Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I LOVE Birthdays ~ Here's Why ~ I Love Life!

*****BREAKING NEWS*****~~It is now Feb. 4th.~~It's MY BIRTHDAY. On Feb. 4th.***Singing for JOY***Dancing for JOY***I am SO very grateful for life. SO thankful to be alive. SO thankful for a HOPE and a future. SO thankful for LOVE in my life.***

If you know me, you know I have a birthday on February 4th.

Please mark your calendars accordingly.

If you don’t know I have a birthday soon, you don’t know me.

I love birthdays. I absolutely love birthdays.

I love celebrating someone’s life.

And I really love my birthday because I am so happy to still be here.

So I believe in celebrating my birthday as early and as often and for as long as possible.

I let people know it’s my birthday. I let them know in advance. I usually give them at least a month’s notice to remind them, in fact.

My brother and my best friends even may or may not have been known to receive text-messages around this time of year that may or may not read:
***URGENT***~~~3 weeks till my birthday****
(Author’s Note: As of this writing, however, it is exactly ONE week and 2 days till my birthday, though, till my Feb. 4th birthday. Did you mark your calendars yet?)

I don’t do that to get presents. (Disclaimer: With the exception maybe of chocolate, flowers and espresso.)

I do that because I want to celebrate being alive another year.

I want my friends and loved ones who have helped me survive to be part of my joyous, heartfelt celebration. If they want to supply me with chocolate, well, that’s a bonus.

I have survived so much in my life. Another birthday brings more reasons to celebrate.
    *Reason 1: I have survived another year.
    *Reason 2: I am alive.
For that, I am truly grateful.

That’s why I love birthdays.

I know that’s one reason I love cycling so much, too. It’s all about endurance.

I will never understand people who complain about having another birthday or about growing older. Another birthday means you are still alive.

And if you’re growing older, at least you’re still growing.

Are there lots of things I wish I’d done by now? Of course.

Has my life turned out differently than I expected when I was much younger? Very much so, in some ways. In fact, I’m hoping to at least make it to 102 like my great-grandmother GranJoy did so I’ll have enough time.

Yet all I’ve been through ~and survived~ is what has made me who I am today. And as long as I’m still alive, I still have reason to hope and dream and work toward my dreams.

I figure that as long as I have hope, I have reason to believe there is still time to do some of the things I still want to do.

To be honest, the older I grow, the more what matters most to me is having more time to love and to be loved.

Sure, I have new places I’d like to see and new experiences I’d like to try.

But I know now that nothing compares to love. And if I live to be 102 or more, it still will not be nearly enough time to share all the love I wish I could with the people I care most about in this world.

Maybe that’s because the older I grow, I realize that when I was much younger, I had no idea what love really is. I’m learning now about real love and I want more of it in my life. I want more of it in the lives of the people I care about, too.

Here’s why love ~and life~ ~and hope~ matter so much to me.

I am a walking, living, breathing miracle. Proof positive of God’s unconditional love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and grace. I am so grateful to be alive to celebrate another birthday.

I don’t often share all the details simply because I don’t ever want anyone to feel sorry for me. I don’t feel sorry for me. My life is my life. It is, as they say, what it is.

I also do not want my life to be defined by tragedy or by my losses. I want my life to be about love and hope and joy. For even though I’ve lost much and survived a lot, I also have known great joy.

Many have asked about what I’ve survived. I share a little of it now (and I hope to share more of it in book form someday…) in the hopes that it may encourage someone that they really can survive anything.

Or maybe it will encourage someone to look at life differently. Or maybe it will simply make someone look at birthdays differently. With even more gratitude for another year.

