Story Of A Bear

It was worth a shot but it hadn’t worked.  We were very mistaken to think that the one she loved could be so easily replaced.

There he lied…on the floor… stubbornly ignored by the toddler who refused to acknowledge him after she threw him there.  Was it the fourth or fifth time now?

She stood there, refusing to look at it.  Her small body turned away with downcast eyes.  She didn’t want to look at us either.  She hadn’t thrown a tantrum.  She hadn’t cried.  Yet her communication was clear. ‘This is not my Teddy.’

For three nights, we had woken up to her heart-breaking sobs and her crying for Teddy.  She had lost it somewhere.  I had searched everywhere in the house but couldn’t find it.  Her real teddy was a tan colour, sort of like pine wood.  Most of its fur had been sucked off its nose. His foot had, ‘Baby’s first Teddy’ embroidered on it.

The one lying on the floor was not it.  I couldn’t find an exact replica.  I found another bear which I thought was at least equally cute.  I should have known it wasn’t about cuteness.  It was about attachment.

When we found her real Teddy bear about several days later in the church nursery, our daughter’s reaction was a bit strange.  She held it but didn’t react.  It was as if she had given up hope of ever having it again and now wasn’t sure if he was really there.  She didn’t throw it down on the floor but she didn’t smile either.  She seemed numb.  I realised that my poor sixteen-month old daughter had experienced her first form of emotional stress and shock.  She never lost him again.

Tara and Teddy

As for the replacement bear, we later gave him to my son. He was then passed down a few times till my fourth child had him.  We moved from the US to the UK with the bear. Then one day, it may have been a birthday or Father’s Day, my daughter gave him to my husband as a gift.  This bear is now nearly thirty years old.  He has never been truly loved – not in the sense of say, ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ sort of way.  I suppose my husband and I have felt the closest to sympathy towards it.  Poor rejected bear.  I hadn’t realised Jim kept it all these years.

When World Vision said they needed 700 Teddy bears to be placed on the steps of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, Jim donated our sad bear towards it.  The 700 bears were used to raise awareness. They symbolise the 700 unaccompanied refugee children that are arriving each week in Uganda after fleeing their homes in South Sudan. The children had been separated from their family.  They have witnessed horrible atrocities.  Many have seen members of their own family killed.  This has left most of the children psychologically traumatised.  They arrive in Uganda terrified, hungry and exhausted.

Our Bear showing with the red circle around it. Photo Source: World Vision UK

Uganda have been exemplary when it comes to welcoming the refugees.  Hundreds of thousands have arrived and have been given sanctuary, compassion and a plot of land.  However, aid is still urgently needed to provide basic needs such as food, clean water and medical supplies.  Many of the children need psychological therapy for what they have suffered.  You can read more about World Vision’s campaign in the UK by clicking here.  To learn more about World Vision’s work in South Sudan, click here.

You may wonder what World Vision will be doing with those 700 teddy bears, once their Bears On Stairs campaign is over.  The answer is that every teddy bear is going to a child in one of the refugee camps in Uganda.  I am so happy to know that our poor rejected brear will finally go somewhere where he is loved.  In my heart, I am sending him off with a prayer that he will bring comfort to a child who needs it.

Namaste

How Do We Become More Loving?

Oftentimes, when I have learned a powerful lesson, I embrace it but I don’t verbalize it.  Other times, I verbalize it but the words fall very short.  Today I read the following excerpts from Elizabeth Lesser’s, The Seeker’s Guide.  This is what I want to say and often want to explain.  I am so grateful to her for putting it so well. I add just this one imput: We cannot love well in our own humaness.  We need to tap into the source of love in order to do that.  God is that source, for God is love.

‘…Love is the fruit of spiritual labour; it is not a technique you try or a dogma you adopt.  Love is the secret you unmask yourself to find; it is the foundation of the spiritual life, the destination where all roads of the journey lead. But it does no one any good to rush the process, nor to enforce loving behaviour.  Loving behaviour is unenforceable and herein lies the mystery of the spiritual life and the mistaken role of religions.  You cannot legislate forgiveness; you cannot make hate illegal; you cannot require love.  Just as you can’t pull a shoot out of the ground and demand that it flower then and there, love cannot be forced.  Spiritual work prepares the ground.

Love will blossom when our egos and our wounds and our fears have been worked with, tilled into the soil of our understanding.

