Looking for God

Jess, the Mom to Be
Jess, the Mom to Be

I tend to watch for signs in nature as a way of looking for God. In the past when I had problems that needed to be sorted out, I found solace many times in my own back yard. For instance, if I am troubled about something, I can usually look out my window and there will be one or more deer. Some times they come close to my house; other times they are at a distance. For me deer mean comfort, wait, or it will all work out.

What if everything and everyone we come in contact with in a given day is spiritually directed? What if God puts people and objects in our lives and in our path to comfort, strengthen, and lead us? Or maybe interaction with others is for a reason. We are there to provide assistance in some way. I believe God gives us free will to do what we please, but if we pay attention, we will be reinforced or led in good choices through spiritual direction.

When I do something I am proud of (and outside of my comfort zone), wild turkeys usually appear. Once I did a large amount of work for a non profit and nine wild turkeys made a procession through my yard the day after the fundraiser. It never fails. If I am stretching myself spiritually, I will usually see turkeys.

If I am lost or need strength I look for birds of flight. They will sometimes fly near to my car when I am driving. If they are red or blue (cardinals or blue jays), I especially pay attention. Long woodpeckers (pileated) are a rare sighting and usually cause for me to stop what I am doing and stare. I have several hawks that fly around my house. My spiritual friend Kathy witnessed this once and said, “It is a very powerful totem to have hawks around you.” I agree. I am never scared by them, I am empowered by them.

So it was that on the day of my future granddaughter’s shower, there were signs. The first one was around 9:30am in the morning when Jim and I were loading the truck. A tiny bird with a black head flew into the house. I’m guessing it was a chickadee. Now in the thirty four years of living in my house, I can’t remember a single instance when a bird has flown in. Jim didn’t remember anything either.

The bird flew into the living room and straight for the large picture window. Jim opened the front door and propped open the storm door. He lifted our wooden slat blinds gently towards him, allowing the tiny bird an opportunity for escape. She took it and flew out to freedom.

Now you may have thought this was a huge inconvenience. You’re loading a truck, getting ready for a big day, and a bird flies into your house! And for a split second I thought this way. Then I laughed and said to Jim, “That is either my yiayia (grandmother) or my father.” When we went outside, there was an entire clammoring tree of birds, singing at the top of their lungs. What was this? A chorus perhaps, to set the tone for the day.

The second sign I had was when I arrived at the location for the shower. I parked the truck next to the ramp at the nature center so my daughter and I (and Stephanie our helper) could unload. I got out of the truck and looked down. There was a brand new shiny copper penny at my feet.

My future granddaughter’s name is Penelope Katherine. Penny is one of the nicknames we could call her.

I picked up that shiny penny and thought yet another beautiful sign.

As the morning went on, we managed to get everything ready in time. Guests came from near and far to bestow gifts on Jess and John for Penelope. We ate awesome cookies, cupcakes, and snacks. It was a wonderful day.

Here’s what spiritual signs do for me. They comfort me, they reinforce God’s great love for me. When I love myself, I can love others unconditionally. Spiritual signs tell me I am going in the right direction. I thank God for them.

Jess and John at the baby shower
Jess and John at the baby shower

To read more about the shower on my events blog, click HERE.

Do you have any spiritual signs that you look for? If so, I’d love to hear about them.

Dedicated to the people of Paris. Pray for Peace.

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1015

Memories of Margaret

Fall Leaves

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.” ― William Cullen Bryant

When I walk outside I can see them. The pale, dry leaves are falling to the ground. Right now there are just small amounts of them but pretty soon I know there will be more. The evenings are slightly cooler too and the blooms of summer are just about over. Fall is in the air.

I love Pennsylvania and especially at this time of year. I always lamented the end of summer in my younger days but in my mid life, no longer. I love the return to cooler temperatures and the arrival of fall.

A few years ago I asked Jim to take me for a ride. It was autumn and I wanted to snap some pictures of the colorful leaves. We were on a quiet road when I asked him to pull over so I could take the picture above. It was so beautiful and tranquil. I can still look at this picture and feel in awe of nature’s beauty. How magnificent are the colors, as if they were exquisitely painted.

This past week, my aunt’s mom passed away. Her name was Margaret but we called her yiayia Teta (tet-ta). I’m not sure how this started but my guess is that one of my cousins couldn’t pronounce her name exactly right.

My aunt is in her early 70’s and yiayia was 91. I cannot imagine the great gift it must be to have your mother when into your 70’s. Back then, young women married early and started families. These days that doesn’t happen quite so often.