In my life so far, I have survived, against all odds~~~

~~~*The fatal car crash when I was 5 years old that killed my Mom and my 2-year-old brother. I was injured but lived through it, with some scars you can see and some you can’t.~After that, the mere fact that I survived my childhood is another miracle in itself. Trust me. There were things that happened that no one, especially a child or teenager, should have to endure. I’ll leave it at that for now, except to say that the fact that I emerged alive and still able to believe in hope and love is truly one of the greatest miracles in my life. ~

~~~*A near-fatal car accident on an icy mountain pass in northern Colorado. I was driving a friend’s car to help them move to Idaho. I lived in Colorado. I was used to driving on snow and ice. But I hit an unseen patch of black ice and the car suddenly went out of control, skidded and headed for the cliff with no guardrails. I literally did see my life flash before my eyes. I remember thinking I wasn’t ready to die. Next thing I knew, the car somehow had miraculously spun around and caught the rear end of the vehicle in a large snowdrift. I was shaken ~ but alive ~ again.

~~~*A third near-fatal car accident when we were hit head-on by a drunken driver while a friend was driving us home in a quiet residential neighborhood. We then crashed head-on into a telephone pole, hitting it mainly right in front of me on the front passenger side of the car. My friend and I were hospitalized overnight. While we were in the hospital, another friend met with the insurance agent, who took one look at the mangled car and asked matter-of-factly, “What was the name of the person who died in the passenger seat?” He was completely shocked to learn that I survived. I was, too.

~~~*Being held at gunpoint during an armed robbery. Six and a half years ago on a summer evening, I stopped to get gas and Gatorade on my way home from work. It wasn’t even late. The next thing I knew, two men ran into the store and one of them pointed a loaded gun aimed straight at my head across the counter. I remember thinking that when he pulled the trigger, I would not be going to the hospital. This time, my life didn’t flash before my eyes because there wasn’t time. There was only time for a one-word prayer, repeated over and over in my mind and heart and, as I later found out, I even said it out loud: “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.” The two gunmen miraculously fled the store. I could not stop shaking. More shaking and more traumas came later when I had to endure the trial and relive the horror over and over again. It has been a very long recovery from all the trauma but I am determined to not let what happened rob me anymore.

~~~*Losing my much-loved and only sister suddenly, unexpectedly, irretrievably. She left us a little over 17 months ago. I hope I will be able to write more about it someday because she’s one of the sweetest, most caring people I’ve ever known and I am proud I got to be her sister. I should have been a much better sister. I wish with all my heart she had understood how very much I loved her. But for now, all I can say is I will never be the same. I carry her with me in my heart every day. She is the tears I cry at night. She is the reason I am compelled to share hope with others. She was more dear to me than I can ever express. Losing her is the greatest loss of my life. But I made a promise to my dear brother ~the only one I have left now~ that even though I didn’t know how, we would both survive somehow. And we have. And we will. It’s only by God’s grace. For which I am more grateful than anyone will ever know. His love sustains me, even now.

~~~*In between, I have lost all my grandparents, other loved ones and treasured friends whose losses hurt my heart. I have learned the hard way what grief really is, not from some textbook or speaker who knows nothing about it, but from firsthand heartache. That is why I tell others who are grieving not to listen to anyone who tries to tell them how or for how long to grieve. That’s not for anyone else to judge. Loss touches each person differently and each one must find a way back to go on with life. What I know for sure is that if you know someone who is grieving, don’t worry about trying to say something. Hug them and hold them and let them know you love them. Be there for them. Simply be there and love them.

Believe it or not, that’s the short version. There is a lot more. But I hope that helps you understand a little more about where I’m coming from and why I’m so strong in my messages of love and hope and faith.

It’s why I appreciate people who show unconditional love and patience and gentleness and understanding and great kindness more than ever.

One thing I know for sure. I believe with all my heart that one of the main reasons I have survived so much already in my life is so that I can share hope and compassion and love with other people.

I want, more than anything, for my life to be a living testament to the truth that you really can survive anything. God can do the impossible. I can say that because of what He has done in my life, against all odds.

So, now, as another birthday approaches ~ have I mentioned I’m having another birthday on Feb. 4th by the way??? ~ I have so much reason to celebrate.

For me, every birthday is cause for great joy. Absolute excitement. Extravagant joy.

I still have so much to do in my life. I know that more than ever now.

And more than ever, I know I’m being given another chance to learn more about real love. My heart feels giddy with excitement and anticipation at the very thought.

I don’t know what lies ahead for me. But I’m still believing more dreams are going to come true. I believe it with all my heart. My hopeful heart.

Every breath really is a second chance. If you let it be. My life is proof of that.
So, please join the celebration. You’re all invited. Feb. 4th. All around the world. Give thanks for life and hope and love!!!

