Get Off the Bus this Memorial Day

I was rushing around town yesterday morning, a few days before Memorial Day. And when I say rushing, I mean really rushing, caught up in the unconscious busy-ness of life in a small East Coast town.

Darting through the parking lot I saw a United States veteran handing out poppies outside of Starbucks. I said to myself “No, no, no, no Megan! Do not go get a poppy! You will be late! There is no time for poppies this morning!!” Then I stopped dead in my tracks and remembered what happened on Ajax Mountain during a hungover bus ride to work in Telluride, Colorado during the winter of 1992. With visions of a snow-covered mountain and a bus pulled over to the side of the road, I turned and walked towards the veteran to get a poppy.

I had moved from New Jersey to Telluride for the winter after I graduated from college. Because I was not a skier, (more of a beer drinker and sitter by the fireplace in a nice ski lodge kind of girl) I worked the day shift at a childcare center at a resort while everyone else hit the slopes. This ensured my nights would be free for gallivanting. (I love this word “gallivanting” and want to commit to using it more). And gallivanting in a Colorado ski town when you are 22 is about as good of a gallivanting experience as you may ever get.

One frigid morning, on a bus headed up the mountain to the resort where I worked, the bus driver pulled over on the side of road and suggested that everyone to get off the bus. This immediately set me into a panic because I was already late (due to the previous night’s gallivanting). And I was concerned the bus had broken down. If the bus had broken down, we may have had to hike the rest of the way to the top of the mountain.

I looked around the bus at the other riders and based on their physical condition combined with the backpacks, water bottles and boots it was not going to be as much of a problem for them as it was going to be for me. I had left the house with Birkenstocks and cotton mouth due, again, to the gallivanting the night before.

Everyone got off the bus as if it was a routine stop. No questions asked. No complaining. I stayed put with my head my against the window thinking if I kept my eyes closed maybe the driver wouldn’t see me and I would just take a quick disco nap while the bus hopefully got fixed.

Well, the driver did see me and said, “Are you aware of what’s happening on Ajax Mountain this morning?” When I said “no,” he said, “Well, if I were you, I would get off this bus.” As he turned to walk away, a feeling came over me that I should listen to him.

So, I got my cotton mouth, Birkenstock-wearing ass off the bus and joined the others outside.

Everybody was facing east, so I turned and faced east. Everyone was looking up at Ajax Mountain, so I looked up at Ajax Mountain. When I asked the guy next to me what was happening he said, “They are about to do a controlled blast on Ajax.” (“Controlled blasts” are planned avalanches done for safety and maintenance reasons in ski towns). We sat for about another 20 minutes (I was reminded that I was not in Jersey anymore when there was not one complaint about this) and I then heard the bus driver say, “Brace yourselves, here it comes.”

The reason he said to brace ourselves was because unless you have seen one before, the pure, majestic beauty of an avalanche on a clear Colorado morning could knock you off your feet even though you are miles away from it. This show of unabashed nature was so beautiful, so powerful, so unscripted (even though it was planned) that it made me burst into tears and lean back on the snow bank behind me for support.

I was instantaneously snapped out my hangover and experienced a clearing throughout my aching head and tired body. I felt completely overwhelmed with a deeper understanding of life, the substance below the surface of my boyfriend troubles, concerns about my future and what I was having for lunch that day. I was in awe of something bigger than myself, and the worries that were filling my mind at the time quieted. I was the last one off the bus and the last one back on the bus that morning. We traveled the rest of the ride up the mountain in silence. Seemingly everyone else on the bus was also transformed by what they had just witnessed and didn’t want small talk to interfere with the experience (as small talk often does).

The closer we got to the top, the more anxiety of having to explain to my boss why I was late started to creep in. When I got to work I was fully prepared to explain to her that it WAS NOT MY FAULT! I was going to tell her how I had started out on time (I hadn’t) and it was this crunchy, old bus driver’s fault that had stopped the bus to force me outside to watch an avalanche. I was fully prepared to argue my case and try and get out of whatever my consequence was.

My boss’s response to me that morning, however, gave me a perspective that changed the way I viewed life from that morning forward. When I came through the door and told her what had happened, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Of course the bus stopped. And thank God you were on it. Thank God you got off it and looked east. Isn’t that the whole point of why you are here, Megan? You’re not here to just work and build a resume. You are here to be humbled enough to experience gratitude for the life you have been given. You almost missed it, Meg! Thank God you got off that bus, stood still and looked around. Thank God you were reminded today of beauty and goodness and the power of God.”

Um… I had never had this reaction to being late from a boss, a teacher, or a coach. But she was right. Since that morning, every time I get a gut feeling to get out of my routine and do something that will promote growth, I do it. Even though it doesn’t seem to make sense. The most powerful experiences of my life have not made any logical sense. So from that day forward I knew to look for situations that help me get off the bus.

Be Still. Turn and be humbled.

Get off the bus. Be still. Turn and be humbled.

Her words rang in my ears yesterday morning outside of Starbucks. It seems, in that moment I may have been missing the point of why I am here, or more importantly how I got here. When I skip supporting the veterans because “I don’t have enough time” then I am absolutely missing how I came to have this busy, full life in the first place.

I almost missed the tradition, and purpose, that lives beyond the surface of things in our free nation, just as I almost missed the avalanche if I had stayed on that bus. Spending time with our veterans helps me to be still. It helps me to grow and to see more clearly. Supporting our veterans snaps me out of busy-ness and distraction the same way that avalanche snapped me out of my hangover and tiredness.

More times than not, our generation cannot seem to collectively pull ourselves away from the gym, our kids’ practices, school activities, appointments, or sometimes even a manicure to stand with veterans and honor what they have given to us. We do not seem to be bosses, coaches, teachers or parents who say, “LET US, ABOVE ALL ELSE, MAKE TIME TO HONOR OUR VETERANS.”

We are not saying to each other “Of course you should be late or leave early this week to attend a veterans’ ceremony or buy a poppy. You’re not here to just work and build a resume. You are here to be humbled and experience gratitude and our veterans help us to do that!” This is why Heartworks doesn’t wait for the two holidays a year to roll around to honor these men and women. It’s simply not enough. We want to get off the bus as often as we can, and they help us to do this.

