For the past several weeks, I’ve been wanting to write here, but to no avail. Each time I sat down with ideas in mind –good ones even – the words wouldn’t come. I’d bang away on the keyboard for an hour or more and end up with nothing to show for it – just a bunch of half-formed paragraphs and half-baked ideas. I’d finally walk away, dissatisfied, but also certain that if the words weren’t coming, there was a reason for it.

About the same time in fact, the week before Advent started, my spiritual director asked me what I wanted from God for Christmas this year. With just a moment’s thought, I said:  Clarity. I want to know the next right step.

She then asked a more difficult follow up question:

What would you have to let go of in the coming weeks to make room to actually receive the clarity you want? What in you has to die, so that the Christ can be born?  

Oh, I thought, that is a harder question.

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Ready for our close up, Team Kirks comes together for the filming of our 2014 Christmas video.
Ready for our close up, Team Kirks comes together for the filming of our 2014 Christmas video.

Dear Friends –

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Cheers to the Winter Solstice!

For the last five years, our family has chosen to send out a Christmas video in lieu of a traditional card. It always seems like a good idea until I start receiving beautiful pictures and messages from across the country. The cards communicate so much joy and holiday perfection that it makes me want to disseminate pretty pictures of my family too, instead of posting a bizarre video on Youtube. As long as the Internet exists, so too does our foray into absurdity. However, as C.S. Lewis once said, “We are embarked” and for the other four members of my family, there is no going back. Every year, it takes patience, creativity, humor and teamwork. This year, it also took a little more trust, at least on my part.

As I age, I tend to feel ever more foolish during the filming process and critical of how I look in the final product. This year, it’s more ridiculous than ever. But as Tim wrapped up the editing process, and I began to fret about what people would think, I read a reflection from Richard Rohr, O.F.M., one of our favorite spiritual writers and advisors. It was about being a “holy fool.”

According to legend, every once in a while, St. Francis would do something really ridiculous to embarrass himself in front of the people of Assisi. He paraded down the street in nothing but his underwear. He played seesaw on the town fountain all day long. He spoke to animals loudly and without shame. He never wanted people to see him as “more” than he really was.

Obviously, I’m no saint, but I can learn from the quest of the “holy fool.”

When you are a “holy fool” you’ve stopped trying to look like something more than you really are. That’s when you know, as you eventually have to know, that we are all naked underneath our clothes, and we don’t need to pretend to be better than we are. I am who I am, who I am, who I am; and that creation, for some unbelievable reason, is who God loves, precisely in its uniqueness. My true identity and my deepest freedom comes from God’s infinite love for me, not from what people think of me or say about me….

If you watch this year’s Christmas video, or scroll through the past years, the characters in the videos aren’t the “real me,” but they aren’t any less me than the woman I am sweating at the gym, studying theology, or cooking dinner. The videos are simply the most embarrassing versions currently on film.

The real me is who I am as I am held by God in Love. When I remember that, it doesn’t matter what kind of “fool” people take me to be and I have the courage to hit the Send button to my Christmas card list (and ultimately to all of you).

If I were going to say anything about my family, beyond what you can see in the video, it is this: I am proud they have the confidence to be “fools” for at least one more year. From Tim to Molly, they know who they are and they know they are loved. What more could a mom ask for?

I hope that over the next two weeks, there are more times of joy and peace than sadness and stress and that somehow, at some time, you get to play the “holy fool” and experience the freedom it brings.

Team Kirks Christmas 2014  – “Give It Away Now”

In case you have time on your hands and want to watch some old foolishness, you can click on these links to see past years’ folly.

Team Kirks Christmas 2013  – “Sabotage”

Team Kirks Christmas 2012 – “So What You Want”

Team Kirks Christmas 2011 – “Carol of the Bells”

Team Kirks Christmas 2010 – “Merry Christmas, Yo”

December 5, 2014

Christmas is only a few short weeks away. Nineteen days to prepare, shop, bake and decorate. I was blown away at how quickly everyone got their Christmas stuff out and up and displayed on Instagram and Facebook last weekend. The turkey carcass from Thanksgiving dinner was still warm by the time the lights were on the tree. I’m not criticizing! I admire an ability to work on a full stomach. It’s just not the way I work.

