December 29, 2010

celebrations and survival

We find ourselves on the other side of Christmas... all of the preparation behind us, nothing but a memory. My Christmas tree lights are still twinkling, and I keep wondering if it really has to be over. Yes, our Christmas tree survived, and teaches me again to leave it in God's hands instead of sitting in the worry. Even through the exhaustion, I would celebrate again... because the joy that hung in the air was simply beautiful. The gathering of family, the laughter, the sharing, the food, the smiles, the gifts.

And the way that Jesus was tucked in it all... from the amazing short wait in the waiting room in the urgent care Eric got bit by a friend's dog right before we were headed to celebrate with my family Christmas Eve morning, admiring the nativities, Christmas Eve service complete with candle-light, and a card on Christmas morning... Linus sharing the real meaning of Christmas  right before we dove into the treasures under the tree...
And suddenly there was with the angels a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.

After the long morning, with the adrenaline fading, we all fell to napping while Camden built his Lego sets. Dinner, more cookies... more laughter. And then it is simply... over. But I hang on, leave gifts under the tree, keep the lights burning, the music playing.   It will hit me all at once, and I will be rushing to put it all behind... but even as we prepare for and celebrate Camden's birthday, I find peace in the beauty of Christmas, and surround myself with it.

December 24, 2010

merry christmas

If you were to stop by I'd offer you a cookie or two... baked fresh at 5am. I don't sleep much the week before Christmas... just filled with the anticipation and wonder of it all. Yes, all... even the crazy-rushing around. There are things I didn't get to... and things that I hadn't planned on, but couldn't resist. Sometimes you just have to pick and choose... and hope that maybe next year there will be time for everything. We are going to make sugar cookies tomorrow though... I promised the kids, and thought it might be fun since Eric will be working (but close by.)
I am looking forward to church tonight... the candle light, the voices and the story. Oh, that story. I am thankful all over again for this gift that God gave us... not just that on that starry night, but the celebrating year after year. And with each passing year, I seem to gather more in my heart.

Merry Christmas... I hope you kneel at the manger, laugh in the twinkling lights of the tree, bask in the glow of a smile over a gift you've given, and feel the embrace of family and friends... hold them close.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called Wonderful,Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

December 23, 2010

one last (birthday) song

He listened to me whine and complain... for almost two weeks. No one even has time for my birthday, which was why I eventually decided to celebrate it on my own terms. In all my 39 years, this was maybe the first time I ever felt that way... and while I don't usually make a practice of dwelling in the ugly, the hurt and the sadness was just a little too much for this heart. This heart that love, love, loves my December birthday, and has most always embraced it. I wanted to embrace it this year, too... so I narrowed my expectations (which were small to start with... a few hours of family, mixed with cake and ice cream) and created strict terms that I expected him to follow... to the letter. Only this one night, just us four, cookie dough flautas, no cake... and no singing or celebrating it any other time. It sounds ridiculous now... but it was my coping mechanism, the only way I could push aside the sad and lonely feelings over what he wouldn't give up for my day. How old am I? Three? I deserved that kick-in-the-pants cards from my Mom... and I knew it, but still couldn't reign my heart in.

The day after my birthday, we had plans with friends... easy dinner, just to visit and relax before the Christmas crazy set fully in. When we had originally made the plans I told Eric, but it won't be a birthday celebration, okay? and he just shook his head, fully sick of my birthday attitude. But this night was at least a week after that conversation, and I had just celebrated a wonderful birthday, had tucked all that junk away into my muddy heart...

It was too dark to tell who was in the driveway, probably just someone stopping by their house to drop of a quick gift or something... but as we pulled in I noticed there was more than an extra car. And there were quite a few people standing around. And they were waving. I put my hand up to wave and the realization hit me all at once. My family. All of them. A surprise for me, the very loud birthday whiner. I was more than shocked, more than pleased, more than humbled. He was worried that I wouldn't even get out of the car.

No worries... he is the very best husband a girl could be lucky enough to call her own. And he loves me completely, even when I make his life miserable, even in spite of me. And still, after the celebration, I can't quite get over how selfish and awful I have been... but he offered me grace anyway, and I joyfully splashed in it. I have closed the door on this birthday... and next year, when my beautiful birthday comes around, I will accept it just as it is... because I believe I have learned my lesson.

