These are the things that
ARE my responsibility
What things are NOT your responsibility? What things ARE? Take a look…
What things are NOT your responsibility? What things ARE? Take a look…
If we see life a bit clearer and appreciate its beauty
and glory alongside its horror and sorrow ~
They have not died in vain.
If we’ve reached out to those we love and
opened our hearts a bit more in trust ~
They have not died in vain.
If we’ve learned beyond a doubt that politics and religion
can be dividers of people as well as reconcilers of people ~
They have not died in vain
If we now know that God’s grace and love resides in the
hearts of individuals regardless of race, creed or country ~
They have not died in vain.
Freedom or fear; Love or fear; Courage or fear ~
Everyday battles fought in everyday lives.
If we can believe that the way we live our lives;
The way we treat each other;
And the way we respond to hatred and evil
will bring about change in this world ~
Then they have not died in vain.
~ Mary Lou ~
(Dedicated to the Victims and Families of September 11, 2001)
She stood beside the doorway softly weeping,
without the slightest gift for the newly born
who lay within a manger, peaceful, sleeping.
Three travelers, all richly dressed, but worn,
brought royal treasures for him in their keeping ~
the shepherd maiden wept unseen, forlorn.
In the chill of winter, she had found no rose
nor blossom; ‘midst the rocky hills none grows.
An angel saw her sorrow; understanding
at once the reason, swept away the snow,
revealing there some Christmas Roses. Handing
these white and waxen flowers to her, “Go –
an offering so pure is right,” commanding
with gentleness that only angels know.
The gift was made – beneath the angel’s wink,
the petals blushed from white to palest pink.
© Margaret I. Gibson
Some of the best memories I have of past Christmas holidays were when I let go of expectations and just let it happen.
Ever since I was a little girl I’ve felt that Christmas was meant for all people of good will. It never dawned on me that Christmas would belong to just one religion. I knew it was the birth of Jesus ~ the tiny infant who was born in a humble stable ~ who came to love the world and the message he brought to us was to love one another.
My early memories of Christmas were more of the feeling of togetherness, belonging and acceptance. There was a feeling of magic in the air. There weren’t many gifts under the tree ~ yet it was my favorite time of the year. There was something infectious about the outpouring of Good Will as you went about the day meeting people along the way.
When my children were growing up it was fun taking on the passing along of this tradition. Seeing their eyes brighten with anticipation as the day grew nearer, and gathering them around the Nativity Scene to impress upon them that it was this humble birth we were celebrating.
Then there were the times when I was weary and burdened with worries and stresses. When I didn’t have enough money to get them gifts or a tree. When I watched the hustle and bustle of every one caught up in the season and felt isolated from it. I thought it was all going to pass us by. Surprisingly, these were the times I remember the most because it’s at times like these that even the smallest gift and the smallest gestures of kindness and love mean the most. It was at times like these that I experienced what the real meaning of Grace is. It was at times like these that I learned that Christmas happens every day when we’re open to it.
That humble birth of that one small child speaks to all of us about the simplicity of Love ~ A Gift that shouts out at a World that desperately needs it. It’s not a gift that belongs to any specific religion. It’s a gift that belongs to all of us!
“Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).
“Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.” —Dr. Seuss
With each passing year I find myself withdrawing from all the ratcheting up to the holiday season. I think it’s partly due to my surrendering to the December years of my life. It’s also because I find some of the noise and chatter to be superficial. The true meaning of Thanksgiving through Christmas seems to settle into my life no matter how many carols I listen to, no matter how many ‘Merry Christmases’ I say and no matter how many parties I attend. Each year I see more and more people realizing this and choosing not to frantically hustle to get things accomplished within that one month. So, when I read this wonderful essay on the Becoming Minimalist blog I decided to re-post it here.
This was My First Reflection on how my views have changed. I think the politicizing of Christmas intruded into my yearning for what I’ve experienced down through the years. There is no ‘War on Christmas’. It happens in our hearts no matter what’s going on in governments. When we get caught up in the political aspects of the Season we lose sight of the spiritual gifts we all receive no matter how we believe or worship. The Gifts of Faith, Hope, Love, Peace and Joy are given to each of us no matter where we are in life. It’s a time of good will toward all men and women. It’s at times like these that I’ve experienced what the real meaning of Grace is. It’s at times like these that I’ve learned that Christmas can happen every day when we’re open to it. ~ Me in the Middle of Feeling Christmas Spirit.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Allison Vesterfelt of AllisonVesterfelt.com.
