Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Traditions: What's Yours?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I have many things to be thankful for ... my husband, my children, my job, a roof over my head, my health, and my faith. Sure, we all have days that we're stressed or overwhelmed, but all in all things are good.
I'm looking forward to a Thanksgiving holiday weekend, good food, spending time with family, and permission to turn our outside Christmas lights on. With Thanksgiving comes special family traditions. Some people will cook their favorite dishes. Some will sit at the dinner table and each person will take a moment to share what they're thankful for. Many will watch football, others will engage in the annual kids vs. the dads ping pong match, while some make peruse the Black Friday advertisements.
What's special for me and my family? Many of the above items for sure, but we'll definitely have to throw in an episode of  'Extreme Pumpkin Chuckers'. It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it.
How about you? Any special Thanksgiving traditions you can share?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Will You Do This Christmas?

I realize Thanksgiving is still a week away, but I've found myself beginning to listen to Christmas music (and yes, I know there are a lot of people against this idea).  I began shopping for items to go in a child's gift bag for a local outreach center. I went out on a limb and decorated my basement Christmas tree this morning, and this afternoon I went looking for Christmas cards (which was a challenge in itself to find some that actually had the words MERRY CHRISTMAS on them - I'm just not a HAPPY HOLIDAYS kind of gal). I'm absolutely NOT trying to rush through or skip over Thanksgiving, not by a long shot, but grasping onto a little 'early' Christmas spirit makes me feel good ... and for that I am THANKFUL.

I work at a local church and the last few days I've been actively working on an Advent newspaper of sorts. I won't give away the content, but it has some really good ideas about how to put Christ back into Christmas. Two of the things it suggests is to 'spend less', but 'give more'. I know what you're thinking, "How can that be?" "Isn't that like an oxymoron?" Not really. It suggests that perhaps we spend less financially, and what we do buy as gifts has more meaning. With all of the sales and promotions and intensive advertising being thrown at us it's difficult not to get sucked in, so the suggestion is to take baby steps. Buy one less gift this year. Don't buy the gift that you think you have to buy, the one that has no meaning behind it other than you feel obligated not to go somewhere empty-handed. To me that kind of gift has no heart and is completely unnecessary. More often than not, that gift ends up getting 're-gifted'.

To give more means giving more of yourself. You can't put a price on your time. Spending time with someone, making something for someone, baking your special cookies ... these are all things that come from your heart. They're special and have meaning.

I know a lot of people are anxious to get their new big screen TV, the latest technological gadget, or something that has a lot of sparkle ... but stop and ask yourself, "Will those THINGS make you happy?" A year from now or even 2 months from now will you still be as excited about them? Will those THINGS change or improve your life? I'm really not trying to get up on my soapbox and I'm really not trying to slow down any sales. Christmas sales can put a real boost in the economy. I just know, that for myself, I really feel the need to take a step back and gain some perspective. I'll admit that I enjoy shopping, especially during the holidays, BUT I also will look for the best deals and find a way to get the most thought out gifts. I'm hoping that the gifts I do purchase will have some special meaning and the person who gets them will be as excited about receiving them as I am in giving them.
So what does Christmas mean to you? Is it a special feeling you get when you stand under the mistletoe with that special someone, a renewed perspective you gain about what is really important in life, a second chance to regain direction and focus, a festive time with family and friends, or a traditional candlelit service in your church? Perhaps it's the best combination of all these things and more.
What will you do this Christmas to make it special and memorable?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Dreams Can Change

Often when we're younger we plan out our goals, our dreams, and in essence our futures. When we're kids we have big ideas about growing up to be a ballerina, a firefighter, a teacher, a lawyer, an astronaut, a doctor, and a musician ... among many others. We progress along over the years ... sometimes managing a career in our chosen path, fulfilling our goals and dreams. Other times we get to a fork in the road and make a choice going in a different direction. It doesn't mean we went the wrong way, just a different way - often the 'better' way.

I studied journalism while in college and always said that some day I would be a writer. But define 'writer' ... not all writers have books on the national best seller's list. Some writers create books, some write for magazines and newspapers, some write amazing business letters and newsletter articles, and then there are those of us that blog. Being a writer just means you've poured your heart and soul down on to paper (or a website) and someone out there has read it and been affected by your words. Whether their response is good or bad, you still made a difference.

For years I dreamed about writing a children's series based on my two children. Trust me there is A LOT of story content there. I even toyed with the idea of doing the illustrations myself. Years have gone by and each year I tell myself that after the kids are graduated and in college and life settles down I'll finally have the time to devote to the project. But in the process of waiting ... life happens. You meet different people, situations arise, your perspectives and even dreams can change. I still love to write, but following different life experiences I feel compelled to write about something bigger and deeper and life-changing. It doesn't mean I won't ever write that children's series, it just means the timing doesn't feel right. And that's o.k.
With time dreams can be further defined and goals can change. When I was in college taking creative writing and Shakespearean literature blogs and websites didn't exist. That doesn't make me a dinosaur it just means that while life, technology and even the world changes, our goals can also change. When everything around you progresses you have two choices. You can hold on to your set plan, dig your heals in and hope you're able to achieve it OR you can take whatever life throws at you and alter your plans as you go. New options may present themselves that you never even considered.
Did you ever have a dream or goal that you didn't achieve? If so, do you still have a desire to achieve it? What's stopping you? Sometimes we just have to go for it. Nothing ventured, nothing lost ... right?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thanks for Listening (Again)

Sometimes I try to think of something new and fresh to share with you. Sometimes I'm inspired and often I like to go back into my archives and see what I may have shared before. Many of you have been devoted readers for quite some time and I'm happy to say many of you are new to my blog. Below is an entry I wrote back in October 2009 when the idea of blogging was VERY new to me. Sometimes 'new' isn't always better, sometimes it's just new. I thought this entry was worth sharing again.

