What an ex-con taught me about Christmas

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I want to share a story with you from a few years ago.

Jonathan and I were out to get our Christmas Tree at Delancey Street, a halfway house for ex-convicts and drug addicts where they learn valuable skills for being great members of society. When I walked in, I was acutely aware of all the large, tattooed, scarred, burly men. You could tell that these guys have really been through it.

But these were the most warm, polite, inviting men I have ever encountered. They greeted me warmly, showed us all the best trees and were so fast and efficient (very out of character for SF).

The 50-something, 6 foot 5 inches, 250 pound man who was helping us, we’ll call him Jim, offered to tie our Christmas tree to our car, and we took the opportunity to ask him some questions about Delancey Street. With impeccable eye contact and a slow, strong, low voice, he told us that he had been at Delancey Street, at that time for 21 months and before that he had been in and out of jail his whole life. Just before he came to Delancey he was facing a life sentence.

Jim had been spending that year working at the Delancey Street Cafe as their chef where he had discovered his love of cooking and hoped to get a job at a top restaurant as a butcher  within a few months. He also mentored other members of Delancey Street and ran their interview program.

He told me, “I honestly could have never imagined how amazing my life could be. I’m working hard, I have amazing friends and I’ve never been happier. Delancey changed my life.”

As he was telling us how grateful he is to Delancey, I could see some tears welling up to match the black tear tattooed on his face. As you can imagine, my face was soaked. I was so moved by this man’s story and so grateful that he took the time to share a piece of his story with us.

In the car on the way home I realized two things:

  1. People have much more serious problems than too-tight jeans.
  1. These are the exact moments I used to miss for so many years because of my preoccupation with weight.

You see, it used to be that over the holidays, all it would take was one unflattering photo or two too many sugar cookies to send me into a downward spiral of self-hatred and criticism. This broken record of self-imposed emotional abuse was so loud that I couldn’t hear, see or appreciate what was going on around me. I missed the moments.

I also tried so hard not to feel anything, so that I avoided feeling the depth of my despair around my body.

We think that this broken record keeps us “in-check” and “in control” of our eating, but the reality is that the misery it creates, just sends us wanting more cookies and eggnog for a jolt of happiness.

Thinking about your body, is not going to change your body. Paying attention to the moments will, because they remind you of what’s really important and who you truly are.

Regardless of your holiday plans this year, I want you to pay acute attention to the moments and really engage in them. I want you to get out of your head, and into your life. I want you to enjoy the food, really enjoy it and enjoy the moments. When you’re soaking in all the amazing moments, you will be so fulfilled with joy and love that you’ll need way less Christmas cookies.  

Christmas isn’t about how many cookies you ate, how your clothes are fitting or the number on the scale.

It’s about asking your Grandmother about her childhood, watching your baby cousin open her first present, performing your amateur rendition of the Nutcracker, giving a homeless person a warm blanket, remembering the stories behind your ornaments, making snow angels and looking into the eyes of the person you love.

Christmas is a time to remember that life is so much more than gaining and losing the same 15 lbs .

In the comments, I would love to hear an amazing holiday moment you’ve experienced so far this year, a meaningful memory, or what you commit to paying attention to this year. Putting things into words and sharing is a great way to engage in the meaning of Christmas, so I can’t wait to read all of your stories.

Wishing you snow, visions of sugar plums and perfect presents.



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