Dare boldly

Inspiring acts of grace in everyday living


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Good tidings of Love, Comfort & Joy!

we-wish-you-copyOver 2000 years ago, a mother and father huddled together in a tiny stable and witnessed the birth of their child. The story of the Christ child’s birth has lived throughout the years. It touches all our hearts, Christian and non-Christian, believer and non-believer. No matter if we believe He came to earth to ‘save our souls from Satan’s power’, or if he was simply a powerful prophet, or just a great man whose story has survived the ages, His birth represents the power of love to create peace in the world and to restore our spirits as we celebrate the miracle of life.

Christmas is a time to celebrate. A time when we are connected through love’s grace to the miracle of one child’s birth long ago that reminds us, every year, that we too are miracles of birth inspired by the act of love that ignites our journey of life – in all its limitless possibilities.

Last night, as I wrapped presents and reflected on the meaning of Christmas, I felt immersed in Love. Sitting in my cozy living room, surrounded by twinkling lights and festive bows and crinkly wrapping paper, I felt connected to the millions of other parents, grandparents, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, friends and lovers who wrapped and taped and lovingly placed gifts beneath a twinkling tree – a tree they had decorated together with loved ones, sharing in the joy of hanging each ornament, old and new, upon its fragrant boughs.

As I wrapped and hummed a Christmas melody (and maybe even sipped a glass of cheer!), I felt the power of Christmas surround me. As I placed a pretty bow upon each gift I thought about the person to whom I was giving and my heart was filled with love. In that love lay the true meaning of Christmas. It wasn’t in the gifts, or the giving. It didn’t lay in colourful disarray piled beneath the tree, but in the love that filled my heart as I thought about my husband, daughters, family and friends whom I love so dearly and who mean the world to me and who create such meaning in my world.

What a miracle Christmas is! 2000 years ago a child was born and from His birth has grown this night where the world stops, and takes a collective breath as we join in a song of love, faith, hope and joy. 2000 years ago a child’s birth gave birth to my evening last night.

As I sat in the quiet, I felt the power of that moment touch me. I took a deep breath in and felt my heart expand in love. In that breath, I was connected by the circle of love into which I was born and which encircled my daughters as I embraced the miracle of their lives to change my life. For just as the Christchild was a gift of love for his parents, and ultimately the world, with my daughters’ births I was given the greatest gift of all — the awesome reminder that life is a miracle and each birth a precious gift of love; powerful, enduring, everlasting.

This Christmas, as I reflect upon my life, I am reminded, once again, of the power of love to heal, to make peace and to create miracles.

And that is the true meaning of Christmas for me. A celebration of birth, of life, of love. A healing. An awakening. A miracle that wraps us all in a never-ending circle of love.

Whatever your celebration — Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Bodi day, the Fast of Ramadan, the ancient sabbat – or a family-centered gathering, a Blessed Holiday to each and everyone of you. May your spirits be light, your hearts full of love and may your world be filled with the limitless possibilities of the miracle of your life as you live each moment, filled with love, joy, gratitude and peace.

Merry Christmas from my heart to yours.

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I posted the original of this post on Recover Your Joy December 24, 2007. My first year of blogging. It has been an amazing journey! Thank you Mark K for the inspiration in March of 2007 to begin blogging.


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A Tree for Christmas #storiesofhope

She hadn’t had a Christmas tree in four years. Not because she didn’t want one. She never gave up wanting one. She didn’t have one because for four years she didn’t have a home to put one up in.

And now, she does. Now, she has a place of her own.  She has a tree.

It’s not a large tree, but in her one bedroom apartment, it fits perfectly. “I love the smell,” she says as she ties another silver ball onto a branch. She breathes deeply. “Oh wow! This is so exciting.”

I am sitting in a chair watching her, chatting, attaching hooks to each ball in preparation of its placement on the tree. Joelle had agreed to have her photo taken for the brochure as a way to give back to the agency that has, as she describes it, ‘saved my life’.

I knew Joelle* when she was staying at the shelter where I used to work. A tiny birdlike woman, chronic health conditions, addiction,  a messy divorce, life missteps left her without a home, or the ability to work. In her weakened state, she became one of those who ‘fall through the cracks’ and end up on the doorstep of shelters across the country. Struggling with life, poor health, poverty, addiction, they run out of resources to keep a roof over their head and find themselves knocking on a shelter door.

If they’re really lucky, and there’s a focus in their community on affordable housing for those living on the margins they will get a place to call home, just as Joelle did.

