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
ANOTHER CLOSE CALL
When I was in college I didn’t own a car so whenever I visited home for the weekend I had to catch a ride with a friend. On one of these weekends my friend, David and I were driving back to the school. He was taking a shortcut to the main highway along a gravel road mainly used by coal trucks. He was driving like a typical teenager, way too fast. Suddenly, as we rounded a curve we saw a coal truck coming straight at us. There was no time to react or get out the way but somehow David did, steering us right towards a ditch before yanking us back to the road. Then, hearts pounding, we drove on, laughing from the fear and excitement of it all.
Looking back now I am sure my friend had some Heavenly help steering the car that day. It wasn’t my first close call with death either. I had survived busting my head open in a bicycle accident, falling off a bridge, a motorcycle wreck with my brother, and more near misses than I could count growing up. I am sure my guardian angel took early retirement when I finally reached adulthood. I realize now too that God had kept me alive all those times for a reason. If I had died back then I would never have raised my smart, beautiful, kind, and loving daughter. I wouldn’t be here to care for my special angels, my two special needs sons, who have taught me so much about love and life. And I wouldn’t have been able to share all these things I have learned over the years through my writings and my life.
One other thing these close calls have shown me is just how precious each day of our lives are here. Each day is a new opportunity to share love, to choose joy, to be kind, to Thank God, and to help others. Each day here gives us so many moments when we can make the angels sing with the love we give and the good we do. Each day here gives us one more chance to grow closer to and become more like Our Father in Heaven. May we cherish them all.-----
A BILLION BUTTERCUPS
It was the start of Spring several years ago. I had pulled out my old lawn mower to cut my grass for the first time. I pushed it over to my front yard. There mixed in with the multiple grass species, green onions, and dandelions I saw something new. A single buttercup was pushing its way through the soil. I bent down to examine it. It was bright yellow with five pedals making a star like shape. I sniffed it too and smiled at its sweet scent. It looked too lovely to cut down so I mowed around it for several weeks.
The next year when I once again pulled out the lawn mower for the first grass cut of Spring I saw that now there were several buttercups blooming where the first one had been. It brightened my day seeing how the beautiful little flower had multiplied so once again I cut around it for as long as I could.
Now, several years later my front yard is filled with buttercups. Some of them have also popped up in my back yard, the meadow and grave yard behind my house, and even over in my daughter’s yard up the road. I also see buttercups everywhere blooming along the sides of the roads and on the grassy hills near my home. I wonder sometimes just how many of these divine, lovely, little creations came from that first flower that I didn’t mow down.
It makes me think too about all the things we can multiply through our lives. Every smile we share creates other smiles as well. Every act of kindness we do brings out the kindness in those around us. Every moment of love we create multiplies in all the hearts it touches. In the garden of life what we give is what we grow. And when we give in love, joy, and goodness we make God smile. May all of your days be full of love then. May all your days be full of growth. May all of your days be as bright and beautiful as a billion buttercups.-----
When I was in my early twenties my wife, kids, and I lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment above what used to be a drug store. We moved the dining table out of the room next to the kitchen and put it in the living room. Then we put two small beds there for our children. My son was only four and my daughter two. My wife was pregnant with our 3rd child as well.
One day I was letting my wife rest in the bedroom while my little ones played in the living room. I was folding a few clothes on their beds while I heard them laughing and chasing each other around the chairs and couch. I smiled and continued to put their clothes away until all of the sudden it got very quiet. Concerned, I walked into the living room and saw that they had both fallen asleep in the middle of their game. I laughed when I looked down at them. Then I lovingly picked up my son, walked to his bed and tucked him into it. I went back for my daughter and picked her up as well. She stirred a bit in my arms so I rubbed her back and kissed her head while she wrapped her tiny arms around my neck. Then I placed her gently under her covers and watched her drift back to sleep. I stood there quietly for a long time just watching them both sleep. My heart felt warm and full of love for them. I felt so blessed to have them in my life and I thanked God for giving them to me. I wondered too if this is the way our Heavenly Father feels when He watches over us.
I know that one day I will leave this world and return to His Loving Arms. When I do, however, I want to do it like my children did that day. I want to live each day with all the love, laughter, and joy I possibly can. And when I finally drop I want to do it with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. May all of your days be full of such laughter and joy. And may your heart be forever full of love until you return to the Loving Arms that made you.-----
A TALE OF TWO COATS
It was early winter several years ago. I had pulled out my old winter coat for another year’s use. It was still in pretty good shape although it was looking dingy from so many winters wear. I didn’t really need a new one but I wanted one and casually mentioned it to my daughter one day. She is such a sweet, loving soul that I should have guessed what would happen next. A few weeks later she gave me a gift of a bright red, brand new, winter’s coat.
I put the old one in my closet and started to wear the new coat every day. Each day, though, when I opened my closet something bothered me. It seemed a shame that my still good, old coat should just sit there keeping no one warm during the cold, winter days. After a few weeks I took it out and drove to a local charity thrift shop. I knew that there someone who couldn’t afford a coat otherwise could get my old one. I dropped it off, chatted happily with the staff for a bit, and walked out the door. As I did so I saw a shivering man in only a thin jacket walking in. I wondered if he would end up in my old coat. Then I smiled and went home with a warm heart.
My new coat is my old coat now. It too is getting a little dingy and worn. It has black stains on the sleeves from where I patched the roof last winter. It is in too bad of shape to even donate to charity. I wonder if I should buy a new one soon but I think I will wait a while. I don’t really need a new one and maybe I can find a few more things to give to the charity thrift shop instead.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Want is a growing giant whom the coat of Have was never large enough to cover.” Perhaps the best way to deal with our wants then is to give of ourselves instead. Love, after all, brings us the most joy. And the more of it you give away, the more of it you have. It is our gift from God and our gift to God as well. May all of your days be full of warmth. May all of your days be full of giving. May all of your days be full Love. -----
WATCHING THE RAIN
It was a Summer afternoon a long time ago. I was a little boy watching my favorite rerun on our tiny little television set. All that was about to change, however. CRACK! BOOM! the lightening and thunder sounded. Suddenly my Mom ran into the living room, unhooked the antenna wire and dropped the metal claws into a glass mason jar by the TV. I started to complain but knew better. Mom wasn’t going to risk lightening hitting our antenna, running through the wire, and blowing up our only TV set. There was no way she was going to let me go outside and play either so I settled into my chair and reread a book for the tenth time while she placed empty coffee cans under the leaks in the roof my Dad hadn’t had a chance to fix yet.
Later after the lightening and thunder had passed and only a gently falling rain remained I saw my Mom walk out onto our back porch, sit down on our old porch swing and watch the rain. She loved watching it water the flowers, forests and gardens. She enjoyed seeing it swell the river down the hill from our house. She knew it would be providing water to drink and wash and clean and live. She had told me all this many times too, but my young mind was too selfish then to take in all in. All I knew was that rain storms meant no TV and no playing outside.
This time, though, I took the time to watch it fall. I saw the peace on my Mom’s face as she did too. Quietly I walked out on the back porch and sat down next to her. We didn’t say a word. We just watched the rain, water the world. We just listened to its tap tapping music on our roof. We just breathed in the sweetness it brought to the air. I couldn’t explain why then but I was so happy to just be there with my Mom. And I was happy that it was raining too.
The next time it rains turn off your TV, computer, and phone. Take someone you love by the hand, walk out on your porch, and just watch the rain. I guarantee it will bring you closer to this world you live in, closer to the loving God who created it, and closer to the one sitting next to you. May the rains of this life always water your soul and help your Love to grow.-----
SAVING A SINGLE BUTTERFLY
It was a glorious Spring day. The Earth was finally awakening from her Winter slumber. New life was everywhere. The sky was clear and blue. The air smelled sweet. The sun was kissing the world with its warmth. It was already nearly 70 degrees.
I was driving to pick my son up from the sheltered workshop were he works a few days a week. On my drive I saw the daffodils and tulips blooming in people’s yards. The meadows were full of yellow dandelions with some already turning into little white balls of seeds. The trees were starting to awaken too. The blossoms on them were white, purple, and pink. The songs of the birds were in the air as well. It was almost as if our Heavenly Father was giving us a peek of what Heaven might look like. I was soaking it all in and feeling the love from the creation all around me. I longed to be a part of it and share my love as well.
I pulled into the driveway of the sheltered workshop and parked my car. As I got out I saw a lost little caterpillar crawling the wrong way towards the sidewalk. He was just about to go under my tire when I reached down and picked him up. I held him gently in my hand and walked over to the grassy hillside on the other side of the parking lot. I sat him down and said: “You will never become a butterfly if you get run over my friend. Please stay in the grass.” Then I walked off with a smile on my face and a happiness filling my heart.
A friend once wrote me and asked what he could do to make a difference in this world. I wrote him back and said: “Everything!” Everything we do makes a difference in this world. Everything we do can help God’s creation. Everything we do can help us take our place in the vast tapestry of His Love. Every act of kindness, every shared smile, every moment of love makes a difference. Even saving as single butterfly is priceless in the eyes of Heaven.-----
TO LOVE THAT MUCH
When I was a young father struggling to get by I worked for a while in a lumber mill. It was hard, back-breaking work for little money. In the two years I worked there the job turnover rate was so high that only 4 of the people I started with were still there in the end. I did my best to make it through each day. I lived in my imagination and sang songs in my mind while my hurting body bent, lifted, and carried the heavy lumber over and over again.
