IT’S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS By Lori A Alicea

With the Christmas holidays finally here, most of us have completed our shopping and gifts of all sizes and shapes have been wrapped and placed under the tree to honor our longstanding tradition and spirit of giving.

So many gifts have been purchased from wish lists, ideas, hunches, or desperate last minute resorts when a person is too difficult to buy for.

When the long-awaited mystery inside the wrapping paper is finally revealed, gifts have a way of sparking a range of our emotions.

From tears, screaming and jumping for joy for the gift idea that you nailed.

To the eye-roll and half-smile of the present you’re confident will be returned or re-gifted.

Or the recipient who laughs or stops mid-sentence in their remarks of their newly unwrapped gift, “Ohhhhh…you shouldn’t have”.
Translation….you shouldn’t have.

There are those gifts from an elderly grandparent or person of “limited means” you appreciate because it’s their thought that counts.

Sometimes though Christmas pauses with a moment you least expect, catching you and your heart unaware and off guard when you receive that present you first have to wonder about for a few minutes, then breathe out a bit of Christmas “awe” as you realize that what you hold isn’t the gift,

But the priceless THOUGHT is the GIFT.

This was Christmas for me years ago, but I remember the details like yesterday.

Gathered around the table after Thanksgiving dinner that year, my husband’s family and I rummaged the Black Friday newspaper ads for ideas to clip out and share between each other for our secret Christmas gift exchange.

All night long we laughed, passed newspaper pages around and clipped out three ideas for our personal wish list.

One idea out of character for me as I am not a “girly girl” who primps and pampers herself for hours, was this sweet manicure set complete with polishes and lotions that caught my attention. Prior to this gift exchange, I wasn’t one to paint my nails, but this adorable manicure set had me thinking that maybe I should start.

When the evening finally drew the curtains to a close at this family Thanksgiving dinner, with most members ready to share their wish lists with a secret Santa, decisions were made at the last minute to nix the gift exchange idea, citing no plausible reason than “just because”, maybe next year.

With my wish list in hand sighing one last time at the manicure set I could have easily bought for myself, crumpled and threw the paper of ideas into the trash, walking away never discussing my Christmas desire nor giving any thought of it the rest of the Christmas season.

While Christmas is a time of secret Santa gift exchanges in many relational circles, Christmas is also a sentimental time to remember your neighbors.

On our country rural street of 350 North where we lived at the time, there were only five houses with five mailboxes at the end of each our neighbors two acre plot of land. Old wooden fences divided most of our properties, and neighbors talked to each other from time to time at the fence, getting to know one another in small talk.

Old man Chester lived with his wife on the east side of our property, and widowed Betty on the west. In our twenty year stay living on 350 North, we became close friends with Betty who took an interest in our blended family and collie.  Chester on the other hand, we occasionally waved to while mowing the grass, plowing the snow, or drinking coffee outside on a sunny day.  We learned of him through his habits and ways, as neighbors usually do living so close in proximity to one another.

This particular Christmas something seemed “off” at Chester’s house. His driveway hadn’t been plowed for weeks.  Newspapers piled up on the front porch.  We rarely saw an evening light burning through Chester’s windows.  We hadn’t seen any sighting of Chester or his wife during the month of December that year.  So, with a tin of homemade Christmas cookies and a worried look, my husband David walked over to Chester’s front door in neighborly concern and softly knocked.  Not expecting an answer with the windows completely dark, David still knocked a few times and to his surprise, a weary neighbor greeted my husband and opened his home for a Christmas visit.

For over an hour, I waited anxiously for my husband’s return. Off and on while busy making cookies, I looked up at our two-acre driveway through the kitchen window for a sighting of my husband David.  Finally, catching a glimpse of him in the moonlit night walking back down the driveway and into the house, he somberly took a seat at the dinner table where I joined him.

Re-telling his visit with Chester, my heart broke to learn that our neighbor had been holding a faithful vigil near his dying wife’s hospital bed these last December weeks, who sadly entered into eternity a few days prior, leaving behind her grieving husband of over fifty years.

Receiving news like this the “lists of Christmas” begin to pale in its relevance; the baking, the shopping, the caroling, the tree lighting, etc. are irrelevant when someone loses a loved one. In the hurt of someone else’s deep wounds and pain, Christmas could do all of us a favor and exit early until another December next year.

But to my surprise, Chester’s sorrow hadn’t quenched his spirit of giving, and sent an unexpected Christmas present home to me, a neighbor he mostly knew in passing.  Taken from the hospital box of his wife’s belongings that still sat on the living room floor when he first arrived home without her, Chester reached inside and handed David a small tin that bore the name of the hospital where Chester’s wife had lived her remaining weeks.
this one 1A small hospital gift to his wife was now a gift to me. Removing the top portion of the tin, it revealed an early desire of my Christmas heart I had forgotten about but God hadn’t; a manicure nail set, albeit miniature.
this oneAt first glance, Chester overwhelmed me when during the darkest hours of his life; he was emotionally willing and able to think of somebody other than himself, by giving me a gift that embodies the sentiment:

“It’s the thought that counts.”

Moments later, God overwhelms my heart realizing when no one knew about this gift but Him, God reveals Himself in a hospital manicure set meant for somebody else, yet through a grieving man, prompted the spirit of giving to me.