And if you feel the need to bring chocolate or send flowers or buy me a doubleshot espresso, well, who am I to deny you that chance? I prefer dark chocolate, by the way, with almonds whenever possible and a little cream and sugar in my coffee. *smile*

~~~For my birthday this year, here is my greatest wish~~~Please let the people you care about know how much you love them, as often as possible. Seize every opportunity to show love and to receive love. Hold onto hope, no matter what. You can survive anything. Believe you’re worth the chance to have as much love as possible in your life. You are incredibly valuable and loved with the most amazing love I know. So enjoy this amazing life you’ve been given.~~~Luv, J.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Heart for Haiti~Always Hope

Today I am writing through my tears, spilled out of love. For my heart is in Haiti.

My heart longs to hold some of the thousands of sweet children who are hurt, traumatized, scared and suffering in Haiti. But I cannot be there.

So I’m doing what I can. It’s not much. But it’s what I know to do. It’s how I can give.

I know others feel exactly the same.

After several days of heartbreaking news, photos, videos and personal accounts of the tragedy and suffering in Haiti, we may feel emotionally exhausted, tempted to turn away, close to compassion burnout.

For those of us not in Haiti, it’s compounded by a feeling of helplessness. We are seeing such enormous need. We don’t know how we can make a difference.

The need is truly overwhelming. But one by one, we can help by doing whatever we can.

Today, on Day 5 after the earthquake, there are still staggering needs in Haiti.

Yet there is still enormous hope for Haiti.

That’s exactly why we have to stay strong right now. Keep giving. Keep praying. Keep getting the word out. Keep believing for miracles. Keep the faith.

Keep holding onto hope for Haiti.

I know how desperate the situation appears in the aftermath of the horrific 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti without warning on Tuesday.

Even the aftershocks registered nearly 6.0.

That alone would cause devastation in any nation.

But Haiti already was the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

There already were flimsy buildings everywhere. Now there are very few buildings standing and thousands of people killed or injured in the rubble of collapsed buildings.

There already was a tremendous lack of resources. Now the need is staggering.

Now there are an estimated 3 million people suffering from the earthquake and its grim devastation in Haiti.

From the moment I heard the news Tuesday, I thought of dear friends who travel regularly to Haiti serving at an orphanage there. I wondered if they were okay. I wondered if the children at the orphanage were alive.

I thought of the thousands of children in Haiti who already were orphaned before the earthquake. Now there are so many more, it completely breaks my heart. I dissolve into tears every time I think of those children alone and scared and suffering.

I finally found out on Friday that my friends are safe and all the children in their ministry’s orphanage survived. There was some damage to the orphanage building, but what matters is the children are safe and alive.

Yet I know that there are millions of people in Haiti now ~days later~ still suffering. Some are trapped beneath rubble. Some are desperately trying to rescue their friends and loved ones.

Thousands upon thousands of people are grieving and mourning their loved ones who already have died as a result of the earthquake, heartbroken by the sorrow of tremendous and sudden, shocking loss.

Haiti’s greatest physical needs now are food and clean water and safe shelter and medical attention.

Every minute that passes since the tragic earthquake, the emotional and spiritual needs in Haiti are growing in magnitude too.

For every child and adult in Haiti, including the many relief workers, the greatest need is for healing from the unimaginable trauma of what they have witnessed and survived and for love, comfort, mercy and compassion.

The graphic scenes of human suffering from Haiti seem overwhelming, but they are real and they are people in pain in need of our help. We cannot turn away.

Seeing the devastation and the depth of human suffering at its most raw as we are seeing right now in Haiti has the power to immediately unite our hearts for one common purpose. Our only purpose at a time such as this.

Wherever human beings are suffering, we each have a duty. It is simple and profound.

We are called to love.

Then we are called to put that love into action. To show compassion. To show mercy. To relieve suffering. To do whatever we can to bring healing. To bring hope.

Love in action is the only possible response at a time such as this.

Please do whatever you can to help the people of Haiti.

