Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Christmas Angel

"The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them." Psalm 34:6-8 (NASB)

On December 22, I found myself—broke, alone and stranded over 8000 miles from home.

After four, fabulous once-in-a-lifetime weeks in Thailand, I was grounded in the Bangkok International Airport (BKK). My plane scheduled to take off in two hours and I lacked 500 Baht ($15) to clear immigration to board the aircraft.

Helpless as a beggar, I worried.

How will I get home?

Thailand is a land of beauty—and beggars. These vulnerable individuals disappear into the urban landscape—as if invisible.

Every day I passed one beggar who perched in his battered wheelchair, resembling a stone Buddha. His eyes locked straight ahead. His lips cemented into a stern line. Two stumps stuck out a few inches past the wheelchair's seat. Where knees once were, healed balls of skin capped his amputated stubs like bubbles on the end of twisted balloons.

On my last day in Bangkok, all the coins I saved for him plinked in his metal cup. That's probably more money than he receives in a month.

Not one muscle on his stony countenance budged.

After spontaneous purchases, I received more change. A paraplegic man teetered on the filthy curb's edge between the busy street and crowded sidewalk. Seeming to be alive only from the waist up, his shriveled, lifeless legs appeared as wooden as his worn crutches. I dropped coins into his cup, and then remembered: I have more. My fingers burrowed into my purse, scraping together additional change.

Then, a small miracle occurred.

Our eyes locked—two people from different worlds.

His radiant smile and joyful eyes conveyed—thanks.

I returned to the hotel and bargained hard with the taxi driver to avoid being overcharged for the ride to BKK. As we sped along the freeway, he said, "I miss my daughter. She live five hours away. To make money, I buy taxi and work in Bangkok. The cost of gas hurt my business." I understood his pain—insufficient finances or time with your children. Too often, I worried: Will I have money to fill my car with gas to drive to work?

After reciting my entire Thai vocabulary, he said, "You speak Thai good. How much you pay?"

"Three hundred Baht, like we agreed."

His eyes registered disappointment. Thais act polite to a fault. "Saving face" is paramount. He blinked, regaining his upbeat composure.

"You single woman. I take good care of you."

At BKK, his slight frame unloaded and stacked my slippery plastic suitcases onto a baggage cart. I pressed all my currency into his hand—500 Baht, plus eight American dollars.

I was broke.

After passing through security, I checked into China Airlines, receiving my boarding pass. At the exit immigration window, I explained, "I need my 1400 Baht VAT (tourist value-added tax) refund to pay the 500 Baht exit tax."

"The VAT Refund Office is in the departure lounge, "she replied, "You cannot pass through immigration without paying."

Tension stressed my brain like an overstretched rubber band threatening to snap.

God, please don't let me miss my plane. It's Christmas. I just want to get home to my sons.

Tears ran down my face. I returned to China Airlines and asked for help. The airline employee, who took my ticket, was checking in a passenger with distinct Thai features—large round eyes, rounded nose, full lips, and sculpted cheekbones. Most Thais stand five foot four. She was six feet, maybe taller.

"Traveling is stressful. Here…take this," the Thai traveler said, thrusting 1000 Baht into my hand.

"Thank you. I'll pay you back on the other side of immigration."

"Don't worry about it."

"What's your name?"


As I slid 500 Baht under the immigration window, waves of joy washed over my body. Thank you, God.I'm headed home to celebrate your son's birth with my boys! The immigration officer inspected my passport. "You overstayed your visa. That'll cost an extra 200 Baht per day." She allowed me to collect my refund from the VAT Refund Office, which paid the remaining overstay fees.

As I entered the departure area, stress drained away leaving behind hunger pangs. My remaining Thai coins purchased a sandwich, chips and an icy watermelon drink. As I ate, I looked for Angela.

I searched each departure-waiting lounge.

No Angela.

Thinking, She's on my plane, I headed to my departure gate. After liftoff, I walked each aisle, scanning every seat.

No Angela.

Was she an angel?

I didn't foresee the consequences of sharing more than I could spare with three precious individuals. I winged my way home by way of prayer and heavenly intervention—accompanied by the Most High over all the earth.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

55 Ways to Save Money Buying Christmas, Hanukkah or Holiday Gifts

"A hug is the perfect gift; one size fits all, and nobody minds if you exchange it."

I've always enjoyed giving gifts, but have never had extra in the budget to spread as much good cheer as I would like. After hanging out at my place of worship with the quilting grannies, who survived the depression, I learned, "Think depression. Recycle. Make do with what you've got. Thank God."

