I've said in the last few weeks that I want this holiday season to be one of peace. And to make that happen, I need to start with myself. I have a birthday this week, and it's a big one. I'm not entirely sure making my thoughts about turning 50 public will be valuable to anyone but me. But, it's something I've been thinking a lot about, so I may as well talk it over with you.
I generally ignore age. But, the realities of it creep around the edge of my awareness like a dog who's just gotten in trouble for mucking through the trash. It slinks around at arm's length, just close enough to make its presence known. It says, "I am inevitable. I am tick-tocking away. And while you can ignore me, you cannot avoid me."
If I live to be 100 (which I have every intention of doing), then turning 50 is smack dab in the middle. This is the place in the life of a project that I hate. I love the beginning when it's shiny and new and interesting and love the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction at the end. But, in the middle, things are generally messy and complicated. This is where all the growth happens. When you learn where your thoughts about it were wrong. When you adjust course. When you have to apply newly learned skills that aren't quite up to the task yet. It's where the path is less defined. It's where the adrenaline of the start is gone and grit, determination and perseverance are required.
My 20's and 30's were fairly easy in many ways. At least in hindsight. And when I compare them to my 40's. My 40's was a decade of trauma. Childbirth. I moved 4 or 5 times. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Several radical shifts in my business and income level. That's a crazy lot of change. Not all the changes were bad. Actually good and bad were mostly wrapped up in the same packages. I should say, though traumatic, it's also been a decade of great joy and satisfaction.
As I think about the reality of a new decade and I watch my son grow up at what feels like warp speed, I find myself more and more often wanting to strip the masks off and really see. Both myself and others. I want to see myself for real...and I want to see you. The real you. I have even less patience than previously with all of our masks. I'm aware that time is not the never ending stretch of highway into the distance that it once felt like. I'm sure that's a cliche experience. But, there's a reason things become cliches, right?
If we're going to talk about masks, I want to look more carefully at my own and I'll talk about two today: physical and emotional.
If I stand in front of a mirror. And take off every shred of makeup. And truly look. In some ways I see a stranger look back at me. My mental and emotional self image hasn't caught up with my physical self. Have you ever done that? Really looked at yourself lately? Your face? Your body? With non-judgmental eyes? There are stories we tell ourselves about the way we look. Mostly untrue. Some partially true. And some outright lies. Very little is actual truth. Do you realize that? Very little of the stories you tell about yourself in your head are true of you right now. Many are interpretations of a past or about expectations unrelated to reality.
Some of those stories I've let go in the last year. Like: I should look like I did as a teen aged athlete. Ridiculous. Or, my worth depends on what I look like, what I wear and how that compares to everyone around me. Or, how it compares to the photoshopped cover model. Or, to the I-get-paid-to-work-out athlete. Both shallow and ridiculous. Or, I should have a rounder face, smaller chest and thinner body. Why? Or, I should be botoxing, Retinol-Aing and whatever else-ing it takes to prolong youthfulness as long as possible. Because I need to look younger, prettier and fitter than I am. No. Wrong.
This is who I am right now. I'm turning 50 years old and I have colorful hair, because I like it. Because it's quirky and fun and makes me smile. I have some wrinkles and age spots. I wear leggings, miniskirts and boots because they make me feel like myself. Other days I wear jeans and a t-shirt because that feels like me too. I wear them whether I'm staying in or going out. Because I dress for myself.
And as for my body. I'm as healthy and fit as I have been since high school. It looks different than high school. But, it should, right? I've had a baby and 30 years since then. But, it is strong. Capable. Responsive. It's just the shell of who I am. But, I've recognized the truth that it's the only shell I have. And I am the only one responsible for it. It affects how I live my life. There is so much that I want to do. And so I take good care of it so that I can hike, walk on the beach, play with children. I eat really well. And I sleep. And I exercise. Not obsessively and not for anyone else. It truly has become very little to do with what anyone else thinks I should look like...and all about how I feel inside.
I feel good. I'm turning 50 years old and I feel good. And I've come to the conclusion that it's ok for me to feel that way and to say that in the world because it's not a statement about anyone else but me. I see the imperfections, certainly. But, for the most part they no longer define or limit who I am. And I'm no longer driven to look like anyone else's expectations. I look like me. And this is what 50 looks like...for me.
Emotionally, I've not made as many strides behind the mask. I still have work to do around feeling and expressing emotions. I think my next big life lesson may be on the amount of control I keep myself under. I don't even know what language to use to explain that one yet. I'm guessing I'll figure that out soon. But I have made progress this decade. I now don't allow conflict to live in relationships. That's a pretty big step actually and I should take a moment to celebrate that. I have a history of allowing the fear of rejection and abandonment to keep me from voicing feelings and opinions. I would pull them inward, holding them tightly where they fill up an emotional well with hazardous material. I'm slowly gaining courage on that front. Gaining the belief that I can be both heard and loved. That a relationship is stronger for expressing and working through anger, disappointment or conflict.
I'm also less likely to be completely sidelined by recurring depression that coats my insides like the oil in an oilcan at times. Thankfully, it's less often and less deep at the moment, but I've also learned to give myself more grace when I'm there.
