Here’s To A Non-Grinchy, Non-Scroogy, Christmas

My son, just home from college, asked if I was excited for Christmas. It was a reasonable question as I was in the middle of addressing Christmas cards. I thought for a minute, wanting to be honest without sounding Grinchy. The truth is my favorite day of the year is December 26; my personal “Hallelujah, it’s over” day. I reply, “I’m working on it.”

He raised one eyebrow – a genetic gift passed down from previous generations. Neither his father nor I have the ability to move our eyebrows independently.

I take a deep breath and respond to his one eyebrow question. “I’m really trying to be excited. I want to love Christmas, but it’s a struggle.” This makes me sound like I’ve suffered some personal tragedy; the holidays being difficult because of grief. That’s not the case. Although, now that I think of people who are legitimately struggling for those reasons, I get even more depressed and Christmas joy moves further from my grasp.

I add, “It’s just that Christmastime has become the epitome of what I hate about our overly commercial culture.” Images of our newly elected leader, the king of capitalism, flit through my head. Grumpily, I continue. “Everything is about buy, buy, buy. People have ridiculous expectations.” I flung my arm in the direction of the TV indicating an ad I’d seen. “We’re supposed to run out and get a Mercedes with a big red bow on it for Christ’s sake. When is enough, enough?”

My Ebenezer is Showing

My son smirked taking a sip of his hot chocolate. “So, Scrooge was right?”

I sigh, “No. It’s just that I feel like in order to get the warm fuzzy parts of Christmas, it should be more about spirituality and less about superficial stuff you know? I mean, If Jesus came down and walked around a mall for ten minutes he would say, ‘WTF?'”

Can you imagine what the man, who above all else, wanted us to love one another, would think about our rushing past a homeless guy in order to buy a chia pet for someone on our gift list? Then, we tell him we are doing it in celebration of his birth. Which, by the way, was in September. But, no one remembers the actual date, so December seems as good a time as any.

Jesus would want to throw his hands in the air and say, “I give up. These people are idiots.”

Luckily, I believe Jesus, or God, or the Universe, or whoever you like to think of when you need to believe there’s hope for humanity, forgives us for our many faults. I turn my internal rant down a notch and look at my son. He is genuinely looking forward to all the holiday traditions that I helped create. My Grinchy heart softens a bit. I look at him and say,

“I just want Christmas to be more about love and less about love of stuff. You know what I mean?”

He nods.

I return to the Christmas cards. I think about my image of the mall-cruising Jesus and his frustration over our methods of celebration. What would he have me do? He’d probably tell me to chill out, maybe take a sip of wine and reflect for a moment.

Checking My List Twice

I gaze at my never-ending list of things to do before December 25. Why am I doing all this? It’s not like someone put a gun to my head and said I had to do it. This is a list of my own making. I created it out of love; love for the people in my life and my desire to show them how much I care about them.

Mall Jesus looks at my list and says, “Do it or don’t do it. Your people won’t love you any more or less for having done it. But please, don’t do it on my account.”

its_a_wonderful_life_everytime_a_bell_rings_an_angel_gets_his_wings-clarenceSomething shifts within me. I notice my son grabbing a chocolate out of the advent calendar hanging on the wall. He held up the candy and said, “Only twelve more days.”

I remember buying the decorative countdown piece to help my kids manage their gleeful anticipation of Christmas. It had become a ticking time bomb to me. But now, seeing my grinning son, I see it for what it is; a holiday decoration filled with wonderful memories.

I look at my list with new appreciation. It doesn’t seem quite as unmanageable. I say a silent prayer to the heavens and thank Jesus for opening my Grinchy, Scroogy, heart. I breathe into the newfound openness. And, to my surprise, I feel a slight buzzing sensation. It’s the buzz of excitement, for Christmas; joyful, gleeful anticipation, not dread, for Christmas. I might even have time to watch a holiday favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.