December 21, 2010

it was happy... very happy

When I looked ahead to my day, I begrudgingly lowered my expectations... a Monday birthday can't possibly offer what a weekend birthday can. As this Monday birthday loomed, my negative attitude grew... and if I wasn't quite sure I possessed a negative attitude at all, now I was sure. I love my birthday. Love, love, love my birthday... and I wanted this one to be as wonderful as the last one. So I made a plan... my birthday on my terms, and I would make the best of it. My Mom's birthday card came Saturday, and gave me that extra encouragement (or kick in the pants) I needed... Your birthday may not be the same as it was when you were little- a lot of things have changed since then...You've changed, too. Ahem!
Yesterday Eric was the first to wish me a happy day... and I surprised and thrilled that both Laura and Cam woke early on their first day of vacation to share their wishes with me before I left for work. With a smile I walked out the door and was greeted with the day... blue sky, sun climbing and crisp cold air. God, your gift was perfect... my favorite kind of day. And before I even left the driveway, I happened on another gift...
Cards from my Sweetheart. And I recall, almost exactly half-my-life-ago, finding a card from him on the seat of my car... just after our first date. I laughed when I looked at the envelopes... #1 open at 0900, #2 open at 1200, #3 open at 1500. He knows how I feel about military time, and when I called him on it he laughed one of those big all-the-way-to-your-toes kind of laughs... and it was just one more beautiful gift.  Right then and there I knew... that this would be a happy birthday, even if it did fall on a Monday.

The day rolled on with beauty... cards that made me cry, an email from my best, best, best friend, and facebook posts filled with happy wishes (I knew that darn facebook would have to be good for something eventually!) There were cupcakes and cake and a visit from my sister at work... and a few gifts here and there that made me squeal with joy. Yes, birthdays are for squealing. I came home to a pile of gifts, each hand-picked with love... no Christmas wrap in sight.   And even if this one gift shouts Christmas (I asked for this!), I shout right back that it might just stay out all year...
The four of us laughed over tacos and cookie dough flautas (thank you Tijuana Flats for my FREE dinner and dessert!) and then headed off to an event I have wanted to visit for years...
The nature center was decked out in lights, and we walked dark paths lined with them. Glancing up, the full moon peeked from between the trees and offered us the chance to sing in its glow... three foxes leaping, two bald eagles, and a bobcat in a pine tree! I must have thanked Eric three or four times... for this night, for this chance to be just the four of us, for this very happy birthday.

Here I am... officially another year older. And maybe... just a little wiser. A Monday birthday is what you make it... and mine was happy. Very happy.

December 20, 2010

and patience thins

I have filled the waiting with Him... nativities are scattered among my shelves and tucked into nooks, stories of their journey and His birth are pulled from the bookcase and enjoyed, and songs have been played over and over again... the songs that speak the story, words digging deeper into the hearts of a young couple as they walk the road of trust and faith under a starry night sky.  And this Casting Crown lyric... it haunts me...

Mary shivered in the cold to keep the Savior warm...
Wrapped in dirty rags because there was no room for him in this world He came to save.

While most years find me balancing on that line between Santa and Jesus, this year Christmas has drawn me closer to the manger, my heart bedded with the straw that He will lie in.  I find myself ready... for the waiting to end.  But there are days left to travel, and I hang on to my weary patience, knowing that in the waiting there are many gifts...

Yesterday our church celebrated... we sang the songs, we heard the story.  The angels and the shepherds gathered 'round and sang with her... away in a manger, no crib for his bed, the little lord Jesus lay down His sweet head. the stars in the bright looked down where he lay...

And Pastor scooped up a little one and spoke about the gift that Christmas brings... the most beautiful gift He ever gave.  As the message was soaking into my heart, I watched that sweet little boy, tucked into Pastor's arms.  I watched the way his hands moved, the expressions on his little face, and the way his bare little toes wiggled out of his blanket... and the moment gripped my heart.  Jesus was just like this little baby... real.  He is not just the last little piece I place in the scene, still and sweet in wrapped cloth, He is a real breathing, wiggling boy.  And just a few songs later in the service, this sweet little boy was carried up to the manger on the stage by his daddy and placed into his mama's arms.  That real story continued... as his mama looked at his smiling face and bounced him a bit on her knee.  She chatted with a shepherd, and pulled an angel closer...  oh yes... the story is real.

