Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Living my passion as I greet the New Year

New column freshly posted on The Holmes Bargain Hunter

Did 2013 not just arrive on golden wings yesterday? I blinked and it was gone along with several milestones and fresh ones looming on the horizon. Time flying is an adult’s business because when you are young you can hardly wait for things to happen – becoming a teenager, getting a driver’s license, graduating. As an adult the moments and events fly by and you scratch your head as another rounds the corner at full speed. I’ve compiled a list of things I want to accomplish in the new year or have accomplished this year. Maybe it’s just a list of wishes that if I work hard enough, will come true as the moments move along and I try to grasp them:

1) I wish for a reverence for taking care of my body. When we’re young our bodies work. Period. As we get older we start feeling little tweaks here and there and realize that, hey, we might want to start taking care of the shell we walk around in. There’s a good chance it might give up before we’re ready for it to! 

2) The ability to manage money in a better way. I’ve come a long way in this area and I have worked hard at it. I never really learned much about it until it was time for me to all of a sudden be married and pay bills. My husband is a whiz at saving and managing money but I had to learn the hard way. I feel in control of myself for the first time in years and want my kids to be smarter than I was. Imparting money knowledge to your kids is the best thing you can ever do.

3) Start writing that book. I know. If you run into me at the store please keep asking me if I’ve started it…as you all already do!

4) Savor each moment and milestone that comes my way. Stuck in line at Walmart? Look around and instead of getting impatient, smile – and I mean BIG – at the next person who looks at you. Smiles can be heard around the world. I also want to savor my last child graduating. I want to take each wave of excitement and sadness, stew in it for a moment, and let it wash over me. Too soon they are all gone and their voices are but an echo in the rooms they once occupied.

5) I want to learn to listen to God’s nudges, and I mean actually shout back “Yes God! I hear you and for once I will listen!” Nudges turn into blessings and sometimes, very big things. This Christmas season I finally listened to several nudges and am changed for it. 

6) Lastly, I want to start living a life that I want to live. I don’t want to be doing things, day by day, that are meaningless to me. Our lives, these small pockets of time in the universe, drain away minute by minute. What are we doing with them? Yes, we need money to survive. Yes, we need to earn that. There are things, though, that God has instilled in us. Our drive, our needs, our strengths that enable us to earn that living doing what we love. The things that when our passion and abilities combine we become unstoppable. I want that. I will have it. Through His grace I will achieve it. A life lived any other way is just living. 

Happy New Year. Find the passion in your life and really start living, not just existing.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Stop in your tracks and let Christmas find you

My newest column on The Holmes Bargain Hunter touches on whether we actually feel Christmas. I'm choosing to revel in it. 

Christmas week, in all its grandeur and preparation, has arrived on hushed wings in the night. As we are rushing around to gather last minute stocking gifts and food to prepare, the time to celebrate our Lord – tiny yet mighty – has arrived in full flush. Twinkling lights meet my eyes as I gaze upon the nativity scene I put up every year. Bought back in the 90s, my manger scene is lovely with its rustic stable and glass figurines. Every year I threaten to paint the baby Jesus hair because I know that someone made a mistake somewhere. Baby Jesus was definitely not a blonde. Even so, he is nestled deep in his manger while Mary and Joseph stand guard, a stout shepherd herds his sheep nearby, and the colorful wisemen are so very nearly there to bring their gifts from afar. Along with gifts and sparkly lights on the tree, this nativity scene is here to remind me that Christmas, above all else, is to remind us there is a savior.

What is something you remember from your Christmas’s past? Childhood memories flood through me and like scenes from a silent movie I browse through them, sifting and sorting, until the most precious moments come to me. I remember our stockings hung over the mantle with the fire gently burning. Stocking gifts were like tiny treasures, all wrapped up in their miniature splendor. Each one was opened and savored. To this day, my kids take turns opening one stocking gift at a time so the magic is extended precious minute by minute. From my memory banks comes the Christmas my dad made us handcrafted items. My younger sister received a dollhouse, replete with carpet and curtains, while I received a tiny homemade cupboard filled with plastic fruits and vegetables, plus boxes of pretend cereal and soup. The hours we played with these were endless. When I was 12 years old, we opened a box that contained an Atari system and the shrieking commenced. I played it hours on end that break and Space Invaders and I became the closest of friends. 

Most of all, though, I remember time spent with family. Our big event is Christmas Eve when all my sisters and their families get together for our grand shindig. We graze appetizers and exchange gifts. We always went caroling through mom and dad’s neighborhood as a pack, our voices ringing through Berlin, and when they moved it was never quite the same. I remember the excitement when my brother would make the trek home to spend Christmas with us. He brought so much life to the gatherings and when he left us too soon, there was a hole in the festivities that was never quite filled. One by one we got married and added brothers-in-law to Christmases and our numbers grew. Christmas Eve, though, is the one time – no matter how many times it’s hard to get together throughout the year – that we all gather. We make memories for the new generation.

