Category Archives: Grace and Spirituality

Faith with a Dose of Uncertainty

I’m sitting here in a sunny window, listening to my dog Jordan chomp on the new soup bone my daughter bought her. She is most assuredly enjoying every moment, every bite of that delicious bone. Snow has fallen the last two days and it looks like a Norman Rockwell painting outside.

I saw the headlines today and there is a sadness in the pit of my stomach. I’m trying to process what is going on. It would be really scary if it wasn’t so absurd.

My grandparents came over on the boat from Greece and Turkey. They came for the opportunity to have a better life. Each generation since has lived that better life and much of it is owed to my grandparents. When I think of the hardships they faced, the Great Depression, no knowledge of the English language, I am filled with admiration for them.

Yiayia and Papou

I don’t know, I’m not sure, but I think that time will tell. “It will unfold” as I like to say. And as always, it is faith that will get me through the hardest parts. Keeping silent has been difficult at times; I don’t believe in slander, sharing slanted websites, or name calling. That doesn’t work for me.

So for today, I will take nuggets of happiness where I can find them. I will listen to Jordan eating her bone and I will watch the cardinals come to my bird feeder. I’m feeling a bit under the weather so there’s a pot of soup on the stove. Soon the smell of onions, garlic, and chicken will fill the air. I will pick out a great movie and watch it with wild abandon.

Courage is fear that has said its prayers. Karle Wilson Baker

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Grace and Wellness

sunlight-through-the-fog-2

With the help of a good friend I am beginning a journey towards better self care. It’s not that I wasn’t good at it before but you know how it goes. Get busy, neglect sleep, eat poorly, and forget the exercise. The typical stuff of a mid life woman who tries to do too much.

I procrastinated about this wellness focus for months, waiting until my schedule finally cleared enough to give mental space (and energy) to the idea. My friend said to do this alittle at a time (thank God) and she sent me encouraging emails with her own health and wellness tips.

First up, a plant in my room. Sounds so simple but a plant provides oxygen and that can only be good. Second, I ordered a good book- Food Rules by Michael Pollan. I couldn’t resist skimming the first few chapters and wasn’t surprised. Eat more plants and don’t eat things that have more than five ingredients on the package. Right!

Of course it was a few days before Thanksgiving when I read this. I gave thought to what I was going to be eating on the holiday. Turkey, well, only one ingredient there. Baked yams and pineapple, pretty good.  Hawaiian rolls, probably not so good but delicious. Mashed potatoes made with Yukon golds, butter, and a little cream. I thought this really wasn’t so bad.

The pumpkin pie was made from a can that needed condensed milk and eggs. Mom made homemade crust with flour and crisco, a big no no I’m sure but heck, it’s the holiday right? Plus I am not going to tell mom not to make pie. 🙂

All in all, I would say I did not overeat on Thanksgiving. I felt fine afterwards. I cleaned up the kitchen and sealed up leftovers for the next day. No need to cook dinner tonight!

I think the hardest thing about health and wellness for me is putting myself first. Life is ongoing around my house. There are always things to do and some kind of agenda. Even though I no longer work full time, I have a million mundane things to do (laundry, housekeeping, dog, babysit Penny, help my mother). Prioritizing is key. The one gift of menopause has been the recognition that I can’t do it all. I don’t feel guilty saying no anymore. I’ve done the committees, the grunge work, the volunteering. It’s ok by me to say no.

Making an effort at better self care is good. Not feeling guilty about what I don’t accomplish is a challenge. Setting realistic expectations is the order of the day. The grace is in turning it over to the universe.

I hope you have a wonderful week! If you have any tips for self care, I’d love to hear them.

 

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My First Book! Ordinary IS Extraordinary

My first book! The Beautiful Cover is by Karen Captline of Better Be Creative

My first book! The beautiful cover is by Karen Captline of Better Be Creative. Editing by Daleen Wilson of Sunday’s Child.

Today is a special day. I am sharing my first book with you! The excitement of this has been building over the last couple of months and I am over the moon about it. This weekend I will be speaking at the women’s empowerment conference in Ligonier, PA and sharing my story.

When I received the first early copies of my book, I gave one to the mother of my granddaughter Penelope. Jessica is my friend and the partner of my son John. She is the manager of the Habitat for Humanity Restore in Allegheny Valley, PA.

As luck would have it, Jessica, Penelope and I went on a little field trip yesterday. We visited another Restore and stopped for lunch afterwards. We talked about how to market my book and Jess offered to do a review for me. I took her up on the offer!

So here, without any further ado, are Jessica’s thoughts on “Ordinary IS Extraordinary.”

