Monday, December 24, 2018

Finding Christ in Christmas

So much sadness seems to be evident around Christmas time.  The recent loss of a loved one.  The memory of a loved one enjoying Christmas.  Family and treasured friends separated by time and space. Relationships that are no longer are fostered. Marriages that have fallen apart. Children that are grown and forget to call home once in awhile.  Grown children who have walked away and have never turned back.  So much heart hurt.  And Christmas seems to make it hurt even more.

Personally, our Christmas is full of family, but a bit on the quiet side.  Christmas Eve celebrated with my husband's family and Christmas Day with my family. We are very fortunate that most of our family all lives in the Twin Cities local area.  We are able to enjoy a Christmas meal with each other, catch up with loved ones and indulge in treats aplenty. We will celebrate as a family of 4 on Christmas morning and open stockings and a few presents.

I find myself missing my mom so very much. She passed away almost 6 years ago at the very young age of 67.  I miss her love of Christmas. Her ability glorify the Lord in all she said and did.  I miss her love of making banana bread and Christmas chocolates. I miss her love of reading Christmas books to my kids.  I miss her hugs and hand holds. I miss her words of encouragement, and her ability to know when to be quiet and just listen.  I miss that this was her favorite time of year and she always took the time to tell everyone she met why it was so amazing.

A baby was born in Bethlehem.  A baby that grew to be a King.  A King that died on the Cross for our sins.  A man that rose again and promises to return.  The Glory of Christmas is found in the birth of one small baby.  Christmas isn't about presents and Santa. It isn't about perfect wrapping and Christmas cards and letters. And it surely isn't about anything material.  But it is about celebrating the birth of the most amazing baby.  The King of Glory.  The King of Kings.  Our Savior and King.

My mom taught me this. My mom taught everyone who would listen this very important lesson.  Christmas begins and ends with Christ. When my focus is on Christ, my heart hurts a little less.  Enjoy your family and your friends. Always treasure these times together as they are so precious and few. I will continue to share stories of my mom with kids and family. I will share about the horrible Christmas meal she made one year that left us all in fits of laughing tears. Or the time she hid our presents so well, she forgot where she put them. However, what I will share most is her love of the Savior, The King of Glory. Because Christ is always the only important focus of this holiday we celebrate. 

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Unsolicited Feedback

I wrote a poem this month using Jay Long's December writing prompts.  It is simply entitled Red. All through high school and college I wore bright red lipstick.  From the moment I left my home until the moment I returned, a fresh layer of red adorned my lips. When Jay's writing prompt came along, how could I not write about my favorite color lip tint?

I wrote the poem and then submitted it to a couple places. It was accepted right away. I then had something happen that normally does not.  I received unsolicited feedback from an editor and a fellow writer.  It wasn't aware that it was an open forum and I never asked for any feedback, so I found it peculiar. 

Without sharing the poem as it hasn't been published yet, I thought I would share the feedback.

Bit of a punch (or pucker) line at the end, I'd say. That aside, I think you could go somewhere with this. I'd try writing it in a serious vein, without the repetition of "lips so red."

What? Go somewhere? What I wrote was a completed poem. And serious vein?  The humor was intended!  And don't repeat the catch line, lips so red? Am I crazy, I thought that was it the best part of the poem? This is from an editor who I believe has some affiliation with the site looking for writers and pieces to publish. To be honest, I haven't a clue who he is and have never heard of him before.

Then today, I received an email that said the following from a writer I have never spoken to and haven't read anything she has written.

Yes, the repetition screams for this to be a lyric more than a poem, in this case.
But, there is something here, the anticipation, the almost but not quite sustained feeling.

I was so confused.  The editor who accepted it for print said the following:  Loved the catch phrase- Lips so red.  This is a perfect short piece that tells a complete story.  Love the humorous last line.

(Keep in mind, I am fully aware that nothing either the editor nor the fellow writer said was necessarily wrong or even offensive.  The fact is, it was unsolicited and almost the complete opposite of what the publishing editor told me.) 

So what have I learned with this oddball occurrence? 

