Christmas Expectations

Since my focus is not on gifts anymore, though we do exchange so that everyone receives something, my expectations have changed.  I used to plan gifts and surprises and foods for weeks, my focus totally on the look of astonishment or remarks of pleasure that would bring me satisfaction of a job well done.  I’ve learned to instead look forward to the time with each one, and yes, the fun of creative gift-wrapping for those who have the time in our busy worlds.  Ken and I used to purchase a ‘big’ gift for each other and exchange that at the family Christmas.  With tighter finances, we agreed to smaller gifts which we exchanged early Christmas morning before the gang arrived.  A lot of my expectations have changed.

Our family has changed too as the kids and grandkids mature with their own families and relocate with jobs and college.  This was the first year to have 6 missing from the family and I assume much will continue to change as our “little ones” leave the nest.  My Mom is also in a nursing home and due to her changing emotions I hardly know if it would be a good thing to call with Christmas greetings or not. (That’s Mom in the picture holding me when I was even shorter!)

Some things, however, have remained unchanged.

My sweet hubby’s enjoyment and anticipation as I open his ‘trick’ packages, trying to guess what he got and which box, if any, contain a gift. The house bustling with a baby, teens, a new fiance’, newlyweds and all those in-between.  The fragrance of all the yummies  everyone brought.  Laughter as we pile up on the sofa for a traditional and silly versions of the Christmas family photos.  The sound of football in the background, hilarity around table games, and the men dozing off a bit from too much food. The fun of opening the creatively disguised gifts (a cat, a star, a huge ball of yarn, a frozen gift-card for a ‘cool’ gift, etc.), and the pre-gift sharing about the meaning of the day – the birth of Christ.

In the past some of my expectations dimmed because the hope had been on believing we could read each others’ mind and find/get what we each wanted.  This year my hope was in memories with Christ at the center.

I was blessed with the opportunity to share the story of God enabling me to give my Mom the gift of grace (Rooted Living digital magazine), and the story of the first year our family ‘adopted’ a family for Christmas (Chicken Soup – Christmas Magic).  These memories helped root our focus of the day with thankful hearts.

The weather and roads were clear and everyone arrived at almost the same time.  Two of the men pleased us by sharing something about the birth of Christ, with a meaningful way to apply the truth to our lives.   Our price limit for gifts is small, yet the gifts were  fun, useful and personal things.  And my Mom – she called, thanking me for “all the loot”, and for taking such good care of her, closing with “lots of love” – the first time I can recall her initiating such a comment.

The morning after Christmas Aimee and her fiance’ Erik went one direction to have their engagement photos taken while I went another, missing a traditional farewell.  On my way to completing an errand that evening, Aimee called on my cell saying she’d missed her farewell hug, wondering if it were still possible.  Turns out they were about to head home from her other grandparents home which was 3 minutes from where I was headed!  We met at the nearby Burger King… can’t you picture the scene:  White car, loaded with family, gifts and Quill,the sweetest black lab ever, pulls into the lot and parks facing the street.  No one gets out.  A few minutes later a red car pulls in and parks a few feet away.  Simultaneously both car doors open.  A tall blond women climbs out of the white car, as a petite silver-haired grandmother runs around the red car, meeting in a fierce hug.  Words are exchanged, but the only ones heard are from the young blond as she turns back to get into the car:  “I feel better now; we can go home.”

I couldn’t stop smiling all night.  Thank you Lord for a blessed Christmas.  All expectations exceeded.

Speaking with purpose

John Piper’s book “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” has touched many in my world.

A dear friend who is in the last stages of cancer commented today that she has been focusing on saying words of love.  Not a demonstrative person, this effort does not come as naturally or as quickly she explained as words of disagreement or anger rise up in all of us.  Consequently it takes choice, focus and planning to speak from the heart with such purpose.

My little sister prayed and focused on what she would say when she reunited with our mother this spring after 32 years.  Her speech was gentle, loving and healing. It was speaking with purpose.  My grandson planned for weeks what he would say, and how and where he would say it, when he planned his marriage proposal to Kaylyn.  That too, was speaking with purpose.

Surely we do speak through our actions, and there are many different ways to show affection and appreciation.  Yet I believe every man, woman and child needs to sometime hear the words – not necessarily like a constant beating drum, for that too would become less meaningful, but combined with love’s action.

