On beauty and acceptance

photo retrieved from http://www.kssos.org

Boxing Day- and the roadways to the city are crowded with would-be holiday shoppers.

I am driving in rush hour traffic. But then again, it will be rush hour all day today, cars pressing in on one another as they inch closer to the stores and malls. I drive through a set of lights and just about come up to another when I see out of the corner of my eye a lone person to my far left standing in a sloped field. They stand on the curvature of the land poised with a camera in hand pointing the lens upward as if to catch something where the land meets the sky. I glance again, taking my eyes off the road for the briefest of seconds, wondering what it could be that they might see in this largely barren field. There are no trees, just scrub. No animals or vegetation to speak of. Just rugged terrain and sky from which to compose the landscape. This is not a place, in my view, where one would choose to take a picture. I drive on perplexed and take one last lingering look as the photographer snaps a set of frames.

I am left to consider for the remainder of the day as to what beauty was in the eye of the beholder.

As beauty is often left to the subjectivity of the viewer, so too are opinions, thoughts, outlooks, judgements, viewpoints and estimations. How many times do we observe someone and make a snap judgment based on what we think is right or acceptable. How often do we project on others what we ourselves might feel in a given situation, judging that person according to our own particular standard or set of convictions. How often do we fail to see the beauty in the barrenness of life- the good amidst the sadness? Fail to look for the beauty in one another, only choosing to see the error?

I too later point the camera lens to capture pictures of those I love, things and places I hold dear. I consider how I often try to frame things just so- eliminating the blemishes so that everything looks just perfect for the shot. How often I am caught up in creating something beautiful that I forget to see the beauty in a work in progress- an unaffected, unaltered image of life in its normal state. How often I look for my own children to pose in stances that belie their true personalities in an effort to project an image of beauty. A work of creativity and craftsmanship.

My eyes do not always see the best in what is right in front of me- do not always choose to see the best in those I love and hold closest to my heart. Too many times, I want to fix something, change it. So that it suits my understanding better. So that it jives with what I feel, what I would do. Forgetting often in my weakness and humanity that each one is uniquely created and fashioned to be the individual they are. The individual they were meant to be. We were not meant to be clones- we were meant to be different. So that who I am- my perspectives and viewpoints and ideas and understandings- while they might be different than yours- are still valid and worthy. Needful of consideration.

As also are yours. So much so should I consider yours.

Who we were made to be, while different from one another- these are prototypes both necessary and essential for this world to be complete. We must see the best in one another, because on our own, we are incomplete. We were not created to be carbon copies but rather made so as to complement one another, complete with our various personalities, characters, experiences and understandings. And while iron sharpens iron so too do our differences make us whole. The things that others do and say, while not what we would choose, might make us even better as individuals than we might have thought possible, creating in us empathy, compassion and love.

Love helps us to see the best in people- helps us to accept what we cannot change and hope for the best. It’s what really matters when it comes to our closest relationships. It’s the glue that helps us stick.

A lone photographer stood in a vacant field on a Saturday afternoon looking for beauty amongst the dying grasses in winter. Looking for something no one else could see. How much more then must we look for the beauty, look for the best in one another?

Christmas is a choice

It was to be a December unlike all the others. A month of remembering loss- one so new that tears came quickly upon the remembrance. A month of crazy schedules and hustle and bustle. A month of cramming for last minute assignments and preparing for upcoming ones as well. A month marked by doctor, dentist and physio appointments, hospital visits, stress leave and frequent road trips to Charlottetown.

A month of change.

One day, she came home from work and met the Boy in her entryway.
“Do you notice anything?” he asked her with a bit of a devious grin.

She glanced about, hurriedly.

“No,” her quick reply.

“Nothing?” he asked again, patiently waiting for her to give the attention due the moment.

Her eyes made another sweep around the small entryway to their house and finally landed on a beautifully constructed wooden bird house. Pieced together with fine craftsmanship, she knew within the instant she laid eyes on it, within the moment: that she was witnessing something momentous. A moment when the past meets the present and collides in perfect precision.

A moment of truth.

For in that moment, she saw in her son a glimpse of ‘the Grampie of her childhood’. A quiet man, unassuming. Full of grace and wisdom. A man of gentle patience, slow to speak. Slow to anger. A man who found his way to a little wood shop behind his house each and every day, to a place where he would carefully plan, make and care for his homemade treasures. Lovingly sanding and shaping each piece until it was ready for a final coat of varnish. To be then placed beneath a tree on Christmas morning.

In that moment, standing there in her cluttered entryway leading to their sprawling farmhouse, the woman saw in the boy- the face of her grandfather. The Boy- he made little in the way of comment as his mom gushed over the wooden structure, expressing her praise of his carpentry skills. He wanted little commendation- just desired that she would notice. And after the moment passed, the lovingly crafted birdhouse was put away in the boy’s room for another time. Another place.

Late December arrived with Christmas Day come and gone.

