Dec 21, 2013

Where it all intermingles




It seems as this Christmas season ticks away, there seems to be swirling around me in different waves, moments of joy and moments of sorrow.  I place the creche up on my carefully decorated mantle, and carefully fill out my Christmas cards. As I fill them out, I am overwhelmed by the bountiful blessings of friendships that have poured into my life over the years. Many cards bring memories of laughter. Many cards are going to friends and family who have grief and sorrow swirling around them this season. My heart is heavy as I address some and wonder how this Christmas season is feeling for them.  Then my daughter calls and I get a silly little delightful moment with my middle child, who is writing Lizzle the elf a note, leaving me smiling at her innocence and sighing that it is passing.  Knowing that there is no sure thing in this life.  So I collect this moment with Ainsley as a precious bead on a string of happiness to be pulled out and treasured in other times.  Joy and sorrow.  Little precious moments butt up in contrast against tough monumental life struggles.

It seems to me that joy and sorrow do meet often and that they are strongest when they do.  The line between them at times seems so thin it's like a screen door, full of holes, where the air between them mingles and intersects.  The warmth from inside feels much warmer in contrast with the clear, cold blast from out of doors.  A taste of sorrow intensifies the warmth of joy when it comes.  And sometimes the air is so intermingled, you can't pull them apart or tell when one starts and one stops.

Mary must have felt that way as an unwed girl, laboring in a cattle stall, having a Son who is God, in poverty, having rough shepherds crash in on you during the night to talk about angels, and later, having kings visit with lavish gifts only to have to flee that night with your toddler across the desert.  Joy, pain, poverty, suffering, hope, chaos, love and wonder.  No wonder in Luke 2, it says of Mary that she treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart.
I ponder these things as well.
I wonder did Mary's joy and sorrow ever feel as if the separation between them was a solid as a heavy door rather than a screen?  Did seeing her son on the cross feel like being cut off from the source of joy?  Did she cling to the promise of hope and moments of wonder when the pathway to joy seemed to be slamming shut?  When Jesus's ministry years where spent rather opposite of what she had thought she had raised Him for, Mary and her other sons were embarrassed and tried to get Him to come home - and He publicly refused.  Did hope and joy mingle with confusion and pain?
And I ponder these things as well.
Do I limit God in my search for joy?  Do I miss that He is always at work?  Do I cling to Him when I cannot see?  
I do not blame Mary if she had these thoughts at all.  I want to be like her.  I want to ponder, treasure and seize the little moments of joy and let them be sacred in their smallness.  Small pinpricks of warmth breaking into the cold, until the door is flung wide open and you are enveloped in it.  Sometimes joy is like that I think.  Sometimes it rushes in, and at other times, it's barely pinpricks into the darkness to remind us that joy and hope are just on the other side and closer than we think.  "Smallness" versus "bigness" don't seem to have a place in God's vastness.  To the Giver they are the same.  Therefore, the bigness of the sorrow does not make a small joy flippant or irreverent, rather it is a pinprick to be cherished.  A hope to cling to, a promise of more to come.
Like tiny little pinpricks of Christmas lights flung celebratory into the darkness.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.



Dec 20, 2013

Readying

I mentioned in my last post that I broke out all the decor for Christmas in readiness for the Savior.  We celebrate around here!  However, our "extravagant" decor is done with hand-me-downs, handmade kid crafts and nothing too expensively over the top.  But we make sure the season is special with every corner of our house welcoming the Savior.  I'll open up the front door to you and let you step in and see our little decor we have around.

This how we welcome Christmas into our lives each year:
I have verses posted year round above my shelf over my couch.  With the blackboard doing double duty as a star, I thought it would be fun to post verses from John 1, speaking of Jesus coming as the light for men, full of grace and truth.
I just got this canvas this year to put in my entryway.  I'm pretty super in love with it.  This is my kid's very favorite Christmas verse and we say it every night of advent (though this year we have also added in reciting Luke 2).  Ainsley was heard to quote at the beginning of the season, "And He shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Quiche."  We've got her straightened out now though - that being a Prince of Peace is much better.
I have a lot of stockings collected over the years so the kids picked out their favorites and I made little tags so we knew who was who.
Christmas kid's books abound in baskets that get pulled out at Christmas.  We have been working our way through them.

Here is our main living space.  Not fancy by any means, but kid friendly with Christmas cheer to the max.  I may or may not have picked a leaning tree this year.  No matter which angle we look at it, it appears to be leaning a different direction.  The poor saggy thing is struggling to support my tin angel. But hey! Bright lights, ornaments galore, wood beaded garland and red icicles can hide a mulitude of problems.
If you turned right around from the above picture, you would see my front kitchen windows.  Burlap, gingham, lace, polka dots... aww happiness.
We drink coffee every morning and hot chocolate often makes an appearance during school time for the kids.  Banish the everyday mugs, bring out the Christmas cheer! How about some marshmallows and a striped straw to go with it?
My desk.  My perpetually messy desk next to the kitchen table.  The dumping ground for all paper that comes into the house.  The place where the laptop lives while we do school in the morning.  It's right smack dab in the middle of our living space.  Therefore, it has to be pretty too!
Why does this little wooden bird and this sweater bird house make me so happy?
I just stuck this right on an old vintage globe for the holiday season and tied on some baker's twine.  It's supposed to be tape that peels easily up.  Here's to hoping that's true when the season is over....
If you send us a card, we'll display it next to my aprons hanging with Santa hats on a clothesline.  To the right is our school command center.
The centerpiece.  That napkin holder is two stands found in the dollar spot at Target and glued together.  How about that jolly vintage snowman tin plate?
Tessa is bound and determined to lose every stinking piece in this Nativity set this year.  The lid comes off the stable and they set in there.  She is often mixing it with our Veggie Tale nativity set.  Which is totally fine because we keep losing one or both of the baby Jesus' so it puts the odds more in our favor that we will have at least one at any given time.  We never seem to have two so it works.
This is our Jesse advent tree.  We are reading through the Old Testament to find out how the stories point to Jesus.  Each story has a corresponding ornament until Christmas day when He arrives!  That advent calendar behind it has 24 individual board books which tell the Christmas story as well.
One always needs wool blankets for couch reading at night.  These live here during the winter. If you back up you can see our little kid's table.  Tessa uses it for crafting and eating and pulling up her baby dolls and stuffed animals. Above it are chalkboard magnet trays hung on the wall and a cloth nativity countdown from when I was little.  They like moving the date everyday.

