Joyful Connections

Our time in Hilton Head is winding down…in one week Dave and I will begin the three-day journey back to Nova Scotia. The hope is that by the time we get home, winter in the Valley will be but a cold, frozen memory.

I am so grateful for the time Dave and I are able to have in the South these past three winters. The sunshine has been wonderful for brightening the spirit and feeling healthy. In fact, for several years before we started going south for a few months I suffered greatly from SAD—seasonal affective disorder, although for a long time I just thought I was depressed. I guess it wasn’t normal to stand in front of the living room window in January and cry for the greyness of my world. In the South, even when it is cold outside, usually the sun is shining and that’s all that matters to me.

This is the first winter in three that I have not been sick; two years ago I suffered from shingles during my time here, and last year I arrived with Bells palsy, so when I say I’m grateful, I really am.

I’m grateful for the increased health I’ve experienced in the past six months! I still have my moments of insomnia and low energy, but overall things are much better.

I have said that I believe JOY and happiness in life comes from connection and relationship, not from possessions, outings and workplace successes. What’s the point of having all those things if you don’t have someone to share it all with, someone who really cares? I’ve missed my friends, my groups and my church while basking in the sunshine and getting healthy. My Knitting Ninnies have had to move on without me; things have been happening in my church that I am disconnected from, and my friends have been busy doing their own thing.

How I have missed them all!

But there have been joyful connections here in Hilton Head. Dave and I have had a surprising connection with a couple of beautiful souls from France. Jan (pronounced ‘yawn’) and Ada (pronounced ‘ah-dah’) hold court at a coffee shop we call the ‘office’ from 11 to 12 every day, drinking their espresso from tiny cups that were bought just for them. A few times a week we join them and several other displaced Northerners. Can you believe Jan is 90 and Ada is 88? They remind me of my parents! They are well read, quick witted and about as opinionated as anyone else, and we have some good conversations at the office most days. They walk on the beach as well.

In fact, the first year Dave and I were in Hilton Head, we saw an older man walking on the beach. He wore a fur vest and leather pants (it was a cold winter, even down here), and his hair was longish and combed straight back. I said to Dave that he looked like he was French. Sure enough, when we met Jan at the coffee shop, he turned out to be that same man and he is indeed from France!

jan

For the first couple of years Ada used to laugh at me for all my thrift shopping, until one day in January I showed up at the office wearing a beautiful blouse. She loved it and when I told her I got it at a thrift shop she said, “The only problem with that blouse is that it should be me wearing it.” I showed her where and how to shop at the Bargain Box, the best thrift shop on the island. Now she sports a few beautiful blouses of her own.

Jan and Ada bring joy to my life every day! My prayer is that they will be able to come back next year.

 

Emptying The Cup, Just a Little

I have come to an important realization this week. With my focus on JOY and getting more of it into my life, I’ve noticed that the times I am the happiest are when I am in connection with other people.

Phone calls and laughing over a coffee or a glass of wine with a friend or family member have been balm to my soul. Add to that, deep conversation into the evening and feeling understood come close to the top of the list.

But the connection that goes deepest is the one I have with God and my world; knowing that in spite of it all, God knows me and loves me just the way I am, and He knows what is best for me.

god

Over the past six months I have belonged to an online fitness group led by none other than Bill Phillips. It has been wonderful to be taught via live video every day by a man I believe to be on the cutting edge of fitness and nutrition. There were about two hundred of us in the group from all over the world. Daily we posted sweaty selfies, accountability, and photos of our food. We encouraged each other, corrected each other and cheered each other on.

I became popular.

It was great! I am so grateful for that time and the goals I accomplished. I learned to feel good about myself; I lost some weight and gained muscle as well as more energy. Most importantly, the illnesses that had plagued me for the past two years disappeared. I was pretty happy about all that.

I became more popular.

But then something happened. I realized that I was spending more and more tme on facebook watching live videos, doing the workouts and interacting with the group. I noticed that I was less present in my here-and-now world and more present with my new online friends. I noticed an emptiness creep into my life and when I finally pinpointed it, I disconnected from the online group.

I was not popular anymore.

Lest you think this was easy, let me tell you, it was akin to getting out of the religious cult I was in for twenty one years, although on a much smaller basis.

All of a sudden there is a big void in my life that I feel I have to fill.

But do I have to fill it?

Can I just be happy to let God direct my next steps? Can I be still and just let it happen?

wait

I think I can, and I will do it. I will rest in the peace and joy that, when the time for the right thing comes into my life, I will be ready and waiting.

Remember, you can’t fill a cup that is already filled with good things but maybe not the best things for you. Sometimes you have to empty the cup a little in order to be filled with other, more meaningful things.

So now I am waiting.

cup

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

love

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.

gulljfishchair

 

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.

sunlight-on-trees-wallpaper-1

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?

listen

 

 

 

 

 

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?

soup-nazi

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?

coffee