Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My Angel Encounter

I’ve always love the striking images of beautiful angels found in Renaissance paintings. The detailed, graceful beings seem to exude love, peace and serenity. Ahhhh...I feel calm every time I see one. Those artistic images, and the angelic figurine that stood atop our Haworth family Christmas tree, were really all I knew about angels. Until I met one.

I became sick during my first pregnancy and delivered my baby girl 12 weeks early by emergency C-section. She weighed only two pounds. Her condition was serious and she struggled for life in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) as I fought to recover from severe pre-eclampsia and aggressive infection.

When she was less than 48 hours old, I was resting in my hospital room when two stone faced young doctors came in. I’ll never forget the expression on their faces as they glanced at me, but stayed focused on the charts they held.

“Uh, oh. Why were two interns here? Why do they look like that? Why aren’t they looking at me?” I thought. I knew it was bad news, but how bad?

I was told my baby had experienced a "bleed in the head" and that this wasn’t uncommon with preemies born this early. They said everything could be fine. Or not. They explained she could be blind or severely brain damaged. They just didn't know. They mumbled “we’re sorry to disturb you” and hurried out of the room.

I’m not sure what was worse; the shock I felt, or the fear for my baby daughter. Since I’d been admitted, my then husband and family were in and out of my room all the time. But at this second, I was utterly alone and thoroughly terrified.

I began to sob uncontrollably when a lovely lady appeared at my door. She was a pretty brunette about 30ish, dressed in jeans and a top with a beautiful smile. She said she was from Roanoke and she'd seen me in the NICU when she was visiting her own premature baby boy. I'll never forget what happened next.

Never leaving my doorway, she said, "Don't worry, everything will be alright.” She smiled deeply, gazing into my eyes and continued, “Just take things day by day, and when that's too much, go hour by hour. When that seems like too much to bear, just take things minute by minute."

And she was gone.

I immediately felt a deep sense of peace that my baby would be fine. It’s hard to describe the ease that flowed through me when only seconds before, I’d been in a complete state of panic.

My husband returned to my room and after telling him about the visit, I asked him to take me to see our baby. I wanted thank the beautiful mother who had just given me the gift of peace. He quickly found a wheelchair, and off we went.

Guess what? Although I was on the NICU floor no later than 30 minutes after the young mother had seen me, I couldn't find her. None of the nurses knew who I was talking about and there was no baby boy there from Roanoke.

That’s when I knew.

I had been visited by an angel – the real kind. She had visited me to let me know all would be well and to teach me how to keep trusting. Over and over during the two months Stephanie was in the NICU, I found comfort in her words:

“Don’t worry. Everything will be alright. Just take things day by day, and when that's too much, go hour by hour. When that seems like too much to bear, just take things minute by minute."

Everything did turn out alright. Stephanie is now 30 and is a beautiful, loving soul with no physical issues. I still refer to her as my “miracle baby.”

When I’ve told this story over the years, it’s obvious not everyone thinks I saw a “real angel.” No matter. I’m forever grateful for the visit and words that gave me peace, strength and taught me to trust. That’s another miracle as far as I’m concerned.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Celebrating My Baby

My baby girl turns 30 this week. Thirty. I remember my mom telling me that time with your children flies by, but I didn’t believe her. She was right.

As I look at my beautiful, accomplished, loving daughter my heart overflows with gratitude. I’m grateful she chose me as her mother, I’m grateful for the adventures we’ve shared, and I’m forever grateful to be close and watch her as she continually grows and evolves.

We had a rocky start. I had issues with my pregnancy almost from the start. I developed severe pre-eclampsia and was admitted to an unfamiliar hospital an hour and a half away from home and was tended to by doctors I’d never met. My condition was critical and we both almost died. After six nerve racking days, my little Stephanie was born by emergency cesarean section. She weighed only two pounds and was 12 weeks early. My little preemie had an uphill battle to survive. She did more than that. She thrived.

That was my first indication of her spirit. She’s smart. She’s a fighter and a survivor.

Life has given her many challenges that people twice her age have never faced. She’s faced each hurdle, and come through stronger than before.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed something else. She’s becoming softer.

She married a wonderful man and through her marriage, I’ve seen her blossom into a loving wife, attentive hostess and thoughtful friend. All the while, she’s remained my beautiful baby girl.

As in any family relationship, it’s not all giggles and girl talk. Sometimes we “butt heads.” We’re both passionate in our beliefs and interests (although some family members interpret our passion as stubbornness). No matter. Regardless of the issue we’re working through, the underlying love is always there for me.

She’s taught me so much. I first understood unconditional love from holding her as a tiny baby in my arms. I marveled at her determination and spirit as she went through school and college. I admire her dedication to her family and her work as I now see her navigate the world as an adult. I’m looking forward to the day I see her as a new mother. I know she’ll be much better than I was. She’ll be awesome.

The next 30 years will be quite an adventure for our entire family. One thing’s for sure. I know it’ll be a great ride for my baby girl and me.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

My Messy Bits

I set my intention to live love. I really do. I want to be fair, loving, supportive and all things good and true. My life just doesn’t always work out that way.

I love to read British blogger Hollie Holden, who also strives to be an example of love as she raises her young children and runs a busy household. In “Hollie Holden’s Notes on Living and Loving” on Facebook, she not only gives her unique perspective on daily life, she does something very brave. She shares the “messy bits.” She shares the days her house is a wreck, describes sticky spills all over the kitchen floor, the days she’s too harsh with herself and even the massive crack in the wall that needs to be fixed. Regular life stuff. But the stuff we seldom post on social media amid our positive quotes and beautiful vacation photos. Recently, she did something radical.

