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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Bonjour Paris!

God's plan for our lives has clarified itself again, at least for the coming months. 5 weeks ago the senior pastor of the American Church in Paris emailed us to ask if we could talk in the coming days.
The wonderful view of the American Church Spire beside the Eiffel Tower
We are good friends with him and thought he just wanted to pick our brains on something. We knew that the pastor to youth and young adults in the church had unexpectedly left and returned to the US so we thought he was probably going to inquire as to whether or not we knew someone in our circles who might be interested in the position. Well, that was true to an extent but much to our surprise and delight, he was actually calling to ask if we'd consider coming over to serve as interim pastors to youth and young adults while they got a search process going.
Sharing a new job once again
Our initial response was that we are neither youth nor young adults but we do consider ourselves both at heart so we were intrigued. Scott expressed that the staff had talked about us in a recent meeting and felt that the combination of experience, maturity in ministry and ability to create and have fun could be the perfect fit for this time period. After talking, praying and pondering over the pros (many) and the cons (few), we said yes! We've signed a contract for March 1-September 30 with caveats for longer or shorter periods should the church find a good candidate sooner or later. As we've lived into the reality that we are moving to Paris, both of us have been filled with joy and excitement over this wholly unexpected yet inviting new call.
We are excited to join a church that we love. We've been at ACP many different times, most recently about a year ago when I was privileged to speak at a women's retreat there. We've so struggled to find a church here in the US that to be a part of such a vibrant and diverse church will be a huge spiritual boost for us. We are excited to join a staff that we respect and appreciate. It will be very good for us as a couple to join a staff and not be the ones driving the overall ministry. The thought of having a specific area of call feels exciting and fresh to us at this point. And we are genuinely thrilled to work with the intern, volunteers and kids, parents and young adults at ACP. We were always closely connected to these groups at Immanuel in Stockholm and look forward to pursuing these relationships with intention.
Being in Paris will still allow me plenty of time and space to work on my grant project with the Louisville Institute. Having just returned from the consultation with other grant recipients, I feel more passionate than ever to work on the topic of the welcoming church and being in Paris will open doors for interaction with others that being based in the US would not provide. Doug and I will share the position which means part-time work for us both. I have moved my deadline for my project completion to June of 2018 which gives me plenty of time once we return to continue the writing and research.
We will move to a furnished apartment that the church provides, so the packing up process will not be extensive. And of course, no canine to transport this time around. We will miss introducing the delights of Paris to Tanner but also know that a season without the encumbrances of a dog will afford certain advantages as well. We are working on some French vocabulary through a website called duolingo.com and will take some courses upon arrival. We know the neighborhood of the church and apartment well so look forward to wandering around our favorite haunts, exploring Paris more deeply, picnicking in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower on the Champs du Mars, which is a mere 15 walk away for us, and digging into church life again.
A few years ago on a previous trip to Paris
We'll button up the house in the desert for a few months so if you know anyone who wants to rent the place for a bit, let us know. We're open.
The timeline is quick on this one. We leave Feb. 26, arrive Feb. 27 and start work on March 1. Our Swedish citizenship allows us to enter the EU and live and work without further paperwork which is a big blessing.
I said throughout the election that I was voting with my right hand, and holding my Swedish passport with my left. Little did I know that the opportunity to return to Europe during this very difficult and sad time in the US's history would be ours to enjoy.
 Please do check out the church's website! It's truly a vibrant, exciting, meaningful ministry and we so look forward to experiencing the ways in which we will grow to love and appreciate the dear folks in the congregation as well as being a part the wonderful staff already in place.
Bonjour Paris. Nous nous réjouissons de vivre dans votre belle présence.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Faith and Politics Do NOT Mix

