Wander, Linger Savor Christmas

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I’ll come right out and say it…this is the hardest time of year to write a blog post about slowing down. I’ve already failed miserably at not “shoulding” on myself.

I should send out Christmas cards.

I should bake all those cookies.

I should have my shopping done.

I should have the tree decorated by now. (Oh wait, I don’t even have a tree yet.)

Guilt, self-criticism, failure, Bah Humbug!

Not exactly a good start for preparing my heart to soak in the true meaning of Christmas.

 

Imagine if God had a list of “shoulds” for that first Christmas.

I should’ve sent my son to a wealthy, firmly established Roman family instead of an unmarried, poor Jewish couple.

I should’ve waited until they got back from Bethlehem so they wouldn’t have to travel while she was pregnant.

I should’ve provided a cushy, comfortable room with qualified medical personnel to assist with the birth of my son.

I should’ve proclaimed the glorious news about the savior of the world to influential people that would immediately get the word out to other influential people…instead of the lowliest of humans – uneducated, unclean shepherds.

Point being…it wasn’t a Norman Rockwell perfect Christmas. But through the ages, painters, sculptors, retailers, and even churches have tried to glamorize a very messy, scary, confusing event that changed the history of the world. The Light of the World arrived on earth and for those who recognized Him, they would never be the same.

God had no shoulds. His timing and execution were perfect. And once again I’m reminded that He is God, and I am not. Perfection is His alone.

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Winter morning in Evergreen Colorado

This year I’m not aiming for the perfect Christmas – that was already done 2000 years ago. This year I’m looking for ways to:

Wander through a pine forest knee deep in snow instead of neck deep in chores.

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Linger over a few precious words about the first Christmas instead of trying to come up with the perfect Christmas sentiment in my own cards.IMG_3253

Savor a cup of coffee with a friend in need instead of shopping for things nobody needs.DSC_0036

My tree is up and lit but I don’t know if I’ll get around to actually putting ornaments on this year. And that’s ok. Because all those details pale and seem unimportant when the lights go on.

May the Light of the World illuminate your days with Love, your nights with Peace and your life with Hope.

Winter in Crete
Quiet Christmas Day on Crete

 

 

 

 

 

Savor Autumn

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Nature’s Decoration

I walked into our local Home Depot yesterday and was immediately accosted by a forest of pre-lit Christmas trees and animated Santa figures.  For a fleeting moment I panicked thinking , “Wow!  I haven’t finished (or even started ) my Christmas shopping.”  I felt strangely off balance, like I’d been whisked ahead into December.  For a split second I couldn’t remember the day, or the month.  Stopping in my tracks to pull myself together and check my calendar, I realized it was October 20th.  Not even Halloween yet.  My first response was relief.  Then aggravation.  Then outright indignation.

In an effort to get a jump on preparing for a future holiday, we many times miss the beauty of lingering in the present.  And presently, it is a sunny and crisp day in the Colorado mountains.  A few yellow aspens leaves cling with their last strength to the trees in front of the house and they shimmer in the breeze.  Today I will bake apple cake (see recipe below) and decorate the house with pumpkins and pressed leaves of yellow, orange and red.   I vow to not put up Christmas decorations until after Dec 1.  And I savor these moments even longer, by lingering over some of my favorite Autumn photos from near and far travels.

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Colorado Gold

APPLE CAKE WITH CRISP TOPPING

Cake Ingredients:
2 eggs
1 ½ C sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ C oil
6 medium Gala, Fuji or Honey Crisp apples
¾ C chopped walnuts or pecans
2 C flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Crisp Topping Ingredients:
2/3 C rolled oats
2/3 C packed brown sugar
2/3 C flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ C (1 stick) chilled butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, cinnamon and oil. Peel and slice the apples and add to mixture in bowl (coating as you go to keep apples from turning brown.) Mix together baking powder and flour and add to the ingredients in the bowl. Mix well until all of the flour is absorbed by the wet ingredients. Pour mixture into a greased 9×13” pan.

For topping:

Combine first four ingredients and cut in butter till coarsely mixed. Sprinkle over cake.

Bake for approximately 55 minutes.

Merry Christmas: Peace on Earth

 

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet,

Their words repeat,

Of peace on earth, good-will towards men.”

