We finally took down our Christmas tree on Saturday, halfway through January. I’ve always taken it down before I go back to school after Christmas break, but my timing got a little thrown off this year with New Year’s falling on the week-end.
The plan was to take it down after church on New Year’s Day, but it was cold and gloomy outside and I was tired. Keith said, “Where is it written that it has to come down today?”, so I gladly took a nap instead.
I shared this on Facebook and several friends assured me I was okay until January 6, which is Epiphany, the official end to the Christmas season. But that week-end was when we had our cold snap and the temperatures didn’t go above the 20’s for several days. I took off the ornaments, but didn’t want to open up the attic door and let in the cold air, so we enjoyed the lights one more week.
I was reminded of the year when Adam was little and I was putting up the Christmas things. In his sweet child’s faith, he asked, “Why do we have to put up the Nativity Scene? Don’t we need to remember them all year?” I couldn’t argue with his logic, so we kept the little porcelain Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus and the cows, shepherds and wise men out on the table that whole year. They were a reminder of the story that is ingrained in us and defines us as followers of Christ – our mighty King, born in a stable.
But the Christmas tree takes up more room than a small nativity scene, so I ran out of excuses this week-end and Keith and I took off the lights, dismantled the tree and hauled everything to the attic. The den seemed awfully dark without the glow from the tree, so I dug out an angel light that had belonged to my mother-in-law and plugged it in on the bookshelf. She gave out just enough to brighten up the corner of the room.
During the beautiful Christmas season we have lots of lights around us and lots of reminders of our faith and opportunities to share with others. But then we pack all the decorations up and come into the sometimes gloomy days of winter. We need to still shine. We need to continue to be a light to those in darkness. We need to remember who we are as followers of Christ:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
I don’t always know what “letting my light shine” means, but I know that I need to be constantly seeking God’s leading in my life and when I’m doing that, the way opens up. And the beauty of God’s grace is that I don’t have to struggle beyond that. When I’m praying for His leading in my life, opportunities to shine His light become evident and all I have to do is follow through.
I want to be like that little angel on the shelf, putting out her light in one corner of the world. All of our lights shining together can push away the gloom and shadows that often threaten to take over.
Each day as I walk down the hall of my school to the media center, I pass a bulletin board full of inspirational quotes by famous people. One in particular that is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt always jumps out at me:
Doing a scary thing every single day is a little much, but the idea is there – that we should actually seek out things that scare us, not just wait for them to come to us. This quote implies that we are choosing the thing to face and having that choice is a luxury. I know several folks right now who are being forced to confront situations that they would just as soon not have, such as the the terror of a cancer diagnosis for themselves or a family member, the dread of loneliness after the loss of a spouse or child, and worries about keeping their job. Some young single women I know are afraid of not getting married and I know mothers who are fearful of who their children might marry. For many of us, we have very real apprehensions about what is happening in our country.
But sometimes in life we make the choice to face our fears because we are more afraid of looking back and wondering “What if?”
I have been surrounded by many people who have made better lives for themselves by choosing to take the “road less traveled”, including my father. Daddy worked for Burlington Industries for thirty years, rising up in the ranks to a Vice President position by the time I was in high school. Like most of his generation, he was a loyal company man and when asked to move his family and work long hours, he did so with no complaints. He never discussed business with me, but I learned from Mama that after I started to college, he was passed over for a promotion. Many men might have kept their heads down and finished out their years until their retirement, but Daddy had too much pride for that. Although I’m sure it was a financial risk, he took an early retirement and started his own “headhunter” business, Mark IV Personnel, using his vast network of contacts in the textile world to help others find executive jobs. Not only did the business keep him active and involved well into his 70’s, but he was able to mentor many men and women in their careers, one of his many gifts.
Now that I’m at the age Daddy was when he took his leap of faith, I realize how easy it is to simply go with the flow and not challenge myself. And I don’t want to be that way. Life has too many interesting twists and turns to let it just slip by because I am afraid of failure.
I’ve been praying lately about something that scares me – putting together a book of these blogs and other writings I’ve done. Many of you have encouraged and pushed me, but those insecurities keep popping up – what if no one is interested, what if it is terrible, what if it is just a waste of my time? I picture myself ten years from now with a boxful of the books that I’m still peddling and giving away as gifts!
So I’ve been praying and all of a sudden everywhere I turned I was hearing something about facing my fears. Specifically, I have been listening to the second season of Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast on creativity, called Magic Lessons. The podcast the other day was so directed at me that I wanted to look heavenward and say – “Okay, God, I get it!”
