Thursday, July 12, 2018

Seeing and being seen

This summer I have tried to make it a practice to take a morning walk through my neighborhood. It's time I spend listening to the long list of podcast episodes that have been piling up, and hopefully, gain some level of physical and mental benefit.

Morning walks are glorious. The air is cooler, the sun keeps inching out, and frequently, there's a cool breeze before the day starts taking on heat. I love walking past the cow pasture, the dogs, the little kids out playing. I love the wind moving the leaves and branches of the trees, the amazing fragrance as I walk by blooming flowers, shrubs, trees and freshly-mowed lawns. When someone is making bacon with the windows open, it's a huge bonus. I practically skip.

What I love most is the waving. I live in the Midwest, so car waves are common. When I first moved to Iowa, my husband and I always laughed about the different car waves you see.

There's the one-finger wave (no, not that one): Common among farmers, it involves one of the index fingers being raised from the steering wheel in greeting.

There's the two-finger wave: Same idea, but it's the first and second finger. Bus drivers seem to like that one.

There's the high five spread: That's when the whole hand comes off the wheel. The hand spreads, much like a starfish, and is held stationary until the car passes.

There's the finger flip: It's a more refined wave - hand off the wheel with the thumb out and four fingers bobbing up and down.

The back and forth five: Hand off the wheel, with the hand pivoting back and forth from the wrist.

And the full on, break your arm, so excited to see you wave: It probably doesn't need a description other than that. That's usually from people you know well.

This morning, I paid more attention than I usually do, and realized that every single vehicle that passed me waved to me in one of the aforementioned formats. Every single one.

It got me thinking about the motivation behind the waving. Certainly it's the friendly Midwest culture. I've always loved that about living here. When I was visiting my family on the East Coast, my mom once rebuked me when we were in New York City saying, "Will you stop saying hi to everyone? They're going to think you're nuts!" My brother can't understand it when I strike up conversations with people at the grocery store. "You don't even know them!" he says. "Well, they may know if the peaches are mealy," I respond. They're usually happy to tell me.

I like to think the car waves are about connection. Jim, who is a former UPS driver, says he used to wave as a safety measure. "That way, people know that I see them and I'm paying attention."

It makes sense from a safety perspective, but it's also a lovely thought. Nowadays, we're more connected than we've ever been, but I still talk with people who feel like they're not being seen, heard and understood. They're dismissed almost immediately when they express a thought or philosophy that might be in disagreement with someone else.

I need to say that this rarely happens face-to-face. It's mainly done via news media, social media and the comments section. It's expressed via memes and flippant tweets or posts, all of which marginalize complex beings into one-sided puppets who are complete idiots. I took part in a recent Facebook conversation when one person posted an apology about a comment that might have been misunderstood. The person responded, "I stopped listening to you a long time ago." It didn't involve me, but it still made me feel like shit, so I can't imagine how the person trying to apologize felt.

I commented to Laura over coffee that a lot of those types of posts and comments have a person behind them that is managing a hurt that has absolutely nothing to do with what they're expressing. I tested this theory by reaching out to a few and saying, "tell me what you meant by that." After a few minutes, it was evident that their views weren't all that different from mine. They're just searching for ways to be heard.

But, what if ...

What if we employed Jim's philosophy to our interactions with one another?

What if we started with a wave that indicates "I see you - I'm paying attention."

Think of how much happier we would be if we saw each other and actually felt like we were being seen?

What if the process of healing our aching hearts and fractured nation starts with a wave?

I see you.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

To my daughter, the week she graduates from high school

My dear one,

This week has been full of conversations of the operational variety - the day's agenda, the evening's events, do you have all the pictures ready for the board for your party, have you hung up your robe to get the wrinkles out, have you cleaned your room.

You're the kid who knows your mother well, so I'm sure you know by now that's all a ruse to keep me from completely opening the floodgates. On Sunday, you will graduate, and in a few weeks, you will be gone for the summer. You'll be back to pick up your stuff, and then you'll be gone. No, your college isn't miles and hours away, but it will be different. You're leaving the nest, or to your way of thinking, flying the coop. You have gone from spirited toddler to quirky youngster to purpose-driven woman in what has felt like seconds. Considering that you're almost 18 literally took my breath away this morning.

