The Ornaments of Christmas Past

In the early morning hours when I cannot sleep, I love coming downstairs, snuggling under my Christmas blanket, and sit in the warm glow of the Christmas tree. The blue lights hung around our front door and palm tree outside shimmer through the frosted windows. We have a new gold star as the crowning glory of our tree, casting just the right amount of light. Wrapped around the base of our tree is a gorgeous hand quilted tree skirt I received as a wedding shower gift.

As with many families, our ornaments have memories attached to them. There are ones we have purchased at each new place we traveled to, ornaments celebrating Matt and my first dating Christmas(1985), first married Christmas, Sara’s first Christmas (23 years ago!), and some ornaments from close friends, such as one that I received (from close friends of my parents- that now celebrate Christmas in heaven) when I was 8 years old(I will not say how many years ago that was) 😊

Each year Matt hangs ornaments that he actually painted as a child. Unfortunately, I have very little ornaments from my childhood. The one ornament I have is of gingerbread angels and gingerbread men. It is peeling and probably made with lead paint, but I treasure it just the same.

(Matt’s painted ornaments)

When I look at it, I’m reminded of the very first gift I chose and paid for all by myself. I was in first grade and our school library had a small craft fair. I remember being so proud that I bought my parents a gift with my very own quarter (yup that’s what it cost). My treasure of a find was a small glass snowman with a black hat and a green scarf. I remember how happy and surprised my parents were when they opened it. They hung it on the tree every year. I loved how it sparkled when placed just so in front of the string of tree lights. Sadly, I no longer know where it is since circumstances prevented me from having the ornaments from my childhood.

This Advent season amidst the waiting, the hope and joy of the Christmas season, there’s also loss and hearts needing to be healed. I will of course be missing my mom and my Godfather (who I can’t believe have been gone 5 and 6 years respectively). It’s only 7 months since my Dad passed away and a few weeks ago, we unexpectedly lost someone very dear to our hearts. She “adopted” my family nearly 12 years ago when she learned we had just moved to NC and I was so far away from family for the very first time. Her family(her husband and daughter-my bestie) then became family to us as well.

To be honest, I’m grieving and the idea of having merriment eludes me at times. I try to hide it, but I’m clinging to my faith- sometimes grasping at it so tightly, hands clenched, white knuckled in prayer (at least they would be if my hands were better). Yet, I also feel guilty because there are some wonderful possibilities opening up for me, so I should be rejoicing in that. But if I’m rejoicing, shouldn’t I be grieving? My emotions love to play this ping pong match with my heart. I have been trying to think about how my loved ones would have reacted to these future possibilities, and that makes me smile. I’m hopeful when I recognize the joy in these grace filled moments.

Although I may not have all the physical ornaments of my childhood, I do have memories of them boosted by some blurry pictures of the Christmas tree from my childhood. But, more importantly I have memories of my parent’s smiles when they opened that messily wrapped snowman package (those of you who know me well, know that my wrapping skills have not improved and I can’t even blame RSD for that). 🙂

Snowman circled in blue near teddy bear

I know that no matter what gift may be under the tree or hanging on it- like my precious quarter bin snowman ornament – a physical present can never replace a person’s presence. So, tomorrow I will delight in sharing my fond, loving memories of past Christmas celebrations with our loved ones. I hope I can be the peace that someone else may need with my presence as we grieve, reminisce, and smile together on Jesus’ birthday.

Wishing you & your loved ones a blessed, joyous holiday season, enjoying each other’s presence, along with a healthy, peace-filled New Year! I look forward to sharing my November experience at the United Nations and other exciting news in 2020! 

I’M HERE

My daughter arrived home Sunday from college for her Christmas break. As her roommate’s car turned onto our street, I received a text of two words, “I’m here.” I had been waiting to see those words all morning. Once she was home, Christmas season for me, would begin. I’m sadly aware that this may be the last time she’ll spend the week before Christmas with us and wanted it to be memorable.

So, her text message flipped the switch on Christmas, I didn’t have to wait any longer. Advent had started nearly 4 weeks ago, and I continued to wait for some way to feel peace, even though I had extra pain (physical and emotional), been missing my mom, my loved ones who used to be around the dining table of Christmas pasts, and struggling for some creative spark. I recently found a picture that made me realize that my attempt to wait and look for it failed because the main source of peace had been here all along-even before Advent.

When I was 8-years-old, I received the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, not only on the same day, but on Christmas day! The reason why I hadn’t been baptized yet and finding my church would take another blog post. 🙂 I knew it would be a special day for so many reasons. My parents were elated as well, but let me tell you, finding a white first communion dress in December? Not easy! But, the very last store we went to (Ann and Hope outlet-which hasn’t been around for a while now), had, ONE dress! A blessing that it also fit me! As for the veil, we ended up at a local bridal store (my daughter would wear this same veil many years later for her First Communion). I remember saying to Father Dean (assistant pastor, that my family greatly admired),” Now, I would have Jesus in my life”. He smiled and said, “While these sacraments are very important, you don’t have to wait for Jesus to be a part of your life. He was with you before you were born, loving you, and waiting on you.” (You can see why we admired him so).

