Beholding the Bliss … or … Missing the Moments??

The most nourishing part of my days is typically during in the darkened stillness of the pre-dawn morning. I wipe the sleep out of my eyes as I pour my coffee … and then … with the warm ambiance of battery-operated candlelight/twinkle lights, I nestle into the sublime solace as I wait for the sun to greet me through the picture window. Many years ago, the old boy switched out the teeny, tiny dining room window and replaced it with an extra large 9′ x10′ bay window that allows my eyes to effortlessly touch the world outdoors from the seated comfort of my reclining loveseat.

Yep. This is where/how I get centered for my day. For the past 325 days, I have been a student of A Course in Miracles and have listened to one lesson each and every day orated by Marianne Williamson. With a solid spiritual start to my day, I then follow it up with some journalling. Its been almost a year since I started meeting on the page in a private Facebook group with some very beautiful souls. We each share our answers to the monthly ‘journal prompt’ for the day. I found the questions on Pintrest. The connection and opportunity to engage with one another in such a deep and meaningful way has also become one of my most nourishing acts of self care.

At any rate, as I was typing up my reflections to the question of the day on Wednesday, November 3, 2021 … my eyes lifted … and I caught a glimpse of the most delicate stream of pink cascading across the ever brightening blue in the sky. My heart skipped a beat because I knew that what was visible to me from where I was seated was just a brief invitation to the magical gift that generated that colorful sky.

The magnificence of that moment came into fuller view as I drew closer to the window. I was so enchanted with it’s infinite expanse, I wandered upstairs to the balcony off my bedroom to capture a fuller appreciation of the glorious gift of this sunrise. I could see it continued beyond my field of vision so I went to the other side of the house … and … “Wow”. Those colors refused to be contained. They exploded exquisitely over the entire expanse of the Eastern sky.

I snapped a few photos of it with my phone. Something about those rich hues touched something deep inside of me … I can’t find the words to explain it, but I stood there, letting that delicious moment land fully within my awareness and completely capture my consciousness. I was so enamored by it that I posted this collage on Facebook so others could share in my delight!

Photo Credit: Karen Lanser

And then, before you know it … it was gone. Yep. Here is what it looked like just a few moments later.

Photo Credit: Karen Lanser

The fleeting nature of this divinely inspired artwork struck me in a way that it really never had before. I wondered how many times I might have failed to adequately appreciate these awe-inspiring offerings over my six plus decades on this planet?? And, that thought, inspired more curiosity within me around how many other beautiful, beneficent blessings are perpetually being bestowed upon me as I breeze unconsciously through the moments of my day? How many of these remarkable instances have been gifted to me that I never, ever even recognized … never mind made the time to fully unwrap and embrace??

I know that I don’t typically miss the really big and bold blessings that might be dropped along my path. I am thinking more about the ones that are not quite so glaring … the ones that unless one is wide awake and paying full attention might silently slip by without any fanfare. I am thinking about those instances when we might miss the chance to actually let them land in our hearts, minds and souls. I found myself questioning how many times I have robbed myself of being moved in a meaningful way. I reflected on how many times I might have missed a chance to co-create something glorious with the Universe in any given moment? I suspected there were oodles and oodles and oodles of them. As that truth became apparent, I felt a blush of regret wash over me.

Perhaps Mary Oliver is entirely and completely correct when she suggests:

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

Whoa?? What if? What if we are so mindlessly racing through our days that we are simply skimming the surface instead of living our lives to the absolute fullest? How many moments are we missing?

With deepest appreciation to Katharina Tina Rempel for this incredible capture. I adore her photography. She pays rapt attention … she is eager to be astonished … and she generously shares her experiences by posting many of her pictures with us on social media. Many years ago I asked for her permission to add some quotes to her photos so I could share them too. She graciously agreed. Thank you again Tina.

As we are rounding the corner towards two years since the pandemic began, it is tempting to get caught up in everything that is ‘wrong’ with our world right now. Covid-19 brought with it much more than a virus to darken our days. Fear has been the prevalent vibrational frequency since the start of this pandemic. And, sadly … it is almost impossible to escape that energy … even now … some 22 months into it.

But what if we countered the negativity in our space with more deliberate focus. What if we decided to look for moments of awe and wonder and kindness and compassion. What if we spent as much time sharing all of that benevolence as we do sharing the fearful memes that currently populate our minds and social media?

Rick Hanson PhD, a renowned psychologist and author, has written much about the neuroscience of lasting happiness. He reminds us that our brain is wired to notice the challenges, problems and issues. The ‘positives’ are expendable, because in terms of ensuring our survival, the ‘good stuff’ is entirely expendable. The ‘negatives’ however are never ignored by our neurobiology … and rather … become collected to the point where they can eclipse our perceptions of the favorable moments in our lives.

Hanson contends that positive experiences need to held in our awareness for at least 10 to 20 seconds for them to register in emotional memory … and … for the protein synthesis to activate neural growth. He, much like Mary Oliver, recommends that we:

Photo Credit: Karen Lanser

What if the magic of the moments can be multiplied and magnified simply by our conscious awareness? What if … a delight is truly doubled in the time it takes for us to simply take 10 or 20 seconds to simply soak it in and/or share it with others?

  • What might our days look like if we held tight to a random dot of light … and … let it brighten our path?
  • What if we really soaked in that a smile from stranger?
  • What if we curated our connections with more care, curiosity and compassion?
  • What if we kindled the kindness we extend/receive until we actually felt a swell in our hearts?
  • What if we really savored the next bite?
  • What if we leaned into our laughter just a little bit longer … until we could feel it warming our souls?
  • What if we mindfully let our lips linger beyond the customary peck? What if our hugs were less hurried?
  • What if we looked for what is right and good in each moment rather than what is wrong and bad?

What if we really paid more attention and consciously engaged with our lives just a little bit more intently and deliberately? I wonder what we would notice …

Photo Credit: Karen Lanser

With heartfelt determination to widen and deepen and mindfully shift my gaze … 🧡 Karen 💗

P.S. I noticed a hint of pink gently floating across the sky after I got home from work recently (November 20, 2021), I decided to heed Mary Oliver’s urgings. I chose to ‘pay attention’ to it’s call. I felt entirely awed and ‘astonished’. So, I thought I should also ‘tell you about it’ with a couple of collages.

Photo Credits: Karen Lanser
The palette of colors that unfolded over the hour I was witness to it … was nothing short of extra-ordinary!! 🙌

The Hero We Have Been Waiting For …

When I saw this meme on social media, I knew I needed to speak more about it. As a counsellor/therapist, who works with trauma on a regular basis, I have come to realize that THIS awareness becomes the bridge to our healing.

We, ourselves, are the hero we have been waiting for. Yes. No one is coming to save us from the wounding of our prior lived experiences. We, ourselves, have the opportunity to honor our own healing with so many powerful and transformative therapeutic practices that are rooted in understanding how overwhelming experiences happening on the outside shape us on the inside.

Healing ‘what happens inside of us’ as a result of ‘what happened outside of us’ is not something we can typically do alone. However, with the help of a well-trained therapist we can seek to find the source of our internal pain. Once we know where it is rooted, we can more effectively heal.

And, when I speak of traumatic experiences … I am not just referring to explosions and accidents and abuse. While these are commonly called “big T” trauma there are many common causes of more complex trauma (often called “small ‘t’ trauma”) which are less obvious but can be even more deeply wounding and difficult to process than a single incident.

In general, trauma can emerge in the presence of any events, situations and circumstances that engage our ‘fight, flight, freeze, flop, fawn/fix’ stress responses. Especially, if/when the alarm/arousal in our system is not ameliorated by a timely return to a felt sense of ‘safety’ (emotionally, physically, mentally, socially etc). It’s complicated and I will not endeavor to explain all the layers and complexities here … but … the following gives you a sense of the defense systems that are primary protections for all of us. Flop is not discussed in this graphic … it is often termed “collapse/submit”. Fawn is sometimes called “please/appease”.

There are various names for the same autonomic nervous system responses but I think this will give you a fairly good sense of what happens when our ‘stress response’ is activated. We do not consciously choose our response. It is decided for us … by the part of the brain whose job it is to keep us safe … and the defense system that is activated will depend upon the situation. Your system might opt for ‘fight’ in one alarming situation and ‘fawn’ in another moment of threat.

Even in the presence of the same event, people’s internal experiences can be very unique and different for each and every one of us. An external event ‘triggers’ our internal stress response. Things that may be deeply distressing and overwhelming to one individual may not be as overwhelming to another. Often, things shift from scary and/or terrifying to ‘traumatic’ when we do not have adequate support to help us through them. If we have adequate support, we can experience horrible things without experiencing lingering ‘trauma’.

Trauma can also be triggered by the absence of things that should have happened. Believe it or not … lack of nurture, persistent neglect, abandonment/attachment disruption can be incredibly traumatizing. The highly respected ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study speaks to a number of stressful childhood experiences that can impact a person’s health and wellbeing over their lifetime.

Source Unknown

If any this conversation speaks to you … in any way … for any reason … even if you don’t understand why … do yourself a favor and seek out support from someone who has been trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and/or ART (Accelerated Resolution Therapy). Just press the ‘Find a Therapist’ link on either site. Have a conversation with them in order to ensure that the connection feels like a good ‘fit’.

Or, you may want to reach out to someone who is trained in other therapeutic modalities that also reach beyond your cognitive and conscious awareness! There are a number of them including: Somatic Experiencing, Hypnotherapy, RTT (Rapid Transformational Therapy) EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Techniques), Brain Spotting, Trauma Informed Yoga … to name a few. It’s important to choose something that feels right for you. Sometimes people have tried counselling or therapy but have not found it helpful due to a lack of easy and effortless rapport between the therapist and the client. Keep looking until you find someone that you feel really comfortable with.

Clinicians who are well versed in trauma responses are trained to work with the changes in your nervous system that were never completely processed when stressful things were happening around you. Often, these internal changes can leave us feeling like there is something ‘wrong’ with us. Often, a response that was very adaptive and helpful during a stressful time will not be beneficial at another point in our lives. In fact, repeating the choices and behavior that got us through one challenge will sometimes create more problems for us at a later date in our lives.

For example, although anxiety and depression have historically been pathologized and are often diagnosed as ‘disorders’, they are often a very typical responses to experiencing chronically stressful or persistently overwhelming events. While medications can make it easier to tolerate the disruptions in our neurobiology, they do not typically address the source of the problem. For example, if a person went to a doctor complaining of experiencing chronic headaches every morning … the doctor might prescribe Advil or Tylenol to relieve the persistent discomfort. These analgesics work … but … it would be far more effective is the doctor knew that you were consuming a bottle or two of wine every night.

The solutions look different if/when we have enough information. We can treat a ‘symptom’ (headache) or we can address the root cause (excessive alcohol consumption). Fortunately, our mental health services are finally moving in the direction of exploring and treating the causes not just the symptoms of our distress.

Professionally, I have been trained in both EMDR and ART. And personally, I have been on the path to healing for decades myself. I have done so much meaningful personal growth … but … I would say that these particular therapeutic interventions were so life-altering for me that they are likely the most beneficial of all the counselling/therapy I have engaged in over the years. They honored the internal origins of my distress, not just the symptoms of it. The depth and breadth of my own personal healing actually propelled me to get trained so I could offer the benefits to others.

We owe a lifetime of gratitude to Francine Shapiro and Laney Rosenzweig for inspiring these powerful forms of healing. I remain deeply grateful for the healing I have been able to support in the counselling room. The protocols are hard to explain … they might seem to be a bit ‘woohoo’. My clients have stated that if they hadn’t tried it, they would never have believed the difference it would make.

It’s hard to fathom that ‘bilateral stimulation’ (e.g. moving our eyes back and forth, tapping on the body left/right etc) invites the nervous system to process distress that has been locked into our neurobiology … and then … help return it to a state of regulation and safety. But … I have seen remarkable results. Sometimes people will even have a spontaneous remission of chronic ailments. I have experienced this myself. As Bessel van der Kolk, (renowned psychiatrist, author, researcher and educator) wisely contends “the body keeps the score”. He authored a fascinating book by the same name.

Traumatic experiences also affect our immune system. Emotions are often numbed as well. Digestion is impacted. Fertility is affected. The PH of the skin is altered. Blood flow and oxygen are shunted from the part of our brain that helps us make sense of the world and so, when we are triggered/alarmed/aroused, we just can’t think clearly. It makes it hard to concentrate or learn or stay focused. The ‘whole’ of our system is impacted by ‘what happens to us’ internally when we experience ‘what happens to us’ externally.

By the way, I am not writing this to invite more clients. I am not accepting new clients currently and do not expect to be doing so at any time in the near future. I am just interested in ensuring that all people who are carrying wounds from their childhoods … and/or … wounds from any point in their lives are able to gain access to the kind of support that has not always been easily accessible (until the last few decades).

As I shared, if any of this conversation is sparking something inside you … follow up. Do yourself a favor and explore where that still small voice inside might be leading you. You are worth your time. You are worth your interest. You are worth your effort.

With deepest reverence for our collective healing, Karen

“Hi Karen. Your Job. How do you do it??”

“Hi Karen. Your job. How do you do it?? It has to feel overwhelming at times. All those stories and people with so many challenges – I know you love it and are passionate about what you do but there must be times you just want to bury your head and cry for the people who are suffering. I’m guessing the joy of helping someone pull out from under heavy burdens is the reward that makes it all worthwhile.”


This heartfelt query arrived by email a while back and, as a counsellor/therapist, I get various versions of this question all the time! I completely understand the curiosity … people assume that ‘a typical day at the office’ means I am drowning in people’s upsets, distress, wounding and pain. But, in all sincerity … that is not my experience of my work at all. I am so incredibly inspired … on a regular basis … by the people I am fortunate enough to work with. Yes. I am both honored and humbled by the depth of genuine and authentic connection that characterizes my job. I can never know what the day will bring, but I feel a deep sense of reverence for each moment I get to spend with my peeps. I just never tire of the work I do. I wish I could sum it all up in one nice, concise, tidy paragraph … but … there are so very many layers and complexities involved in ‘how I do what I do’. I’m just hoping I can do it all justice here on these pages.

First, let me begin with a little back story. Even as a small little girl, I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. For me, ‘success’ in life would be realized when I got my PhD in Psychology and could help people heal the wounds of their childhoods. I dreamed of helping humans thrive despite the trials/tribulations/traumas that threatened to deter, derail, diminish, and/or defeat them. I could think of nothing more compelling than being seated before someone in a sacred space of sharing and fully honoring all the parts of their lived experience.

Some wise soul said we often want to give others what we most need to receive ourselves. I suspect that is true for me. So, the first part of my answer to ‘how I do what I do’ is that I have always had a passion for it! I have an insatiable curiosity about our collective humanity. I love to hear people’s stories. I have book shelves filled with self-help books. I am fascinated by neuroscience. And, as schmaltzy as it sounds, I feel like I really am living ‘my purpose’ on the planet. I cannot imagine a more rich or rewarding career.

All that said, and even though this vision was always crystal clear to me, it took me about a quarter of a century longer than I expected to get here. There were a whole number of zigs and zags along my 25-year path to this career. Somewhere along the way I realized that I didn’t need a doctorate in psychology to live out my dream. Initially, I became a Integrative Coaching Professional certified by The Ford Institute. And while this career choice deeply nourished my passion for a number of years, I eventually pursued and obtained both my Bachelor and Master of Social Work degrees as well. And sometime later, I was also inspired to become certified in the most powerful interventions for healing and processing trauma … i.e. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing [EMDR] and Accelerated Resolution Therapy [ART].

I should also share that I don’t think I could ‘do what I do’ if I didn’t hold so much reverence and respect for the people I am fortunate enough to work with. I remain deeply humbled by the depth of adversity we humans are invited to endure along life’s journeys. The stories that people share are replete with both reprehensible heartache and rich resilience. I have nothing but the utmost admiration for the folks that find their way to my office. And, I feel incredibly privileged to be welcomed into the the most tender and fragile parts of their being. They have taught me so much about myself and stretched my appreciation for the magnitude of the human spirit in the most magnificent ways.

In keeping with that, I must take issue with anyone who might regard counselling/therapy as something reserved for the weak or broken. Nothing could be further from the truth! It takes incredible strength and courage to reach out when we are struggling. It takes so darn much tenacity to look inside ourselves. I so deeply respect those who are willing to tease out what is not working well in their lives … and also then … assume responsibility for addressing it. It requires a level of candid honesty, transparency and authenticity that terrifies the best of us. I have absolute reverence for humans committed to their own healing. I honor and applaud them because I know they are often scared spitless and, yet, they show up for themselves anyway. 🙌

Perhaps the most critical prerequisite to doing what I do is ensuring I have done/continue doing my own inner work. It is essential for me to make peace with my own past so I can stay fully present for my peeps. If not, my unhealed stuff will invariably get activated by what is happening in their lives. If what I am observing triggers any kind of emotional discomfort and/or psychological judgment inside me (i.e. if I start bleeding myself), I have been hijacked back to my own unresolved stuff and can no longer tend to their wounding. And, if/when it happens (which it does on occasion), I see it as a red flag pointing me to additional layers of my own healing that need more attention.

So, if I am doing my job well, I need to arrive at the office as emotionally clean and mentally clear as humanly possible. That said, I have been diligent about doing my own inner work for almost 30 years. Pursing my own personal development is an investment I make in myself that benefits both me and my people.

