In the beginning…

Once we place our lives into God’s capable hands, our lives do not become perfect over night. It’s in fact only the beginning of a life long journey to perfect the beautiful masterpiece God has designed us to be. Growing closer in our relationship with God and immersing ourselves in His Word daily is part of our journey towards perfecting that masterpiece. Whether you are just becoming familiar with God’s Word for the first time, or are returning home to God’s Word after being away, this post is for you. What follows is a light introduction to God’s Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him,
and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not comprehend it.
-John 1:1-5

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not comprehend it.
-John 1:1-5

The Bible consists of two main sections – the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament consists of anywhere from 39 (Protestant), 46 (Catholic), or more (Orthodox and other) books written by various authors and produced over a period of centuries. Christians traditionally divide the Old Testament into four main sections:

  • The first 5 books or Pentateuch (Torah).
  • Next is a series of history books sharing the history of the Israelites, from their conquest of Canaan to their defeat and exile in Babylon;
  • Followed by the poetic and “Wisdom books” dealing, in various forms, with questions of good and evil in the world; and
  • Wrapping up with a series of books of the biblical prophets, warning of the consequences of turning away from God.

Meanwhile, the New Testament consists of 27 books. Originally written in Greek, these books record the life and teachings of Jesus and His earliest followers. The New Testament consists of:

  • 4 narratives of the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus called “Gospel” or the Good News.
  • 1 narrative of the Apostle ministries in the early church, called the “Acts of the Apostles”;
  • 21 letters, often called “Epistles” from Greek “epistole”, written by various authors, and consisting of Christian doctrine, counsel, instruction, and conflict resolution; and
  • 1 Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, which is a book of prophecy, containing instructions to 7 local congregations of Asia Minor, and includes prophetical symbology about the end times.

The following is a short video illustrating the enormous impact the Bible has had on us throughout the centuries.

What impact has the Bible has on your life?

The Walk, Part II

Before spreading the Good News, I would like to begin as Apostle Paul did…sharing with you, my readers, of my conversion. It is as follows.

For as long as I can remember, acceptance… from self and others has meant everything. In fact, in what was my Dad’s last Christmas in 2011, I asked him “Dad… are you proud of me?” In a rare, lucid moment with Alzheimer’s disease, his answer came as if from God, “It does not matter what I think; we all have our own path in life.” My path has not been a straight-forward one; rather it’s been one filled with bumps, twists, turns, and potholes. Like many, my life began with inherited spiritual beliefs. Raised Catholic, I was baptized as an infant with my godparents accepting Jesus Christ on my behalf; confirmed at age 10 without fully being aware of what a Christ-filled life meant; and educated in Catholic schools for 12 years where religion books with select biblical verses were open rather than the Bible. At age 24, I married well, but without a faith-based foundation, the marriage eventually fell apart. By 1996, I was a divorced parent with two young children. Hoping to find support from a local church I regularly attended, I received little. Divorced, I was excluded from fellowship and parts of worship. Feeling abandoned, I left the church, and for a time, God too.

Still there was a part of me that sought to fill a void felt in my heart. I began by exploring other faiths… ranging from a variety of Christian denominations and Mormonism to Universal Universalist, Native American Spirituality, and Buddhism… attending a variety of indoor, outdoor, and home-based services along the way. While all faiths were enlightening with many beautiful traditions, the God each one spoke of was beyond reach and somewhere in the distant heavens. None addressed the whispering presence I kept hearing and feeling close to my heart. By November 2008, I was lost, broke, in poor health, underemployed, (and for a time unemployed), and genuinely scared as to whether I would continue to have a roof over my head. Clearly, my life was not working.

