WARNING: Die-hard Christmas traditionalists may be greatly traumatized by this post. Smelling salts will not be provided.
Long ago (well, maybe 8 years ago), Tom, Naomi and I realized that going out shopping for a Christmas tree had become our yearly family nightmare.
The rest of the year, the three of us got along great. Mostly. But let us show up at a Christmas tree lot and we all morphed into monsters. Each person had their own vision of the perfect Christmas tree and each person was determined to tie that vision to the top of our car and carry it home.
Well, one year we realized none of us wanted to attempt the annual family Christmas tree a-hunting-we-will-go. We kept putting it and still no tree and still no one felt like buying one.
No one wished to wreck the family peace.That became what is fondly referred to as The Christmas Without a Christmas Tree.
We just piled the presents against a wall and managed to celebrate Christmas anyway. We barely noticed we had no tree. And since Naomi had two years before stopped helping me decorate the tree, well, I was the only one who missed that part. (Okay, so I missed it like I would miss being hit by a speeding reindeer.)
But our friends noticed our 'treelessness' and made little remarks. I could tell they questioned our sanity/motives/parenting ability by their tone.
Well, the next four years we used a fake Christmas tree, one that Tom found on the curb. But hey! It was a faux tree and to us, they all look the same. It served its purpose.
When it came time to take down the tree and put all the ornaments away, I chose 'the road less traveled'. I carried the whole tree, ornaments and all, up to our attic and left it in a dark corner. And okay! I confess that the following December I was absolutely thrilled that all I had to do was bring that thing down from the attic and stick it in a stand.
Poof. Instant Christmas.
Okay, let me reassure you-- I no longer do that. No, our attic has been finished-off and is part of Naomi's 'apartment' upstairs. There's hasn't been room for a real-live fake Christmas tree up there for years.
No, for the last four years we've used a gold grapevine tree thingy. And yes, we keep it on our dining room table the whole month of December. To top it off, I even burn pine-scented candles nearby so that Naomi will associate that scent with Christmas since we have no real tree.
And then when January comes around I fold-up that gold grapevine collapsible tree, ornaments and all, and carry it down to our basement. There it will sit ready to be unfolded next year, placed upon the table for again-- Poof! Instant Christmas.
Hey. It works for us. We laugh about our sweet little tree each year. Yet how much nicer it is to have a funny, peaceful December than one where we dread that one day formerly known as The Battle of The Christmas Tree.
There are no more battles this way. No , just more time to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas.
At Christmastime, more than any other, it takes a brave soul to create traditions different than those of all his neighbors.
Some of you may take trips back to your own Past often, but I don't. No, I seldom travel back that way, even by way of video home movies. But when I do look back, I stay only ten minutes, or so, for those trips feel too much like riding a bicycle where I turn my head to stare and then crash into a telephone pole.
Yep, I lose my balance when I visit the Past and glimpse only the good times, but ignore the bad ones. You'd think that's a positive thing, but it isn't if it creates a yearning to return to something which was never as perfect as I'm recalling it.
Or there are the memories which mostly I recall as dark and humiliating, memories that can jump into Today and haunt me. No, if I take the road back to my past, I peek just a few moments and only as long as appreciation accompanies me or until I learn something valuable.
For me, I know I've wandered too far if a strange sense of longing tries clinging to my head or if regrets start taunting like children on a playground or if what I forgave years ago starts raising its mis-shapened head out of my own sea of forgetfulness.
Then I know it's time to ride speedily, face-forward, back home to Today where I am, thankfully, happier and more contented than I've ever glimpsed my old self during those quick trips to the Past.
Sometimes Tom and I have spoken over the phone to old acquaintances and after their dire predictions, lists of complaints and general gloom they spread, I've looked at Tom and said, "If I ever become like that, you have my permission to shoot me."
Some days I pause and ask myself, "Am I becoming bitter or better?"
