Monday, November 30, 2009

Creating Peace during the Holidays

For many, Christmas is the most stress-filled time of the year. We try to find the perfect gifts for our loved ones and friends, work hard to decorate our homes, and attend and host Christmas parties. It’s easy to lose the sweet spirit of Christmas, which celebrates the life of a baby whom was born in a humble manager and of a Man who had no earthly possessions and lived with power, simplicity, and pure love.

Consider the following ideas to make your Christmas more peaceful this year.

1. Focus on the simple beauties of the season.

Take time to savor the beauties of nature, the glorious Christmas music, and the feelings of compassion that accompany the season. Our favorite family tradition is going to a sing-along of “The Messiah” the day after Thanksgiving. The melodies and words of the music remind us of the true meaning of Christmas: celebrating the birth of a Child who we remember as “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

2. Simplify your expectations.

After my father was permanently disabled after a car accident, he was no longer able to work full-time. I discovered as a child, that Christmas can be peaceful and happy even when gift-giving is greatly reduced. Although I love to give presents to those I love, I do not need to receive gifts to make me happy at Christmas. Perhaps my childhood taught me that.

What can you simplify this year to make your Christmas more peaceful? Can you decorate or bake less? Can you spend less money and spend more time enjoying your family and friends? Can you meditate daily on the Miracle, who offers peace and goodwill to all who follow Him?

3. Create peace-filled traditions.

Last year on Christmas Eve, our entire family wrote a love note to each family member, and then we placed the notes in a simple box. It is my favorite Christmas gift ever! Some families carol at nursing homes. Others volunteer at food bank or buy gifts for needy families. Any tradition that enhances our love for others makes Christmas memorable and meaningful.

4. Celebrate the reason for the season.

Jesus, who lived a pure and sinless life, offers peace to those who love Him more than they love the world. As we remember that He loves us infinitely and that we are His children, we can find peace during the holiday season—and throughout the year.

Handel reminds us, “[Christ] shall feed his flock like a shepherd; and he shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Come unto [Him], all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and [He shall] give you rest. Take [his] yoke upon you, and learn of [Him]; for [he is] meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For his yoke is easy and his burden is light.”

May you find peace and comfort during the coming weeks.

© Carol Brown

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gratitude for Things We Don't Have

As we consider our blessings, we can be thankful for things we don’t have. My friend, Beth, a paraplegic, taught me this concept. She often told me we was grateful we wasn't any sicker than she was, and her trials were difficult. Every time I remember someone who is starving, abused, or suffering, I thank God that I have plenty of food to eat, live in a peaceful home, and can usually manage my pain with a couple of ibuprofen tablets.

I'm grateful I don't have to trek out to an outhouse in my backyard, that I don't have to walk a couple of hundred miles to see a doctor, and that I don't have to heat my water on the stove every time I want to bathe.

I'm grateful I don't have bipolar schizo-affective disorder--that I don’t see monsters invading my home, believe I no longer need to pay my bills because Donny Osmond has married me, and think that my car engine is trying to attack me every time I drive as my niece does.

I’m grateful that if I speak at a city council meeting, vote, or place a political sign in my yard during the election, I don't have to suffer reprisals. I’m thankful that government officials don’t decide when to turn on the heat in my home and that I’m dont' have to live amid genocide or guerilla warfare.

I’m glad I don’t have to stand in line for four hours to enter a library (as our foreign exchange student, Gor, did, who lived in Hong Kong) and that I can check out thirty books at a time. I’m happy that I don’t have to drink contaminated water or eat disease-ridden food. I’m grateful that elementary and secondary students don't have to pay high fees for their education.

I’m thankful that I don’t have cystic fibrosis, bone cancer, or progressive multiple sclerosis. I praise God that I’m not blind from macular degeneration or paralyzed from a spinal cord injury. I’m glad I don’t have to use a walker, guide dog, or oxygen tank to make it through the day even though I am grateful they are available for those who need them.

As we celebrate not only our blessings but our lack of particular burdens, we recognize that our glass isn’t only full, but it is overflowing. We can praise God who gave us the greatest gift of all, His Beloved Son, so that that we don't have to live forever with sin and death. As we celebrate the blessings we have and the adversities we don't have, I rejoice with Paul,“Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.”