I think I'm less sure of myself these days. One holdover from the trauma of my 40's is that I believe less in my own voice than I did in my 30's. Less in my own power. And yet I know that voice better now. I think this next decade will bring a mellower, more powerful version of that confidence and trust back. At least I hope so.
Altogether, turning 50 I am more whole, more available to others, more true out in the world than ever before. I'm healthier inside and out. I'm certainly not perfect, far, far from it. But, I'm willing to own who I am right this moment. And be at peace with it. The good and the bad. The me I actually am at 50.
I can write the script of my future from where I am right now. Not from where I think I should be or from who others think I should be.
As I look forward to the next decade, I commit to walking through the middle with curiosity, with grit and perseverance. I commit to being courageous. To showing up. To living without a mask. To pouring into my son and into other people. To loving lavishly, unselfishly, generously and with abandon. If I can do that. One day at a time. If I can do that, if I can write my story with the ink of love...no matter what the circumstances of my life in 10 years, my 50's will be a resounding success.
In the artwork this week, you see an eye that contains a heart in the iris. "To be at peace with" is defined as having friendliness toward something. Can you look at yourself and others with eyes laced with love? When people look into my eyes, I want them to see love shining back. I want to see it when I look at myself as well.
Whatever age you are. Whatever your circumstances. What if you were at peace with yourself?
What if your son asks you to record an episode about "The Little Drummer Boy," a very overtly Christian Christmas song, and you don't have a faith-based podcast? Well. That's the situation I'm in this week.
Let me give you a little back story. Two years ago, I did an art series based on four of my favorite childhood Christmas tree ornaments and then actually turned those art pieces into ornaments. We've loved them and this year I decided to do it again, but I thought I'd base the series on a song this time.
Do you see where this is going yet? I let my son choose the song and he picked "The Little Drummer Boy."
Now, I never liked that song much. But, the same year I did the ornaments, my son played it for his Christmas piano recital. And watching my own little boy offer up his music as a gift forever changed my relationship with it.
I just couldn't tell him no.
I've struggled with it for several weeks. I sit down to write and I can't focus. I can't articulate ideas clearly. And my mind feels muddled.
I do know that as I processed through it and immersed myself in a thousand or so versions of the song, that it did have lessons for me. Particularly around the first few lines.
Come. Draw near.
But as I started to write about what I took from it for you and figure out how to share it with the mixed audience I have--both Christian and non-Christian. It just wouldn't come. It wasn't right and it refused to be written.
A Lesson From The Little Drummer Boy
And then I realized it. I realized what the drummer boy wanted to share with all of you today.
So, Here it is:
The boy. He was young. He wasn't powerful. He was poor. He had a simple skill.
But, he was enough.
He gave of himself. And he pleased his audience.
My friends, you don't need to be older. Or younger. You are enough. Right now.
You don't need to be wealthier or more powerful or influential. You are enough. Right now.
You don't need to be more skilled. More complicated. More marketable. You are enough. Right now.
What we need. What I need. Is more of you. More of exactly who you are out in the world.
We need what the little drummer boy did. He played anyway.
I know it's fiction, but I'm sure as that child looked around him and saw the other fine gifts given to the young king by people with more resources, more wealth, more stature, more influence and more experience, he had reason to feel inadequate. Unworthy. Unsuitable. Circumstances told him he was unimportant.
But, he played anyway. He gave of himself. The lyrics say he played his best.
You can too.
Every day you have the option of showing up in your life or not. Of being seen. Of sharing yourself and your gifts out in the world. Of engaging. or not.
I know it's not easy. Most people spend their lives hiding. Comparing. Condemning themselves. Bowing out. It's much safer. It's easier. Less painful.
But it's not what you were meant for.
You were meant to play your drum, whatever means for you today, right now. It might be as small as wearing something unusual, something that might let others see who you are. It might mean being emotionally vulnerable in a relationship. It might mean starting something new. It might mean setting an example. Or, going first.
It certainly means showing up. Being brave. Playing anyway. But, like the little drummer boy, you are enough.
So, play your drum, darlin'. Get on out there and play your drum.
Episode Download and Links
Spotify playlist of my favorite version of the song
(aka How To Make Your Son Sorry He Asked For It)
I'm one of those people who gets really irritated at Christmas taking over the stores in late October. I'm in the middle of a month long Season of Thanks project with my son, so I'm totally paying my dues to November (if you didn't catch last week's episode yet, I talk all about it there, you can always check that out here). But...there are things that are really helpful to consider before December, so let's talk about a few of them.
There's a lot of advice available about how to simplify your holiday, and while simple is a worthy thing to aim for, I think it misses the mark. What's really important is that you have a meaningful holiday.
The first step to having a meaningful holiday is to realize that your holiday experience is totally within your control. It's easy to feel like a runaway train when December days start rolling past. Add crazy busy schedules, buying habits, family expectations and the season can get completely out of control very quickly. But, slow down for a moment and breathe deeply. Realize. YOU are in charge of your holiday. YOU decide what it will and won't be.
