I think I am going through a growth spurt. I went to the doctor last week and I gained two pounds over the holidays. It appears that my girth, if nothing else, has gone through a growth spurt. I’d like to think it is much more than that.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been working on being more intentional about how I spend my time. I wanted to disentangle myself from being overcommitted. I wanted to decrease the amount of energy I spent of activities and relationships that I do not enjoy. Going forward, I wanted to focus on improving myself instead of busy-ness and “contributing.” I really wanted to trust myself and my own intrinsic worth instead of relying on the opinion of others or the quantity of my contribution to form my own opinion of myself. It proved to be harder than I anticipated.
I took a two-month participation vacation from an organization that was starting to consume me. I was starting to not like myself and the way I felt when working on tasks related to this organization. It was not that anyone did anything wrong or that I did not enjoy the organization. It was simply some my own tendencies that I had to tame. I tried to rein myself in and protect my feelings while continuing to participate in the organization’s activities. I found the unhealthy part of me was just too ingrained and I needed to disconnect myself completely for a couple of months.
I finally voiced my reluctance to continue with another activity that had been causing me angst over the past couple of years. I honestly did not have sufficient time to invest in the activity at the required level. Also, there were some interpersonal challenges and confusion as to roles, which sapped my energy.
I stopped trying to be the driver of all the many relationships I accumulated since COVID. In my attempt to help people feel connected and valued, I began reaching out to far more people than my sweet little introverted self could handle. I continued in my quest for connection long after most of the world abandoned the “virtual world” and started interacting in real life again. I was typically the one who was reaching out to my relationships. That fed a need in me, but it also critically drained my emotional battery. I began allowing time for other people- people with whom I had genuine relationships- to reach out to me.
I expected that my self-imposed hiatus from the wild world would be pleasant, relaxing, and satisfying. That did not turn out to be the case… at least, not initially. In fact, after just a couple of weeks, I felt isolated and lonely and discouraged. I felt kind of hopeless. Maybe I was not such good company for myself after all. I struggled through the holidays a bit. My brother, my last tie to my family of origin, died this year. I had given up, at least temporarily, my involvement with some of my affiliations. Many of the people with whom I have the closest, more authentic connections were off doing family stuff. Nothing felt right.
I think my feelings were the delirium tremors of the soul. I was detoxing from this need for validation of my worth- either from activities or from other people. Unfortunately, I did not recognize this right away. I embroiled myself in another major activity by which I was measuring my worthiness. It was something I did want to do for some excellent, valid reasons. However, I allowed myself to stop focusing on these great reasons. Instead, I got caught up with the idea of proving myself and being valuable in other people’s eyes. I did not react well.
Just in the past few days, I’ve realized that I have been holding on to some resentment and hurt left over from before my hiatus. I stopped the activities, but I did not stop the unhealthy thought patterns. Thanks to a frank conversation with a friend, I realized my problem. In that conversation, I allowed myself to feel all the negative emotions I was pushing to the back of my brain, in an attempt to convince myself that they didn’t matter and that I should just get over them. They did matter and I couldn’t get over them until I dived into them. My poor friend was completely unprepared for my reaction and I am sorry she had to see it, but I am so grateful to her for being the pilot light that ignited the bonfire. Now that I have burned at least some of that negative emotion, I might be better equipped to trust in myself and in my intrinsic worth. I am entitled to be me. What’s more- the world is better because I am me.
People always say that there is no growth in comfort and no comfort in growth. I say that I see nothing wrong with comfort. People also say that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I say that I don’t see why I have to be so frickin’ strong. God often has to drag me kicking and screaming into the next phase of my development.
Still, it is pretty cool when I do see the growth that comes after the pain.
What have you learned after experiencing some “growing pains?” Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.
I recently saw a meme on Facebook showing a bunch of shocked-looking women, with the caption “When people are talking about caring for the elderly and you realize YOU are the elderly.” I posted a small picture of a lady vigorously shaking her head in the negative.
The idea that I have become elderly is incongruous to me. I was usually the youngest person at the table in my career days. I am used to be thought of as the young’un. While never being what you would call pretty, I believe I have always looked younger than my actual age. I am certainly young at heart. I think I am so young at heart that I make some people uncomfortable. After all, wearing a Tinker Bell wardrobe worthy of a four-year-old girl and sleeping with one of dozens of stuffed animals (in a rotation so as not to hurt any of their feelings) is a bit weird for a 63-year-old woman. Sometimes, I think the way I talk and express myself in my more whimsical visits with my inner child makes people wonder if I am serious or developmentally delayed. All in all, I do not feel old.
I have had this conversation with many friends in the years since my retirement. None of us feel elderly. We feel the same way we have always felt. We enjoy the same things we have always enjoyed. Our sense of style and taste is the same as it always was. We plan and schedule as we did during our younger career days.
It is always disconcerting, as we live our non-elderly visions of ourselves, when something happens to contradict that non-elderly vision. I’ll pack my days with activities and am nonplussed when I realize that I am totally exhausted after a week or so without “do nothing” time. When I was working, I would typically work ten hours a day, commute three hours a day, manage my life, and fit in personal relationships. Sleep was the first casualty of that pace, but I am proud of the rich life I was able to create. I almost never had ”do nothing” time. I wouldn’t even have wanted “do nothing” time.
Today, I’ll get a pedicure at a local nail salon and find that there are sharp, needle-like pains in my feet that I never noticed in my younger days. A friend of mine lumbered cheerfully into his car to embark on a lengthy road trip, as he has for years. A couple of days later, he realized he needed to turn around and come home because the pesky pain in his back was throwing a temper tantrum about the number of hours seated behind the steering wheel. Other friends who have been treating various physical ailments for years are finding that the medications that used to manage their conditions so that they continued to live life as they wished without impediment no longer do the trick. They are having to curtail their activities or do them in different ways to accommodate their medical conditions. One friend of mine swears that he was just fine, with no issues or age-related problems until age 75. Then, the changes started storming down on him like the flood was coming.
As to me, I can’t imagine what 75+ will be like because I have been feeling the decline since about age 60. It is a humbling process. Not only are the actual age-related changes demoralizing in themselves, but the fact that they seem to come out of nowhere makes the whole situation worse. Every time I have an experience that shows me that I am crumbling, I feel quite affronted.
