Monthly Archives: December 2012

How to Have an Imperfect Christmastime

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When the tree is lit with a single strand of lights – despite that the ‘experts’ insist I need about 300 more bulbs – I am already too weary to bring the box of ornaments down from the attic.

Someone tell me again – why is it we do this?  There isn’t going to be a single gift under this tree.  Hasn’t been for nearly nine years – that’s the way of things here.  So, why all this effort?

At least I wrap the ribbon.  The same ribbon that has snuggled our tree the last six years.  I love it for the golden stars, reminds me of the star-lit journey…

So when the sweet friend pops in unexpectedly and she’s holding stacks of wonderfully printed handwriting pages and crafts for my kids to do and these paper strips with the Names of God… I know.

She goes on about how she doesn’t know why she’s standing here, with the extra things she’s printed – how odd it would be that she felt the urge to bring them to me.  But I know.

So the shiny balls and sparkly stars stay in the attic this year.  And what was meant for an advent paper chain to count down the days – it’s counting up instead.  All around our tree.  All the things God IS.

I punch holes in those strips like there were holes punched in Him and we hang the Names of God on the tree just like God hung on the tree – because Christmas is only really celebrated because after he laid on the wood of the trough — then He laid on the wood of a tree…  There is only reason to celebrate His birth because of His death.

So we string up those attributes – the only ornaments on our tree.  And we see it every day as we sit at the table and break bread.

And sometimes we drink hot cocoa to soothe away the disappointment of not going to see Papa on his birthday – because the weather was too fierce.

That chocolate has a way of curling up the sad lips.

And we lay out the Advent book on the table and read it at night.  And the tree-lights reflect in all the little wide eyes as the story unfolds each night.

Tabitha’s Travels

And sometimes we double-up to make up for the night we missed when the day was too long and weary.  But I guess if anyone understands about a day being long and weary, it’s the One who knows about holes and trees.

And some days there’s nothing ‘holly jolly’ about the mess in this place.  The mess you can see, and the mess stuffed up in prideful hearts.  And some days the schooling only consists of reading aloud to listening ears…

And learning to enjoy new skills while your hands are busy making something for another.

Learning is Looming

And no, the stockings aren’t actually hung yet, but they’ll be ready… and no, there hasn’t been a gingerbread house, but there is a little manger in the nativity….

The one with only two wise men, because little hands dropped and shattered the third. I suppose even wise men don’t live forever.

At least Joseph only has a hand broken off…. or is that a shepherd.

The Broken Shepherd.

And on a quiet night I sit by twinkling white lights and hear snoring from the other room… and try to ignore the pile of laundry sitting beside me.   Because it isn’t about a perfect Christmas.

Thank God it’s about how He chose to come in to the mess of this life and on a quiet night like this the first announcement was made to a most unlikely audience – Good tidings of great JOY – here in the midst of the ugly imperfection – the Savior has come.

God.  With us.

Surrender

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It’s early morning and I put on my white scarf – my favorite one. It’s delicate and beautifully practical. The one Ericka brought back to me from India. I’m told it’s actually a covering. It’s white like a bride would wear. But strangely this morning I think of the white paper banners with Chinese symbols – glued across door tops and alongside doorposts of the house where some Chinese family has lost a loved one…

I wear it with my lavender top and my brown skirt – the one I changed into from blue jeans because all my girls decided to wear skirts today and is mama going to wear a skirt too? How could I not oblige?

We have friends coming and – as always- I’m only slightly prepared. Okay, maybe not really prepared much at all. I meant to get out of the house days ago to get the needed groceries.

But there was the cold weather. And the day I was so tired from nightly interruptions I barely felt like lifting a finger. And there were – as always – the six children. When did doing chores alone begin to feel like such light work?

But it’s Saturday and the 60 hours are done, so their Daddy is home and I run off with light feet.

The rain is coming, but it isn’t here yet and I marvel that it feels more like spring than December rightly should.

On short drive to market I marvel again at sunbeams streaming down – breaking out of dark pillow clouds. I don’t notice these gifts enough. There are the six children and all.

Market‘ sounds too whimsical, really. It’s Walmart, for crying out loud. And it’s Christmas season. One day maybe I’ll learn to stockpile enough in November that I won’t have to darken the doors of that mega-center again until February.

