Advent 2: Be Content (2019)

Get a modest place and be content there Mark 6:10

Jesus invites us to be content, an invitation we struggle to receive. The focus of Advent is our longing for the Savior, but instead we make it about longing for the perfect gifts. Santa may be making a list and checking it twice, but we hit the malls more than twice. I read that the average American household spends over $1,000 on Black Friday sales alone.

I like the advice on shopping for children: something they’ll want, need, wear, and read. Now that my kids are young adults, we’re all about experiences. Tickets and gift cards and memberships they can enjoy with friends or family. Experiences that will create memories and won’t clutter up their rooms with more stuff to manage, clean, organize.

A good question during this season (and throughout the year): am I content with what God has provided? Am I content with my home, my job, my neighbors and friends, my hobbies? Another helpful question: Where do I notice grumbling and dissatisfaction, and what will I do about it? For example, if I’m frustrated with housework, I can clean up, even if that means delegating tasks to less than enthusiastic young people.

One way to cultivate contentment is to practice gratitude. I am grateful for the people living under our roof who also make messes. I am grateful for the healthy food consumed on plates that mean more dishes. I am grateful for the clothes we wear that make piles of laundry. I am grateful for the appliances that make cleaning dishes and clothing easier. I am grateful for the holidays and the opportunity to decorate and celebrate even though, at the moment, my home contains a hodgepodge of both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Jesus, help me be content with what you have provided. Amen.

Want your own set of these devotional cards? FREE download right here. Perfect for stocking stuffers, or feel free to share the link so others can get their own set.

What Thumper’s Father Said

In the classic Disney movie, Bambi, Thumper comments on Bambi’s clumsy first steps, “He doesn’t walk very good, does he?”

Thumper’s mother jumps in: “Thumper, what did your father tell you?”

A chastened Thumper—and a chastened me, when my mom reminded me of this scene throughout my childhood—quotes:

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

Good advice, wisdom I passed down to my own kids.

Except sometimes life isn’t all that nice, and on those occasions you may have an obligation to call it as you see it: messy, ugly, unjust. Which might mean saying some not nice things. Important things, on important issues, things that need to be said.

Still, for the most part, I try to be mindful of the words bouncing around in my brain before they fall tripping off my tongue. When I practice speaking compassionate words to myself, I feel better. When I give others the benefit of the doubt, when I hold them in my mind with compassion rather than smacking them down with all the words I might feel like saying, I’m happier still.

I recently read about a study where two groups of college students were sent out individually to wander around campus. One group received instructions to notice physical traits of people they passed; the other group was told to silently offer people a blessing, something like, “May you be happy and well.” At the end of 20 minutes, the group that offered blessings felt noticeably happier than they had at the beginning and happier than their counterparts who focused on appearances.

As Jesus reminds us, our words originate in the heart. The words I speak reflect whatever I’m mulling over, the thoughts and feelings I allow, or better yet cultivate, internally. So choosing to meditate on nice words, kindness and compassion for myself and others, should result in nice words.

Our Thanksgiving week will be a quiet one. We’re staying put since we just returned from NYC and the guys have another big trip coming up in January. I am conscious, however, of those who will be traveling and interacting with others—from harried staff and travelers in airports, railway stations, and interstates, to extended family and neighbors, some of whom you’re overjoyed to see and others you’d prefer to have seated out of reach. And I hope it may help to think of Thumper’s father’s advice: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

May you be happy and well this Thanksgiving, and all through the holidays!

 

Cover image: Simona Robová from Pixabay

NYC, There’s Something About Ya’

The Best Weekend! I told my family that, for my BIG birthday, I wanted to wake up with my loves in a place we’d never adventured together before. We discussed the pros and cons of various locations and landed on: New York City.

How does a nature-loving, bookish homebody—easily overwhelmed and edgy in crowded cities and cold weather—choose November in the Big Apple as a celebration destination?

Because: art, architecture, design, history, science, technology, culture, music, food.

Because: The Met. The Guggenheim. Central Park. The Empire State Building. The Statue of Liberty. The 9/11 Memorial. Broadway. Times Square. Rockefeller Center. The Brooklyn Bridge. Grand Central Terminal.

Because: a life well lived is all about trying new things and making memories.

