When Storm Clouds Gather, Press On

I’d been watching for a window of opportunity all morning. The weatherman promised a ray of sunshine or two and I could really use it. After struggling through November and December, I was craving sun on my face. (God really meant for me to be born near a tropical beach. I just know it. Somehow, my parents didn’t get the message.)

It’s my desire to make the most of our Indiana winter so when that sun cast shadows across my office floor, I grabbed my coat and shoes and headed out the door.

After a morning at my desk, a brisk walk down our country road was just the thing. I made it to the halfway mark for my southbound trek then turned around to loop back, only to realize that while my back was turned, a brisk wind had whipped up menacing grey clouds on the northern horizon. I wasn’t sure I’d make it back to the house before snow or rain began to fall. Leaning into the wind, I pressed on, making the return trip in record time.

Isn’t life an awful lot like that sometimes?

Things are looking good and we’re on our happy way to a chosen destination when storm clouds descend, catching us off-guard. Suddenly our journey goes from a joyous walk in the light to plodding down a path toward darkness.

When the path looks more like a perilous upward climb than a straight and clear saunter, it’s easy to get discouraged and to want to give up.

The darkness of anger, disappointment, betrayal, spiritual and physical sickness — so many things can threaten to whip up an attitude of defeat. Some days, it looks as if God’s favor has been removed and the light of His presence is covered over by the gloom of this world.

A few beautiful young people in my life have been walking this path lately. It’s a journey I’ve made more than once myself, and I can feel their pain. My prayer for them today is that they will press on, that they will know this: the clouds will lift.

As suddenly as they appeared, they’ll shift. And they will move on. We don’t have the power to stop the roll of darkness through our world, but we God does. We must keep our faces turned toward Him and walk through the darkness to catch The Light.

Our instincts tell us to turn and run the other way. Or worse, to hit the ditch, hunker down and hide. But the bravest thing we can do is turn toward God. When we do that, when we lean in and say “Help me find the way through this!” we’ve taken the first steps through the darkness. And we’ll come out the other side stronger from having weathered this storm.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance, and perseverance must finish its work in order for you to be mature and complete.” James 1:2-4

In his book “Mere Christianity”, C.S. Lewis says this:
“What matters in life, is not what you achieve, but rather what you willingly endure.  We will all achieve various heights of achievement in life. In a very real sense it is irrelevant to God how much we achieve.  This is vitally important to remember.  We are saved purely by grace, there is nothing we can do to gain more favor with God.
 
No, the more interesting thing to God is our willingness to submit and to endure hard times. Just as we will all achieve different successes in life, we will all be handed different degrees of trials in life.  It is not helpful or useful to compare what others are given to endure.  Rather, what we each need to do is to submit our will, even when it means walking through a dark period in life.  What matters is our willingness to endure.”

 

Choose Your Traveling Companions Wisely: My Journey with O.C.

I’ve invited a dear friend to travel with me through The New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes during 2015. He’s a spry Scotsman, still relevant in his old age and a long-trusted adviser.

In the journals I keep of our adventures, my traveling companion goes by the nickname O.C. — Oswald Chambers.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

I’ve had a crush on this wise fellow for at least a decade, probably longer. We first met when a friend called me up to share a nugget from his writings. I was challenged, curious, inspired. I wanted to get to know him better.

Oswald is a wordsmith of the highest order and I believe he has a Hotline to our Lord and Savior because every time I sit down to listen, O.C. has something profound to say.

Consider his words for today, January 20:

“Sometimes we are fresh for a prayer meeting but not fresh for cleaning boots!”

What?

O.C. quotes John 3:3, and it begins to make sense.

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

And then O.C. explains:

“Being born again of the Spirit is an unmistakable work of God, as mysterious as the wind, as surprising as God Himself. We do not know where it begins, it is hidden away in the depths of our personal life. Being born again from above is a perennial, perpetual and eternal beginning; a freshness all the time in thinking and in talking and in living.”

If I am only “fresh” and obedient when called on to attend prayer meeting, what good am I? Freshness that comes from being born again equips me to worship while I do the dirty work  — like cleaning boots!

Today’s reading is so typical of my friend. He is a man of contrasts, a learned individual schooled in philosophy and the arts, but also possessing a great sense of humor

Hanging out daily with O.C. isn’t a substitute for time spent at the feet of Jesus. Rather, a visit from this sage pushes me closer to my Lord because his words always cause me to stop and think, and to hunger for a deeper understanding of the Word of God.

