Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Movie Recap

You know I love movies. Can't get enough of them little suckers. But, as of late, I've become VERY particular about what I will watch.

I felt convicted by a Bible study I did this summer that encouraged me to really pay attention to the things I am allowing into my mind. I started being more critical about what I was watching on TV and at the theater and the music I was listening to and the books I was reading.

It has almost* gotten to the point that I don't enjoy most movies that are PG-13 or R. I sincerely doubt I will ever venture near an NC-17 ever again. I find PG+ movies to be too violent or vulgar or full of messages that completely contradict what I know to be the truth.

So, Hollywood? If you can package your movie so that it falls under a G or PG rating, I'm probably going to pony up good money, plus concessions, to view it in 2012. Otherwise, all bets are off.

This year, I saw my share of PG+ movies before I had this revelation. Some of them were a downright waste of my time and money. Some of them were worth the price of admission AND the cost of rental later. Some of them caused me to pause and think about my life.

In case your life wasn't as filled with the joy of movies this year, here, in pseudo-chronologic order, is a recap of some of the good/bad/ugly that made Hollywood money this year:

Left the audience hanging by not telling us where they are now: Sanctum

Cutest English Accents/Best Animated Romantic Comedy/Great Soundtrack: Gnomeo and Juliet

Best Unexpected Twist: Unknown (Liam Neeson)

"I didn't drink enough to get the point OR find it romantic": Adjustment Bureau

"Critics Hated It; I Liked It": Battle Los Angeles

Best Two Hours of Bradley Cooper Eye Candy: Limitless

Use of a Movie to Redeem Attorneys Everywhere: Lincoln Lawyer

Disturbing Use of a Partial Body: Source Code

Most Inspiring Message: Soul Surfer

Best Excuse for a Girls' Night Out: Bridesmaids

Nicest Animated Adoption Message: Kung Fu Panda 2

Most Redeemed Arrogant Super Hero: Thor

"There aren't enough drugs in the world to help my brain understand this one": Tree of Life

Creepiest Spider with Human Eyes/Best Teenage Observation ("Drugs are SSSOOO Bad!!"): Super 8

"How do they DO that and make it look so realistic?" Cars 2

Most Glamorous Hotel/Filming Location/Funnest Teenage Girl Movie: Monte Carlo

Best Non-Surgical Full Body Makeover: Captain America

Like Combining Anchovies and Peanut Butter: Cowboys and Aliens

Creepiest Movie Featuring Talking Primates: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Movie Produced by The Kleenex Company/MY Choice for Academy Award: The Help

Reason to Vacation in Florida: Dolphin Tale

Reason to Believe in Santa: Arthur Christmas

Best Redemption/Happiest Ending: Hugo

Greatest Reason to Evaluate Your Life: Seven Days in Utopia

Reason to Consider Your Parenting: Courageous

Happy Viewing.

*I have to exclude zombie movies from this category because it would be virtually impossible to kill the undead without a lot of blood and gore. And, frankly? They deserve whatever is coming their way.

Friday, December 30, 2011

She's Here!

Meet Chewie. AKA Sugar. Brown Sugar. BS for short.*

Cute, ain't she?

And a dyed in the wool hamster with urges to chew. Hence, her name.

And, no, for you Star Wars fans out there, she is not being compared to Chewbacca. SHE. Yes, SHE. Has.a.vagina. Not at all like Chewbacca, thank you.

Plus, those crazy, throw my head back and howl sounds he made trying to communicate with Luke and Leia? Nothing like that coming out of OUR Chewie. She's much too civilized, thank you very much.

I seriously fell head-over in the pet shop when I saw her. She was running around the cage, faux organizing all the bedding while the other lazy hamsters had the nerve to sleep in. It was either that her circadian rhythm was all messed up (SCORE for us!) or that she had serious ADHD issues.

In other words: I WAS STARING AT MYSELF IN HAMSTER CLOTHING! I couldn't get her to the counter and bring her home fast enough.

So far, she's been held about 1,257 times. Not one person has been scratched or bitten. She is even fairly happy being picked up and held.

Today, as I was working to get the above picture for your viewing pleasure, I was talking to her with my best MommaJ-talks-to-an-infant voice, sounding like I found an old helium balloon and inhaled deeply, posturing my eyebrows well above their intended position on my face, and smiling as wide as the Mississippi River, saying "How's my Chewie girl? How's my sugar?"

The Babe, rightful owner of Chewie, took one look at his clearly insane Mother and said "Why do you keep calling her MINE?"

Flat busted, ya'll.

For every negative comment, all the dread and worry, I am crazy about this little puff of fur.

And, to finally have another gal in the house? Victory for yours truly.

Of course, since SANTA brought her to our house, everything above, except the helium-infused-conversation, were out of a REALLY REAL FEELING DREAM I had the day before Christmas.

I must have had too many cookies and dozed off for a few moments into this wonderful state of believing I had something to do with picking out this hamster.


*Yes, the last three of those names are mine. I realized the happy coincidence of her shortened name, reserved for times I am REALLY hacked she chewed something up that shouldn't have been, AFTER I named her.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

An Anniversary That Wasn't

I would have been married to my first husband for 21 years today, had the marriage lasted.

Do you have any idea how sad it is to type that sentence?

Don't get me wrong. I love Mike. I adore our marriage. I can't imagine my life any different than it is today.

I'm just sad that ANY marriage has to come to an end, be it by death, divorce, estrangement, or spousal abuse.

I've said it to people before and I will say it until I die: had one sentence in my marriage to my first husband changed, most of you might not know the MommaJ you know today.

If "I'm sure" had been "I'm not sure", if there had been any sign that I should have fought harder and longer and not walked away, I would have stayed.

But, I wouldn't be the person I am today. I wouldn't be in this house, in my current marriage. I wouldn't have three beautiful sons. I might not be on fire for the Lord.

In fact, I might be dead. There were moments where I considered whether life was really worth living at all. And Satan loved those moments; he capitalized on my doubts and fears and encouraged me to act in the reckless ways I choose to dull the pain and deal with my disinegrating marriage.

If I had but today to live, and I could ask one person to forgive me before I died, it would be my ex-husband. Even though I don't think my life after him is a mistake and I pray that he has moved on and, hopefully, remarried like I did, I still think about him sometimes and really hope that he understands that I have a love for him to this day still. I imagine I always will.

It's funny, in a curious way, to think about the paths we take as human-beings, bouncing in and out of relationship with one another. But, it is rarely right that we bounce in and out of partnership with someone with whom we've committed ourselves in marriage. Doing that cuts to the core and leaves scars that are permanent, even two decades later.

So, to you JAD, hugs.

Thank you for being the best person I didn't spend the rest of my life with.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why Godparents?

Over dinner the other night, in the midst of a busy restaurant filled with chattering people, a good friend asked why we had chosen to have Godparents for our children.

Growing up in the Episcopal church, this was a given. If you were being baptized, you were getting Godparents. They were a package deal.

But, my friend didn't grow up in that tradition and was curious about the concept. So began a conversation.

Since we weren't on a double date without kids, of course there were normal interruptions ("Can I go to the bathroom?", kid number three asked for the fifth time, "When will dinner be here?", asked each time the thought crossed any of the five kids' minds, "What is the secret to tranquility?", asked rhetorically by me as my glass of wine was placed on the table).

Somehow, between the kid-created disruptions, munching on good food, and great chatting with our friends, the Godparent card was thrown on the table but never picked up again. So, today, I'm finishing the conversation here.

In the strictest sense, Godparents serve the role of partnering with parents in that they promise to help bring the baptized child up in the church, learn the important creeds and prayers of the church (The Lord's Prayer, for example) and help assure that the child is confirmed when s/he is of age (ie: understanding church history as it relates to a relationship with God.)

