset and let the warm Spring breeze kiss my face. I thanked God for my life, felt love in my heart, and had more joy that day than I could ever remember. And the funny thing was I still got everything done that I needed to do.

Life isn’t some endless list of chores. Life is instead a chance to learn, grow, and love. Take the time to love then. Take the time to sing, smile, and have joy. Take the time to taste your meals, smell the flowers, and watch the sunrise in the morning. Take the time to hug your children, laugh with your friends, and help others in need. Take the time to do a good deed and share a kind word. Take the time to pray to God, to invite His love into your soul, and to share it with everyone around you. Take the time to become the best possible you, you can be. The wonderful writer and educator Leo Buscaglia once said: "Life is God’s gift to you. How you live it is your gift to God." Take the time to live it well. ---------------

THE HOME IN WHICH WE LIVE

I spent this morning cleaning up the home in which I live. Now I am not talking about the house I am sitting in right now. As I look around I can see the sink is still full of dirty dishes. Dust is starting to collect on the pictures, counter tops, and even my computer again. Dirt needs to be swept up from the floor and pet hair needs to be cleaned off the couch. The water in the turtle’s aquarium has to be changed. Two loads of dirty laundry need to be washed and dried. And the bathrooms could really use a cleaning again too.

Yet, as I look at my dirty, little house I still have to smile, because I know that the home in which I live is clean right now. That home is my soul. When I woke up this morning I noticed that it too had become cluttered, messy, and dusty again. I wasn’t about to let it stay that way for long, though. I have learned the hard way that a messy soul leads to a messed up day and that messed up days lead to a wasted life.

I spent the morning then cleaning my soul from top to bottom. I swept the negative thoughts from my mind and the harmful feelings from my heart. Worries, anger, hatred, and fear were tossed in the garbage can. Jealousy, envy, judgments, and desires were gathered up and thrown out. I polished the furniture with a soothing prayer. I washed down the walls with gratefulness to God. I freshened the air with the sweet scent of love and when I was done I felt peaceful and happy in my home once more.

The house in which I sit may need a lot of work, but it will have to wait its turn. The home in which I live is what I am most concerned about. I hope that the same is true for you. I hope that you always strive to keep your soul bright, beautiful, and full of God’s love and light. Remember when die you will leave your house behind, but you will take your home with you. ---------------

MY MOM’S TREASURES

While she was alive my Mom was one of the richest people on Earth. Her treasures were glorious to behold. Her wealth wasn’t in her bank account, though. Like most people we lived from paycheck to paycheck and much of the food we ate was grown in our own gardens. She didn’t have a big house. For most of my childhood we lived in my Grandmother’s home that was built mainly from two, old shanty cars. My Mom didn’t own an expensive car. I remember my brothers and me crowding into the backseat of our tiny, old sedan whenever we went anywhere. She didn’t own any fancy gems. The only jewelry I can ever remember her wearing were her wedding and mother’s rings. There were no designer clothes or fur coats in her closet. She wore blue jeans and blouses almost everyday of her life.

My Mom’s treasures were far more precious than just things. She had a kind heart. She was always ready to help anyone at anytime. She had a giving spirit. Although we didn’t have much she was always willing to share what we did have with others. She had a gentle laugh. I remember as a boy sitting on the porch listening to my parents talk and hoping to hear the sweet sound of my Mom’s laughter. She had a loving soul. It make her eyes sparkle, her smile shine, and it overflowed in everything she did. She lived a good life. Even though we were poor in the eyes of the world, I always felt wealthy when I was around her. She gave me the riches of love, hugs, and happiness and I know that she is now enjoying God’s treasures in Paradise.

The American dream has always been that we could do better than our parents did. We could get a better education, a better job, a better home, and a better income. My own dream is different. My dream is that I may one day be half as loving, giving, kind, gentle, and good, as my Mom was. My dream is to always make her smile as she watches over me from Heaven. ---------------

A LITTLE MORNING MUSIC

I walked out on my porch this morning to the wonderful sight of the sun rising over the mountains. I smiled as its golden beams lit up the clear, blue sky. My light jacket was unbuttoned and the morning breeze felt warm and comforting. The trees were still bare of any buds, but I could feel a sense of the coming Spring on this February day. I breathed in the fresh air and thanked God for this glorious day to be alive. I thought that only one thing was missing that would make this a perfect moment: a little morning music.

Then suddenly I heard it. God had granted my wish. The morning music had arrived. It was the first birdsongs of the year. After the cold and silent mornings of Winter nothing could have sounded sweeter. The music was coming from every direction. The birds were singing for love, for joy, and for God. They were calling on Spring to hurry along and life to return to this world once more. I stood still and just listened. I could feel my own soul awakening to Heaven’s joy and my own heart filling with God’s love. It truly was a perfect moment.

Sometimes we all go through the harshness of Winter in our lives. Sometimes we all feel cold, dead, and quiet inside. Sometimes we all wonder where the music has gone. It is then, however, that we need to tell the little bird in our souls to sing once again. It is then that we need to ask God to fill us with His love and His music. It is then that we need to awaken our inner Spring and share its life and warmth with the world.

I hope that you always take the time to hear the birds singing in the trees and the bird singing in your soul. I hope that you fill your days with songs of joy, acts of love, and thoughts of God. I hope that you start everyday of your life here with a little morning music and carry it’s Heavenly melody in your heart all day long. ---------------

WRITING STRAIGHT WITH CROOKED LINES

It was a terrible day to be on the roads. Snow had been falling all day long making them slick and hazardous. I would have much rather been in my warm, little home than driving along on such a windy and Wintry day. I didn’t have a choice though. I had to have my paper work turned in that day if I wanted to be paid for the work I had done that month, so it was a trip to the office for me and my son.

The wind cut into me as I walked out of the office and got back into my car for the 15 mile trip back home. The snow continued to fall as we drove along and I slowed the car down even more. I glanced over at my son in his heavy coat and orange toboggan as he looked peacefully out the window. In the eyes of the world he was looked upon as mentally handicapped. Over the years, however, I had begun to see him through the eyes of Heaven. What I saw was a beautiful, kind and compassionate soul with a ready laugh and a contagious joy. He had shown me more over the years about living and loving than I could have ever learned on my own.

I slowed the car to a crawl as we approached a sharp curb. As we rounded it I saw a shivering, young woman in a light jacket hitchhiking in the blinding, snow storm. I pulled over and let her in. She was headed to her Mom’s house to visit her son whom she hadn’t seen in months. As I drove carefully along she told me of her life. She had already been dealt a string of disappointments and tragedies that would have broken a lesser spirit. Yet, she still held out hope of a new job and a chance of building a life for her son and herself. After all she had been through she wasn’t about to let a Winter storm keep her from seeing the child she loved.

I took her as far as I was able and dropped her off at a place where I was sure she could catch a ride to take her the rest of the way. She thanked me for the lift and I told her I wished I could have done more to help. Then as I was about to pull away I saw my sweet son take off his orange toboggan, roll down the window, and give it to her. She put it on, smiled, and waved to us as we pulled out on the road. I waved back and said a prayer to God to watch over her and be with her always.

As we drove away I realized that God had once again written straight with crooked lines. He had used a necessary trip to get me out on the road when I would have rather been home. He had used a bad snow to slow me down enough to spot that shivering woman. He had used her story of overcoming so much to strengthen my own faith. And He had used my mentally handicapped but spiritually wise son to both touch her life and to show me again how we are supposed to give, to live, and to love in this life.

In this world we face so many adversities, challenges, problems, and tragedies. Sometimes it seems like our entire lives are a trip down a crooked, curvy, and hazardous road. Yet, God in His eternal love and infinite knowledge takes that crooked roadway and uses it to lead us straight back to love, to take us straight back to wisdom, and to guide us straight on to Heaven. ---------------

SEA OF LOVE

It was a bitterly cold morning in the middle of a relatively mild Winter. The chill cut through my light jacket as I took my dogs out for their morning walk. The frosted grass crunched beneath my feet as I walked along. The stars were shining in the still dark sky. I paused and watched as my frozen breath floated up towards them. They seemed so far away. I thought about the billions of stars stretched across the vast sea of black out there. Our galaxy was just one of many in this incomprehensible universe. Our sun was just one tiny star in the massive Milky Way. Our planet was just one little lump of rock flying around it. It all made me feel small and insignificant. I wondered what part I could play in such an endless creation.

Suddenly, I felt a surprising warmth envelope me. It was like being wrapped in a blanket of love. In my moment of doubt God was touching my heart. I felt filled with peace and joy. I looked to the stars again and saw them sparkle as tears filled my eyes. I recognized then that God’s love was everywhere. That vast sea of black was filled with it. The entire universe was made from it. I saw too that even though I am only a tiny person on a tiny planet that I was important in His eyes. I was loved! I was watched over! I was cared for! And I could make a difference too! I smiled, petted my dogs, and walked back inside ready to start the day and be a part of the sea of love that fills our universe.

You can be a part of that vast sea of love as well. Just open your heart to the love that surrounds you. Just open your mind and let God guide you. Just open your soul and let His Oneness fill you. Then you will know what a powerful part you have in this endless creation that is life. You are loved by God! You can give His love to the world! You can share your love as well! You can help to create a better universe for us all! ---------------

MUSIC OF THE HEART

When my children were babies I spent many hours feeding them, changing them, bathing them, and dressing them. Yet, all of these hours combined are probably still less than the time I spent trying to make them laugh. From tickling toes, to belly blows, to making faces, to weird noises there was no limit to what I would do to hear the sweet sound of laughter coming from their tiny mouths. Their laughter brought such joy to my ears and my soul. It was so musical, so delightful, and so contagious that I found myself joining in every time I heard it. It made me think that this is what Heaven must sound like at times.

I have never understood the fact that as we grow older we tend to laugh less and less when instead we should be trying to laugh more and more. Laughter brings beauty to our faces. It reverses our wrinkles. It exercises our insides. It keeps us young. Laughter clears our thoughts. It wipes out our worries. It reduces our fears. It puts our problems in perspective. Laughter helps our souls to sing. It sets our spirits to soaring. It makes us sound like angels. It helps us to see the world through the eyes of love.

I am going to do my best to keep laughing all of my days here. I am going to keep my mind open for all the joys each day may bring. When my days are done I want my laugh lines deep enough to drive a truck in. When my life here is over I want to hear our Heavenly Father say: "Well lived, well laughed, and well loved!"

A good friend of mine recently sent me a framed saying. It says: "Laughter is the music of the heart." I hope then that you always fill your heart with music. I hope that your days are full of giggles, grins, chuckles, and belly laughs. I hope that you laugh and love your way all through this life and right into Heaven. ---------------

IN THIS MOMENT

It was a cold, cloudy and rainy morning outside my kitchen window today. I shivered and walked over to the kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee in one hand and a steaming bowl of oatmeal in the other. I sat down, gave thanks, and took in a spoonful of the oatmeal and a sip of the coffee. I sighed as my chilled insides grew instantly warmer.

Just then I felt a nudge on my knee. I looked down and saw my little beagle, Snoopy’s warm brown eyes looking up at me. I petted her head and smiled down at her. Suddenly, I felt two arms wrap gently around my neck as my daughter gave me a loving hug. I squeezed her arms with my hand and said "Good morning" to her. I gazed out the window and saw a single ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds and shining on the Maple tree in the meadow behind my house. A red Cardinal flew down, landed on a branch, and looked at me. It was beautiful. At that moment I felt so loved! I felt loved not only by my daughter and my dog, but by God and life itself. At that moment I had what we all want in this life: sweet, wonderful, glorious happiness! I looked to the heavens, laughed, and thanked God for my life!

Most of us go through life with one eye looking towards the future and the other eye gazing into the past. Half our sight is focused on our goals and desires. The other half is looking back with regret at mistakes and missed opportunities. In order to be happy, though, both of our eyes have to be here in the present. In order to be happy we have to live here now.

The future is only a dream and the past is only a memory. God doesn’t want us to live in either. God wants us to live in this moment. God wants us to love each other in this moment. God wants us to share kindness and have happiness in this moment. Life is a collection of moments. May you always fill yours with love, joy, and oneness with God. ---------------

A JOYFUL NOISE

It has been a long time since anyone has enjoyed my singing. That is if never can be classified as a long time. While my singing voice sounds fine to me to others it is no treat. I have been told it is far too high and off key at times and that it sounds strangely soft and raspy as well. Even my speaking voice has been likened to Winnie the Pooh with a cold.

I can remember as a boy in Church when my older brother nudged me so I wouldn’t sing the hymns so loud. In school I was never invited to join the choir or any band. Even when I used to sing lullabies to my children during their baby years I would get puzzled expressions instead of sleepy eyes. And often when I used to sing aloud in the house my dogs would join in and howl the melody. Finally, I decided that it would be best if I only sang aloud when I was alone.

Still I sing. When I am walking outside by myself, I sing. When I am in the shower I belt out a tune or two. When I am driving my car and a great song comes on the radio I join right in. Even when I am mowing the lawn in the Summer and shoveling snow from the drive in the Winter I find myself pouring out all the love and joy in my soul through my voice. Even though it may not be pleasant to others’ ears, it still brings happiness to my heart. After all, God never asked us to make a beautiful noise, only a joyful one.

God doesn’t care about the sound of our voices, the features of our faces, or the cut of our clothes. God only cares about the song in our souls. I pray then that all of you never stop singing yours. I hope that all of you make a joyful noise all the days of your lives here. When you are too shy to sing with your voices then sing with your hearts. Sing with your thoughts. Sing with your feelings. Sing with your actions. Sing with your lives. Make your every moment here a love song that delights Heaven with its sweet music. --------------

DON’T DUCK

It was a bitterly cold day and six inches of snow had fallen the night before. I was five years old and being bundled up by my Mom in front of the stove. In those days a heavy snow was no reason to cancel school. After my Mom pulled on my mittens and snapped the hood around my head I walked outside to wait for the school bus to arrive.

The snow was heavy on the old, swinging bridge that led from our house, across the river and to the main road. Me and my brothers had grown up walking across it, though, so I wasn’t scared. In fact, when I saw my ten and twelve year old brothers involved in a snowball fight on it I joined right in. After hitting my oldest brother in the back with a well thrown snowball, I laughed while he picked one up to throw back at me. I ran back to the far end of the bridge and thought I was safe, but he flung his snowball at me with all his might. In slow motion I saw the white sphere getting closer and closer. I bent down and ducked thinking it would sail harmlessly over my head. But at the last second the icy missile dropped and instead of bouncing off of my thick coat, it hit me square in the face. It stung so much that I ran crying back inside to my Mom who just shook her head and wiped off my nose, mouth, and eyes. Then she smiled, hugged me and sent me back outside to get on the bus and face life once again.

That wasn’t the last time that I tried to duck the troubles that were headed my way and got smacked in the face instead. Over the years I have learned that it is far better to not duck them at all, but rather to look them straight in the eye and learn what they have to teach me.

In truth, God uses both the good and the bad to strengthen our souls, open our hearts, and teach us the value of love in this life. And when we cry out to Him, He is always there as well to comfort us with a smile, give us a hug, and send us back out to face life once again. ---------------

MIRRORS

Several years ago I noticed something strange: people seemed to be smiling at me more often. During my young adult years people had never smiled at me that much. Most of the people I saw seemed to have grim, tense faces. They would look at me for only a second or avert their eyes altogether. Sometimes they would nod or say "hi" but more often said nothing at all.

All that seemed to change, though, as I got older. For some surprising reason people were suddenly greeting me with a warm smile when I passed them. Their eyes seemed to sparkle when they said, "hello" and many times they would even stop to chat happily with me for a few minutes. At first I didn’t know what to make of this. Had the whole world suddenly gotten kinder without telling me? Had the hearts and souls of everyone I met suddenly grown more loving and joyful for some reason?

Then one day when I was walking alone in a store the answer came to me. I was thinking to myself of how much God loved me and of all the blessings I had been given in this life. At that moment I walked by a display of mirrors and saw that I had the happiest expression on my face. I had been smiling without even knowing it. Then suddenly I realized that I was the one who had changed. I had grown so much in love, joy, and oneness with God. And it was the light shining from my own soul that others were reflecting back to me.

We are all mirrors in this life. We all reflect each other’s love. We all share each other’s light. We all help each other to become the image of God that we were meant to be. May you always mirror every bit of goodness, kindness, and joy that you see in this world. May your own soul always shine bright as well. And may you make your whole life here a reflection of the light of Heaven and the love of God. ---------------

A MORNING GIFT

Every morning when I wake up I find a neatly wrapped gift lying on my chest. Now I have to admit that in my past I always pushed this gift aside without even looking at it. I was too rushed and determined to get things done to even consider opening it. I was working, pushing, and trying so hard to make my life work out with so little progress at the end of each day. I trudged through all of my pains, challenges and difficulties while things went from bad to worse. I kept crawling through my life until I was too exhausted to go on. Then one morning I finally noticed that beautiful gift lying there and opened it for the first time.

These days when I open my eyes and see the gift waiting for me, I smile. I carefully and happily tear off the paper and open the box. I take out the gift and hold it in my arms. I give thanks for it and bring it with me wherever I go all through the day. This gift makes my life so much better. I meet people with a smiling face and a loving heart. I laugh easily, sing often, and feel my spirit dancing even when my feet don’t. I face life’s struggles, challenges, difficulties, and pains with hope, determination, optimism, and joy. I know that whatever I must face and whatever I must do that this glorious gift will carry me through.

This gift is Grace. It is the unconditional love of God. It is the unmerited help of our Heavenly Father in all we do. Grace is waiting for us each and every morning of our lives. It is waiting to make a home in our hearts and minds. It is waiting for us to share it with the world. Grace is there ready to help us live our live with love every single day.

What are you going to do when you wake up tomorrow morning? Are you going to shove this gift aside and struggle to make it on your own? Or are you going to thank God for this precious gift, take it in your hands, and place it joyfully into your soul? ---------------

THE NIGHT PEACE FOUND ME

My oldest son turned 24 recently. When it comes to the soul, however, time is irrelevant and memory can melt away the years in a second. When I looked at my grown son my mind took me back to one very special time only a few weeks after his birth. I had awakened in the middle of the night after hearing him stir in his cradle. My wife was still recovering from the emergency c-section that was needed when complications occurred during his delivery. Wanting to let her rest, I picked my boy up and slowly walked into the living room.

Taking a bottle with me I sat down in our rocking chair and fed him while I gently rocked us both. His loving, innocent eyes gazed up at me and I smiled down at him. After feeding him and burping him I watched him fall asleep on my shoulder. I continued to rock and looked out the window at the starry, night sky. In that second, time stood still and I felt something I had never felt before: true peace. All the worries of life faded away. Every desire, want, and fear of the future seemed meaningless. All the anger, frustration, hatred, greed, jealousy, envy, and sadness that had plagued me in my life melted away from my heart. All that was left was that moment of perfect peace. All that was left was a feeling of oneness with God carried straight into my soul on the wings of love and joy. I sat there with tears in my eyes, thanking God for my baby boy and for this wondrous feeling of peace.

That special moment started a change in me. Material things soon lost their importance. What I wanted instead was the peace that I had felt in that moment. What I wanted was the joy and oneness with God that went with it. What I wanted was to show everyone how to have it as well. Thankfully, that peace isn’t hard to find. It is waiting for us in every loving choice we make, prayer we pray, and thing we do. May it find you always. --------------

THE LIGHT TO COME

It was the darkest time of the year, the last few weeks before the Winter Solstice. The long, black nights seemed to go on forever. When the sun did rise it would race across the sky and set again before you even had a chance to enjoy it. The cloudy days were the worst of all. Then even the few hours of sunlight were covered in gray.

I felt my energy ebb during these days. It was tougher to get out of bed in the morning and harder to get everything done during the day. The darkness made my body feel tired and lowered my normally good spirits. I definitely wasn’t looking forward to the 3 long months of Winter that lay ahead.

To fight off these Winter blues I decided to do all I could to nurture my own inner light. I prayed often and asked God’s love to fill my heart and soul. I sang along to the Christmas carols playing on my record player. I read uplifting books. I laughed with my children and played with my dogs. I walked outside during the short, sunny hours and breathed in the cold, frosty air. I crunched through the snow, smiled towards the sky, and thanked my Heavenly Father for all the blessings He had given me in this life. Doing these things rekindled the embers in my soul and turned them into a roaring fire once again. I knew that Spring was 3 months away, but I knew too that each day would bring more light both in the sky and inside of me.

As these months of Winter go by don’t just bide your time waiting for the greater light to come. Instead brighten the light and love that glows deep within you. Then let it out, let it shine, and share it with the world. And remember too that the greatest light to come won’t be on the first day of Spring or the first day of Summer. It will be when we enter into the glorious light of Heaven and the loving arms of God. ---------------

WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT

Sometimes it takes the wisdom of a 2 year old to remind us of what Christmas and life are all about. It was the day after Christmas 19 years ago. I was a struggling substitute teacher who had barely earned enough to pay the rent and electric bills for our tiny apartment that month. The only gifts my wife and I could afford for our children were a few stuffed animals.

I put my kids to bed that night and wearily walked back into the living room. I was sad about not being able to give them a better Christmas. Suddenly, I heard a giggle. I walked back into their bedroom and my foot stepped on one of those stuffed animals. A second giggle came from within the big cardboard box that held their toys. I peeked over the top of it. My 2 year old daughter had dragged her 5 year old brother into the box to hide from Daddy. I gently stepped over the toys they had emptied out to make room for themselves, leaned down and tickled my little girl. She squealed with delight and wrapped her arms around my neck. I smiled and gave her a big kiss on the cheek. I hugged her and her brother then put them back to bed. Gazing down at them I realized that Love was the only Christmas gift we needed.

Looking back on that time reminds me of what Christmas is all about. It isn’t about how expensive the gifts we give and receive are. It is rather about the birth of another special child some two thousand years ago. This child would grow up to teach us all how to love each other. He would give us all so much joy. He would show us all how to face the trials of this life with faith and hope while preparing our souls for the greater life to come.

May we all embrace the wisdom of this special child. May we all fill this Christmas with hugs, kisses, laughter, and joy. And may we all spend all of our days here on Earth sharing God’s greatest gift: Love! ---------------

THE BELL RINGER

"Ring-a-ding-ding. Ringity-dingity-ding." The sound floated towards me as I walked across a parking lot the other day. I had enjoyed a rare lunch out with my daughter and decided to do a little Christmas shopping before heading home. The department store looked warm on that chilly, wintry day and the ringing bell beckoned me with its sweet music.

As I got to the store entrance I saw the music maker. He was an old bell ringer working tirelessly beside the Salvation Army bucket at the front of the store. His lean frame and scruffy white beard made him look like an underfed Santa Claus in blue jeans. His eyes sparkled and his face shined with a youthful energy as he rang out a joyful rhythm with his little bell. I fished a bill out of my wallet and dropped it in the bucket. The bell ringer smiled and said, "God bless you. Have a Merry Christmas!" with a warm, raspy voice.

I went into the store and tried to look around at all the items for sale but my eyes kept drifting back to that wonderful music maker out front. His aged arm never stopped ringing. His merry bell never stopped singing. His body may have been old but his spirit was younger than mine. His warm soul seemed immune to the cold, blustery winds. His vitality seemed to come from Heaven itself. His efforts may not have helped to feed every hungry child or help every homeless family. Yet, he was working with all of his heart to help those he could. With a loving spirit and swinging arm he was making this world a better place. I stood there wondering what this planet of ours would be like if only all of us did the same.

May we all follow the shining example of this skinny Santa in blue jeans. May our hearts ring out with God’s love. May our strong arms never tire of helping others in need. And may we all do everything we can to make this world a more Heavenly place at Christmastime and always. ---------------

3 DIMES

When I was a boy I used to love to find a stray penny on the sidewalk. I would save them in a jar in my room and then use them to buy candy or gum when I had found enough. Later as an adult I read a story about how a minister still loved to find pennies on the sidewalk because on each one was written the words: "In God we trust." He said that each penny was a message from Heaven that reminded him of just how much God loved him.

Today I was headed to the store to buy a week’s worth of groceries for my family. I didn’t really feel up to it, though. My stomach was nauseous and I felt weak. I wondered if I was coming down with a virus. Still, our cupboards were bare and it couldn’t be put off. I stopped first to fill my car with gas before heading to the store. As I walked in to pay I saw a dime laying on the asphalt. I picked it up and remembered the minister’s story. I felt blessed 10 times over. I read the words, "In God we trust" written on it and realized that sick or not God loved me and was with me today and always.

Later as I was heading into the store I saw a local club doing a Christmas fund drive to buy toys for the needy children in our area. I pulled out a few dollars and handed them to the people. They thanked me and wished me a "Merry Christmas" as I turned to go into the store. Then I saw it. A second dime laying right in front of the door. This time I felt so good that my stomach stopped feeling queasy. I pocketed the dime, looked to the sky, and smiled.

I took my time shopping since I was still feeling a little weak. Finally before heading home I stopped to pick up a take out pizza for dinner. I didn’t really feel up to cooking. When I got my change I dropped it along with my first two dimes into the charity box on the counter. I enjoyed the idea of passing them and the love that went with them on to others. I walked out with a happy heart. I took one step toward my car and saw a third dime gleaming in the sunshine on the sidewalk. I laughed with delight. I knew that Heaven was watching over me and God was encouraging me to keep loving, caring, and sharing all that I could in this life. I felt loved not 30 times over, but 30,000 times over. When I got home too every bit of sickness and weakness had disappeared from my body. I felt healthy, alive and full of joy.

As you go through this life with all of its struggles, sickness, and problems know that you are loved. You are loved with a love more powerful than you can ever imagine. You are loved by God, Our Heavenly Father, the creator of us all! And the proof of it is all around you. It is in every sunrise and every flower. It is in every smile you see and every hug you get. It is in every good thing, miraculous message, or curious coincidence that happens upon you in this life. It is even in every penny or dime you find on the ground. Rejoice in that love, cherish it, welcome it into your heart and soul, and make your whole life a celebration and sharing of it. ---------------

COMFORT FOODS

It was a gray and gloomy November day. An icy rain was falling from the overcast sky. The bare trees were mourning their loss of leaves. I felt the day’s cold and darkness working its way into me as well. I zipped up my sweater to fight off the chill in my bones and said a prayer to keep the melancholy from creeping into my soul. I knew then just what I needed to warm up my insides and lift my spirits: a big bowl of vegetable soup.

I laughed as I walked over to the stove and turned the eye on. I smiled as I put the hearty portions of mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, green beans, and celery into the pot and stirred them slowly. The bubbling broth and rising steam brought back so many loving moments from my childhood. I remembered my Mom calling hot soup one of life’s great comforts. I remembered my sweet Italian Nana saying that it nourished the soul.

I sat down at the table with this steaming bowl of goodness and took my time blowing on each spoonful before savoring each bite. While I ate I quietly thought about all the other "comfort foods" that had filled my stomach and warmed my heart over the years. There was homemade bread, Sunday spaghetti dinners, birthday cake with ice cream, Provolone cheese, morning cereal, evening popcorn, and so many others. I knew, however, that it wasn’t the foods themselves, but rather Mom and Nana’s love that made them so special. When the world was at its coldest it was this love that kept me warmer than any blanket, sweater, or bowl of soup ever could. When the world was at its darkest it was this love that kept my childhood home full of light.

I hope that no matter how cold, dark, or hungry your days may feel at times you can still find God’s greatest comfort food: LOVE simmering on the stove in your heart. And I hope that you will always share a bowl of it with every starving soul you meet along the way. ---------------

ADVICE TO A YOUNGER ME

All of us at some point in our lives have wished that we could write a letter to our younger selves. We have wished we could pass on the wisdom we have learned and help them to avoid some of the pain and struggles that we have gone through. I think that my own advice to the younger me would be quite simple. This is what I would say.

Wake up earlier more often and take the time to watch the sun rising over the hills. Bend down to smell the flowers in the Spring. Swim more in the Summer. Play in the Fall leaves. Make snow angels every Winter. Turn the TV off in the afternoon and go play with your dogs instead. Don’t rush through those Sunday family dinners. Savor every bite of food and joy in them. Tell your Mom and Grandma you love them everyday and hug them every chance you can. . Don’t complain about chopping wood with your Dad. Enjoy every moment you have with him. And don’t argue so much with your brothers. Life is too short to spend being miserable.

Stop being so shy. Other people are just like you inside. Smile more. Laugh a lot. Sing often. They are joy creators. Share a kind word every chance you get. Give your inner goodness to everyone. Don’t worry about the future. Instead enjoy this day God has given you. Make the time to play with your young children. One day you will blink and they will be as big as you are. Quit wishing you were rich in money. Yet. rejoice at being rich in heart. Realize that happiness is simple. It is we who are complicated. Know in your heart that God loves you just as you are. Know in your heart that you can love too. Then go out and share your love with the world. When you do you will have the joy you have always longed for.

How I wish I could give this advice to the younger me, but I can’t. He probably wouldn’t have listened anyway. Still, it isn’t too late to follow this advice today and that is all that matters. ---------------

COOKIES

I had just picked up my son from the sheltered workshop for the handicapped where he works part-time. We were driving home listening to music on the radio when suddenly a news break came on. It appeared that a reality television star had just wasted 10 million dollars on a wedding for a marriage that lasted 72 days. The next story predicted that BILLIONS of dollars could be spent on negative attack ads in the coming election year. I sighed and wondered about this weird and crazy world we live in. "Is there any hope for us at all?," I thought.