Any travel adventure comes with its own set of misadventures. Ours included: an unheated and less than clean AirBnB; an Uber ride with a non-English speaking driver and the app insisting that, instead of the Statue of Liberty ferry terminal, we really must visit a dentist (tip: choose Lyft); and a reservations mix-up that meant finding a day-of one-night hotel room in Manhattan—on a budget—for five people (grateful for The Stewart Hotel across from Madison Square Gardens for making it work!).

Still, we laughed and played and explored, walking on average ten miles daily. The City may never sleep, but from personal experience, people must: we collapsed from exhaustion at the end of each long day.

On my actual birthday, we started with The Met (The Temple of Dendur—an actual Egyptian temple order by Caesar Augustus; Greek and Roman antiquities; Tiffany glass; Rodin sculptures; 19th and 20th century European paintings; something breathtaking in every direction), then strolled through Central Park (fall colors and crunchy leaves underfoot, a perfectly sunny/crisp fall day).

Next up was The Guggenheim (surprisingly different Kandinsky’s), after which Guy made reservations at Candle 79, an upscale vegan restaurant where I had the best cauliflower of my life, za’atar roasted and topped with pesto. From there we took the subway to The Empire State Building, and ended my just about perfect day with artisanal ice cream at Kaylee’s Creamery (another surprise: black sesame seed vegan ice cream—tastes like slightly salty-unusual nut butter).

I won’t bore you with site-by-site blows, but a few highlights:

Looking for a show to appeal to all of us, we saw Wicked. Making her Broadway debut, Hannah Corneau kills it as Elphaba. And we have a list of shows we’ll see when they come to the West Coast.

Carlo’s Bakery, made increasingly famous by Buddy the Cake Boss from TLC, is an easy walk from Times Square and has truly delicious (though not cheap) pastries. We had a cannoli in Little Italy that couldn’t compare.

The American Museum of Natural History does not look like the set from A Night at the Museum. And if you’ve visited some world class zoos, the stuffed animals will disappoint (I cringed as one mom, taking a picture of the White Rhinoceroses, said to her daughters: “Look, girls, White Rhinosaurs!”). But they do have a one-page movie-based guide to seeing the exhibits you expect, including the Easter Island statue. I expected this museum to be our kids’ favorite; it wasn’t.

The Met won hands down for all of us. So much so that we went back for a second visit; so glad, because we’d missed a whole section of 19th century European masters (my favorites), including Monet and Van Gogh.

For tourist sites, City Pass is the way to go. Save your money and skip the lines.

I wanted all good memories of my 50th birthday trip: mission accomplished! I’m still not a converted big city gal and, admittedly, we experienced perfect fall weather, not NYC’s  muggy-heat or frigid-cold extremes. But now that I’ve been, I get it: the Big Apple tastes sweet. NYC cast its enchantments over all of us, and I expect we’ll be back sooner than later.

Note: I unplug when I travel, so the next few days my IG feed will be filled with trip highlights. Follow me to see more: @sivricketts.

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

It’s my birthday month, and I’m celebrating a milestone: a half-century of my life.

Years ago, I roller skated to Kool and the Gang’s song, Celebrate:

There’s a party goin’ on right here
A celebration to last throughout the years
So bring your good times, and your laughter too
We gonna celebrate your party with you

Current mood: bring your laughter and celebrate with me!

The year C20 turned 1, Guy and I turned 30 a few weeks before and after. From November through January, we enjoyed a tiny treat every day for seven weeks. In advance, we made a list of daily celebrations, like a post-dinner walk, a candy cane in our hot chocolate, an afternoon at the park or the zoo. Simple celebrations gave us something to look forward to each day and added so much joy.

I haven’t celebrated my birthday in three years. In 2016, when my birthday fell on the day after the presidential election, I gave myself the gift of stillness; I turned off WiFi, tuned out the world, and spent the day in solitude.

On a whim, I also deleted my birthday from Facebook. A year later I learned not to underestimate the power of social media as most people forgot my birthday.

To be clear, I’m not having an actual party. I’m not a center-of-attention kinda gal. As a child, I cried when my friends sang Happy Birthday to me. Instead, my family is preparing for an adventure together (more on that afterwards). But I’m ready to receive all the love and to celebrate for the next seven weeks: 50, 21, 50!

