Tis the season for a slew of blog posts about the importance of slowing down and savoring.

It’s that time of year when writers feel compelled to publish essays on what really matters.

Don’t get me wrong; I love these posts. I’ll link to my current favorites throughout this essay. But it’s easy to read beautiful, elegant sentences and then revert to my usual habits.

So this Advent, I’ve clarified what I don’t want: I don’t want to lose sight of beauty. I don’t want to be a moving target, to look up after New Year’s and wonder, incredulously, Where did the time go?!

Instead, I want to enjoy experiences that come around just once a year, such as setting up the tree with Jonathan.

But the thing is, being present for these joys won’t happen by default. I’m a perfectionist and a planner, and taking time off makes me nervous. In some ways, it’s easier for me to keep working.

I’m so thankful to have my own business, but the relative uncertainty of self-employment can get to me. I have this (highly unoriginal) fear that if I take pause, the paid work will vanish. And then I will not be able to buy cat food or contact lenses, and I will have failed.

Admittedly, it sounds silly when I write it out. But when I get to that panicked, grasping place, I can’t see straight. Fortunately, there are a few reliable life preservers to which I cling.

First, I ponder this brilliant statement of Martha Beck’s: “The universe answers all your requests and all your prayers for abundance … but it sends all the good stuff to your real home address. And your real home address is peace.”

Next, I like to give myself written permission to do peace-enhancing things: to take a break at a social gathering, say, or to be an imperfect hostess. For example, I recently wrote in my journal: “It is OK for me NOT to clean the bathroom before my grandparents arrive.”

There’s a story behind this, of course. My grandparents recently drove cross-country and stopped to visit us in Alabama. It was a dream come true, except that the timing wasn’t ideal.

Jonathan and I had just returned from a trip, I was recovering from a virus, and the cat had had fleas (which, as longtime readers know, is my least-favorite of all possible annoyances). Whenever I thought about playing hostess, my head literally ached.

Fortunately, though, two things happened. First, I remembered that I have no idea how long my grandparents and I have left to visit with one another. Two of my grandparents have passed away, so I realize, acutely, that the time we have is precious.

Secondly, my grandmother ordered me not to go the extra mile for them: “Don’t you dare clean or cook! Focus on resting and getting better!” I felt guilty – and deeply relieved – to obey. Her permission was exactly what I needed.

So I resisted the urge to vacuum, and instead sat with my grandparents for hours. I was tempted to cook, but instead we reheated chicken and sweet potatoes and served pre-mixed salad. It was not gourmet, but it was nourishing.

I lit candles, too. Votives on a silver platter are my hostessing secret weapons. They help me to feel hopeful and allow me not notice dust bunnies, which for me is basically the same thing.

And there was this one moment that made everything – letting go of my routine, the practice of hospitality – worthwhile.

As I stood on the threshold of our living room, the sight of my husband and my grandparents at the table just went straight to my heart.

It was as though I’d stepped into that luminous scene in the film version of Eat, Pray, Love, wherein Liz Gilbert and her friends surround a luscious turkey as Heart of Gold plays in the background.

The first time I saw the movie, I was a tad indignant, because that scene isn’t actually in the book. (What can I say? I was an English Literature major – I notice these things.)

But soon, I was captivated. And isn’t that a metaphor for life – how often it’s the scenes we never expect to play that turn out to be our favorites?

My desire for narrative accuracy paled in comparison to the way the light glimmered, and how the actors embodied the relaxed, hungry, contented manner of close friends eating together. All this and Neil Young too?

Personally, I hope heaven will be like that scene: a gathering of true friends, with plenty of food and good music and a new day dawning.

And when I walked back into our living room that night, I experienced the abundance that underlies that scene, and I couldn’t help but brush tears from my eyes.

Suddenly I saw my husband and my grandparents, and they were so, so beautiful. “I’m the luckiest girl in the world,” I thought, because it was obviously true.

heart of gold, siblings

My grandparents recently gave me this photo of me and my brother. Thanks to them, I have an actual ‘heart of gold’. And how priceless is Willie’s smile?!

After that moment of clarity, I didn’t mind doing the dishes, or losing my voice the next day. I’d found what I’d been searching for; I’d been a miner for a heart of gold … and in this season, I hope that you are too.

I hope that you see and feel and taste love, whether it comes in the form of a gourmet turkey or a reheated chicken from Sam’s.

I hope that you can trust that you are cherished and priceless and beloved even when you don’t have your act together.

And I hope that you notice when the world lights up before your eyes.


How will you choose the heart of gold this season? Join the conversation in the comments!

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