Josh Groban in Madison Square Garden, New York

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I have not been writing here much, which does not mean I have not been writing. I finished two writing projects, offline. But I wanted to come back here as well and share some of my adventures from the last month. I treated myself to a trip to New York and Lancaster, to visit friends, to visit a few places that are meaningful to me, to spend some time sightseeing and – primarily, to go to Josh Groban concert in Madison Square Garden, New York.

There are moments in life where we step onto another level, as if the floor moves up higher, our heart and soul are lifted up, and for a moment all the worries we usually carry within dissipate and hope rises up instead. Often those moments are shared with someone close to us. But on a rare occasion a public event does the same. Josh Groban’s concert usually provides that kind of experience for me. Sitting in Madison Square Garden was like a ‘mountaintop’ moment in my life, when after a long climb, perhaps a few falls, I came up on the highest clearing on top of the mountain. The view stretched far in every direction.

It was not only Josh Groban. Idina Menzel, who was opening for Josh, was simply breathtakingly amazing. She became famous through the musical ‘The Wicked’. I knew she was a good singer. I did not know I was going to be that impressed.

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Mountaintop moments also remind us of what we love and where we belong. As I was enjoying the view from the top in New York, my eyes could see further away in the distance, towards those green Irish hills that have my heart. In those moments when a heart is on a ‘high’ it is hard to sum up the thoughts, emotions, sentiments that are born with every heartbeat. Somehow they bring up a rich quality of longing for: home.

VIP ticket

A few years ago, in May 2016, I had another ‘mountaintop’ moment, that time in Dublin. Josh Groban was touring for his album “Stages” and when the time drew nearer to the concert I realised I did not have a ticket, but wanted one. But there were no more tickets! The almighty and ‘all-knowing’ Facebook read my mind and suggested I buy a VIP ticket. This included meet and greet, and a very good seat almost at the stage. I said to myself, “I live only once. I’m going to go for it” and to this day have not regretted it.

All the VIP people got an email with instructions when to arrive, which I was not aware of as I did not get that email. I came, in my view, early. The person at the ticket desk said, “Oh, you are Iva. Follow me”. He took me upstairs to a room where everyone was having cocktails and I felt very VIP. There he introduced me to a man in charge who told me, “Unfortunately you were late. You missed the meet and greet”. Ah! What? He explained about the email. I explained I never got it. And thankfully there were two more people who also never got the email so the man said, “I will talk to Josh. Let me see what I can do”. Little nervous, but hopeful, I chatted to other VIPs about their experiences. The man in charge came back and said, “Josh said he will meet you after the show. Wait for me at the ticket desk, and I will take you backstage”. Yes, sir! This turned out to be better, than the official ‘meet and greet’.

When one artist meets another, though Josh Groban didn’t know I’m an artist too 😉

I remember at the time, I was trying to figure out what was behind an infatuation with a celebrity, as I certainly had it with this guy and another one who is a life coach. The fact they look gorgeous helps, but I don’t think that’s it. Mark Twain (apparently) said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why”. These guys do what they are supposed to do, they are who they are supposed to be. They are not perfect, but that’s their charm. Josh Groban is amazing in what he does. When he is on stage you see he is born for this. If you are not familiar with him YouTube can give you an idea of the beauty of the songs, but the concert will blow you away. At his concerts I am regularly reminded that we are all created for greatness. And if what you do can inspire that in others, you will attract people.

Life brings us through mud sometimes. You know, those experiences we rather would not go through. Then, thankfully, we either recover or graciously end up on a mountaintop. We should make the most of it when that happens, because the view is beautiful. Some people’s lives help us to reach and enjoy those mountaintops, and they do it with humour and style. That’s where our infatuation with them lies. Or perhaps I should just speak for myself.

© Iva Beranek (1st December 2018)
Photos by © Iva Beranek
(Last 3 photos: two distant ones are from New York, the closer one is from Dublin)

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The song that sings by itself

Iva-Rovinj

Love is my song and yet I don’t always know how to sing it…. in a way it sings by itself, in every breath we take, in waking moments, at night when we cannot sleep or when we dream the most beautiful dreams, in waterfalls as they fall softly on the ground, carving their way thought the mountains and joining rivers, singing with the trees.

This beauty of love is in you and I. In the exquisite dance in the moonlight under the stars, when no one sees us but wild beasts; a wolf on a pathway nearby hidden with the trees, a lark that awoke as we sang our sweet song, a nightingale softly joins in with her tune. I have never before heard a nightingale’s voice, the kindest sound one can hear. It unlocks our destiny, opens up our hearts.

