For the Bitter and the Sweet

Coffee on the veranda

I pick up my scorched oven mitts off the damp, October ground, leaving flakes of charred material and black soot on the earth to mark the spot. There since midnight, they are a testament to the previous night’s disaster. Bright red cloth contrasting with charcoal black. Stationary, since I threw them out the door, onto the step and then again onto the grass where I proceeded to hose them down until the flames subsided—all after they had caught on fire from the heat emitted from my oven burner. And this: because I had brushed the knob of the burner (ever so gently) as I reached into the cupboard for a bowl. Having sat back down at my computer to type, I was oblivious to the smolder, until smoke began to curl around the cupboard, up toward the ceiling: alerting me to the calamity.

If I had only:
Not wanted a cookie.
Not reached for the bowl.
Not brushed the knob.
Not left the oven mitts on the burner.

If I had only.

Life is wrought with “if onlys”.

This week has been a series of unfortunate events, a series of “if onlys”…or so it seems. There is always something to complicate the day. Be that arriving late for appointments, forgetting appointments, or scheduling too many appointments. Be that day-to-day complications like not enough sleep, sickness and low energy. Be that bigger-than-everyday complications like additional work meetings, late night projects, lost luggage, health concerns, and worries that go deeper than surface level. Add to the list, if you will: parenting issues, relationship issues, marriage issues. Life.

There is just always something.

How can we say thanks when life is just not what we want it to be? How can we say thanks when things are just not how we wish they were? How can we say thanks when we don’t FEEL particularly thankful for everything we’ve been given? Giving thanks for both the little things on our ever filling plate…along with the bigger things that make our lives chaotic and stressful?

Is it even possible?

I wake up in the morning to the smell of the charred remains of the previous day. Add to this, the cheesecake boiled over in the oven last night so I now realize that I have the pleasure of a pre-breakfast, ‘make-work’ project. I can now officially confirm that I will be late for church. And on the very day that I have to lead the singing.

I can feel the resentment rising within. Give thanks for this?

How easily I forget that gratitude is a state of the heart. A choice of the soul embracing life in its fullness, both the bitter and the sweet. Joel Osteen: “One of the main reasons that we lose our enthusiasm in life is because we become ungrateful..we let what was once a miracle become common to us. We get so accustomed to his goodness it becomes a routine..”

Life is hard. Of a truth: it is not easy. But it is always a miracle, a gift to have the opportunity to live.

The air in our lungs.
The roof over our head.
The clothes that cover.
The shoes that fit.
The water we drink.
The food we intake.
For the everyday, commonplace miracles of life.  For both the bitter and the sweet.
We are eternally grateful.

This thanksgiving I offer gratitude for the miracles. Everyday and otherwise. They are what cause me to remember how much I have.

And impress on me how much I must be grateful.

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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

Be the miracle today

This is dedicated to all the “miracle-makers” in my life. Thank-you is not words enough….

I think the truest miracles in life come to us one at a time, moment by moment. Largely private, largely unseen. The ones that are life-changing, that make all the difference, are often the ones most subtle in form. Not announced by loud proclamations over the wires, but whispered through heartfelt words from person to person. Not felt in the thunder, or through all the noise- but experienced in the quiet, in the still.

In the secret.

She was there on the phone, crying. Sobbing, actually. She had just had lost her job, experienced a medical emergency and had a huge debt to pay. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. There was so much more to her story: so much more pain, so much more sadness, so much more tragedy. We who knew her well understood. We felt for her. Our hearts were breaking. But for the longest time, could do little to help her, physically speaking. She was desperate. And for now, this was where she was at. At a crossroads. Standing at a decision point. It was either ‘sink’ or ‘just keep swimming’ for her. She didn’t know how much longer she could do the latter. She was ready to give up completely.

Because she couldn’t see any way out of this mess.
Because she didn’t know if there was room in this world for a miracle for her.
Because she wasn’t sure entirely she still believed in miracles. At least, miracles designed for her.

She was sharing this distress with her friend, this absolute desolation- when something life-altering happened. Another heart was intertwined and involved in this story. Something happened within the heart of her friend. And while that same friend had already been praying, God opened a door and this friend- her kindred spirit of a friend, whom she was talking to RIGHT THEN AND THERE…walked through a doorway, so to speak. Walked into her heart.  And it happened almost by miracle. Truly by miracle. Because, surely, that’s what this was all about. Miracles of the everyday kind. And because this friend had been there too, in the sense that she had been through the fire, through the storm… through it all- there was a comradeship between them. An understanding. A bond. For both believed that if miracles were to happen, they would happen of their own accord, under God’s careful watch.

Heart to heart, hand to hand. Without anyone ever knowing save for God Himself.

And as the two were talking, the answer appeared. As if by vision- for truly there was a Providential hand at work. The answer came to them both immediately. And for the one who gave freely as from an open heart- as well as for the one who received with broken heart, there was no doubt in either mind: a miracle had just occurred.

It was transformational. A God-inspired moment.

And no one but them would ever know the rest of the story

Sometimes the miracle is so small we might dismiss it entirely: a kind word. A smile. A caring touch. A hug. Sometimes the miracle is bigger, more public in reach. It’s amazing. The thing is, a miracle can happen just about anywhere, anyhow. And all that is often needed is a willingness to be used. To be a vessel. For our hearts are made for this very thing, this very purpose. For such a time as NOW. For such a moment as this very one we are living.

Our hearts were designed to be miracle-shapers. Miracle-makers.

Our hearts were designed to reach out to one another in love. In compassion. In empathy. In heartfelt concern. A miracle can take place just about anywhere…but it is often in the secret that the miracles that mean the most are felt and experienced the most deeply.

Miracles that happen heart to heart are almost indescribable with mere words.
Friendship is one of life’s greatest tangible miracles. Having a friend is miracle in and of itself. Knowing another heart was given to you to hold gently, yet compassionately: this is one of God’s greatest gifts to us as human beings. For when we can join our hearts in love for one another, each for the other: miracles truly do take place. We were all designed for this. To be part of the miracle taking place both in our own lives as well as to be witness to the miracle underway in the lives of those we love and hold the closest. All of us can be a friend. All of us can be a miracle.

And each one of us was given today- this very moment: to be a miracle for someone else.

{sunset picture retrieved from dreamatico.com}

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.