#quiet · #seeingclearly · #shelterathome · #ShelterunderHiswing · Christmas · Eastern bluebirds · Moravian Love Feast · Spirituality · Wake Forest Lovefeast · Wake Forest University

Glimpses of Blue

Suddenly I am seeing flashes of brilliant blue all around.

If you read my last blog, Seeing Clearly, you know that I recently went through cataract surgery and had PanOptix implants. After a lifetime of blurry vision, the world is brighter! And one of my joys has been seeing bluebirds flitting through the air in our yard, swooping down to pick juicy bugs from the grass, then coming to rest on a tree limb or fence. They seem to be everywhere!

Chuck Porter, Flickr.com

Years ago we put up a bluebird house on the pole of our clothesline and each spring I gently pull down the front door and view the bright blue eggs nestled in their bed of pine straw and grass. We usually have at least two clutches each year and I feel like they are part of the family.

I thought that our bluebirds went south for the winter, but I read an article that said many Georgia bluebirds stay in their breeding grounds and are even joined by Canadian and Northeastern ones looking for warmer temperatures. I love the idea that our bluebirds want to stay near home and welcome their Northern friends!

I never knew so many were living in our trees and bushes until my eyes were opened. What else has gone unnoticed by me?

This Christmas season, despite the inconveniences of Covid, I don’t want to miss a thing.

I am resigned to the fact that my calendar is bare this December. I won’t be traveling to North Carolina to visit with family and friends or getting together here at home for social events. I am thankful that our son and his wife have been able to work from home and have been very careful about being exposed to the virus, so we will have them and our granddog Molly here for Christmas. But I know many who are forgoing seeing their children this year and others who have recently lost a loved one. Some are sick and/or quarantined. The risk of a “Blue Christmas” is high.

I am most despondent about not having the beautiful music programs this time of year. My church is doing a wonderful job of keeping as many traditions going as possible, but I will miss the excitement of a packed sanctuary with voices and instruments lifting to the heavens.

Online services fill in the gaps. Sunday night I sat by the Christmas tree and put in my earbuds to listen to the virtual Moravian Lovefeast from my alma mater, Wake Forest University. At first, I was put off by the empty chapel and the socially distanced musicians in masks. But as I listened in the quiet, I noticed that I heard the music much more precisely through my headphones. I could differentiate the sopranos and tenors and follow the musical lines. The strains of the brass band and majestic organ soared. Without the distraction of other people rustling around, the melodic strains came through in a way that touched my heart. Although the college has shared the service online for years, I never thought to join in until now.

Click here to watch the 2020 WFU Lovefeast on YouTube.

My prayer for this particularly still Christmas season is that I will take in the lights, sounds, and smells with a renewed intensity. When I read an Advent devotion, hear a carol, or bite into a sugar cookie, I want to feel that same spark of joy that excites me when I see the vivid azure feathers of the bluebirds. I want to bask in the warmth of the tree during my morning coffee time and glory in the cold air as I take my walks.  With more down time I want to listen for God’s voice to make this a time for spiritual growth and to be sensitive to ways I can reach out to others.

            How are you making Christmas 2020 special?

Christmas · Spirituality

The Year I Skipped Christmas

Let’s be honest – how many of you right now are feeling like you would love to skip Christmas?  When you look at the next two weeks, are you unsure how you will get all the shopping, wrapping, cooking and socializing done?  Instead of  joy in the season,  are you feeling overwhelmed, anxious and tired? Are you grieving a loss and the sparkling lights just magnify your sadness?

If you could wave a magic wand, would you just jump  to December 26?

I’ve been there.

Christmas and I have not always gotten along. We began having our struggles after I married and moved to Georgia. Although we visited during the season, being away from my family in North Carolina on Christmas Day was hard. As Adam got older and the excitement of seeing the season through his young eyes faded, I found myself dreading the whole thing. I was lonely and hearing other people talk about their plans for family get-togethers  just magnified my sense of isolation. Watching the happy families on  commercials and the Hallmark movies Keith loves to watch felt like salt being rubbed into my raw and sensitive heart.

