I woke up this morning and words flooded out, as if I was taking dictation. I am always asking the universe to reveal to me what I need to know. And I never think it’s going to come in the form of me being the cosmic secretary and taking dictation, but sometimes, it is. So I didn’t question. I just took notes.

Immediately after finishing, I felt like I had to post it everywhere. And that made me queasy. I felt timid and shy and I knew those feelings well.

But funny thing about that – I don’t have room for it anymore. There’s too much work to be done in the world and my timidity doesn’t serve anyone, particularly me.

So I said to myself, “Screw it,” and posted it everywhere on social media.

We don’t know how our words and deeds impact others, but I believe we have the power to lift up or tear down, and I’d rather lift up.

So if you are reading this, this one’s for you, today – and me. And I hope you breathe in these words and know that they came from that bigger place in which we are all connected.

If you are here, you are loved.

If you are here, you are worthy.

If you are here, you matter.

It’s as simple as that.

 

Every person who crosses your path today was sent to you by God. That is your ministry or calling. That is your purpose. And I can promise you that no matter where you are right now or what the situation, it can turn around, it can get better, it can be healed.

 

We can look at the world and see ourselves as insignificant, but that will never be the truth. The truth is we are powerful, each one of us, and that scares us. There is a part of us, deep inside, that knows we are meant for greatness, however we define it. We can let the voice of fear keep us from our destiny or we can step up.

 

We cannot keep the beasts at bay by cowering. We cannot find our measure of happiness by hiding, nor can we by pretending that anyone else’s interpretation of us is true.

 

We may have a set of principles and ideals that we’d be willing to die for, but I am asking you, “What are you willing to live for?”

 

What would be worth it to you to come out of your cocoon and live?

I get it, the world is a scary place these days, and it seems to be getting worse. But even if that is true, you woke up this morning with the gift of this moment and this day. Will you be an instrument of peace today? Will you tell anyone in your life that you love them? Will you forgive yourself or anyone else today? Will you construct a kinder world with your words and deeds? Will you help someone out? Will you look for things to be grateful for? Will you plant the seed of goodness that will flourish beyond your existence here?

 

If you are here, you are loved.

If you are here, you are worthy.

If you are here, you matter.

It’s as simple as that.

 

Peace and blessings to you, and heartfelt appreciation for you stopping by today and reading this.

Ilene

Each year, I traditionally write a birthday blog. This year, I’ve been trying to write one for the past three days and kept getting interrupted, but here I am. Plans are made and my big day is under way.

I always find myself reflective on my birthday – looking back at the past year, taking stock, offering up a prayer of thanks that I’m still here, and setting some intentions for the next year.

We can make all the plans we like, but life has a funny way of choosing paths for us, sometimes. And as I think about the past year, I cherish most the people who make my life rich and beautiful by being in it.

Lately, I’ve been listening to various offerings in my CD collection. I love it when something grabs me in such a way that I must listen again and again, or I feel that ping in my heart that accompanies an involuntary sound meaning “Yes. That.”

Yesterday, I was shooting a video with my bandmates, Tanya Leah and Lorraine Ferro, and we were talking about what moves us and motivates us and drives us to do this thing we’ve decided to do as a band called The Inspire Project.

It is so easy in such dark times as these to make light of what we each have to offer one another. But the truth is each one of us contains within us the ability to be the love this world is in need of right now.

It is easy to see ourselves as small and insignificant in light of the rage and the screaming voices that are out there. But each connection, each kind word, each moment we dare to be honest and vulnerable contains within it the mighty seeds of eternal life and love.

At every moment, we are creating something and the only real power we possess is choosing what that something is.

So as I go about my birthday today, I want my something to be gratitude for what is beautiful, for what moves me, and for what I might do that moves someone else and contributes to making this world a kinder  and more loving place in which to reside.

I want to thank all of you for sharing the journey with me and making it so beautiful.

With profound love and gratitude,

Ilene

Here are some of the songs I’ve been listening to and loving again lately:

Richard Marx “Loved” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnvWVmEBRGI

Garth Brooks “The Change” (by Tony Arata) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9udlj3CJEw

Hunter Parish “Beautiful City” from Godspell (by Stephen Schwartz) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXezjFLTl-c

Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel “For Good” from Wicked (by Stephen Schwartz) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZ0pXUb5jVU

Marc Beeson “What I’m For” (by Marc Beeson and Allen Shamblin) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTR7AmDTbTk&t=179s&list=FL5NEGTNwx8HwxE4fmWgrVYQ&index=1

If you’ve been following my blog for the past couple of years, you undoubtedly know that I am making choices that put me well outside of my comfort zone.

