Monthly Archives: December 2022

Lessons for the New Year


I stood in the front yard struggling with a giant Santa Claus inflatable. I couldn’t stake it securely to the ground as the wind whipped. I had some choice words for Santa, including a threat to kill him by popping his balloon body. My anger was epic and would have moved me from the nice to the naughty list if that Santa had been real. I finally stabilized the 10-foot decoration but during my fight I thought, “what am I doing?” 

Every year I confront this dilemma: I want some decorations on the outside of the house, but I also don’t want to spend the money to have professionals do it. And so, we do some sort of home job on the outside, and I spend the whole month distracted by the fact that I don’t like how it looks. Our house is not bright enough, so it looks dark compared to others. Our attempt is not sophisticated like some of the beautiful displays on other homes in our neighborhood. Our decorations look cheap because duh – I’m cheap and don’t want to invest the money! But I realized that all of those moments of second guessing are based on comparisons with other people. Concern that we don’t measure up and people will think we are less than. Based on our Christmas decorations? Really?  

I love to send Christmas cards. I find joy in writing a letter and picking a family picture for our card. It takes a long time to write and print the letters, stuff envelopes, put all of the address labels on. And while I might get tired of the process by the time I finish, I genuinely love doing it. I know a lot of people who don’t send cards, and I say more power to them if it stresses them out or they just don’t want to do it. So why can’t I give myself the same grace? I don’t like worrying about the outside decorations. If I just accepted that and stopped comparing to others, I could reduce my stress and anxiety that is solely self-imposed. 

And so, I’m going to try and take this lesson into the new year. Obviously, there are things we must do even if they don’t bring enjoyment – laundry comes to mind. But when it comes to choosing activities, projects, volunteer work, creative endeavors, or commitments that fall outside of work and family, we can select things that fulfill us. That make us feel happy and content. That are worthy of our investment of time and energy. And say no to the things that drain us or that we do only because we’re worried about what someone else might think of us if we don’t.

This is not new or ground breaking advice but when I was wrestling with Santa I realized I need reminders to slow down and truly consider what I want to do. The concept of intention has been popping up in my life lately, perhaps not by coincidence. In making decisions, I want to reflect on my purpose and think about my intentions. If a decision is based on comparison to others, I hope to reject those if they are also inauthentic to me. Let us give ourselves permission to seek our genuine interests as we move into the new year and beyond. 

Unexpected Gifts


When I was a little girl, the Cabbage Patch Kid doll craze exploded. I didn’t ask for one the first couple of years after their premiere because I was old enough to know it was virtually impossible to find one. But when I saw the Cabbage Patch Preemie in the Sears catalogue, I couldn’t help myself because they were so cute. Even though I was getting a bit old to ask for a doll, I told my parents I really wanted one for Christmas. Soon thereafter, my Mom told me that she’d tried to order one, but they were already sold out. So, I knew in advance that I wouldn’t get one. Then, on Christmas morning, I opened a gift to find the very doll I’d wanted. Somehow, my Mom caught the exact moment on film with my mouth wide open and shock on my face. My Dad had mentioned the doll dilemma to a colleague whose wife happened to order one even though they didn’t have children at the time. She let my parents purchase the doll, which turned out to be perfect for me. The gift was made more special because it was completely unexpected. 

As a grown up, I don’t relish surprises. I try to manage life so that I don’t encounter unexpected circumstances. And by that, I mean, I seek to eliminate the unexpected. I want to be organized and in control. I like to know what to expect. When I don’t know what’s going to happen, I experience anticipatory anxiety that can feel overwhelming. I worry about all the things that could go wrong. Unfortunately, I rarely focus on how the unexpected can go right. When I look back on my life, I must admit that some of the best things occurred unexpectedly. And yet, I tend to downplay those events and continue to live in fear of the unknown. In so doing, I leave little room for wonder and amazement.

Everything about the story of Jesus’ birth was unexpected. Angels showed up repeatedly with messages from God, terrifying the recipients of the news. Mary had a surprise pregnancy, and Joseph agreed to the unplanned situation despite potential shame for their fledgling family. After they traveled to another town for bureaucratic reasons, they delivered their newborn son with only a manger for a cradle. Shepherds showed up without advance notice gushing about an encounter with a whole sky full of angels, and a star eventually led three wise men to worship the baby with extravagant gifts. The most unexpected part though: Jesus, fully God, became fully human to demonstrate his great love for us. 

