Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Let's Continue Reviewing Shall We?

This week I have a few days off of work and have been enjoying every minute (well most of it anyway - there was the one little incident Christmas Eve with the 2nd degree burn). I had a wonderful Christmas Eve & Christmas Day with extended family. My family & I went to lunch on Monday and joined my sister and most of her family. We had a nice lunch and good conversation. One of my nephews is on a short leave from his tour of duty in Afghanistan. It was great to visit with all of them. Yesterday my family & I went to the movies with good friends ('We Bought A Zoo' with Matt Damon) and dinner. This morning my husband and I took our daughter and her friend to a local outreach center where we packed away their Christmas decorations and sorted through a pallet of canned goods for expired items. We topped off our afternoon by taking them to a local music store so our daughter could pick out her new Fender banjo. The banjo may seem extravagant, but she saved every penny of her Christmas and work money to pay for it. She is one happy 16 year old aspiring musician right now.

This week has been about celebrating the real reason of Christmas, about spending quality time with family (our son has been home all week visiting from out of state), about enjoying people's company, about resting when we can, and unfortunately about eating way too much (but I'll deal with that next week).

Let's look back again and review another of my favorites blog entries. This one actually happens to be the first one on this blog. If you've read it before, that's o.k. - you can read it again. If you haven't, I hope you enjoy it.

'Balancing Act' (July 30, 2009)

There’s something to be said for being in balance. We have to balance our checkbooks, our fun with our responsibilities, and our priorities. We even have to find a balance between living in the moment and planning for our futures (I find that to be a tough one).

Have you ever felt a bit out of balance? I don’t mean like when you have an inner ear infection and your equilibrium is unsteady … I mean when you feel like your ‘life’ is a bit lopsided? Feeling ‘out of balance’ can be caused by too much stress, your health, your marriage, your job, or often a schedule that’s just too demanding. Obviously some things we have control over and some we don’t. When that’s the case, it may be time to rethink things. We need to think of ways we can gain some of the balance back.

Young children often have big dreams for their future … growing up to be a fireman, an astronaut, a ballerina, or a doctor. But as we find ourselves getting older, we sometimes realize that our dreams have changed. Now many have desires to see their children grow and get married and start the next generation with kids of their own. There’s a lot of pleasure in seeing any of these dreams comes true.

Keeping something balanced, no matter what it is, will take effort and concentration – most things don’t just happen by chance. In Proverbs 16:11 it says “Honest scales and balances are from the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of his making.” I think the Lord wants us to have balanced, healthy and happy lives. We put our best foot forward and are most productive when we aren’t feeling overwhelmed or distracted. Some might say it’s about getting our priorities right, about determining what’s really important and what’s not. We can cross having an abundance of material things off our list. They’re just things. Maybe a good way to stay balanced and on course is to take a closer look at our current goals, as well as look back at some of the dreams we had when we were younger. Have you accomplished everything you set out to do? I know I haven’t and I’m sure I’m not alone. I seem to be drawn to the Proverbs lately. In Proverbs 16:9 it says “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Is there a more definite reason why some things don’t get completed when we want them to? Maybe it’s more about God’s timing.

Perhaps if you’re feeling a bit out of balance these days you need to take a closer look at the list of goals you have. Pick one you always wanted to achieve, but for whatever reason never did, and try again. Maybe it’s time to go back and finish the college degree you started many years ago, write a book, or be a mentor for someone. That’s the nice thing about goals – they come in many shapes and sizes and can be tweaked at any time to fit your current life. Maybe it is as simple as writing a letter or calling an old friend you haven’t talked to in ages or finally cleaning out and organizing your basement. Finishing something you started might be just the mental boost your life needs to get itself back on track.

Whatever is keeping your life off its steady axis these days, I hope you find the right combination and the support you need to get your sense of balance back.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Let's Go Back and Review

I like to write on my blog, but believe it or not there are also blogs that I like to follow. One blog had an entry last week that was directed to fellow bloggers. It suggested that during the holidays when we're busy with demanding schedules that include work, family, shopping, baking, card writing, gift wrapping, etc ... we should keep something in mind. This author suggested that while we might feel a commitment to our readers to post something new and festive during the Christmas season, that we should give ourselves some grace and try something different for a week or so. He suggested that we go back into our 'blog archives' and choose some entries that were some of our personal favorites. Depending on when you started following this blog, these entrys may be new to you. I'm going to give it a try, but I promise to post some NEW stuff before 2011 is complete.

***** (from October 2009) *****

‘Turn your ear to listen to me … Be my rock of protection, a fortress where I will be safe.’
~ Psalm 31:2

Autumn is officially here. The trees are slowly displaying their brilliant shades of oranges, reds and yellows; and yes … I think it may be nearing the time to turn our furnaces on (if you haven’t already). Autumn is a good example of the changing seasons, but it can also be a reminder for us of how our lives (like the weather) also change throughout the year.

It used to be that there were lots of people who were older than me and who knew so much more than I did. Nowadays, it seems like there are so many more people younger than I am. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I have near as much wisdom as my elders seemed to have had when I was 10, 20, 30 or even 40. There is a small group of people that I do go to for advice – my husband, my sister, a co-worker, and a few select friends who will always remind me that they are merely ‘a phone call away’. In my current season (or this stage in my life) I often find myself just wanting to say what’s on my mind. I’ll convince myself that I’ve thought the situation through and the possible solutions. I’ll even convince myself that I have all the answers and don’t need anyone’s advice. The results, however, never seem to be what I thought they would. I find that what I really needed was the opportunity to talk with someone else … or better yet ‘VENT’. I’ve learned that most people will be willing to listen to your problems or concerns for a while, but eventually when your problems become repetitive they’ll unintentionally tune you out. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve known people in my life who when I saw them coming I would try to avoid them or discourage their conversations, because I either felt uncomfortable listening or just didn’t have the time or desire to listen to their newest variation of their woes. They are good reminders to me about keeping my own attitude and conversations positive.

