Christmas Cards... A Love/ Hate relationshipConfession: I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas Cards.  I love getting them. But, sending them? Well….

The angst created by trying to choose a card that is both reflective of my sentiments AND respectful of others views….. and doesn’t come across like a tract… epic..  I don’t want to be preachy…. or deny God. I don’t want to send pretentious cards that are more expensive than the average car payment. I also don’t want to send inferior cards that imply: “I don’t care enough to send the very best. ”

I usually just chose: pretty cards. Although last year I went with Charlie Brown. I can’t say WHICH Charlie Brown cards I sent- Because I ran out half way through- and had to go back to the store. THEY WERE OUT OF THE ONES I finally CHOSE. Update: This year I didn’t buy enough cards either. Ran out half way through. AGAIN. I should actually COUNT before I buy them. I suppose.

Anyway- I had to buy different ones. *gasp* my cards are not all the same. I’m afraid some people may feel slighted. Or puffed up by the one I sent to them…. some may be upset they weren’t in the first batch… they were called out in the first round of a Christmas Card Reality show— and then “saved'” at the last minute. I chose Charlie Brown- because apparently- only Linus can apparently quote scripture without being offensive. Unless you’re offended by Linus. Or his blanket. Then: I’m sorry. (For you- not to you.. cause really….. LINUS? Sheesh. touchy. Get a grip.) This years cards= not Charlie Brown.

Once I’ve procured the cards, another crisis arises: Creating the list. WHO do I send to? Who do I not? I can’t afford to send cards to everyone I’ve ever met- (that would involve a detective agency and hiring a database manager. Besides,I don’t have the time or fine motor control to sign that many cards. … so there has to be a cut off, somewhere. But where do you draw the line?  Who do I Christmas Card un-friend? I cannot share the complex formula I use for that… it’s proprietary information. But I will say this: If I don’t have your address readily at hand…. don’t wait for a card. Also: I tend to run out near the end of the alphabet. It’s not personal. It’s alphabetical.

Then… I have to remember how to do a mail merge. GAH. (more…)

No matter how many carols played, or how many gifts I wrapped.. I just wasn’t feeling it.

The Christmas Spirit left when the chicken pox arrived. (Funny how that happens, huh?) Michael and Matt were maybe 3+5… and they decided to share the gift that keeps on giving… communicable disease.

For a solid month we had to stay home as they took turns with fevers and itching….cabin fever doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. It was awful.

Yup- right at Christmas. I was disappointed, lonely and depressed.

We’d scrimped and saved and planned ahead to have a most wonderful time of the year. Gifts were wrapped… Our stockings were hung from a shelf in the family room… (no fireplace ) The tree blinked in our front room window… but it didn’t matter. Nothing helped.

I baked. (and ate.) We played connect the dots with chicken pox. (I have one child who’s still angry about that.. apparently he doesn’t remember it fondly…) We watched videos. (Maybe the Barney videos are what pushed me over the edge…OY. I hate Barney.) I tried hard to make the best of it.

But.. each night,when everyone finally went to bed… I felt like crying. Some nights, I did. Having sick kids is stressful and exhausting.. AND THIS JUST WENT ON FOREVER. The places in my heart where  I should have felt “Christmas-y”  instead felt: wrung out, sad and empty. Instead of finding Christmas joys each day.. I found disappointment- over and over. The holidays aren’t just ONE day… there are a bazillion things to do and places to go… traditions to celebrate and enjoy….or not.

We missed:

  • the holiday pageant at church
  • The Christmas MOPS meeting
  • Christmas shopping together.
  • Family meals shared.
  • Holiday parties.

Each event missed, left me more and more depressed. The boys were sad. My husband was sad.

I tried not to be. I tried to make it fun. I tried to mom-up, and deal…

It didn’t work.

Christmas cards arrived each day, and they mostly made me feel jealous. I was jealous of the holiday cheer we were missing out on. “Does anyone care that we’re trapped here, alone… with a pox upon us?” (You get a little crazy about day 3 of isolation.. and we were on WEEK 3…of course, my kids got them one after the other. A solid month of quarantine….I was losing it. )   I felt like I ran a leper colony. (We pretty much did. This was before chicken pox shots were available)

One particularly sad night, we were watching holiday specials between doses of benadryl and calamine lotion pat downs…when someone suddenly banged on our front door.

“It must be a bill collector…it figures.” I thought.  “Maybe, they’ll go away. if we don’t answer the door.” (we were young, times were tough… it could have been a bill collector. Who else stopped by after dark? :P)

It wasn’t a bill collector.

When my husband opened the door— there was huge group of teenagers on our front lawn.

