It’s all relative…until it’s your relative.

As the holiday season is already swinging into high gear, so are the many emotions of infrequent, high pressure gatherings, and even the “casual” get togethers have their own unique brand of lunacy.  Let the roller coasters begin!  All over the world, rituals are being started, discarded and in too many cases squabbled over for dominance, all in the name of sacred tradition.  One of the saddest movies I ever saw was Holly Hunter’s “Home for the Holidays”, back in 1995.  Not a happy, fuzzy wuzzy, feel good, kind of holiday movie and I know so many people who liked it but, when it came down to explaining why, the answer was peculiarly similar for ever person.  “It was smart and funny and, it was just so real!” came the reply, the last part almost verbatim from people with all different backgrounds and families.  The only other common answer was something along the lines of:  “I’m glad my family isn’t like that!”, or “That movie makes my family look sane!”.

It’s messy and dreadful and weirdly poignant, just like real life!  Awkward moments abound when family gathers for the annual Thanksgiving meal, there are many issues dying to come out, siblings protect each other from enemy fire, and it is probably best portrayed by Holly’s character, Claudia when she says: “Nobody means what they say on Thanksgiving, Mom.  That’s what the holiday is all about.  Torture.”

I remember Thanksgiving as an impossibly long routine of going to the grandparent’s house, having an age appropriate drink, minimal socializing and then being dismissed to watch the Twilight Zone marathon on television while the grownups chatted for at least 4 or 5 episodes and then, finally, we ate.  This was followed by more socializing, and then long farewells and hugs and kisses and out the door until a month later we gathered for Christmas.  I loved seeing my family, we had lived overseas for 9 years and missed out on all routine traditions families usually gather for, except for home leaves at Christmas, and then everyone is on their best behavior and there are presents to distract and detour any head on collisions.  Holidays are unique ecosystems unto themselves.  Snapshots of chaos, blown into historical proportions as stories are exaggerated and spread each year to newcomers about what happened previously to any number of people present.

As any family tree splinters off into smaller, greener branches, the separation can be difficult, perhaps because the paradigm is shifting and the children who were not in authority are now grown and so become authority.  This means the ones used to being solely in authority now have an obligation although not always a willingness, to share the podium and acknowledge what before they could simply control without question.  It makes for an interesting scene as perceptions are skewed and observations are made, both good and bad.

This holiday season, whatever holiday you’re celebrating, give yourself a break and just enjoy where you are and who you’re with, you just might surprise yourself…and everyone else!   Merry Christmas!


Progressive faith or how to count down your blessings.

If you asked me 2 months ago if I was a runner, I would have laughed and said, most emphatically: “No!  Unless I’m being chased.”.  I dislocated my knee and had two (unrelated) surgeries, all in one year, I’m a little out of shape. Yet now, I’m running a mile and a half twice a week with my children at their school’s running club.  Okay, my participation is more a run-walk-jog-walk-run but, every week I’m running more and walking less. 

If you asked me 12 months ago if I was a writer, I would have been too protective of my written thoughts to reply with anything affirmative. Now, I have a blog, I’m part of a writer’s group and I’ve done the scariest thing ever for me!  I shared my written creation with others!  For critique, no less!  Not just a book I’m working on, but my heart’s most inner thoughts, my poetry!  This is coming from a former high school student who once wrote a fantastic story (so she was told), and took an F because I would not, could not, stand up in front of the class to give an oral presentation.

5 years ago, I was not a public speaker, now I speak to church groups, and young people in the ministry groups I help lead and with young women outside of the groups through mentoring I do with them. 

10 years ago, I was not yet a mother, now my life is so full with two gregarious clones of my DNA!

30 years ago, I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive what was happening to me at the hands of someone I should have been able to trust. Now that pain gives me empathy and a sad, sincere credibility to others looking for help in their own private hells.

This looks like a scattered countdown of the past but, it’s so much more.  I can see now where the impossible became possible and where I took a chance and let God work.  I am not arrogant enough to suggest He was just on the sidelines and I was doing it on my own.  People were praying for me all along without knowing specifics.

Rather, I am grateful for Him continuously weaving his river of life throughout my history unbeknownst to me, while He awaited my free will to choose to change my heart to trust Him. I know I was under His protection when things could have been so much worse, although that was hard to believe at the time.

It’s scary and humbling to think there are people being affected by what I say or write. It is incomprehensible to me how my life experiences are being used to effectively impact people today. It is hugely reassuring to stand vulnerable to my God and ask for and receive His grace, time and time again.

You matter! I’m sorry for the pain you’ve been witness to and my heart breaks for the suffering you have been subjected to, whether in the past, present, or both. I can’t take that away. I can’t tell you it will ever completely go away. Here’s what I can tell you.

People out there have walked a similar path and are waiting and willing to share your pain and show you love and build a relationship with you, pray with and for you. If you invest yourself in those relationships, you will get better and stronger. As long as Christ is a priority and a major part of your recovery, you will put distance between you and the pain. There will be a time when you too, can count down your blessings.

If it’s too painful to talk about, write about it. Drop me a comment and let me know what you’ve been able to count down in your life.

Thick or thin, the battle within.

Thick skinned apathy or thin skinned empathy?  Ha, you thought this was a post about weight, didn’t you? Only in a metaphorical sense.  We hear a lot about thick vs. thin skin and it is even somewhat of a mantra in many households.   Parents tell their kids they better get it or life will be just so much harder to survive.   Companies tell their employees to not be so sensitive about rejection or what anyone else says. Thin skinned people seem to be perceived as weak and too fragile to deal with real life. And then there’s sensitivity training for those who have built the proverbial thick skin they were chastised for not having in the first place and then expect everyone else to have the same rhino-esque qualities.  A bit confusing, isn’t it?  I say rhino-esque because it’s exactly what I envisioned as a small child when I heard someone tell me I’d better grow a thick skin pretty darn quick if I wanted to survive in this world.  I was so confused and as usual, my visual brain waltzed away on a safari of vivid images depicting what I would look like once I had gained this as of yet, undiscovered “thick skin”. Since I was in Africa at the time, and studied, exhaustively, all the amazing animals I saw on our adventures to Kruger Park, I pictured myself as that skittish antelope, the Impala.  Attentive to everything and yet still, probably destined to be eaten, I slowly developed the deep gray wrinkly skin of a rhinoceros which then impeded my movement and speech, as I also saw myself growing heavier and slower, cumbersome even.  I remember thinking I would then not care about anything anymore and just ram right through any situation I didn’t directly care about using my new found strength and impenetrable hide.  Did I mention I have a highly overdeveloped sense of imagination?

I also remember as soon as I had fashioned that vision in my head, I completely rejected it!  I didn’t want that level of apathy at all.  I cared deeply for people and I still do today, whether they be rhinos or antelope! It’s caused a lot of pain and welcomed an unbelievable amount of joy.  I couldn’t have explained it as well back then but, there was always an innate awareness in me of how others felt around me and how my choice of actions would affect them.  It’s a slippery tightrope of empathy and codependency, and it’s not easy to walk, even now.   I judge others, I have been through life experiences that left me raw and trying my best to build walls against anyone else wanting to know me past the acquaintance phase.  I stay tender only through my faith.  Ephesians 4:31 and 32 keep me coming back to a more humble light.  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”   I find it the hardest to let go of the bitterness when I especially feel I’ve been wronged and deserve to hold on to that anger!  I need that reminder all the time and I need to pursue that all the time.  What keeps you grounded?  Where do you go for reminders of who you want to be when you aren’t sure who you are?  If you can’t answer this question in under a minute, I encourage you to take a deep breath and take whatever time you need to pursue a different path.