Tuesday, December 27, 2011

let every heart prepare Him room.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come.
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And heaven and nature sing.
And heaven and nature sing.
And heaven and heaven and nature sing!

I can hardly believe I am back at work, sitting at my desk, closing out the billable revenue for my accounts in 2011 and making plans for 2012. (Yes, I am typing this at work and no, I have absolutely nothing else to do. So I figured if I didn't have any pending work items, I could at least be productive with non-work affairs.) Our Christmas celebrations have commenced and are now mere memories on our digital cameras. The presents we wrapped with such care are now in shopping bags awaiting a return to the store from whence they came. The remnants of the feasts we planned with such care and labored to prepare are chilling in the refrigerator, tucked away in mismatched tupperware containers.

Since it all came and went in the flashiest of flashes, I didn't even have time to do separate posts regaling you with the riveting details and delightful pics of all the events leading up to the day we celebrated the incarnation. Be that as it may, I'm going to tie it all up neatly into one little Christmas package of a post and hope you don't mind unwrapping it all at once.

No December would be complete without our 5th Annual Jingle Mingle/Wine Tasting Extravaganza. We had Cryssie back this year and I think this was our biggest year yet. (It certainly was in terms of sheer number of wine bottles.) Suffice it to say, our sommelier for the evening had a heavy hand indeed and felt it necessary that our group of tasters finish each bottle of wine within the round of which it was tasted. Thank goodness there was much to pair with our wines, including various types of cheeses, dips, spreads, crackers, and other festive nibbles that kept us going throughout the night. Our wine tasting was so intense that we had several intermissions to give us breaks as we were apparently running a marathon, not a sprint. During one such intermission, we participated in a rousing game of White Elephant (or Yankee Swap for you Office fans out there). My first two choices were stolen and then locked before I could get them back, but I ended up making out like a bandit as I took home an i-Tunes gift card, a Texas 12 days of Christmas kitchen towel (a true treasure if you ask me), a box of chocolates and a Reeses-filled candy cane.

The following evening, after some rest and recovery, I headed out in my best "who"-gear to attend the 6th (or maybe 7th) annual Gingerbread Throwdown. The house was packed with tacky Christmas sweaters and more candy than Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. I was so looking forward to constructing my own house this year, but sadly, attendance was such that we ran out of graham crackers and royal icing before I (along with several others) had a chance to fashion my masterpiece. Nevertheless, I still had a great time watching everyone create their edible displays and I take comfort in knowing there's always next year!

Moving right along, we had our annual family Christmas light outing just several days before Christmas. We met for dinner and procured warm beverages before setting out for our first stop: the Christmas tree at the Shops. We always have to take family pictures here and this year was no different. Somehow, we keep managing to pick the chilliest night to stand outside and endeavor to get the perfect shot. I'm happy to report our valiant efforts paid off this year and we got ourselves a real winner. Sadly, the Kodak moment was not captured on my camera, so you'll just have to use your imagination. After proper photographic documentation was complete, it was off to Deerfield to enjoy the sights and sounds of the neighborhood residences all competing to be the proverbial Clark Griswald. As always, this collection was a real feast for the eyes and Haylee and Meredith absolutely loved it.

Christmas Eve was particularly special for me as I had the honor of not only serving as a greeter at the 3PM service, but also had my parents attend the 5PM service as my guests. The service was truly beautiful and filled with the presence of God. I lifted my voice high as we sang Christmas carols and was enraptured by the candlelights twinkling all across the room as we closed with "O Holy Night." It was a divine night indeed and so meaningful to share with my parents. After church, we headed home to enjoy my pumpkin soup, homemade popovers, spread of cheeses, good wine and a great movie: "It's a Wonderful Life." The story never gets old to me (now my dad's incessant comments are another story). It was a perfect way to let my heart prepare Him room.

Christmas Day was everything it should be, filled with family, food and most importantly, faith. We had our traditional brunch of monkey bread, quiche, fresh fruit and mimosas.

As we dug into our food, the girls dug into their presents. After all, who needs to bother themselves with food and eating when there are presents to unwrap and toys to play with? I was particularly excited for Haylee to open her easy bake oven and for Michelle and my mom to open their calendars I made them. An unexpected surprise was how much Meredith liked her wooden tiered wedding cake (by Melissa and Doug) I gave her.

My sister and parents were much too generous as I received several giftcards and a super special Starbucks travel mug that includes coffee for every day of January. I'm tres excited for the gift that will keep giving (at least until January is over).

Upon the completion of "Operation: unwrap way too many gifts," I may or may not have taken a little Christmas snooze. All that gift-giving and receiving really took it out of me (or maybe it was the girls fighting over the My Little Pony car - ha). After some rest (and the requisite fireplace photos we always seem to take), it was back to the kitchen, lickety split, to do some quick prep on our Christmas dinner. We kept things easy peasy this year and I think we were very grateful to just throw some things in the oven that weren't labor intensive. It still resulted in a delightful spread which we all enjoyed.