I wondered if they were out causing trouble.. (wouldn’t be the first time, in that neighborhood…) and then.. they started to sing:

Silent night.
Holy Night
All is calm. all is bright….

It was the youth group from our home church…. caroling. I fought back tears.

Finally… I felt it: Christmas-y.  Someone cared. Someone came. They brought Christmas to us when we least felt it, and most needed it.

The rest of our holiday had a totally different feel. My attitude changed. Sure- I was still exhausted and stressed. The kids were still sick.  There were things that we missed. But we were together, and  for once there was no running around from one house to another- trying to see everyone and do everything… it was just “us.”

I liked it. So did they.

I’ll never forget those carolers…… and their unexpected gift.

Question: What makes you feel “Christmasy?

Maybe you’ve stopped by and you’re not feeling it…maybe the kids are sick or bill collectors are banging on the door…I want you to know that I care. And you’re not alone. I’ve been there, felt that, and lived to enjoy the holidays again… and I’m praying for you.. right now.

“Dear Lord- the holidays are wonderful and complicated. Sometimes they are disappointing and they are way stressful…I pray that for anyone who reads today thats not feeling it.. that you’d pour out your love to them- and let them know they are not alone..I love you lord– amen.

Here’s something that always makes me feel Christmas-y enjoy! (but I gotta say.. I prefer those teens singing in my yard..)


follow the starThe wind  was howling,the snow swirled past the window. There was  little cash for Christmas gifts. And I was stressed and disappointed with the holiday in general.  Our (half) of a duplex was for sale, and the stress of trying to keep it clean ( & ready to “show”) with two little ones was making me (and everyone around me) crazy and miserable.

At my local MOPS group that week- we had made these cool ornaments with just cinnamon and applesauce. It sounded like the solution to both my cranky-ness with my kids.. (we needed to have some fun together) and my minimal budget for Christmas gifts. I bundled everyone one up against the cold and headed out to buy bulk cinnamon and applesauce.

We arrived home, cold, tired and hungry. Everyone needed a nap. (Mommy included) This was not to be, I was on a mission. We were going to make ornaments and have fun together, or, (quite possibly) die trying.

I turned on the “Johnny Mathis Christmas album” .. put our matching aprons on and showed my 6 and 3 year old sons how to mix the applesauce and cinnamon into dough.

It had started so innocently, and smoothly. The boys helped measure and mix like pro’s.

Right about the time I started feeling like a scene from a Christmas movie…I noticed rust colored clouds of cinnamon floating through the kitchen and into the living room. They settled into the mauve (don;t judge me- this was the 80’s)  carpet to create an insoluble, but holiday scented,  mess. Shouts of “Be careful!,” and ” Don’t get cinnamon on the carpet!” soon drowned out poor Johnny.  Chunks of cinnamon scented concrete were becoming “one” with the kitchen floor.

The pressure of making ornaments “fit to give” spread through me like a virus. I was soon- re-rolling the dough to make it smoother and took all the non-Christmas cookie cutters away so that we wouldn’t be making dinosaurs for Great Grandma’s tree. My oldest totally lost interest, and went to watch PBS. The youngest, continued on.

When we were finished and still breathing, I called it a win. Ornaments were drying in the oven, (to speed things up a bit.. I tend to do things a bit last minute;) The house, while dirty and freshly stained, smelled wonderful.

That’s when, I noticed strawberry colored patches popping up all over my youngest. His face, arms and hands were puffy and raw looking. Tears welled up in my eyes. I thought: “Great. No money… no gifts… the house is a mess and now the “baby” is sick!” I got scared. I called my husband home from work.

I was pretty convinced I had killed the kid. NOT GOOD.

A quick trip to the urgent care center revealed a reaction to the cinnamon. A little bath in colloidal oatmeal and frequent slathering with hydrocortisone calmed the rash, but not my heart.

That night I cried myself to sleep, the tears and sobs were also prayers, worded and otherwise. I felt like a bad mother. I felt like an idiot and a failure. I couldn’t even just have a fun afternoon with my guys. I was sure I had ruined Christmas.

In the morning, I grabbed my coffee, and my Bible, while it was still quiet and the moonlight shown on the snow. I opened it to Luke. I read the Christmas story. I thought about Mary… so young… I wondered if she felt she was ready to be a mother. I wondered if she felt awful for not having things all ready for her child’s birth. They couldn’t even find a room to birth in. They ended up in a stable. Smelly animals surrounded them, hay poked her in the back, she didn’t even have a “proper” layette.  I wondered how she felt.

