INNER PEACE ON EARTH

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INNER PEACE ON EARTH

Tis the season.  The Christmas holiday is almost upon us, and most of us—myself included—are doing the dance.  Again.

We shop.  We decorate. We bake.  We send cards (I don’t, sorry).  We plan and attend parties.  We eat.  We hope we bought the right gifts for the right people in the right amounts.  We wonder.  We worry.  We stress.

Then we wonder why we worry and stress.  At least, I do.

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I spent the day yesterday with a dear friend.  A friend, who, while we are not close in the sense that we see each other often and talk frequently, we remain close.  Months can go by, and we are able to—you guessed it—pick up where we left off.

Except this time things have changed since we left off.   She is making some major life changes that, she reports, need to be made.  I found this out when I called her last week, apropos of nothing.  Just to talk.

It had been too long, and it was time to get together.  I realized she needed to talk longer than the time we had on the phone, so we made plans for the weekend.

We shopped.  We ate.  We sipped.  We puzzled and colored.  We talked.  We laughed.  We shared.  We understood.

Our day started with a one-hour car ride.  She talked for most of that.  I realized she needed to be heard, and I needed to listen.  So, I did.

If life truly is a dance, then she is changing her steps.  Changing them in a way she needed to for herself.  Except her dance partners now don’t know her new dance, and they don’t like it very well.  None of us want to be made fools of on the dance floor of life.  So, while her new dance moves feel good to her, they have been met with disdain from the other partners.  They don’t know these new moves.

Yet, she keeps dancing the new dance because she knows she cannot go back to the old one.  It feels good to her.  It feels like she is finally making peace inside herself, even if the dance partners feel like she is creating strife and waging war.  She is going with it, and I am cheering her on.

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As I write this Sunday morning, I am mentally cataloguing all the Christmas preparations I need to complete today.

*Wrap gifts.

*Bake cookies.

*Shop online, maybe even go to town to a real store, even though I just did yesterday.

It is causing me a bit of stress.  I really just want to take a nap.

It’s not supposed to be this way.  It’s supposed to bring me tidings of comfort and joy.  It is supposed to help me spread peace on earth.  It is supposed to be a Holy Night, and a Holy Day as well.  And I just want to rest ye, merry gentle-woman.

So, I am taking a moment to re-align.  A few minutes to stop, look and listen, because I feel like I am doing all the talking here.

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In my work as a speech language pathologist–a.k.a. speech therapist, we talk about the two-sided coin of expressive language and receptive language.  When a person has a stroke, head injury or some other compromise to the brain, we assess how well they can express themselves mostly through speech, but also by writing and other non-verbal means.  We also assess how well they receive information, mostly by listening, but also by reading and looking.  They must be able to understand incoming information before they can process it and turn it into outgoing expression.

When most of us speak of communicating, we tend to focus on our expression primarily, and what our listeners understand secondarily.  Both sides of the coin must be considered in effective communication.

In this Christmas season of busy-ness, bustle and hustle, perhaps more listening is what we all need.  I know I do.

In my grade school Catholic education, I recall learning the four pillars of prayer:

1:  Praise God

2:  Give thanks.

3:  Ask for forgiveness.

4:  Ask for help.

This is a well-rounded formula for talking to God; it covers the bases of what we should say in prayer.  However, I don’t recall learning that we should also flip the coin over and listen.  Perhaps we were taught this, but clearly, I wasn’t listening.

No being—human or divine—enjoys a one-sided conversation.  Who wants to listen to someone talk without ever listening?  No one I know.

Be still, we are told in the Bible.  That’s the tough part.  Just sit still and listen.  Some people call it meditation, but if that’s too woo-woo for you, then don’t call it that.  It is, at its core, simply listening.  Downloading information instead of constantly uploading.  And there is a lot of good information out there, if we simply listen.

Whomever you pray to, in whatever fashion, whenever you do pray, don’t forget to also listen.  That’s where the good stuff is.

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Mom wanted us to live our lives by the Prayer of St. Francis.  I’ve referred to it many times, and I will continue to refer to it in the future.  It is the perfect prescription for a life well-lived.

In order to be this Instrument of Peace that Mom and St. Francis so kindly asked us to be, I have discovered in my efforts that in order to share this peace, one must first possess it.  You can’t give away something you don’t have.  Further, the best way I have found to possess this peace is to start by simply listening.

