Saturday, December 17

The Only Thing Perfect About Christmas

um...yeah...not our cookies...pretty though!

     What would the month of December be without making and eating cookies? We had a major cookie bake-off here over the weekend that culminated by frosting and sprinkling cutouts at the counter at 9 a.m. this morning before we left for church. It is now 4 p.m. and I just tackled the majority of the dirty dishes that began on Friday night. Whew.

     The girls had a ton of fun making cookies, Daddy had a ton of fun eating cookies (he is our version of the cookie monster for sure!), and we wound up with some great tins and boxes of homemade treats to deliver to a couple of the neighbors later today.

     Scott and I did learn, or should I say, some truths about us were reinforced, through the entire experience...First and foremost, that he is by FAR a better baker than I...Everything he makes magically bakes to perfection, like something out of the Betty Crocker cookbook.

     Everything I make...we'll just say there is usually an issue or two along the way. Like our first batch of cut outs...

   Let me start by telling you our kitchen was TRASHED! It was Scott and I and three little girls (our next door neighbor's daughter joined us) and there was flour, and dough scraps flying around the kitchen with tornado force momentum.

     It was quite a mess.

     A fantastic mess, in my opinion, given the amount of laughter and the smiles that emerged, but a mess nonetheless.

     Scott was not so excited about the mess at first...he, like many dads I not used to how much of a mess kids make when they do things like bake, or make crafts, but he slowly warmed up to it when I told him to "think like an artist" (My code word for let's create and be happy and deal with the mess's all part of the process!).

     That said, in between the clouds of flour and shards of falling cookie dough we managed to burn an entire tray of cookies beyond edibility...because, well, I was supposed to be monitoring them in the oven and I was a bit...well...distracted by the goings on around me.

    Grrrr. That's when I get crabby. Guess why?


     Those darned little things.

     Ironically, I'm o.k. with a completely trashed kitchen, but when my cookies burn, watch out!

    At which point Scott prompted me with, "Lisa, we've done as well as we could given the situation.  It's o.k."

    You can see why we need each other.

    The thing is, I had visions of sugar plums and beautifully decorated cookies, dancing in my head. Beautifully decorated cookies that I was going to arrange just so on plates to give to my neighbors to say Merry Christmas.

     (The next night, to top it off, I botched the peppermint bark too (Two years in a row I might add!!! White chocolate does not melt the way the online recipes claim it does...either that or I'm doing something wrong!)).

     I was tempted to say it was all not good...skip the neighborly cookie plates...bah humbug to burnt Christmas cookies and unsightly peppermint bark.

     And then I remembered that I tend to do this. That if things don't turn out just so,  that I can tend to discard the entire experience as no good, instead of finding value in the situation. If you saw my house on any given day you would not guess that I have perfectionist tendencies, but they do sneak up every now and then in my day to day tasks. When things don't go as planned I can tend to get discouraged instead of pressing on and making the most of things as they are.

     I have small kids. Things do not go as planned all that often. You'd think I'd have figured this out by now.

     We have plenty of good cookies. I'll use the peppermint bark that did turn out. The neighbors aren't going to care anyways. Heck, they may end up throwing half the plate of cookies away because they have too many around the house! It will have been the thought that counted. It will have been that we stopped by their house, remembered them, said Merry Christmas and connected, if ever so briefly with them during a very busy time of year.

     I think I sometimes treat the Christmas season, the entire month of December actually,  like I treated my cookie making escapades...a few bad moments and I'm ready to chalk the whole Christmas experience up to "not the way I would have liked it to be" and in the process I forgo some of the joy I could be experiencing.

     Life is not perfect. Every moment during the month of December is not going to be perfect. Chances are that every moment of Christmas day will not even be perfect...I'm sure there will be some moments (there always are at big family gatherings!) of short fuses, or whining children or food and drink spilling on a carpet.

