In the wake of that horrible tragedy on Connecticut, I think we're jumping at shadows. What do I mean?
People are saying we need gun control, but that's not it. In fact, I think the uncertainty of knowing who might be carrying keeps more tragedies from happening. Have you noticed that the worst shootings happen in places where carrying concealed weapons is banned? Why? Because only the law abiding people aren't packing there. They disarm like they're supposed to, and the criminals know there's nobody there that will put a bullet between their eyes. Call me crazy, but I think we're coming at this backwards. Instead of disarming, I say we need to arm more. If concealed carry were allowed more places, I bet the element of uncertainty over who might shoot back would cause a decrease in these tragedies. Maybe. Maybe not. They would be more uncertain of their odds, anyway.
People say we need to bring God back in the schools. I won't deny that I'd certainly like to see religion brought back in the schools, but the fact is that there's no law against teaching children about God at home. If we call this a lack of morals, then the blame can't be on a system that's banned it for 30 years before we had this problem. Take that blame to the root of the matter: the home.
People say we need mental health reform. Here again I'll agree that's a need, but we also need to remember that the field of mental health is still relatively young. Compared to other sciences, it's barely out of it's infancy. There's a lot that can be helped, but there's also a lot we still don't know. Having known a lot of people struggling with depression, I can tell you there's a lot of trial and error in getting the medication "just right" to keep it controlled. It usually takes an adjustment period - and I know this is true of medications for other conditions too, but it seems it's a bigger struggle when dealing with mental health issues than it is with other medical conditions. Or from what I've seen it is, anyway. And often it takes months or even years to correctly diagnose things because one symptom can be a sign of five different disorders, and it takes time to pin things down.
You know what the real problem is? Free will. We all have a right to choose and unfortunately, that means that some will choose to abandon morals and ethics and to do what they feel over what's right. It's been a problem since the beginning of time. I heard someone on TV say "elementary schools should be safe!" Folks, the whole WORLD should be save. We should be living in Eden. None of us should have to live in fear of ANYTHING. And yet we do, all the time. We always have. It began even before time, when Satan fell. God gave man the greatest gift of free will, and, well, it didn't take long for that to go to heck.
Blame it on what you will. Blame it on Eve, or Adam, or the devil, or even God for giving it to us. The bottom line is that it is what it is. God loved us enough to give us free will and give us the choices to led to the world we've got.
I remember an episode of Supernatural a few seasons ago when Castiel said "free will is God's greatest gift - and just enough rope to hang yourself." I believe that's the most accurate way to put it. Free will is our greatest gift. The problem is; we don't always know what to do with it. And unfortunately, those that choose to hang usually put other necks in the noose with them. Connecticut is a perfect example of that. One man's choice to cause chaos denied twenty children the chance to grow up. It's beyond insanity. It's still, days later, incomprehensible.
Like I said yesterday, I can't justify it. I can only say to be honest with the questions, frustrations and anger. Honest anger is greater than fake faith anytime.
I will say that the free will paradox is something I've pondered a lot the last few days. It is mind boggling. We say how can this kind of evil be in the world, but yet there's still good and beauty here too. For everyone that causes chaos, there's a peacemaker. For all that's ugly, there's something beautiful. For all that hurts, there is healing. Every struggle can build strength. Every doubt can build faith. Every trial can be a step toward victory. It takes time. It takes work - more work than we think we can ever do. And it takes faith - more faith that we can muster on our own. But most of all, it takes the honesty to admit that we don't have all the answers, and the courage to decide that we will have faith and do what is right even if we don't understand why. And that's the hardest thing of all to do.
It's heavy stuff folks; there's no doubt about that. I don't think that now is the time to jump to action, though. We have a lot to process and acting in emotion usually leads to mistakes. What we need is to grieve. What we need is to heal. What we need is something good to remind us that all hope is not lost. The world is still turning. It's not over yet.
