Friday, December 25, 2015

Starting Small

Christmases when I was young were a build up of tradition upon tradition to Christmas morning glory underneath the Christmas tree.  It doesn't escape me that the older I get, the merrier and brighter they seem to have been :)  As an adult, I've sought that blissful feeling of anticipation sometimes fondly, sometimes desperately, sometimes despondently.

I've been looking for the big and grand Christmas spirit, exasperated that I haven't felt it, and for having reduced everything down to the mundane.  In my contemplation of Jesus being the reason for the season, it occurs to me that it's a small start.  Not Jesus and God's gift of unbelieveable-but-believe-it grace for us all, but in the sense that a baby is a small start for a very big life.

If the small start of a baby in a manger is good enough for God, savoring what is and a heart-season of quiet contentment is good enough for me.

Wishing you halls decked with merry and jolly, moments of holy, calm and bright, and if your heart has wearied, that the trill of hope awakens you to rejoicing in a brand new year.

Merry Christmas to you, let's be joyful!

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Spirit of Christmas Mom Present

It's December, and the height of the Christmas season.  I decorated, and drank hot chocolate, and pretended it's cold outside, but my Christmas Spirit is flagging and I don't feel very merry - I feel exasperated.  Write what you need to hear, they say. I need to give myself a good talking to and write myself to right.  Am I the only mother of young people who's missing her compliant little ones and searching for her missing in action Christmas Spirit?  How can I write a blog about joyful seasons in a state of un-joy?

"We're attracted to scars," he says, "they're the only thing we have in common."  If you'll pardon my sarcasm and my terrible attitude, here is my scar on this gray December morning - no, not really a scar; it's an open wound:  I want this Christmas season to be the kind that requires two syllables to name it.  Bless-sed.  That means I want my people to join in the celebration, partake in the joy, participate in the traditions.  That means I want my people to do Christmas right.

I want pockets of sacred connection, moments that twinkle, and unbroken circles.  I know it's the birthday of Jesus, and I'm a terrible person to focus on the season and not the reason.  I know that we're supposed to be working toward a holy crescendo by Christmas Eve ... but can a mom get her people to participate in the seasonal pleasures without an alignment of the planets, and can a mom lead the way to merry and bright and get people to just SHOW UP?

Schedules conspire to cancel out ever being all together as a family. People are tired of being busy and they just want plain old ordinary days.  Tossing a wink and a nod to family traditions and activities seems to be all anyone but me wants to do this Christmas.

So what I want to say right now is forget Christmas.  It's a culmination of all things holy and love and family and joy-filled favorite traditions, and what I feel right now is that I've invited my people to the feast and they're not even willing to stop by 7-11 and pick up some ice.

I pull out my soapbox, stand tall upon it, flip on the bullhorn.  PEOPLE!  If you don't put effort into making the season SPECIAL, it's just like any other season!  Christmas will just be another DAY!  It'll be just one day in a parade of 365!  You have to work to make it SPECIAL!

I told you I had a terrible attitude.

Logically, I know they aren't intentionally distracted or disinterested.  My people are involved in their own lives, and in the pursuit of my own vision of holiday perfection, maybe I've made Christmas a spectator sport.  With my ever sharpening parental hindsight, I'm beginning to see that over the years I've focused too much on making Christmas my vision of perfection.  I've done most of the work so my people can RSVP Christmas and not even put on a Christmas sweater.  In attempting to craft perfect Christmases, I neglected to teach them that the most valuable thing they contribute to the party, the season, the day - is their participation.

I know the temper tantrum raging in my emotions is overblown and immature.  The behavior change that I want is in someone else, not me; I can't control it.  My people are no longer pliable, directable toddlers - they're young people with their own lives, their own thoughts, their own desires, their own schedules, none of which I can control.  I know the only thing I can control is my own attitude, which happens to stink right now.   There's no grace and there's no graciousness emitting from this heart of mine, and I know well that there is nothing in it that compels anyone to gather round the yule-tide fire.

Even so, I want my people to be the perfect Victorian characters I envision.  And aha, there is the problem ... I want everyone's participation on my own terms.  Anything less than my definition of perfection doesn't count.  But who am I to say their efforts don't count?  Who am I to judge that?  Maybe they're doing the best they can.  Maybe in their world, this kind of Christmas is just fine.  And maybe they could turn around and judge me, with my demanding, it's-not-good-enough, pinched countenance as I adjust the twinkle lights and amp up the Christmas Carols.

