My return to Christmas

family-time-at-christmasI remember trying to stay awake on Christmas Eve to see if Santa appeared and then waking up at dawn to rush into the living room and find a lovely pile of gifts under the tree. I was almost as excited to give my parents their gifts as I was to open my own and, bless their hearts, they oohed and ahhed over the bottle of Evening in Paris cologne or Old Spice after shave. In the afternoon we’d get dressed up – every year my Mom, who was an excellent seamstress, made me a beautiful dress to wear on Christmas Day – and go to my grandparent’s house. All my aunts, uncles and cousins would cram around the dining room table – with an overflow table for the little kids – and have dinner. After dinner the kids played with their new toys, the men sat in the living room smoking and talking and the women washed the dinner dishes and laid the table with traditional English holiday treats like trifle, mince pies, shortbread and fruit cake (this was the 1950’s – men rarely helped in the kitchen!). Inevitably, one of my uncles would drink too much and lead us in a raucous sing along. Kids got tired and cranky and were discovered sleeping in strange places and, finally, were carried out to cars that their dads had warmed up for them.

I have wonderful memories of my childhood Christmases but there was no obvious connection to religion – we didn’t even say grace before dinner! As a child, I was sent to Sunday School and church services and even did a stint in the youth choir but, religion was not an important part of my upbringing. After I was married and had my son, I continued to celebrate Christmas in all the traditional ways but, it had no religious meaning for me. When I was a single parent it became a time of year that I dreaded because I was always financially strapped and Christmas just added another burden. I was stressed and overwhelmed by trying to make Christmas “perfect” for my son and parents. It was also a time when my disappointments and failures seemed to be magnified – at least in my mind. I imagined that I was surrounded by happy families, loving couples and people who were more successful than me in every way (it wasn’t until many years later that I realized what a mistake it is to compare your life to anyone else). The illustration I added to this post is one of the Christmas cards I drew this year. It depicts the type of happy, intact family that I longed for during all those years as a single parent. Back then, Christmas was nothing to me but financial stress and a reminder of all that I felt was missing from my life. I wish I could have found a way to enjoy those years more instead of being so self-absorbed and taking everything too seriously. I wish I could have found a way to relax and let my heart be light.

When I moved to St. Augustine, right after Christmas in 1993, I wanted to start my new life with a change in my attitude about “the holidays”. Since I knew I was going to be alone on New Year’s Eve, I volunteered to work the overnight shift at a shelter for victims of domestic violence. I made changes in how I celebrated Christmas the following year by using my relocation as an opportunity to downsize gift giving, decorating, and cards. I was working for Catholic Charities as an emergency assistance case worker so I had lots of opportunities to focus on the needs of other people and share the “spirit of Christmas”. I attended a Christmas mass at the old Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine with some nuns I knew from work and I went to a performance of Handel’s Messiah at the beautiful Memorial Presbyterian Church. These experiences helped to renew my appreciation for the things I liked about the Christmas season and, in hindsight, I think perhaps a couple of seeds were planted deep in my soul that took many more years to bear fruit.

It took a long time but, I gradually came to have different feelings about Christmas – feelings I don’t remember ever having. It’s not the anticipation and excitement I had as a child but, instead, is a much deeper feeling. It is harder to describe than the thrill I had waiting for Santa Claus. These days I experience Christmas as the celebration of a miracle that invites me to believe in something much greater than anything I can imagine or define. It encourages me to have faith. Now every decoration in my house, every ornament I hang on the tree, every gift I give, every kindness I share and every card I send is my own small way of celebrating that miracle. Oh, and my heart is light.

If you’re reading this and you’re feeling sad, lonely or overwhelmed my advice is to go outside tonight and look at the stars and the moon and take a deep breath. Forgive yourself. Then, go inside and give your kids extra hugs and kisses. If you don’t have kids, hug your significant other. If you don’t have a significant other, adopt a dog from a shelter! Most of all, remember to be kind to yourself.

