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

Dear Son…A Post-Christmas Letter

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Dear Son:

It is three days past Christmas and yet the varied strands of lights on our tree still burn brightly, as if they truly were soft candle-light glow. I write you tonight, pensively.  For there has been much on my mind since the mad scramble of Christmas morning.  There has been much weighing on me.

Your sweet gift to us all on Christmas Day- gladly bestowed as we impatiently sat on a crowded bed, remnants of Christmas stockings and wrapping paper strewn all around. Glitter from your sister’s pajamas. Candles in the window.  And there you came, bearing gifts.  Bringing to us those sweetest of presents.  The packages done up with a single letter attached to each, a candy cane seal.  Those letters for us- your family, they have given me much to think about.  Those beautiful letters.  All so heartfelt, so beautifully penned.  For penned they were, the old-fashioned way.  Your sweet boyish script.

Son, in a world bent on celebrating Christmas in its own way, it is hard to push against the tides and do it different.  For Christmas has become something gaudier than it was intended to be.  Too bright.  Too shining.  Christmas is just sometimes too much of everything.  And sometimes in the midst of lavish excess, it is the simplest of reminders that brings us back to the truth.  To the truth about Christmas. To the truth about life- it’s past purpose, present possibility and future promise.

When I opened your letter firmly fixed to the front of that fragrant bottle of Stress Relief Body Wash And Bubble Bath (you know me well), my heart did a sudden lurch.  Because sometimes the line between reality and dream is so fine.  Sometimes the present here and now seems so elusive. That I instantly thought to myself, “Oh no.  Something really bad is about to happen.  He has written us such heartfelt prose- that it must mean the foreboding sign has been given.”  I am very fragile at Christmas.  And so very aware, knowing as I do- that another mother sits weeping by her Christmas tree, no boy there now to sling an arm about her neck.

I read that letter. And I wept inwardly.  You know me so well.  Know us all so well, as those letters to each member of our family indicate.  They were spot on.  In Grammie’s words, ‘you nailed it’.  Can you imagine her saying that?  She did.

Sometimes I wonder why me.  Why this ordinary girl?  Why have I been blessed so lavishly?  Why have I been given so very much, such precious gifts?  You four children.  Your father.  Our family.  This home- the far-flung fields bordered by our wooded lot, grandly spiced with fragrant hemlock. Shadowed by grand, ancient trees. Why this for me?  Why, when there are so many who have little to nothing?  Mothers who are aching for a child?  Children aching for a mother?

A world in such desperate need.

And this line of thinking can be burdensome- overwhelming.  Constricting.  I feel it smothering me. Alive. Weighing me down in such a way that it nearly incapacitates.  Because I don’t understand the why’s.  I only know ‘what is’.

According to the Gospels, to whom much has been given, much will be expected.  I have been excessively blessed.  And the expectations are so very great.

I may not ever fully understand the richness of His mercy, the lavish unfolding of His grace.  I might not understand why He chose me to be your Mama- why He chose me to lend me four of His most Precious.  And I am tenderly aware that you Four are on lend- you are not mine to keep.  You are His.  And while you are in my care, I pray that I might walk worthy of the calling of which I have been called. Your Mama.

You will never understand what it is to be a Mother- there is something so primeval about this place in which I find myself right now.  But you might someday be a father.  And you will know a parent’s love.  You will come to understand that nothing tangible in this world- no Christmas present, no bling or shiny package could ever take the place of that which is most precious: our children.  And in understanding this, you might come to know that God’s love extends to all His children of every colour and every race. That His love is bigger than any evil this fallen world can proffer.  His love extends.  It reaches.  It surpasses.  It outpaces.  It goes before.  And it always was and always will be.

I pray that you might come to know His love, a love bigger than any passing fancy we might have our eye on in the here-and-now.  Because His love, like His time- it is not like ours’.  His desire, not like our desire.  His understanding, not like our understanding.  And therefore His love undeniably not like our love. Nor can it ever be.

