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Sophia Grace LeBlanc is recognized for her heroism by Premier Stephen McNeil at a Medal of Bravery Award ceremony. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Congratulations! You’ve won an award. For your efforts, you’ll receive:

  • A pat on the back
  • A piece of paper, and,
  • An uncomfortably close, cringe-worthy photo op with an elected official you’ve never met before!

Did I mention that the “you” in question is six years old? Sophia Grace LeBlanc, who bravely climbed from the wreckage of her family’s crashed car to get help for her injured mother and siblings, received an award for heroism. When she learned that the “award” was just a piece of paper, she spoke her mind.

“I thought because I was so brave, I thought I would get something a little better,” said Sophia.

She had done a wonderful, brave thing, and probably would have liked to receive some toys, or to be taken out for pizza with her friends. A piece of paper? A hug from some random (presumably unintentionally) handsy man? No thanks!

When do we unlearn honesty? Should kids be taught to be quiet, be polite, and tolerate the strange man huddling in for a cuddle? Is it rude to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”?

Setting boundaries is humane. That way, the person who is offending you won’t have to apologize later, and will be educated since they didn’t know they were crossing a line.

Saying what you mean is compassionate. That way, everyone knows where you stand and eventually, the people around you will re-calibrate and reciprocate.

Saying it right at the moment of impact, when someone commits an infraction, is an act of kindness in every direction. That way, you won’t have to bear the weight of that grudge you would have been holding, and your relationships will become more meaningful.

Scrolling through news headlines this morning on my phone, I clicked on an advice column that I enjoy and was surprised by the picture I saw. Normally, you can see the columnist’s face and upper torso in the picture, but today, due to a technical glitch, all you can see is her shoulder. 

This made me laugh. Why, this could be a cottage industry for her — an advice column about burdens we all must shoulder. “Talk to the shoulder!” could become a catch phrase. Her new book could be titled: “How to Carry the Weight of the World on Your Shoulders (and Get a Great Upper Body Work-out in the Process)”!

Because we can’t always see the bigger picture in life, sometimes the things we pray for really wouldn’t be good for us. Most of us have prayed for money, sometimes even a lottery win, but being filthy rich wouldn’t make you happier; it would make life harder. More taxes to pay. More “new friends” coming around asking for a piece of the pie. 

And that relationship you prayed would be “the one,” but wasn’t? If you have to compromise, accommodate and put yourself on the back burner, that wasn’t a relationship anyway, but a prison term. Why pray for what doesn’t serve you? 

While we see only a portion of it, God sees the whole picture. If he can hold up the whole world, you can rest assured, he’s got a shoulder for you to lean on, too. In the meantime, do what you can to improve your life. Surround yourself with positive people. Do your best at the work you do. Stay healthy and active — and try a few shoulder rolls to stay limber.😊

Not that I was Rasputin or anything, but I have to say that I was someone else prior to losing the vision in my right eye. Looking back, I did a lot of…looking back. I could make myself feel guilty about a mistake I’d made decades earlier. 

Even in the car, I found myself looking back, keeping that eye trained nervously on the rearview mirror. God had to get my attention somehow, I suppose, and decided to poke me in the eye with a sharp stick. A surgery meant to correct a macular hole ended up leaving me without vision in that eye. In a way, it was a metaphor for the larger theme in my life up to that point: You can’t drive your car down the road in reverse.

If I could have full vision again, I would do it in a minute, but having visual impairments has been — wait for it — eye-opening. For one thing, I’ve learned that the world was designed for the elusive “normal” person: someone with perfect vision, hearing and speech capabilities, no medical issues and a perfectly balanced psyche. 

There are various “disability” communities, and each has its own lexicon. In the autism community, for instance, those without autism are called “neuro-typicals.” 

But even within those communities, there are differing points of view. For example, in the Deaf community, for some, a cochlear implant is a godsend. Others take exception to the idea that they need to be “fixed” and refuse the procedure. 

Just as I used to drive down the road worrying about how close the cars behind me were, I also spent time on what-ifs and why-mes that didn’t change my situation. When I got out of that roundabout of regret and let Providence take the wheel, the ride became a lot easier. 

Nobody knows they’re a noodge, do they? I didn’t realize I was one myself until one day when my son was fixing his bed frame and I stopped in to offer “encouragement.” I’d say, “What if you tried it this way?” He’d say, “That won’t work, Mom.” I’d offer, “Do you need a wrench for that?” Finally he said politely but firmly, “That’s not helping. Please stop now.”

My version of “help” was really not helping. Sometimes when you don’t know how to fix an issue, you flutter about, making it even worse. Maybe that’s what’s going on with negative emotions that just won’t let up. 

That nagging voice in our heads that we call guilt really doesn’t see itself that way. In fact, it regards itself more as a quilt, seeking only to cover you with a patchwork of memories so you don’t make the same mistakes again. 

And fear is really a deer, lost in the woods, trying to find its way home. It doesn’t want to harm you; it’s just trying to navigate the unknown alone.

God embedded us with these emotions, so there must be a reason for them. Maybe it’s just to learn that our feelings — and in fact, most of the people in our lives — are trying their best. 

So, I know I’m a noodge at times, but I’m learning to scale back my fluttering and s/mothering of those I care about. Harping isn’t helping. Someday, I’ll be a former noodge. Maybe I’ll do a PSA to help others to deal with people like me. It might even help you as you deal with all those misguided emotions that hassle you relentlessly. Be patient with them, but be direct when need be, as my son was with me. “Move along, now,” you can tell them. “I’ve got this.”

