Category Archives: Musings on Life and Beauty

Candy Canes and Holiday Goals

It looked like Santa’s workshop.  Wrapping paper, scissors, tape, and stockings littered my kitchen table, complete with the Christmas candy I’d found before most people thought about putting away Halloween decorations.  Everything I’d gathered for weeks sat waiting to be placed in the box.  We were mailing Christmas to Paraguay.

Our daughter is living there as a missionary for the restored Church of Jesus Christ and this will be her first Christmas away from home.  Five thousand miles away from home.

All my discretionary time had gone to gathering little things I hoped would bring her happiness.   And candy canes.

Little boquets of candy canes, tied with a bow.  More than she would ever eat.  I don’t even know if they already have candy canes in Paraguay, but I doubt it, because American candy of any kind is so hard to find.  What I do know is that she loves the people of Paraguay, especially the children.  Every package I send to her has something little in it for her to give to the children she serves.  In my mind’s eye I could see her smile as she gives them away.  Yes, I had to send candy canes.

We got everything ready and then it got real.  As in, how would we actually fit it all in the box?  I didn’t want to find a bigger box; the flat rate box I had was already going to cost a small fortune to mail.  So we all began suggesting ways to pack everything in, which drew my husband to the table.

I remembered how he fit an unreal number of wedding gifts into our car when we were married and had to haul everything from Colorado to Utah, so I stepped aside and watched him puzzle it out.  He did a great job, fitting more into the box than I would have, although I cringed when one stocking went in upside down.  Soon the box was full and bulging, but he did it.  He got it all in.

I should have been ready for what happened next.

But I wasn’t.

I should have handled it with grace.

But I didn’t.

He squeezed the box so he could seal it.
And I heard candy canes go “crack, crack, crack.”

Somewhere in my brain the thought registered that sealing the box required squeezing it shut.  Somewhere in my brain I knew he had done a logical thing, but apparently that part of my brain wasn’t connected to my heart, and it definitely wasn’t connected to my mouth.  I don’t remember what I said, but I do know that I effectively communicated to my husband that he had messed up and broken the candy canes.  To which he replied, “You didn’t really think the candy canes were going to make it all the way to Paraguay without breaking, did you?  You knew they would break.”

I picked up the package and my keys, and left for the Post Office.  I blinked back tears as I waited in line.  Then I blinked back the tears while I very politely thanked the postal worker for his kind help with mailing my package.  I blinked back tears while I walked to my car.  Then I drove as the tears fell.

I’m her mom.  Moms make holidays happen.  She’s thousands of miles away from home, living in conditions I can only imagine.  I wanted her to open our box and have love come spilling out, not candy cane dust!  I had been so thoughtful about this package, hoping it would feel like Christmas to her, wishing it could hold every tradition and favorite thing about the holiday.  It was my offering to her, my gift of love, and before it even left my house it was broken and flawed.  I felt broken and flawed.

My conscience seared with guilt.  I was crying over candy canes!  Candy canes, of all things.  I’d hurt my husband’s feelings and made him feel flawed as well.  Over candy canes.  Broken candy canes.  In my quest to send the perfect package to our daughter, I’d damaged feelings like my husband had broken candy canes.

Eventually the candy cane dust settled in my heart and I saw the approaching holiday season more clearly.  It’s a lot of work to “do it all”.  The decorations, the events, the food, the gifts, the opportunities for giving, are all amazing and yet challenging.  My husband was doing his part:  making everything fit in the box, and sacrificing a few candy canes was worth it.  He was probably right.  But when we’re all thrown together and life happens, those low-flying but deeply felt expectations can be like my candy canes: fragile.  And when they snap, it’s easy to forget that people’s hearts are a lot like candy canes:  fragile.

Today I am grateful for broken candy canes.  I am sure we will all laugh about how many tiny candy cane pieces ended up inside that box.  I hope I get to share with her what I learned that day.   My goal this holiday season is to remember those candy canes: to let everyone contribute in their own way to our holiday celebrations, to extend grace when something breaks instead of breaking back, and to keep the little things little.  To make relationships and people more important than delivering a perfect holiday. Because all I really want to feel this season is love.  Love is what motivated the package in the first place.  And love is what our daughter will feel when she receives our package, no matter how many tiny, sticky candy cane pieces come with it.

