Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Jeff, Sandi, Abigail, Christian & Travis Carlson

Hollly

Family pic for Christmas

“For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6

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What Matters Most

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If I close my eyes right now I can see the twinkle and beauty of Christmas in my imagination even though my surroundings aren’t quite as festive as I’d like at the moment.  If I was at work there would be a poinsettia on the counter behind me along with a beautiful angel donated by someone who wanted to spread holiday cheer.  I could step out of my office and head down the hall to find plenty of “Christmas” in the church sanctuary, along with a stained glass window of Jesus that would take your breath away.  There’s a tree that nearly reaches the tall ceiling, and it is filled with ornaments that remind us of why we celebrate this holiday in the first place.  This space filled with pews and holly feels magical and holy.

Christmas is a time of wandering imaginations, shepherds, wise men, and dreams of figgy pudding.

It’s also a time for playing Christmas music and humming along every chance you get while eating way more Christmas cookies than you should.  But in spite of the extra poundage sure to come, when I think about where I am in life right now, I find my heart full and grateful.   I’ve had the chance to see several special people I don’t see very often as the days march toward Jesus’ birth.   Many have given gifts of nick nacks and others have offered wonderful food, a few have joined me for a festive lunch and I find that this is truly the season of giving.

I sometimes wonder why life can’t feel this good all year long.

What is it about this holiday that brings folks together?  And why do I want to sip apple cider and have meaningful conversations around fireplaces that smell of pine and smoke during the month of December?  My husband and I sat with some extended family around an open firepit recently.  We talked of everything and nothing and watched our daughters chase their nearly matching dogs around the expansive yard. The whole time we visited smoke continued to blow from the firepit into my husband’s face, no matter how often he moved his lawn chair.  We laughed when he got in the shower later only to smell burning firewood as he started to wash his hair.

It was a reminder of time well invested.

Last weekend was fabulous as I spent it laughing and sharing with people who have been a part of my life story for more than half of my living days.  They are precious to me.  We shopped, ate and opened Christmas gifts all while catching up on our overly busy lives.  It was in this merriment I discovered someone very close to me was going to have serious surgery after the first of the year.  Again, I was reminded how valuable the relationships are around us.  Life has a way of speeding by with so much of what we “intended” to do with or for others never quite getting done.   Oh, I know we get the basics covered, like cleaning the house or raking the yard, most of the time.  But, sometimes I think we neglect the important things for the trivial?

Maybe I’m talking to myself more than anyone else here, but I struggle with this.

I still have a card on my dresser that’s been there for weeks that I’m “going to mail” to a friend who had cancer surgery.  I “intend to” get the address of another friend whose mother passed away recently so I can send a sympathy card.  I “meant to” plan a mini party for our Sunday School class so we could fellowship together, but again, time escaped me.  I “should” bake cookies for all the nice folks who work around my small town whom I see on a weekly basis. They could probably use some encouragement and joy in this most busy season where folks aren’t always the nicest when having to wait in yet another long line.

I could go on, but I think you get what I am trying to say.

Life is short.

Spend your days on things that matter; things that REALLY matter.  I mean, honestly, who’s going to care if your living room has been dusted this week?  There’s a precious lady in my life whose gift is hospitality.  She makes you feel like family and will cook for you on the spot if you drop by for any reason.  She’s always told me, “I’m not worried about this house, it’s about the people who come in it.”  Sometimes I get so caught up in wanting THINGS to look perfect or be perfect that I lose sight of the PEOPLE and what they bring into my life.  I let the dust on the mantle distract me and the next thing I know I have a clean house and no time to invite anyone into it.

Christmas reminds me to be intentional about showing folks how much I love them and what they mean to me.

I read once we need to have the attitude of Christmas all year long.  I don’t think I understood what that expression meant until this year.  Oh, I could read the words and get that we need to always celebrate Jesus, but Christmas also means we get LIFE.  I’ve told you how I am beginning to feel the joy of the holiday seep back into my life after a season of tremendous loss.  Now that I am staggering out of the fog of devastating grief, I want to celebrate the gift of life, but not only life, actually LIVING.  The birth of Jesus means we get to LIVE our days with HOPE.  How wonderful is that?  We get to enjoy family and friends for a number of years and then we get to live on in eternity with the ONE we’re celebrating.

This is something I tend to preach on as I get older, and something I think I’ll be learning for the rest of my days.  Life isn’t about the stuff we accumulate, it’s about people.  I’ve told many I don’t necessarily care about a gift, just spend some time with me.  The time IS the gift and this year has been one of the best holiday seasons I’ve had in a long time.   It’s not that I don’t appreciate gifts, especially thoughtful ones, or homemade ones, but I’ve realized the person giving it and the time we’ve spent together means way more than the gift they bear.

You won’t regret the time you spent with people, but you might regret if you are more busy dusting than visiting.

Well, the lights on my Christmas tree stopped working this week and I cannot for the life of me find a string of white lights?  I’ve looked everywhere, but with no luck.  I’m rolling with it, I’m just lighting candles instead AND I’m not going to let it keep me from hosting a few people over for the holiday.  This home will never be perfect, and that suits me just fine, my imperfection fits in perfectly.