It is February 1, 2017. It has been a rough start to this new year. I have found myself unable to write because my thoughts are quite muddled and filled with despair. I scroll through Facebook, which admittedly is filled with people who think mostly as I do and find the despair and sense of outrage so overwhelming at times. Looking at my conservative friends defense of this administration causes me such consternation that I have to avoid it. I am inspired by people's willingness to stand up for their beliefs in tangible ways. I have begun to sign petitions and while I find the news depressing, I know I must continue to expose myself to it in order to stay informed. I will admit that I have yelled obscenities at the television more in the past 12 days than over the past 12 years. I find the commentary from Trump's minions dishonest, delusional and completely out of touch with what our nation and world really need right now. The hypocrisy is overwhelming at times and I really wonder how people can actually think Trump's presidency is a good thing, still the "lesser of two evils" of the folks we could've elected. The very fact that he has pulled his team to the very far right when clearly we are a more centrist nation and then continue to put forth robotic followers who are clearly not fit for the positions they are being asked to assume, only fulfills my concern that Trump doesn't give a damn about anyone but himself and those whom he has made powerful and wealthy. I laugh with sadness when he speaks of the people who have been forgotten, being forgotten no more. Well guess what Mr. President? I am feeling quite forgotten.

Awhile back our local newspaper ran an article that basically stated that the majority of Republicans in congress profess to be Christians while the Democrats were slightly more diverse but still overwhelmingly profess Christianity as their faith tradition. So what. It doesn't seem to translate to anything meaningful in terms of policy. And Trump's faith doesn't seem to drive any decisions he's making at this time. Sound judgmental? It is. And here's why.

I am so far detached from the ideology that represents this current administration that I find it hard to believe that people support it. And yet, they do. Adding yet another layer of confusion for me is the support of the so-called Evangelical community. Simply put, I DO NOT GET how any God-fearing person could support the direction that this administration is taking our nation. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND how a person of faith can prioritize making abortion illegal and preventing same sex couples from entering the covenant of marriage over economic justice, care for the vulnerable, humility, honesty, and tact in leadership. I WILL NOT ACCEPT an American Christian worldview that prioritizes America over fulfilling the gospel mandate of caring for the marginalized and vulnerable. Trump's agenda of pushing American exceptionalism flies in the face of the the very core of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Scripture affirms over and over again these tenants: Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord and God shall lift you up. For the first shall be last and the last shall be first. We are called to a live a life of sacrificial service and that means we give up certain things in order to reveal the grace and love of Jesus Christ. There is nothing in Trump's agenda that remotely indicates this kind of service or humility. He continues to drive his agenda on fear when clearly scripture says to us that perfect love casts out fear. And it's hard to love when our first choice is to separate people through walls and immigration orders that block people out. Keeping America safe at the cost of treating the whole humanity with dignity and respect may be a political agenda that people desire but please, do not claim it as being driven by your faith in Christ. Own the fact that your nationalism perhaps means something more to you than the sacrificial life that Christ truly calls us to.

Christianity is not a religion of separation. The Apostle Paul speaks of Christ breaking down the dividing walls that separate us in his letter to the Ephesians. So whatever your political ideology might be, leave your religion out of it if it doesn't uphold the very core of the gospel of Jesus Christ: Care for the vulnerable, concern for the immigrant and foreigner, economic justice for all, a global world view that doesn't prioritize one nation over another, and upholds honesty, dignity and respect as values that Christ wants us to exude.

Over the past two weeks I feel that I have lost some faith in my faith. Not in God. Not in my beliefs, but in my faith community. I cannot understand how conservative Evangelicals can continue to sell their souls to this administration (Yes Mr. Pence, you are at the top of my list here) in order to pursue a very short-sighted agenda regarding legal abortion that will likely never be taken up through the law. Remove the log out of your own eye instead of grabbing the speck out of another's. As a nation, if we seek to legislate our moral concerns, we will fail. The only way to truly keep America safe is to show love and respect for humanity...the whole of humanity. Sadly, to me, this is sorely lacking in the direction our nation is headed.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Small Great Things

A famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote served as the inspiration for Jodi Picoult's book, Small Great Things. "If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way." Picoult's book was a fictional account of a white supremacist who encounters an African American nurse seeking to care for his wife and newborn child. The story unfolds from a series of events that ensued from the strained relationship and the complications that came along with the birth. I have read many of Picoult's books and enjoy them 3/4 of the way. I rarely like the way she ends a book, feeling that she is far too compelled to tidy up the very complex and often painful issues she is seeking to portray. Small Great Things was no different. Even so, I would fully recommend this book for a group of friends to read together and for a book club setting where there is a high level of trust amongst the participants. As for me, I read it as part of my new book club here in the desert where a high level of trust has not been established and I was pretty nervous going into the discussion. But a rich and layered discussion ensued and I decided that I would just be honest and bold and if it meant that I would no longer be a part of this book club, so be it. Last I checked, they still want me back next month, even changing the date to accommodate some traveling I need to do.
But on this day that commemorates the great Martin Luther King Jr. I feel compelled to write a little bit about this book and all that it invoked within me. The characters are a bit extreme, author's intent in my humble view, so that as the book seeks to help white people confront our own racism and privilege we will have the comfort of knowing that at least we aren't THAT bad. And that's the genius of the book. Because in many ways the unknown racism that lurks within each of us and the lack of understanding regarding white privilege and inherent bias is actually more dangerous to healing the racial wounds in our society than the white supremacist. The extremists are easy to dismiss. It's the shades of darkness that lurk within our hearts that are harder to overcome. It's really hard to accept that we are racist and yet one quote from the book jumped off the page and hit me smack in the face. The dialogue between and African American and a white person went something like this. The white asks, "Do you think we'll always have racism?" And the African American answers, "Yes. Because it's almost impossible for a person with power to willfully let go of it in order to level the racial playing field." Why would anyone with inherent privilege and power let go of that in order to create a more just society? Because it's the right thing to do. But it's also one of the hardest things to do. And therein lies the depth of systemic racism that is hard to name and overcome.
The book allows good white people to consider their own racist attitudes, how hurtful it is to people of color to hear white people say I don't see color, to ponder the ways in which a racist society actually serves to benefit them. I was deeply impressed with the way the women in my new book club, who I know very little of, who are all from a very wealthy, upper class economic profile, considered carefully and painfully where in their own lives they are indeed biased, if not down right racist.
I am not perfect in this journey by any means, but I have sought to intentionally grow more and more aware of the ways in which I contribute to racial bias. One of the first things I learned early on in my journey was that I do benefit from a racist society. The more bias that is shown to people of color, the more easily things will go my way. It takes a conscious effort to decide that that favor is less valuable than seeking liberty and justice for all. Early in my journey I read a book with an African American sister entitled "Divided Sister." This is still a great book to read in order to learn. And isn't that mostly what white people need to do, is learn? This book confronts the reality of how differently white and black women experience the world of dating, hair, shopping, dressing for success, clothing and accessories, to name a few. Reading it alongside of a black sister who graciously entered into conversations with me, patiently and sometimes not so patiently confronting me with my own naïveté has proven to be one of the most deeply shaping events in my life. Becoming aware of the subtle bias in our world is the first step in taking bigger steps towards liberty and justice for all.  Admittedly, Alexandra was one of my first, close African American friends. I had a black friend in high school but I was terribly unaware of what it meant for her to 1 of 3 black kids in our school and we saw her as an Oreo...black on the outside but white on the inside, which I've come to learn is a very offensive way to describe someone. So, Alex changed my world view. Instead of reading in a book that people of color are followed around in stores, I listened as she told me about her experiences of shopping in the neighborhood of the university where we worked. She helped me understand that she thinks about her skin color every second of every day when I never did. She helped me begin to own my own bias, my own privilege and I will be forever grateful.
Now, years later, I have had the privilege of serving a deeply multi-cultural church in Stockholm where most of my deepest friendships were forged with people who did not look like me. It remains the most satisfying experience of my life and pushed me to continue to learn and grow in my own understanding of what it truly means to fight for liberty and justice for all. Which is a great thing and one I will never accomplish but the small great thing that I can and will continue to do is to build relationships with people who don't look like me and listen. Listen as I learn about their experiences in our world. Listen as I seek to understand without opinion the kind of bias they are up against. Listen as I deeply try to see things from a totally different point of view.
Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr and the legacy that he left behind. Important as his quotes are, far more important is to take a step, no matter how small, towards understanding the inherent bias you may enjoy as a white person. The key to truly living a life that is committed to racial healing is to enter into relationships with the very people who are deeply oppressed. And listen.
At the end of Picoult's book is a lengthy afterword from the author that chronicles her journey as she wrote this book. That is perhaps one of the most valuable parts of the entire book because there she admits her own racist instincts and reveals how she began to come to grips with the darkness in her own heart. I found it profoundly honest and moving.
And so today on MLK day here in the US rather than simply post moving photographs with some of his greatest quotes, quotes that are worthy and important, I'm just going to urge us all to find a way to build a relationship with someone this year who doesn't look like you. And rather than judge them, or make assumptions about who they are, listen. Listen to their stories of how it is for them to live in this world. You will learn. And you will gain deeper understanding. And you will confront your own dark corners and it will be painful but worth it. It is indeed the one small thing we can do that will truly be great.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in the Rear View Mirror

