Need More Christmas Ornaments!

One Christmas morning we’d opened all the gifts, and were ready for church, which started at 10. It was snowy and overcast, but I braved the cold, and took the compost bucket out before we left. It was reaching the smelly stage.  The compost bin was up a hill, on the opposite side of the driveway from the house, and a little ways into the woods. After dumping it, I turned back to the house and saw my three guys framed perfectly in the living room window. Twinkly  lights and Christmas ornaments behind them, big smiles on their faces, my youngest in my ex’s arms, and my oldest playing with his toy (I think it was a transformer), they were having some fun time while waiting on me. It was definitely one of those moments. I was wearing my just-unwrapped Christmas sweater from Coldwater Creek. I am wearing it now.

Magical thinking isn’t just for children and I thought, if I stay right here, in the sleety, snowy, cold muck, in my garden-green rubber clogs, then they’ll stay there. If I move, I thought, then they’ll move. So, I stood completely still, sort-of holding my breath, freezing and watching my family. I framed that window-picture of them in my mind, wishing I could encapsulate time.

People say you don’t lose those moments, instead you keep them in your heart forever. I never really know what that means.

Our tree had those big colored lights on it because my kids preferred those, and ours was a family tree, not a themed tree. The ornaments were very personal to us.  It had Brett Favre, arm back, ready to throw for a touchdown (oldest son), a Pac Man machine (me), the Chelsea soccer team logo (youngest son), a logging truck (ex). We had a tradition of picking out a new ornament every year.  It started with me and my ex. Our first married Christmas we chose one ornament each, hence a tree with 2 ornaments and a lot of lights.  The second year my oldest was crawling around, so there was 5 ornaments on our tree. The third year 8 ornaments, and so on. By year 20 the tree was loaded. I kept a record of each new one, the year it was purchased, and who it belonged too. They’re in a box in my attic, now.

That presented the problem of decorating a Christmas tree in my new home, sans family. Do I? Don’t I? Because if I do, what do I do with a box of family ornaments collected over 22 years. So, I settled on a Fraser Fir candle until I figured it out.

You’re thinking, one stinking candle? Scrooge.

Yes, but here’s the thing. It’s a Fraser Fir candle. If you’ve never smelled one, then go ahead and consider me chintzy. But, if you’ve smelled one, I know you’re thinking ah, good choice. You’re deciding that’s what you’ll do next year–skip the tree and get the candle that smells exactly like the tree. I might even go so far as to say they smell better than the tree. And, since they are pretty pricey, I think we can take chintzy off the table. The candle presented itself as a good solution for my Christmas dilemma.

Until this year when I caved to the Christmas tree pressure. See, everyone wants me to be happy at Christmas, and they think having a Christmas tree will make me happy. But really. It was just me making them happy. (It’s because my Christmases are mostly spent alone now, and that frets my loved ones.)

My Christmas was stuck in the attic, with ornaments counting off like soldiers in a row. One ornament, two ornaments, five this year and then whoa, 8 ornaments and more ornaments until the Christmas tree can’t hold a bow. (Okay, a bit cheesy.)

But I’m gonna have to be honest here. My new cute, little tree (cute and little do not equal cheap–just FYI) decorated with birds, a fox, a badger, and an owl is kinda nice. A very native-y, natural thing going on. I call it my S-L-O-W, L-O-C-A-L tree. And, turning the lights on at night does make the place cheerier. I’m not sure it’s the Holy Grail of happiness, but it goes a long way toward not being depressed at Christmas.

Here’s what I think happened. I got confused. How could I honor the 22 years of Christmases–all every bit as perfect as that moment by the compost pile–if I had a different one? How could I open up that box of ornaments and decorate a tree when I celebrate alone now? And how could I possibly decorate without those ornaments that literally told the life story of my family? And so, I did nothing but light a candle that smelled like a tree. I suppose I thought if I decorated another tree I was forgetting the old one. But now I know, I wasn’t replacing it, I was making room for more. More grace, more people, more love, more Christmases and even more ornaments.

Fox in a Tree

My adorable ‘Fox in a Tree’

Merry Christmas.