"Dad, I shared my cookies!" I turned my head to see my son’s sparkling eyes. He started telling me how he had shared the cookies I had put in his lunch box that morning with some of the other handicapped people who worked at the sheltered workshop. I smiled and told him what a great boy he was. Then I realized that God had instantly answered the question in my mind with the sweet voice and loving example of my own son.

Is there any hope for us at all? Yes there is! It lies in the beautiful souls of people like my son. It lies in the caring hearts of people like you and me. It lies in the common sense of all of us who know that it is better to give than to receive, that people are far more important than profits, and that when you stop to help even one person you change the world for the better.

Yes it is a crazy and weird world we live in. It is a world of warped values where inequality and stupidity often go hand in hand. Yet, in this world live so many caring souls, so many loving hearts, and so many joyful spirits shining their light for all to see. There is hope for us all then. Our choices are clear and the path of love lies straight before all of us. All we need to do is take it and walk it in joy. All we need to do is grasp the hands of those we meet along the way, stroll together in God’s sunshine, and maybe even share a few cookies together. ---------------

A FAMILY TRADITION

It was mid-October when I first spotted them. They were nestled in next to the candy and Halloween costumes as I walked through the store. They were the first Christmas decorations of the year. It was the beginning of the 10 week period when the stores do all they can to get us to buy all we can. It was the great Christmas shopping rush and the bigger the gifts the better. I shook my head sadly and walked on, but then a wonderful memory came back into my mind.

It was late-December from several years earlier. I was shopping alone trying to pick up some thick Winter socks to warm my frozen feet. As I rounded the corner in the store I saw a Christmas tree full of paper angels. On each angel was the name of a needy child whose family couldn’t afford to buy them a gift that year. Shoppers who picked an angel could buy a simple toy or gift and the store would wrap it and send it to the child that Christmas. Around the tree I saw a teenage boy and girl picking out several angels apiece. Their mother was smiling while she watched them. I walked up next to her and started talking with her. She told me that her children started this several years ago when she first explained to them what the Charity Angel tree was for. Each offered to give up one of their toys that year so that a needy child could have one. It didn’t stop then, though. Each year since the kids had saved money they earned throughout the year and bought more and more children the gifts they wouldn’t have otherwise. It had become a family tradition. I smiled when she finished, walked over to the tree, and picked out a few angels too. I left the store feeling in touch with God, Christmas, and life once again.

May we always remember that life is about the love you share not the money you have. Life is about the people you help not the things you own. And may we also see that it is never too late to start a family tradition that makes the Father of us all smile.-------------

MY FIRST KISS

I can still remember my first real kiss like it was yesterday. I was in the eighth grade. Since kindergarten I had always been the shortest student in class, but a recent growth spurt had caught me up with the other boys. I was still awkward around girls, though, and was surprised when one of the prettiest in school asked to be my girlfriend. It felt strange walking her to class and holding her hand, yet it felt good too. When she had an argument with her Mom one morning she cried on my shoulder and I placed my arms around her to comfort her.

Just before we were about to get on the school buses to head home that day she turned to me and pressed her lips to mine. Neurons fired like crazy in my brain. My eyes closed while my heart swelled. My body tingled all the way down to my toes. A wonderful warmth filled my whole being. She then ran quickly to her bus while I walked slowly to mine. On the inside, however, it felt like I was floating on a cloud of Pure Joy.

That first romance soon ended like most first ones do. It crashed into a wall of my own jealousy and immaturity. Yet, I will forever cherish it for the feeling that first kiss brought into my life. It was a Heavenly Joy that I would rediscover time and again. It was there with me on my wedding day. It was with me the first time I held each of my newborn babies in my arms. It was waiting for me when I first realized just how much God loves us all. And it filled my heart once more when I saw that I too could love and have happiness no matter what life might bring. Now I do my best to carry that joy in my heart and share it with my life every chance I can.

May this joy become a permanent guest in your soul as well. May you choose it, cherish it, and create it from your first kiss to your last sigh. May you give it to everyone you meet and make your little corner of the Earth feel more like a little corner of Heaven. ----------------

I AM OPTIMISTIC

I am optimistic about the future of the human race. Now many of my friends have asked me time and again how I can have such hope for the future in the face of the problems we have today. Hunger, pollution, sickness, inflation, recession, unemployment, wars, and terrorism fill so many hearts with fear. This world seems to be overflowing too with greed, hypocrisy, anger, hatred, prejudice, and intolerance. A better life for ourselves and our children seems for many to be some impossible dream. How then can I be so optimistic?

My optimism comes from looking into the hearts and souls of all the people I see everyday. I see a little boy holding open a heavy door for an elderly man walking with a cane. I see a young mother carrying a baby in her arms buy an extra box of macaroni in the store and put it in the food drive box to help feed the hungry. I see 3 different people pull off the road to help a motorist whose car broke down. I see a lady going door to door to share the extra vegetables she had grown in her garden with her neighbors. I see teenagers giving up their Spring and Summer vacations to spend their time helping to repair the homes of the poor and elderly. I see a man taking off his one Winter coat and giving it to a woman who has none. I see people give their time, talents, and energies to make the life of someone else a little better and a little brighter. Everywhere I look I see people with smiling faces and kind hearts. Everywhere I look I see people helping people, people caring for our world, and people loving their neighbors as themselves. Everywhere I look I see people living as God meant for us to live.

That is why I remain so optimistic about us all. Sometimes we fail, are selfish, and create more problems than we solve. Still, in our hearts we are good. In our souls we are God’s children. In our lives we are loving beings capable of saving this world for us and our children. --------------

WITH JOY AND THANKSGIVING

I recently got some pictures of my Aunt’s 86th birthday party. Although I haven’t been able to visit her in many years she looked as happy and beautiful as ever. Her eyes sparkled with the same youth and vitality that I remembered from our Summer visits to her home some 35 years ago. Gazing at her picture took me back in an instant to those wonderful times once again.

Her home was an eight hour drive from ours over mountainous roads so we could only visit during the Summer. When we arrived, though, we were always greeted with hugs, tears, laughter and love. The highlight of our visits was always the early Thanksgiving dinner that we shared. The dining room table would groan under the platters of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, rolls, stuffing, pumpkin pies, and ice cream. After saying grace we would all feast until we couldn’t feast anymore. My late Uncle Rich would always smile after dinner and joke that we had to visit more often because this was the only time that Aunt Charlotte ever fed him well.

In the evening I would go to bed with a full stomach and a happy heart. Sweet laughter would drift up from the front porch and into my open bedroom window while Mom, Dad, Uncle Rich, and Aunt Charlotte talked long into the night. A peaceful feeling would fill my spirit as the sounds of joy and thankfulness floated up from below to be my loving lullaby.

Those beautiful childhood memories have stayed with me to this day. They were by far the greatest gifts my Aunt Charlotte could have ever given me. They helped shape my soul and opened my heart to the love of God that was all around me. They helped me to see the kind of life that I wanted to live and share with others. I will be forever thankful to her for her wonderful lessons on living with laughter and love. I will be forever grateful to her for showing me how to go through each day with both joy and thanksgiving. ----------------

MOST BEAUTIFUL OF ALL

I decided to take my sons for a walk the other day. Autumn was in the air. Rich, delightful reds painted by God’s own hand were coloring some of the trees. Heavenly yellows shining brightly in the afternoon sunshine were coloring others. On the ground a carpet of dry leaves had begun to form along the path. They smelled wonderful and crunched under our feet as we walked along. A light breeze swirled newly falling ones around and around until they too gently floated to the ground. High in the sky we noticed a V-shaped flock of birds heading south for the Winter. As we walked along I smiled. Beauty was all around us. It felt so good to be out in nature. I felt blessed to be watching God’s glorious creation at its best.

As we turned a corner along the walking trail. I noticed a woman slowly making her way toward us. She was an elderly lady with an unkempt mass of gray hair. She wore old jeans and work boots. Her sweater was threadbare in spots and had obviously seen better days. She was carrying a trash bag in one hand and a pointed stick with a nail driven through it in the other. As she slowly made her way toward us she stopped to jab a piece of trash she saw on the ground with her stick. Then quickly and neatly she placed it in the trash bag. When we met she smiled and said: "Hello" to us. Her teeth were cracked and worn, but her voice was as youthful and angelic as I had heard in many a day. We talked for a bit and I thanked her for making our nature walk more beautiful with her work. She smiled again and said: " I just do what I can" before continuing down the path. Of all the things I saw that day, she was the most beautiful.

May we all live as lovely a life as her. May God help us all to grow more and more loving so that our last days here are our best days here. May God help us all to be a beautiful blessing to this world today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives. ---------------

A RAY OF SUNSHINE

I had never seen a ray of sunshine walk before. Still, there it was walking into a local store ahead of me. As soon as this ray walked in too it lit up the whole room. The faces of everyone there brightened with joy. People who were staring down at the floor looked up with sparkling eyes. Mouths that were closed and frowning quickly opened with cheerful smiles. Voices that were quiet before suddenly spoke out with both laughter and kindness greeting this beam of light by name. Spirits that were feeling a little down were soon soaring skyward again. The entire store seemed happier all thanks to this walking ray of sunshine.

This ray of light is my oldest son. In the eyes of the world he is seen as mentally handicapped. In the eyes of Heaven, however, he is seen as so much more. His concern, caring, laughter, love, gentleness, and good cheer light up the lives of everyone he meets. His bright and beautiful spirit touches the hearts of so many everyday. When it comes to the essential things in life he is far less handicapped than the rest of us. In the eyes of Heaven he is a shining angel on a divine mission to bring more love and more light into this world that needs it so much.

While my son happily goes about making this world a better place I do my best to follow his example. I do my best to love as simply, freely, enthusiastically, and unconditionally as he does. I do my best to brighten the days of others without any thought for myself. I do my best to live as a Child of God and a being of light each and everyday here.

You too can be a ray of sunshine in this often cloudy world. You too can shine bright and light up the lives of so many others. Just fill yourself full of God’s love and light and then go out and share it with the world. It isn’t hard to do. In fact, it is the most joyous thing any of us can do. Live well, love others, and like my son you will make this world a little brighter today. ---------------

TUNING INTO GOD

I find myself using the mute button on my remote control more and more these days. There is just so much on television right now that I don’t want to listen to. Whether it is hypocritical politicians blowing enough hot air to cause a Summer heat wave, shallow television stars arguing on horrible reality shows, or screaming commercials trying to force me to buy something I neither need nor want, I find myself turning them down, tuning them out, and turning them off.

Usually after muting the media I will sit at my kitchen table, sip some cold tea, and gaze out the window. I will look at the beauty of nature instead of the glare of the television. I will allow the noise of the world to melt away and rest in the silence of my own soul. Then I will breath deeply, close my eyes, and listen carefully for the loving voice that never lies, argues, or screams. This sweet voice uplifts me and encourages me. It tells me to keep trying, to keep loving, and to keep doing all I can to make this world a better place. It reminds me that life is worth living, that goodness lies in us all, and that we are all here for a purpose.

This gentle voice is God speaking to my heart, soul, and mind. He is always ready to talk to us in these quiet moments of prayer. He is always ready to bless us with His peace. He is always ready to guide us with His wisdom. He is waiting patiently to fill us with His love. He is waiting patiently to show us how we can love each other as well. He is waiting patiently to give us joy.

Take the time today to tune into God. Turn off the television, silence the cell phone, and shut down the computer. Sit down in the quiet. Close your eyes and open your heart. Breath slowly and deeply. Gently pray to God for His love and His guidance. Then just listen. You will be amazed at the thoughts that come into your mind, the peace that comes into your heart, and the love that fills your soul. You will be amazed at how tuning into God can tune up your life. ---------------

CLOSER TO HOME

It was near the end of Summer in my 16th year. I was riding gloomily in the back seat of a large van heading down an endless interstate. I was at the end of a two week road trip with several other teenagers to visit a seminary college in Iowa. Along the way I had spent several days in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and on the road. I felt tired, lonely, and homesick. It was the longest I had ever been away from my family.

I glanced out my window and suddenly my heart leapt up. There in the distance I could see them: the beautiful mountains of my home. After days and days on the dry, brown plains I finally saw the green hills that I grew up in again. As we got closer and closer to those glorious Appalachian mountains I felt myself growing happier and happier. My face lit up, my smile returned, and my eyes moistened. There was a warmth filling my spirit. It felt so good to be going home. It was such a joy to be headed back to the place that I was raised. It was such a blessing to finally know that I was almost back where I belonged.

Looking back on that memory makes me wonder what it will be like when I finally return to my true home. Even for the longest life this world is just a temporary residence. It is a place that we learn, love, and grow in but it isn’t really home. Our true home lies beyond this world and its love, light, joy, and beauty are beyond my words to describe. Our true home is Heaven, it is where our family awaits us, and it is where our spirits all long to be.

Until I reach that blessed place, though, I will do my best to enjoy each day of life’s journey here. I will do my best to use every moment to get a little closer to home. I will do my best to travel through life with a loving heart, a joyous smile, and a giving spirit. I will do my best to keep God in my soul until the day when my soul returns to God. ---------------

WHAT YOU CAN GIVE TO LIFE

"I’m not sure what I want out of life." Those were the words I spoke to my high school guidance counselor some 27 years ago. At that point life seemed to be a mysterious adventure that lay far beyond the security of high school. Little did I know then just how much of an adventure that next quarter of a century would be. It was full of ups and downs, joys and tragedies, triumphs and mistakes, laughter and pain, love and heartbreak. One thing is sure, though, I definitely didn’t get what I wanted. And for that I am eternally grateful.

You see, God in His infinite wisdom always gave me what I needed and not what I thought I wanted. If I had gotten what I had wished for I would be a far more selfish and far less loving person today. Instead God kept me growing, learning, and becoming the person I was meant to be. Life was my school, troubles were my teachers, and the twists and turns of this world were my courses. The classes continue on as well for me, you, and everyone here.

These days I try not to think of what I want out of life but think of what I can give to life instead. I strive to be a loving father, a caring friend, and a good neighbor. I seek to do what I can with what I have to make Earth a little more like Heaven and to show others that they can do the same. I try to share all the things I have learned these past 27 years: that God loves us more than we could ever dream, that we can love each other as well, and that when we do so we will have JOY no matter what struggles we may face or losses we may endure.

Take some time today then to think about what you can give to life. You are a beloved Child of God with unique talents, knowledge, and blessings. You can give this world so much love and do so much to help others. You can make this world and your soul a little better each day. And when you do so you will get what we all truly want out of life: sweet happiness. ---------------

YOU CAN’T KEEP TIME

My watch broke a few days ago. The band snapped without me noticing, causing it to fall to the floor while I was doing the laundry. As I stepped back to grab another armful of clothes I heard a nasty crunch underfoot. I picked up the watch face and saw a spider web of cracks overtop the now frozen hands. I could see at once that it was beyond repair and sadly tossed it in the garbage.

Strangely, now that it is gone I find that I have no wish to buy a new one. Perhaps it is because in this digital age clocks are everywhere. They are on my wall, in my car, on my computer, and even on my phone. I can’t even turn my head without seeing what time it is.

I think that the real reason, however, is that as I have grown older my relationship with time itself has changed. While my soul feels as young and ageless as ever, time in this world has gone by much too fast. The little puppy I once held in the palm of my hand is now an elderly dog with arthritis. The little baby boy I once rocked to sleep on my chest is now a 23 year old man who is bigger than me. Young, vibrant, and energetic adults from my childhood have now grown old, sickened and even passed away. I can see now that, in truth, time can’t be kept. It flows on and on and carries us with it on a river of change. The days zoom by, our hair grays, our skin wrinkles, and our bodies wear out. No amount of looking at our watches can slow it down. All we can do is embrace it and enjoy each day we are given.

Earth isn’t meant for eternity only Heaven is. Do your best then to spend each precious moment here in joy. Do your best to spend your days living, laughing, hugging, helping, praying, and smiling. Do your best to spend your seconds here loving God, yourself, and others. Do your best to make the passage of time on Earth a passageway to Heaven. ---------------

A PLACE AT THE TABLE

I was sitting at the kitchen table this afternoon eating my dinner. My two hungry boys had already finished their’s and taken their plates to the sink. I wasn’t in a hurry, however. Outside my kitchen window a mother deer and her two fawns were eating fallen apples around the Apple tree at the far end of the meadow. Watching them delight in their Heaven sent snack made my own dinner taste even better so I ate my rice slowly and enjoyed the view.

When I was down to just a few spoonfuls left I felt thirsty and got up to get myself another cold glass of iced tea. When I turned back to the table, though, I saw my little dog standing on it finishing off the last of my rice. She had jumped up on my pushed out chair, bounded up on the table, and made short work of what was left of my dinner. When she was done she looked up at me with grateful, big, brown eyes and I didn’t have the heart to scold her.

After I put my licked clean plate in the sink I petted my dog and smiled. I thought of my Heavenly Father who loved me so much. He didn’t offer me the left over scraps of life but instead prepared me a daily feast of love, joy, friendship, family, beauty, and laughter. Each day I found my plate full to overflowing with all the blessings God wanted me to have. Each day I was given not only my daily bread but also His loving company while I ate it. Each day I found the chair pushed out and my place at the table waiting for me to join in this banquet of life. All I had to do was sit down, eat, and ask others to join me as well.

That invitation isn’t just extended to me either. God wants all of you to join in this banquet. God wants all of you to share in all the good things in life that nourish our souls. God wants all of you to bring others to the table as well. Don’t let the feast of life pass you by then. As my old Italian Grandma used to say, "Mangia, Mangia," (Eat, Eat)! ---------------

IT’S FREE

I was doing my monthly bills again recently. The stack was huge, so I took a moment to enjoy the balance at the top of the page. Then I clutched my pen and started to write check after check to pay bill after bill while the balance got smaller and smaller with each one.

I finally finished and looked at what was left. The ending balance wasn’t much. It amazed me just how much everything costs these days. I looked down again at the tiny amount left over and sighed. It was then, however, that I felt someone behind me. I turned and saw my youngest son smiling down on me. His handicapped mind had no concept of money, yet his gentle spirit seemed to know that I could use his smile right then. I put my pen down, got up from the table, and gave my boy a hug. I rested my chin on his shoulder, patted him on the back, and thanked God one more time for giving him to me. At that moment I felt like the richest man in the entire world. I thanked God again for helping me to see the truth that the most priceless thing in this whole world is free.

Love is a greater treasure than all the crown jewels that ever sat on a Queen’s head. Love is more precious than every ounce of gold that was ever mined from the ground. Love is more valuable than all the stocks and bonds that Wall Street ever sold. Love is what we are here for. Love is what life is all about. And love is free!

The next time then that your pockets are empty, the next time that your bank balance is low, the next time that you don’t have a thin dime to your name remember that the most valuable thing in this life doesn’t cost a cent. Love is a gift from God that we are all free to share. It brings us more joy than all the money in the world and the more we give it away the more of it we have in our hearts, souls, and lives. ---------------

THE POWER OF WORDS

It was 15 years ago. I was driving home with my 8 year old son after a trip to the grocery store. Traffic was light. The sun was shining. A cool Autumn breeze was in the air. I was quietly singing along to the song playing on the radio. I pulled to a stop at the intersection and looked both ways. The road was clear. I slowly started to make a right turn when suddenly a car rounded a curve at high speed and came straight at me. I stomped on the breaks of my car killing the engine in the process. The speeder zoomed past my dead car without even slowing down missing me by inches.

Before I knew it a stream of profanity was flying from my lips, chasing after the car and its driver. I then looked over to my son who was staring up at me innocently. With a red face and an embarrassed smile I started the car, pulled back onto the road, and headed home.

Later that evening I was reading a book when I heard certain, unpleasant words coming from my son’s bedroom. He was replaying the incident over and over in his mind and swearing enough to make a sailor blush. Too late I realized the power of those words that had flown from my lips in that moment of anger. It took a lot of talks about good language and bad language with my son to undo the damage of that one incident.

That mistake, however, did teach me just how strong words can be. It helped me to swear off swearing in my own life and to start using words that uplift and inspire instead. I slowly realized that language is a gift from God and should be used to make our world better not worse. I learned too that a few loving words can help a hurting heart, strengthen a struggling spirit, and lighten a heavy load. I pray then that all of your words today are full of love, joy, happiness, and light. I pray that everything that comes from your lips flows from your soul.--------------

TRYING IS ENOUGH

A few weeks ago I was taking a quiet walk enjoying the cool breezes of a Summer evening. I came to the solitary Maple tree in my backyard and there I saw it, a baby bird laying in the grass. I knew that the Robin that had raised a family of birds earlier this Spring on my Dad’s porch across the road had started a second nest in this Maple tree. Looking up I saw the nest high in the branches. The baby bird had taken quite a fall and I was sure it was dead. I reached down to pick it up when suddenly it moved. Its bald head with still closed eyes was stretching from side to side looking for its Mother.

Amazed at this miracle, I pondered what to do. I knew that my Dad had a ladder at his house so I ran over to get it. Hurrying back I checked on the baby robin. It was still alive. I placed the ladder against the tree and tried to get it near the branch with the nest. It was then that I heard the Maple leaves "meow". Gazing through them I saw the culprit, a neighborhood Tomcat. Looking for a quick meal he must have shaken the bird out of the nest and gotten himself trapped up in the tree as well. Climbing up through the branches I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, gave him a scolding "Hiss!" and dropped him softly to the ground. He ran off as fast as he could.

I climbed back down, took a paper towel out of my pocket and gently picked up the baby bird. Then slowly I climbed up the ladder and stretching my arm out as far as I could placed it in the nest. I said a little prayer for the baby bird and then took the ladder back to my Dad’s house.

In the weeks that have followed I have looked up at the nest several times but have only been able to see the mother bird. I may never know if I saved the baby or not, but trying was enough. Sometimes we don’t get to know if our efforts have made a difference or not. Sometimes we have to just trust God and do what good we can. Sometimes love has to be its own reward. ---------------

A MORNING BLESSING

I have been given a special morning blessing several times this Summer. It usually happens on the weekends when I am not awakened by an alarm clock beeping in the dark but instead by the dawn light peeking through my window. After the first rays of sunshine pry my eyelids open, I get up, put my clothes on, and take my dogs out for their morning walk. It is while I am walking my furry friends that I get to see this special morning blessing. It is the rising sun climbing over the trees and shining down on the cemetery next to my backyard.

Every time this morning miracle occurs I gaze in awe while my dogs sit patiently by my side. The silent grave stones stand solemnly as a testament that life on this world is brief. They whisper to me that one day I too will no longer be here. They remind me that every moment here is precious and should be treasured. At the same time the glorious sun shining down on those stones gives me a fresh sense of hope for the new day ahead. It reminds me that I have at least one more day to shine brightly from my own heart and to share the light from deep within me. It helps me to start that day too with a thankful heart, a prayerful spirit, and a loving soul.

This wonderful morning blessing feels like a kiss from Heaven. I begin the day wrapped in light, love, and truth. I pet my dogs, smell the sweet Summer air, and watch the last twinkling of the fireflies floating above the solitary deer nibbling grass at the far end of the meadow. I go inside smiling, knowing that God loves me and that I too can share love in this world.

This life is full of blessings in the morning, evening, and all throughout the day. It is up to us to see them, however. It is up to us to welcome them into our hearts and souls. It is up to us to be a blessing ourselves to everyone we meet. Life itself is a blessing from God. Let us always rejoice in it and be a part of it ourselves. ---------------

HUNGRY HEARTS

I woke up hungry today, but I didn’t know for what. I could feel a pain in the pit of my stomach that breakfast didn’t ease. At first I thought it might be a craving for the brown beans and sweet cornbread that my Mom used to make me when I was a boy. As I ate my breakfast oatmeal my mind was remembering how I would butter up a slice of that cornbread and savor every spoonful of those delicious beans. It made me smile just thinking of it.

After breakfast my stomach was full but the pain was still there. I found my mind wandering back once more to those wonderful dinners of spaghetti and homemade bread that my Italian Grandma, "Nanny", would make for us on Sunday’s after church. I looked forward to them all week. Each one of those meals made my belly feel heavy but my heart feel light.

It was then that I realized that the pain in the pit of my stomach was really a longing from the depths of my heart. What I was hungry for wasn’t those meals so much as the love that came with them. I remembered the sweet sound of my Mom and Nanny calling to me to come and eat. I remembered the big hug and gentle kiss I would so often get before I sat down at the table. I remembered the laughter, joyful voices, and happy hearts as we would sit down to eat as a family. I longed for one more family meal from my childhood. I longed for one more chance to hug Mom and Nanny and to tell them just how much I love them. As I sat wrapped in the love of those old memories I wiped away a tear and sent a little "Thank You" Heavenward to Mom and Nanny for all the love they gave me over the years and to God for giving me so many years with them. Then I smiled and headed out to share some more love today.

Every hungry heart can be filled with love, but it is up to us to do so. Remember, the more love you share, the more love you have. And the best way to get a hug is to give one yourself. ---------------

MYSTERIOUS WAYS

God sometimes works in mysterious and wondrous ways. If you don’t believe me then let me share with you what happened here recently. I was out walking my dogs a few days ago when my neighbor called out to me. She was upset and asked if I had seen her own little black dog. It had gotten out of her yard and hadn’t come back since that morning. I spent the rest of that afternoon helping my neighbors search for him but to no avail. That night I said a little prayer that he would be found or follow his nose back home.

The next day I was catching up with some friends on Facebook when I saw a picture that my cousin had posted online. There he was. His black furry face was looking sadly into the camera. I quickly let my cousin know that it may be my neighbor’s dog that she had found and rescued. Then my son, neighbor, and I hopped into my car and drove the half mile to my cousin’s house. The little pooch was waiting for us on the porch and was more than happy to get back home into his owner’s loving arms.

Now isn’t it amazing that a lost little dog found his way safely through woodlands and a very busy roadway to the home of my cousin? Isn’t it amazing that my cousin would post his picture online and that it would travel through cyberspace right to my waiting eyes the next day? Is it all just a big coincidence or is there perhaps a Loving, Heavenly hand at work behind it all?

What I do know is that this is just one of a hundred times that God’s mysterious, wondrous, and loving ways have been shown to me. I fully believe that He is watching over us, guiding us, and giving us all countless opportunities to help, learn, and love here. All we have to do is open our hearts to His love, our minds to His guidance, and our lives to His will. Then our own lost souls will find their way back home again into His loving arms. ---------------

SPARKLING EYES

I got a new picture of my sponsor child Lizther in the mail today. I was amazed at how different she seemed now. It looked like she had grown up overnight. I went and took her older pictures of her younger days and placed them side by side with the new photo. There was no doubt about it. The little child I had started sponsoring through Children International several years ago had grown into a lovely, young lady.

I went into my bedroom and pulled out my scrapbook full of her letters and drawings. It was incredible seeing her grow up in them too. With each one I saw her becoming better and more beautiful both inside and out. This once scared little girl, living in poverty, was now a wise, wonderful teenager determined to finish school, start a career, and help her family. I have no doubt either that she is going to bless this world with her life.

Smiling I put the scrapbook down and looked once again at her pictures over the years. Year by year the sparkle of light and joy in her eyes seemed to grow a little brighter. It made me happy thinking that my support, encouragement, and letters over the years might have had some small part in nurturing that light.

Any day that you can add to the sparkle of love and joy in other’s eyes is a day well lived. Anything that you can do to increase the light that shines in another’s soul is worth doing. God put us here to spread His light, to share our own, and to help everyone we meet to shine a little brighter as well. Do all you can then to bring a little laughter, a little light, a little help, and a little happiness to another’s day. Do all you can to bless this world with your talents and with your love. Do all you can to live your life so that even the eyes of those watching over you from Heaven sparkle with joy. ---------------

WATCHING OVER ME

When I was a little boy growing up in my Grandma’s old house I would play outside for hours on the sunny, Summer days and then curl up in my bed at night for a deep, peaceful sleep. Occasionally, however, there would be some particularly vivid dream that would jar me awake for a moment. I would stare out into the darkness to see if anything was there and then roll over and go back to sleep. I can remember a few times too when I woke up, looked out into the darkness, and actually saw someone there. It was my Mom watching over me as I slept. Each time she gently told me to go back to sleep and I closed my eyes again feeling safe and loved.

I never asked Mom why she watched me sleep from time to time, but after seeing my own children grow up so fast I think I know why. She wanted to capture a moment in time and hold it in her soul forever. I just hope that she carried a lot of those moments with her into Heaven when she passed away at only 55 years old.

Last night I was sleeping lightly when I suddenly felt someone near me. I opened my eyes and for the briefest of moments saw Mom’s figure standing in the room, smiling at me. And then she was gone. Now some may say that this was just a dream, a wish, or a fragment of an old memory. To me, though, it was proof that my Mom’s loving spirit was still watching over me. To me it was evidence enough to know that one day I will be reunited with her and everyone I have ever loved.

