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On Gardening, Play and Getting Back Online

On Gardening, Play and Getting Back Online

Around the first of the year, I choose my #oneword365–play. The goal was simple: to be more open, more creative and more centered in the moment. As I saw it, these were all elements that could be addressed with an attitude of playfulness.

So, almost six months in, how’s that going?

Oddly enough, the answer to this question ties perfectly well into another question I’ve been asked lately–”why aren’t you blogging as much?”

Here’s the answer to both: summer.

I don’t mean this in the frenzied, “oh my gosh, it’s summer, the kids are home from school and my life is so busy” way. No, I mean exactly the opposite. For several weeks I have done nothing in my spare time except soaking in every possible moment outdoors. Mainly, I wander around my small garden beds, eyeing plants and pondering where I can plant more.

As is the nature of time, spending all of it on outdoor stuff meant spending none of it on indoor stuff. Honestly, I was worried, a bit as I crept out of the house at 5:30 to pull weeds and inspect plants that the urge to write may never come back. In the winter, these early morning hours are filled with a cup of tea and a writing pad. I crave these moments. (Although I don’t get up at 5:30 in the winter! That’s for really devoted people.) In the summer, though, the sun’s gravitational pull becomes personal, calling me outdoors before I’ve even brushed my hair. The cup of tea cools on the patio table while I check on the plants, whispering to the zucchini who are popping up, noticing the bloom on a new-to-me flower and pondering whether we’ll get raspberries this year. (The birds tend to get them first.)

The love for gardening is closely tied to a love for mystery and creativity. While I suspect there are gardeners who thrive because they approach their plots with precision and control, I don’t know any. All of the gardeners I know thrive because they feel a creative burst and a willingness to experiment. Working in the garden is the closest I’ll ever come to doing magic. It’s a special game of give and take, an improv of wonder. It’s no surprise that paradise is often depicted as a garden, a place where God might leave secret messages in the leaves and every flower is a love note.

So this is the idea I’ve been pondering in my early morning forays to pull weeds or adjust the sprinkler just right–the idea that we might play with God. This is a surprising thought. I am more comfortable with revering God, serving God or even resting in God. But As I call my daughter over to inspect this multi-colored dianthus nestled in within a patch of bachelor’s buttons, or we laugh as we survey the patches of sunflowers the squirrels planted for us last fall, it’s possible to imagine that God the Creator may be joining in this laughter. I am filled, suddenly, with the understanding of a God who created not in an orderly 7 days, to-do list in hand, but in a cacophony of sights and sounds that morphed and changed over millennia.

So that’s my goal for the summer–to let the garden inspire me at play in other areas of my life. Work, prayer, parenting. And whether gardening is your thing or not, I hope you’ll find time to play too.

Thanks to the great #wholemama crowd for giving me this writing prompt on play. I’m looking forward to blogging through the summer with them!



Art, Life and Changing the World {#wholemama}

Art, Life and Changing the World {#wholemama}

We so often think of creativity as the special right of a limited few.  Visual artists, musicians, authors—they’re the creative types.  Sometimes we limit it even more.  Our friend’s cover band, for example, isn’t really “creative.”  They’re just mimicking the creative work of others.  I, for one, rarely consider myself creative.  I explain to others, “I’m a writer but not a creative one.”  I reserve “creative” to apply to fiction writers, those magical geniuses who draw me into new worlds rather than just examining the world we have.

Lately I’ve been playing with a different idea of what creativity means.  What if we said that creativity has more to do with how we see the world than what we produce?  What if we said that creativity has nothing to do with how we spend our free time and everything to do with what we see when we look around.  Let’s give creativity this definition: Looking at the world with eyes for beauty.

If we gave that definition some real weight, we might discover something amazing about ourselves and our relationship to God.  We might just discover sparks of holiness connecting our creative imaginations to God’s.  Why not?  Time and time again we affirm that God is a creative God.  God creates and re-creates the world every single day.  Every single day, God says to us, “Look!  I’m doing a new thing.  Don’t you see it?”

Here’s the secret to the creativity of those who openly call themselves artists.  They see the world with possibility.  A fallen leaf becomes a symbol of grace in the eyes of the photographer.  In the ears of the musician, a single note becomes the framework for capturing love.  In the creative heart of God, a human pain is transformed into a place for healing grace.

To look at the world with eyes for beauty is to see all of this.  The pain and the potential.  The deep, heart-aching beauty that arises with each and every human interaction.  The persistent question rising in your soul: “what can I do with such awe-inspiring potential everywhere?”

