Making Room for Christmas

I can’t think of very many things I love more than Christmas time. I love the wonder and the cheer and the twinkle lights & evergreen. I love the family time and the sweets in excess and the exchanging of gifts. I love the story of the birth of Jesus. I love that it’s the beginning of the fulfillment of every promise God made and prophecy spoken in scripture.

I love the hope it always brings. I love that from Thanksgiving to December 25, we wait in hopeful expectation of Christmas day. I love that it reminds me every year of how wonderful it must have been to witness the magic of that night… the coming of our long awaited Savior. Our Rescuer. Our Prince of Wholeness. Here to mend all things broken and pay our every debt for all of eternity.

Last weekend, just like we always do right after Thanksgiving, Noland and I went to pick out our Christmas tree. In the spirit of building new family traditions in Utah, we went to the cutest Christmas tree farm right at the foot of the mountains. They played Christmas music and served us hot chocolate as we walked around in the snow in search for the perfect tree.

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We picked out a 9-footer and they strapped it to the top of Noland’s Scion XB that we lovingly refer to as “the toaster.” It was kind of hilarious. Since my ever-so-careful husband wouldn’t drive over 45 mph on the interstate on our way home that afternoon, I had a lot of time to think.

I laughed to myself at how hilarious we must have looked in that moment, with our very Griswold-esque tree hanging over every edge of our tiny car. I thought about how, for now our fourth married holiday season, we have had to completely rearrange our itty bitty living space to make room for a Christmas tree every year.

This year, rearranging looked like moving our dining room table for the next month to the back room that pretty much just acts as a storage space. It didn’t matter to me, though. We hardly sit at it anyway. I wanted my big tree in my front window, right next to the chair I sit in every morning by the fire with my coffee in hand.

With this vision in my mind, I went ahead and rearranged the furniture the night before, so the room would be ready for our tree when we got home the next day. We pulled the monster of a tree inside, just the two of us, and we died laughing at how we *might* have overestimated how much space we were working with in this room.

The top of the tree touched the ceiling and the bottom was first of all way too wide, and second, hanging way too low. We realized the ole’ tree farm didn’t quite do the trimming that Home Depot had on our trees of Christmas past. We pulled the tree back out to the front yard, sort of  chuckling at the hilarity of the situation — although I could tell Noland was a bit irritated, seeing as how I’d been the one to fight for the taller tree back at the tree farm.

Praise the Lord for neighbors who have all the things. Our neighbor, Gabe, let us borrow his chain saw to trim our beloved tree down to living room size (another Griswold moment).

Noland trimmed the tree and immediately shed every feeling of frustration due to the surge of manliness he was feeling with a chain saw in his hands. Don’t worry, though. He had his skinny jeans on for the whole thing. Look good, do good — right?

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So, back in the house we go with our trimmed tree. And, 10 minutes later, back out we go. Rookie mistake: didn’t trim enough of the bottom branches off, so she was still hanging a little low. I had to lovingly explain to Noland that the gifts were supposed to be able to fit under the tree — and right now, we weren’t even fitting an envelope under there.

Sweet man that he is, he trimmed a little more. Alas, third time’s a charm. The tree came inside and stayed inside after round two of trimming. Of course, then I had to go around with scissors to give her a little liposuction. Another half hour or so later, we were finally ready to decorate.

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We laughed about how most normal people who live in 1200 square feet probably just get one of those really skinny fake trees that can fit in any corner. I’m a bit of a purist, though, and I need the experience of picking out a real tree, and smelling that fresh evergreen scent every time you walk into the house. Oh, it’s one of my most favorite things!

We’ve been laughing at how, since Friday when we got our tree, every friend of ours who’s walked into our house has said, “Wow! That’s a big tree.” And has followed with something along the lines of, “Wait… where did the table go?”

And you know what? I love that we make room. I love that we rearrange things and make sacrifices to make space in our home for Christmas. I love that it reminds me to make space in my heart for Christmas.

It reminds me to do away with the things that aren’t necessary, and to quiet my heart and my spirit in remembrance of Him. To draw near and take in that old, old story that I love so much. To remember that when He came, it meant our wait was over. God wrapped in flesh, Immanuel,  was with us. Forever.

Here’s to making room in our homes and our hearts for Him this season. I can’t really think of anything better.

Rain or shine; sunrise or bull fight

Six years ago I spent a few weeks of my summer in Costa Rica with my dad and a team of about 15 people. Half of our trip was spent in San Jose and surrounding areas with Young Life, and the other half was spent at a camp in the mountains of San Gerardo de Dota, way up in the cloud forest (like the rainforest, but at higher altitude).

