Monday, November 30, 2009

Feeling stressed?

Does the following speak to you? I'm quoting from my book,
GRACE ON THE GO: Quick Prayers for Determined Dieters

Okay, God, here’s the way I feel right now.
Like the inside of a clothes dryer.
All hot and bothered.
With my ‘stuff.’
Worries and fears and stress, oh my
Are tumbling and tossing around
In my mind until
It makes me dizzy.
When I feel like this, I don’t want to pray.
Prayer is just one more stressor.
Who has time or energy
To hallow your name?
(I’m being honest now.)
When I’m stressed,
I wish someone would hallow me.
Help me open the door of this dryer, dear God,
So I can cool down, and then maybe
Pray my gratitude
For all the good in my life.

Having fun with little ones

Is there anything more rewarding than a visit with grandchildren?
How thrilling to see four-year-old Isabella run toward me, arms open, eyes alight, shouting, "Grammy!"
And to say to sixteen-month-old Brady in the time-honored, peek-a-boo singsong style, "Where's Grammy? Where's Grammy?" and have him point to me.

Visiting with grandkids in their home city did mean I got behind in writing my E-spirations.

But I gotta say it was worth it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pictures on the Piano

“Look! I’ve turned into my grandmother,” said my friend Glenda, gesturing toward the many framed photos on her walls and bookshelves. “I thought it was so tacky the way Grandma cluttered the top of the family piano with photos. Now I’m doing it.”

I smiled. “Me too.”

At some point in life, almost like a primal urge, we start surrounding ourselves with reminders of family.
Why do photographs matter so much? Why do people whose homes are destroyed by fire or flood weep the most for their lost scraps of Kodak paper?

Because memories fade. Your toddler’s impish grin, caught—just so—on a certain day may not stay in your memory bank. And have you ever blurted when coming across a 20-year-old photo, “Oh, I’d forgotten all about that!”

For many of us, our refrigerators become colorful art galleries. My friend Dots calls it her visual collection of begats. “It’s like the Bible says: “Frank begat John who begat Sarah who begat Kim who begat my adorable grandson Timmy.”

Have you ever walked into a house where family photos are missing? You become aware of a certain emptiness, subtle but real. Where are the framed reminders of the begats: the connections of one generation to another?

A divorced friend said sadly, “My angry ex-wife cut me out of every family photo. I felt as if she’d cut me out of my place as daddy to our children.”

Another couple didn’t take photos in the early years of their marriage. When the husband died unexpectedly, his widow grieved because she had no visual reminders of their happy early years.

Framed photos are never tacky. They’re loving reminders of all that binds us together. When I look at two framed photos of my now deceased parents, hanging next to photos of my grandchildren, I’m reminded of the blessed continuum of life.

Is now a good time to display some of your family photos?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

When your personal world fills the screen

All of us focus on our own particular worlds, inevitably insulated to a certain degree from what’s happening in the larger world around us.

After publishing nine non-fiction books, I’m now writing a novel. I have followed the adage, write about what you know, so it’s a story about Naval aviators and their wives in the late sixties. Forty years later, those years are history, so I’m supplementing memory with some research.

And I find myself amazed at events that made headlines but seemed to pass me by at the time. For instance, in 1968 Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. There were riots among cities’ black populations. Vietnam War protestors tangled in a bloody melee with the Chicago police at the Democratic Party convention.

But in 1968, my world was focused on my husband John, a Navy fighter pilot who was deploying on his second combat cruise to “Yankee Station” off the coast of Vietnam.

During my husband’s earlier deployment in 1967, his squadron had lost a fourth of their pilots, so there was a fearful awareness that our three young children could lose their daddy.

My attention was so focused on the personal impact that the Vietnam War had on my life that news of the murder of two national leaders failed to imprint me.

And at the end of August, 1968, my worst fears were realized: my husband was killed while flying a night mission, his body lost at sea. What did I care then about the Democratic convention? All I remember about the rest of that year is cataclysmic grief.

Isn’t this true for most of us? If there is a calamitous personal event --if your child dies or you get divorced or you or your spouse loses a job or you learn you have cancer—other world happenings fade into shadows “out there.”

