Let’s make Lent a 40-day chain reaction of love


Ash Wednesday marks the kick off to 40 days of prayer, fasting, repentance and abstinence. It's supposed to honor the time Jesus spent praying and fasting in the desert while tempted by the devil.

Unfortunately, most of us are tempted to treat Lent like an endurance test to see how long we can go without pop, candy or beer. Why not give up something or embrace something more meaningful or lasting, something that will make your life or someone else's better?

The other day I did a small act of love for a stranger. I felt the tug on my heart to pay for the milkshake for the stranger in front of me at Mitchell’s Ice Cream. No big deal, no reason, I just felt that tug and went with it.

The next day, I got this email from a woman named Diana:

“I was so shocked as that has never happened to me before. You were a perfect stranger. As I was walking out the door, a lady stopped me and told me who you were.  I was soooo excited as I have your book, God Never Blinks, and love it. All your words of wisdom are so inspiring. I was getting the milk shake for my husband, who was waiting in the car, as he is recovering from a serious surgery and has lost weight. I am trying to fatten him up. He just celebrated his 90th birthday and is recovering very well. PRAISE GOD!!!

This is the part that made my heart leap:

“Your kind deed made me think of  my upcoming Lenten promises. Instead of giving things up for Lent, I am going to do a kind deed every day of Lent. I usually try to do this anyway, but am going to really focus on it. It can be the smallest gesture or something more.”

I love it. So let Diana be the tug on your heart. Commit a small act of kindness every day of Lent.

But if you really want to give up something, too, try giving up….

Plastic: No more straws, coffee stirrers, plastic bags, six pack rings clogging up the oceans and strangling our wildlife.

Facebook: No more scrolling and posting during dinner or in bed when the person you love is longing to spoon or snuggle. Those cat videos can wait.

 A resentment: You know which one. The big kahuna. The ex-husband. The ex-wife. Your dad. Your mom. The daughter who hasn't spoken to you in years. Set the captives free. For 40 days, pray every day for that person's perfect good. God knows what that is, you don't need to. Pray that they know how much God loves them, even if you don't feel any love for them. God's love will get to them. And to you.

Fear: Find the whopper that keeps you stuck. Success? Failure? Growing old? Surrender it once and for all.

 Shame: It's that darkness inside that makes you feel rotten to the core no matter how much good you do in the world. You were made good. You were made holy. You were made beautiful. Shame on you? No, shame off you.

 A bad habit: Being late. Gossiping. Complaining about the weather, the Browns, the Cavs, the Indians. Pick your worst habit and stop doing it.

 Stuff: The clothes you don't wear belong to people who need them. Donate.

 Flogging: No more beating yourself up over your weight, your age, your choices. Once and for all, forgive yourself for everything.

Other people's opinions of you: God's opinion is the only one that matters, and God already loves you, as is.

These words: You always...You never...Whatever.

Multitasking: Try doing one thing with your full presence. Start by eating a clementine and tasting every bite. See what you're missing?

Or, you could always take 40 days to embrace...

The life you have: The income. The kids. The home that is your personal money pit. The dog that eats every right shoe. Bless the mess that is your life.

The person right in front of you: That person is always the most important person in your life. Be present. Look them in the eye. Use their name. People love to hear their name spoken.

God: Not just any God, but a God who loves you more than your grandma does. No more bogey-man God. God is not armed. God already loves you. Accept it and live happily ever after.

Solitude: Spend some time alone with God. The Jesuit Retreat House in Parma offers 57 acres of bliss. Rest is a holy gift to give yourself. It teaches you to have more faith in God than in your own doing.

The gift givers: Make a quick list of 40 people who have blessed your life. Call or send a note every day in Lent to thank the teachers, neighbors, family and friends who shaped you.

These words: You were right...I am sorry...I love you...thank you.

Praise: Use it generously on your spouse, your kids, your co-workers.

Your talents: Sit down at your piano, pick up your pen, putter with your paintbrush. 

Help: God already sent a savior. Newsflash: It wasn't you. You don't have to go it alone. Ask for help.

The person in the mirror: Decide to love yourself. For 40 days, ask yourself this: What would people who loved themselves do? Then go do it.

 Because in the end, Easter is a love story.  


A slice of heaven from the chapel at Light of Hearts Villa in Bedford, Ohio.

A slice of heaven from the chapel at Light of Hearts Villa in Bedford, Ohio.

Happy Cancerversary! Here's to 21 miracle years.


If only I had known then, I wouldn't have cried so much.

I also might not have savored life as much.

That’s why I celebrate everything. It’s all a “get to.” I don’t have to do anything. I GET TO. I get to do the laundry. I get to take out the garbage. I get to write the next book.

It’s also why I eat a bowl of chocolate Mitchell’s Ice Cream every single day. No regrets at the end of my day, just Mitchell’s.

When my fingers found that lump in my right breast back in 1998, it felt like my body was carrying a loaded grenade. One I feared would blow up my life and send shrapnel into the lives of all I loved.

Instead, I lived. And kept on living.

Twenty one miracle years. They are all bonus years. 

When we found out the cancer was Stage 2, that the cancer had spread to at least one lymph node to possibly set up camp elsewhere in my body, my oncologist Jim Sabiers -- a gem of a man and a savior to me - tried to explain my odds, because isn't that what everyone wants to know: How long will I live?

He told me that one third of those with my cancer would live without doing chemo, one third would live because the chemo saved them and one third would die no matter what.

What third was I in?

"We don't know," he said.

So I did it all. A lumpectomy. Four rounds of Cytoxan, Adriamycin and Five F-U. (Personally, I think every cancer killing drug should be called F-U) I did radiation every day for six weeks. I walked around bald for a year and weak for two years. When I learned I carried the BRCA1 gene, I had a double mastectomy and had my ovaries removed.  Instant menopause. Not pleasant, but a “get to” considering the alternatives.

I learned to love the body I was left with, and all the scars, and that lovely blank canvas where my breasts used to be.

Today, I love me. I love that I lived.

Oh, what I would have missed had cancer in 1998 declared The End to my life.

