On one of our travels this past year, we ventured into some Christmas stores. You know, those shops with nothing but Christmas décor for sale year round.
I love Christmas, I truly do. And I do enjoy decorating the Christmas pine in a festive way with special ornaments, many from places we’ve lived or traveled to and collected over our 40+ years of marriage.
In addition, every year since our first child’s birth, I’ve purchased some kind of special Christmas ornament for each of our children. When they were small, my intention was to accumulate these ornaments, adding to them each year, so that when they grew up and left this nest called home, they would have a box of ornaments to put on their very own Christmas trees.
As they got old enough, I would let them choose their own ornament. So each of our three left home for adulthood with a box of Christmas memories.
And even though it’s been many years now that the last fledgling flew out of our nest, I still look far and wide for a special ornament to gift them and have added our two granddaughters to the Christmas ornament search list as well.
So, if there’s a Christmas shop handy, I’m in it, gleaning over the shelves, searching for just the right bauble.
One shop we visited on a trip this past summer looked promising. Entering the store, Christmas music was playing and the place was loaded with joyous Noel items everywhere.
Honestly, there seemed to be every kind of ornament imaginable – any theme, you name it, they had it. Some of the ornaments I felt were questionable to pass as Christmas tree decorations, but you know, to each his own.
Papa and I would just shake our heads at many of them and move on to the next shelf. We looked high, we looked low. And we finally did find a couple of ornaments to purchase – one for our oldest daughter and her hubby and one for a friend of mine.
But in all of our searching and perusing of the items in this Christmas shop, something was noticeably missing.
Where was Jesus – you know, the reason for the season? The Christ. The Savior of the world that Christmas is named for.
In the very back room of this store with many rooms, in the very far left corner of that room on a shelf down low below your eye level, a couple of small nativity sets occupied a tiny space.
That was all. I had to bend over and practically touch my shoulder to my ear to even see them sitting here in that forlorn little corner.
No other decorations proclaiming the meaning of Christmas could be found in that shop. None. Nothing about Jesus other than that tiny little baby in the two or three crèches. Just that and absolutely nothing more.
So what did Jesus do to deserve being put in the corner, out of the way, where no one would see Him?
He had the audacity to fulfill ancient prophecy as the Messiah – the long-awaited Savior. He exhibited absolute obedience to His Father by allowing himself to be taken to slaughter – this Lamb of God – hung on the cross in place of every sinner, dying for the love of His life – us.
He had the purest, unadulterated form of love for mankind than anyone else who has ever walked on this place called earth has ever possessed. Because He surrendered Himself for me. For you. For every single soul who chooses to believe in Him and accept His free and unconditional gift of grace – salvation.
Some day He won’t be put in the corner – forgotten and dusty. Because someday He’s coming back. And all of those Christmas ornaments that seem to gleam and glitter and catch our attention will be worthless.
They will not matter.
Because every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And He is the reason for the season.
“The great challenge left to us is to cut through all the glitz and glam of the season that has grown increasingly secular and commercial, and be reminded of the beauty of the One who is Christmas.” -Bill Crowder
Every year at this time, this season of merriment, these days leading up to Christmas, my thoughts return to days of yore. Back to my childhood, to those simple celebrations with my family.
A simple Christmas. An old-fashioned one compared to the glitz and overabundance the holiday is now. And that’s what my heart longs for.
Every year at this time.
So that’s why I’m reposting some thoughts below from what I wrote back in 2013.
Maybe it’s just my middle age. Maybe it’s the empty nest thing. Or maybe it’s just that I have more time on my hands to spend reflecting on the past. Whatever it is, I find myself singing the words to an old Frank Sinatra Christmas song.
“Give me an old fashioned Christmas, an old fashioned Christmas,
Family faces, wide open spaces, covered with snow.”
In my heart, I’m longing for an old fashioned Christmas – one with less hurry and scurry. One with deeper meaning. One with a simpler celebration. And I’m determined to accomplish it. Oh, my Christmas to-do list bounces around my brain but I’m simplifying it.
I’m sticking to the basics but even abbreviating those.
Why? Because I long for the Christmas I recall as a child. Do I remember anything fancy? Do exquisitely wrapped packages with expensive gifts inside come to my mind? Fine cuisine? A beautiful and elaborately decorated home? Do I recollect an over the top celebration?
