Gratitude Celebration 21: Extra Parents

“Get off that roof!” I heard Mr. Steigerwald yell from across the street. I had crawled out my bedroom window to sit on the roof where I could think on my own for a bit, but one of my “extra parents” had seen me and scolded me for it. I was thinking, “You’re not my dad, so you can’t tell me what to do!” But I really didn’t believe that. If I didn’t do what he said, he would be calling my dad and let him know where I was. Other times, Mr. Steigerwald would help me out and I ‘d really appreciate his parenting. Like when my brothers and I could walk a few blocks from the swimming pool  to the bearing shop where he worked and get a ride home instead of walking for an hour and a half.
We had several neighbors who I felt were extensions of my parents. I knew they were watching out for us and cared about us.
All of us kids on our block, once I counted a hundred, knew which yards were fair game for our Kick-the-Can and Cops-n-Robbers marathons which would last from morning’til the street lights went in. We’d have twenty kids playing and could spread out over about half the block, running through the yards of certain neighbors.

Another extra parent was Mrs. Spinnato who lived across the alley behind our house. One time my younger  sister,four years old, cried, “I hate you Mom! I’m going to run away from home!” And my three-year old brother said, “Me too!” Mom made a phone call. I heard her say, “OK, thanks, Ann, I’ll send them over.” Then she handed my siblings a bag and said, “Here’s a bag with some clothes and a snack. You can run away to Spinnatos for awhile. Regina, would you please walk them over there!” So I did!

Mrs. Spinnato was also there when I fell off the backyard trapeze and hurt my arm. It hurt so bad I was delirious, but I saw her there with my mom and heard her voice, “I think it might be broken, Pat, you need to take her to the hospital.”

Years later, I stayed at her house myself when I was secretly requesting donations for a fiftieth anniversary gift for my parents. I had come home while they were away to meet with neighbors and church friends and I didn’t want to stay in the house! Mrs. Spinnato welcomed me at their house and kept my secret too!

And there were the Platts down the street who took us berry picking and helped us pick and arrange the flowers for my sister, Claudia’s wedding. When my brother died, Mrs. Platt opened her house for Claudia and I to stay.

I’m sure there were plenty of other times the Steigerwalds, Spinnatos, and Platts helped our family that I don’t remember or even know about! They were always invited to the gatherings we had at our house.  I just know in my heart that they shared a special bond with my parents that made my own parenting richer.

I know my mom contributed to that community too. We would often hear “Pat! Paaaat! Pat Bernarrrrd!” resonating from the window next door. That would be Mrs. Varley, our next door neighbor whose twelve children outnumbered our ten. She needed help sometimes too!

So, to my extra parents, I extend my thanks and my acknowledgment for your generosity, humility, and wisdom to create the community we all needed.


Gratitude Celebration 20: Bold New World

Broadening my views of life and people and enticing me to love my body and outwardly express myself were the gifts offered by my Living Arts teachers. I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude for people who made a difference in my life. Today’s recipients are three men who had very different views of life than my Catholic School teachers.

Bing Davis was probably the most radical person I had ever encountered. His art and conversation opened up a whole new world of self expression and raw opinion. He was the first African American teacher I had, and a very outspoken one at that. My first encounter with him was at an introduction to The Living Arts Center that I attended with John Spinnato and both of our moms.

Mr. Davis was showing pictures of junk yards and talking about their abundant potential as resources for art. Other slides showed sculptures made from scrap metal and old gears and tires and such. He was so excited and passionate about the freedom of thought and expression that students could experience in this new program supported by the public schools. We had ventured into the auditorium of Van Cleve School, the neighborhood public school. I had not been there since my kindergarten days with Mrs. Wilson. The hallowed halls of Corpus Christi elementary and Julienne high Catholic Schools had been my exclusive seat of education until then. Listening to Bing Davis astounded me with a peak into a vast world of unfettered communication that actually scared me with its boldness.  John signed up right away for acting classes. It took me two more years and friendship with Kathy Brinkman, who thrived at Living Arts, to enter the refurbished warehouse way over on the east side of town and let my own creativity and voice sneak out.

My first class with Mr. Davis, tall, thin – and Black, was Painting. Under his tutelage, I painted with acrylics and watercolor in ways of movement that I had not experienced before. Looking back, I am grateful to him for patiently coaxing out of me the freedom to let out the artistic voice that was bound up tight inside. He gave me permission, and technical skills, to put into color and form the emotions that had been held inside. My favorite painting experience was the day we sat outside on a floodwall overlooking the city with big sheets of watercolor paper and paint. What I saw and painted was a huge tree leafed out in a thousand dabs of shades of green dominating the grey blocks of buildings in the background. The painting still hangs in my mother’s bedroom and confirms my true spirit of noticing Nature’s beauty wherever I am, that was called forth by Bing Davis.

