Sunday, December 30, 2012

Toot your own horn!!!

Thanks to Karen Salmansohn for this FANTASTIC thought!

"What makes you special is not a form of egotism; it's SOUL-ITISM. It's valuing what your soul is here to be and do."

For many years -- okay, most of my life -- I've been eternally soul-searching. There are days I feel I'm no closer to figuring out why I am here, what my "special purpose" is.... then there are days I think I'm on the verge of making that discovery and I need just one more piece to make it click into place and the light to come on and TADAAAA! angels will sing and harps will ... um, make that harp-y noise .... and you know. All that.

Or it may be that I've held that treasure in my hand the entire time and never recognized it as such.

What is it that makes me who I am?

I am an introvert, and I love to think. I love to ponder. I'm not sure that I ever get any closer to solving the world's problems, or even my own sometimes, but I get a lot of insight that helps me grow and do more.

I am an optimist at heart. I act rather cynical and sarcastic sometimes because I realize life shows us its ugly sides too many times. Yet I truly believe that most people are good, in their very essence, in the core of their being. We were created in goodness, we are meant to live in goodness and share light with everyone. And that's in whatever belief system we profess (or lack of belief system, whichever). Some things are just basic across every line. There are those who choose to toss away that seed of goodness in them, and it is heartbreaking to see. I'm not sure why they choose to disbelieve their inherent value and worth, but they do.

Because I am an optimist, I believe that I need to encourage others to look for the good in things and in others -- and especially in themselves. For so many years, I struggled (and still do) with self-worth, self-esteem. I always had to be perfect or it just didn't matter. Unless I was the best, I was nobody. The spaces and systems in which I lived at the time didn't lead me to believe that I was a person of worth regardless of what I accomplished. It has taken the rest of my life so far to wipe out those early years with that sort of thinking. And that's why I try to hard to share positive thoughts, quotes, posters, etc. I need those messages just as much as anyone.

Because of my struggles in so many arenas, I can share my story. You can take from it what you will. What helped me may not help you, or something that didn't work for me may work perfectly for you.

What skills do I possess? I could list specific things that I do in my daily life that I'm good at -- using specific programs or other tools from my work. Or I could list various statistics to show myself as more than a novice and not quite an expert. But honestly, it's not my skills but my gifts of which I'm most proud -- the ability to catch on to things fairly quickly; to look at things and spot patterns or trends; to change plans on a dime and not get dizzy.

I think 2013 will be the year I begin to toot my own horn. It's my year to expect the best in life and most especially in myself. Shouldn't we all?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmases past and present

Christmases of my childhood were always waking on Christmas morning in my own house, opening our gifts, and making the trek (with side dishes in tow) to my grandmother's for the family gathering. From the time I was roughly 4 until around 14, she lived in a townhouse-style apartment in a small town: 2 stories, very small square footage. A small front porch, a foyer with stairs leading to the bathroom at the top and two bedrooms. On the main level, a couple of rooms as parlor and living room, and a galley-style kitchen. To fit my grandmother, 7 children and spouses, and fifteen grandchildren (and occasional other people) in there was always a challenge. Those of us who were the younger grandchildren ate our food while sitting on the steps. Adults and older grandchildren had to navigate around us if they needed to avail themselves of the facilities.

But then Granny moved. She had an apartment that was slightly smaller in square footage, but all on one level. Four rooms: living, kitchen, bedroom and bath. We ate everywhere but the bathroom that first year. The next year, she wisely made arrangements to use the clubhouse at the complex. MUCH better. We kept that arrangements for a number of years. Then a couple of times, we had it in other places -- my uncle's house, another locations, and then my aunt arranged to have it at her church's social hall, since nothing was ever going on there on Christmas Day. 

By that point, things were very different in my life from the time of my childhood. I'd gone from Protestant to Catholic, working on my career (such as it was/is), and in some ways completely miserable. I loved my family but I loved my friends too, and parts of me were wishing I was having an "Orphans' Christmas" where friends get together and celebrate being a chosen family to each other. But in my case, all my friends were celebrating with their own families. Another part of me was thinking that one year it would be nice to travel somewhere for Christmas..... go to a resort or a vacation spot and celebrate all of us just being together.

Soon enough the time came when we decided that having it on Christmas Day was too much: too many of us having to visit other parts of our families (in-laws, in-laws-to-be, sending the kids to the ex's for the holidays)...... and so the tradition of the Sunday after Christmas began. I think that year, I actually breathed a sigh of relief at the idea of having Christmas Day with nowhere to go, nothing to do unless I just wanted to..... gasp! how nice!

Then October 1996 came around, and Granny passed. We had another Sunday-after-Christmas gathering that year, because it didn't seem right not to. We cousins sat and spoke to each other as adults, more as friends than as cousins. And then..... we didn't do anything for a few years. Even now, our gatherings are sporadic. We've lost a few more people, gained a few more, but we're staying connected still. The eldest uncle is now requiring assistance, and it breaks my heart to realize he's so much older now. I still think of him as that sweet, kind pillar of strength for the family.

Christmas for me will be the same as it has been for about 22 years or so now. Leave for church sometime after 10:00 PM on Christmas Eve. Sing at prelude to Midnight Mass and celebrate our Savior's birth in the dark, quiet hours of the morning. Come home and collapse! Wake, have breakfast, open presents. Only now, it's relaxing with my family .... and this year, going to see Les Miserables with some friends from choir on Christmas Day. I've actually never gone to the movies on Christmas Day, but so many of my friends do. It might become a new tradition for me!