I am not sure what direction I was facing in the parking lot when I turned to walk towards that veteran standing outside of Starbucks, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was facing east.

Let’s do whatever we have to do to get off the bus this Memorial Day, May 29th and reflect on all that these men and women have given us.

To Live the Fullness of Life

On December 6, 2016 one of the people I have loved most in my life returned home to God at the age of 54 after a fourteen year journey with Stage 4 Breast Cancer. I was privileged to spend her final days by her bedside with her family. Mary and I had a glass of wine together on Thanksgiving Day and a week later her doctor told her there were no effective treatments available to help her live any longer. After fourteen years, she went from that glass of wine to hospice within a week.

Mary remains one of the best friends, one of the best laughs, one of the purest connections I have known in my life. And for the record, I’ve had a lot of friends, a lot of laughs and a lot of pure connections in my life.

But this blog is not about Mary’s death. This blog is about the way she lived, and how the way she lived is helping all of us to live without her. I am telling this story because I know it will help anyone given a life threatening diagnosis. It will give those who are healthy a valuable perspective on how to live. It will give families that are grieving an understanding of what the invisible force is that is sustaining them when they do not feel it is possible to be sustained.

Andrew and Mary with Father Larry on their wedding day September, 1989

In 2002 when Mary had three small children and was given a diagnosis of Stage 4 Breast Cancer, she turned to her Uncle Larry, a Catholic Priest, for guidance. The story of the conversation with Father Larry goes like this:

“Father Larry, I’ve been given this diagnosis and I’m afraid. My kids are so young and I don’t know what to do. I want to live a long life and stay here with everyone. What can I do Father Larry?”

The words Father Larry gave her that day fourteen years ago were the words that I referenced as she lay in the bed looking at me during her last week of life.

Father Larry had said to her “Mary, it’s not so much about how long you live. I know you want to live to see your children grow up, but the truth is that we have no control over that. But what I wish for you, Mary, is to have the fullness of life. Be humble, be kind, and live the fullness of life, dear Mary”

And so over the years, we would talk about this, about mentally staying out of the parts of life she had no control over and focusing on the fullness of life that was within her reach. Things like telling people she loved them. Being kind and helpful. To laugh… often and hysterically even in the face of a nightmare. To attend her children’s sporting events whenever possible. To participate in Heartworks even when it was from bed. To create deep and lasting friendships that will prevail regardless of how long she lived because they are based on how she lived instead.

These words from Father Larry helped her to appreciate every glass of wine, every meal she got to cook for her family, every party, every night in, every celebration and milestone. She lived it all as fully as she could.

So when she was coming to terms with the fact that her life was ending (this happened along with comments like “This is so bizarre Megan, I’m going to see God in a few days”) Father Larry’s words became my response to all her concerns.

“Do the kids have dinner tonight, Megan?”
“Yes Mary, the fullness of your life is taking care of dinner tonight”

“I don’t want to miss Teddy and Maddy’s graduations”
“I know Mary, but the fullness of your life will be there”

“I don’t want Drew to have to miss work to come home”
“ I know, but the fullness of your life will figure all that out for Drew”

“What’s Andrew going to do without me?”
“The fullness of your life will take care of him”

“I don’t want to leave yet, I want to stay”
“I know Mary, (sob, sob, sob) but listen to me….you will never be gone. You’ve lived the fullness of life, so there are enough friends and family to support the kids and Andrew. There are enough fun memories to last all of our lifetimes. The fullness of the stories and the laughs will sustain us all. You have created enough love, friendships, connections and support to last long after your physical body gives out, Mary.”

And with each answer she would simply nod her head, and say “Ok, I’m going to trust in that”. Then she would close her eyes and rest.

This picture of Father Larry sits on Mary’s bookcase.

I witnessed the fullness of her life fill in the impossible emptiness of that final week and the weeks that have followed. It is the fullness of her life that shows up everyday, in one way or another for her kids and husband, for her siblings and extended family and friends.

The fullness of her life shows up… sometimes in the form of a lasagna, sometimes in the form of a phone call or note left in the mailbox. It shows up in laughs and stories and in the plans her children are making for their futures.

This is how I know the fullness of our lives out lives our physical bodies. I know this because I am witness to it. I will get to be a part of the fullness this week when I meet Mary’s bestie for lunch. We will sit over lunch (and wine) and laugh and cry and live in the fullness of Mary’s life.

It has been 70 days since we last heard Mary’s voice. Everyone who loves her is walking through winter with hearts broken open. And the only thing that can effectively fill a broken, open heart is to continue living the fullness of life she created in spite of the ending of a life we never wanted to end.

Thank you Mary for living in such a way that we get to live in the fullness you have left us. Thank you Father Larry for offering words all those years ago that I was able to use with her when no other human words made sense.

Mary and I at the Heartworks fundraiser in 2015.

So for 2017 my wish for every human being is that you live the fullness of your life. My hope is that by focusing on this, in whatever situation you find yourself in, you are brought to a level of unexpected peace and certainty that the fullness of our lives plays a role much bigger than the space our physical body occupies.

The fullness of the relationships and connections we create in this lifetime is what will help us in our final days and will help all the people we love that are left behind.

Cheers, Mary. We will love you and miss you forever.

Megan’s Thoughts this Thanksgiving

Every single year at this time, I think about Thanksgiving week, 2001- how it had been 10 weeks after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

It had been 72 days since we had seen my brother-in-law John, heard his voice, or sat at a table with him. The days leading up to that Thanksgiving Day seemed to be drenched in thick molasses.

We had managed getting cornstalks and 4 pumpkins onto my sister Maryanne’s front steps, one for each of her kids. We had managed costumes and a fun night of trick or treating, mostly due to my brother flying in from Chicago and showing up in a form fitting Super Man suit.

There is something about the holidays that causes us to expect our loved ones to come through the door regardless of how long they have been gone. Maybe this is due to cellular memories triggered by things like scents, the changing weather and the feel of anticipation in the air, causing us to believe it’s possible.

