We bought a Christmas Tree.

In the beginning God created it and gave the tree to us for Christmas.  It was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of it. And the Spirit of God was hovering over me as I set out to add the lights:

First, the lights from last year didn’t all survive.  Of the strands that remained, a few of the bulbs were no longer working, but not enough to make a dramatic effect.  So I began weaving the green wires in and out of the branches.

About 1/4 of the way up, I was out of lights.

To the store…

Once home, I opened a fresh new box of 300-count lights, only to realize that the plethora of lights were packed into a mere number of feet.  Three green wires were tightly braided together to form an extremely dense cluster of lights.  Fearing a return to the store, I untwisted and manipulated the 300.  I tucked and stretched.  I stepped back to view.  Nope.  No way.  No how.  The center of the newly donned tree shone as bright as a burning apartment building, while the lower branches twinkled like stars.  I untucked and unstretched.  I twisted and manipulated.  There was no way these lights were getting back into the box.  If only they responded like my son’s tummy when I tell him to “suck it in” to button his pants.

I had to forget the tree for a minute…so I moved on to a new room and found a nice ledge to softly drape my now contorted strand of new Christmas lights.  It was pretty.  Whew.

photo

And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.

With morning came another trip to the store after dropping the kids off to school.  Promises were made to have the tree ready for decoration when they returned.  Three boxes of 150 lights…double checked…no clusters of lights.

When school was out, next to the tree I opened and untied the first bundle of 3.  I wove under and over, forward and back.  Lots of twinkling sparkles.  Beautiful.  The first box was a success.  I opened and unwrapped the second and went to connect it to the previous strand.  NO!!! No outlet.  I didn’t buy the lights that connect one strand to the next.

I am NOT taking these lights off,” I said to myself.  I continued with the new box, sneaking the cord to the original source of energy down the trunk of the tree.  With what remained, I placed the rest of the lights between arms and fingers of branches.  It wasn’t too noticeable.  Disaster averted.  Onto box three.

I turned to reach for it when I saw that my little helpers had already broken the seal…

photo

Sigh..now to untangle the third strand of lights.

I draped the lights over one child and asked them to follow carefully behind me as we circled the tree with the last set of lights.  Again, I threaded the plug down to the outlet first, then climbed the step ladder to start sprucing up the last top third of the tree.  Half-way around the whole tree went dark.

And there was evening, and there was morning, the third day.

Back to the floor to find my chaotic daisy chain of plugs and wires.  Unplugging and switching order and figuring out which lights or line of lights were the culprit.  The section of last year’s lights were to blame.  I stripped the bottom rows of branches and pulled and stretched at the new lights to avoid starting the whole process over again.  It kind of worked.  I figured presents would cover up the bottom anyways…or maybe we’ll go heavy on the ornaments down there.

I headed back to the top untouched portion of the tree and the last bit of lights.  Round and round we went until every light was intentionally placed for the best overall effect.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  About a foot of the tree remained unlit.

I turned to the staircase, where our stockings were hanging, tied over stiff and scraggly garland and one short thin strand of about 50 lights.

With a huff, I forced each tiny bulb under each knot that held each of the 6 stockings.

Back to the ladder, where I just threw the flimsy 4 feet of lights at the peak of the tree, tucked in the ends a little and stepped back to look at the finished tree…FINALLY.

Not too bad, I thought.  But now it was entirely too late to start the reminiscing of each homemade ornament as we placed them on the tree.  Promises broken.

And there was evening, and there was morning, the fourth day.

Bright and early we woke to head off to school.  As the kids made their way down the stairs, I heard while back in my bedroom closet… “What happened to the lights on the tree?”

photo

sigh

And there was evening, and there was morning, the fifth day.

I avoided the tree for nearly half the day.  When it finally became apparent to me that I was letting an oversized stick have rule over my day and my joy, I went through the leftover Halloween candy.  Yep…didn’t touch that tree.  I ate green Twizzlers and a fun-size PayDay instead.

And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.

Surely, I can light this stupid Christmas tree in a week.  Today is the day.

After removing 3 strands of lights (I don’t even know where the 3rd came from),  buying one more box of 300 (the right kind that connects end to end, and adding an extension cord with multiple outlets, the tree is done.  It ain’t perfect, but it’s done.

photo photo

No lie, when I stepped back and took the final look, the “Alleluia Chorus” came on the Pandora Christmas station.  You can’t make that stuff up.  Now I’m just praying it doesn’t start an electrical fire between now and Christmas Day.

And on the seventh day I finished my tree that I had lit, and I rested on the seventh day from all the work that I had done. 

A whole week was spent unwiring and disconnecting to produce light in a dark place.  The analogy is not lost on me.  When I am dark in spirit, when my light seems to have fizzled out, it takes time to rewire my heart, to reconnect with the Spirit.  It doesn’t take time because the Spirit is slow to react or that I have to wait for the Father to reset His gaze upon me.  God never leaves me nor forsakes me.  Rather it is I, the twisted and confused amidst the prickly needles of this world.  Because I am slow, because I have to reset my eyes to Jesus, it takes time– intentional time in quiet and still places.  Again, I am reminded that this is Life After Rehab.  When the temptations of relapse make everything a blur, I, like the addict, have to step back and re-evaluate where I am vulnerable and weak.

Back in the series of posts: 7 steps for Life After Rehab, I addressed all of the things that I already have forgotten.  Step 7 was “Stay alert for signs of a relapse”…yeah, that would have been a good one to remember.  I haven’t been alert, as evidenced by buying the wrong kind of lights…twice.