When we look with creative vision, we see the beautiful possibility of the homeless man pleading for money.  We see the beautiful possibility of the single mom, struggling with alcoholism.  We see the beautiful possibility of the suburban family, searching for meaning in a life that is busy but empty.  We see all these things as beautiful invitations to join in the creation.  Like a haunting piece of musical improv, we’re invited to appreciate what’s there and still see what’s missing.  We’re invited to add our unique riff to the eternal melody.

The mystery of this creative life, this search for beauty, is that once we see it we cannot help but dive in.  If you’ve ever been moved by a painting or a song, you know what I mean.  You stand in the museum staring at the piece, yearning to make it part of your life.  You feel, for one brief instant, the desire to learn to paint.  It burns white hot inside of you, a flash of inspiration and passion.

Then it passes.  It dies out cold and hard.  You realize that you don’t have the time or money to undertake “real art.”  You realize that you’d never be that good anyway.  You realize, too, that you have nothing else to contribute.  After all, this masterpiece has already been created.  What could you possibly do that would rival it?

That, friends, is the mark of Resistance.  Resistance is that almost physical pull to do something—anything—other than pursue a life of meaning.  In his introduction to The War of Art, Steven Pressfield has this to say about  Resistance and creativity, “If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when [God] endowed each of us with our own unique genius.”

Resistance doesn’t stop with art, though.  Resistance pushes against us every time we pursue beauty.  Resistance tells us there’s not enough time for us to volunteer at the homeless shelter.  Resistance raises its cynical head, judging the poor and outcast and convincing us they’ll never change.  Resistance whispers that we’re too small to make a difference.  Resistance tricks us coming and going.  It tells us one minute that there is no hope.  It tells us in the next minute that everything important is already being done.

Having failed many times in the face of Resistance, I can say with certainty that it’s a powerful force.  Perhaps even more powerful than outright destruction.  When we destroy, whether on canvas or in a more personal way, we at least leave room for new creation.  The very emptiness calls out for new life.  But if we fail to do anything, whether to create or to destroy, we die.  We die because we have failed to respond to beauty.  We have lost our most intimate way of connecting with the ever-creating God.

The call to live creatively isn’t a small thing.  It’s not just a fun way of discovering our free-spirited artist selves.  It’s a call from our very soul to connect with what God is doing. It’s a call to ask, “what’s beautiful here and how can I add more?”  After all, each and every day, God calls out to us.  “Look, I’m doing a new thing.  Don’t you see it?”

At #wholemama this week we’re thinking about creativity. What practice keeps you going?

Why We Need Encouragers

Why We Need Encouragers

Beyond Walls
That was me on Saturday. No humblebrag here, I was honest-to-God ready to curl into a ball and cry. The nerves and self-doubt hit so quickly, I had no idea what to do with the energy. Lucky for me, I have among my Facebook friends some amazing encouragers. In less than two minutes, I had a self-confidence boost and had regained my excitement.

Many years ago, while leading an adult class on gifts of the spirit, a wiser woman than me spoke up. “I think my gift is encouraging people.” I nodded and smiled, as did most of the class. Inwardly, though, I was puzzled.


Encouraging people? Anyone can encourage people. I felt as though I’d let this sweet lady down, leading her on a path where her “gift” wasn’t very special at all. (I know, this is horrible. Don’t judge, I was younger and full on in the throes of change-the-world-itis. I was pretty convinced that all world-changing had to happen on the grand stage of world events rather than the smaller platform of individual lives.)

Now, older and wiser, I can say with all certainty that the ministry of encouragement is no joke. It requires a generosity of spirit that is increasingly uncommon in today’s competitive, insecure world. Our news is filled with stories of hateful speech and ugly rhetoric. Our models in business and politics are self-absorbed and cutthroat. Our advertisements convince us that we’re not good enough unless we own x, y, and z products. We are a people convinced that we must win and win at all costs. Helping one another has no place in this picture.

Here’s where someone with the gift of encouragement can actually, literally, truly change the world. Being willing to light someone else’s flame is a counter-cultural move. It’s not the role of a weakling. An encourager isn’t someone who doesn’t have their own candle to hold. An encourager is someone whose candle shines bright enough that they can use it to light someone else’s.

