Give Yourself a Break

    As seen in Fayette Woman December 2014 issue


     About 15 years ago, I got over the excess of Christmas.  At first my children did not like my new ideas on updating our traditions. My best friend and I often compared parenting strategies over a long distance phone call and we both decided that we would take the story of The Wisemen into our own gift-giving practices. Our children were close, like cousins of sorts, and we felt by embarking on this new tradition together, we could make our ideas stick.  They would know that somewhere three states away another family was also suffering in simplicity.  

    We decided that our preteens would understand) that “Santa” only gave three  gifts, just like The Wisemen who followed the bright star shining over the manger.  We agreed that one gift could be larger or more expensive than the others, symbolizing the gold Wiseman number one bestowed to the newborn.  Then a gift of less price to symbolize the Wiseman who offered silver as his gift to Jesus of Nazareth and a last small token to round out three gifts.  Thus, gifts were called Wiseman gifts.  We informed our children they could make a list of suggestions for gift ideas, but each item on the list was not a sure thing. No more sense of entitlement, where I felt expected to produce gifts just because it was on a Santa list.  No, they could expect three gifts. Even if they listed ten on a list, they would get only three.  Wise men were wise for a reason.

    On the same day, both my girlfriend and I sat our families down after a Sunday lunch and explained the new rules of Christmas.  We could hear each of our childrens’ replies three states away, conversations along these lines:

    “What???? Only THREE gifts?” chimed my three daughters.

     “Yep. One really good one, and one smaller, and one even smaller.”

     “If I ask for a purse, will you put anything in it? Like a wallet with shopping money? Or lip-gloss? Or would that be the three gifts? Queried one--she was already strategizing.

     “Are you going broke?” one asked with terror in her eyes.

      “This is awful.”

       “We only get lip-gloss for Christmas?”

   Then I outlined why our culture adopted gift giving as part of the Christmas story.   Originally, way back somewhere, the idea of a small token, a gift, was used to honor each other, a loved one, a friend, even a stranger, to illustrate the way that Jesus lived—always serving and giving to others.  Gift giving was intended to be a symbolic ritual designed to enhance the meaning of the Christmas story—not to cash in and raise the national gross product levels.    Looks around our supper table went from shock to understanding.  It began to settle in that one, I was serious, and two, don’t mess with Jesus and the real meaning of Christmas.

   Now, our Christmas is less about packages upon packages under a tree, and more about the gifts of Christmas-yummy meals together, sleeping in, lingering cups of coffee catching up on things. Through the years, it seems our three gifts get monetarily smaller and smaller.  I even make one of the gifts, which sometimes is harder than buying something.

    This year I am painting a small wooden box that will hold a small necklace that I am making myself, which will be one of the girls’ three gifts.  While painting this box a soft grey, with a silver shimmer lilting through the smallest of corners, it occurred to me that what I really want to give could not not be contained in that box.

    With each stroke of paint, it became more and more evident.  What I really want to give to my girls, and to all women—young moms I observe at the grocery store making tough decisions reading food labels, older women standing in line at the post office some with taut faces from too much Botox, diligent walkers on the cart paths—people I don’t know well, yet as a fellow female I feel like I do know on a certain level.  I want to give each of them this small grey box with a slip of paper inside, with the simple statement: Give yourself a break. You are enough.  And by that statement I want to say—you don’t have to be perfect.  Your tree does not have to look like it belongs on Pinterest, your cookies can be irregular, and you don’t have to live in a stressed out state trying to prove you are worthy. You are enough.

    With all the new phone applications where we can mark our successes of calorie counting, money expenditures, “likes on our updates, it is as if we are charting our daily duties, just like our second grade teacher in school, with little stars by our names when we sat still in class, or left a clean work station, or recited the multiplication of 4’s without error.   Those little victories, those little check offs that we do each day, should be private reminders that we are on the path we have chosen.  Yet, within all the apps, or goal setting, it appears we all continue to strive and never rest.  We need those stars by our names.   I often think that we should remind ourselves of other victories; victories that we may take for granted.  Things like, making dinner without looking at the phone. Being present in a conversation.       

    I want to hand every woman I know a grey little box and inside a folded small, but never fading: Give yourself a break. You are enough.

    So, that through the holidays when each soul is tired with activities like chasing approval in the office gift swap, staying up late cooking casseroles to take to multiple holiday events, balancing family dynamics in lieu of their own feelings-- each woman can glance at their box and know.  I am enough.

  We will be giving one of the greatest gifts to ourselves, and as an unintended consequence tons of gifts big and small will be given to our loved ones.  By sharing our contentment with ourselves, we relax and enjoy the moment, and we truly are living the love we feel, versus trying to show it, control it, buy it, or earn it.

  And by giving ourselves a break, we make space for grace. We slow down and breathe. And the greatest present we can give is a new presence.  Merry Christmas.