Source unknown, but deeply appreciated.

And, after years of ‘doing what I do’, I have learned I also need to be well rested and emotionally/mentally grounded so I can hold sufficient space to best honor people’s needs. Given the gravity of the challenges that often typify my work, I cannot just ‘coast’ through my days in any way, shape or form. I need to be as alert, attentive and aware as possible. As such, committing to an impeccable level of self care becomes an imperative, rather than simply an optional indulgence.

This does not mean I am spending time in luxurious spas … although that can be very nourishing too. Solitude is one of my saving graces. So is walking outdoors in the sunshine and communing with Mother Nature. Limiting my exposure to sensationalized news reports is essential because all that fear-mongering is not good for my nervous system. Did I mention the soothing capacity of candles and twinkle lights? Never underestimate the profound peace inspired by casting a warm glow across the darkness. There are infinite ways to kindle our inner flames.

Given the tremendous compassion and empathy I feel for how harrowing, hard and horrendous my peeps experiences may have been … another requisite for how I do what I do’ is to ensure I do not to ‘join’ people in the overwhelm they might be feeling. Just as a life guard does not jump into the water to save someone who is flailing/floundering … I will not be able toss my people a lifeline if I get lost and/or mired down in the murk/mayhem they are experiencing. Rather, I must always keep an eye fixed upon where ‘the way out’ may be for them. One of the most vital parts of my job is helping folks find a way to ‘live a great live anyway’ … despite any people, challenges and/or situations that have been holding them hostage and/or keeping them stuck.

It’s not that I see myself as some expert who can swoop in and fix, rescue or protect people. No. It is not my job to save anyone. In fact, it would be a grave error for me to presume that I have all the answers for another human. They are the expert of their lives, not me. What might serve one person very well in a particular situation might not be the optimal answer for someone else in the same circumstances.

Ultimately, I trust that the people who choose to work with me are best served when I can meet them with compassionate curiosity about what is happening in their worlds. I truly believe the answers people are seeking are tucked deep down within their own souls … it’s just really hard to see the picture when you are inside the frame. My job is to guide the exploration so they can better sort things out and can become the hero/heroine in their own story. That way, they can save themselves.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

The conversations in my work days are often heartbreakingly heavy. However, as identified by the author of the aforementioned email, it is exceptionally encouraging and infinitely inspiring to witness people overcoming the things that threaten to take them down to their knees. The best I can do is offer people tools to help them build or rebuild their lives. It is up to each individual to decide whether or not they will pick up those tools or leave them behind in my office.

People might fly or they may continue to flounder. It is entirely up to them … but only 100% of the time. I can take no credit for any gains they might make. Any and all success they procure belongs completely to themselves. In addition to that, I must also humbly accept that despite my best efforts, I may not be able to help everyone. In order ‘to do what I do’ – I must be at complete peace with that. Otherwise, I will be more invested in their healing than they are. And that never serves the greatest good. The most meaningful transformation comes from people liberating themselves. I do not ever want to rob them of that joy.

The mindset I bring to my work is a pivotal part of ‘how I do what I do’. So, over the years, I have found it beneficial to ground myself, both personally and professionally, in a theoretical standpoint that helps me hold a sacred space of healing for the humans that seek me out for support. Debbie Ford, (author and my life coaching mentor/trainer) contended that there is ‘a blessing in every challenge’ and/or a ‘challenge in every blessing’. I must admit it took me a while to warm up to these unorthodox suppositions.

She used the wise analogy of baking a cake to explain this seemingly preposterous premise. Debbie reminds us that when baking a delicious cake, there are a lot of bad, icky, bitter ingredients that are essential to include (i.e. flour, baking soda, baking powder, vinegar, salt, etc.) In and of themselves, these ingredients are downright inedible. And, if they do not get blended well enough into the mix, they can become distasteful ‘lumps’ in the batter. Yet, if you tried to make the cake without these unpalatable ingredients… the outcome would be undesirable as well. The most delicious cake requires a thorough blending of both the bitter and the sweet ingredients.

If metaphorically speaking … the cake is our life … our trials and tribulations are the bitter bits that can become ‘lumps in our batter’ if they are not sufficiently integrated into the whole. They can unexpectedly show up and spoil the sweetness in life that we would otherwise enjoy. Often, humans invest a whole lot of energy trying to avoid, escape, repress and suppress those ‘lumps’. We welcome the ‘good’ and do anything to avoid/reject all the ‘bad’. But, unfortunately, eliminating the challenges from our lives is no easier than trying to extract the vinegar and baking soda from the cake batter. It just can’t be done.

Debbie invites us to consider that the grandest versions of our lives (i.e. the most delicious cakes) are better accessed by embracing all of our experiences. What if it is true that in order to live our very best lives, we need to accept and integrate both the good and the bad? Perhaps we might actually rise into the best expression of who we can be in the world by making peace with the past and blending together both the bitter and sweet experiences into the ‘whole’ of our lives.

For example, I was an only child who grew up in an unstable and chaotic home with a whole lot of ‘lumps in my batter.’ My dad was an emotionally volatile alcoholic. My mom suffered from clinical depression/anxiety … perhaps exacerbated by chronic physical pain. She became addicted to prescription drugs. She and my dad divorced when I was 12 years old after years of fighting and financial instability. My father moved a thousand miles away so I had no ongoing relationship with him. My mom and I lived on welfare. She was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was committed to psychiatric hospitals on a number of occasions. I ended up in foster care three times for various lengths of time. My mom also had multiple surgeries and was relegated to a wheel chair after one of them. Yes, their were lots of lumps in my childhood batter.

While it was not at all evident to me at the time, when looking back through the lens of ‘lumpy batter,’ I can see there were many gifts wrapped up in these ugly challenges. I can see, in retrospect, that these experiences actually grew me in very significant and welcome ways. They stretched my capacity to read people’s emotions. I am able to tap into what people are feeling very easily. They sharpened my intuition/instincts. I can often understand what people have trouble articulating. They deepened my compassion for people’s struggles. I have such empathy for the pain and wounding people have endured. They taught me that we do not need to be defined by our circumstances. I learned that shame and blame can be transformed. Ultimately, the lumps in my batter helped shape the compassionate eyes I bring to the counselling room.

I would add that when you’ve been through adversity yourself … it shifts the ‘way’ you listen and ‘what’ you hear. It can help you tap into the ‘felt’ sense of things.  It offers you an understanding of the parts of the situation, circumstance and/or event that aren’t easily described in words. Yes. Somehow, my prior lived experience has stretched my capacity for understanding of what is not being said in addition to what I hear folks vocalizing. I would argue that looking beyond the ‘ugly wrapping’ and/or blending and integrating the ‘lumps in my batter’ was helpful in terms of stretching me into a really humble, intuitive and non-judgmental therapist. Who knew my childhood was the real training ground for my dream job!!

What I know ‘for sure’ is that my decision to embrace life from this empowering perspective has shifted ‘how I do what I do.’ No one grows up without some lumps in their batter. I no longer pity people who have lumps in their batter because I opt to explore how those lumps may perhaps bring blessings (growth, lessons, learnings, insights etc) and/or bear other ‘gifts’ in really ugly wrapping. Yes. I give myself permission to flirt with the notion that people may be experiencing exactly the circumstances, challenges, difficulties and situations that can help them grow into the next best expression of who they can be in the world. 

While some of you may be skeptical whether or not all this conjecture is ‘true’ … it strikes me that proving the veracity of these tenets is of no real relevance. I would humbly suggest that the more substantive speculation should rest on whether or not embracing these perspectives serves our humanity in a meaningful and beneficial way. Does it ultimately help us navigate the prickly parts on our paths? Does it invite us to step out of powerlessness? Will it bolster our inherent strength and resilience?

And, from my experience, I would say it does indeed! I just know that looking at my life and other people’s lives through this empowering lens shifts ‘what’ I see and ‘how’ I interpret what is unfolding around me. And, it is widely touted in the therapeutic community that ‘perception creates reality’. Two people can look at exactly the same thing and see something entirely different. Two people can experience the same circumstances and feel entirely different.

As depicted in the graphic, truth is often relative. If/when we shift our perspective, we shift our ‘truth’. And THAT is an absolute game changer! Our thoughts/ideas/beliefs hold powerful keys to our how we experience our ‘realities’. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is not what happens to us that makes us happy or sad, but how we interpret it that creates our ‘reality’.

For example, let’s say it is raining. Rain is neither inherently good or bad. In ‘reality’ rain is just water falling from the sky. It is our perception of rain that fuels our experience of it. If we are a farmer during a hot, dry summer … the rain is perceived as a blessing. It makes us happy. That is our truth. If we are on vacation on a beach in a tropical climate, the rain is perceived as a curse. It invites us to be grumpy. When we tell people “the rain ruined our vacation”, we are speaking our truth.

However, rain is just rain. And, likewise, my childhood was just my childhood. If I focus upon how I think it was wrong and bad and the folks with the ‘white picket fence’ had it much ‘better’, I make myself miserable. If I choose to see how my childhood also primed me and prepared me to do the work that I absolutely love … then I can feel grateful for it in many ways. I’m not suggesting we ignore, dismiss or deny the pains of our past. No. Not at all. Rather, I am suggesting we explore whether the challenges we have endured may also serve us in some meaningful way.

Maybe in their totality … everything in life has a positive and negative pole? A whole atom contains both positive and negative particles. A whole day contains both light and dark. What we ‘see’ depends solely upon our perspectives. So, we might be very wise to doublecheck our perspectives and make sure we are looking at the ‘whole’ of it. What if … after honoring, acknowledging and validating the heartaches and hardships in our orbits … we also opted to look for anything good, right and/or beneficial that could also be tucked in those same experiences? How might that shape us?

The way we decide to ‘see’ things is a choice we get to make. It is simply a perspective we can choose to claim. And, I am going to suggest that when we decide to embrace the perception that “there is a blessing in every challenge” (Debbie Ford) … and/or … that “everything is happening FOR you and not TO you (Byron Katie) … and/or … that “everything is rigged in your favor” (Rumi), our felt sense of our ‘reality’ is shifted in the most rich and rewarding ways.

And, even if none of these premises are true … I really like the way I move through the world when I choose to believe them. Harnessing these perspectives (both personally and professionally) keeps me from assuming I ‘know’ what would serve any one of us best. It keeps me from judging things as right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust. It invites me to hold space for someone’s pain, help them grieve and mourn their circumstances … and then … help them identify the ways they might use their challenges to help them grow … lest their wounding be in vain.

Choosing to accept that our trials and tribulations may be ‘celestial benedictions’ sent to stretch and grow our humanity, invites me to see so much possibility for the folks that I am privileged to serve. It honors people’s inherent strengths and infinite potentials. It keeps me curious about how my peeps might rise above whatever is threatening to sink them. It means we can honor the pains of their past without staying stuck in them. It means we can begin looking for the pony in the poop.

At any rate, it is not my intention to convince you that I am right. I am just hoping these meanderings help to explain ‘how I do what I do’. I also hope I have rendered visible that identifying people’s problems is just a wee part of my job. My ultimate work is helping people rise above the rubble … retrieve any messages in the mess … and … figure out how to use what has happened to them in order to live a great life anyway.

I cannot imagine a more meaningful and rewarding career. I cannot think of a greater gift than to be offered a chance to hold a sacred space of healing for someone who is struggling, suffering and/or stifled in some way, shape or form. I think I gain as much as I give in my exchanges with my peeps. And honestly … there is nothing more inspiring than witnessing people shining brighter and brighter and brighter … despite the depths of darkness they have endured. It’s hard to put into words just how fortunate I feel to be seated across from another soul … and … simply ‘do what I do’.

With deepest reverence for both the blessings and the challenges inherent in all of our journeys … Karen

P.S. Counselling/therapy is so incredibly complicated and intricate. There is no ‘one size fits all’ in the work that we do. I realize that my approach works in my practice with those who seek out my professional support. I am also well aware that the strategies outlined herein may not be a good a fit at all for therapists working in some settings and/or with specific demographics and/or with clientele experiencing diminished capacity for self-determination. There is certainly no one “right” way to do what we do.

Morning Miracles … ✨

It has been nearly THREE years since the menacing Covid-19 virus invaded our lives! It completely upended and irrevocably altered everyone’s lives … at least as we had all naively come to take them for granted. A global sense of angst was running rampant in our psyches. We were locked down, isolated and disconnected from our loved ones to help prevent loss of life. Far too many people died anyway. The news sensationalized the risk and exacerbated our fears. There were daily briefings. It was a global crisis indeed. And not just physically. We were emotionally, mentally and spiritually assaulted. Many were terrorized. Others were nonplused. The polarization of belief became deeply damaging to the fabric of our families, communities and countries.

When it started … we all wondered how long it would take to be over. And then, the distressing days turned into precarious weeks which turned to ominous months and, ultimately, years of trepidation. At some point near the end of 2020, it became clear to me that coronavirus was not going away anytime soon.

I instinctively knew that I needed to regulate the fears that were chronically activating my own stress response. It seemed critical to find a way to mediate the energy of collective apprehension and global uncertainty that we were collectively marinating in on a chronic basis. I made a commitment to myself to start each day with some inspiring fodder for my spirit and soul.

So … I spent 2021 waking up with Marianne Williamson. She is a spiritual teacher and the author of 14 exceptional books including “A Return to Love.” I read this book over 20 years ago … it was absolutely life-altering for me. I even named my business “Miracles! Your Center for Well-being Inc” because I was committed to seeing the world through the eyes of love, rather than the eyes of fear … but I digress.

My Bestie and I took her online course “Mornings with Marianne: Daily Lessons from A Course in Miracles”. As a counsellor/therapist, it was such a rich way to ground myself. It was such a comforting way to remind myself that I can choose how I want to approach my days … regardless of what showed up in them. Every morning I would receive a video in my inbox. It made such a difference in the quality of my moments. It helped calm my nervous system.

Then, we turned the corner on 2022 … and … the damn pandemic came with us. 🙄 I determined it would serve me well to participate in another one of Williamson’s online courses. I signed up to receive an inspiring meditation delivered right to my inbox. Every. Single. Morning.

So, for the past year, as part of my morning solitude, I have been listening to short meditations (just 1-2 minutes each) from Marianne Williamson. I pay a little extra for my subscription in order to get the audio version of it, because I love hearing the cadence and tone of her calming and soothing voice.

As I listened to the message for today … Dec 6, 2022 … it occurred to me that I should share it publicly … in order to give others a sense of the empowering energy and loving intention of these meditations. With 2023 just around the corner, I thought maybe some of you might also like to start off the New Year off with a practice that would help shape your days in a meaningful way.

Each of the these ‘transform’ meditations comes with a beautiful graphic as well. Here is the printed form of one that arrived this morning:

Marianne Williamson

May I allow these inspiring words to shape the way I show up today, tomorrow … and … all the tomorrows after that. I’ve decided that in order to increase the propensity of doing that, I am going to sign up for another of her online offerings. I think I am still going to need this to counteract all the uncertainties that still warily and unwelcomely linger in the spaces of our lives.

Wishing you the warmth and joy of the holiday season … and … may we all experience an exceptional 2023, 🧡 Karen 🧡

30 Days of Gratitude = Gargantuan Gifts

One day as I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook at the end of November in 2020 (Yes! Right in the middle of the height of the pandemic!), I noticed that a dear friend of mine was going to participate in a Gratitude Challenge called “30 Days of Gratitude.” I just kept on scrolling because I had previously participated in TWO rounds of 100 Days of Gratitude in the past. While I found those 200 days to be very rewarding, I surmised that I didn’t need to participate in this one too.

But then … I noticed something very unique about this quest. There were particular questions related to this gratitude challenge. And … the questions intrigued me. I committed to join her, along with two other friends. I thought it might be fun. I had no idea that THIS gratitude practice was going to fill my heart with such gargantuan gifts.

I started posting this on December 1, 2020! I enjoyed reading the other posts … we commented back and forth. It became a very rich experience for me that I savored every morning with each sip of my coffee. After we ended the 30 days, I compiled my responses into this blog for both safe-keeping and further reflection. I just found this unpublished blog in my ‘drafts’ along with dozens of others.

And here we are … two full years later! Sadly, the pandemic is still disrupting our lives in so many ways. In some ways, it feels like eons ago that Covid-19 crept into our lives … and yet … the fallout from all the complexities related to this pandemic (emotional, mental, physical, relational, spiritual) has not been good. It can all feel heavy sometimes, so I thought I would re-read the answers I wrote in December 2020 to the “30 Days of Gratitude.” to get a sense of what I was appreciating while we were locked down and isolated.

My gratitude muscle was flexed, indeed, upon revisiting my reflections. I have decided to publish this here NOW … in case anyone else needs a reminder that many things remain right and well in our lives … even though so much has shifted and changed since the coronavirus entered our lives almost three years ago now. I hope it sparks some lovely appreciations of your own.

Happiest of Holiday to one and all in 2022!!

Day #1: a person I am glad to have in my life …

There are so many beautiful human gifts that have been and/or continue to be in my life … and … to name one is certainly not to diminish any others. As I was sitting here in this moment and reflecting on all these special souls, I was surprised to notice that my heart took me back to grade 8. Mr. MacMillan was my Language Arts teacher. I haven’t thought of him for decades but I am ever blessed to have had him in my life.

