You Are Loved

The everyday experiences that make us feel loved – Research Digest

Take a moment to consider all of the people that you love in your life. It doesn’t matter how many people come to mind. Everyone has at least one person that is precious to them, even if it’s your mother. Now concentrate on the emotions that bubble up and the warmth building in your chest when you think about these people or this person. Focus on your hopes and wishes for them to be happy, healthy, and successful. Hold onto that tender, loving feeling. Really examine it for a moment.

Now realize that there are people in this world that feel that very same way about you. No matter what you think or feel about yourself, no matter what you feel worthy of, or whether you think you deserve it or not, you are loved. Take a moment to contemplate how utterly amazing that is. Allow yourself to accept that love and self-less compassion. Float in the soft gratitude of that energy being sent your way at any given time of the day.

As strange as it may sound, I had never really thought about this idea until a few nights ago. Suddenly it just crashed into my awareness as I was lying down to go to sleep. It filled me with such wonder, such joy, and humble gratitude. I am loved. I repeated these words back to myself again and again in a state of starry-eyed disbelief. Not only that, I am loved by the people that mean everything to me. I am loved by the people that have stood by my side through decades of my life, who have seen the best and the worst of me. What could be more incredible? What more could I ask for in this life?

Notice what kind of emotions come up when you consider being loved. Does it feel good? Does it feel safe? Uncomfortable? Unreal? Undeserved? Or maybe a mixture of a lot of different emotions? For me it was pretty hard to wrap my head around, and it still is. I just can’t believe that I would be worthy of those warm feelings that I experience when I think of my love for others. It seems unbelievable that anyone could feel that way about me. Yet, logically, I know that there are lots of people that genuinely enjoy my presence in their lives. At the very least, I know my mother and grandmother love me unconditionally, probably in a deeper, more pure way, than I’ve loved anyone myself.

Despite a squirming sensation in my chest that tells me I don’t deserve it, that these people are wrong to love me, I’ve never felt more grateful for anything before. Not only that, keeping this in mind helps me to remember to love myself just as much as those who are dear to me do. I hope that adopting the perspective of your loved ones from time to time helps you do the same. The next time you are causing yourself more suffering or feeling self conscious or small, imagine offering yourself the love and compassion that your family and friends would want for you. If you can’t find the motivation or passion to be kind to yourself for yourself, do it for everyone else that loves you.

When to Break Up with Someone You Love: 25 Signs and Tips

Holiday Hearts

Soften you heart
and breathe deeply
now is the time to rest 
in the warm security of 
our bountiful harvest

To surrender to the stark contrast
of the snow beneath an inky black sky
to snuggle close together
with the ones we love
in warm stillness, in sweet silence

Winter is a time to slow down
to reflect on and rejoice in
all the year has given to us
to gather our blessings 
and give of ourselves 

Allow your heart to open
to fill and be filled
as we give thanks
and gather together 
to welcome another new year
Christmas heart Pictures, Christmas heart Stock Photos & Images |  Depositphotos®

Long-term Pessimist, Short-term Optimist

I heard a guest on one of the podcasts I listen to describe himself as someone who is pessimistic in the long-term, but very optimistic for the short-term. He said this in a light-hearted, humorous manner, but it has resonated with me ever since. This is precisely how I would describe myself. I may fully believe that in just a few decades, the earth will collapse from underneath us due to our selfishness and our negligence. However, that doesn’t have to take away from the beauty and meaning still left to be found in the months and years we have before us.

It can be hard to hold these two perspectives in my mind at once, but I’ve been practicing it for a few years now and it’s gotten easier. At first, I only felt cheated and victimized by the current state of the world. Now I see that instead I should be immensely grateful for the life I have been given regardless of the length or the way it ultimately ends. It’s a bizarre frame of mind to be sure, but I am capable of being thankful for where I am and what I have even as everything around me slowly crumbles. I’ve heard before that death is a gift because it forces us to more fully appreciate life. And to a certain extend I view the impending climate crisis in the same way. It has made each small moment that much more poignant and precious to me.