I would have missed half of my daughter's life. She was 19 when I got diagnosed. She turns 41 in March. I would have missed her college graduation, her meeting and marrying the love of her life. I would have missed knowing James and his family and missed the births of all three grandbabies and every smidge of their lives that I savor and celebrate every day.

I would have missed our children's graduations and birthdays and weddings.

I would have missed most of my marriage. We'd only been married a year and a half when I got cancer. My forever boyfriend kept telling me, “I’m in this for the long haul.” He still cherishes me. What a gift that is.

There's no way to tabulate it all. That's why I still weep every now and then for Monica, Erica, Kevin, Denise, Nancy and Bill, people I loved whose lives were cut short by cancer.

Last year, I quit wearing prosthetic breasts. I now fully embrace me, as is, and love those scars which remind me every day to love life unconditionally, in all its awesome and awful glory. And it is both. The secret is to love it all, without any preferences. It’s all good.

Mark Nepo wrote, "We've been told that scars are ugly. I think they're beautiful traces of how we're touched by life. To have no blemishes means we've fallen through time with no meeting. What's the point? To die unchanged is to be an arrow that never lands."

I thank all that cancer changed in my life and all those who helped save my life.

It was a life worth saving.


Happy Independence, Poland!

Happy 100 years of independence Poland!

The most resilient country celebrates 100 years of freedom on November 11. To celebrate, here are 100 things I love about Poland: 

  1. Your resilience. You survived two world wars, decades of Communist rule and being erased from the map for far too long.
  2. Marie Skladowski, A.K.A, Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize who actually ended up winning two. Since radiation treatments helped save my life, I’m particularly fond of her.
  3. Lech Walesa.
  4. All those shipyard workers who cracked a hole in Communism and watched it fall like dominos in countries all over the world.
  5. Frederic Chopin.
  6. Pope John Paul II.
  7. Black Madonna.
  8. Wrocław gnomes.
  9. Old town Warsaw.
  10. Wawel chocolate.
  11. E. Wedel chocolate.
  12. Dyngus Day.
  13. Pisanki and all the work that goes into painting those lovely eggs.
  14. That crazy palm tree in the middle of the street in Warsaw.
  15. Potatoes. (And I thought the Irish loved them.)
  16. The gay rights rainbow that now lights up so no fire can extinguish it.
  17. Name Day.
  18. Kracow’s lovely market square.
  19. St. Mary’s Church. That ceiling!
  20. Gdańsk.
  21. Amber everything.
  22. The Vistula River.
  23. Bison. Or so I hear you have them. In my four visits, I have not seen one.
  24. Preserving Auschwitz-Birkenau for the world so we never forget what unchecked hate can do.
  25. Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
  26. The Pier at Sopot.
  27. Wawel Castle.
  28. Maximilion Kolbe.
  29. Krzywy Domek, that crazy crooked house.
  30. Ice cream.
  31. Sunsets.
  32. The Warsaw mermaid.
  33. Kazimierz.
  34. Insignis Media, publisher of my six books.
  35. Astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.
  36. The Solidarity museum.
  37. The shipyard workers’ hard hats on the ceiling.
  38. Statue of the Little Insurgent.
  39. National parks galore.
  40. Tatra Mountains.
  41. Baltic coastline.
  42. Statue of Neptune in Gdańsk.
  43. Gestapo Headquarters preserved to teach the world.
  44. Shopping malls that are more cosmopolitan than the ones in the U.S.
  45. Salt mine Wieliczka.
  46. Oskar Schindler’s Factory.
  47. All that lovely hand painted pottery.
  48. Borscht.
  49. Sunsets.
  50. The Polish tongue that can make sz, sh, cz, sch, zh, rz sound so beautiful and so simple.
  51. Hospitality.
  52. UNESCO World Heritage Sights, all 15 of them.
  53. Beata Szydto. Poland had a female prime minister, long before the United States had a woman president – oh, wait, we’ve never had one.
  54. Flag. Bold and simple red and white.
  55. Hot chocolate so thick it’s like drinking pudding.
  56. Playing piano with Artur Rubinstein’s sculpture.
  57. All those trees. All those forests. All that nature.
  58. Palace of Culture and Science. You either love it or hate it.
  59. Train ride from Warsaw to Kracow. It’s like watching the world turn from black and white to color.
  60. Stuffed hedgehogs at the toy store in Kracow.
  61. Dumplings. Those pierogi are filled with everything imaginable.
  62. Łódź.
  63. Warsaw Uprising Museum.
  64. Best tomato soup in the world.
  65. The sacred art in Katawice.
  66. Vibrant radio hosts.
  67. Cab drivers who can’t speak English but somehow understand it.
  68. Communist architecture in Warsaw that is so solid and gray.
  69. Memorials everywhere with fresh flowers to remember and honor Poles killed by the Nazis and Communists.
  70. Wrocław market square.
  71. Castles. Not every country has them.
  72. Monasteries.
  73. Palaces.
  74. The trumpeter on the hour every hour in Kracow square.
  75. Churches. Everywhere.
  76. The faith of people who never gave up in the face of the unspeakable.
  77. Changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
  78. All that bread in all those lovely shapes and twists and turns.
  79. Złoty.The money is so colorful and pretty.
  80. Football.
  81. Rzeszów.
  82. The tall, thin, “feminist” monument in Rzeszów that makes people blush.
  83. The mystical foggy mornings.
  84. The brick outline of the Warsaw Ghetto so the world can never forget.
  85. All that flowery art in colors bolder than nature created.
  86. Milka.
  87. Dominikah, Olga, Tomasz and Maria. My Polish BFFs.
  88. All those bridal shops in Kracow.
  89. Poznań market square.
  90. The Polish language sounds lovely whether whispered or shouted.
  91. Empik. What a book store!
  92. Hand painted chocolates.
  93. Strange outdoor art.
  94. Funky cafes.
  95. The great food on the trains.
  96. Werther’s Original soft caramels.
  97. The weather. It’s like Cleveland, so I feel at home.
  98. All that beauty in the square in Kracow.
  99. Democracy. Sweet freedom after all those years without it.

100. The people. They tell me that they love to complain, but they actually love Poland more than me, which is an awful lot.


