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.

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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.

Falling

The Christmas season was approaching and she felt an overwhelming sadness. The world around her seemed sad too. Distressing news abounded- from the biggest of stories to the heart-breaking ones that few ever heard. Even the weather seemed dismal at times: cold and dreary.

One star-lit night, she found herself driving a familiar road. It was cold again and her ears were red from the sting of the frigid evening air. Her nose right down to her toes were froze. And she sighed as she turned the key in the ignition and started up the engine. Frost sparkled on the floor mat, reminding her yet again of all she was leaving behind. Warmth, light, family.

As she drove, she looked at the houses, cozy and inviting. Lights shone through curtained windows and it appeared as though all the rest of the world was tucked away for another night. All except her.

She noticed to her right a window in a smallish house where a half-hidden Christmas tree twinkled with white lights. And when she saw that tree, she felt an immediate burst of irritation rise from within. “Who would be so crazy as to put up a Christmas tree in mid-November?” she asked herself rhetorically. “Don’t they know- Christmas isn’t for another month and a half? Besides, the world is not a peaceful, happy place. The world isn’t ready for Christmas yet.”

She continued driving on in silence. And when she got home later that night, she wrote with great feeling her emotions upon viewing earlier that night the festively, decorated window scene. She wrote with an underlying sadness. For she felt empty and lonely and worn. She wrote how she was not ready for Christmas and all its abounding expectations. She wrote about how Christmas had become another chore on her endless list. And she wrote that she was trying to ready herself this year to receive Christmas- for it was time to shift the focus away from giving until one was stripped bare and ragged. Until one had nothing left to give.

It was time to receive Christmas for a change.

And she thought about this idea of receiving Christmas for many days afterwards.

A few weeks later, just hours before the Advent calendars would be placed carefully on the mantle and the Christmas candles would be dusted off and set in their seasonal positions, the girl found herself again driving. And as she drove she came into area where a light dusting of snow covered hills and valleys as if it was flour thrown from a cup to land wherever it may. It was exquisitely beautiful.

Later still that same morning, the girl found herself sitting in a room full of people waiting for her turn to speak her piece. And in the quiet moments before the calm became a storm of activity- a flurry of busyness, she noticed outside a window directly in her line of view: snow softly falling. So delicately and free. And her eyes took in that one tiny moment first before noticing everything else around her- the hubbub of happy people, the beautiful garland strung gracefully from corner to corner across ceiling beams, accented by red and silver ornaments, the wire nesting trees set carefully on a table- and all of it creating a festive, happy mood.

And she happened to see out of the corner of her eye tucked away in the farthest corner of the room- a Christmas tree, partially hidden from view because of the large screen set up for the LCD projector.
Her eyes stayed on that tree for several moments. For it was truly beautiful. And something inside that girl burst. She saw the tree for what it was, not for what it reminded her. And she realized that it no longer served as a harsh reminder of all that she was not feeling and could not express. It was just a thing of beauty in spite of everything it stood for. And the girl looked back again toward the window, taking in the intricate flurry of snowflakes swirling in mid-air, and she thought to herself: “Surround yourself with beauty. Because life is beautiful in spite of it all.”

And of course, she realized, it is: life is beautiful. And in life, there is beauty. And when one looks for the beauty, all else pales in comparison. All the complicated, messiness of life starts to fade into a blur, where edges are harder to define. Where joy and sorrow meet and shake hands and declare a truce.

Where life becomes wildly wonderful even in the midst of pain and heartache.

And as the girl watched the snow fall softly, she realized she too had found a soft place to land- a place where she could find herself safely supported even as things fell apart and unravelled around her. Because just as no two snowflakes are ever going to be the same, neither will two lives ever follow exactly the same course. And that’s okay. Life is what is made of it. And it can be beautiful.

It really can.

Even when it is falling.

This Christmas: It’s About Receiving

Black, velvet sky melts into night-time darkness. It’s something below freezing. And I think to myself, ‘here we go again’. It’s another ‘up-too-late’ week-night, and I find myself driving snow-dusted roads riddled with pot-holes. This is becoming a habit I wish I could break; that is, the custom of making lesson plans in a creepy building where toilets flush spontaneously and every creak and whistle is felt like a chill. I glance at our passenger side floor mats that are gently speckled with frost. Makes me shiver. I’m glad for the double insulation tonight in the form of two pairs of pants, a warm coat, gloves and a hat.

All the houses I pass look warm and inviting. That’s where I should be right now- at home, cuddled up with a good book and a cuppa something hot. I notice to my right a curtained bay window that partially hides a glimmering Christmas tree. Seriously, I mutter. Already? White lights sparkle as if to inspire. But rather than stir the heart strings, it stresses.me.out.