When I was propelled into solo parenting, I couldn't afford 'needs', like electricity. Car insurance was a luxury. The monthly budget that I barely paid every month and a half did not include 'wants.' I fell back on my creativity. Here are fifty-four money saving Christmas tips I've learned through the years.

  1. Use your interests or talents. I oil painted 100's of Christmas ornaments for friends, family and business associates. Materials: Curtain ring, round piece of canvas, Elmer's glue, and oil paints. I also painted 5x7-inch paintings of a personalized mailbox and larger pictures for close family members. Do you cook, scrapbook, knit, crochet, paint, sew, or make soap or jewelry? Use your unique talents or learn how to create gifts for family and friends.
  2. Make Christmas ornaments. I used to give mysons two Christmas ornaments each year. One ornament was purchased the year before during after Christmas sales, and the other one I made. Google "Make Christmas ornaments" to find ornaments you'd enjoy making. Some years I attended a Christmas ornament exchange party. Invite 21 people. Each person makes 21 ornaments. You go home with 20 new homemade ornaments.
  3. Shop the Christmas sales. After Christmas, I wait until at least 75% off to start buying next year's birthday, wedding, baby shower, and Christmas gifts. I also buy wrapping paper, plates, napkins, cards, and holiday decorations. What newlywed do you know that has Christmas ornaments? Holiday decorations make great wedding gifts. Every season, Hobby Lobby sells candles, dishes and other decorative items starting at 50% then down to 90%. When the sale hits 90%, I check it out. One year, I bought Easter bunnies that were perfect gifts for young children and babies and craft supplies that were great for older children. I buy gift and spa baskets when they hit 75-90% off.
  4. Shop thrift and consignment shops. I shop year round at Goodwill, Salvation Army, The Arc, and Disabled Veterans. I find many new items still in their shrink-wrapped packages. Stores donate unsold sale items to thrift stores. For pennies on the dollar, I've purchased sterling silver, silver plate, new shoes, clothes, and unopened gifts. I only buy when the thrift store marks them down 30% if I really love it, but preferably 50% or 75% off. Purchase cookie jars, canisters, gift tins, platters, or plates. Bake cookies or brownies or candied nuts. Load plates with goodies, then wrap in plastic and add a bow and a recipe card. I also watch for porcelain dolls throughout the year to buy for my granddaughter.
  5. Host a cookie gift swap. Bake 12 dozen cookies. Invite friends to bring theirs. Swap. Then plop them on a plate or in a tin and give them away as gifts.
  6. Shop holiday sales year round. Hobby Lobby sells theme-oriented gifts for every holiday. And there's some kind of holiday or two every month. I shop their holiday sales when they hit 75–90% off. You can sign-up on line for their email alert.
  7. Check clearance racks all year long. The first place I head in a real store is the clearance rack. However, after buying clothes for $2-3, a skirt on sale for $20 doesn't seem like that much of a geat bargain.
  8. Sell goodies on EBay. Clean out closets and drawers. Sell it on EBay to earn money for the Christmas piggy.
  9. Bid on and
    I've found great stuff on these sites. However, after realizing how addicting online auctions can be, I wouldn't let myself buy anything until the credit card was paid off. I'm still grieving over that old timey asparagus server that I refused to fight for! Now I set a limit and don't go over it.
  10. Try Craigslist. Craigslist is a noncommercial, service-oriented, non-corporate online garage sale where you can buy and sell your used goods.I bought a name brand $500 dishwasher for $75. Iwas thrilled.
  11. Check Free Cycle.The Freecycle Network™ is a grassroots, nonprofit movement of people who give and receive free in their own towns. Membership is free.
  12. Make gift baskets. One year, I could not compete with the gifts that my co-workers planned to give everyone in our division at our company party. I had gone overboard at one Hobby Lobby sale and purchased too many expensive baskets for dirt cheap. I loaded them with items from other sales, thrift stores and dollar stores. Everyone thought I spent more than I did.
  13. Create food gifts. From flavored oils to cookies to brownie mixes to soup mixes to creating gourmet candied nuts, teas or coffees, everyone loves to eat and drink. Make muffin, brownie, cookie, cake, tea, coffee or chocolate drink mixes. Mix together dry ingredients and place in a plastic baggie, press and seal bag, a hand-sewn or embroidered bag, or a canning or decorative jar. Great for co-workers or associates. Ships well and arrives in perfect condition, even if the truck drives through freezing weather. Bake mini-loafs. Bake your favorite fruit bread. Wrap in foil. Include recipe as the gift tag. Place in a brown paper bag, fold down and punch two holes in bag. Pull ribbon through holes and tie into a bow.
  14. Use your computer and printer. Design or print out templates for every member of your family. The Microsoft web site provides templates that include business cards, recipes cards, place cards, luggage tags, calendars, wedding planners, CD/DVD labels, return address labels, stationary, gift certificate coupons, budget planners, party planners, bookmarks, alphabet flash cards. Download free clip art from Microsoft.
  15. Shop outlet sales. I've lived near a Libby glass factory, a card and gift factory and other outlets. I shop their sales racks, which are even cheaper than their seconds are. Some outlets sell seconds, last year's products, overstocks, or undamaged items. Inspect slightly less than perfect items to make sure you can easily repair obvious damage.
  16. Give grocery gift cards. Single parents, the elderly and others on tight budgets appreciate grocery store gift cards. Then they can choose the foods they love, instead of receiving someone's discarded, off-brand, outdated canned sardines. Yes, Charley, I received sardines one year in a well-meaning Christmas "food" basket.
  17. Buy already-viewed DVDs/movies or used video games. I buy already viewed movies at Blockbuster and pawnshops. Video game shops sell already used games.
