Friday, December 21, 2018

What Christmas Means

As Clark Griswold mused in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, "Christmas means different things to different people."  I don't think anyone would argue that.

Some people may say Christmas is family gathering, peace on earth (if only for a brief moment), brotherhood, community, love, joy, magical and abundance. Skeptics may call it over-indulgence, commercialized, mythical, greed-driven....well, you get the idea. But what it is really, is the start.

Like it or not, Christmas has its origins in faith, belief and hope. Even our very calendar is based upon the birth of the child in the manger, and our week begins on Sunday, the day of the week Christians believe Jesus' was resurrected. There is more influence too in our daily lives, but suffice it these two things demonstrate how important this one birth was to the world. Unfortunately, it's sometimes easy to forget just how important.

Many of you may know about my children's book that is in the hands of an agent. It is Christmas-themed and blends a little of the secular with the non-secular. (I hope there is a publisher willing to help make this world a little less confusing for children, and enable them to focus on the truths that encompass our humanity.)

As a parent, it was always a bit of a struggle to differentiate Santa from the real celebration which was Jesus' birth. Tell a child Christmas is Jesus' birthday and, of course, they will be excited − any youngster loves a good birthday! But there's more to it than that.

I wrote the book because we need to go one step further in explaining Christmas − we need to explain the significance of Jesus' birth and what it means for us today. There is so much good surrounding this event that even people without faith embrace the best of what it evokes.

So what does Christmas mean to me? It means the start. It's the beginning of learning how we should treat our fellowman, the first tutorial on the meaning of our existence, the beginning of instruction on how to live a better life, and perhaps most importantly, why we Christians believe we will be with loved ones again. 

Whatever Christmas means to you, may you embrace its goodness and share it with the world, and Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

My Ode to Christmas Shopping

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I am not a poet. But, on occasion, one of the Greek muses selects me to write a poem. (Recently, it was Thalia, muse of comedy and bucolic poetry). With the season upon us, I wrote the following, and just for the record, I am finished shopping!

‘Twas the Day Before Christmas

‘Twas the day before Christmas                                      I searched for some charities
No presents I’ve bought                                                     To give in their honor.
Where did the time go                                                         That’s the best gift of all
That I almost forgot?                                                            I began soon to ponder.

No wrapping or ribbons                                                      Now after the donations
Oh, what should I do?                                                          Were all given as gifts,         
My family expects something                                             I smiled as I realized
And it all must be new!                                                        The meaning of Christmas is 

Away to my computer                                                         My family was thrilled
I flew like a flash                                                                   And the gifts were just right
For last minute gifts                                                             So I went to bed happy.
Please, system, don’t crash.                                             Merry Christmas to all and a
     peaceful good night!
I’ll order my gifts
And send e-cards their way.
I’ll have to pay extra
But that’s still okay.

Then as I sat there                                                   With apologies to Clement C. Moore
Ready to click enter,                                                           
I paused for a moment
As I turned on my printer.

Are e-cards real gifts
To give from the heart,
Or just an obligation
That somehow did start?

So I reflected a minute
And thought what was right.
With so many in need,
I should be easing their plight.

My recipients don’t need gifts,
But there are others who do.
That should be my focus
And I hope my family’s too.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Blessings Can Be Different

Note: If you want to make a smart investment, buy this book! Financial Seasons Devotional by Lisa Y. Jones, 99 cents on Amazon (promotional price for a limited time) is a great resource for everyone, and one of the most thoughtful gifts you can give.

I think we all tend to view blessings in terms of possessions, abilities and relationships, but I recently experienced a different one − God put me on a path to edit a best seller.

More than a year ago, my son and daughter-in-law told me about a woman in their congregation who was writing a book and needed an editor. "You'll really like Lisa and Keith, Mom," my son said. Lisa and Keith were the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course group leaders/councilors in their church. 

We finally made contact, and I agreed to look at what Lisa had written thus far, and then show her what edits I suggested. It was a time when we both prayed for direction, and we each had a decision to make: Did I want to edit her book, and did she want to work with me?

It was just a short time later that we both felt we needed to work together on bringing this book to fruition. I've always wanted to edit a best seller, and after reading a few chapters, I felt this was probably going to be it. (For several days now, it has been the #1 new release best seller.) It will soon be available in softbound and hardbound versions.

I loved what Lisa wrote, and I loved the potential benefit to readers, hence my note above to buy this book. It can benefit anyone, religious or not, swimming in debt, or even debt-free. 

As blurbs and endorsements (including one from  Dave Ramsey) rolled in, I truly felt blessed to be a part of this venture, and absolutely thrilled for Lisa. I am truly thankful to God for this path of collaboration, and giving me the abilities to assist Lisa in this project. Yes, I am blessed!

Friday, November 23, 2018

In a Season of Gratitude and Giving...

In a season of gratitude and giving, most of us gathered together yesterday to acknowledge our blessings and reflect on our thankfulness for them. But in the midst of all that, we can't pick up the newspaper, watch TV, or listen to the radio without wondering what's wrong with the world − there is no guessing anymore.

We simply can't escape the bombardment of negativity, even if we try to avoid it. But, I know if we let that negativity into our psyche, we will form opinions that might terribly skew our perception of the world, judge others inappropriately, and even inadvertently transform ourselves into part of the problem. 

Frankly, I don't want want to be like scammers who prey on other people, a cheater or a liar, a person who  practices "me-first" at the expense of others, a vessel of hate who wants to harm people, or someone who forgets how very blessed I am. (This is not to be confused with Luke 18:11 "The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector."') I just don't want to be like them, and I pray I never will be (with God's help, of course).

