Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Year Santa Forgave Me

One year, when I was about seven, it dawned on me the afternoon of Christmas Eve...I wasn’t good enough. Not in a self-esteem-in-a-vacuum sort of way, but in a naughty-vs-nice sort of way. I’d been mean to my sister WAY too many times. I’d whined when my mom asked me to help her clean the kitchen. I’d taken cookies without asking. My room was a mess. But mostly I knew it was that mean part that made me not good enough. And I was seriously worried that Santa might not come.

What if I didn’t get any presents? --Or worse, what if I got coal? But what bothered me even more than the presents and the shame was my own meanness. I didn’t like it when my heart felt stingy and angry. I didn’t like thinking about how good I wasn’t.

I decided to change, right then and there. Santa was probably already soaring through the night sky over the Orient and probably wouldn’t be revising his list this late in the game, but it was still worth a try. We listened to the radar report; he’d reached the middle east. Not much time left. I tried to be extra nice to my sister. I let her play with my doll. I let her win at Yahtzee. I tried as hard as I could to do everything single little thing my mom asked me. I had already helped making candies and cookies, sending myself to batter-licking nirvana. I volunteered to wrap presents, even though I knew it was too late. Then I served my dad. I gave him one of those neck rubs he loves, then ran my fingers through his hair...and kept doing it for [what seemed like] hours. And I didn’t complain when it was time to go to bed.

I hoped it would work. I knew it was a last-ditch effort. But it was sincere.

That Christmas morning I was strangely not tempted to badger my parents to go out and see what was under the tree. I was still scared. What if my efforts weren’t enough to make up for a year of badness and meanness? Santa might not have brought me any presents at all. Fear and dread kept me from dashing out there to take a peek. I got dressed. I cleaned my room. I made my bed. I helped my mom stir orange juice for breakfast, and didn’t wince when she called it Juice-y.

Finally, I could stall no longer. Mom and Dad had us line up in the hallway and sing a Christmas carol, with me leading the way. I walked to the familiar chair where Santa always tucked my presents, and found it full-to-overflowing. Santa came after all. I could hardly believe my eyes...or my luck.

What I learned that Christmas has lasted a lifetime. Because that year I learned about mercy and grace. I knew that, despite my change of heart, no amount of effort on a cold Christmas eve could possibly right the wrongs of an entire year. And yet there were gifts. Unearned, undeserved gifts. Rewards for faith and a change of heart. Forgiveness.

It reminded me of this spread from What Think Ye of Christmas:

Some parents choose not to teach their children about the wonder of Santa Claus. (Let alone elves, reindeer, and a sleigh that circles the globe in a single night.) And I can understand why. But I would suggest that Santa is a symbol. A kind, bearded man who invites children to come and sit on his knee and tell him their dreams...”Suffer the children to come unto me”...and then showers them with clearly a metaphor. I think believing in the goodness of Santa gives way to our faith in an all-knowing, pure-loving Lord who invites even the weakest among us to Come Unto Him. We tell him our struggles, our sorrows, our hopes...he invites us to change our hearts...and then He showers us with blessings, grace, and forgiveness.

There could be no greater gift.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Just Like Barbara Walters...except NOT

My friend Gunfighter (don't let the name scare you!) just posted an interview with me on his blog, here. I really did feel all fancy and Barbara-Walters-y answering his questions! Gunfighter is a long-time blog friend, works in law enforcement in Washington, DC (yes, overseeing cool things like the inauguration!) is a family man, and very active in his church. He asked some excellent questions, and I think you'll enjoy reading the interview and visiting his site. Which is why comments are off here. Because I want you to go over there.

And speaking of linkage and loveage, Happy Mom (who won my giveaway) also recently posted a wonderful review, here. I especially love this line: "Read it aloud...Your voice will tell you things about the text that your eyes alone will miss." Happy Mom is out of town at her daughter's wedding, but I'm sure she'd love nothing more than to come home to a sea of comments from friends like you!

I hope you're all having a wonderful Christmas! Mine is crrraaaazy-busy, but thanks to the spread from What Think Ye of Christmas about how "being busy" teaches us that "Joy is Hard Bought"...I'm not all grumpy and stressed this year! :)

Okay, off you go to comment now...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Relax Where it Hurts

“I brought you some sugar-free candy today,” she said wryly one day, “but it sort of tastes like the floor!” (We cracked up, grimacing over the image of what the floor might actually taste like.) My high school dance teacher was frequently catching us off guard, so full of creative energy there was rarely a dull moment.

The phrase from her that stayed with me the strongest (and mind you, high school was a long, long, time ago) turned out to be a life lesson as well. We’d be on the floor, trying to push our legs into the splits, and she’d say, “ relax where it hurts.” And then, if we focused on relaxing the precise muscle that was pushed to the limit, somehow, impossibly, we were able to stretch just a little bit farther.

I think of that instruction all the time...decades later it still pops into my mind...usually after a workout at the gym, while I’m stretching my back, my calves, my thighs, because these days it seems like everything hurts! I remember what Connie Jo said, and I relax into it...and stretch a little deeper.