Those letters.  They reminded me of something.  It is not how much we’ve been given- how extensive the blessing.  How high the windfall.  It is what you do with it all.  It is what you make out of it.

For all of life is but a gift- from the tiniest of breaths to the greatest gust of wind.  It is all grace.  It is all blessing.  And I am so grateful to have been given you- on lend, for you are such an extravagant gift.  And so extraordinary.

I want to thank you for reminding me yet again that we don’t know how good we have it sometimes.  And I never wish to wait until that gift is gone to say thank you.  Thank you for everything you are.  For all you have taught me.  Thank you for giving to me the sweetest of gifts- a priceless offering that money can’t buy. Thank you for your words, your life and your spirit.  You are very loved.

Love,

Your Mom

Live Life in the Details…

I park my van in a drift of snow, opening the door before realizing that the walkway has not been shoveled. I retrieve my bundle from the seat beside me and head back out. This time, I take the road. I turn and walk up the ramp and push open the door. The sign stuck on the window glass says, “Please push shut on your way out.” I make sure to turn and secure the door.
Warm air invites me in. I place my letters on the counter and hear her coming around the corner. We greet each other with a smile, and I hand her the thick packet of Christmas cards I have brought in to mail. I am missing an address for one envelope which she assures me I can phone in from school tomorrow. Gotta love country mail service.
And while we chat about this and that, I finish addressing cards and re-checking things before I hand them off and pay my fees. And as I do, the talk turns to more serious matters. Of life. And of death. Grave, sad matters that are most pressing in light of yesterday. But we also talk of grace and kindness. Of making each moment really count because one just doesn’t know if there will truly be another day. Another moment.
And I can see on her face that today’s been a hard one. That the stress is getting to her. That sometimes a body just needs a word of encouragement. That kindness is what she needs the most. And that’s when she says to me that she wonders if she’s really making a difference. There is so much to be done and she’s just one person. And people are stressed- there are so many things gone wrong. How can she make any impact?
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Earlier. I am in the office photocopying papers. That is, until I run out of standard white. I open three cupboard doors and finding there is none to be found, I call out to Whomever is around- The Powers That Be, to alert them that there seems to be no paper. And that drew enough attention to alert another ‘her’ to come over and chat with me about the paper- until chatter and friendly banter turns to other, more meaningful subjects. Subjects like gifts and giving and people we love and why we do. And I tell her that she means an awful lot to me, as I know she does to many, many other people. After which she says to me that she really wonders sometimes if she’s really making any difference. And that’s when her voice trails off. And I can hardly believe that someone in her position could ever underestimate the impact they make on the lives around them. Because I know how important her presence is in my life.
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Later. I am cleaning up the house after the kiddos have gone to bed, putting away The Remains of the Day. Things which have gone haywire and topsy-turvy. Returning all that stuff to its rightful spot. And as I do, I chat with yet another ‘her’ on the phone, shooting the breeze. Filling her in on the day, what I’ve been up to and all that jazz. We talk about everyday miracles. Talk about people who do great and wonderful things at Christmastime- like paying Other’s outstanding bills for them and leaving anonymous gift packages on doorsteps to be discovered by un-expectant receivers. And she says to me, “All I have to give is cookies.’ Which I know is just another way of saying, “I don’t really think giving cookies makes much of a difference.”
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And this time, I can’t believe that it has been three times today that I have heard this same phrase coming from the hearts and souls of three different women- women who are strong and influential. Women who truly do make a difference in the lives of those around them. And all these- women whom I look up to and admire very much.

And I really can’t help but think that it is high time I started to praise the everyday people in my life. The ones who are steady and true. The ones who go about their days without a whole lot of fanfare and notice. Who don’t demand attention for things they do- who don’t expect a lot of praise. People who give from the heart expecting little in return. For sometimes these people forget that they are the backbone of our little world- they are the heart. That they matter.

