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.

Keeping My Eye on the Ball…Er, Box

Not long ago, I was worried about having too few Christmas gifts for our daughter. More accurately, I was worried about her receiving too much for her birthday and Christmas from other family members and felt that the hubby’s and my hands were tied as to how many gifts we could/should get her for Christmas ourselves. However, today, as I wrapped said presents with my mother, I realized how dangerously close I had come to falling away from the reason for the Christmas season. No, I’m not just talking about the story of Jesus’ birth. What I mean is the spirit of giving, of generosity, compassion, and care for others rather than self. I desperately DO NOT want Christmas to become about what or how many gifts Elizabeth receives. I knew too many people who that was ALL they cared about with Christmas and it broke my heart. I do NOT want that for my daughter.

So, yeah, for a hot minute I fell into that trap and let it stress me out. But, no, Elizabeth has everything she needs and more than enough of her potential ‘wants’. She will have her first big birthday party this Saturday (which is stress enough for me); her family and friends are all around. She is smart and strong, clever and healthy. She is loved and cared for, with food in her belly, a roof over her head, and clothes on her back. She has all she needs. The gifts are icing.

Now, I love giving gifts. I love surprising people and making them smile. What I give them might not always be exactly what they want, but I do enjoy trying to find gifts that might mean something to them or, at least, give a grin and/or a chuckle, even if it is accompanied by a shake of the head. Buying gifts for family is often difficult as it is hard to know what they might want or need. For some reason, I feel a bit more freedom with buying and putting together gifts for friends. So, in addition to getting gifts for my family, I have done my best to get gifts for my closest friends, though I know that I couldn’t get everyone something. I honestly don’t expect anything, not really, though I didn’t really realize it until I said it aloud to my husband. I know that these seasons are hard enough on others, and they already have given me a great gift in their friendship and time. This is just another way for me to say thank you for that particular gift of theirs.

So while it might be stressful and tiring, crazy and hectic. I really do hope that we are able to find the happy moments in the midst of the rush of this season. I had to agree with a family friend today in that, yes, it finally was feeling like Christmas as I wrapped and stacked presents for these friends and loved ones. Your smiles (hopefully) are on their way, dear ones.

Looking Back at Christmas

This coming weekend, I will be presenting a program at my church’s Ladies’ Christmas Breakfast and Cookie Exchange. I am presenting on Christmas traditions in the Cayman Islands, where I grew up, with the help of my mother. That’s another big thing about Saturday: my mother, my mother-in-law, AND my daughter will be there. I also haven’t presented or anything of the like since I resigned from teaching in 2013, so I’m more than a little nervous.

There are several Christmas “traditions” that I remember fondly from growing up. One of them was going to tour the lit and decorated yards of the wealthier homes on the south side of the island. These folks went ALL OUT. They lit every tree and bush in the garden, had the animatronics displays out, sometimes even Santa himself there for the little ones to take pictures with. I really enjoyed it, as there would always be Christmas music playing and it felt a bit magical to me, especially when I was little. As I became a teenager, our youth group from church would head out there on the last Friday before Christmas. The folks who owned these homes knew most of us – our families – pretty well and, jokingly, one year they said that, if we were going to tour their yards, we should pay for it somehow. What they requested in recompense was for us to sing. Most of us in the youth group were also in the choir at school and, with places taken and a few pitches given, we launched into our Christmas program repertoire. Soon, most of the people touring the property had gathered to hear the voices that carried on the air across the yard. We enjoyed it and the owners were delighted. It was one of our favorite things to do on the bus: sing our choir pieces a capella. It kept us honest and in practice with the pieces that we had to memorize and perform. Plus, it was a heck of a lot of fun to just sing with my friends.

Another tradition was Christmas Eve dinner. On Christmas Eve, my parents and I would dress up and go out to a nice restaurant for dinner, usually my choice. Usually, it was just us, though sometimes it included some family friends. Eventually, for a few years, that dinner included me, my parents, my high school teacher (one of my favorite people in the world), her husband, and her son. We would spend hours at dinner, talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. I recall one night, as we sat on the restaurant’s patio, watching the new moon course from one corner of the sky to the next in the time of our dinner together. I remember wearing a particular dress to one of these dinners and, before bed that night, I received an email from my teacher’s son, telling me that I looked beautiful in my dress. I must admit, that had me chuffed for the rest of the season.

After dinner, the remainder of Christmas Eve was often spent with me and my mother in the darkened living room, “Carpenters Christmas Portrait” playing on the stereo, enjoying the glow of the Christmas tree. Some years, I would open one present on Christmas Eve, some years not. But I always ended Christmas Eve in front of the tree, ready for that flutter of anticipation in my heart come morning. It’s gotten milder as I have grown older, of course, but it’s still there and it’s nice.

The Wonder of Story

Have you ever held a new book in your hands, fresh and clean and so ripe with possibilities? You want to start reading, immediately, leap into its pages, but you don’t know where to start, as silly as that may sound. This is one of those books.  For those of you who may not know, I am in love with Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters books. So when her first anthology of fellow-author-written stories based in the world of Edwardian England under the veil of the White Lodge (Elemental Magic) was published, I was ecstatic. I bought a hard copy, as well as an e-copy on my Kindle. I read it to my infant daughter to put her down for  naps and thrilled at it in the quiet of my private time.

And, then, this morning – Christmas morning – I unwrap a gift from my husband to find this particular beauty waiting for me. I was wide-eyed, slack-jawed, and absolutely thrilled. I jumped up, ran to the bookshelf, and picked up the previous anthology to make sure that they were indeed different, and then I did a little happy dance in the living room and told my husband that he is simply amazing (which is very true). But I cannot describe the butterflies in my stomach as sit here with this book next to me. It’s like I want to rip into it but, at the same time, I want it to be the right time. The right time when I can have a substantial amount of time to myself to dive into these stories properly. I just can’t wait!

I am Charlie Brown

Every year, at Christmastime, I have the same realization: I am Charlie Brown. I’ve been depressed with Christmas shopping, run off my feet with activities, stressed out with preparations, and just not very much in the Christmas spirit, honestly.  At some point in the holidays, I “always end up feeling depressed”. And I forget.

I forget the quiet moments, the still small voice that seeks to remind me of the reason why we celebrate Christmas and this season. I forget the Lord that came to earth, bringing hope with his life, and joy amidst the fears of the day-to-day. I forget His peace. And I wish I didn’t. But peace is fleeting in this season, and I snatch it in the few moments that I can. Five minutes in the snowfall after taking out the trash. Twenty minutes in a nearly-empty Bob Evans while waiting for my order. It’s that tranquility that I should be keeping with me all the time, not snatching them like islands in a sea of chaos. But that’s what the season has become for so many of us: chaos. The peaceful moments are so few and far between in everyday life, and I wish that weren’t the case. But sometimes, those fleeting instants of peace are all we can do.