Just like it is for many people, the holiday season is a rough time for me.
I struggle with chronic pain that seems to coincide with the cold months, and the shorter days and cloudier skies of late fall and early winter don’t do much for my Vitamin D consumption, and my mood accordingly tanks.
A friend of mine asked me over coffee this morning, “How are you handling the change in season?” He knew what he was asking. We’ve known each other for 10 years and he’s seen me struggle. Today, though, I surprised myself by smiling at him.
“The sun came out today,” I said. “That really helps.”
But if I’m being honest, I’ve been handling it better this year, and indeed, over the last couple of years. And I think I know why.
Sometimes, on the coldest days, when the pain has really settled into my body, I walk to work. I do it because movement helps the pain, and because it’s good for my brain, too. It lifts the spirits and clears my head. And I get to soak in the beauty of the historic downtown area in which I make my life, and that is never a bad thing.
But I also walk by a church that has borne the same thought-provoking words every day since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when tempers were short and grace seemed in short order. “Kindness,” the sign reads, “never goes out of season.”
I see that sign now and I think of the rough season I had a few years ago, during which I walked home from work one dusky, early evening, fatigued and in tears, and sobbed and argued with God about the things in my life that were surely so trivial and meaningless to Him, but consumed my whole world. The bills were mounting, my time was in short supply and I felt like I was burning the candle at both ends and in between.
“How do I feed my family when I can’t find the time or the money to go grocery shopping, let alone cook my children their dinner?” I asked. “How do I show up as a mother and a wife when I can’t even show up for myself?”
I cried that day three years ago as I passed that church sign, and I heard a voice speak firmly to my soul: “Keep being the kind and compassionate person I made you to be. I am with you always. Trust in me, and trust that I made you and I won’t let you fail.”
I still get teary thinking of that moment, and remembering the overwhelm, not just of life as I was feeling it, but of the love that poured into me in that moment.
I’m not a religious person by any means, but I am a profoundly spiritual person and a woman of deep faith. I took the words to heart. And in doing so, I began to see signs everywhere that seemed to indicate I was smart to listen.
I got through that rough winter on kindness and compassion, beginning with rescuing a rooster from a busy parking lot (with the help of my spouse and two young strangers who disappeared into the darkness of night) and supplying him with some lady friends, thereby ensuring that if we had nothing else, at least we had eggs to eat. And perhaps a chicken, if things got really dire.
I also survived that winter by remembering a phrase I had read the same day I had my meltdown with God. It was a challenge, really. Something to the effect of, “You know you’ve had a meaningful day when you are the reason someone else smiles.”
It became an unspoken ambition of mine, to be the reason someone else smiled. And not just any “someone else,” although it was — and still is — important to me to light up my friends’ and family members’ faces. I wanted to take the challenge to the next level. I wanted to be the reason someone who doesn’t know me at all smiled.
And let me tell you, that sounds like a lot of work, but it was so easy. And what it did for my mental health, I can’t even describe. Pretty soon, it just became a part of my personality. I don’t even think about it, now — whether I’m fielding complaints on the phone or passing someone by in the neighborhood, it’s instinctual. I will be kind. And I will make them smile.
Kindness never goes out of season, as that sign says. But when the days are short and dark, and we’re short on time and long on errands, it’s easy to lose sight of how much kindness can matter, not just to the people in our lives, but to ourselves. And not just in receiving it, but in giving it.
In this holiday season, while we’re rushing to put up the Christmas decorations, fretting about the heating bills while finishing up our shopping for gifts, planning for family gatherings, all on top of just living the usual day-to-day routine; when the stress piles on and we are ready to crumble under the weight of it all, let’s do this one thing together: Let’s go out of our way to brighten someone else’s day.
Be the reason someone else smiles.
It’ll be the reason you smile, too, I’m willing to bet.
Here’s to a happy holiday season with plenty of warmth, love and good food to keep you going until the spring sunshine returns.
As always, I love to hear from you. Share your thoughts with me by phone at 417-256-9191, or email, email@example.com.