While we are all so wrapped up in the presents we are giving to gladden hearts at Christmastime, we might pause to think of that other side of giving that means much more in every home—the giving of ourselves. The Christmas Present, after all, is only a token of our feelings, and more important are the daily contributions we can make to the happiness of those near us.
--House and Garden (December 1938)
Recently I went back to read the Simple Abundance meditations I wrote for the Christmas season. I was surprised by how little had changed in my emotional response on the annual miracles women of all faiths perform during the holiday season. But December is the month of miracles. The oil that burnt for eight days. The royal son born in a stable. The inexplicable return of Light on the longest, darkest night of the year. As Willa Cather reassures us, “Where there is great love, there are always miracles.” Let’s believe her. If there’s ever been a year we all need to believe in a benevolent Giver of all Good, it’s this holiday season.
Glancing back in a Dickensian kind of way, hovering over the scene with the Ghost of Christmas Past, I can see a mother of a young daughter. She’s writing in tiny room, the size of a closet and working at an old word processor, so ancient that quills and parchment would have been an upgrade; the monthly check-ups at the local computer shop came out of her grocery money, To make things worse, I’d been working on “The Book” for so long it had virtually became the fourth member of our family. I’m surprised I didn’t keep a place setting for her at the dining room table.
I had been struggling over two years. I was supposed to be a paid working mother and it had been a long time between paychecks. Constant discouragement and I got to know each other very well during that time. There’s a certain turn of the screw that only 30 rejections from every major publisher in the US can trigger. People in your life begin to ask, not unreasonably mind you, if it’s not time to get a “real job." I had published two previous books and had been a nationally syndicated writer; I had been paid to write before. So the reasons? Simplicity wasn’t commercial, and a lifestyle book based on Gratitude? Forget it.”
Some of the letters were so harsh, they still makes me wince.
There were some days when I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I had to make breakfast, lunch and do carpool. There were also many long, dark nights of the soul when I cried in the shower or into my pillow, trying to keep the self doubt and despair to myself. Then one day Katie asked me if would mail a letter for her, written not to Santa Claus but to Heaven. Of course, I read it and then promptly posted it in my heart. Babes-- you’re only kidding yourself if you think children don’t hear or know when Mom’s unhappy The letter read:
Dear Guardian Angel,
This prayer is not for me, it is for my Mom. Please Angel, let my Mom get a book contract. Please talk to the Guardian Angels of the People who decide about publishing ….
There’s nothing much you can do after reading something like this except start crying again, pull yourself together and get back to work. Start writing another meditation (like December 10th’ Gifts of the Magi). Eventually the thoughts, words, sentences, paragraphs and pages begin to accumulate and accelerate; propelled by your time, creative energy and emotion until the “Work” achieves the momentum it needs and breaks through your personal velocity to become strong enough to exist on her own.
By now, I had empirical proof of the power of Gratitude to change one’s disposition from pessimist to optimist, because back then I wasn’t just writing about Simple Abundance, I was living it. I was my own Research and Development Laboratory. I knew they were wrong. Still, two years into any project that the world’s not buying, and you either become a cynic and give up or get really stubborn. Guess which one was my choice? I made up a mockup of a New York Times Best Seller list and dated it for June 1996, three years in the future. I taped it to the word processor screen and spoke the words “Just watch me” before I started each day’s assignment. Later I discovered to my delight that Sir Isaac Newton also experimented on himself, as did Madame Marie Curie, the only person to win the Nobel Prize twice and Dr. Jonas Salk with his polio vaccine. I was in good company.
And so I wrote Simple Abundance (and beat my own best seller deadline by two months) but the creative truth I want to share with you is that Simple Abundance really wrote me. As I learned how to use the wondrous power of Gratitude, Simplicity and Order to ground me in my daily round, I discovered that I could be open to the spontaneous occasions that revealed Harmony, Beauty and Joy surrounding me. The results seemed miraculous.
They still do. When I use the saving graces of Simple Abundance actively, especially when I’m worn to a raveling trying to balance work deadlines with the advancing holiday merrymaking, limited budget and finding a new home, I’m amazed at how I can cope with rising to an occasion I hadn’t expected. I’m thrilled that I can take another look around at my circumstances and figure it out. Or wait it out. Accept things for now. All I have is all I need today, except the realization of how much I have. Thank You.
Now when I think of all the blessings that have arrived in my life wrapped in brown paper and string—as necessities instead of indulgences—it really makes me feel both humbled and incredulous. Believe me, I never wanted any of those blessings disguised as disappointment and despair. I would have refused to accept them and returned them to Sender, if I’d only known how to do it. But what I’ve finally learned is that if there is a gift in disguise, then there must be a Giver. What makes this all the more poignant is that when we stop to consider this, the truth is, it’s always been so. Christmas and great need are inseparable, as intertwined as hope and faith or the holly and the ivy. Remember we’re told “Now faith is the substance of things sought for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)
Some of you, my dearest ones, have been Simple Abundance kindred spirits for many years now. Other readers are new, finding me by happy coincidence or on the recommendation of a family member or friend. What we’re all seeking (me included!) is a respite from all the crises, and a succession of contented moments.
So shall we try a little holiday ritual together? Invite the Simple Abundance Graces to intervene in our daily round and show us just how “real” Divine assistance is, here and now. Asking for help is a woman’s toughest personal challenge, at least it still is for me. But here is a spiritual law (and gift) for the ages, especially this Christmas Present. We have to ask before we receive. Ask, Ask, Ask. (June 3). Trust me, if there’s a meditation in Simple Abundance, I lived it and took really good notes.
Good cheer is not limited to Christmas carols but can be made one of our gifts to the family all year round. I don’t mean that we should all be Pollyannas, but “a merry heart doth good like a medicine.” We give of ourselves by example and by our presence as well as by our presents. If we are jittery and irritable it is communicated through the whole household whether we will it or not,” the editors of House and Garden reminded their readers in 1938. “But we can give courage and encouragement, sympathy and advice. We can contribute so much to the sense of well-being and of security by our own attitude and actions if we give a little thought to them, a little more thought perhaps than we give to the choice of our Christmas gifts, that we can create that atmosphere in our home. The things we do and say mean so much more than all the dolls and hobby horses and streamlined electric trains.”
So today, let us be grateful that through grace, we can live Christmas Present and gift it to others.
Sending you tidings of comfort and joy, dearest love and always blessings on your courage.