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

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

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Changing your seasonal attitudes

 

Comfort and joy

It’s that time of year again! Is this a happy time for you or do you feel stressed emotionally, physically and financially? Do you have the true meaning of Christmas in your heart and spirit or do you feel like you’re just going through the motions and doing what is expected of you? I enjoy the trilogy of holidays now – Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year – in a way I didn’t for much of my adult life but it did take a long time to get here. As with so many things in my life, I spent a lot of time on the wrong path. I lost my belief in the true meaning of Christmas in my early teens and didn’t start to get it back for many, many years. For a long time I even doubted the existence of God so Christmas meant nothing to me but pressure to spend money I didn’t have, and pressure to “make the season bright” for my son and my parents. As a cash-strapped single parent I dreaded the annual letter to Santa Claus! I felt like I had to fulfill his every wish (the guilt monster again!) even though I knew I’d be paying my credit card off for the first three months of the New Year. On top of that it seemed like every holiday season was fraught with relationship troubles and, since I especially wanted to have a “special someone” in my life at the holidays, I was usually depressed and feeling sorry for myself when things weren’t going well in that department. The relentless commercialism of the season disgusted me and certainly didn’t help my mood. It seemed like every year I ended up with back spasms or bronchitis or both.

When I moved to Florida 20 years ago (two days after Christmas) I decided to change the way I observed the holidays. I wanted to have a completely different perspective. I started by drastically reducing my gift giving and card sending and, believe me; this didn’t go over well with everyone in my life. I didn’t care; I was on a quest to find authentic meaning. Since I didn’t know anyone in Florida, relocating was an opportunity to remove myself from the expectations of others and do things differently. That first New Year’s Eve I offered to staff the hotline office at the domestic violence shelter at which I had begun volunteering. I had no plans and, having worked in a shelter, I knew the regular staff would appreciate having the holiday off. I could have stayed home alone and felt sorry for myself because the man I was involved with was out of state, which is something I would have done before but, I decided to make myself useful and I was glad I did. As a result of spending less on gifts and cards I was able to start my own tradition of giving an annual donation to a few charities I like. When my parents moved to Florida a few years later I encouraged them to keep the gift giving to a minimum and I began another tradition of putting tickets to a show in their Christmas cards – the gift of time and shared memories instead of “stuff” they didn’t need. These simple changes in my perspective and habits paved the way to a better appreciation of the holidays – no more stress, no more pressure, no more unrealistic expectations.  

If you love the holidays and are perfectly happy with the way you observe them – carry on! On the other hand, if you are struggling to keep your spirits up I hope you’ll take some time to find authenticity and meaning. If you have children, do everything in your power to keep them from getting sucked into the empty void of materialism and greed that has enveloped Christmas. Teach them that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on gifts, just remember that Christmas is not about the number of gifts you give or the cost of them. It’s not about the lights, the decorations, the music, or the food. It’s not only about romantic love; it is about every kind of love. To be sure, those are all enjoyable trappings but it’s important to remember that they are actually symbolic rituals to remind us of deeper meanings. The gifts we give each other are symbolic of the gifts the three wise men brought to honor baby Jesus. The lights signify the return of “the light” to a darkened world. The evergreen trees and branches that we bring into our homes (even the artificial ones!) represent eternal life. Many of the decorations we hang on the tree are symbolic or representative of things that have importance in our lives. The food is a celebration of the abundant blessings provided to us from the harvest. The celebration of the birth of Jesus is a reminder of God’s gift to us of love, forgiveness, redemption, and new life. I didn’t think about the miracle and mystery of Christmas for a long time and, when it started coming back to me, I felt sadness for all the years I had been oblivious but, also joy for the return of belief. Even though I don’t fully comprehend the meaning of Christ, I recently began studying his life again and I have a new appreciation for the wisdom, simplicity, and truth of his teachings.

I’m glad I’m not the same person I once was and that I can be truly thankful on Thanksgiving for all the blessings in my life, feel the spiritual promise of Christmas, and look forward to the New Year with hope and optimism. This won’t be a surprise to anyone who regularly reads this blog but, I believe it all starts with self-love.

 Christmas Gift Suggestions

To your enemy; forgiveness.

To an opponent; tolerance.

To a friend; your heart.

To a customer; service.

To all; charity.

To every child; a good example.

To yourself; respect.  

~Oren Arnold

So ... who's the little fat guy in the red suit?

