Red Vine Spirituality

Taylor K. Arthur balances Bipolar 1 Disorder, marriage, and motherhood with a nitty-gritty faith inspiring a twisted, blissful life.

Category: Christmas (page 1 of 2)

For The Imperfect, Struggling, & Broken Down This Christmas

Instead of trying to pretend we’ve got it all together this holiday season, maybe this Christmas can be the time we get real about the frustration and loss and grief amplifying everywhere for families dealing with mental illness.
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Christmas Takes Guts

Happy Advent, Friends! Today I’m thinking a lot about Christmas, and how much courage it takes to birth our God-like dreams.
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Advent Cup: Do You Have An Elizabeth Heart?

Dedicated to the memory of “Oma” Clare Braukmann, who is at home with Jesus, finally filled with every good thing after a lifetime of waiting on Him with an Elizabeth heart. We love and miss you.

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah . . . his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest . . . he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Luke 1:5-23, condensed

Luke’s telling of the nativity story is my favorite by far. Even though Matthew’s genealogy literally changed my life by including the imperfect women who bore the Messianic line, and John gets so wordy and impressively theological about things with In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God(John 1:1), Luke grabs my heart because He talks about the women. Luke talks about Elizabeth, past miracle age, past hoping . . . yet pregnant with a promise in her old age, believing God’s words to be true. Elizabeth didn’t laugh at the promise of a child the way her foremother, Sarah, did. She opened up her hands and received what God had to give her, who God planned to give her.

I wonder at the state of Elizabeth’s heart after so many years of disappointment and brokenness, what she refers to in Luke 1:

She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:25

I wonder how, after decades of disgrace, there was still room in her heart for a miracle? How did she not fill the space of longing and brokenness with something else: bitterness, anger, materialism, any idol that would quench the thirst she couldn’t satisfy, any status or business or momentary pleasure?

I think a lot of us are asking God for a miracle this Christmas. We want Him to satisfy a longing, fill a void, bring peace. But as we pray the words, we greedily scurry about like orphans, like children who have no Provider, trying to fill the need ourselves. We pray to be filled, and instead of waiting for his perfect filling, His indwelling, we hunt through garbage cans in back alleys. We’re children of the King, eating scraps. We say we trust Him, yet we act like He doesn’t exist. We act like we’re all alone.

I have done this. I have stuffed food and booze down my gullet, smoked packs of cigarettes, charged sparkly things on credit cards and told myself it was okay because there’s this pain I can’t stop from gnawing me to death.

And I wish I could tell you the pain goes away after __ many years. But, for me it hasn’t. The pain shocked me last week, a tidal wave overwhelming me with physical discomfort: an anger, a hunger, a coming-out-of-my-skin, itching rage. I kept telling Jack, “I’m so uncomfortable, I’m so uncomfortable.” But now, the food’s in check and the booze is gone from my life. So are the cigarettes. So is the charging things I can’t afford. I sat in my brokenness without a means of alleviating the pain, and I wanted to scream and I wanted to hurt people who haven’t felt this hurt, and I didn’t even know what it was I was feeling. Was I manic? Was I having an allergic reaction?

Until I saw Oma’s obituary, the paragraph “She is proceeded in death by . . .” [her] “great grandson Caleb.” Instantly, my eyes flood as I drive down the road, car packed with a sleeping baby and presents and groceries. And the pain of one goodbye seems to trigger the goodbye that never ceases to break me open with longing every Christmas. One goodbye, then all the others roll out: Caleb, Dad, grandparents.

And as we walked behind Oma’s beautiful casket and I held little hands down the center aisle and then through the cemetery, I realized that this hole in my heart is only going to get bigger with every passing year. There will be more goodbyes, more brokenness, many more caskets. And I get to choose: will I try to fill this longing, this ache, with the things of this world? Or, will I follow Elizabeth’s example, and leave that growing space open for God to fill?

What if I have to wait decades to see the longing filled, just like Elizabeth did? And what if I never feel that miracle, this side of heaven? What if I have to sit, like I do this Christmas, with a raw and breaking heart, believing that He works, He is working it all together for good, even if I can’t see it?

This is what I know to be true: the waiting will be worth it. The more empty space I make for Jesus this Christmas, the more I will experience Him. He will come in my mess, my brokenness, my longing. He will respond to me,

Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”
Hosea 6:3(NIV)

I am not an orphan. I am not forgotten. He will provide for me. I’m leaving this emptiness open. Raw. Believing.

He said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God . . .
. . . Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven . . .
Matthew 5:3-8, 12

Blessed are we, my friend: to sit with an open, empty heart and wait upon the Lord. Let us all follow after Elizabeth’s example. That way, when the miracle comes, we’ll be ready to receive.

Happy Christmas week,

Taylor

Refining my role as Wife: Calling all Mrs. Claus’!

