Grant Us the Grace

After I told my mother I didn’t like the dress she made me for Christmas because it was corduroy, not velveteen, she turned and left the room without speaking. Years later, she told me she didn’t respond angrily because she knew a reprimand would allow me to resent her rather than thinking about my own rude and hurtful words.

Dad’s union was on strike, and money was tight, something I usually understood and accepted; but my teenaged self was focused on envy of the fashionable red-velveteen dress Santa had delivered to my best friend.

I saw my mother’s disappointment and hurt before she turned away, but mired in envious misery, I didn’t try to make things right. Later, after sulking in my room, I came to my senses, found her folding laundry, and choked out, “I’m sorry.”

“So am I,” she said. “I’m not sorry that I can’t give you everything you want, because that isn’t how life works, but I am sorry that you can’t see all you have.”

I thought of Mom’s statement a few weeks ago when a television commentator said that rather than pushing Thanksgiving aside in our rush to get started on Christmas, we should savor the simplicity of the November holiday and call on its spirit of gratitude throughout the coming season.

So this year, during the busy buildup to December 25th, I’m going to notice simple pleasures, open myself to them, and remember all I have.

I invite you to join me.

We’ll enjoy the red-cheeked exuberance of small children as they happy-dance in store aisles and gaze in round-eyed wonder at Christmas trees filled with light. We’ll smile at how angelic our young ones look as they perform in holiday concerts, how happy they seem as they race home from school with decorations and cards they created; how thoughtfully they debate the number of cookies to leave for Santa.

We’ll sing carols with messages and melodies that have resonated through the ages, concentrating until their hopeful words envelop us and carry us back to the time when we sang “Silent Night” with all the belief and love of our young hearts.

We’ll read traditional Christmas stories to ourselves and others and respond to the lines we well know: Santa’s exclamation as he drove out of sight, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight,” Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, everyone!” and the simple but compelling words of the Bible, “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

If Christmas Eve brings us a calm night when the trees are wrapped in frosty lace, the snow sparkles with frozen crystals, and every star in the heavens is visible, we’ll take the time to bundle up and walk outdoors to search for the Star of the East and listen as the glory of the night whispers our blessings.

My wish is that all of us will be granted the grace to enjoy the Christmas we have —not the ones others are having or the one we wanted to have — the grace to find beauty in the simple, the grace of understanding that the best days are filled with small wonders.

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57 thoughts on “Grant Us the Grace

  1. Your Mother was such a wise woman and I cherish the time I had with her. She taught me many things, but the most important was how to be a mom.
    As I grow older, Christmas still seems to be a rush to the finish, but I too, enjoy the blessings of the season. Christmas for me now is being with loved ones. I don’t need presents and I have a hard time telling the kids what to get me for Christmas because now I want for nothing and isn’t that a wonderful place to be?

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  2. I agree with Janice…your Mom was very wise (and very kind)…my Mom used to give us the ole “raised left eye brow” and then not say a word…The “eyebrow” did the talking for her…And thanks for reminding me and granting me “the grace of understanding” to see things this season with the grace of the season and all that comes with a more appreciative and “open” heart…

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      • ” . . . for the last 20 years, punctuation hasn’t been part of the curriculum in most of the United States. Students are expected to express themselves fearlessly–something they can’t do if they’re at all concerned about clarity–and magically pick up the rules of punctuation on their own. This is like teaching the lesson of the gas pedal and ignoring the lesson of the brake.” –Richard Lauchman : “Punctuation at Work.”

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    • Wendy, I loved and respected my mother so much that when I saw the look on her face, even though I clung to my resentment for a bit, I knew I would have to try make things right. Another part of her wisdom is that after our conversation, our relationship instantly returned to normal and she never mentioned my behavior again until I brought it up in a conversation years later.

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  3. A timely reminder. Thank you. Here in hot Australia many of us opt for cold Christmas dinner, with seafood and salads. Having been warned against buying imported prawns, yesterday we were alerted to a possible prawn shortage. If all we lack at Christmad is a few Australian prawns, we are indeed lucky.,

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  4. I love how I can see both your disappointment and your mother’s wisdom in this moment. I love your reflection on this memory and the continual look into savoring more of your everyday. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for many reasons but having an excuse to put gratitude at my dinner table every night of November is the most important reason right now.
    May you lose yourself in the wonder of the season and all the beauty that you have in your life. I really appreciate your sentiments and pause looking for the true joy of life within the Holiday bustle. Lovely!

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  5. I love the way you took us right into the moment. Your writing made us understand how you felt, and what your mother was trying to convey.Our best days are indeed filled with small wonders—and reading your blog is one of them!

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  6. I think that spirit is in the air. I am not materialistic to begin with but this year, even less so. I am focused on spending time with family and friends. What’s under the tree or not seems irrelevant–which is freeing:).

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    • I wrote a newspaper column last year about the winter solstice and how it has taken on more importance for me over the years. My husband and I greet it with enthusiasm as well. Happy Holidays to you, too, my friend.

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  7. “I’m not sorry that I can’t give you everything you want, because that isn’t how life works, but I am sorry that you can’t see all you have.” This sentence gave me perspective. I wish I had inherited the wisdom of my grandmother, and am thankful that you share her wisdom from time to time. Isn’t it true that we need to slow down and take the time so “see” everything that we do have. I am thankful for learned view now. It brings peace to my soul amid the hustle and bustle of life.
    I hope your holiday season is filled with peace, joy and wonderful memories, Janet!

