I Was A Refugee

When I was in Syria I made friends with a woman who had lost her husband and her sons in a war she couldn’t understand. Pushed from her home and country, she now pays rent on a crate behind a café by selling her body. Up to ten times a night.

In Southeast Asia I was blessed to be part of a campaign to rescue children enslaved in human trafficking. These children, and I do mean children, were torn from their families, or SOLD by their families for money. Every one of them was a refugee.

By definition, a refugee is someone who has been forced to leave his or her home/country to escape persecution, natural disaster or war.

I’ve been honored to stand with refugees all over the world and to understand a little of what they are suffering.

When I was twelve years old something so horrific happened within the walls of our home, I was forced to flee for my life. I had nowhere to go. It was the middle of winter and by midnight I had run out of quarters telephoning and begging relatives to open a door. They all said no.

By three o’clock in the morning I was numb with cold, loneliness and despair. A stranger finally took me in and gave me a warm bath and a bed and a meal. The next day I was driven to the police station. I never went back “home”. I’d already lived in a number of foster homes. There were more in my future before an uncle and aunt took pity and gave me a real home. For them, I will forever be grateful.

I don’t share any of this so you’ll feel sorry for me; I share it so you’ll know that I know what it’s like to be a refugee. Sometimes for weeks at a time, I lived on city streets, dodging cops and perverts. Foster care usually only fostered abuse. But I’m cagey, and I survived. Today I am blessed beyond measure. What matters now is that I have a home that’s warm. I can open my doors to refugees. A couple of years ago I learned of some families that had arrived here with nothing. Eli and his friends went through our neighborhood late, late at night asking for various items to help set up these desperate families. It was easy to give a pan or a lamp or a blanket. In fact, when Dev and Mike recently moved to Hawaii, they donated most of their furnishings to refugees that had no dishes, no clothes, and no furniture. It was simple.

But now things aren’t so simple. I don’t know what to do to help. I feel frustrated and desperate. I understand that President Trump doesn’t want “undesirables” let into our country. I understand that America has enemies that would destroy all of us if they could. I get the policy. What I don’t get is a chance to help the hurting and that hurts me. If a stranger had not taken me in that December night so long ago, I would have frozen to death.

I can’t let that happen to anyone else if I can help it, and I hate that I’m being told that I can’t. Maybe that’s why St. Peter will never let me relieve him of his sacred Pearly Gate keeping duties. I wouldn’t check the records. I’d just push back the hinges and let everybody through.

Imagine such a heaven!

Right now I’m praying hard for those who are alone, afraid, abused. I am praying for the leaders of our nation and the leaders of the world. Mostly though, I’m praying for the children who are cold, hungry, hurt, confused, and feel abandoned. God be with you!

Things will get better because in the end, love will always, always, always trump hatred.

Meet Vernon and VaNita…You Won’t Be Sorry

Gratitude changes the brain. Literally. The more you practice being grateful, the stronger and easier it is for you to benefit from the psychological effects of gratitude. You alter your brain’s circuitry. You increase your serenity and security. You up your serotonin and dopamine production. All this works together for you health, mental, physical and spiritual.

Today I’m feeling especially grateful for the people who love my children, and I’d like to tell you about two very stellar human beings.

Eli had never played baseball, but that didn’t stop him from trying out for the team and making it. And that didn’t stop him from stepping up to the plate and hitting a home run in his first game. What was memorable wasn’t the home run, it was Eli’s elation to run across the street and tell our neighbor, Vernon Law, as soon as he got home.

Vern Law is famous. I mean actually famous. You can look him up on Wikipedia. You can watch documentaries made about him. They will tell you that the handsome farm boy from Meridian, Idaho had nine baseball scouts chomping to sign the 18-year-old pitcher. The rep from the Pittsburgh Pirates showed up with a dozen roses, a box of chocolates and a special recruiter on the phone—Bing Crosby. He won and so did the Pirates.

Nicknamed Deacon for his allegiance to his faith, Law turned his sneaky fastball into a 20-9 record, earned the Cy Young Award and won twice in the World Series as Pittsburgh beat the New York Yankees in seven games.

All during those years Deacon packed a red spiral-notebook with him, filled with inspirational sayings and quotes that got him by during times of trial. Guess what? Today Vern Law and his bride of over sixty years, VaNita, sat on our sofa and expounded some of those aphorisms to my sons. Last month they bought us a Christmas turkey. The month before that they stopped by so Vern could play the harmonica and VaNita could crack jokes with my daughter.

