A Word For The Wise

Failing to plan is planning to fail–or so my mother told me.  With the start of a new year, plenty of folks are making plans which are doomed to fail.  These “plans” are resolutions.  Perhaps resolutions are not the right plans to be making; maybe we simply need a word.

The dictionary definition of a “resolution” is a firm decision to do or not do something.  Unsurprisingly, according to statisticbrain.com, the top resolution made at the beginning of 2017 was to lose weight.  See how skinny everyone is at the start of 2018?  No?  Well, that tells you how successful the losing weight resolution was.  Sure, the resolutioners had the best of intentions, but who can resist Valentine’s candy?  Of course, that’s assuming that the resolution even lasted until mid-February.  Raise your hand if you were watching the Super Bowl at the beginning of February while quaffing water and snacking on celery sticks.  Didn’t think so.

One way not to break a resolution is not to make one.  If Statisticbrain.com is to be believed, 42% of Americans NEVER make a New Year’s resolution.  While these non-committal Americans did not go down in flaming defeat, they did not achieve any goal either because none was identified.  You simply can’t reach a goal that is never set.

On the other hand, 41% of Americans, at least so statisticbrain.com says, usually make a resolution.  That’s less than half of our fellow countrymen who even make a stab at achieving some goal.  Aren’t we a motivated lot?  The inspired 41% who do make a resolution do not have good results from having done so.  Only 9.2% of that 41% felt that they were successful in achieving their resolution.

What’s up with this poor success rate?  Well, we may aim high by setting a goal, but perhaps we are aiming TOO high.  One is doomed to failure if the set goal is unrealistic.  While you may want to lose 30 pounds, perhaps 10 is more doable and might still allow you to gastronomically enjoy the Super Bowl.

I’ll confess that I’ve had varying results with past resolutions.  A few have been successfully achieved.  Others were mere pipe dreams.  I’m hesitant to say that the blame for the lack of success is my fault.  Surely it is more likely that the problem can be found in the plan I used to set/achieve my goals.  Yeah!  The problem is with the method (resolutions) and not me.

Apparently some other smart cookies have reached the same conclusion as I have.  Cue the trendy effort to choose a WORD for the year.  Who needs a bunch of words, i.e., a resolution, to help us?  Let’s simplify and make things easier to grasp and follow.  All we need is one word.  If you fail, then you probably didn’t select the magic word.

How does this word way work?  Assuming you want to lose weight, you might want to choose the word “exercise.”  If you want to quit smoking, you might choose the word “breathe.”  If you want to get your act together, you might want to choose the word “organize.”  Unfortunately, this approach seems a bit too simplistic to me.  A word is good for the big picture, but don’t you need a few more words with it to achieve success?  Wouldn’t some definitive steps for reaching your goal be helpful?

I’m going to keep an open mind and try the word approach this year.  Settling on one word is difficult, but I have cleverly chosen one with more than one application.  My word is “word.”  Yes, “word” is a four letter word, but I think it is one of which my mother would approve.

So what do I mean by “word?”  The first application of “word” is with my writing.  I love to write, and writing, of necessity, involves words.  Lots of words.  In a previous year I wrote a manuscript with approximately 81,600 words.  I want those words to be published so everyone can have the opportunity to read them.  Publication won’t occur without great effort and probably some rejections along the way.  But on my word, I am going to give it my best shot to see my book in print.  Not only will I need to market my words, but I’ve got to get all those words out of my brain and down on paper for several other writing ideas I have.  My word, I’m going to be busy with words!

The other meaning of the word “word” relates to my faith.  I want to read through God’s word again this year.  I want a deeper relationship with The Word who was there in the beginning.  I want to spread the word about The Word hopefully through both my written words and the words that I speak.

Upon reflection, maybe having a word of the year is the wise way to the word “success” in achieving goals.  We might be getting so bogged down in details and planning for our goal that we fail to focus on the goal itself.  It should be easier to remember and focus on a single word.  Will you give me your word that you’ll take this challenge to have a word for the year with me?

Just WONDER-ing:  What word would be a good focus for you this year?  Why?