I wasn't going to take a walk today (it's cold out there!), but I went ahead anyway, mostly because my parents called and they told me that my Aunt Marian (who I told you about here), well, that she had passed away on Christmas morning. I almost told them, "I know," because somewhere inside me I did already know.
So I walked anyway because I think most clearly while passing those tall, old houses--somehow they make me feel like the real me in a more custom-made world for my old-fashioned soul. In my long black wool coat and my black-knit gloves I strolled along the sidewalks, thinking about my Aunt Marian having arrived in Heaven and how she must have been greeted by lots of people, Jesus and my grandparents (her parents) in particular, etc.
And then suddenly, the nicest scene popped into my head.
In this 'scene', I saw my Aunt Marian, her husband (my Uncle Ray), who pre-deceased her, and my grandparents sitting at the outdoor patio of a heavenly coffee shop. And I thought, of course! Heaven must certainly have coffee shops--why not? Ones better and more perfect than any you would find in France or Italy or well, anyplace here on Earth.
And I 'saw' both those couples seated around a small table there on the coffee shop's patio,drinking incredible coffee,each of them laughing, remembering good, harmonious times on Earth. And looking closer, I glimpsed in the eyes of each, a light of anticipation of many more great times to come in that place of gleaming Light and laughter and true, true love.
And then later I stepped inside our warm house, smiling, and caught myself anticipating when I, also, will be seated around that table with those who arrived early and are waiting for me, even now.
Especially each time I had to--because we moved all the time--start over in a new school. All those kids who knew each other! And all my searching through strange halls to find strange classrooms. I especially dreaded the unstructured lunchtimes most, for I never knew where to sit, lest I sit at a table the entire school knew was reserved for a certain clique. Or I'd sit alone, advertising my loneliness.
And gym class, well, let's not even go there.
I was shy about talking on the phone and shy about just talking, period, for fear of tripping over my words and being interrupted (therefore feeling as though what I'd been saying was boring). I feared new experiences, not knowing what to do, making mistakes. I felt awkward and afraid of nearly everything and like I said, mostly it was a pure, constant pain.
And I remember vowing during my uncomfortable high school years, that if I had a daughter, things would be different for her.
Yes, I did and they were.
When Tom and I would sit with our six-year-old Naomi at McDonalds and she'd want extra ketchup, we'd tell her she needed to walk up to the counter workers and ask for some. And she would, no big deal. And I, her scaredy-cat mother who'd rather forego the ketchup altogether than ask for any, would sit and stare at Naomi in awe--and realize we'd done something right.
If she wanted her friends to come over to play, rather than me calling the girls' parents to ask for her, I'd hand the phone to Naomi. I did not want my daughter to fear speaking over the phone as her mousy mother had.
If she wished to buy something with her allowance, I had her go through the check-out lane by herself. I'd stand near the doors as she reach up on her tip-toes to hand over her money and I felt more awe, more gratitude, because my daughter could, quite easily, do what had always shaken me.
Now, lest you think we forced her in the midst of tears to do any of this, let me add something vitally important. There was none of that because, from her toddler days, we'd given her a foundation. We encouraged Naomi that she was as brave and intelligent as anyone else--that she was special because she was our daughter and we were grateful that God had chosen to send her to us.
That, with God beside her, she could do anything she needed to.
Naomi grew-up feeling loved, appreciated and capable. And while I watched her doing, with confidence, the things I still tried like crazy to avoid, I recalled the high school vows I'd made at 15--and felt oodles of gratitude.
Yesterday I read Judy's delightful post which listed six weird things about her and what a treat!
Afterward I thought, "I should write a post about my own weird ways." But this morning it came to me, "Nah, I'd better just list one weird thing at a time. My readers' shocked heads would pop all over their computers, and well, I wouldn't want that."
So here's just one weird thing about me:
1. For ten years--from the time my daughter was 4 until she was 14--I did not hold one single baby in my arms.
Not one. Not for ten years. Not even while attending church all those years more faithfully than even the pastor and being surrounded by women having babies, like, every month.