At the height of my brokenness, God placed a spiritual guide in my life — a gentle man who from the age of 12 explored religions of the world; a gentleman with a humble spirit who had more knowledge than formal education; and more wisdom than anyone I had ever known. Through contemporary storytelling, he introduced me to the Bible and to God’s Word. He spoke of an all-powerful Heavenly Father filled with immeasurable love and grace; of Jesus Christ, His Son, who not only died for our sins so we would have everlasting life, but who also showed us The Way in which to live life according to God’s plan; and most of all… to the Holy Spirit who resides within our hearts when we choose to believe with powerful whispers that guide and protect us while on our path in life. He also introduced me to the power of prayer; not the memorized words of my youth, but real conversations designed to strengthen my relationship with God. By July 5th, 2010, I was reborn. Soon after my life started to turn around. Overcoming many of my past struggles, I was given a second chance at life… this time following God’s plan for me, not mine. Part of that plan was to be baptized again … this time as an adult. It is then that I saw a reflection in the water that of a prodigal daughter coming home. In accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior, in committing to a living Christ-like life, I long last found real acceptance. My new life, my walk, my relationship with God is a life long journey. Along the way I know I will still stumble and make mistakes. In times of weakness though, I know I can confidently reach out to God in prayer for guidance, wisdom, and strength as Apostle Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthian 12:9: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

The Walk, Part I

Whether you have been on your spiritual walk most of your life or have just begun, we all reach a point in our lives where we want to make much needed changes, but are at a loss as to what to do or where to begin. Crying out in desperation and seeking out God’s help is the first step. And as we take that first step, we often feel unworthy of His grace and unconditional love. You’re not alone in experiencing this anguish. Hope, reassurance, and an incredible amount of inspiration can be found in the story of Apostle Paul. In fact, to demonstrate credibility Apostle Paul began preaching the Gospel by first telling the story of his conversion.

Introduced as Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9:1-19, Paul was the biblical time equivalent to today’s ISIS leader, killing literally thousands of Christians in an effort to save the Jewish faith from those following “The Way”. On his way to Damascus, Syria, Saul saw a light suddenly flash from the heavens. Blinding him and now knocked to the ground, Saul heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asked, “Who are you Lord?” The voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Scared and unable to see, Saul was led by the men traveling with him over the next three days into Damascus. Upon arriving in Damascus, Saul was met by a disciple by the name of Ananais. Sent by God, Ananais placed his hands on Saul’s eyes and had a message for him to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles. With his sight restored, Saul became a believer in Jesus Christ, was baptized as Paul, and went onto become the most devoted follower and preacher of Jesus Christ’s teachings, not to mention the most prolific author of the New Testament, writing 13 of 27 books!

If God can transform Apostle Paul’s life from a Christian killer to the New Testament’s most prolific writer, just imagine what He can do with yours!!

Getting out of the well

It’s been awhile since my last post. With my experiences of late, I thought it would be a great time to jump in with something inspirational. The last six months have had a lot of  ups and downs. It started six months ago with my daughter’s wedding. While a joyous occasion, stress is felt nevertheless, hoping all goes well for my daughter and son-in-law on their special day. The day proved to be extra special as it turned out to be my dad’s last family outing. Shortly after the new year, his health declined and in mid-February he passed away from pneumonia. If his failing health and passing were not enough, I also found myself in and out of Urgent Care and ER with my own health issues; was out of work and on disability for 3 weeks; became engaged to the love of my life; and started house hunting for a larger place for our new life together. With all these ups and downs in such a short period of time, I started to wonder whether life would ever calm down. Just as I started to feel as though I would never climb out of this well I found myself falling into… Justin shared the following parable with me. I share it here as I believe it will help many of you out there who also feel as though you have fallen in the well as a result of life’s stresses and can’t figure out how to step out of it.

Donkey in the Well

One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway, it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey. He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They each grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down. A few shovel loads later, the farmer looked down the well, and was astonished at what he saw. As every shovel of dirt hit his back, the donkey did something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed, as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off.

The Moral: Life is going to shovel dirt on you; all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up as each of our troubles is a stepping stone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up!

