Our Last Supper

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My youngest sister called yesterday and asked what I was doing Sunday. When I asked why, she invited me to join her for a Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner. My heart quickened, forcing a lump to emerge in my throat. I was moved and the invitation was perfect.

I have been wondering for weeks how I should spend February 15th. I began playing “Lyle Lovett Radio” on Pandora. I started looking at pictures and re-writing last year’s love letter. I was noticing things – like the Christmas package from Mom that I hadn’t put away – filled with his things. My garage door opened on its own one day without any explanation and later I heard music from a music box echoing sweetly through my house. I don’t have a music box.

My oldest sister got a memorial tattoo.  My mom sent a beautiful card with a special keepsake enclosed.

Then another peculiar thing happened. My healing left ankle, which I broke six months ago, began to be extremely sensitive to touch. The skin hurt as much, if not more than, the joint pain. Even the soft fleece lining of my favorite Ugg slipper was too much contact. The covers on my bed, the hem of my jeans, the cushion of the chair, everything was causing me a different kind of agonizing pain. I would look at my skin and inspect my ankle. I would hold it softly and try to comfort myself. I rubbed lotion and a healing ointment on it. I witnessed myself kicking the covers off at night and hanging my left leg out. And then there was the night…

Every night this week I woke after a brief time of slumber. Just a few hours into my sleep I found my self wide-awake and alert, unable to return to sleep. Why? What was different?

The Kentucky Fried Chicken invitation shifted everything and woke me to an epiphany. I was re-living the last days of my dad’s life. My three sisters, mom, and I were with him during that last week one year ago.   I didn’t sleep much during the nights. I was awake often and took my turns sitting quietly by his bed in case he needed anything. His comfort was important and the pain in his left ankle accelerated as time passed. He couldn’t stand touch, or even a light cover, on that ankle. He often had his left ankle sticking out of the covers on his bed. When the dog or cat bumped it, he grimaced and let out a howl.

On Valentines Day, we listened to his favorite music, laughed, told stories and talked on the phone with family members back home and in Wyoming. Everyone was sharing the love and expressing it openly. My dad loved Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was his favorite meal. That evening, friends generously brought him a feast from KFC. We fed him and joked around with him as he was saying the funniest things. We even began writing them down so we could remember. It was a beautiful day of love and that was his last supper. We had our own blessed, intimate Eucharist just one day after the pastor delivered Holy Communion to his bedside. That night we communed with a sip of his favorite beer, biscuits, his favorite chicken, a deep profound love, family conversation, lots of laughter, and a sweet abiding faith.

One year later, as I sit here listening to his favorite music, I am reminded of that last sacrament and how divine grace filled the room, nourished our hearts, and sustained us during the next twelve hours and over the past twelve months. The benevolent presence of the Christ Light was real and palpable that Valentines Day and evening. It was a precious gift of the ultimate LOVE in life and in death.

I’m looking forward to Valentines Day tomorrow and a Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner this Sunday.  Thanks, Dad.  I love you.

A Father’s Day Confession

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If actions speak louder than words, I have failed. I wonder if thoughts count? You know – thought, word and deed? My thoughts, words, and intentions around Father’s Day are always more in alignment with how I live my daily life. My deeds… well, not so much.

Every year I would make a mental note to be more organized and plan ahead. Guilt and failure usually waited patiently in the dark corners of my psyche. Then, Father’s Day would arrive and sure enough, my own self-fulfilling negligence would likely spin me down into the “Bad Daughter” syndrome. No gift was bought. No card was sent. A nice phone conversation would have to do – that is if I could catch him home and available. He would likely be out golfing. Once in awhile I would call my sisters a few days before and the perfect plan would unfold. But mostly, not.

I don’t remember what I did last year, if anything. I likely recognized him with that good, long telephone conversation.

Oh, how time flies between Father’s Days. Time moves quickly… days… weeks… and months go by.   And as time has gotten shorter, the distance between our homes feels farther. How did that happen? Secretly, I wanted him to move closer to me when he retired. Instead, he moved 600 miles in the opposite direction. The road between us was not paved with convenience and ease.

So, what do I do for Father’s Day this year?

