Monthly Archives: December 2016

A Few Random Thoughts…

It’s that time of year again.

That time of year when my brain is so busy trying to get everything done that thinking about writing slides to the backburner and I find myself without topics because all I can think about is creating a schedule for the baking and the pre-Christmas food prep.

Yes, I actually create a schedule for that.  It’s the only way that I can make sure that I have on hand exactly what I need to do my baking and food prep, and the only way I can make sure to get everything done that needs to be done before the big day.

Sometimes I’m so organized that I disgust myself.

Having said that…

As we sneak up on Christmas, I just have a few random thoughts:

  1. If it doesn’t get done by Christmas, don’t sweat it. You can buy cookies and candy, you can buy pies and cakes, you can even cater the dinner and as long as it all tastes good, no one will mind. It won’t matter if your house isn’t clean because it’ll get all messed up from your family opening gifts and walking around the house drinking hot chocolate. You can buy gift cards because people understand that gift cards are actually quite nice. Trust me: if it doesn’t get done by Christmas, just reschedule it for 3 or 4 days later and say you planned this for your New Year’s Day celebrations. It’s all good.
  1. If they don’t like your gift, oh well. You aren’t a mind reader and really…except for little kids, the thought is always what matters. Seriously.
  1. If you just bought any old thing and gave it to your loved one because you didn’t know what to buy, YOU DID A BAD THING. The thought is what matters. SERIOUSLY!
  1. If you can’t afford anything, give your time. Take a little note card and write down something they would enjoy doing with you, for instance, going out for coffee or spending an evening watching The Walking Dead. Then give it to them and say that this is their gift. If they love you, your time and attention are worth more to them than anything you can buy them. If your loved ones value what you can give them more than they value your time and attention, you really need to re-evaluate the people you love and why you love them.
  1. If you are unhappy during this season for any reason, don’t judge yourself for that. Nonetheless, try to gather a little joy to yourself in any way you can. Bake cookies for someone who needs them. Bake cookies and take them to the businesses that help you during the rest of the year to tell them how much you appreciate them. Help someone else prepare for Christmas. Take a slow stroll and look at the Christmas lights. Steadfastly refuse to listen to Christmas music.  Skip Christmas and focus on New Year’s Day. Decorate your house for Valentine’s Day instead. Do whatever makes you feel like you can breathe a little more deeply and smile, even if it is just the smallest smile.
  1. When someone or something really ticks you off, don’t waste your time focusing on it. Take a deep breath and ask yourself if this person or situation is really worth your misery and loss of joy. I have a friend who keeps focusing on everything that isn’t working for him right now. It’s all he talks about, and he doesn’t seem to be able to think about anything else. You can bet he’s really miserable, most of the time. Believe me, he has some good reasons to be unhappy, but then again, I have another friend who is currently dealing with stage 4 cancer while she tries to raise her children and she seems to be able to laugh an awful lot. Apparently, your misery level is determined by what you choose to focus on. Focus on the good stuff, and pray about the bad stuff…and let God do the rest.
  1. Indulge your senses in all that is good in this season. Smell the Christmas pines, and if you can’t have a real tree (don’t you love that asthma?) then light a pine tree scented candle. Bake some sugar cookies, or a baked potato…and the whole house will smell like mom is home. Sit in the dark and look at the lights on the Christmas tree. Sing Christmas carols while you take a walk around the neighborhood, and maybe stop to carol a few neighbors, or even some strangers if you’re bold.
  1. Finally, remember that the reason for the season is love. Love so great that it came to earth, embodied as a baby. Even if you aren’t a Christian, you can understand how the Ultimate Reality, the things that unites us all as brothers and sisters, can be expressed in the joy of a baby and the love that child brings. Christmas is all about love, so spread the love wherever you can.

May this coming week be a joyous countdown to friends, family, and a great feast of laughter and love!

Merry Christmas!     Happy Holidays!     Happy Kwanza!    Happy Chanukah!    Blessed New Year!

Joy!

 

Presents and Nests

It’s been a weird year for me.

