Tag Archives: simplifying

Tree Trauma

Tis the season of gifts. You have your list and I have mine. Retailers are working as hard as they can to make sure we want to give what they have. Thankfully, our family’s gift lists have been trimmed down over the years due to our intentional simplification. Today I found a picture of Christmas from about 20 years. We were in a large room and the gifts were all over the room, a huge pile in front of each person, above our heads. We were sitting down, but still. And, this was just our celebration with one side of the family. Everyone had at least 15 gifts; there were 11 of us in the picture. You do the math.

In the Christian faith, we mark this season before Christmas as a time of watching and waiting. We decorate with the focus on a few candles. Sunday by Sunday we light one candle, then two as we talk about gifts, The gifts we talk about in Advent are the ones God wants to give us: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ. That’s it.

The older I get the less I want wrapped, bought gifts and the more I desperately crave God’s gifts.

Last week, we put up our tree. I love having the tree up and lit early so I can enjoy it for all the weeks leading to Christmas. Because of our empty nest, we are short on labor around here so I decided I could assemble the four pieces of our artificial tree by myself, get the stand and skirt on it, get the lights working, add all the red ribbon by myself and then coax my husband into adding ornaments with me later.

This proved to be a very difficult task for one person. It is still hot here in Texas so I was in a full body sweat by the time I got it all up, MOST of the lights working and ribbon swirling sort of attractively around it. For some reason my dog chose that time while I was distracted and sweating to help herself to a whole bag of pepper jack cheese. This cheese thing, plus the sweating really dampened my Christmas Spirit which comes and goes anyway due to the over-the-top nature of all things Christmas.

When my husband got home I shared my work of art and told him he had just enough time to add ornaments with me before the Cowboy game. He was motivated and moving fast. Then, in the midst of it all, I had a huge wave of Missing My Children which hit without warning as we put up ornament after ornament with their preschool and elementary age faces plus all the baby’s first Christmas ones and the ones we love the most and the ones that always make us laugh. So, yes, I started crying and telling my husband no one warned me about the empty nest tree part.

He coaxed me to move onward mostly because of the Cowboy game. At the last touches the tree seemed to sway a bit, then a bit more. He quietly asked if I’d secured the stand with the three big screws provided. I told him there were no screws provided and that I was sure we didn’t need them as long as no one ever brushed up against or came even remotely close to the tree. He disagreed.

What happened next involved both of us at times prone on the floor under the tree, yelling at each other better ways to do what needed to be done, needing a flashlight, dismantling the whole thing and sweating.

It’s up now, no longer swaying and quite beautiful.

Between the heat, the dog eating the cheese, the Empty Nest meltdown and the after the fact securing, I’m back where I started, just needing God’s gifts: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ.

Every one of us has our seasonal challenges, some are bigger than others, of course. May God’s best gifts continue to soothe you and yours this season.

 

Advertisements

Subtle and Simple

Redundancy alert! For those of you who have been around me a while or follow my blogs, articles, sermons and rants over the years, I’m going there again, to my favorite holiday topic. I almost didn’t bring it up this year but I felt like someone out there might just need to hear this, said in just this way, right now.

Jesus taught us many things. He said he is the “way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6 He said “Whoever wants to be first needs to be last.” Mark 10:44-45 He said to follow him and fish for people. Matthew 4:19  He said “Don’t worry.” Matthew 6:31-34 He said “Let the little children come to me.” Matthew 19:14 He told us to let our light shine. Matthew 5:16 He asked us to love our neighbors and our enemies. Matthew 5:43-44 He told us with God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26

What he never once said was “Celebrate my birthday with as much food, partying, overspending, over scheduling, over decorating and stressful hoopla as you can manage.” He did not say, “In fact, celebrate my birthday so hard and so big that you have to begin in September or October to cram it all in.”  He never said, “Exhaust yourselves, fall off ladders putting up lights, go into debt and over indulge for me.”

For years, I’ve been preaching about this and talking mostly to myself about slowing Christmas down, simplifying it, letting go of pointless traditions, habits and the too muchness of the season. I’ve taken some flack for it. I’ve been called Scrooge. And, honestly, I don’t mind.

