INTEGRITORIOUS

I am a word person, always have been, always will be. Words excite and inspire me. They give voice to what I think and feel, to what I hope for, to what I know and to what I want to know. They create the stories I have written and the quotes I have gathered in a collection started over forty years ago. Words form the expressions that soothe and comfort me, and the ones that give me regular inspiration.

As a nine-year-old girl, I often read the dictionary, “I know, I know, people don’t do that!” Well, I confess, I did and even though I know the meaning of many “big” words, I usually go with the simpler choice over the more complicated one. This, because I want my writing and speaking to be easily understood. I never want anyone to get lost in my words. That would be such a shame.

I have never played Words with Friends and although it seems so totally “up my alley,” my regular word game is the basic Jumble in the local newspaper. Typically, I unscramble all five words within my first sip of coffee, and although the only friends involved in the routine are the cartoon character ones in the final puzzle, this unscrambling somehow connects me. It gives me an early morning moment of simple accomplishment.

Words gather my thoughts. One such thought is, “I wonder what it would be like to come up with an original one? How cool would that be?

Okay, so, I may have one:

INTEGRITORIOUS – the act of living an amazingly openhearted, honest life in which you are willing to hold secrets sacred, value others, have your peeps backs and strive not only to be your best self, but to help those you love strive to be their very best as well; A decision to be courageous enough to be who you are meant to be and to honor others doing the same; An existence in which you pass hope back and forth regularly and you work faithfully towards gratitude in the present and for the future, not just for you but for those you encounter in your daily travels.

This word came up one day a while ago in the midst of a conversation with my good friend Jackie. It arose as we were summing up the type of women and friends we have decided to be. We came up with it together, but the thing about being INTEGRITORIOUS is that it is not even about who came up with it or gets the credit. The point is only that we put this word out there and get this style of living revolutionized!

Imagine having friendships where you are completely honest, where you tell each other the whole truth, not just the comfortable parts, because you trust in that friend. Does it not sound wonderful to be in relationships in which you talk about your feelings, what you really think, what you hope and what you fear? The kind of friendships that are less about what “Janie” did or what “Suzy” has or doesn’t have, and more about ideas and dreams for the future.

What a gift to decide to remind one another that the road ahead of each of us contains limitless growth and that our past lessons are there serving to help keep our hearts open to the lode of joy and potential that awaits us. How amazing to live in faith, trusting in an energy source that wants the best for each of us. Imagine tapping into that source every day together. Imagine being integritorious.

If you start where your feet are now, and decide to live in an integritorious way, you will learn to love in ways you never imagined were possible. You will not put down but instead build up – yourself, your foundation and those around you. You will shine and watch others sparkle too and all the while you do, you will realize how much more beautiful light is when it catches other light.

The principle Integritorious, this word that I hope catches fire at least in your heart if never in any dictionary, can serve as a compass. It can be a directional guide not of east, west, north or south, but of grace, light, brotherly love, service, strength and vulnerability. It will keep us on a course for living that serves and benefits and does not tear down or destroy.

I hope you will stand with us, with my friend and I and so many others, who are striving in our lives to do what is right, who are connecting each other to our other each other’s, because we have decided to believe that we can trust in outcomes. We are including and not excluding because this inclusion is the only way to go, to be.

Integritorious just might be the sexiest word I have ever heard. Imagine standing willing to be authentic enough to be, do and say exactly what is necessary to take care of yourself in a given moment, and to actually trust that you have staying power within the moment that follows the first given one? Holy crap! Holy crap! Holy crap! I am in. I am so totally in. I am ready to be integritorious and so utterly hope that you are too! xoxo

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(Note: To the best of my ability integritorious is not currently a word found in any dictionary. I searched, after my friend and I had our light bulb moment,but if you know otherwise,”cool!” – Please feel free to respond to this post. Whether we are late to the party or not, I absolutely Love this word!)