One Summer day I came home from work covered in sweat and sawdust. My back ached, my feet hurt, and my entire spirit felt drained and depressed. My wife brought me dinner on a TV tray, but I was too tired to eat, too tired to shower, and even too tired to watch TV. I just lay on the couch wondering how much longer I would be able to go on at this job that was weakening my body, hurting my heart, and eating away at my soul.
I glanced out the living room window and saw my young children playing outside. They were swinging on an old swing set, chasing each other around the yard, and laughing with such joy. I kept watching them while my eyes misted over. I could feel my heart beating with love for them. I knew in that moment that I would give my life for them. And I also knew that I could continue on in this job for them, no matter how hard the work or how long I had to be there. With tears in my eyes I thanked God for giving me them and promised to love them, care for them, and be there for them forever.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to stay at that job for much longer, but that moment did stay with me to this day. I think maybe one of the reasons God puts us in this difficult, often painful world is so we can learn to Love that much. Love conquers every fear, heals every hurt, and helps us become who we were meant to be. Love makes us more and more like the One who made us. May all your days no matter how difficult be filled with Love then. May you spend them all loving God, yourself, and everyone else.------
A VERY KIND AND GOOD MAN
I was eighteen years old. I had borrowed my Mom’s beat-up, blue Pontiac for the day. I was driving 12 miles to the county newspaper office. I had on the seat beside me a short one page story I had written and I hoped to get it published that day. I was excited, nervous, and a little scared. What if the publisher didn’t want it?
When I arrived I parked across the road and knocked on the door. The secretary let me in and walked me to the publisher’s office. He was a large man but the kind smile he shared with me soon put me at ease. He read my handwritten story. I didn’t even own a typewriter at the time. Then he said he really enjoyed it and would include in his next week’s edition. My heart jumped with joy but I wanted even more. I asked him if I could keep writing for him each week. He thought about it for just a moment then agreed. He even said he would pay me five dollars for each new thing I wrote. I was so happy that I literally skipped and danced on the sidewalk when I got outside. Little did I know that moment would change my whole life.
That was almost 40 years ago. I continued to write something new for my publisher and friend each new week and as I wrote I grew. I learned so much about love, kindness, joy, and God and each time I learned something new I wrote it in a story and my friend published it. Without him I never would have become the writer I am today. Without him I never would have become the person I am today. Without him I would never have had the chance to share what I learned.
My friend and publisher died recently. My heart still aches for his loss. He was such a good, kind, loving, and wise man. This world will be less without him in it. I know too that God had us meet so he could help me like he helped so many others with his beautiful life. I thank God for him and know he is smiling down on us all from Heaven. May we all live with such Love.-------
My daughter is such a beautiful, loving, giving soul. Everyday she comes over to my house to help me take care of her two mentally handicapped brothers. I don’t know what I would have done without her all of these years. Her love isn’t limited to just people, though. She has also rescued several dogs over the years and showered them with love and affection. Last year too she started to feed a female, black, stray cat that we named Miss Alice. Then it seems word spread because soon other strays started coming around to feast on her food and her love. The latest one is a male, orange, Tabby that she named Tang after the powdered breakfast drink.
Tang isn’t quite like the other cats, however. My daughter calls him a dog in a cat suit because there is no aloofness about him at all. Every time he sees her he meows for her to pick him up and pet him. Just yesterday I watched as she started to walk back up the road to her own house. Suddenly an orange blur appeared from under her front porch steps. It was Tang. He ran down the road to her meowing all the way. When she finally bent down to pick him up and pet him you could see his eyes close as he soaked in the love of her heart. He rubbed his head against her and purred with pure joy. I laughed as I watched her carry him back up the road to her house like a baby. He never once tried to get down. He just enjoyed being in her arms.
I wonder how much better our own lives would be if we took a lesson or two from that dog in a cat suit. God’s Love is all around us. He speaks to us in a thousand different ways. He seeks only to live in our hearts and our lives. If we were as wise as Tang is we would soak in that Love every chance we got. We would cherish our time in His arms. And we would joyously share our own love as well. Perhaps one day I will be as loving and wise as this furry feline. Until then I will keep trying my best to Love, each and everyday. May you do the same.-----
MY FIRST FIGHT
I was in the middle of my first fist fight. I can’t remember exactly when it happened. It was on the playground in either my kindergarten or first grade year of school. I can’t remember what started it either. I guess I said or did something that angered the other boy. I do remember that I was losing badly. My feeble swings were missing wildly while his punches kept landing right on my face. The other boys were cheering us on until someone yelled that a teacher was coming. We all ran so as to not get in trouble but I was hurting, not only in my face but also in my heart.
I decided then and there that I didn’t much care for fighting. I would rather be friends with people. I would rather laugh and play and enjoy their company than fight with them. I would rather love than hate. I would rather be kind than be afraid. I spent the rest of my childhood avoiding fights for the most part and breaking up fights between others when I could. And the funny thing is the boy I was fighting that day soon became one of my best friends.
How I wish the whole world could learn what I did that day on the playground. We have had so many needless wars, so many horrible murders, so many senseless shootings, so many people hurting other people in this world. I am sure that Heaven must weep at times watching down on us. If only we could all learn to see everyone as a potential friend, everyone as a good neighbor, everyone as a member of the same family. That is how Our Father in Heaven sees us. He didn’t put us here to fight each other. He put us here to love each other and help each other always.
I have faith that one day we will create a world where war, killings and even fist fights are a thing of the past. I have faith that one day we will see everyone as friends, neighbors, and family. I have faith that one day we will all finally love each other as God loves us. But it all starts with what we do today. May your day then be full of love and free of fist fights.-----
A LITTLE LOVING-KINDNESS
In the last months of his life my brothers and I moved our Dad from a crowded V.A. hospital several hours drive away to a local nursing home just a few miles from us. I spent as much time as I could visiting him there. Cancer had ravaged his body and was now eating away at his mind. I could tell that he only had a few months or weeks left to live.
During one of those visits I walked into his room only to find him in a deep sleep. I sat by his side for a while silently wishing for more time with him and also regretting that I hadn’t made the most of all the years we did have together. I got up and started to walk out. The nursing home smelt strongly of disinfectant. And in spite of the kindness and loving care of the over worked staff, there was an air of sadness and loneliness in this place. So many people were nearing the end of their lives here and I am sure many visitors had the same regrets that I did.
Finally I reached the doors and walked outside. A rain was starting to fall and it matched my mood. As I started to walk to my car, though, I saw a woman in a wheelchair struggling to move herself out of the rain. I quickly walked over and helped push her inside. She thanked me and gave me the most beautiful smile I had seen in a long time. In that moment I felt a light shine into my soul and a warmth return to my heart. I walked back out, let the rain wash over me, and thanked God for all the years He had given me with my Dad. I also knew that even if Dad died, the love we shared would still go on.
I still think of that moment of loving-kindness often. It reminds me that while we might not be able to live every moment here to the fullest we can still cherish the moments we do. Life is meant for love. Life is meant for kindness. And love and kindness transcend even death. They are eternal treasures in the eyes of God. May you fill your days with them.-----
I was feeling a little off when I woke up this morning. At first I wasn’t sure why but then I remembered that we had set the clocks forward an hour the night before, which meant I was running on an hour less sleep than usual. Of course, I knew it wasn’t affecting time at all. It was just forcing my body into a new schedule again just as it had last Fall.
It’s become a lot harder to do this as I’ve gotten older. My body doesn’t seem to enjoy having any changes sprung on it. It was already getting more achy as it aged and forcing it up an hour early didn’t make it any easier. Finally, I got up and stumbled into the bathroom. I turned on the light and blinked back the harshness of it. After my eyeballs adjusted to it I glanced in the mirror and wondered who this old man was staring back at me. He looked so tired. His hair was thin on the top and gray on the sides. His forehead wrinkles and laugh lines were permanently etched into his face. He had a lot of age spots from being out in the sun for over 50 years. His beard was scraggly and looked like someone had spilled salt and pepper on his face at the same time. When he stretched his back popped and his eyes bulged. His aging face and aching body seemed strange to the soul living inside of them. That soul was eternal, vibrant, and forever young. And when I looked in the mirror I could still see it there, hiding behind the wrinkles but shining through the eyes. And I knew that was who I really am.
Time truly is a funny thing. We can’t switch it. We can’t change it. It flows ever onward and carries our bodies along with it. Yet it is forever foreign to us. We are Children of God. We are beings of eternity. We are only here for a temporary time and the souls inside of us know this. Maybe we should worry less about our clocks and our bodies then. Maybe we should focus instead on our souls and all the love we can share. These are the things that last forever.-----
THE AMAZING THING ABOUT LOVE
Last year my daughter started feeding a stray, female, black cat that we named Miss Alice. Well since then things have progressed. First two other stray, orange, male cats that we named Garfield and Tang also showed up wanting to be fed. Then the local birds noticed and started flying down to feast on any left over cat food after those three had finished eating. Now my daughter has become like an animated Disney princess. Anytime she walks outside the animals gather around.
The only one who seems unhappy with this new arrangement is Miss Alice. She will often chase the male cats away until she is finished eating. And the other day when I walked over to my daughter’s house Alice came up meowing asking to be loved on. While I was scratching her head and petting her back, Tang saw what was happening and also meowed for attention. The second he did Miss Alice hissed him away. She wasn’t about to share me or anything else.
The thing that Alice the cat doesn’t understand is something that took me years to learn too. It is that there is an amazing thing about love. It is a thing that confounds poets and philosophers. It is a thing that makes mathematicians heads spin. It is a thing that we can’t fully understand but just have to accept on faith. It is the truth that the more love you share and give away, the more love you have. Some gentle, loving souls like my daughter seem to know this intuitively. The rest of us have to learn it the hard way.
