Frost Flowers

I’m just not very creative.

This is the phrase I often hear from friends. They see some amazing drawing or watch a skit at church and they make comparisons to their own lacking skills. Since they’re not particularly gifted musically or artistically, they feel like they don’t have much to offer in the creativity area.

But God, the authority when it comes to creativity (crediting Him as the Creator of the Northern Lights and the Giant Sequoias and the duck-billed platypus), made each of us with something to offer. He made us in His image so that we could be creative, too. So our job is to find those possibly dormant abilities, give them a little room to breathe, and see what can be done for His glory.

Consider the natural phenomenon of frost flowers. My friend Annie works at a nature center and she explained them this way: “Crystallofolia is a more scientific name. They occur when woody stemmed forbs, like milkweed, have thin layers of water in the stem that freeze and break through. The patterns are just due to the natural crystalline structure water produces in its mineral stage (or ice).”

This commonplace undergrowth is perfectly positioned in wooded areas where no one—except for maybe a few bees and butterflies—pays much attention to it. Then the temperature drops. The specialized milkshake inside freezes and bursts out, creating magnificent, cascading beauty for those fortunate enough to find it.

These frost flowers are what I picture when I think of those who say they aren’t creative. They don’t appreciate the value and substance of what lies within. For instance, I have a friend who admires my daughter’s ability to do fancy lettering and calligraphy. She wishes to be creative, but she already is. My friend can take loads of confusing information and lay it out on a spreadsheet where it will flow and make sense. She can organize a group of people so that they all understand what’s expected of them and give them support. She creates unity and organization.

I have another friend who looks at my crochet projects and bemoans her lack of creativity. But, in reality, she creates something—though intangible—infinitely more important than a crocheted scarf or hat. This friend is an architect of connections. She checks on you when you mention you have a head cold. She asks about sick and struggling relatives. She remembers. Her creations come directly from her heart.

Galatians 6:4-5 (The Message) – Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Photo Credit: Annie Holt

Photo Credit: Annie Holt

Photo Credit: Annie Holt

Photo Credit: Annie Holt

19 years and counting

19 years. Four kids. 2 minivans. 1 apartment and 3 houses. 6,935 nights to say “I love you” to my husband before falling asleep.

We met in college, you a junior with a plan and me a freshman without a clue. We were introduced by mutual friends, then we became friends. We went on friend dates: Sunday morning church, restaurant group dates, putt-putt golf, and that one time we tried to fly a kite in the park.

After a couple of months of being friends, we fell in love. Well, the falling part happened before the title of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” became official but it stuck. For me, it started pretty much the first time we met and you offered to refill my little sister’s drink at the Subway restaurant where you, me, my sister, and three or four of my friends were eating lunch on a hot day in July. Then, a week or so later, I watched you befriend a bunch of awkward-looking freshman boys sitting alone at a student orientation event. Each time I saw you show kindness, you became even more attractive.

Growing up, my idea of lasting, romantic relationships was fairly mundane. I thought it consisted of the man doing the following: 1) You ask a girl to couple skate and the DJ plays “Uptown Girl” just as you both skate to the center of the room, lights focused on the strikingly beautiful couple who can skate backwards and “shoot the duck” like pros. 2) You ask a girl to Pizza Hut where you share a medium 2-topping, drink Coke out of those red tumblers, and you play “Elvira” on the jukebox. 3) You go on the show “Family Feud” and when Richard Dawson asks you to introduce your family, you refer to your wife as your “lovely bride of 25 years.”

As it turns out, none of those things have happened in the past 19 years we’ve been married or the three years prior to that when we were dating. (And I’m not hinting to go roller skating, to eat at Pizza Hut, or to sign up for the Family Feud. I promise.)

When I think of those youngsters, it feels like I’m remembering scenes from a movie about someone else, a different couple. Did I ever not know everything about you? Like how you sound like Darth Vader when you sleep? How you never like to be barefoot? How you’re amazingly gentle with tiny babies?

Was there ever a time that you only knew the things about me that I wanted you to know? My insecurities and my bad habits were never on display for you when I was 18 and you were 20.

Suppose that was us—those cute kids without any gray hair or stretch marks or worries beyond finals for that semester—then what a journey this has been. And the craziest part is that even as great as that first love feeling was, it’s a million times better now than it was before. (Well, maybe not the stretch mark part.)

We decided all those years ago that we’re both in this for the long haul. You and me. No matter what. But you make it easy, like making a commitment to be faithful to chocolate or sunshine, and then sticking with it. So even after all these years, I still love that boy who was kind and funny and smart. Or to quote the Oak Ridge Boys: “my heart’s on fire…Giddy up, oom poppa, oom poppa, mow mow”

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Baby book

Sometimes it takes the holidays to learn something you already know. Maybe it’s your dislike of Brussels sprouts that annually reveals itself at Thanksgiving dinner, the only time you eat them. Or it might be your aversion to all things spooky, a fact you only notice around Halloween. Perhaps your proclivity for procrastinating is especially highlighted around Christmas, an introspective epiphany you receive as you’re frantically running through the mall on Christmas Eve in order to finish off your holiday shopping.

