What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, December 29, 2011


“Why?” I was asked this several times over the last several days. It was like they didn’t believe I had thought things through. And, I didn’t think I should have to explain myself. They did and persisted.

“Why are we using these ‘real’ plates?” I bought two 4-piece table settings in the after Christmas sales last year. I thought they would be festive. I liked them. And, contrary to many of the past 13 years experiences, I had the energy to entertain, cooking from scratch. I wanted the table to look as energetic and festive as I was trying to feel. I even told them I would do the dishes, if no one else wanted to (the normal “rule” in our house is: The cook doesn’t clean). “Doing the dishes” in our house means hand-washing everything; we do not have a dishwashing machine.

So, I understand that they may consider washing the dishes an arduous activity that interferes with socializing and/or “toy” playing, but without being asked to, my college-aged son, home for the holidays, got up as we finished eating, started clearing the table, ran water into the sink, and started doing the dishes. As the drainer became full, my daughter got up and started to dry and put away the dishes, pans, silverware, etc.

“Why are you making all these ‘extra’ food things?” They are right. We don’t need them. I wanted them, and I had a good reason, too. These food items, these “extra” food things were important to me. They brought back some of the happy childhood memories. And they had been the Tradition, the special once or twice a year treats. Ethnic treats, one of which I have not made in a long time because it was normally my sister’s contribution to the meal. She was unable to come this year . . . so I made the Spanakopita (Spinach Pie).

My normal contribution to the family get-togethers comes in the form of dessert. I used to make the pies – apple, cherry, pumpkin – but I taught my daughter well and she makes them now (by the way, did I mention she makes the crust dough from scratch, using a very good, no problem recipe that’s been handed down in our family). So, another dessert I usually make is Baklava. It was not the humongous pans of Christmases past, but it was enough to give everyone a taste of the tradition.

We usually have some kind of green salad with the meal, but my mom and/or dad would usually make a Greek salad with the feta cheese, peppers, and Kalamata olives. This year it was not convenient for my mom or dad to take on this task, with one living in a small apartment and the other watching us from heaven. So the generation of the grandchildren made the salad, with the feta cheese, peppers, and Kalamata olives. It was a way for them to feel connected to their grandparents.

That kind of sums up my answers to the “Why?” questions. It helps me feel connected to the people in my past that are no longer with us. Those loved-ones from my dad’s generation, the first-generation Greek Americans, are slowly but steadily leaving us with only our memories, traditions and a few heirlooms to mark their existence. So, why? So I can be connected to my heritage and my ancestors, so I can keep my memories alive, and so I can pass down to my children at least a little bit of the rich qualities of their heritage.

The Extras. Why?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reflections and Thank You

December 13th is a special day for a couple of reasons. Most recently it marks my son’s birth 22 years ago. However, my marriage, children, career, everything and anything of value, even life itself, is only possible because of December 13, 1978.

Listening to my favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night, released a flood of memories. It was that song, and a series of acquaintances and friends, that brought me to the point of trusting Jesus as my Savior. The first verse hit me right where I was. I identified with the sorrow and disobedience (sin and error) and I saw the way out I had not seen before (He appeared).

“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

I was invited to a Christmas party off campus. As a college freshman with no car, getting off campus was all I needed to say yes. I found out that my idea of a party differed significantly from these weirdoes, but there was a warm fireplace, good food, some mildly entertaining games and skits, and Christmas carols. There was also a message of some sort after the Christmas carols, but my attention was stuck on the lyrics to O Holy Night.

Back on campus, the secret Santa activities on my dorm floor continued. Trinkets, food, and notes were passed around. Someone left me something every day. Each gift included a Scripture verse from the Christmas story. One note quoted Luke 2:11, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Today? For me? Those words ricocheted inside my skull. I was supposed to be studying for exams, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this Savior-thing.

It was just Christmas stuff. But I took it all differently than previously in my life. It meant more. And, on December 13th, a friend put it all together for me. I saw Jesus for who He claimed to be and trusted Him.

I started this note off thinking I would share some of the names of those acquaintances and friends that got me where I needed to be to figure out the point of Christmas. I’m still going to list a few; some may not even know, even now, 33 years later, that they were used by God to work in my life.

Nancy L., Ruth H., Diana S., Jill S., Charron, Mark B., Mary B., Becky M., Mary D., Mary R., Anne, my secret Santa, Elaine B., Carol K., Dale B., Randy S., Rick G., Jeff W., Phil N., Jean L., and the four women in the end room, and others.

Simply. Thank you.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Because we always have. Not a great answer. My teenage daughter wants everything to make sense. That’s “make sense to her.” Her questions have encouraged me to think about why I do the things I do. I often find myself doing things in remote control – out of habit, tradition, or because I always have. Automatic.