No need to feel remorseful if you realize, months or years later, “Wow. How come I paid so little attention to [the earthquake in China, the hurricane in Mexico, the warring tribes in Pakistan, or…fill in the blank]

When trouble spills over in our lives, we must recover our own strength before we can find the strength and compassion to pay attention to the larger world.

The question is not, “What is happening out there?” but “How do I recover in here, in my heart and soul?”

Monday, October 12, 2009

The power of commitment

My brother Rob and Holly have been together 15 years. Yet last week, as I watched them exchange marriage vows, my heart fluttered with reawakened awareness. What power there is in making a commitment—out loud and before the world.

Whatever the relationship is that calls you---whether to a man, to a woman, to an ideal, to a vocation, to a community---until a public commitment is made, until you say “YES” out loud, you are merely showing a certain degree of interest. When you’re interested in something, you adhere to it only as long as circumstances and pleasure calls you.

Ah, but a public commitment says, “Listen up, world. I’m in this for the long haul: when it’s easy and happy and even when it’s tough and difficult. Whatever the future may hold, I will hold steady.”

There is strength and power in making a commitment. Is today a good day to ask yourself, “What am I committed to?"

Sunday, September 13, 2009

All About Poop

I was at fault. And I told her so.

I had offered to walk a girlfriend’s little dog while she was away, and being a novice, forgot to take along what every conscientious dog walker should have: a bag for poop. Sure enough, little Mitzi unloaded on the corner of a householder’s yard.

The householder was outside clipping her bushes. When she saw Mitzi’s dirty deed, her eyes narrowed, her jaw clenched, and waving her shears, she marched my way.

I tried to intercept. “I don’t blame you for being angry. I’m so sorry! Would you have a plastic bag or just a piece of newspaper? I’ll pick it up right now.”

Oh no! The householder didn’t care that I was sorry. I should have brought my own supplies! I was a disgrace! My dog was a disgrace! She’d had enough of dogs pooping on her lawn! I should go home, get my own bag, and come back to pick it up.

“But I’m three blocks away. If you would just have an old piece of newspaper…the want ads maybe?”

No, no! Absolutely not!

She was more than angry. More than furious. She was enraged! With her imprecations ringing in my ears, I slunk away with Mitzi.

But after I delivered Mitzi, I went back. With a poop bag in hand.

The poop had been picked up.

I rang her doorbell. Timidly I held up my bag. “I did come back…”

Through the screen she snarled, “Too late! I picked it up! But it’s not fair!” Slam!

Whew. The householder's rage seemed to go so far beyond the actual incident, that I began to wonder. At a deeper level, could she be responding to a different reality?

Maybe she’d been going along, living her life, clipping her bushes, just trying to be a good person when suddenly, into her life had come some unexpected
s - - t. Something she felt she didn’t deserve! That wasn’t fair!

It can happen to us all, can’t it? In big and small ways. A boss lays off workers. A spouse asks for a divorce. Our investments disappear. Or a strange dog poops on our carefully tended lawn.

Those are times when we do want to scream, “It’s not fair! I don’t deserve this.”

But maybe the best that any of us can do—-really ---is to simply pick up and go on. If we let rage get the best of us, we won’t hear if someone says “I’m sorry” or “I’d like to help.” And then, no matter who actually picks up the poop, we will still be holding it in our hearts.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Can You Take a Day Off?

Every so often you hear something described in such a way that it makes you sit up and take notice. It happened when my friend Brian said, “People say that Americans are afraid of leisure. Of taking time off from work. But it must go deeper than that. Otherwise why would God, speaking through Moses, have felt all humans needed to be ordered to take a day off?”

Sure enough, for those who follow the Judeo-Christian path, there it is: one of the Ten Commandments: “For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Keep it holy.” In Genesis, even God took the seventh day off to rest from his work. (Gen 2:2)

For 3 weeks, I observed myself to see how well I keep this Commandment. Am I willing to let one day in my crowded week be a day to be lie fallow? To step away from my constant connections to social media and the internet? To set aside my “Things to Do” list?

What I saw is this: though I took time for church, I was a busy bee after that. Running errands. Catching up on housework. And connecting on line, of course.

Yet Holy Leisure, by giving me a break from my primary work, offers an opportunity to become a more Whole human being. It’s a time in which my soul can steep itself in being, not doing.

