Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Morning Thoughts

Alarm clock

As I lay in bed this morning in that hazy, transitional state between waking and sleeping, having the same conversation with myself that I do every morning after my alarm goes off for the first time – about if I have to wash my hair that day or if I know what I’m going to wear to work and if that means I can stay in bed just a little longer – during this familiar phase of slipping between awareness and unconsciousness, I had a vision. I saw myself on a long road made up of days where I have to get out of bed and go to work; an endless, changeless, relentless grind of the same thing, day after day, on and on, for the rest of my life. It was terrifying. Is this all there is for me, my foggy brain wondered? This constant repetition of the white-collar worker’s assembly line: wake up, turn off alarm, get out of bed, get in shower, brush teeth, put on clothes, drive to work, work, drive home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed, wake up, turn off alarm, get out of bed . . . ?

Once I finally roused myself and my full faculties came online, I of course realized that what I saw in my vision isn’t my whole life, that I have passions and pursuits that I care deeply about, and that the job I have is a necessary part of the whole. It keeps a roof over my head, food on the table, gas in the car. And what is more, fortunately for me I don’t hate my job. I work for a good company, I enjoy my co-workers very much, and my boss is a good guy. Yes, there are things that I would change, and there are things I hope to change, but honestly, it’s a good gig, as straight gigs go. I’m lucky, and grateful.

And it allows me to do things that I might not otherwise get to do. It gives me the freedom from worry about where the mortgage is coming from so that I CAN focus on my passions and pursuits in the time I’m not earning a living. And for that, I am grateful.

The episode this morning reminded me that I have a choice about how I see my life. I can either wallow in the things I don’t like about where I am now, or I can be grateful. Wallowing is seductive, like soft sheets and a warm bed – it feels good to wrap myself in the comfort of the familiar, ignoring the pull of the world around me. But eventually I have to get up and face it, and the longer I wallow the harder it gets to throw off the covers and start a new day. What would be better is to begin each day with an eagerness born of gratitude, to take a moment before getting up where I think about all the amazing people and opportunity and love I have in my life. When I start thinking about that stuff it makes crawling out of my comfy bed a lot easier.
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photo credit: cdw9 It’s Too Early!! via photopin (license)

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Getting In the Mood

Christmas Cocktail

You know, sometimes I just don’t feel like it. I’m busy with work, I’m distracted, or I’m worried about this or that. I’m just not into it. No matter how much I know I’ll enjoy it once it starts, it’s getting going that can be the hardest part, you know? I have to grit my teeth and force myself to take that first step. I know if I could just relax it would be easier, but I’m having a hard time letting go.

I’ve tried, I really have. I wear the special clothes, I have the right accessories. The room is all done up nice. I’m going through the motions, but I just can’t seem to capture that special feeling.

I can’t seem to get into the Christmas spirit. Santa’s just not doing it for me. Not yet, anyway.

My tree is up. The stockings are hung. I’ve done most of my shopping (yes, online, I’m a horrible person, but Amazon Prime is the bomb!). The Christmas cards are all written and addressed and mailed. I’ve baked two batches of cookies that are so good I’m regretting that I’m going to give them all away (Scrooge much?).  I’ve even broken out my seasonal slop-around-the-house sweatshirt, the one that says “Noel” with the red ribbons on it that’s two sizes too big. You would think all that would be enough to have me humming “Holly Jolly Christmas” all day, but, alas, no.

Maybe it’s being stuck in the house that has kept me from catching the Christmas bug. I haven’t been much of anywhere except the grocery store for a few days, and the guy with the bell outside just gives me a headache. I did feel a twinge looking at the Starbuck’s Christmas Blend coffee – there’s something about that stuff that brings out images of crackling fires and warm blankets and good books and cuddling that is distinctly Christmas-y.

