Category Archives: Christmas

Something Sexy with Feet Called Grace

My mother came to live with us having what we now know as Alzheimer’s. At the time we thought she was just becoming a little crazier with age. Her twin sister’s children had always called her “Aunt Nutsy,” if that gives you a clue. About the third Christmas she was with us, I took her shopping at K Mart for presents for the grandchildren. She was becoming pretty confused by that time, so it turned into a major ordeal. She kept gathering things which were totally inappropriate for the children’s ages. Because my husband had recently started over in business during a recession, money was in short supply. I hated for her to waste money on things no one would want. After a half hour of increasingly less patient persuasion attempts, I was cross-eyed with a headache.
I was about to abandon the whole project and whisper “fire!” in her ear and hustle her out to the car, when what to my squinty eyes did appear, but a blue light special on flannel night gowns . Lack of money had forced us to depend on a wood burning stove for heat in a house totally unsuited for it. So sleeping bags, though cumbersome, had become quite appealing. For a mere three dollars, I might dare to sleep unencumbered enough to turn over. I left mother playing with a musical bear in my hurry to beat the crowd to the treasure. About fifteen women were digging furiously through the pile already. By the time I finally elbowed boobs and stomped toes enough to reach the blue light, I realized mom had disappeared. So I just grabbed something pink and soft. Then hunched over and clutching my prize to my breast, I burrowed my way back out. When I tracked Mom down, she had again swapped all my suggested purchases for toys for tots, not teenagers. I gave up and just propelled her and the basket to the checkout line. As I lifted the pink nightgown onto the counter, I realized it had a lace trimmed neckline that plunged to the waist. It was sort of like something sexy with feet. I laughed all the way home, tension and pain finally melting away. Then while agreeing cheerfully with mom as she admired her purchases, I had visions of cold nights, but hot times, in my sexy flannel nightgown. I call that Grace,

Annual Christmas Nervous Breakdown or Dirty Socks Under the Tree

Jesus loves you, but I’m His favorite. NOT!

I do have stories about making good choices. And I will tell some of them as I blog along. But, it seems more important to share about God staying involved in our lives when we are screwing up; to remind myself and others that God loves us, not because of who we are, but because of who God is.

My mother always made Christmas extraordinary, even when money was in short supply. She polished and decorated every square inch of our apartment. The presents may not have cost a lot, but they were wrapped beautifully. There was a constant flow of guests, often widows without family near-by or young families without parents and grandparents around. There were special treats to eat, but also even the plain old potted meat sandwiches were trimmed and cut into triangles with parsley sprigs around them on silver trays.
So, when she became a widow and passed the Christmas torch to me, I tried to do the same. And I added being active at church in teaching classes, decorating the social hall, and organizing Christmas pageants. My five children and I spent weeks making presents for all their teachers and for all my students. I never thought about the fact that mom had two children and a small apartment and I had five children and a large house, which was a home away from home for a constant flow of college age house guests involved in Christian ministry. Mom set the bar very high, but without realizing it, I had raised it.
Pretty much every year, sometime close to Christmas, I would reach my annual Christmas overload, yell that I hated Christmas, and slam my way into my bedroom to collapse for a day or night. One year after retreating to curl up in a fetal position and figuratively suck my thumb, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning, remembering that I was scheduled in a few hours to give a talk to another denomination’s women’s group on The Spirit of Christmas.
I seriously considered calling and saying I had broken my leg, but decided that might be asking for it literally.                                                                                                                                         As I prayed for help, it seemed like God was telling me that although I was doing many truly good things, I was missing the point of Christmas. Christmas wasn’t about how much we could do or how perfect we could make it. Christmas was about the joy of needing and receiving a Savior, the tangible expression of God’s perfect love for us imperfect human beings. And sharing that joy with others. So, I ended up simply sharing the whole story, my pattern of Christmas breakdowns and my panic the night before. It seemed like everyone there could relate very well to my experience. Then, for reasons unknown to me, I ended by saying, “No matter what it takes, even leaving dirty socks under the Christmas tree, I’m going to keep my focus on the meaning of Christmas.”

Now, really! Dirty socks under the tree?

