Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Gift of Hope

When I think about the best Christmas gift I received as a kid, I immediately go back to the year I received my blue Schwinn ‘banana’ bike when I was nine years old.  I realize now that it must’ve been the last Christmas my family had together before my parent’s divorced.   
On that Christmas morning after the presents under the tree were all unwrapped, our parents directed us downstairs for a surprise.  As I entered the den, all I could see was the new ping pong table that was in the center of the room.  I didn’t even notice the new banana bike standing up on its kick-stand in the corner.  My parents had to point me in the direction of the bike.  Our Christmases were never extravagant, but I think this one was meant to be memorable for us as I suspect that the divorce may have been in the works.
That bike was my constant companion for several years.  It was the only real bike I ever had.  I never got a ten speed or some such fancy bike when I entered puberty.  My mother didn’t have money for things like that.  I had to be content with that two-speed bike with the normal pedal brakes—no handlebar brakes for me.  It wasn’t until I bought myself a bike at a garage sale a few years ago as an adult that I actually had a bike with more than two gears.
In today’s age of electronic games and gizmos, it is really hard to find a gift that has the ability to bring such vivid memories.  Today’s electronic devices become outdated within months sending us into our quest for the newest version or some type of upgrade.  That is why cell phone companies are so geared to their consumers signing up for long term contracts.  They want to sway us from leaving and hopefully create some brand loyalty.
Well, Christmas is over and my kids did score some of those electronic gadgets this year—a new Windows phone, ipod Touch, Nook and video games.  I, on the other hand, didn’t get any electronic gadgets.  I got some gifts that told me that my family was listening to my heart over the last year.  They knew exactly what I wanted—an airline ticket to Spain.  While I didn’t get that, one of my sons pointed out to me that I got a virtual trip to Spain.  I received a travel guide for Spain, a book to learn Spanish and a large suitcase for the trip.  It’s just a matter of time before that trip becomes a reality.  Until then I have my work cut out for me, learning Spanish and writing the story that has made Spain such an important part of my life this year.
While I’m hoping that my family’s Christmas gifts give them joy and happy memories beyond the next year, I know that my gifts will because they are an investment in a gift that is future dated.  Their gifts give me hope for that trip.  It helps me to focus on that goal and builds up the excitement and anticipation for what is yet to come.   Maybe that is what my parents wanted too—with that bike—to give me some hope or at least some temporary joy in the midst of the life-shattering reality that was to come.
Receiving these gifts of hope from my family, reminds me of what God gave us when He sent His Son.  It wasn’t a gift wrapped up under a Christmas tree.  It was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger.  When I focus on that gift and not my present circumstances, I’m able to get through the rough times.  It is a gift of hope.  I'll take that kind of gift any day.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Has Your Christmas Gone to the Dogs?

         I just can’t seem to get in the Christmas spirit this year.  Correction, I just can’t seem to stay in the Christmas spirit this year.  I’ve had small glimpses of peace, but they’ve been very fleeting.  I can’t quite figure out why that is.  It’s not like I haven’t gotten things done.  Maybe my problem is that I’m not giving myself any grace.  After all, I did just write a manuscript and set up a website and online music sales for my Spanish son’s music.   

I guess what bothers me is that I had so much help to get some of those things done this year.  I’ve never needed help to put up the Christmas tree, decorate the office or buy and wrap the presents—even when I worked full time.  But this year it’s like I’m on some other planet—the one that doesn’t stop for Christmas.  There are no Christmas cookies baked and boxes of unopened Christmas decorations still sit in my garage.  My poor car moans every time I start it as if to say, “Why have you abandoned me outside in the cold?”  I want to apologize to it too and tell it I’m just too busy to make room for it. 
And then there is the writer’s block that I seem to be experiencing.  Or is it just that I’m too busy to write?  I’m not quite sure, but after reading a blog post from one of my favorite authors earlier today, I felt ‘unblocked’.  Her blog mentioned some of the same things that I am struggling with—the tension of what I’m supposed to be doing for the holidays versus the connecting times and also the writing ‘shoulds’.  It was a relief to me to know that I am not alone with trying to prioritize my Christmas activities and still find peace.  Her struggle gave me permission to write too.
This year has been a big transition year for me so it shouldn’t be such a surprise that I need to re-evaluate how I do Christmas too.  The rules and traditions that I’ve had in place in the past don’t have to dictate what I do this year.  I don’t need to put up every Christmas decoration I own.  I don’t need to bake cookies.  I do need to connect with my friends.  I do need to spend time with my family.  I do need to let people know how much they mean to me.  I do need to relax and let go of so many expectations to have it all together.
So with Christmas Eve less than a day away, I’m choosing to shake off the ‘shoulds’ and finish the season with an attitude of gratitude.  Even though we are dog-sitting for two other dogs over the holidays, that doesn’t mean I have to let my Christmas ‘go to the dogs’.  I do have so much to be grateful for—the three men in my life, my extended family in Spain, my friends, and that God wants to use me in bigger and bolder ways than I ever thought was possible.

  At Christmastime let's remember that Jesus came to fulfill the law with grace and truth.  So shouldn't we be willing and able to give ourselves that same grace this holiday season?  I don't know about you, but I'm all in for that.  Woof, woof!  May His Peace be with you this blessed holiday!