Friday, December 31, 2010

A Hole in One's Heart

Everyone has one.  Everyone has a spot that seems empty, that previously was filled with something or someone special.

I have been overwhelmed lately with the volume of sad news in my own circle of friends.  So many illnesses, and deaths, and closing of chapters in loved ones' lives.  In my own home there are "closing cycles, shutting doors, ending chapters", to quote my friend Paulo Coelho.

I believe one of life's challenges is to find ways to help fill those holes; to help heal them in our own hearts and in the hearts of others.  We must look outward for new opportunities and new relationships.

The new year sounds like a good time for healing. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Coming Clean

The guilt is too much.  I must confess. So why not to the entire blogosphere?

This morning I was at the grocery store and had taken a detour to somewhere I did not belong.  I recognized the undeniable guilt I was feeling by what was running through my head.   I kept thinking:  'Oh, I hope no one sees me!  Please don't let anyone I know see me'

I wasn't perusing the wine aisle;  I wasn't buying beer.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Where are the One-Year-Olds?

"It's too quiet..... Where are the One-year-olds?"  Robert's mother-in-law asked in the aftermath of a huge family Christmas.  Our granddaughter Evelyn is blessed to have two cousins her same age, all born within just a few weeks of each other.  When they get together they have all kinds of fun. 
That wise grandmother knew that quiet can be dangerous and sent one to investigate. This is what Uncle Brad found:  Evelyn and her cousins were in an upstairs bathroom, gathered around the toilet.  They had filled it with toilet paper and toys, were playing with the plunger, soaked from head to toe with toilet water, and were eating the wet toilet paper.

Their only comments, from their limited vocabulary?  "Uh oh!"

I can only imagine, as they continue to grow up together, all the adventures these three will have. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Time for Gifts

Certainly this would be a good forum to share all the wonderful gifts that were given and received this holiday season.  But that isn't what is on my mind today.  I feel like I have been given a most unusual gift recently.  And I believe the Giver of the gift knew exactly what I was needing, and felt I was ready to receive this extraordinary experience.

I believe I was given a chance to step outside myself for a few moments and look at my life from a different perspective.  I was able to see and analyze where I am and the direction my life is heading.  Very humbling in so many ways.  No, I haven't had an "out-of-body" experience, though in some ways it feels like I have.  For the first time in a long time I have looked objectively at the things I do, the things I am preoccupied with, the things I think about, the "place" I am at, and most importantly, its relationship to where I want to be.

Is there a better time of year to receive this poignant reminder?  As I approach the new year, I am determined to pursue the changes I would like to see, so if (and when) I get another honest, objective glimpse of myself, perhaps I will be more comfortable with what I see.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lost in the Shuffle

My husband loves to make us feel guilty.  "Oh don't bother about my birthday.  It's fine.  No big deal."
But would we dare to really do that?  No way!  He loves to feel like he has gotten the short end of the stick by having a Christmas Eve birthday.  But honestly, the family always gathers for his birthday.  There is always great food and goodies around for his birthday.  There is always a big party for his birthday.

So complain if you want.  But you know we always try very hard to make you feel special.  And this year will be no different.
Last year we even took you to Vero Beach, Florida for your birthday and then went to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.  With your birthday badge on, you were wished a Happy Birthday by every single employee of the Happiest Place on Earth.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Stockings are Hung

What was I thinking?!  Last year, I decided we needed new Christmas Stockings.  We have had some new additions to our family and I wanted everyone to match. 

I found some great double-sided fabric.  Beautiful.  I decided I could make my own pattern.  I had access to a sewing factory, complete with a professional embroidery machine.  These were going to be awesome.

The results?  Quite comical-looking, really LONG stockings.
Aside from their ridiculous proportions, they take  A LOT of stuff to fill them!  Poor Santa....

Here is another picture.  See?  they are bigger than my grandbaby!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Missing the Magic

For me, part of the magic of Christmas has always been having snow.  And for the past 25 years of living in Oregon, the White Christmases have been RARE.   As much as I love living in this beautiful part of the world, when Christmastime rolls arounds, part of my heart pines for nonexistent snow.

