Christmas is a Time to Love

heart shaped stones - cropped

“Oh, look! Almost a heart!” The pebble replies, “Sometimes we are not perfect, but people love us anyway.”

I find myself many times holding this perfect yardstick up to others—and to myself! It’s a struggle, though, to identify what is perfect, what is a perfect heart? How much easier and effortless to just simply Love What Is. Let it be. Love. Unconditionally.

I was remembering a song from Psalty’s Christmas Calamity  that my students did years ago, got curious, and found a wonderful rendition on YouTube of “Christmas is a Time To Love.”


For me, this simple song and message remind me to just love. All the crazy Christmas activity, presents to buy, parties and get-togethers to attend, cards to send, extra calls, texts, emails, mail, decorating, family functions, driving here and there, crowded stores, and frustrations when these things aren’t the way we want. I’m singing that song in my head at the Wal-Mart checkout line to remind me that Christmas is a time to love.

So, this Christmas, my list is:  1. To love. That’s it.

I read an article about the 1914 Christmas Truce agreement between German and British, Belgian, and French troops during World War I. Both sides agreed to climb out of their trenches, put down their rifles, and have a quiet Christmas eve and day of singing carols in their own language, exchanging gifts, and maybe a soccer game. Later it was back to the business of war, but I’ve wondered why, if they could practice peace for a short time, why couldn’t it last?

xmas truce

So, I also decided that even after Christmas, I will have at the top of my To Do List:

  1. To love.

That’s it.  I will continue to practice love even when the Christmas season is over.  It should be a fun experiment!

The Bible says to let all that we do be done in love. Dishes, decorating, talking and listening to people, shopping, driving, paying bills, appointments, everything. Let everything be done in love.  The Bible also says to love one another.  So there. That’s what we are to do.  Love everybody, even the ones we consider “imperfect.”

Love is the most powerful force in the universe, and yet one of the most misunderstood.  There are so many facets of love, the Greek language has from four to six different names for what English just calls “love.”  The differentiation goes up the chakra system from erotic love (eros), to friendship and brotherly love (philia), playful love (ludus), longstanding love (pragma), self-love (philautia), to agape love, which is selfless, charitable love for all people.  C. S. Lewis refers to agape love as “gift love,” and in Buddhism it is “metta,” or universal lovingkindness.  What a wonderful gift this Christmas (and after) to give love to everyone with whom we come in contact.

I Corinthians 13 is considered the Love chapter.  This season I choose to give and receive as a continuous flow, seeing and treating each other from a higher perspective.  “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Copyright 2017 Linda Parks. Used with permission.


Tree Pose

A few years ago I went to a Parks family reunion. There, plastered on the wall, was a huge family tree with names near the trunk of our ancestors, all the way from the 1800’s (maybe even 1700’s) and out to the tiniest branches of new babies.  As I gazed, amazed, I also felt a twinge of failure as I looked at my branch, which ended abruptly with my name.  Beside mine was my brother’s name with his spouse, branches full and blossoming with names of his children and grandchildren, continuing the Parks family name. To me it was a visible reminder of my failure to achieve the most basic of successes, marrying and bearing children.

One morning I came across this picture of a tree in all its glory with branches lush above the ground, but underground is another tree, just as lush and gorgeous.  That underground tree is called the root system. Without this vital root system to support the visible tree, to take in nourishment from rain and minerals in the soil of Mother Earth, the visible tree branches would not survive.


The tree goes through yearly and seasonal changes, sometimes green and full; sometimes popping with reds, oranges, and yellows for a time; sometimes barren of all leaves.  The root system, however, remains through the changing seasons, supporting and taking in nourishment.

Every morning I sit quietly and alone, praying for my family members, supporting and nourishing them underground, so they can grow and flourish to their highest and most glorious potential above ground.

When I do tree pose in yoga class, I teeter back and forth on one leg, arms raised worshipfully above my head in such a beautiful display of ancient Vrksasana, ever mindful that my pose could not stand without that leg supporting it. We don’t notice the leg, though. Many successful ventures noticeably flourish above ground, highly visible, talented, creative, and productive. Unseen, unnoticed, and underground remains the supportive root system of people working silently and continuously, just as beautiful and important as the tree above.

It is helpful to note, too, that sometimes we are the supportive root system, but sometimes we are the beautiful above the ground tree, full of succulent fruit, lavish leaves, and flowering branches.

Copyright 2017 Linda Parks. Used with permission.

Trust the Process

“I can’t do Yoga Teacher Training; I can’t do a headstand, and I’m too old.” Three months ago I postulated these reservations as I considered signing up for the upcoming training at Sacred Space yoga studio. A recent Registered Yoga Teacher graduate, older than I am, assured me that yoga is much more than standing on my head, age doesn’t matter, and that I could indeed do yoga teacher training.