Mom's first birthday without her

The only baby picture we have of our Mom, Mary, from 1930.

The only baby picture we have of our Mom, Mary, from 1930.

They always warn you about the firsts after someone dies.

The first Christmas. The first Mother's Day. The first birthday.

I didn't miss my mom on my birthday in May. But I missed my mom on her birthday today. August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.  The day will always feel holy somehow.

My mom was named Mary.

We lost her last November. She was 86. She died during the night at the nursing care facility where she lived in the Alzheimer's unit. She actually died at 4:20 a.m., which was like a wave goodbye to us.

Our house was 420 Sycamore Street. We always called it 420. She always said she wanted to die at 420, so she kind of got her wish.

So yesterday I felt the tug to go  back, to drive to Ravenna to the place where I said my final goodbye to her. Only there is no final goodbye when someone dies. You keep saying goodbye over and over. Just when you think you can't feel any more sad, it knocks you over like a wave you didn't see coming.

I sat at the cemetery marker, cut through the dry dirt with a plastic knife and planted some yellow mums and orange  zinnias. Then I just sat on the grass as if she were there with me, and I sang Happy Birthday to her.  It felt silly but it made me smile at the thought that wherever she is now, she would appreciate being remembered.

Then I drove to 420 and said hello to the house. The house that built me. And as I left, a glorious sunset waved a thank you for stopping by.



After 17 years, a door closes, a door opens

Goodbyes are always tough.

They don't usually feel good at all, so let's get that part over with fast.

This is my last column for The Plain Dealer:

Life opens and closes doors. After 17 years here, a door is closing.

My first column ran in The Plain Dealer on April 2, 2000. Since then, I've written over 1,800 columns for The Plain Dealer.

Talk about being blessed. What a joy it has been.  

Oh, the places we went: Malachi House, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, the West Side Catholic Center, burn camp, foster kids camp, inner-city homes in the poorest places and homeless shelters where a boy named David in a coat way too large reminded me that kids like him are our kids.

We took on bishops, prosecutors, judges, mayors and school superintendents. Thousands of you signed petitions, and we changed the law in Ohio to get open discovery so prosecutors could no longer hide information in criminal cases.

We found the Lost Boys of Sudan jobs and homes and a future here. Every time I see them they thank me, but you deserve their thanks, along with the two who spearheaded a movement to help them, St. Ignatius High School teacher Tim Evans and Sister Mary Frances Harrington, may she rest in peace.

I regret a few columns. I was too hard on Norma Lerner and on Dr. Karen Jaffe. I also regret being so insensitive about obesity without having any personal understanding of it. 

You stayed gracious and shared your life with me and let me share mine: My daughter's surgery to remove the threat of breast cancer, her wedding, the birth of her three children, my mother's journey through Alzheimer's and her death in November.

We celebrated the Cavs' NBA championship, the Indians almost winning the World Series and those three women walking free from Castro's house of horrors.

We cheered for ordinary people, bus drivers, barbers, teachers, nuns, people like David Gordon, a joyful young man with Down syndrome; Randy Stang, who used his last breath to champion a skating park for kids in Bay Village; and former ice cream scooper Terrance Embry, who will one day be a doctor thanks to all of you.

You'll never know the reach of your generosity. You bought wigs for The Gathering Place for women going through chemo, beds for poor children all over Cleveland through the Cleveland Furniture Bank, new clothes for rape victims at area hospitals.

You sent other people's kids to college by supporting Jimmy Malone's annual golf outing. You grew 100 Women Who Care chapters that meet monthly and raise $10,000 in one hour for local charities.

You helped open Ohio's adoption records so people like my sister-in-law could meet their birth parents.

You laughed at my silly columns on the giant tooth, men and toilet seats, edible undies, snoring and Sudoku.

You supported (or at least tolerated) me when I wrote about racism, abortion, gun violence, gay rights, the death penalty, drunken driving, sex education, pedophile priests, teen pregnancy, suicide, mental illness and child abuse.

We went to funerals of soldiers, cops and kids who died way too soon. We shared every Easter, Christmas and cancer-versary. (This month makes 19 years cancer free for me.)

You turned my 50 life lessons into a global sensation by emailing them to friends and family all over the world. The book they inspired, "God Never Blinks," is published in over 20 different languages.

What's next?

I'm writing book number four, posting regularly on Facebook at facebook.com/ReginaBrettFans and blogging at reginabrett.com, where you can also find my upcoming speeches.

You can still read my columns in the Cleveland Jewish News. With a name like Regina Maria, I'm surely not Jewish, but I do feel a kinship and connection to the tribe, partly because my husband is a member.

I want to thank Dick Feagler, whose PD columns I clipped, saved and studied. My journalism professors at Kent State always barked, "Bring me humans!" Dick found the most interesting ones and taught me where to find them.

A big thanks to my co-workers, editors and copy editors. A special thanks to Doug Clifton, the editor who hired me 17 years ago; to Stuart Warner, who mentored me most, and to the paper's current editor, George Rodrigue, who held onto me as long as he could.

Thank you all, for inviting me to your kitchen table every morning. You carried my column in your lunch pails, wallets and toolboxes. You stuck my columns under refrigerator magnets, the highest honor of all.

When I first started here, The Plain Dealer planned an ad for my column and asked what I wrote about.

"My beat is the human heart," I told them.

Thanks for keeping me so close to your heart. You will always be in mine.



Love always trumps hate, even now.

On the morning of the inauguration, I prayed for Donald Trump.

Every morning at the end of my prayers, I offer a prayer for "the person who needs a prayer most." I never know who that might be, but today I figured it must be him. I asked that his heart be opened wider and filled with a deeper love for all. 

Then I opened my own heart, which is so tempted to close on him. And I made a vow, one that I hope to keep for the next four years:

I will not give in to fear.

I will not give in to negativity.

I will not give in to hate.

I will not criticize Donald Trump for his hair style or tan or body shape or clothes. I will not like or share posts that make fun of how he looks. I will not judge his wife for how she dresses or share or like any posts that make fun of any of her past choices.

There is much talk about resistance. Many have been called to resist, to march, to protest, to take action, to speak out loudly and often to fight for justice and equality. It is a powerful calling.

