And So It Begins

photo from Charlotte Coneybeer at unsplash

For all of who’ve been hiding under a rock–as I must have been doing–December 1 is tomorrow.

Less than four weeks till Christmas, and I’m being sucked into the vortex of hustle and bustle. Not by choice. But I feel it in my bones. I hear the whispers of “Get going. You’re not doing enough now. Get baking. Get buying. Get decorating.”

Get is a life.

We’ve been trying to finish decorating the tree for six days. Hopefully it will be by Christmas. That doesn’t bother me.

I’ve not begun buying gifts for anyone–no cyber deals, no Black Friday deals, no pre-buying because I knew what anyone wanted. That doesn’t bother me.

Baking? Not even a blip on the radar of my mind. That doesn’t bother me.

The homemade gifts I always expect to make each year because someone else did or I made the mistake of gazing at Pinterest for more than fifteen seconds? Nope. That doesn’t bother me.

Christmas cards may be finished sometime before the end of the year. That doesn’t bother me.

What bothers me is the pressure I’m feeling to begin. To do something. To want to do something.

I’m in denial.

Don’t know how that’s possible. You can’t leave your home without reminders of the season. If your TV is on, every commercial is what you should buy for those you love.

Everyone knows better than I what I should be doing now. My inbox is full of ideas and recipes and gift possibilities I should consider. I see folks around me who’ve done their decorating and gift buying and already have their presents wrapped. Their organizational skills have given them bandwidth to schedule all the things they need to do.

Christmas is a reminder that I’m not a detail person. That I’ve operated too much of my life on the fly. Yes, I’m adaptable–and that has wonderful pluses that allows me to go with the flow. Planning? Not so much.

And then I hear the other whispers–no, I’m not nuts. These whispers remind me that none of this is what Christmas is really about. Not the hoopla or the presents. Not the decorations, cookies, parties or lights.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Hope. Hope that came in the form of a Baby. A Baby who’d grow to be the Savior.

Many would rather not think about this reason for celebration. They’d rather do away with any spiritual aspects of this holiday and make it a retail bonanza. Period. Many would rather not admit they need help. That they aren’t content with their lives, that they lack hope for tomorrow. No matter how much they have or don’t have.

Life is more than stuff and parties. Contentment is that wonder that comes from knowing I’m fully known, loved, and forgiven by the God who made me. Having an assurance that this life isn’t all there is. Heaven waits.

These other things? There’s a lot of fun in giving and decorating. Parties are enjoyable and gatherings are important to connect people.

What do I need?

I need Jesus.

Way more satisfying than a Christmas cookie.




Do You Really Need A Village To Pick A Tree?

We are the parade.

We’ve moved into the time of year when people begin practicing traditions that have meaning for them. Things they’ve done as long as they can remember. They may not remember the why–they just do it.

Historically (makes it sound like centuries, doesn’t it?) we’ve shopped for our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. I refuse to cave to an artificial tree. I get the downside of buying a fresh tree. It isn’t cost effective. It can present a fire hazard. It never looks as good when you get it home as when you picked it out. It litters the house with needles that drive most everyone else nuts.

Not me.

I love the smell and look of these beautiful trees–which have been sacrificed on the altar of retail necessity and begin to lose themselves as soon as they’re set up.

When we lived up north we spent the day wandering Christmas tree farms to find the perfect specimen to cut down.

Not a Florida phenomenon. It’s not great weather to grow fir trees nor maintain them once they’re cut.

Four of the kids and three families were with us for this excursion. And they all willingly accompanied us to pick our perfect tree.

My MO is to look at almost every tree in the lot before choosing my favorite. Yes, my favorite. My family does this for me. Tolerating my constant query of, “Which do you like best?” We had a lovely man, Martin, who followed us around and unwrapped any trees that were possibilities. He’d hold two next to each other, answered questions–and gave his own personal preference.

The grands were scattered creating forts among the trussed trees. Everyone had settled in for the dauntless task of choosing.

Well, what to my wondering mind did I do; I chose a tree after only seeing two.

This wasn’t me at all. The kids asked if I was ok.