As a writer, there will always be unsolicited feedback.  Some, outstanding and absolutely useful.  Most, should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Everyone has an opinion.  And that is what it is. Their opinion. It doesn't make it true or right. It is just what one person believes. 

What one person loves, another person hates.  And that is okay.  Not everyone is going to like everything that I write. 

Know my audience. Not everything I write will be everyone's cup of tea.  Some things, possibly such as this poem, shouldn't be made available on open forums until published. 

I don't have to make any changes whatsoever, especially when what I have written is personal and means something to me.  I wrote this memory poem about my husband. And he wouldn't change a thing. 

When the harsh yet totally constructive criticism comes my way, I need to put on my tough outer skin and take it. I need to hear it, digest it, and apply it.  And hopefully when it is really great criticism, it will change the way I approach the writing process going forward. 

The most important lesson I have learned is this:  I need to investigate submissions more thoroughly.  Submissions should just go to an editor and not be made available to a whole darn lot of people with a whole darn lot of time on their hands. I am speaking of the people that are independently wealthy, or comfortably unemployed living in mom's basement who have a decent WiFi connection and feel that their input is needed to make the world function as a whole. That their input is what will change the world.  Because the truth is, there are trolls everywhere. Under every news post in the comments, under every article posted online. Someone with an opinion who loves to be a naysayer will always post something to the contrary. There will always be someone who has majored in Drama Creation and has nothing better to do than continually check back in the comments section and make sure that the pot has been completely stirred. 

Whew.  That was a lot to get out of my system.  Remember, real life doesn't work like this.  If someone wears an outfit that we don't like, most decent human beings don't say a word. We bite our tongue and carry on with the day. Because, brace yourself, it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of life. One bad outfit, who cares. If you are truly friends with someone, you will still love them the next day and a poor outfit choice will be a distant memory. 

Also, most adults at this point in life have developed an ability to maintain an inner dialogue that no one else is aware of.  You observe something, you think something, you don't say a word. And you don't go back to add your two cents for the next three days so that everyone within ear shot is fully aware of what you "think and feel". 

With all of this being said, I now know I will never submit to that editor again as it seems everyone and their cousin Billy would have access to my submissions. Maybe I have yet to develop that tough skin I mentioned. But then, if I am a little bit more selective, continuing to wear my heart my sleeve might be the perfect placement for me.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Finished With Work for 2018!

I finished my last decorating job of the Christmas season today.  It was three straight hours of a mad dash from one room to another trying to accomplish everything as quickly and as efficiently as possible.  The client wasn't home, so I turned up the A Star Is Born soundtrack on my phone and decorated that house until every last bit of it was finished.

My client is de-cluttering this year and is working at boxing up donations.  Last week, we worked side by side, and she was able to create a large donation box of Christmas decorations.  She was overwhelmed, so I told to her just stand on the opposite side of the table. I would unwrap everything and hand her each piece, and she would decide to keep or donate the item. It worked very well, and she was pleased with our progress. 

Decorating happened quite late for this client this year. Normally, I have everything pulled down from her attic right as December 1st rolls around.  This year she and I were focused on so many other projects we never got to it. I got her Christmas lights out in front of her house just last week. 

Because I worked alone today, I enjoyed the space that I had and the fact that I could spread out, make a mess and manage my own time so that everything was cleaned up by noon when I needed to leave. She told me she would be home by 11:30 a.m., and I always anticipate her return when I am decorating. I love the look of relief and happiness on her face when she returns and her home completely decorated for Christmas. 

I stayed right until noon and then raced about 6 blocks away to her friends house as I told her I could only help her until 1 p.m. So much to do today, I had to make sure I kept an eye on the clock. No less than 10 minutes after I arrived at my second client's home, her home phone rang. It was the first client requesting a moment to speak to me.  She oohed and aahed about how beautiful her home was and how happy she was to come home and have it all done.  She was so very pleased and now felt that she was ready for Christmas.

