“Random Acts” of Christmas/The Intentional Gift

I’d planned to drop by today with a quick post about goodwill and the holiday season, but then this happened:

How could I resist sharing such a gorgeous Christmas morning sky? It’s a gift–a reward really, for having to wake up so early after being up so late last night (read: early this morning).

I love the Christmas season. I enjoy the lights, the colors, the various interpretations of the Nativity, Christmas trees, Santa, reindeer, the movies, cartoons, the glitter, glitz, and traditions of the holiday. I even like the hustle and bustle–to an extent. But what I really love about the season is that it generally brings out the best in us and reveals the goodness in our hearts. We’re kinder and gentler, more giving, and more patient with each other.

A few days ago, our new neighbors did something that we haven’t experienced from neighbors in more than a decade. They dropped by with a Christmas gift–a delicious assortment of cookies and holiday goodies they’d made themselves!

Despite my love for the holiday, my Christmas spirit remained dormant for much of the season, buried beneath exhaustion and a far too long to-do list. This neighborly act began a shift in my state of mind, particularly as I thought about how these same neighbors have performed other random acts of kindness for us over the last several months.

But here’s the thing–I don’t think my neighbors’ acts are so random. I think they’re specifically for us and intentional, with a particular result or reaction in mind.

It is this thought that led me to Christ and “the reason for the season.” The gift of His birth was specific and intentional (John 3:16, 17).

Just before falling asleep [this morning], I read a few devotional thoughts from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young that underscored my thinking. Thus, my Christmas spirit was recharged. Here are the parts that resonated most with me:

As you celebrate the wonder of My birth in Bethlehem, celebrate also your rebirth into eternal life. This everlasting gift was the sole purpose of My entering your sin-stained world. Receive My gift with awe and humility. Take time to explore the vast dimensions of My Love. Allow thankfulness to flow freely from your heart in response to My glorious gift. Let My peace rule in your heart and be thankful.  –December 24.

I set aside My Glory so I could identify with mankind. I accepted the limitations of infancy under the most appalling conditions–a filthy stable. That was a dark night for Me, even though angels lit up the sky proclaiming “Glory!” to awestruck shepherds.  When you sit quietly with Me, the process I went through is reversed in your experience. As you identify with Me, heaven’s vistas open up before you–granting you glimpses of My glory.

I am the gift that continuously gives–bounteously with no strings attached. –December 26

May you find the true joy of the season in the Gift of Christ.

Merry Christmas!

An “African” Christmas Party

“Gateway to Africa Tree”

Every year the university at which I teach hosts an elaborate “themed” Christmas party. Faculty, staff, and administrators dress according to theme, compete for prizes in some cases (like the ugliest sweater contest one year and the talent competition another year). Photo booths, craft stations, excellent music, door prizes, food, and “the envelope” that reveals our Christmas bonus are “staples” of the event. This year there was even a massage station and a cash bonus in addition to our regular bonus!

The team that coordinates the event always does an extraordinary job transforming the university’s skating rink into an amazing reflection of the theme, but this year’s theme, “Gateway to Africa” ousted my former favorite, “New York, New York.” I was thoroughly thrilled when I entered the party yesterday because I love African art and textiles.

Take a look at what I managed to capture [click an image for a closer look]:

The tree was decorated with African flags, fabric, masks, and ornaments in the shape of the continent:

The displays featured African clothing, art, baskets, and other items.

Everything was beautiful!

For faculty, the party marks the beginning of the holiday break. We submit grades on Monday, party Tuesday, and then recuperate from Fall Semester and rest up for January.

And so winter vacation begins…

Divided: Photos Caught During Conversation

As I was “flicking” through photos on my phone, I realized that all of the photos I captured with my phone this week were shot while I was in conversation with others…

An abandoned home while chatting with my hubby during our morning drive:

“Abandoned on 53”

An expiring dragonfly while one of my students was sharing a profound spiritual experience:

“Glassine Wings”

My favorite image of the week–wires and lines while chatting with the same student and a colleague after grabbing lunch:

“Angles”

The pretty butterfly, part of the Christmas decor adorning the banister outside my office as a conversation with another student was ending.

“Pearls and Lace”

I was fully tuned in to each conversation when these images literally grabbed my attention, but I imagine it must be (at least) slightly annoying to have a conversation with someone who pauses or slows her step during conversations to take a shot at something that catches her eye. So “thank you” to everyone who accepts me and my camera (or iPhone) and understands that those pauses to consider the little things provide necessary balance for an often too busy life.

Walk the Tinsel Trail with Me!

Happy Holidays!

When I wrote my last NaBloPoMo 2016 post, I planned to share (soon after) the photos from a post-Thanksgiving walk through the “Tinsel Trail” at Big Spring Park in Huntsville, Alabama.  The end-of-semester wrap up, holiday preparations, and sheer exhaustion hindered that effort, but I cannot let the holiday season pass without sharing the photos I captured.

“Tinsel Trail” is a display of Christmas trees in the park, located in Downtown Huntsville.  The trees are sponsored by various companies, groups, and even families.

There are a lot of trees and far too many to share in one post.  I captured more than 150 photos (not every tree), but I’m sharing only about one-third of them with you.

The trees are decorated in various ways, expressing the personalities of the groups sponsoring them.  Some are traditional with ornaments, bulbs, and ribbon.  [Click one of the collaged images for a closer look]

Some are there simply for company advertisement.

Some promote the arts.

Some education.

Some support parks and recreational areas.

Some raise awareness about mental illness.

Some are full of sugary dreams of childhood.

There are trucks.

And trains serving childhood fantasies of the North Pole.

Of course, Santa is there.

And other characters familiar to kids (and adults).

There are superheroes.

And favored villains.

There are reminders that some of us go through the holidays carrying grief.

There is a cute owl tree I can’t wait to share with a little friend who loves them.

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Some represent universities.

And (for my many Alpha Kappa Alpha friends), at least one sorority.

Some are patriotic.

And, of course, many are religious, reminding us of the “reason for the season,” with messages of love and offers of hope in the Messiah.

Sometimes, I took in as much as I could of the whole image.

Sometimes, I focused on the details.

All in all, this was a wonderful visual feast and I hope you had a pleasurable walk with me.  Most of the photos were captured during late afternoon just before sunset, but we plan to go back before the trail vanishes to enjoy it in its evening glory.

For now, have a joyous Christmas season!

The Greatest Gift

christmas blog post pic

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
–Christina Rossetti, from “In the bleak midwinter”
The greatest Gift has already been given.
May you find immeasurable joy in that Gift,
and may He find indescribable joy in you.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

“Peace on Earth! Good Will Toward Men”

Untitled 2 6

Christmas Bells

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

❧❧❧
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”—(Luke 2:14).

May you and yours experience God’s peace and His good will (towards you) not only for the holiday season but always…

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”–Luke 2:13, 14

"Karlette's Angel," 2012--altered in Photoshop

“Karlette’s Angel,” 2012–altered in Photoshop

May your Christmas be filled with joy, peace and love; may it ring with the highest praises for our Saviour and King.

Merry Christmas!