 

 

What I “Think” is a Choice

It has been ages since I have written in this blog, so it feels as if I am meeting an old friend for coffee this morning. I really miss opening one of these blank templates to “have at it,” but I have been so busy with “work writing” that “play writing” and Grace Paid Forward have gone on a back burner. Being here now, as a relaxing creative process, before editing a chapter for work, I have absolutely no idea what words will come from this typing, but I know I have to take some time once in awhile for stream of consciousness writing…

Here goes…

I was invited to be part of a creative book group by some friends recently. As part of the commitment we each made to the group, we agreed to homework assignments between our meetings. One of these assignments was to pay attention to our thoughts, our “brain chatter,” over a two week period and make a note of what came up for us. It was amazing to see how often my response to what I found was, “Who knew?”

I spent many years believing that I was powerless over the thoughts that entered my head. For a long time I was unaware that I had a choice over whether to let them stay or make them go, so it was exhilarating with this “homework” to note how often, these days, I caught myself thinking beautiful, joyful thoughts. It seems so odd now, to remember how I used to live and how much I let whatever thought popped into my head stay there and dictate my mood. But, after many years of searching for ways to find Zen, today I live in the awareness that although I am relatively powerless over the first thought that comes to mind, I can certainly decide what the second one will be.

The more I have worked on running my automatic brain chatter through a quasi filter, cleaning up the first one so that the next is a little fresher/kinder/purer/more loving, the more my defaults have changed. It’s as if a tarmac marshal has moved into my head and is waving wands at my thoughts as they land on the runway of my brain, guiding them away from danger and re-directing them to safe parking. This re-routing is very effective, and although I have been practicing it for ages, I might not have noticed how well it was working in my life had I not done this book group exercise.

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Artwork by Rebecca Booth

Going to love and light, to gratitude and joy, is a habit that I live in. This habit has stemmed from years wherein I have made a choice consistently, over and over, day in and day out to think positive thoughts. It has resulted from my internal marshal’s consistent re-direction and it has required practice, lots and lots of practice. I am not suggesting that dark thoughts never present themselves automatically to me, but when they do, I remember that I can catch them after they initially land, use my figurative self illuminating wands and send them in another direction. As impossibly simple as it sounds, especially since I never knew I had a choice over what went on “upstairs,” what I think is now a decision. Period.

And my first thought after typing that last sentence is “How on earth could I have wasted so much time and energy thinking thoughts that did not serve me in the past?”. My second thought is, “Going forward, I think I will keep choosing amazing thoughts!”

 

MotherLand

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From the moment I stepped out of the terminal at Dublin Airport, it was there. A feeling of connection and belonging so profound, I knew I had come home. I arrived in the country that holds my heritage and in spite of having no specific “where or when” information, my heart knew there had been stories and long ago secrets kept by family I would never meet.

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I could feel the pull of these long ago tales in the air all around me. From the looks on the faces of the relatives traveling with me, they must have felt it too. Even after a sleepless night with far too little legroom, we immediately set out to explore our Motherland, stopping only for a drive-by at the hotel to drop our luggage. There would be plenty of time to sleep when we got back to the States.

Within an hour, we had a true Irish breakfast under our belts, belts thankfully with additional notches beyond the usual ones, as we definitely would be letting them out by the trips end. Hot buttered scones with jam, eggs, slabs of bacon, black and white pudding, huge mounds of toasted breads, fried tomato, salmon and crocks of oatmeal with raisins and heavy cream. Thank heavens for the caffeine from several pots of delicious tea which kicked in after this meal. When we were finished, we set out to see the place we knew held our roots, but which we knew little about.

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Sure, we had all grown up with St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage, with Irish soda bread, Danny Boy and pints of Guinness. We had heard about kissing the Blarney Stone and even had photos somewhere of both mom and grandma doing so. I sported my Claddagh necklace and my son’s girlfriend wore her ring, and we all wore what we felt were appropriate plaid and woolen accessories. Yes, our group could surely claim Irish genetics, but prior to this trip, each of us remained unaware of how our lineage had unfolded or even what the countryside in Eire was truly like.

