faith

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Being Authentic… to Ourselves and Each Other

Published May 28, 2020 by Maryanne

Being Authentic: A Memoir by Morhaf Al Achkar, MD, PhD

Review by Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

While many people are complaining about being cooped up during the pandemic, I’m secretly rejoicing because I’ve been doing what I didn’t have much time for before—READING! Since the mid-March lockdown, I’ve read six books, all special in their own right.

Prior to writing this review, I questioned myself… Is it weird to say I can relate to a man who was born in Syria, two years after I graduated high school? A man who became both an MD and a PhD–whereas I struggled just to get my diploma?

First, I took the safe route and wrote the blog as a regular book review. However, after a re-read, my review appeared dull and stale. This author deserves so much more. After he exposed his deep feelings for all to read, I promised myself I should do the same. I do not see that as narcissistic, but rather compassionate. In this review I want people to see me as a person who can find something in common with almost anyone—male/female, young/older, rich/middle class/poor, black/white/mixed. Because this is what the world needs right now, to focus on what we have in common, rather than what sets us apart. (And, honestly, I’ve been quiet about politics for too long, so read on!)

Leo

Author, Morhaf Al Alchar, MD, PhD, and faithful companion, Leo! 

Morhaf Al Achkar has not reached his 40th birthday, yet he ponders death.

I question: Why is he thinking about this now? Perhaps because of his struggle with both Crohn’s disease and a stage four lung cancer; perhaps because he dealt with the devastating loss of his own mother at a young age; or perhaps because we are in the midst a pandemic, all of us facing a virus that has no cure yet. And so many people are at each other’s throats, making it political.

In his memoir, Dr. Achkar strives to be authentic—his true self. And that he is. His story is direct as he gets right to the point with no apologies. And he is vulnerable. There is absolutely no pretense. You do not feel like you are reading a book written by a doctor, with both an MD and a PhD. Instead, you are chatting with a brand new friend.

Growing up in Syria, in a family of nine children, Morhaf often locked himself in a room reading books. He was labeled the “philosopher of his family” by his father. Early on, one of his major struggles was living in a culture “with hypertrophied masculinity.” Men boasting of foolish things like beatings or shootings was the norm. There were also bullies and schoolteachers who were abusive. Wise beyond his years, Morhaf made sense of it all and did not let any of this hinder his growth as a human being. As a person who was also bullied, I relate to this.

Once I began sharing my story to others, I no longer felt shame, but rather a big relief—even empowered! When I read about other people being bullied, it’s a soft spot for me. I can’t help but get a lump in my throat. Then I immediately switch my brain to the good parts of one’s life; their triumphs!

The saving grace in this picture is Morhaf’s mother, a warm, trusting woman, but one of authority and one who greatly valued education. Reading about how his mom pushed Morhaf to take the first steps on the dance floor reminded me of my grandmother.

Grandma practically raised me since my parents were divorced and neither were around much. I think about a family reunion we had when I was about 12. My sister, cousins and I danced to the hired band. When the reunion came to an end, my grandmother encouraged me to “talk to them.” I was shy, but wanted to make Grandma happy, so with my older cousin, we went up to the stage and asked the musicians for their autographs. A parent or grandparent encouraging the kids to dance or talk to someone at a party is a great move to get a kid out of their shy shell.

Another way I relate to Morhaf is not being satisfied with religion and rituals. As a Muslim he reflects on his faith after his mother passes. I was raised without religion, so I had nothing to go by except the standards Catholic holidays that Italian families practiced. When I was 24, I met an older Filipino gentleman who became my mentor. Together we studied religions and philosophies from all over the world.

Remaining open-minded until I met some Christian friends, I decided to give Christianity a chance. But then after my grandmother died, I lost faith, the same way Morhaf felt his faith was faltering after his mother died.

I stopped going to church and celebrating any holidays that had to do with Jesus. When I returned to faith, I took it all with a grain of salt, saving the positive and discarding what seemed overbearing. I now believe in Jesus, but also Buddha, God, and The Universe.

Perhaps this is something people of all faiths go through, but not many admit. So once again, as I’m reading the book, I am grateful to Morhaf for his honesty.

Amongst his great successes, he has had his shares of disappointments too. His passion in activism inspired was an option to leave his family, but after failing a commission-based job, he returned home.