While we feasted, I took the time to read out of my favorite gospel (Luke) the events leading up to Christ's birth, particularly focusing on Mary's reaction to the news she received. It truly is the prayer of my heart that I might demonstrate 1% of the submission (and faith, of course) she did to the Lord's will. The reading was a great pre-cursor to our next item on the agenda which was the happy birthday Jesus cake. I've tried to continue this tradition throughout the past several years and Haylee and Meredith loved singing and blowing out the candles (not surprisingly).

After the birthday cake, we gathered around the living room to lift our voices and declare the joy we received when Christ came into this world. It was the perfect end to our day of holy celebration.

With all the superfluous hoopla, trimming and commercialism, it is quite easy to find today a rather sad one...disappointed the holiday season is coming to a close and less than thrilled that we have several months of cold to look forward to and no Christmas lights to enchant even the most chilly countenance. But if we truly believed the Christmas story, if we truly believed the words we sing every December the 25th, if we believed that the Christ child was born to die that we might have life, our joy would not cease on December 26th or even on January 26th. We would live each day radiating unspeakable joy, overwhelmed with wonder at the reality that God loved us so much that He sent His son to be born among us. Can you believe that? Have you really taken the time to ponder what this means? What great love this must indicate and how we daily fail to walk in the light of this miraculous gift and life-changing truth! I pray the joy and excitement you felt in the days leading up to December 25th would only multiply in the coming months as we prepare our hearts to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of our Savior.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Thanksgiving this year felt very different. There was an undeniable, underlying sadness as we had just attended my Mimi's funeral at the beginning of the week. Growing up with her in such close proximity, I actually got to spend many a Thanksgiving with her throughout the past 29 years. I won't soon forget her pickle/olive trays (typically put the black olives on the ends of my fingers and would eat them off my hand) and how I would always eat the marshmallows off the top of her sweet potato casserole. But she was not at our table this year (nor was her pickle tray, I might add).

Since we weren't planning on eating our family meal until dinner, at the dawn of Thanksgiving morn (or maybe like 11 AM), I took advantage of some free time and headed to a nearby spot to spend some time outside and to reflect and ponder the current state of my heart.

You see, I had spent a good bit of time over the past few days wallowing in self pity, disappointed my original plans for Thanksgiving didn't pan out and that I wasn't doing exactly (to the 'T') what I wanted to do. If you don't see a theme here, I shall help by spelling it out for you: it was M-E, me, me. I was so focused on my happiness and making everything perfect for myself that I was failing to acknowledge Christ, His hand on my life, the gift of His son and the fact that I am not in control (which is, time and time again, a huge shock to me). Instead of abiding in Him and He in me, I was preferring the company of me, myself and I: pity party, table for 3. Problem is, this party isn't really all that fun. In fact, it's downright lame and lonely. As I meditated on these thoughts, I slowly began to appreciate exactly where I was and the unexpected surprise of discovering a beautiful bell tower, chapel and scripture-etched stone. I was able to see the beauty of Christ because I took my eyes (and all my focus) of of myself. He was there, waiting for me and He is faithful. (Psalm 16:11)

After my soul was fed, it was time to focus on feeding my physical body so I had to get to work on prepping the turkey and all the trimmings for our Thanksgiving feast. This was the first occasion I had actual fennel for my infamous stuffing, so as you might imagine, a photo opp with this curious specimen was a must.

While the turkeys were a-roastin', we found some time to sip on a nice bottle or red, capture some prime Kodak moments and play with the two loves of my life.

After the brief diversion, it was full steam ahead and I was a girl on a mission, focused with my eye on the prize. I had 2 pans going on the stove, dishes in the oven, turkeys going in shifts. It was pure mayhem and our timeline might have been pushed ~3 hours back from the original goal. However, I think these couple of snapshots show that nothing came from a can or a box. It was blood, sweat and tears (with maybe some rosemary and thyme thrown in as well).

When we finally sat down to eat (I believe at that point it was close to 8:00 PM), it was well worth every frustrating minute. There were two turkeys, two types of homemade cranberry sauce, herbed carrots, sourdough stuffing (w/pear, fennel and pancetta), roasted green beans w/goat cheese, corn pudding and sweet potato casserole.

Despite the mishaps, the botched timeline and the lingering sadness, when it was all said and done, we enjoyed a bountiful feast and were in the company of family. Not only was I so aware that we have been given earthly blessings that point to God's goodness, but each of us has been given the gift of salvation in Christ which is the eternal hope of our lives. No disappointment, temporal circumstance, failed plan or pity party can outweigh the overwhelming joy that is Christ's redemption. It is His promise that we are grateful for.

"For He rescued us out of the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, where there is redemption and the forgiveness of sins." Colossians 1:13-14