I had always read that it takes about six months to get pregnant once you start trying. I don't know who came up with it, but whoever did is full of it. I was pregnant with you in about six minutes.True to form, you arrived two weeks early. You have proven each day since then that you would play by your own rules, follow your own agenda and march to your own drummer. That's one of the things I love best about you.

I don't think I have ever told you the guilt I felt at times when I was carrying you. Your brother was diagnosed with cancer just a few months after we learned we were having you. You as the life growing inside of me took a back seat to doing everything I could to keep my other child alive. For a while, my pregnancy felt like more of a medical condition that I was managing than a joy and wonder-filled process as my body went through weekly changes.

Still, I remember times when, in the late evening or the pre-dawn hours, as the hospital monitors swooshed and beeped, I would feel you move inside me. It was during those moments when I felt I could hope for the future when every inch of me was fighting from giving in to hopelessness and despair. That's one of the best ways I can describe you - you have been an affirming ray of light that came into my life at one of the darkest times I can imagine and went on to make it a daily mission to let your light shine.

I hope you remember that on days when you feel like you're still in the back seat. Days when it seems others are managing their relationships, their surroundings, their circumstances with ease, and days when it feels like it's a struggle and you're not enough. But sweet girl, you have owned your challenges and blazed your trail, and you are so far in the front seat that I feel like there are some days you could be the hood ornament.

Life isn't easy, and you know that. There's a lot I haven't had a chance to teach you yet, but to be honest, even more of it is on-the-job training, and there's no good way to prep you for it, other than tell you to jump in feet-first. You have the virtues we and others have tried to teach you: faith, perseverance, kindness, respect, compassion, empathy and generosity. And the strength to open a can of whoop-ass when it's warranted, along with the wisdom to know when and how that's appropriate. Serving others is important, but you also need to be the leading lady of your own life. Don't ever, ever let anyone tell you you're not good enough, strong enough or worthy. You are.

I need to tell you that life with you has delivered me with more joy-filled moments of wonder than I ever could have imagined when I was pregnant. The quiet intelligence in your blue eyes. The detailed, zany stories that effortlessly flowed from your imagination when you were little. The music that seems to surround your being, even on the rare occasions when you're not singing. The inner strength that is so evident, no matter what the circumstances. The endless well of compassion you dip into so generously with others. That affirming ray of light that you continue to bring to this world.

You are my joy, my hope, my promise, my light. I love you, I'm so very proud of you, and I can't wait to see what you do next.

Go get 'em.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Arms wide open - with pride

Members of the DHS Gay-Straight Alliance raising money -
and awareness. They are so amazingly wonderful.
Photo by Charlie Langton
We were recently in San Francisco and spent some time with Aunt Diane. She is an active member of Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, which is in the center of San Francisco's Castro District - just a few blocks from where Harvey Milk lived and had a camera store when he made his successful historic bid for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk was the first openly gay official in the state of California.

You wouldn't think "Catholic" and "gay" are terms that work well together, but if you visited MHR, you'd realize you were wrong. Diane actually found the congregation by Googling "Catholic" and "gay", and was delighted to find a congregation that was deeply rooted in the Gospel of Christ and the traditions of the Catholic Church, while at the same time being fully inclusive and welcoming to others.

I posted on Facebook how moved I was by the morning we spent, both in the Castro and at MHR. What I felt that morning was a welcoming so strong and so pure that it can only be described as radical. As the congregation filed in before Sunday morning services, people went out of their way to greet us, to talk with us, to welcome us. We felt we were sitting among family when the service began, and as we left, people were equally enthusiastic about wishing us well, wishing us safe travels, and wishing that we would return someday.

That commitment to being welcome and being a blessing comes from a group of people who likely, at many times in their lives, felt decidedly unwelcome. They felt ostracized by messages of intolerance and fear. They faced outright rejection when they came out to family and friends. They hid behind windows, curtains, doors and secrets, because they couldn't fathom letting a world so dismissive of differences know who they were.

Like Diane, with courage, they mustered the strength to open the heavy doors to the Church to try again. And there, they felt the radical welcome of a savior whose arms are open to all of His children.

