Friday, December 30, 2016

Home for The Holidays

This is not a newsflash for those whom know me best.  I was a frenzied mess before Christmas.  Nothing new there. The closer December 25th came the more I found myself eliminating from my mental check list the things I hoped to get done before Christmas.  There would be no baking.  There would be no cards sent out.  I may have written a Christmas letter, sent out cards, and done a lot of baking earlier in my life, but this year, I had to make some choices.  I only have so much time and energy, and I had to decide how to spend each.

The decorating of the house seemed to take me weeks.  I don't put up a lot, but it all takes time.  We have a small tree because space is limited in the living room.  One of my favorite things to do each year is to hang the ornaments on the tree because so many memories are associated with each ornament.

This year I added a few ornaments that I had made back in the 70's.  They had been tossed in some forgotten box long ago and had not been on the tree in at least twenty years.  My former sister-in-law had taught me how to make these.  I had crocheted around small round mirrors with metallic gold thread.  When I found a few of the remaining ornaments this year, I marveled that I had created them at all, especially when I considered that I was raising five young children at the time and had at least one of them in cloth diapers.  I wonder how I accomplished all that I did back in those days.  I think I put a lot more pressure on myself to do it all.  I remember I would sew nightgowns, and dresses, bake cookies, make candy, and do all the other Christmas activities that a mother of five children would do.  I was younger then.  I had more energy.  I also think I had unrealistic expectations concerning all that I needed to accomplish.  Thankfully, I am older and wiser now.  I do like having a few of these ornaments as a reminder of those days of long ago.

This year, part of the delay in decorating happened because a nasty virus hit me a few weeks before Christmas.  I seldom get colds or flu these days, so I was surprised when I woke one morning with a fever of 100.4.  After nearly eighteen hours of sleep, and the downing of many fluids, I was better the next day.  No one likes to be sick during the holidays, but I was especially disappointed at the timing of my illness as I had planned on hosting a party for group of my church friends for the next day.  That all had to be cancelled when I became ill.

It had been more years than I like since I had hosted a family Christmas celebration, so this year, I got my bid in early so that others would know how to plan.  Only three of Jim's daughters and their families were able to attend.  It seems that as the grandchildren become older, we are spread out in even more directions.

Jim and I decided upon our traditional Christmas Eve menu of Mexican food.  We had homemade (not by me) tamales, several cheese and chili casseroles, Spanish rice and homemade green chili.  Every year in the fall, we freeze a bushel of Pueblo green chilies.  We love to add these wonderful chilies to everything from eggs to grilled cheese sandwiches.  This year, my husband said I added too many chilies to green chili because it was HOT.  It was hot, but I thought it was just right.  (Others said it had a nice kick to it, so I guess it was ok.)  The downside to cooking with a lot of these chilies is that my hands were burning and so were my lungs from breathing in the fumes when I was chopping those green beauties.  After the first bag of chilies, I put on some plastic gloves.

We also had ham and rolls and salad for those whose palates haven't grown accustomed to the hot chili flavors we enjoy.  When it came time to serve the food, things got a bit crazy, but somehow, the buffet we set up worked even if it wasn't very fancy.

Just before dinner, at sundown, Jim had us all gather in the dining room so he could light the first candle of Hanukkah.  He explained the significance of lighting the candle and spoke of his heritage and of his parents.  He then said a blessing for us all.

I snapped a quick photo of part of the family as they sat down to eat.  Later, I had to laugh at just how bad of a photo I had taken.  A candle seems to burn right on top of Caleb's face.  Obviously, our Christmas Eve dinner was eaten a  more relaxed style. With a cabinet full of china behind us, we chose to eat from paper plates.  My children imposed the paper plates routine a few years back for holidays other than Thanksgiving.  While I still wish we had a more formal table, it is so much easier with the size of our family to toss the dishes when we are all done eating.  Jim's former wife and her husband joined us for Christmas Eve celebration as is our usual practice.

In the kitchen, the grandchildren seemed to especially enjoy the holiday poppers that were a surprise gift at each place setting.  I love the paper crowns they all donned.

After dinner, we all went downstairs for a gift exchange.

