Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!

LIVING IN LOVE AND JOY

By: Joseph J. Mazzella

You can buy my books WALKING THE PATH OF LOVE and A JOURNEY OF LOVE on Amazon.com

FLICKERS OF LIGHT

It was June a few years ago right around the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. A few weeks earlier the first fireflies had appeared blinking their lights on and off in the woods around my house and the meadow in my backyard. What a joy it was seeing them again. Their little flickers of light made me smile with delight and I thanked God for them.

Now as the daylight was starting to fade I saw out my window some of the neighborhood children attempting to catch the slow moving lightening bugs. One of the girls went inside and came back with a clear, mason jar. After chasing a few without success she finally caught a firefly inside it. All the other children gathered around to watch it flickering its light on and off inside the jar. Soon darkness started to fall and the children’s Mom walked over to them and told them it was time to set the firefly free. One of the girls protested but the Mom explained that the firefly would die if left in the jar. Then she said something that still stays in my heart to this day: “It is time to let this little guy go so he can share his light with the rest of the world!”

I think that is what God in His Love wants of all of us. He wants us all to share our light with the rest of the world. He wants us to give our love to others. He wants us to keep shining even when it feels like just flickers to us. I remember when I was a child we all used to sing the song, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine!” But as adults we find it hard to do so. We dwell on the darkness too much and in fear keep our light hidden away.

Don’t hide your light. Don’t keep it in a jar. Share your flickers, no matter how small they may be. Let the love inside you out. Let the glow within you drive the darkness away. Let God’s love light up your heart and then give it to the whole world. Learn from the lightening bugs. Take your little light and “Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!”-----

WAKING UP AT NIGHT

Until I was 11 years old my Mom, Dad, two brothers and I lived with my Nana in her 70 year old, ramshackle wooden house. Then one fateful night a fire burned it to the ground. We all escaped with our lives but we lost everything we owned. Thankfully, our loving, caring community helped us and soon my Dad was able to get us a low-income house. My Nana, however, didn’t join us. Instead she bought a small 2 bedroom trailer a few miles away. I missed seeing her everyday but soon enjoyed my visits to her new home and the delicious meals she made me there. Plus, she had a luxury in her home I had never seen before, cable television.

I can remember the first time I stayed overnight with her. I watched TV until long after she went to bed. Then when I turned it off a strange feeling came over me. This was the first time I had ever stayed up later than my Mom, Dad, or Nana. And suddenly the world seemed a dark, scary, and lonely place. I quietly walked to my Nana’s room and watched her snore peacefully until the feeling passed and I felt I could sleep.

I will tell you a secret, though. Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night now 44 years later I still get that feeling. I am still not used to being the oldest generation alive in my family. I still miss Mom, Dad, and Nana every single day. And at times this world still feels like a cold, dark, lonely, and scary place.

In truth no matter how old we get a part of us is still a child. A part of us still needs a parent’s love. A part of us still needs to be held and comforted. That is why when I wake up at night in the dark I say a little prayer to our Heavenly Father. It is not to ask for anything but to just reconnect with His Love and Light. And that Love is always there waiting for me when I do. Always remember then that you are LOVED, even when you feel alone and scared.------

A ROCK IN THE ROAD

Driving the curvy, mountain roads where I live can be both a delight and an adventure at times. In the Summer the beauty of them is amazing. Buttercups, daisies, dandelions, and Queen Anne’s Lace line the hills along them. Majestic trees full of lovely, green leaves hang over them. It is such a sight. Yet, you are also constantly on the lookout for potholes; deer, skunks and squirrels crossing the road; as well as fallen tree limbs and rocks that have broken loose and rolled down the side of the hill.

I came upon one of those rocks just the other day. I saw a sedan swerve around it and the truck just ahead of me straddle it. I swerved too and then quickly pulled over to a wide spot. I knew a rock that size would rip the guts out of a low riding car like mine if the driver didn’t see it in time to move. I walked over and picked up the mini-boulder. It must have weighed 50 pounds but with a few grunts and groans I got it into the ditch and walked smiling back to my car.

The incident reminded me too of an old Zen story I had read once. “In a far away land a King had placed a huge boulder in the road leading to his palace. Many nobles walked by and around it complaining that the king didn’t keep the roads up better. Finally a poor peasant arrived hauling a cart of vegetables. He stopped and using all his strength rolled the rock off the road. Then he saw underneath of it was a bag of gold coins that the king had left for the one who cleared the path for those who came after.”

Now while there wasn’t any bag of treasure under the rock I moved, my heart did feel a little more golden as I walked back to my car. I think maybe God puts these rocks in our roads so we can strengthen ourselves by moving them. Maybe the real reward is the Love we feel, the good we do, the joy we scatter, and the kindness we share. Maybe each rock we move, moves us a little closer to Heaven. Maybe each path we clear makes our souls clearer as well. I hope you travel your own rocky road then with strong arms, a smiling face, and a happy heart.----

A MILLION BUTTERCUPS

The middle of May is one of my favorite times of the year here in the mountains of my home. The trees are all full of light green leaves that glow almost golden in the sunshine. The temperatures are not too hot yet. The air is cool and smells fresh. Mommy and Daddy birds are building nests and raising babies. Butterflies, bumble bees and even hummingbirds are flying about from flower to flower. And the sweet sound of birdsongs mingles with the laughter of children playing outside.

There is one sad part about it, however. There comes a point where I have to mow my yard and cut down my buttercups. I always mow around the little, yellow flowers the first few times I cut my grass but at some point they get a foot high and I have to mow them too. I always apologize to them when I mow them down but I am encouraged in seeing that each Spring there are even more of them. It started with just a few buttercups in my yard here and there but now the entire front part of it is filled with them. Each year their seeds scatter and they multiply more and more making the next Spring more beautiful than the last. It is not just in my yard either. I see them in the meadows, the cow fields and along the sides of the roads. Each year millions of buttercups bless my eyes and warm my soul with their simple beauty. Each year they give me one more reason to thank God for this beautiful day, this beautiful world, and this beautiful life.

Our lives are a lot like these flowers as well. I often encourage people to freely add their love and joy to the world, but the truth is it isn’t just addition. It is multiplication. Each smile you share brings out the smiles of others. Each kind thing you do brings out kindness in others. Each loving choice you make helps others to choose love too. Our lives are like buttercups scattering seeds of love and beauty and making this world a better place.

Live each day then like it is the middle of May. Share your love. Shine your light. Scatter your goodness wherever you go. Make your life as beautiful as a million buttercups. And know that your Heavenly Father is loving you, smiling down on you, and watching over you just like the flowers in the fields.-----

ALICE

For a long time now we have had a fat, fluffy, black, stray cat in our neighborhood. Sometimes I see her sitting on my porch. Sometimes I see her laying in my backyard. Sometimes I see her hiding under my car. Sometimes she even sneaks under my house through a crack in the underpinning. Each time I have approached her, however, she has run away. Finally, I gave up and decided to respect her independence. I even kept the crack in my underpinning so she could stay under my house on the cold nights. She more than paid her rent by keeping the mice away. We seemed to have a nice, little business relationship going.

Recently, though, something strange happened. This independent, loner, stray cat decided to adopt my daughter, Beth. Each time Beth walks over to my house from her place up the road she is greeted by the stray. The cat walks between her legs, marks Beth with her whiskers, purrs, and meows until she gets petted. It has happened day after day until this morning Beth left her a bowl of cat food as well. I guess that sealed the deal because Beth even started calling the stray, “Alice”. I doubt Alice will ever consent to become an indoor cat but she seems to have made Beth her forever friend and surrogate mother. It makes me smile seeing such a dog person getting such love from a stray cat, but Beth has a kindness and love that draws all sorts of animals to her from dogs, to cats, to birds.

Isn’t it amazing how Love works its way into our hearts and lives? We are minding our own business and suddenly we have a new pet, or a new friend, or get a moment to share an act of kindness. Love is such a glorious God-given tapestry and we are all connected through it.

Let Love work its way into your heart every chance you can then. Let your love flow into the lives of others as well. Because to love is to truly live and to live is to truly love.-----

IN THE RAIN

After sneezing my way through mowing our pollen filled yards yesterday I was pleased to see it was raining this morning. The grass had been dry and the pollen had been high so it was nice to get some showers to give the yards a drink and my nose a break. It also brought a freshness to the air and a coolness that made the morning pleasant. There is nothing quite like a rainy day in Spring and the simple joys it brings.