“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.” —Bob Hope
I believe it is possible to do less, buy less, cook less, work less and even decorate less and still have a full, happy, satisfying, beautiful holiday season. But in order to get there, and stay there, we’re going to have to focus on a few changes of mindset.
Or, at least I am.
The other day my husband and I were driving to an event together and, out of nowhere, he asked, “Hey, do you realize we’ve never bought each other Christmas presents?”
Honestly, when he asked that question, my heart leapt a little. I knew it was true, but it sounded so harsh to say it outright like that. In fact, I found myself feeling a little embarrassed, thinking of a million excuses for why this was the case…
“We’ve only been married for two Christmases…”
“We’ve been trying to get out of debt…”
“The first Christmas we were together, we were busy planning a wedding…”
But just as I started to let my thoughts get away from me, my husband spoke up again. “Honestly, it doesn’t bother me if it doesn’t bother you.”
The truth is it doesn’t really bother me. But I find myself thinking it does. I find myself worrying what people will think, or what they’ll say if they find out. I find myself thinking about what others are doing for the holidays that I’m not doing; and feeling pressure to make my holiday season look and feel a certain way.
But our decision to forgo Christmas presents (which was mostly out of necessity at the time we made it) has actually opened space for us to have a lighter, simpler, more beautiful Christmas. I’m not against celebrating, or against buying presents. In fact, my husband and I may buy each other presents one day.
But I do believe the common maxim “less is more” applies to the holidays more than it does to just about anything else. And I think each of us will discover a more satisfying holiday if we’ll focus on the following changes in mindset.
1. Don’t get too stuck on “the way you’ve done it before.”
If you grew up in a family or neighborhood (like I did) that went all out for Christmas, maybe scaling back for your own holiday celebration makes you feel a little bit like I felt when my husband reminded me we have never bought each other presents—like a failure. Or, like you’re doing it wrong.
I have good news. There is no wrong way to do it!
Try not to get too stuck on the way you’ve always done it before. Instead, focus on the values you want to cultivate in your family or community or home this year, and experiment with creative ways to promote those values. Also, if you’re entering a new season of life (newly independent, newly married, have young children, or have a newly empty nest), what better time to start fresh with a brand new “way?”
If you’ve always been extravagant in the past, you don’t have to “live up” to that version of yourself, or to anyone else. Take a deep breath. You’re not a failure.
2. Focus on experiences over possessions.
One of the reasons my husband and I have never bought Christmas presents for each other is that we are always traveling for the holidays. We live far from all of our extended family, and in order to spend time with family (without breaking the bank) we have had to choose between plane tickets and Christmas presents.
We’ve agreed together that, when it comes buying habits, we will always (not just at Christmas) value experiences over possessions. Possessions are nice, but they rust, rot, get stolen and burn in fires. Experiences can’t be taken from us. They have eternal value.
Consider how you cultivate experiences this year, rather than just buying gifts which will likely end up in the Goodwill pile in a few months or years.
3. Do the best you can with what you have.
This is advice a mentor of mine once gave me about a totally different subject, but I think it applies here, as well. When I was getting ready to go on a date, she would advise me not to go buy brand new clothes, or to feel like I needed to lose 10 pounds before the date, but simply to, “Do the best you can with what you have.”
In other words: be the best version of yourself.
I would give really similar advice when it comes to Christmas. Do the best you can with what you have. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy presents, or that having a Christmas tree is a waste. It simply means don’t go into debt over presents or trees. It means decide what you’re going to spend on Christmas—and it doesn’t have to be extravagant—and then do the best you can with what you have.
4. Turn off the TV (or find other ways to avoid being swayed by advertisements).
You’d be surprised how influenced you are by advertisements. Suddenly you begin thinking that everyone has a better Christmas planned than you do. Everyone’s Christmas tree belongs in a department store, and everyone’s husband is buying them diamond earrings, and everyone else is buying their kids new computers.
That’s simply not true, no matter how convincing the ads make it look.
The other thing that’s not true is that families who have these things are automatically happier (like they are in the commercials) than your family, or other families who go without. Presents are nice. But they can’t make you happy.
If you want a truly happy holiday season, you’ll have to find ways to cultivate happiness from the inside.
What tips do you have for creating a lighter, more beautiful life?
Allison Vesterfelt blogs at AllisonVesterfelt.com where she inspires and encourages others to live with less. Her book, Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage is helpful and compelling. I highly recommend it to you. She is also worth following on Twitter. becoming firstname.lastname@example.org
It was November and an ordinary week day with not much planned except for household chores and getting ready for the upcoming holidays. Nora’s husband had left for work leaving her with a pile of ironing to do. She liked to set up the ironing board in the living room, facing the large bay window, so she could look out on the neighborhood. It had been a quiet morning where she took things easy considering her pregnancy was drawing to an end and she was slowed down quite a bit.
