Merry Christmas Letter from Jennie

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Here is my annual Christmas letter. I am putting it out to the universe to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

Christmas, 2016

The theme for my life and Christmas letter in 2015 was Grace and Gratitude.

As I look back at 2016, I search within myself for this year’s theme. While pondering my year, I realize that I have carried last year’s theme of gratitude with me this year; however, it has expanded through my daily devotionals and my learning the practice of contemplative prayer to bring me to a heightened awareness of the world around me – the people, the animals, all living things in nature, sounds and music, and the colors, smells, and the feel of this planet we call home, not to mention the awareness of God’s presence in all of creation. For me, God has not been a heavenly father looking down upon me from heaven, but a constant companion in my life and one who is present in every aspect of what I do and who I am, and is in every breath that I take.

Everyday in my journey through life, I thank God for all that has been given to me. I also thank God for taking care of my family and my friends. “Thank you” is something that I say out loud and silently many times during the course of a day. I have made a conscious effort not to make my prayers a grocery list of things I ask God to do, but instead to thank God for being with us all, guiding us, protecting us, and delivering us.

Christmas is now a few weeks away. For years I have struggled with Christmas, with getting into the Christmas spirit, with wrestling with the commercialization and greediness of the season, and with seeking to understand the nativity story and what it means to me personally. It has been elusive, just beyond my reach, leaving me frustrated, empty-feeling, and confused.

This year is different. In the spirit of my theme of gratitude, I am approaching this Christmas with a great big “Thank You” on my lips and in my every breath.

Thank you, God, for being with me through another year. Thank you for lighting my path when it was rocky and dark. Thank you for bringing people and animals into my life to show me your grace and love. Thank you for giving me courage to take risks and travel new paths. Thank you for teaching me how to be more generous, loving, and kind. Thank you for finally bringing a teacher my way to explain the concept of The Trinity in a way that makes sense to me. And thank you for loving me, forgiving me, stretching me, and teaching me.

For all of you reading this Christmas letter, I say “Thank you” for being a part of my life and for sharing a few steps of your own life journeys with me.

May the breath of God touch you in a very special way this Christmastime.

Peace,

Jennie

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It’s Christmas, World!!

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Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Children around the world will be excited and in full throttle about a visit from Santa Claus, and parents around the world will be putting the last-minute touches to their family’s Christmas experience, hoping that they didn’t forget anything. It will be a busy day for most families, one charged with anticipation and energy.

I remember those years fondly. My Christmas is not like that anymore.

Sunshine and I sit in our little living room tonight, while it storms outside. We are safe and snug indoors. My little Christmas tree is lighted and cheerful, but there isn’t a single package underneath it. Two stockings are hung at my hearth – one for her and one for me. Hers is bulging with some chew-toys I bought for her. Mine is empty. I thought about buying myself some little gifts to put into it, but decided against it, reasoning that doing so would spoil the spirit of Christmas. I have received a few gifts from some special people in my life, which have already been opened. There are no surprises waiting for Christmas morning.

Neither of my sons will be with me for the holiday. One is in California, and the other in New York City. Our family is a splintered one. The last celebration we had as a nuclear family was in 1992. That was a long time ago. With the distance separating us, it is too cumbersome to try to put the pieces together allowing us to be together for the holiday. I had my big day with them on Mother’s Day in New York, which was a logistical feat in itself, getting us all in one place at the same time, while keeping it a surprise for me. That day was Christmas and Mother’s Day, all wrapped up in one wonderful week-end package with my sons.

So, now I look at Christmas with misty eyes of nostalgia, a little loneliness, and wonderful memories of Christmases past. I am not sad. In fact, surprisingly enough, I am content with the way my Christmas is shaping up this year, and I am looking at the holiday with a fresh outlook. I spent a wonderful day last week with my brother and his family, and then another day with my friend, George, and his family. No gifts were exchanged either place – we spent our time eating, laughing, and enjoying being together. The celebrations are over for this year.

I look at my little crèche, tucked underneath my Christmas tree, and ponder the Christmas story. I am not satisfied with the story that has been part of my life since childhood, and I wonder how much of the nativity narrative is actually true. It’s a beautiful story, but I can’t help questioning. I think God understands my uncertainty about believing the tale of Christ’s birth, because I have been given some insight about it the past few days, which I can only explain as coming from him.

Instead of focusing on the birth, I have been paying closer attention to the life and teachings of Jesus this Christmas season, especially the past few days. I have witnessed unexpected acts of kindness and generosity, and I have watched as God’s love has been passed from one person to another in the most unusual and creative ways. I see the life of Christ personified in people I meet as they share love, support, financial aid, and helping hands to whomever they encounter. This has touched my life, as I have had the opportunity to share from my abundance with others, in ways that I hadn’t anticipated or imagined. It has been a season of surprises, as I have put my questions and doubts aside and opened my heart.

Of course, I will celebrate the birth of Christ tomorrow night at our church’s candlelight Christmas Eve service. I will think about the baby Jesus, knowing that he grew up to be The Christ. I will wonder at the love of Mary and Joseph for their infant baby son, as they held him in their arms for the first time. But I can’t keep Jesus in the manger; I have to release him to the world. For, it is there that God’s message is told, and it is there that we find our spiritual path, lighted with grace and gratitude illuminating our way to God.

It is Christmas. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Maybe it is more than celebrating the birth of a baby. Maybe it is really celebrating the birth of love.

And that is something about which I have no questions or doubts.

Merry Christmas, world!

Wise Men and Tennis Shoes

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I attended a Christmas pageant this afternoon at a small church outside of Covington, on the invitation of my friends, Bob and Dena. Bob was singing in the program, invited me, and so I decided to go.

The cantata was beautiful, and the small choir did a great job. What was interesting was that during the narrative portion of the cantata, the nativity story was acted out by church members. And, to make things look more realistic, all of the choir members were dressed as people of Biblical times.

It was one hundred percent small town Georgia. One person apologized to me for having so few people in the audience, with the explanation that most of the church members were in the pageant! I really hadn’t noticed, since I was sitting in the third row, and didn’t bother to look back to see who was seated behind me. There were also a couple of miscues on the projection screen during the production, causing us to sing the wrong words on one song where the audience was invited to sing along.

As I watched the story unfold and listened to the music, I was caught up in the old, old story that I have heard many, many times in my lifetime. Combining the cantata with the living nativity scene in a pageant was very effective and moving.

But what captured my attention in a brand new way was in watching all of these church members participate, costumes and all, as they brought the scriptural account of Jesus’ birth to life in their little church. Here were Georgia folk, dressed up as shepherds, townspeople, angels, and wise men, acting out and singing the Christmas story.

What I loved the very most were the angels with white socks keeping their feet warm,  wise men sporting tennis shoes, and  shepherds wearing wrist watches and  looking more like hippies from the ‘60s than citizens of long-ago Bethlehem. It really brought the Christmas story to me in a new way. Even across the centuries, the story hasn’t changed. And it really doesn’t matter how realistic the costumes are or aren’t. If wise men want to wear tennis shoes, that’s perfectly fine with me. Hippie-looking shepherds are pretty cool! And who wants little angels to have chilly toes?

It is the story that is important.