As a boy I hated rainy days. They meant I was stuck in the house and couldn’t go out to play. It was only as the years passed that I realized that without rain there could be no water and without water there could be no life. Now I look at each gentle rainfall with a smile and know that God is giving this world and us the water we need to live.

Of course, we all prefer the sunshine to the rain. The sun gives us light. It energizes us. The white clouds and blue skies just naturally make us feel good. The rain on the other hand seems to depress us. The gray clouds sap our energy and we don’t want to go outside. I am not sure why this is. Maybe our Heavenly Father designed it this way so our farming and hunting ancestors would take the hint and stay safe, warm, and dry inside by the fire on rainy days. Maybe rainy days gave them a chance to rest up for the next day in the fields. Maybe rainy days made them appreciate the sunshine even more when it returned.

The truth is rain is a gift from God. Without it there could be no life. Without it there could be no growth. Without it there would be no morning coffee or afternoon tea. I think when I go out in the rain today then I will send a prayer of “Thanks” up to God, smile when it drips off my head, and perhaps even jump in a puddle or two. May you smile through all the “rain’ that falls in your own life. May you find love, joy, and growth in both the sunshine and the rain.-----

A TOOTHLESS SMILE

I was in a local thrift store the other day. I love shopping there. It isn’t just that you can get bargains on used items, but it is the experience of being there that I enjoy. It is calmer and more peaceful than the big box stores. It isn’t as lonely as shopping online. And you also get to meet so many good people and have so many interesting encounters. You can even learn a bit about life and love there.

I learned something there just the other day from a tiny teacher who was much younger but much wiser than me. I was looking at the used books on the shelves for sale while my son was checking out the old DVD’s and CD’s. Suddenly, I felt a gentle pressure on the pinky finger of my right hand. A little hand was wrapping its fingers around it. I felt a warmth climb up my arm to my heart and looked down. A small boy no more than 18 months old was looking up at me with love. He had toddled under the clothes racks and ditched his Mom for a moment. I bent down, picked him up in my arms, and smiled at him. He grinned back with a toothless smile and sparkling eyes. Then he wrapped his little arms around my neck and gave it a squeeze.

Just as he did his Mom saw where he was and ran up to take him and apologize. I told her there was nothing to apologize for. Her son had given me a great gift, a wonderful moment of pure, unconditional love.

“Love one another.” This command was given to us over two thousand years ago. Yet, so many of us ignore it. We grow up guarded, fearful, and angry. Sometimes it takes a tiny teacher with both innocence and wisdom to remind us what it means to love again. I thank God for the one I got that day and I am so happy to share his message with you. Make your own life a gift of love then full of joy, kindness, laughter, hugs, squeezes, and smiles. -----

A SINGLE PIECE OF TRASH

It was a lovely Spring morning here in the mountains of my home. The sky was blue, the sun was out, and the air was warm. As I drove along the curvy roads I could see thousands of wild flowers in bloom. When I rounded a curve I slowed as I saw some volunteers picking up trash along the side of the road. I smiled as I saw them doing some “Spring Cleaning” for Mother Earth and my mind floated back in time to another Spring day long ago.

When my children were younger we used to walk a graveled trail around the lake near our home. One Spring day my daughter and I noticed just how much trash was lying along the trail. The next day then we brought a big trash bag with us and started to slowly, step by step, pick up the trash along our way. There were pop cans, plastic water bottles, wrappers for candy bars, empty chip bags, pieces of broken fishing line, and even an old discarded shoe. We stopped and picked up each one and even fished a few pieces of garbage out of the edge of the water. By the time we had circled the lake the bag was nearly full.

Tired but happy we put the bag in an empty trash can. We stopped before we headed home too and took one last look at the lake as the sun set. It looked more beautiful than ever and I felt like God and the angels were looking down upon it with us and sharing our smiles.

I know that at times this world’s problems can seem overwhelming and you wonder what you can do to make a difference. But the truth is EVERYTHING you do makes a difference! Every time you stoop to pick up a single piece of trash you make a difference in God’s world. Every smile you share makes a difference. Every helping hand you extend makes a difference. Every prayer you pray makes a difference. Every kind word you say makes a difference. Every loving thought you think, every hug you share, every flower you plant, every animal you save, every thing you do, no matter how small, makes a difference in this world.

Make your difference today! Share your love. Shine your light. Live your life. Pick up a piece of trash. And make the angels smile.-----

A WHIFF OF SPRING

The up and down, back and forth, twisty and turny weather of March had carried over into the first few weeks of April this year. We had clouds and sunshine, rain and snow, below freezing frost in the morning and t-shirt wearing 70 degree sunshine in the afternoon. Even the heater and AC unit were taking turns in my house. But at last we seemed to get enough sunshine and warmth for Spring to “really” arrive here. Apple and Cherry blossoms appeared on the trees. The grass started to green and grow again. And the flowers finally started to shoot up through the dirt and bless us with their beauty and wonderful scents.

Just this morning I took a nice, slow stroll in the sunshine through my neighborhood. In it I saw yellow daffodils, purple phlox, crocus, hyacinth, and multi-colored tulips all blooming at once. I also saw hillsides covered in thousands upon thousands of dandelions with their little, yellow faces smiling in the sun. I could even smell the “Spring” in the air. After a long winter of smelling only smoke from wood stoves it was a pure joy smelling all of these flowers again. I even got down on my knees and bent down close to enjoy the smell of each one. I was amazed too at how God gave each species of flower it’s own unique scent.

I walked back home with a smile on my face and a peace in my heart. This whiff of Spring had lightened my spirits, brightened my day, cleared my mind, warmed my heart, and touched my soul. I felt the Love of God in every living thing and I thanked God for Love, for this world, and for this life.

Like a flower in the field each one of us is unique as well. We are special. We are beautiful. We are a part of God’s creation and we each have our own unique talents and love to share. Let this world get a whiff of who you really are then. Make your life a gift to everyone.-----

A SINGLE HUG

It is strange how a single moment can change a person’s life. It is incredible how one simple act of love can forever transform one’s soul. My adult son walked to the table this morning for breakfast and as he did he opened his arms to me. I opened my arms too and gave him a big hug just like I do every morning. And this time when I did a beautiful memory came back to me.

My Italian Nana had been a big hugger when I was a boy, but my Mom had grown up in a more reserved household. She hugged me sometimes but less often as I grew into my teenage years. My Dad too seemed to follow the gender roles of the day back then and didn’t hug me much as I got older. By the time I was a teenager then, except for my Nana, I didn’t hug anyone.

When I was sixteen I left on a trip with a group of boys to tour a Seminary College in the Mid-West. And on our way there we also stopped by an old Monastery. As we entered we were greeted there by the largest monk I had ever seen. He was over six and a half feet tall with huge arms and a booming voice. And as he greeted us he gave each one of us a HUGE HUG. When my own turn came I felt scared but stepped in and hugged him back. I felt a warmth in my heart as he shared his loving-kindness. I felt a peace and joy in my spirit as well. It was amazing. Later that day I began to wonder why I had ever stopped giving and receiving hugs when they brought so much joy. When my own children were born then I decided to never stop hugging them and telling them I loved them, no matter how big they grew or how old they got.

I will be forever thankful to God and that monk for showing me how much love a single hug can share. What use are arms, after all, if we can’t use them to hug each other. What use are lips if we can’t say “I Love You!” God gives us countless ways to share our kindness and joy here. Let’s use them all. Let’s share our love, one hug at a time. -----

SEE BEYOND THE SMELL

I was driving along with my son the other day when it happened. It went through the car’s engine, out of the AC vents and up my nose. I groaned, coughed, and gagged. My eyes even watered a bit. It was the ultra strong stink of skunk spray. I shook my head and blinked my eyes. “Well at least I know it’s Spring now!,” I said to myself and laughed.

Every Spring along with the first flowers the first dead skunks appear on the side of the roads here. Like a lot of animals they come out of hibernation this time of the year. Unlike the others ,though, they don’t run from the oncoming cars. Their instinct is to stop and spray and while it works on predators and the occasional curious dog it fails miserably against 2000 pounds of steel coming at 50 miles per hour. Thus, our roads become littered with the poor stinky guys and you always get a whiff of each one as you drive past.

