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

springerle

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.

LIGHT THROUGH THE TREES

By Lisa Huddleston

I know that no one cares to hear my daily complaints about my struggles with medications or lack of sleep or general sense of anxiety; however, I do think that at least a few of you would like to hear how my journey through the dark woods is going.

I am happy to report that my doctor and I feel that I may finally be on the right track regarding my medications–few side effects and a slowly improving appreciation for life. It has taken many months of starts and restarts, but we are hopeful.

BOOKS!

BOOKS!

And in what may be an even clearer assessment of my improvement, I am happy to report a recent desire to return to some of my former loves. I purchased four new books that I look forward to diving into–in fact the smallest one was consumed last night. I haven’t been able to read due to my lack of concentration so this is a wonderful sign.

Loom room.

Loom room.

Also, I have ordered a new 7-foot adjustable tri-loom and rearranged our former music room to serve as my “loom room.” I am glad to sense the urge to create catching steam and look forward to starting on a new project.

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!

And, finally–and most surprising to me–I truly experienced some moments of worship in Sunday’s service. I have grown so weary of going through the motions that I was genuinely surprised to feel my hand lift in union with my voice as my heart cried, “Hallelujah!” I was reminded that the joy of the Lord is my strength and that its return represents a true healing of my soul.

No–the journey is not over. Monday was not good as I fought tears and anxiety and felt covered by the dark cloud of death. But Monday is not every day, and new books, new projects, and a new taste of joy give me a hope I have not had for some time.

Therefore, the take-away I seek to give you is that if you are still in the dark, please, do not give up. The odds are in your favor–as is our God. Keep doing what you know to do: see a good psychiatrist and follow his or her advice, continue to talk with a good therapist, exercise if you can, give yourself freedom to rest and to heal, and never give up.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep.

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

SONGS OF THE LORD

fineartamerica.com

fineartamerica.com

By Lisa Huddleston

“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4)

Do you ever feel as though you are living in a foreign land–okay, a foreign planet even?

I drive down the road and marvel as people speed through stop signs and cut me off just to get one car ahead as we sit at the next red light.

I’m amazed as I try to watch a movie at the local theater while other patrons carry on conversations in full voice without a concern in the world for the rest of us who are trying to hear the film.

And those are the most benign examples I can recount of this foreign land. You don’t need me to name the rest. Watch the news. Read a paper. Step out into the flow. You already know.

We are, and I am living in a foreign land so is it really any surprise that I don’t feel like singing songs of joy? Is it any wonder that I want to hang up my harp and sit and weep as the river of civilization flows by my feet?

Truth be told, seeds of this foreign land are found even within my own heart. So much so that there are times when I’m not sure where I belong.

Am I a citizen of Zion or Babylon? And often (always) the answer is “Yes!”

And still we sing.

 

EXPECTING GOOD NEWS

Had to sneak some chickens in here somewhere.

Had to sneak some chickens in here somewhere.

By Lisa Huddleston

Have you ever texted a message to someone and have them take it completely differently than you meant it? I have, and I bet if you haven’t it’s only because you don’t text. People today seem to be looking for a fight everywhere you turn. TV news programs, Twitter, Facebook, blogs–the comments often read like nuclear warfare.

That’s why I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to start looking for the best in the people around me. You know, when in doubt, expect good news. Choose to stay out of meaningless arguments: I don’t comment on threads that are headed down the tube, I block consistently negative or argumentative people from my newsfeed, and I don’t allow myself to get sucked into dark holes of negativity. No one is helped, and many are discouraged–including me!

Spread joy.

Spread joy.

Therefore, I was especially aware of a similar approach in Paul’s letter to the Philippians in my lenten reading for the day.

I plan (according to Jesus’ plan) to send Timothy to you very soon so he can bring back all the news of you he can gather. Oh, how that will do my heart good! (Phil. 2:19)

Even in prison, even when Christians were being persecuted, Paul expected good news from the church in Philippi! How much more should I as I sit here in my study in freedom and comfort? Good news! After all, it really is all around us–especially when we look for it.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious–the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse (Phil. 4:8).

Amen.

MEMORIES AS CLEAR AS A BELL

Young girl playing TrumpetBy Lisa Huddleston

An odd, old memory just jogged through my mind. I was sitting here on the couch wasting time and watching TV when a commercial showed a grade-school girl opening an instrument case to reveal a brand new clarinet.

Instantly I felt my 5th-grade excitement at getting my brand new, shiny brass cornet. I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to learn to play it. However, in my ignorance and enthusiasm, I picked it up by the mouthpiece, and the horn detached falling bell down on to the floor. I had only had it for a few days, but for the rest of my school career in band, there were crinkly dents circling the neck of that bell, and I was sad and a little ashamed every time I lifted it out of its metallic smelling case.

Many years later, I had the opportunity to play in a church orchestra, and my sweet husband surprised me with a new, unblemished silver trumpet. It was beautiful, and I was proud to hold its shiny smooth bell before me. No scars showing. No shame over my earlier mistakes. A clean slate.

Hmmm … truths to ponder. Mistakes are sometimes the results of our ignorance. I didn’t realize that I couldn’t hold that new cornet by the mouthpiece when I first received it. It took an accident to teach me a hard lesson–and I never lifted it up that way again. But by then the damage was done, and I had to live with the scars my mistake left behind.

Happily, another truth is also contained in this story. Second chances teach us grace. I felt very undeserving of that shiny silver trumpet. I hadn’t played in years. I wasn’t any good. I had dented my first instrument–I’d probably do it again. But no. I played that horn with joy, and it restored my love for the experience of making music. Grace. Second chances. And joy.

I could have rejected the chance. I could have told Chuck to return that trumpet, or I could have told the director I wasn’t good enough to play. After all, that’s exactly how I felt. But for some reason, I took the risk. I accepted Chuck’s generous gift, I joined the band, and I did okay. And it turned out to be a lot of fun!

Funny how that commercial brought those memories rushing back. Not only have I kept that old cornet. It is proudly displayed in our music room–dents and all–as a reminder of the provision of my parents, my husband, and the graciousness of God himself.

And my joy of music rather than my shame has been handed down to my three children who play piano, mandolin, guitar, bass, banjo, cello, violin, and whatever else they choose to play. Praise God for second chances–and even (who can believe it) for commercials?!

FLEAS, MISCOMMUNICATIONS, AND A WILLING SPIRIT

By Lisa Huddleston

It’s been a stressful day: flea assaults on all my pets, communication breakdowns with someone close to me, and just general anxiety. Ugh. But I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Here are some pictures of sights I saw today that give me a reason to rejoice. I’m thankful there is more to this world than my petty problems. Thanks be to the Creator of it all!

Quirky, asymmetrical walking stick.

Quirky, asymmetrical walking stick.

Gold and green delights.

Gold and green delights.

Blue skies, white clouds, golden leaves.

Blue skies, white clouds, golden leaves.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Psalm 52:12