Whether we see them or not we are all being watched over by those above. Whether we believe it or not we are all being loved and helped by those above. Trust in their love then. Trust in the love of our Heavenly Father. Know that your own life can be full of love too. Then joyfully go out and live it with a brave heart, a helping hand, and a smiling soul. ---------------

READY TO FLY

Something new showed up on my Dad’s front porch this Spring: a nest. A robin decided that the top of a corner post just under the metal roof would be the perfect place to put her new home. Slowly she started to build it stick by stick. My Dad noticed what she was doing and tossed her work back off the porch, hoping that she would take the hint and choose a nearby tree instead. The robin was determined, however, and kept returning to rebuild her nest again and again. Finally, my Dad gave in and let her finish her work. When it was done the robin laid her eggs and settled into her warm, dry, safe home.

A few weeks later three tiny heads suddenly emerged over the corner of the nest. I had never seen baby birds so close up before. Each one looked like a tiny vulture dressed in a fluffy, wool sweater. I watched in wonder as the little heads tilted back and the ugly beaks stretched wide to receive the food that was dropped into them. I knew too that their mom would continue her work everyday, lovingly feeding her babies until they were grown, beautiful, and ready to fly.

Watching those baby birds made me think too about how so many of us huddle in our own nests day after day waiting for the time when we will be ready to fly. So many of us look over the edge terrified to make that first leap to live and to love. So many of us spend our hours dreaming of soaring in the clouds while we sit scared on a pile of sticks.

We aren’t meant to hide in our nests, though. God created us to fly. God created us to soar into the sky on the wings of love and joy. God created us to go higher and higher with every good thought we think and kind act we do. We just have to make that first leap. Don’t let the birds have all the fun then. You are ready. Live well, fly high, and help a few others out of their nests along the way. Keep your spirit in the heavens even while your feet are here on Earth. ---------------

A YOUNG SPIRIT

It was my daughter’s 21st birthday. Dinner was finished and cake and ice cream were about to be served. As I looked out on my three grown children I was amazed at how quickly the years had gone by. My youngest was now 18 years old. My daughter was a college graduate. My oldest boy was 23 and getting older every minute. Just thinking about it I could feel my hair getting thinner and grayer and my wrinkles getting deeper.

I dragged my aching, aging body into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. Yes, the hair was thin and gray. The face and forehead were wrinkled a bit. The few extra pounds of middle-age were showing in places. Then I gazed into the eyes staring back at me from the mirror and I saw him: a young spirit shining out of them from deep within me. He was the spirit that still delighted in the twinkling lights of the fireflies every Summer. He was the spirit that still soared along with the birds in the morning sky. He was the spirit that still thought the laughter of a child was the most beautiful music in the world. He was the spirit that had always known that bodies are temporary but that life is eternal. He was the spirit that had always tried to keep one foot in the wonder of childhood and one foot in the love of Heaven.

I smiled back at that shining spirit and took my youthful soul back out to the kitchen table to join my forever young children in some red velvet cake and vanilla ice cream. I thanked God too for reminding me that I will always be young no matter how old I get.

Always remember who you really are. You are a beautiful, shining, loving soul. You are blessed by Heaven and loved by God. You are both eternal and forever young. You can never grow old unless you let yourself. May all your days be blessed with youth, laughter, and joy then. May all your years be full of loving God, yourself, and others. ---------------

THE END

"Do you believe that this is the end of days?" That was the question a friend wrote me a few days ago. It is a question that I have gotten a lot of times over the years. With all the wars, tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, fires, and nuclear meltdowns we are facing these days, it is easy to understand why people would wonder and ask as well.

The truth is noone knows when the last days of this world will be. Noone knows when their own last day will be either. All that we can do is to live each day we have here to the fullest with love, kindness, goodness, joy, and oneness with God.

This is why I start each day by saying, "Good morning God, thank you for my life!" This is why I watch every sunrise and sunset I can. This is why I stop to smell the flowers and listen to the birds sing every Spring. This is why I hug my grown up children everyday and tell them that I love them. This is why I always take the time to bend down and pet a dog or cat. This is why I lend a hand to a neighbor who needs my help. This is why I share a smile and a friendly wave with the people I pass on life’s road. This is why I do what I can to house the homeless, feed the hungry, and care for the sick. This is why I write my simple words and share them with the world. I want to do all I can to show others that they can choose life, share love, and spread joy. I want to show them that everyday is precious, that every act of kindness is priceless, and that everyone of them is a powerful person who can make this world a better place.

None of us knows when this world will end. None of us knows when our own lives here will end. What we do know is that we can love today. We can learn today. We can laugh today. We can help each other today. We can bring a little Heaven to Earth today. Live today then and when the end does come you will be able to face God with a loving and happy heart. ---------------

A LONG WAY

It was six years ago. I was walking into a local animal shelter on a cold, rainy day. Although my house was already full to overflowing with cats and dogs, I still couldn’t resist an occasional visit to the shelter. I would scratch the cats’ heads, pet the dogs, and drop off a donation of pet food when I could afford it. This time as I was walking down the row of pens full of barking dogs I noticed a small boy looking into one of them. He had a thin almost malnourished looking body and a bony face with a big nose jutting out of the middle of it. He was looking at a small, mixed breed dog. Its Golden Retriever like hair was matted. Its bony ribs were showing and its thin tail was tucked between its legs. It wasn’t begging for attention like the other puppies but was cowering in the corner instead. The boy looked up at me with sad eyes and asked what was wrong with it. "It was probably abused and neglected", I said. "That is why it is so scared."

The boy immediately turned to an older lady and said, "Grandma, I want this one." The old woman smiled and walked to the front desk to fill out the adoption forms. I followed and asked about the boy. I found out that he’d had a rough start in life too. She had just gotten custody of him after the state had taken him from his parents. She had hoped getting a dog would make it easier on him. I looked back at him, holding his scared puppy, and said a prayer for them both.

It was yesterday. I was driving down the road enjoying a gloriously sunny, Spring day. Then in a green front yard I saw him. His teenage body was tall and strong. His nose no longer seemed big and fit well into his smiling face. He was throwing a ball to a healthy, happy dog with shining golden hair. His little act of love and kindness had indeed gone a long way. It had saved a dog’s life, healed his own heart, and given this middle-aged man fresh hope for us all. I drove on in joy and said a little "Thank You" to God for the gift of love that lies in each of our hearts. ---------------

DAD AND THE SNAKE

When I was a boy growing up my Dad, Mom, Grandma, two brothers and I all lived together in an aging house. The house had originally been built from two Shanty cars. Other rooms had been added later as money allowed. Finally, as a finishing touch my Dad had decided to build a porch. Because of the house’s strange shape with all of its add on’s and lean to’s, the only place to build the porch was off the side of the bedroom my brother and I shared.

A few weeks after the porch was finished I was playing in my room when my Mom walked in carrying a new flower pot to hang on the porch. My Dad was in the living room resting in his chair after a long, exhausting day at work. A surprise was waiting for us all, though. The night before a snake had crawled up the bank from the river near our home and made its way up the steps and onto the wooden roof beams of the porch. Just as my Mom opened the door to go out on the porch then, the head of the snake dropped from the beams right in front of her face.

In my entire life I had never heard my Mom scream so loud or seen my Dad move so fast. He was by me in a second, grabbing the snake by the back of the head, and pulling it away from my terrified Mom. Later with the snake safely gone the whole family laughed with relief while my Dad wrapped his arms around my Mom in love.

The story of that day became a part of our family lore and was retold many times over the years. Each time it brought smiles to our faces, laughter to our lips, and joy to our hearts. As I think back on it today I can still see the wonderful example of my Dad’s love in action. He didn’t think of himself for a second. Someone he loved was in danger and he risked his life to save her. It is how he has lived his whole life here, with the unselfish love that God wishes for us all. May the same be said for you, me, and everyone in this world. ---------------

MY DAUGHTER THE GRADUATE

My daughter graduated from college this Spring. I couldn’t be more proud of her. Through countless hours of study, books read, papers written, and tests taken, her hard work has paid off. She is no longer the little girl I once pushed on a swing and taught to ride a bike. She has become a wise, mature, giving, caring, and loving adult. She has learned so much and is ready to start the rest of her life.

I think the things I am most proud of her learning, though, aren’t the ones she learned in the classroom. They are the ones she learned through living her life. My daughter already knows things that it took me much longer to learn. She knows that money can’t buy or even rent happiness. She knows that you never rise higher than when you stoop to help up another. She knows that laughter exercises the lungs and love opens up the heart. She knows that a good cry isn’t a bad thing. It washes out your eyes so you can see more clearly. She knows that petting a dog warms your heart and hugging a friend uplifts your soul. She knows that doing what you love and loving what you do turns work into play. She knows that children are life’s most precious gift and that every child should be treated with gentleness, kindness, and love.

My daughter knows that life often isn’t fair, that society often isn’t wise, and that everyone of us will face our share of problems. She also knows, however, that with love in our hearts we can bring learning, laughter, and joy to even the toughest days. She knows that true faith brings us closer to God’s love and never seeks to judge or hurt another. She knows that life is a journey taken on a rocky road and that sometimes we stumble and fall. She knows too that we can pick ourselves up each time and even help someone else up as well. Most of all she knows that she is still learning, just as we all are. May she always know too just how much I love her. ---------------

A FEW MORE GEORGE BAILEY’S

Sometimes blessings come wrapped in strange packages. I got one today when a fiber optic cable somewhere got cut accidentally. This caused my cable to be out for most of the day and sent me to my dusty old collection of DVD’s to find something to watch as I cleaned up the house. The one I found myself pulling out was the old Christmas classic, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. At first it seemed strange watching this movie in the middle of Spring but after a while I found myself putting the chores aside and sitting down to enjoy it once again.

The powerful story of George Bailey, a common man who spent his life helping others touched my heart. George’s kindness and character helped me to see again just what it means to live a good life in this world. Mr. Potter’s meanness and greed on the other hand reflected all that is wrong with our society today. I found myself aching with George as he saw how terrible the world would be without him. I found myself praying along with him as he asked God to please let him live again. I found myself laughing and cheering too as the movie came to its beautiful ending. I even found myself singing along in its last minutes as George was surrounded by his family and friends in a room overflowing with love and joy.

This blessing of a movie made me think that this world could use a few more George Bailey’s and a lot less Mr. Potter’s in it. This world needs to see again that people are more important than profits, that kindness is more valuable than cash, that friends and family mean more than stocks and bonds, and that goodness and love are the greatest riches of all.

I wish all of you a wonderful life. May you live a life that makes God smile. May your days overflow with kindness. May your heart be full of love. May your actions always help others. And may you even get a chance to help an angel earn his wings. ---------------

BREAD, WATER AND LOVE

I was hungry! My stomach ached as I opened and shut the kitchen cabinets. Every single one of them was empty. Mechanical breakdowns at the sawmill I was working at had caused the hours I worked to be cut back a lot that month. I was due to pick up my next paycheck the following day and that would buy my young family another week’s worth of food. I just wasn’t sure, however, if we would be eating until then.

I opened the last cabinet and smiled with relief. There was a box of macaroni and cheese left for dinner that night and a little cereal left for my children’s breakfast the next morning. "At least my kids wouldn’t be hungry", I thought. Another pain from my empty stomach sent me over to the breadbox. I opened it and saw two slices of bread left. I went to the refrigerator and glanced inside. It was empty except for a little milk for breakfast and a jar of jelly with less than a spoonful left in it. I grabbed the jelly and put the bread in the toaster. Spreading the jelly thinly I was able to cover both slices. Then I poured a glass of cold water and sat down by the window.

As I slowly ate my toast I watched the butterflies floating above the dandelions in my back yard. Seeing them having their own flower feast made me smile and feel at peace again. As I relaxed my little dog walked into the room and licked my hand. I laughed, fed him the last bite of my toast and then petted his head. At that moment love and happiness filled my heart and I thanked God once again for giving me all I needed for the day.

Thinking of that time again makes me realize what really is essential in this life. We all want so much when in truth we need so little in order to be happy. A little bread, a little water, and the love of our Heavenly Father is all we need to choose love and to have joy. Sometimes it takes not having anything to make you see that you really have everything. ---------------

LAYING AWAKE AT NIGHT

I was a young boy reading a book on the floor of our living room. A few feet away a fire was blazing inside our old coal stove. Its warmth filled the room. Still, my Dad looked chilled and weak as he sat in his chair under a blanket. Times were tough financially so a few weeks earlier he had taken a higher paying job in an underground coal mine. He had started work with high hopes of bringing in more money for his family. He had also started the job, however, with a case of the flu. Working in the cold, damp mine had quickly turned it into pneumonia and he had been forced to quit and go back to his old job as a mechanic.

My Mom walked into the room and told me to put up the book because it was time for bed. I saw the worried look on her face when she looked at my Dad. For days he had come home coughing because he couldn’t afford to miss any more work. Putting in full days working on cars while fighting the infection had left him pale and thin.

I walked into my bedroom next to the living room while my Mom gave Dad some soup and straightened his blanket. For a long time I lay awake scared while I listened to the voices drifting in from the living room. I wondered if my Dad would ever be well again. Then I heard something I hadn’t heard in a while: laughter. Its sweet sound floated on the air. First my Mom’s, then my Grandma’s, and finally my Dad’s happy laughter filled my ears. I noticed too that for the first time in weeks my Dad wasn’t coughing. At that moment I felt safe, happy, and loved. I knew that my family was going to be alright and that we were rich in everything that mattered. I said "Thank You" to God for making my Daddy well and then fell blissfully asleep, wrapped in the love that binds us all together.

It is that love which is the real wealth of this world. May your life always be rich in it. ---------------

A SWING AND A HUG

It was a warm, sunny, Saturday afternoon some fifteen or sixteen years ago. I had volunteered to take my two older kids to the local playground while my wife put the youngest down for a nap. As soon as we got there my daughter headed for the swings and asked for a push. As I was helping my daughter to go higher and higher, I noticed another little girl 3 swings down trying in vain to get her own swing going. Her elderly grandmother was sitting quietly on a nearby bench and smiled at me. I gave my daughter one last big push and then walked over to the little girl and asked if she could use a push too. She smiled and said "Yes!" I soon had her feet soaring towards the clouds while she laughed happily. For the next two hours I found myself pushing swings and playing tag with my son, daughter, and the other little girl. By the time we headed home I was physically exhausted but my spirit was still flying higher than those swings.

Two years later I was exhausted again after a long day’s work. Still, I needed to pick up my kids from the local grade school before heading home. I stood wearily in the parents’ waiting area watching for my children. Suddenly, I felt two tiny arms wrap around my stomach. I looked down and there was the little girl from the playground smiling up at me. She gave me one more big hug before heading off to catch her bus. As I watched her go I didn’t feel quite so tired anymore and my spirit was once again soaring in the Heavens.

In this life every single bit of love we share finds its way back to us again. It may travel from heart to heart or it may blossom in the soul where it was planted. It may take seconds or it may take years. God’s law of love, though, is never broken. What we give, we get back. What we sow, we reap. The love we share, the kindness we give, and the joy we create will always come back to bless us in this life and even more so in the next. ---------------

THE REAL FIRST DAY OF SPRING

In the mountains where I live there are always two first days of Spring. There is the first one that shows up on the calendar in March and then there is the second one that comes later on. The second one is the real one. It is the first day when you can feel in your heart and soul that Spring has finally arrived.

I felt that real first day of Spring recently. The sun was gently making its way across the sky and bathing the world in its golden warmth. The temperatures climbed steadily into the seventies. The breezes tickled instead of biting into my face. On the trees I could see the first buds and blossoms of the year. For the first time in months flowers were showing their heads above the ground and stretching their bodies toward the light. Sweet, loving birdsongs were serenading the world from the trees. Hikers were walking the roads and paths in t-shirts and tennis shoes. On a playground I saw a girl determinedly running with a kite behind her rising higher and higher. Near her a boy was throwing a stick again and again while a happy dog brought it back to him every time.

As I walked through this amazing day I could feel the Springtime in my own soul awakening once again. My eyes and heart cleared and I saw this world as the beautiful and blessed place that it is. I looked around and felt my love going out to everyone I saw. I knew each one of them was a fellow Child of God put here to learn, grow, and love. I felt the love of our Heavenly Father surrounding us all and my hope was renewed that one day all of us would live as the family we are. I felt as if a day in Heaven had somehow made its way down here to Earth.

Days like that may seem rare, but they don’t have to be. By allowing God’s love to warm our hearts and by sharing our love with the world we can make everyday the first day of Spring. ---------------

A SUNBATHER

It was an early Spring morning. The sun was out but the chill of Winter past was still fighting against the warmth of Spring. I was driving down a quiet country lane and heading home after running some errands. As I was rounding a curve I saw a rock up ahead in the middle of the road. As I slowed to go around it, I noticed too that it had a head and was staring up at me. It was a turtle who had decided to warm up by sunbathing on the asphalt.

I pulled over to the side of the road and picked up the sunbather. I knew if I moved the turtle off to the side of the road he would just crawl back to the warmer spot as soon as I left. Not knowing what else to do then I carried him to my car and placed him on the passenger seat. As I drove home I would glance over every so often and see the distrusting eyes glaring back at me from within his shell. I tried to comfort him with a few gentle words, but they had no effect.

When I finally made it home I picked up the sunbather again and headed to the woods behind my house. After looking around a bit I saw a clear spot where the sun was shining down on a single rock. I gently placed the turtle down on it and took a few steps back. A few minutes later the head slowly emerged and started soaking up the sun once more. I smiled and headed back to my house. My simple act of kindness may not have seemed like much in the eyes of the world, but it made a difference in the life of one turtle and in the heart of one man.

Most of us go through our lives wanting to make some big difference in this world. In the eyes of Heaven, however, any kind act no matter how small makes a difference. God loves you and He only wants you to do what you can, with what you have, whenever you get a chance. We help God the most too not with some big act of courage but rather with a thousand little acts of love. Remember this then the next time you see a person or a turtle needing a helping hand. ---------------

HE LOVED

I stared at the blank page nervously. The school assignment was to write your own obituary but how was I supposed to write a summation of my life when I hadn’t even lived it yet? I looked to my left and right and saw people pouring paragraphs out of their pens. I tried to think of what I wanted to accomplish in my life but my crazily racing thoughts crashed into each other. I glanced back at my clean sheet of paper and my writer’s block intensified. I tried to imagine the man I wanted to become but couldn’t see him clearly. Looking up at the clock on the wall I saw that there were only fifteen minutes left in class. Finally, in a panic I scribbled down a few sentences of what I hoped someday to do and turned it in. Let’s just say when I got the paper back it wasn’t the highest grade I had ever gotten.

If I had that assignment to do over today, however, I think that my obituary would be even shorter. It would probably get me an F on the assignment, but it would get me an A in life. In fact, I would sum it up in two words: He Loved. To love is what I want to do today, tomorrow, and for the rest of my life. To love is what living is all about. The rest is just details.

Everything about living well and good and right is wrapped up in the arms of love. To love is to serve, to give, to be kind, and to help others. To love is to have joy and to bring joy as well. To love is to make this world a better place just by being in it. To love is to create a little Heaven everyday while still here on Earth. To love is to be the wonderful child, caring parent, tender spouse, fantastic friend, and beautiful person that you have always wanted to be. To love is to become the bright, shining soul that God meant for you to become.

Fill your days with love then and you will have truly lived. Fill yourself with love and you will be the best possible you. Fill your life with love and your obituary will take care of itself. ---------------

HAPPILY EVER AFTER

I have a dusty old box full of books stashed in the corner of my bedroom. It has all the children’s stories that I used to read to my kids when they were still young. I am patiently waiting for the day when I can open it again. I am waiting for the special moments when I will have grandchildren on my lap, a book in my hands, and a story on my lips once again.

There are a few books, however, that I won’t be reading to them. These are the books that I gave away a long time ago. They are the ones ending in, "And they lived happily ever after." You see, I spent far too many of my own years waiting for that magical "happily ever after" that never came. It took me a long time to realize that some problem free future doesn’t exist. Each solved problem is soon replaced by another and then another. Life is full of challenges, growth, pain, and learning. There is no escape from it. There is no perfect "happily ever after" waiting over the next horizon.

Happiness isn’t some reward we finally get either. It is rather a choice we make day by day and moment by moment. Happiness is created by loving each other through all the challenges, growth, problems, and pain. Happiness comes from giving of yourself, helping others, and loving God. It comes from being the person your Heavenly Father meant for you to be. That is the truth I want my future grandchildren to know someday.

We need to teach the children that Cinderella’s problems and challenges didn’t end the moment she tried on that glass slipper. We need to teach them that the true adventure in life isn’t in living "happily ever after" but in loving each other no matter what may come our way. Only then will brief moments of happiness be replaced by lasting days of joy. Only then will a problem free tomorrow be replaced by a well-lived today. ---------------

TRAVELING LIGHT

There is a picture of me in an old scrapbook. It was taken by my Mom a quarter of a century ago. I was taking Summer classes in college and was moving into an apartment with 3 other boys to save money. In the photograph I was carrying two suitcases loaded with everything I was going to need to get me through the 6 weeks of classes. It is the last time I can remember ever traveling that light.

Since then my possessions have grown. Most of them like my furniture and appliances are useful and practical. Many of them are gifts given to me with love that bring me joy just to look at and hold. Still, there are times when I feel weighed down by all of them. I know if I ever move again I will need two trucks rather than two suitcases.

One thought, however, brings me comfort. It is the knowledge that when I make my final journey from this world I won’t be taking any of those things with me. The only things I will take with me will be what I have packed in the suitcase of my soul. I will be carrying with me every kind thing I ever did, every loving thought I ever shared, and every bit of laughter I ever brought into this world. I will be carrying all the joy I created, all the goodness I gave to others, and all the love I was able to choose and share. These things won’t be weighing me down either. They instead will be lifting me up. In fact, I will be traveling lighter than ever before on the wings of God’s glorious love.

As you get ready for your own final trip then make sure that you are traveling light. Make sure that the stuff in your home always takes second place to the love in your heart. Make sure that your greatest possession is your own soul. And make sure that when you unpack it in Heaven God and all His angels will smile. ---------------

THE SMALL STILL VOICE

It was a sunny, Spring day, but that was lost on me. In my mind a thousand concerns and worries were racing around and around. Looking back now I can’t for the life of me remember a single one of them. In the days that followed like most worries they all either faded or amounted to nothing. At the time, though, they seemed like they were going to wreck my life. I had even foolishly taken the day off work so I could spend more time on my worrying. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t even sit still.

Hoping to clear my head I drove to a local lake that had a graveled path around it. As I walked along my brain continued to race. Halfway around I stopped at a small bench and sat down. My legs weren’t tired, but my brain was exhausted.

After sitting a few minutes I just let go and stopped thinking. I listened to the gentle music of the birds singing their love songs in the trees. I watched as the sun sparkled and danced off the crystal clear waves of the lake. I noticed the first wild flowers of Spring growing towards the light. I breathed in the fresh, clean air. I felt at peace for the first time all day. It was then that I heard the small, still voice of God whispering in my mind. "What are you so worried about?," He said. "I have loved you since the day you were born. I love you now. And I will continue to love you forever." I stayed happily there on that bench for a long time. And when I finally left I took the peace and love with me. I remember singing childhood hymns as I half walked and half danced the rest of the way around the lake. It felt so good knowing that I was loved.

The next time that the foolish voices of worry start chattering in your head, tell them to shut up. Then sit down, be quiet, and listen for the small, still voice of God. He will be there waiting to love you, to guide you, to strengthen you, and to bless you with His peace forever. ---------------

BRINGING HEAVEN TO EARTH

I believe in Heaven. I have for a long time now. With me it is not just a matter of faith either. I also believe in Heaven because of all the evidence I see here on Earth. I see this evidence not only in the glorious natural world all around us but also in the endless acts of love that come from the hearts of people as well. These are the people who bring a bit of Heaven to Earth everyday and they are the ones I wish to thank now.

To all the people then who pick up the trash off the ground and plant trees and flowers in its place, thank you. To every parent who spends the day hard at work and then goes home and makes the time to play with and read to their kids, thank you. To every kind heart who has ever taken in and loved a stray dog or cat, thank you. To every person who has ever opened their purse or wallet and given to a charity not out of duty but out of love, thank you. To everyone who has ever offered a ride, opened a door, or shared a smile with a stranger, thank you. To every good Samaritan who has stopped along the way to help a person in need, thank you. To every gentle spirit who has shared their laughter, encouraged a friend, or inspired another soul, thank you. To every single person who has tried to make this world a little better through what they do, thank you. And to every soul who not only knows the words "Love your neighbor as yourself" but tries to live them as well, thank you.

God doesn’t just want each of us to one day reach Heaven, He also wants each of us to bring a little Heaven down here to Earth as well. Do your best then to love and be loved, to care for others and the world around you, to create joy rather than sadness, and to help everyone you can every chance you can. Do your best to let God’s love live through you. Then you will be ready for Heaven, because you will carry a bit of Heaven with you wherever you go. ---------------

TEARING DOWN THE FENCES

"Good fences make good neighbors", the television commentator said, misquoting Robert Frost for the millionth time in my memory. It made me wonder if the esteemed poet was not looking down from Heaven and sadly shaking his head.

No line of poetry has ever been more misused in history than that one. It comes from Frost’s great poem MENDING WALL. In it he writes of him and his neighbor repairing the broken stone wall that divides their property. Frost questions why they are doing so, because there are no animals that need fencing in. He sees as well that the wall is a symbol of the barriers that people create to distance themselves from each other. He wisely writes that, "Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down."

His neighbor, however, who Frost describes as a "stone savage" who "moves in darkness" refuses to part from the ways of his forefathers and goes along foolishly with their belief that "Good fences make good neighbors."

I wonder if Mr. Frost would have ever written this poem if he knew that the line he wrote in irony would be used again and again to encourage what he was so against. Perhaps he would have written a different one about tearing down the fences that separate us and breaking apart the walls that hide our hearts from each other. Either way, we should embrace the wisdom he shared with us. Fences and walls separate us from each other and from God. We need to take them down stone by stone, walk through them, and embrace each other in joy. We need to love our neighbors just as our Father in Heaven meant for us to. We need to see that good fences DO NOT make good neighbors. They just make lonely hearts. ---------------

SLEEPING IN CLASS

I can still remember it like it was yesterday. I was a college freshman and had stayed up most of the night before laughing and talking with friends. Now just before my first class of the day my eyelids were feeling heavier and heavier and my head was drifting down to my desk to make my textbook a pillow. A few minutes nap time before class couldn’t hurt, I thought.

BOOM! My head jerked up and my eyes snapped open wider than saucers. I looked around with my heart pounding trying to find the cause of the noise. My young professor was looking back at me with a mischievous, boyish grin on his face. He had intentionally dropped the stack of textbooks he was carrying onto his podium. "Good morning!", he said still smiling. "I am glad to see everyone is awake. Now let’s get started."

For the next hour I wasn’t sleepy at all. It wasn’t from the shock of my professor’s textbook alarm clock either. It was instead from the fascinating discussion he lead. With knowledge and good humor he made the material come alive. His insights were full of both wisdom and loving-kindness. And the enthusiasm and joy that he taught with were contagious. I left the classroom not only wide awake, but a little smarter and a little better as well.

I learned something far more important than not sleeping in class that day too. I learned that if you are going to do something in this life do it well, do it with joy, and make it an expression of your love. What a glorious place this would be if all of us did our work joyously and well. What a beautiful world we could create if every doctor, teacher, musician, preacher, cook, mechanic, waitress, businessman, fisherman, poet, miner, farmer, and laborer made their work an expression of their love. Don’t sleepwalk your way through life then. Wake up! Let your love fill your work and God’s love fill your soul. Life is too short not to live it well. ---------------

WHAT HAPPENED TODAY

The television news was droning on and on this evening. It was full of every bad thing that happened in the world today. Finally I had to turn the set off. It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle the bad news. It was just that I knew all that was being left out. I knew what else happened today.

Today a mother held her newborn baby in her arms for the first time and felt her heart open with a love she never knew she had. Today mothers and fathers both played with their children, hugged them tight, and kissed them goodnight when they tucked them into bed. Today animals were petted, fed, and cared for by loving owners. Today a child learned how to be kind when she saw her Mom hold a door open for an elderly lady. Today wise words were spoken and minds were opened in a million school classrooms across the world. Today clothes, food, and money were collected to be shared with the poor and hungry. Today the sick were cared for, the disabled were helped, and the crying were comforted by so many caring souls. Today smiles were shared and kind acts preformed with no thought of reward. Today songs were sung, sweet words were said, and laughter was heard. Today adult children gathered around their Mom’s deathbed to hold her hand, tell her they love her, and kiss her for one last time. Today someone finally realized just how much God loves them. Today a million prayers went up to Heaven on the wings of faith and a million "Thank You’s" were said to God with hearts full of love. Today this world was made better by the good we did, the kindness we shared, and the love we gave to others. Today all the angels of Heaven joyfully smiled as they watched us strive to love each other, to help each other, and to live as God’s Children here on Earth.

