COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS…Name them one by one! By Lori A Alicea

I can close my eyes and still remember as if it was yesterday.

A lighthouse known for its glorious steeple lifting its countenance upwards towards the heavens in praise, whose doors swing open into a haven of peace and refuge, an old fashioned church of my childhood.

DREAMS church home
Christmas through the eyes of this little girl is back at rehearsal for the Children’s play, whose classes all crowd together on the front row pews and wait their turn for the stage.

Nervous of performing before a church full of smiling parents, blinded by the camera flashes of these proud paparazzi, hoping the words of the songs she rehearsed won’t escape a child’s remembrance.

Dancing and sparkling through the stain glass windows is a private light show of its own, whose brilliance takes this child by her innocent hand to an evening where a star of wonder guides three wise men to a little town of Bethlehem to greet their Savior, our baby Jesus who lay in a manger.

So much to be thankful for during this holiday season.
Scripture reminds and instructs us how to be a little child of thanksgiving:

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,
and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
Psalms 100:4 (KJV)

Counting our blessings…
naming them one by one.

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS sheet music
There are certain snapshots of my childhood recalled from the albums of my memory which take me back to the potter’s wheel, a place of molding, making and fashioning a little girl who would one day surrender her heart to Jesus.

An old fashioned church with an old fashioned pastor, a congregation of sheep who God sent to lead, to preach and sing often his signature song I still hear today in my memory, when Jesus left the ninety-and-nine for the one who strayed away.

PASTOR reverend nickel

This little girl grew up and continues to count her blessings for the pastors whom God sent her way after moving forward from those steps of an old fashioned church.

Pastors who fathered and loved a little girl back to life, whose marriage demonstrated true love “in sickness and in health.”

Pastors who led the way and took us with him to the mission field to pour into the orphans and widows; to also fight from the front porch steps of our country, whose precious jewel in his wife he shares with us as the first lady of our hearts.

Pastors whose love extends to sheep not from the flock of his own, who shepherds our children, our mother and family, who also performed the dedication of three of our grandchildren and remains a Pastor’s Pastor to us.

I count my blessings in the decades of quality time with friends who gather over breakfast once a month, who flood my cell phone with text messages of encouragement, who meet me at the gym while dawn still sleeps, and friends who take my call every Monday evening for an hour of “our time” together.

I name my blessings one by one through friends who met, worked, got into trouble together and are infamous as partners in crime. Friends who walked with each other up the mountain tops of love, glitter and marriage and held on tight through the valleys of divorce and death. True friends ringing my doorbell no matter the time of day.

I count my blessings in church friends who are more like sisters and gifts under my Christmas tree. They celebrate and grieve with you, my warriors in prayer who petition before God on my behalf. Love for them overflows from the cup of my heart.

How do I write that thank you card for this friend of over three decades. A former boss who remained my friend throughout life. A writing companion whose completed books have inspired my efforts to persevere for my first on the book shelf.

A true friend who lives states and hours away, yet attends your daughter’s wedding because I asked.

FRIENDS Mary Ellen

This little girl could stay in prayer for hours counting blessings, thanking God for a basket full of friendships in her sisters, daughters and Best Friend in Jesus.

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS praying

Growing older and sadly watching the leaves of our life change and fall to the ground from traditions that used to be when mother was still with us.  Yet, I count my blessings for those new traditions which clothe my barren tree with new life and memories, celebrating with three generations of family.

A grandmother’s knees are worn from the hours of praise for those ten Christmas grandchildren who call her Gaga.

Never forgetting those children now grown, those born of my womb or born of my heart.

Remembering where it all began in God’s plan, gathered around the Christmas tree among my five sisters, brother and parents.

Sometimes being thankful isn’t wrapped around a lap full of gifts you can open.

This holiday season I am a child of great thanksgiving…

Counting my blessings…naming them one by one…

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS sheet music
As I…

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,
and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
Psalms 100:4 (KJV)

As Christmas came early at the Alicea house, when I unwrapped the gift of another day with David, my soulmate of 27 years, when God intervened in a life threatening situation.ANOTHER DAY use

I don’t have enough hands to count my blessings this Christmas.