Of course, mother arrived, guests arrived, children were freed from school, and Christmas Eve arrived with stress building and me once again rushing tensely around. As I was putting laundry away in a bedroom close to the great room, I heard my mother ask, “Eileen, why is there a dirty sock under the Christmas tree?”
I got goose bumps. I could feel Jesus standing there with His hand on my shoulder. I dropped the laundry on the bed and stopped my mother from removing the sock.
“Mom, let’s leave it there and stop right now to have a cup of coffee and read the Christmas scriptures, so we’ll remember what we’re celebrating.”
For several years afterwards, I would put a sock under the tree, whenever I began to forget the meaning of Christmas from the overload of my good intentions.

Thanksgiving Lallapalooza

We tried, but we couldn’t do it. The first holiday with their parents divorced was not going to be wonderfully happy for four young granddaughters, no matter what their grandparents tried to do. And Uncle Steve, our family’s designated-cheerer-upper, spent five hours in the Atlanta airport on stand-by trying to join us in Nashville. He gave up about one in the afternoon.
The day did have both fun and kind moments. A fun one happened while Julian and Tommy and the two younger girls were taking the boat tour around the main floor of the incredible Opryland Hotel. The two teens and I were waiting near the stream. While I was looking around at the extravaganza of Christmas decorations, I noticed a middle-aged looking man about to come down some steep steps across from us on the other side of the stream. He stopped at the top and looked around. No one was on the steps or nearby and I don’t think he saw us. So suddenly, he just sat on the middle banister and happily slid all the way down. Hadley and I spontaneously applauded, but he had hurried off. I’m thankful for that magical moment.
All four girls and Tommy had their picture taken with Santa. Hadley told Santa all she wanted for Christmas was a job. Bella said that she told Santa she wanted a particular game, but didn’t tell him it cost $75. While the girls were picking out a photo, Santa came all the way over to where I was sitting in a wheelchair to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas. I’m thankful for that sweet kindness.
The boaters, old and young, enjoyed the guide’s mix of funny and interesting information and the variety of sights on the boat ride. Bella spotted a pretend alligator in a nook. But by then, they all were hungry. The eating places in the Hotel are pretty expensive and crowded, so the girls used Google to find a Waffle House just across the road. I attempted a veto, but got over ruled. I am not a healthy eater and I love butter, but Waffle House must just pour extra grease over everything right before they serve it. Nobody ate much of their food. But seventeen year old Sophie and twelve year old Emma both had stomach aches, so Tommy took them home. Tommy is an amazing father in his balance of caring, discipline, and having fun with the girls. But I think it was stomach aches from sadness, more than Waffle House food, that sent them home.
Julian and I took nineteen year old Hadley and eight year old Bella back to Opryland. In an inside playground area, Bella rode a train around and around and around in a seriously boring circle, but she got to enthusiastically ring a bell very loudly all the way around the six loops, so she was happy. (The woman running the train, not so much.) We re-named her Bella, Bella, Bell Banger.
We then shopped in a Christmas Crafts and Gifts room. Bella tried on some fun jewelry and liked several bracelets that were just a little too big. I told her she had a twelve dollar budget, but she decided to wait until she had gone all around the rest of the Bazaar to decide. Which is to me an amazing choice of delayed gratification for an eight year old. She said finally that all she wanted was a dollar rock candy lollypop. Hadley didn’t see anything she wanted either. They are both surprisingly careful shoppers. Of course, I spent some money on small, but irresistible, handmade Christmas decorations for two homebound friends. They now mysteriously seem to have found their perfect place in our apartment.
About three o’clock Bella got tired and weepy, so we started back to where we had come in. I began pushing her on the walker I had been using now instead of a wheelchair. Before we got all the way back, my hip and knee began to hurt, so I ousted Bella and Julian took over pushing me along the pebbled concrete walk.
Unfortunately, we hit an unseen bump and the walker and I went over backwards. I did a two point landing, head first, then on my right hip. My head hitting the concrete made a horrible noise. Julian bent over reaching down to me and I thought he was going to try to pick me up and it scared me into screaming “No!” at him.. Poor baby, he was actually just trying to comfort me. People started gathering and the ones who had been close by were telling them what an awful sound my head had made when it hit the concrete. I was in serious pain, very dizzy, and nauseated. I didn’t think I could sit up without falling over. Luckily, a kind male nurse came to our rescue, checking the bruise and bump on the back of my head, asking me my name and other questions to see if I had a serious head injury. When I started to raise my head, he stopped me until we were sure my neck didn’t hurt. Finally, we all agreed for him, his friend, and Julian to lift me to my feet. The nurse apologized and promised he wasn’t trying to grope me, as he struggled to get a firm grip on me. I wanted to assure him that at my age groping wasn’t much of a hazard, but I needed to focus on getting my legs under me. Once on my feet, I was shaky, but able to stand. As Julian helped me make it slowly to the door, I realized that my glasses were missing, but Hadley had already retrieved them from where they had flown off. She is wonderful in an emergency. She went ahead of us opening doors. And while Julian went to get the car, she put her arm around me to keep me steady and then she helped get the walker into the car. Bella was upset for me, so I assured her I was going to be okay and I was just grateful that she hadn’t still been riding on the walker. Once we got into the car, I sat on one of the two ice packs I had brought in my small drink carrier and held the other to the bump on my head. Those ice packs were wonderful serendipities. I took two Tylenol and prayed all the way home for an exhausted and shaken Julian driving in surprisingly heavy traffic. By the time we got home, he was sorer than I was from so much walking and trying to pull me and the walker back up when we were going over. Between Tylenol and ice packs, I never really hurt unbearably and the sizeable bump on my head went down quickly. Next time, I’ll stick with the wheel chair instead of switching to my walker. It’s safer and I receive a lot of kindness, even from Santa, when I’m in it.
I am Thankful for the happy moments today. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful that Bella wasn’t the one hurt. I am thankful that I don’t seem to have any permanent or serious damage, because I hit the hardest part of me, the back of my head, and the most padded part, my backside. Since I have put on weight this year and most of it settled on my backside, I think I was spared a broken hip or damage to the already herniated disc and bone spur in my lower back. Amazing how many unlikely saving graces there are in the hard and scary times.
Day after the Lallapalooza, I am Thankful for: Julian was fully recovered by morning. He slept eleven hours and got up early to clear the living room for setting up the village. Our son Chris came and helped him all day.
I was able to sleep in spite of my bruises. I managed to get the turkey breast and gravy cooked and I had the vegetables already fixed.
I made absolutely no ‘to do’ lists.
I happily started playing Christmas music. I got to enjoy photos on face book of the girls decorating their dad’s apartment for Christmas. My head and backside and bad knee are only slightly sore.
Nausea has been my only strong after effect from my head bashing.
That the nausea helped me stick to my diet all day. It seems to be letting up. I should be able to lead worship service Sunday, even nauseated. Though that conjures up some scary mental pictures, if I don’t eat, all should be well.. And thanks be, no one sits in the front rows anyway. 🙂

