Please check out my latest blog post. Fe

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State of the Union

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Sorry. I missed the SOTU. Actually, I’m not really sorry at all. I deliberately missed it. To be perfectly honest, listening to any politician prattle on for an hour+ interrupted only by the inane, expected, ridiculous applause of his party and watching the other party sit in stony silence shaking their heads, rolling their eyes, and making other childish gestures interests me less than watching an MMA fight. Wait. Hey! I actually think I MIGHT watch politicians going at each other in a fenced-in ring; gloves off, no rules, winner takes all!

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I used to watch every State of the Union Address and all of the point/counterpoint commentaries after. I would listen the next morning to pundits on both sides making rebuttals and tearing each other apart. And I had absolutely NOTHING to show for it other than a bitterness in my heart and an angst in my being that I couldn’t voice. I found myself feeling justified and proud that I and my party were in the right. I felt superior to those who didn’t agree with me and pitied them for their naivety and inability to think for themselves.

ICK! I mean, seriously! ICK! What makes me right? What makes them wrong? What gives me the right to pass judgement on any person other than myself?!

A few years ago I realized the importance of unplugging. For my own sanity (and that of those around me) I stopped following the Imagenews daily and completely disengaged from politics. Don’t get me wrong: I still have opinions and Imageresearch policy and track records before I cast a vote (I still vote in every local and national election). But since allowing the vitriol of news and politics such a limited space in my consciousness, I find I am a happier, more loving, and more tolerant person. And I find that I am not missing anything! I see and hear enough peripherally (social media, breaking-news-alert apps, conversation with friends, etc.) that I’ve not found myself caught off guard by anything major. Perhaps I haven’t heard about the latest calamity to befall a little corner of the community or world, but instead I have time and inclination to fill my thoughts with the beauty this world has to offer- both in nature and humanity.

Give it a try. Unplug from the world for a few days. Look for other things to occupy your time and energy. You might find beauty you never knew existed! If you don’t, no worries. I promise I won’t judge you 🙂

First World Resolve

 

Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions: love ‘em or hate ‘em, by now (two weeks in) I dare say most of us have “fudged” our resolve at least once! Some of us have resorted to renaming Resolutions- they’re “new commitments” or “lifestyle changes.” Some of us give ourselves words to define our expectations for the year: courage; hope; risk. But no matter how it’s packaged, one thing is for sure: New Year’s Resolutions/Commitments/Words are a First World Luxury!

I’m not saying they’re bad- in fact I do think we all need to hit the reset button every once in a while and the flip of the calendar is as good a time as any to do so. My first reaction to my thought was a quick internal giggle (ok- I probably giggled audibly- as I may or may not do when I’m all alone- but Coco will never tell on her batty mama) visualizing a tribesman in WhoKnowsWhereVille resolving to quit teasing his brother about never bringing the right spear

rain forest hometo the hunt; or the clan living in a remote rain forest avowing that this is the year they will start using rain gutters on their three houses. But then my thoughts took a more serious path: the woman living under Taliban rule who resolves that she will find her self worth and stop wearing a burka when she goes out (she would be beaten or executed!); or a woman in a remote village in Africa or Haiti resolving to lose weight (she has to scrounge for food as it is!).

So I thought, wouldn’t it be great if those of us in our first-world-comfort were able to affect change around the globe simply by magnifying our own personal resolutions?! Here are a few ideas I came up with:

  • Resolution: To lose weight. Make a Difference response: for every pound you lose, donate a specific dollar   amount that fits your budget to a world hunger relief organization, or your local food pantry.
  • Resolution: To exercise more/get in shape. Make a Difference response: If you joined a gym ($10/$50/$100 per month?) donate even half that amount each month to an organization that provides clean water to villages so their residents don’t have to walk miles each day to get fresh water to feed their families.
  • Resolution: Finish your degree. Make a Difference response: Help a child learn to read (I promise your local school district is looking for help in this area no matter where you live- just ask), or borrow from the above idea and donate a portion of what you pay each month or class in tuition and donate that to a literacy program to help women in any number of places get the education their culture is denying.

You get the idea; and I’m sure you can come up with dozens more! It doesn’t have to be money- the donation of your time is just as valuable. Not only will adding something outside yourself to your resolution make a difference to someone else, I believe it will help you with your own resolve! It’s like having an invisible accountability partner: When you don’t feel like dragging your butt to the gym, think instead about the dollars you may not donate that month to villagers that are walking miles to clean water.

walking for water

This year, let’s make our first-world personal resolutions have global impact. Imagine the consequences!

 

Hallmark Christmas

I don’t know why, but this year being single during the holidays is hitting me harder than it has in previous years. Perhaps this is just the natural progression of things- the older we get, the more time we spend pondering the ‘what ifs’ of our lives. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve been spending too much time watching Hallmark Christmas movies this year (and thus also being bombarded by every commercial throwing shiny happy couples in my face)! 

