Tag Archives: Christmas

7 days until Christmas…

I was sad yesterday afternoon as I watched the large group of people leaving for Mexico.  I so very much wanted to go with them.  They are bringing Christmas gifts to the children at Casa Hogar Elim, an annual thing started last year by Jeff Harrell.  We collect shoe boxes, fill them up with small age-appropriate toys and sugar-free candy, then wrap them up.  Now these gifts aren’t just for a boy, age 6, or a girl, age 10, there’s a package for each individual child with their name on it.  We can’t put bows on these boxes, as they would be crushed under the weight of all the supplies in the cars and vans.

There are so many people from our church that want to go to Casa Hogar, they don’t even need to advertise the trips.  If you’ve been there, you’re a walking billboard for CHE.  The Thanksgiving trip even had a waiting list this year.  The ‘regulars’ have gone so many times, they can’t even tell you how many trips they’ve made.  We love these kids, and for those of us whom visit often, these kids are our extended family.

You know the old saying, ‘you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family?’    I beg to differ.  I was thinking last night about family and friends, and all of the funny ways God placed them in my life.  God clearly has a sense of humor!

I moved into my house three years ago, although my kids didn’t start attending the local school until two years ago.  We live at the end of the street, walking distance from the elementary school.  I noticed a house that had some fun yard decor, more specifically, ‘little skeleton girl’.  She was out for Halloween, dressed in her hippie costume, but she stayed out for other holidays.  What!?  Could this be?  Could I really have a soul sister on my street?

I was intrigued.  Why did I think this was my soul sister?  I have a full size mannequin named Darla.  You can learn more about her on Facebook at facebook.com/luvplasticpeople.  Anyway, I wanted to meet little skeleton girl’s mom.  I did, and her name is Patty.

Patty loves to volunteer her time for great causes, so we cross paths quite a bit, not only walking down the street, but many other places.  Patty was at Victoria Gardens with me when I met Flo, the ghost of Christmas future.  I can’t wait to go to Casa Hogar with Patty!  I live in a great neighborhood, as it’s filled with fun, caring people like Patty.

As I said in yesterday’s post, I was an only child until my teen years.  I really don’t remember ever bugging my parents about wanting a baby brother or sister.  I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t want one or because I knew it was a horrible idea for my parents to have anymore children.  I guess God knew I needed some siblings, but decided to bring them in under different circumstances.  At the age of 14, I got a step brother, two step sisters, and soon after, a half brother.

The funny thing about this is my sister Jo.  We are not blood related at all, yet we are just alike.  Our beliefs, our personalities, our creativity… and the list goes on.  The more perplexing thing here is our kids.  My son Joe and her son Isaac, again, no genetic relation, not only look alike, but act alike.  Jo lives in Wisconsin, so we don’t get to see each other too often.  We were on vacation in Florida several years ago, Joe and Isaac both ‘sitting’ on their heads on the sofa watching TV.  Jo says, “Look, Isaac taught Joe to do that.”  I replied, “What?  Joe’s been doing that for months.”  Both kids had been doing this separately for months.  And just for the record, they look alike right-side up too.

This next one isn’t as much humor funny as it is implausible funny.  Let me just start by saying it’s an extremely rare occasion when I can find anything good to say about my ex-husband.  The aftermath of an interaction with him frequently results in misery and relational mass destruction.

Dawn and Genna live near Kansas City, so we don’t get to see them very often.  Genna is my step-daughter and Dawn is her mother.  The boys and I took our family vacation up there this past summer and we had a blast!  Okay, I know what you’re thinking.  You probably think it’s odd that we’re friends, so this next statement will really throw you.  We consider ourselves family.  Yes, family.  You may not be able to choose your genetic family, but through love and friendship, you do choose your ‘preferred’ family.  One of the definitions of family is “a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals…”   Yes, that’s us.  I’ve realized one thing this Christmas, one very big positive thing to say about the boys dad.  Without him, I would not have my boys, nor would I have Dawn and Genna.  As you can tell by the photo, they are obviously ‘related’, as they are a bunch of little camera junkies!  Genna is a very talented photographer and is doing an internship right now.  The boys like to make funny YouTube videos, a couple that have gone small-time viral.

God has brought many other people into my life in unexpected ways, from church and Facebook to a lady at church who accidentally door dinged my beat-up car.  I’ll take 100 of those kind of door dings!  Oh, wait, I have 100 door dings, but only one has a great story behind it.

So what does all of this have to do with Christmas?  This is the time of year when many people experience strong feelings of loneliness, seemingly endless despair and high levels of stress.  I’m no different, but as these feelings arise, I have this faint awareness of hope.  I appreciate my friends and family, realizing I don’t tell them that nearly enough.  I also appreciate you for taking the time to read my 25 days of Christmas blog.  🙂

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8 days until Christmas…

I want to talk about ghosts, those scary, shadowy phantoms that haunt all of us.  The dictionary definition of a ghost is a dead person’s soul, imagined as a vague, shadowy figure.  My definition is a bit different.  Now maybe I watched too much Casper when I was young, but I think ghosts are typically friendly and they’re usually trying to teach humans a lesson.  Aren’t ghosts just people spirits in 32% transparent bodies with a 78% vivid light outer glow?   Yeah, okay, I spend too much time with Photoshop.  I do believe ghosts can be dead or alive.  Whether it’s the dead ones that are completely invisible or the live ones that are in plain sight, their presence is known.  Yesterday I visited one ghost, and two ghosts visited me.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

I have to say, I didn’t want to see this ghost anymore than Scrooge did, but I reluctantly, yet intentionally decided to visit him.  This particular ghost is one that I usually don’t go searching for, but I thought it might shed some light on my Christmas beliefs and struggles with our existing Christmas culture.  This particular ghost is a vintage Poloroid camera, as the ghost of Christmas past has presented himself in photographs.  The person behind the camera?  My grandpa.  He passed away many years ago and I miss him terribly.  My grandpa was a shutterbug and also the designated family photographer.