In fact, it was spectacular. The sheep-filled fields appeared to be the greenest of greens I had ever seen, broken up of course by the blankets of white fur that seemed to be everywhere. Colors at the shore were shades of everything imaginable: purples, blues, grays and rusts fused all together, yet remained separately boundaried all around us. I happily claimed a perfect heart-shaped purple rock as we walked on the beach and it sits on the desk in front of me now as paperweight.

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I consistently tried to capture the views before me with my camera, but the colors got lost in translation as they sometimes do when you try to catch them by photo. None of the shots I reviewed after each day’s excursions did justice to what my eyes had seen earlier.

Taking it all in, as soon as my breaths exhaled, I wanted to take them back. This, because with each release of air it meant that time was passing and I knew there would not possibly be enough moments to see and do all that I wanted to while I was there. Every second I stood on that soil made me long for another. Even within the first hour of day one, I knew I would have to come back again. There was no doubt.

Above many of the doorways we entered hung placards with Cead Mille Failte, or “a thousand welcomes.” Above others were horseshoes, hung with their heels facing up to the heavens for good luck as well as to steer the devil clear from entering. I loved the significance of both, because they summed up how it felt to be there in this country of my ancestry, welcomed, blessed and safe.

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We spent much of our time after exploring, in cozy pubs, not so much for beverages, but because the meals there were delicious. We found the local fare offered in these establishments to be excellent and luckily for me, hot tea was as much a staple in each one of them as whiskey, so each of us in the group were able to get our fill of whatever we chose. For me, it was gallons of yummy Irish tea.

On the second day, I found a woolen cap as a souvenir for my son. He wore it every day afterwards and it certainly suited the dark Irish looks he gets from his father’s Donegal relatives. Watching him take it all in, through the crystal blue eyes he gets from the O’Brien and Kiernan clans on my side,  I couldn’t help but wonder if someday his children might want me to tell them about their heritage, in the same way I always wanted my grandparents to share with me about theirs. I must make a point to talk to them about all I remember of their relatives as soon as they are born.

I had always hoped my mom and grandmother would have told me all their family stories before they died, but there always seemed to be tomorrow. Tomorrow and tomorrow would surely come, so we never stopped to pin it all down the way we talked about doing so many times. I never jotted down any of the funny tales they tried to tell me, although I certainly meant to take notes. Yes, I must remember to share the memory of this trip as well as everything I can recall about my mother, grandmother, dad and grandfather with my grandchildren someday.

Actually, I think maybe I will start doing it now, with my son, while there is still time.

December 26th – The Best Gifts Can’t be Wrapped

I woke up today with mixed emotions, feeling both blissful and crestfallen. I am immeasurably happy because of Christmas successes, yet slightly melancholy because the days unfolding in no way resembled what I had planned for it. This morning I am truly ecstatic over the gifts Santa left behind for me and the ones I watched others open with delight, but I am sorrowful over what I was unable to accomplish that I wanted to. Ah, the unwrapping of Christmas..

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Thinking back to 30 days ago, to the first yuletide thought I had, the one occurring directly after the turkey was put away on Thanksgiving, I have to chuckle at how December 25th this year was so unlike what I had planned for it. I remember taking out the bins of nutcrackers and other decorations and scattering them around the house on black Friday thinking, “Tis the season and this year it will be perfect.” After that, all I recall is putting one foot in front of the other until today.

The list I made for gift buying could never possibly accommodate all I would have liked it to because neither budget nor logistics allowed this year, but it held a few names of people to whom homage had to be paid because of the light and love they share with us all throughout the year.

Soon after the quest began for the right and perfect trinkets which would say, “You matter” on this most sacred holiday, I had to hide the packages from our crazy paper chewing cat so that he wouldn’t destroy the corners of all the boxes and gift bags. I have come to believe he does this to somehow be part of the holiday bustle that goes on in our household. Each time I added another package to the pile, I touched the others in hopeful excitement that it would be perceived with the same spirit it was wrapped in.

