Light Always Shines Bright When It's Dark

 

For reasons both comforting and curious, the loneliest, darkest, and coldest time of the year plays host to Christmas. The shortest day of the year is around Christmas making it the physically darkest holiday, next to New Year’s, on the calendar. So, the time of year when we are supposedly the most generous is also the time of year where we are fighting depression and good old fashioned darkness.

 

Yet, that’s when the light truly shines.

 

The current news cycle seems very dark and while I can go on various rabbit trails lamenting a variety of things, I am reminded that this time of year always gets dark. Lights on trees and holiday lights on houses, lining streets, or in the malls announce that something is different. Lights that flash and lights that look like impromptu runways accompany lights that spell out encouraging words and lights that point the way to shopping, restaurants, or special events. All of these lights come when the sun starts to set earlier in the afternoon.

 

So, yes, the world is dark. At this time of  year, it’s always darker.

 

But, that’s part of the meaning behind ideas like generosity, grace, and sacrificial love. “It’s a Wonderful Life,” isn’t about preserving a mobile, middle class life, but it’s about being attentive to the life we already have. What would it be like to bring light in to the darker parts of our world? Frankly, it’s not that difficult to ponder. We simply need to recall that generosity doesn’t go out of style and can be done all year long. Grace never gets old and everyone needs it. Sacrificial love changes everything and is always worth the effort.

 

As the days get shorter and the darkness extends in to our afternoons, lights truly do get noticed and truly do make a difference.  I’ll list a few quotes so  you just don’t take my word for it:

 

From William Shakespeare—

 

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

 

From Vincent Van Gogh—

 

“Those who love much, do much and accomplish much, and whatever is done with love is done well.... Love is the best and noblest thing in the human heart, especially when it is tested by life as gold is tested by fire. Happy is he who has loved much, and although he may have wavered and doubted, he has kept that divine spark alive and returned to what was in the beginning and ever shall be. 

Under the Mistletoe

Ever caught yourself saying these words: “this holiday is going to be different,” OR “this year, we’ll really celebrate?” Then, after putting your best foot forward, you simply fell into what you always do. You respond partly out of nostalgia, partly out of tradition, but also partly out of fear.

It’s like every holiday is in some way, lived under the mistletoe. Instead of kissing someone with passion and with the energy that says, ‘I love this and I love you,’ you find yourself looking up to see if you’re really standing there and then you look over and see that someone else is also there and now what? Awkward….

Mary Oliver writes in her poem entitled “The Place I Want to Get Back To” these words:

“I go out to the dunes and look

This is Not a Christmas Post

It seems that December forces every Christian writer to smash his inspiration into a yuletide theme box and wrap it up. It becomes his obligatory Christmas Post—the essay that is supposed to synthesize all his profound thoughts about the miracle of Jesus’ birth. Last year, my post was about the juxtaposition of despair and joy. The year before that? A theological connection to the Resurrection.

This year I’ve got nothin’.

It’s not that Jesus’ birth isn’t the most amazing thing ever. It absolutely trumps everything else. And that’s precisely why I just can’t write a Christmas Post this year without trivializing its gravity. I think I would end up writing one just to write one.

Instead, I’m going to write—very succinctly—a mini-post for all the other holidays this year that you’re definitely not thinking about right now.

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Advent's Changing Seasons

This week last year I had just returned from my family's home in the Pacific Northwest. My grandfather has passed away weeks earlier and this was the first holiday without him.  My relatives and I were adjusting to the new era, one ushered in by death's reminder that the kids are now adults and the adults on their way to grandparenthood.  This is not to be morbid or say they need walkers, but you could sense these thoughts on the faces around the living room as we pondered life without grandpa.

Two weeks later there was a murder a block from my house and I wrote an incredibly somber piece reflecting more than the emotions stirred by the effects of gun shots. I had spent 2009 recovering from a weakened immune system due to thyroid radiation treatment and it showed in my little brother whispering at Christmas asking if I was okay as I slept through most of the three days at his house.

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Eat, Drink and Be Wary

Let’s see. What are you doing this Thursday? Could it be that some turkey is in order?

