Christmas

Mary Wasn’t Ready Either

“Nine days til’ Christmas!” the radio announcer proclaimed in a voice much like a Who in the 2000 version of The Grinch.

I imagined his tiny teeth and coiffed hair proclaiming the minutes ticking by to the Big Holiday as I turned the corner on to the major highway on my way to work.

We’ve been hustling and bustling with packages and bows. Dodging Suburbans in parking lots and honking at stop lights. Just like the travels on their way to Jerusalem for the Census. Right?

Christmas is coming and I’m not ready.

I’m not ready for the waves. Waves of excitement. Waves of grief. Waves of anxiety that come with the planning for pulling people who love each other together in a room for a purpose we easily forget in a gift giving world.

As I drove and listened to celebrities sing about holy nights, I paused and thought of Mary. She wasn’t ready. She didn’t ask for this baby at all.

I didn’t ask for grief. For missing. For aching. For the need for reinvention and the embracing discomfort to push through to potential. I didn’t ask for the mystery of the “What the heck – this wasn’t quite how it was supposed to be” moments.

Mary didn’t either.

And yet, Jesus came.

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Hope in the form of an infant, on a cold dark night and with him came the angels and the promise of healing and restoration and wholeness. Can you imagine witnessing all that potential just laying in scratchy straw?

A woman surrounded by men in awe. Probably telling her what to do – how to swaddle, where to sit, what to consider next.

And in the confusion, I’d like to hope peace came to her that night. In some form or another as she sat and wondered, “How will God use me in this?”

I’m not ready for the mysterious of mix of hurt and hope and sparkle. I’m not ready for the shadows looming, his empty chair, the small talk at holiday parties.

I’m not ready.

And yet here we are. “How will God use me in this?”

So, I start to pray.

I’m praying for the miraculous possibly found at a home-made table surrounded by beautiful, broken, seeking, healing people. I’m praying for peace as we sit among the fallen nettles of a tree-farmed pine tree under twinkling lights.

I’m praying for toasts and witnesses and a squeeze of my hands or shoulders or a kiss on the cheek. I’m praying for the Holy to come and be with us and those who can’t or won’t be in my living room.

Nine days ’til Christmas!

Turning left, I pulled into an icy parking spot at the local King Soopers.  I rushed in to buy green pears and soft cheese. Simple offerings for the Holiday lunch at the office. After paying and slipping on wet linoleum, I started to fumble for my keys in my pit of a purse. Looking up, I caught sight of something special.

Both wearing printed pajamas and snow boots, two small children walked hand in hand with their tired- looking mother. They stomped and they hopped and they wrestled for a cart. Children in pajamas at the grocery store. Beautiful.
Whispered prayers and wondering hearts. Beautiful.

Incomplete to-do lists, anxieties, hopes and healing. Beautiful.

I’m not ready for Christmas – I’m guessing Mary wasn’t either.

What a beautiful thing.

Good enough for this year.

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Photo by Miroslava on Unsplash

I walked in the door to grief group tonight with my arms full of bags – the worn canvas stretched as I turned to open my arms and hug the once-strangers who I now consider my friends. I bent at the waist and removed my clogs and turned and slid my mismatched socks towards the table.

Twelve courageous women laid out crackers and creamy cheese and plates of cookies to frost with store-bought frosting. We swiped crumbs off of islands and sprinkled flour on the clean counter. Relying on our resourcefulness we used a pepper grinder to roll out the dough. We cut shapes and dunked morsels in chocolate and shook green, red, and white sprinkles over pre-made cut-outs. We sat around a table and said their names and shared the multitude of complex things we feel during the holiday season.

And I stopped and thought, “Yes, this is good.”

Good enough for this year.

And earlier this week, while taking my turn at a four-way stop I apparently cut off a car coming round the blind corner. The horn shook me out of a something-thought and I proceeded to find a parking spot. I walked gingerly to the favorite kitchen store in town and met Mom to wander through familiar aisles.