Now maybe you do and maybe you don’t believe that faith can move mountains. All I know is that some pretty desperate prayers moved some extraordinarily remarkable people into our lives. Vern and VaNita are two of them. You can’t talk about him without spotlighting her. VaNita is a sprite of a woman, a fairy of fire and motherly love. She’s often so soft spoken you have to crane to hear her. Unless VaNita laughs. Then the whole world hears the magic and the music in her voice.

They’ve raised five sons and a daughter, remarkable people in their own rights along with their in-laws. They’ve got grandkids and great grandkids galore, but that doesn’t mean the Laws don’t have love left over for kids without grandparents. Kids like mine. These two didn’t wait to be asked to step into the role. They took it upon themselves to reach out and love my daughters and sons. They learned their names. They asked about their dreams. They lead them in Scouting. They attended their ball games. They prayed for their wounds. They came to the silly parties I throw for every holiday and sometimes for no reason at all. They shared their talents and taught lessons that will forever change our family dynamics.

No other man on Earth could sit with Eli for hours telling him personal stories about what it was like to play baseball with Babe Ruth or Eli’s hero—Jackie Robinson. One night Vern told my sons, Dallas and Eli, firsthand stories of 1950’sand ‘60’s racism and bigotry, and of Jackie’s choice to rise above the hatred, name calling, and viciousness by relying on non-violence, character and talent instead.

I see those things in Vern and VaNita. They are kind even when others aren’t. They serve in silence without fanfare. She’s a master homemaker and makes jam every holiday season for the entire neighborhood. He’s a master carpenter and fixes whatever’s broken, and makes beautiful, useful things from wood. Forget the fact that they’re approaching 90 years old—they move. They garden. They mow their lawn. And Vern is still a real competitor on the golf course. They love God and it shows in how they treat other people.

I wish you could all come to dinner and listen to Vern tell stories. Listen to VaNita pipe in with her wisdom and wit. I wish I could share the Laws with all of you, because we could all benefit from people as loving, giving and wise as Vernon and VaNita Law.

Links You Should Check out:

https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-iry-fullyhosted_011&hsimp=yhs-fullyhosted_011&hspart=iry&p=vern+law+world+series+video#id=1&vid=b8369231d56016a1d68834a0f9ef97cc&action=click

https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-iry-fullyhosted_011&hsimp=yhs-fullyhosted_011&hspart=iry&p=venon+law+documentary+you+tube#id=1&vid=3a2587dc681eb625175cfaacde85b80f&action=click

https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-iry-fullyhosted_011&hsimp=yhs-fullyhosted_011&hspart=iry&p=vern+law+world+series+video#id=5&vid=4a808008983525a7c49b5387e6c1e199&action=click

Easy Way To Brighten Your Brain

This morning when we pulled back into the driveway after our workout, my friend Lisa got this big grin on her face. “Look! Blue sky!” What a welcome sight. I jumped right into a snow bank and snapped this photo. There’s something transformative about sunshine—especially after an endless string of gray snowy days. I love snow, especially in December. Snow changes in January. It’s not as magical. And it’s colder. By February it’s lost its “Oh, isn’t that pretty!” appeal altogether.

I’ve spent too long in places where it’s dark and cold. I’m ready for spring to arrive. Maybe cause I suffer from SAD. It stands for “season affective disorder” and it’s a form of depression triggered by the changing seasons. At night when it’s dark your body produces a hormone called melatonin. This is produced in specialized tissue and in your pineal glands. Melatonin helps you sleep.

During a sunny day your body produces the hormone serotonin. It’s a neurotransmitter that does many amazing things; including helping you stay awake and alert. It keeps the brain communicating properly. It plays a key role in your mood, appetite, memory and sex drive. You’ve probably heard of “feel good” hormones. Serotonin is right up there at the top of the list—linked directly to happiness. It increases your ability to ward off stress, anxiety and depression. Insufficient serotonin leads to an imbalanced life.

If you live in a land of shadows your doctor might prescribe phototherapy where you are subjected to a light box that simulates sunshine to help produce sufficient serotonin. Thankfully, today you don’t need a light box. All you need is a fifteen minute exposure to blue sky and sunlight. Think of it as God turning on the lights. When that happens everything gets brighter—even your brain.

(Hey friends, thank you for reading this blog. It means so much to me, and I learn a lot from you. I’ve never ventured to a more enthralling place than inside the human brain, and the fact that you’re willing to go with me makes the journey that much more meaningful. So please, keep reading and sharing.)

A Fearless Life? No, Thanks.

Change your thoughts. Change your life. It’s something we hear all the time because it’s true. If we change our thought lives, we change our real lives. But HOW we do change a thought we’ve held and kept as true for so long?

