Life Advice: (keep on) Wearing Sunscreen

In 2017 Virginia passed the 30-year marker since her undergraduate university graduation, which means twenty years of added experience after the commencement advice whipped up for the Class of 1997 (as shared here last week.)

Twenty years for Virginia (the person, not to be confused with the state) that included more time in the Middle East, studying hard for (& earning) a graduate degree, a short stint in the relief context of war torn Kosovo, a globetrotting job managing a safe-water initiative for 14 countries, 4 years working in Tanzania, and a (much longer than expected) care-giving gig looking after her bedfast quadriplegic Papa and arthritic wheelchair riding Mama.

With the opportunity to impart life advice from the standpoint of an older (hopefully wiser) Virginia, here (as promised last week) are a few more tidbits to add to the 1997 list.

Wearing sunscreen is still important (especially for red heads schlepping suitcases full of it to Africa where the sun burned even brighter than the Middle East!)

Virginia’s Advice to the Class of 2017

(& learners of all ages today)

What you do is important, but how you do it (not trampling others in the process) matters more in the Heavenly scheme of things.

You only have one set of parents: honor them.

You may be battered and bruised by life, but you are a valuable diamond of God’s delight – and diamonds are hard to crush.

Respect yourself. Respect others (& maybe others will more readily respect you.)

Pain is part and parcel of life; misery, however, is a choice.

Joy is a choice: choose joy.

Peace is a choice: choose peace.

Love is a choice: choose love.

Healing is a journey of discovery, recovery and new beginnings. It can take a long time (& loads of effort.)

Take time to be mesmerized by God’s heavenly paintbrushes busy in creation all around you – and within you.

Music enhances our life grooves, the soundtrack of our lives. It’s OK to turn up the volume.

Put God first, then figuring out the rest is not such an ordeal.

Keep trying new things, learning new things. It’s never too late to learn something new.

Small acts of kindness make a difference (& big acts, too.)

Make laughter a regular part of your schedule.

Presents are good, but the gift of your compassionate presence means even more (especially in tough times.)

God’s will is like an oriental carpet woven a little haphazardly on one side, but beautifully patterned on the other side (especially from the distance of time) for all to see.

When you’re tired, rest. When you’re tired of, take a break, rest (and pray.)

Burnout happens. Let go of yourself for awhile. Do something different (or do nothing at all) until you find the joy of doing again.

Friends matter.

Chocolate comes in vegan varieties. It’s still good.

Bitterness is a poison best spit out, not swallowed over and over again.

Regret something, but get over wallowing in it.

Take initiative. Why not try?

Be thankful. An attitude of gratitude goes a long way when the chips are down.

Failures happen. They can be opportunities to learn, stepping stones into the new you (& something new.)

Celebrate your uniqueness and the diverse uniqueness of others.

Conformity is overrated. Be yourself.

Agree to disagree: value friends and others with differing opinions.

Honey works (most times) better than vinegar. Doesn’t mean there aren’t times for acerbic accountability (bees sting when threatened.)

Read. Read to learn. Read to remember. Read for fun. Read to enlarge your world. Read to understand. Read to grow. Read until your eyes can’t see words on the page (& then get better glasses.)

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but wisdom.

Despair is everywhere. You never know when a smile, joke or kind interaction could be a spark of light in the despondence of another person.

Check your facts. Forwarding lies about other people means you are participating in those lies.

You can’t take it with you (really.)  Don’t let your possessions possess you.

Giving is a joy (vs. a duty.) How you give, whatever you give, matters.

Time is a gift. Spend it wisely.

Keep in touch, make that call. No one is an island. Relationships take effort.

Take time to smell the roses. (If you’re allergic, at least enjoy admiring them from afar.)

Roses on Valentine’s Day are worth it (even if you give them to yourself.)

A mate does not define who you are – you are who you are as you.

Quality vs. quantity: would you rather have one nice skirt that lasts ten years, or ten that last a few months?

Faith is not about rationality but Love. Hope. Mercy. Grace. Belief.

Be courageous.

‘What ifs?’ Don’t go there. Now is today’s opportunity to be the best me I can be.

Life is a gift. (However painful & challenging, it is still a gift.)

Wearing sunscreen, as we get older, is still good advice.

Very good advice.

Oh, and one last thing. When our whacked out world crashes our peace of mind —


grace, peace & (non-panicking) life advice

Virginia : )

p.s. A shout out to Theresa Ollice for her encouragement to share this second list from older (& hopefully wiser) Virginia. Thank you, Theresa, for being an inspiration to me – may God continue to bless you in all you do!

