Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The 12 Nights of Christmas

T’was the first night of Christmas
And all through your house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Except suddenly one little soul did appear
It’s your Little Elf, and he brings holiday cheer!
Tonight it’s a partridge for your pear tree
And tomorrow, who knows, You must wait and see
So turn on your porch light each evening with care
And know that your gift soon will be there
But don’t try to catch him or he’ll disappear!

Have you heard of The 12 Nights of Christmas? Also known as Secret Santa, I came across this concept years ago while reading "In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas" by Dan Schaeffer. In the back was a chapter describing his family tradition modeled after the 12 days of Christmas. Beginning on December 13 and ending on Christmas Eve, the family left a treat along with a cute poem on a neighbor's porch. The whole idea was to teach kids that giving was just as fun as receiving.

Twelve nights sneaking around the neighborhood playing ding dong ditch? How fun! I especially loved the idea of helping my kids learn the joys of giving at such an impressionable age. And so that December gave birth to a new Fell Family tradition.

Now our oldest daughter was away at college and our teenage son was busy with high school activities, so that left our two youngest as my santas. As I explained what we were embarking on and why, they were thrilled with the idea of sneaking around the neighborhood for any reason. At age 10, our daughter much preferred to be an elf as she was female and Santa was, well, male. But with her 8-year-old brother as Santa, an elf's superior, that wouldn't do either. To keep the peace in our new family tradition, we became elves instead of Santas. 

As a family of six, we were on a budget so armed with a shopping list taken from the book, my first stop was our local Dollar Store. Thankfully, this was our only stop—everything we needed was there. Taking home our supplies, we got to work printing the poems and preparing the bags while the kids giggled at the notion of 12 nights of mischief over Christmas vacation.

Already December, the first night was fast approaching. Fairly new to the neighborhood, we discussed who should receive the nightly treats.

A couple months earlier, I heard that Neighbor Tom had just lost his wife to cancer. She was well loved by all who knew her, and I couldn’t imagine what the holidays must be like for Tom and their two children. To my mind, it was clear that Tom’s home could use small doses of nightly cheer. The kids quickly agreed.

On the evening of December 13, my two elves giggled nervously as we bundled up and headed out into the night. Sneaking through the quiet snow-filled streets of our neighborhood with a flashlight was as magical for the kids as it was for me; I treasured the memories we were creating. Who knew this could be so much fun?! 

Caught in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I also hadn't realized just how quiet—and beautiful—the cold streets were at night. It was like another world waited for us each evening, a peaceful, enchanting winter wonderland that could only be experienced on foot. The magic was heightened when the kids giggled over my clumsiness in the dark. Note to self: Get more flashlights. Returning home from our adventure each evening, we warmed our hands around a mug of hot cocoa and warmed our hearts around the notion that our nightly surprises might bring cheer to Tom's family.

The next eleven nights flew by and soon it was Christmas Eve, the 12th day when we had to reveal our identity. 

I suddenly became nervous. I had never met Tom, and worried that maybe our nightly gifts had been a bit too much for the family's fragile emotions. But there was no backing down now; we had to finish.

That afternoon we arranged a dozen homemade treats on a small holiday plate, covered it with red plastic wrap, taped the final poem to the top and—not trusting my children to walk two blocks with a plate of goodies—we drove to Tom’s house. We climbed out of the car, assembled on his front porch, and I nervously rang the doorbell.

Twelve drummers drumming,
they play a happy beat
For this should fill your tummy,
it’s your Christmas treat!
We had such a good time,
being your friend
We’re really sorry our visit must end.
So we wish you a wonderful Christmas day
And a year free of troubles, for this we’ll pray.

When Tom opened the door, we nervously started singing: 
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas,
and a happy new year!

Well, I sang by myself because instead of joining me in the cheery rendition as planned, my elves stood with mouths frozen. Realizing I was on my own and because my children say I’m tone deaf, I quickly decided that one verse was more than enough for this poor family. 

Oh dear, as soon as I stopped singing I realized that Tom and his two children had tears in their eyes! Was it my terrible singing, or did we fail miserably in our mission? 

Quickly, I decided the best way to handle this was to explain that we were the Little Elves responsible for the nightly treats, and then leave the poor family alone. After all, it was Christmas Eve and here we were intruding on their fragile emotions. But I soon discovered that I had nothing to fear at all: they were crying because of how much they loved the little gifts, and now it was coming to an end! 

It turns out that Tom and his children not only enjoyed the element of surprise, but the nightly anticipation was a wonderful respite from the constant sadness, and lifted their spirits. Mission accomplished! 

