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Life Has to End, Love Doesn’t

My uncle died suddenly on Saturday. He was not just any uncle; he was my last uncle. When my mother died a little over two years ago, Uncle Eddie was the last living of her family, the last of the Martha Boulos (my sitty, my grandmother) family of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

The house on 90 LeMarchant Road in St John’s is where they all grew up, Uncle Eddie, my mother and all nine siblings. The house is still there and it is still majestic and beautiful.

You know, we take things and people for granted, thinking they will always be there, and when they are not, there is a hole left in the fabric of the family. Uncle Eddie was there for many important seasons of my life and I will miss him. When I almost flunked out of university and wanted to just go get a job, Uncle Eddie did not let up on all the reasons why I should stay in school and finish what I had started. I listened.

I remember the day Uncle Eddie taught my sisters and me how to make baklava in my mother’s kitchen. He was in his element as we all stood around while he did the demonstration. It was the best time and I still make baklava a couple of times a year just like he showed us.

I remember going to his house in Mississauga and him putting on the loudest Lebanese music imaginable. He was kind of deaf; actually I think he was selectively deaf because sometimes I would say something in a low voice to Nazha and he would hear it; and just a few minutes later I would say something in a normal tone of voice and he would keep saying, “I can’t hear you.” And so I would repeat louder and louder, never really getting it that he was teasing me.

My uncle was there when Dave and I got married in 2009; it was a difficult trip for him, but he came anyway to take part in the celebration. I am so grateful for that.

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Mom and Uncle Eddie at my wedding.

He was there for two weeks in Corner Brook while my mother spent her last days in the hospital. He and my aunt Nazha walked every day from the hotel to the hospital to spend time with his last living sibling.

And then when I was going through a difficult time shortly after my mother’s death, I spent a week in Toronto with Uncle Eddie and Aunt Nazha, a time of love and healing. I’ll never forget their kindness.

I am eternally grateful for all the time I had with Eddie and I am happy that he is now out of pain. I’m sure that he’s in heaven right now dancing a happy dance with my mom and the rest of the family. That thought makes me smile.

You will live on in us Eddie. Rest in peace.

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Taken from The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Do you have someone in your life like Uncle Eddie? Make sure you tell him that you love and appreciate him before its too late. Life is short, shorter than you think.

EnJOYing Peaceful Calm

Often Joy comes from just being present in the moment. Instead of ‘searching’ for joy, trying to figure out what it is, and how it differs from happiness, this morning I just decided to let it happen. I brought my camera for our early walk on the beach and decided to take a couple of photos of things that brought me joy and made me feel at one with God and my world.

Down there on the beach there is no traffic, no noise other than the surf, and no reason to fret. We walked about four miles with the sun on our backs and just enJOYing the peaceful calm of it all.

And along the way I did take a couple of pics that brought a smile to my soul.

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Making Joy Palpable

Yesterday was a great day! We met up with some friends for a nice restaurant meal and then came back to our place for a game of cards. We had an absolutely fun evening! Laughter, good conversation and a carefree outlook was the order of the day.

It got me thinking back to a time many years ago when I was homeschooling my young family. One day I woke up happy, and my husband was astounded.

The source of my joy was that there were two books waiting for me at the post office and all I had to do was to go pick them up. I actually awakened with a smile on my face that day. Usually it was quite different–I’d wake up with a sense of dread and incompetence– at my abilities as a wife and as a homeschooling mom. I remembered later on that day, after getting a flat tire and my books being delivered to the wrong post office, we went to Tim Horton’s for a coffee.

My husband said to me, “I have a question for you. This morning you woke up happy. You never wake up happy. What’s going on?”

The answer was so simple, but the reason for the depression and bad mood on all the other days was not. I remember telling him that I hated my life and felt pressured all the time to be someone I was not capable of being. I felt that I could never measure up. Never.

The truth was that I could not experience joy as long as I was living a life that was contrary to everything I believed. I was not able to be true to myself because the cult we were in at the time obliged me to dress a certain way, act a certain way, live a certain way and even to speak in a specified manner. My children had to be perfect and neither I nor anyone else was ever able to make that happen. Children are not perfect, miniature adults. They are learning machines, messy, loud, fun, defiant, dirty, snotty, cuddly, transparent bundles of energy that are ready for anything.

My joy had been long ago been squashed. My light had gone out with the oppression and demands made on my life by the homeschooling cult we were in. I was not able to be spontaneous, not able to be myself. It has actually been thirteen years since I lived that life and it has only been in the last two that I have finally started to rediscover who I really am and to find my old self.

I kind of like my old self.

I know that ‘finding myself’ is a used out cliché of our times, but during those years I had really become lost as to who I was, where I came from, my roots, but most of all I had lost my Joie de vivre. My parents and siblings couldn’t understand who I had become.

Joy of living, huh? Joy of the Lord, saywhatt? It was kind of hard to have the Joy of the Lord when I was dying inside. I wondered why God would have me live a life that made me question how I was raised and my core values.

