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We’re keeping things easy this time around, my husband and I. No New Year’s resolutions, just a loose plan to eat at one new restaurant every month. It’s simple, enjoyable and doable — we’re destined for success. And yes, we do need to lose weight, fix up the house, get organized…all of the typical fronts tackled by most folks’ resolutions. We’ve failed at those enough times to know that it’s not worth making a commitment you can’t keep, one that’s sure to end in unhappiness when you just can’t live up to it.

Resolutions are funny things. They are based entirely on what we want for ourselves. Certainly God isn’t asking us to run a mile a day or clean out our closets, except in the most general and generous of ways: God wants what is best for us. God wants us to be healthy and happy. Everything else we resolve to do is simply to satisfy our own image of what our lives should look like. Our lives should be more, better. Or so we think.

Instead, I urge you in the year ahead to do less. Take one thing off your list; excise one of the rules you live your life by. Not something central, but a tangential and self-imposed thing — the lawn must be lush and green year-round; the dishes cannot sit in the sink overnight; you must never eat a carbohydrate. Get rid of the script in your head that tells you “I’m too fat to shop for clothes” or “whenever someone perceives me to be a bad mother, I must feel guilty.” You don’t have to do or feel or think or be anything, no matter what anyone else expects, feels, thinks or chooses for you.

This year (2018) I did something difficult — I stopped dyeing my hair. And it was hard and it is hard; every time I look in the mirror, I have the knee-jerk reaction that I’ve let myself go. But…go where? What is it that I think I owe to other people when they look at me? In something as silly as embracing my natural hair, I’ve found more opportunities for self-examination than I ever guessed I might.

Take it easy on yourself in 2019. Resolve to just be happy. Because if you can’t be happy with yourself as you are, no resolution will ever make you so.

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This one’s gonna be different. Don’t we tell ourselves that every year? Don’t we start out with enthusiasm, with actual, resolute resolutions that by gum we are going to follow through on? Aren’t we certain that we can cast off the shadow of the previous 365 days simply because the date on the calendar now has a new number attached to it?

Well, don’t we?

I submit that the new year is a fraud, a sham, a flim-flam, a bamboozlement. A year can’t change things. Only we can. And it’s harder to do than a simple resolution might convey. To change one’s self fundamentally requires radical thinking and aggressive discarding of old thoughts, habits, and relationships. Most of us won’t ever do it. We’re too comfortable as we are. Only the most terrible and unexpected events — natural disaster, death, fatal illness — are enough to shock us out of complacency. And then, perhaps, only temporarily.

So…what to do with 2018 and its bright, shiny promises of change and renewal? Start small. Change one way of thinking. Give yourself a mantra — “first impressions are always wrong” for instance — to nip a habit of snap judgment in the bud. Or start each morning by doing one new thing: making your bed, trying a new stretch or simply saying, “I will be open to new possibilities today.” Repeated actions have a tendency to work their ways into our lives in ways we cannot foresee.

Or take up reading a new blog regularly. Work your way one chapter at a time through the bible. Smile at people you don’t know and won’t see again. Anything that might trigger a new, green sprout of thinking, a tiny revelation, an awkward step in a new direction.

And if it all falls apart, don’t berate yourself. January first isn’t the only day for changes. You can do that on February third, April 17th, or November 30th. You can do it anytime. Let yourself be open to nudges and signs and questions. Sometimes that’s the most essential part of change.

If we each turn ourselves one degree, together we can make a revolution — literally and figuratively.

They say a cat’s meow resembles the cry of an infant, that this little trick of genetics helps our bewhiskered companions get their needs met. Of course, like babies, cats cry for different reasons: hunger, discomfort, the desire for attention. And then there are the cries that mean, “I’m bored.” Or, “Why don’t you have a lap right now?” Or, “You know what’s good? Catnip. You should get some of that for me.” In other words, cries that denote no immediate necessity. The annoying kind. At such times, I have been known to call out (to one or another members of my feline flock), “You’re all right!” Alternatively, when the wailing has progressed past the line of my patient resolve, I might shout, “Enough already!” There are times, however, when my tongue gets twisted, and out comes the following bit of inexplicability: “You’re enough!”

You’re enough. It’s not quite a Freudian slip, but worthy of examination nonetheless. How often do you feel a lack in yourself, that frightening feeling that you are not up to the challenge at hand, that you are not good enough, strong enough, enough enough? If you’re anything like me, you experience it far too often. Our own self-doubt can cripple, can keep us from moving forward in those resolutions we make at this time of year. It can keep us from moving forward, period.