So often at Christmas we look for the biggest present, or the most expensive, even the prettiest, wrapped gift under the tree.

Sometimes at Christmas, the best gifts are the least expected.

When I least expected, a gift of a different kind was waiting for me under my Christmas tree so many years ago.

What I had forgotten my Heavenly Father remembered.

The Father who knows every detail of my life that …the very hairs of your head are numbered… Luke 12:17 NIV

He Remembered.  

The Father’s THOUGHT of me that Christmas was His GIFT.

PICTURE IT By Lori A Alicea

Christmas thirty years ago, I never pictured it.

Christmas thirty years ago, if you could picture it, was just the three of us, a newly single mother watching her two young children sit in front of the camera for their annual holiday portrait, an insert to the family Christmas card.
XMAS Jake and Candy 2Back in the day, portrait studios were located in the “big box stores”. Closer to the holiday when I usually scheduled our photo session, multiple procrastinated families like mine crowded the couches waiting impatiently for their name to be called, as photographers were unfortunately behind schedule during the final weeks of Christmas.
XMAS Jake and CandyI doubt any young mother pictures it, and I was no exception.
I didn’t think of it, I didn’t imagine it.
I wasn’t in denial, I just didn’t picture it.

I doubt most of us picture it although it’s happening to us all.

The only picture that mattered to me thirty years ago were those of my little boy and girl dressed in their holiday best.

An annual gift wrapped up as a Christmas portrait that only a mother could truly appreciate; a parent’s attempt in preserving the Christmas faces of her children as a keepsake to reflect on when the passage of time caught them growing up.
XMAS Jake and Candy 1I never pictured it until thirty years later when I opened up a packed box of my mother’s belongings, finding a stack of clippings from my old column she saved, stumbling upon a specific column that took me back to the portrait studio where I picked up my children’s Christmas pictures for the holiday season that year.
XMAS Jake and Candy 3EVERYONE’S LIFE IS A STORY WAITING TO BE TOLD
By Lori A. Alicea

No telling how many people cross our path and we never know their name or story.  Faces are everywhere.  Crowded streets; busy stores.  We rub shoulders, but barely make eye contact.  We all have a story, but who takes the time to wonder?

Waiting for my purchase at a local Photography store, I got my first glimpse of him, an old man with downy white hair, possibly in his eighties, sporting an old flannel shirt and yellowed jeans, wearing shoes that had seen better days.

This man didn’t see me as he entered the store, but I followed him around with wondering eyes.

Sitting close by, the exchange between the old man and clerk was audible.  He inquired about the special.  By his casual appearance I assumed a future appointment was in the making.  Assuming wrong, he reached for a coupon from his pocket for a portrait taken that morning.

Directed to the sofa by me, we both sat in silence.  I could hear grandpa’s labored breathing.  I watched grandpa’s wrinkled hands folded, as if in quiet prayer.

In that moment the words to an old song began to play in my head, “If a picture paints a thousand words”.  In that song I began to wonder about the words that painted this old man’s portrait.

Father? Husband? Friend? Lonely? Happy? Rich? Poor?  Who was this person?  Surely he belonged to somebody.  Was grandma alive?  Did grandpa have kids?  If so, do they call?  What about his dreams?  Fulfilled?

Encouraged by a mutual smile, grandpa and I engaged in conversation.

Grandpa told me he was having his picture taken to send in cards to his family.  Grandpa said he didn’t know how long he’d be around, and wanted everyone to have a picture to remember him by.

What a beautiful man, what a lovely idea.  An old man with a story, a book destined to be a best seller, a picture of a thousand words.

I wish I had an extra hour to hear the “rest of his story”, but the clerk was calling my name.

I purchased my pictures and turned around to leave, but stopped long enough to smile at the old man and bid him good-by.  Grandpa smiled back and wished me the same.

Weeks later I wondered about grandpa.  Was grandpa’s picture a delight to whom ever received it?  Was grandpa’s picture a reminder to spend more time with him?  Did grandpa’s card get lost on the stack of other mail?

My questions will remain unanswered.  But that day an old man reminded me no life should ever go unnoticed.  That each life is a picture of a thousand words, a story worthy to be read.

…………………………………………..

Thirty years ago I was in my late twenties and the eighty year old man in the story could have been great-grandfather.
great grandpa in ava illinois

Thirty years later and I now thirty years older, the eighty year old man in the story could have been my father.
dad and cookiesYou never picture it when the “second hand” of your life’s clock is ticking down the minutes.

You never picture it when you’re blowing out another candle on your birthday cake.

You picture it through the lens of the old photographs taken of you in your twenties, thirties, forties and those fifties, soon to open a new chapter in my sixties, when you wonder:

How can it be that so much time has passed since my young children sat in front of the Christmas camera, kids who have grown up themselves and are now taking pictures of their own family at Christmas.

We must picture it that age can’t be controlled any more than the weather.

But you can number your days; to keep watch and value the life you have been given; to not waste our minutes and hours on matters that don’t matter.

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.”
Psalm 39:4 NIV

 …What is your life?
You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
James 4:14 NIV

In twenty years I will have attained the age of the man in the story.

Twenty short years and beyond;

I need to picture the impact I want to make with my days and live it in front of the lens and those I am sharing my life with.

Might the story of my life and the story of your life boast a best seller.