So here I am, with two weekends of training under my belt.  Saturday my frustration level was pretty high, though, as we finished what seemed like hours of taking notes and listening as Melody White, our “guide” wrote boards full of movements and cues for sequences we had just done on the mat. The mat work was an enjoyable, flowing, feel-good pattern of familiar movements; but when we sat in front of the board for a written analysis of the sequences, that was another story. “You may as well write hieroglyphics up there, Melody. This is so confusing. I just don’t get it.” I got the first few sequences, but after several more, I was lost, as it got more complicated and confusing. Toward the end, my brain just checked out.  As we took a break, Melody reassured us, “I’ve taught this for years, and it works. Trust the process.”

Trust the process. Yeah, right. Then I remembered my own days of teaching school, and I knew from experience she was right. After fifteen years of seeing the progress my fourth graders made, nine years of missionary kids at all ages, and eleven years of multi-aged English language learners, all progressed as expected. I always loved seeing how my students arrived as beginners, then grew proficient as they learned so much during the school year, right on schedule, and just as my years of experience told me they would. It does work. Trust the process.

This morning I was thinking about the process, and remembered the first student I taught to read. I say “taught” as maybe the wrong word, since “educate” means a leading out of what is already inside the student.  I no more taught Jonathan how to read than we have anything to do with a flower growing and blooming from a tiny seed we plant.  The blueprint is already there, in the seed, in our brains and cells, a blueprint for the growing stages, for the full-grown manifestation of completion. Maybe we guide the process, but we certainly don’t control it.

trust the process photo cropped

Jonathan’s mother brought him to my little one-room school in the basement that first day in Kenya.  At 5 years old, he was an adorable, sweet spirited, shy and gentle tiny little boy with eager big brown eyes.  “He knows some of his ABCs, but he can’t read,” his mom offered. My throat closed.  “He can’t READ??!!” I kept my thoughts to myself. I had only taught 4th graders in Mt. Airy, and they all could read, write in cursive, and had memorized their multiplication facts when they first came to my class. I had never taught anyone to read from scratch, and didn’t know if I could. I had to pray about that one, and the answer God gave me was, “use your gut instincts.”  So we started with learning the alphabet, consonant and vowel sounds, and word families with simple three-letter words. Day after day I read to Jonathan, just for the pure pleasure of reading, but also to demonstrate letter and word sounds. We just kept working on words, sounds, reading.

One day I pulled a book from the shelf, opened it, and we sat side by side to read. Curious, I asked him to read some of the words aloud to me, eager to see how much he could do.  To my surprise, he read a whole sentence, then another and another! I reached for his wiry arms. “Jonathan! You’re reading! Who taught you to read?” I thought maybe he had been getting some extra tutoring at home or somewhere.  I’ll never forget the loving way he turned his head and eyes up, looked at me, and matter-of-factly replied, “YOU did!”  I honestly did not know when it had happened. “When?” When did I teach him to read? Trust the process.

Copyright 2017 Linda Parks. Used with permission.

Teaching Yoga?

I am nearing the time when I need to take continuing training in order to maintain my yoga teaching certification.  Difficult to schedule, perhaps, but not difficult to find – there are still hundreds of things I’d love to know more about – if anything, there are far more trainings than I have time for.  However, I was thinking the other day that the first few years of teaching yoga should count as some sort of training in themselves – because nothing has taught me more about yoga than teaching yoga.

Heather Elliott 1

Yoga is intensely personal – no matter if you’re in a class of 50 or a private class, where you are is where you are, and yoga must meet you there.  The most amazing thing about yoga, I think, is that it always does.  No matter where you are, yoga can be right there with you, supporting you and helping you to excavate deeper and deeper into your self to teach you what you need to know.  Hyper-flexible?  Yoga will admire that, but teach you that flexibility requires strength.  Impatient?  Yoga will offer lots of quick rewards, all the while holding out on some things.  Goal-oriented?  Awesome, you’ll be doing peak poses in no time, but you’ll realize that’s not the point.

As a teacher, it’s hard to hit your stride.  It’s hard to sort out for yourself what sort of teacher you are – and no matter how many teachers you’ve had, or how much you’ve learned from them, you’re on your own when it’s your class.  And it’s startling to learn whether or not you like teaching, where your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher are, and what you really think about yoga.

I’ve been teaching yoga weekly for nearly 2 years, and I feel pretty comfortable, now.  But here’s the truth:  you can’t teach yoga.  You can guide yoga, you can offer yoga, you can model yoga, you can demonstrate yoga, you can talk yoga, you can explain yoga, you can report on research about yoga – but teach yoga?  Nope.  If you’re trying, though, you will find every place where you are challenged by yoga.  Every place where you are unsure, every place where you don’t understand as well as you thought you did, every place where you were flat out wrong.  And that’s okay.  In fact, that’s yoga.