He also gave me a chance to  value my sewing skills. He admired a jacket I had fashioned from a couple of deer hides my mom had and he asked me to sew him a jacket.  I found a pattern of a long style with a ‘Neru’ collar. The fabric was a bold African pattern in brown, orange and blue. It was a new experience to sew for someone besides myself, and I felt really proud to see him wearing it and to get paid for sewing clothes!  I’m pretty sure now that Bing Davis knew that jacket meant a lot more to ME than it ever did for HIM. What a wise and compassionate educator he was!

Another teacher at Living Arts was Clarence Walls who taught writing. Although I didn’t take any of his classes, I would go along with Kathy to chat with Mr. Walls. Mostly, we would just joke and talk about things going on in the world, or about getting along with other people.  I’m pretty sure Mr. Walls didn’t realize he was shaking the very foundations of my communication style when he casually said in the middle of one of our lighthearted group conversations, “Regina, you are so cynical!” I was stunned, because I had usually been lurking in the background, letting Dan, Kathy and her sister, Patty, lead the conversations while I listened. But, Mr. Walls was speaking right to me personally, and calling me something I didn’t even know the meaning of!  I had to consult a dictionary when I got home to learn that someone I looked up to observed me as someone who saw only the bad side of things and kept myself separate in an arrogant way.  For a while after that I was very careful about what I said and noticed that I DID have this edge to my comments. What really struck me, though, is that I also noticed that what I SAID wasn’t really what I was THINKING!  I was thinking that I wanted to belong in the group and I wanted to be genuine and friendly and see the best in others! I started to choose different words, and to this day I still work on speaking words that build others up and not tear them down. I’m grateful to Mr. Walls for that epiphany!

“Bodies are beautiful in their expression, and there’s no need to cover up the shape of your body,” is the invitation that Mr. Chi, my dance teacher, offered. I didn’t accept his invitation, though, and wore a loose t-shirt over my leotard thoughout the year of free form dance lessons with him.  In his classes I moved my whole body, speaking out the feelings that were being coaxed out of me in my Living Arts experience. My friend, Kathy Harmon, had enticed me into the dance classes that were her favorite form of expression.  Mr. Chi, a small-bodied man whose best communication was through movement rather than speech had me creating movements large and small, stretching, bending, leaping, rolling. By the time I had worked with him several months I was comfortable enough with my body to perform in an afternoon program to introduce the public to Living Arts. Thanks to Mr. Chi, I am free to dance!

My two years at The Living Arts Center, a bold, experimental program of the Dayton City Public Schools, were magical for me! I have to thank my mom for letting me go there. It was quite an adventure for me to take the bus across town, having to transfer routes downtown, even at night. What that program did for me was open my eyes to myself and to a world of diversity and artistic expression with all parts of my body! My mom saw in me the inner desire and talent for self-expression and Living Arts was designed to foster that.  Bing Davis’ vision of going to the ‘junk yard’ where unrealized and cast aside beauty could be fashioned into bold, authentic, and passionate communication was most certainly fulfilled in me! I honor and celebrate his courageous vision and his contribution to my life!

Bing Davis is still opening the door to creative expression!


Gratitude Celebration 19: Friends at Last

I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude for people in my life. Yesterday, I remembered two girls who gave me the opportunity to feel the pain of rejection and make me question my value as a friend. Today, I want to express my gratitude for two young women who lavished me with friendship without question. They liked me just the way I was and I liked them back!

Barb, who I met in eighth grade became my friend for that year. I don’t know why I had not known her all along in my Catholic school years, since most of my classmates had been there since first grade! Maybe she and her family moved in later, or didn’t put their kids in the school until that year. Anyway, Barb and I seemed to bet along pretty well, and we did a lot together because we were in the same Girl Scout troop. I had not been active in Girl Scouts for a few years, but Barb’s mom organized a troop for “Cadettes”, junior high aged girls, and I joined it.

Barb’s house was on a long way home to mine, so we would walk together, dropping her off first. I could stay for a little while before going home. One memory that stands out is a time that Barb’s dad got upset at us, though.  As I recall, we had been dismissed from evening play practice early. I said, “Barb, we could just walk you home, then maybe your dad would take me.” She liked that idea and we headed out, cutting across the park and over to her house. It was just a block away from the school! To my surprise, her dad, instead of acknowledging our promptness, yelled at us. “You shouldn’t be walking in that park at night! Don’t you know how dangerous that is?!! There are all kinds of bad people there at night! You should have called me!” Then, he stomped away. He didn’t say anything about taking me home, so I just left to walk myself home, another three short blocks. I was thinking, “If it’s so dangerous to be out at night, why doesn’t he offer to take me home? I guess he doesn’t care about me, just Barb.”

I was walking home, and on the way I met Mr. McGary, who lived in the house on a corner I passed. I knew him because he was our Track coach. He said, “Why are you out alone? I’ll walk you home.” And he did. I have no idea why I had not called my own parents. I probably thought they were busy, and wouldn’t mind me walking home anyway.  So, I guess I can add my gratitude for Mr. McGary reaching out to me, and to Mr. Gephardt for giving me that little challenge to my sense of well-being and safety.