Let’s start with fear. All my life I’ve been told that fear is the opposite of faith. I’ve been taught that faith and fear cannot co-exist. I now know that my thinking has been skewed.

First of all, fear is not your enemy. It might be your frenemy. But fear of itself is a biological blessing. Anxiety, on the other hand, is your enemy. And what is anxiety? Prolonged fear.

Cup your hand and place it on the back base part of your skull. That’s where your most primitive brain is housed. It’s the stem from your spinal cord to your brain. It’s where your limbic system lives and operates to store memories, and to process information for your survival.

At the end of last summer I decided to hike Timp. By myself. It takes fit people at least 12 hours to make the up and back trek. It took me longer. A lot longer. By the time I hobbled down to base I was exhausted in a way I’d never felt. I was within earshot of the parking lot when I came across a rattlesnake curled up in the last patch of the day’s sunshine. In that moment fear put every system in my body on high alert. My cardio system sped up my heartbeat. My integumentary system made my skin tingle and sweat. My respiratory and circulation systems changed my breathing and blood flow.

I eased around the snake and began to release the effects of fear when I heard the sound of children laughing. Around the corner raced a troop of young boys.

A new bout of fear ricocheted through me.

“Look!” one of them shouted. “A sleepy snake!”

The adults with the boys were still out of sight, so I ran back and found a new use for my hiking pole. I worked to push the snake off the trail, down into the bush and away from the boys who showed absolutely no fear at all. They wanted to tease the snake, to play with it.

Fear, I realized from that experience, is a biological blessing.

While ongoing research turns up new information almost daily, we do know that our emotional lives are housed primarily in our limbic systems. This has to do with the memories processed and stored in our brains.             I had memories about the dangers of snakes.

Those boys apparently did not.

Now that I understand fear is designed as part of my biology, I’ve changed my thinking about the emotion, and I have an appreciation for fear that I never supposed was possible. Fear is to be acknowledged, accepted and used to propel me in the right direction.

I know that when I feel fear, Cortisol, adrenalin and other neurotransmitters flood my brain. This is so I can become something more than I was. This is so that my body amps to high alert to keep me safe and ready.

When I honor my fear, it passes through me and leads the way for me to follow. When I challenge fear or run from it, the road before me is blocked.

I suspect we’re all afraid of many things. Me? Hurting someone tops my list of fears. Failure is also up there. I’ve failed so many times at so many attempts—the memories are etched deeply and resiliently. I’m afraid of snakes, mice, rats, spiders, and the vacuum cleaner. Oh, and flies. I am terrified of flies.

What are you afraid of? Every one of your fears is associated with a memory, conscience or not.

Now imagine a fearless life. Sounds easy. No fears to conquer. But let’s take a closer look. First, it would bring new levels of peril. If our ancient brains didn’t kick in, we wouldn’t know when to feel fear. We’d live within striking distance of snakes and die in droves.

Second, there would be no reward. There’d be no growth or strength gained from facing non-existent fears.

Third, in reality, a fearless life would be a boring, if not a meaningless existence. Thrills and chills give us the sensation of being alive. Without some danger, we’d all exist along a flatline.

I’m not suggesting that we live in fear. I’m not telling anyone to take unwise risks. I am suggesting that we live with fear and let it work its magic in our lives.

Doubt, not fear, is the opposite of faith. Fear and faith must co-exist if one is to strong-arm the other.

Fear, I’ve learned, stimulates, motivates, and teaches. It challenges our faith and when our faith is challenged it grows. It guides us to greater opportunities. Wise Eleanor Roosevelt admonished, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

What scares you, my friends?

What fears have you overcome?

How have your lives been transformed through those experiences?

When we realize that we can change our thoughts about something as fundamental as fear, we realize we can change our thoughts period.

That’s powerful And nothing to fear.

Use Your Brain To Make Your Dreams Come True

There’s a lot of fear and anger and divisiveness in the world right now. I understand why, but I’m not putting my faith in an office or an elected individual. I’m not listening to mortally bankrupt celebrities call the kettle black. Like you, I’m choosing to carry on in hope and faith. In my country. In my Highest Power. In myself. Just writing those words makes me grimace. Easier said than done. I’ve always had faith in God, but not so much in myself. Now I’m realizing that to have faith in a higher power, we’ve got to have faith in ourselves. God works not only through others, but through us to answer our own prayers.

Let’s see if I can make sense out of this. I’m not a crafty person. I once got sent home from a homemaking meeting because I suggested: “If we make the stitches bigger, we’ll finish this quilt a lot faster.” Then there was the time I bought a hot glue gun and glued the tablecloth to the table. Or the time I gave Eli and the dog the same haircut with the same clippers. You get the idea. Anyway, because I’m not crafty, I never dared to attempt a vision board, something I always wanted to create.