Either way it is a true miracle. It is in sharing love that we connect ourselves with the love that fills the universe, the love that created all things, the love that our Father in Heaven has for us all. It truly is in loving that we are loved. It is in loving that we are lifted up. It is in loving that we grow as God’s children. May we all learn this even if poor Miss Alice never does.-----
MY FRIEND FRANKIE
When I was a boy my first friend wasn’t another little boy or girl but a bent, worn 80 year old man. It was the early 1970's. We lived 4 miles from town. My two brothers were much older than I was. And the television only got in one channel clearly. I spent most of my time then playing alone outside in the yard and woods near our home. It was only a matter of time then before my exploring led me to “Little Frankie’s” house. Everyone called him Little Frankie because he was short and bent from a lifetime of hard work. Our only other neighbor at the time too was a much bigger man also named Frank.
Little Frankie’s house was a slowly crumbling structure that was over 100 years old. He lived in the only 3 rooms of it that were still safe. Although he had money from a lifetime of working and saving, he preferred to live there. His house had no electricity or running water. He cooked his meals and heated his house with an old cast iron stove. He got his water from a mountain spring that ran next to his house. He still worked everyday weeding, gardening, cooking, and cleaning. For some reason, though, we became fast friends. A first generation, Italian immigrant, Frankie didn’t speak English very well but I understood him enough. He would fry potatoes in a cast iron skillet on his stove and share them with me. Then he would talk and show me old photos from years and years gone by. He became my Godfather and best friend in those earliest years of my life. There was a peacefulness and serenity about him that seemed out of place then and even more out of place now. He worked hard, worried little, gave freely, smiled easily, laughed gently, and loved kindly. I am still working today at living as beautifully as he did back then.
Our friendship was short-lived because he died when I was still a little boy. It was my first experience with death and I mourned Little Frankie after he was gone. Yet, a part of him still lives on here in my heart and mind. I am a better person because of the brief time we spent together. I am kinder, more loving, and closer to God because of our friendship.
My friend Frankie showed me how to live simply, happily, and well. And I thank God for letting him touch my life. I think we all too have those special teachers in how to live and love, who touch our lives briefly but stay in our hearts forever. May we always love them, cherish them, and embrace what they teach.-----
HAPPINESS IS A WARM PUPPY
One of the Christmas presents that I got this year was a poster with the “Peanuts” character Snoopy smiling and hugging the character Woodstock. Above it is the caption: “Happiness is a warm puppy.” It always makes me smile when I look at it. When I glanced at it this morning, though, an old memory awakened in my mind that made my heart smile as well.
I was a very sick little boy. I was at home with the Mumps. This was long before vaccines made them rare. My face was swollen, my throat was sore, I couldn’t eat, my body ached and I just felt miserable all over. My loving Mom had put me in her own bed to keep an eye on me, but I wasn’t getting better. I was just hanging on. To make matters worse my dog Duke had run off again. He was an indoor and outdoor dog and whenever a stray dog was in heat, Duke would follow her hoping to increase his lineage. It had been several days now and he hadn’t yet come back home again.
Finally that morning my Dad found him half starved and collapsed in front of our home. He picked him up, carried him in the house and gave him water and a good meal to eat. Then Mom cleaned him off, carried him into her room and put him in bed with me. Something in her heart must have told her that snuggling up together would help us both to feel better. She was right too. The second I saw my beloved pup, I wrapped my arms around him, and felt my heart fill with pure happiness. I think it was in that moment that I finally started to heal. It wasn’t long too before Duke and I were both well and playing outside together again.
Dogs are one of the greatest gifts our Heavenly Father has ever given us. Everyday they warm our hearts. Everyday they give us pure, unconditional love. Everyday they teach us about living in happiness and joy. May we always Thank God for them and embrace they lessons they teach.-----
I don’t spend very much time on the internet these days. Oh, I check out what my family and friends are doing on Facebook, enjoy a funny video or two, and take in an inspirational post. I try to stay away, however, from the hateful, angry talk, the politics, the arguments, the bullying, the lies, the conspiracy theories that are everywhere online. They can eat away at your soul.
I did see one interesting post the other day, though. It was like a moment from a science fiction movie. Under the question: “What would you do?” you saw two hands. One was holding a red pill and one was holding a blue pill. If you took the red pill you could restart your life at 6 years of age with all the knowledge you have now. If you took the blue pill you got $10 million dollars in cash. It took me about half a second to decide to take the red pill.
If I were 6 years old again, knowing what I know now, I would run across our old swinging bridge after school, burst through the front door, hug my Mom and tell her just how much I love her. Then I would do the same with my Nana. I would even risk embarrassing my Dad by giving him a huge hug when he got home from work. They are all in Heaven now and I still miss them every single day. I’d try not to change any of my life’s choices. I would still want my life to turn out like it is today. The only change I would make would be how I felt inside. To relive my life with a heart full of thankfulness, a soul overflowing with love, to be free from fear and full of joy, to be full of wisdom and appreciation would have made everyday of that life a blessing for me and a gift for Our Father in Heaven.
Of course there is no magic pill that will let me relive the last 50 years of my life, so I will do my best to instead live my remaining time here with all the love, laughter, goodness, gratitude, joy, kindness, and light I can. After all, that 6 year old still lives inside of me and I do have now all the knowledge I have gained over this lifetime.
May you always live your life with the heart of a child and the knowledge of the wise. May you share your love, your learning, your kindness, and your joy with everyone you meet. May you embrace each day as a gift from God and live it like your gift to God.-----
A KEY CHAIN
My two adult sons still live with me. At a young age both of them were diagnosed with Autism. Both of them are mentally challenged as well. In the eyes of this world they are often seen as less than the rest of us, but in the eyes of Heaven they are far higher and wiser than I will ever be. Everyday they teach me more about how to live and how to love.
One of the things my oldest son loves to do is make simple key chains out of colored and lettered beads. Our house is full of them. They hang on the walls to decorate his old, broken key collection and everyone of my own keys has one too. He has given them to his Mom, sister, Grandma, and so many others.
Well, recently my sons’ primary health care provider retired and my daughter had to schedule an appointment with a new doctor so they could have their allergy medications renewed. My oldest son was excited about meeting the new doctor. He talked about meeting her for days before the appointment. He also made her a gift without telling me. As soon as she walked in to meet him, he pulled a key chain with her name on it out of his coat pocket and said with a smile, “This is for you!”. The look of surprise, delight, and joy on her face was something to see. It clearly made her day. I guess she hadn’t expected so much love, trust, and kindness so quickly and freely given. But that is what my son does. He shares Love freely, purely, and unconditionally. I only pray that one day I will be able to love and give as easily as he does.
Perhaps this world needs to stop seeing the mentally challenged as less and start seeing just how much they can teach us. They are far closer to Heaven than we are. I know that everyday God and His angels are smiling down on my sons as they share their love, laughter, and joy with the world. May we all one day learn to Love as divinely and beautifully as they do.-----
BE THE DANDELION
It was several years ago. We were in the midst of a long Winter. It was full of below freezing days and even colder nights. I was shoveling out from snow after snow. And even when it warmed up a little, the skies stayed gray and bitter, bone-chilling rains fell. People were even joking about shooting the groundhog when it predicted six more weeks of Winter. I myself was feeling tired and a bit gloomy. It wasn’t so much the snow or even the cold that was getting me down. It was the lack of light. I couldn’t remember a Winter with so many gray, overcast days.
It was another gray day and I was outside taking my dogs for their mid-day walk in the meadow behind my home. The temperatures still hadn’t risen above freezing. The dead grass crunched under my feet. The gravestones in the graveyard there still had snow on them from the night before. Just as I was about to take the dogs in, however, a flash of yellow caught my eye. I stopped and looked closer to see a single, silly dandelion poking its head through the frozen ground.
I walked over to it and bent down to reassure myself that I wasn’t hallucinating. “You’re early!”, I said with a laugh. Then I knelt down in the snow and lowered my nose to smell the hardy, little flower. I closed my eyes, breathed in deep, and felt a little Spring come to life in my heart. Then for the first time in days the clouds broke, the sun shone through, and I watched as that little dandelion drank in the light. I walked home smiling with a little more light inside of me as well. I knew that God’s Spring lived in my soul no matter what the weather was outside.
In this life we all get our share of cold, wintry, gray days. We can let them define us or we can be like that dandelion, share our beauty and invite the sun to come out. The choice is ours. Be the dandelion then. Delight your Father in Heaven by shining all the beauty, love, and light that is within you. Carry your own Spring deep in your soul even during the Winter times in this world. And make this world a more beautiful place by being the most beautiful you. ----
My daughter has a new app on her phone that can clear up and enhance old photographs. She used it to make copies of pictures from my old photo albums, brighten them up, and email them back to me. There were pictures of Mom, Dad, Nana, my brothers, me and my first dog Duke. Looking at them brought back so many loving, happy memories. I even put one on my laptop computer as my new screen saver.
It is a picture of me sitting in my favorite chair, across from the wood stove, next to a cluttered bookcase full of old books. I am wearing my special Snoopy sweatshirt and hugging Duke. There is a big smile on my face and a joyful twinkle in my eyes. It was how I spent a lot of my Winter afternoons as a boy, cuddling with Duke and reading an old book.
It is strange too how 50 years later that boy still lives inside of me. I still love comfy chairs, warm stoves, old books, Snoopy, hugging dogs, and reading books on cold, Winter days. Yet, when I look in the mirror now all I see is thinning, graying hair, age spots, and lots of wrinkles. The only thing that hasn’t completely changed in that reflection is the eyes. They are hiding behind glasses now. They are set a little deeper in my eye sockets. The innocence in them has been replaced with wisdom. But they still have that same joyful twinkle.