Just remember five simple rules to be happy:

  1. Free your heart from hatred.
  2. Free your mind from worries.
  3. Live simply.
  4. Give more.
  5. Expect less.

 

Networking for Modern Times

Networking – whether virtual or face-to-face- can be awkward for those new to it or just plain shy. In fact, many consider networking an art form. Upon reading Effective Networking Techniques  by Rhonda Abrams (http://www.planningshop.com/networkingtechniques.asp) I was then inspired to adapt Ms. Abrams’ 12 tips for the online world. They are as follows:

  1. Know your show before you go. A famous line of music and theatre directors everywhere, it applies here too. It’s not only important to become familiar with the format and purpose of the networking event you are attending, but to become familiar with who will be attending the event too. By doing some homework in advance about the event and who will be attending, you can tailor your message to make the most of the event… for you and your target audience.
  2. You’re always ON so be sure to develop and practice your “elevator speech”. Whether you’re grocery shopping, having lunch with a business associate, or out socializing with the neighbors or with followers in cyberspace, opportunities always arise when you least expect it. With most having a limited attention span of no more than 30 seconds, it’s important to capture someone’s attention from the get go with a statement that is clear, concise, and relevant. Share results, not processes. Let people know how you or the products and services you provide make a difference. Most of all… be mindful that networking opportunities are evolving. Once limited to face-to-face events, technology and social networking are changing how we connect with one another. Yesterday’s elevator speech is today’s LinkedIn profile so make sure your statement is an effective one.
  3. Listen, ask questions, but never interrupt. Whether online or face-to-face, networking is all about building relationships. The best way to build relationships is to listen. People just love to talk about themselves. So when you meet someone of interest, give them your undivided attention. Ask them about who they are, what they do, what they are looking for, and how you can help them. They will feel so good about being with you that they will follow you anywhere. On the flip side, the quickest way to kill a relationship is to interrupt someone in mid-sentence. So when joining an existing discussion, quell your urge to interject with a related story or a point. Interrupting a discussion — whether online or face-to-face — is disrespectful. It not only sends a strong message that the “speaker’s” words carry less weight than yours, but it also demonstrates we are not actively following the conversation. So listen and wait your turn. Before you know it, you’ll be winning and influencing friends, boosting profits, and advancing your career too.
  4. Approach people who have a limited following. Networking can be intimidating. So whether you’re online or face-to-face, take the opportunity to “work the room” and introduce yourself to those who are alone. Most individuals like talking about themselves and will be thrilled that you “rescued” them from making the first move.
  5. Give people “breathing room”. Timing is everything. Whether you are face-to-face or in a discussion group online, share meaningful conversation. Save your “elevator speech” for when you are specifically asked about yourself or your business.
  6. Exchange business cards. Whether on card stock or in electronic form, be sure to exchange contact information, noting who they are, their goals, interests, and values, as well as how you can fulfill them.
  7. Market yourself … discreetly. The best way to market yourself is to be remembered for your actions; not your words. Share your knowledge or expertise. Hand out referrals if you hear a need you cannot fulfill, or complements a product or service you offer. Freely introduce your contacts to others and speak kindly of your competition. Then, be prepared to discreetly share a few brochures when asked. Whether on disk, online, or in your briefcase, purse, or car, be sure to have some brochures on hand just in case a potential customer wants more information.
  8. Dress for success – literally and figuratively. Did I mention, you are always ON? Regardless of where you are, dress neatly, cleanly, and appropriately as you never know who you may be meeting or the event you may be attending. Both are apt to occur on little or no notice. Figuratively speaking, conduct yourself in a way that would make your Mother proud. Whether online or face-to-face, if you are unsure about the accepted mode of dress and rules of conduct, do not assume. Check with the host/hostess in advance as both often vary.
  9. Show up early; stay late. When attending an online or face-to-face networking event, make it a point to show up early and stay late. Often, the best networking opportunities occur before and/or after the business portion of the event.
  10. Follow-up. If you experienced an especially meaningful conversation with someone — professionally or personally— specify how and when you’ll follow up with them then do so!
  11. Move on rather than cling on. Whether face-to-face or online, networking can be awkward, especially for those who are shy or new to it. For these reasons, we often gravitate towards people we know or stick to one person for the duration of an event. Quell the urge, move on, and work the room by introducing yourself if for no other reason than that both of you could be missing out on other opportunities.
  12. Circle back. At the end of a networking event, try to find and say goodbye to your most promising connections. Thank them and reiterate that you will touch base with them soon.

In search of new life?