My mistake was that I thought that encouragers were like cheerleaders. They’re very cool but not really necessary to the game itself. In reality, encouragers are more like coaches. They’re the pivotal role in every successful team. We need encouragers, period. In the words of Carol Brorsen over at Jamie Coats’s winged boots blog, encouragers “lift us from the hum-drum that blinds us to the truth of who we ARE”

Encouragers see our best selves. More than that, they are courageous enough to reflect that back to us. This is the vital difference between an encourager and a discourager. Both see the potential of others. Both recognize the possibility for goodness, even greatness, in others. Discouragers see that as a threat. Where an encourager sees opportunity and abundance, discouragers see only scarcity and fear. They have bought into the notion that life is a zero-sum game. If one person has more, the other person must have less. When we believe this, we become selfish, closed off, constantly worried that someone else might have more. We lose the deepest kind of generosity–the generosity of love.

So, here’s a challenge for the week. How about if we thanked the encouragers in our lives? Because it turns out that even encouragers need encouragement. And we need them more than ever.

Linking up this week with the wonderful #wholemamas as we think about generosity.

Play with Me #oneword365

Play with Me #oneword365

I’m a terrible decision maker. I wrestle with even the smallest decision, then second-guess myself, then wrestle some more. I am only now at a point in my life where I can look at a dinner menu without experiencing complete decision paralysis. If you ask me a question, like, “what do you think?” I will honest to goodness answer, “I don’t know.” So, imagine the pressure of choosing #oneword365. One. Word. For 366 days!? (Leap Year adds extra pressure.) I can’t even cope. By Jan 19, I’d narrowed it down to three.

One word

Then I took the plunge and committed. Given my perfectionist tendencies and my inability to make decisions I decided that what I needed was to focus on play.

When we play we give ourselves room to make mistakes. We embrace the creative process of life—of making something exciting out of day-to-day decisions. We learn the way children learn, through trial and error. We embrace a new kind of relationship with God and become one step closer to being child-like. Play creates freedom.  It allows us to set goals and experiment with possibilities for change.  It lets us focus on becoming rather than achieving.

So I did it! I chose “play” as my word for 2016. I committed to it officially, online, in a space where I would meet other people working on the same goal. I hit the little button marked “Find your tribe!” and excitedly followed the link to see who my tribe was.

No one. There is no one else in the entire internet who is choosing “play” as a focus for 2016. So I did what any person in my position would do, I obsessively went about trying to change my word. And the good people at #oneword365 who have anticipated this WILL NOT LET YOU CHANGE IT. You have to call them and presumably explain why you’re incapable of making decisions. Faced with the choice of looking like a fool to someone on the phone and living with my choice, I decided to live with it.

I guess this will be my first lesson in playing. So here I am, trusting that the God who creates and re-creates the world wants to play with me this year. I’m opening myself up to the possibility that God is even laughingly inviting me into this game, that as I grow and am grown, I’ll embrace possibility as much as I embrace the finished product.

But I still want a tribe. Anyone out there want to play with me?

Jumping in again this week with the #wholemama crowd writing on “change.”  A fitting topic as we leave January!


Our Small Stories: Finding Meaning In Loss

Our Small Stories: Finding Meaning In Loss

My Grandma loved the Denver Broncos. She was five foot three inches tall with gray hair, glasses and a petite frame that she passed on to my mom. She was the classic little old lady—unless a football game was on. Then morphed into one of those crazed football guys you see in the stands. You know the ones; they usually have their shirts off and are wearing full body paint in their team’s colors.

When she got her diagnoses, she insisted she was going to live to see the millennium. And she did—barely. So this time of year always makes me a bit weepy. Between football season and the holidays, it feels like the grief is always lurking right below the surface. My grandma’s death was my first—but not my last—experience with deep, fierce loss. It was also my first—but not my last—experience with hospice.

I remember sitting with our family minister to prepare the funeral service. “Tell me about her,” he said. And we all stopped, startled by the enormity of the task. How do you cover one person’s entire life in a few brief words? How do you capture what they mean to you? “She was brilliant.” “She had a deep faith but was also a passionate seeker.” “She loved the Broncos,” someone said, which was stale on the lips. It was a silly thing to say, a way of conveying how the enormity of someone’s passions, loves and kindnesses came out when they watched a football game. “I will never see orange and blue without thinking of her,” seemed trite, even if it was true.

In the years since my grandma died, I’ve lost other family members and been through the grief process again and again. No doubt influenced by her pioneering spirit and her faith, I went into ministry. Because of this, I’ve walked with many, many people through their own losses. Now I’m the one who sits across the living room, notebook in hand, and says “tell me about her” or “what was he like?”

Every time, I am met with a familiar response, a stunned blankness as they ponder how to convey a lifetime of loves and hates into a few sentences fit for public hearing. “She loved to bake.” “She loved Christmas carols.” “He fished every weekend.” “He could braid hair better than anyone else.”