With a sigh, we fall into each other’s arms as if it’s a soft bed, ready to caress us with the breeze of the night.

This beauty is you and I, as we met in the moonlight. I see myself in your eyes, you see yourself in mine. Just one gaze, the same exact smile, mirror of beauty and of love.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 17th February 2017, fantasy)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Taking charge of stress

Cherry-blossoms-pic by Iva

“Somehow, we’ll find it. The balance between whom we wish to be and whom we need to be. But for now, we simply have to be satisfied with who we are.” 
(Brandon Sanderson)

Perhaps you have a balanced life, some people do, with enough rest, enough play and interaction with family and friends, healthy life-style, and a balanced working-life. You may even take time to invest in your prayer life. If that’s you, well done. Keep doing what you are doing, as it is serving you well.

Most of us, on the other hand, will struggle with stress from time to time. Whenever we 
are overwhelmed in any one area of our life, it may be helpful to find ways to de-stress and 
do whatever will help us get out of our head at least a few times a day. We may already have 
things we do that are helpful in this regard, so these suggestions are only meant as pointers. Use them if they help you, leave them behind if they don’t.
“Stress management is all about taking charge: of your lifestyle, thoughts, emotions, and the way you deal with problems. No matter how stressful your life seems, there are steps you can take to relieve the pressure and regain control.”*

Listen to your body

No matter what is going on in our life, our body will feel it. If you need rest, let your body tell you and try to make room for things you find relaxing. If you need friends, a listening ear, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for support. If you are not eating well, make sure to include at least a few healthy meals throughout your days. This may seem so obvious that we take it for granted at times but looking after out bodies is as important as it is looking after our soul and our hearts. Self-care is crucial if we want to have a good quality of life.

Exercise

Exercise is as important for mental health as much as for our physical wellbeing. Whether it is swimming, cycling, walking, running; if we have a lot on our mind, physical exercise will somehow clear our head from worrying. At the moment I use an app with a variety of exercises; it helps me to schedule exercise in my week. You, however, find whatever suits you best. Even short walks in fresh air, in the park, will do the trick.

Explore creativity 

Whether it’s writing, photography, pottery, cooking, or something else it does not really matter as long as you try to express yourself in a creative way. It is not about being perfect in something, 
but rather about having fun. Creativity invigorates us and opens up new possibilities. 
It challenges our way of thinking, in a non-threatening way. It can also help express some of 
the heavier emotions that are better to be carried by the paper than by ourselves.

Pray 

When we have a lot going on, it is easy to convince ourselves that we do not have time to pray. However, taking time to connect with the Source of peace and love will only help us when 
life appears like a stormy sea. Even ten or twenty minutes a day spent in God’s presence will 
make a difference. We can read a Scripture passage and pray with it or simply come to the Lord 
and share how we feel. It is good to allow the moments of silence, of listening, to penetrate 
our reality. God invites us to come to Him as we are, knowing that no matter how we feel, 
we are loved.

These suggestions are not exhaustive. When we find ways to de-stress, we will gain more energy and enthusiasm for life. In turn, worries might turn into challenges, something perhaps we can even enjoy, and obstacles might prove to be new opportunities. This will come only with practice and regular effort, but eventually we may end up being creative even in how we live our life, and that would have made all the difference.

* (http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-management.htm)
© Iva Beranek
Photo by © Iva Beranek

The power of saying ‘No’. 8th amendment

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Overall, it seems to be easier to say ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ in social circles, work environment, in terms of self-discipline or in many other situations. We don’t often hear someone say, “I really struggle saying yes?” On the other hand, we all struggle with saying no at times.

In this light, I find it interesting that at least sometimes political arguments are framed in such a way so that the less popular opinion (but not necessarily less valuable) is represented with a ‘no’ vote. I am not sure if that is intentional, knowing that psychologically it can be harder to voice our ‘no’. Harder, perhaps, but equally important.

In the upcoming Irish Referendum on the 8th amendment, if I could vote, I would vote ‘no’.

When you firmly hold to the conviction that human life starts at the conception, fully aware that the science over the last decades confirms this conviction, it is very hard to wrap your head around anything that would want to deny the right to life to yet-not born members of our human family. I googled ‘conception’ and the online dictionary gave me this definition: “the action of conceiving a child or of one being conceived”. Even a simple dictionary acknowledges there is a child present at the start of the pregnancy.

This is the text of the Irish Constitution that the Irish people will vote to retain or repeal in the referendum on 25th May: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

What is wrong with that? Honestly. If the mother’s life is in danger or if mother is ill, then she can be treated accordingly. In this article for example you can read about the cancer treatment for women who are pregnant. The treatment can start during pregnancy, with no danger for the unborn child.