Maybe it’s the 70 degree weather we’re having here in Hot-lanta. But really, that’s not all that unusual here, not at all. We Atlantans know how to pretend we’re living in a winter wonderland in spite of the shorts and flip-flops temperatures in December!

I’m not sure what’s keeping me from feeling all goose-pimply and excited.

I love Christmas. I love the little traditions my husband and I have, the rituals we perform every year. I love giving presents. I love the plays and the concerts we attend. I love the annual parties, where we see friends we don’t see at any other time of the year. I love getting together with my family for a big meal and tons of laughter.

I suppose I could get out of the house and go to the mall. I could wander around and look at all the stuff for sale, and the decorations, and listen to fifteen different versions of “The Little Drummer Boy” playing over the loudspeakers in the department stores. But I don’t know – the older I get the more the buy-buy-buy frenzy turns me off. It’s out of control.

I miss my high school chorus. This was the time of year when we sang all of the Christmas music – sacred and secular – we’d been rehearsing since September. We went to the malls and sang, we had a school concert, and we sang in area churches on Sunday nights. The feeling of being a part of that group, making beautiful music together, was (and still is) a highlight of my life. To this day, nothing has made me feel more in the spirit than a rousing rendition of the “Carol of the Bells” or the quiet simplicity of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Such great memories.

And there’s this – it’s hard for me to get in the mood when I’m surrounded by so much suffering and endless need. This year, as I have done for the past few years through my church, I will buy a gift for a child who may not otherwise have any presents to open because at least one (and sometimes both) of their parents is incarcerated. The greetings the prisoners send to their children, written on the gift tags by someone else, probably a stranger, are heart breaking. “Daddy loves you!” The periods of personal poverty that I complain about are nothing compared to these families, and my contributions, while sincerely made, feel hopelessly inadequate. All I can do is this much, and I pray that it makes a difference, even if it’s for only one child. Surely that’s worth a few dollars. I’m just grateful that I have the means to do it.

That’s it, though, isn’t it? I’m not going to find the Christmas spirit under the tree or in my stocking. It’s where it always has been, in the gratitude I feel for what I already have. I have so, so much.  There’s nothing I can buy that will make my life any better than it already is now. So I’ll focus on the love and joy in my life and marvel at how lucky I am, and how blessed.

The rest is just gravy and trimmings.

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Giving Thanks in a Mad World

cornucopia

This is the week of Thanks-giving, when we express our gratitude for the good things we have in our lives. It’s my favorite holiday, not only because it’s the one I spend with my extended family (who are wonderful, kind, loving, funny people), but also because it gets me to be specific about recognizing the amazing blessings I have in my life (that are generally right in front of me). Of course I am always thankful (in a subconscious way) for the roof over my head, food in my fridge, supportive family and terrific friends, but this week I take time out to meditate on them. When I do that, when I count my blessings, I begin to feel like the richest person in the world. It helps keep things in perspective, which, unless you live in a cave, is hard to do in this increasingly mad world. Which brings me to the internal conflict I now find myself experiencing.

It feels almost obscene to be thankful for my good fortune when there are so many who don’t have plentiful good food and easy access to clean water. It seems like a betrayal to be happy in my oppression-free life when there is so much injustice in the world. How can I blithely sit down at a table covered by an abundant holiday meal when I see the suffering of refugees, the horror of genocide, and the indiscriminate bombing of innocents in the world? How can I laugh and be joyful with my loved ones when children are abused, when the mentally ill are ignored, when unarmed teenagers are gunned down – in this country? How does that not make me a hypocrite? How does that not make me part of the problem, turning my back on a mountain of troubles?

I struggle with how to respond to everything I see on the news and in my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I start to feel guilty when I get excited about the upcoming turkey and dressing when other people are protesting in the streets. Am I who I say I am, someone who cares about the weak, the silent, the powerless? Or do I just pay lip service to these things? These questions leave me feeling anxious, like I should be doing something about all if it if I only knew what.