And what do you know - it's Christmas, the celebration of the arrival of the Messiah. Who knows? Perhaps the reminder of earth's greatest miracle, of time to celebrate with family and friends, is exactly what we need right now.
That's all today. Take care.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s almost here: Christmas, the most magical time of the year. Weeks of planning, coordination, and frantic planning are about to come to their purpose as that blessed date finally arrives.
As we come upon Christmas, I’d like to urge all of you to remember the reason for the season. It’s so easy to get caught up in full schedules, gift buying, parties, family, friends, food and fun that we forget WHY we’re celebrating. It isn’t about gifts, decorations, meals, or Santa. It’s about the most wonderful gift that humanity has been given: Christ, our King who brings our salvation.
We talk about family, friends and church. These are wonderful gifts, but remember that the core of why we celebrate is the personal victory that Christ gave us when he died on the cross and defeated Satan for once and for all. It’s our responsibility to claim that victory and the free Grace of God that is offered with it. Nobody can do it for us. This is a free gift offered to each and every one of us and we alone must claim it. This is a time to give thanks for it. Remember that we join together to give thanks to Christ for coming into this world. We give gifts to one another as symbols of the wonderful gift of Salvation that Christ has given to us. We celebrate because we know that we’re free from the devastating consequences of sin on our soul and know we have eternal life.
I know the days ahead are full, but please take some quiet time to reflect on the reason for all of the activity in the coming days. Otherwise, it becomes another item on the “to do” list. Christ deserves better than that.
It isn’t about putting on the “perfect holiday.” It’s about celebrating the “perfect gift” that we have, now and always, throughout all of eternity. Thanks be to God.
I got my first “dud” Christmas gift when I was 16 years old. It was one of those “trolls” that were so popular in the early to mid-90’s. I don’t know if any of you remember them – they were small dolls with outfits and wild hair. They were quite the craze at the time, and one of my friends thought I’d like one.
I hated it. But I didn’t want to offend her, so I put on a smile and said “wow, it’s interesting.” Unfortunately, this friend didn’t know me well enough to know that “interesting” from me could me in a good or bad way. I meant the bad way. She thought I meant the good way. And the word spread. Then someone got the bright idea: Let’s help Sherri build up a troll collection.
I wound out with countless of these hideous, ugly figurines. The rumor even made it’s way to my family, who also bestowed me with several to add to my “collection.” I didn’t know what to do, because I understood their intentions were good and didn’t want to offend anybody. So for years, I had a corner of my room devoted to this hideous, ugly monstrosity building up in my life. By the time Rick and I started dating 3 years later, the collection took up an entire shelf on my bookshelf. They represented every holiday or possible event that had taken place in my life.
“That’s an interesting collection,” Rick commented.
“I hate them!” I said, finally cracking. “Somebody thought I liked them and told everybody!”
“Really? Then why do you have them up? That’s only going to encourage people to give you more of them.”
That made me think. I was in college by that time, and had lost touch with many of the old high school friends that gave me those horrible monsters. So I took the collection down. A few friends that visited asked about them later and I told them that I outgrew it and was no longer interested in the collection. Their popularity was waning by that time anyway (thank God), so I didn’t face too many questions over it.
Looking back, that whole three year scenario was avoidable. I could have been honest and told my friends that I appreciated the unique gift, but I didn’t want to make a collection out of them. Or I could have “regifted” it to a friend at another school the next year. I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but honesty really is better in the long run, and I resented those trolls for far longer than any feelings would have been hurt by just saying from the start that I didn’t like the things.
The point of this entry is that you’re going to get a gift that’s a dud every now and then. We celebrate the holidays every year, so it’s inevitable that something is going to be a bust from time to time. The secret is to handle these situations appropriately and as discretely as possible. If it’s a wrong size or style or if it’s something you can’t have because of allergy or health problems, be honest. Remember that people give you gifts because they want you to use them, and they’ll feel bad if you can’t. If it’s something that can be corrected, by all means talk to them and get it exchanged or refunded so the problem can be corrected. If it’s something that you can’t have because of your health, let people know because they don’t want their gifts to make you sick.
