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Just For Today

The forthcoming story is from, Hazelden Meditation series,

Food for Thought, Daily Meditations for Overeaters. I (Mary) certainly can relate to this person’s story toward recovery. Our faithful God knew we could only handle one-day-at-a-time.

 

Just for today

 

I do not have to plan the rest of my life this

morning.  All I have is today. I do not need to

worry about what I will have for dinner tomor-

row night. All I need to be concerned about

today is today’s food plan.

 

By accepting the fact I cannot eat

spontaneously—whatever and whenever I feel

like it—I have freed myself to live more spon-

taneously. I make plans for the things that need

to be done, but I find time left over to use as the

Spirit moves. I will not decide today what I will

do with that free time tomorrow. Tomorrow will

bring new possibilities and promptings.

 

Just for today, I am living my program. I will

not worry about how hard it will be to work it

tomorrow. Tomorrow I will have new strength

and fresh insight. Just for today, I will re-

member to stop and listen to the inner voice and

follow where it leads. When I follow it, there is

adventure in the day and joy in my heart.

 

Thank You for today.

Lessons From a Little Brick Schoolhouse

LESSONS FROM A LITTLE BRICK SCHOOLHOUSE  by Sharon Sheppard

A childhood memory – shared in honor of Back-to-School Month

 

Some might say we were educationally deprived, growing up as we did in a small town. But just because there were only 350 of us in the whole village–most of us poor during those post-depression years–doesn’t mean we didn’t get a proper education.

These days you have to go to a fancy private school if you want small class size.  But in our town, all the classes were small. My brother Carl’s senior class fit into a phone booth—all 13 of them. Not that we had any phone booths in our town. They had to drive nine miles to Pine River to find one in order to have their cozy class picture taken.

Our town knew good and well that nobody really needed kindergarten, so, ready-or-not, we jumped right into first grade when we turned six, and most of us turned out none the worse for the wear.

I adored Miss Lyons, my first-grade teacher.  She seemed like angel to me. But when World War II got into full swing, she quit in the middle of the year to join the WACS (Women’s Army Corps). But compared to Miss Lyons, no other teacher ever seemed quite so perfect, in my young mind.

In grade school we had a different teacher almost every year, and some years we had two grades in the same classroom. But in high school, we had a different teacher every hour of the day. And some of them were really different! We had an English teacher who, according to rumors, kept a flask in the adjoining cloak room, though I never saw it. And our music teacher, who also taught social studies and business and a few other courses he had never trained for, often slept through class.

Georgie Sycks, a local boy who went away to college, came back home again to teach—all grown up and polished as could be. He was a fine teacher, but even after he became high school principal, he never could shake off his old nickname: Georgie.

I won’t mention the name of the superintendent who forgot to send in the registration for our musical group after we’d qualified to compete at the state level (under the direction of the above-mentioned sleepy music teacher). After all those hours of  practicing to perfect “I Heard a Forest Praying,” and taking first place at the regional vocal music contest, and after a four-hour ride from northern Minnesota to Minneapolis, our triple trio arrived at Northrup Auditorium, as excited as any of us had ever been.   This was to be our crowning fifteen minutes of fame—a chance to put Backus, Minnesota, on the map. Dressed in our Sunday best, we’d prepared to knock the socks off those snooty University of Minnesota judges and show them that we weren’t your average small town hicks.  But we never got the chance.

Because of our superintendent’s absentmindedness, we weren’t allowed to compete. Our fearless but disorganized leader had goofed again. This triggered a whole slew of emotions and, I’m ashamed to say, we thoroughly trashed the superintendent during the four-hour ride back home.

We had a lot of good times too, and small classes meant less competition, which, come to think of it, probably wasn’t the best motivator either. A small school meant anybody could become a big fish in a microscopic puddle. Any high school male could letter in all three sports. Almost any warm body could join the choir. And almost anybody who cracked a book from time to time could become valedictorian if she set her mind to it.

