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Inspiration | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother
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A New Year’s Carol

How do you think Scrooge celebrated the new year after his Christmas carol?

This New Year’s Eve, as I celebrate my own second chance at life, I realized while wishing strangers in a parking lot “happy new year” that in many ways my perspective resembles Ebeneezer Scrooge’s on Christmas morning. Often, I catch myself realizing I got another year to enjoy with those I love, and it makes me so happy I can dance where I stand.

God has put me on a different path this year, and I feel compelled every single day to find ways to reach out to those around me to make them realize they are valued.

A few years ago, on New Year’s Day, my resolution was to try to see the face of Jesus in those I met each day. This year, it’s different. My resolution is to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus to reach out to those around me.

Mother Theresa once said she was God’s pencil. So my job this year is to serve as God’s pencil, to draw a picture of hope every single day for those the Lord puts in my path.

I already see Him doing that – He is bringing me even briefly into people’s lives. The most important thing I can give them is hope and affirmation.

There are and will be stumbling blocks along the way. One is my sharp temper. I can lose patience easily and forget that mission. Another is impatience when I make mistakes and then want to dwell on them such that I can’t serve as a light for others.

And finally, I will be challenged not to get distracted or discouraged by other people. There will always be unhappy people who don’t want to be made happy – I can’t let their bad moods infect my own. In addition, especially after my heart attack, there will be some people who encourage me to stop doing things I love because I need to “take it easy and rest.” Yes, I do need to rest. But the point of surviving an illness isn’t to stop living.  It’s to do what I can do and love every moment of it.

Another point has been to analyze my life, look at things I don’t enjoy doing and deciding whether it’s worth continuing them. Life is too short to share parts of myself where they aren’t appreciated or where I’m unhappy. I’ve learned that when someone tries to put Mary in the corner, I can just leave the room and let my light shine elsewhere.

So with a renewed heart and zest for life, I think of the conclusion of A Christmas Carol,

“it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

Let’s keep the New Year well together!

I Will Survive

Today’s the one year anniversary of surviving my heart attack.

It’s not like it’s a day when you go out for a big dinner to celebrate something.

My daughter begins college finals today. Last year, on the Sunday afternoon before her first college finals, I had my heart attack. So as she studied that evening, and I was being rapidly prepped for emergency surgery, I got to make one of those phone calls:

I love you. I will be fine. Don’t let this distract you from your studies, and don’t ever let me hold you back. Go for it and do your best.

Even if she had wanted to come in, it would have been a five hour drive round trip. So she studied, we all prayed, I survived, and she aced her finals the next morning.

So this year, on the Sunday before finals, she texted me that no heart attacks are allowed.

What strikes me most this year and this holiday season is how unhappy people are.  When I walk through public places – grocery stores, airports, or wherever, I see lots of people who look like they need to take an ex-law or they are as worried as the drones working in the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter.

I just want to shake them up and tell them to seize these moments and find joy wherever possible.

So in that vein – I have survived another year. So have you. So let’s celebrate!

We will survive!

 

Singing a New Song

Yesterday, I was again reminded that one season’s ending is another’s beginning. Sometimes a season ends before we are willing to let it go. When we finally let go of the past, new opportunities will present themselves. The song “Turn to Me” reminded me of that yesterday.

Letting go can be hard. I can get so drawn into the mission of a non-profit that I put its well-being ahead of my own and that of my family. One of my passions is to walk into a nonprofit in crisis and find ways to resolve the crisis so it can continue to meet its mission. The problem is I can get so sucked into the problem solving that I neglect myself and my family.  I’m an all or nothing kind of person, and I don’t do halfway with anything I start. So I can add, and add, and add to my plate until it is too full and I break.

My heart attack a year ago tomorrow was a wake up call. I decided the best way to lower my stress was to stop adding new things, and I changed my management style. It’s more vision-oriented than in years past. I cut some small things from my plate and tried to keep going where I thought I was needed the most.

I was too stubborn to let go of a position I held with a nonprofit as their president. They needed me.