So what should you do when you feel you are not enough? Remember this: God made you, and God does not make inadequate things. You ARE enough. You are capable. You are courageous. You can do it, and do you know why? Because God will be with you. All you have to do is ask. God will more than make up for any perceived lack in yourself. This is the God that marched Daniel through the lion’s den, remember? The God that enabled a kid with a slingshot to pulverize a giant! The God that made the impossible possible: Just ask Mary. Or Paul. Or Lazarus.

You really are enough to tackle whatever this new year threatens to throw at you. You are enough to surmount all difficulties. You are enough to work miracles. And if you doubt it for a second, just picture me calling out to you. You are in my prayers, whether I know you or not. Your needs will be met; I truly believe it.

Now excuse me while I rustle up some catnip. Someone just won’t shut up about it.

What do you call a group of resolutions? I nominate the word brace. Why? “Brace” not only works as a plural, it connotes resolve. And that’s the difference between a wish, a dream and a resolution: A resolution demands resolve. You’ve got to have a will of steel to make a resolution happen. That’s why most of us fail at it.

I’ve got one resolution this year: Not to make any resolutions. The very idea of it seems to hint that I know what’s best for myself and that I ought to be the one shaping my life. I’m not so sure that’s true. Now, mind you, I’m not advocating for anyone to just sit in a chair doing nothing but sighing, “God’s will be done.” Not at all. If God didn’t want us to be involved in our own lives, God would not have given us free will.

I’m simply saying that God knows better than I do where I need to go. This year, I resolve to be less of a backseat driver. (“Really, God, you want me to go there? Are you sure? I’m not sure there is really in my wheelhouse. Wouldn’t over here be better?”) I’m going to embrace the journey, even if it involves what I perceive to be standing still for long periods of time. I’m going to remember that there’s a reason for everything, even if I don’t see it.

This year, God will make my resolutions for me. I can count on God’s resolve. Mine…not so much.

What is it about the new year that makes us long for reinvention? How does a trick of the calendar subject us to so much self-reflection, in which we inevitably come up short? Turn on the TV, open a magazine, and you’re bombarded with ads for gyms and facial resurfacing and cellulite removal. Make a resolution! Get fit in 2013! Be a whole new you!

What I find most interesting about this phenomenon is its emphasis on externals. Don’t get me wrong; I’m just as guilty as anyone of daydreaming what-ifs: What if I had a smaller nose, better cheekbones, a thinner waistline, a whiter smile? And of course the aspiration to a new you is often bound to a longing for better health — something all of us should subscribe to. Yet I can’t help feeling that even if I woke up tomorrow in a body that featured a tiny waist, cheekbones that could cut diamonds and full, pouty lips, I wouldn’t be very new at all. Because changing the outside means very little without a change to your insides.

Interior beauty isn’t quite as easy to define as exterior beauty. It comprises kindness, charity, wisdom, honor, loyalty and love, certainly, but there’s more to it than just that. My friend Maria, one of the most beautiful people I know, isn’t beautiful simply because she’s fit, although she is. Her beauty radiates from a kind and committed heart that she expresses in her everyday life though acts of love, mercy and justice. She doesn’t talk the talk at all. She merely walks the walk, and in doing so, colors her entire being with the kind of beauty that starts inside and radiates out to everything she does and everyone she meets. Now, that’s real beauty.

Of course, if I measure myself against my friend, I will come up just as lacking as when I measure my exterior against the latest super-hot 20-something actress. And that’s the rub. We are not all meant to be beautiful in exactly the same way. All the cellulite-removal and facial re-contouring in the world won’t make us Halle Berry. Nor should it. What would be fun or interesting about everyone looking stunning, yet exactly the same? The same applies to our interiors. I can’t be exactly like my friend; I’m too shy and retiring. But I can do things only I can do. Things I’m particularly good at. The things that make me, me.

So in this new year, let’s concentrate less on a new outside and instead make ourselves new inside: Us, only more so. Us, only more understanding, more forgiving, more humble. Forget about beautiful skin. Let’s have beautiful souls. It will cost less money, and the returns will be amazing. A beautiful new soul can have a far greater impact than any nose job.

I’d love to hear your “soul resolutions” for the new year. Mine is to focus less on being “right” and more on being kind. What’s yours?

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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