How little I care about Christmas

Carefree Christmas started this year. It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t know it was going to happen. I’ll start from the beginning.

As a kid, I knew Stressful Christmas.

Christmas is portrayed as a family-oriented holiday about homecoming and gathering around the table. Ours were more like a day of weeping behind a slammed door.

My mom struggled with her mental health issues. Limited daylight hours and cheerful songs in every store made this time of the year worse for her. Tell depressed people they should be feeling joy when it’s dismal and dark out. You might as well spit in their faces while you are at it.

I was about 16 when my parents separated and I was on my own. Then it was the time of Outsider Christmas.

I worked at a movie theater. I appreciated the distraction of working on the holiday. Some of the ushers wore Santa hats. The fake red fleece didn’t match the terrible stiff brown polyester jackets they had to wear, but the hats added a sense of the season.

Because I didn’t have a family to return to, I often was a caretaker for friends’ homes on Christmas while they went home.

I remember Santa Cruz under the palm trees and feeling the ocean breeze. I used to walk in the middle of the street as I went from one friend’s house to the next. The streets were empty, no traffic, everyone tucked in their homes. It was the one day of the year in this tourist town I felt I owned it. I was the only one out, walking, wandering.

I entered the silent homes, watered the plants and filled up the cat bowls. As I stood and looked out their windows, I imagined I would always be alone on Christmas. (I was full of these sorts of dramatic thoughts in my 20s.)

Then I got married and had a baby. It started the phase of Memorable, Modest Christmas.

It had to be memorable because I had a child and I wanted him to have all the happy memories I didn’t.

It had to be modest because we never knew when a job loss was around the corner. I didn’t want him to have a big Christmas one year and then a small (sad) Christmas the next.

It’s a lot of pressure to make Memorable, Modest Christmas. I concerned myself with small details that seemed largely important. For example, we had to have a chocolate orange that you whacked and broke into separate pieces. If the stockings didn’t have chocolate oranges come Christmas morning, it WAS NOT CHRISTMAS.

Sometimes they were hard to find and we drove from store to store. But darn it! We would have chocolate oranges.

I find it impossible to force myself to be happy. Even if the holiday is supposed to be happy. I cannot make myself feel it. But I felt that pressure of every other person delighting in the day that is December 25. Every other (not dysfunctional) family making memories that they would treasure for years to come.

And then there was me, stressed out, trying to be happy and make Christmas memorable and yet still modest.

Fortunately, my son survived my conflicted holiday attitude. He’s 18 now. As far as I am concerned, my job as Master Memory Maker (while still keeping it modest and replicable) is over.

I’ve never been so happy and relaxed at Christmas. I’m not worried about anything. I don’t care. I love the songs, the food, the cards, the lights, the parties and the gifts. But I don’t need them.

I was walking through the store with my husband the other day.

“Oh, look, chocolate oranges!” I said.

We stopped at the display.

“Should we get them?” he said.

“No, we don’t have to,” I said. “I don’t need them this year.”

He gave me a look to make sure that the pod people hadn’t snatched me up in replacement. I smiled back.

“Weird, isn’t it? But I’m just not worried about it,” I said.

We walked out of the store, without chocolate oranges, but with a sense of acceptance.

Christmas can be a lot of things depending on where you are in life. I hope yours is happy enough. But if it’s not, Dec. 26 will come soon enough.

Much love to you all!


The Love of Christmas: For everyone

"Marianne Stokes Madonna and Child" by Marianne Stokes
"Marianne Stokes Madonna and Child" by Marianne Stokes
“Madonna and Child” by Marianne Stokes, courtesy of Rlbberlin, creative commons license

We focus on love this week in Advent. What does love look like in your life?

I heard a report today on NPR that more happiness comes from our natural generosity that selfishness.

My Christmas wish is that the coming year will be the most generous one yet for me: that I give more, enjoy more and live all my days in the depth of God’s love.

With much affection for all my readers, I wish you a good and merry Christmas!

Many ways to say Merry Christmas!
Many ways to say Merry Christmas! From 1907. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Pray with me

Let us celebrate the birth of our Lord
with all our might, all our strength and
all our heart!
For God so loves our world.

The Joy of Advent: confusion and acceptance

Chase our catI don’t see well at night. Where most people can make out an understanding of their surroundings, I struggle to make sense of the shadows.

The other night we were driving home on our gravel road. I was a passenger, my son was in the back and my husband drove.

As we got closer, I saw something running in front of the car. Rather than dashing across, it took a lead position and kept a few feet in front of the car. Worried it was one of our cats, I said, “Careful! Is it one of ours?”

“Honey, we don’t own a raccoon,” said my husband. We all broke into laughter.

“Well, thank goodness we don’t. Seven animals is enough,” I said. “I can’t imagine how chaotic it would be adding a raccoon to our mix.”