Godparents can come from a variety of sources, from single friends to married family members, though all of our choices have been friends who are married couples. For us, the naming of Godparents served as a indication of our closeness with the people we chose to ask; the relationship intertwined our lives with our friends in a way that makes us as close as family.

Nickels' Godparents were friends from the moment we started dating, one leading our "Marriage 101" class at church, and the other marrying us. We've seen each other through the best (births, baptisms, birthday celebrations) and through the worst (unfortunate medical diagnoses, the death of too many parents). They have the distinction of being our kids third set of Grandparents, with the names Poppa and Momma in place of Grandpa and Grandma.

Hooman's Godfolk have been in my life for around sixteen years and have known Mike as long as I have. In fact, the Godmama was one who conspired to make sure I married Mike. We've been through five pregnancies and births together and one very sad miscarriage. We've endured parental cancer, family issues, and too many times of laughter and tears to recall at the moment. In short: we're tight.

The Babe's Godparents have been in my life so long that I can remember what the Godmama's hair looked like in High School. The Godfather entered my life the night I married my first husband and they have stood by me (and Mike) through thick and thin. We are legal guardians of their children up to age eighteen, though I make sure to tell both of our Godbabies that they are welcome in our house whenever they want to stop by and stay awhile. We feel as close to them as we do to our own kids.

Personally, I feel responsible for doing the following for my own Godchildren: praying for them regularly, setting an example of Christian living (by attending church and staying connected to Christ in my own life), and helping them grow in the faith of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit through my example and encouragement to follow Christ.

I also do my level best to remember them on special occasions, such as birthdays, Christmas, and graduations.

I want each of my Godbabies to know they have a safe place to land if they ever need to, someone praying for them, and someone outside their nuclear family who loves them unconditionally. In fact, one of the joys of Godparenting is that it is a taste of Grandparenting: all the fun stuff with none of the ucky discipline.

It is an honor to be asked and to ask someone to be a Godparent. Those who understand the gravity of the request are generally moved beyond words in the moment. It is a nod to the people you choose that you see something in their lives that is worth emulating in the life of your own child.

I count being a Godparent as one of the most sobering, humbling, moving experiences I've had in my days on Earth. It makes me want to be a better example, a better parent, and a better friend.

And to each of my Godbabies and our children's Godparents today? Blessings on you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Japan On My Mind

This photograph was taken in Japan, one of the few places I desperately want to travel to before I die. Since I don't see this happening anytime in the immediate future, I'm going to try to figure out how to hang this on a wall in my house.

I guess my desire to travel to Japan makes a nice beginning to a MommaJ Bucket List, though I consider myself much too young to think about such things.

The thought of fresh sushi and music from stringed instruments and cherry blossoms makes my heart skip a beat.

And, now, this photograph? An honorable mention in the National Geographic Photo Contest for 2o11? It makes me want to grab a passport and my wallet and make a mad dash to DFW for the next flight to Tokyo.

There is so much beauty to be had on this planet. I guess I just don't want to waste a moment wondering if I missed a chance to experience it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

How Blessed Are We?

Tonight we attended the neighborhood Christmas Eve Eve Party.*

A sweet couple on our street hosts this party every year and invites the block to come enjoy time in their home.

Can you imagine having your house up to snuff the night before the night before Christmas? Much less providing a stellar meal and entertainment, vis-a-vis, an impromptu Christmas pageant put on by the kids?

Me either.

I mean, mine looks like a hurricane came through it followed closely by a garbage truck with a faulty back gate being tail-gated by a glitter blower. It ain't pretty. It ain't organized. It just ugly.

I don't live in a "normal" neighborhood, though. I live in a neighborhood where people still say "Merry Christmas" without worrying about offending anyone. I live in a neighborhood where we fess up that our kids aren't perfect and that they struggle in school and that we wish their hearts would be more in-tune to Christ's call.

In short, we live in a blessed neighborhood.

No, it's not perfect. Sure, I deal with the anxiety that "I didn't say that right" or extend the invitation to every child or could have provided a better snack.

But, there is a huge difference between being perfect and being blessed.

Being perfect is an unattainable goal. Being blessed is perfectly attainable.

And, I thank God as often as I remember, that we were placed in a community, on a street, in a house, at a time, that we are surrounded by like-minded people who hold our kids (and us, as parents) accountable.

Ours is a dying block. There aren't many streets that can claim the things I have here today. But, I am eternally grateful that the people who live here actually took the time TO PRAY for the people who would buy our house.**

So, today I give thanks for one family who brings us all together at Christmastime and reminds us that we are a community of believers. A community that supports one another and loves one another and cherishes one another in our imperfection.

We are a picture of family brought together by proximity.

Thanks be to our God, who made it so.

*Yes, this will post a couple of days after the fact. But, the thanks are still completely valid.

**That's US that they prayed in this house, ya'll!!! How cool is that????

Sunday, December 25, 2011


Redeemed me
Season as this.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

Do you read this the way I do?

For to US a child is born, to US a son is given.

This is OUR gift. A gift to the people of this world. A birth that, ultimately, led to a sacrifice that saved us from our own sin.

We were GIVEN this gift. Now we have to accept it. Choose it. Embrace it.

We have to love the gift as best we can, though we'll never love it as much as the giver of the gift or the gift Himself loves us back.

He carries the government on His mighty shoulders. There are no tax cuts or social programs or amendments or bills that aren't subject to Him, though He allows us to use our free will in making those decisions.

Those who serve our country and our world fall under His dominion, whether they choose Him or not. If He decided to, all we know of the powers that be that rule every corner of the world, could fall under His control.

Yet, He chooses to allow us to accept Him as a gift.

He gives great advice, if we choose to listen and accept it.
He has no equal in might or power or strength.
He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
And he carries Peace with Him wherever He may trod.

He is it all. And, tonight we reflect on His miraculous birth in a lowly stall so very, many years ago.

A tiny baby boy who would change the world.

Come, let us adore Him. Christ the Lord.

Friday, December 23, 2011

One Last Post

I'm wrapping up all the posts I've written for Advent with this one.

Yes, you'll notice I'm chronologically challenged if you figure this post is coming two days BEFORE the end of Advent and it is the last one I'm writing.

Christmas Eve's post came to me without effort. But, this one, somehow stuck out in No Man's Land, on Christmas Eve Eve, is somehow so much harder to produce.

I think I've said it all, in all the ways the message can be conveyed, with all the words I have.

So, I'm going to make it simple. It's time to die to Christ.

It's time to put yourself so far behind His purpose in your life that it seems like it isn't your life anymore.

It's time to realize that others are so much more important than you are. What love you give to them, what forgiveness you extend, what decisions you make to help others will all boomerang back on you in unexpected, joyful, wonderful ways when you put everyone ahead of yourself.

It's time to embrace the idea that the world is a place of sin but you are a light shining on a hilltop for others to see and emulate. You are Christ in a broken world. You ARE all that.

This, and so much more, is the reason He was born on Christmas Day.

And, if you can step outside yourself and truly understand these things, you are in for the ride of your life in 2012.

Why not start the process during this time when we remember the birth of our Lord and Savior, our precious Christ?

Why not embrace your importance today?

Why not see what He has in store for you?

Why. Not.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Changes That Weren't

Today, the Advent Devotional had the sweetest prayer:

"Dear God, help me remember that the best treasure of all is Jesus. He can't be lost, or outgrown. He will be with me forever. Amen."

That prayer jogged my memory and reminded me that, for some reason, since early in the fall, I have been somewhat anxiously anticipating changes to our normal Christmas routines and traditions.

I don't know if it was the absence of Mom for the second year or the addition of Patty for the first, or the fact that the kids are growing up quickly and don't seem to relish things the way they have in the past. But I had this nagging feeling we were up for some shifts in our regular schedule this season.

