Celebrating Life

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This past week, I celebrated the anniversary of the day I was born. No, I’m not saying how many anniversaries, but the years are adding up. (And for those who already know how many, SHUSH!) I have gotten in the habit of making a big deal of birthdays, thanks to my dad, who never forgot a special day, and always did his best to make sure the day was as special as the person being celebrated. As a child, we made trips to a nearby lake to fish and picnic, to a state park to swim, or he asked someone to make a special cake for me when I accompanied him on a preaching assignment. I also watched him celebrate my mother just because he loved her. (He was allergic to chocolate, but would always bring her a hot fudge sundae with nuts when he returned from the nearest town, seven miles away. That is LOVE!)

As an adult, there have been periods when I have heard friends diminish the value of celebrating birthdays, perhaps because they were shown that it’s just another day or they may feel embarrassed by the attention. Or the years are adding up and have negative feelings about aging. At any rate, I have always believed that everyone needs a special day to be honored. I frequently receive questioning looks when I plan to celebrate my day at Disneyland. I’m not sure what the problem is. I suppose if I were married, a quiet, romantic getaway might be more appropriate. Since I’m not, the excitement and joy of “The Happiest Place on Earth” is my choice, and I refuse to apologize for that.

Here’s why. The weight of work and responsibility can be overwhelming at times, and allowing myself to enjoy being around the wonder and excitement of children reminds me that play is an equally important part of life. One incident at the park this week confirmed this notion. Disneyland is celebrating 60 years of fun and imagination. (And before you get all bent out of shape about the money being made off of poor, unsuspecting consumers, hear me out.) While our party was situated at the front of a designated viewing spot waiting for the recently updated Electric Light parade to begin, a mother asked if two children could stand in front of us when the parade started. They had tried to view the first showing, and had been cut off by taller adults and were unable to lift the four-year-olds for an extended period of time so they could still see. We gladly agreed, and made room for them in front of us. Little did we know that these two girls would provide as much, if not more, entertainment as the parade. They shared the exiting parts of their day, showing us their autograph books and naming the characters who had signed them. They got excited for every character in the parade, and when we saw the two characters from Frozen coming toward us, and asked who they were, they both, in unison, with all the energy they had, raised their arms, jumped up and down, and screamed, “Anna and Elsa, Anna and Elsa,” at the top of their lungs.

Whether you’re a fan of all-things-Disney or not, witnessing this childlike joy and excitement put life into perspective. When did life become mundane? Why do we let the mundane take away our joy and excitement so often? When did we decide that adults don’t act like that? I have so much in my life for which to get excited. I have to return to reality, but how can I make it exciting every day? I have a career I truly love. I have coworkers and clients who inspire me. I have family and friends who stand by me through thick and thin. I want to be exited about the “normal” in life and celebrate that life each day.

As these thoughts were meandering around my brain, another situation came to my attention. In recent years, the term “funeral” is spoken less regarding the formal gathering for a loved one or friend who has died, and the description “celebration of life” is used in its place. I’ve been to some of these events and they are truly celebrations of what the deceased has accomplished or the love he or she shared while alive. (The service for my paternal grandmother was one of those.) I can certainly appreciate the sentiment, and I know that many shared their feelings and thoughts while the loved one was still alive. I want to take on the challenge of celebrating others when they can hear or read my words and “feel the love.”

So … how about taking on this challenge with me. I dare you to handwrite a letter or card. To a coworker who has made your load lighter or shown strength of character. To a friend  who is always willing to hear about your difficult days. To a family member who needs to know they are important enough to hear some sweet words from you. (Not an email or text alone. A handwritten note. Please.) Celebrate life now. Before someone is gone and you’re saying those things for your own comfort. (Not that that isn’t okay, as well. But really. Do it now.)

IMG_0720If there is any business who takes celebrating life seriously fun, it’s Disney. You may not believe in some of the concepts they support, but you have to agree that their mission is celebrating life, and cast members are taught to carry it out. And there is no requirement of proof. I wore my “It’s my Birthday!” button three days, and I can tell you it is very special when hundreds, including other guests, offered greetings. Two different eating establishments offered small, free desserts. (Not to mention, feeding my roller coaster addiction.) On top of that, more than 100 friends took the time to acknowledge my special day on social media. I feel truly loved, and I have pictures and notes to go back and read on days when the chatter in my head has me believing differently. (I know I’m not the only one who hears the negative chatter.)

Celebrate others. Allow others to celebrate you! Get excited about who you are and what you have to offer. I would dare to wager that if you’re excited about your life, those who matter will get excited with and for you.

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Who is a Patriot?

On a day when Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, 239 years ago, my thoughts have been on what it takes to be a patriot. Patriotism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “love for or devotion to one’s country.” And I feel this love for and devotion to my country, the United States of America. My childhood was riveted with examples of people who felt a strong love and devotion for our country, and encouraged it in me. It wasn’t the 4th of July picnics, the parades of flags, or the red, white, and blue streamers woven through my bike spokes, although those things were included. I somehow felt the goose bumps and deep emotion from realizing the freedoms that I could claim and what those freedoms cost. Some have lost peace of mind because of what they experienced. Others have lost a limb or the physical ability to function as before they chose to serve. Some have given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to protect the country they love. Whether you believe in the purpose of any particular war/conflict or not, whether those who served were drafted or enlisted of their own accord, their devotion is not merely admirable, but humbling.

Given the examples of civic and historical knowledge deficit, as seen on talk show sketches, I can gather that the focus on these topics are lacking in some schools. (Please notice the emphasis on some, as I know there are teachers who are passionate about what they do as well as their own commitment to civic duty.) It makes me sad that students are managing to graduate high school without an understanding of or appreciation for the history that has made this country great, and even the implications of and lessons to be learned from the darker pieces of the past. And yet it seems that some of the loudest voices screaming for rights are the least knowledgeable or the most entitled.

Somehow we have forgotten that our “rights” cease when they cross the line into another’s “rights.” I have the right to listen to my music as loud as I want, but my neighbor has the right to have peace and quiet. I have the right to choose the type of clothes I want to wear, but my employer who pays my salary has the right to specify the parameters of what I wear to work for safety and professionalism. I have the right to express and live my religious beliefs, and everyone else has the right to be treated with respect, even when they believe differently. You get the point. It seems that too many of us have lived in prosperous times that have made us forget or minimize what we have, always wanting more. And now.

I experienced the privilege of spending a month in Papua New Guinea more than 33 years ago. What a beautiful place to see, wonderful people to meet, and very different culture to experience. It was a time I will never forget, because the people who live with far, far less convenience, are more gracious, generous, and grateful than any others I have met. I admit, I was extremely glad to be back on American soil (mostly because I missed hamburgers and our crispy French fries, and I have a texture aversion to fresh pineapple), but with a renewed appreciation for my country due to the grateful attitude I felt there. You don’t have to visit another country to gain a new appreciation of your own, but it is a positive result if you do.

How can you and I show our patriotism to this great country? For those of us who didn’t have the opportunity to serve or chose a different path, showing our patriotism must come in different ways. We all can’t get involved in the political scene, but we can show our gratitude for all we have access to rather than complain. We can ask for transparency of government offices. We can treat each other with kindness, respect, and grace, even when they believe differently. And pray. Enough of the nasty name-calling and hateful rhetoric. Enough of forcing our rights while infringing on the rights of others. Don’t let those who shed blood for this country to have died, lost limbs, or suffered emotionally in vain.  And when you’re at an event and hear our national anthem, stand tall with pride and gratitude, or stop on your refreshment run, remembering the price of freedom. God bless America.