     I was at a Christmas concert last weekend in which one of the performers talked about the gift of Jesus at Christmas time. He did not come to the world to save our perfect selves. He came to the world because we are imperfect and need some major help because, left to our own devices, well we'd pretty much be a lost cause.

    Jesus loves my cookie burning, bad housekeeping, disorganized and overwhelmed self.

     He loves me just as I am. He loves you just as you are.

     THAT is the TRUE beauty, meaning and spirit of Christmas. It's the ONLY thing you need to understand to experience Christmas in all of its glory. It's the only gift we really need.

     No matter how crazy the month gets, how awful (or good!) your cookies taste, what gifts you end up offering to friends and family...none of that changes what Christmas is actually about, and therefore, if you really think about it, the only thing that can "ruin" Christmas is your reaction to it. Because happy or crabby Jesus still came to this world because we needed a savior and I'd say that is something to rejoice about!

    So let me just implore you to remember that it doesn't matter if you check everything off of your to-do list this month, it doesn't matter if you've been less peaceful and joyful than you've hoped, it doesn't matter if you aren't "feeling" the Christmas spirit as you had anticipated you would or should after tree lightings and parties and concerts and cookies.

    None of it really matters.

    Just as in the classic song "Joy to the World"...Our Lord has come...Let earth RECEIVE her King.

    Hold out your hands...RECEIVE the gift  that is being offered...grace, love, joy, peace...a SAVIOR to meet you in all of your imperfections.

     Because he is the perfect gift.

     Merry Christmas!!!

    I look forward to connecting with again afterwards!

our not so bad (actually pretty cute!) neighborly goodie boxes!

Sunday, December 11

In the Details

     Details, details, details...I find fall and winter to be full of details as one holiday (didn’t we just go trick or treating yesterday?) seamlessly makes its way into the next…(only 2 weeks until Christmas…already?!!). Each holiday the rightful owner to particular traditions, decorations and holiday hoopla and each presenting itself with a long to-do list in the midst of already busy days and schedules. 

     I'm still working out what it means to shop for two children every the children grow, as the seasons change, the clothing needs change too. Where will we store the bathing suits, pool toys and rain coats while we make way for boots and shovels and mittens? And what about what won't fit next year, and what doesn't fit this year? Does it get stored? Will we have another child? Should I donate it? Where is the best place to spend the least money on all of the new stuff the girls need? 

     And that is just one small part of our lives? 

     All of these details are important, but they also overwhelm me at times (Me? Overhwhelmed?!)

     I was an o.k. manager of details when there were only mine to manage…I could pretty aptly manage my schedule on a weekly basis, I had my seasonal clothing storage figured out, I had an exercise routine and a writing routine and all sorts of other methods that worked out alright for the most part. You know, in my past life before getting married (which I love--don't get me wrong) and before having children (which I also love in a very disorganized way!).

     Enter husband…and a whole new set of details.

     Enter child no. 1 and a whole new set of details.

     Enter child no. 2 and a completely new set of details emerges.

     Enter tired, confused momma who doesn’t know where her keys are, or what day it is, or where in the world I might be able to find a matching pair of socks for myself on a given morning, let alone for two small children staring at me with big round eyes. Mommy? They seem to be saying. You’re going to dress us so that we don’t look like members of the local circus this morning, right?

     Well of course my dear children…now if only we could find your shoes…it’s snowing outside and the flip flops are just not cutting it anymore.

     Ladies and Gents…I’m swimming in details…and let’s just say I don’t feel like I was ever given the proper swim lessons to keep up on some days . The days when I’m barely keeping my head above water: The days I’m doggy paddling from one side of the pool to the other:  The days I use swimmies to take me down to the shallow end where I just stand staring at the folks who seem to be enjoying the deep end. It is there that I stop and think “What in the world am I doing wrong?” while I try to catch my breath and tell myself I’m still in the game as long as I’m still in the pool.

