In The Year of Living Biblically, author AJ Jacobs gained many insights during the year he sought to “follow the Bible as literally as possible.” AJ created some personal commandments as a result of his experiment. The first: Thou Shalt Give Thanks. AJ learned the power and importance of “giving thanks for the 100 things that go right everyday, rather than focusing on the few things that don’t.”

GCB 08 coverThis lesson is echoed in Prepare Your Heart for a Great Christmas.  The reflections begin on a day established for the purpose of giving thanks.  The journal pages ask us to consider:  “Today, I am grateful for …”  In the Thanksgiving Day reflection, we read: As you move through your day today, pay attention to the big and little things that are meaningful to you, from the people you love, to that wonderful light in the refrigerator that comes on just when you need it. Say “Thank you!” Then give thanks for how light your heart feels after you’ve said those two simple, life-affirming words!

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends!


Dear Maria,

Christmas will be here before I know it. I used to love this time of year, but these days I start crying just thinking about all the work I have ahead of me. I talked to my husband about it, but he just laughed it off and said things will work out. He doesn’t understand that I’m the one who makes things work out! How can I get back to feeling happy about this time of year?


In a Fall Funk

Dear In a Fall Funk,

“There’s a special kind of lonesome ‘round that ending time of year,” sings Harry Chapin in his Winter Song. Perhaps a part of you feels a little sad about the change of season? Folks who live in this climate say they love it. Yet, summer turning to fall and winter brings with it a touch of melancholy. There’s a sad, disconnected space inside. Preparing for the holidays ahead adds overwhelm to the mix. No wonder tears come to your eyes!

First of all, let yourself off the hook for feeling a little sad. Sure, you’d rather be happy, but I’ve found that sometimes the only path to joy is through a good cry. Set aside some time and mull over your feelings, and cry, laugh, hug yourself through them. Please don’t tell yourself you should feel a certain way. You can write about your feelings, or take a long walk in a beautiful place, or pour out your heart to a trusted friend, or listen to favorite music that touches your soul…or all of the above! Give yourself permission and space to just be. That’ll help recharge your batteries.

smile_hide_overwhelmedRegarding all the work ahead, take a hard look at what you have planned. Assess what’s really important to you and those you love, and who can help. Maybe your kids are a little older and can take on more responsibilities? Maybe someone else can host your gatherings this year? Talk with your dear husband about your ideas, and make a plan together. Generally speaking, men like to solve problems. Let him help you find a solution to the overwhelm you feel. Lots of planning resources are online; you might try Organized Christmas—they have great ideas! You might also check out my posts about Advent and Christmas. I love the seasons, and do all I can to minimize stress during the holidays. (Click on the Advent and Christmas category to the right on this page.)

Above all, I suggest you do what is important to you and your immediate family and, when in doubt, use the K.I.S.S. Principle. For today, close the door and grab some tissues. Let the sadness go, and you’ll feel lighter. Things will get easier. You’ll find beauty in this ending time of year.


Dear Maria,

I was raised that the only difference between white people and black people was the color of their skin. That black people were just like me, only darker. I never thought any different and always treated them with the same respect as I do everyone else. I was also raised to love everyone just like God has loved me. Lately I am finding this harder and harder to do. All of the killing lately is really striking a nerve. Black people are so mad at white policemen for killing black people. I have not heard much in the fact that the black person is committing a crime and the police are protecting themselves and others by the shooting. The slogan “Black lives Matter” also strikes a nerve with me. I feel that black people are now more racist that white people ever have been. I feel any racism that our county has overcome is now rearing its ugly head in people, people like me who treated them the same as everyone. These feelings are building up in me and I don’t like it.


No Longer Colorblind

Dear No Longer Colorblind,

Thank you for your brave questions. Racism is a heated issue, and many people are reluctant to talk about it. I appreciate your confusion over recent events. In addition to your confusion, I suspect there’s also sadness, fear, and anger. Feelings like these are boiling over for many people. Your letter shows that you’d like to sort them out. Here are a few of my thoughts.

I was raised in a similar manner. What I have come to see over the last two years is that skin color carries with it perceptions, history, privilege, assumptions, experiences…it is not simply an issue of different pigment. Broadly speaking, the experience of being white in America and being black in America are profoundly different. All of us are trying to make our way in systems—economic, legal, political, cultural, educational, and religious—that do not treat all participants equally. (Here’s an excellent opinion piece from the St. Louis Post Dispatch that helped me understand the economic side of this issue.) There’s the ideal of America, which reflects the equality you speak of, and the reality of America, which, sadly, does not.

I cannot understand what it is like to be a person of color in this country. But I can acknowledge that I have benefited, albeit unwittingly, in systems that favor people who share my skin color. As a woman, I can relate to what it’s like to be judged on my appearance, have my opinions dismissed by (male) colleagues, and get talked-over and ignored at public events, from civic meetings to my children’s sporting events. None of these, however, threatened my ability to feed my family, pay the rent, obtain healthcare, feel safe, or vote. The stress of poverty is real, and those of us who never dealt with it simply don’t understand.

