Emotional Exhaustion

Cynthia L. Eppley 01/16/2021

One of the reasons I partake in Social Media is to put my finger on the pulse of our culture. At least, part of it.
So when counselor Esther Lee posted this on Jan 13, I took notice:
“I’m sure so many of us can relate to this. It’s time to readjust expectations of ourselves and others.”

And then she referenced an article from USA Today:

“That Feeling You can’t name? It’s called Emotional Exhaustion.”

Emotional Exhaustion

2020 was a hard year. I’ve already written blogs addressing it. And 2021 has started off in a similar fashion.
How would we define it?
When stress begins to accumulate from negative or challenging events in life that just keep coming, you can find yourself in a state of feeling emotionally worn out and drained. This is called emotional exhaustion.

For most people, emotional exhaustion tends to slowly build up over time.
Emotional exhaustion includes emotional, physical and performance symptoms.
And 2020, with Pandemic and Covid? It has had a way of slowly building up over time.

How is Today different from any other Day?

I reference, of course, the question from the events described in the Book of Exodus. Is 2021 really any different from 2020?
Yes, and no.
Our country has just gone through a major election.

Tensions run high, and there is certainly enough blame to go around for us all. The political climate has added to the emotional load we all carry.
But this is not a political post: it is a post for all of us.

It Must be in the Water

Tensions and opinions run strong and deep. Just look at someone’s innocent post and then a diatribe back? There is so much anger.
And it is all around us. Like a fish in the water, we can barely escape it.

What is a person to do?

1. Recognize it.
We are living in unprecedented times. The Pandemic has been very real. The threat of Covid has hung over our heads for almost 1 year now.
The Vaccine is not yet readily available.
Our health workers and first responders are exhausted.
And we, who observe from the sidelines, absorb the exhaustion as well.
Political events add to our stress, no matter what “side” you are on.

2. Come up for air.
We cannot keep our head in the sand. Ignorance is not bliss.
But holding our head under a deluge of continual information, reports, videos and analysis doesn’t allow us to breathe.

Practical Tips on Self Care

I wrote on practical issues last Spring. Who would have thought we would still need them? See Loss in a Pandemic, Grief 101 and Grief 102. Do we see ourselves in these descriptions?
Check “How do we Get Through Quarantine?” for practical steps.

Practice the Presence of God.

As Christians, we have the Body of Christ to encourage and renew us.
We have the Scriptures to remind us of the marvelous message of a Savior.

We have hope:

Lamentations 3:20-22 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

We lift our eyes up to Him: Psalm 121: 1-2 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Pie in the Sky?

This is not a “Pie in the sky, bye and bye” unfounded hope.
This is a resilient, gritty trust that has placed its faith in a God who does not fail.

Psalm 46:1-3
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

How Firm a Foundation

The hymn “How Firm a Foundation” is full of Scriptural Truth:

How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word
What more can He say than to you He has said To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed
For I am Thy God, and will still give you aid
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call you to go The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow For I will be with you, your troubles to bless And sanctify to you your deepest distress.

When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie My grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply The flame shall not hurt you, I only design Your dross to consume and the gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to His foes
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

Leaning

In these times of emotional exhaustion, let us find our foundation in Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith.
Let us know that He is our refuge; He upholds us.
And in these times, let us lean into Him, knowing He will never forsake us.

The Dawn of 2021: Every Moment Counts

Cynthia L. Eppley 01/03/2021

New Beginnings?

It is the third day of 2021. But this isn’t just any year.
This is the end of 2020.
We all anticipated it so much didn’t we?
We are weary of Covid, Pandemics, illness, and death. We are all looking toward a new year and new beginnings.

New Year Resolutions

And then there is the hopeful New Year’s Resolution:
lose weight, drink less, exercise more, eat healthier, be more diligent in good things. We all have hopes and dreams in the New Year, don’t we?

But Wait….

The fact is, 2021 rose and shone much the same way as any other day in 2020. Sure, there were fireworks and celebrations.
Banging pots and pans into a dented wreak.
And the cynic within might even agree with the Teacher:

Ecclesiastes 2:11

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

What is Left?

The world keeps spinning round, doesn’t it?
Hindsight might be 2020, but what does the year before us hold? And how do we manage it?

Going into the New Year

We manage it by carefully noting the daily moments more than the long term resolutions. Giving thanks for life itself, and every breath as a gift.
The daily days may be tiring, but they are full of purpose and potential and pleasure.

We rejoice at the birth of beautiful new babies.

A dear friend notes that 1 year ago today her mother was taken unexpectedly. The pain of loss is still fresh and raw. The cost of love runs deep.

Yet another is taken by Covid.

Difficulties and Pleasures

St. Augustine said, “The very pleasures of human life men acquire by difficulties.”