Have you ever had two thoughts that at first glance seemed unrelated yet as the day progressed, they came together as one? Synchronicity as it is called happened to me today… Good Friday… and on LinkedIn no less. One individual with whom I have been following for some time on the social media site quoted Reverend Dr. Peola Hicks as saying, “Good Friday is a day of hope. It is a day where we look forward to a brighter tomorrow. Many things have happened to change the course of our lives, but it has not shaken our faith.” My response … ” I truly believe in this quote. Good Friday is a day in which we have an opportunity to turn over our heavy burdens to our Lord. When we do so, we have a chance to rise above those challenges and start life anew.”

Soon after I shared that one, a new, companion thought resonated within me as I read another post on the same site. It posed the question, “Why are so many Christian Marriages falling apart? What advice, scriptures, etc. would you give to fellow believers to keep their marriages together?”That question really resonated with me because, like many nowadays, my marriage failed many years ago after 17 years for a variety of reasons in spite of truly believing marriage was designed to be a sturdy, unbreakable ‘three stranded cord’ between man, woman and God. Further, I believed then as I do now that marriage is about giving not just receiving; it’s about compromise; and most of all… it is about being able to love and accept God, our spouse, and our selves unconditionally regardless of the obstacles placed before us. So if I believe all that, what exactly happened, you ask? Reality. Sinner or Saint, Christian or not, we are after all human. As humans, our bonds are challenged from time to time… and what better way is there to challenge our bond than with our own vulnerabilities? Our vulnerabilities come in many forms… from outside influences as well as from doubts, fears, and unrealistic expectations we bring to each of our relationships, including marriage, from day one. No matter how we try, those vulnerabilities get in the way, constantly gnawing at those “strands” over time.

It is our little doubts from time to time that start to add up and get in the way of feeling loved and accepted for who we truly are until we panic because we fear rejection. Little by little, it is our fear of rejection that breeds unrealistic expectations about our selves, distorting the actual bond we share with God and our life partner. Most of all… it is all those little unrealistic expectations that isolate us as we withhold our true thoughts and our feelings not only from our Creator, but from our life partner too. One by one, it is all those thoughts and feelings that eat away at us and the cord designed to bond us.

So what causes all of this to occur among us – including Christians? In a word… communication … or lack thereof. It is the lack of communication over time that prevents us from being open with and true to God, our life partner, and our selves, thereby weakening our once sturdy strands. While designed to bond us, our three-stranded cord is still no match for our free will. Just as we are free to tough it out, we are also free to walk away from it. Unfortunately, for many, myself included at one time, walking away when things get too tough is too easy of an option; far better than staying to face the depth of our challenges … many of which are of our own making. The truth is…should we stay to save our bond, we most likely discover it is those very challenges that test and strengthen that bond. Today is Good Friday. As with Jesus, God presents us with many difficult challenges during our lifetime. Over time, those challenges weigh very heavy on our shoulders. Proving to be our wooden cross, we bear it the best we can. Still.. we will no doubt stumble and fall many times, picking ourselves up each time as we try to move more forward.

What advice do I offer others who wish to keep their relationships alive? Communicate, communicate, communicate with all of your heart, mind, and spirit until you are raw and crying out to God and your life partner in pain. It is then I learned your bond with God and your life partner becomes most real. Most of all… have faith in the love that binds you. In rising above your challenges, you are given the most precious gift … a chance for a new life.

Have a good Friday and a very blessed Easter! ~ Theresa —)-@

Give a gift that keeps on giving…

Today’s Valentine’s Day… a day in which we demonstrate in ways big and small just how much we love our significant other. But why save this gift for one day a year when it can be shared every day of the year?

Since we met over 2 years ago, Justin has never ceased to amaze me. He seems to know innately what I think and feel, often before I can articulate what it is I am thinking and feeling. What’s more, he expresses his love for me in so many beautiful ways every day of the year. So much so that I feel as though Valentine’s Day is every day. He expresses his love for me in ways I understand and appreciate… it’s as though he “speaks” my language of love.

So what exactly is my language of love? Or his for that matter? Shortly after we met, he told me about a book called “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman. With over 30 years of marriage counseling experience, Dr. Chapman has probably seen and heard it all. Working with couples young and old and at every stage of a relationship , he discovered many call it quits with poor communications being the root cause. Oddly enough many felt they were openly sharing their feelings with their partner. The reality? There was a lot of sharing going on, but not a lot of comprehending because they were not “speaking” the same language…

How can that be you ask? Over the years, Dr. Chapman noticed a pattern in all the individuals he had ever counseled. Each had a “love language” — a primary way of expressing and interpreting love. Further, for whatever reason, he discovered that people were often drawn to those who “spoke” a different love language than their own.