Let me tell you about the last time Nature put me in my place.
Each year since we’ve moved to Florida, Max and I have treated ourselves to a little mini vacation at Disney World at the holiday season. The big highlight of the trip has always been the beautiful, stirring, breathtaking Candlelight Processional at EPCOT. We used to spend two nights at a luxury resort on property within walking distance to EPCOT. That way, we could stay and see the Candlelight Processional one night and the Magic Kingdom Christmas nighttime celebration without me having to worry about driving the exhausting 40 miles home in the dark after a long day. Please, nobody point out to me that this mindset in itself is pretty convincing evidence of my elderliness. At some level, I know that. My brain is just trying to play hide and seek with that fun fact.
During our 2021 trip, we realized that we could no longer justify the absolutely exorbitant cost of this little extravagance. We even talked about cutting out the trip altogether. After living in central Florida for seven years, I thought maybe I could manage to find my way home in the dark without crashing. The sticking point was our evening at Magic Kingdom. I wanted to go to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. While I was pretty confident that I could make it home safely leaving EPCOT after the first Candlelight Processional show, I was less enthusiastic about driving home at midnight from the Magic Kingdom party. Finally, we decided to split the difference. We would stay one night and would try staying at a different, less costly on property resort.
Day one was wonderful. The “moderate” resort was okay. We could definitely see many reasons why it did not measure up to the hotels in our previous stays, but we could also definitely see why the sacrifices were worth it for the value. We went to Magic Kingdom and had a wonderful day and night. The party was super fun. The place reeked Christmas. We partied until nearly eleven before hopping a bus back to the resort. We were tired, but it was a good, happy kind of tired. Unfortunately, as tired as we were, neither of us slept more than a few hours. It was not the fault of the resort. Nothing was wrong. It is just that we typically do not sleep well away from home, especially if we are sharing the same sleeping area. We probably would not have slept well in the more expensive room either.
I was still okay. I was looking forward to my highlight of the pre-Christmas season- the Candlelight Processional. Normally, we have reservations for a dinner package, which guarantees us a seat at the show and relieves us on standing in the huge line hoping for stand-by seats. This year, we were not able to get a dinner package reservation, so I decided not to stress about the matter. I decided that we would just go about our day and hope for the best. We would arrive at the show location 40 minutes or so before the first show and see if we could get a seat. If not, we could stand outside the amphitheater and enjoy. I have grown so much. I was sure my life coach would be proud of me.
As the day progressed, Max and I wandered all over the park. We had a great time. We ate a pretty big breakfast before we got to EPCOT, so were not very hungry for lunch. What I was hungry for, though, was gingerbread ice cream in the French pavilion. That was my lunch. About two hours before the first Candlelight Processional of the evening, my body protested the lack of protein and we decided to grab a quick service dinner at the food court in the front portion of the park, then wander back to the amphitheater for the show. We hiked our way to the food court and ate dinner.
This is when “old” hit me. As we sat at our table at the food court, I realized my body was tired, my muscles ached, and I was sleepy. I began calculating how much more mileage I would have to put in and how many more minutes I would have to remain upright to haul my body back to the amphitheater and watch the show (possibly while remaining standing.) The math didn’t math. We had already logged nearly eight miles. Seeing the show would require at least another mile and a half further than just leaving the park from where we were. What a dilemma! I had to choose between my absolute my favorite thing at Disney World and punishing my body… apparently beyond its limits because I ultimately chose to go home without seeing the Candlelight Processional. It was the right decision because we were both pretty tired and I still had to drive home without running us off the Florida Turnpike. Still, I did some regrets about my decision. I also had a lot of shame about the decision, too. I called myself some unkind names.
The unkindest name of all? Old.
What experiences have you had that made you realize you were not as young as you used to be? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although 2022 was a difficult year, I still have a lot for which to be thankful. Even the very heart-cracking episodes of the past twelve months have generated abundant blessings. I am not advocating that the experiences I encountered in 2022 are for everyone. In fact, I do not think I am even advocating that they are for me. Make no mistake, change is hard. It is especially hard on this gal’s heart.
I am a paradox tangled in a coverlet of fragile positivity. On some intellectual level, I have always acknowledged that God can use the worst experiences in life to bring about great growth. I have experienced that phenomenon. It is just difficult to have faith in that notion when one is right smack in the middle of the worst experiences. Growth means change and change is hard, especially when you are trying to grow and change while still navigating through the life one has always known. Over the past couple of years, I have massively transformed my outlook on life and on myself. As exciting and triumphant as that feels, it has been a painful process at times. Most times, if I am truly honest. I find myself running towards this new, healthier, more beautiful version of myself while all the time terrified that I am going to trip and break a hip.
I’ve talked about some of the circumstances that have created this crucible of discovery and self-development. The life coaching process I’ve been working through has played a big part. The life coaching is a microcosm of what I mean by a paradox tangled in a coverlet of fragile positivity. The thoughts and feelings that I’ve found inside me during the life coaching process have often been painful- even heart-fracturing. At the same time, I crave them because I have learned the tremendous release, joy, and wholeness they can bring.
The illnesses and death of my brother has been much harder than I would have thought. I miss my brother. I miss the feeling of family I had when he was still in the world, even though we did not often have satisfying communications. I miss my memories and vision of what my past was like.
I have backed off relationships that do not serve me… or anyone else. It has been hard to let connections sever. I have faced guilt and shame and some bruising of my ego (I’m not indispensable to ANYBODY.. who knew?) On the other hand, I feel excitement rise in me when I realize that I have time and energy to invest in other, more excellent relationships. The same has been true of activities. In the past, I have concentrated more on what others needed rather than what I had to give when I said “yes” to a request. I enveloped myself in a lot of thankless, tedious, non-productive busy-ness instead of using the same internal resources to find service that feeds me as well as the recipient.
The biggest change in the past year is how I’m starting to think of myself. I think 2022 was one of the most significant years in my life in terms of learning. This is a powerful statement for me to make and I do hesitate in making it. I do not know that I have completely learned all the things that 2022 has started to teach me, but I can definitely feel them incubating in my psyche. The experience has often been challenging and painful, but I have grown so much, I cannot regret a moment of it. Here are some of the most important things 2022 has shown me:
I learned that two-thirds of American women wear a size 16 or above. I wear a size 16. I am not a freak of nature.