All I Want for Christmas

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I don’t know about you, but the holidays seem to come faster and faster to my front door.  I feel like I just put the Christmas tree away and wrapped up all the ornaments last week.  But, here I am, a year later, according to the calendar, dragging the boxes in from the garage and untangling fifteen strands of tree lights of which only half will work.  I remember as little girl it seemed like it took FOREVER for Christmas to get here.  The days would drag on, all three hundred and sixty four of them, until Christmas morning finally arrived.  Perfect bliss.

What happed to those days? 

Confession:  I haven’t even started buying presents.  Well, technically I’ve bought presents, or my bank account has been charged for presents.  My young adult children ordered what they wanted in the name of gift giving and I paid for it with relief knowing I don’t have to go wandering around stores trying to figure out exactly what they want.  It’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned.  A little unconventional, but I’m okay with it.

I used to go to bed early the night of Thanksgiving so I could wake up at an ungodly hour to catch the Black Friday sales.  I would have my list poised and ready, complete with each and every person I wanted to buy for with an idea of what I would like to gift them written next to their name.  I remember those early mornings like they were yesterday.  It was always pitch black and usually cold. But it didn’t matter, we had our steaming hot coffee and the excitement we felt at the idea of saving a few bucks was palpable.  We were never disappointed.  The sales were always substantial and I would have my list half done in one early morning alone.

Those were the good old days.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but somehow we lost Thanksgiving to Wal Mart and every other department store who’s decided to open its doors to proudly reveal its product mark downs before we’ve even carved the turkey.  The Black Friday I used to know has certainly become a thing of the past.  Now, if you want something even close to a good deal, you have to shop all night.  Literally.  I have friends who wear matching t-shirts and shop from sun down to sun up.  They post pictures and totally look like they’re having the time of their lives.  The thought of staying up all night for ANYTHING makes me feel a little sick to my stomach.  I cannot think of any sale anywhere that would make me do it. So, I’m blaming my lack of enthusiasm for gift buying on the loss of Black Friday.  No more list of names neatly printed on yellow legal pad paper with gift ideas beside them, now it’s scribblings on a post it note at best. 

I only put out about half of my Christmas decorations this year.  The tree is up and the old electric train we bought at the Goodwill fifteen years ago is stretched out around the tree skirt. There are a few “Christmassy” doo dads here and there, and, of course, the stockings.  But, other than that, the house doesn’t look like the biggest holiday of the year is only a couple of weeks away.  I don’t know what is happening to me, so many of my friends turn their homes into Christmas wonderlands when their kids leave home.  It’s like they finally have the time, so they set out to make all of their suppressed Christmas decoration dreams come true.  Not me, I’m turning into my mother who, I’m pretty sure, would’ve skipped Christmas all together if we would’ve let her.  Oh, she loved celebrating the birth of the Christ child, but she became very weary of putting up and taking down the tree. 

Don’t get me wrong I don’t feel “bah humbug” or anything, quite the opposite.

I haven’t felt this joyful about the holiday in several years.  I am excited about my college kids coming home, and the Christmas sock exchange I just discovered.  I’m ready to bake cookies with my sons and daughter, I’m quite certain we’ll eat almost as many as we make.  I’ve been looking for the perfect ginger bread house to decorate and the thought of sipping hot chocolate with marshmallows piled high while gluing gum drops on a cookie roof with vanilla icing sounds perfectly enchanting to me.  I want to listen to Michael Buble’ and binge on Hallmark movies.  I’m ready to attend the Christmas Eve service at my little country church and sing carols while remembering why we celebrate this special day. 

The gifts I want to give and get can’t be wrapped up and put under a tree.

I don’t long for “stuff” like I used to, I would rather have the gift of memories and relationships.  I want to laugh until I have tears streaming down my face while sharing stories of Christmas past.  I will mostly likely have a good cry as I recall forty four wonderful Christmas’s with my momma.  I plan to snap plenty of pictures and stroll through lots brightly colored lights.  I almost said I would be willing to play some board games, but, I’m not sure if that’s the truth.  (My loyal readers will remember the blog I wrote a while back explaining how I feel about board games.)  I do look forward to reading the Christmas story with my family and I want to have plenty of conversations about everything and nothing while everyone is home for the holiday. 

The things I long for aren’t “things” at all.

This week I was sitting in my office at work when I suddenly became very emotional.  These last years have been tough, sometimes unbearable.  But, here I am, through it all enjoying the life the Lord has given me to the best of my ability.  I was just so grateful as I looked around at my familiar work space filled with folks I care deeply about nearby.  I thought of my husband who has loved me for a long time and of my children who are growing into good people.  I smiled as I thought of my dad and how he’s coping with loss and navigating the unchartered waters of a new marriage.  I wiped my eyes as I thought of friends who bless my life each day with joy.  I thanked the Lord for my warm home, for a car that cranks, clothes to wear and food to eat.  He has been SO GOOD.

I even have new Christmas socks.

I plan to celebrate BIG this year.  I will celebrate the TIME I have with those I love and the Christ child who came to offer us life eternal.

Not even the best Black Friday sale can compare to that!

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6