He SAW me. He saw the aching and uncertain heart that was hidden behind the smile I wore to conceal my insecurities, worries and hurts. Yes. I am ever grateful to Mr. MacMillan and the time I spent in his class. He quietly validated my presence with his knowing eyes and consistently confirmed my worth with his caring demeanor. I’m sure he never knew how much his silent support fortified my own strength. Even after all these years, I am still grateful for Mr. MacMillan. I don’t have a picture of him except for the one that has clearly never left my heart.

Edit: I was delighting to find a picture of Mr. MacMillan in one of my yearbooks!

Day #2: something I find comfort in …

I love lights! Twinkle lights, flickering lights, bedside lights, Christmas lights, candle lights, star lights, soft lights, fire lights … I could go on and on and on. There is something so deeply comforting for me to see a dot of brightness in the midst of dark. I think it is as pleasing to me metaphorically as it is to me visually.

Yes. Lights bring me so much comfort. And so … I have created many spaces in my home where I have added dots of light … and … I thoroughly enjoy basking in the comfort of it. 🌟✨⭐️

Day #3: my favorite part of the morning …

I love, love, love the morning. I actually look forward to waking up when it’s still dark and finding my way under a soft cozy blanket and taking my first sip of coffee in the glow of soft lights that surround me (see day 2). Several decades ago, I started getting up about an hour earlier than I needed to in order to give myself some time for some solitude in the morning … before my children were up and the demands of the day set in.

And, I eagerly continue this incredibly nourishing practice … even on days when I am not working. And, often I will get up two hours before I need to now. Maybe I read, maybe I blog, maybe I meditate, maybe I tend to emails, maybe I check social media, maybe I journal, maybe I get my day organized in my mind or maybe I just sit. I love to simply savor the stillness … tending to my inner world before I must turn my attention to my outer world. Yep, my favorite part of the morning is simply sipping my coffee and ‘resting’ before the clamor of daily living snatches me up and carries me away for the day.

Day #4: my favorite memory …

Hmmmm. This was a really hard one for me. There are favorite parenting memories and favorite travel memories and favorite experience memories and favorite moments memories and favorite romantic memories …. BUT … since we put up the Christmas tree yesterday, I was awash with Christmas memories.

And … one of my favorites was back in the days when I was determined to DE-commercialize Christmas. To that end, we had been handmaking our gifts for each other for a few years. We would make something for each other and then affix a little tag that offered an affirmation of of our affection to the receiver: “One thing I love about ______ is:” It was heartwarming to receive these gifts.

One of our other Christmas traditions has always been to fill stockings for our daughters. When they were small they were filled with little activities and oranges and things to keep them busy and their tummies satiated until 8:00am. As the girls got older, my favorite part of Christmas was gathering in the family room (ha ha -still not before 8am), fireplace crackling, Christmas tunes softly playing in the background … sipping my coffee while our girls took turns unwrapping the stuffers tucked into their stockings. Their smiles of delight and appreciation for a mascara or new undies were the most magical moments.

All this shared, I think my very favorite memory was the year that Sherisse hand crafted Christmas stockings for her Dad and I … and completely unbeknownst to us … our three sweet daughters filled them for US!! I was touched beyond belief that they had truly internalized the spirit of the Season. For them, Christmas was not just about getting … it was about giving. Their kindness and thoughtfulness was so deeply touching! I was so tenderly moved that they were intent on sharing the joy they experienced by making it merry for us. I still think fondly back to magic of that Christmas and I want to take this moment to thank my extraordinary daughters for all the ways our Christmas celebrations are always richer because of them. xoxo

Day #5: an accomplishment I am proud of …

Gosh … as I was pondering the possibilities for pride in my accomplishments there was one recollection that really made me smile again … even as I sit here in my living room a decade or so later. Many years ago (2005??) I was inspired by a friend of mine to take up running. And honestly, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I have always been emotionally strong. I can trust myself to get through hard things with my head and heart … BUT … I never been very physically strong. I have never been inclined to work my body to the point of exhaustion. No. Nope. Nada.

So … the idea of learning to run seemed like a real stretch for me. Yes. It was a formidable challenge for a gal in her 50s. I took a class that taught me to build strength by running one minute and walking one minute … running two minutes and walking one minute and building all the way up to running 10 minutes and walking one minute. This is the strategy to run long distances.

What shocked me was how much I LOVED it. That rush of endorphins that people talked about was REAL. And so, my dearest friend Marie and I logged many kilometers and participated in a few Jingle Bell runs … and we even braved the 30plus heat and ran through the countryside in the Buffalo Run one year.

I loved it all … but the one accomplishment that really made me feel proud was the day that my Bestie and I ran 60 minutes straight!! NO walking at all. For some reason, this felt like the ultimate feat for me!! I remember chatting about it with her back then and she questioned whether getting my Masters Degree might be something I was more proud about. No. Not at all. I knew I could do that. I did NOT know that I could run 60 minutes straight.

I can’t run anymore because my knees won’t allow it … but … that memory still sparks a big toothy grin on my face!! 😁 Yes. I still feel proud about that.

Day #6: a hidden blessing in a difficult situation

The older I get the more and more convinced I am that we can find blessings tucked into every challenge … as long as we are willing to look. I think, sometimes, we are so busy fighting with the Universe in our conviction that things should not have happened the way they did or that things should be different than they are. It is in our resistance that we can fail to unwrap the gift that came dressed in an ugly or unfavorable wrapping.

It can be really hard to ‘see’ the gifts in a particular moment of strife … but as I look back over my life in retrospect, I have a hard time NOT seeing how things that initially seemed very unwelcome were actually blessings dressed in dark disguises. I have a hard time naming just one … but I will share this. As I look way back to my childhood … I have come to realize that the challenges of my upbringing were really celestial benedictions sent forth to help stretch my capacity for compassion and understanding. The neglect and abandonment that I often felt as a child inspired me to support others who are struggling. I can see very clearly that the seeds of empathy were being planted for my passionate pursuit in a career as a counsellor/therapist.

Some may not agree with me on this … and as “Pollyanna” as it may sound … I honestly believe that the gifts are always, always offered to us. Sometimes they are really hard to find. Sometimes it takes years to find them. I just know that I can move through life with much less negativity and distress if I believe that there is a pony in the poop somewhere! It is simply my job to find it.

Day #7: an opportunity I am grateful for…

I have appreciated this gratitude practice because these questions have required me to deeply explore my life and look into spaces and memories that might have otherwise never arrived in my consciousness. Once again, though, it is difficult to name just one opportunity. As soon as I really observe all the opportunities in my midst … I am more grateful than I can put into words by sharing just one of them. Hmmmm. Perhaps that is the subliminal intent of this exercise?

Anyway … I have decided to share with you the beautiful opportunity that I experienced just yesterday. I am so grateful I had a chance to go for a 9.56km walk in the middle of the work week in December in the warm windless sunshine with my best friend Marie

  • It does not escape me that I was able to enjoy this opportunity because, even into my 6th decade of life, I remain able-bodied. Many people are not.
  • It reminded me how being semi-retired affords me the chance to set my own work schedule. Many do not have that luxury.
  • Mother Nature was generously showering us with her finest winter splendors … which is pretty unusual for December in Alberta!
  • And, I got to chat and reconnect with my Bestie! During this pandemic, our opportunities to connect with our family and friends has been compromised in ways that mess with our emotional and mental well-being.

And so, the fact that we got to share that time (while maintaining our physical distance) was a rich and precious gift. I am still savoring the freedom and opportunity I enjoyed yesterday. And … guess what?? It is supposed to be 16 degrees Celsius (60.8 degrees Fahrenheit) today!! Maybe I can create another opportunity for myself!! I am not sure if the wind will blow (as usual) and I know my Bestie is not available (but I have Audible!) and I can probably postpone ‘the list’. Maybe I’ll get a re-do?? 🤞

Day #8: my favorite song (& why)

Well … this one was a real struggle for me. I love so many different genres of music that it was impossible to pare them down to just one favorite … it’s comparing apples to oranges. It’s funny though, because as I was reflecting over the years of music that have tickled my spirit and tempted my toes to tap, I drifted back to one of the FIRST songs I remember falling in love with. My parents had a really complicated and volatile relationship before they separated on August 11, 1970. It was their anniversary. They had been married 20 years. I was twelve. There was lots and lots of discord in our home, so when it was good … it was heaven.

I’m really dating myself, but I am guessing I was ten or eleven years old when my father spent what little money we had and purchased a ‘Hi-Fi Stereo Record Player’. It was in a console and stood proudly on the floor in our living room. I remember the gleam in his eye when he would choose an LP and place it on the turntable. The moment the needle hit the vinyl our house was transformed into a magical, musical haven. I absolutely loved it. And, when I think back to those exceptional moments … the song that pops immediately into my head is “In the Mood” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra! Yep. My heart smiles in fond recollection of all the joy that music brought to my childhood home.

Ha Ha … I bet you can’t listen to it without tapping your toes too! 😍

Day #9: a lesson I’ve learned …

Let me start by saying that I have integrated many, many lessons in my six plus decades on the planet … and … I am infinitely grateful for all the ways these lessons have calmed my neurobiology and eased my default pattern of trying to stay one step ahead of the Universe. I spent far too many years trying to control what happened in my orbit so I wouldn’t get blindsided when the next shoe drops. Yep. That is what those of us with highly anxious minds like to do: Plan. Organize. Take charge. Stay in complete control. Acting as though we are CEO of the Universe. 🙄

Many years ago I read a book called “Loving What Is” written by Byron Katie. It was an absolute gift to my highly-kindled amygdala and overly anxious mind. The author premised that: “Everything happens FOR you, not TO you.” Now, many of you might challenge that notion. And I am not here to convince you otherwise. All I can tell you is that while I cannot PROVE it to be true … BELIEVING it to be true has been the most welcome game-changer for me. When I see the world with all its trials and tribulations through the faith-based notion that we live in a benevolent Universe divinely guided by love … I can relax and quit trying to steer the river.

When I choose to trust that the Universe is filled with celestial benedictions (see day 6) I can allow myself to bop along the water of life like a cork (easily and effortlessly) … instead of tirelessly trying to forge a new path through the river banks in the direction I think life should be going (entirely exhausting). It remains incredibly liberating to integrate this belief into my way of seeing the world. When I do so, I can surrender all fights with the past and stop arguing with what has already happened. Rather, I can fix my gaze on the best way to move through any unwelcome realities and/or adversities that I discover upon my path.

I have come to realize it is not so much what happens to me that really shapes my world, but rather … it is how I respond to what happens that ultimately defines my lived experience.

Day #10: the biggest gift in my life right now …

Gah. I decided to do this gratitude practice because I loved the specificity of the questions. I both appreciate the places in my awareness that these thoughtful queries move me toward and I am finding it so hard to nail down just ONE answer. So, with that said, I am going to preface the following reflection with the possibility that what I am seeing as the biggest gift in my life RIGHT NOW might be different in five minutes, five hours, five days, five weeks or five years.

But for this moment – in my semi-retired life – I can say that one of the most precious gifts I am unwrapping is the opportunity for more ‘unscheduled time’. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that for the most of my life, I have been held hostage by the clock … always needing to be aware of the time so I can attend to my obligations, responsibilities, deadlines and commitments in a conscientious and responsible way. Even in the most happy of moments, I would be checking the clock so I didn’t miss or foul up whatever was scheduled next. Yep. My days, weeks and months have always been very full! But, don’t get me wrong. More often than not, my days have been filled with things I love … and … places I really want to be … and … with folks I thoroughly enjoy spending time with.

Nonetheless, I have to admit that the pace has often been so harried that sometimes I didn’t have enough room to really savor all the activities that filled my days. And, because all of these doings were important to me, I couldn’t ever figure out what to drop out of my days in order to catch my breath. As a result, I have generally clung to it all and often felt like things were squeezed just a bit too tight.

So, after that long preamble, the biggest gift in my life right now are those rare days where I have nothing that MUST be done … but rather … when I can honor whatever is stirring my soul in that particular moment. Working fewer hours has opened up extra space for me to lounge around in my pajamas, lose total track of the time and simply follow my own inner leanings. I really do love the days where I have complete freedom to choose where I will put my attention … and when.

That said, I also know I would not want too much white space in my schedule because I do deeply cherish the rich fullness of my life. I think I treasure the extra ‘space’ I am enjoying right now because it has always been such a RARE gift to have any ‘unspoken for’ moments. And, guess what? It looks like today might offer me one of those days! I always, always, always have a ‘to do’ list … and … maybe I’ll get to it today or maybe I won’t. I just love that I get to lean in and listen to the whispers of my soul and follow my heart today … instead of my schedule.

Day #11: a future event I am excited about …

The old boy and I have arrived at that time and space in our senior years where the time has come to actualize all the dreams we put off for retirement. As my dear and very wise friend Jacky astutely discerned: “We’re in the last quarter!” It was a sobering thought, but the truth of it inspired us to take action because, at our ages, the only thing for absolute certain in our futures is decline. Yes, the older we get, the more we realize that we have less time to squander.

So, with her wisdom ringing in our ears and our recognition that we must not take our current good health and mobility for granted … we had booked two very big trips overseas. We expected 2020 to be a banner year for travel!!

One was an indulgent river cruise that would whisk us away … far beyond the Iron Curtain. I was really excited about it because although we have done a fair bit of travelling already, I have always been the travel agent. And, once again … that kept me with my eye on the clock (see gratitude #10) and planning/booking things as we went along. THIS river cruise would be different. I would simply get to enjoy all the decadent planning that Viking Cruise Lines had done for us.

And, after the cruise was complete, we had booked a fabulous room in Madrid, Spain where we would meet our best buddies! The guys were going to head off to Morocco while my Bestie and I walked some of the Camino de Santiago. In it’s entirety, this pilgrimage is upwards of 1000kms but I wasn’t sure I could physically pull that distance off (see gratitude #5) so we were committed to doing the last 100kms of it.

Our tickets were bought and our hearts were so excited! And then … Covid-19 snatched it all away. I remain eager to resurrect these dreams, desires and delights and reschedule them as soon into the future as possible. Viking Cruise Lines still has a whole schwack of our money … so … we are committed to rebooking this trip just as soon as we can.

And maybe, my Bestie and I will need to reconsider whether 100kms is enough. Perhaps the cancellation of our trip was a blessing in disguise (see gratitude #6). Since we couldn’t go to Spain, we opted to do a slightly different version of the Camino. We each sought out pledges to raise money for cancer research and ended up walking 100km right here in our own neighborhood. So, now that I know I can do it … maybe we can book a longer stretch!

Anyways, I might be cheating here. Maybe this counts as two future events … but … since I had them booked together initially, I thought I would honor them both in answer to this question.

Day #12: some positive news I’ve gotten recently …

Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens has opened their doors to a fabulous Winter Light Festival!! I had heard about them doing this last year, but honestly, had completely forgotten about it. But then yesterday, our good neighbor, Doug, posted the most spectacular photos of their family’s visit! The pictures were absolutely stunning and got me really excited about going!

Last year we took in the Zoo Lights in Calgary and it was absolutely mesmerizing! I couldn’t get enough of it … and … we were there for a couple of hours! It is wonderful to know that we have an opportunity to see something similar right nearby!!

It also strikes me as especially good news in these times where we are not permitted to meet with friends and family under one roof … this spectacle of light offers folks a chance to gather outdoors and share some time together in this way! I’m eager to chat with my family and see when we can arrange an evening to enjoy it together!

I understand that due to Covid-19 there on no walk-in tickets. They must be purchased in advance online … and …. there are a number of different packages! You can even get a wagon ride around the lake! Anyway, I thought this was very good news indeed!! What could be more magical and marvelous for this girl (see gratitude #2) than 170,000 lights glistening and glowing and casting light upon the darkness. I can hardly wait to take it all in! ✨✨✨

P.S. I picked this photo off the website, but Doug’s photography captures it all far more beautifully!

Day #13: my favorite area in my home …

When I am home, I spend a whole lot of time sitting in our love seat with my feet up and enjoying the view out the large bay window in my dining room. From this comfy and cozy position, I can enjoy the ambiance of lights (see gratitude #2) and visit with the old boy if/when he has sunk into his lazy boy.

In the winter, I can enjoy watching the snow fall … and … enjoy the Christmas lights in the backyard. In the spring, we thoroughly enjoy watching the birds flitter about snatching snacks from all the bird feeders we have erected. In the summer, I enjoy the foliage and flowering on the trees along with the dots of color from the berries and the ornamental crab apples. An, in the Autumn, I can feast my eyes upon the change of colors as Mother Nature slows down and readies herself for a peaceful rest. And, because we have a south exposure, I can catch the colors of the sky as the sun rises and sets all year long.

Here’s how it looks this morning as I write this. From this lovely standpoint, I can almost forget that we just got locked down for the next four weeks. I am sure grateful for a good view from which to ride it all out.

Day #14: a memory that makes me smile …

One of the memories that still makes me smile takes me back to my 60th birthday celebration. It started with an overnight trip to the big city with JUST my three daughters. The first night, we unexpectedly landed in a fancy schmancy bistro and enjoyed a 5 star dinner (with complimentary appetizers from the chef that he was entering into a competition) before our heavenly 90 minute massages and hot-tubbing at the Stillwater Spa in Calgary!