I am doing this, because, well, my comfort zone would largely keep me staying at home on my couch, with not an ounce of discernable mischief, except for the occasional verbal mischief I make as a writer. And where’s the fun in that, I ask you?

And that’s where the tambourine came into play. I know, I know. You’re probably wondering why the tambourine is such a big freakin’ deal to me. I’ll tell you why – because you can’t be shy, tentative, fearful, or meek and play it well…or at all, frankly. You also can’t use just some of your body to play it. It’s all in or not at all.

I’ll tell you how I figured this out. My bandmates mocked my initial tambourine playing attempts mercilessly. And when your bandmates mock you mercilessly, you either learn to rise to the occasion or step away from the tambourine for good.

Me, I like a challenge, so I took their good-natured mockery as a dare to show up fully, throw caution to the wind and shake what my mama gave me.

And that brings me to last night’s concert, where I played the aforementioned tambourine publicly for the first time. No children or small animals were injured during my playing, so all in all, I’d say it was a success.

The bulk of the time I was on keyboards, with my two compatriots – Tanya Leah on guitar and ukulele, and Lorraine Ferro on multiple percussion instruments.

The trio of us, known as The Inspire Project, made our headlining debut last night to a full and incredibly enthusiastic crowd.

From my perspective, the highlight is always the 3-part harmony and the combination of our personalities, songs, and heart on stage.

It was an overwhelming experience for the three of us, who, though all seasoned solo performers, have spent the bulk of our lives as professional songwriters, penning hits for other people.

This band has given all of us the chance to shine not only as writers, but as artists, both individually and collectively. And I, for one, do not take that lightly.

Had this happened at an earlier juncture, I don’t think we would have appreciated it in the same way as we are able to now. And I also think that our defining ourselves as “The Inspire Project” calls us to a higher purpose.

These are dark and difficult times we are living in. It is easy to become jaded, cynical, and just plain tired. I battle feeling all of those things at least three times a day.

We are not immune to the struggle. In fact, we are honest about it and because we “keep on getting up again,” as we sing in “Amen,” that is what we celebrate in ourselves, in each other, and with our audiences.

When I lived in Nashville, I used to say that moving there is not what was courageous, but rather staying there was. And I would say the same thing about The Inspire Project, because The Inspire Project is a sum that is greater than its parts, but it demands personal transformation from each one of us.

I think every person has many choice points in life. We decide to take or leave jobs or careers, spouses, ways of being, habits. Most of us battle an addiction to our self-image that rivals that of any substance. We are married to the view we hold of ourselves, and in so being, we limit what we can do and who we can become.

The band always jokes with our audiences that “we need this more than you do,” because the truth is we do. Each of us knows in our heart of hearts and in our quiet moments of reflection what stands in the way of our fully being who and what we know we are called to in this life. And now, we have a chance to decide – will it be the same old, same old, or will we play the metaphorical tambourine as if our lives depended on it?

What is it you’ve always wanted for yourself? Is there a dream you’ve tucked away? Is there a secret passion? Is it to speak up, or to simmer down, or to be bolder or braver?

This world needs us to fully engage, to risk being vulnerable, to be able to laugh at ourselves, even as we put ourselves out there. This world needs every one of us to take a chance on ourselves and on each other, not because we won’t fall down, but because we contain within us the capacity to rise again.

So whatever it is you want for yourself, go be that now. I, for one, will support your efforts…especially if you decide you want to play the tambourine.

A big thank you to my bandmates in The Inspire Project and to all of you who came out to hear us last night and who are reading this now.

Wishing you peace, blessings, and inspiration always,

Ilene

I saw a lovely meme yesterday that went like this: “You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.”

This got me thinking – what sermon am I preaching with my life? And what sermon do I want my life to be preaching?

I think it’s safe to say we all have a distorted view of how we come across to others. Our vision of ourselves differs greatly from that of those around us, if they were to be asked. Sometimes, our greatest attributes go unnoticed by us, and the things we think we are hiding are in plain sight to everyone else.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately, because I want to start speaking, in addition to singing, particularly when my new book comes out. But I am well aware that in order to do that, I must embody the things of which I speak. It is the next step in my journey and one I have successfully avoided except when it has come to fighting for universal healthcare. (Evidently, when it comes to healthcare as a basic human right, I will carry a bullhorn and take to the streets, if necessary.)

