Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Recap - Top 10 Style

Hopefully, I'll return to "real" writing, rather than list writing, in the coming week. Until then, here's a quick recap of my time at home.

10. Viewing the lights around town, multiple times. I'm pretty sure that we are one of the only families who tried to visit every home or business that won an award for their lighting display.
9. Going to both the 4:30 and the 7:00 Christmas Eve services. It was the best of both worlds because we got to see all the families with young children at the 4:30 and then got to participate in the candlelight service at the 7:00 and hear "O Holy Night" sung by one of our favorite singers.
8. Laughing and more laughing - it's one of the many things we do so well together.
7. Catching up with old friends of all ages. I didn't get to see everyone I'd hoped to see, but I got to visit with many friends whom I see only once a year.
6. Trying new restaurants and revisiting lots of our old favorites, as well as eating homecooked meals.
5. Having my sister as my personal shopper; she's got an eye for fun stuff that I would never even think to pick up and put together.
4. Having my mom off the whole time we were home.
3. Getting to secretly pick up the tab at Sunday lunch for a couple who has blessed our family over the years.
2. Learning that I cannot outgive my mom and sister. They are incredible gift-givers.
1. Spending 9 days with my mom and sister. God gave us safe travel, good health, and lots of fun time together, which was a wonderful Christmas gift.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Traditions (finale) - Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

My traditions would not be complete without the Christmas Eve candlelight service. The service at our church is filled with all my favorite Christmas hymns and Scriptures on the birth of the Christ child, and it ends with the darkening of the church to allow us to sing "Silent Night" by candlelight.

As we gather together as a community of faith with lifelong friends to celebrate the real Reason for this season without all the commercialism, it's like a little glimpse of Heaven. We bring nothing but ourselves, and yet, we receive so much.

May your Christmas be filled with joy, with love, and most of all, with Him.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Traditions 10 - The Stockings

Some traditions stick because they are so easy. And this is one such example.

Every Christmas, we "open" our stockings first. After my sister and I make our way through the ornaments and other little (or sometimes not so little) gifts in the body of the stocking, we always check the toe of the stocking for an orange and an apple. I think "Santa" has only forgotten them one year, though many years we have reached in to find that they were ice-cold, having just been removed from the refrigerator.

I've never even asked if there's a story behind how Mom started this. I've just always known they'd be there. And there's just something sweet about that.

What stocking stuffer traditions do you have?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Traditions 9 - The Gifts

"It's better to give than to receive." That old saying is sometimes hard to grasp as a child, but I've found it to be absolutely true the older I've gotten. Nothing makes me smile more than to find a fun, surprising gift for a friend or family member. But sometimes, it's not about driving all over to find the right gift. And that should be great news with only 10 days left until Christmas.

For instance, our church is participating in the Advent Alternative. In lieu of buying a regular gift, you can go online and honor someone by giving a donation in their behalf to a worthy cause like Heifer International, H.O.P.E. Farm, World Vision, or others. Or if you just love to shop, one of the gift alternatives I have used in the past is to honor a friend or family member by adopting an angel from one of the Angel Trees around town.

I've also been a big fan of making gifts. From baked goodies to preparing jars of Christmas scent to making personalized notecards, I've run the gammit. I've also enjoyed serving my friends by putting lights on their trees or helping them get their shopping done. I don't think you can go wrong when you bless someone with the use of your time and talent. I know I've been blessed by some wonderful gifts that haven't come in a box, like my sister flying in to drive me home and friends coming over to replace outdoor lightbulbs (where ladders are involved) and put up my Christmas decorations.

Those are just a few of my attempts to think outside-the-box when it comes to gift giving. But I'd enjoy hearing what gift-giving ideas you have.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Traditions 8 - Tour of Lights

One of our family traditions that keeps moving up on our calendar because we can't seem to wait until Christmas Eve is our tour of the Christmas lights in various neighborhoods in my hometown. It's always a treat to see the winners of the local lighting contest and to see the creativity change from year to year.

But the one thing that can sometimes get lost on me is the symbolism of the lights. This season highlights Jesus coming to the world and being the Light of the world. That's something I hope to focus on more this year.

So do you participate in a tour of lights?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Traditions 7 - The Movies

Does Linus quoting Luke chapter 2 get you every year like it does me when A Charlie Brown Christmas comes on television? Or do you wait for the tongue-stuck-on-the-flagpole scene from A Christmas Story? Or maybe you prefer a more recent movie like Home Alone, The Santa Claus, or How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

It seems like the Christmas season, with family gathering and time off, provides the perfect opportunity to watch some old favorites or venture out to see a new movie at the theatre. Movie makers know that a good story will drive us to the theatre in droves. (Just look out how The Blind Side surged to #1 this past weekend after being in the theatre for several weeks.) But no matter how good their storyline is, there's a greater story that each of our hearts yearns to hear, and it's the one Linus recited.