I know. I will love and enjoy my children a little bit more… and spend the day with lots of family. Surely being at the lake, playing in the boat, and sitting in the sunshine would make my Dad happy. I will listen to his favorite music – my Lyle Lovett playlist on Pandora – all day. I don’t like beer, but I will offer up a toast for him. We will crank up the grill and cook outdoors. We will have lots of good food, laugh and tell jokes. And with all the extra cars and jet skis around, surely something will have to be “tinkered with.” Someone will have to get their hands greasy.   Yes, we might have to lift a car hood just out of respect. And later tonight, after a game of butt quarters, we will definitely hit some golf balls out of our yard, and smile… and remember!

Will that be enough? Yes.

This Father’s Day it’s been exactly four months since my Dad left this Earth to be with his Heavenly Father. But before he left, he gave me the ultimate Father’s gift – unconditional, unrelenting and unequivocal love. All that self-imposed-negligent-bad-daughter-syndrome disappeared. I’m not forgiven, because there never really was anything to forgive. All the years of thoughts and words WERE enough. All the telephone conversations were perfect. And now, toasting to him at the lake is perfect.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! The distance between our homes may have stretched many miles… but there’s no distance between our hearts – not any more. It feels as if you are right here with me, because you are. I love you.

His Last Breath

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Before my first child was born, I keenly remember the moment when I desperately felt like giving up.  Not managing my pain well, I wanted the unbearable process to stop.  I literally wanted to quit, pack up and go home.  However, it was a blessed event that was irreversible and forever life-changing.  There was no stopping the process once it had started.  The only way out was through.

Contractions in my lower back, coupled with my first-time-mom fear-of-the-unknown, made it nearly impossible to relax and surrender into childbirth.  After pushing for over two hours, the doctor finally asserted he was stepping in to use forceps and assist in the delivery.

A few minutes later, our son was delivered and took his first breath.

Sitting by my father’s bed, I witnessed his laboring.  Cycles of shallow breathing, weakened pulse, and peaceful pauses, were interrupted with what felt like excruciating labor pains.  Wincing and moaning, he journeyed through an endless rhythm of contractions as he prepared to leave his body.  At the moment we thought he was delivered into the peaceful embrace of death, another wave of un-surrendered life had him laboring for enough breath to get him through the next contraction.

Flashes of that moment – giving birth so long ago – grabbed my attention.  I saw my father in an arduous dance within the portal of death, managing his own labor and delivery.  I recognized myself sharing his fatigue and resistance.  He had labored for hours.  Fear of the unknown lingered in the room. With compassion, I wanted the process to stop.  In my discomfort, I prayed for a quick and easy delivery.  I observed myself in my own self-induced-suffering, not wanting him to suffer.  But I knew this was another one of those blessed events that was irreversible and forever life changing.  He had to go through it.  I could choose to experience his death in a limited state of separation, resistance and pain; or I could shift my reality and open to the expansive, sacred knowing of this BLESSED MOMENT.

I paused, took a deep breath, and tuned-in to the resonant love in the room.  I called on my higher self and quickly discovered a cosmic harmony within the life cycle of birth and death. My Essential Self witnessed this eloquent process and myself within it. The mystical doors of the Universe opened, as I experienced the tremendous grace and deep meaning in the Holy process.  Instead of fear, pain and suffering, I found peace.  I was handed a precious gift and consciously chose to claim and receive it.  I stepped through my own portal of embodied consciousness and became fully present.  Surrendering, I relaxed into the process and became one with it.

Death was my father’s journey.  We all wanted to be there for him to support and comfort him.  We desired a peaceful resolution.  However, this was his delivery and only he could labor through the process and move through the transcendent birth/death canal.  This was work of the soul.  He, alone, had to go through this narrow portal to deliver himself.

The Hospice nurse, Lisa, in her palliative wisdom, intuited the same thing.  She kindly invited us to step away and rest in another room for a while, allowing my dad to fully expand into his sacred work.  We were all there with loving intentions to support him in the process.  Yet, our roles as wife and daughter perhaps kept him in a place of resistance and emotional interference, keeping him in his earthly role as husband and father.  It was time for him to release himself and give birth to the celestial role of his greater essence.