The beauty of deciding you want to do something you haven’t done before is that as soon as you make that commitment, it’s as if the universe sends things your way to say, “Are you sure? Are you really, really sure? Are you really, really, really, really sure?”

Maybe it just does that because some doubt still lives inside me, but I’ve experienced it time and time again, and now is no exception to that.

It turns out that writing a book, if you let it, will always take you on an interesting journey of self-discovery. It was like that with my first book, In Search of Georg Stephanopoulos – a True Story of Life, Love, and the Pursuit of a Short Greek Guy.

During the years of writing that one, I figured out that there was a pattern of pursuing the outlandish that I had embodied since childhood. And upon learning that, I was able to see how it had served me and how it could, if I would let it do that again.

How open are we really willing to be in the pursuit of our heart’s desires? Because the more open we are, the more amazing opportunities come our way, and sometimes they take us in a different direction than we ever dreamed for our lives…like writing books, for instance.

When I penned that memoir, I had absolutely no intention of ever writing another book again. Seriously. It was exhausting. I cackled at the mere mention of writing a second one.

And yet, here I am, because it turns out I have a lot to say on the subject of How to Calm the Hell Down and be Happy, and all of it was born out of not being calm and happy and needing to figure my way out of that abyss.

So now, I find myself wondering how I will speak to groups of people about the various things I’ve figured out about it. And I know from that queasy feeling I’ve got going on in my stomach that this is exactly what I need to do next.

I’m clear that if my life is to preach something, I’d like it to be the benefits of moving past your own fears, real or imagined. And I’d like it to tell the tale of how someone so consumed with anxiety and worry convinced herself that it was okay to be truly seen and heard. And that daring to be vulnerable has not only deepened every relationship in life, but also presents the invitation to everyone else to dare to be seen and heard.

So often we lose ourselves in life because this world can seem so harsh and judgmental. We forget that God lives in the places we dare to fully engage with each other honestly. We hold back. We cower. We don’t know what we’ll be met with if we dare to show up fully as ourselves. And how can we know? We have so few examples of that in the world.

So I’m a work in progress, learning to speak, speak up, speak out and let my life be the sermon I would want to preach.

What’s your sermon?

What would happen if every day, as we went about our lives, we became aware that we are teaching the world something? What would we do if we knew that everyone we encountered was learning something from us…because they are learning something from us.

What is the sermon we preach? I’d love to know what yours is. Let me know in the comments section below.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

You would think that winter, when it’s cold outside and gets dark early, would be my preferred time to curl up with a book. But something happens to me in the summer – a holdover from childhood, probably, when summer meant reading anything I wanted for a couple of months and adventuring off to faraway places in different centuries with every turn of a page.

I was never what you would call an “active” kid. And I don’t think I ever gravitated toward the things most kids do, like playing with dolls, or board games (unless they involved words), or really any sport whatsoever.

If I had to pick a sport I’d like to play, it would probably be tennis. But the fact that I have no depth perception whatsoever translates to me running back and forth and swinging at the air, so really, do I even need a racket and ball for that? No. Let’s just call it what it is – running – and not bother keeping score…speaking of which, why is zero called “love” in tennis? Anyone???

So when I think about it, I was always most at home with some blank writing paper, my piano, and books, glorious books. And to that end, not much has changed.

I seldom read fiction anymore. You can usually find ne in the memoir section or spiritual/self-help kind of stuff…and comedy, because God knows I need to laugh more. I also used to traverse politics quite a bit, but lately, I’m convinced that might have given me an ulcer, so I’ve got a moratorium, except for Al Franken, because you can take the senator out of SNL, but you can’t completely take SNL out of the senator.

So I’ve got a pile of library books sitting next to me right now, and I am gleefully relishing every spare moment I can pick up a book and read.

This summer’s reading list includes a book about the rise of standup comedy, called I’m Dying up Here, which is now a TV series on Showtime, starring Melissa Leo. To say I’m a little obsessed with both the show and the book is an understatement. So this is the book I’m furthest along in reading at the moment.

Next on my list is Iyanla Vanzant’s book, Trust. And this falls into that spiritual/self-help category. It is so rich in content that I am reading it at a snail’s pace, because I find myself stopping to think about virtually every sentence.

