How to be Strong

How to be Strong

I was feeling weak and vulnerable. Awake most of the night, I was anxious about house-buying decisions and transitions; then dragging around in a fog early the next morning,

When I showed up to take care of Eliza, Mary and John read my expression. Sharing with them briefly through my tears, and hearing their responses eased the pain.

I began to see some things differently in the light of day. I recalled the times I wish I’d asked for support; when I swallowed hard and acted strong and together. It wasn’t arrogance that caused me to appear unruffled and unemotional. I believed my stalwart demeanor was expected and even required. Everyone has challenges and no one wants to hear me complain about mine, I thought. I was self-conscious about my labored droning on and wasting someone’s time.

I never set out to be the strong one.

When I was a single mom of two young kids I pushed my emotions down deep inside. It was my responsibility as the care-giving parent to keep it together. I was worried that my son could be harmed by my debilitating emotional pain. I was the sole provider, working two jobs at times. I wanted to show him what I knew to be true: that God is a good Father and He would see us through.

My daughter with autism was ultra-sensitive to other’s emotions, and reflected what she perceived. I was extra vigilant when around her (and still am!) as her expressiveness could be very difficult to corral and manage.

Recalling my childhood I don’t remember ever talking about feelings. The unspoken message was to be quiet and good. We knew our parents loved us unconditionally, but it wasn’t exactly in vogue to share feelings.

Once while walking with my friend Cynthia, I casually mentioned how hard it had been staying up all hours of the night with Dawn who couldn’t get to sleep. It was an ongoing problem for years. It became routine; Tom and I would take turns staying up to keep her calm and try to coax her down to bed, sometimes not getting her to sleep until daybreak. It was horrible! Cynthia stopped abruptly and said she’d always wondered why I’d never complained about raising my special daughter. She didn’t know how I’d kept it together.

Another clue that I was holding it all inside.

I remember a pastor discussing what it’s like to have a broken heart. Without warning, I broke down in a way that I’d never done in the past and haven’t since. I hurt so deeply inside and couldn’t quit crying. Every memory demanded my attention. That very day I’d had such  difficulty managing Dawn’s behavior so I could attend church. I cried so much that morning, experiencing such pain but ended up feeling freer somehow.

When my sweet mom passed away a few years back, so many griefs from the past seemed to tag along right beside the recent grief and loss. I promptly felt the pain of an earlier divorce, of raising a cognitively disabled child who needed constant attention and raising a son without his father. As I looked back, I actually felt sorry for that girl who endured so much pain and wished it could have been different for her.

Evidence of storing the pain away.

Recently, days apart, I bumped into two acquaintances from church. In each case, when I asked, “How are you doing?” each indicated that she was doing terribly. One began to cry. I felt grateful for honest answers! I really cared. I like to pray specifically for folks. The Lord used them as examples for me. I realized that there are people with whom it’s okay to cry and talk about my distress.

I still haven’t figured all this out but I want to be better at being honest. To not stuff emotions until a meltdown occurs. But to look at things in my life and take risks to share my burdens with others. I’m glad to do that for friends and I know there are folks who’d do the same for me!

I’ve begun to see true strength in a different light. I’m strongest when I’m transparent and honest with others and allow them inside my pain. To let some light in.

Bear one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:16

 

 

 

 

Maturing

Maturing

Old age, to the unlearned, is winter; to the learned, it’s harvest time.

– Yiddish saying

I’ve come to disdain all the talk about getting old I hear from people in  their forties, fifties and sixties. It’s relative, right? We are truly getting older everyday. But must we constantly call ourselves old?

I recently chatted with a bank teller I hadn’t seen in awhile, exchanging niceties. I commented, “I’m doing well, just a bit older than last time I saw you.” Her reply has stuck with me. “Well that’s a good thing!” It is a good thing. Being older means I’m still alive!

For me, growing older happened overnight.

First there was that course black hair in the um… cleavage region that my daughter so kindly pointed out to me. I can still see her look of shock.

Then there was the time our son returned home to find us scooted up close to the TV with the volume turned up so loud we didn’t hear him come in. In our defense it was a foreign film!

The once silent knees now like to complain on steep mountain hikes.

Generic ibuprofen is purchased in the value-sized pack.

