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I’m doing again. Trying to buy Christmas, that is. Trying to bring home God-made-manifest in a series of shopping bags. Trying to echo God’s ultimate gift of love with stuff hauled in from the local mall. It is, of course, an endeavor doomed to failure.

Even the Grinch realizes by the end of the story that Christmas doesn’t come in a gaily-wrapped package. But even knowing that at a cellular level doesn’t stop the rampant commercialism of the holidays. You feel the tug of it everywhere you go. How can I show the people I love that I love them? How about a brand new set of knives! It’s enough to put a damper on anyone’s spirits. Gift-giving becomes a burden, rather than a joy.

So where do we find Christmas if not under a tree? Inside of ourselves. And how do we kindle that spark while being simultaneously bombarded by cookie-baking, house-trimming, gift-wrapping, covert buying and endless card-addressing?

I wish I had an answer to that. Maybe it’s a little like touching a butterfly: You can chase it around, offer bait, call out to it…and nothing is likely to happen. But if you just sit still and wait, quietly and patiently, it may very well land on your outstretched hand.

As the calendar turns to December, let us not chase down Christmas with a net and a cage. Go where the season pulls you — to church, to volunteer opportunities, even to a cozy evening on the couch with Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. Tell your loved ones you love them. Let God find you this Christmas, waiting, ready, snug as a manger filled with fresh hay.

“Have a lovely Thanksgiving.”

I laughed out loud when I read that note from my editor.  We are not lovely Thanksgiving people.  We are more like the Griswold Family and I do mean both sides of the family.

My sister has to do everything with perfection.  No seriously.  She makes Martha Stewart look slapdash.  She is also a vegetarian as is my niece.  Dad, who has dementia, will insist on telling her all about my son’s foray into the woods deer hunting.  The teen knows better but my Dad?  Try to stop him.  And he won’t try to talk to anyone else about it so I know it isn’t entirely accidental. Dad thinks he’s funny.

My sister-in-law?  Also heavily into perfection but there are so many people on that side of the family.  We have engineers, IT people, hipsters, and young professionals.  Then there’s my kid – red neck libertarian?  Yeah, that’s a description he’s appreciate.  It will be loud, it will be rambunctious and something will go slightly askew.

Lovely?  No.  Fun, humorous and full of loud love.  Anyone who goes looking for lovely will be frustrated beyond belief.  But those of us who jump into it will come out the other side grate-filled for the family with which God blessed us.

–SueBE

 

 

fireplace book

People will be celebrating the coming new year in many ways. In my area, the big deal for the holiday involves going to Times Square in New York City and watching the ball drop. 

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that standing in frigid weather, elbow-to-elbow with drunken strangers and listening to a band playing so loud that you can’t talk to your friends really doesn’t ring my bell.

If it means something to you, spending the day at the zoo on New Year’s Eve could become a tradition. Of course, you can’t throw confetti at the deer at midnight, as they’ll give you major side-eye, but you can hang out until the zoo closes, if that’s your thing.

You could volunteer at a food bank if that gives you a warm feeling. Of course, your house of worship may be the place closest to your heart during this season. Whatever you consider your very own Place of Grace.

I think New Year’s Eve should be spent with the people you can be yourself with. It’s a time to do the things that make you feel all warm and fuzzy. For some, of course, that will be champagne, so.. cheers! (Of course, please don’t drink and drive.)

But for me, that will be hot cocoa and a warm glazed cinnamon scone sitting by the fireplace, reading a good book. For you? Whatever you feel blessed by, wherever you find your happy place.

Come to think of it, I think your happy place is where you should be all year long. No need to wait until the end of the calendar year to climb into your comfort zone!

Wishing you all a peaceful and prayerful new year!

holidays 2011 017There’s an unusual custom that, I believe, only happens in my town in New Jersey, and it may seem strange to some of you, dear readers.

Every year around Christmas, we hear the sound of police and fire truck sirens, continuously blaring for hours, several nights in a row. At first, all of the neighbors think, what the heck happened? There must be a serious fire in town, with that many sirens roaring for that long. Hope everyone’s okay!

