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Bringing Back Christmas

It’s been all over Facebook. Probably the news too. If I could bring myself to watch the news, I guess I would know.

Are we bringing Christmas back? Did it never leave?

What I want to know is what it means to bring Christmas back.

To me, it isn’t about the wording on a card. It isn’t whether a Starbucks cup has a “Christmas” scene or not. (This would be true, even if I had ever been to a Starbucks. Or if I had ever been a coffee drinker.) Frankly, it isn’t even whether a nativity is displayed in the White House.

Oh sure, I’m a sucker for Christmas decorations. For me, one of the best parts of renovating our town’s square was how the black lampposts wrapped in lights and garland look like they’re from a movie. I love all of the different interpretations of nativity scenes – big and small, plastic and illuminated, wooden and painted. And, I confess, although I generally throw out cards for birthdays and anniversaries, I have an overflowing bucket of Christmas cards. Some old enough that you can see families expanding and babies becoming big kids, just by pawing through the stack of cards.

I love Christmas.

But, if we want to bring it back, I don’t think it’s about any of those things.

By setting a date to remember Christ’s birth, we set aside a time to reflect on the greatest gift any of us could ever receive. And it wasn’t bought on Black Friday. It didn’t come with shiny paper or a designer Christmas tree.

It was all about love. Unvarnished. Plain. Unadorned. But so deep.

If we want to “bring back Christmas,” I think we had better start with love. More love for people whose lives and struggles we can’t begin to understand. More love for people who have different opinions and even different beliefs than we do. More love to cover the multitude of sins in the world and in our own lives.

I know I’m guilty of not loving enough. So, today, this Christmas season, I’m going to try to do my part to bring more love…and I suspect I might just find the “real” meaning of bringing back Christmas.

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Sometimes my breath catches as I carefully unwrap each of them. Waiting with anticipation to see which memory will unfold – which little package holds color or light or tears or joy.

As I hang the moments on the tree, I walk back through my memories. So many events and people are there on my tree.

There’s the angel that hangs near the top every year. She lives on my tree to represent my sister who didn’t get to live long enough to even have a “first Christmas” ornament. She hangs there because all I’ve ever had of her is a heart-shaped tombstone and an angel on the Christmas tree.

Every year, there are more ornaments with a carefully written date. In my hand, permanent marker notes the passage of time from days of being engaged, to newly married, to parents, to everything else life has been. There are years that changed our lives and years that we changed.

There are ornaments from my grandma. One shows not only Mary and Jesus, but the fact that my grandma was a valued part of a church ministry that was gone before I was even able to make a memory. Another is a nativity in an eggshell, and I can’t help but wonder if the crafter ever thought this ornament would have a prominent place on a tree for over thirty years.

Some remind me of the giver. One given for our wedding, from a sweet neighbor who is gone too soon. It reminds me of her laugh and the goodies she delivered. Although it’s Christmas, it calls to mind the Halloween and Easter treats she put together for our boys…but never got a chance to for our girl.

I hang a flower with a picture of a boy I will never again see. I knew him so little. He was here for a month and then gone. Lost because he is an orphan, and therefore doesn’t seem to matter much in the midst of the Russian and Ukrainian political upheaval. But I will continue to put his picture on my tree, because I will never know if he has anyone else in the world putting his picture on their tree.

In the past few years, I’ve been intentional about placing ornaments that remind us of what truly makes the season special. A nativity that I nestle in the branches, a wise man given by a former pastor, a star with scripture – all to help us not get so caught up in the holiday that we forget Jesus was the best gift ever given (so we might as well stop trying to top that one!).

Yet, I don’t shed tears as I decorate the tree. I’ve learned all of these things are a part of the journey. I’ve learned to stop wishing the past was different and to start thanking for the lessons learned from the pain. What happened then led to what’s happening now. And now looks pretty good from where I am.

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Adult in Training

No long post today, just two anecdotes about our fifty year old – err, I mean eleven year old.

Me: How was jiu jitsu? Was it what you thought it would be? Do you think it will be beneficial?

(I never stop talking, apparently. I’m pretty sure I frequently ask four questions all at once.)

E: Yes, I was quite pleased with the experience.

The next day…

Me: Oh my gosh, how was the movie!? Was it as good as the book? Did you guys have fun?

(See note for previous questions…)

E: Actually, I would highly recommend it!

Cracks. Me. Up. And I’m pretty sure I don’t even notice all of the times he speaks like an adult. It’s just him…until he gets so excited about something he can’t sit still and I can see the little boy that I’m pretty sure will always live inside.

Oh, and I’m starting to realize there may be a reason A talks non-stop. She clearly gets that from The Dad…

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Snow and Other Holiday Things

Home Alone is one of my favorite Christmas movies. Always has been.

When I was younger, one of my favorite parts was the complete chaos when everyone is staying in the same house, driving each other crazy, with the house seeming to burst with action. I grew up as an only child, with a mom who was an only and a dad whose family was so big (and not particularly close) that we rarely got together. All I wanted was a big family like that. Knowing each other so well, they can drive each other absolutely insane – yet gathering in the same house like a gigantic sleepover.