I’m grateful to be known by people who love me and accept my weaknesses.

This week in Advent is focused on joy.

Joy to me isn’t quite the same as happiness. The feeling of being happy can be momentary, as in, “Oh! You brought me chocolate! I’m so happy!”

Joy can come mixed with challenges. Parenthood is a joy, but doesn’t always make people happy in the moment. Joy comes from recognizing the holy and being grateful. Things might be rough but joy is always available.

Horatio Spafford, the writer of one of my favorite hymns, It Is Well with My Soul, lost his son from scarlet fever, faced financial ruin after the Great Chicago Fire and then lost his four daughters from a shipwreck. As he traveled the sea near where his daughters died, he wrote the words, “Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to know, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

That wellness of the soul is the joy of a God-centered life.

I can’t see in the dark. I might mistake raccoons for pet cats. But I can tell joy when I see it. Coming home with my family, laughing as we go, this is joy.

May you be blessed with joy this week!


God, give us eyes to see your goodness,
strength to do your will and
bravery to accept your grace.

Tell me your thoughts!

How do you enjoy your life?

The peace of Advent: Prayers in the darkness

This week in Advent focuses on peace.

Every night, I pray for peace.

Peace, I ask of you, O Lord.
Peace in my words,
Peace in my hands,
Peace in my memories,
Peace in my home,
Peace in my relationships,
Peace in our world.

The world doesn’t seem peaceful now, does it?

All the more reason to respond to upheaval and distress with compassion, to reach out to those who need help.

I have more to say but not the strength now to say it. Another time.

Peace, I ask of you, O Lord.

Mercy at sunset


Thank you for the blessing of peace and the opportunity to bring more of your love to others.

Peace, we ask of you, O Lord.

Renew our eyes to see who our neighbors are.

Rehabilitate our hearts to heal the pain, the lack and the suffering around us.

Restore us to harmony.

Fill us with peace as today ends.

Tell me your thoughts!

Where could you use more peace in your life?

The hope of Advent: a question for the Christmas season

Baby feet by Genevieve Howard

Whew, what a month November was for me! I wrote a novel during NaNoWriMo that I’m excited for you to read in the coming year. Fiction was fun, so much easier compared to memoir!

I printed out a copy that is wire-bound and begging for edits. Nothing like the heft and substance of a printed book, especially my own! With many colors of highlighters and matching sticky flags, I will do some revising and then prepare the story for its public debut next year.

Thank you, everyone, for supporting my writing. Without you, my treasured readers, there would be little reason for writing.


Advent began this week, the time of the year in Christianity when we wait with eager hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus. This week in Advent focuses on hope.

During my Stephen Ministry meeting last night, our leader asked,

“How will you keep the Christmas season Christ-centered?”

I will reflect on this question and think on ways I can make it so. How about you?

May you feel a renewed sense of hope this week!

Blessings to you during this Advent season.

A wish for Christmas ponies everywhere

Pixie in the lightThe small flaxen chestnut pony had only known life for a little more than a year. There had never been enough to eat. She was part of a neglected herd.

She was forgotten, or ignored, or impossible to feed due to hard times.

When Longmeadow Rescue Ranch rescued her, she was sick and starving. She weighed half what she should, light as a fairy, a skeleton of herself. They named her Pixie.

The horses that had been with her died.

Death spared her. The vet gave her more medicine. The staff and volunteers nursed her to health. They believed in her. She gained weight and got healthy. In about six months’ time, she was ready for adoption.

It was a cool day in December when we drove to the farm. We had four ponies to see as potential companions. She was the first we saw. Young, I thought. Skittish.

We looked at the others. The second and third weren’t suitable. The fourth was trained and grown. I thought he would be the best choice.

I asked my family, “Which one do you think?”

They both smiled in agreement. My son said, “We like the first one.”

I sighed and asked if we could see the first one again. I walked in the stall.

The young pony stood in the corner, shy and hesitant. I bent down. She took a step toward me and nuzzled my hair.

“Aww,” said my husband. Although I couldn’t see his heart, I could tell it was melted like butter on the stove.

I had my doubts. This pony was only a long yearling and seemed flighty. I would have some training work in front of me. On the plus side, I could tell she was intelligent and curious.

Then he said the clincher, “This is the face I want to feed every morning.”

That sealed it. The final consideration in getting any animal for us was always picking the one we wanted to see every day. We want our animals to be a source of joy.

Pixie in the snowThe week of Christmas 2011, my generous friend with a horse trailer agreed to drive the 120 miles to pick her up. She even brought one of her ponies so our newly adopted Pixie pony would have company and feel more comfortable on the long trip.