Selah

Dear Oswald would have turned 141 this year, over a century after he crafted the sermons he would share in English Bible colleges and in YMCA huts in Egypt. Thanks to the faithful work of his wife, Gertrude, Oswald’s words live on today in the book “My Utmost for His Highest”. Eighty years after his collected sermons were first published, the devotional continues to be among the top 10 best-selling Christian books. I know I have purchased more than a few copies through the years to share with friends and family.

Here are some parting words from my dear friend O.C.

O.C.

 

Wonderstruck: The Brilliant Efficiency of a Walk in the Snow

I could have used my ancient elliptical trainer to log 30 minutes of exercise today, but the sun was shining and the temperatures have risen here in this Indiana valley, so I donned boots, gloves and parka, grabbed my camera and headed for the hills.

Tramping down a barnyard drive, walking toward the rolling bean field, it dawned on me how efficient this hike might turn out to be. The multiple benefits of a walk in the snow include:

  • Some much-needed exercise
  • A healthy dose of vitamin D
  • Time to think and pray without distraction
  • Inspiration from God’s creation at every turn
  • A few photos to share with you

Here’s what I captured during my brilliantly efficient walk in the snow.

Corn stubble soldiers, standing at attention
Corn stubble soldiers, standing at attention
A beautifully weathered fence post
A beautifully weathered fence post
A snow flower
A snow flower
A rusty work of art
A rusty work of art
photo 3 (5)
And another.
Red barns, blue sky. Perfect.
Red barns, blue sky. Perfect.
The birds have found our feeders.
The birds have found our feeders.

Returning to my warm kitchen, I picked up a beautiful book by a fellow nature-lover, Margaret Feinberg. Her words in “Wonderstruck” express my sentiments exactly.

“Admiring the beauty, I consider how many holy moments I’ve missed in the harriedness of life. Though God laces creation with eternal truths, all too often I pass them by unaware.

From the opening pages of Genesis, God reveals his nature — in nature. The story of creation broadcasts the distinctiveness of our God as the source of life. All-powerful, wildly creative, infinitely wise. God is the supreme ruler…….Creation divulges the goodness of God as he declares the good, good, good of creation.”

I’m thinking God would say I made efficient use of an hour spent walking in the snow.

When Parents Commit the Ultimate Act of Thievery

I read this story again — really for the very first time — and it sets me on my heels.

“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” Genesis 22:2

That a father would willingly offer up his son’s life? That he would lead this one he loved with all of his paternal heart to a site set aside for worship and for sacrifice, and lay the innocent down at his Father’s feet?

How did he find the strength?

It came to me then. Not as a shout or a sudden revelation, but in a voice so clear it could not be denied.

“I ask you to do the same every day.”

In denial, I point out that I have never been tested in this way. So, God shows me the sacrifice He requires — no, deserves — because He has proved Himself worthy and trustworthy and good. And I see it there, how every day, with every breath, I’m asked to lay these sons-become-men of mine down and say

“Take them. They are yours.”

Just as He asks all of us who so blithely enter parenthood, not counting the cost in our own pain, fear and suffering, measuring only the joy of creating life in our own image. In the midst of the joy and the pain, God reminds us that He created them not for us, but for His kingdom. They are His.

I know I must lay them down, not one, not two, not even three. But four.

I am no Abraham. Many times I will commit thievery. I will pick them back up again and say:

“No. Not yet. Not today.”

In His kindness, God shows me all the ways in the past my “yes” has carried us to this place of surrender, to the altar of the world, to the knife that cuts and the blaze that burns.

God reminds me that I have all the tools for this ultimate sacrifice:

  • The knowledge that from the time they could listen, I filled their hearts with the Good News.
  • The weary feet to remind me that we have traveled together so far on the path God marked out for us.
  • The understanding that my love for them pales beside the burning passion of He who created them — Elohim. And He who provides and meets their every need — Jehovah-Jireh.
  • The assurance that He never ceases His chasing after them, eager to woo and win them.

And here, where I cannot stay and cover them, where I can no longer feed, shelter or nurture them, this is where I must finally surrender. This is where God asks me one more time to find the strength to bind them over to Him.

To sever the ties.

