My Ah-Ha Moment About Fundraisers

fundraiserblogOur big Heartworks fundraiser is this Friday. We have been doing this type of fundraiser for the past four years, making it more public just these past two years. The idea first came up that we needed to start having bigger, more public fundraisers the first year we were in the Heartworks house. And the idea made me want to throw up.

I loathed the idea of throwing a fundraiser that might make women feel they needed to get new outfits and get their nails done while moms of sick kids were home in flannel pants trying to get through the day. I was SUPER hesitant that energy would be spent on planning a catering menu rather than a meal for a family who needed some love that night and felt nauseous to spend ANY money on ANYTHING that wasn’t enhancing the experience of someone who was struggling.

It seemed crazy, ridiculous, irresponsible and wasteful. Not really how the founder of a non-profit usually thinks…I know. So someone who loves me and respects my vision for Heartworks AND knows a lot about fundraising, said she may be able to help. She came over for a Diet Coke and asked me what my plan was to spread the word about our mission, raise money for the overhead for our now gathering space for Heartworks and how to include the general public in our mission.

Hmmm…I didn’t have an answer I was sure of. She gently and carefully began to explain to me that the money spent on fundraisers was worth the effort because it brings in more money and it would offer a night when Heartworks husbands and significant others can experience what our work is all about AND it’s a great way to get our message out to the general public.

Hmmm…Maybe she and nearly every other non-profit on the planet were onto something. Maybe I should give it a try I thought. Our first big fundraiser was full of support and purpose and love for the cause. It made Heartworkers happy and grateful to show the men in their lives what we are really about.

Right before I stepped up on stage to speak at our first real fundraiser, a Heartworker said to me, “My husband is here and he doesn’t really get why I love Heartworks so much, so do me a favor and do what you usually do…talk about God and drop some swear words and get real about what life is really about and be funny and remind him that life is not just about his career. Tell a story about how sad some things are in people’s lives so he is not so concerned about getting a bigger flat screen TV.”

Hmmm….ok, no pressure there. Explain Heartworks, talk about God, swear, be funny and make your husband cry and have a spiritual awakening. Got it.

This year I understand the necessity of all the work for the fundraiser. I see how it has created new friendships and I love that people are going to come and hopefully be inspired to use the spare moments of their busy lives to give to people who are struggling.

I love that chefs, vendors and businesses are using their talents to create hope for families they have never met. My greatest hope is that people leave Friday night remembering the promises they made to themselves in September of 2001 that may have slipped into a distant part of their brains and hearts 14 years later.

Friday night is a chance for us to come together and introduce the concepts or Heartworks to new people and for all of us to realize how blessed we are and how much we have to give. It’s a night of unbelievable food, great wine and cold beer. It’s a party with a purpose which is pretty much the only kind of party that make sense to me anymore. Hope to see you there!

Megan McDowell Being Full of Confidence Before a Heartworks Meeting (Not)

As many of you have heard, but some may not know, on the first Tuesday of every month I stand in the meeting room in front of a table full of wine, appetizers and Diet Coke, a table full of family pictures, descriptions of the journeys they are on and the meals, financial support, and acts of love they are in need of.

And in our empty meeting room I start twitching… and I throw my arms up in the air and say to myself or to the other Heartworkers preparing the room, “I DON’T THINK ANYONE IS COMING! It’s cold outside! It’s a busy week! Nobody is coming and oh my God there is so much love needed! AUUGH! Why do we do this every month? It’s too much! Why do we do this to ourselves? All this faith and vulnerability that we put out there, just so that nobody shows up and we have to eat all this cheese by ourselves! I’m going to start going to the mall more often. Does anybody have any Twinkies? And someone open that bottle of Pinot Grigio pronto.”

And then, within a few minutes of this outburst, the front door opens and women walk through the door, grab a name tag, put a love donation in the basket and sign up for meals, gifts, rides and whatever else is needed for the families on the table. It always feels like a miracle to me.

Every single time, even though I have been doing the same thing, every month for 10 years, I honestly think that it is a miracle — to have 50 women leave their homes on a winter night and step into a level of awareness that includes, sick children, terminally ill parents, car accidents and house fires. But what every woman who walks through the door also knows is that here, at these meetings, we feel less alone in our own struggles. We feel hopeful in a seemingly hopeless world. And I personally just end up feeling like less of a jackass in my own life.

Heartworker Meg Hajjar stood up this month and shared her struggles and the gifts that Heartworks has been offering her family. Her vulnerability and raw honesty about being home with her son as he navigates the challenges of a chronic, lifelong illness had every woman in the room wanting to hug her and not let go. I felt blessed to be a part of the full room of women. I am blessed that women show up month after month, year after year and are simultaneously fully aware of my lack of faith at 6:55 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month.

Also at our meeting…a handmade afghan was passed around to everyone to be filled with prayers for 21-year-old boy in Basking Ridge while he goes through treatments for cancer this winter. It is being delivered to him this week by a Junior Heartworker. We passed around a “serenity bracelet” to send to a mom in Connecticut to help her cope with chronic pain she is experiencing from a double mastectomy. It was stunning to see a full room of women; quietly focused on sending love to people they have never met before.