Why not? Because by the time Naomi turned 4, I'd pretty much realized I was unable to have another baby, at least, the old-fashioned way. It just wasn't happening, due to, most likely, secondary infertility. And not being ok with that at only 25 years old, it would shake me apart for days after holding womens' babies at church.
So I stopped.
I simply ceased holding babies for ten whole years. Though, I shouldn't say 'simply', for it became tricky wheedling out of it. If I was asked if I wanted to hold a baby, I became great at saying, "Oh! Let Tom hold him/her please? He absolutely loves to hold tiny babies. He'd considered it a real treat." (Fortunately that was absolutely true. He could hold babies from morning till midnight and not even become the least bit wild inside about wanting another one.)
Fast-forward ten years and there I was at a Christmas party at our pastor's house. Late in the evening, one of the women stepped up to me with her baby girl and asked if I'd hold her while she went and got her coat. Well, the fear and great hesitation must have shown in my eyes because the mom said, "Don't worry! I'll hurry and get it."
Finally, there was no way out. I mean, what was I going to say? "No, I can't hold your baby! I haven't held one for ten years because I'm afraid of the yearning which will come with it."? (I did consider saying that, though. heh.).
No, she handed me little Chrissy. I held her. And I felt fine. Fine! No yearnings, no anything. And actually, I smiled hugely because all that came to me were the memories of how much work new babies require and the exhaustion and the constant laundry and sleepless nights, etc.
And this time I stood there looking into Chrissy's face rejoicing that now--finally--I'd be able to hold any baby without fearing tears and longings for one of my own.
And ever since that day, that's just exactly how it's been.
What this reminds me of? That I should never try forcing someone to do what they're not ready for (and to not form ignorant opinions about their inability to do it, either). The time for me to finally hold babies was right and God saw to it there was no way out.
And only He knows when people in our lives are ready for their breakthroughs, also. Only He can make those kinds of changes.
"Do you always go to sales expecting to find a treasure?"
Yes and that is the secret. Mine, anyway. Nearly always I find something on a shelf or a hanger in a store or at a garage sale which I feel God placed there just for me to find.
And that is a good way to go through Life, too. Seek often what you are looking for--don't give up early. And always expect to find what you need (or something even better than what you have in mind).
Anywhere, everywhere, those two things just might take you on adventures you thought were only behind you.
For the first time, I watched 84 Charing Cross Road. I loved it and learned from it and felt a little freer after seeing it--and isn't that how all good movies should affect us?
In case you haven't a clue about 84 Charing Cross Road, it's a true story, one which took place over 20 years (1949 - 1970). Two workers at a London book shop (the coziest one, ever) exchanged letters with the New York author, Helene Hanff. They became parts of each others' lives through the written word and through gifts air-mailed over the ocean. The three became close friends, not in-person, but through an exchange of compassionate and grateful words, a love of books and humor and a need to connect with other living, like-minded souls.
It reminded me of this thing we do. This blogging thing.
It's funny the books, newspaper articles and tv reports about blogging which blast us bloggers. Downright smirking at us from smug smiles. They say that, in Real Life, we are lonely souls who have settled for a second-best way of communicating with others--others, by the way, who are not even Real People. That we're living in La La Land thinking our online friendships are--gasp!--real world friendships.
There's more, but I don't wish to even type more of it.
All I know is this: If I am not communicating with Real People, then who am I communicating with? Unreal People? Half-way Real People? Outer Space People?
All human beings who sit at a computer keyboard are, well, Real, be they tellers of tales or truth. Even if they are sitting three-thousand miles away from me, still they have hearts, souls, minds and are as human and actual as I am.
And do you know what I've found since I was that 13 year-old writing letters to people I'd left in other towns? I've discovered many people share who they really are, what they really feel, when they write. For many, it's easier than stating these things aloud.