My first exploration took me to a large box in the garage, filled with old photos that belonged to my grandparents.  I enjoy looking at the past, captured through my grandpa’s eyes, on these little black and white squares.  I love visiting this box, but you couldn’t tell that from the amount of dust on it.  I searched though the box, looking for any Christmas photos I could find.  I found Christmas photos of my dad, aunt and cousins.

The second part of the search took me to my own childhood albums.  These albums were meticulously organized by my mother, every photo page referencing my age in years and months.  I can only imagine what these albums would look like had they known scrapbooking back then.  Not only do these albums contain photographs, but every birthday card I ever received as a child.  There must be hundreds of them, and I would venture to say, there are as many cards as photos.  I guess that explains why I don’t like cards.  All those cards are symbolic of how many superficial contacts my parents had, it was the number that meant something, not the depth of the friendships.  Christmas was no different, there were hundreds of cards taped on the wall, creating an oversized map of  numerical acquaintanceships.  It looked to me like the US, and if anyone looked closely enough, I expect they would have seen tiny little cars driving aimlessly all over it, looking for an unknown destination.

I was an only child until the age of 13, and I was the poster child for ‘spoiled brat’.  The photos I found depict the excess of gifts, boxes in such large quantities they spilled out into the room from under the tree.

I remember getting so many gifts, my mom always shuffling me toward the things she liked best, asking me how much I liked this and how much I liked that.  She was buzzing around the gifts, all the while, reminding me how lucky I was to get all this stuff.  As a child, I remember it being fun getting so many presents, but the moment it was over, the emptiness set in.  I saw my friends and neighbors celebrating Christmas and I could tell, even at that young age, that they were experiencing something I wasn’t.  It looked nice, felt warm and seemed surreal, yet I had no idea what ‘it’ was.

The ghost of Christmas past brings a melancholy gloom, but visiting with this ghost gives me hope.  A hope that I might be able to find ‘it’.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Get it?  Christmas ‘present’?  I crack myself up!  The really funny thing?  This crazy ghost manifested herself in the form of a present, and yes, she led me into the abyss of retail madness.  The human ghost behind the present is Candy.

Remember me telling you a few days ago that I needed to buy one more gift?  Yesterday, I set out to find a pair of mismatched shoes for Candy.  No, you couldn’t pay me enough to go to a mall to shop this time of year, although you could pay me to go there and people watch.

I made my usual discount store rounds, looking for a specific ‘Converse’ style pair of shoes, but in two different colors and patterns.  Now I haven’t been shopping in a long time, but when did all of the shoes turn brown and black?  What happened to all of the fun colors and styles?  Boring!  I received some strange looks as I asked for help, and as I’m guessing, nobody actually goes to the store to purposely purchase a pair of mismatched shoes.

I have to say, I was very excited to find a pair of Sketchers for $16.99.  Yeah!  All I have to do is find another inexpensive pair in the same style, now how hard can that be?  Let me just say that I never intentionally bought a pair of mismatched shoes.  My favorite pair?  One came from Kelly Tuggey, the other from a thrift store.  I really needed to get back to work.  Where should I go to find another pair to stylistically match?

Running out of time to find a deal, I had to settle for a higher priced place.  I finally found a pair of orange Ed Hardy shoes.  Yes Geoff, I paid $49.96 for these puppies!  I know I will never hear the end of this.  That was about half of what they would cost at the mall, but it’s way more than I would ever consider spending for a pair of shoes.  And don’t get me started on the statement part of this!  Ed Hardy… phssshhh.

So what did I learn from this ghost?  I learned that sometimes it’s good to do things you wouldn’t normally do.  The cost, whether financial, emotional or otherwise, is very worth it.  Even though I won’t be there to see Candy open her gift, I know that she will love the shoes.  I’m going to write her a note and have it translated, telling her that she is special and loved not only by me, but everyone.  Yes, Candy is a very special ghost.

The Ghost of Christmas Future

I met the ghost of Christmas future last night and her name is Flo.  She was at the nursing home where our church was hosting a Christmas party for the residents.  This is a photo of Flo talking to one of the kids at the party.  The little girl was asking what her name was and Flo replied, “My name is Flo.  Pretty crappy name, hey?”  She had my full attention now.

Flo and I have the same hair philosophy, wash it, go to bed, and whatever you wake up with is the new style of the day.  Capturing Flo in a photo was a difficult task, as she was working the room at an unbelievably rapid pace.  Her walker, with tennis ball feet, must be jet propelled.

During one of the Christmas songs, she was dancing.  I later told Flo that I captured her dancing on video.  She asked, “Is this the New Year’s party?  You got me dancing?  I don’t remember doing that.  I’m not leaving this party until I see myself on TV.”

Flo is cute and spunky, and in her day, I bet she was a blast to hang out with and had many friends.  Flo disappeared from the party early, I’m assuming to get ready for bed.

A while later, a large group of us went caroling down the halls.  There were four wings, and I so desperately wanted to find Flo again.  Toward the end of the last hall, there it was, Flo’s room.  She and her roommate were sleeping.  I see Flo as the ghost of Christmas future because that will probably be me in 40 years.  We were not allowed to take photos in the rooms, you know, all that HIPPA junk, but when I saw the painting hanging over her bed, it took my breath away.  I had to secretly snap a photo.