Anyway, back to Barb! I liked her because she was beautiful, with her dark hair. I felt good being with her! She got the lead in our Eighth Grade production of The Mikado, and got to be Yum-Yum. I loved being one of her character’s attendants as Pitti-Sing, even though the kimono I had made myself wasn’t as perfect as hers. (Remember from my post about Teachers in Gratitude 17, I had learned to do things myself even if the outcome was inferior!)

Barb and I got to go to Girl Scout Camp together! Those four weeks were some of the best in my life so far! Four weeks of camping, making ice cream, walking, singing, and being with Barb and the other friends we met. I’m grateful that I got to go to that camp and for being with Barb. I think I would have kept being Barb’s friend for a while if she had not moved away out to the suburbs later that summer.  I did go to one slumber party at her new house, but we didn’t stay in touch after that.


High school at the all-girls and Catholic Julienne put me in the company of hundreds of girls. I could branch out from my grade school where Barb had been my only good friend, and make new friends. And I did! I made a friend in Kathy Brinkman, who sat very close to me in homeroom where we sat in alphabetical order. As Regina Bernard, there was just one other girl named Bridget between us. I got along with Kathy because she matched my sarcasm, which I had mastered. Nothing went by that didn’t inspire some joke in my mind. Kathy and I both saw a lot to criticize in the regimented, narrow minded ways of the Catholic school. Kathy, especially, kept up on the news and got involved in local politics. I was still compliant and ready to follow the lead, so I admired her pluck and wit.

She introduced me to The Living Arts Center where she could express her knowledge of a bigger world view and I could realize there WAS a bigger world view.  Kathy left the limited world of Julienne High School after two years to go to the public high school, which seemed so big and scary to me. She talked all about the principal there and how he embraced diversity and politics and encouraged Kathy to get involved in it. She beamed with excitement at her chance to go there where her boyfriend, Dan, went as well.  I got to meet Dan, too, at Living Arts. That was my first chance at being in a group of kids I felt I belonged with.  We took a variety of classes in visual arts, writing, and dance. With Kathy’s modeling, I learned how to joke around and talk with our teachers, who constantly challenged my narrow view of life.

The summer after our junior year, Kathy went to France in a student exchange program.  Although we wrote letters to each other, her experience there seemed distant and alienating. When she came back at the end of the summer, she didn’t seem interested in her old friends anymore and we drifted apart. I was sad, but believed that losing friends was a normal expectation of life, so I just moved on to other relationships. I continued going to Living Arts for another semester, but it just wasn’t the same without Kathy and Dan. Besides, it was my senior year and I was making other friends at Julienne, including my first boyfriend, Chuck. And that’s another story!

So, thanks, Barb and Kathy for being my friends when having just one was enough! On my bedroom wall during those years was a poster that said, “Forgive my trying on these many faces. I’m urgently looking for my own!” That’s a fitting line for my teenage years, and I’m grateful that my friends could mirror back my confusion with love.

Gratitude Celebration 18: Rejection Transformed

“If you were somebody worth being friends with, then we would be friends with you.” That’s what the note in my desk read. Did Ann and Jean really write that in response to the note I had left at Jean’s house? “I thought we would keep walking to school together. I want to be friends.” When I had gone across the street to pick her up as usual, she wasn’t there! I saw her walking down the street with Ann. Ditched! Rejected! Replaced!

My thirteen year old heart was broken and I didn’t know what to do. I wrote my note and hoped for the best, but I already knew that Jean, who had just moved into the neighborhood, was choosing Ann and not me. Ann and I had not been friends any time since first grade, so I figured we weren’t going to start now.

For days after that, I would watch from my bedroom window as Ann would go meet Jean at her house and they would walk to school together. I cried, feeling so sad to lose my friend. I didn’t talk to my mom or my older sisters about it either. “Just get over it,” they would say.

I added that “I’m-just-not-popular” belief to my catalog of limiting beliefs about myself. I didn’t make up with Ann and Jean or ever really talk with them again. I made other teenage friends in Barb and Judy, Kathy and Patty, yet still get a charge when I recall that event.

Today, at 60, I can look at that event in the light of Radical Forgiveness and see it as having been an opportunity to learn and grow. That’s why I can include Ann and Jean in my Gratitude Celebration. This is a perfect “Old Story” to play through a Satori Game!

In the game, I draw the event, “Someone rejected you big time,” and the context , “Relationships”. I land on Blame Game and vent all those feelings and judgments, “You were so MEAN! You’re not worth being friends with either. So there!” At the Gateway to Awareness I can be open to the idea that there’s a healing message in that story.
As the game unfolds, I get to love myself being in those feelings, release the blocked energy in my heart chakra, let go of the belief that “I’m not lovable the way I am” and see Ann and Jean as healing angels with and for each of us. I pick a New Story “Everyone respects and honors me.”