I may not know how long I have left, but I do know that I have been blessed with the most amazing people to share this life with until then. In twenty or more years, the earth may be decimated, but in a few months, I’ll be in the arms of the man I love. I’ve managed to find someone to share my remaining years with, someone who understands and respects my beliefs and opinions. Someone that acknowledges the threats we face as a species, and as a planet. Someone that can hold my hand through it all and face it with me when that day comes. I have a job I love to go to everyday with people that mean so much to me, that help me grow, and that allow me to do something meaningful. I have a family and friends that love and understand me even when I don’t always understand myself. I have three soft fur children that adore me and depend on me, that bless me with indescribable tenderness and warmth each and every day.

In ten years I may not have access to clean water or food, but right now I have everything I could ask for and more. Each week I get to go collect a fresh, vibrant bounty from the store to nourish me and keep me healthy. In a few weeks my entire country will celebrate that bounty and the company of those most precious to us as we brace ourselves for the cold months ahead. I reflect on this miracle each day as I prepare my colorful collection of fruits and vegetables and turn them into delicious meals.

I have a home. I am loved. I love. When I am thirsty, I may always drink. When I’m hungry, I may always eat. Each night I lay my head down in my soft, warm bed surrounded by my sweet babies. Soon that bed will even contain my loving partner. I have heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. I have electricity and running water. I have clothing that keeps me protected from the elements and allows me to express myself to those around me. I have a community to teach me patience and teamwork. I have a stable foundation laid beneath me from all the those that came before to ensure that future generations would have plumbing, highways, public services, and a power grid.

Despite the downfalls of the modern age, never before in history has life been so easy and filled with pleasure. When life has given you so many incredible gifts, it isn’t fair to complain when they eventually run out. Someday I may suffer, but the fact that I have never truly suffered in 28 years of life is unbelievable. And I am so grateful for all of these blissful years I have been given, and I am overjoyed to likely still have quite a few left ahead of me. The future may ultimately hold fear, pain, suffering, and uncertainty, but that future will not be here tomorrow, or next week, or next month. And for that I am also grateful.

1,048 Pessimism Illustrations & Clip Art - iStock

Believe Your Kids

Everyday at my job I listen to kids talk about what may very well be the worst moments of their lives. It is a moving experience to watch the bravery they show by disclosing such personal, traumatic details to someone they’ve just met a few moments ago. It is an honor to get to meet these amazing young people and to offer them help in their healing journey. Especially when there are so many cases where myself and my coworkers are the only ones who believe them.

Most people assume that hearing these gruesome stories of physical and sexual abuse must be the hardest part of my job. That’s definitely what I thought when I first got hired. However, since then I’ve learned that there are even more difficult things to confront. Even more sickening than the abuse for me, is learning that the child’s own parent does not believe them, does not support them, chooses their abuser over them. This is a much more serious and impactful betrayal. I simply cannot stomach these “parents.”

Just recently a case went to court for sentencing. The perpetrator took a plea and our therapist went with the child to the sentencing. She came back to the office afterward to report that the mother went to support the abuser. The grandmother of the child even spoke on his behalf, actually cried, said she loved him and that she knew he was a good man. In the months leading up to this trial, the mother basically abandoned her child. She pressured her to recant her discloser of the abuse, belittled her, threatened her. Even after the boyfriend confessed, plead guilty, and was sentenced, the mother stayed by his side.

After the sentencing, the mother posted a huge pile of garbage on Facebook accusing the detective and CPS worker of lying on the stand and blaming her daughter for her own abuse. She drug her daughter, as well as the father who stood by her, through the mud for everyone to see. She implied that the daughter deserved it because she was sexually active at 14, accused the father of being addicted to meth, said her own daughter was dirty and diseased and a liar.

As if it wasn’t bad enough what this girl had to suffer through for five years of her childhood, now she must face the abandonment and betrayal of her own mother as well. What makes it even worse is what I know from the research I’ve read about child abuse. Most of us assume that these types of experiences leave scars no matter what. We agonize at the thought that these children may be forever changed and damaged from what has happened to them. However, the research shows that there is still hope for these wonderful kids. More impactful than the events themselves, is the response the child gets when they finally disclose. Children that are believed and supported by others in their family and community find resilience and strength in the face of adversity. They heal and become stronger for it. Unfortunately, children that are dismissed, ignored, not believed, punished, blamed, etc. are more likely to suffer negative mental health consequences from their abuse.

