Chasing Contentment

Thursday, December 29

Mike's brother and his family are coming to visit us today, and we're all excited about it. They've been in the state since Monday staying at Mike's dad's in Baton Rouge, and Griff keeps asking when they'll be here. It's so sweet.

We'll all go back to Baton Rouge together tomorrow and spend the New Year's weekend together. It'll be the first time that we've all spent New Year's Eve together, and I hope it's a special time for Mike.

I've written before about how grateful I am that Mike and I both have close relationships with our brothers. Those ties are strong and dear, and those relationships ground us in ways others couldn't. I pray that Griff and Eliza have that bond as they age.

I'm also grateful that Griff and Eliza get to play with their cousins and have good times with them. My brother and I didn't have close cousins growing up, and it's important to me that our kids have that experience.

So, this is it for me for 2005. I think I've blogged true to my goal for this blog (that this be a loving, nurturing, encouraging place for me to write about my faith and the things that matter most to me... that I try to focus on God's grace and loe in my life) and I look forward to what 2006 holds.

Happy New Year's.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, December 29, 2005  ]
[   1 comments  ]


Wednesday, December 28

Sallie at Two Talent Living has posted her latest Carnival of Beauty on the topic of the Beauty of Excellence. I loved Mary's post on grace for mothers. All mamas should read it and pass it along.

And keep praying for little Ira and his family. I remember what a difficult time Griff had when Eliza was still in the NICU and couldn't come home with us. It's so painful and lonely and confusing for big sibs who can't understand what's going on... especially when their mamas and daddies don't much understand either. I'm sure the prayers for Ira and his big sister, Sophia, will be felt and appreciated.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, December 28, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]



We had a lovely Christmas, and I survived my annual day of Christmas Blues on the day after Christmas. We've taken down the decorations and are going to put up the New Year's Tree today. I've been thinking about 2005 this year and about the blessings and struggles we've had this year.

I am thankful this year that God has shown us some things about our future, and I am thankful that He has continued to grow Eliza as a healthy, on-target toddler (pray for Joe and Laura, Sophia and Ira, who are struggling with Ira's little baby health). I am thankful that our friends who live in and around New Orleans were safe following Katrina, and I will continue to pray for them as they work to rebuild their lives.

For 2006, I wish lots of things for our family, some very personal, some very usual -happy times together, laughter, health.

I took this picture in our front flower bed last week. They're my crazy daisies. They're gerbera daisies that I planted forever ago & forgot about because they never bloomed. And then, out of the blue, there they were... these pale pink beauties waving their delicate faces above the dead leaves. I like to think they're my personal little symbol of hope for 2006.

May our lives be like these crazy daisies... beautiful and full of hope despite the dead leaves around us. Happy New Year's.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, December 28, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]


Thursday, December 22

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, December 22, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]



I have SiteMeter on my blog not so much because I care how many people visit my blog (thought it is flattering when anyone stops by to read and visit!) but more so because I find it endlessly fascinating to see where people come to my blog from and to see the Google searches that get them here to Chasing Contentment.

Obviously, there are lots of 'contentment' searches, but lately I've been getting lots of people visiting here looking for the recipe to the Oreo Truffles I mentioned earlier this month. So, in case anyone checks back, here's the recipe. It's really easy (though I find the dipping in chocolate a pain in the tush).

Oreo Truffles
1 block cream cheese
1 package Double Stuf Oreos
1 package chocolate chips
a little bit of vegetable oil

In a food processor (you can use a blender, but be careful to use the pulse feature so as to not burn up the motor - this is thick stuff!), blend the cream cheese and Oreos.

Put that in the fridge for a bit to set.

Microwave the chocolate chips with the oil (1 tsp. oil per cup of chips) until smooth. Form the Oreo mixture into balls and dip into the chocolate. Chill the dipped truffles to set the chocolate.

These are very rich, so make the truffles small.

My boys are big fans of these! Yum!

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, December 22, 2005  ]
[   8 comments  ]


Wednesday, December 21

Oh... Sallie has her newest Carnival of Beauty posted today on the Beauty of Tradition.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, December 21, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]



I took my big bucket of change to the store yesterday to change it in at the CoinStar machine. As I walked by the Salvation Army bell ringers, I felt more than a twinge of guilt for giving only a handful of the change. When I got to the CoinStar machine and realized it wasn't working, I knew what I needed to do. The bell ringers had a big bunch of change yesterday, and I felt good knowing I had done the right thing.

A friend of mine was talking with me at lunch yesterday about how her nephew needed some books and learning toys for Christmas, but she didn't know what to buy him (and I suspect she doesn't have enough money to buy lots of things of that nature). So I came home and gathered up a bag of Eliza's toys and books to give her for her nephew, and again, I felt good knowing I had done a good thing.

Mike laughs at me each year because as much as I want the Christmas decorations up as soon as possible after Thanksgiving, I also want them to come down as soon as possible after Christmas. We've got a new tradition to start this year, though.

When Mike and his brother were kids, they had one of those horrible aluminum Christmas trees with the color wheel. When his mom died several years ago, his dad asked the boys if there was anything they wanted & Mike said that tree. It's been in our attic ever since.

This year, we're going to put the silver tree up when we take the Christmas tree down, and it's going to be our New Year's Tree. I'm going to cut circles of construction paper in two colors. On one color, we'll each write several things for which we are thankful for this year. On the other color, we'll each write a few things we hope for the coming year. We'll have guests in our home do the same thing, and we'll hang those circles of paper on the tree as ornaments.

We'll be reminded of our blessings this year, and we'll have a ready-made list of things to pray for in the coming year for the people we love. Another reminder that doing something good for someone else makes us feel good, too.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, December 21, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]


Sunday, December 18

Loving Traditions
I love the holiday season and most everything about it. Now that we're all off from work and school for a few weeks, I am surrounded by my little family, and I am reminded of the warmth I feel in their presence. Sure, we've already annoyed one another more than once, but we've also laughed loudly more than that.

The families Mike and I grew up with didn't have many traditions, and we decided when we married that we would make our own as our marriage - and our family - grew. I've written about our traditions several times during this Advent season.

Each year before Thanksgiving, I get out my holiday questions and we talk about what we each want from and for the holidays. We have several traditions that don't change - lighting the Advent candles in our wreath each Sunday evening - and some that do.

Talking about our answers to the questions gives me a real feel for where we each are at this point in the year and what things will minister to each of us best. I want these traditions to be things that anchor our family together in tangible and emotional ways, but I also want them to be fluid enough to change as our family changes.

I want the traditions to be tied to us rather than us being tied to the traditions.

So, as we draw closer and closer to Christmas Day, I see that we didn't plan or carry out any of our Thanksgiving traditions because we chose, instead, to spend that day in Arkansas with my extended family. And we're seeing that our New Year's Eve traditions won't be followed either because Mike's brother and his family will be in the state and have wishes of their own for that night.

And those are okay things for me, because not following those particular traditions this year says to me that we're putting family ahead of tradition. And, in the end, being with people we love and who love us is what matters.

After all, the Baby Jesus is, to me, the perfect representation of love, and this Advent season is about nothing less than the anticipation of His birth. Shouldn't we put love ahead of tradition when one conflicts with the other? And shouldn't we inject all the love we can into each tradition our family holds dear?



In the years to come, when my children are much older and talking to one another, I want them to fondly remember the Advent seasons that we created together. I want them to have favorite traditions that they will carry on into their own families, but I also want them to know from experience that love and the people we love take priority over any tradition of our making.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, December 18, 2005  ]
[   3 comments  ]


Saturday, December 17

My little family and I are now officially on Christmas break. We're having a stay-home Christmas movie weekend today and tomorrow since it's rainy and cold outside, and we've got all week to spend together next week before entertaining family for the next week.

Our house is already cluttered and messy, and it's loud and noisy as the kids play. And I've agreed to leave the mess alone, and I'm going to join in the loud play. I am blessed by God to have these people around me with whom I love to spend time.

Mandy and Josh will come over to do Christmas presents, and they won't even mind the mess or the noise. Which is why they count as family, always.

[  posted by Chel on Saturday, December 17, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]


Friday, December 16

The last installment of my Christmas romance...

The Christmas Card by Chel

The Saturday before Christmas, Ellie awoke to hear someone knocking insistently on her front door. She stumbled down the staircase in her pajamas and peered out the window.

"Mitchell. What are you doing here at this time of the morning? I didn't order any groceries to be delivered."

"No, ma'am, you didn't, but that doesn't mean I don't have a delivery for you," Mitchell said smiling.

The teenager handed over a small grocery bag, a steaming hot cup, and a card before turning to go. He stopped at the bottom of the porch steps and turned around again. "You've got some great decorations here, Ms. Ellie."

Self-satisfied and curious, Ellie closed the door and crawled onto her beloved sofa. With the quilt pulled around her legs, she stared at yet another envelope. Could her future be revealed in this one, Dear Lord?

Loving the anticipation of the moment, Ellie laid the card on the coffee table and instead opened the grocery bag while sipping her chai latte. Snacking on her favorite sticky buns and loving her favorite drink, she contemplated what secrets the card might hold.