Resistance has not been my calling.  I have listened long and deeply to the counsel of my own soul which has brought me to this place and to this response:

I will not resist. I will not close my heart on anyone.

Not on my family, friends and strangers who voted differently than me.

Not on those who post unkind comments about the president and first family that I loved for the past eight years.

Not on Donald Trump, who through the votes of others, became my country’s next president.

What will I do?

The greatest act of bravery and love that I am called to do:

Embrace love and kindness and spread them so they go viral to everyone around me, even the people I am tempted to unfriend or avoid or belittle. Especially them.

I am going to be a contagion of hope and love and joy and spread them through close contact with people of all genders, races, religions, sexual orientation, ages and ideologies.

No matter what anyone else chooses to do or say or be, I will be the love I want to see in the world. I will be the hope I want to see in the world. I will be the joy I want to see in the world.

I will open my heart even wider. To love. To hope. To joy. To peace. To harmony. To us. To ALL of us.

We are bigger than any one person. “We” is what our democracy is based on. 

“We the people.”

That’s us.

We are the “we.”

My daughter still has the red, white and blue sign in her window that reads:  Love trumps hate.

It always has. It always will.

Especially now.

Thank you, 2016, for...

Everyone is bashing 2016. The reviews aren't good: What an awful year! Don't let the door hit you on the way out! Worst year ever!

We can all list the reasons: the election, terrorist attacks, the election, ISIS, the election, Syria, the election, Zika, the election and all the celebrities we lost.

Here's a challenge: List five gifts 2016 gave you.

No cynicism or sarcasm. Just gifts.

Here are a few of mine:

1. Life: I'm still here. Turning 60 in May was a "Get To." I lost two cousins this year and lost a friend who was younger than me. I got to grow old. Every day above ground is a good day, so 2016 gave me 365 good days.

2. Family: We lost my mom, but her granddaughter, Rachel, had a baby girl a month later. The circle of life goes on.

My mom's legacy: her 11 children, their spouses and children.

My mom's legacy: her 11 children, their spouses and children.

3. Joy: I celebrated 20 years of marriage with my husband. Our son, Joe, got engaged. My friend Sharon, a single mom, married Eric, a single dad, so now both of their sons have a mom and a dad, and they are now brothers. And...Sharon & Eric are expecting a baby in March.

4. Small victories: Every day with my grandchildren is a gift. Asher, 7, is reading chapter books; Ainsley, 5, started kindergarten and River, 3,  thinks she's a pirate, a princess and the Statue of Liberty, sometimes all in the same day. 

5. Big victories: Cleveland, the city I call home, hosted the Republican National Convention without a flaw; our Cavs won the NBA title and 1.3 million people celebrated with a parade without a flaw and our baseball team made it all the way to the World Series.

My cousin Andy says he only has two kinds of days: Good days and great days.

Why not apply that to years? Maybe 2016 wasn't a great year, but it was still a good one.


Mother of eleven, finally in heaven

our last night together.

our last night together.

          Every time someone told Mary Brett, “You don’t look like the mother of eleven,” she always laughed and said, “What’s the mother of eleven supposed to look like?”

          Mary Brett was more than the mother of eleven children.

          The former Ravenna city councilwoman passed away on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. She was 86.

          Mary served more than 30 years as the sacristan at Immaculate Conception Church before she retired in 2012. She opened the church, changed the candles and tended the flowers. She cleaned the altar and prayed for everyone in Ravenna, especially for her neighbors on Sycamore Street, where she lived for more than 60 years.

 Before that, Mary worked as a night court clerk at the Portage County Municipal Court. She processed drunks and others arrested by sheriff deputies, police and state patrol. She said the worst behaved people were the drunken women.

          Her life was defined by faith, family and love of country.

          Mary was the perfect name for this woman of faith who was born in 1930 on Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption. No matter what difficulties life brought her, she always had faith, a faith that carried her all through life.

          She was born in Czechoslovakia but grew up in Portage County where her parents, John and Julia Kerecman, had little money and moved often. When she was young, her three brothers went off to fight World War II. She was 11 when the war started and in 11th grade when it ended. Mary was left alone on a farm with Slovak parents who couldn’t read or write English. She read the telegrams to them announcing her brother, Charles was a P.O.W. in Germany. He returned safely home three years later. 

          Mary graduated from Freedom School in 1948. While working as a nurse’s aide at Robinson Memorial Hospital, she met a handsome bachelor named Tom Brett. She accidentally on purpose burned him with a hot water bottle to get his attention. They married a year later.

       Her greatest legacy was her 11 children. She was their nurse, teacher, chef, personal shopper, counselor, referee and guidance counselor. She was also Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, and the tooth fairy.

       Mary transformed Jell-O into desserts, salads and main courses. She washed mountains of laundry, creased the pleats in endless Catholic school uniforms and squeezed blouses through a wringer washer in water so hot her hands stayed red for hours. She pinned 11 babies up in diapers, the cloth kind you had to rinse in the toilet. She made holidays more magical by opening her home to countless friends her children brought home from college.

     Mary crocheted stars and angels for the Christmas trees, afghans for college couches, and scarves for strangers who needed warmth. Her children feasted on freshly baked Irish bread, nut rolls, Danish pastries and pig in the blankets.

     She taught them how to change a diaper without poking the baby, how to test a bottle to see when it was just right, and how to dance the polka in the living room.

     She loved Ravenna and walked everywhere. When people asked why she didn’t use her car more often, she said, “God gave me two feet before he gave me a car.”

          She volunteered with the Chamber of Commerce, was a home health aide and attended Ravenna High School football games even after her kids graduated.

          Next to church, her favorite place was a tie: Deluxe Pastry shop or Guido's Pizza.

          Before she retired, she helped buy the holy family statue for the church. She couldn’t afford the whole thing, so she paid for Jesus. She often called him her 12th child.

     When her health began to fail, she moved into Light of Hearts Villa in Bedford where the staff fell in love with “Miss Mary.” Her son, Tom, ordered business cards so her Ravenna friends would have her new address. He added these words: Mother of 11 waiting on Heaven.