But one by one, we realize, oh yeah! It’s Santa, sitting atop the fire truck, rolling slowly down the block and wishing us all a “Merry Christmas!” over the loudspeaker. Our dedicated firefighters and police officers accompany him, honking and waving. Just generally sending boisterous and blazing holiday wishes our way.

It strikes me that this is a particularly New Jersey way of sharing good cheer during the holidays: loud, intrusive, rolling through the neighborhood like we own the place, yet full of good cheer!

It’s the way it’s always been around here, but sometimes I wonder, how does everyone else do the holidays? I’ve always imagined that, in other, more mellow states, Christmas must be low-key and tasteful. Mistletoe hanging, fireplace burning, carols playing. Maybe some egg nog pouring. 

Of course, at the heart of it all is the peace that passes all understanding. With all the wrapping and rushing, the traffic and tinsel, it’s easy to forget that God’s love is the gift that we’re honoring at this time of year.

Well, no matter how you and yours celebrate, here’s wishing your holidays are filled with warmth, laughter, and loved ones!

Merry Christmas, All!

holidays 2011 017

Have you ever started to talk to a friend, gone off on a tangent, and forgotten the point you were trying to make?

I have a phrase for that.

“I went for a walk in my mind.”

Or I’ll invoke the lyrics from an old James Taylor song and say, “In my mind, I went to Carolina.”

Maybe the mind does this because it really just needs a break from all of the action in life.

I’ve found that some part of my brain checks out during the holiday season. Oh, don’t get me wrong; the music and the decorations, catching up with family and friends, and of course, the spirit and story of Christmas…all of this is joyous to me.

But what I need to divest from is the hustle and bustle. The people at stores staring at the cashier, tapping their feet as if they would really like to move it along, here. Cars in traffic jams, filled with people who left a half hour late, so they have to speed down the highway to get home in time for the turkey. The last-minute chaos and the crass commercialism.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could infuse the true spirit of Christmas into our lives all year long? Goodwill toward man, peace on Earth. Then we wouldn’t need to take that soul-stroll to get away from it all. And lest we forget the most important part: for unto us a child is born. May we all honor this beautiful blessing in our lives, and with our words, all year round.

Merry Christmas, dear readers!

Stop me if I’ve told this one before (Ha! As if you could stop me!): My husband and I were leaving the doctor’s office when the kind receptionist apologized for our wait. “That okay,” said hubby, “I brought a book.” “That’s okay,” I replied, “I have a vivid imagination.”

What I meant, of course, is that I can occupy myself practically endlessly with just the machinations of my own kooky brain. Still, that doesn’t always make waiting easy. Sure, I waited three years for kitchen counters (and I cook every blessed day), but just waiting for Yahoo to get it together this morning and SHOW ME MY BLOODY MAIL made me go all kinds of cuckoo. Waiting can be insufferable sometimes.

Advent, the liturgical season leading up to Christmas, is a time of waiting, too. We are called to “stay awake,” and “keep watch,” but for what? For a savior that was born a long time ago? No. For a savior that is returning — and for the march of Providence (sometimes it feels like a tiptoe) in our lives, leading us to our spiritual destinies.

Where are we going? How do we get there? Persons of faith know their desired destination — heaven — but getting there is another kettle of fish altogether. Yes, we have Jesus’ own words to help us: Feed the poor, shelter the homeless, be kind and merciful, forgive one another. This is all bricks-and-mortar stuff. But the specific way in which we reach enlightenment…that’s different for each of us.

I spend a good deal of time wondering if I’m on the right path. Am I using my gifts to my fullest ability? Am I giving enough? What is God calling me to do now? These are not easy questions to answer. I often strain to hear the voice of God. But I also have faith that I did not get where I am now on my own. I am here for a reason — God must want me here. I just need to figure out why.

If you, too, are in a “holding pattern” in your life, wondering which way to go, be of good cheer. Advent is your season. Be patient and listen, but also know that you did not arrive at your current destination by chance. God is leading, guiding. All you have to do is stay awake. And maybe bring a book.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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