Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

Life Has Changed

Yesterday I sang a solo in church. It is one I have sung many times - Come Unto Him from Messiah.  But this time was like no other.

I started singing church solos at age 14. I cannot even count how many - and my dad was my biggest fan. Always sitting a few rows back to my left.  He always wanted to sit where he could see my mom and I next to each other in the choir loft. Mom and I sat in the choir loft of two churches for almost 40 years together.  (The various directors somehow knew better than to try to separate us.)

When I am asked to sing, I do, because it is my offering. It is something I can do that sometimes touches people's hearts.  There have been many times I wanted to quit because I didn't feel my voice was dependable or good enough. But even the times that I felt awful about my performance, someone would be moved by it.  I'm not a professional, just an untrained soprano. It's a very humble offering, believe me.

I learned many years ago to never look at my dad while singing because there were often tears streaming down his face. Yesterday my dad was not sitting there and my mom was not either because of poor health.  It didn't really hit me until I sat down after the song, and then I was overwhelmed with grief and loss and the confusion of change.

My dad was supportive and proud of everything I ever did. I know I am just now experiencing what so many of you already have in this life.  I was more than blessed to have him here for his 91 years. Parents (and maybe siblings) are the only people you have known every day of your life so, even though I have lost friends and other relatives, this is much different.

I know my Dad is ok.  I believe in heaven and this is what I believe:
Heaven is the place, the everlasting life, where we receive everything we yearned for here on earth. As human beings we spend our lives searching for unconditional love, for perfect peace, for unknowable joy and for release from the cares of this troubled world.  This is the definition of heaven to me.  All will be known. All will be understood. All will be the peace that passes understanding. It will be nothing like being here - where we are left to grieve and wonder and wait.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas

First, there is no war on Christmas.  We should all be thankful that we live in a country where we have the freedom to worship as we please. That means everyone - Jews, Gentiles, Muslims, pagans - all have the same freedoms here.  Insisting that someone honor your religion while you ignore theirs is, to me, the height of disrespect and judgement.

If you think there is a war on Christmas go into any store right now and what do you see and hear? Only Christmas music and Christmas decorations. Do those who do not celebrate it have a choice?

If you are indeed a Christian then you are familiar with these words of Jesus:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (NIV)

This is not a Christian nation. It is a nation of freedoms. There is freedom of religion as well as freedom from  it. Will someone not saying Merry Christmas to you actually hamper your beliefs or celebration of Christmas? Jesus does not care if you say Merry Christmas - he does care that you love others as yourself - something he repeated 23 times in scripture. Love includes honor and respect.

 Here are some verses from Romans 14 which I think very clearly state that we are not to disrespect others:
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgement on disputable matters. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.  

One man considers one day more sacred than another, another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tamir Rice

It's been two weeks and I cannot get used to seeing a boy I knew in the newspaper and on the national news day after day. This news story is personal to me.

I taught kids with special needs for over 30 years, so that's a lot of students. Tamir Rice was one of those students you don't forget.  We had our good days and our bad days together in math class first thing in the morning.  If Tamir's day had started out well he was bright, charming and hardworking. He was good at math and he knew it, but he required a lot of attention. He wanted to answer every question. He was behind in academics from constantly being moved from school to school. In fact, he was only with us for one year, and that causes great instability in a child's life.

If the day had not started well Tamir was likely to cry and leave the room.  But the thing to remember about children's behavior is that it is never their fault.  The child who disrupts or is angry or depressed is   lacking a basic need in life that only the home can provide.  Teachers nurture and care and attend to students' needs as much as they can during the hours they are with them each day.  But home is where basic needs of security, stability, love and attention are met.  Tamir liked attention, so he, like many other children, got it any way he could. He probably thought he was being funny the day those policemen drove up within a few feet of him.

The thing about Tamir was that even if he gave you a hard time you still liked him. Right now I don't remember the tough days as much as I remember that smile you see every day from some news source. Can't you see the mischievous charm in those eyes?  You could plainly see the capacity to achieve and even be a leader if life went his way - which it didn't.  What a waste.

Working in a racially diverse school district for 22 years taught me a lot.  If you think there is no white privilege then you haven't been around those who struggle every day to keep their children safe, fed, and sheltered.  You haven't met a mom who is afraid every day because she has to send her black  teenage son out into the world praying he comes home every night. You are not afraid to just walk through your own neighborhood. You're not Trayvon Martin's or Tamir Rice's parents or Eric Garner's children.