The precocious red-headed five year old, in my care, inquired about the whiskers.

Our prayers are long and laborious–and comical– multiple aching body parts have now made the list.

We are maturing. It took me by surprise. Not too long ago I was 35. Then I was 40 and all was well. But there was that day I showed up for a dermatology check up. I filled out the intake form and came to that pesky little space for age. I stopped and pondered—I’d had a birthday just that week. Was I 50??? No that can’t be right. So I did the math on scrap paper and it was actually true. I was 50. The only birthday to that point that mocked me and rang with disbelief.

When 60 rolled around I felt like everyone would look at me as an old person. They wouldn’t know that on the inside I was still young. It’s interesting how we make judgments by looking at someone’s exterior when we have no idea about their souls. I feel like an announcement is called for.  “I may look older and feebler but I am me—even more me than I was earlier!”

This is the time of life when I hold onto every positive comment. Recently a nurse taking my vitals stared at me for several moments and said, “There is no way in h*** you are 63!” I grinned for days…

There are things I love about having lived longer:

  • Comparison becomes less important. You begin to give others freedom to be themselves which frees you to be yourself.
  • It’s harder to criticize people when you’ve either walked in their shoes or know you could’ve.
  • Your life station has made a spot for you. Knowing your passions and gifts; the way you’re wired, helps you to know your calling and how you can contribute.
  • You can be more effective. There is only one you and no one has exactly the same assignment. You’re comfortable being unique; having opinions and strengths and weaknesses. They all make you who you are.

My hope is to make the most of the days and years and not be mad at God when things don’t go as I’d wished.

To cherish the moments as they come because they truly are gifts!

To invest my life in the tasks that I believe were designed just for me. Not to copy someone else’s schedule or lifestyle.

A life verse I adopted many years ago seems more applicable as the years go by.

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

Psalm 92: 12-15

 

 

 

To-Do’s for My Last Day

To-Do’s for My Last Day
Wrightsville Beach, NC

“If today were your last, would you do what you’re doing? Or would you love more, give more, forgive more? Forgive and give as if it were your last opportunity. Love like there’s no tomorrow, and if tomorrow comes, love again.”

Max Lucado

On my way to a funeral I was struck by life’s contrasts. How I could be enjoying such a beautiful spring day; driving under a perfect canopy of dogwoods at the same time a friend’s father has died.

My friend Jim said we need to attend a funeral every year, and I think he’s right. Nothing reminds us of the hope we have as Christ followers like life that continues forever. In the last twelve months or so I’ve met my quota for funerals.

I remember my mother-in-law saying that if you have to die, Easter is a good time. I’d never thought of that but it did make sense. Death swallowed up in new life.

I wish I’d made it to Eva’s 60th Birthday Party. I was delighted that her throng of friends planned and hosted the surprise event. I smiled at the joy I saw on her face in all the images. I’m sorry I missed it but I’m glad I took time to find her address and send her a card. I’m glad I wrote a personal letter on the card before I put it in the mail.

That birthday —it would be her last. She was gone just like that! Snatched from this life right in the middle of loving people like it was her job—all people, as far as I could tell. She and her daughter  were  reported missing on a Monday, the day after they failed to show up for church. They were always at church. The proverbial phrase holds true–they were there every time the doors were open. And they always served as volunteers to help keep the church life going.

In the midst of several hundred people how many people would leave such a void? How many would be so much a part of the fabric of the community that their absence was deafening?

It pains me to say this, but I don’t think I’d have had known Eva if she hadn’t reached out to me. Always with a hug, a big smile and positive attitude.

Eva almost always commented on my blog posts. Continually affirming me. When you take the risk to put your words out there for the world, nothing means more than encouragement.

Eva had experienced hardships and sadness. The funny thing is I don’t even know much about what she endured because that’s not what she focused on.

They died a horrific death. Yet somehow I imagine their last thoughts and words brought honor to their Heavenly Father.

Our church hosted a prayer vigil for the two and as I sat there, tears welling up, I had the feeling that they should be there. It wasn’t right for them to miss anything. Their absence was obvious. I subconsciously looked for them right up there near the front; left side.

It will take time to process and come to peace with all of this. But I do know that God always teaches us stuff we need to learn even in the most devastating situations.