I have to add that our family has grown with the addition of their partners and my eight grandchildren so it is very rare for me to have my girls all to myself anymore! And so, my heart smiled with unspeakable gratitude as I sipped my coffee in the mornings and listened to them chatting and giggling and sister-ing with each other in our nice two-bedroom hotel suite while they were getting ready for the day. And, after about nine hour’s worth of shopping (compete with oodles of fitting room fun and fashion shows) and along with a couple of stops for food and drink – we decided to try out the new long stay lip stain that my youngest daughter had discovered. Ha ha. With Brittany and I rocking the red … and … Sherisse and Tiana sporting the dark maroon, we looked more like we should be heading out on the town (maybe in 5″ stilettos and black leather mini-skirts)!

But instead, we cozied up in our jammies, pulled out the hide-a-way bed in the living room of our hotel suite and snuggled in side-by-each as we spilled some tears watching the touching movie “Wonder”. The next morning, after enjoying our “breakfast included” at our hotel, we followed up by using the “Downward Dog” Yoga App on our bath towels. Ha ha … it was absolutely great!

And, over the whole weekend … no one was focused upon their phones. It ‘felt’ entirely sublime to me to have all my little cherubs under one roof with me … and … lots of time for nurturing our innermost desires. Yes … this memory still sparks so much joy in my heart and the biggest and toothiest grin for me. And, it is all the sweeter … perhaps even a bit bittersweet … as we face the prospect of not seeing them at all over the next four weeks – not even at Christmas – given the recent public health orders that do not permit us to share time together at all.

Day #15: something beautiful I saw today …

I thought I wasn’t going to be able to post this gratitude until later today … until after I had been out and about long enough to see something beautiful. BUT … I actually SAW something really beautiful posted by a friend of mine on Facebook this morning. Thank you Deb. I was brought to the most humble place followed by a stream of spontaneous tears by this BEAUTIFUL story.

It touched me in so many ways … not the least of which is that it confirms the notion that there can be ‘celestial benedictions’ tucked into the adversities that we may be experiencing (gratitude #6). It reminded that things really do turn out the best for those who make the best of how things turn out (gratitude #9). And, it affirmed my belief that miracles are unfolding around us at all times … if our hearts and eyes are open to seeing and receiving them. This is a true story submitted by Pastor Rob Reid. I hope it stirs your heart as much as it did mine.


The brand new pastor and his wife, newly assigned to their first ministry, to reopen a church in suburban Brooklyn, arrived in early October excited about their opportunities. When they saw their church, it was very run down and needed much work. They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve. They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, etc, and on December 18 were ahead of schedule and just about finished. On December 19 a terrible tempest – a driving rainstorm – hit the area and lasted for two days. On the 21st, the pastor went over to the church. His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high.

The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor, and not knowing what else to do but postpone the Christmas Eve service, headed home On the way he noticed that a local business was having a flea market type sale for charity, so he stopped in. One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory colored, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colors and a Cross embroidered right in the center. It was just the right size to cover the hole in the front wall. He bought it and headed back to the church. By this time it had started to snow. An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it. The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus 45 minutes later.

She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder, hangers, etc., to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry. The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area.

Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle. Her face was like a sheet. “Pastor,” she asked, “where did you get that tablecloth?”

The pastor explained. The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials ‘EBG’ were crocheted into it there. They were. These were the initials of the woman, and she had made this tablecloth 35 years before, in Austria.

The woman could hardly believe it as the pastor told how he had just gotten “The Tablecloth”. The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria.

When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave. Her husband was going to follow her the next week. He was captured, sent to prison and she never saw her husband or her home again.

The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the pastor keep it for the church. The pastor insisted on driving her home. That was the least he could do. She lived on the otherside of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a house cleaning job.

What a wonderful service they had on Christmas Eve. The church was almost full. The music and the spirit were great. At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return. One older man, whom the pastor recognized from the neighborhood, continued to sit in one of the pews and stare, and the pastor wondered why he wasn’t leaving.

The man asked him where he got the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war and how could there be two tablecloths so much alike?

He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in a prison. He never saw his wife or his home again in all the 35 years between.

The pastor asked him if he would allow him to take him for a little ride. They drove to Staten Island and to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier.

He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman’s apartment, knocked on the door and he saw the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine. ✨

Author unknown

May we all look for the beauty in our days today … and … maybe we’ll even find a miracle or two! 💝

Day #16: my favorite part of the evening …

Hmmmmm. Happy Hour … aka: the TRANSITION. It’s that space in time where I get to shift from chronos to kairos (see gratitude #10).Yes, my favorite part of the evening is the transition from the obligations, commitments and responsibilities … to … rest and relaxation and taking my eyes off the clock and the calendar for another day.

This beautiful transition time usually involves a change of clothes (sometimes I get right into my jammies!). It also involves pouring a beverage … usually a glass of wine. And, if the old boy is home, it includes a nice conversation where we can reconnect and catch up on each other’s day! The happy-hour transition feels especially good if I know we have leftovers that can be zapped in the microwave … or … if the old boy has been working his magic in the kitchen. And, it’s all the better if I am anticipating an episode of “The Voice” or “The Amazing Race” or if we are invested in a really good Netflix series.

Sometimes I transition alone. Often it is with the old boy. In the summer we love to gather around our firepit. Sometimes it is fun to transition with others. Here’s a pic of the old boy and I transitioning in our best friends yard before we enjoyed a nice meal together. We’ve enjoyed many a ‘happy-hour transition’ with them in their gorgeous yard. Even when we are travelling, we make time for a nice transition between the busy-ness of the day and the relaxation of the evening.

And, even on days when I am not working, there is something so comforting about officially marking the end of daily doings and easing into the effortlessness of the evening. For me, there is no doubt about it … the happy-hour transition is a signal to shift gears. Yep. It’s my favorite part of the evening.

Day #17: my guilty pleasure …

This one is really easy for me. Wine. Wine is my guilty pleasure. I have never enjoyed any kind of bubbly beverage or carbonated drink. I don’t drink soda pop. I don’t drink beer. I don’t drink sparkling water. I don’t even drink champagne … well except for in highly exceptional circumstances (aka … watching fat fluffy snow flakes landing on our tongues while in our Bestie’s hot tub on Dec 31 – at midnight – ringing in the New Year while it is -30degrees outside sipping a bottle of Prosecco – or less expensive alternative – that has been icing in the snow bank until it is almost frozen.)

So, clearly, my options are limited. Fortunately … there is wine. I realize it is an acquired taste … but … I have come to appreciate every kind of wine … red, white and rosé. My love affair with wine started innocently when I was 13 or 14. I remember that several of us would put our pennies together and find someone old enough to bootleg a bottle of “Lonesome Charlie” or “Moody Blue”. I never really enjoyed it though (unless we hid it in a Slurpee) … because it is a bit bubbly (well – so are Slurpees).

I never drank alcohol for a number of years … until I got married and we visited with the old boy’s boss and his wife. It was there that I moved on to Mateus. My evolution through the fermented grape chain has been long and tangled, but I think this is where the guilty pleasure became rooted. And, well … then I moved to white. And, finally moved to red … or … a red blend. Sooooooo delicious!!

So, when I am in transition (once again see gratitude #16) I have choices!! I can go to the wine rack that the old boy built himself a number of years ago. Or … I can go to the “house wine.” You can find it in a box on the kitchen counter – looks like I have two currently on tap! Or, there is typically a bottle of white or rosé chilling in the fridge door. And, if we are really lucky, we are gifted with a bottle of our Bestie’s homemade. Look at the beautiful rosé we were recently gifted. It was so lovely … we finished it off during a rousing game of Scrabble last Sunday! Let’s not discuss winners or losers.

As far as I am concerned, a fresh crisp white or rosé are best enjoyed in warmer weather. But … don’t hold me to that. I am not necessarily predictable when it comes to choosing my guilty pleasure (think Scrabble).

Okay … one last thing. Stem ware matters!! I have the most beautiful selection of stems! I have delicate ones and themed ones and regular ones. The old boy likes the stem-less ones. I find they are to big for my small hands to hold comfortably. My current favorites are the ones that my daughters brought me back from Mexico. They are sturdy and beautiful.

Shape matters. Different wines go into different shapes of glassware. And … the rule is that you should only fill the glass to the fattest part of bowl. I am a goodie-two-shoes at heart … and generally like to follow rules. I must confess … I can be a bit of rebel when it comes to my guilty pleasure.

N.B. One cannot enjoy wine out of Styrofoam cups. Nor should it be consumed out of red solo cups … unless one is in a real pinch. It can, however, be thoroughly enjoyed in a ‘go-cup’ while at the ball diamond (where they sell only beer and canned cocktails) whilst watching your family play slow-pitch!

Oh … one more thing to remember. One should cease to consume wine after dinner. This reckless move has proved to create the WORST headaches you have ever been forced to endure. As I have aged, I typically abide and switch to tea after supper … but … on very rare occasion when one has company, I will forget this rule of thumb. And, I regretfully pay the cost … 🥴

Okay. There you have it. My coffee cup tells the story of my passions … and … the shape of my days. Cheers! 🍷🥂

Day #18: one good thing that happened today …

This gratitude quest got me thinking about a little sign that I have in my home office. It says:

And so, as I headed out for my day at work, I was watching … with eager eyes wondering what I would be writing about this evening. I started the day off by picking up a clear face mask (damn pandemic!) that my Bestie had very kindly picked up for me! It seems counter-therapeutic to be masked up in my office …. so … a clear mask seemed like a great option. I was excited to try it and thought maybe that would be what I would post for this gratitude. And then, when a person went out of their way to deliver something I had been waiting for to my office, I thought … “this is a good thing for my post today.” But then, I went home for lunch. And … we happened to have just enough left-over lasagna for me. I thought … hmmmm … this is also a very good thing. And, then I went back to work and was delighted to hear that a client was experiencing some really good progress … and, of course it seemed plausible that this could be another good thing to post about. And then, I had a really good belly laugh with someone else over Zoom. And I thought … a good laugh is always a good thing to add to any day.

And then, I came home in the dark … only to find that the old boy had gotten home before me and he had turned all the decorative lights on … inside and out! It was such a warm and welcoming arrival … worthy of “good” things to mention in my gratitude post. And, guess what? The Voice finale is on tonight! This is always a good thing as far as I am concerned.

So, here I am … totally befuddled. I have so many “good things” to choose from that I can’t narrow it down to just one. Please accept my apologies for not following the rules …. apparently the world really and truly was plotting to do me good today. 😉

Edit: I cannot believe I forgot to mention the bugles!! For some reason, many folks have been struggling to find bugles for their nuts and bolts recipe! We haven’t had any luck finding them either! So, imagine the song in my heart when one of my dear friends here on Facebook was generous enough to offer me an extra package that she happens to have on hand! Thank you Denise for adding to the ‘good’ in my day!

Day #19: how I show gratitude for my friends …

I am an only child and I have always ached for the kind of unspoken understanding that I imagine siblings get to enjoy with one another given their shared history. I have always envied that deep bond and implicit knowing that requires no explanation. As a result, I have always been inspired to create that special kind of connection in my friendships. I hold my friends really close in heart and cherish them with infinite gratitude. I make every effort to not let my appreciation for them go unexpressed … often with an excess of emojis! 🥰

One of the other ways I show gratitude for my friends is through my blogging. I created a “Better Because of You” Blogsite in which I pay tribute to the remarkable souls who have touched my life in meaningful ways … and … for whom I have stretched into a better version of myself for their presence in my circle. Over the years, I have written blogs honoring many of my friends including many of my Facebook friends here. I have offered heartfelt acknowledgements about Marie, Joan, Lisa, Jody, Kori, Marion, Debby, Robin, Debora, Cheryl, Jackie, Kimmy, Penny, Fatemeh, Maria and many others who are not on social media platforms. I also have several more tributes to pay that are waiting patiently in the queue! Unfortunately, they are taking me longer to complete than I anticipated so … stay tuned! I am hoping I can get them posted early in the New Year.

And so, my beautiful and very precious friends, if you need a reminder of how deeply I treasure your presence in my world, I hope you will take a minute to revisit my words and let them land deeply into your soul space. And, if you don’t already know some of these magnificent women, I hope you click on one of my tributes and give yourself a chance to get to know them through my eyes, my heart and my experience of them!

I have learned in life that I don’t want to leave any of my sentiments unexpressed. And so, my friends, let me say one more time right here and now … I love you more than my words can ever express … and … I remain ever grateful for the gift of friendship that you have offered me. Thank you for enriching my life. I am so much better because of you. 💖💖💖

Day #20: something I love about a family member …

I just have to preface my response by saying that I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I considered all the things I love about the members of my family. It was hard to narrow it down to one, but … I have decided to tell you one thing I love about the old boy.

I absolutely adore his cheerful demeanor. The fact of the matter is this: he is one of the most good-natured, light-hearted and happy-spirited people on the planet. He greets each day with a smile … and … does the same for me. He heads off to “Tipiriri” (aka; work) every morning with a bounce in his step.

As he swings open the door when he arrives home in the evening, he announces his arrival with a jubilant “Hellllooooo!” And, as we ‘transition’ (see gratitude #17), without fail, we have a chuckle or two about the details of the day. And, as we tuck into bed, he always offers me a kiss (with a promise to try not to snore) … and … we both chuckle ‘cuz we know he’s well intended, but … he’ll be rumbling beside me at some point. 😉

Yes. I am ever grateful for the sunny disposition that the old boy has consistently displayed over the last 43 years of our marriage. I cannot even fathom my life without his ready smile and cheery chuckles.

Day #21: something positive about my body …

Asking a woman in her 60’s to name something positive about her body is likely to get you a blank stare … because at our age, everything in our body has likely seen better days and/or is headed south. Truth. My cheeks … both on my face and on my rear … are inching downwards. I was stunned when I caught a glimpse of my rear end sneaking right out the bottom of my bathing suit! I honestly have no idea how long this has been happening! 🙄

I always used to wonder why they sold swim suits with skirts on them. Now I own a couple! But … wait. I digress. Let me answer the question.

As I was reflecting upon something positive about my body … the answer that I landed upon really surprised me!! When I was young, I got mercilessly teased about my “chicken legs.” So much so that I started to hate them. It got to the point that I was far too self-conscious to EVER bare my blazing white (actually … skim-milk blue), freckled, scrawny, knobby knees in public. Honestly, my lower limbs reminded me of glow sticks. I also remember feeling a vague kinship to Olive Oyl from the Popeye series of yesteryear.

I only got brave enough to finally dawn a pair of shorts in public in 1980 when I was pregnant with my eldest daughter. She was born on August 26th and the heat of the summer was getting the best of me. One day while I was doing some yardwork and my need to cool down trumped my vanity. After a bit of outdoor exposure, they grew a bit more tanned than the blinding white that they used to be. And … maybe after I started running in my fifties, they formed a bit more muscle but … that is not why I have come to appreciate them.

I can honestly say that my ‘chicken legs’ have served me so well over the past six plus decades!

  • They are strong and I can trust them.
  • They afford me mobility.
  • They get me out in nature.
  • They carry the loads that life often offers.
  • They hold me up so I can engage in the world.
  • They are also the reason I can put my feet up.
  • They’ve helped me take a stand, both literally and figuratively.

And, yes … they have even helped me cross the road. 🐔 Oh … and guess what! At my age, I don’t even have to shave them anymore!! 😉

Day #22: a challenge I am grateful for …

One of the things that I most appreciate about this gratitude quest is that it requires me to really explore my inner world … as my friend Joan so exquisitely described yesterday “to let it seep into every nook and cranny of my being”. It has been such a fascinating exploration that I have come to look forward to doing every day.

As I was poking around my awareness of the challenges in my life that I might be grateful for … I can see that each and every day of our lives we are offered the invitation to be kind, understanding and compassionate rather than judgmental, impatient and critical. It is a challenge I am very grateful for … and … some days it is easier than others. As we wander through our days, we are offered countless invitations to be critical (“He’s a complete loser!” or “She’s just so stupid!”). It is really easy to make assumptions about people (“They never listen!” or “They just don’t give crap!”). It’s tempting to project ill-intent onto others (“All they care about is themselves” or “They are just trying to make me look bad!”).

Yes, as we wander through our days it is easy to look for what is wrong in each other rather than what is right. I think there is plenty of both. What I know for sure is this: Hurt people, hurt people.

In my work as a counsellor/therapist, I have come to approach people from a trauma-informed place of asking “What has happened to you?” rather than “What the heck is wrong with you?” And, what I find, over and over again is that the light of ‘goodness’ is indelibly etched into each and every one of us. Sometimes it just gets snuffed out.

In my effort to remain curious and compassionate, I really like to lean into Brené Brown’s work around the benefits of ‘being generous in our assumptions’. I really like the way it makes me feel when I give people the benefit of the doubt. That said, however … Brené also reminds us that when we approach the world from a place of compassion, we must also have really strong boundaries. Our unhealed wounds can make us dangerous.

Sometimes people who are hurting will say and do unthinkable things. So, another part of this challenge is learning how to protect myself. I am not as good at this as I’d like to be, but I am getting better at it.

In the final analysis, I guess my answer to this gratitude quest would be this: I am grateful for the ongoing challenge of trying to meet life and people with as much curiosity and compassion as I can muster.

