Blogmas 2018 – Day 8 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

 

A Merry Christmas

Smiles frozen in time decorate ruddy faces1980
And stare back at me, all bundled and warm
In holiday sweaters and knitted hats.
My fingers gently grace the baby
Who was once me in the old Polaroid,
The white tree with the red bulbs
And our stockings with our names in the background.
Grandma gazes back at me with the kindest eyes,
Her knobby fingers carefully unwrapping a gift,
Her patience to save the paper for another year.
The turkey still looks fresh out of the oven,
And I can almost smell the pies on the dining room table,grandmaonxmas
As all the family is gathered ‘round,
Ready to bless each other and the food.
Pictures are our looking glasses into the past,
Along with cherished memories of loved ones.
But as I look around me now,
I see the same smiles with those rosy cheeks
And get to actually hear the laughter and tales
That come with them.
The baby is my own son,
In whose eyes I witness the magic again,
And there hangs his stocking from our fireplace.
My parents are the grandparents, so happy and proud,
Bringing with them their own traditions from times past.2016
The meal is prepared before us to enjoy,
And we are still a family, still thankful to be so blessed.
This is the present, ever-fleeting and ever-changing,
Which is what makes it so special.
Life’s circle continues to turn as I age,
But it is beautiful,
And every Christmas is another reminder
Of how precious every moment is.
But lest we forget there is Someone much bigger than all this,
Let me just remind myself and everyone here
That Jesus is the true reason for our celebration.
In Him is our past, present, and future,
And that is a merry Christmas, indeed.

–written in 2010

 

Blogmas 2018 – Day 7 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

In the spirit of the 12 Days of Christmas, I’m giving you 12 Acts of Kindness you can do in the season of giving!

  1. Support a friend’s or a local small business by buying gifts from them instead of big chains.
  2. Donate to a charity that’s close to heart
  3. Donate old clothes, toys, and other household objects to the Salvation Army (NOT Goodwill–do a Google search and see why)…and clean out your stuff!
  4. Donate to a stranger’s GoFundMe or something similar.
  5. Leave a note of encouragement and a $5 Starbucks gift card in a public restroom
  6. Bake cookies for your hairdresser, insurance agent, cleaning person, etc.
  7. Send a “thinking of you” card to a friend.
  8. Put a little note saying you love them in your loved one’s lunch box.
  9. Hold the door, smile and say hello to strangers, etc., even when you don’t feel like it.
  10. Put money in someone’s parking meter that’s low.
  11. Leave your shopping cart with the quarter in it at Aldi.
  12. Give a homeless person food or serve at a soup kitchen.

 

Blogmas 2018 – Day 5 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

‘Tis the season…

To be jolly?

To go into debt?

To give.

Because God first gave to us His son, Jesus.

In the midst of the craziness of shopping, stressing, overspending, and stressing some more, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters.  Whether you’re Christian or not, whatever reason you celebrate Christmas–whether religious, secular, or both–I believe that this season can bring out the very best in people.

Goodwill toward men, indeed.

I went into this holiday season trying to not overspend on gifts.  Having three young kids, it’s easy to fall into the trap of buying them things they just don’t need, especially when they’re inundated with commercials for the latest hot toys.  What five-year-old doesn’t tell their mom at least once an hour, “I want that, Mom?”

It’s a trap.

Seriously.

No joke.

I kid you not.

Kid.  Ha, I was talking about kids and wanting stuff.  Anyway, pardon my bad sense of humor.  I digress…

I fell into the same money pit this year by spending too much on my family, and I was torn between wanting to give, give, give and wanting to take some of the things back.  In the end, a mom’s desire to see her kids’ excitement on Christmas morning when it came time to open the gifts won out.

However, I am vowing to go about this insanity differently next year.  I want to donate or give to charity the same amount that I spend in gifts on my family.  That’s not an original idea, but I heard it somewhere, and it stuck with me.  I’m up for the challenge, and I’m not all talk. (Update: This was written in 2016. Now it’s 2018, and I am happy to say I lived up to this challenge of giving equally to charity what I spent on gifts, as well as having done so in 2017.)