And if it’s a “troll” situation like mine, well, you have options. You can give it a try. I thought the slipper socks from my last entry were going to be another “troll,” but I tried them and they because a gem. Sometimes things do work out in unexpected ways. If you don’t want to give it a try, you can ask about exchanging it for something more appropriate, or you can regift it. I warn you, though, to note the name of the giver. Regifting to the person that gave you the present is rude, so be discrete and make sure you give it to somebody different.
Then there are those situations where the person gives you the same thing every year, and by golly they aren’t going to change no matter what. I’ve known a few people that give magazine subscriptions every year and they refuse to give anything else, even though many of their recipients have asked for something different every year. Likewise, I think we’ve all had the one relative that gives you a gift that you absolutely can’t use every year, and they won’t consider a change. These are usually situations where the giver has limited resources, and they probably can’t do much more. You have no choice but to accept these gifts. But take heart. You’ll probably appreciate those handmade towels or sweaters one day for happy memories, even if you wouldn’t dream of wearing them in public. And magazines can be shared, so take those issues to the “giveaway” table at work, or donate them to a local doctor’s or dentist’s office.
Incidentally, I ran across one of those pesky trolls when I took down the Christmas decorations a few weeks ago. I put it on the “giveaway” table at work. And surprisingly, somebody took it. Oh well, better them than me.
As we approach the holidays, I'm reminded of holidays past and the gifts I received. Some, obviously, were winners: Jewelry and electronics are always a hit for me, as I imagine they are for most women. But there were some other things I received that were also hits, and they weren't big or glamerous - just useful and beneficials. For example, Rick gave me a ruby ring two years ago and I loved it, but he also gave me a pair of bedroom booties that I wear every night during the winter. Yes, the ruby ring was the big hit of the holiday, but those booties - well, I'm wearing them now as I type this entry. Obviously a winner too, and they weren't that expensive.
There have been some other surprises under the tree that became staples in my life and my home, and I'd like to reflect on that now. I'm not talking about the big ticket items, but those little things that snuck into your everyday life. Maybe you'll get some ideas for last minute gift shopping, or perhaps remember some winners tucked away in your own home.
1. An electric razor. Oh wow, what a time saver this has turned out to be! Yes, you can spend some money on these, but there are also some inexpensive ones that work very well. I believe the one I have was under $20 at Walmart. It doesn't give as close a shave and you will still have to use a straight razor every few days, but if you're a woman that wears pants a lot (like I do), this is a great item to have.
2. A firesafe box. Actually, we've been given two of these. One is file size for important documents and the other is a smaller one that I store my valuable jewelry, external hard drive, and other small but important items in. A definite must have for everybody!
3. A crock pot. This is a working woman's best friend. There are so many recipes and it's great to have supper ready as soon as you come home from work. Clean up usually isn't hard, either.
4. Slipper socks. I must have given the former colleague that gave me these a look when she handed them to me because she laughed and said "try them out, I know you'll love them." She was right. They were warm and comfortable and I have several pair now. They were especially helpful when I sprained my ankle and it was so swollen that shoes (even my beloved bedroom booties) were a problem.
5. Christmas china. One of the schools Rick works at gave him a 4 piece place setting of china back in the days when the economy was better. At first I thought "what the heck are we gonna do with that?" until we hosted a few holidays and parties at our house. It was a hit, and nice to have too.
6. Picture frames. This is getting more rare as a gift with digital cameras, but they still make great gifts for people you know that do needlearts. That small collection of frames I collected in the early days of our marriage were used to frame many counted cross stitch projects.
7. Fleece blankets. This was another one of those gifts that raised eyebrows until I used them. Very good to have when the winter gets cold.