Back then I don’t think I had any idea what real joy was because I didn’t really know who God was. But I’m starting to figure it out now.

The saying, “You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”, is helpful here. Perhaps remembering the tough times in my past will make joy more palpable in my present.

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The Joy of Listening

“You’re not listening to me.”

“You are not hearing what I am saying.”

“I feel like no one understands me.”

Have you ever said any of those things while trying to tell someone what happened to you? You’re trying to tell your story and you can see by the other person’s body language that they are not listening.

Either they are waiting to interrupt and tell you that they had a similar experience; or they want to tell you what you should do; or they are more interested in looking at their phone.

You feel unheard, invalidated and frustrated. A stranger on a plane or a psychologist might listen more. Perhaps that’s why there are so many counselors and psychologists out there; because sometimes people that are close to us don’t listen with both ears any more.

I have noticed this phenomenon for a long time. I’ve experienced it myself, and I wondered why nobody listens. When I was younger I remember sitting around the table after a meal with family, aunts, uncles, cousins, and everyone was telling stories and talking about their lives. Each person would put in his two cents worth and at the end of it, people would go away feeling understood and appreciated.

We don’t sit around the table chatting any more. We don’t tell stories to real live people- we tell them to the psychologist or some faceless person on the Internet. And when we do talk face to face with the people in our lives, we are so busy thinking of what we will say next that we don’t listen to what they are actually saying.

We don’t communicate much any more and that creates a whole lot of loneliness and misunderstanding. We need to have compassion. To have compassion is to be concerned with the suffering of other people and wanting to see that suffering relieved. It is the bridge between empathy and kindness. So when we want to help other people overcome their suffering, first of all, we help make their world a better place; but also our own suffering becomes less. However in order for that to happen we have to listen to really hear what the other person is saying and feeling.

When we have compassion and really listen, letting another person truly express what is on his mind, we begin to experience Joy. So does he.

But listening is not easy. You have to forget about your own issues, forget about giving solutions and suggestions to the person, and just be 100% present with them, as they trust you enough to tell you their story.

I remember, a little over a year after my mother died, some friends were visiting and Bob asked me the question, “Christine, what was your experience of your mother’s death?”

No one had ever asked me that before, but without preamble, I started talking and Bob listened. I talked for quite awhile and he listened, completely focused on what I was saying. I told about my fears when she got sick, her last days in the hospital, her dying and my mortality, and the horror of a slow cancer death. I talked about what it was like to watch someone I loved die, reduced to nothing but her spirit at the end.

I filled up a few times, and still he listened. I had never put those feelings into words before, and saying them was powerful medicine for both of us. Bob and his wife had lost three of their parents in a very short time, and I knew they understood.

That day I felt their compassion and acceptance, all because they listened. If you can imagine, I felt Joy on that day and I will never forget it.

Listening is not always easy but it will calm down your entire life. It will change your relationships with your friends, your spouse and your children, because they will be able to talk and you will be present. Then people see that you are really listening with a heartfelt presence. It makes people happy to see that.

How about you? Do you listen with your whole heart and mind, or do you wait for the other person to stop talking so that you can say your thing?

Conversely, do people listen to you when you have something to say? Or do you feel that no one understands you?

Let’s watch our listening during the next week. When someone is telling you something, where is your mind? Try to focus on what they are saying and let them feel your presence.

Do you feel Joy when you do that?

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Being Right or Being Happy?

Do you remember the episode of Seinfeld called “Soup Nazi”? It was about a guy who opened a soup stand. His recipe was a secret and his soup was delicious but he had strict rules for ordering. If anyone were unfortunate enough to not follow his rules exactly, he would say, “No soup for you!” And the person would have to leave with nothing. The soup was so good that everyone was willing to put up with his rules just so that they could have some. Although the episode was incredibly funny, the Soup Nazi was so strict that he looked angry all the time. Joyless. Intent on being right.

You get the picture?

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Sometimes people are so insistent on having their own way and being persnickety about what they eat, or what they wear, or what newspaper they read, what beer they drink, what brand of coffee they need, that they limit their lives and become miserable. Not only that, they make everyone miserable around them. While its nice to be able to have your ‘brand’ whenever you want, sometimes it might be better to just go with the flow and enjoy time with the people around you.

I remember a time not so long ago that I called myself a coffee Nazi. I thought there was nothing better than Tim Horton’s coffee and if I couldn’t get a coffee as good as a Tim’s, I would just do without. Sometimes I would embarrass my husband in a restaurant when, after the meal I would ask the waiter, “Is your coffee good?” And they would always say yes it was. Then I would ask, “Well, if Tim Horton’s coffee is a 10, what is yours?” Most of the time they would mumble something or other and we would end up ordering coffee anyway. One time a waitress answered that their coffee was a 4, and so I didn’t order any.

You know, I might have just enJOYed the mood and the time spent after a good meal, but I was intent on only drinking what I perceived to be the best coffee. I think I deprived myself of some good times because of it. I didn’t ‘get’ the fact that the joy is not in the taste of the coffee, but in the time spent with people I love.

