Ugly Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

My ugly sweater
My ugly sweater

The holiday party at my work is on Wednesday and they are having an ugly sweater contest.  When I first read the memo, I thought, “meh.”  Then the more the idea settled, the more fun it seemed.  I searched through thrift store racks for something so ridiculous no one could argue the ugliness.  Then, I began to think of ways I could make it look even worse.

Last night, I finally got around to sewing strings of bells onto my sweater.  I finished one sleeve and examined it, convinced it might just be hideous enough to win.

And then my older son walked into the room (he’s thirteen.)

“Why are you sewing bells onto your sweater?” he asked.

“Because I’m making my ugly sweater even uglier.”

“But it’s not ugly, it looks kind of pretty.”

Pretty?!  I stopped to look at his expression, certain he was messing with me, like when he convinced me a bee had landed in my hair.  (There was no bee, but I hope he enjoyed the show, because I have not forgotten… and I will get him back!)

“It looks fancy,” he said.

Well, fancy wasn’t what I was going for.  I decided that ugly was in the eye of the beholder.  And then my thoughts led me down the loopy path that became this post…

Ribbon and cats do not go well together
Ribbon and cats do not go well together

The gifts under my 4-ft Walmart tree are not adorned with bows or ribbon.  I have never lived with a cat who could not resist chewing and ingesting the ribbon.  It’s like ribbon is woven with tuna and catnip and is too irresistible to the feline palate.  Never mind the intestinal issues that follow… not even that will deter them.  This is why I have a strict no ribbon policy and no matter how much the kids beg for the “pretty stuff”, it won’t happen.

Some might see our gifts as not aesthetically pleasing; even ugly.  I’m so used to “plain” presents that I see the assorted wrapping papers and think, “pretty!”

Again, ugly is in the eye of the beholder.

Here’s where my thoughts looped again, and I associated this statement with people.  I’ve met people who, on the surface, seem ordinary or dull, but once I got to know them, they were quite interesting- whether it be fascinating travels, quirky sense of humor or unique hobbies.  What a pleasing surprise that is!

On the other hand, it’s a crushing disappointment to be enamored by the fluff and frills, only to discover that once all that’s gone, there’s nothing of substance.  When that happens, it’s hard to remember what I found so beautiful in the first place, because all I could see was the ugliness beneath it all.  It’s like even the memories were a fraud; they became fuzzy and disconnected from the reality I learned.

Ugly really is in the eye of the beholder.

Age has taught me a few things.  Like, gravity happens, but it matters less and less.  And, maybe my parents understood more than I gave them credit for.  And, the best friends are those who don’t need to be everybody’s friend.

And finally, real beauty isn’t observed in a glance.

Have a beautiful Tuesday (even if you happen to be donning an ugly sweater!)

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Low No Expectations

My older son held a crystal in front of me and asked me what I thought of it. It was the tenth rock I’d seen and they all looked fine to me. Then he said he was going to give it to his brother. Before I could say that was nice of him, he added, “this one isn’t as nice as my other one, so he can have it.”

And so my thoughts began…

Dying flowers make me sad...
Dying flowers make me sad…

Giving:

In one way, I can acknowledge that a gift of any kind should be appreciated. But I can’t help but be bothered by this.

First of all, a gift that is knowingly “less than” really isn’t much of a gift- it’s pawning off something that didn’t mean much to you. It’s not a gift of thought or heart; it’s more an act of convenience that serves to make the other person think you are kinder than your intentions are. It’s deception.

Perhaps gifting is an art that must be learned so that we might recognize a gift is more than an object.  I am honored to receive a gift that shows a person pays attention to me and knows the little things that make me smile.

I'll look at the pretty colors, but I won't eat them (except for maybe a couple purple ones!)
I’ll look at the pretty colors, but I won’t eat them (except for maybe a couple purple ones!)

Receiving:

On the other side of that proverbial coin, receiving a gift that is devoid of thought or meaning just leaves me feeling sad and unappreciated; like I’m invisible. It’s worse than not receiving a gift at all.

When presented a gift that is completely not me, I force myself to put on my best gracious smile and say, “thank you.” I hope my smile covers up my hurt because even though I’m devastated inside, I would feel worse if I made the giver feel bad about the gift.

I realize that my expectations sometimes get in the way. I do expect people that know me best to have some idea of who I am and to be able to choose a gift accordingly. Or, if they are still stumped, just write a note; tell me why I matter.

Maybe if I can learn to expect nothing, then I won’t be disappointed. I’m not there yet, but no expectations might be just a gift away.

Moments of Peace

This has been one of those weeks that remind me of an ocean’s tide; how the waves crash into sand, recede, and then stretch across the beach again.  Guessing and second-guessing rolls much the same way.  And it’s just as exhausting as swimming against the current.

When I thought the stress, worries and big decisions would surely pull me under, something would come along and lift me up long enough for me to catch my breath and remind myself that God is bigger than all of it.

I found my first uplifting moment in my mailbox.  No, it wasn’t my mortgage statement or phone bill that made me smile – it was a package from Barbara at Purple Moose Gazette.  Get this – for her birthday, she randomly chose several people to mail gifts to…and I was one of them.  How fun is that?

Cool stuff from Purple Moose
Cool stuff from Purple Moose

A second uplifting moment came in my email box.  Nancy (Spirit Lights The Way) included me as one of seven finalists in her Writer’s Desk contest.  Voting began on Saturday and each person can only vote once.  If you have a moment, please click here to check out the entries and vote for your favorite.  I hope it’s mine (titled Look If You Dare) but if it isn’t, that’s okay – you’ve done your civic duty by casting your vote 🙂

Of course, there were hundreds of other moments that lifted me  up this week.  I think of them as God’s way of sending me a life raft when I’m too weary to swim.  These are blessed moments of peace in a world rife with evil and turmoil.  They are small things that work in a big way to keep me from being swallowed by our broken world.