I guess I believe that the people who write such ridiculous, one-sided, ill-informed things about us bloggers are--mainly--those who would be king. The controllers. Haters of change. They are like teachers you had in high school who told you, while in THEIR class, things were one way (their narrow, I-don't-care-what-the-textbook-says way) and one way only.
And I'll be brave and state they are those who just cannot simply be happy for us. Happy because, since our kindred-spirits never did move in next-door or appear where we worked, we, instead, went looking for them online. And found whole neighborhoods of them.
So to the clueless ones I say simply-- I am sorry you don't get it. I'm sorry you don't understand. And I'm sorry you're missing-out on this whole new world, this in-between world, in which the rest of us are having a blast.
"What is Real?," asked the rabbit one day...
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
....From The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams
Normally, music wafts through our local supermarket's aisles, but none played yesterday and the air felt silent (perhaps the sound system froze--we are so cold here lately!).
So anyway, there I was in the dairy section when a worker in the next aisle began whistling, loudly, for all to hear. What did he whistle? The theme song from Leave It To Beaver.
I loved it. There I was, Mrs.-Cleaver-Wanna-Be, pushing my cart down the aisle to that jaunty Leave It To Beaver tune. And giggling.
But there was more! After that, he whistled the theme song from the old, I Dream of Jeannie tv series, followed by the song from My Three Sons.
Oh wow. Can you believe it?
So just right for me, Mrs. Retro Homemaker on that frigid morning of sub-zero wind temperatures. Later I even made it halfway out to my car still feeling warmed and delighted by the magic of the whistling on a regular ol' Tuesday morning.
I know someone in our town who tries never to shop at that supermarket because each time, something happens which leaves her feeling all sour and hating our store. She walks in expecting something to go wrong and--always--it does.
But I walk through those doors expecting to be blessed and surprised by delight. Like last week: The checker had scanned all my groceries, placed them in bags, then she brought out the sales' flyer from hidden depths beneath, tore out the $5 off $50 worth of groceries coupon, and saved me $5 by scanning it. With wide eyes I thanked her (I hadn't looked at that sales flyer at home. Hadn't spied the coupon.) and she simply said, "I don't do that for just anyone."
Now, do I know her from outside the store? No. I just sometimes use her check-out lane when I shop there, I try always to smile and once in a great while we chat a little, though truthfully, she kinda intimidates me because she often appears a tad grouchy. But there you go. Lesson learned. Stop judging people, Debra, by the way they appear!
...and keep on expecting miracles and blessings wherever you go, even at the supermarket, even on the most normal of days.
"Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"
Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." John 21: 20-22
Now there's a couple verses which will set you free! Might even make you more popular around Blogland--who knows?
I mean, for way too long I let myself feel discouraged and intimidated when I'd listen to my Christian friends telling me about their latest spiritual exploits and good deeds and ministries. You know, how they read hours of the Bible and prayed long prayers and drove to church every night and how their kids were 'on fire' for God ...
And I'd have to practically hold my head up with my hands to keep it from drooping in discouragement or intimidation or guilt (whatever). I'd walk away with this weighty "I-just-can't-keep-up-with-the-big-kids' feeling draped over me like a curtain.
But how wonderful to really get--once and for all--Jesus' marvelous words: "...what is that to you? You must follow me."
Wow! Took me long enough to realize we all have different callings and talents and ministries--and a unique friendship with God. We each have different roads to travel. We're all meant to help different people, not all will respond to every testimony, every life journey.
How refreshing to realize what matters is that I obey what God is telling me to do. Not that I arrive in Heaven with the same testimony, the same story which my Christian friends had. For actually, if I do, then somewhere I probably jumped the unique track God placed me down on to follow--and went the wrong way.
"... but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." 2 Corinthians 10:12
I don't believe I've ever told you about my next door neighbor, Nancy.
When we first moved-in 14 years ago, she told me all about the woman and her husband who'd built our house back in 1935 and through the years she's kept me up-to-date on our neighborhood. She's one of those neighbors which a patrolman once told us was helpful to have--she's a watcher at her windows. No foreboding stranger would dare lurk around our windows or doors with Nancy at her watch.