That is what happened today. That is what happens every day of our lives here. Don’t let the bad news bring you down then. Its hate and darkness can never stand against our love and light. ---------------

SPRINGTIME IN MY SOUL

I was standing in front of my oven looking out my kitchen window on a cold, frozen, and barren Winter’s day. The latest snowstorm in a long line of snowstorms had covered everything the day before and no thaw was in sight. I huddled close to the oven while our dinner baked inside of it. Its warmth, however, had little effect on me. It had been a long and rough Winter and its coldness and bleakness seemed to be seeping into my spirit on this dark afternoon.

A loud thumping noise let me know that my youngest son was bouncing down the hallway towards me. He was over 18 now but his severe Autism had frozen his mind at a 2 year old’s level. Sometimes the frustrations of his handicap would even cause him to cry, pinch his face, or hit himself. Most of the time, though, his energy, laughter, and delight in living were a pleasure to behold. He lived with the joy of a child even now in his adult size body.

Seeing me standing in front of the stove, he walked up to me, leaned his forehead close to mine, giggled, and smiled. His eyes sparkled with happiness and as I looked deep into them I could see something else: God’s love. We hugged each other for a moment and then he bounced down the hallway again. He had in an instant removed all the darkness and barrenness of my Wintertime blues. And in its place he had awakened a little Springtime in my soul.

My sweet, special son had reminded me without words that when we have love in our hearts, it is always Springtime in our souls. He had reminded me once again that we live in God’s world and that we are all one family here. He had showed me one more time that while we may not understand all the difficulties and challenges we face in this life we can still use them all to grow better, more loving, and closer to God. May life’s Winter days then never weaken the Springtime in your own soul. And may you forever share its warmth and beauty with the world. ---------------

ONE SHOVEL AT A TIME

Another massive snowstorm had hit the mountains of my home. A foot and a half of the white stuff had covered everything. Living on the side of a hill I looked out the window at the task that lay ahead of me. Two cars were snowed in on the driveway. Paths had to be shoveled out to the trash bin and newspaper box. A place had to be dug out for my dogs to walk and relieve themselves. The porches and steps also needed to be cleared. My back ached already from recent days of shoveling. It felt like an impossible job. Still, I knew it had to be done.

I bundled up in my hooded coat and thick gloves and stepped out the door. The bitterly cold wind instantly bit into my face. I smiled grimly, gave a quick look to the heavens, and grabbed my snow shovel. I bent down, scooped up a shovel full of snow, lifted it slightly, and tossed it to the side. Slowly, one shovel at a time I worked my way down the side of the hill, creating my own walking path as I went. I bent, scooped, lifted, and tossed again and again. Each step needed another shovel full of snow to be moved. After a few minutes I would stop, rest, and stretch my sore back. I would look up at the gently falling flakes, breath in the ice cold air, and start again. Minute by minute and shovel by shovel I made my way down the paths, cleaned the cars, and cleared the porches. When I was finally finished I was amazed that I had done it all. It had taken my best effort. My fingers were froze, but my heart was warm with happiness. I smiled and thanked God for once again giving me the strength to do what I needed to do.

This life gives us many heavy snows to dig out of. This life gives us countless impossible jobs to do. Still, with the strength God gives us we can get them done. All we need to remember is to do them lovingly and joyfully one day, one choice, and one shovel at a time. God asks for nothing more and we should give nothing less. ---------------

REDIRECTED TRAFFIC

It was a sunny but cold Winter day here in the mountains where I live. I was driving home along the clear, dry roads. The last snow had been over a week ago but down the sides of the hills lining the highway the huge walls of ice were still melting. As I started to round a particularly sharp curve I noticed that a large chunk of this ice had broken off and fallen into the road. I was bearing down on it fast. Instinctively I braked and quickly steered my car to the other lane to miss it. Just as I did, however, I noticed something else. A small, black dog was walking in my former lane just beyond where the ice had fallen. If I had still been in that lane I would have surely hit him. Slowing down I honked my horn. The startled pooch looked at me for a moment and then ran off the road and into the safety of the woods.

I pulled over to a wide spot and parked. Then I quickly walked back to the large chunk of ice and moved it off the road so no one would hit it. As I walked back to my car I looked up at the sky. The clouds had just parted again to allow the sun to shine through. I smiled and thanked God for putting that ice chunk just where it needed to be to keep me from hitting that little dog.

As I continued driving home I started thinking of all the times that God in His infinite love must have redirected traffic in my own life. How many times had I been the foolish dog walking into traffic only to have God redirect things so I wouldn’t be run over? How many times had God spared me the full consequences of my own stupidity? How many times had God given me another chance to find my way back to the right path without being hurt?

God loves us all so much. He watches over us, guides us, and protects us more than we know. Let’s do our best then to make His job easier. Let’s live wisely, love deeply, and choose daily to be His Children. Let’s take His hand and joyfully walk with Him forever. ---------------

MOM’S SOUP

It was one of the hardest days of my young life. I was a 13 year old freshman trying out for the high school football team. It was the first day of full contact in helmets and pads and my 110 pound body had been knocked to the ground more times than I could count. It had become clear as the practice went on that there was no way I was ever going to be able to compete against the bigger, faster, and stronger boys. My dream of being a high school football star had been crashed to the ground along with my bruised and battered body.

I made it home sore, sullen, and sad and my Mom met me at the door. She could see I was troubled in a glance and had me sit at the kitchen table. I think she knew all along what was going to happen that day. She warmed me up a bowl of soup to hold me until dinner. While I sipped at its warm broth I felt her hand gently rubbing my aching back. We never said a word, but by the time the soup was done I was feeling better again. I knew I was loved and that was all that mattered.

I have carried that memory in my heart all of these years. Even today, no matter what problems or difficulties life throws at me a bowl of soup always raises my spirits. Sometimes I can even feel Mom’s gentle hand rubbing my back from Heaven and see her beautiful face smiling down on me with love.

In this world all of us have had our dreams crashed to the ground at one time or another. Sometimes it takes a lot of broken dreams until we find our true purpose in life too. God is always there, though, to comfort us, to remind us that we are loved, and to help us back to our feet again. May you always rejoice in the love God has for you and may you always share your own love freely be it with a kind act, a gentle touch, or even a bowl of soup. ---------------

HEAVEN SHINES THROUGH

When I was a boy Heaven seemed a far off place beyond the clouds and above the sky. As I grew older and wiser, though, Heaven seemed to grow closer and nearer as well. Now I can see that Heaven can be everywhere even in each of us. In fact, there have been many instances in my life when love opened a window to my soul and Heaven shined through.

Here are just a few of those moments when the light of Heaven brightened my day here on Earth. There was huddling close by the stove with my brothers on those cold Winter days when I was a boy. There was the sweet sound of the first birds singing in the trees to herald the coming of Spring. There was seeing the Sun majestically rising over the hillside at dawn. There was hearing a cat purring on my lap and feeling a dog licking my hand. There was sitting down to a family dinner after a long, hard day at work. There was hearing those wonderful words, "I Love You!" And there was saying those wonderful words, "I Love You!"

Those moments are just the beginning, however. There was also every time I ever held a sleeping baby in my arms. There was every moment I stopped to help someone in need. There was every time I read something that both cleared my mind and touched my heart. There was every instance I started a prayer with " I love you dear God and I thank you for my life." There was every time I did something good with no thought of reward. There was every moment I took time to play with children or to listen to an elderly soul share the stories of their life. There was every second I spent sharing encouraging words, doing kind acts, and giving out loving hugs.

Heaven shines through to our lives here on Earth. It is carried on the beams of love. Heaven can be as close as the beat of our own hearts. And God can make a forever home inside our souls. We need only to welcome Him in. ---------------

WHILE IT LASTS

I found myself shoveling snow yet again the other day. It was the wet, heavy kind too. As I was cleaning off my driveway I had to stop more often than ever before to stretch out my aching back. Later as I laid down on my bed to rest it and read I found myself facing another problem. Should I leave my glasses on and hold the book at arm’s length or should I put the glasses on top of my head and hold the book just a few inches from my face?

These two things made me realize that this 44 year old body of mine is starting to wear down a little. They made me more determined than ever, though, to make the most of it while it lasts. My brain may be a bit more forgetful, but I am going to keep using it to remember just how much God loves me and to think of all the good I can do for others today. My eyes may be weaker, but I am going to use them to take in all the beauty of this world and welcome it into my soul. My ears may not be as acute, but I can still listen to the birds sing, the laughter of children, and the glorious music that uplifts my spirit and warms my heart. My nose may no longer be as sensitive, but I can still smell the flowers in the Spring and the homemade spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove. My teeth may be a bit worn, but they can still share smiles with friends and strangers alike. My lips are a little thinner now, but they can still say kind words and share loving thoughts. My arms aren’t as strong as they once were, but they can still lend others a helping hand and share a caring hug. My aging fingers too will keep writing these words of love that God blesses me with and my tired legs will keep carrying me where I need to go, to do what I need to do, to help make this world a better place.

God gives us these bodies for a limited time. While yours lasts then use it well to do all the good you can, share all the love you can, and bring all the Heaven you can down here to Earth. ---------------

A STORY OF TWO BOYS

It has been said that a simple smile can change a person’s life. It has been said that a single kind word can spread throughout the whole world and change history. I was thinking of these sayings recently when I remembered a story I had once heard about two boys.

Both of these boys were born in the late eighteen hundreds. The first boy was the son of a poor cobbler and had contracted smallpox as a child. This left his face scarred and caused him to face teasing from the other boys. He sought solace by dreaming of a career in the church. His first job was as an altar boy but he was sharply criticized by the priest when he made a mistake during a service. This boy later abandoned the seminary as a young adult. The second boy was sickly as a child too contracting tuberculosis as a baby. He also felt drawn to a career in the church. He too had his first experience in church as an altar boy. And he as well made several mistakes once during a service. The difference was he was forgiven and encouraged to keep trying by the kindhearted priest there.

The first of these boys grew up to become Joseph Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union, who slaughtered untold millions of his own people to maintain his power and control over his country. The second boy grew up to become Bishop Fulton J. Sheen who touched millions of lives and brought joy to millions of hearts by sharing God’s message through his television show "Life is Worth Living" in the nineteen fifties.

This story reminded me of how much power God gives us to change lives in this world. Every smile we share is important. Every kind word we speak is essential. Every loving act we do can encircle this entire world. May we always use this power wisely. May we always give every little boy or girl the same love our Heavenly Father gives us. --------------

MAKING ROOM AT THE INN

In his wonderful book "Seven Stories of Christmas Love" the author Leo Buscaglia writes about arriving in Hindu Bali on the day before Christmas. The natives in the village of Ubud welcome him with open arms and invite him to join in their feasts and celebrations.

At one point Leo mentions how happy he is to be with them at Christmas and is asked by the natives, "What is Christmas?" Leo then tells them the Christmas story about the birth of Jesus. The villagers are entranced by the beauty of it, but one point confuses them. Why did noone invite Mary and Joseph into their home? Why didn’t anyone make room at the Inn for the pregnant mother about to give birth? In their culture room would always be made for visitors. Leo left a few days later with them still puzzling over why noone would make room for Mary.

That story made me wonder if I would have made room for Joseph and Mary myself. Would I have opened my door to a homeless family with nowhere else to go? Would I have shared my home and food with them? Would I have seen to their needs, opened my heart, and put my selfishness aside? Would I have been good enough and wise enough to share in the joy of those frightened shepherds two thousand years ago? I just pray my answer would have been yes.

Thankfully, even today God gives us the choice to make room for at the Inn. At Christmastime and everyday we are given chances to open our hearts to love, our lives to giving, and our souls to grace. With each fresh morning we are given fresh opportunities to share our goodness, to help others, and to make this world a better place. With each new dawn we are blessed with another day to love the lest of our brethren as we love ourselves. When it comes to the Inn of our souls there is always room for more love. Open your door wide then. Make room. And welcome God into your home with a smile. ---------------

FOREVER GIFTS

Christmas is a season when we give gifts to those we love. Like the three wise men of old too we each hope to find the perfect gift to express our love. As I look back on all the perfect gifts that I have gotten over the years, however, I have noticed that none of them came wrapped in paper or were put under a tree. Still, each of them found a forever home in my heart.

My Italian Grandma gave me the forever gifts of her big, strong hugs and soft, gentle kisses. My Mom’s sweet smile, twinkling eyes, and joyful laughter were gifts which lit up my life for so many years. My Dad gave me the gifts of his wisdom and common sense even though I didn’t always use them. My brothers gave me the gift of time. Although I was several years younger they always made the time to play with their "little brother." My first dog gave me the gift of unconditional love and loyalty. A beautiful girl gave me the gift of my first kiss which made me tingle from head to toe. A favorite teacher gave me the gift of seeing that learning can be a joy instead of a job. My children gave me the gifts of tiny arms wrapped around my neck and "I love you Daddy" whispered in my ear. So many beautiful souls blessed me with the gift of their friendship. I also got gifts in the smiles of strangers, the hugs of neighbors, and the kind letters from people all over the world who had read my writings. Each one of them was precious. Each one of them was eternal.

Not a single one of these forever gifts could be bought in a store. They all had to be given from the heart. They won’t break, rust, or rot either. Instead I will carry them in my soul all through this life and into the next. This Christmas then and every day of the year give your own forever gifts to those you love. Remember too the wise words of Leo Buscaglia: "This life you are given is God’s gift to you and how you live it is your gift to God." ---------------

A BOOK BY IT’S COVER

I was driving home the other day on a sunny afternoon. I had a smile on my face as I sang along to the songs on the radio. It was a beautiful day. I felt full of happiness and oneness with God. My good mood ended, however, when the radio station took a news break between songs. Suddenly I found myself listening to yet another story of a rich, beautiful celebrity involved in scandal, hypocrisy, and lawlessness. I shook my head in disbelief as I came to a stoplight.

As I pulled to a stop I noticed four, leather jacketed bikers. They were standing in the middle of the road with two on either side of the light. They looked rough and dangerous, but as I got closer I noticed each one was holding their helmet in their hands. I rolled down my window as one approached my car. "We are the Brother’s of the Wheel", he said. "We are collecting for a Christmas toy drive for needy children this year." As I pulled a dollar out of my wallet I looked past his beard and tattoos and into his eyes. They shined with a goodness and kindness that came right from his soul. I dropped the money in his helmet and waved to the other bikers as I drove off. My good mood had returned. My faith in mankind had been bolstered. And I had to laugh along with God as I remembered once again never to judge a book by it’s cover.

Our society often judges books by their covers but God reads what is written in our hearts and souls. Perhaps one day we will all learn to see the world through Heaven’s eyes. Perhaps one day we will realize that looks matter little and actions matter much. Perhaps one day we will see that the wealth and success of Earth are not the wealth and success of Heaven.

Over two thousand years ago a poor, homeless outcast walked the Earth. His clothes were tattered and His companions were rough fishermen. He was scorned by the elite of the day. Yet, He showed everyone of us how to live and how to love. May we all follow the truth He shared. ---------------

PACKING YOUR SUITCASE

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that, "Though we travel the world to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not." When I first read that, it’s truth and wisdom found a home in my heart. Since then I have always done my best to carry the beautiful with me wherever I may travel. Since then I have always strived to pack the suitcase of my soul as full as possible with the most beautiful memories, thoughts, and feelings that I can.

Here are just a few of the things I have packed over the years. Each one of them has made my travels a little more beautiful. The sight of the clouds turning pink, purple and yellow during a mountain sunrise. The sound of my children’s laughter. The smell of my Nana’s home cooked spaghetti sauce on a Sunday afternoon after Church. The taste of cold water from a pure, mountain stream. The feeling of a hug given in love. The sight of my daughter’s dog wiggling with delight when she comes home from school. The joy of singing along with an uplifting song. The pleasure of watching a butterfly feed on the flowers I planted in the Spring. The peace that comes from breathing in deep the fresh air right after a Summer rain. The bliss of saying, "I love You God" and then hearing God’s gentle voice say in my heart, "I love you too My Child". The glorious knowledge that love, laughter, joy, and oneness with God are choices that we can make everyday of our lives. The Heavenly happiness that comes when I share all my love, all my learning, and all that I am with everyone I can.

You don’t have to travel the world to find the beautiful. As Emerson said it is right there inside of you. Pack the suitcase of your own soul well. Fill it with all the beauty this world, this life, your spirit, and Heaven above has to offer. Then you will carry the beautiful with you always and you will forever share it with all of your fellow travelers. ---------------

JUMPING IN THE LEAVES

Whenever the bare trees and grey skies of mid November start to get me down and I start to mope about how Autumn always ends too early, I go to a special place in my mind. This place holds a beautiful memory that I cherish to this day.

It was many years ago when my grown children were still young. A warm Indian Summer had blessed us with a beautiful Wednesday. It was the day before Thanksgiving and the temperature was in the seventies with a gentle breeze in the air. My wife was baking pumpkin pies to take to her Mom’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, so I decided to take the three kids to a local park for the afternoon. Mighty Oak trees throughout the park had laid down a blanket of dry leaves on the ground. I found an old fallen tree branch nearby and decided to make some good use of it. Using it as a rake I slowly made several huge piles of leaves on the side of a hill. Then I called my children over. They knew just what to do.

The next hour was spent jumping, sliding, running, and playing in the leaves. We took turns burying each other. We played hide and seek. We pretended to be leaf monsters. And we saw who could make the biggest splash in the dry and crunchy piles. It was a magical time full of smiles, laughter, and the simple joys of childhood. After that day too we made many more happy trips to the park to play in the leaves.

Happy memories of loving times are a lot like those fallen leaves in November. They nourish the soil of our souls and bring forth new life inside of us whenever we think of them. They give us the strength to keep on creating fresh joy and a new Springtime everyday of our lives. This Thanksgiving then give a special "Thank You" to God for all of your happy memories and loving times. And also whenever you get the chance, jump in the leaves! ---------------

ONENESS

Have you ever had a moment of Oneness? Have you ever had a moment when you felt at one not only with your highest self but also with life, love, the universe, God, and everyone everywhere? Have you ever had a moment when you felt the heart beating in your chest was in perfect rhythm with the song of all creation? Have you ever had a moment when you finally felt the joy inside of you that you have wanted all of your life?

The first time I had a moment like that I was a little boy sitting on my Mom’s lap while she read me a story. In that second everything felt right with the world. I remember too having moments like that each time I held my own baby children in my arms and gently rocked them to sleep. Holding those peaceful angels so close made my heart grow warmer and my love grow deeper. I had another moment like that the first time I realized that God loves me just as I am with all my weaknesses and faults. It was then too that I first decided that I wanted to grow better for the Heavenly Father who loved me so much. Over the years these moments of Oneness have grown more frequent as well. Each one has filled me with joy. Each one has connected me with others. Each one has brought a wholeness, completeness and divinity into my life. Each one has made me more at One with the Love that created us all.

Our moments of Oneness are the greatest moments in life. They are moments we would all forever create if we could. Well, the wonderful truth is we can!

How do you create these moments of Oneness? You just love. It is that simple. It is that easy. The more you love the more you become one with others, with life, and with God. The more you love the more these joyous moments begin to fill your life. The more you love the more you bring the eternal Oneness of Heaven down here to Earth. ---------------

A DROP IN THE OCEAN

I was in the post office the other day waiting to mail out a few letters. As the line moved slowly forward I chatted with the woman in front of me. She was carrying a large package that she was mailing to her daughter who lived on the other side of the country. It was clear from her voice too just how much she loved and missed her girl.

When it was finally her turn she slowly but happily counted out her money for the postage. Her smile faded, however, as she discovered that she didn’t have enough cash with her to mail out the package. Quickly, I reached into my own pocket and got the extra change she needed. It was only a few coins but the smile and thanks she gave me in return were priceless treasures. I left that post office with a smiling face and a happy heart.

Now I know that my little act of kindness was only a tiny drop compared to the vast ocean of God’s love. Still, over the years I have come to see that in the eyes of Heaven every single drop counts. Every kind act, every caring smile, every loving thought, and every helping hand adds to the ocean of God’s love here. Every single drop makes it greater.

Every little thing we do in this life is important. Every little thing we do makes a difference. Drop by drop God wants us to add to the endless waters of His love that wash over this world. Start today then. Give the world the gift of your smile. Share a laugh with your friends. Give your loved ones a heartfelt hug. Open a door for a stranger. Give a few coins to a person in need. Pass on a friendly wave, a bit of good news, or a positive thought. Shower people with your kindness and love. Help everyone you can every chance you can. Sow a few seeds of joy in the Winter even if you won’t get to see them bloom in the Spring. Keep adding to your drops of love until they become a river that flows joyously back into Heaven’s sea. ---------------

CHANGING COLORS

Autumn this year in the mountains of my home has been truly spectacular. It is like an angel artist has been assigned to paint each tree in the most glorious colors imaginable. Perhaps it is the wisdom of age that has helped my eyes to see more clearly. Still, to me the leaves have never looked as beautiful as they do this Fall.

One tree in my backyard has especially caught my attention. Every year before this one its leaves had always turned to a rich, vibrant red in October. This year, though, the entire tree was bathed in the most outrageous orange. It was both delightful and amazing to watch this tree suddenly change its colors.

Looking at that bright, orange beacon in my backyard made me think too of how we can go about changing our own colors. I remember when cold, dark hues colored my own heart, soul, and mind. I remember when fear, apathy, and selfishness colored my life. I remember when my only thoughts were of my own wants, needs, and desires. It was an ugly picture indeed. One day, however, I am not sure exactly when, that picture started to change. It started with a single brush stroke, one kind act, and one loving thought. This was followed by another and another. Each one brought a new dab of color and brightness into my heart, soul, and mind. Slowly, choice by choice, moment by moment, and day by day I began to turn the cold, dark, miserable November of my life into a warm, shining, and loving October.

God in His endless love never ceases to give us fresh chances to change our colors, change our lives, and change the world. Each day is full of new opportunities to paint our hearts, souls, and minds with the brightness of love. Each day is full of moments to bring the colors of joy to this often drab world. We are the artists of our own lives. May we forever color them beautiful. ---------------

LISTENING TO OUR BETTER ANGELS

I was driving my daughter home from college for the weekend on a Fall Friday afternoon. The air was warm, the sun was shining, the sky was clear, and Gods paintbrush had just begun to color the mountains of my home. Spectacular reds, yellows, and oranges glowed from the trees and kept a smile glowing on my own face as we drove up the narrow mountain road. As I rounded a curve I saw an old gentleman who I knew didn’t own a car walking the way we were going. I was happy then to give him a lift since it was on our way home.

Two days later I was driving up the same road on a Sunday afternoon after taking my daughter back to college. A cold rain was falling from an overcast sky and the fallen leaves on the road were slick and caused me to drive extra slow. As I neared the top of the mountain road I noticed the same old gentleman only this time headed back down the mountain. He smiled and waved as we drove by and at that very moment I heard one of my better angels whispering in my ear. I listened to the gentle voice telling my heart what to do, turned my car around, and gave that kind, old man a ride back down the road. I shook his hand, accepted his thanks, and headed home.

The trip cost me 20 minutes of my time and maybe half a gallon of gas. The peace that filled my heart, though, was worth all the money in the world. I drove home singing along with the radio, wrapped in a blanket of love and joy, and surrounded by all of my better angels.

We all should listen to our better angels. We all should pay heed to those quiet voices we hear in our hearts, souls, and minds. They are a guide for good and the guidance of God. They help us to help others and ourselves. They fill us with the peace of knowing that we are living as Gods Children in this world. How do we recognize these angels? They are always the voices of love and they always lead us to joy. Listen closely then. Heaven may be speaking to your heart. ---------------

DAD, HELP!

When I was a little boy we lived in a house by a river. The only way to reach our home from the road was to walk across a rickety, old, swinging bridge. It made for a long trip unloading the groceries from the car. Once when I was six years old I decided to help my Dad and big brothers carry the things in from the store. As soon as my brothers started across the bridge with their bags I quickly grabbed a big bag full of canned goods and left the bag of bread for my Dad. My Dad smiled and asked if I needed help. "I can do it myself!," I said determinedly.

About half way across the swaying bridge, however, the sack began to feel heavier and heavier. I took a few more steps, staggered, and yelled "Dad, Help!" Quickly my Dad steadied me and switched my bag of cans with his bag of bread. Then together we walked happily the rest of the way into our home.

Most of us go through life determinedly saying, "I can do it myself!" There always comes a time, though, when life gives us too much to carry. There comes a time when we all start to stagger and fall. Wouldn’t it be better if before then we wisely asked our Heavenly Father for His help? It would be a lot safer, a lot easier and we would be a lot happier too.

Do not wait until you are about to fall off the bridge of life before you ask God to help you. Do so this morning, today, right now. Ask God to help you with your problems, struggles, and difficulties. Ask your Heavenly Father to help you to do your work and live your life the best you can. Ask the Dad of us all to help you to do His will and share His love. Life doesn’t have to rest on your shoulders alone. Our loving Father is always ready to help you carry your bags. His hand is there to steady you. His smile is there to shine on you. And His love is there to uplift you. All you have to do is ask. ---------------

BIRTHDAY THOUGHTS

I celebrated another birthday recently. As I sat down that evening with a belly full of red velvet cake and chocolate chip ice cream, wearing the new Hawaiian shirt my daughter had bought me, it occurred to me that I had already passed the midway point of my life here. I had already lived 44 years on this world. Statistically, I had about another 30 years left, God willing. Sitting in the quiet of the evening, though, I realized that whether I had 30 years, 30 days, or 30 minutes left I did not just want to let them pass me by. I wanted to truly live them.

I have decided then to give up regretting the past and dreaming about the future. Both are a waste of time. The past is over. It taught me a lot and for that I am truly grateful, but I can only live today. The future has not even happened yet. Why should I dream of being happy in some fantasy, perfect future when I can instead choose to be happy in the wonderful if imperfect present?

I have decided as well to stop worrying about money and thinking about how much better my life would be with more of it. Looking back I realized that money had never once bought me happiness. Money had paid bills and bought stuff, but every bit of joy in my life had come from love. It had come from God loving me and me loving God. It had come from the love I gave to others and the love I received back from them. It had come from loving life, myself, and my neighbor as myself. Money may have helped feed my stomach, but love is what fed my soul.

That then is what I have decided to do with my next 30 years: just love. With love life is glorious and without love life is meaningless. Is it any wonder the two greatest commandments are about love? Is it any wonder that every great story, beautiful song, and well-lived life is about love? Love is what God created us for. Love is what we are meant for. Without love life is wasted. With love life is truly lived.

Look for me in the next 30 years. I will be the one hugging my children with loving arms. I will be the one watching the sunset with a loving smile. I will be the one singing along with the radio with a poor voice, but a rich heart. I will be the one dancing in the leaves, playing with my grandchildren, and petting my cats and dogs. I will be the one living with love, writing about love, walking the path of love, and sharing Gods love with everyone I can. I will be the one cherishing every single, beautiful, loving moment that I am given here.

I hope that all of your birthdays are joyous ones. I pray that all of your years are loving ones. I wish that you truly live every day you get here. And most of all I pray that you will take Gods hand and sing, dance, laugh, and love your way into Heaven. ---------------

A FEW SIMPLE SECRETS

There is a story from long ago that I really love. A young novice had entered a monastery run by a wise abbot. One day the abbot told his monks that he was going to share a secret teaching with them that would bring them lasting peace and happiness, but if they shared it with anyone else they would be expelled from the monastery. The next day several of the older monks saw the young novice sharing the secret teaching with everyone in a nearby town. They ran back and told the abbot what they had saw. The abbot just smiled and said, "I can teach this young novice nothing further. He is already an abbot in his own right."

In the spirit of that young novice then I have a few simple secrets that I would love to share with you today. In truth, they aren’t really secrets. Everyone knows them in their hearts even when they don’t accept them in their minds. Like that young novice, though, once I welcomed them into my soul I couldn’t wait to share them with all of you. Here then are a few simple secrets from a student of life who is still learning.

God loves you. God loves you even when you don’t love Him back. God loves you with a love so powerful and eternal that nothing can destroy it. And you can love too. You can choose love. You can share love. You can pray for love. You can learn of love. You can grow in oneness with God’s love each and everyday of your life here. And when you love, you will have joy. You will have the lasting peace and happiness we all search for and want. Then no matter what troubles you deal with or tragedies you go through you will know God is with you and you will face them with love.

The secrets of life are simple but never easy. Do your best then to learn them, live them, and share them with everyone you can. Be the eager student and loving teacher of life always. ---------------

FILLING THE BARREL

I love it when God blesses us with bright, shining opportunities to help others. God always uses these opportunities to help us become better people as well. Sometimes, however, these opportunities come with difficulties. And they are the ones that challenge us the most.

I had just arrived at the grocery store the other day. My shopping list was long and my cash was short. It seemed like we had run out of everything at once. It looked like there was no way that I would be able to get all the food I needed for my family that week with the money I had. As I walked in the store I noticed a big, blue barrel. On the side was a plea for food donations for the local food bank to help the needy. I glanced inside it. It was completely empty. Apparently, I wasn�t the only one struggling to make ends meet that week.

As I walked through the store, though, I couldn�t get that barrel out of my mind. With each food item I put in my cart I thought of all the people who couldn�t even afford to feed their own children right now. Finally, I picked up some extra boxes of noodles and put them in my cart. I prayed they would fill at least a few empty bellies that week. I knew if I had to I could put back something of my own to make up the difference. I paid for the groceries and had just enough to get them all. I smiled and walked to the barrel with an empty wallet but a full heart. As I dropped the boxes of noodles in the barrel I noticed too that it was slowly starting to fill up. I wasn�t the only one who had decided to help the hungry that day.