I pray that everyone reading this has a heart willing to recognize their own moments of peace this week.  Maybe this image will help:

Take in the beauty of the day
Take in the beauty of the day

Simply The Best

Not long ago, I overheard someone on TV talking about their singing, a talent pursued with the hope of becoming the best in the world.

My first thought:  “Wow, that’s ambitious.”

My second thought:  “Where does this leave the billions of people who cannot be the best?”

Since I fall into the “not the best” category, my mind mulled this over for several days.  I wondered why we would strive for such a goal.  Fame?  Money?  Ego boosting?  This would explain the popularity of Guinness World Records.  Maybe that’s why one would shoot for the record of most spoons balanced on the face, or most shirts worn at one time?

God doesn’t care if the world knows my name, or if I earn enough money to buy a private island.  And my lagging self-confidence only matters if it hinders my ability to share God’s word.

I’ve written about my struggles recognizing my gift(s) and God’s calling, so I won’t go there today.  God’s ministry is like a Broadway musical.  Not everyone can have a leading role, just like not everyone can be the best.  We may not get center stage, but God’s calling gives us the opportunity to bask in a different kind of spotlight.

Oddly enough, when I think about wanting better talents, Tinker Bell (the movie) comes to mind.  Here’s part of the summary from Amazon:

“Tinker Bell thinks her fairy talent as a tinker isn’t as special or important as the other fairies’ talents. But when Tink tries to change who she is, she creates nothing but disaster! With encouragement from her friends, Tink learns the key to solving her problems lies in her unique tinker abilities and discovers that when she’s true to herself, magical things can happen.”

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the Same God works all of them in all men.”  (I Corinthians 12:4-6)

I pray that we may all be content with being the best “us” we can be, even if we aren’t the best in the world.  Have a beautiful Sunday!

A Christmas Past, And My Christmas Present

FINALLY Christmas!

As a child, the week before Christmas seemed to drag on ‘forever’.  Each evening, I would torture myself by staring at all the pretty wrapped presents under the tree, scoping out the name tags to see which ones were mine.  Then, I would shake each box and try to guess what was inside.

When I was 11 or 12 (I can’t remember which rotten age I was at the time) there were identical large boxes under the tree – one for me, one for my brother.  I had already guessed the other boxes held a sweater with an encyclopedia (‘C’ was missing on the shelf), a shirt with some nuts and bolts, and a shoe-box sized box that I suspected held something small, like a necklace or earrings.

My parents liked to make the gift-guessing game challenging…they always added something to a box so shaking the box wouldn’t reveal the contents.  We loved the challenge of trying to figure out which of my dad’s tools gave weight to the boxes.  We rarely guessed what caused the rattles…could be nails, nuts, bolts, wall plates, outlet boxes, or a myriad of other goodies housed in his tool boxes in the garage.

After what seemed like months of staring at the big boxes, we finally got to open them on Christmas Eve.  I tore the paper away and saw a picture of a TV on the box.  Not trusting that’s what was in the box (they were also famous for reusing boxes), I yanked the flaps and busted the staples out – it really was a 13” black and white TV…for MY ROOM!  I squealed with excitement – it was the best gift EVER!

Next to a tablet PC, iPod, Kindle, or any of the current gaming systems, this gift seems like the punch line to a bad joke.  But back then, we didn’t have home computers; portable music was on a Walkman radio/cassette player; paperback and hard cover were the only book reading choices; and we played Breakout and Pong on our Atari console.

Of course, the TV was more than just a TV.  It meant security and hope for better times.  Even as a child, I knew my parents wouldn’t spend money they didn’t have.  I never asked if we were broke, but I got my answer with every “we can’t afford it” my parents said.  After several lean years, the TV seemed so lavish; I almost forgot we weren’t wealthy.

This year, Christmas is coming up like a jet touching down on a landing strip.  I want to clinch my eyes shut so Christmas doesn’t run right over me.  Instead, I stand my ground, wide-eyed and ready to take it like a mom (ha, ha).  I swear I went to sleep on December 17th and woke up to find it is December 22nd.  How the days in between passed so quickly, I don’t know.

This time of year is just an exaggeration of how time passes the rest of the year.  As I get older, the hands on the clock seem to move faster.  Sometimes I feel like I’m scrambling along on the treadmill and someone keeps turning the speed dial up.  My feet move as fast as I can make them, but I get further behind.  If it cranks up any more, I’ll surely drop my bowl of ice cream.

I have the perfect gift for myself this year:  time.  I can always use it, and there is no chance of returns, exchanges or do-overs.  Not just any time, though…no, this time is special.  It’s writing time.

Ever since I finally finished the story I posted last week (The Collector), I’ve been disturbed by the amount of time it took me to get to that point (over 3 months).  I’ve been discouraged about my lack of progress on my novel writing (um, none).  I know life still happens and I’ve a lot to do, but surely I can do a better job carving out writing time.

I’m going to start by using three hours the day after Christmas, with the goal of writing the backstory for the 3rd character in my novel.  With my hot beverage on my desk, to warm my fingers and my brain, I’ll see if I can lay out the first draft.  (If my brain functions well, I’ll stick to hot tea; if I need a little kick start, I’ll go for spiced cider…and if my brain and creativity abandon me, I’ll drown my sorrows in a mug of hot chocolate with extra whipped cream on top.)  One way or another, words will get on the page.

It may not be a black and white TV, but this gift will make my heart happy this Christmas.

What was your best Christmas gift ever?  What would you like that you have not received?  Are you doing anything for “you” this holiday season?