Then the family stops, always certain that these things do not matter. Someone hands me a copy of the obituary, which is usually filled with resume-type details. Jobs held, titles given, degrees earned. Those are important but what I really want to hear are the first stories. The ones people don’t think are worth telling. I want to hear about the love of knitting, the joy in gardening, the quick temper or easy smile. I want to hear these things because these are the things of life.

Here is what I’ve discovered: People will talk with pride about a loved one’s accomplishment. They will always mention how he was manager of the company, or won the BBQ contest at the county fair every year. They will talk about volunteer accomplishments, too—the years as chair of the library board or the successful fundraising campaign. In fact, these will almost always be the first things they mention. But those are just the warm-up. The real stories come later, as they remember the way the person smiled or the way they cried.

The stories that we hesitate to tell because we think they are “too small” or “unimportant” are really the stories that get at the essence of a person. When we try to measure life only by our accomplishments, we measure it by fleeting moments. But when we tell the stories of the people we loved, we begin to capture the impact that they had on us.

I know that if you asked my grandma what she wanted to be remembered for, a love of football probably wouldn’t make the list. She, like us, would mistake this for being a small thing. But when I tell my daughter about how her great- grandma loved the Broncos, I am also telling her that my grandma was passionate—and unconventional. When my sister and I reminisce about the times we spent the night at my grandma’s house and woke up to the click-clacking of the typewriter at 4:00 am, or the stacks of books that were around the house, we are also remembering how smart our grandma was, and how committed to nourishing her mind and soul even through aging and illness.

The stories don’t stop there, of course not. But they start there and we are better and wiser people for telling them. They are like little prisms that we hold up to the light. We look at them through all sorts of angles, remembering the complexity of joy and grief, remembering most of all that our lives were changed simply by having another person in them. Our very grief, our tears and our laughter as we remember those we have loved, is proof that their lives mattered. Like ripples on a pond, their many acts of love and life spread out, affecting more people that we know. And so too, we are inspired to take hold of what life we have left and live more fully into it, trusting that our lives of little stories matter too.

This is the text from a talk I gave at a hospice event two weeks ago where the topic was grief and remembrance.  It’s written in the way I write things when I’ll be speaking, so it reads a little awkwardly but I’m sharing it today because I know many of you are struggling with the bittersweet memories of someone you lost.

The hospice event was non-religious but if I was going to add anything for a religious crowd, it would be the reminder that our God is a God of stories.  No story is too small to be noticed and treasured by a God who dares to come among us as the Word made flesh.  Our lives of little stories matter.

3 Ways to Make Prayer Beads with Children #wholemama

3 Ways to Make Prayer Beads with Children #wholemama

In an age when we have so much–so much entertainment, so much busy-ness, so much noise and bustle–it’s hard to find time for stillness. I know, because I fail at it all the time. Add in even a little bit of internal stress and we find ourselves completely ungrounded. We lose touch with the inner calm that would allow us to weather work stress, family stress or even just the evening news. And the ability to listen to that still, small voice? Completely gone.

Perhaps even more concerning is that our children are also missing out on this. Bombarded with stimulation from all angles, they lose the chance to simply sit in quiet.

Reintroducing children to stillness takes patience and skill. A no-holds-barred approach is likely to lead to rebellion and cries of “I’m booooored.” Luckily, there are many ways to incorporate prayer and quiet that provide guidance and focus. Prayer beads are one of these ways. Beads provide guidance for praying as well as tactile stimulation–great for fidgeters and people with active minds. Even better, children love making them. I’ve done prayer beads with two groups of children and adults in the past few months and all of them have enjoyed them. Here are three examples of prayer beads:

1. These beads are made up of the traditional sets of seven beads.  You can say a different prayer for each set of beads, as the folks at King of Peace suggest or use each set as a reminder to prayer for something in your life.  I like to use the sets to remind me to pray for things I’m grateful for, sorry for, people and a last set for anything else on my mind.  Here’s a version I use with kids and youth. Prayer Beads


2. Over at The Little Ways, there’s a great tutorial for making “Good Deed Beads.”  They recommend using them to keep track of good deeds you’ve done through the day.  Because the beads stay in place once you slide them, they’re a great tool for counting throughout the day.  One teacher I know uses them to teach children to take calming breaths, sliding the bead along the cord with each breath they take.

sacrifice beads2

3. And there’s this set of beads, which is easy to make and features simple prayer reminders.

Prayer beads for protestants - great for Lent:

(Pic only.  The picture links to a private blog but it was too good not to share!  What a fun way to use some special beads and it could easily double as a bracelet.