We spent our days there helping get camp cleaned up after what had been a rough rainy season, and our nights learning how to salsa and playing “Ticos vs. Gringos” soccer games. It was one of my favorite trips I’ve ever been on.

I had just graduated high school, was getting ready to go to college on a soccer scholarship where I didn’t know a single person, and my parents were moving back to Texas. Everything was changing, and that two weeks in Costa Rica with my dad and our friends was this sweet, time-stopping breath of fresh air.

It was filled with great adventure and great God encounters, and I even met a friend there who is still dear to me today. It was one of those trips where all sorts of unexpected things happen that leave a mark on you forever — things I never could have seen coming, like what happened on our last morning there.

On our last night, my dad got up at dinner and made an announcement that there was a really great hike up to the top of the mountain from camp. He was getting up to hike and watch the sunrise from the peak, and he said if anyone wanted to join, we’d meet and head out at about 5:30 am.

Out of our entire group, the only people that got up to go hiking with my dad were me, one of our girl leaders, and about 6 other girls on the trip. (High school boys aren’t the earliest risers, I suppose.) So we bundled up and with romantic expectations of sunrise chasing in our hearts, we began our climb.

When we first got to the top, it was fantastic. Nothing but mountains of green rainforest everywhere you looked. Truthfully one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

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We spent a few minutes taking it all in… and then we heard some rustling behind us. There was what looked like it used to be a fence, and right in front of said “fence” there was a bull. We were a little bit startled, but my dad assured us if we just kept our distance (all 15 yards of it), the bull wouldn’t be bothered or bother us.

Well, a few minutes later, he is literally sharpening his horns on a tree trunk. This was a little bit alarming, so at my dad’s command, we started walking slowly back down the path. The bull, having sharpened his horns to his liking, then hops off the side of the mountain and down onto the path. He was facing us, doing that thing bulls do with their feet when they look like they’re about to take off in a wild rage.


I’ll never forget my dad saying, “OK girls. Keep walking slowly back down the path. When I say go, you need to move as quickly as you can down the path and then get off the path and up onto the side of the mountain.”

At this point I’m thinking, all summer I thought I was training for my first college soccer preseason, but really I was preparing my self for THIS. MOMENT. Life or death. This is what all those sprints and power cleans were for.

Dad gives the signal and we all take off running. Hearts racing, adrenaline pumping, some girls squealing. So I’m running for my life, and as soon as I saw a good spot, I jumped up off the path and held onto a tree branch to keep myself as far out of the bull’s reach as possible.

We’re talking like Simba in the stampede style, hanging from a tree and looking back praying I wasn’t going to have a Simba-esque ending as I watched my dad hang back to protect the rest of us. It sounds morbid now, but these were legitimate thoughts in my head at the time.

Well the bull kind of half chased my dad about 30-40 yards down the path, and once he realized he’d successfully scared the living daylights out of all of us enough to get out of his territory, he stopped. We all pulled ourselves together and then started our descent back down the mountain, but about 200 yards down the path, one of the girls says, “Oh my gosh! I left my camera up there!”

Feeling confident after his first escape, my dad goes back up to the top with our angry bull friend to fetch her camera. I did what every good daughter would do — I got on my face and prayed until he returned. Just kidding. I got out my camera and video’d the whole thing. If nothing else, we were going to go viral on YouTube after dad got bucked. (I’ve always been a journalist, I guess.)

Thankfully, nothing happened. Dad got the camera and returned, and we went back to camp, packed our bags and headed for the airport. The real irony of this story is that when we got to the airport, the Running of the Bulls in Spain was all over the TVs. We resolved that our bull was displaced and jealous of all his pals in Spain, and we were glad we could help make his Running of the Bulls dreams come true in some small way.

I was thinking about this story the other day, about how sometimes life goes a lot like that morning did. People just don’t climb mountains expecting to be charged by a bull at the top. Sometimes crazy, unexpected things just happen, and you roll with it and keep going, and you don’t let it define all the rest of the days that follow it.

I’ve climbed several other mountains since that one, and never have I started one of those journeys thinking, “Man I better prepare myself for the bull at the top.”

I don’t know what the crazy, unexpected curve ball that turned what was supposed to be a beautiful experience into a near-disaster in your life was recently, but I’m sure you’ve had one. And I challenge you to choose to believe that there are still sunrises to be seen on mountaintops, even though one of them got ruined once.

I was on the phone with my dad last night, and he said, “You know, we only get to be on this earth once. Might as well wear ourselves out saying yes to all the crazy things we get invited into.”

I love that about my dad. I hope I always think that way, too. Every day a new opportunity for adventure. Rain or shine; sunrise or bull fight.

Cheers to the adventures ahead of you this weekend. May they be equal parts beauty, adventure and ridiculousness.