And these special ones need to hear it just as much as anyone else does: that smiles are important. That listening ears count for a lot. That a dozen cookies given out of a heart of love- freely and generously offered- are just as meaningful as a bucket full of cold, hard cash. Because we give out of hearts of love, and it’s the gifts of the heart that count the most.

Sometimes we forget that a Body can make a difference just by being kind. That compassion is a window on the soul and that love shines brightest through the cracks. And sometimes it’s the common, everyday folk that need to hear it first. That need to hear it anyway. Those ones- the people whom we notice doing the little things- they’re the ones that need to hear our words of encouragement. Our words of affirmation. And they’re the ones who need to hear that their lives are truly making a difference to the people around them- that the little unnoticed details are important and necessary. Are so worth it.

To you: quiet, unnoticed Ones who truly make a difference in the lives of those around you- weaving your magic in your own special way. Doing what comes natural. Just being yourselves. To you, I give you my thanks— thank you all for making me stop and notice how important life is when lived in the details.

Embracing Random…

There is a pink Littlest Pet Shop kitten cuddled up in the Virgin Mary’s lap. It is sharing a spot with baby Jesus, vying for the most coveted spot in the nativity scene. And I found presumptuous Her when I was picking up the umpteenth dozen leftover toy there in the fireplace room tonight, toys which I fondly refer to as The Remains of the Day.
There were also lumps of potato under a chair in the kitchen, but who’s really taking notes?

You see. I have come to realize that my life is just not as picture perfect as I thought it was. As I’d like it to be. That is, there are details in my life that are a bit off kilter. I’d like to think that everything is compartmentalized JUST SO- with everything and everyone in my circle of being falling into place. But of course, this just isn’t the case. And I know that life isn’t perfect. I know that. That we all can’t have our own way most of the time- that life is messy and chaotic. And pretty is as pretty does.

But, I am talking here about just keeping up to the status quo. To Pinterest and facebook statuses, to be precise. (That was partially a joke.) Sometimes I feel like my life is that Littlest Pet Shop- trying to fit in and look normal when really it just doesn’t belong there.

Today, I thought I would seize the day- seize the moment, that is. We were home because of a very poor Board decision to send children to school for an hour and a half and then send them home again (‘nuff said). Which is to say that today was a storm day of sorts. So, in the late afternoon- after I had done my inside baking and meal prep, I decided to go out and take pictures of my children frolicking in the freshly fallen snow. Think primitive Pinterest decorating ideas meet hardcore Mill River winter.

I grabbed the camera and made a run for it. Seize the day. Seize the moment. So I got the kiddos to pose against our blue barn with the wreath in the background. I snapped. I thought I was brilliant for thinking of such an idyllic location. That is, until I realized that all the pictures have a strand of stray lights trailing down the barn walls beside my daughters. Cute. If you like random.

Kind of like the time I left the staffroom bathroom with toilet paper trailing behind my outfit.

I would love to think that I can be that picture perfect idea I have in my head but the truth is: I am not that pulled together. I am too impulsive, too slap-dash, too eclectic. And it is my own fault- I am a Jackie of too many trades. I don’t take time to master many of them.

So today, I baked with each of my four children in a spurt of motherhood greatness (because something I read the other night on Facebook caused me to feel very guilty for being so uptight in the kitchen, so to prove to myself that I can let loose and let my kids make a mess- I let all FOUR make their very own Christmas treat.) ‪#‎whatwasithinking‬

When the two batches of cookies lay waiting on the counter-top waiting to be glazed and my Son remarked, “Wow, those actually don’t look too bad, Mom.” (As in: “Every other batch of cookies you have EVER made, and I do mean EVER- has utterly and completely flopped, Mother Dearest”). I just knew then and there that it was time to embrace my inner Random.  The inner Crazy inside me. That girl who really is my true self. The One who ruins most of her baking. Who has a hard time seeing her kids through the lens of a camera (#nearsighted), let alone focus it. The girl who is late for pretty much everything in her life and who also happens to have pink Littlest Pet Shop kittens as part of her traditional manger scene.

