Candles & Greenery, Magic & Mystery



Candles and greenery are turning up everywhere. Sunday being the first Sunday in Advent – and part of the first weekend in December – we began our Christmas preparations… at least a few initial ones.

We put up our tree. I know it’s early, but I’m like a little child when it comes to Christmas. I can hardly wait!

DSC08996Saturday evening our church held its annual Christmas turkey dinner and the mood was set. There were candles at every table.

Then in church Sunday morning we lit the first candle on the Advent wreath – the “Candle of Hope” – and we sang:

You are the Hope living in us
You are the Rock in whom we trust
You are the light
shining for all the world to see…

Jesus, our hope,
living for all who will receive…

Lord we believe *

Our children come from muddled parents. My upbringing didn’t include faith or church attendance and Christmas was a secular celebration. My hubby’s father was a Presbyterian minister and in their household the holiness of Christmas was important. Our children grew up with a heritage that included a little of everything that both of us found meaningful from our backgrounds, and it’s a wonder they ever found their way through the magic and the mystery!

But they did… all the way through to their own solid Christian faith. (Obviously it wasn’t of our doing but the hand of God on their lives.)

Christmas can be celebrated in the silence of an unadorned stable, the holiness of our churches or amid the twinkling lights, greenery and decorations of our homes. The important thing is that we acknowledge the Christ of Christmas, the Hope of the nations, the Light of the world, and during this season of Advent prepare again for the significance of his coming.

As I write this, I’m squinting at the lights on our tree and setting my sights on him.


* Hope of the Nations – Brian Doerksen


In his name the nations will put their hope.

Matthew 12:21 – NIV


We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

Psalm 33:20 – NIV


But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,
I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

Micah 7:7 – NIV

~  ~  ~

What colours your writing?

There are bits of unexpected colour everywhere right now. They brighten up an ordinary landscape that’s in transition between seasons.

There are other colours turning up this month, but on houses, inside and out. Purple and lime green Christmas decorations. Teal and orange. Even black and gold. I’ve seen them in recent magazine spreads. “Our decorations are designed to complement the style of the house, not compete with it,” said one set of homeowners. Their rooms look very festive – so glamorous and glitzy.

Although I prefer more traditional colour schemes to the modern ones, I love all the seasonal sparkle. This year we have little white lights on our tree, tucked into garlands across the mantels, over the kitchen cupboards and wound around the railing on our back deck. They’re magical.

For years our trees were a happy jumble of decorations – heirlooms from our parents, others handmade by our children, and some gifted by friends More recently we’ve had a few themed trees. My favourite for a while was wintry white with snowflakes, glass snowballs, frosted pinecones. I added a few new white baubles each year and a snowy white wreath over the fireplace. We hung large snowflakes in the windows and sprayed artificial frost around the edges. Then I began to realize I wasn’t improving anything. In fact, what I was missing was colour.

We didn’t take away the snowflakes but added a few red baubles in various textures and some of the more meaningful old ones. They and a strategically located poinsettia or two changed the atmosphere by bringing a welcome warmth into the room.

There’s a correlation between decorating a home and creating a fictional world. Haven’t you ever noticed how one piece of writing may be sterile while another is as rich as a tapestry? What makes the difference?

How do you add colour to your writing?


Bauble photo by Kittisak

The Story, Simple and Unadorned


I saw a lot of trees during the last two days. As I drove through one wintry snowscape after another on our pre-Christmas journey, I couldn’t help thinking of the picture of our Christmas tree that accompanied my Monday post.


We have many favourite heritage decorations on it but I’m also fond of my collection of snowflakes, snowballs, frosted pinecones, tiny birds – ornaments that portray “natural” elements. The tree is always laden with special trinkets to make it special.


In one church that we attend I noticed pots of vibrant red poinsettias lining the stairways, and an ornate golden poinsettia atop the piano, adding to the festive look. That discovery rocked me with a truth I sometimes overlook.



God’s handiwork far surpasses anything man-made. In nature, the snow-laden trees along the road were far more glorious than my fancy re-creation… the natural poinsettias far grander than any gilded imitations.

So, too, is the story of Christmas more meaningful, more awe-inspiring than any novel we might write from our imaginations. In a simple stable the Son of God became the son of man, born to die for us, that we might be able to call ourselves children of God.


This story, simple and unadorned, is the greatest story ever told:

“Jesus loves me. This I know

for the Bible tells me so.”


My wish for each of you is that you will find joy in the simple story of God’s unfathomable love and that it will become especially meaningful and relevant to you during this Christmas season.

(I will be taking a blogging break until after Christmas, but will return next week.)

Feeling Swamped?

When I watched “The Perfect Storm” I clutched the arm of my chair and frequently held my breath, willing the Andrea Gail to survive the mountainous waves. By the time the huge rogue wave hit I was gasping for air. I knew her survival was unlikely. There was a sense of desperation coupled with despair.

