Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . the Old Year, and the New

I know, I know. Every blogger in the whole blogosphere is reflecting now on the exit of 2015 and the entrance of her baby sister. But under the firm belief that reflection is good for the soul, I must join in. ;-)

As I look back over 2015, I see a year full to bursting with moments, milestones, and new missions that won't just pass into history with the dawn of a new year.

This year, the very first novel I wrote saw publication, after 20 years of revisions and rewrites, and after 9 other published novels. I can't quite explain how that feels, to have poured so much love into a project over so long, starting when I was twelve, and finally hold the finished project in my hands. It's exhilarating. And it's humbling. And it's terrifying. Because now my very first baby is out in the world, and there are people who love it and people who hate it, people who judge those characters who have been so close to me for so long...yeah. But for all the negatives that come with putting out one's work, they've got nothing on the positives. Thank you, Bethany House, for making this dream come true and pushing me to make this last version the best one by far!

This year, my designing took off in ways I honestly hadn't expected. By my quick calculations, I designed over 60 book covers in 2015. For someone who thought she'd just take on freelance projects for some fun and extra cash, it's been big fun and quite a blessing. I so love all the new writers and publishers I've gotten to meet through this, the new relationships formed, new discoveries made. God has really blessed me through this designing gig, and I'm so grateful to Him for the opportunities He provided.
Xoe in the Nutcracker -
I would post one of Rowyn,
but he refuses to be captured
on camera!

This year, my kids have grown up on me! Okay, not fully. But Xoe is 10. Double-digits. And starting to look like a young lady. And sometimes I just want to, as my mother always threatened, put a brick on their heads so they stop growing! It's so cool to watch these fun little people learn and laugh and become who they are. They're in 5th and 2nd grades now, and being their teacher continues to be something that wears me out but fills me up. I love being a homeschooling mom!

My post-Christmas project

This year, I took up knitting. Technically, this fall. And I am totally hooked! I made a lot of Christmas gifts this year--and as gifts, I received yarn, circular needles, blocking mats, and giddiness as I got to dive in and create some new projects--like the boot toppers for my mom, above.

This year, my husband started chasing his dream. He's long been interested in TV and film, and this year he took the first steps toward learning how to produce it. He went on two mission trips to Bulgaria in 2015, in March and October. During the second one, he visited a refugee camp with camera in hand and a heart to hear the stories of the refugees, and he came back with interviews that have become his first film. Along the Path is finished and ready for viewing; I'll post a link next week. I'm so crazy-proud of this guy, who has always said that his calling is to help others reach their calling. It led him to start the Appalachian Relief Mission, took him an ocean away twice so far, and fills him with purpose. One of my greatest honors this year, and one of my biggest goals for 2016, is to support him in his dreams as he has always supported me in mine.

This year, my focus hasn't changed much on the outside...but it's changed a lot on the inside. Somehow, in the last few years, I've stopped caring about the things that surround me. I just want to be the woman God has made me. I just want to serve Him. I just want to help others know Him better.

And this year ended with a joy I'm not at liberty to share just yet. ;-) But it's a promise of stories to come and a 2016 filled with words, and it made this holiday season pretty darn bright for me!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, from my house to yours!

I hope everyone has a beautiful Christmas, filled with love, laughter, and most of all Jesus. See you back here next week!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Finding Christmas

Obviously, Christmas has been on my mind. And on my television. And in my news feed. It's everywhere I look, and that's awesome and fun. But this being me, I can't just let it pass without thought. So I figured I'd share my reflections this year on the holiday...and how we recognize it.

First up, I'd like to shake my head at all the kids' shows where they have to "save" Christmas. Where someone is threatening to ruin it or steal it or destroy it somehow or another. It was cute in the Grinch, because he then realizes that Christmas is something more. But I would like to posit this to all movie and TV show makers: you cannot steal Christmas. You cannot destroy it. You cannot ruin it. Christmas is not about anything we do. Christmas is about a miracle from God to man. And just like no villain can take it away, no hero can restore it. Because it's not about us.

Which leads me to observations not aimed at the television. ;-) We also cannot have Christmas. I know that we're thinking with generous hearts when we say we want that unfortunate family to still be able to have Christmas, so we help them out. But that's been niggling at me too. Don't get me wrong--I think it's awesome to help out a family down on their luck. I think it's wonderful to give gifts to kids, especially, who may never have gotten much before.

