Feeling Grateful on Canadian Thanksgiving for the Gift of Every Moment

In Canada we’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October, expressing gratitude for the harvest and other blessings, since 1879. Typically, traditions involve family feasts with a roasted turkey as the main attraction, as well as an abundance of other dishes such as mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing and ending with pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

As a self-proclaimed Foodie and a person who loves to cook, I look forward to this autumnal festival. I also appreciate the opportunity to express gratitude for the many blessings that have been bestowed upon me.

As an ex-pat living in Saudi Arabia, I have participated in large pot-luck dinners with our friends in the Canadian community and have hosted more intimate dinners as well. This year Mister and I decided to tone down on the preparations and focus on the gratitude, creating a romantic Thanksgiving dinner for just the two of us. We toasted our love and appreciation for one another, which for us is the greatest gift of all.

 

IMG_0160

Canadian Thanksgiving in our villa 2017

 

Counting your blessings and making space to acknowledge gratitude can be a rewarding experience that turns your perspective outward, onto others. It has to the potential to lift your spirits and have you feeling the grace of God at work in the world.

I use gratitude as a tool for discerning what my goals, values and intentions are and I create vision boards as a visual inspiration. I discovered this powerful ritual when I first watched The Secret, back in 2007, and have been making vision boards as part of my positivity practice ever since.

 

 

 

My vision board is a visual representation that shows clearly what matters most in my life. It reflects how much I value family, friends, and relationships, especially my partnership with Mister. It also focuses on my passion for writing and my goals of moving to Panama, learning to speak Spanish, and opening a restaurant. Interestingly, the word gratitude is featured prominently.

 

IMG_0023

my current  vision board

 

I’m a writer and a keeper of journals and I’ve been using the Sacred Journey Daily Journal for your Soul by Cheryl Thiele for many years now. Expressing gratitude is a part of each month’s exercises, along with affirmations, opportunities and goals.

I’ve seen people posting gratitude challenges on social media and how those challenges have the power to lift them up, creating feelings of joy and happiness.

There are several Ted Talks on the theme of gratitude. In his presentation, “Want to be happy? Be Grateful,”David Steindl-Rast posits that choosing to live a life of gratitude has the power to change the world. He argues that living in awareness that each moment is a gift is the opportunity and key to our happiness. He also suggests that even our greatest difficulties have the opportunity for us to experience gratitude by learning something through the challenge of overcoming them. His method for living gratefully is: stop (or at least slow down), look (open your heart) and go (take action).

 

 

There are also a multitude of books on the subject of gratitude. Words of Gratitude for Mind, Body, and Soul by Robert Emmons and Joanna Hill, A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank you Changed my Life by John Kralik and Gratitude by Oliver Sacks, are a few I’ve discovered. Google books about gratitude and you’ll be sure to find something that intrigues you.

You Tube has a long list of songs about gratitude including Kelly Clarkson’s Thankful, Celine Dion’s Thank You and Alanis Morissette’s gritty version, Thank U, my personal favouriteTake a listen and see what resonates with you in your list of things to be grateful for.

Actions speak louder than words, or so they say. For me, the most powerful experience of how gratitude has the ability to transform has been in witnessing how Mister engages with everyone he meets. Whether he is speaking to loved ones or with perfect strangers, he thanks them for their every effort. He thanks me, every single day, for everything, big or small that I do, never taking even the smallest thing for granted. His actions inspire me to be more mindful and I find myself emulating his example of expressing gratitude more often.

Ghandi urged us to be the change we want to see in the world. I believe that practicing gratitude daily, in every moment, is one way of being the change.

So yeah, I’m feeling grateful on Canadian Thanksgiving for the gift of every moment.

Feeling Triumphant, Transforming the Traumas of my Life Through Storytelling

Recently I viewed an inspiring Ted Talk by Andrew Solomon titled, How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Make Us Who We Are. Solomon presents a provocative argument outlining how challenges have the power to change us when we use them as opportunities to forge meaning in our lives. He then expands to the next task, which is to build identity, and in the process, change the world.

 

If, as Solomon adheres, stories are the foundation of our identity, then the stories we tell about ourselves are vitally important. I decided to look back at the worst moments of my own life and examine how I might forge meaning and build identity and tell a new, empowering story.