Christmas always made me feel inadequate. I never seemed to measure up. The Christmases of my childhood were picture perfect – sparkling decorations and lights, a fire blazing on the hearth, rich food coming from the kitchen, lots of presents under the tree. Most years we had grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins gathered around the cloth covered tables. Bing Crosby himself could have settled down with his pipe and button-down sweater in our den and been right at home. Yes, my mother was exhausted and in an ill temper by the time the leftovers were in the refrigerator and the china and silver were returned to their places, but she created wonderful memories for me.

All that Christmas perfection emphasized my own short comings. Other women seemed to be juggling full time work, kitchens full of homemade treats, beautifully decorated homes with multiple trees and just right gifts for everyone, while flitting to choir practice and constant parties. I  struggled to get one tree up and cards sent out in time. Instead of holiday joy, all I felt was frustration.

In the fall of 2002, my father’s health was failing. A proud veteran of World War II and a successful businessman and church leader, he was someone we all looked up to. Watching him become a frail and confused old man from battling Parkinson’s disease was devastating. Mama was forced to put him in a nursing home. We went to visit at Thanksgiving and knew that the end was near.

That was the year I skipped Christmas. I put up some decorations and bought a few presents, but didn’t have the heart for much else.

A week before Christmas, Mama called to say that Daddy had gone into cardiac arrest and a misunderstanding with the nursing home had caused them to disregard his Do Not Resuscitate order. He was lying comatose in the hospital.

I immediately drove up and spent the next few days with Mama by Daddy’s bedside or in the ICU waiting room. The doctors had gotten his heart to work again but we weren’t sure how much brain activity was there. He didn’t speak and looked at us with vacant eyes. We were waiting for him to die. It was a dark time.

His body finally gave out on December 22nd. Christmas was something other people were doing that year. We managed to fit in the funeral and burial around the many obligations of our family and church staff.

I spent Christmas day with Mama at my cousin’s house. It was comforting to be there but I felt detached, like I was watching the whole thing from outside.

Mama later apologized to me for the timing, for ruining my Christmas. But I remember a weird sense of relief at not having to meet all those expectations. In my grief and exhaustion, I hadn’t missed the holidays. Skipping Christmas hadn’t been so bad.

Two months later my mother in law Bobbie died suddenly, hitting us hard so close to losing Daddy. She had moved to live near us when Adam was small and she and I were extremely close.  I felt more alone than ever.

That next Christmas was one when all I could do was grit my teeth and get through it. If that’s where you are this year, I understand. I’ve sat and cried through a church service, forced myself to smile at others’ excitement, gone to bed as early as possible on Christmas Eve just to get it over with.

My advice is to be kind to yourself and if you need to, skip it. Because it gets better.

Christmas and I have now made a truce. It has agreed to slack off on the guilt of not having a perfectly decorated house and a kitchen full of homemade cookies. And I’ve agreed to focus not on Christmas Day, which will just be me and Keith and our grand dog, but on the whole season of friends, music, sparkling lights and soul moving church services. I’ve rediscovered joy in the season.

As time has healed my grief over loved ones no longer here, I’ve realized that life keeps moving and changing.  People die, children  move away, circumstances are different each year. I’m thankful for health, family, friends and my church, and more time this year to enjoy it all.

The word Immanuel keeps going through my mind. It is one of the names for Jesus, a Hebrew word meaning God with us, that carries the weight of Old Testament prophecy, yet speaks to me today. Jesus came as a baby and gave us the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts, to always be with us. Amazing.

I know there will be years to come when Christmas and I may not get along again. But there will be plenty of years when joy and laughter will make the holidays bright.  I feel peace knowing that either way, God is with me.

Christmas and I are finally on good terms.