Funny how this “hap-happiest season of all” brings out the demon in people. I’m just saying.

And funny how a Christian should think these thoughts – of hiding away from the darkness of the world during the very season when Light came into darkness… this thought I push aside for later.

But there’s a different air this morning. Maybe I’ve missed the crowds. But really, I suspect it’s something else. I know it is. This thought I push aside as well.

I grab my buggy and swipe down the handle with the provided germ-killing wet wipes and wonder for a second if this does any good. In fact, what if this is really a conspiracy… the wipes are actually laden with virus so that we’ll all become ill and pharmaceutical companies will make a profit.

There are many thoughts to push aside. I focus on my task.

Fruit. I’m glad the bananas aren’t too brown. Should I pick up some berries as well?

I pass by the packages of hot cocoa and don’t give them a second glance. No one will want it today. We’ll likely be running the air conditioner.

Several times I hear an announcement over the loud speaker and instead of the usual noisey, crackly, invading drum of shrill, it’s actually pleasant. So pleasant. Attention Walmart associates, would Jane Smith please come to the jewelry department? Thank you.

No, thank you. What a relief to my eardrums. In fact, I notice the sheer lack of noisy, crackly, invading drum of advertisements. I’m in Walmart and it’s altogether peaceful.

Is this even possible? Maybe I’ve entered a Narnia-like second-world without realizing it.

Every person I pass is pleasant as well. Not hurried, darting, vacant. Eyes actually meet eyes.

And now I can no longer push aside the thought.

After the tragedy that rocked our world yesterday, we’re all feeling it.

More blessed. Thankful. Somber. Slowed-down.

We’re just shy of two weeks until Christmas. And twenty families are likely looking at stockings and wrapped goodness under spruce needles and nothing can make the upside-down right again. And the rest of us – we hug our little ones tighter. Thank God for His goodness…

Yes, there are the twenty-or-so families here, and then there are the ones across the big sea, still reeling from the attack on their school children, all with the sleek black hair. I think of my white scarf again. In China it’s the color for mourning, not for the dancing of brides

I look at the spices and try to remember which ones I needed… onion powder… garlic… I move on the cans of hot dog chili…

And then there was that thing my friend Dave brought to our attention. The statement he made. Dave, who’s always spoken the truth.

It was a tragedy, yes. And the country cries out. But what about those babies being massacred every day in every city in America? Why is no one outraged about them?

It’s no secret who the one with darted tongue, the one who is called Father of Lies – it’s no secret who he hates. The very ones that Jesus said “let them come to me.” The very ones Jesus said, “you must be like them to enter my Kingdom.”

I walk so briskly through the store, and finish my list quickly. Lining up behind another lone shopper at the checkout I hear her talking with the clerk. Such a tragedy. Doesn’t make sense. So sad. Why?

I pay for my items and push the full cart out to the truck. And I fill the front seat with filled bags – things that will fill the bellies of those I love.

Those with whom I am blessed.

I should count my blessings, right? And I do, but something else lies there under the surface, and I push the thought aside again for later…

I go through the day counting my blessings, my gifts. Write them down, even. Friends come and fellowship takes place. Messy hotdogs spill out chili and over quiet conversation, messy thoughts pour out honest to hearts that can be trusted. The day flies on and soon children are in bed and the hard working husband sets out to practice for tomorrow’s worship.

And I sit down to read and wrestle with thoughts that now should be pulled near instead of pushed away. The hard ones will never stay away, will they?

And there, in the reading, in the quiet, it comes all at once.

My children breathe tonight, and I count it as God’s goodness. So, for the mother of a child whose lips are ever now silent- God is … not good?

I am only blessed and God is only good when I can count those gifts that make my heart sing? But in loss and tragedy and when I’m the one whose loved one didn’t make it, who’s facing death’s door, whose healing did not come – then I don’t say God is good?

And from the garage – so as not to wake the deep-breathing children – I hear the guitar in practice of the Psalm of the month and I know the words, hear them in my head and heart,
Come, let us worship the Lord,
for we are His people
the flock that He shepherds…

And I know. We are His sheep. He is our shepherd. The Good Shepherd. He is always and will always be good. The sheep know it. They know Him.

