Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Toast to Thanksgiving

Every year, it seems that the Christmas season starts earlier. As if it’s not enough that all the stores and television commercials center around Christmas as soon as Halloween is over, now radio stations are playing Christmas carols as early as the first week of November! I’m all for everything that embodies the Christmas season, but when it starts so early it seems as though Thanksgiving simply gets skipped over.

I have always loved Thanksgiving. Even as a kid I would get a heartwarming feeling of happiness and gratitude when we celebrated the holiday together with family over a huge feast. Sure, I was excited for the Christmas season too, but I always wanted to appreciate Thanksgiving for what it was before I really got into the Christmas mindset.

Sadly, today that is harder to do. There is much more responsibility for me during the holidays now as an adult and parent than there was when I was a kid. The commercialism of Christmas which starts in early November stresses me out. I have to figure out the kids’ Christmas lists not just for my husband and myself, but for extended family as well. Then I have to think about how I can save the most amount of money on Christmas shopping: Should I shop in store or online? Should I wait for Black Friday or purchase things earlier before everything is picked over? Should I wait for Cyber Monday? Or maybe mid-December will have the best deals. All of this anxiety causes me to forget about what’s in the present, the season of being thankful.

This year, I decided that I will not partake in the Black Friday shopping frenzy, nor will I check the online deals on the evening of Thanksgiving. I decided that I want to use that time instead to really be with my family. I want to play games and watch movies with my kids. I want to share Thanksgiving dinner with friends without a time-limit for when I need to start online shopping. I want to enjoy decorating for Christmas with the family on Friday while drinking hot cocoa and listening, finally, to Christmas Carols. I want to remember Thanksgiving as the perfect foundation for the Christmas season: gratitude and appreciation for all we have.
So here’s to Thanksgiving, a reminder of all my blessings:  family and friends, good health, food, water, and shelter, military life (which is very easy to NOT feel thankful for!), my kids’ school and teachers, the strangers who lend a helping hand, the doors which have opened for me and the doors which have closed behind me, the lessons I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, our beautiful country and the heroes who defend it, God’s unfailing promise, and the love that surrounds all of these.

This Thursday, take a moment to raise your glass, give a toast to Thanksgiving, and think about all you are thankful for. See for yourself how your heart fills with joy. Then, you are truly ready for the Christmas season. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Lonely Sundays

Sundays were always a special day in my family. My mom, dad, brother, and I usually went to church first thing in the morning, and then came home to enjoy a homemade breakfast together. My dad always made breakfast on the weekends...on any given day we could choose from an egg scramble, waffles, pancakes, or French toast. They were all wonderfully good.

After breakfast, my mom usually read the newspaper and began the household to-do list, while my dad and brother ventured to the garage to work on their latest project, or just to tinker around. During the summer months, my dad spent hours working in the yard. I liked to help out by mowing the grass on the riding mower. In my twelve-year-old mind I imagined I was driving a real car on a real street and sang along to whatever song was stuck in my head that day. When I wasn’t mowing, I would spend time in the house with my mom with no real purpose…sometimes I’d help with chores and other times I’d simply find something to pass the time. There would be music on in the background and, whether they were the latest radio hits or Jim Brickman CDs, they were songs that slowly shaped my memories of those relaxing Sunday afternoons. And nearly every Sunday, I’d count the hours until it was time to go to grandma’s house for dinner.

Since becoming a military wife, Sundays have changed dramatically. When I first got married, it was difficult to accept that we would just be staying home on Sunday evenings. There was no one to visit for dinner and no one to entertain at our place. Slowly but surely, I got used to the new, much quieter Sundays and have come to enjoy the simple family time my husband and I have with our own kids.

But as military life goes, my husband is not always home on Sundays. In fact, in his current position he often leaves for trips on Sunday mornings. Over the course of three deployments, multiple training courses, and a billet that takes him on shorter but more frequent trips, Sundays often end up just me and the kids. I’ve tried to take them to church myself, but that doesn’t work out too well and I end up feeling frustrated rather than closer to God.  Many times I make a nice breakfast, but I usually can’t get anyone to sit down for longer than it takes to eat one bite and the idea of a family breakfast goes out the window. I try to think of fun things to do to enjoy the weekend, but those things usually only pass an hour or so. Sometimes I try to see if friends could come over for a visit, but they are usually busy with their own families. I get a creative itch to try a new recipe for dinner, but when I remember I am cooking for two kids as opposed to adults, I realize that the effort would probably cause more frustration than joy. And after a day’s worth of kid speak and mediating sibling rivalry, I wish I had someone with whom I could enjoy a glass of wine and some adult conversation.

It is on those days that I long for the old Sundays when I had somewhere to go and people to see. It is those days when I feel a loneliness inside that makes me wish we lived closer to family. It is those days when I realize that out of all the things I’ve adjusted to in military life, the lonely Sundays are one thing I will never get used to. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Finding Beauty in the Midst of Thorns

There is no denying that life is full of challenges, and for good reason too. Challenges provide us with the opportunity to strengthen our resolve, embrace our faith, learn from our mistakes, and more fully appreciate the good times. But in the midst of these challenges, it is difficult to remain positive. It is difficult to see the benefits when the negative side effects are staring us right in the face. It is difficult to foresee that anything good will come out of the situation.

As a military wife, I have had more negative responses to my challenges than I care to admit. I tend to be the type of person who needs fair warning before some drastic change of plans and all too many times my mind has responded negatively to such events.