The quiet was something we all needed and didn’t even realize we crave. The connection it inspired is something I hope we all bring to the car lines, sports practices and friendships outside of the monthly Heartworks meetings.

Thank you for showing up on Tuesday and thank you for continuing the kindness that saved us all, in one way or another, in the fall of 2001.

Imagine a Woman

As the opening to our January meeting, I read this awesome poem and would like to share with everyone.
Our meetings are the first Tuesday of the month. Next one is February 3 at 7 p.m.
All women welcome!

Imagine a Woman

Imagine a woman who believes it is right and good she is a woman.
A woman who honors her experience and tells her stories.
Who refuses to carry the sins of others within her body and life.

Imagine a woman who trusts and respects herself.
A woman who listens to her needs and desires.
Who meets them with tenderness and grace.

Imagine a woman who acknowledges the past’s influence on the present.
A woman who has walked through her past.
Who has healed into the present.

Imagine a woman who authors her own life.
A woman who exerts, initiates, and moves on her own behalf.
Who refuses to surrender except to her truest self and wisest voice.

Imagine a woman who names her own gods.
A woman who imagines the divine in her image and likeness.
Who designs a personal spirituality to inform her daily life.

Imagine a woman in love with her own body.
A woman who believes her body is enough, just as it is.
Who celebrates its rhythms and cycles as an exquisite resource.

Imagine a woman who honors the body of the Goddess in her changing body.
A woman who celebrates the accumulation of her years and her wisdom.
Who refuses to use her life-energy disguising the changes in her body and life.

Imagine a woman who values the women in her life.
A woman who sits in circles of women.
Who is reminded of the truth about herself when she forgets.

Imagine yourself as this woman.

“Imagine a Woman” © Patricia Lynn Reilly 1995

Christmas 2014

This year I am acutely aware of the freedom and expansion that Heartworks brings to my everyday life. The opportunity I am offered every day to be with women who desire a deeper life experience, the opportunity to give to people who are struggling in memory of my own struggles, and in honor of those unseen, yet coming, brings me to my knees.

Because of the donations Heartworks receives, we were able to give away 19 wreaths filled with the prayers of over 70 Heartworkers to families dealing with loss and illness this Christmas. We were able to buy and wrap gifts for moms taking care of their sick children, we were able to deliver a Christmas tree, gifts and Christmas Eve dinner for a mom who is on her ass with chemo treatment and provide Christmas dinner for another mom too sick to cook. We gave gifts to four other families in hopes to take some stress off of them this month. We gave checks to three boys in their 20’s, enduring treatment for cancer so that they can shop online and feel good about gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. One of these boys wrote us to let us know he used part of the money we gave him to buy gifts for the kids undergoing treatment at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital.

The message that this gesture sends to me is that even in the midst of chemotherapy, a loved heart has love to give and by offering this love to other human beings who are suffering, helps us all to heal. This gesture helped him, the children he is giving to, and to each of us who were sitting around the table at Heartworks reading his note. When we offer love during our own struggles it helps us to feel less alone, less targeted by the distress. To give during illness, divorce, depression, grief, change, financial struggles, mental illness, loneliness, regret, addiction, physical pain and wounds that pull families apart, helps us to glimpse the mystery that is bigger than ourselves. Heartworks allows us all to do this.

I am always reminded this week of Christmas 2001 when my entire family woke up at my sister’s house on a seemingly impossible Christmas morning to find that the wave of love that had carried us through the month of December also carried us through the day. This is what we hope to offer others this year…a sense of love during a seemingly impossible time of year for so many people.

Thank you to all of you who participate in the receiving and the giving this month.

I pray that our hearts feel settled amidst the unsettledness of life.

I pray for our service men and women and their families this week.

I pray for those living in acute suffering, that moments of peace find them.

I pray for all of those who have no one to pray for them.

I pray for anyone who is hungry and cold that someone reaches out to them.

I pray that those of us living with health and full dinner tables this year feel a sense of gratitude so deep that it quiets the chattering thoughts of our mind.

I pray in gratitude for the ability and opportunity to use the time I am given to focus on meaningful things so that my mind is not taken over by static.

Losing My Mind for Christmas

So it’s December 1st…My seven-year-old handed me a list of 54 things she is asking Santa for and I haven’t looked at my other two daughters’ lists yet. My house is half decorated, which is my weekend-after-Thanksgiving tradition, but now I don’t feel like lugging the empty storage bins back up to the attic and the dog is eating half the stuff I put out yesterday.

Hmmm…the holidays…The dance of looking forward to the fun, combined with an underlining feeling of anxiety, mixed in with moments of sweetness (My seven-year-old in a Santa hat, humming Christmas songs as she adds fake vomit to her list of 54 items).

My commitment this year, as it is every year, is to put conscious focus on losing my mind. YES, losing my mind…losing my mind completely. I have come to learn that my mind will not help me over the course of the next 24 days.

