Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Gift of Self

This is the gift table that my sister made.Image via Wikipedia As we round out the holiday look at gifts and giving, let's look at the one gift that is the best gift to give - the gift of self.

How do we give this gift?  Well, giving the Gift of Self requires that one be mindful, compassionate, and willing to risk.  Giving of Self can be dangerous.  Your heart can be broken; you make be ridiculed and you may even feel like a fool.  BUT!  The reward - the mitzpah returned - is worth the risk.

There are many who give of themselves, daily.  They are the women and men who put their entire lives on the line for their communities, countries and the world.  
I offer prayers, daily, for military members, as well as the fire, police and rescue people. Often, unsung heroes, these members of our society risk their lives daily to keep us safe, free from harm and disaster.  

Our media can sometimes concentrate too heavily on the bad behaviors of people, causing the rest of us to think that everyone is like the people portrayed on the news or in the papers/magazines. This is stereotyping, which is something the media should not be doing, but does, nonetheless.  Truth is, the good far out-weighs the bad.  

Among those who give of themselves to save the lives of others are the doctors, nurses and rescue workers, who are among those who appear at a disaster before others.  Many times, they come before it is truly safe to do so, risking life and limb to pull someone from the rubble or administer emergency care in precarious places.  They do not stop to ask what color the person is they are saving, or what religion, political beliefs or sexual persuasion they may have.  All they see is a person in need of immediate and emergent care.

Recently, the dedication of a team of doctors was condemned by the government in which they live, because they administered care to protesters during a recent uprising.  Now, these doctors are being treated like criminals.  They have been pulled from their homes, put on trial and sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison!  All this, because they stopped the bleeding of someone shot by the military in a protest against the government or set the broken bones of someone beaten by the police.

MANAMA, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 17:  Doctors and nu...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
 Doctors in Bahrain Triaging an Injured Protester
These horrendous trials are happening now in Bahrain.  You can read about it here on the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)website.  

PHR adheres to the Principles of Medical Neutrality. "Warring factions must protect civilians; allow sick and wounded civilians and soldiers both to receive care regardless of their political affiliations; and refrain from interfering with medical facilities, transport, and personnel. This is medical neutrality."

Giving of Self, as I said before, can be dangerous.  We could be walking into a situation that endangers our own life, but, when we are truly connected to the world, what matters is trying to help others, not what will happen to us.  These doctors didn't stop to ask the politics of the people being brought into the emergency room.  They simply saw someone in pain and did what they needed to do to help them.  

Like other rescue workers, in the moment they are asked to help, they automatically begin assessing the situation, utilizing all their training to key into what must be done immediately to save a life.  Condemning their actions is a sad commentary and against all that medical science stands for in the world.  

As we enter 2012, let us join in prayer to thank those who have given of themselves in the past, often forfeiting their lives in the process.  Let us pray for those still in occupations where service to others places them in harm's way.  Let us pray that governments will be enlightened to see that human rights must be adhered to if we are ever to find peace in the world.  

May the New Year bring us all closer to the reality of Love, Peace and Joy for all.

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Here are some more stories of the Unsung Heroes among us:

Soldier Saves 4 Lives

Girls Saved by Well-Trained Teachers

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Gift of the Sabbath

God reposing on Sabbath day. Illustration from...Image via Wikipedia

 God Resting on the Sabbath - 
Engraving from First Russian Illustrated Bible

Of all the controversy this holiday season, the one that has rattled me more than anything else is the fact that churches are closing their doors on Sunday, because Christmas falls on that particular day of the week this year.  Christian churches with congregations that have opted to "be at home" on Sunday rather than come to church for services.

When the subject came up at my congregation, we decided that the church would most definitely be open with Sunday service as usual.  To me this seemed like a no-brainer.  After all, we are Christians; it's Jesus birthday celebration AND it is Sunday, the one day a week given to worship and fellowship by many.  Then, I wondered, what kind of a message are churches that choose to close giving to the world?

Interestingly, I am reading a book for my seminary courses that touched on the importance of Sabbath.  Some of the facts shared by the author were profoundly inspiring.  The book, The Ten Challenges by Leonard Felder, Ph.D., discusses how the Ten Commandments are still relevant in today's world.

Felder begins by explaining that the word, Sabbath, comes from the root letters of Shabbat, which have two meanings - first, cease from activity in progress and second, to put everything in its proper place.  Felder goes on to quote, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, who said, "An artist cannot be continually wielding his or her brush.  The painter must stop at times from the painting to freshen his or her vision of the object, the meaning of which the artist wishes to express on canvas. The Shabbat represents those moments when we pause in our brushwork to renew our vision of the general plan.  Having done so, we take ourselves to our painting with clarified vision and renewed energy."