Might the story of the old man in the Photo store cause us to be more vigilant and read between the lines of those we rub shoulders with; even strangers we share a couch with for a few brief minutes while waiting, because:

… an old man reminded me no life should ever go unnoticed.
That each life is a picture of a thousand words, a story worthy to be read.

MY CHRISTMAS GIFT OF OLD By Lori A Alicea

Christmas as a grandmother of ten changed everything for me.

Remembering how my grandparents put so much thought and festivity into Christmas Eve for us six kids and our cousins, an evening we looked forward to every year, stirs me to be a memory maker as my grandfather and grandmother were, to intentionally leave behind indelible Christmas card moments in the minds of our grandchildren.

Maybe our grandchildren watching a Hallmark movie might remind them of the lovely decoration creations that Gaga breathed holiday life into her house with.
USE as main pictureMaybe the old fashioned Christmas tree and specially wrapped gifts all stacked by the warm fireplace, waiting for anxious good little boys and girls to open might re-create a Norman Rockwell painting in their memories.
USE xmas tree presentsMaybe the Christmas table’s wintery themed centerpieces and place settings for everyone might remind them to always give thanks for those family members and friends sitting beside them for dinner.
2018 alicea xmas 2For me as a grandparent, it’s my inner child’s delight to unwrap the gift of our grandchildren’s excitement through every planned and unplanned moment of our Christmas gathering. I pray the next generation of grandparent’s experience the same holiday joy with their grandchildren as that last two generations have.  I pray I am honoring my grandparent’s legacy as I pass onto my grandchildren those Christmas memories they so generously gave to me.

Christmas Eve at my grandparents wasn’t the themed Christmas’ of today, yet holidays with them was every bit as memorable.

My grandparent’s tree was simple with its homemade ornaments and star, yet lacking in luster minus the sparkle of twinkling lights we use today, as the heavier miniature bulbs were popular in their day. I lavish though the ornaments that were passed to me from my grandmother’s tree, thinking of her just the other day when I decorated my own tree with a few of her treasures.

My grandparent’s cardboard fireplace set up in the basement corner looked authentic to a young girl as the plastic Santa sleigh and his reindeer did. I never told grandma, but I looked forward to seeing that fireplace every year, as we didn’t have one at home.

Grandma’s tables were accentuated and lit with holiday candles, which permeated the air with a Christmas fragrance of evergreen.
USE AS MAIN PICTURE 1Stacked by the fake fireplace were all of grandma’s gifts, each wrapped and topped with a pretty bow. Every grandchild snooped and found the package that bore their name in the stack.  With “ants in their pants” they counted the seconds until present time.
USE bowChristmas at my grandparent’s house was not the extravaganza of Christmas’ today. But Christmas at my grandparents nevertheless etched in my heart these framed moments I can see with clarity and enjoy today.

I remember all those rounds of pool with my cousins using the “kiddy pool table” that grandpa let us destroy over the years, while keeping the adult one hidden and covered.

Grandpa wowed and impressed us every year with the unveiling of his newest inventions awaiting a patent. Grandpa was super ingenious and had an infectious laugh.

Grandma kept our appetites satisfied before dinner with appetizers of meatballs and assortments of cheeses and crackers.

Once the dinner bell rang, I can still see Grandma Bertie going up and down the stairs to set the table with her famous roast and side items that completed our dinner. I sure missed her meals when Christmas Eve dinner became too much for grandma to prepare.

But my sweetest memory of Christmas at my grandmothers, was finding the table of her homemade Christmas cookies and peanut butter balls. I stuffed my mouth all night long full of her confections. The plate of cookies was as round as the table.  Grandma had to have baked for days to fill that plate.

When my grandparents passed away, we adult kids were allowed to go through their house and take whatever items remained of their life. I was blessed to inherit my grandmother’s cookbook full of holiday cookie recipes.  That sad day I secretly asked my aunt if anyone had taken grandma’s beaded two-layered table cloth sewn by my great aunt and crystal plate, both which decorated my grandmother’s cookie table every Christmas Eve.

Aunt Bonnie took me to a closet where this “Christmas Gift of Old” hung in quiet silence, hidden probably for years from that final Christmas Eve my grandmother hosted. My aunt was more than proud to say I could have this coveted memory.

Oh the years as I child I admired the intricate time consuming detail of this table cloth while eating my grandmother’s cookies. Now, as an adult, I still admire the time my great aunt gave to making this tablecloth, the inheritance that now covers a table during my holidays. I even serve my Christmas cookies on the same plate my grandmother did, taking me back to the days when Christmas was simpler, yet whose wonderful memories have stood the test of time.

I miss my grandparents and times spent with them as a child at their house on Christmas Eve.

It’s funny how so much energy and money is spent on Christmas gifts that most, including myself, can’t remember what we give or get from year to year.

But I’ve never forgotten my grandmother’s ornaments or cookie table cloth
USE TABLECLOTH FINAL
and plate inherited all those years ago,
USE cookie platter
invaluable gifts from a woman who has no idea how much I appreciate, the holiday gifts given in her honor,

My Christmas Gift of Old.

 

THE FACES OF CHRISTMAS By Lori A Alicea

We all have those faces we remember at Christmas; the memories of those we’ve shared the holiday with, some still with us today, others forever with us in our hearts.

