(Note from Mama’s Empty Nest: During this busy Christmas season, I’m reposting blogs from several years ago. If you missed why, please click on this link for my reasons. The following post is from December 2012.)
It’s so easy, isn’t it? That’s what you’ve been asking yourself this past Christmas season.
Pull into a crowded parking lot at the nearest mall, cruise the lot for an empty spot, jump out of the car with your long list of must-haves to join the throng of Christmas shoppers.
On the way inside the store, you hear the familiar ringing of a bell and you spy the volunteer bell-ringer with the Salvation Army kettle. You’re in a hurry, but you reach in your pocket or wallet or purse and dig out whatever you can find – some change or a couple of bucks. Throw it in the kettle, accept the “thank you, Merry Christmas” and scurry on your way.
You walk inside your house of worship. There’s an “angel tree” in the foyer. Gift tags with the only identifying items such as “3-yr-old girl wants a baby doll, wears size 4T clothing.” You choose a tag, purchase a few items, and send those off to be distributed to the child in need.
Your civic group participates in Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s Purse. You dutifully find shoe boxes, shop for small toys and school supplies, soap and toothpaste, cram the boxes full, and write a check so the boxes might be shipped to the other side of the world into a child’s eager hands in time for Christmas.
Your favorite hair salon/doctor/grocery store sponsors a food drive to replenish a food pantry and another local business holds a winter coat drive. You pack up some canned goods, drop them off. You rummage in the front hall closet and dig out those still good but unwanted winter coats and donate them.
You might even take your kids for the day to volunteer distributing bags of groceries with Christmas dinner items packed inside to families in need of food.
And you call this charity. You call this good will. You call this helping those in need. You call it whatever you want to call it because it makes you feel like you’ve done something to help. Something to serve. Something.
And this something proves easy when you do this once a year.
It’s Christmas. We think about those who go without during this holiday season and it’s easy to open our hearts and our wallets or check books. Because isn’t that what we should do? Isn’t that what makes us feel like we’re spreading Christmas cheer? Or isn’t that what makes us feel good?
Yes. Yes. And yes. But…..you ask yourself…why do you only perform these good deeds at Christmas time? Where is your generosity the rest of the year?
And what would happen if you actually gave all through the year? In March. Or August. Or every month of the year.
What if you provided a summer picnic to a needy family? What if you purchased a fan to cool off a summer’s day for someone who can’t afford one?
What if you donated food staples to the food pantry all year long because really, are people only going hungry at Christmas time?
What if you helped a child, one who needs food, clothing, school supplies, and a little toy to bring a smile to his or her face, for 12 months or 12 years?
What if you gave your time to spend it with someone who is lonely? Someone who is hurting, someone who is grieving?
What if you prayed every day for God to help those who desperately need Him in their lives and to use you in any way He sees fit to teach them about His saving grace?
What if you focused on the feelings of those in need instead of focusing on your own good feeling when you give?
What if you opened your heart every day of the year and not just once a year in December?
Wouldn’t that be something?
(Note from Mama’s Empty Nest: During this busy Christmas season, I’m reposting blogs from several years ago. If you missed why, please click on this link for my reasons. The following post is from December 2013.)
I’ve been under the weather in more ways than one. Relegated to our family room’s comfy couch, I’ve been down with a nasty cold/flu bug for several days now.
Just lying around and vegetating (usually with the cat sleeping on top of my stomach or curled at my side), my brain’s been saturated with fog preventing me from taking advantage of the down time to write some new blog posts.
Nope, no creative juices to be found. All I could manage was listening to my Pandora Christmas music station or the one on cable TV, watching a plethora of holiday movies, and thinking about all the things I should be trying to accomplish for Christmas like gift shopping, wrapping presents, and making a grocery shopping list.
As I muddled through the fog that enveloped my brain, I peered out the window to watch snowflakes flutter and fly through the air.
Snow moved into my neck of the woods and it set up housekeeping. Often I left my perch, flung open the door, and just stood there wrapped up in my warm, tattered robe taking in the magnificent show nature performed for me.
