If God only made his presence known in the momentous, how barren our lives would be of grace-filled windows to the sacred.
Instead, there are snowfalls and rain showers, waking and sleeping, as we live a succession of ordinary days. Into our ordinary world we are given this hidden God, one who comes to us as a baby born amid hay and barnyard smells to a nondescript couple on an ordinary night. Into the ordinary, came the extraordinary. The birth of a Savior. And our lives will never be the same.
My sweet Jacob — raised alongside his sister by a single dad, surprisingly quick to laugh, always ready for a hug — told me he didn’t want to go home that weekend. My stomach fell.
The kids were working on snowflakes to decorate the December poem we’d written, and Jacob spoke while I was making rounds to admire each Little Pea Pod’s creation. I knew Jacob’s father was kind and doing the best he could, but the worst still flashed through my mind. I quietly asked Jacob if he could tell me more. Without skipping a beat or putting down a crayon, he just smiled. “It’s more fun here. We’re always doing something.”
Beyond relief in knowing there wasn’t anything wrong at home, Jacob’s words gave me pause. True, we were always doing something. But not all my Little Pea Pods blossomed through the same kinds of something. Chelsea loved to read; during free time, I could find her using my pointer to read Big Books aloud to her “students.” John was a daredevil who lived vicariously through the ramps and roadblocks he built with blocks.
And Jacob, while well-behaved and eager to please, was typically more inclined to recess than coloring and cutting. I’m still not sure exactly what sparked his contentment that day. But he’d learned a truth that would serve him well through life: Sometimes the simplest things offer the greatest joy.
I don’t decorate extensively for Christmas. I’m not a Scrooge. I’ve learned, however, that my time and resources are better spent in quiet reflection. And so the small tabletop lantern a dearest heart gave me has become a treasure. My friend knows my need for stillness and that the deep darkness of winter threatens my peace; she couldn’t have given me a better gift.
That little lantern, with its laced, wavy glow through aged glass, brings to mind delights that could never be replicated by a fancy themed tree or a thousand lights along my roofline. It reminds me of the simplicity of Decembers growing up.
Happiness is like swallows in spring. It may come and nest under your eaves or it may not. You cannot command it. When you expect to be happy, you are not, and when you don’t expect to be happy, there is suddenly Easter in your soul, though it be midwinter. ~Elizabeth Goudge
Winter was technically miserable where we grew up, but I don’t remember it that way. I remember being happy. (Probably because I wasn’t on shoveling or wood-chopping duty!)
Mama holding our clothes in front of the wood stove to warm them before we dressed. Daddy plowing snow off the frozen slough along the river and teaching us how to skate. Driving up the mountain with cocoa and sleds to find the perfect Christmas tree. Coming downstairs in early-morning darkness to cozy, gentle light of big old-fashioned bulbs on the tree — with all our mismatched and beloved ornaments.
Every morning in the days leading to December 25, we’d listen to our local radio station re-air Robin Morrow’s Christmas Fantasy series. We’d bundle up and play in the snow as often as we could, as long as runny noses and frozen eyelashes could stand it, as long as short days would allow. Snowmen, sled runs — and, yeah, even “researching” whether tongues really do stick to something frozen.
In our small country school, we’d file into the gym for popcorn in paper bags and a movie. And at church, the elders and deacons made sure the kids learned of Christ’s birth through pageants, but they didn’t put stuffiness ahead of fun: The plastic mesh stockings they gave us filled with fruits, nuts, and candies made us feel rich beyond measure.
With Mama and Daddy, we’d set up the Nativity and reflect solemnly on Advent — and then laugh to tears over Barbara Robinson’s genius 1972 work, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Really, you can’t help but fall completely, hilariously in love with a book that starts out, “The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.”
They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse. …
We figured they were headed straight for hell, by way of the state penitentiary … until they got themselves mixed up with the church, and my mother, and our Christmas pageant.
I’m indebted to my parents for making sure we knew the profound truth of Light entering the world’s darkness while also teaching us to find joy in the ordinary, in the simple — even in the cold and bitter and hard.
It’s tempting to let years and cares, burdens of body and soul, overshadow everything that used to make the happy moments of childhood stunning because of their simplicity. But we should never abandon what’s uncomplicated and wonder-filled.
Like making snow ice cream. There’s an art to it, you know: Let the first snow clear the sky of ick, and use the second snowfall. Fill a bowl with the fluffiest powder you can find, and add milk, sugar, and vanilla — taste winter.
And do this: Keep a piece of black construction paper in the freezer. When it starts snowing, capture flakes on the paper; they won’t melt quickly and will be easier to see under a microscope or magnifying glass. Children’s book Snowflake Bentley, with its beautiful woodcut illustrations, isn’t just for kids!
Remember, too, that connecting with others doesn’t have to involve lavish holiday events. Gift your neighbors with spiced tea or cocoa. Then make yourself a cup and settle in to watch the overlooked Disney classic Snowball Express.
Spiced Tea Mix
1 c. sugar
1 c. instant tea
2 c. orange juice powder (Tang®)
1 pkg. lemonade mix (2-qt. size, unsweetened, such as Kool-Aid®)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
3 oz. Red Hots (cinnamon imperials), ground to a fine powder
Mix well. Use 2 Tbsp. per cup of hot water.
Hot Chocolate Mix
8-qt. box powered milk (package will say it makes 8 quarts)
2 c. powdered coffee creamer
16 oz. powdered hot chocolate cocoa (sweetened, such as Nestle®)
1/2 – 1 c. powdered sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
Mix well. Use 1/4 – 1/3 c. per cup of hot water.
I miss the December days of childhood. Life has brought loss and sorrow and unwanted responsibility, as it does for each of us — pain in one way or another.
Are we willing to consider a greater truth? Darkness provides the stark backdrop against which light shines all the more brightly.
I can’t deny that Christ’s coming, God’s unfolding plan of redemption, means more to me now than it did as a child — that His love and truth shine brighter, indeed, because of desperate need for hope in the darkness.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!” ~“Christmas Bells”
Simple December charm these days looks more like a good book beside my little lantern than a snowball fight. When I am outside, though, I never cease to be amazed at the awesome majesty of God’s creation, especially the stars of frigid winter skies.
There’s nothing simple about them. But recognizing and accepting such beauty with childlike amazement — alongside every gift of heart and home out of His kindness — is simple.
Holding to such simplicity isn’t a lack of gratitude; it’s having a humble and sincere heart. It’s approaching Advent and Christmas, every day, with no manipulation, no pretense, no need to compete or impress. It’s acknowledging the Lord’s rightful place in the universe and in our lives: He is the true light, which gives light to everyone.
Whether you love parties and concerts, or you need to give yourself grace to grieve this season, or God crafted you to worship Him quietly and care for others behind the scenes, look for the charm of simple things in all your moments.
“Into the ordinary, came the extraordinary. The birth of a Savior. And our lives will never be the same.”