Anticipating Christmas

When my kids were young we made a big deal out of Christmas. We put up the tree and made sure there were plenty of gifts to open, even if some of them were underwear and socks! We wanted to make sure that somehow the number of gifts under the tree reflected how much we loved them. We wanted to create memories to last a lifetime.

When I was married to my second husband and we shared the children at  Christmas with his ex-wife, the focus became showing her up. We wanted to have the better gifts. We wanted to have the better time. We wanted them to love us more because we showered them with things. And we missed the boat in such a huge way.

My own daughter is an only child. I always felt she was missing out on having a family to share the surprise of Christmas morning. She had no one to share her toys with or to one-up on her gifts. Yet we did everything we could to bring our family around us so that she felt part of something bigger. And I made sure it was always an event when the family came over—one they would talk about for years!

Today both those efforts have faded away. My step-daughters have families of their own now. They are making their own Christmas memories with their children. My daughter and I still celebrate Christmas together, but no longer with our family. As I look back, I wish I had invested more in the relationships that surrounded us than in the number of gifts under the tree. And I hope that my girls will not follow my example but that they will focus on why we even have a Christmas to celebrate. I hope that they won’t stress out over the gifts they buy so that their children know they are loved.

I hope my girls will shower their children with love, the love that comes down from above and works its way out of them and shows up in the way they treat others, including their extended families. 

This year we are keeping it simple. This year I am looking forward to Christmas Eve service and gathering with my church family to celebrate the birth of a man who would die that I could be forgiven. I am anxiously anticipating singing those songs that move my heart to a place of worship and gratitude. I am looking forward to a change in my behavior that shows others what God has done, and is doing, in my life. I am taking in the greatest love and hoping that I can pass that on to others as I meet them.

That is the gift I am seeking and hope to give to others.

Lord, I ask your forgiveness for the times I forget that you are the real purpose for our Christmas celebration and I pray for my family that they will stop and remember not just their presents but your unfailing love. I pray our Christmas will be more about you this year.

God bless,

Maggie

 

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Circle of Friends to Circle of Family

This past week I witnessed an amazing outpouring of love and generosity toward a young woman and her children, who without warning, lost their husband and father. I don’t know anything about them or their family other than that they are close friends of someone I know.  What I do know is that this broken-hearted family was, and is, surrounded by friends from all over the globe. Not only have they raised an enormous amount of money to help them rethink their futures, this incredible group of friends has loved them in the way a family should—never leaving them and ensuring them that they will not be walking forward alone. I have been blessed and inspired as this story continues to unfold.

As someone living as a single with virtually no family ties, I worry about my own  adult daughter and how she will do when my time comes. She has no family to fall back on. I know I am not the only single parent who thinks about these things. We boomers think about it even more, especially if we have children who haven’t quite made it on their own yet and may still be living at home with us. The 2011 US Census reports that 27 percent of American children under 18 live with one parent of which 87 percent live with their mother.  Another four percent do not live with parents of which 57 percent live with a grandparent.  Additionally, the number of adults from 25 to 34 living at home has risen, and continues to rise. Continue reading

Pre-Christmas Shuffle

Like many of you I am in the midst of pre-Christmas activities—shopping, decorating, and planning for the big day. This past week we brought most of the decorations out of storage and began to unpack and set up the tree and lights. Well, the tree is up and a string of lights are on the balcony now. And there is stuff everywhere waiting for its special place in the house. And even though my daughter is an adult now, there is still a child-like excitement and joy in all the chaos.

Our boxes of decorations are memories of Christmases past, packed away for a year. They are the pieces of our past that have been trapped in boxes waiting to explode on us at just the right time. There are the hand-made decorations from my daughter that make me smile and think what a happy little girl she was. There are the decorations from my parents that I have held onto for years. They remind me of special mornings with my brother and sister that I will never have again. There is a special little pillow my sister made with my husband’s name on it that keeps him a part of our Christmas every year. There is the special White House ornament my dear friend gave me and I cherish that friendship every time I open the box. There are the decorations my husband bought when we were at Disney that he was so excited to find. The child in him came out as he and my daughter picked out their treasures for the next tree. There are special ornaments my father brought me from Israel—one of the few gifts he ever gave me.

These are the Christmas reflections of our past. Some sweet; some tempered with sadness. Each box we open reminds us of times past; and yet those memories are made new and fresh as we add to them each year. We are in a new home this year and I won’t have room for everything I usually set out. The pieces we pick will have unique meaning to us. They will connect this place we are passing through to our family and friends, some now gone.

In the moments of our reflections, let us stop and reflect on why we are preparing for this special day in December. A new family was created that day with the birth of an extraordinary baby. This baby would change the lives of his parents and those of the world. This family would celebrate his birth each year, just as we do, and build memories on memories. One day this child would die for his family and for the people he so loved. His family and friends would be left with a different memory. Each day, each year, they would remember the tremendous love he had for them and they would speak of passing that love on to others. They would come to share the memory over and over, hoping that we would never forget.

In the middle of my Christmas shuffle, I want to remember not just my friends and family. I want to remember the man whose life I celebrate. I want to remember that Jesus was born and that he is coming back one day. I want to remember that he is the most important thing to celebrate. And the best gift I can give another is to share the story of what he has done in my life. I hope you will see him in the pages I write and I hope you will find him in the boxes you open this Christmas.

“She will give birth to a son and he will be called Immanuel (meaning God is with us).” (Matthew 1:23,New Living Translation)

Back to Basics

I grew up in Germany and lived in an apartment complex with hundreds of other military and government families.There was nothing fancy about it. Most of the furniture was government issued. We had a small storage unit for Christmas decorations and our bikes. Everyone knew everyone in their building and most of the complex. There were few secrets kept and we learned to share the bitter and glorious moments of life together. We were neighbors and friends for as long as we lived there.

Over the years I have had much and lost much. I left home right after high school and soon found myself living on the street. I lived with family for many years, nestled safely under their protective umbrellas. I married more than once in hopes of finding contentment and security. And recently, I gave it all away and came to settle back to the way I grew up. Living the simple life, in a small apartment with a balcony where God feeds my soul everyday that I am willing to meet with him. I have little and yet oh so much!

In Galatians 4: 1-7 Paul talks about us being slaves and the things to which we can become a slave. For many years, I was a slave to proving I was something worthy of notice. I was the invisible kid who never seemed to get it right. I thought that the more I had the more I proved my worth and value to my family, and to people I didn’t even know. I made some serious mistakes. I hurt some people in the process. And once I let go of the chains that captured me, I lost it all. And then I found it all!

I have found freedom in  the words of the Bible. I have found freedom in the stories others have shared about their journeys. I have found a new simple and happy life following the principles Jesus and his disciples shared with mankind. I am far from done with this new place God has set me, but sitting on my balcony this morning, watching the clouds move through, I have hope that I am finally back to basics and free of my old way of thinking.

“Because we are his children god has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out ‘Abba, Father.’ Now we are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, god has made you his heir.” Galatians 4: 6-7