When I was four years old I was sexually abused, repeatedly, by my babysitter’s son. It is extremely difficult to forge meaning from that, but, if nothing else, I developed resilience and strength from that experience. I protected my light and I kept my faith in humankind. But the gifts were even greater. In therapy, years later, I had a vision of that time. God took my face in his hands and turned it away so I couldn’t see what was happening. That trauma gave me my first opportunity to accept and receive God’s love.

At the age of fifteen, I was raped. The triumph for me inside of that worst moment was in my ability to forgive. I recognized his insecurities and lack of self-love. I felt sorry for him, that he was so deep in the darkness. I knew what happened ravaged my body, mind and emotions, but it didn’t touch my spirit. He tried to steal my light, but he could not. My faith in God grew stronger, and accordingly, my inner strength.

I was pregnant with my second child when I was diagnosed with Diabetes. The doctors presumed it was Gestational, but as it would turn out, I had Type I Diabetes as well as Hyperthyroidism. Having two chronic immune diseases has been a gift for me in so many ways. It has given me deep empathy for others who suffer from illness. It has given me a profound appreciation for my life. I am grateful for medicine and invention and life-saving insulin.

Solomon conjectures in his presentation that being married and having children has special meaning for him because it hasn’t always been that way for the gay community. In fact, it is a right recently granted, yet still denied in many places across the planet. I feel similarly about having Diabetes. The discovery of insulin was only made in the 1920’s. Before then, I wouldn’t have survived. But for the miracle of when I was born, I did. I am a survivor.

My father passed away when I was only 34 years old. I was a Daddy’s girl. My relationship with my father was one of ease and flow. I always was present to his unconditional love. I loved how I perceived myself through the mirror of his eyes, and when that was gone, I felt lost. My grief took me on yet another spiritual journey, where I learned how to love eternally. It took me seven years, but I finally understood that my father lives forever in my heart.

In 2007 I experienced a major depressive episode. I was 41, and my age, wisdom and maturity created the possibility for incredible transformation. I was determined to uncover the causes of my extreme unhappiness. It was uncomfortable as hell, digging through all the muck, but the excavation of my authentic self and the revelation of many truths was a priceless outcome.

Most recently, at the age of 51, the most devastating and difficult to overcome trauma occurred in the form of a disclosure. It was horrifying. It turned my life upside down. It re-wrote the story of my life and challenged my identity. But it also had the power of making some of my relationships even stronger and deeper than they were before. It had me call upon my inner strength and my faith in God and brought me back to daily prayer.

I am beginning to learn the spiritual law of detachment. My ability to discern is developing. And I am making huge strides in my Letting Go journey. As I said in conversation with my Mister, “Life’s challenges are the sandpaper that smooths out our rough edges, revealing the masterpiece that God created us to become.”

According to Buddhist teachings, difficulty is inevitable and in fact is an important part of the spiritual path, where real transformation can take place. Pema Chodron states, “We can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is.”

 Adversity is addressed in the Christian faith, and in James we read, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

My perception of reality and my relationship with myself and the world all work together to create the story of my life. Yes, there has been great pain. There has also been great joy. That is Life, for all of us. I get to choose my reality. You do too. What is your story? How can you reframe the worst moments of your life to forge meaning and build identity?

 

So yeah, I’m feeling triumphant, transforming the traumas of my life through storytelling.

 

Feeling Radical, Ready to Channel my Rage Through the Power of Love

I was feeling overwhelmed, like there is no justice in this world, like I had no control to do anything about it. I sat at my altar and prayed, asking, how do I best serve humanity? As I sat there a memory returned of Mister telling me our highest purpose is to love. And with the perfect synchronicity that is God at work in the world, articles and information on the power of love came flooding into my awareness.

The first, and most impacting, was a Ted Talk by Valeria Kaur, an American civil rights lawyer and activist. Her topic, Three Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage began with a vivid description of her personal labouring process in birthing her son, which she used as a framework for the themes of the fire of pain and the determination to push through.

Kaur described her reaction to 911 and the murder of her uncle in the aftermath. She talked about forgiveness. She spoke about feminism. Referring to a diagram that outlines the expression of revolutionary love towards ourselves, towards the ones we love, and even towards our opponents, she encouraged us to see the wound in the ones who hurt us. She ends with the question, “What if this is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” and the invitation to breathe and push with a Warrior’s heart and a Saint’s eyes, to be a part of a future waiting to be born.

 

 

I was reading The Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Este and was taken aback when I read the section titled The Boundaries of Rage and Forgiveness, central words in the Ted Talk I had just viewed. Pinkola put forth the idea that the release of rage is required and can be a teacher if allowed.