One Good Mama One Bad Mama

One Good Mama and One Bad Mama

This is a tale of one good mama and one bad mama. I am the good mama.

My youngest son works at our local Ingle’s running the U-scan. That’s a grocery store. He’s worked there for 2 years earning spending money for college. I was buying groceries, and I did what I always do, stop to chat at the U-scan, and give him money for snacks. He was helping a woman who looked to be in her early 30s, and she got confused when he said goodbye. Was he talking to her?

“Oh, that’s my mom,” he said. “I’m just telling her goodbye.”

“That’s your boy?” she asked me.

She had blonde hair, was smallish in build, and if life had been kinder to her, she’d be stunningly beautiful. But, poverty was spread over her like a ratty blanket, and the lines on her face were too old for someone so young, not to mention the missing three front teeth.

“Yes, he’s mine,” I said, smiling and shaking my head. My goofball son was cracking jokes with the managers.

“You raised a good boy,” she said. “He treats me with respect, and is always kind to me. Some days, I come here because nobody else is ever nice to me, and I know he will be. He makes people feel like they matter.”

She had my full attention now. I’d been sort of half-talking to her. and half-watching my son. Her eyes were big and blue with a hint of the little girl she used to be. I grabbed her arm. “What is your name, please?”

“Amy. It’s Amy. Your son. You raised him good. You raised him right.”

That’s my son, alright. His heart is tender toward everyone. Especially those who are poor, who are overlooked, ignored, discounted. Oh, the friends he has brought home. Like lost puppies.  I was so desperately proud of him right then that I had to call a friend and brag on him. I also hugged Amy and cried standing in front of the automatic doors, so they kept opening and shutting while I was hugging Amy and crying.

I work in a store, too. A garden nursery that high end clients frequent. We’re busy making custom wreaths and swags and centerpieces for ladies who are having huge Christmas parties this weekend or next. Ribbon flies out the door, made up into festive bows: Bows for valences, mailboxes, mantles, gifts, light posts and tree-toppers. I listen to tales of just returning from England, or Italy, or France, or wherever, while I hot-glue red berries onto Fraser fir. It’s fun to pick out ribbon and colors for the garland, and chat while making up holiday greenery.

Today, a lady, about my age, who’d just moved to our mountain city from London, England was doing what I’d done the night before–bragging on her son–a college student at Fordham University who’d just scored a job on Wall Street.

“One thing is for certain,” she said, “He won’t come here.”

“Oh, why is that?” I asked.

“The rednecks, the uncouth ignorance that abounds below the Mason Dixon line. It’s too much for him. It’s really too much for me,” she said as if she was not insulting me, my family and every friend I ever had.

Because I prefer to keep my job, I kept my mouth shut and did not say what good Southerners say in that situation, “The road that brought you here will take you right back. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”

Just FYI before I carry on with my little tale of good mom/bad mom here: We Southerners do not care what you think about us. We never have.

Here’s what I wanted to say to her, even more than how she could find her way back to bloody England, one good mama to one bad mama, “You did not raise your son right. You raised him to be unkind, to be disrespectful, to shun others who aren’t his “equal,” and to look past the person and only see their circumstances.”

And if I had really gone redneck on her, I’d have said, “So, you raised a snobby little brat, did ya?”

I didn’t say any of that because we’re in a recession and I need a job. But I am saying it now because I am proud of my son, and his ability to see Amy, and not just her circumstances. I am proud that he knows everyone is deserving of his respect, and that kindness can make a person’s day better. It can make them feel like they matter, because whether you live above or below the Mason Dixon line, you do matter. We all do.

So one good mama to one bad mama: I am proud of my son who isn’t on Wall Street, but is on the U-Scan at Ingle’s helping folks like Amy feel like they matter. Really, in the big picture of life, does anything else matter?

 

 

 

Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic

As a Christian, I was never taught it, but somehow I came to believe that God would never ask certain things of me. I assumed the Lord and I had an agreement worked out. For instance, I felt I could handle losing all my money, so if there was going to be a trial in my life, then the Lord knew that was a good one for me. It was a little game I had going with him. Lord, this trial is okay, but never THIS ONE (fill in the blank with your greatest fear).