This year in particular, I seem to be thinking more of Christmases Past, when the magic was turned on by a dusting from heaven.  It seems more difficult to recapture the magic of the season somehow.
I spent my childhood in Utah and Kansas and Wyoming and Idaho.  I grew up knowing firsthand the charms of the snow.  I know it comes with headaches, too.  But that doesn't prevent me from dreamin' of , well, you know....

Monday, December 20, 2010

Searching for Meaning.

I apologize to my old-timers, but I have a desire to re-visit an old blogpost today.  It was written last December, and as I read through it, I felt its message was something I needed to hear again.  Enjoy.

I have been intrigued lately with the word "meaning". Why is it so coveted? Why does it seem so elusive? How is it possible to transcend the mundane everyday drudgery simply by being able to attach "meaning" to it?

This word keeps popping up all over the place. "Man's Search for Meaning"; "Does the song you sing have enough meaning..."; the TRUE meaning of Christmas; see what I "mean"? ;-)

In Victor L. Frankl's book, he quotes the words of Nietzsche: "He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How." The root of his survival while in a Nazi concentration camp was his ability to attach meaning to his life and retain a hope for a happy life after that bleak experience was behind him. And as terrible as that experience was, it reinforced for him WHAT was truly meaningful to him. Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, or a quest for power or wealth; it is truly a quest for meaning. Remarkably and perhaps as one of God's greatest gifts it is our responsibility to find the unique meaning of our own lives.

"Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times." (from the Foreword to Man's Search for Meaning)

You know, when I entitled my blog, Ardith's Quest, I think I was subconsciously defining my desire to search for meaning in my life. The last 26 years have been spent primarily focused on my family and that has provided wonderful meaning for my life. As my children have grown and are leaving home, now I can see that my quest is to find other sources of meaning. What will be my reason for getting out of bed in the morning? What will be my impetus for self-improvement?

Some of the greatest questions ever posed illustrate the universal quest for meaning: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Thankfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its restored fullness has provided me with those answers. The challenge of enduring to the end is where my quest for meaning will be most "meaningful" and necessary.I have made it this far, but in reality I am (hopefully) only at the halfway mark of my life on earth. What will provide meaning for the next 46 years? Will the song in my heart have enough meaning to be shared with others? I hope so. I feel like the Lord has blessed me with some gifts that He intends for me to use productively, and ultimately I will be held accountable to Him for their use. Perhaps it is time to find a shovel, remember where I buried my talents, and see if I can uncover, dust off, and use those gifts to add some meaning to my life and to others.

May you and your family enjoy a meaningful Christmas. May you find meaningful activities, and may your traditions bespeak the true meaning of this sacred holiday season.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Own Fezziwig

The Dicken's Classic, A Christmas Carol, has become part of our lives.  Every year there seems to be a new addtion to the extensive catalog of Christmas Carol versions.  And what a wonderful reminder of the impact of internalizing the Spirit of Christmas, as Scrooge gives us examples of how to act, and how not to act.

Many characters from the story have been brought to life by memorable actors, and round out the story of Scrooge's exploratory journey.  A favorite of mine is Mr. Fezziwig.  As you'll recall, he is Ebenezer's kind and jolly former employer, who throws a big Christmas party for his employees.  He epitomizes the generous soul who knows how to treat those who work for him.

Every day of every year I have the opportunity to see a Fezziwig in action, and particularly enjoy observing from the sidelines during the Annual Summit Sportswear Christmas Potluck Luncheon, which just happened to be today.  This is the time that my husband hands out Christmas Bonuses to his 100+ employees and announces the winners of the door prizes. This is followed by an extensive potluck buffet, lavish with authentic dishes from the Russian, Asian, and Mexican people who work there.  Brian and I contribute hams and au gratin potatoes every year.  They seem very plain and "American" next to the exotic dishes that the others bring.

It is evident that Brian inspires loyalty and fosters good feelings in his factory.  These sweet, hardworking people love to show their appreciation to their kind boss by giving humble gifts.  And they often extend their kindness to me, "The Boss's Wife".  This year I came home with a bowl full of real handmade tamales, given to me by a sweet little lady.  From her limited English, I could tell she was offering something which made her very proud to give because she had heard that I love tamales.