“We can use the light of rage in a positive way, in order to see into places we cannot usually see… We can learn from it and transform it.” Pinkola suggests that once we recognize it, bless it, contain it and release it, rage can impel groups or individuals into dialogue and action towards accountability, progress and improvements.

Later that day I picked up my copy of Warrior Goddess Training and to my delight the next chapter was titled Open Your Heart. Heatherash Amara discusses the healing practice of Metta; the ancient Buddhist meditation of loving kindness. The practice involves visualizing during meditation sending loving kindness to a family member or friend, to an acquaintance, to yourself, and finally, to someone you dislike.

Heatherash also refers to the Hawaiian poem of forgiveness, Ho’oponopono:

I love you

I’m sorry

Please forgive me

Thank you

I first made acquaintance with this simple yet powerful sentiment when I attended Dance Church in Victoria, BC with my daughter. It seems perfect to be reminded of the wisdom in the words of this prayer now.

Praying led me to open my bible. In Matthew it says, “love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you” and in Mark, “and if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them.”

Toltec wisdom states, “Our true nature is happiness, freedom and love; when we master love, intent and faith we master the dream of our life.” The road to mastering the dream is not easy, but you can begin to change the world by changing your own life, recognizing you have both the choice and the responsibility.

Pema Chodran, a Buddhist monk and spiritual leader, urges us to choose to cultivate love rather than anger. She also postulates that it is necessary to recognize your kinship with others. On the subject of rage, Pema encourages us to use the tools of meditation and loving-kindness to access the tenderness of an awakened heart, to see behind the hardness of rage and not allow it to harden our hearts.

On Super Soul Sunday Oprah talks about making the world a better place by extending yourself in loving kindness with an open heart. Similarly, she advocates that healing the world starts with healing you.

 

Alana Fairchild dedicates in her introduction to the Sacred Rebels, “to those who aren’t afraid to rattle cages… from a place of loving service to the spiritual evolution of humanity… (to) create a world that is fully awakened to love.”

I’m not going to delay any longer. I’m going to start now.

I send loving kindness to someone I love; to my Mister, David.

IMG_1513

 

You are patient and kind

You tell me it is going to be okay

And somehow it is, inside of your love,

A love more pure and divine than any I’ve known.

 Your love has been the greatest gift of my life.

Your love has taught me love’s power and

Has propelled me to be my best,

To fulfil my purpose, which is as yours; to love.

 I send loving kindness to an acquaintance; to Diane.

I send loving kindness to myself.

IMG_1694

 

I send loving kindness to someone I dislike; to Nancy.

I send loving kindness to all of humanity; I send loving kindness to you.

So yeah, I’m feeling radical, ready to channel my rage through the power of love.

Feeling Inspired; Lifting the Weight of the World off my Shoulders by Opening my Heart to Love

I’ve been feeling the heaviness of the destruction, devastation, and darkness in the world. One day I woke up and felt so tired of feeling hopeless. And then the awareness returned to me, that I already knew, but had somehow forgotten. I needed to open my heart to all the love and light in the world. I set about searching and before long it was like an avalanche had been created with that simple intention.

It started with music. I decided to listen to some of my favourite inspirational songs while walking Lola around the compound. As I listened to Michael Buble crooning about a new day and A Great Big World telling me “You’ll be okay,” I felt the truth in the words and a spring returning to my step. I even noticed beauty in the self-described barrenness of the desert, in the vast blue sky. By the time India Arie reminded me, “There’s Hope,” I was beginning to blossom. A shift was occurring, not in the world, but in my perception.

 

I thought about the list of Affirmations I’d posted to our bulletin board and I took it down and read it. I was present to the many gifts and blessings in my life. Beginning with the love of Mister. He is an inspiring man to be in deep partnership with, his solid faith in God and in humankind demonstrated in his daily acts of integrity and character. His love for me has been my constant, his solidity a rock in which together we have built our foundation.

 

DSC06367

 

I thought about how fortunate I am to have four beautiful children. The two eldest are already making change in the world with their passion and commitment. Scarlet has created Women’s Sacred Wisdom ritual and retreat to empower women and embrace the feminine. Tamara has developed her own website offering her gifts in massage, yoga, and art. She also continues to post spiritually inspiring blogs on Anuttara Tantra. The two youngest are still discovering their passions, but share their hearts and minds with courageous vulnerability.

I brought into my heart the loving memories of all of my family, those living and those who have passed. I was present to the gift of friendship, with my tribe here in Riyadh, as well as so many others here and back in Canada.