To finally cut the cord.

To trust.

It’s then I know what I’ve known all along — that God has provided a way.

Over there, in the tangle of this crazy life waits their substitute. But this time, it’s not for me to seize the sacrifice and drag it to the altar. I would be wrong to commit the ultimate thievery — to rob them of the choice to claim for themselves this way back to their Father who waits.

If I will remove my hands.

From a painting by the Venetian artist, Titian
From a painting by the Venetian artist, Titian

 

I’m sharing this post today for Thought-Provoking Thursday at 3D Lessons for Life. Please join me there for other thoughtful posts. Thought-provoking-thursday-banner_NEW

 

A Holy Fragrance: What Has Being with Jesus Done for You?

In the days when we were homeschooling our four boys here in the valley, we’d occasionally take a “field trip” with another homeschooling family. Sometimes our trip was just a visit to their house so the kids could play and we Moms could catch up on news or share time in the Word and in prayer.

We’d arrive home and a fragrance would follow us in the door — the distinctive scent of my friend’s Patchouli oil. It clung to our clothes, hair, shoes, my Bible, anything that had been with us during our visit. It even scented our car if we’d traveled somewhere together.

The lingering scent wasn’t the only evidence of time spent in the presence of this special family. Our hearts would be lighter, our countenance brighter and we moved through the rest of our day with the joy and strength that come from love shared. At the end of the day, even my husband noticed our improved dispositions and caught the scent, and he knew where we’d spent the afternoon.

I was reminded of that fragrance recently as I read about the first disciples of Christ.

“When the Council saw the boldness of Peter and John, and could see that they were obviously uneducated non-professionals, they were amazed and realized what being with Jesus had done for them!” Acts 4:13 (TLB)

The men had already performed a miracle in the strength of their Teacher (healing a man lame from birth) and the Council was eager to stop them from “spreading their propaganda.” But Peter and John would not be deterred in their mission to bring The Good News to the people of Jerusalem.

“You decide whether God wants us to obey you instead of him! We cannot stop telling about the wonderful things we saw Jesus do and heard him say.” vs. 19-20

When Peter and John were released from captivity and returned to their people, they shared what had happened. Immediately, the believers went to prayer. They asked God not just for protection, but for even more boldness to preach the Gospel!

“….send your healing power, and may miracles and wonders be done by the name of your holy servant Jesus.” vs. 30

They had been with Jesus and they wanted more of Him — more of his strength and boldness, more of his miracles — whatever the personal cost. God, in his wisdom, not only equipped the men to do his work, he left his mark on them so that they would be recognized as belonging to him. They looked and acted differently because they had walked with Christ.

When I spend time with Jesus, when I draw close to him, sit in his lap and turn my face to him so that I can hear his words, I come away with the fragrance of HIM clinging to my spirit.

I am still the same sinful, broken, imperfect me, but I’m saturated with the scent of the One who is without sin, who heals the broken and who is perfection. I am emboldened to share Jesus with others because I believe they recognize the source of my joy.

They are drawn to the scent of my Savior.

Of course, too long spent away from my Lord and the fragrance fades, the strength and joy are dimmed. Others might not even suspect who claims my heart.

In this bright beginning of another year, I have a renewed hunger to be in the presence of Jesus, to soak up his spirit so that others will know “what being with Jesus has done for ME.”

Join me in his presence and let the sweet fragrance of Jesus permeate your soul as you endeavor to spend time with him, gaining strength and boldness to go forth and do his work.

fragrance

(You can download a six-month Bible reading plan that will take you through the New Testament, from Acts to Revelation, and into Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes here: http://www.backtothebible.org/6-month-bible-reading-challenge)

 

When Staying “Frozen” Is Not An Option, Resolve to End Well

I read them all — those resolutions, the intentions, everyone’s “my word for the year” — and I came away with….

….nothing.

Zip. Zero. Nada.

The Christmas tree still twinkled from the corner and the warm glow of the holiday season continued to fill my home, but inside my heart, on the cusp of this new year, I was numb. Frozen.

frozenFor a solid week I wandered from room to room, going through the motions of creating a post-Christmas “normal” and attempting to make plans for the new year. But something wasn’t right.

I’m a “new day” kind of girl. I like nothing more than a fresh start, a clean slate, a brand new page on the calendar. But where was the inspiration? Why couldn’t I get excited about 2015?