In the last level of the game, I release all my attachment to my old story and reframe the Old Story from a spiritual perspective that everything happens for a reason. Perhaps being rejected by Ann and Jean helped me feel the pain of separation and inspired me to learn to love and honor myself or to become an empathetic friend who communicates clearly and openly. Whatever the Divine Plan flowing in that situation, I can now see Ann and Jean as healing angels in my life, and be open to the possibility that from a spiritual perspective they did nothing wrong. That’s Radical Forgiveness applied to that teenage drama!

So thanks, Ann and Jean, for spiritually loving me so much that you were willing to play the role of rejecting me to mirror my belief that I was not loving myself just the way I am!  I forgive you and myself as well!

Play YOUR Awakening with Satori Board Game

Play YOUR Awakening with Satori Board Game

The Satori Board Game is one of my favorite ways to transform Old Stories – those dramas from the past that still bring up feelings of anger and sadness, guilt, shame, and hurt. This game is especially good at coaxing out feelings that we’ve suppressed, It takes energy, precious Life Energy, that we could be using to create fulfilling relationships, job opportunities, or life dreams, to keep those old feelings stuffed down. When our energy is being unconsciously drawn away to feed our limiting beliefs and unhealed dramas, we have little left for creating what we really want in our lives.

Free up your energy now! Play Satori!

Find out how, here.
Satori Board Game

Gratitude Celebration 17: Teachers

Today, I’m reflecting on my elementary school teachers in my 60 days of Gratitude to celebrate my 60th birthday.  Each of these women brought certain qualities that help shape and form my journey as a spiritual being having a human experience.  There was Sister Joanna Mary in first grade who I just remember as being very kind. She encouraged me to use a box to support my feet at my desk.  I was so short that my feet would not touch the floor when I sat on the seat.  I always sat in the first or second desk in the row.  I remember making a page with “what I wanted to be when I grow up”.  I want to be a teacher so I can teach others about God.”

My job, I believed, was to do whatever my teacher said. It wasn’t about being the best of all my classmates. That hierarchy was well-established even by second grade. Marty O’Connell, John Spinnato, and Frances Waldron were always the smartest. I was second or third, but not highest. It didn’t bother me, either. I was just not first, or best, or smartest. But, that’s another story!

Miss Eilerman was my second grade teacher. She was nice too. And she was beautiful. What I remember mainly about second grade was doing Math Facts races. It was thrilling to tie with Marty or John or Cindy or Tom. It was a thrill to feel the energy of getting those answers and stepping forward to the next desk. Sometimes, we would go pretty fast, saying the answers so quickly we were almost running up the row, breathless when we reached Miss Eilerman at the front.

Third grade brought self-consciousness and some doubts about my worthiness. That year, I was excited to get a seat at the back of the classroom.  I am grateful to Sister Francis Damien for alerting my mom that I had to walk all the way to the front of the classroom to clearly read what was written on the board. A week later, I came to class with glasses on. I could see the board, but I also saw myself as ugly.

Sister Francis Damien didn’t see my ugliness. She saw my eagerness to master whatever she taught, just exactly how she taught it. That’s why she chose me to be the first to learn the act she wanted to enter into the school’s variety show. I was surprised one Saturday to get a call from my teacher requesting me to come see her at the classroom! Whew! I wasn’t in trouble, I was happy to know. She needed my help! (Helping a teacher was my biggest honor of all!!!). What she wanted me to do was learn a ball-bouncing routine she had set to a short classical tune. I can still hum and bounce it to this day. I’m grateful that she picked me to demonstrate it to my class.

Fourth grade brought Miss Schmidt and my growing awareness that not everyone wanted to please the teacher. Miss Schmidt did her best to manage her students, and I tried my best to never get into trouble.  I have to hand it to her for sticking with teaching for a long time. To my surprise, she turned up again about 15 years later! This time, she was bringing her class, from a different school now, to the outdoor education center I was directing. She was still the same edgy and somewhat frazzled disciplinarian whom students tormented, but I could support her from my own place of authority not as a powerless classmate.

Mrs. Clark, my fifth grade teacher, somehow encouraged  me to be a leader.  I was elected class president by my classmates that year, although I can’t remember doing anything presidential.  I do recall heading up a committee to make and deliver a baby bib to her house when she left to have a baby. When she left, she gave each of us a card. Mine said, “To Regina: Always remember your qualities of true leadership.”

Sixth grade saw Sister Ann Stephen and Miss George taking the lead. Sister Ann Stephen chose me to make a May crown for the Virgin Mary statue in our classroom. I made it with shiny silver cardboard, sparkling with a single blue rhinestone jewel.  I sure was pleased to have made that crown!