I continued to focus my thoughts on the positive. I made mental lists of the things I appreciate about my community, the country of my birth, and the world around me. By this point I was clear that I needed to allow myself to receive love and support and to put my energy into giving my light and love to others. I collected inspiration from an eclectic array of sources that I will share in the random order that they manifested.

Throughout my life the Bible has been a source of strength and confusion for me. While I can easily accept the basic premises, truths, and commandments, I get hung up on some of the smiting and punishing and judgment that appears, especially in the Old Testament. But, even there, in the very first words of Genesis, God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.”

I flipped through to the book of Matthew. Verse 28 states, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, I will give you rest.” It was so comforting to remember that I could lay down my cross and God would carry it for me.

Matthew goes on to list the commandments, revealing as the greatest, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… Love your neighbour as yourself.” I cried tears as I felt how I’d let my pain separate me from God. I’d been letting the darkness in the world turn me away from feeling love for my neighbour and for myself.

I was ready to “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on you own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5). I recognized that I don’t have the wisdom to comprehend the complexity of life and death, good and evil. And it’s okay because I can give it to God and relax in my faith.

I had just finished reading Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. She wrote about the power of courage in the face of pain. About having a “strong back, soft front, wild heart.” She encouraged her readers to practice integrity and authenticity and to “believe in and belong to ourselves and to each other.”

I decided to log onto Face Book and scroll through, searching for positive posts. There were so many choices: Now This, mindful.org, The Mighty, Ted.com, Expand Your Consciousness, Good News Network. And of course, one of my favourites, Goalcast.

I chose Randy Pauseh’s lecture, Live the Right Way, to include in this blog, because listening to him speak brought tears to my eyes. He was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer with only months to live. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he was alive with the energy of spreading his message. To live with humility and integrity, to tell the truth, and to apologize sincerely when you are wrong.

Randy asked, “Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore? Tigger’s are energetic, optimistic, curious, enthusiastic, and love to have fun. I knew who I was at my core, even if I’d been traipsing around like a Moping Moper.

 

A few scrolls later I discovered another moving video titled Live Every Moment by Muniba Mazani. She described how she had been at the edge of despair after a devastating car accident left her with a spinal injury. She shared her healing journey of recovery, found partly through the act of painting. She said at some point she made a conscious decision to live her life for herself, and everything shifted after that. It started from within, and she went about making her dreams become reality.

 

I was surprised to find my next Face Book inspiration from an article posted in latimes.com. Featured was the humble and wise Dalai Lama in an article titled We Need an Education of the heart. He stated that to live together as brothers and sisters in peace, we must learn to practice compassion, mindfulness and justice. Furthermore, he postulated this emotional intelligence can be and should be taught as part of a global curriculum.

I set my phone down, and suddenly my feet seemed to literally carry me upstairs to my meditational room. I picked up Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and reviewed them, slowly and mindfully. Practice non-judgment. Wherever you go, whoever you encounter, bring a gift. Bring your choices into conscious awareness. Practice accepting all people, situations, circumstances and events. Release your desires to the Universe, trusting that life will unfold as it should. Allow yourself and the people around you the freedom to be as they are. And lovingly pay attention to the spirit within you. Wise words, but very challenging to practice consistently.

I sat on my pillow and gazed softly at my vision board. My eyes were drawn to the four agreements, which are a part of the Toltec wisdom. Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best. I hadn’t been following these basic tenets. I hadn’t been practicing love, intent, and faith.

To add another perspective, I thumbed through a pocket book I have with thoughts from the Buddhist monk, Pema Chodron. She begins by explaining that we are all born with bodhichitta, a Sanskrit word meaning noble or awakened heart, and it is this noble heart that heals us from the difficulties we face in life. She offered tools for being connected to our hearts: meditation, loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. She also urged us to be kind to ourselves, to recognize our kinship with one another, to rejoice in the smallest of blessings, to have no expectations, and to be kind.

My journey ended with yet another perspective, illustrated beautifully in Louie Schwartzberg’s Ted Talk, Nature. Beauty. Gratitude. A photographer, he shares the miracle and beauty of nature through his artful time-lapse photography, along with the wise words of Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast. As I watched my soul stirred. When he said, live this day as if it was your first and your last, I knew I had to do something different.