“There are times when the entire arrangement of our existence is disrupted and we long then for just one ordinary day – seeing our ordinary life as greatly desirable, even wonderful, in the light of the terrible disruption that has taken place.
Difficulty opens our eyes to pleasures we had taken for granted.” ~Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart

Haven’t we all longed for just one ordinary day?

Clarity

It is in such difficult moments that the clarity of life comes full circle and full center.
In these times we take off the glasses of the “Year to Come” and instead center in on the blessings and realities of each day.

Lamentations 3: 22-24 “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for him.”

10,000 Little Moments

Paul Tripp hit on a truth for our New Year:

”You see, the character of a life is not set in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments. The character that was formed in those little moments is what shapes how you respond to the big moments of life.”
Paul Tripp Jan 1, 2014

Live Love Now

Rachel Macy Stafford is the author of Live Love Now, and blogger of Hands Free Mama: Letting Go, to grasp what really matters.
She speaks to living in the daily days and little moments: Christy passed away on September 1, 2012. The following pledge is how I will live out my days here on earth—inspired by Christy, the remarkable one whose life was the epitome of grasping what really matters.
In your honor, I will stop prefacing sentences with “when I lose 5 pounds” and “when things slow down.” In your honor, I will live life now, not “someday.”
In your honor, I will say, “I am sorry.” Even when it’s difficult to say. Even when I think the other person should say it first.
In your honor, I will bless the butterfly that crosses my path. For you taught me everyday miracles are abundant if we just open our eyes and look for them.
In your honor, I will not let life pass me by.
Rachel Macy Stafford© “Remembering Sunscreen & Butterflies” http://www.handsfreemama.com/…/remembering-sunscreen…/

To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn…

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
There is a time for every purpose. There are seasons in life.

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 There is a purpose to every day. Every day is a gift. Every breath is a gift.

The Conclusion of the Matter…

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.
Ecclesiastes 12:13

(Please go to Youtube to access: Chris Rice: “Life Means So Much” with lyrics.)

Teach us to number our days. Teach us to make the days count. Lead us in better ways.
Life means so much.
(Chris Rice, Life means so much.)

Our Conclusion

Live Intentionally. One moment at a time. Live with Purpose.
Fear God. Love well.
Make every day count.

Covid Calamities and 2020

Cynthia L. Eppley 12/27/2020

I’ve seen several places where 2020 has been described as “A Dumpster Fire of a year.” Or “I’ll be so glad to finish 2020!” or “Good Riddance!”
It has been a hard year for so many.

Trials and Temptations

Covid has been a national, no an International scourge.
Small business owners have been on the verge of collapse. Many have lost their jobs.
Perhaps you have been considered an “Essential Worker.” Others have found they could work from home.
Schools have struggled to keep kids in school, but then adopted an online learning platform, or a hybrid method of both.
Many friends and even family have been challenged to work as well as educate their children.

You are not Alone

It has been said: “We are in this together.” But that’s not really true, is it? We are all in the same ocean of turmoil, but our boats vary in their functions and capacities.
If there was ever a time for grace amidst our trials, now is the time.
And the honest truth?

We don’t even know the half of our neighbor’s situation.

Social Media

Even in times of Social Media, we may not know the full story.
I noted many happy faces, and family pictures.
But what about the friends who had sudden changes in plans?
What about the ones who celebrated holidays alone due to cancelled flights, or the threat of Covid?

You may have noticed their family portraits were absent. Which brings me to my point.

What is left? With Christmas “deconstructed,” what is left? Just around Christmas, several people began asking the question: “What have you learned or appreciated during this pandemic?” Answers came from Europe, Finland, Connecticut, and next door.
And their generosity speaks to the resilience of our human spirit.

What have you learned? What follows is a list of what 2020 has taught us:

The willingness to accept what is and that happiness and joy can be found despite our circumstances!

To not be fearful, to be willing to change plans in an instant and still enjoy them. That God is ever near and loves us so much! That working from Home is awesome! 


That being masked and/or staying home isn’t the worst thing that could happen.

I am thankful for FaceTime, Zoom, and time spent outdoors.

That God is really and truely my everything. Do I struggle in this? Yes! But day after day, He is with me and I reconnect with Him as my everything. It certainly is a battle with the flesh. I have had cancer, neropathy, hernias, my husband had stage 4 lung cancer, and yet I KNOW that God is always good and bringing about redemption is so many ways. And I can thank Him only because He lives in me.


I learned that a small, quiet, private Christmas celebration can happen and bring joy without any of the usual trimmings.

The biggest payoffs come from tackling your fears head on. Hiding from them, avoiding them, pretending they don’t exist keeps you mired right where you are.

I can work just as effectively at home while eliminating my 2 hour + a day commute!

I saw so much more of Tana’s firsts this year working from home, I got promoted at work, and I’ve lost 50 lbs this year.

