After the decorations come down…

I started this post a few days ago, and then decided my first priority was a post for my church’s website. Its title ended up being the same as the one I’ve used here, although the content is totally different. It’s prompted here by the current mess that surrounds me.

This is just one small area — just the loveseat in our family room. You have to imagine beyond the green storage bin on the coffee table to the other seven bins and assorted cardboard boxes also waiting to be filled.

Decorations aren’t what Christmas is all about, of course, but I still enjoy the cheer and sparkle of the seasonal decorations. Even more than how they look, I like the nostalgia and the memories they evoke.

If you had peeked in my windows on a December evening (but I’m glad you didn’t; that would be creepy), you’d likely have found me in the semi-darkness, sitting by the fireplace and squinting at the tree lights to exaggerate their sparkle. It’s pure magic! It takes me back to the awe and wonder of my childhood Christmasses.

We begin decorating the house at the start of Advent and reluctantly begin un-decorating after Epiphany…the Twelfth Night of Christmas. Unfortunately, since our preference is for natural rather than artificial greenery, the life of our tree is limited. After a month indoors, even with regular watering, the needles begin parting company with branches. It’s time.

So the tree is down (it will be chipped and recycled), the decorations are being packed away and the New Year is under way. What now? First is always the replacing of furniture and a thorough vacuuming. (It doesn’t matter how thorough, we’ll still find fir needles in odd places next summer!)

This is the point when melancholia at the bare decor conflicts with joy at the lack of clutter. Everything looks so clean, but I find myself rearranging furniture, switching artwork, maybe adding a new plant — whatever it takes to compensate for the perceived sterility.

Sometimes … sometimes, that means picking new paint colours. I often wondered why we always seemed to tackle renovations in the winter months. Now that’s beginning to make sense. I’m not sure what this year’s project is going to be, but stay tuned. Now that the decorations are down and packed away, I’m taking a good look around.

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And so it begins…

December 1st. It’s not even 4:30 p.m. and already it’s pitch black outside. At least, it is until the outside Christmas lights, recently strung along the roofline around our back deck, suddenly blink on and shine through the windows to illuminate the family room.

Advent arrives this weekend and we’ve begun some of the annual decorating. We have a friend who mocks our early start because, for her, Christmas doesn’t begin until December 24th.

But the season passes faster with each successive year and now we no sooner put out our favourite items when it seems time to pack them away again. I like to savour the season for as long as possible so I begin when Advent starts.

We often refer to it as the Season of Waiting, or of Preparation and Anticipation, but Ann Voskamp‘s comment strikes home:

Advent is a whole lot more than waiting for Christmas, Advent is a whole lot more than preparing for Christmas — Advent is ultimately about preparing the way for the Light of Christ in a world dying for light. Advent is a whole lot more than passively waiting for the King — it’s about participating in the work of the Kingdom of God.

It does make me wonder, though, why we wait until December to show compassion and generosity, as if the need exists only within the parameters of the Christmas season. Surely “the work of the Kingdom of God” is a 365-days-a-year thing.

Perhaps we need the Christmas season to remind us of this. To give us a nudge out of our complacency and into action. To focus on the One who came as a Child and changed all history. To remember that he said,

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. [Matthew 25:40]

Yes, the world is dying for light” and too often we feel there is little we can do to make a difference. But even as small blips of light can illuminate a room, so in this Advent season we can reflect God’s love, hope, joy and peace into the world and help brighten someone’s darkness.

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The Stillness of a Snowy Christmas

Wishing you a blessed and peace-filled Christmas!

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(You) could’ve swept in like a tidal wave
or an ocean to ravish our hearts
You could have come through like a roaring flood
to wipe away the things we’ve scarred
But you came like a winter snow
quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
to the earth below
No, your voice wasn’t in a bush burning
No, your voice wasn’t in a rushing wind
It was still
It was small
It was hidden
Winter Snow
[Chris Tomlin/Audrey Assad]

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‘Tis Christmastime

The winter solstice happened this week. The shortest day of the year is now behind us.

We spent several hours on the road Monday, transitioning from the damp and balmy west coast into the brisk and snowy east Kootenays. There is no doubt we’ll be having a white Christmas.

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As the sun slowly appeared over the mountain beside our daughter’s home, we marvelled once again at the exceptional beauty of God’s creation.

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Outside the family room window there is a patio bordered by trees, and every day dozens of birds arrive, flitting from the branches to feast on what they obviously consider a gourmet granola meal that is always provided for them. On our first morning here I counted nine different species in less than an hour!