My youngest daughter got married just a few weeks ago…November 17th.  She got married on a Thursday because apparently, you can save thousands of dollars if you get married on a day when no one else wants to get married.  So my baby girl decided to want to get married on a Thursday, and I think she’s a smart girl. I’m pretty fond of her new husband, too.  He’s a good guy—he just wants to change my youngest daughter’s last name…and her address, because come this January he wants to move her to Oregon.  And that’s kind of freaking me out.

My oldest daughter moved to Colorado only 8 days after the wedding, which was the day after Thanksgiving, if you’re counting.  Wow.  She moved, like, 850 miles away. Which I really shouldn’t complain about, because when I moved away from home, well, first I moved 348 miles away, and then after I married my husband I moved about 1,747 miles away from home.

I suppose that I really have nothing to complain about.

The thing is that…I feel…so…

LONELY.

I went into Target the other day and I saw all the Christmas stuff.  Dear God, I love Christmas!  At least I used to. And then I looked at all those decorations and the lights and the ornaments and the gift wrap and the baking supplies and I thought…

There is no one left at home to pamper!  No one left at home to bake for!

There is no one left to pamper!

My little girls have all grown up and they are moving away!  My whole world has been reduced down to me and my husband and two Shih Tzus. That’s it. There is no one left to bake for, no one left to buy stuff for, there is no one left to decorate the house for.

I have discovered…the EMPTY NEST.

I thought the empty nest would happen when my daughters stopped living at home, but it didn’t, not really. Alex moved out 5 ½ years ago, and then Katie moved out three years ago.  I freaked out a little wondering if they were safe or if they were well fed, but in general I was fine.  I thought I had this empty nest thing mastered, and then…

They got married and moved away and I’m dang near dying of the pain of it all.

Who exactly am I here to take care of?

I mean, I have a husband and all, but realistically?  How much care does he need at 54 years old?  And I need to be careful not to smother the man, so…

What exactly am I here for?

I hate that question!

I’ve spent my whole life being the mom and the wife and the daughter and the pastor and the counselor and suddenly…there aren’t near as many people to take care of, and I don’t know how to handle it.

I find myself sitting before God with an empty bowl, wondering why I’m here and what God needs me to do, and I’m not getting any answers.

It’s the worst feeling I’ve ever had.

I wake up every day to this empty bowl, and no matter how many people I try to put in my bowl, God keeps pulling them out. I wake up with an empty bowl, and I go to sleep with an empty bowl. After a while I don’t even want to look at the dang bowl. I’m sick to death of that bowl because all it does is remind me that there is no one left who needs me, not really.

I know I’m supposed to be happy because it’s Christmas and all, but I’m not. I walk through the stores and I see all the Christmas decorations and I just feel sad.  I feel empty. I feel like I want to cry and I can’t make it go away.

I prayed about it. I did!  I asked God over and over to show me what I’m supposed to be doing now and no answer came.

I’m not used to not getting an answer from the Lord.

But not getting an answer has made me wonder about empty bowls.

You see, I grew up in farming country. I grew up where we grow the corn and the wheat and the cows and the chickens and the soybeans.  I spent my summers canning with my mom, putting up vegetables and fruit, preparing for the winter when nothing was fresh.  We knew that we could make it better at home than anyone could ever make it at the store and so we spent the summer preparing for the barren times.

That day at Target I sat in my car, crying and wondering what my mom did when there was no one left to can for.  You know, she and my dad can only eat so many jars of pickles and tomatoes, so many bags of corn and beans.  My mom used to spend the whole summer canning and putting up vegetables and fruit, so what exactly happened to all of that? And what did she do when my brother and I were gone?

I decided to call her.  I told her how I was feeling and I could hear her smiling at me when she replied.

First you cry, she said.  First you cry.

And then she said things I wasn’t expecting.

She said “Let God lead you into a time of lying fallow.”

I know what that means. Fallow. It’s what farmers do with their fields when the field has been used to produce crops for years and years. Over time the field gets worn, even though it keeps producing good crops. The field gets tired and exhausted and the soil gets thin; all the good stuff and the nutrients that made the field produce such good crops fade away and the field becomes weak.  If the farmer is smart, the farmer stops planting in that field and lets it lie fallow, and if the farmer is really smart they do that long before the field becomes so weak that its crops are worthless.  The field might lie fallow for a year, and sometimes longer!  And during that time, the field just sits there, with the stalks from its last crop sowed back into the ground. While the it rests, the field gathers up its strength.  Somehow, in the time that the field lies empty, the soil become rich again, and then after a couple of years, the farmer replants and the field bears fruit and crops and good things happen there.  But for at least a year, nothing. Most of the time it’s longer. Most of the time, a field lies fallow for several years—years where there is nothing at all.