Listen to people.  We don’t know what their lives look like on the inside, and listening is the only way we can determine how to best understand them so that we can share peace with them.  I listened to my friend for the first hour yesterday so that I could formulate a response that would help her the most.  She told me her story, and I told her mine.  I shared my past struggles that I felt would help her with her current struggles, even though I have never walked in her shoes.  I think it made her feel less alone.

Listen to your little voice inside.  It is the voice of reason and intuition, and the older we get with more life experiences, it is ultimately the voice of wisdom.   Don’t deny it or shush it.  It may end up screaming to be heard if you do.

Listen when you pray.  Whatever you believe in, in whatever way you choose to believe it, there is always wisdom greater than our own to be downloaded.

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When I got ready to decorate for Christmas last week, I found myself stressed just looking at those totes we brought up from the basement.  Four of them.  Ugh.

So, I listened.  I left a lot of it in the box instead of feeling obligated to put it up.  I gave some of it away, too.  I rearranged a few things.  I cleared the coffee table and put up my favorite Jim Shore pieces, the artist who created the Thanksgiving angel I wrote about two weeks ago.

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I have another angel he made with the Nativity scene on it.  I put her on Mom and Dad’s table next to the Thanksgiving angel.  It brought me peace.

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I made it a little simpler this year, and it felt good.  I have a little more peace inside to share now.   I plan to keep going.

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In Our Favorite Gifts of 2017 (December 31st, 2017), I wrote about the annual hand-made ornament I receive from the young boy I worked with for several years in private speech therapy.  Although it had been more than a year since I had worked with him, I received a third one from him last year.  Last week, there was another box from him at my door, over two years after we stopped working together.   It is the first gift I have received this year, but I’m pretty sure it will be one of the best.  He made it himself, from the heart, with appreciation and kindness.  I’m sure his kind mother helped him send it.  I treasure all four of the ornaments he has now made for me.

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In the interest of privacy, his name is covered.

What will be the best gifts you give this year?  Will it be the ones you purchased in a frantic mode, spending too much money and wondering if it will be the right one?  The right size or color?  The one you bought that will bring them joy all year?  I doubt it.  I think perhaps it will be the ones that aren’t bought.

Perhaps it will be the gift of listening to a friend who needs to be heard.  Maybe you will take them to dinner, or better yet, cook for them.  Maybe it will be the permission you gave yourself to decorate less, or maybe spend less.   Maybe you will give away a possession of personal value to someone you know would enjoy it more than you do.  Maybe you will buy yourself something you know you need and/or want, and very likely deserve.  Perhaps you will even create some new dance steps for yourself that you know you need to make, even if your dance partner(s) don’t like it.  Maybe you will create a home-made gift from the heart like the young boy does for me every year.

Perhaps it will be a gift to yourself of listening when you pray.  Maybe you will forgive someone, which turns out to be a buy-one-get-one gift, because in the end, forgiveness benefits you more than them.

Bonus.

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When January comes and the holidays are gone, we should start preparing for the holidays again—in our hearts.  Christmas should not be one day in one month within one season.  If the true spirit of Christmas is to be celebrated, is should be within us every day of every month of every year.  If we can make peace within, we can share it with everyone else all year.

If you are unable to celebrate with your loved ones at Christmas, have a celebration later and call it Christmas.  Or whatever you want to call it, as long as you treasure the time spent with them.

There will be no Sister Lode post for the next few weeks.  I am taking some time to celebrate with my family, taking some time off work, and probably taking more naps.

I plan to do a lot of listening.

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Me, middle sister Kathleen at Christmas, circa 1972.  I asked Gail and Suzanne for Christmas pictures, but no luck.

Merry Christmas from Gail, Kathleen and Suzanne, the sisters of The Sister Lode.  Peace on Earth, starting with peace within.

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I took that nap after lunch, and started on the cookies.  I had my Christmas cards stacked on a pile on the counter as I mixed.  This one was on the top of the stack.  It came from the young boy who makes my annual ornament; every member of his family signed it.  Its message is exactly what I am trying to say, too.

THE BROTHER LODE

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THE BROTHER LODE

In Suzanne’s last home, she had a family picture hanging in the foyer.  “That’s nice.”   You may think.  “Was it her family, or her siblings and parents?”  These are questions you likely have now.

The answer is, neither.  It was a family picture of The Brady Bunch.

