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Part 2: How to Make Holidays More Joyful

when-youre-in-pain_-how-to-make-holidays-more-joyful-2Last week, I listed five very basic, non-festive ways to find more peace and joy during the upcoming holidays if you’re dealing with loss or a difficult season of life. This time I want to focus on how to get through the celebrations, parties, gifting, and busy schedule on the low energy you may be feeling.

1. Simplify your calendar.

Another way of saying this is: Choose your events wisely.

Do not overload your schedule. While this may be great advice during any holiday season, it is especially important when you are feeling depleted, sad, or stressed. You do not have to see The Nutcracker, attend your neighbor’s open house, or participate in five Secret Santas or white elephant gift exchanges just because you have in past years.

You also do not need to focus on anyone else’s expectations or worry about letting people down. If they are true relationships, they will have grace for your “free pass” year. Introvert or extrovert, you only have so much energy to go around when your strength is spent right now getting through the day to day.

While some people may not understand because their expectation levels do not match your reality at the moment, this is a good way for them to learn to respond with grace to those who are hurting. Or maybe you need space from people with inflexible demands right now. Either way, do not carry the extra weight around of pleasing other people.

Because I’m introverted, I limited my holidays outings to two occasions last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas: an open house at a friend’s house and a women’s Christmas tea. I also cancelled my involvement in Small Business Saturday at my church and a meal at someone else’s home. It was the best thing I could have done for myself. I had the enthusiasm for a few events, even though they were difficult because my father’s passing was still fresh.

I remember wanting to return home after the first five minutes at the open house because I met some very outgoing people who wanted to engage at a high intellectual level when I really just wanted to sit in the comforting presence of a few people I knew and sip something warm. I am very glad I made myself go, but I am also thankful I graciously stopped the conversation to be with low-engaging folks in the other room. I just needed to be with people, so I didn’t isolate, but I had no ability to fake holiday cheer.

Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. 

2. Be a minimalist in décor.

I have teens and a tween at home. Skipping all holiday décor was not a Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When You’re in Pain: How to Make Holidays More Joyful, Part 1

when-youre-in-pain_-how-to-make-holidays-more-joyfulLast week, I dove straight into some of the reasons my own holidays can be painful. Since I know many people struggle this time of year, I thought it might be nice to turn the pain around and find ways to make this season better.

Next week I will address holiday celebration more directly, but for now, here are some basic non-festive suggestions to ease the pain.

1. If you can be around a pet of any kind, do it.

Seriously, pet therapy is so healing. If you have resident furballs already, you know what I’m talking about. I have two Shih Tzus who love to hang out on our laps, but during my darkest hours last winter, I enjoyed my friend’s Golden Retriever and Yellow Lab. They sensed my sadness and immediately came to me. The Golden maintained a protective stance and leaned into me the entire time. The mere weight of that was comforting and ministered to me.

Is it any wonder that animals are so good for the soul? They were created by God, and He “knows” them.

Psalm 50:10-11, ESV

For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.

I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.

God uses animals to describe the coming peace that Christ (root of Jesse) will bring. Isn’t that beautiful?

Isaiah 11:6-10, ESV

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples–of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

If you are allergic to pets, try cultivating a houseplant. I was given one when my father passed, and I’ve really enjoyed taking care of it and watching it grow. My younger son and I also grow a sunflower every summer. Working the ground is always good, so planting bulbs is possible this time of year—but hurry, Baby, it’s cold outside!

2. Nature watch.
Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When Holidays Are Painful

when-holidays-are-painful-3It was a dreary, overcast day when I pulled into the parking lot at the counseling center in New Hampshire. I had made the 40-minute trip so many times before, almost on autopilot, but this time it had been about eight weeks since my last visit. I knew we were approaching November, the month that shook me down—several times in my life, actually. Around this time last year, I thought I’d be spending the rest of my life in fetal position crying out to God from under the covers; the devastation of loss and grieving without a funeral where family could gather to comfort one another almost did me in.

So I walked into the nurse’s office, sat down, and must have looked very tired. She asked me how I was and kept staring intently as if she didn’t believe me when I said I was doing well.

“It’s closing in on the first anniversary of your father’s death, you know. How are you preparing for that?”

Um, yeah, so I’m not, really. I’ve done everything I can to push it out of my head. As Thanksgiving approaches and I remember how shut out I felt this time last year from holding his hand one last time as he lost consciousness, I just want to skip past all holidays and land on January 1, 2017. (I wouldn’t mind skipping Election Day either. Let’s just try again this time next year, shall we? Restart?)

You see, November and I go way back.

We got off to a good start when I started dating my husband (now of 23 years) on November 18, 1990.

Almost two decades later, circumstances derailed me. In the midst of significant depression Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Letting Go: When We Enter a New Chapter

letting-go-when-we-enter-a-new-chapterThis past summer I spent a week packing boxes with dear friends of mine moving back East from the West Coast. We made many trips to used bookstores, donation centers, and the dumpster. We wrapped their lives up into 11 categories—little compartments of 49 years of marriage rolled into newspapers, bubble wrap, and cardboard.

Waiting to be opened on the other side of a house sale and cross-country move, each box was evidence of life well-lived—together, real, and raw—caught within memories, fondly received presents, mementos from vacations, mugs for special occasions, and dated photographs. A mere song on the radio triggered a reflective wave of “remember when.”