Instead, I want to focus on what's right with the world, and yes, there are a lot of right things; I think people inherently want to do good. But, perhaps, the best news is we DO know how to make this world a better place. 

Like most of us, I love this time of year. It's one of the times when the majority of humanity comes together and recognizes one another as our fellowman. We show what should be our true nature in wanting to help each other, taking care of those in need, binding over common causes, and basically allowing the goodness within us to do what our creator intended us to do.

So, here is my prayer for this upcoming season: I want the capacity to show grace to those who don't deserve it; I want the ability to forgive those who may have no remorse for their wrongs; I want to be more caring and understanding.

In short, I want to be a better person tomorrow than I am today, regardless of the negativity that I so want to avoid. I don't want this because I desire others to think well of me —I want it because that is what God tells me will make the world an even better place, and it starts with each of us.

Monday, November 5, 2018

A Blast from the Past

Several months ago, I wrote about hoping to have a 50th high school reunion. I then commented that I wasn't as much interested in the accomplishments of my classmates as who they are today. I'm happy to say that both of my desires were met this past weekend.

Shortly after my blog post, I received an email about our reunion − indeed, there would be one thanks to three special alumni along with a number of others. Of course, I had to do my part of contributing to the event and promptly volunteered to do a reunion yearbook. Creating and distributing a questionnaire allowed me to ask the obligatory questions like family and past career/jobs, but it also presented the opportunity to ask my fellow alums to describe themselves today. Although there were not as many responses as I had hoped, the book was a hit and very much worth all my time and effort.

I was especially proud of the prevailing attitudes of my former classmates. Many chose altruistic careers, lived adventurous lives, and had impressive accomplishments whether professional or personal, but the true test of knowing who we were came when I asked their philosophy of life, favorite quote, or words they live by.

Perhaps because we are getting older and well past half our life span, most cited living and enjoying the present, and valuing family. Many also indicated their faith as a factor in how they perceive and live in this world. It all made me grateful.

As a person of faith, I don't see most things as coincidences; I see them as blessings or even interruptions in our normal lives that make us pay attention.  Whatever comes our way in the future, the reunion was a small glimpse of what we share on a more global scale − our humanity. That was greatly exemplified by how happy we were to see each other, even those with whom we weren't particularly close to in high school. What was not common to us then, is now.

We are older, and I dare say, better versions of our younger selves. We have learned many of life's lessons, and are keenly aware we are just a small (although important) part of this big, beautiful  world. Yes, it was a blast from the last and I am grateful.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Reflections on the Past Twelve Years

Twelve years ago today, the life I had known for 37 years came abruptly to an end − my husband's physical presence was no longer a part of it. Soon after we began dating in 1969, I knew no matter what the future held, he would always be a part of me. As I reflect on the years since, several things stand out:

  • I still grieve and miss Steve every minute of every day, but I've learned that life continues to have good moments
  • Loneliness doesn't have the same meaning. I do not get lonely when by myself, but I yearn for Steve's company
  • The only real cure for sadness is to concentrate on others and try to make this world a better place, something we all should do
  • Writing to Steve on important dates in our lives is cathartic, and I still continue to journal daily
  • Writing has been God's gift to me. Although I've always written fairly well, my genre and focus has changed from business and formal to inspirational and warm and fuzzy
  • Although there is nothing personal I wouldn't trade to have Steve in my life again, I realize there are  positives which would not have occurred otherwise such as starting a senior social group at my church. (God  really does help us to make lemonade out of lemons)
  • My independence has grown. I've always been capable of functioning on my own, but I am capable of more than I might have ever guessed  
Steve always said we made each other better people, and he is still influencing me toward that end. And even though life certainly didn't turn out the way we expected − only one of us to enjoy seeing our sons married and settled in life, and delighting in becoming a grandparent; taking trips in our retirement; and just growing old together − I live somewhat vicariously through others who are lucky to have what we could not. That too is one of those moments that still brings a little unexpected happiness into my life. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Saying Goodbye to Old Friends

It's strange to think of  those who own a business as friends, but that's what made Saffees special. Last week, it was announced they were closing all of their stores at the end of the year due to health problems in the family, and no desire by the fourth generation to take over the business.

Businesses come and go, and that's a fact of life, but not many can equal Saffees. For four decades, I have shopped at and loved this store. My husband and I even became friends with members of the third generation when Saffees opened its doors in my city, and before they assumed ownership from their parents. They knew what I liked and how to fit me, but that's not all.

In Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness, I wrote a story relating how they carried on a tradition begun by my husband to always have a gift from Saffees for me under the Christmas tree. They knew how devastated I was at the loss of my husband just a few short months before the holiday, and wanted to make certain that I had a gift from Saffees under my tree at least one more time.

Since then, they've occasionally delivered clothing to my house, and most recently, a selection of "mother of the groom" dresses from which to choose. Three bulging discs prevented my going to the store so Steve, who operates Saffees in Lawrence, picked out five or six formal dresses from another location and had one of their staff bring them to me to try on at home.

All of the gowns would have worked, but there was a stand-out. Since I'd previously done a little panicking and had another dress in reserve, they told me to keep it until I decided if I wanted the extra dress.  No brainier − it was perfect! The dress was gorgeous and I could even wear my lumbar brace underneath without detection. I just needed to justify having a second dress, but this was clearly the one.

My husband could always pick out clothes for me, and so could the owners Steve, his sister Marie and her husband Ronnie. I'm going to miss having people who knew me so well, but most of all, I'm going to miss their caring, and the integrity and personalization with which they operated their business...they were truly friends.