Sometimes tiny specks of icy snow that are almost not perceivable dropped from the overcast sky. Other times sizable cottony fluffs floated and danced through the air on their spiral downward.
Sometimes snow fell in an almost lazy we’ve-got-all-the-time-in-the-world way. Other times it sped up and descended so fast and furiously it produced a white-out effect.
Snow frosts our shrubs like icing drizzled over a cake. It buries our driveway until the only way I can ascertain where it’s located is by the reflector poles hubby placed at one edge of the drive for that purpose. At night, our outside Christmas lights reflect through their blanket of snow and it truly does look like a winter wonderland.
Lots of folks here complain about the snow, they complain about the cold, they complain about the messy roads. I don’t. I like snow. I like the cold temperatures. And as far as the roads go, hey, it’s winter in western Pennsylvania, what do you expect?
Of course, like the old song says, I’ve got no place to go so why not let it snow. And it does. It snows and it snows and it snows and I wonder will it last until Christmas? And as it does so often, my mind reverts back to the past just as quickly as if the Ghost of Christmas Past was whisking me there.
After all, with my achy body and profound lack of energy induced by illness, I have time on my hands to take a few mental excursions since those are the only trips I can muster.
I remember so many of those magical white Christmases of yore. But I also remember those out of the norm times when temperatures were spring-like and December 25 proved to be a green holiday. But mostly, I remember snow decorating the landscape at Christmas time.
Back when our three were little tykes, I vividly remember one Christmas when we lived in the Midwest. That year, we were not able to travel back to our home state to visit our families for the holidays.
Instead, we would celebrate our Savior’s birth alone with just our family of five. On Christmas Eve, the kids were so wound up with excitement they could hardly contain themselves. And that excitement turned into sheer joy when we looked outside and noticed it was snowing!
We woke up Christmas morning to a world filled with white – just like a snow globe. Since we had no extended family coming nor were we going anywhere, we spent a leisurely, relaxing Christmas Day in our pajamas opening gifts, exclaiming over the joy of both giving and receiving special things, and playing with our children and their new toys.
Then we all bundled up in our winter wear, piling on hats and scarves and mittens and boots and all five of us ventured outside into our winter playground to frolic in the snow. It proved to be a special Christmas that will always remain etched in my snowy memory bank.
Snow and Christmas. Christmas and snow. They seem to go hand in hand in my mind. Maybe that’s why I love snow so much. It always reminds me of Christmas – a season of love and joy and giving…and light.
The Light of the world given to us on that special night. What reflects light better than a covering of snow? Last night when sleep eluded me, I noticed how bright it looked outside with the moon reflecting off the glistening snow.
And this all comes to my mind as I wander into the living room, sit quietly in the chair by the window, watching the snow swirl and twirl. Glancing at our glittering Christmas tree, I catch sight of an old treasured ornament hanging there.
A smiling snow man face with a black top hat that adorned my parents’ Christmas tree when I was a kid grins at me. Dating back to the late 50’s or early 60’s, somehow it managed to survive all of these years unbroken even though it’s made many moves from house to house, state to state, since I acquired it.
Mr. Snow Man looks a little worn from his many years but from his spot on our tree, he faces the window where he can see the wintry landscape outside and he smiles. It’s as if he says, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”
And with that, let the heart-warming memories of happy Christmas times descend right along with the snow. Let it snow memory after memory. Suddenly, I don’t feel so under the weather after all.
“Oh the weather outside is frightful but the fire is so delightful and since we’ve no place to go…let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” ~ Sammy Cahn
(Note from Mama’s Empty Nest: During this busy Christmas season, I’m reposting blogs from several years ago. If you missed why, please click on this link for my reasons. The following post is from December 2014.)
It happened while I was trimming the tree.
I hauled the over-sized plastic tote full of ornaments up from the basement, opened it, and started to carefully unwrap all the baubles, balls, and special decorations packed in it.
Each one brings back memories. The ones we purchased at various locations where we’ve vacationed over the years. The ones commemorating special times in our lives like family occasions or anniversaries or new homes. The antique ones which used to hang on my childhood Christmas tree at my parents’ home. And the ones made and/or given by special friends which always bring them to mind.