I tend to put the Christmas cheer on a slow burn, much to Molly’s dismay. There have been years where the tree isn’t even bought until the 20th. Presents are kept in closets and cubbyholes until I get around to wrapping them on the 23rd. Some of this delay is simply practical. December is the busiest month of the year for Tim at the surf shop. My semester ends mid-December and I am inundated with finals and papers to grade. The kids are typically in school until the third week. Throw in a couple soccer tournaments, Christmas parties and holiday events and who has the time to decorate?

This year, most of those factors still exist, but more so than ever, I find myself holding back from the Christmas “spirit.” Instead, I’m immersing myself in Advent and the mystery of the Incarnation. If I could, I would wrap my house in deep purple. It would stay dark and candle-lit and smell like pine needles. I would transport us to the top of a snowy mountain where we could sit quietly and reflect on what it means to give birth to Christ in and through our very selves. Of course, Tim and the kids would hightail it out of there the first chance they got, hopping on toboggans to the nearest gingerbread village they could find.

My December dream house


Trying to keep them away from the joy of December, Christmas carols and cookies is more Grinch than Mother Mary, so decorating, baking and singing will commence tomorrow morning. I hate to hold back anybody’s good time, but in my own quiet time, in my reading, writing, and meditating, I am going to hold on to the mystery of the Incarnation that is pressing so deeply on my heart these days.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus was born from and through Mary, but the Christ is born in each of us, over and over again, throughout time and across every continent, in every gender and age, regardless of purity, sanctity or professed faith tradition. All is takes is a willing heart.

Every act of Love is an act of incarnation.

God is Love and Christ is the physical manifestation of God, so whenever we Love, truly, actively and deeply, we are bringing Christ to the world. God is incarnated through us.

Mary said Yes to giving birth to Jesus, because she Loved God. She trusted that God’s Love would sustain her through the shame and pain and instability the Incarnation would cause her. The result, she was assured, would be something wondrous, greater than anything the world had ever known. Love like this, in flesh and blood, would change everything.

Let’s be brave like Mary this time of year. Instead of going nonstop, let’s wait. Let’s sit quietly in our homes sometimes, maybe for a few minutes in the evening by the light of our tree, maybe with a cup of tea on our couch in the morning. Let’s be still and listen for where God is asking us to bring Love into the world through our own flesh and blood.

With God, who knows what that request will look like?


DIY-Christmas-Gift-Wrapping-Ideas-Button-Gift-Wrap-Creative-Gift-Wrapping-IdeasWith Christmas rapidly approaching, this will probably be my last post before the holiday. I write and wonder how you all are doing. Is your tree up, with lights and ornaments? Are all your presents purchased? Are any wrapped? Have you baked those cookies you plan to deliver to friends and neighbors?

My own answer to those questions would be no, no, not yet and most certainly no, which is pretty typical for the Kirkpatrick family. Between owning a retail business and working in education (me and the kids), the season doesn’t really feel festive until the shop is closed, school’s out and grades are in. We try to get in the spirit early, but meh – the 20th is when we start gearing up for fun.

Tim and the kids are always great about asking me what I want for Christmas and I always have ideas: boots, clothes, perfume, massages, a vacuum. This year though the Universe sent me a little holiday gift and I didn’t ask for it and it wasn’t what I wanted. It came wrapped up in a book with a sky-blue cover and a little red heart on it by Brene Brown called The Gifts of Imperfection

Sweet title, sweet book, I thought. I was wrong. It is heavy-duty stuff about shame and worthiness, fear, faith and authenticity. I was getting through it though, until I got to page 55 and a chapter called, “Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism.”  I almost skipped that one, because I am not a perfectionist. I have plenty of compassion for myself. I eat dessert every night. I draw myself hot bubble baths of a regular basis. When I’m just not feeling up to the challenge, I have no problem leaving the house looking like a wreck. However, I read on to see if there were any bits of self-love I was leaving on the table.

I wish I hadn’t. I started to read the chapter and within a page or two, my face started to flush, my heart beat faster. I pressed on, hoping it would go away, but it didn’t. Instead, I added nausea to my list of symptoms, as highlighter and pencil lead flew across the page, marking up sentence after sentence. As she described one perfectionist tendency after another, I became more and more mortified. The worst part was that I was totally unprepared! Like any good perfectionist, I hate to be caught off-guard, unaware, or uninformed about anything, especially my own personal business!

