"Live your life with arms wide open. Today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten." -Lyrics from the song Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield

Viewing life as a book waiting to be written is a powerful analogy. We partner with the Divine to co-create our story. We are the author and illustrator, and when we take time to reflect, the reader. Any writer knows that sometimes it's necessary to pause in the middle of your story and re-read what's already been written. Where do you want to take your character now? And thus it is with life.

I remember writing a Christmas letter several years ago in which I alluded to a chapter of my life coming to a close. It was the first time I had thought of life as a book. My marriage was ending and we were sifting through our individual lives trying to determine how to split the remains of an 18 year union. It felt bigger than the turn of a page and an end of a chapter, though those were the only words I had then. It was a dark, confusing, emotionally chaotic time, and it almost felt as if my entire book was ending. Life as I had known it was over. Who I had known myself to be as a person, wife and mother was in ruins.

I feel another chapter wrapping up. After 10 years of being at Unity of Salem in various capacities as a congregant and leader, my time there is now coming to a close. This community and its loving members have encouraged, supported and witnessed my incredible transformation from a sad, closed-off soul to one who is passionate about the adventure of life. "Someone just taking up space" is how a friend recently described me during that initial period.  That's a powerful statement and unfortunately, quite accurate. In those days, I felt like I had nothing to contribute to the world.

These last years have been a time to retreat, to go inward and commence the process of cleaning house.  I've sorted through the contents of my mind, saving the beliefs that still serve me and releasing those that no longer do. I've opened my heart, removed the dust and debris, and given it room to breathe. I've learned to savor the ordinary and expect the miraculous, to give of myself and allow others to give to me. Of course, life is one long journey in learning and expanding, but this intense period of repair and healing is complete.  That is what releasing my roles at Unity of Salem represent for me. It's time to leave the safety of the confines of "home" and venture into the world. I do so with a grateful heart, for all the beautiful friends, teachers and mentors who have come into my story at various pages, and loved me back to life.

Because the chapters in my life have seemed so definitive, perhaps they are not chapters at all. Maybe my life is a series of books, each with a new adventure. Some characters carry through, book to book, and others stay for only a few pages or chapters. Like any good series, I can never know what will happen next. The story may continue a bit predictable for a while, and then when least expected, a plot twist will grab my full attention. Sometimes, depending on the twist, it may take much courage to turn the page. And at other times, I won't be able to turn the page fast enough. No matter what, when that last book has been written and the series is complete, I rest assured that through all the twist and turns the story has taken, it will have been magnificent.  A story worth living. A story worth reading.

There never seems to be a shortage of things to worry about, for others and ourselves.  Worry.  It’s a state of being that has somehow become associated with caring.  If I am worried about you, it suggests that I care deeply.  The more I say I worry, the more you’re supposed to know that I care. 

I have made a personal choice to stop worrying.  Now I know this may sound cold and callous, but allow me to introduce my line of thinking, and then you can make your own determination.  What does it really mean to worry?

I am coming from the premise that what we focus on expands.  If we place our attention on what we don’t like in our life, then without realizing it, we are increasing the power of that.  If we focus on what is working, then we magnify that.  If this premise is true, then a good question to ask yourself is “Where am I investing my mental energy and what am I focusing on?”  And that brings us back to the concept of worry.

Worry, as defined by Webster, means  mental distress or agitation resulting from concern usually for something impending or anticipated : anxiety. Nothing in this definition denotes anything positive or loving.  When those we care for experience difficulties, emotions such as disappointment, fear, and pain (emotional and/or physical) often accompany the challenging times.  If we join them in those same emotions, which is what “to worry” actually has us doing, then no one is left able to hold a higher vision.  Resolutions always come from a higher place in thinking then where the perceived problem lies. 

