I’m Sorry. We Don’t Have Time to Be Nice.

The title of this comes from a story an author shared about herself in a Bible Study. She was mortified at her young child’s response to an elderly neighbor. The child reflected her concern for another while the mom did not. The mom wasn’t being mean, she just was in a hurry. What trait did she lack her daughter acted on? It was integrity. Why was it integrity and not hospitality? Because the daughter knew they needed to be somewhere and still cared enough about the relationship to explain.

Integrity is defined as being honest and having strong moral principles. I laughingly shared with someone recently about how years ago I read the simple statement, “You can tell a lot about someone by what they do with their shopping cart.” To this day, I cannot leave a cart somewhere random. A silly little statement has stuck with me. Am I acting ridiculous? Maybe, but I like to think I am doing the right thing. Why does it even matter to me? Because I believe a higher power is watching.

When I was married only a few years I decided to put a symbol on my car. It was the Christian sign of the fish. My husband asked me to please take it off. When I asked him why he said, “Because what if I get road rage? Then I’ll be a bad Christian example.” It’s funny he said that but he was spot on honest. Embarassingly, I often feel like the dog in the pic above if I get cut off in traffic or someone drives extra slow in the left lane. It’s human of me, but still something I have to keep in check. I don’t want to respond to that person’s behavior and get ugly. It’s so much more satisfying to end up right behind them at a red light and watch as they strain to appear busy and not notice me directly behind them. Just kidding! (Not really.)

Most people have no idea they are being rude and careless when they serve just themselves and ignore others. I’m not talking about the buffet line either. I’m talking about in all things. I’ve done it. We all have. It’s whenever we focus 100% on our wants/needs and ignore everyone else’s. Ironically, the outcome is usually not positive or rewarding anyway.

The news is chock full of people that have sold all their integrity for power and money. I recently read about a very wealthy, powerful man reduced to begging for leniency from a judge. He was no longer wealthy due to owing paybacks and certainly no longer on a power trip. But sadly, his integrity was already long gone. He was reaping what he sowed. What did that leave him to ponder in the dark at 3 a.m.? I’d prefer modest means, zero notoriety and personal peace myself.

The family name used to be a quick detection of someone’s character. Now, it’s a whole lot harder to figure someone’s true colors (or integrity.) I have always believed that my word needed to mean something. The Bible tells us that we should “let our no be no and our yes be yes.” I am assuming that’s because we shouldn’t need additional adjectives to prove our point if we are truly being honest. I also care about my reputation. I don’t care about it so people will like me, however. I’d rather be honest and hated than dishonest and loved. That way I can stand myself and tolerate my own existence.

Someone doesn’t have to look a certain way or be part of a certain pedigree or social class to have integrity. Some privileged people have the least. It’s either in you or it’s not. It can be taught but it’s within someone to choose it or not. I’d rather spend all my time with a person of integrity than someone without. You come away without all the questioning. It’s so much more rewarding and easier too.

The world offers prestige, fame and honor. It celebrates youth, success, pedigree and money. Somewhere along the way, all that has lost its luster for me. I’d rather just hang out with the authentically unique, the older, the wiser and the decidedly honest. I especially love a combo of any or all of these. These relationships are much more meaningful. I get to see a whole lot more integrity too. Who knows, maybe some of theirs will rub off on me.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION REDO

New year’s resolutions have always perplexed me. I understand why we make them but don’t understand how they seemed doomed and poorly adopted by most (including myself). Hearing about them on the radio, social media and in ads on TV, I’ve come to regard them mostly as holiday rebound. Pondering over mine for a week, I’ve gathered a few good ideas worth sharing.

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Melinda Gates has an original idea- not adopting a resolution- but focusing on a special WORD to center her thoughts and behaviors towards throughout the year. That’s a reasonable, and possibly attainable goal. A recent devotional challenged me to ask GOD what my resolution should be, rather than choose myself. I think that’s an excellent place to start. I dare not ask my family for input as I’d likely end up with a long list.

Our church has adopted the book of Proverbs from the Bible for us to study as a congregation for the new year. This has aided in getting my mind oriented towards a better ATTITUDE. Attitudes are the center of where our actions form so it’s also an excellent place to start.

Attending an event recently, I met an interesting person who discussed her PASSION and that she “couldn’t NOT do it” referring to her horse hobby. It got me to think about my passions and if those might need to be included in my resolutions? One did, but two seem in line. When I refer to “in line” I’m referring to God given passions. How does one know when it’s a God-given passion? It’s when it benefits you and others. Therefore, I realized one passion I have needs to go. (I’m not going to bore you here with details.)

What about CIRCUMSTANCES? Those may be beyond our control and quite taxing. When someone’s struggling, it’s nearly impossible to adopt new behaviors or set higher standards. So, going back to the second idea, asking the Great Creator above for input seems prudent. Resolutions are great ideals but don’t need to make us feel worse about ourselves if we fall short (and we ALL come up short).

Finally, there’s that “F” word- FORGIVENESS. It keeps popping up randomly. I’m wondering if I need to do that and/or if I will need to when I try to avoid my prior passion…..

George Bailey & Me

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“Why the heck does it have to be SO HARD?!?!” I wailed to God that Christmas Eve.

Once again, wanting a loving, Christmas Eve family experience, I attempted to force the concrete square through the circular opening and failed. We were all dressed up and driving into town to attend Christmas Eve services. The children were in their early teens by now. I thought surely we can do this! However, my anxiety was at a fever pitch and my tolerance was shot. Five minutes on the way into town, loud arguing was beginning in the back seat and I just couldn’t handle anymore fighting. So, I did what any rational parent would do. I turned the car around, drove myself back home, got out and told my husband to take them to church by himself. How kind of me. And that saint of a man did.

Back inside the house, I poured myself a huge eggnog and put on “Its a Wonderful Life” to distract myself. I fussed at God, “Why would you allow it be so hard if you know I am trying?” All of a sudden a near audible thought ran through my head, “The journey is worth it. I sent my Son into the world knowing He’d be rejected and crucified by man, but sent Him anyway bc His life on Earth mattered. Your journey is worth it too.” I nearly fell off the couch. This jolted my mindset just like George Bailey’s in the movie I was watching.

Ever since that moment I’ve quit expecting things to be easier. I realize it’s not about comfort or lack of conflict. This life is a gift with all the good, bad and ugly. It’s a process. But if God loves me enough to send His Son even though He knew we’d reject and crucify Him, I suppose I can handle some conflict and difficult circumstances myself. Praise the Lord for His infinite goodness where a worn out mama can belly ache to Him and He will answer our prayers- just like He did for George Bailey in the movie “Its a Wonderful Life.”

“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!