There were two things she clarified that struck me especially.

Perfectionism is not the same as striving to be your best. It is not self-improvement.

“Um, yes it is,” I thought, until she explained: Rather, perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfect, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame. Self-improvement is about moving in the right direction and I work hard at that, but apparently, people with my problem think that if we do everything right, improve enough, we will never feel those things. Those experiences (blame, judgment, shame) are for other people, so instead of taking the risk of doing big things imperfectly, we tend to do less than we are capable of.

Brown calls this life paralysis;

it’s all the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. It’s all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes and disappointing others. It’s terrifying to risk when you’re a perfectionist; your self worth is on the line.

I read these ideas and thought of all the book ideas I have stashed in my files, the thousands of pages of written, and unedited work on my computer, the hundreds of speaking leads sitting in a database on my desk, and the teaching job that pays me less than I could make at Starbucks. I live out a perfectionist’s paradox: I might be capable of more, but I’m too afraid to find out I’m not. Instead, I stay where I am, tucked away in my tiny little corner of the world, blogging from my cheetah-print armchair, looking out of my bedroom window at the blue sky and waiting for my family to come home.

Brown names the gifts of imperfection as courage, compassion and connection. I want to experience more of those, but first, I need to accept the gift of imperfection, the simple ability to forgive myself and move on when I make mistakes, instead of feeling like a failure. I need to not just dream big, but actually work on making those dreams come true, despite my fear of ridicule. 

My friend Leslie recently asked me to name a word for 2014. Fearlessness, I said, without hesitation, but the only way I can work on that is to first unwrap the gift of imperfection. Imperfections are not inadequacies, Brown writes, and to believe that would set me free. 


Dear Readers:

This month, my husband Tim is trying to support me in my endeavor to be more still, more present, more aware and more in love.

To that end, he offered to write a blog post for me. He’s offered in the past, in a half-joking way, but this time I actually took him up on it, much to his surprise and immediate consternation. However, he did it and I think he did it pretty darn well. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the musing of my better half.

First Time/ This Time

I am not a very cultured person. I spend far too much time watching sports and Seinfeld re-runs, and far too little time reading good books or poetry. There is not a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from NBA games or from Jerry, George, Elaine, & Kramer. So I’ll take it where I can get it, and I seem to get most of it from song lyrics and movies.

Which brings me to U2. Bono’s song lyrics are about as close as I get to reading poetry. I’m not sure where he’d rank amongst the all-time greats, like Robert Frost or E.E. Cummings , or any of the other famous poets that I’ve heard of but have never read, but it seems to me like he’s knows what he’s doing.

One of my favorite lines is from a song called “Vertigo.”

         a feeling so much

         stronger than a thought

Often, Bono’s words have a way of pulling me out of myself and opening me up, allowing something to sneak in through the side door and change my perspective.

Recently I was feeling like I was in a bit of a funk. I have been in one of those “glass half empty” modes for the past couple weeks, months, years, decades (who are we kidding?). I have recently come to accept that, unfortunately, this is my default setting. And although I am aware of my blessings (my wife, my kids, my health, my friends & extended family, my business… the list could go on & on) I spend much more time and energy focused on the things that aren’t quite “right” (the recession, finances, my kid’s behavior, my favorite team’s ineptitude, Homeland Season 3…). The list could go on & on.

I know I am blessed, but I don’t really feel it. And as Bono reminds me, a feeling is stronger than a thought.

This is my ongoing struggle: feeling what I know to be true. Because when I feel it, everything changes. Everything is… better.

“Vertigo’s” lyrics were ricocheting around inside my head when I was trying to find something to watch on TV the other night. As chance would have it (or maybe it’s a combination of divine intervention + the rapidly approaching holiday season), an oldie but a goodie was just starting: Love, Actually (a semi-cheesy, romantic comedy from the 90’s starring Hugh Grant and a bunch of other English people). I’d seen this movie when it came out, and a couple of times since, and always thought it was pretty decent: funny, clever, and sweet, with good looking actors and witty writing. What’s not to like?

