“Happy Advent!”

Recently, a woman greeted me with the statement, “Happy Advent!” I had never heard nor used that as a seasonal greeting before and therefore, decided to do some research.

Over two thousand years ago, our Roman counterparts observed Advent to celebrate the Second Coming of Christ. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages when Christians tied Advent to Jesus’ birth. It then involved the four Sundays leading up to Christmas in which all were to anticipate the birth of Christ culminating in the Nativity. In essence, we Christians were anticipating Christ’s birth and His Second Coming in the future via special services on each Sunday during the month of December.

Today, Advent seems practiced, but not completely understood. We light candles and recite scripture, but are we truly preparing our hearts for the reality of the birth of the Savior of mankind? I definitely need a staunch lesson in Advent. I hate to admit that I’ve missed the joy and reverence that reflect true belief.

While watching a Hallmark Christmas special recently with my husband (yes, he’s a patient man), I finally remarked, “Why is every one of these about some Christmas recital or pageant?” My husband said, “Because they can’t talk about Jesus so all they have are traditions.” It struck me that Christmas for many, like Hallmark, is just a tradition like the Fourth or July. How weird it seems to “go through the motions” when God’s Son’s birth is our entire reason!

I find myself in a flurry of activities this time of year with some invisible clock ticking away my inadequate abilities to perform. Yes, it’s December 7, and no, I don’t have a Christmas tree. I want one but just haven’t gotten to it yet. Does that mean anything in the grand scheme of what I claim I believe? Nope, it doesn’t. Keeping perspective during this season of Advent is an act of discipline that seems unnatural.

I love decorations, trees, Christmas music and baked desserts. Eggnog with some assistance from Evan isn’t horrible either, I might add. But what in the world am I doing all this for if it’s just a ritual and tradition without deeper meaning? I find I can become a green-bodied, yellow-eyed Grinch if I’m not careful. It’s like default mode to get caught up in the flurry of activities but miss the point entirely. If Christmas is truly the grandest birthday party, maybe I should change a tradition or two to include that belief?

OH, CHRISTMAS TREE

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I often wonder why we practice certain traditions.  For instance, why do we bring huge, live trees inside our home during the holidays?  It seems absurd to cut down a tree, drag it inside our homes, argue over who is going to water it, and then proceed to add lights and decorations just so we can remove it and complain about all the needles for the rest of the year.  To further add to our bizarre behavior, we have evolved to convenience ourselves with fake, plastic, “feel real,” $1,000 trees to simulate the same experience but avoid the mess and allergies.  You can even buy Frasier Fir room spray to emulate the fresh, woodsy scent of the real thing. Next, we will likely add fake bugs and a simulated squirrel like in the movie “Christmas Vacation.”

Growing up I couldn’t wait to get the Christmas tree up in our home.  Being a small child in the oh so stylish 1970’s meant a pathetic, fake, poor excuse of a tree with gaudy, colorful, blinking lights, homemade ornaments, and silvery, thrown tinsel from the dime store.  But, oh what a thrilling sight!  I recall us children pestering our mother to please get the tree down from the attic so we could begin.  Once retrieved, we still had to wait additional days before she would let us decorate it. It never dawned on me she was stalling by saying the metallic-limbed tree needed “to fall” first. I suppose all mothers have to preserve their sanity somehow.

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Once married, my husband and I were quite frugal but it was mostly my being dutiful that we got our tree from my husband’s Christmas Tree Farm.  Before you imagine rows of lush, evergreen, sky-reaching pines, picture this instead…. He had planted a hundred Virginia pines a few years prior but didn’t adequately space, trim, nor shape them.  Lo and behold, we took the “Charlie Brown Tree” to the next level.  The gaping holes, missing sides and contorted shapes ensured our tree was truly one of a kind.  They were also usually 9 feet wide- go figure.

When our children were little, my controlling nature was tested every Christmas.  They loved helping mama decorate the tree but having triplets meant all our ornaments went to the bottom of one side of the tree and I had to (gasp!) leave them that way until they went to bed.  Since our boys’ grabby little hands were always pulling on the ornaments, my husband would use fishing wire and tie the top of the tree to a hook in the ceiling.  We had way less downed trees after that.  Necessity is truly the mother (or father) of invention.

