“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?

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.

SECOND PLACE

Sometimes, we get what others might conceive as “the shaft.” Second place can seem like failure to some: very, very good but not quite good enough.

Recently, the world was engrossed with the World Cup. Us fans observed when Croatia, who effectively battled their way to the final, ended up coming up short. They got second place and not their desired outcome. But, considering the fact the country hasn’t been to the finals of the World Cup in decades, they were quite successful. In reality, they had a great showing and proved that a lesser populated nation could produce an outstanding team of players on the world’s pitch.

Second place can actually be quite a relief. I remember my school’s spelling bee when I placed second and my opponent advanced to the county level. I also recall Girl’s State when I lost to my opponent at the gubernatorial level. I was relieved to stop with both those levels of loss/success. I wanted the opponent to advance so I didn’t have all the additional responsibility. I got a modicum of success without further responsibility. I gained “partial noteriety” with which I was satisfied. My resume was filled but I had no further obligation.

Another example could be observing the American princess, Megan Markle. She made her official appearance with the Queen and royal family recently at Buckingham Palace. She was observed as being positioned behind Princess Kate And Prince William and some interpreted this as insubordination. But in fact, it was planned that way due to the hierarchy of succession. We can only speculate the relief she must have felt in being behind the experienced royals and not thrust straightaway into the world’s spotlight. Second row could have been welcome relief for her. Pressure was abated due to her physical positioning.

It can be a gift to be second place or runner up. It can be a blessing to obtain the experience of the trial, game, match or race and not gain all the pressure to move on to the next level. Or, the failure, per se, can be what makes us stronger. Sometimes, life allows us the gift of experience rather than that of prestige. Prestige is fleeting and bases itself on success and winning. Experience, our perpetual teacher, bases itself on failure as well, thus, nothing is wasted. In actuality, failure is what makes success so sweet. Second place can very much be a gift.

U2 and Me TOO

40a46f00-bc99-42c8-be6a-baae3b06f233.jpegTheir mind bending words are,

“I can’t change the world, but I can change the world in me.”

The artist goes on to say,

“When I rejoice…”

No, this is not a contemporary hymn (it should be), but rather lyrics from the iconic band, U2’s song “Rejoice.” God resonates throughout their music. I confess I am an avid fan. Their story, their music, their lyrical questioning of how things are disturbs me in a good way. I’m impressed their band has not allowed egos or money to compromise their values and that giving back continues to be important to them. (Of course, a few zillion fans’ adoration, nice digs, and luxury travel aren’t bad either, I presume.)

Kendrick Lamar is another phenomenal, Pulitzer Prize winning (and a Grammy or so) influential artist with an important voice. His message to his fellow Compton- raised, struggling population is that they are visible and not forgotten. He said in a recent Vanity Fair article that he wants to give back and help rather than just leave it all behind and “luxuriate.” That is a powerful and promising choice he’s made.

What I’ve observed in my half century existence is that no matter our zip code, finances, or health status, there is a definitive choice we all have. We choose our outlook. I have known joyful people who have been through things that would buckle anyone’s knees and also the opposite. I gravitate to the former.

Circumstances are often completely out of our control. You can’t pick what family you were born into, nor your DNA (not yet, anyway), and sometimes, BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE. However, our perspective remains optional.

All can easily succumb to defeat when adversities bombard. Personally, I have been there but got really tired of my gray-skied view. I sought all resources I could to fight my own defeatism. Daily I guard myself against “Stinkin Thinkin.”

The brick wall of life will allow you to repeatedly beat your head against it as long as you’d like. There are certain questions for which there’s no good answer (or any, for that matter). Still, life goes on and we have to decide our position.

What then do Eeyores of the world do? They CHOOSE gratitude, kindness and positivity. I’m not fooling anyone that I don’t cry, get knocked down and suffer disappointment like anyone, but I won’t stay there anymore. I have found my own remedy for discouragement and bullying circumstances. My personal weapons of choice are: reading the Bible, prayer, practicing gratitude (a whole lot of it) and serving others. I haven’t found anything better to help me choose joy.

God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Handle

If you, like me, despise the above saying, then you will easily understand me. I absolutely believe there IS a higher power and have come to know him as Jesus. Yes, He most certainly WILL give you more than you can handle. It’s His means to draw you closer. It’s not to disregard your surely, evolved abilities, but to salvage those in overwhelming, unbearable circumstances.  I learned this tough lesson when I, Katie, Miss do-it-all, over-achiever, was given natural, identical triplets 3 months after my mother succumbed to Alzheimer’s and while I was raising a 1 year old. My sister said God did this to get my attention because that was the only way. I beg to differ. I think God did this to bless my husband and me and to teach us. Now there has been a cost: loss of prior beliefs, less invitations and others, but they pale in comparison to the life lessons we’ve gained. Maybe you have a similar story from a different perspective. Maybe you were blessed with a special needs child (greatest nod from God I can imagine) or you have endured a trial that has left you more aware of what really matters. Maybe you lost something that opened your eyes to something greater.  I don’t know, but I do believe we all can learn from and gain perspective from one another. That is why I decided to do this blog that many friends say might help someone else.