Day #23: a compliment that made me feel good …

I had to look up the dictionary definition of “compliment” in order to ensure that the very first thought that came to my head wasn’t flattery instead. Apparently, flattery is defined as “excessive and insincere praise, given especially to further one’s own interests”. So, nope. Nope it wasn’t. The definition for compliment said: “a polite expression of praise or admiration.” With that definition framing the parameters of my choices, I think it’s absolutely legit to share the first thought that came to my mind.

Those of you who know me well, know that to say “I love my job” is an absolute understatement. I am at the age where many people are counting the days until they can retire. Not me. No. Although I am of age and although I have oodles of things on my retirement bucket list begging for me to take the time to indulge … I cannot bear the thought of not connecting with the beautiful souls who vulnerably invite me into their fragile hearts day in and day out. People are perpetually curious about how I can spend my days immersed in people’s problems, but honestly, I cannot think of a greater gift than to be offered a chance to support someone who is sad, struggling, suffering and/or stifled in some way, shape or form.

So … a compliment that always stirs up lots of sentiment in my soul is when people express their appreciation for the gains they have made in our time together. There is nothing quite so nourishing as to know that I have helped ease someone’s journey and/or supported them through a difficult time and/or helped them realize a dream they thought they’d never get to claim.

There is something so gratifying about receiving a sincere, heartfelt, look-you-deep-in-the-eyes and feel-right-into-their heart: “Thank you. Thank you so much for all you have done for me.” I try to reassure them that they, themselves, deserve the credit, because they did the work. I just offered the tools. Not everyone actually swings the tools that are offered to them in the office … so I remind them that the real credit belongs to them. But, it is just such a rich moment to share with people. I am getting teary just reflecting back on my time with my people right now.

And … although that IS a compliment that really makes me feel good, I can’t complete this post without acknowledging the ULTIMATE form of that kind of compliment. It has happened twice to me over my career as a counsellor. There were two occasions when people told me they were actually choosing to pursue a career in social work/counselling because they felt such meaningful shifts in their life as a result of our time together.

Nothing could make me feel more complimented than THAT. Not even when the old boy arrived home a couple days ago and made a point to me how much he has always loved my freckled white ‘chicken legs’ (see gratitude #21). You’d think that might be a compliment that made me feel really good … and although it was incredibly sweet of him to say … I suspect that might be a bit of flattery. 😉

Day #24: the best gift I have ever received …

Oh my … you’d think this would be a pretty easy question, right? Not for this girl. My mind is twirling it around with queries about the ‘best’ in which way? The most ‘meaningful’ best? The most ‘unexpected’ best? The most ‘heartwarming’ best? The most ‘functional’ best? I was really having trouble discerning the ‘best’ answer. But then … it was clearly obvious!! I landed on one gift that was unequivocally the ‘best’ in all those regards … well … except for functionality.

I am going to say that best gift I have ever received was the surprise birthday thrown for me for my 60th birthday. It all started with a weekend get-a-way with just me and my three grown daughters (see gratitude #14). And, as I shared in my blog post:

“And then … a few weeks later … I was completely bamboozled. Yep. Entirely horn-swaggled … in the most meaningful and marvelous way!! I thought we were heading to the restaurant to celebrate my son-in-laws birthday … because it really was HIS birthday. But … I was in for the SURPRISE of my life! They got me … good. And the presence of the people were the very best presents of all! In addition to every single member of my immediate family, my sister-in-law flew in from Vancouver. Our dearest friends from prenatal class (37 years prior!) were there. My Bestie and her hubby and my forever friends and my soul sister were too. Some of my treasured colleagues were also able to join us. My husband, daughters and sons-in-law had planned the perfect party! And although my grandchildren knew … they kept it all a secret!! I was surrounded by people who take up the most space in my heart … and … I truly ‘felt’ the love in that space.

And the French wine flowed … and … the food was fabulous. In fact, my meal stands out as one of the top five in my 60 years! And they had two homemade cakes (made from Lucy’s special recipe – iced with the 7- minute frosting I always put on my daughter’s cakes when they were little.) It was extra special because the cakes were in the shapes of a flower and a butterfly! They resurrected the exact cake patterns I had always used for them. I could feel so much love in all the little details!”

I was having such a fabulous time visiting until I was escorted into the ‘ladies’ washroom. I was then presented with a leather-bound journal. It was filled with notes, cards, emails and letters filled with loving reflections, affirmations and memories from oodles of people who put their hearts on the page in my honor. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning savoring every sentiment. I couldn’t stop the flow of tears that cascaded down my cheeks as I marinated in the energy of it all.

And then the next morning, when I cleaning up the bags we had set on the floor the night before … I noticed some other gifts tucked into them. There was an elegant box wrapped in black with a single white bow on it. In it was another special book filled with pictures collected over decades of me and my two ‘forever friends’ … along with an exceptional version of our signature “Roses are red…” rewrites. Between the howls of laughter … I bawled some more.

There was also a beautiful scroll from one of my prior practicum students who had long since become my precious soul sister. She was letting me know of another gift yet to arrive … a custom-made heart with a ‘gratitude’ symbol in it. Oh … and most curiously … I saw my copy of “Love Warrior” wrapped up with a ribbon in the mix. When I naively inquired about why my book would have been in with the gifts … and with a ribbon wrapped around it … my hubby said my Bestie borrowed it. Oh. Okay. How sweet of her to decorate it before she returned it. I was placing it back on the bookshelf … when my hubby suggested “there might be something in it”.

Huh?? And yes … there certainly was! There was all kinds of LOVE in it! My kindred spirits (aka: the gorgeous gals in my book club) had snuck off with MY copy of the book that originally inspired our gatherings and had highlighted their favorite passages and written messages on the cover and inside the margins and then wrapped it with a ribbon and tucked it in with my other gifts. Seriously … it was so delightful!!

And, there was a ‘beautiful’ bangle wrapped up with the message “You are loved.” And, honestly … that is what sums it all up. It strikes me that ‘feeling loved’ is truly the greatest gift any one of us could received. Yes. The LOVE I felt on my 60th birthday was the BEST gift I have EVER received. It was entirely unexpected, exceptionally meaningful and infinitely heart-warming.

Yep. Hands down … BEST gift EVER.

Day #25: the item I treasure most …

I recognize that the implicit intent of exploring this particular gratitude is to connect us to an item that holds special sentimental feelings for us. Perhaps Great-granddad’s old watch fob or Aunt Hilda’s Venetian vase or our deceased Mom’s favorite necklace/earrings.

I might have a few keepsakes from people who are no longer here on the physical plane … but I am going to go to the shallow end on this one. I realize ‘treasure’ might be a bit too heart-felt to describe my affection for this particular item, but in all honesty, I’d be absolutely lost without it.

The truth is that I initially didn’t even want it. I resisted it for a very long time. And then one day … it was unexpectedly gifted upon me. My daughters convinced the old boy it would be really, really good for me. So, what was a girl to do? I figured I’d graciously accept it, but I had no intention of developing any strong fondness for it.

And well … here we on Day 25 of of this gratitude quest and I am eating my words. Actually, I am chewing them up with utmost appreciation for my daughter’s foresight. The item I most treasure is … insert drum roll … my smart phone. This tiny little gadget has exponentially expanded the ease and effortless with which I can exist in my world!!I can check-in on my daughters and grandchildren with one text or an instant message! I can stay connected with all of you here on Facebook – near or far. I can capture magical memories with its camera … and … even edit them. I can put them into albums and scroll back to revisit cherished moments … and/or … ‘Throwback Thursdays’. I can use some of the pictures for backgrounds so I can make inspiring posts for my Instagram business page (Live a Great Life Anyway). I can connect with other’s in my line of work on LinkedIn. I can even send out my invoices to my clients with my phone.

I can tweet to my heart’s content on Twitter. I can even vote for my favorite singer on ‘The Voice’. I can collect all my favorite everythings and designate categories and store them for ready retrieval on Pintrest. I can even rate a bottle of wine with Vivino. I can listen to music and make my favorite playlists on Spotify. I can watch movies on and YouTube Videos and TedTalks galore. I can total up a column of numbers in a heartbeat. I can also write myself a note so I don’t forget.

I can ask Google anything! I can color-co-ordinate my Google calendar(s) and get reminders so I don’t miss anything. I can schedule each of my clients and keep my work life organized. I can store contact information so I can reach out to anyone in an instant. I can read, write and send emails. I can track packages on my phone too. I can make and share my “To-Do” list on my phone and even designate some things for the old boy to take care of … and … we can check them off when completed. I can keep my Costco shopping list separate from my grocery list and separate from my family’s gift wish lists. I can even make a list for the movies I want to watch. I can read a book on Amazon Kindle or can have a book read to me on Audible while I am walking, driving, cleaning or gardening.

I can find my way around unknown destinations with Google Maps. I can book a trip with WestJet and keep my ticket on my phone! I can buy tickets for anything … anywhere … and don’t even need to print them anymore. I can find a hotel on the fly with or Airbnb and/or get some really hot deals on accommodations via Hotwire. I can plan the sights I want to see and get recommendations from Trip Advisor. I can hire a chauffer anywhere in the world with Uber. I can find a restaurant close by with Yelp. I can even reserve a table in advance with Open Table.

I can figure out what to wear because I can also check the weather … here at home and anywhere in the world. I can shop to my heart’s content on Amazon and have it delivered to my door within 2 days. I can even check my bank balance to see if I am spending too much. I can deposit funds with the click of a button and make e-transfers in a heartbeat. I can also collect payments from my clients with my little Square.I can Zoom in and play fun games with distant family. Have you ever played Drawful? I can also schedule meetings on Zoom and/or attend workshops and conferences. I can have morning coffee with my old colleagues on Zoom too! I can create amazing group chats on What’sApp … and talk for free to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

I can attend my Essentrics classes online from the comfort of my living room (and sometimes in my pajamas!) via Facebook Live. I can log into Yoga classes that are delivered right to my home via my smartphone. I can log my progress towards my goal of walking 10,000 kilometers with Runkeeper. I can meditate or listen to podcasts.

I can write my blogs on WordPress. I can even send pictures that I want to include in said blogs directly from my photo Gallery for ready access in my library picture storage. I can link one blog to another or link directly to something somewhere else on the World Wide Web. I can write a letter in Word. I can create a ledger in Excel (although I need to sharpen my skills here!) and I can make a PowerPoint for business or pleasure! And, as my sister-in-law Barb reminded me, I can even chart our trips with a fabulous travel app called “Find Penguins”. I can pen about the highlights of our days, add pictures and then the App makes it all into a book!

And, at his very moment … here and right now in the middle of this pandemic … I am even more grateful for my smart phone. Given that for the first time in our lives the old boy and I will not be gathering around the Christmas tree with any of our loved ones … I can create a secret group on Facebook where my family and I are committed to “Making it Merry in 2020.” We are committed to brightening up and bridging all this isolation by mutually engaging in specified activities that are scheduled for each day. And then, we share our experiences in words, pictures and video that we can post in the group. It’s been great fun so far! Today is our day to unveil our UGLY Christmas sweater creations! The old boy and I had an absolute blast creating them. He kept saying “This is so much fun!”

I’ll add some pics to this post after I share them in our group. Tomorrow is the Christmas cookie decorating contest … wish me luck! The old boy baked up gingerbread. I went the traditional sugar cookie route … we are decorating them up tonight after work. The old boy’s usual good spirits (see gratitude #20) are a bit dampened this morning because I took him down in the “I Spy” challenge last night. 😂🤣

So, with that said … maybe my ‘item’ choice isn’t as shallow as I initially thought. I would feel so much more isolated and separated from my family without it. Yep. I am in love with all the ways my smartphone adds richness to my life.

Oh yeah … I almost forgot. I can also use it to phone someone.

Day #26: the people who mean the most to me …

Well, at first glance, the answer to this question feels like a no-brainer. I thought … hmmmm … I should be able to wrap up this gratitude in one paragraph. But wait … the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to morph from a single answer into a multi-layered and very complex response. The old boy and I have been together since I was 17 years old. And, while I would never suggest it has been all 🌈s and 🦄s … I deeply appreciate the ways in which we have both been stretched to new levels of honoring and appreciating each other over the years. Our intimate relationships are such tricky business. It seems we subconsciously choose the person who is best suited to trigger all the wounds we have been avoiding and have not yet healed. Whether it’s for a reason, a season or a lifetime, our partners can be our greatest gift … if we are willing to unwrap them.

Yes. The old boy means the most to me. May I be a good steward of his soul.

But wait! My daughters are always alive in my heart … regardless of what is going on in my life. More often than not, my days begin and end with thoughts of them … with hopes for them … and … with infinite gratitude for all the richness they continue to bring to my life … including their partners and my eight exceptional grandchildren!! Those little cherubs add such juicy joys to my world. When I became a mother, I had every intention of doing it all ‘right.’ I was committed to nailing the parenting thing! How hard could it be? 🤔 Yeah, well – I have never been more humbled in my life … and … I have also never felt more honored. To be entrusted to braid the hair and kiss the boo-boos of these bright, beautiful bundles of joy is a blessing bestowed upon me that goes well beyond belief. I know that I have grown into a better expression of who I can be in the world as a result of their presence in my world.

Yes. My daughters mean the most to me. May I be a good steward of their souls.

Hold on. Given that I have no siblings earth side (my mom had five miscarriages before I landed safely in her arms), I glommed onto my extended family with eager and endless enthusiasm. It was everything I expected … noisy Christmas celebrations, a full table at dinner and people to call your own. It was also everything I never expected. One of my new ‘brothers’ was killed in a car accident when I was 21. He was 20. I barely got my brothers and sister … and then … I lost one. Misunderstandings happened. I lost a few more. Hearts were wounded and the happy ‘family’ fractured. I learned that it’s not easy to be an only child, but it’s not easy to be one of many either. I also learned that miraculous healings can be claimed and embraced. Through thick and thin I have always appreciated my in-laws and I am grateful for gifts of reconnection.

Yes. My in-laws mean the most to me. May I be a good steward of their souls.

Well … just a minute. As I shared before, my friends represent the family I have chosen for myself (see gratitude #19). I am loyal to my friends. These precious connections are radiantly remarkable. It is no exaggeration to state that my fabulous friends are some of the brightest lights on this planet.

Yes. My friends mean the most to me. May I be a good steward of their souls.

And yet, the people I work with also hold a very special place in my heart. And, by ‘the people I work with’ … I mean both colleagues and clients. I cannot begin to express my appreciation for all the love, light and laughter that I have shared with my colleagues over the years. We often spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our families. These relationships are incredibly formative in shaping our day to day experiences.

Yes. My colleagues mean the most to me. May I be a good steward of their souls.

But then … there are my clients. As a counsellor/therapist, I am entrusted to hold space for those who have peeled back the armor that typically protects their tender, wounded spirits. Their hearts are often cracked wide open … and … laid bare before me. I am both humbled and deeply honored to be invited into those tender, fragile moments. In that intimate space of unfettered vulnerability, I am welcomed into their internal worlds and offered a glimpse of the beauty of God within them. I can’t even begin to express the level of love and respect that I have for the people I get to hold space for in my office each day.

Yes. My clients mean the most to me. May I be a good steward of their souls.

But then … I would be remiss to not speak about the ways in which I have come to develop a tender, loving and caring relationship with myself. It has taken me decades to recognize that the compassion and respect and appreciation that I am able to hold for others can be no greater than the level of compassion and respect and appreciation that I offer to myself. Our relationships with others simply mirror our relationship to ourselves. That which we behold in others is merely a projection of that which we see in ourselves.

Yes. I mean the most to me. May I be a good steward of my own soul.

Day #27: my favorite part about nature …

Once again … I thought, this one is easy! I don’t even have to think about it. But … if you’ve read any of my other gratitude posts, you know I will think far too much about it. I tend to overthink everything … but only always. Let’s face it, you can’t trust me to give a straight answer. So, fasten your seatbelts … I shall take you on the rickety train of my thoughts for this one. 😊

Being out in nature is so deeply grounding for me. The mountains are truly magnificent. The ocean is infinitely wondrous. A walk in the woods smells heavenly. But, for me … Mother Nature’s pièce de resistance is … sunshine. The moment I feel the sun kissing my cheeks, my spirit is elevated in a particularly pleasing and very palpable way. It’s like a light get turns on inside me … and … I feel the glow of its luminosity transcending beyond the parameters of my being.

I just LOVE the sunshine.

I honestly don’t think I would thrive in a community/country where it is overcast and/or rains a lot. I’ve heard it said that Southern Alberta is the corn capital of Canada because we get more sunshine than any other part of Canada. Apparently, corn loves sunshine too!! I looked it up to be sure I wasn’t leading you astray with these meanderings, so I got on my treasured item (see gratitude #25) and I asked Google.

According to a study conducted by Environment Canada between 1981 and 2010, “Calgary is the sunniest city in the country in all respects. It receives 2396 hours of bright sunshine on an average every year and experiences about 333 sunny days annually. 52% of the daylight hours in the city are sunny.” This got me curious about where the sunniest places on Earth might be. Another quick search revealed that Yuma and Phoenix Arizona rate first and second for the sunniest places in the world. Aswan, Egypt comes in third.

So …. It appears that I actually live in the sunniest place in Canada … and … I have visited one of the sunniest places in the world. I have golfed in the winter sun in Phoenix … more than once. I am also grateful for all the fun in the sun I have enjoyed in other bright hot spots around the globe!