I do feel sorry for those dead skunks. I used to hate them as a boy especially when my dog came home stinking of skunk spray time after time and year after year. He never did learn and it was up to Mom and Dad to scrub him clean again. He didn’t seem to understand either why they wouldn’t let him right back into the house with his “delightful” new odor. After a while I realized that he was just being a dog and the skunks were just being skunks. There was nothing I could do but laugh and accept it.

Sometimes life literally stinks. Sometimes you stop to smell the flowers and get a nose full of skunk instead. What you do during these times, however, is up to you. You can hate, curse, and complain or you can love, laugh, and accept. God never promised any of us a perfect smelling life. God just promised that we could love, learn, and laugh our way through it. It us up to us to see beyond the smell. It is up to us to find God’s goodness in all things. May you always do so.-----

THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE

It is funny how the fabric of our lives seems to go on and on but the fabric of our clothes, not so much. It was a few weeks ago when my son showed me the hole in his jeans. Further inspection showed that both of my sons’ pants were worn out and getting holes. And while their shirts were in better shape both of my sons had “grown” as well. While their adolescent growth spurts had stopped ten years ago, their aging bodies and slowing metabolism had made their bodies grow out and their shirts grow tight.

I spent the afternoon then first at the thrift shop and then at the department store picking out new blue jeans and better fitting shirts. It was a lot of work and I was tired when I got home. I took off the tags and put up their new clothes then I gathered up the old ones to toss in the trash. The jeans were more than garbage ready but when I grabbed their shirts to throw out I felt a little nudge in my heart and in my mind. I knew at once what it was. It was what Abraham Lincoln had once called: “The better angels of our nature.”

These better angels knew that most of the shirts had a lot of good wear left in them. They shouldn’t be thrown away when someone less fortunate could use them. I smiled to my God and my better angels then and laid out the shirts. I carefully looked at each one to see if any were too worn out. Those I tossed but the rest I stuffed back into the big thrift store bag to donate the next chance I could. As I put them in my car’s trunk too I felt a joy in my heart. It was like God was looking at me with Love and the better angels both above and within were smiling at me as well.

Always listen to those little nudges in your heart and mind. Always listen to the better angels of your nature. They are the voice of God within. And they will always lead you to more love, more giving, and more joy. They will always lead you to a better you.-----

A SNOOZING BEAGLE

It is amazing the things you get used to in this life. It is amazing the things you miss when they are gone. It was the start of Daylight Savings Time, the night when we all move our clocks forward an hour. I didn’t want to wake up too early and I didn’t want to sleep in too late. This, of course, only caused me to over think things and wake up during the middle of the night.

When I woke up, though, I was disturbed by how quiet the room was. The desk fan was on low and the electric heater had kicked on and was running noisily but it still seemed strangely quiet to me. Something still seemed missing. It was only then I realized that I didn’t hear a snoozing beagle snoring away. My beagle dog, Snoopy had passed away over a year ago. As she had gotten older and her health had declined she had started to snore loudly when she slept. If you could rate her snoring on a volume knob she would be cranked up to an eleven. At first I had found her snoring annoying. It made it harder for me to fall asleep myself. Yet, as time passed it became pleasing. She became my own personal white noise machine and when I woke up during the night her snoring would comfort me and ease me back to sleep.

Now her snoring was gone and it was so quiet. My new rescue dog, Sweetie slept silently curled up in her corner. I sighed and remembered all the joy Snoopy had given me over the years. She never judged me, she never argued with me, and each day she gave me the gifts of laughter and unconditional love. I smiled and hoped Snoopy’s snoring wasn’t keeping the angels awake in Heaven. Then I thanked God for all of our furry friends and the happiness they bring.

Life here is short for dogs and for us. Embrace each second of it. Enjoy the pleasures it brings. Share your love with God and all of His creatures. Live each day like it was your last. And thank God for all of His gifts, even if they are a dog that could snore like a freight train.-----

THE LIBRARY CAT

I have always loved libraries ever since I was a boy. When you would go in the smell of the books promised fresh adventures, new learning, and wonderful imagination in their pages. Over the years I have read more books than I can count and visited the local libraries more times than I can remember. Now with the age of the internet and so many faces in screens instead of books I am concerned places like these will begin to fade away and we will lose all the joy they bring.

I stopped off at the library nearest my home just the other day. It was right off from the local grade school and had been my home away from home since I was young. I opened the door and walked inside. The librarian greeted me warmly and on the desk next to her sat a beautiful, black cat. The librarian explained that she was the library’s adopted cat and introduced us. Even though I knew I would get a royal sniffing from my dogs when I got home I scratched the cat gently on the head and smiled.

I gave the librarian a book I wanted to donate and then strolled into the back room to look at the books for sale. It was only a few seconds, though, before I had a visitor. The black cat had sauntered back to the room. She stretched. She sharpened her claws for a moment on the furniture. Then she jumped up on the shelf. She meowed and bumped her head up against my hand hoping that I would start petting her again. I smiled and complied. I petted her head, stroked her fur, and spoke sweetly to her while she rolled on her back and purred at me.

I thought that if only we could let our guard down and love as easily and openly as this cat then this world would be a lot more like Heaven. Maybe we all would be better if we traded in stretching for stress and naps for fighting. Maybe we would all be happier if we let our needs be known and took time out of our day for a little love and affection. I gave my new, furry friend a few more pets then walked out into the day thanking God for this moment of learning and love.

This world is full of wisdom. This world is full of love. God lets us learn it from people, from nature, from books and libraries, and occasionally from friendly cats. May you embrace it all. And may you share all you learn as well.-----

UNLEASH YOUR SPRING

It was a morning in March here in the mountains of my home. The weather forecast had called for another 5 inches of new snow for the weekend. But for the moment March was allowing Mother Nature to unleash a little Spring here. The golden sun was slowly rising over the trees. The temperature was inching up from chilly to warm. In the yard among the brown, dead leaves, a single dandelion had popped its yellow head up and was soaking up the sunshine. Morning music filled the air as dozens of different birdsongs were creating a chorus of joy. Fresh buds were showing up on the branches of my Maple tree. A black, bushy stray cat was laying leisurely in the sunshine after a night of being on the prowl. A few flies and a hornet were flying about as well. And overhead I could even see a majestic eagle riding the wind currents with its wings outstretched.

I breathed in the brisk breeze and smiled. Even in the graveyard behind my home there was a sign of new life. A single bunny rabbit was there and he looked at me for a moment. I looked back and felt a wave of peace and joy within me. Finally he hopped away and I wished him well. I gazed up at the clearing clouds and bright, beautiful sunshine and thanked God for the day. It had been a very long Winter and I was looking forward to the coming Spring.

Sometimes this world gives us a lot of Winter. We get frozen with fears, snowed under with problems, and darkened with pains. It is in moments like these, though, that God asks us all to unleash our inner Spring and share it with the world. Never be afraid then to share your Spring. Remember in the end light always dispels darkness, warmth always conquers cold, kindness always overcomes hate, Love always defeats fear, and God always brings new life to us all. May you have a happy Spring then every single day of your life.-----

WHO ARE WE?

I stopped to take a peek at my 55 year old face before shaving this morning. The wrinkles around my eyes and on my forehead were deeper than ever. My face’s baby fat had fled long ago. My thin skin was speckled with age spots. The black hairs on my balding head had mostly been replaced with gray ones. There was some white whiskers on my chin too. All in all I was looking older than ever. Still, when I smiled my wrinkles crinkled and I liked how they looked.

I have often said that there is a young person trapped in every old person’s body. But this isn’t entirely true. The truth is there are many people inside there. Part of me is still that little boy who longs to sit on his Nana’s lap or to run into his Mommy’s arms. Part of me is still that struggling adolescent fighting through his hormones and trying to figure out life at the same time. Part of me is that young adult working so hard to get ahead but often falling further behind in life’s rat race. Part of me is a middle aged man with more peace, love, and joy than he had in his younger years. Part of me is even a wise old man striving to share what he has learned about life and love with everyone willing to listen. The truth is all of these people live inside of me and help make me who I am. Yet, I know that I am much more than just them.

Who are we? We are more than these aging bodies that carry our souls around. We are more than the hormones that rage through us. We are more than the years we have lived. We are more than the things we have learned. We are more than our thoughts and feelings. We are MORE!

