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.

Thanksday #97 :: Stocking Stuffer Edition

THANKSDAY-01

YA. ALL.

My name is Monica, and my last Thanksday was ONE YEAR AND 10 DAYS AGO. I haven’t blogged here in general in NINE MONTHS. I’m not sure what to say about that, other than my creative cup has overflowed because of Be Still Be Free, and there were no words left for over here.

However.

I’m starting to feel a shift coming…thoughts and such have been swirling around in my mind and heart, and my fingers have been itchy, and I’m starting to gravitate toward writing again. Maybe that’s because it’s quiet in my house during the day now (thanks, Kindergarten!) and so I have time to think the thoughts.

At any rate, I can’t make any promises about what the future holds over here, or that I’ll have any sort of consistent writing schedule. What I can promise though, is that once a year I’ll do a Thanksday. (I’m all about setting realistic goals.)

That being said, I thought it would be fun to do a Thanksday that is focused on items you could consider for stocking stuffers for your daughter/sister/mom/friend. I don’t know about you, but stocking stuffers are the HARDEST things to buy. You don’t want to give 500 packs of gum and candy canes, right?

So as I was thinking about it, I realized there are some various items in my life right now that I ADORE, and would be darling for Christmas stockings. These run the gamut in prices, so there’s something for everyone…and in case there’s something here you might like for your own self, you could always accidentally send the link to this post to your husband.

Ahem.

Without further ado, here are this year’s Thanksdays!

1. Dead Sea Minerals Dead Sea Mud Bar Soap ($4). Okay, guys. My skin has never looked better since I started using this as my daily face soap. Perhaps my clean(er) eating has something to do with it, and maybe my spinny-face brush too, but from the first day I started using this I noticed it looked and felt a bazillion times better. And I was able to buy it at my local grocery storewhich for the mountains is a huge win.

Soap-Mud1

2. Burt’s Bees Pomegranate Lip Balm ($3). You can tell me all about your EOS, your Susie Chapstick, your Carmex and your Vaseline, but I will turn up my nose and shun you, because this is the only chapstick I will ever use, forever and ever amen. I do not want the original beeswax, the tropical, the Acai or even the Blueberry and Dark Chocolate. Give me Pomegranate or give me death, I say. (Not literally. You know what I mean.)

BURTS BEES copy

3. Peter Thomas Roth Pore Putty Pore and Wrinkle Reducer ($38). Straight up, here’s where I’m at: I’m officially “in my 40s” now and cannot, any longer, rely on grocery-store makeup to do the trick. I could get away with it in my 20s for sure, and slid by in my 30s…but the time has come when my pores are enormous, the wrinkles are coming and Maybe it’s Maybelline isn’t going to help me. I can’t remember where I found out about this product, but I have to tell you it’s easily my most favorite facial product ever. It’s extremely lightweight and non-greasy (don’t let the name “putty” deter you), and can be worn alone, under make up or even over makeup. Between the Dead Sea Mud soap and this, I literally use nothing else on my face most days — not even powder. Supposedly, the longer you use it, it “provides long-term clinical benefits to help reduce the appearance of pores to impart a smoother, more youthful look.” I haven’t used it long-term enough to verify this, but I will tell you I am very well pleased.

PORE PUTTY

4. Yankee Candle Mistletoe Car Jar ($5). Forever and always and all the year through, Christmas tree smells will always be my most favorite. I grabbed this little number over Thanksgiving and immediately put it in my car and have driven with happy grins ever since. Granted, my brother-in-law may have nicknamed me Buddy the Elf because of how gleeful I am over the whole thing, but I just called  him a Cotton-Headed Ninny Muggins and carried on with my pine dreams. (There are other scents too, of course, but why even bother?)

CAR JAR

5. Nordstrom Gift Card (Any Amount!). Did you know that you can use a regular Nordstrom Gift Card at a Nordstrom Rack store? ‘TIS TRUE. Is there anything better than having a gift card for a great pair of boots you find on sale at the Rack? ‘TIS NOT.

