The Work of Christmas

As Christmas Eve waited on deck this week, I found myself apologizing to my husband. Apologizing that our Christmas hadn’t been more special, more meaningful, more full of sweet, reflective moments. He just cradled my face, kissed me, reassured me that it had been just fine, and, more importantly, my pastor/husband reminded me that Christmas had not even begun yet. And you know what? He was right. Christmas hadn’t begun yet and neither had its work. The work of Christmas starts with Christmas Day. It is literally the first day of Christmas and its work continues on from there.

What does that mean, though: the work of Christmas? Jesus came to live, see the unseen, love the unloved, give His life for all, and offer a place to everyone. His work was love, and that work began with His birth. So how do we do the work of Christmas? We love. How do we love? We love by encouraging. We love by defending. We love by not giving up. We love by not giving in. We love by respecting. We love by swallowing our opinions and listening to the drop and opening of others’ hearts.

We do the work of Christmas by loving, by forgiving, by standing in the gap, by hearing, by listening, by speaking up when necessary. Christmas began yesterday, the old year is on its way towards the door, and we have an entire new one coming in which to do Christmas’s work. Will you join me in carrying Christmas throughout the whole of the year? No matter what you celebrate, what you call it, will you help me do the work of love this year? Will you help me set the world on fire with it in 2019? I could use your help, dear friend. Thank you.

A Winter’s See You Soon

Author’s Note: Back in April, I visited Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. As my companion and I were heading down the walkway to catch the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley from Hogsmeade, I had the distinct feeling and vision of two students, arm in arm, making their way from Hogwarts Castle to Hogsmeade to catch the train home for the holidays. I even wrote it up but I do not think I ever posted it. Perhaps I am wrong but, either way, this is a good thing. I had originally envisioned and written this as a summer holiday leave-taking, BUT in honor of the Christmas holidays of which we are in the midst, I changed it slightly. I hope you enjoy, dear Readers. 

Also, standard disclaimers: All things Harry Potter, Hogwarts, etc., belong to Ms. J.K. Rowling. They are her creative babies and I thank her for lending us all the use of them to enjoy. The image belongs to

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Arm in arm, they walked down the path to Hogsmeade, much slower than the gaggles of fellow students streaming out of Hogwarts and into the gently-swirling snow. The Christmas excitement was palpable, but, for those two students, it was bittersweet.

“So I can still come down to London for New Year’s Eve?” she asked hopefully.

“Definitely, and don’t forget: I’m taking you to see Celestina on Twelfth Night, right before we come back,” he reminded her tenderly.

She beamed at that. “I still canna believe you wrangled tickets to it! It’ll be the best!” she gushed, at which her Slytherin companion tapped the cold-pinked tip of her nose, causing her cheeks to flush an even deeper shade of the rosy color.

The gold of her cozy scarf lent a softer glow to the emerald and silver sheen of his, and he found himself drawing her closer. She responded in kind, her grip a bit tighter on him.

“We will have the whole train ride, don’t worry,” he reassured her, to which she smiled, completely ignoring the looks some of Slytherin girls gave as they passed them.

“I hate leaving,” she then murmured softly, “Even if only for a little bit.”

“Me, too,” he agreed, gazing at her with those piercing blue eyes, once again marveling at the warmth of the Hufflepuff’s brown ones.

The peaked, snow-capped roofs of Hogsmeade appeared in the closing distance and they could see the hot steam of the Hogwarts Express frothing up in the cold December air, waiting to take the students back to Kings Cross and their families. Professor—excuse me, Headmistress—McGonagall had waved those heading home off from the gates of the castle, warmly wishing them a Happy Christmas and good winter holiday. Now these two drew closer and closer to goodbye, for now, at least.

She drew physically closer to him, her arm around his waist and his over her shoulders, a kiss dropped sweetly on her temple beneath her grey knit hat. Friends rushed by the sedately-strolling pair, calling out teasings and happy Christmases and see-you-soons, to which they replied with smiles and waves. They would be there in plenty of time, and she knew a friend would save a compartment for them; sixth years had a code, after all.

The train ride from Hogsmeade to Kings Cross felt all too short, filled with soft moments, laughter and reminisces and plans made with friends for the new year, last hours of togetherness shared. When they reached snowy Kings Cross and all were about to part ways—him staying in London and her for the platform back up north—he reached out and drew her to him before leaving their compartment. This kiss was deep but gentle, almost chaste and yet still blistering.