But "having" Christmas isn't about what's under the tree. We know this, intellectually. But it's still the way we think, isn't it?

We think of Christmas as something to experience. Something that involves all these traditions, all this pomp, all these things--sparkly things and lit-up things, expensive things and cheap things. Christmas is an event, played out each year with the help of retailers and marketing executives.

What would happen, I wonder, if one year we had no gifts? Would Christmas not come? Would we not have it? The Whos down in Whoville knew better, but I posit that most of us wouldn't hold hands and start singing if we discovered all our stuff had vanished.

But let's put aside the stuff and things. Let's give ourselves credit and say that, yes, if the things were removed, we'd still rejoice on Christmas. But...why? Because, probably, we'd say we still have our families, and that's what matters.

This is beautiful. And anyone who knows me even a little knows how much I value my family.

But this year, thanks to my husband's reflections at Thanksgiving, I had a new realization.

Christmas isn't about our families either.
Maybe, just maybe...we're doing something a little bit wrong
by making it about spending time with loved ones

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating not spending time with family--I think this is important! But I think it's important all year long. Every day or week. Not just on holidays. They provide a great reason for us to get together, and the tradition of gathering to observe holy days is long-standing and not something to toss aside.

But within our hearts and minds, where are we ranking that family time in relation to Christ, to worshiping Him and standing in awe at his arrival?

If it were in the right place, would people who have lost loved ones still find this time of year so hard? Depressing? Difficult to get through?

I don't think so. I think...and I know people are going to rail at me for saying this...I think we've turned our families into idols, especially this time of year. I think we value them more than we value God. Christmas has become more about who is around us than Who is in our hearts. Gathering together for a holiday is supposed to be a way of teaching the young what the day means, of reminding each other, of corporate reflection and thanksgiving--after all, corporate prayer is greater than the sum of its parts, so I daresay corporate praise is too! But the gathering-together is not supposed to be the main thing it's about. Thanksgiving, for instance, was first and foremost supposed to be a day to thank God--even if we've lost our families in the year past. How much more so Christmas?

A few years ago, we had an ice storm Christmas morning that prevented our normal brunch at my mother's house. And yes, it got me down. I missed my family, missed spending that time together, and was watching the thermometer, waiting for it to rise above 32 and melt that ice.

Now I wonder...what should I have been doing that day to make it special, even without all my family? How can I keep my eyes on Him, even if I'm alone (I wasn't even alone that day, still had hubby and kiddos)?

I love, love, love my family. But I ought to love, love, love, love God even more. Spending time with them is important. But spending time with Him is even more important. So here's my challenge to myself and anyone else who wants to join in.

This year, I will take time only for Him on Christmas. This year, I will stop and rethink my thoughts to make sure that I'm paying more attention to Him than to gifts and cookies and lights and decorations...and family.

This year, Christmas will not be about presents. It will not be about anything I can "have." It will not even be about those people I love so much.

Christmas will be about Christ.

So if we were each absolutely alone this year on December would we worship Him? And how can we bring that into our busy day?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Remember When . . . Christmas Traditions

I've blogged many times over the years about different Christmas traditions throughout history, and how we apply it to our lives.

There are probably more my search just isn't finding, because I distinctly recall reflecting on the differences in New England versus mid-Atlantic or southern American traditions in Colonial days, and I'm sure that's in any of those links. ;-)

But today I wanted to talk a bit about our traditions. Here are a few that my kids love.

  • Every year, their grandmother takes them out shopping for a new ornament, and they pick out our (real) tree.
  • Making gingerbread cookies. We could make nothing else, and they'd be happy.
  • Decorating. In my life, I think I've spent a total of about $20 on Christmas decorations--everything else has been given to us by family. And let me assure you I have PLENTY of decorations. Every year, I resist getting them out (because it's work, man, LOL), but every year, when I have those evergreen garlands hanging from windows and doorways, I'm utterly charmed.
  • The Christmas train under the tree. No, this isn't an electric one that chuffs around. It's just Rowyn's wooden track, but he and Xoe build it around the tree every year as soon as it's is up and decorated.
  • Going to church. The Christmas Eve candlelight service is well loved, and Xoe has declared that "Christmas on church day would be the coolest thing ever."
  • Our countdown chain. We did it the first year as an art project for school, cutting and coloring strips of construction paper and taking one link from the chain each day. Now Xoe also counts down the days until December so she can make it. =)
  • The music! While Rowyn will occasionally groan when I turn a Christmas station on, he also loves the ones we sing in church, especially one of the praise and worship songs called "Born Is the King (It's Christmas)" (or as he refers to it, "The du-du-du-du-du-du-du-du song.")
  • The pickle. Even if it was a department store hoax (it's kinda shocking how many traditions were started by stores!), my kiddos love trying to find the pickle ornament on the tree.

