Most mornings find me walking down a side street until I reach the entrance of a local park. The paved path gives me the option of traversing the perimeter of the park or taking one of the many branches that veer off at different spots along the way.
In winter conditions, I tend to stick to the same route. Even so, I encounter different challenges in various places. Within minutes one day I went from a clear dry path to a section where I had to pick my way carefully around icy patches, before a coming to some small snow drifts to wade through.
Not only does this keep the walk interesting, I know these kinds of changing conditions also apply to my walk of life. A brisk pace can quickly change to one where I have to watch my step. If I’m careful, I can get through it unscathed.
A few days ago, I had another challenge on my walk. A skimming of snow appeared to give me solid footing. I quickened my pace and was caught unaware by the ice beneath. My foot slipped and my arms instinctively rose to a ninety-degree angle with my body. I felt like a tightrope walker, attempting to maintain my balance. Somehow, I managed to stay upright.
My focus now was entirely on the next safe step to take. Although this sounds like a good thing, it did cause another issue. With my eyes downcast, I wasn’t fully aware of my surroundings. Before I realized it, I emerged at the side of a busy street. The diversion I normally took to my quiet route home had been passed by unawares.
Lately, these winter walks have shown me not only to watch my step but also to look up and appreciate what’s around me so I don’t miss something important.
The previous day’s heavy snowfall had left a large accumulation on our second story deck. We discussed the best way to remove it. If we tossed it by shovelfuls over the deck it would be blown onto the patio of our downstairs neighbour. Definitely not the best idea.
The only option for disposal seemed to be in our bathtub. My husband scooped up a bin full of snow and I carried it inside and dumped it in the tub before returning the bin to him.
We were surprised how many trips this took and how quickly the bathtub was filled. I took a couple of pictures and sent them to family. The caption said, “This is how I have to build a snowman when we don’t have a yard!”
The more I thought about, the better this idea sounded. I told my husband what I was thinking and he encouraged me to do it.
A large chunk of snow at one end of the tub would be perfect for the head. There wasn’t room to roll the snow into balls so I’d have to sculpt it. Maybe I could build it reclining. An idea for this project was forming in my mind. After much thought, I went to the fridge to choose the perfect carrot for Frosty’s nose.
When I returned to the bathroom, I could see that my project was not going to happen. The snow had melted into one solid mass and was no longer moldable. By morning, all that remained were a few leaves and some dirt to remind me what could have been.
I had the opportunity to do something unique and instead of going for it, thought about it until my window of opportunity passed. All my plans and good intentions mean nothing if I don’t act on them.
All is not lost, though. When I have the opportunity to take a chance and do something different, I will think bathtub full of snow and not waste the opportunity.
First, I took all of the pieces out of the box and turned them right side up so I could see what I was working with. Then I separated the edge pieces and built the border or the framework to define the perimeter of the picture.
This was when my analogy of a jigsaw puzzle to life began. I need to examine what I’m working with and know what my boundaries are.
Within this framework are multiple pieces. Some come together quickly. Others require much trial and error before they find their own place. It is quite common to be working on several different areas before discovering how one or two pieces are able to join them together.
I attempt to put similar colours and patterns together. The dark or shadowy ones aren’t as appealing but serve to make the brighter ones even more vibrant. The picture is starting to take shape.
I hold a piece in my hand and think I know where it belongs. It isn’t quite right but I attempt to make it fit. This is where I want it to go, why isn’t it working? If I force it, the space will not be held for the piece meant to go there and the picture will not live up to the potential shown on the box. This is more difficult that I imagined and I wonder if the puzzle is ever going to come together.
I move to a different position to view my work in progress. Another perspective helps me figure out where some of the extra pieces fit. I stand back to take an overall view and am happy with the progress made so far.
My life, like the jigsaw puzzle, still has some pieces to be put into place. The time and effort I put into it now will one day result in a beautiful picture of who I was and how I lived my life.
Partway through an online painting tutorial we were told the next step was to draw a path that later would be surrounded by trees. The instructor demonstrated how to sketch this. Then she said, “Don’t be concerned with your path looking exactly the same as mine. Everyone’s path will be different.”
I paused the lesson in order to catch up on my painting. Her words, however, remained with me.
My path is my own and will not look the same as anyone else’s. How many times have I been concerned about the differences rather than appreciating the unique path I travel? Just because my journey isn’t the same as yours doesn’t make either one of us wrong.