Of the countless ways we can show our love for one another, Dr. Chapman discovered five key love languages to be universal and comprehensive, with each of us having a primary love language in which we identify:

  1. Words of Affirmation. Actions don’t always speak louder than words. Unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important. So is hearing the reasons behind that love. Both send your  spirits skyward while insults leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.
  2. Quality Time. If this is your love language, nothing says, “I love you,” like the full, undivided attention of your partner. Being there is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, cell phone off, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.
  3. Receiving Gifts. Not to be confused with materialism, with this love language the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift, not just the gift itself. The “perfect” gift or gesture demonstrates that you are cared for and valued above the sacrifice made. A missed birthday or a  thoughtless gift would be disastrous as would be the absence of everyday gestures.
  4. Acts of Service. Can doing dishes really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of your love one is an “Act of Service” that speaks volumes. The words he or she loves to hear would be: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.
  5. Physical Touch. This love language is not all about the bedroom. Rather, a person whose primary language is Physical Touch responds to the sense of touch. This includes hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face. All demonstrate excitement, concern, care, and yes… love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse are often unforgivable and/or destructive.

To find out your primary love language and that of your partner, check out the Five Love Languages Test. Knowing how your partner expresses and responds to love will not only open the lines of communications between you, but it will also deepen your relationship and provide greater intimacy. So give your Valentine a gift that keeps on giving every day of the year… give him or her a gift of love spoken in his or her language.

Does technology serve us?

Two events converged recently that made me stop and reflect on them before sharing with you. The first event occurred Friday night when Justin and I attended a Friday Night Soiree. If you have never been to one, they’re a great way to spend an evening with like-minded friends old and new, sharing a meal then viewing and discussing a thought-provoking movie. While there are several places around town that host them, we attended one at You Rock Academy in the Corn Hill District. Friday night’s movie was “Man from Earth”… a provocative movie about life, death, immortality and how our inherited beliefs affect our perceptions of the world around us and ultimately on how we choose to live our life. While Justin and I found the topic fascinating, it became too much for some. One couple even left right after the movie! Just as provocative for some, was the discussion that followed the one about the movie; namely, our obsession with technology. While many in the group were passionate in their views that technology was a wonderful means of communicating with the world, I was equally, if not more passionate in my view that our obsession with it is often unhealthy. Perhaps this passion comes from the fact that there was a time when I used technology to isolate myself from the world until I woke up one day to discover that the world was passing me by. That day came when I struggled to find work and had to rely on the kindness of others to help me through it. It was then I realized we could not go through life alone; that we needed to rely on a sense of community to help us through those challenges beyond our control to resolve on our own. This occurs at some point in our lives by design so we learn that there is so much life beyond the four walls we build around us. Often times, technology becomes so convenient that it takes the place of real human interactions. It can isolate us from our family and friends as well as from the very communities that sustain our life and our livelihood.

Evidently I am not the only one who feels disenchanted with our modern times. The second converging event occurred the following night as Justin and I were watching a new BBC series on PBS. “Reggie Perrin” is a British comedy about a middle-aged executive who is dissatisfied with modern day living. The episode that night opened with the title character commuting to work by train. Disenchanted with all his fellow commuters who were connected to technology rather to each other, I found myself cheering Reggie on as he fantasized about using a pair of trimming sheers to cut the cord of the portable device attached to a commuter. I cannot tell you the number of times I have wanted to do something along those lines just to get the attention of the masses. Perhaps this article serves as my set of trimming sheers.

