Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hope Restored~A Christmas Story, Pt. 2


The night seemed never-ending. Even the face of the physician was strained with worry. It looked like they might lose both Ellen and the baby, but somehow, even through the darkness of that long, long night, the new-found hope remained. That fragile faith had taken root, against all odds, and held him fast.

As dawn broke, weak newborn cries brought tears of joy and relief to the weary father's eyes. He held his son in his arms and marveled at this miracle, heart swelling with gratitude.

He leaned over Ellen and held the baby so that she could see him. She smiled weakly and traced her finger down the feathery soft cheek, a tear escaping her eye. She was too weak to even hold him, to say a word.

For what seemed like hours he sat beside her holding their child, pleading with God to spare Ellen's life. He studied that baby, so tiny, so perfect, and thought again of what had happened last night, remembered what Ella Jane had written. That baby boy, born so long ago, was truly God's greatest gift. Jesus, born in a dark hour, when the Jews had so little hope...when humanity was in despair.... He had brought hope. He was hope!  And this child he now held, born when all was darkness and despair,  had brought hope. A new life, new promise.

He remembered then what someone had once told him. "It's in the darkest of times when God does His best work."

Nothing had really changed, he knew. He still had no job, the bills were still overdue, this new baby needed so many things that he couldn't provide, and Ellen was barely clinging to life. Yet, he felt peace. Surrender had brought an inexplicable resolve to trust even though he didn't know the outcome. Because of the child of Bethlehem. The Promise fulfilled. 

He felt the doctor's hand on his shoulder. "I think she'll be alright, Son," Doc said. Relief and gratitude washed over him. "Thank God," was all he could manage.

Later, when Ellen and the baby were sleeping, he entered the kitchen to find the kind doctor's wife bustling about, unloading food from loaded baskets onto the table. John and Ella Jane sat in awe, mouths gaping. He noticed the gifts under the tree just as Ella Jane pointed them out.  He turned to the doctor's wife in bewilderment. She held up a hand,  wouldn't let him express his gratitude. Just told him that they had been impressed to do this for some time now, and that they were happy to be of assistance. She said it matter-of-factly, like she didn't realize what a miraculous blessing had been given to this little family. Said Doc and she were happy to do it.

So these were some of those saints he'd heard about....

Everything would be alright now. He didn't know how, he just believed it. It would take some doing and more faith and hard work than ever before, but he knew God wouldn't fail him. He couldn't wait to tell Ellen's parents about this. Somehow he had to make them see that he had done his best, and that God had turned it into...enough.

He went back in to check on Ellen and the baby. He stood there, gazing down at these living, breathing miracles, and thanked His Father for what he could see Him doing even now, through the eyes of faith.

His hope had been restored.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hope Restored~A Christmas Story, Pt. 1

I know this is late, but I wanted to share it with you. 

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, 
The Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9:6-7

He shuffled in the back door, weary, dirty, and discouraged. The weight of defeat bowed his shoulders. The events of this day had been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Years of hard work with little pay had worn him down; worn his family down, too. As the door banged shut behind him he caught a glimpse of the pitiful excuse of a Christmas tree in the corner of the sparsely furnished living room. He didn't need to look under that tree to know that there weren't any presents there. He'd seen the children cast hopeful glances at that very spot...always hoping to see some small gift...and he'd seen the disappointment in their eyes even though they had tried to hide it. How could he buy gifts, when he could barely afford food for them?

He scrubbed a calloused hand across his stubbled face and sighed wearily. He headed for the bedroom but stopped short when he saw the envelope on the table. He picked it up, saw the return address, and felt the heat rise to his face. Another letter from Ellen's parents. Another long rant, no doubt, about the rotten husband she had. Another list of his failures as a husband and father. Another invitation for Ellen to leave him and come home where they could take care of her and the children. He resisted the urge to tear it to pieces, placed it back on the table instead, and stepped into the bedroom.

Ellen looked so pale. So tired. He hooked his foot under a nearby chair, pulled it to the bedside and sat down wearily. He reached for her hand, kissed it. He asked about the doctor's visit. Did Doc think the baby would come soon? Was everything alright? Had she been able to rest? Were the children feeling better? He said nothing of the letter. He knew that her parents' words hurt her as much as they hurt him. She knew how hard he worked. How hard he tried. She didn't fault him for what they considered his failures. She loved him, knew that he would lay down his life for his family. She didn't demand the best of everything.