But- there she was- the mother of The Christ Child. I flipped to the Easter story– and re-read that, too…the two stories were one. A light switch flipped on for me. The baby’s birth that I was trying so hard to honor, celebrate and share, perfectly. Had led to the Savior that I needed, yet again, so desperately. Much more desperately than sidewalks and bigwheels.

Somehow- everything shuffled back into place. My priorities, lined up again. By the time the boys woke up, I was ready. We continued through the rest of our holiday with joy and rest. No more worrying over the gifts, we could do what we could do. That was all. No more worrying about creating perfect “Christmas memories” with the boys… we decided to just let them happen.

Every year- (my oldest two now 24 and 21,) retell the story of the ornaments, and forced fun. Every year, we laugh. Sure- I still get caught up in the hustle bustle and pressure to create a Martha Stewart Christmas scene….but then- inevitably, I get a whiff of cinnamon. And I remember. The baby in a manger- who grew to be savior…. and get back to the heart of Christmas…. till the next time, I need to be reminded.

“Dear Lord- I know that Christmas isn’t about packages and bows and gifts and decorations… but, I get sidetracked so fast, I barely know it’s happening till it’s nearly too late. Please God- help me to remember, help me to follow the star and be reminded of of the sacrifices you made- leaving heaven at God’s right hand.. to be born in amnager and die on a cross, so that the world could have peace, love and forgiveness. I love you Lord- and thank you, – oh- and lord- thnx that we can laugh at that Cinnamony Christmas.. and learn from it..amen…”

Oh— wondering about the title? I always remember too late that I WANT to force bulbs for my Christmas centerpiece one year…married nearly 20 years and have never remembered in time to actually do it;)

Sig Tag

(re-post form Laced with Grace 2007)

IMG_5293“Turn off the video.”  Those are the only words I spoke while my husband had his phone set up to record our annual tree trimming. That: does not bode well. It means I knew I did not want my next words and behaviors to be saved in perpetuity on his IPhone. (I’ve learned that- in 25 years of assorted tantrums caught on film of all sorts. There are a few celebs who should also learn this lesson- justsayin. I’m not alone.)IMG_0001_5

I should back up…. I didn’t plan it to be a too-cranky-for-cameras experience. It was supposed to be all: cocoa and cookies and Christmas music and memories made and shared…. A scene that took two days to set up and 12 seconds for me to wreck.

We did have warm cookies. (Yes- break and bakes count.) We did have cocoa. (I even made it the old fashion way that doesn’t involve packets or freeze dried marshmallows.) We even had Christmas music. (Gotta love shuffle on a playlist. Ba-ru pa pum pum.) We also had: college kids who had to get to work, and had other things to do, an elementary schooler who wants to horse around, dogs that want to steal cookies and cocoa and cost us an expensive visit to the doggy urgent care… (they didn’t- but they tried.) We had a father in the middle of trying to close a sale. And: a mom that felt compelled to clean the Christmas tree room before the tree was put up. (For the camera- of course.)

I should have known we were at risk when I tripped over the beagle and into the china cabinet while furiously cleaning. I really do mean furiously. Here is the soundtrack from that cleaning binge….”Why can’t anyone else see what needs to get done, and DO IT? Why am I the only one who can run a vacuum? Why am I the only one who does anything around here???? Why doesn’t anyone put their crap away?” Yup. Furious. I moved furniture, cleared the way for all the Christmas stuff to be brought up and set out- all while having an everlasting gobstopper of a tantrum. The truth is- by the time we finally got to the trimming “party” I was sore, exhausted and frustrated.

It was my own fault.

Here’s the thing: the fury was partly fueled by my lack of boundaries and teaching my family to be responsible. (With a side of stress and probably a touch of PMS.) The rest was fueled by my desire to make everything perfect.

Instead of perfect, it was one mess after another. Including but not limited to: a cocoa-milk boil over on the stove. (Multitasking gone bad, again. I may never learn.) A pre-lit christmas tree with all the lights: burned out. A Pre lit Christmas tree with most of the lights burnt out. A rash of undetermined but probably Lupus/autoimmune  or nervous origin. Dogs that insisted on either going in and out and leaving muddy paw prints on my just mopped floor- or peeing on it. (Next flooring will be dirt colored. For sure.) And kids that wanted to get the show on the road so they could move onto their lives- because they have them. (As they should.)