My memory of yiayia will always be of her smile. She was always smiling and in a good mood. I’d see her at holidays- mostly Easter- and no matter what was going on with her physically, she tried to see things in a positive light. The last few years had been very difficult for her and she stood up to them like a gallant soldieress.

Yiayia, may you have the most peaceful rest of your life. God be with you.

xoxo

(L to R) Aunt KC, Margaret, George her son, Joanie her daughter
(L to R) Aunt KC, Margaret, George her son, Joanie her daughter

 

 

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1015

The Next Princess

Penelope
Penelope

“Weaver” in Greek. In The Odyssey, Penelope is the wife of Odysseus who faithfully awaits his return for 20 years. (source)

My daughter Michelene was the only granddaughter on my husband’s side of the family for a long time. She is the oldest, followed by many grandsons- John, Brian, Colin, Jerra, Daniel, Josh, and Jake. (this picture is probably fifteen years old!)

Michelene the Princess Among the Boys
Michelene, the Princess Among the Boys

So we were all very excited when my nephew Jerra had a girl. Michelene declared Ms. Deanna the “Princess, Heir to the Throne.” This was a title most fitting since she would be the next in line to inherit the role of Princess Cain.

Deanna, Heir to the Throne
Deanna, Heir to the Throne

Now we are expecting a new princess. My son John and his sweetheart Jessica are expecting a baby girl! And she is due on January 9 which is John’s birthday of all coincidences. A girl! How wonderful! So now, we have another princess in line to the throne. 🙂 The name John and Jess are considering for her is PENELOPE.

I have to tell you, I was almost certain that John and Jess would be having a girl. Let me tell you why.

When my grandmother passed away years ago she left a pearl necklace. I asked my Aunt KC if I could have it and she said yes. I wore it on and off and soon the string began to stretch. More than one person encouraged me to have the pearls re-strung.

I took the necklace to the jeweler. They asked what size I wanted it. I decided to convert it from a long strand to a shorter one so it would be closer to my neckline.

When I picked up my new necklace, the jeweler offered me a small bag of the unused pearls. I took a look at those pearls and had only one thought. If someday John would give me a little girl, I would have those pearls made into a bracelet for her.

So here we are. Fast forward probably five years at least. I will have a pearl bracelet made and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Penelope's Pearls
Penelope’s Pearls

 

 

 

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1015

God is With Me

Cook Forest
Serenity in Cook Forest

A few months ago it was my mother’s eighty sixth birthday. Besides being a wonderful celebration of another year with her, it also marked the departure of my youngest sister to her new job and a new location. It was a time of transition for all of us. I won’t deny that it was stressful for me (and I’m sure, all of us) and I prayed that my “One Day At A Time” motto would continue to work for me. I became the (mostly) sole sibling responsible for being available to my mother.

As if God was with me, some truly amazing things began to happen and continue to unfold. It has been a sequence of events- one after another- and I’ve been humbled by them.

Selected for Cook Forest
Selected for Cook Forest- wow!

First, a national forest in Pennsylvania selected one of my photos for their profile picture on Facebook. Now this may not sound like a big deal, but it has been a thrill seeing my photo every time Cook Forest State Park posts on their Facebook page. As if this wasn’t enough for my five minutes of fame, the Orthodox Christian Network published my first post ever for them on my mother’s birthday, May 1.

So I’ve published six posts (click HERE to see my page) since then to a tune of over 10K combined likes on Facebook and other social media sites. I don’t say this with an air of ego. I say it with my mouth open, a surprised look on my face, and a few semi-sleepless nights.

God is with me. I have been walking a spiritual path where I decide daily that the things I am most afraid of- new experiences, loss, stress- are the things I must turn over to God. I trust that I am being guided to write, serve, be there, suit up and show up. I may stumble, make mistakes but I get back up again and plod steadily along. Most of the time, I don’t mind stretching my limits and embracing change. My dad loved challenges and I think (haha!) that he must have passed this along to me.

I’m helping with a new ministry in Beaver County. Many Orthodox churches are getting involved and it’s very inspiring. When I get home from the evening meetings, I am so excited that I have to wind down before bed. This ministry is keeping me busy, among other things, and when you’re occupied in happy things you don’t have time to worry or fret.

So yes, God is with me. I’m thankful for all the blessings in my life right now, including my mom, great friends, my sisters, Jim and the kids, Jess, Jordan, and these wonderful experiences bringing light into my life.