The media is saturated with images of racist and violent behavior, initiated by people of all colors. (My Facebook feed is also full of posts that witness to our better selves.) Social media has exposed our country’s injustices in ways that previous news channels did not. The racism was there all along—we’re just seeing it plainly now. This upheaval calls us to revisit our assumptions about our systems, and each other. As I prepared to answer your question, I heard this terrific interview on the radio about a program called Showing Up for Racial Justice. (Coincidence? I think not!)  I invite you to listen to it. All parties need opportunities to talk about their feelings, perceptions, and concerns. Talking, and really listening, are the answer—not violence. Real healing begins with folks like you who are willing to share their confusion and pain. Thanks again.

Dear Maria,

My mother-in-law is the quintessential thorn in my side. She says awful things about people she doesn’t know, based on her naivety, judgmental heart, and sometimes based on her racist beliefs. It is beyond difficult to see her, to do anything with her, to listen to her hatefulness (which usually comes out as a passive aggressive and arrogant). At times I offer suggestions on trying new things, she always says no. She says she doesn’t like such and such. But she never tried whatever it is, I cannot understand how a person can blow off trying things, and then say they don’t like it. How would you know if you didn’t try? I asked her as much, and then got rudely trounced on. She in effect blames me for things and presses my buttons to the Nth degree, and she is worse about it lately more so than ever. I don’t know how to reason with her.

I don’t want to be her friend, I just want to be able to not feel uncomfortable every time I have to see her, for my husband’s sake. He’s an only child, and to her, he’s still her baby. She makes everything about him, which is frustrating, because he isn’t perfect, and she acts like he is.

What is the best I can do to help this situation? Should I convince my husband to intervene? What if he refuses? Do I think more about my own peace of mind first, my husband’s? I am sure I have said some things over the years where I sounded judgmental of her with her racist remarks. Do I apologize for things said long ago? What would you suggest?


Not Happy with Mother-in-law

Dear Not Happy with Mother-in-law,

She sounds like the inspiration for all bad mother-in-law jokes, ever. If she reorganizes your kitchen without permission, or conspires with your husband to keep secrets from you, run for the hills!

Difficult relatives are an issue in every marriage. There’s extra tension when it’s one of the moms, and your visits have become stress minefields. Your letter doesn’t give much detail on how your husband reacts when she goes on a rant, but I suspect he’s very practiced at remaining mum during the tirades. He may think you ought to behave the same way: avoid the bully and hope they’ll go away. Instead, you’ve tried to engage her as an adult. But, she doesn’t see you as a grown up, just as she still sees her son as her baby. She holds the floor because she’s the matriarch, pure and simple. There is no changing your MIL. Accept this as a given.

IMG_13091759670007Talk to your husband about this situation. Instead of enlisting his help to change your MIL’s mind, strategize ways you can make the visits more bearable. Is there an activity you can do together—play a game, go to a movie, scrapbook family photos—to take the pressure off of making conversation? If she starts in with the negative comments, leave the room. It’ll be uncomfortable at first, but keep at it. (If you both do this, you may affect some change in her behavior.) Perhaps your husband feels he’s caught in the middle. Do you both need to visit every time? Send your husband on his way and skip a visit now and then. I think part of your resentment may stem from feeling trapped and obligated. The visits are primarily your husband’s responsibility, so give yourself a break.

I consulted my friend and colleague Kenneth Pruitt for additional insights on handling racist remarks. He is Director of Diversity Training at the Diversity Awareness Partnership. He reminds us that “being firm and convicted about issues of race will cause conflict…it just will.” You’ll have to decide how much you want to engage her on these issues. As Kenneth suggests, those who are racially conscious “have to determine for themselves what their work is and what others have to work out for themselves. I may not argue with my grandmother, for example,” he writes, “but I’m sure not going to be vague about where I stand. And if that makes her uncomfortable, perhaps that’s a really good thing.” For more resources on this issue, visit the Diversity Awareness Partnership website.

Bottom line, we recommend that you take self-care really seriously. There are some important boundaries that need to be set with your husband, and with your MIL, for you to gain health and well-being. Minimize your contact with her, and when you do visit, don’t engage the negative comments. When you’re with her, pay FB_IMG_1441171138385attention to how the sunlight streams in the window, or the song playing on the radio, or the cool drink of water in the kitchen. In other words, be very intentional about finding beauty in the moment. Work on your own head by identifying one or two things you appreciate about your MIL—they could be as simple as her tasty cherry pie, or that she gave birth to your husband. Think on these things when you think of her. Practicing appreciation can help soften how you react to your MIL, and that will bring you peace of mind. Remember: All of us are doing the best we can with what we know. Use what you know to take care of yourself.

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.