Because of my assumed agreement with the Lord, when trial did come, as much as I should have seen it coming, I refused to believe the Lord would allow it to happen. I believed He would swoop in at some point and save the day. And He is certainly capable of that. So, as my ship was sinking, well, I was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

I am assuming that I’m not alone here, Christian or not. I am assuming that most of us, whether we trust Jesus as Savior, or believe that humanity’s collective consciousness is God, we all are pretty much going to do the same when suffering comes knocking–duck our heads into the sand until we are forced to accept the circumstances.

Every step of my trial was one where I prayed that God would step in and change the outcome. He did not. And, here’s what I tell people now. I don’t want another trial, but I wouldn’t have missed this one for the world.

Here’s why.

1. I found out that God is faithful to get you through it, even if he chooses not to get you out of it.

2. I found out that while the ship is sinking, God is so very present in your life its as though you could touch him physically.

3. I found out that God will help you rearrange the deck chairs if that is what you need.

All the things I was taught as a Christian, that God is faithful to us, that he never abandons us, and that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, well, I found out that all of that is true.

Once, in the middle of my big mess, my oldest son was home for Christmas. We had just picked him up at the airport, and he was expecting the holiday traditions he loved. We were going to decorate the tree first thing to get the festivities going, and I had everything ready to do it, but we couldn’t find my husband. When I did find him, he was in his office emailing his girlfriend, who he would later leave me for. I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and sat down. I said, “Lord, you promised you’d be here. Period. In your word, you promise you will be with us in every situation. I need you here now.”

No bright light shone into the bathroom. I didn’t see the Lord visibly (though many have). My husband didn’t end his conversation with his girlfriend or she with him. He eventually left for her and she left her husband for him. But, I came out of that bathroom able to cope, to make Christmas what it is, a celebration of Jesus’ birth. I came out filled with joy that Christ was born.

What grace.

I no longer assume that I am exempt from any trial. Instead, I know that when trial comes the Lord will be there helping me to rearrange my deck chairs until I am ready to let the ship go down.

 

Puking on Christmas

There was this one Christmas.

My oldest son standing at the top of the stairs throwing up. His younger brother could sleep Christmas morning away, reasoning that he had all day, and all school vacation to tear open and play with Santa’s loot, but not him. My oldest rarely fell asleep on that hallowed eve. He pestered his little brother until the youngest one conceded, and CAME DOWNSTAIRS BECAUSE SANTA HAS COME. My oldest couldn’t bear to close his eyes in anticipation of what the upcoming day would bring–Santa, family, celebration, church, joy–a day when the ordinary becomes extraordinary. He couldn’t bear for the day to have a flaw in it, and there he was, doubled over puking, unable to walk down the stairs. 

I could not fix it. I always thought I was supposed too. But, in less than 24 hours I’d have my head over a toilet while he played with his Christmas toys, sipping ginger ale. The day is sometimes just too much. It can be filled with so much anticipation that it rarely meets the expectation.

My oldest son now celebrates Christmas with his two year old, and wife. The two year old, my little Miss Priss, is more like her mother than her father, she takes the hits of life with a little thicker skin.

Miss Priss Decorating Her Tree

Miss Priss Decorating Her Tree

This year, on our way home from Christmas morning church service, I told the oldest, “I’m glad we go to church.” He didn’t respond because me being glad about being in church is not news to him. “Otherwise the day would be anti-climatic,” I said.  “After all the anticipation, and then the Christmas morning madness, if there was no church service to remind us that Jesus has come, well, it’s a let-down. But church does reminds us, and so its okay if the day isn’t perfect.”

My oldest thought about that for a second, reminding me of his father as he shifted gears, and made a right turn. He even bites his lip like his father does. He responded, “Agreed.”

I thought, I fixed it. I fixed that Christmas morning when he was puking, I fixed it for all of us. Or perhaps I should say, Jesus did.

Darkness Invades from the Land of Mordor and a Merry Christmas to All

Carly Christmas Tree

Donning the tree with my granddaughter

I wake up in the pitch dark.

