Posted in Meditations

Love Blockers

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬7 ESV

Well, the holidays are nearly over.  Feeling a little grumpy?  Feeling overwhelmed?  I know I am.  Clutter, noise, excitement, being away from home, socializing, and breaking from the gentle routines that soothe me will leave me feeling depleted.  I see it in my kids, too.  Yesterday my 3 year old cried nearly the entire day and didn’t seem to know how to do anything except get into trouble.  My 8 year old didn’t want to leave the couch (and I didn’t make him).  They both went to bed an hour ahead of their usual bedtimes.

I didn’t do much better – just drifted around the house, and very slowly picked up, sorted through, or cleaned the aftermath of all our merriment – trying to ease my anxiety by restoring order.  (First world problems, right?)

Christmas was fun, but man, we’re tired.

And it’s at times like this that we’ll lose sight of why we did it all in the first place.

Why did we celebrate Christmas?  Isn’t it all about love?  Jesus and His love, and the way we’re all supposed to love each other?

I don’t always feel like being loving.  As I laid in bed the other night, I confessed this.  And I asked the Lord: what is blocking me?

The answers may lie in a chapter of the Bible that has been made famous by weddings everywhere.  But let us be clear: these words are not only for weddings!  They hold the keys to the things that trip us up; that throw us off of our love game.

Impatience

“Are you done or not?” “Hurry up.” “Either do this or I’ll do it for you.”

Few things tax my patience like assisting a 3 year old with his frequent, long-drawn-out, slow-pokey trips to the bathroom.

But patience, is what is required.  Impatience, is a love-blocker.

Envy

Don’t even get me started on this one.  Everywhere I look, there is something to envy.  Homes, relationships, physical attributes, clothes, wealth, success, talent, recognition, vacations, accomplishments…even spiritual experiences!

It’s a daily struggle.  It’s a love blocker.

My way or no way

“It’s fine if you want to get together, but if it’s not on my schedule, then too bad.”

“Oh gross, didn’t we eat (fill in the blank) last year?”

“What a lousy gift.  Why did they even bother?”

“There’s no way I’m driving that far.”

Let me be clear, personal boundaries are allowed.  If you can’t accommodate the way others want you to do things, there is a way to decide that with a clear head (after you confess your offense/anger to God and let it go).  And then, to communicate your decision to them kindly.

But getting in a huff over it, and holding on to resentment, and NEVER being willing to adjust your plans or preferences to accommodate those of others?  Major love blockers.

Rejoicing at wrongdoing

“Uh, what’s that juicy bit?  Tell it again, I may have missed it.”

Proverbs 18:8 (NIV) says that “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.”  I think this is a very vivid, pointed verse.  Are you familiar with that little leap of excitement you feel on the inside, when you hear about some kind of scandal?  Especially if it’s someone you’re angry with or envious of, because their wrongdoing or misfortune either substantiates your position, or makes you feel better about yourself.

I am learning to check my heart, and if there’s anything in there besides love and concern for the person being spoken of, not participate in the conversation.

Impatience, envy, “my way or no way,” and rejoicing at wrongdoing.  4 major love blockers.  I’m acquainted with them…are you?

Response

Lord, I confess that I’m rarely as loving as I want to be.  Thank you for these verses, which help me to understand some of the reasons why.  I’m sorry for being impatient, envious, wanting my own way, and rejoicing at wrongdoing.  You are the only one who can help me to conquer these things, so I ask you to help me, please.

I know that to me, nothing feels better than being truly and genuinely loved.  Please give me the capacity to extend that to others, in an authentic way, so they can experience the amazing feeling of being loved, and so I can be of good use to your purposes while I am here on earth.

Amen.

Posted in Rambles

5 Sanity-Savers for the Month of January

Well, here we go – out of the freeze, and into the deep freeze.  Or in other words – out of December, and into January.  January and February may not be longer than any other two month block, but sometimes they feel like they go on forever.

