A Few Christmas Glimpses

So many people struggled with the decision of whether or not to decorate for this weird 2020 holiday season. I can fully appreciate those who decided to skip it or simply go smaller than normal. For whatever reason, I felt unusually excited to decorate this year. I think I needed the safety net of memories and glittering lights to buoy me through the canceled plans and stay at home orders. It’s helped me out a lot, to plug in the tree lights and watch them do their thing.

I mention it every year but this pink ornament is from my parents’ first Christmas together in 1961. It has valiantly survived the years and it makes me smile each time I unpack it from the many layers of bubble wrap I store it in.

Just like this bowl of sugared fruit that sat in their kitchen window. Is it even Christmas if there’s no bowl of sugared fruit??

The gnomes are holding court by the front door, keeping evil out and mischief in. Their biggest job this year has been greeting the Amazon delivery guys. *wink*

Did you decide to decorate this year or to give yourself a needed break from the tinsel and glitter? We hope to go over to an area of town called the Fab 40’s this evening and drive through their neighborhood. Their lights will be fun to see. Then home for some homemade hot chocolate. It’s SO GOOD!!

Happy celebrating to you, however you’ve chosen to do that this year. Your choice was a correct one, so rest peacefully in that. 2021 Christmas will be here soon enough!

Meet Me at the Front Door

The anticipation had been building for six hours. We’d sung The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and my personal favorite, Sweet Violets. We’d found things out our car windows that started with an A, anthill. Then a B, bird! Always cheating our way through those pesky letters like Q or X. Our sandwiches had warmed to that perfect car temperature and the cheese slices with apple were beginning to form that delicious oily condensation cheese gets when warmed in the highway-bound backseat. Tolls had been paid and we finally got to open the car package Mom always made for us weeks before a car trip: the newest Seventeen magazine, some word searches, a new deck of Old Maid and a few sweet treats (Bit-O-Honey paper stuck in the corners) promised just to ourselves, no sharing required.

But by Wichita our spirits were starting to wane. Have you traveled across Kansas and Oklahoma with two daughters who believe STRONGLY in the infamous imaginary middle line that forms down the backseat? There are only so many white horses to ‘Snitch!’ before antsyness starts to settle in.

And yet, as we spotted the identifying red dirt of Oklahoma, our eagerness was stirred up anew. We were getting close! We drove through Bethany, listening impatiently as Dad exasperated, “I always miss that turn. We need to turn around and go back.” AAACK!, we sigh. We were so close we could taste it. The car would make the u-turn on one of those perfectly-curbed streets lined with brick-built houses, the wholly unique look of an Oklahoma neighborhood.

The excitement was overwhelming! Edged up on our seats, nervously looking through the front window, ready to see that beautiful white-washed brick home that held all our favorite people. They were all there, waiting for us.

Before cell phones could announce our estimated arrival time, Dad would stop somewhere once we got into town, and Mom used a pay phone to call her older sister, Mary, to say we were just a few minutes away. “Yes, yes”, Aunt Mary assured Mom, “Evelyn got in this morning and Peggy and the boys just got in about an hour ago.” “We’re all here, just waiting for you!”

Pulling up in front of that car-filled driveway held so much excitement I didn’t think I could stand another second of it. I couldn’t wait to see all those cousins. Older cousins who could do no wrong. Aunts and uncles and above all, grandparents.

No chance to knock on the front door before it was slung open to crowds of people standing in the entryway. One by one we fell into hugs and faces that lit up the whole house. The front of the pack would fade back while a new crew would take their place. Soon Pop Pop would appear, arms outstretched, asking for some sugar. It was a few minutes of whole and unadulterated acceptance. No words were fully understood as everyone talked over each other but warmth and love permeated each embrace.

The crowd would instinctively part ways as Mom Mom came into the living room from the kitchen wearing a full smile and wisps of flour dusting her long, manicured fingers. Aunt Mary was behind her as she was assisting the cooking process by taking their completed masterpieces out to the cold garage and placing them in large trash cans dedicated specifically for the purpose of holding our feast until the anticipatory air was filled with ‘Pass me the green beans, please’, quickly followed by an update on disparate lives spread out all over the mid, southern and eastern states.