Anyway, Nancy is in her early 80's (I believe) and she's lived in her paint-flaking house for over 40 years. She and her husband raised three children there, one of which still lives at home at around 45 years of age (I know, I know...). Nancy's sweet husband passed away back in 2000. I often mow Nancy's lawn for her because her son doesn't mind a jungle-like lawn. She says he's not a yard person.
Nancy amazes me because last autumn she and I stood in front of her house, talking for a half-hour (we'd not chatted ages, tsk...tsk..) and while Nancy told her stories (she's a talker, but her stories are interesting), my back began hurting as it does if I too long stand in one place. But Nancy seemed fine. She is 30 years older than I am, but I was the one searching for a chance to escape for my daily walk (and relief for my back). Nancy could have chatted another hour about her grandkids, her sister, her kids and our neighborhood.
And when I finally did take-off on my walk, I left inspired by this elderly woman's interest and involvement in Life--and by her ability to stand longer than I can!
But anyway, this will make you smile: I was out shoveling snow again today (big storm last night) and I saw Nancy in her car, back out of her driveway. And then she did something which I forgot that she always does while she pulls the car forward to drive down the street. She turned the wheel and then made the sign of the cross across her forehead and chest. She does that so she'll arrive safely wherever she is going.
I love that. And I love having a neighbor like Nancy.
Way, way back in college I sat in my dorm room with a beat-up guitar trying to teach (force) myself to play music. But Grace certainly was not sitting on my bed beside me. No, she was off in some corner where I'd sent her when I insisted on learning to play the guitar--something I was so not created to do
Both Grace and God were more interested in why I felt I must play the guitar. Grace (I'm thinking) wanted to discuss my insecurities which made me grasp for attention by learning to play the guitar, but I so did not want to go there. No, I struggled with those guitar strings, instead. And struggled until I gave-up.
And then after I met Tom--who could sing like the proverbial bird and touch peoples' very hearts--I walked around my house and sang songs, even taped myself to see how I could improve. There was no improvement for me, just frustration for, once again, Grace was not there to help me sing better so to feed my ego. She and God wanted to work on my continuing search for approval and acclamation. But I persisted in what I wanted, ignored what they desired, and failed at singing, also.
But fast-forward and finally I stopped coveting others' gifts and got serious about the ones God gave me, especially this writing one.
And that has made all the difference. Thank God.
"Godliness with contentment is great gain.:
So I took Lennon to the vet again this morning. He's been drinking lots of water the past two months and that's always a worry. I sat with him on the bench in the waiting room and when I'd peek inside his carrier, well, if looks could have killed, I'd be dead by now. Those cat eyes!
But I peeked again later and--I'd never seen him do this--he burrowed his face into the towel in his carrier. And he refused to raise his head even when I called him or Little Waiting Room Munchkin Girl (who looked adorable, like what's-her-name on How The Grinch Stole Christmas,) peeked-in and chatted jibberish to him.
I hate this. And I decided today I'm not taking him back until May for his bi-annual check-up, even though the vet is a tad concerned about Lennon (remember, he's diabetic) and is wondering if we should do the thing where Lennon stays there all day so they can regulate what his blood is doing at certain hours.
No, I can't do that to him. And since the vet isn't sure this is necessary, then I'm just going to say no.
Lennon (who acts like a happy-dog-in-a-car on the way home) got dropped off at home, was given a kitty snack for being good, and then I left for the river. Well, by way of Burger King where I bought a kid's meal and a decaf. I drove into the parking lot at the river and nearly cried--too many weeks had passed since I'd been there and I'd forgotten how wonderful the water is when it's gleaming-grey with huge chunks of ice glittering and floating downstream and geese are paddling around and the fallen trees at the edges are like frozen white statues.
It was too much, too glorious, but I stayed anyway and read and ate lunch and drank decaf so incredible I wondered if they'd given me the real stuff, by mistake.