I’m linking up this week with #wholemama prompt stillness.  Katie Faulk has a great post this week on stillness and loss.  I, on the other hand, am going with a list-style post because it has been a crazy 3 weeks.  Thanksgiving travel followed by starting a new job and getting a major writing assignment–due before Christmas, naturally.  All in all, I’m thrilled by everything but thank heavens I did my Christmas shopping early!


6 Non-Religious Thankfulness Poems

6 Non-Religious Thankfulness Poems

Several weeks ago I spoke to a woman who was in a mixed-belief marriage. She’s Christian and her husband is agnostic. (I’m still looking for interviewees, if you know any couples like this! I’d love to talk with them about what works, what doesn’t and what they’ve learned on their journey together.) One of their challenges was saying grace before meals. For her, a blessing was essential but for him, the religious component made him feel squeamish and judged. Since squeamish and judged is never how we want to make people feel, I suggested that they try some non-religious thankfulness traditions before meals. With a growing awareness that gratitude plays a huge part in contentment, the couple agreed that building opportunities to recognize their abundance was important. This gives them a way to do that as a family while showing love and respect for their individual spiritual journeys.
Thankful Blessings
With Thanksgiving tomorrow, many families will be sharing their tables with people from a variety of faiths and philosophies. If religion is a touchy subject around the dinner table, here are some ways to be grateful together:

“For what we are about to receive
let us be truly thankful
…to those who planted the crops
…to those who cultivated the fields
…to those who gathered the harvest.

For what we are about to receive
let us be truly thankful
to those who prepared it and those who served it.
In this festivity let us remember too
those who have no festivity
those who cannot share this plenty
those whose lives are more affected than our own
by war, oppression and exploitation
those who are hungry, sick and cold

In sharing in this meal
let us be truly thankful
for the good things we have
for the warm hospitality
and for this good company.”

“Let us enjoy good food and good drink,
And let us thank all whose efforts have set them before us;
Let us enjoy good companionship,
And let us each one be good company to the others;
Let us enjoy ourselves, without guilt,
But let us not forget that many are less fortunate.”
At, credited to George Rodger, of Aberdeen, Scotland

My daughter’s preschool, mini college in Glenwood Springs, sang this before snacks and meals:
“There are many things I’m thankful for.
I can see them near and far.
There are many things I’m thankful for, let me tell you what they are!
I’m thankful for the earth, I’m thankful for the sea.
I am thankful for my friends and I’m thankful to be me!”

Another mixed-belief couple I know uses this before meals, sometimes changing the last line to “We thank you God for everything:”
“Thank you for the food we eat
Thank you for the friends we meet
Thank you for the birds that sing
We give thanks for everything”

“We are blessed today, with enough to eat,
May we be grateful.
We are blessed with clothes to wear,
May we be grateful.
We are blessed with shelter from the elements,
May we be grateful.
We are very well blessed today.
May we remember that there are many people
who do not have these blessings.
May we be grateful enough to help others when we can.”
From Abby Willowroot at, copyright 2008

Happy Thanksgiving to you all! May we find ways to be grateful this week and always.

A Deep Desire: When Spiritual Fluff Fails

A Deep Desire: When Spiritual Fluff Fails

“Can I have another piece of candy?”  Of course this is the voice of my daughter, eyeing the loot from Halloween.  We’re blasting through that stuff this year.  Maybe it’s a sign of a strong economy but she came home with a bucket of the good stuff.  Some of these people passed out full size candy bars, as if to emphasize that I’d left a bucket of cheap old Sixlets by my door with a note that said, “Take some.”

Much to my daughter’s dismay, I answered her question the responsible way.  “I know you think you want candy but you’re actually hungry for real food.  Have a carrot while I make dinner.”

A Deep Desire

Oh, this is so much easier said than done.  I recognized her frustration, the urge to kick and scream and maybe sneak into the candy while I wasn’t looking.  I’d been eating Tootsie Rolls and calling them lunch for days.  They were delicious but they weren’t really what I needed.  It was like when you have an itch on your back that you can almost reach.  You sort of just scratch all around the area and hope that the nerves will be fooled.  The candy-eating took on a frenetic edge.  They filled me up but left me unsatisfied.  So, naturally, I did the human thing and ate more of them.  I did this even though I knew that I was actually hungry for real food.  My heart was saying, “grab a carrot,” but my hands were plowing their way through a field of candy.

Why do we do this? 