My mind will do nothing other than focus on the anxiety and the “not done yet list.” My mind will focus on the fact that I never got those oversized red Christmas balls I said I was getting for the tree this year, the crazy amount of money I am putting on the credit card (not sure of the cost of fake vomit these days), that the house doesn’t look like Pottery Barn, even after I put their pillow on the couch that says “JINGLE.”

My mind will keep telling me that I need new black heels and a highlight and to lose 10 pounds, preferably this week. My mind will rob me of the magic the books on my mantle are talking about. My mind will cloud the fun this month offers. My mind will keep me anxious and reaching for another snowman cookie and double spiked cider.

This is why the Chinese refer to the mind as “the curious organ.” Our culture doesn’t necessarily see it as “curious.” We see it as “the boss,” the organ to depend on and trust. But this dependency on my thoughts will not give me what I want this season.

As cheesy as it sounds, it is my heart I want to listen to. It is my heart that will help me savor these 24 days and it is my heart that is expansive enough to take it all in — the chaos, the beauty, the anticipation, anxiety and the sacredness of what the holidays are meant to be about.

It is my heart that knows for sure that everything that needs to get done will get done. My heart will remember to stop fussing with the lights and sit down to read Mary, The Polar Express. My heart will notice Caroline holding the ornament that we bought in Rhode Island seven years ago and remind me to ask her what she remembers from that trip.

My heart will recognize that Madison’s favorite song, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” is on and to blare it and start dancing with her in the kitchen. It will be my heart, not my mind that tunes me into such moments. My heart can be trusted to not miss the truth. It is my heart that will lead me on the path to peace.

So this year, I am going to talk to my heart all day, every day and ask it to help me see, REALLY see, what is important and ask God all day, every day to help me trust my heart and not my mind.

Ten Years

Ten years ago this month I was home with two little girls back in my hometown trying to figure out how I was going to move forward in life after witnessing what our community and people from around the world had done for my sister in the weeks and months following the death of her husband in the South Tower on September 11, 2001.

I remember vividly sitting in my kitchen with thoughts of starting a group for women about being aware in our own lives and giving to others. I remember I was afraid to move forward with my ideas, but I was more afraid of waking up ten years later, engulfed in small town static, wondering what would have happened if I had followed through…I remember thinking, “Who the hell am I to start a foundation?”

Well, I was someone who had witnessed the kindness that literally carried my family through the most excruciating year of our lives. That’s who I was now.

So I began with eight women around a table.

I kept at it for ten years.

Now it’s an advisory board of eight women around a table, 70-100 women at monthly meetings and 500 women on an email list, open and engaged in their own struggles and those of others.

I was afraid I could never repay what had been done for us. How would I possibly repay what had been done? The notes of love sent from all over the world, the teddy bears made out of John’s shirts, the random gifts left by the front door, dinners delivered through April, the cars and cars that drove up her driveway to bring her kids to sports, the bills paid in secret at a restaurant where we went to lunch, the centerpiece dropped off at Thanksgiving, the chocolates at Easter, milk and eggs dropped off every Monday morning, money donated by complete strangers.

All these types of seemingly small gestures translated into a daily reminder that when the worst happens, God shows up through other people.

So for ten years we have been mailing love notes, having teddy bears made out shirts, leaving gifts at doors, delivering meals, helping with carpools, treating people to lunch, helping make seemingly impossible holidays festive, grocery shopping for families who are too sad to shop for themselves and giving money for medical bills and grief related expenses.

I have tried to remember every thoughtful gesture done for my sister and her family, but I am sure the fog of that first year has lessened my memory. Honestly it seems impossible to describe, which is why we just do.

Please join us at our next meeting and make the connection between your own losses with those of others. Our greatest hope is that it helps you to feel less alone, more purposeful and grounded. We would love to see you there.

OX ~ Megan

Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night

It has been awhile since I have written. Although thousands of thoughts run through my head in any given day, I do not always make the time or muster the courage to publicly share them. Sometimes writing helps me to feel connected, but sometimes the vulnerability involved simply feels like too much.

My work with Heartworks requires that I am not only in front of a room full of women every month talking about God, illness and finding gratitude, but I am not able to hide behind small talk, bullshit or fake almost ANYTHING because I am such a blathering advocate for BEING REAL, AUTHENTIC and TRUTHFUL to this room of women.

This always leaves me needing to “walk my talk” which sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. My life is blessed with stories of death and resurrection, loss, love and hope. I consciously choose to see these themes in my own life as a way to remind me that we are not alone in any of our experiences, unless we choose not to participate in the realities of life on this planet, in which case we are often left feel desperately alone.

Summer 2012 has not brought much relief to many people and families I care about who are living with illness. But it has brought relief for Charlie and his family as he received news of a third clear brain scan last week. The day after the news, the Ames’ drove down the Jersey Shore to stay with Amy’s sister Kate. Eddie and I surprised them at a bar and drank and danced to Bruce Springsteen and laughed and cried. (Well I cried, while strongly “hugging” or “suffocating” Garrett during a phenomenal rendition of Thunder Road).

It was a night this time last year I never knew if we would have again. It was a concrete reminder to take things one day at a time…that we have no idea of what the further holds and to simply make the best of each day because we never know what is down the (Thunder) Road.”Show a little faith there’s magic in the night”