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS praying

I would be re-miss not mentioning the summits this family stood together on many times over this year, facing the bitter cold, barrenness and eerie silence of life without the loved ones left behind on those frozen mountains of memories we’ll visit from time to time.

But yet, we still continue to count our blessings and name them one by one, celebrating the overflow of their lives spilled onto ours.

The holidays will never be the same without Joe’s homemade sweet potato pies, Reuben’s Christmas cards filled with a brother’s gush of handwritten sentiment, and me sharing mother’s homemade coffee cake with my brother thru the US Mail.

If nothing else this holiday season though, I am thankful for life, I am thankful for home.

XMAS HOME

While sugarplums still dance in my dreams for a long cabin or an old fashioned renovated church to live in…

I’ll keep saying it for the rest of my days,

Wherever David is, I’ll always be home.XMAS DAVID AUBREY

May this be a season of thankfulness for all of you…

Many thanks for your faithfulness to share in these weekly words of my heart.

I appreciate you more than you know.  A tree of ornaments in my heart has your names written all over them.xmas ornament

 

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS  By Lori A Alicea

The Alicea house is officially decorated for Christmas.

Every corner of every room has been kissed by Christmas, and the warmth and love of our hearts for friends and family is on display, welcoming everyone into our new home for the holidays.

LIVING ROOM - USE 1

I can’t wait to pour that first cup of coffee served with homemade cookies baked from my mother and mother ‘n laws recipes, while seated around the table with those we have cherished throughout the years.

KTEA SET

kcookies
I must confess though, the grand-kids have scarfed every last cookie I keep for them in the freezer, so I’d best get baking again before that unexpected caroler or shopper shows up during our Alicea Holiday Open House.

KITCHEN

Yes, our sweet elves get to enjoy a decorated tree set up just for them to enjoy in their room when they visit. Although I secretly enjoy these ornaments more as the mother they were crafted for from the hands of my children when they were small.

KIDS ROOM

And yes, our grandchildren’s stockings have all been hung with their excitement in mind, knowing their socks will be filled and full by Christmas morning.

kstockings

But make no mistake, the little girl in me is overcome with excitement from the festivities of lights, music, decorations and all the wonderful things she is blessed to do for her family.

KBEDROOM

This little Christmas girl finds joy in the smallest of details.

LAUNDRY ROOM

While peering through the windows of each other’s homes during the holidays can stir the same delight as a child flipping through the pages of a Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalog, the December merriment’s of 2020 though for most have been diluted in the cups of our holiday cheer.

Holiday travel to our loved ones has been curtailed or cancelled.

Traditions we have come to look forward to have been removed from December calendars.

Family gatherings will be smaller around the holiday table.

Loved ones have gone on to be with Jesus this year.

Isolation from family, especially during the holidays, stirs up deep loneliness.

The list goes on and on.

But even in our aloneness, God is always awake to hear our prayers.

He never leaves us alone.

Never will never I leave you; never will I forsake you. Hebrews 13:5 NIV

KCHURCH PEW

Thankfully, we can gather in his presence to pray, to call on His name and be still and know that He is God, in all situations; especially the lonely ones.

WALL GROUPING

I’m always encouraged remembering that first holiday home of our Lord Jesus, a humble beginning in a barn, a bed of straw for our Savior, a birth met in the loneliness of the night, yet a glorious “missed opportunity “ for those who looked for the Christ Child in the grand, a royal place instead.

MANGER USE

Lord, keep me from “missed opportunities” of witnessing your hand in my life and those that I love during this holiday season.

Lord, for those who walk through the doors of our home during days of December, may they feel at home because you are at home here also.

Lord, take me back to humble beginnings, to remind me that even if you are our only gift this Christmas, if you are the only one seated at the dinner table with us, our hearts are full because you are more than enough today and every day, especially during our home for the holiday.

IMG_5112

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.

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.
welcome

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.
IMG_5245

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.
IMG_5269

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.
IMG_5257

Mother raised her children to love and serve God, the foundation that gave our family hope during those storms of hard times.
hope

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.
IMG_5271

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.
IMG_5236

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.
IMG_5276

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.
IMG_5035

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.