© Carol Brown

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Counting our Blessings

The season of thanksgiving invites us to reflect on our many blessings—large and small. As we remember the many gifts that God has given us, we experience greater peace and joy in life. Let’s consider a few blessings that are easy to take for granted:

• Each breath that we take

• Clean water to drink (1.1 billion people lack access to safe water)

• Nutritious food to eat (2/3 of the world’s population are either starving or underfed; do we truly appreciate the farmers, truckers, clerks, and all others who make food available to us?)

• Libraries to visit and books to read (many in the world can’t read or lack access to books)

• A warm home (over 1 billion people in the world lack suitable shelter)

• Opportunities to learn and serve

• Being able to walk, talk, see, smell, and touch (My friend, Beth, taught me to be so much how precious these blessings are; cancer had destroyed a portion of her spinal column, and she endured indescribable suffering with grace and courage for 27 years.)

Melodie Beattie wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

As a mother, nothing makes me happier than when my children express gratitude to me for things I’ve done for them. May we thank our Father for the bounties of life, for truly every good thing we enjoy is a gift from Him.

© Carol Brown

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Simple Joys of Gratitude

I enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving which invites us to celebrate the blessings we enjoy. My friend Rosemary tapes a large poster to the wall of her foyer and then invites all who enter her home to write down one of their blessings. By Thanksgiving the poster is covered with blessings—large and small—that her friends and family appreciate.

A Facebook trend this year is so post one blessing you appreciate for each day of November. As I read the posts, I feel more gratitude for the gifts that can be easily taken for granted.

Besides reflecting on our blessings or keeping a gratitude journal, think of all the fun ways you can express thanks:

• Write down 10—or 100—things you love about a friend or family member and include the list in a cheerful card.

• Write a thank-you note to your neighbor, spouse, child, loved one, or parent.

• Post a positive phrase or two on your friends’ Facebook pages.

• Mail a letter to a political or religious leader, telling them what they are doing well.

• Thank your waiter, maid, barber, or beautician for exception service with a generous tip and a kind word.

Research shows that feeling and expressing gratitude improves our mental and physical health. My experience shows that a spirit of thankfulness increases our peace of mind and enhances the simple joys of living. It is a gift we give to ourselves along with others.

Thanks so much for reading this blog and a special thanks for your kind and gracious comments. I appreciate each one of you. You allow me to pursue my passion, which is learning and writing.

© Carol Brown

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Give Yourself Permission to Live Peacefully

Sometimes we place too many burdens on ourselves and do not give ourselves permission to live peacefully. IDEO, a design and innovation firm in Palo Alto, California, created orange tickets that give the recipient ten minutes of free play. They passed these tickets out on their Caltrain ride to San Francisco and received mixed results. Many people seemed delighted with the free gift while others appeared more skeptical.

We don’t need to receive a ticket to give ourselves permission to seek after peace. Ask yourself, What can I do that would allow me to experience more serenity, simplicity, and harmony is my life?

In her Abundance Blog, Marelisa writes that she will:

1. I give myself permission to rest.
2. I give myself permission to laugh.
3. I give myself permission to play.
4. I give myself permission to make mistakes.
5. I give myself permission to say “no” to demands on my time that are simply draining.
6. I give myself permission to say “yes” to what I want.
7. I give myself permission to fulfill my lifelong dreams.
8. I give myself permission to ask for what I want.
9. I give myself permission to be who I am.
10. I give myself permission to try again.
11. I give myself permission to have fun.
12. I give myself permission to design my own life.
13. I give myself permission to ignore naysayers.
14. I give myself permission to stay focused on what’s important to me.
15. I give myself permission to be whatever body shape I like.
16. I give myself permission to be imperfect.
17. I give myself permission to ask for help.
18. I give myself permission to stop caring what others think of me.
19. I give myself permission to write a lousy first draft.
20. I give myself permission to create.

I would add:

• I give myself permission to forgive.
• I give myself permission to love myself.
• I give myself permission to say “I’m sorry.”
• I give myself permission to accept others as they are.
• I give myself permission to enjoy my blessings.
• I give myself permission to be spontaneous.
• I give myself permission to love others.
• I give myself permission to meditate.
• I give myself permission to celebrate God’s infinite love for me—and for others

What will you give yourself permission to do that promotes peace?

© Carol Brown

Friday, November 6, 2009

Erasing Thinking Errors

There are many negative thinking errors that we can choose to correct. First we need to indentify them and then discover a way to erase them. Here are some commonly held self-defeating thinking patterns that can be reversed.

