Thursday, December 22, 2005

On Accepting My Family Members The Way They Are

It's the holiday season....

So that means it's time to get together with friends and relatives, go to parties and work get-togethers, and plan how we're going to spend those special days.

I've been thinking a lot about these rituals, as I prepare to spend part of Christmas Eve with my in-laws and most of Christmas Day with my family. I always try to reflect upon what the season means, I mean, aside from running around and shopping.

I spent seven years living away from my family, and now we're all in the same town again. I'm getting a crash course in what being a family member means. Ideally, families accept and support us no matter what. They provide company and friendship and a sense of where we come from. Ideally. Now, I don't know how your family is, but mine doesn't always meet my ideals.

For me, the birth of Christ represents a wellspring of hope into the world. This year, I am celebrating that hope by working on accepting others. That means accepting every single member of the bouquet of humanity, as I would like to be accepted.

It's no picnic, accepting others. Some people are quirky. Or abrasive. Or messy. Or absolutely lacking in empathy. Or really self-absorbed. Some are just plain clueless. One of my family members, who shall remain nameless, seems to need to have the TV turned up very loud to get through a social gathering, even for just a few hours. Another, also anonymous, is absolutely lovely and a joy to be around, provided that she's getting her way. After that, all bets are off. She becomes snippy, short-tempered, and brittle. And it's always someone else's fault!

All of these special qualities in my family members tend to make me have feelings in response, and they aren't generally comfortable or enjoyable feelings. I find myself wishing they'd change, fantasizing some more perfect family gathering that would result from their transformation.

But this year, I'm trying to avoid spending my time wishing these traits away.

Because I think it distracts me from being present. This year, I'm working on beholding my family in a spirit of gratitude and acceptance, treasuring each encounter just the way it is.

I'm working on giving and accepting love. Giving love even though someone else may have done something or been some way that means they don't deserve my love. Accepting love even if it doesn't feel just the way I hoped it would.

The tricky part is that some of these folks can really offend me, and I don't think being accepting means being a doormat. So it's a fine line to balance, accepting someone just how they are because it's probably the best they know, and also speaking up for myself, firmly, when my gut tells me I need to.

Lately, I've taken to wearing what I call an Invisible Teflon Shield. You can't see it, but it's silver, and I activate it with a switch above my head. And I also think a lot about the general health of my spirit in any given moment, and try to remain inspired no matter what goes on outside. I have an internal dialogue when someone irks me, and it goes something like this: "OK, so that happened. What does that really have to do with me?"

I've also been thinking about the 23rd Psalm, the part that says, "He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies." It may be shocking to think about family members as being enemies, but in a spiritual sense, they really can be. The way certain family members wield disapproval and judgment is truly a form of violence. That passage reminds me that God will continue to bless me even if every single person doesn't agree with or approve of me. Remembering that makes it easier to let go, to let others be nasty if that's the path they choose to walk. What does it have to do with me? I don't need them to change to know who I am and to walk my own path with confidence.

Finally, as I approach the big weekend, I remind myself that it will all be over in a few days. We'll come together, there will be a bunch of moments, some warm and fuzzy, others cold and bristly. Each person will most likely do what each person tends to do. We may all get surprised by something. The experience either will or won't live up to our expectations of how a family holiday should be. My plan is to just keep breathing in and out.

Then we'll all go back to our respective lives.

In a way, the holidays are annoying, because they're a disruption to the normal routine, and they're a lot of extra effort. They can be truly overwhelming if you're not up for it. But this year, I've really enjoyed the extra effort. I am excited about giving gifts. I attended a Christmas party that felt like Old Home Week, where I saw about a dozen friends I hadn't seen in almost a decade, most of whom didn't know I was even back in town. And I'm so looking forward to watching my kid open the gifts Santa has brought him because he's been so good! Today someone asked me how I was doing and I said, "I'm riding the wave." The wave, of course, being the holiday surge of energy. We have a few more days left until we reach a fevered pitch and then the wave will pass for another year.

God bless everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Attitude of Gratitude, Part I

I love this time of year.

(Except last year, when I was fried and exhausted from moving across the country with a husband, toddler and two dogs. And still fuming about Diggins and Rose Inc.,, an agent of United Van Lines, who "lost" five boxes of our stuff. Last year I was in touch with my Inner Scrooge).

But not this year. I'm back to my old self, looking back on 2005 and looking forward to the future.

I had a great year!

So here's some things and folks I'm grateful for:

-my husband, for supporting my music-making.

-my son, who got better at sleeping late at night, which enabled me to practice

-Tree Tops Learning Center and Alyssa Heegel, who care for my kid when I need to get some work done.

-my family, some of whom are sure to make it to every show I play.

-my girlfriends, especially Donna Rich, Lynda Taylor, and Cynthia Wells, who cheer in all the right places.

-the AustinMama listserv.

-my pal Colin Boyd,, who has always been a great champion of me and my songs, and who convinced me to start working on my first solo CD. I call him "a fairy godmother in a scruffy, straight guy package." Everyone should be so lucky as to have a Colin Boyd in their life.

-my teachers, especially my current voice teacher, Liz Cass, and my current guitar teacher, Tony Redman, as well as former teachers like Danny Barnes,, Mady Kaye,, and Ruth Morton.

-SXSW,, for giving me a showcase.

-my band at SXSW, who rocked the house.

-the Toups and Ostdieks in Houston, who hosted a house concert that funded the band who rocked the house at SXSW.

-Sara Hickman,, for recording two of my songs for her next record.

-Jody Denberg at KGSR,, and John Aielli and Melanie Shrawder at KUT,, for putting me on the radio.

-Everyone who bought my CD and/or came to one of my shows.

-Bill at Millennia Guitars,, for sending me two new guitars to play with.

-Courtney at, who wrote the most amazing review of my CD. (I know I'm not supposed to thank her, because she didn't do it to be nice...I'm just saying I have grateful feelings on the inside).
and last but not least,

-I am grateful to God, for giving me the courage to take baby steps toward my dream, and for helping open doors to walk through. Every time I get to perform, I feel like it's my birthday.