I learned that the standard of beauty that we see glorified in our society is not a universal preference- only about a third of people are attracted to a type that we typically picture as traditional beauty.
I learned that my needs and even my wants are sometimes more important than other people’s.
I learned that, just because someone doesn’t value what I want to give does not mean that what I want to give is without value.
I learned that I may be quirky and weird, but for many people, my authentic quirkiness and weirdness make me appealing, rather than undesirable.
I leaned that I am the center of only my own universe.
I learned that it is possible to change the way I experience and react to life.
I learned that I am far stronger and more resilient than I ever imagined.
My wish for 2023 is that these concepts will take root in my soul. I want them to flourish to enrich my life and what I can give the world. I ask you all to pray for that for me. I pray for all of you that 2023 will bring you satisfaction, love, and joy in being the person you were always meant to be.
What did you learn in 2022? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can send me an email to email@example.com.
Despite my reputation as the Anti-Santy, I must have landed on the nice list. I got a new car for Christmas.
Nobody actually gifted me the car. My decreased bank balance and the fact that I now have a car payment for the first time in about 10 years testify to the fact that I paid for this vehicle myself. However, the circumstances surrounding its acquisition are magical enough to qualify as a gift.
When Max and I planned our move from California to Florida, we discussed what to do about our cars. We had no intention of driving across the country, so the choices seemed to be to either hiring a car transport company or selling our cars in California and buying new ones in Florida. Max’s car was fairly new, so it clearly made sense to invest in a car carrier for his. My car was in a bit of a twilight zone. It was a long way from being new, with about 75,000 miles rolling through the odometer. On the other hand, I would not have considered replacing the car if I were staying in California. Finally, I decided to go ahead and transport the car. I took a chance on longevity because the idea of selling a car as we prepared to make a life-changing move and then trying to buy a new car while simultaneously settling into a whole new world kinda sucked. The car carrier guy loaded two Hyundai sonatas on the truck in California and set off across the country to meet us in our local Florida Lowe’s parking lot to deliver our California cars.
Everything was fine for the first ten months we were in Florida. My car was in good condition and showed no signs of needing major repair or replacement. I was feeling pretty spiffy about my decision to transport it.
Then, I went into the dealer for a routine oil change service. They found a couple of things that needed fixing and the whole bill was about $400. Not great, but no big deal for a car with over 90,000 miles on it. However, what happened after the service guy gave me the news about the repairs was a big deal. Another guy asked me to come to his desk to chat. I did not realize it at the time, but he was a salesman. His job was to convince me to buy a new car rather than repair the old one. He told me that it was important to trade my old car in now while it still had less than 100,000 miles. In retrospect, I am not sure that having 92,000 miles on a car rather than 100,000 miles was going to make an enormous difference to anyone. I told the guy I was not in the market yet… that I was targeting another six months or so on that sonata. He argued that, if I were going to make a change in six months anyway, why wait when I could avoid paying for the necessary repairs on the sonata and could get a higher trade-in price. I kept saying no- I was not ready to give up my old sonata and I was not prepared to decide on a car in that moment. The sales guy kept pressuring and I finally caved. I agreed to buy a new sonata.
After the sales agreement, of course, came an equally high-pressure pitch from the accessories guy. I ended up spending even more money on extras that I was not convinced I needed. By this point, I was feeling aggravated and hangry. I had been at the dealership all morning and it was long past time for a snack. Instead of feeling happy and excited about getting a new car, I felt a hot, seething resentment over a sense I was getting duped.
But wait… there’s more. After all that, they sent me to the finance guy. I balked at this because I was paying cash for the vehicle. I did not understand why I had to see the finance guy. Turns out the finance guy is also the warranty guy. One aspect of the whole experience was the salespeople trying to “blind me with numbers.” They produced inexplicable numbers that would demonstrate why I should buy what they were selling. I could not back into these numbers, no matter how I worked my calculator. The warranty guy was the worst of a bad bunch. He kept trying to tell me how much money I would save by purchasing different warranty packages. I could not, for the life of me, understand where he was getting his figures.
By that time, I was digging my heels in and kept saying “no” to every option he produced. He became increasingly belligerent and demeaning. I kept telling him that I was going to leave, but that was an empty threat because the service department still had my old car. He kept coming back with how illogical and short-sighted I was for not agreeing to “protect my investment.” He kept saying that I must not understand because if I understood the benefits, I would absolutely agree to add a few thousand dollars to my rapidly expanding total. I kept saying that, if the cars at this dealership were so unreliable that I was going to truly need the extent of repairs he was proposing, then maybe I should not be buying one. I could not get him to just shut up and stop badgering me. The phrase “held against my will” occurred to me more than once. My blood sugar was low, this guy was belittling me, I could not easily escape, and I knew I was being bamboozled.
Still, I finally succumbed and bought the cheapest package he was pushing because I could not stand the pressure anymore. I was almost in tears and saw no other way out of that little room except to sign on the dotted line. I left with a new red sonata, but also with a heavy load of resentment. I could never quite warm up to that car. It was a fine car and served me well, but I just never enjoyed it because of the sour experience I had purchasing it.
That resentment kicked up a notch when the next model year rolled around. That year, Hyundai introduced the Kona- a compact SUV that came in many vibrant colors. It was a cute, kicky little vehicle that appealed to me. What appealed to me the most was that the highest “trim” level of the Kona (read, most expensive, extra-loaded version) came in a lime green color that radiated Tinker Bell vibes. I have never bought a car that was anything but a stripped-down base model. I would have ponied up the extra money and bought this “limited edition” trim model just to get that color. However, I wasn’t getting anything because that sales guy pushed me into buying a car before I was ready. With a sonata that was eight months old, I was certainly not in the market for a new vehicle.
I lived in hope that, by the time I was ready to buy a new car, Hyundai would still be offering that Tinker Bell green Kona. Every time I saw one on the road or in a parking lot, I would make a mental note. I planned to buy a new car in 2022, so I kept my fingers crossed.
