Home for the Holidays

Going home for the holidays can be quite an adventure.

Some people fly home, while others drive across town. Some people open their home to family and friends, while others drive from one home to another, making sure all relatives are properly visited. Then there are those who choose to stay where they are, cozy and warm, snuggled together, eating popcorn and watching holiday movies.

There is also another home we are always invited to visit. It is the sacred “home” within ourselves. It is our core, the essence of who we are. Traveling to this place takes courage, patience, trust and love. And though there is never much traffic, we can easily get lost.

This trip home may begin by sitting quietly and simply being still, or we may be forced onto this journey when we experience great trauma or pain. We catch a glimpse of light out of the corner of our eye, and we must make a choice. Do we turn away or do we continue this search for ourselves?

If you’re wondering how to know when you’ve found this place, a dear friend sent me a quote that answers this question.

“You have looked at so many doors with longing, wondering if your life lay on the other side. Home is always by another road, and you will know it, not by the light that waits for you, but by the star that blazes inside of you, telling you that where you are is holy and you are welcome here.”

Shine Your Light

It started with the upstairs hallway light. Sometimes it worked, but in the evenings, it didn’t. I had to use the light from my cellphone as I went up the steps to make sure I didn’t trip on a cat.

Next, the light that hung over my kitchen sink was positioned in such a way that the bulb was exposed and glared right at me. I switched to a bulb with the lowest possible wattage, which eased the glare and made my kitchen look clean.

Finally, my dining room light fixture simply stopped working.

The brightness in my home had slowly faded and I had adjusted. Dim light and shadows now become normal.

It never occurred to me that I had spent years living in the shadows of my own life. How often had I dimmed my personal light? Did it start when I trusted the words of others, telling me I was not quite good enough? Did I ever believe in myself? I can’t remember.

After a handyman fixed the hallways and kitchen lights and put in a new dining room fixture, I was shocked. The rooms glowed. I asked him if it was supposed to be this bright, and, of course it was.

And so it is. When you decide to let your light shine, it can be startling. It surprises you and you wonder, “Can I really be that brilliant?”

The answer is “Yes! You can!” Your family and friends want to see your light. The world needs your light.

It turned out that the old dimmer switch in the dining room no longer worked. I love the thought that once you allow your light to shine, the old issues and old patterns have lost their power. Your light can no longer be dimmed. How great is that!

Stories Carved in Stone

Image copyright: 123rf/Songquan Deng

Recently, I spent a morning with my family in the national park that protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America,

Walking through rugged terrain under a clear blue New Mexico sky, we could see designs and symbols that had been carved onto volcanic rocks 400 to 700 years ago by Native Americans and by Spanish settlers. They were voices from the past etched into giant black boulders, remaining unchanged for centuries. It was a powerful experience.

Later I wondered which of my stories I had etched in stone. Stories about my self-worth, my history and my place in this world. Do these stories still serve me? Are they true? Are they even mine or are they the stories of others that I have taken as my own?

In my personal library, I have the classic trilogy: “I Have No Value,” “My Voice Does Not Matter,” “I Cannot Possibly Follow My Dreams.”

The section of “poor me” stories holds some of my favorites. I take them out whenever I need a good cry or want to feel self-righteous.

Then there is the popular series of “Lack”. “There is Not Enough Love to Go Around” is the first in the series and can cause tremendous grief to those of us dealing with divorce, because if we believe there is only so much love to go around, we force our children to choose between a mother and a father.

Some unhealthy stories are so deeply etched into us, that even if we wanted to, we could not remove them. Instead, we can gently acknowledge they are with us and put them back on the shelf without opening them.

The most important story is the one that informs all the others. It is about living our lives from a place of love, compassion and faith. Out of all the stories, this is the one we must etch onto the rugged terrain our lives.

How to Help Kids Manage the Stress of Divorce

The following is a guest post by Erin Kassenbaum.

If stress burned calories, many of us would weigh 90 pounds, right? Work, family and the never-ending “to-do” list all create significant stress on our lives. Most of us adults can effectively manage our stress. But what about children, especially kids whose parents are going through a divorce?

Understandably, divorce causes a great deal of stress for children. They are full of fear over the changes they are experiencing, and often worry they are the reason their parents are getting divorced. One of my main goals when working with clients is helping them help their kids manage stress during and after divorce. Children generally respond to stress in one of the following three ways: positive, tolerable, or toxic.

Positive stress response is a healthy part of development where kids learn to cope. Children experience positive stress when getting a shot or starting school after summer vacation. Tolerable stress is more serious and longer lasting, but manageable. This is often the type of stress children experience when their parents get divorced. The good news is both types of stress can be negated by positive, loving relationships with parents and other caregivers who can help them adapt and cope with stress.

However, if parents are so high-conflict they are not able to develop a cooperative co-parenting or parallel-parenting relationship, kids are at risk for developing a toxic stress response. Toxic stress puts children in a constant state of fight-or-flight mode, affecting their brain development, suppressing their immune system and causing learning and memory problems. As adults, children who experience toxic stress are at risk of developing heart disease, substance abuse problems and depression. Obviously, we need to help kids manage stress so that it doesn’t become toxic.

This is one reason it’s so important for parents to focus on developing a manageable co-parenting or parallel-parenting relationship with one another. In addition, parents can help their kids manage stress by:

  • Understanding it’s normal for kids to be stressed during the divorce process. Don’t get stressed because the kids are stressed!
  • Validating the kids’ feelings about the divorce. Using phrases such as “I know you feel sad,” or, “I understand you miss seeing your mom everyday like you used to.” Kids need to hear that it’s okay to feel how they feel.
  • Encouraging honesty. It’s important kids know they can always be honest with both parents.
  • Asking the kids what they think would make them feel better. Sometimes the only answer may be that mom and dad get back together and that’s okay. Try to offer simple ideas like taking a walk, watching a movie together or calling the other parent.
  • Keeping a regular routine, especially for younger children. Routine and consistency give kids tremendous security and comfort.
  • Repeatedly reassuring them they are not the cause of the divorce and that both parents will always love them, no matter what.

Rediscover Family

Written by Barb Greenberg, excerpt from Rediscovering the Holidays

When relatives invite you to celebrate a holiday with them, by all means go if it feels safe. Let yourself be supported, hugged, clucked over and waited on, while your children play with cousins, snuggle with grandparents,or pester a favorite aunt.

In some situations it doesn’t feel safe to celebrate with family. If this is the case for you, respect yourself and your intuition and politely decline any invitation you may receive. You can say something as simple as, “Thank you for your kind invitation, but I don’t feel ready.”

If your family persists, as families sometimes do, simply repeat the same sentence. You don’t have to justify yourself or make excuses.

You may plan to go to a friend’s house, or find a good book or movie, or simply sit on the sofa and eat ice cream or your favorite snack.

If you enjoy having company for the holidays, invite people over. If this sounds good but also sounds like too much work, or you are worried it will be too expensive, make the celebration a potluck and take the pressure off yourself.

family2People may ask, “What I can bring?” And with a heartfelt thanks, you can choose whether to request an appetizer, a salad, a bottle of wine, or their notorious homemade chocolate chip cookies! And don’t worry if your home doesn’t look perfect. One thing divorce teaches us, is that perfect is over-rated.

Print out the Rediscover Family – Questions for Reflection.