I wondered if The Babe would figure out that Santa wasn't exactly for real. Kids around him have been telling him the "secret" for weeks now. Both Hooman and Nickels have been chomping at the bit to tell him, but I threatened them within an inch of their lives and, so far, we've managed to make it to within inches of Christmas* with one, firm believer still intact.

I thought this might be the year where I couldn't find matching Christmas morning pj's for the boys because Nickels would be too tall. But, as luck would have it, we have one more year of matchy-matchy photos to cherish.

I wondered if Christmas with Dad and Patty would be strange. I thought, just maybe, that I would miss Mom in droves because she wasn't there. But, we had a happy holiday celebration and I didn't miss Mom more than I normally do...not yet, at least.

After thinking there was going to be some gigantic shift, there was nothing. Which just goes to prove that worrying and anticipating and overthinking things doesn't change the outcome.

I guess you can still believe in Santa, even when others around you keep telling you you are daft for believing.*

And, even though Nickels has grown to just under his Momma's height, there must be Moms designing Christmas pajamas who also aren't ready to let their 12-year-olds out of this fun tradition.

I guess the fact that I carry on customs passed down by Mom (a new ornament for the kids each year, the Advent calendar, Bourbon balls) keeps her alive. The fact that Patty is charming and wonderful to Dad and us makes her a welcome addition to our family.

I feel confident that, come 2012, something in our regular holiday routine will change. Maybe Santa will be outed? Maybe we'll stop buying Starbucks, listening to Christmas music, and driving all over Dallas looking at lights.

I'm sure, some year way into the future, over Christmas dinner, someone will say "Why did we stop doing ____?" or "When did we start doing ____?". And we'll have a lively discussion about the way things were, way back when.

The boys will outgrow matching pj's and refuse to take part in a Christmas morning, matching pajamas, brother's photo. That is, without a little cash bribing.

I know, hopefully in the very distant future, that we'll celebrate the holidays after losing more family that we love.

But, for certain, there will never be a year that, as a family, we'll look back and lament that fact that we lost our Savior.

Praise be to Him, who is with us always. And who takes change and makes it into something beautiful.

*Knock wood.

**And there are some of us who wish, to this day, that we were ignorant of the fact that Santa isn't real.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What Did I Ask For???

I was once again in the pet store today, checking out hamster goods.

I thought I had ixnayed the whole pet thing when I went into a lengthy conversation about how hard it is for Santa to bring a live animal. "For sure", I thought to myself, "this issue is dead as a door nail."

But, as the month moved forward, and the desire for a hamster didn't wane, I started doing a little backtracking. I even suggested that, if he asked nicely, Santa might even make an exception on the "live animal rule" just for The Babe.

So, today, after I carried a cage across the store (sucker), chose a line (sucker) and started waiting for my turn (sucker), the lady in front of me struck up a conversation.

"Who is the cage for?"

"A hamster my son wants."

She wrinkled up her nose "Your first rodent?"

OK. This was a super nice lady, who obviously cared for her cats as she spent over $125 on them at the register. But reminding me I'm about to bring a RODENT into the house?*

I calmly explained my parents had put up with rodents in the past (gerbils long since gone to gerbil Heaven) and I was carrying on the tradition. And, probably more importantly, I was fulfilling The Babe's one request to Santa when he had his 30 seconds on his lap early this month.

I told her The Babe is six, has promised to take care of the hamster, but that I had a sneaking suspicion, based on the number of times he has helped with the dogs (zero), cat (zero) and fish (another zero), that this would be another animal I would be taking sole care of.

And then my newly found, line co-standing acquaintance made the observation of the holiday: "So, actually, this is YOUR Christmas present."

I swallowed hard, smiled broadly, and responded affirmatively.

What I should have admitted? I.AM.A.SUCKER.

*That hits a little too close to what's under the house and, possibly, in the attic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No Such Thing as a Mistake

A shortened version of an email I was recently sent that summarizes the "why" in the baby Jesus' birth.

A group of elementary students had busily been preparing to sing at their Christmas performance. The chosen piece, "Christmas Love", would be sung while large letters, printed on cardboard and revealed one at a time throughout the performance, spelled out the title.

Only thirteen children had the honor of holding letters and a smallish young girl was very excited about her assignment. She was the "M" in Christmas.

When her turn arrived, she flipped her letter proudly up for the entire audience of schoolmates, parents and teachers to see. Thankfully, she didn't realize that the snickers from the 1st-6th graders in the audience were in response to her taking her turn.

The "M" was upside down!

When the last letter was revealed, a previously snickering audience became hushed as they read what the "mistake" revealed:

"C H R I S T W A S L O V E"*


*And, might I add, He still is?

Monday, December 19, 2011



Ten? How is that even remotely possible?

It seems like yesterday that you beat our midwife to the punch, arriving in this world quicker than a speeding bullet. And you've been moving at the speed of light ever since.

You were our Christmas gift that year, so tiny and fragile, with lungs that outperformed the Energizer Bunny. You were an enigma from the beginning, but not completely impossible to figure out.

You continue to amaze me with your ability to walk around outdoors or shift through the recycle bin or sit with a blank sheet of paper and create something amazing.

You are fun, energetic, inquisitive, hysterical and a joy to call my son.

Happy Tenth Birthday!

Love, Momma

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Dear Babe-
Today, you are being baptized.

According to you, it is a "ba-buh-tism", but it means the exact same thing. Your six-year-old tongue just can't quite pronounce this word yet.

You are the end of an era, an era where Mommy and Daddy worked for this outcome for all three of the Nowell boys. We've prayed for you, and your big brothers, to come to love Jesus just the way Mommy and Daddy do. And this day, at our church, you are going to stand up in front of a big crowd of people, many of whom are your family and our close friends, and by your actions you'll tell the whole wide world that you love Jesus enough that you want everyone to know.


I pray, as the Holy Spirit descends into your life, that you will learn to follow His lead.
That you find God a comfort and shield.
That you want to walk in His ways.
That, daily, you'll talk with Him.
That you'll pray about all things in your life.
That you will take seriously His word and incorporate it into your life.
That, when it is your time to die, you will take comfort in knowing that Jesus will be there to receive you. And that Mommy and Daddy and Nickels and Hooman will be reunited with you there.

I couldn't be more proud of you as you take this step. I couldn't love you more than I do right now; not just in this moment as you are baptized, but all the days of your life.

And, I thank God that He is working in your life. What an indescribable blessing.

With all my love,

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Santa Done Right

I am a stickler for the "right" Santa.

He sets up shop at North Park this time of year. The line to see him snakes around corners and into hallways. There is always at least one baby screaming or crying or generally making a fuss waiting for him.

And, if you don't do things exactly right, you will pay the piper. Trust me. I've screwed this little exercise up many years, so I speak from experience.

But, this year I got it spot-on right.

I showed up sub-9am to get my number. Lucky 24, it was.

We showed up in the middle of dinner time when everyone else wasn't thinking "this would be the perfect time to sit on Santa's lap".

And we went during the week, the week before school let out.

Bingo, bango, bongo. Including shop time for the final picture, browsing in the Lego and GameStop stores AND time to get back and forth from the West 40 to our car*, we finished in one hour.

Those of you who live in Dallas, know this Santa, and have endured the H.E.Double.Toothpicks of standing in line waiting to see him because you forgot to be at the mall at 9am to get a number?


Just take my advice, follow the rules above, and your Christmas visit this year should be just as seamless.

The only downside to my visit? Now I have another dilemma: How the HECK is Santa going to get a hamster from the North Pole to our house on Christmas SUNDAY?


*Even at Christmas, when valet parking makes the most sense, we're still too thrifty to pay for it.

Friday, December 16, 2011


There's a "pay it forward" mentality spreading across America. Have you heard about it?