I don't have all the answers and I understand that policemen have to defend their own lives. But what about tasers and pepper spray? Could we invest in those?  Body cameras are fine but there are videos of Tamir's death and of Eric Garner's death in New York City and no one sees how those black men could have been apprehended without dying?

Eric Garner was unarmed and committing a very minor offense, but now policemen have left more children without a father. They could have even just let him get away - he was selling cigarettes, for God's sake.

Did the Cleveland police have to shoot Tamir from a few feet within two seconds of arriving or could there have been another way?  Could they have spent a little more time trying to reason with the unarmed Mr. Garner or did they have to strangle him to death?

                                                               Rest in peace Tamir.

Monday, December 1, 2014

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace like a river
attendeth my way
When sorrows
like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot
Thou has taught me to say
It is well
It is well with my soul.

Spafford


Monday, November 24, 2014

Grateful Apologist

Everything I need surrounds me
like a protective shell.
The sun drops on my day as I awaken,
and stays with relentless patience.

God is in your eyes and I can see
him every time I look at you.
My head has eternal music without my ears,
and love is inextricably knit around my heart.

A visceral peace arrives at unexpected moments,
one that can only be found in the human soul.
The world, fraught with danger,
has passed over this house

leaving beauty outside every window,
as if God has lost control of His grace,
and let it move in its own tangents
with glorious abandon.

Friday, November 14, 2014

In Memory of my Dad

For Donald Vogel
1923-2014


Daddy's Girl

You will never again trust
as you did

when Daddy was twice your size
his arms the greatest you knew.

They could straighten your baton
or chop down a tree in the front yard,

he won every game
and you were his best partner.

Driving in the Fourth of July storm
your dread of thunder and lightning

abated with Daddy's hands
on the wheel.

Fearless, you traveled the country
with the deepest knowledge

that Daddy
would bring you safely home.

He never told you he'd give his life
for you, you were born knowing.

You never felt doubt until the day
he held your hands and then let them go.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What If You Were Dorothy?

I've started volunteering to tutor adults who are studying to get their GED. It's only been a few sessions and already I think I might be learning as much from them as they are from me.

I spent all morning working with Dorothy on a language arts packet - excruciatingly dull worksheets on dangling modifiers and parallel statements etc.  At the end of the packet it asked her to write a story about something that happened to her. She thought for a while and then she wrote her story:

She had her son when she was 17 years old. They lived on the streets like "gypsies" for eight years. She wrote about how her every waking minute was spent on trying to meet his basic needs. She did that by "hustling" and dancing in bars.  She would leave him with a friend or acquaintance and buy food for that family with part of her pay. She worked hard for her son.

Then one day her sister came and took him from the babysitter and said she wanted him to play with her son - and Dorothy never saw him again - for 16 years.

When she realized he had been taken she wrote; "I no longer had my reason for living."

I asked her why she was in the GED program and she said because she had to make a new life - stop going to prison. An agency sent her to a halfway house in Akron and then in Cleveland to help her get back on her feet. She is done "hustling" and is getting an education with that support. She has a place to live and best of all her son found her.

Her son was adopted by a minister and his wife. They sent him to college and now he is a minister and gospel artist. Dorothy beamed with pride when she spoke of him.  She said he calls her mom and she has two grandchildren that she sees regularly.

I marveled at Dorothy's sweet nature and positive outlook after all she had been through.  I felt thankful for the social programs that gave her this second chance at life.  I realize her story isn't that uncommon. What was uncommon was sitting next to the person telling it.

So the next time you hear some wealthy politician saying poor people just need to get a job and take care of themselves ask yourself exactly how a 17 year old with a baby and no family support, no home and no education would do that on her own.

This country needs to get real about poverty. We can pay to help people out of poverty and horrific situations now or we can pay by keeping them in prisons and dealing with unwanted uneducated angry children. We pay one way or the other. Just imagining that  everyone has an equal playing field  doesn't make it so.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When the Seasons Overlap

One goes down in orange flames,
the other arises in wet white and
the melancholy creeps into your present tense:

The autumn your bones hurt to the marrow,
the winter you bloomed in the brief daylight,
with mouthfuls of bitters, eyefuls of beautiful children.

The days you lost, the reinvented joy,
the unopened books,
a bird singing in the night.

