The Girl at the Pizza Parlor

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If I told you where one of my favorite pizza places is you would probably laugh. Or maybe you simply wouldn’t believe me. Either way, it wouldn’t matter, because I know how good it is. Any guesses? Are you dying to know? Ok, I won’t leave you hanging any longer.

Nestled in the basement of the hospital my dad works at downtown is a place called Sonny’s pizza. It’s a small, unassuming place with a simple sign hung above the door. If you didn’t know it was there, you could probably spend a lot of time in the hospital and miss it entirely. And yet, come meal time, it’s bustling with activity. Since I was a girl, having a slice at Sonny’s was a special treat, so along with really great pizza (and the best chocolate chip cookies around), this pizza joint holds some pretty heavy nostalgia for me.

After I had Lane, she and I would visit my dad at work and grab some Sonny’s while we were at it. Our pediatrician’s office was across the street from the hospital for years. Every time we were able, my dad would meet us at the doctor’s office to help me out with whichever kid’s appointment, and then he would treat us to pizza afterwords. It helped ease my kids’ minds about having to see the doctor, and it became a fun tradition for all of us.

As soon as we walked in the door every time, there was one particular lady who would smile at us really warm and big, and say hello. She worked the cash register and was a good friend of my dad’s. She knew who we were whether he was with us or not. She always asked how we were doing and what was going on. She consistently complimented us and was always so nice to talk to. I looked forward to seeing her every time. There was something so warm and genuine about her. You knew she really cared about you and what you had to say to her. Her name was Liz.

I found out yesterday that she had an aneurism and passed away. I didn’t know her very well, but I cried when I read the text from my dad. It’s one of the few times I’ve cried over someone I hardly knew. As I was telling my husband, I stopped to think about it. Liz had a way of making you feel at home. Even though we only had a small number of interactions with each other, each and every one was meaningful. She had such an impact on me because she meant to. Whether she realized it or not, her words were always kind and uplifting. She listened well and always had a good response. I can honestly say, she made that basement in that hospital a brighter place to be.

I thought to myself yesterday as tears rolled down my cheeks, “I want to be more like that. I want to be more kind and intentional, and less wrapped up in my own stuff. I want to make a big impact with even just a few meaningful interactions.” I’ve been thinking about it since. Next time I visit Sonny’s, and stand in line to pay for my food, it will feel a little more empty. It won’t be quite as bright, but I know I’ll remember her with a smile on my face. Here’s to you, Liz. May we all be a little bit more like you.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

brown pinecone on white rectangular board

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Christmas. Oh, how I love Christmas! It’s so magical, and fun, and amazing. And honestly, I just love it so crazy much. Most people are in an extra cheerful mood, and are more inclined to give, society, as a whole, kind of steps outside of itself a little bit. Not only that, but let’s talk about all the fun traditions. Candy canes, hot cocoa, decorating the tree, singing carols, the presents, the parties. All of it. I love every, stinking bit of it. Sure, it’s a little stressful at times, but to me, it’s all worth it.

Warning: the words I’m about to speak will probably offend, or at least, maybe, tick some people off. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ve lived in a certain bubble of a world where I let things affect me too much, and it took me too long to settle everything in my own heart. Maybe you’ll laugh and think, “The things this poor girl put herself through.” But either way, here it is I am done with the Christmas guilt. Phew, there. I said it. Do you know what I mean? Do you know “the guilt” that I’m talking about? It’s that church-y voice telling me for as long as I can remember, “Yeah, sure, Christmas is great and all, but it’s far too commercial, and don’t forget about Jesus.” By the way, let me be clear, this “voice” I’m talking about isn’t some metaphorical voice. It’s been people saying it every Christmas season since forever.

Now, hear me out. I’m not saying that those people are wrong. I don’t, personally have anything against them. And I don’t even have any specific person in mind. It’s just the cacophony of voices passed down through the years. I know that almost all of them are coming from a good place. I know people are speaking their own convictions, and that’s ok. But for too long, I personally, let the convictions of others affect the joy in my own heart during this season.

