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Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category

Many people are alone on New Year’s Eve. Some feel lonely; some are comfortable. New Year’s was always special for my husband and me; just the two of us remembering the past and looking forward to the future. David died in April; this is my first holiday season without him. Christmas was spent in silent retreat in Sedona, thanks to a most generous friend. It has heavenly to have such silence after a noisy and challenging year. I was alone but not lonely.

Now it’s New Year’s Eve. It’s cold (for Phoenix) and raining and I’m fine. Tonight I’m curling up with old movies. Later I’m going to  write my intentions for 2015, keeping in mind the words of Walt Whitman, “Every moment of light and darkness is a miracle.” Not easy to remember when darkness is swirling around you. I should have it tattooed somewhere. Or not:)

How lovely to be free to have these choice. I remember New Year’s Eve in prison. Dark. Lonely. Drab. But inmates always try to make the best of things. This is an excerpt from my book, The Slumber Party from Hell about that time.

December 31, 2004For all our years together, David and I always celebrated New Year’s Eve at home. No loud parties, no big crowds, no kissing strangers at midnight. We had  tradition. I always decorated with colorful New Year’s paraphernalia, noisemakers and silly hats, crystal bowls full of streamers and confetti, and bright balloons around the room. There was even tradition in what we wore. David wore his favorite black turtleneck sweater and I wore my favorite ancient black sequined skirt that thankfully had an elastic waistband. I loved that skirt; it aged with me. 

While I decorated the table, David carefully planned the music: Frank Sinatra, Glen Miller, João Gilberto, Linda Ronstadt, and hits of the 60’s. He laid the logs in the fireplace while I prepped the salad, the vegetables, and the dessert. Then I took a nap because otherwise I would not have made it to midnight. 

About 8:30, we’d meet in the living room for cocktails and a dance. It was our night to focus completely on each other. We danced and talked through dinner. David always grilled steaks and we enjoyed our simple but delicious meal.

 At eleven, we’d get out pens and paper. We each wrote down the bad things that happened the previous year and then our goals and dreams for the coming year. This is a Brazilian tradition, but theirs is more dramatic. Brazilians place their lists in very small boats. Imagine a boat for Barbie. Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 7.57.21 PMThey decorate them with flowers and candy or tiny gifts. Then, dressed in white, they go down to the beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema and at midnight launch their boats into the ocean as offerings to the goddess of the sea. If your boat sails out successfully, the goddess accepts your offering and it will be a good year. If, however, your boat comes crashing in on a wave, the goddess isn’t pleased, and your future won’t be so great.

 David and I never made it to Rio for New Year’s, but I decided we’d take the best of it and make it  part of our tradition. We wrote our lists and made a tiny boat out of a milk carton, decorating it with bougainvillea from the garden and little votive candles. We lived right by the canal and at midnight, we’d walk over and launch our little boat, watching it bob merrily down the dark water. I just knew eventually our fragile boats would make it to the sea.

 Now I am at Perryville, surrounded by concrete and gravel, miles from water, wondering how in the world to celebrate New Year’s Eve. I decide to invite four young friends to meet at the picnic table at 6:30 with pen and paper. Stacy thoughtfully makes hot cocoa for us. It is very cold and they are curious.

 “Close your eyes and imagine we’re in Rio de Janeiro.” I tell them. “It’s summer. It’s New Year’s Eve. We’re all dressed in white, happy to be together.”

 As I describe the events of a Brazilian New Year’s, I can see that I’ve captured their imaginations. I encourage them to think about 2004 and write down the bad stuff that we want to get rid of. Everyone agrees it is a short list; prison and separation from loved ones. Next we write our goals and dreams for 2005. Each of these four ladies will be released within the next six months so this is actually an important exercise. Writing goals will help them visualize and focus. I tell them to think carefully about how they see their lives. What’s important to them now? All is quiet as they labor over their papers in the very dim light of the yard.