Thanksgiving weekend was alive and energetic and filled with an unparalleled feeling of completeness as lives who shared a genetic code and who lived so separately all over the country began to slowly fit our edges back together into the puzzle that was Family.

And so I say to you this challenging year, let’s hang on tightly to each other, even if virtually. Let’s celebrate as an act of rebellion in our individual homes. A slower holiday season is precisely what we need, in spite of its surface disappointments. And then, once we’ve separated and bumped elbows and Zoom called our way through the next year, let’s rise up next year, full of grins and flour-tinged aprons. Slaps on the back and long-overdue hugs of love.

I will look forward to your beautiful faces and laughing spirits all year. 2020: quiet and separate. 2021: doors thrown open, crowded cousins, familiar faces and strong handshakes.

This year, cautious safety and health. But next year, with warmth and wide smiles, let’s make up for lost time. We’ve got stories to tell and hugs to share. Not this year, right? But next year – meet me at the front door.

Deeply thankful.

Since Scott works next week, we decided to have our Thanksgiving dinner together on Friday. When your family is sitting down to turkey next Thursday we will be in the oh-no-not-turkey-again stage of leftovers.

This was supposed to be a table set for five. Our children were going to be here all at one time and I could imagine the talking and laughing and plates being passed. But then Corona took over and cancelled all our plans. Flights that had been booked for months were re-adjusted to a later (unknown) time in 2021. This was so disappointing at first, but I find myself, today, deeply grateful for cancelled plans. From the time we decided to eliminate plans for Thanksgiving (and Christmas) until now, the COVID rates have skyrocketed. It would worry me far too much to think of my children getting on planes with other holiday travelers and either getting the virus themselves or bringing it to our home. We have all worked so hard for six months to avoid this horrible virus. A vaccine is on the horizon so why not hang on just a bit longer. We can do it. Our decision was one of love for each other and respect for the fight we have been putting up so far to keep COVID at bay.

So instead, it was just me and Scott. We started listening to Christmas music this week and began putting up our trees and holiday decorations. It is, by far, the earliest we have ever done this but this year, I think we are all wanting a change of pace. We need the joy and promise of Christmas.

6, 893 attempts at one little picture. In the end, we are just going to have to settle on the best we can get with a 9-month-old puppy. We didn’t even attempt to include our cat, Haddie, imagining the cat and dog chase down the center of the table.

Scott played all the cooking hits. Lots of carbs and calories, but oh-so-many memories. He worked on the meal (with Tilly’s help, sampling the food) while I worked on the house. Before long things were looking and smelling like the holidays.

We included a family favorite: Strawberry Pretzel Salad. Mom used to make this salad/dessert and we all looked forward to it every year. It is, actually, a big pain to make. Maybe that’s why it’s a once-a-year favorite. It includes my favorite food group: salty and sweet.

Instead of people pouring through our front door, it was a much smaller gathering than expected. But we had fun and enjoyed every minute of our Thanksgiving meal from prep, eating and much-deserved nap to follow.

I’m quite sure the gnomes are enjoying having a puppy in the house this year. There’s no telling what goes on when we go to bed each night. I am sure they are up to no good!

You hope your children have tender and gracious memories of their childhood holidays. But just recently my son brought up the insane reindeer we had (as I am sure many of you did as well) that would CONSTANTLY topple over. It had a bum leg so it teetered off balance at all times. Just looking at it for longer than a mere glance was usually enough to bring it to a pile of wood in the middle of the living room. The expletives he now includes in the reindeer’s descriptions do not bring forth merriment and fondness. -ha!

That rickety reindeer has long been gone but a few years ago I found this smaller version and snatched it up. The funny memories it brings to mind was worth it. This one, luckily, is much smaller and much more balanced!

Last year I was gifted this Willow Tree nativity scene. I had momentarily forgotten about it until I started unpacking the Christmas boxes this year and was pleasantly surprised all over again. I have never been more grateful for a humble baby and His saving grace. I marvel at the resolute dedication of a young teenage mother and a faithful fiance’. So many families have seen death and suffering this year – all around the world. Jesus walks before us. The path may not be easy or end as we desire, but His hand is there to offer comfort. He can lighten the load we bear, whether it be the heaviness of worry or the tragedy of loss. May we be as faithful as the holy trio as well as those who took up the faith and followed the Star.