See, when I put my mind and heart to something, I can accomplish it.  Case in point: Almost two years ago, I sat down and said I was serious about writing an original story.  I would write at least fifteen minutes a day.  If I missed a day, okay, but I wouldn’t let more than two days pass without writing.  Ten months later, I had my first draft completed.  That was almost a year ago.  Now, I have the first draft of a second novel completed that’s currently being read and edited by a writers group at the library.  I have self-published my first novel after going through the arduous process of querying a hundred literary agents and getting many rejections, but I kept at it.  I am well into writing my third novel.  I have the first chapter written of my fourth and have an idea for a fifth. (2017 update: I have finished drafts of novels three and four.  I am well into my fifth.  I self-published novel number two.  I have ideas for six and seven.) (2018 update: I published my third novel, have finished drafts of novels four, five, and six, and am well underway in seven.)

pablo (13)So, if I can write and be dedicated to it, I can be more generous next Christmas.  I can give more to those who really are in need and give less to my own family, who already has plenty of things.  We don’t need more stuff.

You might think, “Okay, that’s all well and good to make plans about what you’re going to do next year, but what are you doing about it right now?”

I do regularly give to charity.  I sponsor two children through Children International, but for me, that wasn’t enough this Christmas.  I became aware of a family in need.  The father had just lost his job, and having a kid to support, you can understand why I wanted to help out.  Also, this family is close to heart, so if there was something I could do to help them, it would be all the more important to me.

I didn’t have the means to personally give them much as far as money goes, so I organized a Go Fund Me campaign and rallied my friends and family for several days to give to this family.  It was a beautiful thing to see the response.  Many gave, and it’s not a matter of how much you give, but giving what you can.  In the end, I was so happy to be able to give them a sizable amount of money to help them pay their bills and put food on the table, and while I was a part of that, I cannot and do not take full credit.  So many people stepped up, and I love that.

Another friend told me about the local Elk’s Club wanting to give a large box of food and gifts to local families in need, and she thought of the family I was supporting.  Needless to say, I got in touch with the Elk’s Club, and they were so generous and kind to deliver such a box to this family. (2017 update: This family is doing well this Christmas, although her sister lost a child and doesn’t have the money to pay for much of a Christmas for her other kids because of funeral costs. Not only did the family I helped last year help this devastated family, but I was also moved to send them some gifts. There is always someone in need who you can bless.)

In the midst of all this, I have my own troubles, but to help others lifts the burden of my problems.  I firmly believe that reaching out and helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself.  Everyone benefits.  There is nothing lost, for, you see, love has no end.  It’s funny how the more love you give, the more love grows.  The more love you receive.

So, I did my little part in paying it forward.  I had no expectation of getting anything in return from those I helped, so you can imagine how moved I was to be on the receiving end of the generosity of others who felt they wished to help my family.  I never asked for it, nor expected it.

A Christmas card arrived from my church a couple of weeks ago with a hundred dollars in gift cards to a grocery store!  The card was simply signed “From your friends at church.”  I have recently expressed my heartache to some friends at church about the struggles my autistic son and my family are going through, so I can only guess that someone did this kind deed because of that.  I cannot be sure.

As if that weren’t enough, on Christmas Eve, my husband and I dressed to play Mary and Joseph and were waiting in a classroom for our entrance into the sanctuary when a friend approached me and handed me an envelope.  “It’s not really a Christmas gift,” she said, “but a couple of us from our ChristCare group (a Bible study group of sorts) wanted to help you out.”  I smiled, thanked her, and tucked the envelope in my purse.  Hours later, after the service was over, the kids were in bed, and the presents were under the tree, I opened the envelope to find three hundred dollars inside and a note that said, “For your son’s therapies.”  Tears streamed down my face for the second time this Christmas season because of the kindness of others.

So, as another year winds down, I am thankful.  It started around Thanksgiving with the extra intention of choosing kindness.  As Christmas came upon us, I made the extra effort to pay it forward in terms of generosity, just one form of kindness.  And it certainly came back around to touch me.

If you don’t believe that what goes around comes around, maybe you’ll think my story is just that–a nice little story.  To me and many others, it’s more.  Much more.  May we all go into the New Year with a sense of wanting to reach outside ourselves, and you’ll see.  It will come back to you.

Merry Christmas!

(I felt it was worth reposting this, even though it was written two years ago. The message is still the same: pay it forward.)

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful (Chapter 3)

While the summer of 1918 was rough because of one childhood illness after another, Hannah enjoyed the last two weeks outside before school resumed.  Ma had a piano in the living room, which she seldom played, but Hannah began taking lessons on it. The busyness of raising a family afforded her little time to devote to hobbies.  