Today, the wrapping paper which was crinkled in delight yesterday, now fills our recycle bins to overflowing. Our bellies are substantially rounder, at least in this house, and the day is over. But my heart has a tad of unfinished processing still needing to happen, which is why I must write about it.

Christmas this year involved an effort of accommodation which made it awkward to know where we could be and how we would possibly do it all. In my efforts to appreciate all of my family, I made a choice to honor my husband’s hectic work schedule and so, postponed travel plans up north. My son and I agreed that a slightly later celebration together would be just as cool. I also decided to say, “W\e will be here whenever you come, don’t worry,” to my stepson who always makes the effort to see us. This statement of “whatever and whenever” quietly spoken to my husband in the midst of reshuffling our day was made with so much love that I now realize it became the best gift I could ever give anyone. I gave myself and my family the gift of being allowed to set aside expectations in our showing up for one another and to trust in our love this Christmas.

What is it about holiday expectation that creeps in and tries to wreak havoc? Why have I been compelled in the past to analyze the gestures of others and what they mean to my big picture? At what moment did I realize I needed to remove travel stress from my husband this year? How was I able to stay in the now yesterday and allow this Christmas to unfold the way it did? What grace do I experience in my relationship with my son that made it more than OK to postpone our gift giving slightly? How was I able to set plans aside to take pressure off my young stepson in a way he wouldn’t possibly understand until he has his own children? When did it become possible to trust that my friendships are intact enough to simply have to put my immediate family first yesterday?

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I have no explanation for any of it except to say that somewhere in the midst of all the Christmas planning and hoping, Christmas spirit took over and it became about simply being with the person that is my right and perfect Santa, the man who stands by my side always. It became about realizing what was truly best for our family.

Today, December 26th I am in awe of those who thought of me yesterday with calls, texts and presents. I am astonished at the kind invitations we received from people we love who love us back. Beyond that, I am filled beyond overflowing with gratitude for my family. Remembering all the hopes and dreams that came up for all of us over the twelve months past, the challenges we surmounted, the triumphs and accomplishments and the ways we have done our best to show our love, I am proud and blessed,

No, my Christmas did not go at all as I had planned it weeks ago. A few invitations could not be honored and a few others came out of the blue. Yet, it went perfectly. At about 11 PM I texted my son who was celebrating with his girlfriend’s family up in Connecticut. Within seconds his response came back, “To all a goodnight, I love you mom.” What a perfect way to end the day.

And all was right and good with the world as my head hit the pillow shortly after that text. And yet, when I reached over to hug my husband goodnight, the tears simply would not stop falling as he hugged me..

 

 

 

I Believe in the Magic of Christmas – and thank you Hallmark

So, what is it about the Hallmark Channel that comforts me so at holiday time? The families depicted in the movies are not without trials. There are widows and orphans, homeless folks, imposters, cranky scrooges, deadbeat dads, lost and weary travelers, business tyrants and the lot. So, what is it that draws me to these holiday movies?

Without a doubt, it is the happy-ending. The lost find their way. The wonderful family adopts the child. The dog finds a new owner. Neighbors rally and the star shines bright from the top of the tree every single time.

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In this hectic world with all too much madness, with too many media stories of chaos and cruelty, I need to see this holiday delight. It is my oxygen.

I turn off the shootings and muggings, the terrorism and the bullying, the slandering political campaigns and the sadness, and I turn on the light.

In the hustle and bustle of searching for the right and perfect gift, in the line waiting and the all too quick last minute wrapping, I need a pull back to the reason for all of it. I have to find reminders of the magic of Christmas. I have to believe that there is good in the world, that people truly care, and that many others out there want the best for one another too. I have to hold on to hope that there are believers, more than just me, who are tired of all the ugliness and who want to focus on the beauty within us all.

photoI have to trust in Santa the way my mom encouraged me to, so long ago. The way my little boy did when he flew down the stairs on Christmas morning for years. The way he still does today when he opens his gifts, knowing they come from a place of love. I must insist that a far away St. Nick is leading a sleigh full of reindeers to some believers somewhere. Yes, I believe in Santa, absolutely. So, thank you Hallmark for reiterating why I do, and for helping to stay in that magic for a little while.