Suzanne was only three when Ryan was born, so she likely didn’t realize the upset he created for quite some time, but when she did, she wasn’t happy about it.

She loved—and obviously still loves–the Brady Bunch.  She probably loved her little brother too, until she realized he ruined our 3/3 boy/girl count, and with his arrival, we were no longer The Brady Bunch.

Ryan arrived in our family on Christmas Eve 1973.  In our pre-Christmas caroling spirit, we changed up the words to a then-popular Christmas song, and sang it to Mom:  “Christmas is coming, Mom is getting fat.”  She took it in stride.  By the time it was time to deliver the 7th—and last–child, she could handle just about anything from us.

Christmas Eve was typically our big celebration; Santa always arrived in his own secretive style.  He seemed to know to wait until supper was served, the kitchen was cleaned and we were herded upstairs.  Our grandpa lived in town, and he always joined our family for the holiday celebrations.  He stayed downstairs and helped Mom and Dad help Santa.

Suzanne will still beg to differ, but Dad was at the hospital with Mom that year on Christmas Eve.  Grandpa pulled it off all by himself.  She was only three, so I am not trusting her recall of the big event.  Mom didn’t drive herself 30 miles there while in labor.

I remember the phonecall around 9:30 from Dad:  “It’s a boy!” 

Ryan had arrived.

I remember going to visit them on Christmas Day.  I was seven, and I wanted a doll called Baby Alive.  I didn’t get it, but Mom joked that she did.

I was decked out in another gift from Santa, a long, red and white checked gingham dress.  Mom acted so surprised to see me in it, and I felt the glow of a new big sister with the events of the night before.  The dress was all I needed to shine.  Somewhere is a picture of me in it; when it turns up, I will post it.

I was the fifth of us seven.  Two brothers were right ahead of me; born 3 ½ years and 17 months before me, respectively.  They were my buddies.  Gail was before them and six years older, so not only was she busy with all the work I have already detailed in previous posts, I’m sure I was the annoying little sister.

David and John let me tag along, and subsequently, I became a tomboy.  I played in the dirt, made forts in the woods behind our house, climbed trees, rode motorcycles, read Motor Trend magazine and cried when Dad wouldn’t cut my hair after he cut theirs.

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Suzanne, Ryan and me wallowing in a mud bog after a heavy summer rain.  I told you I was a tomboy.  Looks like I needed a haircut from Dad, or anyone. 

David and John could—and often did—bring me to tears as I got older.  The memories of their relentless teasing and roughhousing have faded somewhat, and are now replaced by ongoing mutual respect, kindness, love and peace toward each other.   Our oldest brother Gary was eight years older than me, so I was likely the perpetually annoying little sister to him.  I don’t remember him treating me as such though, and he would likely now disagree.

My memories of Ryan are less painful.  Actually, likely because he was seven years younger than me, I think he knew better than to cause me any pain.  I don’t even recall any episodes with him, or while observing him with others that would lead me to believe that he had it in him to be anything but laid back, mellow and generally observant.  He had six older siblings to watch and learn from, so he likely did just that.

He made his own unique way, did his own thing and gave his own unique contributions to our family.

The gift he continues to give—in my estimation—is his sense of humor.  When I asked him as I was writing this, “What was it like to be born on Christmas Eve?”  he replied, with no hesitation in his monotone voice that adds to the humor, “I don’t know, I can’t remember.”

Because we had to try to laugh to keep from crying just after Mom and Dad died, we were able to find some humor in the early, most painful days.  Gail is Ryan’s godmother, the Catholic role model that not only is expected to be a positive influence as a godparent, but also the person/persons that would be most suited to take the child in the event that child loses their parents.   At the wake the night before their funeral, Ryan—at age 35 and seated next to me, leaned in and whispered, “Does this mean I have to go live with Gail?”

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Gail, Suzanne and I are the sisters we are in part because of our brothers.  We have our sisterly bonds, but we also have our own unique relationships with each of our four brothers, and that, I know for sure, makes us better sisters to each other.

In recognition of them, and in celebration of Ryan’s arrival on Christmas Eve 44 years ago—even though he doesn’t remember it—I say thank you God for my brothers.