Every opportunity to help others is a gift from God. Every time we do help others God is helping us as well to become better and more loving people. We are here, after all, to love each other and to help each other. We are here to fill both empty barrels and empty hearts. We are here to live as God�s Children. May we always do so. ---------------

HOME

I have lived in several different houses and apartments in my life and none of them seemed like home. Well, that is at least not at first. You see, in all the hustle and bustle of settling in, unpacking boxes, hunting for lost items, hanging pictures, adjusting to new surroundings, and the general craziness of moving your life from one place to another there is no real sense of home. That sense comes much later and often unexpectedly. It comes one day when after a long day�s work you settle into your chair, breath in deep, relax, and suddenly feel at peace. That is when you look around at those walls and ceiling as if for the first time and give thanks to God for this wonderful place to live. That is when you finally make your house into your home by blessing it with your love.

No matter how small, old, or run down the places I have lived in have been there has always been that point when I blessed them with my love, took them into my heart, and made them my home. There has always been that point when I realized that any hut, shack, or hovel could still be a castle as long as God and love lived inside it with me.

There is another place that we all should bless with our love and make our home. That is this world we live in. It may not be our permanent home, but while we are here we should do all we can to make it our loving home. We are here, after all, for only a short time. Why not use it to bring as much Heaven as we can down here to Earth?

Whether you are sitting in your favorite chair, cooking your dinner, looking up at the night sky, or walking outside on a cool, brisk morning then know that you are home. Know that you are living in a world created in love. Know that you can bless that world with your love as well. Home is where the love is. Home is where God is. May everywhere you live be home to you. ---------------

LETTER TO STEPHEN HAWKING

Dear Mr. Hawking,

First let me say that I have always admired you. Your intellectual achievements and your courageous battle against the disease of ALS for all these decades have been an inspiration for thousands of people in this world. However, when I saw your recent statements on television about how with the law of gravity and physics, science can explain the universe without the need for God I felt moved to write this letter and politely disagree with you.

I may be a simple inspirational writer and not know that much about the laws of the universe. Still, most scientists admit that they don�t know everything about them either. When I look at this world around me, though, I cannot bring myself to believe that it was made through some random actions even if they took place over billions of years. Can science explain the millions upon millions of different plants and animals in this single, little world of ours? Can physics tell us why a single cell organism would suddenly divide and form a perfect copy of itself? Can the law of gravity explain how LIFE came from a collection of gases, dust, and particles? Can evolutionists show us why all adaption that occurs in nature has a distinct intelligence behind it?

Can evolution, physics, science, or the law of gravity explain us? Can they explain the love, caring, and compassion that exists in the human heart? Can they explain the goodness, kindness, and oneness of the human spirit? Can they explain why we care for our sick, handicapped, and aged who can no longer contribute to the survival of our communities? Can they explain our need for something greater than ourselves? Can they explain our thirst for God? Can they explain LOVE with all of its wonder and power to change lives, make this world a better place, and bring happiness to countless hearts?

Looking at this world with its flowers, trees, Autumn leaves, sunsets, oceans, cool breezes, smiling faces, and caring hearts makes me see not only an intelligent designer, but also a loving Creator. Looking at this world makes me rejoice in my faith in God, my love for God, and most importantly God�s love for me and everyone in this world. Science will ever be able to explain the JOY that God�s love brings.

I hope that one day you rediscover your own faith and feel that powerful love of God living in your own heart and soul. Until then I wish you well in all you do even if I don�t agree with all you say. ---------------

THE GREAT ACORN WAR

The first school I ever attended sat halfway up the side of a hill. Along the ridge right above it were several matronly Oak trees and down at the bottom of the hill was the playground with seesaws and swing sets. Every afternoon at recess most of the boys and girls would make a mad dash down the hill to be the first on the swings and seesaws. A group of us boys, however, found another great toy to play with, the acorns from the Oak trees. Thus began the Great Acorn War.

For several days we divided into armies, gathered our acorns, and spent recess throwing them at each other. It was great fun until you got hit. One day I found myself trapped behind a tree with the other army all around me. I said a quick prayer to God to please not let me get hit and then made a break for it. Dozens of expertly thrown acorns stung into my face, head, arms, and back. I ran as fast as I could all the way back into the school. The next day I decided the swings might be more fun and left the warfare to others. Soon after that one of the teachers saw the acorn fighters in action and put a stop to the Great Acorn War once and for all.

That was one of the first times I remember asking God for something and it was also one of the first times I remember Him saying No! It took me many years to finally see that sometimes what we think is best for us really isn�t and that God�s wisdom is far greater than ours.

Since then I have had a lot of my prayers answered and the answer hasn�t always been yes. I asked God to cure my boys of their Autism but God showed me instead how to look beyond their handicaps and see their loving souls shining through. I asked God for an easy life, but God gave me a challenging one to grow my character and learn the importance of love. I asked God for the ability to help others and heard Him say in my heart, "You are finally getting it!" May God then always give you what you need even if it isn�t always what you want. ---------------

HOW DO YOU BUILD A BETTER WORLD?

How do you build a better world? That is a question that has puzzled mankind for centuries. Many things have been tried. Some have helped and some haven�t. I think, though, that I was given a part of the answer just the other day.

My brother had just cleaned out his closet. It was something I needed to do as well even though I was afraid I might get lost in there and not find my way back out. When he brought over some of the extra clothes to my Dad�s house, he asked me to look through them and see if there was anything I could use. I ended up just picking out a few pair of short pants to replace my worn out cut off jeans. I couldn�t see keeping more clothes that I didn�t need. I volunteered instead to take the rest of them over to the Goodwill store and donate them for him.

I loaded his clothes in the back of my car and then decided to brave the clutter of my own closet to add to his donation. It was a scary sight opening that door. The mess was tremendous. Still, the thought of doing something good for another spurred me on and kept me going. It took a long time, but I got it done. I was left with a much emptier closet, but a much fuller heart. As I carried my own bags of clothes to add to my brothers I couldn�t help but smile. It was then that I saw how we all can go about building a better world.

We can do it one kind act at a time. We can do it one gift of charity at a time. We can do it one shared smile at a time. We can do it one uplifting word at a time. We can do it one heartfelt hug at a time. We can even do it one donated shirt at a time. We can build a better world with each act of love we share and good thing we do. We can do it with helpful hands and caring hearts. We can do it with cheerful spirits and joyous souls. We can do it knowing that God and His angels are smiling down upon us and helping us every step of the way. ---------------

THE FIRST LEAF

It was an early August night. Even with the fans on the heat was stifling as I tried to sleep. I awoke early, wiped the sweat from my forehead, and took my dogs out for their morning walk. The lone Maple tree in my backyard kept a quiet watch on the rising sun. As I walked over to it I was surprised to see the first red leaf of the year glowing in the grass below it.

I gently picked up the red leaf and smiled. In the midst of the Summer�s heat and humidity it signaled the coming Fall. It was leading the way to a glorious change that would soon take place. I could feel the cooler breezes blowing on my face. I could see the trees covered with thousands of red, yellow, burgundy, and orange leaves shimmering in the sunlight. I could see the forests and mountains here painted by Heaven�s own hand. I could feel the joy of a beautiful Autumn awakening in my soul.

I took the little leaf into my home so I could see it every day. I still smile every time I look at it. It reminds me that there is a radiant, red leaf in all of us just waiting to come out. It reminds me that on the hottest Summer�s day and coldest Winter�s night we can still share our love and joy with others. It reminds me that our purpose is to add the colors of Heaven to the sometimes grey world around us. I only wish that I had been the first leaf of Fall instead of such a late changer myself.

Whether you changed sooner or later isn�t important, however. What is important is that you shine today. What matters is that you make this world a better and more loving place now. Let your true colors out then. Share a smile. Give a hug. Say a kind word. Feed the hungry. Visit the lonely. Comfort the crying. Care for the hurting. Show others just how much God loves them from the life you lead. Then your soul will glow like the leaves of Heaven. ---------------

A SORE NECK AND A SUNBEAM

I woke up this morning with a crick in my neck from a worn out pillow and a crick in my spirit from a worried out mind. For the past few days I had regressed into a determined pessimist staring at the single mud hole in a field full of flowers. As we all sometimes do I had foolishly allowed myself to worry about my life instead of trusting in God. I had tried to live in the future instead of enjoying today. I had put off my happiness until all my problems were gone instead of tackling each one of them with faith, hope, and joy. All in all I had literally wasted two days of my life.

I was still rubbing my sore neck as I walked to the garbage bin with the pillow. As I opened the bin with a snarl, though, I felt a ray of warmth touch my face. The sun had just risen over the trees and God had used its beams to give me a gentle kiss on the cheek. I looked up as the light bathed my face and saw a single bird soaring across the sky and flying into the sunrise. It was a sight so beautiful that it filled me with God�s love.

In that moment my soul went soaring to the heavens as well and I smiled again. In that second love flowed from my heart and joy touched my spirit. In that instant I felt full of faith and trust. I crumpled up my wasteful worries and tossed them in the trash with that worn out pillow. I looked towards the sky and asked God to forgive my foolishness. Then I dedicated another day to doing His will, sharing His love, and spreading His truth.

I only wish I hadn�t wasted those 48 hours before I awoke again. Worry is an insidious habit that sneaks back into our brains every chance it gets. It eats away at our lives and drains us of our love. Sometimes God even needs a sore neck and a sunbeam to awaken us from the nightmare that it brings to our days. Keep your worry where it belongs then, in the trash. ---------------

AN ENCOURAGING WORD

In the few years I was a teacher I learned a lot of things. Perhaps the most important one of all was the glorious, life changing power of an encouraging word. I discovered it early while I was still in college completing my student teaching hours in a local middle school.

I had read the work Leo Buscaglia had done with his University of Southern California students. In one exercise Leo and his students had made two lists of words, one positive and one negative. Then they had thrown the negative words in the trash and tried to use only the positive words for one month. They were amazed at how much better their lives became just by using words full of kindness and encouragement.

I decided to try this as well by finding something good to write on each paper my students handed in. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. No matter how many errors a student�s paper contained there was always a funny sentence, beautiful thought, or great idea that I could comment on. I remember glancing over my desk and seeing some of the students rereading those encouraging words again and again. It was a joy seeing their eyes shine a little brighter, their backs sit up a little straighter, and their learning climb a lot higher.

I recently saw one of my former students from that class and we talked for a while. He was married, doing well in his job, and had two children of his own now. As I was saying goodbye he said, "You know I still have a few of those old papers from your class. I still look at them from time to time. I just hope my kids have as good a teacher as you." I walked off amazed at the effect those few positive words had on his life. I thanked God too for always giving me the words I needed as a teacher and as a writer. May your own life be forever full of encouraging words in your ears, from your lips, and in your heart. ---------------

A WINK

We have all had those times. They are the times when one bad thing after another seems to crash into your life. Your heart feels bruised, your soul feels weak, and your body feels tired. Then just when you think that you can�t handle one more bad thing, two more bad things hit you from either side.

I was going through one of those times recently. I was driving home in a mood that would have had to climb 50 feet just to reach dejected and depressed. As I rounded the last curve before my house I noticed that my car�s antenna had smashed into a butterfly. Seeing that beautiful creature�s wings crumbled around it was the last straw.

Butterflies had always been special to me. My Mom had loved their simple beauty and delicate grace. Seeing them always reminded me too of her own lovely and loving spirit. Now I was going to have to peel a dead one off my car. After I stopped I walked sadly around to the antenna. I reached over, gently touched the tip of the butterfly�s wing, and lifted it away from the antenna. Suddenly, to my utter delight the butterfly moved. It hadn�t been crushed at all! It fluttered its wings and flew happily up into the air. It swirled around my head and then floated off to find a good flower to feast on.

I was left smiling and laughing with joy. It felt like God and my Mom had found the perfect way to remind me that I was still watched over and still loved. Squire Rushnell calls these moments, "Godwinks." They can be a coincidence, an answered prayer, or a second of great happiness that reminds you that God loves you and is forever one with you. My life didn�t instantly get any better after this moment, but my soul sure did. In that wink I was shown once again that God�s eyes are upon us and His love is with us forever. --------------

I SEE GOD

"Sometimes it is so hard to believe in a God that you can�t see." These were the words at the end of a letter a friend sent me. It was full of the pain and suffering that life often brings. My friend had endured so much in his young life and his latest tragedy had even made him doubt his lifelong faith.

I pondered his words as I looked out my window. The cool breeze was gently swaying the trees back and forth. I walked outside and felt its tender touch on my own face while the branches of a mighty Oak seemed to wave to me. Then I smiled because I knew that God had given me the answer my friend needed.

This is what I wrote back to him. "My friend, I can�t see the wind, but I still know it is there. I can see its affect on the trees as they dance in its breeze. I can feel its gentle kiss on my cheek. I can watch as it lifts a fallen leaf and makes it dance and fly through the air. In the same way I can�t see God�s face while I am here on Earth, but I still know He is here. I can see the affect He has on countless souls. I can feel His gentle love flow through so many human hearts. I can watch as He lifts a fallen person and helps them to dance and fly once again.

I can see God in a thousand kind acts everyday. He smiles in every person�s smile. He greets us in every friendly wave. He touches us in every heartfelt hug. He inspires us in every caring thought. He uplifts us in every encouraging word. His love lives in our love and His life lives in each of our lives. He will carry you through this pain and loss you are facing and lead you back to love and joy once again. Remember, we all can see God if we only look through the eyes of our hearts. Open yours to His love and allow Him to heal you now." May all of you who read this see God in your lives as well. ---------------

LAUGH LINES

I try not to listen to other people�s conversations, but sometimes you can�t help but hear something that sticks with you. Sometimes a pearl of great wisdom slips into your ears and finds its way into your heart, mind, and soul.

This is what happened to me the other day while I was walking in a store. I was looking for acne pads to help my youngest son�s teenage face. As I rounded the corner I heard a middle-aged woman with a little girl in her arms asking her grandmother what she thought about a brand new face cream that was supposed to diminish wrinkles and laugh lines. The grandmother just laughed and said, "Sweetie, I am 80 years old. I have learned to love all my laugh lines. After all, I earned every one of them." Then just to prove her point she laughed again and tickled her great granddaughter. The little girl�s and the old woman�s laughter blended together with a sound as musical and beautiful as an angel�s song.

I left the store feeling a lot better about all the laugh lines I had earned in my own life. I remembered too all the beautiful faces I had seen over the years. The most radiant ones of all always seemed to have the most laugh lines as well as the fewest frown creases. They shined with joyous smiles and sparkling, loving eyes. Their beauty was ageless and eternal. It didn�t matter if they were 48, or 80 years old. They still glowed as true Children of God.

I think then that I will follow that wise grandma�s advice and continue to love my laugh lines for all the years I have left here. They are the living proof of a life well lived. They are the foot prints that a loving soul leaves on the face. They are the roadmap that traces our wonderful journey with God. I hope that all of you learn to love your laugh lines as well. May you have the time of your life earning every one of them. -----------------

LASTING AND PERMANENT

I turned the television on after breakfast today. A loud commercial blared out at me urging me to buy something and make my life happier. This was followed by another commercial and another each one saying the same thing: buy this or that and your life will be great. After a while I couldn�t take it anymore. The commercials weren�t making me feel better. They were just trying to make me want things I didn�t need. Finally I shut off the set and looked out the window at the sun coming up over the mountains. The clouds were painted purple, pink, and yellow by God�s own hand. Watching them I finally smiled and felt at peace.

In my life over the years I have listened to a lot of commercials and bought a lot of things. I have bought cars, televisions, computers, cell phones, stereos, and more appliances than I could use. The happiness they brought me was temporary and fleeting at best. They may have at times made my life more convenient, but they never once made my life more joyful.

The things that did make my life happier, the things that brought lasting and permanent joy into my heart and soul couldn�t be bought in a store. They instead were found in the wide open arms of love. They were found in prayer, in thanking God everyday for my life, and in inviting His love into my soul. They were found in simple acts of kindness, freely shared, expecting nothing in return. They were found in gentle words of encouragement, big hugs of affection, and inspiring thoughts of goodness. They were found in all the little choices I made everyday to grow in oneness with God and to do my best to be His Child. They were found in living a life of caring for others and giving back what I could to this wonderful world.

What do you want: the momentary pleasure the commercials offer and the empty wallet that goes with it or the eternal joy of living a life of love? It is up to you. Choose well. ---------------

GIFT OF A HUG

It was two days before Father�s Day and my eldest son and I were having breakfast. Just as he finished off the last bite of his Cheerios my boy caught me off guard by asking me what I wanted as a present for Father�s Day. I looked him in the eyes and saw his good and earnest soul shining through them. Then in a moment of inspiration and wisdom I said: "I think that a big hug from you would be the best gift in the world." My dear son got right up, wrapped his arms around me and gave me just what I asked for. The precious gifts didn�t end there either. On Father�s Day I got several more hugs from both of my sons and my daughter too. Each one shared all the love they had for me and I had for them. Each one brought us so much joy. Each one made us feel connected, cherished, and whole. Those wonderful hugs made it one of the best Father�s Days of my life.

I have received a lot of gifts from family and friends over the years. I enjoyed every single one of them too. Still, those hugs from my 3 children have to be at the top of my list of the best gifts ever. They won�t tear, break, or wear out. They will last forever in a special place in my heart and mind. And when I leave this world for the next I know that those hugs and the love they carried into my soul will go with me as well.

I hope that you spend all of your days here collecting and sharing all the hugs that you can. I hope that you go through life with your arms wide open and are never embarrassed to wrap those arms around someone you love. I hope you give hugs freely and happily to everyone around you and send heart hugs with your thoughts and words to those far away. I hope that even when you are alone you aren�t afraid to give yourself a hug as well. And one day when you enter into Heaven I hope that you are ready for the greatest hug of all, the eternal hug of God�s love. ---------------

THANK YOU DAD

Hi Dad. I just wanted to write you a little note to thank you for all the things you have done for me over the years, but I realized if I did that it would be a whole book. I hope you don�t mind then if I just hit the highlights.

Thanks Dad for having the good sense to marry Mom all those years ago. You couldn�t have chosen a better wife or mother for all of us. Thanks Dad for not stopping at two sons or else I wouldn�t be here today. Thanks Dad for that stack of books you kept in the corner of the living room. It got me reading early and I haven�t stopped since. Thanks for taking me to church when I didn�t want to go and making me work in the garden when I would have rather been riding my bike. Both made me a better person. Thanks for everyone of those homemade, Italian dinners over the years. They were food for both the stomach and the soul. Thanks for all those bags of groceries you brought me that got me through college. Thanks too for always bringing my old, dead cars back to life with your miracle mechanic work. You kept me driving instead of walking.

Thanks Dad for always encouraging me and supporting my choices even when I made the wrong ones. Thanks for always being there to talk to when I had problems and pain. You helped me through a lot more than you know over the years. Thanks for being such a great dad to all your sons and such a loving grandfather to all of your grandchildren.

Thanks so much Dad for being there through laughter and tears, triumph and tragedy, love and loss, happiness and heartbreak. I am so happy that you were my Dad. You taught me how to always be there for my own children. You showed me how to be a good man. You helped me to find my way through life and back to love, joy, and God. Happy Father�s Day Dad. I hope that we share many more of them together. I love you. ---------------

LET IT FLOW

I used to love to play in the woods near my home when I was a boy. I especially enjoyed sitting by a certain crystal clear mountain stream that flowed musically down the side of a hill. Green moss covered the rocks and made a comfortable seat on either side of it and when I would bend down I could see my own smiling face reflected back at me. I used to love taking a sip of its pure, sweet water. It always tasted like a drink from Heaven.

Going back in my mind to those carefree days beside those blessed waters reminds me of all the wonderful lessons they taught me. They taught me not to grasp too tightly. If I did the water would seep through my fingers and I would be left with nothing. Instead I learned to let the water flow over my hand and to lift it gently in my cupped palm when I wanted a sip or to water the daises, buttercups, and Queen Anne�s lace that lined the stream�s banks. I learned too that just a few drops of that water helped those flowers to grow healthy and strong. Most of all I learned that I didn�t always have to be doing something to be living. Just sitting by that tiny mountain stream, listening to it gently splash over the rocks, and feeling its peace was all that I needed for a great afternoon.

That mountain stream is a lot like the river of God�s love that flows through our lives. Just like that stream God�s love can�t be grasped and held tightly. In order to drink from it and experience it we have to let it flow through us and use it to bless the world around us. A few drops of that living water too is all that we need to help us grow better and stronger each day of our lives here. And sometimes it is good to just spend some time sitting quietly by the stream with God and let His peace fill us once again. May you always let God�s loving water flow through your life then. May you drink deep, live well, and pass the cup on to all you can. ---------------

EVERY LITTLE THING

I have always wanted to do something big in my life. Since I was a boy watching those old television cowboys rescuing people on a runaway stage or those heroic tv firemen saving a baby from a burning building, I wanted to do something like that. Well, almost 44 years have gone by now and I still haven�t done anything even close to that.

Still, today when I took my dogs out for their morning walk I made sure to give each of them a pet on the head first. Today before breakfast was over I made sure that I gave each of my children a hug and told each one of them that I loved them. Today instead of rushing into the grocery store I pulled the door open wide and held it so an elderly lad with a walker could go before me. Today before I pulled out on the road I motioned another driver on a side street to go on ahead of me. Today when I had to stop driving for road work I didn�t complain and instead gave a friendly wave to the highway worker holding the stop sign. Today instead of walking past the people in my office I stopped to exchange a few kind words. Today on the way back to my home I stopped to give a hitchhiker a ride back to his. Today when I answered e-mails and wrote letters I tried to pass on a little encouragement and inspiration in each one of them. Today when I took a break in the evening to read a book I made room on my lap for a cat wanting its head scratched. Today as I moved from task to task I paused to talk to God, to thank Him for my life, to tell Him again how much I loved Him, and to ask Him to fill me with His love always. Today I did my best to live well and to love deeply.

You see, I learned a while ago that God isn�t waiting for us to do something big in our lives. God instead is watching every little thing we do. It is the little things that are important. It is the little things that make up our lives. And it is in the little things that we can best share our love. ---------------

WORKS IN PROGRESS

I snapped at my son today. In a moment of frustration I scolded him over something trivial that I could have easily ignored. I saw the hurt in his eyes after I did it and apologized to him. Afterwards, I gave him a hug, reminded him of what a good son he is, and told him how proud I am of him. Still, I wished I could have taken back what I said earlier.

Later in the day I was in the store getting a few items for dinner. An elderly lady was stretching in vain to reach something on a high self. I walked over and asked if I could help. She said,"Yes" and I got what she needed down for her. She then thanked me for the helping hand and I told her it was my pleasure. I left the store feeling both happier and closer to God.

How do I reconcile that frustrated Father I was earlier in the day with the smiling, good Samaritan I was later in the afternoon? The answer is simple. I am still a work in progress. In truth, we are all works in progress from the second of our birth to the moment of our death. We are here to learn to love, to grow in love, to share our love, and to become one with our Heavenly Father�s love. It may seem simple but it isn�t always easy. It takes a lifetime too. That is why no matter how many times we stumble and fall it is important to rise up, to ask God�s forgiveness, to dust ourselves off, and to begin again to love with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. At the end of our lives only one thing matters: how much we loved.

I know that my son will forgive me for my short temper earlier today. I know that God will forgive me too. Like everyone else I still have a lot of work to do to become the person I want to be. Thankfully, God is patient with me. I know too that the job of growing into our goodness can mainly be done with laughter, smiles, and great joy. Yes, we are all works in progress, but we still can have the time of our lives becoming better for God. ---------------

MAKING A LIVING AND LIVING

The best on the job training I ever got in my life came from a very special woman: my Mom. It happened when I was in my early twenties. I had just recently graduated from college but couldn�t find that well paying job I had been hoping for. With a wife and baby son to support at home I found myself reluctantly taking a job as a busboy in a local restaurant. I was bitter, sad, and depressed to find myself working there to say the least.

God works in mysterious ways, though, because that restaurant was the same one that my Mom had recently started working at after years of being a stay at home Mother. The first time I saw her come in the kitchen it was like an extra light had been turned on. Her smile was returned by everyone of the cooks and her gentle laughter and sweet good humor made the shift go by quickly. Her concern for her fellow workers made them open up their hearts to her and she was happy to fill those hearts with her compassion and love. She did her physical work well and did her spiritual work even better. And at the end of the day she seemed to have even more energy than when she had started.

It was both strange and delightful to see my Mom in this new and wonderful way. I had thought that I had learned all that she could teach me, but now I was learning something brand new. Me and most of the other workers at that restaurant were there just to make a living but my Mom was actually LIVING. Her job and her joy had become one. She cooked up love both on the stove and in the hearts of all those around her. She was doing Heaven�s work here on Earth.

I have had a lot of jobs since then. Some have been backbreaking and some have been inspiring but I have always tried to follow Mom�s example and bring my love and joy to each one. May you do the same and always LIVE while you make a living. ---------------

ASKING FORGIVENESS

My Grandma whom we all called Nanny was a solid, first-generation, Italian immigrant. She came to this country with her family on a tiny ship during World War I when she was only 8 years old. During the trip she survived stormy seas, little food, and an attack by a German U-boat. After getting here her large family worked hard to build a new life in America. They never had much money but were rich in love. Nanny grew up, married, and raised 4 sons of her own. And then when my parents moved back into her home she helped to raise me too.

One day when I was about 5 or 6 years old my parents and brothers went on a trip. It was just me and Nanny in the house for the weekend. Nanny seemed so happy to be taking care of me all by herself. She made me a special breakfast that first morning. I was too young, selfish, and foolish to see that then, however. All I could do was complain about how the food was not how Mom always made it. Nanny quietly put down the plate and went into the living room. I followed a minute later and saw that she had tears in her eyes. It was the first time I had ever seen my strong, rugged, and proud Grandmother cry and I was the one who had caused it.

I walked over to Nanny, climbed on her lap, and for the first time in my short life I did something else too: I apologized without being told too and asked Nanny to forgive me. She smiled, rubbed my head, and told me I was a good boy even though I didn�t feel like one then.

That memory just like my Nanny�s love will stay in my heart forever. It is strange that so many people think it shows weakness to admit your mistakes and say you are sorry. In truth, it is a sign of both strength and wisdom. Asking forgiveness helps us to learn, to grow, and to love. It brings us closer to Heaven and blesses us with God�s love. It helps us to become the people we were meant to be. It is those who never say they�re sorry who end up living sorry lives. ---------------

GIVING, HAVING AND RECEIVING

Love is an amazing thing. It is a glorious gift from God that defies logic, reason, and even explanation. It created the universe, it bonds us all together, and it shines bright in every soul that chooses to share it. The truth is the more love you give the more love you have, and the more love you have the more love you receive.

This truth was made especially clear to me one day last Winter. It was during a spell when each day brought another 8 inches of snow and we wondered if it would ever end. On this day even the heavy snow plows couldn�t keep the roads clear. I was on my way to the post office driving 20 mph under the speed limit. It was then that I saw a man and woman hitchhiking on the side of the road. I carefully pulled over and asked where they were going. Although it was an extra 10 miles out of my way I agreed to take them anyway. Traffic was light and I didn�t see them catching another ride anytime soon.

As we drove along I learned that they were headed to an elderly friend�s home to shovel out her driveway. They had agreed to do so out of the kindness of their hearts, with no thought of reward, and knowing that it would take most of the day to do so and get back home. They thanked me more than once as I dropped them off, but they didn�t have to. Their loving example had already touched my heart. It made me smile knowing that my small act of kindness had helped them with their large act of love. Driving back home I felt a wonderful peace and happiness that nothing in this world can give. I felt the powerful, limitless love of God fill my spirit full to overflowing. At that moment I knew what it felt like to live as a true Child of God.

Love truly is what life is all about. It enlightens our souls and encircles our lives here. It connects us to Heaven and makes us one with God. It brings us what we all want: Joy! ---------------

APPRECIATION

Spring is continuing to work her wonders in the mountains this year. The skies are full of sunshine with only a few clouds floating on the wisps of the winds. My flower box is full to overflowing with purple phlox. A patch of bluebonnets sits proudly next to my front porch. A million dandelions dot the fields. Thousands of bees and butterflies are doing their best to help them flourish and grow. In the morning the birds sing their own "Ode to Joy" while in the evening a blanket of stars keeps you warm in the cool night air.

It seems too that this year I am appreciating Spring�s beauty more than ever before. I am standing outside a bit longer in the morning to admire the rising sun and am staying out a few more minutes each night to gaze at the smiling moon. I am lying down on the warm grass to smell the flowers and am taking the time to rescue the few, stray moths that fly into my house. I am taking deeper breaths of the fresh, Spring air and am saying some extra "Thank You�s" to God for giving us such a blessed time of the year.

Perhaps this greater appreciation comes from the long and difficult Winter we had this year or perhaps as I am getting older and wiser I am finally beginning to see the glory and majesty that was around me all the time. Either way I am grateful and happy. There is nothing sadder than passing by a treasure everyday and not seeing it.