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Losing My Religion – How Maya Angelou Saved Me From Post Election Grief

Losing My Religion – How Maya Angelou Saved Me From Post Election Grief

As someone who has a rather tenuous grasp on faith, I find it is tested on a regular basis. It’s as if God gets a kick out of watching my histrionics. I’m at least learning from the pattern though. As soon as I feel like I’ve got it all figured out, something horrible happens to completely rock my world. When it does, my immediate reaction is to shout, “Screw this and screw God! All this magic belief crap is bullshit and I should accept reality. You live, you die, and you become worm food.”

My temper tantrum doesn’t alleviate my pain and I’m left to stew in my thoughts. My misery does not lift right away, but eventually, I get tired of wallowing. I begin to consider my options of either changing my circumstances or changing my attitude – often a combination of both. Then the clouds slowly lift and life goes on.

There’s a moment between the time when my dark thoughts end and the tiniest bit of optimism creeps in, that I feel as if someone or something has had a hand in the shift. Sometimes it’s almost tangible. I’ll hear a song on the radio, or something will catch my eye, which causes me to stop in my tracks and break the endless soundtrack in my head. That’s when the change comes and I know it’s attributable to something greater than myself. When I can recognize that grace for what it is, I am filled with awe at its magnificence. I wish I could bottle it to save for later or for the next disaster. But I can’t; it’s like a dream that fades from my memory. Before long, my ego takes all the credit for my change in attitude and outlook.

After the election, I felt abandoned by my faith. The concept of grace seemed like a figment of my imagination. How could such a horrid, misogynist, racist, xenophobic person be elected by my fellow Americans? It must mean they too are equally horrid and everything I believe about there being goodness in the world is wrong. How could God let this happen?

Maybe there is no God. Maybe God is dead. My anger, frustration, and loss of faith has me contemplating liposuction, a boob job, and partial lobotomy to better fit into the new world order. I roll racist words around in my mouth to see what they taste like. They are bitter and it doesn’t take long before I realize the “If you can’t beat em join em” strategy isn’t going to work for me.

My tears fall, darkness looms, and I see no way of lifting myself, when I hear a voice. It’s not the voice of God, or my guardian angel – although I don’t know that I’d recognize their voices. Besides they’re both pissed at me for the “God is dead” thing. No, the voice I hear is that of Maya Angelou saying,

“Stop it! Stop it and be grateful.”

I’d heard her say that in an interview once and now her voice rings clearly in my head.

sad woman sitting alone in a empty room

I do stop it, more out of shock than of reverence. I answer the voice, “Are you freaking kidding me? You have no idea how bad things are right now.” I don’t say it out loud, but I wonder if this is how people felt when Hitler came into power. Did good people learn to put up and shut up before being rolled up into the wrong side of history.

I try to tell myself I’m being overly dramatic. I know plenty of people who aren’t horrible; certainly not Nazi sympathizers, who voted for trump. Maybe I’m the crazy one. Then I think about the threats of mass deportations, the Muslim ban, the pussy grabbing and now the cabinet appointees, ugh!  How can I live in a world where this kind of garbage passes for leadership?

Again the wise poet says with firmness,

“Stop it and be grateful.”

“For what,” I rail, “My whiteness? Do you want me to hide behind my race and privilege while the world around me burns? You, of all people should understand how wrong this is.” Her prose echo in my head,

“I note the obvious differences, between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

“That’s right. That’s why this is such a disaster. Now, get out of my head, you crazy ghost.” I’m not in the mood for inspiration.”

“What I pray for is humility to know that there is something greater than “I”. And I have to know that the brute, the bigot, and the batterer are all children of God, whether they know it or not, and I’m supposed to treat them accordingly.” 

I take a deep breath. I’m not good enough or wise enough, certainly not strong enough to keep up with the great Maya Angelou. Besides. I’m just one person. I think about the challenges she had to face, and feel embarrassed for my weakness. I hear the ping of my phone; a text from a friend about a gathering of women who plan to organize, fund raise and stay vigilant against the coming tide of injustice. I shake my head wondering how this tiny group can do anything, but respond, “count me in.”

