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How She Found Warmth and Self-Care on Christmas

In her heart, she realized being ready for the holidays needed some tender loving care.

Roberta Messner; Photo credit: Scott Goldsmith

I pulled my sweater tighter around my shoulders as I passed the words painted on my fireplace mantel: “If your heart is cold, my hearth will never warm you.” What it might take to truly warm my heart in time to celebrate the birth of our Lord, I didn’t know. Christmas was coming fast, and I wasn’t ready. Not deep down inside.

I turned to fluff the couch cushions but felt too restless to sit for a spell. At the same time, I didn’t have the energy to make a fire. I never hesitated to start one when Mom was here, I thought. But I no longer had her to care for, so what was the use?

In the last months of her life with cancer, my mother spent all her weekends with me in my quaint log cabin that spoke to my nostalgic side. Mom’s body often pained her, so I did everything I could to make her comfortable. One afternoon she was on the sofa wrapped in a time-softened Sunbonnet Sue quilt, her feet poking out at one end for a foot rub. I’d scooted the sofa in front of the crackling fire and thought she’d drifted off to sleep while I massaged her heels. When I glanced up, Mom was gazing at the words on the mantel. “If you ever lose your way, Roberta,” she said, “this right here is how you find it.”

In some sense, I had lost my way since Mom died. I’d struggled with my own health problems and medical bills. I neglected the cozy home I loved, stopped switching out seasonal treasures from garage sales and secondhand stores. But my health had improved, friends helped get me back on my feet, and the cabin was tidy again. I looked into the brick hearth. So why do I still feel a coldness inside?

I tucked a pillow into Mom’s old spot on the couch, remembering the two of us sitting together one chilly afternoon, Christmas on the horizon. Mom was propped up on pillows with a hot cup of tea. I’d found a Victorian feather tree with white lights and ornaments, put it in an old crock and placed it in view. Our only real Christmas decoration that year. “So what do you think?” I asked her.

“The tree is beautiful,” she said. “But you know, Roberta, it always feels like Christmas here.”

I looked at the spot where the feather tree once sat in its crock. I’d agreed with Mom back then. Covering her with a quilt, whipping the cream potatoes she could still enjoy, propping her feet up—making Mom happy had made me happy too. Brewing her tea. Putting lotion on her hands. Brushing her hair. Taking care of her the way she’d once taken care of me. Caring for Mom had warmed my heart. But who did I have to care for now? I buttoned up my sweater. Well, I do have myself…

What would that look like, to give myself some tender loving care? What could I do now, just for me? The cabin presented lots of ideas.

The next morning, I collected pine boughs to fill my indoor window boxes, then lined up my nostalgic holiday collectibles by the chimney. I swapped out my everyday aprons for Christmas-themed ones. I hung a pair of old-time ice skates and a plaid woolen scarf by the front door. With renewed energy, I made up my bed with cheerful red-and-white linens and added a throw over the blanket just because.

On Christmas Eve, I laid three fat logs in the fireplace. I tucked newspapers all around them to start a really good blaze. I tossed in some pine cones to fill the room with a wintery scent. While the fire got going, I headed to the kitchen to warm a pan of milk for a decadent hot chocolate. When it was ready, mini marshmallows floating on top, I hooked a candy cane on the mug and settled down in front of the hearth. My feet were toasty in thick woolly socks; my favorite quilt was spread over my lap. I stirred my hot cocoa with the candy cane and took a careful sip so as not to burn my tongue. But the real warmth was in my heart. I had found my way, just where Mom had promised I would. I had someone to care for. I was cozy. I was loved. I was ready for Christmas deep down inside.

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