My dear reader,
Here we are, two weeks into 2017 already. I don’t know about you, but it feels like two months to me. My calendar which – just 17 days ago – looked so fresh and new and wonderfully wide-open with possibilities is now scrawled with practice schedules and parent meetings and training sessions and tournament details and teacher conferences and community workshops and social engagements. (I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with these. I love the idea of them, until the night of… and then I only have room in my heart – and fuel in the tank – for flannel PJs, a bowl of popcorn, and a rerun of “Parent Trap” on the Disney channel. All for Chloe, of course.)
Already, we’re at risk of being ridiculously overscheduled with competitions and exhibitions and school functions and service projects and sports camps and symposiums (is there anyone, anywhere, in the history of the entire world who ever wanted to attend one of these? Let’s just not.) and seminars and surgeries (both oral and the standard variety). Oh joy. My “Weeks at a Glance” are beginning to glare back at me, with nary a whitespace therein.
On top of our garden variety appointments and obligations, these past couple weeks we’ve battled bald tires, a backed-up garbage disposal, and online form submission snafus (submit, submit!, SUBMIT!!!), welcomed a handful of weary travellers and drop-in visitors, and encountered unexpected dental emergencies, doggy diarrhea, and a dead car battery. In addition to all these glad tidings, we’ve been blasted with snow, sleet, driving winds, freezing rain, thunder and lightning, sub-zero wind chills, and a pretty wicked ice storm. Feels like a lifetime since we rang in the New Year (at 10:23 pm EST on 12/31. Don’t judge.)
Oh, and for the record, Mr. Bon Jovi, we’re not even close to halfway there. We just passed mile marker 2. But we are most definitely livin’ on a prayer. (And looking for a rest area. With clean bathrooms. And soap in the dispenser.)
January is just. plain. tough. The weather is worse than lousy. And the day-to-day living starts to feel like slogging through wet concrete. It’s the greys… and the grind. And by “the greys,” I don’t just mean grey skies. I mean, the hardness of life hanging overhead. Low and heavy, barren and bleak. Not sure why they call it “the blues” when in actuality, it feels far less colorful and far more doleful. It feels like stone-cold grey. Grim and gloomy and glum. Day after day after doggone day. The entire month seems to get swallowed whole by deadlines and demands and pressing (and pushing and pulling and pummeling) engagements. Dastardly, all.
But somehow, even in the grueling and gut-wrenching and grim, there’s goodness to be found. Because there’s GOD to be found. When we seek Him in the grey, we find… He’s the glue that holds us together. He’s the giver of good gifts… and true grit… and amazing grace.
He’s the Light that breaks through the greys.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~ John 8:12
THANK GOD. (I do. But admittedly, not nearly as often as I should.)
The light of Jesus illuminates and radiates. Christ-light welcomes us – even in the most bedraggled state – and warms us from the inside out. It infuses and invigorates. It shines and soothes and heals and fuels us. Like His love, it’s never in short supply. And the refills are free. All we gotta do is ask.
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” ~ Matthew 7:11
I’m not sure about you, but Sheryl Crow and I… every time we feel lame, we’re lookin’ up. And soakin’ up. And rockin’ on. (Well, she is, anyway. I’m just trying to roll on. Or roll with it. Or eat rolls. Preferably cinnamon. With extra frosting.)
Recently, someone I really respect and admire said to me, “Self-care isn’t selfish care. It’s life-giving, and in some cases, lifesaving.” And she reminded me of the directive flight attendants give prior to every departure: Put on your own oxygen mask first. Then you will be able to assist others travelling with you.
So here’s my proposition for January (and maybe February and March too):
The Sunshine Project.
Here’s how it works: Let’s soak up some Son (Jesus, Light of the World and Word of God) every single wintry grey day. And let’s soak up and spread some “sunshine” however we can. Let’s do a better job taking care of ourselves, so we can do a better job taking care of the people around us, shall we?
I’ve compiled a simple list of practical pick-me-ups for your consideration. Hope you’ll choose at least 3!
The Sunshine Project pick-list:
Soak. Take a nice, long, leisurely soak in the tub. Or if you don’t have one, soak your feet. Grab a bowl or bucket, fill it with hot water and a little Listerine (not even kidding. Google it.) or brown sugar mixed with olive oil… or a little lemon juice and honey. And soak up some scripture too. Psalm 34, 46, 62, 84, 91, 103, 121, 139, 145 are favorites.
Skype. We’re so “connected” these days: texts, posts, emails, IMs. But somehow all this connectivity results in less connecting. If geography prevents you from getting together, try to “meet up” with a friend via Skype/FaceTime. You’ll get real smiles. In real time. From a real, live human being.
Start. Something. Preferably something healthy and good. A conversation. A class. A gratitude journal. A savings plan. A new book. A new habit. A new hobby. Do the first thing… then the next. And keep going.
Sweat. Get in a workout. Don’t belong to a gym? Find an online fitness video and follow along: anything from Yahweh yoga to a combat fitness workout. Free. Just do it. (<See what I did there?)
