(I've interrupted the usual report on our renovation project to bring you this special holiday message!)
Yesterday I was out shopping for some things I needed for the renovation when I fell -- hook, line, and sinker -- into the pre-Thanksgiving commercialized Christmas mania. Okay, I'm admitting it -- even though I usually do put my tree up a couple of days before Thanksgiving because Thanksgiving weekend is busy and may involve some traveling, I have never done it a whole week before Thanksgiving to my recollection. But, what the heck, every small business in my little town where I live have had their decorations up for a week or more now. Who am I to say that the folks driving by shouldn't be able to look up at my apartment window and ooh and ahh over my adorable little tree?! Yesterday as I shopped, the Christmas music playing in the stores evoked many feelings within my heart; some happy, some sad.
As a young mother I tried beyond my own wellbeing sometimes to make the holidays special for my family. I decorated to the hilt, had a small tree in literally almost every room of the house and I hope that my kids would say that their Christmases growing up were close to magical. Not because there were gifts galore (but sometimes there were), not because I had lavish decorations, and not because we ever, EVER spent the money some people do for the holidays. I hope they felt that way because of the love and joy that surrounded them. But one Christmas, as I readied to receive my in-laws (they usually came at Christmas), we received a phone call that my father-in-law was sick and they were not gonna be able to make it. I was crushed! I had planned my whole Christmas around their visit! Now, before you say that I am a total weirdo for looking forward to my in-laws, they were not your typical in-laws. My mother-in-law was a sweet, precious lady who minded her own business and had a quiet strength about her. My father-in-law in his own Santa-Clausy-jolly kind of way was bigger than life and brought another whole dimension to Christmas. When they arrived, my house went from neat and tidy to overflowing with groceries for his special meals, goodies for the kids, and just a little bit of craziness that I have come to cherish as a treasure over the years. He always cooked us an amazing dinner on Christmas Eve and would always bring his guitar and lead the kids in impromptu sing-along's. So when the plans changed, so did my countenance. Christmas just wasn't going to be the same.
Over the years, I've learned to lower my expectations of the holidays. There's a song by Kacey Musgraves called Christmas Makes Me Cry, and this is a song to which I can totally relate. In spite of the joy of the season that surrounds the hope given on that first Christmas, there always seems to be sadness as well. All we have to do around the holidays is take a good look to see the sadness...the sadness that is always there but seems to be magnified by the holidays. Perhaps your neighbor, or even you, have just lost a loved one or a family member has moved far away and you know you'll spend this holiday without them. Perhaps you see the line at the local food shelter is longer than you ever remember it being. Maybe you have a critically ill child or parent. Maybe there just aren't enough funds to do the things that you dream of for your family and friends at this season whose reputation for giving and goodwill are unmatched by any other time of year. But this is what I've learned over the holidays. Christmas is the one time it is okay, and even advisable, to lower your expectations of what the holiday will look like. Because I can guarantee you this, there will inevitably be something in the mix that tries to steal your joy in the season. As much as we wish they would, we all know that problems don't go away at Christmas, and the holidays for some only amplify those hardships by the death of a loved one, sickness, conflicts, and just overall lack. But still somehow, we try to make them the best time of the year.
So yesterday I decorated my tiny white Christmas tree and placed it in my living room window for all to see as they pass. It excited me to flip on the little twinkle lights and imagine some child looking up at it and being filled with wonder. The holidays are fittingly celebrated at the end of the year and it seems appropriate that we go into a new year with the freshness of hope and doing good on our minds and in our hearts. But I pray for you this year that your joy will be full because of the goodness you find around you and the simple pleasures you enjoy and not because of fulfilled fantasies that you have dreamed up in your heart that probably, if truth be known, are not even realistic. I pray that you will focus on the moment you're in and all those little moments that truly are perfect and sprinkled all through this season of celebration. The lingering cup of coffee or cider or cocoa that you're able to enjoy with a family member or friend you haven't seen in awhile...the tears of happiness on a child's face as they open a humble gift and you witness their true gratefulness...the meal you prepare for the ones you love...the moment when they take that first bite and smile the biggest smile and you realize that just being together is the greatest gift of all...the Christmas Eve service at your local church which reminds you that faith is our foundation...the irreplaceable little moments when time truly does stand still. I wish for you not perfection in the holidays, but these moments that will carry you through much longer than the New Year and the years beyond.
May this Thanksgiving truly be a grateful one, and lead you right into the Christmas season with unspeakable joy!
(p.s. That Christmas I was so disappointed? My disappointment pressed my in-laws to come anyway, and it was a disaster! My father-in-law ended up in the hospital and missed the much-anticipated celebration at my parents' house and I realized, after it was all said and done, that my unrealistic expectations caused a hardship on everyone that year. Hard lesson, well learned. My in-laws have both passed on now, and I missed them dearly, especially every year at Christmas.)