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    • What a wonderful comment, Dawna. Mom’s statement about my inability to see and appreciate all I had certainly stuck with me. I’m glad you learned to be appreciative, and that it has brought peace to your soul. I wish you and yours a happy, peaceful Christmas as well.

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  8. How did your mom KNOW all that stuff??? Every time I think I’ve figured out how to be a good – really, not even good, just not TERRIBLE – parent, I do something else and think I have it all wrong. Maybe you should just make a giant list of all the things your parents said (and the accompanying circumstances) – and index it for the rest of us. In fact, I’ll do the indexing, if you just prepare the encyclopedia of best parental responses to use when you’re on the verge of exploding. 🙂

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    • I enjoyed this comment, Carolyn, and I’m certain you are still being too hard on yourself as you were when I taught you in 9th grade. I’ll bet you are a splendid parent. And, full disclosure, sometimes my mom did explode; she did it rarely, so it sent all of us scuttling to our rooms in shocked silence, which might have been the result she wanted.

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  9. Your Mother’s wonderful statement, “I’m not sorry that I can’t give you everything you want, because that isn’t how life works, but I am sorry that you can’t see all you have,” hit me this morning. It is exactly how I taught my children. Having a grateful heart not only helps others feel good about their efforts, but it also helps us focus on the positive in our lives. Thank you for posting this needed reminder. It’s good to hear your Mother’s voice through you.

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  10. Your experience reminded me of one of my own. My senior year, I wanted to go to the Christmas formal and there was no money for a new dress. Not even enough for fabric to make one. If I wanted to go (Of course, I HAD to go. I had a boyfriend!), I’d have to choose between wearing the one Mom had made last year or borrowing one from a friend. I’m sure there were tears of disappointment on both our parts. As teenagers though, it’s hard to imagine that our mothers knew how we felt.
    This year I will indeed take pleasure in the small things–baking cookies with my daughter and granddaughter, helping at a kindergarten Christmas party, and watching big snowflakes fall on my yard from inside my warm house.
    Take care. xo

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    • Thank you for your anecdote, Lorie. I like knowing we had similar experiences. Your planned Christmas activities sound perfect. May they bring you happiness. I can picture you and your smile and laugh brightening the kindergarten Christmas party.

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  11. Such a lovely piece. Of course, this reminded me of my ungrateful responses. Now is the time to be grateful as a small way to make amends. I loved this column.

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    • I think most teenagers experience ungrateful moments — even us! Thankfully, we also mature and learn. I like your idea that showing gratitude now is a “small way to make amends.” I’m glad you enjoyed my thoughts, Audrey.

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  12. A graceful, beautifully written, post, Janet. I agree that simplicity and gratitude at Christmas gives more meaning to the holiday. I wish it hadn’t take me so many years to end my fretful, stressful, scurrying during the month of December. Our family now loves our gathering minus the gift-exchange. Only the littlest receive presents and the rest of us contribute to coat drives, food drives, and selected needy families, which is more rewarding. I hope your Christmas was again, peaceful and calm.

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    • My Christmas was peaceful and calm, Mary, and from what you had planned, I assume yours was as well — if Chris and Perry traveled safely over Donner Pass. Several years ago, my family, too, dropped its gift exchange with the idea we would each increase our charitable contributions. Then we all breathed a sigh of relief and enjoyed Christmas more. Good to hear from you.

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  13. Another thought-provoking post, Janet.

    Sometimes I can’t imagine how parents get through those moments when their kids say hurtful things to them. I cringe when I think of all the petty things I grumped about to my Mom.

    Luckily my Mom and one sister were able to fly to Utah and spend five days with us during Christmas week. It wasn’t the same without Dad, but we took your post to heart and spent time enjoying the simple things—savoring good food, watching wildlife in our yard, listening to carols.

    Happy New Year!

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    • I wonder what there is about the teenage years that brings out the grumpy and petulant? I’ve enjoyed learning that people I like and respect, such as you, had their less graceful moments as well. I’m so glad you, your mom and sister, and your good husband enjoyed a quiet Christmas. I’ll bet your words and memories held your dad closely as you did so.

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  14. Miracle of miracles–I pulled it off:). Enjoyed the Xmas we had–kept it simple. And am focusing on the good in the now, as well as what lies ahead, with as few expectations as possible. I hope your holiday was a wonderful one!

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    • Kay, I’m not surprised that you pulled off all that you describe. I, too, did well, except for not browning the butter enough to get the full impact of its wonderful flavor in the frosting I made to frost sugar cookies. But, accepting the Christmas I had, I smiled, served them anyway, and ate more than my share.

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  15. Your mother was a wise woman, indeed. I have so much respect for her after your very beautiful, profound story. I have been reading 🙂 Just a bit delayed. Life gets pretty intense sometimes.

    Thank you for reminding us of the simplicity in life that matters so much. I always enjoy reading your posts, dear Janet.

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    • Thank you, Tamara. It’s good to hear from you. I know your life has been intense recently and frequently send good wishes your way. I check your blog weekly, anticipating another post from you. I hope your new year brings peace, happiness, and success to you. Fondly, Janet

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