“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?

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.

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.

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.

 

What Beat Is Your Drum?

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Photo by Stephen Niemeier on Pexels.com

 

Do you like anticipation or do you have to have it yesterday?  Ask a two year old and the answer is obvious. Ask a 50 year old and you might get a pause. Of course we all enjoy instant gratification but is that best? With the arrival of convenience apps, and the Holy Grail of them all, Amazon Prime, we are so pampered, it makes patience seem like an old fashioned vice rather than a virtue.  I am supremely guilty of this as I enjoy Prime membership more than anyone. It has become ingrained in me to seek the “Prime” options first. This guarantees my delivery in less than three days and the bonus of not having to deal with crowded parking or crowds period. As I ponder my choice, I recognize that time has become more precious to me than money. But what am I doing with my perceived extra time?  Am I shopping more, getting more, doing more?  Am I actually increasing the quality of my life?

I remember being a child anticipating Christmas. My favorite pastime was to circle the toys I wanted in our huge, Sears-Roebuck catalog that inevitably became a Christmas tree (you had to fold down the pages all the way around to create a standing tree of sorts). Anticipation was the key. I actually had to think, prioritize, and then (audible gasp inserted) WAIT.  My choices would be ranked 1-5 but during the weeks leading up to Christmas, that rank changed at least 20 times in order of importance. This proves the point I’d like to highlight- if we had to wait, would our choices and priorities be different?

As we mature, we are granted the luxury of hindsight and life experience. I’ve heard many people say, “If I knew then, what I know now,” and it makes me realize how fortunate we are to gain wisdom through missed opportunity, loss and discomfort.  We have to do without, wait, and experience disappointment to recognize value.  It hastens the question:  if we as a society will be capable of delayed gratification in the future? Will things/ experiences lose value because they are too accessible? It seems a question worth asking. Sometimes, anticipation is half the fun!

Some people have decided to break from social media.  The inevitable effects of comparisons, time lost, and the one dimensional view have caused many to opt out.  I haven’t heard of anyone bowing out of Prime Membership or deleting convenience apps, however. Even most grocery stores now offer curbside pickup. Why spend all that time loading your own cart when someone else can do it for you AND deliver it to your car?

But what about the loss of the antiquated “running into so and so” at the store?  What about the quality control loss since others do our picking?  What will we fill our extra time with? If we remain in our own enclave, what societal element is lost? Do instant gratification and convenience even provide long term satisfaction or are we somehow losing something else? I want to know…and I want to know NOW!