When life hands you lemons

So I’m a little bit jobless at the moment, which also means I’m a little bit bored. My general rule of thumb in this weird in-between season is, “Allow yourself to rest, but don’t allow laziness.” I’ve been writing, cleaning, planning, dreaming, reading, walking, volunteering, and… experimenting. It’s a strange, confusing season, and when life hands you lemons… you make lemonade, right?

A few weeks ago, I had a glass of lavender lemonade at a local coffee shop here in Waco, and it kind of changed my life a little bit. I don’t think I’ll ever drink plain lemonade the same. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about it, wondering if I could somehow concoct the same glorious creation in my own teeny tiny kitchen.

I probably could have just called my friend who manages aforementioned coffee shop, but where’s the adventure in that? I’m bored and I need some excitement in my days! So off I went to the grocery store for lemons and lavender. Did I know what I was doing? Probably not. Did I pretend I was a lavender buying, lemon squeezing, fancy drink making expert? Absolutely.

The photo I posted at the end of it all is definitely much prettier than the process was (such is life, I suppose), and I’m not usually one for posting recipes (mostly because I know the things I create in my kitchen are not all that fancy, and my photos definitely don’t usually look like they belong on Pinterest), but by popular demand, I’m sharing the recipe with you here today. Let’s use the term “recipe” loosely, though, folks… if you’re one for exact measurements I’m just going to warn you now that this was a total guessing game.

So strap on your adventure boots, your safety goggles (lemon squeezing can be very dangerous) and your party pants, and enter my teeny tiny kitchen at your own discretion.

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Step One: The stuff you put in this stuff

I think a standard pitcher is like two quarts, right? All I know is that mine is from Anthropologie and it’s really cute, and it’s probably somewhere in the ballpark of two quarts. We’ll go with that. Ready your two quart pitcher.

I bought 10 lemons, and I currently have four left, so basic math would say that I squeezed the juice of six of them into my pitcher, but I’m pretty sure I used one just for garnish. (Basic rule of anything you ever use from Anthro: you must fill it with only pretty things. Therefore, garnish.)

I’m sure you can probably use some sort of lavender extract or syrup and get the same effect for less work, but lavender flower is so cheap, and it’s pretty, and if you have some leftover you can put it in something cute and make wherever you set it smell like heaven. So I just got a little bag of lavender flowers, for a whopping 80 cents.

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The mint was an afterthought, because I happen to have some growing in my kitchen. It was a fantastic afterthought, though, so I recommend some fresh mint also. Again, you could use mint extract, but it would lose that fresh mint taste and your glass would be WAY less pretty. (Things that matter)

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All this to say, you need:

  • A (two-quart-ish) pitcher
  • Six or so lemons
  • A handful of lavender flowers
  • Some fresh mint leaves

Moving on. Step Two: The stuff you do to the stuff before it goes in the stuff

This is easy, folks. Cut your lemons in half and squeeze all the juice into your pitcher. If you have a citrus juicer press, use that. I have a big juicer that I didn’t feel like going to the trouble of getting out/cleaning just for five lemons, so I just squeezed them with my hands. It was a sticky time, but it got the job done.

Once all your lemon juice is in your pitcher, add water. Then sweeten it with your sweetener of choice. I used Stevia. If you want it to taste like that fresh squeezed lemonade your grandma used to make, you’re probably going to have to bite the calorie bullet and use real sugar. It’s probably worth it. Get it tasting like good, normal lemonade before you move on.

OK. Lavender. Here’s where maybe the extract/syrup is worth the extra few bucks. I just threw a handful of lavender flowers into the pitcher and stirred it up/let it sit for a bit. This will make it taste delicious, yes, but you’ll probably need to pour it through a strainer before you drink it. Unless you’re into swallowing whole lavender flowers. What I ended up doing was straining the first handful of lavender I threw in there out, and then I wrapped some up in a coffee filter and let it just float in there.

It looked weird. But it worked.

Don’t forget to slice up that sixth lemon you saved and throw them in the pitcher! They just look cute floating around in there.

Grand Finale. Step three: pour a Pinterest-worthy, pretty glass of lemonade.

I’m not entirely sure how long I let it sit and soak up the lavender before it tasted just right. Maybe give it 20 minutes or so, and try it? Once your lemonade tastes nice and lavender-y, pour it over ice into a glass, and add your fresh mint leaves. (Adding them by the glass instead of into the pitcher just makes it taste more fresh.)

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Boom. You have a life-changing, summer in a glass, sit on the porch and watch the kids play in the sunset, glass of lemonade.

From my teeny tiny kitchen to your probably way more spacious and pretty one, you’re welcome. And happy experimenting.

Cheers!