That first year proved a wonderful experience and we continued the tradition, choosing a different neighbor each year, until tragedy struck our own family. In 2009, my 15-year-old elf, Aly, died in a car accident while coming home from a swim meet. Caught in my own fog of grief, I had no reserve left in my tank to carry on our family fun with our youngest. With a broken heart, our once beloved tradition came to an unexpected end. 

In the years since losing Aly, in fits and starts our family has learned to laugh and feel joy again but I’ve never forgotten how bleak those first holidays felt. 

I’ve also learned that helping others helps my own heart to heal. 

Now that our grandson is 9—the perfect age to become an elf—reinstating the old family tradition will offer both giver and receiver a nightly dose of good cheer, and enrich our holidays in magical ways just as it did in years past. I already know who this year's neighbor will be, and our gift bags are assembled and ready for delivery starting December 13. 

Project Little Elf was inspired by that first year with Tom and his children. Having faced loss since then, I now fully understand how the holidays can feel less than cheery, and how a little kindness can go a long way. And nobody needs it more than the bereaved facing their first holidays.

If you too would like to teach your children how to be givers of kindness and learn the joys of giving, all the instructions and printables to begin your own family tradition can be found at www.GriefDiaries.com.

Above all, the nightly trips to a neighbor’s porch is more than just a little fun. It holds the promise of magical memories for children of all ages while teaching them to be givers of kindness, and gives the bereaved the priceless gift of a heart full of cheer they’ll treasure all year. 

Happy holidays!

Friday, November 4, 2016

My Conversation with Oprah

Publishing a book series isn't for the faint of heart, especially for a woman editor-in-chief tackling sensitive subjects. Sometimes when I fall into bed at the end of a long day, I’m utterly exhausted. But full of unfinished tasks, my mind refuses to shut down. Before I know it, the overactive and overtired voice in my head is having imaginary conversations with notable figures touting polarizing opinions in today’s media. Last night’s conversation went something like this.

OPRAH: I understand you’ve written over 18 books about life-changing experiences including grief. Why in the world would you write about such a topic?

ME: No child ever says they want to grow up to write about grief. But I've always been fascinated with true stories. They're just so no-holds-barred. Some of them, well, you just can't make this stuff up. They're actually very inspiring and I knew that if I didn’t put them into a book series, the stories would be left unwritten. And that is a tragedy.

OPRAH: So you wrote a book series about tragedies to prevent a tragedy?

ME: Yeah, something like that. But why should it not be okay to tell our tales? Everyone has a story about grief. Everyone. Even you.

OPRAH: Because the world is full of sad stories. Why make the world sadder?

ME: Sharing our stories actually does the opposite, and also challenges the paradigm about how we view taboo topics. By sharing stories, we heal people. We validate their pain. When we validate their pain, they can begin to heal. When they begin to heal, they’re less sad. So talking about grief and other stigmatized subjects in this generation will help future generations. So you see, storytelling is actually an ancient healing modality.

OPRAH: I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Exactly how does storytelling help?

ME: If you go out for a jog and suddenly break an ankle, you become sidelined with pain. Every little step is agony. In order to heal your broken foot, you must nurse it back to health. If you ignore the pain and continue to jog, you only make your injury worse, not better. Doctors prescribe rest, ice, cast and elevation for a minimum of six to eight weeks for good reason. A broken heart is ten times worse, so you need sixty weeks, or the equivalent of five years before you can go jogging again.

PASTOR JOEL OSTEEN: If you still feel sorry for yourself after six months, you clearly thrive on your own self pity, or relish the attention it brings.

ME: With all due respect, Pastor Osteen, helping someone nurse a broken heart is all about compassion, and listening. Without judgment.

PASTOR JOEL OSTEEN: Writing books about grief only perpetuates one’s sorrow.

ME: Incorrect. Sharing our stories is about finding hope. For without grief, there would be no need for hope.

BILL O’REILLY: Today’s headlines are filled with tragedies. Why add to that?

ME: Today’s headlines are filled with scandal, shame and embarrassment, none of which have to do with compassion.

BILL O’REILLY: So you’re saying Grief Diaries isn’t about grief?

ME: It’s true stories about real people finding healing and hope in the face of grief.

PASTOR JOEL OSTEEN: Grief has been around since the beginning of mankind. It is too heavy to deal with, and deserves to stay under the rug.

ME: If we don’t work together to remove the stigma of taboo experiences, then future generations will be no better off. If we don’t make a difference, who will?

BILL O’REILLY: Politics are far more interesting. Grief is boring. Nobody will read your books.

ME: Grief Diaries isn’t for everyone. It’s written for those who share our path but feel alone because they weren’t allowed to talk about their experience in the first place. Validating their own grief by reading our stories gives them the voice they were robbed of. And that is the first step toward healing.