If you’re too busy to make love to your husband, you’re busier than God ever intended you to be.
Darlene Schact, Messy Beautiful Love

Hi, friend. How are you doing? We’re almost half way through Advent, and I know you have a lot to do. Like, so much you’re skimming this. I won’t take it personally, I promise. I’ve been finding myself rushing through everything, even my devotions, slowing myself down even in the s l o w d o w n. It’s that time of year. So please don’t throw your iPad or phone or computer when you read this today, because I really do have your best interest at heart, okay?

Please start by playing this song:

I’ve been thinking lately about how un-romantic Christmas has become at this stage of life. When we were dating, Christmas burgeoned ripe with romance. Jack and I were desperate to spend just one moment alone during that time, and the only time we could finagle from our families’ saturated schedules was an early morning meeting on Christmas Eve. I packed a beautiful picnic basket full of warm cinnamon rolls, my mother’s famous Christmas cookies, clementines, and sparkling cider and met my teenaged love outside on the driveway at 7am, after he had already driven 40 minutes to pick me up. He ran around to help me in the car before I could open the door of his champagne Ford Tempo, hugged and kissed me as if i were the only oxygen he’d been able to breathe in days, and drove me to our very favorite spot at the Gig Harbor Park.

We lit a fire in the barbecue under the covered picnic area and laid a blanket out on the concrete, shivering in our coats, but cherishing every minute. We gave each other small gifts afforded from extra jobs for our parents, and dreamed about a time when we would wake up and not have to leave each other on Christmas morning: in our own house, with our own Christmas tree . . .

Our time would end, and he would drive me back home. I would cry as I kissed him goodbye, and dream of a Christmas when we would share a last name. All of Christmas break, I would dance around the kitchen, pirouetting (awkwardly) in my pajama pants to Nancy Wilson’s What I Want for Christmas.

But what happened? I mean, I loooovvvee my husband to death. But it seems like the minute we were engaged, Christmas became about EVERYTHING else besides the reason we got married in the first place: TO BE TOGETHER. We have celebrated many Christmases where we gave everyone else a gift but didn’t give each other gifts because money was so tight. We’ve rushed midnights from one family to the other; we’ve woken up on Christmas morning surrounded by people, but not connected to each other. The lights and the wrapping paper and the baking and the people-pleasing have filled our Christmases to the brim while sucking our marriage dry of romance.

But where’s the give? I know what you’re saying right now:

We’ll upset the apple cart if we insist on being Mr. and Mrs. on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas morning, if we don’t perform that adrenaline-filled routine of five Christmases in two days. They will burn our house to the ground if gosh-darnit we just don’t want to travel that far, that night!

And what I have realized, in all of my pushing my family through one door and out another, is that the people I work all month to celebrate Christmas with–Jack and the boys–are always the ones I end up yelling at, snipping at, barking at, as we scurry to fulfill another obligation on the day I once dreamed would be about snuggling them in front of the fire.

That’s not why I got married, my friend: to spend the most holy days of the year running from place to place, Pleasing.

So, Mrs. Claus, what are we going to do about it?

Well, I’m putting romance back in my Christmas. I’m making time this Christmas to actually have a moment with my husband, to be his wife instead of just hostess, stocking-stuffer, dish-cleaner, party planner. I’m going to shop for something red in the lingerie department (I have found some of my favorites at TJMaxx for under 20 bucks!). One of my cousins–she shall go nameless–has been rumored to wear a Mrs. Claus outfit on Christmas Eve. Maybe? How cute!

So what if you just take your family home a little earlier than usual on Christmas Eve? What if Santa turns around from putting that toy together, and you’re standing there in a new nightgown, with something sparkly in hand to toast this life you have built together, these stockings that hang with names that only exist because of your love for each other? What if you turn on some sexy Christmas music, and dance (or whatever! You’re married!) in front of the Christmas tree?

What if you still please everybody, but show up a little later and take a “nap” after brunch on Christmas day?

What if we actually stop to live this beautiful life, fulfill a few daydreams, and remember why we’re doing all of this in the first place?

There’s no better present for Mr. Claus than some lovin’. Just sayin’.

So, friends, take a deep breath with me.

Lord, we are so grateful to live out our lives as wives and mothers. Help us to slow down and realize that the only One we need to please this Christmas is You, and that Your will is for us to love our husbands and our families as our first ministry and deepest joy. Bless our hard work and service this Christmas, and please help us to see where we can carve time for romance into this Christmas season. We ask that Your Son’s birthday will be an opportunity for renewal in our hearts and marriages this year. Amen.

Go get him, Mrs. Claus. You’ve got this:).

Mrs. Jack Arthur Claus,

Taylor

Here’s some sexy Christmas music to get you in the mood:

I’ve included all of the information with the songs so you can find them on iTunes. Merry Christmas!

Bipolar Mama: Christmas Twinkle Confessions (5 steps to avoiding mania during Advent)

Alright. It’s the second week of advent and I am writing from my usual spot at Starbucks. I’m kind of excited that I accidentally forgot my power cord at home this morning and my laptop only has 12 percent left in the battery. Why? Because I’m dying to go hunting for some more 50% off Christmas garland to make homemade topiaries with tomato plant supports. See the pin on my Christmas board on Pinterest). is this mama’s best friend and worst curse.) Christmas lights and bliss and frosted dogwood branches fill my head with gingerbread dreams, and it is hard–very hard–for me to be disciplined in pretty much any area of my life this time of year.

