Monthly Archives: December 2015

Not so Fast…We aren’t Finished!

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Perhaps you have already “put Christmas away” for the year. For many, the season started before Thanksgiving and they were done before the wrapping paper was at the curb on Christmas day. I understand…sometimes there is an overwhelming need to return to normal. For others, the next thing is right around the corner and it’s time to refocus. I have a friend who will be starting a new job on New Year’s Eve and she is ready to prepare for a new beginning. New job, new year, new opportunities…how exciting!

XmasTreeI’m not there yet. We haven’t had family Christmas. It’s the one where paper flies and one kid accidentally opens another kid’s gifts and someone is young enough that they embarrass their parents by saying “I want more!” (If you’ve ever had a three or four year old you know what I mean. They just like ripping paper off packages with no particular interest or appreciation for the contents.)

One of our sons-in-law is chief officer in charge of collecting the discarded wrapping paper and reminding kids to be careful so nothing gets thrown away. He’s really good at this job; he is tenured and valuable and secure in this position. Since our family continues to grow this scene has become more and more chaotic. We think you people who sit in a circle and orderly open gifts, one person at a time, carols softly playing in the background are so cute. In my idealistic, Hallmark/Publix commercial moments, I want to be like that. And then I get real and I’m thankful that we are all together and assure my anxious heart that we will sort it all out later and not throw one single scrap of paper away until everything is accounted for. I want joy and family; order and ceremony are overrated! And I want to be right in the middle of the happy chaos.

Vintage Cello Tree

This is similar to the tree we had in the ’60’s.

When I was a child the Christmas season lasted about two weeks. In my younger years our family had a short cellophane tree, just about three feet tall. It was placed on a high table a few days before Christmas, with my mom supervising the placement of the precious ornaments and bead garland and then six children proceeded to pelt it with tinsel. As I think about it today, it was meager, pitiful….and absolutely beautiful.

 

I loved Christmas because of the anticipation and the joy that I saw in my parent’s eyes as they watched all six of their offspring open gifts. They didn’t have the means for extravagance, but they always gifted toys and things we truly wanted rather than essential items that we needed. One gift in particular does seem odd as I look back. I mean, really…how many of you received a nun doll? My sister and I did! They were dressed in full habit, but had the faces of children. We were Catholics, but I don’t think my parents had plans to send either of us to a convent.Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

I recall vividly the year that I ruined Christmas, at least for myself. My parents had wrapped all of the gifts and placed them in the bottom of their closet. One day when they were away, I peeked. I knew EVERY gift, even my Simon and Garfunkel “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album…no surprises. I remember being ashamed and sad that there would be no surprises on Christmas morning. It was one of my last Christmases at home. TO. THIS. DAY. I NEVER peek. My hubby cleverly hides things under the bed in our room. Apparently he thinks that I won’t be cleaning the floors the weeks leading up to Christmas! But it’s all good, because I’m never again going to peek. Lesson learned.

I have another Christmas memory that has disposed me great determination to immerse myself in the crazy that ensues with a house filled with children. I was a preteen – I have no idea the year, but we had guests from Indiana for Christmas. It was my mother’s uncle and his family, and I know she must have been thrilled to have them with us. It was also one of the few years that I recall her buying a gift for my dad, a watch. With so many in the house, she was busy in the kitchen and even starting a load of laundry. I can still see her face when she returned to the living room and realized that my dad had already opened and set the precious watch aside. The moment was lost – she missed that special connection between giver and recipient when the surprise is revealed and joy bubbles up. I saw it in her face and though I didn’t fully understand, I could feel her disappointment.

I want to be present; I want to experience the joy and even the occasional disappointment that is hard to hide, because all of it is real life and it has an expiration date.

There will be eight grandchildren around our tree this Thursday…from the ten month old baby celebrating his very first Christmas to the eighteen year old who reminded me again Christmas day that he “is a man now”. No matter. We will gather, and I could not have imagined the mix when I was a young mother of two girls. Our family. An incredible blend of souls; by God’s grace, I am the mom. And I don’t want to miss a thing.

