Maria’s Musings & Advice: Blue January

15078543_10207877727882687_9073753884834843778_nDear Maria,

I discovered this year that the holidays make me sad. I’m sad when they’re over, but this year I felt sad while there were going on, too. There were times I wished they were over. Now that they are, I don’t feel any better.

Signed,

Blue Christmas, Blue January

Dear Blue,

I get it. The holidays are a melancholy time for many adults. I don’t know your age, but I suspect you’ve lived long enough to have had some disappointing Christmases, and have lost some people who were part of good Christmases Past. The songs tell us, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” but it’s also stressful, exhausting, and expensive. Things don’t go as planned, weather interferes, people drink too much, we find we have nothing to say to relatives, and we wind up with more stuff in our already cluttered houses. After a while, “God, get me through this!” becomes our mantra. Then, we’re relieved to turn the calendar page, everyone goes back to ordinary time, but we’re left with cold and dark days without the lights and music to lift our hearts, even a bit. I get it.

I have some ideas to manage the January blues, and I invite our readers to comment with what works for them. Here goes:

Looking back:

  • Recall a holiday gathering where you didn’t have a good time, or had an awkward or hurtful exchange with someone. Imagine yourself back in that room, and think of the people there. As each face comes to mind, say “thank you” to that person. In your interaction with that person, there’s something to be grateful for, believe it or not. They affirmed you, or challenged you in some way. Their presence gave you an insight into yourself. That deepened understanding will help you in the future.
  • Does this memory bring with it regret for something you did or said? Consider how you might make amends with this person. Forgive yourself for what stress, fatigue, or an aching heart may have caused you to do. Breathe through this hurt. As it lifts, you’ll know what to do, even if it’s as simple as trying to do better next time.
  • Are you missing someone who passed away, and wasn’t with you through the holidays? Cry when you need to. Pay attention to how they show up in your life now. Did they teach you how to hard boil eggs? Or knit the afghan on your couch? Did they always love “Silent Night”?, or telling corny jokes? Memories of loved ones can sting. Feel the sting, then move to “thank you.” See how that soothes your heart.

Looking ahead:

  • Do one thing every day that feels new and fun. Play music and dance, use your favorite mug, get some fresh air. When you feel the blues start to creep in, do one gentle thing to comfort yourself.
  • The nights are long, so pay attention to your body’s call for more sleep. Gradually, our days will get longer, so hibernate to get ready for the next season.
  • Cut back on alcohol. Booze is not our friend. It starts out all fun and friendly, but quickly turns on us. Its depressive effects affect our mood. Not much to celebrate there.
  • Declutter. As Peter Walsh says, “If you don’t love it or use it, lose it.” Lighten up your space, and your heart will follow.
  • Pay attention. There’s good in every moment. We may have to dig for it. For me, as I type these words, it’s the electricity that serves my home and office, my warm slippers, the quiet space to contemplate your question. Look around you, and you’ll find something for which to be grateful. Let these be your main thoughts.

The holiday season conjures up expectations, then holds up a stark mirror, revealing how our reality meets these expectations, and how it falls short. We’re reminded of the passing of time, how people change and leave and surprise us. Think of how you’d respond to a good friend, or your child, who comes to you and says, “I’m sad.” Poor response: “Get over it.” Better response: “We’ll sit here, together, till the sadness lifts.” Talk to yourself, and do for yourself, what you’d like those you love to do for you. Hang in there. The season will come ‘round again, and you’ll be better for it.

 

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. Let’s hear from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Mom’s confounding Christmas morn

holiday_8Dear Maria,

For Christmas, my husband and I gave our teenage daughter a very nice gift. It was an iPad, something lots of people her age would like, or at least I thought. She opened the package, pulled the plastic cover off the screen, and then shoved it back in the box without even turning it on. She seemed angry about it. I was so confused and hurt. We tried to talk to her about it, and all she said was that she isn’t into electronic stuff. I let it go for a few days, then asked her about it again. She said she was disappointed that I didn’t know she didn’t want electronics. I guess moms are supposed to know everything their children want. I was so hurt. I’m glad my husband stepped in at that moment. He took her to the store to exchange the iPad for something else, or for the cash. I don’t know. I didn’t have the heart to ask. I guess she’s happy now.

I think I have two questions for you: Was my daughter being fair? And, how can I get over my hurt feelings?

Signed,

Shoulda Checked My List Twice

Dear Shoulda,

My condolences on your Christmas morning. What kid doesn’t want an iPad? I could ask my own 16-year-old about this, but I don’t want to give her any ideas.

As a fellow mom, who some years hit the mark on Christmas, and other lonely mornings sat shaking my head, you have my sympathies. It was easier to delight the girls when they were younger. In their teens, their interests seemed to change so often, It was hard to keep up, but I tried. As you did, too, mom.