She wrote, “Wouldn't Facebook be more interesting if it were called realbook? ‪ #‎lessphotosofkaleandmountaintopyogaposes ‪#‎morephotosofthemessybits #‎whatlifeactuallylookslike ‪#‎weareallinthistogether

WOW. She’s gutsy. I love how honest she is when describing the “ups” and “downs” of life. I find it refreshing and helpful. But could I do that? Could I share my messy bits? I’ve shared some, but I’m private and most of my messy bits stay deep under cover.

I decided to give it a go.

In the last month: I broke a tooth and got my first crown, had mild food poisoning, found a six foot black snake in my house (two feet from my face when I was on the floor looking under the couch), lived through an “unexpected appliance death” and had to buy a new washer and dryer, had my 25 year old son recuperating at our house for five days after having four impacted wisdom teeth removed, whined to my sister that I feel stuck and really don’t know what hell I’m doing, forgot to meditate a few days and was mad at myself for needing to wear my “fat jeans.”

There. I’ve said it.

Now I know how the Wizard of Oz felt when Toto pulled back the curtain.

I don’t like it.

I don’t like showing my vulnerable side. It’s not that I want to hide that I’m, um, human…it’s that when life gets crazy, I do my best to see past the messy bits. And that’s what I want to focus on.

I look to see what I have to be grateful for in each situation. I do my best to accept any lessons or new learning opportunities that are presented. I notice what my triggers are so I can move past them. I strive to allow love to guide my reactions. That’s my intent anyway.

OK, that didn’t work out too well with the snake thing. I screamed. A lot. My brave husband did catch the snake and return it unharmed to the woods outside our house. He did that out of love for me. And because he was afraid I was going to have a heart attack.

When I calmed down, guess what I discovered about seeing a snake? According to several spiritual texts, snakes are a symbol of rebirth, new beginnings and healing. Hmmm. Not a bad sign if it hadn’t been real and in my face. Maybe I need to spend a bit more time experiencing the messy bits, to fully understand what wisdom is there for me? Maybe by acknowledging and sitting in the mess, the real treasure of it is revealed. Thanks to people like Hollie, I’m a bit more comfortable exposing my messes.

I‘ve gained new perspectives from each of the little challenges I’ve shared here and for that, I am grateful. Even for the snake. DISCLAIMER: I’m still hard at work on being grateful for the fat jeans.

Here’s to celebrating all of life, every beautiful little messy bit.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

How a Shark Taught Me to Control My Thoughts

If you know me, you know I love Discover Channel’s annual SHARK WEEK programming. In honor of these magnificent creatures, I’m offering this excerpt from my book, “How to Choose Love When You Just Want to Slap Somebody” that details my own shark encounter and the lesson I learned from it. Enjoy…

Consider this Buddha quote: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” You are what you think. If you think your day will be a disaster, a disaster it is. If you think your day will be a happy one, you’ll be right again. Industrialist Henry Ford said it this way, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t - you’re right.” According to philosopher Soren Kierkegarrd, “Our life always expresses the result of our dominate thoughts.”

So if you think you’re a failure, you will live that truth. If you think you’re a kind person, you’ll demonstrate kindness. Are we doomed by our thoughts? Not at all. Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” Award winning singer songwriter Willie Nelson is quoted as saying, “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” Willie gets it. All these people understood the power of the mind to create reality. And they understood everyone has the power to change their reality by changing their thoughts.

I know, I know – you’ve heard about the power of changing your thoughts to change the experience of your life and have probably read books demonstrating to consciously create your life with your thoughts. And you believe some of it. I believe all of it. I’ve seen countless times how the energy of my thoughts not only crafted my life experience, but absolutely affected those around me.

Several years ago I was learning to scuba dive in the Bahamas. On the second day out with my instructor, I was still awestruck by the beauty at the bottom of the ocean. The coral, the spectacular array of sea creatures, and the vastness of the sea - it was all just incredible. And I could see it all because I was breathing under water! It was unbelievable. I remembered my television hero, Jacques Cousteau, and could hear his powerful voice in my head eloquently describing the breathtaking underwater scene that enveloped me in his beautiful French accent.

We were diving near a large coral reef when a brightly colored school of fish silently glided by followed by a trio of six to eight foot reef sharks. I watched with amazement and noted the group was only about ten feet away from me. What? The sharks were only ten feet away from ME! In a flash the theme from JAWS started playing in my head as did each brutal bloody scene from every single shark movie I've ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot. The tempo of the song increased and as I became completely terrified, one shark broke away from the group and began circling me. I could see the shark's dead eyes staring through me and I became even more horrified. Quint’s famous line in JAWS flooded back to me, “You know the thing about a shark, he's got... lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye.” It’s true.

As the shark got closer and closer I was forced to drop down on my belly between two coral shelves where I was trapped. I was breathing hard and using up oxygen fast when I realized there was at least 50 feet of ocean straight up between me and the boat. The more scared I was, the more aggressive the shark got. I remembered hearing that sharks could sense fear and were drawn to any creature that gave off "victim" vibes. Even in full panic, a small voice inside me realized I have to calm down. I forced myself to breathe deep and slow. I began to repeat "I am safe, I am safe, I am safe" over and over in my mind. As I felt my body start to relax, the shark began to lose interest and as I completely relaxed into the calm, it turned and swam away. The only thing that changed in this scenario was my thought pattern. You think I believe our thoughts matter? You bet I do!