November 2012


Growing up, I can think of at least a few Christmases that I felt disappointed. All the presents had been given out and unwrapped, and I would look around the room, as if to say “thats it?”  Sounds selfish, I know.  But it was never that I didn’t feel grateful for what I was given, or that I was expecting some expensive piece of clothing or technology that my parents couldn’t afford.  Rather, it was that after a month of hype–shopping, wrapping presents, baking, preparing–it was all over.

This past week, I have been talking about how I want to let go of some of the hype, the expectation that Christmas brings–not so I can say “Bah! Humbug,” but rather in hopes of experiencing less stress and more of the actual Christmas Spirit. It is my hope that through doing this, I will actually be able to savor the holiday, rather than just trying to survive it.  In order to do this, I feel I have to start by making sure that I define what is important to me at Christmas time, so as holiday opportunities arise, I can measure them against my true “season must haves.”

So today, I want to share with you what my husband and I are not letting go of this Christmas–what we want to most celebrate. Some may be obvious, yet I think there are times when we take them for granted.

Here are Our Christmas Non-negotiables:

Family:  With both of our families being out of state, my husband and I really appreciate when we can get home to be with family. We don’t need to do anything extravagant with them–its actually the really simple things that mean the most (like when we’re having a meal together, playing a game, or just catching up over our morning coffee). There is something very powerful about being seen and loved by those who share our blood, last name, and longest memories.

Friends: Living far from our families, there are friends here in Pennsylvania who have become our family. Whether over a cup of coffee (yeah, me and my coffee!), having them over for dinner, or seeing them at a Christmas party–time with friends around this Season and all year round, is really important.

Giving: It is needed and important all year round, but as we celebrate a Holiday that our culture has made more and more about getting, we are finding it increasingly important to do the opposite. It is in our giving–not our receiving–that we are reminded of how much we are so blessed already. We are still figuring out what giving looks like for us this year, but we know want this to be an important part. (I will post with an update)

A Desire to be Spiritually aware: It may sound new-age, but I am not talking about crystals or ghosts of Christmas past. Rather, we want to remember that the reason we celebrate Christmas is because Jesus came to Earth to literally give up His life for us. It is because of His gift that we give gifts at Christmas. It’s because of His gift, that we are able to experience hope even in our darkest times. And, it’s because of His gift, that we are able to give to others.  We want to be aware of these things as we enter the Christmas Season, not what sales or deals we can take advantage of at the mall.

What are your Christmas Non-negotiables?

 

They are often what we look forward to the most about the holidays. They are the things we have done since we were little, moved to where we live now, got married, had children, etc. They are wrapped up in the cookies we bake, the ornaments we hang, and the candles we light. They are the familiar and expected, yet they are special because we only do them during this time of the year.

At the same time though, they are what cause us to write lists (even if we aren’t list people)–of addresses for Christmas cards, people we are getting gifts for, things to get for the Christmas party (at work, at church, with friends, etc.), and food to buy for each special meal. They are why we make the same layer cake or baked ham that we have made for the past three years–because people would miss it if we made something else. They are what cause us to pop antacids because not only did we eat too much at our fourth Christmas party, but we are overwhelmed by the fact that our lists are getting longer.  On top of that, “Susie next door” gave us a present, and we didn’t even know we were close enough to exchange gifts! (…Add her to the list).

I will stop before I begin to sound like Scrooge, but of course, I am talking about traditions. They have the ability to bring family and friends together, to make a Holiday feel really special, and yet they can also bring about a lot of stress.

As I shared on Monday, I am feeling some anxiety along with my excitement that Christmas time is upon us. And so I have decided to begin this season by asking what are the trappings we have added to the Holiday that we don’t really need?

What can we let go of this Christmas, without losing its true meaning?

Last week, my friend posted on Facebook that her family’s plans fell through for Thanksgiving. She went on to say she was about to gear up to make a turkey, when her husband said that he would rather go to the Chinese Buffet. As I read that, I thought, “why not?” The Chinese Buffet is a feast, and the most important people in my friend’s life were going to be with her–why can’t that be her Thanksgiving?

My friend’s post and my own anxiety about the holidays has made me realize that sometimes, we need to question our traditions. Sometimes we need to test them, to see if they are bringing more life or more stress to our holidays. What may have once brought happiness to us and our family or friends–may now be something we have outgrown. What may have once brought joy, may now feel like a burden or obligation.  When this happens the whole meaning of Christmas and being with those you love, is lost.

