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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Enjoying the Getting to There

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We’ve been driving for more than five hours. The rain is falling in droves around us, and the kids are quietly playing, I am quietly reading, Greg’s mom is quietly doing crossword puzzles, and Greg and his dad are quietly listening to college football on the radio. (Well, as quiet as that can be.)

We’re road-tripping for a week-long trip to Disney World. All is well.

We’ve been to Disney before together – in fact, Paxton is exactly the age Jaana was on her first trip – and as we journey down the interstate going a hair faster than the speed limit says we should, I watch my boy in a deep sleep, mouth agape and breathing deeply. And then I watch him wake up suddenly, wide-eyed and rested. And then I watch him play the shark game (again) on the iPad.

I watch him, knowing where we’re headed – to Disney World! – and he knows that too…he knows where we’re going. But I watch him and realize he has no idea where we’re going. He doesn’t understand the joy he’ll find there, the magic he’ll feel, the overwhelming sense of happiness that’s about to envelop him for four entire days as we laugh and play and experience the wonder of this gift.

I watch him.

He’s happily sucking his fingers all the while holding his ratty, four-year-old Elmo and making a shark attack an innocent swimmer. He’s laughing at the jokes flying between his Daddy and Papa. He’s nodding his head in beat to the music, asking for snacks and another drink.

I watch him enjoying the journey.

He knows where we’re going, and even though he doesn’t fully know where we’re going, he’s enjoying the moment. Enjoying the journey. He’s not asking questions about how we’ll get in to the park or where we’ll eat or will Elmo get to ride Dumbo with him…he’s just being.

I watch him, and I’m completely and absolutely struck by how much I need to be like him.

We all know those times – the ones that are the majority, not the minority – where God doesn’t tell us where we’re headed and we blindly hold His hand, letting Him lead and guide and as He pulls us to the left to avoid the potholes and to the right to avoid the cliffs. We pepper Him with a thousand questions, a barrage of Where are we going? and How long before we get there? and I’m a little bit hungry and tired and bored. He doesn’t usually answer — just quietly gives our hand a reassuring little squeeze, which shuts us up for about half an hour, and we keep walking.

And then…

Then there are the times – the ones that are completely the minority and never, ever the majority – when He does tell us where we’re headed. You’re going to Disneyland! And we know it’s supposedly magical and we’re told it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type trip, and if He’s taking us there, it must be because He loves us so very, very much.

What sacred journeys those should be…the journeys where the blindfold is off and we are able to walk side-by-side Him – not being pulled behind – fingers entwined and knowing smiles exchanged as we stroll in His love, mercy and grace.

Except…

Except that I don’t walk with Him that way during those times. Do you? I don’t walk with Him as a friend, or lover, or daughter. Instead I hang back — I resist, I pull, I shuffle. I ask questions — again with the questions — but now they sound more like accusations: Why is it taking so long? and Why doesn’t anyone else know where I’m going? and What’s it going to be like when I get there? and This is really hard, should we just go back?

And I think God looks at me and is tempted to say,

Just get up here and walk with Me. Hold my hand and let’s enjoy the journey. It’s going to be worth it. SO WORTH IT. Don’t you realize to get anywhere amazing requires a little effort on the journey? Be it through the wilderness or through a tomb or through exile, it’s going to require some fortitude and perseverance. But where I’m taking you is going to be better than Disney Land — it’s the Promised Land. You are going to FREAK OUT when you see what’s waiting for you there…but for now, just enjoy the Getting to There. 

I watch him.

He’s only almost-five and he doesn’t complain that it’s taking so long, or that the car is bumpy, or that we have to stop again for someone to use the bathroom. He’s only almost-five and he just happily be-bops along, completely content because he’s safe and he trusts who’s taking us there and he’s surrounded by people who love him more than life itself.

I watch him, and I’m completely and absolutely struck by how much I need to be like him.

When God is Gentle, Even When He Shouldn’t Be

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I’m sharing over at Be Still Be Free today, in our new blog linkups! Hop on over to read and link up!

It was one of the darkest times of my life, and yet I drove there and parked the car and walked in the front door. It was our weekly prayer group. A motley crew of five to eight of us who would barge through the front door and drop everything a heap right there in the doorway — our junk, our sin, our issues and our unrealized dreams — and we’d slide into a chair and heave a sigh.

We were safe there. No questions ever asked, no judgments ever given. Just prayer and love and Jesus.

Always Jesus.

It was the always Jesus that drove my car there that night and it was the always Jesus that parked the car and it was the always Jesus that got me through the front door.

It was one of the darkest times of my life. Have I mentioned that? It’s always dark — almost pitch black — when you’re standing in the bottom of a very deep pit…even if it’s a pit of your own digging in which you almost gleefully, almost excitedly dive in head-first.

Dark. Very dark, indeed.

