Dollar Store Christmas

 

The house is still…I’m the only one awake at 6:15 on a Saturday morning and I’m flummoxed as to why I’m even awake, yet here I sit — taking in the quiet, the peace, the reflection.

Our stockings are hung carefully over the fireplace and the tree bears the fruit of ornaments that survived the Great Crash of 2015. It’s sparser now, but I’m endeared to it more. Now we have a story to tell every Christmas and can hoot and holler as we “Remember that time our gorgeous and enormous 8-foot tree fell and Paxton cried that Santa wouldn’t come anymore?” And Greg will do a (not so) hilarious impersonation of my reaction as it fell which will tickle the kids to no end, and then Jaana will pretend to slow-motion run to catch the tree like Greg did, and Paxton will pretend to spill his hot cocoa like Jaana did when the tree crashed just a foot and a half from her. And we’ll all have a good laugh at each other’s expense in the best possible way.

The nativity set includes shepherds whose heads have been superglued back onto their bodies and most of the animals were too busted up to keep. Sometimes Simon, our elf, hangs out in the crèche to be a part of the scene and sometimes a Storm Trooper battles the boy and the sheep. One of the wall hangings that boasts a deer in a winter scene came from the Dollar Store, as did the red mercury glass candle holder, some of the replacement ornaments and picture frames for the kids’ Santa pictures. My pine candle that smelled so good in the (not Dollar) store now gives off no scent at all, but I light it all day anyway, because that gentle flicker is calming in a way I don’t quite understand.

The train in the snow-covered Christmas village stopped circling years ago and now makes a clicking sound when we turn it on, and yet we always do because it lights up so prettily and the clicks become a part of the everyday chatter in the house. There are still no Christmas throw pillows or special Christmas dishes, despite resolutions annually that “I’m totally buying them this year no matter what.”

Yes…it’s all busted up and piece-mealed and not Pinterest-worthy in the least. But it’s home and it’s mine and just sitting here on a Saturday morning at 6:30 taking it all in fills my heart to overflowing. Another imperfect Christmas — just as they’ve all been since the first one 2,000 years ago.

I realize, on this quiet, reflective and peaceful morning, that’s exactly what makes my heart burst with joyful tears every morning as I gaze at our manger-ish living room. As I soak in all the imperfections we’ve collected from year-to-year, I see the not-so-catalog-worthy presentation…the amateurish hodge-podge passing as “decor,” and I realize I love it simply because it’s not perfect. It’s not at all how I would design it if I were starting from scratch with a Restoration Hardware catalog…and yet, is that not the entirety of the Christmas Story? Jesus — God Himself — came into a Dollar Store knock-off of a kingdom and dwelt among us. He came to fix his home, His tabernacle among us — not the perfect, the beautifully-presented or the worthy ones. He came to us — that Greek word being ego: He came to make His home amongst our egos and set us free from a Pottery Barn-perfect Christmas and life; to shatter the pride we get from a self-made and high-priced kingdom; to bestow on us peace and contentment in an imperfect presentation, available to all because He simply walked in and declared, It’s on the house. Bill paid in full.

Maybe today, you look around your house and notice your tree doesn’t look like it belongs in a store window, and your nativity has been replaced with Barbies and Superheroes and your flameless candles don’t flicker like they’re supposed to. Maybe today, instead of feeling less-than because it’s not perfect, you feel a kinship to Christ because His living room wasn’t perfect either. Maybe that candle that doesn’t smell still burns to remind you of the Light of the World, and you suddenly (finally?) understand why it’s so calming.

Maybe today, your heart begins to fill to overflowing because you realize the spirit of Christmas isn’t in the items themselves, but in the stories they carry, and how they all point you toward The Story of the season and all year through. Maybe today, you embrace your Dollar Store Christmas because you’re in good company — Jesus had one, too.

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I Need a Resurrection

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I need a remembrance.

I need a table in an upper room with bread and a cup sitting as a centerpiece. Where I can leave the parts that have been taken and broken and betrayed — the parts where wounds bleed and bitterness grows — under the table at my feet.

Where I can bless the wounds and break the bitterness and give thanks for it all and do it in remembrance of Him.

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I need a ruin.

I need a cross high up on a hill with salvation pooling below. Where I can leave the parts of me that have been beaten and flogged and accused in its shadow. Where I can be saved not just from sin but from myself.

Where I can receive the forgiveness He offers me, and offer forgiveness of my own, in remembrance of Him.

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I need a resting place.

I need a tomb in the cleft of a rock where shelter and protection hide me. Where I can shed the blankets of isolation and loneliness that have become too heavy for me outside the door. Where I can receive living water and not just sour wine and be truly quenched.

Where I can wrap up the broken pieces and prepare them for burial, laying them to rest in remembrance of Him.

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I need a renewal.

I need a stone that’s rolled away and old rags folded and left behind. Where I am new in mind and spirit and body and soul, and I can walk out healed. Where thirst has no hold on me, and where isolation and brokenness and loneliness have no more victory.

