#Small Wonder — Looking for the Little . . . in Me

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It was just a simple photo. A black and white shot of a young, blond girl staring back at the camera, honest, open, sweet, inquisitive. It was one of about sixty photos spread out on a table for our perusal and possible devotional use. I grabbed it, stuffed it in my bag and immediately took it back to my room at the retreat house.

There were eleven of us there, with not much of an agenda except to be quiet for a while, to follow where our hearts led and to sit with God. Sleep, walk, take photographs, try a little art, journal, read, pray, reflect, have a small conversation with one or two others. Just twenty-four hours — not nearly long enough, by the way — a gift from our denomination in exchange for being spiritual directors on-call for pastors/staff/spouses looking for partnership on the journey.

They were a gift, these hours away, in a beautiful place, with kind people. And I chose that photo of a young girl to take with me on my inward journey. She sat propped up on the desk in my room for a few hours, then on the bedside table. And she accidentally got put into my bag for the journey back home. I’ll return her to her owner soon. 

But not just yet. 

I need to remember her and to notice the ways in which the girl in my borrowed photo reminds me in of the girl in the picture at the top of this post, the girl who happens to be me at age ten.

Sometimes the little girl inside gets shoved to the sidelines and when she’s pushed over there, she can stir things up in ways that are important. She gets anxious, wondering if she’ll be overlooked forever. So sometimes, I need to stop, look for her and listen.

How are you today, honey? Feeling cared for? I want to take good care of you, I really do. I don’t want you to worry. And I don’t want you to worry me, okay? 

Most of the time, all she needs is a fond look, a pat on the head, a few loving words. That’s it. When she feels safe, she comes right back into the center of things and looks out my aging eyes with wonder and anticipation.

I need her, you see.

I need her to remind me that there will always be a part of me that is young, easily frightened and yet open to learn and be loved. She helps me to be young-at-heart, even when the bones and the joints, the muscles and the skin tone are showing their antiquity.

She is the wondering center of me, a key player in my own sense of self, a gift from long ago to today.

Joining with the lovely Kelly Chripczuk today for her wonderful series (just discovered by me) of short essays on small things each week. Thanks, Kelly.

The Invisible Wound

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I’m doing some strange things of late. At least they feel strange for me, at this point in my life. 

I have joined a choir. And not just one choir, but two.

Uh. . . where do I think I’m going to find the time for all of that? 

I was also invited to sing in a vocal ensemble that is fledging at our church community and I said yes.

What in the heck??

This is my mental (and actual, day-to-day) list these days:

     I’ve got a book brewing in me, and I keep pushing it further onto the back-most burner of my brain. Yet, it’s there . . . niggling.

     I’ve got a stack of books on my bedside shelf and another dozen whispering to me from my Kindle.

     I need to think ahead for the blog (although I’ve done some of that. . . have I mentioned there will be a Lenten daily devotional series and that it’s all finished??  That is something of a miracle right there.)

     Several of those books on the stacks of my life need to be reviewed.

     My mom took a nasty tumble this week, landing in the ER where we both spent nearly six hours on Wednesday. (She is bruised and very tired, but nothing was broken, thanks be to God.)

     My husband is dealing with vertigo off and on.

     We signed up to get our names on the waiting list for apartments at a nearby retirement community and yet . . . 

     We’re also looking at houses. Smaller houses, closer to the ocean. And when I say ‘we,’ that really means, ‘I’ because houses are my territory. I do the read-ups, the shopping, the open houses and if, by some miracle, something suitable actually shows up, then I bring my husband along. Fortunately, my son has interest and some expertise in house-shopping and he sends me possibilities.

We’re in the midst of change, maybe even a sea change — I can feel it. And right smack dab in the center, there’s this thing about choral singing.

What???

Well, it’s a long story, which I will try to shorten for the purposes of this post.

From the age of 5 until the winter I moved to Santa Barbara to take a pastoral position here, I sang in some sort of choir. Always. Church choirs, junior high and high school choirs, college choirs, seminary choir. And I loved it. It was just a part of who I was, a regular, steady place where I could lose myself in sound, in the color of chords, in the joy of making harmony. Choir was the place where I could feed a whole other part of me, a part that wasn’t particularly visible in the rest of my life.