After checking on Ellen, he warmed up the soup and they ate together. It was a quiet, meager Christmas Eve supper. He dreaded morning, and the lonely, cheer-less Christmas Day that awaited them. He studied the faces of his children. John, too old for his seven years, with thoughtful, serious, brown eyes, and delicate Ella Jane, only ten but forced to grow up too soon; tall, slender, and as capable of caring for a home as any grown woman. Ellen's poor health had been hard on all of them. And now, with the baby coming any day.... Another heavy sigh escaped. This strain was nearly crushing him. He had never felt more helpless. More hopeless.

The kitchen was cleaned, children sent to bed, and the house grew quiet. He sat in the living room, not bothering to turn on the light, and stared at the silhouette of the straggly Christmas tree. Christmas was only one day, he knew. It wasn't the end of the world if they couldn't exchange gifts. But that wasn't it. It was the symbolism. The meaning behind it all. They had nothing, could give nothing. Everything seemed to be falling down around him and no hope was in sight. Illness and financial hardship had taken hold of their little family and threatened to squeeze the life out of them. To ruin them. He didn't have the strength to fight any more. That bare little tree was symbolic of his life. His shattered dreams.

He stood and paced the moonlit room, despair written on his face. How could he tell her? All that had gone wrong already, and now how could he let her know that he'd lost his job? That the food was nearly gone, the bills were overdue, and now there was only one more paycheck, pitifully small, left to try to cover it all?

Another question tormented him. Taunted him. Threatened to destroy him.

Where was God? All this talk of Christmas, and the Gift that God gave in His Son.  What about the promise that Jesus had come to bring peace? He had no peace. He had trusted long ago in that Gift, but that seemed far away and forgotten now. Meaningless.  All that talk about how the spirit of Christmas could turn even a scrooge into a saint...where were the saints now? Where were those people who were supposed to be giving to those in need, especially at Christmas, to honor the Gift that had been given to them? It was all a lie. A cruel lie.

As he paced near the tree he tripped over something in the dark and kicked at it angrily. The object rolled into a patch of moonlight and he stooped to examine it. It was a baby doll. A baby....

He dropped to his knees and picked it up gingerly, gently, as if it were real. Then he saw the note tied to the doll's wrist. He opened it, and tears sprang to his eyes. Little Ella Jane had written the note...to him.


I know you feel bad because you can't get us anything for Christmas. I just wanted you to know that it's alright. You have always told us that Jesus was the greatest gift ever given, and we have Him, so we don't need anything else for Christmas. I wrapped my doll up and put it under the tree so we would remember. We need to remember, Daddy. 

Ella Jane

He clasped the doll to his chest...and the tears came. He sat, clutching that doll and sobbed like a baby for what seemed an eternity. He wept out his fear and frustration. His anger at the unfairness of it all. And, finally, he wept tears of repentance. How could he have doubted? Would God have sent His Son, only to forsake the ones to Whom He was sent? No! He knew that now. Forgiveness came, and with it, a glimmer of hope.

He was startled by Ellen's weak voice calling him from the bedroom. Dropping the bundle, he stumbled through the darkness to the bedroom door and turned on the light. Ellen's face told him all he needed to know, and he raced to call the doctor.

Continued tomorrow

Friday, December 23, 2011

How We Celebrate Christmas

Christmas at our house is a simple time of family togetherness. I like it that way.

On Christmas Eve we watch Christmas movies, play games, eat snacks, and just enjoy our time together. We also allow the children to each open one of their gifts. They definitely love that tradition! 

My children aren't usually the type to bounce into our bedroom at 6:00 on Christmas morning to drag us into the living room to open presents. Sometimes, we have to wake them up. Sleepy heads! 

We started a Christmas morning tradition years ago and it's a precious start to the day's events. The first thing the children do when they wake up is to head for our nativity scene and find Baby Jesus in the manger. (I don't put Him there until Christmas morning.) This is a reminder to them, first thing, that this day isn't about rushing to greedily tear open their gifts. It's about the Baby in the manger Who came to save us from our sins.

After that, we get comfy and my husband reads the Christmas story to us.I so appreciate the sense of reverence that comes with the retelling of that old-but-always-new story!  We pray together and then...

...it's time to open the gifts! Chaos reigns! 

The rest of the day is spent enjoying the children's new gifts, with nothing in particular planned. Just relaxing. 

We used to plan a big ol' meal for Christmas Day, but have decided that we'd rather spend our time enjoying the day than cooking in the kitchen. So, we've simplified the menu. Last year, (and I believe we'll have the same thing this year) we had ham, crock-pot macaroni and cheese, broccoli salad, and rolls. All quick and easy to prepare. Of course, we have desserts and snacks on hand as well so we can "graze" throughout the day.

I love spending a simple Christmas, all cozied up with my little family!

What special Christmas traditions do you observe every year? I'd love to read them, so please share!