When I read Ordinary IS Extraordinary I was nursing my infant daughter, Penelope, and read most of it out loud to her.
We cried at different parts for different reasons…
I had tears in my eyes when Joanne shared her journey of rediscovering her faith and loving herself.  I smiled as I pictured her as an awkward young person.  Looking down at Penny while we read, I couldn’t help wondering if she would face some of the same challenges in life.
I was inspired by Joanne’s discoveries of growth, as the lens she saw both the world and herself through, changed as her experiences colored the glass.
When I closed the book..I found myself savoring so much of her insights, that I let out a huge breath I didn’t know I was holding…and with it a burden I didn’t realize was there.  As for Penelope, she always loves hearing her Nana’s adventures, even when she’s hungry.
Grab a cup of Jo, your favorite snack, and devote a morning or afternoon to walking in her footsteps.  I know you’ll enjoy the landscape.  The writing is honest and you’ll feel as though she is sitting across from you on that lounge chair, having a coffee, sharing in your delight along the way.
From Jessica Levine
John, Jess, and Penelope Katherine

John, Jess, and Penelope Katherine

Jessica, thank you so much for your beautiful words!

Click HERE to order my book on Amazon. There’s a Kindle version too! You may want to order two books ;), one for you and one for a friend.

When you read Ordinary IS Extraordinary, I’d love to hear from you! Please email me at joannejamiscain@gmail.com with your thoughts. If you are a blogger that writes on spirituality, I would be happy to send you a book to review.

Thank you and God Bless!

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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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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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Graceful Mistakes

“Let us always long to hear the stories of grace in others’ lives. Every conversion is the story of a blessed defeat.” C.S. Lewis

Years ago, I was in a very important meeting. The executive director was there with several key people. There were six of us sitting around a table. I had just poured myself a nice big cup of coffee with cream. You can guess the rest. Yep, I spilled that coffee all over the table.

I was mortified of course but it was over quickly. We all grabbed napkins and they helped me clean it up. I apologized; I was embarassed, but it only lasted a few minutes. I remember thinking to myself, “I am not perfect. Oh well. Get over it.” 🙂

Another time, I ticked someone off real good. I said something (in response to an incident) that started a mini landslide. It was actually pretty stressful. I apologized. She did not. I think she engaged in some behaviors unbecoming, but are someone else’s bad manners my problem? NO. I can’t help how others think or behave.

In this world today, there is no way to live without eventually rubbing someone the wrong way or making a mistake. I am only human, I am imperfect, and so I cannot say and do absolutely the “right thing” each and every time. There is a balance I try and achieve and grace has a whole lot to do with it.

If I believe that I am here on this earth for a purpose, then everything that I do (and everything that happens to me) is a learning experience. I may fall down over and over again, but if I get back up, dust myself off, and keep going, I am a survivor. God’s love teaches me that no matter what, I am important and my contributions to those around me, are valued. I must believe that just about everything I do, is a reflection of God’s plan for me.

And though no one is fond of apologies I don’t mind apologizing, especially if I did something I I truly deserve to say I’m Sorry for. When you know you are truly loved by God, you believe yourself worthy and that makes mistakes ok. Giving heartfelt apologies is a gift, a sign of character. I honestly believe most of world’s psychiatric problems would go away, if we all would admit once in a while that we are not perfect.

How spectacular it is that every day unfolds before us, a clean slate, a white page that we can color and paint and sculpt any way we want. The best thing I can do for myself is go forward, trusting that I’ll do the best I can to make good choices and affect others in a positive way. That’s how grace works. It gives me the confidence to make decisions I can live with.

One of those paint classes. I did it my way!

One of those fancy paint classes. I did it my way!

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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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Greek Easter Memories

The Mon River by Christina

The Mon River, Photo by Christina

Tomorrow, for Easter Sunday I will be going to my Aunt KC and Uncle Steve’s house in the big city of Stockdale, PA. Actually, Stockdale is not a big city 🙂 but it is big in my heart.

My Uncle Steve is my mother’s only brother. He and his wife, my Aunt KC have been married close to fifty years. Every Easter, they host our family gathering, complete with grilled lamb chops, spanakopita, easter bread, pastichio (greek lasagna) and many other delicious foods and desserts.

Uncle Steve and Aunt KC live on the homestead. That is, they are exactly where my mom and her brother grew up their entire life before my mom married my dad and left Stockdale. My aunt and uncle have updated the house over the years but parts of my grandmother’s remain much the same. Even original pieces of her now antique furniture are still there.

What is it like to go to Stockdale every year? Well it’s like a homecoming. When I pull up to the curb of my grandmother’s (yiayia’s) old house, I am filled with memories. I see the Monongahela river and remember the times my uncle took me water skiing as a teenager. Walking into the old kitchen, I am back in time, remembering the summer months I watched yiayia cook- avgolemeno soup especially- and how I used her handheld rotary mixer to beat yellow egg yolks into frothy gold.

When I was growing up, the whole family would go to midnight church services on Easter eve. Arriving home at 2 or 3 am, my grandmother would put out a full spread on her dining room table. Roast lamb, potatoes, green beans, bread, salad and desserts like baklava of course. She’d use her best lace tablecloth and fancy dinnerware. It would be 4 am sometimes before we’d all crawl into bed. Then we’d be up again, late morning to start the eating all over again.

And the red eggs. We’d always have red hard boiled eggs on the Easter breakfast table. These were to play a game that all the cousins got involved in. We’d each select one egg. Then we’d take turns tapping our egg against each other’s, one at a time. The goal was to have a hard shell, hard enough for your egg not to crack. The last person left with an uncracked shell was the winner. As you can imagine, this became quite competitive!