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15 October: Saint Teresa of Ávila!!

“The Lord does not look so much at the magnitude of anything we do as at the love with which we do it.”  –Saint Teresa of Ávila

Today is the feast day of one of my favorite saints, Teresa of Ávila, or as she is also affectionately known, Saint Teresa of Jesus. I am a huge groupie of this amazing woman  who lived a long time ago (1515-1582), but who continues 500+ years later to impact people all around the world through her writings, life of dynamic faith, dedicated courage & passionate love of Jesus Christ.

She loved Jesus with her whole being, everything of hers was His. She put her trust (and her life) in His keeping during tense times of the Inquisition, whilst writing when she was under rigorous scrutiny (one investigator priest consulted a huge stack of deep theological books “to understand an hour with Teresa”), and as she pushed for reform of her contemplative order when challenges stacked up against her.

Reading Saint Teresa of Ávila’s books, “The Interior Castle” and “My Life” in my early 20s strengthened and deepened my faith in new ways. Teresa’s images of long ago are still relevant today as she likens our faith journey to a castle we enter level by level (dealing with internal clutter & tough debris along the way.) Her “Way of Perfection is also excellent, and anything else of hers you can let your mind and heart read to contemplate. Her words have a way of jumping off the page, edging their way through difficult doors to sweep interior rooms of our hearts open for Christ and His love for us, and for all.

Saint Teresa’s strong sense of humor helped infuse joy in joyless times, like making a formal street procession with musical instruments after a lice infestation to mock the unwelcome critters out of her nun sisters’ hair!

Teresa of Ávila had a tough go of it as a woman in times when women did not have much recourse to realize their dreams and initiatives. Her father didn’t want her to be a nun, but she managed to become a nun anyway. She served as spiritual director for Saint John of the Cross – totally radical for that time. Today, Teresa of Ávila is a Doctor of the Church – the first woman so named, and one of only four (with St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Therese of Lisieux and Hildegard of Bingen.)

“Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world.”

Saint Teresa of Ávila  

grace, peace & inspirational saints

Virginia : )

p.s.  For all of you whipping up meals and pulling kitchen duty, take to heart St. Teresa’s admonishment to her contemplative sisters who had to leave prayer stations for food prep:

“Know that if it is in the kitchen, the Lord walks among the pots and pans.”

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Óscar Romero: A Voice of Love & Justice

“You cannot reap what you have not sown. How are we going to reap love in our country, if we only sow hate?” Archbishop Óscar Romero (10 July 1977)

38 years after his death, Blessed Óscar Romero will be canonized in Rome on Sunday, 14 October 2018. For my non-Catholic friends, this means he will officially become a saint – the first from El Salvador to be so honored.

A voice for the voiceless during brutal times of injustice and conflict, Archbishop Óscar Romero was killed in San Salvador on 24 March 1980, shot by right-wing militants while saying mass at a small chapel in the Hospital de la Divina Providencia – a Catholic hospital specializing in oncology and palliative care for terminally ill patients.

Now his martyrdom and voice for justice will be honored with sainthood.

As we remember Archbishop Óscar Romero’s life of courageous faith and the love of Jesus Christ he shared (especially with the poor) may his voice continue to challenge our world toward justice based on God’s love for all people.

Selected as Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, he was considered a ‘safe choice’ – an academic – but the brutal murder of his good friend, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, shook him to stand up for the rights of the poor, which he did tirelessly to all sides of the conflict in El Salvador.

As government censorship suppressed coverage of escalating violence against poor communities, Archbishop Romero faithfully reported what was happening through weekly radio broadcasts that became one of the most listened-to programs in El Salvador.

His words then are still relevant today:

“We might be left without a radio station: God’s best microphone is Christ, and Christ’s best microphone is the Church, and the Church is all of you. Let each one of you, in your own job, in your own vocation—nun, married person, bishop, priest, high school or university student, day laborer, wage earner, market woman—one in your own place … live faith intensely and feel that in your surroundings you are a true microphone of God our Lord.” 

After receiving death threats a few weeks before he was murdered, he said on one of his last broadcasts: “Let it be known that it is no longer possible to kill the voice of justice.”

May Archbishop Óscar Romero’s voice continue to stir our hearts to be God’s microphones with faith that stands up for others, loves without prejudice, seeks mutual understanding, and works toward lasting justice.