I find myself full... of Christmas.
My heart has swelled with the emotions that a Christmas Eve service brings... and we are still five days out.  I am thankful for this fullness now... thankful that as the last crazy details are put into place for Christmas Day, my heart will be singing His song with renewed joy.  Just as my patience was thinning, so ready for the waiting to end, I find myself content... waiting just outside the stable, chilly from the wind and peeking around the door hoping for a glimpse.  Content... and waiting for my turn to step into the warmth and kneel in the straw at the manger.

December 16, 2010

with happy wishes

True friends are those special ones,
who share sorrows and fun.
Who give understanding,
love and care;
Who never change, who are always there.
Who, with smiles and waves must say goodbye.
But will remember, though they cry,
that true friends never really part
but remain forever within the heart.


The flowers in the frame have faded... but the sentiment behind that long-ago farewell gift never will. She is the friend I have felt most parallel with... our family dynamics, then and now... always knowing that what we would always be more Mom-minded than career-minded... sharing birthdays just four days apart.
I think of us as the December Girls.
She is there, and I am here... but no matter how many miles there are between us, or months have passed between phone calls or emails or notes, we always pick up right where we left off and fall back into the way it always was. Not too many months ago, I answered the phone to hear her laughter... as her daughter was setting up an ice cream store in the backyard. Oh those were days we remember with our own laughter, scooping up sundaes and triple-decker cones side by side. I love that she called... not just thinking of me, but not being able to let the moment pass without a quick connection. There are other memories I have tucked away... same color prom dresses, cooking a dinner or two together in my little kitchen, writing the calligraphy on her wedding program... and that memory I'm sure she wishes I would forget- her dropping an egg on the floor in my Mom's kitchen. Every time an egg drops here, I think of her....

So here it is, December again.
And she is right here on my mind, in my heart.
Happy Birthday, my December friend.  Your friendship is precious to me.
And just remember... we are still the youngest (but I am four days younger!)


December 15, 2010

this tree's journey

This was the year we had decided to make the switch... to a real tree. Two Christmas' ago the fairgrounds around the corner started selling trees, and many friends raved on and on about how much fun it was to go and choose your tree... and that the trees were great, right down to the price tag. Finally, I gave in... and agreed that we would make the switch, even after vowing (14 years ago) to never again have a real tree in Florida.

Off we went... to the forest of trees set under the pavillion. My eyes sparkled and my smile grew as I spotted the pile of snow that greeted us. It is fine by me if Florida snow comes from a chipper instead of the sky... any bit of snow swells this New England girl's heart! We wandered the rows and rows of trees... ran our fingers down branches, peeked through them for a picture and breathed in the scent of them. We chose a not-too-big tree... had it tied to the roof, and headed home with excitement. Once set inside, I realized that I am a much better judge of size than I thought, but still loved our tree just the same. Fingers sticky with sap, I continued to wrap lights and lights and more lights around the branches... and the twinkling from within the branches was like thousands of rainbow-colored fireflies...

When it was finally time to pull out the boxes of tissue-clad ornaments, I studied the branches, wondering if perhaps they had started to droop... but I pushed the thought aside, deciding that it was just my imagination. At Eric's announcement that we wouldn't be able to get all the ornaments on the tree, I cried, my spirit crushed all at once, wishing I had pushed for a larger tree... recalling that this was the main reason I had agreed to the real tree. I let it ruin the decorating for me. I didn't laugh or recall stories about the precious ornaments we unwrapped... it was all I could do to hold it together as I searched for branches strong enough to hold them. When the boxes were just about empty, I quickly grabbed lids and didn't even push to have that moment when we turn out the lights and just sit back and enjoy the view... pity party anyone? After the kids went off to bed, I had rearranged a few ornaments... further adding to my mood as I realized that this was the Mom I never wanted to be. Finally, I stood back and tried to admired our Christmas tree... seeking a smidgen of joy to banish my bad attitude.

I check the water level frequently, and am discouraged that it doesn't need to be filled. I sit and watch the branches, wondering if they are drooping further even as I look on. Eric took the drill to the tree trunk, hoping that it might drink in more from the sides... and considered undecorating the tree and drilling further. I refuse... and rationalize that if it doesn't make it we are going to have to do that anyway... so lets just wait. I find comfort only in that the branches are not shedding needles... and that seems to keep me from losing it completely. Every night we light the tree... and instead of admiring it and feeling the warmth and joy it fills the house with, I let the uncertainty fill my heart and mind with stress. I long to just accept the situation, long to see the ornaments and lights instead of the branches they hang precariously from.

