Relinquishing My Christmas Crown

Yesterday was Christmas Day 2020.   Today is the day I will abdicate my throne as the Queen of Christmas.  I ponder such a thought each year after Santa visits because I am usually bone-tired, but this is different.  Perhaps, it is not fatigue from cooking or cleaning, but rather a tiredness from a year when all things seem exhausting and good news is in short supply.

My lack of positive energy could be due in part to my two-year-old refrigerator. It broke three days before Christmas and will be on the fritz until January.  Thank goodness we had the old workhorse fridge in the garage for extras.  But, what a pain!

The same day the refrigerator broke, friends came to sing Christmas carols in the evening.  When the doorbell rang, my daughter’s dog began to bark and headed for the door.   When the big friendly pup tried to escape, I held him by his collar.  Once he saw those smiling faces and heard the word, “Hark…”  he bolted just enough to throw me off my small porch stoop and into the bushes where my head ran into a brick wall.

I am still here

  The cracking sound of my head hitting bricks was so loud, the carolers heard it and assumed I was a goner.  But alas, I am still here.  Yes, I am battered and bruised in places I forgot existed, but to my amazement, I am back to picking up dog toys, cookie crumbs, and glitter after a day of ease. I guess Mama was right about me being hard-headed after all!  

So, Christmas came and went, and I am ready to quickly pack it away for the first time in my life. Today, I started boxing my many decorations.  Because I am the Queen of Christmas, I typically wait until the neighbors begin to complain about the reindeer still on the porch around Easter.   However, this year, putting away Christmas early seemed the right thing to do.

This holiday season was not the same for most of us.  As much as I tried to focus on the glory found in Christ’s birth, the day was still unusual and challenging.   People everywhere are worried about income, food, and a killing virus.   We live day to day, hoping that we will survive financially and our loved ones stay healthy.  Most every day of 2020 tested our strength and faith.  It is difficult to comprehend how many have lost so much in one year.  

Time to pause

On top of a pandemic, we are bombarded with misinformation, scare tactics, and competing theories.  In my opinion, the far right and far left need to take a sharp turn and travel toward the middle of the road.  Neither of the far sides is leading us on the correct path to healing.  Mostly they are just inciting anger and fueling distrust, which is extraordinarily sad.

After taking two ibuprofens for my achy head on Christmas day, I was alone in my bedroom applying makeup to cover those pesky dark circles and bruises.  As I listened to Alexa play “Ave Maria,” I knew it was time to pause and talk to the Lord.

“God, I believe I am going to stop wearing my Queen of Christmas crown.  The world has gone to the dogs, and the dogs are driving me into brick walls.  I seem to have lost a little of my faith in humanity due to the viciousness of the vying political parties and people in general, including me.  Folks are hungry, yet I pitched a royal fit over my food filled refrigerator that is on the fritz.

 Many of my family members live in Nashville.  They watched as bricks fell over their streets and fear gripped their Christmas day, while I worried about my brick cracked head.  How silly and how selfish I am.  Forgive me, Lord.”

Polishing the old crown

So, today, peace fell over me.  As I packed away the fancy ornaments and labeled the boxes for 2021, I realized there is much to throw away from the year 2020.   However, we must be careful not to box up love, kindness, and compassion.  We need those to clearly hear with joy and elation, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” when Christmas returns in 2021.

Hate, anger, bullying, and distrust drive our heads into brick walls, and we lose faith.  And that we simply cannot do.  If we do, then what was the point of Christmas?  I feel the Lord is calling us to stand in the light of the angels, to heed the call to believe and forge onward with dignity, courage, and hope.

Today, I will put away the grief 2020 caused and polish my old crown.  I will lay it in the lap of the newborn King where it belongs and where good news and peace always gloriously reigns. 

How Do We Retrieve Our Spirit?

It is nearing the end of December 2020, and soon the world will erupt with gladness that this year is almost over!  A glimmer of light appears at the end of dark tunnels.  The television will no longer shout horrid campaign ads, and children’s laughter will soon return to school playgrounds. Hopefully, when Christmas returns in 2021, we can openly embrace our families, witness smiles, and thank God we survived the worst year in America’s history.

However, before we look ahead to 2021, let us return for a moment to Christmas Eve 2019.  How many of us gathered around our decorated trees with family and watched magic sparkle in a child’s eyes?  How many families attended a candlelight ceremony at our churches or sang carols throughout the night?  We worried if our sweater gift for Uncle Charlie was the right size, or would little Katie’s new school backpack be the one she desired? 

It was a typical Christmas Eve for many, and in our innocence, we never dreamed there was a menace lurking in the shadows that would soon create devastation and death around the world.

A long ago Holiday

In one year since that seemingly long-ago Christmas, our lives have completely changed.  Our innocence has faded.  Uncle Charlie died in the spring from the virus, and Sarah’s new backpack was barely used.  