OPRAH: How does Grief Diaries give them a voice?

ME: When readers who share our path find commonality in the stories, they feel less alone. And it also gives them hope that such a challenging experience is survivable. The crux is that Grief Diaries represents: a village of over 450 writers who light a candle of hope for those who share the same path, and raise awareness at the same time. 

It’s about removing the stigma from these experiences. It’s about making it okay to take care of those who are hurt, not leaving them with a broken ankle on the side of the road, left to their own devices because we couldn’t handle their agony. If a person suffered third-degree burns over their entire body, should they be left to their own devices, to heal alone on their own? Of course not. 

Our generation is challenging the paradigm about how we view experiences involving grief. We're making it okay to talk about it. That is the very first step toward healing, not sweeping it under the rug because others are afraid the sorrow is contagious. Burns aren’t contagious. Broken ankles aren’t contagious. And neither is grief.

If we don’t make a difference in this generation, the next generation will inherit the same lack of compassion.

BILL O’REILLY: I still don’t get it.

PASTOR JOEL OSTEEN: You’re all just wallowing in your own self pity. Get over it.

OPRAH: I get it. Thank you for challenging the paradigm about grief. That takes a lot of guts.

ME: Thank you, but the writers are the true heroes. It takes tremendous courage to share life’s intimate experiences with the world. But they’re doing so to help others who share the path, and help change how society views grief in the first place. If we don’t challenge the stigmas, future generations inherit the same mess.

OPRAH: That’s an amazing way to look at it. I will add Grief Diaries to my book club immediately. [Big hug].

ME: Thank you. Our writers will appreciate that very much. Now, where’s your nearest Starbucks? I have 20 more books to publish before morning.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell is the award-winning publisher of Grief Diaries, a 5-star book series featuring the heartfelt stories of 500 writers from 11 countries. Learn more at www.LyndaFell.com.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Do you have a Christmas card to spare? This prisoner needs one.

Today's serendipity. I stumbled across a Native American newsletter that had my name in it. Because my family roots are European, my curiosity was piqued so I decided to check it out. 

The newsletter came from the Quinault Nation, a small tribe situated on a southwestern beach of Washington state, and their November newsletter included my article on how to help the bereaved through the holidays. I was really touched! 

Years ago when I was an EMT, I responded to a medical call for a teenage boy inside a sweat lodge. The boy lived and I've long forgotten his name, but I've never forgotten my experience inside such a sacred building. It was incredible, and moved me deeply.

Moving forward, it’s been on my bucket list to include a book for prisoners in the Grief Diaries series. I believe that every baby is born with a good and innocent heart, and no child says they want to grow up to live in prison. So what happens in life that results in incarceration? Is it a childhood full of pain and loss, resulting in anger and hatred for others? Or is the prisoner paying the price for finding himself at the wrong place, at the wrong time? Or with the wrong people? 

Once the prisoner lands behind bars, what goes through his mind? More anger and hatred? Or fear and hopelessness? How do they survive a life without freedom? How does his family survive?

So here's the serendipity part of my story. 

Immediately above my article in the Quinault Nation's newsletter was a short letter titled "Seeking Family." Written by a man named Joe Northup, he had lost contact with his Quinault family members. His address was listed as Oregon State Penitentiary. Now he had my full attention! 

In his letter, Joe explained he was diagnosed with leukemia six months ago and now lives in the prison's infirmary. 

I’ve never written a letter to someone in prison, but on a whim, I wrote Joe a letter inviting him to answer questions for a book I want to add to the Grief Diaries series: Life Through the Eyes of Prison. Regardless of his answer to my invitation, I told him I will be praying for him. 

None of us can know the path of another, and although I have many flaws my children will happily divulge, one of my good qualities is that God gave me a heart full of compassion without judgement.

I'm sharing this with you because I have a favor to ask. 

I would like to invite you to send Joe a Christmas card. 

I don't know his circumstances or prognosis, but I believe that a simple Christmas card from a stranger would fill his heart with love. 

It might be the only love Joe has ever known. 

And his last Christmas. 

If you're moved to join my effort to lift the heart of a stranger in need of prayers, below is his address:

Joe Northup #3342821
O.S.P. Infirmary, Bk #3
2605 State Street
Salem, OR 97310-0505 

Warm regards,
Lynda XOXO

Friday, October 28, 2016

Thank you Women's Health Mag for featuring us again!

Women's Health Magazine has been very kind to us this week. Today they published an excerpt from "Grief Diaries: Living with an Eating Disorder" featuring Haddi Trebisovsky's journey through anorexia. This is the third article we've had in Women's Health magazine within the past week!