Those who are good at quoting scripture would point to the passage from Matthew, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  Which doesn’t answer the question of “why” but it certainly lets us know we’re not alone.  It’s in the Bible, after all.  Thousands of years of human history witnessing to the fact that we are not good at doing what’s good for us.

Last week over at SheLoves, Kathy Escobar explored the analogy between the way we treat food and the way we treat our spiritual life.  “When you are spiritually hungry, what do you do to get relief?”  She asked.  Then she went on to make a list of exactly all the things I do before breaking down and actually reaching for the spiritual carrot.

How many times do we encounter a restlessness in our hearts and try to beat it by flipping on the TV?  Gossiping?  Reading?

Never?  Well, maybe you can teach me because I do it all the time.  All.  The. Time.  Sometimes it’s not even as obvious as TV.  Sometimes it’s something masquerading as something good.  “I’ll make time for quiet as soon as I get the dishes done…read this chapter…finish this lesson plan…”

I’m so good at avoiding spiritual hunger that I trick myself into thinking I’m being disciplined.

Why do we not listen to our deepest desires, the voice that is calling out for something more than busyness or distraction?

Why do we struggle to make time for the things that will make us truly content rather than the things that will dull the ache?

Honestly, I think its ego.  I think that somehow we still think that our minds know better than our hearts.  We still think that we can spend time doing what we want rather than what we need.  We still think we know better what will make us content and whole.  We still think that we know better than a whole host of humans who have gone before us, waving their arms, writing on stones, leaving messages in poetry and scripture saying, “make time to stop!”

We are like frail flowers eagerly leaping toward the sun without first digging deep into the rich soil below.  We want so badly to focus on the visible aspects of life rather than the unseen, but more sustaining, inner life.

Frail flowers quote

St. Augustine, who struggled so well with this, once prayed, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  This is a truth so simple and so profound that will hear it and hear it again without letting it seep into our souls.

We will be exhausted and unsatisfied until we learn to listen to that still, small voice vying for our attention.

Now, I like systems, plans and resolutions.  My urge to make a pledge right here and now to engage in 20 minutes of silent prayer each and every day for the rest of the year.  That’s only 50 days, which I just looked up and then found so shocking that I recounted for myself.  But as much as I love Big Ideas and Grand Plans, I also love the wisdom of doing what you can, when you can, and trusting that God will meet you where you’re at.

Instead of a pledge, here’s an invitation.  For today and today only, take 5 minutes to just be quiet with God.  Do whatever you want with it.  Sit quietly. Ponder a Bible passage.  Light a candle, journal or just breathe.  Do whatever nourishes your deepest desire for connection with God.  Then do it again tomorrow.  It’s as simple and profound as that.

The hunger is there for a reason; we might as well might time to feed it.


I’m linking up with #wholemama for the word “Desire.”  Follow me over to read more.


The New Way I’m Taming Christmas Mayhem

The New Way I’m Taming Christmas Mayhem

Taming Christmas Mayhem

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Ahhh…the time of year when the stores start pushing Christmas and we resist with all our might, grumbling about how we can’t find the cranberry sauce because the Christmas decorations are in the way.  A few days before Halloween, I thought I heard the opening notes to “Last Christmas” come on a store’s radio and I swore I would yell at someone.  (It wasn’t.  It was just another song by “Wham!”  Apparently they all sound the same.)  Judging by the number of Facebook and Twitter conversations, I know others are feeling the frustration, too.  We all love Christmas, of course we do.  Still, we have a natural inclination to not see it pushed back into October.

Xmas post before December

I think this comes from a few things:

  1. Time moves quickly enough without us hurrying it along.     Just because we love Christmas doesn’t mean that we want to skip over October and November.  We love those months, too, even if they aren’t as shiny and sparkly.  For me, October is one month where I really get to pull back and celebrate the holy ordinary: the fall leaves, the crisp weather, the gentle rhythm that sets in when the days get shorter.  Plus, many of us who love Christmas love all the other holidays.  Halloween brings back the forbidden thrill of going house to house after dark, and the fun of imagining who we’re going to be.  And Thanksgiving…an entire holiday devoted to nothing but gratitude and that first silky, spicy bite of pumpkin pie.  Love Christmas as we do, we’re not quite willing to skip over the other things to get there.
  2. We’re leery of being marketed at. There’s one reason and one reason only that Christmas decorations start appearing in stores mid-October.  It sells stuff.  This year, my dollar store had cookie tins for sale in August.  And I bought them.  Why?  Because if I wait, I will be searching high and low for them come cookie exchange time.  Still, I hated caving into the pressure, like I was being duped into participating in an evil consumerist plot.  I was certain that some marketing genius was sitting in the store, eyeing me with derision and cackling, “our little plan worked.  Cookie tins in August…we shall rule the world. Hahaha”
  3. We’re trying to overcome some of the pressure to have the “perfect Christmas.” Christmas was not always celebrated for a month.  People used to put their trees up on December 24.  They might observe the traditional twelve days of Christmas, until Epiphany on January 6.  They’d give a simple gift or two and Santa might drop off an orange and a penny.  This wasn’t that long ago.  When I compare that to our frantic push to create Rockwell-worthy moments of cookie baking, ginger-bread house building and cocktail parties for at least a month, I’m overwhelmed, as many of us are.  Resisting the urge to start Christmas earlier and earlier is one way that we’re trying to simplify the whole experience.  With this small act, we’re resist the push toward a perfectionism that would take months of planning.

