Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Weather Outside........Burrrrrrrrrr!

We have entered the "deep freeze" in Colorado! A warm coat is a must! This is my littlest angel in her cozy coat.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

All I Want for Christmas: Less Stress, More Joy

By Marlene Depler

My "want list" has always been quite simple. For just one day, all I want is no financial stress, no time pressure, no physical exhaustion or illness, no
loneliness, and no sadness.

For just one day, all I want is to give the perfect gift to each of my family and friends—beautifully wrapped, of course.

For just one day, all I want is for my house to be decorated like the photographs in House Beautiful and a fabulous dinner straight off the pages of Bon Appetit.

For just one day, all I want is for everyone to just get along—no tempers, no pouting, no whining, no controlling, no insensitivity, and no arguing.

For just this one day, all I want is smiling faces near a glowing fire
with snow falling gently outside the window—my own Hallmark moment.

I guess you could say that all I want for Christmas is
perfection. Is that too much to expect? After all, it's Christmas!

For years I was caught up in what a friend calls "irrational holiday hype." I believed that if I worked hard enough and fast enough, I could capture the perfect holiday. My fictitious presumptions and absurd expectations always left me frustrated, disappointed, and exhausted. By December 26, my spirit was worn and threadbare. I felt guilty because I hadn't enjoyed the holidays more. I expected far too much from one day out of the year. Little by little, I am discarding my unreasonable pursuit of Christmas perfection.

Why is it that we outgrow our belief in Santa Claus, yet often cling to the myth of a magical, perfect Christmas? Christmas perfection exists only in our imaginations, in movies, or on the pages of glossy magazines with their skilled marketing departments. Nevertheless, many of us have adopted the faulty perception of this romanticized, glamorized, commercialized Christmas. Here are seven ways to reduce holiday stress and increase our Christmas joy:

RELEASE unrealistic expectations and rediscover what you really love about Christmas.
How many different kinds of cookies and candies must we make? Does every room have to be decorated? Must we attend every holiday function? Is it really necessary to send out Christmas cards or write holiday letters every year? Is there a better way to stay in touch? If we choose to cling to our unrealistic expectations we can expect to feel frustrated and disappointed over and over again. Wouldn’t it be better to do less and enjoy what we choose to do more? Let’s rediscover what we love about Christmas and release the rest.

EVALUATE current resources (time, money, and energy) and establish your limits.
Everyone has a limited supply of time, money, and energy, which often varies from year to year, based on current circumstances. Honoring our limits isn't about deprivation. It's about liberation! Our schedules must be realistic and sane. Is it wise to go in debt for Christmas? What do we want to model for our children? Often we persist in attempting to buy happiness and relationships with gifts we shouldn't buy or can't afford. Crazed spending and an irrational flurry of unending activities only leave us empty, exhausted, disappointed, and perhaps even depressed.

ENJOY the simple things—the small, often overlooked ordinary moments.
Some of the most wonderful holiday blessings aren’t written on our calendars or wrapped under the tree. Many joys are found in the unexpected, unplanned moments that happen along the way—that is if we aren't too stressed to notice. A phone call to a family member that we haven't seen in a long time. Popping corn and playing games on the floor with the kids. A cup of coffee with a friend. Watching birds feast at the feeder. Taking a walk in the crunching snow. If we are alert, many ordinary moments and small blessings can fill our hearts with joy.

OBSERVE and honor your own personal need for rest and renewal.
In the midst of an impossible to-do list, we often ignore our own need for rest and renewal. Frayed nerves and short fuses are sure signs that we aren't honoring our own needs. When holidays leave us exhausted, something is wrong. It's important to replenish ourselves along the way. Seek out small doses of healthy self-care to renew your body and soul..

INITIATE change with care.
Change can be positive when we carefully consider our options in advance. It’s important to include other immediate family members as we sift and sort family traditions and expectations. A little wisdom will help us to avoid knee-jerk reactions.

CONSIDER options for handling difficult people and situations.
We long for relationships that are loving and peaceful. Yet Christmas has a way of bringing up any unresolved issues with family members. What we have ignored all year long suddenly resurfaces. Whatever our relationship problems, they won't magically disappear just because the calendar says December 25. It is important to take a long-term view of our relationships rather than hoping for a quick fix for the holidays. Past behaviors are a good indicator of future behaviors. With that in mind, we can prepare ahead of time our response toward hurtful, immature, or difficult people in our families. We may need to address an issue with someone BEFORE holidays. We may need to set a boundary around a particular situation. Remember we cannot change others, but we can change ourselves and the way in which we handle situations. Act instead of reacting.

EMBRACE meaningful traditions; eliminate burdensome or meaningless traditions.
Family traditions have the potential to give rhythm, continuity, and stability to our lives if they are indeed meaningful. However, traditions that are no longer important to us need to be eliminated. For many, changing holiday traditions can be painful and guilt inducing. Yet if we persist in making wise choices for our families and ourselves, our choices have the potential to bring healing and freedom. It's OK to allow traditions to evolve over time.

Christmas won’t be perfect at my house this year. And I’m guessing it won't be perfect at your house either. Nevertheless, Christmas remains a wonderful season to spend time with those we cherish and to reflect on God's gift of his Son. Let's exchange our crazy-making, mindless madness for something less stressful this year. As we release our misconception of a perfect holiday, we just might experience more joy.

Do less, expect less, and enjoy it more.

Copyright Marlene Depler (reprint in any form only with permission)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Grace of Gratitude

By Marlene Depler

Thou who hast given us so much,
mercifully grant us one more thing—
a grateful heart.

-George Herbert

"Count your blessings."

"Look on the bright side."

"Cheer up! Be thankful. It could be worse."