The movie opens with montage of reunion scenes at Heathrow Airport, with a voice-over from Hugh Grant, one of the main characters:

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love, actually, is all around.”

Now I don’t want to mix metaphors here (or whatever you call it when you reference a different movie in the middle of your story which happens to be about another movie. Cue final scene of Jerry McGuire) but Hugh Grant had me at: “love, actually, is all around.”

With his opening line, he had me. “Love is all around,” I thought. “It’s everywhere.”

For the next couple hours, I re-watched this movie and found myself in tears for most of it. I’m not exactly sure why, as the movie isn’t particularly sad. I think it’s because I was opened up and I was seeing it from a different vantage point.

Sometimes, I think, the major themes in stories elude me the first time through, probably because I am too wrapped up in the plot and how things are resolved. But this time through, I think I finally picked up what the filmmakers were laying down. This time through, I noticed things I had never noticed before.

The first time I saw this movie, I noticed all of the “typical” love stories that were about romantic love. This time, I noticed all of the other kinds of love that were happening between all sorts of different humans.

There is love between siblings: Sarah, played by Laura Linney, chooses to love her brother, who lives in a mental institution, even though it costs her opportunities to pair up with the good looking dude from her office, and will undoubtedly cost her similar opportunities down the road. But she is committed to him and she prioritizes her decision to love him over her own desires. Ali and I often tell our kids there’s difference between love, the verb, and love, the emotion. The emotion fades in and out, and sometimes love is hard. And in those times when it’s hard, you have to choose it. Sarah chooses it, again and again and again.

  • The first time through, I noticed Sarah’s love for the hot dude from her office. This time through, I noticed her love for her brother.

There is love between a father and his step son: the father (Liam Neeson), whose wife has recently died, notices that his step son is acting strange, so he pulls himself out of his own sadness to try to help the boy. When it turns out that the boy claims to be in love with a girl at school, rather than laughing it off or telling the boy that love will only leave you heartbroken, he decides to help him get the girl. He participates in the love story of the boy, and won’t let him give up.

Near the end of the movie, when the girl is about to get on a plane back to America, he gives him one last push:

“Sam, you’ve got nothin’ to lose, and you’ll always regret it if you don’t! I never told your mom enough. I should have told her every day because she was perfect every day. You’ve seen the films, kiddo. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

The boy replies, with the most flawless line in the entire movie:

“Okay, Dad. Let’s do it. Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.”

  • The first time through, I noticed the cute story about the boy’s puppy love. This time through, I noticed the father’s love.

There is love between friends: the creepy old singer realizes at the end of the movie that “the love of his life” turns out to be his chubby manager.

“And I realized that, as dire chance and… and… and fateful cockup would have it, here I am, mid-50s, and without knowing it I’ve gone and spent most of my adult life with a… with a chubby employee. And… and much as it grieves me to say it, it… it might be that the people I love is, in fact… you.”

He wasn’t coming out of the closet, he simply realized that it was Christmas, and it occurred to him that you are supposed to be with the people you love on Christmas, and the person he loved most in the world was his manager.

  • The first time through, I noticed the creepy old dude’s love for himself and his career comeback attempt. This time through, I noticed a sweet, older person having a life-altering epiphany.

Of course, there is also romantic love. Between the prime minister and his secretary. Between the sweet young couple that works on the adult movie set. Between the young, single English dude and the Midwestern American girls he meets on vacation. But my favorite love story in the movie is between the writer and the housekeeper.

The writer, played by Colin Firth, is English. When he goes to France to work on his book, he meets a Portuguese housekeeper who comes to clean his cottage every day. They do not speak the same language, and have a tough time communicating. But they slowly begin to fall in love.

It’s easy to see the story on the surface and jump to logical conclusions: boy meets her, girl is young & beautiful, girl is in maid’s costume, girl can’t nag boy because she doesn’t speak English…  therefore boy falls in love with girl.

On the flipside: girl meets boy, girl makes minimum wage as a housekeeper and comes from low-income background, boy is an awkward, lanky nerd, but is also very rich and seems like a nice guy…  therefore girl falls in love with boy.

