The Sneaky Stench of Christmas Panic

Amidst the wonderful smells of turkeys basting, gravy simmering, and pies baking, I smelled something foul this past weekend. I caught a whiff of it on the way to Grandma’s house, passing homes basking in the glow of twinkling lights and plastic nativity scenes. I stole a sniff of it when I noticed the peppermint creamer served alongside the caramel macchiato and pumpkin spice varieties. I couldn’t ignore the disgusting odor settling into our conversation around the Thanksgiving table as well-meaning aunts and uncles asked my kiddos what they were hoping might show up under the tree next month. The scent is not easy to ignore. It’s the sneaky stench of Christmas panic. christmas-lights

This panic likes to boil up like a pressure cooker. It starts sometime in November and increases in strengths and potency as we move into December. I don’t really know if this sense of panic is only reserved for mothers. I can’t imagine this impending dread is gender specific. I just know that it’s real, that it’s palpable, and that it is already threatening to overtake that sweet, lingering aroma of Thanksgiving thankfulness—a time that we are supposed to give only gratitude. No gifts. Just thanks.

I have decided that this year, I’m going to be intentional about keep the air around me fresh from the stench. I made a choice to at least preserve the month of November as stench-free. This is not easy as my stack of Christmas cards sit unlabeled on the dining room table. The smell is difficult to ignore as I open up the paper stuffed with shopping ads and coupons. The aroma of greediness and busyness threaten to overpower my sweet smell of peace. But I am trying. This year, I am trying to ignore the sneaky stench of Christmas.

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Defeating the Wall

My kids are obsessed with the show, American Ninja Warrior. It is a program of intense moments, showing men and women tackling an obstacle course of tremendously difficult challenges, starting with the easier feats and moving on to these crazy, complicated tests of physical endurance. One of the most difficult obstacles is the “warped wall.” It’s a nearly vertical climb of 12 feet… that means these people are basically running up a wall, in Spiderman fashion, without a web to assist them. 

One of the women who completed the course was asked how she tackled the warped wall obstacle.  She said, “I picture myself getting over the wall, not getting up the wall.” 

wall

 

I only wish I could apply that kind of philosophy to the walls I face. Whether it’s a physical hurdle, a relational wall, or a spiritual one, I tend to stand at the bottom and stare at the problem—wondering how I’m ever going to make it up.

I have a little plaque on my front hall table that says, “Faith is… picture it done,” a quote famed by Josiah Cullen, an 11-year-old boy who has an innate gift to see God’s words in action.

Faith is, picture it done. – Josiah Cullen

So why does it seem that when faced with an obstacle, we tend to focus on the obstacle itself, instead on the power of the One who can not only get us over the wall—but can even destroy it if He chooses?

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Surprised by Friendship

From weekend getaways that bring bellies aching with laughter to late night conversations that bring sleeves wet with tears, friendship is surprising.

I had all the friends I needed, until one day I didn’t.friends-having-coffee

The yearbook sentiments of “BFF” and “Always and Forever” which seem oh so true when you’re 18 and going away to college prove pale in comparison to saying an actual goodbye after decades of friendship when you’re pushing five decades old yourself. I wasn’t prepared for that final goodbye of my BFF.

As I stood by her grave site I thought to myself, Yes… friendship has certainly surprised me.

I never thought that as a grown-up I’d need to call another adult woman at four in the morning because I was so emotional that I just needed to hear the voice of my friend. I never thought I’d so look forward to a coffee date with another mom with whom I shared so much in common—from parenting philosophies to prayer, favorite books to beloved vacation spots. This friendship journey has taught me a lot about the complexities of relationship with another human being, and has taught me even more about myself.

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When the enemy steals my pillow

I’ve stopped sleeping again. It’s not so much that I’ve consciously decided to give up this restful time, I’ve simply not been able to make it part of my evening repertoire. This isn’t something I’m proud of. I’m not getting more done or trying to be efficient with my time. My closets aren’t more organized. My Tupperware drawer is still a mess. I simply cannot get to sleep and stay asleep. No amount of warm milk, sleep aids, or reruns of old sitcoms can get me to settle in for a good night’s slumber.

sleepless-Jo

Instead, I worry.

