We hit D.C. last week. Yes, again. Sometimes blessings fall at your feet and I’m trying to be good about picking them up.
My mom arranged for us to receive tickets the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. The program is nationally broadcast (Hallmark channel this year) and features popular performers as well as a Christmas message from the President.
I’m sure some people come for the concert, no doubt. Madelynne did say she was more excited about seeing Kelly Clarkson than President Obama, and she’s twelve, so that’s acceptable.
Garth and Trisha were there–I was pretty delighted about that because my twelve year old self would have loved to see Garth Brooks or Trisha Yearwood in concert back in the day. Blooper story is that their mikes weren’t on and they had to start over. Joshua, with all his vast technical theater experience, said that was a really unacceptable mistake on the part of the sound guy. But they were gracious and funny about it.
Simone the swimmer read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with Michelle Obama, which was a lovely tribute to her Olympic accomplishments and proves we don’t all have to have Yolanda Adams’ pipes to contribute to the evening. (Her “O Holy Night” was astounding.)
We also learned about Chance the Rapper, so I’m feeling pretty hip in my pop culture knowledge these days.
Oh, and I got this text from Joshua at the beginning:
Littles are asleep.
Well, of course they were. We had a busy whirlwind two days letting the bigs catch them up on all the best of Natural History, American History, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, National Gallery of Art, and Air and Space.
But let this be a lesson to you–there are some things in life you don’t want to sleep through.
Like the chance to see Garth and Trisha.
Oh, and there are no pics of us at the National Tree lighting because…. well, I forgot.
Two Christmases ago we received a terminal diagnosis.
My precious Granddaddy’s cancer had metastasized and we knew this would be our last Christmas. I was in the middle of directing A Christmas Caroland between the constant coffee and stress, I worried an ulcer into my stomach and winced pain all season long. Scrooge lived in our home that year in the form of this overwrought mother.
Because Granddaddy had dementia, he would forget his diagnosis, and eventually, we quit reminding him. The last time I saw him happy was Christmas Eve. My sisters had decorated the house and brought in a tree because he loved the smell of that fresh cut pine. I made him cookies and we huddled around his chair that day, the big family Christmas that had been planned thwarted by the stomach bug and death’s cruel march. He smiled and told me he’d see us all again soon.
He died in hospice care one week later just as the deep cold came and settled itself around the South.
That was the winter I never felt warm.
Last year we fumbled though Christmas in a fog of uncertain diagnosis, and I vowed and failed in my attempt to keep my Scrooge in check. The tree always undoes me. In an already small space, bringing in six feet of Frasier Fir, no matter how slender, seems futile. But then, as the days marched on toward fear, I tried to loosen my grip. To enjoy my children and their antics and their normalcy. I didn’t want to have to write another one of these posts and admit how much I fail at enjoying Christmas. And on my darkest days, I didn’t want Amelia’s last memories to be of a Christmas where all Mama did was waver between tears and anger.
Do you know I can’t even remember what we gave them last year?
But I remember with crystal clarity every detail of our Christmas week MRI and losing it in the parking lot of a Chic-Fil-A after a trip to Stone Mountain.
And I knew headed into this year, how much I didn’t want this to be my story anymore.
Overwhelmed by the season of light and giving and love in a way that only made me feel underwhelmed by God.
Is this all there is? Hustle, bustle chaos and comparison and conflict?
This time I prayed before it all began. This time I didn’t vow, I asked. For grace. For patience. For a heart of simplicity. For eyes to see all the blessings that have already been pored out and a mind to register gratefulness every time I look at my daughter who’s still here, healing, right now never in any more constant danger than just the danger of everyday life.
(And I’m definitely not perfect and neither is she and that’s why there’s grace and forgiveness and sometimes spanking when a tantrum gets thrown because I asked her to clean up her art supplies and she threw the scissors across the room.)
When you really want to underwhelm your overwhelmed holiday so you can be overcome with the true Spirit of the Season–compassion and faithfulness and generosity all wrapped up in swaddling clothes in a manger–you’ll practice these three things.
Saying no. To the party you don’t really want to attend, to the gift that costs too much and you don’t really want in your house, to the social media that’s making you feel like a failure because all your elf does is sit around (or you don’t even have one like us).
Saying yes. To the kids who want the big tree and are willing to figure out where to put it, to the teacher who asks so hesitantly if you can maybe just help for one hour, to the crazy idea that since layaway has ended maybe there’s no reason to try and hide a giant box of trampoline for ten more days when life is happening right now.
Saying thank you. To the cashier who’s curt, to the kid who’s sorry she made you feel like the worst mom ever because you were too tired to play Bananagrams on a school night at 8:45, to the people who have made your year matter in a whole new beautiful way.
Because at Christmas, I only want to be overwhelmed by the love.
I know. It’s still two days before Thanksgiving. But y’all. There’s shipping to consider and handmade gifts from busy moms who are also entrepreneurs are well worth a little early shopping.
These items are on my favorites list for Etsy and Santa. Hoping you’ll find something to love–and just know purchasing from these shops directly funds small businesses with big dreams and great goals. Like empowering women, adopting children, and trusting the creative spirit that enlivens us all.