 

Clearly, I had all the tools I needed at my disposal. I had to stop complaining, focusing on the negativity, and living in the past. I was already present to my blessings, but I recommitted to keeping a gratitude journal. I knew I had to celebrate the gift of my life and live it. I felt a renewed energy coursing through my veins and sat down in my chair, ready to write.

So yeah, I’m feeling inspired; lifting the weight of the world off my shoulders by opening my heart to love.

 

Feeling Reflective about the Year 2016

 

The end of the year that many are calling disastrous has arrived. True, there were natural, political and religious disasters of one kind or another. There were a lot of celebrity deaths. Life is an ebb and flow of contrasts, and Nature, left to her own devices, gravitates to balance. So, rather than focus on negativity, I feel optimistic.  What happens isn’t what matters, but how we, as a human collective, respond.

 

 

 

Looking back on my own little microcosm, there is a similar theme. I experienced many challenges this year. I blogged about my difficulties with my letting go journey. I hinted at some of my health problems. But I am proud of myself for behaving with integrity and character, for the most part. After all, it’s relatively easy to be a good person when life is proceeding smoothly and people are good to us. Suffering, on the other hand, forces us to find our inner strength.

 

 

 

I have been blessed this past week with one of those rare epiphanies when apparent random and separate events collide to create deep understanding. I achieved success on my letting go journey when I wasn’t searching for answers. In fact, I had few expectations of my brief holiday in Bahrain, other than an opportunity for adventure, relaxation and rejuvenation.

 

 

 

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take you with me to the beginning, when Mister and I embarked on our road trip to Bahrain.

 

 037

 

 

 

As road trips go, I can’t honestly classify the drive from Riyadh to Bahrain as epic. I was excitedly anticipating what was to be my first drive through the desert and enthusiastically tucked my journal and pen in a handy spot to chronicle my observations. Heading east on a paved three lane highway, barreling along at the posted speed of 120 km/h, I asked if we had left the city of Riyadh to which Mr. Vocabulary replied, “the city limit is rather nebulous.”  We continued past miles and miles of sandy landscape, broken only by the frequent spotting of camels and sheep and oil refineries. I felt like a rebel in the rubble.

 

 

 

Mid-way, the beige sand morphed to a warm burnt orange hue with tufts of green here and there, but soon enough it was back to the endless sea of beige. The monotony of the landscape reminded me of drives across the Canadian prairies. We passed the odd car carcass, a solitary Caterpillar tractor and, strangely, an abandoned Ferris wheel. It was all rather uninspiring.

 

 img_0462

 

 

 

Three and half hours later, we arrived at the Persian Gulf. I could smell the salty air before it came into view, and I found my heart skipping around in my ribcage with delight as my body absorbed the timeless peacefulness of the open air on the sea. I had an intuition that Bahrain was going to be an impacting experience and I wasn’t disappointed.

 

 

After forty five minutes of waiting in lines and going through tolls and customs booths, driving over the causeway, we arrived in beautiful Bahrain. One of the officials asked David if I was his only wife. He replied yes, to which the official answered, looking over at me, “She has a pretty face, one will do. Me, I have three wives. I sleep well on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.” I must admit it gave me pause to chuckle and I marveled at his cheekiness.

 

 

 

We got a little lost, but soon enough we were at our hotel, Le Meridian, with smiling, friendly porters offering to unload our luggage onto trolleys and park our car. I quickly stepped out of my abaya, tossing it with gleeful abandon onto the trolley and entered the hotel lobby with my Mister. The hotel was decked out in lavish Christmas decorations and the hotel receptionist, Martha, joyfully welcomed us. A feeling of freedom enveloped me and I couldn’t help but feel a wave of gratitude wash over me.

 

 

img_0463

Me & Mister by one of the Christmas Trees at Le Meridian

 

 

 

 

 

We made reservations for the hotel’s famous Friday brunch the next day. The experience impacted me on many levels. From the moment we entered the restaurant I felt like Cinderella, it was pure magic. The entryway served as the monument to all things sweet, baked and delicious. Chefs had prepared a sensational assortment of culinary decadence. There was Santa on his sleigh being pulled by cookie reindeer, cakes and puddings, gingerbread houses, an iced snowman and a Christmas tree with bon-bon ornaments. It was a chocolate lovers heaven with at least twenty different varieties of truffles, not to mention a chocolate fountain. My mouth was salivating already and our dining experience had not yet begun.

 

 

img_0448

Yes, the reindeer are cookies!

