Monday, December 8, 2014

Do what you can with what you have....where you are

Good morning.  The month of December used to be one of my favorite months.  The holiday season seemed almost magical as a child.  I grew up in a family where holiday treats, preparations, and celebrations were always in full swing during the weeks before Christmas. I remember helping my mother make dozens of cookies and candies, especially her famous peanut brittle. I loved to decorate the house and my life was deeply rooted in strong family traditions involving my grandparents and extended family. Christmas….not just the day…but the entire season….was a really big deal, and it had little to do with presents, but rather with the experiences and traditions set forth by my parents, grandparents, and my dear priest friend, Fr. Sauter. The memories of those days are very much on my mind this year….and although they bring joy when I recall them….they also leave an aching and longing in my heart because those special people in my life are no longer physically present and the food, treats, goodies, and family moments are no longer a part of my daily life. 

While it is good to remember and give thanks for special times and moments long ago, I am well aware that there is also a danger in clinging to the past because it can quickly lead to sadness, especially if one’s current life is anything less than a “Hallmark movie” type of existence. Do people REALLY gather with multiple generations around a blazing fire sipping eggnog and singing carols by candlelight?  Do lovers REALLY walk hand-in-hand in a blanket of freshly fallen snow to see a massive holiday tree in a city park in the moonlight? Hallmark says so…but the reality is that for many of us, there is stress, loneliness, pain, and exhaustion during this time of year.  Instead of becoming melancholy that my life isn’t like the TV shoes, I am going to attempt each day is to give thanks for those times and to live out those experiences where love, laughter, generosity, kindness……faith and family……in my life NOW….as it looks NOW….where I live, work, worship NOW….and in my personal journey.  My past experiences have helped me become the woman I am today and even though my holiday celebrations aren’t what they once were…..those things I learned are very much alive in my heart, and I’ve come to realize that COMPARING our reality/holiday/life/relationships to others will cause us to miss the glorious, joyful moments that are all around us, especially this time of year, and is a potential stumbling block to one’s journey to well-being.

 While it is true that the holidays can be a time of great joy for many, I recognize that there are many who struggle as well, especially those who have experienced loss. I suppose that it is inevitable as I age, but it seems like so many people I know have died in this past year; not immediately family whose absence will dramatically impact my holiday season, but rather friends, neighbors, and people that used to be a part of my life in Rockwood. Many of you have lost parents, grandparents, and loved ones this year. Others recognize that this might be their last Christmas with an aging/ill parent or spouse; perhaps even your own self as you struggle with illness.  My heart aches for all who are grieving any type of loss because I know well how difficult it is to carry on and celebrate when one’s heart is full of sadness. Some have gone through a life change or break-up, or for some other reason, perhaps even deployment or relocation, are unable to be with loved ones. For them (you), their/your holiday will be different this year, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that there can’t/won’t be moments of joy. Comparing your life/reality to another can be detrimental to your peace of mind and can be a stumbling block to your journey.

I also am conscious of those who are struggling financially and how difficult it is to find the holiday spirit when they/you are barely making ends meet and they/you so desperately want to make Christmas special for their/your children/loved ones. There was a time in my past when I was unemployed and although I didn’t have children, it was very difficult for me to accept that my traditional holiday gift giving was going to be different that year. I think my family received poems that year, but you know what, they loved me nonetheless; perhaps even more because they knew I was barely surviving, not just financially, but physically and emotionally as well.  It’s really hard when we want so desperately to do something but are limited in what we can do, and yet, in reality, the PRESENTS we give mean very little compared to the memories we make by our PRESENCE. Can you REALLY remember what you received for Christmas for the past few years?

As I’ve been going through my album of Christmas photos, I can’t remember specific gifts, but I certainly can recall the experience of decorating cookies with my mom and sister, Christmas caroling with my cousins marveling at my Grandma Borawski’s massive village under the tree (which had more lights on that any tree I ever saw), smiling at Pip’s silly Christmas hats and outfits, and enjoying Grandma’s homemade cinnamon rolls (sigh…….a big sigh….lol).  THOSE things are most important and cost very little. You may not be able to provide everything that you want to for your children/grandchildren/loved ones, but chances are, if you give them gifts and experiences from the heart, they will become more precious than anything money could buy; it just might be appear like that to them THIS year or when they are young.  Comparing what you receive/give to others can quickly lead to depression and unworthiness, and can/will be stumbling block to the true meaning of the season.

I have received more e-mails and messages than I have had a chance to read from people all over the world pouring out their heart and sharing their despair/pain/disgust with their current state of health. So many people want to change and yet, don’t believe it is even possible. Many times it’s about weight, but not always. Many people….in fact, most people in this world….would like to change SOMETHING about themselves. I certainly do! None of us are perfect; in fact, we are ALL a work in progress and have room for improvement. I struggle every day to do the right thing; to stay on track; to be positive; to be kind, loving, forgiving and NOT to give into the negativity that threatens my journey. Life is not easy and some days are better than others. Even those who seem to have a “perfect life” with perfect children, a great job, good health, a happy marriage, etc… are likely struggling too, just perhaps in a different way. Some are just better at hiding it….or burying it…..or worse, denying it and pretending it doesn’t exist. Each of us has our own cross to bear and the ‘weight of that cross” varies at certain times in our life, but nonetheless, we all have things we would like to be different. It’s important, at least for me, to focus on what I do have, the blessings that greet me each morning, and the ways in which God is present to me, rather on those things that I would like to be different. Otherwise, a life of gratitude could turn into a life of misery. Comparing what we have to what we don’t is a surefire way to cause sadness, depression, resentment, and  will very quickly rob us of the joy and peace that comes from life. Giving in to doubt that life could and will be different, feeling sorrow for oneself, and wallowing in the “I can’t….It’s too hard….I’ll never be able to….I’m a failure…..you name it” is a MAJOR stumbling block to your journey.

This week my focus is going to be on the words of the clip with this post:  Do what you can with what you have, where you are.  While I accept and recognize that life isn’t perfect; that Christmas isn’t what it used to be or what I hope it will be one day; that the people in my life sometimes disappoint me; that I can’t be with loved ones either because of death or distance; and that I am not physically, emotionally, financially, or spiritually all that I one day hope to be….. I choose today to recognize that I am so incredibly blessed. So are you! I am going to do what I can….with what/those I have….where I am….while trying each day to be more loving, kind, generous, and compassionate….and working to continually make positive changes in my life so that I can truly celebrate the miracle of Christmas, not just in December, but EVERY day of my life.

I encourage you to do the same!