And there’s a little something for you at the end.
For My Tree…
I love these seriously sweet ornaments from One Less Lonely Child (formerly Black Tag Studio). We bought one last year for our tree, and this year I’m giving a couple as gifts. But the real gift is that your purchase helps fund my friends Lance and Julia’s adoption of Zara from Uganda.
For My Walls…
This wall statement has been on my list since Jennifer, 163 Design Company owner and designer, was my roommate at the Allume Conference in 2013. She and her parents handcraft these gorgeous pieces of jewelry and home decor from their home in Maine, but don’t let the address fool you. Jenn’s a southern girl at heart. Hence one of her newest creations that needs to find its way to my kitchen, Sweet Tea and Grits. And I’m forever in love with my necklace–Well With My Soul of course.
For My Kitchen…
My family is seriously talented, y’all. My beautiful cousin, Jocie, launched her own business this year making her passion–beautiful, unique, and functional pottery pieces as Jocie Pots. For my sister’s wedding, she pressed lace from the invitation into individual pieces for us, in addition to being our florist and designer. She’s got a cake stand standing by for me, and I’m thinking some of those perfect size mugs need to make their way into my cabinet as well. Because the only way to prepare for edits on my first book is with lots and lots of coffee.
For My Laptop…
When we were graced with a gift that enabled me to purchase my own laptop this year, I went on a search for the perfect bag to accompany me to writers conferences (like FWCW and BRMCWC) and to my weekly “office”, a booth at our local Chic-Fil-A.
I’ve yet to make this purchase, but when I do, I’m hoping it’s the 13″ laptop sleeve with leather strap from Better Life Bags. This company’s vision is why I’d be willing to shell out big bucks for a quality bag I can use for a lifetime. Every piece is hand-sewn by a woman in the Detroit area with a barrier against traditional employment.
For My Kids…
My sister, Katy, will monogram anything that stands still. But how cute are these shirts? She’ll make you anything you want with the use of her heat press and a roll of glittery (or not) vinyl. That softball shirt cracks me up because we actually had a sister who played softball, so some of us didn’t have a life outside of tournaments. She can customize, so you just insert your passion. Right now ours would credit community theater, but come spring it will definitely be all about the track. You can find Katy hanging out on Facebook way too much as BoardHouseWife Crafts.
Now onto the real reason you read to the bottom of this post–
Julia will be giving away a personalized swirl ornament, Katy will monogram you a leather cuff, and if you’re local and order from Jocie Pots, I’ll make the trip to pick up your goodies so you don’t have to worry about shipping. (Well that last one’s just a freebie for all.)
Just leave me a comment here on the blog about what’s on your Christmas Wish List–and if you pin this to Pinterest or share on Facebook and tell me, you’ll be entered twice!
I’ll choose the winner by random selection on Black Friday. Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and may the cash be with you.
Comments closed! The winner is Hannah Hall! Congrats!
My sweet friend Hannah who ate chocolate chips out of the bag with me on the last night of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference and won the award for best blog is an actual real book-on-the-shelf writer.
I cuddled up on the couch last week to read this with Amelia, my four year old, and her best friend Ellie. They took a break from the ponies in the dollhouse to tuck into each of my sides and hear the words. Amelia liked the penguins best. Ellie liked the polar bears. I liked the simplicity that so often gets overlooked in our busy holiday.
But most of all I liked having a normal moment with my baby girl. Normalcy has become a thing of the recent past for us in the last few days. I suppose that’s common–because when you get news that’s hard and uncertain, a new normal develops.
In the midst of uncertainty and fear, we are welcoming the arms of love that have wrapped tight around our family during these last few days.
Last week, I took my four year old for a stat CT scan and prayed only for an answer to why she had stopped using her right hand and begun stuttering and being clumsy. The test revealed that Amelia has an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). It’s a scary moment to realize your mother’s intuition is right. That, yes, there is something very wrong and it might get worse before it gets better.
But here’s the truth of our diagnosis. She will get better. This is a treatable condition that we still don’t know about completely and there’s still more testing to be done. But she will get better. Even if that better means a surgery or a drug regiment or who knows what. They tell us we’re the best case diagnosis for something being wrong in her brain.
And I’m scared out of my mind that it will be nothing or something or anything. I’m scared I won’t be strong enough for her, for my husband, for my other girls. I’m scared I’ll run out of energy to give.
But I don’t have to have enough of me to go around. I have a great big God who formed her and knows her and formed me and knows me. He knows what we need and what we can handle. He’s given us a network of friends and family who are already begging for jobs to do, already bringing meals, already replacing my favorite lost pair of earrings.
God Bless Our Christmas indeed.
So today I’d like to spread a little Christmas love. I’m giving away one copy of God Bless Our Christmas. Winner will be chosen at random from comments left on the blog. You can comment on Facebook too, if you like, but I won’t pool entries from there. One location is all I can handle.
It can be hard this time of year to find the joy in the twinkly lights and the broken nativity and the limp garland when all you want to do is hide away in a corner from the well-wishers and the do-gooders and the hope-bringers.