Families, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, all faces taking their place in the Christmas photo album, faces we can see with our eyes closed when this album turns its pages one after the other traveling the years of Christmas past, pausing for those special streets down memory lane when we reminisce and savor those traditions, moments, surprises, changes, and even some let downs.

What is it about the faces of children at Christmas that delights me so?

Maybe Christmas for me as a child was magical.  While being one of six kids, there wasn’t much money for presents to crowd the tree like Christmas trees of today.  But I remember mother always making sure our favorite dolls were wrapped for us to find and open come Christmas morning, bringing smiles to five girls who haven’t forgotten those dolls; an indelible Christmas memory.
xmas tree houle sisters

Christmas as a child was simple though I was so unaware.  The faces of our Christmas card included six kids, cousins, parents, grandparents and church family.  Celebrations weren’t centered around gifts, but on faces called family, for which I considered myself a very rich kid.
xmas tree houle sisters 1

The faces of a simple Christmas I enjoyed as a child now reflected itself in the faces of my small children being raised by me a single parent.  We didn’t have much in those early Christmas’, but my children’s holiday photographs tell a different story; we had what money couldn’t buy, each other.

There’s no mistaking the gift of a child’s face at Christmas.

By the tree.

Sitting with Santa.

In their church Christmas program,

Imagining the day the church stage
being shared with children of their own.xmas program cova
Opening gifts.

Or enjoying Christmas dinner at their grandparents.

I find it funny how you forget what gifts you received each year for Christmas, but you remember like yesterday those faces you enjoyed a holiday dinner with, some faces you’d give anything to find seated again at the table.

Being abundantly blessed as we all are, Christmas adds a few new faces to our family photo album throughout the years.

A new brother; A new sister; a new husband for me.

New faces in the Christmas program.

And new faces in the Christmas card.

Interestingly how the faces in the Christmas card changes as times goes by.  Sure loved receiving holiday greetings from my college son and his roommate one year realizing my hilarious kid kept his goal of not cutting his hair for a year.  Made me laugh.  The sentiment of this postcard blessed me as it reminded me a busy student took time to think of his mother.
xmas card jakes college

Somehow though the faces of Christmas always takes me back to when I was a child.

I loved our simple tree with its sparse decorations, yet enamored how the tinsel sparkled against the lights like stars on a dark night.

I was crazy over our matching pajamas,
xmas tree house sisters 4

all those Christmas cards that came in the mail, the homemade cookies stored in Tupperware containers and duct taped in the freezer until Christmas dinner, mom’s amazing ham and all its trimmings, my sisters and brother, my grandparents, and how could I forget,
my favorite childhood doll Little Patti Playful.

xmas tree houle sisters

While it is written in the old song we sing,
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year,
it is the hope that we celebrate the faces in our lives each and every day of the year like its Christmas.

Christmas is just a day, a wonderful day for sure.

But the faces in those old photographs of Christmas past and new ones in our Christmas’ yet to be, should bring a smile to our faces everyday as it is because of these faces, albeit imperfect, reminds us we are a “photo album full” of very rich kids.

CHRISTMAS THROUGH MY EYES By Lori A Alicea

Christmas through my eyes is a holiday stroll thru an old vintage Christmas card that tells its story through the sweet faces of children when the scenery of a simpler home encouraged peacefulness and allowed you to catch your breath during its festivity celebrations because the pace of the clock in its time slowed you down.

The Victorian Christmas tree lit with candles and ornaments sparsely decorating the freshly cut spruce, yet a seasonal announcement of joy and loveliness as the children in awe of it.
girl by tree

Brothers and sisters skate on the afternoon ice, with little girls keeping their delicate hands toasty warm inside a soft muff of velvet fur.
skaters

The winter’s gentle wind kiss a child’s face during their joyful sled ride down a hill dusted from an early morning snow.
girl on sled

Bonnets and bows and swirls of curls adorn all those angelic cherubs of Christmas.

 

With children fast asleep in their dreams, imagining the gifts that Christmas morning will bring them.
kid in bed

While a vintage Christmas card is only a dream portraying Christmas back in time, I love the innocence and calm of a simpler life where the hustle and bustle of our holiday hadn’t found its way to theirs.  That small tokens of a parent’s affection ignited a child’s delight on Christmas morning the way I believe it was supposed to.  Maybe I’m the child dreaming, but a simpler Christmas feels like the gift we’re all meant to open.

Continuing that Christmas stroll through a timeless vintage card, I find my gifts beneath the tree in my grandchildren wearing their old fashioned pajamas.

Three of them still in diapers and all four dressed back in the day when horses pulled carriages and fireplaces heated your home, my vintage Christmas card through a grandmother’s eyes come to life.
xmas jammies (2)

Another grandchild living far away completes this vintage card of cousins enjoying an old fashioned Christmas.
cova and xmas jammies

Maybe I’m showing my age or that the music of my heart stills plays from an antique Victrola.  But Christmas through my eyes will always be that walk through a old vintage Christmas town where the slowed life of the season is framed around time with family and children.

 

As the years passed by and new grandchildren found their place in the Christmas card, the old fashioned pajamas the others outgrew were passed on to them as heirlooms.  New Christmas wear was ordered though for those whose vintage nightclothes didn’t fit anymore yet still wanted to match their siblings.

 

Victorian children or not, each child strays from their “picture perfectness” during Christmas.