P.S. my husband sometimes watches it with me, although he will never admit it. 🙂

Not So Simple Abundance

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What does it mean to live in abundance? To live in gratitude for what we have? And how could we ever, in this world of constant upgrading to newer, better, faster “stuff,” feel as if we have enough? How could we possibly honor that we are living an abundant life? How can we ever be grateful for what we have and stop needing more?

Merriam Webster defines ABUNDANCE as: marked by great plenty, amply supplied. It further defines AMPLY as: having or providing enough or more than enough of what is needed. These definitions spark a question: “What would it be like to live a life in which you always knew you had more than enough of what you needed?”

I used to wonder about this, until one day, in about my fourth decade, I realized that not only did I have much more than “enough” and certainly more than I needed, but actually always had.

I recently watched a re-run of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday in which she interviewed Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of “Simple Abundance – A Day Book of Comfort and Joy.” During the introduction, I pulled my own worn copy off the shelf. I’d received it in 1996 from a dear friend who’d begun her spiritual quest right around the same time as me and we’d both been excited about the books’ concept.

I opened to the foreword and read the quote by Margaret Young. “Often people … try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then, do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.” I took a moment to reflect on this, and then settled in to watch the interview.

What I found astonishing while doing so, were the twists the author’s life took after her books huge success. As she honestly answered Oprah’s questions, I found myself more than once staring at the television with mouth ajar.

As it turns out, after her book’s 100-plus week run on the New York Times Bestseller list and her resulting exorbitant wealth, Sarah Ban Breathnach wound up on her sister’s doorstep with no money left. It would seem that she neglected to practice what she’d written.

From the moment the book came “off” the list, it was downhill from there. Not for the published piece, but for its author. It appeared as if Sarah simply forgot what it means to live in Simple Abundance. She admitted to Oprah and those of us watching, that with her new found success and life of “Not so simple” abundance, her need for more became greater than her gratitude for what she had.

As I listened to her discussion of where she “got to,” I found myself gripped with anger. Out of nowhere, I was mad at this woman I’d never met, for not being grateful and for needing more, even when she’d had so, so much! I understand now of course, that I was projecting, but my thought was, “Really Sarah! I would be so, so, so grateful if only I’d get the chance to prove it!”

The irony in my judgment towards her was that the resentful thought stemmed from exactly what I was judging her for. I’d instantly gone to: “If only I had more, I would appreciate it.” Luckily I caught myself quickly before I ran with it. It’s not that my millions and millions of dollars aren’t enough for me, because my bank account doesn’t quite register the number of zeros hers did, but I DO have an abundant life, with everything I could ever need, yet sometimes I find myself wanting more.

Yes, my life is abundant in love and blessings, in friends and trusted confidantes. It is abundant in furnishings and clothing, in food and sustenance, in overwhelming admiration for my son and my husband. It is abundant in invitations and inclusions, in writing work and … well, just ABUNDANT!! But, being totally honest, I have to admit that I can sometimes forget how blessed I am. I can still get caught up in the idea of wanting more material things.

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So, as quickly as my flash of anger came, it dissipated, because I realized Sarah and I are both so human. So utterly human. And all I could think of was “Thank you Sarah,“ because when I am gifted with a reminder to be grateful, I can pause with grace and honestly wonder: “My goodness, how could I ever possibly think I need more than what I have?”

No, I don’t have a dozen pairs of Christian Louboutins in my closet as Sarah did after her first royalty check, but I do have one pair. One very fabulous red soled pair that I almost never wear because the heel is just too high for me these days.

After the program ended, I took my “red soled shoes” out and looked carefully at them. “When I wear these am I different? Do I matter more? Am I better?” And the answer across the board was “No. Absolutely No!” However, I do admit that I feel a bit more something. There is an attitude of confidence that comes with slipping them on that isn’t always present when I wear “non-Louboutins.”