This world is full of beauty, wonder, and delight. It is full of countless blessings given to us by our loving Father above. All we have to do is open our eyes to see them and open our hearts to feel them. Don�t ignore these glorious gifts from God. Don�t allow yourself to pass them by. Open the door of your soul and welcome them in. Let them warm you, nourish you, and strengthen you. Let them become one with you. Then go out and share their joys with everyone. ---------------

STOLEN CHECKS AND STUPIDITY

This story starts with a few stolen checks but ends with simple stupidity. I had to take my son to a doctor�s appointment today and afterwards was hoping to pay for and pick up the new registration for my car. I took my checkbook then and tossed it into my car�s glove box before going to the doctors. We were running a little late so my son and I hurried into the office without locking up the car. The appointment went well and I headed off next to pay for the new car registration. It was only there that I saw that my last few checks had been stolen. I looked at the check register and the last one I had written was four short of the end of the booklet. I raced out of the building and rushed to the bank in order to put a stop payment on my stolen checks.

I was angry more at myself than at the person who had taken my checks. I was also a bit sad because my faith in humanity had been shaken a little. I got to the bank in record time and hurried in. I told the teller what had happened and she checked to see if any of the checks had been used. To the surprise of us both she found that the checks had been cashed days earlier and for the exact amount of my last four bills. It was then that I flipped the check register page back and saw that I had written down a check ending in 97 as a 94. After that mistake had followed mistake down the next page. No checks had been stolen. I had just stupidly written the wrong numbers in the register and also failed to notice that it was I who had ripped out the last check in the booklet. I laughed at myself and thanked the teller for her help. My brain felt old and I felt foolish, but I thanked God that my faith in humanity had been restored.

I will take a little humbling any day to keep my faith in humanity going strong. In this crazy, modern society it is easy to forget that this world is full of good, caring, and loving people. We are all God�s Children. May we always see His light shining in each other. ---------------

A TAP ON THE SHOULDER

A long time ago when my full grown children were still "children" I saw something that still brings a burst of joy to my heart whenever I think about it. My youngest son who was still a toddler at the time was very attached to his big sister. When she first started going to school he would stand by the window waiting everyday for her bus to bring her home. And when I would walk her up the hill to our house he would be waiting at the door to hug her.

One day, however, after a particularly nasty diaper incident his Mom needed to give him a quick bath right when the bus was scheduled to arrive. When his sister and I made it to the door then he was still in the tub. His sister went into her room to put her coat up and as soon as she shut the door out toddled her brother from the bathroom and right to the window he went. His internal clock knew that his sister should be home any second. I smiled as I watched him looking intently out the window while his sister emerged from her room. Quietly she snuck up behind him and ever so gently tapped him on the shoulder. The look on his face when he turned around and saw his big sis was one I have rarely seen in this life. It was pure bliss, pure joy, and pure love. His big eyes shined with delight, his toothless smile took up most of his face, and his tiny arms opened up to give his sister a very big hug.

I realized a while ago that I had spent far too much of my own life looking out a window waiting for something or someone to bring me what I wanted in this life. It took me a long time to finally feel the gentle tapping on my own shoulder. When I turned around there was God ready to take me in His arms and fill me with His love. I saw then that everything I had ever needed: love, joy, peace, and oneness with God had been with me all along. I had just been looking the wrong way. I hope that you too will turn around when you feel that tap. ---------------

AN IRISH MEMORY

I was 17 years old when I met him and I only knew him for two days. Yet, the memory of him warms my heart even now. He was a middle-aged priest from Ireland visiting the same Chicago seminary that I was. He had a stock of thick, red hair and a thousand freckles. His cheerfulness, laughter, and smile were contagious to everyone around him. His deep, Irish accent seemed to sing when he spoke and every room he entered seemed a little brighter.

Over the years I have forgotten the jokes he told and the stories he shared, but one thing he said still lives on in my mind. One evening one of the other teenagers visiting the seminary joked that our smiling "Saint Patrick" certainly didn�t fit the mold of the solemn and serious priest. To this our new friend just laughed harder and said, "Well my boy if God didn�t want us to be happy then why does smiling feel so darned good and frowning feel so darned bad?"

I took that moment with me and stored it in a special place in my soul. Even though I took a different path and didn�t become a priest myself, the lesson I learned from that merry Irishman has stayed with me. I knew from that time on that God not only loves us, but also wants us to be happy in our lives here. We may face challenges, tragedies, suffering, loss, and eventually our own deaths. But with God�s love within us we can still choose joy, give joy, live in joy, and make this world a more loving and joyous place for everyone.

I never saw that angel from Ireland again. I am sure, though, that wherever he is right now, he is spreading joy and he is sharing love. That red-headed Child of God gave me a glorious example of how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven even while we are still here on Earth. Because of him I laugh more. Because of him I love more. Because of him I smile more. He was right too. Smiling does feel so darned good. May all of your days then be full of smiles. ---------------

REBIRTH

Spring in the mountains of my home is a thing of beauty to behold. Clear skies and a golden sun make everything glow. Warm temperatures and gentle rains make everything grow. Tulips and dandelions each pop their heads out of the ground side by side. The trees are full of apple and cherry blossoms and their sweet fragrance fills the air. Butterflies emerge and begin to float happily from flower to flower. The morning air is full of the sweet songs of hundreds of birds. Bunny rabbits and deer sneak into the meadows before dawn to munch on the fresh, sweet grass. The gentle music of young children playing outside fills the ears with the sound of joy. Neighbors sweep off their porches and sit in their swings to take in the wonder all around them. It is a special time when the whole world seems to come back to life again.

Watching the rebirth of the Earth again this Spring has made me think of all the times in my own life when I felt dead inside only to be reborn. There have been moments of pain, purposelessness, and pride when I felt all the zest for life draining out of me. There have been times of despair, depression, and desperation when I never thought I would feel alive again. Yet, each time God in His love and wisdom has planted a few seeds in my soul that sprouted, grew, and gave life to me once again.

In truth, each of us is reborn many times in our lives. Each time we awake in the morning, we are reborn. Each time we rise up after we stumble and fall, we are reborn. Each time we invite our Creator into our hearts, souls, and lives, we are reborn. Each time we choose to love God, ourselves, and others, we are reborn. Each time we do a single, kind act, we are reborn. When it comes to rebirth the most glorious Spring still can�t compare to us. May you make everyday of your life then a day of rebirth. And may you always live from the Springtime of your soul. ---------------

KIND EYES

I read an old story the other day that both knocked on the door of my heart and opened a window into my mind. I am not sure if it is factual or just a myth. One thing is certain, though, it spoke to my soul.

Early in the eighteen hundreds an old man stood along a riverbank. It was the middle of a dark, Winter�s night in Virginia and the ice cold water was raging. There were no bridges or ferries across the river. The only way to cross safely was on horseback, so the old man waited patiently until he saw four riders approaching. As the first three riders rode up and crossed the river, however, the old man said nothing. It was only when the last rider came to the riverbank that he asked for a ride across. The rider kindly agreed and offered the old man a hand up on his mount. After making it to the other side of the rushing river he helped the old man down and questioned him on why he hadn�t asked any of the previous riders for help.

The old man said, "I looked into the eyes of each man as they rode past and saw that their hearts were cold. I knew that they wouldn�t help an old man. Your eyes were kind and I knew that you would help me. Thank you for the ride." The fourth rider, President Thomas Jefferson smiled at the man and then rode on towards his home.

After reading that story I prayed to God. I asked Him to help me to nurture the goodness in my own heart. I asked Him to help me to develop a caring soul and a giving spirit. I asked Him to fill me with His love so that anyone who looks into my eyes will find them kind. I am sure too that when Thomas Jefferson entered into the light of Heaven the angels were cheering. They were cheering not because he had been President of the United States. They were cheering instead for every ride he gave, kindness he shared, and good thing he did in his life here. ---------------

A HELPING HAND

It was the perfect weather for a walk the other day. It was that beautiful time of the year right between the end of Winter and the start of Spring. Cool breezes tickled my face while the rising sun quickly burnt away the morning fog. Birds were starting to sing their love songs again and to built nests for their future young. My heavy coat had been traded for a light jacket. The grass was still moist from the freshly melted snow and the Maples and Oaks seemed to be deep in thought over whether to send out their buds now or wait a few more weeks.

I walked along the edge of the woods and gazed up at the bright, blue sky. As I was thanking God for another glorious morning, however, a sad sound reached my ears. It was a mewing that sounded like a newborn kitten. I looked around on the ground but couldn�t see one anywhere. Then I noticed that the crying seemed to be coming from above and glanced up into the trees. I soon spotted him. It was no kitten but a full grown tomcat who had let Spring fever get the best of him. He had scaled an Oak like it was nothing but was now too scared to climb back down.

I knew I couldn�t leave him up there but wondered if I would need a ladder to get to him. I decided to let my boyhood tree climbing skills guide me instead. Grasping the rough branches I slowly made my way up to the cat. Then cradling him in one arm I lowered myself down again and safely let him go. He gave me a quick thank you glance and then scurried off. I smiled as I watched him go then headed for home with scraped up hands but a warm heart.

Few things in this life make you feel better than offering a helping hand to someone in need. It connects you with God. It brings you closer to others. It helps you become who you were meant to be. The next time then that you get a chance to give someone a hand up or in the cat�s case a hand down take it. A helping hand like a loving heart always leads to a happy soul. ---------------

LOOKING IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR

When I was a young boy my family would always make a Summer trip out of state to visit my Grandma and Aunt. It was a long drive over curvy, mountainous roads. It often took up to eight hours to get there. This was before the age of i-pods and DVD players too. My Dad didn�t care much for the rock music the radio stations played in the nineteen seventies either, so the trip was a quiet one. Stuffed in the back seat of the family sedan with my two brothers, I only had one thing that I could do and that was look out the window.

A window seat was best for scenery watching, but being the youngest and the smallest I was always stuck in the middle. That left gazing over my brothers� shoulders or looking through the rearview mirror at what we had just passed. The second option, however, could never be done for long. With mountain roads I never knew when the next curve was coming up and if what I was looking at didn�t match what my body was feeling then I was carsick in minutes.

After a few times of my stomach turning flip flops I learned my lesson and kept my eyes on the road ahead. That way I could gaze in wonder at the golden light of the sun shining down on the green leafs of the trees as we drove by them. That way I could enjoy seeing the deer peacefully eating grass along the side of the road. That way I could delight in what was coming next instead of being sick over what was already left behind.

Those long trips taught me that you can�t live your life always looking in the rearview mirror. If you want to enjoy the beautiful moments of today then you have to see them as they happen. God doesn�t want us to live in the past. He wants us to embrace the joy that each new day brings. He wants us to realize the preciousness of every second and use them all to love Him, ourselves, and others. Keep your eyes on the road ahead then and trust God to lead you Home. ---------------

JOY IS FREE

I was driving down the road the other day listening to sweet music coming out of my car radio. My heart felt peaceful, my mind was clear, and my soul was full of love. Even with all its problems life seemed good. Then the music stopped and the news came on. There was talk of another millionaire celebrity in drug rehab after an incident with the police. There was news on the murder of a poor man whose life was supposed to be changed after winning the lottery. There was even a discussion on how much greed and excess had damaged our world.

Every story seemed to point once again to the old adage that money can�t buy happiness. Hearing them made me think of a documentary I saw many years ago on Mother Teresa�s home for the dying in Calcutta. What struck me the most when I watched it wasn�t the grinding poverty there. It wasn�t the sickness and suffering that the people there were going through. It was rather the peaceful smiles of love, kindness, and happiness that they shared with the Sisters and with each other. These people had nothing. Many were on the verge of death. Yet, they knew the simple truth that so many of us here are still learning: Joy is Free.

The truth is God loves you and wants you to be happy right now. He wants His light to brighten you, His peace to calm you, and His happiness to uplift you. He wants you to fill your life with His love and then share it with the world. He wants you to have joy and to spread joy everyday of your life here. Don�t worship dollar signs and think that money will bring you happiness then. Joy can�t be purchased. It can�t be owned. It can only be chosen and then given freely to others. In the eyes of eternity money is only worthless paper. The only thing that matters is the love within you and the love that you give to the world. Make that your legacy and your life will forever be rich in joy. ---------------

MIRACLE WORKERS

This world is full of miracles from the rising of the sun at dawn, to the first flower in the Spring, to the colors of the leaves in the Fall. The miracles that touch my heart the most, though, are the tiny ones. These are the ones that go unnoticed by most people, but they are the ones that make life worth living.

One of the best of these tiny miracles is preformed by a local miracle worker everyday. Her job in this world is ringing up and bagging groceries, but her job from Heaven is bringing a little more joy to each heart she meets. I saw her hard at work just today. It had been a rainy morning with cold air and gray skies. Everyone who walked into the grocery store had a shiver in their walk and a frown on their face. I was no exception to this either. It had been a long, hard Winter and I felt tired as I bought extra bread and bananas to get me through the next coming storm. As I got to the check out line, however, the miracle worker went to work. She greeted me with a warmth that went straight to my heart. Her kind smile caused one to appear on my own face as well. Her shining, compassionate eyes reminded me once again that this is God�s world and that it is full of loving souls like her. We chatted briefly as I paid for my food. As I left she told me to enjoy the day and I promised that I would. As I was walking out the store she was already uplifting the spirit of the next person in line. It occurred to me too that in all the years I had shopped there I had never once seen someone leave her counter without a smile on their face.

I thank God for that miracle worker and all the miracle workers of this world. The truth is we all can become miracle workers if we choose. We all can lend our strength, talents, hearts, and souls to making this world a better place. We all can bring a little Heaven down to Earth with our joy, laughter, and smiles. And we all can share the miracle of God�s love every single day. ---------------

YOUR OWN SPRING

I sent my Aunt another birthday card today. It was nowhere near her birthday but that didn�t matter. You see, my Aunt has lived over eighty years in this world. She has done her best to make each and every day of them too a celebration of love, kindness, giving, and good cheer. I saw no reason then to limit such a beautiful soul to just one card a year.

The card I sent her this time had a beautiful Spring scene on the front of it. It was full of blossoming trees and blooming flowers. It felt especially good sending it out today too, because I had just finished my second round of shoveling out the drive in two days. A foot and a half of freshly fallen snow had covered everything, closed schools, and made any flowers in the ground here shiver and think twice about ever coming out again.

As I mailed out my Aunt�s card, though, I remembered one of the many things that I have learned from her over the years. "If you want to make it through life�s Winter days then you have to carry your own Spring within you." That is what she always did. Even when the heaviest of snows fell in her life, her spirit stayed sunny. Even when this world was cold and bitter, she still warmed everyone around her with her laughter and her smile. Even when she had to dig out from under life�s pains and troubles, she always carried a flower garden of faith, love and caring in her heart.

Spring will be here soon, I know. In life, however, Winter days can come at any time and in any season. If you are going through some right now remember that God loves you. Remember that each day you wake up is another day that you can be reborn in love and joy. Remember that even when you are shoveling snow in the world, you can still be planting flowers in your soul. And remember that even when Winter drags on and on, you can still share your Spring. ---------------

SEEING THROUGH AUTISM�S WALLS

I pulled an old photo album from its shelf yesterday and wiped the dust off of it. It is one that I rarely open, but something moved me to open it then. Inside of it were baby pictures of my youngest son from the day of his birth until he was 18 months old. Looking at them made my heart ache, not with nostalgia but with loss. You see, the reason I hardly ever look at these pictures is that I can see in them the normal child my son could of been. When I look at those happy, intelligent, and shining eyes in the photos I can see all the years of learning, growing, and becoming that my son could have had before the autism came.

The severe autism that came upon my son in his second year stole his language, changed his personality, and forever clouded his mind. It left him with a life of frustration, mood swings, compulsive behavior, and mental pain. Each day now is a struggle for him and although I try to make his life easier and give him as much love and joy as I can, in the end the autism is always there keeping him from being the person he could have been.

One thing, however, that brings me joy is that everyday I can see his gentle spirit break through those autistic walls around him. Sometimes it is in a laugh, sometimes it is in a smile, sometimes it is in a hug, but it always lets me know that a loving soul still lives within him. One day in the life after this one I hope to get to talk to that sweet spirit and thank him for all the love he gave me and all that he taught me about patience, compassion, and life.

I am going to try and look at those old pictures more often now. I want them to remind me of who my son truly is: a Child of God, a Being of Light, and a Spirit full of Love. The next time then that you see a person trapped in a handicapped body or mind don�t look away, look within. If you do you will see a brother or sister who wants and needs your love. ---------------

YOUR INNER ANGEL

I saw another angel recently. Sometimes it is hard to spot them because they are so good at disguises. There was no white robe on this one. She was wearing a faded, flowered, sun dress not suited for the Winter weather. Her coat too was well worn and probably older than my grown up son. She didn�t have a halo. Her white hair, though, sparkled when the light hit it and her smile shined with joy. There were no wings to be seen either. She was walking slowly in her scuffed up shoes while she pushed her shopping cart through the supermarket.

I knew that she was an angel, however, when at the checkout she divided her groceries into 3 small piles. She apologized to me for doing so but explained that she was buying food for two other elderly people who couldn�t make it out in the bad weather. I just laughed and told her to take her time. It isn�t everyday that you get to see an angel in action after all.

My ancient cherub squinted through her thick glasses and counted out the last of her change to pay for the groceries. Then she picked up her full bags and started to head out into the cold. She stopped for just a second though at a collection bin for the local humane society and quietly dropped in a bag of cat food and a bag of dog food. As I watched her walk into the swirling snow, I smiled and wondered if she was going to head for a car or fly up to Heaven.

That elderly angel in disguise reminded me once again to look for the inner angel in myself. She showed me one more time that doing good and spreading joy can be as natural here on Earth as it is in Heaven. She let me see that sharing God�s love is not only easy to do, it is what we are meant to do. I hope then that all of you take the time today to find the inner angel inside yourselves. I hope that you let that angel out to bless the world with your love. And I hope that you always remember that you don�t need wings to fly. ---------------

STAYING CONNECTED

When I was a boy there were bikes to ride but no cell phones to text on. There was a river for swimming but no world wide web for surfing. There were basketballs to bounce but few video games to play. There were paths to walk but no reality televison shows to watch. When we did sit in front of the tv we could choose between two channels and had to go outside and turn the antenna to get in the second one. When we wanted to make a call too we had to sit in the chair next to the phone, pick up the receiver gently to make sure noone else was taking on the party line, and then slowly dial each number on the rotary wheel.

These days my home is wireless and yet has more wires than I can count. I have a mobile phone, cell phone, and computer. I have two televisions and a hundred cable channels. I have CD and DVD players. My daughter has an i-pod and a cell phone with more functions than she could ever hope to use. I am connected with friends and family all over the globe and can communicate at the speed of light. I am a part of the vast electronic web that encircles our world.

I know too that there is no going back to the simpler age that I grew up in. Still, there are times each day when I shut down my computer and turn off my televisions and cell phone. I do so to spend some quiet time in prayer, to talk to my children and hear about their day, to chat with my friends and neighbors, to read a good book, to pet my dogs, and to take a walk outside and watch the birds flying across the sky. I do so to stay connected to things far more important than the internet. I do so to stay connected to God, to love, to life, to humanity, and to my own soul. Without these connections technology is nothing more than a meaningless distraction.

Use your technology wisely then. Stay connected not distracted. Live your life, share your love, nourish your soul, and make this world a better place both online and off. ---------------

GROWING YOUNG

As I have moved into my forties now I have begun to see more and more that body age has very little to do with soul age. My body keeps telling me again and again that I am getting older. My soul, however, seems to laugh at the thought. Just this morning I awoke to an aching back and stumbled into the bathroom. I stretched and popped my back as much as I could and then looked in the mirror. My thinning salt and pepper hair was mostly salt. My forehead was lined with deep wrinkles and my frowning face made me look like a tired, middle-aged man.

This depressed me but only for a few seconds. Then I remembered that whether I grow old or grow young is very much up to me. I said, "good morning" to God, thanked Him once again for my life and smiled in the mirror. Amazingly, the wrinkles in my forehead disappeared while the laugh lines around my eyes grinned with joy. My sleepy eyes began to sparkle and I watched as fifteen years disappeared from my face in a second.

No matter how old this body of mine may get my soul remains young. This is true for all of you as well. Whether you are 18, 48, or 80 you can still live with the love and laughter of an 8 year old. When it comes to eternity age is a number and the body is a liar. The only years that matter are the years you spend loving others.

Before you get lost looking for the fountain of youth then, take a look inside of yourself. You may find that your spirit is still young, vital, happy, and wrinkle free. You may see that the ability to give love and share joy knows no age. You may realize that when it comes to eternity our lives are here for only a brief moment in time. God created your soul and God created the body that carries it around. One is temporary, but one is forever. Don�t spend too much time then worrying about the one that won�t last when you can be living for the one that will. ---------------

KAI

My good friend and neighbor, Kai died yesterday. It wasn�t unexpected. She had told me in our very first conversation that she had a terminal disease. This week after battling it for several years her body finally gave out. Her soul, however, never did.

Kai was one of those special people who could light up a room just by coming into it. Her full name was Kailani which means Heavenly Sea. It couldn�t have been more fitting because she washed over all of us with waves of love. Her dear husband Sean, her family, her friends, her neighbors, her church, and everyone she met was showered with her kindness. She became an adopted grandmother to a neighbor�s children. She nursed a dog injured in a bear attack back to health and then adopted it as her own. She helped my daughter make that difficult transition from teenager to adult. She showed me how to be a more open and caring person as well. She invited so many of us into her home and her heart. She fed us cake, told us stories, and gave us the gift of her laughter. She listened to our problems, soothed our fears, and showed us everyday how to live and how to love. And she did it all while facing her own coming death.

In the last talk we had she told me that she hated the fact that she was going to die in the middle of Winter. Well, sometimes God in His love gives me just the right words. I said, "Don�t worry Kai, when you awake it will be Spring."

We are going to miss you Kai. We are going to miss that high voice that seemed to sing hello. We are going to miss that gentle smile that warmed our souls. We are going to miss that light you shared that made all of ours burn a little brighter. The tears we are shedding now aren�t for you. Your place in Paradise is guaranteed. The tears we are shedding are for us, because we love you. Thank you for coming into our lives and making a forever home in our hearts. ---------------

THE GIFT

It was almost the middle of January and the snow had been on the ground since before Christmas. Storm after storm had hit us with no breaks in-between. Almost 6 feet of the white stuff had fallen in 6 weeks here. The bitterly cold temperatures had largely kept the snow from melting too. The arctic air had crept through the walls of my house and into my bones as well. All in all, it was the prefect recipe for a case of the Winter blahs.

To lighten my mood then I got out my old Christmas records that I had owned since I was a boy. I turned on the old record player I had bought at a yard sale a few years ago and put the needle to the vinyl. Soon the sweet sounds of "Silver Bells", "Silent Night", "Joy to the World", "Carol of the Bells", and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" filled the air. Even the January snow looked more beautiful with "The Christmas Song" playing in the background. As I sang along I could feel the loving and joyous music heat up my heart and my home. It didn�t matter that my home was no longer decorated, that there was no tree in the corner or presents under it, or that Christmas dinner had been replaced with hot dogs today. What mattered was that the gift of Christmas lived on inside of me. What mattered was that God�s Love and Oneness filled my spirit not just on December 25th but every single day of my life.

Don�t put the gift of Christmas up on some shelf on December 26th . Unwrap it and carry it in your heart all through the year. Its spirit will warm your Winter, brighten your Spring, make your Summer more special, and put even more Awe in your Autumn. It will remind you of God�s unconditional love for you and help you to keep your own life focused on love as well. It will allow you to live everyday from your soul. And it will even allow you to sing the "Hallelujah Chorus" be it December, May, January, or June. ---------------

HOMEMADE HAPPINESS

The Italian dinners we had after church every Sunday when I was a boy were feasts fit for a king. There were mounds of pasta. There were potatoes, chicken, and meatballs which had been slow cooked for hours in tomato sauce. There were salads too covered in olive oil and vinegar. Most of all, though, there were loaves of Italian bread ready to be devoured. They were great with butter and even better when you dipped them in the sauce. My Grandma, whom we called "Nanny" would always bake them a day ahead so they would be ready. I remember watching her hand kneed the dough. I would often ask to help but only because I wanted to have a bite of the dough before she placed it in the pans to bake. After they were done she would set them on the counter to cool and the whole house would be filled with their Heavenly aroma.

One day I foolishly asked Nanny why she didn�t just buy bread at the store to save time. "Cause they�re not as a good," she said in her thick Italian accent. Then she laughed, smiled, and gave me a pinch of dough to nibble on.

Nanny was right. Today I buy my bread at the store and it isn�t as good. It is factory made and lacks all the taste, warmth, and love that Nanny put into hers. I think that Nanny knew way back then that the best way to bake bread or to make joy was by cutting out the middle man.

I hope that one day all of us realize the same thing. Store bought happiness is a sad substitute for homemade joy. All the pleasures made and sold by the middle men of this world are bland, fleeting, and temporary at best. If you want lasting love, permanent peace, and unending joy then you have to follow God�s cookbook and bake them in your own soul. Remember, God loves us and invites us everyday to His table for a feast of goodness and delight. All that He asks is that we roll up our sleeves and help Him a bit with the cooking. ---------------

BAD WEATHER AND GOOD HEARTS

It is amazing how even the worst times can be used by our loving God to bring out the best in us. I saw ample evidence of this recently when a fast moving Winter storm dumped an incredible two and a half feet of snow here. Cars were buried, businesses and schools were closed, roads were impassible, people were stranded, and tree limbs were snapped taking down power lines with them. A state of emergency was declared and it looked like the bad weather had beaten us all down forever. In the mist of all this misery, though, the best in everyone emerged.

We slowly came out of our houses, grabbed our snow shovels, and went to work. We started by shoveling out our drives and cars. We greeted neighbors doing the same. Then we started helping each other whenever we could. Snow blowers were shared. Paths were dug out so little dogs could have a place to walk and relieve themselves. Anyone with an extra snow plow attached it to their truck and cleared side drives while the state workers cleared the main roads. People who still had electricity thanked God for it and then went out to help those who had lost theirs. Electric line workers were tireless in their efforts to restore as many homes power as quickly as possible and every person whose home was lit back up smiled with a new appreciation for the energy they once took for granted. Families gathered around stoves, hugged each other in blankets, and looked out on the majestic mountains covered in snow. Then when the warm sun returned after days of cold they greeted it like a long lost friend. They watched the beautiful sunrise too like it was for the very first time.

All of this gave me a new respect for all the tough times and bad weather I have faced in my own life. I see now that God is always with us in our Winter nights as well as our Summer days. I see too that our love and joy sometimes grow warmest when life is at its coldest. ---------------

THE RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD

I was doing my monthly budget today. That is when you divide one check by ten bills and pray that there is a little something left over. The whole kitchen table was covered with bills, notebooks, stamps, envelops, labels, money orders, and my oversize calculator. I had just hit the wrong button on that calculator for the third time and was groaning with frustration when suddenly my little Beagle, Snoopy came racing out of my bedroom. Without breaking stride she bounced up on the chair next to mine and then leapt up on the table. She spun out on the papers sending them flying everywhere while my calculator crashed to the floor. Then without missing a beat she started licking my chin as fast as she could. I was about to yell at her but found myself laughing instead. Leave it to that sweet dog of mine to remind me that I am one of the richest men in the world.

My riches can�t be placed in checking accounts or used to pay bills, but they are more priceless than a thousand treasure chests full of gold. My riches come from the furry friendship that follows me around on four legs all day long. My wealth flows from every smile that my children give me. My money comes in the form of hugged backs rather than greenbacks. My gems are the kind words and caring thoughts I give and receive. My gold comes from the shining spirits of my family, friends, and neighbors. My vast fortune is one of Love. It comes from knowing that God loves me. It comes from knowing that I can choose and share love myself everyday of my life. It comes from knowing that when I love, I have joy.

My bankbook may never be heavy, but when it comes to the treasures of Heaven my heart is full to overflowing. May you always choose God�s love and Heaven�s wealth yourselves. And may you always take the time to pet your dog even when she�s sitting on top of your bills. --------------------

THEN I�LL BE HAPPY

For a good part of my life I suffered from a disease. This disease dampened my spirits, drained me of my energy, and robbed me of my vitality. Sometimes it even made it hard to get out of bed in the morning. It made every part of my life more difficult and demanding. For a while too it looked like this disease would be a weight I would have to carry for the rest of my life. This disease was called, "And then I�ll be happy."

I think I first caught it in middle school. During my younger years I seemed to always enjoy the moment and relish each day of my life. At some point during those middle school years, however, I remember starting to look to the future more and more and enjoying today less and less. At first I thought getting into high school and being a teenager would make me happy. Then the dream switched to being the high school football star. That was followed by being on my own in college. Next came having a great career and high paying job. Getting rich and having that big house followed it. After that was the dream of raising a family. Then there was retiring and finally enjoying my life. Each dream postponed my happiness a little further down the road. Finally I realized that if I kept going this way, I would be dead before I was happy.

