Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sharing Christmas by Carolyn

You would think I would be good at sharing Christmas by now; I've been practicing it since I was a child. I can put on a pretty convincing show of it: "It doesn't matter what day you celebrate Christmas, as long as you get to spend time with people you love." Sounds good, right? The truth is, it is still hard to have no family celebration on the actual day.

My parents divorced when I was 11, so the typical family-all-together-around-the-tree-on-Christmas-morning ended fairly early for us. For the rest of my childhood, I rarely saw my father on Christmas.

Continuing the family tradition, my first husband and I divorced when our sons were very young. Throughout their childhoods, Christmas was a time of negotiations: "When do you want to meet to hand over the kids?", "When will you bring them back?" My Christmas celebrations with my boys were frequently not on Christmas Day. I tried to remind myself that I had the pleasure of being with them almost every day, so the least I could do was to allow their father the joy of celebrating with them on Christmas Day. Still, I felt empty without them.

Now that the boys are grown and in relationships, I must share them with other families. The negotiations continue: "When will your family have Christmas?" "When can we have our Christmas?" I suspect it will become even more complex as they have children of their own. Of course they will want to spend Christmas Day in their own homes, so the little ones can wake up and rush to the tree. I can't blame them for that. It is the natural way of things.

I am still struggling, even after all these years of sharing Christmas, to be content with my own small celebration of the day: a prayer of gratitude for the birth of my Savior, and a mental recounting of all the many blessings I have been given. After all, it doesn't matter what day you celebrate Christmas, as long as you get to spend time with people you love, right?


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Protect Your Fortress

At a wedding reception, the guests were invited to leave notes or words of advice for the bride and groom on scrapbook papers left on tables.  I usually draw a blank on those occasions when I have to produce a profound thought on the spot.  That night, all I could think of, was:  Protect your fortress.  The idea came from this Baha’i quote on marriage: 

And when He desired to manifest grace and beneficence to men, and to set the world in order, He revealed observances and created laws; among them He established the law of marriage, made it as a fortress for well-being and salvation . . .

Since that night, I have been thinking about how does one protect this fortress for well-being that is the institution of marriage.  Here is my current list:

1.   Invest in the foundation – Truthfulness, trust, honesty and respect are four strong pillars for building a strong marriage.  Other virtues can be added on but without these four tenets the fortress is susceptible to damage by forces from inside and out.
2.   Watch out for termites – Jealousy, resentment, fault-finding, gossip and backbiting eat away at the walls of the fortress.  Their effects can be slow and imperceptible for a long time, but over the years they add up and one day the slightest pressure causes the whole structure to crumble. 
3.  Do not recycle – keeping a tally of all wrongdoings and hurts and bringing them up at every opportunity holds everyone hostage to the past and paralyzed from moving forward.  Resolving issues and learning to forgive instantly wipes the slate clean and both sides feel free to grow and move beyond earlier mistakes and immaturities
4.  Beware of intruders – Friends and family , although well-meaning and acting out of love, can become unwelcome guests in the fortress if they sabotage the trust between the husband and wife and cause situations where they have to choose their partner over them.  Showing a united front and respecting the sanctity of spousal conversations by not sharing them with outsiders lets the world know the boundaries of the marriage.
5. Dust often - It is a lot easier to deal with problems when they are small.  Hurt feelings, misunderstandings and unintended offenses, if not dealt with quickly and regularly, can fester, grow and then explode at the oddest moment 
6.  Leave the repair work to professionals – There will be times when problems cannot be solved by conversation and consultation just between the two.  It is tempting to seek the advice of those closest.  But no matter how hard parents or best friends try, they cannot be truly impartial in giving answers or capable of asking the right questions.  It is best to leave the job to professionals.  It is an investment of time and money but it is worth it. 
7.  Do not keep the good china for the guests - Spending all of our good humor and charm on others can leave nothing for those closes and dearest to us. Life is too precarious to wait to be and do our best for the one that really matters.

And when the fortress of marriage is fortified, the society based upon it is strengthened.  Children born into these marriages will then grow up to “carry forward an ever advancing civilization.”