Christmas Rush on Behance

So as you’re rushing through the store for that one final gift, or baking the umpteenth batch of sugar cookies, stop in your tracks. Look around and let Christmas wash over you in a fresh way. Drain from your mind the anxiety we feel to provide the most perfect of Christmases. See your children, really see them. Find your husband or wife and look in their eyes, really look. This is where Christmas is. It’s in our loved ones that co-exist beside us. The ones we sometimes don’t see as we are rushing to Christmas day in a haze of wrapping paper and sweets. It’s not in the perfectly decorated homes we seek. Sometimes it’s in the tangled cords of lights that just won’t come unraveled, balls of knots that still shine so brightly and beautifully that its beauty is piercing. Let go of these expectations and really feel Christmas because all too soon it’s gone - tucked away along with the straggly bits of tinsel to be brought out next year. Moments, wrapped in dark corners of twinkly-lit kitchens, kisses lavished on precious cheeks, and deep chats around the tree with nearly grown children. This is Christmas. This is what we seek along with the ravishing birth of our savior. Don’t let it pass you by.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Who do we consider to be the "other"?

This column is near and dear to my heart. Newly posted on The Holmes Bargain Hunter

This morning, I have a very large mug of java steaming beside me as I type - on a computer with working Internet. This is the norm, it’s a taken-for-granted luxury that I know will be in my cupboard for me to pull out and brew every day of my life. I know when I turn on my computer the Internet will hum into working order. It’s called comfort and the knowing of things that will be. This morning, someone will get up and get dressed, head very early into work hoping to get a cup of coffee there because their cupboard is nearly bare. This person will look very normal, dressed in what our world deems “regular” clothing. They will drive into work in a car that is decent, and will get them to and from where they need to go, but never very far. That mysterious noise it is making might eventually get louder and you don’t want to be on the road when that happens. Taking it in for service is not a choice right now because the electric bill is due this week. Choices are what life seems to be made up of, hard ones and soft ones. Some of us will never have to make tough life choices. Life on the edge of the abyss, where you tread softly and hope there isn’t a major catastrophe to throw you over: a dryer dying, several tires going flat, a stove stops heating. These are the things that for most of us wouldn’t be worthy of batting an eye. Then there are those of us that an incident smaller than these I stated, cause that abyss to yawn even larger and wider. That appliance can’t be fixed with love.

We live in a society that ignores this sector, or doesn’t seem to know they exist. We are either rich or poor. If you have experienced poverty you know there really is no middle class – because the middle class are rich as well. They HAVE. To the world, this section of people looks normal. They own houses, they own cars, they dress in ways not “poor” as ridiculous as that sounds. They go to work, or make the choice to stay home and raise their children. They pay their bills and taxes and sometimes don’t have enough to buy groceries, so the electric bill doesn’t always get paid. But they are working – working and contributing – yet they remain the working poor. These people are invisible to most. They become visible if they get help - and are judged harshly by others that say they are taking advantage of Uncle Sam’s dime. Where has the viciousness come from, my friends? The words, the cartoons, the outrage that spews on social media and elsewhere? We have been reduced to a society that doesn’t care for our poor. We have been reduced to hate for anyone that needs help. We turn the other cheek and get in our working cars and drive away, to our homes that are warm and full of coffee and milk. Homes with freezers full of meat. We each make our own way, and to have is never a bad thing. It’s the not sharing that is the shame. 

Christmas, above all else, should be a time of plenty and not want. I’ve been touched by several souls that have expressed a hatred for December and all it brings. The Christmas season, above all, should be the one time everyone feels loved. Yet for a lot of people, it only reiterates what they can’t give or afford. This is not whining. This is not complaining. This is fact. I have been moved to tears over their feelings of despondency and am trying to figure out how I can help. With Christmas full on us, I’m hoping a way opens up for me to show my love for them. To give with a smile, not a heart that is PROUD about the giving. 