What I took from this is that we observe Sabbath in order to step away from the daily grind of our week, breathe, and gain new perspective on where we are headed and why.  Looking at the state of our world, it seems that many of us have forgotten how important the Gift of Sabbath is.

As I continued reading this chapter of Felder's book, I realized that I needed to follow his suggestions more.  He suggests that it is not enough to go to church, synagogue or temple once a week.  We need to give ourselves permission to have a day free of stress, work and duties -  one day, in which we connect with our loved ones and our own inner selves.

One of the amazing facts included in the book is that those who have Sabbath observances are healthier and happier individuals.  Of course, this makes perfect sense.  I know in my life, I am a much healthier and happier person when I have time to think and engage meaningfully with others.

So, here are some of the ideas for creating a more meaningful Sabbath:

  • Turn phones, electronic devices, TV's off.  Participate in activities that bring people together facing each other, rather than together facing out at something
  • Light candles, say a prayer, sing a song together 
  • Create a tradition - for instance, on your Sabbath day, have friends and family over for a special meal or begin reading a book together aloud
  • Take a nap - this is actually something that was done in the old days 
  • Go for a walk - it is amazing how much more clarity we have after a good walk
It is not important how you choose to celebrate the Sabbath, just that you do so.  Creating a Sabbath day can be something that anyone, from any belief system, anywhere can practice.  

Do something special for yourself and your family.  Give the Gift of a Sabbath day, observed intentionally.

Blessings to all!  Namasté!

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Gift of Advocacy

Over fifty years ago, people like Martin Luther King began speaking out about the civil rights of people in the United States, specifically the civil rights of African-Americans.  In the face of violence towards themselves and those that supported them, Rev. King and others maintained their advocacy for equal rights, not just for a privileged few, but for all people.  The combined strength of their voice, their actions brought our nation, indeed, our world closer to this ideal.

Fifty years is a long time; many have forgotten the struggles of the 50's and 60's because prejudice and bigotry has once again raised its head in our world.  What is it about the human psyche that there is such a strong need to vilify and demonize those who are different than we are?  

Recently, a large corporation pulled its support from a television program that showed Muslim-Americans at work and at home.  The program was an attempt to teach people that Muslims are not all terrorists, just like Christians are not all fundamentalists and Republicans are not all rich.  When we make sweeping generalization, when we stereotype, when we assume we know, we severely damage our relationships with others.  

Lest we forget, let us look back on our history, those of us who come from the comfort and privilege of these United States.  Let's begin with the finding of America.  
  • Christopher Columbus, hailed for years as a great hero, lead a search for gold and riches into America that killed, mercilessly, the Native People, called "savages" by the good people who wrote our history books. 
  • The Pilgrim Fathers of Thanksgiving fame are painted as peace loving settlers amongst the Native People, yet a year after that first gathering of thanks, the brutal and senseless massacre of the Native People began.  Why?  The desire for more land, more wealth, more, more, more.
  • As this country acquired more, the settlers began to enslave African people, dragging them from their homes, separating families, killing those who would not comply to the demands of their "masters." Let me remind you that these same people called them selves, Christians.
  • As the "West was won," settlers, eager to make it rich on gold and oil, continued to persecute the Native People, housing them on reservations under the benevolent guise of treaties and placing into forced labor Mexican-Americans as well as Chinese immigrants, who had escaped the horrors of their country only to face bigotry and enslavement here. 
  • In Boston, where I was born and reared, Irish-Americans where considered lower in status than African-Americans.  Treated as animals, my ancestors were sold into slavery and servitude, raped, abused and killed.  Their persecutors filled the lovely white New England churches each Sunday, sure of their goodness.
  • When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Japanese-Americans where herded into detention camps, losing property, livelihood and pride.  Interestingly, German-Americans were not put into detention camps, but then, they looked "American," didn't they.
  • Now, Muslim-Americans face the threats, the abuse, the cruelties of bigotry and oppression. Those who want to perpetrate hate, continue to niggle at the American conscious, calling into question the integrity of this particular group of Americans.
As a mother and teacher, I can state, first-hand, that no one is ever all right or all wrong. No human being is perfect, if we were, we would not be here.  Promoting hate does nothing more than make the world a hell.

