Christmas: 14 days and counting - The Simple Birth

In 14 days it will be Christmas. 2013. Today's blog is a little different. It's not about a particular song, although there is a song. One of my favorites actually. It's called The Simple Birth and I first heard it performed by Windham Hill Artists. Right now, I don't need a bunch of Christmas tunes or lyrics. I need simple. Simple music, simple moments, simple thoughts, simple days. Simple everything. 

For some reason, complicated Christmas decorations, gift wrapping, dinners and parties, are too much. Maybe it's because of the busyness of the end of the year, busyness around the holiday itself, busyness of trying to be in the Christmas spirit. There's something beautiful about simplicity that feels right. Simple sounds create a peaceful thread through the air, simple menus make it easy to feel healthy, simple shopping creates a stress free kind of giving. Simple designs on a cake, simple strands of sparkling lights on the tree, simple ornaments with simple memories attached, simple messages on a Christmas card. If I stay with the complicated, everything moves too fast, moments are missed instead of savored, the focus is on something other than right now.

I heard this quote, and perhaps you have, too, it said that "yesterday is the past, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why they call it the present." Don't know the author, but it has stuck with me. Today feels like a gift, regardless of whether it's perfect or not. Everything around the holidays doesn't have to be Martha-Stewart-perfect, with every ornament in the exact right place, every piece of tinsel hanging straight, the dinner table set perfectly, every recipe made as if you hired a chef and every gift wrapped with bows and evergreen stems. It's the moments, the seconds, the minutes that are perfect. It's the present that is not to be missed. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, and whoever is around you at that time. That's what is perfect. It's the remembrance of the meaning of the celebration that is perfect. It is the appreciation and thankfulness for all the blessings we have that is perfect. It's the acceptance of where God has brought us through this year and the resting in what He is doing at this very moment, that is more than perfect. It's hearing a voice on the phone if you can't be with family, it's the sharing of Christmas cards with love, it's the giving of ourselves, our attention to others and our noticing those around us, it's serving others and thinking less about ourselves, it's giving others hope that their present is just as perfect.

Today, for me, didn't start off perfect. This whole week hasn't been perfect. In fact, even though I challenged myself to blog Christmas songs, I am in serious risk of losing the Christmas spirit myself. I see all that's going on in the world, I hear about families who are burdened and troubled, I know people who are going to be alone and I can't help them. My hyper-sensitivity won't let me rest in the moment and plan for a celebration.  But I came home today and Michael had set up a 9ft tree in our family room, had a fire burning in the wood stove, and asked me if we could decorate tomorrow night. I'd all but decided that it wasn't worth it. It wouldn't make a difference, and it just didn't count. But, I succumbed to the idea that I could give a little more of myself and turn it into the festive atmosphere we so love at this time of year. I also heard it's supposed to snow, a lot, on Saturday. I know that some gifts need to be bought, wrapped and shipped. I keep seeing pictures of Christmas cookies and want to bake. So many traditions. So little time. But we do have the present and can think about what to do in this moment. For sure, we will do what we can do. And whatever it is, it will be perfect.

This is something I put together, with photo memories from last years Christmas with all our children and grandchildren in Lake Geneva, along with some friends and family. This year won't be quite like that, but the memories make it a lot easier and simply perfect.

Christmas Lake Geneva - The Simple Birth

Christmas: Day 16 and Counting - Mary Did you Know?

Don't bother looking for Day 17. It didn't happen. Well, it did happen, but the blog never happened. It was my goal to do this daily, and it's a worthy goal. However,  life and stuff happens. So, extending grace to myself, and moving on to Day 16. :)

And it did give me an extra day to think and listen to more Christmas music. This song, Mary Did you Know, was written by Mary Lowry in 1984 and Buddy Greene. So many people have performed, recorded or sung this song since then. My absolute favorite was CeeLo Green. Not the most likely person in my mind to even sing it, but the notes just flowed from his voice. But that's not the video linked below. This link is to a version of the song sung by Mark Lowry, with an intro to the song at the beginning. This was his very first time recording it. He wrote the lyrics and Buddy wrote the music. Together they blended so perfectly into this beautiful song, with so much passion about the baby born of Mary, who was the creator of the universe, and now was laying in her arms.

Mary Did you Know? - Mark Lowry

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?

Mary did you know.. Ooo Ooo Ooo

The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your Baby Boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you're holding is the Great, I Am.

This song is no less than a really great question. Wouldn't you like to ask Mary if she knew what was going on the whole time? She was only 13 or 14 years old, I'm guessing she had no clue. Other than what the angels told her. 

Read how it's described in Luke 1:26 - "In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her: Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you." The very next verse, "She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that." Who wouldn't be just a little freaked out at a glowing being walking into your room and telling you were a hottie? I mean, really? Some stranger walks in and starts talking crazy talk. 

Next verse: "But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.He will be great, be called ‘Son of the Highest.’ The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; He will rule Jacob’s house forever—no end, ever, to his kingdom.” 