Alas, when the 2021 model year arrived, Hyundai discontinued my Tinker Bell green color. I began mourning the death of my dream. I consoled myself with a reminder that I had never actually driven the Kona. Maybe I would have hated it. Maybe not.
When 2022 arrived, the world looked vastly different than it had in 2015. We had survived a worldwide pandemic. Russia and Ukraine were at war. Supply chains which had functioned effectively for years suddenly fell apart. Car prices, both new and used, escalated. I decided it was not the best time to buy a car, especially since the car color of my dreams was no longer available. I thought I’d wait at least for the 2023s to come out before I took the plunge. I believed that, if I clapped hard enough, Tinker Bell green might come back to life.
When the 2023s came in, there were still no green Konas. To pile on the disappointments, the problematic supply chain issues had prompted Hyundai to limit the number of color choices on the sonatas to boring black, lackluster white, ghostly grey, and rerun red. The car I purchased (uh… had forced upon me) was still going strong and I decided I’d keep waiting.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, as I was driving past the dealership, I noticed a lime green Kona on the lot. I felt wistful but dismissed the idea of purchasing it because I knew it could not be newer than a 2020 model and I didn’t life the idea of taking on the potential pitfalls of a used car. A couple of days later, I saw it again. After spotting it several times, I finally decided to check the dealer’s inventory to see what was up.
It was a 2020 model…. BUT… it had only 3200 miles on it. Yes, thirty-two HUNDRED. Suddenly, a door opened in my mind, and it was a Tinker Bell green door. I called John, the sales guy who sold Max his last car, which was a much better experience than mine. I explained my story to him, and he felt this car would be a good fit for me. Not wanting to waste my time (well, that’s refreshing!), he told me he would check with the lot manager just to make sure the car had not sold yet. He called me back a little bit later to tell me that, sadly, the Tinker Bell green Kona had sold. He even walked the lot himself to make sure. I was sad, but we agreed to keep in touch as I would eventually have to buy a car, even if it was a car the color of doldrums.
The next day, Max and I passed the car dealership again. There, in the second row from the street, was a Tinker Bell green car. I knew it might not be the same car. Still, I could not get it out of my head. When we finished running our errand, I stopped at the dealership and pulled up behind the car. It was the 2020 Kona. I looked at the invoice in the window and it showed 3200 miles! I called John and explained I was standing right behind the Tinker Bell green Kona.
John came out to meet us. He was extremely apologetic and embarrassed that he had missed the car. He had walked the back lot but had not thought about the cars right in full view. I drove the Kona. I loved it. There was a bonus. The interior was black leather, with TINKER BELL GREEN TRIM! It was all extremely exciting. I did not get a greatly reduced price compared to a new sonata or basic Kona, even though it was technically a used car, because it was that extra-laden special limited trim. Although the practical part of me (and I do have one) objected, I have to say I didn’t even mind. I decided that I get to be extra-laden this time. There are people who say I am pretty extra most of the time.
I went home with my dream car. I get happy every time I walk out into the garage and see it in all its shiny greenness. There was definitely some pixie dusting going on to get me that car.
Sometimes, a gift is not a thing. Sometimes, the gift is just an opportunity.
What was your favorite gift this holiday? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is a rumor going around town that I am opposed to Santy Claus. I am the Anti-Claus if you believe the hot gossip. Nothing could be further from the truth. The people who believe this rumor clearly do not know me. As I have said in the past, I forced myself to believe that Santa visited on Christmas Eve with a sleigh full of presents until I was at least eleven. Few 63-year-olds play Elf on the Shelf every morning in December. I do. If there is no Santa Claus, is there really any point in hunting for an elf? I mean, if there is no Santa, from whenst would the elf have come? My personal elf, Kringle, knows his stuff and he tells me that he has a direct line to Santa, so I had better be good.
There is a story behind why some people think I am anti-Santa, but the why is somewhat irrelevant. The point is that the episode that gave rise to this mistaken belief has caused me to consider my own position on the matter.
I shared in prior Christmas-related blogs that I have a bifurcated view of Christmas. There is the sacred, faith-centered celebration of the incarnation when God entered the world fully human as well as fully divine in order to reconcile His people to Himself. While we recognize that Jesus probably was not born on the date we celebrate Christmas, we have identified the date to celebrate that He was, indeed, born to save us. The date is not important; the celebration and worship of Christ is.
There is also a secular celebration of Christmas that has a loose, diaphanous connection with the faith-centered celebration. It is a celebration of love and family and giving and magical story-telling that happened to intersect with the celebration of Jesus’ birth. We certainly see these lovely, sweet concepts in Christianity, but we believe that Jesus’ incarnation means something much, much more important. The notions of love, family, giving, the magic of storytelling also exist in the humanist world. Whatever a person’s world view, whatever their faith, whatever their philosophy- that person probably embraces the benefits of these notions.
The secular celebration evolved and endured even after the world culture started to grow away from Christianity. Some people who do not identify as Christians or churchgoers may still somewhat vaguely accept that the “true meaning of Christmas” is that the baby Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem. For other people, the connection between their secular Christmas tradition with Jesus may be as tentative as believing that the birth of Jesus is simply the origin story of a probable myth. Other people who do not believe in Jesus at all may also embrace the secular tradition of Christmas.
Many Christians try to amalgamate the sacred and secular views of Christmas into one, big, eclectic “Santa Claus kneeling beside the baby Jesus in the manger.” There is nothing wrong with that, but I find I cannot quite reconcile the two types of Christmases enough to combine them in my brain. I find it easier to honor the true meaning of Christmas for me if I focus on the fact that there are actually two celebrations on December 25- the celebration of the Incarnation and the celebration of a cultural Christmas.
People tell me that Santa Claus is an effective way to introduce children to the concept of giving. They say that we have Santa who gives gifts because the Three Wise Men brought gifts to the baby Jesus, who brought us the greatest gift of all- salvation. They say children relate to Santa.
I do not argue against that notion. There are plenty of opportunities for children to relate to Santa and for parents to teach the lesson of Christmas giving. I can even understand that we can get to Jesus using Santa as a starting place. I certainly do not argue against the fact that children relate to Santa.