Boundaries and expectations. The truth is-I didn’t have to make it so difficult. I should have asked for help. (I have great kids- they help when I remember to ask them- but they are not moms- they don’t always “see” what needs to be done.) I should have set reasonable expectations. I didn’t. And because of that- I had to turn off the camera to protect myself from becoming “that” viral video mom. The crazy one yelling at everyone to smile or, I’d kill them. And the one telling everyone to put ornaments on the tree- and then moving each one into it’s “proper” position. (I know, I know- if I were my kid I’d say: “Why bother?” too.. “if you’re just gonna move them after you MAKE us put them on…”)

The topper? Guess what the first thing I  had to do once we put up the tree was? Vacuum. Again. (Yes- fake tress drop needles too.) The next thing? Dishes. (baking cookies just adds to the mess I have to clean.. WHY do I do this to myself?) Then- the cocoa boil over goo had to be removed. (Truthfully- there is still some on there. Maybe it will burn off. If I’m lucky.) And I needed Advil. (to say the least. My neck and back can only handle so much in one weekend- and this was more than that.)  And of course- I had to re-dust. Because somehow, even though encased in enough plastic tubs to create a new Hawaiian Island if it were launched into the pacific…..everything still manages to be dusty when we bring it out. Every. Single. Year. And here is what the rest of the house looked like after I cleaned the “Christmas room”   IMG_5290

Which is exactly why I didn’t want the camera running. I did however get a few still shots that captured our day…..and guess what? Messy and cranky or not- they are still precious moment of real life captured with my family…. My real- messy imperfectly perfect- family. who loves me even when I’m cray cray. And Whom I love even though they are afflicted with dirt blindness, and cannot all pose for a decent photo to save their lives…. (Which I may have futilely threatened to get the shots I did…) 

From my messy house to yours: Merry Christmas- and- chill out. Enjoy the moments and stop trying to make the memories perfect… chances are you’re just like me- making everyone miserable. Unless- of course, I’m the only one….

Dear Lord- I hate it when I get caught in this loop of trying to make things perfect and not setting or maintaining boundaries…and then getting angry that my family isn’t mind readers… me learn lord. Help me grow. I need you.. even here- in the Christmas Mess. I love you lord- thank you for loving me- even at my crankiest and messiest. Amen



_DSC7688The scents of urine, hay, animal sweat, urine and feces filled our noses. Bray’s, squawks, quacks, baa’s and squeals filled our ears. Rough wood, the prickle of hay and the gravel-like feel of feed filled our hands. A parade of on-lookers filled our peripheral view.

“Peace” is not exactly how I’d describe the feeling of our trip to a local petting zoo for a birthday party. More like “chaos” and “cacophony..”  Overwhelmed by scents,sounds,  new experiences and smells children’s responses varied from tears and fear, to delight. Parents responses varied from shouts of “Keep your fingers away front the teeth.” to- “At least use hand sanitizer after you touch that.”  I think I saw one parent crouched in a corner, clutching a child’s blanket and rocking back and forth…. there was no baby involved… just a parent. Who’d lost it. Pretty much. ( It may have been me. Justsayin. Petting zoos make me nervous.)

As a life-long suburbanista- girl scout camp and childhood visits to a friends farm house and petting zoos are about the sum total of my barn experience. Girl scout camp involved horses and screeching pre-pubescent girls …. (Not peaceful.) Visits our friends farm involved much chasing of chickens.. (rather fun if you ignore the smell.)  squeeing over pigs and brushing of horses manes while trying not to get stomped under hoof.  Fun, but again: not peaceful.

As a mother of 3 boys, owner of 2 dogs and 2 cats- I often feel like I LIVE in a barn. (And, while I remember their births as taking place in nice, clean hospitals, I sometimes wonder if my children were actually BORN in a barn. They are genetically hard wired to leave messes and doors open. IMO.) With the exception of stolen moments in the early morning and late at night, my home is filled with video gaming college boys, 6th graders, nerf battles, lego battles and little knight stories…Not much peace. (It also kind of smells like a barn, with overtones of Scentsy….)

Barns do not produce peace. They produce poo. And noise. And chaos. And stink…with maybe quiet moments of peace…as a lamb lies nestled with it’s mother or piggies lie in a sleeping mass of pink.

And yet- over 2,000 years ago- a barn did just that. It produced peace.

There was braying and neighing and stink and wallow. There was squalor and chaos and a parade of on-lookers.

But, wrapped in swaddling clothes-amidst the chaos-  was born peace. A miracle on so many levels.

This year, I feel like my life is a barn. It’s drafty, it’s overwhelming, it’s noisy and to be honest? With the continued battle with my husband’s cancer along with the stress of life and family….. it’s been stinking. It’s been painful. Pain is not peaceful. There have been moments of peace.. (mostly on beaches:P)  But it hasn’t been peace-Full. I miss peace.

This morning.. I again read the story of that barn. I read of how peace was born into the world.. in the middle of chaos. In the middle of a tyrant’s slaughter of innocence….and I remembered peace.