Eva’s life and sudden death has me thinking of things I’d like to be plopped down in the middle of on my last day.

I’d like to be writing a thank you note or an encouraging letter to someone. My last words to my husband would be “I love you and I’m so proud of you”. Filling my gratitude journal, smiling and helping strangers, taking a walk, enjoying outside, reading and learning and growing. Listening to a friend, reveling in the lives of our grown up kids and granddaughter. Bringing a meal or helping a young mom, inspiring and assisting a client in her home.….I hope I’ll be doing some of these things.

Honestly, I don’t know if the photos will be in books.  My recipes may still be a jumble; you may have to search through piles to find favorites. There may be a few too many sentimental “keepsakes” that haven’t quite made it to the donation site.

Hopefully there’ll be forgiveness for my undone things while I’m minding the eternal stuff.

House Speak

House Speak

I take frequent walks and the houses I pass always grab my attention. As part of my Tranquiliving business, I give staging consultations to folks selling their homes. I’m hyper-vigilant about every single exterior detail of a house—the curb appeal.  After all, the exterior is the introduction to the entire home. Many a buyer will turn away before getting near the entry if they’re unhappy with what they see!

First prize for the Most Unwelcoming House (my conscience prevents me from calling it a home!) goes to one I saw last week. Of modest size, and plopped down in a pleasant  little community, this place had no less than four large NO TRESPASSING signs. One of the signs was posted on the front door! Right where some people might hang a wreath or place a brass door knocker. I gulped when I walked past. I had to turn and walk by a second time just to let it sink in. I couldn’t help but imagine the story that had transpired beyond the front door. Had they incurred a devastating tragedy? Or was there one too many a proselytizer or Girl Scout? As a resident in that house, I wonder what kind of mood you’d fall into as you returned to your own home?

That house took the cake as my parents would have said. Next in line after the no trespassing house would be the house that is completely hidden behind shrubs and trees. You’re not sure there’s a house there, so obviously you don’t feel welcome.

Plenty of other dwellings I’ve seen could qualify for second or third place.

Twenty-one items that might make a home feel unwelcoming:

  • trash littering the yard or bulging garbage bags
  • broken down bicycles or cars
  • excessive toys covering the porch or yard
  • an ambiguous entrance—not knowing which door to use
  • a walkway that’s difficult to maneuver because of overgrowth or clutter
  • dead plants, grass or shrubs, especially near the entrance
  • dirty front door or peeling paint on door or trim
  • decorative metal that is discolored or damaged (I’ve used metallic spray paint rather than replacing certain items.)
  • cobwebs or hornets’ nests overhead in porch or entry area
  • burned out bulbs at night
  • dirty or broken light fixture
  • ragged door mat
  • inordinate number of yard ornaments
  • scattered tools or plumbing and construction materials
  • excessive and mismatched yard or porch furniture
  • broken or dated flower pots or too many pots
  • plastic flowers (sigh)
  • missing shutters or ones in need of paint
  • peeling house paint
  • Christmas decorations displayed when it’s not Christmas
  • a mailbox that’s seen better days

If you want to be welcoming to friends and neighbors you don’t need perfection. Pretend to be a guest and imagine what another person might feel when they walk up to your door. Clean it up, declutter and bring cheer to yourself and others by having one or a few healthy plants near the entry. But not twenty.

If you’re putting your house on the market, you still don’t have to achieve perfection but you should come a little closer to it! Be intentional to create curb appeal that is new, fresh, clean and green. You don’t want to run anyone off!

Now please excuse me; there are a few things I need to tend to outside:).

Thoughts on a Quiet House

Thoughts on a Quiet House

The sink shouldn’t be empty. There should be at least one stray cereal bowl filled with water…waiting to be washed.

The desk in the entry way is naked—where are the keys with the antique bent silver spoon?

The window by the kitchen table is still smudged by sticky baby girl hands—it won’t be cleaned today. It’s a sweet reminder of the laughing little one looking for birdies and squirrels. (My big feelings have clearly taken me to desperate places!)

There aren’t enough dishes to fill the dishwasher.

The blankets and pillows on the sofas stay obediently in their spots.

Piles of laundry that bugged me for so long are gone. Even the laundry room is on a brief vacay.