Out of purple darkness the world
turned to face the sun again, and
everything and nothing had changed.

The miles and years like graffiti on your skin,
the generosity of prayer days,
bent on your knees before a creation sky.

And this is what God does:
sends you on a journey in a homeward direction,
makes the dark a light in you,
sings you resurrection songs
until the urgency has passed.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Meeting Tori Amos

Well, once again this blog has been woefully neglected. Life has gotten in the way, but I'm going to try again. I still want to use this blog for the good and positive, but I must start out with one of the highlights of my summer to get caught up.  I met my musical idol of the past two decades - Tori Amos.

If you don't know Tori's work I wouldn't necessarily recommend her to you. It seems like you would have been drawn to her music already if you needed it.  She is definitely an acquired taste.  Many people say they like her from hearing a radio hit or two from the '90's, but to really follow her through the years has been a true blessing in my life.  One of the reasons is because my daughter and I share the same love of Tori.  I'm not sure how that happened, but probably because she was forced to listen to "Little Earthquakes" obsessively in her young teens and she was perceptive enough to get it. We have gone to many concerts together (even once in NYC) and we did that this past August 7th when Tori came to Cain Park in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

I had read that Tori would greet her fans before the show, so on the day of the show I called the venue and was told the "meet and greet" started at 2:00. It was 12:45.  I called my daughter, we pondered it for a moment and simultaneously said "I'll be ready in 10 minutes and meet you there."  We got there at the same time and went to the end of a line of probably 100 people. We stayed pretty much at the end of that line until 5:30 when we were approaching Tori.

Tori Amos had stood outside and greeted every single fan individually. She hugged, listened, signed things, took photos and treated every single fan as if they were the only ones there. Tori fans, you see, adore HER, not just her music. Her lyrics make you think she's written them just for you.  I was trying to prepare myself for being cut off because of the time because it was one of those too-good-to-be-true moments. My daughter was an emotional wreck as we got closer and closer.

What do you say to someone you have felt bonded to for over 20 years? To someone who has touched and healed you? What do you say to the ONLY famous person you've ever really wanted to meet?

I didn't want to say what the last 100 people had said - your music saved my life when I was drowning in despair - I've loved you since "Little Earthquakes" - I have memorized every one of your hundreds of songs - blah, blah, blah.

So I told her that my daughter and I were together at every concert and that we had a mother-daughter dance to her song "Body and Soul" at her wedding. I told her she had helped me become a poet and I gave her my poetry book "Veracity".  She looked at it as if it was a precious jewel then looked at me and said, "You wrote this Diane? Thank you."

But I wanted my daughter to have the time she needed so I brought her forward and I moved back to take photos of the moment.  The photos show Tori immediately engaged with my daughter, taking her arms and speaking to her with intensity. Somehow Tori knew exactly what to say to my daughter that day - like she had a sixth sense. I won't share what was said, but it was beautiful.

We walked away crying and saying "did that just happen?"A truly surreal moment in life.  One I will never forget.  Even better, my son and his wife joined us for the two-hour spectacular concert that night.

I am not a groupie or an idolizer. I hate celebrities and celebrity worship and everything they stand for in today's society. That is NOT what this is. It is being touched by someone doing what God created them to do. Tori was a child prodigy and got kicked out of a prestigious school as a young girl for rebelling against what she was supposed to play - and that has been her legacy. She is 100% who she was born to be. I admire and respect that. I LOVE her music and the lyrics, and watching her greet every fan as she did that day made me love her even more.

Tori Amos is 51. I am a bit older, but the music is growing with her. Her most recent album contains songs about the experience of aging. I can't get that from a 24 year old pop star.  We're growing together and that is a rare and lovely thing.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Do Good Anyway

People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
IF you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world you best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

Mother Teresa and/or Dr. Kent Keith
(Some discrepancy on the exact quote and author!)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dogs Know...

I just read a book by the wonderful author, Alice Hoffman. It's her newest book called "The Museum of Extraordinary Things."  I thought the following excerpt was  a concise and beautiful way to express the amazing creatures that dogs are as well as a life lesson for us all:

Now Mitts (the dog) trotted briskly beside him on their journey downtown, clearly happy to be alive, with no thought of the future or the past.  For this Eddie envied Mitts as well, how light his burden was, how clear his purpose.  He was to be his master's companion and in doing so he became himself, the essence of a dog.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Religion and Spirituality

For the first time in my life I have taken a "break" from church.  I have been very surprised to find my spiritual life growing without it. At first this was confusing to me, but  I have come to believe that church, while important, can lock you into only thinking about what you hear there week after week and season after season. After a time you may find yourself accepting that this is all there is to faith and spirituality - but I have experienced much more being away from church. I have also been seeking it and focusing on my spiritual growth, it didn't happen by accident.