How does social anxiety start? For me, it happened in grade school, when I first realized that being different in any way seemed to give some kids license to pick on others. I have red hair, freckles and glasses. Nuff said? Nowadays, I love my hair, but at the time, I wished I could blend in and be a brunette. I started to speak less often, not wanting to call attention to myself, and developed anxiety in social situations. 

As I got older, I realized that most people are so inside their own heads that they weren’t even thinking of me or anyone else. If someone wanted to make me feel bad about myself, it was usually a reflection of something going on in their own life. I came to the conclusion, “That’s their bad day.” It didn’t have to be my bad day, too.

There are so many types of anxiety that many are known simply by their acronyms: OCD, PTSD, GAD. When I was stuck in an awful job and a failing marriage years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). As I look back at the person I was, I don’t even recognize her. I haven’t felt that way in over a decade.

I’ve found effective relief-valves, such as meditation, with the HeadSpace app, support groups, round-loom knitting, and at-home cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. I’ve found ways to work around my visual impairment and MS to volunteer my time and talents in whatever small way I can. Having a project and a purpose every day when I wake up has improved my quality of life. 

Re-charging your batteries when your soul needs fuel makes it possible to keep powering down the road of life. And partnering with Providence can keep you on the right path.

This year, instead of making resolutions, why not be a rebel and resolve to do more of the things you love to do with the people you like to be with? This may sound minor, but, really, it’s an interior renovation of sorts. Deciding what matters to you on New Year’s Day, and every other day going forward. 

So what if all your friends went to the city to watch the ball drop. Going to Times Square in New York on a cold night in a crowd wasn’t your idea of a good time. Getting drunk because the calendar said you should makes no sense either.

This year, allow yourself to shop around and find a life that fits you. Not what others expect, or society says you should be doing.

You do you this year. Make no grand edicts about your life (lose weight, get a promotion, etc.) Just sit and bask in the blessings you’ve already got all around you. For me, it’s peaceful home. A son I adore. Projects that give me a sense of purpose. Friends I can count on. Faith that sustains me.

This year, I plan to be in awe more often. Be in nature when I can. Breathe fully. Find joy in the minutiae of the day. Dishes to wash? That was a nice meal we had, so it’s not a chore. Laundry to fold? A chill is rolling in, so let me put on a nice warm, sweater, fresh out of the dryer.

These tiny miracles we count on every day may not have the “wow factor,” but they’re the building blocks of a blessed life. It’s good to reflect on all we’ve been given and realize that life is already an amazing gift. 

Peace & Blessings to All in this New Year!

Photo by Carlin Leslie

In my day, sonny, Santa was so stealthy, you didn’t hear him at all, even when he trundled his jelly belly into a slim chimney! He kept a low-profile, living a quiet life at the North Pole.

Nowadays, Santa has diversified. Not only is he larger than life, but he’s louder than all get-out. You see him in the mall, sitting there, plain as day, undermining his own mystique. You see him on the back of a firetruck as it blares and beeps its way through town. He’s even got an Instagram account!

Santa has become such a public figure that NORAD tracks him, and the postal service collects letters for him (addressed to 123 Elf Road, North Pole 88888.) He’s even got a Santa Hotline for kids to reach him at any time of the day.

I’m starting to think Santa is really spreading himself too thin, but I guess he’s got a mortgage to pay off, too. He’s even got a second home in Canada: Santa Claus, North Pole, H0H 0H0, Canada.

Maybe he’s got stand-ins, like movie actors do. It could be that some of the bearded fellows at Santa University are his proxies, spreading mirth and merriment when the big guy himself is otherwise engaged. 

Now, I know that Santa isn’t the true star of Christmas, but no matter what religion you belong to, this season is about joy and goodwill. It’s a holiday about hope, and the best part of it is that people are in a good mood and are (for the most part) getting into the spirit and treating each other with kindness. If only we could carry that feeling throughout the whole year!

Early this morning, I opened the blinds and looked out at the yard. Hmm. Frost on the grass. Chilly today. The usual puddle at the end of my driveway is a frozen mini-lake, perfect for passing crows to do a bit of ice dancing and squawking. Oh, great. The mailbox was knocked out of place by wind again. Note to self: Buy sturdier mailbox. Find contractor to install it. 

As I was walking away from the window reviewing my mental to-do list, I saw the edge of a box in front of my porch near the bushes. It was in a secluded location, perfect for passing package-thieves.

I got the package into the house and opened it. Oh! Adorable. It’s a tiny cactus crafted by our own SueBE! Wonder how she made this? Add to mental to-do list: Must find out how it was made.

Cactus sitting outside in this freezing weather? Poor thing. She must be traumatized. I’ll put her right by the heat vent in the kitchen. That’s where my Plantie sits, so I introduced them and sat her down. Looks perfect. 

My to-do list continued in my head: I really should complain about the package being left outside like that. My new mailman, Bob, is great, but he’s on vacation. I know it’s a busy time of year, with all the gifts being sent through the mail, and hate to get the substitute person in trouble, but realized that sometimes feedback is necessary.  

That should be standard on everyone’s mental to-do list: speak the truth in a spirit of kindness. No need to poke at a person with a cactus spine. Feedback should be fair, because someday, the truth might just be fed back to you! Remember: The Golden Rule is the only gift that is one-size-fits-all.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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