What I remember from childhood Christmases are simple aspects. My father would usually bring the Christmas tree home with him one day after work. Sometimes that wouldn’t be until shortly before Christmas and one year I remember actually decorating the tree on Christmas Eve.
After my older sisters married, they spent Christmas Eve with their in-law families so that meant my parents and I usually attended candle-light service at church to welcome the Christ child. Before the service, my father would drive us around our area to see neighbors’ homes Christmas light displays and we would ooh and aah over those that glowed the brightest.
No fireplace existed at my childhood home, but I still hung up my stocking over the knob of the front door. I would be so excited for Christmas morning that I could barely sleep. When Christmas Day arrived, my stocking bulged full of goodies although not with toys, gadgets, and gizmos.
Dumping it out, I would discover a huge juicy orange, a shiny red apple, mixed nuts in their shells, candy canes, and other Christmas candy. And I would be delighted with the yummy treats even though they were practically the same every year. Nestled beneath the Christmas tree, I’d find one or two specially requested simple toys – a doll, a game, or one exciting year, a beautiful blue bicycle – just for me.
That afternoon brought our entire family gathered together and crowded into the living room around a simple Scotch pine real tree covered in old-fashioned strings of lights with colored bulbs, metallic icicles, and the same ornaments year after year. It wasn’t a fancy themed tree; instead a hodge-podge collection adorned that prickly-needled fir which filled the air with the pungent scent of pine.
We exchanged a few gifts – real honest to goodness gifts that were purchased with thoughtfulness and consideration instead of gift cards or envelopes of money. And we laughed, and we exclaimed over our wonderful presents, and we thanked one another with smiles and hearty hugs.
My mother prepared a simple but abundant and appetizing meal displayed on the dining room table – no fancy recipes, no exquisite table centerpieces/decorations to make it look like a photo spread from a magazine. And we bowed our heads thanking God for the most precious gift of all – His Son Jesus Christ – and for our provision of food and family.
After dinner, one of us occupied the bench at our upright piano to plunk out Christmas carols while the rest of us sang the well-known tunes over and over again. We’d eat dessert and commence a few rousing rounds of cards or games or sometimes just putting a new jigsaw puzzle together.
A simple Christmas. Not photo worthy because of the food, the glitz, the gifts, or the amount of money spent. A Christmas worth remembering because of love, gratitude, and joy felt and appreciated when a family assembles to celebrate.
That’s my idea of an old-fashioned Christmas and that’s what I wish for every Christmas. Every year.
“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.” ~ Bob Hope
I. Just. Can’t.
Somewhere between writing 30 thankful posts in November, hosting Thanksgiving dinner for 15 members of my family, and falling captive to a nasty cold afterwards, I’ve just lost all motivation for not only writing posts for this blog but for preparing for Christmas as well.
Thank goodness for Papa. The other day when we had a warmish day of temperatures, he hauled out the twinkly lights and bedecked our home on the outside. It looks great as he always does a wonderful job of hanging the lights. But this year, not once did I step outside to give him a helping hand as I was socked in on the couch blowing my nose endlessly.
Middle daughter rummaged through her belongings stashed in our basement and located her Christmas décor and she and Little One decorated the inside of the house. Last night, Papa set up our artificial Christmas evergreen and Daughter and Little One hung their own ornaments on it as I watched.
So most of my Christmas decorations are lying dormant in their plastic storage crates. Christmas cards, which are usually sent their merry way by now, sit on the dining room table still unaddressed and I haven’t even begun to think about our annual holiday letter I tuck into the cards.
I’m just not feeling it.
My Christmas spirit is waning…no, let’s be honest, it’s non-existent. I can blame it on feeling under the weather. I can blame it on being worn out from helping daughter do some renovating to her new home she hopes to move into soon (we’re talking massive wallpaper stripping, repairing walls, sanding, washing down the walls, and finally painting).
Or I could blame my lack of Christmas spirit on the fact that most of my family will not be here for the holiday this year, so we had a bit of Christmas gift exchanges at Thanksgiving time. So it almost feels like Christmas is over for me.
Whatever the cause, I feel a bit like I’m possibly turning green, Grinch-like. Or maybe I’m feeling prone to saying bah-humbug to the holidays like old man Scrooge.
