Thursday, December 14, 2017

Getting Into the Christmas Spirit

Do you ever struggle with getting into the Christmas spirit?

“Getting into the Christmas spirit” can be hard because it’s more of a feeling than a formula. For me, it seems that the further into adulthood I have gotten, the more challenging it can be and the longer it can take to get into the Christmas spirit, compared to the years when I was a kid. We adults have way more Christmas-related responsibilities, compared to kids. They get gifts, we shop for them. They eat cookies, we make them. They decorate the tree, we re-decorate the tree.

As much as Christmas has been a huge highlight of every year for me because I love Christmas (lights in dimly-lit rooms, mysterious choral music, Home Alone, events and opportunities for socializing and seeing people I don’t see all the time), I honestly feel that Christmas often causes bouts of anxiety, and it has often produced disappointment and sadness. I don’t even mean the whole shopping, cooking, decorating, hosting, wrapping thing. I mean the stress of needing to get into the Christmas spirit. Needing to experience “Christmas” in its fullness every year. Needing to feel some magic. Needing to have at least a few little moments in which the impact of Jesus’ birth blooms in my heart, or the snow falls as carols are played and a fire crackles while you wrap presents, or you watch a cluster of children sing Christmas songs in a concert and some kid does something cute and the audience produces a collective "aaaah!", or you drink some sort of a holiday-inspired drink with friends and the atmosphere just feels special. Needing to feel that you have given something to someone in need. Needing to feel insulated by snow, protected, warm and cozy, the perimeter secured by loved ones. Needing to do all the things, see all the lights, eat all the food, hug all the people, get the best reaction from your kids when they open their presents. If I have ever fallen short of this long, obligatory list, I have tended to feel a bit depressed.

We have accumulated a variety of Christmas traditions, decorations (hello, White Rose wooden ornaments from the 1990s), song favourites (hello, Amy Grant, the Edward Scissorhands soundtrack and the Vienna Boys Choir), moments, menus, family and friends since we were little. This is beautiful, but it can also be a daunting list of things to sift through to find the Christmas spirit, with the hopes of dusting it off, sprinkling it over your head and feeling its warm glow. Add to that the sheer responsibility of creating a Christmas that makes all your childhood dreams come true for your own children, and it can feel like a stressful challenge.

Perhaps as much as we need to take the time to activate the Christmas spirit, we also shouldn’t try so hard or overthink the process. This in itself is a challenge for me as I tend to overthink everything. Perhaps instead of planning or making or buying a million things, we could try keeping time open for opportunity. Perhaps instead of needing to do all the things, we focus on doing just we are able to do and leave at the door any guilt for what doesn’t happen. Perhaps we can believe that the spirit of Christmas can come in many forms and in many ways.

If you are finding it hard this year to get into the Christmas spirit, just know that the Christmas spirit is something that never really leaves us. It’s within us, not necessarily attached only to objects and emotions but activated by moments and memories, old and new traditions, and most of all, the love of God that covers everything like a warm blanket. I try to remind myself of the fortitude of the Whos in Whoville, the tall and the small, who had a sparkle of Christmas spirit within their hearts even when they lost everything. No matter what life throws at you, no matter who you miss at Christmas, no matter how you feel about Christmas this particular year—whether you are grasping to hold onto it before it passes by or just can’t wait until it’s over—don’t ever give up on the Christmas spirit, on the magic of love and the opportunities that the heart of Christmas can bring to you. It’s in you, it never leaves, and in whatever way specific to you, it can be uncovered to shine bright this Christmas!

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas season, full of the Christmas spirit!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Are You Happy, Now?

I had a bit of a breakthrough this year with happiness, and I want to share it with you.

I’m not sure what it was, maybe because it was a lot of different things, but I definitely haven’t been as continuously happy over the past few years as I have perhaps been known to be. 

Let’s be honest: the older you get, the more responsibilities you have. The more responsibilities you have, the more of your day you spend doing the things you “have” to do, and the less time you have to do the things you “want” to do. For me, it was work, then babies, then babies and work. I found myself desperately stretching my arms out with the hopes of grabbing on to some spare time. Two hours to lay on the couch and watch Netflix. An hour to think and let my thoughts run around and then settle down. An afternoon at the mall.