I arranged the ornaments and since I was adorning the tree alone, I needed to use the step stool to reach the top third of the tree because, yes, I am too short and Papa usually is assigned that task.
The tree was almost completely embellished with all of its garnishes when, while standing on the top step of the stool, I leaned into the tree a bit to hang a wee star ornament that I remember buying in a specialty shop in Seattle.
And that’s when I heard it, that familiar jingle jangling sound of something falling off the tree followed by the sound of splintering glass. I suspected it was one of the ordinary department store variety glass balls which I have plenty of and wouldn’t miss.
I glanced down to the side of my stool and there a glass ball lay, perfectly intact on the living room carpeted floor. Okay, no problem. But then as I stepped back down off the stool, I saw something else and immediately, I cried, “Oh, no!”
Lying at the base of the stool was a broken glass ornament which apparently had hit the metal step stool on its way to the floor. Oh, not this one! This one was irreplaceable.
It was a clear glass ball with a likeness of the face of Jesus inside. This one was special and always hangs front and center on our evergreen tree. This one was crafted and given to me by a church friend when we lived all the way across the country in the Pacific Northwest those many years ago.
Shards of glass sprinkled my living room carpet and I gingerly picked up the largest pieces left and placed them on the top step of the stool as I vacuumed up the rest of the mess. Why did it have to be that one, I thought. Why not one of those that had no special memories attached to it?
But then I looked – really looked – at the broken ornament.
Broken. Jesus. He was broken.
And it occurred to me that is exactly what He did for us. He allowed himself to be broken. Broken for you. Broken for me. Broken on an old rugged cross to save us from eternal death because no matter how hard we try, we just can’t be good enough to save ourselves.
Immediately the words from the King James Version of the Bible came to mind. That passage in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24 where the Apostle Paul tells us that on the very night He was betrayed, Jesus took bread, gave thanks for it, broke it, and told us to eat the bread, which symbolized His soon to be broken body. And to do that to remember Him.
“And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:24 KJV
Just last week, I read a quote by Pete Wilson, pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN. Wilson said, “Jesus didn’t come into a perfect world full of perfect people, He came into a broken world full of broken people so that He could redeem us.”
Yes! That was exactly what that broken ornament at the beginning of December reminded me.
So as Christmas Day approaches, I will celebrate the birth of my Savior. I will sing of that tiny babe born in a manger, the One who came to save us all, the most amazing gift God has ever given us.
But I will also remember the grown up Jesus. The One who was born in Bethlehem, lived a human life yet became the Savior who entered this broken world to save broken people like me and you by allowing His own body to be broken.
I will sing Joy to the World, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King and I will rejoice not just for the babe in a manger but for the Son of God on the cross and the empty tomb of Resurrection Sunday.
And I will give thanks for a broken Christmas ornament that reminds me.
Let every heart prepare Him room and heaven and nature sing.
“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume.” ~ Vance Havner
(Note from Mama’s Empty Nest: During this busy Christmas season, I’m reposting blogs from several years ago. If you missed why, please click on this link for my reasons. The following post is from December 2010.)
It’s hard not to be crafty at Christmas.
Oh, I don’t mean being crafty in the sense of the definition of the word: sly, shrewd, cunning or deceptive, although I suppose you could call many people crafty at Christmas time.
There’s the shrewd way some people act at the mall when they slide into a parking spot first while you were patiently waiting for the previous car to vacate the space.
Some people are downright cunning as they push and shove their way through crowds to get the very last [insert newest, hottest selling toy here].
And often times, we are very deceptive as we hide the Christmas presents or even the Christmas cookies so they won’t all be eaten before Christmas arrives!
No, I don’t mean that kind of crafty. I’m thinking more about those who are like Martha Stewart. Wait a minute, she did go to jail once….perhaps she was cunning or deceptive, huh?
Well, let’s concentrate on her ability to take an ordinary branch off her juniper tree and turn it into the most amazing shimmery addition to a boring centerpiece that you ever have seen. That’s what I mean by crafty.