I am not ready for Christmas. And I admit it: I am not at all excited about the upcoming Christmas season which lies just around the corner.

When I conjure up images of the Season, thoughts always turn to giving. That notion of giving has been ingrained in me from a child, and truly giving is something I have come to believe in as worthwhile and necessary. Of course, I learned how from the very best. My parents- the epitome of sacrificial ‘life-givers,’ having devoted their every breath and good intention to the families and people they served in full-time pastoral ministry.

My mother with a permanent curvature in her spine from having spent more hours than a person could recount on the phone, counseling women- young and old alike- she has lost years of sleep praying over women. Lifting their names heavenward when she could have been deep in slumber. Her life has been a gift freely offered to those she has mentored, prayed with, loved and befriended. She has been and continues to be an inspiration.

My dad, just released yesterday from the hospital, has Parkinson’s. A trip years ago to the Lahey Clinic in Boston confirmed that indeed, Parkinson’s is related to full-time ministry work. Many of those patients studied came from a life of stressful, full-out, service to the people they assisted. That’s my Dad. He was a wonderful pastor. Throughout my growing up years, his minutes, hours, days and weeks were devoted to The Calling. But years take their toll. And then some. What my parents had, they gave. And they gave over pretty much everything.

And what of their offspring? Are we treading similar paths? Yesterday, I found myself on the way to school yet again with the gritty taste of a broken tooth in my mouth after having pulverized yet another molar into dust. The grinding a result of stress acted out in restless dreams. The daily circus- running here, there and everywhere- and for whom? For what? And why?

It’s all getting to me.

Yes. I have seen with my own two eyes what havoc self-less living can wreak on lives that place great emphasis on generous service, duty and responsibility more so than on intentional acceptance. Even if that giving was done with the right motives. There were years when we kids waited, as hours ticked by, for a Dad who willingly made hospital calls on Christmas morning- knowing that this Calling of his and my mom’s was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That’s just how it was. So when I think of Christmas, of Christmas trees- lights shimmering in the dark. Of presents underneath and happy, cheerful voices. I think of my parents. How they gave freely from the heart- year-round- and gave from what little monetary value they had. Their time, their resources, their lives. All characterized by self-less giving. And it has surely caused us as their children to be the better for it.

I am now an adult on that same side of the fence as my parents were once, and I am coming to realize indeed that giving is important. But that there are drawbacks when it comes to giving. Yes, there is amazing joy to be found in giving. And truly giving gets our eyes off ourselves and focused on others. And while I will always believe that giving is truly a worthwhile portion of the whole, I have come to believe that there’s more to the story than this. Because many of us, if we’re truthful, find this part somewhat easy. Giving- we know how to do that. It’s part of our culture. But when it comes to receiving back from others, well- that’s another story. It’s harder somehow. It’s hard to accept the gift with humility and gratitude. Shamelessly reveling in the pleasure of the offering. There is just something about a person who can with acceptance receive the gift with unabashed abandon. Just like a child seeing Christmas for the very first time.

It’s receiving that is hardest, in my books, folks. And this year, I’m just not ready yet to give more of me. Stripping my resources to the bones, wiping myself out so as to outdo what I might have done last year. I’m not sure if I’m ready yet for Christmas if what I have to look forward to is wearing myself thin, turning myself inside out, holding my emotions upside down all in the name of burning out for Christmas cheer.

If Christmas means giving more and more, then I’ll take a pass, thanks.

This year, I plan on receiving. I want Christmas to wash over me in all its glory. This year, I want to focus on receiving Christmas.

And I am coming to realize with the passing of years that there is a point of no return. A point when reached that one realizes they just can’t give anymore. Something else has got to give. But yet the paradox seems to be that while one is coming to the end of the proverbial rope with giving endlessly to seemingly worthwhile causes, that one can at the same time find it difficult to place themselves square on the receiving end of the gift.

To be sure- through the years, we’ve been inundated with the message that it’s better to give than receive. That God loves a cheerful giver. That it is in giving that we find true joy. That there is no better exercise than reaching down and lifting people up (John Holmes). That it is through giving we are blessed.

And most of us give- maybe not until it hurts, but we do know how to give. We give to charity, to community and church service. We tithe. We place ourselves on the altar of sacrifice for our children. But when it comes to receiving something back ourselves, don’t we have a hard time accepting that we’re really worthy of the gift? That we’re worth being sacrificed for, worth being the object of someone else’s blessing? It is humbling to be in the passive role, accepting that I am at times: needy, lacking and without. It is humbling to be the receiver when encountering one with something to offer me. Because I like to be in control. Being the receiver puts me at a distinct disadvantage.