Continuing to look at the unique shoe I asked myself, “What was it that compelled me to buy them?” In the instant my answer came to me, I understood absolutely why Sarah felt that having not just one pair but many would make her feel as if she’d somehow arrived. I also felt guilty for being angry at her, because I absolutely understand her quest for success and her confusion about what defined that success. And so, I couldn’t help but send love out through the universe to her.

As for a closet full of any shoes, I can honestly say today that if I couldn’t pay for them up front, I would hate them.

So, what was it about this interview that compelled me to write today? I wanted to validate the message my spirit took away from it. In doing so, I immediately created a Microsoft document titled: “What NOT to Do When My Next Book is Published.” I realized with delight that I never even thought of using the word “IF” over “When” in the title, and as I typed a few bullet points garnered from the interview I decided that this document was going to be an important one to keep.

After clicking “Save,” I immediately created another: “What TO Do When My Next Book is Published.” The first sentence I typed in bold letters under the heading was: BE GRATEFUL! ALWAYS REMEMBER that you already had much, much more than enough even long before you started.

Then I clicked “Save” and closed the laptop with a great big smile of gratitude on my face.

(photo credits: 1.) thesanctuaryyogaroom.com 2. rancholapuerta.com)

Don’t Nip…Don’t Tuck…

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I absolutely LOVE when I check the mail and the latest issue of Time Magazine has arrived. In a world of iphones and tweets, I find comfort in turning its pages to read current event articles.

That said, I was moved by a recent one titled, “Nip, Tuck, Or Else.”

While reading the thought provoking article on the evolution of plastic surgery, I was both terribly aggravated and totally curious. It seems that nipping, tucking, augmentation, fillers et al have become as commonplace as getting your hair highlighted. What’s next? “Brush, floss, Botox?”

When I was a young girl, plastic surgery was something for the elite few. In fact, I didn’t personally know anyone who had gone under the knife or had any other type of cosmetic procedure. I remember thinking it was all very glamorous and exclusive and I wondered what it must be like to be able to have help becoming perfect.

Today I have an entirely different understanding of “perfect.” I flip flop between “Of course there’s no such thing as ‘perfect'” and “Duh, I already am!” As a society, I believe we are in big trouble when we are looking for ways to change who we are to conform to some media set standards of perfection that aren’t real anyway.

Ladies (and gentlemen too according to the article) “Don’t Do It.” Please, hold on to your individuality. Clutch and grab hold of your God-given bone structure, nose, chin, breasts and all. Cling for dear life to your authenticity. Because, if you don’t you may never be able to get back to it. Just where will you stop once you get started? Where can you U-turn? Or can you? If you are of the mindset that one tweak is good, how many will be best?

I can’t deny it. Over the years I had fleeting thoughts that perhaps I should have gotten a lil help filling in my brassiere or the creases in my cheeks, but thankfully I have done neither. When I look in the mirror today, what I see is a unique and lovely woman. One who is utterly herself and a one of a kind original. Yes, the lines on my face are deep, but they are earned. They have been put in place over years of belly laughing and sometimes crying with those I love and value. There is a bit of loose skin on my thighs, mostly because my life is so full I don’t have much time to exercise these days. But today, I am fine with that. I have earned the right to honor all of my perfect imperfections and simply be ME. Exactly who I am, wear and tear and all.

Won’t you join me by not buying in? By staying yourself too? Together we can make a difference by disregarding impossible standards that are nothing more than setups. We can be completely and exactly who we were intended to be and possibly show others that it’s OK to do the same and not cave to the pressures around every corner to be “perfect.” One dictionary defines “perfect” as: “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities or characteristics; making something free from defects; absolute; as good as it is possible to be.” So, maybe it can be that simple. If each one of us begins today to be and stay absolute in our skin, to be as fabulous as we already are in our individual way with our inherent looks, style, shape and form, think of how different the world would be.

Want to start with me and give it a try? How about a “Let’s Be Authentic” revolution? Why not? There’s nothing to lose, except possibly ourselves if we don’t.