---

Climbing the tree ladder, Ellie was glad she had chosen the lightest flashlight she owned as it was now clamped between her teeth. When she reached the top rung of the ladder, Percy's hand appeared in the light and helped her into the tree house.

"Thanks for meeting me," he said as she dropped to the floor, taking in her surroundings.

Percy had hung heavy draperies over the windows to ward off the chill and had brought in a special heater to keep the space warm. There was a warm blanket on the floor and huge pillows against one wall. On a platter in the middle of the blanket sat all sorts of crackers and cheeses and steaming mugs of hot tea. Ellie scanned the tree house but couldn't find where the music was coming from.

"Christmas music. My favorite," she sighed. This might be, she thought, the perfect moment in time.

Percy came to sit next to her, and took her hands in his. "I love you, Ellie. I do. Not with the childlike love that you once had for me but with a grown-up, eyes-open love that I expect will last my lifetime through."

His voice was trembling again, ever so slightly. Ellie's eyes misted as she felt her heart catch.

"You make me better. You make me whole. You just make me. I need you with me, Ellie. But I want to make you better, make you whole, too. I don't want to be with you simply because I need you. I want you to need me, too."

As she opened her mouth to respond, he covered it with his. A tender kiss to take away her words.

"And I think you do need me. I want us to be together, Ellie. Forever. Would you do me the honor of marrying me? Be my wife, Ellie. Let me be your husband."

Tears spilled down Ellie's cheeks, momentarily hiding the ones in Percy's eyes. This moment, she thought, really was perfect.

"Yes. Of course. You know I love you. I would love to marry you!"

"When? I want to marry you as soon as possible. When, El?"

Ellie smiled as if the answer were perfectly clear. "Why, Christmas Eve, of course."

---

Amidst all of the Christmas decorations, Mac and Shelby sat alone at a table at the Lodge. Mac watched as people swirled around the dance floor, laughing, enjoying the moment.

"My brother, Percy, had three of the most defining moments of his life in this lodge. Three moments that changed the course of his life, all relating to one woman. Good thing she's finally his wife."

He grinned as he leaned in to kiss Shelby, delighted at what an amazing day it had been in his family. His brother had married the woman of his dreams, and his wife had whispered to him news of a baby.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

The End

[  posted by Chel on Friday, December 16, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]


Thursday, December 15

A little light Friday reading... (oops... it's not Friday yet, is it? Clearly, with all of us starting a two week Christmas break tomorrow, I've already got a Friday frame of mind...)

The Christmas Card by Chel... Part Six

The wedding was beautiful with fall colors inside and snow falling outside. Ellie cried as she did at all weddings. The Lodge was the perfect place for a wedding, she thought. Percy looked handsome in his dress clothes standing as Best Man for his brother.

Ellie sat next to Percy at the head table at the wedding dinner. When the toasts were done and the desserts cleared away, he leaned in and whispered in her ear. "Come. Dance with me."

"But you don't dance," Ellie giggled. "I didn't dance," he corrected her. "I do now." And with that, he swept her onto the dance floor where they spent the evening in one another's arms, feeling the music move them, letting their love grow.

---

Percy had arranged for rooms at the Lodge for both of them knowing that it was supposed to snow that night. He held Ellie's hand as he walked her to her room in the early morning hours when the band had finally packed up for the night.

They stopped in front of her doorway, and he looked deep into her eyes. "Thank you, Ellie, for giving me this chance to get to know you again and for me to show you who I am now." He put his hand on the side of her face and tipped her head back ever so slightly as he leaned in to kiss her.

The kiss was warm and tender, Ellie would later remember as she replayed every moment of the evening as she soaked in the tub in her Lodge room. It was genuine and deep and stirring. It was perfect, she thought as she slipped into sleep.

---

"What the devil are you doing up there, you crazy woman?" Mac yelled at Ellie as he and Shelby got out of their car.

"Welcome back!" Ellie yelled back. "I hope the honeymoon trip was wonderful."

"Don't ignore my question. What are you doing? Have you lost your mind?" Mac yelled while he was stomping across his yard to hers.

Ellie was, at that moment, lying on her roof stapling twinkle lights to the eaves.

"Surely you remember how I feel about Christmas," Ellie said, reaching for another strand of lights, grinning. "I was busy all last week, and now I've got less than three weeks to enjoy the holiday decorations. Gotta get these up!"

"But surely there's some nice man you could call - my brother for example - to help you with this," Mac said.

"Why? Why would she need a man to do this for her?" his new bride asked, cocking her head to the side and placing her hands on her hips.

"Oh, no. Don't the two of you gang up on me. I'm just saying she could use some help."

"So I'll help her," Shelby said.

"Cool. The ladder's over to the side, and on your way up you could bring another box of staples," Ellie said laughing at Mac. "We'll have the prettiest girly decorations on the block."

"Great. Just what I wanted," Mac grumbled as he walked back to his house and got their luggage out of the car. When he got into the house, he dropped the bags and grabbed his cell phone.

After listening for a couple of rings, he said, "You'll never believe what your crazy girlfriend and my crazy wife are doing."

---

"I love you, El," Percy whispered into Ellie's ear after he pulled her under the mistletoe at his parent's house. "And I love you... and I love having you tell me that you love me," she whispered back. "But should you be kissing me here?"

"Hell, yes!" came the booming response from Percy's father. "That boy should kiss you whenever and wherever you'll allow. Smartest choice he's made in years."

The whole family laughed as people poured into the small room. "We're glad to have you join us again, Dearie," he said using his pet name for Ellie. Norman had always been like a surrogate father to Ellie, and she was thrilled that he and Mary Catherine were pleased about her relationship with Percy.

"Now, if I could just get Mac and Shelby to start having me some grandbabies, I'd be a happy man," Norman continued. Laughter filled the room, and Ellie was content.

This, she thought, is what home should feel like.

--- (to be continued...)

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, December 15, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]


Wednesday, December 14

My Gracious Acceptance post has been included in Sallie's Carnival of Beauty today. This week's topic was the Beauty of Giving. Everyone should go read the other lovely entries and take a moment to thank Sallie for her work in this. From my perspective, this is her gift to all of us this Christmas season.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, December 14, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]


Tuesday, December 13

I've been thinking about my grandmother a lot lately. Something about the holidays sparks those thoughts, I suppose. I spent the first 33 years of my life with four healthy grandparents (something I didn't realize was unusual until I met my husband when I was 22). Then, I lost two grandparents within 18 months of one another, and some days, I'm still surprised by their loss.

My Gran was this delightful little Southern lady. She wore pearls but only on special occasions (I have those pearls now.). She made her own hot fudge sauce, and she grew her own garden. She worked her entire life, retiring from two separate jobs. She reared three wildly different children, and she always appeared to be very much in love with her husband.

She died a few months after our Eliza was born, and I hate it that Eliza won't get to know Gran. They would have loved one another... two equally independent little women, full of life and fire and love.

Gran began quilting in the last few years of her life, and I have the distinction of having been given more of her quilts than anyone else in the family. Griff's was one of the first she made, and it arrived on my doorstep as a surprise. Packaged in a medical product box and secured with duct tape, there was no note. There was simply this beautiful little boy quilt with an inscription of sorts on the back.

As a college student, I loved to get letters from Gran. She always typed her letters, and she typed really badly. She also wrote in a very stream of consciousness style, and so my friends also loved to read Gran's letters because they were always genuine and funny.

When she made a quilt, she would type - badly, of course - an inscription and sew it into the back of the quilt with a message from her and the date. Those are precious beyond words... on all four of my quilts - one for Griff, one for Eliza (the great-granddaughter she never met), and two for me.

We were at the home of some friends recently, and I was noticing a beautiful quilt hanging on the wall. My Gran would be so unhappy with me if she thought her hand-made quilts were on my wall and not on my bed.

It was only after her death that I began to actually use her quilts. And I know that the kids and the dog will get the quilt on my bed dirty and messy, but that's exactly what Gran would have wanted for it. She would have wanted us to live with it, and so we do. And I get this feeling of lying underneath love.

On nights when I wake up and can't get back to sleep or nights when I'm sick or when I'm worried, there's something comforting about lying beneath that quilt and thinking that I'm literally wrapped in love.

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, December 13, 2005  ]
[   2 comments  ]


Monday, December 12

I found the book I've been looking for... in the very last place I thought to look. It was a delightful surprise! Now, a little more of my story...


The Christmas Card by Chel... Part Five
The next morning, Ellie awoke on her Gram's sofa, covered in her favorite quilt. She smiled and stretched, greeting the day slowly. She sat up and pulled her feet up under her, still snuggled under the hand-made quilt.

She and Percy had sat up most of the night talking - crying - about Gram and their lives. After their talk at Mac's, neither of them mentioned anything about any relationship between them, but there was a comfort between them that was only present with old friends.

She hadn't looked around, but she instinctively knew Percy was gone. He sat with her until she fell asleep and then was gone. Ellie wasn't at all sure what - if anything - would happen between them now. But she knew without a doubt that she was supposed to move back into this house, to live in this town and resume the life she knew best.

---

Peering out the window in the front door, Ellie saw a teenage boy standing on her front porch surrounded by grocery bags.