But underneath the surface, I saw two people who couldn’t rely on words to communicate, so they had to find different ways. So they communicated with eye contact, and with gestures, and with kindnesses, and with their reactions to things that happened (like when the wind blows his entire manuscript into the lake and she jumps in to try to gather up all of the wet, ruined pages).

It occurred to me that their true selves were falling in love with each other, and that if they had been able to speak, the words would have only gotten in the way. Words have a tendency to do that sometimes.

  • The first time through, I noticed a typical “falling-in-love story,” the most typical of them all, where physical attraction kicks in and people are powerless to stop it. This time through, I noticed a pure love story, where two people’s souls were able to fall in love because words weren’t available to screw it up.

By the time the credits started to roll at the end of the movie, I felt different. I was in love. In love with my wife. In love with my kids. In love with my friends, and my family, I was in love with pretty much everybody. And I was feeling it, not just thinking it. And I think I remember hearing somewhere that feelings are stronger than thoughts.

How long will this feeling last? I don’t know, but I assume it will fade, and my default setting will be restored. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy this feeling, enjoy that my glass is, not only half full, but overflowing.

Like I said at the beginning, I’m not very cultured. My life lessons are delivered via pop music and cheesy rom-coms. I should have also mentioned that I’m not very smart. I had to see this movie four or five times before the light bulb went on. But at least it finally went on. Love is, actually, all around us. All we have to do is notice it, choose it, participate in it, and be changed by it.

Thank you, Bono. I love you, man!

On your mark, get set, GO!!!!

For me, the 2013 holiday season has begun like an event in the Olympic Games of Stress, hosted by my least favorite city,  Crazytown USA. Perhaps it was the late Thanksgiving date and over-hyped Black Friday, or the 800-mile car trip we took over the last four days to visit family in Northern California . Perhaps it’s the week ahead and the ten papers I have to grade, the three soccer games for one kid, the four days of practice for another, the two days of auditions for the third, or the one out of town 40th birthday party coming up on Friday night. Perhaps it’s my mounting anxiety about the presents I haven’t bought, the Christmas card we haven’t created and the last time Tim and I had a date night and any intimate conversation.

I know it can be helpful to make a list of things you have to do, but just writing those sentences sent my heart racing, and not in a good way (except that last item).

Because I was feeling behind, I broke my general rule about shopping on Sundays, and went out early to check a couple things off my list. I came home and decided to do anything humanly possible to avoid shopping on future weekends in December. No matter what I can accomplish, or purchase, it can’t be worth what the experience brings out in me. While I didn’t actually spray mace, elbow people out of the way, or come to blows over a parking space, the truth is I wanted to and that scares me.

I’m taking it as a sign that I’m not quite on track to really mean it when I wish friends and strangers a “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays” and I figure I can’t be the only one.

Though much of my Catholic guilt has fallen by the wayside, there is one tradition I cherish and I think it might help me out here. It is called the season of Advent and it begins today and lasts for the next three Sundays before Christmas. While Christmas is a time of celebrating, Advent is a time of preparing.

Here is a short video explaining the Advent season. It’s only two minutes long.

When I watched it this morning upon my return from Crazytown, I found myself breathing easier. I remembered that I don’t have to be joyful yet. I’m preparing to be joyful. I don’t have to be ready. I am getting ready. I don’t have to be done. December is just beginning. There is time, even when I’m feeling rushed. There is space, even when my heart is cramped. There is love, even when I am doing my best hard-hearted, Grinch impersonation.

The only way to prepare for Christmas is to make the time and space for Love to appear and I already know how to do that. It’s what I’ve been working on the last couple years on a daily basis. When Love feels far away, I go for a walk in the early morning. I make the time to sit in silence, or read a good book. I write in my journal, hug my children and hold Tim’s hand. I listen to beautiful music, have a cup of tea, or enjoy a glass of wine with a friend (as opposed to tossing one back out of necessity).

I think that is how I will try to prepare for Christmas this year. I will try to anticipate what is ahead of me, without letting it rob me of the moment I am in right now.

Time + Space = Love 

I’ll keep you posted on how I do. grinch

During this season of joyful noise and celebrating, shopping and baking, my Christmas gift to you is silence.