But while it may be important to try and keep a positive outlook, it can also be just as important to have that safe opportunity to talk to someone you trust and be able to vent (without the fear of being judged over how you might be feeling). Venting, however, should NEVER be used as a ploy to try to persuade your ‘listener’ to go along with your argument or way of thinking. There should always be mutual respect. My favorite listeners are my husband and a few special friends. If God gave out gold stars for good deeds, these people would have plenty.

I came across a health website this week where a woman’s blog was being featured. She was a fibromyalgia patient who talked about the need to be able to vent when she wasn’t feeling well. She needed to be able to openly admit that she hurt and was in constant pain, without someone telling her that she was complaining.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that this past year has been a rough one for many people. We all know someone (if not ourselves) who has had to deal with something big this year. For some it’s been their health, losing or trying to hold on to their job, personal family struggles, finances, or yes … even their faith.

Each of us needs to be able to vent when we need it. More importantly we all need to have someone who is willing to listen; someone who won’t judge us, try to tell us what is right or wrong, how we should be feeling, how we should act or what we should say. A good listener won’t give you preachy advice. They won’t say ‘I know how you feel’. Mostly they will just listen, really listen. They will ask you just enough questions to get you to open up about what’s really on your mind, and then they’ll let you do all the talking. In return, when they really need to talk, we can try to do a good job in the reversed role and be just as good and patient at listening, always remembering the mutual respect.

My advice to you … find a few good listeners with whom you can feel safe to let things out. Have a private conversation. Then, return the favor. I certainly don’t mean to sound like Pollyanna, but if I’ve learned one thing as I’ve gotten older it’s how to be a better listener. When you really stop to think about it, isn’t that what every human being wants … to be listened to and affirmed?

Thanks for listening.

‘Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.’ ~ Proverbs 12:15

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What is it about Christmas?

Today is December 7th which means we are less than 3 weeks away from Christmas. How are you doing? I ask because I care. I've observed lately that people tend to handle the holidays in different ways. Some people are overflowing with a sense of Christmas spirit, but there are others who are not. It's not a surprise, but Christmas can bring out the best, as well as the worst in people. Everyone handles it differently and that's o.k. (just a little sad I suppose). There are some who've had their trees up and decorated for a few weeks now (ok I admit our house is one of them), but there are others who completely dread the thought of putting up a tree and will literally wait til 2 days before Christmas. I honestly don't think it's because they're all so busy that they don't have the time. I think for some it's an inconvenience, but for others it could be a sad reminder that they might be alone at times during the holidays.

If you're behind in your cookie baking or decided not to send a Christmas card this year or haven't started your shopping yet or don't have a festive wreath on your front door ... that's o.k. But whatever you DO choose to do to celebrate your holiday, do it because it makes YOU happy. Do it because it makes YOU feel good. NEVER get in the habit of doing things for the wrong reason. Don't feel that you have to bake cookie trays for the neighbors or hand make your ornaments (unless you want to).  You should never stress yourself out over doing things because you think it's expected of you. No one has the right to 'expect' anything from you. If you want to scale things back a bit and go for a simpler Christmas then that's what you should do.

There are people who absolutely LOVE the Christmas season and all it represents. Christmas is about hope, joy, love and peace. It's NOT about new cell phones, new gadgets, new Barbies or skateboards. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against gift-giving when it comes from the heart. But I am against buying gifts because it's expected or it's merely for etiquette and reciprocity. I'll admit I even went shopping 'once' a few years ago on Black Friday. People's behavior can be an interesting thing to observe (especially when you're standing in a longggggg line). I saw people go into stores with very specific lists and were seriously looking for ways to make their hard-earned dollars go a little further. But I also witnessed people behaving like they were part of an African Safari ... for them I think it was more about beating the next guy in line and the adrenaline of the hunt. Ironically I've known people who have no desire to go to church on Christmas (they either think God doesn't exist or isn't important enough), but have no problem spending hundreds of dollars on gifts and signing the card 'from Santa'.

People are different. I suppose that's what makes us all unique in our own ways. My wish for you this Christmas season is that you find joy in your heart, that you're blessed with good health, and that you have someone to spend the season with. If you know someone who has lost someone this year and may be alone, consider inviting them over for Christmas dinner, or a cup of tea and conversation over a plate of Christmas cookies one afternoon. Perhaps shovel the snow for your elderly neighbor who is having a hard time but doesn't want to bother you by asking. For health reasons my mom doesn't get out of her apartment much. She doesn't have the space for us kids and grand kids to come over and have a meal, but she's also uncomfortable leaving her apartment. So we go visit her on Christmas Day and I bring her a fully prepared meal that she can enjoy after we've left. There are probably a million different solutions. The important thing is for us not to become so self-absorbed in our own worlds that we forget about those around us. 

I heard a story the other day about a woman who was standing in line at a fast food restaurant. Her order was minimal, but she handed the cashier a $20 bill and said 'just use the change to cover as many orders behind me as it'll go'. Now that's pretty cool!