Forsythia is pure joy. There is not an ounce, not a glimmer of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia. Pure, undiluted, untouched joy. - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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Frankly Phyllis

Right Christmas

Frankly, I'd like to wish you a "preventive Christmas" or a "proactive Christmas," to lower the startling statistics about mental health care increasing 35% to 40% during January and early February. Usual causes include the high maintenance of the season, the empty chair at Christmas, or expectations not quite matching up with reality. Will there be less spending this Christmas? Will the mortgage mess*, layoffs, and future unknowns dictate our discretionary income for a while? Our plastic cards are maxed out. Can we even afford Christmas anymore? (*Check out the November 30 episode of Woman to Woman--The Mortgage Crisis Hits Home.)

Hold on a second. Take a breather from all of these money woes. Rewind. This instant replay is brought to you by the Bethlehem Better Business Bureau. "Earth landing by angels on high whose chorus heralds the event has been sighted. What child is this? Baby Jesus, lying in a manger. Born like us, to grow up like us and be tempted like us, and to die for us. From heaven above to earth He comes. Whatever shall we do with Him?"

It's hard to believe that God would go to so much trouble to lower Himself to earth in the form of a baby, but once you believe it, you're never the same. We believe in other landings, in wartime and on the moon, and those are ultimately much less impressive. Roland Bainton comments in Martin Luther's Christmas Book, "Christian teaching is that in Christ, God became flesh. Compared with that, no particular miracle matters much. If one could but believe that God lay in the manger, one could let go the star and the angel's song and yet keep the faith...The Virgin birth appeared to Luther a trivial miracle compared with the Virgin's faith."

I grew up in snow country. Christmas wasn't right unless it was white. The classic movie, White Christmas, confirmed what we already knew - Christmas was about fluff and surprises. A Christmas without snow was like the road crew looking for a broken water main under the streets - a big let down! It took some of us a while to realize fluff and surprises can't make Christmas "right." Whether it snows or not, Jesus shows up!

With "choice" the mantra of the modern maiden, let's have some this Christmas. Choose to take inventory of what worked and didn't work in years past. Be honest and kind with yourself! Remember, every "no" means "yes" to something else. Do all celebrative expressions have to be "Kodak Moments?" What do you really want Christmas to look like this year? Be in charge of the way you celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

Let's connect the dots between holiday burnout and being busy. December busyness makes us fall apart during the holidays, even though we're highly functioning all year long. The nostalgia that accompanies family holidays sometimes doesn't help, either. Right now, there's a piece of me that flat out misses my parents - at the table, on my gift list - for all the ways they made Christmas matter. But I know that when I read the original Christmas story in the Bible and listen to the music inspired by this great event, God replaces melancholy with more than holly. I'll play from my old piano books and go to a Christmas concert with friends. I'll spend more time than money with those I love. I'll continue the traditions that mean the most: making our own cards, delivering my hot fudge sauce to Marcy and her family on Christmas Eve, visiting elderly friends with favorite cookies and asking how they celebrated years ago.

It's nice to make new memories this season, too. Get gift cards for the mailperson and the garbage collector to let them know that their often-unsung work really is appreciated. Put together a gift box for your pastor and his family; include a good book (some "food for thought") with a lamb roast for a tasty Christmas feast, mint jelly to keep him in "mint" condition during the holidays, and throat lozenges to keep his voice in peak shape for Christmas services. Maybe include some tennis balls to help him "juggle" his busy schedule. The point is to have fun - remember, this is a birthday party! Through your donations to children, to those in prison, or to a women's shelter, make a dream come true. I'm dreaming of a RIGHT Christmas this year. How about you?

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