I feel so blessed.  I have a husband that works hard to take care of not only our family, but he feels such a responsibility to help maintain these good workers and their families, by providing them with stable, secure jobs.  These people work so hard at really difficult jobs.  I have bent over a sewing machine for eight hours and know the aches and pains it causes.  And they do it every day for years and years.

Blessings come in unusual packages.  Sometimes they are savory bundles wrapped up in corn husks.  Sometimes they are in a compassionate hardworking husband. 

I came home today from the party with a Christmas bonus of my own.  After having shipped his order, Brian found himself with an extra top from a Nike Track program.  Hmmmmm, looks like my size.  Pretty cute, huh?

Thanks, Mr. Fezziwig.

Right This Very Minute!

The fog is lifting.  Gray skies are gonna clear up.  I'm ready to put on a happy face. 

Christmas has been trying to come, and I have been keeping it at arm's length.  No more!  There is a song that invites the merriment of Christmas for me, like no other.  I tried playing it on the piano a week or so ago, and it just bombed.  It bombed because it requires pep and vigor and a quick tempo, all things which I was lacking.  My fingers could barely move at the pace it needed.

It is the song:  We Need a Little Christmas; one of my favorites as a child when my family would sing "carols at the spinet".

So I will be trying it again, certain that I am ready now to fill this quiet house with music.  I will be humming the peppy tune and reviewing the words that are so uplifting and encouraging.  I think I need a little Christmas now.

Haul out the holly;
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again.
Fill up the stocking,
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.

For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute,
Candles in the window,
Carols at the spinet.

Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute.
It hasn't snowed a single flurry,
But Santa, dear, we're in a hurry;

For I've grown a little leaner,
Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
Grown a little older,
And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder,
Need a little Christmas now.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Slowly, Sister, Slowly!"

One of the most vividly contrasting scenes in the Sound of Music is towards the end when the Von Trapp family is hiding in the church from the Nazis.  While the soldiers are speedily pursuing there is fast-paced chase music which sets everyone on edge due to the tenseness of the situation.  Then, as the nuns are summoned to the front gate, the music changes, and they purposefully, with great effort, endeavor to slow their pace, slow their speaking, slow their movement to indicate peace and tranquility and calm.

We could learn a lot from a nun.  Even in the midst of haste and hurry, the best way to  find peace may be to manufacture a little of it by slowing our pace and slowing our heartrates, and "pretending" we are calm.  During these times in our lives when the winds may blow and storms may rage, we find ourselves in the middle of it all, struggling for some type of reprieve or relief.  Generally we find that the answers do not come as we expend our energy furiously treading water; we only get more anxious and more tired and more desperate.  Perhaps the most radical move is to gently turn onto one's back and peacefully, slowly, begin to swim toward the shore and remove ourselves from the situation.  We purposefully slow our heartrate; change our plan; recognize what our body and soul are telling us.

I picked up a book today.  It has been within arm's reach of my desk for the past month, unnoticed and untouched.  Until today.  After calling my name to pick it up, its counsel rang with such truth to me.  It spoke of this conscientiously slowing down life's pace; of how as a society we are driven to accomplish, to please, to produce, to perfect, all at the mercy of our peace.

The book reminds us of the wisdom in doing fewer things, while taking the time to make the most of those we choose to do.  It encourages us to "walk a little slower and notice a little more, drive a little slower and be more aware of what is around you.  You will only lose a few seconds, and you will start to win the battle against haste and hurry."

I believe we should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, but not to the degree that "anxious" becomes "anxiety".  We needn't run faster than we have strength.

My goals for the new year are to walk slowly and think slowly, trying for more awareness and perspective--to see more, feel more, and to look for more quality and less quantity in my activities, my relationships, and my goals.