          While she waited, Mary attended daily Mass, prayed the rosary daily and crocheted slippers for poor children, hats for the homeless and prayer shawls for cancer patients.

          Calling hours will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, November 11, at the Wood-Kortright-Borkoski Funeral Home, 703 E. Main St., Ravenna.

          The funeral Mass will be 10 a.m Saturday at Immaculate Conception Church in Ravenna.

          In lieu of flowers, please donate to Immaculate Conception Church or to Light of Hearts Villa in Bedford.

          Mary joins her husband, Thomas A. Brett, who preceded her in death in 1999.

          Mary is survived by her 11 children, Theresa and Tom (Raithel) of Evansville, Indiana; Joan of Phoenix, Az.; Michael and Chris (Jacobs) of Columbus; Mary Jo of Columbus; Regina and Bruce (Hennes) of Cleveland; Thomas P. and Tish of Windham; Maureen and Andrew (Pearson) of Bridgewater, Va.; Patricia and Thomas (Butcher) of New York, NY.; Mark and Anita of East Lansing, MI; Jim and Michelle of Rockville, Md.; and Matthew of Chicago.

          Mary leaves behind 15 grandchildren: Gabrielle Brett and James (Sullivan); Rachel and Geof (Pelaia), Michael, Leah and Luke; Laura and Erin Pearson; Harry Brett-Butcher; Jaclyn, Emily, Hudson, Josiah and Anya; Jacob and Christopher.

          She also had four great grandchildren: Asher, Ainsley and River Sullivan and Jack Pelaia.

          Mary was a member of Beta Sorosis and served on the Visiting Nurses Association Board. She will be missed by her loving family, neighbors and community at Light of Hearts.

         Donations can be made to Immaculate Conception Church in Ravenna or to Light of Hearts at 283 Union St., Bedford, Ohio 44146.




Words are life, so I choose BRAVE

When I turned 60 on May 31, my family surprised me with a cake.

A cake made of words.

The best kind of cake you can give a writer is one made of words. As the author of The Book Thief wrote, "Words are life."

My daughter asked my family to describe me then had their words inscribed in icing on a cake from Wild Flour Bakery.

What a joy to see how they saw me: Brave. Warrior. Passionate. Loving. Spiritual. Helpful. Intense. Author. Inspiring. Generous. Fun. 

Then everyone around the table chose one word on the cake and shared how they saw that quality in me. It was a love fest.

Then her husband, James, asked me to choose one of the words and share how I saw that in myself.

I chose the word BRAVE, mostly because I've been afraid my whole life. Afraid of life.

I used to think that meant I wasn't brave. Not after I found this quote: "Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid."

To be brave isn't to have no fear, it's to not let fear stop you from having a joyful, vibrant life, which is what I have.



Will prayer shaming spark action?

Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

We say those words when we don’t know what to say or do.

What do the words really mean? Do they really mean anything?

Not to some people.

On Wednesday, at least 14 people were killed in San Bernadino, CA when two people went on a shooting rampage.

Presidential candidates tweeted their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and first responders, which angered some.

The New York Daily News posted their tweets next to this front page headline:


Some are calling it prayer shaming.

The shame isn’t that the politicians offer prayers.

The shame is that the politicians have the power to do more than pray and they haven’t.

We’re all tired of the shootings.

Some were instantly outraged at the newest shooting. Before we knew who fired the bullets or why or where they got the guns, some called for stronger gun control legislation to stop the chaos.

Others were simply numb.

Here’s how I found out about the shooting. I turned on the radio to listen to Christmas carols and heard the announcer say, “The shooting of the day is in San Bernadino…”

The shooting of the day.

That’s what it has come down to. The shooting of the day, as if we’re announcing the weather forecast.

I don’t know the solution to ending the gun violence, but I do believe it involves two parts: the guns and the people holding them.

Any solution must address both the guns and the people who want to kill people.

It’s been said that hurt people hurt people. There is something deeply wrong inside anyone who wants to kill another person.

How do we fix that? I don’t know, but I do believe prayer is part of the solution.

Here’s the thing about prayer, the part we often miss.

Prayer isn’t just our chance to tell God what we need.

It’s our chance to listen to what God needs from us.

It’s our chance to place ourselves humbly before God and ask, “What would You have me do or be here?”

Then listen.

Listen past the noise. Listen past the anger. Listen past the grief. Listen and keep listening for the quiet, still voice of peace in your own soul that will give you your perfect clarity.

There isn’t one answer that we will all hear.

Some will be called to take action against guns and the NRA.

Some will be called to pray.

Some will be called to work harder to love and repair the hurt people who hurt people.

Until we hear that clarity, there is nothing wrong with saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Some of us say it because we still believe in the power of prayer to change hearts and transform this world.




Me Days

The holidays are fast approaching. Don't get lost in the shuffle.

It's easy to get overwhelmed just thinking about the shopping, baking, buying, decorating, wrapping and 1,001 other details that come with Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah. 

A woman I consider to be my spiritual guide once told me to save some space on the calendar for me. You have to take care of you before you can take care of everyone else, she reminded me.

"If you don't get some alone time, your personality degrades," she warned me.

How did she know?

My personality really does degrade.

When I don't take care of me, when I try to run on empty, I get irritable, restless and grouchy.  I start to question everything in my life, my job, my friends, my future, my spouse, when all I need to do is take a nap, eat a hot meal, listen to Bach, watch a chic flik or read a little Mary Oliver.

 I can only give people my best self when I take good care of myself.

So this is my gift to you. A simple reminder:

Before November and December are completely filled with tasks and to-do's, put yourself on your own calendar. Choose a day each week and mark in big letters: ME.

I bought pink sticky notes shaped like hearts to claim time for me. 

Sometimes I'm guilty of moving the heart into the next week, but now instead of one sticky heart a week, I put two on the calendar every week so I'm more likely to actually get my day for me.

What do I do with a Me Day?

Refill. Reboot. Recharge. Relax. Recover. Restore.

I read. Light candles. Breathe. Take a bubble bath. Go for a slow walk nowhere. Call my BFF. Play sudoku. Flip through magazines. Nap in a sunbeam like a cat.