The woman, the Boy and their family traveled the familiar roads to Charlottetown on a clear, bright Boxing Day morning. Made their way to town so as to be with their extended family, celebrating Christmas with them. Eventually the time came to make the pilgrimage into the hospital where they would join with her dad, the Boy’s own grandfather, to celebrate Christmas. This time, a celebration which was to be carried out in a hospital foyer. The small cohort comprised of a mom, dad and their four children, laden with gifts and packages, made their way through the passageway to greet their loved ones waiting by the tree. A happy chorus of voices trailing them all the way.

After pleasantries were exchanged, the time arrived for gifts to be given. One by one, packages were revealed and set out for all to admire. A pair of boots, a book, some Christmas facecloths- along with an always-anticipated homemade fruitcake that had become a yearly tradition. A gift from the girl to her Dad.

And then the time came for the Boy to give his gift. With little fanfare, the Boy picked up the large box and passed it to his grandfather sitting across from him in a wheel chair, placing the package on his knees. A gift offered as from the heart, given at Christmas time as a nostalgic throw-back to Christmases of long ago. A relic from the past. The Boy sat, still. Unaware of what would happen next. And while his mom watched on with love bursting through her heart, anticipating what was about to transpire, the gift was opened.

As the grandparents together tore at the wrapping paper, thoughts of Christmases gone by floated through the woman’s mind. Memories of the little treasure box, the high chair and dollhouse that she had received on Christmas morning, gifts from her Grampie. She remembered the smells: of soft pine and pungent varnish mingling together. She remembered the sounds: of her Grampie’s gentle voice, his kind words. His gentle manner. She remembered the feel of her Grampie’s hands, his rough fingers always resting on her head.

She remembered.

The wrapping paper laid aside, the Grandmother herself pulled back the paper inside the box to find a small wooden structure nestled amongst the packing. Her eyes widened in surprise.

“He made it Mom- for both of you,” said the woman to her parents, her own eyes glossed with tears.

And the grandmother bowed her head and breathed deeply, while Christmases of years gone flashed like a picture show through her own mind. Of being a little girl herself on Christmas morning to find under her tree that special something made by loving hands. Of smelling the wood chips and the varnish. Of feeling safe and loved and hopeful. Of believing that there was so much to anticipate and wait for, especially at Christmas.

While they all sat there in that hospital foyer on plastic chairs, an artificial tree standing in for the real thing, the grandmother said through tears of joy:

“It smells like Christmas.”

Indeed it does.

Sometimes Christmas is confused as being a feeling. A moment in time when we are transported to the heights of joy and elevated to the pinnacle of happiness. A moment whereby we are taken by these sentiments of the season. Certainly there are feelings that move us to both ecstatic bliss and excitement on Christmas morn. But there are other moments too when we come crashing down to the reality of life: of pain and suffering and heartache and sorrow.

This Christmas has been one of mixed emotions- perhaps for all of us. And it has been needful for me to remind myself: Christmas is not a feeling. It is a decision.

It is a choice.

Christmas is a deliberate act of the will to accept what cannot be changed and embrace the possibility of what might transpire. It is a time when we can accept the painful realities of the life we live and still find joy in the small gifts. A time when we can shift our perspective from what is missing to instead notice what is present and available at hand.

Christmas is a decision.

And from that very moment when infinite God became mortal flesh: an infant, swaddled in strips of rags lying in a feed trough- to the very moment that we as a family chose to inhale the smells of Christmas wafting from a cardboard box, in a sterile hospital foyer. Christmas became real to me.

For Christmas is the choice we make each and every day to embrace the beautiful things in our lives- as small and mundane as they might seem- and to then face the day with courage, hope and joy. The decision we make to see the possibility in the impossible. To partake of the wonder and fill ourselves up with the miracle of the lives we live. Each day is such a gift, one we must never take for granted. We bring nothing into this world, we will take nothing out. It is the moments we live in between that really matter for eternity. And all this to remind us that even at Christmas, we can get so side-tracked from the purpose of really living our one life well.

Because like all of life, Christmas is a choice. And when we choose to see the miracle in the present, everything else changes.

Let the light shine on

Winter solstice awaits eagerly in the wings while I slip on my teen-aged son’s outgrown winter boots that pinch my heels and take to the snow-covered road.

Dusk settles over the white fields enveloping all that the eye can see in muted tones. Black, grey, white and brown. I step carefully as traffic has increased on this little side road due to the transportation closures of last week, a response to the two days of freak flooding our area experienced. Now a dusting of white covers everything, as if to convince the passer-bys that Christmas is truly on her way. I cling to the shoulder of the road hoping to not lose my foothold and find myself by some unplanned error in the ditch.

My mind is full tonight, as always. It’s Christmas time. But instead of looking expectantly forward to the lights, sounds and flavours of a magical holiday, preparing for the holidays: I have spent days visiting my Dad at the hospital on post-surgical, Unit 2 and now at his new spot, on the adjacent Unit 3. His room, equipped with a lift that assists him in getting from bed to chair and bed to wheelchair when his legs are not cooperating.