Being on acceptance end of the gift-giving reminds me of my frailty. It reminds me that I don’t have everything- I’m sometimes at a disadvantage. It reminds me that in receiving, I have cause to be thankful. It reminds me that I am loved. It reminds me that I am the route to someone else’s blessing. I am the pathway to blessing for the one who gives to me.

And it is a humble reminder that I should never stand in the way of that. Of letting someone else feel the joy of giving.

It’s hard to receive. It’s hard to receive when we know the cost. When we know what it truly means. We hate to impose, to bother- to be that burden on another. For we know the price of time, of scarce resources, of money spent. We’ve been the giver so many times before. And don’t we sometimes just feel so unworthy? Not worth the offering. Such a nuisance.

As if the gift was never meant for us.

Almost 2000 years ago, God sent a gift. It was His absolute delight to do so- and what a gift that Baby was. That Child came to give so that we might receive. It was a gift, His birth. A gift to all those that witnessed the spectacle. A gift to Mary- and Joseph. A gift to the shepherds, the village people, the wise men. It was truly the Ultimate Gift- a gift that keeps on giving. Even today.

And I don’t know about you, but I am starting to feel ready to let that gift of peace and hope and love and Light and good will toward mankind wash over me this Christmas. I don’t need to give up, give out, give away or give over to receive this gift- I just need to accept it. I don’t need to burn myself out chasing after it- it already came. Hand-delivered. And the Gift is just waiting for me to unwrap it.

So I don’t want my focus to be giving this year. I don’t want to sell myself out, burn myself out, using up all my energy playing Christmas. I want to receive the gift. With absolute, awe-filled wonder.

I want to receive Christmas. As if it was my first Christmas ever.

You don’t know what you’ve got. Until it’s gone.

I’m doing double-duty tonight.  Husband lies feverishly curled up in the fetal position on the couch under that stringy, blue blanket that has seen better days.  While the girls and I tiptoe past like fervent mice on a scavenger hunt.   Then, on up the stairs to bedtime routines and tuck-ins.  I haven’t done the bedtime gig solo for a while.  Makes you appreciate what you have…a  capable, competent life-partner to share the load.

You don’t know what good things you have until they’re gone.

We brush teeth, wash hands, taking care with the green marker-puppet drawn on one set of fingers.  We scrub until most of it is rinsed away.  Green soap suds, washed away.  Another day gone.  Clothing is slipped off, pajamas pulled on in their place.  Four stories are selected, two picks from her and two from me.  And then the prayers.

Ah.  The prayers.  They are either prolific or torturous.

Last night’s prayers killed me.  She held her hands pressed tightly together in the iconic prayer clasp.  Her cherubic pose, one for the record books.  This is not our norm, so don’t be fooled.  Most nights, there are pleas from the Mama for her to co-operate and settle down, and “would-you-please-say your-prayers”.  But tonight, she obliges without a fuss.  I leave her in her cozy bed to go to the others.  Same thing, different faces.

The Older One has a tummy ache.  The magic bean bag is fetched, heated, delivered.

I read to the girls from a Christmas chapter book.  Because I have made this the one chapter book I will finish this year.  Even if it is January.  Christmas is still very much a topic of conversation in our home.  Youngest informs me she already knows what she wants next Christmas.  A train set, a camera and a surprise.  Her sister tells her to wait for her birthday.  We finish the book.  Check.  I can cross that off the to-do list.  But it really isn’t a chore.  I enjoy this time spent with my head stuck in a good book.  Making it come alive for my children.

That’s what readers do.  Make it all come alive.  Even for the moment.  Because the smallest of moments are those we often remember best.  And they slip away so quickly.

You really don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

I lay down with the Boy.  We talk about this and that.  Moments later, I am tucking him in and then that the door too is closed.  Another page in the chapter of our lives turned.  Did I make this day count?  Was it all worthwhile?  Did I treasure what I had?

No regrets tonight.  But I reflect on this: a wake for a woman I never knew.  Late afternoon, I watch as a family celebrates the life of their mama in stills.  Black and whites.  Technicolor.  I would’ve never noticed either had the circumstances been different.  Had I arrived a half hour earlier.

We drive the short distance travelling winter roads that takes us to the funeral home.  Predictably, we’re late to the wake.  We nearly miss it.  “Should we turn back,” I ask.  “It’s nearly four.  The wake…it’s over soon….probably not worth it to drive in,” I add.