Head on over to see how these ladies celebrate Christmas:

Jennifer @ Joy Ever After
Joanna @ The LaVans

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What To Do With All of These Gifts!?

Christmas is only days away (Hey!I said that without hyperventilating!) and the excitement will soon reach a fevered pitch at our house. Inevitably, my children will receive more gifts than they need, and, also inevitably, I'll have to find room for their new treasures. (Uh-oh. Somebody hand me a paper bag....!)

To prepare for this, I try to do a clean-out during the month before Christmas....

To read the rest of this post on Joy Ever After, click here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Our Christmas Activities

I'll admit that we aren't particularly creative when it comes to Christmas activities. I'll give a little insight into what we do, though, just to give you a glimpse into our rather usual Christmastime fun.

My husband and I put the tree up and get the lights on it, and then we decorate it as a family. This year, due to limited space (which I mentioned in this post) we had to improvise with our tree situation. Here are a few photos of the children decorating:

My sweet daughter made this ornament for the tree. 

Even the dog got in on the action. He was particularly intrigued by the smell of the popcorn. ;)

This is the finished product. Different, to be sure, but we all like it! Maybe next year we can get back to a traditional tree. 
For this Christmas, again due to our limited space, we're only using the same little nativity scene that we've used for years instead of our larger one. It had to go in a more out-of-the-way place than it usually would because of the danger of being knocked to the floor in these tight quarters. The children helped put all the little figures in place. All except Baby Jesus. He won't arrive in the manger until Christmas morning. :)

My son loves the donkey.

We made popcorn and cranberry garlands this year, which was very festive and so much fun...except for the occasional "poke". We enjoyed Christmas cookies and hot chocolate, and just being together. 

Christmas is quickly approaching, so we won't be able to do a whole lot of extra activities. Unfortunately, we missed a concert that I had really looked forward to because I (sheepish grin) was looking at an event calendar from last year. 

We should still be able to get out and see some lights, and that's always fun! I especially like to find a big ol' fancy community where we can drive through and enjoy the gorgeous homes and Christmas decorations. Makes me dream of my mansion in Heaven! :)  

In years past we have caroled in nursing homes with church groups. It always warmed my heart to see how the faces of those dear people brightened up at the sight of the children, and to see them singing along with the familiar Christmas hymns. 

Of course we always enjoy some nights of games and Christmas movies, and...yep...just being together. 

The past two years we were able to take off on a short trip to a nice motel for a little Christmas get away. It was part of the children's Christmas gift, and it wasn't very expensive because it was a tourist area and out of season. It was so very relaxing and we enjoyed making memories together! 

This Sunday our children will be in our church's Christmas play. They're very excited, but oh, so nervous! It will be the first program for our son, who is almost four. He's a camel. That should be a riot. 

I hope to find a Living Nativity in our area, and maybe another Christmas concert of sorts to make up for the one that I...um...botched. 

So, you see, we don't do anything really out of the ordinary. The most important thing is to spend time together, make memories, and focus on the true meaning of Christmas...the Gift of God's Son...and the joy and peace that He brought to us. 

Visit these other blogs to see what sort of activities they take part in at Christmas! 

Joanna @ The LaVans

Friday, December 9, 2011

How We Christmas Shop

Each Friday for the next four weeks, I'll be participating in a blog hop with Joy Ever After. There will be a different topic every week to give you a peek into our lives. There will also be a giveaway on most of the Fridays, so make sure to stop in each Friday for the rest of the year!

I am a stay-at-home mom and happily so. But, when I say stay-at-home, I really, truly mean it. :) I rarely shop. At all. And usually, that's okay. But, being a female, I do enjoy going on a shopping trip from time to time. So, when Christmas rolls around, I have an excuse and I take advantage of it! 

I'm especially guilty of being in love with Black Friday specials! The evening of Thanksgiving, after all the food has been eaten, leftovers put away, and fun times had, I pore over the papers and map out my plan of attack. 

One year I left the house with friends at about two o'clock in the morning. We spent those crazy, hazy hours laughing at everything because we were so tired and came away with aching sides, fun memories, and a few deals. 

We passed Best Buy and, for the first time, I saw for myself the line of tents and the crowd of anxious people in front of the store. 

"Look at those idiots!" I laughed to my friends, shaking my head. 

Fast forward a couple of hours. My friends and I are in line waiting for Sears to open. It's freezing, and we're exhausted. I nodded toward the passing traffic and commented dryly, "Know what they're saying? They're saying, 'Look at those idiots!'" 

Ahh, the memories. 