Julie's tree that I decorate every year with her ornaments has a bit of a funny story this year.  I think she would enjoy the story of this year's tree.  I bought a live tree, as I always do, at the grocery store where I always buy the tree each year.  In her first years of college she worked for this particular grocery chain, and I know she always liked a live tree, so I buy an "elf" tree.  I quickly picked up a tree this year without checking to see how fresh it was and realized when I got it home it was already losing needles.  I put it up anyway, gave it some water, and planned to decorate it in a few days.  By the time I got around to decorating it, it was seriously dry.  I had Jim take it upstairs and set it out for with the garbage on the Monday before Christmas.  The garbage collectors left it.  I guess they thought it was a mistake that I set it out.  So, I stuck it in the garage.  Then two days before Christmas, I decided that I should rescue the poor rejected tree and decorate it after all.  I only turned the lights on for the time we exchanged presents because I feared it would go up in flames.

Upper right of the photos is one of the newly weds.  We were so happy to have grandson Caleb and his wife Rachel with us here from Ogden, Utah.  The middle photo typifies our Christmas.  Brad is wearing Jim's readers.  It seemed we were always asking if someone had a pair of readers one of us could borrow.  Jim just had cataract surgery, and for the first time since he was eight years old, he no longer wears glasses except to read.  The problem is, he can never find the readers.  It seems the children are also getting to the point where they need readers also.

Jim got an elliptical machine for Christmas this year.  It didn't come in his stocking, but it did provide a good place to hang his stocking.

The guys all had beards this year.  Jim started growing one a few weeks back.  He hadn't shaved in a few days, and I said there was no reason to rush into anything and suggested he grow a beard.  He never has grown one before, so it has been a fun adventure for him to learn how to trim it.  He has a ways to go before he catches up with his grandson Caleb.

Back upstairs, the family waited for dessert.

Thia, Jim's oldest daughter made the most amazing cake.  It tasted as good as it looked.

It was all over much too soon.

On Christmas Day, Jim and I attended church before we came home to eat a light breakfast and open gifts.  Amy, who had spent Christmas Eve at her own home with her children, came down to see us in the early afternoon.

Jim totally spoiled me this year with an Apple watch.  I was thrilled to get it and have really enjoyed having it.

Amy brought me this beautiful bouquet for Christmas.  It seems that girl never fails to bring me flowers whenever she shows up for special occasion.  I so appreciate that about her.  She really outdid herself this time.

She wouldn't let me take her photo.  It kills me not to photograph my beautiful girl, but she just doesn't like me taking photos of her, so I honor that wish.  It was wonderful to have her with us.  She brought gifts, flowers, and her presence which was the best of all.  Her children spend Christmas Day with their father and his family.  Later in the evening she returned home so she could sleep in her own bed.  I can understand that desire.

Jim has been enjoying his elliptical.  He loves the way it mimics running as he was once a runner.  I think it is a great thing to have in the house because he never has time to go to the club to work out.  Here he is pushing himself to get back in shape in the comfort of his man cave.  The other bonus about working out at home is, in his words, "And I don't have to wear white socks."

On the day after Christmas, as I walked from my office towards the main living space of our home, I was taken by just how grateful I am for all the blessings in my life.  Our home is a place of comfort and peace.  The best kind of evening is one spent at home with the man I love as we quietly read.  There is still just enough clutter left from opening Christmas presents, and from the dog's toys to make this home a place that is lived in.  It always seems a bit empty when the kids leave after a visit, but at this time in our life, we are so grateful to be living close enough to our children that they can drop in even for a short visit.  Jim always jokes that he "loves to see the headlights, but the tail lights are even better."  In truth, it is good to know our children have established their own lives and their own traditions.

After so many years of working long hard days, it is a true blessing to have quiet peaceful evenings at home.  Tonight we had thought of going to a movie, but preferred to stay home.

As the year comes to an end, this post is being sent out with wishes for the very happiest of new year wishes.  2016 has ended on a very happy and healthy note for us.  We are so grateful for that.  We look forward to see what 2017 has in store.  Blessings to all you, my dear friends.  I truly do wish you

A very

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Passing of the Family Patriarch

Just past midnight I received a text from my daughter Keicha telling me her paternal grandfather had passed away. I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to spend some time with him this fall.  He was a dear and special man in my life. 