Who are we? We are beloved Children of God. We are eternal souls in temporary bodies. We are beings of light. We are spirits of joy. And we are only here for a short time. Let’s use it all living, learning, and loving. Let’s use it all growing closer to God. Let’s use it all deepening our wrinkles by sharing a million smiles.-----

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD

I knew I wasn’t adopted when I was growing up. My older brother, Eddie and I looked too much alike and our faces were the perfect combination of our Mom’s and Dad’s. Still, I did feel different. My oldest brother, Tony was confident and outgoing. He could tell a story that kept you smiling and laughing all the way through. He still can, in fact. Eddie was also confident and had so many friends. He could also muster a booming voice that’s served him well as a teacher and coach. I, on the other hand, was quieter, more shy, and less outgoing than my brothers. I spent more time reading books. I wanted to learn everything. Being several years younger than them I also spent more time playing alone. I wasn’t as lonely as you would think, though. My imagination was a great companion in my solitude and part of me enjoyed the quiet of it all.

Looking back on the long and winding road of my life now, however, I can see that God in His Love and Wisdom made no mistake with me. Yes, I was different but God made me just the person I needed to be to live the life I have lived. My reading so much led me to start writing as well. My desire to learn everything helped me to tackle the biggest questions about love, faith, kindness, joy, life, and death and to share what I learned along the way. My pleasure in a quiet life made it easier for me to work from home and care for my two handicapped sons. Looking back on that long and winding road after having traveled it for 55 years I realized too that I was walking with God all the way. He was helping me to be who I needed to be, to do what I needed to do, to learn what I needed to learn, and to love the way He wanted me to love.

God makes no mistakes. He made each of us different for a reason. We each have a unique purpose in this life. It is our job to find it, to live it, and to love it. And as you walk down the long and winding road of your own life remember who walks with you every step of the way.-----

THE TRUE TREASURE

The television this morning was hyping some new adventure movie about the hunt for a treasure ship full of gold. It reminded me of all the other movies just like it I had seen over the years. Later in the day I was at the gas station in line to pay for a filling up my car when the guy in front of me traded a handful of cash for a handful of hope in the form of Lotto tickets.

Where did this desire for treasure come from? I know I myself am guilty of it. As a boy I would walk in the woods and daydream of finding buried treasure there. Then as an adult I would fantasize about some unknown relative leaving me a fortune or of my two self-published books miraculously becoming best sellers. Maybe we all just think that having a lot of money will solve all of our problems and make our lives easy, happy, and perfect. Of course when I see all the rich and famous people on television I can see that they aren’t that happy and that they have their own unique set of problems.

Maybe the real problem is that we are all looking for the wrong treasure. There really is a true treasure out there that will make our lives so much better and the most amazing thing of all is this treasure is absolutely free. This treasure is GOD’S LOVE. God loves us all so much and when we invite His Love into our hearts and lives we become rich, our days are filled with smiles, and our lives are full of joy. When we have God’s Love inside us the problems of this life lose their power over us and while our lives may not be perfect, they are happy.

The true treasure of life is already inside of you. You just need to open the chest and spend it like crazy. And the funny thing is the more you share it with others, the more of it you have within yourself. Embrace God’s Love for you then. Share it with the world. It is a treasure that does not decay or disappear. It is a treasure that lasts forever.-----

A SNOW DAY

Getting a snow day off from school was a rare occurrence when I was a boy. A couple of inches on the roads wouldn’t do it. A few more inches might cancel the buses that ran up the hollow roads but the town kids and the ones who lived on the main roads would still have to go to school. It really took an overwhelming Winter storm to cancel school for everyone.

I can still remember those few special snow days that I got growing up. First I would wait for the announcement to come over the radio then I would smile a big smile. Having a snow day meant that I could watch all of Captain Kangaroo instead of leaving part way through to stand in the bitter cold outside and wait for the bus. Later in the day I would go outside and play in the thick, wet, heavy snow. I would make snowmen, race my sled down the hill, and have a snow ball fight with my brothers. Sometimes I would just look around and take in the beauty of God’s Winter wonderland. When I got too cold and wet I would go inside, sit in my comfy chair by the wood stove and reread my favorite, old books with my dog curled up on my chilly toes. In the afternoon I would sneak into the kitchen and see what Mom and Nana were cooking for dinner. Once Mom even let me help take the rosemary garlic chicken and potatoes out of the oven. It smelled so good. I can remember it to this day.

After dinner I would cuddle next to Mom on the couch, under a blanket, eat popcorn, and watch TV until bedtime. Then I would pull my sheet, blanket, and quilt up to my chin while my dog curled up on the bed by my feet. I would think back on the day with happiness before falling into a deep, peaceful sleep.

I think all of us should take a few snow days in our lives, if not in our activities then at least in our hearts. We should make time for the important things. We should stop and see the beauty all around us. We should play, read, eat, laugh, and sing. We should thank God for this precious life and all the joys in it. We should make time for loving instead of just making a living. May all your days feel like a Snow Day then, be they Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall.-----

ONE ORNERY PUPPY

It was a cold, Winter’s day. Even with clear skies and the sun shining down the temperature hadn’t gotten above 10 degrees all day long. I listened to the heater kick on and zipped up my sweater. I had finished with all my work and now just wanted to relax and read in my nice, warm bed. I fluffed up a pillow behind my head, turned the television to the music from the 70's channel and opened up my book. I smiled, laid back, and got ready to take it easy. I should have known better.

“SWEETIE, NO!”, my son yelled from the living room. Suddenly in flew a four-legged bundle of brown fur. She jumped on my bed, burrowed behind my pillow and stuck her head on my shoulder. “Sweetie, what have you done now?”, I asked. She didn’t answer just looked at me guiltily with her ears down, her eyes squinted, and her lower teeth sticking out. I laughed when a I saw her this way and petted her head to let her know I forgave her. Already that day she had barfed up bits of her chew bone, tore up the corner of my quilt, and peed in the floor when I was putting on my coat to walk her. I kept petting her while her body relaxed and her resting guilt face slowly turned into a happy pant. Then she licked my cheek and nibbled my ear with her under-bite. I laughed again and said, “Sweetie, I love you but you are one ornery puppy.”

I sometimes wonder what my life would be like without dogs in it. My house sure would be cleaner, the furniture wouldn’t be chewed on, the floors wouldn’t be scratched, and dog hair wouldn’t be all over my clothes. But I would also have a lot less laughter, a lot less love, and a lot less joy in my life. I think I would take a dog’s love and a dirty house any day of the week.

Of all the blessings and gifts God gives us in this life, I will always put dogs right at the top of the list. They are our best friends and greatest teachers of love, even the ornery ones.-----

WHEN A CAN OF COKE COST A QUARTER

When I was a boy I lived across the road from a 4-H camp. For nine months out of the year the camp was mostly empty and my own personal playground. I would ride my bike up and down it’s quiet, paved roads pretending to win the Star Wars’ X-wing fighter battle above the Death Star. I would shoot basketballs alone at the court and no matter how many times I missed the lay up I was still Dr. J winning the championship game in my mind. I would even explore its woodlands having adventures and looking for buried treasure in my imagination.

In the Summer when the camps arrived I would swim every day at the pool. Then I would sneak into the Camp’s kitchen to get a treasure of my own. My smiling Nana worked there and would sneak me a hot roll and a quarter from her apron. I would take my treasure down to the pop machine and buy me a sweet can of Coca Cola to quench my thirst and lighten my heart.

Those memories are over 40 years old now, yet they still live in my mind like it was yesterday. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to when a can of coke cost a quarter and talk to that little boy. I would tell him to enjoy and cherish each day he had there even more than he already did. I would tell him that every moment here is a gift from God. I would tell him to be here now and to try not to blink because the years were going to fly by faster than the Millennium Falcon. Most of all, I would tell him to stop and hug his Nana every chance he got.

Life here seems so short at times. The longest life here still seems too brief to learn all we have to learn, to do all we want to do, and to share the love we need to share. Maybe that is the point. God wants us to realize just how finite life on this Earth is. He wants us to see the preciousness of each and every second. He wants us to spend them all learning, loving, laughing, and growing in joy. May we all do so. May we thank God for today and live it like it was our last.-----

A BAG OF GROCERIES

“Five carts deep again,” I groaned. I was back at the grocery store again trying to pick up another week’s worth of groceries for me and my family. The big store seemed even more crowded than usual that day. When I’d finally gotten everything on my list and was ready to check out I saw the lines at the cashiers were 5 deep again. The store had cut back on cashiers more and more lately. Most of their employees were working as personal shoppers now for people placing orders and picking them up. I didn’t mind that so much but I did wish they had kept more people working the check-out lines instead of forcing most shoppers to use the self check-out area. It saved them money but added to the stress of shopping in the store.

