Tag Archives: trouble

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.

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A Bucket of Skunks

I was loading my car early in the morning to head home from my daughter’s house to mine, readying myself for the five-hour drive, when I saw it. Actually, the smell of it came before the seeing. It stopped me in my tracks,  a bucket of dead skunks. Okay, it was a bucket of two dead skunks but that was plenty.

Has that ever happened to you? Probably not, the strangest things always happen to me first. But, haven’t you ever been minding your own business and stumbled across or caught a whiff of some serious unpleasantness? The kind of awfulness that can make you gag?

You know what I mean, that loss that stops you cold in your tracks; that diagnosis you never dreamed would be yours; the huge bill you weren’t expecting to get, that hangs like a dark stinky cloud over your head; that thing your kid did that you had prayed they would never do. Or maybe it is the words spoken that no one can ever erase, like “I don’t love you anymore” or “There’s nothing more we can do.”

The awful smell, the reality of what you see and now know, it’s like a bucket of skunks or worse. Sometimes, life contains skunks.

In this case, this bucket of skunks was the result of a hard night for my daughter and son- in-law, who live in the country. Their dog cornered these two skunks right outside their bedroom window and would not desist. Suffice it to say, the skunks lost and ended up in a bucket. The smell of their fight, permeating the dog, parts of the house and beyond. I actually smelled it from another part of the house in the night and thought my son-in-law was making coffee but that’s a whole other story.  Apparently, when you are sleeping, smells can be deceiving.

And that’s how I, at the beginning of a good day, ran right into a bucket of  very pungent, non-alive skunks.

Is there a Word for this? A faith response to our bucket of skunks moments? I think so.

First, acknowledge it. Go ahead, stop, smell and see that something really rotten has crossed your path.

Secondly, talk about it. No matter how bad it is you have to talk about it. Tell the story. We are still talking about the skunks at our house. Talk about your grief. Talk about that financial pressure you are feeling or how much your job stresses you right now. Talk about your worry over the health thing or the parenting thing or the darkness you feel.

Thirdly, pray about it. Some of the smelliest things I have lifted in prayer have taken on new dimensions under God’s healing light. Psalm 141:1-2, The Message translation even connects our prayers to a pleasing fragrance, “God, come close. Come quickly! Open your ears-it’s my voice you’re hearing! Treat my prayer as sweet incense rising; my hands raised are my evening prayers.” Can skunkiness be transformed into a sweet perfume under God’s watch? Yes.

Fourth, laugh about it if it is not too soon. I promise, there are moments of joy and lightness even in the toughest of things. When I was a little girl, at my first funeral, I could not understand how people were laughing, before, during and after the funeral. Now, I know, because life is mixed, sorrow is bittersweet and joy really  comes, in all situations, even if only for a minute of relief.

As I left town, my son-in-law and daughter were discussing what to do with their bucket of skunks; how to rid themselves of it. I just happily drove away, glad that it wasn’t my bucket of skunks. Which, now that I think about it, is a whole other point. Sometimes what’s ailing us is not even really our concern. What’s that saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”?  It might even apply to skunk buckets.