"Hello?" she asked as she opened the door. "Can I help you? Are you lost?"

"No, ma'am. I'm Mitchell, and I work at Mort's Market. I'm supposed to deliver these to you. I'm also supposed to give you this card," he said as he began to bring the bags into the house. "They said the card would tell you what you need to know."

Ellie stood and watched as the boy carried in bag after bag of groceries and household goods. She tried to tip him as he left but he assured her it had been taken care of already.

Who would send me groceries, she wondered as she sank back into the sofa she spent the night on the night before.

She sat for a moment knowing she should open the card or go put up the groceries or both, but Ellie loved that moment of uncertainty, of anticipation. She felt in an odd way like her future was about to be revealed.

'Of course that's insane,' she said aloud to no one. 'My future cannot be announced like an award show winner by simply reading an envelope. Can it, Lord?'

---

"Thanks for having me over for dinner. Again. You two have been so kind to me since I moved home, but you've got to stop this. I'm sure you need some time alone to plan your wedding," Ellie said. She was joining Mac and Shelby for dinner for the second time in a week, at their invitation.

"Now you know my mama would have my hide if I didn't invite you over and take care of you," Mac said. "And I like having another girl in the mix," Shelby said. "Some days there's just way too much testosterone around here with Mac and Percy and their buddies."

Ellie laughed, remembering the way Mac and Percy's house had always been full of boys when they were growing up. Their parents had always welcomed one and all.

"Your mama called today, and I'm having dinner at their new house next week. Who knew a death in the family was a ticket to free dinners all over town?"

When neither Mac nor Shelby laughed, Ellie assured them she was fine.

"I've spent the last two weeks going through all of Gram's things. She had mementos of trips and loves that I had no idea she had. She lived this full, rich life, and I'm sure she wouldn't want me to sit in her home and fret or frown. She wouldn't want me to sit here and do that either."

"So I'm making some decisions about how to proceed with my life. I'm praying that God will take me through these choices, shutting doors when necessary and opening others. I'm ready to be living and not just remembering living."

"You've decided, then? What to do?" Shelby asked.

"I believe I have, though I don't want to say just yet. I've still got to do some research. I've taken care of all of the legal issues with Gram's estate, and the house is now mine, along with some other things I wasn't aware of, so I'm looking at some options."

"But what we all want to know," Percy said as he walked into the warm kitchen, "is whether or not you're going to be staying here in town."

"Late and asking none-of-your-business questions again, huh, Perc?" Mac asked. "We were almost going to start dinner without you this time."

"No, you weren't," Percy said, agreeing to the plea in his brother's eye to let things go for now. "You'd never eat without me. Mama would know about it all the way across town."

---

As they stepped onto Ellie's front porch, Percy opened his mouth to say something and shut it again. Twice he did that. Finally, Ellie asked him inside, figuring she'd rather wait for whatever he wanted to say in front of a fire rather than in the night chill.

"You know Mac and Shelby are getting married on Thanksgiving Day, right?" he began as they settled into the soft sofa.

"Yes. I think that's wonderful. What a lovely thing to spend forever being thankful for," she said.

"Um, yeah," he said uncomfortably. Ellie had never seen him quite so nervous. She leaned over and put her hand on his knee. "What is it you need to say, Percy? Just say it. It's just me... no need to be worried."

"You'd think, wouldn't you?" he asked as he laughed nervously. He took a deep breath and began.

"Ellie, would you do me the honor of being my date for the wedding? I'm in the wedding party, so you would have to sit alone, but we could be at the dinner and reception together. It's all at the Lodge."

Ah, Ellie thought, so that's it. Percy had been a gentleman, holding true to his word to not do anything either of them would regret, that first night or any other night since. He had provided groceries more than once during the first two or three weeks that she'd been at Gram's... those weeks when she lost track of time and did nothing but go through her grandmother's worldly possessions.

He had seen her at dinners at Percy's and at his parents' home and had sat on her pew in church on Sunday mornings. He never sat close enough to be seen as presumptuous but always close enough for her to feel connected to someone. Ellie was reminded of why she loved Percy in the first place, but she was also seeing amazing qualities in him that were new, that she hadn't known before.

"I think I would be the one honored, Percy. I accept."

Percy grinned, and Ellie laughed. Ellie thought about how happy she was to be on this path in life, to be growing closer to the man she had loved for so long.

---

Later, when Percy was gone and she was ready for bed, Ellie sat in the deep sidechair in the master bedroom and thought about Parker. She knew that had she not loved and married him, she wouldn't be strong enough to be an equal partner in a love with Percy. Parker gave her something at a time that she needed it deeply. Parker gave her independence. Odd, she thought, that one man gave me what I needed to return to another.

--- (to be continued...)

[  posted by Chel on Monday, December 12, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]


Sunday, December 11

Gracious Acceptance
Much is made during the holiday season of giving generously. We teach our children to be 'cheerful givers.' We teach them to give to children less fortunate than they. We encourage them to give sacrificially.

This year, we are doing more of that than ever. We've seen people lose so much in our state as the result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and we decided as a family - at Griff's request - to give less to one another and more to others. This fall been an amazing teaching opportunity for us to teach Griff about seeing how blessed we are and about reaching out to those in need. God gives to us, and we should in turn, give to others.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. once said, "Think of giving not as a duty but as a privilege."

We are making a conscious effort to teach Griff - and one day, Eliza - that giving to others is not something we should do periodically but rather something that should be a part of who we are. But I think it is equally important that we teach them how to accept graciously.

So much is made of giving and yet few people talk of how to accept wisely, graciously, or genuinely. And I think that's a shame.

"Oh, you shouldn't have." "It's too much, too expensive." How many times do we hear someone say that during the holidays? How many times do we say it ourselves?

I've worked in past years to ban those phrases from my vocabulary. I'm committing to it again this season. I'm not going to say either of those phrases even once. I want Griff to see me accepting gifts with the same love with which I give them. I want him to see my gratitude shine through in these interactions.

I think we all need the love and kindness and generosity this Advent season has to give. As Christians, we are God's little messengers of His love. We need to model His generosity, but we should also model how to accept precious gifts.

As we accept the gifts from friends and family with genuine love and gratitude, aren't we showing in some small way how we should accept the greatest gift given?

I strongly believe that God sends us His love in human forms. He touches us with human hands by using those people around us to minister to us. While I adore the Advent season, there are so many around us who struggle through it.

We all need friends and family who love us. We all want to feel the unexpected act of kindness bestowed by someone dear. We all delight in being surprised by generosity. And we all should experience the opportunity to bless the givers of these gifts when we receive such tenderness with grace.

As adults, we love watching our children open gifts - sometimes more than we enjoy opening them ourselves. Children have such an unabashed enthusiasm for opening presents. They delight in the paper and ribbons, boxes and bows, tissue paper and ... in that final last moment, the thrill of discovering what lies inside. Why can't we all allow ourselves that thrill?

Such a powerful excitement comes from watching that moment of surprise and joy on a child's face. Shouldn't we all come to each gift with that same feeling of pleasure and expectation? Shouldn't we make our friends and family as happy to watch us open our gifts - big or small - as our children make us when they open theirs?

Do we bring such delight to the daily appreciation of the gift Christ gave us... the gift that continues to bless us?

This season, when a gift is presented to us, we should hesitate a moment and savor the knowledge that someone loved us enough, felt us worthy enough of the creation of a gift. They made or purchased something just for us, wrapped and delivered it. Such energy that went into the small package in our hands!

A hushed and humbled 'thank you' to tumble from our lips... A heart-felt excitement on our faces reflected on the face of the giver as we share a moment in which we know we are both thankful to have one another.

Maybe this season, we should remember the value of being special - of being loved -and accept the gifts given to us with care. As someone who gives because it feels special to me, I love that moment when someone opens a gift and is truly delighted by it. I am blessed by that.

May the gifts of the season - bear hugs on hard days, an extra box of paperclips at work when one can never be found, handmade buttermints, colored boxes, momentos from a favorite locale, small treasures in big boxes - be accepted with the grace that reminds us all of the thankfulness within.

Maybe, as we graciously and humbly accept the gifts given to us, we will take a moment - with each gift we give or receive - to remember the greatest gift and whisper a hushed prayer of deep thanksgiving to the One who gives the greatest gifts and who is delighted with our acceptance of them.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, December 11, 2005  ]
[   2 comments  ]


Friday, December 9

A friend asked me yesterday when I was going to post another installment of my Christmas story... silly girl, she's already read it & knows how it ends... but for anyone else reading, here's part four.

The Christmas Card by Chel... Part Four

"Hi, stranger," Mac said as he opened his front door to welcome Ellie into his home. He gave her a big hug and directed her toward the guest bedroom to change from her funeral clothes.

Closing the door behind her with a soft click, Ellie sat her red leather bag onto the bed. Parker had bought her the bag, dubbing it the 'red bag of courage.' She liked carrying it with her now. The memories of Parker had turned from sad to happy many months ago, and she was pleased to think that she was ready for something new. Her Gram would have liked that.