That is when I came to see that it would be a lot better to be happy now than to live with this disease. Life I knew would always have fresh problems and frustrations, but I thought it would be a lot better to meet them with a happy heart and loving soul rather than waiting for life to be perfect. These days I am in remission. I still have occasional flare ups of "And then I�ll be happy," but I heal them by knowing that I can choose love and joy every second of my life.

God loves us all so much and wants us to be happy today, tomorrow, and forever. Let�s not let Him down. Let�s choose love, share joy, and spread happiness with every moment we have. ----------------

A GIFT OF LOVE

I have always loved Nativity scenes ever since I was a boy. I remember growing up seeing the great care my Grandma always took unwrapping ours. She would gently lift each ceramic statue out of the box and lovingly arrange them in the tiny, wooden barn. The baby Jesus was always the last one lifted out and she would always smile before placing Him in the manger.

It was at another manger too that I saw the most beautiful picture of the real meaning of Christmas. This was years ago when public Nativity scenes were everywhere at Christmastime. It was before the fear of offending others made most of them sadly disappear from parks and town squares. I remember taking a moment to look at one of these public Nativity scenes during a cold, December day. A snow was gently falling on each of the statues and even in the manger. About this time a mother walked up with her young son. The boy couldn�t have been more than three years old. As they too stopped to stare at the beautiful sight the little boy removed his scarf and walked over to the Nativity. Then he folded it and placed it over the manger. He smiled as he walked back and said, "Baby Jesus looked cold." I thought that his mother would make him go back and retrieve the scarf, but thankfully she was made of wiser stuff than me at that time. She just smiled, wiped away a tear, and kissed her son on top of his head. Then leaving his gift of love, they slowly walked down the snow covered street together while the boy happily sang all the words he knew to "Silent Night."

It took a lot of years for me to grow as wise as that child, but when I did I realized that Christmas truly is about Love. It is about a love that is both joyfully shared and unconditional. It is about a love that sacrifices, cares, and gives. It is about loving each other just as much as God loves us at Christmastime and always. ---------------

THE PRODIGAL CAT

My prodigal cat has returned! I found her meowing pitifully on my back porch yesterday after a week of living on the wild side. I was pretty sure that sooner or later the cold, November weather here would make her come home. Right now she is sitting on my lap while I type this, skinnier but wiser, gently rubbing her head on my arm and purring joyfully.

We first rescued our prodigal cat, Honey several years ago when she jumped into our open car without being invited. It appears Honey was on the run from several bigger and meaner cats at the time and was happy to find a pair of protective arms to rest in. The tiny calico soon made herself right at home too. Adjusting to an indoor life didn�t seem to bother her at all. She was always first cat in the house to the bowl at feeding time and she loved to nap all day on the nearest available lap. She nuzzled and purred with the best of them too and was loved by all of us. This last year, however, Honey�s wilder nature seemed to be calling to her. Several times she snuck outside on us only to return back after realizing just how tough life is out there. I am hoping that this latest outdoor romp is her last and that she finally realizes that struggling to survive in the wild just can�t compare to napping on her Dad�s lap.

My cat, however, isn�t the only one who has made this mistake. I think most of us are prodigal children at some point in our lives. Just as in Jesus� Parable we wander away from our Heavenly Father and waste our days on wild living and foolish pursuits. Soon we find ourselves miserable, alone, and just struggling to survive. We return home to our Father broken, repentant, and hungry for His love again. Thankfully, God is always ready to forgive us and welcome us back into His loving arms once more. There is no better or more joyous place to be either, because it is the one place were we truly belong. ---------------

BIG BOYS DO CRY

"Big boys don�t cry." I heard those words a lot growing up in America in the late sixties and early seventies. In those days men were expected to be tough and rugged and never shed a tear no matter what. Our heros were all stone faced cowboys who were too strong to cry. Believing this then I tried my best never to cry at all during my teenage and early adult years.

All that changed, however, as I was driving home alone one night shortly after my Mom died. It was dark and raining outside. I was struggling to keep the car on the road while at the same time struggling to hold the tears back in my eyes. I remember almost going off the road twice as I blinked back the salty water that was burning my eyes and blurring my vision. My hands shook, my heart hurt, and my soul felt dead. Finally I could do it no longer. I stopped, pulled over, lay my head on the steering wheel, and cried. I cried until the tears couldn�t fall anymore. I cried until the pain that I was holding onto so strongly finally fled my heart.

After that night I realized something. Big boys do cry. In fact, it is the biggest hearts that cry the most. I realized too that it is our tears that can release us from our anger and our grief while reconnecting us to our love and our God. Tears help us to embrace this often bittersweet life. They help us to keep growing closer to each other in love and joy instead of shutting ourselves up in dull, aching, and lonely hearts.

These days I cry a lot more often. Sometimes the tears are sad. Sometimes the tears are joyous. But always the tears are full of love. I do my best to follow the advice of Leo Buscaglia who said, "Crying is good! It cleans out your eyeballs!" My eyeballs are a lot cleaner now than they used to be and my heart is as well. I hope then that every boy and girl out there realizes that tears are a gift from Heaven. They wash away the pain and water the seeds of love in your soul. ---------------

WANT SOME CRACKERS?

When I was growing up every Summer my family would pile into our old car and make the 8 hour trip over the mountains to spend a week visiting my Grandma in Tennessee. Each year too my Grandma and Aunt Charlotte would make us an early Thanksgiving dinner. The table would be full of mashed potatoes, turkey, gravy, corn, yams, sweet potatoes, green beans, rolls, butter, pumpkin pie, and whipped cream. It was a feast of love and we would relish every bite of it.

During one of those visits on the day of our big meal, I met a new boy in the neighborhood while playing outside. His mom and he had just moved into town after his dad had left them. Like most young boys we became friends right away and spent the rest of the afternoon playing and talking. After we were pretty worn out from all of our adventures he invited me over to his home. It was older house that had seen better days. He said his mom was renting it and was away at work but that we could get a snack if we wanted. We searched the kitchen but there was nothing but empty shelves. I was shocked. I had never seen a house with no food in it before. Finally I heard, "Want some crackers?" My friend had found half a box of crackers and a peanut butter jar with a tiny bit left in it. He told me not to worry. His mom was getting paid soon and would fill the shelves again. Still, I didn�t eat any of his crackers that afternoon.

That evening as I sat down to our early Thanksgiving dinner I looked at all the food and realized that my new friend had given me a gift. For the first time I was truly thankful to God for everything on my plate. For the first time too I truly saw the need in another�s life.

I never saw my new friend after that. They moved again later that year. I still pray for him even today, though. He opened my heart that day to gratitude and compassion. He made me see that we are all one family in this world in need of both food and love. ---------------

THE LONGEST LINE

The longest line that I ever stood in wasn�t in a store. It wasn�t to see a movie or a concert either. It wasn�t even in the Department of Motor Vehicles. The longest line I ever stood in was at my friend Tim�s wake. Tim had died a young man and his loss had shocked our small community. When I arrived at the wake I was amazed to see the line stretching from inside the small funeral home to down the street as far as the eye could see. People had come from hundreds of miles away to be there and to offer their love to Tim one last time. I saw people there that I hadn�t seen since high school and others whom I had thought I would never see again.

The line moved slowly forward as we waited and shared our memories of Tim. We talked about how funny he had always been without ever seeming mean-spirited once. He loved a good joke and would share them even in a football huddle during the middle of a game. We talked about how Tim was always kind and helpful to anyone in need. In his short but loving life his joyful spirit had touched a thousand people in a thousand different ways. We grieved about how he would never see his kids graduate from school, but also took comfort in knowing that a part of Tim lived on in each of them. We laughed, cried, remembered, and thanked God for the time we had Tim�s good soul with us. When his funeral was held later no indoor building could hold it. We had it on the junior high school football field that was later renamed after him.

In his short time here Tim had made his family, our community, and the world so much better. His loss left a hole in us all. Still, I think that we now laugh a little more, love a little deeper, and share joy a bit more often because of how he touched our hearts. Is there any more fitting tribute to a life well lived? May all of us live as well and love as much. May all of us too never wait in line when it comes to sharing God�s love and making the Earth a little more like Heaven. ---------------

THE BEST GIFTS

I had yet another birthday recently. It is strange how they keep popping up year after year. They must come from the same place as the grey hairs and wrinkles, because each year I seem to have more of them too. Still, as my body gets older and older my soul seems to get younger and younger, so I don�t mind celebrating a birthday now and then.

For some reason too this one seemed especially good. It may have been the chocolate cake and chocolate chip ice cream that made both my face and my stomach smile. It may have been the good natured teasing and hugs I got. It may have been seeing that childlike sparkle in my grown children�s eyes when they gave me my gifts. It may have even been the thoughtful gifts themselves picked out with such care. I think most of all, though, it was the gifts behind the gifts that filled my day with so much joy. You see, each gift was filled with the love of the person who gave it. Each gift was a package of love delivered from their heart to mine and each gift made my own love burn brighter.

The more birthdays I celebrate in this life, the more I see that love is really the only thing that matters. The parties you have, presents you get, or years you age aren�t important. All that counts is how much love you choose, share, and give in this world, because love itself is the greatest gift there is.

God in His loving wisdom has given each of us the two best gifts we can ever get: a life to live and the love to live it with. Let�s not waste them. Let�s not put them on a shelf and ignore them. Let�s use them instead. Let�s fill each of our birthdays and all the days in between with loving others, helping others, giving to others, teaching others, and sharing joy with others. Let�s truly enjoy these gifts God gives us from our first breath until our last sigh. -------------------

GOD�S GPS

I saw one of those new Global Positioning System units today. Those are the ones that hook up to satellites to tell you where you are and what turn to take to get where you are going. It wasn�t in my car of course. Like a lot of men I prefer to go where the road takes me even if I do get lost once in a while. Some of my best times too have come when I have taken my old car on a wrong turn or down a road less traveled. I find that the scenery is always a bit more exciting too when everything isn�t mapped out for you.

In fact, life itself is full of wrong turns, missing maps, and frequent potholes. That is what makes it such an interesting drive. Thankfully, there is one GPS that we all can use when we find ourselves lost on this road of life. This GPS won�t give us a lighted map or step by step directions. It will, however, help us to make the right choices to get where we need to go. This GPS will even let us make a wrong turn if we want to, but it will always gently nudge us back to the right highway to take us home. This GPS is God�s love.

God�s love is always there to nurture us and guide us as we travel on. It is there to help us make every choice and decide on every turn. It is there to help us drive our lives down the right road and to enjoy the scenery along the way. It may even guide us off the highway at times to help a stranded motorist or pick up a lost hitchhiker. One thing is sure though. God�s love will always lead you home in this life and in the next.

Dannion Brinkley said that: �When love alone acts as your compass, your life is always right on course.� I may never want a GPS telling me how to drive my car, but I will always welcome God and His love to guide me on how to drive my life. He may not always let me see the map, but I trust that He knows where we are going.----------------------

THE EYES THAT SEE

I have a blind friend who lives in New York City. Although we have never met face to face, we still write each other frequently. She is a remarkable lady and has become like a sister to me. Her optimistic and enthusiastic letters always lift my spirits and the inspiring poems she shares with the world always bring a smile to my face. She is all the more amazing due to the fact that she lost her sight halfway through her life. She had to give up her career and relearn to do everything that most of us take for granted. Many would have given up after such a loss but not her. Instead she embarked on a glorious new life full of award winning volunteer work. Her days are full of teaching English to new immigrants, counseling hurting hearts, writing, serving her religious community, and helping others in every way she can.

The light of my friend�s example is a beacon that I try to follow as well. Whenever I feel too challenged in my own life I look at the challenges that she has overcome in hers. She may have lost her sight but she never lost her soul. She knows that the eyes that really see are the eyes of the heart, and she does her best everyday to follow the loving vision that they give to her. I am sure too that the eyes of the angels watching over her are always filled with tears of joy and that their faces are always full of shining smiles.

I hope then that when you go through your own life you are not distracted by the murky view that this world so often gives you. I hope that you see it for the illusion it is and instead look at life with the clear vision of your heart�s eyes. God wants us to see this world and our lives through the eyes of love. It is only then that our sight will be pure. It is only then that our path will shine brightly before us. It is only then that we will see how we were meant to live and how we can best bring Heaven to Earth.--------------

CAKE WITH KAI

For the last several weeks my oldest son and I have been visiting our neighbor and friend, Kai every Wednesday afternoon. I always bring over my newest bit of writing to share with her and she always greets us with a hug, a smile, and a freshly baked cake. Each week she fills our bellies with another frosted delight. First it was chocolate, then lemon, strawberry, and vanilla. Everyone of them too melts in your mouth and makes your stomach sigh. After cake we all sit down for a long talk full of shared laughs and shared lives.

Kai�s name rhymes with Hi and that is fitting because her every greeting is full of love and kindness. It doesn�t matter if it is me, the delivery man, or the dog next door. Kai is always ready to give a little joy to everyone she meets. Since she and her husband Sean moved here a few years ago they have made our neighborhood, our community, and our lives so much better. This is all the more amazing considering that the whole time I have known her Kai has been racked by terminal illnesses that have battered every part of her except her spirit.

In the book "Tuesday�s With Morrie" author Mitch Albom writes about his visits to an old, college professor who is dying and how much he learned about living from him. I think that my Wednesday afternoons with Kai have done the same for me. Kai has taught me so much about how to be a more loving human being through her words and through her life. I couldn�t have asked for better knowledge or a greater gift than that.

I thank God everyday for Kai and Sean and all the wonderful people He has brought into my life over the years. I know too that even after Kai leaves us that we will see her again one day in Paradise. Then there will be plenty of time for sitting, smiles, laughter, love, happiness, hugs, long talks, and perhaps even a piece of cake. ---------------

TWO ARMS NO WAITING

I got to hug my Mom and my Grandma again today. It felt so good that for a moment my heart leapt for joy and my eyes filled with tears. In that second the whole world was full of love and the Earth felt like Heaven. Then it was over, because I awoke from my daydream.

You see, my Mom and my Grandma both died years ago. I enjoyed every hug we shared over the years they were alive, but now I see I didn�t hug them nearly enough. I don�t know why I kept my arms and my heart closed so many times over the years. I don�t know why it took me so long to realize that you can�t take love or life for granted. If I had it to do over I would have hugged them a dozen times a day, every single day they were with me. If I could have those moments back I would have followed the example of my own son who gives me more hugs everyday than I can count. I would have taken the lead of my son�s childhood friend too. She may be confined to a wheelchair but she can still hug your heart out with the squeeze of her hand or lift your spirits with a smile that is brighter than the noonday sun. If I could live those years again I would do so with my arms, my heart, and my soul wide open.

Thankfully, God in His love gives us a lifetime to learn from our mistakes. I can�t live those years again, but I can live today. I can love today. I can share a hug today. My Mom and Grandma may have left this world, but in my heart and soul my arms will always be around them.

I hope that you share a few hugs yourself today. I hope that you hang a sign on your heart that says, "two arms, no waiting." I hope that you give your love to all those around you. I hope that you shine a smile to everyone you meet. I hope that you fill your every phone call, letter, or e-mail with "heart hugs" as well. Life is short. Time flies. Our days here are brief. Don�t pass up a single chance then to love, to share, to help, and to hug. ----------------

THE LETTER

When I was a freshman in college I received a letter that forever opened a window in my soul. I had just started writing and the editor of my local county newspaper had been kind enough to publish some of my work. About a month later the letter arrived. Sadly, I lost it in the many moves I have made since then, but it�s essence still lives in my heart.

Here is what it said. "You may not remember me. We last saw each other in kindergarten and my family moved the next year. We still get the county paper in the mail, though, and when I saw your name I had to write you. You see that first year in school was very difficult for me. I was a tiny, sickly, and homely girl that the other children teased everyday. The thing I remember about you is that you never did. You were always kind to me. When we lined up to go out the teacher always put me beside you and you would hold my hand as we crossed the street. You talked to me and played with me. When you were around too the other kids didn�t tease me. You saw me as a person, not someone different and I will be forever grateful for that. My whole life was better because of how you treated me all those years ago."

I quickly wrote back to my kindergarten friend and we corresponded happily for several years before the illness that she had struggled with since childhood finally took her life. I will never forget, however, just how much that simple kindness I had shared meant to her. It made me see that kindness, goodness, love, and joy truly are the most important things in the world.

Every act of kindness we do touches another�s heart. Every bit of goodness we share makes the world a better place. Every choice for love we make brings us and those around us closer to God. God blessed us with the power to help, heal, love, and change this world forever. Let�s use that power and make both Earth and Heaven smile. ---------------

I ALREADY AM

When I was a teenager I was in a group of students who took a trip to Pittsburgh. Being a country boy, I found it exciting just being in such a big city. While most of the students headed for the mall then I decided to tour the streets alone. It was almost Christmastime and the store windows were filled with beautiful displays, full of joy and delight. I bought several cinnamon sticks to ward off the chill and spent a while just walking and looking at the sights.

At some point, however, the stores became less and less and the bars became more and more. I realized I had crossed into a not so good section of town. I saw a small bus stop and decided to sit and take a rest before walking back. The bus stop was just in front of a grocery store and before long an old woman in a tattered coat came out. She was carrying two large bags in one hand. Her other hand held a cane that steadied her slow, shaky walk. Her young, dark haired granddaughter clutched her coat as they made their way to the bench. I smiled at them both and we joked and laughed for a bit about how cold it was before the bus pulled up. When it arrived I picked up the old lady�s bags and carried them up the steps. Then I helped her cherub faced granddaughter up them while her grandma slowly climbed on behind us. I pulled out my last cinnamon stick and gave it to the sweet girl while her grandma smiled her thanks to me. I got off the bus and looked up to the window where the little, curly-haired Child of God was waving goodbye to me. Then I started back to meet the other students a little warmer at heart if not in body. As I was turning the corner, though, a voice called out from an alley. "Hey man! Want to get high?" I smiled without looking over and said, "No thanks. I already am."

No drug in the world can ever match the high that comes from one kind act, one shared laugh, one second of giving love, or one moment of making God smile. Kindness is Heaven�s high. --------

AUTUMN OF OUR LIVES

I love Autumn here in the mountains of West Virginia. The cool air and the hum of the heater in the morning soon gives way to the warm breezes flowing through the window fans in the afternoon. The delightful smell of dry leaves fills the air and in the evening I can sometimes catch glimpses of the deer feeding on the fallen apples from the apple tree in our backyard. The sound of happy children riding their bikes makes a sweet music for the ears as they play away the evening hours until darkness arrives. All of this wonderful joy takes place too under the brilliance of the mountains themselves. This time of the year they look like they were painted by Heaven�s hand. Bit by bit the leaves on the trees transform into glorious golds, radiant reds, and outrageous oranges. Beautiful burgundies and browns soon appear too, as well as yellows that shine like the sun itself. This time of the year always gives me a hint of what Paradise itself must be like.

It really amazes me then that the phrase "the Autumn of our lives" is always said with such fear. The very mention of it stirs up images of aging, illness, and approaching death. I guess so many are afraid of that last leaf falling that they fail to see the beautiful Spring that awaits them.

I think the Autumn of your life should instead be embraced with joy. It should be the peak of a beautiful, colorful, and well-lived life. It should be full of choosing love, sharing happiness, and helping others. It should be filled with making yourself a better person and the world a better place. It should be overflowing with peace, understanding, and oneness with God.

May the Autumn of your life then shine as brightly as the leaves on these mountains. May you live simply, love deeply, and grow daily. May your last days be your best days. And may you walk through the fallen leaves knowing that the journey leads not to death but to eternal life. ------------------------

FATHER ED

Father Ed, the priest of the church I attended as a child passed away this Summer. He will be missed by many including me. I can still see him so clearly in my heart and mind. Tall, thin, quiet, friendly, and smart with thinning hair and thick glasses, he always looked more like an engineer than a priest. He was a great lover of classical music. One of my most vibrant memories of him was a long trip we took together over curvy, mountainous roads. Father Ed was steering the car with one hand and directing with the other while Beethoven�s 9th symphony serenaded us from his cassette deck. Looking back now I can still feel his spirit swaying in his body while the music played.

Father Ed�s greatest love, however, was the tireless work he did for God. He preached, wrote columns and books, visited prisons, taught in schools, and ministered everywhere for the love of God from the streets of Indianapolis to the hills of West Virginia. It was these mountains and their people that touched his heart the most deeply, though, and I am happy that he was able to end his work on Earth here. He did the very best work he could every single day. Even though his body aged, wore down, and finally surrendered to death, his spirit never did.

Father Ed may have left us now, but his work goes on. The work we do for the love of God never ends, but thankfully God�s love for us never ends either. God�s love not only produces the best work but also the best people. Father Ed was one of them.

Thinking of Father Ed reminds me that we are more than just these bodies that carry us around. We are spirits dancing in the flesh. We are more than just the work we do. We are the love of God working inside of us. We are more than just these lives we live. We are the love we give and the joy we share every moment of them. God bless you Father Ed. We miss you. -------------

I�LL BE SHOPPING WITH YOU

I heard a story today that found a warm place in my heart. I don�t know if it is true or not, but if it isn�t then it should be. It seems a mother was recently approached by her teenage daughter who asked for a new $160 piece of electronics equipment to replace her old one. Her old one by the way was only a year old and was working fine. The wise mom said she would think about it but first could her daughter help her with some errands that afternoon.

That afternoon the mother and daughter climbed into their car and headed for the local grocery store. Once there the mom went straight to the bulk food section and started loading food in the carts. Soon two shopping carts were overflowing with bags of generic rice, sacks of potatoes, boxes of ramen noodles, cases of canned vegetables, jars of peanut butter and jelly, and loaves upon loaves of bread. Without a word the mom headed straight for the checkout lines, paid for the food, and loaded up the car. The daughter was curious but said nothing.

The mom then drove in silence straight to a local food bank. Without a sound she started to carry in the groceries while her startled daughter helped. Soon both of them were filling up the empty shelves while the workers and needy families looked on. After a few seconds, however, both of them were showered with teary eyes, crushed with hugs, and thanked with more "God bless you�s" than the daughter had ever heard before. As they were driving home the mom finally smiled and handed her daughter the receipt for the groceries. The total was $162 and change. "That is what $160 is really worth", the mom said. "Now next week we can buy you that gadget you want or we can make another trip to shop for the food bank that helped keep us alive and together when you were just a baby. It�s up to you."

The daughter smiled and with tears in her eyes said, "I�ll be shopping with you, Mom!" -----------------------

A DOG�S LOVE

It was raining on the day I took my St. Bernard, Buddy to the vet for the last time. It was raining on my windshield, it was raining in my eyes, and it was raining in my soul. My heart was heavy with the sadness of knowing that I would soon be losing a friend who had always touched my soul with his sad face and sweet personality. When he was a puppy I used to carry him around in one arm. Now his 170 lb body was ancient and ailing. Throughout all his life he had protected us with his strength and loved us with his gentleness. He was a part of our family and taking him on this last ride was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

My voice like my spirit felt broken as I told the vet that it was best to end Buddy�s suffering now. I had watched over the last year as he slowed down. He was in a lot of pain. He seemed more and more irritable and uncomfortable with each passing day. Finally there came a point when I knew it was time to let him go. His days here on Earth may have been short by our standards, but every single one of them was full of love.

A person who didn�t own dogs once asked me why I would put myself through such pain. Why would I bring dogs into my home knowing that eight, ten, or fifteen years later I would be losing them to death? I couldn�t answer him at the time, but looking back on Buddy�s years with us I think I can now. A dog�s love is unconditional. It is pure. It is strong. It is blessed. It gives us such great happiness. It reminds us of what God�s love for us must be like. It shows us what our own love is capable of becoming. A dog�s love makes us better. If I have to suffer this pain then to have that love then I will do so gladly.

Take care dear Buddy until I see you again. You made me better. You helped me to love. You gave me so much joy. I will forever cherish in my heart the years we had here together. ---------------------------

THREE CELL PHONES

I saw something that both amused me and saddened me the other day. Three teenage girls were walking up the street together, but they didn�t seem together at all. Even though they walked side by side, they weren�t talking to each other. They weren�t laughing together. They weren�t even looking at each other. Instead each girl�s eyes rested firmly on their hands outstretched in front of them because in each girl�s palm was a cell phone. I am not sure why they weren�t talking to each other. Perhaps they were. With today�s technology it is hard to tell. Still, it made me shake my head to think that something as small as a cell phone could put so much distance between girls who were so close together.

Since the beginning of time ideas and inventions have flowed from the mind of God to the minds of people. Since the beginning of time too, however, people have used these ideas and inventions to both help and hurt themselves. The person who first cast metal saw their idea turned into plowshares that helped feed thousands and swords that killed thousands more. Nobel saw his invention of dynamite used to blow apart mountains, to build roads for the benefit of everyone. He also saw it used to blow apart bodies and end countless lives in war. Albert Einstein saw the fruit of his genius used to create abundant power that helps millions of people everyday. He saw as well it used to build bombs that could kill us all a hundred times over.

Every invention and every piece of technology can be used to help us grow better and closer together or it can be used to distance us and destroy us. The choice is in how we use it. The key I feel is love. God�s greatest wish is for us to love each other. I hope you make all of your calls and e-mails joyous gifts of love then. But if there is someone right beside you who needs your love don�t be afraid to turn off the electronics, look them in the eye, and give them a hug. --------------------------

SUNRISES AND WALKING STICKS

When I was a boy our church sent some of us on a youth retreat. I had a great time although I didn�t realize it then. Being a teenager I was far more interested in talking to the other teens and joking around than I was in the experiences our youth counselors had planned for us. It is only now many years later that I remember and cherish the lessons they taught.

I remember moaning and groaning when they got us up early to watch the sun rise over the mountains. Then I only wanted a few more hours of sleep instead of the breathtaking sight I was seeing. Now, however, I watch every sunrise and sunset that I can. It is the best way I know to share a joyous "Good morning" and "Good night" with the loving God who made me.

I remember too a counselor of somewhat generous proportions wearing out a group of us fit, young teens as he led us on a hike up the side of a mountain. He carried two walking sticks with him. One of them was in his hand and he used it to help himself up even the steepest parts of the path. The other was in his heart, soul, and mind and he used it to point out every beautiful thing there was to see along the walk from a single flower blooming in a bush, to a nest of robins living in a tree, to the wonderful view that awaited us at the end. Then I only wanted to head back down the hill and play basketball. Now, though, I try to see the beautiful in everything just as he did. He showed me that God gives us all a wonderful walking stick called our thoughts and that we all can use it to help us travel joyously through this journey called life. Either that or we can beat ourselves over the head with it. The choice is ours.

That retreat remains the most fun I ever had 30 years after the fact. I guess sometimes it just takes us a bit longer to get what people, life, and God are trying to teach us. I hope you use your walking stick well, live your life with love, and watch the sunrise every chance you get. -------------------------------

CONNIE

Is it possible to mourn someone you�ve never even met? Is it possible to cry for someone you have never even seen? My friend Connie passed away recently. She was just 68 years old. I had never met her face to face or even seen her picture. I had never heard her voice on the phone. I had never had the chance to give her a hug. She and her husband Charlie lived several states away from me and we never were able to visit each other although we had hoped to one day.

Connie and Charlie ran a newsletter about angel stories online and wrote me an e-mail once asking to use one of my articles. I agreed and with most people that would have been the end of it. Connie, however, had a joyous, youthful, laughing, loving, and playful spirit that found its way into everything from her marriage, to her friendships, to her work, and even to her letters. She and Charlie then quickly became my online friends. Soon they were sharing my writings with their readers every month. With each thing I wrote and shared I would get a letter of encouragement from Connie and Charlie. They were a gift sent by God above and I cherished their friendship. They touched my heart, uplifted my spirits, lightened my soul, and helped me to be a better person with just their simple e-mails.

When their e-mail address stopped working a few weeks ago I feared that their old computer had crashed. Sadly, it was something far worse. Connie has now passed into paradise, but the pain and loss lingers on for Charlie and all of us who knew her. Her love, her joy, and her light will outlast the pain, though. It will live on in all of us who knew her, forever.

Is it possible to mourn someone you�ve never even met? Is it possible to cry for someone you have never even seen? Yes it is. God bless you, Connie. Thank you so much for blessing all of us with your life. --------------------------

GLUED GLASSES AND SEWED JACKETS

The longer I live the more I see that our souls� eyes and the world�s eyes aren�t the same. Just today, for instance, I was sitting at my kitchen table when suddenly my soul�s memories took me back 13 years in an instant. I remembered sitting at that same table getting out a needle and thread to sew a rip in my jacket. It was one of many gotten from years of working in a lumber mill. That day, however, was my day off and I was enjoying every moment of it with my kids.

Suddenly my toddler climbed on my knee for a game of "blow on my belly". His giggles tickled my soul but his arm also accidently knocked off my glasses, breaking the frames for the hundredth time that year. At that time money was tight, miracle glue was cheap, and new glasses were not. I put my son down then, glued and reset the frames, and set them on the table to dry. Sewing the jacket without my glasses, though, was no easy task. On my thirtieth try at threading the needle my little daughter came in the room. I asked her if she could put the thread through the eye for me. She did on the first try and handed it back to me with a smile. "There you go, Daddy!", she said with sparkling eyes before heading back to her room to play.