And I thought of all you moms of young children, how you probably have days where you'd love to have my fancy-free, drive-to-the-river-and-eat-and-read-and-dream-on-a-sunny-day life.
And then I thought of myself, an older mom, an empty-nester and how some days I miss what you have. Sometimes I miss having that little blond pony-tailed girl sitting beside me with her envelope of french fries, telling me about what Matt did at school that day and asking, "Can we feed the seagulls again like last time?" And taking our loaf of bread and tossing chunks in the sky for the gulls to snatch away.
Oh, childhood sails past like those huge sheets of ice in the river until you are left only with the memory of what was yours for a moment.
And I guess I wanted to hand you young moms that message, encourage you to just appreciate your children now, for someday they'll move on. You'll have hundreds of days alone at the river to reflect upon this one you are living right now--and to wish all your days had not sailed down rivers of Time so very fast.
"Be anxious for nothing..."
"The joy of the Lord is my strength." ... Nehemiah 8:10
Back in the 90's I knew someone at church who was most usually, well, serious. Intense.
I remember him because we had similar talents and we worked together on a couple projects. He was critical of himself, and thus, very critical of everyone else (that's usually how it goes). He even opposed great joy in church. Crying was ok, but not laughing. And everything was a Great Big Deal--all mistakes, his and other peoples',were, he felt, likely to end Life As We Know It.
I have known too many Christians like that. Worse--I was too often a Christian like that. Fortunately, though, that lady mostly got left in the dust of some long ago path, though once in a blue moon she tries to resurrect herself.
Anyway. I'd like to recommend a book which might be of help to any of you who, well, need to relax your white-knuckled grip on your days while trying to control your circumstances and everybody else's, as well--rearranging them so they obey you and appear and feel just right. You know, that impossible job.
Is it a thick, many-chaptered, theological, you'd-better-straighten-up book which you'll find down at your local Christian bookstore?
Uh, no. It's a humorous old book called Mrs. Appleyard's Year.
Mrs. Appleyard, an empty-nester, will tickle even the most serious of you until she makes you break out in a rusty laugh. She'll show you that admitting your faults can be fun, even freeing, and she'll help you find the lighter, more balanced side of your daily grind.
And you'll see that, often, it's what we serious folks have forgotten that makes us what we are today--so dreadfully serious that people avoid us, lest they catch our crankiness. Which, incidentally, is the exact opposite of this whole biblical idea of Christiandom.
To give you a taste of Mrs. Appleyard's Year, a for-goodness-sake-lighten-up! book, I'll include a few favorite lines to perhaps oil any rusty smiles...
"As such, she has certain virtues. Mrs. Appleyard uses the brakes on her car instead of the horn. She enjoys praise, but she knows that most praise implies surprise, so if she gets any she is grateful but calm..."
"'I like you as you are,'" Mr. Appleyard added staunchly. The nicest thing about Mrs. Appleyard is Mr. Appleyard."
And about family picnics with her husband and four children:
"...This is the most comfortable kind of picnic--if no one has forgotten the plates. There is something unappetizing about creamed chicken served on a shingle... ... The young Appleyards prefer a place where the easiest way to get into the pool is to be lowered from the falls on a rope.
How did Mrs. Appleyard get involved with these people anyway? Of course, as Sally once said: "Poor Mother, you're not an Appleyard--you're only related to us by marriage!"
"A patch of shade is always provided where Mrs. Appleyard can read a good book and not know too much about what is going on... She is happy that she has reached an age when she does not have to pretend to like things she does not like. Mrs. Appleyard admires horses--in color prints. She likes skiing in movies and water in a glass... The voice of a brook running by night is good to sleep by. Mrs. Appleyard wishes no closer contact. She knows how she looks in a bathing suit, for one thing..."
You don't stop laughing because you grow older. You grow older because you stop laughing. -Maurice Chevalier
"There is a time for everything....a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance..." from Ecclesiastes 3