That girl.

She’s me.  She’s random. She’s definitely a little loopy.  But I kinda like her anyway.

He still moves

Thirty-one years today since that pick-up truck plowed into her little car, leaving her motionless.  The spark snuffed out.  Leaving her to sit and moan the occasional word.  Rubbing constantly at her crusted eye, still swollen shut.  Her lifeless hands and legs. No animated gestures to light up a room.  They’re nearly all but gone, but for the sudden reflexive movement.

But there are times.  When one sees it in her face- a knowing.  It’s the way she sometimes looks at you, as if she understands.  And in that knowing is found the deepest wounding – that’s where proverbial knife meets flesh and gouges.  It cuts to the heart.  And as she sits year after year after senseless year in that chair by the occasional window, I wonder.  Do thoughts of Christmas miracles ever fleetingly pass through her mind?  Does she know?  Does she ever question why?  And does God care?  Is He with even her, there in the dark recesses of her mind?

It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to know.

And sometimes what we really want, but are afraid to voice in more than merely a whisper, is a miracle.  A sign.  A sense that God does care.  That He is truly with us.  That He’s not dead.  That He’s alive.  That His voice can still be heard as if over a rocky hillside speckled with dirty sheep.  Grungy shepherds herding them along with stumped staffs.  Heard in a little Jewish town with the lone sound of a newborn’s cry, a doting mother’s gentle lullaby heard softly in the still of the frigid winter night.  As if in a dirty stable, sticky cow manure littering the floor.  A filthy manger piled high with straw, roughly hewn: given as a bed.  As if we were there.  As if I were there.  Because He was there- truly there among the people.  In the messy, complicated jumble we call living.  And that He is still here: in the present, the here and now.  It is a miracle.  For that is all we truly need to know in the stark reality of everyday living.

To know that He is with us.  Emmanuel.

Emmanuel, God with us.

It is so easy to forget that truth when faced with the pain of loss- the pain of separation.  Easy to forget in the midst of the trouble that is betrayal and rejection.  The tragedy of disease and unexpected loss of both minor and grave proportions.  Those harsh realities so peculiar and perplexing to as human beings.  All is not always well.  Life is not always easy- even at Christmas.  Especially at Christmas.

It seems that Christmas time accentuates  trouble.  For life is difficult all year round.  It is struggle.  When financial stress touches down, wreaking havoc on families and marriages, trouble is there. When an unfortunate father walks out on his child or a distressed mother slits her wrists in a cry for help.  Trouble is there yet again.  When a child gets cancer or some other terminal diagnosis and suddenly life takes a turn for the worse: it’s hard to really sense God is with us through all of that.  That He hears and He sees and He feels our pain.  That He knows.

That He is there in the midst.  Even in the midst of all that trouble and distress.

Emmanuel.

For all we really want is a miracle.  A sense of His presence.  To feel as the shepherds did the joy of knowing wonder.  To experience as did that simple innkeeper the humbling knowledge of  having room for a King.  Preparing a way for the Christ-child’s birth.  To know as did Mary and Joseph that even simple common, everyday folks can still receive the miracle of Christmas.  Because all we’re really looking for is a sign.

All I am really looking for this Christmas is a miracle.

A friend wrote me the other day.  Last year this time, her life was falling apart.  Her marriage was in shambles.  Her faith was being tested.  She was experiencing trouble on every level.  And I remember the day still when she looked me in the eye and said, “There is very little hope.”  I remember those words.  And I remember wondering myself, “Is there?  Is there really little hope?”

And then.   To receive her letter this week- knowing a Christmas miracle had occurred in her life.  That her little faith had been multiplied.  And that God had moved and increased her ‘little’ to make it filled to overflowing- that’s the miracle of Christmas.

And it can happen again and again and again.

Because God still moves in mysterious ways.