I began to realize that my condition wasn’t just a holiday letdown, and it went deeper than the need to recover from the Christmas flu.

I was more than sad. I was becoming truly, seriously depressed.

SadWoman

I prayed and I slept. I ate chocolate and started a new novel. I watched a funny movie and went for a walk and stood in the sunshine and listened to uplifting music. I talked to my husband. I even CLEANED.

Nothing helped.

Then I visited my neighbor, and there in the noise and crazy confusion of a house filled with six adult children and a passel of grandkids, I found the cure for my malaise — people.

At my neighbors’ house, I hugged her visiting grown-up kids and played with her grandkids. We shared a cup of tea and we talked about books and knitting and food and college. And I rocked her youngest grandson to sleep.

Back in the quiet of my empty house, where a week earlier our own grown-up sons and their significant others had shared meals and laughter, I had an epiphany.

To be happy and healthy and sane, I need to be around people.

More than that. As I began taking stock of how I had spent the past several months and looked at what I had planned for the coming year, I found the other missing element that spells health for me — writing.

For all of October and November, I had written something nearly every day. 31 days of blogging and a couple thousand words of a novel had stirred my creative juices for two solid months. It didn’t matter that I worked at home alone most days. I was interacting with my own imagination and creating something I could share with others.

After Thanksgiving, my writing had stalled to a trickle.

With these fresh revelations, the iceberg that had been my frozen brain melted and my “resolutions” for the new year became clear:

  1. Spend more time with people
  2. Write daily

And my “intentions” for the new year? That list is a little longer. It’s borrowed from a Facebook post via my yoga instructor and it’s tacked up over my desk (you’re welcome to copy it and hang it on your fridge, too):

 

Intentions

In the midst of getting my feet back on the ground, another bit of inspiration was provided by one of my sons. In part, here is his heartfelt New Years’ Day message, posted (of course) on Facebook:

“To all of my loved ones, do something this year that you can look back on and feel good about. Create something that will last forever and make a change in the world. Happy New Year.”

Do something you can feel good about. Create something that will last. Make a change in the world. Simple, but profound.

And finally, as I searched for that one word to tag as a theme for the year, this one showed up at every turn:

presence

God’s and Mine. I look forward to celebrating His presence in the coming year and to being in His presence daily with a new Bible reading plan and intentional prayer. And I plan to be present in all the moments that make up this one life.

Because the truth is, while we’re beginning a new year, we don’t really get to “begin again”. The race is already underway. What we can do is resolve to end well. That chapter is yet to be written.

Five Truths That Survived the Christmas Flu, and One More Memory

A week ago, on a day I had packed to the brim with a doctor’s appointment, some last-minute errands, a few house-cleaning chores and a Christmas meal to prepare, I came down with the flu. By the time my four adult sons, a daughter-in-law and a girlfriend arrived on Christmas eve from Chicago and Tennessee to celebrate with us, I was in bed.

starsChristmas day was a blur as I lay on the sofa in my festive Christmas tree sleep pants with a cold cloth across my aching sinuses. We opened gifts, people ate….and I slept.

It was memorable.

But the nasty virus that threatened to sabotage the holiday I had planned from the moment I froze the last of the Thanksgiving turkey actually wound up giving credence to some important truths. Here’s what survived my bout with the Christmas flu:

1. Many hands make light work. The girls and even a couple of my sons pitched in to prepare food, wash dishes and clean up messes. And my husband assembled his first ever pan of lasagna from instructions I gave him as I sat head-in-hand a safe distance from the kitchen table.

2. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. By Day 2, I was quite a sight, but no one made fun of my Christmas pants or my dreadful spiky hair. I’m not saying I was beautiful, but they loved me anyway.

3. Laughter is the the best medicine. Hearing my grown-up sons and their ladies laugh and chatter into the night as I lay in my bed did more to ease the pain than all the Dayquil and ibuprophen in my system.

4. Blood is thicker than water. By Day 3 of the flu, I was feeling almost human and no longer contagious. I could have used another day of rest, but I wasn’t about to cancel a planned family gathering at our house that included a niece I see only once a year. (Not sure what water has to do with this one, but I consumed enough over three days to make it count.)

5. Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. Accepting that not everything would be perfect meant consuming a large slice of humble pie. I wanted to be mad, sad and disappointed over being sick for Christmas, but I knew how lucky I was to be surrounded by people I love. Others suffered so much more during this holiday season, and I knew this would pass. There will be other Christmases.

One casualty of those unplanned sick days was the final Christmas Memory written by one of my favorite people — my husband’s Aunt Emily. I intended to post it on Christmas eve, but it’s still the holiday season, so I’ll share it with you now. Emily is the family poet and the author of a sweet little book about one of her special grandsons. Enjoy.

THE GIFTS AND THE PRESENCE

I love Christmas…..the music, the tree, the decorating, sometimes pulling my hair out to find the right gift. I’ m not like those organized people  who start shopping in January…no, I don’t shop until I’m in the mood, which is usually the middle December (if it snows)  I seem to shop  better under pressure and snow!Christmas Memories button

Christmas is of course, much different for me now than it was when I was a child, but I’m sure as I accept the change and the new traditions, that there is still plenty of Christmas left for me.  As I think back over the years and the Chritmas memories, there are many. With seventy Christmases under your belt, you tend to remember quite a few.

There was the year my sister and I quietly snuck into mom and dad’s room and peeked  under their bed. Sure enough, there were our dolls, just like we had asked Santa for.   They were exactly alike, except,  one  with a blue dress and blond hair, that would be mine, the other wore a pink dress and had brown hair, that would be for my sister.  We ooed and aahhed for a bit and then tucked them back safely in their hiding place. It was many years before we actually talked about how that made us feel.  We agreed, surprises were a lot more fun than peeking.

One year, I saw only one box with my name on it.  It was a good sized box, but, only one. I kept checking each day, but still, just the one box. I thought I had been better than that!  After all, my other sisters had plenty of packages, I know because, like I said, I checked everyday!  I was probably about 10 or 11 at the time, old enough to know there was someone besides Santa to blame for this.  Christmas morning came and I almost dreaded it.  I had to act surprised and happy, even if I only got the one gift.  My dad made me wait till everyone else was almost done before I could open the box.

What could it be? It had to be a something special.. As I tore at the paper and pulled the box open, dad began to laugh.  There were all my gifts, wrapped seperately, all stuffed in this big box. I don’t remember the gifts, but I will never forget the wrapping. Oh, I don’t know, maybe it had something to do with me peeking at the packages in years past.

Can you believe parents would do that sort of thing to a little kid?

I was fortunate enough to be raised in the church and some of my favorite memories are of the wonderful Christmas programs. It was a special time,  learning the lines to a play, saying a “piece”, singing songs. It was also a time to dress in that new red taffata skirt that mom made. New patten leather shoes and oh, yes, my very first pair of nylons were purchused so I could look all grown up at the Christmas program!

Over the years the traditions have changed.  Christmas with my children holds a treasure house of wonderful memories.  Christmas with the grand children and now they are having babies, bringing us great grand babies. This year three new great grand babies joined us on Christmas.  Can it get any better?

Some people say Christmas is just for kids but I hope there is some for me too. As the angel of  the Lord proclaimed:

“Don’t be afraid. for I bring good news that will bring joy to ALL people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you ; he is Christ the Lord.”

That’s what all the commotion is about. That’s what the gifts and the dinners and the family memories are all about. It’s the birthday of Jesus.  I don’t think you have to give up one to have the other.  I love my Christmas memories, the gifts, the fun, the decorating and, yes, even the shopping. We like to give gifts and if we admit it, we like getting them too.  I am one of the lucky ones to have fond memories of Christmas past.  I love to make new memories as our little family grows larger each year. Yes I  know the true meaning of this HOLY day. It is gifts and presence.  The gift of Jesus and His presence at our table, at our home and the reason for the angel on top of the tree.

Christmas may well be for children, with wide eyes of excitement as they anticipate gifts,  but I know there is still plenty of Christmas left for me.

Emily Dunafin

Tell Me A Story: Man or Myth? The Real Reason for Christmas

Christmas Memories buttonChristmas is upon us! As I prepare for our four sons and daughter-in-law to come home for the holidays, I’m remembering a Christmas nearly 25 years ago, when my oldest son reminded his parents of the true “reason for the season”. This post was actually a column published in our local newspaper a few years after the event and shared here again last Christmas. It’s one of my favorite Christmas memories.