At this point, Mary wasn't yet pregnant. Gabriel was telling her what was going to happen. Do you think in that moment she was thinking this was a good idea, bad idea, a crazy idea? Or was she was turning a peculiar shade of pale and thinking no, oh, no you don't! Her life must have flashed before her in those seconds, at least the life she thought she was going to have before all this. This changed everything. Her reaction, not so typical for a teenager, continuing on in verse 36: "And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God. And Mary said,Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say. Then the angel left her." He left. He didn't have to convince her. He didn't have to persuade her. He didn't have to prove anything. To her, it was clear, God called her for a very specific role in this place, at this time. It took another miracle to help her see and believe, but believe she did. 

The next verses describes how she wasted no time and ran straight to Elizabeth's house to share her news and see her miracle. It tells of Elizabeth's baby deciding at that very moment when Mary walks in to do jumping jacks in her stomach. Up until this time, the baby had not moved. This made Elizabeth absolutely crazy with joy. She started dancing and singing. And she knew Mary was pregnant, calling her the Mother of her Lord. She affirmed Mary's decision to believe, "Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!" This must have been so reassuring for Mary, realizing that someone else knew what was going on and she would have her to lean on and share this amazing experience. 

Mary also was quite, can I say giddy, at the thought of being pregnant. She writes:
"I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
    he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
    beginning with Abraham and right up to now."

 Not only did Mary get it, she totally got it. She remembered the teaching about the promises God made to His people that a Savior would be born. Anybody and everybody who has watched Charlie Brown Christmas knows this verse that little Linus recited, Isaiah 9:6, "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, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever."  The notion of her baby being the Son of God was starting to ring true because of the prophecy she had heard probably most of her life. She knew the same prophecies that we can read in the bible, but for her, it had been passed down through the generations of her family. 

The other interesting thing about this story, back in verse 26, she was engaged to Joseph, a man who was a descendant of David. Really he was in the blood line of a King. And Jesus' lineage was also of David. Between David and Jesus was Solomon, David's son. Whose mother was Bathsheba. Don't know if you remember or not, but Bathsheba wasn't David's wife. She was the beautiful woman who was bathing on the rooftop that David lusted after, sent her husband into battle to be killed for and ended up sleeping with her and having a son, Solomon. This is the line that God allowed Jesus to be descended from. God, in his infinite wisdom, can make anything work together for good, if it pleases Him. He always has a bigger plan.

Back to Mary, I also love what she says about God, " God took one good look at me, and look what happened—I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others." This feeling, like you just won the lottery, is one that only God can give. It's not something you can plan for, earn or order up from a menu. This is something that takes you completely by surprise and you know in your heart of hearts that it has to be from God. Only God.  Every good and loving gift is from God. Mary knew this. She knew that God's favor was on her, and she gave Him all the credit. And she would forever remember that God did this for her, called her to be special and precious, and blessed with this child. 

I'm not really sure that she knew the full extent of what would transpire over the next 33 years. Especially the last 3, or even the last 6 months. She must have seen the determination in her sons eyes. Mary would have been no less than a mom and wanted to protect her son, her only son. She saw how Jesus grew into this person who reflected God's love, became completely enamored with him, respected him and trusted him. She could never have imagined how it would all end. Watching. Emotionally wrecked. Helpless. Trying to have faith still. Remembering how it all started with Gabriel telling her she was beautiful, full of God's beauty, both inside and out. It must have felt like a quantum leap to be in that final moment of Jesus' life, he was only a baby, just a minute ago, wasn't he? Can't we stop time? I don't think Mary would have survived if she knew what was planned for his life. She just woke up everyday, doing what she had to do, as his mother. Never thinking the end would come sooner than anyone would ever think.

Mary was blessed, no doubt about it. She knew Jesus in a way no one else would. His smile, his laugh, his silliness as a kid, how he slept, how he cried, what his favorite meals were, what games he liked to play, the names of his friends, how he worked hard. I love how Mark Lowry described Jesus as a baby, his hands and fingers wrapped around hers were the ones that scooped out the oceans and formed the rivers; his feet were the same ones that had walked on stars and was worshiped by angels; his little lips were the same ones that spoke the world into existence. And she was his mother. No wonder people hold her in high esteem. We would trade places with her in a heartbeat.

No challenge this time for your or me. Just relish the thought that the little baby figure that you see laying in a manger scene, whether it's on the mantel, out on a lawn, or in a church, had a real purpose for being born. Believe it or not, that purpose was you.

Christmas: Day 18 and Counting - 2000 Miles

Today, listening to Christmas music, I could not have been more surprised. This is one of my absolute favorite Christmas songs. The version we are most familiar with was recorded by Coldplay. Chris Martin plays the piano like no one else and sings even better. I love this version. The surprise...Coldplay didn't write this song. Originally it was written and performed by The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde in 1983. Now, I was a big fan of this group but never, ever heard this song. Until Coldplay. I feel so musically illiterate! Either way, the song triggers feelings many people experience around Christmas time and many other holidays. It's sad in a way because of the picture it draws of one being away from someone they love. But beautiful in a way because of the snowy winter, Christmas-y feeling that's portrayed.