Okay, so I tend to get a little manic at Christmas time. That’s the clinical viewpoint, anyways. I tend to take on projects that require more hours than there are days in Advent. I tend to think I am suddenly a skilled seamstress and carpenter and . . . and I’m not. My friend, Kate, who ends up usually baling me out of all of my sewing projects gone terribly awry, would attest to the fact that I am not as skilled at crafting as the Christmas Taylor ever believes I am.

I used to feel ashamed of this manic Christmas frenzy I whip into, like it was my fault that Christmas lights brighten up my brain, that my children marching around the house with buckets on their heads singing Frosty the Snowman shouldn’t set my heart on fire.
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I used to feel guilty for working on joyful tidbits until late in the night, like somehow I was breaking the bipolar rules. I spend so much time on the depressive side of this illness that the minute I tilt toward joy, I get very nervous.

Nervous? because tilting toward joy means a crash will eventually follow. Take down the Christmas, put Taylor in bed for a week. I hate the crash. My family hates the crash.

So my real Yuletide quandary is how to keep the twinkle while maintaining mental discipline. How do I sparkle, but not fly off into a mistletoe flurry of madness through this season of eggnog? Well, I am figuring that out. Here are my work-in-progress fly-joyfully-through-Christmas-without-crashing rules:

  1. Save a little bit, every time you get paid, into a bank account that you can only access at the holidays. It’s amazing how even a tiny bit of money, saved over the course of the year, can add up to enough come November. Then, the manic tendency to charge a credit card through the roof is tempered by the knowledge that you have cold, hard cash to spend.

  2. November? you ask. Christmas is in December! Oh, yes, I know that! But I also know that even the most sane of my loved ones get a little nuts trying to pack all of the gift-buying and gift-wrapping, entertaining, charities, school concerts, parties, and decorating into 24 days. So start early. Our Christmas money gets deposited into our checking account on November 1st. This year, my presents were bought and stowed away, along with gift boxes and wrapping paper, before Thanksgiving. KAZAM. Now, I have a month to wrap presents when I feel up to it, when I can escape up to my room in my comfies and watch a Hallmark Christmas movie. Did you see how I just made wrapping presents an escape instead of a stressful, last minute to-do? do I have to say KAZAM again???

  3. Get your tree early, and enjoy it. We cut our tree down Thanksgiving, and it took us over a week to decorate it. When there’s time, and when I feel up to it, I know we’ll have a great time decorating our evergreen.

  4. Give yourself a week to have a Turkey-meets-Mistletoe explosion all over your house while you put away the cornucopias and string up the Christmas lights. It can’t be done in one day! Why try? And, after a week, put it all away and enjoy what you were able to decorate. (Okay, do take your time to put up the deco, BUT PUT THE HAY AWAY IMMEDIATELY! I packaged all of the harvest hay into ziplock bags, and guess who found them? Guess who thought it would be really fun to jump on them and watch them explode all over the living room, the Christmas tree, the dining room? That would be my children. Mama took a few days to get over that. Not good for stoking the Magic.)

  5. Remember that Magic trumps a clean house, a Martha Stewart tree, or expensive presents. My kids jump out of bed every morning, so excited to dig their tiny “candy cans” out of their Advent stockings. They won’t remember every present they receive during their childhood, and they won’t remember how hard you worked on that dining room centerpiece. They’ll remember rolling out Christmas cookie dough with their Mama; they’ll cherish the memories of bundling up and drinking hot cocoa in the car while you search for the best Christmas light display in your hometown. (Ann Voskamp provides a fun “scavenger hunt” list for your light hunt here: The Greatest Gift Scavenger Hunt ).

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They’ll remember the twinkles, and the crackling quiet in front of a Christmas fire. They will remember that you let them decorate the the tree, even if all the ornaments are clumped together on the bottom third of the tree, and they so apologetically inform you that they knocked your handmade garland off in the process.

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In those still moments, in the breaths of joy inhaled and lightness exhaled, they’ll feel the magic, they’ll feel the stirring of the Christmas secret you know deep in Your heart:

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
Isaiah 30:15

So, when I feel like flying off into a snowflake wonderland this Advent season, I’m grabbing my babies and snuggling with them in front of the fire. I’m heading upstairs in my comfies and wrapping up a few presents at a time with ribbons of love and rest and quietness. I’m reading Ann Voskamps’ The Greatest Gift and Brennan Mannings’ The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and, Burnt Out: two books that compliment each other like Prosecco and Brie. You will drink the words from these books and gobble up grace until you’re full to the brim.

I’m resting into the quietness, loving my to-do list slowly into done (or undone).

Fill to the brim, my friend. Open yourself up to a little twinkle.

God bless you. Even if your tree only gets half-decorated and the Christmas cookies burn, you’ve got all the magic you need.

rest in the peace of Christmas, swim in love.

Taylor

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