I was able to ride horses again (great social distancing activity) and adopted a race horse whose races were canceled so she gets to come home with me for a new life

I donated my kidney right before Covid to my cousin. Now my cousin is healthier than he’s been in years, and my body adjusted to one kidney like a champ!

So I’ve made over 5 and released 10 songs, I’m a rapper just not famous! lol

After saving for many years, we were able to build and move into our new home!

My book was published after 4 years of hard work.

I bought my harp Christmas 2018, right before I retired. I’ve been taking lessons and just love it! Especially during isolation.

I’m having loads of fun! YouTube is my BFF right now. I’m learning to play guitar (badly) and enjoying every second of it. Funny how a tiny change of pace can dramatically change your perspective.

I just started learning Spanish for the first time in my life. I love the challenge, the distraction, and that I’ve actually learned several words already!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

In this classic Dr. Seuss tale, the Grinch decides to take Christmas away.

“It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes or bags.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Curses or Blessings

We have all struggled during this time. And this is no time to minimize what some are going through, or to give trite easy answers.
My neighbor decided:
“I can’t have the kind of Christmas I want. So I’m going to find ways to serve others.” Perhaps, amidst ribbons and tags, boxes and bags: Christmas means a little bit more? And maybe 2020, rather than a curse, has brought blessings as well.

Christmas Traditions

Cynthia L. Eppley 12/24/2020

“I’ll be home for Christmas” takes on new meaning this year, doesn’t it? One in California, one in Spain. And Covid Separations.
Though far apart, what are the traditions that bind us together?

Cookies

Cookies take on a historic significance don’t they? We tend to love what we were raised with; and may add on a few others over the years. For me, the “spritz” cookies are a family favorite. The kids used to call them “Tree cookies.” It was a family tradition to make them and decorate them—which generally resulted in sugar and sprinkles all over the kitchen. Not that much of a mess, and easily cleaned up.

“Christmas Gift”

I’m not sure how this got started, but my mother’s family kept this alive: Call home on Christmas Day and shout: “Christmas Gift!” This was much easier before caller ID popped up. We would answer every single call: “Christmas Gift!” We still hold to this.

Traditional foods

Foods for the holiday vary greatly. I mentioned this in Thanksgiving Traditions. Whether it is “The Seven Fishes”, Turkey, or ham, it is a treasured part of the holiday. My mother bought a “Fruit Stolen” for Christmas morning.
Full confession: I hated it. Not so much the bread part, but the candied fruit bits.

In our own family, I began the tradition of Christmas morning Sticky Buns. Made the night before, they would rise in the oven overnight. When we heard the pitter patter of little feet, I’d turn the oven on and we’d have about 30 minutes to open one or two gifts.
The best part? The sweet aroma of cinnamon filling the air, tantalizing our taste buds.

Dinner

If you live close enough to both sets of parents, or relatives the big question is: Who with? Will we race from one home to another?
When will dinner be served? Will there be two dinners?
Will I be so full you’ll have to roll me away from the table?

And at what point does making dinner transition to the adult children while grandparents contribute minor roles?

Church

Going to our Christmas Eve service was an integral part of our celebration.
Typically an early evening children’s service was offered.
By far, our favorite was the 7pm service because we all received candles to light at the end. As we sang “Silent Night”, we raised out candles together and the sanctuary took on a Holy glow. Faces turned upward to take in the glorious sight. Friends and family were in close proximity as the fellowship of believers basked in the gentle gleam.

Luminaries

Our little town has lit luminaries along the sidewalks for years. On Christmas Eve, we place sand and a candle inside a white bag. Lighting the candle, the street lights up and resembles a runway. A favorite tradition was driving through the streets to observe the neighborhood lights. I am told our community usually has 2,000; this year there are more than 3,000.

Trees

And Christmas trees are everywhere!
The big question is: do we have a “Fake” tree or a “real” tree?
Do we trek out into the field, armed with a hatchet to chop one down? And ideally, please have snow for this sacred ritual.
A local supplier, just up the hill actually sold out about 1 week ago. People want to decorate even before Thanksgiving.

Decorations

What we place on the tree can be old and treasured, or new and country
My cousin has displayed a glorious tree, full of memories from her childhood.
Our children bring home their creations from school, and they are proudly displayed on the tree just at their height.
Some parents purchase a new ornament every year, handing them over to their grown adult child.
And this year, Gnomes seem to be popular. That, and a “2020 Pandemic” ornament stating:
 “Our First Pandemic” or “I survived the 2020 Pandemic.” Creativity abounds as well as good or poor taste…..

Movies

Christmas movies are varied, and again a tradition. Families have their favorites, and must watch them. Don’t worry if we’ve seen it 1,000 times. We know the dialogue already and can blurt out the lines in advance.
The sense of hilarity or sentimentality binds us together.