But truly, that’s not what’s in my heart. I love Christmas. I love the sights, the smells, the lights, the tree, the special ornaments, the greetings that come in the mail. But most of all, I love that we celebrate the birth of my Savior, Jesus Christ.
Maybe I just need to slow down. Take some time to reflect on that. To read the first few chapters of Luke in my guidebook for life, my Bible, and remind myself of that very first Christmas so long ago.
Maybe this year, Christmas just needs to be simple. Simply rejoicing in the gift God gave the world. And filling my heart with that joy.
“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” ~ Roy L. Smith
I made it!
I accomplished my goal of writing posts dedicated to thankfulness in my 30 Days of Thanks Giving. Thirty posts. Thirty days.
A month-long offering of gratitude and thankfulness because I didn’t want to forget how very much I have to be thankful for and to whom I must give my offering of gratefulness.
“He who thanks but with the lips
Thanks but in part;
The full, the true Thanksgiving
Comes from the heart.” ~J.A. Shedd
My days of thanks giving shouldn’t just appear in the month of November though. Each and every day that I breathe, I need to keep this attitude of gratitude.
Even though we have reached the last day of November, thanks giving will continue because I am determined to continue taking a moment to pause in gratitude for all I have been given by a good, gracious Father in heaven.
Soon another year of life will come to a close. One more month left in this year and then we will begin a fresh, new year – 2019. Can you believe it?
When it arrives, my hope is to carry thanks giving as a way of life into next year. No, I won’t be blogging about gratitude every day because there are so many other aspects of life to write about, but rest assured I will be grateful. And I hope I’ve influenced my readers to be thankful as well for life’s blessings, no matter how great or small.
“Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.” ~Native American saying
I will be back to my normal posting schedule starting in December and into next year. However, I do have an announcement about the new year. Something new will arrive in 2019. Something wonderful and joyful and oh, so precious.
Papa and I will become grandparents for the third time! Our son and daughter-in-law are expecting a new little one to join our family next spring.
As we head into the Christmas season, my heart is full of thanks for a new little life to become part of our family circle and it is also full of gratitude for that little baby born so long ago. The one that came to give us new life. Jesus. The Messiah. The long-awaited One. The Savior of the world.
A gift of love to be celebrated with joy.
“In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and all I have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.” ~ Henri Nouwen
You know this blog is named Mama’s Empty Nest, right?
Way back in 2010 when I launched this blog, that was my current state of affairs. My nest was empty. I was feeling discombobulated entering a new season of life. Our youngest graduated from college and began his career in a state next door, and our other two offspring were already established in their careers and living away from home.
Three of the four bedrooms in this house were empty – oh, there were still beds and stuff in them, but the three children who inhabited those rooms were off on their own. The fledglings had all flown away from the nest.
It took me some time to work through all the emotions and sense of loneliness and yes, even loss. But Papa and I muddled our way through it, supporting each other as we always do, no matter what.
So the empty nest has been my thing for several years, but I have a confession to make to you readers who don’t know me personally.
Mama’s Empty Nest hasn’t stayed empty. For the last couple of years, this empty nest was a little fuller.
Something very painful happened to our middle daughter. I’m not willing to share details so publicly about what transpired, but suffice it to say a distressing occurrence changed her life in a blink of an eye.
Shattered dreams became a new reality. Happening on the cusp of just becoming a new mother to her very first child, it was an emotionally charged and heavily draining event, full of betrayal, anger, sadness, and even depression.
Because we are a close-knit family, it took its toll on all of us. But also because we ARE a close-knit family who relies on the almighty and omnipotent God, we’ve become even closer despite the struggle. We have cried together, we have prayed together, we have hoped for the best together even when it looked like a good resolution would not actually happen. And it didn’t.
So we rallied together when daughter needed help to pick up the pieces of her life that were broken and splintered causing so much pain. She and baby girl came to live with Mama and Papa in this cozy nest we call home. This place where they could be sheltered, nourished, and in time, emotionally restored with the love of her family, but more importantly with the healing balm of a Savior’s love and provision.
It’s been a long journey for her. An upheaval with so many changes. Sacrifice even. Discovering a new dream for her future. But there is light at the end of the tunnel as she moves forward. She has found a new home to call her own. A place for her and her wee one to put down their own roots firmly yet branch up and soar into the future.