When we rang in 2020, none of us knew it would be our last party, the last dance, and the end of large gatherings for the rest of the year.  For over 320,000 Americans, it was to be their final year.   We did not understand how life could change on a moment’s notice and the amount of grief we would experience. 

Violence, a caustic political environment, conspiracy theories, anger, and distrust yielded more pain, and a sense of doom begin to sweep our country.  Could we find our way back to a Christmas or New Year’s Eve when our only thought was “Joy to the World” and yearly resolutions?

A hopeful future

Perhaps, it is time to say goodbye to the things that ended our festive spirits.  A vaccine will attempt to rid ourselves of the pandemic, but it will take personal responsibility to mend our hearts.  If we want to embellish the hope that Christ’s birth brought us years ago, we must lay down our selfish anger. It is ugly, sinister, and will destroy us.  The horrible, nasty political divide in our country is nothing short of abysmal.    

  None of us are assured of a tomorrow, but how we behave today will determine whether we are a country filled with bitterness or the America of our ancestors.   If we truly desire to see a hopeful future for our children, we must resolve to be kind, compassionate people today. 

Now, millions of our citizens are hungry and need food, yet we give millions of dollars to political campaigns.  Some pray to God to aid our land, yet they write ungodly hate-filled tirades on social media filled with threats and vile.  So, what will future generations say about the priorities of the America of 2020? 

 Christ came to us to stop the pain God’s people endured.  He came to counsel us as to how to live abundantly while encompassing God’s mercy.  The Lord taught us that love is powerful, and hatred is evil.  He was crucified on a cross because people chose to not trust His word.  Hate and distrust killed Jesus.  Do you not believe it could kill us?

Retrieving our spirit

 Can we retrieve the joy of Christmas eve 2019?  Yes, I believe we can.  We just need to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out if we want to be known as good, kind, benevolent people or folks driven by rage, selfishness, and revenge?  I doubt when you ask yourself that question, you will choose the latter.

If we are ready to say good riddance to 2020, let us all simply behave better.  Even when we wholeheartedly deem we are right about whatever we believe in, the truth is we are never entirely correct.   No one ever is. 

2020 years ago, Christ arrived to save the world.  He healed the sick, fed the poor, and called on all of us to love one another.  Would we not have a more peaceful tomorrow if we honor the young man who died to save us all by adhering to His teachings?  Feed the poor, heal the sick, love one another, and love God.  He was the only one that was ever absolutely right. Ring in the New Year with hope, peace, and love.  Allow our children to remember us for our humanity and not our division and anger.  This is how we will return to the spirit of Christmas in 2021.

Mending the Broken Home and Heart

When I was a little girl, my friend Martha owned the prettiest dollhouse on the planet.  Lucky Martha was an only child whose father managed the local five-and-dime store.  Naturally, she would have excellent toys!

There must have been some magic at Martha’s house, because to this day, I still recall her enchanted dollhouse I longed to call my own.  

Several years ago, I decided, since Santa never brought me a dollhouse like Martha’s, it was high time I should own one.  I purchased a kit, built it piece by piece, shingle by shingle, and donated it for a charity auction.  My dollhouse raised a significant amount of money for Breast Cancer research, so the dollhouse magic continued.

I never dreamed I would attempt such a feat again, but a broken dollhouse landed in my lap.  A family member received a tattered hand-me-down house for her daughter, but it was too much for her to repair.   

“Lynn, since my daughter has a newer dollhouse, would you like to restore an old one?” 

 “Well, ok, I guess, bring it over,” I reluctantly replied.

House to Home

The large two-story pink house sat in my office for months with its damaged door, missing shutters, broken bits and pieces of furniture, and mismatched walls.  Each time I glanced at her in the corner, a wave of sadness crossed my heart. 

When I finally began the process of restoring the house, my husband asked, “What are you going to do with that old thing when it’s finished?”

“I’m not sure, but I will probably donate it to charity around Christmas,”  I answered with a total lack of enthusiasm.

The more the house began to transition to a home, the magic started to return.  Room after room became its own sanctuary with hand-sewn tiny pillows, braided rugs, art, and window treatments. 

Each area from the nursery to the kitchen enjoyed a touch of Christmas with red, green, white, and black splashes.  A Christmas tree adorned the living room, complete with miniature packages waiting to be ripped open.  A white cake with red berries sat on top of the stove to cool while tiny coffee cups rested on the breakfast table.

“Now, what are you going to do with this?” My husband asked again as the dollhouse neared completion.   

Mending love and hope

During the long hours of restoring the old house, I envisioned a little girl seeing it for the first time.  Every stitch, and with every stroke of paint, I saw a child’s face and knew it was to belong to one little person whose belief in love and hope needed mending.

My friend, Michele, is a volunteer for CASA, the initials for Court Appointed Special Advocate for children.  These extraordinary volunteers and leaders represent children from broken homes placed in foster care.   These are children who have suffered from abuse or neglect and necessitate a voice in court to tell their story.  They are the innocents who need to be kept out of harm’s way and guided to a safe and productive future. CASA becomes the protectors for the girls and boys whose hearts are broken and require healing from their worlds’ harsh reality.