Looking into meditation and Buddhist practices of tranquility may be, to some, not Christian. I disagree. It all works together beautifully. My prayer life has become much more about listening and less about asking. God speaks in the stillness.


These words from an interview with Ekhart Tolle are validating to my experience:

You can have religion with spirituality. You can have religion without spirituality.

Some people are so identified in their belief structure that they're completely trapped in their thinking. There is no spaciousness.

Any Christian who wants to go deeper into their own spirituality and not abandon their religion - there is depth in Christian teachings and in the words of Christ.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Four Agreements

The book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz has been around for a long time, but I just discovered it.  These are the agreements you make with yourself:

Be impeccable with your word.
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word o speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don't take anything personally.
 Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. when you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

Don't make assumptions.
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement you can completely transform your life.

Always do your best.
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstances, simply do your best, and you will void self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Untethered Soul

Another wonderful book called The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer- the kind of book you have to resist underlining almost everything.

Much of the book helps us understand how we have complete control over our own thoughts and how much of our energy is wasted on being upset or obsessed with things we cannot control. There are many words of wisdom to share but I just read the last chapter called "The loving eyes of God" and this is what I will share today.

Most of us who have grown up in a church have learned somewhere along the way that God judges us. This causes fear and fear is the opposite of love. The longer I love the more damage I see being done in churches in the name of a loving God. But Singer writes:

What if it is really true that God is not judging- What is God is loving? We all know that true love doesn't judge. Love sees nothing but beauty in its beloved. There is no impurity. There is no possibility of impurity. No matter what it beholds, it's all beautiful. That is how true love sees. That is what it looks like through the eyes of love. So if God is love, what must it look like through those eyes - the eyes are filled with infinite love and unconditional compassion?

It is like the unconditional love of a mother. The mother devotes every moment of life to her child who is physically or mentally challenged. She thinks the child is beautiful. She doesn't focus on the shortcomings; in fact, she doesn't even see them as shortcomings. 

What if that is how God looks upon His creation? You've lost out if you've been told otherwise. Instead of being encouraged to feel completely protected, loved, honored and respected by the Divine Force, you've been taught that you're being judged. Because you've been taught that you feel guilt and fear. But guilt and fear do not open your connection to the Divine; they only serve to close your heart.

So it makes sense to me that God cannot love us and judge us.  Love is unconditional.  I choose love. How about you?

Does anything in God's creation, other than the human mind, actually pass judgement? Nature just gives and gives to whoever will receive. Should you choose not to receive, it doesn't punish you. You punish yourself because you choose not to receive. If you say to the light, "I will not look at you. I'm going to live in darkness," the light just keeps shining. If you say to God, "I don't believe in you and want nothing to do with you," creation continues to sustain you.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Surrender

The concept of surrendering to anything brings to mind a weakness. It has a negative connotation to most of us. But surrendering to love, to truth, to forgiveness, in order to find peace and happiness may be one of the strongest, boldest things you can do in your life.

Think about how much we believe ourselves to be right in every situation, every relationship, every opinion. We may be right, but we may also cause ourselves great anxiety by fighting what we cannot change. We are the ones that suffer. We lose spiritual peace with the world around us. Just look at our Congress as an example. They are unproductive and weak because every has to be right.

I remember a time in my life when this phrase had a great impact on me - Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?

Some thoughts from A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson:

Surrender means, by definition, giving up attachment to results. When we surrender to God, we let go our attachment to how things happen on the outside and we become more concerned with what happens on the inside.

Our only job in every situation is to merely let go of our resistance to love.

To relax, to feel the love in your heart and keep to that as your focus in every situation - that's the meaning of spiritual surrender. It changes us. We become deeper, more attractive people.

Surrender means the decision to stop fighting the world and start loving it instead.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What is the Soul?

Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Matthew 10:28

The soul is the part of you that existed before you were born and will exist after you die. It's the highest, most noble part of yourself that you can reach for.
Gary Zukov

The fingerprint of God that becomes the physical body.
Iyanla Vanzant

The soul is the core of your being. It is eternal. It doesn't exist in space time. It the feel of infinite creativity, infinite possibilities. It's your internal reference point to which you should always be in touch.
Deepak Chopra

The soul is the spiritual essence of who we really are.
Sarah Ban Breathnach

The soul is the part of us that never dies.
Debbie Ford

The soul is your innermost being beyond form. The consciousness beyond form.
Eckart Tolle

The soul is the birth less, deathless, changeless part of us . The part of us that looks out from behind the eyes  and has no form.
Wayne Dyer

The truth of who we are. The light, the love which is in us.
Marianne Williamson

It is one with God. The soul is immortal. It belongs to God.
Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee

The lure of our becoming.
Jean Houston

In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays fear from them.
Proverbs 22:5

For every living soul belongs to me.
Ezekiel 18:4

Friday, January 17, 2014

Musings on the Spiritual Life


So I continue the journey and I am fascinated by the common threads that have run through all my listening and reading so far - whether it is an Episcopal priest, a Buddhist monk, an Indian doctor or a scholar of miracles...

They are:

To be still and allow God to talk to you. The busier you are the more you need the stillness.

To pray to be in contact with God, to reach new levels of awareness to learn who you are beside a physical body (through meditation and prayer).

To live in the present moment. We do not have the past - it is gone. We do not have the future either. All we really have is now. 

To seek happiness because then you send it out into the world.

There is good and bad and Satan, or evil, stems from our ego. 
Ego is the enemy and it is inside of us. 


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Today I Choose Happiness

by Marianne Williamson
from "A Year of Miracles"

The circumstances of my life may go up and down, for the mortal world is changeable.  The immortal world, however, is changeless, for there there is only love.  I build my house on the rock of the immortal world. Today I choose only immortal thoughts.

I extend my perception beyond what my senses perceive, to what my heart knows is true. I withdraw my belief that I need anyone or anything to be other than what they are, in order for me to be secure.  I know that whenever fear expresses itself, love will ultimately prevail.  Therefore, I need not fear, nor cry, nor despair. To the extent to which I see what is truly true, I see only cause for happiness.

Happiness is the choice I make today. It does not rest on circumstances, but on my frame of mind.  I surrender to God any emotional habits that lead me down the path of unhappiness. and pray for guidance in shifting my thoughts. In cultivating the habits of happiness, I attract more people and situations that match its frequency. I smile more often, give praise more often, give thanks more often, and am glad more often. For such is my choice today.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

COEXIST in 2014

My only resolution, the one I have felt called to at the beginning of 2014 is to use this blog only for good.  I have tried to do that for many years but I have also included politics and my opinions. No one needs to hear more opinions and certainly not more political rhetoric. So I resolve to be only inspirational.

For the past 8-10 months I have been on a spiritual journey. I believe I am on a path of enlightenment. I am at a turning point. I am seeing things in new ways.  I want to share that journey because if others had not shared their insights I would not have them to begin with.

 I will include the wisdom and teachings of others, not necessarily myself. I hope you will join me. I am still a Christian but as I read spiritual teachings I find that non-Christians use plenty of references to Christ and to Christian teachings - I believe all are worthy of thought and consideration.

Thich Nhat Hnah is a Buddist monk. These are four mantras or sacred words to be repeated, that I am incorporating into my daily life.


Four Mantras of Thich Nhat Hanh

  1. Darling I am here for you.   When you love someone the best thing you can offer him or her is your presence. How can you love if you are not there? You offer him or her your true presence. You are there for your beloved one.

  1. Darling, I know you are there.   I am so happy because you are truly there. You recognize the presence of your beloved one as something very precious and you use your mindfulness to recognize that and embrace your beloved one with mindfulness and she will bloom like a flower.  To be loved means to be recognized as existing and those two mantras bring happiness right away. Even if your beloved one is not there you can use the telephone to practice your mantra.

  1. Darling, I know you suffer. That is why I am here for you. Before you do something to help him, to help her, your presence already can bring some relief.

  1. Darling, I suffer. Please help me.  When you suffer and you believe your suffering has been caused by your beloved one and you suffer so deeply. you prefer to go to your room, shut the door and suffer alone. You get hurt and you want to punish him or her for making you suffer.  You go to him, you go to her and practice that and you suffer less right away.