SantaSaint Nicholas

Santa Claus

Kris Kringle

Saint Nick

I spent most of my parenting years settling for myself the role Santa Claus should play in the celebration of Christ’s birth. I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum — from propagating the myth to standing firmly in denial. My vacillating has caused more than a little confusion in our household of four boys.

I don’t really remember the revelation that ended the fantasy for me as a child, but I poignantly recall how my oldest son grappled with the tragedy of the man-becoming-myth.

My son’s awakening came at the hands of a classmate, who let him in on the secret that Santa was really Mom and Dad. When he tearfully confronted me, he was less devastated by the loss of his fantasy than he was by the fact HIS PARENTS HAD LIED TO HIM.

So what about the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy, he asked? He demanded to know all the ways we had deceived him. And why would we think it was okay to lie in the first place? It was a tough conversation.

Already a principled thinker, this son sat alone on the stairs in the dark and brooded over the lying, the scheming, the pretending that had gone on his whole long life (all of six years at this point). He couldn’t handle the truth that Dad had eaten the cookies he left for Santa, that we had made the reindeer prints in the snow and pretended to hear footsteps on the roof. Let alone the fact we’d signed Santa’s name on all those presents we had bought for him and his brother.

We had dug quite a hole for ourselves in our quest to make Christmas everything the television shows and newspaper ads said it should be. And it had been fun.

But the gig was up. Big brother announced that his little brother deserved to know the truth, too. If Santa wasn’t real for him, then he shouldn’t be real for anyone in our family.

I wasn’t ready for that. I enjoyed seeing the delight in that little one’s eyes — in both their eyes until recently — as he looked forward to Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve. I wanted our youngest son’s fantasy to remain intact, at least for a little bit longer.

So I cut a deal with big brother. I appealed to his little boy greed. I told him that, even though he knew Santa wasn’t real, if he would pretend just a little longer, “Santa” would fill his stocking and bring him the gifts on his wish list. And he could be our helper. He would be in on the secret — a co-conspirator in the Christmas fantasy.

Big brother agreed, and we sealed the deal with a spit handshake.

With a wink and a knowing smile passing between us, Christmas morning went off without a hitch. But that was the last year Santa Claus made clandestine visits to our Christmas tree.

Two more sons came along and by then we were celebrating Christmas in a little church by the side of the road. In this season of our lives, we never pretended that the bearded man who visited church during the Christmas program was anything other than a kind fellow in a costume.

I’ve never felt we cheated our younger boys out of Christmas, just because they knew Santa wasn’t real. We read the requisite Christmas books and watched the TV specials and made the visit to the mall, but our youngest two sons always knew Santa was make believe — like Ninja turtles or Pinocchio. We still said he came down the chimney and ate cookies, that the stockings hung from the mantle would be magically filled by morning. We even wrote “From Santa” on a couple of packages under the tree.  It was just a fun game, and they knew it.

And Jesus was always at the center of Christmas.

I took something precious away from my oldest son’s encounter with the truth all those years ago, something that helped put everything into perspective.

As I tucked that wise little six-year-old into bed on Christmas Eve, he gave me reason to believe truth trumps myth. Here’s his truth, as I remember it:

“I know Santa isn’t real,” said the Wise One as he hugged me good night on that long-ago Christmas Eve. “It’s okay that you and Dad lied. But I know something that IS real. Jesus is real. Right Mom?”

That’s right, Son.

Tell Me A Story: Of Snow, Dolls, Tinsel and Chowder

I’ve invited a few friends to share some Christmas memories over the past several weeks. This one from my writing buddy and poetic mentor Shanda inclludes a bonus — a wonderful family recipe. Enjoy!

Christmas Memories buttonWhat I remember of Christmases of my childhood in Grand Rapids is snow, snow, snow. I remember my brothers shoveling a tunnel from the back door to the street in front of our house, then shoveling a tunnel from the front door to the other tunnel, then tackling the driveway. That sometimes took most of Christmas break for them. All that shoveling was needed and served to keep many boys constructively occupied and out of trouble.

I also remember a Christmas when my father in California sent two dolls for my sister and me. I wanted the baby “drink and wet” doll but my mother decreed that my younger sister should have that, and I should have the Vogue doll. I was heart-broken until I discovered that many of the other girls my age in our neighborhood had Vogue dolls, and we could all play together and share doll clothes.