As Damien told me that Sunday, "We take this welcoming shit seriously." Amen, brother.

This Saturday, our little town of 8,000 will celebrate Pride. The planning team is made up of some of my favorite people, and it promises to be quite an event - with parades, parties, music and laughter ... and welcoming.

I have seen and heard comments. It's unnecessary. I don't have a problem with you, but I don't need to have your orientation in my face. I'm fine with gay people - I just don't want them to come on to me. We don't celebrate straight sex. (My response to that one is always, "Really? Are you sure?")

I actually don't mind the comments, as long as they're given in the context of a conversation that really seeks to understand. Many people haven't been blessed with the family and friends I have who happen to be gay. There are many things they don't know or don't get.

All I'm going to say is please remember as you discuss and comment, both in person and on social media, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are watching and listening. They are noticing how we respond, how we react, and how we welcome or decide not to. They are in your homes, your workplace, your churches. Some of them are your children, and you may not know that yet. They are quiet because they are scared, and in many cases, with very good reason.

These are good, loyal, true and beautifully-made people, with hearts that love and arms that long to be open and accepted by others. Please don't think they're immune to comments that, even unintentionally, are uninformed, insensitive and downright unkind. They are not a mistake, they are not a scandal and they are not an embarrassment. If you feel that way, or if you feel they need fixing somehow, or they just need to go away and hide, I encourage you to do some self-reflecting.

And back to the whole church thing, we need to consider what Jesus is telling us to do when he instructs us to welcome and be a blessing.

Several years ago, Diane sent me a note that still leaves me breathless. Her partner, Michal, had been chronically ill for many years and was on dialysis. Diane's note told me she was preparing to donate one of her kidneys for her. Here’s what she told me:

“The opportunity to do this is the most glorious blessing God could bestow upon me. We think we may be able to set a date in the next week or so, so it could be as soon as a month away. A little scary but so much joy in the possibility.”

There are so many marvelous things about this story, and I hate to demean it by sharing it in a context in which people might politicize it. But can we say with a straight face to this couple that their love isn’t representative of how God intended love to work?

My prayer (in addition to continued health - the surgery was a success) is that an increasing number of Americans and Christians will answer “no” to both questions. Gay or straight, may we all grow to learn the wonder of that kind of love for another person.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What the world needs now

Wednesday, Feb. 14 is Ash Wednesday. It's also Valentine's Day, but more on that in a minute.
Rev. Douglas Sparks in 2016 - downloaded from the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

Several years ago, my perspective on Ash Wednesday changed. Dana, one of my colleagues who is a dear friend, is married to an Episcopal minister. The early morning of that particular Ash Wednesday, I was rushing to my office in sub-zero temperatures when I saw a crowd on a street corner. In the middle was Rev. Doug, imposing ashes on the people hustling to their destinations. I watched as he, bundled in a thick jacket, boots, hat and scarf, lovingly formed the sign of the cross on foreheads, and the cold turned his breath to frost as he mouthed "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."

I stepped forward to receive the ashes and tears sprang as I considered how Christ-like his gesture was. "Bless you," he said, patting my arm as he turned to the next person.

There have been a few moments in my life where the world came to a screeching halt and I came to the realization that much of what I stress out about on a daily basis just isn't important. Rev. Doug's Ash Wednesday gesture was one of those moments.

To hear the news headlines tell it, the juxtaposition of Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine's Day is one of the more significant conflicts facing our world this week. And in a way, I get it - the mother of all Hallmark holidays tends to be more about romance and chocolate than mortality and ashes. You don't have to be a marketing genius to know that  "Roses are red, violets are blue, I am from dust, and you surely are, too" doesn't play well amid roses, cupids and red heats.

But the more I think about it, the Ash Wednesday/Valentine's Day combo seems to be a perfect metaphor for what the world seems to need more of right now - a little more humility and a little more love. We only need to visit our news feeds to be reminded of the conflict, turf wars, violence, poverty, discrimination and any number of horrible things turning the world to ashes around us on a daily basis.

But ashes are a great equalizer. No matter who we are, no matter how blessed, no matter what we think we have achieved in this lifetime, we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

What we need to contemplate is how to sift through the ashes and find purpose.