Two weeks tomorrow, Dad was home, living his life.

Not that things then were perfect- far from it. Dad has Parkinson’s and the effects of the condition have gradually stolen from him a way of life. Taken from him the ability to be independent. Taking first his ministry and ability to provide financially for his family, and then attacking his health and well-being aggressively in his early fifties .

I am not oblivious to the fact that the very decade Dad possibly began experiencing initial symptoms is the one I am living out right now. Parkinson’s has taken much: stolen from Dad the ability to drive and carry out tasks independently. And now, as he struggles to walk, finding even the few steps he does take unassisted to be a challenge, we his family watch helplessly from the sidelines. He had not even been able to stand without two nurses on either side of him all week although the last few days have seen him able to take a limited number of steps. Yes, life has changed. For Dad and for all of us. And while it wasn’t perfect before hospital admission- it was being lived by him as the new normal.

We ask ourselves, why? Why this? Why now? Why all this heartache at Christmas?

Our family has had its share of tragedy, as have most families that we know well and love. Just the other day, I met a friend in the store after leaving the hospital from where I had spent time with Dad, and I conveyed to her the sadness I feel at the reality of people I love aging and getting older. She reeled off the stats on her aging parents and in-laws. Heart conditions, lung conditions. And the list went on.

And then this news. Just the other day, a friend stopped me to share the tragic news that a close family member of hers had lost their full-term baby due only a few short days ago to an unknown cause.

We ask- we cry out: WHY? Why all this hurt, all this sadness?
It is easy to feel crushed under the weight of all this oppression. Easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Easy to give up and let go of all that holds us together.

I make my way down the slope of the road toward my favorite little inlet where the fish jump gracefully in the summer, the bulrushes their gentle home. The waterway has widened to a swell due to last week’s torrential rains; in the evening hour, this little corner of the world looks like a black-and-white photo. I watch as two blue herons spread their wide wings and lift to the sky in graceful motion.

It is serenely beautiful.
The land fading into sky washed in varying tones of grey, save for the sliver of fading pink that still pools light into the horizon. This sunset tonight is breathtaking, a gorgeous wash of pastel light, yet it seems incongruent alongside the picture taken from where I stand down below, dismal at this hour of the day. But in looking up to that glorious pink sky, I am left spellbound and breathless, wishing only for my camera to capture what would have been a perfect shot. I settle for a memory instead, savoring the moment.

This radiant light. It is the promise of a dying day- that there will come another. Time makes sure of that. There is always light to be found within darkness. Light always finds a way to penetrate the darkness.

Slipping through cracks in walls, through slats in doors.
Bursting through hallways, trickling down corridors.
Meeting me on the road where I now look for it. This light, it is my constant comfort and hope. For light always finds a way to shine, always finds a way to win over the darkness.

“The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5, NIV)

It was just four short days ago that I was traveling home from Charlottetown in a thick fog. I had pulled into Summerside for a coffee as my eyes were trying desperately to shut, so weary I was after a long day. I was getting ready to head back on the road when I realized how challenging my ride home was about to be. Everywhere my eyes landed there was a haze. As I pulled up to a stop light, I noticed that directly in front of me was a small aluminum trailer attached to a truck. As I turned out onto the highway, I could hardly see a thing to my right or my left, but I thankfully could always see the four red lights shining out toward me on that trailer. I watched those four red lights as if they were a beacon. And for mile after mile after mile, those red lights were my focal point on which I intently set my sites. When I lost track of the lights, I lost track of the road. When I was in view of the lights, I was safely where I needed to be.

Those lights led me home.

In the dying light of day, Light leads forward into another morn, come what may. For there is always light and light brings hope. Hope spills recklessly like a beam of brilliant light over a darkened world, reigning eternal. Showing us the way, leading us home.

To this we say: let the Light shine on

What Christmas was meant to be

image retrieved from http://www.themotherhuddle.com

Christmas time. A wondrous time of year. We wait for it, long for it- anticipating the smells and sounds, sights and feelings of another festive holiday season.

Christmas. That time of year we associate with peace and goodwill and joy. That time of year for baking and presents, music and laughter. That time of year for believing there is a silver lining to the dark clouds of life. That time of year we hold out a reason for hope. A reason for a miracle.

That special time of year.

It’s Christmas time. A time we have relegated to the magical at one end of the spectrum, the miraculous at the other. So expectant are we, so desiring of wonder. So eager for a sign. We want so much, and yet we settle for so little.

I talk to her on the phone and she recounts the fact that there is water damage in the thousands. That, added to the already overwhelming circumstances in her life, those intervening variables that have shifted the course and re-routed the journey of a life to a new path not easily traveled. And she says to me, “I can’t believe this is Christmas.”