Ellie changed out of the black skirt and blouse and put on a casual pair of slouchy pants and a long-sleeved tee shirt that skimmed her figure. Her Gram was always calling Ellie to tell her that it was time to put the sadness behind her and that she should move back home to do it. It seemed odd that Gram's wishes might be coming true now that she was gone.

---

"I'll carry your bag out to the car," Mac said. "We're going to eat out on the back deck. Go on out and get yourself a drink. Did you park in the driveway?"

"Yeah. My driveway," Ellie said, knowing that Mac had seen her driving by Gram's house the last couple of days.

Ellie had first met Mac and Percy when they were all children. Her Gram lived next door to their family, and when her parents died when she was seven, she moved in with her Gram. Mac and Percy's family was as big and boisterous as hers was small and quiet, and she always loved the noise of their home. Aunts and uncles, cousins and friends were always in and out of their home.

Mac and Percy's parents had moved to a smaller place several years ago, and Mac bought the family home and was making it his own. Ellie thought that if she moved back here, it would be nice to still have neighbors who felt like family.

As she made her way onto the deck, she noticed Percy standing at the edge. He turned toward her as she made her way through the doors and into his waiting arms. Her tears fell on his chest, and he held her tight until she gently pulled away.

"Thank you for not speaking to me at the funeral. I knew that if you did, I wouldn't be able to keep my composure any longer."

"I know. I was a little worried, though, that you would think I was..."

"No. I know, Percy, I know."

They both turned as Mac brought a tray of appetizers onto the deck and offered Ellie a drink. "I'm grilling steaks, and Shelby is on her way with dessert."

"Thank you for having me over tonight," Ellie began. "It's been this odd whirlwind of activity since I got the call about Gram, and I feel like I've just been numb. I appreciate being here with ya'll where I feel safe so that when the numbness wears off, it'll be okay. Everyone has been kind, but it's nice to feel this physical presence of family and love."

"You're welcome here always, you know," Mac said as he threw the steaks onto the fire. "You're family to us."

Shelby arrived soon after, and the four of them ate at the table on the deck, with Mac, Percy, and Ellie sharing stories about her Gram. Tears mingled with laughter, and Ellie felt herself relaxing as she hadn't done in ages ... probably longer than she'd like to admit.

When darkness fell, Mac lit the outdoor fireplace, and the four piled into the armchair-like chairs around it. Percy quietly slipped a blanket over Ellie's legs as he went for the hot chocolate and dessert.

"It's different with Gram than with Parker," Ellie said. "Well, obviously, I guess. But Gram wasn't a youngster any more, though she'd be angry with me for saying that. I mean, we all knew that at some point, this would happen. I didn't expect it so suddenly, but dying in her sleep was exactly what she wanted."

"And so I have this peace that I didn't have with Parker's death. There's a sadness, sure. But a peace, too."

"A little fear, too?" Mac asked. "You were Gram's only descendant. You know that house is yours now, but you haven't gone in it yet."

"More like a little terror, I suppose," Ellie replied, sipping on her hot chocolate. "I bounced around after Parker's death, much to Gram's displeasure. And I honestly have no idea what I'm supposed to do with my life now."

"I have no job, no real home, no... " She let the sentence hang, wondering to herself what she would do.

"What would you like to do?" Shelby asked.

"I'm not at all sure," Ellie said honestly. "I say this in no way to be bragg-y, but I have the means to do whatever I please for a time, thanks to Parker's good planning, so I suppose I just need to figure out what it is I want in this life. Easier said than done, though."

"You'll get it. You've always had a knack for knowing exactly what was right for you at each moment in your life," Percy said.

"I hope you're right," Ellie said. "But for now, I think it's time for me to face the house. Do you mind, Mac, if I take the long way home?"

Mac laughed. When they were all children, Mac and Percy's father and uncles had built a giant tree house for the kids on the edge of their property in the strong branches of two trees. One tree was in their yard and the other was in Gram's. The youngsters would tease about taking the long way from one yard to the other, climbing up one tree, through the tree house and down the other tree.

"I'll get you a flashlight. You're too old to be climbing these trees in the dark." Shelby went in with Mac, leaving Percy and Ellie alone again. Percy moved to sit on the table in front of Ellie. He took her hands in his, and they sat for a moment together.

"Let me go with you tonight, El. You don't want to be alone tonight in that house."

Ellie took a deep breath before she spoke.

"You're right. I don't want to be alone, and I do want you to go with me. Which is why you shouldn't." He looked at her quizzically but didn't interrupt. "I love you, Percy. I have always loved you. I don't say that to demean the love I felt for Parker but simply to state a fact. I'm afraid that if you go with me, I'll try to convince you to do something we shouldn't do just so I can feel a little bit of something other than numbness or sadness just for a little while. So, thank you, but no."

The silence that followed seemed as if it actually hurt, Ellie thought as she avoided looking in Percy's eyes. Lots of loss seems to take away my inhibitions and self-respect, too, she thought.

Finally, Percy spoke. Ellie looked up, startled, when she realized his voice was trembling.

"I love you, El. I have always loved you, too. I was just too arrogant and insensitive to tell you."

Ellie smiled. "I think I knew that."

"I love you," he said again. "I am hoping that you decide to keep Gram's house and move here to stay, so that I can repent of all the ways I sinned against your heart and so that I can court you, convince you to fall in love with the me you don't know along with the me you've known forever."

"But that's my hope for tomorrow. For tonight, I want to help you through this first night in your old home. I want to help you say goodbye to Gram and be able to wake up tomorrow morning to something new. I love you, and I won't allow anything to happen between us that would haunt either of us in the morning."

"Can you trust me to do that?"

"Yes," Ellie whispered, tears glistening on her cheeks in the moonlight. "Thank you."

"Stay here and I'll get the flashlight."

---

Mac and Shelby watched through the window as Percy followed Ellie up the tree ladder into their old tree house. "Quite a speech he gave, huh?" Mac asked. "It's about time he got it all together."

--- (continued later...)

[  posted by Chel on Friday, December 09, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]


Wednesday, December 7

To be as anal-retentive and organized and formulatic as I am, I don't have a great need for absolutes. I am perfectly accepting of contradictions, whether in people or in life or in the Bible.

Mike and I have been doing a Bible study this fall with two other couples, and we've been studying covenants, both in concept and in Biblical actuality. The man leading the study is both more conservative and more literal-minded than I am, and so it's been a really good thing for me to learn from someone different from me. It's caused me to grow more than if I were simply studying with someone who always agreed with me (though I'm probably driving him crazy in the process).

The group, as a whole, seems more intelligent and focused than I am, and I have been deeply grateful for their kindness and patience (they've all begun helping me find the books of the Bible that are lost to me, and they're gracious & I'm not embarassed any longer). I'm interested in what people find challenging and problematic, and I think it's terribly interesting that when we talked about prayer and read Scriptures about prayer, several folks expressed difficulty with the contradictions.

I don't mind them at all. Prayer, as I've said before, is one of the few things in my spiritual life that I feel like I consistently get right. Prayer feels right to me when other things don't.

I'm never going to be the theological one or the scholarly one. Which is one reason I've never submitted any posts to the Christian Carnivals that happen each week, though I sometimes read the posts and am challenged by them. I'm just never going to feel comfortable enough in that particular realm to submit something of my own.

But Sallie at Two Talent Living (sponsor of the Blogs of Beauty Awards for which I was so honored to have been nominated) is beginning a Carnival of Beauty which sounds delightful. To write about God's beauty and His glory and His majesty and to write about those things in terms of our daily lives... that's something I could do.

So I'm going to eagerly await news from Sallie about when the first Carnival will be up and running. What a fun thing to discover on a dreary Wednesday morning!

Dec. 8 Update... Sallie has chosen not to begin the Carnival of Beauty at this time, though I hope she revisits the idea at a later date. I've enjoyed reading her blog & have been grateful for all of the links to new blogs for me to try.

Dec. 9 Update... Sallie has changed her mind, and the Carnival of Beauty will begin next week. How lovely! I think just everyone should enter, so we'll all have great new posts to read.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, December 07, 2005  ]
[   2 comments  ]


Tuesday, December 6

I've lost a book, which is maddening to me. It was a book of Christian short stories - romantic Christmas stories! - that a friend gave me last year at Christmas. I'd been looking forward to reading it this week, and now it's nowhere to be found. I feel a little disoriented because it wasn't where I expected it to be. Sometimes, I think that my spiritual life is like that... I get all out of sorts when things aren't exactly the way I anticipate them being. But I know from experience that God has more for me than I expect if I'll just wait for it.

Maybe there's something else I need to be doing during this week other than reading my missing book. Maybe there's something I need to be reminded of this Advent season... that waiting for God - the anticipation of wonders untold - is really a priviledge. I should revel in it rather than wishing the waiting time away.

As I wait, I'll reread my own little story...



The Christmas Card by Chel... part three

Everyone in town knew Gram, and most folks called her that. Being from a small town helped in times like these, Ellie thought to herself as she stood in line at the local coffee shop waiting for her chai latte.

Taking care of the arrangements for the funeral had been as easy as those sorts of things can be, and the services were scheduled for following afternoon.

