Chelle Summer


Turning the Holidays Around to about Others

Michelle Rusk

My mom worked hard to make sure we had great birthdays. While they were nothing compared to the over-the-top parties I see parents do for their children now, she invested a lot of time in making big signs that she hung in the kitchen and coordinating our birthday parties.

But what she couldn't control were the emotions of my dad whose unhappiness in life constantly enveloped our house and often ruined Thanksgiving because they would have an argument about something. And there were extended family get togethers on my mom's side where too much drinking too place. You know how it ends– even if you've never experienced one yourself, you've heard the stories from others. Everyone gets mad at everyone else. 

When I was married the first time, my then mother-in-law, visiting from Texas, once got up and left the dinner table right smack in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, my then father-in-law running after her out the door. To this day, I don't think we know what made her mad.

So holidays haven't always been the happiest occasions for me. Until I figured out how to make them about other people.

When Greg's entire family (all nine!) decided they wanted to spend Thanksgiving in Albuquerque with us this year, I was happy to cook because it meant I could create something for others and enjoy that process. I'll admit I was tired by the time ten days ended and the last of the family returned to the east coast. However, it was an uneventful holiday– there was no drama and everyone enjoyed the company of each other. What more could you ask for?

When my birthday rolls around next week, it'll be the same. I'll go to 12:10 pm mass to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe and then Greg and I will gather with a group of friends at a restaurant for dinner (tacos for all!) to celebrate not just my birthday but Guadalupe's feast day. 

I don't have the expectations I used to have of my birthdays and holidays. I try to think of something fun to do, something that will make me happy while in some way giving to others.

And that makes them happy and memorable days for us all.

Retraining the Brain: Focusing on the Good

Michelle Rusk

I found this blog from two years ago on my old web site and it felt appropriate to repost for the holiday season:

It's easy to do: we start to think about something that's not so good in our lives, or something we're frustrated about, or something that just isn't great. One thought leads to another. And we can't stop.

While this can happen anytime, it always feels as if it's more pronounced during the holidays. Every television commercial we see portrays complete happiness and prosperity. Then we look around our own homes and lives, knowing full well there aren't the funds (or significant other) to receive that piece of jewelry or the new car for Christmas. And we forget that it's not about the material gifts, getting swept away by what media shows us, believing we should have that, too.

And so the thoughts begin: we think about the past year and all the pain. We realize we didn't accomplish much of anything that we had wanted to do in the past year...


Why do we focus on all that's so challenging and difficult when there is so much good around us?

I can hear a few cynical snickers about how I am getting married and how can I not only see the good right now?

Not quite: life is always challenging no matter what good is happening. And I know what it's like to be struggling especially during the holidays when I've spent them single, without a secure relationship.

There is much to be thankful for no matter what our challenges are. Look around you and see the beauty in the day, even the rain here in New Mexico today (because we need the rain as always!). What each of us has in our lives to be grateful for will be different because we all have unique lives. 

Each morning make a list of as many things as you can think of that you are grateful for. And then do it every morning after. Try to write them down if you can because when you're in a difficult place you can reflect back on them and retrain your brain to keep the positive thoughts.

Thinking about the good makes us feel stronger, gives us more peace, and helps us feel hopeful. Think of it this way: no matter what you're going through, there is always a small fire burning inside you. It's your goal to remind yourself that the fire is still burning. How will you do it?