A long-standing tradition in our town dictated that each year the junior class would trek out to “The Point” on Pine Mountain Lake and gather a truckload of cedar branches. Poked into chicken wire, these boughs created a fragrant backdrop across the back of the stage for the graduation ceremonies—sort of like Christmas in May. It also fell to the juniors to make and suspend letters across the stage spelling out the senior class motto against those lush green boughs.

Principal Georgie Sycks provided a booklet of motto options he considered appropriate, and our senior class had no trouble choosing one: the longest motto would mean the most work for the juniors. So we quickly chose “Failure to hit the bull’s eye is not the fault of the target” as our ongoing inspiration for life.

Memories of my first day of school trigger sensory reminiscences of freshly waxed oak floors, polished wooden desks with ink wells, spotlessly washed blackboards, and a scratchy, newly starched pinafore Mama had made for me.

My last day of high school recalls an evening filled with the heavenly aroma of fresh cedar boughs coupled with fragrant bouquets of lilacs and the sound of “Pomp and Circumstance” played on the school’s upright piano.  These sights and sounds and smells are indelibly fixed in my mind as we finally reached our long-anticipated graduation night.

A few graduates from Backus High School have gone on to earn advanced degrees–master’s and Ph.D.s. Some became teachers, nurses, or pastors, and a few wrote books. As for me, I graduated at the top of my class of 22 students, some of whom had been together for all 12 grades, and delivering the valedictory speech to the hometown audience where everybody knew everybody was one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do. I and went on to a state university where I majored in English, despite sketchy preparation by my alcoholic high school English teacher, and minored in music (drowsy, unmotivated music teacher notwithstanding).

But just because we didn’t have electives or up-to-date textbooks or more than a couple hundred library books for all twelve grades was no sign we didn’t learn the basics, one way or another. Our schooling may not have been ideal preparation for college, but it made pretty good training for real life.  It taught us to roll with the punches, make do, pull together, resolve conflicts, and learn to enjoy homespun fun. Those lessons have served me well for a lifetime.

And no matter how far I travel in either miles or time, in my heart I’m never far from my hometown. I’ve always been directionally challenged–I think I must have been gone the day Mrs. Wirt taught map reading in fifth grade.  But if I want to figure out directions, in my mind’s eye I go back to our front yard and face the school. To my left is Pine Mountain Lake—that’s west. To my right is the cemetery out on the edge of town—that’s east. And the school—that’s my North Star.

Now that I’ve had lots of practice in proofreading (I taught English to college students for 18-plus years), the last time I drove by our hometown school I noticed that an L had dropped off the Backus Public Schools nameplate. The sign gracing the front lawn now reads:  Backus Pubic Schools.

And they say there’s no need for people with English degrees these days.

 

Uptight About Shifting into Back to School Mode?

Uptight About Shifting into Back to School Mode? by Mary Zigan  Good Housekeeping recently posted the ultimate back-to-school supplies shopping list from kindergarten to college. It appears the cost to send an elementary student back to school is in the $170.00 range. Yikes…  supplies only! This is to say nothing of haircuts, shoes, and clothes; it makes me feel anxious just thinking about it. It also gets me wondering if our children are feeling anxious about starting another school year.

 

Psychologists understand our ever-changing culture of “fast, more, and doing,” and   they also see and hear the effects it is having on our children. According to Vanessa Lapointe, PhD, a parenting author and psychologist in British Columbia, “Children are not accessing the outdoors, engaging in enough regular physical activity, and experiencing the benefit of child-led free play. This changes the chemical makeup of the brain and leads to increases in anxiety and related mood shifts.” Lapointe goes on to say, “Kids also need daily time to connect and engage—eye-to-eye—with their parents in a relaxed setting where stressors are minimized and the volume of life is turned down.” Good counsel, I would say!