I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. ~Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

xmas-2016

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October Musings

Opal - October birthday for herThere are many things in my life for which I’m grateful. I thank God every day for my good health, the people who care about me, my four-legged best friend Liberty and my home. Last week we were fortunate to make it through Hurricane Matthew unscathed – power was out for less than two days and the only damage my house sustained was one shingle that ended up in the yard. So why have I been so down in the dumps this week?

It’s a combination of things – the awareness that time is passing by, I’m getting older, and I still haven’t met my soul mate, the feeling that everything I’ve accomplished in my life is in the past and now I have no real purpose, and just general concerns about my future and the future of our country. I knew this was a passing mood because it does descend on me every so often. Most of the time I’m content with my life but the other day I was wondering why love has always been such a challenge for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in these thoughts and someone who is reading this has also thought that, although their life is good, something is still missing. I believe there is a reason for everything and that God has a plan for each of us but that doesn’t mean I’m always able to patiently accept the unknown!

I decided I needed to talk it over with a good friend so I stopped at her house after my yoga class. I know she has experienced the challenges and disappointments of trying to find love and self-worth. She was divorced, and then spent many years as a widow. She tried online dating, fix-ups, blind dates and had no luck with them, just like me. She decided at some point to put it in God’s hands and just make the most of her life. It didn’t happen right away but, a few years after she came to that decision, she finally met the love of her life in a totally unexpected way. Actually, I came to the same decision myself several years ago but, every so often, the old doubts resurface and cause me to question “what is”.

It was good to talk with my friend because, having had many of the same experiences, she understands my feelings and offers just the right balance of reassurance, encouragement, and sympathy. She reminded me that, even when you don’t think you’re doing anything “important” you may be making an unseen impact on someone’s life. She said I have no way of knowing how much I may be helping a child when Liberty and I participate in PAWS to Read. Hmm. I just do it because I enjoy the kids and it’s fun for Liberty so I hadn’t thought about it that way but, as soon as she said it, I knew she was right. She suggested that I write two lists – one being 10 things I think are good about my life, the other being 10 things I’m not satisfied with. She remembered doing that in the past and feeling that it helped to put things in perspective for her. I know the positive in my life far outweighs the negative but I’m going to do the lists because I always like the idea of gaining new perspectives. Meanwhile, I already gained some perspective and lightened my mood just by sharing my feelings with such a caring friend. As I drove home I thanked God for the blessing of her friendship. Later on, she gave me another blessing when she sent an email saying that our conversation had helped her, too. She has been going through a significant health challenge this year and, in helping me with my concerns, she realized she needs to reassess some things in her life, too.

This morning the temperature was in the low 40’s – I’ve been waiting for a morning like this for two months! The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, Liberty was feeling very frisky and we had a lovely long walk on a wooded trail. As I walked along, saying my prayers, I could feel the last of my heavy mood lifting and blowing away on the breeze. I stopped to get a fresh baguette at the bakery then went home, toasted it and slathered it with butter and raspberry jelly. I sat in the screened porch and enjoyed the baguette, Starbucks Cafe Verona and the beautiful morning. Life is good 🙂

So, you may ask, what’s the point of this post? I guess I just wanted to share my thoughts about how I deal with down moods in the hope that it will be helpful to someone out there who might be feeling sad or alone. Some suggestions: 1) talk to a good friend whom you can trust with your feelings; 2) focus on the blessings in your life; 3) do something nice for someone; 4) adopt a dog from a shelter!

Happiness is not the absence of problems; it is the ability to deal with them.

2016-halloween

Treats? Yes?

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Small and not so small blessings

Lynda Linke logoJuly 8th will be the fifth anniversary of my “reinvention” journey – the day I retired from the working world and began living life in a different way than I had for the previous 35+ years. Years ago I read somewhere that retirement for “Boomers” is different from their parent’s retirement and that many of us like to think of it more as an opportunity for “reinvention”. That’s a fairly typical Boomer way of looking at things – slightly self-centered and egotistical, goal-oriented, forward thinking, and always striving to be different from previous generations. We’re not going to have our parent’s retirement! Perish the thought!! We might even be the first generation that really didn’t believe we would grow old, or at least the most vocal about it. Remember “don’t trust anyone over 30”? How about The Who talking about “My Generation”? Now that we’re all in our 60’s and 70’s, it’s our turn to confront the challenges of aging and, once again, we are determined to experience it in our own way.