On February 14, 1966, I went to work at the Internal Revenue Service in Ogden, Utah.  On that same day, another young man also started working at this same place.  We met two days later, and it was clear that we were quite taken by each other.  We would marry six months later.  

My dear in-laws were our only attendants when my former husband and I married.  I loved these two people as if they were my very own parents.  They always treated me as if I were their daughter.  I could never have picked finer in-laws.  Now, both of them are gone.  

Dad, as I called my father-in-law, worked at IRS during the night shift.  After I was married, and when I was pregnant with my first child, Dad and I would often eat our dinner together at work.  He always checked in on me during break to see how I was doing.  Once, someone asked me who the man was I kept talking to at work.  "I even see you eating lunch with him," the person noted.  I said, "Oh, that is my father-in-law."  The person responded on how young he looked and remarked that they could not believe he was really just my father-in-law.  

He was a young and good looking man in those days.  He was only twenty years or so older than I, but he was very fit and active, so I guess I can understand how people questioned who he really was.  Dad was a river runner, a fisherman, a gardener, and had been quite a skier back in his day. 

Unfortunately, the marriage between my first husband and myself did not last, but my respect for and love for his parents never diminished.  Over the years, they both always treated me with great love and respect also, and I always looked forward to seeing them when I was in Utah, or on the few occasions when they came to Colorado to visit.  This past fall,  I am so grateful I had the see my dear father-in-law one last time.  Below is an account of the occasion:

I think we all have places that have become central to us when we look back on our lives.  Certainly the home of my former in-laws is one of those places for me.  It was in this home where I first got to know my former husband and his family.  Fifty years ago last month, I left this house to walk across the street to the church on the corner to marry my former husband and father of my children.  

Nearly every Sunday afternoon or evening during the years my family was young when I lived in Utah, we would visit Grandma and Grandpa at their home.  Often we were treated with homemade raspberry ice cream made by Grandpa.  The raspberries came from his garden.   His garden kept his grown family and probably half of the neighborhood in fresh produce throughout the summer for as long as I can remember.  How I loved those fresh tomatoes from his garden.  Often, my lunch consisted of just garden fresh tomatoes from Grandpa.

The backyard was the gathering place for so many summer evening picnics to celebrate a birthday, a baby shower, or Father's Day. I asked Grandpa how his garden was doing, and he said he only had a few tomato plants that had not done well this year, oh, and of course there were the raspberries.  And, there had been some good peaches earlier, he said.

Hoping to find some raspberries, Bridger and I headed to the backyard.  We were in luck.  There were a few delicious ripe raspberries waiting to be picked and eaten.  
Keicha came out to see what we were doing.  As she stood on the stairs of the deck memories of the day she walked down those stairs on her wedding day to be married in this very yard also came flooding back.  

My former father-in-law, now in his early 90's,  is a bit stooped over, and he said he can't hear or see "too good," but his voice was strong as he asked for all of the the children and grandchildren, my husband, and for my mother.  He told about a book he was reading.  He reminisced  a bit about the days he was a pilot for Bridger.  His once youthful, handsome face now seemed as if it had been refined by the years he has lived.  He has always been such a kind and good man to me.  Always.  I kissed him on the cheek when we left and told him I loved him.  He remains "Dad" to me.  It was hard to visit him and know that "Mother" is no longer there with him.  I'm so grateful to have had this short visit with him.


It is hard to imagine life without Grandpa Chris in it.  I will forever be grateful that he was a part of my life.  I am also grateful that he was such a great grandfather to my children and grandchildren.  All of them adored him.  I was blessed when I married into his family, and he continued to be a blessing to the generations that were added to his family.  We all will miss him terribly.  He was one of the greatest generation, and he was one of the finest examples of devotion to home, family, church, and country that his generation produced.  My heart is so very sad to see him pass to the next life, but I am grateful to know he no longer suffering and in pain.  My heartfelt condolences go out to his children and grandchildren.  God bless you all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Present: A Time of Modern Celebration ~ A Need for The Ageless Message

The onslaught of messages on just what would make the perfect
Christmas present come long before November.
Christmas catalogs, mailers, newspaper inserts heralding sales on the perfect Christmas gift, pile up in the mailbox and on the table.