As Thanksgiving week of 2001 approached, and traffic increased in town, a part of my brain still went to, “Well, surely John will be here for Thanksgiving. How can he miss Thanksgiving?? How can we have turkey with out John?” He had been at our family table every year since I was eight years old. I had no memories of a Thanksgiving without John Farrell.

The bottom line is, it seems impossible for it to be a holiday when someone you love, and is part of the fabric of your life, is gone.

This is why at Heartworks, the kindness foundation I created In my brother-in-law’s name, we do whatever we can to make the first holiday during illness or death as manageable as possible.

If cooking is healing for someone, but they can’t get themselves to the store, we do the shopping for them. If the thought of doing the dishes feels too much, then we bring people beautiful paper products (I am a full blown paper product snob so I insist on colorful turkeys plates with big lush napkins, sturdy table clothes and gorgeous centerpieces!)

We deliver breakfast to help give some direction first thing that morning, cook full dinners or give a gift card to go out, knowing that sometimes it is simply too painful to be home. After having been through a Thanksgiving in which we were at the mercy of God and the kindness of other people, I simply can’t sit at my table until I have done for others what was done for us during our impossible first year.

Here are suggestions that my family has done. I hope these will help with Thanksgiving this year if someone you love will not be at the table or is too sick to carry out your regular traditions.

~ Do whatever works for you in terms of the day. If you need to stay in bed and eat a cheeseburger, stay in bed and eat a cheeseburger. You can have turkey and stuffing next year.

~ If there are children and other family members to consider (making bed and the cheeseburger a non-option), try lighting a candle as a symbol of the person you are missing. We lit a candle that first year, as soon as we woke up and it helped more than you would think it would.

We needed to acknowledge the struggle, light the candle, say, “Happy Thanksgiving, John.” The candle made it easier to move around the kitchen in preparation for dinner. The candle came with us into the family room to watch football, back to the kitchen to check on the bird and eventually to the table. The candle allowed us to be sacred in our experience of this first Thanksgiving, and yet, at the same time do what needed to be done in order to have as normal as a day as possible for my nieces and nephews.

~ Give yourself time before other people wake up or arrive at your door to have sacred space with your person. My father passed away very unexpectedly in 2005. If you drive by my house early any holiday morning, you will see me outside in my pajamas with bed head in full force, crying and hugging the tree Heartworks planted for my father.

I create my quiet time with him before the chaos of the day begins. Every holiday before I speak a word to another human being, I am out there in my yard, hugging that tree. It helps. And if it feels too scary to spend time alone, ask a trusted person to do it with you. I have found in over 20 years of counseling people through grief that it does not help to try and avoid the tears…. it is better to create a set time to have the cry and then carry through with the rest of the day.

~ When someone who loves you offers you help, just say yes. Last year one of my besties, in treatment for breast cancer, wouldn’t let me come over and vacuum for her the day before Thanksgiving. Don’t do things like this. It keeps God at bay. Just say yes to any help that comes at you. Help coming at you is God coming at you… even in the form of vacuuming.

~ Don’t be afraid to break (or keep) traditions. If you need to go to the movies and forget it’s Thanksgiving, then go to the movies and forget it’s Thanksgiving. This may not be what your mom needs or your uncle needs, but if it’s what YOU need, make it happen.

~ Place items on the person’s empty seat with things that remind you of the person. That first Thanksgiving, we filled John’s seat with lots of things, like the kid’s school projects, a Whoopee cushion, and a football. The most vivid item in my memory is the tackle box that my nephew Patrick, (9 at the time) bought as he waited for word from his dad. He wanted to give it to his dad when he came home. So now it sat on John’s empty chair for Thanksgiving dinner.

~ Fill the days leading up to the holiday with prayer. Pray non-stop all day. Ask your friends, church, book club and anyone else you can think of to pray for you as well. Fifteen years ago my family received prayers from all over the world. In my sister’s house, in the weeks following the attack, when I closed my eyes at night, I was grateful for each and every prayer that got us through another day.

~ And finally, know that the day will come to a close, and you will have lived through it. Know that you will not be alone in your struggle and that you are surrounded by love.

I share these ideas in an attempt to help anyone who has an incomplete table this year. For everyone who does have a full table, let’s honor the worry and grief of others. Let’s take nothing for granted. Let’s not get caught up in preparations.

Let’s pray throughout the day for families not having an easy go of it this year.

What’s your mantra

A few weeks ago I was sitting at Design Squared, a Web Hosting company in Bernardsville with my friend Kathy working on our new Heartworks website. As usual, when Heartworks is the topic, the conversation moved from surface to depthful very quickly and we found ourselves talking about experiences we have had in life that have brought us to our knees.

Kathy’s co-worker John shared a story about when his brother-in-law was given a terminal diagnosis his mantra was “Someone else is carrying a bigger bag of hammers”. John said this as if this phrase was as common as “Have a nice day”.

When I asked him what the hell “Someone else is carrying a bigger bag of hammers” meant, he smiled in a way someone does when they know a secret. He said that to his brother-in-law, it meant that although his diagnosis was a tough one, there was somebody, somewhere, carrying a bigger burden than his own. He said this mantra brought his brother-in-law comfort and made sense of the senselessness in his mind.

I love learning new phrases that help people and I started to use this hammer one in the days that followed. One of my own personal favorites is “Thank you God that this problem is manageable.” I started saying this a few years ago and use it mostly when something that is truly just a surface issue is getting the best of me. I remind myself that “this problem is manageable” meaning, it’s do-able…I have options…it’s just part of the static of life and not worthy of pulling me under.

manageableblogBecause I have been in situations that have not felt manageable and have pulled me under, this phrase serves as a reminder and helps me prioritize if a circumstance is worthy of flattening me or if it’s just a part of the fluff of life… like when I came to after being knocked unconscious in a car accident on an icy Colorado highway in 1992, to find myself sideways on Rt 70 with speeding cars slamming into me, this did NOT feel manageable; the 25 hour car ride back to the East Coast from Boulder on September 12, 2001, not knowing if my sister’s husband was alive or dead did NOT feel manageable; and sitting next to my father in 2004 during cancer on days he could barely open his eyes, did NOT feel manageable.