I hear Maya’s voice one more time,

“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

I drag my sorry butt to a yoga class, eager to distract myself and quiet my mind. When I start the car I hear Andre Day’s voice belting out the chorus to her song, “I rise up.”

“Ugh.” I shout to the heavens. “All right already, I get it.”

I say a silent prayer of gratitude for whatever force enabled me to see things from a different perspective and apologize for losing my faith. I also give a shout out to Maya Angelou whose words never fail to enlighten and inspire. Then I vow to remember the grace I felt today and to learn to trust that it will show up tomorrow as well.

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Support Humanity!

I realize the title of this post paired with the image seems a like a stretch, but bear with me.

I needed a new sports bra and popped into Dillard’s to pick up a new one. When I entered the lingerie department, I realized I had forgotten to check the size and brand of the tired one I was wearing. This meant I would have to go into the dressing room and try one on, or at least take off the one I was wearing to check the label. A woman asked if I needed help and promptly insinuated herself into the process.

She asked my size and when I threw out my best guess, she eyeballed me and said, “I think you need a fitting.”

I really didn’t want a fitting, but she followed me into the dressing room and before I knew it she was making me take my bra off. If you’ve never experienced a real bra fitting, let me say, you probably should because it really does make a considerable difference to have a properly fitting bra. But, I should warn you that it’s not for the faint of heart.

I once went bra shopping with my daughter who was still young enough that she didn’t yet need one. When the lady came into the dressing room with us and proceeded to relieve me of my bra and show me the proper way to “place my girls” into the cups to ensure a good fit, my daughter was mortified. As we left she said, “Remind me to NEVER ask for help in the bra department.”

I thought of this story as I held my hands over my breasts to provide a modicum of privacy as she told me to slip my arms underneath the straps, then she fastened the back clasp for me. She did all this so quickly that I didn’t have time to be embarrassed about the fact that my current bra was so old, the size information on the label had long since worn off, or wonder when I had last waxed my underarms.

After trying on several bras of various styles and sizes I settled on a few favorites. As I admired my new silhouette with my old T-shirt over a new bra, the woman said, “You see, you should listen to Latifah, when she tells you that you need a fitting.”

I’d been so focused on the task at hand that I hadn’t realized the woman had a rather thick, Middle Eastern accent. I looked at her name tag, barely visible through her long, bleached blonde, wavy hair, which cascaded over her chest, to confirm she was referring to herself. I said, “Latifah, that’s a pretty name. Where are you from originally?”

She seemed a bit shy, which was ridiculous since I had just spent the last twenty minutes half-naked in front of her. She said, “Well, Persia originally, but I have lived in many countries before this one.”

I surprised myself with my forward question asking, “Oh, did you leave Iran after the revolution?” I tried to guess her age and jog my memory of when Persia became the Islamic Republic of Iran. I had interviewed a man who had escaped Iran during the revolution and wondered if she had a similarly harrowing story.

Latifah, dismissing her Iranian background said, “I was quite young when we left and then we went to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan. Then we had to leave there. Oh, so many places and so many languages to learn. It was hard you know?”

I tried to show her that I did know by giving her a quick rundown on the Iranian I knew and how frightening his escape from Iran had been. His family had been persecuted for their non-Muslim beliefs. They had to sneak into Pakistan or face prison leaving everything they owned in the place they had called home for generations.

Latifah shook her head and said, “I know. So many people all over the Middle East, they just want to live and be happy, no matter what their religion.”

“Yes.” I said earnestly, “Of course.”

“Did you see that picture of the little boy on the beach?” Latifah’s accent seemed to grow thicker as she spoke, her “th”s sounding more like “d”s.

I knew the photo she was talking about. The corpse of a little three-year-old boy had become the image of Syrian refugee plight. I wondered what her Syrian connection was.

She shook her head said, “I went back there you know?”

I was getting lost in her accent and rapid manner of speech. Before I could figure out if she was talking about Syria or Iran or Pakistan she clarified that the home she fondly remembered; the one where several family members still lived, was Afghanistan. She told me that the mountains there were similar to Colorado, “Very cold with many places for snipers to hide.”

