Tag Archives: Christmas

Angels Came to the Night Shift

Have you ever worked the night shift?

Years ago, I waitressed from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. at a Denny’s Restaurant in Oregon.

I often served coffee to drunk cowboys wearing menus on their heads.

I didn’t see angels.

As a nursing home aide, I sometimes drew night shifts around holidays. Ghosts wandered dim hallways, one hunting chickens to fry for threshing crews who had labored 60 years before.

I didn’t see angels.

As a young mother, I frequently drew the night shift. My babies wailed, slimed, puked, and worse.

No angels anywhere. I couldn’t even see my shift’s end.

I should have realized that millions throughout the ages have worked lonesome wee hours, too. Take Joseph, a first-century carpenter. When busy, practical Joseph worked night shifts, angels never appeared.

Not until his fiancée told him she was pregnant — and that God was her Child’s Father.

No amount of coffee could clear her head. Or his.

Then an angel interrupted Joseph’s midnight hour: “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

No cutesy cherub, that other-worldly being was so impressive that Joseph bucked family and culture. He married the girl who generated snickers wherever she went.

“What are you thinking, Joseph?” His friends rolled their eyes.

He wasn’t thinking. He was listening to an angel.

When the baby was born, did the shepherds’ arrival mean as much to Joseph as Mary?

For angels had invaded their night shift, too — a huge choir who lit up the sky like Vegas, singing about God’s peace and goodwill through Baby Jesus.

Their story convinced Joseph that Jesus was the Messiah. The stepfather continued to listen to angels.

Even when one instructed him to take his family to Egypt because a king wanted Jesus dead. Even when, after finally adjusting to their new life, an angel told Joseph to return to Israel.

All during night shift.

I rarely work overnight hours now, but Denny’s servers do. Nurses, doctors, and many others: stock clerks, factory workers and truck drivers.

Soldiers, police and firefighters. Plumbers and heating technicians. Students and professors finishing semesters.

Those caring for sick children and elderly parents.

Many who battle demons of loneliness and misery throughout the night shift.

Few expect to see angels.

But the Bethlehem angels’ song still echoes, announcing Jesus, God’s Gift who offers peace to everyone — especially those laboring in darkness. Those stuck with tough hours. Those who have drawn life’s short straws.

 

Our Extraordinary Ordinary: When the angels show up, will we listen?

Thanksgiving at Christmas

Yes, Thanksgiving has passed. Though the holiday virus has infected my mental workings, I’m not out of touch with reality yet. After all, it’s only December 1.

It’s not?

No wonder my gas company turned off the heat. …

Back to the original subject. Every year we celebrate Christmas at Thanksgiving. At Halloween, even. Yet, doesn’t Thanksgiving at Christmas make more sense than Black Friday? Let’s start a new trend! I’ll go first:

  • I appreciate energetic individuals who decorate their homes with flair during Advent. Their stunning light displays delight my grandchildren without this all-thumbs grandma hammering a single thumb.
  • Blessed are the procrastinators who, like me, have not removed pumpkins from their porches. The same people leave their Christmas lights up until July. You have no idea how you spread good cheer to me and others who will show up two months late for our own funerals.
  • I’m also thankful for online Christmas shopping, as my grinchy feet have nixed walking marathons in malls and stores. What a boon for me and for others with cranky, uncooperative body parts; cranky, uncooperative children; or cranky, uncooperative spouses.
  • Yet, I am thankful that my feet, in their more magnanimous moods, have allowed some shopping trips. Miss the opportunity to sing along with background carols? Never! Miss people-watching at the most interesting time of the year? Perish the thought!
  • Nasty store clerks are legendary; yet yesterday, I encountered one who, amid coupon craziness, promised me the best deal possible — and delivered.
  • On the receiving end of gift-giving, I am thankful my husband has developed excellent judgment in selecting presents. The past few decades, I have received nothing like one of his early gifts: a dried-blowfish lamp brought back from Florida.
  • Nor have friends given me a Santa Yoda yard ornament or singing deer head. One friend, whose sister gave her a plunger-waving snowman that asks restroom guests what they’re doing, has never re-gifted me with him. For that I am deeply grateful.
  • Also for commercials on TV that do not revolve around spending buckets of money for Christmas. Both of them.
  • Finally, for my car clock that ignores the time change. While an initial glance at it strikes me with panic — “I’m an hour late!” — I savor the rush of relief when I realize I’m not.

Hubby threatens to change the clock. Sure, it gives a false sense of security. But it allows me to chill.

After all, it’s only December 2.

It’s not?

Oh, well. There’s still plenty of time to celebrate Thanksgiving this December.

With every “Merry Christmas!” I’ll remember and thank the One whose birthday it is.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: How do you celebrate Thanksgiving at Christmas?   

 

 

 

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer

O my God, when a squalling baby interrupted a Christmas brass choir concert, I inwardly grumbled, “Why did those parents bring that kid?” Then, OMG, You reminded me: “The group is playing ‘What Child Is This.’ But you think babies shouldn’t be allowed at Christmas?”

