(Insert Your Name Here)ism

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with my friend, Ray, and he brought up an idea he had presented me with before.  It was the “ten years from now plan” and in his picture he saw me as a minister.  I responded by saying that I do kind of like the idea of it, but I don’t really think I fully align with any one particular church or religion.  I mentioned a comment from an old post where someone said I was trying to create my own religion-Lesleeism.  I told Ray that if it was the church of Lesleeism, I could definitely be the minister, but otherwise I’d just have to go with the flow and see where it leads.  He responded with the idea that we all have our own personal religions, he has Rayism, and everybody else has their own “isms.”

Some people might disagree with me on this.  They will promise they are true to their religion.  But what I see when I look out into the world is that most of us straddle the line instead of walk it.  People pick and choose what works.  It’s all about Jesus’ birth at the Christmas Eve service and all about Santa Clause on Christmas morning.  We “forgive those that trespass against us” until we come face to face with someone with different political or religious beliefs.  We remind those around us of the importance of upholding the commandments, as we break them daily or hourly in our minds (which if I understand correctly the bible says is the same as actually breaking them.)  We teach of the power of forgiveness through salvation from Jesus, but we hold grudges that often follow us to the grave.    (It seems all my examples are from Christianity, sorry about that, it’s all I know.)

So what is my answer to this seeming hypocrisy?  OWN IT!!  Admit that religion is not a “one size fits all.”  I don’t think any one person can mold themselves to perfectly into one religion and trying to is simply putting you out of integrity with yourself.  When I was young and was taught about Hell, it absolutely broke my heart.  I just couldn’t rationalize it.  I didn’t get how an evil person could recite the words “I accept Jesus into my heart as my savior” and be admitted to Heaven, while someone good and charitable who may not know or get the opportunity to say those words would burn for eternity in Hell.  It didn’t make sense.  The world is too big and there is too much diversity for that to be true.  Because of this idea and others, I left God behind for years.  When I learned new ideas, one being that we all experience the same thing when we die no matter how “good” or “bad” we are, I could embrace God and spirituality again.  What rang true for me was the idea that our human existence is like school.  We are here to learn and evolve and we keep coming back until we meet the goals and can graduate and return to “God.”  But that one idea, that feels right to me, could absolutely assault the sensibilities of someone else.  And that is OK!  I am not asking anyone to take my words and beliefs as truth, I am suggesting you simply ask yourself what YOUR truth is.  It will probably not be the same as mine and if you’re completely honest with yourself it may not even be the same as your religion’s.

So I encourage you to find your own truth…create your own religion, one that makes you feel loved and happy!  Grab a plate and partake of the buffet of spirituality!

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Merry Christmas!

I am going to make this one short and sweet.

I am so very blessed to have such wonderful family and friends.  This year has been filled with great joy and also great sadness.  I have learned a lot about myself and the people in my life.  I have connected and reconnected with some beautiful souls who, whether for a season or a lifetime, are changing my life for the better.

Love and light to all of you this Christmas!  Take a moment today to send a prayer or loving thought out to the families who lost a loved one this year.  For me I will have the families of these beautiful souls in my heart:

Ryan Puckett (10/31/74-6/23/09)

Chris Lutz (9/7/1976-7/16/09)

Amy Christine Stephens Pardue (7/23/1975-10/25/09) (I love you, Amy, and miss you so much!  Can’t wait to meet the boys on Monday!)

Teresa (Traci) Spradlin (12/3/1966-12/10/09)

Kent Gibson (10/1/1965-12/19/09)

Christmas Wish

I’m writing this on the 23rd and of course it is posting on Christmas Eve. Between the cold I’m suffering from and the stress of preparing for Christmas day and a trip to NC, I’m low on insightful reflections. I thought I’d just take a paragraph or two to tell you what’s on my Christmas list.

