Category Archives: Holiday Decorations

This Life: Appetizers Only

During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.

Heartbreaks that have brought grace:

The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.

Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.

Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.

Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.

Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.

Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.

Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:

The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.

These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life. 

Advertisements

Annual Christmas Nervous Breakdown or Dirty Socks Under the Tree

Jesus loves you, but I’m His favorite. NOT!

I do have stories about making good choices. And I will tell some of them as I blog along. But, it seems more important to share about God staying involved in our lives when we are screwing up; to remind myself and others that God loves us, not because of who we are, but because of who God is.

My mother always made Christmas extraordinary, even when money was in short supply. She polished and decorated every square inch of our apartment. The presents may not have cost a lot, but they were wrapped beautifully. There was a constant flow of guests, often widows without family near-by or young families without parents and grandparents around. There were special treats to eat, but also even the plain old potted meat sandwiches were trimmed and cut into triangles with parsley sprigs around them on silver trays.
So, when she became a widow and passed the Christmas torch to me, I tried to do the same. And I added being active at church in teaching classes, decorating the social hall, and organizing Christmas pageants. My five children and I spent weeks making presents for all their teachers and for all my students. I never thought about the fact that mom had two children and a small apartment and I had five children and a large house, which was a home away from home for a constant flow of college age house guests involved in Christian ministry. Mom set the bar very high, but without realizing it, I had raised it.
Pretty much every year, sometime close to Christmas, I would reach my annual Christmas overload, yell that I hated Christmas, and slam my way into my bedroom to collapse for a day or night. One year after retreating to curl up in a fetal position and figuratively suck my thumb, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning, remembering that I was scheduled in a few hours to give a talk to another denomination’s women’s group on The Spirit of Christmas.
I seriously considered calling and saying I had broken my leg, but decided that might be asking for it literally.                                                                                                                                         As I prayed for help, it seemed like God was telling me that although I was doing many truly good things, I was missing the point of Christmas. Christmas wasn’t about how much we could do or how perfect we could make it. Christmas was about the joy of needing and receiving a Savior, the tangible expression of God’s perfect love for us imperfect human beings. And sharing that joy with others. So, I ended up simply sharing the whole story, my pattern of Christmas breakdowns and my panic the night before. It seemed like everyone there could relate very well to my experience. Then, for reasons unknown to me, I ended by saying, “No matter what it takes, even leaving dirty socks under the Christmas tree, I’m going to keep my focus on the meaning of Christmas.”

Now, really! Dirty socks under the tree?

Of course, mother arrived, guests arrived, children were freed from school, and Christmas Eve arrived with stress building and me once again rushing tensely around. As I was putting laundry away in a bedroom close to the great room, I heard my mother ask, “Eileen, why is there a dirty sock under the Christmas tree?”
I got goose bumps. I could feel Jesus standing there with His hand on my shoulder. I dropped the laundry on the bed and stopped my mother from removing the sock.
“Mom, let’s leave it there and stop right now to have a cup of coffee and read the Christmas scriptures, so we’ll remember what we’re celebrating.”
For several years afterwards, I would put a sock under the tree, whenever I began to forget the meaning of Christmas from the overload of my good intentions.