Although I’m sure there are plenty of people in my age group who are happy to spend their retirement playing golf or fishing (nothing wrong with that!), I have read interesting stories about people who are using retirement as a time in their lives when they can create a different lifestyle. Many people have chosen to start a small business after retiring, often completely different from the careers in which they worked for 30 or 40 years. Maybe for the first time in your adult life you’re free to explore interests for which you never had time. You might make a radical lifestyle change – perhaps you always wanted to live on a houseboat or maybe you’re fulfilling the dream you’ve had since you were 18 of traveling the country in an RV. I just read a story about a couple who spent a year visiting all 59 national parks!

Although I can’t say I have created a radically different or unique lifestyle in the way some people have, it is certainly different from the one I used to have. For one thing, the reduction in stress and responsibility has allowed me to change in some important ways. One change, which is a small blessing in itself, is a real understanding that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing at this point in my life. I have accepted my current limitations and restrictions and I’m content. That’s a biggie for me because I’ve always been restless and thinking about the next “thing”. I’m not living an exciting, adventurous life but I appreciate the small blessings of being able to immerse myself in a good book, walk with Liberty, have lunch with a friend, take my Mom on a vacation, go to the beach, get away on my own for a few days and a myriad of other simple pleasures.

I started out 5 years ago with a long to-do list, which is still only half completed. It’s been a small blessing to find I don’t care about accomplishing the rest of the goals I set for myself back then! I’ve learned some things about myself and one of them is that I’m not ambitious enough to be a successful artist or author or to start a business, and that’s okay because an important part of my journey has been learning to accept myself. I no longer feel like I have to be accomplishing something important every day. There are places I’d like to visit, things I’d like to experience and a soul mate I hope to meet before I die, but I don’t have the anxious restlessness I once had about those things – and for a former chronic malcontent that’s no small blessing.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ~E.M. Forster

Lake Hall Tallahassee 4-16

Liberty is thankful for the not so small blessing of encountering NO alligators during her recent visit to Lake Hall in Arthur B. Maclay Gardens and State Park in Tallahassee. 

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Dream Tweaker

A Star to DiscoverA friend, who recently turned 70, made the comment to me that it was difficult for him when he realized that he’s not going to be able to do all the things he once dreamed about, or live all the lives he wanted to live. I don’t like that thought either but, I understand what he means. He’s not saying that you can’t have adventures or new experiences, it’s just that, at some point, the awareness seeps into your mind that time is no longer on your side. Possibilities are no longer endless and some of your dreams will probably never come true. We’re so used to thinking that we have plenty of time ahead of us to achieve our dreams – when the kids are grown, when we have more money, when our  responsibilities to elderly relatives are fulfilled – but eventually we’re confronted with reality.

This is where dream tweaking comes in. I’ve had a dream for a while about traveling all over the country in a small RV with my dog, Liberty. I’ve spent many happy hours over the last few years looking at maps, researching different types of RVs, and doing lots of armchair traveling on the Internet. I’ve planned the routes I would take – hop scotching across the map from one national park and historic site to another. I’ve had a lot of fun with this dream but recently I’ve started to look at it through a more realistic and practical lens. For one thing, this dream can’t become reality as long as my mother is with me. I treasure her presence in my life and hope she lives many more healthy years but, the reality is that I will probably be quite a bit older by the time I’m free to roam. I’m 65 now – is it realistic to think that a woman in her 60’s (or 70’s) with no mechanical abilities could travel the country alone in an RV? Maybe, but I’m beginning to have doubts. I haven’t completely abandoned the dream but, I am tweaking it. I’m thinking about alternate ways to achieve this dream, like doing my wandering in a comfortable car and staying longer in places I like.