On the plus side, our winter thus far in Manitoba has been fairly mild.  There was about a week in December when the temperature scarcely rose above -20 degrees Celsius.  But other than that it has been very bearable, with not too much snow.  Over Christmas time it has been about -5 or -6 during the day, so I’ve even been able to steal a few moments outside with the kids.  If I can be opportunistic about getting outside when it’s warmer, the winter doesn’t feel nearly as long.

Nonetheless, keeping a positive outlook this time of year can be a challenge for me.  So rather than plug my ears, close my eyes, and pretend it’s not coming, I may as well face it head-on!  Here are some things I’m planning to do in the upcoming month, to give myself something to look forward to and stay in my best possible health – physically, mentally, and spiritually.

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1. Prayer and fasting

This is a tradition in my church for January of each year, and something we focus on as a community all month long.  At first, to be honest, I thought it was kind of a bummer.  But after participating in it for a few years now, I have come to look forward to it.  It’s a great way to “detoxify” from all of the excess and noise that may accompany Christmas time.  And I think there’s no better way to begin the year, than by focusing deliberately and intentionally on prayer and intimacy with God.

Fasting may take many shapes and forms, and may be done for a variety of spiritual and physical reasons.  I have some thoughts about it, which I’m planning to share on the blog sometime in the coming month.

2. Exercise

I’m not a fitness buff by any stretch of the imagination.  But I have to put this one on the list because if I don’t make a point of it, I simply won’t do it – especially in winter.  And I know how much better I feel when I do exercise.

In the town where I used to live, there was a sign outside a physiotherapist’s office that said “Exercise is medicine.”  I drove by it several times per week, and I suppose the message has been imprinted on my mind.  Because that’s exactly what I tell myself, each time I get on the treadmill: “Time to take my medicine!”  If I think about it that way, I don’t go overboard with expectations of bodily changes, or requirements to do more and more each time.  “It’s just my medicine.”  I want to feel good, stay as healthy as I can, be strong to take care of my family, and maybe even do some other things too.  If 30 minutes per day at a brisk walk can help with all that, well…it’s definitely worth it!

3. Salad, salad, and more salad

I really love salads.  All kinds of salads.  And in January, I try to trick myself into thinking it’s summer by filling my shopping cart with several types of green leaves.  Sometimes I even indulge in things I wouldn’t normally have on hand to put in my salads: avocados, kale, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, etc.

This kind of goes along with the fasting thing, because I don’t often do a complete and total food fast for very long.  It doesn’t agree with me…I feel ill, headachy, and faint…or, perhaps, I’m just a wimp.  Either way, I usually end up doing a partial fast, like eating only fruits and vegetables for a time.  We sometimes call this a “Daniel fast” because it’s similar to how the Bible says Daniel ate when he was taken to Babylon (see Daniel chapter 1).  Salads come in really handy if I decide to do this kind of fasting.

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4. This blog

This blog is a huge sanity saver for me.  It is my creative outlet, and what I do for a break from housekeeping, cooking, and taking care of kids.  It gives me a chance to slow down, process my thoughts and feelings, and create something from them.  It’s a platform from which I can find people with whom I have things in common.  I can learn from and enjoy the posts of others.  And I just love it when someone puts into words exactly what I have been feeling or experiencing!  I’m not alone, I’m not the only one!

As I mentioned before, I’ll probably put up a few posts in January on the topic of fasting.  In February, I have a post entitled “Groundhog Day” that some may find a little dark, but hey – we all have dark moments.  A couple of poems, perhaps, including one for Valentine’s Day.  Otherwise, there will be some room for sponaneity: those topics that spring up, seemingly out of the blue, and keep me up at night until I write them down.  Realistically, I may miss a week from time to time, but I feel like I have enough of a plan for the next two months to keep me reasonably on track.  It will be a great distraction from the long winter.

5. Trying something new

I’ll be starting a new music therapy contract in January, which will also be a great thing to occupy my thoughts and energy.  I haven’t done music therapy in a few years now, but this contract is small, so it’s a good way to get my feet wet again.  It’s also in a school!  This has me over the moon, because it’s been my goal from the beginning to work in schools.  Those jobs, however, are hard to come by.  I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

All things considered, I think I have a lot to look forward to as we move into January.  No matter how cold it may get!