  18. Give to those less fortunate than yourself. As a single parent, most Christmas's I grieved because I could not buy my sons what they wanted. One year, I told the boys that our Christmas presents were buying presents for another family that had nothing. We got their wish list. I took the boys to the store. They picked out all the clothes and toys themselves, and then wrapped them. When we took them to the home, the tree was bare, as was the floor underneath the tree. I placed the turkey and all the trimmings on the bare table in a bare kitchen. Kyle jumped up and down so excited. He wanted them to open their presents, "Right now!" But I explained, they would open their presents on Christmas Day. That was one of our best Christmases.
  19. Re-gift things you don't use or like. Are your shelves bulging with candles, perfumes, lotions, bath powder, or other items that you can't use or don't like? Give them to someone you know will enjoy them. I'm allergic to certain expensive cosmetic brands, which is great for family and friends. I never re-gift to someone who knows the person that gave me the gift.
  20. Not crafty? Buy from friends. Do your friends make beautiful homemade gifts or create delicious foods? Help them out.
  21. Barter things you make. Exchange what you make or something you want to get rid of in exchange for another person's craft or cooking. One year I exchanged the jewelry that I made for a beautiful pot.
  22. Make your own gift-wrap and tags with recycled items. Make gift tags from gift wrap and old Christmas cards. Cut tag from gift wrap and fold in half. Cut tag from Christmas card, and then punch a hole for ribbon. Sometimes wallpaper stores give away their old wallpaper books, which makes great gift wrap. Use the funny papers. Stamp designs on newspapers.
  23. Wrap gifts in creative containers or cloth. I bought fragile Christmas carolers, wrapped them in tissue paper, and placed them in a Christmas-designed hatbox. Wrap a matching scarf around a box containing jewelry. Put a hat and scarf in a wooden box. Wrap a picnic basket in a tablecloth or barbeque grilling tools in an apron. Wrap kitchen gifts in kitchen tea towels.
  24. Look to nature. Do pine cones abound in your neighborhood? Collect and make pine cone ornaments, wreaths, candle holders, or napkin rings. Spray paint pine cones silver or gold and throw them into a basket. Wrap basket handle with ribbon. Trim holly, bayberry, holly, juniper, sage, or pine trees. Make centerpieces, wreaths, swags, and garlands using floral supplies—floral wire, sponges, etc.
  25. Give gift certificates to a restaurant. Each year an associate gives me three burrito coupons at my favorite restaurant. It doesn't cost them a lot, but I LOVE the certificate.
  26. Give books. Purchase books that look new at thrift shops or 'friend of the library' sales. I found John Grisham's delightful book "Skipping Christmas" for 50 cents. It was in perfect condition and a perfect stocking stuffer. Save time, gas and money. After $25, free shipping plops it on your doorstep.
  27. Sign up for
    Amazon Prime is a membership program providing an "all-you-can-eat" fast shipping for eligible purchases. It costs $79 a year can be set up to automatically renew annually. Benefits include: Free Two-Day Shipping on more than one million in-stock items sold by Upgrades to One-Day (Overnight) Shipping for just $3.99 per item. Two-Day and One-Day shipping usually apply across business days. Prime also offers special weekend and other shipping options for qualifying merchandise. Free Standard Shipping for eligible items shipped to P.O. boxes in the continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. territories, possessions and protectorates) and APO/FPO addresses with U.S. zip codes.
  28. Be on the alert for white elephant gifts. Sometimes friends throw out items that are perfect for white elephant gifts. If your mother-in-law gives you something beyond horrible, stash it away for party's asking you to bring a white elephant gift to exchange.
  29. Shop garage sales. I still grieve the new cappuccino machine I passed up. I find new items still in the boxes, wedding gifts newlyweds sell, or collectibles at garage sales. Jewelry picked up cheaply can be taken apart and restrung with other beads in new designs for a new bracelet, necklace or earrings.
  30. Shop the dollar stores. Each dollar store seems to have its specialty. Learn where to get what where. Buy pretty bottles. Pour shampoo or body wash into each bottle, plop in a plastic flower. Wrap a bow around the neck. It looks like it came from an expensive store. Fill gift baskets with paper, cookies, hair barrettes, pens, toys, books, you name it.
  31. Make jewelry from gemstones or glass beads. I brought black and white pearls, jade, coral and other expensive beads from Thailand, then designed and made necklaces, bracelets and earrings for family and friends. Several necklaces that I made would sell for $100's of dollars. I only buy beads when they are on sale.
  32. Sew unique presents. I've made plush robes from terry cloth purchased on sale. I enjoy making cloth dolls, especially Raggedy Ann's. One year I gave a three-foot tall rag doll to a friend. You can make pajamas, slippers, toys, tablecloths, and puppets. Use old clothes to make quilts or purses. I've made Christmas napkins by the dozens from scrap cloth found on sale in the end cuts bins at fabric shops. My first year as a single parent, I couldn't afford a winter coat for my son who was in first grade. I had corduroy and coat lining material given to me by my grandmother. I went to an Army-Navy outlet and purchased attractive patches. The military man was horrified because I mixed Army, Navy and Air Force patches. I didn't care. I loved their designs and most important they were color coordinated. After passing the coat down to his brother, the dog chewed up a part of the coat. I still have it.
  33. Take advantage of free shipping. I shop online stores in their sales outlets, and then wait until they email free shipping. If you are on their email list, you know when they have sales or free shipping.