While you can't make it snow and perhaps can't control all family obligations, you're responsible for everything else. And you probably have more control over those family obligations than you think. Like so much of life, if you don't intentionally create the holiday you most desire, others will create it for you. From retailers to well-meaning relatives, there are plenty of people ready to write your story for you. Realizing this...that I have the power over my own experience of the season, that I can choose to orchestrate what's best for me and my family...has forever changed my holidays.
Before you start thinking about what your holiday should be about, here are three things I want you to consider.
Separate meaning from people.
You can control your holiday and your experience, but you cannot control other people. If you place your holiday's meaning on the shoulders of someone else, you're going to be terribly disappointed eventually. People come and go for various reasons. Kids grow up and get married, families are split and reform, loved ones are lost. Don't hang the responsibility for your holiday experience on someone else. For example, I know too many friends who cannot experience joy in the holiday season because they don't have their small children underfoot. Cherish those times, when your kids are underfoot. But kids aren't little very long. Don't let your own joy become dependent on that (or any other) circumstance.
You're also not responsible for others' joy. You're only responsible for yourself. I'm not suggesting you selfishly ignore other family members needs, but I am saying that in the end, you make decisions that are right for you and your family.
Separate meaning from history.
I love traditions. Traditions provide comfort, continuity, and special significance to holidays, They become favorite moments year after year. But because something has always been, doesn't insulate it from the ravages of time. Circumstances change. If your holiday fulfillment requires the completion of traditions, when the traditions are disrupted, your meaning will be as well. And if the tradition can't be reproduced, you'll forever feel unfulfilled with your holiday.
Separate meaning from your schedule.
There are a million good and fun things to do each December, but doing them all wins you no prizes beyond exhaustion. Doing all the things does not mean you'll automatically have a meaningful season.
Meaning comes from the inside, not the outside. If the meaning of your holiday is drawn from an internal well, you can have a rich, meaningful season, no matter what your circumstances.
So, now is the time to ask yourself, what creates a meaningful holiday...for you? I spent some time in the last two years making changes to my holiday experience, but I'll be walking through really distilling what that means in my life right along with you this week.
After defining what drives meaning for you, the next step is to design the holiday that will create and enhance that meaning. What can you do to create experiences for you and your family centered around your meaning? Then comes the tricky part. Set limitations on everything else. There are things that you might just love to do that aren't really about your meaning, and that's fine. But, limit them. Be sure that what you're mostly doing is meaning-driven.
This week's art takes less explanation than usual because it's not an abstract. The candle represents the warmth, hope and guidance that a meaning-driven holiday can bring you. It's both a beacon and a centering.
For me, the holiday is about the birth of the Christ child. A white candle is used in traditional advent wreaths to symbolize Jesus. So, the candle in this piece is both the symbol of the meaning in my season and a reminder to create a season centered around Christ.
As you approach the upcoming holidays, and frankly any holiday throughout the year, realize that you can choose your experience. I encourage you to choose a meaning-driven one.
What if this year, you had your most meaningful holiday ever?
It certainly doesn't feel like November here! In Middle Tennessee, it's been almost 90 degrees every day for the last two weeks! That's not a complaint, mind you; I'm fine with a long warm Fall. But, the "not feeling like November" outside matches my "not feeling like November" inside as well.
Actually, as I'm working on this episode, it's not quite November. By the time you hear it, it will be though. It's actually Halloween. The last day of October. And the month decided to go out with a bang. My son woke up with a fever, canceling all of our plans for the evening. We get together with a group of friends every Halloween and this is the second year in a row we'll miss it because he woke up sick. Plus, I just got word that I lost a large order that I've been repeatedly doing for a client for about 10 years. One that I had jumped through hoops and put a lot of effort in over the last few months.
I feel tired, defeated and disappointed.
But what I want to feel is thankful.
This November, my family will be focused on cultivating a heart posture of gratitude and we'll make thankfulness part of our routine in a couple different ways. It's convenient that it coincides with the traditional Thanksgiving holiday, yes?
Three Ways We're Practicing Gratitude
Benefits of Gratitude
Studies show that a heart that chooses a regular posture of gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect on the things they're thankful for will result in a person who is more compassionate and kind, has a stronger immune system, is happier, experiences more positive emotions, feels more alive and sleeps better. And I need all the help I can get sleeping better at this stage of my life.
I know that in order for the hearts of my family to be at peace in December amidst the chaos and clamor of a culture obsessed with more, bigger, running and getting, we need to be saturated in contentment and I know of no better route to that heart place than a season of thanks.
I don't expect this to always to be easy. A few weeks ago in episode 3 I talked about ways to approach life when when it's hard. Along with the things I mentioned then, thankfulness is another tool, There are always things to be thankful for and I hope that as I strengthen my thankful muscle, it becomes a natural response to notice and be grateful for those things.
The artwork this week is about what happens in your life and your soul when you filter living through a heart of gratitude. At the bottom is how my soul feels right now. Like sludge. Dull. Weighted down. When sifted through a filter of thankfulness (shown as the ribbons of light yellow and gold) our mood, our emotions, our experiences and our physiology even is transformed into something lighter and brighter.
That's what I want for this November. A season of thanks. Will you join me?
What if you live saturated in gratitude?