Looking at the little boy smiling at me from the computer screen and that 56 year old man looking back at me in the mirror can be a bit confusing at times. They seem so different. Still, they are both me. It is one of those things we have to deal with being eternal souls living inside temporary bodies. Perhaps the best thing we can do is to pay less attention to those reflections in the mirror and more to the reflections of our lives. We are all here to reflect back the Love of God to everyone here on Earth. And when we do we remain both joyful and forever young.------
When I was a boy growing up we didn’t have much. Most of the clothes I wore were hand me downs from my two brothers. The books I read were old, worn, and dog-eared with stained, yellow pages. My toys were few and came only at Christmas or my birthday. We didn’t even buy that much at the grocery store because we raised so much of our food at home. We raised pigs for meat and had four HUGE vegetable gardens.
The largest of these gardens was dedicated entirely to potatoes. I remember my Mom, brothers, and I hand planting them after my Dad had tiled the soil. Each year the crop was enormous. We had potatoes with almost every meal. There were fried potatoes for breakfast, oven cooked potatoes with chicken for dinner, potatoes slow cooked in my Nana’s special, spaghetti sauce, and mashed potatoes with just about everything.
Nothing in our house ever went to waste either. Whenever Mom had made too much mashed potatoes for dinner one day, the next day we had potato pancakes. Mom would take the left over mashed potatoes out of the fridge, add egg, flour, salt, pepper, and just a bit of garlic and we would all sit down to a table full of delicious little pancakes. I can still taste them even now though I have never been able to duplicate her recipe. Mine always taste a little bland compared to hers. Maybe she added a secret ingredient that I don’t remember or maybe it was just the love with which she cooked them. It flavored all her meals. Each time I ate one I felt warm not just in my belly but in my heart as well. What I wouldn’t give to sit down to just one more meal with Mom, give her a hug, and tell her how much I love her and miss her now that she’s in Heaven.
Like Mom may you always flavor your meals with love. May you always flavor your lives with love. May you become a gourmet for God filling hearts wherever you go.-----
BODY ACHES AND TUMMY GRUMBLES
It was early January and my stomach was grumbling at me. It had grown used to all the extra food I had been eating during the holidays and wasn’t happy that I had gone back to my usual diet. “Hey!”, it yelled. “Where is my extra serving of turkey? I want another glass of eggnog! How about some more Christmas cookies and peanut butter candy?”
While I tried to ignore the hunger pangs my back was complaining as well from all the extra work I had made it do over Christmas. The horrible arctic cold snap had caused our water meter to break so I had to haul water from my daughter’s house for 4 days over the Christmas weekend. My back hadn’t quite gotten over this and was still sore and achy. It made me miss those early teenage years when I could eat whatever I wanted and never gain an ounce. I could also jog 2 miles, swim all day, lift weights in the afternoon and never have a sore muscle in my body.
“Why is it that by the time we learn to really live and love in this life our bodies are already on the decline?”, I thought. I would have enjoyed my earlier years so much more if I knew then what I know now and cherished my good health, energy, and youth instead of taking them for granted. As soon as I thought this, however, a wise little voice whispered in my mind. “You can’t enjoy today by missing yesterday. You have to live in the NOW. God only gives us one day at a time. It is up to us to fill them with love and live them with joy.” I thanked God for that reminder, rubbed my sore back until it felt better, then took pleasure in eating my simple bowl of morning oatmeal. I knew too that no matter how many more years I get in this life each day of them is a gift from God, achy body, hungry tummy, and all.
Don’t let your own body aches and tummy grumbles get you down then. Live fully each day. Love fully each day. Life here on this world is short, but the love we create here is eternal. -----
A FADED PHOTO
One thing for sure is that my home will never be in an issue of Better Homes and Gardens. It isn’t just the broken tile on the floors or the worn out furniture covered in dog hair. It is also the walls. Instead of just a few tasteful paintings here and there my walls are literally covered with stuff. There are calendars, pictures of my children and animals, inspirational poems and sayings, nature pictures, birthday and father’s day cards, dream catchers, art work my daughter did in grade school as well as her college diplomas, plastic and wooden butterflies, post cards, pictures of my Mom, Dad, Nana, Aunt Charlotte, and other relatives, and pictures of friends and children I’ve sponsored overseas. I keep them all on my walls because they all remind me of Love.
Nestled among them too are 4 faded photos I got over 20 years ago. My former priest had a twin brother who was a missionary and ran an orphanage overseas. I remember I sent a small donation to them back then and received these pictures of children in the orphanage.
One speaks to my heart especially. It is a small boy no more than 8 or 9 years old. He is using a broken ladder as a chair and eating out of metal plate. Yet, even though he had so little, there is a look of such joy on his face. You can see in his smile that he is loved and that is all that matters. All these years later that love and joy still shine through the picture. I still wonder about him too. He would be grown now maybe with children of his own, perhaps passing on all the love he was given to them. I still send him my love and keep him in my prayers.
It is truly amazing how a single moment of love can stay with us for a lifetime. Maybe that is how God intended it to be. Love isn’t meant to fade after a moment. It is meant to shine for an eternity. All I know is when I look at that faded photo and see that joyous smile, that moment of love lives on in me. May all of your moments of love live on in you as well.-----
RECEIVING WITH LOVE
My daughter had overbought several times over the last six months so her food pantry was full and she wasn’t sure she would be able to eat all the stuff she had left. She asked me then to donate two full boxes of dry goods to the local food pantry. I was happy to do so and took them over. I was overwhelmed, though, by the enthusiasm, the joy, and the love with which her donation was received. The lack of donations plus the high price of groceries had hit the charity hard and their shelves needed every donation they could get. We were thanked over and over and as I drove home smiling my mind went back to another time when we were the ones in need.
Money was tight. My job barely paid the rent and extra bills that month had cut into what we had saved for the groceries. My next check was a week away and we didn’t have enough food to get us there. We went to a food pantry and I watched our little kids playing outside while my wife picked up a box full of food to feed us. I was worried, nervous, and scared. I had never had to seek help like this before and I just hoped it would be enough so our children wouldn’t go hungry that week. My heart swelled with gratitude when my wife finally walked out with a smile on her face and the box in her arms. And as we drove home I silently prayed and thanked God for all the good people who had given so we would not go hungry.
Our Heavenly Father created this great, big, round world for all of us to live on. It is one huge circle of love. Sometimes you are giving that love to others. And sometimes you are receiving that love from others. It is all the same, however. It is all one. It doesn’t matter whether you are giving with love or receiving with love as long as you are LIVING WITH LOVE.
Take your place in the circle then. Never be ashamed to receive a gift of love. Never be afraid to give a gift of love. It is what we are all here for. It is what life is all about.-----
AN OLD FRIEND
It was a month or so ago. I was at a tire dealership getting new tires put on my car before winter weather set in. It was a long wait so I settled into a chair with my book when suddenly I heard a voice that I hadn’t heard in many years. An old friend from grade school had recognized me. I certainly didn’t recognize him at first. He had white hair and a white beard now. The last time I’d seen him his hair had been a bright, fiery red.
We soon started talking trying to catch up on each other’s lives. It is hard to fit forty years in a few hours, though. Still, we talked about our families, friends, lives, jobs, pains, and struggles. We relived old memories too and shared laugher and joy together. It felt so good catching up with my old friend. Then he said something that still sticks with me. “Joe, I want to thank you for being my friend back then.” He talked about how he had struggled in school and had a stutter that caused others to tease him, and how that filled him with anger, darkness, and pain.
After we said goodbye and I left I tried to remember if I had ever been one of those who had teased him but couldn’t. I hoped I hadn’t. Even as a child I never wanted to see someone in pain or unhappy. I was glad too if even a little bit my friendship and kindness had helped him through that dark time. And I thanked God for getting to see him again.
It is amazing how the circle of life goes round and round. An act of kindness can travel the world for years from heart to heart and soul to soul until it circles back to us. I never knew how just being a friend could mean so much to another. That is why now I want to thank all the old friends and new ones who have touched and enriched my own life with their love and kindness. “Thank you All!” You helped me to become who I am today. You helped me to grow in love, kindness, and joy until I was able to share it with the world. You helped me along the path of love that led me to faith, goodness, grace, and God.
Never stop being a friend to others. Share all the love and kindness you can, every way you can, whenever you can, and for as long as you ever can. You can never imagine how much it might mean to another. You can never imagine how it might touch a heart or change a life.-----
A CHRISTMAS MOMENT
It was a rainy, December day 30 years ago. A cold hung in the air that chilled you to the bones. I was even wishing the temperature would drop a few more degrees so at least it would snow. My wife and I were standing in a line at a volunteer fire department building with our two year old daughter, Beth. It was going to be her first time meeting Santa and my wife had brought her camera along to catch the moment.
When Santa finally appeared with his bag of gifts most of the other younger children backed away in fear at this strange man with a big white beard and red suit. My daughter didn’t, however. She wasn’t scared at all. I think it was because one of her grandpas had a beard even bushier than Santa’s. Instead she literally jumped up and down with joy in a little circle almost coming out of her snow boots in the process. Seeing her happiness Santa approached her first. “Ho Ho Ho! What do you want for Christmas little girl,” he asked. Beth didn’t say anything. She just reached up and gave Santa the biggest hug in the world. My wife laughed and I smiled seeing this beautiful moment of Christmas love. And all of the sudden that cold, damp firehouse seemed warm and bright. Or perhaps it was just all of us being filled with the spirit of Christmas by watching my little girl share her love and delight.