In the nursing home filled with small traces of personal artifacts, arranged into the same basic, beige shell, this colorful painting spoke loudly about Flo.  I knew the moment I saw it hanging over Flo’s bed, that she loved color… and loved life.  I so terribly want to know her story, but Flo’s memories have been stolen from her.  Sadly, Alzheimers, or whatever she has, might have taken her memories, but it made me happy that it did not rob her of her wonderful personality.

I told my kids about Flo last night during our prayer time.  Joe prayed for her not to die before he had a chance to meet her.  She might be his ghost as well.

We can all learn from our ghosts, and whether you go seeking them or they come to haunt you.  Don’t be frightened.  Also, don’t ignore them.  Remember these are friendly ghosts, and they want to show you something in your life through their own human experience.  The Christmas spirit?  Yep, it’s a ghost, and I think I’m a little closer to it now.


9 days until Christmas…

Tick.  Tick.  Tick.

Only 9 days now.

Tick.  Tick.

Christmas will be here soon.  I have this gut feeling… I’m forgetting something.  What is it?  There’s no time to think about it.

Tick.

Time, our most valuable commodity.  Time, our best friend and our worst enemy.  Time is money.  I think the Eagles understand the meaning of time.  In their words, “…you can spend all your love making time.”  I don’t pretend to even come close to understanding love, but isn’t it something about relationships?  Isn’t it about people?

I was talking with my friend Thom the other day, complaining because I didn’t have enough time to get everything done, and he asked, “If you’re saying you don’t have enough time, isn’t that like telling God he didn’t give us enough of it?”  Hmm.  I think he’s right.  Why are we so busy?

I’ve received a few Christmas cards so far this year.  I don’t send Christmas cards anymore, mostly because it’s a Christmas expectation.  It’s that feisty, non-conformist part of me that just won’t do it.  I don’t want to send a meaningless, mass produced piece of cardstock to someone, only for it to get lost in a sea of empty tidings.  Everyone complains about no having the time to prepare their many Christmas cards.  If it’s such a hassle, why do it?  Do we even notice if one of our friends doesn’t send the obligatory Christmas wishes?

I do like seeing the family pictures, as this makes the cards more personal.  This is also where people get creative, maybe because they need to top last years photo or make their card funny so it’s more memorable and stands out from the others.  I have some friends that not only create the funniest cards, they have the next eight years’ ideas planned.  And we all think the same thing, “My, how everyone has changed since last year!”  Time really flies.

The cards I find the most interesting, are the ones containing family updates.  I’m not quite sure where this process originated, but I suppose if you only hear from people once a year, it’s important to catch up on the entire time span.  Limit: one paragraph per person please.  These updates usually reflect the family busyness in a comical way or highlight the achievements of the role-model kids.  If someone read these, without knowing the people, one might believe they have achieved worldly perfection.  Where are the ‘reality cards’, the ones saying it’s been a tough year?  My kids are struggling in school, I lost my job and oh, by the way, you can take his name off the card.  He doesn’t live here anymore.

Tick.  Tick.  Tick.

It takes a lot of time to achieve excellence in anything we do.  This blog is taking a good amount of time to write everyday, so why am I doing it?  I’m doing it to enhance my writing skills and to communicate my Christmas story.  My story is filled with the hatred of consumerism, the love of watching people interact with the ‘season’, the sadness of our culture, the happiness of watching people change that culture, the lack of time and the process of making more time for the right things.

Honestly, when I start writing at 5am, I’m trying to create a masterpiece instead of just writing from my heart.  I don’t spend enough time in my heart, only in my head.  To me, it’s a much safer place to be, although C. S. Lewis would disagree.  Time to reevaluate my goals.  Regroup.  If I’m doing things for the right reasons, not because of an imposed cultural burden or a self-inflicted nonsensical expectation, wouldn’t that give me more time to do the important things in life?

Tick.

I think we try to take all of our normal activities, which there still isn’t enough time in the day to do, add the Christmas craziness on top of it, and we turn into a bunch of crabby Christmas robots, programmed to accomplish, not experience.  No wonder everyone is stressed out.  If it’s how we function as a society all year long, why should Christmas be any different?  Could we change this?  Do we even want to?

Instead of focusing on society’s definition of success, I think I’ll define my own.  The word balance comes to mind again.  Balance of time and achievements.  So what if Cole can’t tie his shoes yet?  Who cares if my kids don’t want to learn to ride a bike?  I don’t want to teach my kids that they have to do what everyone else is doing.  They don’t have to keep up with the Jones’.  Who chose this family to represent our portrait of success?  The thing I find funny here is that nobody has ever met them, although you’ve probably receive a Christmas card from them every year.

Tick.  Tick.

My Christmas cards, if you choose to call them such, are different this year. It’s giving away tiny little gifts to people I know and to those I don’t know.

Your time is valuable, so no, you don’t have to click on other links to figure this out.  Here’s what is posted on the blog:

Why did we give you a tiny envelope with words?  To wish you an inspired, fun and very special Merry Christmas!  There’s a few more reasons, but first here’s a few things you should know.

  • The first thing you need to know is that we did not hand select your words.  All of the words were randomly placed into small envelopes and sealed for your safety.  🙂
  • There are Spanish words because we are encouraging everyone we know to learn a few words.  Then you can go with us to Casa Hogar Elim.
  • We want you to place your words on a metal surface that you look at frequently so you can always remember this – everyone is creative in their own way.  What is your gift?
  • Christmas is about relationships and we want you to remember all year long that we’re glad you’re our friend!

In a nutshell, words are great, but we don’t take enough time to use them.  Once Christmas nears and the exhaustion sets in, and we are all worn down, trying to figure out this whirlwind called Christmas, we might take a few moments to remember something about the birth of a baby.  A baby named Jesus.  Yes, that’s what I’ve forgotten.