I simply suggest that, in a Christian church, it makes sense that children also relate to Jesus. If there is anywhere where Santa should step aside for Jesus, it would be at church activities.
In my household, you will find three smiling Santa Claus figures. There are, however, at least 10 Nativity sets. While one Santa and one Nativity is probably sufficient for a 1500 square foot house, I like to think that my ratio of Santa and Nativity sets represents the focus of the relative celebrations. I relish hunting for Kringle each morning. I have been known to sit on Santa’s lap as an adult. I enjoy the beautiful lights and secular decorations. I like the funny Christmas t-shirts. I rock around the Christmas tree with the best of them. However, nothing can match the sheer joy and peace I get out of celebrating Jesus’ birth. My favorite Christmas songs are hymns. I light the candles on my Advent wreath every night and pray our daily devotional. My favorite holiday activities revolve around worshiping with my brothers and sisters in the faith.
Yes, I definitely enjoy the secular celebration- the term “giddy” comes to mind when I think about describing my cultural Christmas experience. So, I am not anti-Santa. However, as lovely as giddy is, I would rather feel joy and peace than giddy.
I have more Nativity sets than Santas beclaus Santa is with us for a season and Jesus is with us forever. I have more Nativity sets than Santas beclaus I think the story should start with Jesus and only then continue with the Santa tradition rather than starting with Santa and working our way back to Jesus. I have more Nativity sets than Santas beclaus Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, while Santa is just something fun to brighten the time in between, like Yahtzee and golf. I have more Nativity sets than Santas because Santa makes me jolly, and Jesus makes my joyful.
I have more Nativity sets than Santas just beclaus.
Those of you who follow along with my journey know that it is unusual for me to skip posting for two weeks in a row. I have been missing in action from the blogosphere the last couple of Wednesdays. I have been working on this piece for several weeks and have been a bit stuck. Even in reading it now, I am not sure about it. Maybe I am just an old curmudgeon. I’d love your feedback. Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.
My church women’s group has been holding an annual holiday bazaar since the beginning of time. It may be that the creation story in Genesis stops just short of proclaiming, “On the eighth day, God created the ECW bazaar.” The bazaar is, according to those parishioners who come from a long, multi-generational line of St. James Episcopal attendees, iconic. There have been some minor changes over the years, but the bazaar is a Leesburg institution. The pillars of the church would come tumbling down without the bazaar. The only year we missed was 2020 when a worldwide pandemic rendered hosting a group of people breathing on each other inadvisable. After the usual bazaar time, I checked the church’s foundation and I think there may have been some cracks.
There are a lot of benefits to the bazaar. The money we earn goes to support local, national, and global charities. Pretty much every dime goes directly out of the till into the coffers of worthy organizations. It is also a chance for our church to be more visible in the community. During the bazaar, we give tours of the beautiful stained-glass windows in our church. Our parishioners work together to produce the event. We try to involve as many sub-groups of our congregation as possible, even if doing so may mean we take in slightly less money.
The bazaar is not easy, though. While everyone does work towards the same main goals, not everyone is going to agree all the time on how to pursue those goals or when auxiliary goals should take precedence. Not everyone works the same way. Some people like to plan and schedule. Others like to embrace the serendipity. Some people like to stick with tradition. Others like to experiment and try new things. Some people enjoy working with new technology. Others find it a bit intimidating. Even when everyone agrees, it is a whole lot of work to produce this epic adventure each year.
I was co-chair of the bazaar this year. How exactly I ended up in this august role is a long, bewildering story, which I will spare you. Such a job is definitely outside my wheelhouse. Ironically, one of the reasons I agreed to take on the job is because I thought the skills that DO reside within my wheelhouse might be helpful. It turns out that I greatly overestimated said skills and their value in producing a bazaar. I was not very good at it. In fact, it might be said that I was spectacularly bad at it. In addition to my incompetence, I found that being bazaar co-chairperson brought out the absolute worst qualities in me that I like to pretend are not there.
The results of this year’s bazaar are a testament to God’s ability to use even very poor efforts to the benefit of his people and the glory of His name. I find the whole endeavor to be proof that there is indeed a Holy Spirit. We earned over $10,500 for the charitable organizations we support. This total is about $2000 more than last year.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for these results and the good that the money will do to help people. I am even more thankful that the bazaar is over!
I think God is doing marvelous things all the time. I also think we often don’t even notice them. Recently, I had one of those rare, perfect moments of clarity when I absolutely noticed.
My life coach had been encouraging me to find a way to “actively grieve.” He explained that it might be healthy for me to pick a day to just concentrate on allowing myself to feel the difficult emotions related to my brother’s death. He suggested that it is easy to hide those emotions away in some toxic part of my heart when I am running around bobbing and weaving through the normal activities of everyday life. The idea had merit. The idea of planned and scheduled grieving appealed to me. Of course. I wanted to try it, but my calendar was pretty full. I wanted to try active grieving but could not figure out how I was going to squeeze it into my already crammed schedule.
Right after this conversation with my life coach, God did one of those marvelous things.
The three local Episcopal parishes were holding an All Souls’ Day evening service at the church in Eustis- about fifteen miles from where I live. My pastor was going to give the sermon. I had been debating about going but decided to attend for two reasons: to support my pastor and to hear what he had to say at an All Souls’ Day sermon. I have a logical and theological conundrum with the idea of praying for the dead. If they are dead, surely their fate is decided and do not need our prayers? I understood the concept from my life as a Roman Catholic because the Roman Church has the doctrine of purgatory. The doctrine of purgatory seems to me to be a scriptural stretch. If I had to guess, I’d say God probably takes care of the “purgatory process” while the person is still breathing. I am not so sure this “purgatory process” is about punishment or even purification in the sense of making us “good enough.” I think it might be more about the person coming to a regretless and joyful feeling of readiness in body and soul to leave this life. I trust that God has some elegant, perfect way of sorting all this out, so I have never worried too much about it. Determining how God works out the whole balance between justice, love, and mercy is way above my pay grade.
At any rate, if one believes that there is an actual place or state of purgatory where people go after they die, as the Roman Catholics do, it makes sense to pray for those people. However, Protestants do not subscribe to the doctrine of purgatory, so I was interested to observe how Episcopalians experience All Souls’ Day.