Gifts

Opening Christmas gifts is the highlight for almost everyone. Will Johnny get his favorite toy? Will Brenda get her cherished doll?
And will we dive headlong into the pile of gifts and rip and tear them apart in wild revelry?
Or will we sedately take turns, “oohing” and “ahhing” over each one? Will Jimmy appropriately thank Grandmom for the inappropriate sweater? (And are there return tags attached?)
Or does everyone get 3 gifts, representing the 3 gifts the Wisemen bestowed on Baby Jesus?

The End of the Day

After the wrapping paper is collected (hopefully without throwing out those tiny parts to games and puzzles),
after the meal is devoured and pies and cakes are consumed,
after the luminaries are burnt to the ground: what traditions do we keep?

We hang on to the traditions because we know they are of fundamental importance. They pass on subtle truths about our faith, our family, and our values. They anchor our children with a sense of security, belonging and attachment to family.

Traditions 2020

But this year may, indeed, be different.
We may have to forego what we have treasured the most, and make hard decisions about what can be left behind.
Our families may be spread across the globe.
Our health may be at risk, and we may be alone in our homes.

It is hard to release our grip on traditions, and our demands of how it has to be.

“But it’s always been this way!”

Yes, it is painful to not implement treasured traditions. It is a different kind of Christmas this year. Perhaps a “Deconstructed Christmas” brings a different message.

“A thrill of Hope, a Weary World rejoices!”

And recognizing that for this weary year, the Silent, Holy Night speaks for itself. For this year, that may be enough.

Snow Day

Cynthia L. Eppley 12/21/2020

Winters in Eastern PA are always hit or miss. And snow is a love/hate relationship. It is beautiful when it arrives. But the slushy, icy aftermath is not pleasant.
We haven’t had a major snow fall in about 1,000 days.

The Forecast

When this storm was first predicted, about 5 days out, we all held our breath. Would this be a big one?
And let the reader understand: this announcement of “snow” begins the wild dash to the store:

“Buy bread! Buy milk! Buy eggs!”

You might think the stores would never open again.
And what are we to do with those items? Evidently, make French Toast.

The Storm Arrives

So when the storm hit, Dec 16-Dec 17, we were ready.
Weather forecasting is a science now, and so we watch the weather maps with great excitement.
This one was to hit Wednesday afternoon and last through Thursday morning.

Location, location, location

Just like in Real Estate, it all depends where you live.
Thus, the “I-95” Corridor is key. If you live to the South of I-95, chances are you’ll get rain or minimal snow. If you live to the North, snow will come your way.
In large amounts.
So we watch the varying news reports, viewing the colored bands with great anticipation. And it did not disappoint. Expected totals from 2-3” to up to 3 ft.
The swath of the storm extended over several states and was officially a “Nor’Easter.”

School’s Closed

Back in the day, we would listen to the radio to hear if school would be closed due to snow. The school had a number, and as the announcer scrolled through the list, we anxiously awaited to hear our number called. Cheers erupted. There would be a mad dash to grab snow boots mittens and snow pants.

School?

But this is Winter 2020.
And school is mostly virtual.
So what to do?
Certainly the kids can still “attend school” even with snow. Right? And thus began an outcry:

“It’s the first snow of the season! Cancel school! Let the kids have a snow day!”

Some elected to “skip” school altogether. But then this announcement came:

“Your work is to watch two movies with your family, lots of snow ball fights and playing in the snow.”

Finally something normal for our kids in this difficult year. Snow days are priceless and generate memories that last a lifetime.

A chance to make snowmen and snow angels just might be the happiest times many have had this year since March.

Let the Wild Rumpus Begin!

There was joy in the land.
Thursday began bright and clear.
Kids were out in full force, in full snow gear.
Piping voices and laughter could be heard.
I watched our 2 neighbor boys “ambush” their father with a flurry of snowballs.

“Do you want to build a snowman?”

I walked over to Ambler Bro Park, to the old sledding spot.
Screams of excitement filled the air. A crowd of kids and parents huddled at
the top of the hill. With a mighty push, the next sled whooshed down the hill and across the field, toward the creek.
I reminisced with them about our 3 children, 30 years ago, using that very same hill.

And the reaction?

“Im already hurting…..but sledding was SOOOO worth it!”

“Was the best day of school ever!”

(Some) Dogs love Snow

Even our Ella had her first snow day! She loved it. “Snow flakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes.”

Snow Day 2020

The old sled we once used is now a decoration in front of our home, with ice skates. It will warm up in the next few days. The snow will melt.

Parents and kids mingled together making snowmen, snow angels, and having snowball fights. Concerns about school were left behind.
Kids got to be kids for a magical moment.

Narnia

In C.S.Lewis’ book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Narnia is a magical place where there is always snow. Always winter, but never Christmas.