Maybe I'm not the embodiment of the "Christmas Spirit" that I'd like to think I am.

I contemplate my eternal Parent/Child relationship, God and me.  What is Christmas like at God's house?  I consider Christmas in the church of my childhood, wherein it was disappointingly nothing at all - there was no mention nor celebration in that particular congregation of that particular religion in that particular era.  I suspect if I examined it deeply, my conclusion would be as with other things I've concluded about this religion:  at its root, the desire to keep the focus simple was genuinely pure, and at the branch tips, the fruit became judgment and rules.

Like my Christmas expectations for my people.

I consider how God conducted the first Christmas: quiet, at a donkey's pace, and the rejoicing was wonderment, not frenzied.  I consider God's gracious invitation to Christmas.  "See, I'm doing this new thing, in a manger.  I'll provide the Savior.  I'll wrap up the gift in my grace.  You don't have to do anything at all - just come as you are, and take in as much glory as you can manage.  I'll be so glad you're there."  That ... is compelling.

So I see.  I see I can try to create perfection, where everything is in its place, all the ornaments glitter just so, the presents sit just right.  I can expect the guests to come dressed in their holiday best, bringing holiday cheer, caroling as they brush the snow from their shoulders, relinquishing gifts and pumpkin pies.  I can expect the Christmas meal to be a slow and leisurely affair, with profound and loving conversation around the table

... or ...

I can just let it be enough that they're here.  I can let it be enough that I have a chance to love them through a hamstring of mistakes, even though there is no fitting Christmas Carol about wise men who get stuck in a cycle of one rotten thing after another.  I can let it be enough that I can love them in and out the door as they dash through on the way to do things that are young and exciting, wild and free.  I can let it be enough that they greet me cordially and are genuinely happy to tell me what they did today.  I can let it be enough that they express interest in family traditions.  I can let it be enough that they remember fondly the time when.  I can let it be enough that they did, actually, show up.

What's the spirit of this Christmas Present?  Grace.  Grace to all who don't care about the red and green, the glitter, or Dickens' Christmas Carol.  Grace to all who are busy and frazzled and preoccupied.  Grace to all who aren't living up to my expectations of perfection.  Grace to all who enter here, because these are my people, and I love them.  Grace to all who enter here because God sees my heart, and He knows I don't deserve His gift, either, but He gives it anyway.

In the early morning light, I pound out frustration and impatience and grumbling all over the keyboard, and I resolve to do the Christmas-y things for my own enjoyment, without expectation on anyone else, and not for the perfection of it, but just for the joy.  Because my need to watch A Christmas Carol and see Scrooge transform into the man who keeps Christmas in his heart all the year through runs deep.  Later, long after dark, I invite without expectation and without pressure.

"Um, hey - you don't have to ... it's not an event or anything, but ... I'm just going to watch A Christmas Carol?  The one with Patrick Stewart?  Anybody else want to watch it?"  And glory be ... their eyes light up like they've been waiting days and days for this.  Yes!  they say, and they pause their games and stop the movies and trip down the stairs ... dare I say merrily ... and I realize that in the act of giving grace, the Christmas Spirit arrived in my heart.

God bless us, every one.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas Magic

Every year around Christmastime, the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas, presents LoneStar Christmas, and ICE!  If you've ever heard that things are bigger in Texas, the Gaylord Texan will confirm the legend ... inside this resort is a replica of the Alamo and a riverwalk on over four acres, always beautiful, but especially so when gloriously decorated for the holidays.

We took a field trip to enjoy the ICE! this week to get into the Christmas spirit.  ICE! is a display of over 2 million pounds of carved ice.  This year's theme was Christmas Around the World, with  vibrant happy colors and delightful greater than life-size sculptures.  

Of course keeping 2 million pounds of ice solid is a commitment, and it is COLD ... like 9 degrees cold!  The first thing you do is get a parka, and as soon as you don your fashionable winter gear, you're ready for an ice adventure.  The parkas are plenty warm, but if you go, you'll definitely want gloves; a hat and maybe even a muffler might also be good things.  I enjoyed feeling the cold, but even with gloves on, my hands were numb when we were done!

There were all kinds of fun photo opportunities with the sculptures.  It reminded me a little of Disney's 'It's a Small World' without the boats and the song :o)  There's also a two story ice-slide, and of course you wouldn't want to miss Santa or his sleigh.

The last display is a beautiful, glittering nativity scene.  