The main point here is that I went to the service to be supportive and to benefit intellectually. I did not go to the service with the intention of grieving. As improbable and clueless as it sounds, it never occurred to me that I was going to have any sort of personal emotional experience.
When I arrived at the church and perused the Order of Worship, it was clear that the service was more about healing the grief of those of us who are still living than praying for the deceased. There was a candle-lighting service, recitation of the names of the lost, individual anointing for those of us who are mourning, communion, and an opportunity for individuals to talk with clergy afterwards if difficult emotions bubbled up during the service. My pastor’s sermon was about the relationship between sorrow and hope… the gift of learning just how much we need and rely on hope when we experience grief.
The whole thing was a bit “high churchy,” which is usually not my “go to” worship. Even when I was a Roman Catholic, high mass did not speak passionately to me. I can and do appreciate the beauty in observing a formally, poetically crafted liturgy the way one appreciates a painting in a museum. It never felt like an active, experiential worship immersion for me, though. However, the formal, somber tone of the liturgy on All Souls’ Day was absolutely perfect. Maybe for the first time, I experienced “leaning in” to that sort of worship experience. I was no longer looking at the picture on the wall. I followed willingly as the Holy Spirit led me into it.
Actually, everything about the evening was absolutely perfect.
The lighting in the church was very low. Candles provided almost all the illumination. There were only about thirty-five people in the pews, so I did not feel a lot of energy coming from other people. The mood was somber and respectful. It was like my very own interior, homogenous, private experience even though it was a public forum. I was not picking up on other people’s divergent emotions at all, even though I am usually finely attuned to other people’s moods. I noticed that I regularly closed my eyes unconsciously and simply listened, focusing on what I was hearing in an almost meditative way.
Before the service, ushers asked us to print the names of the people we wanted to remember in prayer. In this type of situation, I usually list all my relatives and all Max’s relatives who have passed from this life. This time, I listed only the names of my father, mother, and brother. It was instinctive. It was something I had to do just for me.
When the pastor read the names- Ernest Goodness, Dorothy Goodness, and Ernie Goodness- I felt this intense pain inside of me. It screamed, “You left me. You all went away and left me all alone.” I could almost see them together- happy, without conflict or brokenness- watching me. I needed a hug desperately- I needed touch. As it happened, I ended up kneeling at the communion rail right next to my pastor’s wife. We were shoulder to shoulder. Without my even asking, she reached her arm around me and hugged me. It felt so good.
The sermon, which I expected to enlighten me theologically did nothing of the sort. My pastor did not even really talk about the concept of “praying for the dead.” Instead, he talked about grief. As I listened, I experienced some feelings that have come up inside me regularly. I have struggled to describe them. My pastor’s words helped me to understand. I felt somehow small and innocent, enrobed in a strange kind of purity- like the bedraggled psyche I usually carry around with me was fresh and clean. I also felt lost and alone in the dark- vulnerable. It was a weird combination of despair and hope steeping in a stew of acceptance. It occurred to me that perhaps this emotional state is what it feels like to let go of the past and start exploring the future with a new frame of mind.
Tears oozed out of my eyes periodically throughout the service. The organizers of the event were clearly much more aware of the purpose of the event than I was. They provided boxes of Kleenex at the end of every other pew. Since I was not expecting emotion (improbable, clueless, etc.), I did not come prepared with tissues. I gratefully pulled a generous handful of Kleenex out of one of the boxes as I got in line to light my candle. I used them all throughout the evening. As I walked to the altar to light a candle in memory of my father, mother, and brother, I noticed that one candle lit by someone before me had gone out. I reached over and relit it. I found that action inexplicably satisfying and calming.
As I write this, I am not sure how to stop. This experience has embedded itself in my soul and I doubt I will soon forget it. I think I may be having trouble ending this story because the experience has not ended. It is still living inside me, as, I am sure, my father, mother, and brother are. The experience continues because grief continues. My gratitude to God for giving me this perfect evening continues because my walk with God continues. My confusion and chaos continue, even if a gossamer blanket of grace now covers it, because life and death are confusing and chaotic. Someday, I will join my family where there is no confusion and chaos. Until then, I am clinging to that gossamer blanket of grace.
Have you ever experienced one of those rare moments of clarity when you are sure you have seen God do something marvelous? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As most of you know, my birthday is kind of a big deal to me. I think everyone should get at least one day a year for things to be all about them. I celebrate me on my birthday, not my age. On that one day a year, I put myself first.
This past year, Max and I had to negotiate this issue. We were considering going to Las Vegas to see Rod Stewart for our autumn vacation. I told you a little bit about that adventure in last week’s blog. What I did not say was that, to maximize this trip, we would have to spend my birthday in airports flying home from Las Vegas. This certainly did not sound like an enticing way to spend my very own annual special celebration day. On the other hand, I did want to see Rod Stewart and the logistics were much simpler if we spent September 30th traveling home.
We decided to pretend we were in some alternative universe where my birthday was actually September 29th. I like to think I have improved with age (despite the protests of my body suggesting otherwise.) Maybe I have become so adaptable and so efficient, I have developed the ability to twist time. At any rate, I took the position that, for 2022, my birthday was September 29th.
It was a fun-packed day, but things really took off, so to speak, when my friend Kathy and I went ziplining. Yes, ziplining.
I have done ziplining twice before this trip. My experiences were a mixed bag.
Once, I was in a leadership readiness program in Colorado. As part of the class, we spent a day at a ropes course. We each had to do three of a number of activities that involved heights, ropes, balance, and physical endurance. I guess the idea was to help us overcome fears and realize how powerful we could be. All around me, people seemed to be getting the message… or, at least, some version of the message. I heard one woman scream, as she jumped from a telephone pole, “If I can do this, I can do anything. Watch out, I can fire your ass!” I wasn’t really afraid. Heights have never particularly bothered me. Ziplining always looked like fun when I watched The Amazing Race on television. Any concerns I had were related not to heights, but to my physical ability to do certain things. Climbing a telephone pole, maneuvering myself into a standing position on the summit, and balancing on the top of the pole seemed improbable for someone who trips over lint.