Time goes quickly.  Life will pass us by.  Maybe we need a visit from the ghost of Christmas past.


10 days until Christmas…

Yesterday I was pondering my favorite Bible verse, Romans 12:2.  It’s so applicable to the Christmas consumerism and might just be another clue in finding the Christmas spirit.  Here is the verse in two popular translations.

NIVDon’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

The MessageDon’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

This one short verse floods my mind with vivid images, many of them exist as photo light paintings in a collection I’ve entitled “excessable”.  I was also inspired to paint this abstract rendition of Romans 12:2 earlier this year.

The details on this canvas were painted with cookie cutters and guitar strings.  I always start painting with brushes, but end up painting with my hands and three dimensional objects.  I guess I do that because I like the feel of the paint and the energy that goes into the painting by touching it.  I also like finding objects that produce intriguing impressions, creating a visual adventure on the canvas.  You can often find the ‘hidden’ eye candy in my art pieces if you look long enough.

The cookie cutters symbolize our current culture and represents the expectation placed on us to conform to our society.  The guitar strings could represent the ‘strings attached’ to us, but truth be told, I just love painting with them.  This painting was auctioned off last month to raise money for the Sons of Lwala benefit.

I’m thinking about Romans 12:2 lately because I desperately want Christmas to be different this year.  Does anyone realize that we’ve all been sucked into this vortex of materialism, buying things because we feel we have to, not because we want to?  If it’s the thought that counts, what does this say about how we feel and what we think of people?

The more I take notice of my surroundings, the more I see a contrast of rich and poor.  Also of good and evil.  However, I also see that people are slowly coming over from the dark side, doing random acts of kindness and serving mankind in very creative ways.

We have the ‘tinselectomy’ thing going on at the church and they’ve asked people to blog stories of helping others or stories of something nice that was done for them.  The problem is, this can’t be done anonymously, so most choose not to share their experiences.  They don’t want to be boastful or prideful about it, but we need to find a way to get their stories out there as an inspiration for others.

In talking to people and simply paying attention in my day to day activities, I’m witnessing so many stories!  People are doing wonderful things for their friends and for people they don’t even know.  I’m going to share some of these stories without using names.  There are so many, and I’ve tried to update my journal frequently to record all of them, but I know I’ve missed some.  I’ll just share a few of them.

The most recent story happened yesterday.  My friend called me to see if I needed anything, as I had a sick child at home.  I needed some Sprite and crackers for him, but I did not want to take him out of the house.  She brought everything he needed and also something for me.  All of my neighbor’s, together, picked up my other child from school and brought him home.

This friend that brought the supplies, whom has been out of work for several months, has a job interview in a couple of days.  To understand this situation a little better, her husband has also been unemployed.  She mentioned her coat being in hock at the dry cleaners.  She needed to get it out, but didn’t really have the money to do so.  Another friend overheard this, went to the dry cleaners, picked up her coat and brought it to her.

She didn’t get the coat right away, because she and several others were out serving lunches they had made for the day laborers, the guys standing in the cold, waiting for any paying job they can get their hands on.  These men sometimes don’t eat for a couple of days at a time.  We plan to make this an ongoing ministry once the Christmas season passes.

Knowing these men are standing in the cold, another guy I know, but not very well, bought a bunch of coats to give to homeless or impoverished people.  We have experienced some incredibly cold temperatures and I’m sure those coats are going to be much appreciated.

Many of these men have families they are trying to support.  Our church sponsored a party for the kids last week giving them some toys and an opportunity to talk to Santa.  Another friend, knowing many of these families don’t have cars, not only tried to arrange transportation, but she gave rides to anyone needing it.

I could go on writing stories all day, spanning from friends collecting money to buy a shower chair for a special needs orphan to paying for a person in line behind them at a restaurant.  Although these people have chosen to remain anonymous, their hearts are in the right place.  Are they experiencing the Christmas spirit?

Do you want to participate?  There are plenty of ideas available on the internet, or just try this simple exercise.  Look closely around you, through the lens of kindness and mercy, and you will see things you’ve never seen before.  Your mind will be transformed, as will your heart.

Also, if I peaked your curiosity earlier on the ‘excessable’ collection, here are some of the images.  Not really Christmas related… or are they?


11 days until Christmas…

I can’t believe it’s only eleven more days until Christmas.  There’s still so much to do before then, right?  Where is my Christmas to do list… wait.  I didn’t make one, nor do I really have many Christmas things to do.  Plenty of other busyness, but not as much related to Christmas, with the exception of work.  So someone please tell me why I feel so busy and stressed?  I suppose I do have two things that come to mind that are Christmas related.

I promised Dulce, or as we call her, Candy, a pair of mismatched shoes for Christmas.  Candy is one of the beautiful kids down at Casa Hogar Elim.  Her name fits her well.  Every time I’m down there, Candy has the biggest hugs and the biggest smile, not only for me, but for everyone.  If there’s a poster child for the love we feel from CHE, it’s Candy.  She has always been intriguged by my carefully, deliberately mismatched shoes.  Now Candy speaks about as much English as I do Spanish, so her desire to have a pair of mismatched shoes has been communicated through loving charades.

As much as I am looking forward to selecting this meaningful gift, there is no part of my being that wants to go anywhere near a mall or retail store.  The only stores I have been to over the past month is a few used bookstores and stores with groceries.  Food and books.  Life’s necessities.  Well, we can add mismatched shoes now too.  I will keep you posted on my future shopping adventure.