A couple of weeks ago I realized my heart muscle needs some serious stretching. —Okay, that was an understatement. I’ve been edgy to the extreme. Wound up so tightly, the slightest irritant would set me off...on a rampage! This was not just your garden-variety PMS. I started to scare myself. In this insane state, everything was going wrong. People were walking all over me. I started pushing back. Complaining. Grousing. Which only made things worse.

Then a few nights ago, just as I was drifting off to sleep, with my last ounce of energy I picked up this book. And the words of the brilliant M. Catherine Thomas taught me exactly what I needed to hear.

The contamination [of negative thought] is what Tibetan philosophy calls drip. He explains that drip is like a dark, heavy goo that thickens our mind; it accumulates through cultivating negativity, and then life seems to get dark and difficult. This contaminated mental state causes us to engage in “nonvirtue” — unkind acts against ourselves and others— and then the drip gets thicker. Thus we engage in an endless cycle of suffering.

On reflection, we see that our gravest problem does not lie in our circumstances, but in our lack of a truer perception of reality, a larger frame of reference, which could liberate our mind from self-will and self-absorption. Much spiritual change can come simply as we become aware of the truth.... Just becoming aware can lessen the power of the negative feelings, as insight and release often go together.
I literally saw myself in that "life gets dark and difficult" line. It was so humbling to encounter myself on this page describing drip! She then quotes Deepak Chopra:
Watch this wave of feeling travel away from you—watch it grow fainter and fainter. Breathe.... Cross the invisible boundary between the ego and the real self.... If you follow any emotion far enough, it will end in silence.
And she says Eckhart Tolle suggests a similar process:
...when somebody says something to you that is rude or designed to hurt, “instead of going into unconscious reaction and negativity, such as attack, defense, or withdrawal, you let it pass through you” as though you were transparent, so that it no longer hits a solid “wall” inside you.
In other words, Relax where it hurts.

As I read, I initially found chastisement, realizing that most of the negativity I encountered around me initiated inside my head. Then I experienced real healing, as I literally felt that anger release.

I’m still learning to apply that “relax where it hurts” principle to my relationships. Because when I find myself angry or hurt (and mind you, I'm not easily offended!), more often than not it’s my own heart that needs stretching. When I remember to literally relax where it hurts — try not to tighten up or take offense when something rubs me the wrong way; Try to loosen that piece of my heart that feels the most pain; Allow my heart to soften and stretch — it seems like the universe stretches with me. And everything improves.

Remember The Grinch, whose heart “grew three sizes that day”?
That was me. I promise you, the “two sizes too small” pinch was what hurt. I could feel it as though the tightening were literal and physical. But what feels great? is the stretching.

* * * * *

There are some reviews of the book out right now that you do not want to miss.
Mommy J posted a lovely one here. There's also a bit of sweetness from Shari, here. Scribbit has a great review here (and her giveaway is still open until midnight on Saturday).
And you simply must read what Deb posted here. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom for her "pay it forward" idea...a Random Act of Kindness she'll perform for every order of five or more. Oh, how I love my readers! Thank you one and all!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why This Girl Amazes Me

When I was a teenager I was obsessed with being “the best” --and simultaneously gripped with a fear of failure. I wouldn’t play sports...whether it was a high school team or just a game of tennis with my friends...because I couldn’t stand that I wasn’t good enough. My loss.

This girl? has no problem signing up for the baseball team, the volleyball team, the golf team, the tennis team...and doesn’t mind at all if she spends most of the game on the sidelines, cheering on her teammates. She plays for the fun and the friendship. And wins.

Raising children doesn’t come easy for me. I always want to be some amalgamation of Olivia Walton, Caroline Ingalls and Maria von Trapp. (See “the best” above.) :) But when it comes to crowd control I often turn into the Bossy Big Sister, and sometimes even the Wicked Stepmother. I am not fond of this side of myself.

This girl? is a natural nurturer. She has a rare knack for entertaining children, with just the right balance of firmness and fun. I can already see the amazing mother she'll be someday.

I artfully dodge all a public service. I have a penchant for ruining photos. My husband is in awe of the sheer odds that we could take x number of photos...and my eyes would be closed/and or my face distorted in every. single. one.

This girl? loves the camera. In fact, knowing we didn’t have a lot of spare cash for gifts this year, for her birthday she asked my hubby to do a photo shoot with her and her friends. And look how it turned out!

On my sixteenth birthday my mom made me a special dinner at home, let me choose the menu, and let me invite one friend to join us.

This girl? had the party of the century! Her friends wanted to throw her a big dance party / surprise party. We told them 100 was too many people. They responded, "Your daughter is friends with EVERYBODY, and we don't want to leave anyone out." (Can't argue with that.) We told them we basically had no budget. One friend offered her vacant garage (which is bigger than our whole house) and flew up for the big day. Her dad hired a sound designer and a lighting specialist to deck it out for the party. Another friend, whose dad owns Magleby’s Restaurant, made their famous chocolate cake (among the best I’ve ever eaten). The girls chose playlists and handled the guest lists. All I had to do was coordinate, communicate, and go to Costco and buy all the food. About 100 people came to wish my little girl happy birthday!

What more could any mother want than to have her own daughter "best" her in nearly every way?

p.s. If you stop in on Scribbit right now, there's a review of my book and a giveaway, here.
p.p.s. There's also a wonderful review you may have missed here, by Mommy J.