I tried to keep helping at the same level I had in years past. But it was no longer fun. In addition to the pressures of keeping fundraisers going, I felt pressure not to get upset and stressed. I ignored many signs to stop. I tried to keep going, convinced I could make it work. They needed me.

The problem is others who loved me were concerned about the impact and worked twice as hard to not only pick up my slack, but they worked to shield me from stressers that might upset me.

This week, the scales fell from my eyes. When I realized how much they were protecting me, I knew I had to go. A good manager needs to know the good, the bad, and the ugly of an organization in order to make the best decisions. I knew I needed to quit but hated to do it.

As I struggled, with tears rolling, my family intervened. I told my husband I would give it a few days to see if there were another way out. He told me it was time to go and stop delaying the decision. Then my kids told me it was time to quit. I was astounded – I took this position years ago to help their organization.

But one is now in college, and the other graduates from high school in the spring. They told me I would be happier without it.  I realized they needed me, and they needed me to be happy. They wanted me to focus on my new job that I love, full of new challenges.

It seems everyone else saw this season was coming to an end, but I stubbornly clung to it, convinced I could keep going.

Finally, Friday I quit, effective immediately. In the hours after the resignation, I felt a slow and growing peace. This was the right decision.

Yesterday was the morning after the resignation. I saw pieces falling into place this past year. More than one friend has told me this year that when you remove something that doesn’t quite fit any more from your plate, something better replaces it. In cardiac rehab, I had been told to remove stresses from my life.

After the resignation, friends cautioned me not to rush to add something new to my plate. They told me God has different plans for me, and I needed to sit back for Him to show me where I go now.

So we went to Mass last night. For years, I had cantored but I quit because I wanted to sit in Mass with my children. I love singing in Church. After my heart attack, I had been afraid to begin cantoring again. What if I had chest pains in the middle of a service? What if something stressed me? I was afraid to add to my plate, so I resolved if and when God wanted me to sing in Mass again, someone would ask me.

Last night, as we walked in to the service, I realized we had an organist and no cantor. The organist came to me, asking for my help. Of course, I said yes. There was no time to warm up or rehearse. Within 3 minutes of my saying yes, the service began. As the music began, I could feel the Holy Spirit flowing through me from the tips of my toes to the hairs on my head.

There were a few Bridget Jones moments – but I like singing by the seat of my pants. I couldn’t find music for the Alleluia when it began and started off faking it, realizing just before it was time for me to sing the solo part that my music was turned upside down on the music stand, and I did have it. When I sang a couple of songs, I got lost briefly as I hit a repeat and had to scramble to find in the music where it repeated to. Every moment was thrilling.

I was happy and had fun. It was my voice singing, but God was guiding me at every step. As I sang “Turn to Me,” I realized once again that that was what I was called to do. Turn to God.

After the service, I told my husband that I felt that God was telling me that He had new plans for me. Once I let go of the old song, He gave me a new one. My husband said he had the exact same feeling at the same time.

So I don’t know what songs I will sing or where I will sing them next. God only knows.

Life is always easier when I sing the song He presents before me.

Happy New Year – Advent Style

Our homily in Church began this morning with the priest saying, “Happy New Year!” Today is the beginning of the new liturgical year, the first Sunday of Advent.

As he talked about time passing, I saw living examples of his message throughout the congregation. My husband and I were there with our daughter before she returned to school on Christmas break, while our son was out of town.  We’re on the cusp of an empty nest.

This Advent is very special to me because last year, on the second Sunday of Advent, I missed Mass because I got sick, had a heart attack, and was then lying on an operating table during an emergency procedure to put in a stent and clear a blocked artery. When they started the procedure and went into my artery, I flinched. The cardiologist told me, “If you move like that again, you will die.”  So I didn’t move. At one point during the procedure, I knew something wasn’t going well but didn’t know what. They told me to cough, and those in the room seemed to relax. They later told me that the tension I sensed was because my heart rate dropped dramatically.

