Merry Christmas 2014!

May your day be merry and bright! Here’s a little treasure to enjoy, courtesy of the US Air Force Band. And God bless us, everyone! ~ Sheila

Merry Christmas

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Word for 2014

The past couple of years I’ve been challenged to select a single word to set the tone for the year to come. So far I’ve chosen “revision” and “momentum.” This year I’m choosing “consistent.” I’m pretty good at beginning projects and making commitments, and I’m often even good at follow through. But not always. At times I get sidetracked and lose my focus. Some things (like blogs) need consistent attention and nurturing to succeed.

I also fall into the trap of taking care of commitments to others, while commitments to myself languish, unloved and un-nourished, sometimes for weeks at a stretch. That’s just the nature of life, to some degree. After all, work projects and tasks have finite timelines that impact others…I can’t set those obligations aside when I’m tired, or not in the mood, or distracted. Unfortunately, that happens all too often with my personal projects.

Mind you, success can be defined in many ways, and success can be as variable as reaching a definite goal, or just staying on task toward a goal; or keeping a regular time to pray or meditate or read; or finally marking a big to-do off your life list. Everyone can define success for themselves.

Closely connected to this year’s choice of “consistent” is recognizing: just because a project is personal, that doesn’t mean I should give myself a pass on meeting the goal, self-imposed though it be. In a very real way, when I make my personal goals take a backseat to other priorities, I’m giving myself less than what I give to others. Somehow I’ve created the false idea that work for others is more important than work I accomplish for myself. Well, sometimes that other work is more urgent. But personal goals shouldn’t be devalued because they’re personal. Particularly if goals are strategic, as in: moving your life in a new direction.

That sounds selfish, but I think it is another way of saying that I need to mind the important more than the urgent.

If you would like to join me in this approach, it’s simple! To choose your word and receive support and reminders to follow through with your goals, go to http://www.myoneword.org and sign up…free and easy! This is a different approach to the traditional new year’s resolution route. Instead of creating a list of goals, narrow your focus to one word.

What is most critical to your journey this year? Just the process of choosing a word can be revealing. I don’t always choose the first word that comes to mind, but I do consider what rises to the surface…what does my first impulse lead me to? It’s a good way to take stock, and to choose one direction rather than getting tangled up in an itemized list.

Surveys say that new year’s resolutions don’t last very long. Most people abandon their list by mid-January. Having one word to keep in mind is a minimal approach, but your word can encompass as many tasks as you choose throughout the year. It’s really just a different way to approach the same desire: to make the coming year better, to reach your potential, to find your best.

On this last week of 2013, I’m thoughtful. And I’m hopeful. And I’m challenged.

How about you?

December prep

Ah, the Monday after Thanksgiving, with a short stretch between now and Christmas to fill with holiday joys, obligations, to dos, card writing, baking, and, oh yes, the routine work that keeps bills paid and life flowing. It will be a short month! I’m feeling excited and overwhelmed: I have a simultaneous desire to get creative with holiday crafting and shopping, and a need to postpone…to say “not yet!

So, in time-honored fashion, I choose to postpone one task with another. I’m spending a day in between: we’re traveling back to Alaska tomorrow, so I have a day before the madness begins. Today I’ve given to lunch with my husband and a family dinner with our son; to pausing before the holiday rush to gather myself; to organize my lists and review finances; to remind myself that just like every other holiday season of my life, this one won’t be perfect, but it can be wonderful; and to breathe deep and sit still, listen to some holiday music, drink some hot tea.

I’m contemplating resolutions, and my word to encapsulate the coming year. I’m setting the tone, right now. I’m imagining how I want these holidays to be celebrated. I’m planning. Because the truth is, the gifts will be bought and cards written, work accomplished. But I’m setting the attitude behind all of it now. I can go through the next few weeks harried and rushed and get the job done. Or I can choose to look for the humor, feel the joy, smile even when I’m frustrated, remember to breathe. I know the days will be long and the hours short. But I want the good stuff to shine through.

Christmas and holidays are so easily derailed…the expectations, the images that we have to live up to dance across our television screens and in store displays. But I’ve found that there are better things than gifts, and perfect tables, perfect meals. The secret is service. I look for ways to serve, and I am filled. I look for people to serve, and I am found.