My roommate, Brooke, and I have decided we would like to live our own Hallmark Christmas movie. The formula is actually quite simple: 

  • Be a widow or widower (having kids is a bonus- they’re a great way to garner sympathy).
  • Hate Christmas because something bad happened to you as a child (you didn’t get what you asked for- a new Mommy or Daddy); or as an adult (your spouse died on Christmas Eve).Image
  • Take a random trip to an out-of-the-way town that drips with Christmas joy.
  • Ignore or be rude to the super Hot Guy that stumbles his way into your path disrupting whatever inane activity you were just involved in (usually mocking the simple townspeople to your friend you’re speaking to on your cell as you walk down the gaudily decorated street).
  • Decide your trip was silly and almost immediately decide to leave.Image
  • Get sidetracked by same Hot Guy on your way out of town when you see him performing an amazing act of kindness (saving puppies from certain death or stopping traffic to help an old lady across the street perhaps). At this point he will look you in the eyes and ask you to dinner. You accept (although you don’t know why and you’re surprised by your answer).
  • Fall madly in love on the first date and just know that this is the man of your destiny.
  • Feel your heart quickly beginning to melt away the layers of hurt so that now you are a one-person Christmas machine (cranking out cards, buying gifts, volunteering at the local soup kitchen, etc.).
  • Have a crisis of confidence or have an urgent matter back home make you realize how rash you have been; you flee Christmas-town and Hot Guy in tears (with the vow to never love again).
  • Sit miserable and alone (for a day) in your cold, dark house until Hot Guy comes knocking on your door to profess his undying love for you. Your heart melts once again when you see that, while you were sitting in darkness, Hot Guy decorated the outside of your house with a gagillion twinkling lights… he’s even imported snow! He will get down on one knee, produce a Neil Lane sparkler, and tell you that you are his only source of happiness and he cannot live without you.
  • Live happily ever after.

Done! Who wouldn’t want to live there?!

It’s a silly look at a real issue- being single during the holidays. Our society tells us that we are only “complete” when we are with a significant other.

ImageI know, I know… all you married people will chime in with choruses of, “It ain’t all a bed of roses on this side of the fence either, sister! Heck, I’d like to spend the holidays without a nagging spouse and screaming kids just once!” The grass is always greener. But that realization doesn’t make it any easier. It doesn’t fill the void of not having a hand to hold as you walk through the Trail of Lights (an Austin tradition); of sharing the intimacy of a still, quiet Christmas morning in front of the tree; of the giddy anticipation of that special gift your significant other thoughtfully picked out, carefully wrapped, and placed under the tree for you. Image

So I will go to the one Script that always works for me. I will read for the nth time the story of a love so consuming, so pure that it changed the world. I will revel in the contentment of knowing the He is pursuing me, loving me, and plotting the best for me. I will make a cup of hot cocoa and snuggle up by the tree with The Source of light and love. And I will rejoice in my struggles. I will give thanks for my journey. It is that which has made me who I am now and is shaping the person I am to become. I wouldn’t change a thing… 

Unless you happen to know Hot Guy?! 😉

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

 

 

 

 

Weathering Climate Change

“If you don’t like the weather in Texas, just wait a minute!”

It seems like that’s the lead-in for most conversations and the gist of various cartoons trotted out on social media spaces this time of year. But, although cliche, the truth of our crazy weather has caused it to be so. What difference does that make? Why should I or anyone care? 

People. Humanity. The forgotten. When temperatures dip dangerously low, shelters open briefly for the homeless, news outlets remind us to protect pets, plants, pipes and people (elderly relatives or neighbors); we’re reminded that this is the season of giving so perhaps we reach a little further into our wallets than we do at other times of the year. But then what happens when the mercury rises- when we’re back to wearing shorts and tank tops in January for goodness sake?! The needs are no less. Sure, the homeless may not have to go into the shelters, but their need to eat is the same. 

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And look at the victims of Austin’s recent Halloween floods (south Austin and Pflugerville): there are still dozens of families living without power in homes that should not be sanctuaries right now. Families are facing a Christmas spent in dingy hotels or crowded into rooms with relatives that have barely the capacity for their own needs.

The homeless and flood victims are just two examples of a multitude of good causes one can choose to remember when the weather changes. My Christmas wish (well, actually I have TWO wishes) is that 1) Everyone who is able will adopt a cause they believe in and donate financially or with their time this Christmas; and 2) That we not forget those causes and will be Christmas angels throughout the year.

 You may be wearing your wool slacks now, but wait a second… you’ll be back in your bermuda shorts in no time! But in the meantime, help someone else weather the storm and be the change. Make a difference.

