THE LONGEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR

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THE LONGEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR

Solstice: noun—either of the two times in the year, the summer solstice and the winter solstice, when the sun reaches its highest or lowest point in the sky at noon, marked by the longest and shortest days.

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I survived the darkness again. Yesterday, December 21st, 2019, was the shortest day of the year, the longest night of the year.   Of course, the day had 24 hours like they all do, but the amount of daylight was the least there will be for another year.

And I didn’t simply survive it. I celebrated it. Along with my siblings and our families, we gathered at the home of our youngest brother and his family to once again welcome another Christmas–complete with a feast of our favorite foods.

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We have never missed this holiday together, and I am so grateful.

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Gail, Suzanne and I have our annual Christmas gift exchange. This is the pinnacle of gift-giving and receiving for all three of us, we delight especially in finding the perfects gifts for each other throughout the year, and stashing them away for this special celebration.

Second only to that joy is the receiving end of this exchange. This great care and caution we take in procuring the gifts is always worth the laughter and joy we create when we share our perfect finds.

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Gail knew Suzanne would love a gift card from one of her favorite stores–Ross–but she wasn’t able to get there to get her one, so she designed her own. 

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And speaking of joy, if you look closely at Gail’s gift in hand in this picture, you will see a memento of a place in Wichita that brought us so much joy in our youths. It was an amusement park not far from our grandparent’s house, and when we were treated to a trip there, the joy was unparalleled. It no longer stands; its former vibrance is now replaced by dilapidation and desertion, and this breaks our hearts more than a little. Suzanne, in her thoughtfulness, found these stickers and gave us each one.   Sometimes the simplest gifts are the best.

If you, too, have fond memories from this special place from your childhood, give us an Amen when you are done reading.

No joy is more savored and special than once again commemorating the arrival of the best Christmas gift we ever received: our youngest brother Ryan. He arrived on Christmas eve 46 years ago, and we never let it go by unnoticed. Mom and Dad always made sure to observe his birthday despite the holiday celebrations. When Ryan was a kid, sometimes Mom even made a special celebration for him in the summer to draw attention to his birthday away from the holiday.

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I awoke today to bright sunshine and tolerable wind. The temperature hung below the freezing mark for a few hours, but as the day progresses, it is already above 50° on its way to a predicted high of 56°.  I’ll take it. I have two loads of laundry hanging outside.

It will only be a gain of about 90 seconds, but there will be more daylight today than yesterday. It will be noticeable mostly in my mind, but that’s where it counts.

I live by sunlight; I am solar-powered. Even though winter officially began yesterday, my mindset is now turned toward spring. I will, however, try to retrain my mind to savor the day, no matter the weather, no matter how much sunshine I may or may not see.

Because I am a trivia nerd, I had to find out difference between solstice and equinox. Yesterday was the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. June 21st will be the summer solstice, the first day of summer and the shortest night of the year. An equinox is the time or date—twice each year—at which the sun crosses the celestial equator, when day and night are of equal length. In simple terms, this translates into the first day of spring, and the first day of fall.

In my post Something to Look Forward To (January 7th 2018), I wrote that Mom helped us to see the importance of having just that. I am now looking forward to the vernal equinox, just three months away. But I will do my best to savor the winter.

Every day, no matter the weather outside or the conditions deep inside each of us, every moment is a gift. In the winter, I have to dig a little deeper sometimes to find that joy.

I read recently that in ancient times, people grew anxious and depressed when the days grew shorter, thinking perhaps the sun was dying.   They worshipped the sun as a god, and without it, they would surely perish. In order to sustain themselves and life in general, they created midwinter rituals to coax back the light, warmth and abundance, which ultimately culminated on the night of the winter solstice. They burned great bonfires complete with music and dancing as their message to the god of the sun that they were doing their part, and needed the sun to keep coming back to do its part. Apparently, it worked.

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We no longer have to doubt the return of the sun. For longer than any of us can imagine, it has come up every morning and goes down every night. It’s presence each day becomes shorter, until, once again, it becomes longer.

