What if This Were Your Last Christmas?

Teach us to use wisely all the time we have.  – Psalm 90:12 (Contemporary English Version)

I’m not trying to be morose, but instead eager to challenge all of us to be more intentional about making the moments in our life count.

“Forever is composed of nows.” ― Emily Dickinson

If this were your last Christmas, who would you want to be sure to spend time with?

If it’s not too late, when you are planning your holiday agenda think about the people that you need to connect with. Surely there’s a name or two on your heart right now. Someone who needs some time with you.

Maybe all it takes is a phone call (remember those?).  A good old fashioned note or card can make up for so much distance. Why not share your real self with someone who’s drifted away?

What about those holiday obligations that really hold no meaning for you? Why waste time with social engagements filled with strangers? Who is it that means the most to you? That’s the list you ought to be making and checking twice.

Who is it that needs a little more time from you this year?  There will always be a “Last Christmas” person in your life who needs a little more of your time, effort and love. It will be worth it. You already know that people last longer than any present under the tree.

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay  an invincible summer.”  ― Albert Camus

If this were your last Christmas, what would you want to be sure to talk to others about?

There’s always something on the “do not bring up” list when families and close friends get together infrequently. That’s not really what I mean by this question. When we spend time with people that count the most to us we often don’t talk about things that really matter. This isn’t necessarily deliberate. We are swept up in social norms that can keep us at a distance. There are unwritten rules about saying too much that might frighten someone else off or make us appear too vulnerable.

Everyone needs to hear how much they mean to you and how much they are loved. None of us ever hear this enough. That’s the only gift that ever matters in the end.

If this were your last Christmas, what kinds of unwritten rules would really matter to you? Which rules are you and I following that ultimately keep us from building  deep bonds with others? Telling someone the truth about how much they mean makes that truth become ever more real.

“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”  ― Walt Whitman

What do you need to say to someone this year? It can be as simple as saying “you’re life matters to me.”

If this were your last Christmas, what would you leave behind (stop wasting time with)?

“Are not half our lives spent in reproaches for foregone actions, of the true nature and consequences of which we were wholly ignorant at the time?”  ― Herman Melville

What are the actions, words and habits that keep getting in the way of what you really need to accomplish? We spend too much time in backwashes of regret simply because we don’t or won’t make adjustments to the simple practice of how we live each day.

You’re not going to have time to spend with others until you stop spending time on other things. You won’t talk about things that matter unless you think about them ahead of time. Leave behind what never matters so that you can be certain to grab the moment before you.

The largest obstacle to making moments count in our lives are the fears we imagine. Fears about what others might think. The overwhelming need to keep safe our own fragile ego. And another moment has slipped past, because we couldn’t leave behind our protective armor.

Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise. -Psalm 90:12 (Good News Translation)

What if this was your last Christmas?

Don’t let this Christmas get wadded up and pitched out with the used up wrapping paper. Nothing dramatic, just make it a point to be intentional with your time and attentions.

Who do you need to make contact with? What do you need to communicate to others? What bonds needs to be strengthened? What needs to be accomplished today before it slips away forever?

“The older one gets, the more one feels that the present moment must be enjoyed, comparable to a state of grace.”  ― Marie Curie

How Connected Are You, Really?

“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.” ― Edward R. Murrow

Not another rant from a Boomer about too much cell phoning!? (sorry)

Who would have ever predicted the speed of our technological invention in the area of communication? We are all carrying a Star Trek communicator in our pocket. Platforms like email, Facebook, and Twitter to name a few, allow almost unlimited connections with friends, families, strangers (and foes).

We are now sharing photos of our new grandson within our family everyday. I can teach college classes to students who reside in different cities and states. My students can send me an email with questions late at night while they are working on homework or studying for exams. Cell phone calls make keeping in touch with family all over the state at any time of day.

There is an illusion that can easily take place. Our technology now allows us to communicate all of the time and with almost anyone. But all this easy “talking” doesn’t necessarily mean that much is really being said.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ― George Bernard Shaw

How many times have you created a misunderstanding with an email? Do you fully understand every text and tweet, even from people you know so well?

THREE REASONS WHY DIGITAL COMMUNICATION OFTEN FAILS

ONE: Volumes of meaning are typically communicated through our body language. Your facial expressions and gestures are important, even essential tools that you use when you communicate. You spend years of your younger years learning how to “read” the body language of others. Skyping during meetings is so popular because it allows people to feel like they can “read” the room better.

  • Where are your eyes wandering while you are listening?
  • How about the way your legs are positioned when you sit?
  • What about how you are standing or sitting when speaking?

Scientists today predict that our young people are launching into adulthood with poor social skills because they haven’t had the practice with enough real time mastering how to interpret body language. They’ve spent so much time on their phones and not enough time with real people.

TWO: When you are in the physical company of others there is a power of presence that can’t be replaced by digital means. Aren’t you guilty of saying things in a text that you might not ever say face-to-face?  Maybe it’s too quick, impersonal or mean. Remember the rule about counting ten before pushing the send button? When someone is right in front of you, the tendency is to take greater care about how, what and why you speak the way you do. There is some physical force that shapes the style of communicating.