NORDSTROM

6. Starbucks Christmas Blend Espresso Roast (on sale right now online for only $10.46, regularly $15). This will always make my favorite things list each year, because it’s amaze. The regular Christmas Blend roast is delicious too, of course. Who wouldn’t want a stocking that smells of coffee?

CHRISTMAS BLEND

7. Darling Magazine Subscription ($64 Yearly Subscription). If you don’t know about Darling magazine yet, you need to get thee on the ball. Started by a former Christian book publisher, it’s an oversize, gorgeous quarterly magazine that prides itself on celebrating “The Art of Being a Woman” and proudly boasts in NO RETOUCHING EVER. Just read their mission statement which is on the back cover of every issue:

DARLING MISSION

Their photography is breathtaking, no advertising ever, and every single photo, article and fashion item is modest, uplifting, encouraging and delightful. You know what it’s like to read this magazine? It’s like your eyes take an enormous deep breath.

DARLING CURRENT ISSUE

8. Return to Tiffany Round Tag Key Ring ($135). OKAY YES, I PUT SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY ON THIS LIST. A girl needs to dream, right?? And this is fairly affordable (by Tiffany standards) and I just adore it. There’s also a plain tag that’s engrave-able (wouldn’t a nice BE look sweet on there??) and the best part of the gift is that darling blue box and ribbon. Can you imagine my her sheer delight pulling that box out of her stocking??

KEY RING

9. Victor & Rolf Flowerbomb Travel Spray ($26). My favorite scent, hands-down, is Rosewood by Banana Republic. I’ve worn it for ages and never once thought to look elsewhere until I discovered it’s now discontinued. Soon after my tears dried up, Nordstrom sent a booklet in the mail with samples of current fragrances, and lo, I fell hard for this one. I have no idea what it would actually smell like on me, but it’s “a floral explosion, a profusion of flowers that has the power to make everything seem more positive.” I don’t even normally like florals, but something about this was spesh. And the travel size of this lets you give it a good try without committing to the full size.

FLOWERBOMB

10. Live Inspired Write Now Journals ($7). I found one of these journals years ago at some cute store in Nashville, and fell head-over-heels. The paper is great quality, the lines are light and not too bold, it’s an odd-over size,  yet has just a small number of pages. I don’t know what it is about these, but I can’t get enough. There’s a wide variety of cover options, sure to make your journaler’s day.

JOURNAL

Well friends, that felt good. I hope you’ve been able to get some new ideas for that special loved one in your life, and I think there’s just enough time to find something and get it ordered!

What are some of the things you love to give? Leave a comment and share the love.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

I Need a Resurrection

BREAD copy

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.

CROSS copy

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.

TOMB copy

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.

napkin2 copy copy

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.

RISEN copy

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.

Thanksday #96

THANKSDAY-01

I’ve long neglected this space. Be started 14 months ago and has been my heartbeat (and rightfully so), but lately there has been a pull back to here — this place that’s just me, exploring and pondering and wondering — and I’ve found myself hopping back. Checking things out. Testing my fingers in these waters and enjoying the rush of cool and peace and home.

So I wrote something this week. And it felt awkward at first, and then familiar, and then like walking in the front door after a semester at college. This has always been, and always will be, the safe place I come home to.

There’s no place like home for the holidays, am I right?

As I typed out a status update on Facebook today, it brought to mind gratitude and thanksgiving and my heart again was pulled back here. After all, it is Thursday — Thanksday — and I got that wild urge to make me a thankful list.

(I also got that wild urge to forget to pick up my kids from school and just take off to The Big City for some shopping, but I thought this would be the more responsible thing to do.)

In no particular order, thankfuls for this week:

1. Christmas Blend Espresso Roast. It just might be what I look forward to the most every Christmas, but for some bizarre reason, they are only making half-pound bags right now, which makes me want to pull my hair out. Yes, I could just buy two, but I miss the big shiny bags with the fancy Christmas design. It doesn’t look as festive in an 8-oz size. (But it’s still delicious, don’t get me wrong.)

2. Pandora. All I play right now is my Frank Sinatra holidays station, and my car is a happy place full of the crooning of Frank, Ella, Dean, Sammy, Billie, Louie and others belting out Christmas favorites. My car is an even happier place when I’m be-bopping along with a Christmas Blend in my hand.

