An Outsider’s Christmas

I would say I’m comfortable in my own skin but there are times when I feel like an outsider – like I don’t fit in. This is fine with me, though. I typically feel at home not feeling at home. But there are a few times when feeling like an outsider can start to make me feel uncomfortable. Christmas is one of those times.Image

We have, over the years, pared down our Christmas activities. I love to bake and bake up a storm most of the year, but I don’t bake much at Christmas. Last year I did bake some of those sugar cookies that you cut into shapes, but I never got around to icing them. We always put up a tree, but most years it only gets decorated if a kind person who feels sorry for us comes over to complete the task, or to encourage us along.  This year, our tree only has lights halfway to the top – not because lights are burned out, but because we ran out of lights before we finished the job. I’ve only bought a few Christmas presents; I don’t have a Christmas list made – AND THIS DOESN’T EVEN MAKE ME NERVOUS!

 I like Christmas this way.  My husband has some time off work, my daughter has a break from school, another will be able to join us a week or so after Christmas, so I figure it’s a good time to slow things down a little bit. I don’t care if we have a decorated tree.  I like our half-lit tree.  It seems like “us.” But then I start to doubt myself because everyone else has a nice tree – or at least they have a decorated tree.  Then I hear about all the cookie baking that’s going on – I did make some chocolate chip cookies last week, and I guess I could LIE and say they were Christmas cookies, but those cookies are long gone. And Christmas cards – wait – I have to stop laughing before I can start writing again. But what truly punches me in the gut is when I hear about the Christmas traditions that different families pass down to their children. I don’t think our family has carried on many Christmas traditions at all through the years except for opening presents and eating some kind of food for lunch, so then I start thinking about how I’m a terrible mother because I haven’t created any Christmas traditions for my children, not even making cute little Christmas cards with one of the millions of pictures I’ve taken of them (and I’m talking the millions of pictures I’ve taken in the past day or so), so WHAT KIND OF A MOTHER AM I ANYWAY!!  Then I get over it, look at my half-lit tree, and love the way it reminds me of “us” – a group of sometimes-tree decorating, non-Christmas cookie baking people.

 I guess I need to stop thinking about everyone else and see that we have created a Christmas tradition for our family – a tradition of slowing down and being receptive to whatever changes might come our way. We’ve had several groups of people live with us over the years and are accustomed to fluctuations in the way, and with whom, Christmas is celebrated. And I do love lights, decorations and cookies, but for me, a person who gets overwhelmed with details, these things create stress, busyness and deflect from the celebration of Christ’s birth. So yes, at Christmas I feel like we are “that” family – a family of outsiders.  But that’s fine.  Because each time I feel like an outsider this Christmas I will remember to rejoice, not only in Christ’s birth, but also in the truth that as a Christian I am an outsider – this world is not my home.  And what a tremendous gift this is.

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Marchgiving!! Or why Thanksgiving isn’t all about the turkey (but maybe the stuffing)

This weekend we will be having what has become a traditional celebration in our family. I can’t pinpoint the exact beginning of the celebration but I can clearly remember why it began. A few years back we had Thanksgiving dinner away from home. As I recall, it was a lovely dinner and all the food was delicious. My husband, however, was unhappy with how the stuffing was prepared. For some reason he is very particular about Thanksgiving stuffing. He only likes my stuffing. To me this is a little strange because while I think my stuffing is pretty good, I don’t think it’s the best dish that I prepare. If he was talking about my mashed potatoes or my banana bread or my apple pie or several other dishes that I make I could understand his problem, but for him it’s all about the stuffing.

Please understand, my husband is not a particular man by nature –  this being one of the reasons I love him so much. He drove my daughter’s Chevy Aveo with a pink Tinkerbell sticker on the back window for many years, because it was more economical to drive that car than to buy a new one. He buys his workout shirts at the Goodwill for $.50 apiece. He has 2 pairs of jeans. He ripped one pair getting out of my Jeep and instead of buying a new pair he opted to get out the sewing kit and mend the rip. So the year he was upset about the stuffing I decided I would make him a complete Thanksgiving dinner, stuffing and all. I believe the first year we had the celebration was in the month of May. We called it Maygiving.

We have had two Thanksgivings a year ever since. Some have been smaller celebrations with just a few folks, and others have been big to-dos, filling the house with close to 40 people. This year we have invited two small groups from our church, family, neighbors, and friends. I got invite happy and paid no attention to the number of people I was asking to attend our Marchgiving celebration (the event is in March this year). So when a friend and I started tallying up the numbers, I stopped counting when we got to 50. I have had 50 people in my house before but that was prior to having had another family of 4 and all of their stuff move in . Can we fit 50+ people in the house? I’m certain we will find a way, because things always seem to work out!