And then we moved here. For me to take a pastoral position in this church that I love, a church that didn’t have a choir.

But I was so excited about the job! And the people! And the place! And the call!

So the choral singing part of me got shoved to the edges, sublimated, out of sight and nearly forgotten.

Until that little ensemble I mentioned sang in church one Sunday a couple of months ago, before I joined it. So on that particular Sunday, I was not a singer, I was a listener.

And that felt so.very.wrong.

I do not understand all of this, believe me. I’ve carried it around for several weeks now, pondering why I had such a visceral reaction to that whole morning. And a phrase I wrote recently seemed to sum it up: “It was a wound I didn’t know I had.”

I can do that to myself pretty easily, it seems. Can you? There was sacrifice of various kinds when we made the decision to come here when we did. But far larger than that, at least to me at that time, was the beautiful truth that this call was also a great gift. A Great Gift. So, I tended to let the gift part overshadow some of the grieving that I needed to do when we transferred our entire life to a new community, a new lifestyle, a new everything.

That Sunday morning opened the door to a wound I had ignored for a very long time, a piece of myself that had been buried, a piece that needed to experience the light of day once again.

So I decided that I need to sing. Regularly. Chorally.

Now please understand — it’s been eighteen years since I’ve sung in a choir. And I am now 70 years old. The voice, she ain’t what she used to be – nowhere near, as a matter of fact. But here’s what I’m learning. I can still read music pretty dang well. I still love to tackle new things. I still love to hear others around me singing their parts. I still love the totally unique sound that combined human voices can bring to the world. I still LOVE IT.

So on Tuesday nights, from 7:00 – 10:00, I’m singing in the Santa Barbara Community College Concert Choir. We’re doing a concert on May 2 — lots of spirituals, folk songs, fun stuff. There are about 100 singers, half of them college students, half of them 50+ — and we sound great. GREAT, I tell you.

And then, for a complete contrast, every other Friday night, I become part of a small group of women, almost all of them 60+, who sing a very limited and very interesting set of songs designed to be sung around the bed of seriously ill or dying people. Neither of these choirs is ‘Christian,’ though each one sings some music from the Christian tradition. Each of them is totally unique and each is expanding my horizons in new ways.

Do you remember that my word for this year is S T R E T C H?

Well, you know what? This stretch feels really, really good.

‘Tis the Season — A Deeper Story (Church)

It’s my turn to write for A Deeper Story again, this month on the church channel. Stepping into Advent for some particular reasons this year. . .

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Where did the words go? I can’t seem to find them just now, though I’ve looked high and low. Not a one on my personal blog these days – nothin’. And not many tumbling around in this head of mine, either. Just a whole lotta empty space up there, coupled with a vague sense of unease.

 

I am seldom without words. Ask anyone who knows me — I can talk with the best of ‘em — and I usually have a lot of ideas punching each other to come to the front of the line. But these days, it’s very quiet in my head. Very. I’m not entirely sure what that’s all about, but I am paying attention. And I am wondering . . .

 

And then I remember a particular word, one I first learned about 30 years ago from a friend who was new to me at the time. It’s a word I should have known, I suppose, as I’ve always considered myself to be a connoisseur, and a collector of interesting compilations of letters, which taken together constitute what we call words. [Just try to come up with a synonym for that . . . well . . . for that word word, okay?]

 

This particular one is simple, and it’s connected to the agricultural life. Which may be why I did not know it — I know zilch about farming, so I thank God for Ann Voskamp and Jennifer Lee who are teaching me about the beauties and difficulties of this life on a daily basis.

 

Here it is, along with its Oxford Dictionary definition:

            fallow: (Of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation or to avoid surplus production.


F A L L O W — What a great word! An important word, one that we overlook to our peril, ignore to our destruction. Why? Because we all need it. Regularly. Human beings need fallow seasons in life, just as fields need times when they go unseeded. I believe we all experience those times when we find ourselves . . . empty. And that’s where I’ve been in recent days. So, I began to wonder: why not learn to embrace this time rather than fear it? Why not recognize that sometimes what I need most to do is to rest and replenish; to let the soil of my heart and mind experience a little bit of quiet, maybe some gentle tilling, and a lot of wide open space. Because if I do that, I give permission for the sun to revive, the rain to cleanse, and time to season. . . 