Can’t believe that real life is happening in spite of the fact that Christmas is here upon us, waiting in the wings ready to make its grand entrance. Can’t believe that Christmas can happen within the mess of everyday living- the jumble of disaster and heartache and sorrow and pain- as a steady as a summer rain. The one thing we can count on for sure in this life is we will have trouble. It’s a promise.

Yes. It’s Christmas time. And life goes on. Life continues to travel forward, following the worn, rugged path etched out in time. Continues to make a passageway through hills and valleys, crossing roads that climb the steep incline. We walk, stumble forward- as weary travelers bent on reaching our destination, come what may. And all along the way, we face our trouble. Square on at times, in fits and starts at others.

Come what may.

And what may will come- we can be sure of that. Sickness and sorrow, death and devastation. Nothing stops for Christmas. Nothing is placed on hold as a promise for a single day. Trouble is here, even at this special time of year. This we know for sure.

For life is hard, even at Christmas time. Perhaps especially at Christmas time. Life is hard. And living is never really easy. Getting up and facing another day, another challenge is a tremendous struggle. Placing one foot in front of the other enough of an obstacle.

Life is brutally hard.
Ask the woman with cancer.
Ask the man with Parkinson’s.
Ask the child without hot water.
Ask the boy who wears the thin smile to hide the pain. The girl whose Daddy isn’t coming home. The person you see standing there in the doctor’s office looking death in the face.
Ask anyone with any trouble of any varying degree if the burden is easy to carry.

Or save yourself the trouble- don’t bother asking. Just look at your own life and you will say with certainty: life is hard.

I am making the bed in the far bedroom when she tells me over the phone wires, that this year she feels the gentle pull of the heart to make this Christmas simpler. To eliminate everything that hinders, consumes, overwhelms and occupies her time, reverting her focus. Because time is precious. And Christmas is fleeting. This year, she’s keeping it simple.

She says her plan this year is to remember what’s important. To remember that Christmas is not about how much stuff we accumulate, but about the people we’ve been given to bless our lives- for however short or lengthy a given time. Her plan is to keep it simple. To remember that we don’t have to run around like banshees making something happen, cooking up a storm. For Christmas is a place in our hearts, not a spot located under the tree or a container stashed away inside a kitchen pantry. Her plan is to just let Christmas happen- let it unfold, without adding unnecessary things or events to clutter the soul.

Christmas was never about all that stuff anyway.

So many Christmases ago, another woman- worn and weary from travel, aching from the load she bore, came to rest in a humble cattle shed. Pregnant, she longed for a place to lie down, having just traversed with her husband-to-be over an eighty mile trek. All this, mostly by foot. Consider the thoughts in her head- fear mixed with worry. Wonder mixed with concern. The two sojourned through country riddled with robbers and vagrants waiting for an easy target, yet still she and Joseph pressed onwards- knowing all the while that her body housed the Savior of the world. Tradition would have us to believe that she traveled on the back of a donkey. We will never know for sure in this life; but if it were a donkey, consider the ride a woman in her state would have taken. Awkward, uncomfortable, painful at worst. She must have felt like giving up, turning back. Must have wanted to cry and scream out for the exhaustion of it all. Tired, hungry and thirsty, they forged onward- in spite of the harsh reality of their lives. In spite of it all. And all this, so as to bring Christmas to all of us, to deliver hope to a cold, dark, dreary world.

Jesus never came to us when life was good. He came to earth when it was not. So as to give us Christmas. So as to bring us so much more. He came to bring hope. Came to bring healing. Came so as to comfort us. Provide us with salvation. That baby born rough and ready in Bethlehem became a man who indentified and does even still today, understanding the pain and hurt of our situation. Because the life He lived here on earth as a human was never easy, was never simple. But He lived it so as to give us hope that we can do the same.

Because He lived as we did, we too can face our present situation, our uncertain tomorrows. Because He still lives within the heart of humankind, for all those willing to provide Him room- we too can face the future without fear, finding hope in the knowing that because He lives, so can we.

This year, Christmas will be different in our immediate family. Life doesn’t always work out how you plan it, how you wish it would be. But life can still be beautiful even in the messy. Can still be precious even with the unexpected. Christmas can still be miraculous even in the harshest realities of the moment. For Christmas is in our heart. And we hold it carefully as a precious gift, thanking God that He has granted us the opportunity to experience the wonder of it all for yet another year.

This year, I too am keeping it simpler. Cutting out the stuff that really doesn’t matter anyway. And I pray that this Christmas will be one I never forget. That this Christmas will be one I remember forever.
That Christmas this year will be a place in my heart, not an event on my calendar. A blessed Christmas of hope and healing.

That’s what Christmas was meant to be from the very beginning.

Giving Christmas Away This Year

For the past few weeks, my two youngest children have been talking about what they want for Christmas. The lists began to form about mid-November, a modest collection of this and that. Nothing that would break the bank or Santa’s aching back as he pulls that sack up and of his sleigh. And of course, it’s fun to think about the magic of Christmas at this time of year- writing letters to Santa, browsing through dog-eared copies of the Sear’s Wishbook.