Her gentle suggestion was the perfect healing balm.  The short time of physical separation, assisted in his ability to relax and surrender. Having us step away allowed a Heavenly Mid-wife, with divine forceps, to step in and assist.  He let go, moved through the portal, and finally found peace.

A few minutes later, my dad was delivered and took his last breath.

Love Whispers from My Dad

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On this Valentine’s Day, I sit beside my father’s hospital bed at 3:30 a.m.  He sleeps restlessly through the pain in an incoherent state of tolerance.  I put my hand on his hand, and without missing a beat, in his sleep, he whispers, “I love Yaaahz.”  He softly winces and moans then becomes quiet again.

In the middle of the family room, he is bundled under layers and layers of blankets, hand-stitched quilts, and crocheted throws, with his left foot hanging out of the covers on purpose.  I’m sitting on a folding chair next to his bed with my own layers of pajamas, a sweater, and a vest.  We are both warm and uncomfortably cozy, under the circumstances.  Through his irregular breathing, wincing and moaning, whether asleep or lucid, he continues to whisper messages of love: “I love you, oh how I love you.” Moans of pain, his cough, and the sweet sound of his love-whispers become a new kind of clock, marking time as it passes in the middle of the night.

He wakes himself up with a loud, grimacing noise.  I put my hand on his shoulder and he quiets down.  Gently, the sound of the Home Oxygen Concentrator and a loving presence, rocks him back to his shallow rest, but not before he sends out more love, “Ahhh… I loves ya, Jules.”

“I love you too, Dad.” I quietly reply.

In the darkness, with the dim light of my computer, I reflect on what a beautiful Valentine this is.  I am soaking in the bittersweet, merciful love of his last days. I am communing in the grace-filled resonance as he creates discordant music with his breath.  This love is infinitely real and deep, delivered in a delirious container of pain.  The benevolent moment is so precious.

A whimper, then a loud groan brings me back into the moment.  It’s time to roll over.  We work together to find a comfortable position on his left side, prop pillows in the perfect places, and rearrange the covers.  “How’s that, dad?”

“Oh, its good… its good until its not,” he says and quietly drifts back into the feverish abyss of his restless reality.  The whispers, moans, and cough continue into the early morning hours.  And time passes…

He wakes again with an unpleasant howl, “OH-Oooohhh-OH!” then quietly, “I love you, honey.”

“I love you too, Dad.  Can I get you something for the pain?” I ask.

“Oh, no…  I’m okay.  It hurts more everywhere than anywhere.”  He answers in his kind way, then turns to me, “Why don’t you go lay down in the recliner and try to get some sleep?”

I reply, “I’m okay, Dad.  I’m sitting here writing love letters on my computer.”

“Ah… that’s good! Real, real good,” He replies with enthusiasm, “I LOVE YOU!”

“I know, Dad.  I love you too.” I whisper in gratitude.  And time passes…

Living Expression of Namaste

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I met a Sudanese refugee this week that immigrated to the United States for work.  He is an amazing man.  I’ll call him “Steven.”  Among the many humbling and gracious words he spoke, what shined most is his deep faith in God and enduring love for ALL people.  He said he “vehemently” believes in doing things that “bring greatness” to the lives of others as well as himself.  Steven is thankful to God for granting him many gifts and abilities, especially using them for “doing right things for others.”  This brave and radiant young man gets up every morning with a smile on his face, knowing that God is always with him.

Three powerful themes emerged from my conversation with this migratory, luminous messenger.  From his own words, first, we are not restricted by anybody or anything except our own choices.  Second, a loving gracious God exists and “resides in us, with us, beside us, around us, and among us,” no matter what our race, religion, culture, gender, or life circumstances.  And third, serving the one human body of God and individuals in our local communities can bring abundant JOY!

After meeting this delightful new acquaintance, I headed to our lake house, which is a few miles from a community that has a significant new population of Sudanese and Hispanic immigrants.  I stopped at the local big box “Super Store” for a few grocery items.  When I arrived, I felt different.  As I looked around, I saw “Steven” everywhere.  I walked up and down the aisles and couldn’t get the smile off my face.  I was beaming with the grace-filled lessons of Steven’s love and joy.  My heart was expanded and with each and every immigrant I saw, it grew even more with love, compassion, and joy.   And then, something amazing happened.