My favorite quote from Dr. Bridell's Logical and Rational and Poetic and Beautiful and Completely Guaranteed Eat-Half Diet for ALL your Appetites book, and what I intend to take to heart is this:

"Let that kiss for your loved one take a little longer.  Look into a person's eyes and hold the hand a second longer when you greet someone.  Sit down and take a look around you for a moment before you start a piece of work....Slow thinking is intuitive and creative.  Slowing down and giving ideas times to simmer at their own pace yields rich and subtle insights, leading to lateral thinking and serendipity."

Sounds like a chance I am willing to take.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Pieces are Coming Together

Don't you love it when you are working on a jigsaw puzzle and the fragmented image slowly but surely starts to come into focus;  when your efforts, which at times had seemed futile, begin to show promise?  What had begun as an exercise of faith in the puzzlemakers, is now confirmed as a real image, and not just a hodge podge of random colors and shapes.

I love it when the apparent randonmness of life's components begin to take shape as well and the colors of life show their purpose.  Sometimes they are real mysteries that become explained.

I am finding in my life that the times of clarity may not always be dominant, but I am so thankful when, for one reason or another, I am blessed to have an "A Ha!" moment.  This past Fall has been full of turmoil, chaos, stress, and unrest.  I will never forget the feelings of humility and inadequacy and worry.  But truthfully, my life has been blessed with peace and assurance that Someone else is running the show, is aware of my situation, and loves me!  The puzzle pieces are coming together.  I am learning that I don't have all the answers, but I do know the source.

And that's enough.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

All I Want For Christmas...

Thanks to the tradition of Christmas music there are a number of ways to finish this statement.  All I want for Christmas is YOU!  All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.  I have come to an altogether different Christmas wish this year.  I have come to understand that the most valuable thing to me is peace.
As the angels heralded the Birth of the Christ Child, their Christmas greeting to the shepherds and to all was "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14). 

As the Savior was preparing His Apostles for the difficult times to come, He reassured them with the promise of another Comforter and the timeless offering:  "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you:  not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).

I am not so naive as to believe that the hearts of men all over the world will suddenly turn away from war and evil to embrace the peace of Jesus Christ.  But I do believe that this promise of peace can fill our troubled minds and hearts with comfort, with rest, and with a reprieve from the cares of our own personal struggles.  At times I think we all deal with an inward, inexplicable tumult that drags us down to depths we don't want to be in.

I caught a glimpse of the power that peace has in grasping us by the hand and pulling us up from those depths.  In my quiet little home, surrounded by the people I love, sitting in the glow of our Christmas tree, I felt the peace of the Savior and came to realize its priceless value. 

Although the mom in me has a strong desire to make sure everything is "just so" this Christmas, with all the surprises tied up neatly in a bow, my quest this year is to find peace; to nurture peace; to give peace; to rejoice in peace.

Maybe you will join me.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Just for a Moment I was Back at School

The Christmas season is here.  Everywhere I go there is Christmas music playing.  The past couple of years I have noticed something odd.  At least I think it is.  There is a song that keeps popping up on Christmas playlists that I never would have considered making the cut.  My daughter will think I am referring to "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music.  Well, that isn't really a Christmas song either, but it is not the one I am talking about.

Let me give you another hint:  "Met my old lover in the grocery store.  Snow was falling, Christmas Eve."

That's it.  That is the only reference I can see that would sneak it onto a Christmas playlist.  Pretty slim, huh?

Of course, it is that haunting song "Same Old Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg, from his 1981 album, The Innocent Age. It has always been a favorite of mine, so I actually welcome hearing it more often this time of year.  I decided to do a little research into Dan's obvious inspiration.  The following was found in Wikipedia:

"Auld Lang Syne" is a Scots poem "written" by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song. It is well known in many English-speaking (and other) countries and is often sung to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight. By extension, its use has also become common at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions.  The song's Scots title may be translated into English literally as "old long since", or more idiomatically, "long long ago", "days gone by" or "old times". Consequently "For auld lang syne", as it appears in the first line of the chorus, is loosely translated as "for (the sake of) old times".

So perhaps I have misjudged its aptness as a song of the Holidays.  Is there a better time to turn our thoughts to long ago, and days gone by?  I know that I have sweet memories of  long ago that fill me with warmth and the glow of Christmas.  Some are associated with presents and trees and stockings, but many focus on family and friends and cherished moments.