And when the hard comes and I want to look at something ugly and call it ugly and wrong and a curse- I can only think, God you’re good. Still.

And I think of Peter’s words to Jesus as he stood there firm in his sandaled feet, face-to-face with the Savior- when many who’d been following Jesus walked away from His hard teaching.

“Do you want to go away as well?”

“Lord, where would we go? You have the words of life.” (John 6:68)

He’s the Word, the Light, the Living Water, the Bread of Life. And that isn’t all.

“I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

That’s right. I remember now. There was a dark night. A betrayal, a tragedy. Dreams shattered. The Innocent – the only truly Innocent One – slain. The Shepherd became lamb.

And some wanted to call it ugly and wrong and a curse. But God was in it. God was in it! And God was good, still. What looked like tragic end and loss and – no, please, no, not this!  It was victory and love and grace. It was Gospel.

And I can no longer nibble the creamy mint-filled dark chocolate, and I put it down with my book. All around me there is mess and chaos and every day I feel the burden of my own failures. And we’re behind in our laundry, behind even more in the schoolwork, and my sink doesn’t shine. And loved ones are suffering and friends have illnesses that seem to have no solution and brothers and sisters deal with depression and fear and worry and apathy… and marriages are holding fragile and children are strayingand I feel the weight of all of it.

How many days – months – go by when I feel so much weight of it I can only manage the prayers of the feeble. Oh Lord. Please. Oh, please help. Jesus come quickly.

There is so much I want to call ugly and wrong and curse and tragedy.

But I know I cannot just accept what I feel is good, and call it a gift, a blessing. Call it good, Him good. Because in one hand, there is beautiful, and in the other there is ugly, and He is the hand that holds it all.

Orchestrates it all.

And no, I don’t want it this way. But who am I? A vapor, a mist.

A sheep.

And He is my Shepherd. And I know Him, know He is good.

And I surrender.

Christmastime Around Here

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Are you joining me-  In all our imperfection?  Are you making this season different? Making room for more of Him?

We managed to get most of the sawdust swept away, the clutter moved aside, the laundry settled down {for now}.

We managed to get the tree up (that took an hour longer than I expected with about 372 artificial branches to attach – I vow that next year we will go real tree or nothing.)  So now our humble tree is lit, but the ornaments remain in storage another day… as does the nativity, and the stockings…

But we are celebrating Advent.  In gratefulness the past two evenings I’ve sat at sturdy, hand built table and run my fingers along the smooth boards while we watched the candle glow and listened to our Advent story.  And prayed for God to make much of Himself in our hearts and our home.

Our small, imperfect hearts and home.

You asked how we ‘do’ Christmastime around here… so come on… enjoy a warm drink and prop your tired feet up on my paint-chipped coffee table.  {Lots of cars and army men and tea cups and babies play ’round that table.}

Sit, I’ll tell you about it…

Christmas morning. It begins quiet.

Of course the kids are up early – just like every day – and they are excited.  Each one has a new book to unwrapa tradition my mother began when I was an eager kid on Christmas mornings…

New stories are unwrapped and pages are flipped while we sip on coffee and the aroma of breakfast makes our mouths water -cinnamon rolls – our traditional Christmas Morning Breakfast.  Sometimes from scratch, sometimes Pilsbury.

And then afterwards we gather ’round.  It’s time to pull the letters from our stockings.  Mom & Dad’s hold the most folded or rolled up paper treasures.  Nine years of Christmas Morning letters… one-by-one, we read our letter to each of the children.  Sometimes we read them letters from Christmas past.

Letters aren’t all we open this morning – we also open the Word.

We read the story from Luke 2.  The one both Mama and Daddy can recite by heart.

The gift we celebrate today is Jesus.  His grace.  His hope. The few small gifts that come wrapped in paper – they can wait ’til New Years.

Today we want nothing to compete for our hearts’ affection…

Maybe now the children will snuggle up on couches and re-watch the Nativity, even though we all watched it together the night before, while the turkey was cooking for Christmas lunch.

Granna will come.  Sometimes others will come.  Aunt and Uncle.  Neighbor.  Friend.  We’ll gather around the table for turkey and dressing – my grandmother’s ‘recipe’ {although she never really measured the ingredients.  Neither does my mother.  Neither do I.

