Celebrating Spiritual Holidays in Non-Traditional Ways



The joy of Christmas is that it is meant to be shared. Through years of tradition, we celebrate the “gift of God’s Son to the earth” through gift giving. But there are many ways to share this happiness besides through the exchange of presents and gifts. In fact, most of today’s practices are self-centered starting with the making of lists for a generous benefactor known as Saint Nicholas.

Our secular culture has pivoted from a Holy holiday in celebration of the birth of Christ our Savior and Redeemer to a festive giving and receiving of gifts for ourselves and others. If we don’t like what we get, we exchange it for something we do like, blowing off the giver’s generosity and forethought.


Through centuries of change and to the forgetting of God, people are slowly transforming our once Holy and spiritual rejoicing into one of indulgence, over spending and indebtedness. Instead of joy we are sated with exhaustion and bills; far cries from joy and praise for our newborn King.

Some have managed to save and revere His Holy presence in spite of the commercialization. Many are finding gladness and purpose by serving in local “soup kitchens” and pantries or through donations of gifts and toys to the needy.

But as one local family, on the receiving end, lamented “We are surrounded with gifts and food during the Christmas Season, but the rest of the year we really struggle!”


Perhaps extending your well-placed joy into the New Year would make your efforts more lasting and meaningful. Everyone wants to give when the spirit touches them, but thoughtfulness and giving throughout the year could make a real difference in someone’s life.

Shut-ins receive visits and gifts during December; but the other 365 days, they may spend a lot of lonely hours when the phone doesn’t ring or visitors are few and far between. Commitment and remembrances could warm these empty days and months and remind those who weep that they are loved and needed. Even those we don’t know can benefit from a hug or an extended hand when it is least expected.


“He Lives” 20 x 16 Oil on canvas

One year our family had a child from a local boy’s home share two weeks of the Christmas Season with us. The home was closing for the holidays and needed places for these boys to go. We enjoyed his time with us, but I felt guilty when he left, and wondered if there was something more we could do? I had four children younger than he, one of them a newborn, and the timing wasn’t right for us. There is more need in this world than any of us can stop alone or together.

Our oldest son painted someone’s house as an Eagle Scout project with his fellow scouts. The mother had recently been in an accident, and the family was greatly in need. Their project was a welcome treat for the family, even though it didn’t come at Christmas time. Imagine what this kind of giving could mean as a Christmas gift; better yet that it came as a surprise when it was most needed.

We often invited widows and widowers into our home, not only on special occasions, but during the holidays. Not able to cook for themselves, these invitations meant a great deal to alleviate their loneliness. A short ride to see Christmas lights and decorations on the way home was a special delight.


We also used to take widows out to lunch or dinner with us. It was a special treat for them to get out and mingle. They especially loved holding on to my husband’s arm and the feeling of being escorted by a man. I used to place them in the front seat of our car, while I slipped into the back just so they could feel special for that one day. Sometimes we’d go on an excursion and take them to places they hadn’t been in a long, long while.

It is also important not only to be a gracious giver, but a gracious receiver. Some of these elderly sweethearts wanted to reciprocate because the attention meant so much to them. Declining on our part seemed that we looked on our gift as “charity.”  When we allowed them to give in return, you could see by the gleam in their eyes that this was as important to them as our gift had been.

Many days, we returned home with a fresh baked loaf of bread, some cookies, a special treasure from their home in remembrance of time spent in our company. Some of these widows are gone now, but the memories linger on. In hind sight, they still warm our hearts today.

Going beyond and engaging in the unusual or unexpected can create the kind of Christmas that goes on forever in the minds and souls of the people you surprise. Who knows, perhaps you’re entertaining angels unawares?

Giving Thanks will Change your Life


(The “Golden Rain Trees” are in bloom!” 1st the yellow flower spears, then the peach lantern seed pods)

Halloween is not over and here we are thinking about Christmas. Thanksgiving gets sandwiched in-between and almost forgotten. Ironically, the first two holidays are what I call “Give me holidays.” We ask for things and then wait expectantly to receive. The “glossed over” holiday in the middle is for “giving thanks.” But what do we do? We think about getting off work and indulging some gluttonous feasting.

Giving thanks is inborn in our DNA.  An atheist friend of mine is always pointing upward when she receives something good, and then pulling her hand back in embarrassment. She thanks “whoever” or “whatever,” afraid that she might get caught in actual gratitude toward God.

A few years ago she sold a painting. She lamented that she had only received $150 for it, and then proceeded to tell me that it went right into a new disposal for her kitchen sink because hers had quit.

“Don’t you see what a blessing that is?” I asked her. “You didn’t have the money to replace the disposal, and then you sold a painting for the exact amount you needed? Do you see the irony in that?” She simply charged it up to coincidence.