 

 

 

 

 

The smiling waiter with his elf hat perched merrily on his head led us past the live entertainment and seated us at our table with aplomb, plucking my napkin up and placing it politely across my lap. We were brought still water and ordered a glass of champagne.  As I clinked flutes with my Mister I felt more gratitude and tears filled me eyes. Composing myself, I ventured amongst the vast array of food stations, hand in hand with Mr. Charming.

 

 

 

For our first course, several delicious cheeses made their way to our shared plate, including a strong and savoury blue that packed a punch, made even more delectable with the addition of a tart cranberry jam. We also waxed eloquently over the piquant and buttery French cheese, of which variety I have now forgotten. My senses of sight, smell and taste were tantalized, but something much deeper occurred for me as I felt the gift of being in connection with my husband amid the Christmas spirit all around us, surrounded by people of all cultures and religions, gathered together. In that moment, my heart-felt light and a world where peace is king and people respect one another felt possible. I wasn’t the only one with such a vision, as the following video testifies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a short rest and engaging conversation we moved on from champagne to red wine and decided to serve up our second course. We started at the carving station where the chef sliced us thick slices of roast turkey and Wagyu beef. In the line we made eye contact and smiled in greeting to a lady ahead of us who ended up visiting our table later on, a delightful woman named Sophie originally from Germany. We dished up small portions of savoury zucchini, parsnips and potatoes that were spicy and crisp on the outside while an observant server kept discreetly filling up our wine glasses.

 

 

 

Before heading for dessert, Santa Claus arrived. It was quite a hoot, as his black hair peeked out from his thin white wig and obviously fake beard all askew. No one was bothered, least of all the children, who all clamoured about him excitedly and posed with their parents for photos to mark the occasion. Everyone was festive and it touched my heart when a Muslim woman I passed by on my way to the dessert station smiled broadly at me.

 

 img_0465

 

 

 

 

 

Our third and final course was dessert. I did over-indulge (yes, Carol, your Oink was appropriate!) tasting at least six varieties of creamy, velvety, smooth and luscious truffles. Three hours later, stuffed, (not quite like a pig) our experience was complete and we left to explore the shops in the attached City Centre mall.

 

 

 

Skipping ahead, my next impactful experience was our tour of the Al-Fateh Grand Mosque. My good friend Carol, and her husband Raimo, had invited us to join them. Neither Mister nor I had ever stepped foot in a mosque before, and we weren’t certain what to expect. I pulled my scarf discreetly over my blonde hair and lifted my long abaya as we ascended the steps to the entrance. We were ushered into a reception area and asked our nationalities and then asked to wait for our guide outside the shoe cubicle area.

 

 

 

Within minutes our guide, an Imam born in Kenya before settling in Bahrain, joined us. He was a gentle man, the kind of spiritual person for whom all of Life’s questions and answers are simple, for they are placed at the foot of God. For him, his faith was easy and pure and the path to salvation was available to everyone, including us. We merely had to make an oath that there is only one God and that Mohammed was the true and final prophet. Carol and I peppered him with questions about the role of women, about the five daily prayers, and about fasting over Ramadan. He urged us to set our minds and accept the way to a prosperous and happy life. He tried his best to convert us to Islam, but there was no judgement or condemnation expressed, only a sincere desire to provide us with an opportunity for salvation.

 

 

img_0456

Me & Carol in the mosque

 

 

 

 

 

The mosque itself was a beautiful structure, designed in an intricate geometric configuration of shapes that exuded a peaceful quality. The walls were covered in a special local stone tile that kept them cool in the hot weather. The ceilings were so high they seemed to stretch to the very heavens themselves. The door to the main prayer area for men, which we were not permitted to enter, was a tall, ornate structure, the handle at the height of my head and almost the same circumference.

 

 

 

Our guide led us up the winding staircase to the gallery viewing area and place where women can pray. We engaged in further discussion about the origins of Islam and Christianity and he shared how both religions had as their common ancestor Abraham, from Israel. Somehow the story had me feeling the unity of humanity, not the division, and I was moved.

 

 

 

We walked around the balcony ledge, carved of ornate dark wood, and peered above at the stained glass windows and elaborate chandelier of imported lamps. The call to prayer began and we took it as our time to depart. We thanked the Imam for his time, David taking his hand in his as a sign of appreciation, and I motioned to do the same before realizing with embarrassment the inappropriateness of my action. I felt flustered and perhaps even a little angry for the first time since arriving in Bahrain with the restrictions of being a woman in patriarchal Muslim society. 