“To tide us over,” he murmured, squeezing his lovely Hufflegirl close.

“Just a week,” she agreed, sniffling back tears and clinging to the back of the hoodie he’d changed into.

Donning their coats, they left the train hand in hand. Their families waited in opposite directions and so fingertips lingered and parted, and he watched the lovely coral of her flutter beneath the warm, plummy coat as she moved to greet her parents, a look over her shoulder given just for him.

All around were shouts and greetings and well-mets and holiday greetings; one couldn’t help but smile, for whatever reason. Christmas was here.


Letting Go of “Lots” for Christmas

Throughout life, but especially right now in the Holiday Season, I am finding more and more each year, that I am having to let go. Not of people necessarily (though that does happen) but definitely let go. I am having to let go of plans and expectations, of details and striving.

I really wanted this year to be different, simpler. Doesn’t that sound odd, though? Striving for simplicity? I tried to lower the number of gifts bought (losing battle, usually, but maybe I’ll try something different next year). I have tried to embrace the quiet moments (difficult with a rambunctious five-year-old and the never-ending work of teaching). I tried to get everything done early (yeah…was still ordering gifts as recently as Saturday morning). I feel like I’m constantly striving for a goal but missing it somehow and then having to let go of what I thought were pretty good plans. Even worse, I’m having to let go of expectations that I somehow managed to place upon myself without even realizing the weight that was settling on my shoulders. You, too? Well, welcome to the club. More and more I am feeling like Cindy Lu Who, wondering what happened to my joy in Christmas, while, all the while, I’m rushing around like mad, the same as every other Who in Whoville. After all, there are still Christmas programs to attend and participate in, pitch-ins to cook for, papers to grade, and presents to wrap.

Every year, I say the same thing and I feel like I fail at that one thing: a simpler, more meaningful Christmas. I feel as though I lose myself in the attempt to make sure that it’s special for my dear ones–which is, of course, important–and I forget to enjoy it myself. Then I blink and…Christmas is gone.  The season is over and the softness of the lights becomes glaring, a reminder that it’s slipped through my fingers again.

Is this you, too, by any chance? Well, then. Trust me, dear one, you are in excellent company. The rush of the world is hard to resist and sometimes we just end up striving anyway and feeling like we never get much of anywhere. But there is good news! Christmas hasn’t passed us by yet. Like Scrooge, we still have a chance. We still have a chance for a glass of wine/hot chocolate/egg nog/cider before the silent glow of the Christmas tree. We have a chance to find those little moments of peace and quiet. We still have a chance to let go of some “lots” for a bit more of “best”.



Taking the “Should” Out of Christmas.

The Christmas Season is in full swing and I’m already feeling the stress. My daughter is now old enough and aware enough to realize that she wants things, wants specific things, and so, this year, we have been presented with a Christmas list. Two things on that very specific list, however, have proven difficult to obtain: a doll that looks like her Daddy (they just don’t make male dolls with facial hair; tsk tsk, representation, people!) and a talking Pikachu. The latter is this year’s hottest toy, which she saw on a commercial for ten seconds while at Pizza Hut for lunch (curse my love for their salad bar) and is now obsessed with. That day, she spent the rest of the afternoon telling anyone who would listen that her grandpa is going to turn into Santa Clause (honestly, Grandpa is the foremost of the two figures; Santa looks like Grandpa and NOT the other way around) and bring her a Pikachu “that talks out of his tummy”. I have looked and shopped and searched and that Pikachu can be found nowhere for a decent price, “decent” being less than forty dollars at this point. It’s out of stock in all the local toy stores (and Toys R Us apparently won’t ship it from a warehouse, only fulfill the order from a stocked store) and the third-party sellers on Amazon have to be making a mint off these things, the way they have priced them up. Profiteering, I tell you! So, yeah, no pressure there. I am also already freaking out because I still have people on my list for whom I have bought zero gifts as of yet. My Christmas cards haven’t been sent out because I haven’t picked up the prints of our family portraits yet. Yes, I know it’s only the 6th but, in my mind, I’m already way, way behind. I should have gotten most of this done already.