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
- Prayer of Serenity
To say that I haven't cooked much lately would be a gross understatement. If life is extremely busy and I am not home when it's time to prepare dinner, then dinner doesn't get prepared. But we all have to eat and even I get tired of carry-out (as much as I love pizza and Chinese!). So on this rainy day in Georgia, I have meat loaf and squash casserole in the oven and a pot of collard greens simmering. Southern food at its best! The hubs will be so excited when he gets home.
All the recent magazines have had the latest and best recipes for a Thanksgiving meal that will be -- in the words of one cover -- one to remember. I believe all Thanksgiving meals can be memorable if you're with the ones you love and the memories are based on the celebration of having grateful hearts instead of the hardships that are always present and the mishaps that are likely to happen on any given Thanksgiving. I start getting excited for this meal weeks before, even though we don't really plan the menu until the week before or even the week of. We have a couple of dishes that are a given for us. My mother's recipe for her cornbread dressing is the best I've ever had and, trust me, I've tried other recipes that tried to imitate but could not duplicate. Sweet potato casserole is another favorite of my family and, whether it is crowned with marshmallows or crunchy pecans, it makes its appearance every Thanksgiving. The final "must have" is pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Years ago, I tried my hand at making pumpkin pie from scratch but it fell short when compared to my favorite, Mrs. Smith's Pumpkin Custard, so I passed the baton to Mrs. Smith, and she's been my go-to ever since. Why try to re-invent the wheel when someone else has already done it in such a magnificent way?! Other than those three items, the other dishes are up for debate. We're not even that picky about serving turkey, although one year my father-in-law (God rest his soul) prepared a duck and we'll never forget that meal, ugh! But roasted chicken is a fine stand-in for turkey, if we want the meal to feel a little more effortless. But don't you be messin' with our cornbread dressing, sweet potato casserole, or pumpkin pie!
I know you're waiting with bated breath to hear the latest report on our #our1892adventure, so here goes. If you visited the job site right now, you might take a look and think once again that nothing has been done in recent weeks. I've felt that way a lot lately. But contrary to the way it might look, progress has been made in the last week and for that I am grateful. But you know how one thing seems to always lead to another? Well, that's exactly the boat we've been in this last week. Continuing our efforts to get the outside ready for paint before the cold weather sets in, installing the new front door was a necessary part of the outside prep work. But we couldn't put the new door in until the threshold was redone and to redo the threshold we had to break up the old cement left from the porch. But to take up all that concrete and not put anything in its place would only mean a front yard full of mud. So...this is how it all went down:
I also planted small holly shrubs in front of the house (very 1890's-looking!) and am keeping my fingers crossed that they too will do well. But, alas, the rain has returned for a few days this week -- good for grass seed, but the painting has once again been shelved till better weather returns, and work continues on the inside of the house. A couple more "shoring up" details are in the works now and, once again, one thing has led to another. With a very small crawl space to work with in the front corner of the foundation, it was decided that a portion of the living room floor would need to be pulled up (yep, you heard that right) in order to work from above the floor in correcting the problem. In the meantime, a deeper crawl space in this area will be the reward of this atrocity, and hopefully my floor will go back down without a hitch. Sometimes it truly feels like we move one step forward and two steps back. But in keeping with my very intentional efforts to be grateful every day, I am truly thankful for the progress that has been made, the blessing of being a part of this effort to save this old gem, and the extreme satisfaction of hard work and getting my hands dirty. Did I really just say that?!
And there are so many other things for which to be thankful! This week I had the opportunity to photograph the Macenczak family once again and I cannot adequately express my great thankfulness for the fact that my daughter (for now) lives close by and I can be super involved in my grandbabies' lives. I am thankful that this Thanksgiving we have the blessing of our little Quinlan, whereas last Thanksgiving there were so many unanswered questions about her health and wellbeing. But today she is here, healthy and strong, and absolutely the most adorable baby on the planet -- hey, I'm not partial! (You can see the full photo shoot on my photography page...see for yourself!) I included the outtakes as well, so you'll get a few smiles. Hollie asked me to leave them in because the kiddos were not in the best of moods. The struggle is real indeed!
So be encouraged with the good all around you and, I guarantee you, it is there if we only but open our eyes to see. Seek it every day, hunt for it and grasp it when you find it because it is priceless. It comes in the form of precious children, good food, friendships that will not be severed regardless of struggle, conversation around the fireplace, the hope of the holidays, and the literal breath in your lungs. The news we hear every day on TV would have you think there absolutely is no good left in this world, but there is. We need to focus on that good, work hard to make our world a better place by being a part of the solution, and in every little thing give thanks.
Come ye thankful people, come...
"All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today."
- Pope Paul VI
Posted by CC
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