Blinds drawn tightly to give privacy, I cannot see the light of the new-fallen day. It could be 5 a.m. It could be 10 a.m. Heck, it could be noon. If I want to see daylight I must tear open the shutters and throw up the sash, or check the snazzy clock beside my bed. A present from the 19-year-old last Christmas. (Okay, enough of Clement Clarke Moore’s timeless classic. But, I do hope you plan to read it this Christmas Eve. I will be reading it to my granddaughter. The words of it are already running through my head, obviously.)

But, to continue.

Light invades the darkness of my room the minute I turn on my bedside lamp, or my IPhone 5c (blue, if you’re wondering) flashlight. Here’s what always amazes me. Darkness can never, NEVER, win. Darkness cannot overcome light. Think about it, one tiny match lit and a whole room is seen. The light invades the darkness and darkness cannot stop it. I know, you already know that it only-takes-a-spark-to-get-a-fire-going. Well, me too, but light/darkness is one of nature’s dichotomies that never stops fascinating me.

I also wake up to the pitch darkness of my soul. Yes, a bit melodramatic. I agree. Stop rolling your eyes, because, really, don’t we all? Aren’t we all waking up to the pitch darkness of our souls, and asking a crucial question, do I matter?

Do I matter?

Do I matter to myself, to anyone, to the world?

Do I matter to my family, my friends, my spouse, my children, the girl/boy across the room, my employer, my dog (you always matter to your dog, btw), the universe?

Okay, so maybe none of ya’ll are waking up with that question buried deep in your souls, and you’re thinking no wonder she writes a blog. She has a LOT TO WORK OUT.

Well, yeah, I do. Here’s the deal. I always knew there was a very important question lurking in my soul, one I had never asked myself, or even bothered to find out what it was. But, it wasn’t until I started waking up in this dark room alone that the question presented itself. Spouse gone, kids gone, home gone, friends gone. The little empire I had built for myself gone, and just me left (not literally in one sense, but in another sense, yes, literally)  And there in the darkness, right before I turn on my light, is the question. Do I matter? That’s my question anyway, maybe you have a different one.

If you’re my mom, you’re going to comment on this post, with a yes, honey you do matter, but the question goes beyond the grasp of a mother’s love (which in this world is the closest we come to infinity). The question takes you to Mount Doom in the land of Mordor, and drops you off (guess what movie I saw Monday night). There, the Dark Lord Sauron would like you to think that darkness wins. That he could actually overtake Gandalf the Grey’s light, and destroy him. Please. We all know the ending to that story, but still, Gandalf has to face the darkness.

And so do I, IPhone flashlight in hand. And, so do you.

That’s the truth in Tolkien’s books. The darkness is coming, and it will invade your land. And, you will awake in pitch darkness. And, you will have questions, deep, soul piercing questions. This is a true statement. Your darkness is coming. You don’t get to avoid it anymore than I do, even if you manage to outrun it for a bit, or keep yourself very busy with your empire while in denial.

So, that’s a happy Christmas thought, eh? Maybe.

Maybe it is exactly the Christmas thought we need.

If darkness is going to overtake our lands, (I’m talking personal here, lets not take the Mordor thing too far), then we need a light to help us see, and to penetrate that darkness. For what is the world if not a dark and often scary place?

That’s what Christmas is. The announcement that the Light that has come into the World. Jesus.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John1:1-5

Jesus is not a metaphor for light. He is light. He is the light that lights your journey. He is the light that outshines the darkness. He is the light of life. HE IS THE LIGHT OF LIFE. Meditate on that. If the world finally implodes on itself, and the sun is no more, there will still be light, because Jesus is, quite literally, light. He radiates it. We are transformed by it. Jesus isn’t a self-help theology, he is the light of the world. Creator of all things. Creator of me. I matter.

If I lie still in my dark room just a bit longer, and allow my question to be spoken in the dark (Do I matter?), if I  allow my fears to rise up before I jump up, if I do that, and don’t turn on my bedside light or tear open the shutters to see the light of day, if I can just be patient one fraction of a second longer, then the miraculous happens. Or maybe it is not so miraculous that the Creator comes to the created to speak, to reveal, but he does. Jesus’ light comes into my darkness, and answers my question. Creator of the universe, beacon of light, speaks. You matter. All is well. Merry Christmas.