Back in 2009, when I adopted Stella, I began renting dog-friendly homes on Homeaway.com for my vacations with Mom and we have stayed in many affordable, comfortable places. I have also rented smaller places for solo trips with my dogs so this might be a more practical way for me to achieve the dream of a cross country trip. There are many expenses involved in RV ownership – maintenance, extra insurance, increased gas costs, and storage fees (my town doesn’t allow RV storage on my property) – so, driving a car and staying in vacation rentals might be financially comparable to traveling in an RV.

Dreams are enjoyable and I happen to believe they’re good for you – let your imagination soar and then do what is possible at whatever stage of life you’re in. If you’re 85 and you’ve dreamed about learning a new language or taking up painting – do it!! You probably won’t become a famous artist and it might be too late to become an interpreter at the UN but you can enjoy the fulfillment of your dream even if you have to tweak it to make it work. It’s reasonable to accept the limitations of age or disabilities but don’t completely abandon your dreams just because the original version is no longer practical. Be a dream tweaker!

Cut not the wings of your dreams, for they are the heartbeat and freedom of your soul. ~Flavia         

Washington Oaks-Matanzas River 5-22-15

Life is but a dream

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Don’t complain, don’t explain

Complaint department is closedDon’t complain, don’t explain. I read this many years ago in a book by the late, great Dr. Wayne Dyer and it stuck with me because it felt true – I admit I still sometimes complain or explain but, at least I catch myself before I get on a roll! As with most mottos, it’s a bit simplistic. It’s really just meant to be a quick reminder to yourself that you’re not thinking or acting in your own best interest. How is this not in your best interest? Because they both reflect a weakness of character – in one you’re a victim, in the other you’re lacking confidence.

Don’t complainAre you proactive about your own happiness or do you expect others to make you happy? Is it easy for someone or something to ruin your whole day? Complaining is one the most pointless, wasteful, counterproductive things you can do with your time and energy especially if you’re complaining about something you can’t even change. Complaining let’s you be the victim because it’s a “poor me” mentality. It’s a way to get sympathy and attention but, chronic complaining wears on people and eventually they become bored or annoyed with you. They’ll probably start to avoid you. Everybody complains sometimes but, the chronic complainer takes it to a different level – it actually becomes part of their identity and creates a self perpetuating unhappiness. I don’t think I was ever a chronic complainer but, I’ve done my share of what I used to call “bitchin’ and moanin'”. Dr. Dyer and my late friend, Carol, helped me realize that you don’t have to actually complain out loud to have a victim mentality. If your thoughts tend to be a constant stream of complaints then you are allowing yourself to be victimized by your situation, the people in your life, and the things you don’t like about yourself. Complaining, even to yourself, is a form of resisting reality and an unwillingness to change the things over which you have control. (By the way, constantly criticizing yourself falls into the category of complaining) Sometimes the only thing you can change about a situation is how you think about it but that alone can make a huge difference. I want to be clear about the difference between complaining and sharing concerns with someone. We all have problems and fears and talking about them with a friend can help us find ways to overcome them. I believe the old maxim “A problem shared is a problem halved” has a lot of truth to it. On the other hand, complaining is when you just keep talking about the same problems over and over but never actually do anything to change them.

Don’t explain. Do you have a constant need to justify everything you do? Do you have trouble giving a brief and simple explanation for your decisions? I used to be like that far too often and I think it stems from shaky self-esteem and confidence. It was important that everyone understood me and I thought if I explained my thoughts or actions well enough, they would agree with me. I wanted to be approved of and liked and I took it personally when someone didn’t agree with me. Of course, I still want to be liked and agreed with, I no longer need it – at least, not from everyone. Reality is that as long as you’re not breaking the law or hurting anyone, you don’t have to explain yourself. When you have the strength of your convictions and confidence in your ability to make good decisions, you will do whatever you think is right and won’t need to justify your actions. You’re able to accept that not everyone in your life will understand or agree with you and you’ll be comfortable with that.