 

 img_0457

 

 

 

 

 

My journey continued when we chose to go and see the movie Passengers. I was excited by the opportunity as there are no movie theatres in Riyadh. Even the message of the movie, which was about letting go of how we expect our lives to unfold to accept what manifests, seemed so appropriate. I could almost feel God whispering me to make the most of each and every moment.

 

 

 

Last, but not least, was our romantic Christmas Eve Dinner at the Cut restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. Mister and I walked into an elegantly decorated hostess station and were shown to the elevator before being led to our intimate booth. Our seats boasted spectacular views of the bay through floor to ceiling windows and the red and white lights of Bahrain’s National Day twinkled in the moonlight. A duo of talented musicians provided us with the atmosphere, the young woman’s sultry voice reminding me of Dido, the man strumming proficiently on his guitar.

 

 

 

The waiter brought us two menus, one a la carte, the other the chef’s prix fixe with wine pairings. The four-course set menu was tantalizing, but I wasn’t sure if my food allergies could be accommodated. To my delight, our smiling server returned and assured me the chef was more than happy to make whatever revisions necessary for me to enjoy his creations.

 

img_0444

Mister & Me @ Cut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The presentation did not disappoint. The first course was prosecco with smoked salmon. Crispy on the outside, buttery and flaky inside, it was melt in your mouth delicious. Pasta was served next, and the chef wowed me with a serving of gluten-free spinach fettucine in butter with fresh parmesan, paired with a luscious glass of Chateau de Neuf. The main was the feature and the filet mignon was a perfect cut, perfectly cooked and infused with complex but complementary flavours of earthy mushrooms, savoury mustard sauce and crispy onions. The pairing was a peppery shiraz blend that was our favourite wine selection of the evening. The finale was as impressive, with the chef preparing me from scratch a gluten free yule log of cake and cream that looked equally divine to David’s traditional fare. In addition, was an apple poached tart with two quenelles, one vanilla bean ice cream and one mascarpone cheese. Dessert was paired with a silky port that was not too sweet, pleasing even our picky palates. Yes, it was over the top and we both felt full of food and gratitude when we climbed into our taxi three hours later.

 

That night we were treated to a FaceTime conversation with our daughter and grandson. We were thrilled especially because our FaceTime has not been working since arriving back in Riyadh after Haj. It was so touching to see his cute little face, full of excitement with the magic that Santa Claus was coming to town. In the morning, we enjoyed more connection with my Mom and brother and then with our youngest daughter. I realized how far I’d come on my letting go journey, from last year when my heart was grieving our separation from family so heavily. I still missed them, but I was grateful that I had a family I loved so much to miss. I was grateful for all the Christmas celebrations I shared with them in the past. And I was present to the gift of this Christmas with my Mister in Bahrain.

 

 

 

The myriad of experiences I had in Bahrain combined to create feelings of such deep love, peace and joy. I left feeling full of hope for the future, enthusiastic to discover what new adventures were in store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling reflective about 2016 and wishing everyone a Happy New Year

 

Feeling Mixed Emotions about Christmas

Christmas is a confusing time of year for me. It is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. The dichotomous nature of Christmas has caused many to wonder, what is the real meaning of Christmas, including me. One of the most endearing answers was narrated by Linus in the classic Charlie Brown Christmas, which first aired on television in 1965.

Linus personifies the child of great faith, a perfect foil to the ever- questioning Charlie Brown. For Linus, it is simple; Christmas is about the birth of the Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is about showing glory to God, peace on Earth, and Goodwill toward men. I wish I could accept his explanation as readily as Charlie, but it would appear I am more jaded and cynical.

While Linus so eloquently paraphrased Jesus, who said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… Love your neighbour as yourself,” I still find myself struggling to make the connection to Christmas. Deciding that Linus lacked credentials, I googled the history of Christmas and discovered some interesting facts on History.com.

Long before Christmas there were holidays during the same time- period. In Scandinavia, Yule was celebrated from December 21st through January in recognition of the return of the sun. In Rome, Saturnalia was a hedonistic winter celebration beginning on the solstice where social order was turned upside down and businesses and schools all closed for a month of excess.

In the early years of Christianity, Jesus’ birth was not celebrated. In fact, it wasn’t until the fourth century that church officials decided to institute a celebration, known as the Feast of the Nativity. Uncertain as to the actual date of Christ’s birth, Pope Julius I chose December 25 in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan holiday, and make it a holy day. The celebration spread to Egypt in 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. In the eight century Christmas spread to Scandinavia.

mq5xodz1

painting of the nativity

In early Puritan North America Christmas was outlawed in Boston from 1659 – 1681. It became an official holiday in the USA in 1870.