My dear friend is living with purpose and right now focusing on speaking with purpose. This is one of those things she calls a ‘gift’ from Cancer.  She doesn’t want to waste those gifts, but purposes to use them – fulfill them.

I’m thinking many things in life are like cancer, eating away at us – our body, emotion, mind, and soul – trying to take over and rule our destiny.  It can’t – unless we allow it.  Instead we can purpose to speak only that which is healing, encouraging, uplifting.   And I’ve read how the early Christians had to be careful to whom they spoke, and would begin their greeting or conversation with half the fish sign shown above, often drawn in the sand with their foot, then waiting the response or acknowledgment.  They were purposing that their words be identified with Christ.  Thanks to my dear friend and her ‘gift’ of insight, this too has been my renewed goal:

1Peter 4:11  tells us that “Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God”

and goes on to share the purpose “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ”

Living Without

You know me, I went searching for the word without and was fascinated to be reminded of the Israelites time in the desert away from their gastronomic favorites from Egypt.  Deuteronomy 29: 5 and 6 says:  I took you through the wilderness for forty years and through all that time the clothes on your backs didn’t wear out, the sandals on your feet didn’t wear out,  and you lived well without bread and wine and beer, proving to you that I am in fact GOD, your God.

This portion of scripture was from my food blog which will end in just a few weeks.  It was thought provoking to consider the Israelites doing without a favorite food for not 40 hours or 40 days but 40 years!  As I was pondering that I thought about this columns new Living Without Credit resolution.   Looking back at these verses, I’m reminded that the Israelites also went without new clothes or new shoes for 40 years!  Wow.

Now I know my closets have too many clothes and shoes.  Yep, I’m guiltily admitting I have a closet for clothes and a closet for shoes.  It’s sad to find things in the closet I’ve never worn that I can certainly live without.  I’m correcting that by putting at least 12 things a week on Ebay until that is greatly thinned out.  I’m seeing what I can live without.  I’m excited to see the results of my first week’s sales which end later tonight.  I’ve also got more things ready to go up and then the next stack will wait until after Christmas.

Living Without also applies to visualizing others in greater need.  My dear daughter reminded me of the times I’ve gone to Goodwill with little funds to fill a need and been thrilled to find exactly the right item.  That thought helps me to look at each item and ask can I live without this.

It came to my attention that a neighbor needs a warm winter coat size large to extra large.  I don’t have one of those but perhaps someone who lives nearby has one they can live without.  If so, please contact me.  I believe this type of action will also be an evidence as in the verses from Deuteronomy of God’s presence and providence.  I love to see His hand at work, and to look back and see what God has done. Living without has never been so fun.

Spring is coming – start a January box

A little early on the announcement?  Not really… just want to give you a heads up to the untruth of many urban stories about Christmas being a time of high risk for suicide an depression.  Although there are certainly many who feel the discouragement of the economic situation and being lonely during holiday family times, Christmas, Thanksgiving and other major holidays are actually a time of reduced risk for suicide.  Experts reason that it could be due to the many expressions of compassion during the winter months, and special collections by the Salvation Army, homeless shelters and other humanitarian groups.

Perhaps like me you’ve ‘walked a mile in those shoes’ and been in the situation of not having food or finances for the type of meal or celebration commonly advertised. I’ve also experienced the danger of comparative shopping after listening to family or friends share their shopping lists, and spending more than I have.  I always eventually realized many truths later – including that the feelings of depression arose from a period of focusing on perceived needs or wants for my family or myself.  Every time the focus got moved to others – especially others that were in the same situation or even less fortunate, the sadness lifted.  Times when I/we were able to spend time with or help others in whatever small way were uplifting – even though the circumstances of our difficult situations had not changed.

There are many who are still without work and the homeless shelters are usually full most of winter.  Call your local agencies and check their needs.  Look around your own neighborhood and see if a package of mittens and gloves, or pajamas and cocoa could encourage a needy family.  Toss an extra package of food in the grocery cart for the food banks, and then start filling a January Box. As you are making preparations slip an item or two in the freezer to share in the coming months. When you shop all those great deals at before and after Christmas sales, add some games and a few packages of socks, mittens, or underwear to the box.  When you have leftovers, package single servings to bring to a senior who lives alone.