Soon enough, the dexterity with which Hannah’s nimble fingers moved over the keys felt as natural as breathing.  She was a fast learner, and making magic with music was quickly becoming her favorite hobby. Notes printed on a piece of paper creating a song never failed to awe and inspire the young girl.  Ma often hummed along to the familiar tunes her daughter played as she dried dishes every evening.

By Christmas, the First World War ended.  The children had decorated the pine tree with a popcorn-strung garland, an assortment of handmade ornaments from school, and a few carefully placed candles.

Both Christmas Eve and Day had separate dinners that were planned to the point of perfection.  Other than Lucy’s mother, only the immediate family gathered to partake in both meals. Everyone dressed in their finest, shoes polished, and under Ma’s eagle eye, not a hair out of place.  It was the one time of year when Erik and Harry would allow their mother to dictate what they wore.

After dinner on Christmas Eve, the family attended church to hear the story of the birth of Jesus, the miracle of light that came into the world.

The service ended, and the family walked the short distance down Madison Avenue to their home.  Snow was falling lightly. It had a magical quality when Hannah looked upward and imagined the angels dusting their wings off.  She skipped ahead, kicking up the fresh thin layer of snow on the sidewalk. She was laughing, when an icy wetness suddenly hit her in the back of the head.

“Ow!”

Her mood evaporated as she spun around to glare daggers at her brothers.  

“Hey, how dare you!” she said.

Harry had the audacity to look innocent, while Erik couldn’t help but chuckle.  The adults and Amy hung back farther, lost in conversation.

Hannah quickly knelt down and grabbed a handful of snow, formed a ball, and chucked it at her brothers.  It missed, flying between them and ended up smacking Pa in the side of the face.

Both boys were briefly shocked, before dissolving into laughter.

“Oh, you’re in for it now, Hannah-panna,” Harry teased.

“Be quiet!” Hannah shouted.  “You started it!”

The adults were upon them a few seconds later.  Pa was wiping his cheek with his gloved hand, but it was Ma who was angry.

“Who threw that?” she demanded.

“It wasn’t us.  It was Hannah,” Erik said.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t aiming for you, Pa” Hannah said.  “One of them hit me in the back of the head.”

“A likely story,” Harry said coyly, smirking.

Ma’s eyes shifted to her younger son.  “Actually, it sounds about right. Come.  We will discuss this once we’re inside.”

Pa pretended to be stern, but when he walked past Hannah and the boys, he half-smiled.  He winked at Hannah, and then his face was impassive once more. As Hannah watched her parents retreating down the road, she grinned.  

Once back inside their small home, Pa worked at starting a fire in the grate, while Ma sat Erik, Harry, and Hannah on the sofa to give them a brief lecture on how to treat each other with more respect, “most especially on Christmas.”

“How is pelting each other with snow when it’s already freezing outside a Christ-like attitude?”

Pa, finished with the fire, came to his wife’s side, and wrapped an arm around her.

“I think, perhaps just this once, we might excuse the children.  It is Christmas, after all. There will be plenty of time for extra chores in a few days.”  He smirked knowingly.

“Hmm,” Ma murmured, although her eye twinkled as she exchanged a look with her husband.  

Walking into the living room, Amy said, “Why don’t we sing carols and hymns?  I’m sure Hannah’s just bursting to play for us.” She grinned at her little sister.

Hannah bounced up from the sofa and darted to the piano nestled between the fireplace and the Christmas tree.  She had been waiting all day to play. All those weeks of practice would finally pay off when her family heard how much she’d learned since September.

“I like ‘O Tannenbaum,’” Grossmutter said.  “Is good German song.”

“I don’t know all the words in German,” Harry said weakly.

“You can learn it with a few tries,” Ma said.  

Hannah found the music in one of her songbooks.  

A bit unsure, she said, “I haven’t really practiced this one a whole lot.”

“That’s all right, dear,” Pa said, pulling up a chair.  “The important thing is to enjoy ourselves.”

“Can I run through it once before you start singing?” she asked.