These days my little girl is 32 but I still enjoy every warm, loving, hug she gives me and I still carry that Christmas moment in my heart and mind to warm me any time this world seems too cold or bleak. It keeps my soul on the big picture. It keeps my heart on Love.
Margot Silk Forrest wrote, “The big picture is nothing more than a million moments all strung together.” May all of your moments then be full of the spirit of Christmas. May all of your moments be full of Love. And may God live through you in them all.-----
THE WOMAN WITH THE SAD EYES
As November slides into December and the Christmas season starts each year, I still feel haunted by a pair of eyes. I saw them many years ago. I had taken my children on a long trip to a mall to do our Christmas shopping. Everything seemed to be on sale with bargains on all the stuff we bought. As we left I saw we still had over $100 dollars left to save for the winter heating bills to come.
As we headed out along the side of the road right before the turn off, a woman stood. She was dressed in worn, threadbare clothes, and a dirty coat. She was holding a sign that read: “Homeless, Please Help!” The thing I noticed the most about her, though, were her eyes. She had the saddest, loneliest eyes I had ever seen. I pulled over and took out all the extra money we had saved. I handed it to my daughter and she got out of the car and gave it to the woman.
Driving home I didn’t feel proud or good or happy. I just wished I could have done more for that sad, homeless woman. I wondered too why in this world of plenty there are still so many homeless and hungry among us. All these years later I still wonder these things and I am still haunted by the woman with the sad eyes. I still pray for her and hope that she is still alive. I pray that she has found a home and knows that she is loved. And I ask God to watch over her and be with her always.
What can we do to help the homeless, hungry and hurting in this world? Perhaps we just need to follow Jesus’ commandment that we “Love one another.” Perhaps it is as simple as that. Keep loving then. Keep giving. Keep caring. Keep doing what you can with what you have. Keep helping God day by day to make this world the place it was always meant to be. Then one day everyone will feel loved. Everyone will love. And everyone’s eyes will shine with joy.-----
SO MANY GIFTS
I was sitting on a long, black, folding medical table. Beside me was a woman in scrubs talking about the cold change the weather had taken recently. A radio in the corner was playing Christmas music even though it was still weeks away. I took a sip from the bottle of lemonade I had brought with me so I wouldn’t get dizzy. I looked around at all the other people laying back on their medical tables too. Each one of us had a needle in our arms with a long tube running down from it filling a plastic bag below. Each one of us had come to give a precious gift to help others, make the world a better place, and perhaps even save a life.
It was the local blood drive and I had driven 12 miles across snowy roads to get there. I tried never to miss one even in the wintertime. In spite of all the time it took I felt blessed being able to give this gift back to others. I had been given so much in this life: a loving family, many friends, sweet adorable pets, a comfy home, and enough money to meet my needs. Every day my prayers always included the words: “Thank you God for my life.” The gifts I had been given felt wonderful, yet the one thing that brought me more happiness than anything else was giving something back. You see, in this life nothing brings you as much joy as taking your place in the great circle of Love that God created for us all. In this circle you receive and you give until it all becomes one. The more you give back, the more you get in return. The more love you let flow from your heart, the more love flows into it from above.
There are so many gifts you can give in this life too: a smile, a kind word, a few dollars, a hug, a caring letter or e-mail, and even a pint of blood. Each one of them is priceless and precious. Each one of them brings a little more Heaven into your heart. Each one of them makes God smile. May you fill your life with giving then. May you fill your life with Love.-----
When I was a teenager our church sent a group of us teens on a religious retreat. There were lots of teens from other areas there as well. Over several days we had discussion groups, hikes, outings, lessons from the Bible and other writings, and a bunch of other activities all designed to help us learn and grow spiritually. The funny thing is that as well intentioned as all of these things were, over the years all of them have faded from my memory. Of my time at that retreat only one memory remains clear in my mind.
It happened during a free time period in the afternoon. Most of the other teenagers had formed groups and ran off together to do stuff. I chose, however, to stay in my room. I was missing my home and feeling a little sad and lonely. Finally, I walked down to the empty rec room and saw a record player with a stack of records nearby. I picked up the first one and put it on the turntable. Suddenly, Neil Diamond’s voice filled the air singing his song “Turn on your Heartlight.” This was a song I later learned was inspired by the movie “ET.” I sat down and listened carefully. When the lyrics sang, “Turn on your heartlight, Let it shine wherever you go, Let it make a happy glow, For all the world to see,” something happened in my own heart. I felt a warmth there, a light there, and a love there. It was as if God Himself was speaking to me through this song. I memorized the lyrics and often sang them to myself over the years whenever I was feeling sad or lonely. And they never failed to uplift my spirits, warm my heart, and bring me closer to God.
Maybe the best lessons in life are the simplest ones. Turn on your heartlight then. Let it shine wherever you go. Let it help you to share your light, love, kindness, and goodness with everyone you meet. Let its glow bring you closer to God today, tomorrow, and for all eternity.-----
With Thanksgiving fast approaching I have been thinking of all the things I am thankful for in my life. The funny thing is that the things I am most thankful for aren’t things at all. It is all of the special people who have blessed my life over the years.
I am so thankful for Mom, Dad, and Nana. We may not have had much growing up but one thing is certain. I always felt loved. I always felt cared for. I always felt supported and encouraged by them all. I am so thankful for my two brothers, Eddie and Tony. Even though they were five and seven years older than me they often made time to play with their little brother. Yes, they may have picked on me from time to time but they always protected me as well. I learned a lot about growing up by watching them both. I am so thankful for my wonderful wife, Fonda. We may have grown apart and divorced but we also had 3 beautiful children who blessed our lives so much. And we remained friends through all these years to this day. I am so thankful for my two sons, JJ and Casey. You guys may have come into this world with mental disabilities but it was your spiritual abilities that taught me so much about how to live and how to Love. Because of you both I laugh more, smile more, and am closer to God. Because of you both my life is blessed with Joy every single day. I am so thankful for my daughter, Beth. You will never fully know how much your love has helped me and touched me over the years because words cannot express it. You are a true Earth Angel even if you don’t believe it yourself. I am so thankful for all of my friends, some who I see everyday and some who I’ve never met in person. Your kindness, encouragement, and support uplift my spirits always. And I am so thankful for all of my beloved pets over the years. I doubt I could love as openly and unconditionally as you loved me, but I do keep trying to learn from your example.
They say that if you could only say one prayer in this life: “Thank You!” would suffice. Let me say then: “Thank You, God for all those you have brought into my life.”-----
For my 56th birthday my daughter, Beth bought me two beautifully carved wooden butterflies. I hung them in prominent places on my walls so that I can see them often during the day. Each time I do too they give me a wonderful reminder of Love.
My daughter and my love of butterflies goes back many years. After a long battle against cancer my Mom had passed away when I was only 25 years old. Beth was only a baby at the time and never got to have any memories of her grandma. I tried to make up for it by telling her stories of my Mom but each time I did I could see that there was a little sadness in Beth’s eyes. One day when she was only seven or so we were outside at the playground. Beth suddenly said how much she missed not having her grandma around. Well, sometimes I say the right thing and this time I told her how much her grandma loved her. I said she was watching over her from Heaven and that maybe she was even hitching a ride on the back of a butterfly to come down and get a closer look. At that very moment a butterfly appeared flew around Beth’s face and then fluttered away. We both laughed with our hearts full of love and joy.
Since that moment all of those years ago both Beth and I seem to attract butterflies like flowers. Whenever we are outside they seem to fly down, circle around us, take a good look, and then fly away. And each time we are reminded of my Mom’s love watching over us. The only time this doesn’t happen is during the coldest months of the year when there are no insects of any kind. But now during those times I can take a look at the two, beautiful, wooden butterflies my daughter bought me and still be reminded of that love.
We all need reminders that we are loved in this life. We need reminders that we are loved by God, by those who have passed, and by those who are still with us. Perhaps the best way to remember, though, is to be a reminder of Love yourself. May you always do so.-----
BLEEDING FINGERS AND BAND-AIDS
It was the middle of winter some 30 years ago. I was a young father with 3 little children counting on me. My college education, however, wasn’t helping me to find a good job in our depressed area. My work as a substitute teacher had dried up and now I was working in a saw mill for just above the minimum wage. As I got ready to go to work I wrapped band-aids around my fingers and put more in my pockets. Cutting and stacking lumber for 8 hours a day had caused my fingers to split and bleed at their tips in the cold, dry, winter air. I looked in the mirror and sighed. Then I walked down to my car in the snow and hoped it would start.
That day at work was harder than normal. We were short handed on workers. The machines kept breaking down. And we had to rush to catch back up as the lumber stacked up. On top of it all the heaters in the building weren’t working and we could see our breath as we spent hours chopping, stacking, carrying, and packaging the hard wood flooring to be shipped out.
When the work day finally ended I walked wearily toward the time clock, took off my work gloves and inspected my aching fingers. The splits were worse than ever and I had bled through the band-aids again. I tried to straighten out but my bad back cramped up as I did. I don’t think I had ever felt that tired, hurting, and sad before. I started my car and drove back home. I looked at the snow and blinked back tears. I wondered how long I could keep doing this, if things would ever get any better, and why life was so hard.
