Saturday, December 31, 2011

Who Started All This New Year's Resolution Stuff?

With New Year's upon us, everyone is reflecting on things past, hoping for things to come, and making resolutions to improve the things they can. Why? Who started this tradition at the first of every year? Curious, I did a little research.

The first to celebrate the beginning of a new year was the Babylonians on the Vernal Equinox, March 20th (or 21st in some years), at around 2000 B.C.  Besides being the first day of spring, this date has astrological significance. At exactly 7:21 pm EDT the sun crosses over the Earth's equator. Both day and night are of equal length, thus the name, Equinox - equal night. 

It wasn't until the adoption of the solar based Julian Calendar by Rome in 46 B.C. that January 1 was designated as the first day of the new year. It remained until the Council of Taurs abolished the practice in the year 567. The counsel claimed the celebration was pagan and unchristian, and they set the new year on either December 25th, Christmas, March 1, the Annunciation, or on March 25, Easter.

In 1582 the Catholic Church adopted the Gregorian calendar and January 1st was reinstated as the beginning of the new year. The Protestants were slower to adopt the calender, holding out until 1752 when the British finally accepted it. Prior to that, Brittan, and its American colonies, celebrated the New Year in March.

As far as New Year's resolutions, it is the Babylonians we can blame for that tradition, then later, Christians implemented the year end practice of reflection on past mistakes and new year vows to improve.

The song, Auld Lang Syne, was first published by Robert Burns in 1796 after Burns heard the song in his Scottish hometown. The song was popularized by band leader Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians in 1929 after playing it at midnight on New Year's Eve during a party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.

The words, auld lang syne mean "old long since", or "times gone by." The song asks if old friends and times will be forgotten, and promises to remember people of the past with fondness. Very appropriate sentiments as the old year wanes and the new begins.


Following the ancient tradition of reflection, I think back this New Year's Eve to special moments with my friends and family, accept the hallmark changes, and look forward to things yet to come. Although there are still some unresolved issues (and there will always be), I feel I am at a far better position than at any other moment in my life.  I have learned to have more faith and trust in God, my Father, and life is no longer one crises after another.

My only resolution this year: to continue to deepen my relationship with Him, and all the rest will magically fall in place.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Unexpected Christmas Gift

This Christmas my church offered only one Christmas Eve service, at eleven pm. I am not a night owl and any event, church or party, starting later than seven pm is a challenge for me.   With an abundance of churches in our area, I began an on line search for a Christmas morning service. I found a church offering a 10:30 am service only six miles from the house. Not a bad commute. I used to drive much further than that to attend church. However, there was one little flaw in this plan. Attending services at a church other than mine meant sitting in an unfamiliar church, with an unfamiliar congregation and minister, alone, on Christmas. 

My resolve to attend wavered. After a moment of prayer, I decided it was important I attend, regardless of how odd, or sad it would make me feel. I pulled on my coat of Courage and Trust, and went.

The church parking lot was almost empty. Was the web sight wrong and there wasn't a 10:30 service? Well, there were a few other cars..... I grabbed my purse, got out of the car and resolutely headed toward the front doors. As I passed a car parked in the handicapped spot, the occupant, and older woman, leaned out. "They are having a 10:30 service, aren't they?"

"As far as I know. At least the web site said there was. However, this is my first visit, and so I am not entirely sure, but thought I would try the door."

The woman smiled. "Well, I'm fairly new as well. I'll follow you, and if you would like, we could sit together."

"I would like that."

There was indeed a service. About ten other attendees were scattered about the small sanctuary. My companion led me to a pew much closer to the front than I am comfortable with. (I prefer the anonymity of the last row. ) Prior to the service, the minister moved from pew to pew, personally welcome every attendee, including me. His words of welcome touched my heart.

The celebration was simple, elegant and stirring, and with my companion beside me,  I felt welcomed, and at home.

After the service, Carol gave me a huge hug and invited me back. The minister also extended a personal invitation to return next Sunday.

I thank God for my unexpected Christmas gift. Carol will never know what a difference her simple act of kindness made. I am taking this beautiful lesson to heart, and asking God to help me be a doer of small, yet mighty, things.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Pessimist and the Optimist

Yesterday an acquaintance received the anticipated announcement she was finally hired as a permanent employee. I was happy for her, yet felt depressed as my temp situation is unchanged, and even a little tenuous.

My husband, understanding my lack of holiday enthusiasm, encouraged me to watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, believing the silly antics of the characters would at least make me laugh. They did that, and surprisingly a little more. I also received a deeper message, not at that moment, but later.

I spent the rest of the evening mulling over my employment situation and other personal issues, sarcastically telling myself, "Well Merry Christmas -  not!"