 

Dear friends and family,

This Christmas we are acutely aware of the need for “Peace on Earth.” As Americans, we are no longer insular to the tragedy and violence that many other cultures have lived with for generations. We have become all too aware of violence on our home soil that we previously thought was reserved for cultures far away from our shores, and we shake our heads and are sure that “it’s never been this bad.” But, there are many other points in history where evil has had run rampant on the innocent and left many wondering as we do today, “Where is God?”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned a poem during the crisis of the Civil War, a tragedy of huge proportions on American soil. Many of his words eventually gave birth to the Christmas song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

And in despair I bowed my head;


“There is no peace on earth,” I said;


“For hate is strong,


And mocks the song


Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”




 How are we to keep the faith, to secure hope in these unsettling times? If God is not dead, He certainly seems far away.

But isn’t that the crux of the Christmas story? Knowing how desperately we needed Him, He drew near to us – so near in fact, that He left His throne and was born as a vulnerable baby in an unlikely place. No matter how we try to clean up and glamorize His first coming, the facts remind us that He chose to be born in crisis as the most helpless creature on the planet – a human baby, announced to a couple who weren’t married, born in dirty surroundings, into a Jewish race who had a long history of persecution, and into a largely pagan and powerful Roman Empire. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. In fact, the story continues and it is His Story in which we all play a part and He knows the ending. His story of reconciliation, redemption, all things made new because of His great love for all of us.

If you are a Christ-follower, take heart. “In this world you will have many trials. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Nothing can separate us from His love.

And if you are a seeker, take heart. God is nearer to you than you imagine; Reaching down to humanity and reaching out to you.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 


“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!


The Wrong shall fail,


The Right prevail,


With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

 This Christmas, may God grant you peace of heart and strength of soul to love with abandon, serve with abundance and live with extravagant gratitude. Peace on earth – pass it on.

With love,

Melanie and Richard

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The Gift of Time

Daddy's barn - December
Opa’s barn – December

It’s a snowy, magical Colorado Christmas around our house this year and we are filled with gratitude for the blessings of family and friends both near and far that enrich our lives.   The tree is lit, the cookies baked, and the shopping is done – well, not exactly. As I try to follow my own advice for “slow, intentional living,” I am challenged to make Christmas look a little different this year. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas with all the excitement and anticipation. But it’s way to easy to feel like there’s some kind of competition to have the best tree, food, party, event schedule and gifts and get it all done before Christmas Eve.

We are often so overwhelmed and busy that much of the simple joy of Christmas is lost on us. Our intentions are good – we want to make this season special for our family and friends because we are so thankful for them. But it has occurred to me that we don’t need more “stuff” and I certainly don’t need to get sucked into the anxiety of shopping frenzy to try to find that “perfect” gift.   What I DO think everyone needs these days is a gift that can’t be wrapped up in paper – the gift of “time.” It’s takes a little more creative thought, but it’s well worth the effort to reflect on how to bless someone this year with a gift that isn’t bought in a store. Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

A getaway gift certificate to a local restaurant or hotel for a young working couple. Accompany the gift with the offer to babysit!

Take a friend to lunch.

If you have a special talent or gift, offer to give lessons.

An offer to clean someone’s house and/or cook for them so they can go out and enjoy the day with family or friends.

Organize a hike/bike/picnic (you pack the food and wine/beer)

Make a promise to a child (or grandchild) to take a special trip (near or far) just with them. This is like giving two gifts – the anticipation of the gift and then the gift itself. Delayed gratification is a sweet treat that many children today don’t have the pleasure of receiving.

For an older friend or relative, you can bless them beyond any material goods by simply giving them your time and attention. Sit down with them and just listen to their stories. Guaranteed reciprocal blessings.

And if you must give a wrapped gift, a handwritten letter of love and appreciation, a good book or a small homemade consumable treat is a sure bet.

Those are just some ideas that have worked like a charm for me and that people still talk about today. How about you? What other ideas can you share? How are you going to make this Christmas different from all the rest? What do your gifts of time look like?

Speaking of time, we spent a lot of it traveling this year and in addition to our trip to Europe (previous blogs) we enjoyed visiting with friends and family around the country and in our own town.  So, here’s my gift to you….grab a cup of coffee or tea, sit back and enjoy some pretty cool photo highlights of our year 2015.