Please click here to read the rest of this essay . . .

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Special Places

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When I know I’m going to be visiting our former hometown, I often try to find just a little space to make an extra stop. There is a florist in Pasadena that has long been a favorite destination for me. It’s called Jacob Maarse Florist, and is located in a huge warehouse-like building just off the main business thoroughfare in town. 

When my kids were in high school and beginning college, I went to a half day Dreaming Day at our church. A couple who did career counseling were there, and I had a fun time taking tests and reading booklets about possible things to do now that my children were leaving the nest. Out of that day came the desire to work more with flowers. 

So I decided to start a small business, primarily as an excuse to save a few dollars on the flowers for our eldest daughter’s wedding when she was 19. I would go to Jacob Maarse and hang out, watching the designers carefully, trying to pick up tips. I loved every minute of those trips!

And I still do. It’s a small thing, just a side-trip, but it brings me such joy and satisfaction to see talented people doing spectacular work.

Are there any side-trips that you like to take to special places, just little ones?

Just Wondering

“Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World” – a reflection

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From the very first words I ever put out on this blog, this has been my theme and my call:

“Tell stories, Diana. Tell your stories.”

When I first began to write in this space, I didn’t have a strong rationale for that stance, I just knew in my spirit that this was to be a place of story-telling. Not argument, not academic theological wrestling, not diatribe.

A sermon or two? Well, yes – those always included stories.

Some prayers once in a while? Those, too, are part of my own story, my journey as a disciple and as a pastor.

An occasional book review? Yup, those, too. Because reading is a vital part of writing, especially helpful in the writing of personal stories. 

And there have always been a lot of photographs, too. Because, well — you guessed it! Pictures tell stories, sometimes better than words do.

Over these last four years of more regular blogging, the theme of story has come front and center for me, and time after time, my choice to be a story-teller has been confirmed and validated.

Being invited to write at A Deeper Story was a great and miraculous gift, one that allowed me to tell some of my stories to a larger audience, in a place that welcomed whatever it is I have to bring to the story-telling table.

So now, the Editor-in-Chief of ADS has written a book. A fine book, an easy-to-read book. And guess what it’s about? Well, of course it is — it’s about telling YOUR story, because YOUR story is important.

And it’s about telling your story because that is a much better, gentler, more effective way to interact with one another in this online space and in everyday life. On the back cover of this delicious new book, Nish Weiseth asks this critical question:

“How would your life be different if you shared your stories rather than your opinions?

Can I get an ‘amen’ to that??

How many times a day do you find yourself in a situation where you feel frustrated, ignored, misunderstood, even rejected by the words and/or actions of someone else? Maybe a someone you don’t know all that much about. And what if knowing that someone’s back-story might help you understand why he/she acts the way they do?

Because knowing someone’s story makes a huge difference in how we see them, how we approach them, what we say to them and how we say it. Stories are powerful and effective ways for us to see one another as whole people. People who have been wounded, who have survived, who have made mistakes, who have learned from some of those mistakes and repeated too many of them. When we know someone’s story, we are able to hear them differently, to hold their words and actions with a greater sense of equanimity and compassion.

Stories can change the world. Surely, Jesus thought so — he used all kinds of them during his ministry years. This faith that we hold dear is built on THE story, the one about grace and love and finding and seeking and life and death and resurrection. I stake my life on that story.

Woven throughout Nish’s wonderful book are eight examples of story-telling from the pages of A Deeper Story, a lovely addition to the overarching theme, each one a stellar example of how vulnerable, searching story-telling touches hearts and changes lives.

What if instead of arguing with one another, we told each other our stories? What if we committed ourselves to learning about one another before offering judgment? What if we stopped the frantic searching for how-to, if we took a break from finding a-new-and-better-program? What if we began asking, “Who are you?” “Why are you here?” Rather than, “How can I make you stay and look like everybody else here at this church?”

What if we trusted that God is going before us in each person who comes through our doors, that God has been at work long before we ever came along, that the newcomer or the millennial or the senior or the one who doesn’t look like the rest of us is already on the way into the kingdom?

