By Tena Bastian
The other day, my daughter sent me a link to a contest being held in association to the new movie, Country Strong. It begged the question, what makes you country strong and your answer was limited to a specific number of characters. My take on it is that being country strong cannot be limited to a few words but rather lived every day in the things we do, the life we live, our faith in God and in ourselves and each other. The ability to take whatever challenges life throws our way and deal with them, to work hard for everything we love and when the sun rises, to wake with enthusiasm and gratitude for that next day and get out of bed and do what we do all over again.
We have all seen our fair share of misfortune through the years, we have been on top of the world and at the bottom of the heap and as the years go by, it seems that one day marks the passing of time more significantly than any other… Christmas. For some, it is filled with time honored tradition that has been carried on through generations. Traditions such as finding the perfect tree, the perfect gift, cookie baking, family bonding, etc. For others, it is a day that measures our success or failures for the entire year. It measures opportunities missed, the people we have lost, the crops that didn’t do as well as they have in other years, etc. In the average life span, there will be less than 100 Christmases, which makes that day even more special. An entire lifetime of Christmases is approximately as long as one summer.
Christmas time is magical if you really think about it. It holds our most vivid memories of the ones we have loved and lost, It is the time of year when there really feels as though there is hope for better days ahead, the time of year when all differences should be set aside for us to come together and just love each other. Above all else, it marks the day when Jesus was born and it is an excellent time to renew your faith.
I know, I know, the holidays in general can be extremely difficult. The kids are on an extended winter break, the stores are filled with people who aren’t always as nice as you would expect them to be. Money is tight and yet the list of things to spend it on is endless. Christmas cards need to be addressed, presents need to be purchased and wrapped, the weather becomes more challenging as we struggle to accomplish all these tasks. I have one word for you…breathe. Draw on that country strength that you have and just breathe. Look at your list with a new perspective and new appreciation that this Christmas is one of very few in your lifetime and remember what is important. With Christmas less than two weeks away, I wanted to give you some tips that might make it less stressful and more enjoyable.
Begin by looking at your list and marking off anything that you really do not enjoy doing. Either draw a line through it and forget about it or delegate it to your spouse or children. Use that time instead to saddle up your horse and take a ride through the new fallen snow and just breathe. I promise that when you return, the list will seem even more manageable. Shop on line after the kids have gone to bed and do it with a warm fire, soft music and a glass of wine. The first thing to buy is something for yourself that defines comfort; bubble bath, a soft robe, new slippers, whatever defines comfort in your mind. Then, no matter what chaos the weeks ahead may bring, you have that one thing to look forward to, that Fed Ex man pulling in the driveway with YOUR present to yourself.
Take one hour a day when the kids aren’t fighting, the dogs aren’t barking and no one is calling your name and sit down at your desk and hand write some notes to those people who have made a difference in your life during the course of that year. Not one million Christmas cards but a few select personal notes from the heart to tell these people that they made an impact on your life. It not only gives you a chance to really reflect on who made your year better but cuts down the endless list of Christmas cards. If you have a blog, post a summary page of your year and send invitations via email to everyone else inviting them to read it and wish them a Merry Christmas. Post a Merry Christmas on your Facebook page or through Twitter but save those special notes for the special people and really thank them.
Bake one kind of cookie and make a lot of them! Buy one large roll of wrapping paper , one roll of ribbon and one roll of tape. Then invite a few friends over with their one kind of cookie, wrapping paper and ribbon and you have accomplished so much. It is time well spent in the company of people you enjoy, presents get wrapped while you visit and at the end of the evening, everyone has a tin full of various cookies because you’ve exchanged their cookies with yours. Even better, have everyone bring the recipe for their cookies and share them with everyone else. Ten years pass and you have a collection of recipes for every Christmas cookie under the sun with memories of each of those people to go with it.
If you have small children, barter for some time to yourself to accomplish the things that you can’t do when they are home. Get four or five friends with children to each pick a day where they have ALL the kids, everyone’s children. Then you pick a day when you have all of them. That one day is going to be long but the good news is that each of you will have four or five days to yourself!
Remember the reason for the season and that your faith is important to you and put it first on your list. Go to church, read your kids the story of the first Christmas, set up a nativity scene with them and explain to them what part each played in that holy night. Sit under the stars with some hot chocolate and tell them about the star that lit up the sky on that glorious night so many years ago. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t get lost in the commercialism of the day and you take time to renew your connection to God and celebrate his son.
I’ve talked before about the existence of a universal subconscious and how we are all tied together in mind and spirit. Find a way to send a positive message into the entire world by smiling at everyone you meet. Wish them a Merry Christmas and mean it. It starts a wave of kindness that ripples through everyone’s lives and it will eventually come back to you tenfold. Give something to someone less fortunate, lend an ear to someone who needs to be heard, be considerate to those who are going through a rough time in their life. Be kind to yourself. You have to be kind to yourself before you have anything to give to someone else.
We are fortunate enough to live the life that most people only dream of living. We are closer to nature and to God out here in the country and we should never take that for granted. This time of year, especially, we need to count our blessings and be grateful for all we have in our lives. We are country strong in ways that most people can’t even imagine and I for one am grateful for that and for my connection to all of you. So as we come closer to Christmas, regardless of how busy we are, take a few moments to reflect on what we have and who we are and listen to the needs of others and really hear them. Fulfill dreams whenever possible, lift a spirit when a heart is broken, start a ripple effect of joy and watch what happens as a result.
To end this week’s column on a humorous note, I have compiled a list of how to spot a Christmas Cowgirl. Let us know if you fit into this category…
You are a true Christmas Cowgirl if…
1. Your barn is decorated in lights and evergreen.
2. You get excited if the wrapped presents smell like new leather.
3. You know the true reason for the season and never refer to Christmas as X-Mas regardless of how politically correct it may be.
4. Your tree is fresh cut with your chain saw and is hauled home in your pickup truck. Not artificial and not prelit. (Allergies are the only exception)
5. The stockings are hung with care but are hanging on the front of your stalls.
6. The horses and cattle are fed before the presents are opened.
7. You shop at Couture Cowgirl, Tractor Supply, Drysdales, Rod’s Western or Sheplars instead of the mall.
8. Instead of watching the Christmas parade, you deck out your horse and ride in it at least once in your life.
9. You know you will be sleeping in the new boots for a week in an effort to break them in.
10. Your horse knows ALL the lyrics to ALL the Christmas carols because you sing them at the top of your lungs as you clean the stalls or ride through the woods.
Last but certainly not least…
You know that the American flag is an essential part of your Christmas decorations and it is NOT made in China.
It’s time for Bear and I to get our own tree up and presents wrapped so until next year, from our house to yours, may you have a blessed and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Be present in each moment, remember that the gift is in the giving and be grateful for a starry night, new fallen snow and the horse that meets you at the gate.
Tena Bastian at www.tenabastian.com