But it is all too easy to get caught up in that holiday hullabaloo- shopping, ticking things off our list. Compiling our lists of wants and needs.

I have been struck this year by the fact that there are people- adults and children the world over, who sadly know that this is their last Christmas spent here on earth. Their last Christmas ever. And with that in mind, I have started to shift my focus to a few of these stories.

Meet Addie Fausett- she’s a little girl much like my own MaryAnne or the little ones I teach in my kindergarten classroom. Except Addie is dying- this is her last Christmas. Due to an unknown illness, she stopped growing when she was 3 and she now weighs all of 23 pounds. Doctors told her Mom last month that she will not last more than the coming year. With that in mind, her family wants to make this Christmas one of the most meaningful ones they have ever had. Because all Addie really wants materialistically this year as a gift is some Christmas cards from all of her friends. There has been a world-wide appeal for Christmas cards for her, as this would be one of the more meaningful gifts a child spending their last Christmas might like to receive.

If you would be interested in sending her a card, here is her address:

Addie Fausett
c/o Tami Fausett
Box 162, Fountain Green, Utah, USA 84632

Meet Cali Griggs- a little girl from Glendale, Arizona. She’s two years-old, and she has terminal cancer. A couple of weeks ago, the doctors gave her one to three months to live, but her parents intuitively believe she won’t even make it until Christmas. All Cali wants this year is to experience Christmas- the lights, the glow, the paper-wrapping, the smells and sounds. The snow. Her community came together in mid-November to create a winter wonderland for her outside her home. “She just wanted to get out and play with everything. She was so happy. And I had to fight it, I was about to cry,” said Greg Griggs, Cali’s father.

And if these stories are not enough to break our hearts, meet Aimee Willett who is 26. She’s a mommy to two precious little boys. She had her first ever, routine PAP test this past year and in June, doctors told her there was cancer and it was inoperable. Doctors have told her that she is unlikely to survive until 2016. This will be her last Christmas

I ask myself: is there something I can do? However small that something might be. Something I can do even within the community in which I live. The school in which I teach. Is there something I can do- both for these precious families as well as for the others who are unknown and living out countless stories much like these three I have shared above?

Don’t we all play a part in making this Christmas an unforgettable one for the people we encounter around us?

I write this piece not to make anyone feel guilty or pressured- only so as to broaden hearts and give us all a deeper awareness of the world around us. I write so as to remind myself and others that this Christmas: we can make it the most meaningful one ever both for ourselves and for others by choosing to think outside our comfort zone- outside our private lives. We can make it meaningful by choosing to extend our love- our care and concern, to the multitude of others in the world around us.

We can GIVE Christmas away this year.

Christmas Miracles {for when you are at a sad part of the story}

It was mealtime at the manor.

She was seated eating her lunch directly across from my grandmother, my own Mom gently assisting my 94-years strong Grammie. A conversation was struck up between the three, Mom, Grammie and the friendly resident.  And all this, inviting the launch of an unexpected conversation which was then to unfold over the course of the shared meal.

As the woman talked, she became passionately involved in the tale she was sharing. A former educational administrative assistant, she spoke of years gone by: talked of joys and eventually of great sorrows. And when she finally bowed her head and began to sob quietly, it seemed incongruous with the strong, able woman of moments prior. The nurse- alarmed, ran over to see what had happened to cause the change. The woman’s reply,

It’s okay, I am just at a sad part of the story.”

And isn’t this the reality of our lives so much of the time?  We find ourselves living the sad part of the story. Those moments, when mere words fail to abate, fail to ease the pain; when mere words fail to act as consolation. For what is a word, a phrase or expression in the face of desolate sorrow? What is a word when it is found hanging, suspended in the thickness of the air in which we exchange our pleasantries? What is a word when expressed within the shadow of pain, in the overhanging spectre that is our grief?

What is a word anyway?

Another, this lovely One much younger than the first- she stood in front of me, worn. And our eyes locked- perhaps so did our hearts. In her gaze I could read a thousand stories, could see a thousand pictures flash before our eyes: such was the depth of her sorrow, her intensely felt pain. And my heart moved within me, reaching out to hers: because I wished I could do something. Wished I could do anything, anything– to meet the need I felt so tangibly was there. I wished beyond hoping to find a way in which to share the load she bore. Wished I could present some small offering so as to carry and hold. Wished.

If wishes were horses (far stronger than I).

And this pain we sense in others- is it not felt more deeply when we have known of it first-hand? When we have drank from the bitter cup and tasted the wrath? We who know first-hand- we are the ones attuned to the pitching fork of life’s harshest realities. Like skillfully adept musicians waiting for the lament. We feel deeply, care heart-fully, weep openly, rage sorrowfully. For the injustices at both the intricately personal level of living as well as those felt more widely, the world over.