Christmas · Moravian Love Feast · Spirituality · Wake Forest University

Christmas Past and Present

Last Sunday morning, a week before Christmas Eve, I finally hung our Moravian star on the front porch. In the hustle and bustle of the season I hadn’t taken it out of its Home Depot box and gotten Keith to patiently put the plastic triangles together. I missed it shining out there at night and on cloudy days, reminding me of Christmases past, of my parents and grandparents and big dinners at our house, the warmth and security of my youth.
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Many houses in my hometown of Greensboro have the 3 dimensional star on their front porches and atop their Christmas trees. The Moravians who settled in nearby Winston-Salem in the 1800’s brought many wonderful Advent traditions which have become part of the fabric of the area, including a simple candlelight Christmas Love Feast. When I see the star’s warm glow I feel myself sitting with my parents at First Baptist in Greensboro for the Christmas Eve service and coming home in the cold dark to luminaries lining the streets of our neighborhood.

Wake Forest borrowed the tradition from down the road at Old Salem and as a college student worn out from exams, I remember enjoying a quiet evening at the Love Feast held on campus, complete with sweet buns and rich creamy coffee.

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The Moravian Love Feast at WFU this year.

My Christmas this year has been filled with time spent with friends, a walk through holiday lights at a 19th century ruin, a 5k with jingle bells on my shoes, cards from loved ones, and the annual Christmas Sweater Band performance at school. I’ve attended beautiful and moving church services and enjoyed the Yuletide playlists on Pandora. We had Adam here for several days and then Jess and our grand dog Molly and had a great time with them. Today Keith and I are enjoying a quiet morning and I’m listening to the joyful music of the Messiah in my kitchen. Life is good.

Each Christmas is a mish-mash of emotions and memories, Christmas past, present and future rolled together. Sometimes it’s exhausting. I’m constantly seeing my life go before me, from my childhood to my teen years to the fun years when Adam was little. It’s mixed in with the satisfying present with my family healthy and happy, and anticipation of more good times to come.

But always mixed in with my joy at Christmas is this little niggling anxiety – what will next year be like? Will I look back on this year and remember how good it was because next year will be sad?

When Jesus was born that first Christmas morning, past, present and future came together. He was the culmination of years and years of prophecy, born to parents who were struggling as strangers in a new city. And his birth promised hope for those of us to come after.

I pray that your Christmas 2017 will be full of sweet memories, happy times with family and friends and hope for the future.

I’m reminded of the lyrics of O Little Town of Bethlehem:

Because of that hope, I know that I will make it through whatever the future may hold.

Christianity · Christmas · Holiday depression · Uncategorized

Not a Hallmark Movie

I have a confession to make –  I do not love Hallmark Christmas movies. I know this will come as a shock to my many friends who love nothing more than curling up on the couch on a cold winter night and being transported to a world where everyone lives in beautifully decorated homes filled to the brim with lights and wreaths. The women in these movies wake up with their makeup perfectly done so that they can jump into their designer clothes and pull gingerbread cookies out of the oven. The handsome men wear suits and have styled hair, Christmas Day always has snow and turkeys are placed on the table perfectly browned.  Ugh.

These movies depress me because my reality is closer to Christmas Vacation, Chevy Chases’s classic comedy about the earnest bumbler trying too hard to have the perfect holiday. In spite of everyone’s hard work, the family is getting on each other’s last nerve, the turkey is so overcooked it falls away to nothing, and a squirrel runs out of the Christmas tree. The mother, Ellen, sums it up when she says, “I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”

Part of my problem is that my Christmases growing up were pretty ideal. My mother, like most of the moms I knew, was a homemaker and worked hard at having a perfect Christmas for us. While I was at school she decorated the house, bought and wrapped the gifts, and baked cakes and pies. On Christmas morning I awoke to see that Santa had come and put a plethora of dolls and toys and clothes across the chairs in the living room for my sister and me. Mama and my grandparents looked on sleepily while Daddy filmed away on his home movie camera.

With our new baby strollers, 1962

The night before, Mama had set the dining room table with the soft white tablecloth and the good china, had placed card tables in the living room with colorful red tablecloths and put the huge coffee percolator on the kitchen counter. Now all she had to do was get herself dressed, clean up the breakfast dishes, fix the macaroni and cheese and put the fatback in the green beans. The extended family would arrive with lots of hugs and kisses and loud talking and we would eat and then watch while our grandparents opened their presents. The day would end for me stretched in front of the TV.

