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Archive for September, 2011

I have fallen in love with a children’s book that has taught me more about adversity than anything I have ever read.  Have you ever had something really awful happen to you? Of course you have. Everyone has story. When it was over and you survived, did you look back and realize it was actually a gift? The Little Soul and the Sun is a beautiful book by Neal Donald Walsch that explains how that works.

Picture heaven. It’s just what we imagined, lush colors, fluffy clouds, brilliant, beautiful Light, and lovely little souls who delight in the joy that surrounds them. They know who they really are. They are the Light. But then one of the little souls (There’s always one, isn’t there?) decides it wants to feel Who It Really Is. That’s serious, so the Little Soul goes to God to find out what it feels like to be the Light. Problem is, to know yourself as the Light, you have to know Darkness. Think about it. To know Warm, you have to know Cold. To know Up, you have to know Down. There’s no Left without Right; no Here without There. We’ve got to have those contrasts and those conflicts.

The Little Soul has an inspirational conversation with God. (I imagine every conversation with God is inspiring, don’t you?) God says that the Little Soul can experience just what it feels like to be the Light by choosing a special part of special. “It’s special to be kind. It’s special to be gentle. It’s special to be creative.” The Little Soul wants to experience the specialness of forgiving. It wants to learn about forgiveness. That’s not so easy in heaven. After all, everyone there is perfect. What’s a soul to do?

Suddenly a Friendly Soul comes out of the crowd of Souls and offers to help. “I will give you someone to forgive.” This light, beautiful little soul offers to go into Life together and do something heavy and bad so the first Soul will learn to forgive.

“I will do something really terrible, and then you can experience yourself as the One Who Forgives.”

Then the Friendly Soul asks a favor. “In the moment that I strike you and smite you, …in the moment that I do the worst to you that you could possibly imagine…in that very moment…Remember Who I Really Am.”

“…because, you see, I will have been pretending so hard, I will have forgotten myself. And if you do not remember me As I Really Am, I may not be able to remember for a very long time. And if I forget Who I Am, you may even forget Who You Are and we will both be lost. …”

Think about life’s challenges. My friend G.J. has a son with Downs Syndrome. That challenge lead to the formation of an amazing nonprofit that educates parents about the unconditional love that comes from these children. My friend L.H. works to help at risk women and children because she walked a rebellious path in her youth. They both impact many lives because of those early challenges.

What about your challenges? Has anyone hurt you? Shouldn’t be too hard to make a pretty long list. But did the hurt create an opportunity to grow? Did your divorce allow you to stand on your own two feet? Did the death of a loved one increase your compassion for others who grieve? Did cancer teach you about LIFE? Did a terrible injustice show you what to cherish?

This beautiful story lead me think of all the Little Souls who have helped me grow and learn Who I Really Am. When you’re in the middle of a hurricane, you don’t thank the wind. In the midst of prison, nobody says, “Oh, great, I’m learning so much. This is fantastic.” Nope, it doesn’t work that way. (Unless you’re Gandhi or Mother Teresa.)

I served seven years in prison. I didn’t love it. I didn’t think, “What a fantastic experience.” But prison was a journey I was meant to take, exactly when I took it. It gave me my passion and my purpose, which I know are key to a happy life no matter where you are.

Wherever you are, find your passion and turn it into your purpose. Your life will have a great depth of meaning. You will be like the Little Soul and find out Who You Really Are. Inside or out, you can create meaning in your life. You will become your own best friend and the friend of many as you learn to serve others. God has sent us nothing but angels. Some of those angels are the Little Souls who have promised to help you find out Who You Really Are.

Neale Donald Walsch’s beautiful little book helped me realize that no matter where we are, we are surrounded by Little Souls to help us become our best selves. DO NOT forget who they really are. Love them for the love they are showing to you. Thank them for that love.

By the way, The Little Soul and the Sun was published in 1998 and is still available on Amazon. It is a book to treasure and to give away. If you are inside, see if you can get it in your library. Ask someone to send it to you. Share it. Because of this book,  I look at people and events differently. I hope you will too.

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Back to prison, part 2:

We go to the prison as a team. We have Chelsea, a brilliant intern from Gina’s Team, and three community leaders who are observing and may teach future classes. We meet at Paradise Bakery near the prison to get a quick snack (no food at the prison and we will be teaching over the dinner hour) and briefing.

Clearing security to enter a prison is a bit like airport security now. A metal detector and search of our handouts and curriculum. We are only allowed to bring in our driver’s license and bottle of water. Everyone new to prison is a bit nervous. I knew all nerves would vanish as soon as we walk into the large dining hall. The thirty women are waiting, dressed in their best orange. Most are excited; some have curious, skeptical looks. All have been especially selected for this first class but have no idea what is in store. We are all about to embark on a journey of self-discovery.

The first class covers an introduction and the first two principles, Live Authentically and Learn Constantly.  One of our students says she has never heard the word “authentic” before. Many inmates have low self-esteem and feel voiceless. We talk about what it means to be true to yourself, especially in prison. How do you learn who you really are when you are so used to camouflaging your emotions?  This course is a unique opportunity to find out how to really Live Authentically.

Learning Constantly is another unknown concept. Learning is not easy in prison. Classes are limited and waiting lists are long. You have to be really determined. But it is possible and these women are very open to our suggestions. We use Oprah as a role model.  She said, “The whole point of being alive is to evolve into the complete person you were intended to be.” This is almost a new concept, a paradigm shift. But we are giving them materials and tools for this new journey.

The class flies by. At the end we join hands and form a “Celebration Circle” to share our joy. What are we celebrating? We are deeply touched by one woman who says she is celebrating being chosen for the class. “I feel like I won the lottery.”  She is not alone. We all share her feelings.

On the ride home, we debrief in the car and share our emotional joy. I know how desperate inmates are for good programs so I wasn’t surprised. The others had no idea what to expect so they are overwhelmed with what they saw and heard. They were surprised that the inmates were enthusiastic and willing to participate. We share their enthusiasm and are riding on adrenalin and excitement. I am exhausted.

Didn’t get much sleep. The next day is our Mingus Day. Up very early, ready to go when the phone rings at 6:30. There has been an emergency at the school and our program is cancelled for the first time in 16 months. We are all disappointed so I decide to keep an appointment with the interns who were scheduled to go with us. We’re all free. Let’s make the most of it. It is lucky we didn’t go to Mingus. Saturday morning I ended up in hospital with that pesky staph infection and had surgery on Sunday.  Martha is on her way to Europe for an international women’s conference and we don’t go back to PV until July 21. Time to rest.

Thank God for David. This past year he has been an unexpected caregiver and has done a brilliant job. I’m deeply grateful. When I was dealing with cancer in prison, I felt very alone, especially after Gina died. It is wonderful to be loved and nurtured, to be in a bed with soft pillows, and have access to your own comfort food. I have to heal fast so I can go back to prison. ATHENA awaits…

To be continued…

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