I have experienced frustration and disappointment when I’ve attempted to follow in the exact footsteps of someone I admired and not achieved the same results.
My faulty reasoning said if you were successful, then my success will follow when I duplicate your steps.
I failed to take into consideration that I am not you. My skillset and life experience vary from yours. Our definitions of success may also differ. We can learn from each other and adapt these lessons to create our own unique path.
Sometimes I’m a slow learner. It took me a long time to figure out what was most important to me. Only then could I create a life of abundance and enjoy the diversions rather than striving to reach what I thought my goal should be.
Now I’m creating my path as I travel and it’s taking me to some amazing places. The picture of my life has less stress and is far more colour as it evolves into the work of art it was meant to be.
Climatic conditions needed to be perfect produce the spectacular view I was looking at. Tree branches coated with hoarfrost are a sight that thrills me.
The majority of my life was lived on Canada’s west coast and I’d never experienced this particular beauty until we moved to Alberta fifteen years ago.
I’d seen my share of frost, but nothing as photogenic as the feathery type that forms on blades of grass, tree branches and leaves. Hoarfrost is so much more than a simple coating of ice crystals.
Several times during the day, I sat and gazed at the beauty. Instead of venturing into the frigid air for a closer look, I enjoyed the view from my warm living room. By mid-afternoon the temperature hadn’t risen but a wind had come up, loosening the frost. Bit by bit, the ice and its weight was removed and blown away.
This scene reminded me of problems and cares in life. Like many others, I put on a brave face and tell you everything is fine. Even if I don’t feel that way, it’s important to ensure everything looks good on the surface. I sometimes forget that ice, no matter how pretty, still feels cold.
When I acknowledge my need to be authentic and relational the frosty mask starts to fall away. By sharing my concerns with others, I am able to surrender the many items I have no control over. The icy bits that were weiging me down get blown away by the warm breeze of companionship. Together we find peace.
“Are you all settled in?” and “How are you adjusting to condo life?” are questions I’m frequently asked. I used this blog to talk about the process of our downsize and move, so six months later, thought it was a fitting place to give an update.
The answer to the first question is, “Yes.” We are happy and feel completely at home.
The adjustment to condo life has been easier than I expected. Hiccups in the transition process have been few.
The fact I don’t miss the space I had or the things I had to give up has been a huge surprise. When I had the space, stuff accumulated. “I might need this one day,” became the excuse for holding on to and tucking things aside.
The process of letting go showed me I had been living in a ‘lack of’ mentality rather than a spirit of abundance. A silly example of this was the bag full of elastic bands I had in a kitchen drawer. Can anyone relate to this?
Kathi Lipp, a speaker and author on subjects like living clutter free and getting yourself organized, said something that helped me deal with a few of the bigger things I was holding onto. “Not everything that comes into your hands is meant to stay in your hands” gave me permission to pass along items I’d never use but felt some sort of attachment to. I was able to send them to new owners who would appreciate them. Instead of guilt, I felt freedom.
The smaller space I now live in is the amount of space I actually used in our larger home. Not only do I have all the room I need, I have found the lack of clutter in my personal space equates to less clutter in my mind. I now have more time and energy to use in ways that bring joy.
I find it ironic to know the process I initially fought was what brought me more of what I needed to live my best life.
Yellow arrows painted on the paved pathway clearly indicate the direction foot traffic should flow.
I understood why this was necessary during the busy evening events planned for the park. My dilemma was wondering if I needed to follow these directions during my morning walk, when no crowds were present. I entered the park on foot, on the opposite side from the parking lot, so was already going the opposite direction.
After glancing around to ensure no one else would be entering this section of walkway, I strode in opposition to the painted markers. What I did caused no harm to anyone but still left me feeling slightly guilty.
This was about much more to me than following arrows marked on the ground. I have often had to make a decision between taking the designated route or following my own path. What seems to be best or most convenient for me is not always what I should do. My conscience is sometimes in opposition to my will.
These days we are faced with many decisions and opinions. Which way I go is ultimately up to me. I can follow the guidelines and social conventions or I can oppose them, certain that my rights are more important than my compliance.
If my choice causes harm, intentional or not, I will be faced with guilt and remorse. For that reason, I cannot allow personal beliefs to be the cause of disregarding the rules. When it comes to the direction I need to go, it’s seldom as easy as following painted arrows.
At the time of this writing, I’ve been doing an online, self-paced Spanish course for 270 days.