At her father’s nod of approval, Hannah’s fingers began moving across the keys, slowly at first, but then picking up the pace as she grew more comfortable with the tune.  Her grossmutter had been mouthing the words, perhaps even singing softly in German, during the practice run. Ma and Pa sang along in German, the song familiar from their childhood, and Grossmutter belted out the words with gusto.  Amy’s pretty voice lingered in the background, the words somewhat unsure but right all the same. The boys were embarrassed as they stumbled over the foreign words, but after a while, they joined in.

The family continued for the better part of the next hour singing songs of the season.  Turning off the lights, save the candles burning dimly on the tree, Ma suggested they end with “Silent Night,” in both German and English.  The children knew this song well in German, as they sang it every year at church on Christmas Eve. It was the perfect way to wind down the evening and usher in the night’s dreams of what tomorrow would bring.

“Well done, Hannah,” Pa said, smiling proudly and clapping his daughter gently on the shoulder.  “I think it’s high time we all retired for the evening.”

“Thanks, Pa,” Hannah replied, smiling from ear to ear.  She stood from the piano bench and went upstairs to her room.

After everyone was ready for bed, the parents worked on tucking each child in.  Before Hannah could turn in for the night, however, she ran downstairs to hug her grossmutter goodnight.

The old lady was sitting in the armchair nearest the piano, the light from a single lamp the only illumination.  An open book perched on her lap on top of a blanket.

Grossmutter smiled, the wrinkles on her face crinkling deeper.

“Is not time for bed, child?”

“I just came to say goodnight.  What were you reading?”

“The Bible.  First Christmas story.  Not all this nonsense about der Weihnachtsmann.”

“What?”

“Not what, child, who.  You call him Santa Claus.”

“Oh.”  Hannah giggled.  Hannah recalled being frightened by Grossmutter when she was smaller.  Perhaps it was the stern-sound of the German language or the way her face could turn as firm as a stiff board, the wrinkles hiding any youth left.  She knew better now. Coming to Grossmutter’s side, Hannah gazed inquiringly at the Bible. “I can’t read it.”

“Is German Bible.  You know Martin Luther made Bible into German from old Latin?”

“Yes, I learned about that in Sunday school.  I can’t imagine not understanding what was being read in church.”

“Yes.  If you like, I teach you some German.  You understand?”

“You want to read the story to me?” Hannah asked, her eyes lighting up like the candles on the tree.

“Not too much, but ja.”

Grossmutter patted the arm of the chair, and Hannah sat and listened.  The old woman’s knobby finger moved slowly across the yellowed, tattered page.  Hannah wondered if the Bible had been hers since she was a little girl. At the end of the passage, Grossmutter kissed Hannah and beckoned her to bed.

Upstairs, the family exchanged goodnights, kisses, and hugs. Filled with the joy and excitement of Christmas, Hannah lay awake for a while, posed on her right side, her gaze out the window.  The snowflakes continued their ballet just beyond the pane, and the lackadaisical whirl of white lulled her into sleep soon enough, the music from earlier in the evening the perfect companion to the dance.

* * *

“Your father would like your attention,” Ma said in a mock-stern voice on Christmas morning as the children tore open their presents.

“Huh?” Hannah asked, pulling her eyes away from a new pair of shoes she had been admiring on her feet.  “Why are you wearing your coat, Pa?”

Amy, Erik, and Harry looked up simultaneously, their fingers stopped mid-tear with the wrapping paper they each clutched.  An amused smile curled Pa’s lips.

“Is something wrong?” Erik asked.

“Pa looks like he’s up to something,” Harry said.  “I know that look because I’ve worn the same one.”

“Well, since you asked so kindly,” Pa said.  He reached into one of the deep front pockets of his long coat and withdrew a tiny black puppy.

Hannah was the first to rush forward, holding her hands out.  “Oh, he’s adorable! May I hold him?”

“Yes, you may, and she’s a girl.”  Pa laughed easily as he handed the puppy off to his youngest.  

Hannah cuddled the puppy close.  The dog licked her chin, and she giggled.  “She’s so soft.”

Her siblings gathered around her.  

“Is she ours?” Harry asked.

“She sure is,” Pa said.  “Ma and I decided it was high time for a dog.  She’s a Labrador. She’ll grow quite large.”

“Mitchell Woods down the way has a yellow Lab,” Erik said.  “He’s a good dog.”

Amy scooped the puppy up from her sister’s hands and smiled at the dog.  “Does she have a name?”

“Not yet,” Pa said.  “We were going to leave that up to you all to figure out.”