 

 

 

Advertisements

Alpha And Omega — It’s All Greek To Us

Happy New Year!  January 1st marked the beginning of a new year–2018.   But for there to be a new year, an old one, 2017, had to end.  We said good-bye, and possibly good riddance, to 2017, but we welcomed 2018 with open arms.  Baby New Year knocked, and we raced to throw open the door and admit him.  2017 was tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage in our rush to grab a fresh start.  The end and yet a beginning faces us.

Beginnings and endings may be opposite, but they are inextricably linked.  If one considers beginnings in the cold sober light of day (as opposed to the delirium and likely intoxication of New Year’s festivities), only one conclusion is reasonable.  Beginnings aren’t possible without something ending.

This thinking isn’t rocket science.  I mean, can you name any beginning that isn’t preceded by an ending?  A baby is born; a pregnancy has ended.  A child graduates; her formal educational period has ended.  A couple gets married; their days as singles are over.  A worker retires and begins a life of leisure; his work days have ended.  A meal is served; food preparation is completed.  The sun rises to signal a new day; the night has passed.

Not only does an ending inevitably precede a beginning, but an ending doesn’t simply go away; it impacts the beginning.  A beginning is built on what has ended.  If a marriage ends in divorce, an ex-spouse may enter the world with a bad taste for romance and a cynical view of the opposite sex.  The beginning of single life and any new romantic encounters will undoubtedly be affected, perhaps even tainted, by that past ending.

How typical and appealing it is at the start of a new year to focus merely on a beginning and a fresh start.  But without considering what came before, i.e., what has ended, our likelihood of success at whatever we are resolving to do is minimal.  Perhaps we should ask what came before such that a new beginning is needed or desired.  If our resolution is to lose weight, we should consider how we got to the point where extra pounds have been added.  Were our eating habits at the end of the preceding year undisciplined?  Was food being used to feed an emotional need?  Only by taking into account the ending will the beginning have a good chance for success.

Alpha and Omega are bookends for the Greek alphabet.  Alpha is the first letter, and Omega is the last.  Alpha denotes the beginning while Omega denotes the ending.  Alpha and Omega may be 22 letters apart (yes, the Greek alphabet is only 24 letters long), but they are linked by the letters in between.  Alpha and Omega are at opposite ends of the alphabet, but they are both necessary for a complete listing.  The bottom line is that there is no whole without a beginning and an end.

Referring to Alpha and Omega when speaking of beginning and endings underscores that the past does matter.  The ancient Greek civilization ended, but its accomplishments affected the beginning of others.  I may not grasp all that the Greeks did, but I understand that their alphabet had a beginning and an end.

As Christians, endings and beginnings are important, and they aren’t always tied to a calendar.  Becoming a Christian is a new beginning resulting from the ending of the old sinful man; we are new creatures in Christ.  (2 Cor. 5:17)  Our gratitude and joy in this new state is impacted and even greater when we consider how hopeless our previous state was.

While it might be fun to debate when the world actually was created (DUH–in the beginning) and when it might end (the end is near! or not), what’s even more important is WHO is the beginning and the end.  Revelation tells us three different times (1:8; 21:6 and 22:13) that God is the Alpha and the Omega.  He is the first and the last.  He is the beginning and the end.  He is the whole and the One who can make us whole.  If we begin this year with Him, He will see us through to the end.  2017 ended, but His presence in our lives does not even as a new year begins.  Now that makes for a happy new year.

 

 

The Ghost Of Christmas Past

 

Scrooge and I have more in common than I would like to admit.  Both of us needed a visit from the Ghost Of Christmas Past to kick start a change in our outlook.  Happily, I am not a bitter old miser, but I had a skewed perspective about Christmas that needed to be altered.  My transformation, as did his, resulted from reflections on Christmases past.

This Christmas I vowed to make my celebration different.  Motivation came from an Advent sermon encouraging simplification in order to focus on the reason for the season.  Right on!  I was on board.

Simplification meant that I did less decorating.  I did not send out a multitude of Christmas cards containing a carefully crafted newsletter detailing the year’s accomplishments and events.  I eliminated some activities usually undertaken so that I could be caught up in faith, not frenzy.  Success, right?  Wrong.

The problem was rooted in my naive conclusion that simplifying Christmas meant only an external overhaul.  I would focus on the reason for the season if all the trappings–tinsel, candles, wreaths, Christmas cookies, etc.–were eliminated or at least reduced.  Christmas would be as joyous as it was in Whoville when all those Christmas things were stolen by the Grinch.  He didn’t stop Christmas from coming because Christmas isn’t something that comes in a box.  It isn’t about things.