As a child, I heard responses like these from many adults in my life. I'm guessing that these comments were an attempt to make me feel better. But that wasn't what happened. Instead, my feelings of sadness, disappointment, or frustration felt negated. Even though there was an element of truth in what was said, this type of response only caused me to feel diminished and dismissed. It didn't seem to matter that a teacher had been unfair or that I wasn't invited to the slumber party. Whatever my difficulty, struggle, challenge, or pain, it seemed unimportant. My feelings were brushed aside and minimized. I learned to bury them. Eventually, I became the one who chided myself with the same kind of responses whenever I encountered anything that adversely affected me.
In my late thirties, I slowly learned to stop pretending and denying my current struggles and past hurts. I began to validate my own experience and feelings. If someone hurt me with harsh words or if I experienced disappointment or difficulty, I no longer tried to brush it off. In this place of honesty, sometimes I felt like a first-class whiner. Fortunately for me, I had a few patient listeners.

I needed this season to learn that it was okay to be honest about the reality of my experience and to learn not to minimize my pain. However, over time, I concluded that this honesty could comfortably co-exist with gratitude. So I made a choice to incorporate gratitude into my life, not because of someone else's "guilting" remarks, but because I saw the personal value of it.
The intermingling of both has given me a greater equilibrium—a more balanced perspective. All of life is not bad, and neither is it all good. Life is much like my rose garden. The roses are beautiful in color and their sweet fragrance permeates the summer breeze. Yet these same roses have sharp thorns that have often brought me pain. I accept both.
At first I attempted to keep a gratitude journal as suggested in the book Simple Abundance. For a litany of reasons, I was inconsistent at best. Then I decided on a plan that worked for me. Each night in the quiet darkness just before falling asleep, I recount anything about the day that I found pleasant or enjoyable, anything for which I could be thankful. As I recite in silence a list of things both great and small for which I feel grateful, I am reminded that life itself is a gift.
Last night I thanked God for a pleasant lunch with a friend, my evening walk in the freshness of spring, my unexpected gift for my new office, and the valuable information that I learned from my writing mentor. Before I knew it, I had drifted off to sleep with a heart filled with gratitude.
I would be the first to admit that there are days when it is much more difficult to find things for which to be grateful. On those days I’m thankful for things like indoor plumbing, the end of the day, my bed, and soft flannel sheets as I pull them over my head.
As unlikely as it may seem, I even found reason to be thankful in the midst of great pain. When my mother slipped away unexpectedly from this life. In my sadness, I could thank God that she didn't have to experience prolonged suffering—that she didn't know she had breast cancer. (The test results from the biopsy came back the day she died.) The kind and capable nurses were another reason for which I felt immense gratitude. I was also grateful I arrived before she died, and that I was able to be at her side when she drew her last breath. In my anguish, God gave me many things for which I could say thank you. I did not use my gratefulness to minimize my pain. Rather I used it as a rudder with which to navigate through the pain.
A few years ago, I received a newsletter in the mailbox. The front-page article was about the physical health benefits of gratitude. (And for that article, I am grateful!) Dr. Christiane Northrup states that feeling thankful for as little as 15-20 seconds causes many physiological benefits, such as a decrease in stress hormones which enhances the immune system, the oxygen level in the tissues increases as breathing becomes deeper, and the coronary arteries relax which increases the blood supply to the heart. Northrup concludes, "No matter what's going on in the world, the economy, or the news, you have the power within you to create the biochemistry of gratitude right now."[1] I had no idea that gratitude was good for my health!
I won't be presumptuous and tell you that you SHOULD count your blessings. Rather I hope that by sharing my story a seed of possibility will be sown for you. Consider a "gratitude journal" to record the things that have brought you blessing or joy today. Or choose something else that fits your personality. Perhaps you may first need to explore the roots of your unhappiness or depression before you can genuinely move toward thankfulness. It's your journey. Proceed at your own pace.
As for me, I have come to believe that gratitude has the power to change me, so I will continue to nudge myself to practice this graceful attitude while still honestly acknowledging the reality of my daily difficulties. I desire to appreciate and say “thank you” for all that is good in my life. Yet I will also acknowledge the sad and the bad. A grateful heart—my heart's desire.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.
-Melody Beattie
Copyright by Marlene Depler
To reprint in any format, by permission only

[1] Christiane Northrup, M.D., "Cultivating Gratitude," A Grain of Salt, Spring 2002, Happiness Press, Asheville, NC.
[2] Melody Beattie, The Language Of Letting Go, (New York: Harper/Hazelden Books, 1990), p. 218.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Fall Decorations

I am enjoying the fall decorations that so many have displayed on their front doors and porches. I took these photos out on a walk a few days ago. The last photo is the wreath on my front door. Can you believe that next week will be Thanksgiving?!?!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Image of Bible cover

Ok! I finally figured it out! Sometimes my gray matter works rather slowly. I took a photo of my copy of the Bible and downloaded it! Here is the front cover of the Women's Devotional Bible that I told you about in the post below.

New Women's Devotional Bible

Zondervan has just released a new Women's Devotional Bible. I wrote some of the devotions for this project, so I wanted to share this news with you. I had hoped to add a picture of the cover, but I haven't been able to used the scanned image that I have. SORRY! The cover is squares of green with a coffee cup on the front of it. Here is a link where you can view the Bible and even download sample devotions:

Perhaps this would make a good Christmas gift for someone on your list---or for yourself.

My oldest daughter and family have now gone to Minnesota/South Dakota to visit with her husband's family. They will return for Christmas. (I promised the grandchildren that I would have stockings hung for them when they returned!)Maybe I will be more regular in making posts over the next several weeks.

Blessings to all!
Marlene Depler