I didn’t know if I would live till Christmas, let alone for another year.

I was struck during the homily that having that heart attack was one of the best things that had happened to me in years. It reminded me of the miracle of life and to savor every moment, even the bad ones.

Life is beautiful, even when it is dirty, painful, and messy. We are all in our own chapters of our stories, and stories always include struggles. As I looked through the congregation, I saw families each in their own stories.

  • There was the young couple with the wife who was sick and her husband, who silently helped her stand when she needed help and helped her with medication.
  • There was the little boy with his parents, playing with a rosary and pretending it was a lasso.
  • There were the teen-aged siblings who teased each other during parts of the Mass, enjoying and irritating each other as only siblings can do.
  • There was the family preparing to move, to venture to a new home.
  • There was the older couple who go to Mass every day and are utterly devoted to each other.
  • There was the couple who helped their mother as she continues her determined walk with a walker.

Some of these stories have similar chapters in my own book. Others are unique.

Whatever the chapter, I realized we have all been given a gift today…a gift of life.

When I hear Christmas carols this year, they sound more precious because each is a celebration. I’m still here. You’re still here. We’re here together. And I want to make the most of it.

So if you see me singing in my car, or if you see me standing in line at a convenience store while the store pipes in Christmas carols, don’t pause if I start to dance a little jig in my place in line or start singing the carol.

I’m happy to be here. The songs I sing are part of my victory dance with life because I got another year with the people I love the most.

Happy new year. Let’s make the most of it.

 

I Dream a Dream of Life Gone Right

There was a time a man was once unkind,

His stories soft, his voice was lying.

There was a time when a child was crying,

He left her world a broken pile.

At that one time,

It had all gone wrong….

 

I dream a dream of life gone right.

Of second chances, new hope in trying.

I’ve lived a dream of life gone right.

Freed from past sorrow through forgiving.

When I was young and most afraid,

I never dreamed beyond tomorrow.

 

Then a quiet man came into my life.

His manner soft, quiet, and tender.

As he built my hope and taught

Me how to rise and stand.

 

He spent a lifetime at my side.

He filled my days with fun adventure,

He’s raised our children by my side,

He stayed there when the fires came.

 

I live a dream he’s here with me,

We live these years together,

Thank God I’ve been set free,

Whatever the storm I know we’ll weather.

I never dreamed my life could be,

So different from the hell I once lived in,

So different now from what it had been.

 

Now life has surpassed the dreams in me.

Baby Can Walk Out of the Corner

The reason the movie “Dirty Dancing” resounds with many people is the single line, “Nobody puts baby in the corner.”

It echoes with many women who feel they have and are put into a corner where they have ideas and values, they say what they think, but they are never noticed. Their ideas are ignored. They feel unheard and invisible.

Good news.

Baby’s not chained in that corner. She doesn’t have to wait until some guy calls her out to leave the corner.

Instead, she can walk out of the corner and find another table where she is heard. There are places in this world where your ideas matter and people actually listen to you because they want to hear what you have to say.

Don’t fall into the trap that what you say or think doesn’t matter. It does.

When you find a table where people do listen, remarkable things happen. You feel better about yourself and discover that when your ideas are taken into account, good things happen sometimes. Maybe not all the time.

But that’s because it takes practice.

The most important thing is to resolve not to waste your time or your life in the corner mute and invisible.

Instead find a table where you have a seat and are a valued part of the conversation.

Why The Arts, Museums, and Culture Matter

Our museums, arts, and cultural events play a vitally important role in our society which is easily forgotten.

In a world where bad news seems that which is most likely to be repeated, we need the arts.

We need to visit the events and places that remind us of our history, our culture, and our creative instinct.

During World War II, Blessed Pope John Paul II worked with an underground theatre group to preserve and share Polish culture and theatre. He recognized that the best offense we often have in fighting evil is to share our stories so we preserve the memories of who and what the best of us are.

Museums have always been places of refuge for me. They probably matter more to me than most because I have seen the worst of humanity and lived in the face of evil. With that knowledge, I know just how important it is for us to always work to preserve beauty.