Where I can roll away the stone that seems impossible to move and emerge free, showing my scars as a remembrance of Him.

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What I need is a resurrection.

I just desperately need Jesus. I need to let walls I’ve erected crumble and let Him to take these gray ashes and flickering embers and create something beautiful out of them, as only He can. I need the table and the cross and the tomb and the stone in a way I haven’t before. I need His body and His blood and His prayers and His forgiveness in an entirely new way.

I need a resurrection.

So today, I lay down my garments of distrust and cynicism and frustration and I wave my open palms and I welcome Him in. I shout Hosanna because blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, bringing faith and hope and love. I pray I remain close to the vine and not deny Him or betray Him. I pray I remain steadfast and faithful, and on that third day I will be among the first to see that He has risen just as He said He would, and that through my tears I will see Him, as if it were the first time.

I need a resurrection.

490 Planks

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I did it again.

I took my eyes off the mountain for just a minute and the pull of the valley brought me back low. The chaotic drama woke up a mama bear from hibernation, and though the situation had nothing to do with me at all, I threw my sword on the ground and was ready to fall on it with a mighty vengeance.

My heart lashed out and rehearsed a thousand scenarios of what I would say and how I would respond and countless minutes — maybe even hours — were spent in conversations that would never actually take place.

Time I should have spent praying was instead invested in scouring the Bible for verses that would provide justification to my cause…confirmation that my anger was righteous and “godly.”

In my frantic, passive-aggressive search for verses to ambiguously confront, I found The Verse. But it turned out it wasn’t a verse that applied to the situation…

…it was instead a verse God applied to me:

Don’t think you can decide on your own what is right and what is wrong. Respect the Eternal; turn and run from evil. (Prov 3:7)

#ouch

My head hung low in resignation as the conviction stung deep in my heart.

Am I ever going to get it right the first time?

Don’t ignore the wooden plank in your eye, while you criticize the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eyelashes. (Matt 7:4)

“But God,” I pleaded, “My frustration and disappointment are justified! True injustice happened. It’s not fair!” (I might have clenched my fists and stomped my feet, too…I can’t be sure.)

You must forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven. (Matt 18:22)

I despise this answer. I know in the depths of my heart it’s true, but still I fight it. I want restitution, I want payback. I want to shout and maybe even wield a pitchfork. Maybe.

When will I learn? When will I learn that God holds me just as accountable for my reactions as He holds those who were wrong? That I do not have permission to turn around and engage in the same behavior?

Growing in God is JUST SO HARD.

#whine

This little exchange with God happened just hours after prepping for an upcoming talk about climbing your mountain to gain clearer perspective…climbing in order to be transformed…to be closer to Jesus.

So He gently began reminding me of everything I had passionately rehearsed earlier…

  • That in the valley difficulties seem larger than life and insurmountable
  • That we have to get to the mountain to gain godly and holy perspective
  • That when we get proper perspective, we see that nothing in the valley is bigger or badder or tougher than God is

My head hung low in humility as repentance oozed from my heart.

And then I heaved a big sigh and started climbing my mountain.

I call to You from the end of the earth when my heart is weak. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalm 61:2)

Getting to the top was everything I needed.

From the Rock, I can see past the immediacy of a frustrating situation.

From the Rock, I can see how these million little angry dots soften and melt into an entire glorious canvas, painted by a Master.

From the Rock, the shenanigans in the valley fall into the correct order of priority — under God.

From the Rock, I’m more concerned with getting 490 planks out of my eyes so I can enjoy the breathtaking view at the top. (click to tweet that)

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I’m so thankful that God loves me too much to let me remain stuck in a mentally destructive valley. I’m so grateful for His gentle reminders to look up and to see life through holy lenses and proper perspective.

And I’m so thrilled He doesn’t hold the planks in my own eyes against me…forgiving me much, much more than seventy times seven…every single time.

Have Yourself a Very Charlie Christmas

(c) United Feature Syndicate Inc. / ABC

United Feature Syndicate Inc. / ABC

Watching it every Christmas became my religion.

My brother and I, snuggled up in feet-in-em pajamas on the couch, reciting every single line and laughing at the “loo loo loo’s” and big breath taken by all the kids at the last song – every nuance and every moment in the entire show warmed my heart.

Even now as a grown up with a mortgage and meals to cook and kids of my own, it’s my favorite Christmas show. We record it every year and watch it tens of times. We laugh at Snoopy and recite every line and still laugh at the “loo loo loo’s” and the big breath they collectively take during the last song.

A Charlie Brown Christmas.

A simple, sweet and heart-felt story of the true meaning of Christmas.

I watched it the other day with my littlest – snuggled in the big chair with the fuzzy blanket and his Elmo, heartily laughing as he got hiccups from laughing at Snoopy.

