Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Ahead

Alert garden-snail
As a child I felt both excitement and dread as New Years approached. The prospect of staying up past midnight and making lots of noise almost outweighed the apprehension. Almost. Every New Year my family gathered for “Highlights and Resolutions.” I didn’t mind the highlights– each of my five siblings and I shared our favorite experiences from the past year. But my stomach would knot as the highlights wrapped up and Round Two commenced. Resolutions. This part of the ritual began with Mom reading our goals from the previous year out loud. Why did it seem that my focused and disciplined siblings always managed to tick through their goals effortlessly and thoroughly? My cheeks burned as Mom read my unrealized good intentions from twelve months past. It sounded like the sharp rap of a gavel to me. Acting as my own judge and jury, I pronounced the verdict. “Failed.”
Year after year I endured this uncomfortable family tradition and a rebellious loathing for goal setting grew in me (at least public goal setting.) I avoided anything that smacked of “resolution.” Eventually it dawned on me that, in spite of my dismal track record with New Years resolutions, I did live with purpose and focus. The things that mattered to me were rarely quantifiable—not goals that I could write down in a tidy sentence and check off a year later. Soul-making takes effort and measuring my progress was profoundly personal. Comparing my path to the aspirations or achievements of any other person only discouraged me.
Several years ago while driving down the freeway at sixty-five miles per hour I heard my four-year-old daughter squeal from the rear seat. “Stop Mom! Stop! We’re going backwards!” Allie was staring round-eyed out the window on her left. A trucker in a huge semi had barreled up from behind, and was rapidly passing us. The tall, fast-moving side panel of his trailer completely filled Allie’s view. The truck’s speed and size created the illusion that we were moving backwards.
After he passed we laughed at the sensation of going backwards on a busy freeway. But I have never forgotten that moment and the realization that I sometimes gauge my life’s journey with my eyes fixed on the travelers in the lane beside me. I see the speed of their progress and think, “I’m going backwards!” I have to remind myself to drag my eyes back to the road in front of me. Looking ahead I realize that I am moving forward. In fact, I am clipping along in the direction of the dreams I most desire. It doesn’t matter where anyone else is going or how fast he gets there. I'm keeping my eyes on my lane and looking ahead. 

How do you avoid the “comparative self-worth” trap? 
*photo credit
This post originally appeared on The Peanut Gallery Speaks. You can follow comments there.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christ In Your Thoughts and a Dime In Your Shoe

A quote from Henry David Thoreau hangs on the wall next to my bed, where hopefully I see it every day. It consists of one word repeated three times. "Simplify. Simplify. Simplify." I resonate to Thoreau's unembellished advice for laying hold on life's goodness. But this time of year presents a challenge to even the most simplification-converted soul. I have to remind myself to keep room for Christ in my Christmas--lots of room.

My heart longs to throw the door wide so He knows to come right in, no need to knock. I hope He will find us at home. Please, don't let us miss Him in favor of the demands of an over-crammed calendar. Will He find a place to stay and visit with us ? Maybe we should clear the counter of goodie plates and focus instead on good will to men, worry less about the decorative mantle piece and more about peace on earth. Is there room amid the baubles and bright lights for the Light of the World? How can I remind myself of the simplicity of the angel's good tidings of great joy? My nineteen-year-old son provided an answer to that question. He is serving as a missionary in Argentina and will spend his Christmas far away from home and traditions--but closer, I think, to the pure purposes and import of this holy season. Can I share a bit of one of his recent letters? His simple suggestion has transformed my holidays:

"I want to share with you all something that changed my week. Something special. Last Monday, our District leader challenged us all to put a small coin in our shoe for the course of the week and as we walked every day, every time we felt it, we were to remind ourselves of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. How it helps us. How it helps everyone. I can´t quite explain how special of a week this became. When you think about Christ and His Atonement every few minutes of your day, things change. Every step I took, I was reminded of my Savior, what He did for me, what He suffered for me, and how grateful I am to Him. And so I challenge each of you to do the same. Stick a dime in your shoe this week. Everytime you feel it there in your shoe, slightly uncomfortable as it may be, think about our Redeemer´s Atonement in your life. In addition, think of one thing your grateful for and why. That´s a secret I´m learning. The secret to a happy day is to have a grateful heart. Focus on what we have rather than what we might lack. And when we walk, thinking of Christ every step of our day, we will feel Him closer, walking along beside us, His hand on our shoulder. I challenge you all to do this this week. Walk with Christ in your thoughts and a dime in your shoe. I promise you that you will see and feel a difference in your week. So I hope you do it. And I would love to hear back from anybody who does it and the experience they had."