I have sipped margaritas in the hot Texas sun … but only with top shelf tequila. That said … I must confess that I am a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to tequila. I had never even flirted with the likes of Don Julio until I was tipping back that very tasty tequila while attempting to temper the heat in Puerto Vallarta (just before the pandemic hit). Alas … he has stolen my heart and spoiled me for all others. 🍸

We’ve built a life size sandcastle while sun-bathing in a two-piece under the scorching sun of Antigua. 👙 That was at least a decade or so ago … long before swim skirts were necessary (see gratitude #21). I’ve also toured real ‘castles’ under the less luminous Scottish sun. We’ve ridden the Rhine embracing the German sun … and … felucca-ed on the Nile with Captain Abul in the Egyptian sunshine.

The old boy and I have smooched under the Tuscan sun. I have been laid, I mean lei-ed upon meeting the Hawaiian sun. Well … the former might be accurate too. We’ve canoodled in a tuk-tuk under the Cambodian sunshine and my chicken legs (see gratitude #21) loved hanging out on the shores of the China sea in Vietnam. Speaking of hanging out … once, but only once … I even let the girls slip out for a bit while sunning on a chaise-lounge on a topless beach in Thailand. It’s actually the one and only time that part of me has ever seen sunshine. Why on earth am I revealing all of this?? 🙄

As a family, we’ve sailed the seas and laughed and lollygagged for hours of fun in the Caribbean sun … Cuba, Cancun and Cozumel hold especially fond memories. We’ve hung out with Mickey and Minnie in the warm California sun. And, we whitewater rafted on a scorching hot day in Montana! The old boy and I scaled to the summit of the Tsunami escape route before 6am on the Island of Ko Phi Phi to catch the sunrise! And, I’ve made every attempt to capture countless sunsets with my smartphone!!

Anyway … long story short … I never tire of sun-seeking. I have heard that some amazing sun-fests can be found in places like the Maldives or Bora-Bora. I am reluctant to rely on such hearsay. I am thinking once this pandemic is over, I need to see for myself, right??

Day #28: something that made me laugh today …

Yesterday. We woke up today still laughing about yesterday. More precisely … last night. I think I may have mentioned that due to the Public Health restrictions of lockdown and lockup, we are celebrating Christmas with our children and grandchildren online this year. 😪

And since things turn out the best for those who make the best of how things turn out (see gratitude #9) I created a “Making it Merry in 2020” private Facebook group where each day from December 17, 2021 through January 2, 2021 there are “ACTIVITIES” listed that we can partake of (in each of our households). And then … we can share our experiences with each other in words, photos and videos in the group. My vision was that it would generate a sense of emotional connection despite the physical disconnection.

There is no pressure to participate for anyone, but it has been such a gift for the old boy and I to ‘see’ our loved ones online. We’ve been puzzling, decorating cookies, taking Christmas light scavenger hunts, sharing Christmas music, making UGLY Christmas sweaters, doing word scrambles etc. The old boy was licking his wounds after the intense round of “I SPY” where I clearly beat him. He was mumbling something about getting ‘highlighter’ gouges on his hands in the process. Whatever … 🙄

Anyway, yesterday our activities were all about Christmas carolling. We were beckoned to don our Christmas finest (or our DIY UGLY Christmas sweater from two days prior) and video tape a Christmas Carol that we could post in the group. The old boy chose Bob and Dough McKenzie’s “12 Days of Christmas.” We practiced up in the house before we took our show on the road (see attached).

Now … neither the old boy or myself can carry a tune. No. Clearly not! So, this activity is not something one really wants stored in the annals of history – but – with our egos cast aside in the spirit of ‘Making it Merry’ … we packed up a bag of nuts and bolts that they old boy made … put some of the decorated cookies from our cookie challenge on the plate we needed to return … grabbed the jingle bells I still had from a few ‘Jingle Bell Runs’ years back … and… headed across the cul-de-sac to belt out our finest to our Besties.

Just as we were heading out the door, one of our dearest neighbors arrived with a bag of treats. We warmed up our vocal cords by spontaneously bursting into son and offering Jenny our best rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Jenny went one way with her deliveries and we went the other. As our performance was wrapping up with Hutch and Marie, Jenny was still making her rounds in the cul-de-sac and, I will admit it out loud, we all broke all the rules forbidding ‘out door gatherings’ and chatted briefly while we savored this precious moment of connection.

And then, Jenny said … “If I go home are you coming to sing to me?” Of, course. “You go home and we’ll follow you.” But then she added … “You have to sing a new tune.” We chuckled ’cuz our repertoire isn’t vast. We promised to “jingle our bells” for her instead. As we arrived at the door together, Jenny cheekily said as she walked inside, “Ring the bell.” Ha. Ha.

So, we waited briefly and then rang the door bell, as instructed. She cheerily greeted us with an appropriate amount of surprise and delight … and then … we all broke into a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bells”. Now, that gal can SING! We were both humbled and blessed to share musical space with the songbird before us. 🎼🎵🎶

I was starting to shiver because I wasn’t dressed for the occasion. Well … that is only half true. I had my UGLY Christmas sweater on, but no coat and no long johns. I was FESTIVE but FREEZING.

We were skedaddling home when it occurred to us that we should pop over to a couple of the other neighbors. As cold as I was getting, we were “In the Mood” (see gratitude #8) now. So, we pranced all the way across the cul-de-sac in the other direction and sung our warmest wishes for the season to Doug and Bev. We might have stayed a whole lot longer enjoying this long overdue chat, but I was getting colder by the minute. And that is when the blunder occurred. 😝

You know how you mean to say one thing, but out comes something else?? Yep. That happened. Doug had mentioned that he was enjoying reading these gratitude posts. I sheepishly shared how I almost went back and deleted a paragraph … it was just this side of inappropriate and far too revealing (see gratitude #27). We laughed. 😂🤣

And then I blurted out something like: “I really need to go. I don’t have any underwear on.” 😲

We all howled. 😁😂😅🤣😆😃

I attempted to correct myself. “What I meant was that I don’t have my long underwear on.” 🤔

We all chuckled some more, but maybe you had to be there? Maybe it’s all the isolation from Covid-19 that amplified the humor in this for us? Somehow it doesn’t seem nearly as funny as I write it as it does when I replay it all in my head. 😏 Suffice to say, the whole evening was an utter laugh fest.

It was just so good to feel jolly and bright! Well … I wasn’t actually top of my game in terms of ‘bright’, was I? Well, except for the lights blinking and twinkling unapologetically and very conspicuously on my sweater. And, it’s a darn good thing the abundance of ‘jolly’ made up for our lack of singing skills. 🤨Yes, we are still laughing about it all this morning. 🤣😂🤣😂

P.S. Because I didn’t have my ‘Under Armour’ long johns on, we never made it over to serenade the Simmons family. Well … not yet, anyway. Stay tuned. I think we still have some merry making in us!!✨🎉

P.P.S. Can any of you help us with the ‘crazy carols’ part of our ‘Making it Merry in 2020’ activity? We are stuck and can’t figure out a few of them.

Day #29: a book I loved reading …

I was really struggling to figure out which book I should select. There have been so many good reads!! Before I reveal my pick, I need to offer a little background information. I have been collecting quotations since I was a teenager and, all along the way, I kept seeing quotes attributed to “A Course in Miracles.”

I found each of them so deeply meaningful to me that I purchased “A Course in Miracles” because I wanted to experience all those quotations in the context within which they emerged. It was not that easy. This spiritual wisdom is such a dense and profound text that I found it too hard to comprehend on my own.

But then I discovered that Marianne Williamson had written about her reflections on A Course in Miracles in a book entitled “A Return to Love.” I so deeply appreciated her help with the understanding of it. I devoured it. I couldn’t put it down. I read this marvelous, life-altering book about 25 years ago. In doing so, I learned that a “miracle” is a shift in perspective from fear to love. As Marianne shared:

“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we have learned here. The spiritual journey is the relinquishment—or unlearning—of fear and the acceptance of love back into our hearts. Love is the essential existential fact. It is our ultimate reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life.”

This resonated to the core of my being. And as my understanding of the “Course” deepened, so did my intention to integrate it’s tenants into my way of being in the world. It remains an ongoing challenge, but one that I continue to honor to the best of my ability. For example:

“Sometimes people think that calling on God means inviting a force into our lives that will make everything rosy. The truth is, it means inviting everything into our lives that will force us to grow—and growth can be messy. The purpose of life is to grow into our perfection. Once we call on God, everything that could anger us is on the way. Why? Because the place where we go into anger instead of love, is our wall. Any situation that pushes our buttons is a situation where we don’t yet have the capacity to be unconditionally loving. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to draw our attention to that, and help us move beyond that point.”

I loved this interpretation of our purpose here on Earth. I loved this call to unconditional love. And so, I made it my mission to be in search of miracles … to seek out places in my own experience where I was living in fear instead of love. And when I incorporated my business 19 years ago, back in 2001, I named it ‘Miracles! Your Center for Well-Being Inc. because I wanted the energy of my work to reflect this intention.

And, I am on ongoing work in progress. By default, I have a very anxiously oriented mind … and yet … when I can simply surrender and let the principles guide me, I can find calm. I can embrace more peace. I can see ways to interpret things that are not so upsetting, painful or threatening to me. As Marianne explains:

“Surrender means, by definition, giving up attachment to results. When we surrender to God, we let go of our attachment to how things happen on the outside and we become more concerned with what happens on the inside.”

Yes. This book was pivotal in terms of directing me towards my own much needed healing. I remain ever grateful for these teachings. Nelson Mandela even quoted it in one of his famous speeches. He is often credited for the attached quote … but … it was not him. It was Marianne Williamson. It is truly worth the read.

P.S. Oh … and … I loaned the original ‘hard to comprehend’ “A Course in Miracles” to my father when he was battling prostate cancer. My Dad read the entire text from cover to cover and it literally transformed our very difficult relationship. It truly was a miracle! He was 75. I wrote about all his miraculous transformation in a Better Because of You Blog honoring my Dad.

Day #30: a freedom I am grateful for …

I believe that Covid-19 has harshly reminded me of all the freedoms that I have mindlessly taken for granted for most of my life. I suspect it has for most of us. And while we are aching for these liberties to once again be within reach, this pandemic has also afforded us an opportunity to search deep within our beings and extract that which means the most to us.It has been an unsettling and often polarizing journey for all of us.

One of the things that I most appreciate that Covid-19 has no power to take from me is my freedom of expression. I have been writing a blog … capturing my experience of this pandemic since April 5th, 2020. It took me about three weeks to realize that this life experience was going to impact us all in very deep ways and I wanted to simply record the shape of my own days as I found my way through it. So, each day I have made an effort to log my observance of some of the happenings, share some of my own perceptions and responses to these unforeseen circumstances and report some of the headlines that have been highlighted during it all.

So far I have five installments (2 months each) but they are lengthy. So, I’m going to continue with my monthly Covid-19 reflections in monthly installments instead. I haven’t published any of my ramblings as of yet. It feels like it is all a bit too close. Maybe in April of 2021 I will be inclined to publish the whole year in review?? Or maybe I will publish the parts a year from the time of the writing?? I don’t have any idea at this point.

But … what I do know for sure is that I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the page. I appreciate the opportunity to write from my heart … absolutely unedited … and publish my thoughts without fear of reprisal.

Which is not to say that I don’t have a “vulnerability hangover” (to quote Brené Brown) every single time I share something deeply personal. I can’t even explain why writing is such a portal for me. It opens me up to see into myself. I just know that I often get clarity around my own perceptions as my fingers hit the keyboard and/or my pen strikes the page. I am an introvert by nature and, as I have shared, I need to toss things around in my consciousness before I can claim, embrace and hold onto any perceptions for certain.

And so … may I take this time to thank you for holding space for my ramblings … for encouraging me to speak from my heart … and .. for honoring my experience, even if it might be different from your own. This gratitude quest has been such a rich and remarkable experience for me. AS soon as I saw the invitation from my dear friend Lisa, I knew I needed to do it. Covid-19 has been an emotionally difficult time for everyone and I recognize that it is in times of deepest darkness that we need to focus our gaze towards the light.

And, I am recognizing more and more … that writing is not just a passionate privilege for me. No, I am seeing more and more that it is really one of my life lines. It kindles my internal flame in an indescribable way. I have no idea why. I just know this to be true. So … a freedom I am infinitely grateful for is the freedom to write.

And, if you are reading this … I thank you for hearing my words, for honoring my heart and for sharing your own thoughts, perceptions and feelings in the comments. One of the greatest gifts of this gratitude journey has been the exchanges and connections that have emerged in the comments section because I posted this daily on Facebook. In this way, writing connects us all.

This has been such a rich and remarkable experience. I am ever grateful for the comments and conversation and connections there were created as a result of people engaging with the posts. It has been so incredibly nourishing for me that I don’t want it to stop. I am going to do the monthly journal prompts that I discovered on Pintrest … starting in January of 2021! And, the best news is that I already have other people who are interested in doing the “January Journal Prompts” with me. 🎉🎉🎉

Yes. I am so incredibly grateful that I did not simply pass over the opportunity to look more deeply into my sources of gratitude. It really enriched my appreciation for all that I enjoy in my life!

If you ever get the chance to reflect and explore these questions … I highly recommend that you do it!

🧡 Karen 🧡

JOURNAL PROMPT: April 3, 2022 – What are you most grateful for … ?

I guess it depends on where I am setting my gaze, but there are so many, many, many things to be grateful for … on so many levels … micro, meso and macro. I don’t even think I could create a specific list that fully encompasses or adequately exhausts my appreciation for all the ‘beings’, ‘doings’ and ‘havings’ that shape my life and my experience of things.

I remember many years ago reading a couple of amazing books both written by M. J. Ryan focused upon the power of gratitude. “Attitudes of Gratitude” was an exceptional invitation to hone the lens through which I chose to see the world. I highlighted so much in that book that the pages were yellow. It was a game changer for me.

Another really lovely book filled with invitations to experience the world through lens of gratitude is “A Grateful Heart”.  It is a book of ‘blessings’ upon which to reflect as an evening ‘grace’ before meals. I didn’t use them in that fashion. I tended to use them as morning meditations … inspiring thoughts to underpin my days.

Anyway … I share this because maybe the thing I am most grateful for is that fact that I choose to look with grateful eyes. We typically find whatever it is that we are looking for. If we are looking for what is right, we will find it. If we are looking for what is wrong, we will find that too. I caught an episode of “Oprah” many decades ago in which she spoke about developing a daily gratitude practice. She stated that it had changed her life. I was inspired by that thought. I determined that if it was good enough for Oprah … it would be good enough for me.

So, way back in 1999, I bought a luxurious leather bound journal and started recording my appreciations into it. Every day I jotted down five things I was grateful for … and … I made it a rule that I could not say the same thing twice. So, at the risk of having to repeating myself, I noticed that I started consciously seeking things each day that I could record into my list the next morning.

It was the most amazing thing! I started to recognize all the things that previously escaped my awareness. I became far more conscious about the things that were going well and right, rather than the wrong and bad eclipsing my gaze. This shift in focus generated positive neural pathways for me that got myelinated each and every day. The more I did it, the easier it got.

I recorded my ‘gratitudes’ faithfully for years … and then … fell away from it for some years … and then came back to it again. As you can see, I had determined my 2020 vision was going to be set on “Seeing the Gifts.” If only I had known how difficult but necessary that was going to become ………..

Yes. I am most grateful for my gratitude practice and the way it has shaped my gaze. Even though I am not writing it down each day anymore, I find that my brain is still cued to notice the things that are going well, to see the gifts in my challenges and to bring light to dark … and even … to notice the things that I don’t want, that I don’t have. And, for all of THAT, I am most and ever grateful.

With heartfelt appreciation, 💖 Karen 💖

JOURNAL PROMPT – March 16, 2021: Do you share your vulnerabilities with others? Why or why not?

You know, for the first 40+years of my life my vulnerabilities were tucked tightly behind my shiny façade of perfection. I was all masked up so no one would be the wiser of my shoddy genesis. In addition to trying to outrun my shame with my perfectionism, I tried to distract people from seeing too far into me by people-pleasing, performing and proving myself to be shiny and bright. And, I do not say this with self-judgment. I offer up this observation with deepest compassion for myself.

And, when we talk about all this through the lens of the ‘shadow’ … i.e. the shadow of our subconscious mind, I can see that these efforts might have actually saved me. Yes. It strikes me that choosing to be so committed to my ‘story’ that all was well in my world might have spared me from ending up on a path that might have looked quite different. Seeking something better may have kept me from falling victim to the unfavorable reality of ‘what was’. I could wear a smile despite the chaos and dysfunction that I was marinating in. For the most part, I think I was pretty convincing. Most people had no idea. I even hid it all from myself to some degree. I certainly stuffed it way down deep.

As I shared in one of my blogs … I certainly did not ‘feel’ like what I appeared to be. Of course, there were also a few people … one ‘colleague’ in particular … who did not buy the façade but had no idea what was really going on behind my smile. They didn’t believe it so they called me “fake.” Perhaps they were right to some degree, but … their critical appraisal of me felt somewhat cruel to me and certainly raised some concerns regarding their professional acumen. People in their profession are supposed to help, not harm. They were a counsellor.

