The Ugly Christmas Ornament

Every time I see her, I want to throw her away. She’s just some ugly ornament, I tell myself. Who’s really going to care about one two-inch Styrofoam ball haphazardly covered in cheap sequins?

Then I look at the white ribbon forming a loop hanger on the ball. In thin blue ink I read: made by Rebecca Whitman, Kindergarten in Peyton, Colorado.

All of a sudden, I am five years old again sitting at a round table, smiling with a pin in one hand and the ball in the other. I feel so much pride at my ability. I’m so grown up to be able to hold this dangerous object: a straight pen. My teacher fills my heart with hope and praise as she tells me how beautiful and well done my ornament is. When I take it home, it is celebrated as a truly wonderful work of art. I feel affirmed as an artist: fully alive and fully seen.

It has been over thirty years since that ball first became a part of our heritage tree. There are ornaments to celebrate every year of our lives across nearly two decades, but this one ugly ball starts and stops the Christmas magic for me.

The magic of Christmas, the hope of Christmas, came as a very imperfect thing. He was the hope of all mankind, the promised king sent to save a nation, but he came as a baby to a barn full of animal dung.

He never lived in a palace. He never wore a crown till it was one made of thorns. His people did not celebrate his progression to the throne, they went into hiding over it.

No one could see the beauty in an ugly life.

Everyone expected a trumpet-blazing, sword-welding, battle-winning King, so what was so amazing about a baby born in Nazareth?

Could anything good even come from there anyway?

We say a lot of things in ignorance when our faith is weak. God chose to save the world not just one nation through the sacrifice of the one thing he loved the most: his son, Jesus Christ. It was a sacrifice of a little bit of ugliness for an eternity of beauty restored in fellowship with us.

When I look at my ugly Christmas ball, I am reminded of all the things that bless our lives from unexpected places. I am reminded that hope is alive even in the darkness. I am thankful again for the happy childhood I had that so many children didn’t. And I begin to see the beauty I saw thirty years ago in my creation.

Magic happens.

A spark ignites.

I celebrate all I have to be thankful for.

What makes you feel the hope and joy—the magic—of Christmas?

What to Do When Loss and Loneliness Cloud The Holidays

I have to say that Christmas is my all time favorite holiday of the year. We get inundated with romance, mystery, presents, family time, and good food. We get more time off and, if we are lucky, snow to play in. We drink eggnog or hot cocoa and nibble on baked goods while we overdose on Hallmark movies, Christmas music, and light displays. There is an overwhelming sense of magic and belief in happy endings. Nothing is impossible at Christmas.

But what do you do when the thing you want most really can’t happen?

If you have suffered the loss of a loved one, you know that the thing you want more than any present under the tree is more time with that loved one alive again. If you just came out of a breakup or you’ve been single for a long time, the last thing you want is to be reminded of how alone you are romantically. Holiday gatherings get harder when people are missing from them–and that’s true whether it is a lost loved one or a missing partner that you haven’t even met yet.

My paternal grandfather loved family gatherings, and he made an especially big deal of Christmas. Before Christmas Eve, he took my cousins and I out for dinner and a movie at the theater. Then he took us to the local mall, gave us each twenty dollars, and let us shop. He was genuinely happy to see all the things we bought with his money that brought us joy. Then, on Christmas Eve, he would cook a steak dinner for the whole family. After dinner, we would gather in the living room, sing carols, read the Christmas story in Luke, and open presents. Presents were always extravagant toys or collectibles for the kids and nice kitchen goods for the adults. I remember one year when we all got Nintendo 64! My sister and I went home, set it up, and played Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt till our eyes nearly fell out of our heads. After presents at granddaddy’s house, there was still more. Gallon bags filled with candy, fruit, and nuts were passed out along with money envelopes to everyone present.