Some people can just take scraps of this, leftovers of that, add some ribbon and glitzy stuff and voila! A lovely Christmas ornament for your pine tree.
Or there are those people who actually make Christmas gifts for family and friends. I admire their creativity and tenacity!
And then there are the items that were lovingly handmade at school or in Sunday School class by your children when they were little. Crafts and Christmas just seem to go together.
I was thinking about that the other day when I finally finished decorating our Christmas tree. (Yep, I succumbed. I just couldn’t leave a bare-naked tree in my living room!) There are a lot of crafty ornaments residing in my Christmas décor boxes.
Here’s the round painted one oldest daughter made in second grade, if I remember correctly. It hung on the mayor’s Christmas tree at City Hall in the town we lived in then.
Middle daughter made candy canes out of red and white pony beads and pipe cleaners one year with her fellow Girl Scouts. Son constructed a baby Jesus in half a walnut shell in Sunday School way back when.
Several handmade ornaments that I purchased at craft shows or holiday bazaars also congregate in my boxes, some of those I even managed to make myself.
Others were gifts bestowed upon me like the clear glass ball with a sketch of Jesus inside from a friend or the half egg shell with a Christmas scene displayed inside of it, a gift from my mother many years ago.
Over the years, I’ve tried my hand at crafting other decorations as well, including a nutcracker wreath, a garland of felt stars with homemade buttons fashioned out of clay and baked in the oven, and who knows what else lurking in those boxes.
When I unpack these items, it brings back a lot of delightful memories – some of my mother, some of my children as they were growing up, and some of friends, now far away.
When I was a little girl, my mother belonged to a “Home Extension Group,” ladies who met monthly at each other’s homes for a demonstration of home arts and a lovely lunch.
Most of these women were my mom’s age or older and I vividly remember being the only youngster at those meetings until I got older and trotted off to school. Even then, I would be excited to jump off the school bus and enter my home to see the ladies from home extension there and taste the yummy leftover dessert.
These women gathered to craft or learn something new in the fine art of homemaking. Sometimes a representative from the state home extension office would visit and give a demonstration, perhaps on home canning or sewing.
I still remember the year they made large white candles shaped like snowballs for Christmas. Whatever they were making or eating, this group of friends always seemed to enjoy their time together.
Several years ago when my family lived in the Pacific Northwest, I told this story of Mom’s home extension group to some of my friends and we decided to resurrect the concept. A few weeks before Christmas, we met at a friend’s home, spent the morning crafting together and sipping hot coffee or tea, then shared a tasty and delicious lunch.
Once we designed nutcracker wreaths. We all convened at the craft store to choose scads of items to hot glue onto our wreaths of artificial greenery. Festive ribbons, little nutcrackers, Christmas birds, glittering balls, shiny strings of beads, twigs of fake holly…it looked like the Ghost of Christmas Present had thrown up all over the table!
But oh, the fun we had! We chatted and laughed as we crafted, enjoying each other’s company so much, giving advice about the placement of tinsel tidbits, which was beneficial because the more savvy decorators among us could give direction to those of us who were craft-deficient.
Having relished our day together, we decided to continue the idea each week as we launched another Christmas craft. For the first time, I truly understood why my mother belonged to her “home extension group” for all those many years.
It wasn’t about the finished product, although that was nice. The real joy came from time well-spent with dear friends, savoring one another’s company with laughter and merriment yet sharing burdens and sorrows as well. It was about gathering for a lovingly home-cooked lunch together as neighbors who had more in common than just the neighborhood where they lived.
Yes, it was a simpler time when my mother and those sweet ladies, whose faces I can still recall even though every one of them has left this world, convened every month for camaraderie and cake.
But those simple times can be recaptured – my friends and I did it that one special time at Christmas. We just have to want to live a simpler life, to take time to visit those we treasure, and make memorable moments happen.
It’s Christmas. It’s time to slow down. Spend time with your closest friends and family.
And while you’re at it, though you may not be “crafty,” make something special together – even if it’s just lovely memories.
(Note from Mama’s Empty Nest: During this busy Christmas season, I’m reposting blogs from several years ago. If you missed why, please click on this link for my reasons. The following post is from December 2010.)