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THANKFUL? No Way!

Reflecting on our recent holiday of Thanksgiving, I felt challenged to thank God for things I wish I didn’t have to. The saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” makes me cringe because I know for a fact He will give me whatever it takes to draw me to Him. He will do the same to you.

The reason He gives those He loves more than we can handle is because He knows we need almost brokenness to get past our human selves to seek Him.

If everything were manageable why would we need God? I also believe He wants us to thank Him for the things that break us because it’s then that we are able to grow into His likeness. He has to stretch us beyond comfort. It’s a dichotomy, but it’s very real.

I had been very self sufficient and a hard worker since my youth because I believed that if I put forth 100% effort and gave my everything, good would come my way. I relied on that mentality and it served me well through high school and college. Sure, I had many positive accolades and awards, but it still didn’t prepare me for what was to come.

Once, when my husband and I were early married, we served as ministry staff at a retreat. We were prayed over and the lady praying was taken aback. I didn’t understand at the time but now I get it. She stood up and said, “Oh my, you have a powerful path in your future.” We had no clue what she meant and just went about the normal business of living. Little did we know, she was foreshadowing our future.

After praying for years that I would be able to have children, low and behold, I got WAY more than I ever could have hoped for. I had a beautiful, little girl and a year later came identical, natural triplet males. Sure, our cup runneth over and yes, we had a quiver full, but the pathway there was a frightening trial.

I found out I was having triplets while having an ultrasound at the local hospital. My husband was home on his lunch hour while our one year old daughter was napping. Another family was also in the waiting room but had many family present for their baby’s first, grainy photos. My mother, afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease couldn’t be there nor could my in laws who both were working. I sat all alone waiting my turn for the cold metal strobe to tell me all was well with my baby.

I was slightly afraid because I had experienced a complication. However, that wasn’t near the complications I would be having shortly! As I lie there having the ultrasound, my technician abruptly stopped and said, “Oh my! I see two- you are having twins! You can cry now.” I lay there thinking, “What? Twins?” And then she became startled and said, “Wait! I see another. Wait. Let me go get the radiologist. I’ll be right back.” I lay there dumbfounded. How in the world could this be happening? I’m barely a mother. My mother is dying of Alzheimer’s disease down the street and I don’t know enough on how to mother that many children. I began selling my too small car and home when she came back to the ultrasound room. My first comments were, “Are there any more?” Once she said no, I began the task of realigning the Earth on its axis.

After arriving home, I tried to tell my husband the news but no words came. Instead, I handed him three stuffed animals. In true, pied piper sense his response was only, “Cool!”

I haven’t been as cool. This journey has broken me many times over the past two decades. Remember, I’m a believer in hard work and effort overcomes all. But guess what? Nope, it doesn’t. You can’t work good to occur. You can’t hope people will change. You can’t pretend good is happening when it’s not. You also can’t ignore difficulty and pretend it doesn’t exist. All of it is very real. We all struggle. We all have something or someone that brings us to our breaking point.

I recently read the book “Prison to Praise” by Merlin Carothers that says we need to thank God for the very painful, difficult situations we have. He says it’s then that God can unleash His power to make change. Usually, it seems, that powerful change is in our attitude and therefore, our behaviors. I’m no Pollyanna and I am real in that I struggle mightily. I wrestle against circumstances and their perceived unfairness like anyone. However, I’ve grown weary trying to make things like I think “they should be.”

Letting go of results and expectations seem to be my struggle. I’ve wanted things to be just so and people to do this or that but have only met frustration over and over. I suppose God wants me to let Him be God and me be Katie? Maybe I’m supposed to leave results to Him and enjoy the process of raising children the good and the bad?

I’ve found the self restraint required to let things be almost impossible. I’ve wanted so much to “fix” things to how in my mind seem appropriate. But where has it gotten me? No where I’d like. So, in an effort to do the unthinkable, I am going to try thanking Him for things I don’t like and for those I want to change. I am going to ask Him to do His bidding rather than my all too faulty, presumptuous ideas. Maybe then, I can finally relax? Thankfully, it really doesn’t matter because I’m not in charge anyway. That much I DO know.