So, I will keep a dime in my shoe from now until Christmas. And I will keep Christ in my heart, at the heart of my celebrations, as the heart of my home. Join me if you yearn for things simple and sacred this Christmas. For a mere dime we can invite the Savior in. I believe the words of the old traditional carol: "No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin; where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in."

What do you find helps you stay focused on the true meaning of Christmas? Share already . . .

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

O Holy Night--O the Pain

My friend Wyatt responded to yesterday's post about O Holy Night with a rendition that pretty much tops anything heretofore known to humankind. Give it a listen if you need to smile today. But I warn you--it hurts. Hurts so good. Merry Christmas :

Makin' a (Short) List and (Reality) Checkin' it Twice

For years, every little holiday observance that we undertook with our children became an instant “tradition.” Over the course of a decade or so all of these warm little rituals collected and grew, sort of like PeeWee Herman’s foil ball, until we had a shiny sphere of Christmas “must-do’s” the size of a small planet. No December could possibly bear up under the weight of it. We sprinted from the fourth Thursday of November straight to the New Year in a festive-if-frantic blur and then spent January in an almost comatose stupor.Then there was the year we fondly remember as the “Fa-la-la-la-la Flu” or “Retching Around the Christmas Tree.”
We had blasted through our daunting holiday calendar with candy canes blazing. Tens of thousands of calories had been delivered to our neighbors and friends on dozens of goodie plates. Halls decked. Shopping done. Christmas cards mailed on time. Only the holiest of holies remained—Christmas Eve at Grandma’s, the wonder of Christmas morning at home, and a huge dinner with twenty loved ones gathered around our long pine table.
December 24 found me with the aches and the shakes and a mounting fever. Bob came home from work early looking as green as I felt. We spent the next 36 hours barely able to move from couch to bathroom and back. No Christmas Eve at Grandma’s. We opened a can of soup. Our four children made a brave go at the nativity story and cuddled down with their miserable parents on the couch to watch Christmas videos then put themselves to bed. Santa crawled off the couch long enough to shove the presents under the tree (about fifty percent of them wrapped.) Christmas morning we dragged from bed to couch to watch the kids open gifts. No huge Christmas dinner. I think the kids ate cold cereal around 1:00 pm. And I cried—cried for all the essential elements of Christmas my poor kids had missed that day.
At bedtime, our first grader, Heather, surprised us. “This was the best Christmas ever,” she sighed happily. Was she joking? Six year old sarcasm? Actually, she was sincere and her siblings chimed in their agreement. “You and Daddy just played with us and read books with us all day.” They were right. We hadn’t budged from the couch. Lying there we had played board games and read stories and assembled Legos. I hadn’t bustled around to clean up the debris and get dinner for twenty on the table. We had snuggled and dozed and played and laughed. And it had been perfect.
Talk about a holiday reality check! I began to re-evaluate all those perceived “essentials” of a perfect Christmas and pare down the list to a few truly meaningful things: unhurried, focused family time and the same glad tidings of great joy that caused heaven itself to break open in exultant song more than 2000 years ago. Open hands, open hearts, an open door– and on earth peace, good will to men.
So you may not get a Christmas card from me this year, definitely no goodie-plate. But knock on my door and you’ll find me in my flannel pajamas at noon and a fire in the fireplace. My now adult kids will be sprawled in front of it, book in hand or a board game between them. You’re welcome to come in and have some hot chocolate and gab awhile or beat us at Boggle. Perfect Christmases are best shared.
How do you keep Christmas sweet and soul-satisfying? How have you simplified the holidays to create memories that matter? What meaningful traditions do you continue?
This post originally appeared on The Peanut Gallery Speaks
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48 Responses to “Makin’ a (Short) List and (Reality) Checkin’ It Twice”