One week ago our home was bustling with hurriedness and so much chatter and laughter. “Pull up another chair to the table…crowd in…there’s room at the table for you!” No extra chairs needed today.

I’ve been known to grab a neighbor, and drag her to my house for potluck….to clean out the fridge or scrounge the freezer and eat up what we have. Sharing life gives me life.

Spontaneously invite a friend! You can be sure that your fare is as good or better than what she’d eat alone. No need to make a production! And it’s always better together.

Two in a home are better than one. And ten are better than two. We are not meant to be alone. What a treasure loved ones are and what a comfort to connect to other souls; other spirits.

A house shouldn’t be so quiet. No sounds of hurried footsteps dashing out the door and no goodbyes and I love you’s quickly called out.

The porch light is on, but why? No one is coming. New habits new ways new normals—they are all harkening me on to the new chapter.

When our kids were little and there was zero alone time, my friend Cynthia and I would chat on the phone in the mornings. We’d discuss what we learned from Dr. Dobson on 90.5 about parenting and wifing. More than once we discussed the verse from Proverbs 14;4.

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of oxen.”

Oxen are messy and eat a lot. They’re expensive and time consuming. The manger would be clean without them; but they provide a great harvest. Their benefit far outweighs their drawback.

My friend and I imagined that theoretically we could have a tidy clean house with everything in order. But what benefit would there be to an empty house? We wanted to learn to embrace or at least accept the poopy diapers, never ending laundry, the continual spills. One day we’d miss those little rug rats.

When you’re there it’s impossible to know what it’s like to be here. And isn’t it funny that so much of the time there is a longing for the other season rather than a full on reveling in the present. We humans are so weird and impossible to please; or maybe it’s just me.

An advantage to having lived through lots of years is that you begin to finally realize that each season prepares you for the next. Every single one is as valuable as the one coming. God is always faithful. So why should I fret and why should I be sorrowful? Right now He’s preparing me for what’s ahead and even in my melancholy and tender emotions my hope is in Him. All the days planned for me are written in His book.

The Most Powerful Force

When our kids were young and Saturdays rolled around we had Family Night. We encouraged our children to invite friends; it was a fun way to introduce some of them to our Christian faith.

On one occasion my husband, Tom, asked everyone, “What’s the most powerful force in the world?” The kids shouted out names of all sorts of weapons, military powers and super heroes. No one came close to the right answer. My husband has never been one to cut corners when illustrating a point. He took each child separately, blindfolded, from the room to touch something that would give a clue to the correct answer. Each one had a turn but no one got it. He then brought the object into the room for everyone to see– it was a cow tongue! They threw their hands over their mouths and almost gagged!

The most powerful force, Tom taught, is the tongue. Our tongues to be precise. The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21).

Today I was reminded of that long ago lesson after I chatted with a young woman working at the dry cleaners. I had the nudge that I often get to say something affirming. It’s so uncomfortable to say something personal to a stranger, but I’ve realized it gets easier as I do it. I told her I really liked her smile. That her smile was pretty.

As I walked to the car I recalled a time many years ago when an older lady that I admired told me I had pretty eyes. I don’t think anyone had ever told me that before.

On another occasion, at a friend’s wedding, the pastor who had officiated came up to me and said, “God has not forgotten you.” He knew that I’d become a single parent due to a divorce I didn’t want. Those years were hard. His words were just what I needed at that moment. And he was right—God had not forgotten! Clearly, positive words have stuck with me all these years and I’ve rehearsed them in my mind many times.

This week Katherine and I were pulling together an outfit for Grandmom to wear to the wedding. As she tried on her dress she instinctively put her hands over her neck and commented on how bony it was. She wanted it covered. After hearing her say that for over thirty years, I realized how pretty she looked with her neck area showing. I told her as much. I realized I’d grown deaf to that comment. A comment that had most likely been said to her many years ago and had stuck. It was not true but she’d believed it.

Sadly I also remember some very hurtful things said to me forty or fifty years ago. The power of life and death? I hope my words never have such a long-lasting negative effect!

I think it’s somewhat intuitive for me to hesitate before I say something unkind. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1). But, to say something intentionally positive takes a little more thought. It requires that I dismiss, for a moment, the thoughts swirling in my head and focus on the person in front of me. Probably easier for an extravert!