Over two thousand years ago, written in the best-selling Holy Book of all time, the Bible, it states, “Be anxious for nothing, don’t worry about anything. Tell God what you need, then you will experience His peace.” Those of us who are Christians have heard that powerful Scripture verse many times, but have we heeded that Word? It seems the world and situations in this world are getting more anxious by the minute. Let’s apply this truth in our lives so that we may know this peace, and offer it in good measure to our children. Being anxious can be replaced with peace. It requires getting still, really still, being mindful of thoughts that rob us, and giving our full attention to the work at hand. Tucked in that Holy Book, it also states: “As thy day is, so shall thy strength be.

 

What a promise and what provision!    Thanks be to God!

Where Did the Summer Go?

Where did the summer go? 

Wasn’t this the fastest one on record?

Summer should get a speeding ticket!

If you’re like most of us, you’re shaking your head and wondering how September could possibly be right around the corner.

If your summer was good, remind yourself that the tans will fade, but the memories will last forever.

If yours was not so good, remind yourself that another one will come around next year (God willing), and rather than mourn its passing, here’s a prescription for curing the end-of-summer blues:

Thank God for life, and make a list of 10 other blessings.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), philosopher, mathematician, theologian, and physicist, said: There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of a man which cannot be satisfied by any created being but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.  

He also said, All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quiet in a room alone.

So turn off the electronic devices, brew yourself a cup of coffee or tea, take a deep breath, and inhale the silence.

There’s no charge for blessed solitude.

SS

Listen to the Nigglings

Listen to the Nigglings  – By Mary Zigan

Do you ever have that persistent, annoying, nagging, unsettled feeling like, “What am I supposed to be paying attention to?”

It is so easy to ignore the still, small voice of God among the loud, persistent voices of this world. Living in the 21st century is filled with busyness, wouldn’t you say? Headlines and news stories demand to be heard, electronic devices beep and ding and ring incessantly, voices in the media shout opinions, calendars are packed full, and all these events compete for our attention. Life feels crowded by electronics, by activities. by politics, and by the media. If we are not careful…we can run all day and feel exhausted, anxious, discontented, and unfulfilled, and can easily not notice the still, small voice within.

So how do we really listen to the nigglings, and what are they trying to tell us?  Because we live in flux on this earth, life ebbs and flows. The seasons of our life come and go, and we have people, places, and things to deal with and be aware of.

The Good News is that Christ has chosen you and me, and He is ever calling us to purity, and purity is far too deep for us to ever arrive at naturally. Often, the persistent annoyance within is what we would call “small, little offences that nobody else sees or knows about.”  Yet, God’s Word in (Hebrews 6:17) reminds us: He knows our hearts, and has bound himself to us with a promise and an oath that He will never give up on us or lie to us. Christ has paid the penalty for our sin and wants us to fall back into His arms and allow His pure heart to transform us.

Have you ever asked God to give you His desires, His nature, to think the way He thinks? As we adjust ourselves to His heart’s desires for us, because He is ever pursuing us, we will begin to notice the nigglings more readily–that need to be given to God to handle– and we will enjoy freedom from that unsettled feeling. And when we pray we will be asking for the very things God desires.

“This is the new covenant I will make with my people, says the Lord; I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.”

(Hebrews 8:10)

Amen! 

     I will have reached the point of greatest strength once I have learned to wait for hope.

                                                                                                                           George Matheson

 

Mary’s Simple, Exquisite Summer Quiche

Mary’s Simple, Exquisite Summer Quiche    

August is the season for fresh produce. Gardens are plentiful with onions, tomatoes, and corn. So my thinking is: “Why not serve foods fresh from the garden during this time of harvest?” Last week I had guests for brunch and served this tasty quiche. I hope you enjoy it.

Crust: You may want to buy the pie crust; however, check our October 2013 Archives for my easy peasy, pat in the pan crust that is yummy.

 

Filling:

Saute in 1 Tbsp. of oil until lightly browned

½ cup scallions, diced

2 Poblano peppers, diced

3 ears of corn, cut off cob

 

Beat together in a separate bowl:

5 eggs

1 cup ½ & ½

pinch of salt, pepper, red pepper flakes & chopped basil

 

Grate:

½ Cotija cheese and add shredded Quattro Formaggio (any kind of cheese will work)

 

Mix all ingredients together and pour into the pie crust. For garnish, slice a fresh tomato very thin and place each slice in circle onto the filling ingredients, reserving one slice for the middle. Bake 375 for 35-45 minutes.