This was such an incongruous image for me to wrap my head around standing in the safety of a department store dressing room; surrounded by dozens of discarded bras; each with a price that could probably feed someone for a month.

Latifah replaced several bras back on hangers as she chatted conversationally about the atrocities of war, “The people there, they are just trying to survive and they are so shocked after many years of bombs, and rockets, and guns. They have seen so much and their homes and the buildings and the roads are destroyed. They don’t know who to trust, the leaders are all so bad and there’s so much greed.” She emphasized the fact by rubbing her two fingers and thumb together. “Last time I visited, this little boy, no more than four or five, tried to come up and wash my car for to earn some money. He couldn’t even speak, he just looked at me and held up a rag as if to wash.” She pantomimed the boy making a washing movement, but had to stop to compose herself before continuing. “I gave him some money even though my family tell me not to. I have to you know? How could you not help this child? My cousin told me about the soldiers there. They are all such babies and they all cry for their mothers when they are scared.”

I wondered if she was referring to American soldiers occupying Afghanistan or Afghani soldiers or the Taliban. Who were we fighting there? I was embarrassed to admit even to myself that I didn’t have a firm grasp on what really went on in Afghanistan, other than to think it was all over. Right?

Latifah asked, “Why do they send such babies to fight?”

I shook my head, dumbly replying, “I don’t know.” I concluded that it didn’t matter which soldiers Latifah was referring to, children are children. I tried to shake the image I had of my own eighteen-year-old son, still in high school, technically old enough to join the armed services, but still a child in my eyes. The thought made tears well up. I glanced around looking for my original undergarments.

Then Latifah told me another story she had heard during her visit back to Afghanistan. It was one of a family trying to flee a war-ravaged area. They had to hike through mountainous terrain, fording rivers, doing their best to keep their tiny son out of the water by lifting him overhead as they waded through the water, only to realize that the exposure to elements had been too much for his little body to take. He died on the way. From where? To where? I wasn’t sure, the devastation was the same. Latifah’s tears were getting harder to hide now, as were mine. No wonder that the image of the Syrian boy had affected her so.

It was so strange to cry with a complete stranger.  It’s one thing to do it in the darkness of a movie theater during an emotional scene, but here I was exposed, literally.  I tried to imagine a graceful exit, but couldn’t come up with much of a plan since I still needed to put my old bra back on.

Latifah continued, “All we can do is help where we can you know? Even here, I try to help anyone I see. If I see a homeless man, I always roll down my window and give them money. My friends say I am stupid; that they will just use the money for drugs or something, but I have to try to help anyway. We are all here living under one God so it doesn’t matter where we come from or what religion we believe in. We could all do so much you know? I see people come in here and they bring their little dogs with them in a little purse and spoil them like a child. I think of that little boy on the beach and wonder why can’t we help those children when we have so much; so much that we can pamper little dogs as if they are human. Working here I end up with so many clothes; one time I gathered up a bunch of my clothes and put them in my car. I drove down to where I had seen this woman and asked her if she wanted some clean, like new clothes and she was so grateful.”

I had, by this time, given up all hope that I could hold back my tears. This woman’s generous spirit was a thing to behold. There was a reason this woman had crossed my path. I didn’t know exactly what that reason was yet, but I was glad she did. If nothing else than to reassure me that no matter what the heartless, political rhetoric indicated about the fate of our country, I could still be optimistic about our future with citizens like Latifah. I was grateful to have met Latifah, her support for her fellow human beings, not just in the bra department at Dillard’s, but everywhere she saw a need was an inspiration.


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Lose Yourself

Lose Yourself

I’ve heard it said that in the moments when you really lose yourself in something; allowing your spirit to take over, that’s when you are closest to God. This notion got me thinking about how many times I allow myself to become lost in anything. It sounds romantic, like something that might happen during sex – really good sex, or a concert, or even a great movie. I imagine artists, deep in their work, find themselves so fixated on the task at hand that they lose themselves; hardly noticing the miracle of their own creation.