 

Fall In!

I exert considerable energy to avoid store lines at Christmas, purchasing gifts while Rudolph is still reddening his nose on the beach.

Then, in December, I stumble through Walmart’s doors at 10:30 p.m. to escape lines. I won’t recall how I got there or that I parked my car at Lowe’s. But I’ll have plenty of time to search for it.

Many Americans, like me, despise standing in line — strange, as we spend our lives queuing up. During preschool years, we line up to bawl on Santa Claus’s lap. As elementary children, we form lines to go outside and inside. We broaden our horizons as adults, waiting in wedding reception and funeral home lines, queues at hotel desks and ballparks.

Even at church, we fear the potluck will run out of KFC before we reach the front. And will the sins of those at the head of confession lines rank higher than ours?

At best, we grit and bear it. At worst, we yak on phones.

Interestingly, people who declare there is no right or wrong morph into Moses when someone crosses a certain line: Thou Shalt Not Cut In. Businessmen, Harley riders and little old ladies all want to stone the criminal with Old Testament zeal.

Yet neither God nor OSHA has specified that we stand in lines. Why do this? Especially since we should be first. Always.

Part of the answer lies in our culture. Americans stand in line for the same reason we drive on the right, not the left; eat Kellogg’s Raisin Bran®, not blood pudding, for breakfast; and wear clothing in public — most of the time. It’s what we do.

But I like to think there are better reasons.

Bottom line, standing in line means we put others first.

Years ago, my husband and I entered a McDonald’s in Madrid, Spain. No lines formed at counters. Instead, customers rammed each other like football linemen. Hubby and I waited in vain for game’s end. Eventually, our hungry stomachs won. Readying elbows, we dove into the pack.

If only my elementary principal, Mrs. Talley, had arrived to tame us. If the ghost of my childhood Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Mamie Skeet — wearing her usual weird hat — had admonished us with Jesus’ Golden Rule, we might not have sold slivers of our souls for Big Macs.

Now I appreciate more than ever you who keep your elbows to yourself and wait patiently in line. And this December, if we allow others to go first, we will light up Christmas lines like the natal Star.

Mrs. Talley and Mrs. Skeet would be proud of us.

Jesus, too.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What will you do while waiting in line this Christmas?

My Crazy History of Christmas Cookies

No matter how old I grow, my stomach will always cherish one hallowed holiday tradition: cut-out, frosted Christmas cookies with colorful sprinkles.

During my childhood, Christmas cookies had such a short life expectancy that baking them hardly seemed worth it. The December appearance of a mixing bowl at our house ignited a war to determine who would “help.” When Mom or I dared take a restroom break, the kitchen was plundered by cookie-starved barbarians.

The first holiday stay at my future in-laws’ home completely muddled my Christmas cookie worldview. Perfect reindeer, Christmas trees and Santas were baked, with no fear of masked marauders. After decorating them like a culinary Michelangelo, my future mother-in-law openly displayed her creations on kitchen counters.

It was like visiting an unguarded art museum.

A kind woman, she chose not to prosecute me. When I married her son, she gave me her recipe!

Forgetting my brothers now lived hundreds of miles away, I baked a typical triple batch. My new husband and I ate little stables and mangers until Valentine’s Day — and loved it.

When our eldest, aged two, took her debut Christmas-cookie-baking lesson, the initial batch of dough hit the floor. Experimenting with the mixer’s beaters, she distributed another batch on the ceiling.  Finally, I shoved a bowlful into the refrigerator to chill. She parked in front of it.

Toddler: Cookies ready yet?

Mommy: No, honey. They have to get cold.

Toddler: (Yanking on fridge door) Don’t want cold cookies!

Mommy: We’ll bake them, but first, they have to get cold.

Toddler: (Suspiciously) Okay.

Mommy: I’ll set the oven timer—

Toddler: For the ’frigerator??

Mommy: (Looking heavenward) When it dings, the cookies will be cold.

Toddler: Okay. (Sits in front of oven.) Timer ready yet?

Later, she mixed frostings so that her mossy green and dark blood-red Christmas cookies could have graced a vampire’s holiday table.

As my slate of helpers grew, I learned to make dough one day, then bake/decorate the next. Using this system, we survived two decades of making Christmas cookies.

New sons-in-law, however, scorned cookie cutters as insults to their rugged individuality. They custom-designed mutant mittens, alien reindeer and Christmas carburetors. With the appearance of additional little helpers over the years, we once again turned out dozens of Christmas vampire cookies.

Worst of all, Grandma sneaked store-bought dough into the equation.

Now, a few years later, the grandchildren make their own — circumventing Grandma’s appalling shortcuts — and bring them to family gatherings.

With them taking charge, our family’s Christmas cookie history should flourish for generations to come.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What favorite cookie will you bake (and sneak) this Christmas?

Diary of the Christmas Fudge

December 16, 2016

My short—but sweet—life began as an on-sale bag of sugar.