Looking up from the shortbread display I grabbed my mom and I hissed, “Pause here.”

Around another blind corner, old acquaintances stood eyeing their own gifts and goodies. We pivoted, avoiding the unnecessary moment of awkward eye contact. Running into “before people” in stores on holidays earns you a pity tilt of the head and a sympathy sigh. If they are really unsure, you may get a pat on the hand as well. We turned towards the tea pots and moved through aisles to make our purchases on the other side of the store.

We had planned to spend hours together shopping, just like we used to, and instead we spent three hours talking at a new taco shop in town. At a small table in the back, next to the kitchen, we wept and we wondered how we can let go of the old and create something new.

New traditions. New expectations. New hopes and new chances to shape togetherness because the old holiday traditions will never be the same.

And as we paid the bill and walked into the winter sun, I stopped and thought, “Yes. This is good.”

Good enough for this year.

As I held my mom’s hand and looked her in the eye she said to me, “You know, we never started baking gingerbread snowflakes with the intent of that being tradition. We tried them. They were good, so we did it again.”

I’m borrowing loosely from holiday expectations this year. Different formats for making cookies. Different time spent shopping on Amazon rather than in stores. Different routines and expressions of grief and making space for the sadness our culture demands we package away in pretty red bows.  Maybe we’ll do them again. Maybe we won’t.

I spent year one through three trying, pushing, forcing the holly and the jolly and it was horrible.

This year I’m stopping and thinking, “Yes, this is good.”

Good enough for this year.

What a beautiful thing.

 

“Maybe”

Nichole Nordeman’s got a new Christmas album out and the whole thing is giving me chills.

I know this is a tricky time of year. She captures the spirit of the season – all components – the joy, the hope, the light, the hurt, the ache, the promise of Christ – so well in these songs.

Listen to the whole thing on Spotify and listen to this song for the brokenness in you and others this season.

Let your heart be light.

December Favorite Things – 2019

I wrote my Christmas card this weekend and thought to myself, “Wasn’t it just August?”

You too?

Welp, here we are at the end of the year and the end of a decade. Hard to believe.

Here are a few of my favorites as I decorate my house, buy gifts for others, and blow my nose continuously because the winter cold has hit me.

Merry Merry to you and yours.

    1. Advent Devotional by Ann Voskamp
      It’s the season of light and I get excited to remember how we can choose to welcome the Holy Spirit back into our lives. I read this one every year
    2. Dried oranges – I followed this simple recipe and used the oranges as ornaments on my tree and tucked them in on a home made wreath. I left the sugar off because I know my dog would eat them …. Another recipe suggested tucking whole cloves in the slices. I didn’t have any and dried allspice instead and wasn’t that impressed.
    3. Simmer Scents to make your house smell great naturally

    4. Pair this shortbread with Scotch and toast to Roy

5. “Eight is a lot of legs David.” – the best line from Love Actually


 

In a completely separate request, I’m gathering answers to the question:

As a reader of 52 Beautiful Things,  what do you like most about the writing?

Send an email to 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com with your response

Beam of Light – Mike H.

Because men can give light too. This one comes from my father-in-law. He’s a big fan of the double chin selfie. I’m lucky and honored to be a part of this story.

Mike H. 

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My Giving Light is a daughter-in-law who completed my family. I thought it was perfect until she came along. I was so wrong. It is more than perfect now. She has taught me to see the good things in our lives all around us.

My son…who makes me proud as he finds his way in this world.

My business partner/boss shows me how to laugh at ourselves everyday!

Feeling good after being in pain for awhile.

Fresh snow at Christmas in Colorado.

A wife who everyday shows me the true meaning of love and understanding.

 

If you are interested in giving your own light, click here to learn more about how you can enter the Give Light Giveaway. I’m accepting submissions through December 31st. 

Beam of Light – Cathy H.