Sitting at the bottom of this pit I could see light, but it was faint and distant. I could see the difference between where I was and where I should be and tried clawing my way out day after day, but could never seem to get a firm footing. The dirt would crumple in my fingers and my toes would slide right back to the bottom.

I never shared about this pit with anyone. I lived in fear of what others would think of me…lived in defiance to the judgment I knew I deserved but hadn’t yet received. I memorized speeches justifying all of it and placing the blame everywhere except on me.

So I hid. I literally and figuratively hid. I still attended church and Bible Study and my little prayer group…but I hid in the back row, and hid behind odd clothing, and hid behind strange behaviors and speech.

And I thought I was doing a bang-up job with my hiding. I really did. I think I even convinced myself that I was fooling God.

Until that night. That night when always Jesus drove me and parked me and ushered me through the front door of prayer group.

During a silent prayer time, each of us huddled with our journals and Bibles and pens, eyes closed and just being still and listening to God, a note was passed over to me. It was from a girl who wasn’t a regular, who knew absolutely nothing about me or my pit.

I quietly opened the note . . . Click over to BE to finish reading!

When Desperation Drives You to Finally ASK

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EVIDENTLY, this is my personal website. As in, MINE. ALL MINE.

Yet I’ve been so utterly and completely focused on Be Still Be Free that I’ve let this poor little site wither like a grape. And now we’re past raisin stage and into full-on petrification.

And I know I pop in over here from time-to-time and declare no more! I’m back and I’m committed! And then the empty words ring hollow and leave a mighty echo.

[Echo…]

[Echo…]

I have no strategy, plan or even shred of determination to rectify this, sadly. But here I am again…popping in to declare I’m back! For now! And to let you know I’m sharing over at BE today as we wrap up our series Be Bold and Conquer.

Here’s a brief peek:

She was a guest speaker at our Bible Study…an elegant woman with empathetic eyes and graceful demeanor, and a southern accent that lilted words and softened the convictions that always came as she spoke the truth. Plainly.
She words were full of authority and grace, with understanding and yearning. I sat mesmerized and unable to blink as she shared about Jesus – her Jesus – and how He changed her. Utterly and completely changed her.
For the next several days I struggled to stand as my weary bones carried my heavy heart. As I’d shuffle along throughout each day, she’d appear in my thoughts, blowing across my mind like a refreshing breeze. I needed something…that much I knew – and one day I suddenly realized I needed her.
On an it’s-almost-fall morning, with a cup of coffee in my hands, I found her number and called her. I stumbled over my words until I could coherently state,
I need a mentor. I desperately and immediately need a mentor.
Okay, she replied with that southern lilt and graceful demeanor. Let’s meet for lunch and we’ll see what God says about this.
Over squash soufflé and sweet tea with extra ice, she told me she’d been praying and that God nodded Yes, you should mentor this lost and desperate girl (although maybe I imagined the last part). And we developed a schedule and a plan and a list of things I needed guidance with.
She left with a very, very long list.

To continue reading, just click here! And I’m looking forward to seeing you back here in oh, I dunno…maybe another three months or so?

In the meantime, I would LOVE to see you over at BE. It is my heartbeat and favorite place, and I think you’d really, really love it.

Love you, friends!

Loving Yourself Enough To Do The Scary Things

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The arena was jam-packed with women wearing their Sunday and Monday and Thursday and Saturday best. Their accessories matched their pocketbooks which matched their shoes which matched their Bible covers. An arena full of sopranos and altos and even a smattering of tenors harmonized during worship and their heads nodded during the lesson and their wallets poured out money during the love offering. Hands were raised in re-commitment to Jesus and tissues were dabbed across blurry eyes and when it was time to break it was as if there was one giant exhale in unison.

We strolled through the lobby deciding what to eat for lunch, my friend and I. We dodged women in their Tuesday and Friday best with their accessories that matched their shoes. Some were impatient with the lines at the food stands, some were frustrated with getting their pocketbooks (which matched their accessories) bumped. Some couldn’t believe there wasn’t enough lunch-time seating for all seven hundred million women jammed into the arena.

My friend and I grabbed lunch and searched for a place to sit among the bright patterns and matching Bible covers. As soon as we took our first bite, we saw him. He couldn’t have been more than 21 and he was dirty and his eyes were glazed and his shoes had holes and he appeared homeless. He walked the aimlessly amid the maze of nodded heads and tear-stained tissues trying to talk to the women, but was largely ignored or smiled at politely as they turned back to their conversation.

My friend and I looked at each other and I knew what she was thinking and she knew what I was thinking but we were both petrified of each other’s thoughts, afraid to say it out loud. I don’t remember who broke first, but the words rang loudly in our ears,

 “Should we pray for him?”

Click here to keep reading — I’m sharing over at my second home, Be Still Be Free today!