We must keep the best of our arts and culture present in our thoughts and minds to remind ourselves to aim higher, to tell our stories, to sing our songs, and to always seek ways to enrich the lives of others.

Every museum, concert, and cultural event is an opportunity for us to be inspired by others so we can aspire to be better ourselves.

The key that they share is a reminder of hope, as oases for the soul. Our hope in ourselves, in each other, and for the future.

 

A Tech Club Team Tribute

Today, I want to say a big thanks to the team that has helped build our 4-H Tech Club the past 6 years. Sometimes, there are teams that learn to work together so well that they remind us of the ways families should be. I see that with Tech Club. The parts working together are greater than the individuals would be working on their own, and good things happen.

Six years ago, I came up with one of the scariest phrases my own family ever hears, “I have this vision.”

It all happened because I wanted to create some new opportunities for my kids. My son had joined a robotics team and had competed in some local contests. When I learned that 4-H programs in other areas had robotics contests, I wanted to try it locally. Part of my reasoning was that a robotics contest can take from 15 to 40 hours of preparation time. If our county approved a robotics project, then my son’s achievement record, in his robotics project, could note the hours he spent in other robotics competitions.

Other areas had formed 4-H clubs that focused entirely around robotics. I considered organizing one, but thought that didn’t fit what I thought our county needed. One morning, I “saw the light.” Thomas Edison may have developed the light bulb, but he invented a lot more than that. He always worked to find ways to improve technology. We could start a 4-H club that focused its programming around technology and many science areas: computers, electricity, aerospace, robotics, and more.

One problem: I don’t have a science background. All I was was a mom with a vision and a desire to create new opportunities for her children. As I talked to our extension office and 4-H friends about my vision, I knew I would need a lot of help. But I felt in my heart that this was a vocation, a calling, and something I was supposed to do for reasons that would fit into a picture bigger than mine. I also needed to find another club leader in order to charter a new club.

A friend of mine introduced me to Josh, a young web designer. At our first meeting, I shared my vision and told him my science limitations. But I assured him, “If we can find people to help with the science part, I can organize our way out of a paper bag.” He agreed to help and began the process to become a 4-H leader. Once he was approved, we began to organize our club.

The members put their own stamp on the club. I had planned to call it the Technology Club, but when our bylaws were adopted, the members voted to call it the Tech Club instead. Little did I realize at that first meeting the great things that can happen when dedicated people work together.  At the second meeting, members asked if they could tear apart computers and put them back together. So that’s what we did at our club’s third meeting.

Six years later, our club has about 25 members per meeting. Some of our parents are or have become 4-H leaders – Dana, Brooksie, and Karen. Sometimes families have been key to the club and have had to move away – they are missed but still made an indelible mark on the club’s spirit, especially Mark and his family. They share their expertise to help improve the club. The kids and the families work hard to make things work well. After surgery two years ago and since my recent heart attack, they stepped up to keep the club going during my illness and recovery.

Four weeks ago, we were offered our largest honor and challenge to date. We were invited to give a presentation at the Indiana 4-H Foundation’s annual meeting in Indianapolis, one of 4 clubs throughout the state chosen to participate in a science showcase. Members of the club will give a computer hardware demonstration, describing how we have done computer tear-down workshops at meetings.

When we were invited, I was still in cardiac rehab and knew the only way this would work was if our team worked together. In those 4 weeks, incredible things happened:

  • Members rehearsed and prepared their presentation, which they will repeat to 4 different groups at the meeting.
  • My son, the one who originally inspired the robotics project and the club, has worked with the other club officers and shared what he has learned about computer hardware for the presentation.
  • Corporate and individual sponsors lined up to sponsor Tech Club to not only cover the trip’s transportation costs but also t-shirts for club members and model rocket purchases for the club for next year.
  • Members, parents, and leaders put the club’s needs ahead of their own desires and needs to help. They have shared their talents.