When we do the hard work of stilling the mind and opening the heart, we come into love….

You can’t force yourself to love others.  If you could, the world wouldn’t be in the mess it is now…’

–Elizabeth Lesser

Beautiful Easter Eggs – Naturally

Happy Easter everyone and a very Happy Orthodox Easter too!  This year both Easters fall on the same day uniting all Christians. So Hristos Se Rodi (Срећан Ускрс) to all my Serbian relatives.  Christ is Risen indeed.

Today I just had to share how my very talented cousin Aleksandra, coloured her Easter eggs.  I think this is so incredibly beautiful.  She uses onion skins for the colour rather than food colouring and sprigs of herbs for the impressions.  Her technique is below.

 

 

 

To Make these beautiful Easter eggs:

Wrap the egg and herbs in stocking very tightly knotting the edge of each stocking.
Put a dozen eggs in cold water, with the outer peels of 8-10 onions.  Add 3 tablespoons white vinegar. Bring to boil, lower flame then cook about 15 mins. Turn off flame and let sit in pot until cool or take out earlier when you like the color.

Although Aleksandra used brown onion skins, she says red onions, beets or red cabbage can also be used for a more vibrant colour.  She also used a variety of herbs but thyme was her favourite.

Tip: If you re-use the liquid dye, the next batch of eggs will be darker.

Tip 2: When placing herbs on the eggs, wet them first with a bit of water to help them stick.

 

The Scene In Beauty And The Beast Which Reminds Me Of Easter

Photo by Walt Disney Studios

After a lot of deliberation, discussion and uncertainty, I finally decided to give the new Beauty and the Beast film a try.  I had watched the trailers unimpressed and felt quite dubious as to whether Emma Watson could do the role of Belle justice. Yet after hearing lots of good reviews, my husband,  daughter Brianna and I went to see it yesterday afternoon.

Despite the fact that we went on a Saturday afternoon during Easter weekend (what was I thinking?!), and despite the children sitting directly behind us banging our chairs occasionally, we absolutely loved it.  More than loved it–we were all very emotionally moved.

I hate to admit it but Emma Watson was great as Belle.  Emma’s Belle was young, sweet and fearless–a girl with hopes, dreams AND sense. The set, costumes and song numbers were dazzling….sometimes maybe a bit too dazzling. The acting of all the cast was superb.  Kevin Kline as Belle’s father was especially endearing. The CGI of the beast’s face and expressions were exceptionally well done.

I don’t want to give too much away, but for me one of the highlights is that it’s mainly a  live copy of the original but with added new songs and subtle twists.

This brings me to the one scene I want to share as it is Easter.

::::::::::::::::::Spoiler alert!  Stop reading if you haven’t seen the film!:::::::::::::::::::::::

In one scene of the film, Mrs Potts expresses to Belle that in her opinion they are all to blame for the Prince’s downfall.  She tells Belle that he had been a small boy when his mother died.  His father was not a noble character and he raised the boy to be just like him.  Mrs Potts regrets that she and the other servants allowed that to happen. This explains why the Enchantress chose to include them all in the curse.

Later, near the very end of the scene, the beast, having been shot by Gaston lies dying.  Unlike the animated version, the last petal falls and turns to ash before Belle declares her love. The inhabitants of the castle: Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts all become inanimate objects. The beast dies.  It looks as if Belle has declared her love for the beast too late to save him.  However, Agatha (the hag/enchantress) is there looking on and she has overheard Belle. She restores the rose and shows mercy by lifting the curse and restoring everyone to their former (but now redemptive selves) and allowing the beast to live again.

Perhaps the scene was never meant to be an allegorical message of atonement, salvation and unconditional love. It was probably just a coincidence that the movie came out a month before Easter and that the well-known scene had been subtly yet powerfully changed. Although I’d be interested to know why the change was made, at this moment it doesn’t matter.  For now, I want to just feel the magic.

On this Easter day, I want to embrace the deeper magic–the message that even onto death, God’s love and mercy is never too late.

Quote For Today: Hara Hachi Bu!

Okinawa is an island quite famous for its longevity. It has a higher rate than most of the world of people living till 100+.

“Hara hachi bu!” is what the older folk of Okinawa say before they eat.  It is a Confucius-inspired saying which means, “Eat till you are 80% full.”