  1. JourneyBeyondSurvival 08. Dec, 2010 at 6:45 am #
    I had a year like you. Ish. I felt the need to move mountains. Or at least drive around them, so we drove 24 hours home for the holidays.
    6 hours into it, 4 of the five of us became violently ill.
    Every year we buy an ornament representing the annual summary. We bought a Lightning McQueen ornament (that’s what we call our Mazda3) and wrote “Vomiting Across America” on the back.
    I never did get sick. I did vow to never travel again over Christmas. I’ve made it too. For two whole years now…
    • Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 10:48 am #
      I have taken the same vow–Christmas travel just ain’t worth it. Four sick people in a car, though . . . wow. That takes it to a new level, doesn’t it?
      • JourneyBeyondSurvival 08. Dec, 2010 at 12:47 pm #
        I will never again travel without 4gallon trash bags. Ever. Also, the heavens turned against us and a snowstorm started. We stayed the night ASAP.
        It’s really not fair that I cleaned up and then never got taken care of…but I think not feeling ill makes it totally worth it!
        • Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 3:42 pm #
          Ugh–I don’t know. It seems to me that cleaning up after everyone else is almost as bad as being sick yourself. You win the medal of honor for not getting a separate room and letting the sickies have their own “hospital ward.”
          • JourneyBeyondSurvival 08. Dec, 2010 at 5:08 pm #
            I will happily accept any and all medals. Preferably medals with a cash value. Or cash awards. Anyone know of a worst holiday contest we should all enter?
    • K 08. Dec, 2010 at 3:04 pm #
      Ish. I’ve never heard anyone but my grandma say that :) Are you Norwegian too?
      • JourneyBeyondSurvival 08. Dec, 2010 at 3:47 pm #
        Nope. I did go to Stockholm earlier this year. I’m probably about 5+ generations out of my Norwegian heritage. I get my height from them. But, I’m not sure we get any words from them.
        Of course, I found out my German relatives gave me the word “cucha” (pronounced koo-hack-a-logie- a) and it was passed down. Maybe I did. I’ve just heard it all my life…at home…ACK! We may be more cultural than we thought!
  2. heather y 08. Dec, 2010 at 8:36 am #
    I had my wake-up call a couple of years ago. I was outside in the freezing cold, struggling to put Christmas lights on the house while my healthy husband and 3 equally agile teenagers sat in the house, watching tv. After I got the lights up, I went inside and saw my family members with their feet on boxes of Christmas decorations, the fake tree spread in pieces on the floor and absolutely nothing done. The light bulb went off and I realized I was the only one responsible for all the decorations, Christmas cards, shopping, etc. Christmas had devolved into “Mom’s Month of Crushing Work.”
    There wasn’t spite or anger from my family. It wasn’t a case of me being a control freak and them rebelling. It was more like I cared more than they did. And I realized how silly it all was, because I really didn’t care either. I was only doing all that decorating, etc. for them.
    That summer I sold the big Christmas tree and all decorations without direct family meaning. I sold boxes of lights and cute snowmen who stood by the front door. I sold the tic-tac toe christmas board game and even sold our family 18 piece Nativity set. Yes, even Jesus got down-sized. I was ruthless.
    That next Christmas a revelation. Did you know Santa still comes even if the tree is only 4 feet tall and decorated with only family ornaments? The new rule is I have to be able to decorate for Christmas within an hour. No more spending days and hours trying to get the perfect look for the holidays.
    Sorry I’ve gone on and on. I admit my passion for a down-sized holiday can get away from me. I see it as freeing and empowering. I also see it as a revelation that gives me more time to focus on what is REALLY important for the holidays: The Family Christmas Letter.
  3. Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 10:52 am #
    You are my hero. Heather! I still have to work to keep the holiday juggernaut under control. You have totally inspired me to scale back even more. The one hour rule is brilliant. Thanks for the inspiration.
  4. Carole 08. Dec, 2010 at 11:00 am #