So as you pull out the stack of movies this Christmas season, challenge yourself to set aside some time and re-read the story from Luke. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Traditions 6 - The Photos

I can still remember waiting in line at the local Wal-Mart. It seemed like we spent half of each December there waiting in line with my mom and sister as we tried to get the annual Christmas photo taken. All the while Mom worried that our hair and our dresses wouldn't stay nice for very long amidst our attempts to entertain ourselves during the wait.

Now that we are spread out across this and other states, we don't "get" to take the annual Christmas photo in time to send out to friends and family. But we still try to get some photo ops in while we are home together.

But I have no desire to cover my refrigerator with pictures of myself. That's where all of you come in. It is so fun to receive Christmas photos from you. I keep them up year-round. So for those of you who spend half of your December waiting in line with your kiddos to have their picture taken, please know that the photo will find a coveted spot on my refrigerator for months to come!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas Traditions 5 - Christmas Mail

The reason I rush to my mailbox every day during December is for the chance to find a Christmas letter or card (or maybe even several) in my mailbox. It's a time to find out what family and friends from near and far have been up to throughout the year. I learn about new babies, new jobs, and new addresses. I also learn about the losses and the let downs that friends and family have experienced. And I treasure every letter and card, keeping them in a box to reread throughout the year.

I started giving out Christmas cards when I was in junior high and continued that tradition for many years. But when I made the move to Cowtown in 2000, I decided that it was time to start writing my own Christmas letter instead of relying on my mom's letter to cover my news. This year will mark my tenth letter, assuming that I can get one done.

Writing a Christmas letter isn't easy, especially when it seems like it has been a pretty ordinary year. I've been tempted to send out a repeat of a previous year's letter, wondering if anyone would notice. I've also been tempted to just skip writing a letter. But because I hold receiving Christmas letters in such high esteem, I don't entertain that thought for very long.

Many of my friends have young children, and writing a Christmas letter isn't an option. I totally understand that and welcome pictures of their babies for my refrigerator. But for those who can find the time to write a letter, please know that I always appreciate receiving them and do not take the time that was spent on them for granted.

So what works best for you: the Christmas letter or the Christmas card?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Men of Faith

I've prayed for them all season. Not for wins, necessarily, but for safe travel, for protection from injuries, and for overall good health. So when I found out that UT would be playing in the Big 12 Championship in the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, I bought into the "for everything else there's MasterCard" campaign and got tickets near the 50-yard line. I couldn't not be there. I knew I had to see Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley play live once before they graduate. And this was my best chance.

McCoy (#12) on the bench getting info

Shipley (#8) back to receive a punt

The game wasn't the runaway that I'd hope it would be. It was a struggle from the get-go. Colt was intercepted. Multiple times. He was sacked. Multiple times. And it looked grim. But there were other things going on right there on the field that the cameras often didn't catch or that weren't mentioned by those who were calling the game.

Take for instance that I saw Colt go over by himself, take a knee, and bow his head to pray before the second half started. The camera caught him doing a similar thing during the last seconds of the game, but an article said that he was "shielding his eyes" and failed to mention that he was praying. His lips were clearly moving. And out on the field, Jordan Shipley was quoting Jeremiah 17:7 (go to 42:10 in the video link) to Hunter Lawrence to encourage him before he made the game-winning 46-yard kick with 0:01 on the clock.

But it's not just Colt and Jordan. There was a news article earlier this week on center Chris Hall, who hopes to return to a college campus and lead students in the Word after pursuing a master's degree possibly in Israel. Sam Acho said in the postgame press conference that the team had put its trust in God and that he had no doubt that the field goal would go in. Sergio Kindle said he knew God had seen the time clock and that he hoped the officials would follow their morals and put the time back on the clock. It's been time, not prayer, that has been lacking for this UT football team.

Just a little over a year ago, the Longhorns endured their only loss of the season at the hands of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. With one second left to play, Tech's Crabtree scored, bringing the score to 39-33 and leaving the Longhorns with no time to come back. That second haunted the Longhorns.

But life often boils down to "seconds." For a lot of people, that can mean second thoughts on how life was lived. For others, it means second chances. The chance to redeem a loss and to change an outcome. For the positive. In that 0:01 of the game last night, that's exactly what occurred. No second thoughts. Just lots of prayers for a second chance. God didn't have to grant those prayers, but He did. And I can't think of another group of faithful men who are more deserving of a second chance.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas Traditions 4 - The Sweets

I love how my mom's kitchen transforms into Candyland and Cookieville every year at Christmas. When we were growing up, my sister enjoyed helping with the baking, while I was more of the quality control tester and deliverer. We'd deliver the goodies--intricate tea breads and decorative containers filled with Spritz cookies, gingerbread cookies, English toffee, white chocolate covered pretzels, penuche nuts, and/or peanut brittle--to friends' houses just in time for Christmas Day gatherings.