I also remembered a teenager. One who’d already attempted suicide. (Sometimes a #fail is a good thing) One who was depressed and overwhelmed. One who was desperate for something.. and had been looking for it- in all the classic wrong places…. one who knew the chaotic effects of a parent’s substance abuse. A teenager who unexpectedly  found what she was looking for. In a barn. A barn that was on a stage at a children’s Christmas pagent….where she found what she was really looking for-


The peace  found in love, acceptance and  forgiveness.  The same peace that was born in that barn so long ago. Instead of peace wrapped in swaddling clothes- it was wrapped in her heart…tied with a ribbon of grace and  laid in the barn of her life.

She, is me.

And today, in the middle of this barn, I again found that peace. In the fact that the chaos of my worries can bring peace. Peace that I don’t have to be enough. In the fact that I don’t have to have all the answers. In the fact that God is more than able to get us through whatever comes our way. (And whether we like it or not.) In the fact that I’m not alone.

Peace born in chaos. The dichotomy of Christmas. The mystery. The miracle. The beauty.

My life feels like chaos…. But–I’m asking God to sustain that manger miracle of peace in my heart….and I’m praying he does the same for you.

Maybe chaos doesn’t mean God isn’t involved.. it means he’s again- about to birth peace….

Dear Jesus- I can’t pretend to grasp the sacrifices you’ve made in coming to earth, being born into chaos to bring us peace.. but I am desperate to embrace it. Even here. In the middle of the chaos that my life feels like. In the middle of this barn…. I pray for anyone who reads- who feels like life is chaos and that peace isn’t even a possibility- that they would find your peace- in the chaos. In the barn. In the manger, and at the foot of the cross. I love you Lord and trust you with all my what if’s- even here- in Jesus name- amen

The barn… 

Repost from last year…..but still fitting… some struggles  improve..(A year after my hubby’s diagnosis we are in an upswing… last PSA was undetectable. We now test eery 3 months….for now- cancer takes a back burner. but then…. new struggles develop. And we get through them. together.

“I want a hand carved Nativity.  That will be the perfect souvenir!  An heirloom!  It will be perfect.” I told my husband- long before we left for our trip to Germany. When we arrived- I scoured every shop in Bavaria searching for just the right one. Finally- in a beautiful, tiny shop that smelled of  raw wood- I found it: Our perfect nativity.

Afraid it would be damaged on the  plane ride home, I carefully wrapped it, boxed it and shipped it from the hotel. (It would have been cheaper to buy it a plane ticket. International shipping from the hotel was: pricy. I’m pretty sure the shops and hotel conspired against all tourists on that one. Everywhere we went it was: Buy it- no problem! Sure- the cuckoo clock- and maybe the grandfather clock?  The hotel will ship it for you!”)  Once home- we had to wait weeks for the package to clear customs.  I wanted it to be there before Christmas. The clock was ticking.

It made it. (For the most part even intact. One corner of the creche was broken:( )  However- it was perfect. A golden winged angel floated above the creche by hanging from a tiny nail. A green pine tree creates a pastoral feel. Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child look exactly as I’d imagined. Holy. Wonderfilled. And then there was my favorite piece- a tiny little mother- holding the hand of her son and introducing him to her Lord (Forget about the wisemen… I wanted a momma!) It was beautiful and meaningful… I wanted it to be the hearth of our holiday home..Yup, it was perfect.

So perfect, in fact, that I decided not to pack it up after the holidays.

It stays on our china cabinet in the kitchen. It’s there. Right now.

Years went by.

I had another baby.

And I got very busy. Way too busy. My to-do list items multiplied like bunnies.

I decided to bake cookies as gifts. A lot of cookies. So many cookies that it was a fulltime job for days.

A job truly, and: I didn’t have childcare. I had: ignore the child unless he’s in danger, care.

I was cranky. I groused as I baked. I rushed. I had gifts to wrap and parties to attend. Parties that involved “bringing a dish.” Which meant: more cooking. I couldn’t even hear the Christmas music playing because my brain was screaming: “I can’t do it all. No one will appreciate it anyway! What’s the point? Why does the mother have to make all the Christmas plans? I can only do so much!”

As I whipped pans in and out of the oven, yelling at the dog to stay back and threatening anyone who dared snatch a cookie before they were counted and divided into the awaiting “perfect” boxes. I heard my youngest- Noah’s tiny voice playing super heroes. “Ha! Got you- Take that! Hi-ya!” Near the china cabinet. “At least he’s busy and out of the way.” I thought. 

I moved on to truffles. As I concentrated on tempering chocolate and blending ganache… I could hear Noah…. “the Jesus… Momma.. the dog….. baby Jesus…”  But somehow none of it registered.