A vision board is a collection of images depicting your ideal life. It’s a way to put your goals right in front of your face. It’s a means to manifest your dreams— meant to create energy and stimulate motivation.

To be honest, I’ve screwed up my life a lot worse than most people ever will. Any dreams I wanted to come true, I felt undeserving of having come true. Seriously. Couple that with the fact that I’m not crafty, and you can see why I never dared to create a vision board.

Then I began to study the human brain. I learned that the subconscious uses pictures, symbols and images to understand and communicate. It does not use words. Whoa. Words are what I use to understand and communicate. Here’s the problem with words—if I say the word “house” your mind pictures a house that is very different from the house that my mind conjures. Even if I say, “white house” you are going to come up with a different image than I do. But if we both see the same picture of a white house then we’ll both see the same details.

That’s why a vision board about “vision.” It stimulates your occipital lobes, providing a clear memo to your subconscious of your desires and intentions to manifest your goals. Every time you see a certain image your brain goes to work, releasing specific neruopeptides to decide your emotional attachment to that goal. The repetition of this visual experience creates neurological pathways to help you determine the steps you need to take to reach your goal. This happens 24/7 in your subconscious. Your brain is always working for your survival, success and happiness.

I read the book The Secret. I watched the movie. Still, I was skeptical about the law of attraction, so I only put one picture up: the image attached to his post. It’s of a bioluminescent beach somewhere in the Caribbean. It’s one of the coolest things imaginable…phytoplankton producing light through a series of chemical reactions. It’s nothing short of glowing blue wonder.

I’d glance at the image every once in awhile, but didn’t dare allow myself to dream I’d ever actually get there. I figured it would stay on my bucket list so my kids could read all the things I never did at my wake. Guess what? Last year I was presented with an (almost free) opportunity to do some service in a certain part of the world where there just happens to be a bioluminescent beach. (It’s important to note that there were LOTS of steps I had to take to create this opportunity—every dream requires work.) I took Eli with me and the adventure we had far surpassed anything I had dared to hope for. The night was dark but the sky twinkled with a trillion little Christmas lights—so did the water. Our guide didn’t speak English, which made the adventure that much more exciting! Oh, and there were sharks in the water all around our canoes. You could see their fins when our guide cast his spotlight out onto the lulling waves. But off we paddled through a mile of tangled mangrove swamp, out into the open ocean where we drug our hands like ores, holding blue magic in our palms, letting it drip through our fingers. Indeed, it was a dream come true.

My point is, friends, I want you to dare to dream. Dream big and bold and brazen no matter what mistakes you’ve made or limits life seems to have imposed on you. You matter. Your desires count. Dead ends are just turn around points. We’ve come to earth to experience ALL we can. To learn ALL we can. To become ALL we can. And we’re here to walk each other home.

I’m not asking you to turn a blind eye to the reasons we have to be afraid. I’m asking you to do just the opposite. Take a stand. Use your voice. Make the changes that need to be made. I guess what I’m asking you to do is to participate in your own life.

The more I study the brain, the more I am convinced that Divine Design wires us for success and happiness. We’re capable of so much more than we realize. And we don’t have to travel far away to seek adventure. We don’t have to look for someone else to make our dreams come true. The power and wisdom lies within us.

Who cares if I’m not crafty? This year I’m daring to create a real vision board. I’m going after long tucked away dreams. This isn’t just about travel or acquiring material things; it’s about seeing my life so that I can live it more fully. I want to be happier, healthier, kinder and more giving. I’m going to reunite with old friends. I’m going to make new friends. I’m going to find ways to forgive myself and to move forward in spite of the pain and the fear. Please, oh please do the same. If you have a vision board, share how it worked for you. If you don’t have one, get together with friends and tear out magazine pictures. Or do it in the solitude of your room. Pull pictures from the internet and make a special file that you review every single day. Draw your own pictures. I don’t care how you do it. Just do it. Awaken forgotten dreams by closing your eyes and “seeing” with true vision—your God-given imagination. Look at it often. Change it up as you change. Let your conscious and subconscious work to make your dreams come true.

Life is a miracle. A gift. An hourglass that’s dropping sand faster and faster.

Now back to that magical night and all those hovering sharks…they were nursing sharks, the kind that “hardly ever attack humans.” So no one lost anything, but we all sure gained an experience to remember, and to testify that the God who created this planet is indeed in the details.

And Then There’s Henry…

Just wanted to share a story of a great man.