Thanksgiving Lallapalooza

We tried, but we couldn’t do it. The first holiday with their parents divorced was not going to be wonderfully happy for four young granddaughters, no matter what their grandparents tried to do. And Uncle Steve, our family’s designated-cheerer-upper, spent five hours in the Atlanta airport on stand-by trying to join us in Nashville. He gave up about one in the afternoon.
The day did have both fun and kind moments. A fun one happened while Julian and Tommy and the two younger girls were taking the boat tour around the main floor of the incredible Opryland Hotel. The two teens and I were waiting near the stream. While I was looking around at the extravaganza of Christmas decorations, I noticed a middle-aged looking man about to come down some steep steps across from us on the other side of the stream. He stopped at the top and looked around. No one was on the steps or nearby and I don’t think he saw us. So suddenly, he just sat on the middle banister and happily slid all the way down. Hadley and I spontaneously applauded, but he had hurried off. I’m thankful for that magical moment.
All four girls and Tommy had their picture taken with Santa. Hadley told Santa all she wanted for Christmas was a job. Bella said that she told Santa she wanted a particular game, but didn’t tell him it cost $75. While the girls were picking out a photo, Santa came all the way over to where I was sitting in a wheelchair to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas. I’m thankful for that sweet kindness.
The boaters, old and young, enjoyed the guide’s mix of funny and interesting information and the variety of sights on the boat ride. Bella spotted a pretend alligator in a nook. But by then, they all were hungry. The eating places in the Hotel are pretty expensive and crowded, so the girls used Google to find a Waffle House just across the road. I attempted a veto, but got over ruled. I am not a healthy eater and I love butter, but Waffle House must just pour extra grease over everything right before they serve it. Nobody ate much of their food. But seventeen year old Sophie and twelve year old Emma both had stomach aches, so Tommy took them home. Tommy is an amazing father in his balance of caring, discipline, and having fun with the girls. But I think it was stomach aches from sadness, more than Waffle House food, that sent them home.
Julian and I took nineteen year old Hadley and eight year old Bella back to Opryland. In an inside playground area, Bella rode a train around and around and around in a seriously boring circle, but she got to enthusiastically ring a bell very loudly all the way around the six loops, so she was happy. (The woman running the train, not so much.) We re-named her Bella, Bella, Bell Banger.
We then shopped in a Christmas Crafts and Gifts room. Bella tried on some fun jewelry and liked several bracelets that were just a little too big. I told her she had a twelve dollar budget, but she decided to wait until she had gone all around the rest of the Bazaar to decide. Which is to me an amazing choice of delayed gratification for an eight year old. She said finally that all she wanted was a dollar rock candy lollypop. Hadley didn’t see anything she wanted either. They are both surprisingly careful shoppers. Of course, I spent some money on small, but irresistible, handmade Christmas decorations for two homebound friends. They now mysteriously seem to have found their perfect place in our apartment.
About three o’clock Bella got tired and weepy, so we started back to where we had come in. I began pushing her on the walker I had been using now instead of a wheelchair. Before we got all the way back, my hip and knee began to hurt, so I ousted Bella and Julian took over pushing me along the pebbled concrete walk.
Unfortunately, we hit an unseen bump and the walker and I went over backwards. I did a two point landing, head first, then on my right hip. My head hitting the concrete made a horrible noise. Julian bent over reaching down to me and I thought he was going to try to pick me up and it scared me into screaming “No!” at him.. Poor baby, he was actually just trying to comfort me. People started gathering and the ones who had been close by were telling them what an awful sound my head had made when it hit the concrete. I was in serious pain, very dizzy, and nauseated. I didn’t think I could sit up without falling over. Luckily, a kind male nurse came to our rescue, checking the bruise and bump on the back of my head, asking me my name and other questions to see if I had a serious head injury. When I started to raise my head, he stopped me until we were sure my neck didn’t hurt. Finally, we all agreed for him, his friend, and Julian to lift me to my feet. The nurse apologized and promised he wasn’t trying to grope me, as he struggled to get a firm grip on me. I wanted to assure him that at my age groping wasn’t much of a hazard, but I needed to focus on getting my legs under me. Once on my feet, I was shaky, but able to stand. As Julian helped me make it slowly to the door, I realized that my glasses were missing, but Hadley had already retrieved them from where they had flown off. She is wonderful in an emergency. She went ahead of us opening doors. And while Julian went to get the car, she put her arm around me to keep me steady and then she helped get the walker into the car. Bella was upset for me, so I assured her I was going to be okay and I was just grateful that she hadn’t still been riding on the walker. Once we got into the car, I sat on one of the two ice packs I had brought in my small drink carrier and held the other to the bump on my head. Those ice packs were wonderful serendipities. I took two Tylenol and prayed all the way home for an exhausted and shaken Julian driving in surprisingly heavy traffic. By the time we got home, he was sorer than I was from so much walking and trying to pull me and the walker back up when we were going over. Between Tylenol and ice packs, I never really hurt unbearably and the sizeable bump on my head went down quickly. Next time, I’ll stick with the wheel chair instead of switching to my walker. It’s safer and I receive a lot of kindness, even from Santa, when I’m in it.
I am Thankful for the happy moments today. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful that Bella wasn’t the one hurt. I am thankful that I don’t seem to have any permanent or serious damage, because I hit the hardest part of me, the back of my head, and the most padded part, my backside. Since I have put on weight this year and most of it settled on my backside, I think I was spared a broken hip or damage to the already herniated disc and bone spur in my lower back. Amazing how many unlikely saving graces there are in the hard and scary times.
Day after the Lallapalooza, I am Thankful for: Julian was fully recovered by morning. He slept eleven hours and got up early to clear the living room for setting up the village. Our son Chris came and helped him all day.
I was able to sleep in spite of my bruises. I managed to get the turkey breast and gravy cooked and I had the vegetables already fixed.
I made absolutely no ‘to do’ lists.
I happily started playing Christmas music. I got to enjoy photos on face book of the girls decorating their dad’s apartment for Christmas. My head and backside and bad knee are only slightly sore.
Nausea has been my only strong after effect from my head bashing.
That the nausea helped me stick to my diet all day. It seems to be letting up. I should be able to lead worship service Sunday, even nauseated. Though that conjures up some scary mental pictures, if I don’t eat, all should be well.. And thanks be, no one sits in the front rows anyway. 🙂