Some of the best times seem to be spent in America. At first, Morhaf lived in Columbus, Ohio with his sister and continued to study. He traveled extensively throughout the USA. In addition to his studies, he had fun adventures that young people experience like dancing, hookah nights, playing cards, consuming cheap drinks, and adopting a canine companion named Leo.

Sadly, dating was an issue, especially in Indiana, where he lived and where many women were prejudiced to his color and didn’t think twice about making racist remarks. It felt terrible to read this. I am sorry that many USA women put a bad taste in one’s mouth, but I want people from other countries to know we are not all that way.

I live in NJ, a democratic state where we are open-minded to making friends of all races and colors—without judgement. I know behind my back my conservative friends and family refer to me as a “Libtard.” It’s wrong and very hurtful.

As a spiritual person, I refuse to retaliate with words and placing derogatory memes on Facebook. Instead I pray for them. And I pray for our president, who I do not care for.

During the month Donald Trump was elected president, Dr. Morhaf was diagnosed with cancer. As a Syrian immigrant he felt affected by the ban on Muslims, fearing he would not be able to say goodbye to his family. He wrote a letter to speak of his struggles. It was published in a Huffington Post blog, entitled “Dear Mr. Trump, You Are Cancer and I Only Live If You Shrink!” The letter explained what it was like to live with what he had then perceived as a terminal illness and as a Syrian immigrant affected by the ban on Muslims. After writing the letter, he felt empowered and liberated him to engage with the Syrian struggle.

I suppose many have friends who have immigrated to the United States and have been affected by Trump’s stance. It is absolutely heartbreaking seeing families being broken up. I know one personally, and will leave it at that to protect their privacy.

Aside from the prejudice Morhaf experienced from American women, he has decided to stay single because he doesn’t want to be a burden to someone should his health fail. I seriously hope he changes his mind because true love is mending.

I’ve shared the story many times and am happy to share it again. When I first began dating my husband I was going to many doctors because I never felt right. A few doctors feared I had cancer. After many ultra-sounds, CAT scans, and countless opinions nothing was found. Seven months after dating my husband, I had one final test that showed I was cancer-free and perfectly healthy! A week later I felt better than I did my entire life! Having a supportive loving person by my side healed me. I believe that!

So, you can see why I’ve enjoyed “Being Authentic” so much. There’s enough to relate to, but also much to learn. And, that, is what a good book should be!

Morhaf’s reflections on life in his later years, while he is now, fortunately, in stable health, we see that he is a true humanitarian and invites others to be as authentic as he is. This is what I wanted from my book, “I Don’t Want to Be Like You.” I want others to share their stories without feeling disgrace. The troubled times are what got you to where you are today. Always remember that.

When we look deep inside ourselves, and share our notions in writing, the reader gets a peek at our true soul. A reader may not “get it” entirely, but the more open an author is, the more we can learn about each other; and love each other. After all, deep down we are more alike than different. This is a book everyone can learn from. And Morhaf will be remembered for writing it.

To purchase “Being Authentic” (and have a sneak peek inside the book) please click on this link: Being Authentic

Follow Morhaf Al Alchar on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/morhafalachkar

95849294_2817039011678255_9072810759997620224_oBeing Authentic book cover

 

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta can be reached at: maryannechristiano@gmail.com.

She is available for blogging, ghost writing, writing. She is also available for book signings and motivational speaking engagements. She is the author of the following books :

“Be (Extra)Ordinary: 10 Ways to Become Your Own Hero” is available on Amazon. To get your paperback or Kindle version, visit: https://www.amazon.com/Be-Extra-Ordinary-Ways-Become/dp/1733546227

“I Don’t Want to Be Like You” is available on Amazon. To get your paperback, Kindle or audio copy, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Dont-Want-Be-Like-You/dp/1726273261

 

The Universe Speaks

Published May 5, 2020 by Maryanne

beyond-the-blue-horizon-my-photoTwilight photo by Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

If you don’t believe in miracles, stop reading. If you do, carry on…

You always hear tales about rock stars or celebrities predicting their fame. But common people don’t share enough of their every day miracles–that they manifested by the positives that came directly from their own mouth.

One of the most beautiful examples, in my life, was back in late 2005. A relationship ended with yet another loser (though to be fair, I did have some cool boyfriends when I was single, some I am still friends with). After that break-up, my mother said to me, “You should be like me, just be alone.”

Easy for her to say, she was 62, but I was only 42 and did not want to spend the rest of my life alone. I simply blurted, “No, there is someone out there for me!”