Complaining not only ruins everybody else’s day, it ruins the complainers day, too. The more we complain, the more unhappy we get.    ~Dennis Prager

New toys for Christmas-2015

Liberty refuses to explain her actions!

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More about happiness

Whole and Perfect-The Love HatIn my last post I was writing about expectations and how they can make you unhappy. As mentioned in that post, I recently read”Happiness is a Serious Problem“by Dennis Prager, which led me to do a lot of thinking about the concept of happiness; what it actually means and how to”get” it. For one thing, happiness is not a light weight or simple idea. Pleasure is not the same thing as happiness but in our contemporary culture they are usually confused with each other. I’ve known people who had plenty of money and every material possession they desired and they were often unhappy and I’ve known people who were poor or who had serious health issues (or both) and were happy.  The most important thing I have learned from my own experiences is that this elusive thing has to come from inside yourself – no one can give it to you. That is a statement that can easily be misinterpreted because we all immediately assume that our happiness is derived from things outside of ourselves – relationships, family, material possessions, money, success, approval, etc., that hold great importance to us. I’m not trying to say that those things aren’t enjoyable or pleasurable or don’t add to your happiness; I’m saying that if you’re trying to find happiness solely from external things it will be fleeting or will often seem to be just beyond your reach .

I wasn’t consciously aware of it but, I used to be a person who was always waiting to be happy. Surely, if a certain man loved me or if I lost weight or if I made more money or if my relationship with my son was better or if I won the lottery or if I lived somewhere else – then I’d be happy!  When I was younger my mother used to say I was a “cock-eyed optimist” or that I saw the world through “rose-colored glasses”. Those are nice ways of saying that someone doesn’t see things clearly and is not grounded in reality – in fact, is emotionally immature. I’m much happier now because I have the strength and maturity to deal with negativity when it confronts me instead of trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. The truth is, if you’re happy within yourself, you’ll enjoy all life’s blessings in a more fulfilling way but you’ll also be strong enough to weather life’s storms and keep your balance. It’s not always easy to find your happiness and holding onto it through all the challenges and sadness of life is an ongoing task. Thankfully, I do have a much better understanding of what need to be happy than I did as a younger person and, yes, –  wait for it – self-love was my biggest discovery because it led to everything else!

In past posts I’ve shared my thoughts about expectations, gratitude and humility, which I think are all elements of happiness. Forgiveness is something I didn’t recognize as an element of happiness until I read somewhere that it is more about you than the person you’re trying to forgive. I was awed and humbled by the forgiveness exhibited by some of the families of the victims of the shooting at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston this summer and the Amish school in Pennsylvania a few years ago. Thankfully, I’ve never had to deal with anything like that and I honestly don’t know if I’d be able to forgive in that type of situation. I’m ashamed to admit that I have struggled to forgive in situations that were of much less significance. I know that forgiveness is a fundamental tenet of Christianity but, it can bring peace of mind and emotional well-being to anyone. If you harbor feelings of anger and hurt toward someone, who are you punishing? Even if you never again see someone who has wronged you, you’ll feel better if you forgive them for whatever they did and let go of those bad feelings. In the end, forgiveness is really about the type of person you want to be, how you want to think and feel.

I’m fascinated by the concept of human happiness. It is so much deeper and more nuanced than I realized. I just started reading “Happiness” by Randy Alcorn, a Christian pastor and author of more than 40 books, and I learned that the word for blessed in Greek, makarios, was used by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount and actually means to be happy or blissful but, it also means “a self-contained happiness”. I guess I’m on the right track.

It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.  ~Agnes Repplier

 

 

Liberty finds her bliss

Liberty finds her bliss

 

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Christmas Eve

 

Obstacles

Don't be afraid of storms_edited-1For quite awhile I’ve been mulling over the concept that obstacles are placed in our path for a reason. It could be to slow us down so that we are forced to take more time to think or it could be to teach us a difficult lesson or to know ourselves better. Maybe we are just supposed to find a different approach. I see God’s hand in this but, you don’t have to believe in God to understand what I’m getting at.