We arrive to an empty parking lot, but on a whim, go inside.  Just in case. The family is gathered around a screen while pictures fade in and out.  Three boys, grown men now.  The pain evident on their faces, for they are still boys inside.  A mother knows.  I understand. They are their mother’s sons.

The black and whites are simply captivating.  I am drawn in, wanting to know “with whom” and “where” and “when”.  What was her story?  The moments she made count.  Her life in pictures: a reminder to the living to breathe in the here and now.  Seize the day.  What a family has left when the music fades and the song is done is never enough.  But a picture counts for something.

Photographs.  Those precious moments, preserved for posterity.  They tell a story.  They breathe life into the desolate and bring hope to the grieving.  And these happy memories are only possible when one has invested the time in those smallest of moments.  The simple joys that happen.  Inside a day, inside a moment, inside a memory.

We don’t know what we’ve got.  Until it’s gone.

The Perfect Picture…

I have been fascinated and greatly inspired by the portraits, pictures and photographs other people have taken and posted on-line over the holidays.  A slew of pictures came across my Facebook feed over the past couple of weeks with beautiful pictures of homes and décor, along with gorgeous family pictures and portraits of beautiful children dressed up in Christmas finery.  I was so inspired by these photographs that I thought I would set out to take and post some pictures of my own.

But when I started to look around my home and then focused my gaze through the undiscriminating eye of the lens, I was continually frustrated by what I was seeing.  My snapshots of our home did not look as picture-perfect as those I had witnessed in other photographs.  Nor were my family photographs as full of character and winsome charm.  The red eye/alien eye was annoying and the sharpness contrast was not as defined as I would have liked it.  And sometimes there were even things in the pictures I did not want there.  Like plastic bags that would appear as if from nowhere.  And those green extension cords to power candles, where does one tuck them away neatly?  A picture on the wall was often askew.  And the poor, forsaken angel on my tree was leaning a bit too far to the front.  Ready to topple on top of an unsuspecting child looking for a forgotten toy that might have happened to still be under the tree.  And there were other odds and ends that made the pictures less than perfect, serving to add to my frustration with what I was viewing through the truth of my camera lens.

As if this wasn’t enough to keep me down, I decide to try to take some pictures outside.  In natural light.  What could possibly go wrong?  I organize the children and Darling Husband together for a snowman-building project.  As soon as things get going, one child has already pummeled another child in the face with snow, while I run around trying to capture everyone in some sort of artistic impression of a snowy afternoon of fun.  As the afternoon wears on, the kids become bored or cranky and the numbers gradually dwindle.  Leaving me no choice but to put down the camera and pitch in.  Meanwhile, the snowman is coming along nicely.  We have him at about 7 ½ feet high, with two black paint can covers for his eyes, rose hips for his smile and the traditional carrot nose.  Hydrangea buttons and two twig arms topped off the remainder of his extremities, and I “borrow” Husband’s fur-lined ear-flap hat that he bought as a souvenir in Europe.  To keep Mr. Snowman’s head warm.

Things are just about ready for the big photo shoot.  I convince the One in the house to “please” come out, and I round up the rest of the troops.  And then I call Husband to grab the camera from the front passenger side of the van, while I run back to arrange everything.

The scene is just about perfect.  Never mind the fact that everything has fallen apart mid-snowman assembly.  All that matters is the picture.  The kids are placed strategically around the snowman, and I quickly look back at Brian as I call out for him to take the picture.  When I look back again at the kids, I am horrified to see that the snowman is leaning.  It is most definitely leaning.  Then, it is no longer leaning…it is falling.  Falling, pell-mell.   Run for cover!   And in a sudden rush, snow begins to fall in an avalanche as I scream for the kids to, “RUN!”  Littlest One narrowly missing the snowman’s belly landing on her head.  Snow falling everywhere.  Kids crying.  I am awe-struck.  Husband stands in disbelief, his camera still ready to shoot.  And so he does.  And this is the prize picture he took.

Life is not about taking the perfect picture. It is about the big picture. And the smaller ones that define and describe who and what we are. Husband said to me, after the snowman fell, “He’s just like all of us. Falling apart and getting re-built bigger and better again.” And I agree. Our family life is all about that and then some. Falling down and getting back up again. A million and one times. Life is all about the moments that pictures cannot ever capture. It is about both the perfect and imperfect moments that are the real deal outside the lens. Not necessarily what’s always seen through the lens. Rather, the best pictures are those seen with the naked eye through the lens of the heart.