Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Maybe it's picture prints by Currier and Ives. Maybe it's my grandmother's melt-in-your-mouth pound cake that was part of the menu every year. I have the recipe for it, but I'll never bake for fear it won't live up to hers. Maybe it's all those rose-colored memories of childhood Christmases past. I don't know.

I don't know where the pressure for a perfect Christmas comes from. But I know it didn't come from the first Christmas, because that one was anything but perfect.

A young virgin and her fiancé birthed the messiah while they were on a trip, a travel nightmare. Stranded, they made due with a ragged manger cushioned by hay from the stable floor while smelly cattle lowed in protest of the disturbance in their otherwise peaceful night.
There was an extra mule in there too, the one that carried their suitcase. And Mary may have had to lean against the mule's side for leverage and steadying. Surely there was a lot of improvising that night.

In fact, the night's events were so far below the standard of perfection that angels had to announced the imperfect birth lest we miss it. The glow the heavenly host cast over an unidentified field of poor shepherds wasn't meant to spotlight our imperfections and, thus, cause us to despair. The angel's tidings were glad. His news was good because we were already imperfect and in despair.

He didn't come to point out the imperfect; He came to perfect us. I fear we have it backwards.
We think we're pretty okay all year, and then, when its time to celebrate Christmas, we can't seem to pull off perfect. We stress and get depressed. If it were the other way around and we saw ourselves as less than perfect, we'd rejoice, just as the angels suggested.

So enjoy this Christmas, whatever it looks like for you this year. You don't have to live up to perfect.
In fact, expect the imperfect, because that's the real reason for the season.

Sharing this post in community with Emily at Imperfect Prose and Jennifer's God-Bumps.
Unwrapping imperfect with Emily at Chatting with the Sky.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The 2011 Story of Us in the Ever-Elusive Perfect Christmas Pictures

It all started when Mike and I decided a picture card was where it was at when it was Christmas and we had our first 8-month-old and we used a florescent lamp to light the situation because we knew we loved our little one but knew nothing of photography. It took a whole roll of film (yes, film, and drug store developing — the dark ages).

1995: The little brown and tan appendage growing from the side of Adrian's head turned out to be a favorite bear of his that now resides in my underwear drawer because I developed an emotional attachment to it when my son outgrew his.

1996:  This little outfit I hand smocked and sewed by hand (well, machine). I still can't believe it turned out fit for wearing. I purchased $60 saddle oxfords from Stride Right for a one-year-old who wore them with only this outfit and only three times. The ridiculous things we do to and for our children. Recognize the  bear? He's already becoming more prominent in our lives.

1997:  The wonder of a childhood Christmas had finally arrived. See it in those eyes? He's not quite three and fully aware of all the delicious-ness of Christmas. I was very pregnant with his little sister. He looks so oblivious to the fact that his days of being the center of my universe were about to come to an abrupt end.

1998:  Mike and I decided to get in this picture because it was the first time we felt like a full-fledged family, no more single child. We had the frenzied getting dressed for this picture and the frayed nerves and the snipping at one another to prove it, too. Oh the things that hide behind the perfect picture....  But from the looks of it, you'd never know. My daughter's dress and matching bow? Hand smocked and hand sewn again. It's still in the attic somewhere.

1999:  Adrian wasn't the only one with his hands full. An infant plus a one-year-old equals chaos — cranky, tired chaos. Hence, the paci in the Christmas picture. Whada-ya-gonna-do? Nobody's clothes were hand made that year. I counted dressed and fed as a victory back then.

2000:  This picture makes me cry. When they really were these ages, I was so busy trying to meet their needs, I completely missed how cute and precious and adorable God makes the next generation. I look at this picture now and can't believe God used me in any capacity to have anything to do with these marvels of His.

2001:  Trust me when I say we worked very hard for this one. It was worth it.

2002:  Mike and I got in on it again this year because so many of our loved ones were anxious to see Mike, the man who had cheated death after a very late-stage cancer diagnosis. He had just been released from the hospital and had his first chemo treatment under his belt. We were happy just to be all together that year, embracing a life spared as an unspeakable gift.

2003:  There were threats of spankings before this was snapped, and that's all I'm gonna say.