What stands out about Miss George is that she always dressed impeccably, which was very noticeable to me since I wore the same uniform every day. She sure had a lot of outfits! The other thing I remember about her was that she changed her name. At the beginning of the year, she was “Mrs. O’Connell.” One day, she told us that from that day on, we would call her, “Miss George”.  I don’t remember how I found out, but there was something about her marriage being “anulled”, which meant it was like she had never been married. Well, that always baffled me and I wondered what could have happened to Mr. O’Connell, but I knew it wasn’t my business to ask! I just learned to call her by her new name and continued to like her just the same. Now, as a divorcee myself, I can look back and honor her for making her own choice at a time when divorce was not supported by the Catholic Church. And, I can thank her for being a model of self-love and integrity in my life.

Seventh grade brought Sister Marie Patrice into my life! What Miss Schmidt lacked in swift and uncertain control of unruly students, Sister Marie Patrice possessed as super-powers! We knew to tow a taut, straight line with her and behave with strict discipline. I credit her, as well, with the possible onset of a limiting belief that I’m still transforming!

That year, we studied American History. She had assigned us a project to build something that showed American industry. I came to class on the day it was due beaming from ear to ear and feeling radiantly proud of what I had to show. The weeks leading up to that day had been some of the happiest in my life because every evening I got to work with my dad in his workshop building a model of a waterwheel.  It was about a foot tall, fashioned with plywood, and stained the same deep brown as our house. The wheel had been meticulously fashioned with two pieces of wood and metal fins inserted into narrow slits. I had learned how to use his tools and put together a neat little building. And the best part, that I demonstrated with a flourish of drama, is that this waterwheel worked!  My dad had supplied a tiny recirculating pump that we hid inside. It whirred quietly while my classmates sat mesmerized as the water cascaded over the wheel, filled the fins, then turned the wheel!  Sister Marie Patrice, however, sat with a stone face. She said, “I’m giving you a ‘B’, Regina. You obviously did not do that yourself. Someone else must have done your project.”

I was crestfallen. My delight was crushed. At that moment, I said to myself, “I guess getting help to make something really awesome is a bad thing to do. I should do everything myself, even if it means making things that are inferior. It’s better to make crummy things myself than to make spectacular things with help.”

It’s only recently that asking for help is getting easier for me. I have Sister Marie Patrice to thank for introducing that “I have to do everything on my own” belief and for giving me something to transform!

I honestly cannot remember my eighth grade teachers! I think that by that time I was more focused on interacting with my classmates and enduring the turmoils of puberty than on forming lasting impressions of my teachers. Peer relationships brought me a whole new chapter of incidents to build my lexicon of Victim Stories and Limiting Beliefs, which I will share in my next posts.

Each teacher brought her own energy.

Each teacher brought her own energy.





Gratitude Celebration 16: It’s a Human Experience!

She was steadfast and gently authoritarian, and I enjoyed her half-day kindergarten, my first foray from home. That was my teacher, Mrs. Wilson.   I walked to the school  by myself every day. I am very grateful that my neighborhood was safe for a five-year-old to walk 6 blocks to school every day. It’s interesting that I don’t have any recollection of meeting other kids for walking, or even making friends with anyone except Charlotte. Was her full name Charlotte Adams? That’s what pops into my head.

Anyway, I remember Mrs. Wilson singing to us while she played piano during nap time. I remember tables where we worked and sitting in a circle. I remember standing in a line as we exited the classroom. And I remember having to stay after school one day. That’s my most salient memory of Mrs. Wilson and kindergarten – having to stay after class.  My stomach knots up when I recall that moment, when Mrs. Wilson said, “OK class. It’s time to stop playing and get your things ready to go home. I was so enrapt in my imagination in the play kitchen that I ignored her. I wasn’t finished yet! She had to call me again, and this time she meted out a serious consequence for my slow response. “Regina, you’ll have to stay after school today because you didn’t stop playing when I called.”

I was so ashamed because I always wanted to do what Mrs. Wilson, or any adult, told me to do right away! I have always wondered why that incident stands out so vividly in my memory.  As I look at it now, I see that the principle of “Story” and the origins of our limiting beliefs could provide some insight. When Mrs. Wilson, someone who I thought loved and approved of me unconditionally, scolded me, I was shaken from my idyllic world of unity and love. It may not seem like a very traumatic incident, and yet it lurched me from my heavenly world. In that instant, I felt separate and alone. My creative imagination was stifled. My sense of self-perfection was shattered.

In Radical Forgiveness, Making Room for the Miracle, Colin Tipping talks about how our Victim Stories and limiting beliefs begin with incidents like this, where something happens that we don’t understand and then we do our best to interpret what it means. As children, we make it mean something about ourselves!  I made something up about myself and my creativity that day, and Mrs. Wilson helped me have that experience. Here are some of the limiting beliefs I may have made up that day:

  • “I’m bad and disobedient and don’t deserve love.”
  • “There’s never enough time to be creative”
  • “I’m not lovable just the way I am.”
  • “I get in trouble if I get carried away in my creative self-expression.”

