Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I'll Be Dreaming of You This Christmas

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been dreaming of a warm Christmas. The past few weeks in Florida have been downright cold with lows in the 40s at night, and the temperature struggling to reach the 60s during the day. 

I don’t care much for this kind of weather. Even though I grew up in Pittsburgh and loved the one or two snowy Christmases I remember, I prefer a balmy Christmas. 

When my family first moved here years ago, we wanted to spend the holiday in ways that were unconventional to us. 

So I’ve spent Christmas Day at the Magic Kingdom eating hamburgers instead of ham. 

I’ve skated on fake ice on a temporary rink outside Universal Studios, while the sun blazed down, making puddles around my blades. 

I’ve found myself on a boyfriend’s ski boat in the middle of a lake at Christmas, needing sunscreen and watching families gather under the decorated trees on their docks.

After so many Florida Christmases, about the only kind of cold weather I can tolerate is watching snow fall on TV.

So every year I watch my favorite holiday movie, White Christmas, where I can dream of ski lodges covered with snow while my air conditioner blows a cool breeze over me as I’m tucked up on my couch.

Wrapped around plenty of singing and dancing, the story unfurls some lovely gifts of truth to savor all year long. 

The characters selflessly give of their talents to help a friend, persevere to make their dreams come true, and even welcome the adventure of a train ride from Florida to the mountains of Vermont. 

And even though it’s warm and sunny once they arrive, they keep right on dreaming of a white Christmas.

I watched it again {well, maybe for the hundredth time} last week and my favorite part of the movie is the sister act, where Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen sing and dance their way into the hearts of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. 

Although my sister and I can’t dance or sing to save our lives, we’ve quoted the lines of the song and written them in cards to each other as part of our sister code for years. 

So when I was in St. Augustine for Thanksgiving and saw a picture frame with the words to the “Sisters” song scrolled across it, I had to have it. 

Just like the sisters in the movie, my sister knows me better than anyone else does. 

She’s my truest confidante, my biggest cheerleader and my wisest advisor. She also accurately sizes up my motives and can set me straight and call me out because she knows what I’m thinking. She is the one person whose judgment I trust completely because she wants nothing more than the best for me.

Why wouldn’t I trust the one who knows me best? 

I ask myself the same question about God.

God has known me from the beginning and can see the entire span of my life from the past, the present, and into the future. 

I’m not sure I would have imagined that my future included writing a blog and having you join me every week, where you are so kind and gracious with your encouraging comments.

Three years ago when I felt God stirring some interest in me to write a blog, I couldn’t understand it. I’m reserved and reflective, and writing a blog feels a lot like going to the grocery store in my pajamas and slippers.

I had no idea how to create a blog. When I mentioned it to a few friends, they confidently told me they’d have me and up and running in no time, and all of a sudden I found myself gasping for air as I was pushed into the blogging pool.

I posted a photo a friend took of my living room, wrote a few paragraphs and hit publish. I calmed down after I realized no one was actually reading my blog except for my mother and my sister. 

But God sees me as I was meant to be, and he calls me what I am not yet to show me what I could be.

He is helping me discover the gifts he gave me and how to pursue the dreams he’s planted in my heart. 

He’s giving me opportunities to live with courage and perseverance, and showing me how to enjoy the adventure of whatever this life may bring. 

And, friend, this is what I’m praying for you too. 

Whether you’re dreaming of days that are warm with sunshine or white with snowflakes, I’ll be dreaming of you on Christmas. 

If you’re experiencing circumstances that threaten to swallow your hope, choke off your faith and shatter pieces of your heart, my prayer for you is that God will open the eyes of your heart. 

To see your life as he sees it and know that your heart matters so very much to him and that he cares deeply about your circumstances.

I pray you’ll feel wrapped in God’s extravagant love, and that your heart will be filled with hope and love and peace and joy.

I’m going to be wishing for a warm day here in Florida on Christmas but I’ve just heard that some members of my extended family are spending Christmas in Paris this year. 

I wonder how cold it gets in Paris in December? It rather sounds like an enchanting idea for Christmas that I might be able to warm up to. 

I think I'll ask my sister if she wants to go with me.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart and at Kelly Balare's place with Cheerleaders of Faith. Will you join me and click the image to read more holiday cheer?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Breaking with Tradition

I was in St. Augustine a few weeks ago, celebrating yet another Thanksgiving in the place that has become my family’s tradition. 

