Random Christmas Thoughts...

I am either getting more organized in my old age or this is just a freak year. We had a trip planned in early December (as our Christmas gift) and, because I didn't want to be coming home feeling stressed out about shopping, I shopped for my grandsons before Thanksgiving. My tree was up two weeks before Thanksgiving this year (a first). And I immediately wrapped their gifts and put them under the tree.

I have never been an early shopper. I normally start Christmas shopping in December. But I enjoyed being ahead of the game so much, I may never wait till December again.

I have shopped here and there the last couple of weeks and finished up the remainder of my shopping two days ago. But it wasn't stressful. For the most part, I was able to find what I was looking for and was able to take advantage of some good sales. Last night I finished wrapping and bagging everything.

Yesterday I baked most of the day. Cheesecake for Danny, Carrot Cake for Connie and Chocolate Cake for me (had a craving this year). I made thousand island dressing for both the kids and John's family. This morning I baked sage dressing to take to Marian's for Christmas dinner. And just a few minutes past 8:00 a.m. my kitchen was even cleaned up.

I'm done. Ready to relax and enjoy Christmas Eve, beginning with our Candlelight Christmas Eve Service at church this afternoon.

I can't believe how fast Christmas came this year. I think 2010 passed faster than any year of my life. Another reminder that I'm getting older. (I get so tired of the reminders.)

I know I've mentioned it before, but I have reflected so much this year on the strain of last year. John was undergoing chemo from early September through the end of January. It was a hard time for John physically, and for me emotionally. This Christmas just seems extra special in contrast. I am so thankful every day for how well he is doing now. I have savored so many small moments this year and this holiday season. My heart is full to overflowing when it comes to gratitude and appreciation.

I am so thankful for John. After seven years of marriage, he still seems too good to be true. I feel so blessed to be his wife. And, oddly enough, he seems to feel the same way about me. I'm thankful God allowed our paths to cross at such a pivotal time in both of our lives. The beautiful mosaic of my life today was created through all the broken pieces of my past. John and I both agree that we probably could not appreciate each other -- or our happy marriage -- to the depth that we do if not for all the hard things we have been through in the past. I listened to a Tim Keller sermon once in which he said that the greatest joy is birthed out of suffering. And I can definitely relate to that.

I am so blissfully content with my life and so thankful for my blessings. But I have to confess that in spite of overwhelming joy and contentment, I still feel a twinge of melancholy this morning, too.

I always think of my mom a lot during the holidays. Every year, as I get older, I wonder how our relationship as mother and daughter might have changed as we both aged. I will never know. But I will always wonder.

I am thinking of Brittany and wishing she was here with us. I miss her. I often think about the relationship I wanted to have with her and feel sad that it was not to be. She would be twenty-five now. I have a feeling we would have more grandchildren if she were still here. But, most of all, I wish John still had his little girl. I wish we could have been a big, happy family with Danny, Rebecca and the boys.

I am thinking about my nephews and nieces this morning. I don't get to see them and spend time with them like I used to. A few of them I don't see at all these days. This wasn't my plan. I was much more physically present in their lives when they were little. Several of them used to spend the night with me regularly. And I loved to spoil them every chance I got. I called them my "practice grandchildren." My plan was to be just as present and involved in their lives as they grew into adults as I was when they were young. But now I live an hour away from some of them and even further from others. I sometimes wonder if the ones I never see have any idea how much I love them. It's more challenging to stay close as kids grow up and lives go in all sorts of directions. I wouldn't change my life. Murfreesboro is definitely where I belong. But I wish my nephews and nieces were right around the corner, like they used to be. I wish I could see them every day.

This will be the first Christmas without Lillian for my Howerton family. None of us expected her to be gone this soon. I know we will all feel her absence this Christmas.

Christmas brings a mixed bag of emotion for everyone, I think. We all miss someone a little extra at this time of year. We reflect on the past year and wonder what the new year will bring. We are grateful for the loving, healthy relationships we enjoy and a little sad about those that are not so great.

My thoughts this morning are all over the place, obviously. But most of all I am thankful. I'm thankful for my blessings, but I'm thankful as well for the whole mixed bag that is life. The hard times enhance my appreciation for the good times. The difficult relationships in my life enhance my appreciation of the relationships that are strong, healthy, loving and nurturing. And the struggles of my life have added to my compassion for others and made me a better person. I'm thankful I comprehend that God has to allow us to go through hard things in order for our character to be strengthened. I don't resent the hard things He's allowed me to go through because of that. I know He is working all things for my good. I truly believe that. And it makes all the difference. It gives me so much peace in the midst of struggles.

I owe my life and all my blessings to Jesus. I am thankful He loved me enough to leave heaven and die in my place. I don't understand why He loves me that much. But I'm so thankful He does. I am thankful for everything He has brought me through and the life He has given me. I can't imagine my life without Him.

I know December 25 isn't really the day Christ was born. But I'm thankful for the celebration of His birth. No matter how many people try to change "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays," this holiday is about the birth of Christ. He is the greatest blessing and the greatest gift there has ever been or ever will be.

I'm glad I spent my morning reflecting and writing. The little bit of melancholy I felt when I started has been processed. And all I feel right now is gratitude and love.

Merry Christmas to all my dear friends!

Savor every moment and every blessing.
(I have gotten really good at that.)

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