So, before December even begins, may we reflect on Christmases past, may we feel the freedom to question what has been, and discuss with those closest to us how best to celebrate this Season. May worn out traditions die, important ones be resurrected, and new ones begin. 

Okay, I’m just going to come right out and say it: A lot of women secretly hate Christmas. Now, don’t get me wrong. We love that picturesque moment in which the tree is lit, the fire is crackling, and children outfitted in matching candy-cane pajamas dance around the living room to Tchaikovsky, showing off armfuls of new toys while a twenty-pound ham bakes in the oven; we just hate the anxiety disorder we developed while attempting to produce it.

Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Christmas is my favorite time of year. Unfortunately though, as each year goes by, I find myself experiencing both more excitement and more anxiety as the season approaches. This past weekend, as my husband and I continued our tradition of going to a local tree farm and cutting down our Christmas tree, I couldn’t help but notice some apprehension sneaking in amongst the joy.  I think its because as we unwrapped ornaments to hang on our tree, I began to remember that the Christmas Season means:

Feeling like there isn’t enough time to do everything.

Shopping in overcrowded stores.

Eating too much.

Traveling in busy airports

Seeing family (which is both awesome and messy)

And perhaps most troubling:

It will go by too quickly.

Christmas also means going to really fun Christmas parties, baking/making fun foods, seeing friends, and that the scent of pine fills our apartment. Most importantly, for me it is a reminder that the God of the Universe didn’t abandon us in our brokenness. The true meaning of Christmas goes way beyond presents and egg nog, yet I get anxious that in all of the stress and work to make Christmas special, I will forget the one thing that makes it actually special.

What used to be one day to celebrate the Hope of the world, has now become over a month of preparation/celebration. With the help of Martha Stewart, large retail companies, and Pinterest, we have dressed Christmas up like a supermodel to make it look like an unattainable image. And I don’t know about you, but when I try to keep up with that image, I don’t end up enjoying the day and the time I have with the people I love–or remembering why we celebrate Christmas in the first place!

So, as I fight the tension of anxiety and excitement, I have decided to welcome the season, by asking not “WWMD?” (“What would Martha do?”), but rather:

What can we let go of this Christmas, without losing its true meaning?

Call me a minimalist or optimistic, but I am hoping the true spirit of Christmas will emerge.

May you be surrounded by friends and family today, and may you have a wonderful celebration of all that is good in our world! Happy Thanksgiving!

 

When I was in 8th grade, I had an English teacher who told us that her last name meant “star.” She had us read these incredible books that opened my eyes to worlds I had never known–and she dared me to write.

She gave us assignment after assignment on writing, so that at the end of the year, my classmates and I had literally written a book of short stories.  However, out of about fifteen or twenty stories, there is only one that I remember quite vividly; the story I wrote about Thanksgiving. The reason it was so special? My mom and I wrote it together.

My teacher had us write about making a Thanksgiving meal with our family, and as a part of our story, we were required to include two recipes.  Not ever having made Thanksgiving dinner (other than helping in the kitchen, cutting apples for the pie, or potatoes to be mashed), I went to the Cook of all cooks–my mom.  She gave me two recipes, and then helped me write out the process of making each, in a creative way.  As we wrote, it struck me how much goes into making each part of the Thanksgiving meal–and that my mom did it ALL for us so beautifully.

Later in life, when my husband and I were dating, we decided to make our own Thanksgiving meal at my apartment and host some other Pennsylvania transplants. We planned what we were going to make, bought all of the food we needed (as locally grown as possible), and called my mom–a lot! She talked me through making her stuffing recipe, baking a turkey, and making gravy (which didn’t turn out so well, but was definitely a beginner’s error!). Overall, the meal was a success!

As we prepare to feast heavily on aromas and tastes of tomorrow’s Holiday, let us not forget to be thankful for our mothers or grandmothers who have traditionally filled our Thanksgiving tables with deliciously prepare food. And perhaps if we are not the “cooks,” let us bless whoever is cooking our meal with help–either in preparation or clean up!

Happy Thanksgiving!

A few days after Halloween, my husband and I went to Target for a few necessities (i.e. discounted Halloween candy). And as we made it to the back of the store where the “spooky” candy display was now filled with markdown signs, we couldn’t help but notice that Santa’s workshop was aglow, right in the next aisle. In other words, “Halloween is over, time to start shopping for Christmas!”

As I tried to ignore the glittering Christmas ornaments and lighted trees, I began one of my inner “can’t we just enjoy Thanksgiving” rants. Then I realized, that I was being a little self-righteous. Usually, I don’t even think about Thanksgiving until the week before, and rarely do we think about “preparing for Thanksgiving,” short of buying food and a turkey. So, I began to wonder, what does it look like to be fully prepared “heart-wise” for Thanksgiving?  And the obvious came to mind:

Being specifically and mindfully grateful for all that we have been given.