“When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?” ~ George Canning
Soon we will send her off with blessings and thanksgiving and this nest will once again be empty. I am so grateful that we could help her, so grateful for the opportunity to have both her and our granddaughter live with us temporarily. I’m so thankful for our family and close friends who prayed for and supported her during this time.
And I’m so very thankful for the God of mercy and grace who walks us through life’s difficult journey.
My heart is full of thanks giving on this 29th day of my 30 Days of Thanks Giving, even though the going was rough, the emotions ran high, and the upheaval was challenging. Because my favorite passage of Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – tells me this: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (emphasis mine)
“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.”~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Have husband, will travel.
After many years of family vacations, Papa and I discovered a few years ago how much we enjoyed traveling together, just the two of us, especially in the off season when families don’t usually make vacation plans.
Since one of us is basically retired from the working world – that would be me – and one of us only has one foot in it still – that would be Papa – we have found time in the last couple of years to travel more often than we did in the lean years when we put three kids through college and paid for weddings.
Travel. It’s become a pleasurable aspect of life here in Mama’s Empty Nest.
“If you never learned the lesson of thankfulness, begin now. Sum up your mercies; see what provision God has made for your happiness, what opportunities for your usefulness, and what advantages for your success.” ~ Ida S. Taylor
Today in my 30 Days of Thanks Giving, I’m so appreciative and grateful for the opportunities to set our sights on new horizons and take some trips together outside of the nest. As I sum up my thankfulness for our excursions in the last couple of years, I decided to share a few of my favorite photos from those journeys in a slide show below.
From week-long vacations to weekend jaunts to day trips, Papa and I have been blessed by our travels by car, by plane, by boat, and by train. And I hope we have more opportunities in the future for those blessings.
“All that we behold is full of blessings.” ~William Wordsworth
Often we don’t just look down. Or up for that matter.
When we’re on a mission, we have tasks to accomplish. Or places we need to be or people we must see. And when that’s the case, our focus is straight ahead. Keep your eyes on the prize. We can be so absorbed with what we must take care of that we don’t stop and truly look around at our surroundings.
What do we see under our feet? What do we observe above our heads? It’s a question I’ve learned to ask myself since I initiated taking photos as a hobby in recent years. I like to look at aspects placed into my vision from a different perspective.
Look down. Look up. Look at something from an unusual angle. And when I remember to do so, I’m not often disappointed. Usually, I find a unique photo opportunity. Or in many cases, I discover a source of inspiration for a blog post.
Last month, our family convened for a get-together at our oldest daughter and son-in-law’s home in another state. All of us were able to travel there for an entire weekend and just enjoy each other’s company, take a fall excursion to an apple farm/pumpkin patch, see some sights we hadn’t experienced before, and worship together at a well-known church.
One of our excursions was to a fossil bed beside the river that runs through their neck of the woods. We climbed over rocks searching for the embedded fossils and explored the area. While photographing some of our finds, I came across a lone nut just lying on the rocks.
There were no other nuts there since there were no trees on the rocky river edge. Just this hard-shelled one nut. It almost seemed petrified, but our son-in-law managed to crack it open so we could see what kind of nut meat it contained. The inside was blackened and hard. (above photo) It looked like this nut had fallen off a tree a long time ago.
But I noticed something else. The nut meat was heart-shaped. And that prompted me to contemplation.
When has my heart been just like that? Hard as a rock. Blackened with ill thoughts or feelings. Envy. Anger. Bitterness. Jealousy. Selfishness. Hostility. Argumentativeness. Boastful. Critical. Judgmental. Prideful. The list is long.
Far too many times my heart looks just like that nut meat. Dark and ugly and hard. But my heart can be cleansed, restored to health and goodness. Confessing my shortcomings to my Father God and allowing the redeeming work of His Son, my Savior, to wash my heart clean.
“God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart.” ~ Izaak Walton
The thing is I must choose that. I must choose to get up each day and opt for goodness instead of evil. I must protect the state of my heart against the darkness of sin. It’s called free will and I possess it.
On this 27th day of my 30 Days of Thanks Giving, I choose a thankful heart. A heart full of gratitude. A heart that follows my Savior. A heart of thanks giving. This is my prayer.