8. A flash drive. I know it doesn't sound like much of a gift, but it's so important to back up your data. Target has many brands with great storage capacity for reasonable prices. Great stocking stuffer!
9. A laptop case. I didn't understand why Rick made a big deal out of getting a good laptop case until he got me one for my first laptop. It didn't take long for me to realize how vitally important it is to have appropriate storage cases for not only your laptop, but all of your electronics that you plan to carry around. In fact, I used that old case so much that it's wearing out, and a new case that fits the laptop I got for my birthday is on my Christmas list this year. I know it doesn't sound great, but cases for laptops, tablets, e-readers, or cell phones make good and beneficial gifts for anybody.
10. Shower gel and moisturizer gift sets. I especially like rose and lavendar. Scented hand lotions are also a great idea.
There have been more, of course, but these are the top 10 winners for me. I know you can probably think of more, and hopefully you'll be giving some great surprises to friends and family this holiday season.
December 6 is always a tough day for me because my maternal grandmother died on that date in 1987. I’ve lost many people, but that date stings every year – no doubt because of the holidays that wrap around this month. Losing people is always tough, but losing them during the holiday seems to cut a bit deeper. It’s something you feel more. I usually don’t talk about it much and do my best to be a “big girl” and move on, as is expected.
Until this year. I know it’s been 24 years, but I’m all grown up (middle age now, in fact), I’ve found my voice, and now there’s this great thing called the Internet where I can post things. And now, you’re going to hear ALL about it.
One of the reasons why dealing with death over the holidays is tough is, naturally, because the entire world is celebrating, and you just don’t feel it. A hole has been ripped in your life and, as I said in my last entry, a date in red on the calendar doesn’t hasten the healing of the heart. I believe it was C.S. Lewis that said death is unnatural because people weren’t created to die, and I believe it. Death is such an aberration to our spirit, and that abnormality is especially evident in a season where we celebrate the birth of our Savior and eternal life. Emotions know no season and if they take a smack then nothing is going to expedite the healing process. Here they parallel the body. Don’t believe me? Burn your hand, break a bone, or sprain something today and see if you’re healed by Christmas.
The reason I sound cynical here is because of the other reasons why death is hard to deal with during the holidays. Yes, the whole world is celebrating, and they don’t want to stop –not for you, or for any pesky little problem like (gasp) death. They want to be happy and have fun and by God, you aren’t going to stop them. I thought perhaps it was my still child-like perspective on the world in 1987, but in the 24 years since then I still hold to the opinion that:
1. People don’t cope with death well, especially during the holidays;
2. The dumbest things are said at visitations and funerals; and
3. People can be incredibly selfish, rude, and insensitive in their desire to create “the perfect holiday” (which we have already acknowledged won’t happen).
I thought it was because people kept telling me to “cheer up” and “be glad the holidays are here to help ease the pain.” I thought it was because people kept telling me to “grow up” and“get over it because it was just a grandparent.” I thought it was because people kept saying “you mother has it worse - don’t you owe it to her to get over it and try to make Christmas good for her?” Yes, people really said these things, without exaggeration. But the problem is that I learned it wasn’t just me when Rick’s grandmother died on December 21, 2000. I warned Rick of the incredible stupidity and insensitivity he was about to experience and lo and behold if he didn’t see I was right within 10 minutes when a lady walked up to us with a huge smile plastered on her face and said “What a wonderful time to go to Heaven! She gets to celebrate Jesus’ birthday with him face to face. But oh, your poor father, this must be awful for him. So, what are you doing to celebrate?”
If looks could kill, the one Rick and I gave that lady would have made her the funeral home’s next customer. I noticed she hurried away and we’ve never seen her again.
I wish I could say I’m embellishing these comments, but I’m not. In fact, I’m fighting a rare urge to name names here so the whole world will know who the igits are. But I’m not going to do it because the point of this entry isn’t to debate right and wrong. It’s to acknowledge that people do die during this joyous time of year and to guide you toward the proper way to help somebody that’s suffering a loss during the holidays. And so, I have offered my experiences to give a few tips on how to best console people that are grieving over the holidays.