So … who’s the little fat guy in the red suit?

See more of my artwork at Lynda Linke Productions

Silence is golden

Ocean dreaming 001When I was a child I was encouraged to have some “quiet time” each day – no TV or radio, just quietly playing with my dolls, drawing, or reading. As it turned out, this served me well because I have lived alone for most of my adult life and, although I enjoy my friends and social activities, I enjoy and value my solo time just as much. In fact, I don’t just value time alone; it is essential to my well-being. My mother was ahead of her time in some ways because, as an adult, I understand that what she called “quiet time” also feeds the soul. I was introduced to Transcendental Meditation in the early 1970’s at a TM center and have meditated ever since, on and off, using that method and others. I always feel better when I meditate every day but I realized along the way that it doesn’t matter how or even if you meditate; the important thing is to spend some time every day in silence so you can hear your inner voice. So many of the self-help and spiritual books I have read over the years stressed the importance of this one simple thing. Be still and know that I am.

We live in a noisy, busy world. The noise all around us and constant demands on our time and energy cause stress, anxiety and depression because we become unplugged from our deepest thoughts. Spending some time every day in silence, meditation, contemplation, prayer or whatever you want to call it allows you to connect with your creativity – the part of you that solves problems and comes up with new ideas. Quiet time invites inspiration. As Dr. Wayne Dyer so wisely put it “I think the word inspiration means ‘being in-Spirit’”. When your mind is quiet and you allow your thoughts to drift by like clouds, without trying to grab onto them, you will be in-Spirit. I can’t tell you how many times the answer to something that had been nagging at me suddenly pops unbidden into my mind when I was being still and silent. I have always found the quiet company of animals to be very soothing and calming – often, while stuck in a creative dry spell, a new idea comes to me during a quiet walk with Stella.

Like most things that are worthwhile, this is a practice that takes some patience and discipline before you reap the benefits. You have to make the commitment to yourself that you want to feel calmer, more inspired and more in touch with your inner voice. You have to turn off the TV or music and put down the book or Kindle. Disconnect from your computer and cell phone. You have to find a way to carve at least 15 minutes of solitude and silence out of your day and you have to do it every day. At first this may seem like a challenge and you will have to remind yourself to do it but, after a while, you will crave that quiet time and you will notice that you feel better because of it. Eventually you will be able to carry the sense of peace you feel during your quiet times into the rest of your life and it will help you to stay calm in the midst of turmoil.

The best quiet time for me is when I am outdoors enjoying nature, especially near water but, my screened porch or any peaceful place outdoors is fine. You have to experiment with different times and places and discover what feels best for you. Work with what you have – for a busy parent a few minutes in the car after dropping the kids off might be the only time you’re alone so don’t let it go to waste! Take a few deep breaths – most of us tend to breathe very shallowly, especially when under stress – and just let your thoughts drift. Forget about all the places you have to go and things you have to do for a few minutes.

I am a believer in the idea that you can change your life by changing your thoughts but the first step is to become conscious of what your thoughts actually are!

Stella takes a little solo time

Stella takes a little solo time

See more of my artwork at Lynda Linke Productions

What is this thing called love?

With love all things are possible

 “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance” – Oscar Wilde

 I’ve been wrestling with how to talk about love – it will be the topic of my next SELF seminar (at Christmas Come True on February 12) because I decided the third letter in SELF will stand for love – but I find that I know more about what love is not rather than what it is. I don’t feel too bad about that because, as I have been pouring over my books to prepare, I have realized that people who are much more educated and experienced than me also say love is indefinable. My drawing illustrates a romantic love relationship between a man and a woman but I’m thinking about love in all its forms and it really is mysterious and difficult to put into words. Love is a powerful force; a great creative energy. The closest I can get to expressing my own thoughts about love is to say that I think God is inside each of us, in the form of love, and it is up to each individual to find that best part and share it, first with themselves and then with others.

If you have read my blog before then you know I’m on a reinvention journey and part of that is to understand my spirituality and my relationship with God. I am constantly amazed by how many of the books I read or things I see lead me back to spirituality and how, in turn, that points to love – especially love of self. When I was younger I never thought of love as a spiritual thing, in fact, I didn’t think much about spirituality at all. I was brought up as a Christian but I was an atheist from around age 15 to some point in my 30’s when I started to question my beliefs again. I finally came to the conclusion that it was arrogant of me not to believe there was a Higher Power. That was the real beginning of my spiritual journey. I studied many religions over the years – I even took a 9 credit religion course in college – and, although I never found one that I wanted to join, it helped me to form a better idea of what God means to me. Over and over, the concept that God is love is repeated in different religions, in different words. It has taken me almost 30 years but I finally can see the truth in that.