I know there are more, but I won't bore you. Instead, I'd love to hear about a tradition your family makes sure never to miss!

Then brace yourself, because tomorrow I'm getting thoughtful about why Christmas is depressing for so many people...and how maybe we can adjust our mindset.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Word of the Week - Elf

I am sometimes baffled by how things come into our cultural consciousness...and change over the centuries. Cue the elves.

Elf comes from Germanic folklore, with equivalents in Norse and Saxon mythology. The word itself hasn't changed much since Old English in spelling, sound, etc.

The meaning, however...

Back then, an elf was considered to be a mean-spirited goblin-like creature with quite a bit of power. Descriptions range from creatures who are merely mischievous to "evil incubus." Since the mid-1500s, it's been used figuratively for a mischievous person. They were thought to create knots in hair (oooookay) and hiccups.

Over the centuries, they gradually took on new roles in people's minds. They were occasionally referred to as "house gnomes," and while they would act with traditional mischief if not treated properly, they were thought to scare off true evil spirits from your house if you treated them properly--people were known to leave out gifts of food and baubles to appease them.

It wasn't until the mid-1800s that Scandinavian writers took this ancient tradition and decided it would be fun to apply it to Christmas. Popular writers of the day began crafting stories that assigned elves the new role of being Santa Claus's helpers. By this time traditional belief in elves had pretty much fallen away, so people seized this new thought that sort of revived an old belief, but in a nice, cute way. Visual artists joined this new movement and began painting pictures of what we now identify as elves--cute, small, sprite-like creatures who are all least unless a child in naughty, in which case some old mischief might sneak out and cause them to replace goodies in a stocking with switches or lumps of coal.

So there we have it. Elves. ;-)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Inspiring Generosity

How do you inspire generosity in your kids?

This is a question I'm asking myself a lot lately. Because while one of my children would give up absolutely anything to help someone else, the other is hard pressed to ever think about giving. Or want to give, even when it's not remotely sacrificial.

So this is my question to you, who may have already dealt with this. How do I inspire my children to generosity?

I certainly can't force them. Pretty sure if I make my children act selflessly, it would backfire. I'm trying to take opportunities in daily life to talk about the importance of giving (a popular topic this time of year). Of service. Of thinking of others.

It's not sinking in, thus far.

I thought we'd try something in the spirit of Christmas and asked the kids to pick out gifts for their friends and cousins. This sort of worked, until this particular child told me what fun it was...because they knew they'd get to play with them at the friends' and cousins' house. (Le sigh) (And yes, writer-me was deliberately using "they" to refer to a singular person, because I want to avoid gender here in referencing my kiddo, LOL.)

I'm stumped. And giving it a lot of prayer. Because while I'm fine with kids being kids and would love to be assured that this is a phase children grow out of, I'm not willing to be one of those parents that waves off behavioral or moral issues using that excuse. But I'm also not remotely a tiger-mom type that will be an iron fist enforcing exactly what I deem necessary. Trying to strike a balance here, and I could definitely use some thoughts from you guys.

Have you ever noticed a decidedly selfish bent to one of your kids? How did you address it? Did it worry you?

I'm not gnawing at my nails in anxiety here or anything, but I do believe it's my responsibility as a parent to foster virtues in my kids. Some come to them naturally, a part of their personality. Others are more difficult. Have you noticed that?

So what do we, as parents seeking to raise God-honoring children who love Him from the depths of their hearts, not just by rote, do to foster those good traits that they're lacking?

