Tag Archive | Christmas

Post Holiday Stress and Reflection (a.k.a. Why I Binged On Chocolate)

Happy Holidays, one and all!

And if you’re like me, you’re probably thanking the good Lord this season is almost over and a new year is about to begin.

Not that I’m a Scrooge or anything.  I love Christmas.  I dream of the day the first snowflake hits the ground.  The lights and festivities and the food and the presents make this time of year stand apart from all the other days.

But this Christmas, much like last year, has been anything but festive.  In fact, it’s been stressful.

At home, my family and I barely got any Christmas decorations up.  One tree was decorated, but since we’re barely home the lights on it were off most days.  Between care-giving for my grandparents and the busyness of life, present shopping became a last-minute dash to the store on Christmas Eve just so there’d be presents under the tree.  We still haven’t opened them yet and I’m still trying to find time to wrap the gifts I’m giving.  (Bless the person who invented gift bags…)

When Christmas Eve arrived, I was feeling down.  My family was readying to go to our church’s candlelight service.  I was recovering from a stomach flu and wasn’t able to sing with the choir that night.  Frankly, I wanted to do nothing more but stay home and get whatever sleep I could get before spending Christmas Day cooking.  The weather was cold.  It had been raining on and off and fog was filling the air.  We were all stressed and rushing out the door, hoping to find a restaurant open so we could eat dinner.  It was the making of a miserable Christmas.

But as I looked up at the night sky, I realized something.  The stars were shining bright, much brighter than they typically did.  The moon was a blazing crescent that lit up the darkness.  And in those few seconds of quiet, a slight breeze blew by.  It was one of the most peaceful nights I had ever been witness to.

When we got to church, the building was packed with people.  All shapes and sizes.  All colors and races.  All ages, young and old.  We gathered together and sang Christmas carols and the pastor said a few words of encouragement.  And as the lights dimmed and the candles were lit, the true meaning of Christmas came forth.

A woman in a wheelchair didn’t get a chance to get a candle for the service.  A man near her put his candle in her hand so she would have one.  Children who had been squirming and talking during the service suddenly quieted, in awe that they had a chance to hold a candle like other grown-ups.  Strangers who had never spoke to one another soon shook hands and told each other “Merry Christmas.”  A once-dark building suddenly became bright with the light from a thousand candles, all burning simultaneously, together.

Far too often the holidays are a time of stress.  We rush to buy presents.  We hurry to get things done.  We strive for perfection in our decorations and meals.  We hope to make everyone happy.  But like many things in life, things don’t often go as planned.  The stress remains.  Perfection turns into chaos.  The deviled eggs you made fall and are thrown upside down in the back of the van as you make your way in delivering Christmas dinner (yeah, that happened to me…)  Sometimes we can’t prevent the stress and have no control over the craziness that happens.

And yet, despite all of that, there can still be peace.  Like the people in the church service, we can still give.  We can still be kind.  We can still quiet ourselves (even for a few seconds) to be thankful for what we do have instead of complaining of what we don’t.  We can still be a light in a dark world, bringing goodness and joy to troubled hearts.  Even Mary and Joseph had a stressful Christmas when you really think about it, unable to find a hotel room and going through labor in a barn.  And yet what happened after all of the stress?  The Prince of Peace was born.

I’ll admit this holiday season I’m binge-eating a lot of chocolate to help keep the stress down.  But despite all of that, I feel thankful for celebrating another Christmas.  Even though my grandparents are still recovering from health issues, I had another Christmas with them.  I also got to see my aunt and cousin who I had not seen in a long time.  I am also so grateful for the little moments, like the candle light service or the peaceful night sky, that bring my anxious mind calmness.  My hope and prayer is that you are filled with joy and peace this holiday season.  May your New Year be filled with goodness and may you be a light in the hearts of others!

And before I go, I have a (belated) holiday present for you!

“The Ripple Affair” is available for *FREE* on Kindle today and tomorrow (December 27 and 28).  You can download it from the Kindle store by clicking here.  Don’t forget to review on Amazon and Goodreads (or wherever else you want to review, ha ha!)  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Christmas in July (How Everyone Has a Story)

When I was little, my mom and I started a little family tradition called “Christmas in July”.

I was about nine years old when we did our first outing.  It (literally) was July and my mom got me up out of bed one Saturday morning to do something fun.  We would mismatch our clothes.  We would wear the silliest outfits we had.  And (of course), I had to bring my stuffed barking Christmas dog, Alex.

We got in the car, dressed in the silliest attire.  I wore a mismatched pair of pants and a shirt while my mom wore the ultimate fashion combination: blue and white flowery leggings, tennis shoes, and an ugly Christmas sweater.

We were a sight for sore eyes when we went to the local diner that morning for an early breakfast.

We walked in and were immediately seated, Mom strutting her stuff in her Christmas, flower-power attire while I went around the restaurant constantly pressing the button on Alex’s paw, making him bark out different renditions of Christmas carols.