I don’t hate technology … really. In fact it’s been my livelihood for over 30 years. Over the last few years though, it has lost some of its appeal. The sheer convenience of it all makes those already prone to being anti-social another means by which to be antisocial. So many of us are already isolated from our real communities as a result of our jobs, families, daily commutes, and more; this isolation is amplified further as we spend all of our free time building a virtual community one from the comfort of their easy chair and a laptop. Whether at work, school, or at home, many of us IM, text, and e-mail the people we are in contact with rather than calling by phone or conversing face-to-face. While family members may be as physically close to us as the next room, much of our socialization nowadays occurs online with “friends” from the other side. While we have never met them, they get more quality time than our neighbors who live just beyond our front door! This self-imposed isolation reduces the level of intimacy we share with our loved ones and puts our communities and our nation at risk in the event of an emergency.

I know… I know… you are probably thinking I am a bit whacked by now. But consider this. What would happen if you woke up one day to discover that all of this technology no longer worked? When I posed this very question at the Friday’s Soiree, the response was unanimous… “I would rather die as I wouldn’t be able to function without it.” How sad I thought as this is not a fantasy, rather a real possibility. Just a few years ago, there was a heat wave. With so many people using electricity, a regional electrical grid blew out causing a blackout of the entire northeast US for a day. With our dependence on technology even greater now than a few years ago, what would happen if such an event occurred today and lasted weeks or months rather than days? How would the virtual communities we created with our imaginations and our laptops help us then? Thankfully, when the blackout occurred a few years back, we were able to rely on our neighbors and the services available within our communities to sustain us in our hour of need until electricity and the technology that uses it were restored. It was during this “downtime” that our communities came to our rescue. If we do not get out of our easy chairs now and serve our communities in their time of need, a time will come when they will no longer be there to serve us.

So… this leaves me asking…does technology really serve us? Or do we serve it?

Can Marriage Jeopardize Your Future?

After embracing singlehood for many years, I am now “over the moon” about sharing my life with the most incredible man. Justin is everything I ever hoped for in a mate and more. Together we share a level of intimacy most cannot imagine. What’s more, as our relationship has evolved, we have redefined and expanded the meaning of family. While not yet legally married, we feel more married than either of us felt with our former mates. Asked from time to time, “why not marry?” the answer is always the same, “what incentive do we have to do so?” While we love each other very much and do wish to marry, reality has a way of taking a bite out of personal preference as we find ourselves deferring our wedding plans until age 60 by circumstance rather than choice. To marry sooner would actually jeopardize our future. This reality is particularly difficult as we truly believe in marriage, feel more married in every possible way except on paper, and from time to time face the scrutiny and disapproval of friends, family, and the spiritual community at large for this decision. As difficult as this decision is for us to make, we are not alone. In fact, according to Bowling Green State University Demographer Susan Brown, a 2006 study indicates that 1.8 million Americans aged 50 and above live in heterosexual “unmarried-partner households.” This is a 50% increase from 2000 figures. More recent US Census data results are more staggering, indicating that between 2000 and 2008, the number of cohabiting persons aged 50 and older almost doubled, from 1.2 million to 2.2 million!

How is this possible, you ask? The answer is quite simple. It’s not practical financially or personally to do so. What’s more, current government policies fail us morally and socially by discouraging marriage and encouraging cohabitation! First off… the financial reasons, which include tax penalties, loss of military and pension benefits, loss of alimony, fear of incurring liability for partner’s medical expenses, credit rating protection, separation of current debt, increase in health insurance costs, and asset protection. Then there’s the personal reasons such as lack of concern over what others think, love and friendship over romance, concerns over children’s inheritance, and anti-marriage attitude carried over from a previous relationship. The final “nail in the coffin” is found in the government policies including social security benefits, Medicaid, and health care reform that all favor cohabitation over marriage. For example, did you know that widows who stayed home while their husbands worked must remain unmarried to keep their deceased husbands’ Social Security checks? This is also true in the case of divorce. If your former spouse earned more than your current partner, then you may lose significant Social Security benefits if you remarry before the age of 60 (50 if disabled). The incentives to cohabit rather than marry should love blossom again are huge. Then there’s the infamous “Medicaid divorce.” In this scenario, a loving couple divorce to make an ill spouse poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. This allows the other spouse to preserve what’s left of the family’s assets. Finally, there’s our recent health care reform. Thanks to this so-called “reform, unmarried couples actually receive “cohabitation bonuses.” Case in point… if two 60-year-olds earn $30,000 per year, cohabitating couples are entitled to $10,425 in health care subsidies, while the same couple would not be entitled to them if married.