As I was gathering my items and looking around, a young Sudanese child made eye contact with me, smiled, and waved.  With surprise, my heart leaped out of my chest and I felt the presence of our shared divinity and joy.  It felt like a deeply sacred moment.  There were no words between us, just a profound, yet brief surreal connection.  We needed no words.  We saw each other.  I walked off dazed and intoxicated with the lessons of Steven stirring in my heart.

A few minutes later, in the next aisle over a family passed by.  Not paying much attention, I was looking at my list when a young Hispanic girl pulled her hand away from her mom, and shouted loudly to get my attention, “Hi!”.  I made eye contact with her, returned a smile, and said, “Hi!”

Seriously?  Again?  It was as if both kids were reaching out to me to share a soul moment.  I was filled with gratitude.  There was a familiar knowing among us.  Our brief eye contact felt like an eternity of deeper seeing and recognition.  I began to feel a universal oneness with everyone in the super store.  I looked around with gentle compassion and curiosity. What was happening?

When life couldn’t get much sweeter, a third young Caucasian child laying on her daddy’s shoulder, lifted her head just a few feet from mine, grinned from ear to ear, and with the light of recognition in her eyes, greeted me with an adorable and engaging, “Hi!” I was enchanted as I stood soaking in the mystery of this unbelievable experience.

I thank Steven.  His palpable love, joy, and heart for service, created a beautiful resonant field that ignited something in me.  I believe the same gracious God, and divine spark, which resides within Steven, resides within me, and within all people, including the three children I met at the super store.  Maybe, the three children simply recognized it sooner than I did, and reached out in remembrance to reconnect in a beautiful living experience of Namaste.

Namaste.

[The definition of Namaste (pronounced na, ma, stay) is both a physical gesture and a spoken spiritual salutation, which is the recognition of the divine spirit (or soul) in another by the divine spirit in you.  The word Namaste translates simply to “I bow to the divine in you.”]

(Image found with SCiAF, Scotland’s Aid Agency sciaf.org.uk)

My Two Birthdays

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“Fly free and happy beyond birthdays and across forever, and we’ll meet now and then when we wish, in the midst of the one celebration that never can end.” ~ Richard Bach

I have two birthdays.  No, I wasn’t born at midnight.  I was born on my sisters first birthday, so I thought — December 16, 1962.  Every year I would share my birthday, birthday cake, and birthday presents with my sister.  And for the first fifteen years of my life, that was my day — well, our day.  Then on December 15th when I turned 15, my dad called to wish me “Happy Birthday.”  He told me that my birthday was really the 15th and my mom wanted it on the 16th because it was “cute.”  Hmmm…  I asked my mom and she continued to profess the 16th.  And, so began the two-birthday conundrum.

In my early twenties, I needed a passport so I got my birth certificate.  It said, “December 16, 1962.”  So there — it was settled.  I was born on December 16th.  For the next several years I celebrated the 16th and my dad continued to call me on the 15th.  Then one day in my early 30’s, my mom gave me the hospital certificate where they put your foot prints in ink.  It was typed December 16, 1962, but the nurse signed it in green ink, December 15, 1962.  At this point, I was really confused.  I asked my mother again and she continued to profess the 16th.

Years went by and the two-birthday dance continued, until one day my mother called on December 15th.  She wanted to bring over a birthday gift.  I told her it wasn’t my birthday yet.  She agreed on the phone and brought the gift to my house.  She sat down and quickly said, “Okay, it’s time that I tell the truth.  You really were born on the 15th, but the hospital messed up and put the 16th on your birth certificate, so we just kept it that way.”

So… yeah.  Two birthdays.  One is my REAL BIRTH day, and the other is my LEGAL birthday.  It’s been the 16th on every legal document since I was born.  But the story doesn’t end there…

Several years later, my youngest sister called me and asked what my birth certificate said.  When I told her, she said, “You aren’t going to believe this!”  She got a copy of HER birth certificate and it had the wrong day!  She has celebrated January 9th all of her life and her birth certificate said January 8th!  True story.