Things changed this morning. With sleep, my first cup of coffee, and a beautiful dawn, the story of the Pessimist and the Optimist came to mind. Two boys were placed in separate rooms. One filled with every imaginable toy, the other with manure. After an hour observers went to each room to see the boys' reactions. Sure enough, the Pessimist could only complain. Nothing was right. Every toy had a flaw or defect. Noting this, the observers moved to the next room. To their amazement the Optimist was busy digging in the manure. They asked him what he was doing. His answer, "With this much manure, there has to be a horse in here somewhere!"

Well, I was the Pessimist, only looking at what was wrong, not at what was right, or could be.  Instead of thinking how my acquaintance got a permanent job and I didn't, I could think positive. If  she was lucky enough to be hired, I might very well be next. Who says it can't or won't happen?

With this thought, I opened my first devotional, Good Morning, Lord, by Joseph T. Sullivan. Today's prayer:

Good morning, Lord.
Words are just words until one day they may take on special meaning.
There are lines we have heard so often.
Then one day, their impact hits us:
"Your Heavenly Father knows all that you need."
Is this true? Is there really a divine providence?
Can we take these sacred words seriously?
What a big difference these words would make in the practical
events of life if we accept them.
We slow down and gain confidence;
life is no longer a series of uninterrupted crises.
Lord, help me to take your words to heart
and trust you to take care of me. Amen.


It was then I understood something else. We idolize the holidays, believing this special season changes the entire world and everything and everyone in it. Like Chuck Griswold, we become overly optimistic, believing in the ideal of the perfect family Christmas. Life is built on the imperfect, and we are usually greatly disappointed for one reason or another when our expectations are too high or unrealistic. Then we become pessimists at best and Scrooges at worst. I suggest something else - a true Optimist. An idealist who recognizes and acknowledges flaws, but chooses to focus on what is right, rather than what is wrong.

This holiday season will not be Courier and Ives perfect. It will be somewhere between A Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and with a little effort some What A Wonderful Life mixed in, filled with more blessings than I can count.

I will go one step further. Those visiting the stable on the first Christmas could have chosen to see only a poor family and a cold, dirty stable. Instead, they chose to see the glory of God and the Salvation of Man, Emanuel - God With Us. That is my choice. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Oil

Having lived over half of my expected life span, I find myself spending more time wondering about the purpose of my life. Have I discovered it?  Have I fulfilled it?  So many of my dreams and aspirations were never brought to fruition, partly due to the choices I made, partly due to circumstances beyond my control. 

I did not become the famous ballerina I aspired to be.  I had the necessary grace and talent, studied the art with private lessons from the age of five through twelve, but when I gained my full height my teacher informed me five foot five was too tall to be a ballerina.

My parents offered private art lessons as an alternative. It was love at first brush stroke.  I had talent and potential. I studied, practiced and actually dabbled with a few pieces of commissioned work, but the dream of an art career never materialized.

Before I could explore that option, osteoarthritis developed in the lower thumb joints on both of my hands from overuse. My job as an Optician had destroyed my hands.  I could no longer hold a paint brush, or much of anything else for that matter. Doctors told me I was too young for joint replacement and would have to live with the pain and disability until I was older. Thirteen years passed before I became a candidate for joint replacement.

Through this experience, and other life altering events, I began sharing stories of faith, miracles and God's compassion. Friends and family encouraged me to write them down. I could type without pain, and I poured myself into this new craft. However, God put the brakes on the dream of a New York Times best seller. (Described on  my page Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My! (Why I Write). )

A few years ago a brilliant surgeon replaced my damaged thumb joints and after a year of therapy and recovery, I could once again hold a paint brush. Not on a full time basis as required to go pro, but at least I long enough to pursue the passion as a hobby. Although it has been fourteen years since I painted, and I may be a little rusty at first, I have confidence it will all come back and I can once again adorn our home, and others, with original art.

Yet, my original question remained. Why would God give me talent without the means to perfect it and use it successfully in a career?

The answer: oil.  In Streams in the Desert, L.B. Coleman tells a story about an eccentric old man who carried an oil can with him wherever he went. He lubricated every squeaky gate and door he encountered. When asked why he did this, he replied, "To make the way easier for those who come after me."

The cloud lifted. My talents weren't meant to make me famous, or rich. That wasn't how God marked success, and neither should I. They were meant to be used as oil to enrich and smooth the lives of others. My talents were meant to be shared, not sold.

My devotions this week included Isaiah 61:3: To appoint the mourners of Sion, and to give them a crown for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, a garment of praise for the spirit of grief: and they shall be called in it the mighty ones of justice, the planting of the Lord to glorify Him. 