So, for me when my daughter doesn’t make it onto the “A” team, or the new rug I want is backordered 8 weeks or even when I’m totally uncomfortable in a disagreement with someone I love, I remind my brain that “this is manageable” and it keeps me from giving the issue unnecessary attention and energy. It also often gives way to another favorite, “This too shall pass.” Mantras give our minds something to focus on instead of getting overwhelmed with the details of the story we are tempted to play over and over in our head. Mantras help us stay in line with the universal flow and keep us out of chaotic thinking. Mantras have helped carry people through some of the toughest times, and they offer us a direct connection with a truth bigger than ourselves.

I was reminded of these awesome aspects of mantras yesterday when a friend called me, looping in negative thoughts and asking if I knew of anything that would help her. She was having a party at her house, and as the ego does (especially before a party at your house) it had started to feed negative thoughts to her mind.

“I need new pillows in the family room, I should have gotten the kitchen cabinets painted, ugh! I never got those pictures framed, this bathroom sucks….” and on and on and on. Now, let me point out that this party banter with the negative, surface thoughts are coming from someone who has been in the “unmanageable.”

Trust me, three years ago when her son was diagnosed with a rare cancer, she spent an entire year in the unmanageable, and she has spent the past two years training her mind to re-familiarize itself with calm and quiet. And now here we were, calculating how many mums and pumpkins it would take to keep her from spending thousands of dollars at Home Depot and Pottery Barn before Friday night. As faith would have it, I told her, I am on a mantra kick and YES I had something that would help her…

“Thank you god for this manageable problem”

Three years ago she would have given ANYTHING to have a sucky bathroom be her problem of the week and yet, in the absence of the bigger life challenges (thank you God) her ego needed to cling to floppy pillows and dated cabinets in order to entertain itself. “OOOHHHH, YES!” She said, “That’s all this is…. got it” And that was last I’ve heard from her about the frameless pictures.

So these conversations got me thinking further about the power of mantras to help us stay on track either during life’s seemingly impossible times or when we need help keeping perspective in our day to day lives. This lead me to wondering about what other people’s mantras are and how they help, so, at our October meeting tonight (Oct. 4th) there will be a table set up to write down a word or phrase that helps you cope.

Then we are going to hang these cards up on a ribbon with clothes pins (I found the CUTEST polka dot and striped clothes pins EVER) and at the end of the meeting everyone can choose another Heartworker’s mantra to bring home and start using. So, please join us Tuesday night (tonight) for wine, cheese and crackers and the answer to the question “What’s your mantra?” Let’s never ever take for granted the many ways we can help each other feel connected to God and if you need a push to get you out of the house…use a mantra.
See you tonight!!!

Politics and a Strawberry

politicsblogLike many other people I have been feeling crazed, exhausted, dumbfounded and scared by politicians preaching peace and then breeding hate by the end of the speech. I was feeling lost in the uncertainty of what has been happening in our country and around the world, until the other day, when I was washing a strawberry. We were having our first “Possible Party” (necessary celebrations during impossible times) in our new upstairs space at Heartworks.

I was washing a strawberry for a little girl who likes strawberries, is grieving her dad and was having her friends here for her birthday party. It was her first birthday ever without her dad and we were doing everything we could to make it special for her. I began the preparations with a distracted mind filled with irritated and stress-filled thoughts about the news coverage about the convention. Somewhere between rinsing these strawberries and cutting off the green leafy part to make things easier for her (who wants to deal with a pesky stem at their birthday party?!), I was brought to a moment of peace that was so overwhelming I wept over the sink.

The power of one small act had spun its influence up through the knife and straight into my being. Preparing a strawberry had suddenly impacted me in a way that no presidential speech ever could. I felt no discord in my body or mind. A full glimpse of true internal peace. It was like by washing the strawberry for Paige, I was in the flow of connection with a higher source and the fear of the news coverage became a stone in a river being washed over by love. This seemingly small act brought me back to a place of “Everything Belongs” (the title of one of my all time favorite books), back to connection, and back to a level of gratitude that had escaped me watching the news the night before. This peace, created by one small strawberry, lasted throughout the day until I started watching the news again… when will I learn?

politicsblog2The next day I came back to the Heartworks House, to see a note that was left with a donation of a book for the Heartworks Lending Library. It was left by my new friend Dan and his wife, who both attended our July meeting. This simple donation brought me back to peace again. Author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel made it possible for regular people like me to more deeply understand the human condition and the impact of hate in a person’s heart.

This sight of the book on the table reminded me that the suffering we are witnessing in our world today has been going on since the beginning of human existence and what I must do is take responsibility for my own mind, my own heart, and my own actions.

I can be change right here, right now by acting with a compassionate heart in every circumstance I find myself in. Dan has choices too. He could of left the Heartworks meeting feeling defeated with so much sadness on our table and in our world, but instead, he donated a book that has helped him maintain compassion and perspective in his life.

It was a reminder that I can control only myself and share peace only when I am cultivating it within my own being. We can each get swept up in the fear the news is projecting or we can donate a life altering book to a lending library.

We can get swept up in the hostility or we can do something for someone who is struggling, which sometimes is as small as handing fruit on a Happy Birthday plate to a 14 girl who just lost her dad. So if your head is spinning with the progression of this election season, know that you can refocus on small gestures and peaceful thoughts to bring yourself back to center through the connection such acts inherently create.

Come to think of it… What if every time we have a fearful or prejudicial thought, we do a small gesture for whoever is around us??

I’m going to do this and see what happens!!! Counter every fearful, exacerbated thought with a hug or letting someone cut in line or a smile or a phone call or any other ordinary way to offer the world LOVE instead of pain…. Yup- I’m doing it! Do it with me! And remember Mr. Wiesel’s words in his life altering book Night (now available in the Heartworks Lending Library).

“Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures;
peace is our gift to each other.”
– Elie Weisel (9/30/28-7/2/16)

politicsblog3Thank you Paige for asking for strawberries, thank you Dan for adding to our lending library and thank you kindness for being my steadfast savior and helping make me great again. (pun intended).

Our Lending Library is always available!! Stop by and choose a book that has affected another Heartworkers life! You can take it home or sit in our beautiful upstairs space. Don’t forget to call first to make sure we’re at the house (908)766-4400.