But even in the absence of any drastic changes, I still find myself complaining about the typical everyday frustrations. I complain when the kids make a mess and don’t clean up, or when they take too long to eat or get dressed or get out the door. I complain when I have too much laundry to wash and fold. I complain when my husband is out of town and I don’t get enough down time to myself. I complain when he is home and I don’t get enough down time to myself. I complain about the weather, especially lately when my kids have had numerous snow days and I am stuck at home with both of them fighting all day. I complain that I want to get a job that will allow me to work toward my career goals, all the while complaining about how much work there is to be done at home and I don’t know how working moms do it.

No matter how big or small, there will always be something to complain about. There will always be challenges, thorns pricking us as we try to move through the branches of life. But how these challenges will affect us is our choice. We can scoff at the thorns each time they dig into us or we can turn our eyes to the end of the branch and find the rose.
It is not the easy, carefree times in our lives that make us who we are. Instead, it is the challenges which build our character and teach us those lessons which are truly meaningful to us. If we train ourselves to see the rose in the midst of hardship, we can save ourselves from much unneeded misery and more easily discover the benefit that will come in the end.  

“Rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” What a powerful thought, since our natural tendency is to complain about the thorns. I urge you to practice seeing the beauty in everything—in life, in others, in nature, in all circumstances. It’s easier said than done, but little by little you might just find that your challenges become fewer and your happy grow in abundance.   

Friday, January 31, 2014

When 20/20 Vision isn't So Great

Lately I have been hearing the phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20,” a lot. Too much I think. Too much, because it reminds me of all the things I wish I had done differently—opportunities I didn’t take, advantages I gave up on, responses I made to others that were a little too harsh, and decisions I made that should have been more thought out.
Now when I look back upon these things, the right answers are so clear. Now I have the knowledge and experience I needed to make those decisions. But now, it is too late. What’s done is done and I must live with the consequences.

Would it have made a difference if I had endured a bad coach one more year and played volleyball senior year of high school? Would I have gotten a scholarship to play in college? Would I have an easier time getting a job now if I had taught that class while getting my Master’s degree? Would my kids be better listeners if I had set stricter schedules for them when they were babies? Would my daughter have been more emotionally prepared for elementary school if I had held her back and given her one more year before starting kindergarten?

These and so many more are questions I ask myself all the time. Quick decisions I made when I thought I knew the answers are coming back to bite me now that I have a little more life experience under my belt. But what is most frustrating is that the same thing is going to happen with the decisions I am making today. I think I know the answers, but I know that I will soon find that I acted too swiftly.
There is no way to know the effects of our decisions before they pan out. One of the disadvantages of life is that we must live it before we can discover the right answers. Maybe it isn’t a disadvantage at all, but a blessing. Maybe there’s a reason we aren’t supposed to know the answers. Maybe we are actually better off looking back on our decisions with picture perfect vision rather than having a picture perfect life to begin with. Maybe the mistakes are what keep us from becoming too powerful, too proud, or too set in our ways.

I remember a time in my late teens when I couldn’t think of one regret I had in my life. Over the years, my challenges as a military wife and mother have far surpassed the easy life I had growing up, and my regrets are many. But at least these regrets serve a purpose—providing me wisdom and experience that I can use when making future choices.

Sure, there will be new situations in which I will be forced to make blurred, inexperienced decisions. And certainly, I will one day look back and see my error with 20/20 vision. But the truth is if we knew everything we needed to know about life before we lived it, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn and improve and discover our strengths.  The continuous cycle of experiencing and then learning is our only path to uncovering the wisdom that life offers.

Hindsight is 20/20, yes. But don't beat yourself up for not knowing the future. Rather than living your life worrying about what you should’ve done differently, consider what your choices have taught you. There’s a good chance that you now know something you otherwise would’ve never discovered.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

When One Minute Holds an Entire Year

As I lie there and watch the crowded streets of New York City on my television screen, I begin to drift off to sleep wondering how all of those people have the energy to spend an entire day standing in one spot, in the freezing cold, waiting to ring in the New Year. I wake up a few minutes later to the sound of Miley Cyrus singing Wrecking Ball, and scowl at the idea that this is the stuff America is popularizing right now. Why would they pick her above all the truly great artists out there to sing on the last night of the year? Publicity I suppose. For a few moments, my mind is distracted by my disappointment with the entertainment industry.
But the camera turns back to the ball, which is lit up beautifully. I look at the countdown clock at the bottom of the screen…only a minute and a half left in 2013. Now a minute fifteen seconds, now a minute. As the crystal ball begins to drop, my thoughts turn to the past year. Images of everything that happened, everything we did, all the new beginnings and final endings, flash through my mind like the scene in Armageddon when Bruce Willis’ character is about to push the button. I try to remember all of the best moments we had, the ones that truly made the year great. I see my kids running and playing and growing up way too fast. I long to stop the clock so I can have just a little bit longer to capture the memories. And as that ball reaches the bottom, as the 2014 sign lights up so brilliantly in celebration of the year to come, I see 2013 as a page on a calendar, ripped off by the wind and blown away into the dark night, not to be seen again.  
How does a year go by so fast? Why is it that we don’t realize that it’s happening until the very end? And why do I waste my time on things that will never matter when life is going in fast forward all around me?
Every year that goes by cannot be relived. In fact, every month, week, day, and second that goes by cannot be relived. Each moment that lies before us is uniquely special in that it is a one-time deal. Once it is past, it is gone for good.
This year, I vow to worry less and relax more. I vow to complain less about the things I can’t change and do something about the things I can change. I vow to take more pictures and create more vivid memories of our adventures. I vow to try my best to live in the present and celebrate each day for what it is: a unique and special moment in time that is mine to create. 

What will you do to more fully create your 2014? I’d love to hear!