I was not afraid, but I should have been. I was the class injury. After successfully completing two other ropes activities with little trepidation, it was my turn to zipline. The instructor fastened me into a harness, and I climbed up the ladder to a platform. I do not remember any warnings. I do remember thinking that the people on The Amazing Race sort of sat in their harnesses. At this ropes course, the rider stood and held a bar above her head. On the way down, I screamed. The people below thought I was scared. I was not scared. I was actually in excruciating pain. I am not sure what I did wrong, but I almost dislocated my shoulder. I spent the next several weeks consuming Aleve and admiring the rainbow bruise that extended from my left breast over my shoulder down my back to my waist. Luckily, there was a hospital across the street from the ropes course.
The next ziplining opportunity was at the San Diego Safari Park. I am not sure why I thought ziplining was a great idea after my first experience, but I did. We had a practice run on a short course, which was fine except for an extremely abrupt end to the ride. When I hit the brake position, the momentum threw my heels over my head. I had second thoughts, but decided “in for a penny, in for a pound.” I got in the truck and rode three miles up into the hills. I soared over the African veldt in Escondido, viewing antelope, zebra, and elephants from my seat in the sky. Because it was a longer route, the stop was more gradual, and my feet did not go flinging all akimbo. The whole experience was fantastic.
I decided I’d like to try ziplining over the Las Vegas Strip. Kathy enthusiastically embraced the idea at first but became a little anxious as the time for our ride grew closer. I say, “became a little anxious.” She says, “almost had a panic attack.” It did not stop her, however. Even though she kept asking everybody she saw about what the ride entailed, she did not turn back. When it was over, she thought it was one of her favorite things about the whole Las Vegas trip. I thought it was amazing. It was such a celebratory, powerful thing to do on my birthday (yes, yes, I know it wasn’t really “on my birthday” but please humor me.)
After our ride, we had my birthday dinner at In and Out Burger. This may sound a little anti-climatic, but I LOVE In and Out Burger. It is a deep source of disappointment for me that Florida does not have any In and Out Burgers. Whenever I am in California or Nevada, I gorge myself like I am storing up hamburgers and French fries for winter hibernation. I took a bite of my double meat plain hamburger, and I was in Hamburger Heaven.
I had more than enough to eat for dinner, but we had to have dessert… ‘cuz it was my birthday. My answer to “cake and ice cream” was sharing a brownie sundae with Max at Ghiradelli. All of this wonderfulness of a day while Hurricane Ian was raging his way around town at home.
Sometimes unbirthdays are the best birthdays of all!
How do you like to spend your birthday? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.
I was never a child. Somehow, when I was very young, I did not get the message that children are charming and endearing. I got the message that children (or at least the child I used to resemble) were ridiculous. The adult smiles and laughter that most children correctly perceive as affectionate amusement, I saw as mocking and deriding. It was not anything that anyone did. My emotional translator was just too smart for its own good. As a result of my faulty interpretation of the adult reactions around me, I quickly learned to stifle childish impulses. Instead of experimenting with new things, saying what was on my mind, and acting my age, I pretty much just waited to grow up.
I absolutely hated being a teenager. Thinking back on the whole experience, I realize that it sucks to be an adolescent. I wonder how any of us gets through it. When I get to heaven, I really want to have a talk with God about puberty and the whole maturation process. I feel like there has to be an explanation. An almighty God could certainly have designed a more elegant, less traumatic way to transform children into adults. At any rate, I did everything I could during my junior high and high school years to try to avoid typical teenage life. I did not date. I did not rebel. I did not even hang out with a group of friends. I pretty much just waited to grow up.
As part of that “waiting to grow up” thing, I got married when I was 21 years old. I had a grown-up job. I had a husband. I lived in an apartment for which I paid the rent. My peers were going to clubs, taking trips to Cancun, and reveling in the freedom of being young, single, and adult. I was managing a budget, putting a husband through school, and falling asleep in front of the television. Heck, I spent my first New Year’s Eve after turning twenty-one bereft of all alcohol at the Disneyland party.
After seven years of marriage, my husband decided he wanted a divorce. I was now a “grown up.” It was quite disappointing to discover that the “waiting to grow up” strategy I employed when I decided to bow out of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood did not result in the “happily ever after” I thought it would. When my husband left me, I also learned something about trying to skip developmental steps. You can’t. As adamantly as I had said “no, thank you” to childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood during the appropriate chronological times in my life, I soon realized that the Universe was going to force me to experience these stages at some point or another.
In the long, sad, lonely months in the wake of my separation and divorce, I found I had to learn to play. I had to learn to play with abandon without fear of being ridiculous, the way a child plays. When I entered the dating world, I found I had to go through the thousands of little and big heartbreaks of embryonic attraction and love. I had to learn to live with the disappointments intrinsic to social situations without losing myself, as a teenager must learn that she can survive even those situations that seem catastrophic at the time. When I finally gained some confidence and began to enjoy life, I had to find a way to stay true to myself and to understand that other people won’t necessarily behave as I expect them to behave… just as young adults must learn how to discern their authentic place in the world.
I think I am still working on learning that last bit. I never did really experience the bold, busy, boisterous milieu of the young adult scene. To me, the word that best distills the young adult experience is “more.” In this phase of life, we are trying to be ourselves but also trying to figure out who “ourselves” are in the context of the world. Everything is magnified so that we can better examine it. The volume of life is higher. The saturation of color is brighter. The number of experiences per square inch explodes. The contrast of life is on “high.” I am still a more muted person than most people project in young adulthood. I am an old adult who is missing a misspent youth. I’m still trying to acquire one.
Recently, I went to Las Vegas. The main reason we decided to go to Las Vegas was because we wanted to see Rod Stewart in concert. Rod Stewart is an old adult who is still living a misspent youth. He is 77 years old and still presents himself as someone in the eye of the young adult hurricane.
The night of the concert, I adorned myself in my most “rocker chick” finery. I wore black jeans with a beaded graphite-colored vine running down the leg. I wore a rose gold sequin blouse, and I topped it all off with a somewhat distressed, studded jean jacket. I felt like I was really letting loose my inner wild child. Part of me felt hip, sexy, and edgy. The other part of me felt ridiculous. I decided to go with hip, sexy, and edgy. I locked “ridiculous” in the closet before Max and I set out to the show.