(This photo shows the yellow spiked flowers that fall before the peach seed pods grow.

How hard it is to give thanks. We shrug it off with feelings of embarrassment, as if that makes us dependent on someone else or even God. And we’re far too smart for that! Besides, we had it coming.

We ignore our waiters at a restaurant watching them come and go as if they are beneath us, and instead reward them with a tip afterward if they satisfy us. We have become a nation of ingrates. Our mother’s called it being courteous. Our teacher’s called it being polite. In fact, when we were young we threw please and thank you around by the dozen to get a smile or a pat on the back.


Now people bump into each other on crowded streets and buses, and simply grunt to show that they’ve been inconvenienced. Pushing and shoving has become the order of the day, even on crowded highways. Automobiles jostle for position weaving in and out like a game of bumper cars.

When was the last time you allowed someone to pull in front of you? And how about that driver waiting on a side street; did you let him or her pull forward into traffic?

Since when did we all become so selfish, so in a hurry?  Was it at the beginning of the computer age when life itself accelerated? First we became inwardly focused, and now we’re more technology focused. Eye contact is not only scarce, it has become scary; a thing to be avoided because it encourages intimacy and opens the door to conversation.

When was the last time your teenager looked you in the eyes with fondness and emotion? How often do you allow yourself a good soak in the tub to soothe those tightened muscles? What happened to those lost moments when you dreamt about possibilities instead of obstacles?

I fear that in spite of all our technology, we still feel like we must “Go, go, go” every minute, and yet we never catch up. We are in an endless pursuit of accomplishment. If we’re not aspiring or growing, we are getting left behind. Our “failure” complex has a grip on our minds that we can’t shake off. We’re out of breath and sweating even when we’re standing still.

As we ease into the rush of holiday preparation, the shopping and the anxiety let us all remember “the reason for the season.” Take the time to appreciate and recognize what is happening around you. Be grateful for those who try to make your life easier. Do your part to keep you and yours safe and free from anger and accidents. And as Tiny Tim said in Charles Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol” “God Bless us, everyone!”


(Great granddaughter pumpkin hunting.)

“I Stand at the Door and Knock;” Every Salesman’s Nightmare


When I was 10 years old, my friend and I were trying to shake a young pest named Ruthie. She was half our size and followed us everywhere; dragging a teddy bear behind her. In our attempts to shake her, we ran headlong into a field of scratchy hay stubble. Ruthie followed us, anyway.

Out of breath, we stopped beside a rotting shed on the verge of collapse. When Ruthie caught up with us, we shoved her inside. She pulled the teddy to her frightened face; her blonde ringlets cascading like a waterfall over the bear’s fuzzy body.

My friend banged the door shut, and we leaned against it, waiting for the screams of desperation from within. We felt powerful and sinister. At first, the silence from within startled us. Why wasn’t Ruthie yelling at us, pleading for us to open the door? Her silence seemed to grow like a dark menacing cloud ready to pounce. We flung the door wide.

The bright sunlight lit up Ruthie’s wet, tear-stained face making her squint. She seemed to shrink before our eyes; appearing smaller than we remembered. A second shaft of light fell on the floor beside her where a dead rat sprawled among soiled rags and rusting tools. Feeling our cruelty in the pit of our stomachs, we fled across the field, leaving Ruthie far behind us.

As a young mother, I sold cosmetics door to door. I never got used to being rebuffed, and dreaded ringing that bell or making that first knock. “What’s behind door number one?” I joked to myself, trying to turn trepidation into adventure?

In sales, you hear terms like the “door of opportunity,” or when “one door closes, another one opens.” Doors do play a significant role in our lives, whether in selling or working to provide a service or a product. In one of my crossword puzzles, the clue was: “Means of access.” The four letter answer was “door.” What is your current “means of access” to opportunity?

As a child, I tried to imagine what was behind each door in my neighborhood. Who lived there? What did they do? What were they like? When we locked our doors at night, our family felt safe and protected. The locked door gave us a superficial feeling, at least, that we were free from harm. We were the only ones who had a key. When we bolted the door at night, it was like shutting the world out with all of its violence and evil.

Thieves can and do break in “to steal and make afraid,” but they usually come in by some other way: a pried open window, a break in the glass, a basement well unguarded, or a place left unnoticed and unlatched through carelessness. Thieves usually can’t or don’t come in through a locked door.

