The True Color of Christmas

My grandma always, always made pink sugar popcorn at Christmas.

My mom always made it, and now we make it, too.

Pretty much, in order for it to truly be Christmas for me, there must be pink sugar popcorn.

What’s that you say? Pink is not a Christmas color? Pshaw.

Who has the authority to say that Christmas is red and green?

I say it’s pink. And it’s Grandma’s fudge, and her animal cookies.

Every time I make treats at Christmas, I think of my grandma. And I always, always remember a certain story my mom used to tell me.

My grandpa died shortly before Christmas many years ago, before I was born. My mom wished so much that we could have known him, so she told us stories and little tidbits to make him seem more real to us.

And she told us about that first hard Christmas without him, about how Grandma rolled out her Christmas cookie dough while her tears rolled down her cheeks.

To me, that mental picture of Grandma crying while she baked, that sums up Christmas.

Our culture bombards us with the “meaning” of Christmas. Even in spiritual ways, I feel this pressure to feel a certain way, to do certain things and act a certain way, because this will make Christmas come alive. I will apparently feel joyful and peaceful, and there will be wonder and love at Christmas.

Those are very wonderful things, but the truth of it is that Christmas does not make real life disappear. And for a lot of people, Christmas still means there will be pain and suffering, and disappointment and loneliness.

I completely believe that the message of Jesus enables us to rise above all of that.

But I also know what it’s like to feel so beaten down that it’s just plain hard to rise anywhere, and to feel connected with that message. Or even to connect with Jesus.

And there are people who don’t feel joy or peace or wonder or love. Sometimes Jesus feels far away.

But there’s this: Emmanuel means “God with us”. And I believe that He’s with us whether we feel Him there or not. He is there even when we don’t feel connected, and when we don’t “feel” Christmas-y.

He was there in the pain and the sorrow of that sad Christmas for my Grandma as she went through the motions of making things special for everyone else, even when she probably didn’t feel like it.

We’re told that the colors of Christmas are red and green. But I say the color of Christmas can be pink. It’s the memories of my strong, brave Grandma, and it’s real life.

Sometimes we go through the motions today because we have hope that things will be better tomorrow. And sometimes we have to do that even at Christmas.

Ben always says, “It is what it is.” He is always reminding me to accept things the way they are, rather than trying to force emotions, or force things to happen the way I want them to. We take what life hands us, and we do the very best that we can, and then we offer all of that to God.

And then He comes along, and He heals, comforts, forgives, restores, and He is with us.

Peace, love, joy and wonder are definitely possible at Christmas. But crying some tears, and feeling tired under a heavy burden is a reality, too. And that’s okay. Because we’re working on it. We’re learning how to find the peace that passes all understanding. I was working on that in November, I’m working on it in December, and I’ll be working on it in January. Christmas does not always feel miraculous and magical.

It is what it is.

So if this Christmas, you’re not “feeling” the way you’re “supposed” to feel, I want to offer you some encouragement. God is with you, even if you don’t feel Him.

He will give you the strength to keep going, and it’s okay if you haven’t gotten everything figured out by Christmas.

There’s no right or wrong way of doing this, or feeling this, because it is what it is.

Your Christmas might be pink, or purple, or orange. And it will be good, as long as you remember that He is in it.

It’s Not Me, It’s Just Winter

Once upon a time, I used to work in the deep, dark corner of a school basement.

I was a piano teacher, and the school let me use a room in the basement to teach out of. This arrangement worked out fantastically well….except for the fact that I spent all day in a basement.

I drove to work early in the morning as the sun was rising, and I drove home as the sun was setting.

I felt like I never saw the light of day.

I really, really did not like winter.

I thought it was dark, cold, and depressing.

Then Anika was born, and I still taught a little bit of piano, but I didn’t spend nearly as much time in deep, dark basements, and suddenly, winter didn’t seem nearly so bad.

Ben and I started talking about the possibility of me being one of those people we had heard about who gets depressed in winter. Didn’t know much about it, and it didn’t seem super important at the time, because I was doing a lot better.

I kind of forgot about all of that.

Then we moved to camp, and I started to really, really love winter.

Camp is amazing in winter. It is so incredibly beautiful, and snow stays white until it melts in spring. Really. I didn’t know it could do that. I thought it always got dirty and yucky at some point.

But not in the woods. It’s just beautiful and white all winter long.

And I started to love winter because everyone around me loved winter, and it was a little contagious. People come to camp to have fun in winter. School groups and church groups come out here, and no matter what the temperature, they are out there skating and snowshoeing, skiing and tubesliding. When you are surrounded by beautiful winter scenery, and fires in fireplaces, and hot chocolate always ready and waiting for you the second you come in from the cold, it’s a little hard to keep having negative feelings towards winter.


