Thursday, December 31, 2009

Be who you were born to be

When Ozzie Smith learned he had been chosen for the Baseball Hall of Fame, a TV reporter asked him why he had decided to play baseball. His reply was simple: "I played because it's what I was put here to do."

Oprah Winfrey said this: "That whisper you keep hearing is the universe trying to get your attention . . . When you're true to who you are and what your spirit is telling you to do, that truth will indeed set you free. . . . Wherever I'm faced with a difficult decision, I ask myself: What would I do if I weren't afraid of making a mistake, feeling rejected, looking foolish or being alone? Remove the fear, and the answer comes into focus."

I believe we spend a good part of our life running from what life asks of us (just as we spend a good part of our life running from what God asks of us). We're afraid saying "yes" means saying "no" to so many other things we've grown accustomed to. But peace, I believe, can only come when we're true to the life we were meant to live.

Martha Beck, in her book "Finding Your Own North Star," said, "Your body is free but your heart is in prison. To release your heart, you simply reverse the process which locked it up. First you begin to listen for messages from your heart--messages you may have been ignoring since childhood. Next you must take the daring, risky step of expressing your heart in the outside world. ... As you learn to live by heart, every choice you make will become way of telling your story. ... It is the way you were meant to exist. If you stop to listen, you'll realize that your heart has been telling you so all along."

Monday, December 28, 2009

A gift acknowledged

Ten years ago April 9 at 11 p.m., my mother called and said, "Brenda (my sister) has had a heart attack and she's going to die.

"You're the closest one to Kentucky, so you need to get there before she dies."

You don't forget calls like that. In shock I drove to Bowling Green, asking the toll booth attendant for directions to the hospital. Little did I know that one shock would lead to another for years to come. Brenda didn't die then, and for ten years, she fought a brave fight.

She was in and out of the hospital her last year, many times very critical, but each time she fought back. She had been approved as a heart transplant candidate, but the latest heart episode had taken its toll on my 56-year-old sister. She struggled to awake from the sedation, to breathe on her own, and regain her strength to stand, all pre-requisites for the transplant.

That Saturday found her finally coherent, trying to communicate with sign language, and for a moment, there was hope.

That Sunday, something went terribly wrong, resulting in her brain death.

I drove the six hours to Chicago to say goodbye before they shut off the machines which were keeping her heart beating and lungs breathing. We had learned so much on this journey of Brenda's illness, but our greatest lesson was yet to come.

Since she had no children,m her husband relied on "the sisters" to guide him. A representative of the "Life Goes On" organ donation organization quietly asked us if we knew if Brenda had ever spoken of being an organ donor. I had never asked her, and she had never said. The decision, it seemed, was up to us, but how could we decide something so important without knowing for sure. Finally, we agreed that since we had been willing to get someone else's heart to keep Brenda alive, it seemed only fair that we be willing to share what Brenda no longer needed to keep someone else alive. Yes, we would donate Brenda's organs, but little did we know what that would require of us. .... There's so much more to this story, and I hope you'll click over to read it all at A Sister's Love.

The real point of today's blog is this (I know; took me long enough to get there): we received a letter from the young woman who received one of Brenda's kidneys, and she is living life with new hope, thanks to Brenda's final gift. She spoke of her renewed strength, and, I wrote back about the woman who gave her that second life. I closed with this: "We wish you only happiness and health in the future. I hope your family treasures you as much as Brenda's treasured her. If so, you'll have all the love you'll ever need."

If you'd like to give the gift of life, make your intentions known at Don't leave that decision to your sisters!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Practice makes perfect

Photo by Toby Brown, The Carmi Times

As guest Sunday pianist at the local nursing home, I play from the hymnal the home uses for their services instead of my church hymnal. This morning, I stumbled and fumbled my way through the familiar Christmas carol "O Come All Ye Faithful." Though I've played that song for 40 years, in this new hymnal, the song was written in the key of D instead of my familiar key of C. It wasn't that the song was difficult with two sharps, but my brain kept trying to play what I had practiced all those years instead of what was being asked of me today.