This makes perfect sense to me, and I always tell the decent parents this information. I offer them this knowledge as encouragement and to acknowledge the significant contribution they have already made to their child’s wellbeing by simply being there for them. To be taken advantage of and hurt by a friend, relative, or other known person is bad enough, but then to have that wound torn even deeper by the rejection of you own mother, father, or caregiver, the very person you look to for love and protection, is unthinkable. To be set adrift in an unsafe world with no safety net, no loving hand to guide you, that is the most harmful thing you can do to a child.

No matter how many times I see this happen (and it happens quite a lot) I never cease to be amazed. Who could be so cruel, so heartless, so callous toward their own flesh and blood child? Apparently a lot of people. I’m writing this post today to bring awareness to this disgusting phenomenon. If a child ever discloses something like this to you, BELIEVE THEM. Understandably a lot of people don’t know what to do if their child or another child in their life tells them something atrocious like this has happened. The only thing that you need to do is listen, make sure they are safe, then report it to the proper authorities. Don’t ask questions, don’t dismiss the child, just thank them for trusting you enough to tell you. Because it is such a beautiful gift to be a child’s confidant. Please don’t be another person that harms this child by denying their experience. Know that by simply being there for the child and believing them, you have given them something to hold onto, you are already helping them heal.

And to the parents out there that betray their own children, you have no right to call yourself a parent. You are a monster just as much as the person who abused them is. You don’t deserve to be any part of any child’s life. If it were up to me, you would face charges as well. You have done unspeakable, irreparable damage to an innocent child and I hope you suffer every day for that. I hope you are eaten alive by the shame of what you have done.

Child abuse: Everything you need to know to keep your kids safe

Admiration

Today I thought it would be fun to write a bit about the people in my life that I most admire and why I admire them. Working with at risk populations and disadvantaged children has made me realize just how lucky I have been to have the people I’ve had in my life. Often when we’ve been raised in a healthy environment, surrounded by privilege, it can be hard to realize how different the lives of others may actually be. For most of my life, I took the incredible adults in my life for granted. Even worse, I didn’t acknowledge how great they actually were. Instead of being grateful for all that my parents have done for me, as a teen I was quick to judge and dismiss all the good things about them in favor of focusing on the imperfections of their parenting.

Now when I look back, I have to laugh at how naïve I was. I was expecting my parents, and frankly all the adults in my life, to be perfect, and was angry with them when (of course) they weren’t. It was only after becoming an adult myself that I realized the impossible standard I had been holding people too. Today I wanted to explain exactly why the adults I’ve had in my life growing up were not just adequate, but phenomenal, especially compared to the parents I meet everyday at work.

Mom

In the last decade, I have done a complete 180 when it comes to my opinion of my mom. As a teen I blamed her for all of my issues, rather than giving her credit for the advantages she has given me. I considered her a “bad mom” because she was always too busy. How exactly I felt that was her fault, I don’t know. She was raising two children and working full time with little to no help from my father. Of course she was busy. There were a few times I recall her actually having a mental breakdown in front of my sister and I when we were little. I was shocked and appalled even at the time. “This is not appropriate behavior to display in front of children,” I thought. Looking back, I genuinely can’t believe she only had those few incidents. I would be breaking down every single day if I was in her shoes now.

My mother is one of the most incredible people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She is so patient and gentle and intelligent and humble. She’s a saint in my eyes. She has always made sure that my sister and I had everything we could have ever needed or wanted. She has always shown me respect even when I was a small child. She has always been there to listen to me, no matter how busy she may have been. She had so much on her plate for so many years and still hardly ever complained. She never gave up on me, even when I tried to shut her out. Her love has truly been unconditional. I couldn’t imagine having a more ideal mother. I am so lucky to have her in my life, to have been raised by her, to have been able to learn from her example. I am forever grateful.

Grandma

My grandmother on my mother’s side, has also been an essential influence in my life. I am so lucky to have always been surrounded by such strong, intelligent, loving women. I owe everything that I am today to the women who raised me and taught me by example all the values I now hold so dear. My grandma raised me just as much as my mother did. She was always there to greet me when I got off the school bus and was my only baby sitter.