 

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Next Friday evening, my stepson and his family will join us from Wichita for an early Christmas celebration.  Saturday and early Sunday, we will celebrate Christmas with my family and my siblings with their families at Ryan’s house.  Nine years ago on that first Christmas without Mom and Dad, we vowed to keep the Christmas holiday together with each other in their honor, and to continue to forge our sibling bonds.  Our oldest brother Gary will be with his family in Idaho, but he will be with us in spirit, and by phone too.  We will observe and celebrate Ryan’s birthday separate from Christmas, just like Mom and Dad were always sure to do.

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The stars of our Christmas Eve 1973 show at Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary celebration, October 2007.

Sunday, I will return to my home with my family to celebrate Christmas Eve.  There will be no post on this sacred Sunday night.

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We  got the tree out of the box and stood it up four days ago.  Until today, it sat bare.  I won’t deny that I still struggle to get in the spirit when it comes to decorating my home and my tree.  My boys were gone all day, and I started without them.  The momentum carried me once I got started, but much like my pre-Thanksgiving baking, I had a moment.  It still hits me during the holidays, the time of year when their absence is felt most acutely.  Just like the Thanksgiving moment, it passed quickly.  It passed through me, and it was gone.   My family came home and helped, and it was the festive occasion is should be.

I found myself putting up the same decorations in the same places I always do, the same decorations I have put up for years, mostly without thinking much about it.  This year, however, I stopped myself when something didn’t feel as good as I thought perhaps it could.

“You always put that Santa right there.  It’s where it goes,”  I said to myself.

“But I don’t want to put it there this year,” I said back to myself.  “I don’t even think I want to put it up at all.  I don’t know why, but it makes me blue.”

Fine, whatever.  Suit yourself,”  my rational side said to my emotional side.

So I didn’t put it up.  And it felt good.  I took my own advice from last week, and I changed it up.  I put Santa back in the box, and went on with the decorations that sparked joy in me, leaving several others in the box if they didn’t.  I changed my decorating traditions, and I like what I see.

Sometimes, suiting yourself is the only way to go.  Sometimes,  the smallest changes on the outside bring the biggest shifts inside.

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I wish you all the peace of the spirit of Christmas.  I wish for this peace every day of the year for you.

For those who are celebrating the first Christmas after the loss of a loved one, my heart breaks for you, but Christmas hope shines on every day of the year to remind us they are still with us.  Even if seems the pain won’t lessen, remember you will become stronger with each passing year.  We are living proof.

Merry Christmas.

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Happy Birthday Ryan.  You are the Christmas gift who keeps giving.

A GRAND OVERNIGHT ISLAND GETAWAY

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A GRAND OVERNIGHT ISLAND GETAWAY

Some traditions are not meant to be carried on forever.  If, perhaps, they bring you more sadness than joy, you should consider leaving them behind.  Maybe, though, you could change them up a bit, and make something new out of the old, something happy out of the sad; something that brings you joy where it once made you blue.

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Before Suzanne moved to my small city, she was nearly equidistant between here and Grand Island ,Nebraska.  Mom and Dad lived in the same small town she did; Gail lived about 2 ½ hours west of them where she still lives.

Shopping trips were split nearly evenly between the two; sometimes Suzanne and Mom would travel here, sometimes they would head north.  As I write this, I realize that maybe they went north more than they headed south toward me.  Perhaps Grand Island held more shopping charm than my small city, and I understand why.   I went along sometimes too.  When I could swing it, I would make the trip to their small town, and then we would drive further north from there.  Once or twice perhaps, Gail was able to make the even longer trip and join us too.  Most of the time, however, it was Suzanne and Mom who took this little trip.  After Mom and Dad died, it was too painful for a long time for Suzanne to return, so I didn’t go either.

We liked to take Mom here as a birthday trip.  Our last trip together was for her 71st birthday in January, just six weeks before they died in March.

If you are a Kansas native like we are, or perhaps from another Midwestern state, you already get it.  If not, perhaps we need to paint you a picture, an image that will prove to you that Midwest farmer’s daughters know how to create an adventure in what may appear to be land that lacks virtue, plains that may not look so great.  There is a reason why we are called the ‘plains,’ but there are many reasons why we are also called “The Great Plains.”

Kansas sunrises and sunsets are unquestionably several of our greatest virtues.

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Suzanne and I took a little trip north Saturday, a trip to commemorate all those trips we used to take with Mom.  Gail already had five or six plates scheduled to be spinning in the air for Saturday, so we had to soldier on without her.  Suzanne and I went last year to go Christmas shopping, deciding to revive an old tradition.   It was time to leave the pain behind, and make new memories.