While I clearly understand that Christmas is not defined by trappings, I was still trapped in the emotions of Christmas.  I know that Christmas is not about presents, but I was caught up in who was present for Christmas.  Cue the Ghost Of Christmas past.

The Christmas stocking I have had since I was a little girl was hung by the chimney with care.  I didn’t expect to get anything in it, but it reminded me of my childhood.  When I was young, Christmas was filled love and hugs and the presence of my parents and siblings.  Sadly, these family members were nowhere near me this Christmas.  My parents have moved on to heaven, and my siblings each live in different states hours away from me.  How could I experience the joy of Christmas without any of my immediate family present?

On the wall by my kitchen table is the Advent calendar which allows a different wooden ornament to be placed daily on a Christmas tree.  I bought this Advent calendar when my children were young, and they loved it.  My son and daughter would fight over who could put up the ornament each day until I cleverly came up with the plan that they would alternate days with my daughter, as the older of the two, going first.  But my kids are grown and have  moved out of state; due to job and family commitments neither could travel home for Christmas.  How could I smile at Christmas without my kids in my house to engage in activities such as putting ornaments on the worn but beloved Advent calendar?

Then it came to me.  The first Christmas was like the Christmas I was experiencing.  Mary and Joseph were by themselves for Jesus’ birthday.  No family members were with them in the stable.  The animals in the stable were their only company just as our pets provided our only company.  The stable was not decorated for a holiday, and no holiday events were planned.  Mary and Joseph just reveled in the wonder of Jesus’ birth and presence with them.  Undoubtedly they spent time wondering what was in store for them with Him in their lives.

Just like the Grinch, I had a revelation about the true meaning of Christmas.  He got that it wasn’t about presents, and I realized that it isn’t about presence.  Christmas will come regardless of whether all, some or none of my family is with me.  Christmas isn’t about who is present, it is about who came and made His presence here on Earth.  He is the only one whose presence is material to Christmas Day.  Unlike my family members who may die or move away, Jesus is ALWAYS with me.  He is the best gift anyone could ever receive.  And He is a gift which keeps on giving.  He is with me on Christmas and every other day of the year.

Scrooge’s encounter with the Ghost of Christmas past resulted in his outlook being broadened.  He realized that it was not just about him; he needed to care about others.  My outlook, while also changed by thinking of Christmases past, was narrowed.  I realized that Christmas is not about anyone but Jesus.  His presence alone is the reason for the season and the cause for my celebration.  Having relatives present with me is nice, but it is not necessary for me to experience joy at Christmas.

 

 

 

 

As My Mother Always Said…

My mother was a wonderful woman and not just because she birthed me.  She was full of wisdom and imparted that wisdom to me frequently with memorable lines.  Growing up, I would typically roll my eyes and brush off what she was saying.  But now that I am an adult and Mom has moved on to heaven, I find I quote her words regularly.

If you have ever wondered whether you can laugh and cry at the same time, the answer is yes.  This unlikely combination of reactions occurred as I sat in Mom’s memorial service.  The officiating pastor had asked that I provide him with some memories of my mother.  Naturally, my memories included her words of wisdom.  He read the beginning of the lines I had recalled for him, and the mourners sitting in front of him finished the statements in unison.  Apparently Mom had spread her wisdom to others outside the family.  How hilarious!  But it was also very sad for me as I knew I would never hear her say those words to me again on this earth.  Cue laughter and tears together.

I can honestly say that I have become my mother.  In a turn of events that I would have considered laughable as a teen, I quote my mother’s words of wisdom often and with enthusiasm.  Corny as those words may have sounded to the younger me, the mature me has to admit Mom knew what she was talking about.  And here I go, repeating her words of wisdom again–this time in writing.  Here are a few of my favorites.

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.  Mom would be turning over in her grave if she heard the uncivilized interchanges occurring  publicly today.  So rampant are not nice words, that we would literally need to have a “Silent Night” in order for her directive to be obeyed.

Mean what you say and say what you mean.  Mom’s words encouraged me to live up to my word.  If I said I’d do something, then I’d better do it unless I was on my deathbed.  Mom expected me to be honest, forthright and clear about my desires, requests and opinions.  Guess she’d have to turn over AGAIN in her grave if she tried to sift through the some of the things people say today and realized how meaningless most of their words are.