  34. Shop online and get cash back. If you have a few bucks, shop retailers online and get a percentage back for purchased items. You can earn 1% to 20% cash back and redeemed from the FatWallet account. Ebates includes a database of 900 retailers and gives from 1% to 25% cash back. At LiveCashback, you can comparison shop and receive a percentage back for using their services. The internet has opened a completely new world for shopping and receiving cash. Check out Cash Crate, Inbox Dollars, Treasure Troopers, MyPoints, and Shop at Home.
  35. Take advantage of credit card reward points. Some credit cards allow you to exchange reward points for gift cards or gifts they offer.
  36. Use discount coupons. Don't overlook your newspaper coupons in November and December. Check online coupons. links to web sites offering coupons. However, one web site that I used took too much time to research to find a coupon or the coupon was out of date. One time my new computer refused to talk to my printer. So I copied and pasted the coupon, code number and graphics from an online coupon into a Word file. I took my computer to the store and pulled up my Word file at the cash register. They took the coupon.
  37. Sign up for email coupons or money-saving newsletters. I signed up for emails from Hobby Lobby, Hancock Fabrics, Sally Beauty,, and JC Penney. Every week, month or season, they send discount off or free shipping coupons. During the holidays, holiday savings offers pack my inbox.
  38. Comparison shop. Shop by category at PriceGrabber. It also provides quick links to the most popular products, reviews and ratings, rebates, merchant coupons, shopping green, and the product of the day. Check out NexTag, Shopzilla, Froogle, PriceWatch, and DealTime. The includes online bargains, sales, coupons, and freebies. There are over 50 online comparison-shopping web sites. Google 'comparison shopping' to find them.
  39. Utilize senior or friends and family store discounts. My best friend was seventy plus and went with me to stores or restaurants offering senior discounts, so I could save money. Some retail stores allow their employees to provide a discount to friends and family. Thrift stores and some retail stores offer discounts to seniors on certain days every week.
  40. Take advantage of company discounts. I worked for a company that allowed employees to buy their products for cost or cost plus a certain percentage. My friends thought I spent $24.99 for children's videos that were available to me for $3.50!
  41. Buy one big gift. The first year I became a single parent, I didn't have money to buy my sons multiple gifts. So I purchased one set of Omagles on sale. It was a building kit with enough pieces for both boys to play with. My sons loved Legos™, so I closely watched for Legos™ sales throughout the year. One year they snooped in my closet and saw their Christmas Legos™. I hid them somewhere else and didn't give them those Legos™ that Christmas. I saved it for their birthdays.
  42. Make a memory keepsake gift. Collect all the favorite family recipes from your recipe box and your mom and grandmother's and put together a family cookbook. If you are a scrap booker, you can make the binder or use a loose-leaf binder, plastic sheet protectors, and tabbed dividers. Use recipe cards or print out recipes on paper bought at a paper outlet. Include family memories with the recipes. Insert photographs. Include blank pages for your children to add their favorite recipes. Or decoupage family photos on a recipe box and include recipe cards. Frame your children's art for their firstborn's nursery.
  43. Collect free samples throughout the year. Stuff the stockings for nothing. Never pass up a free book or potholder. Ask for free hair care and perfume samples. Give free lotion or cosmetic samples to the elderly who can't afford them. Sign up the weekly email newsletter listing free stuff on the web from listing free stuff on the web.
  44. Cash in rebates. Some gifts or stocking stuffers are reasonably priced after you receive the rebates. Don't miss the rebate deadline or instructions of what you are to send.
  45. Celebrate Christmas after Christmas. When my sons visited their father for Christmas, I celebrated our family Christmas when they returned. I saved money—big time—because I bought their presents at the after Christmas sales.
  46. Search online for coupon codes. Before heading out to shop at the malls, check online for coupons. When shopping online, open a new window and search for coupon codes before checking out. When you find free shipping, and 20 or 30 percent off, shop the retail store online clearance sales or at their outlets.
  47. Ask for gift boxes throughout the year. Every time I buy anything at a retail store, I ask for a gift box. Come Christmas, I'm stocked with all the boxes I need.
  48. Shop at stores that match their competitor's lower prices. Check the ads. Find the lowest price, and then take the ad to the store that will match the competitor's lower price on the same product.
  49. Look for new customer discounts. Some web sites provide free or deep discounts to new customers.
  50. Look for discounts on photo gifts. Grandparents love photo gifts—calendars, mugs, flip books, stationary, photo books, ornaments, key rings, photo skins, coasters, mouse pads, placemats, jewelry, clothing, golf towels, frames, balls, magnets, note pads, keepsake boxes, puzzles, playing cards, luggage tags, photo DVDs, posters and photo books. Upload your photos and send the gifts to recipients. Check out,,,, and
  51. Dumpster dive at colleges. When students go home the middle of December, they dump trees, wreaths and other Christmas decorations into college dumpsters.
  52. Give the gift of time. Take an elderly person or single-parent child shopping for the parent. Babysit so a single parent can Christmas shop.
  53. Give money to a charity. We live in a country that has far more than others around the world. My mother gives money to charities in my name and I receive a thank you card as my Christmas gift.
  54. Make an IOU or redeemable coupon books. They can be for services, favorite meals, babysitting, chores, or anything you can give.
  55. Make use of frequent flier miles. Use miles to purchase magazine subscriptions and gifts.