The other thing I have to do is get passports for my kids.  This is their big gift from me this year, and besides a few small gifts of books and such, that’s it.  We are supporting charities for Christmas this year instead of buying a bunch of stuff we don’t need.  And the beautiful thing about this?  My kids are okay with it.  At 9 or 10 years old, being the spoiled brat I was at that age, I’m not sure I would have accepted this paradigm shift from my parents.

Now one would think getting a passport might be a simple process, but like everything else in our bureaucratic, complex society, it is not.  Their dad had to sign release forms, which also had to be notarized, and luckily he did.  I suppose he didn’t have any desire to spend two hours in line with me any more than I did him.  I took the kids a week ago right after school to get their passports, only to find out they only issue them between the hours of 10 and 3, Monday through Friday.  I guess my choices are to pull my kids out of school or take them downtown and pay the enormous one day rush fees.  I’ve decided.  I’m going to pull the kids out of school one day this week and make a fun day of it.  We’ll go to lunch, get the passports and do some other enjoyable things.  I never thought I would look forward to standing in a line at the post office, but for this, I am.  Maybe they will get creative with the Priority Mail tape like they did several years ago.

I want to teach my kids the right things, unlike what they learn by participating in our culture’s methods.  When I was in Zambia five years ago, I caught a glimpse into a different world.  It was a shocking world, as they had no electricity, no running water and none of the modern conveniences I had and take for granted.  On a two hour bus ride, without my camera, I saw a happiness and contentment in people that I had never seen before.  Had I not had my kids to come home to, I might have jumped off the bus and never been seen again in the US.

I have to say, my first reaction to this scenario was that I wanted to give these people all of the things I had, not just the essential commodities, but the things that make us happy.  Computers, internet, flat screen TV’s, cell phones, cars, kitchen appliances, toys and the list goes on.  Yet something didn’t feel right.  It didn’t take me long to see that these people had something I didn’t, but something I desperately wanted.  Something I still greatly want.  Peace.  Happiness.  Fulfillment.  And most of all, contentment.  I’m not quite sure how or when my thought process changed, but I have no desire to give them a TV anymore, or any of the other things we can’t live without.  I do still want to give them clean, running water and warm shelter though.

I wish I had never been spoiled by all of the materialism and possessions of our American culture, because now I’m addicted.  I need my computer and my iPhone.  I need my nice house and my car.  Could I experience true happiness with out all this stuff?  I feel burdened with my knowledge, shackled with electronics and locked in a cell of selfishness and greed.  I know these people I’m speaking of have a whole different set of struggles in life, but they get it.  They are happy and content.  Why?  Because they don’t have all of the distractions to keep them from having deep relationships with the people around them.  I’ll bet they aren’t looking for the Christmas spirit like I am.  I hope to someday experience just tiny bit of what they do.


12 days until Christmas…

I’m at the hospital this morning.  My friend Elizabeth is having her final surgery this morning.  E has been battling breast cancer, and is fully expected to beat it.  I’m at Medical City Hospital, and this is one crazy place.  The cute little old man at the information booth sent me to the wrong floor.  After visiting a few restricted areas, I talked to a friend that gave me the correct info.  I found her and got to spend some time with her before her surgery prep.

Last night was the Chateau Cinema showing of It’s a Wonderful Life.  Block parties in my neighborhood are always a blast!  We had to wait for some warmer weather to do this one, so it was a last minute thing.  I borrowed the extra projector from work, yes, the one that says ‘replace bulb’ which always makes me nervous that it will choose to die when I have 20+ people watching it.

I like getting together like this, however organizing events is not my gift.  I have to do things spontaneously, not planned.  Jay has the best plan, just do something and invite people on your Facebook status.  Now that’s my kind of inviting people!  I did print small invites for everyone on the street and the boys and I taped them on every door.

Every neighborhood has a creepy house that everyone avoids and ours is no exception.  The boys were taking turns going from house to house, and we were quickly nearing the dark angel house.  I had every intention of skipping this house and thought if I distract my kids, we could walk past it without them knowing.  As I tried to execute my plan, Cole noticed we were skipping a house, and as he proceeded to the door, he made no secret that he was irritated about me even considering the possibility of excluding someone.

They just rolled E down the hall.  She’s ready for surgery, well, as ready as anyone can be.  We lined up on both sides of the hall and did the sporting event hand slaps as they rolled her toward the restricted area.  We love you E and we’ll see you in a few hours!

Everything was set up in the front yard for the outdoor theater.  Movie screen, check.  Projector and speakers, check.  Patio furniture and fire pit, check.  Inflatable Santa, check.  No, not really, but my next door neighbor has one.  Yes, we’re ready for sunset and an awesome time with friends, drinking hot chocolate and toasting the giant pillow-sized marshmallows I brought back from Mexico.

We started the movie and many people showed up, not only from our street, but from the Facebook invite.  The kids had fun playing while the adults watched the movie.  Toward the end of the movie, the temperature dropped significantly, then the kids came to snuggle with their parents.

The hospital just moved us to the pediatric waiting room, although I’m not sure why.  Maybe because E, like me, is a kid at heart.  Or maybe it’s because all of us, her friends, act like children in the waiting room and they don’t want us disturbing the grown-ups.  Well, either one makes sense.  We’re going to go downstairs and grab a bite to eat before heading to our new location.

The movie ended and everyone helped me do a quick clean up, then they headed home.  I went inside to my warm, cozy house and was immediately overcome with sadness.  I thought about all the homeless people that endure this bitter cold every single night.  I want to help them.  I don’t know what that means yet, but it’s on my heart.  Maybe I need to start the ‘shares‘ program here like they have in Chicago.  Maybe I need to go downtown and experience the homeless situation in my own area, meaning Frisco and Dallas.  This feeling won’t go away, maybe it’s part of that Christmas spirit I’m so desperate to find, although it’s not what I expected.