Don’t be hard on yourself. I think all my readers will join me in affirming your good and generous attempt to make her Christmas Day. You have hereby fulfilled your maternal duties. At its best, a gift is freely given, and we can’t control how it will be received.

heart-handI can’t judge if your daughter was being fair. Would you have preferred that she pretended to like the gift? And never told you how she really felt? Talk about hurt—you’d be dealing with a double-whammy of disappointment. While I’m stumped as to why she didn’t want an iPad, I’m kind of impressed, too. She’s choosing against the mainstream. That kind of strength will come in handy in life. I do hope that, despite her disappointment, she said the words, “Thank you.” You can’t force her to like the gift, but you can insist she be gracious about it. Graciousness, too, comes in very handy in life.

As for your hurt feelings, I wish I could give you a hug. You’ve experienced that lonely feeling when we realize, with painful clarity, that we cannot completely know our offspring. They were born to us, and through us, but not to be us. There are parts of your daughter that will remain mysteries to you, just as there are parts of us that our own mothers will never know. That’s normal; that’s adulting. A friend of mine once paraphrased a famous quote, “The truth will set you free, but it will hurt like hell in the meantime.” This is the bitter part of motherhood. Try and accept your daughter’s honesty as part of the sweetness.

mom-and-pieTherefore, as part of your recovery, I hereby grant you permission to do something wonderful for yourself, up to and including buying an iPad of your very own. Or the equivalent in spa days, a spiritual retreat, wine, books, movies, sweaters, lunch with friends, etc. Find out what you love, what feeds your soul, and go do it. Moms tend to place ourselves at the end of the line, the last on the list, the one who never did care for pie, anyway. So, from one mamma to another, be good to yourself. Take a day off, put your feet up, and know you’ve done your best. Then, buckle up, and brace yourself for the next shocker. Believe me, it’s on its way.

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. Let’s hear from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

 

Maria’s Musings & Advice: No divas, please

Advent day 16 strong 1Mary, Jesus’ mother and I, we kinda have this thing. I was born on one of her feast days, and my parents named me “Maria Regina.” Over the years, I’ve come to know and appreciate Mary as an intercessor, as a friend, and as a fellow mom.

There’s a gospel passage in which a woman in a crowd following Jesus says, “Blessed is your mother,” and Jesus replies, “No, blessed are those that hear the Word of God and observe it.” Ouch. That stung a little.

Then I realized that Jesus was doing what she’d taught him. Over time, as we raise our children, we learn that the job isn’t about us as mothers—it’s about our children living their own lives. Moms run the risk of projecting onto their offspring what they would have them do. Or, they take their kids’ behavior as a reflection on themselves: “If I were a better mom, they wouldn’t have pulled that.” As our children grow, we come to understand that the story of their lives isn’t our story. When regret rears its head, we need to remind ourselves that we did the best we could with what we knew at the time. Then, we have to let go, and trust they’ll make good choices. And if they don’t, we pray and hope they’ll find their way back—not to what we would have them do, but to what is authentic and good and true for their own lives.

So, here’s Jesus out on the road saying, “No, it’s not about my mom. It’s about all those who hear the Word of God and observe it.” Mary’s whole life was not about Mary, it was about saying “yes” to being a conduit of God’s grace in the world.

When she visits her cousin Elizabeth, Mary prays the Magnificat, a lyrical expression of true humility.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty one has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Luke 1:46

We mistake humility as pushing aside our strengths, beauty, or accomplishments. Someone compliments us, and we deny it: “It was nothing.” “This old thing?” “I got it on sale.”

Mary models true humility to us—she acknowledges her gifts, and gives the Creator all the credit. She doesn’t downplay herself, but rejoices, saying, “Look at me! Isn’t this great? Is God awesome, or what?”

Well, who does this little girl from Nazareth think she is? She boasts: “All ages to come will call me blessed.” But she doesn’t say it in the spirit of “Am I the bomb, or what?” She proclaiming: “Look what God has done for me! So of course, all will see and say I’m blessed!”

A diva might say, “Look at me, I’ve got it going on.” When divas perform, it’s not about their music, or their incredible voice. It’s about how hard they’re working, on stage, to deliver the money notes. Well, pardon me, ladies, but it’s not about your efforts—it’s about your talent. Get out of the way. Surrendering to your talent means you’ve worked hard and accomplished much, yes. But, in the end, the work prepares you to give birth to beauty bigger than yourself. And Mary was all that. Mary was no diva. Mary knew God was doing great things in her, for her, and through her.

Perhaps most comforting in Mary’s story is that her life plans didn’t change, even as the angel Gabriel presented a vision of her life to come. She was already engaged to Joseph. She’d planned to make a home, and raise children. The circumstances of her life didn’t change, and yet, her “yes” changed the world.

We are invited to a similar yes. It’s not about making bold, dramatic changes to live an authentic life. it’s about saying “yes” to our talents, to goodness and truth, right where we are. In that yes, our lives will be transformed. We are invited to be, as Mary has been called, a reed of God.  To be that through which the Great Creator flows, so that love, compassion, healing, mercy, joy, and peace will be experienced in our world. Mary held this great mystery in her heart. And she taught her son well.