    I love this post. It’s like “How the Flu Stole Christmas.” I love the Christmas season, but the day itself is always kind of a downer – it’s the end a beautiful season and, yes, there’s a so much pressure to make it a perfect day that it ends up being kind of lame. It’s the week between Christmas and New Years that I like the best. No expectations about special, magical traditions, but also no expectations that you will have to go to school or work. It’s just a week outside of time.
    • heather y 08. Dec, 2010 at 11:09 am #
      I’m spending the week between Christmas and New Year at my daughter’s house, sanding and refinishing her hardwood floors. It should be fun because we will all stay at a local hotel for the week while we are working. Swimming pool, sauna and cable tv – not bad at the end of a day’s work.
      • Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 11:48 am #
        Heather Y-Refinishing floors? A true gift of love. That’s a tradition I could get used to–find a project that needs doing, work hard by day, and treat yourself to vacation at night. Brilliant. What a great plan. I’m going to remember that for the future . . .
    • Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 11:45 am #
      You’re exactly right, Carole. I had never articulated it before, but that low-impact week between Christmas and New Year is the best, isn’t it? “A week outside of time.” Mmmm. There’s always a new book to read and the time to read it. Christmas day can be anti-climactic, but now I’m looking forward to the quiet days that follow. Thanks!
    • Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 11:50 am #
      Carole, my mysterious drifting comment syndrome has returned–see below. :)
  5. Julie 08. Dec, 2010 at 11:20 am #
    My kids are only 3 and 4 and yet the things we did last year are already traditions in their minds. I’m debating whether to give in to them and decorate another gingerbread house this year. If I do, I’ll only cement the notion that it’s a tradition we do every year. And yet, they keep talking about it and I want to make the holidays as magical for them as my mom made them for me. So I go back and forth. Maybe for family night next week?
    • Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 11:52 am #
      If it’s fun for you and your kids, and doesn’t stress you out, just do it. But remember in subsequent years that it is no required by law to build a gingerbread house, and the year it doesn’t make you happy–don’t do it!
      • heather y 08. Dec, 2010 at 12:04 pm #
  6. annie 08. Dec, 2010 at 2:29 pm #
    i wish my mom had discovered this. i mean, i do love all the decorations she puts up and the house looks amazing when she’s finished, but i don’t love them enough to help. and i’m not sure anyone else does, either. part of me wonders if she does it because she likes the decorations and the finished product and the family togetherness of doing it together…when we don’t complain. so, for me, maybe the solution is to just shut up and help her cause it makes her happy. although this year, i dodged the whole issue by not going home till january.
    • Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 3:02 pm #
      January travel=smart. Cheaper plane tickets, fewer travelers, more relaxed schedule at home. I wonder if your mom REALLY loves the decorations, or if she thinks that the rest of you love and expect them. So. Who wants to have THAT conversation? :)
      • annie 09. Dec, 2010 at 11:29 am #
        NOT IT!
        i know she likes some of them – like the gorgeous fake one she puts in the front room. i think the other stuff she maybe does for us. but then there’s neighbor and friend gifts – some she likes to give and some i think she feels obligated to give. i know she’d like to send a christmas letter and/or card every year, but she never quite gets to that. my dad finally started paying someone to put up the lights. he says he should’ve started that years ago.
        • Jerie 09. Dec, 2010 at 6:06 pm #
          We gave up on outdoor lights years ago. But if we hadn’t, I would WAY pay someone to do that. I’m not super giftie either–don’t do the “obligatory” gift thing. Wow. The holidays are complex, huh?
  7. gamma 08. Dec, 2010 at 2:43 pm #
    Our simplifying began with our move away from Arizona. Mr. gamma and I are both AZ natives, so Christmas was a round of family get-togethers and gift swapping with generous friends. In self-defense, mr. gamma started cooking a Christmas Eve dinner that became our nuclear family celebration, because Christmas Day was a whirl of opening presents and then checking in on both sets of parents–a schedule that could not be abandoned.
