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Christmas – finding beauty in the mess

Christmas – finding beauty in the mess

It’s hard to believe Christmas is less than a week away. With more gifts to buy, a Christmas puzzle partially finished and cards yet to be mailed, I still have plenty to do, but I’m not letting the stress get to me.

Gifts will get bought. The puzzle may remain unfinished. The cards may arrive a day late, and all of that is perfectly fine. In my opinion, there’s something kind of electrifying about the mess and chaos of the holidays. If everything flowed smoothly, would it even feel like the holiday season? 

Many years ago when I was a member at Long’s Chapel (formerly a United Methodist Church), Pastor Chuck Wilson was the pastor. His tenure at that church had a wonderfully profound impact on me. So much so that when he was reassigned to Matthews United Methodist Church in 2016, I was devastated. I didn’t grow up going to church, although I knew both my parents believed in God. They didn’t have very good experiences in church when they were young so they didn’t make traditional church a part of our weekly routine.

I found my own type of spirituality through organizations like Young Life, but it wasn’t until those years learning from Pastor Chuck that I really felt the spirit of the Christmas season as more than gifts, parties and festive decorations. Through the celebration of Advent, I learned that this season doesn’t have to be all hustle-bustle. The true magic lies in the quiet moments, reconnecting with family and friends and the slowing down of humanity.

Making a homemade Advent wreath, lighting the weekly candles and honoring a weekly Advent message has become an important yearly tradition for me. Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved the glow of a candle flame. One of my favorite childhood holiday memories was putting all of the candles in the house on our coffee table and watching my dad light them one by one then observing the flames dance in their own unique way. It seems like a simple thing— lighting a bunch of candles — but it affected me deeply for some reason. Now, when we light the Advent wreath, there’s a special connection with my younger self that so loved watching all those candles burn at the same time.

My mom’s favorite Christmas movie was “White Christmas.” We watched that movie so much when we were little that my sister and I had all the songs memorized. I was finally able to watch the movie this year for the first time since my mom died. I introduced it to my two boys. At first they weren’t overly enthusiastic about watching such an old movie, but by the end, they enjoyed it and could certainly see why the women in my core family loved it. Not only are the song and dance numbers phenomenal in that film, but the story of the beloved General Tom Waverly and the faithful men of his infantry embraces all the feel-good emotions of this season. That final scene when they all show up for him on Christmas Eve makes me cry every single time.

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I want to end today’s column by telling you the story of a dog named Max and asking for your help in finding him. My younger son and I were leaving our neighborhood last Friday, Dec. 15, when we saw a beautiful black and white medium-sized dog in our neighborhood running up a grassy hill toward our neighbor's house. Even though we’d never seen the dog before, we didn’t think much of it, assuming he belonged to someone nearby and would eventually find his way back home.

Two days later at Mast General, we saw a missing dog poster with a picture of this sweet dog. His name is Max and he’s been missing since November 18. He is a mini Australian shepherd, weighing 27 pounds. I called the owner and she was overjoyed to hear he’d been spotted. She was brought to tears knowing he was OK. Another neighbor saw Max the next day near Four Seasons Florist, but when he was approached, he ran off. The owner told me the dog was a rescue, is very skittish and responds better to females than males.

She and I have been communicating and I really want to help get Max home for Christmas. If you see this cute dog running around town, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I’ll be sure to let the owner know.

If I’ve learned anything over the past couple years, it’s the more you give the more you’ll receive, and this doesn’t necessarily pertain to money. It can also mean time, love, energy and prayers. As we continue through this last week before Christmas, let’s remember the most important thing about this time of year is that we’re all inherently connected so why not reach out and help one another? I hope you and yours have a very merry Christmas and that you take some time for the small moments which often matter the most. And, keep those eyes out for Max!

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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