I know you’re busy, but try to spend a few minutes today doing something you’re good at, that makes you happy. Let that chuckle of delight rise from your heart. Great stuff!

Take a moment to reflect:

Today I am grateful for:

My intention for today:

My to-do list for today:

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. Let’s hear from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Can’t Stand the Whining


Dear Maria,

I read through some of your past columns, and can’t stand the whining. People are petty. They should be grateful that their kids are healthy, or that they have a job, or that their biggest problem is a neighbor’s barking dog. With all the troubles in the world, some people just need to get over it. Am I right?

Signed,

Tired of First World Problems

Dear Tired of First World Problems,

Thanks for reading my column. Let’s take your question one step further and ask:  Why it is that you’ve let the petty problems of others bother you so much?

I understand where you’re coming from. Today I was on my way to do some shopping, when I heard an interview with a Syrian refugee on the radio. This man now lives in Germany. His story is heartbreaking. I felt so helpless and sad for him, and his country. Then, my judgement turned inward, as I saw myself driving a heated car on a smoothly paved road on my way to buy gifts with a valid credit card. Who am I to have this freedom and comfort, when others are suffering so? I’d been stressing about my long to-do list, while this man, separated from his home and family, with no home to return to even if the civil war ends there, pleads on national radio for comfortable Americans, like me, to just pay attention. My eyes filled with tears. My own concerns reduced, as you say, to petty.

So, you’re right: Why do we let the petty things bring us down when there are more important things to concern ourselves with? Because they are happening to us. We have only our lives to live. I suppose we are all searching for meaning, and when things don’t go our way, we can’t help but wonder why. Bonus: we live with the illusion that we have control over others, or our circumstances. “If only my boss, husband, dog…would behave better (that is, do what I want them to do), then my life would be easier, and things would make sense.” When problems arise, we dig back and blame others or ourselves for missed opportunities, bone-headed decisions, conspiracies working against us, or bad timing, etc. “If only…” starts way too many sentences.

We can easily assess another’s situation, but it’s much harder in our own lives. That’s why trusted friends, and sometimes advice columnists, offer safe spaces to sift through the issues. The answers may seem obvious to you, and the problems petty, but not to the writer. As you perused my past columns, I hope you discovered this theme: We are each, individually, in charge of our response to circumstances. We cannot control anyone else’s. So, I invite you to consider why it is that you’ve reacted this way to those who’ve written in for advice?

Maybe you’ve had some car moments like mine today, where the world felt like a nasty, chaotic place, and you lost your bearings. Maybe raging against conflict that carries an obvious solution is something you can control, when global strife feels so overwhelming. Maybe you’ve got something going on in your life that is disrupting your idea of a normal, predictable life. Or you’ve lost someone or something precious to you, and you cannot even bear the sun rising in the morning, for fear that the new day will bring with it reminders of what’s missing.

heart-handOur petty fretting and complaining may be in defense of our inner, vulnerable selves. Lashing out protects us, in a way, and holds at bay feelings like fear or grief or loneliness. “If I can fix this problem in front of me,” our inner selves say, “then maybe the world isn’t spinning out of control.” Maybe judging other peoples’ problems, or their right to feel deeply about them, helps as well.

This column has been more “musings” than “advice.” I don’t have the answers, I just offer some perspective. I hope my letter writers find something worthwhile in my responses. I hope my readers discover insights that apply to their lives even if the questions don’t. Your question was an important one to ask, and a tough one to answer. Thank you for writing.

Readers: Please add your reactions, thoughts, and responses to “Tired of First World Problems” below.

Today’s reflection from Prepare Your Heart for a Great Christmas:

December 15

The Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. Isaiah 30:18

The stress and anxiety of decking the halls can send us climbing the walls. Yet, the gifts, decorations and food we slave to prepare are really only faint shadows of the wonderful gifts God has given us in our talents, relationships and in creation.

Faith calls us to look at life through this lens: all is gift from God, and it’s all pretty terrific, if we just pay attention! Faith gives us the opportunity to view ourselves, others, and life (even with all its stresses), as gift. Our concerns, joys, frustrations, can be transformed.

This is the hope of Christmas. The baby born in Bethlehem brought life, innocence, potential and trust to a world hardened by death, deceit, suffering and broken dreams. Christmas means new beginnings, and hearts filled with hope.

In moments of longing or emptiness this season, remember to invite God into those feelings. God’s love will provide the nourishment you truly need to sustain you today and the rest of this hectic and holy season.

Take a moment to reflect:

Today I am grateful for:

My intention for today:

My to-do list for today:

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. Let’s hear from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Sustenance for The Holidays

br-mickey-mcgrath-on-thanksDear Maria,

I write a weekly advice column on my blog. It’s published on Thursdays, and on Fridays it goes out to my readers via email and on social media. This week, I missed my deadline because of Thanksgiving and other work commitments. Have I blown it with my readers? Do you think they will forgive me?