Looking Up

 

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1015

Married to a Nurse

Jim's Graduation Day in 1989. Jim, Me, Michelene, and John
Jim’s Graduation Day in 1989. Jim, Me, Michelene, and John

“You must never so much think as whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.”
Clara Barton

The first nurse I ever remember reading about in school as a child was Clara Barton. Little did I know I would grow up to marry one.

My husband Jim has been a nurse now for almost twenty seven years. When I met him he was a triaxle dump truck driver, making good money hauling slag out of a large Pittsburgh mill. We married, began having children, and then the steel business dried up in our valley. It was as if the bottom fell out of his work.

It didn’t take long for Jim to make a decision. His sister was a nurse and he had been a volunteer EMT for a couple of years and loved it. Though there were very few male nurses at that time, he made a decision to go back to school in his mid- twenties. Jim had never excelled in high school; he went to vocational school and took welding. The hospital based nursing school accepted him but he was on probation for six months until he could prove he could maintain good grades.

I remember many a night at the kitchen table when Jim would want to throw in the towel. Nursing school is hard hard hard. He did the work and graduated as the only male student that year. The hospital featured him and our family in their nursing school informational packet. Our son was about three and our daughter was six when this was all going on. Jim, it turned out, was a non traditional student.

I thought he would start out nice and slow at the local hospital but no. Jim went straight downtown to the intensive care unit at one of the largest Pittsburgh hospitals. (I said, “Are you crazy?”) He wanted to learn and so he figured that was the best place to go. Over the years he’s done psych nursing, cardiology, radiology, and even worked part time in a prison. There are stories he tells that would raise the hair on your arms. Jim is a very good nurse in my opinion, compassionate but also focused and no bones about it honest with people.

What is it like being married to a nurse? Well, you get first hand medical advice when you have something going on. I trust his medical opinion on anything. And, he’s a teacher. When people say something to me about this or that, whatever they have going on, I sometimes say my thoughts based on what Jim has taught me.

For instance, I worked with a young woman who’s niece became very sick. Turned out she had very low iron levels and was then diagnosed with leukemia. We talked about it daily and shared information. My friend wondered what sent her to the hospital. I said, “bad headaches.” She checked with her niece and it turned out I was right.

When my mom was in the hospital (Jim’s hospital I might add), he watched her just about every day. He would bring her cups of coffee, sweetened, to sip on when she was eating just about nothing. I’m sure he monitored her situation constantly and mom knew it. She recovered and I credit Jim with helping us keep our sanity during mom’s long illness.

I have become used to many things over the years as a sacrifice of being married to a nurse who works shifts. Often Jim is not with us for holidays or parties. He currently works three, twelve hour shifts a week so if an event falls on a work day, I go alone or with my family. Only if we get a big head’s up can he try and switch. But that is rare.

I know that Jim has had an impact on his patients over the years. He never talks about his work due to privacy laws, but my church friends will come and tell me how he sat with them, or comforted them while in a procedure or the ER (where Jim currently works). They love him and tell me to thank him for making a difference in their scary situations.

I want to give a shout out to all nurses, who work in stressful situations, under tiring conditions, and devote themselves to the care of sick individuals. May you all be blessed in your work and realize how truly wonderful you really are.

Jim's Graduation Day- Can you find him?
Jim’s Graduation Day- Can you find him?

 

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1015

Mid Life – Schmid Life

Check out my "Racing Stripe!" Thanks to my buddy Joe Indovina for this pic.
Staying Happy in MidLife! Thanks to my buddy Joe Indovina for this pic.

“Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.”

Maya Angelou

I am 57 years old and feel like I am finally coming into accepting this beautiful, whole mid life thing I’ve been going through. I cannot believe at times, how I took my own youth for granted. I also can’t believe the things I worried about in my younger days.

They say youth is wasted on the young and ok, I get it. It would be nice to have a few things back right now, like a smaller waistline. But then I wouldn’t have all this wisdom and maturity I finally get to enjoy.

I can’t lie. It has been hard to accept certain parts of being over 50. Most of all, I can’t believe how naive I was about the changes my body would go through. I’d look at older people and make fun of the sagging skin on their arms or the fact that they couldn’t see or hear. It is pretty humbling when those same things start to happen to you.

I’ve struggled on and off with being ok about the sight and hair changes, the attention and focus issues, and the forgetfulness. Mostly I realize some of those things can happen to anyone at any age. My own 32 year old daughter couldn’t remember her banking PIN number when planning her work conference a few weeks ago. 🙂

So the thinking I’ve been coming into lately has been one of acceptance. Of loving my body and who I am no matter what. Of accepting who I am and embracing my age. (a mantra really for any age!) That’s why my opening quote is by Maya. She and my mother are really my role models for aging acceptance.