Glimpses of God’s Footprints from the Wine Press :)

I grew up living in apartments in large cities. From eight years of age until thirteen, I actually lived on the seventh floor of a ten story apartment building near downtown St. Louis. After I met and married a Tennessee boy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, we moved to Nashville where his parents had both a downtown apartment and a large weekend country house in a neighboring rural county.

As our own family grew, we spent more and more weekends at Birdsong, their lovely hundred year old log house that now had all the modern conveniences, but still radiated the warmth and charm of a by-gone era. It was on a two hundred acre rural setting of both woods and fields with a river sized creek complete with waterfall and swimming hole. It also had fields of peonies, horses and barns, a pond, a replica of Fort Nashborough built for the grandchildren to play in and a historic ruin of a real civil war powder mill.

At first I followed my mother-in-law on excursions into the woods to look for Jack-in-the Pulpit and tiny delicate wild Iris with a city dweller’s fear and trepidation. “Snakes and ticks and poison ivy, oh my!” But after my awakening to the reality of God, I began to fall in love with His creation from its obvious glories to its fascinating hidden world of tiny treasures.

When I was expecting my fifth child by Caesarian section along with a scheduled hysterectomy, my in-laws decided to sell Birdsong. They offered to trade us the main house, barn, the tenant house, pond and the thirty- five acres of creek front woods and fields in exchange for whatever we could make from selling our house. Not only did I covet Birdsong, but this was an incredibly good financial trade for us. Our house was a pleasant traditional two story, four bedroom house in walking distance of an excellent public school, but Birdsong was twice its size, historic, beautiful and unique in a wonderful thirty-five acre setting on a creek. There was even a tenant house that we had been remodeling. After prayer and discussion, my husband and I decided this was the chance of a lifetime and we put our house on the market a month before Thanksgiving when our baby was due.