She went on to explain that she loved the placement of the angels and the decor which I carefully placed on the book shelves in the corner.  And the fact that I dusted the huge picture window sill in case she was ready to put up any pieces of her Christmas village.  She said it was like I was in her head and knew what she was thinking. She has a large village and had mentioned she would probably also like to get rid of few pieces of it, so I didn't put it up, but left that one last project for her to address.  I have worked for her for approx 13+ years, so I absolutely know what she likes and doesn't like when it comes to decorating her home for Christmas.

She then went on to tell me about her joy at seeing the Nativity on her beautiful desk in front room of her house. Gorgeous. Probably my favorite piece of hers.  She said the fact that it was so simply placed, without any additional embellishments was exactly what she wanted. She went on to explain that when she first saw it she paused and tears pricked the corners of her eyes.  She had been running and racing and not savoring this Christmas season.  Remembering the birth of Savior was the only thing that mattered, and the first sight of of her treasured Nativity enabled her to refocus and set herself back on the right course this Christmas.

I now will not go back to work until after the New Year.  I still have a lot to do for Christmas, but mostly wrapping presents and cleaning my home to host for Christmas Day.  But I will pause myself tonight and study my Nativity on my mantle above the fireplace in the Great Room.  I am eternally thankful for the birth of baby who grew up to be a man, who died for our sins and and will return again.  Because that is only thing I wish to celebrate this Christmas.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Painting of Margaret

Every other Wednesday, I work with Miss Margaret from 12 to 3 p.m.. She is a lovely woman of 86 years.  I have worked with her for many years and I enjoy her company.  Of Norwegian descent, she is a woman of few words.  She doesn't like long conversations, makes fun of me when I use words such as wonderful, fabulous and perfect, and doesn't enjoy long goodbyes.  She makes me laugh each and every time we are together. 

On precious occasions, Margaret will share with me stories of her childhood, her teen years and stories from as recent as 40 years ago. She is a walking, talking history lesson. All of her stories have a purpose.  She speaks of World War II, small town life, individuals who didn't come home from the war, relationships with her parents and siblings, She talks about The Korean War, Vietnam and even of the Gulf War. She loves America, the Military and those that have given up their life to serve and defend our country. 

Many years ago, I was pulling out Christmas Decorations from Margaret's attic. She asked if I could put them in the spare bedroom. Before that day, I never had had a reason to go into that bedroom before.  I walked in and struggled to turn on the ceiling light. A huge close to 100 year old gorgeous dresser slightly blocked the switch. I finally pushed the button and the light came on.  The room was small, contained a sewing table, a hide-a-bed couch and two dressers. There was also a book shelf and an empty folding table ready to hold the Christmas decorations.  I turned around to head back to the boxes of ornaments and stopped when I saw a painting on the wall.  

Clearly it was a picture of a young and beautiful Margaret. I paused and studied the beautiful portrait.  When Margaret rounded the corner into the back hall, she saw me standing there looking at the piece hanging on the wall.  "From an admirer.  I should have pursued him more."  That was all she said.  

Now, I know not to press Margaret. I know to only ask questions when she is isn't busy or working on something.  I smiled at her and carried on with our work.  I later asked her a few more questions.  No new information was volunteered.  

I have occasionally and casually commented on the painting over the years.  This past Wednesday, it was time. I wanted to know the whole story.  She volunteered more than ever before. She loved him, yet didn't think it would ever work. He didn't love Jesus the way she did.  She didn't see a future with him.  So it fizzled.  What a beautiful painting came out of a relationship that was never meant to be. 

Margaret never married and didn't have any children. She enjoys the company of her great nieces and nephews. Her days are filled with many friends, bible studies, special events such as the Opera and Minnesota Orchestra and group outings. She participates in many activities.  I have always admired how very active she is.  

"Kelli, no one I know will want this painting of me when I pass away.  Maybe I should give it to you. You sure talk about it enough."  I laughed so hard at her attempt at humor.  She smirked and giggled a bit too.  So all those attempts over the years to gather more information were thwarted.  Private treasured memories that Margaret holds dear.  And those memories will always reside with Margaret. 