It’s a feeling I’ve experienced before… when life’s pressures become unbearable and I’m sure I’m going under.

Sometimes it can be caused by unrelenting responsibilities, by impossible-to-meet deadlines, or a list of commitments greater than the amount of time it will take to accomplish them. I want everything to go away and leave me in solitude and silence, but that’s an unrealistic desire.

Writers under contract know the feeling. So do parents running a personal chauffeur service to soccer games and piano lessons, orthodontic appointments, sleepovers and birthday parties. Christmas preparations do it for some. There’s all that shopping and cleaning, baking and decorating, school concerts and church pageants, and the realization that the in-laws are arriving in exactly one week.

One summer we took our young children into the mountains of Alberta for an afternoon on the beautiful glacial waters of Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park. In our small homemade runabout we sailed down the length of the lake unaware of the rising wind behind us until the waves made us realize we needed to turn around and head back to the shore. The turning almost swamped us, and as we motored into the wind, waves repeatedly crashed over the bow and windscreen, soaking us. It was thanks to the kindhearted pilot of a passing larger cruiser that we made it back to land safely. He pulled alongside of us, then slowly moved in front, creating a protected space for us within his wake.

We learned an important lesson that day, one that also applies to other aspects of life. When circumstances threaten to swamp us we need to find a shelter from our storm, before we become a shipwreck statistic.

Do you have a survival plan? How do you deal with sudden onslaughts of overwhelming stress?


Then because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” [Mark 6:31]


Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.  Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. [Matthew 8:23-26]

Light In the Darkness


My journal rests forgotten on my lap, pen poised without words to record. I am mesmerized by light as flames dance in the fireplace, flickering into the shadows of a room otherwise lit only by Christmas lights.

I’m not sure if there’s anything scientific about our fascination with light. I know in winter there are people who suffer from S.A.D., Seasonal Affected Disorder, a form of depression that improves significantly with exposure to sunlight or other bright light. I wonder if there’s any connection between the winter solstice and people’s desire to brighten their homes and neighbourhoods with an abundance of lights at Christmas.

Around here there are festive lights outside and in – little twinkle lights in greenery on mantels, windowsills, and above the kitchen cupboards, and LED lights on the tree. Outside there are more along the roofline, around the front door, and wound round and round the railings on the back deck. I love the twinkle and glow of lights at Christmastime. They turn the ordinary into something magical, especially in the snow.

(These pictures are of Christmas 2008… the year of our “big snow”.)

Each Sunday in our church a child comes forward at the beginning of the service and lights a candle. “Jesus is the light of the world,” he says before we begin our worship.

The image of light recurs in scripture frequently – Jesus said that he is the light of the world and those that follow him will not walk in darkness but have the light of life; he tells us that we are also to be lights in the world, shining so that others may see God reflected in us and give him glory.

These aren’t new revelations, but at Christmas time we see them more clearly because we are focused on Jesus, on how and why he came to us. At Christmas time we surround ourselves with light as a reminder that he whose birth we celebrate came as a light into our darkness. It isn’t magic. It’s the Gospel.

In the glow of firelight I return to my writing, remembering why I love Christmas lights.

John 8:12,  Matthew 5:14,  Philippians 2:15,  John 12:46


Waiting in Hope

We sang, “Hope is a Star” yesterday in church, and lit the first candle to mark the start of another Advent season. Wikipedia says the term comes from the Latin word adventus which means coming, and that Advent is “a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the nativity of Jesus at Christmas.”

Not just “waiting”, but “expectant waiting”. Not a passive sit-back-and-wait-until-it-gets-here kind of waiting, but a time of active participation that gives meaning to our Christian hope.

In my last two novels there are scenes that take place at Christmas. For one character it is a time of anticipation, for the other, despair. While I was writing I had to remind myself that life is like that – different for different people. Not everyone approaches the Christmas season with the same joy that I experience.

But most have hope.

What do your characters hope for? As you enter this Advent season, what do you hope for?

Anticipating a Fresh Start

Pushed by a bitter breeze, tiny whitecaps scuttled over the waves while layers of winter-tinted cotton batting clouds stretched across the sapphire sky mimicking the mountainous shoreline. From inside the ferry’s forward lounge we admired the view. Maybe if we hadn’t known it was the first full day of winter we might have been lulled into taking a walk on the deck. Watching other more venturesome passengers with chins burrowed into their jackets, bent into the wind and clutching at hats, however, I was less inclined to be enticed outside.


It was a beautiful day, full of anticipation as we travelled to Vancouver Island for Christmas week with some of our family. There were grandchildren to see, special worship services to attend, Christmas gifts to share, family doings to catch up on, turkey and trimmings to consume (and consume it we did; you can never have too much turkey).


It’s been a wonderful week, but now suddenly it’s time to head homeward again. We’re into the last week of December. I don’t relish leaving our family, but there are different things to anticipate at the other end of our return ferry trip… new beginnings to accompany the coming New Year.


What are you looking forward to in the New Year? Have your writing goals changed?