December 31, 2016. First time ringing in the new year on US soil since 1998. A little strange to be on the tail end of the time zones. Woke up to a photo of a friend in Sydney, Australia with fireworks going off. 2017 has begun in some parts of our world! As I write, I'm thinking of my friends in Stockholm and wishing them a happy new year. At 4.00pm it'll be London's turn. We're thinking about celebrating the new year with New Yorkers at 9.00pm and allowing ourselves to sleep through the first moments of the new year here in CA. Whatever way you are celebrating, I hope it's safe and joyous. 2016 has been a year of challenge and change. Here's my review of it all.
Our year began beautifully with a wonderful trip to the Amalfi Coast. Our base was Sorrento and while the weather wasn't quite as warm as we had hoped, we still had a great week soaking in the Italian way of life and eating! Highlights included the beautiful Epiphany celebration on January 6 in which the entire town took part, amazing food and gelato, a side trip to Pompeii and views of the sea that were truly breathtaking.
We continued our interim ministry in London and enjoyed the people in the church and the fun in the city. We managed to see more than 20 shows while there and took a wander through several of the great museums. We enjoyed side trips to Hastings and Rye on the southern coast, Salisbury and Stonehenge, the Cotswolds and Stratford-upon-Avon, Windsor and enjoyed a fun adventure in a canal boat with dear friends from Sweden that included a super fun day in Bath. I had the honor of speaking in Paris, France for the women of the American Church in Paris. Doug joined me for a couple of days after the retreat. Days in Paris do not disappoint.
I joined a women's running group and my huge accomplishment in 2016 was running a half marathon in Nice, France. It was an incredibly special journey taken with a group of women who were also new to running and it remains a favorite highlight of our year in London. I finally checked my spring trip to the Netherlands off my bucket list, saw the Keukenhof gardens with tulips and other flowers displayed in all their glory, visited the Corrie Ten Boom house in Haarlem, and visited the city of Delft. The fact that it was all shared with a dear Dutch family who we met our first year at Immanuel made it all the more special. It was a memorable trip to say the least.
We were privileged to attend one last International pastors conference in Geneva, Switzerland. We couldn't believe our luck that after 16 wonderful conferences with this group of colleagues, our 17th would be in a place we had never been. It was one of the very best we had attended in all the years that we gathered. The speaker and his wife touched our lives very deeply, the sights of Geneva were a real treat and a couple of days in the Alps topped it all off. It was a fabulous week with dear friends who we will miss being with in the years to come.
Soon it was time to leave London in the capable hands of their new pastor and return to our home in Desert Hot Springs. What joy to return to a finished house instead of jumping right into a renovation. The summer heat did melt us at times, but we still found time to golf a lot, work on the landscaping and sort through box after box that had been in the garage. It has really been a treat to settle into a home that is ours and not feel like we are just passing through. We really do love living here in the desert and are content to be here until a new challenge beckons us.
Unfortunately, 2016 has been a year of significant loss once again. We lost Doug's father last March. He had been declining significantly so it was not a big surprise, but even so, it's always such a shift in life when a parent passes. The other major loss of the year involved our beloved Tanner's passing last August. He had a very rough year in London, with one problem after another emerging. His immune system was compromised for some reason and he just couldn't get well. Tried as did, nothing got him back to full health and eventually it became clear that he was not going to get better. It was a very devastating time for us because he had been such a huge part of our lives, living in Sweden with us, moving back to the US, moving to the UK and finally moving back to the US with us. We had so hoped that he would be able to enjoy life in desert with us, but alas, he crossed the rainbow bridge instead. We still miss him every day and wonder when a new canine companion will come into view.
Of course, our first election back in the US in 20 years was rife with tension for us and we are still trying to get our hands around the new President. I'm deeply saddened by the reality of our country and can only hope and pray that our reputation abroad will not totally disintegrate and that the most vulnerable in our nation will not suffer too badly. The only thing that is certain is that this is a time of great uncertainty. The world continues to groan under the weight of global issues. We definitely need a lot of kindness and grace to see us through.
I recently became the recipient of a pastoral study grant that will allow me to return to Europe for a period of time to do some study around the topic of how the church can be a place of welcome to immigrants. The International churches in Europe have something to teach the US in this regard and I'm thankful that I've been given an opportunity to study this and write about.
The end of the year has been highlighted by visits from loved ones. Doug's mom and sister came for Thanksgiving and we loved having them here. A family from London spent a day and night with us, a friend from Sweden spent a day and night from us, and another family from London, with whom we spent New Year's Eve last year, are here in the desert with us this year. It's such a joy to renew these deep relationships with friends and family we treasure so much.
2017 is a year of uncertainty but not in all ways bad. Life is very different during this sabbatical time away from ministry but we are thankful for the time we have been given to rest and reflect until God reveals his next steps for us.
We really love being here and are not missing winter at all. We continue to enjoy the golf, hope to play a bit more tennis in the future and continue to adjust to a desert state of mind. It's really not all that hard.
In the midst of whatever challenge and joy surrounds you, my prayer for you and for me is that we will grow, deepen and strengthen our love for others and for God. Our world is a place that needs more grace and understanding and my faith beckons me to pursue that in whatever small ways I can. I hope the same will be true for you. My hope remains in that which is unseen, the hope that the light of Christ will shine brightly, the assurance that the darkness will not overcome it.
May there be loads of light in your new year. Thanks for reading. It's time to say good bye to 2016.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Nativity of our Lord