On Dec 17, 2020, time stood still for a moment. And just like the miraculous, magical snowflake? It was magical. And a bit like Christmas.

Holiday Grief

Cynthia L. Eppley 12/21/2020

I’ve always known there are “grave blankets”.
But for the first time I noticed “Memory” tree decorations posted on Social Media:

Some refer to our loved ones, and some to our fur babies.
The theology of most of these may be in question. But one thing is certain:
In times of celebration, missing a loved one can be raw and unrelenting.
We notice the empty place at the table. We miss their laughter and special place in our celebrations.
And there is the anticipation of loss even leading up to Christmas, or any holiday for that matter. It is no wonder that by the time Christmas comes around we are exhausted.
And we haven’t even added in Covid.

Social Media

On Social Media, people give voice to many emotions. Hear the ache in this young woman’s heart as she grieves the unexpected loss of her grandmother:


“I have spent every Christmas, for the last 35 years, with my Nanni. When I think about what it’s going to be like this year, without her, I fall into a puddle of tears and can barely catch my breath. I ache for her. And although my Julianna reminds me daily that she’s in God’s presence, I selfishly wish for her to be back in my presence. These window candles were hers. I remember being little and sneaking into her room to click them on and off while watching the Christmas lights across the street. The house would smell like pierogies, Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album would be playing, there would be laughter coming from every room while Pap took forever to perfect the lobster bisque. And now, every time I see this candle in my window, every memory comes flooding back. And although, right now, it hurts, I am thankful for every precious Christmas we shared together.”

Others write:

“It would have been Dad’s 100th birthday this Christmas. I miss him so.”

or

“I miss calling my Mom after the Christmas pageant. She always wanted to hear how the kids did!”

“I don’t know how I’m going to get through this Christmas without_______ (my mother, sister, brother, etc.)”

Why post this on Social Media? Because it gives voice to the very real and raw grief that we endure. It is the human condition. We are not exempt to the pain of the human experience.

Memories

There was a particular video making its rounds a few months ago, and it was poignant and painfully true:

“Here’s to the ones that we got
Cheers to the wish you were here, but you’re not
‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories
Of everything we’ve been through.”

This is the official Maroon 5 – Memories Cover by One Voice Children’s Choir. It was made during the quarantine period of the COVIC-19 pandemic using videos recorded by choir members at their homes. Over 8 million people watched “Memories; ” it rang so true with so many. Why?
Perhaps because it was sung by children. Their innocence and vulnerability speaks to the deepest part of us, as we too miss those who should be with us.

Psalm 34:18
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

“We forget we’re caught between two worlds. The truth is the holidays don’t sanitize life. Even when festive, our hearts still ache with all that is broken.” https://www.reviveourhearts.com/true-woman/blog/caught-between-two-worlds/

Mourning is Very Real

Mark Schultz wrote ‘A Different Kind Of Christmas,’ in 2014 after the loss of his father in law. “I’ve discovered that mourning is real and okay. So is celebrating the lives of the ones we miss. I hope the words of ‘Different Kind Of Christmas’ help your listeners reflect, grieve, and celebrate the ones they love.” – Mark Schultz

Christmas 2020

Perhaps Mark Schultz has described how best to approach Christmas 2020. Mourning is real and it is okay. We can reflect, grieve, but also celebrate those we’ve lost. It is good to know that God draws near in Jesus Christ.

It is a Different Kind of Christmas this year.

Home for the Holidays

Cynthia L. Eppley               12/16/2020

Home”

During holidays, our thoughts and our hearts often turn toward home.

Simon and Garfunkel

“Homeward bound, I wish I was homeward bound, Home where my thought’s escaping, Home where my music’s playing Home where my love lies waiting silently for me.”

Wizard of Oz 

“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…..”

“There’s no Place Like Home for the Holidays”

You can’t get through Christmas without hearing this song. If you’re listening to any Christmas station, you are going to hear it.

“Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays ‘Cause no matter how far away you roam  If you want to be happy in a million ways For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home.”

And it pulls at our heart strings, doesn’t it? And what is home? And where is home?

“I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”

“The sun is shining, the grass is green The orange and palm trees sway I’ve never seen such a day in Beverly Hills, L.A. But it’s December the 24th and I am longing to be up North:

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas Just like the ones I used to know Where the tree-tops glisten and children listen To hear sleigh bells in the snow.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas With every Christmas card I write. May your days be merry and bright And may all your Christmases be white.”  (Irving Berlin)

This poignant song of Christmas is a favorite, and brings on waves of nostalgia. But there is more to the background. Look at the history of the song:

“There are layers of reasons that give this seemingly simple song such enduring depth. On the outer layer, Berlin recalled the homesickness he felt for his wife and daughters in 1937 when they were in their home in New York celebrating Christmas and he was working in Los Angeles. 