What comments can we make to someone today that will bring them life? What positive words will we speak to ourselves?

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

–Proverbs 12:18

A Fairy Tale Comes True

A Fairy Tale Comes True

Scoot a little closer my friends and listen to one of my favorite love stories.

Twelve years ago I had a phone call from a young woman named Barbara, inquiring about the small group we hosted in our home. The pastor of our church referred her to us since our emphasis was on marriage. She spoke through tears, sharing grave concerns over her marriage–her pain was obvious.

Barbara and her husband soon joined our group—together for a time. Sadly, Barbara eventually came alone. She fought desperately for her marriage, but they divorced in 2005. Barbara and I spent a lot of time together and began a treasured friendship. We shared meals, Bible studies, and lots of tears. We realized even though we were twenty years apart to the month, we had a lot in common. I also knew the heartbreaking devastation of divorce and the longing for a good marriage.

Barbara kept occupied with her job in the medical field and volunteering at church. As the years passed, I felt frustrated for her because I knew how badly she wanted a family. I wondered if she’d thought of online dating sites or even going to church groups for single adults. She told me that if God could create the world He could find her a husband. She said it so convincingly and confidently.

In 2012 June, a lady from Barbara’s church, attended a conference in St. Louis. While she browsed books, she noticed the guy who was manning the table. His eyes appeared unusually bright. June began a conversation with him over several days of conference and honestly shared how he’d caught her notice.

The young man, David, began to share about his life and that he was praying for a wife. She learned that he’d been divorced six years and had one child. Because his priority was his daughter, he’d decided not to date, but to trust God to bring his mate at the right time. June didn’t understand why she was drawn to him, but told David she’d ask God for an answer and let him know!

A few months after the conference, during a church service, June leaned over to Barbara and said, “You’re the one!” Suddenly she realized that David had been highlighted for Barbara! David and Barbara soon became acquainted with each other through email messages, and eventually through phone calls and photos.

Barbara had been promoted to a job that required traveling to various parts of the country each week. She typically flew to certain places on a regular basis. One day, out of the blue, her company assigned her a job in the very city where David lived. She’d never gone there. This was their chance! They met in person, formally and briefly. Soon after she was sent to the same city again, which was somewhat unusual. They enjoyed each other tremendously. A perfect match!  She got to know and love his daughter and he proposed.

They were married near the Cape Fear River. The grassy knoll was a lush bright green, having just been refreshed by a cooling summer shower. The expansive lawn was filled with so many celebrating friends and family, and not a few happy tears!

Barbara eventually quit traveling for work and she and David made their home in Florida. After several months of marriage she had started to gain a little weight. She took one pregnancy test after another, all reading negative. Disappointed and concerned, she made an appointment with a doctor. The doctor gave her news that she never thought her ears and heart would hear. She was expecting a baby! Conceiving a child had always been a desire of her heart. Another dream was fulfilled— a happy healthy Elijah was born into their world.

I flew to Florida a few months back for a wonderful visit with Barbara and her family. When we’re together we pick right back up where we left off, even years later. We celebrated all of her wonderful blessings. She and David are happier than they could ever have imagined. Their little boy is nearly two years old and adorable. To spend time with them was one of the highlights of my year.

Few things are more exciting than watching God orchestrate the lives of two people from different geographical areas and different backgrounds to bring them together in marriage. I still marvel that my North Carolina husband went all the way to Mississippi to find me!

As David says, “God has a way of putting us exactly where we need to be.” I ponder their story and I’m emboldened to let go and really trust God.

When we belong to Him, He really does work out everything for our good and His Glory. I share this not to promise specific results after waiting on God, but to say that God can be trusted in any and every circumstance.

He is able to do abundantly more than we can ask or imagine.

How I Got the Life I Really Wanted

God knows all things past, present, and future. There is no limit to His knowledge, for God knows everything completely before it even happens. (Romans 11:33).