More than 25 years ago when we were new arrivals to Florida, my mother proposed that we get away instead of staying home wishing we were gathering with family back in Pittsburgh. 

St. Augustine seemed the perfect holiday excursion to enjoy history, the beach and shopping, and was just a two-hour drive from Orlando.  

My only memory of St. Augustine was a dispute on a family vacation during my childhood when my mother was the only one of us to defy my germaphobe father and drink the murky water offered us from the Fountain of Youth.

{To this day, my mother credits this drink to her youthful-looking skin. The rest of us are on our own.}

But now after years of visiting the ancient fort, museums, historic homes, and so many of the town’s tourist sites, the itinerary for the weekend rarely changes. It could quite possibly be considered mind-numbingly repetitive. 

We eat at the same restaurants, browse the same stores, walk the same streets and stay at the same inn. We don’t even make a reservation, knowing that the innkeeper will always hold rooms for us. I even order the same salad at the Columbia Restaurant where we eat every Black Friday.

But just when I think I’ve seen it all, I discover a subtle change to enjoy or a slight nuance to appreciate.

I turn down a skinny brick street I’ve never happened upon, lined with charming homes from long ago. 

I stumble onto a newly opened shop filled with all sorts of trinkets that are just my vintage style. 

I sit in front of a gorgeous carved fireplace in a new-to-me room at the Victorian house-turned-restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner.

When something is so familiar, it’s hard to keep it from becoming a little ordinary. Fighting for a fresh angle can take some effort.

I've been thinking about this as I review my history with God. 

Because I’ve heard about him from my youngest days, the words and stories about God feel familiar to me, like a comfortable pillow or a second skin. But just when I think that what I already know might be enough, I find there's more. 

Something new. 

This verse has echoed in my heart all year long. “Can’t you see it?” Isaiah 43:19 asks me. “Forget the former things, I’m doing a new thing.” 

The new thing he is doing in me is inviting me to abandon the old habits and break long-standing traditions to forge fresh patterns. 

As I consider my history with him in my disappointments, exhilarations and life-acceptances {those things in my life that that I can’t control}, I see how he always somehow brings good from the dregs and the chaff and the scraps. 

It's this history -- my story -- that only makes me more confident to trust him. 

I’m beginning to see that circumstances that could be ripe for disappointment are just the opportunities to practice wild hope. 

The requests I bring to God in prayer that might not get answered are just the invitation I need to fight harder for them.

My usual way of preparing for the worst is to imagine every mind-numbing detail I can possibly think of and envision how I might respond so it won’t be as shocking or disruptive to me if it actually happens. 

But I feel God moving me away from that mindset so he can move me closer to him. 

To a place that's becoming familiar to me, right by his side. And it's there I'll be hovering so that when life's let-downs occur, he'll be there to cushion me and lift me back up.

Instead of assuming the same old tradition of buttoned up hopes to brace for the worst, I’m finding it harder to stay in that same old place. Even though I step back into my traditional way of thinking sometimes, the new mindset grows more familiar as I return to it time and again. 

Are there old places God is pulling you away from to invite you to experience him anew? 

Breaking free from the pessimism feels strange and risky at first but is becoming more appealing and very refreshing to me. And I think it might for you too.

Although I keep waiting for St. Augustine to grow stale, it never does. The more I think about it, our itinerary has actually been modified somewhat through the years. 

I now board the Holly Jolly Trolley, waiting hours to sing along with my fellow trolley riders as I wear 3-D glasses to view the light displays. {As you might imagine, this isn’t really my cup of tea, but I do it for my niece.}

We just discovered a new eatery of a quaint local diner for our last meal on our way out of town.

And surprisingly, before we said our goodbyes to our innkeeper and packed our bags in the car, we decided to book our rooms at the inn for next year.

I think this astonishing break with tradition could be the start of something revolutionary. I might even do something as unconventional as ordering a sandwich instead of a salad at the Columbia Restaurant on Black Friday. 

I’m feeling a little rogue and explorer-like and just a bit Ponce de Leon-esque for even considering it. 

And I'm wondering if I still have time before more wrinkles set in to stop by the Fountain of Youth and get that age-defying drink of water? I think I just might put it on the agenda for next year. 

I just won’t mention it to my dad.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Will you join me there?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Cashmere Pencil Tree {A Real Story}

I decided this was the year. Every year as I put up my tree {and take it down}, I tell myself that this is the last year I'm going to buy a real Christmas tree. 