However you celebrate, make sure that you remember the best things about the season: even if you have no religious practices to the season, it is a spirit of giving and of love, of warmth and light overcoming darkness. Be the light and love the world needs.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

This may get me in trouble...

People may not like what I have to say here. I'd like to say in advance that I apologize, but not for what I'm going to say, but that you may not like it.

There's a lot of stuff going around about the Newtown shootings, and a lot of it deals with: "We need to get God back in schools."

Newsflash, people: God never left schools. If you truly believe that God is in all, through all, with all, and permeates His entire creation, then he is still there in the schools. He will be there as long as those who wish to recognize his place in their lives do so. But it is not our place to force the message upon those who are not  wishing to hear it. "Let him who has ears, let him hear." I get very put out with those who believe that the entire salvation of every soul depends upon them and their witness alone. That they somehow "let down" Jesus by not preaching him 24/7 to everyone.

Another newsflash, peeps: If everyone's salvation depends on you, what was the Crucifixion for?

Here's a novel thought: if you really feel that God somehow cannot move people's hearts without your help, then preach it without words. Instead of going to your 4th revival service of a week -- where it's truly preaching to the choir -- how about staying at home and having your kids clean out their toy chests or closets to give something to truly needy children? And when the busybodies at church ask you the next Sunday, "Where were you, we missed you" with that sly "I was in church and YOU weren't" tone, you can answer them with "Following Matthew 25 instead of sitting on a pew and congratulating myself on what a 'good Christian' I am."

You want to do something to really make a change in the world? Start doing works of mercy, works of justice, works of peace and stop just talking a good game. Quit wringing your hands over God not being somewhere (as if that's possible - you DO believe that, don't you?) and make him present without words. So what if you (ahem) "aren't allowed to share God" with people? Sure you are: you do it with your actions. If actions alone were a barometer, then I know plenty of supposed heathen who are better Christians than those who warm the pews.

And lest you think for a second I'm the expert in this, far from it. This is a wake-up call to me as well, to do more, to be more, and to best utilize the gifts I've been given to build the Kingdom.

Oh, and if you wondered, the Kingdom is not some far off tomorrow, where we look to a calendar or to the skies and say "When?" Because "when" happened at the Annunciation, the Incarnation, the Nativity, and on.... we live the Kingdom now, even as incomplete and right-here-and-not-yet-realized as it is.

Okay. I'm stepping down off this soapbox. I have others to step up on....... and more to come.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Trying to stay low-key

I promise, I'm not the Grinch and my heart isn't three sizes too small..... but seriously, I do not get into all the holiday hype. I have various folks in my life who are positively giddy at the thought of Christmas and all the decorations and baking and.....

Well, not me.

Just so there is no misunderstanding: I have no problems with Christmas in itself. I have great awe for the actual event itself. But I have massive problems with the hype, the hoopla, the buildup and frenzy only to have it disappear on the 26th as if it never happened. And the commercialism is encroaching into other parts of the calendar. It is bad enough that stations begin 24/7 holiday music before Thanksgiving..... and that Christmas decorations are out around Halloween.

Whatever happened to simple celebrations of miracles? To a time when our gatherings focused on family, on all we'd been given, on the fact that we were together and alive and have another breath and the opportunity to reflect and recommit ourselves to the message of the manger?

For so many, Christmas is an extremely difficult time -- joy that is tempered by loss, by sadness, by broken relationships and our own broken hearts and broken pride. I have also felt the pains of non-Rockwellian Christmases, where the snow never falls, the table always has an empty seat or two, and the heart feels bereft of any emotion, let alone joy and wonder. Christmases colored not in red, green, gold or silver, but in blues, greys, even black.

For a long time, I simply wanted to fall asleep on December 16 and wake around January 4 ..... I wanted so much to avoid Christmas. I felt very acutely what it was to no longer have Christmas. I suppose I noticed it starting after my grandmother's death. For me, Christmas was always the celebration that belonged to my dad's family -- at least in our celebrations, and especially so after my mother's mother passed. To have it ripped away due to death and to misunderstandings and miscommunications ..... a dagger in an already-wounded heart. It is but a window into the pain that many families feel on a much greater scale.

So I try to make my Christmas celebrations a little more low-key. I'm not against gifts, but I'm far more appreciative of the love and the sentiments behind the gifts. I'm not against parties and fun -- quite the opposite! I love the gatherings of friends and family and expressing our happiness to just be together. One of my favorite events of the last few years is the night I gather with choir friends and other people from my church to do neighborhood caroling, followed by snacks and warm drinks at their house. All it costs me is the investment I make in a snack to bring and a few hours out of my night. Worth every moment, and the fun we have wandering the neighborhood is awesome .... as well as belting out tunes around the piano! These are the things that give me the warm fuzzies and make me believe in Christmas.

The beauty of Christmas isn't in the money I spend on gifts, but in the love and warmth felt in hearts. It is in the humility and simplicity of a place where a tiny baby was born into poverty and despair and yet whose message in life and death was that there's so much more ..... if we just believe.

This is where my heart lies ..... believing that there's so much more, believing that it cannot be found in the clamor of the seasonal squawk and noise but in a whisper of soul to soul, believing that miracles are unlimited and that they still happen in every moment.

It may not be Madison Avenue's view of the perfect Christmas, but then again, neither was the first one.