The best gift we can give is free. It's love. The greatest gift to share? God's love.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Finding Hope in a Thrift Shop

"Thrift is not an affair of the pocket, but an affair of character."—S.W. Straus

I'm an avid thrift shopper. Many of the valuable items I find remind me of myself after my divorce—discarded and unwanted. No longer desired by the original owner, it's cast aside to find a new usefulness.

My creator values and knows me, my heart, my hopes, and my future. He promises to never leave nor forsake me. But often in despair, I feel that perhaps God has abandoned me.

I found a watercolor encased in an antique frame. Rich in meaning, these words written in calligraphy express my heart's depths better than I can.

To live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures;

To be a member of each family yet belonging to none;

To share all sufferings; to penetrate all secrets,

To heal all wounds; to go from men to God and offer Him their prayers;

To return from God to men to bring pardon and hope;

To have a heart of fire for charity, and a heart of bronze for chastity;

To teach and to pardon, console and to bless always;

My God, what a life; and it is yours,

O priest of Jesus Christ.

—Jean-Baptiste-Henri Dominique Lacordaire

Are You Struggling, Feeling Abandoned by God?

He reminds us over and over that he won't leave us. His love pursues us nonstop.

Every day.

Every hour.

Every minute.

This second.

I keep wondering, How many times will he have to remind me that I'm secure in his love before I really believe him? I'm so amazed how the Bible expresses my fears, frustrations and feelings, then reminds me of God's eternal, unbreakable promises—

Genesis 28:15 (NASB): "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

Deuteronomy 4:31(NASB): For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you…

Deuteronomy 31:6 (NASB): Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you He will not fail you or forsake you.

Deuteronomy 31:8 (NASB): The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.

Joshua 1:5 (NASB): No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.

1 Samuel 12:22 (NASB): For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself.

1 Chronicles 28:20 (NASB): Then David said to his son Solomon, "Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished."