Once home on our land, our Christmas girl Pixie has blossomed. She’s grown calm, confident and sociable. She knows our routine and flourishes in it. Far from a wraith, she stays in good condition, fuzzy and fun.

She nickers every time she sees us. She follows me along the fence line even if I am just out to adjust our horse Miko’s blanket, and it’s nowhere near mealtime. She knows I can’t resist giving her a treat! I always duck in the barn to get her a little something.

Her fuzzy lips stroke my palm as she takes the carrots. Even after two years, I feel giddy to have my own pony.

She is an everyday delight.

My Christmas wish

May all the little girls who wish for ponies get them, and may all the little ponies get the care they need.

May the hungry be found and fed.

May the cold be brought in, and the forgotten remembered.

May the grieving be embraced.

May the oppressed be lifted up from the mire to a life of clean air, clean water and justice.

May the lonely be given as much laughter as they can hold until the light of joy burns away their shadows.

The night is cold. Crystalline stars shine. Somewhere a young woman is outside, overlooked and turned away. Her newborn baby is wrapped in cloths.

Let us be the ones to welcome God inside.


A guide to gift-giving: the single gift you need to give

heart in hand

heart in handMy father was a successful executive when I was growing up. I was the only child at home in the 1980s. I remember fat times and lean times. During the good times, we lived in a nice subdivision and ate at fine Chicagoland restaurants.

When things were going well, our Christmas tree had presents that stretched out beyond the branches of the tree to the edge of the room. My parents were generous. I opened lavish and luxurious gifts: cashmere sweaters, a Casio keyboard, Atari 2600 game system, new leather tack for my horse and an electric typewriter.

When it was a time of unemployment, the tree branches overhung a handful of small boxes. The contrast from flush years made it seem like we were in desperate times. We weren’t, but I was too young to understand the difference between belt-tightening and true financial trouble.

In my life, I have experienced both extremes of luxury and poverty. Because of my experience at both ends, I wanted the holiday to stay modest for my son. I wanted to be sure that I could be consistent.

A time to spend, a time to wrap

What are your memories of Christmas?

Do you splurge on gifts? Do you show your love through gift-giving? Do you spend more money than is comfortable for your family’s financial situation?

This time of year encourages us to be financially irresponsible in the name of Christmas. We see romanticized ads showing happy families due to the perfect purchased items. Everyone looks joyful.

Yet our families haven’t changed just because it’s snowing and the nights are long. They will stay our families: wonderful, annoying, entertaining, vexing.

One of the best Christmas gifts I get from my mother-in-law is a long letter from her heart that she includes with the gifts she sends. She writes about the qualities she appreciates in me. I keep these notes in my journal and enjoy looking back at them.

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Slow down, dang it! It’s Christmas!

The typical Christian message this time of year is to slow down and remember the real reason of the season. I’m all for that. I also know that this is one of the fullest and busiest times of the year for me. I go to more parties, do more baking and shop more than any other month. It’s unlikely I will have wide swaths of time for prayer and reflection.

But I can take ten minutes to write a few notes. I will tuck them in the presents. I will let the people in my life know why they matter.

Interested in writing some too? Here are some ideas with examples:

  • Say how the person affects you. Describe details about what you appreciate and why, such as, I appreciate how responsible you are with the animals when I come home late from work. It means so much to know they’ve been fed and watered. It’s a great feeling to be able to walk in the door and relax instead of deal with six hungry mouths.
  • Include something unique. List a quality your loved one might have, such as, I appreciate your ability to laugh off irritating situations at work. It is such a better commute home together when you are upbeat instead of depressed, despite a tough day.
  • Tell the story of a specific memory about something that happened during the year that stood out to you. After you got your driver’s license, you offered to go get groceries for us. I thought that was so generous and helpful.
  • Keep it short. Don’t feel like you need to go on for pages. A paragraph or two is plenty. You have a way of lightening the room when you smile. I appreciate your good nature even when I’m grumpy. Thank you for being a sunny person!
  • Do it now. One note of a few words today is worth more than the intention to write everyone you know entire novelettes. You have been there for me through three dozen hairstyles. Thank you for keeping the mullet jokes to a minimum.

Going forward, all the latest fancy gadgets will become quaint and outdated (remember the Atari and Casio I mentioned?). Clothing will get worn out. The popular games and music will be replaced by desire for the next new thing.

They might lose the notes you write, but the messages you give to your loved ones will be written on their hearts.

The effect of a love letter never ends. Write yours today!

Big Thank You Book Giveaway: my poetry book!

Have you gotten a note you treasure? Whom do you plan to write a note to? How is this Advent season going for you? Let me know anything on your mind and heart in the comments! I have my fifth and last book to give away and everyone who leaves a comment will get a chance to win it. It is my book of poetry from 2011 titled take. I will draw on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 at 3 p.m. Good luck!