I have come to love our second Thanksgiving, perhaps even a little more than our first Thanksgiving. It started as a time to show appreciation to my husband by fixing him his favorite meal. But it has grown, for me at least, and I hope for all those who attend, and even hear about this celebration, to stop in the middle of what can be a chaotic life and remember to be thankful in all things. I have had some difficulties in my life over this past year. I realize, however, that I am not alone in this. Life can be difficult. It can be easy to become ungrateful, especially when times are hard. But we are told as Christians to be grateful in all things. I pray this celebration reminds us to stop and remember to have grateful hearts.


1 Thessalonians 5:18

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

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What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – unless it kills you

At least once a month I receive a text from my oldest daughter with a question about food. And with the last text she sent me, it struck me that her questions were reminiscent of those word problems that I used to have to do in math class back in the day that always seemed to have too many steps to get to the answer, were very confusing, and gave me a headache. All her questions have a similar theme – she wants to know if food left out for a given period of time is still safe to eat. Here is something representative of what she might ask: “Mom, if I left a pizza in my car for 12 days, and then took it in the house and left it on the counter for 3 days, and then put it under my bed for 4 days, and then took a train to Milwaukee and drove to Chicago and back, and then put the pizza in the refrigerator, would it be okay to eat?” I usually tell her if the food smells and tastes okay it should be fine to eat. We’ve all, in our family of 4, made it through life just fine following this rule. I don’t know, maybe we’ve just developed strong stomachs over the years.

You may be thinking, “if you’ve ever had food poisoning, you wouldn’t give such advice.” Oh, I’ve had food poisoning. So has my youngest daughter, and my husband. My youngest daughter and I got food poisoning at restaurants, on separate occasions. Boy were we sick. But my husband’s bout with food poisoning took the cake. We can’t quite pinpoint where he got sick. It was either at a small restaurant close to my hometown or at a family Christmas Eve dinner. I hate to suspect that someone in my family gave him tainted food to see if he was man enough to stick around, but who knows. We all found out that it would take more than some sketchy food and spending the Christmas holiday in a hospital bed hooked up to an IV to chase him away!

Oddly enough, as I was in the process of writing this, my youngest daughter told me about some bad spaghetti sauce that she had just eaten. She had opened the jar of sauce awhile back, had put it back in the pantry instead of the refrigerator, and had used the tainted sauce to make dinner. When she went to eat her meal she realized that the sauce was bad and spit it out. It would have made her very ill if she would have eaten it.

I can’t help but apply all of this to the Christian walk. It is easy, I believe, to justify not doing difficult things because we want to stay safe. We’re afraid we might get hurt, or even poisoned by stepping out and doing things that look like they might be risky. The fact is, if we are walking correctly we will get hurt, poisoned, or even worse. Sometimes we might even end up in the hospital hooked up to IVs on major holidays.

The point is bad food can make you sick. But I really believe bad food can make you stronger.

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My Sister-In-Law’s Hair

 I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve always been a little jealous of my sister in law’s hair. She’s always had the kind of hair that you can do anything with. When big hair was all the rage you’d better believe her’s was big enough to win a trophy. Her hair was so big that I think she had to duck her head to get through most doorways. Aqua Net was her best friend at that time. Through the years that I’ve known her she has had short hair, long hair, straight hair, curly hair, and purple hair – maybe it was supposed to be red but we will still never let her forget about that.

My sister-in-law is 7 years younger than me, making her 43 years old. About 3 months ago it was discovered that she has a tumor in her brain. She has been going through a course of chemotherapy and radiation and as a result has been losing her hair. Initially she kept some of her hair, but she finally decided to shave it all off. When she texted me and told me she shaved her head I was anxious to see her new hairstyle. She sent me a picture. I thought she looked beautiful.

I suppose now is the time I should say how I think hair isn’t that important in the big scheme of things. But if I said that, anyone who knows me might, rightly, shout, “LIAR!” My hair is important to me. When I got a Jeep and realized I would be driving a vehicle with the top down on a regular basis, I got a new hairstyle that would look good even when it was windblown. One of the first things I did when I injured myself and was unable to use one of my hands was learn to style and blow dry my hair with one hand. I also learned how to peel an avocado with one hand but that’s another story.