I quit coloring my hair a few years ago. It just got to be too much. Too much upkeep, too much trouble. The temptation to take it back to full on (dyed)color left me after the first year. This was one of the things I felt most strongly about- embracing the changes that were really mine, a part of my aging process. I didn’t take hormones through the change either. I had good role models who encouraged me to hang in there. I got better at deciding what I really needed to be emotionally healthy. I left a job that I loved because the drive was too dang far. For me, I have to do the mental work of healthy attitudes before any kind of physical work (like exercise or a career change) can really take root.

You know me pretty well by now to know that I’m a grace and love kind of person. I want to be the child of God who embraces unconditional love for all people. It doesn’t mean I agree with everyone’s viewpoint. It also doesn’t mean I condone unacceptable behavior when someone isn’t treating me well. It just means that I give others the right to have their viewpoint and I expect them to respect mine. And I love them pure and simple for who they are. This is the attitude I try and embrace every day. Aging and faith have taught me this.

When my silver hair grew out, it came in mostly on the sides of my head. I have darker hair down the middle and pure silver all along the edges. I call the darker part my “racing stripe.” And truly, I mean it.

Jo By Tree

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1015

Sustained By Song

My beautiful sunshine-y daughter Michelene and I at her conference
My daughter Michelene and I at her conference

Look at the stars, look how they shine for you, and everything you do, yeah, they were all yellow. From the song, Yellow, by Coldplay.

Have you ever had a song that was stuck in your head? That was me, last week with two songs that just fit perfect. Perfect that is, for exactly what was unfolding. For you see it was my Holy Week, leading up to Greek Easter, and I was assisting my daughter with her work conference.

The first song was Yellow, by the band Coldplay. When I initially heard it last year I was doing a wedding coordination. I went straight to the DJ and asked him what the song was. He told me; I went home and looked it up. I have been listening to it on and off ever since. Last week, wow, I was obsessed. It was stuck like something fierce in my head.

So out of curiosity I looked up the lyrics, then I searched to see if Coldplay had ever talked about their meaning behind the song. I thought initially it might be about jealousy (you know, yellow) but it turns out they say it is about devotion, pure and simple. I loved that. It made complete sense. I wondered of course if it was possible the song was a reflection of my devotion to Holy Week, and also to my daughter? If you click on the word “lyrics” above, you’ll see the words to the entire song. Tell me what you think.

So all week, I allowed that song to float through my head. As I was helping my daughter I stayed in tune to the Holy Days. I thought of my church and knew I would get there on Friday. The conference was (magically) on diversity and there were very inspirational speakers and people there. It was truly amazing to be witness to this amazing group and their message. And I got choked up a couple of times seeing how beautiful my daughter was; a true professional and a stellar coordinator. She was just like the stars that shine, in everything she does…..exactly like the song said.

My church on Good Friday. Thank you to Christina for this picture.
My church on Good Friday. Thank you to Christina for this picture.

When the conference was over, it was Friday around 1pm. A different song slowly crept into my head, replacing the former. It was an ancient hymn, a huge part of Good Friday services. My cousin Christina and I went together to my church that evening. As soon as the Metropolitan and the choir began to sing, I got chills. I’ve sung this song over and over since I was a child. It was so beautiful and it struck a chord deep in my heart. Thank you to my sister Mary who found this rendition of the hymn on the internet by Glykeria.

So two songs and deep faith got me through the week. I am forever grateful to have had them fixed in my mind to remind me what a precious week it was. Not only for the love of my daughter, but for the everlasting love of my faith and Savior.

Christos Anesti!

 

 

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1015

Magnificent Sky

I want to wish all of you celebrating Easter this weekend a very happy and joyous holiday. To my Jewish friends, Happy Passover….and to my fellow Orthodox Christian friends, a happy Palm Sunday. 🙂 Many thoughts for a post went through my head this week- chocolate, food, celebrations- but in the end, I just wanted to share my favorite sky pictures and a few meaningful quotes with you.

Sky Many Clouds Stream

Psalms 36:5: Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Dusk Shot

Psalms 71:19: For Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, You who have done great things; O God, who is like You?

Blue Clouds

Genesis 1:14-15: Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.

NIght Moon

Psalms 89:37: “It shall be established forever like the moon, And the witness in the sky is faithful.” Selah.