Sipping her tea, she got into her car and drove again to the big white house. She turned the car off this time as she stared at the house where she'd grown up. The tree in the front yard had her initials carved into it, and the front steps still had nicks in them from where she stomped up and down them wearing roller skates. This was her home. In her heart, Ellie knew that.

But she just couldn't open that door without Gram on the other side. Not yet. And so she drove back to the hotel for her second night in town.

---

People from her childhood spilled into the small room at the funeral home, all wanting to pay their respects to Ellie's Gram. Ellie held up well, having done something similar far too recently.

People shook their heads and spoke in hushed tones about what a pity it was for someone so young to have lost so much. Ellie saw the pity in their eyes when they hugged her, when they spoke their words of comfort.

But despite the whispers, there was something genuinely comforting about the presence of the people from her childhood, from her life, really. Mac and his new fiance, Shelby, were there. Ellie thought how well the two of them fit one another. Percy was there, too, but he didn't speak to Ellie, didn't make eye contact.

--- (to be continued...)

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, December 06, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]


Monday, December 5

I love the anticipation of reading something and reading faster and faster to see what comes next. I'm hoping those reading my story will enjoy the sense of anticipation that comes with the Advent season.



The Christmas Card by Chel... part two

Despite her heavy heart, Ellie seemed to relax when she drove past the city limit signs. This was her town, the home of her childhood and youth. She'd been gone less than two years, and she never quite felt rooted anywhere else.

She'd had quite a long drive to get there, but she'd appreciated the time alone with her thoughts. She'd listened to the radio and let her mind wander, thinking.

Parker had given her so much in the short time they'd been together. He had given her confidence and strength and joy. She had loved Percy for so long that it had become habit, and when he dumped her from the relationship they didn't even have, she had to face a future that was different from what she'd planned.

And Parker was nothing doing with plans. He was a spark - spontaneous energy - and she was caught up in him immediately. He was a Christian, loyal to his family and friends and faith, and she was in love with him so quickly... a very different love than she had for Percy.

Losing Parker so suddenly was a huge blow. She made it through the funeral and legal arrangements, and then she locked herself in their apartment for a week, feeling all of the grief that flooded her.

She had dear friends who flew in to stay with her, who insisted that she come visit them in return, and in time, she began to feel like her life might not actually be over simply because Parker's was.

With the money Parker left her, she traveled the world, went to places she had always wanted to visit. She felt her sadness ebbing as her confidence in her own abilities grew. Parker would have loved to have seen this or that, she thought often on her travels. He always knew I had more in me than I thought.

---

Tears spilled down Ellie's cheeks as she sat in the car looking at the big white house with the picket fence. Gram's house. Turning away, Ellie glanced quickly at the house next to Gram's before driving down the street and turning at the light.

A few street lights and turns later, she arrived at one of the town's small hotels and checked in for the night. No need rushing into Gram's house when there's no Gram there, she thought as she looked at the city skyline from the small hotel window. Plenty of time for that later.

---
(the next installment tomorrow...)

[  posted by Chel on Monday, December 05, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]



French Toast Girl wrote a lovely piece about mothers... I agree completely.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, December 05, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]


Saturday, December 3

We're watching Christmas movies (I love that Lifetime and ABC Family play Christmas movies all through December!), and we're listening to Christmas music, and we've got the lights on the tree lit. But I must admit that it's hard to feel very Christmassy these days when the temps are hitting 80 degrees. Now, it's lovely outside, I freely admit. Just not very wintery.

Whether or not the weather feels holiday-ish enough for me, I still love quiet family Saturdays. We've spent the whole day together running errands and laughing, sharing chai lattes and peppermint hot chocolates from the Starbucks. While Eliza naps, my boys are riding bikes together. I told a friend yesterday that I do prefer times when all of my people are close by, and we've had a super close-by day.

When I was in my early teens, I began reading the Love Comes Softly series of books by Janette Oke. They were some of my first romance novels, and I adored them. I saw last night that the Hallmark channel is playing several of the movies (inspired by the books) tonight, so I've got them set to record in the DVR. I'm looking forward to seeing if the movies are as good as I remember the books being (though I rarely think any movie is as good as the book).

[  posted by Chel on Saturday, December 03, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]


Friday, December 2

Despite being quite the little pessimist (which balances my husband's never-ending optimism well), I am an eternal romantic. Hopeless. Hopeful. I love sappy movies and romance novels. Christmas, I think, is the perfect time to blend the sappy and the romantic and the holiday.

Each year I try to find a wonderful Christmas romance novel to send to my friend, Mika, for Christmas. This year, I decided to write my own and send it instead. It's a very short story, but not quite short enough for one post here, so I'm going to post the story in installments.

I've always dreamed of writing my own romance novels as a career, but one thing or another always seems to be more important than pursuing that dream (which is okay with me... family is more important right now & I still write for friends). So, I think that posting my creative writing here is just as good for now.



The Christmas Card
By Chel

"My brother, Percy, had two of the most defining moments of his life in this lodge. Two moments that changed the course of his life."

Fingering her water glass, Shelby turned to face Mac as he stared into space, talking about his younger brother, Percy. Born to a Southern mother who married what her family took to be a Northerner, both Mac - short for MacAllister - and Percy Lamar were given strong Southern names. Their mother swore they'd know their heritage, and she started from the cradle.

Mac and Shelby were dining at the Great Winged Lodge which was a converted ranch house and property. The Lodge's restaurant boasted both the best food and the best view of the mountains in the region.

Shelby had been engaged to Mac for several weeks, having dated him for several months. Both in their early forties, they didn't want to wait long to get married. Both of their families were thrilled with the impending holiday nuptials, and they were close to one another's siblings.

But Shelby had never quite understood Percy's affection for women who would clearly never be marriage material. She had asked Mac once about Percy's dating choices, but he had only mumbled something about arrogance and missed opportunities and moved on. Shelby was certain it wasn't a topic Mac wanted to revisit.

Which was why it was so odd for him to be talking about Percy in this way when they were gazing out the picture window of the Lodge looking at the vivid landscape of God's autumn handiwork.

But Shelby knew that if Mac wanted to talk about this, it was best for her to simply listen to the story he might tell.

"There was a girl once, a woman, really," Mac began. "And she was beautiful. Not in the gosh-she-could-model way. She wasn't the type men would turn to watch walk by. But she was beautiful because of who she was. She was kind, and she was gentle, and she was amazing when you got to know her."

"And beyond all reason, she loved Percy."

Mac took a long drink of his coffee and paused, looking off into the distance as if seeing the young woman one more time.

"But Percy was arrogant and selfish, and he thought that he could do better. So he dated wildly beautiful women who were no match for him. And she was quiet about it, though we all knew she was hurt."

"Finally, one fall day - a couple of years ago - a bunch of us came up here for dinner, and Percy took her aside. He explained that he knew she loved him but that he could never love her that way. He told her that he had other priorities."

Mac cursed quietly, shaking his head. "He assumed that because she wasn't stunningly beautiful, no other man would be interested in her and that he could play the field for a time and then return to her loving arms, ready to be made whole."

"He was wrong, of course."

The waiter brought their dinners, and they ate in a companionable silence. After the dishes were cleared, they ordered flavored coffees and chocolate desserts, and Mac began again.

"Percy rejoined our group saying that she would be along soon, but she didn't return to us that night. Sitting at the bar nursing a hot toddy, she met a man and spent the evening in conversation."

"We all went about our business - you know how things get - and several weeks later... okay, six weeks later. Six, to be exact. Six weeks later, Percy and I were up here to meet our folks for dinner when she came up to our table looking radiant. She introduced the man with her as her husband."

"She hadn't had much family, and so they had eloped to Las Vegas the previous weekend and got married. Percy was stunned."

Mac had been playing with his chocolate cake while he was talking, and when the waiter took it away, he had hardly eaten any. He seemed genuinely troubled by the story, by the way it had touched his brother.

"Her new husband got a job promotion soon after that, and they were gone by the holidays. She hasn't spent another Christmas here since. Percy spent that holiday season well into the eggnog, always with a new piece of eye candy on his arm."

"Come the first of that next year, Percy changed his ways some. He became more aware of the people around him and less concerned with how things benefited him. He became a better man, even if he does still have lousy taste in women."

The lights in the restaurant were dimming and the music was slowing to a quiet hum. "I'm sorry. Have we stayed too late? We can go on back to town now."

"No, please, Mac. Finish the story. That can't be all of it. Why are you thinking of all of that tonight? We've been here tons of times, so it can't be the place."

"No, it isn't the end. Less than a year into their marriage, her husband was killed by a drunk driver, and she was left alone in a new place. Recently, her one remaining family member passed away, leaving her all alone."

Shelby's eyes misted over thinking of what it must feel like to suffer such loss.

"I'm thinking of all of this now because we'll be seeing her tomorrow for the first time in a long time. Ellie will be here for Gram's funeral."

"Ellie? She was related to Gram?"

"She was Gram's one last descendant. Eleanor Daniels. Ellie. My brother fell in love with - and arrogantly left - the girl next door. And now, she's coming home ... literally, to the house next door ... to bury the grandmother who reared her. And I hurt for her loss, but I can't seem to stop thinking about Percy."

