CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

By Lisa Huddleston

When I was a little girl I believed in the magic of Christmas. I believed the red light on the neighbor’s porch really was Rudolph’s nose. I believed that Santa really did know if I were naughty or nice and that he rewarded my behavior accordingly.

I took delight in the once a year showings of Charlie Brown and The Grinch and Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman. I wouldn’t miss them for anything! I loved lying on the carpeted floor in the dark in front of the tv cabinet eating popcorn and basking in the multi-colored glow of the real Christmas tree.

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The church pageant on Christmas Eve was always the same but that only served to make it just right. The angels and shepherds and Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, the brown paper bag with bon bons, nuts, and oranges that each of us kids received at the end of the service, and our handheld candles lighting the small sanctuary with mystery and expectation as we headed out into the cold Michigan night.

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My grandmother sent a cardboard box full of Christmas cookies to our house every year—again always perfectly the same. Sour cream animal cut-outs with pastel icing and lebkuchen and pfeffernusse and springerle. Hopefully a visit from Gangi and Papaw, too, and my sisters and I loved jumping into their bed in the morning to wake them up and giggle together.

springerle

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On Christmas morning the presents around the tree covered the entire floor of the room. I think I always got everything I’d asked for: Chatty Cathy, Nancy Drew books, new pajamas (always opened on Christmas Eve), clothes, bicycle, and more. My mother was a generous Santa Claus to say the least. Now I know how hard she worked to make that happen.

I was pretty young when I realized Santa was a myth. I remember asking my dad to confirm what I was almost confident of including the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy for good measure. Dad, ever painfully honest with me when I asked a question, told me the truth, but added that did not include Jesus and God. I thought “duh” since I had not included them in my list anyway, but I’m glad Dad tried there. He was not a religious man, and I remain impressed by his effort. I was angry with my parents for a time. I felt lied to and betrayed, but I got over it.

I swore not to handle Santa the same way with my children one day, but I did it anyway. They were not as angry with me when they discovered the truth, but I felt terrible.

Although a lot of the magic is gone and I struggle during this time of year, I continue to love the beautiful lights of the season. They add a magical glow to the ordinary spaces of life, and winter’s darkness really benefits from them. Lights shine brighter in the dark.

I wonder if the magic will still be there waiting for me when children are once again in our Christmas. Maybe their belief and wonder at it all will stir the embers of my soul and let the light shine in the darkness once again. Thankfully their parents will have to decide about Santa, but I will comply as always.

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Until then I am thankful for the joy that remains–both present, in my memories, and on into the future. Sparkling lights, opportunities to let people know you love them, and as Dad reminded me, the true story our myths celebrate, Immanuel, God With Us.

I pray you’ll have a merry, magical Christmas and keep your eyes open to the lights in the dark: Rudoph’s nose, twinkling trees, and a star of wonder in the winter sky.

SLUBS, NUBS, AND OTHER BEAUTIFUL MISTAKES

By Lisa Huddleston

Beautiful hand-thrown mugs!

Beautiful hand-thrown mugs!

This Christmas was the year of the handmade gift. My mother gave homemade chocolates. My mother-in-law gave homegrown fruit preserves and cucumber, green bean, and okra pickles. My daughter-in-law gave delicious homemade Russian tea cookies. I gave hand-knit wooly hats and scarves. We gave beautiful wooden bowls Chuck’s uncle made. And my daughter and her husband gave hand-thrown mugs. It was simple and unique and special.

Knitting a cowl for Christmas.

Knitting a cowl for Christmas.

And each day as I ate those goodies or every morning as I cup a comfortably off kilter mug in my hands, I think of their makers and celebrate their gifts and their talents and their love.

Homemade gifts are special. They aren’t quite as perfect as those you buy in stores. They have little flaws and quirks–we call them “design elements” to celebrate their specialness. They may not sit exactly flat on the table or they may not be the latest style, but you know that they say “love” with the raspy sometimes irritating voice of truth. And their nubs and imbalances and missed stitches remind us that while we’re not there yet, we are striving to make good things. There is beauty in the trying.

Midway into knitting a cap.

Midway into knitting a cap.

As this New Year begins, I find myself trying. I’m trying to get rid of the extra pounds I’ve collected over the past few weeks. I’m trying to get back into a consistent reading of the Word. I’m trying to spend time with old friends and to even make new ones. And I’m trying to lift my head up from my usual navel gazing in order to focus more on the grace of each moment. Yes, I am trying.

And, of course, my trying is not perfect. Already I see nubs and flaws and design elements weaving themselves into and around my perfect goals. But that is okay. And that is real. And that is good.

Happy New Year to you. May you set your hands to the good works God has placed before you–and may I. And may we all keep on trying to make good things full of design elements we never dreamed of, but that seem to make the whole experience just a little more interesting and lovely.

