Reclaiming Christmas

Nativity SceneThe terminology is confusing to me — Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday. Really? I remember when “Black Friday” was simply known as…well, the day after Thanksgiving. I’m dating myself, but I long for the simplicity of the day after Thanksgiving with its lingering aromas and cold turkey with cranberry sandwiches. I have no desire to participate in the midnight madness, regardless of the huge amounts of money I can save. And do we really need to be bombarded with retail sales statistics as though the entire U.S. economy is teetering on the brink of disaster if we don’t frantically rush to the mall?

I grew up in rural Idaho, the daughter of a small business owner. The Larsen family’s economy was based on the success of the potato farmers in our area. I understand the importance of shopping and the energy of money. And frankly, I do my fair share to keep our economy humming. I’ve simply decided to personally stimulate the economy from mid-January through mid-November. The holiday season should be about something different, something more.

Reclaim Christmas. Yes, that’s what I intend to do. The seed of this desire was planted last year, Christmas of 2011. I moved to Los Altos, California in September of 2011 to be with my daughter Sharlie, her husband Ryan and their four-year-old son, Harrison. Sharlie, who has bravely battled Cystic Fibrosis all her life, had been accepted by the heart/lung transplant team at Stanford University. One of the many requirements was that she have two caretakers. I was honored to assume the role, although — as is usually the case when we attempt to serve — I constantly found myself on the receiving end of care, love and joy.

We were told the average wait was around two months so it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t be home for Christmas. The days and weeks passed. Sharlie grew weaker as she waited for her new organs. Around Thanksgiving it became clear we might not be home in San Diego for Christmas. When I first had this thought, a wave of panic hit me. How would we do it? What would Christmas be like without all the trappings and trimmings that overflow my Christmas storage closet? And what would I purchase for everyone? Even though Sharlie was the recipient of an outpouring of generosity through numerous fund-raising efforts, we were watching our funds carefully; not knowing how much would be needed to cover Sharlie’s medical expenses.

We simplified. Peace and Joy are words used to describe the season…and that’s exactly what I felt. Peace! Joy! It was glorious. Because we were renting and only had a small space for a tree, Ryan, Shar and Harrison found a perfect three-footer. We draped one string of lights on it and Sharlie and I circled it with chains we fashioned from ribbon. Harrison and I walked hand-in-hand, scouring our neighborhood gathering clumps of red berries and a few pine cones that he gently placed on the branches. A rough-hewn star adorned the top of our little tree. During a weekend trip with my husband Ric to the quaint community of Half Moon Bay, I found a charming, wooden nativity set that put the final, most important component on our decor.

My very favorite shop in Los Altos is a second-hand store run by volunteers of the American Cancer Society. It became my personal treasure trove – and I was able to find unique, gently worn gifts for my family and friends — a crystal bell, a set of antique candlesticks, a silver teapot, a decorative serving bowl, a Christmas candy plate. I put a great deal of thought and love (polishing the silver!) and very little money into my purchases and somehow that made them more special, more significant.

Family and friends came from all over to visit and it meant the world to us. We played games, put together puzzles and drove around looking at all the twinkling lights. We hosted a mini Christmas Pageant in our home for Harrison’s pre-school class. My sister Sydney sent us a beautiful Christmas CD and the music lifted us. We baked goodies, took long, slow walks and cherished our time together.

Yes, something changed for me last Christmas. No one said it, but we all knew that time was precious and the future uncertain. My prayers became more poignant, more urgent. Would this be the last Christmas I’d share with my precious daughter?

On February 16th, 2012, Sharlie received her transplant and her comeback has been astonishing. She’s relishing every moment of this Christmas season — her first with her new heart and lungs. She no longer needs caretakers…in fact, she constantly seems to be doing for others — and she has the energy and determination to fulfill all her dreams. She is grateful for every beat of her heart and for every breath she takes. Sharlie is loving her life and living it to its fullest. When I spoke to her today she sounded breathless…but it was from the excitement of decorating their home and not from exhaustion. What a gift!

We all returned home a few months ago and life — beautiful LIFE! — is pretty much back to normal. But not really. A change has settled on my heart. From now on, Christmas is going to be about spending more time than money. It’s going to be about creating memories and keeping it simple and beautiful. Around our home there’s going to be more music, more contemplation, more companionship. There’s going to be less consumerism and more celebration. The birth of the Christ Child, the Savior of the world is taking center stage. And there’s going to be love — pure love. Just today I learned my grandchildren — instead of purchasing gifts — are going to write letters, poems or draw pictures for each other. That made me smile. Apparently, the change in my heart is hereditary, being felt by my children and their children.

Today I decorated our home. Many of my dozens of containers filled with decorations will stay in the closet this year. Our tree is covered with berries and there is a simple, wooden Nativity Set on the table in front of our picture window. I shed a few tears as I tenderly dusted it and carefully placed it on a bed of straw. It is — and always will be — a reminder that Christmas, if I reclaim it, is a time of peace, of joy — of miracles.

22 comments… add one
  • Merry Christmas Collette ,Ric and Family.

    Excellent write Collette. Jim and I are leading the simple life and appreciate all of our Blessings.