Most of the people in the lines were older so I decided to not add to their wait and instead check myself out again. I pushed my cart over to the self check-out section. There was even a wait here too but I saw one person was almost done. A lady had her full bags laid out on the metal table to the side of the machine. She tried to put them all in her cart quickly and apologized for making me wait. I said not to hurry and it wasn’t her fault it was so crowded. As she pushed her cart away, however, I noticed she had left one bag of groceries behind. I quickly grabbed it and chased after her. When I caught up she said, “Thank you so much! God bless you!” I smiled and said, “You’re welcome.”

As I walked back to my cart, though, something was different. I felt blessed and I no longer was stressed. Her words had brought a peace to my heart and a smile to my face. In exchanging a simple act of kindness for a blessing, I had come closer to God and to my own humanity.

This modern society seems designed to isolate us and pull us apart. It puts profits over people. It worships money instead of God. But God in His Love, Wisdom, and Power uses a million moments to bring us back together. He uses blessings and acts of kindness to heal our hearts and touch our souls. He weaves a Tapestry of Love that connects us all in ways that we can’t comprehend. He even uses a lost bag of groceries to bring joy to two people. May you take your place in His Tapestry then. May your life be full of love, kindness, and blessings always.-----

A FOOT OF SNOW

“Doctor’s say men over 45 shouldn’t shovel snow because of an increased risk of heart attack,” the morning news droned from the television. “Well that’s not good to hear,” I said. I looked outside at a foot of freshly fallen snow as I put on my coat. I didn’t have just a single driveway to clear either. I needed to shovel out paths down my hill to my cars and over to my daughter’s house. I had two porches to clear, two cars to clean off, and two driveways to shovel. I also needed to shovel out a good spot for our short-legged dogs to pee and poop outside.

I sighed, zipped up my coat and stepped outside. The temperature was a bone-biting 2 degrees Fahrenheit and a brisk breeze was blowing too. I felt the icy air hit my lungs and I licked my chapped lips. I grabbed my snow shovel and bent down to shovel out the first path. I knew this was going to take quite a while and said a little prayer that my 55 year old back would hold out.

Bend, shovel, lift, drop I went as I slowly worked my way through the snow and cleared out the paths, porches, and driveways. I stopped from time to time to breath in the cold air, look around, and take in the beauty of God’s winter wonderland. I went inside only once to warm my frozen fingers and switch to a thicker pair of gloves. But then it was back outside to finish the job. It took well over an hour to do it all. When I was done I smiled and watched my frozen breath float away. The good news is that my heart beat strong and didn’t attack me at all. My back stayed intact. And the only time I did fall down was to make a snow angel in the yard.

In this life we are constantly flooded with fears and scary news. Through it all, though, it is good to remember a few things. God loves us! This is God’s world. And we are all here for a purpose. We are here to Love. We are here to help God save this world. We are here to cherish each and every day we have, even if it does involve shoveling a foot of snow.-----

UNANSWERED PRAYERS

When I was a freshman in high school I fell in love with a girl. She didn’t know it, of course. I never spoke to her and only admired her from afar. She was what you would call, “Out of my league.” She was a year older than me. She was also pretty, perky, and popular. Puberty on the other hand had hit me with the subtlety of a semi running over a possum. I was skinny, pimply, gangly, and gawky. I was also painfully shy around girls. I can remember that at the I time I didn’t pray much or even talk to God. There came a moment, though, when I asked God for the courage to speak to this girl. Then I walked up to where she was chatting with a group of friends, opened my mouth, and froze. My heart pounded in my chest, I couldn’t speak, I turned around fast and walked away. In my mind I was screaming, “Why God Why!” but I got no answer. I didn’t pray for a long time after that and never approached that girl again. After a while I moved on to the other agonies of adolescence and forgot about her.

The other day, however, that moment came back to me. The radio was playing the song where Garth Brooks thanks God for unanswered prayers and that memory popped into my mind. Looking back now I think God in His Love probably spared me the pure pain of being shot down in flames by that girl. Even if by some miracle she had liked me, talked to me, and dated me it might have thrown off the entire journey of my life. I might have gone to a different college. I might never have met my future wife or had the three wonderful children who have blessed my life with so much light and love. I might not have found the faith that I have today, learned what I have about Love, or helped the people I’ve helped. I might not even be writing this now.

In this life we get both answered and unanswered prayers. But through them both God shows us His Love. May we give thanks for them both and share our own Love all of our days here.-----

A CLOSER CONNECTION TO HEAVEN

It was a cold afternoon in Winter. The temperature hadn’t gotten above freezing all day long. The wind was blowing and the clouds were overcast. I was driving home. I looked out on the cold, gray day full of mid-winter’s gloom but it didn’t bother me at all, because I was carrying a lot of light and warmth in the car with me. A spontaneous shower of laughter erupted in the seat behind me. That would be my 29 year old son, Casey. In the seat next to me my name sake, his 34 year old brother JJ joined in the laughter as well. Both of my sons have struggled with Autism and mental handicaps all of their lives. Yet, while this limited them intellectually, spiritually they were on a level far above my own.

Casey possessed a smile, a laughter, and a joy that were contagious. I sometimes thought he could see the angels all around us that I couldn’t. JJ knew more people by name than I did. He was always ready as well to share a smile, a friendly greeting, a gentle laugh, and a spirit full of love and good-cheer. Both of them seemed to have a oneness with God that all of us “normal” people found much harder to achieve.

I had to admit too that at times I’d been jealous of my boys and their closer connection to Heaven. I’d even wished more than once that I could trade places with them. In the end, however, I loved them, embraced them, thanked God for them, and realized that both of them were my greatest teachers in how to live and how to love.

When it comes to gaining a closer connection to Heaven we all can take a lesson from our “Special” teachers. They may not be able to explain it in words but they always show it in their lives. They do so day by day, moment by moment, and choice by choice. They share their love freely, purely, and unconditionally as God asks. May we all do the same.-----

A SINGLE SHAFT OF LIGHT

It was the week after Christmas a few years ago and I was harboring a nasty case of the post- holiday blues. I had always been light-sensitive and the thought of the long, dark Winter ahead was depressing. During Christmas the lights, music, decorations, food, family, fun and loving spirit had kept me smiling but now it was Just Winter. And I wasn’t looking forward to it.

In addition to this the weather had been up and down all December long. I had hoped for a light snow to brighten the landscape that day but instead the temperature had risen a few degrees and we were getting a gray, gloomy rain instead. It had soaked through my shoes and socks too leaving my feet feeling blue with cold. I shivered. I just wanted to get back home, pull on a warm sweater and some fresh socks, lay on my bed and daydream of Spring. As I headed toward my house I saw the rain pounding the brown, dead grass in my backyard meadow and looked at the leafless trees in the woods behind it. The whole world seemed unloved, lifeless and lonely. “It’s going to be a long Winter”, I said dejectedly.

Just at that moment, however, a crack appeared in the sky and a single shaft of light shown through. My heart leapt up to meet it and I could feel the love that sent it. It seemed like God was shining this Heavenly light just for me, to lead me out of my darkness, lift me out of my depression and light a little candle in my own soul. I smiled and laughed. I gazed at that single, shaft of light for as long as it lasted. Then I closed my eyes and simply said, “Thank You!”

There are times in our lives when we seem lost in the cold and the dark, times when this world seems to be getting the best of us. It is then that God often sends us a single shaft of light to warm our hearts, brighten our souls, and lead us back to our own love. Embrace and cherish each one you get. And don’t forget that sometimes you can be that light to others as well.----------

THE PERSON NEAREST YOU

It was a rainy, damp December day. I was headed to the store to pick up another week’s worth of food. I had put off shopping for Christmas presents until later in the month but wasn’t looking forward to the crush of Christmas shoppers while I grabbed my groceries. I kept the CD player on while I drove to avoid the radio news. It only spoke of the world’s huge problems and how divided we all still were. And it usually just left me feeling helpless.