What if our role is simply to tell our story and then listen to the other’s? Could it be that straight-ahead, that personal, that simple?

Oh, I think Nish is onto something. Really, I do.

You can find Nish’s new book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, LifeWay, or Christianbook.com

I received an advance copy and am absolutely delighted to write about and recommend this book. I took it down to the beach and read it in 2.5 hours, front to back. And marked it up a lot, too. 

Chartreuse Cape in My Closet — SheLoves

It’s always a joy to work with the grand people over at SheLovesMagazine. This is a small story about an old friend, who taught me a thing or two about living with flourish . . .DSC01291

My online dictionary gives two distinct definitions for the word ‘flourish.’ One has to do with thriving in a particular environment; the other has to do with colorful, sometimes startling, ‘ta-da’ gestures.

 My granddaughter is flourishing in the small Catholic school she attends.                                                                           OR
 My friend Nancy always adds a feather boa when she wants to say something  with a flourish.

At first glance, the verb and the noun seem to have little to do with one another. To flourish is to bloom, turn toward the sun, become more of who we’re meant to be. A flourish is a more momentary thing, maybe even a flashy thing – a gesture, a brightly colored piece of clothing, a pose.

When I did a little looking, however, I discovered that they are actually very closely related. The verb form is older (about 800 years old!) and came into English from an old French word meaning to blossom; the noun came later and used to mean a blossom.

So, I wonder . . . what does it mean to blossom? What does it mean to add a blossom to what we do, what we say, how we live?

My friend Kathy helped me understand both meanings of this word.

I first met her almost twenty years ago, soon after my husband and I moved to Santa Barbara. She was in her early 80s then, full of life, and living that life out loud and in full Technicolor. Tall, statuesque, with brilliant blue eyes, she moved with a dancer’s grace and spoke with verve and good humor.

She’d known my husband before I met her and when she discovered that I was a pastor, she wasted no time in asking if I ever preached. “About 8-10 times a year,” I told her. And the very next week, she called the church office, asking for a preaching schedule and for immediate notification when my name came up in the rotation.

And every time I preached, from that day until a few months before she died, she came to hear me. She’d leave her expensive home at the golf course, driving her beat-up, 20-year old Ford station wagon into the church parking lot. I could always see her coming into the back of the gymnasium where we worshipped in those days, and I’d watch as she would gently genuflect and cross herself  before the large wooden cross that hung at center court . . .

Come on over to SheLoves to read the rest of this story . . .

What’s In a Name?

It’s been quiet around here of late. I’ve written around the blogosphere at several different places in the last few weeks, but not terribly often here, in my space, just writing for me, and whoever might stop by to see whatever words I’ve gathered.

We had a quiet weekend, celebrating Dick’s birthday in several small gatherings. On his actual day, just he and I went out for lunch and to a matinee. On Saturday, our son and his family surprised us with a drop-in, take-out dinner from our favorite local Mexican hang-out. And on Sunday, after church, we met our eldest daughter and her husband and youngest son at BJ’s in Ventura. We love s t r e t c h i n g birthdays out as long as we can — and three days was just about right.

My guy was hungry for ribs, and BJs never disappoints. And to finish things off very well indeed, he was served his own individual Pazookie, complete with candle! Do you know what a Pazookie is? Just one of the divinest desserts ever invented, that’s what. A freshly baked cookie (several choices – he picked peanut butter), fresh from the oven, topped with a scoop of Haagen Daaz vanilla. Heaven in a small aluminum pan, that’s what.

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The drive south took us past this lovely spot, looking down on Summerland Beach. The day was breezy and the water a little bit wild — always fun to see. And somehow, the celebratory mood of day and meal and family seemed fitting and right after a profoundly moving worship experience earlier in the day.

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This was our fabulous worship band-of-the-week jamming after the service was over. Our Director of Worship Arts, Bob Gross, planned a perfect combination of songs for the theme of the day, including a masterful arrangement (his own) of,  “Lord, I’m Amazed by You” with The Doxology. The entire opening sequence brought me to tears more than once — filled as it was with what we do best: contemporary and traditional music, both poured through the inventive mind of Mr. Gross. We sang that old favorite, “Holy, Holy, Holy” this way – verse 1, totally a cappella (and we can SING the harmony in our community!), verse 2, full band with quiet percussion, verse 3, up a key, adding the most moving slow roar of the drums I’ve ever experienced, and verse 4, straight ahead and gorgeous. Oh, my.