Hair is important to a woman and I know it’s been important to my sister-in-law. She has had numerous hairstyles and I believe that none of us, especially her, would’ve imagined that bald would be among the many. I can’t tell you how she feels about losing her hair, because I’m not in her shoes. I can only tell you what I see, watching her go through this journey. I see that hair is important. It has to be hard to lose your hair. Perhaps hair is one of those things that defines us as women, I don’t know. I also see that hair isn’t important at all. There are many things in life that are much more important than hair, I believe we all realize this.

I’m sure a lot of people smarter than me have done studies on women losing their hair during chemotherapy and radiation treatment, so I’m not going to try to say anything profound – like I could say anything profound if I wanted to. I just know I think my sister-in-law is awfully brave for shaving her head. You occasionally hear of people shaving their heads in support of their loved ones who have lost their hair due to chemo treatments. I told my sister-in-law early on that I wouldn’t be doing that, it was a little too scary for me. Right now, my sister-in-law is my hero. My beautifully, bald hero.


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When your left hand can’t bear your right hand’s burden anymore

I had a slight meltdown the other night. I needed to pack for a trip. In good circumstances, packing is enough to put me into “meltdown” mode. The decisions involved overwhelm me so I wait till the last minute to do it, leaving me wanting to cry or yell at someone. Packing is more complicated this time around because I recently had an injury that left my left hand completely without function – I may have decent function in about 6 months. Due to previously existing conditions, once my left hand regains some function I will be getting surgeries on both my left and right hands, so I will be down to using just one hand for quite awhile, perhaps a few years.

Hanging up clothes is a challenge now. I hang clothes up poorly and they tend to fall off the hanger, ending up on the floor of my closet. I wanted to take a certain black sweater on this trip and spent about 15 minutes in my closet searching for it, not finding it because it had fallen onto the floor. In time I gave up searching, sat on the floor of my closet and lost it. It hit me all at once that it was going to be a long time, maybe even years, before I had use of both of my hands, and that they may never be strong again. I had spent most of my life as a musician – a pianist and keyboard player – and already had to give that up over the past few years due to diminishing hand strength. That was tough. The tambourine has become my new instrument but now I’m afraid my one “good” hand is so weak I can’t manage that. And now I can’t even put clothes on a hanger. I was in a bad state that night in the closet.

My state of mind was a little better the next day because I generally focus on the positives instead of the negatives. Sometimes meltdowns just happen. I don’t see anything wrong with crying like a baby in your closet every now and again. But my meltdown made me think about something. My right hand had been weaker than my left for the past few years and so I relied on my stronger left hand to do much of the day-to-day work. Typing, cleaning, cooking tasks, and sometimes even writing (maybe a little sloppy) was accomplished with my left hand whenever possible. It gave my weak right hand a break. My left hand used to carry the burden for my right hand, but it can’t do it anymore. My weak right hand is on it’s own.

What do you do when the one who carries your burden can’t do it anymore? I think we all have someone we rely on, be it our spouse, a family member, a friend, or, and I believe this is often the case, ourselves? Like my left hand they can’t move to help, no matter how hard they try.

There is no certainty in this world. Of course we all know that in our heads, but usually not in our hearts. The things we rely on, even the things that seem like they will never fail, are all, in reality, very fragile. The the only strong hand that will never grow weak is our Lord, Jesus Christ. I would encourage you to remember that if you are relying on anything other than Him.

Psalms 73:23
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.

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Putting things off can be painful

I hate going to the doctor. Not too long ago I tripped, slammed my hand into the wall, and jammed two fingers. I doctored myself up just fine with tape, a store-bought splint, and the Internet. Anything to avoid the doctor.

But some conditions force you to make the trip to the doctor’s office. I began to lose strength in my hands about seven years ago and was diagnosed with carpal tunnel in both hands. I had an unsuccessful surgery on my right hand around six years ago that left me with pain and continued weakness. Because of this I decided not to have any additional surgeries on either of my hands. Through the years the state of my hands has continued to deteriorate. I haven’t sought any medical help because I’ve been a little gun-shy.

I recently had a bad accident with a knife – I came close to cutting off my own finger. I think I should learn to be more careful. Anyway, as part of the healing process I have to wear a splint on my left hand that keeps my wrist at a constant curve. This is good for my finger but terrible for my wrist. Keeping your wrist at a constant curve is both painful and ill-advised if you have carpal tunnel. It is causing a me lot of pain and could be causing further damage to my hand.