I was done.

We might have been there a total of ten minutes. John must have asked if I was sure at least a dozen times.

We got that second tree. Hang traditions and habits.

How like me to fall into habit patterns for no other reason than it’s the way I’ve done things. There’re many decisions in life that I don’t have to self-obsess about. Listening to others could modify my decisions and shorten the process.

It all comes down to control–and we all long for that. Whether overtly or passive- aggressively, we want to be captains of our destinies. Spending more time listening to what others have to say and less spouting off my opinions might help me see that others have valuable ideas that I could learn from.

Jesus created us to live and work in community–and it’s one of the hardest things any of us could ever do. Seeing others as more important than ourselves. Acknowledging the value of someone else’s thoughts and decisions. Nothing encourages others like giving them their say.

If it’s so important to John, maybe we should consider a fake tree next year.



Why Even Celebrate Thanksgiving?

photo by Jessica Bristow at unsplash

It feels like Thanksgiving has become a throw-away holiday. History and current reality.

The first Thanksgiving was never called that by those attending. It was a one-time happening. The Wampanoag Indians, which had lived in that area a thousand years, were indispensable to the survival of those early settlers. After the successful harvesting of their first crops in the autumn of 1621, the Native Americans and Pilgrims gathered for three days of feasting and games.

The peace was short-lived. With the influx of more Europeans, the Native Americans saw the decimation of their numbers through attacks from both the new immigrants and their diseases.

Many are offended by the way Native Americans were treated then–and now–by entitled folks who took their land when Europeans first came over and others of us who don’t acknowledge and value their identity and culture now. The majority culture is not often thoughtful or kind.

Christmas decorations are already up in many areas, not giving credence to this very American holiday that nobody else celebrates anywhere else in the world–unless you’re an American expat.

More and more sports tournaments for kids are being held on Thanksgiving Day, making family gatherings a thing of fond memories and wishful thinking.

Shopping has, for years, superseded the family table as a priority for many. With Black Friday oozing into Thanksgiving Day and before, it’s tough to find space for gratitude when the great deals call.

When Abraham Lincoln declared on October 3, 1863 that Thanksgiving would be a holiday celebrated the last Thursday of November, it was in the middle of the Civil War. He made this declaration just after the Union won the Battle at Gettysburg, a bloody engagement that cost the lives of 7,550 men, with another 27,450 wounded. With that loss on his heart, Lincoln was looking past the war to how America was growing. The population was increasing, our borders were being expanded, industry was developing. We were, in many ways, flourishing.

Yet our nation was at war. We, as a nation, would lose roughly two percent of our population in war fatalities–an estimated 620,000 men. It was our bloodiest war ever.

Lincoln urged the people of America to give thanks to the Most High God for His gifts that allowed us to see His provision in our growth and development. Freedom for all comes at a price, and Lincoln wanted the people of America to appreciate what we had and could fight for.

Life itself is a battle. Some skirmishes are larger than others, but we’re all caught in the middle of living in brokenness–our own and others. We demand our rights from everyone, yet we’re hesitant to freely give them to others. It doesn’t matter what faith, ethnicity, orientation, or community we belong to, no one is good at giving everyone a fair hearing.

We can be thankful God does. All of us are born with the prospect of hope and heaven if we choose. We choose. And He hears.

None of us can afford to throw away that needed thanks.

photo by Simon Maage at unsplash

The Grand Dump

Whoever said someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure?

They’ve never been to my home. Trash is trash and you can’t put a pretty bow on it.

My daughter’s family has the right idea. They rented a dumpster for a week and are being fierce in their disposal of things not needed. If it’s not been used in a few years–especially if it hasn’t been unpacked since the last move–it’s gone.

Heather can do that. Her kids are still young enough that they haven’t collected yearbooks and framed pictures of friends from high school. They don’t have attachments to “stuff” yet. She can afford to be ruthless.

It helps that her husband, Jeremy, is enjoying the decluttering process like it’s a day at the fair.

My dear husband mentioned that we might want to do something similar. I thought we might be able to take a few things to their dumpster, make the grand gesture, and be done.