She has shared with me so many great stories of the beautiful pieces she owns and who owned them before her. Some were gifts, some passed down.  But I think this beautiful painting of a young Margaret is probably also her favorite possession. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Slow Down

Everyone hustles and bustles around me this time of year.  I watch as if from a distance. So many people, always so much to do.  Rather than increase my speed to keep up with the masses, I tend to slow down. I wouldn't have it any other way.  People race to stores for the best deals, stay up late into the night researching the best deals and ordering online.  They commit to way too many dinner parties, cookie exchanges and Christmas events.  Kids events such as concerts and plays seem to occur about every other night. The mayhem often affects peoples overall mood and sometimes behavior. People tend to be emotional, overtired and overwhelmed.  Rather than enjoying this season that should be filled with Love and Hope and Peace, they race forward at warp speed to accomplish it all and somehow be the first one to enter and to conquer the New Year.

This is not me.  It can not be me.  Rushing and Racing and Raging. No, it isn't for me.

I found in recent years, this time of year is exactly what I wish it would always be like.  Extra time with family and friends. Baking with children each time they ask if we can do it again.  Reading the book of Luke with my kids in December.  Reaching out to those that I meant to touch base with all year long but never quite got around to it. I enjoy the dinners and laughter and games that are played sometimes late into the evening. Scrumptious food and excellent conversation.  The giggles of children playing together.  The Christmas lights and decorated homes. The Menorah's lit on beautiful mantles. Christmas trees adorned with ornaments passed down from each generation.  Poinsettias so rich and red and the smell of evergreen trees wafting through the air. Nativities focusing on the birth of Jesus, and not presents piled to the ceiling for children who already have more than they could ever want.

This is the time of year that I slow down. I reflect on the joy's, the challenges of the past year and how thankful I am for a Savior who sees me through each day.  I am thankful for who He is, what He did dying on the Cross for my sins and the Salvation that is promised to me. I share my joy of the birth of a baby who was sent to this earth for each one of us.  His name is Jesus, and without Him, there is no Christmas for me.

Slow down this Christmas season. Take it all in. Reflect and practice being thankful. If you find that stress is creeping in to each day, explore what causes it and adjust your expectations.  Decline a few invitations. Skip writing a Christmas letter. Order pre-printed cards. Take that time that you have reclaimed and practice gratitude.  Be grateful for Christmas.  Be grateful for family and friends. For great food and soul quenching conversation. Be grateful that you have a New Year right around the corner. A New Year presents a wonderful opportunity to start over from scratch. To do the things you wish you had done, and stop doing those things which serve no purpose or do not bring joy.  Prepare to embrace this New Year.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

December Writing Challenge with Jay Long

Hi Blog Readers! Many of you have shared with me your love of writing.  Some of you are poets, some are short story writers.  All of us have a story to tell.  Join me, even a few days late,  in Jay Long's December Writing Challenge.  The word prompts are above. Write about what you love. Write about what you know.  Write something that means something. Write something that you want to share with someone else.

Let me know if you are participating. Whether it is writing from the prompts for each day, or picking a few, I would love to hear from you.

Here is one of my my dabbles from day 4. 

Starlight Confession

I loved you
I always have
I always will
More than I care
To admit to you
I loved you when
You didn’t love me
When you couldn’t love me
When you shouldn’t love me
But I loved you
From the beginning
Until now
Probably forevermore
Whether I like it or not
My love was given
My love was offered
Yours for the taking
Always accepted
I love you
I always have
I always will
My starlight confession

Is I will always love you

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Bag of Walnuts

I have been struggling with physical pain for about 12 weeks. I have been to many doctors and not one of them has had the ability to fully address my pain.  I have seen three doctors, have had a ton of testing, I have seen a rehab specialist and have received another  referral as of today to see a new doctor and possibly go down a completely different road with more testing and additional diagnosis's.  Some days are better than others. Some days I don't want to leave the house. Today is just so so.  I am awakened quite a bit in the night and struggle to ever feel fully rested.  Needless to say, I am emotional mess even on the good days. Cried talking to the nurse on the phone today giving her all of my medical info to start a new file at yet another doctor's office.

