The Ghosts of Christmas

“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”  ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

We live out each day surrounded by memories and in so many ways these mark out the pathway toward each one of our tomorrows.

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” ― Virginia Woolf

I’ve been in my house alone for four months. The TV going just so there’s background sounds on while I’m doing my chores. But there are other sounds in the house that seem to be haunting my days and nights. Some I can explain, others…

  1. I’ve written before about my haunted refrigerator that moans and groans. It causes my grandson to stop and look around when we are here together. He wonders who else is hiding in the house. It’s just our marked down appliance painfully making ice all day and night.
  2. Early this fall the derelict hot water heater in the attic had a spigot dripping. It could only be heard late at night by the rare overnight visitor in the guest bedroom underneath. It’s very old and I’m certain it’s going to go any minute. I’m just glad it’s not over my bed!
  3. There’s been a history of varmints in my attic. They are back for winter. This year the squirrels (above my bedroom) go in and out each morning and the opossum makes his exit at night. Lots of traffic to try and corral. They get noisy at times, late at night especially.

As Christmas decorations have gone up there are other haunting spirits that speak, sometimes softly and at other times very loud. My house is now even more bathed in memory. Christmas was my wife’s favorite time of year. It’s a season filled with treasures of memory to take me with joy into days, weeks and months ahead.

This time of year can bog any of us down with urgent tasks that must get done. There are events, festivities and family gatherings crowding the calendar. Extra meals, gifts and decorations must all be purchased and prepared. Despite online, curbside and next day, our days remain fraught with increased activity. Year after year, nothing seems to change.

This year, stop and sit down for a few minutes each day and collect your memories. Write something down in a journal. Make a list in your phone. Like treasures, arrange them in your heart so that you don’t miss any part of this holiday and new year. Don’t let your busyness steal away those moments so important to remember.

Researchers have long known that (1) your current mood influences what you file away about your experiences into your memory. If you are in a perpetual bad mood, you will tend to only remember your negative experiences.  And (2) your current mood tends to determine what kinds of memories you retrieve. If you’re in a general good mood, you will tend to pull up only positive memories from the past.

This means our memory making and retrieving are influenced by our emotional feelings and attitudes. 

“He was consious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares, long, long, forgotten.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

What is it that’s always floating in the air about you? What treasured memories are worth holding onto? That bad mood is going to poison not just today but your future as well.

“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.” ― Guy de Maupassant

You will of course create new memories this holiday. I am only urging you to stop with those you love and be more intentional about remembering bits and pieces of your past. Share a laugh, get the details right, and cry a little. Use these to hang on to all that really matters from days gone by. This will keep you in a happy mood, and it will lock away the good stuff for a rich future (for you and everyone else).

“I will live in the past, the present, and the future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

What Will Change You?

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”
― Anatole France

A new year is a good time to try something new. Typically, people decide to lose weight, exercise more or even stop smoking when they start a new year. If carried through, these new habits would certainly bring about dramatic changes. Some reports indicate that less than half make it past six months with these resolutions.

Is a New Year’s Resolution really going to change you?

Maybe change isn’t a once a year decision. Why not think about changes in your life as a daily way of living? Always in transition. Each day becoming a newer version of yourself.

We Americans can trip ourselves up too much with our thinking that change has to be absolute, it always between polar opposites and it’s got to be done right away to really count. We get discouraged too quickly.

God is also involved in this process. He is always faithful to bring about the transformation in us that He has promised. Often despite our own obstinance.

 I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ!  (Philippians 1:6, The Passion Translation)

Does change for you have to be now or never?

Instead of thinking about change in your life as a quick fix, why not think about it as a slow turn in a better direction?

What kind of transformation is God is bringing about in your life? What are you resisting? Who are you becoming each day as you live like a disciple? I’ve got to carve out more time in my own life to pray for others. This has been an ongoing change for me for many years. It’s not a one time and it’s done decision, like getting a tattoo. I wake up each day and have to make choices. So do you.

I recently read about the Japanese philosophy called Wabi Sabi. It’s basic principles about life can be summarized like this:

  1. Nothing lasts
  2. Nothing is finished
  3. Nothing is perfect

The world all around us really is in constant change. Trying to get everything all nailed down and permanently fixed is an illusion. We grow, make mistakes, take wrong turns, learn, develop, and figure it out bit by bit. And then there’s all the other people we live and work with who are also experiencing constant change in their own lives. We are all floating down a churning river together. There’s something new around each bend.

Are you limiting change in your life to behaviors?

Maybe your attitude about something is a good place to start thinking about change?

“We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”  ― Charles R. Swindoll

What do you think?
Does this sound true?
What’s your attitude like when you run up against something impossible? A person who’s out to bring you harm? Too many mistakes that have caught up with you?

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Finally, and you already know this, change isn’t always pleasant.

  • We welcome change easier when we can see more clearly the end result. Shut down the negative self talk and replace with hopefulness.
  • Thinking about your future self is the flashlight that can lead you through discouragement. Imagine yourself as the person you want to be. That’s the most important step in becoming.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day, be realistic with yourself. Surround yourself with others who will help give you a real picture of who you are becoming.
  • Think about change as a way of living, not a one time accomplishment. Keep a journal so you can map your journey.

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Walking to Emmaus Part 2

road-to-emmaus

 

 

 

 

 

As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them.  But God kept them from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?” They stopped short, sadness written across their faces.  – Luke 24:15-17

Sadness was written across their faces. They were in retreat from a great hope. They had misunderstood God’s great plan. All their fears, disappointment and sorrows were right there for anyone to see as they walked slowly home.

What’s written all over your face every day? Have you thought about that? I have to stand up in front of classrooms full of college students every day. Most days you’d think they had each just received the news that their pet had been run over by a train. Very doom and gloom, no matter how much circus I try and drag in…I need to get a better book of jokes.

I frequently remind people that our attitudes shape our actions. That’s not hard to believe. What’s more difficult to figure out is how our actions shape our attitudes. People in the fitness world know this. If you can get people to be more physically active, they tend to feel happier. There’s a famous experiment in which people holding a warm cup reported more positive feelings in their rating of an unrelated product than those who were holding a cold drink. The temperature they felt in their hands helped to shape their attitude while forming an opinion about that product.

I’m not suggesting that this couple on the way home to Emmaus should have stopped off at Starbucks first. Actually I want to remind you of some things that you already know:

  1. You and I walk around all day with our attitude written all over our face – what are people reading about us?
  2. We’re not walking away from hope like these two were. Each one of us is walking in hope – does your face show it?
  3. Sure, all of us have ups and downs and even long periods of time when the going gets dark, but if we determine to smile, laugh, move, and look at people, these actions will help to shape our attitude into one that’s more in line with the truth about us.

If you see me walking around with a scowl, just ask me if I’m on my way to Emmaus. That ought to remind me that my face looks like it’s heading in the wrong direction!

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.  – Romans 15:13