I’m not one of those lineman-caliber eaters myself, but I do enjoy a number of the holiday’s particular flavors. I’ll let the cooks in my home do their thing, then I’ll set to carving, and soon we’ll gather and eat, friends and family. Perfect.

What I’m not so sure of is whether the TV will be buzzing in the background. We watch our share of football in our family room, but we’ve no fans in-house of any of the particular teams this Thanksgiving, and since the day kicks off with one potentially horrendous mismatch—Lions vs. Patriots—it will be hard to get sucked into the day’s “drama.”

Christmas is coming, though. For several seasons now that has meant one mammoth matchup or another, usually involving the Lakers, who are both a regional favorite and wear championship mantles.

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Cheap Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

I’m big on celebrating birthdays, babies, weddings, holidays and yes, even the commercial holy day of Valentine’s Day. I love love. I love the romance, the chocolate, the red roses, and fancy dinners.

But I hate spending a lot of money. So when Valentine’s Day rolled around one year, I decided to take matters in my own hands and plan a romantic dinner for my husband and me without breaking the bank.

We had dinner at home—instead of a fancy restaurant with an hour and a half wait. I strung lights on the roof of our porch to create a canopy of white lights. I dressed up a card table with a tablecloth, candles and rose pedals. We had a three-course meal for under $8 each, and I even broke out the china we never use.

We gave thoughtful gifts—we personalized gifts instead of buying what was most popular that season. I made a gift box of his favorite coffee and inserted homemade sweets and goodies. He brought me flowers—a beautiful arrangement from the local grocery store (about 40 percent cheaper than a florist) and a gift certificate for a pedicure and manicure.

We celebrated our love—not our wallets. At the end of the night, we could pat ourselves on the back for saving money, but most importantly, acknowledging and celebrating our love in a meaningful, non-commercial way.

Here are some other ideas for cheap (but fun) dates for Valentine’s Day or any day of the year.

Nature Lovers

* Hiking and nature walks
* Bike riding
* Rollerblading
* Exercising

Intellectual Types

* Museums
* Historical sites
* The Zoo
* Factory tour
* Walking tours
* Public gardens

Social Animals

* Pizza party
* Pot luck dinner
* Progressive dinner
* Fondue party
* Sundae party
* Cook out

Ways to Save Throughout the Year

Dining Out
1. If your city as an “Entertainment Book” and you like to eat out, buy it. They have “Buy one, get one free” deals for a number of area restaurants and date places, like miniature golf. They’re in the $20 range, but you can get one for about half if you wait a few months after they’ve come out for the year. If you use it only once or twice, you’ve made your money back.
2. Check their website of your favorite local restaurant for coupons, or sign up for their newsletter to receive coupons in the mail or vouchers for a free meal on your birthday.
3. Restaurant.com also has discount gift certificates for local restaurants, but I haven’t had much luck finding restaurants I’d like to visit.

Hotels and Vacations
1. Don’t discount a romantic evening at a hotel. For our wedding anniversary weekend, I used Priceline.com to get a night at an area 4-star hotel for a fraction of the price.
2. Consider rentals instead of hotels when it comes to five days or more of vacation. Timeshare User Groups has classified ads from timeshare owners looking to rent out weeks. They have listings for home and abroad.
3. If you’re visiting Europe, check out staying at a monastery! The average price is $30 a night. There are books and resources that will walk you through how to make a reservation, even if you don’t speak the language.

Rentals
1. There are cool ways to see new sites and experience parts of your city by renting limos, boats, and even venues. They become affordable when you split the costs among friends. We rented a boat tour at Disney for my husband’s birthday last year. It was $120 total, not much if you split it among the 8-12 people on the boat. The boat took us around the chain of lakes that connect the parks and resorts and then parked in front of Cinderella’s castle as we watched the evening fireworks. A perfect night.

The point is to spend quality time together—so anything goes. My husband and I sometimes turn “grocery night” into “date night”—just being together, buying our groceries, and then cooking dinner for each other. But I don’t consider it a cheap date. We buy a lot of food!

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