I’ll start with the simple stuff. These are the items I’ve shared with Mark and may or may not be receiving on Christmas day. I want an Ipod dock/charger/player. I love my Ipod but get so annoyed when I have to charge it on the computer. It takes a few hours and I have to constantly check to make sure the computer hasn’t “gone to sleep” thus halting the charge. I’ve gotten to where I just forget to do this and then when I’m all psyched up and ready to go to the gym, I realize I have no music. Having no music to listen to while exercising has become excuse number 1 not to work out at all. It’s a vicious cycle that I feel confident will end once I have an easier place to charge the Ipod.

The other item on my list is a bible (King James version with Jesus’ words in red). For as much as I write about spiritual stuff I am embarrassed to admit I don’t have a bible in the house. I’ve had my mother searching her house for the bible I had as a teen and she hasn’t had any luck finding it. I’ve said before that I read a lot of books by people who quote and talk about the bible, but now it is time for me to practice what I preach and read and study it for myself.

Now for the more complicated wish list. These requests truly require a miracle Santa to make happen. What I’d absolutely love is to have more time and money to take a few trips this year on my own. The first is a cruise or Caribbean vacation with my two best friends, Heather and Kristin. The second is the Goddess Retreat at Amrit Yoga Institute. The third is the BlogHer conference in New York City with my Twitter friends @2MuchPerfection, @OpinionatedGift, and @Kitterztoo. I’m pretty sure the first of these will happen. It will be a small miracle if I am able to participate in two of them and an extraordinary feat if I’m able to do all three.

Now what about you guys?  Care to share your Christmas wish list….

Numb

I don’t know if I’m really numb or have just been “shocked and saddened” so much lately that there is no shock or sadness left to feel, but tonight I got the news of another death.  For any new readers that may not know, one of my best friends, Amy, passed away on October 25th just two days after giving birth to twins and on December 11th one of my Twitter friends, Traci, passed away unexpectedly.  This evening I listened to a message on my answering machine from my mother.  I could tell by the tone that someone had died.  I couldn’t reach my mom but got a hold of my sister who informed me that the man that I worked for in college for over 4 years had passed away.  He was more than my boss at the Hallmark store, he was a family friend (who hired me b/c of that connection) and later became a personal friend.  He helped in the planning of my wedding and was one of my honored guests.  Kent and my job at the Hallmark shop was probably the most stable thing in my life during college.  For 5 years, he was a lot like the big brother I never had.  I can’t even remember the last time I saw Kent.  It may have been my wedding.  After I moved away we sent one another Christmas cards for a few years, but ultimately lost touch.  Our mothers have been friends for decades, so I always kept up with him through her.  He was only in his early 40s and his death has preceded both of his parents.

There are just no words to express what I feel for these families as we are only 4 days away from Christmas.  The fog of grief (at the loss of Amy) is slowly starting to lift for me.  I haven’t made it to acceptance yet.  I think of her everyday and have at least one cry or almost cry.  I think of the babies and imagine her taking care of them and suddenly remember she isn’t (at least not on this plane).  I have dreams about her and wake up wishing I could tell her about them.  But I am feeling peace about my life.  I have stopped imagining the worst-case scenarios and feeling panicked.  I am getting back to my spiritual practices and listening to my intuition.  I wish there was a way to absorb some of  the pain of others.  The pain of losing a child or a partner is something I cannot fathom.

This year I have been reminded how fragile life is.  Everything can change in a blink.  I am holding these families in my heart this week and sending them love.

I don’t know that this song fits this post necessarily…but it’s so moving.  Also, it’s sung by the incredibly talented, Jeff Buckley, who also died too young and unexpectedly…

Christmas Shopping

So today marks the official time of year that I start getting anxious.  When I was younger I loved Christmas time and especially loved buying and giving gifts.  I would be thrilled to watch people open the gifts I’d purchased on Christmas morning.  I think back to that time and observe I was either better at picking out presents or was just oblivious to whether or not people actually liked them.  Whichever it was, giving brought me lots of joy.

Somewhere a long the way though I have realized that I don’t really know what to get the people in my life.  The first Christmas Mark and I were dating I had so much fun buying his gifts.  I got several things I just knew he’d love.  Only problem was…he didn’t.  He’s not a very good actor either, so he failed at convincing me and from then on buying gifts for my husband has been nearly impossible.  His only true wish list is made up of items that are way too expensive and specific for me to try to buy (guitars and music equipment).  So I end up getting him gifts like rubics cubes and DVD’s he never watches.

