Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Convoluted Christmas

My blog posts are published on Wednesdays. As I write this I am well aware that most of my readers will be fully engaged in family activities the day it appears. Christmas Day. 

I actually had a rather convoluted Christmas season. I think that happens more as we age and our children are out on their own. 

For the past twelve years or so, our family has celebrated what my youngest daughter referred to as “Thanks Christmas” every other year on Thanksgiving, and Christmas on the even years. All three of my girls are married and have their husbands’ families to consider. It was a plan that worked.

Of course there were exceptions. The year Tom died, all three spent both Thanksgiving and Christmas with me. They needed that time together as much as I did. 

In 2016 we weren’t together for Christmas either. We had a Disney cruise planned but only two of the families could go. My middle daughter gave birth to a sweet addition to the family that year and couldn’t go with us. But trust me, that little boy was worth it!

And then there is this year. This year turned out to be one of those “exceptions.” As 2019 was an “odd year,” I planned for our “Thanks Christmas.” It freed the actual Christmas holiday for the others to do as they wished.

My oldest daughter and her family planned a cruise over the Christmas break. It’s a graduation gift for my oldest grandson.

My middle daughter and her family are taking me to Florida. We’re getting to enjoy that Disney cruise they missed in 2016.

My youngest daughter and her husband are taking their two little ones to Colorado to ski. That is a Waters tradition so I’m happy to see it continue.

All seemed to be on schedule. But “Thanks Christmas” didn’t happen. I had my gifts wrapped and ready, but my middle daughter’s family couldn’t get here for the Thanksgiving break. She brought the youngest member of the family a week early and we all had turkey, dressing, and the works as our Thanksgiving celebration.

Since Christmas day fell on a Wednesday and everyone had travel plans, the two local kiddos and their families met at my youngest daughter’s house for gift opening three days before the big day. We had a great time.

My “middle” and her family arrive after Christmas for our Florida trip. That’s when they’ll get their gifts. 

You see why I say it has been a convoluted Christmas? 

But simply because it hasn’t gone as it has in the past, or maybe as I originally planned, doesn’t mean it is a bad one. 

I’ve enjoyed singing Christmas carols with family and friends. I baked cookies. I’ve had fun both giving and receiving gifts from loved ones. The colorful decorations and poinsettias have brightened the onset of the winter season. 

And, although we don’t have an exact date for His birth, I’ve embraced the church services recognizing that my Savior entered this world and lived this life in a frail human body as we all do. 

A baby. A child. A man. A savior. 

“Emmanuel” means God is with us. And He is with us…convoluted days and all.

Baking is a Tradition. But this one is special to me.
My sister-in-law's Breakaway Bars
with black walnuts from my grandparents farm...
harvested by my mama!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Wedding Vows at Christmas

December 18, 1971
December 18th.  My wedding anniversary. Forty-eight years ago on a Saturday evening one week away from Christmas, Tom and I committed our hearts to each other. 

We were kids really. I was eighteen and he was nineteen. But our parents approved. We were supported by family and friends, as we stood at the front of Lutz Baptist Church in Florida and spoke our vows.

We took those vows seriously. We repeated them to each other every year on our anniversary. We would light our anniversary candle (You can read The Candle story by clicking here) and in the quiet of the evening, we would say our vows again. It wasn’t a ritual. It was a sweet and tender celebration between the two of us.

Every year, since Tom died in 2014, I’ve hosted a caroling party at my house on my anniversary. My family and close friends come and we sing. We talk, share memories, and laugh. We eat Christmas cookies and treats; we visit. And we sing. I often share a story or memory or meditation. And we sing. We sing a few songs in my living room before heading out to carol the neighbors. It’s a celebration. One I know Tom would have loved.

I have this party every year. It is my way of recognizing my anniversary. 

The year I lived in Kosovo, I hosted the caroling party there as well. It is that important to me. (You can read about A Palm Tree Kind of Christmas by clicking here…and no, the weather in Kosovo is not palm tree kind of weather!)

Eventually, everyone leaves and the quiet of the evening settles over me. I don’t light the candle anymore, but in the darkness I whisper my part of the vows:

I take thee, Tom to be my wedded husband.
To have and to hold from this day forward;
For better, for worse; for richer for poorer; in sickness and in health; 
To love, honor, and obey as long as we both shall live; 
According to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto, I pledge thee my love.

Yes, I know that chapter of my life is over. But like any good book, it is worth revisiting again. So I do. Every year, I host a caroling party and celebrate the joy I had in being Tom’s wife.

As I’ve had a few people ask about year end gifting to the scholarship fund for Tom, here are the links. The first is for online giving. The second is for those of you who prefer to mail in your gift. Thank you so much for helping make this a reality.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Idea Collector

Many people I know are collectors…of something. I know people who collect books. Others collect salt and pepper shakers or sports memorabilia. Golf balls, coins, stamps? You name it. People collect things that bring them joy.

My daughters were collectors. When they were young.

Allison collected porcelain dolls.
Danielle collected music globes.
Kendall collected Cherished Teddies.