It can be hard to be facing a holiday ringed with family dinners and friendly hospitality and gift exchanging when there’s one less seat at the table, one less card in the mail, one less gift under the tree.
When I was ten years old my mama walked this journey. My daddy walks it now. This stumble through the season of glad tidings when the tidings dealt you this year were dark and doomed. The tidings of grief under the shadow of fear.
I don’t remember how Mama got through that Christmas. Her mother died three days before December 25 and we buried her two days after. My most vivid memories are that she bought me a black velvet dress and my uncle reamed all the grandkids for daring to ask if we would open the presents Grandmommy had already wrapped and placed beneath her tree. There would have been five of us kids at that time. Five of us to get through breakfasts and toys and tantrums and the joy of Christmas that would forever be tainted with shock.
I remember how we got through last year when the cancer was doing its death march across my grandfather’s gut and the dementia was already eating away his memory. We just didn’t talk about it. We visited and the last time I saw him speak and smile and know me was Christmas Eve. This year I want to talk and celebrate and remember that he loved the mountains and coffee and another plaid shirt wrapped alongside a good book.
I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know how you walk through a season of grief during a season of happiness, but I do know this. You’re walking through a season of love.
Let yourself be wrapped and swaddled and cared for like that baby in a manger. Let that be the only hope you hold because it’s just too much to try and care about shopping deals or holiday feasts or gingerbread houses.
Let this be a season of nothing but love and let love put you back together again.
In that glorious coincidence way God works, I wrote this as part of the Five Minute Friday crew. I haven’t participated in months, but saw the prompt on twitter and had just five minutes this afternoon to word thoughts that had been tossing around for a few days. Then I click over to Kate’s place to link up and her words today? They’re on grief. So much so that she wrote an ebook about it and you can get it for free until midnight tonight. Christmas makes the pain acute. My prayers are with you if you and yours are walking this journey right now.
I don’t know about you, but I’m on the lookout for more gifts that are less about a number of packages under the tree and more about what those packages mean to the hands that prepared them and the ones that receive. So here’s a list of some of my favorite little shops for giving back as we head into a season that’s really meant to be less about materialism and more about caring for one another.
Meet Julia and Lance. They’re world travelers, Christ lovers, and proud parents. Meet Zara. They brought her home from Uganda exactly one year ago. It was miracle beyond miracle that they did this in only one trip. But it still wasn’t cheap. Not that raising any child is, but when you start out with insurmountable fees, it’s just one more stress for a family. Who wants more stress when you have a two year old? So together with Julia’s talented dad, they’ve created an Etsy shop that showcases Julia’s talents for decor and design. There’s jewelry, home goods, and these sweet ornaments.
We ordered one for our tree this year to remind us to pray for our friends, count our blessings, and give with purpose. All proceeds offset their adoption costs. You can hurry up and get one right here.
I’m not much for accessorizing. But I do love a great purse. The (ahem) older I get, the more I realize that maybe the Target clearance isn’t always going to cut it. I’m a “buy one bag and use it for years” kind of girl, so I’ve got my eye on one of these bags with an amazing mission. It’s the heart beat of our own finances to back and support small businesses, and when there’s a business that gives back to the community the way Better Life does, I start to lose the argument with myself over price. So maybe one day soon I’ll be carrying one of these.
I got to spend Saturday morning with these lovely ladies and learn all about The Noonday story from the only ambassador local to our area. She drove an hour and a half to share Noonday’s passion for empowering men and women to build a life out of poverty. Coincidentally, we had met in passing before–at Allume where I first heard of Noonday in 2013. Those great earrings I have on and that gorgeous black wrap? All handmade. I’m looking forward to hosting my own show this spring, but in the meantime if you’d like to support this cause with a purchase in time for Christmas we’ve got an open show that closes at 5 p.m. today. Click the link above our picture for details or message me on email, Facebook, or Twitter.
DaySpring:: A subsidiary of Hallmark, DaySpring is a great line of cards and gifts that reflect faith in Christ. In addition to beautiful designs inspired by some of today’s bestselling authors, the entire site is on sale in anticipation of giving the message of Christmas with a gift that lasts all year long. Here are some of my favorite deals.
And that’s as far as I got taking pictures the other night before the director in me took over and tried to scribble notes faster than ghosts fly on Christmas Eve.
But this is how I’ve been embracing my creative these past few weeks. Instead of writing my own life, I’ve been endeavoring to bring fiction to life in such a way that it makes people want to embrace their neighbor and be a blessing.
Then this morning we read our daily advent devotion with Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift, and these words leapt off the page to me:
You will be experienced as a blessing– to the extent you have first experienced yourself as blessed.
That’s just it. So often I don’t see myself as blessed and then I go out and try to bless others with a heart that is empty. But when I am loved–when I am acknowledged and shown compassion–how much greater is my capacity to share that with others.
Over and over, I have been helped by others in the past few weeks. People I barely know and people I love dearly have given of their time, talent, and efforts to help me see this commitment through. Which means the end result is not only spectacular….
it is a blessing. To me. To you.
A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley by Israel Horovitz runs Dec. 6-8 and 12-15 at the Habersham Community Theater if you’d like to join us.