After putting a bowl of perfect ganache into the fridge.. I decided to take a break. As I walked to the other side of the kitchen, I noticed funny yellow and gold bits on the floor… It was not, as I suspected at first, Cheerios. I bent to inspect the bits.

“What’s that, Noah?” (Why do we always ask?)

“Momma! The dog ate baby Jesus!” Noah announced. “I told you!” Making it very clear that this was my fault.

On further inspection, I found that she had done, just that.The dog ate baby Jesus. She’d also noshed one angel’s wing and one tiny angel hand went completely missing. (I think she had seconds.)

Apparently, the super hero play had been between the angel and Jesus…at least it had been,  until the dog attacked like a beagle-zilla. In one  cookie filled ganache covered moment- our perfect and precious nativity became empty.

Tears welled up in my eyes. I blinked. A lot. Trying not to cry.

Noah started to cry. “Are you mad momma?  I no do it!” His hands covered his little diaper padded butt… afraid a swat was imminent.

I left the room. I went where all good moms go to cry- the bathroom.

The sobs had little to do with the nativity. It was just….everything. The stress of trying to buy gifts for 32 bazillion people on a single income.  The stress of trying to create a Martha Stewart Holiday with children and pets underfoot. The stress of trying to make many people happy- including myself. And in realizing that in doing all that… I’d totally missed the point.

It wasn’t just the nativity in the china cabinet that was empty.

The dog ate  baby Jesus long before that super hero- smack-down.

… the dog’s name wasn’t Sami (our Beagle) it’s name was busy-ness and the pursuit of perfection. She’d snuck into my holiday and gobbled up the point along with the figurines.

In that moment, I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t going to let the rest of the holiday slip by in a blur. No more cookies. No more perfect dinner. Everyone can bring a dish to pass, I can’t and don’t have to do it all. Clean enough is clean enough. It isn’t about perfect presents… and it isn’t about starving in January to pay for December feasting. I made changes. (And I may have eaten a few spoons full of ganache without bothering to roll the truffles first-I needed to take the edge off.)

Noah and I retreated to the couch. I left the dishes until later. Instead of a swat, we cuddled in front of the tree.

That was years ago.

The empty nativity still has a place of honor on our china cabinet. Nope. it’s never been replaced. Baby Jesus is still gone. The angel looks post- apocalyptic. But- it reminds me that there is more to this season than the pursuit of a perfection… There is a God who became man and brought with him the perfect gifts of grace and love…. Who came in humility from a throne to a dung-pile. (Mangers are not so nice in reality- they smell and have all the detritus, animal and other wise, that any barn would have.) It’s about a father’s love.

This year- again.. I want to remember. I’m trying. It’s hard.

I want to make sure the dog doesn’t eat baby Jesus…..(we still have that beagle… I love her. Even if she ate my savior:P)

I have to:

1) Say “No.” No, I can’t volunteer for this- I can’t give to that… I can’t be everywhere, I can’t do it all.

2) Accept enough. Maybe one batch of cookies is enough.(For that matter- buy cookie dough and pass a spoon.. that’s how we really like it anyway!) Maybe, drawing names instead of buying for everyone we’ve ever met, is enough.

3) Do the things that matter. I’m slowing down. I’m building a fire and reading the Christmas story. I’m watching Polar Express without folding laundry at the same time. (Multi-tasking= doing too much. just sayin.) Cuddling. Listening.

What about you?

What can you say “no” to? What’s good enough? What matters? What tries to snatch the baby Jesus out of your family’s nativity?

Let’s keep those dogs at bay.. together.

This is a post I put up every year- because I need the reminder- very year;) 

We were running out of more than money. We were running out of time. It was just a few days before Christmas. If there would be a Christmas at all.. it would be now or never. So….we spent the day Christmas shopping.  To be honest- we spent our rent. Yup. On Christmas gifts. We also hit the lottery of “instant credit approval” at a department store.  Which, we immediately ran up to it’s limit on a special gift for ourselves….Merry Christmas to us! At least for the moment…

We were young. (very young) Every month when we made out our bills we robbed Peter to pay Paul… every month, some bill had to wait. To say we were struggling financially is an epic understatement. It’s like calling the sinking of the Titanic a fender-bender. I think spending our rent made us feel momentarily rich. Well…if not rich… we at least felt: not poor. The fear and guilt were barely covered by the excitement of giving. We were emotionally short-sheeting ourselves. It didn’t cover.