It is an attitude that should flow from us all year long, only for some reason it is on the “forgettable” list (right up there with “what did I mean to get at the store?”). Sadly, it always seems easier to list the things we want or that we “could really use right now,” than to enter into an awareness of all that we do have, even in the midst of hard times.

So, as we begin the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I thought now would be a great time to be mindfully and specifically grateful for all that I have been given.

I am grateful for:

A husband who is my greatest supporter, best friend, and the most patient man. (oh, and did I mention he’s also the best looking man I know?!).

Our family who, though both sides are states away, show us love and support in great ways. 

Friends to walk with me on this journey.

Students from years past that I am still in touch with.

Local farmers who provide us with the most beautiful foods to eat.

A roof over my head, electricity, heat, water, internet, etc.

Clothes to wear (so often we forget that having multiple outfits is a luxury!) 

The opportunity and ability to learn how to make bread.

Two arms and two legs that give me the ability to serve others, to go on adventures, and when I am disciplined, to work out.

This blog, the opportunity to write, and You who keep coming to read it!

What about you? I would love to hear what you are grateful for!

(I am linked up today with Tina, from She Loves Magazine, and her gratitude list)

It was the middle of July, yet I was dressed like an eskimo. I was wearing more layers inside, than I would normally wear outside in December.  And when I talked, my breath became an icy cloud.

It was winter in Chile, and I was there–with my husband, some friends, and a team of incredibly great Jr. and Sr. High students. We were partnering with a church in a suburb of Santiago to reach out to kids in a poor neighborhood. For a week, we would provide art lessons, dramatic readings, and help host a skateboarding competition. We were there to give, only we were to be given so much more.

But, I am getting ahead of myself.

We arrived on a Saturday, so the second day we were there was church day.  We were staying in pairs with families from the congregation. Two by two with our Chilean families, our US team arrived bleary eyed to church, that Sunday morning. We sat with our hosts, waving to each other from our pews. We joined the congregation in singing worships songs that we knew from home; singing in English, as they sang in Spanish.  Then, we listened to the message the best we could, most of us having only a limited Spanish vocabulary. From what I could tell from the congregation’s faces and body language, it was a meaningful service. However, when “church” was over, it was then that I was able to see the real Church in action.

My host family was one of the few from the congregation to have a car, which meant many others walked miles in the cold winter weather to get there for service.  After church, we walked out to the car, only to find our host dad piling us, another family, and a few others, into the car (read that car, not minivan). The Chileans are an incredibly giving people–forget seat belts, people needed a ride home. When everyone was in, and the doors securely closed, off we went. I sat up against the car door, with a person on my lap, trying not to squish the person to my left. We dropped a few people off and then headed to the next home.

From the front seat, our host mom was talking excitedly to her friend in the back, and every now and then, our host sister would translate.  “They are going to join us for…how do you say?… supper?”  (every now and then, she would apologize to me that her English was bad, yet it was much better than my Spanish). The car stopped in front of a row of homes, and everyone in the back seat shifted a little so that our host mom’s friend could get out.  We waited, parked with the engine running.  A few minutes went by, then the woman emerged from her house with a cooking pot and a bag of potatoes in hand. We shifted again, she got back in the car, and off we went, this time to our host home.

When we arrived, we sat in the living/dining room, as our host mom and her friend started cooking lunch.  Amazing aromas began making their way from the kitchen, and before we knew it, lunch was served. These two beautiful women had joined together the food that they had to serve their families and us, a wonderful Sunday meal. Their dinning room table wasn’t huge, but everyone squeezed around it. They didn’t have a lot to give, yet they gave fully.  And what we continued to discover, is that everyone we met in Chile treated us this way.

As we approach Thanksgiving next week, and then the Christmas season, I am reminded of our wonderful Chilean friends. Because we have been in a recession here in the US, we could easily fall into believing that we have little to give to those in need around us. But, from being given to so fully by people who have less material possessions–people who had just met us–I know that even in this difficult time, we have so much to give.  Before we enter the chaotic season of shopping and Christmas parties, I want to ask:

What do you have to give?

Though we can get caught up in getting new “stuff” for the Holiday’s, sometimes what people most need, is what we already have. Do you have time? Can goods in your pantry? A meal that you could share with a family in need? Often, we are the greatest gift we can give to others.

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