With every bit of pressure we feel to push Christmas into fall, we lean in with equal resistance. 

This year’s $3.00 cookie tin purchase was the first time I can ever remember buying something Christmas-y before Thanksgiving.  I close my eyes to the lure of sparkling ornaments until the day after Thanksgiving, when I launch into all-Christmas, all-the-time, until January.  So it’s with a certain amount of trepidation that I announce a complete switch in attitude.  This year, I’m doing my Christmas shopping this week.  Yes, right after Halloween.  Oddly enough, I’m doing it for all the reasons that I used to avoid shopping early.  I want to enjoy the season, simplify the holidays, relish every minute of the fall holidays and resist the urge to have “the perfect Christmas.”  I want my dance through the season to be a gentle waltz, not a frantic macarena with hands and legs barely keeping up to the frenzy of the music.

A member of my incredible moms’ group shared this article from Catholic Sistas a couple weeks ago.  The author shares her strategy for Christmas shopping, including her timeline.  She gets it done before Advent.  (If you’re not a church person, or not part of a tradition that celebrates Advent, it almost always starts the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  For all practical purposes, this means finishing shopping before leaving for that Thanksgiving trip.)  By tackling her shopping early, this mom writes, she’s freed up to focus on the religious celebrations of the season rather than feeling overwhelmed by the combination of extra shopping, extra school events, extra church events and extra family events.  And, I might add, the extra pressure to stay spiritually grounded/non-consumerist/family focused in the midst of all that!

I’ve been playing with her idea.  I was initially resistant because:

  1. I don’t want to cave to the consumeristic pressures and start shopping early. (See #2 above.)
  2. I actually enjoy the bustle of Christmas shopping. I can hear the chorus to “Silver Bells in my head as I type this.  I like to park the car in a cute little downtown area and wander from store to store with a peppermint mocha in my hand.  It it’s snowing just slightly, that’s even better.  I enjoy the cheer, the lights, the decorations and the Salvation Army Santa’s cheery “Merry Christmas!”
  3. I like to let things get a little closer to Christmas so that I can see what people want/need. This is the main reason I don’t shop throughout the year, as many highly organized people recommend.

Gradually, though, the appeal of starting the holiday season with my shopping done won me over.  When I sat down with my husband to talk about Christmas present ideas, before Halloween, he was surprisingly enthusiastic about the idea of getting the shopping done sooner rather than later.  Some points he made:

  1. The Christmas shopping experience isn’t always a fun stroll from store to store. Most of the time it’s a high-paced hustle around the mall.  The mocha gets spilled, children are crying in aisle 5, the strain of saying “Merry Christmas” 500 times an hour is wearing on the Salvation Army Santas and “Last Christmas” will be played by every artist who ever covered it.  (True story: one of the first songs my daughter knew by heart was “Last Christmas.”  She was 3.  That’s how often this song comes on the radio.)
  2. I can still enjoy the Hallmark movie shopping experience. Some day during the Christmas season, I can get dressed in an adorable hat and boots, hit the coffee shop and then take a lovely stroll.  Even better, I can do this without worrying about carrying shopping bags.
  3. I’m more likely to enjoy the hunt. Taking the time to shop now, instead of in December, means I can make a thoughtful choice for even the hard-to-shop-for people (ahem, all the men in my family) instead of a muttering about how hard they are to shop for and wishing I could settle for a bottle of perfume.
  4. I love packages under the tree. I have a standing rule that anything purchased after Thanksgiving gets wrapped and put under the tree.    I’ve also been known to wrap empty boxes when we put our tree up, just to get the sparkly present effect sooner.  Now I can have actual presents, which cuts down on the January clean-up.
  5. I’d really like to get to mid-December without wondering “what happened?”