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” ― Albert Camus

THREE: When you communicate in person you can’t just refuse to click “open” and leave the dialogue in limbo. There is a strong inability to ignore that occurs when you are in the physical presence of others. When you’re with someone you just have to talk it through or make it up or fight it out or reach a conclusion. Being with someone adds something irreplaceable to the interaction, you just can’t turn off the phone.

Volume doesn’t make up for depth. You already knew this to be true. But the truth isn’t always at the heart of what any of us does. Being connected is still essential. Being connected in the right ways matters most. At the end of your day, think about how many real people you’ve actually interacted with, in person.

“Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.” ― Charlie Kaufman

Always Remember

“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming.” – Frederick Buechner

 

Another Memorial Day is behind us. Not just a long weekend and the start of summer fun. No, this is a time to remember our fallen heroes and those that wear uniforms and serve us still. It’s a weekend for the flag, visits to the grave stones and hearing stories that will soon be gone into the mist of memory.

Remembering isn’t confined to just special weekends like this one. It can become a very healthy and liberating practice.

Too often we remember with regret. We think about the past and filter out all but the fun stuff. There are depths to our lived experiences that only bear fruit in years and generations to come. As we remember the details, the filed away emotions and the unresolved situations, we continue to build our self of today. Those days of long ago still work even now, they still have power to change us, to nourish our souls and to bear something meaningful for others.

Remember when you failed, crashing down in flames.

These seem to be the easiest memories that our fragile egos clutch in so much desperation. Failure is a part of everyone’s story. Failure is only half of the story. Too often, we leave our failures to rot in the grave of our memory and they end up doing nothing but bringing us harm. Failure, taken to it’s end, can liberate us. We learn from failure. We grow resilient from failure. We grow up and mature when we fail. All of these are like forks in the road of failure, chances to go right or wrong. Too often we take the wrong fork, or worse yet, become paralyzed and stop moving forward altogether.

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”  ― Henry David Thoreau

Remember when you offered that helping hand, when no one else even noticed.

There are secret memories that are really no one else’s business. Private words of encouragement and comfort that are said quickly or spoken with great care. Only you were able to help and so you did. Maybe it was something you could do in secret and not even the one being helped would ever know. These are the memories about yourself that are too often crowded out by all the mistakes from your past. It leaves you with a memory that forever limps with an imbalance.

Remember when you didn’t think you were going to make it another step, your heart was too broken to go on.

These are hard memories to dig back up. They’ve typically been buried away, deep in the ground of forgetfulness where they can no longer cause pain. But so often it is out of this same brokenness that our next layer of wholeness emerges.

“Nobody had forgotten anything here. In Berlin, you had to wrestle with the past, you had to build on the ruins, inside them. It wasn’t like America where we scraped the earth clean, thinking we could start again every time. ” ― Janet Fitch

Remember, as you pack away that box, what all that stuff symbolizes to you. A box full of meaning from so long ago.

Are you an organizer? Do you collect all the debris from the journey of your life? Are there boxes of photographs, old journals, mementos from long ago – all piled up in top of your closet of pushed under your bed? Our memories are filled with symbolic meaning – a smell, a location, an article of clothing, etc. But those meanings are not just trapped in our past. It’s possible to look back and discover memories and assign new and powerful meaning to them.

I ran into a friend from twenty years ago. We talked about our shared past and remembered together a number of common experiences we had forgotten. Getting together, renewing our friendship and then sealing it with these memories bound up with meaning was a brand new and liberating experience that we built from our shared memory.

Remember those dreams you once had, stolen away by time and replaced by duty and necessity.

Keep them alive and beating away in your heart. Don’t put a timer on them. If they have to wait, let them wait until their time has come. Don’t live a life without the memory of all your hopes.

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
― Langston Hughes

Let your dreams themselves, not the long wait for their arrival, keep your life filled with that longing for the next sunrise.

Remember all those people along the path of your life as you dig through the Christmas card photos from years gone by.

I tend to keep Christmas postcards with family photos way too long. I’ve got them all over the house. They remind me of childhood gone so quickly. I am nudged to pray for people all around me and far away. Those smiling faces that peer out at you, day after day, are a reminder of friendships and families that keep us grounded, connected and safe from loneliness.

“There’s a loneliness that only exists in one’s mind. The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is blink.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

Remember yourself, someone who has been different at each stage of life, there’s someone who could really use what you know now.

When you talk with people, especially people who are at the stages of life that you have already passed through, remember you own life back then. Remember the encouraging words that helped you all along the way – or the words you wished you had heard. Be that person who lights the way for others. Use your own life, with all the mistakes and victories, to turn back and give others a hand up. Remember that you are not alone, that all kinds of people were there in your life – determine to be there for all those people passing by you. Use your past to enrich someone’s future. Be intentional with your speech, your actions and your prayers.

But don’t forget to help others and to share your possessions with them. This too is like offering a sacrifice that pleases God. – Hebrews 13:16

(Your memories are a possession too)