The first obstacles are placed in front of us by our parents. We want to do something or go somewhere and we are told we can’t. Kids react in different ways to restrictions imposed by their parents. Some have temper tantrums, some become argumentative, others sulk or cry. Eventually, most kids learn that certain behaviors can win favor and others cause more restrictions to be heaped on them. In general, most kids eventually understand the reasons for the obstacles their parents have constructed. They want us to be safe, to learn self-control, responsibility, and that our actions have consequences.

When we become independent adults the obstacles we confront are no longer placed there by our parents but are we able to stand back and see them as “teaching moments”? Speaking for myself, the answer to that is no. In fact, it is only very recently that I started seeing things in a different light and realized that some obstacles that frustrated me in the past ended up actually helping me. Maybe if you strongly desire something and, no matter what you do, you just can’t achieve or obtain it you should stop pushing and take some time to analyze the situation. Maybe what you’re working so hard at is actually not the right path for you and that is why you keep failing.

I can apply this concept to several times in my life when I railed against what I perceived as an obstacle. For example, on two occasions I believed that a relationship with a particular man was what I needed. In hindsight I can clearly see that marriage to either of those men would have been disastrous for me so now I’m grateful for the obstacles that prevented that from happening. At the time I was frustrated and broken-hearted but, in reality, I wasn’t ready to be a partner in a healthy, stable relationship and neither were the men to whom I was attracted. The disappointment I experienced from those failed relationships led me on a journey of self-discovery that helped me to become a stronger more centered person. Those obstacles ended up teaching me a lot but I couldn’t see that when I was going through it.

Another example: a few years ago I was very restless and I wanted to move but two big obstacles were in my way. First, my mother didn’t want to move and I wouldn’t leave her alone and second, the housing market tanked and I couldn’t sell my house without losing a lot of money. Considering how restless I felt at the time, I probably would have sold the house despite losing money if I had been willing to leave my mother. It would have been an impulsive, poorly thought out decision. I was frustrated by my inability to move and often felt trapped, which led to periodic bouts of depression. Once again, I was pushing against the obstacles instead of trying to understand why they were placed in my way. Fast forward about six years and I now see that those obstacles prevented me from hurting myself financially – not a smart thing to do in your late 50’s! I wanted to retire at 60 so I had to face the fact that any impulsive moves would ruin that dream. Once I retired I also gave up on trying to convince my mother to move because I could see it would make her unhappy. I admit, sometimes I resented having to give up on an idea that seemed so important to me at the time but now I’m glad for the obstacles that prevented me from moving because I can appreciate the value of having a home which I can comfortably afford on my retirement income. Also, if I had been able to move when I wanted to I’m sure I would still be working! I could cite many more examples but I think you get the idea.

I was hesitant to write about what I have learned from obstacles in my life because I recently started volunteering for Haven Hospice doing pet therapy visits with my dog, Liberty, and the experience has shown me that the obstacles I have dealt with so far are nothing compared to what so many people are facing and what I may also have to face someday. Would I still be able to think there is something to learn from an obstacle if I was confined to a bed or a wheelchair? What if the “obstacle” is that I had lost all my independence and everything that was important to me and I only had a few months to live? I don’t know. I was afraid that it might sound like self-indulgent clap trap to write about learning from obstacles but I decided that I wanted to share these thoughts because, in the end, they may have value to someone who is currently facing an obstacle.

I know now that I have learned from the obstacles in my life to be more grateful for my blessings, more appreciative of my surroundings and more thoughtful in my decisions. I have learned from obstacles that so much of the quality of my life is dependent on the way I think and react. Maybe those are the lessons that will serve me best in facing whatever obstacles, large or small, I will confront in the future.

I’m convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.   ~Charles R. Swindoll

the appropriate bandana for a dog named Liberty

the appropriate bandana for a dog named Liberty

for more of my artwork and books visit www.LyndaLinke.com