I’ve had this feeling for a long time, but it’s been getting stronger lately.  I was hoping to cross paths with some homeless or impoverished people on my trip to downtown Dallas last week, and as I said in an earlier blog post, I was ready to help.  I’m glad I didn’t see any of them, as it was very cold that night and I was hoping they all found warm shelters somewhere.  But more than that, I wanted an education that night.  I want to know their stories and how they got there.  This photo is staged, but makes me think this might be a likely scenario one night when we are at home in our suburban palaces.

We just got word via a small scalpel icon on the large FamilyVue plasma screen that they’ve started E’s surgery.  A little impersonal, but it’s good to know what’s going on.  They have a little icon that looks like stitches when they start sewing people up too.  Again, this seems a little odd, but again it’s nice to know what’s happening.  I suppose that keeps people from pacing and wearing out the carpet like they did in the olden days.

I miss doing photo shoots with E.  She and I are the ones that started the ‘photo safari’ group.  We’ve had some great times scoping out small towns, looking for abandoned houses or any other interesteing places we can trespass.  Just for the record, if “keep out” or “no trespassing” is posted, then we don’t go in.  But that doesn’t mean we stay out of trouble.

I keep thinking about these feelings I have, the ones of concern and love.  I’m aware of worrying about my close friend and also thinking about homeless people I don’t even know.  These feelings are very similar, although very different.  I realized today, whether it’s my closest friend or someone I don’t even know, all of these people mean a lot to me.  Life is the greatest gift and we should cherish it.  The Christmas spirit feels closer today.  It really is a wonderful life.


13 days until Christmas…

Bright and early yesterday morning, I got a glimpse into a new world, one I had not experienced before.  The new world?  Wrestling.  My son has been doing this for a couple of months now, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to take him to a tournament.

The night before, we drove across town to get him weighed in.  They weighed him and inspected him, in a very non-personal manner, writing on him with a Sharpie every time something was determined.  If I was nine years old I would want to wrestle too, just so I could have the marker art all over me.  When the process was complete, the coach said, “You can go over there and see what bracket he’s in and you can buy your brackets for tomorrow.”  I smiled and said, “thank you.”  Buy what?!  Surely I didn’t hear that correctly.  He said they might change before tomorrow, so I figured we would just do the bracket thing tomorrow, whatever that was.

We arrived 30 minutes early the next morning.  There were people everywhere, I couldn’t even find a parking spot.  I parked on the grass with a few other cars that were also on the late side of early.  We walked in and I had no idea where my child was supposed to go.  The ‘brackets’ on the wall are in a special, secret code that everyone else understood but me.  Where are the decoder rings?  I never found one in my Cracker Jack box.  There were no less than 30 sheets of paper taped to the wall with lines and fine print.  Where is Carla Moss when you need her?  She probably wouldn’t even need a decoder ring.

Joe found his coach and we finally got tot the right place.  Joe was on mat 8, match 4, so we had a little time to find a seat and wait for the tournament to begin.

Let me just say that I don’t get organized exercise.  Sitting there, I had a flashback to third grade kickball.  I wanted desperately to play, but I didn’t understand the game.  Back then, I suppose they thought all kids should know how to play that game, but I had not learned that at my last school, nor from my parents.  One day, I finally got to the front of line.  It was my turn to kick the ball and have people cheering me on to accomplish running around in a circle before the ball could catch up with me.  Here comes the ball… kick!  I kicked, I ran and the cheering began, only it wasn’t cheering, it was people yelling at me because I ran the wrong way.

Now it was time for Joe to wrestle.  He does and he wins his first tournament match, not just the today, but his first ever.  Yeah!  After he won, it was time to find out where he’s supposed to go next.  One would think that the coaches have this knowledge and would be willing to share it.  Nope.  One of Joe’s coaches said that I could go look at the brackets on the wall in the other building or I could just buy one.  What?!  The was the second time I heard the word ‘buy’ before ‘bracket’.  Okay, let me get this straight, I have to pay to know where my kid is supposed to be?  Seriously?!  The only cash I had was a $10 bill, neatly folded in a tiny envelope to give to an impoverished person if I happen to run into one.  No, I wasn’t expecting to run into one there, but the envelope was in my coat pocket if the opportunity presented itself.  Feeling odd, I took the cash out and bought a bracket.  And for those who know me well, no, I did not throw it away and yes, it will be an art project.  😉

Now I’ve heard about these crazy parents at sporting events, but this was my first time experiencing them.  The word ‘wow’ came to mind.  The parents were giving their kids advice, telling them what to do and what not to do.  Some were practicing moves, one guy even had his kid standing on his head to practice balance.  Hmm, maybe that’s how we’re supposed to achieve balance in our lives, let’s all stand on our heads.

Studying these intense parents, I had to wonder if I’m a sucky parent because I just want my kids to enjoy what they do, support them and cheer for them without trying to make them into competitive animals.  We had to wait a long time in between matches, kids and parents pulling out their electronic pacifiers to deal with the boredom.

It was almost Joe’s turn again, but first ‘Hoss’ was up.  I won’t even get started on that.  His parents were right in front of me, yelling at him, shouting loudly at him, all of the moves he’s supposed to do and not do.  It seemed to me like Hoss was struggling to do his best, distracted by his obtrusive, pushy parents, attempting to listen to his coach and sporting a look of confusion and defeat.  At the end of this particular match, his mom looked over to his dad, as she had no idea what just happened.  Did he win or lose?  She was as clueless as I was.

