One Word 365: Risk

For the first time since 1985, I am starting the year without a job.

My employer (since 1999) is experiencing budget problems.

My job is gone.

I’ve seen some job openings I qualify for, but have not applied.

That’s a risk, I know.

It would be the “safe” thing to do.

Find another job.

Find an employer.

Instead, I intend to find my voice.

Risk.

There is something simultaneously terrifying and thrilling about giving myself this time and space to discover my voice and let it speak.

Risk.

What if I can’t find my voice?

What if I have nothing to say?

What if I have something to say but nobody listens?

Risk.

I doubt I ever would have quit my job to pursue this opportunity.

This opportunity has done the pursuing.

So in 2014, I am taking the risk…

…to see where the risk takes me.

*This blog post is in response to the One Word 365 project, which you can read more about here.

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An Open Letter to Restaurant Workers at Christmas

Coffee mug - "It's always sunny-side up in a diner."

First of all, thank you.

Thank you for serving me and my family.

You don’t get paid a bunch to do it, but we have really come to rely on you and your colleagues.

Our lives are very busy and so we tend to eat out a lot.

I confess, sometimes we can be tired and grumpy.

We try to interact with you with smiles and lighthearted banter.

But some days we don’t feel much like smiling and our hearts are not light.

You serve us anyway.

You tend to us.

You make sure the water glasses stay full.

You respond to our special requests.

“Hold the onions.”

“I’d like that burger with just cheese and bacon, otherwise, just plain.”

“This isn’t on the menu, but could I have (…fill in the blank.)”

Sometimes when the food comes out, it’s not what we wanted.

You politely handle that as well and make things right.

You pop by and ask us if everything is OK.

You bring us extra napkins when we are messy.

You are part of a team at your restaurant.

There are hostesses/hosts, waitresses/waiters, cooks, people who bus tables, managers, cashiers, and dishwashers.

Each member of the team plays an important role in customer service.

So… thank you.

Thank you for greeting us with a smile and finding us a place to sit.

Thank you for ordering in the supplies and making sure there is food to prepare.

Thank you for cooking for and serving us.

Thank you for clearing our table and washing our dishes.

Thank you for a quick checkout and cheerful good-bye.

What you do is important.

You are important.

You are appreciated.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2014.

Trappings

Small child gazing at Christmas Tree. Looks sort of like Cindy Lou Who from the Grinch.

Grinch and Scrooge.

Let’s face it – these are two names you do not want to be called, especially around Christmas.

The names are used, somewhat interchangeably, to accuse somebody of not “getting” Christmas, of being selfish, grumpy, and/or a killjoy.

Just how did these two become the poster boys for party poopers everywhere?

Both Scrooge and Grinch showed extreme annoyance at the trappings of the season.

Grinch hated the “noise, noise, noise, noise!”  He disliked all those loud toys, and the singing, and the feasting. Yuck.

Scrooge chased a young caroler away from his keyhole and did a verbal smack down on two gentlemen who were the Salvation-Army-bell-ringer-equivalents of the day, “endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.”  He also rudely turned down his nephew’s offer of hospitality.

They were similar in their hatred of Christmas trappings and in wanting to be left alone, but they each had their own style.

Grinch was set on TAKING the trappings in hopes of shutting down the festivities.

Scrooge refused to GIVE to support the trappings, except for grudgingly giving his clerk a one day paid holiday – which he considered having his pocket picked “every twenty-fifth of December.”

But of course, their stories don’t end there.

Even though we use their names to symbolize something negative, their stories actually both end on an extremely positive note.

In the end, both of these guys “get” Christmas in very deep and meaningful ways.

They each did a “180” and became poster boys for knowing “how to keep Christmas well.”

They each sought out and accepted the company of others and abandoned their earlier distaste for “the trappings.”

The Grinch RETURNED the trappings to the Whos.

Scrooge BOUGHT some trappings and gave them away.

They both accepted invitations to holiday dinners.

But bear with me a moment, because I’m going to go out on a limb here.

It was never about the trappings, per se.

It was about accepting an invitation to be part of a community.

It was never really about the toys or the roast beast or the “prize turkey.”

It was about Cindy Lou Who and about Scrooge’s nephew.

It was about breaking bread together and enjoying the moment.

I wonder if today we need to do our own “180?”

Do we need to enjoy the trappings, but recognize them for what they are?

Trappings.

Do we need a little less Black Friday and credit card debt and a bit more “wonderful unanimity, wonder-ful happiness!?”

Do we need to stop getting stressed and short-tempered under the annual tyranny of the trappings and just enjoy the company?

With or without the trappings, Christmas comes.

Joy to the World!

The trappings are only part of Christmas in so far as they add to the joy.

If the trappings become joy-stealers, reassess.

It’s not about the trappings.

Christmas will come anyway.

Give yourself permission to let go of the stress and grab on to the joy.

And that ain’t no humbug.

Taking Steps

Steps

I love listening to Christmas music.

All kinds of Christmas music.

I love the sacred and the kitschy alike.

One of the sacredly-kitschy songs I remember from my childhood comes from the 1970 Rankin/Bass TV special Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.

You may remember it.

“If you want to change your direction,
If your time of life is at hand,
Well, don’t be the rule, be the exception
A good way to start is to stand.

[Chorus]
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor.
You put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door.”

What great advice for each of us, no matter our stage of life; no matter our personal goal.

One day at a time.

One step at a time.

One decision or choice at a time.

Keep moving forward.