The people in the Nativity narrative could not foresee any of the steps along their journey. Instead, they allowed God’s hopes and dreams for them to unfold in unexpected and glorious ways. Perhaps we might let go, just a little bit, of our desire to control everything about the holidays, about the future, about life, and in so doing make space to experience the unexpected. We might find our eyes open to God’s gifts of the unexpected and encounter the sacred wonder of God’s love. 


The Carter Family


Talking About Therapy

Photo credit: Riley Carter

“What did you do today?” my ten-year-old son Alex asked me after he got home from school on Tuesday. I told him about a few errands and then said, “I went to therapy.” He asked, “Was it good?” I hesitated. Therapy is good for me, but it can be tough in the moment. Alex sensed my uncertainty, so he asked, “Did you get out what you needed to get out?” I responded with a resounding, “yes.” Of that I was certain. I’d spent the time with my therapist talking about my recent anxieties and worries and even shed some tears. I had gotten my concerns off my chest and felt better because of it.  I didn’t tell Alex any of those details, but I knew he understood when he said, “then it was good.” 

He was right, it was good to unburden myself with a therapist that I trust. I’ve been fortunate to have two special counselors in different cities. I value my therapist’s advice and guidance. Just last month, after our family had our first-floor indoor walls and our ceiling painted, my asthma flared big time with all of the dust and fumes. But I kept going, powering through Thanksgiving week. By the time I arrived at therapy the week after, I was a mess, physically and emotionally. My therapist listened to my complaints and my cough all through tears and said, “sounds like your body is angry with you.” She explained that our physical condition and emotional states are tied together and when one suffers, the other does as well. She told me that I needed to go home, go to bed, and refuse to do anything but rest for the next couple of days. I protested because one of my boys had a basketball game that night, and I was worried about missing it. She reminded me that I go to most of the games, and it was okay to miss one. So, I followed her advice regarding rest and after a few days, I felt better both physically and emotionally. 

Looking back now, it seems so obvious: I was really sick and needed to take care of myself. But I couldn’t see it at the time even though my asthma has caused me to be sick like this before, even though physical illness has depleted me until my emotional health also suffers in the past. I foolishly felt virtuous for continuing to plow ahead despite my struggles. Sometimes, though, it takes someone else who knows us to point out how we are not taking care of ourselves. If we avoid mental health care when we need it, we are not truly taking care of ourselves. 

After I began writing this, we sadly learned of another celebrity, dancer Stephen “tWitch” Boss, who died from suicide. But there are so many people, celebrities or not, who suffer in silence and do not reach out for help. Perhaps it’s a result of lack of access or finances, but I fear that most do not seek help because of the stigma we still attach to mental health issues. As though we are weak because of chemical imbalances or pathetic because we travel through difficult times. Mental health care is health care, plain and simple. I beg of you, please seek out professional resources or people in your circle if you’re struggling. I promise people want to help you.  

In our immediate family, we believe in the value of therapy and medication that helps with anxiety and depression. We believe that we go more often to therapy when we’re having an especially hard time, but we also go for maintenance to manage our mental health stressors. It’s no different than managing my asthma with medication on a daily basis and ramping up the treatments when the symptoms are triggered by something extraordinary. There is no shame in pursuing help for our mental and emotional health. None. Life is hard. Let’s not suffer alone. Help is available, and seeking help is good.

Falling For Shared Joy


We are enjoying a lovely autumn here in North Texas. Of course, it’s December and was 80 degrees a couple days ago, but . . . Texas. Along with the emergence of Christmas decorations, we’ve watched the leaves turn bright oranges, reds, and yellows. Usually, our leaves turn brown and then fall off the trees without much fanfare, so it’s been quite noticeable. We may not rise to the level of a New England fall, but for us, it’s something new and exciting. Almost everyone I know has commented on how gorgeous the trees are this year. News articles have explained the weather combination that has produced this phenomenon, but the specifics are not important. The special part of this fall is that this brilliant display has created a moment in which we as a community have been stunned by beauty. 