I'm glad I grew up with that background because my workplace's gift policy prohibits the exchange of non-edible gifts. So over the years, I've made pretzel pops, Oreo truffles, thin-mint-like cookies, and Guenther House brownies. The most-requested are the pretzel pops, so that's what my co-workers received this year.

Personally, my mom's decorated gingerbread cookies are my favorite. I look forward to enjoying them when I go home for Christmas and to continuing the tradition of delivering more yummy sweets to friends and neighbors.

So what's your favorite holiday baked good? I'm always up for trying something new.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas Traditions 3 - Programs & Parties

"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" is the theme right now as Christmas parties have kicked off as of last night. As with every tradition, this is one of the areas that can easily become stressful, especially if the invitations and the programs are aplenty and the nights available are but few.

Growing up, our family's focus was on the programs and parties associated with church and school. But today, even with just those two categories, that might not limit the number of your potential "commitments."

For me, I know that I must get rest, that I can't have commitments every night of the week, and that I will have to say "no" to some good things. But in the end, by limiting the number of events I attend, I will be able to remember the individual events and the memories that were made instead of having only a blur of activity.

Christmas programs and parties will be in high gear for the next few weeks, so I hope that you will choose to attend those that will bless you and your family the most.

If you have a tip for keeping the craziness to a minimum, would you share it with me?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Birthday Blog Tour

"How can you creatively celebrate the birthday of someone whose love languages are gifts and words of encouragement?" This is the question I started pondering in late October, and immediately, the idea of a blog tour came to mind. I thought it would be fun to have several friends post something special on their blogs to celebrate this sweet Friend's birthday. And thankfully, I found volunteers who were willing to participate, despite how crazy-sounding my idea was. So without further ado, here's the first stop on the birthday blog tour celebrating my friend TJ's birthday, which is on December 3.


Who agrees to give a ride to and stay overnight in a hotel with a gal she barely knows? That would be you back in September 2007. You graciously agreed to let me go with you to the North Texas Christian Writers' Conference, and I not only gained a writing mentor but also a friend. You gave me pointers before the conference (i.e., that I might want to take notecards to write thank-you notes to speakers while there and hand deliver them), guided me through the conference, and helped me process what I had learned as we made the trip back. When life resumed on the Monday after the conference, I realized how lucky I was to have had one-on-one time to pick your brain on writing, being a wife and mother, and doing daily life.

I came away amazed by how wonderfully you balance being a wife to Corbin and a mother to Branson, Hudson, Basden, and Esther. I love how you are intentional about taking time for you and Corbin to get away and how the two of you, as a couple, are intentional about making your kids feel special by spending time with them individually.

But most of all, these past two years as we've been in a writers' group together, I have been inspired by your obedience, both in using your writing talent and in raising your kids. I know that the urge to write must overwhelm you at times. But you have strived to make your family a priority and sought God's will on how and when you could utilize your writing talent without neglecting your family. Similarly, it has been a joy to watch as you have been open to God's leading on how best to educate your children. You have been willing to reevaluate each year and to try new alternatives when the status quo was no longer working as well as you wanted.

As I watch you live out your faith, your obedience to Christ blesses and encourages me. I am grateful God has given me the opportunity to be mentored and befriended by you, and I look forward to seeing what He does through you in the years to come.

Happy early birthday, Friend, and look for the Birthday Blog Tour to continue tomorrow on Nikki's blog!

TJ in pink at the 2008 North Texas Christian Writers' Conference

Christmas Traditions 2 - The Music

"It's not Christmas without The Carpenters," my sister recently proclaimed. And I agree wholeheartedly.

I can't think of a single Christmas when we failed to listen to Christmas albums by The Carpenters and Andy Williams, nor is Christmas complete with The Muppets' rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," which includes Miss Piggy's variations on "five golden rings." Over the years, our collection of Christmas cassette tapes has been replaced with CDs of those timeless favorites, along with new favorite albums by Harry Connick Jr., Josh Groban, Stephen Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Michael Buble, Mannheim Steamroller, and many others.

Multiple verses of old hymns like "Joy to the World," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and "Silent Night" are etched in my memory due to years of participating in the annual Christmas pageant, and new variations on those familiar favorites are always fun to hear. But I also find that each Christmas season brings the opportunity to hear new songs, and I seem to find a new favorite each year.

For the past two years, I've written about my favorites here and here. This year is no different. Throughout my baking extravaganza with my mom on Saturday, I enjoyed listening to Christ Chapel Bible Church's Christmas CD called "The Baby King," and the song of that same name is my favorite of this season. [You can download it from iTunes if you don't live in this area.]

If you have a favorite Christmas song or CD, I'd love to hear your recommendations. After all, I have the whole month of December to fill with Christmas music!