    Our first Christmas in California was immediately easier. We had a glorious Christmas Eve dinner, followed by the quietest Christmas Day ever. No big dinner, just delightful leftovers. No one to visit. We loved it. We still love it. We often go to AZ just before Christmas for the family Christmas parties to see everyone (both on the same weekend, just for us). But not always.
    Our Christmas tree is the most simplified of all. Our first year in CA, we went out as a family to select the tree–in the pouring rain. We decided to get a tree that was still tightly bound in the pile of new arrivals. We didn’t see what it looked like until we cut the cords, after the tree stood upright in the living room. It was the first of many Mystery trees.
    Real trees went out when the boys left home, and we got a fake tree with lights pre-installed. 95% easier.
    But last year was the ultimate tree simplification. Our super-downsized house had no place for a tree. Period. So I piled all the presents on top of the cedar chest, and plopped a 12″ fabric tree on top (the year before, it was a Christmas decoration). Viola! A Christmas tree!
    Someday we will have a real (fake) Christmas tree again, and I will pull out the ornaments. Unless the miniature tree becomes our new tradition.
  8. Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 3:06 pm #
    Once again, gamma knows best. Thanks for the snapshot of how to simplify with grace and creativity. As much as I love family, that whirlwind-hit-every-relative-on-Christmas-Day gig would grind me down, I confess. Does anyone living near both sides of the family have a good solution? (Maybe something short of moving to California? Although, I certainly recommend the Golden State, especially in the winter. :) )
  9. K 08. Dec, 2010 at 3:07 pm #
    I love reading all these musings. I am away from home this year for Christmas, and won’t be with family until Christmas eve, and I’m away from my decorations. So it doesn’t even feel like Christmas yet. Watching TV is like a total time warp because it is like the whole world is in the different world. I love Christmas, for the quiet spirit of christmas carols and a time to reflect. I guess I’ll try to take some time to reflect. And not feel guilty about all the holiday things I’m not doing…
    • Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 3:46 pm #
      Good–I don’t believe in guilt anyway. The older I get, the more I appreciate the contemplative aspect of Christmas. Thanks for reminding me to prioritize it.
  10. nakiru 08. Dec, 2010 at 4:43 pm #
    nakiru = grinch.
    Well, that’s not entirely true. I don’t hate Christmas, but unless it’s the Hallelujah chorus (which makes me cry like a baby) I don’t want to hear Christmas music until the fourth week of Advent. I don’t want lights on my porch, and I really am allergic to real Christmas trees.
    I grew up with a pretty low-key Christmas, and I am really struggling to adjust to the mayhem of Christmas Eve with Jesse and (his) family, Christmas day with Jesse and (my) family and wondering where does Christmas with Jesse and me fit? My only concession to the season? Holiday candy-making and baking.
    So far:
    Sponge candy, peppermint patties, caramels, oreo truffles, peanut butter cups, and assorted pretzel/chocolate combinations with Mom and sister; peanut butter kiss cookies, sugar cookies, lemon/macadamia nut thumbprints, peanut rolls, more caramels and assorted pretzel/chocolate combinations with Jesse’s mom, sister-in-law and cousin, and this weekend, gingerbread, sugar cookies, peanut butter kiss cookies, chocolate crackles and assorted other cookies with Mom and sister again.
    Christmas traditions that don’t include food just aren’t traditions, to me. ;-)
    • heather y 08. Dec, 2010 at 4:59 pm #
      I will happily accept an express mail package filled with an assortment of the above mentioned treats. I believe in helping others celebrate the holidays in their own way. If you love to make treats, I love to make you feel good by eating them.
      • Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 8:27 pm #
        Yes, Heather, I second your emotion. And in the spirit of service, I’m happy to help also. Nakiru? Need my address?
    • JourneyBeyondSurvival 08. Dec, 2010 at 5:00 pm #
      I hereby move that we the PGS gallery relieve nakiru of this obsession.
      *dibs on the sugar cookies/caramels
      • Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 8:28 pm #