As words to a holiday song we sing,
“You better watch out”.
hollis pj xmas jammies

“You better not pout”.
2016 england xmas jammies PRINT 2

 Santa sees all the good little boys and girls.

YOU’D BETTER WATCH OUT.
cova hollis face baby xmas jammies

As grandparents of that first vintage holiday card, we hold dearly the memory when our Christmas children were small.

The hands of our Christmas clock continues to move forward in the seconds, minutes and hours.  Yet how we wish Father Time could hold back the hours a bit longer when Papa’s Christmas babies still fit in his lap.
2012 jammies

We delight though when we see the tree crowded again from the new gifts in our grandchildren of Christmas present.  Just when you believe your heart is full to capacity, God opens a new chamber for more love to beat from.

 

While an old vintage card might stir up Christmas in the little girl through my eyes, it’s the sacred love and magical wonder of Christmas that truly lights up a child’s eyes come Christmas morning.
2017 aubrey xmas jammies 8 THIS ONE

Though the vintage pajamas our ten grandchildren once wore and pictured in our holiday cards are now packed away in the drawers of Christmas past.  I continue to keep the old fashioned spirit of Christmas alive during the holiday season, aspiring to the calm and innocence of a simpler Christmas as family portrayed on a Victorian Christmas card.

 

 

COUNTDOWN TO A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE By Lori A Alicea

As a loving grandmother makes a memory moment with her grandchild snuggled beside her with a story, for Christmas we thought we’d invite you into our home to make a memory while reading this next blog to all of you.  You have been so faithful to us this year with your following and comments and we wanted to take this holiday time to express our appreciation with this video.

Grab a cup of coffee or hot chocolate steeped in marshmallows and find a comfy place to sit while I do all the reading this time.

(The words to this blog
COUNTDOWN TO A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE
follows the video for those who still delight in reading.

When you reach
COUNTDOWN TO A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE ENDS,
the blog CONTINUES with a song sung by my husband David.)

It’s the day after Thanksgiving in the year of 2000, and the holiday spirit couldn’t be any more exciting.  The stores are bursting with shoppers and the smell of Christmas is in the air.  Bell ringers are everywhere and Santa is taking orders from all the good little boys and girls.  Holiday music is playing on the radio, and everyone seems to agree that Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
IMG_5463

Looking through the fantasy eyes of a child at Christmas is so amazing.  They still believe the unbelievable.  They hold out hope for the impossible.  They just know that somehow when Christmas morning arrives, all their dreams will come true.  Of course when they wake up to their presents under the tree, they scream because they know that Santa didn’t forget them.

How priceless to have a childlike faith at Christmas.  Why does growing up cause us to lose the faith of a child?  If only we as big kids could still believe the unbelievable.  If only our hearts could hold out hope for the impossible.  God has never forgotten us.  He showed up on that first Christmas morning with His Son lying in a manger.  And with every magnificent sun rising in the morning, God displays his unending faithfulness to show up.  But why do we still doubt the Faithful one?
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This particular Christmas I was having the most marvelous holiday season.  For the first time in fifteen years, I wasn’t working and now enjoying my new professional title, “stay at home” mom.  If dreams really do come true, I was living the dream of a lifetime.  My wonderful life felt richly full, like a well springing up, spilling over and over.  I couldn’t contain my happiness.

Though Christmas for me was tremendously ecstatic, I couldn’t ignore the sad faces of the others in the family.  Minus my income this year, Christmas would arrive without us being able to afford presents for the children.  What mother wouldn’t feel sad about that?  For just a moment I wallowed in guilt, wondering if I made a mistake about my job.  But I decided that choosing my family was the best choice and that God would have to take over during this holiday season.

As a child I remember watching the Charlie Brown Christmas show.  While all his friends thought that Christmas had to be great lights and fancy ornaments, Charlie knew the true meaning of this holiday.  That a baby boy was born in a humble stable; that three wise men traveled far following a bright star leading to this child lying in a manger.  How this little boy was born with nothing, but would soon grow up to give everything.  This is what Christmas meant to Charlie.  This is what Christmas should mean to us all.
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I decided that baby Jesus in the manger would be all that mattered this Christmas.  I would count my blessings and name them one by one.  I would begin to celebrate the joy of my family.  And I would allow God to give us back our childlike faith by believing in the impossible.  Whatever happened this year, Christmas was going to be the best ever.

Though nobody was in the mood, I prodded that Christmas should continue and do all that we could to make this season special.  So, with holiday music playing, and hot chocolate simmering, it was time to trim the Christmas tree.  Though we didn’t have money for a fresh tree, we did have a small artificial one to place in the bay window.  I brought out all the ornaments that the children made during their early years of school.  I loved looking at these works of art when my children’s hands were small.  We hung lights around the window and lights around the tree.  We decorated this miniature spruce with love as if it was real and when we plugged in this magical display, it looked as magnificent as a store front in Chicago on Michigan Avenue.
IMG_5469

The advent calendar says it is now four weeks until Christmas.

It seems strange not to be participating in all the holiday stress of planning and shopping.  I really didn’t know what to do with myself during this time.  But I do know the birth of Jesus was constantly on my mind.  As Christian radio stations played Christmas music around the clock, a celebration of true Christmas resonated in my heart.