2000 Miles - The Pretenders

 He's gone, 2000 miles, Is very far.
The snows falling down.
It's colder day by day.
I miss you.
The children were singing,
He'll be back at Christmas time.
And these frozen and silent nights,
Sometimes in a dream, You appear.
Outside under the purple sky,
Diamonds in the snow, Sparkle.
Our hearts were singing,
It felt like Christmas time.
2000 miles is very far through the snow
I'll think of you Wherever you go.
He's gone, 2000 miles Is very far.
The snows falling down,
It's colder day by day.
I miss you.
I can hear people singing,
It must be Christmas time.
I hear people singing,
It must be Christmas time.

How many times have you heard statistics about depression increasing drastically around  Christmastime? We've all heard them, probably from a nightly news program or read it in a magazine. Then they go into all the reasons why people are more depressed. Possibly over the serious spike in commercialism over the holiday. People are bombarded by advertisements, commercials on TV and even your email blows up with daily specials that scream act now or you'll miss this huge, one-time-only, lowest-prices-this-year-sale. Literally, every day, I get 20-30+ emails with these advertisements. It feels like I'm being invaded, it's definitely an irritation and I dread going to my inbox. So I can see how some people would get depressed. Some might get depressed at having to spend a lot of money on a lot of people. Perhaps they already have stress with their jobs, are limited in their budget, but somehow still want to live up to the idea that gifts are expected. Then, some have expressed that there's the seemingly unavoidable obligation of spending time with family or extended family or friends that you just don't want to be with. But out of obligation you say yes but the end result is depression.

This season is also a time for questioning and examining yourself. This causes stress and depression. Even though the story of Santa calling the shots on who's naughty or nice, the truth is, at a heart level, people know which is true of themselves. The brutal reality that perhaps this past year hasn't been so great, can cause some to lose hope that next year will be any better. They might feel trapped in the place where they are and have no hope of moving on. It's sad to see people depressed and stuck emotionally.

Another reason, and I think the biggest one, is the feeling people get when they realize they have no one with whom to celebrate this joyous occasion. Loneliness. People from all walks of life, all income levels, all social strata, all religions and nationalities can be affected by loneliness. The anxiety of the season builds with everyone talking about their plans to be with family or friends for the holidays but some will be with no one. Millions of people share their travel plans, while others have no plans to go anywhere. Separation from those we love and feel connected to can cause great stress, depression and sadness at the thought of not seeing or being with them. I'm beginning to understand what they are going through.

Being apart from family is just hard. Your hearts are connected, or should be, you're there in spirit, but physically there are too many miles between you. This knowledge that the separation is inevitable can wreck you months, weeks in advance. No matter what your heart wants, there's no guarantee that it will happen. It doesn't matter how you plan, how you organize, how you dream. The truth is there's always room for disappointment. Being alone, or without family close on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, is one of the saddest times. You want to be a part of reading the Christmas story together, exchanging gifts, the fun of opening gifts, hearing the laughs, sharing hot chocolate and marshmallows, smell of cinnamon rolls, surrounded by the scent of pine from the brightly dressed tree in the room. You want to be a part of those family photos and watching the kids play with their new toys for hours. None of these dreams are guaranteed. For some, the best time of Christmas is the day after. Its over, there's no more pressure, you can see life moving in the direction of getting back to normal and the feelings of loneliness change to feelings of relief that you've survived another holiday. After years of experiencing this, it would seem as if you could get used to it, respond more maturely, less emotionally. But this isn't the case. Emotions are timeless. They are as fresh a year from now as they are this very minute.

If you are struggling with any of these, I found a short list from Psychology Today ( that might help you get through the season. It isn't exhaustive by any means, but they are practical and relevant.

  • First, if the depression is serious, seek out the help of a qualified mental health professional;
  • Set personal boundaries regarding the money spent on gifts and the number of social events;
  • Don't accept any "perfect" representation of Christmas that the media, institutions or other people try to make you believe. Lower your expectations and any attachment to what it should look like; be present and enjoy each moment as best you can;
  • Become involved in giving in a non-monetary way through charities and worthwhile causes that help less fortunate people;
  • Be grateful for what you have in your life, rather than focusing on what you don't have;
  • Avoid excessive rumination about your life; 
  • Take action and do interesting and fun things;
  • If you are religious, take part in church activities that focus on the bigger meaning of Christmas;
  • Focus your thoughts on all the good things about Christmas--the opportunity to engage in loving kindness, generosity of spirit, and gratitude for others in your life.

Your challenge (and mine): Be on the lookout for people who might be experiencing these feelings and embrace them into your plans, your celebrations and festivities. If it's you that is separated from family and you are feeling it, make the first move, pick up the phone, write a letter, or send an invitation. Make plans, if not for this Christmas season, then soon after. It will give you something else to focus on besides the sadness you may be experiencing right now.You're not alone, really. I'm sad without family nearby, too. Guess I need to make some calls, write some cards and make some plans.