Pie for Breakfast (And a Few Other Ways to Enjoy the Holidays)

During the Thanksgiving holiday before I left Washington, D.C. for good, I relished my time with family and friends. I honored my contemplative spirit which needed a respite from the fast-paced, high-powered lifestyle of “have-to’s, ” “musts” and “shoulds.” Especially, I enjoyed the Friday morning following Thanksgiving when Dad and I ate our traditional post-holiday breakfast of leftover pie and ice cream.

As I savored a combination of apple-cranberry and cherry garnished with coffee ice cream, I recounted a few disappointments, including our lack of a storybook holiday.  Dad, who’d worked in advertising, listened, then said: “Those only happen in movies and commercials.”

Alas, I knew he was correct.  And, as a pastor, I’ve witnessed how many people feel sadness and grief in believing that everyone else has a “Hallmark-Card-I’ll Be Home for the Holidays” experience.

The truth is: Few holidays are ideal.  And when we pressure ourselves to create such a fantasy, we set ourselves up for disillusionment and distress.  Furthermore, the pressure to meet others’ expectations or outshine our neighbors has us saying, doing and buying things which prohibit our contentment and stress our bodies, minds, spirits and bank accounts.

So, no matter whether we’re Type A’s, travelers, homebodies, partiers, contemplatives, or a bit of each, here are some ways to stress less and rejoice more:

  • Begin with the end in mind. During our prayer and meditation time, we can consider our schedules and what will most renew our spirits.  This includes determining who’s most important to us.  A beloved aged relative who affirms our purpose or an ill BFF who needs a boost gets priority over another cocktail party of vacuous conversation.
  • When gathered with a mixed group of varying beliefs and opinions, we can strive to listen more and persuade less. Remember: A person convinced against his/her will is of the same opinion still.  So, we can choose to gently disengage.  When someone, especially a loved one, wants to debate, we can say something such as: “I love you.  Let’s agree to disagree on this one.”  Then we can change the topic to something neutral, such as shared love of a sports team or our fondness for sweet potatoes.
  • If, for whatever reason, we can’t be physically present with loved ones, we can still call or video conference. Schedule a specific time of 20 minutes or more to connect and share.
  • Limit the highlight reels on social media so we enjoy ourselves without comparing our holiday to someone else’s.
  • Remember: Happiness occurs on a scale. This includes feeling calm, content, peaceful, relaxed and/or rested.
  • Remember also: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are days on a calendar. Their true purpose isn’t for overdoing, overeating or overspending, but for celebrating rich harvests, welcoming new life, and setting intentions for greater possibilities.  When we maintain this perspective, we often feel more grateful for what we have.
  • And, of course, consider eating pie for breakfast.

Happy Thanksgiving, Blessed Readers!

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Merry in Service

Once upon a time, I thought vocation – an inclination toward a particular career or a divine call to God’s service – was merely a word on the SATs. While I side-stepped my true calling, I held several different jobs, sometimes two at a time. For many years, I worked seven days a week during the holidays, which ran from just before Thanksgiving to a few days past New Years.

At that time, my family was in the food business. We ensured that candied yams, assorted meats, pastas, Buche de Noel, latkes, applesauce, chicken soup with matzo balls, and Christmas cookies blessed and nourished thousands at the holidays. Not only did we take orders, ring up sales, and wrap gift baskets, we also planned and catered other people’s holiday parties. On Christmas Eve, we watched the last of the gifts go out the door. On Christmas Day, we prepared and served Christmas dinner for another family. Usually, I didn’t mind. I enjoyed the vicarious thrills of different menus and the sound of customers’ delight.

Recently, I reflected on this time as I shopped at a local gourmet market and watched a young woman wrapping gift baskets, tucking a jar of raspberry jam here, a box of butter cookies there. The rush of shoppers was palpable, especially from a young father who checked his list twice and wheeled his children around.