What are the next two months looking like for you?  Do you have specific plans for your blog, or for yourself?  What’s the weather been like where you live?  I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes for an excellent 2020!

Lisa

Posted in Rambles

Making Peace with the Messy

I had all kinds of thoughts about publishing a post this week with pictures of the pretty Christmas things around my home – the tree, the wreath on the door, our little penguin collection, and the advent calendar that our kids love.  Maybe I would get a batch of cookies baked and take a picture of them, too.

But first, I would have to adjust the tree ornaments the kids have moved around.  Pick up the ones that have dropped on the floor.  Smooth out the tree skirt.  Clean up the mish-mash of blankets, pillows, and teddy bears surrounding the tree.  Push aside the dirty dishes to reveal the advent calendar sitting on the counter behind them.  Glue together the decorations that have broken.  And so on, and so on.

Which got me to thinking about something more interesting, to me, than those picture-perfect Christmas displays: the messes.  Not awful kinds of messes, but the big, beautiful ones that come along with lives being lived.  The messes that you see when you enter the home of a family that has young children.  Gravel on the entrance floor.  Dishes on the counter, and maybe the remnants of lunch.  Toys scattered about.  Small people dashing from room to room.  Half-way completed craft projects shoved into corners.  Pieces of laundry to trip over.

I get embarrassed when my house looks like that, if anyone unexpectedly drops by.  However, if I walk into another person’s house, and it looks like that, I breathe a sigh of relief.  Ah…they, too, are normal.  I don’t think about how they should have picked up the mess before I dropped by.  I marvel at the messes – at the stories the messes tell.  The kinds of foods their children like (or don’t like), and the dishes they eat (or don’t eat) out of.  The creativity displayed by their projects on-the-go.  The powdering of flour and icing sugar on the floor, and the smell of cookies hanging in the air.  What they had been doing outside, before their wet mittens and boots were hurriedly deposited at the door.

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My son attends a weekly kids’ club at our church.  I feel a little overwhelmed, when I walk into that room to pick him up.  8 year-old boys hardly ever stop moving, so the entire place seems to shift ceaselessly, like an anthill.  The air is saturated with the smell of laundry soap and fabric softener, because the kids keep so busy that their bodies heat up and release the fragrances of their clothes.  There are, er…other smells too – some not so pleasant.

And in the midst of it all, are the volunteer leaders.  Adults in the mix of children, a couple at each table.  They smile, and chat with the kids, and make sure they’re not causing too much trouble or getting hurt.  They seem relaxed – tired, perhaps – but at home within the big, beautiful mess.

It makes me think of God.  Isn’t that kind of how He is, in-amongst the big, beautiful mess of people He has created?  Read through the Bible, and you will find things in there that would make most Sunday school teachers cringe.  It is messy business, this thing He is doing.  But He’s committed!  So much so, that He made His home within the mess that we all are.

It’s not always pretty, or clean, or orderly.  But it’s real, and amazing.  It’s Christmas!

With the warmest of wishes for a big, messy, beautiful Christmas –

Lisa

Posted in Rambles

I Asked God for a Friend

It came like a jab in the face, as it often does – when God speaks unexpectedly.  Though not as dramatic or life-altering as Paul’s encounter on the road to Damascus, I was, as he likely was, not looking for a word from God right at that moment.  God does things that way, once in a while.  Perhaps to remind us that our ability to hear Him is not a result of all our straining to listen, but it is of grace: undeserved, and impossible to earn.

Something my husband said, in passing, as I sat at the table with him after dinner one day.  I cannot even remember the topic of discussion, or the words that were spoken.  But in an instant God had seized them, launched them like little pointy arrows, and used them to pierce me with a deep longing.  A yearning, aching one, that had been folded up and tucked away, along with other childish, impossible things.  It rang in my ears, and vibrated in my chest, like the startled feeling you have after the shattering of glass.

I wanted a friend.

Not just any friend.  But the kind that, for someone like me, only comes around once or twice in a lifetime.  If that.  A ‘kindred spirit,’ as Anne would say.

The acknowledgement of this longing came with an invitation – I believe, from God Himself – to pray for its fulfillment.  It had the feel, to me, of a promise.  Like something He already had.  Something that He was eagerly waiting to give to me.