During this Season of Light, a time when all Abrahamic traditions, (i.e., Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc.) celebrate Love, Light, and Sacrifice, why do some feel the need to persecute others? 

When Lowe's, the corporation mentioned above, pulled its support of the Learning Channel's new series, All-American Muslims, Lowe's unequivocally promoted and surreptitiously supported prejudice and bigotry towards Muslim-Americans.  Supporters of Lowe's actions state that the company can pull their support for any program.  They bring up the "rights" of corporations to put their money into whatever endeavors they see fit to support.  After all, it is the "American Way."

Opponents to Lowe's actions argue, according to a CNN report, "that this situation is more than just being politically correct; it is about bigotry. Would a major American company remove its commercials...from a show highlighting the lives of Latinos, African-Americans, Jewish Americans or members of the LGBT community?"

The thing is, all this began when a "small, little-known group," the Florida Family Association, began a campaign against the show. This association is really one person, David Caton, the same person who attempted to demonize the work of the Gay and Straight Alliance, years ago. (Read more here - New York Times) Mr. Caton claimed that the series was "totally absent the true essence of Islam, which is the focus of a Muslim believer."  He went on to state in the CNN interview that the series was propaganda, an attempt to make American-Muslims look like Americans. 

Lowe's official statement as recorded in the Washington Post says, "The North Carolina-based Lowe’s issued a statement apologizing for having 'managed to make some people very unhappy.'

'Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views,' the statement said. 'As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.'"

If we left issues of this caliber up to "communities, individuals and groups" we would be returning to the days of pre-civil rights, where lynchings where the result of such discussions; back to the time of the Inquisition, where people were tortured, and burned alive for not believing; back to an age before democracy, the Supreme Court and equal rights.

Thankfully, there are those who are standing strong against all this bigotry and prejudice.  My Fellow American is one such group.  My Fellow American promotes our country’s principles of liberty and justice for all. Here is a video from their site.

As we near the Holy Days, let us remember; let us open our hearts and minds to all our brothers and sisters; let us shine the Light of Love and Peace into the darkest corners of the world; thereby, upholding and continuing the work of Dr. King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Sojourner Truth, and others like them all of whom believed in a world of equality, justice and peace.  Let us all give the Gift of Advocacy.


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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gifts of Kindness

Commit Random Kindness & Senseless Acts of BeautyImage by tajasel via Flickr

"Commit Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty," announced the bumper sticker on a car that passed me on the highway over 20 years ago.  My first reactions was, "Cool!"  My second reaction was, "Ya, easier said than done!"

Since that time, I have attempted to give the gift of kindness (randomly, of course) in ways that were not obvious or planned - thus random!  For instance, back when I lived in Maine, I would often pay the toll of the person behind me.  

There are many ways to give kindness randomly.  Here are a few:
  • leave flowers at the front door of an elderly neighbor (or have the florist deliver them anonymously)
  • make cookies, brownies or some other simple food for the fire, police, or emergency workers in your town
  • try to shovel out a neighbor's walk before they notice
  • send a note (the kind you write by hand, the old fashioned way) to your favorite teacher, clergy or medical work letting them know how much they have helped you
  • Take food to a friend who is sick
  • Go visit an elderly friend or relative and spend time actively listening to them
Teaching children to do random acts of kindness can also be a gift.  My Sunday school class, back when the girls were very young, made cookies for the toll takers at Christmas, delivering them to the office beside the toll booths.  They also raked the leaves for an elderly member of the church one day.  She was so surprised and pleased that she nearly was in tears to think that the kids would spend time cleaning her yard instead of playing.

The thing is, you don't have to be extravagant.  You can simply give your time, your presence, which is the greatest gift to give.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Gift of Memories through Words

Mari L. McCarthy, journaling therapy specialist and author, owns Create Write Now, a website dedicated to all things journaling. The site includes hundreds of journaling prompts, personal journaling stories, interviews, a blog, and many other resources. Mari has published nine books to date; her most recent ebook is Help for the Holidays: 7 Days of Journaling to Ho! Ho! Ho!
Mari is our special guest writer today, sharing with us ideas on how to use the gift of memories through words to create special holiday journals.  
Readers are invited to leave a message for an opportunity to win your choice of either an ebook of Dark Chocolate for a Journaler's Soul, a Dark Chocolate T-Shirt, or Mari's Most Musefull Journaling Tips (8 1/2 x 11 Spiral Bound).

Welcome, Mari!  Thanks for sharing your thought with us today.