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Common Redpolls)

(Common Redpolls)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Steller's Jay)

(Steller’s Jay)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Grey Jay)

(Grey Jay)

God provides for all of his creatures … these birds, and us. It’s Christmastime — in fact, today is “Christmas Eve Day” — and we’re full of praise and thankfulness for Him who was born this night to provide for us and our salvation.

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The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

[Luke 1:35]

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(I’ll be taking a break from blogging next week. I wish each of you a joy-filled Christmas, and a New Year filled with good health and many blessings.)

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The Squint Test and Tolerating the Imperfect

Sharing some pre-Christmas thoughts in this reprise from 2009…

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Through the years my husband has wound umpteen dozen strings of lights around our Christmas trees … and unwound them … and rewound them. It’s hard to tell if they’re perfectly spaced even when the strings are lit up, so he does “the squint test”. Peering at the tree while squinting removes all the visual distractions except the small sparkles of illumination. He likes them to be exactly right.

Last year our tree looked lovely – the treasured family heirloom ornaments glistened among our collection of snowflakes, frosted pinecones, and a few red balls for a festive touch. And then the lights went out. Actually, just one string went out – the new, supposed-to-last-for-years LED’s faded away and left the top quarter of the tree dark. Drat!!

So we un-decorated that section, removed the string and replaced it with another, and then redecorated. There. Now it was lovely again … until the next evening when another set of the lights slowly faded away to nothing, this time mid-way down the tree. To replace that string would have required removal of a great number of the decorations as well as the beaded swags, so we did some minor tweaking, rearranged a few nearby lights and then resigned ourselves to ignoring the imperfection, but it’s hard to do. You know how it is. The lights form the backdrop for all the other ornaments. This errant string left a darkened gap right in the middle. But we didn’t have any family coming to visit that Christmas, so no one else saw it.  Later when we were putting everything back into storage we discarded that string so we wouldn’t forget and try to use it again the  next year.

It’s a little like my first novel. I wanted it to be perfect but it was written before I learned what writing was meant to be. Peering critically at it reveals weaknesses. There are gaps that no amount of rearranging is going to fix. I know; I’ve tried. The underlying plot is flawed. The story needs a total rewrite but that would be more work than I think it’s worth. So I’m resigned to its imperfection and have stashed it in the dusty depths of oblivion better known as the closet. No one is ever going to see it.

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What do you do with your less-than-perfect writing efforts? Are you able to discard them or do you keep trying to make them better? How do you decide if they’re worth the effort?

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It’s NOT Christmastime yet!

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Thanks to those merchants who begin their Christmas marketing before Hallowe’en is over, it’s easy to be duped into thinking we need to keep in step with them and start our own preparations earlier every year.

I love everything about Christmas — celebrations of holiday and holiness along with the preparations, family festivities and traditions. What I don’t like is pushing aside our Canadian Thanksgiving, Remembrance/Veterans Day, and American Thanksgiving in a rush to dig out the creche, Christmas ornaments and coloured lights.

The one exception in our household is when we bake our Christmas fruitcakes six weeks before Christmas. The whole family gets involved, and for that one day, carols provides a backdrop to the measuring, stirring and wonderful baking aroma. But just for that one day.

(Oh, all right, I suppose I also have to admit we bought a poinsettia at the church’s Christmas Bazaar this past weekend. It’s a HUGE event and is always held the third weekend of November. Any later and it would conflict with Advent.)

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A friend reminds me every year that Christmas Eve is soon enough to put up her tree and bring out the few treasured ornaments that will remain in place through the twelve days of Christmas and come down after Epiphany. I don’t argue with her because her tradition is reasonable.

Do I wait until Christmas Eve? Certainly not! The older I get, the faster time passes, so I find it necessary to embrace all of Advent and the twelve days of Christmas to ensure I have adequate time to prepare myself and absorb all the special joys of the holy season.

However, I wait until after my American friends have celebrated their Thanksgiving Day. When the following Sunday ushers in Advent, then I’m set to move ahead into Christmas preparations. Then and only then! Our outside lights will go on to remind neighbours that we’re looking forward to celebrating the birth of Him who is the Light of the world. The miniature porcelain village will be unpacked along with the creche, and by the next weekend we’ll be hunting for the perfect tree.

It’s important to respect each special occasion, and I think it’s difficult to focus properly on their history and true significance if we are rushing past in anticipation of what will follow. So no, it’s not Christmastime quite yet.

This week I join in wishing my American friends a very blessed Thanksgiving.

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Giving thanks always for all things
unto God and the Father
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

[Ephesians 5:20]

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