We're like that, you and I. We become what we practice. We echo the attitude we surround ourselves with. We live the life we repeat. We do what we've learned to do. And, we do it over and over and over again.

A young states attorney cautioned a group of fifth graders to watch who they hung out with, telling them we become like the people we surround ourselves with the most. Their bad behavior soon becomes our bad behavior. It becomes normal. It becomes practiced. It becomes a song in the key of C, the song our brain automatically tries to play.

Want to read more? Check out my story: "When it matters most" at

Oh, and yes, for the second morning service, I took out my own hymnal and played the song my brain wanted to play because whether in the key of C or the key of D, "O Come All Ye Faithful" is a song a praise heard best when the right notes are played.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A gift of faith

Our gift exchange is always very simple. The kids get one or two things from me from the heart and I, in turn, get something meaningful from them. Today's gift was this portrait of the two of them. (photo by Picture Perfect Photography--Tracy Orr)

One gift to my daughter and her fiance was my copy of The Living Bible I used in high school and college. It was given to me by the sister I lost last year. It is far from a new Bible; the kids called it the ultimate recycled gift. There are underlinings, comments in the margins, scraps of paper marking certain sections, and even rose petals from a past love. My hope is that my underlinings will guide them in their own exploration of the word of God as they soon begin their life together; a life, I hope, which will include a strong faith to support them in good times and in bad times. My faith has been my rock; even the years I spent hiding from God, but that's for another blog.

My son's gift was a tough one to give. It was a watch for him to wear as he joins the ROTC program in college next year. It has an army green band, is waterproof and recharges in the sunlight. You see, it has been hard for me to accept his choice to join the service. Today was my way of affirming his choice and supporting his decision.

Life will change for all of us in the coming year. One will marry. One will go to college. So it was a bittersweet Christmas morning. Life changes, but love remains.

Where did I tell my daughter to begin her personal Bible journey--Philippians, of course; a book of happiness and joy and courage.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Any day can be Christmas

Holidays are especially difficult for divorced families. My divorce clearly spells out what days each parent gets, and major holiday are flip-flopped each year. I encourage all families experiencing a divorce to get a plan in writing (no matter how nice you seem to be during the divorce... time will tarnish us all).

So, even though it has been 10 years since our divorce and my babies are 22 and 17, I pulled out last year's calendar to see "who got Christmas day" this year.

What I have learned over time is this...Christmas can be any day. It used to kill me to not be able to celebrate the holiday, be it Thanksgiving or Halloween or whatever, with my children on the actual day. When we realized that any day together is good, the holiday became joyous again.

Here's wishing your day, whatever day you get to celebrate it, is happy and healthy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Get out of the boat

I see the look in your eyes; that look caused by unimaginable pressure and grief, that look caused by helplessness and hopelessness, that look caused by incessantly rowing a boat that isn’t going anywhere. I see the look because I know the feeling.

Get out of the boat.

Days and days I felt like I was rowing a rickety boat across an ocean of sticky muck. And, no matter how hard I pulled, it kept sucking me in. Deep down I knew if anything was going to change, I had to get out of the boat. You have to get out of your boat.

Granted, there is a sense of security in the boat. After all, it seems solid, gives at least some protection at times, and seems to be moving, even if only in a circle. But what I thought was security was actually an anchor pulling me to the depths, robbing me of confidence and beauty and love and health.

Get out of the boat, I told myself. Just step out.

Of course when you do, you feel exhilarated for an instant, ‘til you realize you’ve been in the boat so long you’ve forgotten how to swim. The muck is still all around you and now you don’t even have a boat to keep you dry.

Swim, girl. Swim hard. Get to solid ground. For many, familiar beacons on shore from the past no longer offer any help and disappear. For the first time, you’re swimming in new territory. But swim you must.

Get out of your boat.
Find solid ground.
Trust yourself.
Trust others.

It will be all right. I promise.