While I was in the hospital recuperating from my C-section and hysterectomy, our house sold with the agreement that the buyer could have possession by January 1st. To say the least, the move was a daunting prospect at Christmas time in my post-operative condition with a new baby and four other children under ten. But, it seemed like a miracle to sell so quickly for the price we were asking. Besides, I wanted Birdsong more than I had ever wanted anything. To top it off, my husband’s oldest brother had hired a baby nurse to stay with us for the first two weeks I was home. This was a perfect baby gift that would help us considerably. The move just seemed meant to be.

Unfortunately, shortly after we got home from the hospital, we discovered that our baby, who was miserably unhappy both night and day, needed surgery for a painful strangulated hernia. Our wonderful baby nurse and I prayed together for healing for him. But instead, at the hospital the night before his surgery, an intern discovered that our baby also had a heart valve defect. It was obviously his first examination of a baby boy, since he didn’t think to protect his new Christmas tie from a tiny fountain of pee. Shaken by his discovery, but hoping his lack of experience had allowed him to be misled, I called my pediatrician, who managed to get there in fifteen minutes.  After emergency tests, the surgeon and our pediatrician agreed that the heart defect didn’t appear life threatening and since it was the type that sometimes closed naturally, they went ahead with just the hernia surgery. It was a scary, stressful time of tears and exhaustion, but with many people joined in prayer for Tommy.  After the unscheduled surgery there was only room for us in a four patient room.  The spoiled princess part of me was distressed over having to be in a room with three other mothers and their crying babies, all of us sleeping on cots literally under our babies in their high metal cribs. But, I had hardly had any sleep since my surgeries, so when Tommy awoke  hungry the first time in the wee hours after his surgery, I didn’t even wake up when he cried. The kindness of strangers touched me deeply, when I finally woke and discovered that the other mothers had fed him, so I could sleep. It was a humbling glimpse of how false my priorities were.

The day we brought him home from his surgery, my in-laws came to visit and announced apologetically that they had accepted an offer for Birdsong, including the whole two hundred acres and all the smaller buildings . I was devastated.  My heart felt literally broken and I gradually recognized that coveting really is different from just wishing for something. Eventually,  I  accepted that God was trying to set me free.

But ending up two weeks before Christmas having no where to go after the following week was pretty much of a  shock. At that day and time there were no condos or apartments in our neighborhood. Checking the papers and calling local realtors turned up nothing to rent while we tried to figure out what we wanted to do. I didn’t want the children to change schools mid-year, in case we decided to make the change to living in the country somewhere else than Birdsong.  Available houses were as scarce in our school zone as apartments. After I had called the last realtor, I sat on the couch with tears flowing down my cheeks. The kind baby nurse, an older black woman with seven grown children, sat down beside me and put her arm around my shoulders.
“What do you need exactly?” she asked.
I thought about not being able to drive or climb stairs for over four more weeks and answered, “A five bedroom, one story house in walking distance to our school to rent for nine months. That will give us time to decide where we want to live without our children having to change schools.”
She responded immediately with a smile, “All right, we’ll pray for exactly that and a can of oil.”
“A c c can of oil?” I stuttered.
“Yes,” she said, “We have to take the baby back to the doctor’s tomorrow and I’m not comfortable driving your car and mine needs a can of oil.”

I tried not to look incredulous, as she began to pray very specifically. When she finished and we said, “Amen” together, she smiled cheerfully and went to get me a cup of coffee. As I sat there stunned, the doorbell rang. It was Sarah, a woman that I knew from the school’s Parent Association.
“Eileen,” she said,” I’m sorry to bother you. I hope I didn’t wake up the baby, but my car gets eccentric sometimes and it has stopped at the end of your driveway. Can I use your phone to get my mechanic to come?”
“Sure,” I replied, “If you’ll ask him to bring a can of oil.” After making her phone call, she joined me for coffee while we waited for the mechanic and the can of oil.
“I hear you’ve sold your house and are moving to the country,” she said.
“Well, yes and no. The move to the country fell through and I’m in something of a panic. I don’t want the children to have to change schools until we figure out where we want to live. And right now there is nothing available to rent around here.”
Sarah’s eyes lit up as she asked, “Do you know about the Keck’s house?”
“No, where is that?” I responded.
“It’s one street over and two houses down from you. You can see the back yard from here. They are going to the Philippines as missionaries for nine months. They are supposed to leave the first of January, if they can find a renter. They aren’t advertising, because they will be leaving their furniture and possessions and don’t want to rent to complete strangers.”
Breathless with my heart racing, I asked, “What is the house like?”
“It’s a one story with four bedrooms and a study, and a large den. It also has a wonderful yard and patio.”
I actually gasped in disbelief. “That would work perfectly for us and we have a large basement storage area at our office where we could easily store their things. That would probably be safer for their belongings and happier for our kids.”