I don’t know how the final presentations will go. I do know that this team of remarkable players – leaders, members, and parents – have worked together in ways I never dreamed possible six years ago. As they rise to the challenges of this opportunity, I know that the Tech Club is bigger than one mother’s dream and will continue beyond my time.

And for that, all I can do is say thanks.

What Risk Will You Take and How Will You Make It Happen?

Yesterday was the final session in a 24-part public speaking class I taught to a small group of high school students this year.

Last week, during the next-to-last class, we went through each student (8 of them), and their classmates shared what strengths they saw in each other. I told them after the exercise that in those moments when they might doubt their public speaking, to draw upon those affirmations and to build upon their strengths.

This week, after we worked on personal storytelling and leadership stories, we closed the class for the year. First, I explained that public speaking isn’t just something you take as a class and then stop doing. It’s a process of continuous improvement. We constantly analyze and work with what we say and how we said it to improve our next public speaking activity.

So I asked each of them how they wanted to improve their public speaking in the next 6 months and had them write it down. Then, they shared them.

Then I had them all envision it’s 5 years in the future and asked what they will do in their lives that will use the public speaking skills they have developed. They each pondered before writing down a 5 year goal. When they shared these goals, I could see a part of their hearts awakening. I explained to them that if they set a goal, write it down, and share it with others, it’s more likely to happen.

To finish the class, I told them they had what it took to reach those goals. All they needed to do now was to start the process – what strategies can them employ to reach their goals. And I challenged them to find people in their lives that can help them reach that goal, recruit them as accountability partners, and learn from those people.

The steps I worked them through can apply to us all:

  1. Encourage others.
  2. Believe in yourself and your abilities.
  3. Think how you can improve your talents.
  4. Set a goal.
  5. Decide what you need to do to make it happen.

So what’s your goal for 5 years from now? What will you do to make it happen?

Living, Breathing & Loving – Lessons I Learned with a Glass of Water

As I count the days until my time in cardiac rehab ends, it can feel like I’m merely passing time. I generally spend it praying and listening for God to speak to me.

Those who go into cardiac rehab can face a variety of challenges in addition to heart disease – maybe needing a walker, fighting partial paralysis, battling diabetes, or struggling to get healthier while breathing with a single lung. In today’s class, there was a lady with a walker, who worked her hardest to complete her exercises. When she finished the last one, I heard her comment across the room that she was thirsty.

Tired from her exercise, she pushed her walker towards the water cooler, where I was already standing. That’s whenGod decided to speak to me.

“Give her a glass of water. Take it to her.”

“Are you sure? Did you really say that?” I asked Him.

“Get her a glass of water NOW.”

As I gave her the water, I realized this is the most important lesson cardiac rehab taught me. It wasn’t how to change my lifestyle to eat better. It wasn’t how to gauge my exercise so I push myself, but not too hard. He told me what I had just realized.

“Living and breathing. And loving. That’s what matters.”

As I’ve worked through rehab, I’ve seen people get sick in the middle of exercise. Their blood sugar has dropped, or their blood pressure has spiked. They’ve needed immediate care and have gotten it. It’s hammered home how precious our gift of life is.

We need to better treasure our gift of life and appreciate even what a gift it is to breathe. Those breaths sustain us.

Many times, we get so distracted with the details of our lives that we forget to appreciate living and breathing.

The lady took her water and proceeded to class.

I immediately flashed with another image – of the woman at the well. Jesus Christ offered her the gift of water, and I never realized until that moment what a profound gift it was.

He not only reached out to her with water but with love. Love is the greatest of our gifts.  It is not an abstract concept. It is a deliberate choice in how we approach the other people in our lives.

We can do everything in the world right, but if we do everything without love, it’s all wrong.

On the flip side, we can screw up lots of details and make terrible mistakes, but if we truly reach out with love to those around us, it will work.

As I’ve faced my own mortality – and witnessed it in others – I’ve resolved to spend as much time as possible savoring the gifts of living and breathing – and of loving those around us.

Always remember these important gifts…

Living, breathing, and loving.

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