Sip. Brew some herbal tea. Berry, citrus, peach, peppermint, ginger, cinnamon or chamomile. (Or simply squeeze half a lemon into hot water.) There’s something deliciously soothing in the sipping. And there’s a bunch of immune-boosters and antioxidants to boot.
Sing. Hum (croon, warble, yodel or belt) a tune. Seriously… or Siriusly. Pick a music streaming service provider (Pandora, Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube) and crank that baby up. I apologize in advance if my eclectic (Big 80s/smooth jazz/classic rock/reggae/ Gospel/dance party) playlist disturbs your peace.
Savor. Some unhurried, unscheduled, unrestricted time. Unplug. Power off the computer, tv, tablet, and – gasp! gulp! grimace! – the phone. I know… you’re swamped. Or stuck in the spin cycle. Or expecting that urgent email/call/text. Trust me, I know firsthand how hard it is to just put the dang thing down. (And leave it there. No peeking!) But I’m confident that you can reclaim at least one hour… just 60 minutes… and do something you’ve really been longing to do. Or do absolutely nothing at all. Just. Be. Still.
Sort. Socks. Emails. A junk drawer. A messy closet. The contents of your purse/briefcase/backseat/trunk. You may just find that “thing” you’ve been searching for. Or some untold treasure. At the very least, you’ll feel a copacetic sense of accomplishment and order. Don’t underestimate the satisfaction of either.
Scout. Day trips, nightlife, special events. Solo outings, date night venues, family adventures. Recipes, restaurants, culinary classes. Getaway destinations or dream jobs. Household hacks and how-tos. Potential projects and improvements (personal health or household or both). You can find DIY YouTube videos on everything from homemade coasters, costumes, candles, and coffee mugs to whole house renovations. Do some online research. Consider your options. Ponder. Plan. Dream. And then DO. List the steps or save the date. And make it happen. If you use a paper calendar book, like I do, write it in INK. Done deal. (You’re welcome.)
Stroll. Take a walk. In the park. Around the block. On a trail. Or if it’s too crazy-cold, stroll through a museum, art gallery or greenhouse. (If you do the latter, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. :))
Sample. Fragrances (free samples available at Ulta, Origins, Aveda and Sephora). Bath/beauty/body and household products (tons of “tester” samples available online for a small S&H fee). Gourmet foods (yes, YUM). At Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and CostCo, you can sample pretty much anything you want. Just ask. You can literally eat lunch while buying your ingredients for dinner. Bam!
Scribble. Sketch. Paint. Color. Create. Engage in a little art therapy. Try your hand at ceramics or stained-glass classes or a painting party. But you need not “wine and canvas” or “sip and paint” to unleash your inner artist. Crayons and a coloring page will do. (Everybody could use a little kindergarten once in a while.)
Serve. Honestly, this may be the single best source of “sunshine,” other than our awesome, almighty Creator and that brilliant, burning ball of fire He placed in the sky. Somehow, whenever we lend a hand or bring a meal, we leave feeling full. When we pitch in to help or give to a good cause or volunteer our time, our days (and outlook) get brighter. It’s pretty simple, really. In God’s economy, the more you give, the more you get. The more you bestow, the more you’re blessed.
These are some of my personally-tested, tried-and-true antidotes to the winter greys and daily grind. I hope – if you’re battling the greys or burdened by the grind – that you’ll join me in our little social experiment. And please encourage friends to participate in a “Sunshine Project” of their own!
Obviously, I am not suggesting that the above activities will remedy the really bitter, brutal realities we see all around: devastating diagnoses, ugly divorces (with kids as collateral damage, far too often), crushing losses, terrible accidents, relentless addictions, shocking betrayals, bloody conflicts, deadly overdoses.
Those are the things that shock and shake me. To the core. Especially when they come close. Every once in a while, they crash mercilessly into the lives of people I hold dearest and love most. Somebody buckles. Or breaks. And my heart and hopes are shredded. I wrestle long and late with the whys and the what nows. And the grappling and grieving bring me to my knees. So I do what I can there…
I pray for them. I ache with them. I try my best to love them in ways that they can bear to receive. I love gently with calls and cards and Kleenex. Through tears and talks and texts and tea. With warm hugs and handwritten notes. And sometimes, soup. Or snickerdoodles.
And I wonder if they will be ok. Really, truly, honestly ok.
I’m not talking about a little touch of melancholy here. Or a rainy day bout with the blues… or the (cold, cloudy) greys, as I said. I’m talking about debilitating, brutal, black-and-blue depression. Or suicidal thoughts or paralyzing fear or crippling mood swings or chronic anxiety or aching emptiness or complete and utter despair. The terrible things you can’t just shake off or snap out of.
When we’re sick, we need a good doctor, medicine, a treatment plan, and time to rest and recover. Whether it’s physical sickness or mental illness, the same applies. If you love someone who “hasn’t been him/herself for awhile,” please urge that dear soul to see a physician or contact a mental health professional. Today. As in… NOW. (Go ahead and make that call. Please. You can read the rest of my musings later. They – and we, you and I and your loved one – will still be on the same page.)