On this day, just before Christmas several years ago when I still worked at an emergency shelter, I watched Joelle carefully place decorations on the tree and was moved and touched and reminded of the delicacy of this thread called the human condition. A thread made up of tiny moments that link us to the wonder, and sometimes sorrow, of being human, of being part of humankind, alone, yet not alone. Together, yet separate.

Joelle’s tree was a gift. A gift from a woman she met during the summer while in hospital for six weeks receiving chemotherapy. The woman, Sarah, was in the next bed. For six weeks the two women from very separate and different walks of life connected. They talked and shared and when Joelle got out of hospital, Sarah took it upon herself to create a welcome home for Joelle in her new apartment.

And that’s where the magic kept unfolding.

Being released from hospital into homelessness is one of the tragedies in our social fabric. For Joelle, being released back to the shelter was a given. Until through Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness and the housing the shelter provided, Joelle was housed.

She was provided the basics, furniture, dishes, but the place still lacked that feminine touch, that sense of — ‘Joelle’. And then Sarah,  stepped in and ‘prettied up’ the place. She held a house-warming for Joelle, inviting her lady friends to come and create a place of comfort and beauty for this woman she’d met while lying in a hospital bed, recovering from her own serious medical condition.

I sat and watched and chatted with Joelle and I knew it was there. In that room with us. It was palpable.

The spirit of Christmas.

The best of our human condition dancing in the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree that was a gift from a stranger who has become a friend and who continues to take the time to ensure this woman for whom life has not been easy, finds a less stressful, more beautiful path.

“What does having your own place this Christmas mean to you?” I ask Joelle as she tosses tinsel and reminisces about Christmases past.

“It means I get to spend it with my daughter. We get to be a family.”

 

And there it was, all over again. The meaning of Christmas shining in the light of one woman’s eyes filled with wonder as she decorated a tree and dreamt of spending time with the ones she loves. And in the wonder of the moment I was reminded  once again that Christmas is not in the baubles and glitter, the gifts or the Christmas cards strung along a mantle. It’s right here. Right where we are. It’s a place to belong. To be welcomed. To be together. A place where family meets and connects to what makes magic happen — our human condition shining in Love.

It is Christmas. No matter where we are, no matter how far from home we have strayed, may we all come home to the heart of sharing peace, love and joy at this special time of year.

For stories of Christmas and recovery and having a home, please visit The Gift Project.

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This article has been revised from its original version posted in 2010.  I have changed the names of the individuals involved.


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The most valuable gifts are the ones you can’t wrap | guest blog by Alexis Maledy

In my early twenties I would go to the shelter where my mom worked to interview clients for their annual Christmas Wishlist. The list was in fact a website (now called Homeless Partners) where people could go and donate a personalized gift to one of the hundreds of men and women who would be waking up in a shelter on Christmas morning. My job was to collect a little information about the clients and ask what they were wishing for that season.

The first year I took part, I gathered in the shelter office with all the other volunteers and was given a list of questions to ask the clients. On the back of the sheet was a list of acceptable items they could request: Work boots, calling cards, transit passes, jackets. The program coordinator cautioned us to divert wishes away from gift certificates and expensive electronics which could easily become gifts for dealers instead of clients.

I admit, I was hesitant about the interview process. Worried I’d come across as condescending. That the interviewees would take one look at my Aritzia jacket and Sorel boots and tell me and the Christmas Spirit to go f*ck ourselves.

The Christmas trees of my youth had always been overflowing with more packages than my sister and I knew what to do with. Though I know my parents often struggled to keep up financially, each Christmas they would exclaim that now was the time to ask for what we really wanted. The year they divorced two weeks before Christmas, they softened the blow with the assurance that two Christmases would be better than one. As step-parents and new siblings entered the mix, Christmas shopping became even more extravagant. The price for our acceptance when we weren’t willing to give it on our own accord. Who were my sister and I to complain if the shiny things made them all feel better about wrecking our family?

But now in my twenties, Christmas just made me feel sick to my stomach. Requests for my Christmas list had become a reminder of how I’d wasted countless holiday seasons demanding love via presents. How I’d only ever received with judgement, and given out of obligation. If there were gifts to be had now, I didn’t deserve them.

So when the first interviewee pulled up their chair to mine on that first day at the shelter, I wasn’t expecting the next two hours to be an unravelling of the giant knot I’d tied around all my complicated holiday feelings.

My first interview is with Donna*, a blonde woman in her forties. She smiles, tentatively, as I begin to go through the questions. What are some of the reasons you’re on the street? How long have you been homeless? What do you want for Christmas?