     The days I think, Well, now why in the world did I spend all that money on classes in art history and psychology and political science when what I really needed was several semesters worth of classes on time management, and household organization? 

     I know that sounds awfully 1950's housewifish of me...but truly, do you not agree? 

     Alright, this was supposed to be a post about Christmas…a reverent, spiritual, how am I staying connected to Christ in the Christmas season post...I'm getting to that part...

     So now that I've aired my piles of dirty laundry about how I'm swimming in the deep waters of details and feeling like I need a life preserver, here’s how I'm trying to stay present in the midst of the advent and Christmas season…In the middle of all of the details. 

     I know this sounds very cliche, but it is the only thing that works--In the middle of the flurries of details, I try to focus on what really matters. I try to focus on the present moment...the details of the very present moment. 

     Details like the delight in my girls eyes when they saw the snow on Friday morning and asked me to roll down their windows on the way to school so that they could eat it and then proclaim that it “tasted like freezie pops”.

     Like the unfettered enthusiasm that my four year old displayed when I pulled out the bin of ornaments this year and she exclaimed, “OH MOMMY! Let’s put these on the tree! They're BEAUTIFUL!”

     Like how they are both talking to me about Mary and baby Jesus and Joseph (or Jo-fuss as Ella says) as we do our ornament projects each day and pass nativity scenes and attend church services. 

     Their laughter, their smiles, the way Ava did Ella’s hair on Friday morning before school and declared that I was not to touch it! (It was a pretty funny mess of tangled hair, but I left the barrettes and the headband and the pony holders in place and simply told her teachers that her sister had done her hair that morning and that I was not taking credit…they smiled too!).

     Earlier this week I heard one of our pastor’s wives talking about being a mom-- how fast it goes and how we should try not to rush the days away. It’s a sentiment I’ve heard hundreds of times since becoming a mom…It’s a sentiment I need to hear over and over and over again.

     I got all teary and misty eyed because I know…I know how fast they have already grown. I KNOW how fast they will continue to grow. I KNOW I will be nostalgically wishing they were little again and that I will miss their round eyes, and chubby cheeks, and untainted delight over the details of Christmas.

      I KNOW I wish the days away too often.

     So even this weekend as I shop for snow boots and gifts and cookie decorating supplies and even  this morning as I glanced at a very messy playroom and said to my husband, “Oh dear honey…I’m sorry the house is always a mess…what am I doing wrong" I'm trying to be in the moments. The messy, busy moments. 

      And my husband, bless his heart, said the best thing he could say…

    “This IS OUR life babe.” Meaning, this is our messy, joy-filled blessed life, and it is good, and it is normal, and it is a season and it is OK.

    And so as I drove the girls to school on Friday morning and was feeling like I was starting to let my mind swirl about the details, I did the one thing that works well for me, I started to focus on the details of the moment…It’s a little game I play called the 5 Senses. What do you hear, feel, see, taste and smell in THIS moment?

    I heard laughter from the back seat, I felt a cool breeze on the back of my neck as the girls scooped the snow from the windows, I saw the snow dusting the trees like frosted sugar sprinkled from the sky, I felt the smooth leather of the steering wheel and I tasted my coffee, made by my husband.

    And then I stopped and gave thanks for all of them, for it was good, and THIS is the will of God. Giving thanks in everything, the clean and the messy, the clear and the fuzzy. I was convicted by the fact that I almost missed those gifts.

    And THIS is how we stay present in a busy, hectic and beautiful Christmas season. We stop and pay attention to the small details in the midst of the many more, and we give THANKS, joyful expressions of THANKS for them all.  And then we do it again, and again and again. And eventually we realize that life is not going to wait for us to have it all together to start taking place, but that it is happening right now. 


Saturday, December 3

Reflections on Christmas, Part 2: Are You Making Room?

There is a post-it note hanging on my refrigerator door. It says, "Are you making room?"

It is a gentle message on yellow paper, sketched in pen, to continuously remind myself to be doing the only thing that matters this month; making room for Jesus.