In spite of all that wonderfulness, and the fact that I was really loving winter now, I still was having emotional issues every winter.

Being a little dense, I didn’t connect what was going on. I found it ironic that we seemed to have a “crisis” every winter, and I just assumed that my emotional turmoil was a result of the annual winter issues that we kept going through. We went through some tough situations that were camp-related, we dealt with infertility and miscarriages, we survived five years of winters that just always had something big going on that was draining and stressful and hard.

Obviously it would leave me feeling down. Right?

But then this winter came along….without any kind of crisis. I was all set to enjoy the beauty and snow and the smell of smoke in the crisp air.

Except that I was still feeling anxious and slightly depressed, for no apparent reason.

And then time change happened. And suddenly, it felt like it was dark all the time.

It was like a switch got turned off in me. I withered like a plant without sunlight.

Ben was a little bewildered. “Last week you were fine! What happened in your life that made it so hard all of a sudden?”

And I couldn’t think of anything. Nothing seemed to have changed. I just suddenly felt like I had this enormous weight to carry around – like all the other winters. Except that this winter, there was no big stress.

It finally clicked. Maybe it wasn’t just a coincidence that every winter was hard. Maybe it was just winter.

Ben wanted to help. He would really do anything he could to help me. Especially if I’m crying. So he surprised me with one of those “happy lights”. The kind you hear about that people use if they get sad in winter. Costco sells them. Who knew?

Now I try to bask in the blue glow of my “happy light” every day. I don’t really know if it’s working – It takes a few weeks to kick in, apparently. I’m still feeling pretty bogged down by winter.

But I’m noticing that spending time outside EVERY SINGLE DAY, and being with people make a very big difference. And I’m guessing that our three week trip to Florida in January will not hurt, either!

So that’s the deal with me this winter. I really don’t like sharing current struggles. I like to share all the wisdom I’ve gleaned, after I’m  through the rough patches. It sounds so much stronger and victorious.

But today, I decided it was time to just get it out there, because there is a good chance that someone reading this could be experiencing the very same thing as me. And maybe, reading this will make that person feel like they aren’t the only person in the world who’s feeling that way. Or maybe that person needs to know that a happy light is just a Costco away.

Or maybe….you need to know that sometimes, really big problems have a really simple explanation. I remember my friend saying, “I used to think I was such a bad Christian, about once a month. Then I realized it was just PMS!”

Well, I used to think I was just a really negative, depressed person. Then I (finally!!) realized it was just winter.

The good news in all of this is that the shortest day of the year is only eight days away, and then we are charging our way towards sweet relief, otherwise known as spring.

In the meantime, I will still try to enjoy winter as much as possible, because it really is a beautiful season. Just a bit too dark, for my taste!

How are you doing? Do you love winter, or are you just hanging in there until spring?


This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about emotions.

I spent years believing that I was a very emotional person. My sisters have always been the  cool, calm, and collected type. And then there was me.

They were busy pursuing careers in nursing and business. I was busy flying off the handle.

I was always “the emotional one.”

It took a long time and a few counseling sessions for me to begin to realize that the way I saw myself was not completely accurate.

See, my counselor told me that everyone has the same amount of emotions – it’s impossible to have more emotions than the average person. I may just think about them, analyze them, and communicate them a lot more.

Great. That made me feel weak – I have less control over how I communicate my emotions than other people.

And that idea of myself also stayed with me for a long time. Kind of depressing.

What’s bugged me the most is that there are things that I feel pretty passionate about, and I long for so much more in this life – more of God, for me and for other people.

And when I make dumb choices that bring me away from all that I long for, or I see other people making those choices, I usually end up getting really frustrated and angry.

Then I make Ben listen to me rant and rave, and get all worked up, which really doesn’t help anything.

And I end up sounding really critical and judgmental, and things just go in a bad direction.

But this week, a friend told me something that could possibly change my life.

She said, “When you don’t know what to do with sadness, it can become anger.”

And something just clicked.

Since then, I feel the truth of this again and again. The longing for change and for more of God is good. But when that doesn’t happen, when wrong choices are made, I feel…sad. I really do. I just never recognized it before, and skipped right ahead into being frustrated and mad.

I’m noticing what a huge difference there is between sad and mad.

Sad makes me cry instead of yell.

Sad makes me hurt for someone and what could have been, instead of looking down on them and judging them.

Sad can make me quietly carry a heavy burden, instead of making me say or do things in the heat of the moment that I will later regret.

Somehow, sad is leaving me a little calmer, and allowing some extra head and heart space to realize that I need to bring my sadness to my Father. It was never a burden that I was meant to carry, sad or mad.

I like it. I think I’ll keep giving it a try.