“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”  ~ Kahlil Gibran

Heart home

We’re traveling again, on the road for the Thanksgiving holiday. This year we’ll be with family, seeing different ones over the course of the week. Some years we’ve been with friends, and had to add the family touch via phone. We do the best we can, but making the family connection in person is not always possible. When that happens, friends round out the circle, fill in the space at the table, make the holiday bright.

Here’s what I’ve learned about celebrating and connecting in spirit, since we moved far from family, 27 years ago:

  • When you connect on a regular basis, holidays are icing on the cake. Holidays don’t have to function as points of glue. The day-to-day relationship is the glue.
  • Connecting can be as simple as a phone call or Skyping or a card or an email. Or in today’s world, a Facebook post.
  • Distance can work for you. It can smooth the rough spots and make you appreciate the good stuff.
  • You’ll only maintain the relationships you nurture. That’s especially true when you have to relate across the miles.
  • A carefully planned “surprise” visit, or some gesture that shows you’re thinking outside the box…becomes a highlight. There’s nothing more fun than orchestrating a trip like this. And the faces when you pull it off…priceless!
  • Spending holidays with friends has enlarged our circle and our traditions. Some of my favorite memories are of Thanksgivings with friends. We’ve learned new foods, new games, and built relationships that have lasted over the years, solidified by adopting others as “family.”
  • Find the right balance between pulling out all the stops for a special gathering, and keeping it real and sane. I’ve learned to pick and choose…we don’t try to do everything, we just try to do a few things well.
  • Mark the moment. I’ve learned to stop in the middle of the hustle-bustle and just look around and absorb.
  • Limit the drama. Family gatherings should not be a time of crisis or scenes. Create memories that are good so you’ll want to get together again.
  • Bring something new to the party…a new food, a new game, something different.
  • Decide what traditions are keepers. What are you always going to do, no matter who sits at the table?

Holidays don’t wait for life to be perfect. I’ve never quite achieved the Martha Stewart magazine spread for my living room or my dining room, although I’ve tried. Who doesn’t have the ideal scene in their head, just waiting to be unveiled in real life and captured in family photos as proof that it can be done?

But I’ve had better than a magazine spread. I’ve had the real thing, in all its chaos and glory, deliciousness and kitchen failures, to tell me, and those gathered with me: this is the good stuff.

 “The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal.”   ~ C.S. Lewis

December wisdom

There’s a lot of wisdom floating around this time of year…I can find advice on how to create a magical Christmas, or how to experience a calm and serene holiday. There are tips for frugal giving and creative giving. There are recipes everywhere. I read how to make peace with your family, or how to find peace in spite of your family. We can all get along, or agree to disagree and not stress…whatever your point of view, there’s an article, or a blog post, or even a book, to support it.

I confess, there are times when almost all of these opinions fit my mood. I have my moments. Who wouldn’t want to create the perfect Christmas scene? Or the memorable family moment? And yet, I also want the quiet, the calm, the focus, of saying “Enough!” I don’t want to be all about the externals and neglect the important. I want to be generous, and yet not foolish…I want to do for others, but I don’t want to be undone by my efforts to do it all, have it all, be all.

So, in the spirit of seeking balance and vision during this month of magic, which is also a month of stress, consider these pearls:

Stop the glorification of busy.

Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good, and doubt the bad. ~ Jeffrey R. Holland

words-heal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice the pause. When in doubt, pause. When angry, pause. When tired, pause. When stressed, pause. And whenever you pause, pray!

“Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.” ~ Rita Schiano

 

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“Grace isn’t a little prayer you say before receiving a meal. It’s a way to live.”

“I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.”

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It’s almost Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving…can’t believe it will be here next week. This is an off year for us. Rob will be working out of town, covering call, so we’ll be a bit casual about our holiday celebration. Some years we’ve been able to connect with family, but this won’t be one of those times.

This year we’ll be on a small island in Alaska, where Rob works episodically. I’m working in Ketchikan through Wednesday afternoon, so I’ll take some of the fixings for our Thanksgiving over with me when I join him, but most likely, we’ll share the big meal of the day with a few others from the clinic who’ve stayed in town. And that’s the main thing. Thanksgiving is not a meal to eat with one or two people, if you can help it. It needs a large group, a full table, a mix of favorite foods, old and new, traditional and experimental, all blended together.