Still, I gave my son a dollar to put in the Salvation Army bell-ringer’s kettle at the door to the store. We went in and soon filled our cart with food. Then we walked towards the self-checkout machines. I hated using them. I much preferred to chat with the friendly cashiers, but the line at them was five deep and I just didn’t have the time. As I pulled my cart up, though, I heard the man at the machine next to mine grumbling under his breath, trying his hardest not to curse. He only had a few items but every time he put his moldy, wrinkled, well-worn, twenty dollar bill into the machine it spit it back out. I quicky grabbed a newer twenty out of my wallet and gave it to him. He thanked me with a warm smile and paid for his goods. I told him to keep his money but he insisted that I take his old, torn twenty. I nodded, put it in my coat pocket, and wished him a Merry Christmas.

After checking out I remembered something Mother Teresa had once said about how we all can change the world. “Help one person at a time,” she said. “And always start with the person nearest you.” I reached into my pocket, smiled, and went outside. Then I dropped that torn twenty into the bell-ringer’s kettle and walked to my car happily humming a Christmas carol.

God loves us all so much. And God wants us all to change the world with our love. It is easier than it looks too. Just start with the person nearest you.-----

MY CHRISTMAS ANGEL

Growing up as a boy I am sure that I gave my guardian angel premature gray hair. He probably had to take early retirement too. There is no other way to explain how I cheated death and injury so many times. I was often reckless, sometimes hurt, and had more near misses than I can remember.

One near miss that I do remember happened one year on the last day of school before Christmas break. We lived next to a river in my Nana’s old house. An old, rickety, wooden swinging bridge had to be crossed to get there from the road. We’d had several days of cold, winter rain before this so the river was up and roaring. On that last day of school, though, the temperatures had dropped, and snow had started to fall. When I got home there was a few inches on the bridge already but I didn’t care. I had my “bridge legs” from years of walking on it, so I started running across it, happy to be home. What I didn’t realize was that water spots on the wood had turned to black ice before the snow covered it. I slipped on one and fell. The bridge swayed and I started to slide toward a hole in the rusted wiring along the sides. It looked like I was going to go through it into the freezing water raging below. I started to scream, but just as my feet reached the hole I felt something grab my coat, pull me back, and keep me from falling into the river.

I looked back and wondered if my coat had caught on a lose nail, but it hadn’t. There was no one there either and no footprints in the snow but my own. I got up slowly, wiped the snow off my clothes, and carefully walked the rest of the way home. I was puzzled about what happened in my child’s mind. I soon put it all out of my head, however, and enjoyed my Christmas with my presents and loving family. Yet, looking back now I wonder if there was someone else there too, smiling but unseen, loving and protecting me without me knowing it.

God loves us so much and God sends us protectors both seen and unseen. Give thanks to God today then for all the miracles and angels in your own life. And have a very Merry Christmas.-----

A BLESSING IN DISGUISE

It was the day after Thanksgiving. Gray clouds covered the sky. The air was biting. The temperature was below freezing. It was spitting snow. And the internet was out. Now I have found that having the internet out can be a pain in the butt or a blessing in disguise. I decided that day to make it the latter, work off my turkey tummy, and get a few things done.

After the regular housework was done then I pulled the air conditioning units out of the windows on my daughter’s and my houses and put them up for the winter. Next I walked into the storage closet and pulled out the Christmas decorations and the artificial tree. I unpacked my Nana’s Nativity scene with a smile and placed it lovingly on my old record player. Then I set up my Christmas statues of Santa and Dickens’ carolers on the mantle along with the Christmas angel. Next I unpacked, assembled and put up the tree. After that I pulled out the lights, tinsel and ornaments. I put each one on the tree gently and with great care while my son played Christmas music and decorated his own room.

In no time at all everything was done. I looked at the tree and then outside again. This time, however, it didn’t seem so cold, gray, and gloomy. Instead it felt warm and Christmas seemed to be in the air. Even the snowflakes floating in the wind felt more like a gift from Heaven than a curse from nature. I heard “Away in a Manger” coming from my son’s CD player and hummed along. I could feel God’s love too all around me on this Wintery day. I walked back over to my Nana’s Nativity scene and gently touched the baby Jesus. Then I thanked God for this day, for this life, and for the internet being out.

This life certainly can seem full of pains in the butt at times. It is up to us, though, to make each one a blessing in disguise. May you do so with love each and every day of your life.------

THE MUSIC WITHIN

I am not sure how many years ago it was. I know it was a while back because I still had a cassette player at the time. I had a lot of housework to do. I was tired of television and was in the mood for music. I pulled out one of my favorite cassettes then and put it in the player. It started to play but before long a loud squeal happened and the music stopped. I opened the player and saw the tape in the cassette was all pulled out and twisted. I tried the old pencil trick to get the tape back in place but it was already broken beyond repair. I frowned. I didn’t want to risk another of my cassettes with a tape eating machine, but I really wanted some music.

Then I noticed my ancient record player in the corner. I walked over and dusted off the top of it. I pulled out an old record of my Mom’s that my Dad had given me after she died. I turned on the record player and gently put the record on the turntable. “Pop!” “Crack!” went the record for a second as I put the needle down. Then a beautiful melody from my childhood started to play. I smiled and started to do my housework. The sweet songs I grew up on slowly started to stir my soul. I felt the music within coming out of me. My spirit felt like singing so I started to sing, letting my weak, raspy voice join in joyously with the songs. I even dared to dance a little while I did the dishes and didn’t drop a single dish. I smiled and laughed. My heart felt so happy. And in that moment I could feel the love of God and the joy of the universe all around me. It was like God was saying, “This is how life is supposed to be!”

These days all of my music is on CD’s. My daughter says I am behind the times. She says I should break down, buy a smart phone, and download all the music I want. But instead I think I will dust off those old records again, put them on that record player, and sing and dance along. I will remember Mom and thank God for the music inside us all.

We all have music within us just waiting to get out. God gives us all a life to live, a love to give, a light to shine, and a song to sing. Don’t let your music die within you then. Share your song with the world. And don’t forget to dance a little too. -----

ALL IS WELL

Something was wrong. Something was wonderfully wrong. I knew in my mind that my old beagle dog, Snoopy and my daughter’s Saint Bernard mix, Lemmy had passed away this last year. Yet, there they both were playing and romping and chasing each other in my back yard. They seemed younger too. Snoopy had been in ill health for the last years of her life and Lemmy had lost the use of one of his legs before he died. But here they were running and barking and playing tag like a couple of puppies. It felt so good watching them. My spirit felt so alive. My heart felt so full and I was laughing with joy.

“Beep, Beep, Beep!” My alarm clock went off and I opened my eyes. It had all been a dream but what a blessing of a dream. My eyes were damp with tears and my face was still smiling. As I woke up two thoughts filled my mind too. “God loves you!” and “All is well!” I reached down and felt my newest rescue dog, Sweetie licking my hand. I got up, got dressed and took her out for her morning walk just in time to greet the sunrise. As I watched those beautiful, brilliant colors paint the sky those two thoughts remained with me: “God loves you!” “All is well!”

Yes, this world can be a mess at times. It has wars, hunger, climate change, pandemics, illness, conflict, and yes, even death. But this is also God’s world. He put us here to learn, to live, and to love. And some of our best teachers are our furry, four-legged friends. That dream reminded me that two of mine are in Heaven waiting for me with wagging tails and a lot of love.

Don’t let life’s pains and problems steal your happiness then. Instead follow the wisdom of our furry friends and bless this world with your love and your joy. Each day when you wake up be thankful for the gift of this life. Each day take the time to be aware of its blessings. And always remember: “This is God’s world!” “God loves you!” “All is well!”------

COOKED WITH LOVE

It was about ten years ago. It was a cold, gray and gloomy Winter’s day. A steady rain was falling that soaked my clothes and chilled my bones. I was walking over to visit my Dad and although his house was only a short walk from mine, I was already wet and miserable. I knocked on his door and stepped in. A warm steam was floating from the kitchen. It touched my nose and suddenly I was eight years old again. Dad was making Nana’s special sauce.

When I was growing up every Sunday after church Nana would make us an Italian feast. She would slow cook her spaghetti sauce for hours. She would throw in olive oil, salt, sugar, pepper, bay leaves, parsley, and garlic. Then she would drop in potatoes, chicken, meat balls, sausage and sometimes even steak. When it was done cooking we would mix in the spaghetti, fix up the plates, and sprinkle on the grated cheese. It always left our bellies full, our hearts happy, and the house smelling Heavenly.

I sat down while Dad made me a plate. It felt so good having a meal like we used to when I was a boy. We talked about those old times and laughed over the memories both good and bad. And I noticed something too. I didn’t feel cold anymore. Oh, my clothes were still soaked from the rain but my heart was warm, my spirit was light, and both my face and stomach were smiling.