Signed,

Thinking They’re Thinking the Worst

 

Dear Thinking,

Stop that! Of course, your readers forgive you. There’s nothing to forgive, really! Every week, you have a forum to share your support and views on many topics. Be grateful for your readers, and the wisdom they’ve shared in response.

Here’s an idea: How about sending them a quick list of things you’ve read, seen, or heard that are sustaining you as the holiday season begins?

Dear Maria,

Couldn’t have said it better myself. 😉

Arrival: The new movie starring Amy Adams as a linguist hired by NASA to translate messages received from visitors from another world. Notice I didn’t say “aliens”.  The movie raises pertinent questions regarding communications between cultures (and planets), how time works, and the intersection of our personal and professional lives. Amy Adams soft-spoken, powerful performance gives us a hero who doesn’t need violent weapons to make her point.

We Gather Together: or How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving 2016: Laura Munson, a mentor and friend, has written a warm and hopeful post about loving the people in your life whom you don’t see eye-to-eye with politically. She drills down to the heart of what matters at our gatherings, and encourages us to focus on the love. Keeping it real, as she always does.

Jon Batiste: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s music director and leader of his band, Stay Human, is love expressed in every note. I’m grateful Colbert brings Jon’s music to a national audience on a nightly basis.

His beautiful rendition of The Beatles’ Blackbird, performed on the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ performance on the Ed Sullivan Show (in the same theater that is now home to The Late Show), is a gentle call to arms and a lovely reminiscence of the moment a dream takes hold of the heart. Check out his new Christmas album. It’s destined to be my Christmas ’16 soundtrack. Along with…

Amy Grant’s Tennessee Christmas: The music on this Cd feels so cozy. We’re fireside with a woman who loves Christmas—a wise and warm Amy, seasoned by the season, and by life. The music is at turns intimate, melancholy, and comforting. All the things Christmas seems to be. Read the rest of my review here.

Christmas in The Kitchen with Mitzi McDonald and Keltic Reign: A warm and wonderful family holiday show now in its twelfth year. (Hmmm, 12 Days of Christmas, perhaps? A magic number.) Steve and I got a preview on the night before Thanksgiving with Mitzi and friends performing God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen for strings and piano. Glorious, good tidings of comfort and joy. Something like this:

Upside Down Apple Pecan Pie: I’m not an accomplished cook, but I can follow a recipe and handy video guide. This dish was our Thanksgiving dessert, and people seemed to enjoy it (or maybe they were being kind). Well, I liked it, and it filled the house with wonderful smells (after I remembered the cookie sheet under the pie pan). A perfect combination of my husband’s favorite (apple) and mine (pecan). I was excited to have followed through on a recipe I’d saved for someday. And TJ’s Pecan Pie filling is delish!

Garden Glow: Christmas lights delight my inner wee one. And, my mother-mind hears my little 2-year-old daughter exclaim “Yites!” whenever I see them. This lively and charming display at the Missouri Botanical Garden will warm your heart, baby, even in the cold outside.

GCB 08 coverThou Shalt Give Thanks: In The Year of Living Biblically, author AJ Jacobs gained many insights during the year he sought to “follow the Bible as literally as possible.” AJ created some personal commandments as a result of his experiment. The first: Thou Shalt Give Thanks. AJ learned the power and importance of “giving thanks for the 100 things that go right everyday, rather than focusing on the few things that don’t.”

This lesson is echoed in Prepare Your Heart for a Great Christmas.  The reflections begin on Thanksgiving, and carry us through the Feast of the Epiphany in January. Daily inspiration to help you stay sane this holiday season!

What’s helping you this holiday season? What music, movies, books, reads, traditions, displays, etc. are sustaining you? Comment below! More inspiration to come in future columns. Stay tuned!

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Thanksgiving, Holiday Stress, and Dealing with People You Don’t Get

In The Year of Living Biblically, author AJ Jacobs gained many insights during the year he sought to “follow the Bible as literally as possible.” AJ created some personal commandments as a result of his experiment. The first: Thou Shalt Give Thanks. AJ learned the power and importance of “giving thanks for the 100 things that go right everyday, rather than focusing on the few things that don’t.”

GCB 08 coverThis lesson is echoed in Prepare Your Heart for a Great Christmas.  The reflections begin on a day established for the purpose of giving thanks.  The journal pages ask us to consider:  “Today, I am grateful for …”  In the Thanksgiving Day reflection, we read: As you move through your day today, pay attention to the big and little things that are meaningful to you, from the people you love, to that wonderful light in the refrigerator that comes on just when you need it. Say “Thank you!” Then give thanks for how light your heart feels after you’ve said those two simple, life-affirming words!

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends!

 

Dear Maria,

Christmas will be here before I know it. I used to love this time of year, but these days I start crying just thinking about all the work I have ahead of me. I talked to my husband about it, but he just laughed it off and said things will work out. He doesn’t understand that I’m the one who makes things work out! How can I get back to feeling happy about this time of year?