I’ve already hit on the first one. Emotional healing knows no season, so please don’t try to push people into celebrating if they don’t feel like it. Not for their sake, or the sake of the kids, or the family, or anybody. My mother and Rick’s father tried to put on that “brave face for the family,” and let me tell you – it didn’t work. Grief was the pink elephant in the room and everybody saw it by Christmas. Not only are you headed for disaster by not allowing them time to grieve, but you risk more damage by your selfish demand that the holidays will go on, come hell or high water. So please, back off. If they don’t want to put up a tree this year, go caroling or attend parties, don’t make them. Back off and give them the space they need. If you feel you absolutely must do something, do it in more practical ways that are not holiday related, like offering to bring them a meal, help them clean the house, or take care of the kids one evening. Believe me, they will appreciate you not force feeding them to a world high on Christmas more than any present under the tree.
Second, please use discernment. Everything that flies through your head doesn’t need to fly out of your mouth, and as the non-grieving party you have a higher obligation to put a lasso on your tongue. This is true always, but it’s absolutely essential at visitations and funerals. This is not the time to be witty, wise, or philosophical. There are people trained for that, so leave it to them: You know, the pastors, priests, rabbi’s, therapists, psychologists, and others trained in the religious or mental health fields. I have no doubt that losing a parent is much worse than losing a grandparent, but that’s an inappropriate thing to say to ANYBODY, especially to a 12 year old that’s confused, hurting, and doesn’t know what to do. Logic doesn’t work in highly emotional situations like this, so don’t go there. In fact, when it comes to funerals then the less you say, the better. Just say “I’m sorry for your loss” and let it go. People in these situations don’t want a dissertation on dealing with grief or a lecture on getting over it. They want people to acknowledge how they feel and have respect for it.
Third, don’t take it personally. People are already stressed out this time of year and that tends to work on nerves. Unfortunately, sorrow and anger are part of the grieving process which can strip nerves raw and increase emotional outbursts. I know it’s awkward if somebody burst into tears when a carol comes on in a store, or shouts insults at the mall Santa, but unfortunately seasonal things that seem benign to most can trigger deep grief responses in those dealing with loss. I know from experience that it can be extremely frustrating to watch the world celebrate when a huge hole has just been ripped in your life, and sometimes the strangest things knock holes in those walls of restraint. Don’t make a scene bigger. Simply try to diffuse the situation as smoothly as possible, remove the person from it, and do your best to control your emotions so you can help them control theirs. They’re weak right now, so give them the gift of being strong until they are healed and able to be strong on their own again.
I have a word for those of you that have recently lost loved ones, or that have lost them this year and are facing your first holiday season without them. Please know that you aren’t alone. There’s nothing wrong with you, and you are going through a natural process. Understand that it will get easier, but it can only get easier if you take the time to go through the grieving process in your own timing. So don’t try to be brave or try to sweep it under the rug because it’s the holidays. Some people don’t get it, but that’s not your problem. They will one day because we all lose loved ones and have to deal with that empty seat at the holiday table eventually. The holidays come around every year so believe me, there will be more chances to “do the holidays” later. It’s ok to take a year off if you just can’t face it this year. It doesn’t make you Scrooge. It makes you a human being – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Finally I’d like to say, for the record, that all the people that said those rude, insensitive things to me in 1987 and to Rick in 2000 deserve a smack. So I’m saying it now, on the INTERNET, to the WHOLE WORLD, on MY WEBSITE right now. Consider this your virtual kick.
Wow, I do believe that’s something like Nana would say.
Welcome to my latest "mini blog series" on surviving the holidays! In these weeks leading up to the holidays I'm going to offer my experiences, insights, and observations on getting through the holidays without losing your sanity. I'd like to open this series with a list of do's and don'ts - basically, simple tips that will help you get through this season with less stress and more time and resources to enjoy what the holidays are all about.