Color of skin – not green. Heart – normal size. Miserly ways – don’t think so. Crankiness – well…sometimes. Conclusion – I’m a normal human being, neither the Grinch nor Scrooge.
Really! Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. Honestly! To me it IS one of the “most wonderful times of the year.” Truly!
Somewhere in my rants about not feeling up to decking the halls and proclaiming ho-ho-ho with mistletoe, I think I have left my readers with the mistaken belief that I’m not a Christmas person. Completely untrue. It’s just that this year instead of being a Christmas fanatic, I’m in more of a reflective mood about the season I love.
I celebrate Christmas to commemorate the greatest gift God gave mankind when over 2000 years ago, a tiny babe was born in Bethlehem. That baby was the Messiah, Emmanuel, God With Us, Jesus Christ. But as I get older, I have to question what the hoopla we’ve made Christmas truly has to do with worshiping our Savior.
Many of the Christmas customs we utilize have nothing to do with our belief in Jesus. The light displays, the adorned Christmas tree, the over-indulgent feasts, the even more over-indulgent presents. What does any of it mean?
Every year the commercialism of the season grates on me. The frantic rush to the shopping malls to spend outrageous sums of money on gifts that we really don’t need saddens me when I know millions of our fellow human beings in the world are starving or have no decent housing.
The fulfillment of Christmas wish lists with gift cards and money make me sadder yet. Why don’t we just exchange money instead of calling it a gift?
To me, a gift is something you thoughtfully consider. You think about the person you are giving the gift to, and you know that loved one well enough to choose something that will touch his or her heart and show how much you love and care for that person. But that takes time and consideration and in the crazy frenzy (only 14 more shopping days till Christmas!), it’s easier to just fulfill the items on a list.
My family is no different from any other families out there; there have been some wish lists being emailed back and forth and we have succumbed to this way of shopping. Oh, we try to give to the needy whether it is donating to the bell-ringers of the Salvation Army, shopping for gifts to bestow on a family who is having a difficult year, filling shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse to be distributed to needy children, or purchasing “gifts” of animals, clothing, or other necessities to be sent world-wide through World Vision.
But is that enough? I think that’s why I’m feeling a little rebellious about this season of Christmas. I want Christmas to mean more. I want it to be revered, not just as a cherished tradition, but as a time when we stop focusing on the foolishness, ponder the wonder of God coming to earth to live among us, and give thanks for the saving gift of grace that our Lord Jesus Christ is.
I sometimes wonder what Jesus thinks about our elaborate celebrations and I’m reminded that He was born in a simple, lowly place. He lived His life here on earth in a plainly simple way, but oh, how much He accomplished!
He did not require jewels, fancy robes, or tables set before Him with an amazing array of food and drink. He did not expect exquisite decorations in the homes He visited. His focus was simply on people – the weak, the infirm, the needy, and the lost. He didn’t ask for gifts, instead He gave His life as the ultimate gift when He took the sins of the world upon Himself and sacrificed His life on the Cross for us.
I’ve been reading a non-fiction book called Extraordinary Faith by Sheila Walsh. It’s not a new book and I’ve had it on my shelf for quite some time. I read it for a while, and then get busy and put it down, but I keep coming back to it because I really want to finish it. It’s good stuff.
Yesterday I took a little bit of time to open the book’s pages once again. And what I read in the chapter called “When We Fix Our Eyes on Jesus” imparted great truth to me. Ms. Walsh writes, “Faith here is a call to look up, to gaze at our Savior. Faith is a passionate gaze at the only One who can save us.”
She continues and then adds a passage of scripture, “Perhaps the greatest call to gaze on our Lord appears right after the great faith chapter of Hebrews 11: ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Hebrews 12:1-2)”
That’s what I think is often missing at Christmas. We fail to look up, to gaze at the One who was sent on our behalf to save us from eternal separation from God. We don’t fix our eyes on Jesus. This year, I want to forego the trappings of Christmas. I want to throw off those things that hinder me from looking up and gazing at my Savior. I hope I can encourage you to do the same.