Texts are sent to grandchildren inquiring just which gift would be perfect for them.
Shopping commences at malls, in local shops, and online.
This is Christmas present.
It all seems so complicated -
the way we do Christmas present.

A modern and technologically savvy grandma with “old school” habits,
 I write post it notes and stick them to my phone as I scurry about
trying to find the perfect Christmas present.
I check the lists and where to find the gifts.
“What size will fit each now nearly grown grandchild,” I ask myself,
“and will I find something in budget in that size.”
The gifts are all simple really, but Grandma wants all the grandchildren to have a
Christmas gift from her to open.
Shopping, shopping, shopping, I scurry about before I head home.
I check the budget.
I check the checking account.
I run out of checks, still have a bit of money, but can’t find more checks.
“Good thing I’m buying gifts and not sending checks,” I think.
I note the last check is numbered 1225

Wrapping is done in paper from remnants that remain from years gone by because I forgot to put new paper on the list of things I need.
 I find a nearly empty roll of tape. 
I have no ribbon and the bows that remain are smashed and ruined.
Christmas Present is wrapped in leftovers from Christmas Past.
Boxes are found, filled, and shipped.

Hoping to create the perfect Christmas Present,
I arduously haul up boxes of decorations with which to decorate the house.
I both delight in and cry over the memories that escape those boxes holding memories from so many Christmas Pasts.
“Will the children, none living near me, even make it home for Christmas?” I wonder, “And if they don’t, just why am I going to all this work?”

My heart is touched by memories as I hang each ornament, but honestly,  
I am mostly doing all of this decorating for
Christmas Present
as if I’m doing
a routine duty,

There is no true Christmas spirit being conjured up within my heart or mind.

Christmas Present is filled with messages:
This year be present for Christmas.
 Be the present to someone else this Christmas.
Your presence is the present.

It no longer is Christmas Past, I tell myself as I the Ghost of Grandmother French reminds me of all the candy, cookies, pies, and fruit cakes she made to prepare for a Merry Christmas where all the family gathered in her home.
It is not 1950.
It is 2016.
 Christmas Present is complex.


On the fourth Sunday of Advent,
One week before Christmas,
I search for something festive that fits to wear to church.
Festive clothing hanging in the closet screams of Christmas Past when I could fit into those clothes.
Finally, I conjure up some sort of outfit that will be suitable for the tradition that I carry in my head.  The tradition dictates that I must clothe myself in festive, dressy attire to attend church.
Most folks never wear dressy clothes to church these days,
but I am stuck in Christmas Past.
After all, if I dress the part, won’t I feel like I have the Christmas spirit?
I walk into church feeling like I am in costume,
masquerading as one whose heart is ready for the final week of Advent.

The music leader tells us that yellow strips of paper on in the bulletin.  We are to take them and write on them all that is keeping us from worshiping Jesus this year.  What is filling our hearts and minds instead of the One we came to worship? What is robbing us of our joy?  I turn and look at my husband.  He mouths the words I don’t want to hear.  He knows what it is that I am focused on. 

How do I write those words on that strip of paper?  They would reveal just who I am and what thoughts rob me of my joy and keep me from Jesus.  Will anyone read these?  I worry that someone might.  I print the words.  I don’t want the pastors to recognize my handwriting.  Will I be known as the woman masquerading around dressed in Christmas cheer when she really feels no good cheer at all?  Will my lack of faith in believing that God is able to answer the prayers that I keep as constant requests on my heart be exposed? 

I write down those robbers of joy and peace and hope anyway.  I write down what is keeping me from worshiping the one I came to worship.  I write down what keeps me from Jesus on His birthday. 