DSC01241As always, the music, the prayer, the readings from Old Testament and New coordinated well with the preaching text of the morning, which this week was taken from the last eleven verses of John 16.

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God spoke powerfully through Pastor Jon about what it means when we pray in the name of Jesus. Here are a few highlights from that passage:

“My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name . . . I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God . . .  A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me . . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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These few verses contain some mighty huge ideas, ones that linger and permeate. Ideas like these:

The name of Jesus is strong, redemptive, life-changing. It is not magical.

There will be suffering in this life — which should come as a surprise to precisely no one. But because of Jesus, because we are given the inestimable gift of praying in his name, we are never alone, no matter what. 

Praying is not about words alone. In fact it is more often about silence . . . or it is experienced in action. We pray in Jesus’ name whenever we offer comfort/aid/solace/provision for another.

We pray with our bodies, not just in them. WE are the continuation of the Incarnation as we allow the Spirit of our Lord to work through us, as we live out what it means to be the Body of Christ. 

Praying in the name of Jesus touches on one of the foundational truths of the Christian faith — we serve a Triune God, Father, Son, Spirit — One in Three, Three in One. 

We do not ask Jesus to pray for us, so as to somehow buffer the space between us and God the Father. Too much of the church has painted a picture of a scary God, one that Jesus saves us from, a God that cannot be approached by the likes of us. But Jesus says clearly and beautifully, “. . . I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you  . . . “

“Take heart,” Jesus says. Immediately after predicting that all his friends will desert him in his hour of need, that they themselves will have their share of trouble. “Take heart,”  he says. TAKE HEART?  Yes. And not only that, but because of that name, that powerful name, they — and we — will have peace, the kind of peace that makes room for this truth: the One in whose name we pray has overcome the world.

I carried these pieces of grace with me as we drove down the coast, as we laughed and ate a good lunch with our daughter’s family, as we came back home and prepared for the week ahead. Turns out there’s a lot, a LOT, in a Name. I am grateful

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Ribbons ‘n’ Roses — Reflections on Creative Arts as Ministry for The High Calling

This essay was written several months ago and shifted between editors at The High Calling. It’s posting today during a week of emphasis on visual and creative arts as ministry. Click here to read the entire piece. . .

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The sun would just be coming through the early morning clouds as I drove through the quiet, on my way to the Flower Mart in downtown Los Angeles. It was part of the ritual, the dance, of doing this work that I loved. I only did it part time and I only did it for seven years, but I loved it.

It began with our eldest daughter’s wedding. We were on a budget, I enjoyed working with flowers and I saw an opportunity inviting me to leap. So I jumped in with both feet. I applied for a resale number from the state of California, hired a friend to design a logo and business cards, and “Ribbons ‘n’ Roses” was born.

I worked with a good friend to produce beautiful floral décor for about two weddings or parties every month. I loved the creativity, the people, and the beauty of each arrangement, but I suppose my favorite part of all was that early morning drive to the Flower Mart, a place packed with rich delights and unholy confusion. Most of the mart is contained in one enormous, two-story warehouse with scores of individual flower vendors and one large supply center. Driving into the garage while it is nearly dark and then emerging into this brightly lit, bustling activity center is an exercise in delightful cognitive dissonance.

Carts and trucks are loaded, advice is given, cash is handed over, packages are wrapped—all of it infused with the sweet scent of flowers. With the car loaded and my bills paid, I would usually end the morning with breakfast at the adjacent Chinese diner. I would listen to conversations between buyers and sellers as they ate their char siu pork, rice, and eggs, absorbing as much information as I could.

I had no training, you see . . . 

Come on over the The High Calling to find out more . . .

A Safe Place: A Deeper Story

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As I began to wade into the waters of the internet at the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, I wound my way over to this remarkable place called “A Deeper Story.” I was in transit at that point in my life, moving into retirement, giving up an identity I had happily filled for fourteen years as pastor and leader in my church. I wondered what was next for me, where God would have me thinking and working. And the only thing I knew, in those early days, was that I had a clear and direct call from God to write, and that call had the word ‘stories’ in it.