Two months later I met the man who ended up being my husband, the love of my life, my rock, and loving cat daddy!

That was one of the bigger miracles and I feel another big one is about to manifest.

Everyone who is artistic and in the public eye, knows how hard it is to elevate your career from point A to point B. The process isn’t an overnight success, but moves so slowly it can feel like you’re going backward instead of going forward. But if you pay attention to the signs, you can see you ARE going forward, especially when you see things being left behind.

For example, when I first started as a public speaker, back in 2014, it was in assisted living facilities. I lectured seniors on health and history; and eventually had a “Learn & Listen” series where I’d speak about the life of a famous entertainer, followed by live music! Speaking at the assisted livings elevated to libraries. This went on for another six years.

Over the years I’ve learned that when you book something in the winter, you have to have a rain/snow date. But COVID19 reschedules don’t cut it because no one knows what the future brings. But let’s back up a bit …

As much as I loved doing gigs at the libraries, and all the beautiful memories I’ve had, once my library gigs canceled, one by one, due to COVID19, I took it as a blessing in disguise.

You see, I’ve become such a good speaker, it’s only natural that I wanted to elevate to the next step. I’ve outgrown libraries and began dreaming of the day when I’d no longer be doing the library gigs. In fact, while booking one of my gigs (which is hard work, but I never found someone I could connect with to do it for me), I blurted out to a librarian, “I won’t be doing this much longer. I’m going to be moving on to schools and universities.”

Sure enough, a week ago I had a phone meeting with a university. I’m going to be conducting lectures/classes/workshops online! This may start as soon as June! It’s a magical manifestation that I made happen.

In this day and age, with so many believing in The Secret, Law of Attraction, positive thinking, elevating yourself, and going after the gold, this story is not as “out there” as someone many have believed in the 1980s. (Though I must say, some are still stuck there!)

If something comes out of your mouth that seems a bit strange, or unlike you, it just may be from the universe, giving you the nudge you need!

Has this ever happened to you? Share your stories!

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta can be reached at: maryannechristiano@gmail.com.

She is available for blogging, ghost writing, writing. She is also available for book signings and motivational speaking engagements. She is the author of the following books :

“Be (Extra)Ordinary: 10 Ways to Become Your Own Hero” is available on Amazon. To get your paperback or Kindle version, visit: https://www.amazon.com/Be-Extra-Ordinary-Ways-Become/dp/1733546227

“I Don’t Want to Be Like You” is available on Amazon. To get your paperback, Kindle or audio copy, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Dont-Want-Be-Like-You/dp/1726273261

“The Gypsy Smiled” is available on Amazon. To get your paperback or Kindle version, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Gypsy-Smiled-Maryanne-Christiano-Mistretta-ebook/dp/B074VC7MT9

World Kindness Day

Published November 13, 2019 by Maryanne

Be Extra-Ordinary

#worldkindnessday

Happy World Kindness Day! In my new book, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to kindness. “Be Kind” begins on page 51!

Order HERE: https://www.amazon.com/Be-Extra-Ordinary-Ways-Become/dp/1733546227

Anti-Bullying Talk and Book Signing

Published October 5, 2019 by Maryanne

Photo by Jayne.JPGMaryanne Christiano-Mistretta (photo by Jayne DiGregorio)

This afternoon I was honored to do a book talk and book signing at The Caldwell Library, Caldwell, New Jersey. The event was sponsored by The Caldwell Library and The Women’s Club of Caldwell. NJ Hills Media Group was also there.

My book, “I Don’t Want to Be Like You” shares my experiences growing up in the 1970s and being bullied relentlessly.

The moral of the story is that it’s bullies who should be shamed, not the victim! According to psychology, it’s never the victims fault, but the bully’s fault.

How did my experiences end? When I fought back! My sweetest revenge is having an amazing life and a beautiful marriage. But I do forgive the bullies. My wish for them is that they have changed for the better and if they have children they are raising them right; that they have learned from their mistakes.

By sharing our experiences and being vulnerable, we take the “shame” out of bullying. The more we speak out against it, the more we evolve and have something done about it! I’m in my mid-50s, and God willing I’ll have another good 40 years left on this planet. I’d like to see us evolve as a human race to the point where bullying no longer exists.

Let’s make bullying extinct!

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta can be reached at: maryannechristiano@gmail.com.