One of my biggest challenges has been giving up my compulsion to go on line. Instead, I’m trying to feel “okay” about turning off my computer for a day. (Is that your gasp I hear?) To feel okay about taking a Sunday nap. Or putting my feet up and reading a book. Or, if I exercise, to do it out of doors where I can experience God’s beautiful natural world.

I’d love to hear from others who have decided to “Keep holy the Sabbath.” And especially from anyone who might be joining me in shutting down their computers for a day!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Let's make today a random day!

Here's an interesting fact about horses: a horse at random is one with all four hooves momentarily off the ground. Photography has verified this phenomenon. For that tiny random instant, you might say the horse is flying.
Mostly, we use the word “random” in a different way, referring to something happening by chance, without design, unplanned.
Every so often, I find that I am so wholly engaged in an action that I am lifted beyond myself. It is a joyful feeling and seems to occur when, like the galloping horse, I have committed myself totally. Though I don’t feel it is something I can plan, perhaps I can create the circumstances by giving myself totally—without fear or reservation--to what I am doing.
Let’s make today one in which we find ourselves joyfully at random!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Daring to fly

Diana and Paul, a 30-something couple in Colorado have no children, but they do have two dogs and a large parrot. While I was visiting this summer, their parrot escaped their house and flew to the top of an Aspen tree in their back yard. But the silly bird, though it knew it could fly up, didn’t realize it also had the power to fly down. It was frightened. Diana had to cajole and cajole until finally--very gingerly and carefully—the parrot crept down the tree, branch by branch.
Even as I laughed, I wondered: how often do I fail to realize I have the power to fly? It can happen to us all. The Apostle Peter, while walking across the water toward his Master, Jesus, was suddenly clutched by fear. Immediately he lost his power.
My year-old grandson stood and walked as he pushed his toy lawnmower. But he didn’t yet realize could walk without holding on, so away from the toy, he dropped back to his knees and crawled.
It may seem scary at first to dare to spread our wings and fly. But if we don't dare--if we don't trust--how will we learn what power resides within us---just waiting to be tapped?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Taking life as it comes

Last winter, I was put on a six-weeks’ wait for surgery on my knee. It meant I had to reschedule a speech I’d been invited to give in another city.
At 4 p.m. on the Friday before surgery I got a voicemail message: my surgery was postponed a week.
Oh no! A delay would interfere with my travel plans.
All weekend I stewed. In an endless loop, I mentally argued why I needed my surgery on the original date. Why it wasn’t fair to make me wait longer. How my flight had a nonrefundable ticket. By Sunday, I had a giant chip on my shoulder. Except….
Except that sometimes we hear the right words just when we need them. In church on Sunday, Fr. Bill McVay said “We lock ourselves into suffering by wanting things to be different from what they are. When something isn’t going your way, ask God to help you be open to what is.”
Those words helped me enter the surgical scheduler’s office on Monday with a different attitude. Calmly, I explained the problem of my non-refundable airline ticket.
The scheduler was sympathetic. Another doctor’s mother had died unexpectedly, so his colleagues were picking up his cases. "But let me what I can do,” she said.
She managed to get me back on my original schedule.
Would that have happened if I had angrily stormed into her office? Would she have tried so hard on be behalf?
It’s okay for us to try and affect an outcome. But ultimately, life is what it is. Peace comes when we learn to accept that.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Fall 7 Times, Stand Up 8

Last week, I visited my two little grandchildren in San Diego. Brady is an adorable baby, and right at that age between crawling and walking. I watched him stand up, take a tentative step, and then plop! Down he'd fall on his well-padded behind. But he didn’t cry, he just pulled himself up again. Babies don't get discouraged. They never say to themselves, "See? This proves it. I'll never walk." To babies, falling is merely part of the learning process.