It's Christmas Eve. In fact, it's past 9.00 p.m. on Christmas Eve in Sweden so that means most families there and in other parts of Europe are well into their festivities.
Clergy holding the nativity. A piece of our caroler collection
For us, it's the first Christmas in 25 years that we haven't been working.
An Immanuel Christmas program from a long time ago...a favorite child of mine spreading the good news of great joy!
We'll spend this evening with some other retired pastor friends, attend the mega-church in town where we can be anonymous and enjoy a big production with good music and head back to their place for a nice meal. We've had visits from friends this week, one family from London, one friend from Stockholm who lives in the US now, and we anticipate some more company next week. I hurt my back earlier this week. Feels like a bad muscle strain but it has definitely cramped my style. Makes me glad I'm not putting on a Christmas Day buffet for 100 people! As awesome as those memories are, it's also quite OK that we're onto something new here. It's chilly in the desert and with lots of rain this week, it means our mountains are coated in a glorious layer of snow. The sun is shining brightly today and so my buddy Jen and I started the day in the hot tub. Some of the new things this time around are truly welcome.
The one thing that doesn't change is that Christians all over the world tonight and tomorrow will gather to enter the mystery of the incarnation once again and rejoice that the Light came into the world and that the darkness did not overcome it. Most of us feel that this is more timely than ever this year, when the political climate has led us to feel a great deal of despair rather than hope. And yet, here we are, on Christmas eve, ready to approach the manger with awe and wonder because of the way that God made himself so approachable to us when he sent his son Jesus to come into this world as a tiny little baby to lead us to hope and peace. The road to peace and hope is often very long, and yet, I feel sustained by my faith in something greater than the what the world offers.
Sweden: Orrefors crystal
Sorrento, Italy: Outdoor rendering
Throughout our travels across this vast world, one constant has remained the same...the nativity has a place in the church's story. The various renderings of this age old story always catch my eye with beauty and joy. And so today, as await with hope, joy, peace and love, our celebrations of the arrival of the Christ child once again, I leave you with these gorgeous views of the nativities from across our globe.