A question to ponder: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?

I think I get it now.

Do you?

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Shell Shocked!

Many years ago I went through a life situation that pulled the carpet right out from under me. I was sad and depressed for a long time, a couple of years in fact. During that time I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror staring back at me.

My 21 year marriage had ended in divorce and it tore my life into shreds. I thought I would never smile again, never experience joy, and never be at peace. During the worst of it all I fled to Myrtle Beach for two months just to settle my thoughts and perhaps figure out a new direction for my life. While there, I did a lot of talking to God and I wrote an account of something major that happened as an answer to my prayers. Here it is:

2006,  February

Since my arrival here at Myrtle Beach, I have gone for walks on the beach just about every day, about three miles. I have gone at high tide, low tide, and everything in between. I have gone early in the morning before most other people are out and I have gone later in the day. I have walked in wind, calm, rain, mist, fog and cold.

Most days as I walked, I searched for seashells….nice ones, big, not broken. There just never seemed to be much down there on the beach. I saw some little ones, many old ones full of holes and many broken pieces. There were always people looking, with their plastic bags at the ready, but they weren’t finding anything either. In fact, I heard lots of complaining about the dearth of treasures to be found.

Most days as I walked and searched, I also prayed. I prayed for God to fix me and make me whole again after my divorce. I prayed for him to manifest himself to me and give me direction for my life.

And as I walked and searched and prayed, I grieved. I grieved my failed marriage; my lost dreams, and my broken family.

One day mid January as I walked and searched and prayed and cried, I did something I had never done before. I did something that I always thought people were hokey for doing. I asked God for a sign that he really heard my prayers and that he loved me. I asked him for a shell, whole and complete; unbroken and bigger than the others. I knew that if I ever found it, that it would be His doing, because what I was asking for I had only seen in shell shops and craft stores, never on the beach.

Well, I didn’t find one that day, or the next day, and not the day after that either. That made me rail all the more. Never mind that I had seen whales by twos and once by threes on three separate occasions, right outside my window; never mind all the other ways He had shown me grace, including the upgrade in my accommodation. I wanted my shell.

Sometime after that, I stopped looking, stopped striving, planning,

stopped asking God for my shell. I relaxed and just enjoyed the beach. I didn’t care that I looked like a crazy woman in a cowboy hat and running shoes. I could see the beauty all around me, and it made me happy. I kind of forgot about my request.

Then, just days before leaving to go back home to the reality of my life in Quebec, and more than a month since asking for it, I found my shell. I wasn’t searching, striving, plotting or planning. I was just walking, being happy and at peace. I was thankful for my first two nights’ sleep without medication in eighteen months. My shell was big, whole, no holes or cracks, and unbroken, just like I asked God to make me. (not that I asked God to make me big!) People had walked right past my shell, not noticing it, but it stood out like a beacon for me. I couldn’t understand how they all missed it. Funny, like sometimes when it is only by standing still that an elusive butterfly will light on your shoulder, you have to be still in your heart to see what God wants to show you.

I experienced joy on that day. True joy.

Sometimes by just letting things take their time and natural course, joy can be found when you least expect it.

The shell sits on a shelf in my office as a reminder that joy is not so terribly elusive and that God answers prayer.

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Well, What is Joy Anyway?

I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Where?

Down in my heart

Where?

Down in my heart…to stay.

And I’m so happy, so very happy

I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart…

Remember that song from Sunday school when you were younger? I’m not sure if children still sing it, but when I think of being joyful I do remember it. I remember singing it as an adult and thinking, “What on earth does it mean to have ‘that’ joy down in my heart?” It’s difficult to sing that song and frown at the same time.

Maybe we’re on to something here.

Well, what is joy anyway?

The dictionary defines it as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.

That would mean that joy is an emotion and subject to external circumstances. It would also imply that you could only be joyful if you are successful and you get what you want. Strange thing though, I know lots of successful people who have everything they could ever want and they are not even happy, let alone joyful. Some of them are depressed and have a black cloud over them wherever they go. And when they manage to step out from under the black cloud, they turn back and pull it over themselves again. Do you know people like that?

On the other hand, have you ever met people who have very little and they’re not doing so well health-wise, but they have a twinkle in their eye, they smile a lot and are generous with what they do have? I know people like that and they are usually busy giving little gifts, baking for people even less fortunate than they are, and in general they are content with their lives. They spread happiness and smiles everywhere and when they leave, you feel better about yourself and everything around you. These are the people who spread sunshine, love and hope.

I think they might be joyful!

Perhaps joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness appears to be dependent on external circumstances like good fortune, health or the weather, joy is not dependent on such things. Joy is a state of mind and heart that gives our lives meaning and makes us come alive. At first it is a state of mind and then it becomes a trait we have and is woven into our way of being.

So once again, what is joy?

Joy is a trait we have that is more than happiness,

just as happiness is more than pleasure.

Pleasure is in the body.

Happiness is in the  mind and feelings, but

Joy is deep in the heart, the center of our very self.d3770_joy_heart