Holidays x One: St. Patrick’s Day

ShamrockWe raise a glass of green beer, or Bailey’s or Irish Whiskey and wear green so we don’t get pinched and think that maybe – just for a day – there are “little people” stealing our pens from our desks, scampering through the kitchen cupboards and hiding pots of gold at the end of rainbows. No other Christian saint has embodied a more eclectic set of myths and legends, both real and imagined, than the young British 16 year-old boy who was captured by Irish pirates and held as a slave for six years.

That ordeal ended when he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Your ship is ready,” perhaps an early Gaelic version of “Your ship has come in?”  He escaped, walked 200 miles to a port and spent three days starving on board before finally reaching home. After gaining an education and becoming a clergyman, Patrick was given a new vision to return to Ireland, the land of his abject humiliation and dread. Return he did, spouting redemption in Jesus Christ and becoming a beloved Saint.

Who does that?  Me, I run from pain.  I block off hurtful memories. Why revisit the place of loneliness?

All it takes is courage. And a little faith.

So on this special feast day of March 17, celebrated nearly worldwide on behalf of a saint whom we now associate with druids, snakes, dragons, drinking and corned beef, cabbage and potatoes, why not whip up some resolve and think back. Drive out the snakes and behead the dragons that you carry around with you from the past.

Have you been imprisoned by abuse, by poverty, by others’ expectations? Have your own choices been like chains at your ankles and were you once a slave to your addictions or desires, hoping for rescue? And then you became your own white knight, escaped and trod the 200-mile road of recovery?

Here’s to you.

Did you receive a vision to set yourself apart from the crowd and become inspired to get out of debt? Step away from keeping up with your neighbors, buying that fancier car, going on that exotic vacation to feel better than others? And how did that feel? And how long did that feeling last? Are you done with all of that?

Here’s to you.

Have you heard the voice of God calling you to be loved by him, to trust his grace to meet your needs and guide your future? Do you know that he is for you and is as close as the next breath you take? That God is in you and around you, above you and lifting you up and has been there all along. And, regardless of the circumstances, loves you like a favorite child.

Can you look at your life and see that you were not alone? Never alone.

Maybe it’s not so bad, once a year, to step back from the parades and crowds and go back to those hard places that we’ve survived. The dragons we’ve conquered. The beliefs we stand on. We may not be saints, but we’re making progress with faith and courage.

Here’s to us.

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Holidays x One: Love yourself

Valentine's Day for One

Valentine’s Day for One

No one loves me. Oh, I get Valentine’s cards from my kids, occasionally. Or I used to. That started to drop off after 6th grade and now that they are all living on their own and adults, that’s more of a memory. My parents are gone, God rest their souls. My husband is sailing around heaven in a 57 ft. sailboat. I have some great friends, new and old, who are dear to me. But the best thing about Valentine’s Day to me is that three cute pillows I made sold at the gift store down the street. I’m the one who gets scheduled to work until 10 p.m. on Valentine’s Day because no one loves me. It’s true.

Approaching Valentine’s Day alone could be daunting and although there are lots of opportunities to show love to strangers or go to a Cupid is Stupid party, I have a better idea.

Love yourself.

Why not take a day to acknowledge love that you have given and has been given to you at different stages of your life, even if they are over. Take a day to know that you have been loved, whether it was grandma, your dad, your infant child, your best friend in 3rd grade or that fumbling, passionate prom date. We know what being loved feels like and it’s OK to celebrate that feeling and bathe in it – at least for one day.  Jump start love for yourself.

Maybe you love your house, or your yard, or your neighborhood or the beach or a fireplace or a favorite spot in town. Go there. Spend time with the place you love. Sit. Take in the smells and the feelings. Take pictures of your favorite place and start a scrapbook of places you love. You don’t have to post them or pin them. Just keep them for yourself as a love letter to you. It’s not a waste of your time to take pleasure in what you love.

Love the skin you are in.  So many of us see negatives in the mirror. Take a good long look. What do you love about your appearance?  Is it your hair, your eyebrows, your smile?  Is it the way your clothes fit or the way they improve your body?  Does red make you smile?  I bought a red chiffon blouse with silver sparkles at the neck and sleeves for my Valentine’s Day outfit, even though I sat at a cubicle all day. My desk mate offered me a piece of Godiva chocolates she got from her husband. I doubt if she had thought of it if I had been wearing black. It didn’t matter that my blouse was a size 16. It was a Valentine to my co-workers.

Speaking of skin, dig out some of those skin care products you got for Christmas. In fact, go through the drawers or shelves where you stash your body lotion, face cream and anti-aging Olay bottles. First of all, clean them out and throw away the ones that are too old and still in your guest bathroom basket. Toss the ones that smell like your grandmother. Fill the trash can with the care products that you no longer care about. Next, smooth on the ones that make you feel pampered. Lather the body lotion all over. Try a facial cream or age spot removers or give yourself a 30-minute whitening treatment for your teeth.

Do the same with your hair products. Throw away the hair spray with the stuck nozzle. The mascara that clumps, the lipstick that is no longer creamy. Polish is another demon. Lids that won’t twist, clumps in the bottle, solids in the hairs of the applicators.