I’m so excited to share this beam of light from one of my favorite ladies Cathy. I always appreciate her ability to craft and create with excellence.

Cathy H. 

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My name is Cathy and I live in Lafayette, Colorado. I work with children with special needs in a public school.

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Cathy has previously contributed to 52 Beautiful Things here.

If you are interested in giving your own light, click here to learn more about how you can enter the Give Light Giveaway. I’m accepting submissions through December 31st. 

Nope. Not this year.

Thursday – A Rushed Morning

7:05 am

Katie’s phone buzzes.  Olive pounces on me as I reach from my comfy flannel sheets to read the message.

Dylan: Can you bring me my jacket?

Type type type.

Katie: Sure – do you need it this morning?

No response.

We’re up late. Rush out of bed.

8:02 am

Katie puts cushions in bathroom so the dog won’t eat them, shuts all doors, unplugs curling iron, grabs jacket and says a silent prayer that Olive won’t chomp on the unlit Christmas tree while away. Drive to Dylan’s work.

8:17 am

Katie’s phone buzzes.

Dylan: No – I don’t need it this morning. Just for later tonight.

Said coat sat on my drivers seat as I waited for a stop light to stamp out a reply.

8:18 am

Katie pulls into Dylan’s work parking lot.

Type Type Type

Katie: I’m in the parking lot. I have your coat.

Dylan came out to greet me, walking up to the driver side door. He said thanks, and then repeated he didn’t really need the coat until later that night.

Katie swallowed down emotion and said out loud, “Ok, I’m feeling frustrated.”

And then Katie promptly started crying.

In the parking lot, Dylan came round and sat in the car as Katie shed some tears, holding her hand.


I wept about how pissed I am at my dog for peeing in our house all the time. I wept about feeling like schedules need managing and tasks need completing, and dishwashers need unloading and like I need help. That’s what I told Dylan.

What I didn’t tell Dylan –

At 7:40 am I also got an email from The Dinner Party. This group hosts grief tables for 20 and 30 somethings who have experienced significant loss all around the country.  I’ve been on the waiting list since October. Waiting to get placed in a group of people who get it. Just how total suck-fest this thing called grief can be.

I’ve got lots of supportive people in my life, yet I still crave connection with people my age who can say, ‘yup – me too – I’ve lost someone big and their them-sized hole will never be filled.’

As I read the email, I think I stopped breathing a bit. The Dinner Partiers might have a spot for me soon. I hate that I can belong to this club. She ended her note, “I hope you’re finding ways to take care this holiday season.”

So there I was, in the parking lot, crying tears and blurring my mascara and trying not to calculate how late to work I would be. Sure, I was pissed at my dog and helping people get their needs met. More though, I was pissed that I’m not sure I have been taking care of myself this month as others have so wisely recommended.

We got through Thanksgiving with grace and smiles this year. We decorated for Christmas and I was doing just fine. And then I opened that gracious, hope-giving email, and I sank right into the hard truth that my dad isn’t with us this Christmas.

Damnit.

Worse, too, that I haven’t been giving myself space to expect the slide backwards. Because who want’s to expect that?

I wiped off my face and drove to work, finished out another week and started asking myself – how can I take better care of myself this Christmas season? A beautiful reminder that sometimes even strangers can nudge us towards the self-care we didn’t know we needed.

I’ve found freeing answers in unexpected spaces. The beauty in saying, “Nope, not this year.”

For example. This season I can’t bring myself to make Christmas cookies. I bought the ingredients to make peppermint shortbread for Dad and then I just couldn’t stop thinking – well where would I bring them?we don’t have a graveI certainly can’t eat them myself. And why would I give them away. They are Dad’s.

And Mom and I were going to make gingerbread snowflakes like always but really I just wanted to send my Christmas Cards instead. Our time got eaten up as the grief gremlin gnawed on my heart. Sneaking cookies from tins in the morning reminds me of him and so I just can’t do it. Not this year. The weight of grief has pressed pause on our cookie tradition. The red snowman tins shall remain empty til next year.