Caring doesn’t mean I need to join you where you are.  It means I honor you where you are, and the best way to support you is to stay grounded and centered, an anchor of love for you to hold onto.  I can offer a hug of comfort and a shoulder to cry on, all the while staying positive and focused on the highest outcome.  If you are sick and I worry about you being sick, there is no focus on the health, which is what you are really wanting.  If you are struggling financially,and I jump in with you and focus on your lack of resources, then there is no focus on the abundance, which is what you are wanting.  Remember the premise, what we focus on expands.  I know it’s so tempting to swim around in the “yuck” with your friends.  Afterall, misery does love company.  But what if we can view the “yuck” as just experience, one that will pass, and pass quicker if we can help shift perspective onto what is really wanted, instead of what appears to be here now. 

Have you ever noticed that no matter how much you worry, it never has the power to change anything?  All it does is rob us of our joy and ability to hold the high watch.  It took me many years to understand that phrase: holding the high watch.  During a difficult eight years of my life, I had two special friends who always reminded me they were doing just that.  I get it now.  What they were doing was holding the vision of who they knew me to be, and not the low, pitiful vision of myself I was wrapped up in at the time.  They didn’t try to fix me or tell me what they thought I should do.  They held the space to allow me to be right where I was, honoring my emotions but not feeding my victimhood.  They knew something at the time that I’ve only come to fully understand recently.  The most loving and effective way to help someone out of the darkness is simply to hold the light.

Nature is a splendid teacher.  I'm sitting in Arizona, poolside, trying to keep my eyelids from blowing shut!  Apparently this incredible wind is a regular occurrence here, and while my parents state that today is really just a bit breezy (probably only 25-30 mph), I'm fighting the urge to hide in the comforts and protection of four walls.  I'm not even sure that would help though.  When I awoke first thing this morning, the RV park model home the kids and I were staying in sounded as if it was about to blow off it's foundation.  I was unsure when I stepped out the door if we would still be in Bullhead City or if the loud swirling during the night had taken us to Oz.

Wind.  it's my least favorite weather condition, by far.  You see, I don't like things in my face, which is why being in a pool and susceptible to splashing drives me crazy, thus the earlier note about being pool SIDE.  A light breeze is one thing, but this torrential wind is assaulting my face with an onslaught of blowing hair, dust, and apparently negativity!

And then it hits me.  No, not a downed palm, though that is entirely possible today, but the insight!  When I am able to look past the fierceness of the blowing trees and howling air for just a moment, I notice: The bright sun, the joyous laughter, the beautiful tropical decor, the comfy chair, the quaint gazebo, the opportunity to be on vacation.  Ah, and the light bulb goes on!  This is yet another perfect metaphor for our attitude in life.  Often times we let unpleasant circumstances and stresses have the power to completely divert our attention from all the blessings surrounding us.  The things we don't want wail loudly, making sure we can't forget.  As we turn our attention to them, suddenly that is all we see, and everything good in our life has been forgotten.

It's exactly what I allowed that wind to do.  Once I was able to remove my focus from it, I was again able to notice the good around me.  The blessings hadn't disappeared, I had just chosen not to see them.  Thank you Mr. Wind, for this fine lesson.

Now as I sit here, watching the kids diving, splashing and laughing, I relax into what is.  The gusts are still there, but no longer have my focus.  I have decided to actually enjoy this day, no matter what.  And when the wind does manage to blow my eyes closed, I say a little prayer of thanks and use the time to feel the affections of the sun warming my skin.

There’s something special about this time.  You can see it in the tender smiles of the kindness that walks the streets.  It drips from the tinsel on the decorated trees and tiptoes from the kitchen as gingerbread men.  You can spot it twinkling through the dark, lighting the way.  A spirit of giving pulses in the once-ordinary air and everything old becomes new again, vibrantly alive as if by magic.  And yet, with all the joy appearing in all its various forms, Christmas time can also be filled with sorrow and sadness, a reminder of loved ones passed on and memories of times gone by.