"And wondering if maybe he'll get one more chance at getting things right."

--- (the second installment on Monday...)

[  posted by Chel on Friday, December 02, 2005  ]
[   0 comments  ]


Thursday, December 1

The Christmas Card - by Chel
"My brother, Percy, had two of the most defining moments of his life in this lodge. Two moments that changed the course of his life."

Fingering her water glass, Shelby turned to face Mac as he stared into space, talking about his younger brother, Percy. Born to a Southern mother who married what her family took to be a Northerner, both Mac - short for MacAllister - and Percy Lamar were given strong Southern names. Their mother swore they'd know their heritage, and she started from the cradle.

Mac and Shelby were dining at the Great Winged Lodge which was a converted ranch house and property. The Lodge's restaurant boasted both the best food and the best view of the mountains in the region.

Shelby had been engaged to Mac for several weeks, having dated him for several months. Both in their early forties, they didn't want to wait long to get married. Both of their families were thrilled with the impending holiday nuptials, and they were close to one another's siblings.

But Shelby had never quite understood Percy's affection for women who would clearly never be marriage material. She had asked Mac once about Percy's dating choices, but he had only mumbled something about arrogance and missed opportunities and moved on. Shelby was certain it wasn't a topic Mac wanted to revisit.

Which was why it was so odd for him to be talking about Percy in this way when they were gazing out the picture window of the Lodge looking at the vivid landscape of God's autumn handiwork.

But Shelby knew that if Mac wanted to talk about this, it was best for her to simply listen to the story he might tell.

"There was a girl once, a woman, really," Mac began. "And she was beautiful. Not in the gosh-she-could-model way. She wasn't the type men would turn to watch walk by. But she was beautiful because of who she was. She was kind, and she was gentle, and she was amazing when you got to know her."

"And beyond all reason, she loved Percy."

Mac took a long drink of his coffee and paused, looking off into the distance as if seeing the young woman one more time.

"But Percy was arrogant and selfish, and he thought that he could do better. So he dated wildly beautiful women who were no match for him. And she was quiet about it, though we all knew she was hurt."

"Finally, one fall day - a couple of years ago - a bunch of us came up here for dinner, and Percy took her aside. He explained that he knew she loved him but that he could never love her that way. He told her that he had other priorities."

Mac cursed quietly, shaking his head. "He assumed that because she wasn't stunningly beautiful, no other man would be interested in her and that he could play the field for a time and then return to her loving arms, ready to be made whole."

"He was wrong, of course."

The waiter brought their dinners, and they ate in a companionable silence. After the dishes were cleared, they ordered flavored coffees and chocolate desserts, and Mac began again.

"Percy rejoined our group saying that she would be along soon, but she didn't return to us that night. Sitting at the bar nursing a hot toddy, she met a man and spent the evening in conversation."

"We all went about our business - you know how things get - and several weeks later... okay, six weeks later. Six, to be exact. Six weeks later, Percy and I were up here to meet our folks for dinner when she came up to our table looking radiant. She introduced the man with her as her husband."

"She hadn't had much family, and so they had eloped to Las Vegas the previous weekend and got married. Percy was stunned."

Mac had been playing with his chocolate cake while he was talking, and when the waiter took it away, he had hardly eaten any. He seemed genuinely troubled by the story, by the way it had touched his brother.

"Her new husband got a job promotion soon after that, and they were gone by the holidays. She hasn't spent another Christmas here since. Percy spent that holiday season well into the eggnog, always with a new piece of eye candy on his arm."

"Come the first of that next year, Percy changed his ways some. He became more aware of the people around him and less concerned with how things benefited him. He became a better man, even if he does still have lousy taste in women."

The lights in the restaurant were dimming and the music was slowing to a quiet hum. "I'm sorry. Have we stayed too late? We can go on back to town now."

"No, please, Mac. Finish the story. That can't be all of it. Why are you thinking of all of that tonight? We've been here tons of times, so it can't be the place."

"No, it isn't the end. Less than a year into their marriage, her husband was killed by a drunk driver, and she was left alone in a new place. Recently, her one remaining family member passed away, leaving her all alone."

Shelby's eyes misted over thinking of what it must feel like to suffer such loss.

"I'm thinking of all of this now because we'll be seeing her tomorrow for the first time in a long time. Ellie will be here for Gram's funeral."

"Ellie? She was related to Gram?"

"She was Gram's one last descendant. Eleanor Daniels. Ellie. My brother fell in love with - and arrogantly left - the girl next door. And now, she's coming home ... literally, to the house next door ... to bury the grandmother who reared her. And I hurt for her loss, but I can't seem to stop thinking about Percy."

"And wondering if maybe he'll get one more chance at getting things right."

---

Despite her heavy heart, Ellie seemed to relax when she drove past the city limit signs. This was her town, the home of her childhood and youth. She'd been gone less than two years, and she never quite felt rooted anywhere else.

She'd had quite a long drive to get there, but she'd appreciated the time alone with her thoughts. She'd listened to the radio and let her mind wander, thinking.

Parker had given her so much in the short time they'd been together. He had given her confidence and strength and joy. She had loved Percy for so long that it had become habit, and when he dumped her from the relationship they didn't even have, she had to face a future that was different from what she'd planned.

And Parker was nothing doing with plans. He was a spark - spontaneous energy - and she was caught up in him immediately. He was a Christian, loyal to his family and friends and faith, and she was in love with him so quickly... a very different love than she had for Percy.

Losing Parker so suddenly was a huge blow. She made it through the funeral and legal arrangements, and then she locked herself in their apartment for a week, feeling all of the grief that flooded her.

She had dear friends who flew in to stay with her, who insisted that she come visit them in return, and in time, she began to feel like her life might not actually be over simply because Parker's was.

With the money Parker left her, she traveled the world, went to places she had always wanted to visit. She felt her sadness ebbing as her confidence in her own abilities grew. Parker would have loved to have seen this or that, she thought often on her travels. He always knew I had more in me than I thought.

---

Tears spilled down Ellie's cheeks as she sat in the car looking at the big white house with the picket fence. Gram's house. Turning away, Ellie glanced quickly at the house next to Gram's before driving down the street and turning at the light.

A few street lights and turns later, she arrived at one of the town's small hotels and checked in for the night. No need rushing into Gram's house when there's no Gram there, she thought as she looked at the city skyline from the small hotel window. Plenty of time for that later.

---

Everyone in town knew Gram, and most folks called her that. Being from a small town helped in times like these, Ellie thought to herself as she stood in line at the local coffee shop waiting for her chai latte.

Taking care of the arrangements for the funeral had been as easy as those sorts of things can be, and the services were scheduled for following afternoon.

Sipping her tea, she got into her car and drove again to the big white house. She turned the car off this time as she stared at the house where she'd grown up. The tree in the front yard had her initials carved into it, and the front steps still had nicks in them from where she stomped up and down them wearing roller skates. This was her home. In her heart, Ellie knew that.

But she just couldn't open that door without Gram on the other side. Not yet. And so she drove back to the hotel for her second night in town.

---

People from her childhood spilled into the small room at the funeral home, all wanting to pay their respects to Ellie's Gram. Ellie held up well, having done something similar far too recently.

People shook their heads and spoke in hushed tones about what a pity it was for someone so young to have lost so much. Ellie saw the pity in their eyes when they hugged her, when they spoke their words of comfort.

But despite the whispers, there was something genuinely comforting about the presence of the people from her childhood, from her life, really. Mac and his new fiance, Shelby, were there. Ellie thought how well the two of them fit one another. Percy was there, too, but he didn't speak to Ellie, didn't make eye contact.

---

"Hi, stranger," Mac said as he opened his front door to welcome Ellie into his home. He gave her a big hug and directed her toward the guest bedroom to change from her funeral clothes.

Closing the door behind her with a soft click, Ellie sat her red leather bag onto the bed. Parker had bought her the bag, dubbing it the 'red bag of courage.' She liked carrying it with her now. The memories of Parker had turned from sad to happy many months ago, and she was pleased to think that she was ready for something new. Her Gram would have liked that.

Ellie changed out of the black skirt and blouse and put on a casual pair of slouchy pants and a long-sleeved tee shirt that skimmed her figure. Her Gram was always calling Ellie to tell her that it was time to put the sadness behind her and that she should move back home to do it. It seemed odd that Gram's wishes might be coming true now that she was gone.

---

"I'll carry your bag out to the car," Mac said. "We're going to eat out on the back deck. Go on out and get yourself a drink. Did you park in the driveway?"

"Yeah. My driveway," Ellie said, knowing that Mac had seen her driving by Gram's house the last couple of days.

Ellie had first met Mac and Percy when they were all children. Her Gram lived next door to their family, and when her parents died when she was seven, she moved in with her Gram. Mac and Percy's family was as big and boisterous as hers was small and quiet, and she always loved the noise of their home. Aunts and uncles, cousins and friends were always in and out of their home.

Mac and Percy's parents had moved to a smaller place several years ago, and Mac bought the family home and was making it his own. Ellie thought that if she moved back here, it would be nice to still have neighbors who felt like family.