It’s admittedly very, very, VERY hard to stay mindful and focused on the season, never mind relaxed, when you are bombarded on all sides by the STUFF of Christmas.  The doing, the decorating (don’t have those up yet either), the cooking, the socializing, the performing…it’s so much, isn’t it? There have been too many Christmases that I have regretted getting caught up in the stuff and missing the beauty of Christmas, the quiet moments, the mindfulness and remembrances because of all the stuff that I think I should be concentrating on. Wait, there’s that word again. Should. There are so many “shoulds” in Christmas, aren’t there? Should there be so many “shoulds?” I should cook. I should get those cards done. I should have gotten all my gifts already. I should help with all the events. I should get the decorations up before people come over. I should, I should, I should, I should!

“Should” wears me out. “Should” makes me want Christmas to be over already. I want to get rid of “should”. I want “I will” this Christmas. That is what I want.

Yes, I will read you a story.

Yes, I will watch a movie with you.

Yes, I will have another cup of coffee.

Yes, I will listen to you.

Yes, I will take a walk.

Yes, I will sing a song.

Yes, I will sit alone in the quiet for a bit.

Yes, I will pray with you.

Yes, I will laugh.

Yes, I will help you.

Yes, I will let good be good enough.

I want this to be an “I will” Christmas. I will slow down. I will do my best and not push for perfection. I will be happy with smaller decorations, fewer gifts, and quieter moments.

I could blame the rush on being back to work full-time this year and not having as many free hours in the day for all the “stuff”. No, I won’t do that. Instead, I can just say, “I will do what I can”. I will  do what I can to make this a lovely holiday for my family and for myself. I will give myself permission for quiet moments, for time alone, to do things that I enjoy as well as what I think others might enjoy as well.

Let this be a Christmas of “I will”. Let’s give ourselves a break, take a breath of cool, clean air, and gift ourselves with an “I will”.

Sweet Floating

The other day, as I covered my bed in freshly laundered linens, I paused for a finishing touch. I took some air freshener and sprayed my pillow and side of the bed lightly, the apple-cinnamon aroma making me long for bedtime to come, when I could bury my nose into my pillow and allow that sweet scent to soothe away the day’s care and busyness and lull me to sleep.

There are few scents in the world more calming, lovely, and soul-soothing to me than apples and cinnamon (except for Glade’s creamy custard/apple cinnamon 2-in-1 candle; that reminds me of my favorite My Little Pony when I was a little girl, smells just like her). The scent calls to mind all the time of the year from autumn harvest through Christmas. It warms me in the midst of the earth being in its winter bones outside. It calls me to comfort and peace and rest. I will re-scent my pillow and blanket later on so I really can’t wait to go to bed tonight.



Peaceful Sleep by Chujian Ou




Hymnal Thoughts

Before now, I have been hesitant to state which is my favorite Christmas hymn, and honestly, that is because I couldn’t decide. But now I have an answer. Definitely have an answer.

As I drove around through the cold January air, the rain falling in sheets and the sky a slate grey blanket above me, my car was full of warmth. Yes, I was listening to Christmas music in January, plainly breaking the family “rule” about no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. (When I am alone in my car and no Doc McStuffins soundtrack is being requested, I shall listen to what feeds my soul, thank you very much!) This song came on and stayed on repeat for most of the rest of my errand trip. I couldn’t get enough of hearing it, of singing it, of feeling it.

Without a doubt, “The First Noel” is my favorite Christmas hymn. There is no song that elicits that sense of thrumming anticipation and elation that the season embodies like it. No song that fills my soul to the brim and overflowing with that peaceful expectation, that serene joy that is all that Christmas means to me. It feels like song reaches into every part of my soul, flooding it with warmth and the desire to see light and love and hope everywhere, to see with my heart rather than just my eyes.

I want to keep that song, keep its core, its joy, anticipation, and watchful spirit alive in my life all the year through, not just Christmas. I want it to echo in my heart and in my life and spread out to others in the way I live each and every day.

PS. Thank you to my music teachers all through school for teaching me how to find and carry a part in a choral arrangement! I cannot tell you the joy I had finding that I could still sing along well enough to enjoy vocalizing along to this wonderful group of vocalists in their beautiful rendition.