She is available for blogging, ghost writing, writing, and motivational speaking engagements. She is the author of the following books :

“Be (Extra)Ordinary: Ten Ways to Become Your Own Hero” will be available October 2019. To pre-order, go here: https://kicamprojects.com/shop/be-extraordinary/

“I Don’t Want to Be Like You” is available on Amazon. To get your paperback, Kindle or audio copy, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Dont-Want-Be-Like-You/dp/1726273261

And check out her anti-bullying You Tube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLq6J9MSvcjd-haQ30ycLWA?view_as=subscriber

 

Be Your Own Hero: Motivational Workshop

Published May 6, 2019 by Maryanne

DSCF3631Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta Presents “Be Your Own Hero” 

I was extremely honored to present my workshop “Be Your Own Hero” for Toastmasters District 83 Spring Conference. It was an excellent turn out and extremely well received.

“Be Your Own Hero” provides tools on how you can be yours using Law of Attraction, faith, and not repeating mistakes you made in the past. There’s interaction, sharing, an exercise in creative manifestation, and a Q&A. To book this presentation, contact Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta at: maryannechristiano@gmail.com

DSCF3641

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta can be reached at: maryannechristiano@gmail.com.

She is available for motivational speaking engagements and is the author of the following books: 

“Be (Extra)Ordinary: Ten Ways to Become Your Own Hero” will be available October 2019. To pre-order, go here: https://kicamprojects.com/shop/be-extraordinary/

“I Don’t Want to Be Like You” is available on Amazon. To get your copy, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Dont-Want-Be-Like-You/dp/1726273261

In God We Have Got to Trust

Published July 16, 2016 by Maryanne

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Photo by Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

God is real. God is all things. God is one.

If this is the truth, you will find God everywhere when you seek Him; like in your home, or better yet your heart.

I officially became a Christian in the early 1990s. And it’s no secret that I also respect other faiths, especially Buddhism. (Other Christians seem to have an issue with that, but it’s their problem if they choose to be judgmental).

Other Christians may also have a problem with the fact that I go to more than one church and I do not go very often. Yeah, I’m “one of those” (that’s how a pastor, who I’ll refer to as “Pastor D,” phrased it).

You see, I had a “favorite” church for sometime. What I love about this church (where I’m a member, but still do not consider it a “home church”) is that they have services on Christmas Day unlike many other churches. Also, they have the best Good Friday service. These are the times when I truly love to praise Christ in an open-setting.

But my “favorite” church is missing a little something. I can’t quite pinpoint it, so I continue to seek. A few months ago I tried a new one. This is the one where Pastor D speaks. The first time I liked it. They had a great live band. It was low-key, as in people and the pastor wore jeans, and I really did enjoy the sermons.

Pastor D said that if I came to the church three times I’d get a t-shirt; which I never did receive after my third time. Then I missed a few weeks, because as I said, I’m not a frequent church goer; especially after the last service which happened to dwell on giving 10 percent of your salary to the church. Big turn-off.

Even without church I have a very close relationship with God. I pray a few times a day. In fact, it’s the first thing I do in the morning. My husband is equally as spiritual. We pray and meditate together, regularly. My husband goes to my churches with me on occasion; as I go to his on occasion. He still goes to the same church he did growing up.

In addition to going to my “favorite” church and the Pastor D church, I sometimes visit others, as well as the Dharma Buddhist Center. But all of this is no one’s business except God’s. 

So, for a few months after trying Pastor D’s church, every week I was hounded by him via FaceBook e-mails. “Are you and your husband coming this week?”

The answer was often a polite, “No, not this week.”

In addition to the emails, Pastor D also put me in two prayer groups on FaceBook and would message me on a regular basis. At least three of these messages were what Pastor D referred to as “butt calls” where he sat on his phone and my number dialed accidentally.

Pastor D was overwhelming. It seemed like I was being forced to go to church because every week I had to come up with an explanation as to why I wasn’t going. If I said, “I’m just not feeling it,” I’m sure that wouldn’t sit right with him and I’d have to explain further.

Truth be told, if I go to church, or any spiritual/religious organization, it’s because I want to go, not because I’m guilt-ed into it.

A few nights ago I was watching an episode of “Dating Naked” and the two main contestants had to let dates go because they were too possessive. This reminded me of when I was single. I never liked boyfriends who made me feel trapped or smothered; those who would pout and call me names if they didn’t get their way.