Hello, Christmas?

Hello, Christmas?

Will you please go away and come back later? I’m just not ready to hear your radio jingles or to hear Karen Carpenter pine for home. It’s not that I’m being Scrooge, but the premature holiday season sets me ill at ease.

Would you consider this instead? I’d actually love to sing bygone carols in a candlelit, pine scented church pew that smells like the passing of time. Or the chance to gaze upon a beautiful Nativity and to meditate on what Jesus’ entrance into this world has meant.

Could you please also skip Black Friday this year? Shopping deals, getting up at midnight to beat crowds and waiting outside a store so I can stampede in like livestock make me want to poke myself in the eye with a fork. Maybe we could just have a nice meal together instead?

Oh, and the card thing- let’s do away with that. Fifty cents a stamp, procuring the perfect family photo, and guilt over my carbon footprint killed that for me long ago. People still tell me they liked my card when I compliment theirs so I suppose it doesn’t matter anyway.

However, let’s make an agreement about food. Food is non-negotiable. Warm wafts of oven baked ham don’t bother me at all. Neither does a table of homemade, baked desserts. A slice of chocolate pecan, bourbon pie with a hot toddy are completely acceptable. Walking into a warm home smelling of nutmeg and cinnamon actually have the Pavlov effect of a loving hug. So, let’s agree to keep the food.

You know what, Christmas? I think with these tweaks you might be starting to look a whole lot like your cousin, Thanksgiving. Let’s invite him over now and I’ll visit with you later. Is that a deal???

Dear Younger Me

The band MercyMe sings a message of encouragement and hope to their younger self. I find it incredible to fathom what life might be like had I known then what I do now. At the ripe age of 50 this week, I am aware that inner peace means more than anything else. My younger self sure could have benefited from that memo.

Youth is full of exploration, self discovery and lots of mistakes. Unforeseen circumstances can wreak havoc but we still get to choose our response. When I read the apostles’ journeys from a historical perspective, I am amazed they stayed the course. Being human is not for the meek. Existing here requires work. It requires even more work if you’d like comfort and love of others. The old saying that “there’s no free lunch” is accurate. We can’t pick what family or genes we get, but we sure can pick our attitude and work ethic.

My mom got Alzheimer’s disease in her late 40s. It recently dawned on me that my mom was in assisted living at MY AGE. My mom had left my dad when I was 12 so her disease hit me hard. Her absence and lack of parenting seemed like neglect at the time but now, I recognize it was her disease. So many friends I have are now experiencing their parents’ dementia and it’s strange I had that journey already- in my late teens. Maybe my “helicopter parenting” comes from my desire that my children never experience what I did? As a college freshman, I got the call my mom had been institutionalized and felt lost. Back then the signs were regarded as Schizophrenia but now the diagnosis wouldn’t be missed. Having my mother sick and no home to go to felt like the world suddenly shifted on its axis and spun in the wrong direction out of control. Thankfully, my father opened his home to me.

Another revelation I’d like to tell my younger self would be to quit caring so much if someone dislikes you. They did! They forever will! You can’t stop someone from hating you. Nothing you do or say can change it. Get over it and move on already!! Once my husband, sensing my hurt and vulnerability said, “Sometimes people dislike you for the good things about you.” That was a startling jolt for me. I thought good equaled good. Positivity and hard work meant all would be okay. But actually, no, that’s not the case.

For me, aging has provided me more inner peace. It doesn’t come easily, however. It has to be cultivated, practiced and learned. Just like exercise trains muscles, inner peace comes from diligent effort. It’s taken me 50 years (yep, 5 full decades) to get over a lot of petty stuff and to accept certain things. All the inner turmoil of my younger years has been laid to rest. It just doesn’t matter anymore. I’d tell myself way back when to chill out and forgive. Let go of hurt and always hope for the best. Be open to others and always offer love. It’s amazing how much goodness and mercy exist when we allow ourselves to be a conduit of them. I wouldn’t go back to my youth. Sure, a bikini body was nice, but it doesn’t compare to inner peace. Heck, I’ve had 4 children, so what am I supposed to look like anyway?