My eyes stung with tears, as my husband continued to talk.  I blinked them back, swallowed the lump in my throat, and discretely put the rush of emotion aside to be dealt with later on.  (I’m getting better at that sort of thing.  Though I’m not sure if I am fooling anyone.)

How long has it been, since I have had a friend like that?  Someone who gets me.  Who truly loves me and doesn’t hang out with me because she feels like she has to, or out of pity, or even Christian servanthood.  Somebody I can waste hours with, and it feels like no time at all.  A person with whom conversation and laughter flow, like water.

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I’ve been blessed to have at least two friendships like that, in my lifetime.  The one ended as swiftly and unexpectedly as it began.  I still don’t know why she dropped me.  It was a bit like a summer fling, but without the element of romance.

The other has been longer lasting, but geography and circumstances have kept us apart for several years.  She lives on another continent.  And although people can, to a degree, keep in touch electronically, it’s just not the same as sharing life together.

Although I’m sad when friendships end or grow apart, I treasure the memories that I have from them.  I’m thankful for the joy I was able to share with these people.

But as I’ve grown older, I’ve become a little hardened.  Not wanting to feel the pain of loss or rejection again, I close myself off.  I’m friendly, but I hold others at an arm’s length.

And at my age, is anyone even still looking for friends?  It seems to me that the women I meet are already quite well-connected, and not looking for more friendships than what they already have.

I’ve also noticed that other people are quicker and more adept at forming true and lasting bonds than I am.  I can know women for just as long as they know each other, and watch them grow into very close friends, while I remain on the outside.

I’m not sure why this is.  My introverted nature probably has something to do with it.  I ask myself on a regular basis: am I being nice enough?  Do others see me as grouchy or down in the dumps?  Do they not know what to do with me, because of my intense emotional reactions to things?  If my personality were funnier, or bubblier, or happier…would they like me then?

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Whatever the case, I think that becoming aware that I actually do want and need a close friend, is progress in and of itself.  And now, I have a word.  A promise.  An acknowledgement: God sees my pain.  I don’t think He wants me to shelve my desire for true friendship or bury it in some kind of broken-dream-graveyard.  He wants this for me.  He has it for me.  And I just need to wait, and watch.

How about you?  Is it easy for you to make friends, or difficult?  Have you ever had a best friend?  I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Rambles

Why You May Feel Sad at Christmas (Part 2)

In part 1 of this post, I shared about the emotional struggles that I sometimes experience at Christmas time.  I identified two possible reasons why this may happen, and gave suggestions of how to cope.  To read it you may click this link:

Why You May Feel Sad at Christmas (Part 1)

Today, I will discuss three more reasons why a person may feel sad at Christmas, along with possible coping strategies.  Perhaps you will be able to identify with some of these ideas.

3. Changes over time create feelings of loss.

As people grow older, the dynamics of a family change dramatically. There are marriages, addition of children, and deaths.  Someone in the family may have grown ill.  Perhaps people have moved away, or choose not to be involved with the family any more.  Children may have left the nest.  Divorces may have occurred.  Parents may have grown old and are unable to host gatherings in their home, so alternate arrangements have to be made.  The home you grew up in may have been sold.  Maybe you used to always get together on Christmas Day, or always had brunch, or always gave each other gifts, and for some reason this cannot happen anymore.  All of these changes over time, normal as they may be, can create feelings of loss.  Christmas just isn’t the way it used to be…and that hurts.

I would suggest that you acknowledge the loss, and give yourself permission to mourn it if needed.  You may want to read this post, which discusses how the passage of time can lead to emotional pain.

Keep those old, good memories locked away somewhere, and treasure them.  You could reminisce by looking at photos or videos of past Christmases, or putting a scrapbook together to preserve them.  If someone you love has passed on, how may you cherish their memory?  Perhaps you could make a donation in their name.  Or create or purchase an ornament to place on the Christmas tree in their honor.

And finally, don’t let your grief blind you to the good things happening in the present.  Some time in the future, today’s Christmas may become the ‘good old days’ for you or your children.  Love your people while they’re here, as best as you possibly can.