Thank You God for Emoji’s

On November 17th at 2:08 in the morning I got a text from one of my besties Kristen in California that read:

“Meg- we need serious prayers for Sage. Huge mass in her shoulder by her lungs. Waiting for transport from ER to CHOC. Please….This is a nightmare.”

St. Patrick’s Day will be four months since that text was sent to me. Four months since 12 year old Sage complained of shoulder pain and a seemingly routine visit to the doctor’s office turned into four months in and out of the hospital in treatment for a extremely rare sarcoma. It has been four months of constant, daily prayers and love for Sage and her family.

During the past four months, Heartworks also started our daily gratitude practice of listing 10 things a day for 30 days without repeating anything. The idea of this exercise is to help us get out of the rut we can often find ourselves in, thanking God for the same few things over and over again. Not that I am against this… gratitude is gratitude, but I wanted us to move from the rhetoric of gratitude to a deeper witness of how gratitude truly does change us when we allow it to.

One of the things that I came to appreciate in the past 30 days that I NEVER, EVER thought would make the list is…. emojis. Now, a few years ago when people first started using emojis, I was filled with irritation and judgment. Like “Really??? Now we don’t even have enough time to text full sentences??” We need pictures representing our emotions ?? “ (Insert eye roll emoji here…)

I grew up with a father who LOVED the English language, LOVED the history of words and LOVED their meanings. For as much as my dad was trusting and laid back about our education (he felt that we were blessed, blessed, blessed to live in this country with every educational choice available to us), he felt the need to make sure we practiced our vocabulary.

Vocabulary was not only celebrated in our house, but we grew up with a father who thought practicing vocabulary was FUN. He thought it was FUN to learn, review and discuss random vocabulary words over breakfast and throughout the day. I’m not talking about reviewing our weekly required vocab list from English class, I’m talking about this set of little business card sized vocabulary flashcards he had found in a bookstore somewhere.

He didn’t care if it was Saturday morning and I had been out the night before in the parking lot of Friendly’s with a 2 liter bottle of wine cooler and he didn’t care that my girlfriends who had slept over did not have an interest in the definition, root or origin of the word “aggrandize.” Or that they actually did NOT find coming up with a synonym for “sagacious” fascinating while they ate their pancakes and nursed a hangover. He loved words and all that they had to offer, and if you were staying for breakfast, you were going to get a lecture of his newest word interest, whether you were interested or not.

We did not have a color television in our house until I was a sophomore in high school which was in 1985. TV meant two things to my dad,less time for reading and less time for being creative and affective in the world. I think Brain Rot may have been a phrase that was thrown around a bit, even when The Brady Bunch, Star Search, and The Wide World of Sports were really the only things we were allowed to watch. Thank God he isn’t here today to walk in on me watching The Batchelor and The Housewives of Potomac (insert yellow cringy face here).

So although he had been gone a few years when emojis came on the scene, I still felt like a cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater using them. It felt like a betrayal to all those mornings I found so irriatating in my youth (which, for the record, I would give anything to wake up to now…. no matter how many wine coolers I had chugged the night before.) I definitely felt like his daughter when I found myself thinking, when I saw my first emoji, that it is pathetic that as a culture, it was now acceptable to abbreviate the depthful gesture of “I love you” with a yellow smiley face blowing a heart out its mouth or a simple red, purple, green or blue heart.

If my daughters felt sad about something, I wanted them to go total old school and actually CALL ME so we could talk about their sad feelings instead of them sending me a little yellow face with blue tears streaming from its eyes. Or at least express themselves with words instead of dismissing the adventure of sorrow with a sad face emoji. When something upset or disappointed them, I wanted to hear about it instead of getting sent a picture of poop. (This is what happens when your mother is a therapist…she requests descriptive words and phrases describing your feelings in place of pictures of perfectly formed poop with eyeballs.)

All this judgment and irritation changed when Sage got sick. Later that day, on November 17th, I received the first of hundreds of emojis that would be exchanged over the next four months. Kristen sent me a kissy face with a red heart next to it. No words. Just a kissy face and and a red heart. But what I saw and interpreted was:


“Hi Meg. I’m in my worst fucking nightmare. My only child is sick. I have no idea what the future holds and I can’t breathe. Nothing seems real, it feels like a dream but I know that its not because even when I close my eyes and open them again, I’m still in a hospital room. Life as we knew it ended yesterday and I can’t breathe through the fear. I love you and I need support. I’m besides myself.”

But because she could not bring herself to type these words (typing makes things real), she typed the two emojis, knowing I would understand what they meant. And so this is what we have done every time there is no word to use, we send emojis. I have come to know and love these little images as if they were angels, sent from God, to offer my friend relief and ease in her worst and most exhausting moments. They began to feel like highly evolved, emotionally connected friends offering us help to communicate this new ground of horror and grace…

Smiley faces when Sage tolerates chemo without getting sick.

Dog paws when she misses her animals after not being home for a few days

Thumbs up when blood counts are good

Thumbs down when headed back to the hospital after only a day at home

Crying face, teeth gritting face and a winky face when the house flooded on her birthday

Clapping hands when something Heartworks sent brought a smile to Sage’s face

8 crying faces in a row when sitting in a packed hospital hallway, surrounded by more children with cancer than available beds

and lots of prayer hands…asking for and receiving prayers…

What is this emoji?

and on and on the emojis go, filling word bubbles from across the country at all times of day and night. Seemingly silly images seriously aiding the rhythm of a 20 year friendship and offering us concrete expressions in a reality where all words, forms and definitions are lost in current circumstances.

So one day a few weeks ago, when I was making my gratitude list and had already thanked God for Sage’s doctors, medical technology, hope, miracles, a restful night at home, some laughs during the day for Kristen and Dave and had thanked God for the all the support surrounding them, I found myself thanking God for emojis. Thank you God for symbols which have allowed my dear friend and I to communicate when for the most part, there are no words. Only hearts. And crying faces. And most of all, prayer hands. Thank you God for prayer hands.