 Am I making a mountain out of a molehill here? I don’t think so. From the view that “we are spiritual beings having a human experience” and that human experience is one of having  physical experiences of limitations with time and space, this would have been just one of many realizations that living in a physical body was a lot less free than being in the Spirit World where no such limitations exist! My five-year old interpretation of that simple incident was dramatic!

So where’s the gratitude? It’s in acknowledging Mrs. Wilson as being someone who gave me an experience of separation from Oneness, a gentle reminder that I was now living in physical form where there were parameters of time and space and authority.  I could not have thanked her then, because I was unconscious to this way of looking at the world, but from where I sit now, awakened to the possibility that I can choose peace about my past because even small incidents had a spiritual purpose, I can thank Mrs. Wilson.

What do you think? Do you have an incident that sparked a limiting belief or view that formed a foundation for how you have viewed the world? Please share it in the comments!


Gratitude Celebration 15: Surrender to Spirit

Gratitude Celebration 15: Surrender to Spirit

My youngest brother, Paul, was so cute. He gave me the excitement of having a child without the responsibility. My mom was pregnant with her tenth child when I was a high school biology student. As my luck would have it, our unit of study was Human Reproduction.  “How fascinating!” I thought. “I can study my mom while she’s pregnant.”  When Paul was a toddler, my photographer friend thought Paul, with his angelic blond curly hair, a perfect subject for black-and-white photo practice. I often volunteered to babysit my little brother so my friends and I could play with him!

I soon moved away from home to go to college, so I didn’t see him much after that. Sometimes I would receive mail from home that contained nothing but a crayon drawing. “Oh, this is from my brother, Paul!” I concluded, guessing that my mom didn’t have time to write to me, but still wanted me to get mail.

After I graduated, I worked at Woodland Altars Outdoor Education Center. I recruited Paul’s school and they came with a small group during a slow time for us in the winter. Paul’s fascination with birds was a welcome treat for all of the naturalists. He would see them all!  To this day, I always think of bracket fungi by the name Paul called them: Bird Tables.

My rare meetings with Paul after that have now become precious moments, and my distant relationship with him is now something I regret. Paul, the youngest of my nine siblings has now offered me the most challenging opportunity for gratitude of all. His choice to end his physical life when he was just 43 is now facing me with the biggest challenge for my openness to Radical Forgiveness. To be willing to be open to the possibility that even this happened for a reason, a spiritual reason, gives me the chance to “Use the tools!” as I have been encouraged by my teacher, Colin Tipping.

So, how do I go about applying the principles of Radical Forgiveness to this situation? The first step, as with any situation, is to “Tell the Story”. My “story” about my brother Paul is that I didn’t foster a relationship with him for the past 20 years, and even avoided him sometimes, believing that he wasn’t interested in me or my views of life.  The last time I talked with him was at my nephew’s wedding. I had heard just hours before that he and his wife were under police orders to stay away from each other. That had come as a total surprise to me! I had no idea that they were having such a hard time. I wanted to reach out to him now, but felt awkward and didn’t know what to say. I myself had come to that family gathering feeling a little shy about sharing my own drama of getting divorced. In fact, it was while chatting with Paul that I received the email from my attorney that said, “Your divorce was finalized on April 9.” That was literally the moment that I first got the news.  “How ironic,” I thought. “Here I thought that my divorce was a big deal, but that pales to the drama that’s unfolding for my brother.” I didn’t know then that I wouldn’t get another chance to talk with him, to support him, to be there for him like I hadn’t been before.

OK. That’s Stage One.

Next is to Feel the Feelings.

Well, that’s not hard! Sadness. Shame. Guilt. And anger, huge anger, at the other people involved who could have done something! THEY could have made his life better. There are no limits to the feelings in this story!!!

Stage Three. Diffuse the Energy of the Story.

OK, this is the Radical part, where I just have willingness, even just the tiniest, smallest bit of willingness to be open to the possibility that there was some sort of Divine Plan at play in this situation. I don’t have to know what that Plan is, or understand it, agree with it, or know why this had to happen this way. Well, I admit that I can allow that, even though the amount of willingness is infinitesimally small.

Stage Four. Reframe the Story from a Spiritual Viewpoint.

For this stage, the idea is to just make something up, since it’s impossible for me to KNOW God’s plan for this. This time, I think I’ll just say something vague like, “I don’t have any idea what God and Paul worked out for this to happen, but I’m open to the possibility that somehow it was Paul’s spiritual plan to live and die this way.  It’s giving a whole lot of people the chance to have some intense and deep feelings, that’s for sure! It’s a wake-up call for me to pay attention to my family and not make assumptions about how others are doing.  So, even though I don’t know what, why, or how this can be part of a Divine Plan, I’m open just a little bit, that there was a Divine Purpose, ‘cause there sure doesn’t seem to be a Human Purpose, being fulfilled by my brother’s early death.”

And finally, Stage Five. Integrate the Shift in Energy.