When Jesus was born there were no decorations. The only light was the subtle light of a star. The Christmas card was only sent to the lowest ones, shepherds out in the dark fields minding their own business. The gifts, if you recall, were simple ones for the baby, not for you and me. It was subtle, low-key and simple. And, it was enough to change the world forever.

I say all that to say what I always say at this time of year. It is okay if you do less. It is actually Biblical and theological to do less. If you love doing more, do more. If it is not serving you or others, then be brave enough to stop.

Years ago, our family started simplifying Christmas. Our breaking point was that year when we had only 30 minutes to pick out a live tree, rope it to the top of the car, screech home and literally throw it in the yard before our next activity.  That was the year, I woke up and said, “What in the name of Christmas are we doing?”

Slowly, we just started subtracting. We learned it was fine. We learned Christmas still came and in fact we enjoyed it more every year.

Our Christmas, like yours, was so over the top that we’ve been able to subtract some every year and still have more to subtract.

People who are grieving, sick or suffering life challenges of some kind this year need to hear what I’m saying the most. It is OKAY to do less. If you can’t bear the thought of facing the season’s challenges, expectations and traditions, then trim them down.

Maddie in San Angelo taught me this. I was a Hospice Grief Counselor and she invited me to her home in December after her husband died. She said she wanted me to see her decorations. When I arrived there was a votive candle flickering on a small table. She said, “That’s my decoration. It’s all I can do.” We hugged and agreed that her one candle was enough.

Yesterday, I received a sweet text from my sister-in-law. It said, “My co-workers were lamenting the fact of all the gifts they had to purchase for so many factions of their family and how much money they were spending and how little time they had to do it. It reinforces my thankfulness to you for saying several years ago that we should simplify. My holiday is so much more relaxing now….”  

What is important here is that it is not easy or popular to be the one who suggests doing things differently or who says out loud “this is all too much.” Sometimes it takes a lot of angst and tries before something actually changes.

If your family won’t do it. You can. You can say no. You can leave some boxes up in the attic. You can buy less. You can be Biblical instead of commercial. You can do less instead of more. You can simplify something.

When you do turn down the brightness and glitter of the season, I pray you will notice  more of God’s subtle starlight  When you have more space and less noise, I pray you will hear the coos and tiny cries of a newborn. When you buy less, you can give him a gift that honors his real teachings and his life. Be brave enough to light one candle this season and just see what God will do with subtle and simple.

Room, Space, Beauty…

I’ve been so focused on stuff and space these last months. Today is the first day in well over two months that I’ve been home without workers here and without needing to either move items into my house or back out of it due to our remodel project.

After losing our kitchen for a while, our den and living room, our bedrooms and bathrooms, I’m celebrating space. I didn’t realize how important it is to me to have my chair, my table right there for my coffee, my patio, my journal where I can find it. I realize now, I like having a bedroom, a computer hooked up and family pictures to look at. I’m also celebrating closets instead of clothes in the garage.

My daughter gave me a sign with a quote from Elsie de Wolfe that reads, “I will make everything around me beautiful-that will be my life.” I’ve spent time these past months making room and space in our home for beauty. I have donated carloads of things to now let someone else enjoy. I’ve given away big pieces of furniture. I’m making room for beauty.

And then, I make this speech every year, I simplified Christmas yet again. No need to keep reading if you are the person who loves all your boxes of decorations and you love putting out each and every decoration. I’m not writing this for you. Carry on, with joy!

I’m writing to those of you who dread putting it all out and packing it back up. I’m speaking to those who feel they should hold onto a decoration because Aunt Marge gave that to me and so on. Here’s my advice: just don’t. Just do less.

I feel like women bear most of this holiday burden.  We tend to be the decorators, the bakers, the list makers, the shoppers, the event planners. We do all these things plus our jobs,  our parenting and our work in the community. I have long believed this is TOO MUCH for many of  us.  We should stop.

