Woke up at three in the morning. I stayed in bed for a while, just contemplating life. Then I padded downstairs to say good-bye to the Christmas tree. The cats stared at the tree with me for a few minutes in quiet fellowship, and said good-bye to it, too.
Then, while my family slept, I quietly dismantled Christmas – the cats batting Christmas balls around on the floor while I wrapped and tucked the decorations back in their boxes. I said good-bye to the nativity scene on the piano, the angel on top of the tree, the popsickle stick decorations the sons made in school, the decorations students gave me, the old Hallmark decorations, the decorations I bought years ago at the Rite Aid in their post-Christmas sale, the dragonfly tree decorations from the gift shop that closed down a decade ago, the decorations from Mom and Dad’s old tree. And then I looked at the tree, standing bare and exposed in front of me, and I thanked her for bringing her sap-scent into our home and told her how grateful I was for her. I gently tugged her outside to the front porch, swept up her needles from the floor, and went to bed.
Everyone was up and downstairs when I woke up again. I came downstairs and acted surprised. “Who took down the Christmas tree?!” I asked. “Did you take it down?!” I asked Scott.
But they all knew. It was Santa Claus who took down Christmas and brought it back to the North Pole for another year. Duh.
(Originally published in 2012, but I think it works pretty well in 2021, too.)
It has been a challenging month for a lot of people. Yesterday when I was running around, doing last minute Christmas shopping, I ran into three friends who teared-up when I asked them how they were doing – one had lost a husband not long ago, the second had lost her mom, the third her dad. The husband of a fourth friend is going through medical treatment for cancer. And then there is the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut. It just might be that some of us are not inclined to feel all jolly-cheery right now. And I’m here to tell you, if you are one of those folks – it is alright. It’s okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. There’s no need or reason to judge your feelings, or to try to force them to be what they’re not. That’s just silly.
At Christmas there’s a lot of pressure on people to feel “The Christmas Spirit.” No one wants to be the Christmas Scrooge. I think we all want to share in the spirit of joy and generosity and hope. But pressuring ourselves to be happy, trying to force ourselves to be jolly, is maybe not the best way to get there. Then it becomes a battle, rather than a natural unfolding.
Here’s the good news: There’s no law that says we can’t feel the Christmas spirit on December 26th, or December 27th, or March 1st – we‘re not limited to feeling joy, generosity, and hope on this one day a year. So even if, this year, we just can’t seem to get there on December 25th, we still have the opportunity to feel the spirit whenever or wherever it unfolds for us. And here’s another bit of good news that I’ve discovered in my own adventures with sadness and grief: I have found that it is possible to be happy even when you’re sad. Which. Yeah, I know that sounds kind of weird, doesn’t it? But it’s true!
May joy settle upon you gently, moment by moment – may you catch it in the playful grin on a child’s face, in the uplift that comes from Beethoven’s Joy, in the smell of something good baking in the oven, in the hug from a friend – may you relax and enjoy those moments for what they are, and what they give you. And may any pressure you feel to somehow make those moments bigger, or brighter, or louder, ease and lift from you.
And there’s a new review for The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Christmas Book!
Jeff Chase writes:5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a gem. Reviewed in the United States on December 18, 2021 Verified Purchase It’s my second Christmas with this book, and I think I’m enjoying it more this year, perhaps because it’s already feeling like a tradition. Karen’s stories, poems, and musings are full of warmth, humor, and love. There’s much to relate to here. I find myself recalling my own Christmas stories from years past. This book is a gem, made for relaxing. Enjoy!
There’s this joy in my heart – this sassy sense of unstoppable cheer – that’s risen in me the last couple of days. It’s a joy that doesn’t depend on who wins what football game, or where I am or what I’m doing – a joy that doesn’t depend on everything being “perfect” in my life. It’s a joy I don’t feel guilty feeling. I like this joy. I think I’ll keep it.
Think of all the beauty that’s still left in and around you and be happy! – Anne Frank
The Germans begin setting up Christmas trees with lighted candles along the trenches on their side of the line. They begin singing carols, and although they’re singing in German, the allies on the other side of the line– the French, Belgians, and British – are able to recognize most of the carols. Soon voices are raised from both sides of the dividing line, joining together to sing “Silent Night.” A truce is called. Weapons are laid down and replaced with soccer balls. Gifts are exchanged – chocolate and postcards and tobacco and newspapers.