Aging garners respect in some societies. Being older equals wisdom. I believe that is a practice our society could use. Most of my older friends (81-94) have deep wisdom that can’t be given or purchased but can be learned. I want to be like them when I fully grow up.

So, dear younger me and you, be happy, be grateful, work hard expecting nothing. Look for goodness everywhere, always. Get over insults and freely love. Look others in the eye and acknowledge everyone in your realm. Many around are hurting. Try to be the change you’d like to see in the world. Don’t stop believing that goodness and mercy matter. And above all, accept who you are and were created to be.

Pants, Wings and a Nudist Beach

 

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Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com

Young children are blissfully unencumbered by awkward things we adults have to navigate.  They tend to take things head on and react exactly how they feel or, ignore them altogether. There are three such instances that make me smile every time.

The first occurred when we took our children on a cruise.  Aside from lots of swimming and games, we also took them to an evening show in the ship’s theatre.  It was a show featuring lavishly dressed dancers and music.  One son, being approximately 6 years old had never seen sparkly, dancer’s costumes before.  When the velvet curtains parted, his eyes got wide, he turned around and blurted out, “Daddy, those women forgot their pants!”

Another surprising moment occurred when my husband took one of our 10 year old sons out for wings on a football Saturday.  We were out of town and he took him (here it comes) to Hooters.  When they returned, he said where they had gone. I was very curious how our impressionable, sheltered son would react to the scantily clad servers.  So, I hesitantly asked while fearing the worst but he said he DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE!

Last, but not least, one occurred when our 10 year old went snorkeling with his grandfather in the Caribbean.  When rinsing off in outdoor showers, his grandfather told him not react but a nudist couple was walking nearby on the beach. Not only did his face more than give away his feelings on the matter, but he was reportedly more appalled due to their being old……

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Photo by Ibrahim Asad on Pexels.com

 

 

I’ll Be You

In 1989, the Replacements released a song with the lyrics, “You be me for a while, and I’ll be you.” Those words got me to ponder what it’d be like to temporarily be someone else? Being Hollywood’s most successful actor sound like a winner? Or how about becoming a gold medaled, Olympic-athlete? Maybe being royal would satisfy a fantastical life experience for some. I’d personally like to experience being Reese Witherspoon for a day due to her accomplishments: actor, author, and producer. She’s got a book tour, she’s beautiful and rich, however, I digress.

Contrarily, what if you were to swap lives with someone of a different gender, religion, or ethnicity? What about being a kid again and letting your kid be the grownup like in the movie “Freaky Friday?” Not quite as enticing is it? But it seems we may need to do just that to entertain being empathetic and potentially budge from our own rigid opinions.

It dawned on me this morning when I was getting ready for work the shirt I put on was a jewel-toned blue. I had scored a silk shirt of a favorite designer with tags on (!) from eBay. Strangely, the seller advertised it as purple. I realized the metaphor in that moment that each person sees things differently.

We each “see” based on our DNA, personal history, value system, and circumstances. Each of our views is limited in scope based on our location, both physically and mentally. It’s one of the reasons there are many referees on the field in college football. There is so much to see that it is impossible to assess from only one viewpoint. Watching games, we think we know what’s happened but after review, the head ref might change the call.  It’s because he gets additional input from others on the field (and a camera or two). In that same vein, what if we attempted to understand others by taking in many different viewpoints before coming to our own opinions?  Maybe we’d recognize we all want the same things and aren’t so different regardless our ethnicity, political beliefs, gender, or religion? Perhaps there would be less distrust and anger between us? It seems like a possible solution to all the polarization worldwide and even in my own home.

Kindergarten Congress

baby blur boy childIt has been a highly contentious week or so for government in America.  Since we seem to have devolved to bickering, ranting, name-calling and blame gaming, the thought struck me that maybe we should let kindergarteners make decisions instead.  Jesus said to come to Him as little children, not as multi-degreed, life experienced, accolade- laden adults.