Maybe some of you can relate to this paradox – we can be strong, competent, confident, and intelligent in many areas of our lives but, when it comes to our emotions we are often insecure, misguided, immature and sometimes downright stupid. It is because anything that causes us to share our deepest emotions also makes us feel vulnerable and feeling vulnerable is very scary. Guilt, jealousy, anger, resentment, disappointment, insecurity, possessiveness, unrealistic expectations and an assortment of other negative emotions too often color the feeling of love in relationships but, once you begin to see that all your struggles were a result of lacking love and respect for yourself things will change for the better. It turns out that old chestnut “you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you” is actually true!

Romantic love can be a minefield when you don’t have a strong sense of your own identity. Like many women I have known, I used to think I was not a complete person without a man, which is a distorted view of romantic love. Now I know that when you truly respect your value as a complete person, regardless of whether you are single or in a relationship, you will feel happy and blessed with your life. In fact, all your love relationships will benefit from viewing yourself this way. When you are operating from a place of lack and need it is much more likely that you will compromise your integrity to achieve what in the end will be just a false sense of “wholeness”. A mature, healthy relationship – whether friendship or romantic – is not a mirror in which you are constantly checking yourself to be sure you’re real. Everything seems to lead back to self-love. Hmmm.

Friends with a common bond ...begging!

Friends with a common bond …begging!

If you live near Flagler Beach please join me at my next SELF seminar on February 12, 7-8 pm, at Christmas Come True (corner of A1A and 14th St. North). Call Nadine at 386-569-4429 to RSVP .

I wish you hope and faith

HopeHappy New Year. The best wish I can send to you is that you always have the strength to choose hope and faith no matter what happens – and I really believe it is a choice. It is like choosing optimism over pessimism.

Throughout the 22 years I worked in social services I helped many people who were in need of the basics of survival – shelter, food, clothes, medical care. I know this work was valuable but along the way I learned something even more valuable – the hope you give someone is just as important as the material assistance itself. One definition of hope is “a chance that something desirable will happen or be possible”. Of course, you can’t really give someone hope but we all have the ability to shine a light to help someone who is stumbling in the dark. At least then they have a chance of finding hope inside themselves.

For this phase of my life I am trying to find ways to shed light on that intangible human need – hope – in a different way; with my artwork and writing. Even if it is something as simple as one of my greeting cards putting a smile on someone’s face and lifting their spirits for a moment. I have discovered that this also helps to keep my own focus on hope. I don’t speak from a position of superiority; I know that life has many more unknown challenges in store for me and can throw a curve ball at any time. I write about what I have already experienced and learned and share these things in the hope that I am shining some light in a dark corner. Over the years, many people have illuminated the path for me and reminded me that I can overcome my struggles when I have hope. This is not to say that I have never felt hopeless; this is to say that I always knew that if I could get back to hope I would prevail. So, if you’re struggling with your self-esteem, your family, a difficult relationship, financial problems, unemployment – I’ve been there, too, and I know that finding and staying connected to hope is essential. You can accept the kindness of others and listen to their advice but then you have to find hope by yourself because no one can give it to you.

I haven’t had to overcome the kind of difficulties that so many of my former clients faced but I learned another important lesson from them – don’t ever compare your problems to those of others. We all have our burdens and everything is subjective. The important thing is to learn from your difficult times and apply those lessons in the best way you can. Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living”. I couldn’t agree more and have known many people who seem to just drift along, unthinkingly repeating the same dumb mistakes and causing pain to themselves and everyone around them. Every time we have to go through the darkness we get to experience the beauty of the light and start all over again but how we go about that is an individual choice. Unfortunately, some of us have to repeat the same experiences over and over until we finally get the message! Anybody see the movie “Groundhog Day”?