2004:  Not a one of my sweet children wanted to wear the carefully matched blue and grey outfits I picked out for them. I distinctly remember much fussing and fighting in order to capture this happy family for the Christmas card that year. You can see it on everyone's face but Mike's. He's still just blissfully happy to be alive. Cancer treatments had lasted a solid year, and that changes your perspective — you stop worrying about matching outfits.

2005:  I'm not sure what I was more proud of this year: the new house we had built, the stockings it had taken me four years to cross-stitch that were finally finished, or my kids. It should be an obvious choice, huh?

2006:  We came close to not having a Christmas picture this year; life was now moving again at break-neck
speed. We used this snapshot from a fall trip to the mountains. I was grieved by their everyday clothes and the fact that although she denies it to this today, it looks like Reagan had snipped the left half of her bangs right off. But for all this picture was lacking, the mountainous backdrop and the proud big brother more than made up for it.

2007:  I wish I could freeze time here. We were past diaper bags and sippy cups and nap times, but hadn't yet hit the turbulent teens. I didn't know it at the time, though. That's how life is sometimes:  not knowing to cherish the ordinary moments because you don't realize they're extraordinary until afterward.

I broke my winning streak in 2008 because we just never found the time to get a picture taken:  proof that life only gets busier and goes by faster as the kids get older.

2009:  We hired a photographer to take some shots for the church website and for our personal use. The photographer introduced me to blogging, which, for better or worse, has changed my daily life more than anything else since giving birth to these three beautiful kids. She's no longer blogging.

2010:  It almost didn't happen again. But posting all these pictures last year inspired me to overcome the whining, fighting, dressing, and pretending to smile for the camera. We snapping this one without incident after church the last Sunday before Christmas, just in time to make my Christmas cards late. Perfect.


2011:  They're older now, and it no longer takes much fuss to produce perfect Christmas card pictures. But what we've lost in effort, we've gained in maturity and memories. It's taken the last couple of years for me to realize that perfect doesn't happen when a shutter flickers open and closed. Perfect happens when you look back over the years and find that every imperfect moment was a blessing anyway.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Christmas Story

Sunday's photo and a scripture -- read aloud today. 
(Posted as a video because I don't know how to publish audio.)

Joining Deidra for simple Sunday Scriptures.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Wonder of That Birth

I didn't give birth on Christmas morning like Mary did, but I had eight month's worth of gestation filling me that year when it was the appointed time to contemplate Mary and her journey to an unaided birth in a barn. Three weeks after Christmas I made my own hasty journey to a birth that wasn't remotely how we had planned it. That was a little bit like Mary.

Noelle was early, and came fast. We almost didn't make it to the hospital in time. I gave birth without pain medication, and felt every part of nature's course. And that was a little bit like Mary, too. Noelle, a Christmas name for my kind-of Christmas baby, slipped into this world in the dark, wee hours of early morning. I'm not sure if there were stars shining.

I instinctively relaxed through contractions, but I didn't know what I was doing. The first time had been so different. My friend's apt attention was on the other end of the phone. I was securing plans to be away from the 2-year-old big brother for a few days, every minute and a half a contraction. I had to close my eyes, stop talking, and breathe slower. After it passed, I spoke frantically, racing the ever-shortening increments of time until the next wave of impending life began its crescendo. Plans were becoming futile.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

Since my own wild and natural birth, I ponder every Christmas the wonder of childbirth in the course of a young woman's life. She clings to her husband's hand, grasping his very life to anchor her here while she bears down to brings forth another.  This process, beyond any young girl, will not be denied, and she needs the steadying.

The urge to push overwhelms. A too-large baby makes a way where there seems to be no way through a too-small tunnel connecting confined darkness to unbound light. I thought I would die of it in a flash — the same flash when flesh tore through a ring of fire. I perceived my own possilbe demise; nevertheless I pushed without regard for myself.

This instinct, was it God the Father's when the fullness of time came for him? When he pushed his glorious, ready Son as a newborn into the fleshly world, a large God somehow making a way through small humanity?

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)

To dwell means to pitch one's tent.  God bent low, staked the tent peg of sacred seed in the earth of a virgin womb and crawled inside the tent of human flesh. Think of it: God -- camping. He left Heaven for Earth, a stable now suddenly apropo. The Maker of the universe and Giver of life disrobed his rightful and heavenly majesty to disguise himself as a newborn in a barn.