We long for a word of hope to let light shine if only through the crevices of our broken hearts. We all ache for the hurt we know is there inside us all. And our hearts overflow with the weight. The immense vastness. We long for a droplet of hope giving promise for a thaw, so as to ease our unquenchable thirst for more. And at Christmas of all times we long the most for that Word of hope bringing expectation that something more awaits us if we just BELIEVE.

Believe.

We talk of Christmas miracles. We dream of, pine for, long for the possibility of the extraordinary at this time of year when at all other times we might resort to despair. We hope for so much more than we could ever even imagine. Wanting our lives to be something they might not already be. Wanting our situation to change, our extenuating circumstances to right themselves. Wanting our path to move forward in a positive direction. Wanting so much- and believing against the odds that it all might be possible. That it all might happen at this time of year.

But perhaps we’ve given up on the miracle. Perhaps it has been lost on us over the years. We feel there isn’t any substance to thoughts of wonder, to thoughts of the miraculous. We’ve given up on miracles, cast off thoughts of the supernatural. Stopped believing in the Divine. Ceased embracing the world around us as potential for miracle; we only feel its pain. Only sense its horror. The sadness and heartache that is a world gone horribly wrong. And we wonder if the idea of miracles is all just a lovely dream for others in more fortunate circumstances. For others with a life of ease and pleasure, whoever those others might be. It could never be for us. Could never be for ordinary folk.

But what if:

The Christmas miracle was planted as a seed inside us all?

It was a gift of perspective, outlook- a turning point of sorts?

A way of viewing the world, our lives and the people we encounter as we never have seen them before?

What if the miracle was caring for the very lives we’ve been given along with caring for the people in these beautiful lives of ours, in ways we never cared before? Reaching out in love to meet the need, reaching out in empathy so as to cross the great divide?

And what if the people we saw right in front of us were part of the gift, were pieces of the puzzle telling us what this life was all about- were the mortal reasons for the gift? Placed in our paths so that we could share the miracle- the gift of understanding and hope with them, through our very words and deeds? Through our thoughts and our actions?

What if the Christmas miracle was closer to us all than we thought possible?

For Christmas miracles are only experienced when we open our hearts to believing that they just might be possible. Even when life fails us miserably, we believe that there is good to be found. Counting that good we see as a blessed promise that the best is yet to come. Believing beyond the reality of our present circumstances that Good can come from sorrow and pain. That joy, like the newborn Child from millennia ago, can be borne from the depths of darkness shining light among us. Hope was given to us long Christmases ago so that we might hold fast to the wonder even in this messy present- so that we could believe in miracles today. Given so that we could have faith as small as a tiny seed to believe that miracles are indeed for real.

And they are. They really are.

photo retrieved from wallruru.com

Ten Ways Storm Days Bring Me to Insanity

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(please read the following with a sense of humor!!!)

You know how ten minutes prior to eating the entire bag of potato chips it seems like a good idea? Or two minutes prior to inhaling your Big Mac Combo meal- you feel weak in the knees and ravenous because you think it is going to taste SO GOOD. This, my friends, is me- every night prior to a possible delay/cancellation which might bring about a storm day. It just seems like it will be a sweet slice of heaven. A day full of joy and goodwill, marshmallows and cupcakes.

BUT PEOPLE- storm days are a trick. A ploy. And I think they just might be God’s gentle way of reminding us why real-life and routine and everyday hustle and bustle are really not that bad. Please bear in mind that I would LOVE storm days if I was stormed inside my house with four children wired with remote control silencers. Or if I was home by myself and my dear offspring, by some stroke of luck, were at storm-day school. Would absolutely LOVE them. But as I am not home alone and the children have no “off-button”, here are TEN ways storm days reduce me to a burned-out pile of frazzled nerves. Bear in mind, this is all in good fun people. If a storm were predicted for next week, I would probably again feel like a five-year old child waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve.

10. Houses in storms are like hamster cages. I have such pity for my furry little rodent friends after having gone through a storm day. But then again, who is worse off? Hamsters just get to sit there- eat, do their business and sleep. Not so for mothers. And we don’t even have a wheel to pretend we are going somewhere.

9. People still think they have to eat. What is with that? And they think about food a lot. Probably more than they would think about it otherwise- like on a day with nary a snowflake in the sky.

8. Since everyone is holed up together, the odds are things are not going to be smooth sailing. This is the understatement of the century. I will not let on that I had two nervous breakdowns today. I won’t mention that part. I will just let you believe that I was slightly cranky. And that’s enough ’bout that.

7. When things are seemingly going swimmingly, someone will inevitably find something to say/do to someone else that will cause a World War to erupt. Which is to say, we will no longer be playing “Who-noo” in this family.

6. You never quite get done what you thought you would get done- too many expectations and sadly too many mouths to feed/lost items to retrieve/jobs to do/laundry to fold/toilets to wipe.