    Maggie and Jim

  • Dearest Collette,

    You never fail to bring tears to my eyes! And, may I say, this time, they are tears of sheer JOY!
    THANK YOU for stating so eloquently, and lovingly, what Christmas should truly be all about, for all of us: the sharing of precious moments together, spent doing simple activities and meditating on the true meaning of Christmas.
    God bless you and your family, now and always.
    Merry Christmas! <3

  • Dear Collette, Ric and Family:

    Thank you for an inspiring, beautiful and lovely message that touches the heart.

    Yes, May the Joy, Peace and Love of Christmas touch everyone:)
    Doris Jung

  • Marcela

    Dear Collete, I loved what you wrote about Christmas. You really touched my heart and warmed it with your beautiful words. Thankyou for reminding me about what’s really important: being grateful for LIFE and for having loving people around us to share it with.
    I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas.

  • My dear friend,
    After all these years you still make me cry tears of joy. Beautifully written and, as it is with everything you do, from your heart. May this be your most joyous Christmas. All our love to you and your beautiful family.
    See you soon,

  • Dyann Lyon and Wild Jones

    Dear Collette and all the wonderful members of your beautiful family,
    We wish you the most magical of Christmas’s this year as you celebrate the joy of being with family at this special time of year! We can only imagine the joy of having Sharlie’s newfound healthy heart and lungs as part of the celebration of the season! With love, peace and joy to you all!
    Dyann and Wild

  • Colleen Gillies Peterson

    Ahhhhhhh….this is so beautifully written and such an amazing story. I am going to share with my friends and family! A special Thanks to a friend we met in China (Kim and her husband Scott) for sharing this with me.

  • Marisa

    Dear Collette and your wonderful gang,

    Your words are meaningful and vivid. Somehow our lives become full of “things” and not people and memories. We have followed your journey with such hope and joy and Sharlie and all of you are such an inspiration.
    We have also simplified. It seems the holidays are meant to be just that, holidays and not materialistic acquisition.
    Merry Christmas and happiest of holdays to all of you.
    Love, Marisa, Alex and Parker Cain

  • Dora Zdanis

    Collette & Ric ~ Thank you very much for sharing this beautiful story with us. Wishing you and your entire family health, happiness and many blessings now and into the new year.

    Merry Christmas!
    Dora & Pete Zdanis

  • Alan Holcomb

    Thank you Collette for being such an open book for all of us. You are truly a blessing to so many and are blessed as a result.
    May God continue to bless and prosper you, Ric and all your family.
    Merry CHRISTmas and all the best in 2013.

  • What beautiful and touching story. Have a joyous and merry Christmas.

  • Nancy Neigus

    Dear Collette,
    Your words are, as always, so beautiful and so well thought. I have been feeling a tug to do / be something different this season, but couldn’t clarify it. Your words have done that for me. Family, love, simplicity, creating happiness, time before money, a return to a deeper, warmer feeling. Since Chanukkah starts tomorrow evening, I only have a day to bring this into focus, though I do have 8 days to play it out.

    Thank you for your wonderful words and I wish you and your whole family a happy, healthy, and spiritually fulfilling season. With love,

  • I remember my first convention, you broke my heart, and it was so fragile already. Thanks for your inspiration, you are an angel. God Bless you and your family 🙂

  • Dee

    Thank you for sharing your heart…you’ve touched mine. GOD Bless you and your beautiful family!

  • Collette, we have followed your life and rise in USANA since 1997, and Sharli’s struggles, too. What a blessing for her, you and all of us to see Sharli in such good health. Our Heavenly Father has a way of teaching us His point of view when we are doing the best we can to follow His Son. Thank you for sharing your experience. – Judy and Jerry

  • Collette as always you touch my heart. Family is what really matters and I am so happy for Sharlie and all your family. Have a blessed holiday season. Diane

  • As always, you totally bless me (((Collette))). We are doing the same thing here in our home this year. Thank you for sharing this beautiful message and for being a wonderful mentor to so many of us. We pray for continued blessings upon you and your family. xox

  • Cindy Nunnery

    So blessed to know you and your family. You are a joy and an inspiration to everyone around you! Merry CHRISTmas to you and your family! <3 <3 <3

  • Sharon Kissner

    God bless you.
    Thank you.
    And Amen to all that you wrote.
    Merry Christmas.

  • Bravo! That was a wonderful post, and thankfully, more and more people agree with you. I think that we are fatigued with all the stress created by retailers. I too long for a more peaceful Christmas.

  • Your thoughts, in becoming words speak to me. Thank you for sharing. May we all continue to be blessed

  • Dorie from Farmington, NM

    Thank you for reminding me that Christmas is Jesus the Christ, our Savior, Messiah and LORD. I am grateful for family, breath, simplicity, laughter, songs of joy, friendships….all things that can’t be bought. Thank you, Collette, for your tender heart, your tears of gratitude, Sharlie for your sweet spirit and determination teaching all of us about saying “yes” to something bigger than ourselves. God gave you a God-sized dream of living life to the fullest. What a gift He gave He gave to you, O Daughter of His.

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