“O Lord that lends me life,
Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.” ~William Shakespeare
If you can believe all the ads on TV and the internet, more and more folks are wondering just where they came from.
Those ads inform you where you can send your DNA to have it analyzed and receive a report indicating what part of the world you descended from. I can understand why that information would be intriguing if you don’t know much about your family history.
For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated about knowing my ancestry. Shortly after Papa and I married, we purchased a family tree print which we filled out as best as we could with the limited information we had. We framed it and it has graced our living room wall for all of our married life.
Since both of our sets of grandparents passed away either when we were young or before we were even born, our knowledge of great-grandparents and further back in the family lines was very limited.
My father did possess a treasure trove of family lineage on both sides of his family and he passed that information to my sisters and me. But pertaining to my mother’s lineage, we had very little to go on beyond our grandparents.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been even more determined to find out more family genealogy but am limited with time to do so. It’s quite a task, even if you join one of the online genealogy sites. There’s a lot of misinformation, dates in error, etc. that can lead you down the wrong path and I have felt frustration over some of that.
Enter my cousin. I have one living first cousin left; all the others are deceased. My cousin’s father and my father were brothers and our families were close when I was growing up. Recently, cousin and I have had more opportunities to see one another and talk about family remembrances. And he just so happens to have done a lot of research on our fathers’ family.
A couple of months ago, my cousin came for a visit and brought along his three-ring binder full of his research, which is more extensive that what I have. He showed me how he had collected all of the information and formatted it into a binder, not just on our shared family history but on this mother’s lineage as well.
I was impressed and expressed that to him. We shared stories and many remembrances of family members long gone. Hearing my cousin’s stories – many of which I never had heard – made me even more determined to seek out more of my family history (and my husband’s as well), get it put down in writing, and prepare a similar notebook to be passed down to my children if they are interested.
But time. Or the lack of it. That is my problem. It’s been a busy season of life for us here at Mama’s Empty Nest even though I basically am retired from working outside the home and Papa is semi-retired, only working at a part-time job. Taking care of our granddaughter while daughter works takes up a good bit of my time. And there are always church activities and other commitments that also claim my free hours as well as writing this blog.
Recently, my cousin visited me again. I never imagined he would arrive with a complete surprise in his hands. He prepared a family history binder for me as a gift. Not only did he include all of his research and photographs from our shared family lineage, but he had done significant exploration into my mother’s (his aunt by marriage) family.
What an amazing gift! My cousin gleaned through ancient census reports, vital life certificates, and other information to complete my mother’s family tree. Then he printed all of his collected findings, formatted the family lineage, and placed it all in sections by family name in a three-ring binder.
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” ~ Thornton Wilder
To say I am thankful for what he did is an understatement. His gift touched my heart in so many ways. I’m beyond grateful for my cousin, for the ways we have felt connected in our family ties, for the stories he has shared, for the vast amount of time he spent compiling all of the information he acquired.
My cousin gave me a treasure. A treasure I can pass on to my children in hopes they can pass it on to my grandchildren. A treasure of family connection. The past with the present. And into the future.
Just one more thing to be grateful for in my 30 Days of Thanks Giving.
“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.” ~ Henry Van Dyke
I’m a believer.
When it comes right down to it, I believe in a lot of things. I believe in love. I believe that each day is a gift. I believe that, despite its shortcomings, I live in one of the greatest countries of the world.
I believe in the aspects written in the lyrics of an old 1950’s Elvis Presley song with the same title, “I Believe.”
I believe in giving thanks.
But first and foremost, I’m a believer in my Savior Jesus.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” ~ Jesus Christ in John 14:1
I believe that He is the Messiah. I believe He is the Son of God. I believe that He died for all of our sins. I believe He offers the free gift of salvation to those who choose to believe in Him.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” ~ John 3:16
And on this 25th day in my 30 Days of Thanks Giving, I’m thankful for salvation. I’m thankful for this faith in my Savior that was taught to me at an early age whether it was by Sunday School teachers at my church, or by my elderly grandmother singing hymns about Him with me, or by my parents’ examples.
“Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” ~ Psalm 106:1
I’m thankful for the faith that has sustained me for most of my life and I’m thankful that God’s love endures forever.
What are you thankful for?
“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” ~ Gilbert K. Chesterton