“Uniformity is different from unity. Unity means pluralism, with everyone respecting how others think, and among all of us, creating a unity that is greater than just my way of thinking.” (29 May 1977)

“We shall be firm in defending our rights, but with great love in our hearts.” (19 June 1977)

Archbishop Óscar Romero (15 August 1917 – 24 March 1980)

grace, peace & sacrificial saints


p.s. You can check out this previous post for more inspirational quotes from this saint of love and justice: 24 March – Oscar Romero, A Life of Courageous Faith

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Life Advice: Wearing Sunscreen (+ lots more!)

Way back in 1997 when I was working in the Middle East, a friend sent me a copy of the Chicago Tribune commencement editorial by Mary Schmich. She began her if-I-was-invited-to-speak-to-the Class of 1997 speech with “Wear sunscreen” as her most important (scientifically proven) advice. There was much more, but what she knew for sure – sunscreen works.

Maybe I didn’t need much sunscreen in Washington, D.C. (where I ended up working after graduation) but slathering large quantities on every morning became an important daily necessity for this fair-skinned red head traipsing about the Middle East.

Just ten minutes in bright Middle Eastern sunshine fried me (especially my skin.)

So, sunscreen is important. That was sage advice.

Since 1997 marked the 10th anniversary of my university graduation, it set me thinking: wracking up 10 years of wisdom and (some good, some not-so-good) experience, perhaps I could add tidbits to Mary’s Schmich’s list (in addition to sunscreen.)

Dusting them off, here they are…


(& learners of any age today)

Don’t be afraid to do something unexpected or go against the grain of what all your friends are doing. Life is not a competition.

Be open to new things.

Be FLEXIBLE. Flexibility is one of the most important tools in your toolkit.

Don’t give up, even when you think you’ve tried everything. Do something else, think outside what is boxing you in, then try again.

Be nice to others (always.) What goes around comes around – if someone’s not nice to you, it’s on them (not you.)

It’s important to keep up your strength. Eat chocolate.

Keep short accounts with others. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger (it festers overnight.) Deal with stuff, then move on. Don’t revisit it a week from now.

Laugh as much as possible. Take time to read the funny papers.

Don’t do all work and no play. Work and (after work) play – you will work better.

Make time to be with your friends. Make time to be with your family. When you’re far away (or they’re gone) you will treasure shared times more than you can imagine.

Take pictures. They are a record of you, your family & friends.

Moderation (in all things) is an admirable goal, something to work on (& towards.) It’s not easy, so expect inner resistance. You can strategically triage moderation (until you get the hang of it) but meanwhile it’s ok to have a little extra chocolate.

Be grateful for (at least) one thing every day.

Take time to notice beauty – in a flower, sunrise, sunset, picturesque panorama.

Be creative.

Don’t be afraid of words like ‘unique’ and ‘unusual.’

You are you: nobody else is you.

Value people more than things: things are tools, people are jewels.

Forgiveness sets us free from replaying the hurts of others (over & over & over again.) What happened, happened. Unforgiveness makes it keep happening.

Forgive others. Forgive yourself. Be free.

Stand up against injustice – whenever, however, wherever you can.

Be courageous (even if you’re clutching your teddy bear.)

Don’t let others drag you down, lift them up.

Appreciate others. Show you care.

Take care of yourself. Exercise (it releases stress.) A little pampering every now and then is not a bad thing.

Eat (more) chocolate. (It helps deal with stress.)

Don’t give in to hate. Eradicate it from your mind and heart. Seek love, and be love. When hate bashes you in the face, (try to) be love.

Love diffuses hate (even if it may take awhile.)

Life is a journey. You can’t reach mountaintops without traveling through a few valleys.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Faith is important. Believe.

Sometimes (most times) it’s not always about you, it’s about others.

Build bridges of understanding, not walls of apathetic indifference.

Life is a gift. Value it.

Oh, and wear sunscreen (especially if you’re a red head!)

grace, peace & (hopefully good) advice

Virginia : )

p.s. Be on the lookout later this week. When Virginia (in 2017) marked 30 years since leaving university, she came up with another (wiser?) list. Wearing sunscreen is still on it!

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Snapshots & Whatnot: Getting Older!!

Today here’s a pic and a few quickie quotes for our minds & hearts to contemplate (especially hearts & minds of those of us getting older!)


Japanese Gardens @ Maymont Park (Richmond, VA)


“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”  Madeleine L’Engle

“Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be again.” Eleanor Roosevelt

“Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age. And dreams are forever.” Walt Disney

grace, peace & timeless gifts

Virginia : )

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Bill Warnock: Boss, Mentor & Friend

With all the negative harassment-in-the-workplace stories out there, I feel blessed to have worked with amazing male leaders who empowered me to be the best me I could be. Who became mentors and remained treasured friends long after our respective work opportunities took us to other places.