I love that story. I love the hope of peace it represents. Although the soldiers were not able to maintain their truce – within the week they were forced, under orders, to pick up their weapons and begin shooting at each other again – the end of the Christmas truce in 1914 doesn’t diminish the power of what those soldiers were able to bring to each other for that week.
May our world find that peace again, and next time may it be lasting.
“… and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” – Isaiah 2: 4
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” – Isaiah 11: 6
One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, “Love thy neighbor as thyself;” annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry, – whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed. – Mary Baker Eddy
May the spirit of Christmas awaken in me dormant hope; dormant joy; dormant kindness. May the spirit of Christmas help me see – open my eyes from their eyes-closed blindness to behold the ties of love that bind us. Amen.
The kitsch and spangles and baubles and bangles, And department store Santa, just really can’ta Seem to bring me the spirit of Christmas.
And I’ve been waiting to feel it – the real Christmas spirit Hoping it’d come by now. The stockings are stuffed, the tree is all buffed, The cookies are baked and frosted and fluffed But there’s still something missing – a feeling, a tingling that’s supposed to come every Christmas.
Except… Maybe that Christmas feeling, that energy and tingling Is something I can have every day – It doesn’t depend on spangles, or jingly-bell jangles Or jolly men dressed all in red. It comes in the sharing of laughter and caring And the comfort in words with love said: To all – Peace! Joy! Hope! Every moment of every day. – Karen Molenaar Terrell, from The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Christmas Book
T’was two weeks afore Christmas and all through Eff Bee not a creature was stirring – not a they, she, or he. We were prostrate and spent from the holiday bustle not a twitch could be seen from the teeniest muscle.
We lay all unblinking in our respective beds while visions of gift-wrapping swirled through our heads. And clad in our jammies and our way cool madcaps we had the vague hopeful hope our bodies would take naps.
Holiday jangles and jingles pinged through our brains – Presley, Crosby, and Mathis taking us down memory lanes – and would we remember every member to be gifted? We mentally went through our lists, hoping none were omitted.
There were homes to be decorated and cards to be sent; parties, caroling, and cookie-making, and we hadn’t made a dent. But with a collective sigh we remembered there and then that it’s really about good will to all creatures, women, and men.
It is time, once again, for the telling of “The Christmas Dog” story:
“This is the doctrine of Christian Science: that divine Love cannot be deprived of its manifestation, or object; that joy cannot be turned into sorrow, for sorrow is not the master of joy; that good can never produce evil; that matter can never produce mind nor life result in death.” From Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy
Christmas Eve, 1988. I was in a funk. I couldn’t see that I was making much progress in my life. My teaching career seemed to be frozen, and I was beginning to think my husband and I would never own our own home or have children. The world seemed a very bleak and unhappy place to me. No matter how many batches of fudge I whipped up or how many times I heard Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas,” I couldn’t seem to find the Christmas spirit.
I was washing the breakfast dishes, thinking my unhappy thoughts, when I heard gunshots coming from the pasture behind our house. I thought it was the neighbor boys shooting at the seagulls again and, all full of teacherly harrumph, decided to take it upon myself to go out and “have a word with them.”
But after I’d marched outside I realized that it wasn’t the neighbor boys at all. John, the dairy farmer who lived on the adjoining property, was walking away with a rifle, and an animal (a calf, I thought) was struggling to get up in the field behind our house. Every time it would push up on its legs it would immediately collapse back to the ground.
I wondered if maybe John had made a mistake and accidentally shot the animal, so I ran out to investigate and found that the animal was a dog. It had foam and blood around its muzzle. She was vulnerable and helpless – had just been shot, after all – but instead of lashing out at me or growling as I’d expect an injured animal to do, she was looking up at me with an expression of trust and seemed to be expecting me to take care of her.
“John!” I yelled, running after the farmer. He turned around, surprised to see me. “John, what happened?” I asked, pointing back towards the dog.
A look of remorse came into his eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry you saw that, Karen. The dog is a stray and it’s been chasing my cows. I had to kill it.”
“But John, it’s not dead yet.”
John looked back at the dog and grimaced. “Oh man,” he said. “I’m really sorry. I’ll go finish the job. Put it out of its misery.”
By this time another dog had joined the dog that had been shot. It was running around its friend, barking encouragement, trying to get its buddy to rise up and escape. The sight of the one dog trying to help his comrade broke my heart. I made a quick decision. “Let me and my husband take care of it.”
“Are you sure?”
I nodded and he agreed to let me do what I could for the animal.
