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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

The Nativity on our mantle

Christmas 2004 brought me a gift I’d never experienced: shingles. Shingles are a nerve infection caused by the chickenpox virus, resulting in areas of painful rash covered with blisters. It lays dormant for years but rears its ugly head just when you really need a break — in times of high stress. I had a wide band of blisters around the right side of my waist that was so painful that it was almost unbearable for anything (even clothing) to touch it.

Why the outbreak?

  • We had just packed up and made an inter-state move with our family of seven a few months before (children ages 1, 4, 6, 8 and 10.)
  • I had barely finished decorating our new house when it was time to take some of those things down to put Christmas decorations up.
  • I volunteered to host forty people for the minister’s Christmas party sit-down dinner.
  • My two-year-old daughter was having some serious set-backs in her potty-training.
  • We bought a new puppy, who became my simultaneous “potty”-training project.
  • Normal extra Christmas activities needed to be done…there were cards to write, gifts to buy and wrap, baking to do, concerts to attend….

Now, any one of the above could cause high stress in and of themselves, but I had the major combo working against me that year.  I got through it and the shingles faded by New Year’s, but this was not a model year for me celebrating the heart of Christmas, the peace and joy that our newborn King brings!

Since that time each December I have first of all not done things like volunteer to host forty people for a sit-down dinner five days before Christmas or buy a new puppy a week before Christmas. But I have tried to discipline myself to keep the heart of Christmas in every day of December. If the peace and joy start to slip, I try to make an adjustment.

That means I will go to bed on time (almost!) in order to get much-needed rest even though the cards aren’t written and the baking I had hoped to accomplish isn’t done. I will have quality time with my family and not focus soley on marking off things on my  list each day. I will stop to rest, sit by the fire, drink some hot chocolate every once in a while (it may only be for ten minutes, but it is good for my soul!)

This last week my friend Karen, whose daughter is getting married Dec. 18 (talk about a stressful season) shared with me one way they simplified. Her daughter had hoped to give away small trees at the reception to every family who attends her wedding. This would mean shipping in hundreds of small trees, storing them (and keeping them alive!), transporting them to the wedding in a trailer and then arranging them in a tree shape on a table. After prayer, they decided to go a simpler route. The bride and groom both have a heart for missions. Instead of buying the trees, they are giving the same amount of money to missions projects in honor of their guests. It will be noted in the program…and done.

Will you join me in the goal for peace and joy-filled December days? Most likely you might need to simplify in order to do this. Think about what changes you can make to make things easier on yourself. For those of you with little ones, you will need to do some extra-simplifying to make it through the season with joy and peace. And let me know how you do. Now, please excuse me while I give myself ten minutes to sit at the piano to play some favorite hymn arrangements, in my Savior’s honor.

For to us a child is born…and he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

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A Christmas Surprise

The gifts covered in red and green paper and hiding in bell-shaped gift sacks no longer sat under the tree.  Their contents had been opened and enjoyed with much elation days before. Little did I know I was about to witness my greatest surprise of the season.

You know the feeling…we had experienced the high of celebrating the miraculous birth…but then came the postpartum packing blues.  I had dreaded taking down Christmas decorations from the minute the last of the family walked out the door on Christmas Day.  Though I loved the carefree schedule of the holidays and the beauty of the glimmering lights, the black cloud of having to pack it all away loomed over me. 

Noting that the clock was ticking — it was the final day of December — I realized I must stare my procrastination in the face and do something.  The energy drained out of my body as I mulled it over.  I felt overwhelmed as I considered all the lights, garland, seasonal plates and decorations to put away…not to mention the sheets and towels that needed washing, floors that needed vacuuming, and the leftovers in the refrigerator that were becoming science projects. 

Wait a minute, what about teamwork?  What about breaking things down into manageable parts to tackle a hard job?  And what about taking an undesirable task and making it into a game?  These were things I had written and spoken about…could I apply these principles at this critical moment?

My heart began to lift, then raced as I pondered the possibilities.   I considered each of the children and the talents they possessed.  Hope swept in like a cool breeze on a hot day.  

Not wanting to lose the inspiration, I gathered everyone and gave a quick off-the-cuff pep talk. “Team, we have a mission today that will include everyone.  We are going to put away the Christmas decorations in record time.  Everyone who works with a good attitude will be rewarded with a treat every thirty minutes when the timer goes off.  After we are done, everyone will receive payment based on effort and attitude.  Bonuses will be given if we come in under a three hour time limit. Prizes will be awarded, and we will celebrate with kids meals at your favorite restaurant.” 

Where should we start?  Karis Joy (3) and Micah (5) could be gatherers. “Your mission is to seek out every Christmas-related item in the house that you can reach and carefully bring it to one of the two large tables I have covered with table cloths.” They scurried off like two busy bees.

I then turned my attention to Caleb (7).  He had always been our outdoorsman and was a take-charge guy who enjoyed time with his dad.  “Caleb, you and Dad will be packing all the outdoor decorations and lights.”

As I could see the tables filling up with Christmas items, I knew just who I needed at that point.  My spatially-gifted left-brained son, Dillon (11).  Chris passed down the thirteen red and green plastic bins from the attic, and his job was to pack all the items brought to the tables.

That left Derek (10), the perfect right-hand-man for me that day.  His strengths are flexibility, a good attitude, and a willingness to do whatever is asked, one task at a time.  He and I covered whatever else was needed.  As we turned on some upbeat music, I announced, “Let the games begin!” 

Every thirty minutes when the timer rang, I dispensed “energy pills” (small chocolate candies) to keep them going. “Yea!  It’s time for injury pills!” my five-year-old would exclaim when he heard the ring.

My heart welled up with joy as I saw my home transform before my eyes, inside and out.  If someone started to tire, I reminded him of the good things ahead for the diligent who held good attitudes.  One and a half hours from our starting time, I was in awe as we passed up to Chris the last box to store in the attic until next year. Was I surprised? It was greater than I could have ever hoped or dreamed.

We gave a cheer and I told everyone to head to the car to depart for our celebration.  I quickly cut “ribbons” out of red construction paper, and grabbed my Sharpie to label the awards.  We had everything from “fastest three-year-old gatherer in the U.S.” to “shrewdest packer in history” (Dillon had two empty bins left over).  And of course my husband received an award for being so great and going along with my plan.

My favorite gift that year didn’t have a ribbon around it and couldn’t be held in my hands.  I received the joy of marking a big job off my to-do list.  But even greater was the joy of watching my family work like an All-Star team.  Post-season play had never looked or felt better.

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