I know what I won’t do, and that’s fan the flames of a fire that is already burning out of control. I decided a long time ago that I would refrain from foisting my indignation on my unsuspecting friends via the internet. There’s too much of that already. For those of you who do express your outrage in this public way, I understand why you want to do it, but I would ask what you’re trying to accomplish. If you are achieving your desired aims (either to solicit agreement from like-minded people, or to pursue arguments with those who disagree) then I suppose your efforts are fruitful. If you post things of a particular slant in the hopes of changing someone’s mind, then you’re probably wasting your time – the internet is not a safe haven for reasonable people willing to engage in dispassionate discourse. You should probably look for them elsewhere.

And I think that the constant flow of horribleness is dangerous to our well-being. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Getting back the point of all this, then, is how do I reconcile my own good fortune with the scarcity I see everywhere?

At least part of the answer, for me, is rooted in the spirit of Thanksgiving. I am genuinely thankful that I was born where and when I was. I am genuinely thankful that both of my parents are still living, and that they love me. I am genuinely thankful for my wonderful husband, who is a gift to me every day. I am genuinely thankful for my family, who are strong, kind, faithful people. I am genuinely thankful for my friends, who bring such love and laughter into my life. I am genuinely thankful for all the material things I have – a home that is warm and dry, clothes to wear, a car to drive. I am thankful because I know that so very many people in this world don’t have some, or any, of these things. It makes me humble that I do.

The other part of the answer is that even as I am thankful for what I have, I try to do something for those who have not. I give money to various charities. I volunteer my time at the soup kitchen. I donate unwanted goods to organizations who will pass them on to needy people for free.

And finally, I try to live my convictions. I gave money to the pregnant woman in the Target parking lot without making her finish her carefully rehearsed speech about why she deserved my help (“I’m not homeless”, she said, as if not having a home would have made her unworthy of the money I gave her). I try to treat my fellow man with understanding and compassion, even when I’m frustrated by them. I do my best to be kind and patient, as I want people to be kind and patient with me. I’m not always successful, but I try.

Sometimes we get an opportunity to stand up in a real way for what we believe. When those times come, it’s important to take advantage of them. When those times come, it is important to stand up in love, not hate. Screaming “You’re Wrong!” at each other only widens the gulf between us.

My friends, take some time this week and turn off the television and the computer, and think on what you have to be thankful for. Dwell on your blessings. Let your gratitude fill you up so that when you look out at the world, you will see it through love-filled eyes. I promise you, it will look very different indeed.

photo credit: Carmyarmyofme via photopin cc

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Life, the Universe, and Everything

don't panic

Every year since I was fairly young, 10 or 11, my father has asked me the same question on my birthday:

“What have you learned this year?”

I look forward to this annual ritual, and I usually start thinking about it some days ahead of time. Well, today is my birthday, and my Dad reads my blog, so I’m going to go ahead and answer the question now (Dad, I look forward to discussing it with you later!).

This year I’ve learned some harsh truths:

  • Hard work isn’t always rewarded in the way you hope it will be;
  • Adults in professional situations will smile in your face and lie about you behind your back (yeah yeah I know, but it still surprises me);
  • I am vulnerable to feelings of powerlessness.

I’ve also learned some wonderful truths:

  • I’ve learned not to panic when things go wrong – the situation is rarely as bad as it seems at first;
  • I’ve learned how to embrace my disappointment and move on;
  • I’ve learned that gratitude is the best defense against despair;
  • I’ve learned that what I think is a mistake may actually be just a guidepost on the way to a better destination;
  • I’ve learned that I’d rather be happy than right;
  • I’ve learned that a simple act of kindness, shown to a complete stranger, is the greatest power in the universe.

I don’t have the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, but I do know this: if you are lucky enough to have people in your life who you love and who love you, the best use of your time on this planet is to protect and nurture that love. By all means do your work, engage in thoughtful debate, support the arts, give to the needy, explore the sacred divine, take care of your body, but – even as you pursue these good things – never forget to love the people in your life.