A Wreath-full of Christmas

Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t say to me, generally several times a day, “What a cool job you have.” Agreed. The coolest job I know. Check out what we’ve been doing lately.

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Love the burlap bow with a bit of bling in it. Awesome.

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Mantle piece done by BH for Deerfield Retirement Center–bronze is a hit this year.

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Swag with some sparkle and bells.

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Stick a birdhouse on it and it sells.

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LH added some ginko leaves. LOVE.

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We’re dying over the blueberries.

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Don’t forget the tree.

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Red Twig Dogwood goes into every arrangement and wreath. Again, LOVE.

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Ballerina hellebore for winter containers.

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Greens for the container, drop and go.

 

 

It’s Christmas Again; Do I Decorate Without Kids?; Finally, an Advent that is truly Advent

Merry

The holidays are here. I’ve written about them once already, but I feel this is going to be a month-long blog about holidays.

So, here’s this holiday topic: to decorate or not for Christmas.

Last year, the holidays were a blur. I had moved in August, which after 25 years is a daunting but actually very good thing to do–talk about purging. And, I was working a new job, so in my usual extremism, I worked, and am working, 24/7 to establish a career after two decades of not having one. The holidays came and went, and I never noticed or considered decorating. Some people referred to me as a Grinch for not standing by the time-honored tradition of “greening the house.” I used the excuses mentioned above to silence their horror, and spent the holidays without tinsel or lights. I didn’t really mind.

But, this year, while I am still unloading storage units, I really don’t have the same excuse. Yes, I still work 24/7, but life has slowed down a bit, and I could decorate if I took a notion. But, that’s the deal. I haven’t really taken a notion. So, I am actually asking myself the question this year, do I decorate when the kids are all grown and the grandkids are not coming to my house? Do I go to the trouble of sorting through boxes and running to Lowe’s for a tree stand? Or do I give myself permission to  skip it? Am I allowed the freedom to enjoy the reason for the season without dealing with the trappings for the season?

Here’s the bottom line. With a house full of kids, you’d have to be the biggest scrooge ever not to make Christmas Christmas. But living alone, well, it frees you up to do things differently. Hence my question of decorations or no?

No longer do I feel obligated to decorate, now the question is, do I want too? My friends say I am apathetic about it, but I don’t think so. I think by forgoing the bling of Christmas, my focus can be more on the reason, Jesus. I feel like, for the first time in forever, I can spend Advent pondering the coming of the Savior. The baby in the manager has my full attention, something that could never happen with little ones excited for Santa. Yes, I miss those days, but these days are precious too. I can sit by my fire in the evening and read aloud those wonderful passages from Isaiah, like Isaiah 9:6.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

I am protective of this new Christmas of the heart. While my friends joke and prod, wanting me to “get in the mood,” I joke and say, THIS IS AS MERRY AS WE GET.  And truly, if you consider my dark house, wreath-less door, empty mantel and the missing pine smell, you might consider me a Scrooge. But, deep inside my heart it is warm, and the fires are burning with the contemplation of the coming Savior, and work is being done there as he tidies up and does his own decorating.

Holiday Traditions; What to do with Family; How do You Cook a Turkey?

The topic here is this: WHAT THE HECK DO I DO WITH THE HOLIDAYS?

Who travels to whose house, and what are the new traditions going to be? ”

Do I make new traditions or stick with the old? One kid is married, one soon to be, 3 grandchildren, empty-nest most of the time, single again. So, what’s what with the holidays? My friend, Jen, and I were talking about this very thing over dinner. We googled what do do at the holidays when you’re an empty nester? We actually got some pretty good ideas.

Hey adult children are hard. Just a head’s up for those of you who still have little ones.

My mom gave up on this topic early on. Before she died, she and her boyfriend, Bob, would drive around looking at Christmas lights while listening to a radio station narrating the experience. Then they hit up the Cracker Barrel. Not a bad plan.

Some families do the Double Holiday deal. Go to one parents house, then the other. If said parent’s are divorced, that’s 4 houses in one day. 4 meals and 4x the grumpy kids. If grandparent’s are still hanging in there with their holiday traditions, then adult children are screwed. How many holiday affairs can one family go to and not decide that next year it is Tahiti baby?