I understood what my mom was saying to me but it was hard to accept. I don’t know about you but I feel like my personal worth is wrapped up in what I produce, what I do for my family and friends, what I do for my church and my God.  Who am I and what the heck am I worth if I’m not doing anything at all? If there is no one to take care of, who am I?

I may think that way, but The Great Farmer is wiser than that.  The farmer knows that a field left to lie fallow, no matter how long it lays there, empty—the Great Farmer knows that a field left to lie fallow is a promise.  A promise of what is to come. A promise of a greater future. A promise of purpose and meaning and value. A field that lies fallow is a field at rest; a field waiting to be all that the farmer can ever hope for.

God is like that with us.

We hate it when our bowl is empty. We hate it when we can’t see why we’re here and what we’re here for and what we’re supposed to do and who we are supposed to serve.  We want to be active and filled with purpose and meaning and God is the wise farmer that says Wait! Stop!  Rest.  God asks us to let it go and lie fallow and know that we are everything God ever meant for us to be and yet, we still aren’t done.

A field that lies fallow is a promise of what is to come.

As far as I’m concerned, a promise of what is to come is just short of a wrapped Christmas present that God is preparing just for me.

I like that idea. I like the idea that where I am in my life right now, as difficult as it feels at this moment, is actually a wrapped Christmas present from God to me—a present that will slowly open all by itself sometime in the future. And when that present opens, I’ll know it for what it is: a blessing from the Lord to me.  I also know that when my present finally opens, my bowl will be full to overflowing.

God is like that with us. God is always like that.

May God bless you to overflowing during this Advent season, and prepare you for the coming of the Christ child!

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.      Psalm 23, NRSV

The Tchotchke Kingdom

I’m back!  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, because I did. But now, it’s on to the next holiday.

I am a major fan of the Christmas season.

I am one of those weirdos who decorates the entire house the weekend after Thanksgiving.

The tree is up. The lights on the front of the house are up (thank you, darling hubby!) There are Christmas tchotchkes*** all over the house. They are everywhere: on tables, in front of the TV, on the piano, hanging from doorknobs, on the countertops.  If you can see it, I have something placed there to remind you that it’s Christmas.

Part of the reason that I love the holiday is that it is the best high holy day of the Christian year.  Every pastor has their favorite Christian holiday, and mine is Christmas.

I have a lot of fond memories of Christmas from my childhood. The tree went up soon after Thanksgiving, and my mother decorated the entire house. Every room had some sort of Christmas decoration, even the bathroom.  The last week of school before Christmas vacation, I’d come home and the aroma of nut breads and cookies would hit me the minute I walked through the door. Christmas music would be playing in the background, and my mom would be busy working in the kitchen.  My mom loved the Christmas season, and she seemed to delight in planning all the delicious treats she would make for the holiday.  Some of the treats were for our family, and some were to give away as gifts.  My father always joined her in the treats-to-give-away department, making homemade chocolate covered caramels and chocolate nut clusters.  One year he even made cherry cordials with just a drop of cherry liquor in them.  My grandfather loved those so much I think he ate almost the entire batch all by himself.

Once the baking was done, the gift wrapping would begin. This was back before gift bags became popular, so everything had to be boxed and wrapped and of course you can’t forget the ribbon and bows.  My parents were master gift wrappers, and my mom even knew how to make her own bows!  My dad specialized in curling ribbon and would spend hours making spectacular displays of curly fluff for every package he wrapped.

It might sound like we were trying to make our house into something out of Home and Garden magazine, or like we were trying to impress everybody with our amazing display of Christmas spirit.

That wasn’t it at all.

In my family, Christmas was about extravagant giving to others.

When I was a little girl, I was dazzled by all the cookies and the gifts and the decorations.  As a little girl, Christmas was all about what it could be for me and I loved every minute of the holiday.