Then it rained two nights this week because . . . Texas. Most, if not all, of the gorgeous leaves fell to the ground as a result of the strong winds and rain. My husband Ben raked for hours one day only to have the yard covered in leaves again the next morning. Now, everyone had a common complaint about the seemingly never-ending task of raking all the leaves. I think there’s value in expressing a shared frustration. We learn we aren’t alone because others feel the same way. We may find inventive ways to deal with the situation or comfort in the slog through the project. Venting to trusted friends or family can provide an emotional release that’s necessary to move forward. And move forward we must. It is so easy to be overwhelmed in the messiness of life but sharing our struggles can provide a path to better days unless we stay stuck in our complaining and mired in our misery.

While I think complaining actually can be a good thing, I loved the common feeling of appreciation we collectively felt when the leaves in their glorious colors were on full display. It felt almost magical. I don’t think we have enough opportunities to celebrate all together. Sometimes, we seem so divided, there feels like we have little hope of sharing in the same joys. Even at the holidays, when we’re called to focus on peace and love, there is so much hatred living in the world. We can become disheartened and hopeless. It can feel as though the discord is too heavy a burden, and we will never find solace in our communities. 

But maybe, we can watch for ways in which we can find commonality with others. Not that we should dismiss harmful behavior – we must continue to hold up that which is good and loving and condemn actions and words that produce hate. Perhaps though we can concentrate on that which draws people to love and light. Maybe it’s as simple as noticing the leaves or a beautiful sunset or a kind gesture and then bringing others’ attention to those things. Let us try to find ways to highlight common experiences that bring out the best in our humanity. Enjoying that connection with our fellow humans may create a little magic that lasts long beyond the moment and propels us into a better future.  

Home for the Holidays


My daughter Riley was home for Thanksgiving week for the first time since she started college in August. We were driving when the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” came on. Riley gasped and pointed at the radio. My initial thought was “hasn’t she heard this song before?” I play Christmas music the entire season, surely this was not the first time she’d heard it. But a second later, I realized that whether she’d heard the song before, she was now hearing the song in a new way. She was the one who would be back home for Christmas in just a few weeks. She loved the idea of being home for the holidays because she’d been gone for so long. 

I understood that feeling of hearing a song anew. Ben and I went to hear The Chicks’ concert in October. When they sang their hit “Wide Open Spaces,” everyone in the crowd sang along. I’d always associated with the girl in the song who was leaving home because the song came out around the time I left Arkansas for St. Louis to attend law school. The dad in the song reminds the daughter to “check the oil,” and my dad always checked the oil in my car. In the past, I’d always thought of my mom when they sang, “Mom stares out the window and says, ‘I’m leaving my girl.’ She said it didn’t seem like that long ago, when she stood there and let her own folks know she needed wide open spaces.” But this time, I’d switched roles. Now, I was the mother and Riley was the daughter who’d left home to start her adult adventures. I became teary because of the nostalgia of the song and the new emotions it evoked. 

I guess I shouldn’t have been caught off guard by my feelings about the song. I’d noticed my perspective shifting even before that. Two of the young married couples in our church had decided to move back to their home states. While I was sad for our loss as a church, I was excited for their mothers because their kids were moving home. Even though my youngest son is ten, I knew then that I no longer felt in sync with young couples or families who want or have young children. I’m happy for them but glad we are past that stage in life. 

Even though our views change over time, we often encounter a moment when we realize we’ve moved to a different phase of our lives. In the situations I’ve described, the changes are welcome, but often, we experience changes that are difficult. We age and so do the people we love. Good health is not guaranteed. Asking for help because of hardship or loss of independence is not easy to do. Those unwanted role shifts can be hard, and we may struggle to accept them. Yet when we realize our roles have changed in undesired ways, we cannot isolate and withdraw. We should turn to those who have helped sustain us in the past and look to them for support. I can almost guarantee that they would love to help. 

Let us celebrate the times when our roles change in good ways and reach out to our circle of loved ones when they shift in less welcomed ways. Especially during the holidays when not everyone can be home in the capacities they’ve once known, let’s remember to hold people close and love them in the roles they now embody.