Let’s go for a walk or grab coffee. Send me a birthday card telling me how I’ve made your life a little brighter. I will happily enjoy gifts: flowers, bubbly, jewelry (wink, wink). Or make a donation to your favorite charity and tell me why you support their cause.

One of the best gifts you can give me: follow my blog! And please share freely and widely anything I write that strikes a chord with you.

As I celebrate this milestone birthday, I’ve also made a significant turn in my career path. And in order to catch the notice of those who matter in these regards (agents/publishers), I need followers on my blog and social media accounts. Your quick clicks to follow/share could make a big difference, and hopefully what I write adds something meaningful to your life.

I recently reread Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A Circle of Quiet. What I first read at 21yo held different nuances as I approach the age at which Madeleine wrote it. For obvious reasons, this passage stood out:

So my hope, each day as I grow older, is that this will never be simply chronological aging–which is a nuisance and frequently a bore…but that I will also grow into maturity, where the experience which can be acquired only through chronology will teach me how to be more aware, open, unafraid to be vulnerable, involved, committed…to understand that I cannot take myself seriously until I stop taking myself seriously–to be, in fact, a true adult.

My mom says that I first laughed at seven weeks old. Most babies don’t laugh until four months old, but there I was, belly laughing on the floor as I gazed at my mom’s New Year’s Eve beehive hairdo, which of course made my parents laugh in response. As I grow into what Madeleine calls, “a true adult,” I’m hoping to take myself less seriously. To be, to laugh, and to celebrate life.

[As I wrote this post, a package arrived on my doorstep containing this candle, a beautiful gift from a thoughtful friend living too far away. This one is called Begin Again, perfect for where I am in life. I’m positively tickled at the serendipitous timing…]

It’s Today!

Last week I wrote that the world’s not ending yet, although in anticipation of a scheduled power outage people doomsday prepped as if it might.

The power went off just before 11 pm, almost eleven hours after originally scheduled. And within two hours, a fire broke out in open space about a mile as the birds fly from our house. Though we weren’t in immediate danger, because we back up to open space, every home on our cul-de-sac evacuated.

Imagine this: Guy was out of town. The kids and I went to bed around midnight. The barky dog woke me, a neighbor banged on my door with the news, and we had to lickety-split pack up our (ahem) sixteen pets. It didn’t even occur to me to grab all the things you’re supposed to: documents, photos, laptop. Nope, I had my kids and our pets and let’s go! We need a better emergency plan…

Fortunately, the fire department quickly got things under control and we returned home before dawn.

Days later, not one but two earthquakes shook the Bay Area, magnitude 4.7 and 4.8. Which prompted the question: power outages, fire, and earthquakes? Maybe the world will end sooner than we think.

Truly, that’s the kicker: who knows when “the end” will come, and what it will look like?

Only God.

So we might as well live every day like it’s our last. Carpe diem and all that jazz.

In the midst of that unusual week, I attended a cabaret concert by the delightful Nicolas King. He sang a song from Mame I’d never heard called, “It’s Today!” Apparently, the lyricist’s mother inspired the song. He came downstairs one day to find her all dolled up, setting the table with the good dishes. He asked what was the occasion, to which she replied, “It’s today!”

Light the candles,
Get the ice out,
Roll the rug up,
It’s today.
Though it may not be anyone’s birthday,
And though it’s far from the first of the year,
I know that this very minute has history in it, we’re here!

Later in the song comes the line: There’s a “thank you” you can give life, If you live life all the way.

Yes. So much yes.

Therein lies the challenge. We get caught up in routine, in ruts, in each day is so much like the other, that it can be difficult to know what will be special about this day. And yet, miracles await even in the mundane.

It reminded me of two quotes. St. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” The other I learned as a Sunday school song: “This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

So what will you do to celebrate being fully alive on this particular day? I took my dogs on a long walk through the park and soaked in October’s golden light warm on my skin. Returning home, I sat my butt in a chair and wrote hard all day. I took my lunch, a reheated bowl of homemade lentil soup, outside on our patio while I read from Melinda Gates’ book, The Moment of Lift. Later this evening our family will gather around a meal and catch up on the day.

Simple, yes. And good. It’s today!

Life Well Lived

How do I measure my life?