As she made her way onto the deck, she noticed Percy standing at the edge. He turned toward her as she made her way through the doors and into his waiting arms. Her tears fell on his chest, and he held her tight until she gently pulled away.

"Thank you for not speaking to me at the funeral. I knew that if you did, I wouldn't be able to keep my composure any longer."

"I know. I was a little worried, though, that you would think I was..."

"No. I know, Percy, I know."

They both turned as Mac brought a tray of appetizers onto the deck and offered Ellie a drink. "I'm grilling steaks, and Shelby is on her way with dessert."

"Thank you for having me over tonight," Ellie began. "It's been this odd whirlwind of activity since I got the call about Gram, and I feel like I've just been numb. I appreciate being here with ya'll where I feel safe so that when the numbness wears off, it'll be okay. Everyone has been kind, but it's nice to feel this physical presence of family and love."

"You're welcome here always, you know," Mac said as he threw the steaks onto the fire. "You're family to us."

Shelby arrived soon after, and the four of them ate at the table on the deck, with Mac, Percy, and Ellie sharing stories about her Gram. Tears mingled with laughter, and Ellie felt herself relaxing as she hadn't done in ages ... probably longer than she'd like to admit.

When darkness fell, Mac lit the outdoor fireplace, and the four piled into the armchair-like chairs around it. Percy quietly slipped a blanket over Ellie's legs as he went for the hot chocolate and dessert.

"It's different with Gram than with Parker," Ellie said. "Well, obviously, I guess. But Gram wasn't a youngster any more, though she'd be angry with me for saying that. I mean, we all knew that at some point, this would happen. I didn't expect it so suddenly, but dying in her sleep was exactly what she wanted."

"And so I have this peace that I didn't have with Parker's death. There's a sadness, sure. But a peace, too."

"A little fear, too?" Mac asked. "You were Gram's only descendant. You know that house is yours now, but you haven't gone in it yet."

"More like a little terror, I suppose," Ellie replied, sipping on her hot chocolate. "I bounced around after Parker's death, much to Gram's displeasure. And I honestly have no idea what I'm supposed to do with my life now."

"I have no job, no real home, no... " She let the sentence hang, wondering to herself what she would do.

"What would you like to do?" Shelby asked.

"I'm not at all sure," Ellie said honestly. "I say this in no way to be bragg-y, but I have the means to do whatever I please for a time, thanks to Parker's good planning, so I suppose I just need to figure out what it is I want in this life. Easier said than done, though."

"You'll get it. You've always had a knack for knowing exactly what was right for you at each moment in your life," Percy said.

"I hope you're right," Ellie said. "But for now, I think it's time for me to face the house. Do you mind, Mac, if I take the long way home?"

Mac laughed. When they were all children, Mac and Percy's father and uncles had built a giant tree house for the kids on the edge of their property in the strong branches of two trees. One tree was in their yard and the other was in Gram's. The youngsters would tease about taking the long way from one yard to the other, climbing up one tree, through the tree house and down the other tree.

"I'll get you a flashlight. You're too old to be climbing these trees in the dark." Shelby went in with Mac, leaving Percy and Ellie alone again. Percy moved to sit on the table in front of Ellie. He took her hands in his, and they sat for a moment together.

"Let me go with you tonight, El. You don't want to be alone tonight in that house."

Ellie took a deep breath before she spoke.

"You're right. I don't want to be alone, and I do want you to go with me. Which is why you shouldn't." He looked at her quizzically but didn't interrupt. "I love you, Percy. I have always loved you. I don't say that to demean the love I felt for Parker but simply to state a fact. I'm afraid that if you go with me, I'll try to convince you to do something we shouldn't do just so I can feel a little bit of something other than numbness or sadness just for a little while. So, thank you, but no."

The silence that followed seemed as if it actually hurt, Ellie thought as she avoided looking in Percy's eyes. Lots of loss seems to take away my inhibitions and self-respect, too, she thought.

Finally, Percy spoke. Ellie looked up, startled, when she realized his voice was trembling.

"I love you, El. I have always loved you, too. I was just too arrogant and insensitive to tell you."

Ellie smiled. "I think I knew that."

"I love you," he said again. "I am hoping that you decide to keep Gram's house and move here to stay, so that I can repent of all the ways I sinned against your heart and so that I can court you, convince you to fall in love with the me you don't know along with the me you've known forever."

"But that's my hope for tomorrow. For tonight, I want to help you through this first night in your old home. I want to help you say goodbye to Gram and be able to wake up tomorrow morning to something new. I love you, and I won't allow anything to happen between us that would haunt either of us in the morning."

"Can you trust me to do that?"

"Yes," Ellie whispered, tears glistening on her cheeks in the moonlight. "Thank you."

"Stay here and I'll get the flashlight."

---

Mac and Shelby watched through the window as Percy followed Ellie up the tree ladder into their old tree house. "Quite a speech he gave, huh?" Mac asked. "It's about time he got it all together."

---

The next morning, Ellie awoke on her Gram's sofa, covered in her favorite quilt. She smiled and stretched, greeting the day slowly. She sat up and pulled her feet up under her, still snuggled under the hand-made quilt.

She and Percy had sat up most of the night talking - crying - about Gram and their lives. After their talk at Mac's, neither of them mentioned anything about any relationship between them, but there was a comfort between them that was only present with old friends.

She hadn't looked around, but she instinctively knew Percy was gone. He sat with her until she fell asleep and then was gone. Ellie wasn't at all sure what - if anything - would happen between them now. But she knew without a doubt that she was supposed to move back into this house, to live in this town and resume the life she knew best.

---

Peering out the window in the front door, Ellie saw a teenage boy standing on her front porch surrounded by grocery bags.

"Hello?" she asked as she opened the door. "Can I help you? Are you lost?"

"No, ma'am. I'm Mitchell, and I work at Mort's Market. I'm supposed to deliver these to you. I'm also supposed to give you this card," he said as he began to bring the bags into the house. "They said the card would tell you what you need to know."

Ellie stood and watched as the boy carried in bag after bag of groceries and household goods. She tried to tip him as he left but he assured her it had been taken care of already.

Who would send me groceries, she wondered as she sank back into the sofa she spent the night on the night before.

She sat for a moment knowing she should open the card or go put up the groceries or both, but Ellie loved that moment of uncertainty, of anticipation. She felt in an odd way like her future was about to be revealed.

'Of course that's insane,' she said aloud to no one. 'My future cannot be announced like an award show winner by simply reading an envelope. Can it, Lord?'

---

"Thanks for having me over for dinner. Again. You two have been so kind to me since I moved home, but you've got to stop this. I'm sure you need some time alone to plan your wedding," Ellie said. She was joining Mac and Shelby for dinner for the second time in a week, at their invitation.

"Now you know my mama would have my hide if I didn't invite you over and take care of you," Mac said. "And I like having another girl in the mix," Shelby said. "Some days there's just way too much testosterone around here with Mac and Percy and their buddies."

Ellie laughed, remembering the way Mac and Percy's house had always been full of boys when they were growing up. Their parents had always welcomed one and all.

"Your mama called today, and I'm having dinner at their new house next week. Who knew a death in the family was a ticket to free dinners all over town?"

When neither Mac nor Shelby laughed, Ellie assured them she was fine.

"I've spent the last two weeks going through all of Gram's things. She had mementos of trips and loves that I had no idea she had. She lived this full, rich life, and I'm sure she wouldn't want me to sit in her home and fret or frown. She wouldn't want me to sit here and do that either."

"So I'm making some decisions about how to proceed with my life. I'm praying that God will take me through these choices, shutting doors when necessary and opening others. I'm ready to be living and not just remembering living."

"You've decided, then? What to do?" Shelby asked.

"I believe I have, though I don't want to say just yet. I've still got to do some research. I've taken care of all of the legal issues with Gram's estate, and the house is now mine, along with some other things I wasn't aware of, so I'm looking at some options."

"But what we all want to know," Percy said as he walked into the warm kitchen, "is whether or not you're going to be staying here in town."

"Late and asking none-of-your-business questions again, huh, Perc?" Mac asked. "We were almost going to start dinner without you this time."

"No, you weren't," Percy said, agreeing to the plea in his brother's eye to let things go for now. "You'd never eat without me. Mama would know about it all the way across town."

---

As they stepped onto Ellie's front porch, Percy opened his mouth to say something and shut it again. Twice he did that. Finally, Ellie asked him inside, figuring she'd rather wait for whatever he wanted to say in front of a fire rather than in the night chill.

"You know Mac and Shelby are getting married on Thanksgiving Day, right?" he began as they settled into the soft sofa.

"Yes. I think that's wonderful. What a lovely thing to spend forever being thankful for," she said.

"Um, yeah," he said uncomfortably. Ellie had never seen him quite so nervous. She leaned over and put her hand on his knee. "What is it you need to say, Percy? Just say it. It's just me... no need to be worried."

"You'd think, wouldn't you?" he asked as he laughed nervously. He took a deep breath and began.

"Ellie, would you do me the honor of being my date for the wedding? I'm in the wedding party, so you would have to sit alone, but we could be at the dinner and reception together. It's all at the Lodge."