Now as the holiday season begins I feel the Christmas depression waiting in the background, ready to creep in. It’s not that I don’t enjoy many things about this time of year. I love the music, lights, special programs at church, and time with friends and family. But mixed in with the joy of the season are often tears just on the surface for reasons I can’t explain. They come from a mixture of nostalgia for those perfect Christmases of my childhood, sadness over the loved ones who are no longer here and feelings of inadequacy for falling short of the Hallmark movie ideal.

I suspect others feel this way too. During these weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, everything in life is magnified, as if we were all living inside a giant snow globe. If we are having financial difficulties, the constant barrage of ads and expectations for gifts makes it worse. If we are struggling with our weight or with drinking too much, the gifts of goodies and special dinners put more temptation in our way. If we have lost a loved one the memories of past years make the grief that much more to bear. If we are far from our families, or have very few family members at all, then the loneliness comes barreling out at us in a way that is hard to ignore. If our family is in any way short of the perfection shown on the commercials and Hallmark movies, then we feel even more like failures.

I’m working on not expecting so much of myself this year. I still love putting up the tree with all of its ornaments that remind me of people I love and memories of family times together, but other than slapping a few wreaths on the front windows, that is the extent of my decorating. I’m making sure to get to bed on time and to keep up my running and to not overindulge at every tray of Christmas cookies. Even when my schedule gets busier than usual, I’m keeping my appointment with God each morning and I’m concentrating on doing what I can for others.

I know that I will have times that I feel down and I’m okay with that. God will be there for me and together we will wobble through. After all, I have lots in my life to be thankful for and I don’t want to let past memories overshadow that.

The following verses are on my phone wallpaper for this holiday season and they remind me that God will carry me through until I can breathe a sigh and get back to normal in January:

Christianity · Christmas · Spirituality · Uncategorized

A Quiet Christmas

Here’s to a quiet Christmas

Like most everyone I know, I have been on the runaway Polar Express since Thanksgiving. When I was looking at the calendar back in November, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed innocent enough. I loved filling in the squares with all the extra activities – family dinners and holiday runs and a special wedding. We had lots going on at school too, and on the last Friday  several of us teachers got our inner rock stars going by playing in a band at our holiday talent show. It was loud and chaotic and hilarious, but by the time the day ended I was feeling pretty tired and “peopled out”. I was definitely out of balance, physically and spiritually.

So now my quiet time is here, and I am glad to have it. For years the quiet at my house caused me to struggle with depression at Christmas. We live a long way from family, and after my father and mother-in-law died, Christmas was never the same. My mother didn’t want to travel here and, although  I always visited after Christmas, it felt lonely. I missed the big dinners we had when I was a child and I felt guilty about not being with Mama. She died three years ago and Christmas still brought back so many memories of her. The season felt more like something to be endured than the “happiest time of the year.” I got angry with the cheerful folks on the Hallmark Christmas movies,  cried during the carols at church, and was moody at home.

But this year is different. Our son is getting married in the spring and our family dynamic is shifting. I’m ready for the change. Instead of looking back to Christmases past, I am now looking forward to holidays with Adam and Jess.  I love having another woman around to talk to in the kitchen, someone who appreciates it when I put out the good china and silver. We have been keeping their dog Molly this week and her energy and excitement have whetted my appetite for the days when we will have little ones running around. As much as I miss my mother, I feel relieved to not have to worry about her. Instead of being sad over not having a big crowd around for Christmas, I am loving the time to sleep and read, watch football with Keith and spend time in the kitchen. Adam will be home soon for his last single holiday with us, and I plan to spoil him as much as possible.

Sweet Molly

So if this is one of those years that you are not feeling all the happiness and good cheer of the Christmas season, my advice is to grit your teeth and ride it out. Slap a smile on your face and do the best you can. December 25th will pass,  January will come with all its cold blandness and you can breathe a sigh of relief. But hold onto the belief that next year will be better.  Grief will remain but its tentacles will not feel as strong. Families and circumstances will change and no two years are the same. Be thankful for those who are here with us now.

Remember that as believers, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Christmas is all about Hope, about a little baby that brought the promise of something better to the whole world, about Christ’s promise that He would never leave us or forsake us. He has pulled me through in the past and He will do the same for you.