Several layaway accounts at Kmart stores across the nation, generally with $50-$250 balances, have been paid off by anonymous donors. One of the most generous was standing at the layaway desk, telling people it was their blessed day when they came to make a payment. She left the store, handing out $50 bills and paying for a large cart of Christmas gifts for another woman in her husband's, "Ben's", honor she stated.

Most of the stories tell of accounts that were behind, merchandise that was about to be reshelved, and Christmas that wasn't going to happen. And, then, someone pays it all off. Anonymously.

There's sometime magical, palpable, about this season. The anticipation, the wonder, the excitement and the generosity stand out in December.

If only we could harness that sparkle the other eleven months of the year. What a world this would be.

I think that is what we are called to do, by Christ, daily. To think outside ourselves and give to others. Not just of our financial wealth, but also of our time, our talents, our shoulder, our love. And it would make Him proud were we to act as if Christmas was right around the corner in the big, fat middle of August.

The lesson in this story isn't complicated. It isn't hard to understand, though for some it is hard to comprehend. It is beautiful in its simplicity: when we are at our best, we give. And though it isn't designed as a blessing for us, we can't help but feel the effects of our generosity.

May your Christmas season be filled with moments that are equally as breathtaking.

In case you care to read the story in its entirety:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Temporary Loss of My Advent Mojo

I was doing so well staying laser focused this season that you knew it had to come to an end sometime.

Well, that sometime was around noon on Wednesday.

Seems I don't care too much for the nutritional advice of people who are manning a cash register. Actually, I don't care too much for the nutritional advice of people I don't PAY to give me nutritional advice. So, having asked for no advice and paying to get through the check-out stand while receiving said advice flat pissed me off.

Here's the conversation:
Checker: "Would you like your bottle of water?"

Me (being my friendly, chatty self by making small talk): "Yes. Drinking it in the car. And go ahead and give me the CLIF bar as well. That's my lunch."

Checker (whose eyes are suddenly larger than an 18" pizza): "That's a HORRIBLE lunch!" (emphasis hers, not mine)

Me (holding up my to-do list that has about 15 items on it): "I'm eating on the go until I have a chance to sit down and eat a real meal." All the while I'm thinking "Which won't be until dinner." That information would have sent her into a spontaneous epileptic seizure.

Checker: "Tell you what. Go get yourself a slice of pizza on me."*

Me (thinking: "Am I REALLY having this conversation? I'm 45 years old. Perfectly capable of making food decisions without this twit putting in her two cents"): "I don't WANT pizza. I have to finish this (brandishing my to-do list like a weapon and waving it feverishly in my hand) and I need something I can eat while I drive."

About that point, she just stopped talking to me. I signed the pad for my worthless lunch and, ironically, the purchase of the lowest fat white meat, turkey, and headed for the door.

I was so incensed that I immediately called Mike to report my "You'll never believe what just happened to me" story.

As we're about to finish my gripe session and I can tell my blood pressure has returned to normal, I see the light at Park and the Tollway turn green. But before I could get my foot off the brake and onto the gas to move, the dude behind me in a Mercedes SUV, honks.

So, I did the mature thing and went really.really.slow. Because I hate being honked at when I've done nothing wrong.

And, honestly? I think rude people should live on a cliff by themselves, not attack me on Park Lane in windblown Plano for not having my feet on the gas and brakes pedals simultaneously, just waiting with baited breath to race to the next red light.

I turned, s.l.o.w.l.y, into the far lane toward Costco and was almost to the drive way when I realized the Mercedes was pulling up next to me. And I saw a 65-year-oldish man who had his right hand up to his head, playing like he was on the phone. He was shaking his head wildly and acting like he was talking, probably saying something like "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."

He was freakin' mimicking me, ya'll!

And you thought cell phones were the cause of all accidents? I beg to differ!

Now, I'm all bunched up by unsolicited advice about my lunch AND a yahoo who clearly thought he was the Solicitor General for the campaign to end cell phone use by drivers.

If steam could have come out of my ears, it would have. But, instead, I made yet another mature choice.

I flipped him off as he got on the Tollway.

Thank goodness Grandpa wasn't packing heat, because I might have gotten myself capped on the road to Costco. Not the way I want to end my life. And not the obituary I want my kids clipping to remember me by.

Anyway, once I was safely in the Costco parking lot, I realized "Holy cow! I have the kids CHRISTIAN school sticker on my car. GREAT. Now I've probably messed up any chances of us returning there next year."

After I hung up the phone, I felt bad for what I'd done to that Mercedes-owning, New York cab driver impersonating, Grandpa man. And, I repented.

After that? The nice man inside the front door of Costco wiped my cart for me** while I struggled with my umbrella.

I let a person with one item cut in front of me at the checkout. And she said "thank you" profusely.

And, ironically, I ran into the headmaster's wife, who I introduced myself to. We had a very pleasant conversation. Somehow Costco had made me feel redeemed.

I realize that people may not have boundaries, may not like the rain, may be in a hurry to get somewhere important, but I can't let them impact my Advent mojo.

Better yet, I can't let them impact my God mojo, regardless of the time of year.

Now that I've purged this incident from my brain by recalling it for your amusement, enlightenment, and ridicule, I must go make dinner.

For some strange reason I'm STARVING!

*Wait just one cotton-pickin' minute. Your best option for replacing my CLIF bar is a piece of pizza? Wow. You really DID earn a degree in nutrition.

**Nobody else around me got that service. And I wasn't even wearing make-up!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Praise God!!

One of the activities I undertake at Christmas time is making a photo book for each of the boys, detailing the events of the previous year.

I started this new "tradition" last year, after I realized the only way to capture the last pictures I had of Mom and the boys and Mike, the night before her death, was to put them in a more formal book. Hence, I started something I am going to have to do for the next twelve or so years.

Now, honestly, I waited until way.too.late to start this project. Basically, I began cobbling together all the pictures a couple of days ago.

My deadline? Oh, today, 12/14/11, for delivery by Christmas Eve, when I gave the books last year. And at least one of the kids remembered that little detail and asked if they'd be ready this year on 12/24 as well. I lied through my teeth at the time and said "Of course." No pressure at all.

Yes, three books, twenty-four pages each, with text under each and every photo, three pages of "the year in review" plus one love letter from Mike and I, in under one week.

That would explain why, when this posts at approximately 1:30am, I am just getting to bed.*

But, instead of feeling the weight of getting this done and getting angry that I started this tradition and blaming myself for procrastinating, I simply sat back and looked on the bright side: "Three kids photo books worth of "the year in review" is certainly the basis for the Christmas letter, right?"

Ya'll? That is so/not/me.

Generally, especially after the midnight faux pas, I'd be all "WHY ME? WHY NOW? WHAT THE ****?"

But, I do think I've had an internal shift this Advent. My list is just as long as it has been in years past, maybe even a bit longer honestly, but I'm just not freaking out and running around like the world is on fire and I'm the only one with a fire extinguisher and the license to use it.

It is so refreshing.

And, I have no one to blame or thank but God. He made my heart new. He helped me see the beauty in the season and the really important things that needed to be done and showed me why I needed to prioritize things in a specific way.

He has brought out the best in me, in my favorite time of the year. How fun is THAT?

So, I now wonder how this Advent is going for you?

Are you panicking because the kids are out at noon on Friday or starting to plan game nights, with popcorn, hot cocoa, and pj's, just because there is no schedule over the Christmas break?

Are you worrying about getting the perfect gift for every one on your list or doing the best you can, knowing it is the gesture that counts?

Are you fretting about the Christmas brunch, worrying about what everyone likes and dislikes, or pulling together a healthy, reasonable meal and letting people either eat or starve?

I hope it's the latter. I hope you are allowing God to calm you down and hold you up and show you the way. I, for one, am not taking steps this Christmas without Him.

And, I guess given it is the season we most often associate with worshiping Him, walking in His counsel would make Him proud.