I think Dan got it right.  As we get caught up in the here and now, we all have a need to look to the past occasionally.  We can't go back.  We wouldn't choose to go back most of the time.  But memories have value and carry emotions that we can tap into once in a while.  If we try.

We drank a toast to innocence;
We drank a toast to time.
Reliving in our eloquence
Another auld lang syne.

Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain.

Thanks for the memories, Dan.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Back to the Real Deal

Last year I did something I had never done before.  Due to a Christmas trip to Florida for the holidays, my family did not put up a real Christmas tree.  For us, a REAL Christmas tree involves a saw and wood and branches and fragrance and errant needles.  It requires scootching under it every day risking hair and clothes being covered with gold glitter to make sure it remains adequately watered.  It requires risking a mess of fallen needles and dribbled water on one's carpet. 

Our memories of Christmases Past are filled with trips to cut our own tree.  Now before you imagine us tromping through the woods Chevy Chase-style, let me stop you.  We live in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  This is where Christmas trees are grown, groomed, and then shipped all over the country.  We are surrounded by tree farms on every side.  I can't drive the few blocks to Wal-mart without passing a tree farm.  They are abundant, they are affordable, and they are simply the most beautiful trees to be had.

With all of our children here for the Thanksgiving holiday, we thought it would be wonderful to go get our tree while they were here.  Surely 16-month-old Evelyn would think it a delightful activity.  One problem:  most of the tree farms do not open until the day after Thanksgiving.  We wanted to get it the day before.

After a little research, we found one that was willing to let us come early.  Granted there would be no charming amenities like cocoa and candy canes, but we deemed it worth the sacrifice.

Being used to cutting our tree here in town, it seemed unusual to have to drive too far.  The cooperative tree farm was on the other side of Silverton, half way up the hill to Silver Falls.  And they had snow!  And very slippery roads.  Which was fine for Brian driving his 4WD pickup, not so much for Robert driving my Chrysler.

But that was not the only thing that set this trip apart from other tree-hunts.  Not being ready yet to cater to individuals seeking single trees, the tree farm was in the midst of harvesting and shipping trees for its commercial production.  We found ourselves in the middle of a thrilling adventure.  Helicopters and all!

And to heck with the little handsaws that tree farms usually provide, this owner pulled out his chainsaw and zip, zip, zip, made short order of that tree.  My son Robert did not mind, as it usually falls to him to cut down our tree.

I am glad we made the extra effort to get our tree while our children were here.  I realized how much it has become part of our traditions.  And traditions should be cherished and nurtured. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Value of Constancy

Newness is exciting.  Surprises are fun.  A change of pace can be thrilling.

But I have come to find great value in the things that stay the same; things that I can rely on to always greet me the same way.  I have also learned that the most comforting are not the predictably stagnant things, in fact they are not things at all.  We expect inanimate objects to remain unchanged, but can we say the same thing about people? or nature? or relationships?

This morning I awoke to the comforting song of the ocean.  Its constancy is very satisfying, very reassuring.  It may not always remain the same intensity, or the same color, or the same tide level.  BUT, it is always there.  I know that it is never going away.  And the peace that brings is remarkable.

I am thankful for the other constants in my life.  Perhaps that is the true test of value:  those in our lives that we can always count on.  Perhaps the intensity changes but knowing they are always there can be a great comfort.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Very Thankful

So Thanksgiving was at our house this year.  And I think I could do it again sometime.  We filled our week with a multitude of fun.  There was just the right balance of planned activities and down time.  We had way more treats and goodies than we could eat.  No one was injured too badly in the Turkey Bowl football game.  We crafted, saw movies, played games, had a family talent show, introduced Josalyn and Evelyn to the wonders of Bingo, went on a beautiful drive to find a Christmas tree, and finished the week off at the Coast.  I have been overcome with feelings of gratitude.  The Lord has spared nothing in blessing me.
You can come next time, if you'd like.  Just make sure you prepare a talent to share.