Here are a few points I’ve gleaned from the Magic Lesson podcasts that speak to my hesitancy in going after my goals:
– Often when contemplating starting something new I second guess myself and feel like I don’t have the skills or experience to do it. Elizabeth Gilbert makes the point that the only way to get the confidence is to actually do the work. Most of us don’t start a new job or project feeling like we totally know what we are doing, but we learn as we go along, and then the confidence comes.
– The perfect time will never come, nor will waiting until I have more time ever happen. I remember when I was contemplating going back to school for my media specialist degree at age 37, and feeling like I was too old (!), someone said – “You will be the same age in 2 years, why not have a degree?” Wise words.
– In life, we cannot control others, only ourselves. I need to be reminded of this in all areas of my life. In relation to writing, I can only write what is on my heart, and I can’t control how people react to it. So my motivation needs to be to do the work because I have the desire to write, not because anyone likes it or even wants to read it. I need to do it for myself.
– And finally – it’s often easy to talk about writing (or whatever creative avenue you may have), go to classes and seminars and never get the work done! This hit home for me – I love reading books about writing, going to my writer’s group, discussing writing – but then not making myself sit down and actually write! I find this is true of my prayer life also. I have a Bible reading and prayer time each morning, but too often find myself checking my email or even Facebook when I’m supposed to be communing with God! Procrastinating and giving in to distractions are ways that I keep myself from the type of spiritual life I say that I want, and the same is true of achieving my goals.
So I’m hoping that 2017 will be the year I forge ahead and follow the dreams I have had since I was a little girl! You may be struggling with goals like losing weight or starting to exercise, or getting out of debt or doing art or joining a Bible study. I encourage you to not let day to day distractions and lack of confidence to keep you from what God may be calling you to do!
I have a confession to make – I do not love Hallmark Christmas movies. I know this will come as a shock to my many friends who love nothing more than curling up on the couch on a cold winter night and being transported to a world where everyone lives in beautifully decorated homes filled to the brim with lights and wreaths. The women in these movies wake up with their makeup perfectly done so that they can jump into their designer clothes and pull gingerbread cookies out of the oven. The handsome men wear suits and have styled hair, Christmas Day always has snow and turkeys are placed on the table perfectly browned. Ugh.
These movies depress me because my reality is closer to Christmas Vacation, Chevy Chases’s classic comedy about the earnest bumbler trying too hard to have the perfect holiday. In spite of everyone’s hard work, the family is getting on each other’s last nerve, the turkey is so overcooked it falls away to nothing, and a squirrel runs out of the Christmas tree. The mother, Ellen, sums it up when she says, “I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”
Part of my problem is that my Christmases growing up were pretty ideal. My mother, like most of the moms I knew, was a homemaker and worked hard at having a perfect Christmas for us. While I was at school she decorated the house, bought and wrapped the gifts, and baked cakes and pies. On Christmas morning I awoke to see that Santa had come and put a plethora of dolls and toys and clothes across the chairs in the living room for my sister and me. Mama and my grandparents looked on sleepily while Daddy filmed away on his home movie camera.
The night before, Mama had set the dining room table with the soft white tablecloth and the good china, had placed card tables in the living room with colorful red tablecloths and put the huge coffee percolator on the kitchen counter. Now all she had to do was get herself dressed, clean up the breakfast dishes, fix the macaroni and cheese and put the fatback in the green beans. The extended family would arrive with lots of hugs and kisses and loud talking and we would eat and then watch while our grandparents opened their presents. The day would end for me stretched in front of the TV.
Now as the holiday season begins I feel the Christmas depression waiting in the background, ready to creep in. It’s not that I don’t enjoy many things about this time of year. I love the music, lights, special programs at church, and time with friends and family. But mixed in with the joy of the season are often tears just on the surface for reasons I can’t explain. They come from a mixture of nostalgia for those perfect Christmases of my childhood, sadness over the loved ones who are no longer here and feelings of inadequacy for falling short of the Hallmark movie ideal.
I suspect others feel this way too. During these weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, everything in life is magnified, as if we were all living inside a giant snow globe. If we are having financial difficulties, the constant barrage of ads and expectations for gifts makes it worse. If we are struggling with our weight or with drinking too much, the gifts of goodies and special dinners put more temptation in our way. If we have lost a loved one the memories of past years make the grief that much more to bear. If we are far from our families, or have very few family members at all, then the loneliness comes barreling out at us in a way that is hard to ignore. If our family is in any way short of the perfection shown on the commercials and Hallmark movies, then we feel even more like failures.