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. (John 1:4-5, 9)

He tunneled from unbridled light to the confines of darkness so His heart could beat just beneath our own. God camped.

No wonder Israel didn't recognize him.

But, oh, the wonder when we do!

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John  3:16)


I'm joining Ann's community of those who Walk With Him on Wednesdays and Jennifer's crew at God-Bumps.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Guarding the Spirit of Christmas

We have a Christmas tradition around here of wrapping Baby Jesus and a Christmas ornament nail in brown packing paper with a shimmering gold bow. It's the first gift we open on Christmas morning as we read Luke 2 and place Jesus in the Christmas hay. We hang the nail on our tree, reminiscent of another tree and read of his sacrifice, the second one, because wasn't leaving heaven for earth a sacrifice too?

Right now, the first gifts are still unwrapped, alone under our tree.  I unboxed Jesus for a photo session the other night and just half-heartedly stuck him back into the tissue paper, box gaping open with tissue and Jesus' torso hanging out irreverently.

As I flipped the switch to light our tree this morning, I noticed the boxes neatly restacked under the bow looking conspicuously unmolested. Apparently one of my teenagers had carefully replaced Jesus, closed the lid, and gingerly nestled him, box and all, back under his shimmery bow.

A teenager, who leaves the towels on the bathroom counter, dirty clothes on the floor, and has no qualm about an unmade bed, carefully tucked Jesus back in.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Battle

It was September when I decided I'd teach the song to Noelle and Reagan and we would be a trio by Christmas. I dug the music out from the bottom of the piano bench and went in search of the demo CD. I had a plan and plenty of time. What I didn't have was interested girls, but I didn't let it deter me.

For two weeks I dragged them to the piano and CD player every stray, spare minute we had. They resisted. I was still undeterred.

They mumbled parts half-hearted, while I played the song to captive ears in my car on the way to church and stores and Grandma's house. They whined and complained, but I put my ear to their mouths to hear begrudged harmony and defied them to hurt my feelings. They glowered; I forged ahead.

Moms always win. They should know this by now.

I set it aside for awhile thinking that a short truce would soften their reluctance into willingness. It was supposed to be a pretty Christmas song not a battle of the wills.

Thanksgiving passed, and God prompted me to quiet rest and expectation this advent season. The tree winked at me in this endeaver, I'm sure of it. It still stands quiet in the corner, slowly dying.

Yesterday, with Noelle in her berry-colored choir gown, we hurried across town for her dress rehearsal. She was awash in tears, and it wasn't great timing, but I slid that CD into the dash. Noelle was sulking. My defenses were waning, and sulking is contagious. My car filled with dissonance as I recognized defeat.

This must be the place believers come were the last lyrics that played when I quietly pushed the CD off, thick silence penetrating the stale air. The lyrics would have waxed poetic of the stable, the cross, and an empty tomb had I not shut them up inside my dashboard. Noelle slumped into the window and quietly closed her eyes.

She had leaned into rest. This must be the place beleivers come, indeed.

Writing in community with God-Bumps and God-Incidences at Getting Down With Jesus and with The High Calling's community Advent writing. I wish I could link this with Deidra at Jumping Tandem, too, because I've been so blessed by her 25 Days to a Smaller Christmas. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Searching For Familiar Joy

The thought came and went too quick for me to catch it. It was two weeks ago when lots of Thanksgiving plans were crowding my mind. By the time I talked with Dad after Thanksgiving, all I could remember was that I had a question for him, but I couldn't remember what it was.

The desire to try and track down the Christmas album we treasured as kids did resurface, though, once the holiday tunes were wafting through the air full force.

I didn't have much to go on: just I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus in a voice not easily forgotten and a faint memory of a story about an inspiring conversation between a Christmas tree and Santa.

The unforgettable voice turned out to be the 13-year-old Jimmy Boyd who originally made the song famous. The story was narrated by none other than Red Skelton. And, of course, this made me think of the wise men.

Now, I know you want to know how on earth that happened, so why don't you click on over to Laced With Grace today to find out. It's quite a trip down memory lane.

Laced With Grace
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