I dread getting it home from the tree lot, wrestling it into the tree stand and then hauling it to the curb at the end of the holiday season. It's just too much work for this single girl. But the next year I somehow find myself doing it all over again. 

Growing up, my family always had a real tree. It seemed like it couldn't be Christmas without a real tree. 

But this year the thought of not putting up a tree at all sounded very appealing to me. Then I happened to see an artificial tree that had my name written all over it. 

Well, actually it was the name written all over the tree that got my attention.

The tag hanging from the tip-top of its seven-feet tall very skinny self said it was a cashmere pencil tree. 

Cashmere? As in the softest fashion fabric ever? Was a pencil tree kind of like a pencil skirt? 

It sounded like a fabulously fashionable Christmas tree and I knew this was the tree for me. Suddenly I couldn't wait to decorate this very elegant and stylish tree.

The box even had a spiffy handle as I carried it to my car, like some sort of vogue valise. As I drove the tree home safely boxed in my trunk {no top of the tree poking out at traffic behind me}, I knew I needed the help of an expert to correctly assemble it. Someone with an air of confidence. Who always forges forward even if she doesn't know what she's doing.

I knew exactly who to call. 

My seven-year-old niece. She was still in her pajamas but said she’d be right over. 

A self-proclaimed authority on just about everything, Devon claims assembling Christmas trees is one of her specialties. 

“Auntie, we don’t need the instructions,” she said as I spread them out before us. When I was skeptical, she added, “Well, I haven’t really done one myself before but I’ve watched these put together at school and I know what to do.”

I suggested we should probably keep the little cards with numbers hanging on the three sections of the tree so I’d know which pieces connected next year. 

Devon looked at me with a mixture of pity and doubt and then spoke from great experience. 

“Auntie, is this your first fake tree?”

Even though this is the first year of my life without a real Christmas tree, I've discovered that this year my life holds more of what's real than ever before.

I’m wondering if you’re looking for more of what’s real this holiday season too?

Real hope? Real truth? Real peace? Real confidence for the future?

There’s only one place to find these genuine but sometimes elusive essentials for our souls. It’s in the person of God. 

Who often doesn’t seem to be very real to us humans at all. 

I don’t know about you, but it takes all the faith I can possibly muster to put my trust in the one I can’t see, can’t feel and can’t hear speak to me in an audible voice.

I wonder how I can bring all that happens in real-time in my life to a God who is so mystifying, so unfathomable, so inexplicable. But I see him doing the impossible. And he sees me.

He sees me struggling to have real confidence that God does care about what happens in my life.

He sees me holding onto real hope to believe that God does promise good things for me, while I’m still here in the land of the living, not just in eternity yet to come.

He sees me reaching for real peace to rest and know that God is overseeing the entire span of my life as I trust my heart to the one who knows me best.

And he sees me coming to him again and again, as I hold out my heart with unsteady hands, and in exchange he holds nothing back to show me that he is dependable, trustworthy, loving and gracious, despite my failures and shortcomings.

I find it hard to comprehend that this God who is so holy and magnificent and awe-inspiring, who presides over the heavens and over all of this earth is the same God who is so personal and intimate and familiar. Who we celebrate this time of year in coming to earth as a baby to redeem us. Who is in pursuit of me to make himself real to me.

But I know it's true because I've encountered this real and hallowed God.

Maybe it’s hard to peer beyond your cloudy circumstances. 

Maybe it’s not easy to look forward to a new year because you’re still mired in the doubts and despair of what’s happened in the past year. 

Maybe you aren’t sure that God does have good things for you when all you can see are the real difficulties surrounding you. 

But the one who sees your heart wants to give you true peace, genuine joy and honest-to-goodness hope. 

May he open your eyes to see more of this real and powerful and unfathomable mystery, and may you glimpse the true intent of his heart toward you.

As Devon and I decorated my tree with the skating ornaments I’ve collected through the years, I realized that finally here was a tree I wouldn’t have to water or clean up pine needles from underneath its drooping branches. 

I think this artificial tree might be the real deal.

Now if only I had a real cashmere sweater to wear with my pencil skirt as I sit beside my cashmere pencil tree. {I think that sounds a little like a riddle.}

I know the real sweaters are expensive but maybe I can shop for faux-cashmere. I bet it's probably just as good as a real one.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart and Sarah Ann's Faith Along the Way. Click the images for more encouraging posts!