Don't Call Me Dumb

I’m a crappy neighbor. I didn’t even pass out neighborhood gifts at Christmas. I don’t precision mow my lawn or murder weeds with a vengeance like my neighbors do. If they have dandelions sprouting in their yards, it’s because of me.

That said, I’d like the world to know I love my neighbors and I think they’re great people. I especially love their kids and hope they always feel welcome in our home.

A few years back when it was just Eli and I living home while everyone else was away, I had some serious surgery to fix my broken leg, ankle and knee. I was in a full cast for several months. It wasn’t easy getting around, but I managed. Then one morning there was a big snowstorm and I drove Eli to school early. When I pulled back into our little circle I saw that four of my…

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And Then There’s Henry…

I’m a crappy neighbor. I didn’t even pass out neighborhood gifts at Christmas. I don’t precision mow my lawn or murder weeds with a vengeance like my neighbors do. If they have dandelions sprouting in their yards, it’s because of me.

That said, I’d like the world to know I love my neighbors and I think they’re great people. I especially love their kids and hope they always feel welcome in our home.

A few years back when it was just Eli and I living home while everyone else was away, I had some serious surgery to fix my broken leg, ankle and knee. I was in a full cast for several months. It wasn’t easy getting around, but I managed. Then one morning there was a big snowstorm and I drove Eli to school early. When I pulled back into our little circle I saw that four of my neighbors were out shoveling their driveways and sidewalks. I thought, “I better do that too.”

So I did. I hobbled out there in my pink cast, doing my best to maneuver the snow shovel. I smiled and waved, but the men were busy shouting greetings to each other and didn’t acknowledge me. No problem. They owed me nothing, and to be honest, I’m the odd woman out in our little circle. I’m divorced. I’m opinionated. I’m independent. But I sorta kinda felt stupid. And that’s when I came to the edge of our property and realized that one of my neighbors had beat me to it. He’d shoveled a precise line in the snow to make it clear where his property ended and mine began.

I can’t tell you why, but that clean line was like a blade to my heart. It was a statement of division and separation and it hurt even though it was a fair and accurate line. It made me think of what prompted Jesus to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. It started with a question, “Who is my neighbor?”

I vowed that I’d try to be a better neighbor. But not right then. In that moment I felt wounded and alone and very, very weak. I felt “divorced.” So I headed back toward the house. But the Universe had a lesson to teach me. It was one of those Utah winter mornings when the snow muffles far away sounds and amplifies nearby sounds. Over the words and laughter of the four men came the grrr of an engine. And then came Henry on his four-wheeler with his snow plow.

The man was his own blizzard, waving and barreling down the road, up and down driveways and over the entire circle sidewalk—both sides. By the time he was done, Henry had obliterated that precise dividing line and had taught me what kind of neighbor Jesus called good. First, Henry saw me. Second, he had compassion on me. Third, he bound up my wounds.

With one swoop of service Henry had put an end to my pathetic pity party.

And it wasn’t the first time Henry and his family had proven to be “good neighbors.” When my life first imploded and I didn’t know how I’d draw my next breath, Henry came over, plopped down on my front step and said, “If you want to talk…I’m here.”

Later, when they suspected I had no money, they bought groceries for my kids to have cereal and milk.

Then there was the night that the kids and I were cold and cuddled together in one room. We ran out of wood for the fireplace and that’s when Eli disappeared. He trudged over to Henry’s house to ask if we could “borrow” one of their logs for our fire. A little while later Henry and Diane pulled up with an entire wagon filled with wood to keep us toasty warm.

And how about the time my friend Cindy was toilet papering my yard at midnight to surprise me for my birthday? Since Henry is an officer of the law, he thought he’d have a little fun with her. He turned on his lights and siren and scared the celebration right out of her, telling her she was on her way to jail for vandalizing property. Henry laughed a lot harder than Cindy did.

And then there was last Christmas when we were in the middle of Hanukkah and Henry and Diane knocked on the door dressed and Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. Everyone got a chance to sit on Santa’s lap, whisper in his ear, and get a gift that Henry and Diane brought and paid for.

Yesterday Henry was back with his snow plow. He said, “I came to break up the ice in front of your house so it would melt faster and you could park your car easier.”

So yeah, I don’t want to forget this story. I want to remember it forever. I want to honor those who live close to me, and I want to be blind to dividing lines and see everyone as my neighbor. I want to be more like Henry.

I’ve got a LONG way to go, but my first act is to wish that you’re all blessed with a neighbor like Henry, and secondly, to share a quote from G.K. Chrsterton that gave me something to ponder: “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”

Love and blessings to all of you good neighbors!