Then the Fudge Monster decided to double her Christmas fudge output. Having bought one bag in November, she bought me in December.

She hasn’t found the November bag yet.

Perhaps it languishes where she stowed four boxes of Christmas cards, her mother-in-law’s present, and a missing gallon of egg nog — plus all that extra money she thought she’d stashed.

December 24, 2016 – Christmas Eve

Sadly, the Fudge Monster delayed making fudge until Christmas Eve … after stores closed.

No double batch.

The Fudge Monster wept.

But did she let a little senility stop her?

Never.

She considered borrowing from a neighbor. But six cups of sugar? On Christmas Eve?

So the Monster used me — the December bag — plus sugar salvaged from various bowls and a Cool Whip container she took camping last summer. Finally, she located a bag with cement-like contents probably bought when a Bush was president.

As she chipped sugar, her husband questioned her wisdom.

Thankfully, the Fudge Monster, wielding wooden spoons like a kitchen samurai, chased him out.

She hacked chocolate and pecans like firewood. She measured and boiled. The Monster stirred and stirred, finally pouring my smooth mixture into a buttered pan. She filled another. And another. Whoa, unlimited chocolate power!

If I solidified.

The Fudge Monster stuck in a spoon. It sank deep into my thin syrup.

Sixty seconds later, she checked again.

Thirty seconds.

I objected. Would she like someone poking to see if her core was solid?

The Monster called to Hubby: Did he think half our county would like chocolate sauce for Christmas?

From the safety of his locked truck, he answered, “Certainly, dear. Everyone needs a gallon or two.”

Later, she dared sample a corner.

Voilà! I am the best fudge she’d ever made!

Later that night, a gooey kitchen returned the Fudge Monster to reality. Even the toaster was glued to the counter.

With hair marshmallowed to her face, the Fudge Monster could have intimidated Bigfoot.

With 10 guests due within hours, she coat-hangered Hubby’s truck door and dragged him inside to help.

Together they whipped the kitchen into shape.

December 25, 2016 – Christmas Day

Their family arrived to celebrate and eat fudge.

Snarfing creamy, chocolaty chunks, the Monster was in such a magnanimous mood that, instead of hiding my extra pans under her bed, she sent fudge home with them.

And they say Christmas miracles don’t happen.

January, 2017

After Christmas, the Monster celebrated New Year’s Eve with fudge. New Year’s Day. Every single football game on TV. Her dryer’s completion of a perma-press cycle.

However, a January Judgment Day, when she finally mounted the bathroom scales exiled my remaining yumminess to the freezer. …

Until her dryer’s perma-press cycle buzzed once more.

 

What kind of Goodie Monster lives at your house every Christmas?

Joseph: Blessed Stepparent

Have you heard the biblical Christmas story a gazillion times? Me, too. Yet I’m always amazed how God arranged His Son’s Nativity.

We often miss one important aspect of His divine plan: God made sure Jesus had a stepfather.

Joseph, a construction worker, probably was putting the final touches on their first home when Mary gave him news nobody could fix.

Pregnant? By the Holy Spirit? Even Joseph’s bridezilla cousin Sapphira never conceived a tale like this. Devastated, Joseph decided to call off the wedding.

Until an angel told him Mary’s story was true.

How would his construction buddies regard this double-angel story? Joseph’s family, already humiliated, might not show for the wedding. Still, Joseph obeyed the angel and assumed responsibility for Mary and her child.

As if all this weren’t enough, the government raised taxes. Joseph had to register in his hometown, Bethlehem, several days’ journey away. Not the honeymoon Joseph had dreamed of. Riding a donkey her last month of pregnancy probably wasn’t Mary’s idea of fun, either. Parking and accommodations were difficult to find. Correction: impossible. Joseph’s relatives, still upset, apparently did not offer even a sleeping bag on the floor.

As Mary struggled through labor, surrounded by smelly animals, Joseph may have wondered if his angel dream had resulted from too much pizza. But he remained at Mary’s side. And when the Baby was born, he called Him Jesus.

Fatherhood was harder than Joseph had anticipated. How could the Creator of night and day get them so mixed up?

When Joseph heard from angels again, it was bad news. King Herod wanted to kill the Baby, so Joseph sneaked his family out of town in the middle of the night. When had Joseph’s life turned into a Bourne Trilogy?

Even when they returned to Nazareth after Herod’s death, some still calculated their wedding date and Jesus’ birthday on their fingers.

While angels were talking to Joseph, he could play super-hero. But the angels stopped talking, and Joseph found himself playing male role model to the Son of God.

Like stepparents today, Joseph fades into the background. We hear nothing about him after Jesus’ junior-high escapade of disappearing — into the temple, it turned out — for three days. Playing second halo was tough then, as now. But the lives of Jesus and thousands of other children with blessed stepparents will never be the same.

Joseph’s first Christmas was complicated, with a capital C. So are the Christmases of all caring stepparents.

But then, love usually is.

Are you a stepparent who often plays second halo? If not, do you know someone who does?