DO keep a schedule with you at all times, as this is a season filled with cordial invitations to events of all sorts - and those invitations can come at any place, at any time. It's never safe to be without a calendar this time of year. If you don't have a mobile device, get a small calendar that you can carry in a purse, briefcase, or pocket.
DON'T be afraid to decline an invitation. It simply isn't possible to do everything - there's too much going on. There is a polite way to decline an invitation. Simply say "I appreciate you thinking of me and offering this invitation, but I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to attend." You don't owe anybody a doctoral dissertation on your calendar. It's perfectly ok to say "no" just because you need time to do other things, or for yourself.
DO go ahead and make travel plans and arrangements now. Waiting until the last minute is stressful to you and rude to the hosts. It takes a lot of "doing" to hosts guests in your home, so be considerate and let them know arrival and departure dates and relative times now so they can plan for your visit accordingly.
DO make shopping lists. In this season of buy, buy, buy, it's easy to lose track of how much you've bought. Do like Santa - make a list and check it twice.
DO check your resources to avoid needless spending or duplicating resources. I was fixing to buy more wrapping paper this past weekend - until I checked my supplies and discovered 10 rolls of paper from last year. People won't remember what wrapping paper, gift tags, bows, boxes or gift bags you used last year and truth be told, you probably didn't remember until you pulled it out of storage.
DON'T be afraid to ask someone on your gift list what they want if you're completely stumped on what to give them. We usually buy gifts for the same people year after year, so after a while it's hard to be original. Don't try. Just ask.
DO ask the people on your gift list if they're ok with receiving gift cards for presents. People seem to have strong opinions on this. I love them, as do most of my family members, but I've had some friends that believe giving gift cards is wildly offensive and insensitive. I actually plan to do an entry just on this topic soon.
DO regift if you got something in the past that hasn't been opened or used, but be careful and DON'T regift it to the person that gave it to you. In fact, if you get something that winds out in the "strorage" drawer or closet, it would be wise to put a note on it indicating who gave it to you to prevent such an embarassing error.
DO observe important traditions, but DON'T feel obligated to hand on to ones that don't mean much to you - or others. Things tend to pass in time. People get married, people have babies, people die. Some things stay and some things go, and that's ok. Keep what means the most and let go of what doesn't.
DO take care of yourself and mind your health - mentally and physically. Be sure to take time out for yourself, excercise, eat right, and get enough sleep. It's easy to skimp on self care during this busy season.
DON'T go off your medications now. I'm not being a smart alec. Money is typically tight this time of year, and often people decide to skip the medication refills to save a few bucks. Don't do it. Your doctor put you on your medication for a reason, and you feel better because of it. If you go off now, you will suffer. This is no area to skimp on ever. It's for your better health. You have enough on you without having to battle your body as well - and you will if you go off your medication. So don't do it. And if, by chance, you do feel it's ok to do so, I urge you to do two things: Do it under doctor's supervision, and strongly consider waiting until January and making this a New Year's Resolution instead.
DO realize that there's no such thing as a perfect holiday. As much as we'd all like our holiday to look like a Norman Rockwell painting, realize that's art, not reality. We live in an imperfect world and it shows that every day, in every way. It's extremely rare for things to go as we planned, and they never go perfectly, People get sick, cars break down, things get sold out, casseroles burn, wrapping paper tears, turkeys don't cook right, gift bags bust, the milk goes sour, people fight, shipments get delayed, bad weather hits, somebody moves and the Christmas card is returned on December 26 leading to misunderstanding and hurt feelings - the list can go on and on.
So there you have it - a few simple, common sense list of suggestions to get through the holidays. I believe that's a good place to end this entry, as well as a perfect lead in for the next entry in this series.
Next Time: Can't We All Just Get Along - It's The Holidays! (or, Reality 101)