I am unable to take pain meds as they screw up my GI track and make me feel even worse. After extensive surgery last year, I found in the first 8 days, I had to get off the pain meds and switched to muscle relaxers. Can't even take those right now.  Trying to figure out the root cause of some of the pain as it is often deep and migrates from one place to another. I have had five docs refuse meds or other alternatives. Five.  When they realize I am not seeking meds, but an accurate diagnosis and then pain management to get me on to the road to recovery, they are at a loss.  Almost as if I am the first patient that has said, STOP! No more meds!  -They study me closely and tell me that they think pain meds might help, understand why I am adverse to them, and then tell me they think I should see a new doctor.

Pain is hard enough to deal with. But what I struggling with the most is discouragement. I feel I have been medically abandoned. I do not have a medical point person, someone in charge of my medical case. I am constantly calling and begging for the help pushing referrals through when someone drops the ball. I don't know who to call and ask more questions. I don't know what I am supposed to do next most days.  I need my pain managed and someone to take the lead. I need a medical professional to say, --Me, that person is me.  I may not be able to help you Kelli, but I am going to find someone who can. --

I cried quite a bit this morning.  Puffy face, red eyes, exhausted.  It took it all out of me.  I am down trodden and fell that this is never ending.  I told Josh that I think it is pathetic when I catch myself saying things, like -what if I am not able to travel yet? when a event is three months away. Or I have to plan out a day so that I have everything with me that I will need for an extended period of time, only to realize in all my planning, I need more medical supplies or meds. All I know is that I am trying my best to accomplish what I need to each day when it comes to work, writing and editing commitments and parenting.

So when I tell you all of this, I know what I look like. A friend hugged me last weekend and said she was excited for the day when my smile returns. That smile is still there, it just isn't there as often.  I know I look tired. I know my cheeks are puffy. I know that I look like I need a vacation. All of this is true.  But mostly I need a nap.  And a whole lot of prayer. Thank you for praying for me, for being kind to me and for accommodating me when I need and ask for help.

And no one has ever been so bold as Roger Sterling to say that my face looks like a bag of walnuts, but today, it sounds totally accurate.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Schmidt JAR

I was perusing the local sale sites on Facebook this afternoon. I spit out my tea when I saw this picture.  JAR.  They are initial stocking holders/hangers.  Someone obviously has three members of their family that have the initials J A R.  We do not have those three initials in our family. We have the J, but not an A or an R to be found.  However,  I have never felt the need to buy something more after seeing it online.  I think it is quite possibly the one thing my home is missing.

Josh and I have been watching a show on Fox called New Girl since it aired.  A goofball farce of show exploring all the the bizarre interactions and conversations between a hodgepodge group of roommates. Sometimes hysterical and tear inducing laughter, other times, heartwarming drama occurs.  But something that is bound to occur on each and every show is Schmidt.  Max Greenfield plays a character called Schmidt.  He is intelligent yet completely relationally unaware. He never seems to be able to do anything or say anything the way that he should.  And mostly Schmidt just says stupid stuff that doesn't make any sense. As in ever.

When I was growing up, my mother hated what she called Foul Language.  Foul language included words such as Crap , Ass, and occasionally Darn It. My sister and I found it hysterical that she was so sensitive to language and really pushed the limits just to see when she would get mad. She would joke that we always needed to pay her quarter if we used any foul language.  She never really enforced her rule, until one day I saw a glass Ball jar sitting on top the shelf above the oven in the kitchen. She was done. She wasn't having it.  At times it was so comical, she would stare us down and then shoot her eyes at the jar.  No words necessary. We had said something inappropriate and a quarter was now due.   The benefit of a "Swear Jar" was that I became very aware of my word choices. 

I never became a person that swears.  I believe the words of our mouth are an outpouring of the true condition of our heart. When I hear someone swear every other word, I judge. It is something I am aware of.  I believe they lack the vocabulary skills to communicate effectively without using harsh consonant words, and I also believe them to be angry.  Why are people so angry?  They seem to be smiling yet swear words are the only words that leave their lips.  It just doesn't make any sense to me.