Ah, Ellie thought, so that's it. Percy had been a gentleman, holding true to his word to not do anything either of them would regret, that first night or any other night since. He had provided groceries more than once during the first two or three weeks that she'd been at Gram's... those weeks when she lost track of time and did nothing but go through her grandmother's worldly possessions.

He had seen her at dinners at Percy's and at his parents' home and had sat on her pew in church on Sunday mornings. He never sat close enough to be seen as presumptuous but always close enough for her to feel connected to someone. Ellie was reminded of why she loved Percy in the first place, but she was also seeing amazing qualities in him that were new, that she hadn't known before.

"I think I would be the one honored, Percy. I accept."

Percy grinned, and Ellie laughed. Ellie thought about how happy she was to be on this path in life, to be growing closer to the man she had loved for so long.

---

Later, when Percy was gone and she was ready for bed, Ellie sat in the deep sidechair in the master bedroom and thought about Parker. She knew that had she not loved and married him, she wouldn't be strong enough to be an equal partner in a love with Percy. Parker gave her something at a time that she needed it deeply. Parker gave her independence. Odd, she thought, that one man gave me what I needed to return to another.

---

The wedding was beautiful with fall colors inside and snow falling outside. Ellie cried as she did at all weddings. The Lodge was the perfect place for a wedding, she thought. Percy looked handsome in his dress clothes standing as Best Man for his brother.

Ellie sat next to Percy at the head table at the wedding dinner. When the toasts were done and the desserts cleared away, he leaned in and whispered in her ear. "Come. Dance with me."

"But you don't dance," Ellie giggled. "I didn't dance," he corrected her. "I do now." And with that, he swept her onto the dance floor where they spent the evening in one another's arms, feeling the music move them, letting their love grow.

---

Percy had arranged for rooms at the Lodge for both of them knowing that it was supposed to snow that night. He held Ellie's hand as he walked her to her room in the early morning hours when the band had finally packed up for the night.

They stopped in front of her doorway, and he looked deep into her eyes. "Thank you, Ellie, for giving me this chance to get to know you again and for me to show you who I am now." He put his hand on the side of her face and tipped her head back ever so slightly as he leaned in to kiss her.

The kiss was warm and tender, Ellie would later remember as she replayed every moment of the evening as she soaked in the tub in her Lodge room. It was genuine and deep and stirring. It was perfect, she thought as she slipped into sleep.

---

"What the devil are you doing up there, you crazy woman?" Mac yelled at Ellie as he and Shelby got out of their car.

"Welcome back!" Ellie yelled back. "I hope the honeymoon trip was wonderful."

"Don't ignore my question. What are you doing? Have you lost your mind?" Mac yelled while he was stomping across his yard to hers.

Ellie was, at that moment, lying on her roof stapling twinkle lights to the eaves.

"Surely you remember how I feel about Christmas," Ellie said, reaching for another strand of lights, grinning. "I was busy all last week, and now I've got less than three weeks to enjoy the holiday decorations. Gotta get these up!"

"But surely there's some nice man you could call - my brother for example - to help you with this," Mac said.

"Why? Why would she need a man to do this for her?" his new bride asked, cocking her head to the side and placing her hands on her hips.

"Oh, no. Don't the two of you gang up on me. I'm just saying she could use some help."

"So I'll help her," Shelby said.

"Cool. The ladder's over to the side, and on your way up you could bring another box of staples," Ellie said laughing at Mac. "We'll have the prettiest girly decorations on the block."

"Great. Just what I wanted," Mac grumbled as he walked back to his house and got their luggage out of the car. When he got into the house, he dropped the bags and grabbed his cell phone.

After listening for a couple of rings, he said, "You'll never believe what your crazy girlfriend and my crazy wife are doing."

---

"I love you, El," Percy whispered into Ellie's ear after he pulled her under the mistletoe at his parent's house. "And I love you... and I love having you tell me that you love me," she whispered back. "But should you be kissing me here?"

"Hell, yes!" came the booming response from Percy's father. "That boy should kiss you whenever and wherever you'll allow. Smartest choice he's made in years."

The whole family laughed as people poured into the small room. "We're glad to have you join us again, Dearie," he said using his pet name for Ellie. Norman had always been like a surrogate father to Ellie, and she was thrilled that he and Mary Catherine were pleased about her relationship with Percy.

"Now, if I could just get Mac and Shelby to start having me some grandbabies, I'd be a happy man," Norman continued. Laughter filled the room, and Ellie was content.

This, she thought, is what home should feel like.

---

The Saturday before Christmas, Ellie awoke to hear someone knocking insistently on her front door. She stumbled down the staircase in her pajamas and peered out the window.

"Mitchell. What are you doing here at this time of the morning? I didn't order any groceries to be delivered."

"No, ma'am, you didn't, but that doesn't mean I don't have a delivery for you," Mitchell said smiling.

The teenager handed over a small grocery bag, a steaming hot cup, and a card before turning to go. He stopped at the bottom of the porch steps and turned around again. "You've got some great decorations here, Ms. Ellie."

Self-satisfied and curious, Ellie closed the door and crawled onto her beloved sofa. With the quilt pulled around her legs, she stared at yet another envelope. Could her future be revealed in this one, Dear Lord?

Loving the anticipation of the moment, Ellie laid the card on the coffee table and instead opened the grocery bag while sipping her chai latte. Snacking on her favorite sticky buns and loving her favorite drink, she contemplated what secrets the card might hold.

---

Climbing the tree ladder, Ellie was glad she had chosen the lightest flashlight she owned as it was now clamped between her teeth. When she reached the top rung of the ladder, Percy's hand appeared in the light and helped her into the tree house.

"Thanks for meeting me," he said as she dropped to the floor, taking in her surroundings.

Percy had hung heavy draperies over the windows to ward off the chill and had brought in a special heater to keep the space warm. There was a warm blanket on the floor and huge pillows against one wall. On a platter in the middle of the blanket sat all sorts of crackers and cheeses and steaming mugs of hot tea. Ellie scanned the tree house but couldn't find where the music was coming from.

"Christmas music. My favorite," she sighed. This might be, she thought, the perfect moment in time.

Percy came to sit next to her, and took her hands in his. "I love you, Ellie. I do. Not with the childlike love that you once had for me but with a grown-up, eyes-open love that I expect will last my lifetime through."

His voice was trembling again, ever so slightly. Ellie's eyes misted as she felt her heart catch.

"You make me better. You make me whole. You just make me. I need you with me, Ellie. But I want to make you better, make you whole, too. I don't want to be with you simply because I need you. I want you to need me, too."

As she opened her mouth to respond, he covered it with his. A tender kiss to take away her words.

"And I think you do need me. I want us to be together, Ellie. Forever. Would you do me the honor of marrying me? Be my wife, Ellie. Let me be your husband."

Tears spilled down Ellie's cheeks, momentarily hiding the ones in Percy's eyes. This moment, she thought, really was perfect.

"Yes. Of course. You know I love you. I would love to marry you!"

"When? I want to marry you as soon as possible. When, El?"

Ellie smiled as if the answer were perfectly clear. "Why, Christmas Eve, of course."

---

Amidst all of the Christmas decorations, Mac and Shelby sat alone at a table at the Lodge. Mac watched as people swirled around the dance floor, laughing, enjoying the moment.

"My brother, Percy, had three of the most defining moments of his life in this lodge. Three moments that changed the course of his life, all relating to one woman. Good thing she's finally his wife."

He grinned as he leaned in to kiss Shelby, delighted at what an amazing day it had been in his family. His brother had married the woman of his dreams, and his wife had whispered to him news of a baby.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

The End

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, December 01, 2005  ]
[   3 comments  ]



Just when I'm feeling a little less-than-holiday cheerful, a little frumpy and grumpy, a little lousy, I get something a little delightful to remind me that there are wonders outside of myself that I need to focus on when I get all bogged down.

I have gotten a few hits on my blog from Two Talent Living in the last week or so (which I thought was odd given that visits here have been down in general since I was out during Thanksgiving week and since everyone -I hope - is out enjoying the Advent season).

I discovered this morning that Chasing Contentment was nominated as a 2005 Blog of Beauty in the category of Best Design - Contemporary. Now, CC and I didn't make the finalists, but I am delighted beyond words to have been nominated. I would very much like to know who nominated CC... if anyone would like to share. :)

Now, in all honesty, I'd have been more pleased personally to have been nominated in one of the other categories (Best Encourager would have been my ideal compliment), but I am surprised and delighted nonetheless.

This nomination is special to me because this design isn't my creation. It's not even much of my doing. I found the free template online (designed by Karysima, who generously allowed me to change it some). My friend, Aleece, is an artist by nature and a web designer by current trade.

She took what she knows about me and blended my personality into the look and the colors of this blog. She's the one who made it what it is today. For me, logging onto CC makes me feel calm and cozy and loved. Now, I have no idea if that comes through to anyone else reading it, but for me, it is a comfortable place to be. And that is important to me... that people be comfortable with me, in my home, and here on my blog.

I am grateful that Aleece generously created this space for me to be what I wanted and needed it to be. So, in all honesty, this award belongs to her. Yay, Aleece! Thank you & congratulations!

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, December 01, 2005  ]
[   3 comments  ]