My Heart's Home

January 20, 2011

Artificial Trees

Filed under: Christmas — My Heart's Home @ 12:29 am

I admit I’m a procrastinator. It’s mid-January and our Christmas tree is still up. Makes sense, considering it was mid-December before it took center stage.

Sitting all comfy cozy with a cup of cocoa in hand, I gaze at its overall beauty then focus on details. My eyes dart from a dangling icicle to a snow-tipped pinecone. Crimson and golden balls reflecting stringed lights’ glow catch my attention next—each strategically placed upon five-year-old limbs (and a few that weren’t by five-year-old limbs).

I smile. I stare. I reflect.

Christmas trees are a lot like people.

They come in all shapes and sizes, colors and scents, gussied-up or plain, high or low maintenance, artificial and real.

I prefer maintenance-free, pre-lit, towering, full-bodied, no annual fee artificial. No chopping, no hauling, no sap, no stringing, no watering, no shedding, no allergies, no disposing. But your average, run-of-the-mill, clearance aisle, garage sale, grandma’s attic hand-me-down spruce, fir or evergreen won’t do. I’ve had my share of those. If it’s destined to join our family, tickle our first home’s ceiling and outgrow my son’s childhood, I prefer to invest in the best. So I bought mine from Balsam Hill, the crème de la crème crop of artificial trees. Good enough to grace the sets of Oprah Winfrey, Rachel Ray and Ellen DeGeneres; fill the lobbies of fine hotels and embassies around the world; and stand tall in Macy’s famous Santaland exhibit in New York City. Their ultra-realistic branches can fool even the savviest TV host into commenting about the “live” trees on set.

I dupe people, too. Burn a Yankee evergreen-scented candle for greater impact and guests are none the wiser.

But no matter how genuine my Balsam Hill tree looks, smells, and feels—it’s still fake. Visitors might be hoodwinked, but I know the truth: crafted artisans molded the lifelike needles from plastic. Not God-made nature’s way, but man-made factory style.

Christmas trees are a lot like Christians.

According to a recent survey, about 75% of American adults consider themselves Christ followers.

I frown. I gaze. I ponder.

I guess we’re good at looking the part, playing the role and quoting the lines. We wear our Sunday best blouse to match our Sunday school smile. We light up when we’re recognized, praised, affirmed for some unselfish act we’ve done in Jesus’ name, yet we take that same name in vain the rest of the week when pastors, elders and congregants are beyond earshot.

We warm pews, toss tithes, whisper prayers, shout hallelujahs, sing hymns, raise palms, shake hands, bow heads, bend knees, break bread, drink wine. By all appearances we look genuine, real and authentic. Yet beyond the façade, charade and smokescreen—when our Sunday best hangs in darkened closets while our leather-bound Bibles collect dust on shelves—are we the corner barstool drunkard, the casino chasing charlatan, the sailor swearing sister, the spouse stealing adulterer, the child neglecting mother, the tax evading employee? We change our hairstyles, makeup and clothes daily, but do our hearts remain unmoved, unaltered and unchanged?

Like stringed lights on artificial trees?

 “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

December 23, 2010

Christmas Carols

Filed under: Christmas — My Heart's Home @ 4:16 pm

Christmas has always been a joyous occasion for me, but I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm.

My biological Father, a bipolar atheist, despised Christmas. While families gathered around their hearths and spruces, passing bowed packages to-and-fro, my Father tossed soiled garments into warm suds. Joy to him meant a surplus of vacant machines at the laundromat.

My parents divorced close to my birth. My Dad visited sporadically, so I only have one memory of sharing Christmas with him. I was an adult. We were visiting my brother, Keith, in Virginia. That holiday a cloud of depression fell on my Dad like an avalanche. One night, while playing board games, we listened to a Christmas CD I gave my brother. Over and over again. This grated on my Father’s last fragile nerve and he wasn’t shy about letting us know. He finally shouted: “Will you turn that &?*#* music off!!”

Who knew Christmas carols could cause such a visceral reaction.

I love Christmas carols. But I am not a bipolar atheist. It was difficult for me to comprehend my Father’s contempt for a holiday that brought us such joy. We loved to canvass the neighborhood at night, touring the lit decorations adorning snow capped lawns. His lifeless eyes turned away. We translated each heavy sigh into an audible, “Bah hum bug.”

We all walked on eggshells that Christmas, hoping the cloud would dissipate soon. It didn’t.

I realize sorrow can fill people’s hearts during this season like stocking stuffers, leaving no crevice for peace, hope or joy. Now, more than ever, people are feeling hopeless, dejected and despondent. With the ongoing recession causing a tidal wave of foreclosures and joblessness, marriages and fragile souls are crushed in its wake. It’s no wonder suicide rates are at an all time high. Heavy-laden hearts wish Christmas would come and go as rapid as a freshly fallen snowflake melting on a toddler’s tongue.