Ezra 9:9 (NASB): For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 9:30-31 (NASB): However, You bore with them for many years, And admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets, Yet they would not give ear. Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. Nevertheless, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, For You are a gracious and compassionate God.

Psalm 9:10 31 (NASB): And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.

Psalm 37:28 (NASB): For the LORD loves justice And does not forsake His godly ones; They are preserved forever, But the descendants of the wicked will be cut off.

Psalm 48:14 (NASB): For such is God, Our God forever and ever; He will guide us until death.

Psalm 89:30-33 (NASB): If his sons forsake My law And do not walk in My judgments, If they violate My statutes And do not keep My commandments, Then I will punish their transgression with the rod And their iniquity with stripes. But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, Nor deal falsely in My faithfulness.

Psalm 94:14 (NASB): For the LORD will not abandon His people, Nor will He forsake His inheritance.

Isaiah 41:17 (NASB): The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the LORD, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.

Isaiah 42:16 (NASB): I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, In paths they do not know I will guide them, I will make darkness into light before them And rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, And I will not leave them undone.

Isaiah 49:13-15 (NASB): Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth! Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people And will have compassion on His afflicted. But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me." "Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you."

Matthew 28:19-20 (NASB): Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NASB): We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

Hebrews 13:5 (NASB): Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

One Is the Loneliest Number

The Three Dog Night song, One, describes what many single parents feel from Thanksgiving through New Years.

"One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do."

Television, cards and advertisements promote this season as a time for flawless family gatherings, flaming fireplaces and fabulous fun.


Before being propelled into single parenthood, I looked forward to celebrating.


I couldn't wait for this season to end. Come New Years Day, I feel a profound sense of relief. This time of the year intensifies loneliness, especially when the sentimental contrasts of the Hallmark ideal bombard our hearts. The holidays don't stop for the heartbroken and emotionally wounded.

It's a strange time. Even when family members drive me nuts, I still long to share the holiday with them. Like a lost glove without a mate, I've often wished for "me plus one," a warm relationship with a special someone to melt away my loneliness.

What Triggers Loneliness?

Feeling deserted by one of the three D's—death, deployment or divorce.

Losing a relationship with someone you love.

Longing for family unity and togetherness.

Living far away from loved ones.

Missing your children.

21 Ways to Ease Holiday Loneliness

When I was betrayed, humiliated and abandoned, loneliness suffocated my joy. The social isolation of divorce further fueled my loneliness. Widows often receive more support as they mourn the loss of a partner. No matter how you found yourself alone, we miss those we loved with all our hearts.

In time the loneliness of the holidays lessens, but I'm still not convinced it ever goes away. However, here are some strategies that helped me reduce loneliness.

  1. Confront illusions. Experts caution against buying into the perception that you fail to measure up to a "good" Christmas if it's not an idyllic, joy-filled holiday. Millions experience holiday loneliness—and they're not all crazy. In fact, loneliness affirms your healthy need to connect in meaningful relationships.

    No one's family measures up to overblown TV illusions. Holiday-white-Christmas-hype and joyous family reconciliation fuels loneliness. The phantom spirits of family fractures, frictions, issues, and losses raise their ghostly heads. Life and holidays aren't ideal, so stop expecting perfection.

    This is reality. The turkey is too dry. A sibling pulls her annual dampen-everyone's-Christmas-spirit-routine. Uncle Bud-Not-Weiser swaggers in drunk—again. You didn't get one present that you wanted.

    I run myself ragged, feeling resentful that I have to do everything on my To-Do list alone. I worry, Will my sons need therapy because I didn't finish needle pointing their Christmas stockings personalized with their names? Congratulate yourself when you give up control of what "should" happen.

  2. Embrace truth. Even the best holidays fail to meet every expectation. The holidays are a painful reminder of the dreams that failed to materialize per our aspirations. Our perceptions exaggerate loneliness. Comparing ourselves with others, "They seem so happy and I'm not. I wish I had what they have." I compared myself with those less fortunate and realized, I have the gift of health, wonderful sons, a few loyal friends, and the assurance that God loves me and has promised my children and I a future and a hope. The only thing he asks is for me to embrace truth and trust him.
  3. Contemplate loneliness. What causes your loneliness? Nostalgic memories? Yearnings for a lost loved one? Your kids moved to another part of the country? Don't feel like you belong anywhere? Feeling isolated? Unhappy memories of holidays past?

    Holiday cheer does not eliminate legitimate feelings of sadness and loneliness. Allow yourself to reflect on your feelings. It's important to understand that the way you feel does not signify, "Something is wrong with me." It means that you react normally to difficult circumstances. There is no one right way to feel or respond to heartache. God doesn't ask us to imitate others or pretend to be happy. God understands your hurts, cares about you and is near to the brokenhearted.