 As I watch them, I’m pleased and a little relieved. I was afraid they might think this was corny, but they embrace it seriously. It’s a good time to set their goals. And they want to share. We go around the table, listening and encouraging each other. When we are done, we join hands as I pray over our little group of friends and our precious dreams; that God will look favorably on them when they leave prison and will bless them on their journey.

 It’s late and we’re frozen, but no one wants to leave. It is a significant moment in our time here, to always treasure.

 “But what about our papers and the ocean, Sue Ellen? What are we going to do?”

 In prison we have to be creative. When we go inside for count, I figure we will just have to tear up our papers and sprinkle the little bits into the toilet. It’s water and surely one flush will eventually make it to the sea. Laughingly, we agree this is a great idea. Yes, it’s prison, it’s ugly, it’s cold and awful, but imagination is a wonderful thing….inside and out. 

In 2009, after seven years apart,  David and I were free to share our tradition again. We shared five lovely celebrations, five more years of precious memories.

Everyone has a story. If you have a New Year’s Eve story to share, I would love to hear it.

Meanwhile, my prayer for all of you is a joyful, peaceful, loving, and fulfilling 2014. And if you are alone, may you never be lonely.

Happy New Year.

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No words needed

Close your eyes and listen. In the silence, can you hear the voices of your children, your partner, the people you most love? We’re so used to all those voices that sometimes we wish they would just BE QUIET. HUSH. Or even SHUT UP.

Now, close your eyes and think: what would it be like if they were forever silenced and you longed to hear their voices just once more. That’s what’s happened to me when David died. In this age of technology, with magical phones that create videos instantly, David and I never did that. We took pictures. That’s our generation. We took pictures but we never thought of the phone as a tool to make a movie, a small, intimate family love letter or greeting card to mark each year and have as a treasure forever.

How many seconds does it take to say, “I love you, Darling. I love our life and the way you make a garden grow and always hold my hand wherever we go anywhere. I appreciate the way you take care of the car and take out the garbage. I love your blue eyes and the way you dance. I love everything about you. Thank you for loving me.”  We could have both done that and now I would be playing it over and over. I have nothing with his voice on it, not one thing. I see his face in the pictures but I Miss His Voice.

Right Now, Today, use your magic phone to make a movie greeting card for each person you love. It’s a love letter, a gift, a magical memory. Do it once or do it every year at Thanksgiving or your birthday or Christmas and keep it safe. It may just be the best gift you ever give.

And in case you have any doubts at all about the power of this, watch this brief video. YOU have the power to make a huge difference in the life of someone you love. What could be better than that?

 

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In the last month, many people have died or, as in the case of the Malaysian airline, disappeared without a trace. Millions are suffering, aching, grieving or in pain. Right now  I’m one of those people.

On March 13, the VA found a tumor on my beloved husband David’s brain. The same day they sent him immediately to Barrows in Phoenix, one of the best in the world, where he had brain surgery on March 17. The news: malignant, stage 4 and metastasized to lungs and pancreas or from his lungs to his brain. They weren’t sure. Anyway, it’s spread and “grim” to quote the doctors.

On March 25 he came home and on March 27, the VA assigned him to Hospice of the Valley, our choice. Their initial visit yesterday started the process. There are different opinions of “days, weeks, months” depending on the doctor. Of course I heard the same 12 years ago. when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Only God knows and we live in hope, that most priceless of emotions.

David is in good and peaceful spirits.  He said when he came in the door of our home, he was overcome with joy and peace and it shows in his quiet strength.

He’s always had that quiet strength while I feel as though I’ve been thrown headfirst off several cliffs simultaneously. There are not enough words to tell all of you who have rallied how grateful I am, beginning with our brother and sisters in orange who have been there every step of this unbelievably unexpected journey to help hold me up when my knees felt like buckling. I’m grateful for the strength God gave me. I’m not a marathoner but I do know how to put one foot in front of the other and fight for those I love, like David and those behind bars.