We laughed ourselves silly going through shelves of books at 2 AM—how difficult it was to part with those pages from scattered memories and loved ones over five decades. We sobbed over discovered treasures from their childhoods. While not always easy, life had been good to them. I could see the value placed in considering each piece of it.

So, I asked myself:

How do we pack a lifetime into one 12 inch x 12 inch x 12 inch square at a time?

And the overall decision awaiting us as we dragged packing materials into each room?

Keep, donate, or throw out?

My friend, the wife, had so much courage, incredible stamina, and amazing strength as she divided her life into categories and choices. How do you take a 49 year marriage and family life and split it into thirds? How do you give away your life? How do you decide what to save and what to let go of?

I don’t know, but as I watched her do it, I knew deep within me that it is something we must all do. Self-reflection and life sorting is not only healthy, but it also opens space.

I had to move into a new chapter recently, one I really didn’t want: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Seeking Approval: He Still Looks for Me!

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Sitting on some uncomfortable bleachers, wishing I had brought some kind of back support, I watched my youngest son swim laps with his class in Lawrence, MA, this past week. He has received swim instruction here for seven years. I don’t even have to tell them he has special needs because they are so good with every child. I’m convinced the program manager can see directly into the heart and inner workings of each child within the first few minutes. She has an amazing ability to meet each child where his or her fears are and identify strengths and weaknesses. She knows what is holding them back.

Hmmm.

As I sat there in this rare moment observing Little Man at one of his happiest places—water—I wondered if I could get away with a few glances here and there to my Kindle. I thought I was being so sly, looking up whenever I anticipated it was his turn to work on a skill in a group of five children. My timing was almost perfect.

Lifting my eyes after reading a half-page, I noticed something I wasn’t expecting this time around: Even at 10 years old, becoming more independent by the minute, my Little Man

still looks for me!

After every accomplishment, he wanted to emerge from the water to meet my eyes. He counted on my silent nod, my approving smile—even my admiration.

And I asked myself this question: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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He Raises the Needy out of Affliction

he-raises-the-needy-out-of-affliction2Oh boy! Did that title catch your eye?

I hope it did! I think we all qualify as “the needy” from time to time. I certainly have!

It can (but does not necessarily) mean financial need, but it can also be emotional, medical, physical, spiritual, etc.

How are you “needy” today? Is everything copacetic? Nothing to complain about?

On one hand, if that’s true, I celebrate with you, but on the other hand, to some extent, we all have needs, so if we claim that, we are, well, um, kidding ourselves!

We may not be desperate right now, but there are a few things on our wish list. How could there not be?

  • God, please heal my child of this disease, this disability, this behavior.
  • Jesus, my marriage is a wreck. We are just, well—disconnected. Is he having an affair?
  • Lord, wow, I am really scared about my bills this month. What if they turn the heat off? It’s 20 degrees outside this week.
  • My child is hanging with the wrong set of friends and making bad choices. I need him to turn his life around.
  • I’m really scared my daughter is going to marry that guy. He’s not good for her.
  • My car is about to die, and I don’t have the money for another one right now.
  • I am being asked to do something dishonest at work, or I could lose my job. I need a way out of this.
  • I can’t get him to stop drinking.
  • I found porn on the computer and am not sure how to confront my family members.
  • I need more than that prescription is covering to manage my pain. I think I may be dependent.
  • Oh my goodness, I really miss him. Why did he have to die so young?
  • What if I never get pregnant? Will my husband still love me?
  • I forged a check once, and the law caught up with me. Now I’m afraid I’ll lose everything.

You get the idea.

Here’s the thing. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When God Said: “Enough!”

when-god-said_I was doing laundry and packing for our upcoming trip to put my father’s ashes in the ground. Spring Break wasn’t exactly a cheery occasion for us to prepare for, but we were looking forward to finally laying my father to rest with a few of our own personal touches.

As I tried to pack in spurts, we were slammed with nonstop high school jazz band events and a nightmarish two weeks of seventh grade. The latter involved multiple projects, a massive genetics and cell cycle test, and endless homework, none of which was spaced out or staggered. My poor daughter was up until 11 PM most nights making sure she checked off her own assignment lists.

She went out the door one morning a complete zombie. She could barely eat, put her contacts in, etc. She was so rundown and discouraged. Her only sentence this particular morning was:

“I have to go back to school and get more homework to come home to.”

I finally put my foot down and respectfully told the guidance counselor: “Enough! She has worked conscientiously and nonstop for weeks. On my instruction she isn’t doing homework tonight. I’m just letting you know.”

[My husband and I are both products of public schooling and strongly believe in it, but we shouldn’t have to give our daughter an espresso drink to wake her up enough in the morning to head out to school. This is middle school, not college.]

My son, on the other hand, had a band event in which students were driving themselves and taking several other students along. Major highways. An hour away. Rush hour traffic. Seven teens in a van with a teen driver. I adore our school music program, but um, no! Because our car was in the shop, we could not drive. I gently asked our fantastic band director to please place my son with an adult driver, and if not, my husband and I were not comfortable sending him to the event. I hated confronting this, but this was my limit.

Enough already!

Sometimes, when we are beyond defending ourselves and fall weary in a heap onto the floor Read the rest of this entry »

 

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