Special Holiday Journal Ideas

When we're looking forward to a ritual or special occasion that's upcoming soon, we may wish for a way to deepen our experience and understanding of the event. We want to record it, savor it, make it last.

We will take pictures and shoot movies; we'll create memorable moments and nooks of wordless enjoyment as the celebration unfolds. Nonetheless, we mostly depend on our fragile memories to keep the wonderful time fresh in our minds.

But there's another way to expand your perception of a special event or period in your life, and that is to journal it.

You might think journaling is a time-intensive commitment, but that's entirely untrue. A mere five minutes at a time or even less can build up a journal of significant meaning.

Here are a few simple ways to journal the holidays as they unfold.

1. Find a very small notebook and keep note of the weather through this month. Describe each day's meteorology in the most meticulous, appreciative words you can find. Alternatively, write out the details of the day's happenings, your world in general as it appears to you today.

2. Enter a daily holiday wish for the world, from today through a month from now.

3. Write out a generous description of something you are grateful for, every day for a month in your journal.

4. Pick a theme that scares or irritates you a little: like why you don't get along with your mom; or how you can possibly find solid, tolerable employment; or why you are overweight. Write a paragraph or more every day for a month relating to this issue.

5. Meditate in your journal on an aspect of the winter holiday season, whatever your religion or outlook. What does snow mean to you? How do you feel at this time of the year? What are stereotypical images of the season to you? etc.

6. Contemplate portions of scripture from your faith, whatever that may be. Write about the meaning of a verse or two each day.

7. Keep a stream-of-consciousness account by dedicating ten minutes every day to writing out your thoughts. Write without stopping, and without censoring.

Other ideas include journaling your holiday baking, your gift buying, your prayers, your sympathies with Scrooge. However far-flung, you can bring your experiences to the tip of your journaling pen and enter a new universe of revelations.

As always, be sure to look back on previous entries every now and then. Your journal will provide delectable holiday treats!


Wow, Mari, what great ideas!  Speaking of treats, I highly recommend Mari's book, Dark Chocolate for a Journaler's Soul.

Dark Chocolate for a Journaler's Soul is a compilation of writings by 17 women on journaling.  In addition, each woman answers four questions about why journaling is important to them, how often they write, what they do to combat writer's block and their favorite quote.

This is a great book for anyone who loves writing, but especially women journalers, who are looking for a bit of inspiration.

Dear Readers, don't forget to leave a comment, so that you can be entered into the drawing for your choice of either an ebook of Dark Chocolate for a Journaler's Soul, a Dark Chocolate T-Shirt, or Mari's Most Musefull Journaling Tips (8 1/2 x 11 Spiral Bound). This drawing is Mari's gift to you!


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Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Gift of Friendship

One of the wonderful things about the internet is the ability to connect with people around the world.  Over the past three years, I have "met" many wonderful people, who share my love for writing, social justice, and peace.  Melissa Foster is one of these people.

Melissa's new book, Come Back to Me, has just been released.  Like the characters in her previous books, those in Come Back to Me draw you in and keep you on the edge of your seat.

Melissa is our guest writer, today.  She is sharing her thoughts on friendship, a gift that is most definitely a mitzvah for both parties - double blessing! Friendship is a theme found in all Melissa's books.

Friendships That Stand The Test of Time, by Melissa Foster

What would life be like without friends? I, often, wonder about the loneliness that might take over, and how that loneliness might impact other aspects of our lives. Friendships are to be cherished; we’re taught that from a very young age, and for me, that theme is woven into every one of my novels. Whether the characters are mother and daughter, such as Megan and Olivia in Megan’s Way, or husband and wife, like Molly and Cole in Chasing Amanda, the strength a friendship lends itself to characters, as it does to people in real life, pulling them through the toughest of scenes.

There are other friendships, both in life and in books, that speak to us in many different ways. Friendships with those with whom we are not related, for example, carry different types of strength and tests of fortitude than those previously mentioned. With lovers or mothers, siblings, or other relatives, there is a natural bond that has grown over time, developed from birth, or built on love (or maybe lust for new relationships until the friend becomes a spouse?).

Friendships with those we are not romantically coupled, with people who simply touch our lives in such a way that makes us want to be around them, help them when they’re down, cheer them on, or rant and commiserate with them until they smile, those friendships are unique. There’s a special connection that doesn’t exist between all people, and that special something is not tangible, but is as real as the earth you stand on.