ENJOY!

 

Learning to be Good

A number of years ago, this precious friend shared her personal story with me, and we worked on this article together.  Learning to Be Good is a true account of her troubled early life and how eventually she found peace with God. She has given me permission to share this story.

 LEARNING TO BE GOOD . . .By Patrice Carlson (Not her real name)

The familiar smell of booze hung heavy in the air of our tiny second-floor apartment.  I was three-and-a-half years old and hungry, but Mama was gone again, and I didn’t know when she would return.

My two-year-old sister and I scrounged through the empty metal breadbox, hoping to find a crust or a cracker to tide us over.  Eventually our mother showed up with yet another man we’d never seen, and she sent us out to play.

Once in a while she gave each of us a couple of pennies to go to the store for candy.  One day the store owner took me into the back room and sexually molested me.  He said he’d bring a dime to my house if I promised not to tell.  I learned to keep secrets at an early age.  But the experience made an indelible impression on me, and even today, when I occasionally see a man who resembles that child-molester, I remember what he did to me in the back room of the candy store.

When my relatives decided our mother could no longer care for us, the shuttle from one house to another began.  Sometimes my sister and I were placed in the same home, and sometimes not.

For a while we lived with my brawling father.  As he dropped us off at yet another home, he’d warn, “Behave yourselves, or they won’t take care of you.”

Finally our Aunt Mamie took my sister, but she didn’t want me.  I went to Aunt Opal’s, but they already had two children and another on the way.  Her husband Sam didn’t want me, and they couldn’t afford to keep one more child.  With each move I felt that I’d failed the test.  I hadn’t been good enough.

I attended kindergarten at a Catholic parochial school.  I’ll never forget a drawing I made in class one day.  Because I didn’t think I had done a good enough job, when the nun passed back our papers, I pretended it didn’t belong to me.  She insisted on giving it back to me, but I stubbornly refused to take ownership.  It wasn’t good enough.

Just before my sixth birthday, my relatives had a little family party for me.  I didn’t realize it was really a goodbye party.

A couple of days later, on my birthday, I was taken to church.  There a woman looked me over, then nodded.  At the end of the service, she took me home with her to the house that would become my home until I grew up.

Things changed drastically for me from that day on.  For the first time ever, I sat down to regular meals.  For the first time I had my own bed to sleep in.  Life should have been wonderful now that I didn’t have to forage for food or sleep on a park bench, but it wasn’t.

I saw my birth mother only once after this.  She stopped by the following year to leave a gift for my seventh birthday.  She was a stranger to me by then, and after she left I opened the package to find a pair of silky pajamas.

“Throw it away!” my foster mother exclaimed.  “We don’t want anything she has touched.”

On the outside, we looked like the perfect family as we sat in the pew each Sunday, well dressed and pretending to be happy.  I felt sure everyone was thinking, “What a wonderful couple they are to take in an orphan!”  But at home it quickly became clear that this childless couple would never love me.

“You took her, you take care of her,” my new “father” yelled at my foster mother.  Tension hung in the air like smog, and I cringed as the sound of their loud arguments carried through the walls of my basement bedroom after I went to bed at night.

“Stop it!” I’d cry out, but neither of them listened to me.

In the novel, Anna Karenina, Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Neither my anxiety-ridden mother nor my uncaring father was equipped to give love to a lonely, sensitive child who had been rejected far too many times.  But my new family’s unhappiness became just another one of those secrets I never dared to share with anyone.

At least food was plentiful there, but as my insecurities mounted, I ate to try to feed the hunger in my soul.  By sixth grade, my weight had ballooned to 200 pounds.  At school, the other kids chanted, “Fatty, fatty, two-by-four, can’t get through the kitchen door…”  Clearly, Fatty Patty wasn’t good enough at school either.