Today, as we Christmas shopped I bought a Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Cake Mix  . We came home after a lovely afternoon out downtown and I whipped up the batter in ten minutes. After thirty minutes my house smelled lovely. I cut a warm square that looked  beautiful my white plate, gummy ginger crystals still melted from the oven. I ate a piece while watching The Santa Clause and got choked up as Santa calls Charlie Sport. Dad always called me Sport too. More feelings of Damnit. Let’s put that word in caps shall we? D-A-M-N-I-T. Let’s YELL it at the mirror!

So this is what taking care of myself looks like. Saying no to tradition because tradition hurts like hell. Finding substitutes that make life easier – like cake mix. Asking for help with Olive and holding hands. Reading my Advent devotional and remembering Jesus is coming – bringing light and banishing darkness.

And saying hello to my grief gremlin friend as she waves her candy cane Christmas wand from my heart pocket. She’s here this season too.

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P.S. – I told Dylan all of this before I shared here. He’s in the know. You can be too.

P.P.S. – The Give Light Giveaway is still going on. Send me your entry soon!

Giving Light – Vanessa A.

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Small Bio: Vanessa A.- a 30-something wife and mom of 2 wild and crazy boys. I consider myself an imperfectly kind and honest person in pursuit of health, happiness, simplicity and meaningful relationships. Feel free to reach out on Facebook or email.
I’m honored to take part in giving light and sharing beauty today. As I reflect on the five beautiful things listed below, I’m incredibly grateful 🙂
1. Growth and Self-Discovery
I learned a while ago that I cannot control people or change them or force them to do things, despite my desire to intervene and be “helpful”. Thankfully, I have had the pleasure of observing others grow and come to their own realizations about life and happiness. Lately, I see this growth in those who are closest to me:

– My husband Matt has finally found his groove with consistent exercise. Despite my own, very inspirational (😉😉) health and fitness pursuits over the years, Matt found his niche on his own and he is happier, healthier, and less stressed. It’s a beautiful thing.

– My oldest son Grady is discovering how to be driven and focused through a cool game/task app called Habitica. In fact, the whole family has enjoyed tackling tasks through this app by earning pets and armor and destroying “basi-lists” and other monsters.

– My youngest son Drew is growing his expressions of helpfulness, generosity and empathy. These things come naturally for him but as we have embarked on our annual kindness calendar, he has been able to let loose and really enjoy his giving spirit.

2. Christmas Decorations

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…
Growing up, I really didn’t have Christmas traditions with my family. Now that I have a family of my own, we have developed our holiday rituals and routines, and one of my favorite things to do is enjoy Christmas decor all December long.
…But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be… on your own front door.

3. Meditating

I have intended to implement a meditation practice for years but have had a hard time remaining disciplined. Well, it turns out that finding a helpful app gave me the extra boost I needed. I tried out Headspace and landed on Stop, Breathe, Think . Since I began using Stop, Breathe, Think a couple months ago I have meditated for over 3 1/2 hours total (most of the time it’s around 5 minutes per day). There are a lot of great features including finding the right guided meditation for your current physical/mental state. I’m grateful to see my desire for a grounding meditation practice finally come to fruition!

4. Feeling Better

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My dietitian/nutritionist friend Esther invited me to participate in a 16 week program to replace sugar and fast carbs with more healthful foods. I have been struggling to tackle my chronic migraines since age 17 so I figured this program was worth a try. Right out of the gate I learned some key things that have helped me succeed in limiting added sugars, approaching food in a new way, and in turn reducing my headaches and migraines significantly. Not only do I have fewer headaches, I have more energy and feel a whole heck of a lot better overall. Feeling better for the win!!!