Those who want to repeal the 8th use words like ‘compassion’ and ‘respect’ in their campaign. Compassion and respect are things I value myself. Since ‘yes’ campaign writes about them, these values must mean something to them. However, as someone I know recently said, “We cannot be selective in our compassion”.

I understand, not every child is conceived in ideal circumstances. Those women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies, need our utmost support and help, but suggesting that the mother and her unborn child almost become ‘enemies’ cannot be based on compassion. Last week I was walking around St Stephen’s Green and I saw, not for the first time, the ‘yes’ posters covering the ‘no’ poster.

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I hesitated with posting the picture. Primarily because I do not want to show it as a ‘shame’ mechanism. I was angry when I saw it. But instead of writing angrily about it, I decided to bring it into prayer and to pray for the needs of the people who did that. I don’t know the reasons why people had the need to do it. However, covering the opponents poster with your own poster is not only immature. It is called: silencing.

Interestingly, International Missing Children’s Day is celebrated on 25th May. If the ‘yes’ vote goes through, it will be worse than silencing. Some children will really be missing, from our families, schools, public life, …from our wombs. “My body, my choice” is an interesting one. If I were pregnant, the child in me would not be ‘my’ body – it would be a small body of the child in me, but it would not be ‘me’. Where is the compassion for the child not yet born?

child-who asked me

Since I did post the picture of the ‘yes’ posters, I want to address what is on one of the posters. The poster that says ‘stop shaming women’ always startles me. I always feel like it points the finger and I ask myself: me? I am not shaming women. Who is shaming women? Can you not be more specific? People who do not agree with abortion – because it takes the life of a child – have not been speaking judgmentally about women who have had an abortion. I have heard a few priests share how in their pastoral role they have helped women to regain self-worth and know they are loved by God, even though they felt inner turmoil after the abortion. Same as any one of us, when we bring to God what we did wrong, under various circumstances, God forgives, and restores our self-image. That is the language I have been hearing from the ‘no’ side. Absolute ‘zero’ shaming, but actual compassion. Recently at Mass the priest mentioned one woman who had an abortion telling him something along these lines, “people think abortion is a ‘quick fix’. But there is no quick fix for grief and regret”.

Please inform yourself fully before you vote on 25th May. A lot is at stake here. Let our compassion not be selective. May it include the child as well as the mother.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 8th May 2018)

Guardians of the light

Iva-pic

Hidden, in the depth of the womb
Light has burst into existence
Invisible to any eye but God’s
More glorious than the creation of the world
More miraculous than the fact there is life on earth
More breathtaking than a seed that blossoms into a tree
More fascinating than a bird in flight
Or a fully star-lit sky at night
Because God lives within it

And yet it’s a humble start
And some won’t make it
Because of uncertainty of nature
Or the knife

But you and I
Can be guardians of this light
Miraculous as it is
For when people hand someone the knife to put it down,
their angels weep

© Iva Beranek (2017) #savethe8th

 

Offering daily reflections on RTÉ

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This is in the studio of RTÉ Radio 1 in Dublin, where earlier in the year I recorded scripts for the programme “A Living Word”. These short daily reflections were on air from Monday 29th January till Friday 2nd February and for those of you who missed it, you can hear them online at this link. You will need to scroll down to the actual date, where it will say my name, click on each day and enjoy.
I will be recording new scripts over the next few days and they will air soon too.

If you would like to join my mailing list about my speaking and writing adventures, comment below with your email address.

To those of you who celebrate: a very Happy Easter!

© Iva Beranek

He walks in the shadows

He walks in the shadows
illuminating them with light
in the lowliest places he dies
turning dead-ends into life

When I was down
on the ground
pleading for him to hear
my heart’s cry
he listened,
not from above
but from the lowest place
in the garden
where he did the same
pleading to the Father
for the cup to pass him by

he knew our sorrows
so we can clothe them with his joys
he became a citizen of earth
like us
to lead us home
beyond the constrains
of this life
showing that heaven
always
first
starts within
our hearts

© Iva Beranek (Chicago, 31st March 2018)

New Year’s resolutions turned into goals

Iva-poem on a leaf

The wind is hustling outside my house as if it has something important to say, and I can hear the rain washing my windows as well. The year is young, but the wind does not know it. Some people start the New Year with resolutions, determined to better their life in one way or another. Do you?