So, move forward knowing that God is ready to relieve that stress. He's ready to plan your menus and schedules and assist you, if only YOU ASK.

Ask at will.

*It would have been an hour earlier, but I lost the last several pages of The Babe's book to a rookie, forgot to hit save, ridiculous error.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Early Resolutions

I was firmly in the camp of those of you who said "Michele Duggar is expecting baby number TWENTY? Are those people CRAZY?"

If you watched any of last year's "19 Kids and Counting", your heart broke watching the events unfold after baby Jordyn had to be delivered way too early. There were way too many trips back and forth to the hospital. Too much NICU.

Then I read a bit more about this current pregnancy and I really got to thinking. In case you haven't made the connection yet, when I start thinking that equals trouble. And this was no exception.

The Duggars trust God to provide for them, period. They expect that He will provide pregnancies. They trust He will provide for their needs.

And, can any of us say they've been wrong?

(Insert sound of crickets here.)

Now, sadly, Michele has miscarried their latest baby. I'm sure this Christmas will be filled with lots of tears and wonders if this is the end of a very long era of baby-making.

I think the rest of the world, outside of Duggarville, population 19 and holding, just can't wrap their minds around raising that many kids all at once. Or being pregnant for most of our lives. Or that much responsibility for providing a home school education.

But, what could we do if we put so much trust in God that those things weren't issues?

What kind of work could we accomplish if we just let Him guide our lives?

What impact would we have on the world if we just let go and let God?

This is the season to begin thinking about these things because New Years is coming. And, like most, I'm sure you'll make a resolution. Or resolve not to resolve anything.

But, if you resolve to do one thing differently in 2012, make it to pray more, ask for guidance and wisdom and sit back and watch God work in your life.

Trust me, you won't end up with 19 children*, but you may end up with a radically changed life for the better.

For the better because it will be lived through God, for God, and of God.

How's THAT for a resolution?

*But, don't sue me if you do.

Monday, December 12, 2011


This is finals week at one school and the end of the first half of the school year at the other.

And, for weeks now, I've been building up in my mind that Christmas weekend was sitting like a big stop sign at the end of this week.

In fact, looking at the calendar with my eyes open and brain fully engaged, I realize that this weekend is only Christmas in that we'll be spending it with family and doing some of our gift exchanging.

Starting Friday, my brother and his family will arrive so that, Saturday, we can do the "Huber" Christmas with the folks I grew up with.

On Sunday, blessed of days, The Babe is being baptized. There just aren't enough exclamation points to tell you how excited I am about this event. The biggest reason, of course, is that Babe decided that this Jesus fellow was cool enough to follow. The secondary reason, which sounds so strangely Mormon to me as I type it, is that I am so very glad to know that, come what may, I will be reunited in Heaven with my entire nuclear family. The thought of that just makes my heart tingle.

Monday brings Hooman's birthday. Double digits will then forevermore be a part of his age. A very small party, Hoo's request, will commence. And, after, we'll be one step closer to the teenage years, where the promise of Heaven comes in handy when you are on your parents' last nerves and they would like to send you back from whence you came.

So, with all the activity, you can see how I was confused about "what's when". This weekend is almost as filled as Christmas weekend! But joyfully, I have a one week reprieve, if you will, from the actual big day.*

And, I like it this way. I kind of wish Christmas could come on a Sunday, with a full week off school prior, every year.

It seems to me that the more I've relaxed into the season, allowed it to flow, and refused to get stressed with all the details, time has multiplied.

I've had more time to ponder questions such as: were Mary and Joseph stressed out as they road/walked to Bethlehem so many years ago? Did they find comfort in knowing that they were following God's plan?

Did Mary lose her mind on Joseph when there was no hotel room and they ended up in a stable to deliver Jesus? Or did she count that as part of the plan, that the son of God would start life in such lowly conditions?

We'll never know those answers for sure, but isn't it comforting to know that, even when our plans don't go exactly the way we expected or when time is playing tricks on us or we feel the pressure building up, there is a way out?

There is a God who cares, who answers us, and who is ready and willing to provide the guidance we so need.

Praise be to Him, who can carry us in all situations, at all times, and in all places, until we are ready to walk again!

I, for one, am glad to rest in that knowledge, to take a reprieve being cradled by his love.

Not only for the rest of this season, but well beyond.

*With kids in tow, of course, which actually reduces it to more like a two-day reprieve, but I'll take it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Family Time

Today, all seven of us (dogs included) are piling into the car to celebrate Christmas with family. We'll travel a hundred miles and change and spend around five hours with people we see, for the most part, once per year.

At the party, we'll get our annual update on all things related to this side of the family. Of course, that update will be tempered with interpretations from each person as to the actual "story" and with high emotions and expectations.

Some who attend have slight dementia but can perfectly relay a tale from the mid-40's, with accurate detail and a delightful smile and laugh to match the cadence of the story.

Some are battling cancer; digestive issues; living with diabetes.

Some are fighting with the demons of their life.

In short, they are a perfectly normal group of people we call "family".

This party will remind us of relationships that we wish we could cultivate but, for a variety of reasons, don't.

It will also remind us of relationships that are toxic; people who don't have a firm grip on what it means to be a productive part of a larger group of people.

And, squarely, this party will be the last for some. There will, very likely, be funerals this coming year. There will be times we will get back together, under circumstances that are much less happy, to celebrate someone we loved, who is part of this family, whose time here is done.

And, the truth of it is, that there will probably also be celebrations. I envision a wedding and the birth of more children, who will get "grand" and even "great grand" before the fact that they are some one's son or daughter. I think a graduation is coming down the pike, a fork in the road that will determine what this next generation is going to do with their lives.

The Christmas season isn't about a perfect party, with perfect people, in the perfect location. It isn't about getting a picture that could have "Gittings" in gold etched on it. It's about sharing time and reminiscing and crying and laughing together, if even only for a few moments each year, until time and circumstances beckon you back together again.

So, this season, join me in approaching family parties with no expectations, except that your time together may be messy or thrilling or aggravating or inspiring. Likely, it will be a mixed bag.

But, these are the family members you've been dealt. Learn to love them the best you can. Learn to forgive them the best you can.

And, run, headlong into family festivities this season, knowing that, by doing so, you are honoring those who came before you.

And, by attending, your participation is a silent "thank you" to God for surrounding you with a group of people, for the most part, who love you unconditionally, right where you are, for who you are.

As Ephesians 5: 1-2 says:
"Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Right in the big, fat middle of the Christmas season came a movie with so much heart, so much beauty, so much to say, that I just had to write a bit about it.

Hugo is one of those rare experiences that make you crave another viewing because one time is just not enough. You want to dig deeper and listen harder and watch longer so the meaning is ingrained in your memory. And, when your heart needs a place to sit awhile, you can pull up scenes and remember them.

I won't go into any details on the movie because, like me, I want you to view it with fresh eyes. I couldn't do it justice on this blog anyway.

But, I hail all things Martin Scorsese and Ben Kingsley, the former who brought this vision to the screen and the later who acted his way into my heart. And the young boy playing Hugo? If only I could have hugged away all his hurts.

Two lines in the movie stuck out to me as classics, the first being "If you lose your purpose, you're broken". How incredibly true that statement is. And how many of us can relate to being broken and searching for what the true meaning of our lives is.

I realized, on the way home, that this is another version of Oz. I can't pull parallels without giving away too much of the plot, but I left the theater with the same sense of wonder and astonishment as I always leave a viewing of Oz.

I also realized that the last line summed up the entire experience for me. And, how apropos during the season of Christmas: "He went searching for his father and found his home."

During this time of year, we are charged to seek the Christ child. He is, after all, our ultimate home.

And, to those charged with giving the Best Film Oscar for 2011? I really, really hope the name Hugo rises to the top like a fine, chantilly cream.