I didn’t think much of the profound meaning of his words over my teen years. But in these last five years I experienced personal losses-some expected and some not-in fact, the very church that I celebrated my baptism/first communion that Christmas day and 14 years later, my wedding (also officiated by beloved Fr. Dean) closed a few months ago. I found myself pondering his words during this Advent. I realized the blessing of people in my life that got me through those heart wrenching times-especially the times that I didn’t have a clue how I would move on,were all moments when Jesus was with me.

I just needed to open my eyes, choose to open the door of my heart, and let him in. I needed to be reminded to trust that joy prevails. Hope and peace filled moments (OK,sometimes nanoseconds), exist even with the uncertainties in my life. In the quiet early hours of morning when I cannot sleep because my body feels like one big throbbing blob of pain, I retreat to our family room. I flip the light switch illuminating the lights on our tree that casts a glow on the Manger my parents gave us for our first married Christmas and on the one that my daughter made out of clay in elementary school, and hear his promise-“I’m here.”

Wishing you all a joyful holiday season and many moments of a peace filled New Year! ❤

Also sharing my post at Welcome Heart.

Light the Lights and Ring the Bells

At this time of year, almost anywhere you may go, you can see holiday lights. Sparkling lights adorn the evergreen tree in the mall parking lot, as well as decorating doorways and front lawns in your neighborhood. Personally, I’m partial to the blue lights on our Palm tree in front of our house.bluelightspalm

Lights also play a major role in the Jewish celebration of Chanukah, the winter festival of lights.  In Japan, the celebration of Christmas is not necessarily for religious reasons, nor is it much of a commercial holiday.  However, their outside Christmas light displays are amazing.

tokyoxmaslights

But lights are not just illuminating the outdoors.  Two weeks ago, I attended a remembrance service sponsored by the local hospice. Each of us that gathered there had lost a loved one. Some people had lost someone as far back as twenty years while some as recent as a few days before.

Inside the church four candles were lit- one represented grief, the second courage, the third one for our memories, and the fourth for our love. One of the hospice staff lit his individual candle, while saying the names of the people he was honoring and a fond memory about them. He then passed the light to the next person and we each in turn did the same. I’m not going to lie, it was difficult, yet very cathartic.

Inside my home, I lit candles the past 4 Sundays on our advent wreath. These lights remind me that a baby was born long ago to be with us, to save us, to stay with us.  Celebrating that miraculous birthday gives me strength and hope through each aspect of my life.adventwreath2

Our own birthdays are another occasion with candlelight.  My mom’s fell on December 15.  She loved éclairs more than cake. I remember the last birthday we celebrated. She was in a nursing home for physical rehab after her first hospital stay.  She finally had her appetite and I wanted to bring her an éclair.

It sounds easy enough.  However, around here, eclairs are not all made the same.  Some only have a fluffy, frosting cream instead of the yummy custard we had up north.  Anyway… I finally had found a bakery.  My daughter and I brought it to her, along with a little battery operated candle that she could make a wish on.  We sang to her, and kept the candle going the rest of the night. Little did I know, she would be gone in 4 weeks to the day of that birthday.

Last year, I was too depressed to celebrate her birthday.  But this year, I bought an éclair, lit a candle, and we celebrated my mom.

Glimmering lights and candles are used for remembrances and celebrations. In that sense, I feel that a person’s love for us can also be a light in our life.  When someone passes away, their light may flicker, but it is never really snuffed out. The source of the light is just a bit further away, and our loving memories keep the flame burning.

We are now about to usher in 2017. Many countries celebrate the new year with fireworks, firecrackers, and bells ringing. While I was growing up, my mother insisted that I always be home with her on New Year’s Eve. She believed that if the whole family was together at that time, there would be good fortune in the new year.  When I married, and moved further away, I would call her right after the ball dropped in Times Square and wish her happy new year in Japanese –  “Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu”. (One of the few Japanese phrases I know). I did this every year until she passed away. I so miss that. (I also miss the time when I could stay awake past midnight.)

In THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM(TLCB), one of the featured holidays is the New Year celebration(Oshogatsu).  Yuriko’s Papa settled his business finances for the year, they cleaned the house, New Year decorations were put up, and Yuriko helped her relatives prepare their special food for the New Year celebration which lasted from December 31st through January 3rd.

I feel that the sentiment from this paragraph of Yuriko’s celebration in TLCB echoes what I hope 2017 will bring:

           I took Papa’s hand as the temple bell began to strike. It rang out 108 times.  Each toll of the bell was intended to symbolize the release of a sin or bad habit, giving a fresh start to the New Year. But with each bong I sat wishing, “Peace, peace, peace…”  

I wish you a peaceful New Year filled with much joy and light with your loved ones!

Also linking up at Coffee For Your Heart.