This woman is truly selfless, much like my mother. She has been an example of strength, independence, contentment, equanimity, and love. Nothing ever seems to bother or overwhelm this woman. She has been through so much in her 91 years on this earth. She has instilled in me her love of reading and her connection to nature. I will always cherish the memories I have of her reciting fairytales to me before bed and exploring the woods together with her and my sister. I’ve never heard her raise her voice. Neither she or my mother ever raised a hand to me either. The steady, sturdy presence of these unbelievable woman has allowed me to be the person I am today.

Scott

It may seem strange that the Scott I’m referring to here is actually my coworker and not my father, who is also named Scott. However, my father, while always being a part of my life, has never really made much of an impact on me. He always remained in the background. It is sad to say, but I’m MUCH closer to the Scott I’ve only known for two years now, than I am my own father.

That being said, Scott is an incredible man. I feel overwhelming gratitude that I am able to spend so much time with him. I genuinely think of him as a father. He represents to me so many qualities that I aspire to cultivate within myself. He is intelligent, charismatic, interesting, funny, dedicated, humble, easy-going, and much much more. He emanates passion in everything that he does. He does his job well, with diligence and skill. He is selfless almost to a fault. He would do anything for his family, friends, and the children that we serve every day.

I even love his imperfections. I admire the fact that he came from a complicated background. He grew up with an alcoholic, largely absent father. His mother hit him on many occasions. He saw some messed up things as a young man. He stole. He did drugs. He certainly hasn’t always been the outstanding citizen he is today, and that makes him all the more endearing to me. Despite all that he’s seen in his personal life as well as through his line of work, he still always manages to see the best in people. He has an unwavering faith in humanity that I envy. I can only hope that I can be more like him some day.


These are the three people that I admire and look up to the most. There are so many other amazing people I’ve been lucky enough to have in my life, but even if it were only these three, it would be more than the majority of the kids I meet everyday have. Even if you only have one decent person to admire in your life, be grateful. You would be surprised how many people have absolutely no one worthy of being a role model. And if you are one of those people, my heart goes out to you. I hope that someday we can all become someone worthy of admiration for someone who needs it.

Who Do You Admire? Do You Admire You? How To Become The Best You.

A Letter to My Sister

Dear Sarah,

I’m not sure if I’ll actually decide to give you this letter, but I knew I had to write it either way. I just have to put these thoughts down into words. Even though our family has never been very outwardly affectionate, I have always had a deep well of admiration and love for you for as long as I can remember. We may be pretty close in age, but I’ve looked up to you my entire life. All I ever wanted was for us to be friends, and it means the world to me that we are now.

It’s hard for me to come up with the right way to phrase everything I want to tell you. I guess primarily I just want you to know that most of the aspects of my life that I am now so proud of were introduced to me by you. You are the reason that I draw. If it wasn’t for you, I may have never found an interest in that hobby. I can still remember how good you were with colors and blending even when we were still using crayons. You should see the way I show off the paintings I have of yours to everyone that comes to my house. I know you don’t even use it anymore, but I’ve shown so many people your website. I am just so proud to have such an incredibly talented sister.

Even though mom and grandma raised us, you have always been my primary role model. One of the most influential times in my life was living with you again at mom’s when you came back from Florida. I doubt you’re aware, but a lot of the “self improvement” things you brought back with you during that time shaped the course of my life in the years since then. Remember when I first started writing pages with you every morning? Even though I no longer do that exact practice, that may have been the first daily self care habit I ever had. I can trace back a lot of my beneficial daily routines to that time.

You were even the reason I started doing yoga! Doing those poses in the rec room with you all those years ago was probably the first yoga I ever did. I was so impressed when you showed me that you could plant your palms flat on the ground in a forward fold. It was the first time I realized that maybe yoga really was something regular people could become good at, not just famous internet influencers or people that had practiced it their entire lives. I would have never become a yoga teacher if it wasn’t for you opening that door for me.

Another major part of who I am today that I want to thank you for is veganism. I’m not sure I even knew what a vegan was before you. I know it took me a while to get it, but once I did you were the anchor that kept me sane in the beginning. You showed me so many delicious new options. You were pretty much the one that taught me how to cook, albeit indirectly. Your culinary skills are another thing I can’t help but brag about to everyone I know. I cannot wait to have Nick try the Gross Sandwich. I’m sure I would have struggled so much more with a vegan diet if it wasn’t for you feeding me for the first couple years.