Bill with community leader (& friend), Rafat

None more so than Bill Warnock. It’s hard to measure his impact in my life – not just the 26 years we’ve known each other, but the depth of all he taught me, how he lived his life brimming with faith-filled courage, how he was there at important junctures in my life with wisdom, advice, encouragement and friendship.

When I received news that he died Wednesday, it felt like a punch in the gut.

I knew Bill had health challenges. A year or so ago he called the day before cancer surgery, but it seemed like he made a complete recovery and all was well. From Facebook comments he was meant to be on a trip to Ireland this week.

That sounds like him, always living life to the fullest.

After my Papa passed a few years ago, Bill visited us here in Williamsburg for a few days before zooming up to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends in Washington, D.C. Although he retired awhile back, he was always traveling, off doing interesting things, keeping up with everyone and what’s what.

Especially geysers.

Years ago when my brother and I visited him in West Yellowstone, MT, we nicknamed Bill (& his cohort of geyser enthusiasts) “Geyserbusters” (like Ghostbusters) because they communicated in code via fancy gadgets when geysers in Yellowstone were ready to blow, then scrambled to see them spew forth their watery majesty.

Old Faithful @ Yellowstone Park

As a voice for the voiceless, Bill could sometimes be like a bull in a china shop, but one filled with love for the oppressed, for justice. He gave and gave of his life helping others – in the Middle East, Bosnia and all over the world.

If I had not met Bill during a Holy Land pilgrimage trip in 1992, my life would be so different, so dull! At the request of mutual friends in Washington, DC, he took me to visit several community development and medical projects in West Bank villages. After seeing the effects of injustice, especially on Palestinian children, I observed that someone needed to help do more advocacy for them in D.C. Bill looked me right in the eye, “I need someone to help me here. And that person could be YOU.”

I explained my deal with God that after years of working in D.C. non-profits, transitioning to the corporate sector was The Plan. Bill’s insistent response: “Pray about it.”

After praying (about praying about it) six months later I returned to the Middle East working for a faith-based relief & development organization with Bill in an all-embracing job encompassing advocacy, communications, public relations and reconciliation.

One year there became 5 years, then 10 years and more of globetrotting in challenging places as a relief & development worker.

Another dear mentor, Susan Baker, with Bill & a few of the WVJ team (Georgette, Walid, Rebecca, Roula, Jane, Tanas & Rania) circa 1994. Three (!!) of VA’s mentors in one pic: Susan, Bill and Rebecca Cherono (may she R.I.P.)

Bill led our team through tough times of conflict crises (too many of those) and hope-filled times when peace in the region seemed attainable. In the West Bank & Gaza Strip we had a good reputation because we helped everyone no matter what political faction or religious affiliation.

He mentored me in so many ways, not just about long-term transformational community development (of which he knew a great deal from previous globetrotting positions) but about how we do what we do. People matter.

Bill’s “Three Rs”: Relationships. Relationships. Relationships.

For Bill it wasn’t just about funding (although he expertly wheeled & dealed to make that happen), but about building bridges of relationships – with government donors and project partners, team members and local communities, the media, other NGOs, religious entities, visitors and everyone we encountered.

Bill with Yasser, our Gaza Manager

He never missed an opportunity to build bridges of hope and love, even when despair permeated the air of conflict zones.

He also had a high bar for excellence that pushed us to do (& be) our best.

He had a heart that hurt for the hurting, and a loud voice that made sure the world would know about lopsided injustices oppressing others.

Bill had a sense of humor that diffused awkward situations (& sometimes, ME!) When this fiery redhead irately tiraded on about something or other, he told me, “Go stand in front of the fan!” Sure, it was hot as fireballs outside, but it made me laugh that Bill meant me to go cool off (inside) since so many things were out of our control.

It became a joke, of sorts, when he’d notice the onset of seething, he’d say, “Go stand in front of the fan.” We’d laugh, then try to find our flexibility grooves (from Plan A, B, C – to K?)

Bill wore his faith, straight up. The kind of faith like Jesus overturning the tables of those overpriced sellers in the temple who preyed upon the poor, yet compassionately reaching out with love to the unloved, the hurting and oppressed.