  4. Express feelings. The cultural expectation that everyone "should be merry" didn't banish the reasons I felt lonely. I did not want to dampen the joy or excitement others feel, so I stuffed the depth of my loneliness into my heart. Sometimes, it was so dark, I couldn't write those thoughts in my journal. Too embarrassing. So I withdrew in silence—depression swirled through my mind, leaving me feeling even more alone.

    Some people try to disconnect from their feelings by drinking, excessive spending, working long hours, or engaging in other forms of anesthesia. I gave others the same thing I desired—space and the freedom to feel and express those feelings. I encouraged my children to express their disappointment and comforted them by acknowledging that their pain was legitimate.

    I was honest with myself and allowed room for my feelings. Finally, I found other supportive individuals who understood. Often they pointed out the silver lining on my cloud that I'd painted black. For me, I look forward to New Years Day which lightens my feelings of abandonment.

  5. Acknowledge change. For a long time, I didn't want to accept that my life drastically changed. I didn't want the change. I didn't like the change. I wanted my former life back. Finally, I accepted, My life has changed, now what?
  6. Establish priorities. Over booking, working or committing myself into a state of exhaustion didn't automatically relieve loneliness. I based my plans around what's important to me—not the expectations of others.
  7. Redeem time. I made my time alonecount and made it special. When the boys were gone, I bought blackberry wine and a steak and enjoyed a quiet dinner in front of TV. I treated myself to hot baths, chocolate, a full night's sleep, and quiet, uninterrupted trips to the bookstore.
  8. Limit aloneness. I confess, I wanted to stay home and wallow in loneliness. My friends didn't let me sink into self-pity. They insisted I join them for dinner. I preferred to stay home and feel like a martyr, because I was rejected. But I soon realized that withdrawing created a no-win situation. I had to take initiative to step from the dark shadows into the light. Avoid hiding at home or cuddling up to alcohol. Accept the love and kindness of others who understand your circumstances.

    I had to ask, How much time alone time is good for me? Bad for me? At a certain point, I slipped into self-pity and depression, which seems to be a constant solo parent battle. I had to be honest with myself and make plans that felt right for me. I didn't want loneliness to dominate me.

    Sometimes when I spent a holiday with a family, at the time it made me ache for my family to be reunited. As I look back on those times, I don't feel anguish, but recall the nostalgia of being included and accepted and loved for where I was in life.

  9. Obtain support. Feeling isolated motivates me to retreat and hide, but I need to reach out for support. I looked for those who experienced or understand my situation. Sometimes it's family members, friends, mentors, or others. Other times it was religious institutions, single parent groups or social services offering support and friendship.
  10. Seek help. When intense loneliness slips into depression or suicidal thoughts, please reach out to someone by phone, whether it be a friend, relative, or professional, just call someone. There were times that the only threads connecting me to life and hope were my sons. Don't let temporary moods devastate today and ruin your future and your children's.
  11. Look Outward. I've spent my fair share of time focusing inward on my personal tragedy. To take my mind off myself, I volunteered at an organization that provides toys for individuals who can't afford them. One well-dressed woman walked in and instantly, I recognized that dazed look, emotional pain and humiliation of a proud mother who didn't have money to buy her sons toys. In the midst of my personal pain, it brought me great joy to tenderly guide and help this fragile woman.
  12. Help others. Unbelievably, there are others who are far lonelier and in worse circumstances than solo parents. The greatest gift to give this holiday season is time. Spend it with others who have no one. Those hit hardest at this time of year include the underprivileged, hospitalized children, the homeless, the disabled, shut-ins, prisoners, prisoner's children, HIV/AIDS patients, or lonely senior citizens. Opportunities abound: give a used coat to a local homeless shelter, spend Christmas Eve or Day answering help lines, serve a meal at the soup kitchen, deliver presents to nursing homes, hospitals and prisons.

    Volunteering accomplishes several things: It touches someone else's life who is less fortunate. It gives the gift of true giving to those who've lost so much, surrounds you with others who share your spirit of giving, lifts your spirit, and helps you recognize the gifts and blessings in your life. And it's good for your soul to help the least of these.

  13. Organize get-togethers. Why go it alone, when you can include others? I felt lonely and sad without a husband to manhandle the Christmas tree into the stand. One year a family came to our home and helped us decorate our tree. Another year one single mother had no money or family. I invited her and her son for dinner and supplied the gifts on her son's Santa wish list.

    Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years provide new opportunities to make the day an adventure to get to know others. Start a new tradition to include others who go it alone. Have a potluck and ask them to bring a white elephant gift. Plan the day and fill it with what you enjoy sharing.

