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My toddler was a tiny one-year-old last Christmas, fascinated only by the basics—staring at the lights on the tree, rearranging ornaments, and thrashing around wrapping paper.

 

This year, Oscar is two, and things are obviously different. He wonders why Rudolph’s nose is red and laughs when Frosty says, “Happy birthday!” instead of Merry Christmas. And he’s not only preparing for his very first Christmas pageant, but he doesn’t chew on the manger scene anymore either. Instead, he places the angel correctly above the stable and hums “Away in the Manger” while rocking pretend baby Jesus in his arms.

 

Even though Oscar experienced Christmas last year, his ever-growing mind soaks up all the songs, stories, decorations, and lights like it’s new this time around too. In a way like everything’s fresh. And the awe in his eyes is plain for all to see—showcasing just how captivating and extremely interesting every detail is.

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Amidst the wonderful smells of turkeys basting, gravy simmering, and pies baking, I smelled something foul this past weekend. I caught a whiff of it on the way to Grandma’s house, passing homes basking in the glow of twinkling lights and plastic nativity scenes. I stole a sniff of it when I noticed the peppermint creamer served alongside the caramel macchiato and pumpkin spice varieties. I couldn’t ignore the disgusting odor settling into our conversation around the Thanksgiving table as well-meaning aunts and uncles asked my kiddos what they were hoping might show up under the tree next month. The scent is not easy to ignore. It’s the sneaky stench of Christmas panic.

 

This panic likes to boil up like a pressure cooker. It starts sometime in November and increases in strengths and potency as we move into December. I don’t really know if this sense of panic is only reserved for mothers. I can’t imagine this impending dread is gender specific. I just know that it’s real, that it’s palpable, and that it is already threatening to overtake that sweet, lingering aroma of Thanksgiving thankfulness—a time that we are supposed to give only gratitude. No gifts. Just thanks.

 

I have decided that this year, I’m going to be intentional about keeping the air around me fresh from the stench. I made a choice to at least preserve the month of November as stench-free. This is not easy as my stack of Christmas cards sit unlabeled on the dining room table. The smell is difficult to ignore as I open up the paper stuffed with shopping ads and coupons. The aroma of greediness and busyness threaten to overpower my sweet smell of peace. But I am trying. This year, I am trying to ignore the sneaky stench of Christmas panic.

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They ate till they were gorged— he had given them what they craved.

Psalm 78:29

 

There is a difference between eating and drinking for strength and from mere gluttony.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

 

The sparrows that moved into the neighborhood in recent weeks number in the dozens. Since their arrival, my favorite songbird, the little house wren living in our veggie patch, has flown the coop. In fact, they’ve driven out several of my sweet bird friends.

 

From sunup to sundown, they gorge themselves at my feeder. Every spot filled with little brown birds. And they’re not much into sharing, either. At least not with birds of other varieties. My cardinals and chickadees must make do with the leftovers they scatter on the ground below.

 

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I’ve gone to some lengths to scare them off. I’ve even trained our dog to chase them off. But, they just toy with her now…they’re not in the least bit frightened by the sight of her.

 

I’ve taken the feeder down for a several days, only to discover them back in droves once it goes back up again.

 

The feeding frenzy happening in my backyard reminds me a lot of the frenzy to come. You know the one. It occurs every year around the holidays.

 

The time when folks camp outside of stores all night long hoping to be the first to grab all those door-buster deals. The time when tempers are short and lines are long. The time when we conveniently forget about calories so we can gobble down goodies without guilt.

 

That time of year when we human beings begin to look, and act, a lot like my sparrows.

 

To most Americans the holidays mean overindulgence.

 

A time when we loosen our belts. Eat too much. Drink too much. Buy too much.

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…the Father…does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17

 

This morning, as I sit in an Adirondack chair on the edge of a shrub-covered cliff overlooking the deep, blue waters of Lake Superior, little yellow finches sing around me and loons dive for breakfast. Gulls soar in the crystal clear skies or perch themselves one-legged along the pebble-lined beach below. There is a sweet fragrance of wildflowers in the air.

 “Will heaven smell like this?” I wonder. I take a deep breath and exhale a whispered “thank you” to God. 

When I first approached the cliffs today, I fully expected to find Lake Superior surging and tumbling over itself in white-caps. This gigantic, ocean-like body of water is often in motion. Instead, I discovered that there was hardly a ripple on its surface. It was as smooth as glass and a picture of serenity itself.  But, I know the legends of this big lake the Chippewa tribe once called Gitche Gumee. As calm as it may be this morning, hidden beneath the tides’ gentle lapping lies a shifting shadow, an unsettled stirring. This scene of beauty and tranquility, which elicits such peace in my heart today, can turn abruptly into powerful, life-threatening gales, depending on what weather the wind blows in. 

And much like these changeable waters, our lives, too, alter with unpredictable rhythm.

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“Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came; and if the village had been beautiful at first, it was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its richness. The great trees, which had looked shrunken and bare in the earlier months, had now burst into strong life and health; and stretching forth their green arms over the thirsty ground, converted open and naked spots into choice nooks, where was a deep and pleasant shade from which to look upon the wide prospect, steeped in sunshine, which lay stretched out beyond. The earth had donned her mantle of brightest green; and shed her richest perfumes abroad. It was the prime and vigour of the year; all things were glad and flourishing.”

Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

You made summer… and gave it to the earth.

Psalm 74:17

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

 

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“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

Henry James

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