I never thought about money back when I was growing up, but I do now. I know my grandparents weren’t as rich as they seemed; they saved all year to be able to splurge like that on their family for Christmas. My paternal grandparents had come from less and worked hard to have more. Spending money on their family now made them feel joy and fulfillment. Nevertheless, the first Christmas after granddaddy passed away, it wasn’t the presents we missed from the room. There was a sadness and silence we could only address in prayer as we blessed the meal: we missed him. All we wanted, as we gathered together that Christmas, was more time with him.

Christmas is not Christmas anymore when grief over loss enters the room. Substitute whatever holiday in there that is important to you, and the same is still true: holidays suck when the people you love are missing.

Whether you are in the fresh wake of grief or you are a seasoned veteran to it, it can be hard to be cheerful at the holidays. It is okay to acknowledge your feelings while they are raw, but don’t let yourself be trapped by them. Grief is a process that has no timeliness, but emotions will control you if you don’t take control over them.

What I ultimately found helpful in my own seasons of loss and loneliness at the holidays was this: focus on the good you have not what you are missing and be thankful for the memories.

Sometimes forcing yourself to be cheerful for holidays’ sake brings the good memories to the surface. You begin to remember good times you had with your missed loved ones. Smile-worthy memories surface in the flood of sadness, and you find yourself thankful and happy again.

It may be hard to remember why you celebrate or to even celebrate at all, but do it anyway. Eventually it gets easier as you honor those who are passed as well as those who are still around to enjoy the holidays with you.

Celebrate the ones you love and the One who gave up His Son, Jesus Christ, as a gift of love for you.

Know that the pain you feel now will dissipate in time. Just don’t give up.

Corn Casserole: A Holiday Recipe With Some Thanksgiving Story

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. It is the celebration of a partnership between unlikely allies, but it is also a time to celebrate the harvest season and all that has to happen to make a plentiful one.

Most of us accept that the first Thanksgiving was a 1600s celebration between the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims. However, some argue the first Thanksgiving was even earlier with the French or Spanish in Florida.

Regardless of which story you believe, we can generally agree that Native Americans were a part of the equation. For those early English settlers, Native Americans were the ones who taught them about corn and how to farm in unfamiliar territory. Since 1990, the month of November has been designated as the month of Native American Heritage and the day primarily known as Black Friday is now also Native American Heritage Day. We think it is only fitting–in honor of Native Americans and Thanksgiving–to share our recipe for a corn casserole.


Recipe: Garlic Corn Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 30 oz. Cream Corn
  • 30 oz. Whole Kernel Corn (drained)
  • 16 oz. Jiffy Corn Muffin mix
  • 2 Cups Daisy Sour Cream
  • 2 Cups shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 Cup melted unsalted butter
  • Garlic (minced or powder) to taste
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Grease a 9×13 pan. In a large bowl, stir together all of the ingredients except the garlic, salt, and pepper. Add salt, pepper, and garlic lightly to taste.*

*For a lighter note, use garlic powder; for stronger garlic flavor, use at least a teaspoon of minced garlic. For a completely mild version, omit the garlic, salt, and pepper.

Once your mixture is fully stirred together, pour it into a greased 9×13 pan and smooth it evenly across the top.

Bake for 1 hour or till browned, bubbly, and cracking on top. Serve warm and enjoy.


Christmas Version:

  • (2) Frozen Birds Eye McKenzie White Cream Corn, 20 oz, thawed
  • (1) Can Whole Kernel Corn, 16 oz, drained
  • (1) Frozen Green Giant Simply Steam Seasoned Honey Roasted Sweet Corn, 9 oz, thawed
  • Jiffy Corn Muffin mix, 2 Cups
  • Daisy Sour Cream, 16 oz
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese, 2 Cups
  • Melted unsalted butter, 2 sticks

When you make this dish, imagine you are at the table with my family this Thanksgiving. You are having at least one of the dishes on our plates.

As you count your blessings this year, know that you are a part of mine.

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, and I pray for you often.

Go in peace, friends. See you at our next posting!