I saw a documentary a few weeks ago at the California Independent Film Festival called Lives Well Lived. The filmmaker, Sky Bergman, was inspired by her 99-year-old grandmother lifting weights at the gym. As she shot some video footage, she spontaneously asked Grandma to share words of wisdom; later, editing her short video to share with family, she realized she had a project. Bergman set off on a five-year quest to collect the wisdom of 40 people between ages 75 and 100. This film is the result.

I felt awed by their lived history: the Japanese internment camps, Krystal Nacht, the KinderPassage train, extreme poverty, losing parents and spouses. They worked hard, kept their spirits up, followed their passions, made their lives successful.

What struck me most was how positive, happy, they were despite the unbelievable hardships they had faced. They didn’t let circumstances level them; they showed no symptoms of trauma; they had grit and kept going.

They talked about staying in the present, living fully, expecting something wonderful to happen every day—holding on in faith that, though sometimes the wonderful is delayed, it will happen. A few mentioned 50 as a turning point, and never growing too old to try something new. That age is an irrelevant number. They encouraged younger people to stop worrying: the past is over and the future is coming no matter what, so enjoy right now. One said, “Work a little less, spend a little less. Enjoy life a little more!”

Recently I came across this article by Darius Foroux about how to measure success. So many people measure success by their bank accounts and investments, their houses and cars, their exotic vacations. From his extensive reading by foremost experts in business, management, personal development, and health, Foroux found something surprising: the most successful people measure success by their energy, work, and relationships.

Okay, so maybe that doesn’t sound so surprising. If you have sufficient energy, you work harder and have more to invest in relationships. Yes, and that’s not all.

Energy: how do I feel? If I want to feel better, the equation is pretty simple: eat healthy and exercise. Do this most days, if not every day.

Work: what else can I learn? It’s not about a paycheck as much as engagement and curiosity. Since I am in a work transition period, this one particularly resonates with me.

Relationships: how am I giving to the most important people in my life? I can’t control how others do or don’t regard me, but I can control how much I invest in my people.

Control is a key word. For the most part, I control how I feel in my body, mind and soul; what I will do about those things that pique my curiosity; and how I choose to offer myself in relationship. Hopefully some of that will also pay off in a paycheck, but there’s more to life than money.

And still, gentleness, grace, and gratitude in all things. As SARK reminds us, healing and growth often happen not in forward motion but in spirals, in layers. Sometimes we loop back a time or three before we develop the strength to conquer the next hurdle.

And that’s just fine. I’d like to imagine I’ll still be hitting the gym when I’m 99, but for now I’ll remember: the past is over, the future is coming, so I’ll enjoy this moment.

 

Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

Give Good Gifts

My nephew came to visit and brought me a gift from my sister. She thought I needed some encouragement, so she put together the best care package ever.

Gifts are her love language, not mine. Time and good company are really all I need to feel loved.

But this gift…! She packed a small box with so many individually-chosen-for-me items. Every single item made me laugh. I smiled. I oohed and aahed.

The first thing thing I touched—rainbow metal straw—had me belly laughing. The previous evening I had put iridescent metal straws in my Amazon cart for her! She included cork coasters with cute cartoons/sayings. A notebook to carry in my purse. Floral napkins, because our grandma always gave napkins as gifts. An eye shadow palette (she is a makeup maven) in just the right colors, and a coordinating lipgloss. A coffee mug with a delightful unicorn reminding me to “Stay Magical.”

My sister loved me with every item in that box. She knows my likes and dislikes, my sense of humor, what will tickle me. The gift was so perfect it was as if she’d taken me shopping, shown me each item, watched my expression, and put it in the basket because it was just right.

Looking at the box’s contents, our sons thought we were silly (they’re not wrong). We are so different and still share the same sensibilities. They don’t quite understand that yet.

A long time ago, I remember my sister saying that she dislikes gift cards. If someone wants to give her a gift, they should choose it carefully and specifically for her. I understood what she meant at the time, but now I completely get it.

Coming out of a season where I have felt invisible, I have been sad. Every end is a new beginning. There is freedom in walking away, and there is loss. My sister recognized that. This gift collective tells me that she sees me. I didn’t really need a gift, but then again, maybe I did. Each time I reach for any one of these items, I will know I am seen and loved. Isn’t that what we all want?

 

Image by Harry Strauss from Pixabay