Failing to plan is planning to fail.  I’ve got this directive down pat.  I am the queen of to do lists and advance planning.  That does not mean that I never fail, but it does mean that I have given myself a better chance of succeeding by being prepared.

A place for everything, and everything in its place.  As if it wasn’t annoying enough to be missing a sock or book, I also had to listen to Mom tell me that I should have put the item in its place so I would know where it was.  Grrr!  Not helpful in finding the AWOL item that I needed at the time.  But I save myself lots of grief by having a specific place for various items.  For example, I don’t have to search for my car in the commissary parking lot because I always park on the same row.

If it were a snake, it would have bitten you.  Mom stressed that I needed to pay attention to what I was doing and be careful when looking at things.  A cursory glance around the room without spotting the missing sock or book was not acceptable if Mom could come in and immediately locate the item I claimed could not be found.  As an adult, I have found this advice to be helpful in getting me to read instructions before asking questions.  Yes, the answer is often cleverly contained in said instructions.

A friend in need is a friend indeed.  These words indicated that Mom was concerned about my character.  True friends are not fair weather ones.  Being there for friends when they need assistance (our time, our ear, etc.) is what is expected of a true friend.  Mom even taught me about the friend who sticks closer than a brother and is the best friend anyone could ever desire.  She made sure that I was raised with faith, and she modeled hers through her words and actions on a daily basis.

Mom’s birthday is on December 17th.  I can’t celebrate it with her since she’s no longer living, but I can honor her life by remembering her words, putting them into practice and sharing them with others such as YOU.  Given my mother’s deep faith, I am sure that she would also be proud to know that I have hidden my Heavenly Father’s words in my heart, attempt to put them into practice and often share them with others.  I mean what I say when I say this, Mom. I am blessed to have had you share your words of wisdom with me.

 

 

 

Simple Celebration

Christmas.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year and also the most wearing. We’ve done it to ourselves.  The celebration of the birth of a baby in a stable has been turned into an extravaganza complete with parades, pageants, presents, parties and plenty to eat.  But bigger is not always better.  In fact, the bigger we make our Christmas, the less likely it is that we are celebrating the real reason for the season.  Ask yourself which mode truly captures the essence of the first Christmas–a simple celebration or holiday hoopla?

The first Christmas looked absolutely nothing like Christmas today.  There was no Santa looking for chimneys in Bethlehem.  There was no Christmas tree in the lobby of the No Room Inn.  There were no blinking lights shining around the fields where the shepherds were tending their flocks.  There were no presents for Mary and Joseph in the stable–just the presence of their newborn baby boy.

The Christmas for which you and I are preparing is a far cry from what happened a couple of thousand years ago in a small town in another part of the world.  Our Christmas is full of trappings–and that’s the trap.  The trappings are not, as the Grinch found out, what Christmas is really all about. Christmas is the simple (but amazing) story of the birth of a baby, God’s son, in a humble stable.  If the story is simple, why don’t we celebrate it simply then?

I have been challenged by a recent sermon to experience the miracle of simplicity at Christmas this year.  Since failing to plan is planning to fail, the best way to meet this challenge is to devise a concrete plan for a simple celebration.  Scaling back Christmas is no simple task; nevertheless, these are the guidelines I set for myself.

No mass mailing of Christmas cards.  While I love communicating with my friends and family, sending numerous Christmas cards is a time-consuming activity which detracts from the point of the celebration.  I get frazzled in choosing just the right card, getting the cards mailed in a timely fashion and determining whom to include (or delete) from last year’s mailing list.  Moreover, I am tempted to enclose the trendy Christmas newsletter which informs the world of the good news of what is happening in my life.  Wait a minute!  Christmas isn’t my story; it is HIS story.  It’s pretty disrespectful to blather on about my accomplishments and activities when the day belongs to someone else.

Minimal decorations.  If the Whos in Whoville could have a joyous Christmas without any decorations, why do I have to have my house decorated to the max?  Answer?  I don’t.  So far, I have an advent wreath on the entryway table, an Advent calendar hanging in the kitchen, and two small real trees as yet undecorated.  Period.  That’s way more than Mary and Joseph had up in the stable.  I could spend time decorating or I could spend time reading the Christmas story in the Bible and thanking God for all the blessings He’s bestowed upon me.