Oil of joy for those that mourn. I can't think of a better use of my talents.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

Last week's post touched on treasures and priorities. I have reflected a great deal about the things I treasure and came to realize there are treasures and there are favorites. Things should be favorites while God, faith, and family are treasures.


So, it is alright to have favorite things such as antiques, books, vases and mementos. The picture on the right shows a few of my favorite things.

The book is the one I've mentioned in previous posts, the one my sister gave me after my third husband died. It contains Maxfield Parrish prints with the words to the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It has brought much peace and comfort during the hard moments of my life, and so it is on my list of favorites.

The vase was given to me by my husband. He knows the story behind my affinity for lilies, particularly Calla Lilies, and that was the reason behind the gift. ( See post: Lilies). It is now among my favorite things as well.

The antique dolls are only two among a large collection, all gifts from husbands, my sister and girlfriends. The givers are among my treasures and thus the gifts are among my favorites.


The sea shell came from the shore of a lake in Zimbabwe, Africa where my husband and I were married. I treasure that moment in time, the symbol behind the object: our love and commitment to each other. And so it is among my list of favorite things.


There are more, many more as our home is filled with mementos from our African travels, our years of collecting fine art prints, my own original art, and precious books and family photos.


As I reflected on these things, I recalled other treasures, Divine gifts I will always keep close to my heart.




First time I held my daughter
Hugging my daughter on her wedding day
My grandson, my daughter's first child
My husband and I on our wedding day
                   
                                                                                             


My daughter and her husband




                                                                                       
My oldest son
My Neice


My parents 20th Wedding Anniversary

My Sister

My Niece
My younger son


My grandson
My Granddaughter
My parent's 60th Wedding Anniversary



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Treasures and Priorities

The crash, followed by silence meant trouble.  I rushed into the kitchen and immediately saw the shattered plate on the counter. My eyes then flew to my husband. He stood by the sink running water over the fingers on his right hand.

"Are you hurt?"

"Burned my hand pretty good."

"Oh, Honey. Are you alright?"

"I'll know in a minute."

"What happened?"

"I didn't realize I'd turned the burner on under the plate and when I touched the plate, it of course burned me. I pushed the plate off the burner, but it shattered when it touched the counter."

"Were you cut?"

"No. Just burned."

I looked at the shattered plate. It was a piece of Franciscan China given to me forty years ago as a wedding present. Although that wedding ended in divorce, it had been given to me by my family and I treasured it. Since marrying Bill, pieces, mostly dinner plates, had been gradually disappearing. The set was now down to only five dinner plates out of the original eight. I had not heard the story behind the other disappearances, and could only wonder at how they met their demise. 

I pushed those thoughts aside and turned back to my husband. Large blisters emerged on all five of his finger tips.

"Honey, you really should put some burn cream on those and then bandage them."

"I'll think about it."

"And,if you go to the doctor, he will give you this amazing antibiotic cream that will immediately reduce the pain as well as protect your burns from infection. I really think you should go."

"I'll give it a little longer and then see."

I knew it was useless push any further, and with misgivings dressed and headed to work. As I drove, I thought of the plate, and could hear my mother cautioning me to be careful with my things. As a result of her advice I have many things I have kept safe for years, until I met Bill. He isn't purposely hard on things, but he is like the proverbial bull in my china shop. 

The silverware set I had received along with the china was now gone. Spoons kept disappearing until there were only four left out of a set of sixteen. Bill eventually confessed to accidentally grinding them in the garbage disposal. He has a habit of putting all the dirty dishes in the same side of the sink with the disposal and the teaspoons are short enough to disappear into the opening. Lying unseen, they become victims to the steel blades.

After his confession about the silverware, I stated, "Honey, I've had that set for forty years!"

His response indicated how different our thought patterns and priorities were. "Well, I guess it was about time you got a new set."

This comment left me speechless, and acutely aware my priorities are not always in the right order. I sometimes laid up the very treasures Jesus had warned against. Certainly I should be a good steward and not be careless with the things I am given, but they are not to be treasured above family - or God. And, Bill was right. All my priceless treasures can be replaced. Maybe not with anything identical, but definitely replaced with something able to provide the same function. That isn't true of God, or my family. They are irreplaceable treasures far more important than a piece of china, or a picture or any other keepsake.

I will admit, it wasn't any easy lesson. I was very tempted to mourn over the demise of that beautiful plate, the symbol of a  treasured gift, and it took some effort to treasure the giver over the gift. One final thought settled the matter.

When God calls me home to Him, I don't want to be remembered as the woman who had an entire set of unbroken china in her cupboard. I'd rather be remembered as the woman who loved God and her family.

Now when I look at that china set (and at our new silverware), I think of priorities and where mine need to be.