I often wondered back then why I was having to struggle so hard just to get by. I wondered why I didn�t have the money to buy the new clothes and glasses that others took for granted. Now thirteen years later I think that maybe God was having my soul spend that time learning what the true riches in life really are. That giggling toddler in my arms was one of them. That loving daughter with the sparkling eyes was another. Compared to them all the money in the world was just worthless paper. Nowadays money doesn�t seem quite so important, but every loving hug I get from one of my children remains priceless. These lessons in love sometimes take a lifetime to learn, but what�s a lifetime when seen from the eternal eyes of your soul. -----------------------------

PART OF THE CHOIR

When I was a boy our church didn�t have a choir so everyone was expected to sing. That didn�t bother me since I was an enthusiastic singer to say the least. Still, my talent didn�t quite match my zest for singing. More often than not I was too loud and off key. Many times my singing would get me a nudge and a look from my older brother. In time, though, I learned to sing more softly and found that even my less than perfect voice blended in beautifully with the choir of joyous singers that was our church.

As I grew up too I found many other ways to sing my soul�s song without using my throat�s voice. One way was by putting a pen to paper and later my fingers to a keyboard. In this way I was able to share the inspiring thoughts, words, and experiences that my Heavenly Father so often gave me. In this way I was able to encourage others as well to choose love, share joy, and grow in oneness with God even as I learned to do so more and more in my own life.

As the years have gone by too I have realized something. I am only one voice in millions out there writing, speaking, and singing out the beautiful truth for all the world to hear. I often see the others online, in newspapers, on television, in books, and even on the street. Some have become rich and famous for the work they have done, but most like me are just delighting in freely sharing the wisdom, joy, love, and light that God has given them.

Now I find myself happy to be a part of a new choir that is doing all it can to bring the glorious music of love to this world. I hope that you will join it as well. You may be just one voice among many, but if you share your soul�s song you can add so much to the choir. It doesn�t matter either if your voice or life is less than perfect. If you sing your song and live your life with love, you can help to make the Earth sound a lot more like Heaven. ------------------------------

CRAZY WEATHER

We have been having some crazy weather here in the mountains of my home this summer. The other day, for instance, started out beautifully with a sunrise that could make the heavens' sing. The air was warm and the breezes gently kissed your cheek as you walked outside. The shining sun filtered through the leaves and lit up the world in a thousand different places. Just being outside lit up my own soul as well and I thanked God for another great day to be alive.

By afternoon, however, the weather had turned hot and muggy. The skies had become partly cloudy and the distant roar of thunder was in the air. As I went to run an errand it started to rain. Driving down the road I could still see the sun behind me but thick, grey clouds lay ahead. After only a few miles a gentle sprinkling of rain became a torrent that rolled down the roads and turned every pothole into a puddle. I stopped to go into a store but was drenched before I got three feet. Lightening flashes could be seen over the hills and I wondered if the storm would ever end. As I drove back home, though, the clouds parted and the sunshine reappeared. I arrived home soaked but safe and looked up to see the most glorious rainbow bridging the sky. I stopped in my dripping clothes to take in the sight and store it safely in the memories of my soul.

Life too can give us some crazy weather at times. Clear days can suddenly turn stormy in an instant. Sunny skies and gentle breezes can give way to pounding rains and lightening for no reason. Problems, troubles, and frustrations can soak you to the skin and you can find yourself wondering if the storm will ever end. When this happens take heart in knowing that God loves you through every type of weather and that you have enough sunlight in your soul to ride out any storm that life throws at you. Let that rain help you to grow and remember that the storms always end, the clouds always part, and sometimes you even get blessed with a rainbow. ------------------------

WORK AND LOVE

My daughter was having trouble recently deciding on what to major in at college, so she asked my advice. I told her the one thing I wish that I had been told at her age: "Find a career that you love and you will never work a day." She caught me off guard, though, when she next asked what she should do if she couldn�t get that career right away. What should she do if she had to take a job that she hated?

That question brought back a lot of memories of jobs that I had worked at over the years. I remembered one in particular. My young family was struggling. We had no money and there were no good jobs to be had in the area. My brother, however, was able to get me a job at a local lumber mill. The work was hard and meant constant pain for my back. Hours were spent loading and stacking lumber. The pay was just above minimum wage. In the winter the skin on my fingers split and bled from the cold, dry air. The job turnover was high. In the several years I worked there only the four of us supporting families didn�t leave to look for something better.

Still, I also remembered singing hymns to myself while I stacked and loaded that lumber. I remembered the jokes and laughter we all shared during lunch and on breaks. I remembered as I pushed the lumber carts, glancing out the window and joyously watching the leaves changing in the Fall. I remembered how a simple sandwich tasted like the greatest gourmet meal in the world after 4 hours of hard work. I remembered thanking God for this job so I could feed my family. Remembering all this gave me the answer I needed for my daughter. "Just bring your love to your job then sweetheart," I said. "If you can�t do what you love then love what you do."

In this life we work to live, but we live to love. Without love work is drudgery. Yet, with love work is joy. May all of your working days then be full of love, joy, goodness, and God. ---------------------------------

PARADISE WITHIN

My good friend and neighbor is dying. She has battled more health problems through the years than anyone should have to endure. Now as she approaches her 57th birthday she knows that it will probably be her last. She has started giving away a lot of her things so her loving husband won�t be stuck with her "Junk" as she says. She has already given me several books, containers, clothes for my daughter, and a beautiful Hawaiian shirt to add to my collection.

She has given all of us around her much more than just her stuff, though. She has also given us her friendship, her kindness, and her joyous smile. She has given us her wit, wisdom, and sweet laughter. She has given us her shining spirit that has made all of our lives so much brighter. When my daughter turned 19 my friend made her a red velvet cake and talked with her about what is important in life. When a local dog was nearly killed by a bear my friend welcomed it into her home and nursed it back to health. When any of us needed anything she was there doing all that she could with a heart full of love and a soul full of goodness.

She did all of this too while her health continued to grow worse and worse. My friend, however, is not afraid of death. She has told me several times that she believes it will only be like a brief sleep and then she will awaken in Paradise. I am sure as well that she will fit right in there, because she already has a lot of paradise within herself. It is the paradise within her that she has so freely and beautifully given to us all.

I thank God for giving me a chance to get to know her. She has shown me that we all have a bit of paradise within ourselves. She has shown me too that the best way to enjoy that paradise is to share it with everyone you meet. I wish my friend only joy in her remaining days here and endless love and life in her coming days in Paradise. --------------------------------------------------------

SUMMER LIGHT SHOW

It is going to feel like Christmas in July in the field behind my home for the next few weeks. My backyard buddies, the fireflies have finally returned to put on another Summer light show every evening for all of us to enjoy. It is such a delight seeing their little, golden lights blinking on and off just like the lights on a Christmas tree. It brings me such joy watching my whole backyard and the woods around it twinkle like it is Christmastime while the warm, summer breezes tickle my face. It reminds me that anytime of the year can feel like Christmas if you have love in your heart and light in your soul.

Still, there are times I feel a bit sorry for my firefly friends. They shine for only a brief time each Summer and their lights while beautiful last only a moment before fading again. In fact, I sometimes feel like a firefly myself. I try my best to shine long and bright with love, joy, and oneness with God, but it seems at times the most I can do is flicker. I am working hard, though, to leave my light on a bit longer each time and trying my best to make my moments of darkness less and less. I am asking God to help me everyday too and hope to one day shine more like a star and less like a blinker.

I hope that you are doing your best as well to shine bright and leave your light on in this life. I pray too that if you can�t keep your light on all the time then you are at least blinking as much light, love, joy, kindness, goodness, peace, happiness, helpfulness, laughter, and caring as you can. Perhaps one day all of us will shine together and with God�s help will create a summer light show that never ends. Perhaps we will not just help make everyday feel more like Christmas, but make everyday be Christmas. Perhaps one day we all will work together to help the fireflies chase the darkness away forever. -----------------------------------------------------

WHERE THE LIGHT IS

There is a delightful, old story that always brings a smile to my face. One day a man was walking down the street and saw his friend crawling around on his hands and knees looking for something. The man asks his friend what he is looking for on the ground. His friend says, "I lost my key." The man feels sorry for his friend and gets down to help look for it. After a long time of looking without success the man asks his friend where he was standing when he lost his key. The friend replies, "Oh, I lost it in my house." Outraged by this the man asks why they are looking on the street then. His friend says, "Because there is more light here."

As funny as that sounds it is the way a lot of people think. They want to know the purpose of their lives. They want to figure out the secret to their own happiness. They want to find the key to living a loving and joyous life. Yet, they look everywhere except inside of themselves. Perhaps they think it is too dark and frightening to look within for these answers. They keep looking on the outside instead because they think the light is better there.

The truth is if they were willing to look within they would find a light far brighter and more illuminating than any on the outside. They would find the glorious glow of their own souls that have been patiently waiting for their arrival. They would find the love of God that lights up the world and the light of their own love as well. They would find a beautiful fire that would warm their hearts and that they could give to everyone everywhere.

Don�t be afraid to look on the inside. The light on the outside is nowhere near as magnificent and golden as the loving light that shines from your own soul. God�s loving light lives within each of us. That is the light you should seek. That is the light that will guide you to a joyous life and that is the light that you should share with the whole world. ------------------------------------------------------------

A FATHER�S FORGIVENESS

When I was a boy I always wanted to be a cowboy. I remember my Mom worrying about me getting sick from the heat in the summer, because I wore a thick blue sweater all the time. No respectable cowboy, however, would wear short sleeves so I sweated while I played.

I was overjoyed too when one day my parents gave me a bb gun. It looked just like a lever action rifle that all the cowboys used in the movies. I spent hours each day during those summer months shooting at stumps and pretending to be John Wayne. I even mastered the one-handed, swing, cock and shoot move I had seen him do in a movie once. At least that is what I thought. As I was coming into the house one afternoon, though, I tried it one time too many. The gun that I thought was empty let out a soft pop and a bb flew across the room and parted the hair of my Dad who was asleep on the couch. My Dad took one look at the bb hole a half inch above his head, walked over to me, took my gun, walked outside, and calmly broke it in half.

I didn�t cry too much over this. I knew how close I had come to hurting my Dad with my stupidity. I didn�t expect to ever get another bb gun either. That is why I was so surprised when my Dad bought me another one the next year. I guess he thought I had wised up enough to know how to use it this time. I never put a single bb in the new gun, but in my imagination John Wayne rode again.

I eventually outgrew my cowboy stage, but I never did outgrow my appreciation for my Father�s forgiveness. He showed me that even when I messed up in the worse way I was still loved. He gave me another chance and let me know that I was forgiven whether I deserved it or not. He shared with me some of the unconditional love and forgiveness that our Father in Heaven has for us all. May we always embrace and share that love and forgiveness as well. -----------------------------------------------------------------------

SWEET MORNING MUSIC

I love the sweet morning music that comes to the woodlands here in the Springtime. As I go out to walk my dogs at daybreak I can literally hear dozens of birds singing songs of love, joy, and delight. Often I pause our walk to just listen to the beautiful music of these feathered angels. The dozens of different songs float through the cool morning air to form a Heavenly symphony for my happy ears. They bring a smile to my face and a song to my own heart as well. They awaken the sweet morning music in my own soul as I watch the sun climb over the mountains, tell God how much I love Him, and thank Him again for my life here.

Of course, not all of the music in this world is so sweet. There are lyrics of loneliness in this world. There are notes of pain that can pierce your heart. There are songs of discord and disharmony that poison the air of our lives everyday. One thing that I have learned, however, is that while we can�t always control the music we hear in this world we can always control the songs that we sing.

What song is going to come from your spirit today? What lyrics are you going to sing? What notes are you going to play? Are you going to add to the sweet morning music that is so often around you or are you going to lend your voice to the disharmony that often comes your way?

The choice is yours. You can start your mornings with prayerful lyrics of love and thanks to your Heavenly Father who made you. You can fill your days with a melody of kind words for family, friends, and strangers alike. You can send a silent chorus of well wishes to every soul you pass on the street. You can share the harmony of help and happiness with your neighbors and the whole world. You can make your entire life such a sweet song of love that every angel in Heaven will want to sing along. -------------------------------------------------------------------------

GUARDIAN ANGELS

I believe in guardian angels. Since I was a boy I have felt watched over, loved, and protected by my unseen friends and I am so thankful to God for them. I have had far too many near misses with hurt and harm over the years for it to be mere luck. I guess my guardian angels are keeping me around for a reason and I will do my best not to make their work too hard in the future.

I also believe in guardian angels because I have seen one in action over the years. My oldest son graduates from high school this Spring. Through all of his years in school he has struggled with Autism. It has made it difficult for him to learn, to relate to others, and to function in this world. Thankfully, though, he has had a guardian angel with him every step of the way. His aide has been there with him through all the difficulties, through all the triumphs, through all the pains, and through all the joys. She was there when he first started to speak in sentences. She was there when he first started to read. She was there when he first started to make friends and play with the other children. She helped him through every frustration he faced and comforted him through every bit of sadness he had to endure. She helped him to become the happy and loving soul that he is today. She loved him, cared for him, guided him, encouraged him, and watched over him. She has been his aide, his friend, his second mother, and his guardian angel. Words can never express all the good that she has done for him. All I can say to her is "Thank you so much for being such an angel in my son�s life."

There are many guardian angels in our lives. Some are unseen, but some walk with us and help us everyday. Take the time then to thank God for all the guardian angels in this world. Take the time as well to thank all the guardian angels that touch your own life. But most of all take the time to be a loving, joyous guardian angel yourself to every hurting heart that needs you. ---------------------------------------------------------------------

THE WALK

Did you ever have one of those dreams that seemed to go on forever? I had one like that last night. I was walking down an old, side road that I used to walk along as a teenager. I wasn�t quite sure where I was headed, but I felt very determined to get there. Like in many dreams time seemed fluid and people seemed ageless. As I walked along I kept meeting people from both my past and my present. I saw both my Mom and my Grandma who have passed away and was able to give them both one more hug. I ran into many childhood friends and we talked, joked, and laughed just like we were kids again.

Still, I kept walking hoping to reach wherever I was headed. Around every curve, though, there was something new. I saw strangers in need and stopped to help them. I found ancient books and gemstones along the side of the road and shared them with others. I met a smiling, old man who happily shared his life�s wisdom with me and then I lovingly passed it on to young children further down the road. With every few steps it seemed there was a fresh adventure in learning and love. I never did get where I was going and woke up feeling like I had lived a lifetime in a single night. It bothered me for a bit that I never did reach where I was headed but then I realized that this dream was a lot like our years here. Maybe we are not supposed to reach where we are going, at least not in this life. Maybe it is the walk that matters.

As you walk through this life don�t keep your eyes so far down the road that you miss what is right in front of you. Life is a journey of joy. Life is a journey of learning. Life is a journey of love. Take God�s hand then and delight in every step you take. You will meet a lot of wonderful people and go through a lot of interesting experiences. And you might just want to reach out your hand and help up a few hurting hearts who stumble along the way. ------------------------------------------------------------------------

BOOKS

My dear friend and neighbor gave me some new books recently. As I looked through them I decided to follow the advice of one of my favorite authors, Leo Buscaglia. Taking Leo�s lead then I ignored the covers, skipped the introductions, and dived right into the middle of them. Opening each book halfway through I started to read. I have found that this is often the best way to see if a book can grab your mind, speak to your heart, and touch your soul. In the best books a few lines can say more to you than a chapter and a single page can enlighten you more than a dozen volumes. Both of my friend�s books did just this and I look forward to reading them from end to end.

Whether we know it or not each of us is writing a book right now. It is called our life story and we pen it every day we live and with every choice we make. Some people spend a lot of time working on their covers. They throw all their efforts into making them as attractive as possible. Other people spend their time writing and rewriting their introductions. They hope that a great introduction will lead to a great life. What all of these people don�t realize is that life is the pages that follow. Life is the thoughts we think, the love we share, and the good we do everyday. Life is the joyous times we create as well as the pains and trials we learn from. Life is work, play, kindness, laughter, family, and friendships. Life is living.

When it comes to your life story then don�t spend too much time on the cover and let the introduction write itself. Concentrate instead on filling the rest of your pages with living, loving, and learning and always let God be your co-writer. If you do your book will grab a lot of minds, speak to a lot of hearts, and touch a lot of souls with its wisdom and light. It may just end up being a classic both on Earth and in Heaven. -----------------------------------------------------------------------

FLYING HIGH

I was driving down the road on a warm, Spring day recently with my windows rolled down. I wanted to feel the wind on my face and smell the wonderfully sweet scent of the flowers in the air. It was my ears, however, that were blessed with sweetness as I slowed down for a school zone. The laughter of dozens of children filled the air as they ran and played on the playground. I heard several of them yelling with delight as they swung on the swing set. With each pass they flew higher and higher. It brought a smile to my lips, a warmth to my heart, and a flood of memories to my mind.

I remembered being their age. Us boys would always give the girls a push and then jump in the empty swings next to them and try to catch up. With our legs pumping we would soon be soaring through the air. We laughed at the thrill of freedom, at the joy of flight, and at the feeling that at any moment we could zoom into the heavens. I remembered later being a young father and pushing my own children on the swings. Watching their happiness was a bit of Heaven itself. I remembered as well one time my five year old daughter saying, "You swing too, Daddy!" I was embarrassed at first but once I saw my feet headed towards the clouds again all those wonderful feelings of childhood came rushing back. I was flying high once more. After that I always swung with my kids no matter who was there to see me.

I think that sometimes we forget that we were meant to fly and we need the children to remind us. God didn�t put us in this world to sit and suffer with our feet in a mud puddle and our eyes on the ground. He wants us to fly higher and higher in love, joy, and wonderful oneness with Him. He wants our spirits to soar into Heaven while still here on Earth. And most of all He wants us to give a push skyward to anyone who needs it. May you love well and fly high always. ----------------------------------------------------------------------

WHAT YOU CAN TAKE WITH YOU

I stopped at a local convenience store the other day to fill up my gas tank before heading back home. After pumping the gas I headed in, grabbed a pack of gum, and got in line to pay. In the front of the line was a tired looking woman, holding a toddler in her arms. Behind her and just in front of me was an older man with white hair and a white shirt. He smiled kindly at me and patiently waited while the woman struggled to hold her child while she counted out change with her free hand. She searched twice in her pocket book but still didn�t have enough money to pay for the two gallons of milk she had brought to the counter. I could see her lips tremble and her eyes moisten as she apologized and picked up one of the gallons to take back.

It was then that the older man stopped her. With a gentle smile he told the cashier that he would pay for the milk. The look of relief on the poor woman�s face touched my heart. She thanked the older man while he smiled again and said not to worry about it. As she exited the store I could see that her eyes were still moist, but this time the tears were for a different reason. As he paid for her milk and his own items the white haired angel in disguise smiled at me one last time. Then as he was walking out of the store he gave me a wink and said, "You can�t take it with you, you know."

What he said is true. You won�t need any pockets for the clothes you are buried in. Every dime you have made in this world has only been a loan for you to use for a short time. Still, there are a few things that the white haired gentleman and all of us will be taking with us when we do go to our final home. Every look of relief that we bring to another will go with us as will every bit of love we share and kindness we do. Every moment of learning and joy will come with us as well. And every smile that we bring to God�s face will be waiting for us when we get there. --------------------------------------------------------------------

YOU DON�T HAVE TO TELL ME TWICE

An early April snow had caught us by surprise here in the mountains of my home. Flowers that had just popped out of the ground a week before were now drowning in a sea of white. It felt like someone had turned back the clock two months. Slowly it grew warm enough for the snow to begin to melt in the late afternoon but soon the temperatures dipped again as the cold, evening air turned the melted snow into ice.

Early the next morning I walked out to my cars. I needed to take my sons to school and then had a 30 mile round trip to make after that. I wondered which car to take. My little one had the better gas mileage, but the tires on my bigger one were less worn. Just as I took a step towards my little car, however, my foot slipped on a patch of black ice and I felt my body hitting the driveway. I got up slowly and smiled. "You don�t have to tell me twice God!", I said before heading over to start the car with the better tires. After dropping off my boys at school I made the round trip safely. I felt my car hit patches of black ice several times, but each time the tires gripped and adjusted well. I found myself laughing and grinning even with my still sore left hip and shoulder. I was happy I had followed God�s guidance and I felt loved and watched over.

God�s loving guidance comes in many ways. You can hear its gentle whisper in your heart. You can listen to it come out in the touching lyrics of a beautiful song. You can see it in the wise passage of a book. You can notice it in an overheard scrap of conversation. You can feel it in the quietness of nature. You can even get it when you fall to the pavement of your driveway. However it comes to you, though, don�t turn away from it. Don�t make God have to tell you twice. Listen to Him the first time. Trust Him, love Him, and follow Him. He will take you to ever greater love, joy, and learning. He will keep you safe and lead you home. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

A LOVING THOUGHT

George Macdonald wrote that "If instead of a gem or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give." I can remember one of the first loving thoughts that was cast into my own heart and the angel who placed it there. I was a young boy and my parents, brothers, and I were spending the afternoon at the home of a family friend. This friend was the hymn leader at our church as well as the music teacher at my grade school. I remember I used to sit and listen to her play songs on her guitar for hours at a time. On this day my dad was outside once again working his mechanic magic or her ailing, old car. My mom was setting up a picnic for everyone and my brothers were in the yard playing. I was inside talking with our friend and listening to her sweet music. I don�t remember exactly what we were talking about, but I do remember at one point her saying, "Joe, for someone so young you already understand a lot about life."

That loving thought made a home in my heart that day. Before it I never cared much about understanding life, but just as a seed grows into a flower those kind words by that caring angel awakened a desire in me to understand as much as I could about life and living. It helped me start a journey that is still going on today. That gem of an idea that I could really understand what life was all about and that I could live my life as it was meant to be lived shined in my soul and kept me searching, learning, and growing.

That loving thought led me through pain, sorrow, and back home to God again. It led me to writing, sharing, and who I am today. It led me to the knowledge that God is love, that life is joy, and that we are all here to love and help each other. I hope you cast the gift of a few loving thoughts yourself today then. Why let the angels have all the fun? ----------------------------------------------------------------

THE HITCHHIKER

It was the middle of Winter and I was just getting out of a training for my job. The drive home was 25 miles and I needed to get on the road quick so I could get back in time to pick up my sons from school. I pulled my coat on and headed out to my car. The temperatures were below freezing, the snow was steadily falling, and the wind felt like a punch in the face. I hurried into my car and pulled out. I had only been driving a few minutes, though, when I saw him. He was dressed in an old, thin coat. His long hair and grey bread looked frosted from the air. In one hand he held 3 grocery bags. The other hand was up, hitchhiking in the swirling snowstorm.

I don�t usually pick up hitchhikers because with 3 grown kids and one small car there usually isn�t room. This time, however, I pulled over fast and opened the door for the shivering man. He wasn�t headed to the same town I was but I agreed to give him a ride halfway home. For the next 12 miles then we rode and talked. It was one of the most enjoyable and enlightening conversations I�d had in a long time. We talked of education, money, my children, the kindness of strangers, and even touched on spirituality. My passenger was a retired school teacher living on a fixed income, but he didn�t let having little money and no car keep him from experiencing life to the fullest. In fact, only one of his 3 bags had actual groceries. Another was full of books and the third carried a new plant for his home. He reminded me again that appearances can be deceiving and that the brightest souls often come in disguise.

I felt sorry for all the other drivers who passed by this fine man. They missed out on a great talk full of wisdom and joy. They missed out on meeting a shining soul still sharing his light. They chose fear and lost. May you always choose love instead. May you help your neighbor whenever you can. And may you treat everyone you meet as God in disguise. ---------------------------------------------------------------------

FOUR-LEGGED COMEDIANS

Here is a riddle for you. What is black, white and brown, has eight legs, and can do 60 miles an hour down a carpeted hallway? Do you give up? The answer is two puppies playing together. Yes, we have a new puppy in the house named Lemmy. He came about when I mistakenly assumed that our male Saint Bernard was way too big to ever get our little female mixed-breed pregnant. Now at two months old Lemmy is living proof I was wrong. He is already as big as our six month old beagle pup, Snoopy and I am sure he will one day be as big as his dad too.

Watching Lemmy and Snoopy charging down the hall always brings a smile to my face. They chase, pant, and chew on each other. They bounce, roll, and run. They go faster and faster until their legs tangle and they end up in a pile of fur at the foot of the couch. I delight so much in the joy they bring. They remind me that the greatest happiness comes from a playful spirit and a loving heart. They remind me too that fur-filled carpets and teeth marked shoes are a small price to pay for a laughing soul.

The theologian Karl Barth once said that "Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God." I thank God then for giving me so many four-legged comedians to grace my life. My house may be small and crowded but I always have a lot of furry heads to pet on. My furniture may be worn and fur covered but I can get a warm snuggle or slurp on the chin whenever I need one. My home may not be the neatest place but it is full of playful puppies and lots of laughter.

I think God knew what He was doing when He brought dogs into the lives of people. Dogs help us to see that life is meant for joy. They help us to see that play can be just as important as work. They help us to see that happiness comes from within. And they help us to see that love and laughter are the greatest gifts of all. May you share them always with dogs and people alike. ----------------------------------------------------------------

EMBRACING SPRING

After a long, cold, and rough Winter I am patiently counting the days now until Spring arrives here in the mountains of my home. It will be so glorious to see the rebirth of the world once again. Soon the first dandelion will cautiously poke its head through the ground to delight in the newly warm air. Soon the Apple, Dogwood, and Cherry trees will awaken and fill their limbs with brilliant and fragrant blossoms. Soon the mountains will turn a thousand shades of green as the leaves appear and every glance at them will bring a smile to my face. Soon the meadows will be full of fresh, new grass that will an inviting carpet for any barefoot child to walk on. Soon the skies will be full of returning birds and their Heavenly songs will make my heart sing as well. Soon the gentle breezes will carry the dance of the butterflies as they float happily from flower to flower. Soon the beautiful sounds of talking neighbors, laughing teenagers, and playing children will fill the air as everyone ventures out to enjoy the mild temperatures and golden sunshine.

When those days get here I will embrace them with all of my heart, soul, and mind. I will look to the Heavens as well and thank God for once again bringing new life to this world. Most of all, though, I will seek out the Springtime within myself and continue to share it with everyone I meet.

You see, God blesses the world with Spring once a year but blesses us with Spring everyday of our lives. Each time we pray, share our love, spread our joy, stop to help another, or do a single act of kindness it is once again Springtime in our souls. Embrace the Springtime in within you then no matter what the season. Live from the eternal Spring of life, goodness, and love that God gives you and help Him renew this world each and everyday. Spring is the season of new life. May your Springtime last forever. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

FAITH

"What does faith feel like?" That was the question a friend sent me in a letter the other day. As I was thinking about how to answer him a single memory kept coming back into my mind. I was 5 years old and very sick. The doctors told my Mom that my tonsils were swollen, infected, and needed to come out. Surgery was scheduled for the next day and I spent the night in the hospital with my Mom sitting at my bedside. She told me gently not to be scared, that she was there for me and would be right here when I woke up after the operation.

The next morning the nurses gave me something to sleep before surgery and the last thing I remembered before going under was seeing my Mom�s smiling face. That is until I suddenly woke up to find myself surrounded by strange adults wearing masks. I had come to just before the operation was to begin. My young heart was filled with terror and I sat straight up and screamed "Mommy!" as loud as my painful throat possibly could. The next thing I remembered was seeing my Mom�s loving smile again in the recovery room. She held my hand, whispered words of comfort, and brought me a bowl of ice cream. Even though my throat still hurt I wasn�t scared anymore. I felt loved and everything seemed right with the world again.

That is what faith feels like to me. It is feeling loved, cared for, and watched over. It is knowing that no matter how painful or scary life gets you need only to call out to God and He will be there for you. It is having the gentle touch of His hand on your spirit and the loving whisper of His voice in your heart. It is even enjoying the delicious, ice cream filled days of happiness that He gives you here. Most of all, though, it is knowing that you are His Child. Your Heavenly Father loves you joyously, powerfully, and perfectly. Have faith in His love then. Rejoice in your birthright. And share your love with the world. --------------------------------------------------------------------

SOMEBODY LOVES YOU

When my children were young I used to read to them every evening before bed. One of their favorite stories was called, "Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch." Mr. Hatch was a lonely man living a lonely life. He never smiled. He walked alone to work everyday and ate his lunch alone in a corner. He never talked to anyone on his way home either. In the evening he would buy a newspaper, read it after supper, and go to bed early.

His life changed, however, on Valentine�s Day when he got a heart shaped box in the mail full of candy and a note that said, "Somebody loves you." At first he couldn�t believe it but as he let the message sink in he began to laugh and dance around. That single message had opened his heart to the power of love. Soon he found himself sharing his smile and laughter with others. He became a joy at work and began to help out people in the neighborhood. As the days and weeks went by his laughter, smiles, kindness, caring, happiness and love touched the hearts of everyone in his community.

Later Mr. Hatch found out that the candy heart had been delivered to him by mistake. He felt crushed and began again to withdraw from the world. When his neighbors found out, however, they were determined not to lose the light he shared. They surprised him with a party and a huge banner that read: "Everybody Loves Mr. Hatch." Mr. Hatch cried when he