We figured we’d pay our rent in January. We thought for sure we could  catch up, eventually …We’d figure out how to pay for groceries, later. Maybe we could float a check for long enough to cover. There were only three of us… it wouldn’t take much. And it was Christmas, after-all. Each bag of gifts we stuffed into the trunk of our tiny old Toyota- held a mix of guilt, fear and excitement.

The truth is-we just didn’t know how to say “No.” We should have said: “No, we can’t buy gifts for everyone we’re related to.” No, we can’t donate to this cause and that….” Instead.. we played Santa. A game we would lose.

Only the real Santa has an unlimited budget. Only the real Santa can make Christmas dreams come true…but- we were having an identity crisis. Maybe it was that first grey hair, I’d noticed…. or the extra baby-weight I was carrying… whatever the reason- we sure THOUGHT we were Santa.

On the way home, the truth settled in like a blizzard of smothering snow….We were not Santa. We’d eventually have to pay for everything.

We arrived home, still full of guilt and fear and excitement. We carried our little one and all the Christmas gifts into our duplex. The gifts weren’t extravagant… we’re not talking Tiffany’s here.. just more than we could actually afford. The thought of returning them flew in and out of our heads like a hummingbird… one that migrated to a warmer place -instantly.

After the baby went to bed.. we wrapped everything, and prayed it would all work out.. eventually.

Instead of seeing that pile of gifts and feeling excitement and joy.. we felt mostly: nauseous.  Which is probably good, because the cupboards were pretty bare, and there wasn’t much to eat. It would be days before our next check. I hoped we’d get a bunch of holiday leftovers to help tide us over….which is when I realized I wasn’t sure I had enough money left to buy the ingredients for the “dish to pass” that we had to bring for the holiday meal.

I checked under the couch cushions for coin- Mostly, I found cheerios.

I turned down the heat. (A way too late effort to save a few bucks.) and turned off most of the lights so the extra from the tree wouldn’t cause our power to be shut off in January…It had happened before- and January is NOT a good time to have your power “limited.” Not in Michigan, anyway.

Sitting on the couch, we’d have prayed- if we didn’t feel so guity for making the mess we were in. We’d made our bed.. we’d lie in it.

Which is when there was a sudden and loud banging on our front door. (more…)

It was one of those “Black and white” days of winter.  Where the world is painted in shades of dirt.  The slush on the road was the exact color and consistency of dryer lint.  Or maybe, it was the stress of buying gifts for everyone we know, that made it seem that way.  The holidays can be like that.

Especially when you’re in a time and money crunch and are in a trying to get it all done now, mode. Which, we were.

As we drove, there were more reminders of how bad things are economically, than holiday decorations on every corner. I’m pretty sure there were literal “signs of the times” because I saw them. They read: “We buy houses” and “Call NOW, to avoid foreclosure!”

No more silver bells on every street corner, only store closing signs.  Just when the signs had started to melt together like a marketing slush pile, one jumped out at us.

Or maybe it wasn’t the sign, it was the huge, slush dripping, black man holding the sign that caught out attention. With one strong arm he held the sign, and with the other he waved. He had a smile warm enough to melt an iceberg. (I may have suspected he was high-for just a minute.  Just being honest!) I looked a little closer- iPhone in hand in case I needed to report a drunken signer…But he wasn’t smiling vacantly, he made eye contact with each passing car. He was smiling genuinely. (Who knew people still do that?)

I couldn’t help but smile back. Neither could every other driver on that road. It was more contagious than swine flu.

My husband noticed too. “See that guy?” My hubby said.  “He must be freezing!”

” Yeah, I can’t help but smile! We should get him a coffee or something…” I replied. “Well, maybe when we’re done.” I suggested, looking at the clock and wishing it would sloooow down.

By the time we’d turned the next corner and found a parking lace at the mall, I’d forgotten all about he smiling man and the hot coffee.

We finished our errands, then drove to the nearest Starbucks for a treat to celebrate sticking to our budget.  As I held the white chocolate mocha and let it warm my fingers, I remembered that warm smile.

I thought I was losing it when I looked up to see the “STORE CLOSING SALE” sign walking towards the coffee shop. I wondered if I were about to be visited by a ghost of Christmas past…..then I worried whether Starbucks was the next store to close.. (that would be tragic.) Funny how one worry leads to another, isn’t it?

No worries, no paranormal episode being filmed and Starbucks wasn’t in fiscal trouble.  It was time for the smiling sign holder’s coffee break.

“He’s STILL SMILING! I said to my husband. “Hey, …Buy him a coffee, he’s gotta be freezing!!” I told hubby- but he was already reaching for his wallet. We were on the same page. (The first time that day- let’s just say Christmas shopping together can be brutal.)