Two pinkies up with a couple of kleenex, just in case.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Locusts are Coming!

I've settled on an idea for the book I'm writing about Mom and it has to do with locusts. More on that to come. But, for today, just know you are going to get a dose of these little buggers.

Locusts have an interesting history in the Bible. They show up in Exodus, as one of the plagues on Egypt, and then close the Bible in Revelation, where they are given a five month reign of terror on those who don't wear the seal of God on their foreheads.

That strange John the Baptist ate these little beauties in the wilderness, with honey as a dipping sauce, no doubt.

Since I'm not an entomologist, I can't tell diddly-squat worth of a difference between the picture of a grasshopper and one of a locust. But, apparently, there is some distinction.

Now, when locusts descend, they do so in force. They eat everything in their sight, leaving absolutely nothing to be salvaged. Kind of like if someone let me loose on an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet.*

When I think of the destruction of the locust, I think of desolation. I think of complete bareness. I think of winter.

And, lo and behold, here we are...on the cusp of winter.

Now, winter is a mixed bag. It is, in some ways, one of the the most beautiful seasons, with snow and ice and everything blanketed crystal and white. It is also one of the ugliest since the snow gets muddied up on the streets and the ice and blanketing can cause power outages that last for days.

But, there is a purpose for the beauty/ugliness of winter. It allows all growing things to lie dormant and rest for a bit; to prepare for the coming spring, when everything will grow like crazy, when there will be thankfulness for the hiatus.

The trap we sometimes find ourselves in is not being happy with the season. Especially in Texas, where the weather swings are crazy at times, winter can be downright unpredictable. Where shorts suffice one day, a heavy jacket is necessary the next. And that can make for short tempers and extremely tiny fuses.

As we simultaneously endure the changes winter brings and look forward to the Christ child, there are going to be moments where we are unhappy with the season.

We'll wish it was warmer or colder or that Christmas would get here faster or that time would slow down so we could catch up or that the invitations to do good would stop when our money did.

But, just like the locusts, the season is descending. It is taking over. It is having its way. And, you can either go with it joyfully or dig your heels in and be a Scrooge. It's your choice.

Why not take a hint from the soon-to-be leafless trees and the hibernating grass? They don't worry about what is to come, but instead revel in the change, accept it, and rest.

Even if it is for but just a minute, can you find time to rest in the word of God? Can you focus your mind on the beauty of the meaning of Christmas? Can you find respite from the busyness for but just a moment?

The season is coming hard and fast. And your best defense is to accept the change. Flow with it. Dance circles in it. Do your best to embrace it.


*Kidding. Kinda.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Illness has descended on our house.

Late last night, right after Christmas Chapel, Nickels threw up after nursing a stomachache for a couple of hours. He said he started feeling really crummy during the last song, "Adeste Fideles". By the time we'd driven by three locations to try to put air in one of the tires that was low*/**, the feeling had hit so hard that I had to pull the car over.

And, a moment too soon it wasn't. He christened the curb of a neighbor's house.*** And the running board. And the door.

Fever set in after that. And, this morning? No appetite and a temperature just slightly above normal.

If other kids at the school are any indication, this is going to be at least a five day recovery process. The week before finals, thank you very little.

And, as I write this, I wonder what kind of hassles Mary went through with Jesus. There is no indication he ever had the flu or diarrhea or a sinus infection. If there were finals at the temple, they aren't noted. Was he grounded from woodworking for not telling his parents that he was staying behind to teach while they walked into the desert for over a day and then couldn't find him?

We'll never know. But, we do know that Mary endured the brutal death of her son and was with Him the entire way.

That speaks volumes of her commitment as a Mother. Not every Mom could gaze upon their severely beaten son being hung on a cross as a common perpetrator.

Not every Mom could take on the task of raising such a special son, one who seemed to speak in rhymes and puzzles and poetry.

Not every Mom would accept the burden of becoming an unmarried, pregnant teenager who, by law, could have been stoned to death because of her "crime".

But Mary did. What a remarkable woman she was.

So, as I nurse my boy back to health, I'll remember that Jesus' Mom was chosen just for him. She was in his life on purpose. And, just as God chose Mary for Jesus, he chose me for Nickels.

What an honor and privilege it is to be chosen to raise a child. And to follow in the footsteps of the incredible Mother chosen to raise our Savior.

*Whose dash sensor kept screaming at me as we drove, causing one of the kids to ask if the car was going to explode. NICE, Nissan. Really, really nice.

**And before you wonder "Why didn't they just drive home and drop that poor sick boy off?", we figured it made sense to fix the tire on the way home because it is attached to the car that is the carpool bus in the mornings, sub 8a.m.


Rushing Around the Christmas Tree

Blogger managed to pre-publish my Wednesday post on Tuesday.

That REALLY bugged me. See, I am working to post something new(ish) on each day in Advent. And Blogger is messing with my mojo.

But, of course, something good came out of their error. I realized that rushing things is all the vogue this time of year.

We're glad the kids are in school so we can finish Christmas shopping, but anxious for them to be on Christmas break. And when they've been home for a week, we're ready for them to go back to school again!

We're tired of being tired, but we continue to run ourselves ragged by accepting every invitation that comes into our email box, instead of prioritizing and only attending the most important.

We have a hard time saying "no" to the "T" game our eight-year-old wants or the "PG-13" movie our ten-year-old is begging for so we allow them to rush headlong into things their minds aren't prepared to do and see, just to keep the peace and knock one more gift off the list.

We're just in this fast paced, blender of activity. And we don't know where the "off" switch is located.

Hint: it's in your head. That's where you decide what is important this holiday season.

I know I probably sound like a broken record by now, but I think someone out there needs to hear this two-thousand different ways on several different days for this to truly sink in.

And, maybe that someone is ME?!

Or, maybe it is you AND me?!

I don't know for sure, but I do know that I am pained when I hear other people complaining about how busy they are (in a bad way) or see the bags under their children's eyes from one-too-many late nights of unimportant activity or can't schedule lunch with a friend because there is simply too much to do for Christmas during those hours.

This is a time to get slow. Turtle slow. Stand too long in one place and fall over on your side slow.

Maybe that means you Christmas shop all year long instead of the last two weeks before the holiday. Maybe that means you don't buy any presents this year and take a trip with your family. Maybe that means you say no to all but one party.

But, it's time to get slow. Go counter to culture. Stand back and watch everyone else go nutso. Preferably, with a hot chocolate in one hand and a cake ball in the other.

Find the time. Read the story of Christ's birth. Sit in front of a fire. Just relax, now, before the kids are off school and your household duties seem to quadruple in quantity and Christmas is gone and you can't account for anything meaningful you did.

And, by the way, I think this advice was designed for me.

If it helped you, too, I'm grateful.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Digging Holes

It seems that my body is enjoying its share of needles and sutures and drills lately.

Case in point: just a few weeks ago, I had three suspicious moles removed. One was entirely benign; two might have developed into something untoward if they weren't completely removed.

So Tuesday was removal day. Other than the discomfort of the lidocaine going in, this was a fairly painless procedure, even the stitches, which I dreaded with every fiber in my body.

Before I knew that Dr. Smart* was going to do a "Let's nip this in the bud before melanoma sets in" procedure, I had already made an appointment with Dr. Bateman** to have a silver filling retooled.

Seems there was leakage underneath said filling, causing decay. What started as a two-surface procedure quickly became a three-surface, with all of the top of my tooth and a great chunk of the interior portion of it, a victim, no doubt, of several sugar sprees that rested in my teeth. And, no doubt, my hips, thighs, butt, and stomach.***

What in Sam Hill does this have to do with Advent, you might be wondering.

Nothing, other than the fact that the season isn't spot on glorious, great, and wonderful for every person on planet Earth.