Look around. Take the hair out of your hairbrush and throw it in the sink for a soak. All those overcrowded baskets and containers need a fresh start. Make sure everything is fresh and nothing you grab will be tired, dried up, cracked, stuck.

Approach your mirror knowing that nothing you will put on your body has the potential to do harm.

Instead, love it.

Holidays x One: New Year’s Day

A New Year Dawns

I’ve been a widow for three years now and the last of my seven children just moved out. For the first time since I was a young, virginal, 25 year-old newlywed I’m alone.

Really alone.

When the toilet clogs and overflows – I throw down the beach towels to stop the flood, lift them, sopping, from the floor and shove them into the washing machine. When the car breaks down, I call AAA. When I want a meal at a restaurant, I bring a book to avoid the stares of pity. When something exciting happens, I turn to Facebook.

My parents have been gone for a long time – Dad for 26 years, Mom for 16. I don’t really remember Dad’s voice, but I can’t forget Mom’s hands, because all I have to do is look at the keyboard and there they are – minus her weekly manicure. My sisters have families of their own. My children have families and lives of their own. It’s hard not to feel like an appendage to their celebrations.

So how does alone do holidays? Some people claim to know. Every magazine article, every therapy workshop, every single’s blog, every pastor’s sermon has a magic cure for being alone that is supposedly foolproof.

Serve others.

Feed the homeless. Spend the night in a shelter. Donate books to a thrift store. Give – get out of your own head – serve.

I beg to differ.

We all should be doing that, all the time. It’s great to serve when God calls, when you know you are impacting lives, when you have the strength and wherewithal to help a fellow human being who doesn’t have either one. Obedience feels wonderful and purposeful. But there’s another important part of being alone that is not considered, let along encouraged in the body of believers.

Celebrate YOU. Do something, extraordinary, joyful for yourself. Do something that only you knows will make you happy. It’s not a sin to spend a little effort to make yourself happy. Something just for you.

So here’s a little series of blogs to get you through the year celebrating holidays alone. Holidays Times One. And the first one – New Year’s Day.

The first day of a new year is full of hope and promise.

If you are a parade-watcher, join the parade. Buy yourself a dozen roses and bury your face in them when a float goes by. Gather petals and make yourself a mini-float with glue and shoe boxes; theme – your dreams for the year. Many parades have Fairy Tale themes. Take an hour and read your favorite Fairy Tales and make a note of how these stories have influenced your life or have embedded your thoughts with expectations.

If you are a football fan, plan your schedule to watch a game. Bet yourself who will win and give yourself a prize if you are right. Make yourself a nice spread, with chips and chili dogs and popcorn. If you are a former cheerleader, clear out a space on your floor to cheer, really cheer, with kicks and cartwheels if necessary. It’s great exercise and really fun to get that rush. Watch as many Bowl games as possible. Drink in the thrill of the win and the pathos of the loss.

If starting the year with a clean slate makes you happy, do it right. Hire a cleaning service for yourself, just this one day, to sweep away Christmas and give New Year’s Day a fresh start.

There is a movement that celebrates picking One Word for the year. You pray and think and listen to come up with your word. Two years ago my word was “Wait.” I created a visual reminder that I pinned on my office wall. Last year the Word changed to “Watch,” a small shift, but one that implied change was happening. This year is more active – “Write.” The waiting and watching are over.

What about resolutions? Buy a year-long calendar (NeuYear.net) and take a long look, or even take a photo of the calendar as a blank canvas, then fill it with events and goals that will make up your year – things you want to accomplish, books you want to read, trips you want to take. At the end of the year, take another photo and celebrate the progress and make that celebration part of your New Year’s Day tradition.

One of my New Year’s Day traditions is to make a photo album of the year before. I’m been doing this for 15 years. During the year I keep a folder on the computer that I fill with the best pictures of the best times. On New Year’s I make a digital scrap book or photo album to catch those moments and capture experiences that meant the most to me.

My family teases me about my photos of inanimate objects – a pretty place setting or centerpiece, a garden about to yield tomatoes or broccoli, my Christmas lights ir sunsets. Go ahead and laugh. These photos bring me joy and help me feel creative and happy and proves that there is pleasure in my surroundings — it’s not only about visitors and grandchildren at this time in my life. It’s fine to celebrate what you find beautiful as well.

The list is endless and can contain all the secret joys and giddy pleasures that are yours and yours alone – a Lord of the Rings marathon, a new recipe, a fresh, unopened book, trying something you’ve never tried. Forgiving. Moving on.

Own it. Make it yours. Let yourself celebrate. Happy New Year.

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Cross your fingers!

writer's guild photo cropped

I recently won the San Diego Christian Writers Guild award for Best Unpublished Manuscript. It was great to spur me on and prompted me to try to win a publishing package with Westbow Press, a self-publishing arm of several established publishers.  I’m pictured with my friend Gail Nelson Bones who won Best Published Manuscript for her great book, Living Crosswise. Check out her blog

Results in January – cross your fingers and pray!