  1. And so, we light the tree every evening and we wait. Christmas Eve was excellent; Christmas day was wonderful, but Family Christmas will be joy. There will be no perfection; I am certain that someone will poop at the most inopportune time; there will be tears (hopefully only from a little one) and there might even be some attitude, but it will be us just as we are. And I am sure of this more this year than ever; that is a gift to anticipate, unwrap together and enjoy.

Happy Christmas, my friends. Happy New Year, too!

What Your Mother Really Wants for Christmas

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edit Door Prize WrapI write one post a week and the most difficult words to write are the four to six in the title. Last weekend, while enjoying a rare theme park date with my husband, the title came first.

I’ve been a mom for more than forty-two years.  Motherhood was my first job with benefits and it’s a great gig. I’m quite sure that I’m not the first woman to say that it is the most difficult, yet most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

I love that God saw fit to give me girls.  (Without them, I would have zero fashion sense.) Now that they have children and we have mothering in common and I think they even get me sometimes. At my age, when I look into a mirror I see my mother’s face…and I am shocked! But I look into the faces of my daughters and they reflect my life.

The Osborne family of Arkansas donated a bunch of lights to Walt Disney World after their neighbors got in an uproar over the display at their home.  Disney took those lights to Hollywood Studios and in true form turned them into something magical. The magic happens when you turn the corner from the back lot onto the Streets of America and see millions of dancing lights, Christmas music filling the air and a mass of people absolutely in awe and full of Christmas cheer.  I’ve taken that walk with my children and grandchildren. We’ve danced together in the streets to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas tree” and I’ve kissed my sweet husband as we sang “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”. I’ve stood in awe of the beauty of the nativity. If that display were Sodom and Gomorrah I would be a pillar of salt because I can never just walk away without glancing back and wishing I could stay a little longer.

edit Osborne Peace

 

They claim this is the last year – I doubt it. They may relocate it, but I digress. Just in case, I desperately wanted walk under those lights one more time, to relive the memories my heart cherishes; the selective memories that don’t include the tired children, the grumpy parents and the complete absence of any place to stop and rest.

How do you feel about questions like “What do you want for Christmas?”?  I detest them. Answering always makes me feel greedy, and typically I can’t think of a thing. To be honest, I’ve been in a bit of a funk this Christmas season and what I secretly want is Christmas like it used to be.  Kids opening presents, food and lots of family. Waking up to an empty house and waiting until almost new years to have everyone in one place is the new normal.  And it is way better than some people’s normal…I know that well.

Because  she works for the mouse and she makes magic happen on a daily basis, but mostly because she loves me, my sister gave us tickets to see the lights one more time.

My hubby has something called severe spinal stenosis.  For a least three years, he’s had issues with standing in one spot for more than a few minutes; for the last year, the pain is excruciating when he walks even short distances.  He wanted to go with me (insert emoji of joy mixed with angst). After agreeing on the limitations his current health conditions  impose, we decided to make a day of it – a sort of mini vaca before he has spinal surgery early next year.

The inspiration for the title came as, throughout the day, text messages  from our daughters popped up on both of our phones.  “Get a wheelchair for Dad” “You don’t have to wait in line, Dad. Get a wheelchair. Do it for Mom…you want to be able to make it to see the lights – this means a lot to her!” “I hope you are taking it easy, Dad.”

My greatest gift these days is their love and care for us. They know how we love one another.  They’ve seen how we prop one another up and push through hard things for one another. In the midst of their busy days they took time to urge us to take care of each other. We didn’t get a wheelchair, but we stopped when he needed to. He carefully managed his  pain and we had a wonderful day.

The way that our children love us is touching.  I’m especially moved by how they care for their dad.  Families are dynamic and I know that God has scattered ours a bit more than this mom would like.  But the real test of family is how we care for one another. Nothing is sweeter than watching your children, though separated by 400 miles, rally a joint campaign to ensure that their sentimental fool of a mom remembers their dad’s limitations. They were with us and they were looking out for us.

This Christmas, perhaps the greatest give you can give won’t require wrapping. Who needs to know you are with them and are looking out for them as we enter the new year?

Osborne Nativity

Merry Christmas, friends! May the peace of Christ fill your hearts and homes this Christmas.

 

 

It’s the Theater, Dahling

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homelessman2We hurried into the theater after picking up tickets at the will call window. As we made our way to the ticket taker, a line of men looking more like they were reporting for a work detail than a Sunday afternoon performance snaked in and around to the concession stand.  They  were out of place in the midst of theater goers dressed in their festive holiday attire.