There are patients, as I type this, who are undergoing chemotherapy. There are others who are estranged from family and friends. And, as I sit in my warm kitchen at my laptop, drinking a cup of coffee with a belly full of breakfast in me, there are some who are sleeping underneath an overpass on 35.

There is no shortage of pain to be had over the holidays. And no other time like this season to look around us and address the needs of others.

Say a prayer for that family who is struggling financially or take them a little basket of goodies to cheer their hearts.

Take a few moments to visit that person in the hospital or make a call or send a card if they are too sick to receive visitors.

Reach out to someone in your family who has kept their distance from you due to unresolved conflict. Get together over a cup of cider and see if bridges can't be mended or, at least, if you can't open a line of communication for 2012.

Getting off the crazy train of busyness is imperative this time of year. And, when you are standing on solid ground at the platform, you'll have time to think and pray about those you need to reach out to.

If it makes sense, reach out as a family project, and show your kids that the season really isn't all about them. Instead, it's about remembering others.

Most importantly, don't forget to include Christ in your Christmas. It may be overused and trite, but it's still true: He's the reason for the season!

*I swear his real name. He chews Juicy Fruit and is really a kind plastic surgeon.

**Otherwise known as THE Richardson Dentist. He's awesome.

***Dr. Smart had the smarts to keep his trap shut about those things when he was operating on my back. I'm sure he saw dollar signs.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Six-Man Football

Being a smallish school compared to most in the public sector, The Covenant School (where Hooman and Nickels attend) doesn't compete in 11-man football, instead working with a group of six boys for their plays.

Those six have produced returns to the state championships for the past several years, including this past Saturday, where they lost a valiant battle 66-44 against Abilene Christian.

Monday morning could have been the anti-thesis of the loud, proud pep rally on Friday. But, it wasn't. And it boiled down to the preparations Coach Helton had made very early in the season. Following is the letter he sent to parents of his players, explaining what the boys have been working toward the entire season.

“Our theme this year is ‘124’ and though some of you may have been told what it means or you have figured it out, I wanted to let you in on what 124 really stands for.

Ultimately, 124 is a date, it stands for 12/4 or December 4th, the day after the state championship game. Our goal for this team is that they wouldn’t just set their sights on the state game but look beyond that day to the days and years beyond it. This example goes down to the simplest of levels in football when we teach them to hit and block through the man instead of stopping once they get to him.

So the focus isn’t graduation, it’s what they are going to do with their education; it’s not about the wedding day, it’s about the marriage; it’s not about conversion (though critical), it’s about a passionate walk with God for the rest of their life; etc.

So 124 means a whole lot more than just football and what happens on the field in Moody, TX. We honestly won’t know how good of a team we have for another 10-15 years, that’s when we will be able to see what the boys really learned from their time together on and off the field.”

Coach Helton, Covenant Christian School

Come Monday morning after Christmas, when everything will return to "normal", will you be counting yourself blessed no matter what was under the tree or in the stockings?

What will you have taught your children from the season? That busyness, stress and overindulgence = Christmas? Or that taking the pace a little slower, being patient with others and treating ourselves to half of what we need = Christmas?

What will you remember about the season? A busy calendar, too many gifts to wrap and the bottle of Tylenol you downed in three weeks flat? Or a calendar filled with meaningful events, filled with family and friends and great memories and new traditions?

Will Christmas 2011 be remembered for the blur of activities or the significance of the birth of the Christ child?

As Coach Helton has taught the boys this football season, the long haul is the goal.
So goes it with Advent; it's not all about getting to Christmas Day. It's about what happens as a result of getting there.

If we prioritize our December well, we'll create memories, carry on traditions (or start them), and plant seeds of interest in getting to know this baby Jesus better the other 364 days of the year.

And, if that isn't a worthy, long-term goal, I don't know what is.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Nothing New

Brush your teeth.
Use soap and shampoo when you bathe.
It's 30 degrees outside with wind and rain. Put on your winter jacket.

These are phrases that have become part of the never-ending mantra of the adult lives in this house.

These are the phrases that our parents, and their parents, and their parents before them used on us and those all the way up the line that begot us.

Which just goes to prove that history DOES repeat itself and there is nothing new under the sun.

During this season of retelling the tale of Christ's birth, I've realized that the story hasn't changed in over 2,000 years; it is nothing new. Like our mantra to our children, it has been heard over-and-over again until the hearer can almost repeat it verbatim.

And that's the issue, if we let it become one.

The story of Christ isn't frilly or exciting or a page-turner in and of itself. It is a quiet recalling of a private birth between a husband and wife that just happened to change the world.

But, when you examine the story more fully, you realize there is something new to be explored. And, not just this year, but every year.

Have you stopped to think how Mary felt? Not much at all is said about her but she was a pregnant, virgin teenager giving birth amongst animals. Likely, Joseph wasn't much help in bringing Jesus into the world because that was a woman's job. But, we have no evidence that any woman helped Mary.

Can you imagine squatting amongst hay and the smell of animals and their waste to give birth to God's son? I can't even imagine doing that with a human baby. But, Mary did.

Can you imagine the first time she looked into the face of God? The relief that this journey of pregnancy was over, that the baby was safely outside her body, and that she could hold Him and get some rest?

Can you imagine? Because that is where the story becomes new.

When you talk with your children this Advent about the Christmas story, get their imaginations going. See if they can run with you through the feelings of the different players. How did Joseph feel? Did the cows move as Mary cried out while she gave birth or did they stubbornly stand their ground? Were there chickens or pigs or goats around?

Talk about your nativity set and the fact that it is odd that we picture Jesus as a newborn baby with the Three Wise Men standing with gifts when, in fact, they probably arrived when he was a toddler.

See if your children can feel the story behind the song "Little Drummer Boy". How would THEY have felt playing a song for baby Jesus? Would they have been scared? Excited? Nervous?

It's time to make everything under the sun new again. It's time to stretch our imaginations and think about that scene, so long ago, in such poor conditions, where our Lord entered this Earthly realm. It's time to feel empathy for the players and really try to connect with them.

It's time.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mission Accomplished

You know it was a good party when you find the following the next day:

Bags and bags of Christmas presents under the tree, for a couple dozen children who will receive Christmas this year because of generous friends and neighbors.

CARS playing on the TV in a completely lit family room at 7am. Disney was the last channel standing after our three over-stimulated, under-hydrated, and over-fed children wandered out of the room and to their bedrooms. As usual, the last kid out didn't turn out/off anything.

But, by far, my favorite sign a party happened? I walked into the guest bedroom and found four Capri Sun foil pouches, completely emptied of their contents, in various areas...on the floor, printer, chair, and bed. The Christmas Bingo game some of the kids played looked like someone took the pieces and used them as confetti and that where they landed they stayed.

In short, it looked like a frat party for ten year olds had happened in that room.

Truly, there is no bigger blessing than giving back at the holidays. From a quarter in the Salvation Army kettle to adopting a family and providing for their needs to praying over those in need, there is no shortage of need or blessing.

And, isn't that the beauty of preparing for the Christ child? Thinking through HIS eyes, wondering what HE would do with a world in need and responding the way HE would.

Yes, I think that's the spirit of the season.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Wisdom of Winnie

"Promise me you'll always remember you're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."--Christopher Robin to Pooh

This little gem made me spontaneously cry in the car when I read it in a catalog I was browsing through.

Mike said "You're SUCH a girl."
My retort was "Yes, I am. But, did you HEAR this quote?"

I had a teddy bear growing up named George. He was my Pooh. I discovered him in the Sears store in Midland, Michigan in the weeks leading up to Christmas when I was about two years old. When we went by the store the next time and he was nowhere to be found, Mom said I was hysterical. Of course, he showed up under the Christmas tree that year, so all was well that ended well.