Yes, that was a long-winded story and I know you’re asking, “What does any of this have to do with Christmas?”  It has a lot to do with Christmas.  Christmas chaos.  The chaotic vision of people all over the place, running around trying to accomplish a win, not unlike what you would see at the mall at Christmas time.

Our competitive nature has spilled over into Christmas.  Shopping has become a marathon, it’s even advertised that way.  Christmas decor has become a production, not just a simple display of our love of the season.  Who can buy the most gifts, put the most lights on their house and attend the most parties in less than 30 days, assuming they didn’t start before Black Friday?

The bigger problem here is that nobody seems to be enjoying it.  Sporting events used to be about supporting your team, now kids are playing portable video games and parents are playing with their mobile phones, distractions from the real meaning of the event.  Looking at the Facebook news feed, I see a lot of comments about having to shop and finally getting the tree up.  These types of comments do not have a happy tone.  The mood is unfortunate.  The drudgery of shopping for people that are on the ‘I have to buy for’ list.  The torture of trying to find the perfect gift or top last years perfect gift.  Having to attend the company ‘holiday’ party.  Tolerating the extended family.  Suffering through the repetitive motions of the season.

I also had to buy a ‘bracket’.  Really, they can’t provide a meaningful 3¢ piece of paper to the coaches?  Every ounce of my being did not want to make that purchase, however I did not have a choice.  Do we buy gifts because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do and we feel there is no choice?  Sadly, I believe the answer is yes.  This year, our gifts will be thoughtful and meaningful, as I’m choosing to ditch the social ‘I have to buy’ expectation.  My kids and I are giving money to many worthy charitable causes in the name of all the people we are expected to buy gifts for this Christmas.

And what did Hoss learn yesterday?  Did he walk away yesterday feeling loved and supported or feeling like a failure because he didn’t accomplish the mission set before him?  Is he wrestling because he enjoys it or because he’s trying to appease his parents?  Are we celebrating Christmas for the right reasons?  Once Christmas day arrives, what have we achieved?  More stuff, less joy and in most cases, a lot of debt.  Are we any closer to Christ?

I hope I can feel the Christmas spirit on Christmas day, without my decoder ring.  I have some good ideas about how to feel the Christmas spirit, but yesterday’s experience has moved me a little bit away from it.


14 days until Christmas…

This morning, I have to sadly report that the Christmas season is getting busier and doesn’t show signs of slowing down.  My blog is named ’embrace chaos’, because I do just that.  I’m not good at relaxing, slowing down or experiencing any type of leisurely lifestyle, although I do have some deep down desire to do just that.

In trying to evaluate my schedule and why it feels so hectic, I did realize a few things this Christmas season.

One thing is that there’s more to do during Christmas, but the rest of the busyness and regular weekly tasks don’t go away or change to accommodate this reality.  Due to the commercialism of Christmas, most people are not only busier in their personal lives, but also at work.  I work for a church, and although it isn’t busier for the same reason, there’s still a lot on my plate.  I’ve come to the conclusion that everything on my plate is attached to bungee cords.  The tasks might be accomplished, but they eventually come back, and with much more force the time second time around.

So as much as I would love to blog all of my many thoughts on this topic, I simply don’t have the time.  I have to get the kids up, drive across town for Joe’s wrestling, go to work and finish my weekend stuff before the 2 o’clock rehearsal, finish making our ‘tinselectomy’ Christmas gifts, finish two freelance jobs, start another one… okay, you get the point.

Take the time this year to evaluate your hectic Christmas season.  Although I’m too busy, I’ve started the evaluation process and I’m looking for innovative changes to create the magic word we all crave: BALANCE.


15 days until Christmas…

I was listening to talk radio on my way to work yesterday.  It was so incredibly cold I didn’t want to let go of my warm coffee mug to steer the car, much less turn on the radio.  The news guy was reporting on the experiences of the fake mall Santas this year, disclosing the newest Christmas lists they’re receiving.  Many of the kids sitting on Santa’s lap are not asking for the typical toys and electronics, they’re asking for basic necessities.  “Mommy really needs a job” or “Could we just have our house back?”  Some others are asking for food and clothing.  You know the economy is bad when kids are happy to get socks and underwear for Christmas.

Santa Claus.  The historical Saint and the modern day icon of commercialized Christmas.  Who is Santa?  Santa has many roots in history spanning the globe, roots also ranging from Christianity to paganism.  The early Christian Santa was Saint Nicholas.  He was a Saint that gave generous gifts to the poor, especially to daughters of poor parents so they did not have to become prostitutes.  I could go on for days here about the history of Santa, but he did have his start as a good guy that helped people.

 

Honestly, I’ve always struggled with the whole Santa thing.  I did not want my kids believing that some overweight guy in a furry red suit is going to give them anything they want for Christmas.  Their dad said that was wrong and I was awful for even thinking it.  Choose your battles, right?  I chose not to fight this one.

My earliest recollection of Santa is asking my parents if Santa was real.  I was in kindergarten, five or six years old, and already wondering how one guy could go around the planet in one night, bringing lots of stuff to kids.  And don’t get me started on the flying reindeer and sleigh.  I suppose my over-analyzing of everything started at an early age.  My parents told me the truth and quickly proceeded to tell me that my knowledge was a secret.  I wasn’t very good at keeping secrets back then.  Even with my secret knowledge, Santa continued to bring me lots of toys and stuff, and much more than he brought anyone else.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a Scrooge, and if anyone understands fantasy and imagination, it’s me.  Christmas is a magical time for little ones, filled with excitement and fun, that is, in our American culture.  What does the whole idea of Santa say to our children?  We tell our kids at the dinner table that there are starving kids in other countries and they had better eat everything on their plate, and yet if they behave, Santa will bring them everything they want at the end of the year.  I simply can’t feel good about this.  If Santa has enough resources to give us anything we want, then why doesn’t he help out with poverty?