I even have the winters off, and I still have felt that same unhappiness creep in as soon as the spring busyness emerges. Everything seems to happen all at once, we work a lot and things get stressful and difficult.

My husband called me on my misery and basically didn’t give me the option of acting unhappy. I was mad at him for saying it, thinking that he didn’t understand how much I had to do when he worked such long hours all season long.

I had found myself in the deep rut of very often holding happiness an arm’s length out of reach. I put my happiness in different boxes. Happiness was vacations, parties and gatherings with friends, a two-hour block of time when my kids are asleep and I can do whatever I want. Happiness was coffee with my husband in the morning, the opportunity to go to a yoga class, the opportunity to get dressed up for something. The problem is that these things don’t happen all the time. They maybe happen once a week or in some cases, once a month, or in terms of vacation, once a year. Does that mean that for all the rest of the time, I am condemned to being miserable?

Then one day a voice inside said, “Christina, you’ve got to learn how to be happy all the time. Otherwise, what's the point?”

Somehow that simple lesson was not one I had learned.  

Just because you are doing things you have to do doesn’t mean you can’t have fun doing them. I learned to find enjoyment in those things. It started with finding a couple of things that I was thankful for while running errands with the kids or cleaning my house. I was thankful that we have enough money to buy food, and I was thankful for big, bright grocery stores with so much food to choose from. I was thankful for the peaceful feeling I get when I am at home, and how much I love the feeling of clean floors when I walk on them (for five minutes until the kids walk into the house with sandy feet, but that is something that I haven’t found happiness in yet, so ignore that).

I learned to accept the fact that my life is structured the way it is right now and that’s OK—it's good, even! I learned to accept each moment I was in, and to appreciate all of the good things. I held up a positively bright candle and found happiness in dark corners. I learned to laugh with my kids and enjoy the phase of life that I’m in with them right now knowing that they are growing up so fast. I have started looking at my kids through the sad and longing eyes of the elderly people who look at my kids in the grocery store or the bank and say, “Oh, they grow up so fast” and “Enjoy this stage” and “Wait until they are teenagers!” (This was hard to do because I usually just disagree with these elderly people in my mind because they have clearly forgotten how difficult it is to raise small children.) 

I threw away the mindset that when I’m taking care of my kids, it’s “work” and not necessarily what I “want” to do and try to remember my childhood, the special memories I had, and what kinds of memories we are constantly creating for our kids.

I thoughtfully appreciate all the things about the job I have and the people I work with. I appreciate the challenges and the relationships, the variety and the laughter.

Something really interesting happened when my mindset shifted: free time just seemed to emerge and instead of seeming like a limited resource, it became more than enough. I think this was because I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t always have a ton of free time, and also because I started enjoying all aspects of my day so much that I didn’t feel like I needed free time in the same way.
I found happiness in the moments, in the "right now."

Having things to look forward to is great, and of course it’s not all rainbows and sunshine with my kids, and of course I have to deal with things I’d rather not deal at work and with Joel's business. But if I think of those things as moments in time that will be over as quickly as the good moments, and things that help me to appreciate the good things that much more, and things that build strength and provide opportunities for growth, they don’t affect me in the same way they would if I was generally unhappy. To an unhappy person, every ounce of negativity is just another rock to add to an already heavy burden, but to a happy person, negativity is like a few pebbles that can be easily brushed away.

I still do the typical mom things like lose my temper with my kids and then feel guilty, or dread the late Friday afternoon Costco shopping trip with my kids and feel relief when it’s over (i.e. when everything is unpacked). I still get quite hormonal and feel like the world is crashing down on me on a monthly basis, and I still feel like I routinely start to fall apart by Saturday afternoon after a hard week. What has changed is my moment-to-moment mindset. That mindset is everything.

If you can light a candle and look into the corners for happiness, you will find it. It’s there, and it has the capacity to multiply into even more happiness. That happiness is the fuel that will help you not only get through your day, your week, your month (or even your year), but to enjoy the time, be enriched by the experiences and feel grateful for the moments. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


A couple of years ago, I was given a book called Heaven's Host: The Assignment of Angels, Both Faithful and Fallen by Bobby Conner. It was an interesting read, for sure. The author went into great detail describing angels and their purposes here on earth, including a lot of Biblical references and some descriptions of his encounters with them.