You have so many amazing talents. I am so grateful that I have had you in my life to constantly inspire me and challenge me. I would not be half the person I am today if it weren’t for you. I just want you to know how much I love, admire, and appreciate you. And how much I always have, even when on the surface it seemed as though we didn’t like one another very much. You are an incredible, funny, intelligent, creative, and unique person.

Finally, I want you to know that even if Val and I pressure you to make more art again, the things you create aren’t what give you value. You could never touch a pen or a brush again and I would still love and respect you just as much. I’d still be just as proud to be your sister. I only want you to be happy, because you deserve to be happy. You have no idea how much it fills my heart with joy to know that you’ve found a wonderful man who loves you and can be by your side. Not only that, but the fact that he has an incredible young daughter for you to help raise. Alice is so lucky to have someone like you in her life to learn from and look up to. I guarantee you have already permanently altered the course of her life for the better. She may write you a letter like this herself one day.

With love and gratitude,

Your Sister

20 Best Sister Quotes - Quotes About Sisters

Bonding & Social Anxiety

Maybe no one really seems to be the person that they mean to be.

Conor Oberst

Probably my favorite man in the world (besides my boyfriend) is the man I work with at my small little three-person office. I’m not quite sure I’ve ever held someone in such high regard. I genuinely view him as a member of my family and I look forward to talking to him every day. If we were closer in age, I’d definitely have a crush on him. Since he’s my parents’ age, I think of him like a father instead. Strangely enough, he and my real father go by the same name.

Earlier when I walked into his office, he was telling another coworker/friend of ours that he had been talking about me with his wife last night. He was telling her about how close we’ve gotten over the last few years and how much he’s grown to love me. I nearly teared up as he listed off my best qualities proudly. I was so close to telling him that I view him as a father, but decided to bite my tongue. Maybe I’ll tell him one day, but not today.

Never having been close to my biological father, seeing him in this way means a lot to me. I honestly have never had a closer, non-sexual relationship with a man before in my life. He has taught me so much. I am filled with admiration and love for him. He’s one of those people that I just mesh with extremely well. He has such an open, accepting, light-hearted aura.

However, despite all of this, I struggle with the warm emotions I feel for him. It is a constant balancing act whenever I start to feel attached to someone. There are only a small handful of people I’ve ever felt strongly enough about to be vulnerable with. Even so, that vulnerability terrifies me. My anxiety tells me I’m not safe, that I’ll only end up getting hurt and rejected if I show the world who I really am. No matter how safe the person may make me feel, that pinching fear in my chest never fully leaves. Even when I so desperately want to be closer, I can’t help but keep myself at arm’s length.

I think when you don’t have personal experience with social anxiety, you imagine it’s only being afraid of negative social interactions such as being humiliated or not knowing what to do or say in a given situation. But actually, positive social situations can be just a stressful. Even after a great moment of intimacy with someone I genuinely care for, I find myself feeling anxious afterwards. Thoughts start to pop up: Did I share too much? Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Do they like me as much as I like them? I feel awkward and embarrassed by getting closer to someone, even when it’s what I want. It’s quite frustrating and isolating as you can imagine.

I think most people in my life notice a striking difference between who I initially present myself to be: cold, distant, quiet, serious, soft-spoken, reserved and who I reveal myself to be later on: warm, loving, sensitive, affectionate, funny, loud, outspoken, passionate. Although most people seem to change once you get to know them better, I don’t think it’s usually as drastic of a difference. I doubt most of the people I am close to even realize how deeply loving and affectionate I can be. I’m just too afraid to be that vulnerable with practically anyone.

It really makes me wonder how different those around me might be from the way they present themselves to the world. I tend to take situations and individuals at face value. I can be pretty gullible and have to make a great effort to integrate the various layers of a person into a cohesive image. That’s one of the many great things about my friend at work. He is not without his flaws, but somehow his flaws make him all the more endearing. Loving someone despite their flaws is such a beautiful and profound thing to experience. Not only that, I am able to see the way he loves others who are deeply flawed themselves. He is open and accepting of just about everyone no matter how different they are from him. Witnessing this in another has helped me so much to come to terms with my own issues.