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The wheat lying dormant in our Kansas fields reminds me that winter is a time for slower growth and perhaps more rest. It is a time to quietly prepare for the harvest, a time of renewal and reaping that, as long as I can remember, has always come.

It is a time of reflection, a time to think about the year to come. When the sun comes back in full force, we will be ready to reflect its light and warmth to everyone in our own sphere.

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It is a time of restoration, a time to replenish our inner energies that were wisely, but energetically spent when the sun shone bright and warm upon us. If we simply ask, we often are granted this restored energy when the time is right and ripe.

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It is a time of rejuvenation, a time to celebrate the gift of youth, even if we are not as young as we’d like to be. If we can still move our bodies and brains, then we are young enough. Looking through the eyes of the young can bring us a fresh, innocent perspective.

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It is a time of release, a time to let go of those things we may be holding on to that are not helping us grow. If it doesn’t make you happy, and it doesn’t make anyone else’s life better either, perhaps it’s time to let it go.

Along with the release, letting go of past hurts makes it a time of reconciliation. Even if the other party doesn’t care, or if they thought they never did anything wrong, forgiveness is a healing balm for you. Equally as important is forgiving yourself for your own shortcomings. Dragging those dead carcasses around doesn’t help anyone. Leaving them behind helps everyone—especially you.  Christmas is the perfect time.

 

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As the sun set on the shortest day of the year, I was able to capture images of the horizon outside Ryan’s front door. Stepping out and facing west, this panoramic view never ceases to renew me, even when I know the sun will be gone for the longest night of the year. His home is just down the road a few miles from where we grew up, offering an unobstructed view of one of our home state’s most exquisite gifts—the Kansas sunset.

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The last picture was taken about 5:40 p.m. I said goodbye and thank you to the sun, knowing the darkness would soon come, but would also be gone in the morning. And, as always, it was.

The promise continues.

I will take some time to renew, so my posts will be hit or miss for a while. Just like the sun, I will be back. I simply need to rest, relax and retool in order to renew.

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Reading is one of my all-time favorite pastimes, especially in the winter. I must share my recommendations with you regarding a great new book by a great author. My sister-in-law Lara recently wrote an amazing Christmas novel. I typically don’t read fiction, but she hooked me with a powerful story as well as amazing local history, as it is set in the area we grew up. Please search this title on Amazon to purchase it as an e-book, or in print as well. You won’t regret it.

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Merry Christmas to you from the sisters of The Sister Lode. We wish you a blessed holiday, as well as a season of rest, relaxation, restoration, rejuvenation, reflection and renewal.

 

 

 

 

ELEVEN YEARS

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ELEVEN YEARS

Beautiful.  Perfect.  Awe-inspiring.  A gift from Above.

I struggle to type these words about another snowfall blanketing our area.  Yet, this morning, as I take in the brilliant white splendor of the snow in the bright sun, I must say they are the most apt words I can use to describe the outdoors this morning.

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What I wanted to type, and what I said to myself as I braced yesterday for yet another winter storm—in early March, for Pete’s sake–were these words describing our winter so far:  Interminable.  Ugly. Painful.  Never-ending.  Soul-draining.

While I thought those words, and I fight not to continue to think them, I am choosing to stay positive.

Because, after all, it is always a choice.

Choosing to relish these weather conditions has always come easier to Gail and Suzanne.  Especially the wind.  The cursed Kansas wind, in my book.  Not in theirs.  As Gail says, “Embrace it.  There is nothing you can do to change it.”  Wise words.

“People of the South Wind” is the translation of our state’s name from the Kanza tribe of Native Americans.  This wind, however, sculpted a beautiful scene in our backyard this morning.

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It is early March in Kansas.  It could be 70 degrees, or it could be 4 degrees, with a sub-zero wind chill.  We take what we get.  We have no choice.

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I WISH spring would hurry up and arrive.