***In the aftermath of a horrific disaster such as the Haiti earthquake, the most effective way you can help is by helping well-established, legitimate, reputable non-profit relief organizations who are trained and ready to respond, especially those already working in Haiti.

I have researched and compiled a list of links directly to a few of those relief organizations that I know are working to bring supplies, medical aid and other help necessary to assist the people of Haiti.

Please give where you can. Please pray for all those trying to bring relief from suffering to the people of Haiti through love, compassion, medical care and practical assistance. Pray for transportation challenges as they work around the clock to get needed supplies and more trained personnel into a country where access is crippled.

Please pray for the babies and children in Haiti who are now orphaned or separated from their parents and relatives. Think of your own children as you hold them in your arms. Then please pray even more that God in his infinite mercy will hold the children of Haiti in his arms of love and comfort.

Please pray for all the people of Haiti, who are wounded in heart, spirit and body. They need us now more than ever.

Then please keep praying. Keep believing. Keep showing compassion. Keep loving. Keep hoping. Even in the midst of great heartache, there is always hope. Always HOPE.
~Luv, J.~

Red Cross~
**To make $10 donation to Red Cross, text-message HAITI to 90999.

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)~

Compassion International~

World Vision~

Samaritan’s Purse~

Mercy Corps~


Salvation Army

For more info on how to help Haiti, the New York Times compiled a more detailed list:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

We Are All Works In Progress

“We are all works in progress.”

Six simple words. But what a lot of truth in those words.

I was talking about something in my life. I was probably talking about how I have such a long way to go.

And then a sweet friend looked at me, looked right into my eyes and said simply, “We are all works in progress.”

And I smiled.

I’m still smiling.

Because what he said was so profound. And so true. And so freeing.

We all need to hear that. We all need to be reminded of that. We all need to know that we know that. Really know it. Deep inside.

Why are we so hard on ourselves after all? Why do we expect too much of someone else?

We are all, after all, works in progress.

I like that. A lot.

It doesn’t imply we’re not trying. It doesn’t mean we’re standing still not doing anything.

It simply means we need to give ourselves a break.

It means we need to acknowledge God is working on us and in us. And even when it doesn’t feel like it, we are making progress if we’re allowing Him to work on us.

And whether we realize it or not, God is probably working through us more than we realize. Because when imperfect people step up and honor God by being real with themselves and the people around them, hearts can be touched and lives can be changed.

We are all works in progress.

It simply means we need to extend grace to the people around us…and to ourselves.

Grace. Understanding. Kindness.

Kindness and tenderness. What every heart needs.

Really, it all comes down to love. Real love. Unconditional love. Sweet love.

Think about how you feel when you know that someone loves you. Really loves you. No matter what.

Not the kind of imitation love that tries too hard to change you. I mean the kind of real love that truly loves you the way you are.

Love like that settles into you like a sense of peace. Calm. Serene. Joyful.

And suddenly, you feel free. You look at the world differently. You look at other people differently. With more generosity. With more faith. With more courage.

You treat yourself and other people like they are truly works in progress.

You believe in yourself. You believe in other people. You really want the best for them.

You know you’ll get there someday. You know they’ll get there someday.

In the meantime, you learn not to judge them – or yourself. You learn to love.

You learn to accept others as they are. Truly love one another. And truly love yourself.

Just the way you are.

Knowing that when you are loved and accepted, you will become who you truly want to be.

Love is a powerful thing.

Real love looks at you and doesn’t see your faults and failures. Real love sees hope. And progress on your journey.

For real love gives you grace. Abundant grace. Amazing love.

Love gives you courage. Love gives you strength. God’s unconditional love gives you grace and courage and strength to continue on the journey without losing hope.

Love gives you faith and reason to hope. To believe that He is working in you to make progress in this adventure we call life.

Real life brings many challenges. But love, acceptance, forgiveness, grace, kindness~they give us the strength to keep going no matter what , to love others and to love ourselves.

If we can keep that kind of love in our hearts, we really are making progress.

For like my sweet friend said: “We are all works in progress.”