The truth was, I was hiding. A slight but very meaningful distinction. And, sadly, I triggered them so much that they did their best to make me utterly miserable. And I was so committed to the façade that it probably looked like it didn’t even phase me. I did share with a couple of very close friends … people I knew I could trust, but for the most part, I hid all of my pain in this regard too.

I’m not sure if their intention was to ‘break me’ or what … but … it certainly was one of the most heartachingly difficult times in my life. But, in retrospect, it was also a gift offered up in a very ugly wrapping. It grew me. Maybe it it truer to say that I allowed it to grow me. I could have let it take me down because, in all fairness, their assault on my desire to be accepted was not unprecedented. I had been told before that “You’re the kind of girl we love to hate” so … it was not the first time I had been rejected on the basis of my shiny façade.

It is really ironic to recognize that I was hiding behind my façade to avoid being rejected. And, ultimately, it was my façade that actually got me rejected. While it had saved me in some ways … it also invited incredible judgment and visible disconnection from others. It was definitely an experience of ‘both/and’ … rather than … ‘either/or’. That is how it goes with our embracing our vulnerabilities. It is both a blessing and a curse. That said … it is good to remember the words of some wise soul who said: “We are always caught by what we are running from.” Yep. But only always. 🙄

Once I started my healing journey … I was able to drop the cape of perfection and began to embrace all the parts of me I had judged so harshly. I reclaimed my shame and, much to my surprise, found oodles of gifts in it. For example, I can see that because I was always afraid that I would never measure up … I worked really hard to be top of my class. My desire to live in integrity was birthed from the realization that doing what I believed was ‘right’ spared me from hanging my head in any more shame or guilt. My inner pain has invited me to be more compassionate and understanding with others. All in all, I can honestly credit my ‘shame’ shadow (along with many other unwelcome shadows) for what I define as some of my greatest successes.

As I healed, I recognized that there were people who, in the words of the renowned vulnerability researcher Brené Brown, had earned the right to hear my ‘story.’ And so … I allowed myself to be real, authentic and vulnerable with the other coaches in my Certified Integrative Coaching training program with The Ford Institute. Wow. To be received with such compassion and understanding. To be encouraged to embrace my ‘wholeness’ was the most remarkable gift. It brings me tears, again … right now … even after all these years.

Yes … let me not skip over the fact that “hurt people, hurt people,” so not everyone is to be trusted with our vulnerabilities. We must be cautious if we put our fragilities into the hands of those who will not tend to them with utmost respect and deference.

And, I think this whole journey has made me a better counsellor/therapist myself. I tend to intuitively see when someone else is wearing a mask … in a heart beat. I know there is a whole lot of pain and fragility behind it. I know I need to be tender and careful. I know that what we see on the ‘outside’ of someone is often being driven by the opposite on the ‘inside’. You know … hard shells generally exist to protect very vulnerable parts.

And, I often share my vulnerabilities in the counselling room (not to make it about me) but to make it safe for them claim, share and get more comfortable with their own vulnerabilities. As I say this, I realize I have never, ever hidden behind my façade in the counselling room. Nope … the stories I share inside those walls are NEVER flattering. I am chuckling now, because I am realizing that I share my shame quite comfortably with my clients. It is really interesting to note that I actually use my shame in my profession to serve others … and … people continue to express how much they appreciate me being so ‘real’ with them.

And, over the years, I have also come to share my vulnerabilities in my blogs. And, speaking honestly to them here on the page has proved the idea that vulnerability invites ‘connection’ whereas trauma invokes ‘protection’ (the façade). Once again, to borrow the words of Brené Brown, I always get the worst ‘vulnerability hangover’ when I share my vulnerabilities online, but I have been both surprised and comforted by the compassionate responses that people have offered when engaging with my moments of fragility.

It’s also so good for me to learn that I can stand in the truth of my wholeness. And these days … I see that I am less likely to hide if/when I feel judgment or ostracism coming from someone else as a result of my sharing. I am far more likely to realize it shows me something about who they are … and … what they cannot be with … rather than who I am.

With deepest reverence for our collective vulnerabilities, 🧡 Karen 🧡

JOURNAL PROMPT – February 25, 2021: What life experience has strengthened you the most?

The answer to this journal prompt is easy. The life experience that has strengthened me the most was the life experience that I thought was annihilating me forever. My eldest daughter left home two months after her 15th birthday. After growing up in a less than Hallmark home, I had invested so much effort into creating what I thought was the ‘perfect’ home for my little girls. I could not fathom how she was rejecting it … and … me.

While it seemed at the time as the worst possible thing that had ever happened to me, it was actually the catalyst that led me to the path of healing. And, I must concede it was a path I did not even know I needed to be on. I naively thought I had made my way through my unfavorable childhood and had fairly effectively managed the wounds I had collected in my lifetime. I didn’t have any clue there was so much left to heal. But, thanks to my exceptional daughter, I could no longer delude myself into the notion that ‘the teenager’ was the only source of the problem in our house. When she was no longer in the picture (or in the house), I had nowhere to project my distress.

I had nothing I could do except look inward and see how I could find my way though the mess. I initially sought solace from the pain of ‘losing her’ … but in doing so … I found my way to a much grander healing. I discovered the body of work of Debbie Ford … which lead to so much growth … which led to me getting trained as a Certified Integrative Coaching Professional …which led to me going back to school ,.. which ultimately led me back to my childhood career dreams of becoming a therapist and being able to help others overcome their own wounding. It not only led me to my career in counselling, but expanded my gaze and softened my heart and widened my capacity for understanding.

And … it was not an easy path to healing. Debbie’s body of work is not for the feint of heart. As I peeled back the layers of the person I thought I was, I was flabbergasted to see that I gained as much as I surrendered. And, somehow, my relationships with ALL my daughters were optimized as I healed myself. Yes. I am stronger because I am healthier emotionally. I worked through much of the traumatic default patterns of behavior that were negatively impacting my parenting style. I started to identify things (thoughts, words and deeds) that I didn’t even realize were not serving me well.

As guided by Debbie Ford and her impeccable body of work, I embraced all my dark shadows instead of continuing to try to out run them or hide them or deny them. I learned to embrace all my perceived shortcomings … recognized my self-righteous positions. I humbled my pride and dropped the mask I had been wearing that I believed was protecting me. I tenderly touched into my shame, welcomed my vulnerability and honored my mistakes. I made honest amends (for ALL of things I was still holding judgement against myself – going back to when I was 10 years old). I courageously faced my embarrassments. I owned my anger and unwrapped the strength and wisdom that was tucked inside it. I reckoned with my fear of weakness and allowed it to help me be compassionate with myself. I settled into my vulnerability and gave myself permission to mess up and be human.

And, ironically, it was in that space of fragility that I found my freedom. I discovered such reverence and compassion for my own heartaches and heartbreaks. I became aware of the insidious ways in which I had already and could continue to hurt others. I assumed responsibility for ensuring that my intentions were honorable. I investigated when I noticed they were not. I usually discovered where I was justifying my attack thoughts in my unprocessed wounding.

I also claimed my light shadows. This was almost harder than embracing the unwelcome aspects of my personhood. I started to see both the best of who I could be (and was) and unconditionally love and accept the parts of me that I previously judged so harshly. I could go on and on and on and on and on.

There was so much to learn … so much to integrate …and so much to embrace on the other side of my perception of my daughter’s rejection. And, as crazy as it sounds, I will be ever grateful to her for helping me find my truest sense of strength by lovingly embracing my all weaknesses … and … gifting me with the path to more ‘wholeness.’ Yes. I am ever, ever, ever grateful. That horrific feeling of ‘breakdown’ of who I thought I was … turned out to be my invitation to ‘breakthrough’ and claim more of who I could be.

And, twenty-five years later … I am STILL being invited by life to unwrap concealed parts of myself. It never gets easy … but … it is always so very worth it.

Here’s to embracing the courageous warrior within each of us … 🧡 Karen 🧡

JOURNAL PROMPT – January 17, 2021 – The title of a movie of your life would be?

There is no doubt about it … the old boy and I are in the final quarter of our lives. And, this reality has been taking up more space in my awareness of late. I noticed myself thinking the other day that I have had a pretty good life. And then of course, in true INFJ fashion, I found myself questioning what I thought was so great about it???

It was a weird juxtaposition because although I feel a sense of satisfaction with the way things have turned out … when I look back over the events, circumstances and situations that have framed my existence, my life has certainly not been without many traumatic challenges, unenviable difficulties … and … unwelcome experiences/situations and people.

And yet, as I reflect back over it all, there is nothing I would change. Well, except maybe the timeliness of my responses. I can see very clearly, in retrospect, that I might have spared myself some undue pain and suffering had I responded differently … sooner … to the events in my world. But, as Maya Angelou has reminded us, we do better once we know better.

That said, I think this is where the story line of my life holds its power. While I have had my fair share of grief, loss and hardship … I do believe that, ultimately, my responses have empowered me rather then disempowered me. When I look back, I can see that I really did make the best of what was positioned before me … even if it took me a while to figure out how to accomplish that feat. I can see that I really did focus upon finding the blessings in the challenges. I really did search for the gold in the dark. I truly believed that there was a pony in the poop … somewhere.

I have never spent a whole lot of time lamenting my lot in life. Which doesn’t mean I haven’t fallen hard. I sure have. I just haven’t gotten stuck in it for too long. I know when I was a child, I didn’t have the luxury of wallowing in the muck. I knew no one was coming to save me. I knew it was on me to figure it out.

That said, I haven’t always seen things clearly. I have sometimes misunderstood myself, my loved ones and the world around me. I have been derailed by my highly-kindled amygdala. I have been unkind to myself. I have made things worse. I have got it wrong. I have been a bull in a china shop. I have been humbled beyond belief. I have cleaned up the messes. I have apologized. I have learned some hard lessons.

Nonetheless, and despite any darkness that descended around me, I can confidently confirm that I have always, always, always looked for the light. I have persistently done my best to turn the lemons into lemonade. I have been chronically committed to creating fertilizer out of the shit. And, I have remained determined to let it grow me.

And, when things have been at their absolute worst … I could unfailingly count on that still, small voice inside of me nudging me out of any hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness and/or stuckness by persistently pushing me forward with this little query: “How are you going to live a great life anyway?”

And so … I don’t think there is any doubt about it … the name of the movie of my life would be the same as the name of my business page on Facebook/Instagram:

“Live a Great Life Anyway …”

Oblivious by design or choice … ??

Yep. See that cranky ‘WTF’ look on that bird’s face? Pretty much captures my feelings about the first six months of 2020. The year was not anything like what I was planning. My “2020 Vision” was to head into what is realistically the ‘last quarter’ of my life checking things off my bucket list. I had eagerly got the ball rolling last September by reducing my work hours and booking some once in a lifetime travels. Things were shaping up so beautifully, but then … there was Covid-19.  And then … as if a pandemic was not enough … there was June 2020.

I am not a particularly contentious person. As a counsellor/therapist, I am deeply committed to honoring people’s perspectives. I am usually pretty good at it … but … June 2020 was a real challenge for me. I should share that I have been schooled through the Faculties of Social Work for both my undergraduate and graduate level studies. And yes, I am proud to be a social worker … to the deepest core of my being. In my post secondary education, I realized that although we may believe we are well-informed and well-educated humans, but there is so much we don’t know that we don’t know about our humanity and those who experience life differently than those of us in the dominant mainstream. My studies invited me to take a deep dive into exploring the “isms” (racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, capitalism, colonialism – to name a few) that were strategically ‘left out’ of our academic curriculums. I really began to understand the horrific oppression experienced by ‘others’ as a result of their marginalization.

Yes. Just like the fish doesn’t see the water it is swimming in, I felt ashamed to learn that I didn’t know a darn thing about the unseen advantages and unearned privileges I had unwittingly enjoyed for decades. Yes. I came to see very clearly that  as a heterosexual, middle-class, well-educated, employed, married white woman, I landed fairly comfortably within the center of the mainstream, dominant majority. There were a few things that nudged me a little closer to the margins, but for the most part, I got a free pass.

I did not have a Hallmark life by any stretch of the imagination so please don’t misunderstand what I mean when I acknowledge my ‘privilege’. In no way am I dismissing or disregarding the challenges and traumatic overwhelm I experienced as a child. Collectively recognizing our White privilege does not mean we have lived charmed lives. It merely means we recognize that our skin color has not generated any extra hardships, hurdles or challenges for us.

And so, somehow, through my evolution and growth, I became deeply committed to social justice. And, as my understanding grew regarding the challenges Black, Indigenous and People of Color [BIPOC] faced on a regular basis, I became more invested in disrupting all the systems and structures that relegated  some folks to the margins and kept certain demographics of people oppressed and ‘othered.’ In fact, it might be fair to say that nothing gets me triggered more quickly than acts of oppression and social injustice. I am not sure what happens within me, but I am not able willing to keep my mouth shut. And, it invariably gets me into really hot water.

One of the first times I took a strong stand was early in my career. I speak more about it in another blog entitled Better Because you Were Not the Least Bit Nice. It was the very first time I took on the ‘bully’ and, although it built deep strength in my ethics and convictions to disrupt oppression, it was unequivocally the hardest challenge I had tackled up to that point in my life. 

My commitment to anti-oppressive practices also got me into some serious contention with my supervisor in my Masters Practicum in a clinical social work setting. I spent eight months immersed in a mainstream, medical-model of mental health counselling/therapy.  Much of what I was witnessing was bumping into my anti-oppressive teachings and contrary to a more trauma-informed approach to health and healing. I almost requested a transfer … but … eventually found my way to the end of it.  It was also one of the darkest rides of my life. 

My commitment to social justice also inspired me to take a firm stand and report a colleague who I came to recognize was causing harm. They countered by threatening to sue me for defamation of character unless I provided a formal apology or substantiated my claims. I opted for the latter. After appraising my position, the individual decided to ‘retire’. 

I also opted to take a stance with my employer recently regarding a number of concerns that I addressed in a 25 page grievance which I submitted to the Executive Director. Although, ethically, I would argue that the Board of Directors should have been privy to weighing out the concerns expressed in my grievance before I was handed my Record of Employment and hefty severance cheque … things don’t always happen as they should.  It cost me $9000.00 in legal fees to confirm that I did, in fact, have a case for wrongful dismissal. I had two years from the date of my departure to decide whether or not I want to invest any more of the precious moments of my ‘final quarter’ engaged in the ugly energy of litigation. While I remain committed to ethics and integrity … I realized that I would never want my job back … not given the direction that the agency was headed. And, I had to concede that you can’t force insight.  So, I made the decision to opt for peace over principle. I expanded my private practice and have never been happier in my career.

I share all of this because I am not sure what comes over me when I am in the presence of something that seems unethical or unjust, but I feel driven to take a stand. And so, on May 25, 2020, as the news of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer was broadcast, I became deeply disturbed. Because the video of the murder was leaked online … there was no way to deny what had actually happened.

George Floyd was pleading with the officer to take his knee of his neck saying “I can’t breathe” and calling out for his deceased mother. These deeply disturbing reports motivated many, many meaningful “Black Lives Matter” protests which morphed into some destructive riots … and ultimately … generated highly opinionated and heated exchanges on all platforms of social media. Here is one of the worst ones that I felt compelled to address:

Seriously? Protestors are all unilaterally deemed terrorists?? I attended a protest. Does this make me a terrorist? I cannot begin to fathom what ‘rights’ White Americans were losing as protests tried to bring attention to the perpetual challenges, inequities and injustices experienced by those who are Black. But … Americans can’t breathe?? Oh my … I tried my best to be tactful in my response:

I struggle with posts like this because it seems to me that generalizing and defining all the protests by the actions of some is as unjust and misguided as judging and defining all police officers by the actions of some. I am not sure I understand how generating more ‘us’ versus ‘them’ by using inflammatory name calling is likely to foster a peaceful answer either.

The Black Lives Matter protests were quickly met with counter claims that “All Lives Matter” and “Rioting is wrong” and “Not all cops are bad.” I saw a great commentary speaking to this backlash written by one person but “stolen” from someone else. It’s another pet peeve of mine when people don’t credit the source of the sentiments they are sharing on social media. I realize that sometimes the source is entirely unknown … but would it not be far more respectful to simply give credit where credit is due rather than to ‘borrow’ or ‘steal’ from someone else? Anyway, I digress. Here is something that I found worthy of consideration regarding all the competing opinions.

It might be a bit of a stretch to presume it makes them feel like a good person … but, I would agree that it allows people permission to discredit the expressed concerns of ‘others’. It also occurred to me that another way of looking at it is in terms of being a landlord with several rental units.

If one of my tenants calls to inform me of a problem with their water line … pleading with me by saying “I need water.” Would it be helpful for me to respond by saying “all my tenants need water?” Although it might be technically true that all my tenants need water, it would intentionally dismiss the problem. 

Would it be helpful for me to counter with “Hmmm, no one else is complaining about their water lines.” This also might be a very true statement … but … is not the least bit helpful for the tenant who isn’t getting water.

No. If I am a decent landlord, I am going to listen to their very real and specific problems and then focus my attention to correct the problems they are experiencing. My focus in their direction does not diminish my concern for my other tenants. Rather … it ensures that each and every one of my tenants have equal access to water.

And oh my, oh my, oh my.  People were highly charged by all the talk about racism. And, their ‘opinions’ were liberally plastered on every social media site possible. The opinions were not necessarily founded upon facts. I would agree with the following, but … that didn’t stop people from exercising their right to elevating their ‘opinion’ and deliberately discounting the experience of other people.