This St. Patricks Day while the streets of New York City become a sea of green and the sound of bag pipes fill the air, Sage will be in surgery at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital. Please pray for her like a million prayer hands. Please fill your mind and heart with hearts of all different colors and kissy faces galore for her as you text your friends shamrocks and beer mugs. And let’s be grateful today for the connection that technology offers us…. and for the emojis that connect us during times of deep fear, faith and friendship. (insert a thousand pink hearts with yellow ribbons tied around them here.)

Reflection: What’s something you take for granted everyday, or have judgment towards but actually ends up helping you in some hidden way?

Chocolate Milk and Judgement

judgementblogSo we are about three quarters of the way through our commitment of listing 10 things a day that we are grateful for (with no repeats). This practice forces us to put gratitude in the forefront of everything we do and it has been a heart opening experience.

When the Advisory Board arrived this week for our meeting, we created a gratitude list for the day. I happen to know a lot of the things that are going on for the women gathered here. And so for me the list makes sense and I understand why certain people are grateful for certain things. Looking at the list it reminded me of how, when we don’t know somebody’s story, it’s so easy to judge. And how often I catch myself in judgment, like, all day long, catching myself in judgment type of judgment. So I wondered when we post lists like this to the public,

are we even judging each other’s gratitude lists???

Judgment is quick and its powerful. It comes on fast and unconsciously. And before I started paying attention to it in my own mind, judgment seemed reasonable and normal. Now I see it as a trap my mind uses to keep me stuck and disconnected from God. So I have trained myself to catch judgment and shift it into something more productive, like gratitude. When I am in judgment of someone or something (again… it can be everyday all day) I am just staying stuck in my own hell and not seeing clearly.

So when I catch myself in judgment I immediately start praying for a higher understanding to help me get un-stuck. Today I felt protective when Beka wanted to post the gratitude list my advisory board put together, cringing at the possibility of someone reading the list and judging its contents. When it was my dear friend’s turn to add to the list she said “My chocolate milk Megan brought me”.

As I added it to the list I wondered if people’s fast and unconscious judgment would kick in and say “Why in the world would someone be grateful for a glass of chocolate milk? What is up with these Heartworkers? Don’t they have bigger things to be grateful for???” so I am here to expose the hidden power of small gestures like a glass of chocolate milk. My friend is going through enough daily uncertainty and challenges with her health to know to be grateful for simple things like a chocolate milk brought to her by someone who loves her. I don’t know what the glass of chocolate milk did for her, but I know what it did for me as I was pouring it this morning… gratitude.

Thank you that my friend feels good enough to come to the meeting.
Thank you that I can bring her something she can digest and tastes good.
Thank you for the ability to do something for her.
Thank you for milk.
Thank you for my refrigerator to keep it cold.
Thank you for her doctors.
Thank you that we met.
Thank you that we have so many laughs even when things suck.
Thank you for my advisory board.
Thank you for hope.

So because this glass of chocolate milk offered my heart so much love and obviously affected her as well, I felt nervous about the possible misinterpretation of it on the list! I felt in love with the little red cup I had poured it into. When she drank it I felt so grateful that with all the things I have no control over, I could do this one small thing for her.

It reminded me that with all the big stuff happening in life, most times it is the smallest of things that bring us back to center. The healing comes when we take gratitude seriously enough to become humbled by the smallest of things. The big things are easier and more obvious… our health, our family, our home. It’s the digging deep to find gratitude in a glass of chocolate milk that starts to peel back the layers of our hearts and this truth is certainly something worthy of making the list. Judgment or no judgment.

Reflection: Let’s practice giving with gratitude and receiving with gratitude. Let’s be grateful for the smallest of comforts in this uncertain life.

A Hike I Didn’t Hate

hike1blogWhen Eddie and I lived in Colorado and our friends had people visit them, there was always a lot of talk leading up to these visits that focused on which bike ride, hiking trail or rock climb they were going to do when their guests arrived. When people visited me, the talk leading up to the visit was focused more on what sale was happening at the mall, what time happy hour started and what movies were in town. It’s not to say I’m against the outdoors, it’s just to say I don’t crave it the way many of my Colorado friends do. For years they all tried to convert me…taking me rollerblading on Boulder creek path (hated it) girls weekend getaways to rustic cabins in the mountain (pour me another) and hikes that promised to help me feel closer to God (not so much).

One particular attempt was about 15 years ago when unbeknownst to me my girlfriends forged a plan to trick me by getting me to the top of a mountain and proving to me how awesome it was and worth the trip. They told me that the plan was that we were hiking for about 45 minutes then we would go to lunch…. The turkey club waiting on the other side of the hike convinced me to go (they knew it would) and I was also looking for a way to get them all off my back and figured 45 minutes in hell was worth it. We started off on the hike and I noticed they were all very engaged with me (part of the distraction plan) and before I knew it we were an hour in and still headed up hill away from my turkey club. Whenever I would ask about this (roughly every 3 and 1/2 minutes) they would distract me again until I finally just stopped dead in my tracks and asked what the hell was going on. The question was met with deep sighs and lots of eye contact avoidance. Then my friend Kristen confessed that they all wanted me to get to the top of this mountain so they can show me how magnificent this whole hiking thing was and they know I’m going to love it and could I pleeeeaaase just stay open.


I was NOT happy and stayed cranky pants the whole rest of the hike. When we reached the top….AN HOUR LATER…..I was ornery and hungry and when my friend offered me an organic wheatgrass granola bar she nearly got pushed off the cliff. I proclaimed with one hand on my hip and the other one pointing to each of my besties that IF things go bad on the way down and we all get stranded and I die from a bear attack, dehydration or tragic fall NONE OF THEM WERE ALLOWED TO EAT MY FLESH IN ORDER TO SAVE THEMSELVES. NOT ONE BITE WAS ALLOWED BY ANY OF THEM! NOT ONE BITE.

” But Megan, look around! It’s so beautiful! ” don’t you feel so close to God?” I did not feel any closer to God than I would hanging out with Eddie, or picking out placemats in Target or at home watching a movie on my couch. The mission was a big fat fail and that was the last time I was invited on a hike. Fine by me.

But when Eddie and I were talking a few days ago about our trip to Boulder this weekend he said that he would really love it if we went on a hike together. DAMN IT!! Ugh… Really?? Eddie doesn’t really ask that much of me so when he does ask for something , I usually say yes. So yes Eddie I will go on a stupid hike with you.