Christmas traditions took hold after the publishing of A Visit from St. Nicholas in 1822, and somehow Santa Claus got mixed in with the worshipping of God. Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, focusing on the virtue of thinking of others at Christmas. Dr. Seuss wrote How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 1957, furthering the ideals of generosity and kind-heartedness.  At some point, Christmas became a secular holiday with vaguely religious overtones. And while the excessive commercialism of Christmas has been lamented since the 1850’s, the present-day focus on gifts and material preparations has many of us disenchanted.

how-the-grinch-stole-christmas-movie-poster-1966-10204273891

An examination of the history of Christmas was interesting, but didn’t seem to help me with my own dichotomous love/hate relationship. I confess, I have struggled with the pressure to make everything perfect. I have felt overwhelmed with the expectations. It seems like each year the Christmas advertising and placement of goods in stores starts earlier and earlier. The Halloween candy is barely removed from shelves before the Christmas extravaganza begins.

Gift giving has escalated from a few special gifts to a mile- high pile under the tree. Santa’s gifts don’t fit in a stocking anymore. Christmas trees have morphed from a fresh tree decorated on Christmas Eve with home-made decorations made by children to a work of art coordinated by the mother of the household. Said mother is expected to be a Martha Stewart clone, who not only decorates trees like an interior designer, but has the rest of the house tastefully laid out with appropriate tablecloths, table settings, hearths and wreaths.

In Christmas’s past, I have allowed myself to be drawn in by these fantasy-laden expectations. I’ve tried to make my lists and check them twice, outside of working all day and my regular chores, and in so-doing I used to develop Christmas anxiety as soon as the fall leaves started to change colour. Planning baking days and lavish Christmas feasts, parties and celebrations. Shopping for gifts, wrapping gifts and sending gifts in the mail. The Christmas letter with attached photos, everyone smiling gleefully in Christmas sweaters and fancy dress wear. Shopping for fancy dresses for Christmas parties, with matching shoes and hair and make-up. I’ve wanted to yell out in Charlie Brown fashion, “What is the meaning of it all?”

skimbaco-biltmore-fireplace-christmas-1024x6821

But then…. Parceled along with all of the materialism and mayhem is the magic of Christmas. The nostalgia of a time when I was young and believed in Santa Claus. The memories of going to church and hearing the Christmas story and believing in the miracle of a Saviour. The excitement of seeing cousins and Grandma’s and Grandpa’s, of riding in cars and trains over snow-clad prairies.

I remember with fondness simpler times, when all that I found in my stocking on Christmas morning was the Grover puppet I’d been pining for, a candy cane and a mandarin orange. And I was thrilled. I remember when my children were little and how fun it was to watch them excitedly anticipate the arrival of Santa Claus as they laid out cookies they’d baked and carrots for the reindeer.

At some point, when I started living my life for me, things changed. I jumped off the Christmas commercialism carousel and allowed myself to experience Christmas in whatever way felt good for me. I’ll never forget the amazing Christmas we shared with my brother and his family in Maui. My first Christmas with Mister was relaxing and stress-free; we went to see the movie, Les Miserable in the theatres and ate Pad Thai and papaya salad for Christmas dinner.

220px-jonathan_g_meath_portrays_santa_claus1

Santa Claus

Now that I’m in Saudi Arabia, it’s even easier for me to make the choice to celebrate Christmas how I want to. It’s also easy to let go of something old to make room for something new. Looking back, I am so grateful for all the traditional family Christmas’s I enjoyed, hectic or not. They were a gift. At the same time, I am excited for a romantic Christmas in Bahrain, just me and my husband. No tree and no presents and no big turkey dinners. Just love, which, to me, is what Christmas is really about.

That’s what I’m choosing this year, but who knows what next year will bring? It would be wonderful if we all felt free to choose what we believe and how we celebrate, at Christmas and all through-out the year. It would be wonderful if we carried the spirit of Christmas with us all the time, not waiting for this one time of the year.

 

71n_8714

Merry Christmas from me, Mister & Lola

 

I have a vision of a world like that. Where peace reigns and people accept one another’s different ideas, beliefs, religions and politics and rejoice in the beauty of humankind every day.

holidaypeace1

Until then, I’m feeling mixed emotions about Christmas.