The Ghost Of Christmas Past


Scrooge and I have more in common than I would like to admit.  Both of us needed a visit from the Ghost Of Christmas Past to kick start a change in our outlook.  Happily, I am not a bitter old miser, but I had a skewed perspective about Christmas that needed to be altered.  My transformation, as did his, resulted from reflections on Christmases past.

This Christmas I vowed to make my celebration different.  Motivation came from an Advent sermon encouraging simplification in order to focus on the reason for the season.  Right on!  I was on board.

Simplification meant that I did less decorating.  I did not send out a multitude of Christmas cards containing a carefully crafted newsletter detailing the year’s accomplishments and events.  I eliminated some activities usually undertaken so that I could be caught up in faith, not frenzy.  Success, right?  Wrong.

The problem was rooted in my naive conclusion that simplifying Christmas meant only an external overhaul.  I would focus on the reason for the season if all the trappings–tinsel, candles, wreaths, Christmas cookies, etc.–were eliminated or at least reduced.  Christmas would be as joyous as it was in Whoville when all those Christmas things were stolen by the Grinch.  He didn’t stop Christmas from coming because Christmas isn’t something that comes in a box.  It isn’t about things.

While I clearly understand that Christmas is not defined by trappings, I was still trapped in the emotions of Christmas.  I know that Christmas is not about presents, but I was caught up in who was present for Christmas.  Cue the Ghost Of Christmas past.

The Christmas stocking I have had since I was a little girl was hung by the chimney with care.  I didn’t expect to get anything in it, but it reminded me of my childhood.  When I was young, Christmas was filled love and hugs and the presence of my parents and siblings.  Sadly, these family members were nowhere near me this Christmas.  My parents have moved on to heaven, and my siblings each live in different states hours away from me.  How could I experience the joy of Christmas without any of my immediate family present?

On the wall by my kitchen table is the Advent calendar which allows a different wooden ornament to be placed daily on a Christmas tree.  I bought this Advent calendar when my children were young, and they loved it.  My son and daughter would fight over who could put up the ornament each day until I cleverly came up with the plan that they would alternate days with my daughter, as the older of the two, going first.  But my kids are grown and have  moved out of state; due to job and family commitments neither could travel home for Christmas.  How could I smile at Christmas without my kids in my house to engage in activities such as putting ornaments on the worn but beloved Advent calendar?

Then it came to me.  The first Christmas was like the Christmas I was experiencing.  Mary and Joseph were by themselves for Jesus’ birthday.  No family members were with them in the stable.  The animals in the stable were their only company just as our pets provided our only company.  The stable was not decorated for a holiday, and no holiday events were planned.  Mary and Joseph just reveled in the wonder of Jesus’ birth and presence with them.  Undoubtedly they spent time wondering what was in store for them with Him in their lives.

Just like the Grinch, I had a revelation about the true meaning of Christmas.  He got that it wasn’t about presents, and I realized that it isn’t about presence.  Christmas will come regardless of whether all, some or none of my family is with me.  Christmas isn’t about who is present, it is about who came and made His presence here on Earth.  He is the only one whose presence is material to Christmas Day.  Unlike my family members who may die or move away, Jesus is ALWAYS with me.  He is the best gift anyone could ever receive.  And He is a gift which keeps on giving.  He is with me on Christmas and every other day of the year.

Scrooge’s encounter with the Ghost of Christmas past resulted in his outlook being broadened.  He realized that it was not just about him; he needed to care about others.  My outlook, while also changed by thinking of Christmases past, was narrowed.  I realized that Christmas is not about anyone but Jesus.  His presence alone is the reason for the season and the cause for my celebration.  Having relatives present with me is nice, but it is not necessary for me to experience joy at Christmas.





As My Mother Always Said…

My mother was a wonderful woman and not just because she birthed me.  She was full of wisdom and imparted that wisdom to me frequently with memorable lines.  Growing up, I would typically roll my eyes and brush off what she was saying.  But now that I am an adult and Mom has moved on to heaven, I find I quote her words regularly.

If you have ever wondered whether you can laugh and cry at the same time, the answer is yes.  This unlikely combination of reactions occurred as I sat in Mom’s memorial service.  The officiating pastor had asked that I provide him with some memories of my mother.  Naturally, my memories included her words of wisdom.  He read the beginning of the lines I had recalled for him, and the mourners sitting in front of him finished the statements in unison.  Apparently Mom had spread her wisdom to others outside the family.  How hilarious!  But it was also very sad for me as I knew I would never hear her say those words to me again on this earth.  Cue laughter and tears together.

I can honestly say that I have become my mother.  In a turn of events that I would have considered laughable as a teen, I quote my mother’s words of wisdom often and with enthusiasm.  Corny as those words may have sounded to the younger me, the mature me has to admit Mom knew what she was talking about.  And here I go, repeating her words of wisdom again–this time in writing.  Here are a few of my favorites.

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.  Mom would be turning over in her grave if she heard the uncivilized interchanges occurring  publicly today.  So rampant are not nice words, that we would literally need to have a “Silent Night” in order for her directive to be obeyed.

Mean what you say and say what you mean.  Mom’s words encouraged me to live up to my word.  If I said I’d do something, then I’d better do it unless I was on my deathbed.  Mom expected me to be honest, forthright and clear about my desires, requests and opinions.  Guess she’d have to turn over AGAIN in her grave if she tried to sift through the some of the things people say today and realized how meaningless most of their words are.