In order to move to the next level of learning I have to reach a certain ranking for the week. Sometimes it takes a few weeks to score enough points to move ahead. Too few points and I could be demoted to the previous level.
A few times I didn’t put in enough effort and barely maintained my standing. This bothered me so I now strive to remain in the top twelve.
Last week I checked my score and discovered I was in first place! It was only day one of the week so, while excited, I knew it might not last. The next morning, I had dropped to second place so spent a little longer online and regained my standing.
This is the way it continued for several days. My competitive nature had me spending more and more time each day. Sometimes I went online a second time to check my score and do another quick lesson. I wanted to finish the week as number one and get the virtual rewards that position offered.
With less than two days to go, someone surpassed me by so many points I would have to spend about three hours each day rather than my daily one hour. If I did this there was a good possibility I could win!
The voice of reason asked me what the cost would be. Time with my husband would pay the price, as would many other pleasures.
As if that weren’t bad enough, when I race through lessons, more intent on gathering points than learning, my retention diminishes. Foolish mistakes are made. Was the intent to learn the language or to come first in this level?
I listened to reason. That left time to bake muffins, go for a walk with my husband, email a childhood friend and work on a writing project. Although I didn’t finish in first place, what I spent my time on definitely made me a winner.
It has become my tradition to share this poem with you as one year ends and we embark upon another. Every year I read it and appreciate what it has to say. Never has it been more meaningful to me than it is now.
My mother gave me a copy of this prayer many years ago so sharing it is also a tribute to her.
My prayer is that each of you will be blessed this way in 2021.
NEW YEAR PRAYER
May God make your year a happy one,
Not by shielding you from sorrow and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, if it comes.
Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy enough to travel any path.
Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking all cowardice and fear from your heart.
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows.
Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you where man and his cause need you most,
And by making you anxious to be there, and to help.
My Christmas gift for you is one of my favourite Christmas memories. It was first published in the anthology, Christmas, Stories & More and then republished in my book Another Perspective.
My earliest Christmas memories are not of coloured lights or gifts under the tree. They are not even of fun and laughter shared at family gatherings. Instead, they are of something I looked forward to with great anticipation. The sweet smell made my mouth water and I could hardly wait to have a bite of the juicy goodness.
It may sound strange, but my fond memories are of a fruit that came in little wooden boxes. Mandarin oranges seemed like an exotic treat because they were available for so short a time.
I grew up in a family of five children. My sister, Barb, fourteen years older, was living on her own when I was very young, so she posed no competition for these treats. Two older brothers, Dave and Rob, were teenagers and could devour a box of oranges in an afternoon, leaving non for my little brother Tim and me.
To ensure everyone got their fair share, my mom would purchase a separate box for Tim and me. I clearly remember her counting the oranges in the box and dividing them evenly between us. Mom warned us, “This is all you will get. It’s up to you when you eat them, but you need to know, if you eat them all today, there won’t be any more.”
I took this to heart and hid the bag of oranges in my room, determined to enjoy them for as long as possible.
Tim tried to make his last, but they were so tasty, he’d soon finish his share. Before long, he’d be at my bedroom door begging for just one more.
There was no way I was going to part with any of mine. It wasn’t fair to expect me to look favourably on him just because he was only five and I was eight. Tim would ask mom to make me share. She’d patiently explain that he knew the rules and I could do whatever I wanted with my oranges.
I remember seeing an extra box of oranges that we weren’t allowed to touch. There was no explanation and one day the whole box was missing. Later, one of my older brothers shed some light on this mystery. He said Mom had told him he couldn’t open this box because Dad was taking them to the renters.
Our dad rented a small house to a single mom with young children. Mandarin oranges were expensive and he knew they couldn’t afford them. Dad wanted them to enjoy this treat as much as we did, so he was going to deliver the box to them. In my brother Rob’s words, “Our greedy little pleading faces had no impact on him whatsoever.”
Dad ensured we had all we needed and then quietly shared the abundance with others less fortunate. If Mom hadn’t told us, we never would have known of his generosity.
My quiet, unassuming dad unknowingly taught me to give without seeking attention. To some, giving a box of oranges may not seem like a big deal. To that family, it showed someone cared.
Christmas is a time when people openly show compassion and generosity. I had the opportunity to witness a modest example of this, and is the reason that some of my fondest Christmas memories revolve around mandarin oranges.
And yes, I did eventually give in and share with my little brother. Not because I had to, but because I learned how good it feels to freely share.