Plan now what you can share, or where you can schedule to visit beginning in January.  Whether it’s sharing a loaf of bread, a plate of cookies, or a pot of soup, a gas  or grocery card, or spending time visiting and reading  at local nursing homes, Childrens hospital, homeless veterans housing, Pacific Garden Mission, Salvation Army or other local Missions, you will be uplifted.  The hope you share could even change the statistics for the time of the highest rates for depression and suicide – January first through the spring.
Even more important than “giving” Christmas is living it. So when all the hustle and bustle is over, sit down and write a card to your local VA hospital or to: A recovering American Soldier c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center 6900 Georgia Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20307-5001 and drop it in your January box.  When the decorations are gone and voices of carolers are no longer heard in the halls, the soldiers will greatly appreciate receiving a visit or a mail call.

Let a January box be among your resolutions for this coming year.

Nursing Home Angels

Yesterday I was reminded once again that I never say thanks often enough.  I spent the day with my Mom at a nursing home and was impressed with the loving care she receives.  Staff in each area we went personally greeted Mom, several volunteers stopped to chat and encourage her, and staff went out of their way to encourage me to let them know any needs they might be missing. Mom used the buzzer a few times and help was there in seconds.  PT came in to check how an adjustment to equipment was working out, and Mom’s meal ticket noted items she preferred and items she disliked (which they guarantee not to serve). Cheerful joking helped the medicine go down, and encouragement to come see me if you feel lonely (when Mom got sad that I was about to leave) was touching.  Volunteers came by too with little gifts like crafty angels personally distributed, Christmas carol singing, cookies and cute little wrapped candy gifts and on and on.

So many caregivers are helping my mom, and though some might say it’s their job, I never feel that way.  When I complimented the staff, one said to me that if a person is not able to visualize their loved one with each person they care for, they would be missing a vital qualification.

Perhaps that is what we each need to do as we look around us at all the people who help us daily – at the gas station, the grocery store, the pharmacy, at school, at work, at the doctors offices, etc.  A simple thank you for doing what they have to do, but doing it cheerfully, doing beyond what they have to do, or doing something I need doing and don’t know how to do, wouldn’t want to do, or couldn’t do without them, means so much.

Thank you nursing home angels for all you do – for my loved one and and all the other loved ones.  Thank you to all the volunteers who bring extra cheer and thank you to all the unseen workers that make Mom’s space a clean, healthy, and cheerful place.

Thank you to all the angels in my life.

Shopping locally

I knew the challenge to not use credit would be there because so many things are on sale this time of year.  Cancelling the email ads telling me what I was missing

It's not mine, unfortunately.

helped a lot. Even more than that, shopping locally, having the item immediately in hand, and knowing I won’t have to mail it back if something is wrong underlines the right decision.  Hubby loves that we stick to the budget and call each other if expenditure is over a set amount.   I had ordered a coat for my Mom before making my no-credit pledge and finally got it… only to find out it was shabbily made and I had to return it.  This expense is supposedly “only” $6.50 but keep in mind that I paid $8.99 to get it here.  So this will add up to future savings – no more $15.49 just to get something in hand, find out it is not as nice as advertisements – and reviews – stated and return the lemon.

A bonus was spending time with a friend as we both picked up needed items.  I also enjoyed the places that had Christmas music instead of some of today’s nonmelodic offerings which make me want to run – out of the store.  That’s ok with Ken 🙂 – hmmm – wonder if he put them up to it?

Justt before I made the credit pledge I was in Michigan eating out with cousin Gene.  The Oriental restaurant brought us “fortune cookies” after our meal.  We often have fun with these little gems and Gene made the decision of who would get which cookie.  His and Marge’s were the typical fortunes that ‘something good will happen’ but mine!  We all burst out laughing when I read “Do not spend more than you need to – it is important that you be extra frugal this year.”  I immediately called Ken to see how he set this up a state away, and of course he swore he knew nothing about it.

Sure.  Likely story.

I am what I eat?

Relating that saying to my body and health… especially based on well-known past history… that would make me a chip for sure – either one giant (mumble, mumble pounds of) chocolate chip, or a walkin-talkin-MRS. Potato-Head chip.