Years ago when I was a banker, I wasn't much older than the teens that worked after school on the teller line.  I overheard one young man whom I thought highly of swearing like a drunken sailor when speaking to a young lady behind the line.  No customers were present, but that wasn't an excuse. "Ryan! First, never speak like that when a lady is present. Second, what you doing? You will never impress a woman with a mouth like that. Get it together!"  My curt correction weighed heavy on him. He came to me the next day and apologized.  I told him I found it odd, because he never spoke that way in front of me.  Apparently, I was an adulting adult in his eyes even though I wasn't that much older.  "Ryan, speak to every person, man and woman alike, with care and adoration. Speak to them the way you would address your mother."  He heard every word I said and took it to heart. I never heard the drunken sailor persona overtake Ryan again.

Josh and I may never have a need for swear words, but we are kind of nerds. We says stupid things at inappropriate times. Sometimes intentionally to be funny, other times stupid just pours from our lips before we can get a hold of the reigns.  And for that reason alone,  the Schmidt JAR exists.  There isn't even a real jar. It is a well known expression.  When my mouth runs out of control, volunteers too much or shares inappropriate info,  Josh just yells, "JAR!"
When Josh makes a joke about how he teased a coworker, I sputter, "JAR!"  We laugh. It is our inside joke.  It is something that makes us smile.  And it is so much better than swearing.

Schmidt. JAR!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Donation Requests

Hi friends! The kids and I are ready to start our collection drive! This is a list of what is needed:
Winter Jackets
Hats and Scarves
Mittens and Gloves
(All in good working order without stains, broken zippers, or holes. The items need to be wearable immediately.)
Canned goods
Boxed food
Boxed cereal
Peanut Butter
Ramen Noodle
(We are not able to accept perishable items or items that need to be refrigerated or frozen.)
I will have a bin on my porch starting Saturday morning marked Clothing & Food Donations. Please message me for my address. I will also be at the Chaska Library Saturday morning from 10:45 a.m. til 11:30 a.m. And at first service Grace Church Chaska Campus on Sunday morning for drop offs.
Food donations will be kept in Carver and Chaska for underserved residents. Winter Wear will be donated to The Community Clothing Closet at Grace Church Eden Prairie.
This is the perfect way to give back to the local community in need.
Thank you in advance for your generous donations!
Yesterday, I put out this call for donations on Facebook. The kids and I participate in a collection/donation drive at least twice a year. My goal is to not only help those in need, but to also teach my kids about serving others.  Whether it is food or clothing, it is so easy to help. Clean out your pantry, clean out your closets and dressers, pick up a few items while at the store.  Not only are donations needed, they are so greatly appreciated by those that receive them. 
I am at the Chaska Library this morning. Yes, it is Saturday, and the kids and I are here every Saturday.  The kids and I ran a couple errands and went to the Girl Scout Christmas Boutique and the Auburn Homes Christmas Sale. We finished our shopping quickly and headed to the library.
I got the kids settled and found a couple of the items that I wanted to check out. I sat down to answer a few emails. I look up and I see the smiling face of Courtney Johnson, Mayor Elect of the City of Carver.  She has two bags in hand.  One with yams the other filled with scarves and winter wear.  What a fantastic first donation!  It was so encouraging to receive the first donation that will help those right here in our local community. 
 Thank you Courtney!
This is going to be a great month of serving others. When we help others, we often forget about what ails us. We forget about pain and heartache, we forget about our personal worries that sometimes plague us. We forget about what isn't okay in our corner of the world and focus on what is right when we help others. Don't let this month pass you by without donating your money, your time and your talents. Be creative.  And do it with a thankful heart. Thankful for what you do have. Thankful that you are in a position to help others. 
Thank you to each and every person that has reached out to me with questions about how to donate.  Together, our efforts will make a huge difference. 

I Know What That Means- By: Kelli J Gavin for Writers Unite!

I Know What That Means By: Kelli J Gavin After my family moved to Minneapolis three years ago, my parents refused to visit us in our ne...