When dinner time finally came on Easter day, a prayer would be said for all the blessings bestowed. We’d eat our fill of the delicious food and play, play, play until it was time to go. Now my Aunt KC has a wonderful egg hunt for the kids, the more grown up ones hiding the plastic goodie filled eggs for the smaller ones.

I look forward to seeing my cousins I don’t get to normally see all year. Celebrating spring and re-birth, everything that God has given us, gratitude for what we have, that is what it is all about. Have a happy Easter! Kali Anastasi!

 

 

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The Last Little Bits of Summer

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“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”
William Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Here we are, the end of August and summer is winding to a close. Where has the time gone? I remember writing my late spring blog post, eagerly awaiting summer’s full glory, anticipating the slow, warm days I was so looking forward to.

As I look back, it has been an amazing summer. Beauty has abounded in my area, despite weird weather like too hot, too cool, too much rain. But somehow through it all, I managed a slight tan, many back yard campfires and lots of juicy peaches.

IMG_2510My cousin Christina came from New York with her daughter Ariel and we had two glorious weeks that included trips to the local farmer’s market and our favorite, the Fiestaware outlet. We couldn’t get enough of Chris’ guacamole and made it no less than four times while she was here! There were lots of salads, grilled vegetables and fresh tomatoes from our garden to enjoy. I’ll never forget her glorious lentils, bean soup and our endless cups of coffee in the back yard, as we caught sightings of the local mama deer and her two baby fawns at play.

I went to Chicago for a wedding, my only real getaway, and what a real pleasure that was. Riding along with my aunt and uncle (my mother’s only brother), I hung out with their teenage grandchildren and never knew how really cool they were. The Chicago cousins were so hospitable I feel like sneaking back there for a visit all my own. (Get ready Deb!)

Through all of this, I felt the faith, the presence of grace all the time. If I momentarily forgot it, I remembered it in the sight of the baby hawk flying over my house, the random phone call from a friend, and the early morning sunrise. I realized the preciousness of time, the ability to take this time to rest, rejuvenate and get ready for whatever will be ahead.

School is beginning next week for my grandson. He is going to the seventh grade (wow, where has THAT time gone?) and Labor Day is just around the corner. I’m looking forward to promoting my new business, looking for still more partners and always searching out great event ideas.

I saw a few red leaves on the ground lately and I know fall is just around the corner. Enjoy these last few summer days with a sentimental heart!

DSC_0090Thanks to Christina for all these beautiful pictures!

How was your summer? Are you looking forward to fall?

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An Attitude of Gratitude

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If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. Meister Eckhart

I went to a wedding not so long ago and when the thank you note for the gift arrived, it was a picture of the bride and groom holding a sign that said “thank you.” It was nice but there was no personalization, no signature, just the picture. My heart sank a bit as I thought this was yet another symptom of our too busy lives. Were thank you notes becoming a thing of the past?

So it gave my heart a lift when my husband shared this story with me recently. He said, “There are days when it is terrible to be a nurse in the ER. We see some of the same people over and over again, who do nothing different for their own conditions, and yet they expect us to fix it immediately. I get tired and worn out and wonder for what purpose I am here.”

On one particular day Jim headed back to his station and there was a clasp envelope laying on his desk. When he opened it, there were three thank you notes inside. They were from the children of a woman he worked with; they had all come to Jim’s Honey Party and had participated in spinning the combs and witnessing the delicious, sticky honey that had come from that experience.

The notes expressed gratitude and warmed my husband’s heart. He told me, “It was a great moment to realize that I had made a difference in someone’s life.” I am guessing those little notes restored Jim’s faith in himself and the reason he is here on earth.

I have several boxes of pretty thank you cards and I try and remember to thank people who have given me a gift. But I also try and send a thank you for no reason other than to acknowledge someone else’s loving act of kindness. Recently, my aunt and uncle took me to Chicago for a wedding. They came to my doorstep and picked me up. We spent the entire, wonderful weekend together. Afterwards I wrote them a thank you note because not only did I have an amazing time, but I got to know their teen grandchildren a whole lot better and realized what totally beautiful kids they are.

A few years ago when I was beginning my spiritual journey, I decided to keep a gratitude journal. I wrote a few things down each night I was grateful for. It could be something that happened that day, or a quality I had come to recognize in myself or others. After pages and pages of gratitude, a shift in my thinking occurred. I realized the gift of every day life.

I save most all of the thank you notes I receive. There is a shoe box in my closet where I have amassed a collection of notes I’ve received over the years. There are hallmark cards, handwritten notes, some large and some small, but that box serves a purpose. Whenever I am feeling down, I reach for it. I pull out the cards and read them one by one. By the time I am done, my faith in myself is restored.

*The thank you note on the window sill says, “Thank you for giving my shoes back. I liked playing with Jake. A bee is flying.” (sweet!)

Have you ever received a thank you note that you just never forgot? Tell me about it!

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