Dad and Nana have been gone for years now. I still miss them both every single day. And although my daughter and I both know how to make Nana’s special sauce we don’t cook it as often as we could. Maybe it is because no matter how hard I try I can never get it 100% right. I think that maybe I am missing an ingredient. Or maybe it was just the Love with which Nana and Dad cooked it that made it so delicious. Either way this Winter I am going to make some again. I need its warmth. I need its goodness. And when I cook it with love, I know that Nana and Dad will be smiling down on me from Heaven. May all your meals be cooked with love then. May all your days be filled with love. May your entire life be lived with love. And may you always feel God’s love smiling down on you.-----

HOTDOGS

“Well, we could use some hotdogs.” I was at the local Catholic Charities food pantry. They had a thrift shop attached to it where I would sometimes stop to pick up a sweatshirt or a CD for my sons. Once in a while, though, I would also step back into the food pantry and ask if they needed anything. I had needed the help of food pantries myself a few times when I was a young father struggling to feed my own family and it felt good to give something back now.

This time I could see that most of the shelves were stocked with canned foods and boxes of dry goods donated by stores and larger food pantries. One thing they said they needed was meat, however. Hotdogs were cheap and I didn’t mind getting some for them with the few extra dollars I had. I soon found myself in the local grocery store finding a brand that was on sale and filling my cart with as many packs as I could afford.

As I was paying for them too my mind flashed back to my own childhood. I could see my Mom cooking two hotdogs in a pot of boiling water. Next she put each one on a slice of white bread with a piece of processed cheese. To top it off she would add a little squirt of ketchup. Then she would hand me the plate with her gentle smile and I would devour my lunch. It didn’t cost much but to me it was a feast, cooked with love, and eaten with joy.

That memory was still warming my heart as I dropped off the hotdogs to the food pantry. It felt good knowing that some other little boy or girl out there would soon be having a happy lunch too. I left the pantry with a smile on my face. And as I walked to my car I could feel God and my Mom smiling down on me from Heaven.

The truth is when done with Love, giving and receiving are the same thing. It all comes back around again. By helping to feed those little kids that day I was also feeding the soul of that little boy I was long ago. By sharing my love with others I was also opening my heart to receive ever more love from God. May we all take our place in God’s great circle then and fill our days with giving, our hearts with thankfulness, and our lives with Love.-----

A CHANCE MEETING

I had a chance meeting the other day. I was walking into a local convenience store when a voice called out to me. It was my friend, Rod. We had first met in kindergarten and he had been one of my best friends all through grade school, high school, and into college. Fun loving and free spirited, Rod had gotten me into trouble more than once growing up. He had also been a fountain of laugher and good cheer and my childhood had been so much better with him in it. He moved away to find work and it had been at least 30 years since I last saw him. Now we were talking, trying to catch up 3 decades in a few minutes. I also noticed something strange about him. He looked in a word: OLD.

Now truth be told he looked much better than me. He was thinner and fitter. He had fewer wrinkles. His hair was thicker and had a lot less gray than mine. But while I get to see my own daily deterioration in the mirror each morning my picture of Rod was stuck 30 years in the past. We said goodbye and wished each other well and I went home feeling both young and old at the same time. Part of me wondered where the last 30 years had gone and part of me remembered those joyous childhood memories like they were yesterday. It was very confusing.

Have you ever felt like you were just passing through this life? Have you ever felt so old in your body but so young in your soul? If you have then you can understand what I was feeling then. Part of me was a 55 year old man with grown children and part of me was a 5 year old boy laughing with my friend and staying awake during nap time at Kindergarten.

I think that chance meeting with Rod wasn’t quite so chance, after all. It was another little reminder from God to cherish each moment this life gives you and to love and laugh each and every day. Life goes by so fast here. You blink and 30 years have gone by. Still, I know there will be a time when we can spend eternity catching up with our family and friends. It will be in a place where noone grows old and the love, laughter, and light last forever. Until then I will do my best to stay young inside, to cherish each day, and to share my love with everyone. May you do the same.-----

AUTUMN YEARS

We are having an unusual Autumn this year here in the mountains of my home. First the Summer weather seemed to hang on forever. Its hot days stretched through September and into October. Then when the Fall like weather did arrive it really kicked the leaves into high gear. Usually here the Maples change first blessing us with their bright, beautiful reds and lovely, peaceful yellows. Then as their leaves fall to the ground the Oaks begin to change giving us their deep burgundies and earthy browns, making the hills around us rich and rusty.

This year it seems all the leaves are turning at once, however. The Maple and Oak trees are reaching the peak of their colors at the same time. It is such a glorious sight. Driving along the mountain roads today I was in awe of the intense beauty. The sun was playing peek-a-boo in the clouds, popping out to shower sunshine on the leaves in different moments and adding to the wonder of it all. Part of me wondered if this is what Heaven looked like all the time and felt like singing. In the back of my mind, though, was the knowledge that in a few more weeks all the leaves would be down and the hills would be full of stark, skinny skeletons covered in gray bark.

Thinking of this made me take a look at my own life. I was now entering my own Autumn years. I have lived here for 55 years and if God wills it I may get another 25 to 30 at the most. How was I going to live them? Was I going to spend the last part of my life at my peak, sharing my love, light, and true colors with the world? Or was I going to simply shed my leaves and spend the remainder of my days here as a stark, skinny skeleton?

Then I heard the warm voice of God in my heart say: “Choose!” And in that moment I did. I thanked God for a beautiful day, a beautiful world, and a beautiful life. And I promised to add my own love to it for all the days I had left. May you do the same.-----

A PIECE OF PIZZA

I can’t remember if I was nine or ten years old. I do remember that it was the last day of 4-H camp. I was looking in the mirror and checking my face for bruises. The day before for some silly reason I had gotten into a fist fight with another boy. It didn’t take long for the bigger boys to pull us apart and call it a draw, but in truth I had lost. My head was still sore from a couple of the blows the other boy had landed. We hadn’t talked since the fight either but only stared coldly at each other from across the room of our cabin.

Still, I was in a good mood this morning because I knew my Mom was bringing some of her homemade pizzas as a treat for my brother, me, and our friends. Soon I saw her walking up the sidewalk towards the steps of our cabin. She had been bringing these pizzas to us every 4-H camp for years now. I saw her smile as my brother and his friends all grabbed the big cut pieces. She made sure, though, to save the last two pieces for me. I thanked her with a smile of my own and started to eat when I saw my fist fight opponent standing off to the side by himself. In that moment something moved in my heart. I walked over to him and gave him one of the pieces. We talked and laughed and ate. And for some reason unknown to me at the time, the pizza tasted better than ever before.

I can see now that what moved my heart was the finger of God. Our Heavenly Father was watching down on me that day and working a little miracle inside of me. He was moving me to forgive, to give, and to love. And I am so happy that I followed His guidance.

Henry Drummond wrote: “You will find, as you look back upon your life, that the moments when you have really lived are the moments you have done things in the spirit of love.” May you really live then. May you forgive, give, and love. And may your pizza always taste delicious. ------

MY GRANDFATHER

Is it possible to miss something you never had? Is it possible to miss someone you never knew? The answer is Yes! I never got to know either of my grandfathers growing up. They both died before I was old enough to remember them. I still had my Mom, Dad, and Nana but it wasn’t quite the same. We lived several miles from town. Dad worked long hours at his job as a mechanic. Mom and Nana were always busy keeping the house clean, the gardens growing, and our family fed. My two brothers were seven and five years older than me. I spent a lot of time then playing alone. Most of the time I had my dog and vivid imagination to keep me company but there were times that I really wanted someone to talk to, to take a walk with, or just to sit in silence beside.

It was then that I would imagine what it would be like to have my grandfather with me. It would be so great. We could take a walk up the railroad tracks holding hands and watching the leaves change in the fall. We could sit on the bank by the river and listen to the music of the water running over the rocks. We could have long talks where I poured out the problems I was struggling with. My granddad would listen quietly, smile, pat my back, and say something simple, yet profound that would ease my pain, lighten my load, and touch my heart. Looking back now I think I did have a wonderful grandfather even if only in my mind.

I think spending all that time alone with my imaginary granddad helped me during those lonely times in my life. He let me imagine who he was and he let me imagine who I wanted to be. I think a lot of what I imagined him to be too was sent to me from Heaven above. I think my Heavenly Father wanted me to know my earthly grandfather if not in person then at least in my heart, mind, and soul.