We thank God for our meal – thank Him for the bread, and the Bread of Life… and around the table we eat and talk and laugh.

And we light the last candle.  The white one, there, in the middle.  It’s what we’ve been getting ready for these last four weeks.  We have our final Advent activities, almost sad that we’ll put it away until next year…

No one ever eats the pie right after lunch; we’re all so full.  {That’s my Mom’s recipe, and that one we do measure.}

Slowly we come away from the table.  Satisfied.

The kids will nap or have quiet time on their beds.  We’ll sit around with Granna {and sometimes others} on sofas and enjoy the afternoon coffee – we’ll eventually make it around to that pie.

And as the evening unfolds, we will reminisce.  We will talk about God’s goodness.

We will celebrate…. His coming.

 

 

It’s Not Too Late for Advent

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Here we are the first night of advent, and instead of lighting our candle tonight, and reading our story or making an ornament for the tree – instead we shuffle through sawdust on the kitchen floor. We skirt around power tools and try to keep the baby from eating wood chips.  We eat our meals picnic style on the floor and around the coffee table and piano bench.  And where there would be standing a Christmas tree – where there would be the soft glow of Christmas lights if we were that family who had it all together – there are stacks of homeschooling books and craft supplies that lost their home and got shuffled around when the re-arranging of the dining room and the building of our big farmhouse table began.

It’s day 2 of December.  First day of Advent.  And it ain’t pretty around here.

{ ‘Ain’t’ is what I say when I really want to emphasize something.  Because, being the grammar nazi that I am, I still believe it ain’t a real word.}

No, once again, this is not what I had envisioned.  But it rarely is.

That’s how life looks when you’re just a broken family in need of grace, just striving to put on the Armor every day and put one foot in front of the other.

And not trip because you’re a boy (or girl) wearing King-sized armor.

But I’ve learned that just because it isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean you ‘scrap’ it.

Our beautiful table finally finished, we’ll just begin our Advent tomorrow.  Maybe the tree will be up. Maybe it won’t.  Maybe the greenery and the wreath will be assembled.  Maybe it won’t.  Maybe there will be the soft glow of Christmas lights…. or not.

More than likely I’ll have a half-painted dining room wall, and the school books and craft supplies  will still be a cluttered mess, but we’ll celebrate Advent anyway.

We’ll celebrate His coming.

No, it won’t be perfect.  But come to think of it, that’s kind of how the birth of Christ was anyway.

Everything about the story of Christ’s entry into our earthly world was pretty much the opposite of perfect.  Instead it was unexpected.  Messy.  Scandalous, even. Ridiculous, if you want to get right down to it.

I mean really – the Word – the Creator lowering Himself to wear our skin and walk our dirt?

I guess if the Creator of the universe – the King of Kings – can be born to an unmarried young mother in quiet anonymity amongst some hay and animals – well then, I guess He doesn’t mind us celebrating His Coming in the imperfection of half-hung lights and a saw-dusty floor.

Because what matters is that we do celebrate.  We do remember. We do something.

Even if that something is just “Be still and know that I am God.”

Even if you’ve never celebrated Advent before – it’s not too late for you either.  It’s not too late to teach your family to celebrate His coming!  This – this is what we’re celebrating this season!

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!  

I heard someone today say that we as Christians have the most reason to sing Christmas Carols!  We are the ones to be celebrating His coming!

He has come!  He is coming!

Do it!  Do it late; do it imperfectly, just do it!

Don’t worry about having special books to read, or a special candle display.  You traditionally use four pink/purple candles (light a new one each Sunday in December leading up to Christmas) and a white candle (lit on Christmas day) – if you can get out today and get those, great.  But if not, just light a candle….

If you don’t have a special advent book, just read Psalm 23, for the first night.  And talk to your family about God being our shepherd.  And talk about why God might call us sheep.  And why do sheep need a shepherd?  And if you have some cotton balls and construction paper, let the kids make a little sheep ornament to hang on the tree.

Or if you’re looking for a little more, print out this beautiful free Advent Christmas Devotional from Ann Voskamp.

Make it more this year.  Not more lights or greenery.  Not more gifts or baked goods.

More of Him.  More of looking for Him

It’s not too late.