This Wednesday, I'll receive ashes. I'll also throw my arms open to those people and things in my life that have fallen to ashes and need some love and attention. I'll look for purpose in the grieving, the sick, the marginalized, the depressed and the downtrodden. I'll reach out to those who feel unworthy, unwanted or unloved. I'll try to find patience, tenderness and grace where it's needed. I'll try to make some gestures that are charitable and kind.

And I'll probably eat some chocolate. I'm no saint.

What the world needs now is love. What will you seek amid the hearts and the ashes?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The immigrant in all of us

This is one of those posts that I wrestle with. Immigration is complicated. It has layers of complexity. It is usually argued emotionally, and understandably so. So let's start with emotion.

One of my son's close friends came to the United States when he was a young child with his parents, who were fleeing Russia.

To say his parents gave up everything to seek a better life in this country is an understatement. They still have family in Russia. They both had professional jobs. When they arrived here, they had nothing, and started over again working long and hard laborious hours, including late and overnight shifts, while they worked to make sure their son was never on his own. 

They persevered. They now are contributing members of our community. Their son is a good student, a talented athlete and an exceptionally driven person. A senior in college, he is driven to a career path that can help him support his parents as they grow older, much in the way they supported him.

Another of my son's close friends came to the United States when he was a young child with his parents, who were fleeing El Salvador. His parents obtained Temporary Protect Status, which allowed them to stay in this country, to work, to have a drivers license and to live as Americans. He thrived as a student, student athlete and community leader, and is now an award-winning teacher in Minnesota. His siblings were born here. 

Another family we know relocated from Poland after the father was invited to leave. His alternative was to face jail and even death. A follower of Lech Walesa's solidarity movement, he was put on a list  after fighting for a cause he believed in. They raised their children in our small town, most of whom went to college and are now raising families of their own.

These families I speak of aren't just contributing members of our community. They are our neighbors. They are loved. They are part of us. And I think of the lives they may have been stuck with, or the lives they might have even lost, if they didn't have the option of seeking something better in America.

But immigrants are stealing our jobs. They're terrorizing our country. They're costing us money. They don't pay taxes and they're stressing programs like Social Security and Medicaid.

That argument also is emotional. It's also inaccurate.

There are hundreds of ways to justify the right-wing agenda to curb illegal immigration. We need jobs. We feel unsafe. We're scared. We don't understand. We need to get a handle on things. We need to protect ourselves. America first.

All of those things may or may not be true, but I do know that these actions, along with the anger and fear from many (not all) who support no-holds-barred immigration policy represent a horribly naive view of how to prevent terrorism in this country. An audit of acts of terrorism in the United States since 1800 shows that many terrorists perpetrating crimes within this country are born and raised right here in the U.S.

Repealing DACA and laws that will repeal programs like Temporary Protect Status are in the works. This provides a very real problem to these friends and neighbors who live among us.

Deporting immigrants who have become members of our community to countries they have no knowledge of accomplishes nothing. Preventing desperate refugees from entering America after an extensive vetting and sponsorship process does not prevent acts of terror on our shores. What it does do is help fear fuel our intolerance just a little bit more, eating away at the empathy we have for those who are suffering in plain sight. That simply is not a Christian value, and I'll argue with anyone who tries to say it is.

We have all sought refuge for something better at some point in our lives. And, many of us know the taste of desperation. It's bitter with fear and it aches with hopelessness. I'm not willing to yank hope out from under someone's feet because I'm afraid.

I have no quarrel with those who want to reform immigration. But it is incumbent on us as patriots to lobby for immigration reform that is strategic, evidence-based and works to solve the problem, which is getting a handle on who is in this country illegally. That step isn't enough. We also need immigration reform that makes sense and has heart. Not a policy that sends a young man who has committed his life to educating our kids back to a country he has never known. Or his parents, leaving their U.S.-born children behind. That's just madness.

Here's what we need to do:

- Start conversations. Not just with the people who agree with you. Reach out and be willing to have tough discussions with people on both sides of the aisle. Tell them the stories of the immigrants you know. This is the single most powerful step to change we can take.

- Call your Representatives and Senators. Better yet, find out who is on their list of major campaign donors and call them.

- Learn the immigrations stories within your community, your local businesses and your schools. Lend your voice to those who are at risk. Their need is urgent and the time is now.