I'd love to hear what you've found that works, either with generosity or other lessons in virtue that a child may have struggled with!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Word of the Week - Ice

Since it's getting rather frosty outside here in the Appalachians, I thought today we'd take a look at ice...or rather, at when some of its idioms came into use. =)

Ice itself is from Old English, from Proto-Germanic is. There are cognates for it in quite a few other languages that also derive from that old-old-old German tongue. Our modern spelling began to appear in the 1400s.

Having been part of our language for so long, it's no surprise that eventually it began to be used in idioms. The oldest of these is to break the ice. It has been meaning "to make the first attempt" since 1580! I had no idea it was so old. But it comes about as a metaphorical allusion to boats breaking up the ice in a river.

The 1800s brought us quite a few uses. The term ice age was coined in 1832. Ice fishing began to be spoken about in 1869 (which makes me wonder...was the activity itself first practiced then or did people use to call it something different?). Thin ice, in the figurative sense, first appeared in writing in 1884. On ice--as in, kept out of the way until needed--is from 1890.

And finally, the use you may have spotted in The Lost Heiress. Ice as a slang for diamonds is from 1906. (I totally would have thought it a product of the 1920s before I looked it up for use in my book. Shows what I know, LOL.)

Stay warm, everybody!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Offense


It's officially the advent season. The time of year when decorations are everywhere you turn, where cheerful lights proclaim Christmas around the corner, where you expect smiles from your fellow man and sales in the stores and happy greetings to be upon lips.

The season where, in recent years, everyone finds something to . . . complain about.

Yep. Let's face it. This has become a season of glaring at one's fellow man as often as smiling at him. 

I honestly have no idea where the chain of offenses began. Were people who don't celebrate Christmas offended at storekeepers wishing them a happy one? Is that why some of the big stores dispensed with "Merry Christmas" and opted for "Happy Holidays"? I don't know.

But I do know this. My job as a Christian is to save my offense for matters of sin. Of ungodliness. Of things that endanger the soul. And a non-Christian not celebrating the day of Christ's birth isn't one of those. Honestly, it's kind of right, isn't it? We shouldn't get offended at non-Christians not celebrating Christmas. If anything, we should get offended at how many do, and then twist the meaning. But I digress...

My job is not to get all up in arms over a greeting. Or, heaven forbid, a coffee cup. (I mean seriously?) I'm not going to get offended at schools calling it Winter Break. I'm not.

For me, this decision came easily when I was a sophomore in college, working at an insurance agency after school. We sent out a lot of mail and had a printing scale to apply the postage to it. We could choose our postmark, and around this time of year, we chose one that said, "Happy Holidays." Why? Because we had Jewish clients, and we wanted to respect them.

I have no problem with that.

What's more, we used that stamp for nearly two months--beginning in mid-November through January. Guess what--that covers more than just Christmas. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years...not to mention Hanukkah or Kwanzaa (which still baffles me, but let's not go there...) were all included.

I'm 100% cool with that. I always thought that was part of the fun of this time of year--the multiple holidays we get to celebrate. So why do so many Christians get offended at "Happy Holidays"?

I don't know, but the joke's kinda on the users who think they're stripping the time of year of religious meaning, isn't it? Holiday literally means "holy day." Holy. As in, hallowed, sacred, dedicated to God. (Didn't know you'd get a bonus Word of the Week, did ya?) ;-) Tell me, why should that offend a Christian?

There is plenty in this world, and in this season, to be offended by. I'm offended by the mass commercialism that has taken it over. I'm offended that people think gifts are more important than Christ. I'm offended that Santa Claus has been so distorted that he's seen as a pagan elf rather than who he truly was--a saint dedicated to giving in Christ's name.

But I will not be offended by:

* Happy Holidays (holy days are by definition days given to God. So yeah. Wish me happy holidays.)
* Santa Claus in principle (because I know his true story, and it's inspiring. Read this blog I wrote last year if you're not familiar with the amazing early church tradition of St. Nicholas)

* Red cups (I mean, really.)

* Snowflakes, penguins, etc. decorations (because, yo, folks--it's winter. I'm not offended at fall leaf decorations either. Or flowers in the spring.)

* Schools calling it Winter Break (because it is, and while it's Christmas break for many, it isn't for all. I'm okay with that.)

Yep, there is plenty in the world to get upset about. But as Christians, we're supposed to answer to a higher standard. Let's not get riled at the world acting like the world, or even at the world not taking part in what is supposed to be our holiday. 

Let's save our offense for where it counts.