As an adult, I started noticing that – not only in Home Alone – but in every Christmas movie, ad, TV episode – Christmas almost always came with plenty of snow and some big community event on Christmas Eve. Snow dusts the evergreen branches, making them look like a holiday card while everyone makes their way to the town square or community center or huge neighborhood gathering (of course bearing food, singing carols or other Christmas-y things). Cars are driving past perfect views of white hillsides and powdered roads.

The problem?

None. Of. That. Is. Reality.

I know, it creates an image or it sets the scene. I get it. Really, I do.

But can I say that I actually spent way too much time being disappointed in reality? Completely let down when the snow didn’t come. Depressed that I don’t live on a street where there’s a fantastic holiday gathering for all of the neighbors. Downcast when rain sprinkled the holiday lights. Wistful that family get togethers are great – yet don’t last all night and into the next day.

Wait.

Is that actually what I would want?

Once I got past what I wanted Christmas to look like, things got so much better and brighter. Of course, I’d still rather have snow than rain. I still love family dinners and parties – the more the merrier. But, I also love things I’ve always loved about Christmas…

The feeling I get when I imagine the manger scene so many years ago,

The joy of finding a gift that is perfect,

The songs that fill the season,

The children’s Christmas program at church,

The decorations everywhere.

I’ve always loved those things. But when I push the curtain of “supposed to be” to the side, I find that I love them more. ❤️

(But I’m still wishing for a snowy Christmas!)

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Unpopular Opinions

I don’t want to give our kids everything they want.

It’s true. I’ll admit it – even though it seems to be an unpopular opinion.

We live in a time and place where we have enough. Far more than enough. Our family goes out to eat more often than I’d actually like, takes a big vacation every year and we have enough books to start our own lending library…not to mention clothes, tech devices and other things. When I actually think about it, it’s embarrassing.

Definitely, we draw lines. My mom, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Frugality, once said I’m so tight I squeak. So I’ve been known to be a bit tight-fisted (although I’m loosening up). Yet, I look around our lives and our home and know we have more than we actually need…and much more than many people around the world.

As a result, no, I don’t really want to buy them everything they want. First of all, they’re kids. I’ve worked with enough kids to know that sometimes they “want” something because their friends have it or it looks cool…not because they will actually use it. Secondly, we do not need more stuff…and definitely not stuff that doesn’t get used. Finally, and unpopularly, you don’t get everything you want in life. I know they are kids and I don’t want them to suffer, but saying “no” sometimes doesn’t really upset me at all. (Truth: our kids don’t ask for much anyway. We’re probably just blessed in that respect.) Our goal is to raise successful adults. Which we believe means teaching them, in age-appropriate ways, things they will need to know in ten to fifteen years.

So, it’s out there. I’m that mom. My kids don’t get everything they want AND I don’t feel a bit guilty about it.

All bets are off for when we eventually become grandparents though.

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Seasons

Reeling in the memories, I used to force a smile while looking through the birthday pictures. Bittersweet images settled deep in my chest when I looked back at pictures from the toddler years.

Even though everyone said these would be the “hard years.” Despite trying to parent the most stubborn toddler on the block (ok, several blocks). Never mind that my boys were both little and needed me all the time. I loved those years.

I waited with anticipation each new skill they would master. Registering for preschool seemed like something I waited to do for years. Summers stretched in front of us with days and days of quality time. Days we filled with park trips and library visits, naps and making oobleck. Days before we had the money for vacations and the obligations of sports. Days before camps had us blocking off weeks of the calendar.

And, for awhile, I hated to see those years in the rear view mirror. I spent far too much time regretting what I hadn’t done. There were too many nights of lost sleep over the mistakes I’d made. Too much time devoted to thinking what I could have done better.

And having A helped me flip that switch.

D turns nine on Friday. And I could not be filled with more joy.

Instead of lost opportunities and hours of mentally beating myself up, I see a boy who is growing up and learning. I see his wit and his intelligence. I savor watching him laugh with friends, yet I also find myself looking forward to seeing him mature and become even more of his own person.

Rather than regretting the years that have past, I look forward to what’s coming. I pray those years are good – filled with just enough challenges to strengthen him and prepare him. Filled with joy mixed with a smattering of tears, so we can better appreciate the little moments, and with opportunities to learn and to grow. I pray D reaches the potential I know is in him…and I find myself excited to see how that will look.

Happy early birthday, to the boy who made me realize some kiddos defy all of the logic in parenting books! ❤️ you to the moon and back – times a million

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Bibliophile

Reasons to love a book:

It stretches your mind.

It exposes you to new ideas, people and places.

It shows you new ideas.

It teaches you something.

It makes you think in different ways.

It helps you escape the world.

It relaxes you.

It’s fun.

And, as a bonus, kids and books are cute together. 😀

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