I’m as happy as my most troubled/sad/anxious child/friend/relative. If your family or friends suffer (and whose doesn’t at times), then you will be continually and unnecessarily miserable if you hang on to this thinking pattern. Instead, say to yourself, “I choose to live in peace even though those I care about may not experience peace right now.”

I’m a failure. I can’t seem to do anything right. The truth is that all of make mistakes. Anyone who pretends to be perfect is a fraud. The next time you consider beating yourself up for being less than perfect, say to yourself, “Life gives me many opportunities to learn, and I am learning from my failures and my successes.”

My mistakes I’ve made in the past can’t be forgiven (or, I can’t forgive myself for the mistakes I’ve made.) More families fracture, relationships end, and hearts break because we refuse to accept forgiveness or forgive ourselves. We worship a merciful God, who waits to transform us from saints to sinners. We need to continually remind ourselves, “God loves me perfectly and forgives me every time I repent. As I come unto Him, He will help me love myself so that I can love others more fully.”

I’m not as good/smart/beautiful/talented as others. Comparing ourselves when we’re at our worst with others when they’re at their best is self-defeating. Instead say, “I am an amazing, talented, precious person and so is everyone I meet. God can use me as an instrument to do His work on earth.”

It's my fault that someone did/said/behaved inappropriately. We gladly praise others for their successes but may sometimes feel responsible for the bad behavior of others. Whenever we attempt to control that which is outside our power to influence, we lose our peace of mind. Discovering what we can and cannot control in our lives is a huge step in living peacefully. We need to remember that we can control our own behavior but not the behavior of others. We can be a positive influence for good as we love ourselves and others, but we cannot change others.

We cannot depend on others to make us feel happy nor can we allow others’ choices to determine whether or not we are happy. We will experience serenity if we remember that God has given us unique and precious gifts which we can use to serve Him and others. Each one of us is unique and precious, and God must grieve when He sees His children live in blame, shame, and self-loathing.

Avoid black and white thinking, which reveals itself it words like “should have,” “could have” and “must.” Any time we think that we or others should not make mistakes, could improve even though we (or they) are giving our (or their) best effort, and must do things perfectly or according to our expectations, we will feel unhappy. Although life is not fair, we can find peace amid suffering as we allow ourselves to heal and allow others to do the same.

God wants us to remember that "though the mountains may crumble and the hills fall, [His]love for [us] shall never end." Through the power of His love, we can stop comparing ourselves to others and let go any thinking errors that may destroy of peace. Benjamin Franklin said, The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity.”

Today, allow God to give you peace of mind as you choose thoughts of love and mercy for yourself and others and erase thoughts of despair, doubt, and disappointment.

© Carol Brown

Thursday, November 5, 2009

About giving and receiving

When life is difficult, it’s easy to focus on our trials and not on our blessings. This week I’ve learned that four people I love are dying with cancer, and I’ve needed time to grieve and pray. My husband’s brother, two of my dearest friends, and my half-brother are all suffering terribly right now. I’ve felt too sad to write until now.

Now, I’ve lost a number of loved ones to cancer (and other things) before—but not this many at one time. I am devastated. My girlfriend Diane (not Ford’s wife, but another Diane) has had ovarian cancer return with a vengeance, and she has two teen-age sons. Diane has been like a sister to me, and Ford is like a brother to me. It's SO hard to see them suffer, and also it’s also painful to see family members losing their battle with such a formidable foe.

The words of Peyton Conway March have comforted me, “There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life -- happiness, freedom, and peace of mind -- are always attained by giving them to someone else.”

This week I’ve had to reach deep down inside to find the strength to help others. It’s feels easier to grieve my own losses and forget the needs of others, but serving—even in small ways—has brought me peace. Writing emails has been a fun thing to do. Diane is on a respirator, but she loves to read emails. Visiting with Ford and his wife and been such a joy and a precious blessing. Praying for my friends and family members has been a privilege.

Amid all the sorrow and grief, my son David is starting to feel better after being very ill for five months. Thanks, Kaylana, for praying for my son. What a sweet gift you gave to me, a total stranger.

I love the Old Testament descriptions of God. In Genesis, He is referred to as Yahweh Jireh, meaning the Lord provides. In Exodus, He is called Yahweh Rophe or the Lord who heals. We may never experience physical healing in this life, but the Lord can comfort us and heal our broken hearts. Today, allow Him to comfort you. Allow yourself to receive the compassion that He feels for you personally. Mediate on His pure and perfect love and let Him encircle you in His arms.

© Carol Brown