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Some resources:

 To help flood victims: Austin Disaster Relief Network

 To help the homeless: Caritas of Austin and Foundation for the Homeless

Other worthy charities:

To help children globally (AND SEE A SPECTACULAR CHRISTMAS PRODUCTION!): World Vision 

To help children locally: Big Brothers Big Sister of Central Texas and Austin Partners in Education 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frenzy! Chaos! Rush! Buy big-box! Shop local! Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Save! Spend!

We all get caught up in it: the rampant commercialization of the holidays.

  • ImageExhibit A: Hurry and finish giving thanks with your family and friends so you can go spend money you don’t have for things you don’t need and buy gifts for people who will likely return them anyway for the thing they actually wanted.
  • Exhibit B: ‘Fade to winter beach scene with mom and six year old girl playing on the blanket.’ Enter Dad- aside to the little girl, “Sweetie, I know your life has changed so much since I met your mom. I’m so happy that we’re a family now, though!” He hands her a jewelry box which houses an expensive bauble. Little girl, “Oooh! It’s just like yours, Mommy!” Cue sappy music, fade to jewelry store ad about the importance of making everyone you love feel special.
  • Exhibit C: Any mall parking lot in America from Black Friday through Christmas eve.

Those of us old enough to reminisce start looking back to the “simple” things we received in our youth: the home made doll house, Lincoln Logs, dolls, stuffed animals, the fill-in-your-favorite-old-toy here. “Kids today” expect new iEverything, brand name this-and-that, x-Box, GameBoy, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Commercials tell us Uncle Phil wants a Nook, Cousin Janie wants a camera, Friend Phyllis wants a designer handbag from the outlet store…  Where does it all end? I know I hate the thought that anyone will think I’m “cheap” when I bestow on them their gift, but buying for everyone adds up fast!

I’m not going to tell you I have the answers. I don’t think there are any answers, just personal mind-sets that can be changed. But first, I believe, we must understand the (brief here!) history of the holiday. Long before the birth of Jesus people observed the winter solstice and various gods with feasts and celebrations lasting often for weeks during what we now recognize as the month of December. In fact, it wasn’t until the fourth century that Christians actually celebrated the birth of Christ. Christian leaders are said to have chosen December 25 as a way to ‘cash in on’ the other winter festivals already being held. “Christmas Day” was celebrated by attending church then joining in on raucous parties, much like modern day Mardi Gras celebrations. In fact, because of its debaucherous nature, new settlers in America outlawed Christmas celebrations in many cities! Christmas didn’t actually become an official American holiday until June 26, 1870.

Throughout the following centuries, the customs and traditions of individual nations and religions began to merge and coalesce into the tree decorating, gift giving, card sending, stocking hanging, food consuming, consumer driven holiday we know and love today. Is Jesus the reason for the season? For me He is, yes. The birth of the One who ultimately laid down His life to give every human being a new lease on life on earth and in the hereafter certainly deserves to be celebrated. However, whether you believe that or not, surely there must be more to reflect on and celebrate than making sure we’ve made the list and checked it twice.

So what is a fiscally responsible, anti-consumerism person to do? How do we make those we love feel special, loved and appreciated (that certainly is a good thing!) without going into further debt and paying for it for months or years to come? How do we teach our children they don’t “need” this or that; how do we scale back from previous years when those we have gifted in the past have begun to expect a certain level of our generosity? Again, I don’t have the answers! But I have shifted my mindset in order to evaluate what is most important to those I wish to honor with a token of my love on Christmas day. In almost all instances that has more to do with my “presence” than my “presents”! What gifts of time can I give to relatives I don’t see often enough? How can I show a friend what their contribution to my life has meant to me? Perhaps you have heard of the book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary D. Chapman. In it he explores the ways people like to be loved: Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, and Quality Time. There’s even an online quiz that you and your loved ones can take (provided below). Does your mother love words of affirmation? Write her a beautiful letter about how she has been a role model for you. Does your husband respond to acts of service? Offer to mow the lawn every other time for him this summer. Does your friend appreciate physical touch? Rub her shoulders for her or brush her hair when you’re together (it may seem weird at first but you’ll get over it!). You get the idea.

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Seem too cheap? Do they support a charity? If so, make a donation (it doesn’t matter how much!) in their name. What about the kiddos? There’s no way they’ll take a major cutback in gifts without a fight! Well, perhaps not. Visit a Giving Tree somewhere (just about every charity has one somewhere) and put your kids in charge of a budget for the family you select. Help them understand that when little Johnny on their angel card asks for a new pair of shoes, that is probably ALL he will get! I have yet to see a child come to the realization of how others are living without and not respond with compassion and sacrificial giving of their own.

No answers. No huge revelations. But hopefully an invitation to slow down, take stock, and reflect on the things and people that are truly precious in your life. Give back. Be the change. Make a difference.

Merry Christmas!

http://www.5lovelanguages.com/

http://www.thehistoryofchristmas.com/

http://www.history.com/topics/christmas