Surprisingly enough, I do feel a tiny bit lighter having written all this. I can write and share this, which is   integration at one level.  It’s a stretch for me to make sense of it from a human perspective, but the more I surrender to the mystery of Divine Purpose and open to the reality of our Spiritual lives superceding our physical ones, I can surrender to the idea that my brother, Paul, is alive in his Spiritual beingness.

So, where does the Gratitude begin? If Paul’s life has been an inspiration for me to surrender to God/Spirit as the ultimate purpose for my life, then Paul leading the way, choosing to leave his human form rather than continue on the path he was on, has been a powerful way to wrench me into accepting it. I can be grateful that his choice was an intense reminder to take care of my relationships and never miss a chance to reach out to others. I can be grateful that he’s giving me the chance to foster a new, Spiritual relationship with him, too. I hear bird songs more these days. I keep imagining that Paul has been sending me the birds to give voice to his spirit and remind me that God is present right here, right now.

Are you open to the idea that there’s a Spiritual Purpose in everything? Do you need words that explain this way of looking at the Soul’s Journey, our path from Spirit to Humanity and back to Spirit again? And would you like the script and worksheet for the five stages of a Radical Forgiveness process? It’s all in Colin Tipping’s book, Radical Forgiveness, Making Room for the Miracle.  Click the link below to visit the Radical Forgiveness Store and get your own copy! Then, join me in “Using the Tools” to find peace in your own upsetting situations, especially the ones that really don’t make sense from a Human perspective. Forgiveness











Gratitude Celebration 14: Rescue Me!


Betsy brought us to the trailhead of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail

My sister Betsy rescued me several times in my life! The last time was as recent as 6 months ago! I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude for people in my life, and today I’m celebrating Betsy’s “life”-saving deeds.

“I’ll be there in an hour.” Betsy said without hesitation, when I called her from the lodge at Seven Springs Ski Resort. My hiking partner, John, and I had been stumped, faced with an obstacle we were resigned to ending our week-long hike. On our fifth day of winter hiking in Pennsylvania, we stopped dead in our tracks when the trail opened up onto a ski slope teeming with skiers. It was the first snowy Sunday of 2013 and thousands of people had hit the slopes! We were not aware until that moment that the trail literally followed the ski slope for half a mile to the top of the mountain. It was early afternoon and we still had nine miles to go after surmounting the ski slope to reach our required destination. I was not willing to walk up the ski slope and there was not enough time in the day to arrange a ride up the lift to the top of the mountain. We had chosen to call it quits on the trip and see if Betsy would pick us up and shuttle us to our car, thirty miles down the trail.

She came right away! “Where do you want to go? I’ll take you anywhere – to your car, to another place on the trail, wherever you want to go!”  John realized that there was a parking lot just a half mile from our original destination for the night. “How about if she took us there?!” he suggested. Done! We didn’t have to abort our trip after all. Betsy’s shuttle put us back on track for completing our walk, and the next two days out in the picturesque snow seemed like a precious gift!

Betsy also rescued me when I abruptly left another adventure in Pennsylvania. I had been working at a church camp with my three children in tow. I had just gotten fired for nursing my four-year old son in view of the teenaged campers. I only had myself to blame because I had disobeyed the directors’ order to nurse only in private by sneaking into the back of the assembly hoping no one would see me. I needed help leaving quickly because I had too much stuff to move away in one carload. My job had been to set up the nature study program, so I had shipped equipment and supplies ahead before the season started. I called Betsy, who said, “Sure. I’ll be there tomorrow morning with the truck. You can come to our place and get everything sorted out.” Done!

It was Betsy who I felt worthy to admit that I would be getting a divorce. She said, “I’m sorry that’s happening. How can I help?” She didn’t say all the things that I had thought my siblings would say.

So, thanks, Betsy, for being the one to get me out of those jams, with compassion, swiftness, and creativity!  I hope I can rescue you sometime when you need it!

Gratitude Celebration 13: Humor and Boundaries

Boundaries give us the space to take our time. Today, in my thirteenth post in my 60 days of gratitude for people in my life, I celebrate my brother, Jim.

Jim is my brother who is eight years younger than I.  Jim played a big role in a pivotal time in my walk of the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia. He lives within a few hours of the spot where I needed to get off the trail to take a week off for completing my training as a Radical Forgiveness Coach. He and his wife, Katherine took a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, picked me up, and took me to the Richmond, VA airport. A week later, they brought me back, along with my husband, who was planning to hike with me for three weeks.

Other than that, I don’t have have many memories of doing things with my brother Jim!  What stands out is trying to get him to go to bed when I was supposed to be babysitting him as a teenager. I would take him upstairs, then hurry downstairs to watch TV, because that was the special privilege that I had when my parents were out. Well, of course Jim would have none of that and sneaked back down the stairs. I would hear something and go find him sitting at the bottom of the stairs. “Come on, Jimmy!  Just go to bed! That’s all you have to do, just go to bed!”  I laugh now at how ineffective I was as my brother’s persuader!