I'll show you one circle.  I put up our pictures of the kids through the years at Christmas.  They all wore that Santa suit in their first year.  In this circle, Hunter is on the left, Tessa is on the right.
A happy little kid space.
And there you have it.  Christmas at our house.  I am finishing up my Christmas postcards.  I made my own design in photoshop this year, used Vistaprint where I could get 250 postcards for $25 (including shipping), and they even let me put my own letter on the back for free.  Then I could mail them at the postcard rate, $.33, yippee!  I mailed 60, am handing out tons, and using the rest for crafts and that made Christmas cards $40 total this year.  I cannot tell you how excited it made me to realize that Christmas cards for all our friends were in reach this year by doing it this way.  We skipped last year due to cost and that made me sad.
And if you are reading this and perhaps somehow didn't find yourself on our Christmas list this year, just know that our family is sending bushels of love your way, and the wish that you will also celebrate the birth of our Savior in the best way you can.
To Him be the glory, forever and ever, Amen.
Merry Christmas!

Dec 11, 2013

Why I Like Extravagance in Christmas

It seems like every post I come across is about keeping Christmas simpler, pairing down, keeping focus, wishing for less extravagance.  I'm all for that....except the extravagance part. I'm writing this blog post sipping gingerbread tea and listening to Bing Crosby. Clearly, I'm all in when it comes to the Christmas season.

While I'm also "all in" for keeping the meaning of Christmas all about Jesus's birth, this also follows for me that this season is perfect for celebrating in extravagance.  To me, there is no other way to adequately celebrate such a gift without going all out.  Deck those Halls.  I did.  Five big totes came out of the garage so our living room and house could basically throw-up Christmas all over every surface and wall.  When we got the tree all finished, the kids stood in front of it and just gaped.
              "It's so boootiful Mama!" Tessa exclaimed after turning off the main lights.
I agree.  It's beautiful.  So why do I think that Christmas should be done in extravagance since Jesus came to a poor stable to poor migrant parents?  Because even though Jesus came to the poor, it seems like God himself pulled all the stops to celebrate complete with angel choir, a crazy star and rich kings with elegant gifts. There is no more extravagant gift in all this world that the gift He gave to us that night. I can't turn around without being reminded of it this season.  And if you know the story of the first St. Nick, then even Santa Claus is a reminder of how one gives sacrificially to others.  I do know that we are supposed to celebrate every day, all year long, in the joy of Jesus's gift to us, but we should be grateful for a lot of things everyday.  That doesn't mean we do or even can in every moment.  It's the reason we have holidays and the reason God himself gave holidays for His people to celebrate.  It's a time out to reflect and enjoy celebration.  I thoroughly enjoy a season to celebrate, be gaudy, add surprises, and give to others. And while most of the activities we participate in over the season are focused on the nativity, there are few that are just plain fun and imaginative. There isn't even a redeeming tie-in to the nativity.  Yep, I am not even feeling guilty for adding in a little fun that is just for fun itself.  Elf on the Shelf, anyone?
While I say I want extravagance (and I definitely do!) this does not necessarily equate with materialism.  Yes, I love giving gifts at Christmas as this is symbolic to me of receiving the greatest gift of salvation and God with us.  However, we choose to not go crazy over here and keep it pretty simple when it comes to the gifts under the tree. We give two.  But by the time the extended family is done giving to our kids, it's pretty extravagant it seems to me.  I could probably rephrase my meaning better if I added the little word, FOCUSED extravagance.  Extravagance for it's own sake is just plain silly and selfish.
There are seasons for somber reflection.  There are also seasons to celebrate in an all out act of worship.  This is what Christmas represents to me.  All of it.  The lights we put on our house, the tree, the nativities, advent activities, all the Christmas baubles we set around.  It's a month long celebration of appreciation and worship.  We purposely focus this month in all of our activities.  In advent every night, we add a figure sticker to the nativity scene, we memorize Isaiah 9:6, we say Luke 2, we add an ornament to or Jesse tree (which walks us through the Old Testament in anticipation of Jesus' coming), read a devotion, and then we add a fun figure to our winter scene.  Sometimes we play the piano and sing carols. I read to the kids every night a Christmas book from my collection.  I just finished reading to the kids, "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."  Have you read it?  You should.  Hunter about died from laughing. But in the middle of the laughter, there is also a few tears at the end as I tearfully choke the words when Leroy gives the baby Jesus his Christmas ham (which just so happened to be the only thing this poor kid had to give).  
It's a time to celebrate others in an extension of God's extravagant love to all.  That's why there are Christmas parties, acts of sacrificial giving, acts of service to the needy, gifts to friends.
So no, I don't like the materialism of Christmas at all....but YES please, let me keep the extravagance. Give me a season to shout "Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King!"
Merry Christmas from our house to yours.  I hope you are able to celebrate with focused extravagance this holiday season.  Celebrate on!