  14. Broaden friendships. Get creative and include friends and acquaintances. Even though my heart felt that the holidays were for family, I realized that others were like me—without family near. I've invited a group to my home to trim my tree, play games, watch a movie, or eat a special dinner. Host a cookie exchange party or a white elephant gift party. Others I know planned a weekend trip. Singles organizations often offer special holiday activities. If everyone in your sphere of influence is with family, volunteer to help others without family or friends. You can make new friends while comforting others and having fun too.
  15. Initiate one-on-ones. Get in touch with otherson their own. Do dinner and a movie. Get together before the holiday to exchange gifts.
  16. Rethink tradition. Reevaluate the real meaning of traditions. They aren't set in cement. The first Christmas the boys and I spent alone, I begged several men to show up dressed as Santa Claus, because that's something their father did. No one agreed to come, which made me feel even lonelier. Instead, I videoed the boys telling the Christmas story and wrestling with each other, which we enjoy today.

    I replaced perfection, running around and spending money with what I could afford with my limited finances and time constraints. Hanukkah and Christmas both celebrate God's miracle gifts to those he treasures.

    I continued my tradition of giving each of my sons a Christmas ornament each year, but scaled back on how much I spent on their toys. If you change or start new traditions, let your children participate. Don't forget to explain the meaning of your tradition.

    One Christmas the boys and I took another single parent's Christmas wish list. My sons chose the clothes and toys for the children. They loved carrying in gifts and placing them under their barren tree. Kyle was so excited he insisted they open their gifts immediately so he could watch. I explained that they would open their gifts on Christmas Day. I placed the turkey and all the trimmings on their empty table. My sons and I left with a greater understanding of the true meaning of Christmas.

  17. Attend events. Enjoy free activities, concerts, work-related parties, driving around to look holiday decorations, or building a snowman with your children. Is there an event you've always wanted to attend, but haven't? Make a list, then choose one you can afford. I took my sons to a well-known puppet Christmas show. The boys and I strolled through a block of homes that decorated their homes with lights. We marveled at all the sparkling lights and creativity. I've always wanted to attend The Nutcracker ballet, but haven't yet. This year I'm going to "Scrooge: The Carol with an Attitude." When I lived in California, my new Christmas tradition was attending the free Christmas concert at Jack Hayford's Church on the Way.
  18. Do socialize. If invited, go to parties. My loneliness in a crowd often made me feel awkward. I felt removed from others who seemed so happy. Sometimes, I felt overwhelmed, and found a quiet room to cry or emotionally regroup. Even when I wasn't in a party mood, attending a social gathering kept me from sliding deeper into the abyss. It also prevented me from staying home curled up in a fetal position.
  19. Forgive others. Wish the Deck-the-Hallers well who are uncomfortable with our long Silent Night. In the beginning, I admit I felt angry when jolly revelers insisted I count my blessings. What goes around comes around and theirs' just hasn't come around—yet. Pain has not shattered their seasonal affective conditioning disorder—a perfect holiday season where all suffering is relieved. I bandaged my wounds, but I didn't wrap them in paper, bows and jingle bells to make others more comfortable. In time, I found myself comforting others when life shattered their lives.
  20. Contact family. If distance separates you from family and friends, figure out a time of day to call family and friends. Plan your calls, so you don't go broke. And make sure the calls are a nice diversion for the day, not the focal point of your day. Rather than spotlighting the fact that you're not together, enjoy the connection.
  21. Ignite faith. What obscures the meaning behind your religious Holy Days? Too busy? Too many unrealistic fantasies? Some say that people of faith manage holidays better than others. What is your perspective of the Holy Days?

    When I was first propelled into solo parenting, I could not sing familiar hymns or songs without sobbing. They caused too much pain. The lyrics and tunes brought back wonderful memories of producing annual Christmas musicals with my music minister husband.

    My life changes were unbearable. Over time, the strength of the unchanging story of those hymns infused hope and healing into my broken spirit. Hearing Bible stories of my faith, singing traditional hymns and participating in religious customs validated that not all was lost. Spirituality doesn't chase away every speck of loneliness, but ageless truths comforted me.

    The Holy Days remind us of God's miraculous love for us. He knows the purpose for my life and the circumstances that changed my life. There are times when I've told God, "You're not enough. I need someone with skin on." As I look back over all the Christmas's I felt so alone, I realize I wasn't. It just felt that way.

    My faith assures me that God will never leave me nor forsake me. He sent his greatest gift to me to accept and open—salvation through His son and hope through His Word.