And then, as if in a blink of an eye, it is gone.  The world returns to its previous form, twinkling disappears, and life goes on as if the last month didn't even exist.  Or does it?  December and all its child-like wonder changes us.  We feel a little more grateful, a little more joyful, and a little more loving.  This time marks the end of another year of our life, one that has been surely filled with a mix of happy and challenging times, as all of life is.  Whatever the last 365 days have held for you, I say, “Well done!”  I'll bet through your various experiences, you've grown and changed, if even just a little.  You are not the same person that you were 12 months ago, and that is how life is meant to be. 

It’s been an amazing year for me.  I found myself on many adventures: a trip to New York City to attend the National Publicity Summit, publishing my first book and doing a series of national radio interviews, watching my oldest go off to college, completing the Advanced Degree in Ministerial Studies at CFIA and serving for these last four months as Interim Minister at Unity of Salem.  I’ve been stretched beyond measure and supported beyond belief.  With the massive influx of so many grand experiences, I have encountered much delight and had the opportunity to work through many fears, doubts, and old insecurities.  I’ve deepened my spiritual practice and solidified that place within where divine joy and peace abide.  Many incredible souls have crossed my path, and I’ve been able to love a little more, a little better.  I’ve learned to savor the ordinary and expect the miraculous.  I am grateful for all of it, for all of you.

As a new month and new year arrive, I encourage you to turn your eyes, not to the future, but to this present moment.  I'm convinced our life is best lived one moment at a time.  Regret, fear and anxiety are the emotions of the past and future.  The heartbeat of aliveness exists right here, right now.  As humans, our length of life comes with no guarantee.  All we truly have is the moment in which we stand now.  So let's savor each one that we get.  If we have the courage to live it with an open heart overflowing with love and gratitude, it's the only moment we'll ever need.

     More and more we are hearing and understanding the value of meditation, that practice of getting still, clearing our mind and entering the sacred presence within.  There is no one right way to meditate.  That still place can be accessed in many ways: a communing with nature, a dedicated yoga practice, listening to music, or sitting in quiet.  However we choose to get there, that sacred space within allows us to remember who we are, to hear divine guidance, and to know that in this now moment, all is well.  Once we’ve spent our 20, 30 or 60 minutes in this sacred time, we reemerge into our daily lives, and oh how quickly the rush and chaos of the world so easily consumes us once again.

     While I definitely do not dispute the value of designated meditation time, I’m going to try another way.  What if I could live my entire life as if it were a meditation?  What if I could navigate each and every moment from a place of perfect peace?  There would be no reason to deliberately set aside time to enter that sacred space, and therefore no time when I then need to reemerge from it.  It is always here.  Perfect peace is a conscious choice, in each moment, to remember that all is well.  My peace is disrupted when I allow my thoughts to pull from the past or wander into the future.  I make the decision to turn my eyes from the calm center as I get caught up in the world swirling outside of me.  In the midst of fear or challenging times if I can find the presence of mind to remember this, I find that everything is always ok right here, right now.  Always and in all ways.  That is the design of meditation, to be in the present moment, to clear my mind and open my heart, to live not from a vision of expectation or assumption, but to see who or what is clearly in front of me now.

     As I drive, I use the beautiful scenery as a visual meditation.  As I converse with a friend or loved one, I stay present to who they are in this moment and what they are saying right now.  As I navigate a world of others, I remember that a smile and gentle eye contact conveys kindness.  As I spend moments alone, I pay attention to what I am feeling and where I am feeling it in my body.  When I stay present to what is, I allow the current of life to flow magnificently through me.  I am open to and allowing of Source.  I am love.

     As humans, we all desire a peaceful world.  It is my strong belief that we will never be able to “make” it that.  And yet, each of us is responsible for a peaceful world, not by raging against everything unlike peace, but by finding and radiating peace from within our own selves.  The world will be peaceful when it is filled with peaceful people.  It all starts within.  Living life as if every moment is a meditation seems like a wonderful place to begin.  “Be the change you want to see in the world.” -Gandhi

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