There is one concern that is still valid: I’ll have to resist buying additional presents as Christmas gets closer.  That happens often enough as it is.  It usually goes like this, “Oh, I know I already have a present for so-and-so but this is perfect for her!  She can have both.”  Repeat that for a couple members of our huge family, add in a friend or two, and it’s a recipe for starting 2016 completely broke.  That’s just going to have to come down to willpower.  So I’m making a public commitment that once shopping is done, it’s done.  Those extra wonderful things I find along the way will have to wait for birthday presents in 2016.  🙂

Hope Is a Pair of Shiny Red Shoes

Hope Is a Pair of Shiny Red Shoes

Hope is a pair of shiny red shoes

The girl next to me in my Intro to Political Theory class wore shiny red shoes. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them. I imagine that a person with shiny red shoes always feels put together and confident. My own shoes often tend toward the practical. You know, black “go-with-anything” boots or the classic brown loafers. The closest I came to red shoes was the year that I bought maroon Danskos. Even though they were comfy and expensive for my young mom budget, they didn’t evoke feelings of luxury. Maroon Danskos are for comfort and ease. Red shoes are for joy.

Right now, my daughter is consumed with my black peep toe wedges the same way I am consumed with red shoes. She eyes them and tries them on, parading around with an air of confidence and elegance. These shoes take her to dances and parties for fancy ladies (we say this in an uppity accent—faunncy ladies). This is almost certainly an improvement over her Mary Janes, which just take her to school and sometimes the grocery store. I understand. Even my nicest pair of shoes only take me to limited places.

Kids' shoes

Of course, if we think about shoes very much, we’re reminded of the old adage “before you judge another, walk a mile in their shoes.” This always makes me think of beat up loafers and worn out tennis shoes. I remind myself of this saying when I’m critiquing a decision someone made, or analyzing whether the man begging at the intersection is worthy of my dollar. “Walk a mile in their shoes,” I whisper before handing over whatever change I happen to have.

The difference between the red shoes of my fantasies and the worn out tennis shoes of my compassion is stark. The red shoes are shoes of joy. They are shoes that invite dancing and laughter, beckoning me toward a life lived enthusiastically and with abandon. The tennis shoes are shoes of sympathy and humbleness. They ground me in realities of the world and remind me not to let me think too highly of myself.

This is probably part of the allure of red shoes. Their impracticality, their shininess, the very joie de vivre that makes them appealing is a bit like a vacation in the Carribean. It’s exciting and exotic but cut off from real life. The real world is practicality and hardship, the need to run to keep up with life and the ability to walk comfortably next to someone who is hurting. Real life needs practical shoes.

Practical shoes

Lately, though, I’m rethinking those red shoes. It seems to me that I might have underestimated them. What I took for reckless abandon and a certain cockiness may in fact be something more profound. Maybe those red shoes are shoes that invite us into infectious living, drawing attention to the way we walk and the love we offer.

While mentally walking in another’s worn out tennis shoes is helping me learn compassion, fanciful strolls in red shoes are calling me to something even bigger: hope. They remind me not of a light hearted optimism (“oh, everything will work out, tra la la”) but of a fierce grounding in a God of abundance.

Faced with this abundance, this love, this joy for life, we might start asking new questions. We might stop looking for the bare minimum we can do for another person and start looking for the most we can do. Why walk in another’s shoes when you can dance in them instead?

Why stop at easing suffering when we could be bringing joy?

I know, that’s not an easy idea. It’s a red shoe idea—an idea that makes our hearts flutter but seems unattainable. Maybe, though, we need more red shoe ideas. Maybe tennis shoe ideas—practical, safe and helpful as they are–aren’t cutting it anymore. Or at least, aren’t cutting it all the time. Maybe we need to open ourselves up to the possibility that there’s a place in our closets for red shoes and tennis shoes.

I’m into experiments so I’m going to suggest this one. Let’s practice looking for red shoe opportunities. Let’s practice looking for opportunities to bring joy and real hope to others. Let’s practicing dancing, not just walking.

My running shoes are sitting by the door, reminding me that ideas are great but its feet-on-the-pavement actions that will make a difference. So here are some questions I’m going to be asking to help me make the shift to red-shoe living.

Red Shoe Living2

You see the difference in the questions, right?  Both are important, really, they are.  Sometimes all I can do mentally, physically or emotionally is try to summon up a bit of compassion.  But those red-shoe questions are coming from a place of abundance.  They’re coming from a place of hope–a place that trusts that there is enough room for everyone at the party.