As absurd as all this sounds, there are little if any incentives for couples young or old to marry anymore. And we haven’t even talked about today’s divorce rates!. What incentive do you have to marry when you are actually rewarded financially in a big way to defer, or actually forgo your wedding plans altogether?  Once again, as baby boomers, we are testing our social institutions along with current social policies as we age. Hopefully, common sense will eventually prevail, with the necessary adjustments being made to social policies so couples like Justin and myself who truly believe in and want to marry can do so without being penalized.

Remember … touch a life today “The Little Way” by following the lead and need of others. Also, if you ever thought to yourself, “I wish my community, knew…”, then be sure to visit White Light Communications at http://www.tothewhitelight.com.

~ Theresa

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Yearning for Eden?

So how did our yearning for Eden come to be? Since the time of Adam and Eve, we have yearned to live in perfect harmony with nature and to be in communion with God as through His Son, He promised us both. Along with this promise, He warned Adam and Eve that human nature was not capable of handling the knowledge of good and evil. Unfortunately, the ancient serpent convinced them otherwise with a lie. From then on, Adam and Eve, along with the rest of us, have been barred from entering the Garden of Eden. Since then, we have longed to return to Eden.

Throughout history, this yearning has manifested itself in many ways. In fact, American literature is full of essays, stories, and poetry with the theme of returning to Eden. Thoreau has his “Walden Pond” – a detailed account of living for two years in a shack of his own construction on land near Concord, Massachusetts. While written long ago, the essay has not lost any of its power with his appeal for all of us to “simplify simplify simplify.” If anything, that appeal has only grown over time. Then there’s John Milton who immersed himself in the perfect world of Eden in “Paradise Lost” – a rich garden everyone sought, including Satan, who hoped to destroy it and in his quest to do so received directions from none other than a helpful angel who had no concept of evil. Finally, who can forget “East of Eden” – John Steinbeck’s novel that revolves around the theme of good and evil.

One doesn’t have to look very far or very long ago to realize the art world is full of masterpieces depicting the search for paradise too. Currently on exhibition at Boston University School of Visual Arts is a collection of photographs entitled In Search of Eden: A Work in Progress by the collective TRIIIBE. A collaborative effort among founders Alicia, Kelly, Sara Casilio, and Cary Wolinsky along with many artists, this series of photographs revisits the biblical creation story, the notion of temptation, and the eternal quest for Eden. Continuously evolving, this exhibit plays with cultural ideas of identity and values.

Then there is you and me. We too have a desire to return to our original state of being with this desire manifesting itself in our life choices. For this reason it is a formidable source of motivation for us whether positive or negative. In our desire to be empowered, we seek Eden in our work.  In craving oneness, intimacy, and perfect love, we seek Eden in our relationships with those we feel a connection.  In seeking peace of mind and enlightenment, we seek Eden by embracing beliefs and following a spiritual path. In seeking beauty, we seek Eden when we pursue creative activities.  In seeking to numb the pain of life’s stresses, we find ourselves  succumbing to an addiction or a bad habit, when we are actually seeking Eden’s joy. Throughout our life and in everything we do good or bad, our life choices reflect a deep, largely unconscious desire to return to the “Garden of Eden” to reclaim the joy and ecstasy we lost so long ago.

So what is it about Eden we really seek? It’s not for its real estate. Rather, what we really yearn for is a feeling of “home” within the beautiful paradise God promised us. In the truest sense, this “home” never really left us and is within our reach. It’s just that in using our gift of free will, we have made many life choices… one of which being to leave “home.” Tempted and caught up in the unknown, we lose sight of where we were. Losing our way, we then struggle to find our way back home again. Just like the father who embraces his prodigal son upon returning home, God too is waiting for us. At the entrance of the Garden of Eden, He is waiting to embrace us upon our return. It is only then we realize this that we not only come home to God’s warm embrace, but  we also once again experience the pure joy and total ecstasy that is Eden.

Remember … touch a life today “The Little Way” by following the lead and need of others. Also, if you ever thought to yourself, “I wish my community, knew…”, then be sure to visit White Light Communications at http://www.tothewhitelight.com.

~ Theresa

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