Donna tells me of the relationship that ended five years ago. How she’d been left with nothing. She speaks about her teenage daughter. How she doesn’t like her coming down to the shelter – it’s too dangerous. Her daughter will call and leave a message at the shelter office. Sometimes Donna doesn’t get them. She tells me about how it hurts that she can’t be there for the girl whose name is tattooed across her shoulders.

Her Christmas wish? That someday her daughter will be able to visit her in a place all of her own.

A young man sits down next. He’s a year younger than me. He’s lost contact with his family. Made some poor decisions. I ask him what would lift his spirits? “A gift from somebody…anybody,” his eyes cast toward the floor.

More men sit down. One with a black eye and a sad smile who wishes for nothing more than to see his kids. They’re in New Brunswick though. Too far to go this year. I want to add plane tickets to the list of acceptable items. But the man tells me a new pair of work boots might help him see his kids next Christmas.

There is another man who won’t see his kids during the holidays. “They’re ashamed that I’m in this place,” he says. We talk for a while and as he pulls back his chair to leave, he takes a crumpled twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and hands it to me: “Can you make sure someone else on the list gets this?”

An older gentleman pulls up a chair. I ask his birthdate. His face is weathered and cracked from the twelve years he’s been on the streets since he lost much of his sight – and his job. He tells me stories from Christmases past. When I ask him what he wants for Christmas this year, his voice cracks and tears well up in his eyes. He speaks so softly I have to lean in to hear him. “Peace on earth and goodwill amongst men,” he says, his voice cracking.

I ask if I can give him a hug. I’m not sure if it’s in the rules, but as he holds his hand across his heart and nods a silent yes, it doesn’t matter. We embrace for a few moments and when he pulls away, we are both wiping tears from our eyes. “Hey,” he smiles, “if that peace on earth thing is too much, an am/fm radio would be alright.”

Almost ten years later I still think of that first night at the shelter whenever the holiday season rolls around. I think of the men and women who entrusted me with their stories, and their hopes for the holidays. And how they taught me that the most valuable gifts are the ones you cannot wrap or tie a bow around.

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alexismaledyGuest blog by Alexis Maledy

Alexis Maledy is a Vancouver-based writer and professional communicator. Her website is currently under construction, but you can follow her on Instagram…if she remembers to post stuff.

You can also check out her work at My Modern Closet.


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The Great ButterTart Bake-off

buttertartWe have entered the second week of Advent. A time of waiting, anticipation, contemplation.

The nights grow ever longer, the cold ever stronger.

And we wait.

When I was a child, I always knew Christmas was drawing near when both my parents disappeared into the kitchen and the pots and pans started clanking and the smells started wafting throughout our home.

Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Allspice. Cloves.

These are the smells of Christmas.

Flaky crusted tourtiere. Mince tarts and lemon squares.

Christmas cakes soaking in a bath of rum.

Buttertarts and sugar cookies. Lemon loaves and fresh baked bread.

These are the tastes.

Both my parents loved to cook, and at Christmas they always outdid themselves.

Sometimes, they even competed.

One Christmas, when I was in my twenties, I flew from my home in Alberta to my parent’s home in Germany.  I arrived at Frankfurt airport to be greeted by both  my parents. Before the hugs and kisses were barely finished my father and mother handed me a plate with two buttertarts. Looking at them, they seemed identical. Light flaky pastry cooked to golden brown. Edges perfectly crimped.

“What’s this?” I asked. I had no idea the hellstorm I was about to unleash.

“We want you to decide,” my mother told me. “Which one is better? Your dad doesn’t put walnuts in. I do.”

I still don’t know what caused that year to become, The Great ButterTart Bake-off, but no matter how vehemently I insisted I thought they both looked perfect, and with or without walnuts was always a personal preference, they were adamant that I make a judgement.

I copped out.

I don’t like buttertarts I told them.

Yes you do my mother insisted.

And the war was on.

Me insisting I didn’t.

She insisting I did.

My father, quickly recognizing the state of affairs was close to bubbling over into a boiling mess of angry words and hurt feelings, bundled us up into the car for the 2 hour drive home. As we sped south on the Autobahn, my mother kept asking me to try the buttertarts.  I kept refusing with a petulant, I don’t like them.

No matter the distance nor time between us,  my mother and I still knew how to engage in our most dysfunctional patterns without even taking a bite out of the possibility of something different.

It was our way. From childhood to adulthood, my mother would ask me to do something ‘her way’. I would insist on doing it mine, regardless of where I was or whether I thought her way was a good idea, or not.