Thanks for Listening

‘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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Christmas Music: Sooner or Later?

Today if you listen to the radio, watch the TV news, or read the latest Facebook posts you'll undoubtedly hear opinions about radio stations starting to play Christmas music. A certain local radio station kicked things off this morning by flipping the switch and pledging to play Christmas music from now through the holidays. A reporter asked the DJ what the public's response had been. He laughed and said (don't quote me, I'm going on memory), "People have been the calling the radio station every day for a few weeks now asking when we're going to start playing the Christmas tunes. Most people have been excited and can't wait. Of course, some have been down right mean and nasty."

I've read Facebook comments where people have been thrilled and said, 'they love the season' and 'the music makes them happy.' Others have suggested that 'stations should wait til after Thanksgiving' as if by playing music now we're skipping Thanksgiving. Of course these are the same people who have the majority of their online Christmas shopping done BEFORE they sit down for their turkey and stuffing. I'm not sure I see the difference.
Here's a thought (my thought) ... radio stations playing Christmas music now don't sell a product or a service. They don't force you to go spend money. They aren't holding a 24 hour sale. They aren't making you put lights up on your house before the end of November. They're not even forcing you to listen. The only thing they're offering you is a chance to extend your holiday. I hear so many people complain year after year that the holiday season just flies by. What's so wrong about listening to happy music that reduces your stress levels and makes you smile? If listening to Christmas music now stresses you out ... then don't listen. Some of us enjoy it and actually find it uplifting and relaxing. Those of us that listen now aren't trying to rush things. Actually it's the opposite - we enjoy the season and are trying to prolong it and enjoy it longer. I can do that and still enjoy Thanksgiving with my family. Guess that's my multi-tasking side coming out.

If you want to suggest some holiday guidelines here's one for you ... how about if retail stores agreed NOT to make their employees work on Thanksgiving day. What if there was an agreed upon start time for the 'official' Christmas shopping season? Let's say 12:01 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving Or even 5:00 a.m.? Whether you shop at 9:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving or 10:00 a.m. the day after doesn't really matter. I guarantee that whatever you choose to purchase this holiday season you'll still buy it before December 25th.
I went to a local retailer today and they had some great sales going on so I purchased a few gifts. I know they were great prices and won't be any better in 3, 4 or even 5 weeks.
Just to throw you off the track and totally change the subject in case it's getting too controversial I'll suggest a deadline that has absolutely nothing to do with shopping or the holidays. Let's suggest that politicians shouldn't be able to campaign in any way, shape, or form until 6 months before their election. Now, there's a good idea!
OK ... so let me have your opinion about the Christmas music. You know you have an opinion. Go ahead ... I can take it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What Are You Afraid Of?

FEAR. It can be an extremely intimidating word for having just 4 letters. Fear can slow you down or speed you up. It can also stop you in your tracks and make you feel completely helpless. Everyone is afraid of something (if they're being honest).
Maybe you're afraid of heights or afraid of the water or afraid of riding in an airplane or afraid of clowns (that seems to be a popular one). What's my biggest fear? Well, snakes and spiders are pretty high up on my list. I also consider myself to be borderline claustrophobic. I get extremely anxious if I'm in close quarters and feel trapped and can't move - it doesn't make for a pleasant experience when I go for a MRI. I have to really try the mind-over-matter techniques and take my mind to a happier, calmer place (where I usually try to imagine there's a lot of room).
Most of us are afraid of something, but then there are those situations that we can be intimidated by too. Some people are afraid to try new things because they're afraid of failure. Afraid of not measuring up to other people's expectations and afraid of disappointing the people we care about.
Some people are afraid of change in general; anything that rocks their boat or messes with their comfort zone. Some people work REALLY hard to control (or regain control of) certain aspects in their life where they feel they may have a bit more authority. There are so many times in our lives when we feel we have little say in what is happening that we worry, we lose sleep, and we often feel lost. Yet other people's lives are so dictated and regimented (often by other people) that they may experience the opposite ... they may be afraid that things will never change.
Fear is a BIG deal and it can have a lot of power over us if we allow it to. My daughter used to be afraid of roller coasters that went upside down. So what did she do? She faced her fear. She took baby steps and rode a few rides that took her upside down and rolled her over ... and over ... and over again. Of course she was wise enough to do it before she ate lunch. But the point is that she did it. For that one day at Cedar Point with her new college friends she chose not to let her fear run her life. I say 'good for her'. It was a valuable lesson and a major accomplishment.
Pick your battles and be smart about them. Start small with self-challenges you think are attainable. Put one success under your belt and then pick another. We won't be able to battle them all, but that's o.k. We'll have the satisfaction of knowing we conquered some of them. So ... what frightens you? What takes your breath away or makes your knees go weak?