- Use your voice. It's easy to do nothing when you worry that speaking up will risk your job, your business, your friends, your relationships.

Nothing worthwhile was ever easy.

It's Epiphany. Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated the birth of a child of desperate immigrants who were fleeing terror and oppression. He went on to save humankind as we know it.

This is our Bethlehem, friends. Let's get after it.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Maybe it's time for a different bike

I belong to a yoga and cycling studio in our community. Even if you have only read a few of my posts, you understand that fitness perfection isn't the goal here. As Heidi so aptly puts it, "It takes a lot of work to keep a body looking this mediocre." The classes are varied and they keep me on a schedule. I also love the community there - people like Gretchen, Sarah, Charis, Rhonda and Rachael are ass-kickers, but they keep it real. They nod empathetically when I tell them, for example, that I don't know how the class is going to go because I'm suffering from a food hangover from eating half a chicken-bacon-ranch pizza the night before. Or a sleep hangover because the dog wanted to go outside at 3:30 a.m. And again at 4:30 a.m.

My intentions are always good, but the execution is frequently imperfect. This morning was one of those times. Class starts at 5:45 a.m. I am usually up by that hour, but not anywhere near full strength. The temperature read -18 on the dash as I made my way to the studio, and I was the last one to show up for class.

I usually try to get to class in time to get on "my" bike. It's the middle bike in the second row. If "my" bike is taken, I'll find another in the second row. If I absolutely have to, I'll get in the front row, but only in the middle area (under the fans). But this morning, since I was the last one at class, I actually needed to use the instructor bike, which Sweet Girl (the instructor - I won't name her because she's my son's age and I don't want to embarrass her) wheeled into the far left position in the front row.

We started class, and it was immediately clear to me that I had gotten used to the tension on the bikes I'm used to riding. If you've never ridden a stationary bike, you adjust the tension with a lever that simulates riding on a flat road vs. a small hill or what they call a "sticky" hill (I call it a "crying" hill, but anyway.) I set my lever on my normal flat road setting and went from 0 to Crying Hill in two seconds.

I ended up doing the flat roads on a setting that usually makes my legs fly out of control and the hills - well, let's just say I felt like crying a lot. Near the end of class, Sweet Girl said, "We have time for one more sequence, so now instead of one more, you have two more!" If I hadn't been gripping my handlebars so hard I would have given her the finger.

During the class, I had been looking at my bike's monitor, which keeps track of the amount of miles I've logged and the estimated number of calories I've burned. Both were low numbers relative to the amount of sweat rolling off my body. I got off the bike somewhat dejected - I had shown up and gotten through the class, but that's about all I could say about it.

Until I looked at my fitness watch. Turns out, I burned 100 more calories than I usually do during a class. I went from 0 to euphoric in 2 seconds.

I had to drive out of town for a meeting today and I thought about how this morning's workout is so representative of the ruts I get myself into from time to time. What today showed me so clearly is that a lot of the time, I feel like I'm working hard, but not getting any results. Steve told me one time that work is a lot like running training - some days, the running is great and others, it goes terribly. What matters is that you keep getting up every day to go running, and it eventually averages out. Steve is very wise. This morning, it didn't matter that the workout went well, but what mattered is I got up and did it. The fact that it worked for me is just a bonus.

Other times, I feel like I'm working from the minute my feel hit the floor to when my head hits the pillow and I still don't feel like I'm getting any results. Getting out of that rut requires some introspection. What are some of the things that are taking time and energy, but just aren't serving me well or serving me at all anymore?

The beginning of the year is perfect to take time to take stock of some of these things. What is necessarily hard? What should we re-commit to that might be a little harder at the beginning? What is hard, but doesn't need to be? What do we need to let go? What do we need to do to get to the next level, if that's important to us? What do we need to look at differently?

Life has challenges and layers and pulls us in different directions and it's super easy to get off course or stuck in a rut with any number of things that rob us of focus and intention. Food, alcohol, persistent "busyness", Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, excessive exercising, self-doubt, self-obsession - it's all stuff that can take up so much space, we get up one morning and realize that we're stuck in a rut.

It's ok. It happens. Being aware of it is a first step.