After 10 years in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict zone, Bill left in 1997 to lead the massive Bosnia program. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. When I passed through Sarajevo in the summer of 1999 for a short consulting project, I saw Bill continuing his relationship strategy – but on a much larger scale in that complex context.

Bill’s log cabin in West Yellowstone, MT

Bill retired from Bosnia to the log cabin dream home he built in Montana, located just a few miles from Yellowstone Park. (In the Middle East he would pour over log catalogs asking, “what do you think of this one?” Like this city chick knew anything about logs!) He didn’t sit still there very long, taking up a consulting gig that sent him all over the world training troops headed for peacekeeping assignments.

Bill hobnobbed with generals, government leaders, community leaders, donors, media, educators, church representatives, and the poorest of the poor – all with equal respect and rapport that said: you are important to me, because you are beloved of God.

In between assignments he continued geyserbusting, visiting friends, hosting myriad visitors in his glorious log cabin, skiing, traveling (the kind of trips where you learn things), and remained very involved in his local church.

Bill loved his family. His parents, Mama Peg & Papa Bill, came in their 70s to visit us in the Middle East – more than once. He loved his brothers & sisters, his nieces and nephews (of whom he proudly spoke, often.) He loved his hometown of Loveland, CO.

Bill will be missed by hundreds and thousands of the lives he touched, by his colleagues, friends, family, and by me.

Lives of great men all remind us
        We can make our lives sublime,
    And, departing, leave behind us
        Footprints on the sands of time…

Footprints, that perhaps another,
        Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
    A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
        Seeing, shall take heart again.

    Let us, then, be up and doing,
        With a heart for any fate;
    Still achieving, still pursuing,
        Learn to labor and to wait.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Rest in Peace, Sa’id Bill. God be with you in all eternity.

grace, peace & eternal hugs


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“When it’s pouring down with rain…” : )

As Hurricane Florence bears down upon the coast, we here in Tidewater (Virginia) are offering up sighs of relief as the storm has turned away from us. Our hearts and prayers are with everyone in the storm’s path in North Carolina & South Carolina: BE SAFE!

Our family is grateful that my sis, Cindy, and her husband, Mark, made it safely out of Wilmington (NC) to stay with us in Williamsburg. Although they left their home as secure as possible, who knows what will happen to it? ‘You can’t take it (all) with you’ frenetically packing a few suitcases from a home filled with a lifetime’s memorables, but I was touched that what Cindy considered most important to take with her included two of Papa’s Bibles. (The ones he wrote in are extra precious considering how long ago he lost the use of his arms & hands before becoming a full bedfast quadriplegic.)

Cindy & Mark (a sunnier day @ Wrightsville Beach, NC)

To be sure, our local forecast calls for rain, rain (& more rain) the next few days, but we are (so very) grateful to be out of the target path of gale force winds and mini-tornadoes that come with hurricanes. While we wait (& it pours rain) here’s a thought on a card Cindy sent a few years ago during my caregiving gig for my parents that’s still relevant today.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Vivian Greene

Come what may, how can we dance in whatever storms face us today? How do we find our grooves when it’s pouring down rain?

During the demanding all-nighters of my care-giving gig, prayer helped. Sure, I was still exhausted, but a peaceful type of exhaustion because prayer changed ME.

Challenges (like massive storms) come in all shapes & sizes, but we don’t have to carry them alone – God is with us, in us, here to help carry the load.

Doesn’t mean our challenges disappear, but we can learn to dance (despite them) even in pouring down rain. To have joy, be joy, and know that we are intrinsically loved by God no matter what happens.

As we learn to dance in the rain, we can help others with their dance grooves.

My brother calls my album collection “the Academy of Ancient ’80s Music.” So many great bands with get-up-off-your-seat grooves and others with reflective chill vibes. UB40 combined both of those grooves & vibes. I was blessed to see them perform at university in the early 1980s and still enjoy their tunes (in high frequency rotation)

“Desert Sand”  – one of the songs from their Promises & Lies album – required multiple replays this morning:

“Just because it can’t touch you
Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care
For every life that’s lit with love
Many more are racked with pain
You talk to me of sunshine
When it’s pouring down with rain..”  (UB40)

Here’s a YouTube video of the song to have a listen & find your grooves “when it’s pouring down with rain.”

“It’s a long black night, good people …share your light make a flower grow in the desert sand.” (UB40)

Even when it’s pouring down with rain.

grace, peace & rainy day (Light) grooves

Virginia : )

p.s. Many thanks for all the love & concern from friends afar (& near.) Please pray for everyone in the path of this storm!!

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