Certainly, Christmas in Los Angeles was what inspired the original opening stanza that hardly anyone sings anymore. 

Timing is one of the elements that propelled this song to stardom. Bing Crosby first sang it on the radio on Christmas Day in 1941, just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. 

The following Christmas, the song resonated even more powerfully among young Americans who found themselves overseas, missing their families, and among their families, who were missing them. It continues to evoke longing that echoes for anyone  who dreams of a time before the loss of someone dear.”

https://www.dallasnews.com/arts-entertainment/performing-arts/2017/11/23/why-was-irving-berlin-dreaming-of-a-white-christmas-hear-the-story-before-seeing-the-show/

Richness of the Past

World War 2 was fought Sept 1, 1939-Sept 2, 1945. These pivotal years were also pivotal in my family. My mother, Mary Lee Wright, left her home in Checotah, Oklahoma on Christmas night, 1944 to take a long train to New Jersey. There she married my father Joseph G. Lippincott, Sr. on Jan 2, 1945. We heard the story often, how my Grandfather took my mother to the train. Grannie Wright (as we called her) stayed home. We can imagine how hard it was to see their daughter leave. And remember, in those days we seldom called home: it was too expensive. Air flight was rare. Trains took a minimum of 2 days. The family story stirs up separation and loss, but also joy and love and warm welcome and fresh new beginnings.

Richness of The Present

It comes as no surprise that the scene of poignant goodbyes is still with us. When my husband Bob and I were dating, I spent my first Christmas away from home with his family in Western PA.

Yes, it was a white Christmas, but I remember my heart catching in my throat as I called home to NJ to wish them all a Merry Christmas.

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

And this year, in 2020, there have been so many separations and goodbyes.

Home for the Holidays

A friend recently gave me a pillow that states:

“Home: A place where you always feel welcome and loved.  An environment of comfort, security and happiness.  A place of feeling or belonging.”

Our Eternal Home

Home may change. And yes, this year will be different. Perhaps there will be fewer parties and large dinner gatherings. But in so doing, perhaps the deconstruction of Christmas as we have known it, will reveal a treasured kernel of truth. In the changes of 2020, what remains permanent and unchanging? 

“O God, Our help in ages past Our hope in years to come. Our shelter from the stormy blast, and Our Eternal Home.”

He is Our Eternal Home

Jesus Himself knew what leaving His Father and coming to Earth meant.

“Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown, When Thou camest to earth for me; But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room For Thy holy nativity. O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, There is room in my heart for Thee.”

We can Come Home Again

In this fractured year, where our hopes and dreams of all the years may not be met?They are met in Jesus. The concept of “home” is so much richer and deeper than Christmas time. He is our eternal home. Let us prepare Him room.

Christmas and Great Expectations

Cynthia L. Eppley 12/07/2020

It’s that Time of Year

It’s Christmastime. The time of parties and family gatherings; the time of traditions and trees; the time of quiet reflection and worship.
And this year will be no different: or will it?
As much as we’d like to have this Christmas season be like any other, we have to admit that 2020 will stretch us and challenge us.

Christmas Vacation

If you’ve watched the movie “Christmas Vacation” you’re familiar with Clark Griswold as he tries to create the perfect Christmas holiday. In the beginning, he comments plaintively:
 “All my life I’ve wanted to have a big family Christmas.”
And he tries desperately to accomplish that task.

Things slowly fall apart, but Clark won’t give up his dream:
“Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old- fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here.”
We recognize his desires for we harbor them within ourselves. We all have great expectations.

The Picture Perfect Christmas

1. The perfect portrait.
We first must recognize that no one ever has a picture perfect Christmas. Despite what you have seen on social media?

Those smiling faces? How many takes did it take to get that picture? How many diaper changes and clothes changes were required? Recognize the humanity that lurks behind those posts.

2. The perfect tree.
No one has a perfect tree. You may have gone to cut yours down on a snowy day that resembled New England, with hot chocolate and cookies.
The tree may also have a big bald spot on the area that is turned towards the window, out of sight. It might be scant: a Charlie Brown tree.
You may have an artificial tree. Is this considered second best?
Or, it might be a retro green ceramic tree with plastic lights on each point.

3. The perfect family.
In “Christmas Vacation” Clark sits in the attic watching old home movies, reminiscing about the good old days. Nostalgia reigns, for a moment.
But no one has the perfect family. And aren’t we all imperfect? As we age, we realize we ourselves might be the crazy Aunt or Uncle with idiosyncrasies.
No family is free of conflict or differences. But during the holidays, we tend to look through “rose colored glasses.”

4. The perfect Christmas Feast.
What does that look like anyway? Is it on Christmas Eve? Or Christmas day? Is it a Feast of the Seven dishes, or pasta, or vegetarian?