“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” ~ Psalm 24:7
I want to fix my eyes on the King of Kings and Lord of Lords instead of gazing at a landscape of luminous lights, garlands of greenery galore, a bedecked and bedazzled balsam tree or the panoramic plethora of presents stacked beneath it. Instead of spending all of my time time baking and cooking and shopping, I want to feed my soul and the souls of others with the Word of God.
For those of us who call ourselves believers in Christ, the season of Christmas should be first and foremost a season of faith – faith that is sufficient for everything we need.
God had His fingerprints all over the gift He gave us that very first Christmas, His Son Jesus Christ. And today, centuries later, He still has His fingerprints on us. Let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad.
I pray that this Christmas you will fix your eyes on Jesus, that you will allow the Word of God to speak to your life amidst the hustle and bustle of the season.
“Faith is not wishful thinking or theatrics. Faith is born in us as we fix our eyes on Jesus and as we recognize the fingerprints of God the Father all over our lives.” ~ Sheila Walsh
(Note from Mama’s Empty Nest: During this busy Christmas season, I’m reposting blogs from several years ago. If you missed why, please click on this link for my reasons. The following post is from December 2011.)
What a difference a year makes. That statement may sound cliché, but it’s true.
Here’s how I know this.
Last year (2010) around this time, my attitude was notably different than my attitude is today. Don’t believe me? Read this.
Last year, I was: (Pick one)
If you chose “E,” you get the gold star!
Last year at this time, I struggled to drum up some Christmas spirit. The crates full of holiday decorations lay idle strewn through the house, but I didn’t possess the motivation or desire to bedeck the surroundings. My mind, kidnapped and trapped by melancholy, continually persuaded me to ignore the approaching season of joy just as surely as my heart, harbored in sadness, agreed.
Empty nest syndrome and grief over my father’s passing reigned. My husband erected the artificial Christmas tree and strung it with twinkling lights, but it sat forlorn in the living room with no ornaments sprucing up its bare branches. Garland did not festoon anything nor were candles blazing in the windows. If it weren’t for hubby accomplishing the outside light decorating, our house would have sat as dark and dreary as I felt.
I was able-bodied, but always seemed tired, cold, sleepy, or lethargic. With no kids in the house anymore or elderly father to check up on, I sure had the time, but I just couldn’t muster up the inclination. This lackadaisical attitude towards the Christmas season was as foreign to me as meeting up with an alien from outer space on my front lawn….it just doesn’t happen.
I’m one of those people who loves Christmas. I usually have all of my greeting cards addressed, stamped and the annual missive to friends and family printed and tucked inside the envelopes ready to mail by December 1.
Shopping is accomplished early and by early, I mean way before Thanksgiving. Christmas tree and all of the other festive decorations garnish and embellish our house the weekend after Thanksgiving. But last year, I literally and finally forced myself to do….something… and half-heartedly prepared for the most beloved time of the year.
Thankfully, this year is different. I’m not so able-bodied (still suffering with some back and hip problems); I don’t have quite as much time; but I’m raring to go. Our house is ablaze with Christmas lights and finery outside; hubby and I finished that Thanksgiving weekend.
The tree sparkles in the living room with all its treasured ornaments resting on its branches. Christmas cards are addressed and will fill the mailbox soon (should be working on that Christmas letter instead of this blog post!). With any luck, we should complete our shopping this weekend.
So what has changed from last year? My attitude.
I can’t change the fact that my kids have grown up, moved out, and have their own lives. I can’t change the fact that there are beloved faces missing from my family gathered around the Christmas tree. But I can change one thing….me. I can be a Scrooge, a Grinch, a Grumpy Gus, but I don’t have to be.
All it takes is a little Christmas and the knowledge that God loved us so much, He sent His only Son as the most perfect gift on that first Christmas so long ago.
Okay, I’m off to haul out some more holly and this year, the Christmas village will once again adorn the kitchen. So in case you’re a little low on Christmas spirit, I’m sharing my all-time favorite Christmas decorating song with you because we need a little Christmas right this very minute.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” ~ Maya Angelou