Interminable.  Ugly. Painful. Never-ending.  Soul-draining.  These are the words I would use not only to describe this winter, but the deep grief we endured when we lost our parents.  Eleven years ago today, March 3rd, 2008, we saw our parents for the last time at our grandmother’s funeral.  It was a beautiful celebration of a long and blessed life, and we shared a wonderful afternoon with them, not knowing it would be our last moments together.  The next day, March 4th, they departed on their three-hour journey home, but never arrived.

We needed and accepted any and all expressions of sympathy immediately after they died, and for a long time after.

We have come a long way since then.   We will be forever grateful for the support we received from so many people.  We no longer need it, though it helped sustain us through the darkest days of our lives.

Since then, we have turned that black square on the calendar into March Forth.  With that support, time and continued perseverance, we now see their lives in full splendor:  Beautiful.  Perfect. Awe-inspiring.  A gift from Above. 

For those of you who were at their funeral—there were so many, and we remain so humbled by the obvious love and respect they earned—please recall Mom’s message.  And please continue to take it to heart.

For everyone, please use every moment of every day you possibly can to make the relationships in your life all they can be.  If you have either, or both of your parents, let them know how much you love them.  If you need to make peace with your parents or anyone, do it now.  They may not be here tomorrow.

Make your life all you want it to be.  Start today on something you have always wanted to do.  Put a jigsaw puzzle together.  Learn to play the piano, even if no one ever hears it.  Write the poetry, even if no one ever reads it.  Travel to the place you always wanted to travel to.

Or, maybe, like Gail is learning to do, simply slow down.  Take one or two things off your plate, like she recently did.  Let go of some of the meaningless busy-ness.  If Gail can learn to slow down, anyone—even you—can.

I attended a funeral this week for a beloved patient.  She left a legacy that reached beyond what most of us realized.  She lived and loved, and left a model for living life to its fullest.  Funerals are a time of sadness, but also a catalyst to keep moving forward to honor the memory of the one we loved and lost.  They would want it that way.

We weren’t ready to let her go, but we don’t get to choose when.  And the when for all of us is only a matter of time.

I struggle to fully grasp that it’s been eleven years since our parents died.  Four or five, maybe…six tops.  But eleven?  Why has the time gone so fast, and where did it go?

A wise woman once told me this:  The reason time goes faster with age is because when you are ten, time goes ten miles per hour.  When you are twenty, it moves along faster at twenty miles per hour.  At fifty…at sixty five—you get the idea.  It only moves faster.  No matter what your age, I don’t think you will disagree.

Age is a gift, just as I wrote several weeks ago.  The corollary, then, is that time is a gift as well.  Use it to do the things to make your life as full as it can be, and to celebrate the relationships you have with other people.

Enjoy the Monday mornings, the Thursday evenings, even the hour in the grocery store at the end of the workday on Tuesday.

I need to take this one to heart more than most people—more than Gail and Suzanne, anyway:  enjoy the cold, the snow and the wind.  Enjoy the gray, slushy melting snow two days later.  Enjoy the cloudy days—even long series of gray, cloudy days on end that we seem to have had multiple times this winter.

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It’s much easier to enjoy the fun times, the getaways, the days off; the vacation.  Which is exactly what Gail and I will be doing in several days.  With Suzanne’s blessing, but without her, we are heading west once again to our favorite Rocky Mountain town.  It is our original celebration destination; we started going there nine years ago to celebrate our parents lives, and ours as well.

And we continue to do just that.  Their legacy lives on in so many ways through their seven children, and we have chosen to celebrate and enjoy our lives, thanks to the love they gave us throughout their lives.

Life is too short to not have fun.  So, whatever fun looks like for you, get out there and have it.  Or stay home and have it.   Find what works for you, and give yourself the gift of time to do it.  Let some time-sucking obligations go if you need to; Gail paved the way for you to do the same.

And tomorrow, as my siblings and I March Forth, we have but one favor to ask of you:  If  they are still here, let your parents know how much you love them. Show them if you can.   And next time you get to see them, be sure to take a picture.

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Gail and I will have a partial report of the fun we had on our trip when I write again in several weeks.   We never tell all.