Hubby walked to the counter with him and offered to buy him a coffee.

I strained to listen while they talked.  (And not look like a SBUX eaves dropper while doing it..)

“You seem to like what you’re doing..” Hubby said.

“I like having a job” Said our sign holding friend.

“Been doing this long?” Hubby asked, curious.

“A few months. I worked for a moving company before the economy tanked.” He said,  warming his frigid hands around the iconic paper cup.

The talk lasted just a bit longer than the coffee. By the end? My husband was  sure it had been a “divine appointment.”  The kind you don’t have programmed into your blackberry.

When the man excused himself to the restroom, my husband returned, looking perplexed.

“His birthday is coming up.. he has twin girls…times are rough but he’s glad to be working… I feel like I should give him something, do something to help.. but I don’t want to you know.. make him feel bad..he’s working, not begging.. you know what I mean?” Hubby said.

“Just be honest with him.. tell him you want to do it to thank him for what he’s doing…making people smile….  If that doesn’t work, tell him to use it to buy something for his girls…for Christmas.” I offered, thinking a little cash to buy gifts for the kids would be rough for anyone to turn down!

Hubby reached for his wallet. I watched him walk over as our new friend was picking up his sign getting ready to head back out into the cold.  I couldn’t make out words as they talked, but my ears strained to hear, anyways. They seemed more serious and intense this time.  I prayed silently: “Lord, please don’t let this offend this guy, let it bless him.”

My heart skipped a beat when I saw those two big men embrace, each with tears in their eyes.

He’d accepted the gift without offense.

We didn’t solve the economic crisis, or get him a more stable job. We just did what we could. So did he. He gave warm smiles and waves to drivers facing their own economic crisis’ as they drove to Christmas shop,  we gave a Venti’ and a few bills to a guy struggling to make ends meet.

In our own ways, we all made a difference that day, to each other.  And, just maybe to the world.

What will you do to make a difference, today?

Which means: 

1) My dining room looks like Target, Amazon and Walmart, threw up in there. (No worries- the big box vomit will not ruin anyone’s appetite in there.. no one has actually EATEN in there in MONTHS)

2) “Fresh” (or not so fresh) pine garland is dropping 10x it’s weight in pine needles on the foyer floor EACH DAY.  (Who’s idea WAS hanging that stuff?  Oh right, mine. OOPSY. DYSON to the rescue!)

3) There are gifts hidden in this house that will not be found until the 4th of July, ACCIDENTLY. (I KNOW I put some stocking stuffers SOMEWHERE…I just don’t know WHERE!)

4) The cat is overwhelmed by his options of sleeping places.  BOXES.  UNDER THE TREE. and UNDER BOXES.  Are the current top three.

5) An obscene amount of butter is in my refrigerator. (cookies ahoy! )

6)My Excel Spreadsheet of gifts has pretty red and green columns for” bought” and “wrapped” There should be a column that says “where”.

7) I am feverishly knitting ANOTHER “We call him Spidey hat” Apparently it is now a TRADITION for the youngest to get one EVERY YEAR.  Eyesearing red blue and black acrylic are NOT exactly pleasurable knitting. 

8) I feel guilty about not sending Christmas cards.. but not QUITE guilty enough to do something about it. (Yet.)

9) The UPS truck now stops in front of my house, out of HABIT.  (Gotta love and ETSY for Christmas shopping!  Amazon Prime= FREE 2 day shipping!  I should bake him cookies.)

10) “Going Green” is no longer an option… unless you mean the cheese in the ‘fridge.. cause PEOPLE.  I HAVE TO WRAP! (but I did find these CUTE Green options for wrapping! )

Overuse of CAPS LOCK is understandable by all.. because WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME!

More soon- including pics!

In the comments- I’d love to hear how YOU know it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…….

snowday mosaicThe walks are shoveled, the fireplace is lit, cocoa has been served. (Drips and coffee cup bottom shaped chocolate rings are still on the kitchen table, somebody really should clean that up) There are crystalized mittens gloves and snowpants  dripping on the hard wood. Shearling slippers have been warmed by the fire, and put on tiny snow reddened feet.

Chili is in the crockpot… and I’m happily knitting while I check my “instant order updates” on Amazon. A little snow? – (ok , a lot of snow) won’t stop me from Christmas shopping!

The rest of  todays plans? Movies on demand, “Facing the Giants” DVD and “Little House on The Prairie Christmas” DVDs, dinner in front of the fireplace… maybe a bit of shortbread cookie baking…and knitting,  lots of Christmas knitting- while my teens play runescape, the little guy thaws, and my tired from shoveling our house and others- DH naps;)

Yep- that is a perfect snowday.