But seriously, since I found Setting Captives Free, I’ve been focusing on eating at The Lord’s Table  which basically means presenting myself to the Lord first (as His temple) for all four fillings – spirit, emotion, mind and body.  Then when I’m inputting the fruits, vegetables, proteins, flan, etc. that are good for my body, I’m taking them in as they were meant to be – as physical food – not as a comforter, not as soul satisfying – tasty, but not as spiritually nourishing.  It’s been an exciting journey.  The old cravings are gone and new healthier ones are here – proving that…

If the core – my spiritual self – is functioning as intended, all outlying areas will be well fed.  Christ is described as ‘the root’ and if a tree’s root has access to proper water and food, it supplies the branches or vines to lively health and even reproduces fruit that can bring life to others.  Similarly when my spirit is abiding (living in) Christ, his power, strength, life-giving force, works through all the other areas of my life.

He alone can bring stability to my moodiness; conquer mental issues of bitterness, loneliness, lack of acceptance or love.

He alone can give me the guidance and even the will to want to eat and drink the right things that will build up my physical body and to have the strength to keep that body (God’s temple) under control and able to participate in physical activity.

He alone can provide the boundaries and victory that keeps my mental faculties sharp and active.

He alone can provide the spiritual intimacy that breaks all barriers, and gives the model for all other relationships in my life.

So it’s true spiritually too, I am what I eat… and I believe others can definitely tell where I’ve been feasting.

Join me at The Lord’s Table – it’s free! – www.settingcaptivesfree.com

Psalm. 34:8     Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 119:103     How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Credit Woes and Freedom

Yikes. Did you read the news about how a radio frequency reader can be carried through a crowd, reading your credit information then emailing it across the globe?  It’s alarming and confirming that I made the right decision to live without credit.  This information apparently applies to newer cards with radio frequency, but it has spawned another solution industry – a protective sleeve so the frequency cannot be read.  If you are still living on credit, be sure to check your statements daily and look up RFID blocking or credit card shields.

Here’s another reason to end credit card dependence.  The freedom of budgeting.  Does that sound like an oxymoron?  It isn’t really.  Budgeting is planning.  When I plan for how to use our funds, I can more easily say no because I want to reach the goals that we set. One method is Freedom pages.

Freedom Pages are something Mary Hunt teaches in her Debt Free Living books and website.  These pages are a division of your savings so you don’t only have an account for emergencies (which you continually empty if you are like most of America), but you have a page for any expense that might come due more than a month away – Car expenses, home maintenance, insurance, taxes, medical deductibles, personal items, etc.  Knowing that funds will be there when needed reduces a lot of stress and is as visual as a clear cookie jar – you know what you really have left to spend (if anything) on other than budgeted items.

There is just something different about handing over my last $20 as opposed to handing over a plastic card and assuming I will figure out how to cover the bill when it shows up.  It’s been interesting this week to look at things with a new eye of asking is it worth it.  One cool result was deciding one item was not worth the price and walking away.  3 days later the same item was on sale half price. I feel like I won that battle.

Now onto something I dread even more: the closet.

Can I do it?

I got fed up yesterday.  I bought something online which didn’t work. It cost me 20% to return it.  If I’d purchased it locally, I could have tried it out and known how it functioned – either would not have purchased it, or would have returned it immediately.   Last year I had credit identity stolen.  That was not the first time for either of these incidences – so I quit.

Quit?  Quit what?  I quit using credit and shopping online.  I’m doing it for a year with the hope that this will prove I don’t need the credit card, and don’t need to shop online.  It may cost a few more pennies here and there to shop locally – or to substitute what I cannot find locally – but I’m willing to try.  I don’t care if I don’t get points, and I don’t mind that I’ll get less emails (I’ve unsubscribed to all the sale ads to reduce temptation), and I don’t care if I can’t satisfy an order-it-now urge.

Simpledown is the new word for 2011.

I’ve “fasted” from shopping for 30 days and 90 days in the past as gifts for my hubby.  I also did a one year fast from my (at that time) favorite clothing store.  Interestingly enough, I no longer like to shop there.  It seems that while I was in the habit, the sale prices seemed desirable, and now I wonder what on earth I was thinking.  I’ve already created a chart to record the things I run out of that I might usually have ordered on the web.  I’ll complete the former price, the new price wherever I find the item and compare at the end of the year if I really saved money or not.  I know just not having the monthly stress will be a treat for the hubby.