My parents are equally as tough.  For the first 20 years of my life I bought my father golf balls and then one day I figured out as much as he loves golf, he just doesn’t play it that much.  For at least 5 years I have gotten stuck on Home Depot gift certificates.  Giving that gift always leaves me with an empty feeling though.  I wish there was something I could get him that was personal and appreciated.  But I got nothing…  And Mom, well she’s very particular.  Some years I do OK, but those are the years when either she or my sisters tell me specifically what to get.  If I try to come up with something on my own, I miss the mark.  I like to get her something she’ll use, like K-Cups for her Keurig machine, but I’ve sensed her disappointment on receiving something that is practical and not sentimental.  Then there is my mother-in-law who has extremely expensive taste and loves jewelry.  We have had great success in giving gifts to her, but only when we spend way more than my frugal side can handle.  Our last gift to her was a plane ticket here to see the girls.  As FABULOUS of a gift that was I could still tell she longed for an actual present.

My nieces are pretty easy.  I generally give them gift certificates and don’t feel bad about it.  I remember as a kid LOVING to get certificates and money so I could buy whatever I wanted.  I feel sure they have the same reaction.

What I have acknowledged the last few years is that what I love most about Christmas is giving.  Unfortunately I have made this realization because I’ve found myself feeling disappointed when Christmas comes and goes.  I am not disappointed at what I did or didn’t receive, but that I wasn’t able to make others as happy with gift-giving as it seems I once did.  So today, on Black Friday, the pressure is turned on.  WHAT AM I GOING TO GET EVERYONE FOR CHRISTMAS?!?!?

Opt Out

First off, I’ll say that I am quite saddened by this whole parents “opting out” of letting their kids listen to the president speak.  I think it dishonors and devalues the office of presidency and democracy itself (not to mention the message about respect for authority it sends to our children).  Mark graduated with his PhD in 2002 and George W. Bush spoke at his ceremony.  I had not been a Bush supporter.  I love Al Gore and was devastated when he lost that election, but sitting at that graduation ceremony in the presence of the President of the United States was awe-inspiring.  I felt honored to be in that audience listening to George W. Bush!  I can’t help but wondering if all of this “opting out” is entering us into a new stage of life where the future generation will never fully understand that feeling of honor that should come with listening to and witnessing their President speak.

But that is not really what this post is about.  This post is about what I wish I could have had my child “opt out” of.

The first week of school we received a lot of paperwork, including PTA information.  Mark quickly discovered that if you give a certain level of donation to the PTA your child does not have to participate in the school fundraiser.  The very first thing we sent back to school was our check made out to the PTA for the platinum level amount.  (We were not messing around with this fundraiser stuff!)  Upon sending in the money, I sat back and relaxed…I’d done my share.

Well, last Tuesday Bella tells me there is a surprise in her bag.  She was told to put it in the refrigerator so that Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t miss it and she did.  She even broke down into tears when Callee spoiled the surprise and got it out of the fridge and handed it to me.  The surprise was the information packet and order forms for the school fundraiser.  Bella immediately pulls out the prize sheet and excitedly tells me about all that she can win.  There is a laptop computer and all kinds of games.  Look Mom, Look Mom, Look Mom.  Then she tells me that I have to fill out the cards so she can get the rubber ducky.  SHE MUST HAVE THE RUBBER DUCKY!  She sits on the couch with the prize pamphlet and studies it.  Later on she asks if I will hang in on the wall in her bedroom.  I have to tell her no.  We’ve already donated money and we are not participating.  She will not get the rubber ducky and it is IMPOSSIBLE to win the computer.  She was so upset.

The lesson of this story is, I have spent five years not buying toys for my kids (only for special occasions, birthdays, Christmas, or when it was something we could do together-like board games and puzzles).  I have spent five years trying to teach her that spending time together and using your imagination are what’s important in this life, not stuff.  In one fell swoop it felt like all of my values had been obliviated.  I sure wish I could have opted out of that presentation.