Purge perfection.  Unless you are Jesus, perfection is simply unattainable.  So why do I still aim for it?  I have to pick out the perfect present for each family member, plan the perfect holiday meal, etc.  Laugh if you will, but tonight I actually spent half on hour on Pinterest looking for a recipe for the perfect finger food to make for a Christmas event–an edible that someone will look at for about 5 seconds and then devour.  Why not focus on the One who is perfect and loved me enough to be born in a stable rather than on making my holiday perfect?

I could go on to make a perfect list of all I need to do to make celebrating Christmas simple this year, but then my focus is not on the simplicity of what (actually WHO) has brought joy to our world.  Yes, the Whos in Whoville got this one right.  Christmas is about WHO and not WHAT (trees, decorations, presents, activities, etc.)  We’ve already received a perfect present in the form of Jesus; the perfect way to celebrate His birth is simply to focus on Him and His love for us.  Don’t get caught up in the holiday hoopla.

Just WONDER-ing:  What could you do to make your celebration of Christmas simpler?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Present Of Presence

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….”  OK, who are we kiddiing?  It has been looking a lot like Christmas since September.  It is the time of year where we are in a frenzy of buying presents for our loved ones.  And not just any present will do.  Only diamond jewelry or a new car will apparently express your deep love for your significant other, at least if you believe the commercials you see.  But the present that will evidence that you truly care for someone is not something that can be put in a box or wrapped up in shiny paper–it is YOU.

No, I am not suggesting that you hand yourself over to the intended gift recipient.  What I am suggesting is that the gift that will mean the most is not something that is concrete or tangible.  It is not something that can be physically held or conveyed.  The best thing that you can give anyone–whether a romantic partner, an acquaintance or a complete stranger–is your time and attention.

One of my favorite sayings is “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift; that’s why they call it the present.”  The hours in each day are a precious gift.  They are limited in number, and once they are expended, they can never be recovered. We can choose to use some of our finite time each day as a present to others by giving them our presence.

Time is one of the things which we guard the most selfishly.  We demand “me time.”  We’d often rather give money to charitable endeavors than volunteer, i.,e., give our time.  That choice indicates the value we place on the hours in our day.  Accordingly, giving of this finite resource is more precious and meaningful than a boxed gift that we spy in a box store and simply throw in our shopping cart with only a few minutes (perhaps even seconds) of thought.

I am looking in the mirror as I suggest that giving of time to others is the best possible gift.  The concept is easy to grasp, but putting it into practice is difficult.  Mea culpa.  I had several instances in the last 24 hours where I was called upon to give of my time.  Doing so convinced me that being present for the person with whom I interacted was a present from me that had real meaning for the recipient.

I confess that early morning is my “me time.”  I want my space, quiet, a cup of coffee and time to do what I want–read, write, play on the computer, etc.  Woe be to him who dares intrude upon it.  But, of course, someone did.  A distant online friend sent me an instant message.  My first inclination was to ignore it.  Begrudgingly, I dashed off a cheery greeting.  As the exchange progressed, I learned of a difficult situation with which this individual was dealing.  I can’t wave a magic wand and make his problem instantly disappear, but taking the time to communicate with him and express my concern and care was a gift to him that he’d probably rather have from me than ________________ (insert name of trendy gift of the season).

After downing enough coffee to be correctly labeled as fit for human interaction, I took the time to send an online message to a friend inviting her to go to an upcoming event with me.  I had been putting this task off because I was “too busy” even though I knew this person was having some personal struggles and could use a positive interaction.  I felt ashamed of my reluctance to take action when I got a quick reply from her saying she “loved me to pieces” for thinking of her and looked forward to getting together.  The smile coming through her words was palpable.  Taking the time to reach out to her gave her a much needed boost that a store bought gift simply could not.

In fact, the best Christmas gift ever was a person’s presence.  Jesus took the time to be on this earth and give Himself to a hurting and needy world.  He could have simply sent wonderful presents to all of God’s children (perhaps gold, frankincense or myrrh), but instead He showed up in person to give love, compassion and eternal life.  Let’s take this example to heart.  Give more of yourself and less of things for Christmas this year.