So we did.

I was inside shopping during the Nebraska sunset Saturday night, but I’m sure it had the potential to rival those in Kansas.

I’ll bet the Nebraska sunrise was beautiful, too, but I after all the fun we had last night, I didn’t get up early enough to see it.

I did get a few shots of  the scenery on the way there.

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And just in case you are thinking this Midwest beauty is not so beautiful after all, take a look at the fortune inside my cookie after our Chinese buffet dinner:

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It’s all in how you look at it.  The beauty is always there if you choose to see it.

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Last year at this time, Suzanne was preparing to move to my small city.  She thought, perhaps, she may never come back here again since she was moving further south.

She was wrong.

Because the route on the way here last year and the way home went through her small town, we also drove by the sign that leads you to the geographic center of the United States.  After all those trips driving past it, we decided it was time to actually stop.

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I’m so glad we did, because we didn’t take that route this year.

We have a long tradition of making a grand entrance into Nebraska.  Sometimes it’s just a honk and wave, sometimes it’s a stop.  One year, we actually came to a complete stop on the highway at the state line–after checking to make sure there was no traffic behind us of course, squealing out and perhaps laying a little rubber as we honked.

This year, we pulled over.

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After a full day of shopping–apparently we were really, really good this year, because Santa got us each a few goodies too–we enjoyed dinner.  Our dessert tasted exactly like one Mom used to make, so that made it taste even better.

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Then, we checked into our room.  This picture of an old tractor almost identical to one our dad had and treasured greeted us at our door.

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That made our hotel room even more perfect.

And, after fully checking them out, we decided–in our very own Goldilocks style, that our beds were just right.

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We tested the beds last year too, and decided we would make it a new tradition.

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The holiday season is upon us.  Traditions abound; we know the drills and we carry them out, mostly without thinking much about it.  For better or worse, our holiday memories are rooted largely in these traditions.

Traditions anchor us, give us stability and bring back good memories.

Except when they don’t.

Sometimes, traditions have lived beyond their natural lives.  Sometimes, they no longer serve us with tidings of comfort and joy.  Sometimes, it’s time to think about leaving them behind; changing them up.

Sometimes, like rules, traditions can be bent or even broken without anyone suffering.  Sometimes, it won’t hurt a soul to change these traditions, just like it doesn’t hurt to bend the rules.  Sometimes, there is more fun to be had when things are changed up.

Sometimes, however, traditions serve as a lifeboat for some people, but not for others involved in the same traditions.  Referring once again to the 70’s song, I will reiterate a point that is so often unrecognized:  “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, there’s only you and me and we just disagree.”   We all see things differently.

However, if you are the one who wants to rock the boat, just be aware that you may also be the one treading water in the end.

I consider myself a mover and somewhat of a shaker; I don’t hesitate to challenge the status quo if I think there is a better way.  Which is why I saved this page from one of my daily calendars the other day:

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Don’t hesitate to consider that there may indeed be another way; perhaps a better way.

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Sometimes, out of necessity, traditions must be changed.  The first Christmas after Mom and Dad died, my siblings and I were faced with a decision.  Our tradition had been to spend a day at Mom and Dad’s house with them, with all of our families.  Now they were gone, and their house was gone.  We had to make changes.   Now, it was even more important now for us to remain close as siblings, and spending a day together around Christmas was a priority for us.

My house was geographically in the middle for most of us.  We had the location, the space and the desire,   so my house it was.  For the last nine years, we have met with our families for a day of family, festiveness, food and fun.  This year, however, we are changing it up.

Our younger brother and his wife will be the new hosts.  On December 23rd, we will meet at their house near our family farm and it will be wonderful.  His birthday is Christmas Eve, and one tradition we will continue to observe–no matter where we meet–will be to observe his birthday.  Mom always made sure to observe it, so we will carry that on.

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My holiday wish for you is to find peace and joy, no matter where or how.  If your old traditions bring you that, keep them going.  If they bring you more sadness than joy, consider changing them.  Start by simply considering it.  There may be a better way.

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And next time you find yourself in a hotel room, don’t hesitate to test the beds like we did. The rules were broken, no one was hurt, no harm was done and a new, fun and wonderful tradition was begun.