I rewire with a heart of thankfulness and gratitude.  I reconnect with quiet time in the Word and in prayer, becoming comfortable to sit still and just listen to Him…scary as it may be.  I am relit by all of His blessings and all the ways He loves me.  I am recharged by His words of love and forgiveness for me.

“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

2 Corinthians 4:15-17

(Sigh).  Christmas.  The season of list-making, cookie-baking, card-writing (not that I do that one), present-bearing, and money-sucking. If I sound a bit cynical, it’s because I can very easily get all wrapped up in the craziness of the Americanized-Christmas.  The commercials that remind me that my shopping days are dwindling make me want to crawl into the corner.  The advertisements that tell me that all my loved ones are expecting the perfect gift from me produce enough anxiety and pressure to perform that I could explode like Mentos in Diet-Coke.  It’s madness.  Generosity should be a joy.  Christmas should reflect the generosity of the Father.  And even if I can’t afford to give anything to anybody, Christmas has got to reflect the pricelessness of Jesus.  He is undeniably the best gift anyone could receive this holiday.

The month of December we are taking a break from “normal” school and having “Christmas” school.  This involves quite a few things, some of which we have included in past years in a desire to create our own family traditions.  Without having to be at school, we are able to expand these traditions and also add some new things.  

In the past, we have had a paper Christmas chain.  On the inside of each strip of paper, I usually write some activity to do for that day.  Sometimes, its as simple as watch “Charlie Brown Christmas.”  Sometimes it’s a little more extravagant like ice skating or going to look at Christmas Lights.  This year, because we have more time, I am trying to incorporate more service opportunities.  We will deliver cookies to the elementary school and read some books for the kindergartners and first-graders.  We also are going to volunteer with Brown Santa.  Along with our tradition of these paper chain activities that help countdown the days to Christmas, we are adding a Christmas devotional too.  On the inside of each strip of paper is a “clue” word.  The clue word guides our bible study for the day, which is following the story of Christmas.  I am using an e-book entitled, Truth in the Tinsel.  We make an ornament that reminds us of what part of the story we read.  It’s been fun to watch the ornaments being made and know that year after year we will pull them out and be reminded of the Truth of Christmas.  The devotions and the ornaments are pretty simple and don’t take much time.

We are also studying Christmas around the World.  I am using a unit found on Confessions of a Homeschooler.  We will study nine countries and discuss their celebrations and traditional foods, trying to make a craft or cook a recipe that corresponds.  So far this week, we have talked about Christmas in Japan and China.  Since only 1% of Japanese are Christians, Christmas is a commercial event, and there really are no traditional Christmas foods.  One resource said that it’s a busy time of year with lots of gift giving and parties and that in Japan, Christmas is the busiest time of year for KFC.  (Enter my excuse to eat out.)  We got chicken from KFC and also made some traditional Soba noodles that are eaten to celebrate the New Year.  In our study of China, we talked about how populated China is, and how most of the country also doesn’t know about Jesus.  We discussed how in China, the people are not free to worship Jesus.  So most of their celebration is in regards to the New Year as well, although they still put up trees and give gifts in certain areas.  Tomorrow we will make some Chinese Knot Ornaments.  

The desire is that all these little projects and lessons will keep our hearts away from the commercialization of Christmas here at home.  I’d like to be able to tell my children that because we live in a “Christian” culture here in the US, that commercialization is not an issue.  But, I think out of all the different religions represented in the United States, Christians probably buy the most, spend the most, and want the most.  It’s not okay.  We live in a country that allows us to worship our God with no limitations.  We live in a country where we can freely worship. We live in a country that has not silenced our beliefs or the printing of our Bibles.  I can’t believe sometimes how we miss the boat completely.  As Christians, we sometimes do more of the neglecting of our Savior and our faith than the countries that prevent their people from hearing and saying His name.  How dare we.  We have been given something special, and we don’t even use it.  If Christmas was about Christmas trees and presents, then China is not missing a thing.  But they are!  They are missing Jesus.  If we miss Jesus also, then how can we claim to love Him and know Him any deeper?  I want to teach my children to not be selfish.  I want them to not just appreciate their freedoms, but to take advantage of them.  If they don’t worship Jesus this Christmas, then we’ve done something very wrong with our time in Family Rehab.  If they don’t tell others what the big deal is about a baby in a manger, then I’ve taught them nothing about the importance of that historical event, and the impact it has on people living today.  

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention also that our world right now is turned upside down.  God has been forcing us to ask some big questions about who we are and how we identify ourselves.  He’s pushing us to ask questions of “where” and “why”.  These are not comfortable.  I am sincerely confounded by the choices that lie in front of Paul and me, and our family.  For those of you who believe, for those of you who pray, for those of you who have a keen awareness and discernment of the Father’s will, please pray for us.  I have no doubt that whatever we “choose”, God will remain faithful to His people–ALL His people, no matter where they live.  I want to listen to His voice.  I want to obey.  

I also don’t want to be so distracted and overwhelmed by what lies in front of us that I, too, miss worshiping Jesus this Christmas–or at any time.  I don’t want to stop looking to Him because I am busy looking out trying to guess the future.  I want to remain faithful to family rehab.  I want to remain intentional with my kids and their hearts.  I want to seek a deeper relationship with my Savior, not just His plan for me.  There’s a difference.  I can easily get wrapped up in what the gift-bearer is bringing, instead of being enthralled with the One who has and continues to provide so much.  I have been given a priceless treasure in Jesus.  I have no reason to fear, no reason to crawl into a corner, no reason to perfectly perform.  In looking to Him, all the questions will be answered, all the Truth in the tinsel will be found, and all the joy of Christmas will bubble out of me like Mentos in Diet-Coke