Then I'm ready to be my best self.

Give it a try and let me know what works best to fill your well.




100 Days of Love

I just realized there are 100 days left in 2015. Yikes!

Where did the year go? Did someone short sheet the calendar?

It's time to start all those things I planned to complete this year.

Or maybe it's time to give up on them all and just love me a little better.

I think that's truly the secret: If you loved yourself, really loved yourself, you'd be a better everything.  A better parent, spouse, sibling, neighbor, employee, friend, citizen of the world, resident of planet Earth.

So I'm doing it.

I'm loving me harder. Starting with my heart. I plan to do 100 days of cardio.

The heart is a muscle. The most important one. The one I neglect. I lift weights for my upper body so my arms look buff. I work out on my core so my back and abs are strong so I can toss my grandbabies in the air and not drop them. I work out on my lower body so my legs are strong.

My heart? I have neglected it. I keep promising to do cardio workouts, but I don't.

So starting on Wednesday, I ran 1.5 miles. I didn't like it. But my heart did.

I could hear it humming louder and pumping stronger, reminding me how vital it is.

Then today, my heart rewarded me. It opened wide. Wide enough to love someone I had shut out of my life.

I made amends to someone I had closed my heart on. It's embarrassing to admit, but I chose sides and didn't choose hers.

I didn't even need to choose. It wasn't even my rodeo or my monkeys, but WOOMP! my heart closed on her.

We talked on the phone. I said I was sorry. Made sure I actually said those two important words, not just, "I want to apologize." I needed to really apologize. I had been unkind.

My chest expanded to let my heart love her. What a cardio workout.

The heart is a wonderful muscle. Love it, and it will love you back.








I'm loving my heart, the muscle I can't see.

What Independence Day looked like to my gramma

Immigrants bound for America on the SS Ile de France

Immigrants bound for America on the SS Ile de France

This is what Independence Day looked like to my gramma.

A crowded boat full of people like her, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.

She's there in the crowd. In the second row on the left, the first woman seated, the one wearing the white hat.

My mom is somewhere on that boat. A tiny baby. So are her three brothers and her sister. 

Ever since I found that photo, Independence Day means something different to me. 

Something more than fireworks, cookouts and s’mores. 

It’s a day to give thanks that my ancestors chose America to call home.  

All four grandparents made that choice. They left all they knew to venture across the sea for the great experiment that was America. 

They passed through New York where Lady Liberty still stands, and still offers this promise:

 “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

 Those words Emma Lazarus wrote are the welcome mat to America.

 I hope they still mean something.

 I hope our country still stands as a beacon of hope to the tired, the poor, those yearning to breathe free, whether they be from Mexico or Mali, from Ecuador or El Salvador, from Sudan or Somalia.

 My dad’s parents left Ireland as teenagers. Michael was 15 and an orphan; Mary was 19 and had already lost her mother.

 America was their hope. Their golden door.

 My mother was born in Czechoslovakia. She didn’t know it until she tried to get a driver’s license and couldn’t. Her parents had told her she was born in Akron. It was a lie, probably one based on fear.   

My mother had no papers.  

My mother was an illegal alien. 

We joke about it now, but it scared her back then. Would she be deported? My dad had to contact someone in Washington to get the mess straightened out. Mom became a U.S. citizen in 1961, when I was 5.  

I wish we could have celebrated her naturalization with red, white and blue fanfare, with sparklers and songs. But my mom’s past was never celebrated. Back then, being an immigrant was something to forget, not something to celebrate. 

Two years ago, after my mom moved into assisted living we were preparing to sell the family home. In the basement, I found a blue folder. Inside was my grandmother’s green card. I never knew my mom had saved it.

 My gramma’s nationality is listed as Undetermined.

America took her anyway. 

There were also two photos from the long journey from Czechoslovakia to America.  

If you hold gramma’s green card up to one photo of the crowd on the S.S. Ile De France, you can pick out my gramma in that white hat. What a long, awful ride that must have been with a new baby and three other small children. 

Last week I framed all those photos, the ones on the boat, the green card and my mom’s naturalization document. I created a wall of fame for them all, and my grandparents from Ireland.

 I want my grandchildren to know where they came from and how far their great, great grandparents traveled to choose America. 

It is a choice worth celebrating.








The Catholic nun who had 26 children died on Sunday.

Sister Mary Frances never set out to have children.

The Catholic nun ended up with 26 of them.

"They just came along into my life," she once told me. "God had something in mind."

Sister Mary Frances had 26 sons. The Lost Boys of Sudan towered over her. They called her Mom. And "Malaik," the Dinka word for angel.

She died on Sunday. She was 83.

The one paragraph obituary noted that she was a member of the congregation of St. Joseph for 65 years.

That she was a daughter and a sister.

That the funeral Mass would be Tuesday, June 23 in the St. Joseph Worship Space, 3430 Rocky River Dr. at 7 p.m. That friends could call at The Worship Space Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 4:30 P.M. with a wake service at 4:30 p.m.

It didn’t mention her children, those 26 men, their families here and abroad, and the countless people they touched.

When she joined the Sisters of Saint Joseph, she never set out to have children. Never imagined she would spend her retirement years helping to build wells in Africa. Never imagined she'd be carried away by the Lost Boys of Sudan who ended up lost in Cleveland and found by her.

She inspired the community to save them. To donate money to pay for school, citizenship and basic needs. To write resumes and cover letters, to drive them to job interviews, teach them to use a computer and speak English. To hire them, to mentor them, to love them.

She gave them the greatest gift of all: hope.

I wrote about the Lost Boys after one was murdered at a bus stop in Cleveland back in 2006. As a boy, Majok Madut had escaped Sudan's civil war, fled the bullets of rebel soldiers, crossed raging rivers of crocodiles and walked across blazing deserts to finally find safety in America.

When he died, it was Sister Mary Frances who saw the gift in it. The night before his wake, she felt a powerful sense that something good was going to happen to the Lost Boys because of Majok. She had helped them ever since they arrived in Cleveland. She told them Majok was going to give them a wonderful gift.

Somehow she could see the holy in the horrific. His death turned a spotlight on the plight of the Lost Boys.