After a morning of debate, the children came up with the name Flossie.  By the end of the day, the new pet was curled up on Hannah’s bed, and from that day forward, Flossie spent many nights sleeping there.

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Cover reveal for my next book coming March 15!

My next book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, will be published in the fall of 2018! The cover reveal is coming, also celebrating three years of writing original works for me!

No Regrets in Life

You’ve heard it said before: have no regrets.

You’ve probably also found yourself alone with your maddening thoughts, maddening both as in crazy and provoking anger. Your lovely mind has this magical ability to conjure out of nowhere every past fault, failure, and fracture. But such thoughts do have a hiding place. They lurk in the deepest recesses of your mind. You know, those places you put memories you wish you could forget.

But you don’t. Or can’t. Or maybe the masochistic face of you doesn’t want to.

Misery loves company, after all.

I can remember getting ready for work when I was in my 20s. Ah, such was the decade where I was caught between responsible adult and kid. My husband was already at work. I had the house to myself and a tendency to not want to get up in mornings. I hated mornings. While mornings and I still aren’t buds, we can tolerate each other now, but I digress.

I was often tired and cranky while getting ready for work because I stayed up too late. I guess you could say I regretted staying up late come morning–ha! But seriously, because of my already compromised state of mind, I would find myself ruminating on certain people in my life, both past and present, who I felt had let me down. I’d grow increasingly mad, to the point sometimes that I wondered why I had wasted precious hours, days, and years of my life with some of these fine folks. I’d have regrets for even knowing them, for letting them get to me, and for letting they still live rent-free in my mind.

Although it wasn’t really rent-free. I wasted countless energy and time over past hurts, over regrets, over things that couldn’t be changed.

I could go further–regrets over things I didn’t do, should have said, or a path I took. Could have. Should have. Would have.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say that I never go to those ugly places, those closets filled with boxes labeled “regret.”

If anything now, I regret having regrets–ha!

pablo (22)I’m not entirely sure how, or when, or even why, but somewhere along the road of my 30s, I came to understand a deeper truth: I can’t change the past or my circumstances, but I can change how I look at them.

I have no control over other people or what goes on in the world. The forces of nature are beyond me. The thoughts and actions of other individuals are the result of their free will.

At the end of the day or my life, the only thing I should have to regret, if anything, is my outlook on life. I have a choice every day to make: be bitter or be content. Contentment, I believe, goes beyond momentary happiness. Feelings are as fleeting as leaves blowing by on a windy day. To have inner peace, a resolve to keep going, to say I’m going to stand and not fall, that is true contentment.

Instead of looking at a failed relationship as a waste of your time and being angry at the other person and yourself, look at it as an opportunity to learn something. I believe everyone who comes in and out of your life can teach you something, even if it’s what not to do.

These are the words I etch on my heart and stamp on my brain. I hope they go deeper and imprint on my soul, that eternal part that is who I really am. I hope, at the end of the day and my life, that I have no regrets because of choosing to rise above.

There is no new wisdom in these words, but just a simple reminder I think we all need from time to time. Friend, if you’re filled with regrets, make a choice right now to let those ugly boxes of junk go. Fill your mental storage with memories boxes of love.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Nothing worthwhile is easy, I believe.

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My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.

 

 

Do you love Christmas enough to celebrate it year round?

A good and dear friend of mine has a blog entitled Yuletide Blessings, which aims to do so. Discussions and blog posts are about traditions, recipes, crafts, books, and more. Please visit the link below to read her review of a Christmas-themed novel and view the website further. My thoughts on Christmas books are also below:

I tend to read Richard Paul Evans’s annual Christmas novels. He has been pretty regular about putting one out every year for several years now. While I have read other novels centered about this time of year, his dominate my reading repertoire. I would have to say that most of his books and other Christmas novels I’ve read rely more on the timeline of Christmas. The decorations are up, the baking is happening, the shopping is going on, the parties are in full-swing, but that is the extent of the holiday backdrop. As for Christmas as a setting, the only real story I’ve read (and many times, mind you) that follows this is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Maybe it’s because that story has survived the test of time and has become a staple in holiday history and meaning, but that whole story revolves around the deeper meaning of Christmas and keeping it in our hearts year round, so much so that it changes a man’s life. Few stories have that effect, I feel.

Visit Yuletide Blessings