Why?  Because it takes about twenty minutes for your stomach to receive the message from your brain that you are full.  For most of us, if we ate till we believed we are only 80% full, we would actually feel more full within the next twenty minutes.

So there you have it, wisdom from the Okinawans!

What Will You Bring To This New Year?

 

Picture Source

Picture Source

In the past, whenever I have contemplated the concept of beginning anew, my thoughts and plans tended to centre on improving upon something. Whether it was the adamant self-declaration that I was finally going to eat healthy or the fierce determination that I would write more, beginning anew meant that something about me or my situation or environment had to change.

The start of a new year usually marks the moment for me (and for many of us) when contemplation and some sort of action finally meet up and a fair attempt to change something begins.  This is known popularly as a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ and it is often sparked by some sort of dissatisfaction.  We are either dissatisfied with ourselves or our lives or our level of happiness.  The sad thing is that we often fail to keep up with our resolutions and then we become disappointed in ourselves.

This year however, I had an inspiring thought.  It was one of those wonderfully strange occurrence when a quiet thought appears unsought while I was in busy activity. It entered my heart and began to gently engage me, saying, ‘Look at me!’ The thought was this: Practice being less selfish. Make a difference to the happiness level of others.

To which the conclusion I came to was that even if I become forgetful and manage only to practice non-selfishness sometimes, I would have still done so much good because of those other times. Let’s face it, we sometimes think we know what we want but we often don’t or at least don’t achieve it.  If we focus on others, we are at least achieving it for others.  Ann Frank wrote, ‘How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.’

Of course, I am not suggesting that we sacrifice ourselves to the detriment of our health and well-being.  What I am suggesting is that small sacrifices for others can go a long way to making someone feel valued. To start with:

Turn off the TV to phone a friend or write a letter

Visit someone and surprise them with a service or small gift

Say, ‘Yes’ (when it feels like the right thing)

Listen without interrupting

Write a praise letter to a Manager of someone who gave you great customer service (Inspired by my husband who always does this–Thanks Dearheart)

Organize meals for someone who just had a baby or just came out of hospital

Accept every gift graciously (Inspired by a story author Susun Weed tells about accepting a salami sandwich from a stranger sitting next to her on the plane–even though she was a Vegetarian, she thanked her and ate it!)

Offer a cold drink to your neighbour who is outside doing some DIY on a summer day

Scrape the ice off your spouse’s car for them

Walk your neighbour’s dog when they are ill

Pay genuine honest compliments

My grandmother once saved all the colour by numbers pictures in the Sunday papers so when I visited, she had something for me to do.

My sister-in-law collected story books on CD from newspapers and gave them to my kids as a surprise gift.

These are just a few ideas.  If you have any good ideas of your own, please comment below.

Happy Belated New Year Everyone!

 

In the Still Hours of the Morning

Photo Source

Photo Source

Thomas Kempis  1379 – 1471

If we live in peace ourselves, we in turn may bring peace to others.  A peaceable man does more good than a learned one.

In the still hours of the morning,  I had decided to hope. As I quietly got out of bed, I assured myself that peace can be found. I crept down the stairs with hope in my heart.  Stepping over my dog who laid sprawled on the mat, I opened my livingroom door.  By simply hoping, I was already beginning to perceive peace.

However, that was not the way my day ended last night.  Last night I was worrying.  Christmas will soon be here and I still had a lot to do.  I had been doing a lot of rushing around.  I upset a friend because I hadn’t rung her in two weeks.  My husband was sad that I hadn’t spent time with him in awhile.  I was conscious that I hadn’t phoned my mother in ages.  Even my teenage children commented that I was always disappearing after dinner.  I LOVE Christmas but I craved a ‘Silent night, Holy night’ leading up to Christmas.  I knew I had to stop and slow down.  God knew that too which is probably why he woke me up at 4:30 this morning. I needed time in silence.  When all around me is awake, the noise can be quite deafening to my spirit. Where did I go?  I lost myself because I lost my way.

In the still hours of the morning, I crept into my living room.  Turning on the Christmas tree and lighting a candle, I created the ambience to be a cosy haven. Propped against my cushions and covered in a fleecy throw, my heart was leading me back.  I discover that I am still here. My hand is being held in a loving grasp as I begin my day in prayer.  All is calm, all is bright.