We took our seats with a few minutes to spare, but not enough time to get popcorn and drinks.  Just a minute or two before curtain, the line of men from the lobby, escorted by an usher, stopped at our row.  We stood to give way to the men, and the last of them sat in the seat directly to my left, popcorn box and water bottle in hand. They reeked of cigarette smoke, but were clean and neatly dressed. I assumed they were guests of a local ministry to the homeless. Honestly, I was feeling a bit out of sorts about the whole thing, but determined to try to enjoy the performance

As the show began, there was hushed chatter between some of the men, as well as rustling of popcorn boxes. I wondered if they had any clue about  theater etiquette. What are the chances – when I bought our seats these were the only two without an obstructed view.  Just my luck!

As the lights came up for intermission, I heard a woman directly behind me speak to the gentleman on my left. She asked him to remove his hat, saying that her view was obstructed, then making the same request of the gentlemen to his left. Her tone registered negatively with me – it seemed more of a demand than a request. The men quickly and even humbly complied, even though their hats were stocking caps that didn’t add height to their profiles.

Then men stepped out of the row, presumably to go outside the theater to smoke. My date left for snacks and I was in a position to overhear the conversation that took place behind me.  “She deserves to see the show, after all. He must be eight feet tall.” The words were spoken with obvious disdain; as if he had no right to be there.  A catch in my spirit reminded me that the words were similar to the thoughts I’d had earlier.

Everyone returned to their seats and the second act began. The production of Miracle on 34th Street continued and finished strong. The crowded theater was filled with applause;  when the actor who played Santa took his bow, I heard one of the men to my left say “We’ve got to stand for this!”. People popped up around the theater in  standing ovation and then one of the actors called for quiet.

She asked everyone to take a seat in order to recognize a group in the audience.  “Please help me welcome our special guests from Veterans Outreach. Gentlemen, please stand and be recognized.

The entire row to my left stood, timid at first, but then tall and proud.  Even as I write these words, my heart is wrung right up in my chest with the thought of it.  These men, now struggling to find a life, served our country in defense of Sunday afternoons at the theater, where friends and family gather in freedom to celebrate Christmas.

I can’t say that a scripture passage flooded my memory; it was more like God quietly whispered. “I’ve called you to kindness.  When you walk with me that will be your default.”

As we walked out into the afternoon, I realized that the seats were ordained. God loves me enough to patiently arrange lessons that will lead me to truth. Kris Kringle wasn’t the only one teaching on kindness in that theater.

“Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.” ~ Hebrews 13:2 HCSB

 

I Just Wanted My Photobook

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The irony does not escape me.

I’d been waiting for a great coupon for weeks after deciding that I would make photo books for some of my grandkids.  Walgreens was the winner with 75% off.   I decided that the first book would be for John.  He loves to recite the names of family members and he loves books.  So, a picture book of family members?  Win/Win.

 

I badgered patiently asked his mom and Nana for pictures to supplement the 2,000+ photos currently in my iCloud account.  Finally, on Saturday afternoon, the last day of this “best coupon of the year”, I had everything I needed to start designing John’s perfect (catch that word – it matters) gift.

We had a Christmas party Saturday evening with our same age friends and although we had a great time, we were home by nine o’clock. What can I say?  Those party animals were all pretty tired. I’d enjoyed a lovely libation, a white chocolate somethin-somethin martini (or three) and I was wide awake and ready to tackle the project.

Let me tell you, this is not for the faint of heart. There are lots of design choices.  I’m a scrap booker with mildly perfectionist tendencies so it took a while to settle on one, but I was committed to the “Trucks” theme because, well, John loves trucks even more than he loves books. The next step is selecting photos and I had done my homework!  Most of them were organized into a file on a flash drive and I quickly uploaded them.  Arranging them…well, see above where I mentioned perfectionist tendencies.  Adding embellishments to personalize the pages and make the pictures pop was so much fun!