 Once outside the ICE! there's a huge "snow" slide, where you can tube down to the bottom.  There's also a pair of giant Santa boots, and a store filled with fun Christmas decor.  

Seeing the ICE! was plenty to get us holiday-happy, but walking through the Gaylord is also quite the Christmas experience.  Everything is decorated with a tasteful LoneStar twist.  There were lots of families with little children, and many were decked out in Christmas attire - completely adorable.  We also spotted a couple Elves of Elf on the Shelf fame ... and Santa himself!


You can get pricing information for tickets to ICE! }here{, but if you're looking for fun free things to do around the holidays, just walking through the Gaylord is an event in itself (you do have to pay for parking).  We were there during the day, but it's extra special at night, with all the lights.  Here are a couple night-time photos from the Gaylord website:

See what I mean?  Total magic!

Friday, December 4, 2015

'Tis the Season

This will be the Christmas wherein I discovered I don't like approximately 80% of my Christmas decorations.  Admittedly, the Christmas and wintertime decor has big shoes to fill, coming on the heels of autumn and a happily cultivated collection of orange and leaves and pumpkins. Even in a big pile on the dining table, the fall colors make my knees weak, and I want to just climb into the box of leaf garlands and wait until they come back out next September.  

When I pulled all the winter decor boxes out of the garage and unpacked them, I found disappointingly little that I liked and with honest evaluation, very few things fit in naturally with my decor.  It was the KonMari method applied to Christmas decorations and not very many of them gave me joy.  I inherited a lot of things from my Mom, and although they render fond memories, things from 1977 just don't fit in my 2015 home :o)

So, I put out what I love, packed away things I just can't part with, and filled a big bag for the donation center with the rest of it.  Then I noted where the holes were and went shopping, wherein I decided that the majority of Christmas decorations to be bought are cheap, plastic, and junky.  Most people are so ready to put their Christmas stuff away as soon as the holidays are over, because there's something about Christmas decor after a frenzied month of celebrating that makes the house feel cluttered and stuffy.  Since I decorate for the seasons, I weed out the obviously Christmas things at the end of December and everything winter stays until spring, so I suppose there's a little more pressure to find things that I love that won't make me itch to put it all away before spring arrives, which would leave the house spartan and cold.

As I wandered the aisles looking for items to add to my winter decor, I decided it was time to define my Christmas and winter decor style.  Goodness knows, there's every possible color scheme and theme, whether it has to do with the meaning of Christmas or not.  I ruled out country, I ruled out North Pole and Santa Claus.  I ruled out crafty, I ruled out cute, I ruled out overly ornate, I ruled out candyland colors.  All have their charms, but they don't fit me and my house.

Finally I came down to keeping it simple with a few basic colors and what I gravitate to for the seasons anyway: reflections of natural seasonal elements.  I'm going with red and gold and black and white with lots of berries and twigs and grapvine-ish things, and using favorite books to remind us Christmas is about the birth of the Savior.

Our wish-lists are hung in the kitchen with care, and we've discussed our favorite traditions and ways to celebrate.  We'll watch a Christmas movie together (my fingers are crossed for A Christmas Carol), play with the Elf on the Shelf (Click }here{ to read more about getting your older kids involved with this ... in our family everyone gets to do something with the Elf four times before Christmas - it's so much fun!), fill stockings with surprise gifts from Secret Santas, and take in a live Christmas production before hosting family and friends for dinner on Christmas day.  All this lined out and decided, and I'm ready to settle in to the season and take in as much joy as I can.  

For years I've collected fall decor, filled it out, and fluffed it up.  The other three seasons are really just waiting periods until golden autumn can glow in my house again.  I wish it could be fall all the time ... but then how would I know just how lovely it is without anything to compare it to?  Maybe its a metaphor for life, this practice of decorating for three seasons that don't fill my heart with their splendor.  Maybe I need to be better present to all the seasons - and oh yes! to the ordinary days, the nondescript day in and day out - to fully experience and celebrate joy.  I want to feel as resonant and alive in every season as I do in the fall.  It's joy in every season, not just autumn, after all :o)  I don't revel and resonate in the Christmas and winter decor like I do fall, but it will do.  The twinkly lights help pull me into the joyous sparkle of right now.  I aspire to make my home a place that fills my soul and makes my heat sing in all four seasons - autumn is the gold standard, but I want a house that glows with contentment 365 days a year.  I'll start with Christmas.