I put this under mind, as in mind over matter, but it could also qualify under emotions, don’t you think?

Hyper Grandma

An overdose of hormones, energy and curiosity can be a gift or a curse.  I’m told they make life with me an adventure in faith for my dear hubby and family.  Things happen when I’m with you, the (8)  grandkids say, encouraging me to share some of our humorous moments walking by faith…

Kim’s 14th birthday was no exception.  A photo-of-the-month prize was waiting for me in Milwaukee, and Kim thought it would be fun to ride along, and practice Spanish in the car rather than on the couch.  Time flew by with the lesson completed by the time we reached the TV station, and after we proved identification and received this framed photo of Faith, Kim asked if we could hunt for a new devotional for her.  On the way to the bookstore she asked about my previous day’s bike ride with friend Marla – laughing hilariously as I explained the riderless horse trotting down Taylor Avenue which we had to cross to continue the bike path.  There ahead of us was a mom in distress – a rope in one hand and a bucket (of oats we guessed) in the other.   Our husbands were shocked, picturing their 50-something-just-had-leg-surgery and 60-something-could-need-leg-surgery-after-today wives circling around on bikes helping to round up a runaway horse!

As we finished the tale we ended up at a bookstore across from a large mall. Beckoning us from across the street was an upscale Chinese restaurant we’d both longed to visit ‘someday’.   We looked at each other and moments later Kim was warning our charming waiter, Ben, as he seated us that “things happen” when Gramma is around, while quickly summarizing the previous days adventure.  The dark-haired young man paused, unbelieving, queried where I would find a horse, then laughed with us and took our order.  The meal was delightful as Kim and I made up stories about the other patrons and what was “really” going on in their lives.  Ben stopped by from time-to-time, seeming to enjoy bantering with us.  As I figured the tip with my remaining cash, I added a neat gospel tract that looks like a million-dollar bill, and a check for the meal – explaining to Kim how Grandpa challenged me that I couldn’t live a month without the credit card.  Ben casually picked up the folder, heading for the hostess’ desk, and soon returned frowning.  It seems the restaurant did not take checks!  Kim started to giggle, asking if I was going to have to wash dishes or be taken to jail. (notice she did not ask if WE were going to wash dishes).  I told him I did not have the card with me, but would call my husband for some back-up, and Ben went to “see what he could do.”  I stuffed the tip, tract and check in my purse, and began dialing Ken while asking Kim what she would do if they did take me to jail. She laughed and said, “Guess I’d call someone for a ride home.”  No protective action, calling for help for me or pleading to not take my Gramma –I noted sadly to continued giggles, and “Uh, oh – you’re in trouble now” pointing as I hung up the phone with Ken to a tall middle-aged man with a “manager” name tag approaching our table.

He seemed to be evaluating the situation as he approached and as I explained that Ken had a backup plan, he said, no, that’s fine – you look honest and we will make an exception and take your check.  Kim told him she liked adventures with Gramma but was relieved her Gramma would not have to wash dishes or go to jail!  We joked a bit as I grabbed the papers from my purse and once again stuffed them in the waiter’s folder for payment.  Ben brought our cute oriental boxes with leftovers and commented as we rose to leave that he would ‘never forget the Gramma with the horse-story and the check.”  We thought the incident was over, chuckling on the way home, but later that evening when I retrieved receipts from my purse, out fell the check to the restaurant!  Apparently all I’d left was the “million dollar bill” and the tip.

I couldn’t resist calling Kim first and telling her what I’d found in my purse.  “Gramma, Gramma, she lamented, you really are in trouble now.  He thought you were honest and you didn’t pay.”  The manager at the restaurant was pleased, but admittedly surprised to hear from me minutes later, reviewing how he and Ben thought the other had retrieved the check when they examined the folder after we left.  When I found out the waiter had offered to do the “right thing” and paid the bill, I wanted to bring cash immediately, but was told Ben had already gone home for the day. The manager refused a credit card, insisting he wanted my check!  Kim and I agreed Ben should get an additional tip and a note, which we included with the check.  Now Kim is begging me to take her back while they “still recognize us.”  She wants to walk in showing Ben we have the cash.  Maybe pay him before we eat…I’m not so sure he will think it is as funny as Kim does.

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