Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Joy of Christmas

The week started off with some bumps. There were a few pity parties, tears and a testing of the faith that has held me together until now. Today at chemo, I was talking to Cindy, one of the nurses I've come to know on a first name basis and we were lamented on how Christmas is just a week away.

Then I realized it was less than a week away. It didn't even bother me. And when the unpleasant residue of chemo rose up within my body in the early evening, I pushed it back, reminding myself that tomorrow this will pass. Just to prove it was true, I got myself off my recliner shortly after 6pm as planned and prepared a batch of candy cane cookie dough.

It hurts to walk and there are times that I worry that the pain on my left leg is a precursor to paralysis and at the beginning of the week it was hard to let it go, something I'm usually able to do. Worry is not my middle name. Worry doesn't change things. Prayer does. But I can't deny that there are times when worry doesn't creep in, like an unwanted visitor who outstays his welcome.

Because it hurts to walk, it's easy to stay in my recliner for too long which isn't any good for me either. So after two days of worry, I decided that no matter how much it hurts, I needed to get myself off my bottom and do something with myself. Yesterday, I bought a gift, crossed a name off my list, wrapped four presents and wrote two Christmas Cards. It felt so good.

I also found that going into prayer when the pity party starts has helped a lot, that and being honest and sharing my fears with people I trust. It's hard for me to do because I don't want to worry family and friends. I believe that the enemy would have me spend almost all my waking hours in my recliner. It would be easy to do because I'm pretty comfortable in it, but it's not where I'm meant to be. Prayer has helped a lot. It helps me depend on God and gets me back on track.

Today I realized, I've found my joy again. I'm laughing and talking with Mom and Brie more. I'm smiling at strangers and finding patience at the stores where we all know we need it at this time of year.

And I'm making cookies.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Focus on the Right Things

One of the things I struggle with each Christmas is the feeling that no matter what I'm doing, I should be doing something else. It's so easy to get pulled in so many different directions at this time of the year. Sunday morning was no different. I was taking stock of all that I needed wanted to do and actually considered skipping church.

I was thinking about how I could use that hour and a half and get some Christmas shopping or even baking done. Then reality hit me. How could I, in good conscious, do that? Never mind that it was 9am and I had been up since 6am without much to show for it. I hightailed it into the shower and got myself ready in time for church.

One of the things that Rick Warren recommended for making time was to focus on one thing at time. When I was considering forgoing church that morning, my mind was racing, thinking about all the things I needed wanted to do. The reality was, there was no way I was going to accomplish all those things in one day. Equally important, there was no reason I needed to accomplish all those things on Sunday either.

Mapping out the next ten days, I realized I had more than enough time to get everything done without becoming overloaded, as long as I remained focus and devised a plan. It's not just focusing on one thing, but it's handling interruptions without being distracted from primary goals. Understanding that helps us to put our focus on the right things, everything else becomes secondary, optional.

Instead of running around like a crazy person, I was able to attend church, enjoy the service and not worry about the things I should be doing. I was where I was supposed to be and it felt so good. Isn't that what Christmas is all about?

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Trappings of Christmas

It's been a week of ups and downs, downs and ups. How can it be that Christmas could evoke any emotion but joy? I blame it all on us humans. God didn't ask us to turn Christmas into a tree buying, light hanging, gift giving, stressful event, but we did.

Yet, here I sit, the smell of pine wafting through the air, the glow of lights on the tree and the fireplace warming my heart and my Christmas mug, pleasing to my sight. I can't deny that I enjoy some of the trappings of the "holiday". Most important to me, though is remembering what it's all about and as a Christian, it is about the birth of Christ.

I was reading in one of my devotional's this morning about the need to create margin in our lives. Most of us don't have time to be still and hear the voice of God. This is especially true at Christmas time, which just causes more stress. How true is that? The truth is, just thinking about the decorating, shopping and baking, or lack thereof, was causing most of my downs. Once I let go of all of that, I could enjoy things again. And somehow, things are still coming together.

In my devotional, there were seven pieces of advice that Rick Warren had on how to keep the stress and demands from overwhelming us. These were things he observed that Jesus did in his life. I thought I would share them here for the next week because just reading them this morning, gave me a sense of peace.

The one that touched me the most this morning was set clear goals. I am a great procrastinator to the point where sometimes I'm actually joke about how good I am at it. But the truth is, it adds to stress. As Rick Warren so aptly put it, "Preparation prevents pressure, but procrastination produces it". Wow! Did that ever make me want to be sure to get all my ducks in a row from now on.

I was reminded of the day a few years ago that I went to my brother and sister-in-law's early for their annual Christmas party. I was going to set up a photo booth for the party so I got there a little over an hour before the scheduled start time expecting to see the family rushing around with last minute to-dos. Instead, they were all in the family room kicking back and relaxing. It was refreshing and stress-free.

Obviously, there was a lot of planning and preparation that went into their party and by not procrastinating they were able to head into the event, relaxed and ready to enjoy their company. If we come to realize that even with preparation, something can't be done, perhaps that means we need to cut it from our list.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Signs of Christmas

I had expectations for the day. Today we would finally start the decking of the halls. When it became clear that she had other plans, my disappointment was undeniable. If not today, then when? I hate not being able to do things myself. I hate having to depend on others. Tomorrow there is an office gift exchange and I haven't even bought the gift to exchange. I pity the person whose name I drew.