I wish you a heart full of love this holiday season, regardless of what breaks.
-Jennifer

This Lovely Morning

I’m slow again, so many things needing attention.  And yet… I sit at a desk in my bedroom with the open windows behind me.  A slight breeze flows in, bringing with it the refreshing scent and temperature of morning air.  A woodpecker is hard at work in a nearby tree, doves coo, and a hundred other birds chirp the good news of a new day.  And spring.

On my desk are my scriptures, notebooks, a picture of us at the temple with Emmeline, an old photograph of the interior of the Salt Lake Tabernacle, a few books that represent creative yearnings.  There is a new framed quote, lettered by Lindsay Letters, of the hymn that has stopped me in my tracks for years:

“take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. . . . take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.”

This hymn was sung at my mission farewell.  I am so pleased now to read these words and have that beautiful prayer on repeat in my mind.  This is where I sit each morning to study, reflect, journal, plan, feel.  I do it here, with these reminders.

But today there are lilacs.

A beautiful branch, covered in tiny flowers and gorgeous green leaves, and a scent that fills me with joy.  Lilacs from the bush I planted on the side of the house.

Fresh flowers – in my house – from my own yard.

Just like the ones I delivered last night to some friends (with boxes of lavender shortbread cookies).

This is proof that dreams come true.  It feels so luxurious, like something from a novel.  But it’s real life, and it’s sitting here on my desk to remind me.

I hope I never get over it.

-Jennifer

The Speech I Just Gave to Myself on Mother’s Day

If I could have one wish each May, it would be to gather every woman I know for a beautiful Mother’s day luncheon.  We would visit and eat and laugh and be nourished by good food and better conversation.

And if I could have a few minutes to speak, I would say this:

Each of us has a story.  It’s a powerful story, because it’s the only story just like it in all the world – in all the history of the world, to be exact.  There has never been, and there never will be, another life story exactly like yours.

Collectively our stories explain the perpetuation of the human race.  It is the story of motherhood, from the sweet smell of a newborn to the runny-nosed toddler who marks your pants each day like a growth chart with dirty hands and face.  It continues through the delightful years of childhood and into the uncharted realm of teenagers.  It is the story of daughters looking to their mothers as they step into adulthood, marriage, and motherhood themselves.

It is the story of women who would do anything to be a mother, yet are denied their dearest dream.  The story of women who, for many reasons, choose not to have children.  The story of women who nurse, teach and care for the children of others.  Women who, because of the choices of one party or another, don’t know where their children are, or perhaps even who their children are.  Women who feel like they have no idea what they’re doing.  Women parenting alone.  Women still caring for the basic needs of children who were born decades ago.  Women who buried their child and have wondered ever since, “who am I now?”  Women who grieve for mothers who are no longer here.

The scenarios are as many as we are.  All of them matter.  Each one is part of this collective story of women doing hard things.  Some of us love Mother’s Day; some of us hide from it.  For some, it is salt in a very deep wound.  And for many of us, it’s a reminder that we don’t measure up (to some false standard of perfect mothering).

Today I  say this:

How you tell your story matters.  How you receive another’s story matters.  What you do with these stories, matters.

It matters how we treat people, and how we treat ourselves.  It matters that we forgive.  It matters that we repent.  It matters that we learn.  It matters that we find people to serve.  That we seek truth.  That we understand who we are as daughters of God.  It matters that we reflect light.  That we show up, do good, and overcome.

I have a piece of art that hangs on the wall above my bathroom scale.  That scale and I are not friends; it represents failure to me in a big way.  But I get on the scale anyway because I’m trying to show up, and as I do it I lift my eyes to the message on my wall.  It says, “You are enough.”

Not perfect.  Enough.  And it’s true.  You are enough for Jesus Christ to have offered himself in your place.  Because of the great and merciful plan of happiness, what He did is enough.  You are good enough!

Here is my Mother’s day challenge (I’m preaching to my own heart): Let’s shake off the things that make us shrink instead of stand boldly.  Let’s dismiss Mother’s day as merely a headcount of our children and a recitation of their accomplishments, or as a symbol of what we’re not, and let’s make it about light.  Let’s stand up and stand together and let’s be a light, a light that shines in darkness, a light that reflects the Light of the World, the Light which can never be darkened.

We can do this.  After all, it’s our day, isn’t it?

Right now I wish I could hug you and say, “Thank you for the light you shine into this world.  WE NEED IT.  What will you do to make it brighter?”

All my love,
Jennifer

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