Children give transparent, literal, and quite honest opinions.  For instance, when our daughter was in preschool, she saw a woman with a large belly and said out loud, “Look mommy, she has a baby in her tummy!” Nope, she DID NOT have a baby in her tummy, she said, she just “looked like it.” (Face palm inserted here.) Another example was when our son was in second grade and he got in trouble by his music teacher for blurting out during music class.  When his regular teacher heard about his infraction, she asked him why he did that because she just knew he would not do that in her class.  He said, “Yes, ma’am, I would blurt out in your class too…..you said to be honest.”  So there we go.  Honest to the point of fault.  Can we even fathom our leaders being honest to a fault?

Lenny Kravitz sings to “Let Love Rule” in a popular ’90s era song.  Children seem so much more open to it than we “life experienced” adults are.  At a small group meeting at the local retirement home, one woman remarked how it made her so bothered that people don’t “see” her anymore now that she is older.  When I asked her what she meant by being seen, she said just acknowledged when she is passed by.  It got me to ponder my neglect to acknowledge others in my flurry of activities.  Being too busy to be nice is not a good thing.  With that in mind, I have decided to simply “see” people I encounter from now on.  I was taught by an Indian friend that to say, “Namaste” basically means, “I see you.”  It is time to up the Namaste, both in my own sphere and in government.  Maybe then I won’t have to convince my coworker’s grandson to go ahead and run for Congress.

 

 

 

 

Perfectly Imperfect

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Ed Sheeran sings “Life is more than fittin’ in your jeans.  It’s love and understanding, positivity.”  Perfection, physical or otherwise, is an unrealistic, unobtainable goal. It’s an endless mirage that doesn’t exist.

It’s taken me decades to let go of perfectionism. That includes vanity, I hate to admit. My husband says that if anyone looked in a mirror as long as I did that they’d eventually find something wrong.  Now that I’m older and wiser, I realize it’s the caring, warm and funny people I’m drawn to, not the most attractive anyway.  I can remember being a one-time perfectionist about my home, exercise and initially, parenting.  God put my misplaced priorities in the blender and hit HIGH.  Having four children in under two years will make the most staunch perfectionist fold.

I don’t know if it’s learned or innate but some people demand excellence in everything and others could care less.  For example, one son years back was doing homework and repeatedly wrote an ‘S’ for the number ‘5.’ When I corrected him he remarked, “But isn’t it a pretty S?” Another son, in elementary school made an ‘F’ on an assignment. I admonished him about it and he said, “Mom, EVERYONE has to make one eventually!” They just weren’t that bothered by imperfection.  Others in our household put so much pressure on themselves I have to remind them to be nice to even themselves.

The perfect family, house, body, or face won’t grant love or security.  It’s all just  packaging for true riches: love, understanding, positivity. The original queen of exercise, Jane Fonda, was recently quoted as saying it took her until age 60 to become the woman she was supposed to be.  I hope to do it a decade sooner.

 

ANIMAL PLANET

 

I used to say the only mother I could relate to was on Animal Planet. My litter, like theirs, would tussle, prod, and generally aggravate one another until an indecipherable mass formed.  It seemed as innate in them as it was in the wild.  I tried everything to eradicate that instinct but failed.  I suppose it’s natural when three or more come from one crammed womb.  I finally just gave up and pushed furniture back or yelled at them to take it outside (mostly).

My boys seemed to always end up in a pile. This pile could be inside our house, in the yard, on a patch of grass at church (I hated it when they were all dressed up), on a playground, or even in the water.  They looked like a three-headed triclops with numerous, flailing appendages. I’d ignore it (outside the water) as long as the noises emitted from said “pile” didn’t indicate pain.  That sound was my cue to intervene with the water hose, pitcher of water or any other mechanism possible.

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Dumbfounded at how to handle the situation as they grew in size and strength, I finally asked one of the boys what he would do if he were a parent and had three sons constantly wrestling and bothering each other.  Being approximately 11 years old, he replied, “What do I look like…a social worker?” I asked him how he knew what a social worker was.  Dead serious, he said, “I saw it on Sponge Bob.”