So for those of you out there also struggling with creating close, meaningful relationships despite your earnest desire to do so, know that you aren’t alone. And for everyone else reading this that may not have much knowledge of social anxiety or mental illness in general, I hope this has given you a new perspective and a better understanding of some of the issues others are going through.

A Father's Guide to Teen Dating - FamilyEducation

Sharing Yourself with Others

Yesterday was my favorite holiday, Independence Day. I love being able to spend a day with my friends and family in the sunshine, by the water, enjoying fresh fruit and BBQ food. I also always like the opportunity to drink around them as strange as that might sound. Being a generally reserved person, having a little alcohol at family gatherings gives me the courage to be more affectionate with everyone. The only problem with that is sometimes I’ll make promises that sober me isn’t brave enough to keep.

One of the things I always think about is spending more time with my family. My grandmother is over 90 years old, and although she’s SHOCKINGLY healthy and spry, I know I have limited time with her. I think a lot about all the time I spent with her growing up. There was a point I even considered her more of a mom than my actual mom. She would babysit my sister and I while my mom was at work and for a few hours after school every day. Even as a teenager I would often stop by her house before going home from school once I started driving. She was always there for me. I told her everything. She taught me so much and I cherish every memory I have with her.

I honestly don’t know when I started to drift away. Maybe it was once I started college and I wasn’t as close by anymore. For awhile I really didn’t have the time either, although I certainly still could have called. It just seemed like the crippling anxiety I carried with me all through my youth never applied to her. Then at some point, all of a sudden, it did. I became afraid to go see her, afraid I wouldn’t have anything to talk about, afraid I’d be bothering her. The longer I’ve let this anxious energy remain, the bigger it has become.

Now that I’m older I feel similarly about my Aunt. She is an amazing woman whom I love and admire so much. Before I never thought she really cared to be close with my sister and I, but over the last few years that’s changed. These past two presidential elections have really pushed her and her husband apart. It’s also really hurt her relationship with all of her boat club friends. I get the sense that she feels alone now. I want to reach out more and spend more time with her, but I get so anxious at the idea that I usually avoid the thought all together.

As I was sitting with my feet in the damp grass this morning, setting intentions for my day, a new thought struck me. Whenever I’m considering spending more time with friends or family, my main focus is on convincing myself that even though the thought makes me anxious, I will feel better overall. Embarrassingly, this morning was the first time I really considered the other person involved, other than feeling guilty for not following expected social conventions and possibly letting them down. The idea rang through my head that this time that I want to carve out for my friends and family is a gift to them. It is an act of love and compassion. Giving of myself to bring them happiness.

Of course my self-defeating inner voice immediately tried to tear down that idea. “No one cares whether or not they hear from you or spend time with you. You are insignificant,” it tells me. I am constantly afraid of bothering people with my presence. But once again I am merely focusing on myself and my own ego. The fear of feeling unwanted, facing rejection, or feeling like a burden has kept me from forming deeper bonds with all the people in my life. Deep down I know that isn’t true though. My grandmother would never feel burdened by being with me more often.

Not only that, but it helps to remind myself that even if I were an annoyance, so what? I truly believe that the closer we are able to live to the way our distant ancestors lived, the happier we will be. In the tribal communities that once made up humanity, and even in more recent times in small rural towns, every member of the group had value. I don’t have to be perfect to deserve love and quality time with the ones I love. No one expects me to be perfect, except me. There are plenty of people in the world that are more aggravating and problematic than me that are still loved and embraced by those around them. We are all flawed, imperfect beings, but that doesn’t disqualify us from having meaningful, important connections with one another.

What's the Secret to a Happy Family Gathering? – Conquer the Crave – Plan Z  Diet

Valentine’s Day

I have had a strange history with Valentine’s Day. For most of my life I was indifferent to it. I did enjoy creating those boxes in class and receiving cards and cookies. Thankfully when I was young, everyone was required to make a card for everyone else. I’m still horrified at the idea that there was a time when unpopular little kids were left empty handed with only the feeling of utter rejection and isolation on this “day of love.”