While my husband and I work and provide gifts for our children every Christmas, there were very lean times as well. There were times when I was on my knees begging God to change our situation. With my nose pressed to the floor, I lay there and asked what I could do differently. When situations are dire, you either stay down or you get creative. Even with those feelings of despondency you learn to make the best of your situation. These are the people who learn to live more simply, learn the rules of couponing and find ways to bring food to the table when there isn’t enough money. There is resiliency in the working poor. We must find ways to help them and not turn away because we feel it will create a “dependency” on good deeds. They will continue to work, and they will continue to make choices for their families that – in our ambient light – seem like not good decisions. When you are working and still can’t afford health care, or can’t afford your mortgage that is upside down – then you can say that their decision was not a good one, because then, you will have walked a mile in their shoes. Let’s do better. Let’s love and not hate. Let’s give and not remain selfish.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Let us look past the glitter and see the grit around us

New column freshly posted on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter

As you read this, Thanksgiving will be but a memory from 2013 and Christmas will be coming full force upon us. I’m taking a moment to feel the silence and wonder of this holiday season. Before I put my tree up and let the twinkle lights take over the room, I want to embrace December and all its quiet grace--because once I let the madness in, it’s all over. 

I want to seize the pockets of solitude--those ones before the pressure of finding the perfect gift turns my brain into mush. Every year I decide that the gifts won’t be the focus. Every year I find myself trying to be equal and creative with gifts, yet that awful feeling of “there aren’t enough presents under the tree” tries to creep in. I’m killing that monster this year. My kids are gracious receivers and have told me that they don’t want tons of gifts, just a few meaningful ones. I like the way this is going.

It hits me square in the face though, how I’m already thinking what to buy, and there are so many people that will be lucky to have food on their table or even a place to sleep. I read an article this weekend called “Why I make terrible decisions, or, poverty thoughts” which you can read athttp://tinyurl.com/k3hg2rf.

Her prose slices like a knife and it will either make you mad or make you cry. We oft times sit by our tree or up to a big Thanksgiving meal without giving a thought to the bounty we have. We judge the poor, whether it be in discussion or on Facebook, which happens at an alarming rate. 

I love my Christmas, and I also love my Thanksgiving, and I’m not suggesting that we should give it up because others don’t have. What I’m suggesting is a bit more compassion. The amount of bashing I’ve seen about people on food stamps and various other government programs should cause immense amounts of shame. I have cringed at things I’ve seen and heard. Read this woman’s article and her thought process, and tell me you feel the same disgust afterward. It’s a path most of us haven’t traveled. 

There are angels amongst us, and I wish I could claim it was me. Instead, I will claim her as my best friend whom I met almost 26 years ago. Several years ago she heard God calling her to feed the homeless. She never wavered. One Christmas morning she made a roaster full of sausage gravy and biscuits, and packed some coats and gloves. Her family and her took off to the meanest streets of Akron and opened up the back of their car and fed the people who hesitantly slipped out of the shadows. 

She’s been doing this every other weekend for several years now. She doesn’t want any recognition, none at all, but God has blessed her and her work in a big way by providing her with a trailer to feed people out of. At one end is food, and at the other are supplies and clothing that are all donated. She said, “Lots of people ask me how I can do it. What if they sell the clothes to buy drugs or alcohol? I’m not here to judge these people and ask each one what they will do with what we give them. I’m here to love them for this moment.” 

This is the kind of love we need to have. The kind of love that looks past a junkie and his appearance and gives him a plate of steaming sausage gravy and fluffy biscuits. The kind of love that doesn’t say we “shouldn’t make them dependent” because they will just want more. The kind of love that comes from God and doesn’t condemn. You can find her reluctantly made Facebook page called Love is a Verb at www.facebook.com/loveisaverb08.

With that being said, the gifts I’m concerned about getting don’t seem so important anymore. One by one, they will be purchased and nestled under the tree, and I will gaze in wonder at the twinkling lights in the dark, as I have every year I’ve been alive. 

I want to feel more, though, more than the pressure that’s put on us to get our tree up earlier and earlier. Are we searching for more than just the Christmas spirit we feel decorations bring? This year I saw blinking lights in a few houses back in October. Could it be that we gorge on the feeling Christmas brings us? Does it make us feel happy and content? Or is it a hollow feeling that we try to capture earlier and earlier because regular life just doesn’t cut it? 

As I was doing a bit of shopping this past weekend, I found myself maniacally singing holiday songs that were blaring at top volume in the store I was in. I love the songs, but not the fact that the store had me in its claws, forcing holiday cheer down my throat earlier than I wanted it to. I love Christmas so much. I love the splendor, the smell of fresh pine in my home, and the gathering of loved ones for food and merriment. Are we content, though, when the tree is hustled down and all the tinsel and glitter are swept away? Do we keep Christmas in our hearts as January, cold and chill, sweeps in upon us? Do we remember those that are wrapped inside cardboard boxes so they don’t freeze to death or are we content to keep judging them and the various government programs they take advantage of?

We of plenty and no want. We of overabundant holiday joy. Let us not forget the ones that are less fortunate, because God hasn’t forsaken them. Let their lament touch us, if just for fleeting moments, so we can know that this life isn’t all sparkly Christmas ornaments and lights.