Last night I sat in the quiet... just me and the tree. I splashed some water in the well, thankful that it was needed. I run my hand down the branches and still... no needles fall to the floor. My eyes skip to the treasures nestled between the evergreen... and as I count the days until Christmas, a peace comes over me. Perhaps we are going to make it after all. And now... as I sit and write just a few more words, and wonder why I have set such a high standard for this tree, the branches don't seem as weak as I thought they were. Maybe the water... maybe the little bit of love offered... or perhaps just a new outlook through these stormy eyes.

There is so much I believe in. Bethlehem's story. The spirit of Santa Claus. Friendships and everlasting love. Today I make peace with my tree... and choose to believe it was meant to be a part of our celebration, the bearer of family treasures.

p.s. I also believe that the tree will be down long before Super Bowl Sunday this year... which would be Eric's motivation for the real tree.

December 14, 2010

carrying a tune

The weekend was an opportunity for both of them to shine... and it seems there is nothing a mother loves more than to see her children basking in the light of their hard work. And if the shining and the basking is set to music, all the better.

The high school music department put together such a show Friday night! Chorus, orchestra, two concert bands, the jazz band, dance line and color guard, and then... the grand entrance of the marching band. It was almost more than the auditorium could hold... and every bit of it was festive and beautiful. Perhaps my very favorite part was the very first song the chorus sang... by candlelight. I would have loved to see her face while she sang, but the glow of candlelight was lovely and warm... and her strong, sweet voice carried all the way to very back row where we sat... all the way into the corners of my heart.
And after such a night... the marching band arrived back at school before dawn to head off to Disney World to march down Main Street. I would have loved to cheer them on... but Saturday had to be for Cam.

For weeks he struggled with his piece... having it come together at his lessons, but finding frustration when he was practicing on his own. Take a deep breath, relax, let your fingers dance... they know the song. And after stepping back, he would begin again. Heading off to the recital I reminded him... that having a "twinkie" would not be a big deal... and if it happened, just keep on playing. When it was finally his turn at the piano, all eyes on him, he took the bench and let those fingers dance. I could feel my head nodding along with his notes, my heart keeping time... and I might have been holding my breath. I felt a hand on my shoulder and let my eyes leave him for just a moment... turning to see the smile and the tears rolling down my Mom's face. Camden took his bow to a rousing applause... his face a mix of pride and relief. My own smile began to ache... so wide and bright.

I love to see that glow on their faces... and their bright eyes glittering with the satisfaction of a job well done. Sometimes I think I have not fully taught them the value of hard work, and then... I realize that these experiences are lessons in themselves. Tonight is the last concert of the season, and Cam's turn again. I will stand in the back... finding the best viewpoints as he moves about the percussion section.
I am so thankful that these two have their own songs to sing... and that they aren't afraid to sing them loud and clear.   
And through this season, I will carry their tunes close to my heart.

December 08, 2010

at the manger

Sunday we celebrated the Nativity, each invited to bring a small scene to church... to display and share.  I love the stories...a gift, a childhood memory, a first grown-up memory.  Every one has its own story... just as we have our own.  As I unwrap my pieces, yet again, and place them back under their starry sky, I wonder... I wonder about that first journey to the manger. 

Placing Mary front and center I stop and realize that she must not have wanted that place of attention, certainly had not ever dreamed it.  And there she rests... probably wearier than she has ever been in her entire life.  And aching from her journey to Bethlehem, and His journey to the earth.  I cannot imagine that she minded being in the stable... any place to sit and finally rest. 

I unwrap Joseph and set him beside her.  Strong, reliable Joseph.  Oh to know, what he must have carried in his heart along the dusty road.  Perhaps a curious confusion of surrender and uncertainty.  And I wonder...  if awe overcame him and erased any lingering doubts when Jesus was placed in his arms for the very first time. 

To the right, I scatter the sheep and the shepherd.  How many hundreds of steps did they stumble, following that star?  Surely some must have have thought they were still sleeping and it was all a dream.  The angels, the brilliant glory in the sky...  but then, to see Love nestled in the straw!  My own eyes would have been wide and awestruck... piecing together the bits of the journey, and knowing the glory of what I was witness to. 