With her help, they became U.S. citizens. They found wives. They had children. They have pursued college degrees and careers. They build lives bigger than their dreams.

One studied to become a pilot so he could help with relief efforts and rescue other refugees. One started a project called Isaac's Wells so the people of Sudan won't have to walk miles to get drinking water.

Through it all, Sister Mary Frances never forgot the son she buried. His tombstone reads:

Beloved Son and Brother

Majok Thiik Madut

Lost Boy of Sudan

Found by God

It always comforted her to know his death ended up shining a light on them that never dimmed. She would never say it, but I hope she can now feel it:

Hers was the brightest light of all.

Cleveland is still ALL IN for the Cavs

LeBron James scored 215 points. What an effort.

LeBron James scored 215 points. What an effort.

To people outside of Cleveland, we’re the No. 1 most cursed sports fans in the country.

The Cavs loss to the Warriors in the NBA Finals proves it. Right?

That’s what sports writers would have you believe.

We know better. That's why we’re still ALL IN here in Cleveland.

As Cavs Coach David Blatt said after the Cavs lost Game Six in the NBA Finals to the Warriors: “Not every story has a happy ending. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad story. This was not. This was a good story."

No, it was a great story.

Too often we only count the end of the story, the final score, to decide who won and who lost.

Too often we forget the joy in the journey and count only the defeat at the destination.

I’ll leave the game highlights to the basketball experts. Here’s what I learned from watching the Cleveland Cavaliers take us on the ride of our lives this year:

  • Apologies matter. That’s how we got LeBron James back. After an angry rant after LBJ took his talents to Miami, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert privately and publicly apologized. An apology sparked the return of LeBron James. It deserves mentioning. Forever.
  • You can be ALL IN even when others are all out. LBJ scored 215 points. He was still ALL IN after two All Stars were out for good. (Kevin Love to a shoulder injury; Kyrie Irving to a fractured kneecap.) The fans? We stayed ALL IN, all over Cleveland and beyond.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver. LeBron didn’t promise a title. He promised this: “I will guarantee that we will play our asses off.” And they did. The Cavs won their first two Finals games ever, in the history of the franchise.
  • Respect matters. What a moment when the best basketball player in the world caught sight of the greatest football player of all time, Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, who brought Cleveland its last championship when the Browns won in 1964. What did LeBron do? He quietly bowed.
  • Never, ever, give up. We will never forget LeBron flying into a camera and jumping back into the game with the bloody imprint of the lens engraved on his head. Or Matthew Dellavedova recovering the basketball like it was a fumble in football. The Cavs became The Grit Squad.
  • You play with grit, but you lose with grace. Coach Blatt made no excuses after the game. He simply praised both teams for doing their best.
  • You can lose and still win. “The Warriors won the trophy. But the Cavs stole the show,” Rachel Larimore wrote for Slate. Amen, sister. We lost the Finals, but we got a season to celebrate.
  • The best is yet to come. No matter what the team, Indians, Browns, Cavs, our sports motto here is, “There’s always next year.” Well guess what? Next year has never looked better for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Are we heartbroken here in Cleveland?

You bet.

But that’s okay, because here in Cleveland, we have the biggest hearts of any sports fans.

We're ALL IN for the Cleveland Cavs

This is Cleveland’s new motto.

The Cavs have created electricity you can feel everywhere in Greater Cleveland and beyond. Even our art museum and the Cleveland Clinic are dressed up in Cavs banners.

Cleveland is a city that once searched for a better motto and ended up with: "Cleveland's a plum." And "Believe in Cleveland." 

Unfortunately, the unofficial motto remained: "There's Always Next Year."

Well, THIS is the year.

We've endured it all. Even our children, who may not have been alive for some or all of them, can list the litany of our sports disasters: Red Right 88. The Catch. The Trade. The Drive. The Shot. The Fumble. The Move. The Decision.

Then something strange happened.

We decided to embrace what we had, wins and losses, and own who we are, quirks and all, to create something even better.

The Cavs won their first ever NBA finals game on Sunday in overtime without three of our stars. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are out with injuries.

We're no longer the Mistake on the Lake. Far from it.

America's North Coast has never been more on fire. Yes, we can joke about our river burning and our mayor's hair catching fire. It's part of our quirky past. We can simply blame the lake effect like we do for everything else.

We're hot in Cleveland and have been for a while. Buzzfeed listed us in 16 Spectacular Places to Travel in 2015.


That's a word we rarely use to describe our city.

What’s here? The Gay Games. The Republican National Convention. The casino. The convention center.

How about a T-shirt that with the litany of our city's successes? The Art Museum. The Orchestra. The Metroparks. The Theaters. The Universities. The Diversity.

We take our greatness for granted.

The Cleveland Play House accepted the 2015 Regional Theatre Tony Award on Sunday.

As Forbes wrote, "Very few folks realize that (Cleveland) is home to the nation's second most vibrant theater district after New York's Broadway, with fourteen major live stages in one concise spot, Playhouse Square. That's the biggest draw for the regional drive market, with an ever-changing slew of top plays and musicals."

We've got new hotels, an aquarium and a massive outdoor chandelier at Euclid Avenue and East 14th Street.

But too often the only thing people think we’re No. 1 at is being the most cursed sports city in the country.

Why? No major Cleveland professional sports team has won a championship since 1964.

It's like a disclaimer. We can't really be great because we haven't won THE BIG ONE.

Well this is the year. We are ALL IN.  

The sports curse on this town is over. Erased. Gone.

We're ALL IN for what's next:

The Title.

Advice for the Class of 2015

Congratulations, Class of 2015.

Graduates, welcome to the rest of your life.

This is where the official blueprint ends and you get to draw your own.

          You can build a life as beautiful, meaningful and fulfilling as you want. It will be both scary and exciting. Everything worthwhile is.

          You will stumble. You will fall. You will get messy. And right there, tucked in the biggest mess, you’ll find the magic and miracles that make living worthwhile.