Jesus likened himself to a shepherd and his followers (believers) as the sheep. “I am the door,” he said; “by me if any man enters in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

Jesus was talking about the doorway or entrance to heaven, and that through him alone we find entrance and rest…”I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:1-7, 9-10 KJV)

Throughout the Bible, God uses the word “door” as a metaphor for the “right way,” the “straight and narrow,” the “entrance” to the Kingdom of God. He told Cain “If you do well, shall you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door.” (Gen. 4:7 KJV)

At Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. And every year at Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus while Jews celebrate the Passover. Ironically, a door is used as symbolism for both, reminding people that the blood of the Passover lamb (representing the Messiah) smeared on their doors would keep them safe. “For the Lord will pass through…; and when he sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.” (Ex 12:23 KJV)

Jesus is the Lord of the Old Testament. He came to fulfill prophecy and to provide a way for us to come back into God’s presence. His coming and his atonement are foreshadowed throughout Old Testament scripture: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.” (Psalm 24:9-10 KJV)

Many people think that they can get to God through “some other way,” as long as they believe in God; whether it’s the God of Buddha, Hindu, Islam, etc. But in the Bible Jesus clearly declares that “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6-7 KJV)

Jesus said: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Rev 3:20 KJV) He continually knocks on the door of our hearts. He is waiting for us to open up to him and know him: “This is life eternal, that they may know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3 KJV)

He is a loving God. He wants us to come to him and be saved. He forgives sins and listens to us when we call on his name: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For everyone that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.” (Matt 7:7-8 KJV)

There is no need to fear when we knock on Heaven’s door. Our faith is the key that unlocks the door of God’s heart and allows us to enter his Kingdom. We, in turn, can invite him into our lives by opening the door of our hearts and allowing him to reside there.


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Tis the Season that Memories are being Made All Over the World!


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We usually repeat what’s pleasant: a beloved piece of music, an old storybook, a novel reread until the stitching comes loose on the binding. Old movies are another sweet experience we enjoy reliving over and over again.

Warm memories shared may replay in our minds especially if their associated with a holiday or vacation. Rituals we cherish with those we love are automatically recorded and later brought to mind in times of loneliness or pain.

Before bed, my children adored stories, songs and “cuddles and kisses.” When I was in a hurry, I’d rush through a rhyme my Uncle Walt taught to me: “I’ll tell you a story about Annie and Norrie; and now my story’s begun. I’ll tell you another about my brother, and now my story is done.”

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My kids were so disappointed. “No, no, not that one,” they wailed. Read Go Dog Go!” Dr. Seuss was always a favorite. As a result, a familiar chant “Go, around again, dog” was said when someone had to repeat an action or they wanted a do-over.

The Chipmunks brought us “Pardōn” with the appropriate response: “wee wee, Monsieur.” That phrase still slips out in my speech today, even though no one is around who is familiar with this practice. I respond, even though I’m alone, with an appropriate “wee wee, Monsieur.” Old habits die hard.

If one of my sons came up with a bright idea or outsmarted a brother or a sister, they would put a small finger beside their nose and say: “I be smart” thanks to old “Ben Gunn, a character from “Treasure Island” that they enjoyed imitating. The books we read together and the fun we shared found its way into our vocabulary and in our interactions with others.

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I had a friend who always lamented that she was a “terrible mother.” She wasn’t patient. She was too busy working and didn’t spend as much time with her boys as she would have liked. One day she fell and fractured a rib. In the process of dealing with it, the doctors found she had a tumor on her kidney and was near kidney failure. She immediately went into hospice.

I was there for her funeral. I wondered what these “neglected boys, now men, would say about their mother?” Had they been unhappy? Did they feel ignored and alone?

The memorial service spared nothing. A presentation of slides and photos revealed it all – the happy faces, the rough and tumble play, the picnics and the story telling. One by one each son stood and expressed his love and gratitude toward a mother who never knew, perhaps because they had failed to tell her.

Each son quoted passages from famous authors and their books. Shakespeare was a favorite. Biblical passages once memorized were used in praising her. Some had been used in helping them make difficult decisions in life. Their mother’s influence had been with them throughout their lives and had helped them to cherish great literature, to glean wisdom from its pages, and to live honorably because of it.

This faithful woman had died thinking she was a failure; that she should have done more. Yet her sons had blossomed under her care into doctors, attorneys and teachers. They had become good citizens, neighbors, husbands and fathers. Small and insignificant things do matter!

The unique touch of a mother’s hand can leave an indelible imprint on the future of the world. What if these sons had focused on her deficiencies and mistakes; would they have achieved as much recognition and success as they apparently had? Would they see their lives half-full instead of brimming with laughter and knowledge?

The perfect life doesn’t exist. We never have enough time or money to do all of the things we wish to do before our own demise. Sometimes our bucket list never gets finished. The best we can do is to let the people we care about know how much we love them so they don’t end up like my late friend, never knowing the truth.

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Some of my “Grands”