When we started up the Chatauqua Trail I wanted to take a break about 20 steps in. I appreciated the view but figured I could just as well enjoy it sitting there on the side of trail with a Diet Coke watching other people hike it .

hike2blogMy mind went straight to the negative…

How the hell long is this hike??
It’s hot out
I can’t breath in this altitude
I feel fat
I’m too out of shape for this
I’m slowing Eddie down
I’m no good at this
Poor Eddie, he should have gone by himself
When will this be over?
I’m letting Eddie down
Why can’t I be like everybody else here and want to go hiking?

I spent a few minutes in this thought process before I remembered my whole spiel that I give people about the human thought process. That the mind does not naturally go to the positive or the place of gratitude. It takes conscious choice and intention to get ” beyond ” the fearful thoughts and into a deeper understanding of what God is offering us in any given moment. Our negative, self defeating thoughts are simply a layer of the mind we need to work through to get to the deeper truth about what is happening for us. There is always something more, something richer, beyond our initial negative thought process. And in this moment I was faced with a choice to grind out this hike and feel miserable the whole time or I could practice what I preach and look deeper into what I was being offered beyond these stifling thoughts.

So I started to focus on things besides my thoughts….

Eddie and how much he makes me laugh even when I’m cranky
That I was healthy enough to walk up this mountain
The sound of the birds
The sun beaming down on my face
My girls back home having fun with a babysitter
Seeing all our Boulder friends
The green grass, blue, sky and white snow capped mountains…

My body began to relax. I stopped dreading myself and just focused on Eddie and the mountains and the river and the experience of doing something new. I looked up and saw Eddie waiting patiently for me a few steps ahead of me and then it hit me. The gift beyond the negative thoughts was for me to relish in the fact that even if I needed to stop 100 times on that trail I had married someone who wouldn’t mind, who cared so much about how I felt that he would just stop whenever I needed to.

I had married someone who when I looked up at the mountaintop and said “isn’t that beautiful? ” his response was ” Not as beautiful as you.” What God was giving me a chance to see is that I’m safe even when I’m not awesome. That I have pretty much weeded out hanging out with anyone that wouldn’t have stopped with me on the trail. I have chosen people in my life that love me and accept me and that it doesn’t matter that I am not good at everything. Nobody is good at everything. The gift behind the thoughts was to relish the fact that I am deeply loved and this is what mattered, not that I was a perfect-in-shape-hiker-girl, but that I am deeply loved. Accepting the acceptance Eddie and the people who love me offer me was the gift my negative thoughts almost kept me from.

I almost missed an awesome day outside in Boulder with Eddie. I almost missed the rock formations, the birds and the sun on my face after a long New Jersey winter. I almost missed all of this.
Thank you God for awareness and for choice. The turkey club I had afterwards was one of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Refelection: The next time negative thoughts are starting to take over, make the conscious choice to look beyond them and see what the real purpose of the experience is beyond your own stuck thoughts.
What are you being asked to see more clearly in your life that exists beyond the initial negative thoughts?


Eddie making Megan laugh


Every day is someones best and another’s worst


The day Eddie and I realized I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, was April 20, 1999. This was the same day the Columbine School shooting took place in Littleton, Colorado in which 2 seniors killed 13 people and injured 21. The two boys then committed suicide. Being only 42 miles away from the shooting it felt as if it were in our own community.

The dichotomy of the day had me paralyzed for hours as I held my hand over my stomach and watched the news footage of children running from the building, parents running towards the school and even the newscasters appeared traumatized. At the time, school shootings were not as front and center in our nation’s consciousness. Even though I was only a few weeks pregnant and had never been a mother before, I already loved this baby more than my own life and the thought of 15 mothers loosing their children that day brought me to my knees.

When Eddie came home from work I didn’t know what to do. I was overwhelmed with sadness but at the same time, it was literally the happiest day of my life and I wanted to celebrate the night with him by having dinner on Pearl Street, one of our favorite places in the world. UGH! CELEBRATE something the night of the Columbine shooting??! We got out of the car to an eerily quiet downtown Boulder, CO. The bars were empty, the streets were like a ghost town and our favorite place was serving a limited menu because they were closing early.

As we sat down at the table, I wanted to burst I was so happy. We had been to this restaurant a thousand times. Eddie bussed tables there when we started dating in the early 90s and I would sit and do my graduate school homework while he worked. We went there for birthdays, graduation night and on the night we got engaged. And now we were sitting here and I was pregnant! I tried not to look at the TV screen in the corner, that the few other patrons were crowded around.

As I sat there and thought about the 15 mothers that were 42 miles away, I thought about the reality that every single day is somebody’s best day and every day is somebody’s worst day. For a lot of people, most days feel uneventful…running errands, working, folding laundry. Everyday someone is getting a diagnosis, a phone call about a death or an accident or a health scare.

Everyday someone is starving to death or involved in a war. Everyday someone is getting diagnosed with cancer and everyday someone is receiving a cure. Everyday someone is falling in love, accepting their dream job or experiencing a miracle of health. Everyday people are getting married, having a birthday or finding out they are pregnant like me.

If you are struggling with something and you are feeling like the only one, look at a calendar and remind yourself that every single date is the anniversary of something horrible for someone and something wonderful for another. On this date back in 1999, I was saying hello to this new life, while the Columbine mothers were saying goodbye. And one day I would be saying goodbye to this new life and someone else would be saying hello to theirs. Somehow this thought process gave me permission to eat dinner that night. I continuously kicked Eddie excitedly under the table and embraced this moment that had finally arrived for us.

The next day I went back to watching the news and praying for Columbine with the rest of the world.

I remembered this dinner on Pearl Street 16 years ago as I sat in my family room this week folding laundry and watching the coverage of the Amtrak derailment on TV. I thought about the people on the train, the first responders and the families of the deceased. May 13, 2015 will be etched in their memories as a worst day, and I am sitting here folding laundry. Bizarre.