I’m so grateful we are together. Although I continue to live in gratitude,  I’m just a bit wobbly right now. Gina’s Team’s incredible group of volunteers has circled the wagons and rallied to bring food and hugs in equal measure.  David says he isn’t ready to “leave” yet and I’m certainly not. More than anyone on the planet, David KNOWS ME. We have been on an incredible journey for 27 years. We have shared prison and the passion of Gina’s Team and the loss of everything but each other. There is great comfort in not having to explain anything to the person who KNOWS you. Despite my thoughtlessness, my over-the-top passion and determination, all my weaknesses and insecurities too numerous to mention, David loves me. I consider THAT a great gift and miracle.

His biggest, strongest wish is for us to continue our focus and work with Gina’s Team. As a matter of fact, he says it’s the most important thing. Something happened to him in the hospital that confirmed that with great clarity. I’ll write about that later.

We do have a special request to everyone all over the planet. The common question to both of us and to everyone else going through something like this is “How are you doing?” There just isn’t an answer to this. You ask because you care, but there is no answer. Perhaps you could skip the question and say, “I just called to say I love you.” Hey, isn’t that a song?  Laughter, music, and prayers, surely the BEST medicine. We are most most grateful  to ALL of you and for laughter and music and prayers.

We are also grateful if you add to those prayers, all those others in pain and grief, behind bars or in hospitals or homeless under a bush. No one’s pain is unique. When we remember that, it’s truly a blessing.

And while I’m at it, here’s another request. Instead of a card for David, would you consider making a donation to Gina’s Team? It’s easy to go to www.ginasteam.org and push a button. If you donate the cost of a card, it will make a difference in the life of someone behind bars or free and struggling to change their life. Imagine, the cost of a card can make a difference. YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

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Children's message

Children’s message

The United Universalist Church in Surprise is a very warm and open congregation with a strong social conscious. They just spent the month of January focused on the prison issue including the cost and conditions of prison. After they read my book , The Slumber Party From Hell, they honored me by inviting me to speak recently. Besides the sermon, I gave the message to the children. Now that’s a real challenge. How to talk to children about prison?  Sesame Street has the answer.  http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/topicsandactivities/toolkits/incarceration

You may not know one in twenty eight children has a parent in prison so I felt this message was important. This is what I said:

“Any one here like Sesame Street? Recently Sesame Street got a new character to go with Cookie Monster, Big Bird and Elmo. That’s pretty exciting for Sesame Street. 

And it’s a pretty interesting character. His name is Alex. He has an orange face,  green nose and  really fantastic blue hair. He also feels sad and lonely and he doesn’t like to talk about why. 

Alex on Sesame Street

Alex on Sesame Street

Why is Alex sad and lonely? He’s sad because the other muppets want to do something with their dads and he can’t. His Dad isn’t there. When his friends ask where he is, he said he doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to talk about it because his dad is in prison. 

Then one of the human friends says she understands because when she was little, her father was in prison too. That really surprised him. He was relieved to hear someone else had the same experience. It made him feel less strange and alone.

Prison can be pretty scary to children. Do you think you might know someone who has a parent in prison? I’m asking because 1 in 28 children has a parent in prison. That is a lot. So it’s possible there are some kids in your class who may feel sad because they have a mom or dad in prison. That’s hard. It’s a huge challenge for a kid. 

When you have a challenge and feel sad, you might feel like you’re all alone and no one understands. That’s hard too.  

So what can you do? Can you do anything? Yes, you can. You can be sympathetic. It’s a pretty big word but I’m  sure you understand it. If you see someone feeling sad and lonely, you can be sympathetic. You can understand. You can be nice to them. Don’t tease them. Don’t be mean. Be nice. 

At Gina’s Team, we have an important message, so important we put it on a bracelet. 