Barcelona, Spain: The Nativity carvings outside of La Sagrada Familia &
The Wise Men at La Sagrada Familia

Italy: Nativities dot the Amalfi coast around every corner


On Epiphany, a huge processional takes place through Sorrento culminating with the visit from the Magi.
The Wise Men and Holy Family pause to enjoy
the fireworks on Epiphany
Italy: Even the baker took his craft to new heights with his bread nativity
Sri Lanka: A beautiful batik that was a gift from a church member in Stockholm
Bethlehem, Palestine:
The spot that commemorates the place where Jesus is said to have been born
Israel/Palestine
Palestine: Olive wood nativity that graces our home
I've had other nativities through the years, one from Ecuador that I treasured but since it was made from bread dough, it disintegrated through our various moves. I suppose I will always be curious to see how the nativity shows up in the various places we travel because one thing is for sure...wherever Christ's birth is celebrated, art depicting this holy event will surely follow.
A cute US rendition
Wherever you are, however you celebrate, may the mystery and joy of the incarnation surround you with love, joy, peace and hope.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

And Now For Something Completely Different: Holiday Lights Edition

As mentioned, it has been delightful and surprising to encounter traditional cold weather Christmas spirit thriving here in the desert. We've had chilly overnight and morning temperatures, enough to wear long pants and put on a second layer and light fires in the fireplace so all in all, enjoying a cozy feel at least one or two times a day. Granted, the other day, we had the fire going before our little gathering and we had to open the door for awhile as it got too hot inside. These are the contrasts that we continue to find charming and bring a smile to our faces.
But we are most impressed with the light displays that people across the Coachella Valley are committed to. I guess it's quite a bit easier to build an elaborate outdoor display that takes about 2 months to complete when you aren't contending with sub-zero temperatures and have loads and loads of sunshine day after day. Here in the desert there are two light installations that have gained a following. The first is the delightful street known as Candy Cane Lane. Every house on this winter wonderland street is decorated with adorable and cute installations. We were amazed as we drove down the street at the creative and beautiful displays that unfolded before us. I have even heard that when people buy a house on this street, they must agree to decorate their own house. Kind of an amazing community spirit project. Nice that everyone does it because it really is lovely. 
One of my favorite was the big motor home with Santa driving!Of course, there were lots of traditional decorations and nods to pop culture with Frozen characters and Minions, and Santa in his sleigh with reindeer.
Loved the little penguin that popped up and down out of the igloo. But amidst the traditional, there were some displays that added desert flair, like these three wise men arriving to the manger on ATV's. 
As if that wasn't dazzling enough, our next stop was RoboLights, a display that has actually been on the news because there were city ordinances questioning the safety of the display. The owner ultimately won and we're glad. This display is like none we've ever seen and likely will never see again. 
The largeness of the scale of the display hits you right away. Then pathways unfold before you as you attempt to soak in all that is going on around you. The 'bones' of the display are permanent structures that the owner has welded together out of all manner of trash. Old carnival rides, mannequins, and toilets, are just a mere sampling of what you will find as you wander through this bizarre and wonderful display. For instance, atop the yellow structure is an old Jack-in-the-Box head. This sleigh is being driven by a rabbit and pulled by an old truck. And here, a shark carrying a candy cane in his mouth flies overhead. This rendering of Mary and Joseph holding a baby Jesus that was simply a pile of junk welded together caught my eye. My cousin, Mike, took this hilarious shot of me getting a blow dry under an vintage salon hair dryer. We even had some Robo skiers. And golfers. And here was a traditional Santa, except he's driving a tank. Hmmm, how does that fit in with the Peace on Earth theme of the season? The grounds are lovely and expansive. The big beautiful trees were wrapped in a hundreds of lights and reflecting off the ponds that surrounded several of them. Various and sundry castles dotted the landscape and changing lights gave us a new look every few minutes. There were many scary clowns that were not exactly kid friendly. Clearly my favorite of all was the reindeer pulled sleigh made out of toilets!
Each deer had a great expression on its face. Doug sat down to the organ and played a bit. It was fully functioning organ even if the organist wasn't. A lovely trellised walkway filled with light kept things bright. Soon it was time to say good-bye to RoboLights. I will definitely be back. It's clearly a lifetime labor of love on the part of the owner. He only asks for $5.00 donation, but it's truly a donation. All are welcome. If you are in the Coachella Valley, I strongly encourage you to get over to see this!Our happy group selfie basking in the glow of the holiday lights. Doug was particularly illuminated at this point. And the moon itself was putting on a pretty great light show of its own. Christmas in the desert. It's shaping up to be pretty darn festive after all.