We need to go all in. We haven’t parked a car in our garage since we moved in. I know there are boxes there from twenty years ago that haven’t been opened. It’s scarier to think what might be living in there–skittering, multi-legged and buggish–than what might have once been necessary.

Here’s the problem. There are seriously good things in there. A wooden table that could be used by one of the kids, if they’d ever pick it up. Favorite stuffed animals from when they were little, if they’d ever claim them. Yearbooks that multiply with six kids that contain more memories than anyone has brain space to hold. Trophies from countless soccer games that I feel guilty about pitching because they’re not mine. Pictures in tubs because I’ve never been a scrapbooker. I could scan them to my computer, but I don’t have the desire or capacity to learn.

Organized sounds so much easier when you don’t have to be the one organizing.

It’s so much easier shutting the garage door with the cars outside. Avoiding going in there unless it’s dire–like garbage pick-up day.

I’ve got conviction, but it falls far short of taking action.

I think that reflects me in a lot of areas of life. I get excited about an idea or project, and I don’t follow through or finish well.

For instance, November is all about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Where you put your fingers to the keys and churn out so many thousands of words a day, with the idea of finishing a 50,000 word novel before the last stroke of midnight on November 30.

I lasted two days.

Throwing away things isn’t the big deal. It’s finishing the job once I get started. Not getting distracted.

In a culture where it’s easier to get new rather than fix broken and where commitment to people or a cause can get lost in rhetoric, there’s only One who stands by me, who will complete what He’s promised to do in my life. No matter what.

Jesus never quits on me. Never rolls His eyes or gets distracted.

He’s with me to the end.

With that kind of commitment, I might be able to put a car in my garage.





It’s Not A Hill To Die On

I so wanted them to be the bad guys. Then I’d have someone to rail against, an entity to receive the focus of my anger and frustration.

I can’t lay all the blame at the feet of our HOA.

Our house needs painting. Badly. It’s been more years than we should have allowed, but with work and family responsibilities, it never was an overwhelming issue. Our home exists in all it’s lived-in, well-used, hard-loved glory.

The HOA sees the need. And has sent us a few registered letters, informing us of our lack of neighborly responsibility in allowing our home to fall into such a state of ugly.

We need to get it painted.

I’ve not problem with that. I know it needs it–they’re not getting an argument from me on that. So John and I went to Sherwin-Williams Paint, the holder of our HOA’s colors, and were told to pick.

Not easy. We knew gray was on the list, but we didn’t see the book. We picked a pure gray color. Software Gray. Who’s going to fight with gray? We submitted our choice and waited for the OK to move forward on hiring a painter.

It shouldn’t have been that complicated.

We got another registered letter, telling us our color had been rejected. We needed to pick a color from the dad gum book. Three representatives of the HOA board had determined our gray wasn’t satisfactory.

I was fuming. John listened. I went on and on about not wanting beige gray or blue gray, just plain gray. He listened.

I came up with a grand alternative. “Let’s paint it the gray we want, and I dare them to walk up with paint swatches to show we don’t have an acceptable gray.”

“And when they make us repaint because it’s not an approved color, paying a second time, what would you say then?’

His calm was irritating. His logic, irrefutable.

“I’ll tell them they’re all color blind!”

I don’t believe they even checked the color we submitted. I think, when they saw it wasn’t an approved color, they rejected it out of hand.

Which is so unfair.

“This isn’t a hill to die on, babe. Save your energy for what matters.”

He’s right. The rules may seem petty, but they’re the rules. Used to keep order. And not have homes painted neon green. This was neither a life or death situation nor was it a compromise of conviction. The house needs to be painted, and I want it to be gray.

Spending time and energy on things I can’t change, fix or control is a waste. There are so few things that are really worth fighting to the bitter end.

The safety of my family. Helping those less fortunate than I am. People who are abused or traded as slaves because someone sees them as property.

And my faith. Believing Jesus is the Son of God. That’s a truth I’ll defend to the end. It defines and strengthens me like nothing and no one else can.

That’s the hill I’ll bunker down in and stay the course.