I tried to remember the last time I let my spirit carry me away to some magical place. Was I becoming one of those uptight people unable to let their guard down, or feel spontaneous joy? Why don’t I let go more often? Fear of doing something stupid I guess. I decided I would pay attention to when and if I allow myself to be carried away from the constant chatter in my head.

I’m certain it’s happened before, even though I couldn’t think of any specific examples. The only thing that came to mind was a time when things went horribly wrong and I had no choice but to lay down my burdens and say, “I give. God, if you can hear me, I could really use some help.”

You know that song Jesus Take the Wheel? I love the lyrics because it reminds me of those fleeting moments when I really do “let go and let God.” I wish I could say every time I let go, I did it with complete faith, believing there was really someone or something to catch me. But in truth, the experience is usually born out of desperation; when pushed so far to the edge that there’s nothing to do but leap. Once I relax and take what comes, something – or someone always does. It’s been my experience that during this “letting go” moment, I learn that I am, in fact, not alone and it is such an incredible feeling to have my doubts and faithless notions swept away with the certainty that God showed up and caught me just in the nick of time.

What if, I could get that feeling during the better parts of my life, not just the crappy times. I’m assuming it happens more than I realize. Maybe I just need to pay attention.


I caught myself getting lost

I went to yoga, still thinking about the concept of losing myself, when it happened. I was a little tired, muscles kind of shaky, when a good song came on breaking through the normal spa-like tones of the instructor’s playlist. I had my eyes closed and when I opened them I saw my teacher smiling at me. She had caught me unconsciously swaying to the music. I was a little embarrassed but elated at the idea that I found a least one moment during the day when I really let go. I was dancing as if no one was watching – just like the poster!

When I got home I asked my eighteen-year-old son, “Do you ever catch yourself doing something without knowing it?”

He looked at me skeptically.

I added, “You know, when you get so lost in the moment that you forget there are other people around, maybe when you’re making something, or exercising.”

Blank stare.

“You’ve never . . . I don’t know . . . caught yourself dancing or singing out loud without realizing someone might be watching you?’

He turned a little pink, smiling and said, “All the time.”

I knew it! As a kid, you don’t care if someone watches you while you play; that’s your natural state. It’s only as you get older that you master self-restraint. No wonder people get grumpier as they mature. In doing so, do we close the door on guidance from the Heavens?

I think the love and guidance is always there whether I’m aware of it or not. But I might feel a little better if I got regular reminders. That means I’m going to have to practice allowing my spirit to take control during regular intervals and not just calling in the big dogs when things are going to Hell.

So if you happen to catch me deep in thought with my tongue sticking out, or singing out loud, or heaven forbid, dancing like I’m by myself, just know that I’m practicing the fine art of losing myself.

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What Are You Afraid Of?

What Are You Afraid Of?

I read that you’re born with only two innate fears; heights, and loud noises.  Every other fear we carry with us is learned.  It made me think about how adaptive our brain is.  Once we learn to trust our environment, we unlearn, or put away those fears.  As we understand that loud noises do not always lead to danger, we become less afraid;  we adapt to our environment.  I saw an interview with a boy who lived in a war-torn country.  He had become so accustomed to loud noises, that as a shell went off nearby, he didn’t even flinch even though the camera crew did.  The boy had learned to discern which shells represented immediate danger and which could be ignored.   As we learn to crawl and walk, we learn to trust our coordination and our fear of falling slips to the further recesses of our mind unless it is reactivated later.  While these fears are being unlearned we learn new, necessary fears to keep us safe.

So what happens, when we’re adults? Do we ever learn to master our fears?  No, our amazing brains continue to develop; adding and subtracting what we should and shouldn’t be afraid of.  Pain is a great teacher.  As an evolved species, we don’t have to learn from pain, we can learn by other means, observation for example.  Our parents can tell us to stay away from something hot, better still we can see the cause and effect of what happens when someone else, say a little brother, doesn’t heed that advice.  But the best, most immediate and permanent lesson comes from experience, when you touch that hot stove and come away burned, you never want to touch it again.