I think I was 12 years old when I began to understand the holiday at a deeper level, when I began to move towards my parents point of view.  They always said that Christmas was about the giving.  You know: It is more joyful to give than to receive.  As a child that made no sense to me at all.  My dad would help me choose a gift for my mom, but I had no money; while it was nice to choose a gift for my mom, I didn’t really have any skin in the game, you know?  It was the same way when my mom would help me buy my yearly gift of slippers for my dad.  What changed was that I started babysitting when I turned 12, so I was able to contribute some money when my parents helped me buy Christmas presents, and that’s when I started to change my point of view.

Then I got my first real job at 14 years old. I saved enough money to buy gifts for my family without any assistance (unless you count the ride to and from the mall).  I went Christmas shopping for my parents all by myself. That was my first real foray into the frustration of finding meaningful gifts for each person on my list.  It was also the first time I spent December filled with anticipation to watch other people open their gifts.  For the first time ever, I was more excited about what I was giving to other people than I was about what I might receive.  That year, Christmas Eve was almost unbearable for me because I was so anxious for my parents to open their gifts.  Previously, I had resented having to wait until Christmas morning to open gifts because I wanted my gifts now.  That year, all I wanted was for my mom and dad to open their gifts so I could see if my gift had made them happy.

There are a lot of complaints about the commercialization of Christmas, and I don’t necessarily disagree.  However, I don’t believe that Christmas has become tainted to the point that it fails to be all about the coming of the Christ child.  If you take a good close look at Christmas, and the preparation for Christmas, it seems to lift up what Jesus and his disciples taught us over and over.

All those decorations that we put up remind us that it is good to have reminders of the things that bring us joy.  So often we end up focused on what is dissatisfying, upsetting, or failing…and we end up consumed with negativity because we choose to focus on everything that’s wrong.  At Christmas we take an entire month to surround ourselves with things that remind us of family, friends, and celebrations both past and present. For some people that can bring up sadness, but usually that’s because the people they love are far away or have passed on…and tears shed over love are never the wrong answer.

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

All that shopping and baking and cleaning and cooking…have you ever prepared for your first baby? Oh yeah, you’ll do a lot of shopping and baking and cleaning and cooking! Babies are an exercise in preparation for a major life changing event, and the birth of the Christ child is a major life changing event. Christmas, the way we celebrate it currently, is an accurate reflection of preparing for the birth of a child in every way.  It is beyond appropriate to spend an entire month (or more) preparing your home for the entry of the Christ into the world, preparing your heart with excitement for all that is to come.  All that work only serves to remind us that this is no small event and thank goodness, it is something we celebrate again and again, inviting ourselves to let Him into our hearts again and again.

“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.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end.”  Isaiah 9:6-7a

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

Think about it: the majority of what you do during the Christmas season is done for others.  You buy gifts for others. You bake cookies for yourself, sure, but also for others. You spend time planning a delicious meal for others.  So much of what we do at Christmas is focused on creating opportunities for others to feel joy, for them to feel honored and loved.  We consider their wants and their needs and tailor their gifts and the meals we make specifically to make them happy.  Christmas takes us outside ourselves and our own wants and asks us to focus for an extended period of time on the needs and wants of others. Do you think this might be why we are kinder to each other in public during the Christmas season? Do you think this is why we give more to charity during this season?  Perhaps this is why we are more prone to random acts of kindness during this season.  Christmas is the ONE HOLIDAY OF THE YEAR that is all about everyone else but ourselves…and look at what it does to us!  If we could behave all year long the way we do during the Christmas season, what a different world we would live in.

“Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”  Romans 12:11-13

To me, Christmas feels like a taste of the Kingdom, a moment when our hearts turn in the right direction.  We find ourselves focusing on the good, taking joy in the coming of the Son, and turning our hearts to serving others over self. Secularization may have changed Christmas somewhat, but it has failed to change it at the very heart, and failed to change the truth of the Bible that lies beneath it: that God has called us into a community of love and service to one another through the birth, life, and resurrection of His son Jesus Christ.

Turns out, the Kingdom is among us and within us after all, and not even the power of common culture or the mighty dollar can wipe it out.

“Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” Luke 17:20-21

Enjoy the season and may I be the first to wish you a very merry Christmas!

*** a tchotchke is a small object that is decorate rather than strictly functional; a trinket or bauble.