And then there are those realizations offered to you by others from their various perspectives. For instance, when relatives who don’t live in town see your children, the talk invariably turns to how much they have grown. Unscientific, back-to-back measurements are taken to compare uncles and nephews, cousins and other cousins, grandmothers and granddaughters. Baby faced toddlers are replaced with lanky teenagers and tricycle-riders are replaced with driver’s license holders in what feels like just a handful of Christmases. Time seems to speed up when it is only seen in sequential Christmas card photos.

As parents, we don’t always see these incremental alterations in our children. They change but it’s hard for us to see the difference, that is, until they put on a pair of pants that are suddenly two inches too short. A-ha! You’ve grown!

Imagine Mary’s continual surprises as the mother of Jesus. Her wonder at her son’s milestone moments must have given her whiplash. If mothers had made baby scrapbooks back in those days, Mary would have wanted to include the following high points: Her pregnancy was revealed by a visiting angel. His birth was announced by an angel chorus and attended by a pack of awestruck shepherds. She was given a baby shower by a group of exotic world-travelers who brought her the items every new mother needs—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Forty days after Jesus’ birth, once Mary was considered clean enough to enter the temple area, Jesus’ parents were given another surprise to add to the ever growing list. There they met Simeon and Anna, holy and righteous prophets who had been anxiously waiting for news of the Messiah. When I read their story in Luke 2, I want to hug Anna and throttle Simeon. Anna “began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.” She sounds like a proud grandma or aunt. No doubt Mary would have wanted a photograph of Anna tenderly cradling Jesus for the baby book.

Simeon, on the other hand, tells Mary that Jesus “is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Vague news of soul-piercing swords is not exactly what a mother of a 1-month old wants to hear.

There was so much to come for the earthly parents of the Son of God. Maybe it was a blessing that Simeon hinted at a little of the heartache. It’s frustrating that apart from His preteen temple meeting with the priests and the catchall verse about Jesus growing up healthy, strong, and wise in Nazareth, we know so little of Jesus’ childhood. So in place of actual information I’ll assume that He outgrew tunics, coats, and sandals at an alarming rate. I’ll guess that Mary covertly watched him from doorways as he played with friends and siblings, trying to convince herself that He was ever a tiny baby.

Or maybe she had a moment with her growing son like I did recently with my youngest. My son stood, feet flat on the floor, and reached his hands up to my face, one hand on each cheek. He said, “Look, Mama. I can do this now. Me big.” No more tippy toes. Just another page for the baby book.

Christmas Awe

Putting up Christmas decorations is an annual battle of my two selves. There is the sentimental side that lives for Christmas movies and swoons for Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” Then there’s my practical side: the “waste not, want not” me, the “plan for every contingency” me, the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” me. It is an epic struggle to see which side wins.

For instance, as I’m stringing the lights on our Christmas tree the Oscar the Grouch part of me is asking, “Why am I doing this? In just a few weeks I’ll have to take all of this down and put it away. I’ll have to drag out those dusty plastic bins and try to fit this stuff back in before storing it away in the basement again for another 11 months. And I’ll most likely be doing this cleaning up all by myself with no help from the other people who happened to live in this house.”

The Buddy the Elf part of me is saying (or probably singing or maybe shouting), “I love Christmas! I love Christmas! I love Christmas!”

If only I could see all of this magical Christmas splendor through the eyes of our 5-year old son. This is his first American Christmas—his first Christmas with his forever family—and every Christmas decoration fills him with unimaginable awe. Every Christmas tree twinkling through an open window, every giant Snoopy blowup wearing a Santa hat and swaying in a front yard, every set of net lights thrown atop a bush incites a cry from the backseat, “Oooo, Mom, look! So pretty!”

The Grinch-Me knows his sense of awe won’t last forever. He is partly in love with the sights and sounds of this holiday because it’s new and so different than what he’s used to. After a few years of blinking lights, he probably won’t think everything is quite so amazing. The once mind-blowing may ultimately become the expected and uninspiring.

The Mistletoe-Me believes he will always feel a tingle of excitement when those Christmas songs start playing on the radio and those wreaths start showing up on front doors.

His present level of awe reminds me of a group of men sitting on a hillside, barely staying awake as they were watching their sheep, a couple thousand years ago. There they were, minding their own business then, all of a sudden: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” (I’m with Linus—King James Version only for this one.)

This was new and different and glorious. They were afraid but fully listening to the instructions given to them via a bunch of angels. I wonder, after the angels were gone, did the Shepherds’ faces glow like Moses on Mount Sinai? When they told others about their experience did they get a reputation for being crazy? Right after the angels disappeared, could they close their eyes and see the remnant of their brilliance, like when someone takes your picture with a very bright flash and you can still see the flash seconds later?

What would it be like to carry that kind of memory with them for the rest of their lives? The experience was strong enough for them to pick themselves up off the grass and head to Bethlehem, lickety-split. Did they feel honored that they had been chosen to receive this information? Did they want to get over to the stable before they could talk each other out of what they had seen, before that radiant, angelic outline they could still see when they closed their eyes had fully faded?

For me, this will be the Christmas of Awe. It will be the Christmas of “Oooo, pretty!” And Lord willing, it will be the Christmas of “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” Just like those shepherds did as they returned to their sheep on that night so long ago.

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