There is so much to be done this time of year, so many things vying for your time and resources. When I thought about what I would like for Christmas, I knew it would be less – less of everything – and so I thought the kindest thing I could do is not add my too-many words to your already busy schedule. We are taking a couple weeks off, but let me leave you with this image.

Christmas collageOur house looks like Buddy, the elf, came and decorated. Kiko and Finn think it’s a little much, but Molly G is in heaven. She sleeps in her Santa hat and her snowflake footie pajamas. She turns on every twinkly light in the house whenever she walks in the door. Whether it’s too much or just right, I don’t care. Her Christmas energy could power a small city and I know it won’t last forever. I am savoring her enthusiasm and joy.

To balance out the Christmas crazy, I sit still by our tree in the silence of the early mornings. I center myself in Love and remember the best Advent advice I’ve ever heard:

Be a womb.

It’s the only way Love can be born. IF we can be open to something new, IF we can bear the growing pains that come from being stretched beyond our comfort zones, IF we can promise not to rush people and circumstances into what we want them to be, instead letting them gradually become who and what they are meant to be, IF we can do all this, we will bring Love into the world.

That is my goal for the next month: to be a womb, a warm, safe, life-giving place where Love is born.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas collage

“Be a womb” is courtesy of Loretta Ross-Gotta from her essay “To Be a Virgin.”

If you do want more words, I have a few excellent suggestions.

The first is an sermon called “Pregnant Old Ladies and Other Signs that God’s Story is Better Than the One We Tell Ourselves,” by the lovely and amazing Nadia Bolz-Weaver.

Occupy Advent is on Facebook and they are delivering a daily dose of inspiration, which is witty, irreverent and spiritual. I am so glad I “liked” their page.

I curled up in my bed a couple weeks ago and watched a movie called Sarah’s Key. The movie was good and I’ve heard that the book is excellent, though I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. As the movie begins, the narrator is writing a letter to her daughter and she says,

Sometimes if a story is never told, it becomes something else, forgotten. 

Obviously, I loved that line, because I think of myself as a storyteller. I think that sharing our stories is the most powerful way we have to learn about the world and how to be in it. I put that line away in my memory, happy that another author had captured the way I feel.

But as I was opening Christmas cards this week, I came across one that jogged the memory of that line and I thought it was a story that should not be forgotten. Among the usual assortment of polished photos and professional printing jobs, I opened one card and was immediately brought to tears. There was a picture in this one as well, a multigenerational family photo. Everyone had a huge smile, except for the matriarch of this crew. She was looking sideways, away from the camera lens, and if you didn’t know better, you’d think that the photographer had just caught her by surprise. But I know better. I know how that woman would have had a brilliant smile directed at that camera, beaming with pride if she had any choice in the matter. But she doesn’t. She’s forgotten her story. This beautiful woman, loving mother of 6 children, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 57, and over the last 10 years, she’s forgotten most, if not all of her story.

This is the story I wish she still knew, the story I would tell her.

“Peggy, you are the sweetest woman I ever knew. I remember coming to your house throughout my childhood, after school, for Sunday dinners and youth group meetings. A hug from you was like being embraced by an angel on earth. It held all the promise of heaven, but allowed for the realities of the day. Your devotion to your husband and affection for your children was a model to me of the kind of wife and mother I wanted to be. In your hallway, you had a wall of portraits, 8x10s of your kids’ school and prom pictures. It was a proud moment for me when I made it up on that Wall of Fame as your only son’s senior prom date. At one point while washing dishes in your kitchen, your son and I promised to marry each other if we were still single at the old age of 30. We weren’t, but I might have waited, just to become your daughter-in-law. In your own words, it would have been ‘the best.’ Everything you loved, everyone you met, was simply ‘the best,’ said with a clap of your hands. And it didn’t matter how many times I heard you say it about everything from trash bags to TV shows, when you said it about me, I believed you.

You raised 6 wonderful children, who are raising wonderful children. You have lived a beautiful story Peggy and when it’s over, I know you will rediscover all the parts that you missed and love every bit of it.”

The movie, Sarah’s Key, ends with these words:

So I write this for you, my daughter, with a hope that one day when you’re old enough, this story that lives with me will live with you as well. When a story is told, it is not forgotten; it becomes something else: a memory of who we were, the hope of what we can become.