George was my constant companion for the next 40 years or so. When I was too old for him to be on my bed, he was in my closet, staring blankly at me every time I opened the door.*

He was really a mess in those later years: a resewed-on eye, band-aids over gaping wounds, fur that had quit many moons before.

And then he came out of hiding when one of the kids discovered him. And, promptly, the dogs ate his head. I kid you not. ATE HIS HEAD.**

Anyway, that was the obvious end of the best Christmas present my parents ever paid for.

I loved that bear. And, I like to think, he loved me. And, I loved being reminded of my George by this quote.

But, even more, I loved that the quote reminded me of Christ.

He's our biggest cheerleader. He wants us to believe in ourselves. He wants us to know we are unconditionally loved.

And, if He can move me with a quote from a humble bear named Pooh, imagine how much more powerful HIS Word can be.

It's time to take my Bible off the bedside table and open it today and discover a quote from His word that knocks my socks off.

He's waiting, and calling, and being patient for me and you to understand that He is crazy about us in ways we can't even imagine.

Want proof, you say? He humbled himself by coming to Earth as a sweet little baby boy who would live a perfect life and choose to die for ME and YOU.

How about THAT for knocking your socks off?

*And now you understand why I am so moved by the Toy Story movies. There is something, deep inside me, that wants to believe stuffed animals and toys are capable of love.

**And they say HUMANS are vicious? Animal-on-animal violence occurs without guns, people!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Speaking of Grief

Someone left me a comment that grief is "sneaky". I completely concur.

It sneaks up on you in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times through the most unexpected memories. And, I guess, that is a good thing, though I do like my life a little neater than that.

I like my Thursday morning routine of writing to bring up memories and seeing if they'll inspire or sadden or anger me for that day. I like to FEEL. I think too many people in this world are busy trying to tamp out what they feel with busyness and addictions and other avoidances.

I just wish my feelings could be in a box that I could open when I wanted to, in front of people I wanted to, in places I would feel most comfortable.

But, that's not how grief works. It has its own agenda and its own time table and its own methods of moving us from Point A to Point B.

So, I have to be grateful for it when it shows up. And go with it, instead of trying to push it back into the box until a more "convenient" time. Even if that time is sub-7:30am, in front of the kids and Mike, over breakfast.

I'm learning to hug my cactus of grief and let the barbs penetrate my skin. I'm learning that, even if I do feel the pain, it is necessary to move me forward to the next experience, which will be easier to take because I've done the work of feeling what needed to be felt, when it was in front of me.

I'm learning that avoidance is the enemy and surrender is the goal.

I'm learning that there is so much I didn't know and so much I wish I could change and so much I have to let God heal.

But I'm also learning that life is just one big lesson after another. Some of them are painful, some are beautiful, some are game-changers in their ability to dig deep into my soul.

The day I stop learning is the day I stop living. And learning to embrace grief is a tough part of living without someone you love.

Is it time for you to start living again? Time to hug that cactus and feel something that is buried deep down?

Though the holidays seem to be the least exciting time to tackle our grief, in reality, in so many ways, it is the best.

We are surrounded by family, many of whom share our deepest feelings of sorrow and emptiness and need a shoulder to lean on. And while they are leaning on us, we can lean on them.

Everywhere we turn, we are constantly reminded of Christ, who can carry us through our grief to a place where the hurt is less. There is no other time of year like this, where Christ is so present that we can't forget He is there.

And while the joy that generally comes from this time of year may not be present in our hearts, it is all around us. The joy is like an ocean we are bobbing in, crying through our pain, safely in our little life vest of Christ.

We can allow the joy to take us under for a moment, without us drowning in it.

We can feel it, even if the joy doesn't fully penetrate our souls.

We can taste of it without choking on it. And just trying to let that little bit of joy in is good. Healthy. Right.

And in no, way, shape or form is trying to embrace joy equivalent to us forgetting those we've been parted from.

Take it from someone punctured by grief: the first step toward joy is the hardest. But every subsequent step is one of healing.

Try a step during Advent. Just one.

And let the healing begin.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Welcome to Advent!

It recently dawned on me that there are times I really wish things could be the way they were, back in the day when life was carefree and easy, when I didn't have responsibilities and worries and baggage. I guess that would put me around seven years old or so.

If I could go back there now, knowing what I do today, I would do things so much differently.

I'd thank my parents, every single day, for their hard work.

I'd help around the house more, without being reminded.

I'd listen to their advice and take it as solid gold.

I'd practice the things they encouraged me to (writing and the violin, especially) and really develop my talents early.

I'd avoid growing up as much as I could and not beg my parents to let me do things that were beyond my years.

I realize this is a complete pipe dream. But, when I look backward, over the course of my life, I realize that so many of my missteps were because I wanted to do things my way and in my time.

Like so many children, especially tweens and teenagers, I was impatient and selfish and reckless and greedy and a host of other things that are less than complimentary. And none of those things started because my parents didn't TRY to tell me differently.

I guess this is the story of growing up because if I polled a thousand people on the streets, I think 999 of them would agree with me.

We all carve our own path and walk to the beat of our own drummer. If we are wise we listen to those around us who have walked the path ahead of us. If we aren't, and I'm in this category, we careen seriously off course and make mistakes that forever change us; mistakes that alter not only the course of our life, but the course of others lives, up to and including future generations.

And, for me, it all started with being extraordinarily strong-willed, which can be both a blessing and a curse. When channeled for good, it can be really good. But when used to prove a point or dive into things that are risky or ignore others opinions in favor of much less seasoned advice, it can be the world's biggest curse.

And, I guess I am lamenting the curse that being strong-willed has sometimes been in my life. Being strong-willed has meant that I often beat a path that was solidly outside the lines of what I had been taught was right. It has lead me to wish that things I've seen or heard or spoken could be erased from my life.

And now that I'm seeing my children repeat this same song and verse, it just pains me. I so desperately want to tell them to listen and learn and follow me and pray and hear what God says about their decisions. I don't want them to make the same mistakes. And, likely, they won't because I've harped on my big mistakes so much. BUT, they will make their own, unique mistakes that I aren't even on my radar screen and that will take me by surprise and take my breath away.

And that is just the way the cookie crumbles.*

But, don't think it is all bleak and ugly in my little corner of the world. Contrary to what this post may sound like, I'm not depressed about life and the lessons it has taught me. I'm simply airing out some deep places my heart and mind have traveled to lately in anticipation of things to come.

So, life, with all its unlearned lessons and complications and issues, has led me to this NEW day, the beginning of Advent. The time of year we look forward, not backward, to welcome the Christ child.

And the blessing of this season is I get to learn about another strong-willed child who learned a lesson about truly trusting her life to God's will. Mary's was not an easy path, but she accepted it and was blessed through the pain.

Unlike Mary, I had to get to the end of myself before I could trust Christ. Yet, when I was so broken that I was nothing but a very shallow, empty hull, I turned myself around, looked up, and asked Christ if He would help.

It took a strong-will to do that, to surrender my life at a point when I really just wanted to die.

So, I guess, if I could go back in time, my main goal would be to be a bigger blessing to my parents. I'd take their advice and thank them more often and learn more and enjoy just being a kid again. But, I wouldn't stay there.

I'd come back to this very day, and this very hour, and move forward to help my children. I'd take every opportunity to teach them, hoping some of my words would fall on fertile ground. I'd remember that making mistakes is part of the process and that it leads to restoration, if we put our strong-wills aside.

Isn't that what Advent is all about? Learning lessons as we prepare for Christ?

And, shouldn't that be our every day goal, to learn and prepare?

In fact, isn't that the entire point of LIFE?

I sure hope you'll journey with me through this season of Advent, a time where all things are made new and a little baby will come, with love and salvation and restoration reigning supreme.

Walk a path with me, where moving forward, instead of looking back, will be the main theme and the drum beat not just of a season, but of LIFE.

*Yes, Mom. I heard that.