Failing to plan is planning to fail.  I’ve got this directive down pat.  I am the queen of to do lists and advance planning.  That does not mean that I never fail, but it does mean that I have given myself a better chance of succeeding by being prepared.

A place for everything, and everything in its place.  As if it wasn’t annoying enough to be missing a sock or book, I also had to listen to Mom tell me that I should have put the item in its place so I would know where it was.  Grrr!  Not helpful in finding the AWOL item that I needed at the time.  But I save myself lots of grief by having a specific place for various items.  For example, I don’t have to search for my car in the commissary parking lot because I always park on the same row.

If it were a snake, it would have bitten you.  Mom stressed that I needed to pay attention to what I was doing and be careful when looking at things.  A cursory glance around the room without spotting the missing sock or book was not acceptable if Mom could come in and immediately locate the item I claimed could not be found.  As an adult, I have found this advice to be helpful in getting me to read instructions before asking questions.  Yes, the answer is often cleverly contained in said instructions.

A friend in need is a friend indeed.  These words indicated that Mom was concerned about my character.  True friends are not fair weather ones.  Being there for friends when they need assistance (our time, our ear, etc.) is what is expected of a true friend.  Mom even taught me about the friend who sticks closer than a brother and is the best friend anyone could ever desire.  She made sure that I was raised with faith, and she modeled hers through her words and actions on a daily basis.

Mom’s birthday is on December 17th.  I can’t celebrate it with her since she’s no longer living, but I can honor her life by remembering her words, putting them into practice and sharing them with others such as YOU.  Given my mother’s deep faith, I am sure that she would also be proud to know that I have hidden my Heavenly Father’s words in my heart, attempt to put them into practice and often share them with others.  I mean what I say when I say this, Mom. I am blessed to have had you share your words of wisdom with me.




Simple Celebration

Christmas.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year and also the most wearing. We’ve done it to ourselves.  The celebration of the birth of a baby in a stable has been turned into an extravaganza complete with parades, pageants, presents, parties and plenty to eat.  But bigger is not always better.  In fact, the bigger we make our Christmas, the less likely it is that we are celebrating the real reason for the season.  Ask yourself which mode truly captures the essence of the first Christmas–a simple celebration or holiday hoopla?

The first Christmas looked absolutely nothing like Christmas today.  There was no Santa looking for chimneys in Bethlehem.  There was no Christmas tree in the lobby of the No Room Inn.  There were no blinking lights shining around the fields where the shepherds were tending their flocks.  There were no presents for Mary and Joseph in the stable–just the presence of their newborn baby boy.

The Christmas for which you and I are preparing is a far cry from what happened a couple of thousand years ago in a small town in another part of the world.  Our Christmas is full of trappings–and that’s the trap.  The trappings are not, as the Grinch found out, what Christmas is really all about. Christmas is the simple (but amazing) story of the birth of a baby, God’s son, in a humble stable.  If the story is simple, why don’t we celebrate it simply then?

I have been challenged by a recent sermon to experience the miracle of simplicity at Christmas this year.  Since failing to plan is planning to fail, the best way to meet this challenge is to devise a concrete plan for a simple celebration.  Scaling back Christmas is no simple task; nevertheless, these are the guidelines I set for myself.

No mass mailing of Christmas cards.  While I love communicating with my friends and family, sending numerous Christmas cards is a time-consuming activity which detracts from the point of the celebration.  I get frazzled in choosing just the right card, getting the cards mailed in a timely fashion and determining whom to include (or delete) from last year’s mailing list.  Moreover, I am tempted to enclose the trendy Christmas newsletter which informs the world of the good news of what is happening in my life.  Wait a minute!  Christmas isn’t my story; it is HIS story.  It’s pretty disrespectful to blather on about my accomplishments and activities when the day belongs to someone else.

Minimal decorations.  If the Whos in Whoville could have a joyous Christmas without any decorations, why do I have to have my house decorated to the max?  Answer?  I don’t.  So far, I have an advent wreath on the entryway table, an Advent calendar hanging in the kitchen, and two small real trees as yet undecorated.  Period.  That’s way more than Mary and Joseph had up in the stable.  I could spend time decorating or I could spend time reading the Christmas story in the Bible and thanking God for all the blessings He’s bestowed upon me.

Purge perfection.  Unless you are Jesus, perfection is simply unattainable.  So why do I still aim for it?  I have to pick out the perfect present for each family member, plan the perfect holiday meal, etc.  Laugh if you will, but tonight I actually spent half on hour on Pinterest looking for a recipe for the perfect finger food to make for a Christmas event–an edible that someone will look at for about 5 seconds and then devour.  Why not focus on the One who is perfect and loved me enough to be born in a stable rather than on making my holiday perfect?

I could go on to make a perfect list of all I need to do to make celebrating Christmas simple this year, but then my focus is not on the simplicity of what (actually WHO) has brought joy to our world.  Yes, the Whos in Whoville got this one right.  Christmas is about WHO and not WHAT (trees, decorations, presents, activities, etc.)  We’ve already received a perfect present in the form of Jesus; the perfect way to celebrate His birth is simply to focus on Him and His love for us.  Don’t get caught up in the holiday hoopla.

Just WONDER-ing:  What could you do to make your celebration of Christmas simpler?