What stood out most to me was his descriptions of angels - what they look like. According to Conner, they are generally attractive and young-looking, but they don't all look the same or have the same sort of countenance or expression. He also says that according to Hebrews 13:2, some may even appear as humans, and we wouldn't be able to distinguish them from humans (p. 77).

Of course, at that point I wondered if I had ever seen a real angel before. I went so far as scanning back in my memories to see if I could find a notable person or face that I might recall, who might just suddenly jump out at me as being a supernatural being. (Oh my goodness, that man at the airport with the navy pea coat was totally an angel...I can see it now!) Of course, I didn't recall anything. If I ever have seen an angel, I was none the wiser. Or perhaps I have never seen one. There was really no point in even wondering about it.

Anyway, my thoughts quickly shifted to people - real, tangible, beautiful people - who have helped me, supported me or done things for me in the most angelic way, and I realized that in addition to the angelic beings that are out there, there are human angels aplenty here on earth who protect, support, provide and bless us. I have a few examples:

When my father-in-law was on his deathbed in the hospital about a year ago, the family had gathered and had spent the night at the hospital. During those dark, late/early hours of 1 - 2 a.m., I remember lying on a small and kind of uncomfortable couch in a family room down the hall, trying to sleep for a while. It was cold and kind of windy in there, and I was huddled in a fetal position, so tired but unable to sleep because I was too cold, but too tired to really care about doing anything about it. The door to the room opened at one point, and I heard soft footsteps and then felt the peaceful security of a soft blanket being placed over me. IT WAS AMAZING! I remember feeling so happy that I was less tired and couldn't sleep afterward. It is hard to describe the monstrosity of such a small gesture, but I will try: I had a simple need, and it was provided for, without me having to ask for it or do anything about it. It reminded me of being a child, when your parents do everything for you. When you become a parent, you do everything for your kids, and people just don't do things like that for you as much anymore. It literally felt like the greatest gift I had ever received in that moment.

I found out later that it was my sister-in-law who came in and covered me up, and I will never forget that moment when my small, seemingly insignificant need was met so gracefully, so angelically. This gesture meant a lot to me in that moment, and still does.

Another example: last year, I had mentioned in passing to Joel about asking our friend, who takes care of our lawn maintenance, to mulch our gardens. Usually, the spring is a busy time of year for all of us, and I assumed that I would have to ask a few times about the mulch and probably frustrate Joel with my nagging before it was done. However, I pulled into my driveway one day after work, not long after we had talked about it, and lo and behold, the gardens were mulched, and I didn't even know that Joel had talked to him about it. It was done, and I think all the angels in heaven were singing as I gazed upon my beautiful gardens. I didn't have to do anything, and it was done!

In this case, sure, you could argue that we asked someone to provide us with a service for which we would pay, so it was just someone doing his job. No, it was more than that! It was something done for us so quickly and efficiently, without me having to follow up or ask Joel several times if he had asked his friend. It was just done, and we didn't have to do it, and it was done quickly, and it was angelic.

The last example I have was around that same time, last year, when my father-in-law had just passed away, and I had so many friends say things like, "Bring the boys over!" or "I can watch them for you on [this] day." or "Let me bring you dinner next week!" or send flowers with loving notes. Honestly, I know these are things people do when a family member dies, but they are not to be taken for granted. I didn't ever expect or think that anyone would have to offer these things to me, but when they did, so much emotion erupted within me because they were just what I needed.

I suppose that all of these human angels in these few examples, these lovely friends and family of mine, are angels because they provided me with the things I needed in those moments, things that were weighing me down and pre-stressing me out, and I received them without asking or having even really established the need in my mind consciously enough to take action for a solution. They filled a need that I hadn't even started to worry about.

Bringing a blanket, mulching a garden or offering to take your kids may seem like relatively small or easy things to the person doing it, but these gestures that we can do for others could be things that bring a flood of light into their day and stay with them as glowing memories for the rest of their lives.

We may never know just how much the acts of kindness we can show to people can affect them in the most positive ways, which is why we should always grasp the opportunities to bless, love and be kind to others.

Books about angels are fascinating, but I have come to really love and appreciate the angels I get to talk to and be with here on earth.