Unbeknownst to me, as soon as I ran out of the house my husband, knowing that something was wrong, had gotten out his binoculars and was watching my progress in the field. He saw the look on my face as I ran back. By the time I reached our house he was ready to do whatever he needed to do to help me. I explained the situation to him, we put together a box full of towels, and he called the vet.
As we drove his truck around to where the dog lay in the field, I noticed that, while the dog’s canine companion had finally left the scene (never to be seen again), John had gone to the dog and was kneeling down next to her. He was petting her, using soothing words to comfort her, and the dog was looking up at John with that look of trust she’d given me. John helped my husband load her in the back of the truck and we began our drive to the vet’s.
I rode in the back of the truck with the dog as my husband drove, and sang hymns to her. As I sang words from one of my favorite hymns from the Christian Science Hymnal – “Everlasting arms of Love are beneathe, around, above” – the dog leaned against my shoulder and looked up at me with an expression of pure love in her blue eyes.
Once we reached the animal clinic, the veterinarian came out to take a look at her. After checking her over he told us that apparently a bullet had gone through her head, that he’d take care of her over the holiday weekend – keep her warm and hydrated – but that he wasn’t going to give her any medical treatment. I got the distinct impression that he didn’t think the dog was going to make it.
My husband and I went to my parents’ home for the Christmas weekend, both of us praying that the dog would still be alive when we returned. For me, praying for her really meant trying to see the dog as God sees her. I tried to realize the wholeness and completeness of her as an expression of God, an idea of God. I reasoned that all the dog could experience was the goodness of God – all she could feel is what Love feels, all she could know is what Truth knows, all she could be is the perfect reflection of God. I tried to recognize the reality of these things for me, too, and for all of God’s creation.
She made it through the weekend, but when we went to pick her up the vet told us that she wasn’t “out of the woods, yet.” He told us that if she couldn’t eat, drink, or walk on her own in the next few days, we’d need to bring her back and he’d need to put her to sleep.
We brought her home and put her in a big box in our living room, with a bowl of water and soft dog food by her side. I continued to pray. In the middle of the night I got up and went out to where she lay in her box. Impulsively, I bent down and scooped some water from the dish into her mouth. She swallowed it, and then leaned over and drank a little from the bowl. I was elated! Inspired by her reaction to the water, I bent over and grabbed a glob of dog food and threw a little onto her tongue. She smacked her mouth together, swallowed the food, and leaned over to eat a bit more. Now I was beyond elated! She’d accomplished two of the three requirements the vet had made for her!
The next day I took her out for a walk. She’d take a few steps and then lean against me. Then she’d take a few more steps and lean. But she was walking! We would not be taking her back to the veterinarian.
In the next two weeks her progress was amazing. By the end of that period she was not only walking, but running and jumping and chasing balls. Her appetite was healthy. She was having no problems drinking or eating.
But one of the most amazing parts of this whole Christmas blessing was the relationship that developed between this dog and the man who had shot her. They became good friends. The dog, in fact, became the neighborhood mascot. (And she never again chased anyone’s cows.)
What the dog brought to me, who had, if you recall, been in a deep funk when she entered our lives, was a sense of the true spirit of Christmas – the Christly spirit of forgiveness, hope, faith, love. She brought me the recognition that nothing, absolutely nothing, is impossible to God.
We named our new dog Christmas because that is what she brought us that year.
Within a few years all those things that I had wondered if I would ever have as part of my life came to me – a teaching job, children, and a home of our own. It is my belief that our Christmas Dog prepared my heart to be ready for all of those things to enter my life.
It’s a humble holiday, tucked in between Christmas and New Year’s, but it’s really keen. Things look a little bedraggled, it’s true The tree’s a little droopy and no longer new
The movies and music of the Christmas season Are getting on our nerves now, and we’re seeing no reason To eat even one more sugary oversweet sweet It’s time for broccoli and carrots (maybe hold on the beets)
The pressure for perfection comes off on this day, The toys have been opened, and it’s come time to play. And if before we were wearing faux holiday cheer To blend in with the others and not Scroogey appear
It’s time now to be genuine, and honest and real The food banks are empty, people still need a warm meal The homeless and hungry and jobless and alone Still need love and caring, still need a home.
So maybe we can celebrate the day after Christmas – By keeping the spirit of hope alive, we might make that our business. – Karen Molenaar Terrell
Why would I choose bitterness and deny myself the peace of forgiveness? Why would I choose anger and deny myself the joy of kindness? Why would I choose hate and deny myself the healing presence of Love? -Karen Molenaar Terrell
May the peace, joy, and presence of Love fill your hearts and home this Christmas!