Centuries ago, Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow felt this way. Abraham Lincoln had just been elected President, giving hope to many in the nation. But things soon turned dark for America and for Longfellow, personally. In the summer of 1861, tragedy struck his family and he became severely depressed. He, his wife Fanny and their five children lived in the historic Craigie House in Cambridge, Massachusetts, overlooking the Charles River. It was a balmy summer and seven-year-old Edith complained of her long hair, so Fanny decided to trim her beautiful curls and preserve them in sealing wax.

As she melted the bar of wax, a few drops fell unnoticed on her light summer dress. A breeze from an open window gusted through, billowing her dress into the flame, immediately engulfing her in fire. As a frantic Henry tried to extinguish the flames, he suffered severe burns on his face, arms and hands. Fanny died the next morning. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral.

That first Christmas after her death, Longfellow wrote in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year after Fanny’s tragedy he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” In 1862, the Civil War escalated and the death toll from the war began to mount. In his diary that year, Longfellow wrote of Christmas, “A ‘merry Christmas,’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

In 1863, Longfellow’s son, who had run away to join the Union Army, was severely wounded and returned home in December. There is no entry in Longfellow’s diary for that Christmas.

But finally on Christmas day in 1864, Longfellow wanted to pull out of his despair, so he decided to try to capture the joy of Christmas. He wrote the words of the poem “Christmas Bells”–a poem about the Civil War, but also about faith in the midst of tragedy. The five stanzas of the poem without reference to the war became the text of the familiar carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” As you read the words, think about the theology wrapped up in them:

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

As Longfellow came to the sixth stanza, he paused and pondered the condition of his beloved country. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark and he probably asked himself, “How can I write about peace on earth, goodwill to men in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?”

But he kept writing and what did he write?

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

That could be say of our day as well.

Bu then, catching an eternal perspective and the real message of Christmas and Christ himself, he wrote:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;

“God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Whatever our circumstance, may we never forget the true meaning of Christmas. In the darkness of a tumbledown stable, Jesus was born to bring peace, hope and joy to weary, broken and heavy-laden hearts.

“And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

May the Prince of Peace rule in your hearts this Christmas and may we all find reason to celebrate as the Christmas carols ring out.

December 11, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Filed under: Christmas,Contentment — My Heart's Home @ 3:43 pm

Who knew a blanket of snow would warm the cockles of this California girl’s heart?

Last weekend it snowed four inches in my transplanted state, Indiana. As I was driving to the Ladies Christmas breakfast, joy overflowed in my heart like rooftop icicles. The sights surrounding me were breathtaking. I had to pull over. Whipping my camera out I snapped away.

What wonderful sights:

Birch trees peeling back their skin.

White-capped branches hanging low.

Kids playfully pummeling snowballs.

Kind of ironic being warm-weather-raised, but I LOVE icicles!


Then yesterday morning as I was driving to meet a friend at Starbucks, another sight captured my heart. I noticed hundreds of twigs sticking up out of the snow. Nothing spectacular you might say, but it was one of the most magnificent sights I’ve ever seen. The sunlight was shining on them and reflecting the light in such a way it looked like a million diamonds sparkling!!

Moments like that leave me breathless, speechless and in awe of a God who creates the most beautiful moments no camera could ever recreate.

I didn’t even try.


December 10, 2010

Daunting December Doldrums

Filed under: Christmas,Prayer — My Heart's Home @ 10:19 pm

It’s December and I feel as empty as a needle-less pine tree. Impending responsibilities weigh on my heart like a sleigh overloaded, stripping me of all joy, peace and goodwill. My snowbird wings are clipped. Visions of sugarplums dancing in my head are blurred by my looming ‘To-Do’ list, which rivals ol’ Kris Kringle’s. My eyes cross and fold like pretzeled arms. ‘I’m not ready for Christmas!’

My brow furrows.

My strength is already sapped, tapped and overdrafted like a shopaholic’s Black Friday credit card.

My shoulders hunch.

Expectations hang overhead like a mistletoed noose ready to choke all the fa-la-la out of my holly-less halls. Jack Frost’s not only nipping at my nose, but he’s kicking my backside with his busy-bodied snowboot. He’s barking at me to drag my procrastinating, pitiful, prostrate behind out of bed. He taps his watch, reminding me it’s time to join the hustling and bustling crowd and get a move on. Bah-hum-bug!

My eyelids droop.

Worry, angst and stress cram-pack every nook and cranny of my heart and mind like an overstuffed turkey. I pull covers tight.

My lungs exhale.

My get-up-and-go? Gone. Despite my best aim, I know I’ll never hit that elusive Currier and Ives bullseye, so I wave the white flag. I emotionally spiral like draining bath water. Defeat darkens, drowns and deafens doorstep carolers singing joy to my world. It’s a silent night and I’m:

a clangless bell.

an unlit candle.

a burnt out yule log.

Boxing gloves are removed before one foot in the ring. I’m already kayoed.

What’s a girl to do?

My knees buckle.

My forehead bows.

My arms unbrace.

I PRAY

….that I’ll allow my heart’s lens to focus on the true meaning of Christmas and let the wind blow all that hustle and bustle wayside, like:

unnoticed snowflakes…

uneaten fruitcake…

unearthed pine needles.



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