5. The perfect present.
We may look high and low for “just the right gift.” Going from store to store, looking for the perfect gift that will light up their life. This year, ease of shopping has been restricted and much of our shopping has been online.
But then I found this online:

“I don’t remember what I had for Christmas when I was one, two, six, or eight. I do remember my Grandad’s roast potatoes and my Nanna’s tablecloth.
I remember us squishing around a table and it feeling magical.
I remember the magic of the tin of chocolates being passed around.
I remember playing games with family.
I remember walking up a cold, frosty path and feeling warm inside.
I remember the smell of my Grandad’s cologne.
It’s the memories that make the magic last a lifetime, not the gifts.”

Perfectionism and Reality

And so, for this Christmas especially, our striving to make our holiday “perfect” might in fact, fall very short.

“Did we in our own Strength Confide, Our striving would be losing.” (“A Mighty Fortress,” Luther.)

There are so very many factors that will contribute to a “Different kind of Christmas this year.” How can we approach Christmas and not be sorely disappointed?

1. Recognize Perfectionism.
Perfectionism is a harsh taskmaster. It was present in so many of my clients; I’ve worked on that stubborn root within myself for a long time. But my long time friend Dr. Michael Emlet from CCEF has said this:

“Make faithfulness your aim, not perfection.” #ccefcon 10/26/12

2. Recognize Comparison
Comparing ourselves to others is a cousin to perfectionism. Comparison kills contentment. In this year especially, our family gathering may be smaller. Some may be missing from our table. None of us will have “the perfect” family gathering this year.

3. Recognize “We’ve always done it this way.”
Not this year. This is the year to adjust, bend, and be creative. While traditions may be important, (See Thanksgiving Traditions), where can we accommodate 2020 nuances?

4. Recognize God Incarnate.
2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

A Broken World, A Broken 2020

God Himself entered into our broken world, becoming poor for our sake.
He Himself would recognize the brokenness of 2020.
He Himself would understand our battered will, a raveled mind, and broken dreams. But He would also hold our frayed hearts in His tender hands.

Toys for a King Mary H. Dewer
What gifts to please a little boy Who has the whole world for His toy?
Through Him, in Him and with Him live
The lovely playthings I would give—
Black branches traced on afterglow,
Blue moonlight on the wind-glazed snow,
Music, and singing words—but these were always His. Upon my knees I cannot ask a King to take The stars He watched His Father make.

Here on the clean straw of His throne, I lay the only things I own—
A battered will, a raveled mind,
A broken dream I cannot wind. If I had come to Him before,
And laid them on the stable floor,
Not scratched and finger-marked with sin, How new and gay they would have been. Yet strange things catch a baby’s eyes— There in His hand my frayed heart lies.

(Dedicated to Betty Jane Jensen, 1927-2019)

Songs of Thankfulness

Cynthia L. Eppley 12/02/2020

We have just celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday, at least if you are Stateside. Although it was different this year, most people still managed to make a turkey and the fixings….or join with others who were celebrating. Thanksgiving Traditions.

What has struck me with this particular Thanksgiving is that we do have so much for which to give thanks.
Many are in dire straits, and many are in grief. This pandemic drags on and can drag us down. On Social Media, we viewed smiling families whether a crowd or a simple two or three. Despite the implications of all that 2020 has brought, we seem able to set those things aside and give thanks to the Lord.

“Give Thanks to the Lord for He is good; His love endures forever.” Ps 107:1

Hymns and Home

Liturgical Seasons in the church are marked with ceremony, symbols and songs.
It is fitting then, that Thanksgiving has its own set of music that draws us to give thanks. One of the features of the church is to sing together. Newer praise songs abound.

“Give thanks with a grateful heart,
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks, because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.”

And the old, traditional hymns give us a rich heritage of theology, ability to be sung, and learning how to “read” 4 part harmony as well as sing it and harmonize.
Being raised in a church with a magnificent pipe organ gave me an appreciation for sacred music that I cherish. I can still sing most hymns, all 4 verses. First Presbyterian Church of Salem, NJ has a rich heritage of excellency in music. I give credit to our choir director, Bea Howland, and singing in children’s choir and festivals. Given the first few words, I’m off and running with music. It is very much reflected here:

“Church is not something you go to. It’s a family you belong to.”  (@imsoblesseddaily)

So as we sing:

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing He chastens and hastens his will to make known The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing Sing praises to his name, he forgets not his own.”

We remember His blessings, His faithfulness to all generations.

“Come, ye thankful people come; Raise the song of harvest home. All is safely gather in Ere the winter storms begin. God, our Maker, doth provide For our wants to be supplied. Come to God’s own temple, come; Raise the song of harvest home.”

We remember His blessings, His faithfulness to all generations.