This year, my mother-in-law, my friend and I left at around 9 p.m. I didn't think my dear ol' mother-in-law would make it past 2 a.m. She surprised me. No, she astounded me. By around 10 the next morning, when I felt like I was going to pass out in Kohl's (no joke) she was still, um, bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed. I was quite chagrined. And she was rather pleased. Hmph. ;)

I'm not really a greedy, gotta-have, shopping maniac, but I do enjoy shopping when I can  and Black Friday is one of those rare opportunities. 

Other than BF specials, I have been taking advantage of the low prices on amazon or ebay. One thing that helps with my online shopping is the Swagbucks Toolbar. By using the toolbar for our searches we earn Swagbucks which can be redeemed for many things. I've always used them to get $5 amazon gift cards. I've been able to score quite a few things either very cheap or free! 

Another way that we've saved money while Christmas shopping is to shop consignment stores. Like-new clothes, books, and toys are just as good as new ones, and far more thrifty!

A highlight of Christmas shopping for me is when my husband and I get to go on our annual Christmas date. We eat out (another rarity) and enjoy some shopping together. Fun!

Now...with all that out of the way, I'd like to say that I read an article by Ann Voskamp at  A Holy Experience that convicted me almost more than anything else I've read concerning how we give gifts at Christmas. My husband read it and was convicted as well. We don't buy extravagantly because we can't afford it. But, then again, do we? In comparison with what we can truly afford...? Do my children really need all this stuff? What are we teaching them? Are they learning to give rather than to receive? Is this really how Jesus' birthday should be celebrated? 

And so the mental war rages. I love the fun and excitement and shopping at Christmas. I love to surprise my little ones with lots of gifts. But I want them to learn what Christmas is really about, and I'm quite sure that this Christmas commercialism isn't it. 

So, we're considering a happy medium. I have a feeling that subsequent Christmases at our house will be quite different. Such as...using gift money to help out those who really need it, maybe even doing what the Voskamps do (with the catalogs), and by buying only a few gifts for our children instead of stressing over getting them a bunch of gifts. 

And that's just a thought out loud. :)

Boy, I went long today. If you made it to the end of this post, please escape by checking in with these other bloggers to see how they shop for Christmas! 

Judy @ Contented at Home
Joanna @ The LaVans

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, December 2, 2011

How We Decorate For Christmas

Each Friday for the next five weeks, I'll be participating in a blog hop with Joy Ever After. There will be a different topic every week to give you a peek into our lives. There will also be a giveaway on most of the Fridays, so make sure to stop in each Friday for the rest of the year!

Christmas is my favorite Holiday and I love to drive around and gaze admiringly at the decorations and lights in, on, and around the homes and yards of those more motivated than I. I really do love to see a place all decked out, but I just don't have the energy and gumption to do much decorating myself. Don't get me wrong, I love to decorate! But I'm just not the type who changes everything for every season and holiday. 

This year, decorating very much at all is a challenge anyway, because we have moved into a tiny little house and literally have no room for many decorations. In fact, we don't even have a good place to put a Christmas tree! I checked into buying a corner tree (didn't think we'd be happy with that at all) or a pencil tree (it'd still be awful crammed in that corner), and I knew that a little table-top was "out" as far as the kids were concerned. Soooo...we're improvising. Majorly. Please don't laugh. 

In the only available corner in our living room, on a table, stand...(drum roll please)...three trees. Yes, three. 

I got a set of three adorable, country-lookin', pre-lit trees, each a different height, and arranged them on that table in the corner. Traditional? No. A satisfactory solution? Yep! They actually look quite pretty! Alas, they aren't decorated yet so I can't share a photo, but they will be by Saturday night if I can help it and I'll take some shots and get them up on here. Most importantly, the kids like the idea. (I don't mean to make them sound like demanding, spoiled little brats at all! They just love a big Christmas tree and really didn't want to settle for a small tabletop. However, if that had been what we chose to do, they would have made the best of it.)

One of my favorite decorations, of course, is the little nativity we bought about seven years ago. Last year we had a nice mantle to put it on. This year... I'm not sure yet where it will be placed, but I'll find a place of honor where, hopefully, it won't be knocked over! (One of our special Christmas traditions is centered around this little set, but I'll post about that at another time.) 

So with the three trees, the nativity set, some greenery over some windows and a few other items placed here and there, our little home will look rather festive, I think. Oh, and the children have small trees in their rooms as well!

Here's what our tree looked like last year. I used a mostly red-and-white candy theme, though it doesn't show up very well here. (Where are my other photos?)


 This shot isn't the greatest, but I still love it. :)


This is part of our little nativity. 

Now you can go check out how these ladies decorate for Christmas!

Liz @ Inside the Mind of Mama Bear
Joanna @ The LaVans
Jessica @ It's the Little Things