Coming to Terms with the List of What I Can’t Have

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I recently had a tiny little heart attack and was in the hospital for three days. I’m grateful that I had just filled a prescription for nitroglycerin and took one; that I immediately called my friend, Lisa, who was home and could rush me to the ER, and that I prayed to a God who listens and gives grace.  There was no damage to the heart.

Another of my good friends contacted her Tibetan doctor and mailed me a list of foods, grouped into  categories such as grains, dairy, meats, etc. Next to the list are two columns: one called AVOID and the other RECOMMENDED. 

“It’s basically a list of what you can’t have,” my friend explained. “If you eat from the list you will be much healthier, weight will fall off, you’ll live longer and you’ll never have another heart attack.”

“Can’t” has never been a particularly effective word for me, I admit. I was born in 1951 and grew up in the era when women were “can’t-ed” into conformity. I’ve fought most of my life against “can’t.” But I’ve also lived long enough to recognize that aging is a process of creating The Other Bucket List – the humble recognition of things that we will never do before the bucket is kicked.  

Of course, there’s the obvious –  win American Idol,  have another child, walk a red carpet, become a senator, be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Then there is the category listing things I can’t do that I used to do – flip a round-off, play tennis all day, drive across country in two days, or stay up all night. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, as Jesus so aptly pronounced to his sleepy disciples in the book of Matthew.

The scriptures have another rather famous “can’t” list found in the twentieth chapter of the book of Exodus known as the Ten Commandments, or the Dacalogue. Yes, they are written in stone, as every Sunday School child knows.  But think I might be more open to the Tibetan format. What if they were listed like this?

  • I am God. Have no other God but me.  RECOMMENDED
  • Bowing before or serve any images or idols that aren’t me, makes me jealous. AVOID
  • Misusing my name is upsetting  AVOID
  • Keep the day of rest with holy protectiveness.  RECOMMENDED
  • Honor your father and mother.  RECOMMENDED
  • Killing  AVOID
  • Committing adultery  AVOID
  • Stealing  AVOID
  • Lying about your neighbor.  AVOID
  • Coveting what your neighbor has, and that means anything. AVOID

So there are, and have always been, things in life that are recommended and things to avoid. In other words, things that bring life and things that bring death. And some of the things I used to do, well, they may have slipped into the death category. I’m just getting old enough to notice the difference. 

 

 

 

Stumbling Over Language

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For the last two weeks, I’ve hosted a student from Tokyo, Japan at my little, old house, just off the Trolley line. Yuito is a bright, 15-year-old, eager to try new things, learn about many cultures and take on the world. In the past two weeks he has confidently walked to the Trolley at 7 a.m. and taken the 40-minute ride to his school, then enjoyed group activities such as beach volleyball, beach bike-riding, ice-skating, laser tag, Sea World and more – every day, seven days a week – on the go. Basically a fun camp with a English lessons.

All the time we have had together is really dinner time and I’ve tried to make that interesting. We walked the ’50s car show and bought fries from a food truck. He ate his first Mexican fajita, rice, beans and tortillas at Por Favor. Spaghetti, including my grandmother’s recipe for sauce and meatballs, were not his favorite, but he loved the steak with rice and green beans (Okay, not the green beans).

Church may have been a bit of a mystery to him, standing to a worship band with awesome drumming and great guitar works; young, earnest voices calling on the Lord to come be with us. Prayers from a pastor in a tee-shirt and jeans. An appeal for donations of school supplies to support local teachers. A God who isn’t standing apart, saying, “Show me what you’ve got!” But, instead, is challenging us to faith and trust – “Let me show you what I’ve got!”

Did he get that? Did Yuito understand the difference?

Because there’s this thing, this language barrier. He can’t really speak the language. He shrugs, smiles and nods – but he doesn’t understand. And I don’t understand him, either. It took two hours for me to figure out “laser tag” was what he meant by a jumble of syllables with no “l” and no pause between the words. So we both tilt our heads, smile, and then shake them back and forth. “I didn’t get it.”

There’s so much more we could be sharing if we spoke the same language. I want to know what he thinks of the Ebola outbreak in Africa, or the bombing between Israel and Gaza. Do the Japanese take a stand on Russia vs. Ukraine? Do they experience drought, with cracking brown, fire-ready hillsides and vast stretches of dead grass lining the highways? Do they ration water or share with their neighbors in a crisis? He listed his father’s hobby as watching TV and his mother’s hobby as cooking — but do they watch cartoons or the news? Bake cupcakes? All the nuances are lost because we can’t speak of these things.

I can see how difficult it might be for a loving God to convince his children that he means for us to have abundant life, that all things work together for our good, that he loves us with an everlasting love. His hobbies are often listed as watching us from a distance, or providing manna, not cupcakes.

And, although the Holy Spirit sings to us in our hearts and feelings, stirs a presence in our souls, the language of God is something we have to learn. We have to read it. We have to speak it in our prayers. We have to practice, over and over, God loves me, God is good, Look, Jane, Look! See God run the world!

When you work on knowing the language, there is so much more.

“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn of me, for I am quiet and gentle in spirit and you will find rest for your souls.”

And, too often, we smile and nod and shake our heads.

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