Singing

My friend, Craig Denison is Associate Professor of Music Education and Choral Music at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His bio reads: “I like music. I like teaching.”
He posted this on Social Media:

“I didn’t know how much I missed hearty congregational singing until I heard this today.” Craig Denison (Referencing The Salisbury Advent Service)

His friends added to his sentiment:
“Entering the Advent/Christmas season with no singing is hitting me hard.” “The biggest loss in our Covid lives, in my opinion.”
“I can’t listen to any ensemble singing yet…my wounded heart can’t take it!”

It is difficult to sing when we feel that our efforts are truncated, held back, repressed.

Worship

Psalm 100:2
Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs

“Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices, Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his earth rejoices; Who, from our mothers’ arms, Hath blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love And still is ours today.”

Come ye Thankful People, Come!

And so for now we give thanks, with hearts and hands and voices.
Our church, Oreland Evangelical Presbyterian Church has been called “A Singing Church.” And we are.
We sing with enthusiasm and harmony and grateful hearts.
But for now, we have muffled voices as we sing with masks.
I am aware of the mask moving in and out as I take a full breath of praise. Our voices may not rise in full volume and harmony.

Face to Face

1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

The day will come when our masks will be removed.
We lift our hearts up as we await the day when we can see one another face to face. We will reflect His glory to one another.

“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” Ex 34:29

Until then, we sing with full hearts, full hands, and full voices.
We look forward to the time when we can be fully known, as he fully knows us.

Holiday Ho-Hum

Holidays? Bah Humbug.

Cynthia L. Eppley 12/02/2020

Reality

Christmas seems to come earlier each year. Stores put up their trees in August! And we are inundated with ads everywhere.

Smiling faces all aglow—or so it seems, doesn’t it? But there are those for whom this Christmas will be very different.

How do we help those who are struggling?

Accuracy

Understand that even those with the smile pasted on their face may be hurting. There have been major changes this year for us all. Ranging from job and food insecurity, illness, COVID, and loss of loved ones.

Look with eyes of accuracy. Look with our hearts as well as our eyes.

Depression and Anxiety

We may find others in this boat; we may find ourselves. What are some practical steps we can take to reach out?

  1. Don’t assume.

Because that person has shown up at Services, or work, or responsibilities, don’t assume they are “okay.”  And don’t take the “Okay” for a final answer.

                           “We may never know the treacherous journey people have taken to land in the pew next to us.” Rosaria Butterfield

Many are hanging by a thread. “Pandemic Fatigue” is very real. So ask gently: “How are you doing?” “These days are hard. Have you found that to be true?” “You don’t seem quite yourself. Can I help?”

2. Emotion

Accept emotions.

Sometimes people will say “I’m just fine as long as you don’t ask me how I’m doing.” Tears are not an indication of sorrow that you asked. It is an indication of our humanity and that we may have piqued a tender area that needs our comfort. Open the door to a safe emotional place for them.

2. Offer Vulnerability

“I’m struggling, too! And not much of that is the holiday itself.” “I don’t know how to handle this Christmas; it is so different than anything before!” “My losses are so raw.”

3. Listen

This is the time to listen. And listen more. There IS a time to be silent and a time to speak. 

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens, a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Ecclesiastes 3:1,7

Often the best comfort we can give someone is to be silent.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. James 1:19

4. Validate

Repeating what they have just said may often open the door for more thoughts as they take the risk of offering you their struggles. “I can tell you are hurting.”

Recognizing and affirming them offers credibility.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6

5. Explore

Carefully explore their hurt and pain. As we find their story credible, we may ask: “I think I understand; can you tell me more about that?” Or, “I don’t understand. Can you try again?”

6. No Competition

This is not the time for “One up man-ship.” “Oh, I know what you mean! My family has…….” “Yeah, really? Let me tell you……” “You think?” “Duh!”

These answers leave the person feeling defeated and minimized. Affirm their pain and experience.  And in doing this, we are loving well.

7. “Tis the Season to Drop Platitudes

Offering advice, especially when you haven’t been asked, tends to fall coldly on weary shoulders. Explore carefully.

And have we really “walked in their shoes?” Do we really understand their situation? We rarely see the whole story.
Often people are like Icebergs: What we see on the top side is only revealing a fraction of the pain that runs deep and strong.

8. The Blame Game

“Should have, would have, and could have” will break us. Blaming others for what they could have done leads to guilt and remorse. Blaming ourselves falls into this category, as well.

Can we offer grace and mercy instead?

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”  Isaiah 42:3

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

This is the time we celebrate the coming of Jesus into our broken world.

An old Christmas Carol tells us:

“Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour, All for love’s sake becamest poor; Thrones for a manger didst surrender, Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor. Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour, All for love’s sake becomes poor.”

May we, for love’s sake, become poor to love others well. 

Aimee Byrd

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