Waiting wasn’t easy! Over the past year she had had two miscarriages and this was her 3rd pregnancy. All seemed to be progressing well and 22-year-old Nora could feel the lively kicks and bumps in this last stage before birth. Her doctor wasn’t sure of an exact delivery date. He told her to have her bag packed and ready for a trip to the hospital sometime during the holidays.
Her mind was preoccupied with these thoughts when her attention was abruptly drawn to the TV in the corner of the room. The monotonous conversations of the scheduled show were suddenly interrupted by a brief, alarming announcement.
“Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.”
The announcement came and went so quickly that it almost seemed inconceivable that what Nora heard really happened. She continued with the ironing and reflected on the memories she had of JFK over the past three years. Her first stirrings of political awareness showed up when she went to a campaign rally at the Teaneck Armory in NJ for John F. Kennedy, who was running for President against Richard M. Nixon. Standing outside in the massive crowd waiting for him to arrive, she and her sister came up with a chant; “Jack be nimble. Jack be quick. Jack’s the one who’s gonna beat Dick.” Her family was proud of the Democratic Party that was working towards electing the first Catholic President.
Both JFK and his wife, Jackie, were an inspiration for her and both gave her hope. She felt like she knew Jackie Kennedy personally when they each went through the heartaches of miscarriages and loss. Jackie gave her hope that one day she too would become a mother, just as her husband gave her hope that we as a country could overcome our divisions and adversities, and become greater still.
Did she really hear what she thought she heard? The report said ‘seriously wounded’. A feeling of dread washed over her as she thought of the possibility that the president would die. And then it came up on the screen:
“From Dallas, Texas ~ The flash apparently official ~ President Kennedy died at 1 pm Central Standard Time (2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time), some 28 minutes ago.”
There it was! There was no denying the finality of those words. She felt a bolt of shock pulse through her as the seriousness of what it meant sunk in. Suddenly she felt very fearful and very much alone. She needed to reach out to someone and dropped everything she was doing. Nora hurried down the stairs of their 2nd floor apartment to the landlady’s apartment below. She was relieved that she found her at home and, as soon as the door opened, she began to tremble and cry. For the first time she said the words that she couldn’t believe:
“President Kennedy’s dead! He was shot!”
Her landlady, who was expecting her third child, was an experienced mom who always had everything under control. She tried to calm Nora down. “You’ve got to think of your baby right now. It’s important that you stay calm.” She counseled her. They both stood there silently and continued to watch the startling news reports as more information trickled in.
It was two days later that she watched a live report of the Dallas Police bringing Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, through the garage of the police station on the way to a more secure county facility. There was a lot of confusion and shouting as they walked through the crowd of reporters. She saw a man quickly approach Oswald and immediately saw a pained expression appear on Oswald’s face. It happened so quickly there was no way to prevent it. Nora was watching real life unfold, realizing that it was the first time she was witnessing a man being murdered. Another urgent announcement followed that Oswald had been shot and killed by a local business man in Texas, Jack Ruby.
Life changed for America on November 22nd, 1963 and when she stood in stunned silence watching more news unfold over the following days, Nora saw images of Jackie Kennedy, her daughter Caroline and her small son, John-John, standing by the roadside as the fallen president’s casket passed by. An ordinary day became a tragedy and the whole world mourned the death of our president.
The weeks passed by and the country began to take steps to bring order and safety as more information was released. The grieving and healing would begin across the country and the world.
So too, the weeks passed by for Nora with no sign of the beginnings of labor indicating the arrival of their first born. Christmas 1963 and New Year’s Day 1964 came and went. The doctor reassured her that all was well and not to worry. The previous miscarriage had made it impossible to pinpoint a due date, and the baby’s weight and progress were on target for an imminent birth. They continued to wait ~ one day at a time ~ and then on January 22nd, 1964, exactly two months to the day of JFK’s assassination, a baby boy arrived healthy and welcomed into the family. An ordinary day in the lives of so many others yet a cherished one for Nora.
And now, years have passed by filled with historic moments that have impacted the people of America in so many ways. That one ordinary day, 54 years ago, continues to haunt Nora as a reminder of vulnerability that always lies beneath the surface. Just as 9/11 sliced into the heart and soul of the country, so to 11/22/63 will remain a reminder that the perfect idealism of ‘Camelot’ can be shattered within one ordinary day.
Sketch and writing © Mary Lou
Photo image from Pixabay.com
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