My granddaughter and I were taking a stroll. I found myself looking for sale signs among a group of small houses. Subconsciously I was searching for a place to call home in Wilmington, assuming we’d relocate to South Carolina and return here to visit. I smiled as I thought, “Isn’t it cute to make plans and set long term goals?” To assume you’d live near your children forever, that you’d always have access to close friends, your church and all the familiar things. Then a thought came that has repeated in my head many times, “I’m so glad I’m not in control”. I’m grateful to God who whispers through His Spirit, showing me the way He has planned. He’s highlighted for me specific roles He has in mind for me and which one comes first. These are not the plans or priorities I would have if left to myself. I certainly don’t see the whole picture or understand why. I only take steps in the direction He’s leading.

I really do believe in setting goals. With hands wide open. What I mean is this: We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9).

I remember a conversation I had in my twenties that was a defining moment for me. The person, who was very close to me said, “I just have to decide what I want to do with my life.” I humbly and spontaneously answered, “I’m trying to find out what God wants me to do with my life.”

Giving my life to Him and trusting Him in every uncertainty has been  good for me. I don’t mean it’s always easy. Following Him requires a death to myself. But He’s never failed me. The nights have been long at times but in the darkest of nights He gave me quiet strength when I couldn’t imagine how anything could work out for good. He eventually brought me into a spacious and lovely place that I couldn’t have concocted for myself.

I wonder where I’d be now if I hadn’t been called out of my own darkness into His light. I would, no doubt, be grasping for my own way, my own rights, my own success, my own pleasure. I might be marching amongst a throng of women, feeling unfairly treated and denied “privileges” due me. I admire strong capable women who know how to get things done. God knew, when He created woman, that she would need unique strengths for many situations, especially in bearing  and nurturing children, that were very different from the strengths of man.

However, a downside to demanding and grappling for happiness is that we are, by nature, near-sighted and can’t see the entire picture. I’m grateful to be safely in the spot God has identified for me. After  following Jesus for nearly fifty years, I’m convinced it’s the rather upside down way to really get the life I always wanted. A life of real purpose, with deep meaning and tangible transformation. A happy life, I’ve found, is not equivalent to a life without pain. A fulfilled life is one with a mixture of joy and sorrow because the difficulties make us more complete; more like Jesus. Thrown in are the most meaningful and treasured human relationships that I’d ever hope to have.

One of my favorite verses is  For in Him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17).

 

 

 

 

The Best Christmas Gifts

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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

 

In 1979 I celebrated my first Christmas as a single mom. This was not a status I sought or ever dreamt I’d experience. But I had to make the best of it. In my care was a precious toddler son and a baby in my belly. I’d say that I had more time than money. But time wasn’t really that plentiful—to make ends meet I daily cared for five additional children in my tiny home. Time available still out-weighed the money, I guess. I took stock of materials I had and created gifts without spending a dime. I think I was most proud of placemats I made for my mom. I’d been given red calico fabric which I quilted and covered the edges with red bias tape. My mom loved them!  It’s hard to imagine taking the time to do that today! I had embroidery thread and cloth to stitch so I made my dad a cross-stitched framed picture of a deer. Probably not the top of his wish list, but I’m sure he appreciated my effort! I remember making lots of ornaments from fabric remnants and baking treats, probably chocolate chip cookies. Those were difficult but memorable days. It’s funny when you think about what things are most important and the gifts that are most special.

Christmas season 2015 had me harkening back to the old days. Again, I decided to make all of our presents. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that I had a wonderful time creating with materials I had on hand.  I think I had more fun than the recipients. Maybe not a stellar year for them, but fulfilling for me!

These days I almost don’t recognize myself. In years past, on December eighteenth, I would have been scurrying around, frantically shopping for the perfect gift for everyone on my list. This year I’m embracing imperfection in all of its glory. I’m not getting everything done that I’d like to do. Grace  is what I’m giving myself. I’m savoring the moments and saying yes to things I would have avoided in earlier years, because they interrupted my progress. This year I’m counting my gifts–experiences that I wouldn’t have seen as gifts before.  Here are some personal favorites:

  • The annual Christmas Talent Show hosted by our daughter’s Group Home is my all time favorite gift. Dawn has autism and severe cognitive disabilities. Each year she wears a red shirt and refuses to wear a festive hat. Every year she holds bells in her hand because ringing them is her part in the show. Every year she carefully, systematically holds them still, so as not to ring them. We watch with raucous laughter and cheers. The Beethoven of the group plays four or five notes on the keys with one finger and spends more time taking his bow. The quartet “sings” with the biggest smiles you can imagine. Then, Santa appears!  The folks jump up from their seats to give him the biggest hug ever. As you watch their interactions,  you know Santa is real!
  • Senior project presentations by the Occupational Prep class at a local high school. I’m amazed at the knack my daughter has with these kids. I was moved to tears by their stories and the hope I have for their future! And I almost said no to her request to come! It was cold and dark, it was on Market Street, I felt out of place and I wanted to stay home. I’m so grateful that she persisted!
  • Spending time with our first grandchild. Pondering the significance and blessing of bearing children and knowing and enjoying our children’s children. What a gift.
  • Going through all of our coats and blankets and donating extras to the homeless shelter.
  • Making financial donations to people and ministries who are doing the work. They are truly the hands and feet of Jesus.
  • Enjoying the new clients I’ve met in my Tranquiliving business during the holiday season. One lady is ready for her children to join her for Christmas because of my help. Another will be hosting a party for her friends since we conquered the paper piles together! Everyone has a story and they’re all important!
  • Christmas music!
  • Gratitude for our grown sons and the way they love their wives.
  • Our daughter’s upcoming marriage to a great guy that God chose for her!
  • All the notes and cards from my husband while he’s working in another city. And for our thirty-one years.
  • Too many more “gifts” to count. Writing these stirs up my gratitude!

If you find yourself out of ideas and time, here are a few suggestions:

  • Send a note with an offer to treat a friend to lunch or coffee after the holidays.
  • Post your Christmas card on social media.
  • Mail a card or send a text affirming your appreciation and love for a friend.
  • Offer to babysit so a young couple can have a date.
  • Pick up a gift of coffee, tea, a plant or candy at Trader Joe’s.
  • Offer to help a friend wrap gifts.
  • Help a friend with post Christmas clean up.
“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
― Calvin Coolidge

Nesting, Thanksgivng and My Gift for You

fullsizerender“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” G.K. Chesterton

Is there anyone besides me who thinks that our traditional Thanksgiving holiday has gone missing?

No one on the planet loves Christmas more than me. The holy majestic miraculous celebration! The food, the gatherings, the music, the people!

What I don’t love is feeling smothered by a heavy blanket of marketing that demands, “more More MORE  and rush Rush RUSH!” In social media, print ads and big box stores (ugh), every imaginable trinket, doodad, tchotchke, article of clothing, kitchen item, decoration, game, plastic toy, seems heaped on burgeoning shelves. (As I often remind my organizing clients, “The goal of manufacturers is to create profit, not to improve your life.”) I don’t mean to be a grouch, but honestly is that what Christmas is really all about?

Thanksgiving is only a few days away. I’m laying out the fall decorations I’ve had for so many years. Not fancy, but important because the simple traditions tie us together and remind us that in ongoing change some things are the same. We are always family. Yesterday I made my easy chocolate clusters just so I could fill the glass pumpkin-shaped jar that probably came from a discount store thirty plus years ago.

Think of me as the self-designated Keeper of the Thanksgiving Light. The flame is waning—it’s brightness dimmed by blinding lights clamoring for compulsive shopping and excess. The lighthouse calls gently and rhythmically to those who’d listen. “Remember to pause, be thankful, breathe. Remember who you are, what’s most important and how to really love your people.”

Let’s call to mind all the real gifts we’ve undeservingly received. Sometimes we are moving too fast to notice. Thanksgiving beckons us to pause, open our eyes to the present moment and to wait a few more days before the foray into frenzy.

My Thanksgiving gift to you is a recipe for the simplest and best pumpkin bread ever, especially when you spiff it up with my favorite addition!

JULIE’S PUMPKIN BREAD

3 Cups Sugar

1 Cup Oil

4 Eggs

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2/3 Cup water

2 Cups Pumpkin (one 15 oz. can)

3 1/3 Cups Flour

1 Cup Raisins (optional) OR my personal favorite: 1 Cup Chocolate Chips!

Mix ingredients together in a large bowl and pour into 3 greased and floured loaf pans (8 inch or 9 inch). Bake 1 hour @ 350 degrees. Cool briefly before turning out.

YUM!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!