In my alienation, I longed for love, but no one seemed to notice or care.  I had casual friendships in high school, but I never felt I truly belonged there, either.  I’d erected a wall to protect myself from the hurts that plagued me wherever I went.  I felt fractured in a place no one else could see, but there was nobody to confide in.

Always, I tried hard to be good, fearing that if I failed, I might once again land out on the streets.  I knew what it was like to sleep on a park bench, and I didn’t want to repeat the experience.

The issue of adoption never came up, and not until I was in high school did my parents ask whether I would like to take their last name.  But by this time the offer seemed pointless–too little, too late.  I felt bitter and angry.  “I’ve gotten along this far without it,” I replied.  “I don’t need it now.”

From early childhood, I longed to become a nurse when I grew up.  My foster parents thought I should be a secretary instead.  Once I’d graduated from high school, I never asked them for a dime, and they never offered to provide any financial assistance with my college tuition.  I attended Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis for two years, and my parents charged me rent to stay at home while I worked myself through college.

During this time I met a man unlike any I had ever known.  He was kind and gentle, and I knew he was a gift from God.  I had never been kissed until I dated Dave.  He became the love of my life, and incredibly, he loved me for who I was.  But he, too, would be taken away from me for a time.  Six months after we married, he was drafted into the Army and shipped overseas.  While he was gone, I earned my nursing degree.

My new mother-in-law baked me a birthday cake—the first I’d ever had in my life.  She won my heart that day, with her unconditional acceptance of me.

My adult relationship with the people who raised me looked cordial on the outside, but remained inwardly strained.  Yet I felt bound to this couple by a golden thread.  They had taken me in when no one else wanted me, when I had no other place to go.  And even though they could never give me what I craved most, I knew I owed them a debt.

After our marriage, Dave and I went through the motions of including my parents in our family life.  I determined that our three daughters would never lack for physical affection, nor would they ever have to question whether they were truly loved.  I masked the scars from my unloving childhood, and, vowed that at least in this area of my life, I would work hard to be good enough.

My career as a nurse included 25 years of demanding, but mostly fulfilling, work at a nursing home.  During those busy years, I often took care of everyone’s needs but my own.  I had little time to process my troubled childhood, and sometimes I didn’t recognize what was normal and what was not.  I knew what I hated, but not what I liked.

One day at the nursing home, a patient physically assaulted me.  My supervisor asked why I didn’t defend myself.  I’d learned to survive, I told her, but I had also been taught to be good.  Always, even as an adult, I harbored the fear that if I wasn’t good, the consequences could be dire.

In the meantime, my foster father had died, and my aging foster mother became increasingly frail.  I invited her to live with us, but she staunchly insisted on staying in her own home, even as she approached her one hundredth birthday.  Always striving to be the good daughter, I called daily to check on her, and made multiple trips each week to take care of her lawn, help with the cleaning and grocery shopping, and run errands for her.  I continued to work at the nursing home, but, taxed by the growing demands of my mother, I felt constantly exhausted.

Finally, after she’d turned 100, I took my mother to the doctor, who confirmed my conclusion that, for both our sakes, she needed to be placed in a nursing home.  This decision triggered venomous accusations of betrayal.  She lashed out at me with an unprecedented barrage of name calling and verbal abuse for my having “put her into the home.”

One day when I came to visit her, she launched into a tirade of complaints about what an awful daughter I was.  She was so angry she almost hissed.  After she had called me the most terrible names, I gathered my courage and said, “It looks like you’re not very glad to see me today, so I’m leaving.”

For the first time ever I showed my back to her, but it was one of the most liberating things I have ever done.  I’d been running on empty for a long time, trying to meet the needs of my family, my patients, and my mother.  Now my years of loyalty to her seemed to count for nothing.

I returned to her nursing home room several days later.  It was a beautiful October day.  I wheeled her outside, and we basked in the warmth of the sun.  Something was different about her that day.  For the first time in a long time, she seemed at peace.  No more wrangling, no more friction.  A few days later, she died at the age of 101.