Been there. Done that. Now how can I help?  Helping others is really an important message and that’s what Jesus was talking about in the reading today  (Matt 25: 34-40). I’m going to give each of you a bracelet to remind you that YOU can help. Not just about the prison thing but about anything. YOU can help by being kind to people who are sad and feel lonely.

I promise, it won’t only make them feel better; it will make you feel better too.”

Remember that startling statistic?  One in 28 children has a parent in prison. That is so huge that Sesame Street felt it was important to  add Alex to this characters. However, it’s still controversial so Alex is not on the actual show; he is on the website at the link I’ve provided above. On that site, there are games and stories for children,  for the parent who is free and for care-givers like grandparents. Perhaps you are one of those parents or children. If so, you aren’t on an easy journey.  I personally know many of the women who are serving time. They miss their children dreadfully. If you are amongst that group of children or care-givers, I urge you to visit the website where I hope you will find some support  there.

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We make plans. We set goals. And then LIFE happens. Somehow those plans and goals don’t always work out.  Broken hearts, betrayals, divorce, job loss, death of loved ones, cancer, even prison. So many things can go wrong and frequently do.

This is a link to a beautifully written blog about plans and dashed plans that touched me deeply. It is about accepting the reality of the journey and realizing that the journey is EVERYTHING. When people do accept it, their lives open up in ways they never imagined.

If you are going through one of Life’s “gifts” wrapped up in tears, trials, and heartbreak, you may find comfort in this blog, The Soul’s Plan.”

http://liveyourbliss.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/the-souls-plan/

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On March 18, 2009, I was released from prison. My friend Carolyn welcomed me back to the world and took me to Paradise to have my first meal. I stood with my mouth open, looking up at the menu with no idea what to choose. I was just determined to have something with tomatoes. Then Carolyn took me to the home of my friend Eleanore where I became a house guest until David was released and our life began again. I will never forget her kindness and generosity.  I am sure that she and her family gave us our life back.

Not everyone is so blessed. So many women get out of prison with no family or community support. Most places will not accept ex-felons as tenants. Most companies don’t want to hire you. And the economy isn’t the greatest, just in case you haven’t noticed. What a period of adjustment. There are so many choices out here. The best thing about prison is realizing I don’t need all that stuff to make me happy. Happiness comes in finding your purpose and living it. I found mine in prison and I am blessed to be able to serve the population I left  behind. Teaching classes in the prison and in the juvenile facilities we serve through Gina’s Team is the most rewarding thing I have ever done.

We didn’t celebrate yesterday. I was busy updating curriculum for our classes and writing mid-term evaluations for our interns. I guess tonight was our celebration. It’s the first night of one of my favorite shows, Dancing with the Stars. I confess, I love all those sequins, feathers, and spray tans. I love the color and joy of dance.  I love the fun of it all. Finally, David and I get to watch it together and we get to vote.

Life is precious and the simple pleasures are the best. We live in gratitude.

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Are you grateful? Really, truly grateful for all the little blessings of LIFE? Maybe you think you are, but I assure you, you will never really appreciate the precious daily freedoms taken for granted in everyday life unless you lose them. Before I went to prison, I thought I was grateful; truthfully I had no idea. I took the freedoms, the choices, the comforts, the blessings, the miracles for granted.

While in prison,  I made a list of all the things I dreamed of doing upon my release. I even coined an acronym, W.I.G.O., When I Get Out. It’s 2012. Time, I think, to share my list and ask what you would put on your own list. It is not in any particular order. I just kept writing stuff down.  Notice it’s not glamorous or expensive. Very few of them cost money.  My list has grown now. When I wrote it, I was thinking about comfort; prison was uncomfortable, to say the least.  Now I’m thinking about people. So maybe instead of  a W.I.G.O list, it should just be a Gratitude List. There are so many people I appreciate.

 The good news is, I’ve done everything on the list. I am VERY GRATEFUL.

Try to imagine losing all your freedoms, ALL of them. Now make a list of what  and who you particularly treasure.  Won’t you share it with us? There are 41 items on this list. I’ll bet we could make it 100.

