Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas

To all of you, wherever you are and whether you celebrate Christmas or another holy day or nothing at all on December 25th....

I wish for us all four things:

Hope that things will get better.

Peace in our hearts, even in the midst of conflict.

Joy in every small blessing...and in every great one, too.

Love that is unearned, unrepayable, and unending, flowing to us and through us to others.

And to those who do celebrate Christmas, may you be blessed by the remembered presence of the Messiah in the manger, Emmanuel, God with Us.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Radical Self Care: Suggestion Number Three

We've explored how hobbies and rituals are important to self care, and today, we're going to learn one very powerful word that allows us to take care of ourselves in many, many areas of life.

That word is no.


As in, no, thank you, I don't wish to chair that committee. Or no, I will not bake 12-dozen cookies for a cookie swap two days before Christmas. Or no, I will not find seven different outfits to fit the seven themed Holiday Spirit Days for my eighth grader.

I'm not making that last one up. The student council came up with the following plan for showing holiday spirit on the last seven days of class:

12/12 Merry Monday Morning (PJ day)
12/13 Holiday Head to Toe [sic] Tuesday
12/14 Worst Wacky Sweater Wednesday
12/15 Favorite (Winter) Sports Team Thursday
12/16 Flannel Friday
12/19 Grinch Green Monday
12/20 Rudolph Red Tuesday
Clothes should be school appropriate. 

Tortured alliteration and hyphen neglect aside, this list represents exactly what is wrong with our culture. Well, one thing that's wrong.

It's too much. 

Too much time, too much planning...for what purpose? How many children have a wardrobe specifically tailored to this list? Not my son, that's for sure. The list is absurd because it's even a list. One day of holiday clothes, perhaps the last day before break, would have been festive. Most children are able to find a Santa hat or red sweater or jingle-bell necklace or Rudolph antlers or Christmas tree socks or a green scarf or a homemade paper snowflake to pin to their shirt. One day is do-able.

But seven days of different outfits?


I might even have gotten fancy and said, "Nopity, nope, nope, nope." 

More is not always better. In fact, more can cripple us if we let it. Part of wisdom is discerning the difference between genuinely worthwhile activities and time wasters.

I am not always wise, but the Holiday Spirit Days...that was a no-brainer.


Radical self care requires us to examine how we spend our time and to allocate it reasonably. Allocating time reasonably must, of necessity, include saying no when appropriate. It's the when appropriate that trips many of us up. We say yes because we feel obligated, we feel peer pressure, we feel vulnerable not hanging with the herd. Aren't there lions out there waiting to feed on outliers?


In fact, it's sensible and good to have a healthy no. Most of our neighbors have gorgeous Christmas lighting. I suspect a few of them paid a service to put the lights up. It's grand to drive down our street at night, and we enjoy the spectacle.

We, in comparison, might as well be Jewish or Jehovah's Witnesses. We have a small conifer by the front door wrapped in lights and a large lit reindeer standing near it. George made a comment about how pathetic our display is compared to our neighbors' displays.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that putting up Christmas lights is a waste of time or energy. What I'm saying is that if doing something brings you joy, do it. If it feels like a burden, don't do it. We all have different set-points for blessings and burdens. Pay attention to your needs.

So I said yes to one more thing: LED candles for the windows. These brilliant battery-operated lights come with a built-in timer. They burn for eight hours, automatically turn off for 16 hours, and then come back on...without any effort on my part. Nor will I need to spend hours out in the freezing cold taking down a bunch of lights.

And yes, our display is still pathetic compared to our neighbors' displays, but comparison is the thief of joy.

Say no to comparison, too.

Where in your life do you have trouble saying no? What unimportant activities or obligations can you say no to right now to engage in radical self care? Is Christmas more of a burden than a blessing because you say yes to too many things? How might you find more Christmas spirit by doing less next year? 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Much Ado about Nothing

In his article "Nothing Really Matters," science journalist Adam Hadhazy writes about cosmic voids and how they might explain dark matter. Not being particularly well educated in astronomy, I skimmed the article until finding this gem of a conclusion:

"If current reckonings of dark energy...are right, the universe will keep on expanding at an ever-faster pace. The voids will swell even larger, eventually taking up almost all the space in space. Distant galaxies will slip out of view, and with them the history of the universe.... If any vestige of humanity remains many billions of years from now, and the universe's ciphers remain undecoded, our descendants might have only an all-encompassing abyss to stare into--not just space, but truly, a void." (Discover, Dec. 2016)


That's depressing.

We are running out of time to decode the mysteries of the universe!