I recently read a great tweet from Joshua Becker, a writer who focuses on minimalism.

“People overestimate what they can do in a single day,” he said. “And underestimate what they can do in their whole lives.”

Sometimes we allow ourselves to feel overwhelmed by thinking we have to go too far, too fast.

Amy Grant touched on a similar idea of doing what you can and not allowing yourself to become overwhelmed.

In Shine All Your Light, she sings:

“Like sand on a mountain, rain on a fountain, shade on a shadow, a breeze in this tornado, just do what you can. Clap with one hand and shine all your light in the sun.”

As I arrived at work this morning I faced my daily choice: elevator or steps.

(My office is on the fourth floor.)

One choice at a time.

One step at a time.

We can take the easy way.

Or we can take the better way.

I took the steps.

It felt good.

And it got me where I needed to go.

One foot in front of the other.

Keeping It Real

I am just going to state it right up front.

I love having a real live Christmas tree.

But like some sort of variety show parody of a Charles Dickens classic, getting our tree up and ready for decorating is annually “the best of times and the worst of times.”

This year was no exception.

We found a tree we all liked without too much debate or stress; we stuffed it into the trunk of our Honda Accord and drove it home; and we extricated it from the car and maneuvered it into the living room.

So far, so good.

Each year I try to brace myself for this next phase.

Each year I tell myself I should chillax and “go with the flow.”

Each year, the process of getting the tree into the stand in a non-leaning and best-side-forward posture tests my patience and “ability to work well with others.”

And once we get past that part of the process…there are the lights.

I think it is precisely because this tradition is so important to us and we take it so seriously that we allow ourselves to get testy and short-tempered with one another.

This matters, darn it!

It matters whether the tree leans an eighth of an inch to the back left.

It matters whether there is a bare spot with no lights when you squint your eyes and look at the tree.

We’ve got to get it right, man!

Our “perfect Christmas” hangs in the balance for crying out loud!

For the record, let me just cut to the chase and state that once we get the ornaments on and sit back and look at our tree, it is always the “prettiest tree we ever had.”

Once we adorn it with small symbolic items that represent places we have been, people we love, and earlier stages of our lives, the tree helps create a sense of preparation for celebration – a sense of belonging, identity, and tradition.

With the tree up and with lights strung, there are still some basic preparations to be made before we get to the point of “putting on the ornaments.”

As I opened up the boxes of ornaments this year, I pulled out the zip-lock baggie containing the ornament hooks/hangers.

They were a jumbled, tangled, twisted clump of metal.

Before we could adorn the tree and create some beauty, we would have to address and deal with the tangled mess of hooks.

I took some time and separated out the hooks – laying them out so that we could pick them up, match each with an ornament and decorate our tree.

Un-tangled hooks in hand, we were ready to begin.

We have a tradition.

The first ornament we hang on the tree each year is a simple white cross. My Grandma Catherine made it.

It goes on first – to remind us that, although we are celebrating the birth of the Christ Child, we ultimately celebrate his birth because we know about his death and about his resurrection.

It reminds us that we can be imperfect and yet forgiven and forgiving. (Even if we lean an eighth of an inch to the back left or right.)

First things first.

This ornament prepares the way for all the others – the bell given to me by my kindergarten teacher; an ornament our son made when he was three; the hand-painted ornament that was a gift from my husband’s Sunday School teacher; the wooden cross our niece brought back from a mission trip to Central America; ornaments we picked up on trips to Boston, the Outer Banks and Gettysburg; wooden ornaments from my time living in Germany; and ornaments from our first Christmas together.

As with our Christmas tree, so it can be in life.

Sometimes life gets tangled up and messy.

Sometimes when things are important to us we can be impatient and judgmental.

Sometimes, before we can create beauty, belonging, identity and tradition, we have to address and deal with some tangled messes.

If we put first things first and if we forgive and accept forgiveness, we can untangle our messy situations, relationships and circumstances.

That’s real.

So far, so good.

Cross

Battery Drain

Headlight

The forecast today was for rain. Lots of rain.

So… like the super nice mama I am… I left extra early to go pick up our son at school.

This way I was sure to get a spot close to the building so he would have less distance to walk in the rain.

I actually arrived about 45 minutes before school let out.

I had brought a book and was looking forward to the quiet time.

I went ahead and turned off the car and enjoyed reading my book and listening to the pitter patter of the rain on the car roof. I even closed my eyes for a few minutes.

Peaceful.

Restful.

Quiet.

You know what else was quiet?

The car engine when I tried to start it up.

It seems I had turned off the car, but not the headlights.

And since I didn’t open the door to get out, there was no warning chime.

Battery?

Drained.

My son arrived and I explained our predicament.

We waited a few minutes and then tried again to start the car.

A sputter and a little clickety-clicking on the control panel.

But no go.

OK.

So my plan for him to have less distance to walk in the rain turned out to have back-fired.

We now got out of the car and walked – in the rain – three blocks or so to the orthodontist, where he had an appointment.

Luckily, his appointment was within walking distance.

Luckily, the rain had slacked off somewhat and the downpour from earlier had eased up.

Luckily, I was able to contact a friend who was willing to come give us a jump start after the appointment if we still needed it.

Luckily, when we got back to the car sufficient time had passed to allow the battery to recover enough to start.

Luckily, even if it had not started, help was close at hand and offered.

Life is like that.

Sometimes, when our battery is drained, we need to just allow some time to recover and then try again.

And if we can’t get things started, there is usually help nearby.