I tried to put a smile on my face as I opened my front door but instead one appeared naturally. My daughter ran up to me, yelled “Daddy!”, and wrapped her little arms around my neck. I lifted her up and my heart exploded with Love. My tired body didn’t feel so tired anymore. My aches and pains disappeared into her hug. And the joy in my heart chased the sadness away. In that moment I knew I could continue on and that things would get better. In that second I remembered again that I was here for Love. I kissed my little girl’s cheek, held her tight, and thanked God for my life as hard as it was.
I think we all have bleeding fingers and band-aid days in our lives here. But with God and Love we can make it through them all. After all, work may give us a living, but it is Love that gives us a life.-----
MAKING TIME FOR THE IMPORTANT THINGS
Earlier this year the phone companies stopped supporting the software for my old 3G flip phone so like the rest of the modern world I was forced to buy a new Smart Phone. I didn’t use it much at first, only to get a call from my daughter or to play a game or two. Soon, however, I found it far easier to surf the web or check out facebook on the smart phone than my computer. Even with my limited time I quickly found myself spending more and more of it on this phone. It happened almost without me noticing it.
Yesterday I was on it scrolling and scrolling through the sea of stories, posts, news, and videos. Then suddenly a long, white, furry nose pushed its way between me and my phone. I started to push it away but that only got me a lick from my chin to my glasses. Laughing I put the phone down, took my smeared glasses off and petted my dog. Soon we were hugging, romping around, and playing fetch down the hallways of my home. And I noticed something too. There was a feeling in my heart: a wonderful mixture of love, laughter, and joy. It was a feeling that I hadn’t gotten once during all that time I had spent on my phone.
Strange how it took a dog to remind me of what is important for our souls. I vowed then to spend less time on my addictive phone and more time doing the important things in life like hugging my children, talking to my friends, writing letters, loving others and even playing with my dogs. It is these things that fill my heart with love. It is these things that fill my days with joy. It is these things that bring me closer to Heaven, goodness, and God.
Technology is here to stay. But we shouldn’t let it control us or our time. We should use it only when it helps us to do the important things like loving each other, making this world a better place, or growing closer to our Heavenly Father while we are still here on Earth.-----
CHOPPING WOOD AND CARRYING WATER
It was the end of Summer and the cool breezes of Fall were in the air. I was a twelve year old boy: skinny, gangly, and in the midst of puberty. Before me was a truckload of wood my Dad, brother and I had unloaded the day before. Now I needed to take it one wheelbarrow load at a time around the house to where we were stacking the chopped wood into cords and covering it with tarp to keep it from getting wet. We were still a few cords short if we wanted to keep the wood stove heating our home for the cold Winter to come.
I got off to a quick start but soon realized I needed to go slower if I didn’t want to exhaust myself. I took my time then stacking the wood so each cord was sturdy with no chance of toppling over. It became a game seeing how neat I could stack it and I found myself even smiling during this hard work. After a while the wood was stacked and my skinny arms were tired but I wasn’t done yet. I still needed to fetch the five gallon water jugs from the spring near our home. Our well water was so full of iron that it tasted terrible, so all cooking and drinking water had to come from the spring. The five gallon jugs felt like they weighed a ton, but taking them one at a time I got them up the hill and back to the house.
I was worn out by this time but as I carried up the last jug I saw my Mom smiling at me from the porch with a glass of iced tea in her hand. She gave it to me and we sat down on the porch with our dogs at our feet. We never said a word just watched the leaves blowing in the breeze, but there was such a peace, a love, and a joy in the air that it felt like it came from Heaven above.
Recently I read an old Zen proverb that goes: “Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.” It awakened that memory in my mind once more and I felt myself smiling and thanking God and Mom for that special moment that lives on in my heart.
Enlightened or not, in this life we all have some wood chopping and water carrying to do. It is best then to do it with love in our hearts. It is best to do it joyfully under Heaven’s eyes. And when you are done it is best to sip some tea with someone you love.-----
AN ACT OF CREATION
It was Autumn here in the mountains of my home. Although the morning sun was out and the sky was clear the temperature hovered just above freezing. The cold nights had accelerated the changing of the leaves too and although we were still a few weeks away from peak colors the hills looked like Heaven.
I was walking over to my daughter’s house when her black cat, Alice greeted me in the road, walked around my legs, and meowed. I leaned down to scratch her head and pet her back. And as I did I looked at the loveliness of the leaves. The trees looked painted by God’s own hand. The reds were so deep and rich this year. The oranges were ablaze with brightness. And the yellows sparkled in the sunshine like tiny suns themselves. Even the fallen, dry, brown ones smelled wonderful. Just looking at them all warmed my heart. Standing there soaking in all that beauty I had a deep desire to create something myself. I wanted to create something full of the same love and beauty that God had created this world with. And at that moment I heard a whisper deep within my own soul. “You already do!”, it said.
Suddenly, I felt filled with Light and Love and I realized that my entire life here was an act of creation. Every smile I shared created Joy. Every hug I gave created Love. Every kind word I said or helpful thing I did created a little more goodness in this world. Even petting Alice the cat while she purred away created peace for both her and me.
The same is true for all of us. Our entire lives here are an act of creation. The only question is what are we going to create? I pray that you choose to create Love, that you choose to create Joy, that you choose to live each day in goodness, laughter, kindness, and light. Then each day of your life will be blessed and you will make the Creator of us all smile.-----
Isn’t it amazing how you can hear or read a story a hundred times and yet when you hear it again you learn something new? That happened to me recently when I reread the story below.
In the Middle Ages a man journeyed to where they were building a new church in a distant city. He saw the many people laboring on it. He walked up to a man cutting rock and asked what he was doing. “I am a stone mason”, the man said. “I spend all my days cutting and shaping stones.” The traveler then walked over to a man sawing a beam and asked him the same question. “I am a carpenter”, the man said. “I spend my days cutting and hammering wood.” Finally, deep inside of the church the traveler saw a wrinkled, weathered-looking woman sweeping up the splinters and broken pieces of stone with an old broom while humming to herself. He asked her what she was doing. “I am building a glorious cathedral to honor our Loving Father in Heaven”, she said with a smile.
Now before I had always read that story with a smile on my own face. I took it as a lesson on taking pride in your work and seeing the value in your job. But this time I felt something deeper in my heart. My mind cleared and I saw there was an even deeper meaning to this story. It wasn’t only about how you feel about your job but also about how you live your life. In that moment I saw that each one of our lives here is a cathedral that honors our Loving Father in Heaven. Each choice we make is a stone we lay. Each act of kindness we do is a beam we hammer into place. Each moment of love we create builds it up higher and more beautiful.
How is your life going to look at the end of your days? Is it going to be a glorious cathedral full of light and love that reaches up to Heaven or is it going to be a pile of crumbled rock? It is up to you and it is never too late to start. Open your heart, grab your broom, and start sweeping.-----
DRIVING INTO THE SUNSET
While getting a degree in English Literature had seemed a great idea in college it didn’t prove to be a wise choice when searching for work after I graduated. I was a young father with a wife and baby at home and another on the way. The only work I was able to find was as a busboy at a restaurant and I was barely making enough to eke out a living. This would get even worse one day when for no reason I could see the manager fired me. I drove home angry, sad, frustrated, worried and depressed. “What do I do now?,” I asked myself.
As I drove on the sun started to set and the sky turned the most beautiful shades of red, pink, purple and gold. At that time my faith was far less than it is today but I still felt a sense of peace as I looked at that Heavenly sight before me. I felt loved. I felt secure. And all at once I knew that everything would be alright. As the sunset started to fade I turned on the radio of my little car. At first only static played but then suddenly I heard the band Three Dog Night singing, “Celebrate! Celebrate! Dance to the music!” And while my feet couldn’t dance while I was driving, my heart did.
That is only one of many moments over the years where God in His infinite Love has touched my heart, mind, and soul when I needed it the most. Each time my anger has turned to smiles, my sadness to joy, my frustration to serenity, my worry to peace, and my depression to Love. These days I try not to seek out these moments but rather to live in them daily. I try to trust in the Love that surrounds us all, stay connected to it in my heart and soul, and share it through my writings and my life.
God’s Love is all around us. We need only to invite it into our souls. Then no matter how dark life gets the sun will continue to shine in us and through us always.-----
BEHIND THE DISGUISE
My two adult sons still live with me. Both of them have Autism and other mental disabilities. My oldest boy works a few days a week at a local sheltered workshop. His younger brother, however, isn’t as high functioning. He speaks only a few words and stays home with me full time so my daughter and I can care for him.
The other day I was walking into a fast food restaurant holding his finger so we could go to the rest room before getting something to eat. As we walked by a teenage boy I could see him staring at my youngest son. He quickly looked away either because he was uncomfortable or because he didn’t want to embarrass us. I wasn’t mad at him. Many people have done the same thing over the years. I only wished that they could see what I see when I look at my sons. I only wish that they could see behind the disguise.
You see, I have come to know that both of my sons are far brighter and more beautiful souls than I am. I have been blessed to be able to care for them, to love them, and to learn from them all these years. I am sure that both of them volunteered to come to this world as mentally challenged to help teach us all how to love more deeply and unconditionally.
I have been my sons’ student as well as teacher in this life. As their father I did my best to teach them how to learn and do things with their limited intellectual abilities. And they did their best to show me how to laugh more freely, love more openly, and have joy more easily. When my sons laugh it sounds like Heaven’s music. When they love it is with the innocence of a child and the beauty of an angel. They live much closer to the light of God than I do. And I am honored to have been able to care for them and learn from them for all of these years.