Of course, since I can't decode the mysteries of Mr. Hadhazy's article, it's doubtful I'll be much help decoding the mysteries of the universe. But someone needs to get on this. How many billions of years did it take for us to evolve from the primordial soup? How much longer do we have before the endless void is all that remains, especially with the Donald in charge of the nuclear codes?

Let's not think about that.

Demetri Martin, the comedian, has a joke about mysteries. He asks why mysteries are always negative. You know, "Who killed the butler?" Or "Who stole the diamond?" Why can't it be "Who left me cupcakes?"

Wouldn't that be a lovely mystery to solve? A cupcake mystery. Sweet!

Fortunately, the possibility of an all-encompassing abyss billions of years in the future is not a legit problem for homo sapiens, and I doubt Mr. Hadhazy is worried, despite the ominous and dramatic conclusion of his article. I suspect my brain went where it did because it's currently being regulated by the Ministry of Silliness, which happens occasionally.

But when my son Jack was younger, he was worried that the sun would explode and destroy earth, which scientists say will eventually happen...billions of years from now. Jack simply couldn't understand that the sun going supernova is the least of our worries. Time meant nothing to him. Everything--including past and present--was now.

Which, in a sense, it is. Not the supernova thing, of course, but when we live our lives in the past, we stop moving forward. When we live our lives in the future, nothing gets done now. Right now is what we've got. And the now is good enough for Jimmy Buffett, so it's good enough for me.

To solve the mysteries of the universe, science asks lots of questions about what happened in the past, what's going on now, and what will happen in the future. These are fun questions to explore, and I'm in the camp that says God turned primordial soup into sophisticated brains capable of asking these sorts of questions, and it would be disrespectful not to use them. Fortunately, there are lots of different ways to look into the past, to see what's going on now, and to speculate about the future.

And also fortunately, some people actually enjoy speculating about dark matter and the all-encompassing abyss, but I shall not let their speculations make me quiver in existential angst.

Instead, I'll conduct experiments to solve the mystery of the Golden Ratio, which is simply the proper ratio of peppermint to mocha in my favorite seasonal coffee drink from Starbucks. Because that's just the sort of mystery that gives meaning to life right now.

Just like cupcakes.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Radical Self Care: Suggestion Number Two

We've taken a look at the importance of hobbies in radical self care. Hobbies tap into our creativity, our need for self-expression, and the satisfaction brought on by process creating a product. They connect us with like-minded people in community where we can share our enthusiasm. And they keep our brains active and learning.

Suggestion number two for radical self care fills a very different need.


What are the rituals of your life? Amidst chaos and busyness, we need some things to be dependable, safe, comfortable, and comforting. Child-development specialists insist that a solid bedtime routine does more than help children transition from wake to sleep. Repetition of bedtime rituals makes children feel safe and secure. Yes, children often balk at bedtime, but sticking with a routine teaches them that they can successfully manage transitions from doing to resting, from fast to slow. Self-regulation begins with a healthy bedtime routine.

Adults need rituals, too, and for much the same reasons. Our rituals can be as simple as brushing teeth after breakfast to start the day quite literally minty fresh, or they might be as elaborate as attending a worship service every week. When I was in college and needed to study for an exam, I found a carrel in the bowels of Perkins Library, read all the graffiti carved into the desk and written on the wall ("Free the Bound Periodicals!"), unpacked my backpack, and hit the books with gusto.

Rituals can, of course, become disabling if they become too rigid or too complicated. But generally, we need them to ease us through our days, our weeks, our seasons of life. Rituals need to be dependable enough to give us the comfort and stability we crave, but flexible enough to accommodate the realities of life. Some rituals that serve a purpose at one time might become a hindrance at another time.

Here are a few rituals I use to take care of myself...some very small and ordinary, and others much more time-consuming and involved.

1. A quick stretch upon getting out of bed. (I learned that from watching my dog.)

2. Morning coffee while reading.

3. Cleaning and organizing my craft supplies when my creativity dries up. (This can sometimes take days and always follows a very predictable pattern. It also always works to jump-start my creativity.)

4. Praying as I fall asleep. (I used to berate myself for falling asleep while praying until I realized that giving God my last waking thoughts was actually quite wonderful.)

5. Weekly worship and weekly Bible study.

6. Getting all supplies together before starting a project.

Radical self care requires intentional actions, and rituals are intentional actions with specific purposes. They are orderly and precise in a life of chaos and ambiguity. What sorts of rituals comfort you and prepare you for dealing with the nonsense of daily life? How might you incorporate new rituals into your days to give you a greater sense of joy, peace, happiness...or maybe just "not craziness"?