And never underestimate the impact you have on other people whether you know them or not. It’s a responsibility we all have, to lead with compassion, to listen in order to understand, and not to add to the conflict and turmoil in the world. This is what I’ve learned. My hope is that I am able to live it every day.

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Giving Thanks

Indian Corn

I love the Thanksgiving holiday for lots of reasons.  Because there are no presents involved there is so much less pressure, financial or otherwise, than some other holidays we could mention.  I love that it is about being with family and friends.  I love that it inspires so many of us to take the time to think about those things in our lives for which we are grateful; gratitude is an actively helpful emotion, unlike the emotions that sometimes get conjured up around those other holidays.  And I love Thanksgiving because it invariably means that I’m going to get some homemade Caramel Cake.  You just can’t beat that.

But this year I’ve been struggling to find that “attitude of gratitude”.  It’s not that I’m unaware of all of the things in my life I have to be grateful for – I am.  And I am also aware that all of these things – roof over my head, car in my driveway, my health and the health of those I love, to name a few – could be taken in an instant.  The constant precariousness of my finances keeps me very focused on how lucky I am to still have all of these things, and more.  So I’ve been asking myself – why don’t I feel it, that deep thankfulness that usually comes so easily to me at this time of year?

There have been many Thanksgivings when I would write a list of all of the people, objects, and experiences that I was grateful for, and as I reviewed the list, I would acknowledge my thankfulness about each in turn.  It’s a great exercise, but it’s not enough this year.  I’ve come to feel that there’s something deeper, something behind that simple act of expressing gratitude that I’ve been missing.   And I think I know now what it is.

It’s humility.

I’m fairly certain that everything good in my life is a gift.  I have done nothing to earn the amazing grace that seems to keep me safe and dry in spite of all the hardship and struggle and loss and anger and resentment that has been a large part of my journey.  But even as I acknowledge my dependence on those forces that continue to work to keep me going, I have yet to relinquish the belief that I still somehow must direct them, that they need my input.  I am afraid to let go of my sense of control.  I’m afraid that if I do, if I just take that leap of faith and surrender my own will to the will of the Divine, I might lose what I do have.  So in a sense, I feel as if I still have what I have because I’ve got a death grip on it, even as I realize I’m like a child trying to hold a snowball in her bare hands; eventually there’s nothing left to hold onto. But until that snow melts I still believe that I’m the master of my fate.  And inside that delusion there is no room for thankfulness.

I know now that to be truly thankful, I must become humble (which, as many of you know, does not come all that naturally to me!).  I have to give up the belief that I had anything to do with the good things I have in my life.  But letting go of that belief is confronting – what about how hard I work?  What about all the things I do for my husband and family to show them how much I love them?  This attachment to cause-and-effect, this idea that any of us gets what we deserve (good or bad) – I have come to believe is dangerous.  Believing that I am responsible for my own fortune whatever it may be is also dangerous, because for every good thing I’ve “earned”, I must also “deserve” the bad.  And for whatever reason, this struggle between justice and grace has arrived at an all-or-nothing point.  I either give up the last vestiges of belief in my own power to direct the course of my life, or I will be unable to feel true, unmitigated, pure gratitude for the gifts I have been given.  As long as it feel like I did it, I can’t be genuinely thankful for it.

I am faced with a choice.  I know what I want to choose – I know that I need to let go of my fear and my pride and acknowledge that the gifts I have been given are just that – gifts.  But the fear and the pride don’t want to let go of me, and they’re fighting back hard.  But I see it now, and that gives me hope that one day I will know how to live my life with no regrets for the past and no anxiousness about the future, when everything I see and everyone I know is a fresh blessing to me. So as much as it scares me, on this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the awareness I’ve been given that there is a choice to be made.  That’s the only part that IS up to me.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

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