One morning, my husband David and I were having coffee, talking about Christmas.  He said he was so sad that he didn’t have any gift to give me this year.  But a smile beamed from my face as I shared that he gave me the best gift ever, he gave me back my home.  I meant this if I ever meant anything.  Of course then we talked about gifts for the children.  What would we do for them?  I remember the Lord entering our conversation at that moment and said,
“Ask of me”. 
At that moment David and I looked above our dinner table as a plaque hung there for our reminder,
“With God, all things are possible”. 
We stared at each other, got excited and began to have the most childlike conversation.  If we could give anything to the children, what would it be?  Dreaming big, I declared I wanted to give the gift of memories this year.  For my girls, I would give the gift of hope in the form of a hope chest.  For my son, I would give the gift of promise with a diamond ring.  And if God had any money left, I wanted to sew a quilt for each of my kids.

I always wanted my daughters to have a cedar-lined hope chest with the upholstery seat to pack away special things for their future.  I thought it would bond my girls and me, as we shopped for dishes and silverware, planning for their marriage someday.  This chest would represent hope for a husband, dreams for a woman and a heritage passed from a mother to her daughter.

Our son was turning seventeen two months after Christmas.  I wanted him to wear a gift of promise for this pivotal birthday.  For the past year, our son had been on dating review, proving to us that he would honor and respect the girl he wanted to date.  I tried to explain that this girl was somebody’s daughter and more importantly, God’s daughter.  If he didn’t honor her during dating, a mother and two fathers would be hurt.  But come his seventeenth birthday, if actions established trust, our son was free to date with our blessing.  So, for this Christmas, I wanted to present our son with a diamond ring, representing his promise to God to honor him during his dating years until marriage.

After that morning of “ask and receive” revelation, David and I waited with bated breath to see what God would do.  Sitting with our hands folded as Christmas inched closer, tested a husband and wife’s faith tremendously, but God has never failed in the past.  Why start believing otherwise now.

The advent calendar says it is just three weeks until December 24th.

Going to the mailbox has always been exciting to me.  You just never know what surprise might be waiting.  That Christmas, so many holiday cards of thoughtfulness arrived.  If presents didn’t decorate the bottom of the tree, we at least had glittered cards to ring in the Christmas cheer into our home.
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I remember one particular afternoon, unusual excitement built as I made that walk up the hill to the mailbox.  What did the mailman bring to us today?  As I pulled down the door from the bright red mailbox, I reached my hand to grab what was inside.  As I began to walk back down the hill, I sifted through the mail.  Bills and junk make its way to the pile as usual, but oh, something different, a card from the Ladies Ministry at my church.  Those ladies are so sweet to think of me.  I couldn’t wait to open the letter, so I just ripped it apart like a little kid.  Inside I found inspiring words of peace and good will.  But as I finished reading the card, my eyes soon watered while my shaky hands held the faithfulness of God, a check for $150.00.

What three powerful words to live by, “God never forgets”.  When the road gets rough with no place to go, when the night is so dark you wonder if you’ll ever find your way, when life becomes a puzzle that you just can’t put back together, remember, God never forgets.  That Christmas afternoon, God’s promises became alive in my heart.  God showed he cared enough to be there for me even in the small things.
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I held that seed offering in my hand and marveled at God’s provision.  While $150 in the natural surely wouldn’t cover the cost of two hope chests and a diamond ring.  But I thought if Jesus could feed the multitude of five thousand with one small lunch and still have twelve baskets left over, what do I need to worry about?  Who had time to worry anyway, the Christmas clock was ticking and power shopping was calling my name.

With two weeks left until Christmas,
I had to move quickly.  First on the list was finding two Lane hope chests lined with cedar wood, topped with an upholstery seat.  I looked everywhere.  I scanned the newspapers, checked out antique and resale shops, looked at naked furniture and even searched through the bargain basement stores.  But finding a hope chest within my price range became a futile effort.

With the hope chest search halted for the moment, I decided to shop for my son’s diamond ring.  Like before, I searched the newspapers, visited resale shops and all the local jewelry stores.  But as with the hope chests, I couldn’t find a diamond ring affordable.

At this moment, I had to admit that despair began to overwhelm me.  I remember praying to the Lord while coming home from my last effort of shopping, “What am I to do?”  I know the Lord didn’t put all of this on my heart for nothing,
but it is now one week until Christmas
and I still didn’t have two hope chests and a diamond ring.

While stopped at the light, waiting to make a final turn to my house, I’m thinking about the diamond ring I wanted to find for my son.  While starring at the oncoming traffic, I couldn’t believe my ears when God began to speak to my heart as if he was sitting next to me in the flesh.  God answers the question in my mind, “Where is this ring?”  He said to me in His kind and gentle voice, “Don’t you remember?  You always wanted to give the wedding band from the hand of your son’s father (my first husband), to him whenever he started dating”.  With these words, tears overtook my eyes, because the voice of God just spoke.  He shows up just like He always said he would.  God never forgets.

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Since I had packed away this wedding ring many years ago, I had forgotten what it looked like.  Finding the box was even more of a challenge, as I had moved three times since, but once the treasure hunt was over, I was excited to see this hidden surprise.  When I slowly opened the box, sparkling on its velvet lining was a beautiful ring encircled in small diamonds.  Who could have ever imagined such a priceless gift?  Only God could have ever imagined.  Immediately I took this ring to the jewelers to have it sized and cleaned and then wrapped for Christmas Eve.  One gift down and two remained.