My kids learned the truth very early this year.  Santa is not real, it’s your parents giving you the Christmas stuff.  Now my boys are very close in age, but polar opposites.  Cole sees everything in black and white, whereas Joe’s world is all delightful shades of gray.  When they learned of this news, my youngest Joe, pretended to not listen and carefully responded, not committing to this concept.  Maybe if he doesn’t accept it, then he’ll still get all the presents.  Cole, on the other hand, was extremely upset.  He said, “So, let me get this straight.  You’ve been lying to me this whole time?”  We had at least a half hour talk about why evil parents lie to their children about Santa.

After this very long and depressing conversation, I decided to take this opportunity to teach my kids about Santa.  Not the look-alike mall Santa, but the conceptual Santa.  It’s time to go from believing in Santa to being Santa.  Helping people in need is being Santa.  When my kids see Santa, the look-alikes or the flat wood cutouts in the neighbors yard, I want them to think of doing a random act of kindness or helping impoverished people.

Here’s the daily photo collection, yes, a collection of Santas.  I have to highlight one of these.

I like this one a lot because I took this photograph in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico… in May.  Santa must be hot in his winter clothing, but he still looks happy to be there.  If we think of Santa in a new way, then he is not just a Christmas figure, but a visual representation of goodwill, unity and inspiration.  I think the people in Mexico understand this concept already and we can learn a lot from them, as we always do on our trips to Casa Hogar Elim.

The rest of the photos?  I think they speak for themselves.  Oh, and remember, the ‘dead Santas’ were featured a few days ago.

Okay, I probably shouldn’t include this photo since I was people watching and secretly snapped this, but I just can’t help myself.  What was she thinking when she got dressed this morning?

Merry Christmas and enjoy it with a new vision.  No, I don’t mean this last photograph that is burned into your brain, I mean get outside yourself and your comfort zone.  Help others, not only this Christmas, but all year round.


16 days until Christmas…

As we were driving home last, I thought about our house being one of the few without Christmas lights.  I had every intention of putting lights up, but we still haven’t.  I have a few strands of lights on the garage, however it would look like I had a few random strands unless I got really creative with them.  Last year I wanted to use flamingos as reindeer and a lawn chair for a sleigh.  I posted on Facebook that I was looking for flamingos.  Amy Nemeczky bought me a cool ceramic one, and we fondly named him Chris.  Thad also bought me a whole flock of plastic flamingos and two skelemingos.  Since they arrived right before Christmas, I never got a chance to carry out my plan, not that my neighbors would have thought anything out of the ordinary had I created this landscape scenerio after Christmas.  Oh, and the photo of Skelly is him on vacation with me and the boys.  That was a rabbit trail, hey?

I’m also one of the few houses in Frisco with mature trees.  When we had that crazy snow flurry about a week ago, all of the yards were covered with the untouched white snow, all but one, our house.  The enchanted forest in my front yard has a beautiful canopy of trees covering every square inch, protecting my yard from the portrayal of winter.  I did have the trees trimmed, so if we did add lights to the house, you would be able to see a lot of them.

So why haven’t I put lights up?  It just hasn’t been a top priority, or any priority for that matter.  Since starting the 25 days of Christmas blog, yesterday was the first day I had the feeling of being too busy.  My Christmas and work to do lists are long, but all of the items on them are very important.  Shopping is not on the list.  The tiny amount I had to do has been done for weeks.  At least this year busyness is an improved kind over last year.  It’s about helping others, letting our friends and family know that we appreciate them and not participating in the consumerism.

The lights may not be a priority, but carrying on a tradition my boys and I started last year was of great importance.  We did our annual ‘boo’ last night.  Now I know what you’re thinking.  If you live around here, you know that booing someone is a Halloween thing.  If you don’t live around here, Texas has a lot of things that don’t make any sense to people outside of this big star-shaped land mass.  We made our candy boo bags a week ago, finished assembling them last night and attached our mysterious Christmas gift  in a tiny envelope taped to the front.  Nope, I’m not telling you what that is yet.

We made our hot chocolate with more marshmallows than chocolate, loaded up our gear and took off in our very old Infiniti sleigh.  We spent two hours driving all over Frisco until we ran out of bags.  We’ll have to make a lot more of these next year.

I drove the sleigh, pulled up in front of the target house and turned off the lights.  Next, the boys took turns, dropping a bag by the front door, ringing the doorbell and running to the car quickly so we could drive off before being caught.  And those of you with babies, we knocked instead of using the doorbell, as to not wake them.  We aren’t as experienced as Santa, or we would have just come quietly down the chimney.

Now ‘boos’ are supposed to be anonymous, and last year we were, yet somehow people knew who it was.  Go figure.  This year these little bags have some mystery, but ultimately our friends can go online and see what we are up to, because we are always up to something.

This Christmas I am trying to plan things ahead of time and get things done early.  When my ADHD and OCD collide, that usually means that events happen spontaneously, but everything is more than prepared and ready for it.  Sometimes doing things last minute is the motivation I need, so it works for me.  It seems to stress other out to the point that they won’t make eye contact with me, in hopes that I won’t ask them to be involved.  The funny thing about it?  I apparently do this to others, as I did it yesterday in a staff meeting.  Just for the record, it didn’t work, I have to make a bunch of vinyl signs for Christmas Eve.

I suppose what I experienced yesterday is that busyness, no matter if it’s good or bad, takes away from the Christmas spirit.  Is slowing down to experience the joy of the season really possible?

Okay, it’s time to share a few more ‘Santa shoot’ photos.  See if you can recognize the light scenarios.


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