On the Eighth Day of Christmas…

My true love gave to me eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five gold rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On this eighth day of Christmas, we’re enjoying a quiet family day in gratitude for how much we have. Not everyone gets to spend his/her life surrounded by love. All of us have ups and downs in our lives, but being surrounded by people you love makes it all worth it.
My wish for the new year is to be the kind of person who spreads hope, love, and joy where ever I go.

What are your hopes for the new year?

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

Yes, you read that correctly…  I said Merry Christmas, because us Episcopalians are still celebrating Christmas.  We have 12 days of Christmas, ending on Epiphany (January 6).
In our home on Christmas morning, there was no tree, no unwrapped gifts, and no big plans.  My husband was under the weather and napping.  I had a sinus headache from the wonky, stormy weather we’re having in Middle Tennessee.  BUT…  I couldn’t have been happier or more grateful.
We live a very blessed life, and the only thing that could make that first day of Christmas more perfect would be some sunshine.
Here are just a few of the reasons this is one of the best Christmases of my life:

  1. We’ve been married for 7 years and have never been more in love or more devoted to our marriage.
  2. Our children and grandchildren are healthy and happy.  In fact, there is another grandchild on the way!
  3. We have three of the most wonderful dogs you could have; they make us laugh, cuddle with us when we’re sick or sad, and love us unconditionally.
  4. We have three awesome horses that keep Mom happy.  (Happy wife, happy life, right?  😉 )
  5. We have two cats…  We think they love us.  They’re cats, so we’re not sure.
  6. I have a great job working with good people doing good things in the world.
  7. We want for nothing; we have a roof, 4 walls, food, clothes, and tons of love.
  8. I’m an Episcopalian, so we have a loving, welcoming church family that extends beyond our church through out the Diocese of Tennessee and even into a few other states.
  9. We each have a purpose, a calling to drive us and to get us up every morning.
  10. I have friends that are kind, generous, beautiful people; they make others lives better by really connecting with and doing for others.

Bear
There are so many people in the world that don’t have simple things like a home or food or a closet full of clothes.  There are so many more who are lonely or unhappy, dealing with illness or abuse, or just lost.  We are none of those things.  Our life isn’t perfect.  No one’s is.  We have ups and downs and bumps in the road just like everyone else.  BUT…  We have everything we need to face any challenge that comes our way and more love than either of us could have ever imagined or wished for.  How could we be more blessed?
The saddest part about the commercialization of Christmas has been the focus on what we don’t have.  I don’t have an expensive car, and he definitely didn’t go to Jared’s!  I don’t have a fancy home fit for big holiday parties.  I don’t have the best truck and horse trailer.  I don’t wear expensive clothes.
At the end of the day, who cares?  None of those things will make me happier or more fulfilled.  The things that give me the greatest joy are already present in my life, and knowing that is what make life good.
The secret to real happiness?  An attitude of gratitude.  An acknowledgement that you are blessed and have everything you could ever need.
What are you grateful for this Christmas?  What has brought joy into your life?

Preparing the Way

More and more, I pull back from the traditional American Christmas. We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years. I used to let the kids pick out the tree and make all our decorations. When they stopped being interested, I stopped decorating. I no longer make a Christmas card list and diligently send out all my cards by the second Sunday in Advent. I no longer make a list of everyone I need to shop for and/or bake for.
Instead, I have been focused throughout the year on letting the people I love know that they matter to me. I don’t wait for a holiday to send a card or a gift. Every day is a day for Hope, Peace, Joy, & Love, and the 4 weeks before Christmas have truly become a celebration of Advent.
In my daily email from dotMagis, I found a lovely reminder of what Advent is:

Advent DoorWhereas the spirit of Lent is penitential, Advent has a gentler way of getting us ready for the Lord. A friend once described it as a time when God tenderly breaks through all of our defenses. Advent is a time of slow surrender to the Lord.
My family and I enjoy hiking, and for longer trips, I like clearly marked trails. A compass and a good map are handy, too. But our Advent journeys are much more like going “off road.” In Advent, God is inviting us to explore the interior forest of our own hearts with God: places that are light, and shadowy and dark spots, sweet smelling pine beds and thorny thickets. It’s a season to deepen intimacy with the Lord by allowing him to walk with us into all of our interior spaces.

Author Marina McCoy perfectly summarizes the journey I make each Advent. Every year, I work on deepening my connection to God, which inevitably deepens my connection with the people in my life in the coming year. I do that by focusing time each day on contemplating where I am and where God is taking me. There are days when I spend time writing reflectively, sorting through my feelings and through what is God’s will and what is my own. Other days, I read from my Ignatian Book of Days and sit in contemplative silence. Some days result in an action item; others result in waiting. The goal is always the same–break down the barriers that keep me from a deep personal relationship with God.

We’re having a door decorating contest at work. I’m no artist, so I’m not in it to win it! But I did take the opportunity to share the messages of Advent. As I decorated the door, I read the Advent prayers and spent some thinking about Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

  • How do I experience Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in my life?
  • How often do I pray for those Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love?
  • What do I do in my day life to be an instrument of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in the world around me?
  • How do experiencing Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love bring me closer to God?

PeaceWhen I think about where my life was 5 years ago or a year ago or even 6 months ago, I know that I have purposefully made choices that have increased the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in my life. I am certainly a work in progress, but I have made a considerable difference in my quality of living. I’ve gone from high stress working environments to a high-performing but intentionally fun, low-stress working environment. I have eliminated toxic relationships. I have improved and deepened the remaining relationships. The majority of my time is devoted to those things that bring me closer to God. Hope and Peace have certainly become constants in my life.

What I’m praying for most this Advent is to open my heart to greater Love and to learn how to experience Joy more fully. I still struggle with both. At the moment, I am actively focused on loving more fully, reaching out to those I love, and taking every opportunity I have to connect with others. As an introvert, I find this very challenging, but as I pray for guidance, I am finding that even an introvert can find ways to reach out to others.
What are you experiencing this Advent season? What do you need most in your life?