The image of the feast, the expectation of a crowd, whether it be family, or friends, or a mix of both, is so ingrained that I literally can’t imagine a different scenario that would occur by choice. To celebrate Thanksgiving at all is to acknowledge it as perhaps the most American holiday. The 4th of July is a celebration of a new government, a new nation being born. But Thanksgiving recognizes the survival of the people who came here to create what would become America.

Many people have a tradition of sharing around the table what each person is thankful for. This year I am thankful for a season of surprises. My year has had twists and turns. I began it thinking I would sell a house and move, change jobs, encounter other life altering decisions along the way. I am not (yet) selling my house, or moving…you can never tell what housing markets are going to do. My work is mutating, in ways I did not foresee; in ways that are challenging me to think about how I work, where I work, and why I work. Life is full, if a bit unpredictable. I find myself feeling grateful for what has worked, philosophical about what hasn’t, and curious to know what will happen next.

This year I’m thankful for family that is well, for the ties that bind, for friendships that have deepened, for a little one in my life that is growing and changing from a toddler into a little girl, complete with words and opinions. She’ll soon be two, our Riley girl, and quite a girl she is. She brings a smile to my heart. I’m grateful for all the family who send love to me, and who receive it in return. I’m grateful for the recognition that there is a passing of connection from one generation to the next. I feel it with my grandmother (90+!), my mother, my daughter, my son, my granddaughter.

I’m thankful for my husband who is by my side through the ups and downs, who still makes me laugh, still makes me tear up in a sentimental moment, knows what I am thinking most of the time. I’m grateful for a partner in life.

It is easy to take these people in my life for granted. Some of them have been present as long as I have been alive. Others have been part of my life so long I can hardly recall a time without them. Regardless, I want to acknowledge that the few people out of all the billions on the planet that touch my life, and in return, allow me to touch their lives, are the small group of family and friends that care, support, nurture, cry, rejoice, celebrate, encourage, and participate with me as I make my way. They are the ones who provide the color, the music, the faces of my memories.

It’s almost Thanksgiving. I wish you a joyful day, and a heart that is thankful.

December reality

It has been an expensive week. A bathroom light had to be replaced. A medical bill arrived. A fuel oil bill appeared on my door. (That’s how you know your home heating oil has been topped off…you get a little love note –bill—left on your front door). And this is December…I’m still not done with Christmas gifts or other monthly expenses.

But oh well, what am I complaining about? I see the news stories of how many people are out of work, losing homes, going to soup kitchens, and I know that I’m still among the fortunate, even with unexpected expenses cropping up. At least I have a bathroom, access to medical care, a house to warm. A job that pays for these things…well, Rob pays for some of it, of course…but the point is the same, no matter whose pocket the money comes from. We have it to spend. We are fortunate indeed. And if I really get creative, I can spin it that the money I am spending, even on things like bathroom lights, is helping someone pay their bills and keep going. I like helping the economy, I really do!

Of all times of the year, this is the easiest time for me to be grateful. I know that none of the gifts I am giving are essential. They are all extras, things that are fun or even useful. But not essential. And I would guess that most gifts that people give are in the same category. This is not about making anyone feel guilty, it is about recognizing that even when things aren’t perfect, they are still pretty good if you are warm, fed, and have enough excess to give those non-essential gifts. Why is it so difficult to keep this perspective? Maybe I am speaking for myself…but I don’t think so. Complaining is a way for all of us to vent, to let off steam. The image of the perfect life is out there, in myth and movies. We’ve seen it in our imaginations, and we work hard…don’t we deserve it? And why did my light have to be replaced anyway? I don’t know why life hands us these little irritations. Maybe it is to keep the big picture in perspective…and we know it already. We just don’t stay focused on the positives as much as the negatives. It is just human nature.

So I’m re-channeling my thoughts. My December is not going to be shadowed by the things that went wrong. It will be a celebration of the things that are good, gifts to us all. And when I flip my bathroom light switch, I’ll be grateful that it is working again, thankful for the repairman who replaced it, thankful for the job that allowed me to pay him, thankful for that minor irritation that reminds me how much I truly have.