When our waitress arrived, she was a little taken aback at first, but shock was soon replaced with apathy.  She brought our drinks, took our order with a gruff, and stormed away back to the kitchen.  I thought making my dog bark “Here Comes Santa Claus” might cheer her up, but after a few tries I realized that she didn’t think Alex was as adorable as I thought he was.  I tried to see if Alex would bark the theme song to Mr. Grinch, but apparently he didn’t know that one, so I decided to just keep that to myself every time the waitress walked by.

But as the waitress came back, eventually checking on us and bringing our food, she turned to my mom and struck up a conversation.  She began telling us a story about how terrible things had been for her.  She was working long hours and was exhausted.  She didn’t get paid much and didn’t have much to get by on.  Life was difficult and joy was a rarity.  

But after she saw our silly attire and how much we tried to make her laugh, she started to feel better.  She told my mom that seeing us brought a smile to her face and gave her that extra spark she needed to finish her shift.  She even thought my barking Christmas dog was cute, and Alex barked her an upbeat version of “Jingle Bells”.

What really got the waitress, though, was what my mom told her back.  

The waitress felt tired from working so many hours.  So did my mom, who worked full time at a high stress job.

The waitress was struggling financially to provide for her family.  So was my mom, who was raising a little girl all by herself.

The waitress was feeling hopeless.  My mom felt that way once, too, when she was going through her divorce.

And so my mom told her story.  In the end, the waitress was near tears as she and my mom shared two simple words: “I understand”.

I learned a valuable lesson that day with my mom.  Sometimes we come across people who are mean, a little irritated, or upset.  Sometimes we come across people who are kind, very joyous, and upbeat.  Sometimes we come across people who are just living their life.  But regardless of who we meet, everyone has a story.

Some, like the waitress, have a sad story.  Others have happy ones.  Still others have a mixture of good and bad.  But everyone has a story, and sometimes, when we come across the right people at the right time, we can share our stories and find hope through the common plots of life.

Too often people think that their story isn’t worth sharing, though.  It’s not “exciting enough”, “powerful enough”, or “inspirational enough”.  But what people don’t realize is that not everyone’s story is an action novel.  Not everyone’s story is a soap opera.  Not everyone’s story is a comedy.  We all have different stories with different plots and actions and characters.  

But even though we may not think our story is special, someone else might.  Our “boring tale” may be the most inspirational classic to someone who may be going through similar circumstances or searching for hope.  

No matter what, every story is important.  Every story is unique.  Every story, no matter how mundane or simple, is powerful.  All it takes is willingness to share, because there’s always an audience out in the world just waiting to hear what you have to say.

 

A Confession on Writing Christmas Cards (and Why Words Matter)

I’ve heard a lot of people say that confession is good for the soul, so here goes my own…

I’m terrible at sending Christmas cards.

Seriously.  I have a shoe box full of cards I bought practically a decade ago and I’m still sending out the same cards to the same people.  That means everyone (for the past 10 years, give or take) has gotten the same cheesy card with either a singing Santa or a reindeer flying with every computer radar known to mankind strapped to his antlers.

Yeah, it’s pretty sad.  What makes it even worse is I just sign my name, say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and send it out December 24.

That is, if I’m not running late.  (And I usually am…)

So my own terrible procrastinating self aside, I will say that the few Christmas cards I’ve gotten so far this year have been pretty unique from what I’ve gotten before.  You see, usually I get cards that are similar to what I send out (minus Singing Santa and Robo-Reindeer…their cards are much, much nicer…)  But this year, I’m getting hand-written letters (repeat-letters) in the cards.  Like people are writing me, telling me about how they’re doing and asking how I’ve been.

Reading the various stories from family and friends, no matter how little they write, has been…refreshing.  Exciting, even.  I actually care about reading the cards for once instead of glancing at it and sticking it to the wall with a piece of tape.  I know that sounds terrible of me not wanting to read a card when it just has a signature on it, but I’ll be honest-seeing a letter instead of just a name makes me connect to the person who sent the card better.  A story or conversation feels more connected, more intimate, and more fun.  It’s great to hear about all the crazy antics and happy moments that people have experienced in the past year, and it’s making me want to share my own stories with them.  But more than that, their words have inspired me and made me feel joy during an otherwise stressful time of year.

Reading these Christmas letters has made me realize just how powerful-and special-words are.  It’s great to get a Christmas card with just a name-a person simply sending a card shows they care and are thinking of you this holiday season.  But there’s something about words that make a difference.  Words can encourage, can bring joy, can bring healing.  Words can lift up and build.  Words can even save a life and change history.  We often don’t think of little cards or notes (and emails and texts!) carrying weight in our lives, but I would argue that they do.  Have you ever had a bad day only to have someone cheer you up with a joke?  Have you ever felt alone only to get a letter from someone saying that they were there for you?  Have you ever felt so discouraged you felt like giving up only to have someone say to keep going, you can do it?

Words have done a lot of damage to people.  I’m sure all of us can think back on a moment when someone said something mean or wrote something terrible about us.  But just as words can destroy, words can also heal.  It may not be in a Christmas card or a letter, but any form of words-whether it’s a text, in a chat, on the phone, or even in a story, words can make a difference in the lives of others.