When you see the mentally challenged in this world then don’t just look with your eyes. Look with your heart. See beyond their earthly disguise to their Heavenly soul. Let the light inside them brighten your own light as well. Let the love they share help you to share your own love too. They truly are God’s angels in disguise. ------
My Mom would have been 85 years old this year if she had lived. She gave birth to me 3 weeks after her 30th birthday but passed away when she was only 55. It was heartbreaking losing her when I was only 25 years old. I felt like I had just started to grow up and get to know Mom as a real person and not just a mother. I had hoped for many years of loving friendship with her but it was not to be.
Now I am the same age that she was when she died. Her grandchildren are all grown adults. Thirty years have passed but at times it still feels like yesterday that she was with us. I remember that I hated not having her here to watch her grandchildren grow up. I used to tell my daughter that her grandma was still watching over her from Heaven and perhaps her spirit was even catching a ride on a butterfly’s wing to watch her up close. And it seems like every time I said it too a butterfly would float by us and circle around before flying away. Then we would laugh and our hearts would be filled with love.
This year I noticed my Mom’s birthday on the calendar. I still wrote it down every year even though I never forgot it. I wondered if I might see a butterfly that day to once again remind me that she was watching over me with love. It was still dark on her birthday as I leashed up my dogs for their morning walk. I flicked the porch light on and walked outside. As soon as my pups finished doing their business we walked back in. As I closed the door, however, two moths fluttered into the house and flew around my head. I smiled and thanked Mom for not even waiting until the sun was up to remind me that I was watched over and loved. I gently caught the two moths and released them back outside with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.
Always keep your heart and mind open to messages of love from above. God, the angels, and our passed loved ones all love us and are watching over us. And the reminders of their love are all around us. We just need to recognize them, even when they are a couple of moths.-----
A HAWAIIAN SHIRT
The first time I met Kai she was sitting in my front yard petting my dog, Harley. Harley was a big black Lab and Husky mix and his bark was intimidating but Kai had turned him into a little puppy wanting only to be petted by her. She seemed to radiate a loving-kindness that rippled out to touch us all. She and her husband Sean had just moved into our neighborhood and in no time Kai had befriended everyone. She played with and encouraged the neighborhood children, she rescued a stray dog that had been wounded by a bear, she laughed and gave and shared and loved us all unconditionally.
In no time Kai and Sean had become fixtures in our neighborhood. My daughter, sons, and I visited them often. Kai always seemed to have a piece of cake ready to eat and a heart to heart talk ready to share. Kai also loved the Hawaiian culture and embraced the “Aloha Spirit”, even though she wasn’t native to Hawaii. She had been a former Hula dancer in her youth and gave me a Hawaiian shirt as a gift. Even though it was too small for my big belly I wore it often when I visited her and Sean.
Kai also encouraged my writings about life, love, spirit, and God. She didn’t have the internet so I would bring her a printed copy of each new thing I wrote. Often she asked me to read it to her while she closed her eyes and soaked in the words. I was always happy to do so.
Through all this time, though, Kai was battling Cancer. She had told me the first time I talked with her that she was terminal. That made her even more determined to live all her days here to the fullest, shining her light, seeding her love, and sharing her joy. In time her health declined, she slept more and grew weaker. I visited less often not wanting to tire her but when I did no matter how bad she felt Kai always shared her kindness and her smile.
Kai died on a cold, winter’s day. I walked through the heavy snow to her home to tell Sean how sorry I was and how much she would be missed by us all. Sean moved away soon afterwards and all of us were left a little emptier without Kai’s presence in our lives. Whenever I looked at that Hawaiian shirt, however, I would remember Kai and smile. That is why these days I only wear Hawaiian shirts be it Spring, Summer, Winter, or Fall. Wearing them makes me feel closer to Kai and the love she shared while she was here. I look forward to meeting her again one day in God’s Paradise. Maybe we can share a little “Aloha Spirit”, have a heart to heart talk and a piece of cake. And I’m sure she will smile seeing my Hawaiian shirt.-----
21 YARD SALES
After a whole week of rain we finally had a comfortable, beautiful Summer day outside. My family and I were driving to a nearby town when my daughter spotted a yard sale. A few miles down the road we saw another and another and another. In all we counted 21 yard sales on our drive. I joked that they pop up like flowers when the rain ends. We saw tables full of nick nacks. We saw plates, glasses, and silverware. We saw old toys and a couple of guitars. We saw huge piles of clothes and even a piece of furniture or two for sale. Most of all we saw lots of smiling people talking, laughing, sitting, and standing in the sunshine.
Seeing all of this brought back memories of my childhood. Most of the clothes in my closet back then came from yard sales. My Mom was a talented yard sale shopper and when I was little she would drag me along with her. I used to hate going to them until one special day when I saw that they also sold old books at them. After that I always browsed the books until it was time to go and sometimes Mom would buy me one too. Soon a large part of my at home library came from yard sale books. To me they were more priceless than first editions.
Why do we have yard sales? It certainly isn’t for the money. For all the time and effort people put into them they would hardly make minimum wage from the sales. I think rather it is that yard sales bring us together. We get rid of our old things and we buy “new” old things. We talk and catch up with old friends and new neighbors. We get a chance to help and give and share without seeming to. We connect in kindness and love amongst all the old stuff.
I think yard sales teach us something about life too. We can’t really own anything here, after all. All we get is temporary possession of our stuff. Then it is time to let it go and pass it on. Then it is time to leave this world and return home to God carrying only the love within us. -----
SWIMMING IN THE SUMMER
When I was a boy we lived across a river from the main road and the only way to get to our house was across an old, wooden, swinging bridge. We also lived right next to Camp Caesar which hosted camps all summer long. And the best thing about it was it had a public swimming pool. I remember spending almost every day of my summers at that pool. I would be there when the pool opened at 1 P.M. and swim until it closed at 5 P.M. Usually my brothers and a lot of my friends would be there too. We had so much fun laughing, playing, swimming, splashing, and going off the diving board.
One time, however, I went to the pool to find it crowded with strangers. None of my friends were there and mainly is was older parents with little children. I stayed for a while but felt lonely. I left early and walked home sad and sulky. When I got to the swinging bridge, though, I saw my one friend who was never allowed at the pool. He stood on the bridge with his face smiling and his tail wagging. It was my dog, Doobie patiently waiting for me to come home. I hurried across the bridge to hug him and then we both ran down to the river below our house to swim. We jumped into the cold, clear water. We swum around each other. We romped, splashed and played fetch with a stick in the shallows. And Doobie happily chased my loneliness away with his doggie kisses and gentle love. During all of those Summers spent swimming as a boy that is the day I remember the most.
The Summers in this life fly by so fast. They are too precious to waste a moment feeling sad or sulky. Let God’s love chase away your loneliness then. Spend your days here like my dear dog Doobie did: sharing love and scattering joy. And as you swim down this river of life always remember that LOVE awaits you at its end.-----
BURIED IN THE BACKYARD
I love old stories, parables, and fables. They say so much with so few words. They reach right into your heart and mind and shine the light of truth.
One of my favorite of these stories is of an old farmer. He was constantly worried about his farm, his health, and his family’s security. This made him frustrated, fearful, angry and upset. He often took this out on his family as well. One day plowing in his back field his plow hit a chest full of gold coins. He was shocked by his sudden good luck and wondered what he would do or buy with his new wealth. In the end he decided to bury the treasure again and save it. It would be his security in times of hardship. Over the years he never dug up the gold or spent a single coin of it. Knowing it was there, however, caused a change in him. He was no longer worried or fearful. Instead he became peaceful and happy. He was kind to his sons and loving to his wife. He gave to charity and helped his neighbors. His whole life became a gift of love. The entire community was amazed at the change in him.
Finally on his deathbed he gathered his sons together to tell them the secret he had kept to himself all of those years. After he peacefully passed away his sons went out to the field to dig up the chest of gold coins. When they found it, though, it was empty. Someone had discovered it and stolen the gold long ago.
What all of us in this life need to see is that our true security isn’t buried in our backyards but buried deep in our hearts and souls. Gold is temporary. God is eternal. He loves us all so much and He is here to support us and walk with us throughout our entire lives here. Why worry then? Instead dig up your treasure of love within and share it with everyone. You will only grow richer and the inheritance you leave will last forever.-----
THE COST OF LOVING
I had just stopped by the local grocery store to pick up a few items. The small store was almost empty and only one cashier was working. I pulled up to her aisle and waited while the guy in front of me was unloading a full cart of food. I was in no hurry so I relaxed while she rang him up. He put all the bagged groceries back into his shopping cart and was about to leave when he asked if he could push the cart up to his apartment a quarter mile away, unload it, and bring back the cart. The cashier was new and wasn’t sure what to do. I spoke up then and said that I’d be happy to give him a lift back home.
Outside we loaded his groceries in my trunk and talked on the short trip to his place. He was new in town having just moved here recently. And like all of us he was feeling the squeeze of the high cost of living. I nodded knowingly and helped him unpack the trunk before pulling out and heading home. I thought to myself too: “The cost of living keeps going up, but at least the cost of loving has stayed the same.”
That is the funny thing about the cost of loving. It really doesn’t cost us anything at all. You would think if you spent your love on helping your family, your neighbors, your friends, and even the strangers you meet that sooner or later your love would run low. Sooner or later your heart like your wallet would be empty. Thankfully, Love doesn’t work like that. God in His wisdom fills us full to overflowing with His Love. And when we share our love it doesn’t diminish. Instead, we find that we have even more love to share.