As I watched, I noticed the inconsistencies in the graphics. The changing colors of skin tones from frame to frame. The scaling of the Christmas tree changing from shot to shot. How the words “The Doctor is Real In” on Lucy’s booth is sometimes stacked and sometimes laid straight.

And I thought to myself, it’s not perfect. It’s not done with excellence. Second-by-second, frame-by-frame there are things that aren’t exact and aren’t perfect and sometimes look like it’s thrown together.

And as I watched the tradition of loving this show carry down to my littlest, I suddenly saw so clearly:

Where perfection and excellence are the battle cry of this day and age, this simple show from a simple time reminds me of an incredibly important truth –

When the heart is pure, imperfections don’t matter.

We love A Charlie Brown Christmas because it’s the only show that shares the true meaning of Christmas. Because it’s sweet and innocent and was created by one who wanted to show us The One.

And in it’s purity and innocence, Jesus overshadows the imperfections. Not only overshadows them, but makes them endearing. Beloved. Charming. Irresistible.

Noticing this was a revelation for me. I suddenly saw that in my desire to have a perfect Christmas, a perfect ministry, a perfect birthday celebration for my littlest – I forgot to focus on the heart behind it all.

I forgot that Jesus can fill the gaps of a comment form that doesn’t show up the way I want it to on a website. I forgot He can overshadow the imperfection of a missing picture in a brochure. I forgot He can make sound quality problems charming on a podcast. I forgot it’s not how the invitations get sent out, as long as people are invited.

I forgot.

I focused so much on the imperfection itself that I lost sight of Jesus in all of it.

And watching Charlie Brown with my own little Linus reminded me to stop being such a blockhead.

As we enter into this Christmas season, let’s remember to truly prepare Him room. Let’s prepare Him so much room that our imperfections, inconsistencies and weaknesses are lost in the shadow of Him. Let’s prepare Him so much room that our hearts have to grow three times their size.

Let’s focus on the why instead of the what.

Let’s take our little, imperfect and bare trees and allow Him to be seen through them.

That’s the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown.

Being Trees

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The neighbors are up this weekend and their fire wafts the eighth of a mile from their chimney to this porch. It’s twilight and the sun is retreating and the onset of night sends its milky blue haze over the leafless trees, and somewhere off in the distance is the gentle hum of a motor…soft and almost indiscernable. The clouds cover all the sky…except for a thick band across the mountaintops that is peachy…no, purpley…now it’s almost gone.

This is a magic moment, a holy one.

My husband is driving home and my daughter is cleaning her room and my boy is curled up on my bed with a slight fever. It’s just me out here on this porch marveling at the thick band of sunset that dances on the mountaintops.

I’m struck again at the beauty of the empty trees — trees that bear no leaves, no evidence of their fruitfulness. Just twisted trunks and spindly limbs intertwining in a stunning silhouette against a milky blue sky. As I sit and listen to the distant hum and watch the sun fade, the stillness of the emptiness is achingly beautiful.

I only see these mountaintops in the winter — when the leaves have fallen into soft piles at my feet. I only see these mountaintops and this thick band of sunset when the limbs stop trying to hang onto that which needs to fall. And through the twisted and spindly silhouette, I see majesty and beauty and am in awe.

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The ashes at my feet have been replaced with a crown of beauty on the mountaintops — bigger and grander than the leaves the trees themselves bore the rest of the year.

This stillness — here on this porch, watching this sunset through these silhouettes — this stillness is deafening. Not the silence, but the stillness. There is no breeze, no wind. No leaves raining down like snow as it has most other days. Just tall, stoic, empty and bare trees that almost seem to be afraid to breathe for fear that something else will be taken from them…they feel poured out.

I think we’re the trees, yet we’re trying to be the mountaintops. I think we try to be majestic and beautiful and awe-inspiring for God, when we’re really supposed to be twisted and spindly and empty…so that through us others can see. I think we mourn the falling of our own leaves and fruit — but yet when they’re gone, it allows God to be seen through our silhouette. We’re evidence of creation, but we wave our leaves and obstruct the view of the Creator Himself.

I think we’re the trees.

Winter creeps in and whisks everything off limbs and we feel poured out. We feel poured out and empty and we hold our breath for fear that something else will be taken from us. We stubbornly grasp at single leaves that remain on our spindly limbs, unwilling to let the gentle breeze of the Spirit blow it off so new growth will soon come.

We try to be mountaintops; I don’t want to be a mountaintop anymore.

This stillness is deafening. The stillness of stopping and grabbing The Moment that’s been extended out to you unexpectedly — the one that crops up when your daughter is cleaning her room and your boy is curled up on your bed with a slight fever. The stillness of seeing the beauty in the bare, seeing through the bare and off into the distance.

It’s deafening.

Because when you stop to listen in the stillness, God’s presence is so thick you can’t hear anything but majesty and beauty and awe.

It is a magic moment, a holy one.

We are the trees.