As I contemplate the quote from Thomas Kempis, one thing comes to mind.  In order to ‘live in peace ourselves’, we must persue times of silence. Peace does not materialize out of chaos.  Peace is found from that wellspring within.

 

Christmas MUST Be Wonderful…

Picture Source

Picture Source

My husband and I sometimes have discussions about ‘Christmas-time’.  We both have our opinions as to when it is. Jim is English and more of a traditionalist. For him, Christmas time begins on the 25th of December and last twelve days.  For me, partly because of my American upbringing, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas day – two days longer than the advent season.  He celebrates Christmas when it happens, while I celebrate it as something to look forward to. He enjoys meeting up with family and having the big Christmas feast(s).  I enjoy the preparations and evoking the ambiance of Christmas.  I love having my tree up, lighting my Christmas-y candles, going shopping and seeing the Christmas decorations and watching Christmas movies.

Of course, there is no right way or wrong way to celebrate Christmas.  I know of many different ways people celebrate Christmas.  I also know that for some, Christmas is a very difficult time of year.  Some choose not to celebrate it at all.  Strange as it may seem, I totally get it.  The problem is, we put way too much importance on the ‘how’ of Christmas.  I mean Christmas has to be wonderful right? We have to make sure everyone is happy.  So we negotiate with our spouses as to who we visit and when and who visits us.  We try desperately hard to get the right gifts for people otherwise misunderstandings happen.  (You thought I was a size 12?!) We bake till our backs break only to find out that Bree won’t eat cookies with oats in it, Jaz won’t eat anything with red food colouring (on the fact that she is a veggie) and Sara’s daughter has a nut allergy.  Not to mention all the dieters out there who won’t eat anything at all!

Then there are those who have Christmas memories where things went wrong.  A death. A break-up.  A vicious argument.  Which isn’t fair because like I said, we believe in the importance that Christmas must be wonderful.

We also believe that Christmas is about getting together with family.  However, many will be spending Christmas alone.  Some will not be doing this by choice.  There is a sad growing crisis in the UK of elderly people being abandoned by their family.  These people have grown-up children and grand-children who have cut them off.  Every Christmas, they sit alone at home; no visit, no phone call, not even a card.  As hard as it is to be abandoned, the feeling is compounded at Christmas.  They have many memories of Christmases past when they use to spend it with their family.  Christmas use to be wonderful.  Now they are alone.

Also, that first Christmas after a divorce…dismal!  There is a large family get together and everyone is either fussing over you because they feel sorry for you or they are avoiding talking about your ex altogether.  Then there is Auntie Jo, who perhaps is going a bit senile in her old age.  She keeps asking you where the no-good bum is.  Only she says, ‘Where is that lovely husband of yours?’

Christmas after divorce can be harder still if there are children involved. The anger and resentment may still be there.  Even if you and your ex have been able to work out Christmas arrangements with the kids amicably, the kids have voices of their own.  They may not want to spend it with you and visit Auntie Jo.  On the other hand, they may not be putting up a fuss at all, but you have placed all this pressure on yourself to buy them the best gifts and make it the best Christmas ever for them.  Why?  Because Christmas must be wonderful.

Many people take on a second job over Christmas to afford the gifts they must buy.  Many are in jobs which become more stressful around Christmas.  If you work for a delivery company or are in a retail related job then that usually means lots of late nights, over-time hours and angry customers.  After all, they are paying your wages by buying those special gifts which need to arrive in time otherwise Christmas won’t be wonderful.

Why do we do it?  Why do we put all this hard work and pressure on ourselves to make Christmas perfect?  Why are the gifts, the food and the festivities so important to get right?  Why does it have to be so wonderful?

Every year I find myself speculating on what I will and won’t do during the leading up to Christmas.  The truth is, I do want it to be wonderful for everyone.  I also want as little stress as possible.

How each of us celebrates Christmas is up to us.  However, if you have some concerns as to how Christmas will be this year.  If you are too busy and worried about stress or sinking into depression, then it is time to start planning.  What will bring you peace this Christmas? I’m not suggesting that you think only of yourself.  I am however, giving us all permission to give a bit of love to ourselves as well.

Christmas isn’t about an image.  It isn’t about outward perfection.  Christmas is the celebration of a mysterious, mystical and wonderful event.  As I ponder on that event, the imagery that it evokes isn’t garland, platefuls of food or presents wrapped in metallic paper.  There is no imagery but a starlit night which is sensed more than seen.