The advent calendar says it is now four days until December 24.

By this time the tension is mounting, but my kitchen plaque still reminded me that
“With God, all things are possible”. 
Miracles are always a moment away,
even four days before Christmas.
I was sitting back at the table where my husband and I made our original Christmas requests.  In my heart I knew God was sending me a miracle, and that miracle came when the telephone unexpectedly rang.  On the other end was a woman from my care group.  She said she overheard me talking about my gifts of memories.  She said that in her house was an old hope chest that wasn’t being used anymore.  With a little bit of sanding and staining, it could look good as new she said.  So, with this she wondered if I would be interested.  Just as with the diamond ring, God overwhelmed me once again.  If God pours His blessings from the sky, flood season was in high gear.  In response to this generous woman, I said I would be honored to receive this gift.

As my husband and I were driving over to pick up the hope chest, my husband reminded me that we needed two hope chests instead of one.  By this time my faith had swelled, ready to burst that doubt just could not enter in my mind.  So I slowly looked over at my husband and simply said, “God doesn’t forget”.
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I was so excited to arrive at this generous woman’s house to see the gift that God wanted one of my daughters to have.  When we got there she first offered me some tea to share with her.  As I am sitting at her table, I noticed many baskets hanging from her kitchen ceiling.  At that moment I was reminded of the twelve baskets left over from the multitudes meal, all starting from a little boy’s lunch.  Then I thought of the seed offering given to me in the afternoon mail; how it was yielding more than one mind could conceive.

After drinking tea with this friend of mine, she took me to the room where the hope chest sat.  Just as she said, it needed the touch of a loving hand.  But if love rested in the eye of the beholder, surely, I could see the love God wanted to give through this chest.  After seeing my gift, I gave my friend a hug, coming from a truly grateful heart.  Words couldn’t express my joy.

Just when I think it’s time to pack up the chest and leave, my friend stops me and takes me to one more room in her house.  Just as God says he is our God of the unexpected, I wasn’t expecting to see waited for us in the other room.  Way in the corner of this room, underneath the many boxes that lie above it, sits another gift of my request, hope chest number two.  By this time I felt I needed to go to heaven and give God a hug in person.  How could one person take in all of this generous love from the Father?  But that is how loved our Father wants us to feel all the time.
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With four days until Christmas,
two hope chests needing to be sanded and three nosey kids at home, how could my husband refinish this furniture without anyone suspecting?  Of course God steps in once again as my sister calls to ask if the kids could spend the next three days with her as she has been missing them.  What a mighty God we serve.  He even organizes the babysitting.

With the kids taken care of at my sisters, my husband and I rush to the store to buy sandpaper, stain, upholstery fabric and lots of coffee.  Surely the next few days will be all-nighters.  After we pay for the needed items for the hope chests, I realize one final miracle has occurred.  God had money left over to purchase material for the quilts I wanted to sew for the children.

With Christmas approaching in just hours,
our house sounds like Santa’s elves working at the North Pole.  The sander is blasting in the garage, the sewing machine is zooming in the kitchen and the cat is wondering what in the world is going on.  If David and I ever bonded in our marriage, it was during this holiday season when Christmas was on God.  How could love ever be more evident?
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Christmas Eve has finally arrived and what joy is to be.  I look at these Lane hope chests and can touch the love the of the father’s hands that refinished them.  I hold the quilts that will wrap around my children’s arms on a cold morning and can touch the love of the mother’s hands that made them.  I hold the diamond ring that my son will wear and can feel the love of the father’s hands that once wore it.  Christmas Eve has finally arrived and I can feel the love of my Father who went out of His way to show His unending love for me.

COUNTDOWN TO A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE ENDS

This Christmas season many of us are believing for greater miracles beyond our gifts found under the tree.  Many of you are believing for the miracle of life; your life or the life of a loved one.  Hearts grieve during the holiday season struggling to keep the birth of Christ the centerpiece of their celebration.  Needing the hand of God to intervene in a hopeless situation qualifies you for miracle.  Even when the clock hands have reached the twenty-fourth hour and time appears to have run out, remember that
God is always on time.

Song sung by my husband David
God is Always on Time

This Christmas may we remember that a baby boy was born in a humble stable; that three wise men traveled far following a bright star leading to this child lying in a manger.  How this little boy was born with nothing, but would soon grow up to give everything.

This is our Christmas Miracle.

…..the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Matthew 2:9-11 TPT

ONE FINAL HOLIDAY WALK THRU By Lori A Alicea

Another holiday season is greeting front doors everywhere and gathering around Thanksgiving tables as done in Thanksgiving pasts will be families, friends and loved ones giving their heart-filled thanks for those seated beside them.

Families will share a meal over turkey, stuffing, candied yams, pumpkin pies and all the trimmings, and the bustle of life stops for a brief few hours when personal inventories are taken when you look around the crowded holiday room and remind yourself how blessed you truly are.

While a Hallmark Christmas card doesn’t quite paint the picture perfect family behind most front doors, mine included.  The sentiment of the season though rises in the hearts of most who treasure family and its gatherings.

Holidays are also viewed though thru windows that peek into our family sadness when traditions change or grief and loss that overcomes with that empty seat at the dinner table for the first time this year.

