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Dr. Susan Mathison, Published December 21 2011

Positively Beautiful: The gift of presence

In a quote from her 1902 book about gardens and sundials, Alice Morse Earle wrote, “The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”

This got me thinking about presence and being present, especially in this crazy, busy holiday season.

The holidays are stressful for so many of us. The to-do list is a mile long, with gifts to buy, trees to decorate, celebration food to prepare, and lights to be strung. Thank goodness for 40 degree weather in December. Yet the rat-race of holiday doing can leave us crabby, depressed, at odds with loved ones, or simply exhausted.

If there is too much on your plate – literally or figuratively – perhaps it’s time to opt out of some of the holiday hoopla. Do what you truly enjoy, but let go of the rest and focus on what makes Christmas special for your family. That may mean updating your traditions and creating new holiday rituals that help us be present for ourselves and our families.

Here are some ideas for infusing your holidays with authentic presence:

1. Give the gift of time

We’ve been told that time is our most precious resource. Take the time to make a call and have a fun conversation with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Trade lessons with a friend: ”I’ll teach you how to make my world-famous recipe if you teach me how to take my child’s photo.” Bring cookies and company to someone you know is lonely. Spend an unplugged evening with your kids, playing an old-fashioned game. Do holiday prep with a family member or friend, as sharing the burden sometimes makes it a joy. Each person who receives the gift of your attention and genuine presence will be touched by the gift.

2. Help others

Be aware of opportunities to give and grow. People have needs that they don’t know how to put in words. I loved reading about the person who paid for items on layaway at Kmart, and imagine the joy that the recipients felt. Look for ways to pay it forward with creative ideas. Ask a teacher if there are students who need mittens or hats. Donate to the weekend food backpack program for kids. Tape a poem or a quote to a mirror in a public place to inspire a stranger.

3. Let go and laugh

We have high expectations, and plans often go awry. Take a deep breath, and try to find the humor in the burnt pie or the vacuum cleaner you got from your husband. My friend Angie, a surgical tech who assists me during my work, told me about her first annual “Iron Elves” competition. With the kids now teens and young adults and without little ones around a tree, Angie felt a bit sad. So she created a fun activity for the whole family – a mini holiday triathalon. Initial plans were a cross-country skiing race, but with no snow on the ground the event will feature a short hike and end with an ornament-making competition. Grandparents get to be on “Fantasy Elf” teams.

4. Be grateful

If you’ve read my other columns, you know this is a favorite topic. This holiday season, make sure your metaphor for life is that a glass is always full and overflowing. There are small wonders everywhere. For all of our problems, we all have much to be grateful for. The past couple of months have had some challenges for me, but I’m learning to see them as lessons and opportunities to grow, and I’m grateful for my teachers.

5. Take care of yourself

No one else will do it for you, and since this is the season of giving, sometimes we forget to prioritize our own well-being. Eat without guilt, and enjoy, but avoid feeling painfully stuffed. Get outside for some fresh air and a walk, and add some dancing to the holiday party. Little kids love it! Then get some good sleep.

6. Make a Divine Connection

I realize that not all who read this are Christian, but many feel that there is a higher power at work in our lives. For me, church is lately about trying to keep my 4-year-old son from running laps around the “crying room” at Sts. Anne and Joachim. But my little son and I talk about God and angels, and this year, he is keenly interested in Baby Jesus. I see my son as a true gift from God. He makes my heart burst with joy and laughter (that is when I’m not running around the crying room with him.) He teaches me every day in my own struggle to be a better person, mother and doctor.

Jesus was the greatest teacher of all, and as they say, the reason for this season. He knew how to be present.


Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com.