I used to chastise myself for being such a slow reader, until my friend Alisa pointed out that I never choose books that are the mental equivalent of a Harlequin Romance. I usually go for substance, and that requires more thought and introspection.

…which is why next up is Paula Poundstone’s The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness. Did I mention I needed to laugh more? I’m counting on Paula. No pressure.

Last on the list (for now) is Al Franken’s new book, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. I read the first couple of pages while roaming Barnes & Noble and reserved it from my local library. They called me to say it was in, and then promptly could not locate it.

Personally, I think someone absconded with it. Al’s a popular guy, after all, or maybe someone couldn’t wait their turn in line to read it. That seems plausible. Or…a Trump supporter tossed it in the trash, which also seems plausible. And see, that brings me back to my possible ulcer, which is why I should probably stay away from the politics for a while.

I’m keeping my list short this summer. I’ve got a few on the back burner, in case I plow through these quickly.

What’s on your reading list? Any good recommendations?

Happy Sunday, everyone! Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

I recently went on vacation to Hawaii and came back sicker than I’ve been in years – fever, laryngitis, and cough that sounds alarmingly like a death rattle.

I blame the three sick tourists I was on an enclosed bus with for twelve hours as we covered the entirety of the Big Island nearly two weeks ago. But that would not explain why none of the other people I traveled with got sick, only me.

I’m on day 2 of the modern miracle known as antibiotics and I’ve still yet to entirely unpack my suitcase, let alone stop coughing for five minutes. Believe me when I tell you that I have tried every remedy people have given me for this cough and this sucker will not play along. I think my cough is mocking me.

I had great plans to hit the ground running after this vacation, but I think we all know that God laughs at our plans, joker that He/She is.

So I’ve been forced to do nothing, basically, until this thing I’ve got decides to vacate the premises. And the fact that I can sit here and write while coughing my head off makes me think of the late great Garry Marshall, who, in his first book, called Wake Me When It’s Funny, said he became a writer because he was a sickly child and needed a job that he could do from his bed, if he had to.

That resonated deeply with me and here we are, fever, cough and all. (What I wouldn’t give for one more conversation with Garry…)

So the thing about being up at all hours is you get to partake of the phenomenon known as the infomercial on TV during the wee hours.

I believe that Cher may have started this phenomenon with hair products in the early 90’s, but don’t quote me on that. It could have been Tony Robbins, Peter Lemongello, or the Thigh Master. I really have no idea.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that in addition to being utterly fascinated by the concept of the infomercial, I myself have partaken on at least two previous occasions – the aforementioned Tony Robbins (on cassette tapes, no less) and Windsor Pilates (on VHS tapes). And I will tell you that, regardless of how many years ago these two purchases were, I did actually use them and benefit from them, so I lean in favor of the concept of the infomercial, if the products are good.

Of course, some of the stuff they sell late at night is just ridiculous, even to the untrained eye. That curved piece of plastic you are supposed to ride and twist on like a surfboard will not give you washboard abs. It is more likely to give you a trip to the ER when you fall off the damn thing.

I still would very much like to own some of those TimeLife music collections, particularly the 70’s singer/songwriter ones. Oooh, and the complete collection of Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. That looks like a good one, too! Or I could just be saying that, because I am hopped up on ineffective cough syrup. Hard to tell, at this point.

Anyway, the past few nights, I’ve been watching a couple of infomercials that have me intrigued enough to consider buying them. With no shortage of irony, I will tell you that one is a workout regimen, and the other is that Copper Chef cooking pan (in the new extra-large edition) with a host of accoutrements.

I would like to point out that the necessity for a pan that can hold six chickens or 200 meatballs (yes, they said 200 meatballs) is rare, and I know that, but they do such a good job of cooking mouth-watering and artery-blocking food that I am still tempted.

And as for the workout videos, those are a combination of Pilates and Yoga called PiYo, and the attraction for me is that there are no other gizmos or gadgets required – just you and your body on a mat for 30 minutes a day doing this stuff. And of course, the testimonials were over the moon.

I tell ya, whoever put that infomercial together did a great job, because the testimonials were from people far heavier and in worse shape than I am, which kind of makes you feel like you would actually do this and get good results.

Of course, this is all theoretical, and I am waiting to see if I still feel the same way about these things when it’s not three in the morning and when I know I am cognitively sound, again. But it’s entirely possible that sixty days from now, I will have a new, lean and toned body…or a bunch of stories about some great food I cooked in bulk quantities. I’ll keep you posted on what I decide.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.