5. Sadly, you never actually sit down and read that book you said you were going to read. (a.k.a. laundry/toilets)

4. You do end up getting yourself into a project that causes the house to look like an avalanche hit it- something you won’t be able to rectify until it is far too late in the day. And by that time, you don’t care anymore.

3. Your children- who were so delightful when the radio announcements were made early on in the day aren’t quite so cute and charming and sweet as you first found them. At least they are not from about 4:00 p.m. on.

2. But then again. While the evening prior you had the grace and patience of an angel, by 8:00 p.m. on the eve of a storm night, you become a cross between Godzilla and the Wicked Witch of the West. Which is putting it rather nicely.

1. Storm days, while nice, are like candy- too much of a good thing can give you a pain in the gut. And that again is the nicest, sweetest possible way of putting it.

Here’s to regular Fridays!! Have a great evening everyone!!

Keeping Hearts Open to Love

Oh, but this world is such a hard place to live, by times. Such a difficult place to be and to dwell. Here, it is often dark and heavy. Overwhelmingly sad. Our hearts can hardly bear the loads we carry. And how often in the busy hustle and bustle of our days do we forget our lifelines? Do we forget to pray? Forget to love? Forget to focus on the positives? To see the world as it really is- not just as we think it might be?

How often do we forget to be grateful for the small joys we have been given?

In the morning rush- which happens to also be a late start to the day (due to me sleeping in past my alarm), I find the brief moments to catch the Island Morning News human interest story about an eleven year old girl from Summerside, PEI, along with a cohort of her friends, who did random acts of kindness for unsuspecting strangers in lieu of receiving birthday gifts. A beautiful story. One that I am glad I was within earshot to hear and consider. In the story, an elderly woman happened to be shopping in a grocery store in Summerside, P.E.I. when the group of children surrounded her, holding out a ticket-like card. She thought they were selling her something, but soon came to discover they were actually GIVING her something: a fifty dollar gift card. So inspiring. I can only imagine what possibilities lie ahead for children with hearts full of such love and joy as this.

A child shall lead the way.

Later this evening, I happen upon news coverage in the form of articles and blogs about the Ferguson trial and unfolding tensions, along with opinions from either side. This- a depressing, heart-breaking unfolding story of division, anger, racial tension and frustration. I can only imagine what is to come next if something is not done to address the rising pressure with regards to the results of the verdict.

And with these two extreme stories in mind, I am left wondering: what does the world need right now?

There is only one thing we cannot do without, only one emotion that encapsulates it all. And that word is LOVE. Love found through the purest source- that of a Father’s love for a broken world.

If what the world needs right now is love, then it goes without saying that we need more than mere random acts of kindness for strangers- some of whom are benign and neutral, and thus non-threatening to us, as wonderful as these acts might be. And I of all people would be the first to say: let children lead the way to greater understandings about love. But with that in mind, what we also gravely need is random acts of kindness aimed at and designated for our enemies. For those we naturally HATE.

Spreading love, one act at a time for people who do not threaten us or challenge our sense of character is kind and truly wonderful, but it requires little more than our time and a small monetary sacrifice. Showing kindness to those we naturally detest requires far more- it necessitates a shift in thinking. A 180 degree turn in direction. For those people whom we would rather choose to ignore, disregard, discount, snub, overlook, turn our backs on, loathe, dislike and otherwise abhor- they are the ones whom we really should be testing our love against. Loving our enemies is far harder than loving friendly strangers. What the worlds needs now is a huge flood of love to pour over us, washing us clean- replacing the anger with fresh perspective. Replacing the hatred with respectful care.

Recently, I read of two women who were on opposite sides of the Ferguson debate- both strongly identifying with one or the other groups that are visibly representing this story. Both of whom were feeling anger at each other for the strong feelings induced by the combatative banter between them on social media. After a short time had passed, one woman said to the other woman, “If you agree to pray for the person/peoples I identify with- whom you strongly feel are in the wrong, I will agree to pray for the person/peoples you identify with.” And both agreed to exchange talk for prayer.

Here is what one of the women wrote about that experience from a note she calls a ‘love note to the world’– and I think it sums everything up:

As a result (of this)– my heart has opened to all. My heart is a wide, wide door this morning. My entry point is all of us. That is the point of prayer maybe- not only to change the world but to change our hearts so we have new eyes with which to see the world. We can’t just TALK and DO. We have to be still first and stay open and listen so we know what to say and do.
I think that choosing the “side” you identify with the least, and making them the focus of your prayers is as close to God as we can get.
Don’t just pray for the ones you love easily- pray for the ones you want to love. It works. It works.– Glennon Doyle Melton

Yes indeed. We must pray for the ones we want to love- along with praying for the ones we do. And give to the ones we want to care about as well as give to the ones we do. Doing what doesn’t come naturally. For it’s the only way for change to really happen, a change that begins with transforming our hearts. And that change will allow LOVE to grow and flourish within our hearts- the very place that matters more than anything.