Signed,

In a Fall Funk

Dear In a Fall Funk,

“There’s a special kind of lonesome ‘round that ending time of year,” sings Harry Chapin in his Winter Song. Perhaps a part of you feels a little sad about the change of season? Folks who live in this climate say they love it. Yet, summer turning to fall and winter brings with it a touch of melancholy. There’s a sad, disconnected space inside. Preparing for the holidays ahead adds overwhelm to the mix. No wonder tears come to your eyes!

First of all, let yourself off the hook for feeling a little sad. Sure, you’d rather be happy, but I’ve found that sometimes the only path to joy is through a good cry. Set aside some time and mull over your feelings, and cry, laugh, hug yourself through them. Please don’t tell yourself you should feel a certain way. You can write about your feelings, or take a long walk in a beautiful place, or pour out your heart to a trusted friend, or listen to favorite music that touches your soul…or all of the above! Give yourself permission and space to just be. That’ll help recharge your batteries.

smile_hide_overwhelmedRegarding all the work ahead, take a hard look at what you have planned. Assess what’s really important to you and those you love, and who can help. Maybe your kids are a little older and can take on more responsibilities? Maybe someone else can host your gatherings this year? Talk with your dear husband about your ideas, and make a plan together. Generally speaking, men like to solve problems. Let him help you find a solution to the overwhelm you feel. Lots of planning resources are online; you might try Organized Christmas—they have great ideas! You might also check out my posts about Advent and Christmas. I love the seasons, and do all I can to minimize stress during the holidays. (Click on the Advent and Christmas category to the right on this page.)

Above all, I suggest you do what is important to you and your immediate family and, when in doubt, use the K.I.S.S. Principle. For today, close the door and grab some tissues. Let the sadness go, and you’ll feel lighter. Things will get easier. You’ll find beauty in this ending time of year.

 

Dear Maria,

I was raised that the only difference between white people and black people was the color of their skin. That black people were just like me, only darker. I never thought any different and always treated them with the same respect as I do everyone else. I was also raised to love everyone just like God has loved me. Lately I am finding this harder and harder to do. All of the killing lately is really striking a nerve. Black people are so mad at white policemen for killing black people. I have not heard much in the fact that the black person is committing a crime and the police are protecting themselves and others by the shooting. The slogan “Black lives Matter” also strikes a nerve with me. I feel that black people are now more racist that white people ever have been. I feel any racism that our county has overcome is now rearing its ugly head in people, people like me who treated them the same as everyone. These feelings are building up in me and I don’t like it.

Signed,

No Longer Colorblind

Dear No Longer Colorblind,

Thank you for your brave questions. Racism is a heated issue, and many people are reluctant to talk about it. I appreciate your confusion over recent events. In addition to your confusion, I suspect there’s also sadness, fear, and anger. Feelings like these are boiling over for many people. Your letter shows that you’d like to sort them out. Here are a few of my thoughts.

I was raised in a similar manner. What I have come to see over the last two years is that skin color carries with it perceptions, history, privilege, assumptions, experiences…it is not simply an issue of different pigment. Broadly speaking, the experience of being white in America and being black in America are profoundly different. All of us are trying to make our way in systems—economic, legal, political, cultural, educational, and religious—that do not treat all participants equally. (Here’s an excellent opinion piece from the St. Louis Post Dispatch that helped me understand the economic side of this issue.) There’s the ideal of America, which reflects the equality you speak of, and the reality of America, which, sadly, does not.

I cannot understand what it is like to be a person of color in this country. But I can acknowledge that I have benefited, albeit unwittingly, in systems that favor people who share my skin color. As a woman, I can relate to what it’s like to be judged on my appearance, have my opinions dismissed by (male) colleagues, and get talked-over and ignored at public events, from civic meetings to my children’s sporting events. None of these, however, threatened my ability to feed my family, pay the rent, obtain healthcare, feel safe, or vote. The stress of poverty is real, and those of us who never dealt with it simply don’t understand.

The media is saturated with images of racist and violent behavior, initiated by people of all colors. (My Facebook feed is also full of posts that witness to our better selves.) Social media has exposed our country’s injustices in ways that previous news channels did not. The racism was there all along—we’re just seeing it plainly now. This upheaval calls us to revisit our assumptions about our systems, and each other. As I prepared to answer your question, I heard this terrific interview on the radio about a program called Showing Up for Racial Justice. (Coincidence? I think not!)  I invite you to listen to it. All parties need opportunities to talk about their feelings, perceptions, and concerns. Talking, and really listening, are the answer—not violence. Real healing begins with folks like you who are willing to share their confusion and pain. Thanks again.

Dear Maria,

My mother-in-law is the quintessential thorn in my side. She says awful things about people she doesn’t know, based on her naivety, judgmental heart, and sometimes based on her racist beliefs. It is beyond difficult to see her, to do anything with her, to listen to her hatefulness (which usually comes out as a passive aggressive and arrogant). At times I offer suggestions on trying new things, she always says no. She says she doesn’t like such and such. But she never tried whatever it is, I cannot understand how a person can blow off trying things, and then say they don’t like it. How would you know if you didn’t try? I asked her as much, and then got rudely trounced on. She in effect blames me for things and presses my buttons to the Nth degree, and she is worse about it lately more so than ever. I don’t know how to reason with her.