Come, Lord Jesus

Christmas trees, decorations, Christmas music, even in stores pushing the season earlier and earlier for their own purposes, all fill me with wonderful memories, anticipation and joy. I’ve learned over my seventy-nine years, that what puts the focus on Christ at Christmas is my own hunger for his presence.

Advent is the traditional pre-Christmas season of preparing our hearts for his coming.
Those four weeks were arbitrarily set centuries ago to reflect the four thousand years that the world waited in darkness, longing for his coming. Many years ago, I began on the first Sunday of Advent to pray each day, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I watch expectantly for him to become present in small, but recognizable ways in my heart and life.

And some years my heart and mind are actually attentive enough to recognize his coming.

One Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren were all at our home, surrounded by the friendly reds and greens of Christmas and delicious smells teasing from the kitchen. In one bedroom, a grand-baby snuggled into sleep, while in others whispering parents wrapped and ribbonned Santa secrets. Only Granddad was missing, out doing his traditional Christmas Eve shopping.

As excited older grandchildren were setting out to explore the woods and creek, I was making a clean up sweep through the holiday chaos. (Having ended up the “cleaner upper” by default, I was grumbling to myself a little.)

And one preschooler, too young for exploring and too old for a nap, went from room to room knocking on doors only to be told that he couldn’t come in. When I found little David sobbing forlornly in the middle of all the Christmas glitter, I decided to console him(and me) with an outing to feed the ducks that winter over on the lake in town.

When we arrived at the lake, the hungry ducks gobbled up our bread crusts so quickly
and ferociously, that we began to fear we would soon become part of their Christmas Eve
menu.

As we took refuge in the car, I heard our parish church bells ringing for the special Christmas Eve children’s service, The Mass of the Bells. Since the children get to sing all their favorite carols and even ring bells to celebrate the birth of Christ, it seemed like a Christmas serendipity for David. Looking at our faded jeans and muddy tennis shoes, I hesitated, but remembering the ragged shepherds at the first Christmas, I headed on to church anyway.

For lack of having his own bell, David rang my key chain as he sang with off key gusto. Then, as all the children gathered around our parish priest on the floor of the sanctuary to talk about the Christmas Story, David somehow managed to squirm all the way to the front of the group. When Father asked what happened when Mary and Joseph
knocked on the door of the Inn, David’s response rang out, “They wouldn’t let them in.”
Then, with a sudden rush of outraged feeling, he shouted louder, “They wouldn’t open the door!”

It seemed like he remembered his feelings about closed doors earlier at home and identified with the Holy Family.

And then when Father asked how they would respond to Jesus knocking at the door of their hearts right now, David sang out with conviction,

“Come in Jesus. Come right on in!”

On our way home, David joyfully assured me that even if others sometimes didn’t let children in, he and Jesus always would.  At his own level he made the connection between his life and the Gospel story, even realizing that opening his heart to Jesus, also meant opening his heart to others.

And my heart was filled with the joy of Christmas, of seeing Jesus being born once more
in the heart of a child.

As a post script I’d like to share more about David. When he was a college junior he and several other college students took cold water and hamburgers down town in the Memphis August heat to share with the hungry and homeless. As they did this, one man asked for them to pray over him (David said that they needed God’s grace for that). But as they prayed, others began coming forward asking, not for money, or even food, but for prayer. Since then, David has taught in schools in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Bolivia.

Whenever the stores start Christmas music, August or October, let it be our cue to start praying the prayer of our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

Re-posted for the Christmas season 2013 and 2016.

Our Dickens Village

DSCF6633DSCF6643DSCF6638DSCF6636DSCF6635DSCF6637Click on first to enlarge and then click on next for subsequent photos.
DSCF6663Christmas Village and presents