We ask our students over and over and over again to be true to themselves – to be honest about where they are, recognize sensations, play on the edge, challenge themselves, be open, give themselves a break, stop comparing, and just be.  And I’ve learned more about how to do that by trying to teach yoga than I did in the decades I practiced beforehand.

A regular in one of my classes made a point of telling me the other night that he really liked the class we’d just done.  He was beaming and his eyes lit up with happiness.  And I was so pleased that it had connected with him – so happy to see him so happy – and immediately I started to think about how the class had been constructed and whether there was something that I could do more of in order to give him that experience more often.  And then yoga caught up with me and I stopped.  Because that class hadn’t been a class I’d normally do – it was done in order to incorporate something another student had asked about – it was a far more traditional Iyengar style class than I’d usually teach.  Which is the style that he likes.  And in order to make him that happy more often, I’d have to teach something that isn’t really my thing.  I’m all for it sometimes – it’s fun to have students request things – I research, I plan, and we try it together – and we both learn something.  But all I can offer with any consistency is me – what I bring to the mat as a ‘teacher’ is the same thing I bring as a student:  myself.  And no matter what anyone else favors or wants or does, all I can offer is me.  Yoga taught me that.

I don’t think any of us are yoga teachers.  Some of us are yoga models, some are yoga demonstrators, some are yoga explainers, some are yoga guides, and on our best days – those days that we are living the practice – all of us are yoga facilitators.  It’s called a practice for a reason – yoga itself is the teacher, and we all always have more to learn.

Copyright 2017 Heather Elliott. Used with permission.



If you check Sacred Space Online you will see several yoga classes incorporating an infinity pattern sequence into the routine.  One day as I did this up and down continuous flow on the yoga mat, I envisioned an analogy to life’s path.  Life is an infinity pattern and symbol. It is not linear from birth to death, with a definite beginning and end.  It is not even circular, where, though continuous, all is equally on a flat playing surface.


Rather, life is a Figure 8 Infinity on its side, ups and downs, highs and lows, meeting always at the same shared dot in the center of it all, a vertex/vortex of sorts. The center dot is the reckoning place of it all, a resting place if you will, a place to catch your breath in retrospection and reflection, and also in preparation for the next exhilarating mountaintop experience, or low of the valley. Events, feelings, relationships, highs and lows, good times and bad, all meeting eventually at the center of our being, to evaluate, assess, analyze, and then move on to continue flowing on our path of infinity.

Copyright 2017 Linda Parks. Used with permission.

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro? Highest mountain in Africa. I have had many Kilimanjaros in my life, as I’m sure everyone has. The first year I tried to reach the top, altitude sickness descended on me with aching head, no appetite, body fluids deciding on their own to leave my body (I’ll spare the details). At 15,000 feet I could make it no further. Failure reverberated throughout my body, soul, and spirit. I wanted to climb four thousand more feet. That’s all. Get a picture of sunrise atop the highest peak in Africa, get a certificate, pass Hemingway’s success test. It didn’t happen, no matter how much I wanted it, no matter how much my climbing team encouraged me. The lessons I learned from this pass/fail experience have stayed with me, though. As I trudged back down, head bowed in defeat, I reached the clearing of the savannah and suddenly looked back at my nemesis. I raised my walking stick high in the air, shook it at the snow-capped peak, and shouted, “I’ll be back!”

The next year, even before the climb, I was so sick I could not begin the climb with my team. Time was running out, so I decided the next morning to go anyway. My climbing buddy would be a gray-haired man I quickly dismissed, wondering if he could make the climb. He turned out to be my guardian angel, a Canadian silver medalist in the ’56 Olympics, and a trainer of World Class rowers! We walked twenty-five minutes and rested five; this cycle was repeated and fortified with nuts, raisins, chocolate, tea and water, until we reached the first hut for overnight. The next morning, still sick, I knew what the hike involved and didn’t know if I could make it. I prayed for God’s guidance, and suddenly the wind blew the crude wooden door of the hut wide open, revealing the most glorious morning sunbeams shining right onto my sleeping bag cocoon. The voice in my head reminded me, “I have set before you an open door.” That was my answer. “Okay, let’s do it!”

Linda Parks cropped

When I finally reached the top, I knew it was not in my strength, but in God’s strength alone that I had made it. That lesson recurs in many daunting activities in my life. Driving around Chicago I was scared to death, doubting if I could make it. I heard God’s voice reminding me, “If I can get you to the top of the highest mountain in all of Africa, in my strength alone, don’t you think I can get you around Chicago?” Yes, yes, and yes.  When my father died, when I moved, left Kenya, got a new job, faced illness, the question was the same. That question applies to anything and everything you or I must face.  And the answer is always, “Yes, yes, yes.”

Copyright 2017 Linda Parks. Used with permission.