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4. Expectations and hopes may lead to feelings of overwhelm.

The holidays have been romanticized to a level of perfection that is usually unreachable.  This is very easy to be drawn into, even if you strive to keep things simple.  There is so much build-up to the various events and trimmings of Christmas and New Year’s: the baking, the cooking, the gifts, the tree, the decorations, the parties, the gatherings, the sparkling eyes of children, and the thrill of romantic relationships.  In Christmas movies and jewellery commercials, each detail comes together with absolute perfection. However, this is not an expectation that is healthy to bring into real life.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, is there something you can cut from your schedule?  Although I love Christmas baking, there have been some years when I haven’t done any of it, and just bought chocolates instead.  Last year, for Christmas Day dinner, my family and I had taco salad.  We all enjoyed it, and nobody had to stress or slave in the kitchen.

If your gift-buying budget is small, perhaps you can cut a few people from your list.  Siblings?  Nieces and nephews?  Your child’s teachers?  Do they all need gifts?  Would a simple card suffice?  If appropriate, you may want to inform them in advance of any changes: “I’m feeling overwhelmed with Christmas preparations, and our finances are strained.  I won’t be able to buy a gift for you this year.”

Thankfully, I think that children in particular can be satisfied with very little.  They usually don’t need the largest or most expensive gifts to be pleased on Christmas morning.  We’ve cut back on what we spend on our kids, and I don’t expect them to be any less happy because of it.

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5. The holidays can be physically draining.

The children are home from school, so the house is busier.  You may be travelling long distances, or staying away from home.  Get-togethers with friends and family go on for many hours, and you go to bed later.  You have additional responsibilities such as shopping for and wrapping gifts, cleaning, decorating, hosting, cooking, and baking. Depending on where you live, it may be colder and darker outside, like it is where I am.  If so, you may not get much fresh air, sunshine, or exercise.  You may consume more sweets, junk food, and alcoholic beverages than usual, while not having time for your usual self-care routines. These things, taken together, impact your physical well-being and increase your tiredness, which can significantly impact your mood.

Perhaps this is a simplified answer, but a good sleep can do wonders.  If you get a chance to grab an early bedtime, or an occasional nap, go for it!

Regarding exercise – I have found that the most difficult part of getting active, or bundling up and going outside, is getting started.  But when I do, I feel physically better for the entire day!  If the weather is nice, I may take my kids tobogganing or skating.  If I’m just too wimpy to brave the cold, I enjoy about 30 minutes of brisk walking on our treadmill.  Do what works for you, and reap the benefits!

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My little snowman.  We had our winter’s first taste of Arctic air this week.  Crisp!

And since it is potluck season, remember that healthy foods are welcome additions to table spreads that usually contain an overabundance of fatty, sugary, carbohydrate-laden foods.  Bring a tray of fruit or vegetables, and watch it be devoured!  Maybe you’ll even eat some of it yourself.

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This list, of course, is not comprehensive.  But if you are struggling emotionally, I believe there is great value in acknowledging that fact, identifying what the causes may be, and taking whatever steps you can to address them.  Even when you do these things, however, the holidays may still be stressful and difficult!  All we can do is our best, as we try to focus on the blessings in our lives.

I pray that God will give you peace this season, and infuse Christmas with the kind of meaning that circumstances and emotions cannot deplete!

With the warmest of wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Rambles

Why You May Feel Sad at Christmas (Part 1)

Before heading home from a family gathering, you take a drive with your husband and kids to look at Christmas lights.  Everything’s going fine.  Suddenly, however, you are flooded with intense feelings of sadness that catch you off-guard.  You stare out your window (supposedly engrossed by the beautiful views) and hope that no one notices the flood of tears coming down your cheeks.

It’s New Year’s Eve.  The kids are in bed, and it’ll be a low-key night for you and your spouse.  Snacks from the leftovers in the fridge, maybe a glass of wine, and fireworks on the TV – if you can stay up late enough to catch them.  But for some reason, you’re having a hard time keeping yourself together.  Every 20 minutes or so, you nonchalantly retreat to the bedroom.  There you lay on the bed, cry quietly until it’s out of your system, and return to the living room…hoping your spouse doesn’t see the red rims around your eyes.