You see, I was reminded by Daniel Partner in a devotional book I have been reading called The Wonder of Christmas, that "The story of Bethlehem's crowded inn is a parable of the [modern] Christmas season."

We fill our hearts, and spend our time, and putter through our days shopping, and baking and prepping and running...the pace feels fast and the list seems long.

Ironically, as Joseph and Mary entered Bethlehem, the city was busy and crowded, everyone had gathered for the census and there was not enough room...not enough room in the inn...not enough room for a pregnant woman, her husband, and inevitably the baby. Of all the lives they were counting that day, this was a life that would truly count, whose birth would change the world. There was no room for them in the inn.

I don't want my life to bear modern day parallels to that inn so long ago...I don't want to look Jesus in the face and say, I'm sorry there is no room here, we are crowded and busy...I'm sorry.

So how do we make room?

We stop. We listen. We pray...oftentimes in the midst of the mess...and that is where it is hardest for me.

It is hard when the dishes peak out from the sink, and the laundry billows over the sides of baskets, clean but wrinkled and needing to be folded. It is hard when my day has been spent tending, tending, tending and I desperately just want to wiggle my nose to make the mess go away magically after the girls go to bed so that I can rest, and breathe. But, the mess is there and it will remain and I have choices to make...fold the laundry or make room for Jesus in the middle of it.

Oh my, it's so like Martha and Mary all the time, isn't it?

Do we strive to do more or stop at his feet?

And then I am reminded that while I'm spending all of this time waiting for the perfect house to have my perfect holy moment, Jesus was born in a stable...a messy, straw filled, dusty stable. And I have to stop and almost laugh aloud...if God wanted a picture of perfection could He have not ordained a way for Mary and Joseph to spend the night in a nicely groomed inn?

In this moment in which God is teaching me that my holy moments are going to happen in a messy house, because that is the season of life I am in, I am reminded of a point in Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand is one of the images that remains most vividly from my reading of the book. 

Ann has an incredibly holy moment as she is staring at the moon one night...a mountaintop experience, so to speak, in which she fully feels the glory of God in the light of the moon. It's beautiful, it's glorious, it's holy.

And then.

And then what seems like the very next morning, or at least the very next chapter, her son throws toast in his brother's face. 

Oh my goodness. I KNOW that moment...the glorious moment, followed by the toast moment and how I want to completely discredit the glorious moment because of the toast moment!!! 

How I feel the urge to discredit the intimate moments I've already had with God during this advent season, the moments when he has taught me about peace, and mess and a baby in a manger because the folded laundry ends up strewn on the floor or my four year old has a tantrum over a piece of chocolate. 

In the middle of Ann's toast moment she is angry and frustrated and asks herself, "Why? Can I just go back to the moon and the brazen glory?"

Oh my...I know that feeling...Can I just go back to the prayer moment, the peaceful place, the one where I felt connected to God and full of joy. 

She continues asking questions...working out her faith, "How do I have the holy vision in this mess?" 

Yes...Yes...Yes! It is the question I ask myself daily...How do I maintain my holy vision in all of this mess?!!

And the lesson that God seems to be prodding at my heart during this advent season is this-- that He gives us the holy moments not so that we can sit in them forever (that's what heaven is all about!), He gives us the holy moments so that they can ignite grace in the messy ones. 


We must continue to make space for Christ in our inns this season...and as we make space our hearts will be filled...and once our hearts are filled we might walk into a great big mess of sorts, and at that moment you will have a choice...let the holy moments have meant nothing or let them mean everything.

"Glory to God in the highest, 
     and on earth peace to men on 
         whom his favor rests." 
                                      Luke 2:14 

(This is the second of four Christmas posts that will be posted each Sunday this month. Besides these Christmas posts I am taking a blogging break until the new year! Merry Christmas.) 

Reflections on Christmas, Part 1
Why I'm Taking a Blogging Break