And even though the wise men are rumored to have been very late to the gathering... I set them to the left.  One. Two. Three.  Each bearing a gift.  Carrying such precious gifts for so many miles... already knowing that this baby was the King of Kings.  As I arrange the camel  just so, I wonder about my own gift.  What do I have that would be worthy?  Nothing less than my whole heart

I stand back and take in the whole scene... and I smile.  And maybe a tear rolls down my face.  He did not come with all the glory that He deserved... and it might seem strange for the King of Kings to begin His life on earth in a lowly stable... but what if He had arrived amidst festivals and all that glitters in a palace?  Would I have known that He came for me

And the first time that you opened your eyes
Did you realize that you would be my Savior?
And the first breath that left your lips
Did you know that it would change the world forever?

And I celebrate
The day that you were born to die
So I could one day
Pray for you to save my life.
-Reliant K, I Celebrate the Day

December 07, 2010

larger than life

The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man. -anonymous

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, Africa

I love how the beauty of nature, God's preciously created art, can fill the corners of my soul.  To be in Africa was to turn back the clock... to another time, another way of life.  Unspoiled, raw, free and beautiful beyond my imagination. 


December 06, 2010

one joy at a time

I've yet to make that list.
Projects to finish, gifts to purchase, cookies to bake, places to be... they are all still dancing in my head... a lovely slow waltz as opposed to frenzied quick step. I wonder if not making that list will relieve a bit of the pressure that December is known for? Maybe, maybe not. I just know that I am not ready... not quite yet. I am enjoying the moments as they come... planting myself firmly in the right now rather than looking to what else needs to be accomplished.

Certainly, I could be setting myself up for trouble, almost hovering towards procrastination... letting the stack of Christmas cards sit unaddressed, allowing my mind to wander towards bright new ideas without first accomplishing the must-dos. But maybe... keeping the rush from my heart and mind will eliminate the broken down feelings that stress brings on, leaving me with the overwhelming feelings of  not enough. I'm willing to take the chance. Willing to trust that I am enough and I can enjoy December as the whirlwind of this month picks up speed... one joy at a time.

December 04, 2010

two cups

I lace mine with flavored creamer, a glug of nonfat milk and a splash of sugar-free syrup. I am slightly envious as I watch him pour his own cup black. I am still stirring and he sips his... straight forward and to the point. Just the way he lives. And there is my cup... creamy and sweet, dressed up to disguise the bitter...
I nod to myself and one tears slides down...

December 03, 2010

true treasure

We made it through customs long before my parents. For once, we were in the right line... but it only moved us into a small, very cramped area to wait for security to be up and running. Or, instead of crowding in, we could scoot into the gift shop. There wasn't much money left in my pockets... I had already filled my duffel bag with no regrets.  But maybe... I needed one or two more souvenirs. Anything to bring this all home with me. So I wandered, just looking and not finding anything I needed... until Eric called me over. One look, no hesitation... okay, buy it. The pieces were whisked out of the case and wrapped in paper before I even had a chance to really look at it, but that didn't make a bit of difference. I knew what it was... knew that even a scratch or gouge would not have changed my mind. I carried it close to my heart, all the way home... all the way across the ocean. The perfect remembrance and one of the most beautiful treasures we would carry home from Africa.

December 02, 2010

past time

It was my goal for September.  And October. 
I did the research, found some deals and still... never went.  But finally, as we were chasing down the last days of November, we carved out the time and it was more fun that I could've imagined.  There was laughter and smiles that I can never conjure, nevermind capture.  I think it has been a million years since the last portraits were taken, and I've been proudly displaying Laura's photo from 6th grade all this time.  Definitely time for an update
Simply having a photo of my two kids, back to back, makes me grin with glee. Truly.  I'm not waiting so long next time... this moment will never come again.  I'm not ruling out better moments... I'm just lingering in this one. 

December 01, 2010

the first day

December first...
An important day in the life of my children... a holiday all its own.
The day when they peel back a numbered door and begin counting down the days... til Christmas. 
And there is nothing like that first day, even though the joy continues for 23 more. 

This year, they each have their own.  I had debated about the Lego Advent calendar for Cam... but Richella convinced me.  There aren't too many more years... and she is right.  So Camden will build his way towards Christmas, loving every minute of it.
And Laura? 
Hers is extra special.  Made by... me.  Thank goodness I started early!  In each box she will find... a note from me, and a little trinket or piece of candy.  Just for fun.  And along the way, I hope she will dig into her bible and look up the verses I've hidden.

We will count down the days... we will light the candles and we will read.  Celebrating Advent soothes the waiting... cuts the suffering out of patience... and laces the days of December with joy.
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