And it continues to this day! I can’t hold a candle to Jim’s arguments. He can always win with words, in my opinion.  And he is a master of wit, sarcasm, and word play. That used to bother me, but I now see it as Jim’s gift to me. Jim models the art of setting boundaries for sharing what’s close to one’s heart.

Jim said it best himself. “I prefer to keep my deeper feelings close so as not to have someone’s “big shoes” crush them like  a beer can.” That’s a reference to our dad who was the one with the “big shoes” – his heavy Vasque hiking boots that he wore all the time and he would threaten to step on toys that were left on the floor.

I can relate to what Jim says. I kept my feelings close as a child and young adult, except that I called it “not letting them get my goat.” That meant don’t let anyone see that I’m holding back my feelings and the words that I wanted to vent. I was told, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

In the fall of 2006, a door into a different way of regarding my feelings was flung wide open for me as I participated in Colin Tipping’s  “Miracles Workshop.” We were instructed to vent our feelings, really dramatically!  This was not to dwell on the words or their meaning, or even to validate what we were saying  – or yelling, or crying. What he was coaching us to experience is that feelings are actually energy that’s been stuffed down in our physical body.

All that stuck energy is what could be available for relating with others, or creating something purposeful and expressive, or for healing physical conditions, or dancing or hiking or any number of things we could be doing.  Instead, we’re focused on not saying things, or believing certain thoughts, or paying attention to a certain behavior or playing it safe.

This was a new idea for me, and frankly it frightened me terribly to be in that workshop room when others were expressing pent up anger and sadness and fear. It took all I had to not run out. But, when I finally allowed myself, in that safe and reverent space for feeling our feelings, to move that energy, it felt really good!  I did feel a lot lighter, and even a little morefree of the fear of having those feelings. Actually feeling the feelings instead of holding them down any more, like trying to hold a beach ball under water, opened a gateway to freedom.

Since that workshop, I’ve practiced feeling my feelings, especially in using other tools that Colin Tipping teaches in Radical Forgiveness, Making Room for the Miracle. I especially like how feelings are regarded in the board game, Satori. One of the squares players land on is “Blame Game” where you get to vent and have everyone else say, “You tell ‘em!”

What Jim showed me is that it’s ok for me to feel my feelings, but I don’t have to insist that others do the same. It will happen when the time is right for them.

If it’s the right time for you to open the gateway to freedom and power by releasing your stuck feelings, the best way I know to do this is by playing a game! That’s the board game, Satori, invented by Debbie Unterman and Deanna Hohnhorst at the request of Colin Tipping. It’s akin to a metaphysical Candyland where you journey on a path from Victimland to Awakening, transforming an old story of disempowerment to a new story of freedom, choice, and power. Come see how it’s played!


Gratitude Celebration 12: Generosity and Persistence

Generosity and persistence are my brother, Tom’s, virtues for which I am thankful. I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude for people in my life. Enjoy! Please comment with your own stories, and feel free to read previous and subsequent essays.

Today’s gratitude goes to my brother Tom for his generosity and persistence. What I’ve noticed about Tom is that he insists on making sure that people have what they need. He goes out of his way to help people. He did that for me when I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. My trip started close to San Diego where he lives. Tom, and his wife, Mary, invited me and my hiking partner to stay at their house for our last few days of preparation. Tom opened his workshop to create a special mailing tube to send our food canister when we needed it.

He drove us to Lake Moreno for the ADZPCTKO, which is the abbreviation for Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off, the 4-day camping gathering for PCT hikers. His support didn’t end there, either! He went out of his way at least four other times to support us on our long journey.

Tom and Mary came all the way from San Diego to Kennedy Meadows to bring us our change of gear as we left the desert and entered the Sierra Nevada Mountains. For me, it was the closest we could come to “going home” while still being on the trail. They brought the comforts of a resupply at home out to us in the wild – our gear, sumptuous and ample food, and family.

There were other times that I remember Tom being a generous provider.  During the family’s visit to Idaho for our niece, Naomi’s, memorial, Tom coordinated and supplied a meal for all of us.

He traveled to Ohio to build a 25-ft ramp for my dad to get out into the back yard during his long degeneration.

And he gave my son, David a leg up by hosting him and giving him a job in his own construction company for three months. It was hard work for David and gave him a taste for figuring out what to do in his own life. It meant other things to him as well. When I oicjed him up at the train station at the end of his journey he said, “Well, I’m not afraid of life anymore and I appreciate my parents”. That was a pretty insightful statement from a twenty-year-old

I believe his passion for helping the underdog had early roots as well. I may have this wrong, but wasn’t it Tom who secretly harbored a neighborhood waif, Papine, in our laundry room closet?

I love seeing pictures of Tom’s current recipient of his compassion and generosity. That’s his grandson, who he pampers and enjoys as only a grandpa can!

Thanks, Tom, for your generosity and compassion. You made my walk through California comfortable and safe!