In past years, I’ve downsized all kinds of what I previously believed were holiday musts. This year, since I had just purged and moved back into my treasured spaces, I felt I simply could not now haul box after box from the attic and put it all out in the name of decorating for Christmas. So I didn’t. We have a tree. We have some Christmas dishes to eat on. I have whole rooms that used to have all kinds of stuff that now just don’t. The room I’m writing in right now has a single manger scene in it. I love it. The spaciousness of it all is beautiful to me.

One of the whole points of Christmas is making room for something new to be born. Isn’t it strange how we over-decorate, over-buy, over-hype and then the baby is relegated to  the stable out back?

Room. Space. Beauty.  Here, I can breathe now. Here, I can  watch and wait. Here, I can light one little candle and let it be enough. Here, I will see what new-born gift God has for me. Room. Space. Beauty..

Amenities, Not Necessities

“Be glad you exited your ministry job right now,” the voicemail from my pastor friend said.  “…It is really hard to know what to say as a pastor when every time you go to church there has been a new tragedy.” I could hear the pain in her voice and I feel it in my spirit too. The last two tragedies in Nice, France and Baton Rouge; I haven’t even been able to assimilate into my soul yet. It is too much.

About a year ago, when something absolutely unimaginably sad happened, I remember crying out to God, “I cannot bear this.”  And then, God silently whispering back, “Don’t bear it. You can’t. Just hold it in my light.”  That is all I know to do right now with the string of violence in our world. I’m lifting it to God’s healing, transforming light. I’m praying for peace in my spirit because I need it. If we all prayed for just that, surely things would be better for all, right?

Meanwhile, the way life is unfolding for me now, I keep learning lessons. I’m in a season of release and being stilled. I let go of a ministry job. I fell in a hole, broke my ankle, lost  mobility and the ability to drive.  I went from an important set of keys to no keys.  Something also happened to my phone in the last weeks and I lost all calendar events. My contacts quit showing up as names only numbers. It created a season of adding back and reflecting about what things to put on my calendar and what contacts did I actually want or need. I told a friend, “I’m in this season of being kind of downsized and stripped down…and it is actually okay.”

This past weekend, our family headed to our friend’s lake house for an annual gathering of two families. Packed and on the road we got the call. A big storm had passed through the area.  Power lines were down.  Trees were down.  Likely, there would be no power for days. We stopped the car and talked it over. If we went it would be more like camping. No air conditioning, no electricity, no hot showers or lights or refrigerators or freezers or kitchen appliances that work. Our vote was “let’s go for it.” I surprised myself and everyone else with my good attitude.

Since my breast cancer diagnosis five years ago, the medication I’m on has made me perpetually very hot (temperature-wise that is).  Once, in a meeting, someone asked me if I thought the room was too warm, before I could answer a colleague said “You’re asking the sun if she is hot?”  Yes, I’ve become the sun. When I cleaned out my office, there were 10 fans in there. I’m not kidding. So, subtract the ac, the lights, the ceiling fans from my life and what do you have? Lessons learned.

I learned that the things I think are necessary are really not. It was fine.  It was fun.  It was bearable. Even I don’t need everything I think I do.

I became grateful…for a breeze, some shade, a passing cloud, cold water, an unexpected cooling rain shower.

When I thought I might not make it, I changed something, like my location or my clothes or my activity. It helped.

We got creative. The gas grill became our friend. We made Monkey Bread and coffee on the grill as well as pancakes, breakfast tacos and other foods you would not expect to see grilled. We were proud of our ingenuity.

We let go. My high school son, his friend and I all lost all our cellphone charge the morning after we arrived. We had no phones and no way to plug in those chargers we brought. We had to do something different with our free time. We had to tell time a different way. We couldn’t check the radar. We had to look at the sky. Guess what? That works. It was nice. It was freeing.  So was not worrying about how we looked or what we wore.

The power never did come back on. We had a most memorable, sweaty time. On the way home yesterday, soaking up the ac in the car, I realized I have been guilty of making amenities necessities. They are not.

Recent events show us, if nothing else, that life is so fragile, precious and fleeting. Our moments are so short. I pray I will keep learning what is truly necessary and stay grateful for all the amenities and blessings I have. I pray for peace in my spirit and yours.

Stilled, stripped, downsized, humbled, grateful. I wonder what else this new season holds?