I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times over the years my husband has advised me to seek a specialist’s advice about my hands.  But I didn’t want to go to the doctor because I don’t like to go to the doctor. And I felt like I was justified in not going to the doctor about my hands because the doctor had botched my first surgery, after all.  Let’s face it, what I was really doing was putting the problem off. Avoiding the doctor was my way of ignoring something that I didn’t want to face.  But now, because of my accident, I’m being forced to deal with the situation with my hands under much more difficult circumstances. It would have been easier if I would have taken care of things a long time ago.

This accident has been difficult but it has also taught me many lessons. I hope in my foolishness I don’t let those lessons go to waste. If I’m smart, I will ask myself some hard questions everyday.  Do I need to forgive someone? Do I need to ask someone to forgive me? Do I need to resolve a conflict with someone? Do I need to spend my time living for Christ and not for myself? The list of things that are difficult, easy to put off, and easy to justify not doing can be a long one. But I genuinely believe my life would be better if I would take care of all of these things now instead of ignoring them or putting them off for later. Fortunately, I will now have a big, nasty scar on my left hand as a reminder to examine myself everyday.

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How I got a much needed rest by almost cutting off my finger (don’t try this at home)

A lot of weird stuff has happened in our life lately. It has been one thing after the other after the other after the other. It’s been one of those times when yet another bad thing happens and you think, “surely  we’ll get a break after this” and then something else happens.  In an attempt to maintain our sanity during this time, more than once my husband and I have planned “getaways” to get a break, to get some rest, to clear our heads, to eat some pizza rolls (I always try to take pizza rolls along on any getaway) in hopes that we could come back somewhat refreshed.

Well that was a complete failure. Every time we went away there was some sort of emergency, either while we were away or immediately when we came home. The “let’s get some rest by getting away from it all” solution wasn’t working out so well. It seemed to be making life even more stressful.

After our last failed attempt at a restful getaway, we came home and made it through the Christmas season without incident. YAY! Foolishly I thought I might be safe. So I planned another short “getaway” with my daughters to my mother’s house – I thought with everything that had been going on it would be good to pack up the Jeep and leave town for a few days. I was certain to come back to face the world refreshed and with a rosy new outlook on life. Maybe I would even like vegetables and would no longer yell at inanimate objects like my cell phone, my GPS, or my computer anymore.

Two hours after arriving at my mother’s house, there was an accident. I carry about 3 pocket knives in my purse, which maybe isn’t a good idea for an accident prone person… Anyway, my mom needed some very well packaged knives that she got for Christmas unpackaged and I used one of my very sharp, I must say, pocket knives to do the job.  To this day I don’t know if I opened the knife package. I do know, however, that I almost cut off my index finger. It was a pretty bad injury, requiring surgery, and many months of physical therapy yet to come.  I still can’t use my left hand, and won’t be able to use it at all for at least a month. I suppose in a way I have been getting that R&R I was looking for after all.

Starting  the year  2013  by almost cutting my finger off makes for a good story, but I already have  enough good stories for a lifetime. The accident has added additional struggles to my life. My hand looks like a combination of Frankenstein, a platypus and a duck because of  the incision from the surgery and the splint I have to wear.  I’ve been losing strength and coordination in both of my hands over the past few years due to some other problems I  have been having.  I was a pianist for most of my life and even had to give this up recently.  Since the accident I have seen just how weak my right hand is, dropping things frequently.  I can’t help wonder what  kind of strength I will be left with in my left hand once it is fully recovered.  This thought makes me sad and even worries me sometimes.  How will my life be impacted by this?  This whole experience is just one more problem in a river of problems we’ve been wading through. But this time has also been a tremendous blessing. I have been given a time to rest. It’s not the time that I have chosen but it’s the time that has been given to me. I hope I am smart enough to recognize, savor and use this time for all it’s worth.  Things have been a little rocky lately, and in some ways they still are, but I have to say, I treasure this time to sit and be still. I also, as always, find it interesting to see how God’s plans are often markedly different from our own. I planned a little R&R by going on a vacation – and really folks, help me out here, I don’t think that’s such a strange thing. But it looks as if my true R&R was to come via a 1″ self-inflicted stab to my index finger.

I suppose the point is, 2012 was a tough year and I never would have guessed 2013 would start with me almost cutting my finger off (well that part wouldn’t have surprised me) and that the experience would maybe be one of the best things that had happened to me in a long time. It made me slow down, gave me time to rest, gave me a glimpse of God’s plan in my life, and showed me His hand at work in so many ways. But….it would still be great if I could get this splint off of my hand sooner than SIX WEEKS!

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
(Psalm 73:23-24 ESV)


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