When stormy days and nights are more frequent than not, it is somehow reassuring to me to see the bright lights from the beautiful tree on the Western Oregon University campus as we're driving along Highway 99W.
No matter how busy the day or what tasks are awaiting us in the evenings, MI Town's Christmas tree is beckoning through the rain and the fog to say "welcome home" from wherever our travels have taken us.
Our home has been a virtual beehive the last several weeks, with the dining room transformed into something resembling a third-world sewing factory and boxes of wrapping paper and ribbons are everywhere.
We've also been sorting through strings of lights - making sure everything is safe for the Christmas tree indoors, as well as the front of the house. Those trees could have not possibly grown that much over the past year. But it's yet another quick trip for additional lights, and whatever else we missed the last time we were at the store.
Somehow, it all comes together and we can relax for a moment and take time to be thankful for all the blessings in our lives and be grateful to those who share them with us.
There won't be any brand-new sports cars decked out in bright ribbons parked in the driveway (as seen in far too many television commercials these days), or diamonds in velvet boxes hanging on the tree. Instead, there will be baskets of homemade jams and jellies, good books and special treats that are only shared at this very special time of year.
There will be happy and excited kids and dogs with wagging tails and a big, furry cat that is in charge of everything - and no one will dare question her ultimate authority. There will be Christmas carols to listen to and sing along with, and games to play and ever so many good things to talk about as we enjoy cookies and candy and food that has far too many calories - all those good things we are mostly far too practical and sensible to eat any other time of year.
We'll laugh and share stories about how the grandchildren will immediately try on their gifts of flannel pajamas just as soon as the packages are opened, and whoever is closest will retrieve a little stuffed bear from one of the dogs (again). We'll get sleeping bags and extra sheets from the closets and be comfortable by the fire.
We'll drive over the river and through the woods on Christmas Day to share the day with my mother, Martha Taylor, who just celebrated her 93rd birthday. We'll talk of Christmases past and present and return to MI Town, grateful for our families, friends and the blessings of good health.
Our prayers are with all of you - and especially to our men and women who are serving in the military half a world away.
And for those whose lives have been touched by sadness or tragedy - may the blessings of the season bring hope and renewed faith and courage to you.