I’ve done a lot of exegetical, theological, spiritual and psychological work to become the person I am at this juncture of my life. And I could, if I chose to, make a good ‘argument’ for what I believe and why I believe it. But I was increasingly convinced, as I read all around the blogosphere, that I did not want to argue; I wanted to tell my story.

All of my stories, to be more precise. The fun ones, the adventurous ones, the love-filled ones — of course, yes, hooray. But I also wanted to tell the stories of wondering and wandering, of doubting and wrestling. And I wanted to read stories like that, too.

And “A Deeper Story” was the very best place I found to do that. The reading part, at least. And I read them all. Every single one.

And then, lo and behold! Just over a year ago, an invitation came for me to tell my stories in that rich space — a gift straight from the hand of God, courtesy of Megan Tietz. And this place has been a good, welcoming, wrestling place for me.

And here’s why.

All the people who write regularly or guest post at this site are starting from different places along the journey. We do not all agree on theology or politics or child-raising or any other topic you might care to mention. We do agree that we’re following hard after Jesus, and some days that’s a lot harder to do than others.

And that right there has been a tremendous gift. We care about one another, we encourage one another, we listen, we welcome. And our regular readers do that, too. The entire experience has been gift.

Right now, the site is in the midst of a pretty massive overhaul. It’s a necessary part of the growing process. And Nish Weiseth, whose brainchild ADS is, has been paying ALL of the costs connected to keeping this site going up to this point. Now, however, we’re turning a corner of sorts.

We’re growing up.

And as any parent will readily agree, growing up is expensive. So we’re asking for some help.

There is a Fundly campaign going on right now, today. And the goal is $4,000.

I am confident that the readers of ADS will help us reach that goal and, in addition, will give Nish a nice, comfy cushion to keep us afloat for a good, long time. I’ve already made a gift and may very well do so again.

Can I invite you over to the website today to read all about this from Nish’s perspective? You’ll find a link to the campaign over there.

Thanks so much for being a friend of mine and of this blog — and for following me over to ADS when one of my posts is up over there.

 

A Letter to December

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Ah, Dear Friend,

We know each other well, do we not? So many years of immersion in all the folderol and all the richness of your seasonal gifts. Shall I list the ways?

  • the wedding plans, midway through my senior year of college
  • and all the subsequent anniversaries that got lost in the shuffle, some years more seriously than others — and there have been a lot of years, haven’t there? 48 on the 18th
  • a beautiful baby girl, 2nd of 2, born on the 2nd, with big brown eyes and a deliciously feisty spirit
  • choral concerts up the wazoo, every Christmas for most of my years until . . .
  • we moved to Santa Barbara for me to take a pastoral position in a church without a choir. Go figure.
  • writing Advent invitations for worship for about 20 years
  • preaching one Sunday in Advent for about 20 years, too
  • decorating the house with W-A-A-A-Y too many Christmas decorations, collected over the decades, starting with homemade delights from each of the kids and this year, adding some special ornaments from our moms’ collections
  • sweating (and swearing) our way to a steady, straight fresh tree in front of the windows; it gets harder every dang year
  • enjoying nativity sets collected from round the globe
  • singing the songs
  • reading the scriptures
  • pondering the mystery
  • regretting the over-spending
  • enjoying the gift-giving
  • collapsing on the 26th, exhausted but generally, more than content

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with you, I must admit. The candlelit service on Christmas Eve gets me every time. But the lugging of bins, the setting up the stuff, the overkill with gifts — yeah, that has gone above and beyond what is needful and what is healthy at points. 

So, December, what’s it gonna be? Will we find our way to a happy medium this year? Just enough of the good stuff and a little less of the not-so-good?

I pledge to do my part. Can you say the same?

Fondly,

Diana

This post is written in response to a prompt from Elora Nicole at her fabulous Story Sessions site. If you would like a series of thoughtful, evocative writing invitations, if you would enjoy being connected with a smaller (but ever-growing) group of other writers, may I suggest you check this site out? Just click here to read all about it.

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