Watching Brady reminded me of a prayer in my book, Grace on the Go for Young Moms.
I titled it “Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight.”
Watching a baby learn to walk
Is a gentle reminder that God doesn't count
The times we fall, either.
Help me remember that in the Creator's eyes
I am judged no more, no less
Than a baby who is taking first steps.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The courage to get lost

I think the world is divided into two groups: those who have a natural sense of direction and those who don't. I am definitely a don't. Which is why Betsy Betros amazes me.Betsy deliberately gets lost and then tries to find her way home. Betsy practices the sport of orienteering, and on any given Saturday, will show up in some woodsy area where participants are handed a map and given an end point, but have no idea how to get there. "You find where you are on the map, then create your own route to the next point. At every point you make a new decision about which way to go until you reach the end," she explains.
It occurs to me that we all do that. In life, we reach this turning point or that,and have to make new decisions about which way to go. I love what Thomas Merton wrote in a prayer, "Ultimately I trust that God will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

An Inspiring birthday story

I have had a wonderful birthday week---friends and sibs and kids all remembered my special day. At a “girlfriends” party, each of the 20 women guests shared aloud their favorite birthday memory.

My favorite story came from Ruth. Twenty years ago, she was new to the city, and had just accepted a job as the Religious Formation Director at a local church. On her birthday, Ruth didn’t yet know any people to celebrate with. But at about ten that morning, her doorbell rang. Standing outside was the pastor of the church where she had started working. He waved toward a red convertible at the curb where three women passengers sat, all waving to Ruth. “I noticed in your personnel file that today is your birthday,” he said. “So I invited three of our parishioners that I think you’ll enjoy knowing, and I’m taking you all on a birthday picnic.”

Sure enough, Fr. David had packed a picnic lunch and he and the four women enjoyed a splendid outdoor feast at a popular local park. Where did he get the convertible? He rented it! Did Ruth and the three women connect as friends? “We’re good friends to this day!” she said.

Here’s a question for you: Do you know someone who is about to celebrate a birthday? At any age, we love to be remembered on the anniversary of the day we were born. Maybe now is a good time to phone or send a birthday card.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Quick Way To Give Up Resentment---Before it Occurs!

Today, while I was in the fitness center’s swim pool doing a water walk, a swimmer hopped in to share the lane. He was a splasher! And as his splashes hit me, I felt a moment of irritation, quickly followed, I am thankful to say, by this thought:

"No one owes me anything. But I owe all good to all people.”

I learned this years ago from my friend Don Campbell, who started each day by saying those words aloud. “It’s like giving up resentment in advance,” said Don. Instead of holding on to expectations for another’s behavior, we only hold on to an expectation for ourselves.

One of his favorite examples is a trip to the grocery store. “So, the checkout person is irritable? Hey, she doesn’t owe you a smile. But you’re going to smile at her because that’s the way you want to live.”

This morning, Don’s words reminded me that the swimmer didn’t owe me a non-splashy swim. I could simply turn my head as he swam by, and smile in a friendly way when I left the pool.

And the swimmer smiled back!

Try these words as you begin your day. It might give you a new way to respond to a whole host of petty irritations.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sacred Scrabble, Anyone?

My spousal partner Jim and I have fallen in love—with Scrabble. We’ve been playing a game nearly every night for the past two weeks. As I think about the way we create words and look for new combinations of letters on the Scrabble board, it reminds me of the way WORDS power our lives.
Each day we reach out to others—a family member, work colleague, friend, store clerk—using words to communicate our needs, desires, hopes.
Sometimes we discover that the words we’re using don’t quite connect with another’s needs, desires, hopes.
It’s a little bit like Scrabble. I might have a perfectly good word but if it won’t connect to another player’s word or if it’s too big for the allotted spaces, the word doesn’t do me any good. I need to re-arrange the letters on my tiles until I find a word that will fit.
I don’t get emotional when a Scrabble word doesn’t work; it’s a game, after all.
Why do we get so emotional—angry, hurt, defensive--- about the words we use to communicate with another? Today, if some communication of mine isn’t working, maybe I can think along lines of Sacred Scrabble, and find within myself the grace to laugh, shrug, and re-arrange what I say until I do make a connection.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Can prayer ease money worries?

I hope so! I believe so! And my latest book, GRACE ON THE GO: Powerful Prayers to Ease Money Worries which will be published in April, 2009 by Morehouse Press (an imprint of Church Publishing)contains many hopeful prayers for readers.
Here is one of my favorites: 19 easy-to-memorize words which I hope can act as a daily reminder for how to think and act around all that you have. I call it

The Simple Living Prayer
Clutter less
Pray more
Consume less
Give more
Want less
Enjoy more
And always, always, give thanks to God.

Copyright@Barbara Bartocci