And, as the days turned into weeks in June, my heart struggled with it all. Although, as I said, I am usually able to hold a variety of perspectives side by each, but as the days turned to weeks, I became more and more outraged by what I was seeing online. I got into a few debates on social media myself. I took a few stands when it seemed that my silence was making me complicit with oppressive energy.

I did, however, get myself unfriended. The most egregious evidence of the “latch onto some minor inconsequential statement to discredit the whole thing in their heads” logic was displayed in a meme that I saw on on one of my friends Facebook profile. This was the one that tipped me right over the edge. The creator of this post went so far as to scoff at the suffering .. and … suggest very clearly that no one wanted to be bothered to hear any more about the injustices BIPOC have been experiencing for centuries.

I must admit that I lost my usual decorum and responded from an outraged place. While this meme may seem humorous at first glance … if we peel back the layers of what is not being said in the actual words … there is no denying that some racist attitudes are unequivocally visible in this message. From where I am looking, the people “copying and pasting” this sentiment are giving themselves permission to effortlessly elevate the damage sustained to corporate ‘material things’ as something far more grievous and worthy of their attention than caring the least bit about whether or not equality and justice is being served to each every part of our collective humanity.  

I concede that I should have waited until I was less heated before I responded. I am not proud of the way I handled my frustration in that moment.  I think my position was solid, but I could certainly could have made my point with less bite. I regret that. I trust they did not see what I saw in that posting because I cannot understand how seemingly decent people would deliberately choose to malevolently mock and callously dismiss the reason people are protesting in the first place!  Sadly, with a bit of grammatically incorrect quick wit, the entire intent of the 2020 civil rights upheaval was being hijacked by mainstream, dominant-centered thinking that globally dismisses experiences that they cannot relate to personally.  And, in doing so, unequivocally renders visible the racist attitudes that are being challenged by the protests.  

In my humble opinion, the folks who are chuckling while posting and re-posting this statement affirm and reify the entire root of the problem. And, sadly, it seems that as they self-righteously scoff … they obviate their absolute apathy, denigrating dismissal and utter disregard for the plight of others with their clever quip. Had the centuries of peaceful pleas persistently presented by BIPOC been held, heeded and honored rather than historically ignored, we might not have seen the looting and vandalism that emerged as a last ditch effort to get the public’s attention.

Where is the compassion for people who have had enough? While I am not condoning the looting/vandalism, I really do wonder how many of us can say we have never been mad enough to break something in our lives? How many of us have ever felt so helpless, hopeless and powerless that we lost our regard for the value of material things?

Unless and until our opinions of ‘others’ are informed and tempered by compassion, we will unwittingly continue to perpetuate the problems and erroneously believe we had nothing to do with it.

I’ve been watching myself with compassionate curiosity.  For the most part, when I see something on Facebook that I don’t agree with … I can simply scroll on by it. Somehow, though, as I have shared … I am not able to do that when it comes to social injustice. So, I have continued to speak up some more. I have stood in considerable discomfort. I have engaged in some really tough conversations.

As I shared, I attended one of the protests in a city nearby where I live. Even though we were in a pandemic, I donned a mask and headed out to stand in solidarity. From where I am looking … the potential for risk that I consciously took to attend was an essential and necessary risk to help mediate the persistent and certain risk faced every day (not just during Covid-19) by BIPOC. While many of us are getting our first taste of having our personal liberties compromised by the pandemic, many folks have endured a lack of liberation over the entire course of their lives.

It struck me that we might be wise to let our experience of reduced freedoms during Covid-19 inform and fuel our compassion for those who persistently must live without even the most basic liberties in life.  Not everyone saw it that way though.  Many people took exception to the fact that people were “allowed” to protest, but not allowed to visit their family members, attend weddings or honor their loved one’s passing at funerals. For me, the decision came down to deciding that violations of human rights must take precedence over concerns regarding application of public policy. That said, I was really relieved to hear that our Chief Medical Officer of Health here in Alberta  confirmed in a recent update that no cases of Covid-19 can be traced to protest activities in our province.

Not everyone is convinced that racism is a problem though. And, it seems that White people are particularly averse to thinking that they might be considered racist. Other bodies of thought contend that we are all racist. And … we can participate in anti-racist work even though we are working on our own implicit racist tendencies. There was a really good placard suggesting we treat racism like Covid-19.

However, most folks have trouble with the whole notion. It seems to evoke a black versus white thing instead of an opportunity to come together to eradicate the inequalities and injustices experienced by others.

Well at least it should be! Since my eyes were opened in post secondary education, I have never presumed that my education was adequate, so in response to this recent uprising, I started reading “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad. For us white folk, it’s a necessary but very humbling read.

I also discovered, in June 2020, that despite my five years of social work education, I had no knowledge of all the inhumane “Indian Hospitals” that unapologetically existed in addition to the atrocious Residential Schools throughout Canada. I wanted to learn more about why our understanding of those hospitals was nationally hushed, so I ordered “Medicine Unbundled.” It was not until reading that book that I became informed about how Indigenous people were used in very inhumane but government sanctioned medical experiments. The more I learned the more disheartened I became. I sometimes wished I didn’t care so much. I have wondered why I couldn’t just turn my attention away from it all …

But … the conversation about White Privilege was too much for many people. Oh my gosh … the backlash.  People responded quite indignantly that they had hard lives too! What they do not understand is that by acknowledging our privilege, we are not saying we have had an ‘easy’ life. The term ‘privilege’ speaks to the reality that skin color has never complicated a white person’s life in any way! In fact, it is typically an advantage … despite any other challenges white folk may be required to endure.  Well … except for the risk of sunburn. Yes. My pale, white freckled skin leaves me very vulnerable to sunburn … but that is it.

As we learn more, we can come to realize that our privilege affords us the power to effect the changes that the Black community has been beseeching and pleading to the masses for – for years.  I saw this placard when I attended the protest in Lethbridge …

The reason it resonated so deeply with me is because the oppressed don’t have sufficient power to effect the change that is so desperately needed. They need the mainstream majority to use their power and privilege to enact the changes.

My internal drive to advocate for social justice also inspired me to join a local equality alliance in our community several years ago. I marched with them in my first PRIDE parade in 2016.  June has been decreed as PRIDE month. It is usually marked by celebrations honoring the LGBTQI2S+ community.  And then, also in June of 2020, I sensed that my ally-ship was being discredited.  Ouch. Double ouch. I am assuming it was speculated to be “performative” (i.e. offered only to make myself look good). I spoke up on my own behalf, and could have belabored the discussion, but I decided not to invest my energy trying to shift perspectives in this regard. People will believe what they want to believe. It is really frustrating to be misunderstood. I am just going to keep doing what I am doing. 

That really pinched, but June wasn’t even near done yet. Forgive me in this paragraph where my privilege speaks loud and clear. Turns out that the old boy and I had to cancel the indulgent and idyllic ‘last-quarter’ trip overseas to cruise behind the Iron Curtain. We had booked it almost a year before and were supposed to be enjoying in September 2020. My Bestie and I also had to cancel our eagerly anticipated 100km walk along the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  We also had a trip to Salt Spring Island cancelled in July 2020 because interprovincial travel was not yet recommended because of Covid-19. Yes. All the power and privilege I have  gained by being positioned comfortably in the mainstream got revoked. My skin color couldn’t get me on that boat … nor … could it buy me a pass to wander the Camino. 

Oh and because I attended the BLM protest in June…. I followed the recommendation of our Chief Medical Officer for all those who attended a protest. I didn’t have any symptoms and although the test  came back negative, it was interesting to experience the sense of shame that accompanied the whole situation. I hoped no one saw my car in the ‘testing line’ because I felt like I was somehow tainted as the Public Health Nurse approached me wearing all the layers of PPE possible. She was wonderful, but the process was definitely stigmatizing. All in all, it was such a humbling experience. 

And then, one night our phones started screaming with highly alarming alerts warning of a tornado from a storm that delivered hail stones the size of golf balls near here and the size of baseballs and grapefruits in neighboring communities. Good grief … 2020 seemed to stop at nothing to make us tremble in our boots. And, if that wasn’t enough for marking us half way through 2020 … it looks like some people were still committed to re-electing Trump in November.

Yes. June 2020 was a real head shaker. I share my comments about Trump’s supporters, because June 2020 really taught me a lot about ‘opinions’ …and … how unshakeable and how unreasonable some of our opinions prove to be. Pluto does a great job explaining:

And, it has been my experience that people, for the most part, don’t have the conversations suggested by Pluto. Nope. Seems people are exceptionally committed to their opinions … even if evidence to the contrary invites them to stretch their perspectives. All one has to do is spend a little bit of time online to see that people are quick inject their own beliefs into a situation without any obvious connection to the real meaning of the discussion.

Here is another example of people avoiding the deeper issues with police brutality and instead trying to turn the tables on the ones who have been assaulted. It’s really interesting to me because how many of us actually KNOW for sure … beyond the depictions we see on TV … how the police interact with minorities. Most of us have very little interaction with police. And so … we take our limited experience … and come to the conclusion that brutality wouldn’t happen if people didn’t get into trouble?? Seriously. Lots of people thought this logic made perfect sense.

Unfortunately, what people don’t know is that in the United States, the Thirteenth Amendment was established to forbid slavery, except where the condition is imposed on an individual as punishment for a crime!! And so, after the 13th amendment was passed, slavery was just resurrected in a new form. As confirmed in the data, the police were urged to charge as many Black men as they could in order to assure free labor continued. And so, contrary to the notion held by White people suggesting that people are being apprehended for lacking common sense, Black people were/are stopped for all manner of ridiculous reasons. Mass incarceration is an indisputable fact that White people have no idea about. It is, in fact, one of the reasons for the protests.

Oh my gosh. There are so many layers and complexities to consider in all of this. Unfortunately, it seems that many folk are either unable or unwilling to consider the possibility that their perspective is not entirely inclusive. I also came across another post on a Facebook group that I could not scroll past either.

One of the groups I enjoy invites people to post pictures of their travels! And, especially during Covid-19, it has been a real delight to experience the world through the lens of other people. That said, however, I came across this haunting picture of Auschwitz.

It took my breath away because it reminded me of our own visit there many years ago.  Of course we had heard about the unforgiveable atrocities that were committed upon Jewish people during WWII … but … to get a ‘felt sense’ of the place took my empathy and understanding of the heinous actions to a whole new level of understanding. Anyway, one of the comments under this post caught my eye:

I saw a number of responses suggesting that by removing evidence of the suffering and sanitizing these atrocious historical events and places, we risked allowing horrific things like this to happen again.  Valerie remained committed to her position and responded to another person’s suggestion that these moments in time must be honored, rather than rendered into something more palatable and “nice”.  

And well … at this point, the social worker in me was unable to simply keep scrolling.  For all of my life, I had understood empathy to be an act of feeling our way into another person’s experience … taking a walk in their shoes to embrace a deeper sense of how they must have been feeling.  It struck me that Valerie’s refusal to let the suffering of others into her awareness was the antithesis of empathy. Her stance was one of self protection. She could not bear to see it. 

But please don’t get me wrong. My issue with Valerie was not the sensitivity of her nervous system. I, too, can relate to being overwhelmed by external influences. I even quit watching the news because it triggered my arousal system so deeply that I needed to protect myself.  No. I recognize that there are times when we need to protect ourselves from the the stressors around us. That said, there are times when protecting ourselves from the ‘felt sense’ of experience of others can be very divisive and lead us to a lack of real empathy! 

For example, I vividly remembered feeling something similar to Valerie many, many years ago when I went to see the movie Born on the 4th of July. When the character played by Tom Cruise was paralyzed and forced to live in a horrid hospital setting … it was so sickeningly horrific to watch … I wanted to get up and leave the theatre. I felt like I couldn’t bear to see it anymore. I could actually hear myself thinking, “I can’t stand to see this … I’ve got to get out of here”.

And then … another voice within me firmly contested: “Those people, in that circumstance, didn’t have the privilege of leaving that horrendous space. They were trapped there for days, weeks, months!!  And, now, this is too much for YOU to bear … so YOU are going to bolt?? If they could LIVE through it for that long, you can sit through the truth of it for a few more minutes!!” 

Gah. So, I stayed. I sat in that seat and let myself really feel into the egregious circumstances that people endured during that war. And, I would argue that it was by actually facing the discomfort of another’s pain that I found a deeper sense of empathy for their circumstance.

So, as much as I could completely understand Valerie’s desire to look away … I took issue with her notion that by not looking into the truth of another’s experience that we were honoring them??  I took issue with her notion that no one should have an opportunity to get a felt sense of that horrific atrocity simply because ‘her’ personal experience of it was untenable?  From where I am looking, it is often our inability to relate to other’s experience that impedes our capacity for compassion. And so, I responded to Valerie:

I can see now that I might have wrapped my comments in a bit more context. My intention was to invite some awareness of how lucky most of us have been to escape the brutal life experiences that other people had no choice but to endure. Valerie did not accept my invitation to see it as ‘privilege’. In fact, as I shared before, that word is a real trigger for many folks  … and well … Valerie sure let me have it!!

Whattt??? As I pulled the daggers out of my chest, I double checked her comments to ensure I had not erroneously taken her out of context. Nope.  I had not. And I was once again reminded of how quick people choose to hurl insults at others when they don’t like what they are hearing. And maybe I should have simply ignored her comments, but I hoped I might be able to clear up any misconceptions … and … stretch her to seeing where I was coming from.

And so … it wasn’t long before the owners of the Page deleted the picture and all the comments. And, I completely understand why they did so. The unfavorable energy generated by my comments was not in keeping with the vision or intent of the Page.  And, I regret that my voice added to the anger and vitriol that was spewed about as a result.

Nonetheless, I believe my point was well taken. And I am sharing it here in order to expand upon the concept of privilege and choice. It does not escape me that I have sufficient privilege to escape many unfavorable discomforts that are part of BIPOC’s everyday realities.

And, so as we enter 2021 … I wish I could say that the challenges between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has landed in a place of mutual understanding. Not so. I find myself questioning whether we are oblivious to the challenges of others ‘by design’ or simply ‘by choice’ … or maybe … it is a complex combination of both.

This past week, a whole new type of protest happened.

  • On Capitol Hill.
  • Incited by the 45th President of the United States.

Donald Trump and many of the 75 million who voted for him were still contesting the results of the November 2020 election the deemed Joe Biden would be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States of America. The news reports have acknowledged that the perpetrators of this attempted coup … which is now being touted as “domestic terrorism” … were emboldened by the racist attitudes that have been seemingly normalized by Donald Trump over the last four years.

Media is also rendering visible how different the global response might have been were it BIPOC who stormed the Capitol. It is outrageous to think that people could gain access to these premises as easily as they did … and … the suspicion that their skin color aided and abetted them in their endeavors must certainly be considered.

This cabinet seat was arrogantly appropriated by one of the protestors.
Adam Christian Johnson smiled and waved as he was carrying Nancy Pelosi’s podium through the U.S. Capitol Building with other rioters. It is reported that he is 36, married with 5 children and has reportedly disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement.

So, as of January 9, 2021, there have been 55 arrests associated with the insurrection that claimed the lives of five people, including a police officer who was allegedly bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. I find it somewhat curious to notice that the pages of Facebook have not been littered with criticism of the “terrorists” who led this march? The general public, at least the memes being circulated on social media, are comparatively quiet about this protest. How come??

It is very interesting to note, however, that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have chosen to ban Donald Trump from any further posting.

Gah. What am I missing here?? How is it permissible for this PROTEST to be instigated by Trump and carried out by his “Make America Great Again” [MAGA] supporters, but the protests honoring the Black Lives Matters movements were vehemently dismissed by MAGA … disregarded entirely as unsubstantiated claims of a non-existent racism. How is all of this possible?? My queries were confirmed by the ladies on The View.

I suspect part of the problem is because we have not been educated to see beyond our own personal experiences. The mainstream, dominant majority effectively projects their own experiences upon everyone else … and … readily dismisses any narratives that do no align nicely with their own. We create silos filled with people who share the same thinking as our own and we do not stray beyond that much. We do not embrace opportunities to entertain notions that don’t fit our own story lines about life. Therefore, I would say that to some degree, we are oblivious by choice.

And, further to that, we are simply not invited by our educational curricula to see (with any compassion or empathy) into the lives of those who do not look like, walk like, talk like the mainstream dominant do. No. The voices of mainstream power and White privilege are amplified in our education systems and fail to adequately instruct us (in thoughtful and meaningful ways) about those who are different from the normative standard that has been elevated before us … i.e. White, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class, English-speaking Christians. Therefore, I would suggest, we are oblivious by the sheer design of our academic institutions. Jane Elliott speaks to this issue very emphatically … in ways that many of us have before been invited to consider.

And, while I would hope that we would be open to learning from each other beyond the walls of our educational systems and religious organizations … I am not seeing a whole lot of that on social media platforms right now. But I certainly hope we can continue to have these hard conversations. I hope we will make room for discussions that make us reflect a bit more … that make us a bit uncomfortable … that invite us to check our privilege … that give us eyes of compassion … and ultimately … stretch our perspectives so that we might bridge the divide currently exists between us. 

With both hope and humility, 🧡 Karen 🧡

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