NOEL. An exclamation of joy at Jesus’ birth. My personal prayer is to loosen the grip on the burden of fear this holiday and concentrate on the joy of a guiding Father. The joy of birth.

We wish you a beautiful Thanksgiving. I understand the disappointment and discouragement attached to plans being cancelled or minimized. It is a difficult year. But it is also a forced-opportunity to spend less time maximizing on the unimportant details and further appreciate the simple blessings of breath and connection and irreplaceable memories.

The deepest love and gratitude, from our house to yours –

g.

The Call of the Bells

The sound of a bell is said to disengage our mind from the onslaught of thoughts and ideas and stimuli that is constantly grabbing our attention and time. The bell is a symbol of peace and freedom. Freedom from all that is twisting our minds, the bell sound ushers us into a place where we can imagine a more peaceful existence for us as well as for others. Bell ringing during prayer is to help snap us back into the present moment, controlling the ever-wandering mind and to focus us on God’s love and presence.

As we march into June, my mind is a riotous place, as I am sure you are also experiencing much dissonance and noise. Just like the riots in the streets, my thoughts frantically race. Burning down old, useless habits while also lifting up values and beliefs that are true and proven. How can I make a change? What do I need to say publicly? Who am I and what can I do in the midst of all this upheaval and needed (although painful) cultural growth?

I don’t have the answer to any of those internal questions yet but my thoughts have started to stumble over themselves in a rush to get out and get active. Seeing various sides of an issue can be an asset and it can be dangerously debilitating. My gut is telling me to slow down. To stop a minute. To gather my incoherent thoughts into a pile to sort through when I am in a clearer state of mind. That first and foremost I need to look at the basics. Go back to the basics.

The Church and all of its varying denominations have gotten things wrong many times. They have committed atrocities (forthrightly and passively) that are horrific in the name of God and their falsely inerrant rules and manuals. And so it is with hesitation that I say to myself, much less publicly, that there is truth and love and forgiveness and grace and humility when living and following God’s message of love and divinity. The one-on-one relationship is what I’m speaking about. Not the relationship through the hallowed halls of denominations or spiritual leaders, but the true experience of knowing and serving the Heavenly Father alone. Back to the basics. I fully believe He is in charge. He is capable of bringing about social and racial unification through the hands and feet of those He has placed on the earth. He is also capable of creating minds so scientifically brilliant that a cure for COVID-19 and other deadly diseases can be amended and eventually eradicated. I believe this. What is my place in your plan, Lord? 

Meanwhile, I hear the bell calling me to stop. To take deep breaths. Breathe in through my nose, expanding my lungs to their fullest. Hold the breath for a few seconds. Then blow out through my mouth with force and purpose, emptying my lungs and detoxifying my body and mind. Did you know that after five deep breaths like this your body will switch out of it’s fight or flight mode? That the oxygen signals to your body that you are no longer in danger? 

There is work to be done, personally and societally. But for myself, I must first quiet down. I must stop aimlessly running and completely stop. In those quiet moments I will find direction and purpose. I will find answers and creative ideas. The rioting in my mind must stop. I must first connect my feeble and stumbling thoughts to a mighty and limitless God. 

I am listening to the bells. Hearing their reminder to stop and listen and breathe. In the Catholic and other liturgical churches, they ring the church bells three times a day to summon the faithful to recite the Lord’s Prayer. 

…Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day…

He hears our cries. He sees our handmade signs and our protests and our anguish and our loss. He is equipping an army to serve in innumerable ways. Scientists and activists and peacemakers and writers and historians and neighbors and friends. The pot has been vigorously stirred and we are here, living in these days, for a reason and a purpose. We will do it wrong; say the wrong things. We will trip and perhaps even fall hard at times. But the bells are ringing. We must stop and listen. Get our minds in the right place and our hearts recalibrated before our feet start out in movement again. 

You are loved, my dear reader. Find a moment today…slight as it may be…to experience the quiet. To see unexpected beauty. To breathe deeply. To hear the bells.