I don’t want to be her friend, I just want to be able to not feel uncomfortable every time I have to see her, for my husband’s sake. He’s an only child, and to her, he’s still her baby. She makes everything about him, which is frustrating, because he isn’t perfect, and she acts like he is.

What is the best I can do to help this situation? Should I convince my husband to intervene? What if he refuses? Do I think more about my own peace of mind first, my husband’s? I am sure I have said some things over the years where I sounded judgmental of her with her racist remarks. Do I apologize for things said long ago? What would you suggest?

Signed,

Not Happy with Mother-in-law

Dear Not Happy with Mother-in-law,

She sounds like the inspiration for all bad mother-in-law jokes, ever. If she reorganizes your kitchen without permission, or conspires with your husband to keep secrets from you, run for the hills!

Difficult relatives are an issue in every marriage. There’s extra tension when it’s one of the moms, and your visits have become stress minefields. Your letter doesn’t give much detail on how your husband reacts when she goes on a rant, but I suspect he’s very practiced at remaining mum during the tirades. He may think you ought to behave the same way: avoid the bully and hope they’ll go away. Instead, you’ve tried to engage her as an adult. But, she doesn’t see you as a grown up, just as she still sees her son as her baby. She holds the floor because she’s the matriarch, pure and simple. There is no changing your MIL. Accept this as a given.

IMG_13091759670007Talk to your husband about this situation. Instead of enlisting his help to change your MIL’s mind, strategize ways you can make the visits more bearable. Is there an activity you can do together—play a game, go to a movie, scrapbook family photos—to take the pressure off of making conversation? If she starts in with the negative comments, leave the room. It’ll be uncomfortable at first, but keep at it. (If you both do this, you may affect some change in her behavior.) Perhaps your husband feels he’s caught in the middle. Do you both need to visit every time? Send your husband on his way and skip a visit now and then. I think part of your resentment may stem from feeling trapped and obligated. The visits are primarily your husband’s responsibility, so give yourself a break.

I consulted my friend and colleague Kenneth Pruitt for additional insights on handling racist remarks. He is Director of Diversity Training at the Diversity Awareness Partnership. He reminds us that “being firm and convicted about issues of race will cause conflict…it just will.” You’ll have to decide how much you want to engage her on these issues. As Kenneth suggests, those who are racially conscious “have to determine for themselves what their work is and what others have to work out for themselves. I may not argue with my grandmother, for example,” he writes, “but I’m sure not going to be vague about where I stand. And if that makes her uncomfortable, perhaps that’s a really good thing.” For more resources on this issue, visit the Diversity Awareness Partnership website.

Bottom line, we recommend that you take self-care really seriously. There are some important boundaries that need to be set with your husband, and with your MIL, for you to gain health and well-being. Minimize your contact with her, and when you do visit, don’t engage the negative comments. When you’re with her, pay FB_IMG_1441171138385attention to how the sunlight streams in the window, or the song playing on the radio, or the cool drink of water in the kitchen. In other words, be very intentional about finding beauty in the moment. Work on your own head by identifying one or two things you appreciate about your MIL—they could be as simple as her tasty cherry pie, or that she gave birth to your husband. Think on these things when you think of her. Practicing appreciation can help soften how you react to your MIL, and that will bring you peace of mind. Remember: All of us are doing the best we can with what we know. Use what you know to take care of yourself.

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Review: Amy Grant’s New Christmas CD “Tennessee Christmas”

amy-grantFrom the first notes of Amy Grant’s new Christmas music CD, Tennessee Christmas, it feels so cozy. We’re fireside with a woman who loves the Christmas season so much, she’s dedicated (now) 5 albums of her extensive discography to it. Most years, she’s on tour right up until Christmas week making spirits bright. Tennessee Christmas is her first holiday CD in 20 years, and it brings us a wise and warm Amy, seasoned by the season, and by life. The music is at turns intimate, melancholy, and comforting. All the things Christmas seems to be.

The title track is Amy’s cover of her own tune. She’s not the young woman we heard on her first CD, anticipating holiday magic. She’s more the dear mom, aunt, or friend who tells you, “Oh, don’t get me anything. Just being with you is enough.” From there, Amy affirms that presence, and not presents, are what this holy-day is about. “To Be Together”, “Christmas for You and Me”, and her duet with husband Vince Gill, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” summon family, friends, and lovers to the feast.

Nestled in the mix is “Another Merry Christmas”, a somewhat painful reminder that not everyone has a place to belong on that day. Amy avoids the easy sentiments of songs like “Deck the Halls” and digs into the sad underpinnings of Christmas. Her heart is true in this ballad—a heart who’s learned there is healing in the tears. It calls us to set an extra place at the table. Amy’s manager, Jennifer Cooke, wrote about this powerful song for the Washington Post.