        whoa, girl. you might have to go through me to get to those caramels. think twice though, i’m pretty ferocious about Christmas goodies.
        • JourneyBeyondSurvival 08. Dec, 2010 at 9:17 pm #
          well…sugar is my crack…
          • annie 09. Dec, 2010 at 11:37 am #
            i will fight you ALL. bring it.
          • JourneyBeyondSurvival 09. Dec, 2010 at 9:40 pm #
            I’m taller and heavier than both of you.
            I’ll sit on you both.
    • Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 8:25 pm #
      HOLY COW!!!! Can I come over? I love to bake, and so many of the dainties you listed are part of our Christmas canon. We are long lost sisters. I’ve been wanting to try some pretzel-y stuff. Did you improv it all, or do you have recipes. I’m with you on the traditions that don’t include food–meh.
      • nakiru 09. Dec, 2010 at 7:52 am #
        We have recipes, but there’s a fair amount of improv, too. We try new things, we discard the least popular among last year’s treats.
        My brother’s favorites are melted rolos on windowpane pretzels, with half-pecans pressed in the top. Delicious and easy.
        Also, my current caramels recipe is to die for easy and done in the microwave – 1/2 cup real butter – melt this in the microwave and add 1/2 white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup white corn syrup and 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk. Stir briefly and microwave for 6-8 minutes (in the microwave we were using, 7 seemed to yield perfect caramels) and take out, stir briefly again and pour into a generously buttered 8 by 8 pan. I cut mine after about 30 minutes in the fridge and re-cut and wrapped them after about an hour in the fridge, but it might need some wiggle room on either side.
        • annie 09. Dec, 2010 at 11:39 am #
          i am SO trying these. thanks, nak!
        • Jerie 09. Dec, 2010 at 6:01 pm #
          Yum! I’m trying them this weekend–easy AND delicious? Too good to be true. Thanks, N.
      • Jerie 09. Dec, 2010 at 6:09 pm #
        Annie–you don’t know what you’re saying, girl. You can talk smack, but can you bring it? When there’s chocolate at stake you don’ wanna mess wid me.
        • annie 10. Dec, 2010 at 9:26 am #
          oh sista, i can bring. it. but, {conspiratorial whisper} maybe if we join forces, we can TAKE OVER THE WORLD (of chocolate). you in? i’ll split it wit ya, fity-fity.
          • nakiru 10. Dec, 2010 at 12:23 pm #
            hahahaha. Imagine taking over the world, having one of those huge public gatherings with a podium and screaming crowds and leaning into the microphone and shouting something inspiring like “BRING ME YOUR COOKIES. YOUR CARAMELS! YOUR BRITTLE! BRING ME YOUR CHOCOLATE COVERED GOODIES AND YOUR FROSTED NONSENSE. I. WILL. EAT. IT!!!!”
          • JourneyBeyondSurvival 10. Dec, 2010 at 1:09 pm #
            I swear. I will
            Try ruling the world then…
          • Jerie 10. Dec, 2010 at 1:51 pm #
            Hmmm, (drumming fingers together deviously) a coalition could work. A year-round Christmas goodie cartel–although there is also something seductive about coming out of the shadows as per Nakiru’s stirring vision of an Evita style mass-hysteria-inducing public treat rally. I can just see them laying their butter-laden tributes at our feet and backing away with bowed heads. At a safe distance they would have the courage to glance up in awe and wonder as we four stand on the balcony, dark chocolate staining the corners of our mouths, caramel dripping down our chins . . . who wants to sing “Don’t Cry For Me Perugina?” JBS?
          • Jerie 10. Dec, 2010 at 1:55 pm #
            WE ARE OUT OF CONTROL! Can you imagine if we were ever in the same room together? Zoiks.
        • annie 13. Dec, 2010 at 12:43 pm #
          i. am. dying. of giggles. in my “office.” people think i’m crazy. (don’t worry, it’s all part of the plan)
  11. Hefs 08. Dec, 2010 at 10:29 pm #
    Lovely, mom. I’m excited to come home and hunker down with you for Christmas. Is that Emerson on my lap in the picture???
    • Jerie 08. Dec, 2010 at 10:36 pm #
      Yep. Hope you don’t mind . . . I love the photo, and it seemed perfect for today’s post.
      • annie 09. Dec, 2010 at 11:39 am #
        i wondered if the pic was you or someone in your family, since you didn’t have a source. makes it even better :)
        • Jerie 09. Dec, 2010 at 6:03 pm #
          Yep, my youngest daughter and my grandson, three years ago. She is an “aunt extraordinaire,” like Nakiru.