Even in the little things.  In the details.  Just this week, I lost something worth hundreds of dollars.  It was an important item to me personally.  And I searched high and low and in corners and crevices.  I called family members, having them strip-search rooms so as to find that one little lost item.  And when all seemed about lost, I had no sooner asked my mother to pray that I would find what I had lost, when God placed it right before my eyes.  Literally.  No sooner were the words spoken and I looked: it was there.  As if by miracle.  My little Christmas miracle.

And I don’t say all this to trivialize those miracles that have not yet happened, that are yet to occur- there are people in my life who are still hurting.  Who are waiting for their Christmas miracle.  Who have all but given up hope.  Who believe there could never be a way.  Whose faith seems so small.

I am here to tell you: God’s not dead.  He’s a God that’s in the details.

And He still moves.

And even within her- I know He does.  He still loves.  He still understands.  His heart breaks just as does mine.  As does all of ours.  And He’s there with her in the darkness of her room each night.  He meets her in those desolate places where loneliness threatens to steal joy.  He has not left her there alone.  And time is in His hands.

Time is in His hands.

And though I may not yet understand the mystery of His ways.  This I know for sure: He still moves.

This Too Shall Pass

Me (on my way up to the bathroom with the phone in my hand): “Guys, I am going to make an important phone call to someone VERY IMPORTANT. I am going upstairs to make that call. Please do not fight or scream while I am on the phone.”
Oldest Daughter: “Well, that’s offensive….”
Two minutes later, I am in the bathroom. Using the b-room, by the way. Not on the phone. But still- it’s only been two minutes. I hear underneath the floorboards: crying, shouting and then this. Someone going, “no! stop! stop! No!” And the thump, thump, thump of a child on a mission- coming up the stairs. Sure enough- it’s M.A. (panting and sobbing outside the bathroom door): “So-and-so punched me in the arm right here…and it hurts…
And all I can think of is this: “Just give me TWO MEASLY MINUTES in here. TWO MINUTES, children, that’s all I ask. Give.your.poor.mother.a.break.”
Which leads me to my Christmas wish list, 2013. Because I believe in Santa Claus and because I have been very good this year.
I give you- The List. Because all I want for Christmas this year is:
1. A sound-proof room where I can talk on the phone sans children screaming/punching one another/following me around.
2. A megaphone. So that when I say something the sound doesn’t just get absorbed into the background noise: it reverberates. At a decibel just below eardrums breaking.
3. A chef with a knack for Christmas baking. And making suppers.
4. An IV jacked up on the good stuff that will help me cope when the going gets tough. And believe you me, I will need a year-long prescription. With the possibility of an extension.
5. An Elf on the Shelf that moves itself. Because I forgot to move the darn thing again this morning. And it wouldn’t hurt if Alphie was actually helpful around the house. Because otherwise, what’s the point?
6. Eyes in the back of my head. For real.
7. A Chauffer. Who will also offer to rink-sit on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, piano-lesson sit on Mondays and Wednesdays, and maybe help drive the Gymnast to St. Louis on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ll just keep letting Hubby do the driving for hockey- who wants to push their luck?
8. A flashing light that can be attached to the top of my head so that it might alert my children five seconds before Mommy starts to go ballistic and thus lose her five remaining nerves.
9. A time capsule that I can crawl into to remind myself what I was like when I was younger. And thus fully comprehend that ‘what goes around, indeed comes around’.
10. A reality check each and everyday that reminds me ‘this too shall pass’.

And indeed it will. All this shall pass. The crying, the shouting, the stress and the noise. It will all pass one of these days. In the Sweet By and By.
So, we were at the Family Annual Christmas Get Together this evening, and quite a few Someones didn’t get the gift they wanted. Pouting and whining ensued. I just had to remind myself once that: This too shall pass. When we got home and A Certain Someone started dilly-dallying at bedtime- which happened to be 10:30 p.m. tonight but whose keeping track and said Little Lady started poking around in front of the bathroom mirror, I just nicely shuttled her off to her room (never mind the steam coming out of my ears…) and then reminded myself: This too shall pass.