Jennifer’s column also confronts the “It’s not Christian enough” judgement this CD has received. I expected this response, as the CD is 7 tracks in before we hear a traditional, Jesus-centered song. Her earlier Christmas CDs featured several covers of traditional hymns and classic carols. This one is by far her bravest, most intimate collection. Throughout, Amy explores the bittersweet experience of a “Melancholy Christmas” in “December”. Rather than turning from her faith, however, her musings are best viewed through the lens of it. This is a woman whose known heartache and loss, and still found joy and laughter. We grieve our losses, but new life comes. Easter always follows Good Friday.

To balance these sentiments, Amy lightens the mood with “White Christmas”, “Still Can’t Sleep”, and “Christmas Don’t Be Late”. Yet, even this Alvin and the Chipmunks cover has strains of melancholy through it. All the tracks have a rich, almost jazzy feel, like a trio in a smoky bar, delivered by musicians who’ve earned the right to sing the blues. The upbeat tunes reassure us that one of our favorite balladeers of Christmas hasn’t lost the magic: “I feel like I’m 8 years old inside/I still can’t sleep on Christmas Eve,” she croons.

“Music has always been a part of our family Christmas,” Amy says, introducing “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, and reminiscing about her dad. “Thank you so much for letting our family Christmas be a part of yours,” she says, with her loved ones gathered ‘round the fire, I bet. Right back at ‘cha, Amy.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: In a Fall Funk

Dear Maria,

I can’t believe it’s already Labor Day weekend! Where did the summer go? I’m looking ahead to a busy fall, and Christmas will be here before I know it. I used to love this time of year, but these days I start crying just thinking about all the work I have ahead of me. I talked to my husband about it, but he just laughed it off and said things will work out. He doesn’t understand that I’m the one who makes things work out! How can I get back to feeling happy about this time of year?

Signed,

In a Fall Funk

Dear In a Fall Funk,

four seasons tree“There’s a special kind of lonesome ‘round that ending time of year,” sings Harry Chapin in his Winter Song. The trees may still hold their leaves, but soon we’ll see bright colors and bare limbs. Perhaps a part of you feels a little sad about the change of season? Folks who live in this climate say they love it. Yet, summer turning to fall and winter brings with it a touch of melancholy.

While your heart may seek quiet and rest to contemplate such things, the calendar revs up again with kids returning to school, Halloween displays in the stores, and picking up the work and home projects we put off during the “lazy days of summer.” So, there’s a sad, disconnected space inside. Preparing for the holidays ahead adds overwhelm to the mix. No wonder some tears come to your eyes!

First of all, let yourself off the hook for feeling a little sad. Sure, you’d rather be happy, but I’ve found that sometimes the only path to joy is through a good cry. Set aside some time and mull over your feelings, and cry, laugh, hug yourself through them. Please don’t tell yourself you should feel a certain way. You can write about your feelings, or take a long walk in a beautiful place, or pour out your heart to a trusted friend, or listen to favorite music that touches your soul…or all of the above! Give yourself permission and space to just be. That’ll help recharge your batteries.

smile_hide_overwhelmedRegarding all the work ahead, take a hard look at what you have planned. Assess what’s really important to you and those you love, and who can help. Maybe your kids are a little older and can take on more responsibilities? Maybe your in-laws can host Thanksgiving this year? Talk with your dear husband about your ideas, and make a plan together. Generally speaking, men like to solve problems. Let him help you find a solution to the overwhelm you feel. Lots of planning resources are online; you might try Organized Christmas—they have great ideas! You might also check out my posts about Advent and Christmas. I love the seasons, and do all I can to minimize stress during the holidays. (Click on the Advent and Christmas category to the right on this page.)

Above all, I suggest you do what is important to you and your immediate family and, when in doubt, use the K.I.S.S. Principle. For today, close the door and grab some tissues. Let the sadness go, and you’ll feel lighter. Things will get easier. You’ll find beauty in this ending time of year.

 

Dear Readers,

Please comment with your tips to beat the blues as the seasons change, and what helps you enjoy the holidays!

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice, Volume 1, fifth edition

Candle treeDear Readers,
In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? Check this out: My new advice column! I’ll answer questions every week,* so if you’d like to ask a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below.

 

Dear Maria,

I’m with a small start-up company in a growing industry. We’ve had our ups and downs, and recently had to lay off several employees. This is the third layoff in as many years, and so far, I’ve survived the cuts. This last layoff was really hard on me. I feel lucky to still have a job, but sad about my coworkers and friends who lost theirs. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, it’s just hard some days. I miss them, and wish I could do more to help.