          Here are ten tips for the journey:

Take the “just” out of your job title. No matter where you end up working, it’s important work. Maybe not to you, but it is to the customers, clients, co-workers and the person who hired you. There’s no such thing as “just” a job. Too often people say, “I’m ‘just’ a teacher...I’m ‘just’ a nurse. I’m ‘just’ a social worker.” Every job is as magical as you make it.

If you’re going to doubt anything, doubt your doubts. Instead of saying, “I can’t find a job” start telling yourself and everyone else, “I am ready to find the job of my dreams. Bring. It. On.” Instead of saying, “I don’t know what I want to do with my life” start saying, “I am excited to know what to do with my life.” Instead of telling yourself, “I don’t know what to do,” start with what you do know. 

Just take the next right step: Take the action you know to take. You don’t need a leap of faith, just one step. Taking simple, focused action will propel you forward. Make the call. Send the e-mail. Fix your resume.

Get rid of your big but. Actually get rid of your biggest but. We all have a big but that stops us. Yeah, but… I don’t have a degree in that. Yeah, but…I don’t have any experience. Yeah, but… I can’t use LinkedIn, Excel, PowerPoint. Yeah, but…I’m not good with statistics, technology, machinery. Get out of your own way.

Become teachable: Have the humility to ask for help. Become a student of life. Ask questions. There is an endless supply of people to teach you anything you need to know. If you don't ask, you don't get. If you don’t ask, the answer is “no.” You already gave it to yourself. If the answer is “no,” turn it into a maybe. Or thank it and move on.

Fail forward: When things fall apart, they could be falling into place. Failure doesn’t have to hold you back, it can propel you forward. Not getting into graduate school could be a gift. Not getting that job you wanted in Chicago could lead you to something better.

Stop struggling: I love the quote, “Nothing you want is upstream.” Pay attention to what comes easy to you, because it doesn’t come easy to everyone else. Your divine assignment has your name on it, no one else’s. When you live the life you alone were created to live, there is no competition. There’s enough for everyone and no reason to struggle.

 Align yourself first, then take action: Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re moving forward. Action without focus wastes precious time. Most people don’t find their dream job randomly online. They find it because they aligned themselves on the inside first with what they truly wanted, then connected with the right people already in their life.

Own your life: It’s up to you to launch your life. Not your parents, your next boss or anyone else. Take 100 percent responsibility for your own success. Stop believing that you’re being held back and you will move forward.

Enjoy the ride. When you don’t get what you want, you get something better. It’s called experience. Tucked in every messy job are miracle moments that will shape the rest of your life. There’s no such thing as a dead-end job. Every job is brimming with life lessons to lead you closer to what you want to be.

          The bottom line is this: regardless of your age or experience, the state of the economy or the job market, you have the power to expand, enrich and deepen your own life and the lives of others.

          Congratulations. Your life is now yours.

          Own it.



The Best Mother's Day Gift: The List.

My mother came from The Greatest Generation of Mothers.

Women whose job it was to give themselves away, to disappear into their children.

This photo of her both touches my heart and breaks it. She looks so exhausted and so young. She ended up having 11 children.

I am No. 5.

That tender arm draped around me melts my heart. She has a baby on her lap, but still tucked me in close to her with that arm.

I used to need proof that she loved me. Not all 11 of us. Me. Just me.

I wanted her to love me and bond in some magical way that never happened. 

When you come from a big family, you're loved as a group, as the litter that you are.

Sometimes you want one-on-one mom love all to yourself.

Instead, she gave me a treasure load of siblings: 5 brothers and 5 sisters.

One year on my mom's 75th birthday, instead of feeling sad that I didn't feel that deep connection every daughter longs for with her mother, I decided to just give her love.

A friend suggested I write down everything my mom DID do for me.

Instead of focusing on what was missing, cherish what was.

It was hard at first scanning my childhood. Moments with mom were so rare, it just hurt my heart more.

My mom at 84.

My mom at 84.

Then the pen took over, or the angels around me started moving it.

I thanked her for...

Giving me 10 siblings.

Filling our Easter baskets and buckets.

Playing the tooth fairy.

Making every Christmas so magical we could hear the reindeer on the roof.

Healing our boo-boos with Bactine and a kiss.

Waking us up for school every day – sometimes five times in one day,

Making sure none of us got hit by lightning, got blinded by having bangs in our eyes or wore dirty underwear to the emergency room.

Unlocking the door at 2 a.m. and not asking any questions until morning.

Helping each of us to become our best selves.

Forgiving us when we were at our worst.

Praying for us when we didn’t even know we needed prayers.

Loving each of us equally…and never letting on that she loved me best. (I can dream, right?)

I came up with 75 things I loved about her and gave her the list as a gift.

She loved it.

That list was a gift to me, too. It changed our relationship for good.

It opened up my heart to receive what she was, and is, able to give. 

On Administrative Professionals' Day, give yourself a gift

At book signings, I almost always meet a woman who tells me, “I’m just a secretary.”

Before I sign her book, I ask her to do one thing: Take the “just” out of her job title.

I’ve been a legal secretary, office manager and administrative professional. That was BC – before computers. Anyone else remember carbon paper, IBM Selectric typewriters and passing out from Wite-Out fumes?

Back then, I often said, “I’m just a secretary.” Unfortunately, I believed it.

It can be a tough job. Too many bosses think doing something special on Administrative Professionals' Day will make up for being underpaid and underappreciated all year long.

You can’t change them, but you can change you and how you see yourself.

On April 22, Administrative Professionals Day, give yourself a gift:

Take the just out of your job title. It doesn’t matter what they call you, it matters what you answer to. You aren’t just a secretary, office manager or administrative assistant. Remove the just. Don’t diminish your own worth.

If you want your job to be more creative and interesting, if you have passions and talents that you have kept buried, bring them to life. Do what’s in the job title you have but squeeze in room to do what matches the job title you want.

Own the power you do have. Power is an inside job. It isn’t in the title you have. It’s in the passion you put into your work and into your relationships there.

Even when you feel invisible, your work isn’t. Believe me, when you miss a day of work, everyone knows.

Every job is as magical as you make it. The magic might not be in the paycheck or perks. It’s in the imprint you leave behind on every customer, client and co-worker.

You’re not “just” a secretary.

You are way more magical than that.