It’s easy to understand how someone can feel hopeless when confronted with serious life challenges and, yet, I have met many people who still have hope and that other elusive intangible, faith, while dealing with very difficult situations. Why are they able to have hope and faith when so many others don’t?  Is it because they have faith in God? Not always. The dictionary says that faith is “belief in, devotion to, or trust in somebody or something, especially without logical proof”. Another definition comes from the bible “… Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) We often relate faith to a belief in God but I’m reminded by the dictionary definition that faith is really just a matter of trusting in somebody or something – whatever sustains and comforts you – and it might be that you simply have a strong faith in yourself and your ability to overcome hardship (where that faith comes from is a topic for another day). Whether it is faith in a Higher Power or faith in yourself I think it comes down to the same thing – you believe that there is a chance that something desirable will happen or be possible and that, somehow, you will have whatever is needed to make it happen.

I used the first stanza of the beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” in my illustration above – here is the rest of it:

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet, never, in Extremity –

It asked a crumb – of Me.  

I’ll be presenting a SELF (Self-confidence, Empowerment, Love, Freedom) seminar on Tuesday, January 8th from 7 to 8 pm at Christmas Come True (yellow building at the corner of A1A and 14th St. North, Flagler Beach). I’ll be focusing on the first two letters because I believe they are so interconnected and I also have a very special DVD I want to share with you so, if you’re near Flagler Beach, please join me and the wonderful Stella. There is no fee for the seminar but a $10 (or whatever you can afford) love offering for Christmas Come True would be much appreciated. Please call Nadine at 386-569-4429 to register.

Life is good

Life is good

Emotional Limbo

Christmas 2012 006Christmas has come and gone. My son is back in Boston. There are no presents under the tree. The anticipation and excitement of the holiday season are over. I’m in that sort of emotional “limbo” between the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, which of course is a state of my own creation because, as a friend of mine wisely said, life is circular and we are the ones who ascribe beginnings and ends to it. Humans are the creators of clocks and calendars; God has no time.

So here I am struggling against something of my own creation, trying to find my balance again. This is why I am skeptical of anyone who claims to have achieved perfect balance of body-mind-spirit – as I have said before; my balance is in constant ebb and flow that changes from day-to-day and sometimes hour to hour. As much as I look forward to seeing my son, the emotions I work so hard to keep under control – and foolishly think I have conquered – are inevitably released from their dark hiding place. Restlessness rears its ugly head as I long to live closer to him so that we could have a “normal” relationship instead of cramming 6 months or a year into one visit. I moved from the Northeast many years ago because I hated the cold, long winters but I’m not sure I would have moved to Florida if I had known that my son wouldn’t want to stay. Worry starts to nag me as I wonder how I would be able to afford to live there on my retirement income even if I made the decision to move back at some point. What if he has children and I’m 1,500 miles away? (He’s not even married yet) Jealousy nips at me when he tells me about meeting his father for dinner or a ballgame or going to his birthday party (he lives about 45 minutes away). I am truly happy that he has a relationship with his father after a lot of rocky years but it seems so unfair that he is the one who gets to enjoy an adult relationship with our son when I am the one who wanted that so much. Sadness clutches my heart as I drop him off at the airport and drive away – again. All these negative emotions created the emotional limbo in which I found myself.

This morning I read a section of “There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem” titled “Breaking Those Attachments to Gloom and Despair”. As usual, it felt like Dr. Dyer was speaking directly to me … “it is extremely common for people to build their lives on the mistaken notion that without certain things or certain people, they cannot be happy or free …these attachments are the source of despair because we justify gloom on the basis of what or who is missing.” I recognized myself in those words and I didn’t like it. I picked my gloomy self up and took Stella for a walk along the Intracoastal. It was a chilly, breezy 40 degrees, slightly overcast, and there was not another soul around. Stella was loving the cooler temperature and was trotting along like a much younger dog with no health problems! Just seeing her enjoy herself lifted my spirits and brought me back to the now instead of worrying about the future and other things over which I have no control.

As I was walking I said a prayer of thanks and practiced giving my “problem” up to God – something I definitely need to work on. It doesn’t come naturally to me to relinquish control, even though I know it is an illusion. I’m teaching myself how to acknowledge when I don’t know the answer and be willing to turn the entire problem over to the one, all-knowing power. I am trying to have faith that I will be guided in the right direction and to keep my mind open because I know the answer may come in a form I don’t expect. Kierkegaard said “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays”.

 For now, I just want to get my emotional balance back so I’ll sign up for a couple of community education classes, end my self-imposed holiday hiatus from writing and drawing, and put my focus back on all I have to be thankful for. Maybe Stella will be up for a road trip to Boston in the spring …

Stella with Xmas tree 002