We are reminded that all that keeps us from God, from worshiping His Son, His Gift to us, is just straw. Straw.  I write down my confession on that yellow strip of paper and carry it to the front of the church and drop it in a simple, rough-hewn wooden manger.  Other strips of paper filled with other confessions are also strewn in that manger.  The replica of the place where Baby Jesus would be placed has become a straw filled receptacle containing not the Christ child, the baby Jesus, but instead it holds the confessions of a people who need a Savior, One to save them from all the things of this world that bring no joy, no peace, no hope.  This manger at the front of church is a crib filled with pain and sorrow and envy and pride and materialism and striving that will burn like straw.  It is filled with worthless things.

It is such a bed as this that would hold the One who came to save us from our sins, the One who came to save us from the idols we worship instead of Him.

The manger contains straw.

It is the Season of Advent.

I have not yet received the joy of His coming this season because I am trying to recreate the rituals, the traditions, of the season.  I am stuck in the trappings of Christmas.  I am seeing and reading the messages of the world about the season.
I have not focused on The Word made flesh who came to dwell among us.
Immanuel – which means God with us – has come,
yet I live as if He has not yet arrived.

Christmas Present is not about me being present at all, it is about
Christ being present in me.

There is no supernatural filling by some Spirit of Christmas Present that fills me with the Christmas Spirit.
I know this.
I need to remember this.

Christmas, like every other time of the year, is about walking in the truth that I am filled with
 His Presence,
and His Spirit.

There is no joy in my heart because my eyes have not been on Jesus;
my eyes were on the trappings of the season.
There was not peace in my soul because I was worried about the
problems of this world,
of my world,
of the world of those I love,
rather than in trusting in the One whom came to bring us
healing, and hope, and peace.

Christmas Present:
Political unrest,
“Wars and rumors of wars,”
The children of Allepo,
Wars and rumors of wars
Fill the news.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, the pastor reads from Jeremiah 23,
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! declares the LORD.
Jeremiah tells the people that the LORD has declared that He will attend to the evil deeds of the shepherds that have not cared for the flock.  Evil leaders will answer to God.  A good shepherd will come to care for the flock and to bring them back to the fold.

Earlier that day, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, burdened down with fears for the future, and for my loved ones, I had turned to Hebrews 1 before I prayed for those worries and concerns that were robbing me from fully trusting in the One able to take those worries and concerns and carry them for me.

As I heard the words of Jeremiah, I was reminded of the first verses in Hebrews.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, through whom also he created the world.

The promise of those prophets for a good shepherd was fulfilled.
Jesus, my good shepherd, has come.
He knows me.
He sees me.
He knows what is in my heart, and what is written on that yellow slip of paper.
He doesn’t ask me to clean myself up so I can come into his presence.
Instead, He cleanses me so I am purged of all the sin that separates me from Him.
He doesn’t tell me to follow in His footsteps so I can prove myself worthy.
No, He shows me I will never prove myself worthy of Him, and so by His grace He robes me in His righteousness so I am worthy before the throne of God.

The Gift,
The child born with the government upon his shoulder,
The child named
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace,
 came to save His people from their sins and the sins of this world.

I am no longer wearing those ill-fitting, inappropriate, filthy rags that I thought would cover up what I didn’t want the world to see.  I have taken my eyes off the Creator of the Universe and focused on looking at the world.  I have put my energy into my own efforts to brings a measure of joy to others. I have sought to put on the trappings of the season and make sure all rituals and traditions are followed.  I had not had time to focus on the One we celebrate. 

As I move forward into Christmas Present and towards Christmas Future, my prayer is that I will remember the words of this hymn, O Holy Night.

Truly He taught us to love one another.
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression is ceased.

The pastor tells us as believers in Christ we are robed in the Righteousness of Christ, which is referenced in Jeremiah.
And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
He robed us in that righteousness not just to someday stand before His throne worthy but to also do His work in this world with compassion, justice, and mercy.

In 2016, I know of no other way to have hope for the future than for me to continue to trust in the One who came to put an end to the hopelessness, injustice, and lack of joy and peace we find in this world. 

I am here to fulfill is my purpose He has given me
to know Him and make Him known.

Everything else is just straw.

Christmas Present
Christ present in me.

Christmas Present
I am filled with His presence.

* Thank you to my pastor Mark Bates for his sermon which spoke to me so powerfully this Sunday and inspired this post.