And one last story: M.A. got a used puzzle, a candy cane and a plastic bug in her Yankee Swap gift bag. She was not really impressed about it all until she found out that the bug walks on its own. Super cool. So I had told her to take it to school on Monday to scare her teacher (could be a science lesson in there somewhere…) and this is what she said without a moment’s hesistation:

“Can’t. No ‘lectronics allowed in school.”

Which reminded me ALL over again: This too shall pass. All this innocent, sweet, precious cute-ness and wonder. It shall pass. And when it does- I will be wishing for it all back again.

What is it about snow falling?

What is it about falling snow that captivates the imagination like nothing else I know?  What is it about the first snowfall of the season- and the next and then the next that just creates a feeling of contentment and joy?  That fills a heart with gladness.  What is it about falling snow that just puts one in the mood for a seasonal celebration?

What is it about falling snow?

I think I know.  Because it certainly set the mood for our annual family Christmas decorating bonanza, brimming box upon box drug up the narrow cellar steps and then heaved across the worn kitchen floorboards to the eagerly waiting crew.  A flurry of fine dust particles and loose greenery settling on every inch of available floor space.  And then some.   Squeals of delight as a lost treasure or two is rediscovered.  The boughs hung with great care by the fireplace, anchored on either side by solemn brass candlesticks scavenged from a relative’s home in one of those years already gone by.  Back when there was little to none to decorate a humble home with.  The music playing on in the background while I sneak sips of eggnog and chocolate covered pretzels in between chores, hoping the Littles won’t notice.  Trying to get my second wind.

And then we all notice it- falling snow.

Gentle, steady- a work of marvelous wonder falling from the sky.  Exquisite.  Delicate.  Tiny- things of beauty.  What is it about snow falling?  Calling to us- beckoning an invitation to us that we ‘come’.

And come we do.  The Children run out of the house with snow pants too big or too little, and all the other essentials (Oh! with maybe a missing item or two, but who really cares?).  It’s snowing!  There are snowflakes to catch on curled tongues.  There are snow women to make, sleds to dust off and wreaths to hang.  There is fresh air to inhale deeply.  And evergreen boughs to cut.  There are kittens to watch, pouncing and crouching- hidden in the tracks made by excited girls as they pull each other along through that sticky, fresh stuff.  There are sled rides to take behind Daddy’s four-wheeler, circling around and around the barn yard with three kittens following closely behind.  There is snow to press into finely packed snowballs.

Falling snow.  How can something which is falling give one such a sense of peace and hope?  How can falling bring serenity?  For truly anything or anyone else that I’ve observed which has fallen down or fallen apart or fallen to pieces has caused me to feel great distress?

I watch the snow.

And I sense the stillness.  When things are falling, sometimes all that can be done is to stop and lean into the stillness.  To embrace the quiet.  And to let that which is falling, land where it may.  To let it find a place of rest.

Christmas is such a complicated season.  We want to love it so much, but there are times we just don’t.  We feel rushed and pulled and stretched and worn.  And sometimes we feel like we are fading.  Falling.  Like we are diminishing into less and less of us and becoming more and more of what is unrecognizable. Even to us.

There are simple pleasures like snow falling that bring such joy to our hearts.  We so often take these little moments for granted in the hustle and bustle of daily living.  But sometimes when we do find ourselves still- when we stop and notice: we find that everything inside us stops moving too.  That all the voices in our head tend to quiet.  All the anxiety starts to dissipate.  And the still- the calm washes over us like a billowing, rolling wave.  Allowing us to breathe.  To take it all in.

And we realize that we too have a soft place to land even when we are falling.  We too have a quiet place to stop and re-evaluate from whence we’ve come and to where we might be going.

And we too are exquisitely beautiful and unique and miraculous.  Just like all that falling snow.