 

 

CROWDED BY CHRISTMAS

By Lisa Huddleston

Making room on the love seat.

Making room on the love seat.

What is it about this time of year that always brings tears to my eyes? Try as I may to be joyful, the nostalgia always gets the better of me. Always. And it really makes me sad. (Maybe it does that to others, too, accounting for the lovely, haunting, minor keys of so many of my favorite Christmas songs.)

This morning I saw clips from a long-ago Christmas episode of “I Love Lucy” and almost choked on the sadness I felt. Why? What is my problem? Christmas is a happy time. “I Love Lucy” was a comedy! My brain knows that, but my heart feels tugged into melancholy, and I can’t seem to fight against the tow.

Sweet memories and sweet babies.

Sweet memories and sweet babies.

My youngest cousin’s “Throwback Thursday” pic of my long-deceased and dearly-loved grandparents. Framed photos of my young children tentatively balanced on Santa’s lap. These treasured pictures I almost left in the basement this year along with the rubber tubs of carefully wrapped decorations and beautiful lights and even the two Christmas trees I decided to forego and replace with more subtle and less space-consuming reminders. The more muted nativity scenes, the natural beauty of the woods–these I have allowed. The pictures of the kids and some Santas here and there are okay. But I just can’t handle the crowded, the gaudy, and the obtrusive.

So I do what I must. I plan menus and feed those who gather and whom I truly, dearly love. And I try to leave room for normalcy–some sense of today and not just of memories. Room where the Christmas tree used to block my path. Room for the carefully preserved photographs on my cleared countertops. And room for the tears that come in spite of my best efforts.

Christmas just does that to me. And I have to make room the best ways I can.

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

A CHRISTMAS CONFESSION

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“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

I sat in the Christmas program’s audience brooding.  In my heart I knew that I was being a truly horrible person, but I didn’t really care.  Everything had changed this year including the congregation with whom we worshiped, and I felt woefully out of place.

For many years, our family had played a large role in the Christmas programs of our former church–in choir musicals, in handbells, in plays, and children’s choirs, and as a family band singing “Oh Beautiful Star of Bethlehem” and “Christmas Time’s A’Comin!'”  Now I barely recognized a face in the crowd as I moped in the dark of an unfamiliar sanctuary.  Where was my place in this church?

So much was different in this new place I had proclaimed, “Spacious!”  Borrowed nativity scenes appeared in the window sills, unusual carols hung in the corners of the high ceilings, and unfamiliar faces proclaimed the ancient meanings and lit the candles in the Advent wreath.  What had seemed refreshing in the heat of the summer now overwhelmed me with melancholy and a longing for the good ole’ days.

But those days had passed. And they wouldn’t be returning even if we were sitting in the same church as we had for the past 17 years.  The kids had grown and were moving into their own traditions.  Time had marched on, and even Christmas had to change.  Sure–good times and new traditions lay ahead as we opened our family circle to include a new son- and daughter-in-law.  But at that very moment, I missed the old and to heck with the new.

A few weeks ago, Chuck and I had strolled along the walls of our new church home, perusing the nativity scenes that families had contributed to the seasonal decor.  The variety was wonderful and the descriptions sweet.  One contribution stayed with me as we made our way back to our seats and throughout the following days.  It was an old and inexpensive menagerie of the usual shepherds and animals and angels and wise men and … green army men, orange orangutans, and an enormous, pink, lone ear!  What?  Do you hear what I hear?  I smiled at the owner’s description of how he had added characters to the usual scene to warm it up and thought of times I had done the same.  The quirky additions appealed to me, and I pondered them as that morning’s service began–no new character could ever take center stage in any nativity scene.  Only Jesus could fill the manger, but there was room for anyone (or anything!) to worship him.

Oddly, this thought returned to me as I pined away in the anonymity of last night’s crowd.  I confess.  I was longing for an important place–as I had had in the past.  My long face, hopefully hidden in the dark, had nothing to do with the performance of those on the stage.  It was all about me and my inability to find my place.  I felt like that awkward, disembodied ear or the ugly orangutan on the roof of the creche–out of place and maybe not so very appreciated.

But Christmas, and even last evening’s Christmas program, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with me and my self-centered complaints.  It was and is all about the one who had no place in the inn, nowhere to lay his head–as it always has been and always will be.  He was not welcomed into this world as I have been welcomed into this church.  And the spotlight he lived in from his birth to his death brought suffering and pain rather than applause.

I confess it.  I missed my old place.  But I learned a needed lesson in discovering my new place.  It isn’t in the manger, and it isn’t on the stage, but it is on my knees forever at the feet of Jesus.  Humbling and true.

“To God be the glory,  Great things He hath done;  So loved He the world that He gave us His son. … And give Him the glory, great things He hath done.”  —Fanny J. Crosby