Neither my father nor my mother make buttertarts anymore. My father passed away 20 years ago and my mother no longer has a kitchen. She lives in a lodge where meals are served and cooking by residents is not on the menu. Plus, at 94, her arthritic fingers cannot hold a rolling pin nor take the pain of cutting out the little pastry shells for the tarts.

 

I miss the smells of Christmas that permeated our home when I was growing up. The busyness in the kitchen. My father rattling pans, my mother cleaning up after him. I miss the lemon loaves and cherry cakes, the gingerbread men and shortbread cookies. And most of all, I miss my mother’s buttertarts. Because, even though my father’s were good, I prefer my buttertarts with walnuts.

Namaste.


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turning the page the new year

welcome 2016 copy

 

 

As the old year rings its last bell to herald in the new,
a page turner of a story unfolds on the calendar of days flowing, one into the next
where all that matters is for each of us to
create love, share love, be love with every breath.

May your new year be filled with all that matters to you flowing in Love.

 


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Fruitcake and other crimes of the season

FullSizeRender (63)As predictable as Santa riding the skies in a sleigh full of gifts and Baby Jesus’ appearance in the Crêche on Christmas Eve, six weeks before the big day, my father would retreat to the kitchen and commandeer the mixing bowls and measuring spoons and lock himself away to prepare for the onslaught of holiday entertaining he and my mother loved to share in.

With a snap of his wrist he would fling a tea towel over one shoulder, tie an apron around his waist and haul out the big stainless steel bowl, the cutting knives and board, the flour, candied fruit and nuts, and the Rum. It was essential to the mix he told me. It’s why you started making fruitcakes six weeks before Christmas. They needed time to soak up the Rum’s juices and become all besotted with their festive bliss.

Okay. So my father never said ‘besotted with festive bliss’, but it’s what I remember most about his Christmas fruitcake. I was besotted by the festive bliss its preparation heralded in.

My daughters will tell you making fruitcake is a crime of the season. I call it a tradition worthy of annual celebration.

And this year was no different. Once I decided I needed a good douse of connection to the comfort of Christmases past, that is.

It started with the realization that I was trying to avoid Christmas. My daughter and her fiance had told me they would not be coming home on Boxing Day as planned. They were coming in January and with the wedding next September, her graduation in May, 30th birthday in June and a spree of returns to Calgary for friends’ weddings throughout the summer, that was all they could fit in.

What? Christmas couldn’t happen without Alexis.

The knowing of her absence sent me into a slump. My heart murmured nostalgically for Christmases past when The Night Before Christmas was spent watching “Love Actually” and the three of us would sit beside the sparkling lights of the tree sharing laughter and stories of life and eating all kinds of delicious treats, but not the fruitcake I’d insist they try and they’d insist was really the grossest crime of the season. Then, just before midnight they’d open their one gift (PJs of course) and I would tuck them both into the same bed to drift off to sleep and dream of sugar plum fairies and nutcrackers marching in the night.

With the announcement our Christmas, early or not, would not include my eldest daughter, the clouds of Scrooge descended and I banned all celebration from my heart. Not to mention, work was so busy I had worked every Friday leading into December. I work four days a week. Friday is my day off but given the workload, I kept giving into the call to be there, because, I told myself, I had no other choice. I had to get the work done. Work needed me.

Don’t you hate it when you cross the very same boundaries you refuse to set?

And then, Black Friday arrived and the humbug clouds dispersed when C.C. and I decided to fly Alexis home for an early Christmas celebration.

I had to get into gear fast.

It may not have been the beginning of November, but the nuts and candied fruit were calling. I had to get the fruitcakes soaking.

My father was probably stirring in his grave, if he was buried in the soils of the earth that is. Thankfully, his ashes have become part of the sea of life so only his spirit of Christmases past might have given a tiny (perhaps not so tiny) grumble of dismay as I substituted wheat flour for gluten free and contemplated leaving out the nuts too.

Just too many gluten sensitivities and celiac relations to warrant flour in my cakes, know what I mean? I truly did mean to leave out the almonds (those nut allergies are pervasive) but realized in the end, substituting wheat flour with almond flour constitutes using nuts. I threw in the almonds and other achenes and caryopsides too! (Yup. I looked up synonyms for nuts and loved what I found even if they don’t quite fit the fruitcake.)

When I told Alexis about the mix-up with the flours and informed her she would not be getting a cake in her stocking she laughed in relief and my heart breathed easily. It isn’t the tradition of making the cake I love so much. It is their teasing I treasure.