~~~This was inspired by someone who is one of the kindest, yet strongest people I've ever known. Someone who is a living example of the power of kindness and grace. Someone who always reminds me that, "We are all works in progress." I hope his words and what they meant to me bring you hope and help you along your own journey. Be kind to yourself. Extend kindness and love to the people around you. It may be the very thing someone needs to find courage and hope. For me, love is what matters most in this adventure we call life.~~~May your heart be blessed with much Love, J.~~~

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Heart for A New Year

Today, on this first day of a New Year and a new decade, I find myself craving life.

Savoring life. Savoring the simple, profound sweetness of life.

I’m bringing a very grateful heart into this new decade. Gratitude that I am still alive and able to see the beauty of each new day.

I am very grateful to find that my heart is still able to be brave enough to love and that I am becoming courageous enough to find joy even in the face of life’s toughest challenges.

Some people live their lives as cynics, always seeing or talking about or writing about the worst in other people and in life.

I often wonder if cynics have ever really experienced loss or difficulties. It’s hard for me to believe they could continue to be so cynical and bitter if they have ever learned the hard way how precious life really is.

I have survived far too much in my still relatively young life to be cynical or bitter.

I have survived several experiences when others said there is no reason I should still be alive to tell my tale. I have endured and survived losses of people so dear to me that I often wondered how it would be possible for my heart to recover.

But somehow, I’m beginning to think that’s part of why I’ve survived what I have. To tell my tale. To offer compassion and understanding. To offer hope.

For despite all odds, I still believe with all my heart in the power of love. Real love.

I still believe in the power of hope. I believe you have to decide at some point in your heart and life that you will never, ever, ever give up ~ no matter what.

For the fact that I have survived to see this first day of a New Year and a new decade, still able to believe in love and hope, is a miracle in itself. Yet I do. With all my heart.

We are all shaped and become the people we are now by the joys and sorrows we experience throughout our lives and by the people we love and the people who love us.

It’s so much easier to recount the joys and remember the good times, especially the very best times. Those times are a wonderful and amazing part of life.

On the flip side, I’m slowly learning to leave regrets in the past so that I can make even more room for all the good things I believe the future holds for my life and for my heart.

Still, while we cannot dwell on regrets or failures, we have to admit the low points in our lives also are part of who we are now.

We can choose to not be defined by the tragedies and difficult experiences. But sometimes those really are compellingly defining moments in our lives, when we become stronger as we choose to face our challenges, work through them and go on to embrace life.

I have learned in my own life that when tragedy and loss shatter your heart and your life into a billion pieces, it sometimes feels like your heart will never mend. It feels like your heart and life will somehow never be the same.

Some of that is true. In my case, I will never, ever be the same girl I was before some of the things that happened in my life. Each one changed my life in its own way.

And I know my heart will never be exactly the same. The shattered pieces don’t always fit back together the same way.

But I’m beginning to think maybe that in itself is a good thing.

Sometimes life’s greatest sorrows and heartaches and losses cause a heart to regrow into a new heart, if you will. If you let it.

A new heart that’s a bit larger and able to include more people. A new heart that’s a lot more tender. A lot more sensitive. Hopefully, a lot more caring. And yes, along with all that, a heart that’s sometimes a lot more raw. A lot more real.

I’ve come to believe that’s when a heart learns more about what it means to truly love.

So this New Year’s Day, a day that always feels like a new beginning, I face a New Year and a new decade with a new heart.

A heart that knows in new ways the enduring, life-giving value of true friendships.

A heart that values more and more people who are truly kind. I have been blessed to meet a few. I love being near them. They make my heart feel safe. And very happy.

A heart that still ~against odds that sometimes appear on the surface to be insurmountable~ insists on dreaming big dreams and working toward making them happen.

A heart that understands in a much deeper way the power of grace.

A heart that still stubbornly and passionately craves life and holds on unwaveringly to an undying hope.

A heart that is learning more every day about what it really means to love. I hope.

A heart that is learning how breathtakingly amazing it is to be completely and intensely loved with a love that is real and true.

And because of all that and so much more, I face this New Year with a very, very grateful heart.

A New Year. A new decade. New possibilities. New dreams.

Looking up. Looking forward.

I hope you are, too. Happy New Year!!!

***God bless you all in this New Year. May your hearts know much, much love ~or as my Grandma who was born on New Year’s Day would say, “mucho mucho love.” May your homes be filled with more laughter than tears. May your joys outnumber your sorrows. May you follow your passions with courage and hope. May you always choose kindness. May your heart overflow with so much love that you have more than enough. May you have so much love in your heart and life that you have plenty for yourself and an abundance to give to others. May you always, always, always hold onto hope.
~Luv ya mucho mucho, J.~