Okay, so, if life is transitioning then it stands to reason that the TRADITIONS are TRANSITIONING. (I should name the post that, but I won’t because I prefer long wordy titles to quick, snappy ones.)

So what to do? I don’t know. I’m literally playing it by ear year-to-year. This Thursday I’ll be at the Grove Park Inn Spa, alone and well, probably pretty darn happy. It’s been a long year of hard work. A spa day indeed. Then dinner at The Vue 1913, joined by one child and his girlfriend. I am actually looking forward to doing something different, and I’m beginning to figure out that if I don’t change, I’ll be left behind.

Still, there are lingering conflicted emotions. Subtitled and all.

Conflicted Emotions

The older I get, the more people I miss. That’s the thing, more and more people are missing from my holiday table. It ain’t just the kids anymore. My daddy. My mom. Old friends. And, as my table diminishes in size, and my ability to cook flies out the window, I find the holidays are transitioning in more ways than where to spend them and what new traditions to come up with. I miss the people who used to grace my holiday table.

I  go to my children’s homes and feel blessed beyond measure to see them and be with them, but I do miss that table set for everyone. I miss the faces I grew used to seeing year after Thanksgiving year. I miss my holiday traditions, even as I embrace the new ones that aren’t so traditional.

Holiday Traditions Wish

I often ask my kids, Okay what’s the best case scenario here? If you could have anything? So I ask myself, best case scenario? Easy. Everyone around my table for one meal. Just one. The whole family together for one day, one hour, one moment in time. Then we can all go back to separate lives and separate ambitions, but, for that one holiday day, there’d be no holes, no one missing from my table.

And, I’d remember how to cook a turkey.

 

Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic

As a Christian, I was never taught it, but somehow I came to believe that God would never ask certain things of me. I assumed the Lord and I had an agreement worked out. For instance, I felt I could handle losing all my money, so if there was going to be a trial in my life, then the Lord knew that was a good one for me. It was a little game I had going with him. Lord, this trial is okay, but never THIS ONE (fill in the blank with your greatest fear).

Because of my assumed agreement with the Lord, when trial did come, as much as I should have seen it coming, I refused to believe the Lord would allow it to happen. I believed He would swoop in at some point and save the day. And He is certainly capable of that. So, as my ship was sinking, well, I was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

I am assuming that I’m not alone here, Christian or not. I am assuming that most of us, whether we trust Jesus as Savior, or believe that humanity’s collective consciousness is God, we all are pretty much going to do the same when suffering comes knocking–duck our heads into the sand until we are forced to accept the circumstances.

Every step of my trial was one where I prayed that God would step in and change the outcome. He did not. And, here’s what I tell people now. I don’t want another trial, but I wouldn’t have missed this one for the world.

Here’s why.

1. I found out that God is faithful to get you through it, even if he chooses not to get you out of it.

2. I found out that while the ship is sinking, God is so very present in your life its as though you could touch him physically.

3. I found out that God will help you rearrange the deck chairs if that is what you need.

All the things I was taught as a Christian, that God is faithful to us, that he never abandons us, and that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, well, I found out that all of that is true.

Once, in the middle of my big mess, my oldest son was home for Christmas. We had just picked him up at the airport, and he was expecting the holiday traditions he loved. We were going to decorate the tree first thing to get the festivities going, and I had everything ready to do it, but we couldn’t find my husband. When I did find him, he was in his office emailing his girlfriend, who he would later leave me for. I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and sat down. I said, “Lord, you promised you’d be here. Period. In your word, you promise you will be with us in every situation. I need you here now.”

No bright light shone into the bathroom. I didn’t see the Lord visibly (though many have). My husband didn’t end his conversation with his girlfriend or she with him. He eventually left for her and she left her husband for him. But, I came out of that bathroom able to cope, to make Christmas what it is, a celebration of Jesus’ birth. I came out filled with joy that Christ was born.

What grace.

I no longer assume that I am exempt from any trial. Instead, I know that when trial comes the Lord will be there helping me to rearrange my deck chairs until I am ready to let the ship go down.