So, what are the lessons to be found?  Well, after years of having everyone “forget” a too-close-to-Christmas birthday, getting combined birthday/Christmas gifts at Christmas, sharing the day with my sister, and years of disillusion and confusion about the date, I decided to claim both days and CELEBRATE LIFE!  I discovered that I could feel bad about my “lack” of birthday, or I could feel joy and great abundance by making the best out of a goofy situation!  I choose to celebrate life and all the bountiful blessings in the chaos.  And, I choose to celebrate me and birth a new sense of self-love.  Every year since I found out the truth, I have my own little private birthday celebration that lasts for 48 hours!  I gave birth to a new sense of self and learned how to love, honor, and cherish me (and all my imperfections) more completely.

All We Need is Love

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“All we need is love,” instructs John Lennon’s famous lyrics.  The sentiment is incredibly moving today as we enter this holiday season as well as this pivotal time in history.  Love is a unifying force that can improve the quality of life on earth, ignite planetary healing, and create global oneness.

There are many definitions of love, but let’s discuss the universal, altruistic love that is shared by most faith-based organizations.  Love is central to many religions, as in the phrase, “God is Love.”  Love is the ultimate grace and blessing where most do see eye to eye.  This love is a divine link that can bind us together and the redeeming force that can reconcile the hearts of humanity.

In the Bahá’í faith, love is the light that guides in the darkness, the living link that unites God with man, that force that assures the progress of every illumined soul.  Bahá’í’s believe love reveals, with unfailing and limitless power, the mysteries latent in the universe.

The Dalai Lama said, “Love, compassion and tolerance are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”  In Buddhism, love is unconditional and requires considerable self-acceptance. They believe this is quite different from “ordinary” love, which is usually about attachment and rarely occurs without self-interest. Instead, it refers to detachment and unselfish interest in the welfare of others.

In the Jewish tradition followers are encouraged to show mercy, love, and compassion to their brother and, as the Torah commands, love God “with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.”  In the Christian faith, there are numerous references from “love your enemies” to the greatest commandment: love one another.  It is said, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

Sufism explains the essence of God as love and the Sufi path is a path of love.  Love is to see what is good and beautiful in everything.  The aim is to be accepted as a lover by the Beloved God.  Love encompasses the Islamic view of life as universal brotherhood that applies to all who hold faith.

Love is an inter-faith, universal virtue.  This magnificent and beautiful imperative is swelling and pulsing within the hearts of humanity.  There is a collective awakening stirring within us and contributing to a global shift in consciousness.  The conclusion?  We are ONE.  Therefore, love ONE another.

Be a part of the global shift.  From, and through, the love of your divine source, start with yourself.  This love is a critical key to healing the planet.  Self-acceptance and unconditional love for oneself is foundational.  You cannot love God or others completely without loving yourself first.  It doesn’t work that way.   In loving yourself completely, you will activate a healing resonance greater than yourself and prepare the way for all other love.

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Rumi wrote,  “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”  Love yourself and you open the floodgates for universal, altruistic love to permeate every cell of your being and every corner of the universe.  You pave the way to “Love your enemies.”

There’s a visceral yearning inside each of us to love.  Take a few minutes everyday and focus on universal love with the intention of increasing your energetic field of love.  Breathe into your heart and allow it to expand… open… and guide you. Direct your attention to your heart and rest in the awareness of universal LOVE.

Next, imagine sending love to your loved ones, neighbors, community, and expand this field of love to all beings on our planet.  Include all races, religions, and those different from you.  And, yes, include any “enemies” you may have.  This powerful intention will assist you to embody universal love.  And, there’s another benefit to this practice:  all sacred wisdom and guidance comes from this place!  You are building your soul’s navigation system.

“All we need is love!”  Today is a great day to allow your heart to embrace this world with all its amazing beauty, diversity, and need.  We are called to deeply love those who are different from ourselves.  It’s time to break down the walls that divide us, love one another, and BE in the heart of God.  Kahlil Gibran, writes, “When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”  Come join in the co-creative path of love… I’ll meet you in the heart of God where we will unite and ignite loving peace on earth!