I’m working on not expecting so much of myself this year. I still love putting up the tree with all of its ornaments that remind me of people I love and memories of family times together, but other than slapping a few wreaths on the front windows, that is the extent of my decorating. I’m making sure to get to bed on time and to keep up my running and to not overindulge at every tray of Christmas cookies. Even when my schedule gets busier than usual, I’m keeping my appointment with God each morning and I’m concentrating on doing what I can for others.
I know that I will have times that I feel down and I’m okay with that. God will be there for me and together we will wobble through. After all, I have lots in my life to be thankful for and I don’t want to let past memories overshadow that.
The following verses are on my phone wallpaper for this holiday season and they remind me that God will carry me through until I can breathe a sigh and get back to normal in January:
I came home to a wonderful surprise this week – sitting on the kitchen counter was a bag of real tomatoes! Not the mealy, no taste kind that the grocery stores offer, but beautiful red summer tomatoes. Our ‘across the field’ neighbors had grown them in a raised bed with an irrigation system and they shared with our ‘across the road’ neighbors, Jack and Zeta, who shared with us.
What a bounty! I was already planning on hamburgers for supper, so I pulled out breaded okra from the freezer that I had put up over the summer and popped them in the oven with some olive oil and we had a delicious supper that made me feel like we were back in the lazy days of summer.
The tomatoes were a special gift considering the terrible drought we are enduring here in Northwest Georgia. According to the website US drought monitor, our area is under an Exceptional Drought, the worst kind. It has been months since we have had any rain. My flower garden that I love so much is dried up and dead, our meager tomatoes and peppers have long since bit the dust, and the trees are turning brown. It is October, the temperatures are in the 90’s and our air conditioner is still going strong. Even this week-end’s terrible hurricane has not brought any rain to us here in Sugar Valley.
So in the midst of the barrenness we received this gift of tomatoes, juicy and sweet. They reminded me that even when life feels as dried up as my yard right now, God unexpectedly shows up. Maybe a friend calls or sends a message, or I read a devotional or hear a sermon that speaks to my heart, and I feel God saying, “I’m still here.” He never left the Hebrews as they wandered around in the desert for 40 years, and He will not leave us during the dry and dusty times of our lives.
When I’m going through a dry period, I have to remind myself that it will end, that I’ll get out of the doldrums and life will be brighter. Just as I’m trusting that it will rain again, I know that the desert times of my life won’t last forever. Meanwhile I’ll enjoy the reminders of God’s presence, including a tomato sandwich in October!
I started back to school this week, my 17th year as a media specialist. I’m in a school I love with a great staff, a new principal who is excited and collegial, and students and families I have come to know and love. After 17 years I feel like I should know what I’m doing, yet each year I start out the same way, overcome with feelings of inadequacy. I hit a place just as school is starting when I feel so overwhelmed with everything to do and all the expectations I put on myself that I have a little breakdown. Thankfully, I had it at home, not at school!
I wonder sometimes if others feel this way. I know that most teachers are anxious and nervous the first day, no matter how long they have been teaching, but my feelings go beyond just apprehension and anxiety. I struggle with deep feelings of “not being good enough”. In many ways it is like Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, something that I struggle against all the time. No matter how much positive feedback I get, I always hear that little voice at the back of my head whispering, ”But what do others really think of you?”
I recently finished listening to the audiobook of The Productivity Projectby Chris Bailey, a very thought provoking read. Chris Bailey is a young man who is obviously very smart and self assured and has done well with his first book, yet in the last chapter he admits that he too suffers from negative thoughts about his abilities. He writes that this is how we as humans are wired and that studies show that most people have a running inner dialogue that is self critical and often condemning. The trick iso learn to forge ahead despite what our inner critic may be saying.
The old image of the angel and devil on opposite sides telling us what to do is not so far off! I have learned to constantly remind myself that the negative voices in my head are not from God – in His sight I’m forgiven for all the dumb stuff I’ve done and said, and He doesn’t keep bringing it up like the “Devil” voice. I’ve even gone so far as to actually yell at that voice (when in the confines of my car!) saying, “In the name of Jesus, Go Away!!” Try it, it works!
I have to constantly remind myself that God loves me just as I am. I don’t have to do anything to prove to Him that I’m worthy or “good enough”. Although this seems basic, I still need to fill my mind with these thoughts instead of the ones that pull me down and keep my from becoming all that God wants me to be.