Christmas · inner child · Spirituality

How is your inner child?

I settled myself on on my mat as the yoga class began at our local arts center. Laura, the cute young instructor, began leading us in some easy stretches and encouraged us to center our spirits. “If you are having trouble getting your mind to quiet down,” she said, “put your inner child over to the side and give her something to do.”

This idea immediately grabbed my imagination. I frequently struggle to get my ‘monkey brain’ to focus. Thoughts tend to randomly pop into my head, often causing me to get mixed up mid-sentence. It doesn’t take much to distract me — just ask my family.

So as I stretched my tight muscles on that cold morning, I could feel my six-year-old self pulling at me for attention. She was wearing a wrinkled shirt with a Peter Pan collar, a short skirt and knee socks that were falling down around her ankles. She was bouncing up and down and definitely needed something to occupy her.

I gave her a coloring book and a new box of Crayola crayons and sent her over to the side of the room. She scrunched down on the floor and was soon happily coloring away. I let out a sigh, knowing she was being taken care of, and turned my mind back to the yoga class.

Do you ever need to put your inner child over to the side in order to concentrate? Author and speaker Bob Goff said on a recent podcast that when he needs to sit down to write, he pulls up the movie Shrek on his computer and minimizes it to the corner of his screen. Then his inner child watches the movie, and he can focus on his manuscript.

For the same reason, I usually pull up music while I’m writing. Lately, my inner child has been listening to Christmas music while I’m at the keyboard. Sometimes she will interrupt me when one of our favorites comes on, but I can usually pacify her with a few minutes of attention and get back to work.

But I don’t want to always push her to the side. I love the familiar story in Mark 10 of Jesus telling the disciples to let the children come to him. In the verses right before this story, some Pharisees had come to try to trick Jesus up by asking his opinion on divorce and adultery. Don’t you know he got tired of people constantly trying to catch him contradicting the very Scriptures he came to fulfill?

I imagine Jesus, tired and frustrated, finally sitting down, when the children come barreling in to jump in his lap. His mood instantly lightens. The ever-vigilant disciples try to run the children off, but Jesus shows a rare temper and tells them to let the children come to him. Then we are told that he “hugged the children and blessed them.” (Mark 10:16)

Does your inner child need a hug occasionally? I know mine does. Sometimes she gets overly tired, and her emotions get touchy. She feels scared, sad, and mad. I’m learning that there are times when I need to take a break and love on her a little.

Other times, she needs to come out and play, especially at this time of year. She oohs and ahs over the pretty colored lights on the Christmas tree, binges on coconut pie and laughs at all the one-liners from Christmas Vacation (many which are not appropriate for a six-year-old however). I find my deep-down joy coming from her.

As we come up to the last frantic days before Christmas, I hope that you take some time with your inner child to sing ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ at the top of your lungs, shake the packages under the tree, and play with your nativity set.  And if she gets cranky, I hope you will wrap your arms around her, make some hot chocolate, and settle down to watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

Christmas · Spirituality

Check out my devotional in Refresh Magazine!

I’m published in Refresh Magazine!

I have a devotional in the December edition of Refresh Magazine, an online Christian publication from Lighthouse Christian Publishing. There are 19 articles – one for each day of December before Christmas Day!

I’m on page 43!

Here is some info on how to pull it up:

Viewing & Downloading the Magazine

Be sure to choose whether you want to view your free issue of Refresh as a magazine (seeing a left and right page at the same time) or as single pages. Click (or tap) the link below for the version you prefer.

If you choose magazine style, you can use the Adobe PDF reader on your computer to make the pages flip from the inside out (select “full screen” mode when prompted). For other PDF viewers, scroll through the issue to read articles, or simply click on the article titles on the Contents pages to view an article.

Please be sure to let the magazine load for a minute before you scroll down; it’s a large file with many photographs.

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#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.