3. A Clean & Quiet House. I love being at home in the mornings, completely alone, in a house that’s decorated for Christmas and clean. Everything stays exactly where I leave it for those precious few hours, and there are no wrestling figures laying around, or shoes in my way, or crumbs trailing or PAW Patrol blaring. Sitting in peace and quiet and clean makes my heart so happy.

4. Mollie. Mollie is our three-year old Maltese we adopted at the beginning of the summer, and she is unquestionably the perfect dog for this family. She’s incredibly low-key, relaxed, chill, small, doesn’t shed, and the kids melt into puddles around her. Compared to Dogtastrophe of 2012 when psycho dog came into our lives briefly, not a day goes by that we don’t celebrate the chillness that is Molls. Even now, she’s just curled up into a ball on the white fuzzy blanket, and I can’t tell where she ends and the blanket begins. I love that. And I love my kids don’t walk around with high blood pressure and raised shoulders around her, unsure if she’ll snap or not. ‘Cuz not.

5. Breakfast Dates. For the first time in an embarrassing six months, Greg and I had a breakfast date this week. We used to do them weekly during the school year last year, but this year has been chaotic as I’ve done an extraordinary amount of traveling (which I am NOT complaining about and hey, Santa, bring me some more of that this year? Please and thanks.). But this week it made me remember with glee how much I love spending time with my husband. He is my most best BFF and honestly I’d rather hang out with him than anyone else on the planet. That was a fun omelet, and I’d like to do that again soon. (Please and thanks.)

6. The Dollar Store. Because wrapping paper, bows, ribbons and gift tags don’t come cheap, and I’m trying to save wherever possible.

7. Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm in Red Dahlia. This stuff is my jam. I can’t stand lipstick anymore, and lip stains don’t work for me. But this stuff right here? It rocks my face off. It’s soft and creamy and just enough color to make it actually look like I have lips (somehow, as I’ve gotten older, they are blending into the color of my skin. What the??). I forgot to grab my tube of this one day while we were at Disney World, and when I mentioned out loud I needed chapstick, my amazing sister-in-law pulled out hers and said I could borrow some. IT WAS THIS EXACT LIP BALM. I died with joy, and I fell in love with her more, as if that were even possible. (Burt’s has other colors too, but this is the best, IMHO.)

8. Phone Dates. I had a (long overdue) phone chat with one of my BFFs from the Wessside this week, and it made my heart burst wide open and tears flood from my eyes realizing how much I miss my people out there. It was so wonderful to hear her voice and catch up properly on life happenings. While Facebook is great for keeping tabs on everyone, nothing compares to voice-to-voice conversation and shared laughter to the point of happy tears. (Well actually, nothing compares to doing that in person, but this is the next best thing.)

9. Wrapping Gifts. It is a completely love-hate relationship, gift wrapping. I love to do it — it’s cathartic and fun and I can sort of zone out while I do it — but I’m also a bit of a perfectionist about it (thanks, Mom! I love tape!). I’m trying a new thing this year — wrapping as I go — hoping that doing a little bit each day will make wrapping all fun instead of stressful. Or, if my family wants to send gifts pre-wrapped this year, that’s great too! (Hint, ahem, cough, grin.)

10. The Best Yes. Over at Be, we were able to have a wonderful conversation with Lysa TerKeurst about her latest book, The Best Yes. (You can listen to it here.) The entire book (and our interview with her about it) is about giving yourself permission to make the best decisions for yourself and your life (with God’s guidance, of course) and gracing yourself to let out a NO from time to time. It’s a game-changer, this one. And as we embark into one of the busiest and stressful most wonderful times of the year, the timing of this message is impeccable. I’m giving myself permission to give only best yeses this Christmas as well as from now on, and I’m excited about it.

Well lookie there. I just completed my first Thanksday in 10 months. That felt nice.

What about you? What’re some things you’re thankful for this week? (Or have you been thankful for in the past 10 months?) Leave a comment and share the gratitude! And I’ll see you in another 10 months soon!

Enjoying the Getting to There

181504998-2

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.