I remember vividly on September 12, 2001 looking out my kitchen window and seeing a man run down my street. I remember wondering how he was doing that…how was he moving his legs? When I stood up my legs weakened and I had to sit back down again. My guess is that the man running down my street didn’t know anybody on the East Coast and so the terror attacks felt far away from him. Maybe he was even able to turn off the news and not think about it. Maybe he was folding laundry as he watched. I’m not sure. I just remember wondering how his legs were able to move like that and if mine would ever feel stable again.

My point of all of this is to remember to be grateful for times that I am folding laundry. To be grateful for the moments my life is not rocked by illness or death. To pray for people while they are in their struggle and to know that for whatever reason, on any particular day it may not be my day to struggle and so embrace the ease of an ordinary day. I have felt the gripping sensation of death before and as long as I continue to love, I will feel it again. So I try and spend the days in between as consciously and grateful as I possibly can.

Just this morning I spoke to a friend who is planning a birthday party for her husband while her nephew is being visited by Hospice Care. I understood the sacred confusion she was feeling: life ending, life continuing, life and death, joy and loss all happening all within the same moment. This is how it is every single day if you look at it like this. It helps me to take things less personally and gain the courage needed to face the unpredictability of daily life.

Refection: Be as present and grateful as possible for a day without grief. Celebrate the “ordinary” and pray for people who’s grief or fear have taken away the luxury of folding laundry or taking a run and when it is a day for you to grieve, know that it is somebody else’s day too and you are not alone.

Let Go of What Was

lettinggoblogWe are in full-blown yard sale mode here at the Heartworks House, hence the whole theme of “letting go”. (Get it? Cause we are all going to be getting rid of stuff? Clever right?) So the sign outside the house now reads:


This phrase reminds me of last year’s yard sale and my mother’s deacon’s bench. If you don’t know what the hell a deacon’s bench is, it’s a colonial style wooden bench, and the bench I’m talking about was one that was in the foyer of my house growing up.

The problem is that when we hang on to things that no longer work for us or fit in our changing lives, it causes us suffering. I have very little interest in unnecessary suffering, so I have to work daily on this theme of letting go of what no longer supports me or my family.

deaconsbenchblogNow, back to the deacon’s bench. The deacons bench sat in the foyer of my house on Old Army Road my entire childhood. It was positioned so that you could see out the window onto the driveway.  I sat there waiting to go to swim team practice, waiting for boys I loved to pick me up for dates, and it’s where my siblings and I would sit early Christmas morning, until my mom was ready to open up the family room doors.

 I remember after my dad died and it was time for my mom to move out of the house she couldn’t find a place for the deacon’s bench in her new home. And for some bazzare reason it made sense to her donate it somewhere.  Ummmmm….. Nope. We are not donating the deacon’s bench to a random charity where the memories may get scratched, broken or bought by the wrong person. A total stranger having the deacon’s bench?? Thanks but no thanks, Mom.

 I had a functioning table in the old spot where the deacon’s bench was and could not for the life of me find another place in the house for it, so it sat in the basement for years and gathered dust. Every April when the Heartworks Yard Sale would come around, I would look at the deacons bench and think it was time…GULP….to let it….GULP…go. Then my mind would start gripping onto the memories, the significance of the damn deacon’s bench and again I tried to figure out where I could put it in my home but I still couldn’t find the right place. So it stayed where it was… until last year when I got up in front of a room full of women at the April meeting and gave a similar speech to the one I gave last week, blathering on about the healing available when we let go of what was.

I warned that when we all got home, and were going through things to donate to the yard sale that our minds will grip, reject and fight the letting go process. YES sometimes it feels awesome to clear out stuff from the house, but there will inevitably be items we will come across that we will resist giving up.

The Heartworks Yard Sale way of thinking is that when we pick up the candlesticks we have never liked, (even though we registered for them ourselves 15 years ago), be aware of the resistance that will arise. Breath…. and put the candles sticks in the box to go to the sale. And yes, even if they are in a robins egg blue box. For me, the more I practice letting go of material things, the more I am able to let go of the bigger stuff like relationships, people and expectations when I need to be letting go of them. When I am faced with letting go of the bigger stuff, I want my brain to have already practiced the pattern of resistance and letting go of things like candle sticks that I never used in the first place.

Last year, after I had given my letting go schpeel at the meeting , I went home and saw the deacon’s bench all dusty in the basement.  I realized I was being a total friggin hypocrite and had to practice what I was preaching (damn it!), so I brought the deacons bench to the Heartworks sale. Because I am who I am, when I got to Heartworks with the deacon’s bench all the Heartworkers helping to set up the sale had to hear all about my tale of letting go woe and all the stories about my siblings and I sitting on the bench. My mom and sisters sat there patiently while I processed letting go for the 10,000th time. I placed the bench in the furniture section of the sale and prayed to God to help me let go. I thanked Him for all the memories it gave me. I prayed that it goes to someone who needs it and would love it.

The bench had served its purpose in my life and was ready to move into a new foyer. Then I walked back into the Heartworks House to get some pricing stickers. While I was inside, one my soul sister besties arrived at the preview sale. At the time, she was going through a divorce and was re-decorating her home. She was in a really tough spot and it had been a long road of struggle for her. It was one of those situations that you just want to fix for someone you love, but can’t. I had wanted to make everything better and easier for her. I was having fantasies that I had enough money to fill her new home with beautiful, comfortable, meaningful things so that she felt good opening her eyes every morning.  I reached down to get my stickers and that is when I heard the screeching and the screaming coming from outside…

“Does Megan know??? Oh my God!! This is so awesome, she’ll be so happy!!! Where is she? You have to tell her right now!!”

When I ran out to see what all the commotion was about, there was my soul sister bestie sitting, who’s home I soooo wanted to decorate for her, sitting on the deacon’s bench. She thought it was beautiful, comfortable and now that she knew I had sat on it Christmas mornings, it was meaningful too. She happily bought it and we carried to her car. Because I had allowed myself to go through the pattern of resistance and letting go, an awesome scenario was created that was way beyond what I could have thought to ask for.

 My soul sister bestie said I could come and visit the deacons bench anytime I wanted.

I have yet to visit it. I haven’t felt the need.

Reflection: Let’s use the yard sale as an opportunity to practice the pattern of resistance and letting go. What do you have to give that feels tough to let go of? What happens for you when you do let go?