After her death, years of cumulative stress drained all my physical and emotional energy.  I began to wonder who I really was.  I felt that I’d never known.  Not until I retired from nursing a short while later did I finally feel free to search for my authentic self.

As I journaled and prayed and took time to rest and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, this journey opened new doors for me.  I reestablished contact with my long-estranged sister, and I met with some cousins I hadn’t seen since childhood.  I began exploring some of my long-dormant creative interests—gardening, painting, sewing, quilting—and found all of them restorative.

I had committed my life to Jesus Christ years earlier, and throughout my high school years I had clung tenaciously to Scriptures from the Gospel of John that speak of comfort and the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Now during this new chapter in my life, I had time to be quiet and absorb what God wanted to say to me.

Though scars remain, I have come to terms with many hurts of the past.  I’m blessed to be able to drink in God’s grace, and to extend forgiveness to those who hurt me.  I can now rejoice in the fact that in God’s eyes, because of His Son, not only am I good enough, I am the apple of His eye–loved unconditionally by the One who matters most.

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”                                              Zephaniah 3:17

Joy in July

Joy in July . . .

After living and working in Milan and Paris, I arrived in New York City 20 years ago, and I saw both the joys and the hardships of daily life.  On July 28, 2006, I was very proud to become a citizen of the United States—the greatest privilege on planet Earth.

Melania Trump, First Lady of the United States

 

May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.

Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, 1947-49

 

I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on summer humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the things that a good God gives.

Ann Voskamp, Author of One Thousand Gifts

 

Here men from planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon.  July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.

Neil Armstrong, Astronaut

 

For you have been called to live in freedom.  Use your freedom to serve one another in love.

The Holy Bible, Galatians 5:13

 

 

Christmas in July?

Rev. Edwin Hollen, one of our favorite guest bloggers, returns with commentary on this month’s theme: Christmas in July? Whoever heard of such? How can that be?

It just won’t seem right without snow! It is interesting how we come to associate certain situations with different events. We had a surprise this last spring. It was time for tulips, lilies, and daffodils, because it was the celebration of Easter – new life. Instead we had snow!

That did not take away from the real meaning of what Easter reminds us of. Do we realize in our own region of the world, when we celebrate the event of God sending his son into the world as a gift to bring eternal life to us, that much of the world has never seen snow? Sand is more common to large portions of our world. I confess to you with the bleakness and bareness of December, a little snow adds a beauty all of its own.

These are associations that we humans get used to. There is no harm done with making associations unless we miss the reality of the occasion. It is quite true that the time of our celebration on the calendar would not coincide with the actual time of year the birth took place. The event that is recognized and celebrated is really so much more than any tradition or cultural customs that come to be carried out among us. Our celebration of the event is one we can and should enjoy the year round.

The established fact is that the “Ancient of Days” (God) planned to give mankind a gift—a gift needed by every past, present and future human. What we know and we learned from the Scriptures was “when the fullness of time had come” God sent us that gift! That gift had nothing to do with when or where as to the value. There are those who would certainly question why there, of all places?

What we know and have come to recognize, an event, a birth did happen that even secular history must acknowledge put this planet on a different course in a multitude of ways.

The great truth that lives on and on is that God gave mankind, at a particular time in history, at a particular place, through a young, virgin woman, a gift in the form of a child—divinely conceived and brought forth—who is to be celebrated, received and enjoyed for time now and eternity.

What about Christmas in July? Why not?

It is the celebration of the Christ Child being born to live among us, to give us his life, so we can receive from him the gift of eternal life. The gift would have the same value, a God gift, whatever time or season it would have happened, so let’s celebrate him continually. Yes, in July also.

I’m not waiting until a white Christmas!

 

Christmas in Hawaii

You’re going to love this guest post by Nicole, who runs her blog, Door No. 2. Nicole Tombers is a Physical Therapist and writer in Palmer, Alaska. She’s an avid reader with a love of learning and a growing interest in educating others. She enjoys eating good food, traveling, and exploring Alaska with her husband, Brad (Mary Z’s grandson).