To read the excerpt in Women's Health Magazine, click here.

It's very, very hard and more than a little scary to spill our secrets for all the world to read. But like all the writers in Grief Diaries, Haddi does so with the hopes that it will help others who share her path. Go, Haddi!

About Haddi
Haddi Trebisovsky is a 29-year-old who earned her B.A. in Elementary Education at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She worked as a behavioral therapist for children with autism before leaving the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom to her two children. She enjoys writing and does so in the hope that it will bring encouragement and freedom to her readers. She is passionate about seeking the truth, and believes that the battles we face are more than just physical or mental, but also spiritual, and she brings this perspective forward in her experience with eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

About the book
Part of the ground-breaking 5-star Grief Diaries book series, Through the Eyes of an Eating Disorder takes readers inside the secret world of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders and shares the candid yet poignant journeys of 13 women seeking healing and hope through her own private journey.

Available at over 40,000 retail outlets around the world, a portion of retail profits from each book is donated to the National Eating Disorder Association.

Thank you, Haddi, for so bravely sharing your journey in Grief Diaries, and thank you Women's Health Magazine! #anorexia #eatingdisorder #womenshealthmag

Haddi Trebisovsky

Monday, October 24, 2016

Pregnant, Cancer, & the Power of Prayer

Today's good news is that it's my sister's birthday. For most, that isn't a huge deal but for our family it’s cause for big celebration. The fact that she's here to celebrate at all is nothing short of miraculous. 

Ten years ago at age 37 my sister Stacy was diagnosed with aggressive stage 4 breast cancer with bone mets. It was just before Thanksgiving, a festive time of year, and we were busy preparing for the family feast and annual gingerbread decorating contest. Suddenly we all found ourselves in shock, and in full-on panic mode: the big C had invaded our family.

Just when we thought the news couldn’t get any worse, it did. They discovered my sister was pregnant, and the cancer was fueled by her womb’s hormones. Her prognosis was past grim—she needed to abort the baby immediately. It was her only hope to buy time. But she refused.

I won't give you the spoiler here; you'll have to read the national article I wrote nearly two years ago to find out the rest of the story. But one of the miracles for me personally is that my sister is my poster child for courage and faith. When we lost our daughter three years later, despite a body full of cancer, my sister knelt on hard concrete to put warm socks on my feet as I sat in shock. Two years later when my dear sweet hubby suffered a terrible stroke, my sister was directing nursing staff to put my hubby in a private hospital bed (she succeeded). 
Stacy with newborn Jazzy in 2007

She's not there just for me—she's a prayer warrior and is there for every one of us in our time of need. And she does it all without a single complaint about her own fate.

So October 24 is a time when my family reflects on the miracle that my sister is here to see another birthday. It's also a day for us to silently thank the thousands around the world who took time to pray for a stranger whose very life, and that of her 3 girls, was at stake.

Praying for a friend or stranger is the ultimate gift of love. If my sister's story doesn't convince you in the power of prayer—well, it doesn't matter. Because she'll pray for you anyway.

Happy birthday, sis! I love you!! XOXO
Jazzy with her mom in 2011

P.S. At the end of the article is a short video you don't want to miss!

#FindingHope #GoodNews #NewsAntidote

Stacy with her girls in 2015

Stacy's girls 2015

My sisters and I at my niece's wedding June 2016

Friday, October 14, 2016

World Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day

Every year millions of women face the loss of a pregnancy and thousands more face the loss of an infant. In recognition of World Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day on Saturday, October 15, Grief Diaries is hosting THREE different Amazon Giveaways for the books listed below.

Simply click on the link to enter. It's free and no purchase necessary. Win one for yourself, or give it to someone you know.

Part of the 5-star Grief Diaries book series, each book shares the journeys of mothers seeking to find hope and healing in the aftermath, and is a comforting reminder that banding together helps us all feel less alone. Learn more at www.GriefDiaries.com.

Amazon Giveaway #1
Grief Diaries: Surviving Loss of a Pregnancy

Amazon Giveaway #2
Grief Diaries: Surviving Loss of an Infant

Amazon Giveaway #3
Grief Diaries: Surviving Loss of a Child



Sunday, October 9, 2016

Is there an antidote, please?

Life can be really tough, and sometimes current world headlines can add to our woes. Is there an antidote to the endless articles about Donald and Hillary, scam artists, world terrorists and economic uncertainty? Is there a way to shift the paradigm of what news should be? Yes!

There IS good news (or at least a good laugh) going on in the world. Today's curated news for those looking for a dose of heartwarming happiness can be found in the 3-minute video below. My favorite clip is the second one, but baby #3's minion laugh is a close second. Enjoy!