I write this thinking of her 5 daughters and son, with their big brown eyes and radiant smiles, knowing that her story lives on in them. I write this knowing that contemplating that Christmas card was like hearing Peggy’s story all over again, reminding me of who I was in her eyes and who I hoped to become, someone who would always be ‘the best,’ at least to her.

PostScript: Thinking about this family’s story prompted me to look at all of the Christmas cards I’ve received in a new light. Each one captures a moment in time, the story a family is trying to tell at this point in their lives. Some are glamorous; some are more realistic, but none of them want to be forgotten. I think I will take a little more time to look at them this year, to remember the stories we’ve shared over the years together. And if there is one that needs to be retold, one that helped me become who I hoped to be, like Peggy’s, I am not going to be afraid to share it, so that it won’t be forgotten. I hope you find the time and the courage to do the same.

I wrote last month about my addiction to sweeping, but if you didn’t get to read my confessional, you can check it out in my November archives. But sweeping isn’t my only addiction. I have an even better fix when it comes to facing the challenges the world throws at me. Maybe I shouldn’t call this one an addiction, though I think of it as such. It’s not a behavior that I could get rid of, even if I wanted to, which I don’t, but it is something worth confessing.

I am addicted to joy.big be joyous

I am addicted to seeing the bright side of things, the silver lining, the best in a bad situation. Somewhere deep in my DNA, the cosmos embedded a gene that made me an eternal optimist. While other people might say, “You can’t put lipstick on a pig,” I say “Watch me,” but don’t blame me if you end up wanting to kiss it. I am sure that my intractable tendency to joy is both endearing and frustrating to the people I know, especially my pessimistic husband, Tim. It may be one of the traits that he fell in love with, but it is also one of the things that has caused the most arguments in our household as well. I think his realistic point of view can be depressing, but sometimes he feels like he’s married to Mary Poppins. I have to admit that I agree with her theory. If a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, then I say, “Bottoms up!”

I think optimism and joy need to be defended sometimes. They are too often seen as naïve, or immature emotions. But they are not the same as being oblivious to the sorrows of world, or mere shallowness. A true optimist is fully aware of the painful realities of life, but they are equally aware of the potential within each of those realities for growth, for transformation, for a positive outcome. If you trust in the existence of goodness within each person, or each problem, you call it forth by that your very belief in its presence. You can’t see something that you don’t believe in, so I think it’s a loss when we focus too much on reality, or what we think we know about life. We might lose our ability to affect the very outcome we most desire.

As you can imagine, Christmas is a wonderful time of year for people like me. It’s as if everyone finally catches on to what we’ve been saying all along. It may take you eleven months out of twelve every year, but we don’t get discouraged. We know it’s possible. We know that eventually we’ll all get on the same page. Peace! Hope! Joy! Love! We aren’t picky about what holiday you celebrate: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or even just New Years Day! Give yourself some time and space to believe it’s all going to be okay and it just might work out that way.

I’ve taken some heat over the years for my Pollyanna way of looking at the world, but I hope it’s something I never lose, not just because it makes my life better, but because I’ve been told it does the same for the lives of those around me. Henri Nouwen had this to say about joy, “ Real joy always wants to share. It belongs to the nature of joy to communicate itself to others and to invite others to take part in the gifts we have received.”

I hope over the next two weeks, as we head into the home stretch of the holiday season, that you find yourself in the company of someone joyful and that the joyful person is you. I hope that true optimism fills your heart and soul, not ignoring the truth of the past year’s struggles, or losses, nor the challenges of the months ahead, but believing in the possibility of goodness, love, joy and peace. Making space for those realities can make the best of any bad situation.

I’ve had a crazy last week and with the Christmas holidays rapidly approaching, it doesn’t feel like things will be getting better any time soon. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we had a nine-hour drive home from the San Francisco Bay area. On Sunday, I hit the ground running with a pre-dawn trip to the market, so we would have milk and bagels for breakfast. From there, I was on to laundry, creating an African tribal mask for Finn’s 7th grade history class, and following up on all of the homework that had ‘accidentally’ gotten left at home over vacation. After working from home on Monday and Tuesday, I headed out of town for three nights to work at my company’s Orange County office, leaving my sick husband and three kids in the care of my mother-in-law, who was thankfully visiting us from Montana.