The second step? Get on a different bike. We got this.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Hushing the noise

Melissa brought up the carol, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" yesterday. "Everyone knows the first verse, which is pretty serene, but there are a lot more verses to it," she said.

She's right. I know the carol well and I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the three verses between the first and last. The carol was written by a minister who had suffered breakdown and wrote what he was witnessing. A weary world, full of sin and strife. Suffering. Forms bending low under life-crushing loads. In spite of that, he encourages the hopeful notion of stopping to listen for the angels:

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The bless├Ęd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

While the verses may not be familiar, the sentiment is.

The holiday season can be rough for many, but this year seems to be bringing a lot of emotions to the surface for some of the most stoic among us. I met with someone yesterday who admitted he has been losing sleep over any number of things, but mainly the political climate and some of the potential ramifications of decisions being made at all levels of government.

I couldn't offer him any guarantees or assurances, but I offered him some advice related to trying to hush some of the noise that was getting the best of him:

Limit the noise.
A self-preservation rule I have recently implemented is checking news sites once in the morning over coffee and once in the evening - before dinner and never right before I go to bed. I have turned off all news alerts on my devices. I have missed nothing of importance.

I'm well schooled in media and messaging and I can tell you this: The "fake news" argument is manufactured, but pervasive media influence is very real. Take some time to understand the game being played around you. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that every second, news outlets are fighting for your time, attention and energy; and headlines, leads, questions and sidebars are written to achieve just that.

Limit your exposure. Be intentional about checking social media. Don't read the comments section. Just don't.

It's also helpful to stay focused on established news sources that aren't as big with the slant. The news sites I tend to stick with are Reuters, PBS, BBC, NPR, The Economist and the Wall Street Journal.

Check yourself.
Jennie has this hanging in her kitchen:

T - is it true?
H - is it helpful?
I - is it important?
N - is it necessary?
K - is it kind?

She put it up years ago when her four kids kept lipping off to each other, but I think it's a good set of questions to have in mind before you go commenting, Tweeting, creating a meme or posting on social media. If you had a lot to say about stuff like the First Lady's White House Christmas decorations or Prince Harry choosing an American actress as a bride being the beginning of the end of the English aristocracy, I'm talking to you. Just don't. It's mean, it's not important, and it just adds to the hateful churn.

Change the message.
There's a lot of talk about watching Hallmark Christmas movies this time of year, which is a strategy I highly recommend. I also make it a point to read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol each December. It's a short read and it centers me on what's important. You don't have to be fully engaged with the world around you 24/7. Give your brain some recess.

Look for the helpers.
Mr. Rogers was right when he advised to look for the helpers when scary stuff was going on in the news. I think that's absolutely true. When political news is getting scary, I tend to look for perspectives from people on both sides of the aisle whom I trust and who view what's going on through a pretty thoughtful and measured lens. They're almost always successful in talking me off the ledge.

Wait well.
I bundled up against the 18-degree temperature this morning and took a walk as the sun was coming up. In our part of the world we have been treated to some absolutely breathtaking sunsets in recent weeks. But sunrise in December is in a class by itself. The sky transforms into layers of blue and white before the sun starts peeking up from the horizon, adding bands or purple and orange. The world takes on a different perspective when we take time to witness something like that.

Look, I'm not telling you that watching a few sunrises is going to completely turn things around for you. But I'm also not willing to concede that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Not just yet, anyway.

Human strife and chaos have existed since the dawn of time. Far from the tranquil scene frequently painted, Jesus came into the world amid a hotbed of ruthless power struggles, bloodshed and political unrest.

This isn't anything new to humanity, and oddly, I think we can find some comfort in that. In spite of what continues to happen, the sun still rises and sets. Light keeps finding a way to shine through. We move through and we move on.

For my faith tradition, this time of year challenges us with the discipline of wait. Wait can be exciting and it can be excruciating. For the times it's the latter, I try to remember that as I'm waiting for the joy of Christmas, I'm not just waiting for Jesus. I'm waiting with Jesus. When I remember that, it's easier for me to practice empathy, love, kindness, patience and hope - and these are much better uses of my energy.

As you work to hush the noise and manage your wait, I pray that your heart is filled with these virtues.