Sky Stream for Pandora
Pandora’s Light

Mark 13:25: AND THE STARS WILL BE FALLING from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken.

Cropped Rainbow

 Psalms 78:23: Yet He commanded the clouds above And opened the doors of heaven.

I hope you have some quiet time this weekend, some time to reflect and relax.

xo Joanne

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1015

Being Ok with Winter

Winter White Pines by my House
Winter White Pines by my House

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

If you know me, you know that I am not the best winter person.

In the past, I have mostly complained about the winter. Too cold, I hate driving in snowy conditions, blah blah blah. But lately things have changed. Or maybe I have changed.

Used to be I lumped winter with Christmas. I thought of winter as Christmas and when Christmas was over, I was depressed at the thought of two more months of snowy weather. How unfair. Why couldn’t Christmas just be a little bit longer?

So I always extended the holiday on my own. I’d leave my decorated tree up longer than most people I know. (last year, it was up waaaay long). But sooner or later, even I have to face the weather.

View From My Window
View From My Window

This year I’m trying something new. I’m making an effort to embrace winter. Currently it has snowed about seven inches here in my neck of the woods. I was in the house most the day Sunday; I made homemade chicken soup. The smell was delicious and made me smile. I filled my bird feeder with sunflower seeds and watched the cardinals, blue jays, and the chickadees compete for best positioning. The birds are probably my favorite part of winter.

Jim was a good sport yesterday and cleared the driveway (thank you to his brother Chuck for use of the plow). I was beginning to worry I wouldn’t get my car down the driveway.

So I’m making the best of it. For years, I commuted fifty miles round trip to work in all kinds of weather. I dreaded those snowy mornings and that stressful drive. We had a terrible snowstorm in Pittsburgh about five years ago and I drove to work the very next day! I still can’t believe I did that. Locals called the storm “Snowmageddon.”

Maybe that makes it all the easier now to relish my pajama filled mornings and endless cups of coffee. 🙂

Lest I gather too much guilt over my current home bound status, I continue to work on my wedding business. I got on Instagram yesterday and boy, that was challenging. I am teaching a wedding planning class next month so plenty to do there. I continue to make optimistic appointments, despite the uncertainty of February weather. I preface each appointment request with the words “weather permitting” and I mean it. We can always reschedule if the roads look a bit too slippery.

So winter, here I am. I embrace thee. And I make another pot of coffee…..

 

Just beautiful
Just beautiful

 

How are you dealing with winter? I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

 

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1015

God Works

I have been thinking about God’s work lately. One of my former bosses, Dr. M, was a dentist. Often times, if I was leaving the office late, he would still be there, working on a set of dentures or something else. I would say “Dr. M., why are you still here?” And he would say “Someone has to do God’s work.”

Sadly, Dr. M. was still working into his early 90’s when he developed Alzheimer’s. I’ve often wondered why this would happen to a man so willing to work until the end. Maybe this was God’s way of letting him finally rest.

So God’s work has been in my head lately. Are we doing God’s work when my friends and I make 240 sandwiches for FOCUS Pittsburgh? Is it in the tubs of food we ask for and deliver to the local food pantry in our church’s town? Is it the work my son’s girlfriend Jess does for the Habitat for Humanity ReStore she manages?

Jani and I at Red Robin
Jani and I at Red Robin

Today I got a different answer. God works to bring people together. After a good fifteen year break, an old friend of mine, Jani, found me on Facebook. She said she was thinking about me and I showed up one morning. She sent me a friend request. I practically fell off my chair.

Year ago, when my kids were toddlers, I was a Tupperware manager. Yes, you heard correctly. And I was a good one! I had a company car and got my husband through nursing school by doing parties in the evenings. I recruited Jani and she was with me for a good while. She was a go-getter; she had a warm and sparkly personality.

When we both quit home parties, I’d bump into her every now and then. She said the last time we saw each other was at a restaurant and her daughter had just been born. That was a long time ago. I never forgot her. I’d think about her from time to time and wonder how she was.

We had lunch yesterday and caught up. Talking non stop, we reviewed kids, careers, marriage and life. She lifted me up. I’m sure this will not be the last time we have lunch together!

So this is how God works. It is not just through the good things we do. It is in the spectacular work that God will do for two people. It’s a miracle really, to connect again after all these years. To be brought together and see an old friend. I am in awe of it.

There is nothing unpremeditated, nothing neglected by God. His unsleeping eye beholds all things. Saint Basil

 

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1015