So, it’s the Holidays. She has questions and objections. The Christmas traditions are not as important to her as they are for me. Is that okay? The “real,” most basic reason for Christmas, celebrating Jesus’ birth, is not in question. The hoopla and trappings with which we celebrate are all up for thoughtful consideration.

For instance, “Why do we have a Christmas tree?” She insists it is part of some ancient pagan celebration. Many people agree – but not all theologians and historians do. Anyone can google “Christmas Tree” and get close to 8,000,000 hits. 8-million thoughts and beliefs, and histories of the Christmas Tree. The stories of the origins of this tradition go back as far as ancient Egypt and move towards modern times from there. Jeremiah, in the seventh century BC wrote that it is a pagan practice to carry a tree into the house. The pagans during that time were carving trees into images of their gods, plating them with silver and gold, and worshipping them. Jeremiah railed against the Israelites doing similar activities.

Many other pre-Christ (and therefore pre-Christmas) traditions had something to do with bringing trees into the house, hanging fir boughs over doorways, and putting gifts (often food or trinkets for the servants’ and apprentices’ children) on the lower branches of the tree. One story about Martin Luther says he was captivated by a scene he came across in a small clearing of several fir trees in a group, with a dusting of snow upon their branches, and the moonlight creating twinkles of reflections on the snow. He wanted to share that experience with his family so he cut and brought into his house a fir tree and placed candles on it to represent the beauty of God in nature.

From there, northern Europe, immigrants brought the tradition with them to America. Some sources claim Hessian mercenary soldiers (generally believed to be from an area of Germany) brought the tradition with them when they came to fight on the side of the British in the Revolutionary War. However the Puritans and other strict Christian groups in this country saw the trees as “unchristian.” The tradition spread slowly and as late as 1851 a minister from Cleveland (Ohio) almost lost his job after allowing a tree in his church.

By the early 1900s, Christmas Trees were a part of Christmas celebrations all across the country.

So, why do we have a Christmas tree? It may have begun as part of a pagan practice, but it also appears to have roots in the Middle Ages. Even though the Martin Luther story is widely discredited, other traditions still place Christmas trees in northern Europe and spread around the world as Christians from places like Germany immigrated.

My conclusion: We don’t need to have a tree. It is not a necessary part of Christmas. I like having one. My daughter does not. She can choose to do Christmas her way . . . but for now she is stuck with our family tradition of putting up and decorating a Douglas fir. (I wonder what will happen to all the Hallmark ornaments we’ve bought her every Christmas since she was born?)

I guess we are developing a new family Christmas tradition: Examining and challenging why we do the things we do.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Winter Arrives

My pick up truck couldn’t get any traction. The cars, semis, buses, delivery trucks, and vans around me were sliding sideways, sliding in circles, sliding into ditches, and coming frighteningly close to me as I was also sliding toward the shoulder of the freeway. It was very dark out and the sleet, according to the radio, was not going to come to an end any time soon.

There were also people out on the road. They were trying to push cars out of ditches or to the side of the road. It was disconcerting to watch three or four people trying to push a car while their feet slid out from under them on the icy road. Not having complete control of my truck, I was afraid I would end up hitting one of them. My fear was becoming a hindrance to rational thinking.

Black ice or white ice or something in between. It’s all slippery. It was keeping me from getting home, normally just over an hour away. It was taking all of my attention, but I only traveled one mile between exits. It took forty-five minutes to do it. I didn’t know what to do.

Fortunately, it is the age of the cell phone, a link to the real world beyond this traffic-accident waiting to happen. The voice on the other side was comforting and helpful. It told me to get off at the next exit by driving with a couple of tires on the shoulder where the gravel poked through some of the ice. The much-more-rational-than-me-voice said to get a room at the Red Roof Inn, and walk to the Big Boy for a snack. The snack was necessary because I was unprepared for the possibility of a low blood sugar; I learned my lesson and keep emergency food with me at all times.

Winter in Michigan brings with it ice, snow, sleet, cold, and darkness. I’ve lived here all my life and I know to be prepared for whatever the weather might be. I grew up driving pick up trucks and learned to put extra weight in the truck bed to help with traction. But, I wasn’t prepared this time.

It was only November 1st.

Yesterday we had the first accumulating snow of this winter. With today being December 1st, it is exactly at the right time. Snow adds to my Christmas spirit. I will put the evergreen wreath on the door. I will prepare the living room for the Christmas tree. I will light cinnamon and mint candles. And tonight I will plug in the Christmas lights, which we put out Thanksgiving week, for the first time this season.

And most days until Christmas, I will sit quietly with my Bible in my hands reading the story, meditating on the miracles and prophecies fulfilled, and be in awe of a God who loves us so much that He came to earth as a small, unremarkable baby, just so we could know He is God.