Can we continue to take advantage of our adaptive brains?  Does all pain come with a lesson?  I think it does.  Do we learn from those lessons? That depends.  I guess the uber-evolved, the masters do, but depending on your level of evolution, you may be choosing to keep getting the same lessons over and over again.

If I stub my toe on the same brick every night, it doesn’t take me long to figure out I should move the brick, or at least step around it.  But what happens when the brick is a certain type of person I keep seeing in my life? Or worse, what happens when I’m the brick?

I can learn to avoid certain types of people, but it’s better to learn to work with the types of people I tend to avoid.

Still it’s tough to avoid the obstacle, when the obstacle is me.

I think I’ve grown to master most of what comes my way in my external environment, but somehow manage to ignore the brick walls inside my head.  When it comes to internal obstacles, I’ve learned from experience, observation, and also imagined behavior.

I imagine, I will say something stupid when asked to speak.  I imagine I will fail before I’ve tried.  I imagine the risk is greater than the reward.  So is it possible, to imagine new endings to my stories?  Can I learn to step around the bricks I’ve placed in my head or better still, get rid of them altogether?  I don’t know, but I imagine, it’s worth a try.

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Dance Lessons

Dance Lessons

January always feels like a fresh start; a time of new possibilities; a time to aim toward the person I know I could be if I just applied myself. I feel ambitious and optimistic about the new and improved version of myself that I’m certain is just around the corner. I will exercise more, eat healthier, become more organized, declutter by closets and drawers, balance my checkbook, make sound financial decisions,  learn a new language, meditate, read, write, volunteer, be punctual revamp my wardrobe, eat more vegetables, drink more water, cut back on alcohol, cheese, sugar, processed flour, carbs, red meat. I’ll be a better friend, call my parents more often, I’ll be kinder to strangers. I’ll throw out my old holey underwear and replace it with new sexy lingerie. I’ll update my playlist with newer cooler music. I’ll strengthen my core, thighs and triceps, not to mention my mind heart and spirit.  It will be so easy, I can do it all by spending just 20-minutes a day in the 10-day, 21-day or 90-day challenge, depending on my level of ambition.

You know how this ends. In a few short months I will be a different person. I will no longer be driven by a mad list of self-improvements. In January, I will eat healthier, exercise more and improve my level of intellectual stimulation; a goal easy enough to accomplish considering I spent the last few weeks, eating Christmas cookies for breakfast, sitting on the couch and binge watching The Walking Dead.

By March, I will have eased up on the gas petal. That’s not to say I will have given up on my goals completely. But I have learned from experience that the best intentions often get messed up when life happens.  My hope for the new year is that rather than feeling defeated by the inevitable realities of life, I will continue to at least aim for my goals while allowing life with all it’s wonderful, unpredictable, uncontrollable, messy, glorious, tragic, miraculous events to happen.

I heard it said once in a yoga class that “Yoga, like life, is a dance between your will (what you aim for) and your prana or life force (what you allow for).” In other words, you live in that space between what you want and what really happens.

In yoga, I bend and stretch and hold, doing whatever I can to force my less than perfect body into aimed for poses. Sometimes, with practice, I get it right. Sometimes I’m too weak, too short, too thick or too inexperienced to get it. All I can do is aim for what my mind wants to do and accept what my body is able to do. I like the idea that it’s a dance rather than what it feels like – a wrestling match.  I wonder, is the dance where I find grace?

I think this year, I will focus  on enjoying the dance a little more. Sometimes it may be one step up and two steps back, but other times it might be two steps to the right and two to the left. Who knows, maybe I’ll waltz my way across the dance floor and onto a new challenge. There’s nothing wrong with a little ambition; an aim for a better version of myself, as long as it’s not at the expense of beating myself up for the person I am today.

This year, I will stop fighting with my dance partner. I will relax, feel the rhythm and embrace the experience. I will cha-cha or merengue or watusi my way in the general direction of my goals and I will enjoy the trip. Maybe I’ll even sign up for dance lessons.

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