It was a few of years ago, after hearing somebody talk about how they’re so disappointed in how Christmas looks, and doesn’t anybody even remember that Christmas is about Jesus anymore? I honestly don’t even remember who was saying these things. I only remember that it wasn’t a personal conversation, it was a meeting, or a message, or something of the sort. It may have even been something I saw on youtube. I don’t remember. I just remember that the whole time they were talking, I felt sad inside. I felt sad that I just love Christmas so much. And I felt like this person was telling me that I should feel guilty about that. That I should cut it out on the “non-holy” traditions, and only fully embrace the ones that have to do with Jesus. The whole time I thought, “not this again. It happens every year. Somebody feels like they have to advocate to the church to chill out on the commercialized Christmas on account of looking too ‘worldly’. I wish I could just enjoy it.” When all of a sudden it was like a voice (an entirely different voice, mind you) said to me, “stop feeling guilty. Just enjoy this gift.”

There it was. Plain and simple. Just. Enjoy. Christmas. Stop feeling guilty that you love to give, and yes, *gasp* to get, gifts. Stop feeling guilty when you want to listen to only Christmas music all day every day (and not just Silent Night). Don’t feel guilty when you get super excited about all the cute Christmas decor they have out at Target. Don’t feel guilty when you get all caught up in the hubabaloo of the holiday. Because that’s exactly what it is. A holiday. And it’s meant to be enjoyed. Once I realized that, I felt free. I enjoyed that year’s Christmas like nobody’s business. And it’s a good thing, because the following year, hell came crashing down around me. Right at my favorite time of year. Right at Christmas. And it was honestly what kept grounded, and hopeful, and going. I have no idea what darkness would have enveloped me had it not been for Christmas. Had it not been for all the Christmas cheer that surrounded me. Black Friday, ugly sweater parties, cookies, and lights, and the whole nine yards.  It kept my head above water. I am beyond grateful that the year before, I had let go of all of that useless guilt that I let crowd my heart.

Now, please. Don’t misread me. We celebrate Jesus in this household 100%. Our kids know that we celebrate Christmas because of Jesus and the ultimate gift that He gave. They know that He came and lived, and served, and died, and rose again. In fact, they love Easter more than anybody else I know specifically because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We don’t downplay that part of it. We know that there are some seriously holy aspects of Christmas. But we also know that we live in a day and age when there are other parts of Christmas too, and those things are crazy fun! And there’s nothing wrong with them! I honestly feel so much more worshipful during the Christmas season when I don’t listen to the voices that are saying it’s strayed from the main point. I feel so grateful that we have an entire holiday that most people choose to participate in regardless of if they are “church goers” or not. In fact, what an awesome way to relate to people and share the love of Jesus. By enjoying the traditions with them instead of enjoying them a little bit but also feeling a little bit guilty about it, because “it’s not what Jesus would want.” Christmas is an awesome time to unite people of different opinions, and to celebrate the things we have in common. I think we, as a church, are missing it just a little bit when we frown upon the commercialized version of Christmas. I think there’s a way where we can enjoy both aspects of this amazing holiday.

Please also understand, I know that Christmas is an emotionally tough time for a lot of people. None of this is directed at you. Maybe that’s obvious, but in case it isn’t I want to make it obvious. In fact, let me just say that this whole post about letting go of the Christmas guilt is not supposed to make anybody feel bad or guilty. Heaven forbid I do the same thing I’m trying to help people break free of. I’m not pointing fingers, I’m not calling anybody out, and I’m not saying that anybody is wrong verses right. I’m only saying that when I allowed myself to breathe and release all that ugly guilt in my heart, I was able to enjoy and celebrate and be thankful for Christmas on a whole new level.

What about you? What are your thoughts? Am I alone? Because I could be. I could be the only person in the group of people who will read this post that ever felt like I love Christmas but maybe I shouldn’t love it so much. Let me know your thoughts! I would love to hear them! And by the way, Have a very merry Christmas season – happily, and guilt free. 😉🎄