As we waited in the elevator lobby for our friends, A man at least 35 years younger than I walked by me and said, “You look lovely this evening, ma’am.” I looked around to see who he was talking to, realized it was me, and blurted out a quick “thank you.” Random strangers do not usually compliment my looks. It was kind of a rush. I even forgave him the dreaded “ma’am,” which might have been a buzzkill.
We had excellent seats at the concert. One of the perks of being an old young person is that one typically has more disposable income with which to buy expensive tickets. We were in row eleven, almost exactly center stage. Sir Rod gave a fantastic, supercharged show. He sang around 35-40 songs- belting, tossing his hair, dancing, and gyrating like a man at least 35 years younger. His affected youth was contagious. I felt my inner young adult breaking out of this elderly woman’s shell of a body. I sang. I tossed my hair. I don’t know that I did much gyrating, but I did dance. My, how I danced. I checked my pedometer soon after the concert started and checked it after the performance. I danced the equivalent of 1.8 miles of walking while occupying the small piece of real estate around my seat.
I felt powerful, free, and vibrant. I felt like I had life by the cajones. At the time we were watching the concert in Las Vegas, Hurricane Ian was raging past our home in Florida. The threat of the hurricane had obviously been on my mind during our trip, but the energy of the concert quelled my anxiety. Hurricane, what hurricane? I was at least as powerful as any natural disaster. Move over, Ian. The misspent youth of Terri LaBonte has arrived. I was my own little pudgy bundle of wind, rain, and energy. I was the hurricane!
The next day, of course, I was back to the calm. Once more, I was the placid, responsible, quiet, introverted, awkward person I was before my evening of misspent youth. I am sure my aging body can stand only so much misspent youth at a time. I would not have it any other way.
I guess I did have a misspent youth during my actual youth. It was misspent because I did not misspend it the way young adults do to find, develop, and accept themselves. I plodded along through my twenties, spending my youth being who people expected me to be- responsible, sober, and serious. I am not sorry for the life I have lived, but I do think I could have made more productive bad choices when I was younger. Something else I have learned about trying to skip developmental stages is that the stakes are typically higher when you go back and live those developmental stages at an older age. You do not have the same kind of safety nets around you when you are sixty as you did when you were sixteen.
That still does not mean one cannot misspend their youth at age 63. I am proof that there are benefits from slipping the leash and maturing backwards, even later in life!
Did you have a misspent youth? When did it occur? What was the best takeaway from that developmental stage for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Someone once said that you should do at least one thing that scares you every day. As we approach Halloween, it strikes me that I did a very scary thing last Saturday.
Last Saturday, I celebrated the launch of my newest book. Puppies, Guppies, and Letting Go is the story of my mother. It is the story of a woman who made her own choices and built her own joy. It is the story of my relationship with her. It is the story of maturation and change. It is the story of relationship, aging, support, and grief. It is the story of living with loss. This book is the most personal thing I’ve ever written. It exposes the most tender parts of me. As part of the event, I planned to read a chapter from the book. The thought terrified me.
I thought my anxiety and nerves and general busyness in preparation for the event had to do with worry over things like having the right amount of food, the right flowers, and a good internet connection for Zoom. I did notice that the overplanning and overworry turmoil that I have worked so hard to overcome with my life coach came roaring back over the week prior to the launch party. As I journaled out my feelings, I could sense the pitch squeaking ever higher and the volume shrieking ever louder until I reached a crescendo on Thursday evening. I texted my little group of helpers with a minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow schedule of what I expected to happen on Friday and Saturday. I had my furniture set-up, my decoration set-up, my cake delivery, my food and drink presentation, the Zoom initiation, my welcome, my reading, the door prizes, the toast, the cake, and book sales all slotted into convenient artificial timeslots. It was clear to me that I was certifiable. My friends were charitable enough to ignore the insanity and just follow the plan to the best of their ability.
Everything turned out beautifully. Just as I knew in some deep, dark, muted place in my brain- there was no need to sweat the small stuff. However, sweating the small stuff enabled me to avoid thinking about the big stuff.
Reading a piece from my book that discussed a facet of my mother’s long journey towards death was the big stuff. The book is me. The emotions are mine. The longing and the wistfulness I experienced at the time the incident in the piece happened is still blistering, even though the incident happened over five years ago. As I read the words I wrote, my voice broke, and the terror monsters kicked the inside of my gut with cleated feet. I had difficulty looking up from the page of swimming words. In some ways, I felt like my audience did not exist. I was reading for myself- as if I had not already written and felt the words. In other ways, I was acutely aware of the audience. I knew they were prepared to love my work, but I also knew they might hate it.
A few days later, with Todd’s help, I realized that my panic before the party and the piercing emotions during the party had nothing to do with the food or the flowers or any of that silly stuff. It had to do with my very unsilly fear of rejection. The way I write, the way I feel, and the way I conduct my relationships pretty much defines me. As I offered my words, my love, and my relationship with my mother to this group of people, I was asking them to accept who I am. The people listening could very easily have said no. Intellectually, I realized that it was unlikely that the people in the room listening to me would reject me. After all, I’d stacked the deck. The people who came to the party love me and accepted me long ago. They would not have come otherwise. However, a huge part of the scarred heart I carry around in my chest was sure this was going to be the time when those people did reject me. My brain occupied itself with silly stuff as the party approached out of fear that the party guests and other readers would decide that I was the silly stuff.
Nobody thought I was the silly stuff. I think the people listening were genuinely moved. I think people who came from far and near believed the time they invested in the launch event was time well spent. Even more importantly, I felt it was time well spent. I commemorated my mother with some people who knew her and introduced her to the people who love me but never got to know my mom. I dedicated my book to everyone who loved my mother and everyone who loved me. That would include all the people in the room on Saturday. We commemorated the woman my mother was on Saturday, and we celebrated the woman I am becoming.
Celebrate you today!
Puppies, Guppies, and Letting Go is available on Amazon in kindle and paperback editions. If you would like to purchase a signed copy, please contact me at email@example.com and I will arrange to send you one. The cost would be $15, plus $4 shipping.