As vitamin D deprived Minnesotans turned Alaskans, it was strange to spend the Christmas holiday on an island where it is 75 degrees and sunny nearly every day. I had the distinct feeling that people on the islands shouldn’t even bother with Christmas when there is no snow on the trees or cozy fireplaces around which to gather with cocoa and eggnog. But that is an important purpose for traveling – to see something different, experience something new, do something outside of your normal, and share in a different kind of life. And so we soldiered on through the warm sunshine… *sigh*.

For our first few days on Kauai (including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), we stayed at the Palmwood Guesthouse – a beautiful bed and breakfast tucked in the hills of Moloa’a which is private, charming, and loaded with zen. We were greeted by Ina, our host and chef during our stay, who was most gracious and provided positively delicious, locally sourced meals for us each morning, including a lovely bit of fruit and croissants left at our door on the day we had to be up early for our helicopter tour. Each morning was different, but somehow just exactly what we needed to start the day.

As we took a walk around the grounds, the attention to detail was clearly visible – the house beautiful and modern, the landscaping pristine, and the amenities seriously on point! We stayed in the West Suite, one of three rooms at the Palmwood, each with its own private outdoor space and each unique in some way. Our piece of paradise offered a large outdoor lanai with an outdoor shower, small jacuzzi hot tub, hammock under the palms, and a bubbling water feature that softly sang us to sleep each night. And then there was a pool. (OMG you guys, the pool. It was basically made for Instagram.) When we were not out exploring, it was morning yoga by the pool and afternoons in the hammock with a beer and good book. Every moment at this place was peace and serenity. It was paradise on a whole island full of paradise. If you are visiting Kauai and it is available, I recommend The Palmwood with the highest of praise.

While every day at the Palmwood was fabulous, Christmas Day was a special one. But not in the way you might expect. While our families back in Minnesota played games and opened gifts with a fire blazing in the hearth and lights twinkling on the tree, we shared dinner with strangers. And it was amazing. On most days we simply crossed paths with the other guests who we shared the house with, but on Christmas we all came together for a wonderful multi-course dinner carefully prepared by Chef Ina. We shared the table with Mario & Christine, honeymooners from Toronto, and Shawn & Katie, fellow Midwesterners now living in Seattle. Three couples, of similar age, taking a break from their busy professional lives, who had come from different places to spend Christmas at the Palmwood.

Maybe it was because we’re millennials, maybe because we had good food and wine, or maybe because we were strangers with no preconceived notions about who we should be or how others knew us to be, but we had such great conversation with these people over dinner and late into the night. We talked about everything from work & family, to politics & religion, to excess of choice & the search for happiness. We found that when you begin to dip deep and get meaningful with others, we’re often fighting all the same battles within ourselves. In a world where we so easily get bogged down in image and “success” and meeting expectations, it was one of the most refreshing evenings we have spent in a while. We are lucky enough that we do not have to struggle through each day, each month, each year, to have securely conquered the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy in a way that many have not. We are lucky enough to have choices in abundance. I fully recognize that there are many who do not have this freedom, whether due to poverty or poor health or discrimination or lack of access to resources. What WE have are truly “first world problems” and, though I am sure we often fail, we make a conscious effort to recognize our privilege. We have a deep desire to do great and wonderful things – to be profoundly generous, kind, joyful, and honest. To live our best life, and use our privilege to do what we can to give others the chance to do the same. On Christmas, it was reassuring to know that we are not alone in our struggle to figure out what that looks like.

As I was telling one of my patients about this recently, she said, “If you tell parents that you had a great trip or you really enjoyed yourselves, that’s just whatever, BUT if you tell them you learned a lot then they’ll think it was worthwhile.” We were sorry to have missed out on time with our family at Christmas, but we really did learn a lot on this trip and are better people for it.

Here’s to meaningful time spent with friends and strangers alike, and to living your very best life.

~ Nicole Tombers