I remember looking up from the laptop that was, literally on my lap, to the alarm clock past the foot of our bed. Hubby had been softly snoring for a couple of hours and I was ready to call it.  Finished at 11:45, just under the coupon deadline.  I added my labor of love to the cart, entered my coupon code and it was a wrap!  Mark that one off your list, Lorraine.  I returned the laptop to the kitchen and slept well, dreaming about the next day’s shopping trip that would move me closer to the finish line.

Then Sunday came and in the midst of shopping the phone rang with a call from someone in the photo department at Walgreens.  A slight delay, blah, blah, paper out of stock, blah, blah.  I assured him that it was all good, ‘cause this Grandma doesn’t actually need the book in her hands today. I’m rocking this gift-giving thing.

Sunday night…another call. It was ready! I jumped in my car and drove to the store. I couldn’t wait to take a look, but my excitement quickly abated when I noticed a “smudge” on the corner of every page.  They agreed to try again.  In the meantime, I had a revision or two after seeing it in print. (See above – note word “perfectionist”) The clerk was sympathetic to my plight and agreed that was fine, especially in light of all of the inconvenience I was experiencing.  In order to do that, and with assurance that I just needed to call the customer service line to explain, she cancelled the original book.  I spent another hour making revisions and spelling my email address over and over to someone in Miami.  God bless my husband who simply watches and shakes his head. Add to revised book to cart, cross fingers and wait.

On Monday the call was from yet another tech at the second store location.  The book was ready!  I couldn’t wait to see it now that it was PERFECT, exactly how I wanted it.  The problems were a blessing, actually.  Thank you, Jesus, for problems. I raced into the store, more anxious than ever to review my masterpiece.  I opened the book and there again, a smudge on every single page.  The clerk was at a loss and suggested I call the next day to speak with the daytime person.

When I called Tuesday, this new clerk suggested I try another store (third store location in case you’ve lost count). Maybe it was a problem with the printer at their store, blah, blah, blah.  By the way, in order to do that, you’ll need to add the book to your cart and reorder. Coupon code? What coupon code?  Oh that…you’ll have to call customer service and ask them to note your account.  And perhaps, just maybe, the problem is with that design.  The truck paper – perhaps choose another design?

And I complied. By now, you may realize that this book is kind of a big deal. This little guy’s adoption will be final soon.  He’s special.  This is something that will be uniquely his in a big family.  Choosing another design meant starting over.  A complete remake.  A couple of hours later, it was done. I chose a very basic solid paper design and it was all good.  I still felt a loss over the truck paper, but I was willing to let it go. Or so I thought. The fourth call to customer service was to a very nice person who credited my account with a whole bunch of 8X10 collage prints but all I really wanted was my photo book.

The email announcing the completion came around bed time last night, so I decided to stop on my way to work this morning.  Just after the store opened at 7 a.m. I rolled into the parking lot, coffee in hand. The photo counter was still dark, but a clerk quickly arrived to assist.  I opened the book and it was…..perfect.  The colors were gorgeous and while it wasn’t trucks, it was colorful and it was filled with the faces of people John loves.  My heart leaped a little as I paged through – these were my people, ya’ll.

And then it was time to pay. I explained the situation…the problems, the multiple calls to the customer service line, the call that I made explaining it all to this store when I placed the order yesterday, the reassurance that I was given that they would honor the discount….and she looked at me like, “Sure, lady” and said there is nothing here about that.  And I lost it. I forgot all about thanking Jesus for problems.

All of the frustration over four days of calling, running to the store, redesigning (and maybe a little over the fact that I started the morning searching for a stuffed rabbit that arrived last week and now is nowhere to be found ) boiled up.  I don’t know for sure what I said, but my voice was raised and trembling as I turned and walked away from my precious book, resigned to make yet another call to wait for it….”customer service”.

Then she spoke calmly “Please, ma’am, come back.” Four words, and they started a flood.  A tear-filled apology from me and a wise decision by her.  I don’t even know her name…it’s not on the receipt and she wasn’t wearing a name tag, but she should be promoted. She handled this hot mess like a boss.

I sat in my car, taking the book from its protective sleeve.  It is lovely.  But the value is not in the paper selection or the timeliness or even in the coupon savings.  It’s the precious souls whose faces fill the layouts. As I look into the pages, I realize that this experience is a peek at my anxious heart.  So, I’ll say it once more and mean it.  Thank you, Jesus, for problems.