I remember putting tinsel on a lighted tree and accidentally getting shiny metal tinsel on the plug that was not entirely inserted in the outlet behind the tree. That set off a shower of sparks! It also made my mother yell. We tried to avoid that always afterward. Later, when I bought tinsel for the Christmas trees for my children I was very disappointed to discover it was plastic! It just isn’t as shiny and doesn’t drape the same weighty way that aluminum tinsel did.

I remember the many Christmas eves when my children were small and we walked the three blocks to Grace Lutheran Church in Syracuse, Indiana. For many of those years everyone on the five or six blocks of our street, Lake Street, put out luminaria in front of each house on the lawns lining the street. It was a lovely walk and a beautiful experience every time we attended the midnight candle service. Singing Christmas hymns and carols has never been as sweet as it was during those years of their childhood.

Now I remember to celebrate Christmas by loving our children and grandchildren and trying to make the holidays fun and memorable for the good times we have together — playing board games, opening presents, and cooking and eating clam chowder. We try to gather as many of our family together as their busy-ness allows each year.

My children and grandchildren were surprised to learn that people eat other types of food than clam chowder on Christmas day. They all thought clam chowder was a traditional meal for Christmas day, but I started cooking chowder when the children were small because most of the prep work can be done the day before and making soup gives mom, and now grand-mom, an easier holiday. We have made our own traditions and are making new memories every year.

new chowder

Shanda Hansma Blue Easterday is a published poet and a college professor. Her book “The Beekeeper’s Wife” (available on Amazon) is a metaphoric story of womanhood. When she is not writing poetry or grading papers, Shanda is busy with her dogs, her grown children and her grandchildren. She lives on a lake in rural Michigan with her husband, Bob, who is indeed a beekeeper.

Tell Me A Story: Making New Traditions in a Season of Change

Christmas Memories buttonWhat I really wanted was a perfect Christmas. What I got was a test of my faith and determination.

Looking back some 25 years, I realize that first Christmas I celebrated alone with my two sons was an important step into a future that wasn’t part of my plan for us.

My boys were very young and the changes in our family situation were still fresh and a little painful for all of us. A decision I had made for my own well-being meant some major adjustments in Christmas — and in life — for my two little guys. But I was determined to make it special and memorable, and my ex-husband was on board with the effort.

I’d already made it through Thanksgiving without my boys because we’d agreed they would be with their Dad for turkey day and with me for Christmas. I don’t think I ate much that first Thanksgiving day without them, as I sat teary-eyed at my parents’ table hoping they were happy and safe.

Our home during this time of transition was an apartment a couple of blocks from my parents’ house. From the day we moved in, I began creating some new family “traditions”.

  • I sat on the floor by their bunk beds each night while we read a book together, discussed their day and said prayers.
  • Classical music played quietly in their bedroom as they fell asleep.
  • We took walks to the nearby school playground nearly every day after I picked them up at the baby-sitter’s.
  • Because we now lived much closer to Grandma and Grandpa, weekly visits became part of our routine.

Our new living situation was far from perfect and there are some things I’d do differently if given the chance today.

But moving myself and my sons back to my hometown in time for Christmas was one of the best decisions I made in that crazy, confusing season of our lives. Every night, the boys could see the Christmas lights on the county courthouse from our living room window. They could hear the same church bells chime the hour that I had listened to while growing up. The Santa parade was exciting for them, just as it had been for me and my siblings. I told them stories about what it was like to be a little girl growing up in this village, and we drew closer as a family.

We set up an artificial tree in our new living room and I pulled out the box full of all their favorite ornaments. We played Christmas music and drank hot chocolate and laughed at ourselves and the tiny tree while we “made Christmas” in our new home. Then we played in the snow after dark and walked next door to share brownies with our new neighbors.

It was the onlyIt's when I knew that, with love and (1) Christmas my boys and I would spend in the little apartment in my hometown. My job and other changes moved us to another community. Within a couple of years, we became part of a new family as I remarried, and soon two more brothers came along to share Christmas with us.

I’m not sure how much my two boys, now young men, remember of that Christmas season that we spent healing in my hometown. It remains for me a bittersweet snippet from a lifetime of Christmases. I remember it as a time when my faith in God and in my own resilience grew. It’s when I knew that, with love and patience and tons of God’s grace, we would be okay.