To my daughters fruitcake may be a crime of the season but to me, it is a song of the heart. Of memory stirring in the comfort of my father’s kitchen where I would sit and watch him stir and mix and buzz around the kitchen concocting Christmas treats for all to enjoy. Of memories of the joy of hearing my daughters tease me over the years for succumbing to the call of throwing candied fruit and flour into a bowl and dousing it with rum then calling it cake.

Honestly girls. There is no crime in that. Only love.

 

 

 


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Christmas Crackers and ills of the season

When do the guests arrive?

When do the guests arrive?

It hit fast and unexpectedly.

I awoke early on Boxing Day all set to begin the preparation for Christmas dinner, the day after edition. 15 people. 15 individually wrapped Christmas crackers all set to be pulled apart. 15 serviettes each with a thought-provoking question waiting to be answered once our guests sat down at the table which I had yet to set. My friend Wendy had given me the serviettes for Christmas. I was excited to put them to use.

I made coffee but the thought of my usual Christmas eggnog brew turned my stomach. ‘What’s up with that?’ I wondered as I walked into the office, opened up my computer and began to make my grocery list. The grocery store opened at 8. I wanted to be first in line.

I didn’t make it.

By 7 I was back in bed.

‘I think I’ve got the flu,’ I told C.C. as I crawled back under the covers. My body was shivering in spite of the fact I felt like I was burning up.

‘Oh Oh’, he replied cautiously moving as far away from me in the bed as he could get. ‘Whatever you’ve got, I don’t want.’

Ah, how quickly the blush of newly wed first-Christmas as a married couple bliss evaporates at even the hint of the flu.

‘It’s okay,’ he quickly rallied. ‘I’ll do the shopping. You rest.’

I was kind of hoping he’d say we’d cancel.

In between visits to the bathroom, I wallowed in self-pity and thought about all the things that needed doing before dinner was served. Would C.C. do the yams the way I wanted? Would he remember to serve the cream corn (He didn’t by the way, but not his fault. He’d put the tins on the countertop and I’d put them back into the cupboard to get them out of the way. He did suggest we were not lacking in food. I know he’s right).

C.C. set off to the grocery store and I got up to set the table.

I didn’t think I could trust him to make it look as inviting as I wanted it to be. Dressing the table is ‘my thing’, know what I mean?

I love to not just set, but decorate it. And Christmas is the best excuse for over-indulging my Martha Stewart aspirations. Sparkles, stars, shimmer and glitz, it’s all okay at Christmas.

Except, my annual gluttony of over the top decorating took back-seat to my desire to keep my stomach from hurling itself outside my body. I kept my gestures small and kept the decorating simple.

It looked lovely. Especially the hand-crafted Christmas crackers set at each place. I’d spent hours over the past month creating them. They were filled with all the usuals, plus a blessing I’d written for each person. On each, I’d affixed name tags so the crackers could do double duty. A festive touch and a place marker.

By the time C.C. got back from the grocery store, I was back in bed wishing I hadn’t gotten up in the first place.

Note to self: Being compulsive does not sit well with flu. Flu always wins.

As I lay in bed bemoaning my fate (why oh why did someone have to remind me at the Christmas Eve gathering we were at that 30 million people died from influenza at the end of the First World War?), I could hear C.C. humming along to Christmas tunes, rattling pans and chopping vegetables. I wasn’t worried about the dinner. C.C. is amazing in the kitchen. I just wanted to be there with him.

It was not to be.

I did rally a couple of times. I had to make the special casserole for the vegetarian/gluten free guests and I needed to make biscuits for the ham.

I know. I know. Compulsiveness is the last thing to go, even with the flu.

And I did manage to visit for a bit with our guests and even opened gifts. I did not, however, manage to eat even a tiny morsel of the amazing meal C.C. created and to which our guests all contributed.

But when it came time to answer the question on my serviette, I knew what I needed to say. “What is the best decision you’ve ever made?”

To find value in all things. To know that no matter what decision I’ve made, what step I’ve taken, what life-happenstance has appeared, to find value in the outcome of my decision and the things that appear on my road.

And the value of having the flu for Christmas dinner?

I got to appreciate my husband’s willingness to jump in and create a meal everyone enjoyed. And even though I didn’t feel up to sitting and chatting and being part of the festivities, it was sheer delight to lie in my bed and listen from behind my closed door to the voices and laughter of our family and friends gathered together under our roof. It felt comforting. Warm. Like I was immersed in a warm bath of love and friendship. And I was.

And bonus, I got to spend three days in bed reading and watching Netflix without one ounce of guilt spoiling my indulgence.

Now that’s a holiday ill with benefits!