In my newest release, Come Back to Me, I was able to explore such a friendship. On the outside, Tess Johnson and Alice Workman appear to be complete opposites. Tess, a type A organizer, madly in love with her husband, happily engaged in couplehood, and Alice, a cold, control-driven woman afraid to commit. Their friendship worked, even blossomed, because what one lacked the other possessed. When you look past the façade that they both work so hard to portray, you find two women who are very similar—each vulnerable, afraid to expose their inner selves. Once unveiled, their similarities bond them together, and again, their ability to compliment each other’s weaknesses pulls them through.

The world is an interesting place, and as with fictitious characters, we sometimes find others, who sing to us in a way that we cannot ignore, and when we find those special few, there is no holding on. The friendship just “is”, without questions, without concern. It is ever-present.

Would you like to share a favorite friend story? We’d love to hear it.

About Melissa

Melissa Foster is the award-winning author of two novels, Megan’s Way and Chasing Amanda. She is the founder of the Women’s Nest, a social and support community for women, and WoMen’s Literary Café, a literary community where there will be two books launched and a 99 cent event next week!  (You won't want to miss it!)

Melissa's interests include her family, reading, writing, painting, friends, helping women see the positive side of life, and visiting Cape Cod. Melissa enjoys discussing her books with book clubs and reader groups, and welcomes an invitation to your event.

Visit Melissa’s website, www.MelissaFoster.com

I would like to leave you, our readers, with this last thought on friendship, "Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies." -Aristotle



Monday, December 5, 2011

Gift Giving

Christmas gifts.Image via Wikipedia

After a month-long look at Giving Thanks, I am taking a month-long look at Gift Giving.  Tis' the season in many cultures around the world.  That being so, I will look at some of the aspects of giving, pondering questions such as, who gives; why do we give; are there rules to giving; what are the traditions around giving; when do we give; are there specific ways to give, etc.

To begin, I will share a few lines from a little book (literally) by Dean Walley - Gifts of the Heart.

"Giving's receiving,
Receiving is giving!
That's really the secret
That lies behind living.
So give something each day
And you'll find that it's true...
All the gifts of the heart
Will be given to you."

Giving is receiving and receiving is giving...how does this work?  Each time we do a kindness, we give the gift of our self to another through that kindness (Giving does not need to include the exchange of presents.) In accepting that kindness, the person receiving the gift give the giver the opportunity to do something for someone else.  
In Yiddish, the word, Mitzvah, means "good deed."  The belief is that when you do a good deed you bless both the giver and the receiver making the act a double mitzvah.

The thing about gifts from the heart is that, like Words from the Heart, there is tremendous power in them.  Gifts from the heart have the power to unite, heal, bless and inspire.

During this month of Giving, let us be more mindful of the gifts from the heart that we give daily.  Let us remember that these gifts come with no strings attached.  In other words, they are freely given without any concern for repayment, praise or even gratitude.

May the blessings of giving be yours today and all the days to come.


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Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day

AIDS AwarenessImage by sassy mom via Flickr
Today, we observe the 23rd World AIDS Day.  Are we any closer to a cure? Is AIDS awareness more prevalent?

For the answers to these questions, let's look at the World Health Organizations statistics.
According to the WHO - "An estimated 2.7 million people worldwide were newly infected with HIV in 2010.

An estimated 390 000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2010; 30% fewer than the peak of 560,000 annual new infections in children in 2002 and 2003.

Since 2001, annual HIV incidence has fallen in 33 countries, 22 of them in  sub-Saharan Africa. However, incidence is accelerating again in Eastern Europe and Central Asia after having slowed in the early 2000s, and new infections are on the rise in the Middle East and North Africa.

The number of AIDS-related deaths worldwide is steadily decreasing from a peak of 2.2 million in 2005 to an estimated 1.8 million in 2010. "

photo credit: Wikipedia
In addition, "More than 95 million HIV tests were performed in 2010 in 119 low- and middle-income countries, representing an increase from 67 million tests reported in 100 countries in 2009.

The reported number of health facilities providing HIV testing and counseling services reached 131 000 in 2010 (in 119 countries), up from 30 300 in 2007 (in 78 countries)."

So, while things have improved in some areas, they are still problematic in others.  We cannot forget that this disease is still killing people.  

ONE.org, along with other concerned organizations, is continuing to campaign, talk, discuss, lobby and advertise the need for funding to continue AIDS research and outreach.  

A virtual AIDS quilt is now in the works to help in that process.  Check it out at (2015) Quilt.

For more information and facts about AIDS, go to The World Health Organization. 

May the day come that a cure be found for this horrific disease that has stolen so many from this world.


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