I worry for our world.

I worry for my kids, especially my soon-to-be high schooler. So many changes are happening for him right now. Pressure for school is mounting. Commitment for sports is unyielding. Attention from girls is escalating. I feel him slipping from my arms and from my influence. My role as a Mom is changing every day and it’s all so new for me.  The pressure is overwhelming, to shape this young man to make wise decisions, to call on the name of the Lord for guidance, and to honor others in his quest to live his own unique life.

Even though I know I shouldn’t, I worry.

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Putting Shame to Bed

Big crocodile tears formed in the eyes of my youngest as he stood in the doorway of my bedroom about an hour after I’d already put him to bed for the night.

“What’s wrong,” I asked, “Did you have a bad dream?”

He said, through the tears, that he had forgotten about a project that was due tomorrow. He was supposed to provide some “supplies.” He’d forgotten… and now he would never get it done on time. Sobbing now, my boy buried his little head in my shoulder as I tried to console him. boy hug mom

I finally got out of him that what he needed was some “insulation” for a solar house he was building.  Newspaper, bubble wrap, or Styrofoam would work, he said.  I’ve learned from previous late-night homework mishaps that it seems to work better to just hunker down and get the work done before the head hits the pillow. Otherwise, getting to sleep proves to be a challenge.

So we rummaged around the basement for a few minutes and settled on an old TV box that contained some Styrofoam. He was elated to find that my basement storage room contained many treasures. Truth be told, I could have probably provided Styrofoam for the entire class.

We packed up a grocery bag full of the “insulation,” and put it by the back door. I brought my son upstairs to tuck him in and held him long enough to feel that he was still shaking, and although he was exhausted, he wasn’t ready to let me go. 

I wasn’t ready to let go either.  

“Why are you still shaking honey?” I said. “You are all set for the morning, and we did it in five minutes.  Now you can sleep and tomorrow’s a new day.”

“Mom,” he said, “I should have done better.”

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How Sweet it Isn’t

It happened once again, that all-too-familiar conversation I had with a friend of mine who had found herself in a complex situation. She had let someone take advantage of her good nature and she didn’t know how to dig out of the hole in which she had found herself.  She had tried to have a conversation with the offending person, tried to right the wrong, but to no avail.

So, she called me. After listening to her issue and offering some suggestions on how to fix the problem, she thanked me for my time and said, “I just wish I was more like you. You’re just so tough.”

People started calling me “Sweet Tilestough” way back in junior high School.  I wasn’t tough in the strong sense, just tough in the “I don’t take any guff” kind of sense. I’ve always wondered where that tough exterior, that no-nonsense type of personality comes from. Like most behavior traits, I assumed it was born out of my family structure.  Growing up with three brothers and no sisters, I was kind of on my own to either stand up and be counted, or sulk back and be belittled.  I feel like I chose sulking more often than standing, but maybe my perception was a little off.

I loved debate and persuasive speaking. I enjoyed putting together (and winning) arguments of any kind. My high school teachers encouraged me to become a lawyer. At my wedding rehearsal dinner, the advice my brothers gave to my future husband (in front of everyone) was, “Don’t wrong her. It won’t go well for you.”

I was the girl in high school who other girls would elect to stand up for a friend who was being bullied. I was the girl who was coaxed by her friends to tell a teacher how unfair his grading was. I was the one my siblings would elect to ask Mom or Dad permission to do something they knew we weren’t allowed to do.

Tough? I don’t know if that’s the right word, but I’ve never much liked it as a descriptor.

To be honest, I’d rather be sweet.

Sweet is defined as: having the pleasant taste characteristic of sugar or honey; not salty, sour, or bitter.