If your granddad or grandma is still alive then don’t just sit there. Go give them a hug. If they have already passed on to Heaven then send them your love on a prayer. Keep the memories of their love close to your heart too. Let them help you share your own love as well. Let them help you become the person you always wanted to be.---------

BAREFOOT IN THE GRASS

It was officially the last day of Summer but it felt more like Fall. The air was finally cooling down. The first leaves were changing colors on the trees and some were even dropping to the ground. The hummingbirds had flown south for the Winter and I was seeing fewer bees and butterflies. The sky above me was turning gray and sprinkles of rain were falling down. The wind was blowing and I could smell that a heavier rain was on its way. I walked inside and kicked off my shoes but then noticed the overflowing trash can in the corner. “I’d better take this down before it starts to storm”, I thought to myself.

I grabbed the bag and looked down at my shoes. Then I smiled and headed outside without them. It felt so good to be barefoot in the grass again. Even though it was cold and already wet, the lush, green carpet felt alive under my feet. I smiled through the sprinkles and I could feel the child inside me giggle. It had been awhile since I’d let him out to play. My aging and achy body may not have felt like dancing in the rain but my heart and soul sure did. I looked up, laughed, and thanked God for the day. It didn’t matter if it was cool and damp outside. My heart was warm. My soul was light. And my child within was enjoying the last day of Summer.

Why is it that we keep our inner children locked up so much? Why don’t we let them out to play more often? It is they who truly live in the Now. It is they who embrace the joy that each day brings. It is they who love the most purely and unconditionally. It is they who bring us closer to God and allow us to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. ,p>The next time you get a chance to walk barefoot in the grass then don’t let it go by. That child inside of you wants to come out and play. That child inside of you wants to come out and love. Don’t always be an adult. Let yourself be a happy, joyful Child of God instead.-----

A SERIES OF EVENTS

“This used car is beginning to be a pain,” I thought to myself. First the battery had died in the first few months that I had it. Then a recall notice had arrived in the mail shortly afterwards. This meant driving it to a dealership 25 miles from my home and sitting for 2 hours while they replaced the faulty parts on it.

I had driven it in 2 weeks earlier only to hear that the right parts weren’t in stock and I would have to reschedule. Now here I was again pulling it in and looking to spend most of the morning sitting in a hard plastic chair. I dropped off the key and walked into the waiting room. Every chair was full and the all news channel was droning on loudly from the television on the wall. I smiled to myself and decided to try something a little different. Instead of parking my rump I walked down the road to grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant. Then I decided to walk a quarter of a mile in the other direction and buy a gift for each of my sons at a thrift store. I started off at a nice pace. It felt good walking in the sunshine. I knew, though, that I would have to cross a four lane road at the traffic light to reach the store and the drivers on it wouldn’t be on the lookout for a pedestrian.

I reached the traffic light and saw that I wasn’t alone. A black dog with a bright purple collar was standing next to me. He seemed eager to cross the road but also afraid to do so. “Wait!” I said firmly to him. He looked up at me with understanding brown eyes. Just then the light turned green. “Come on!” I said and the dog followed me as I ran across all four lanes of traffic. As we reached the grass on the other side he glanced at me once more before his nose caught a familiar scent in the air. He trotted off happily and somehow I could tell from his walk that he was headed home.

I could see clearly too that this was no random series of events. Buying this car, getting the recall, having to go back a second time, and the full waiting room had all put me in this spot, at this time, to help this dog get home safely again. I realized again that we are all connected in this universe, connected by events we can’t even imagine, connected by God’s Love in a billion different ways. All we need do is embrace it and add our love to it as well. May you always do so.---------

ONE GOOD WORD

I loved my first grade teacher. Her name was Mrs. Gross but there was nothing gross about her. She had a such a sweet smile and kind way about her. I wasn’t sure what her age was at the time but she already looked very grand-motherly. She was soft spoken and had a very gentle sense of humor. Unlike some teachers she never yelled at or criticized her students. To me it felt like having a second grandmother as my teacher. Every day I arrived at her classroom and sat happily at my desk with a big smile on my face. Throughout all my years of school I always remembered the times I spent in her classroom the most fondly.

One such memory is still with me to this day. We were doing subtraction math problems that were printed on the chalkboard while Mrs. Gross walked through the classroom checking on our work. I finished first and lifted my head up just as Mrs. Gross walked up behind me. She looked at my work and smiled. Then she said: “This is really good work, Joe. You are a very smart boy.” As she walked on she gently touched my shoulder and I felt a tingle in my heart. It felt so good to be seen. It felt so good to be appreciated. From that moment on I always tried my best. I always worked hard. I always wanted to be as smart as she thought I already was.

Would I have done as good in school or in life if I hadn’t had Mrs. Gross as my first grade teacher? I don’t think so. She awakened a desire in me to be the best person I could be. With her gentle love and encouragement I started down a wonderful path that I am still on today.

David Whyte wrote “People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand.” I think the good words Mrs. Gross gave me helped me to share my own good words with others. I think the love and kindness she showed me helped me to give love and kindness to others. Mrs. Gross showed me just how much effect one soul can have on another. And I thank God for putting her in my life.

In this life we give much more than we realize. Every kind word, every loving act, every helping hand is a treasure in the eyes of God. And the goodness we share has effects that ripple out through the entire universe. Fill your days with good words then. Make your life a gift of love. Help God make a better world by being the best you.----------

A POSSUM IN THE DAYLIGHT

Some people say life is full of coincidences. Some people say life is full of synchronicity. I say life is full of God: guiding us, connecting us, watching over us, and protecting us. Looking back over my own life I have seen countless instances of God’s love and protection.

One such moment happened when I was still a struggling, substitute, school teacher. At that time, over 30 years ago my wife, baby son, and I lived at the end of a long, winding, curvy, mountain road. On this day I had gotten a last minute call to work at a school 15 miles away. I was hurrying up that road to be there on time. My old car was hugging the curves and I was making good time when I saw up ahead a fat possum waddling across the road. I was surprised to see him in the daylight because I knew possums were nocturnal. I quickly hit the brakes so I wouldn’t turn the little guy into road kill. Just as he made it to the side of the road, I started to move my foot from the brake back to the gas. Suddenly, a tractor trailer roared around the curve, over the center line and halfway in my lane. The driver saw me, jerked his steering wheel back and just missed my car. If that possum hadn’t caused me to slow down just a little bit the Semi would have crushed my car and probably killed me as well. I drove on a little slower and safer but still made it to the school on time. I also kept saying: “Thank You God!” over and over all the way there.

Now was that possum in the daylight just a coincidence? Or did God wake up the night dweller from his morning nap and put him in the right spot at the right moment to save my life? I choose to believe the latter. Things like this have happened far too often for me not to.

God loves us all so much. He watches over us and protects us in so many ways. And He fills our lives with little miracles, even a possum in the daylight...

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

The new, “used” car that I bought just three months ago wouldn’t start the other day. The factory battery that came along with it decided that it had worked long enough and chose to take an early, permanent retirement. My kindhearted neighbor gave me a jump but the battery stubbornly wouldn’t hold the charge. After getting one more jump then I headed to the local auto parts store to buy a new one. Installing it was way more complex than we thought, however, so I took it to a local mechanic who finally got the new battery in and the car running once again.

Driving it this morning, though, I noticed that the time and date on the screen in the dashboard had suddenly gone back in time nine years, resetting to the original date of the first time it was started. While my son smartly figured out how to program it back to today I pondered about all the times I had wished I could go back in time and undo some of the mistakes and missteps I had taken in my own life.

How many of us wish that we could go back to a certain time and change things? How many of us wish that we could go back to a crossroads in our lives and take the road not taken? I know that I have wished that before. Yet, when I look back on my life today, I think that I wouldn’t change anything. Every choice I have made, every step I have taken, every road I have traveled has led me to where I am now. Yes, many of my choices have brought me pain in the past, but they have also brought me wisdom for the present. I wouldn’t want to change things if they would then change me. All that I have learned, all that I have become, comes from the roads I have taken.

When you look at your own life then don’t regret the roads not taken. Instead rejoice in the path you are on, the things you have learned, and the love you have shared. All roads lead back to God. Some are just a lot rougher than others. Keep your feet moving forward. Keep your heart towards Heaven. And take the straight path HOME. Your Loving Father awaits you there.