What a glorious thing Love is! It costs us nothing. And every time we give it away it pays us back even more. In truth, it is what makes life worth living. Fill your days with love then. Fill your heart with love. And always remember that the most priceless thing on earth is FREE.-----
A GENTLE REMINDER FROM ABOVE
It was the Summer that everything broke. So far we’d had two broken washing machines, a dead DVD player, a cracked faucet, a broken chair, a flat tire, and vet bills for our oldest, ailing dog. All of them had seriously drained my savings and made me wonder what the heck was going on in my life. The latest problem had been a toilet tank that stopped filling. It was a 30 mile round trip to the only open hardware store but I made the drive. It did feel like the straw that broke the camel’s back and I was feeling both stressed and a little depressed from it all.
After picking up a new valve for the toilet tank I started driving home. Suddenly, a yellow butterfly fluttered in front of my speeding car. I knew I must have crushed it against the grill. I felt terrible. Ever since my Mom died 30 years ago butterflies had served as a special reminder of her love for me. In my heart I saw her spirit riding on the back of every butterfly that flew by me. Now I had killed one.
I felt an urging deep within to pull over as soon as I could and check the grill for the dead butterfly. I pulled over to a wide spot in the road and parked the car. I got out and looked down at the grill. The yellow butterfly lay flat against it but looked otherwise undamaged. I eased my finger down towards it and as soon as I did it took flight. It fluttered once around my head and then flew away with its golden wings shining in the sun. Tears filled my eyes and I thanked my Mom and God for this miracle. I knew too that it was a gentle reminder from above that no matter how broken the things in my life may get, I was loved and watched over from Heaven.
Don’t let the broken things in this life break you. Life is full of stress, strain and struggles but through it all you are LOVED. God loves you and God wants you to live a life of love, laughter, kindness, faith, and joy. May you always do so with a smiling face and a happy heart.-----
A TALE OF THREE WASHERS
I don’t believe in luck, but if I did I would say I have had a string of the bad kind lately. Last week my washing machine broke. It just wouldn’t wash. I hadn’t had it that long either. Like anyone these days I tried to figure out if I could fix it online but soon realized the repairs would cost more than a new machine would. Then this week my daughter’s washing machine broke. It was an older, simpler model so once again I tried to fix it myself and even called my friend who was good at household repairs to take a look at it. Once again, however, it was broken beyond any easy repair. I ended up having to order two, new washing machines putting a couple of big dents in my credit cards. Both got delivered quickly but I still griped to God about the rough patch I was going through.
As soon as I did my memory traveled back in time to when I was a child. I saw my Nana hand loading an old fashioned wringer washing machine with my dirt caked jeans and muddy shirts. It didn’t have a spin cycle so Nana had to put each item through a pair of rolling pin sized wringers to squeeze out the water. Once I had foolishly tried to help and caught my fingers in them. That was a pain I remember to this day.
When the washing was done Nana would often pat the machine affectionately before she took the clothes outside to hang on the clothes lines to dry. She had grown up hand washing clothes and was grateful for the machine that did so much of the work for her.
Remembering this helped me to realize that once again I was looking at things the wrong way. God has blessed me with so much more than my Nana, Mom, and Dad had. I was getting caught up in the problems and inconveniences of modern life instead of thanking God for all I have and all I am. I apologized to God then and thanked Him for that beautiful memory.
The good old days had their share of struggles and joys. And the good new days have their share of struggles and joys. What matters is how we live them. What matters is what we learn from them. What matters is that we LOVE through the struggles as well as the joys. May all your days be full of Love then no matter how dirty your clothes get.----
Driving here in the mountains of my home can be a challenge even in the Summertime. The potholes and patches in the roads make for a rough ride. The low hanging trees, full of green leaves limit your visibility. And you always have to be on the lookout for dogs, cats, and deer crossing the road.
I saw a sad sight here just the other day. As I was driving along I saw a baby fawn lying dead along the side of the road. Its white spots were still on it. A few miles down the road I saw another fawn struck dead on the other side of the road. It was so sad seeing them like that and I slowed down in case more deer were coming down the mountains to drink from the river that ran along side the highway. As I drove on more carefully I took in the sun draped hillsides and enjoyed the God-given beauty of them. I rounded another curve and felt an urging inside my heart and a voice inside my mind. “Slow down, more!”, it said. I braked again and suddenly two adult Doe deer leaped across the road. I stomped on the brakes until I came to a complete stop, and just as I did two speckled fawns appeared from the woods running after their mothers. I watched them pass and blinked back tears of relief that I hadn’t hit and killed those babies. Then I smiled and thanked God for sending that message into my heart and mind.
They say that “God speaks to us in whispers.” I have found this to be true more often than I can count. So many times I have felt a whispered urging in my heart and mind to do something good, to say something kind, to help someone in need, to share a smile, to offer an encouraging word, to pray, to give my love away freely, or even to step on the brakes. And each time I have listened I have been blessed. May you always listen to Heaven’s whispers in your own life. They will always lead you to higher love and greater joy. They will always lead you Home!-----
When I was 5 years old my Dad, Mom, two brothers and I all lived in my Nana’s 70 year old ramshackle house. We didn’t really own anything but since we didn’t feel poor, we weren’t poor. We grew our own food, patched our own clothes, and were happy. And after school each day I would play outside and wait patiently for my Dad to get home from work.
He would always arrive tired and covered in grease from working as an auto mechanic. I would wait as he scrubbed the oil off his hands and changed out of his dirty, grimy coveralls. Then he would settle into his worn out old recliner while my Mom and Nana cooked dinner. And with a smile he’d let me climb on his lap so we could watch TV together. I still remember his thick, calloused hands holding mine and his strong arms around me. I always felt so safe there, so peaceful, so content, and so loved.
Now I am 55 years old. My hair, what there is left of it, is mostly gray. I have wrinkles and laugh lines as deep as canyons. My body often feels achy. I have a bad back and a bit of a belly. I get mail urging me to join the AARP. I am the oldest generation alive in my family with Dad, Mom, and Nana all in Heaven. Yet, a part of me is still that 5 year old boy. A part of me still longs to climb in that beat up old recliner with my Dad one more time. I want to tell him how much I love him and thank him for always making me feel safe and loved and happy as a child. Instead I look up to the skies and send my thanks and my love heavenward. I do so because I know that Dad and my Heavenly Father are watching over me and loving me even now.
Life here goes by so fast, yet each moment of it is precious. Cherish them all then. Fill every one of them with love, laughter, kindness, smiles, hugs, and joy. Sit back and enjoy every second life gives you no matter how beat up or worn out your recliner may be.-----
Summer brings a literal explosion of LIFE here in the mountains of my home. The forested hillsides become an ocean of green leaves. In the meadows and along the roadsides you see buttercups, dandelions, sweet clover, daisies, black eyed Susan’s and Queen Anne’s Lace. Butterflies and bumblebees dance above them. In the trees dozens of species of birds are singing love songs, building nests, and raising babies. You can just feel the LIFE in the air each time you go outside.
Just last evening as I took my dogs out for their last walk of the day I saw: a majestic hawk flying beneath the pink clouds caused by the setting sun, a thousand fireflies blinking their lights in the meadow behind my house, a squirrel scurrying up a tree with a nut in its mouth, a bunny rabbit hopping home from a day of nibbling grass, a deer coming out of the woods for a last meal in the meadow before it got dark, and my daughter’s adopted stray cat, “Alice” laying down for her nineteenth nap of the day. As I looked at it all I felt a peace, contentment, and joy in my heart and I found it fitting that my home state’s nickname is “Almost Heaven.”
I also felt a great desire welling up in me to take my place in all of this Life. I wanted to live. I wanted to learn. I wanted to shine my light. I wanted to share my love. I wanted to do good. I wanted to be kind. I wanted to help others. I wanted to make this beautiful, blessed world even better with the life I lived. I looked around one last time and thanked God for letting me be a part of this wonderful world and this sacred life.
God created this glorious universe and this beautiful planet for us to live, to learn, and to love in. Don’t hide from it. Take your place in it instead. Live with purpose. Share your love. Shine your light. Let your sacred soul become one with this sacred life.-----
It was a hot, humid, steamy, Summer afternoon. I had been up doing one thing or another since six in the morning. Now with the dinner dishes done I thought I could finally lay down for a minute and rest my aching back. As I lay on my bed trying to watch a little TV my brain felt heavy and I noticed my eyelids slowly shutting. I was almost asleep when suddenly I felt a blast of hot breath on my face. I opened one eye and saw a long nose covered in gold and white fur, a pair of loving eyes looking at me, and a mouth open, panting happily. Then before I could say anything a wet tongue slurped my chin.
“Fluffy”, I groaned. “Come on boy. You take naps all day long.” My plea to my retriever mix was answered by two more dog kisses totally soaking my face. “Alright! Alright!”, I laughed. I picked up Fluffy’s favorite rubber ball, walked out of my bedroom and threw it down the hallway. Fluffy bounded after it with joy and brought it back to me for another toss. We kept up with the game with throw after throw until my arm felt heavy. But my heart felt light. Then I let Fluffy up on the bed with me for some hugs, belly rubs, and petting. I could feel his love as he cuddled in close. It was such a joy. And then I realized that I wasn’t at all tired anymore.
As relaxing and refreshing as a nap would have been on that hot Summer afternoon, playing fetch with Fluff was even better. Sharing a little joy, a little laughter, and a lot of love with my furry friend not only energized my body, it warmed my heart, and brightened my soul. As I petted my dog I thanked God again for giving us man’s best friend to make our lives better.
God gives each of us only a limited amount of time in this world. Even the longest life here is still too short for all the love we can give and joy we can share. Make sure then that you enjoy each moment you get here, even if it means giving up your nap for a game of fetch.-----
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.-----
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.-----
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 didnt 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.-----
“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.-----
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. ------
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.