Picture Source

Picture Source

It is a feeling of profound silence.  A silence which grows deep within and warms the heart. A silence which is reflective of that mysterious, mystical moment in history….the birth of Christ. That very first Christmas was wonderful.  I suppose every Christmas must be wonderful if we but allow it to reflect that first.

Well Meaning But Misunderstood

Photo Source

Photo Source

If you are wondering what’s wrong with teenagers, adults, society or the world in general, you are not alone.  There are hundreds out there who ask those same questions and hundreds more who claim to know the reasons why.  Do some research and you can find all kinds of opinions, statistics and psychological reasons on the internet, tv, newspapers and books.  The problem is, the ones who claim to know the reasons why the world is a mess are also a part of …well, the same world.  Often when these questions are being asked, there is an added word at the end.  The word is ‘today’.  So you hear questions like,

“What’s wrong with the youth today?”

“What’s wrong with society today?”

“What’s wrong with the world today?”

Have you noticed the peculiarity?  These same questions, with the added word ‘today’, have been asked over and over again over scores of years.  Yet, the world has changed.  Society has changed in many ways and in many countries as well.  This begs the question, ‘What hasn’t changed?’

While there may be several answers to that question, there was one answer in particular that came to me this morning during my quiet time.  It is something that is one of the major causes of contention in any given relationship.  It is that human beings are not always good givers, receivers or conduits when it comes to communicating.  We are all constantly misinterpreting, miscommunicating and misrepresenting one another and what follows is sometimes the laughable statement we sometimes make such as,

“You don’t make any sense!” or “You’re talking in riddles.”

which is often answered in denial.

Jesus is probably one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted individual in history.  His words were misunderstood then and they are misunderstood now.  I can’t help thinking that perhaps when Jesus spoke plainly, his words led to confusion.  Maybe that is why he chose to speak in parables, not to confuse, but to help people to understand the deeper meaning of things.  This makes arguing about religion ridiculous.  None of us can say we know what Jesus was trying to say about everything.  The only clear thing for sure was his love.

I believe that most relationships can be transformed into peaceful, respectful relationships when we truly work hard and patiently at understanding each other.  Yes, there are things which can get in the way and reasons why you need to keep your distance from some individuals. However, there are some relationships which are unavoidable such as family members or those you work with.  There are other relationships which are worth salvaging because it normally works but something went temporarily awry during a conversation one day.  Then there are some relationships which are so great, they are worth nurturing.

In order to improve your relationship with someone, you need to keep the channels of communication open by relinquishing the belief that someone has to be right within a discussion.  The truth is, sometimes it is not possible to work out who is right and other times it’s just we’re not clearly understanding what the other person is saying.  It is better to honor their beliefs, listen with empathy and to have an open mind (you never know, you might learn something).  If it is a case that it is important to get your point across, due so with clarity and respect.  Don’t talk over them and give them the chance to respond.

After you have had ample time to practice respectful, open-minded communication, you might find that you have an all new appreciation for people’s uniqueness. You might even find that ‘loving your neighbour’ has become effortless.

 

Thought For Thursday: Curiosity

Photo Source

Photo Source

“Never lose a Holy curiosity.”

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

                                                                                    —–Albert Einstein

Curiosity is the battery pack for the development of our species.  It is what fuels our ambitions and our tenacity of spirit. It motivates us in a surprising way–by exciting our thoughts of possibilities and giving us hope in our inventiveness.  Without our innate curiosity, we would give up without trying or even thinking of trying.  Without curiosity, there would be no wonderment; no exploration of anything new, perhaps not even love.

Although we are born with it, curiosity needs cultivating.  By fanning the flames of your curiousity, you bring to life more positivity and inspiration. Like yeast to dough,  curiosity has a way of increasing and expanding any element or concept which it is added to.  You want to increase in knowledge?  Begin with curiosity.  Are you unsure how to go about something?  Be curious.  Don’t know what your purpose in life is?  Follow your curiosity.  Try something.  Ponder.  Explore.  Poke about a bit and see what you find.

Now add Holiness into the mix.  Be still.  Be silent.  Pray.  Meditate. Pick up your tool of choice.  Your camera.  Your pen.  Paintbrush.  Keyboard. Use your hands to create.  Your feet to explore.  Your mind to think. Your heart to ponder.