In January 2005 I remember writing ten things I wanted to achieve in the future. I wrote them on a small paper in a pub in Belfast, during my first visit there, before I moved to live in Ireland. I did not limit the list to the year ahead, those were merely guidelines, pointers for me to follow along the way. I was surprised to find that paper years after, and was happy to see that more than half on that list has been achieved. I remember some of them, not necessarily in the order I wrote them. 1. Move to Ireland, 2. Find a course to study (in Ireland), 3. Do something that scares you, 4. (I can’t tell you this one), 5. Start another hobby, and so on.

Another year I wrote down how I wanted to write more hand-written letters, and I did. For a few years, I nurtured this tradition faithfully. I noticed that when I write something down it remains in my memory and keeps me focused more than if I merely think about it.

In recent times I stopped writing lists, and instead I started doing something practical throughout the year, something I can then continue building on in the new year. For instance in October 2014 I joined the gym with 50m swimming pool, and I loved it. Often swimming would calm me down if something upset me, it wasn’t only good for my fitness but for my general wellbeing. While I am no longer a member of that club, and I have not been swimming since the summer, I have a built in exercise in my schedule. It’s not perfect, but it works.

Now I prefer to focus more on goals rather than resolutions. I like to start working on them before the old year turns into new, so I already have a momentum in January.

Strange for me as a writer is that I don’t like talking about them, unless it is with a selected few who will cheer me on. One would think that writers want to tell you everything, but we also have our personalities, same as everyone else does. For a writer who is also an introvert there is an interesting dance between the desire to share your thoughts and experiences wrapped up in the craft of the written word, and the need to keep things within, ponder on them, like Mary did, until you have something valuable to say.

Among other things, I decided to start this year with gratitude. I have already been paying attention to things that make me thankful. Gratitude is not a magic trick, but it does help in supplying us with a better attitude. Recently I had a difficult day, because I spent more time on my own than even an introvert needs. I went for a walk and started recalling everything I was grateful for. It shifted me into a more positive mindset.

The practice of gratitude is one the best gifts we can give ourselves. Life is much more beautiful when we clothe it in the fragrance of thanksgiving.

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.” (Chesterton)

Every new beginning is full of promise. Make the best of yours.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 2nd January 2018)
Photo with the poem © Iva Beranek

Advent, something that God does

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We are more than half way through the season of Advent. Nights are longer, days are colder, and the lights in our homes shine brighter. If we have an Advent wreath, lighting candle after candle each week in our houses and churches, we are encouraged by their light. Hope, love, joy and peace are traditional meanings for each of the Advent candles. These can also be the gifts of healing that we pray for week after week. Hope to sooth our disappointments, love to heal our wounds, joy to lighten our days, and peace to sooth the ache of discord among and within us.

There are things we do in terms of preparing for Christmas, both externally as well as spiritually. Yet, in a way, Advent is something that God does. It is God’s initiative, His coming into the world. With Mary being pregnant, in Advent Jesus is already here, though not yet fully. Like Jonah was in the belly of the wale we are with Mary waiting for the fruits of our Advent.

Lord, what is it that You are doing this Advent (in my life)?

Taking time to ponder on this question may helps us notice God’s action, which is often subtle and gentle, like the first buds on the trees in springtime. We may notice movements in our heart and life that point to God.

More aware of God’s gracious action in our lives, we can also ask,

Is there someone who needs the light of hope, the light of love, the light of joy, the light of peace? Is God inviting us to visit someone with this light in Advent?

The Advent light evokes warmth, something we all need in our human interactions. We can cultivating this warmth, of love, of compassion, of peace, hope and joy by knowing that in our encounters with one another our inner candles are lit and encouraged to shine.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, Advent 2017)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

St. Nicholas, a gift-giver

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Today is the feast of St. Nicholas. He was a follower of Christ, a bishop from 4th century, known for helping people in need. One story goes like this,

There was “a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas”.*

I used to love this tradition when I was a child. I was not raised in a religious setting, so I didn’t know a religious significance of the feast of St. Nicholas, nor anything about his life; still the whole thing ignited imagination in me as a kid and to this day I love even a memory of it.

On the eve of St. Nicholas, on 5th December, my parents would say to my brother and me to clean our shoes – properly, with the shoe polish and all, and to put them on the window so that St. Nicholas can reach them in the morning and fill with small gifts. Since we lived on the 5th floor of a building in Zagreb, I thought St. Nicholas was good in flying – how else could he reach our shoes?

It’s amazing how even a memory can recreate an inner feeling of excitement and joy that one felt as a child. Maybe I value the memory more now, from the distance that years provide; it almost becomes like a story from a book, a children’s novel (the only difference is that you are one of the characters). And in a way the memory ‘lights’ something inside me, same as reading children’s stories does to you. Happy feast!

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 2013, edited in 2017)
Photo by © Iva Beranek
* Taken from St. Nicholas Center.