I screeched into the driveway on Friday morning in enough time to drive carpool, and to shop and prep for a special event we were hosting at our own business on Friday night. Drinks, desserts and door prizes at “Ladies Night Out” at Wavelines! Come one and come all to shop for Christmas. Life was all good, all fine, all (mostly) under control, but as Tim and I got ready Saturday morning to head out to Molly’s soccer game in San Ysidro, just a ½ mile from the Mexican border, I leaned into him and sighed.

“Do you know what I want for Christmas?” I asked him.

“Do you know what I can afford?” he countered.

“Perfect,” I said, “ It won’t cost you a thing. I just want a button I can push that will stop the world and everyone in it for about 1 month…”

“You mean, like a vacation?” He interrupted, “A sabbatical, where you disappear for a month? I could maybe give you two or three days, but…”

“No, honey, like magic. Like everything in the world stops, except for me, like a bad episode of “Bewitched.” No one else moves and I can just scurry around and get caught up on everything, more than caught up, ahead even!” I pictured myself baking dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies, cleaning the house from top to bottom, including the closets, writing 50 pages for the book I’m dreaming of, having time to go to the gym, the movies and the beach for a surf, guilt-free.

He’s such a man. He suggested that I skip Molly’s soccer game and get some work done. Three hours versus thirty days…

Close enough, right?

But the thing is that I really wanted to go to Molly’s soccer game. Going to a soccer game, especially after being out of town for work that week, felt like the most important thing I could do that day, even though there was not a single Christmas present bought, or card sent.  I wanted to be fully present to my daughter for that hour, to share in her triumph or defeat, her grin when she made a good play, or the slump of her shoulders if she felt like she let her team down. I wanted to drive away from my chores, my laptop, the big box of work under my desk. I wanted to be out in the winter sunshine, cheering like a maniac with my phone nowhere in sight.

So I did. And it was glorious.

And when I got home, it was back to the drawing board. Laundry, dinner, sweeping, writing, life. Finally, I pulled myself away and got in a hot bath around 7, with the promise of a movie with Tim at 8. The kids were happily watching TV downstairs, and I was content. Tim hadn’t been able to get me that magic button I asked for (yet), but somehow I had found the button inside, the one that paused me. I already have access to the button that makes me stop, and I know it’s the only one I am ever going to get. I curled up next to him and we started to watch our film, but after 10 minutes, he thought it was too depressing and went downstairs. Oh well, it was time to get the kids into bed anyway.

So I walked downstairs and back into the firestorm of my life. I thought of the 6:30 am wake up call that was coming for Molly’s game on the border the next day and knew I’d better gather all the bits of her uniform right now. And I thought of the orange slices I had better cut and the socks I had better Febreeze. I thought of the pile of laundry that was still sitting in the dryer waiting to be folded. I reminded Keara, my 14-year-old, to practice her piano, which led to a tense conversation about the rights and responsibilities of parents’ to direct their children’s lives. I was so keyed up by the time that 30 minutes were through that I had to clean off my desk just to get my emotions under control. Have I mentioned before that I soothe myself by cleaning?

By the time I rejoined Tim upstairs where he had escaped to after he kissed the kids goodnight, another hour had passed and he felt badly that he had ever let me go back downstairs at all. I think he was googling “How to stop the world for a busy mom,” but he wasn’t having any luck. I shook my head at him, and sat down to write.

I am the only one who can choose to get off this merry-go-round, because I know it won’t stop. Things will get done, or they won’t, by my choice and my limitations. And that’s okay. As I write this, late on Saturday night, I plan on pushing the button again tomorrow. I am leaving my house at 8 and won’t be back until 2pm. Christmas lights be damned! I am going to watch my little girl run up and down the sidelines, defending her goal with all her might. I’ll invite Tim to lay his head in my lap and take a nap between games on the sideline grass. I hope to challenge a passel of nine-year-old girls to a game of BS and lose on purpose, just to hear them giggle. Those are the kinds of experiences I gain when I lose sight of what I should be doing. I may not be able to do it all the time, but after tonight, I realize how important it is that I do it at all.