BookStitch

I need to make three more of these books.  Anyone have a good coupon code?

 

 

A Flame of Hope

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MerryBrightThe weather was beautiful – perfect for an outdoor event on a December evening in Central Florida. The sun was beginning to disappear and the sky was doing that thing where the horizon glows like the edge of the earth is on fire. Early, as is often the case at this stage of our lives, we pulled into the parking lot of the big First Baptist church. It was already beginning to fill up and we paused to greet friends as we walked from the car toward the center of town. People were already gathering, claiming a spot to view the festivities.

The stage, situated opposite the Christmas tree that replaces the fountain as the centerpiece during the holidays, was already filled with singers, warming up and performing sound checks. We took time to get coffee and settled in on the street with thousands of our neighbors. It was small town America at its best.

The program began as the worship team sang the classic “Go Tell it on the Mountain”. People were sitting and standing shoulder to shoulder around the stage and looking around; you couldn’t see the end of them. They were clapping and singing the soulful spiritual. The song was first published in 1907 in a book by John Wesley Work, Jr. who was the first African-American collector of Negro spirituals. It seemed fitting that the worship leader from the Baptist church, a young African American man, led the community as we gathered and celebrated the joy of “telling the story” this Friday evening.

Local pastors, one after another, read from the Bible, sharing the account of the birth of Christ. Then, a single candle was lit and the flame was passed. It was windy, and there were thousands of people. It seemed like a nice thought but an impossible feat, to be honest. I can be pretty realistic pessimistic at times, but as in this case, I’m often wrong.

I watched the flame and the people as they handled it, shielding it from the wind and relighting it as needed. As I saw each person turning to the next, offering the light, my heart swelled with sacred realization. This was a beautiful illustration of the Gospel: every person passing the light of Christ to the next; carefully and intentionally sharing hope.

PassTheFlame

As the light traveled across and down the crowded streets, faces shone in the soft light of candles. In the midst of a great crowd of people, my heart was moved. I quietly and privately vowed to a change of heart. While I can’t escape the busier schedule or the responsibilities that come with this season, I will choose hope over stress and anxiety. These are just a few of the things that I hope for this Christmas:

  • To bless my family with the gift of a joyful wife, mother and grandma
  • To explain the concept of a budget to my “love to give” husband
  • To enjoy all things in moderation: food, drink, work and play
  • To enjoy the festivities that come once each year at Christmas
  • Comfort for my recently widowed friend and others who will have their first Christmas without a loved one
  • Peace for mommas everywhere, cause you know…momma stress

I’m relieved that my Christmas tree is decorated. I’m thrilled that we chose to spend Saturday evening with six precious friends who have been together with us through ups and downs for the last several years. I’m grateful for another Christmas shopping day with my sister, my friend.

I’m really glad that I chose to deal with the crowds last Friday evening. I was almost ready to throw in the towel and give up on the whole lot of stuff to do and places to be. I was just too tired and I didn’t have the time. But I ran across this late last week. I can’t even recall how I got to it:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

I haven’t read the books or even seen the movies, but if you are a Lord of the Rings fan, you’ll recognize the quote is from Gandalf. His flaming words made their mark on my heart. The choices are mine.

  • On Friday night, “Light Up” was the best choice for us.
  • On Saturday afternoon, despite tradition and a multitude of other good reasons to attend our town’s Christmas parade, I chose errands and decorating. It was wonderful to prioritize and complete tasks, and now I can enjoy our home.
  • Saturday night, an intimate party with dear friends was a perfect time to relax and enter the joy of Christmas.
  • Sunday? It was the perfect day with my sister to catch up on more than just a shopping list.

The demands of the season can be overwhelming. The honest truth is that we all have the same currency of hours, and necessities of life often dictate most of the budget. Discretionary spending of time is where the difference is made. I’m vowing to consider every minute as if it were a precious gold coin. I won’t clutch it tight in my hand because thankfully, time, must be spent as it comes. It is a gift to be used and enjoyed and this Christmas season I hope to have no “spender’s remorse”.

May your Christmas be filled with the things that make your heart leap, whether the hustle and bustle of a theme park or mall, the magnificence of a production akin to the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular or the blessing of an evening at home.

ShoreNativity