Category Archives: Faith

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Into the Quiet

Beautiful deer, Photo by my daughter Michelene

Beautiful deer, Photos by my daughter Michelene

“Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness.”
Mary Oliver

How has your new year been so far? After a calm weather period during the holidays, it has been so cold and snowy here in the Northeast. I started my new swim class of the year, diligently bundling up in sweaters and boots afterwards (yes, the class is indoors!), and walking to my car to 2 degree weather.

Cold, yes. But the swim class has lifted me up, reminding me of how much I love a chance to move my body, especially under the water. I’m taking a simple aqua balance class twice a week at the Y, and what a difference in how it makes me feel.

This is typically the time of year when we want to lose weight, start new goals. It’s a good time to re-evaluate what’s working and what to leave behind. I am trying to work on balance. I stand on one leg in swim class while pulling my other leg up and holding it. Sometimes I can stand perfectly still; other times I cannot! But I don’t mean just physical balance. I mean overall balance in my life between work, family, and play.

Life is so busy. I scratch my head over how hard people are expected to work these days. It seems like thDeer Winter 2015 #4ere is never enough time in a day to get it all done. More sales, more meetings, more internet time. Maybe it’s time to take a step back.

So I am Into the Quiet as of late. Yes I am still trying to accomplish much. Yes, I am working on my business and following up on leads. But I am usually wrapped up in my sweater at night, reading or watching a favorite show. I spend time with my mother. I made time to make chocolate chip cookies. I can take a break from accomplishing.

Jim has been putting dried corn out in our back yard for the deer. I have been filling up my bird feeder. Around dusk the deer will sometimes come. The other night we had six deer come for a visit. One was a six point, one a four point. There were some yearlings too. The birds come all day and visit the feeder. What do they remind me of? Peace. Quiet. Why? Because I stop and watch them. I am still.

So here’s to the new year.  A chance to work, but also a chance to rest. To establish new habits of quality time with myself and slow down just a bit. To listen, and to hear myself.

Wonder what he's thinking???

Wonder what he’s thinking???

Winter Deer and Bird

 Winter Birds

Just Beautiful

Just Beautiful

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My Unresolutions for the New Year

Calvin is Perfect! Nothing to Change! Photo Credit Decibel Magazine

Resolutions, ME?

Yes, I have to admit that in the past I was always reluctant to set New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I still am. But today I am thinking about what may be worthwhile to change as I go into this new year.

Being an over-doer and over-thinker, I hate setting goals that feel like more pressure. I already place too many expectations on myself and the thought of more pushing can overwhelm me.

But I am thinking that I can set some “un”resolution goals. This could be a good thing for me; a “restore-myself-to-sanity” thing and guess what- my word of the year just happens to be (drum roll please) – Sanity.

So here we go. I’m officially offering up my unresolution goals in the hopes you over-doers out there will join me.

1. I resolve to unhook myself from negative thought. As soon as my mind starts on the “you’re not doing enough, blah blah blah” I resolve to kick it to the curb and look at myself realistically. Am I really doing enough? If the answer is yes, well then, Good Enough is really Good Enough.

2. I resolve to un-counch-potato myself and get the heck to the gym. Yes, I’m signing up for a swim class and not making excuses about why I don’t like to exercise. Enough already- just do it!

3. I resolve to undo my own guilt trips about food. I noticed recently how much grief I give myself about any sweet treats and honestly, I’m tired of my own berating. If I want a cookie (provided I haven’t eaten ten of them already), I’m having it without guilt. If I work on loving my body for what it is (a beautiful thing!), the chances are I will make better choices anyway. (This may not always apply at Sunday’s donut fest after church services. 😉 )

4. I resolve to uncontrol my life more and give the big issues to the Universe. Honestly God does a much better job of figuring things out vs. my struggling and struggling.

5. I resolve to unleash my mind and let it live in the moment. I want to live more freely, more spontaneously, more enjoyably. I don’t need to plan as much, just go with the flow and enjoy what comes my way.

I’m smiling just looking at this list. I think I’ll print it out and hang it somewhere.

Will you join me? If you create an unresolution list, comment below and share a couple.

Happy New Year!

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Finding Holiday Peace of Mind

Winter Sunrise by Jim C.

Winter Sunrise by Jim C.

“The Simple Path
Silence is Prayer
Prayer is Faith
Faith is Love
Love is Service
The Fruit of Service is Peace”
Mother Teresa

How are you finding holiday peace? I have to tell you- I am not finding it at big box retail stores. It’s not in the canned music on the radio station either.

Instead, I am finding peace through time with friends and family. I am also finding it through tiny bits of service.

I don’t have much extra money these days so I look for creative ways to serve others. Last week, a good friend of mine gave me a pail of dog food. She lost both her pets a few weeks ago and I said yes to the food for my dog Jordan. Here’s what happened on the way to my mom’s, less than an hour after she gave me that pail.

I was driving up a long hill and noticed a small dog running across the road. I slowed down. Then a young teenage boy appeared, running after the dog. I slowed down even more. Next thing you know, the dog runs back across the road and the boy is flailing his arms as if to stop traffic.

I remembered that dog food in the back of my car. I pulled over and flipped open my hatchback. I grabbed a handful, sat down on the ground, dropped the dog food next to me. Can you guess the rest?

I called the dog and here he comes. It takes less than one minute. The boy grabs the dog while it goes for the dog food. In between hugging his dog, the young man says at least three or four grateful thank you’s in a row. I said “thank you for helping me do a good deed today.”

My Grandson Gavin (L), Anna, My Daughter Michelene (R)

My Grandson Gavin (L), Anna, My Daughter Michelene (R) making sandwiches!

At my church two weeks ago, fifteen plus volunteers assembled 240 ham sandwiches to make 120 lunches for the hungry families of FOCUS Pittsburgh, the Orthodox ministry center in the Hill District. Jim and I delivered them next morning and wow, was that a good feeling.

Small ways to serve, and BIG ways to serve. I read with interest the woman who went to Toys R Us in Bellingham, Mass and paid off $20,000 worth of layaways. (I wondered how much her personal wealth is. Maybe that was most of it?) Or 9 year old Jarrett who cashed in a $160 tablet he won in a school fundraiser, grabbed tags from the angel tree and bought gifts for 15 children. Amazing.

It’s nice to do great big things but it is also very fulfilling to do small things. I believe it doesn’t matter if you do non profit work for a living (I did for a long time). When I get paid for work, I don’t count it as service. We all have a few extra hours to do something for someone else less fortunate this holiday.

My friend Daleen recently wrote a post on keeping dollar bills handy for those Salvation Army buckets. I personally never pass one up. I give small amounts but when I think of those like me (who also give small amounts), I bet those add up to BIG amounts.

No matter your contribution, this is what I believe the season is really all about. Kindness, compassion,  new birth and life. We owe it to ourselves and others to give in the most generous way we possibly can.

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