Allison grew up, got married, and has two sons. She kept a few of her favorite dolls. Perhaps one day she’ll pass them on to a granddaughter. Or not.

Danielle still has most of her music globes, though now they are safely tucked away. She has four young children. Enough said.

Kendall married a minimalist. Don’t misunderstand. It’s a quality I admire. She may have one or two of her “Cherished” figures around, but some other collector dropping in on a yard sale benefitted from “drastically reduced still in box” prices. 

I understand. You grow up. As a little girl, I collected stuffed animals and rocks. The colorful animals covered my bed. I have one left. His name is Pokey. He was Lassie’s friend. I did the math and the poor thing is over sixty years old.

I’m still drawn to pretty rocks or fossils. I don’t have my collection anymore. Somehow in moving, my boxes of rocks and fossils disappeared. I mourned the loss, but my husband, Tom, seemed to be happy about it. Hmm…

Now I collect ideas. Seriously.

I am always bumping into great ideas. I jot them down for later use. I collect ideas for crafts, menus, parties, programs, and gifts. 

But my biggest collection? Ideas for stories and books I want to write.

I have story ideas scratched onto scraps of paper, receipts, church bulletins, calendars, envelopes, and in the margins of workbooks. A few ideas make it into my computer and I have a few in a notebook. But mostly, the ideas are “displayed” in my car cup holder, my wallet, or on the fronts of file folders in my closet.

I tried writing them on a poster in my office, but I would tire simply looking at the ever-growing list of possibilities. I finally grabbed a boot box and started throwing the bits and pieces of paper into it. Perfect. I can close the lid. 

I’ve tried to organize my story ideas. I’ve tried transferring them to a spreadsheet, copying them in a notebook, or putting them on index cards. It’s no use. There are simply too many of them.

Boot Box of Ideas
I have enough ideas to write a plethora of works of fiction and dozens of non-fiction works. I could spend the next 365+ days crafting stories and books using these ideas and never make a dent in the box. (That’s assuming I can read my writing on those scraps of paper.)

Do I throw up my hands in despair? No. I’m an idea person. I’m always coming up with ideas. I collect them. All I need to properly display those ideas is the time, energy, and motivation to write.

Which gives me a great idea…I could create an idea manager for writers like me…or not. So for Christmas this year, I’m asking Santa for a heavy dose of “follow through.” 

What’s on your Christmas list?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Cincinnati Christian University: Plan B

At the end of this semester, Cincinnati Christian University (CCU) will close its doors. Many people who know I had the privilege of serving at CCU for nearly fifteen years have asked me how I feel about the closing. Most want me to speculate on what went wrong. They don’t understand how an institution of higher education can suddenly stop being an institution of higher education in the middle of a school year. I don’t fully understand myself so I won’t begin to offer a hypothesis here.

What I do know, is that for nearly 100 years, CCU did its job and did it well. There are countless lives changed in this world because of the instruction and charge given to graduates of CCU. 

And there will be countless more. 

Lives all over the world will continue to be changed in powerful and positive ways by CCU graduates and those who dedicated their time and talent to the school. 

This post is to the students who are in the throes of mourning the closing of CCU. To them I offer this advice: Embrace this change. 

Yes, those who already have their degree in hand left the school as “highly qualified” individuals ready to serve. 

You who will continue your studies elsewhere will leave CCU “uniquely qualified” to serve the “Plan B” world in which we live. 

Rarely do I find someone who is doing exactly what they planned to do in his or her youth. Most people are following their “Plan B”  (or C or D) dreams or avenues of life. You are getting a crash course in redirecting your life.

Sometimes people chart a new course in life because they choose to follow a dream. I have a friend who was a high school teacher for many years but followed his dream to study law and is now a judge.

It happens. 

But most often, people change direction due to circumstances beyond their control.

Your company downsizes.
You lose your job or life as you know it because of money issues. 
Your house is destroyed by a tornado.
A great need arises. 
Your spouse dies suddenly.

Your school closes.

There are of course numerous biblical examples as well. 

Joseph was thrown into a well by his brothers then sold into slavery by them. I’m sure living in Egypt wasn’t his part of his Plan A.  Yet he was able to rise to power in a foreign country. How did he do it? By listening to God and looking for ways to serve Him.

David had probably imagined his future in the fields of his dad’s farm. He trained as a shepherd. Becoming the King of Israel was not likely on his career evaluation form. Yet he took what he learned caring for sheep and cared for an entire nation. Plan B…or C. How did he do it? By listening to God and finding ways to serve Him.

And in this Christmas season, another Joseph comes to mind. This one was betrothed to a young woman named Mary. They are not yet married and she turns up pregnant. Certainly this was not Joseph’s Plan A. But he has a dream and learns this is what God has in store for him. He marries the woman, raises the child as his own, and teaches the boy what he knows- carpentry. He listened to God and looked for ways to serve Him. 

That is my prayer for you. That you will take what you have learned from the professors at CCU and from this experience with you wherever you go. I pray you will listen to God and look for ways to serve Him. 

You are uniquely qualified.