I roamed aisles, as if I had gone back in a time machine, noticing piles of international cheeses, infused olive oils, boxes of pastries, bulk candies, chips, nuts, and – this being Florida – a variety of flowers and orchids. As I mused on the scenery and waited my turn at the prepared foods counter, two strangers rejoiced in being “off” for the holidays. A young man scooping out chicken salad muttered, “I’m working.”

“Yes, so am I,” I whispered.

He nodded, as if assured he wasn’t alone.

Later, at another store, as I sampled some French Roast and enjoyed a momentary caffeine jolt, a clerk asked, “Off for the holiday now?”

“No,” I said. “In the flow of it and still going.”

“Oh, what do you do?” she asked, as if we belonged to the same club and hadn’t met yet.

I replied that I’m a pastor. As we wished each other Merry Christmas and pleasant work days, a young woman wearing a University of Florida t-shirt stopped me and asked, “Did you say you’re a pastor?”

“Yes,” I said, curious about how this might obligate me.

“Wow!” she gushed. “That’s awesome. I’m so glad to meet you. Where I’m from, women aren’t pastors.”

As I traveled home and unpacked my groceries, treats and trinkets, I reflected on what it means to serve during the holidays. In certain ways, little has changed for me. I said, “Yes,” to the call of service, first providing food for the body, now offering sustenance for the spirit. Either way, I’m grateful for my calling and all the people I imagine I bless, who also bless me.

Across the United States and various regions of the globe, men and women will serve during the holidays – in airports, churches, hospitals, hotels, markets, military bases, police stations, post offices, restaurants, and theatres. Whatever our vocational call, may we be those who bless and brighten other lives.

Merry Christmas, Blessed Readers, and God Bless Us, Everyone!

 

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.

‘Tis (Not) the Season

Travel with me, Blessed Reader, on a brief shopping excursion. The early November afternoon is an unseasonably warm 85 degrees. Many people are out and about, the usual roadways congested, though not unmanageable. On one of these roadways, an area is fenced off. An edge of fence sports a sign which reads: “Buy Christmas Trees Here.”

At Office Max, the air conditioning runs full blast. I scan the aisle signs and immediately notice several displays for 2016 calendars and planners, though my search for plain writing paper takes some work. Then I hear the strains of Bing Crosby singing, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” I cannot hide my disgust and flee, even as a young salesman asks whether he can help me find something.

In Michaels, the smell of bayberry and spice is so strong I can barely breathe. Aisles overflow with an abundance of Christmas items in gold, silver, red, green and white. Bows, wrapping paper, boxes, wreathes, lights, garland, and glitter cascade from shelves. A man searching for child’s art supplies appears dazed and confused. As I seek writing paper, a young mother with two small children asks a salesclerk where she might find a lit nativity set for her front lawn.

Now, the salesclerk appears confused. She furrows her brow at the mother and me. I realize the mother doesn’t speak English well and tell the clerk that this customer means the manger scene with the animals, angel, wise men, Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. The mother nods ardently, smiling as I explain. Even if she can’t communicate it, she and I understand one another. The salesclerk calls someone for clarification, which reveals that this Michaels carries no such item. The woman smiles again at me, thanks us both, and leaves with her children. I follow closely behind, as I discover this Michaels doesn’t carry what I seek either.

Then, I take my tote bags and a shopping cart into Trader Joe’s, where I see a large, ornately decorated black board which reads, “The Turkeys are Coming.” I breathe a sigh of relief, appreciating the store’s sense of timing. Along a front wall sits a display of cornbread stuffing mix. An adjacent stand displays Advent calendars. I see it and smile. As a pastor, I preach on Advent, the Season of Preparation which heralds in the 12 days of Christmas, traditionally ending in early January with Epiphany. At the check-out line, the young mother and I recognize each another. She nods and smiles once more as we each pay for our groceries. Neither of us has any Thanksgiving items – yet.

It’s no wonder so many people not only dread the holidays, but also are too weary to enjoy them. The holidays, however we define and celebrate them, often become just one more thing to check off our To-Do lists. So, we hurry through the experience and miss the fun of a slow, deliberate, faithful journey which leads from one season to the next, one delightful holiday season at a time.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.