“Michele, do you know a little girl in need of a special gift for Christmas?”  After Michele saw the house, she took pictures and sent them to CASA’s local office.  The CASA teams carefully researched to find the unique child who longed to find a glimmer of hope and belief that Christmas is magical. 

This last week, Michele and I loaded the house in the car and took it to the CASA office.  I was pleasantly surprised to meet many CASA leaders who came to see the mended home.  Pictures were taken as I told the dollhouse’s story and the little girl I envisioned receiving it.

The real magic

Without divulging too much information, they explained, “We have decided it will go to a young girl and her little sister who we felt would best benefit from this gift at this time.”

Months earlier,  I purchased a family for the dollhouse as an extra present.  It included a mother, father, a little girl, and her older sister. 

I smiled as I looked at the dollhouse for the last time.  The old neglected house was now restored to its original beauty.   There is hope in everything broken if only we take the time to mend them.  However, the real magic lies in the CASA teams and the countless volunteers who work tirelessly to protect over 435,000 foster children today whose dreams are broken.

What better way to restore Christmas joy than to rebuild hope in the heart of a child?

For more information or to donate,  locate the CASA office in your county that advocates for Foster Children. 

The Mystery Church in the Valley

Occasionally, I find myself believing I can do anything regardless of abilities or talent. So, in other words, I probably think to highly of myself.   My brain is sometimes fooled by lofty dreams. 

Every few years, my mind wants to believe I am an artist.  My friend, Gerri, is an artist, and so was Van Gogh.   When I view authentic art, my eyes remind  me I should just stick to painting by number with crayons. But because I am stubborn, I again pulled out the old paintbrushes and pretended to be someone other than who I am.    

My friend Deborah and I love old country churches.  When I travel to where I was born in Tennessee, there is an overlook off the side of a curvy mountain road, which always beckons me to stop. No matter how many times I view the bucolic scene below, joy fills my soul.

Peace in the Valley

 A white church is nestled among hardwood trees and farmland.  Its distinctive spire topped with a simple cross, reaches toward heaven.   As my eyes span over the valley, I  can almost hear the old hymn “Peace in the Valley” echo in the hills to calm weary souls.  I have viewed this vista in all seasons, and even when the green hills turn to gray, it is still beautiful.

For some unknown reason, this year I decided to try painting old churches.  I found a Christmas card showcasing a country church, which I attempted to replicate on little wooden plaques to give a few friends.  They are purposely small, so my pals could hide them when their guests arrive and put them away after the holidays. 

Soon, Deborah believed she too could paint churches.   “Come on over, and we can do this together! Look on the internet to find a church you like and copy it.” I happily declared.

She walked through my back door with her idea and a printed copy of the church she wished to paint.   It looked familiar with its aged siding, arched windows, and bell tower below a simple cross.

By the end of the day, Deborah’s brain healed itself of foolish dreams, and she pronounced, “I am no painter! What was I thinking?” With a wave of her hand , the unfinished attempt of painting the old church was left for me to complete. It seems I still possessed silly illusions of artistic grandeur. I was not yet healed of such madness.

Wreaths and ribbons

I examined her unfinished church and oddly decided to turn it into a Christmas scene. I added snow, wreaths, and red bows on the adjoining fences. The print showed a lamb standing in the front of the church, and after I painted him, he was perfect. However, I was somewhat sane enough to acknowledge I was still living in some self-imposed sugar plum land.  Lucky Deborah had escaped.

Once it was finished, I returned the Christmas painting to Deborah and wished her a Merry Christmas.  She loved it, and so did my husband, but the scene haunted me.  Why did I turn it into Christmas art, and why did the lamb seem perfect and easy to paint?

A few days later, Deborah and I were shopping.  “Oh, my goodness, Lynn, come here!”  As I approached her, she held up a box of Christmas cards.  It was the same scene I drew with snow and wreaths plus red bows were on the fences. There were two lambs instead of one, and the caption was, “A Christmas Prayer.”

The perfect lamb

Soon afterwards, I began to decorate my tree.  Each ornament was wrapped in tissue paper to protect them year after year.  I picked up a large round one, and when I did, its price tag fell out of the tissue.   I must have bought it at the end of the season last year and packed it away.  When I carefully removed the paper to see what it was, chills crept up my spine.  The ornament depicted the church Deborah had copied, the one I finished as a Christmas scene and was now on Christmas cards.  I have no idea where I bought it or why.

However, I know that this mystery church reminds me of the church I love in a Tennessee valley.  It is not a dream that the lamb is perfect because He is.  The scene turned to Christmas because the lamb came to us, offering peace.

And an old hymn continues to echo its way into my heart and hopefully into yours.

“There will be peace in the valley for me, someday.  There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord, I pray.  There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow, no trouble I see.  There will be peace in the valley for me.”