Signed,
Still Employed

Dear Still Employed,

You’re not alone in this situation. The economic ups and downs leave people hurting on all sides. Sure, you are grateful to still have your job, but there’s always the lingering insecurity that you may be included in the next round of layoffs, if and when it comes. You may not feel you have the right to be sad when your friends are suddenly looking for work. It’s still tough on you, though. There’s real grief in seeing empty desks, or losing a lunch buddy. Plus, your work load has probably increased to pick up the slack. Project deadlines still loom, even if the staff has shrunk.

FB_IMG_1441149738677

You’re in crisis management mode right now, and that takes a toll on your physically, mentally, and emotionally. Be especially careful to eat well, get enough sleep, exercise, and spend time with people you love doing things you enjoy doing. Work is demanding a lot from you, so take good care of yourself so you have something to give when you show up every day. As for the colleagues who’ve been laid off, keep your eyes open for job opportunities and pass along any leads you have. They may not be open to staying in contact at first, as I’m sure the layoff really stings. Though it sounds harsh, your first priority is to take care of yourself and stay healthy. Radical self-care is in order, including honoring your feelings. Both employment and unemployment are stressful. Be good to yourself.

 

Dear Maria,

I’d love to be a writer, but real life gets in the way. I have been writing for quite a while. I have been published online and have a blog, but between my day job and the kids, I don’t publish as often as I should. I need to contribute an income to my family, but when I get stressed, I can’t focus on writing. Advice? How to balance reality of paying bills while pursuing my real interest?

Signed,
Fit to Print

Dear Fit,

All writers share your dilemma!

The most important thing about writing is to keep writing. It’s easy to set it aside to focus on “more important” things, like taking care of the family. We think we’ll write better if we’re not so stressed. The truth is, writing is part of the process of life. It needs to be a priority and to be attended to on a regular basis. Find a slot of time every day to write, and then fiercely protect that time. You may need to get up a little earlier or stay up later, but the personal gratification will more than compensate.

Bradbury_fail_don't writeNext, keep submitting material anywhere you can get published. Being a writer in the internet era is very tough because so much content is free. We end up giving away way more stuff than we would have in the old days of publications with paid advertising. That model has been smashed by the internet…note the decline in newspapers.  Here’s one writer’s take on the situation. The good news is that you can communicate directly with your readers. You might try this site: http://www.freedomwithwriting.com/ for paid writing opportunities.

Building your writing gig takes time, and you need some income in the near term. Perhaps part-time opportunities, like substitute teaching, a librarian, or in the field of an avocation, like at a craft store or book store or restaurant could provide some income without full time hours? Many a writer has worked other jobs while pursuing their craft. The key is to keep at it. My best successes have come through steady attention to my work. When I get discouraged and hide from the world, I lose what momentum I had. Hang in there, and good luck!

Dear Maria,

I wonder what I should do when I go to Mass with my spouse, when I really don’t know that I believe all that the Church teaches. I love Jesus, but not sure if I believe that what is written in the Bible is true. How do you know what to believe? Do you have to take all that on faith? I understand science more. 2 + 2 is always 4, it is never 5 or 3 or some other number. I understand gravity, and that every time I jump up, I will come down again and be on the ground. Every time. But with religion, I don’t know much. I used to think I understood what was true, but now, not so much.

So I usually go to Mass, make the sign of the cross, and pretty much only verbally join in when we say the Our Father, pray for the general intercessions (“lord hear our prayer”) for most of them that I believe are important, and the sign of peace. And yes I go to Communion, though this bothers me because I don’t think I am worthy to do so.

I do what I think is acceptable to me, not what was taught in my PSR classes years ago. I do read the readings, never liked the Psalms readings. And use to sing the hymns but have no zeal to do that anymore.

I feel stuck….cannot go back to the zealous person I was….cannot go forward to find what fits for me.

Do you have any suggestions what I could do to grow in faith? Not to be a Catholic per se, but to grow in faith to love Jesus and believe in what his life meant to the first Christians and what it might be said to mean now in the 21st Century?

Signed,
Genuine but Confused

Dear Genuine but Confused,

Thomas Merton, an American Catholic monk, author, activist, and mystic, wrote this beautiful prayer for seekers:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

This searching is a kind of prayer. Religion teaches us words and rituals for prayer, but as we mature we long to find our own expression of faith. Your restlessness is evidence that your spiritual life is thriving. Embrace the longing as a sign that you’re on your right path, even, as Merton says, “I do not see the road ahead of me.”

Keep asking the questions. Find and spend time with people who are also seekers, in prayer groups or spiritual book studies. Ron Rolheiser’s book The Holy Longing is a great place to start, as he says, “In Search of a Christian Spirituality.” (This book will also help with your questions about Mass.) Create a space and time in your home for daily prayer and meditation. Don’t worry about where the searching will lead you, just trust the search. Take the next step that appears, and the one after that, and the one after that. In time, you’ll look back and see how the path became clear to you.

are you on your path J Campbell

Thanks for your questions, dear hearts. Send me more!
*Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

MichMash Podcast

Share laughs and stories with my friend Mich Hancock and I on her wonderful podcast, MichMash! We talk writing, parenting, creativity, and life. Listen in!