The way Pastor D was behaving in his emails brought back those ugly memories of relentless boyfriends and I felt so pressured, I couldn’t hold back my feelings anymore. I told him how I felt.

Like a spoiled child, he defended himself by writing, “Shut up! I’d rather be overbearing than have someone feel like they are unloved because no one is reaching out to them.”

If he actually took the time to READ my FaceBook page, he’d know how busy and how loved I feel. I have the greatest husband in the world. My friends are incredible. And I’m so blessed by God to have a career that I love so much I never want to retire!

Making someone feel suffocated isn’t “caring” — it’s obsessive. It’s manipulative. And it’s scary. It doesn’t bring someone closer to you (or God), it pushes people away. It’s like the telemarketer that never takes your name off the list. When someone or something is always in your face, you feel like puking your guts out. It does not feel good at all.

You have to let people be! God knows their heart and why they may not want to go to church. The best things in life take time to grow. You can’t expect someone to fall in love with a certain church overnight!

I felt so judged by this pastor and was very disappointed. I felt that him writing “Shut up” to me was so cruel and unprofessional.

I tried to rationalize and told him he wasn’t being very nice to me.

And again, like a cry baby, he overreacts and sends me a photograph of a dolphin’s tail waving “good-bye” to me. Very un-pastor-like!

Then faster than a greased rat’s ass, he unfriended me and took me off all his prayer groups on Facebook.

I was shocked. That was definitely was a first! I never in a million years would expect to be fighting with a pastor on a beautiful afternoon.

God gives us free will to choose and pastors should too. If pastors can’t trust in God and have to unfairly control people to go to church, they do not have good leadership qualities.

I’m hurt, but not broken. Behavior like this is exactly what turns people away from churches and Christianity in general. It’s so sad that Pastor D missed the point of what God is — free will.

Nevertheless, I stand strong in my faith and will continue to pray for God’s guidance. I trust He will let me know, whether He wants me in a church, or to pray from home as I’ve been. It’s His call, not mine. But it’s God that I trust. Not man. And I will continue my Christian practices, with my Bible  … in my home and in my heart. ❤

As for the pastor, I hope he’s asking for God’s forgiveness not only for the pain he caused me, but because had he done this to someone who wasn’t as strong in their faith as I am, he would have turned that person far away from God. This is the exact reason why people hate Christians. And sometimes you can’t blame them.

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta is the author of “On the Guest List: Adventures of a Music Journalist” — a POSITIVE rock ‘n’ roll memoir available on Amazon in paperback only: https://www.amazon.com/Guest-List-Adventures-Music-Journalist/dp/162903908X

Religious or Spiritual? Universal!

Published February 24, 2015 by Maryanne

HelloBuddhaDrawing by Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta, 2005

“Religion” means God-fearing. And in this day and age “spiritual” means people-fearing. People are so afraid others thinking they are Catholic or Christian, they wear the word “spiritual” like a badge of courage.

That upsets me.

Because while, no doubt, it’s not healthy to be God-fearing, dogmatic and/or pious, religion does have a huge place in ethereal growth. Yes, even Christianity.

Hear me out.

In the mid-1980s, I spent almost a year studying several different religions with a spiritual mentor. I was only in my mid-20s and back then it was unheard of for a young girl to want to study with a man old enough to be her father. For almost a year, I spent less time in nightclubs and more time in meditation. It was a wondrous experience I will never forget and have several diaries in case I do.

The conclusion I came to was that everyone is right. In fact, my favorite book that my mentor gave me was called “Everyone is Right” which is available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Everyone-Comparative-Religion-Relation-Science/dp/0875165656

Even though I came to this conclusion I was still drawn to the Christian church. What can I say, I just love the teachings of Jesus Christ. Mind you, I was never forced to go to church as a child. I came to love Jesus on my own. And a few years ago I found a Christian church I was able to call “home” though I don’t go as often as I probably should.

Some Christians don’t relate to me because I still take from other religions. And on the flip side, many non-Christians turn their noses up on me as well for going to church.

It’s okay though. I feel completely comfortable being around others who are not exactly thinking like me. This is the beauty of putting faith into a ritual (of sorts) and sticking to your guns about it. I feel that in order to grow spiritually, you need to be around others who are different from you. That kind of experience makes you more spiritual. Uh … wait … I can’t use that word, it’s become too hipster (and possibly a code word for non-Christian).

Let’s just say I’m universal! That’s a badge of courage I can live with! 🙂