What is required of us is to keep our hearts open.

Let love fall like rain.

On beginning readers as well as lifelong ones…

I was blessed to have grown up in a household of books and I am sure my mother read to me from the womb. While I cannot remember the first time or first times I was read to as a child, I can remember the moment that I learned to read independently. That moment was life-changing for me- unforgettable.
I was five or six years old, half way through kindergarten, and at the time, we were on vacation at my grandparents house. I was alone in the upstairs bedroom passing the time, and for whatever reason, I had a book that I was looking at- which in one moment I wasn’t reading for message and content- and in the next moment, I was. It was like I went from darkness to light. I still remember running downstairs to tell my family that I could read. Still remember the excitement and pride and absolute wonder at it all.

Today, my kindergarten students got their very first guided reading books to take home with them for homework. I brought the books out and told them what we were going to do- that we were going to read some books together- with them reading alongside me independently. And one Little Guy piped up, “But I can’t read yet!” I assured him that he most certainly could, and that they had been reading for quite some time (that is, reading our morning message, sight words, word work, letters, words in Big Books, environmental print, etc.). But I got what he was saying. This time, it was different. They had an actual book in hand and it was their job to do the reading- not mine. We got started and within minutes, the students were noticing words and letters and pictures…and low and behold: they were reading!

They were READING.

We read the book through three times together on our classroom rug, and they read it on their own twice. And the pride that we all felt was palpable. I could hardly contain it myself! Thankfully, a colleague dropped by to relieve one of the educational assistants for a break, and I was able to nab her and share with her this most transformative of moments. I was bouncing, I was so excited.
I can only imagine those students tonight as they read to their moms and dads and significant others in their lives- reading school books out loud for the very first time. To me, it is a milestone up there with walking and talking. I would like to think today is the first day of the rest of their lives spent as lifelong readers. I hope that they always find joy in reading- joy as I saw on their faces today.

It never fails to move me to watch a child read for the very first time.

Safe Havens and Soft Landings

You know, I have had many people tell me over the years that they could never be a teacher.  Could never do my job. That they don’t have what it takes. That it is too demanding in terms of the behaviors and the complicated issues children present. Too hard on the nerves. Too taxing on the stress levels. Never mind the additional stressful academic responsibilities that come with the job.

Honestly, it isn’t the easiest profession. It isn’t the easiest calling to be drawn to. It hasn’t been the smoothest sailing I’ve ever known. There are many challenging days, many hurdles to jump. Many deep waters to traverse.  There are many moments when I wonder myself. That all because: it is hard being there for people, day in and day out.   Hard staying the course when the ride gets bumpy.  And truth be told, the ride is very treacherous.  And all because there are so many variables.  So many children with so many stories.  For in our classrooms, there are children who have seen things I will never know about in my lifetime. Who have heard things I will never hear. Watched things transpire that I can only envision in my worst nightmares. Who have lived lives in their short years that I will never live.

It isn’t easy being a kid at the best of times. Try being one at the worst of times.

There are days when these same children come into the classroom and they just your push buttons. They try your patience and test your resolve. They act out, cry, push, scream, whine, slap, punch and spit. They holler and run. They pull things off the walls and shove things on the floor. There are days when you just want to give up and walk out the door.

There are certainly days when you wonder why you ever thought teaching was a good idea in the first place.

But sometimes, there are days when everything comes together for you.  When the pieces of the puzzle just FIT. When there is clarity and everything murky is finally clear. Days when something happens and a door is opened, a view is granted into the inner sanctum of a child’s private life. And you see for the very first time why it is, this child is angry. Is hurting. Why it is this child is wounded, frustrated, broken and scared. And all of the moments that happened before- when you thought seriously about pulling out your hair and giving up the fight- those moments are all but forgotten.  All but a memory. Because you’ve just seen a child for who they truly are for the very first time.

Seen that their anger is just a disguise for pain.
Seen that their screaming hollers are sometimes a cry for help.
Seen that the physical aggression they exhibit is sometimes a response to what they know as familiar.
Seen that their hurtful words are just the everyday vernacular of their private world.

And in those moments of clarity, you realize: I am a safe haven. I am a lighthouse- a beacon of hope. I am a soft landing for this child. And I am such so that when they come to school, when they come to my classroom- they know they are loved.  Know that they are protected, accepted, wanted, appreciated, valued, enjoyed, liked and seen. They know they don’t have to be afraid. Don’t have to fear.

Because here…they are safe.

That is all I could ever really hope for as a teacher- to be a safe haven and a soft landing for my students to fall on. A person they know who will be there for them, each day and every day… through all the moments, both shining and otherwise.  There to be a caring, loving presence in their lives.  Unwavering through the storms.

As a teacher, it’s all I ever really needed to be.

{photo retrieved from crislorenzana.wordpress.com}