When people call a Christian sweet, it usually means they reek of God’s goodness, that they embody the graciousness of Christ. They hug. Their eyes sparkle. Goodness spills out of them like water from a gushing hose. I know these women. I love being around these women. I wish I could be more like these women. They give without reservation. They encourage without judgment. They love unconditionally and unreservedly. They always have an encouraging word and apply an appropriate Scripture passage to the situation.

Sweet.

I should be sweet. But I’m not. Read More

Tolerate… or Turn In?

In talking through the Easter story this week with my young son, he asked an interesting question. jesus_drives_out_moneychangers

“Why didn’t people like Jesus? He helped people. He made their diseases go away. He even raised that little girl from the dead. Why would people want to kill him?”

He asks a compelling question. What could this man have possibly done to cause the people who celebrated Him and revered Him as Messiah, to do an about face—to turn on him and cheer for his death?

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Scribbles of Love

As I strolled through the greeting card aisle at my favorite Hallmark store, I perused the choices for a Valentines card for my hubby.  I repeat the same diatribe in my head each year. Do I go silly or serious? I seem to have many choices… fun and flirty, or sentimental and romantic. Which way will I tell my husband that I love him? And which card will he pick for me? My mind is a flurry, not to mention my heart.

I am grateful to report that no matter what card my husband chooses for me, it’s the words he writes by hand that always speak to my heart.  He has a way of reflecting on our current valentines cardsituation, noting both challenging and uplifting events from the previous year, and always concluding that we, he and I, are in this life together, that the seal on this relationship remains firmly stuck in place.

I am thankful for those words.  I do not take for granted that he takes the time to write them.  But I am especially thankful that he considers each year an opportunity to walk together down this road called marriage. And each time I read the words scribbled on the card, I am reminded of the importance of telling my husband how I truly feel, especially as it applies to love. Read More

News meant for Sharing

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is singing the many Christmas Carols. As part of a Carol group, I sung these tunes countless times in my youth, and now they remain etched in my memory and written on my heart. When I’m decorating my house for Christmas, or baking up Christmas goodies, those songs seem to spill out of my mouth without warning, much to the amusement of my family members. One of those songs spilling out today is Go Tell it on the Mountain. Star-of-Bethlehem

In 1865, choral director, educationalist and songwriter, John Wesley Work Jr. wrote the lyrics to Go Tell it on the Mountain, and over the years it has been sung and recorded by many gospel and secular performers. The reason I love this particular carol is because the chorus not only celebrates the Nativity of Jesus, but it also instructs us to go, and tell others the amazing news that Jesus Christ is born.

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What are you Thankful for?

Each year as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I open up the box of decorations and begin to place them up around my house. In that box is a beautiful cornucopia that I get to fill with colorful gourds and squash from the garden store, flowers in oranges and yellows that I place strategically on tables, and candles that smell like pumpkins and apple spice (my favorite) that add both wonderful smells and a warm glow to the rooms in my home.  There is one decoration that I hold most dear. It is hand-made by my then-first-grade son. Bordered in orange construction paper, it’s a hand-turkey… you know, a young son’s handprint made to look like your favorite gobbler. You probably have one of your own somewhere. Below it is a hand-written message, “I am Thankful For…” And my sweet 7-year-old boy wrote, “that my Mom is retiring.” The first time I saw this artwork, I was waiting in the hallway of his elementary school, anticipating an exhilarating conference with his teacher.  As I walked in, she mused, “Well this is the first time a parent has cried before the conference begins!” turkey handprint

I really wasn’t retiring. While I am certainly one of the older moms of the group, I am not even close to retirement age.  But the previous year I had left my part-time, flexible job and taken gone back to full-time ministry (is there any other kind?). My sweet little boy had noticed that Mom wasn’t quite herself lately.  The pressures of running a home and a church had dampened her spirit, and he must have felt it.  But…he never said anything.  I read about his feelings in the hallway of his elementary school.

But I have to admit, I had felt it too.

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