Either of these scenarios sound familiar?  They do to me, because they are personal examples!

Many people feel sad, or depressed, during the winter months.  The holidays may be an especially challenging time.  The impression I get from what I read and hear on the topic, however, is that people who have recently lost a family member or undergone a traumatic event, or who are clinically diagnosed with depression, are most prone to struggling.

I’m sure that’s true.  However, I don’t really fit any of those categories – and yet, I struggle.  Maybe you, like me, have a pretty good life.  And yet, Christmas rolls around, and it’s just hard.  Overwhelming emotions blindside you.  Or your energy is totally zapped, and you can hardly accomplish a thing.  There may be many reasons for this, as every person and situation is unique.  However, I have compiled a list of 5 possible causes, and suggestions of how to cope.  Perhaps you will be able to identify with some of these ideas.  (I will address the first 2 points today, and will share the remaining 3 next Friday.)

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1. Buried or hidden memories and feelings are brought to the surface.

The holidays are a naturally reflective time.  Another year is ending, and we may find ourselves re-living strong emotions, or dwelling on memories of past events.  To top it off, we are surrounded by music, movies, and messages that are designed to tap into tender feelings.  Music, in particular, is proven to be strongly linked to memories.  Christmas songs that you hear every year may carry you back to your past in a powerful way.  This is sometimes uplifting, but it can also be painful.

As feelings or memories are elicited, it is usually healthier to deal with and process them directly, rather than dismiss or avoid them.  My favorite way of doing this is through prayer.  The Spirit of Jesus is always present to help me carry my emotional burdens; He has never failed me – not one single time.

Some people may find it helpful to talk things through with a trusted person or counsellor.  Others may prefer to write it out in a journal, or express what they are feeling through some other creative medium.

And let us not underestimate the power of a good sense of humour, to balance all of the emotive, wistful stuff.  Is there someone who can always make you laugh?  Spend time with them (my husband is great for this).  Or put away the tear-jerkers for a while, and watch a funny movie (“Christmas with the Kranks,” anyone?).

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2. Holidays bring us into the presence of family members.

Family members bless us and give us a sense of belonging, so there may be joy in seeing them again.  However, if you struggle with an unhealthy level of comparison, you may feel less satisfied with your life after seeing siblings or cousins who seem happier, better off, or more successful than you in some way.

Also, if your relationships with family members are not healthy, family gatherings can elicit negative feelings such as anger, sadness, or anxiety.  If there is so much division that you do not see your family members anymore, Christmas is a time when you will likely be reminded of this fact.

There aren’t really any short-cuts to dealing with weighty issues such as these.  However, on the topic of comparisons, gratitude and thankfulness – focusing on the things in your life that are going well and that you are thankful for – can be helpful.  Remember that you, and your spouse and kids, are uniquely and wonderfully made.  Your lives will not be the same as your siblings’ lives.  And that is totally ok.

Even when you are going through struggles that the rest of your family doesn’t understand or appreciate, remember that God sees you.  His purpose is to work good from the trial that you are experiencing.

Regarding difficult relationships, you may find it helpful to learn about healthy boundaries.  Boundary issues may be at the root of a whole host of problems.  Click here for my past post on relational boundaries, and a suggestion of a book to read on the topic.

Otherwise, if you can think of a kind, appropriate, reasonable gesture to extend to your family members, go ahead and do it.  (Without the expectation of receiving anything in return.)  A simple greeting card?  A short phone call, email, or hand-written note?  A small gift or helpful act?  Try not to worry about the spirit in which they receive it – only the spirit in which it is given.  If possible, spread your love in some small way, as difficult as the circumstances may be.  Even if the person doesn’t receive it well, you will know that you are trying to do the right thing.

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How about you?  Do you experience difficult feelings during the holidays?  What do you think is behind them?  How do you cope?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

And I look forward to touching base again next Friday, when I will discuss 3 more possible causes for sadness at Christmas time.

Until then…Warm wishes!

Lisa