As I got older, I grew to detest it. I still don’t know if it was just the corniness and commercialism or if it was an attempt to distance myself from the fact that I never had anyone to share my love with. Whatever the reason that began this feeling though, it continued even into the years when I did have a boyfriend. I remember the first year we were together and he bought me a giant bouquet of flowers and had it sent to my classroom. I was humiliated. Red from ear to ear. I had to carry that embarrassing thing around with me the rest of the day. Of course, as far as he ever knew, I loved it.

By our next Valentine’s Day he knew me much better. Instead of a showy display, he got me a box of gourmet vegan chocolates, paid his mother to leave so we’d have the house to ourselves for the night, and presented me with five hits of acid and some ketamine. (I had recently gotten my wisdom teeth removed and raved about how much I enjoyed the laughing gas. He said ketamine was the closest street drug he could find as far as effects go.) To this day, I count that Valentine’s Day among one of the best days of my life.

It is hard to believe that was six or seven years ago now. So much has changed and yet, nothing has. In the years since then, I’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day as my cat’s birthday. (The acid that night inspired me to adopt her. I even named her Lucy.) And I guess that’s just one of the tricky parts about life. The good and the bad are so many thread inextricably woven into the same cloth. To trace along one, you inevitably stumble across the other as well. These precious memories of mine are, for the most part, too painful to recall. What a cruel joke of memory that the past can be soured by the present.

Maybe it is just an art I need to practice more, accepting and honoring those twinges of pain that impinge upon my happy nostalgia. There is beauty and growth that blooms from pain. When you look at a flower garden, you don’t often focus on the filth and rot and decay that has fertilized the soil. The longer I live, the more I come to understand that life is all about focus. It is a blessing to realize this and the fact that attention is a muscle that I can train with practice.

As for today, I will wrap myself in gratitude. Things are not perfect. They have not gone exactly as I would have liked. But so much unexpected beauty and love has come to me regardless. Lucy has truly brought me all the love and joy that a first child should. We know one another, love one another, and have grown with one another. She has been by my side through some of the darkest times in my life. She has been my strength and my purpose when I had nothing else to get me out of bed in the morning.

Today I choose to focus on that marvelous, miraculous bond we share. Today is a day of love. I have all of the love I could ever want or need from Lucy and her sister Sybil. We are a family that transcends species and language through unconditional love. And that is truly something to celebrate.

The Heart That Gives, Gathers

I still remember giddily awaiting Christmas morning. Hardly being able to fall asleep. My eyes popping open at 4 in the morning, because that is technically Christmas. My sister and I would go wake my parents up at that ungodly hour. And to their credit, they were always good sports about it. They never got mad at us. Usually they’d actually drag themselves out of bed and let us start opening our presents even though the sun had yet to come up. I can’t say I would have reacted the same.

The strangest part is thinking that all that excitement was to receive gifts. Now that I’m older, I still have a sense of excitement for Christmas day, but the thought of what I’ll return home with is the last thing on my mind. I had heard as a child that it was a greater joy to give gifts to your loved ones than to be gifted things in return. But I had always thought that was just a thing adults said so we didn’t feel bad. I had no idea how true I would one day find that sentiment. Now being excited only to be given gifts is the side of the equation that seems absurd.

As I am about to give the gifts that I spent months gathering, making, and wrapping gingerly, I can’t help but be full of gratitude and love. Christmas is a wonderful reminder that even though it may seem counterintuitive, generosity leads to abundance. We spend so much of our lives saving and hoarding, being fearful that we will not have enough. Paradoxically, this draws that sense of “lacking” into our lives rather than keeping it at bay.

When we give and share what we have with others, the universe brings that same energy of abundance back to us. Christmas is a perfect example of that principle. We spend a lot of time and money before the holidays making sure we have just the right gifts for those we love. But are we not repaid for our money and effort tenfold by the joy we receive upon watching their happy faces light up? By their hugs and kisses? By the chance to share delicious hot food as we gather together in the cold?

The winter months seem like a time to hunker down, spend frugally, stay in, save up to survive. But what a beautiful holiday we have implanted right in the middle! A holiday that encourages us to go out, to spend time with our loved ones, to gorge ourselves on fancy foods, to give elaborate gifts. A reminder that we are all one. A reminder that because of this, our generosity will always find it’s way back around to us in some form or another. So we don’t need to be afraid. Give freely. Help others. Even when you may feel like you don’t have anything to spare. It’s always worth it.

Merry Christmas

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