At least there is online shopping. I would be a cooked goose, a Mr. Scrooge, a Burgermeister Meisterburger without online shopping.

I just might make it through this Christmas season with the right heart.

It helps that there is one more sign of Christmas in our house.

Monday, December 9, 2013


Today I was feeling anything but merry and bright. It really didn't hit me until the end of my work day, but at approximately 4:07pm, whatever light I had in my heart was extinguished and the darkness came even as the sun outside was still shining.

All I could think about was how tired I was, how laborious it was to walk, to stand, to do much of anything, how our house was still not decorated, cookies had not been baked, and did I mention, how tired I was? From doing what? Obviously, not much of anything. Even if I wanted to, walking and standing are any but pleasant, making everything, even the things I love to do, a chore. Yes, the pity party was in full swing, complete with a four-string quartet.

Earlier in the day, I had thought about going to a coffee shop I love who had posted a picture of a Turkish latte that looked intriguing, but I couldn't muster up the strength to go there. Instead a trip to the drive thru Starbucks and the drive thru Baskin & Robbins seemed to be more in order. No need to put any make up on and no need to park and walk to the establishment.

Thankfully, mom didn't try to talk me out of my plan. She understood that sometimes you just need to comfort yourself with ice cream. And steaming hot coffee.

On the way there, my mind drifted to my daily devotional and how it called me to draw myself to God when I'm feeling disconnected, lonely, lost, disappointed, forlorn, sad, and everything else in between. The tears flowed as I drove.

Then I thought about how just a few weeks ago, the drive to the Starbucks was painful and scary. Now I drive with confidence and no fear. I thought about how I could barely walk and now, yes, it is laborious, but a few weeks ago, I would have been happy to walk as I am today. And I began thanking God for all He had done and all he continues to do.

My world became bright again. I went through my drive thrus, came home, polished off my ice cream and spent a little time ordering another Christmas gift and taking out a few of the Christmas decorations.

Bright. I'll take it over the darkness anytime.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

December 3rd

It's December 3rd, to some it's just the start of the month, but I already feel as though time is slipping away. Usually by this time, the familiar signs of Christmas adorn the house and my heart.

The only sign of Christmas around here are the throw blankets we wrap ourselves in since the weather has turned. Since they've been in use for the past few months, they don't really count.

If I could just use a Christmas mug, it would make me feel better, but even those haven't made their appearance. I just might get desperate enough to buy another red, gold or silver coffee cup just to bring the spirit of Christmas into our home.

Across the street, the neighbors already have their Christmas lights strung outside. It both makes me happy and sad. Happy to see them as I drive up in the dark. Sad that the only light on our house is the porch light. I need to find a way to get the lights up this year, especially since Max and Rori will be here for Christmas.

But the thing that bothers me the most is that it's the 3rd day of December and I don't feel I have done anything daily to give God the glory He should receive for Advent.

Now that would bring the Spirit of Christmas much more than any light, tree, cookie or mug.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Start of the Season

It's the start of the season, December First. My brother's birthday. My other brother's anniversary. The beginning of my Picture the Holiday class and the first day of the last month of the year. It's also the last day of my week vacation and the day my sister left town to head back home after the Thanksgiving holiday.

I never feel like I get enough time with her when she comes to visit. I've learned to not plan too much or have too many expectations, but it's hard to share her with so many others.

For my last day of vacation, it was a good day, starting with an early breakfast to celebrate Greg's birthday. It's always fun to find a new breakfast place, even if it's not especially close to home. I ordered 7-grain pancakes topped with fresh fruit and Vermont Syrup. The Vermont Syrup was the reason I ordered the pancakes, but the fruit and the 7-grains are what made them so tasty.

After breakfast, JJ, Brie, mom and I made a quick stop at the Farmer's Market two blocks away. It was smaller than I expected, but the walk was refreshing. I really need to start exercising more. I feel as though I'm losing my muscle tone, but that's another story.

As we were walking back to the car, I spotted a woman sitting at a little lone table, with a sign which read The Poem Corner. On her table sat a portable manual typewriter, a little dictionary and a stack of 2-1/2 x 4 card stock ready for the striking of the keys against the ribbon as a poem is created in a matter of minutes.

After reading Writing Down the Bones, where Natalie Goldberg writes about creating poems on-demand at a Farmer's Market, I was intrigued. So I decided to pay for a poem. I asked for a poem about Joy.

The poet took a piece of card stock out and rolled it into the typewriter, paused for a moment and began typing away. She typed quickly at first, until she came to the last part of the poem. Then she paused again, the typewriter silent, a few letters were struck and then silence again. A few more and then silence again and then the last lines flowed quickly as the beginning.

She pulled the kraft paper out of the typewriter and read me her poem. I loved how she called joy a fleeting creature, as it often can be…fleeting…if we search for joy in the wrong places. The places she wrote of where we can find it was filled with perception, as though she knew who I was. I walked away glad that I took the time to buy a poem. It was the perfect way to start the season.

Her poem reads as follows:


so that when we are journey-
ing downy his slop of line,
sometimes out of tune with
the forces that be, we can
grab hold of this sometimes
fleeting creature. as we grab
hold of it and contort it to
our needs, finding that its
residency is in places such
closer to home. in a simple
smile, in a first cup of
coffee, in a family bond root-
ed in time and strengthened
with its unfurling. so that
we always know the place to
look when the road
is overtaken with

topacio althaus
December 1, 2013