5. Life is imperfect, a sense of humor is required

I often try to catch the occasional beautiful moments that happen between my children so I can post them on Facebook for everyone to see my perfect life. Obviously, I don’t intend to display only the good side, but sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it, perhaps it’s easier than baring the raw, honest self. Rest assured, me nor my life are perfect.
In this short 20 second video, I attempted to capture what I saw as a beautifully perfect moment only to have an imperfect funny surprise.
(tip: turn up your volume to view)
Thank for coming along for the ride as I shared my small pieces of beauty for today.
THE DEADLINE FOR ACCEPTING ENTRIES FOR THE GIVE LIGHT GIVEAWAY HAS PASSED. I AM FINISHING UP POSTING CONTRIBUTIONS. STAY TUNED FOR OTHER CONTESTS AND OPPORTUNITIES TO CONTRIBUTE TO 52 BEAUTIFUL THINGS IN 2017.

42 Christmas Movies

“Daddy, why is they singing Jingle Bell Rock?” said the little girl sitting next to me in a plush chair at Starbucks.

Creative Christmas music is pulsing through the speakers above me. You know the kind – the remakes and attempts at original Christmas songs that may or may not still be blasting through the speakers next year at this time.

The dark haired little girl, likely four or five, is wearing a striped jumper that has to come out of J.Crew kids. Her father – mid 40’s, hipster glasses, fancy shoes – pulled her to the side and simply responded, “because it sounds like rock. You’ve got to jam.”

She nodded as if she understood, and started pulsing up and down in her little leggings. This family must have hip conversations about music and about Christmas. Their family time at Starbucks is making me feel really happy. Watching others interact is a beautiful thing.

This week I came across this fabulously written blog post about how to handle the world when things seem absolutely out of control. Did you read it? Fifteen Things for When the World is Shitty and Terrifying

I was inspired by Katherine Fritz’s reminders to choose to live in the good, the magical, the absolute power and miraculous components that make our world work. Inspired by  Ms. Fritz’s article, here are a few of this week’s moments that seem ordinary and enchantingly beautiful at the same time. It does not take a lot of effort to find the beautiful surrounding you.

  • We got to spend time with Dylan’s cousin who has an 8 month old baby. Spending time with a young family is a perfect reminder that we have the capability to create human life. While families each have their own challenges, joys, and sufferings, we choose over and over to make new little humans. To me, watching this little 8 month old, reminded me to that we HAVE to choose hope that our world is beautiful, magical, prosperous. For this little guy, for the little girl next me in the jumper, for all of the babies out there gumming their way through the day.
  • Baking cookies – have you ever spent time thinking about the miracle that is the American oven? This week we made more holiday cookies, and I have the opportunity to simply press ‘bake’ and this magical metal machine heats up in my kitchen to over 375 degrees and cooks things. Blend sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla and you get a heavenly treat, but for thousands of people living around the world this process of cooking takes so much more effort and resource. I am spoiled, I have an oven, and it allows me beautiful treats.
  • 42 Christmas Movies. This weekend we had a gift exchange with some family and a few DVD’s were floating around the room. No one wanted to claim the various collections boasting 10 Lifetime Christmas Classics, 20 Traditional Christmas Classics, or 12 Hallmark Christmas favorites. These movies exist people! While the themes may be cheesy, and the acting sub-par, our culture continues to create stories of Holiday hope, inspiration, love and connection. Except, well, maybe one of them. One of the titles included Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964).

Upon a Wikipedia search I found this description: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a 1964 science fiction comedy film that regularly appears on lists of the worst films ever made. It is regularly featured in the “bottom

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Movie Poster from Wikipedia.com

100″ list on the Internet Movie Database, and was featured in an episode of the 1986 syndicated series, the Canned Film Festival.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch that? We need to find reasons to laugh, to embrace the absurd, to connect and to enjoy the ridiculous. I plan on rallying my family for an afternoon of aliens and Santa Claus. What could be more engaging? At least family time is beautiful.

Biscotti: Almond (the year isn’t over -my resolution not forgotten)

Essie Nail Polish: Fashion Flares