NaBloPoMo Day 30: Advent

As I sat at my kitchen table, eating my breakfast of warmed apple dumplings and doing some research, I found myself pondering Advent. As you know, Christmas season has officially begun and this past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, which continues over the four Sundays before Christmas. I have refilled our chic little Starbucks Advent calendar with my toddler daughter’s new favorite “Chifee” (Christmas) candy, peppermint, and I couldn’t help thinking on how and what we will teach her about the Christmas season as she grows older.

Growing up, Advent was not made a huge deal of in my church community. I do not recall any advent candles or calendars, although that may just be a flaw in my recollection and not an absence in my experience. But, still, in our current church home, advent candles are lit, one added on each of the four Sundays before Christmas Day, with the fifth and center candle lit during the Christmas Eve service. Hope, peace, joy, and love–these are the themes of Advent, per my recent research and reading. These are themes and thoughts that lift my heart and soul. I have been researching Advent-themed devotionals, blog posts, and articles to share on our church blog and I can only pray that these posts will speak to people’s hearts and center minds and spirits for this season, bring them joy in hope.

I try to live my life with the goal and intention of living in peace, showing love, sowing hope, and (hopefully) exuding joy. I am so grateful for all that God has done for me and how He makes his presence known in my life, lifting my heart and soul in differing ways. Providence in circumstances, a perfectly-placed or timed song, or the spoken or hugged-out love of a friend or loved one. All of this has made an incalculable impact on my life and all I really desire is to live an encouraging, edifying, loving life in return, to share that peace, hope, love, and joy that has been lavished on me over the years.

Casting Back Through Memory

My earliest memory. Honestly, it’s very difficult to differentiate between what I remember and what has been told to me about my childhood. But one memory that I clearly have is of Christmas.

When I was a little girl, there was a gentleman down the road from us who set up a grand Christmas display in front of his house. Lights, winter scenes, animatronic deer and Santa and elves puppets/figures that put on a show in a theatre that he built up around a wall in front of his driveway. The whole place glowed and was positively magical for me. People from all over the neighborhood would come to see this display. It was the first grandiose Christmas lights display I ever remember seeing. I remember going there after church one Sunday night with my parents. As they stood and chatted with other adults, I wandered over to where an animatronic doe with big brown eyes was and, since she was close to me, I reached out and touched her muzzle very carefully. She was soft, velvety. Then, as the Christmas music and puppet show started, I twirled and danced around in my frilly, lacy church dress. It was like a Winter Wonderland for me and I hated having to leave.

Over the years, more people on the island began to create such large Christmas displays, especially the more affluent neighborhoods on the south sound of the island. They would turn their large yards and gardens into Christmas walks full of lights and music, cottages, and displays. To this day, I can feel the awe and wonder well up in my heart at just the thought of such beautiful, Christmas-y places.

Chasing the Moments

Greeting cards have all been sent
The Christmas rush is through
But I still have one wish to make
A special one for you

Christmas is over, the night is winding down. My toddler is abed, Ben is in his den, and Mom is flipping through channels on the TV. I’ve had my plate and a half of ham and side dishes, watched the “Call the Midwife” Holiday Special, had a glass of wine, and, now, a glass of sparkling white grape juice with my two Aleve before bedtime. As I reflect over this Christmas season, I find myself having to admit that someone on Twitter was correct at the Christmas season, at least partially. I spent a goodly deal of this Christmas weary, worn out, and stressed to the point of breaking. All I wanted were the quiet times, the periods of wonder and Christmas magic, of soft light glow amidst snowfall, and, except for a few all-too-fleeting moments, I didn’t really get them. And I complained about it (privately), a lot. But, as I sit here in the quiet of my living room, I realize that there are some changes I’d like to make to how we ‘do Christmas’, but, also, that I am having that moment right now, the one I’ve been chasing after all season.

As I get older and my daughter gets older and life gets busier, I need to be far more vigilant in seeing those moments for what they are and not just wishing for more of them. I had that moment when Ben and I were at the Luminary Walk. I had that moment while wrapping presents with my mother. I had that moment sitting quietly alone at the back of the church before Christmas Eve service. I had that moment before bedtime last night. I had it tonight with my daughter cuddled in my lap in her Christmas pjs. In all my rushing, I missed those moments for the gift they were and that makes me sad. I don’t want to do that again, and it will take hard work and awareness not to, but it is worth it. I am also happy, at the same time, in that I recognize those moments now for what they were and can remember them with a smile and a warm heart.

And, with that, I wish a merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.