For adults who remain “kids at heart” holding onto those family members who gave them their Norman Rockwell memories, it’s hard to turn the page to a new chapter of holiday traditions, when they cling to the old ones like a favorite teddy bear.

Holiday change is inevitable as our grandparents and parents age before us, passing the holiday torch to the next generation in their inability to keep the traditions going.

While this year isn’t a holiday first for our family, after finally disbursing the treasures of mother’s home though after being in storage for a year, the reality has finally sunk in that we as a family won’t be going “home” for Thanksgiving and Christmas anymore.

The face and heart behind our family Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions has had an address change needing twenty-four hour medical care, ending her reign as the author of our holiday picture albums.
face of our holidays

As ‘tis the season of being thankful, this “kid at heart” takes ONE FINAL HOLIDAY WALK THRU of  “home” during her Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations past.

At mother’s house you are always welcome.
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Whether friend, family or stranger; announced or unannounced, mother lit up when the door bell rang.

Her humble home, a single wide trailer shared with her husband Roger until he passed away a few years before she closed the doors for good, was “home” nevertheless.
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Every room spelled m-o-m as her touch was in the details of her things.
I love mom

Family meant everything to mother, whose love had no bounds.

She adopted her daughter’s best friend as her own who in turn called her mom.
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This friend with small children through their years into adulthood, referred to our mother as grandma.

We adopted into our hearts this friend’s parents who we loved deeply and embraced as nanny and papa.
Because of love, our family tree bloomed and thrived enlarging hearts and family ties.
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Mother raised her children to love and serve God, the foundation that gave our family hope during those storms of hard times.
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But it was during the holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas when going “home” re-opened the storybook of our childhood memories each year.

I still see dad watching the Macy’s Parade on TV in his recliner while mom prepared the turkey and all the fixins in the kitchen.

Like yesterday, I imagine the dinner table decorated and set in dad’s garage, seating all of us and our grandparents on both sides.
thanksgiving pic when I was a kid USE

Growing up our Christmas tree wasn’t filled with expensive toys wrapped beneath it.  With six children there wasn’t money enough for that; but there was so much more.
my christmas with matching jammies

The traditions of a kitchen full of elves making various batches of homemade cookies with sprinkles landing everywhere.

There were those fifty-plus glittered Christmas cards we received in the mail and hung on a red chain down the railing of the stairs.

Sure can’t forget our church Christmas plays and getting that brown sack of miscellaneous nuts, fruits and holiday candy as you left the sanctuary.

Mother’s homemade coffee cake served warm on Christmas morning became a holiday favorite memory, a tradition I passed to my family.

The gift of Christmas around the tree with my four sisters, brother and parents was the best gift wrapped that day.
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Thanksgiving and Christmas past replay in the back of my mind as this grown up kid enjoys the seasons of holidays when her children were small.
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Holidays that replay in my mind with my adult children who now have children of their own.

Hearing the electric knife carving our holiday ham and turkey is the dinner bell reminder that a feast is about to be served.

For a family our size in a small single wide trailer, tables are set up in the kitchen, living room and bedrooms. There’s the senior table, the kid’s table and the table for everyone else.  A bit crowded but you’re “home” and that’s all that matters.

So many faces to see during the holidays, some arriving when the military allows, or sadly arriving on Skype instead.
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On Christmas Day there are all those presents to unwrap.

Then there are those hilarious relatives who never pay attention during gifts.

Can’t forget about that game of cards for anyone who dares to sit opposite a card-shark grandmother after dinner.
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Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas though without that angel found sitting in her Lazyboy;
the centerpiece of our holidays.

Mother taught us how to make the holidays magical, and now our children are making the seasons bright in their own homes, all because our family matriarch had a special heart for Christmas.

Two years ago at this time, mother’s address changed as so did our holidays and traditions.

Holidays are now shared between the sisters with this year being at my house, and while we decorate, bake, serve the best feasts and still shuffle those cards after dinner, nothing comes close or compares to going “home” for the holidays.

Before handing over the keys of “home”, my heart needed ONE FINAL HOLIDAY WALK THRU of mother’s house.

Walking through the halls you were deafened by its silence.  The walls were eerie quiet with nothing to say, when before the decibel level was joyfully loud.

Aching over the empty rooms I couldn’t imagine life without our family there to enjoy them.

How I wanted to set out mother’s Christmas decorations just one more time.

We as a family grieve over the empty chairs of loved ones we once shared the holidays with, whose health or life with Christ keeps them away.  We miss them so  terribly.

Sadly, mother’s “home” is all packed up now and the front door has closed for the very last time.
boxes of moms stuff

Something shifts when the tradition torch is passed to the next generation.

The magic and the memories remain in your heart, but a shift takes place and has to make room for the new traditions beyond the Christmas present.

My heart overflows with thankfulness nevertheless this Thanksgiving season with the joy of the Lord, as He is the source of all my true hope and love.

I am thankful for my memories.

I look forward to new traditions and memories also.

I am a blessed woman.

This Thanksgiving I will once again take inventory of all my blessings and rejoice for the riches of heaven in my home.

I pray that my mother’s holiday legacy lives on in my brother and sister’s lives as well as mine passed to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren and beyond.

May we all be thankful for what God has done and is still doing in our life.

May we remember and hold close to our heart the true

REASON FOR THE SEASON

Which is Christ Jesus our Lord.