What Better Gift than the Gift of Self

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“Broken” 11×14 mixed media on canvas (SOLD); prints available.

Heartache and Sorrow are as much a part of life as joy. In down times, we sometimes think that hardships and trials consume most of our lives, but they probably don’t. If we cleaned the lens of memory, we would also find moments of laughter and sunshine amidst the clouds.

Getting through Christmas is difficult for many. When my children were young, we made a gingerbread house together and decorated it with frosting and festive candies. I baked quantities of good things to eat that were shared with friends and family. Now that the kids are gone, I can barely make myself put up a tree or decorate at all.

I rarely use my oven, knowing that most of the sweets will end up on my husband’s stomach and my hips. I can hardly wait for Christmas to end. I enjoy the spiritual worship and the sense of joy, but the aloneness I feel with my children scattered to the far corners of the US, leaves a hole in my heart.

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“Emma” 11×14 drawing; in celebration of her 92nd birthday

Getting involved in my church and community somewhat fills the void. There are many ways to “get out of self” through helping others. If you find yourself weighed down by personal grief, move yourself to action.

When I’m working in our food pantry, I’m able to give sincere hugs of love to the people in need. Their hunger not just for food, but for companionship and the touch of another human being warms my heart, too.

Self-pity can consume you. When you turn your sorrow outward, in a show of love for others, the grief and sadness becomes bearable. Outlets of love provide a way to healing not only for the giver, but for the one who receives.

There may be times when we are on the receiving end. I was given a life-line many years ago by a neighbor and friend who seemed to know just what I needed.

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“Mother and Child” brush drawing on panel

Suffering from after-baby blues and depression combined with a traumatic experience had made me morose and frozen in inactivity. One day the doorbell rang, and there she was with a shovel in hand and some plants from her backyard.

“You’re coming outside with me,” she said without giving me a chance to refuse. I followed her outside like a sheep needing a shepherd.

We spent the next hour in the sunshine, planting my favorites from her garden. While we worked, we talked. After she left, I felt hope for the first time in weeks. The sunlight not only warmed my body, but my soul. My friend had pulled me from my dark sadness to a place of friendship and love. I would survive.

I’ve been forever grateful to her for taking the time to reach out to me. First she was aware that something was not normal, then she thought of a way that she could reach out to lend me a helping hand. Her example has helped me watch for the clues and signs in other people that indicate they may need my help.

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“Moody Blues” mixed media on 16×20 canvas

“Paying it forward” is a popular action that people are doing to help someone else. Instead of waiting for problems to develop, they reach out when they can and do something nice for someone else like paying for a meal, giving them your parking space, letting them go before you in line, allowing someone to merge ahead on the highway.

There are countless ways that you can serve. And in the helping, your own inverted downcast self is pulled from its dark shell and into the light.

Those Awkward Moments – Filling in the Gaps

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A Joyful Heart, 11 x 14 pastel

A Joyful Heart, 11 x 14 pastel

Some things, if repeated often enough, catch on. Take the word “awkward” said in a sing song voice after someone puts their foot in their mouth or there’s a lapse in conversation.

It happens to all of us. When my husband and I were dating, he’d fill in those silent spaces by saying: “Yup, yup, yup.” I tease him about it now; but obviously, when we were getting to know each other, he felt uneasy when there was a “pregnant pause” between our exchanges.

I’m a writer and an artist by trade so I’m better on paper and canvas than in verbal discussions where the bold and the loud hold sway. Maturity and life hurdles have given me muster, but essentially “chit chat” is not one of my strong suits.

Once I bumped into a mirrored pillar in a department store and said “excuse me.” When I looked up and saw that the open-mouthed face staring back was mine, I laughed in surprise. It’s healthy to laugh at yourself. When things go wrong seeing the humor can soften a bad situation.

Like the time my teenaged boyfriend walked me home from school and the elastic around my waist band snapped. I felt my slip crumple to the ground. Hey, at least it wasn’t panties! I stepped out of the slip, rolled it in a ball and carried it under my arm as we walked home. Nothing to fret about. Just another reason to make light of an embarrassing scene.

"Kindred Spirits" 30 x 24 mixed media on canvas

“Kindred Spirits” 30 x 24 mixed media on canvas

Another time I wore my skirt inside out to a meeting. I didn’t notice until half-way through the speaker’s message, and then I turned three shades of red thinking that the frayed seams and ragged hemline announced my stupidity. A quick trip to the girl’s room fixed my dilemma before any fuss could be made of it.

Waiters and waitresses are notorious for being on the receiving end of complaints by getting skimpy tips and insults. A waitress once spilled a glass of soda into my lap and apologized profusely. I could tell by her body language and facial expression that she expected an irate tongue lashing. When I smiled and said, “Everyone makes mistakes,” she breathed a sigh of relief. How could I not forgive her when I’m a klutz myself by nature?

On the news recently, someone pulled out a gun and shot someone for spilling a cocktail on his expensive suit. Many people take offense at far less than this. The world is turning into a population of whiny, short-tempered egoists who want their lives to progress without any problems. Pity the person who gets in their way.

Awkwardness is part of growing up, for Heaven’s sake; a stage of life prone to accidents. Arms and legs grow faster than we know how to use them. One day we’re short people with the perspective of a pup, and before we know it we’re towering over our parents but still under their rule and command. This odd time needs to be handled with patience and good humor.

"Shimmy Shake" 11 x 14 acrylic in black box frame

“Shimmy Shake” 11 x 14 acrylic in red box frame

My first marriage died from lack of humor. When you can’t laugh at yourself, or you resent other people teasing you or playfully trying to ease you out of a bad moment, you’ve got a compatibility problem.

Irritable, touchy people hate it when you try to cheer them up. They’re afraid that if they laugh or give into humor they might lose control and compromise their dictatorship.

Shouting from behind may get people to move, but real leadership beckons from the front with words of encouragement that say: “You can do it! Come on – follow me; I’ll show you how. Let’s do it together.”

Patience and kindness can bridge those awkward times we find ourselves in. No one has a “right” to make other people miserable or to constantly demand his or her own way. Relationships require that both parties get something out of it. Unpleasant personal encounters and dealings with other people should always be courteous and respectful, period!

"And All that Jazz" 11 x 14 acrylic in red box frame

“And All that Jazz” 11 x 14 acrylic in red box frame