Let’s try. Add one or 100. I would appreciate it so much. See, reasons to be grateful. Thank you!

W.I.G.O.

  1. Go to church and feel the power in the silence *
  2. Walk a dog *
  3. Pet a cat *
  4. Listen to the birds sing *
  5. Sit on a sofa surrounded by pillows*
  6. Drink a glass of fresh juice*
  7. Eat all the fruits and veggies I want*
  8. Use real TP without worrying it will run out*
  9. Wear a skirt*
  10. Soak in colors other than orange and gray*
  11. Wear perfume*
  12. Swim in a pool completely immersed in water *
  13. Use a telephone without restrictions*
  14. Listen to music without headphones*
  15. Take a bubble bath *
  16. Shower in private*
  17. Go barefoot*
  18. Sleep on a real mattress*
  19. Have ice whenever I want it*
  20. Drink from a real glass*
  21. Have a conversation that doesn’t involve prison***
  22. Have a glass of ice tea from a real glass*
  23. Make a great big salad*
  24. Go to a florist shop and inhale the scent*
  25. Cook, cook, and cook some more*
  26. Take long walks in the park*
  27. Go to the Art Museum *
  28. Have a cup of hot tea from a china cup *
  29. Sit under a tree*
  30. Dance, dance, dance*
  31. Sing and sing some more*
  32. Go to the library *
  33. Wear contact lenses *
  34. Wear earrings*
  35. Dress up in something feminine*
  36. Feel pretty*
  37. Drink real milk, not the powered kind*
  38. Eat yogurt*
  39. Surf the Internet*
  40. See a movie*
  41. Wear pretty colored lingerie *


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Last year through the miracle of WordPress blogs, Leigh Hopkins in Brazil and yours truly in Arizona connected and a wonderful friendship was born. Leigh always inspires me. Today she honored me with taking some questions I had recently asked and beautifully expanding them in her blog. Especially at this time of year they are worth answering. Perhaps it can be the start of a new tradition for New Years.  I encourage you to check out these questions on Leigh’s blog Live Your Bliss and explore the rest of her entire site. She is the perfect example of how turning your life upside down in the USA and ending up in Brazil was the best thing she could have ever done. Don’t just read our questions, answer them. May they be the beginning of an meaningful and insightful 2012.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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I hope you are having a loving and meaningful holiday season. Gina’s Team has been wonderfully blessed to be able to share with the too often forgotten human beings languishing inside. We have sent about 200 Christmas cards to inmates and for the second year through the generosity of Logos Center, were able to gift the 112 girls at the juvenile facility we serve with their own stuffed animal. It’s an entirely new group of girls this year who echoed the words of the girls last Christmas. They told us they had never had their own stuffed animal in their life. In high school I told all my troubles to the stuffed animals on my bed. Didn’t you?  Wonderful what a simple stuffed animal can do.

Diane & Chris Panetta, Gina’s parents, at Mingus with the animals

We were blessed to gift them with such a simple thing. Christmas is all about the gift. I have had many gifts this year,  chiefly the gifts of human spirit. If I named every person who has been a part of the team this year, the list would stretch from here to Sedona. They know who they are. They are every volunteer who wanted to help, every girl in the juvenile facility, every woman in prison or jail, every person who shares our vision that everyone, inside or out, deserves a chance and “Education, not incarceration, is the cheapest form of crime prevention.” They are blessed to be able to share and blessed to be in need.  There is a season for it all.

I’m late with this because my 5th surgery really did exhaust me and I am far behind. However, I wanted to share this “gift” with you. My darling friend, Renee Morgan Brooks, performs ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ better than anyone I have ever heard. Most people just sing the song. Renee takes you to the manger to be there with the family.  Even though Christmas is past, I urge you to give yourself a gift and listen to Renee’s gift of song.

Love and blessings to you all.

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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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