It turned out that we had many mutual friends with the Kecks, so they were happy to rent to us. Dr. Keck taught theology at Vanderbilt and had a library of books that I read hungrily in the months we lived there.

So, three weeks later we moved a block away and after several months of looking for land in the country, we bought our own ‘hundred acre wood’ with a creek and hundreds of tiny wild Iris all along the banks. That fall, we moved into a marvelous house my husband had designed very specifically for us and in a county with a much better school system than where Birdsong was. Eventually, my husband started his own business here in this county where we still live and work forty-four years later.
One of the best parts of this memory is the woman who prayed with me. She had raised seven children in serious poverty and mostly by herself, due to her husband’s dependence on alcohol. To her, I must have seemed like a spoiled affluent weakling, yet she cared about my problems and believed God would help me just as He had her when she needed it.

An important addendum involves forgiveness.  My in-laws had made an exceptionally generous offer, but were oblivious to the challenges their change of plans presented for us and I was not feeling very kindly toward them.  I still couldn’t drive and our baby and I were both still recuperating.  Christmas expenses and moving were draining our resources and as temperatures dropped along with my size, I needed a winter coat.  As I worked on how to solve this, my mother-in-law appeared at our door.  She came in obviously in a hurry handing me a shopping bag, saying, “I was in Dillatd’s buying underwear and saw this coat. You  may not like it or need it, so you don’t have to keep it, but something  just told me to buy this for you.”   And there was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen.  It was a perfect fit. She brushed away my thanks and hurried on to an appointment.

As I prayed for grace to forgive, I thought,   If she can hear God in this, maybe God has a reason for all of it.   And I was able to shift perspective, let go of coveting and start looking forward again, seeking God’s will without assuming I knew what His plan for us was.

Time has made it clear that we were meant to start a totally different life in a house my architect husband designed specifically for us in a county with a better school situation.  A few years later another crisis of circumstances led to starting an architecture firm in our new area which has been once again a challenging, but grace filled, serendipity.

Sometimes, it seems to me, there are values that we accept when we tell the creative force behind all things that we want to be aligned with its highest purpose, then we become part of the flow with complex circumstances uniting to accomplish this in our lives.  And the pattern is like a tapestry that we are part of, seeing only the crisscrossing mish-mosh of threads from our perspective, while a glorious work of art is emerging from a universal, eternal perspective.

(However, on a feeling level, it often feels like being grapes in a wine press! 🙂  )

 

 

 

 

 

Friends, Family, and Countrymen Lend Me Your Ears!

LISTEN TO ONE ANOTHER…BOTH SIDES OF EVERY ISSUE HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD.

I have much loved relatives and friends that think very differently than I do. That’s works for me.

However, when posts turn vicious and judgmental, I hide them.
If posts are logical explanations of a different view point, I read them, because I’m old enough now to know there are valid points on both sides of any issue.

I have come to believe that progress will be made toward bettering all of our lives, if we find ways to cling to our ideals while using practical solutions to minimize the negative fallout for the innocent everywhere.

To quote my best friend, “Be wise as serpents, gentle as doves.”

It takes the idealists to move us toward better ways of humanity surviving in this world together.

It takes the pragmatists to keep us from getting destroyed while trying to do that.

For the sake of our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren open your minds and hearts to work together.

The Dance of Grace or The Force and Jesus

I often talk like I see God as sort of a powerful, benevolent Santa Claus. But actually, my pitifully limited human comprehension is probably more like Star Wars’ the Force outside and within us.

So, as a great fan of Jesus, how do I understand his description of God as Abba, ‘Daddy,’ and his frequent conversations with Him? And what is the role Jesus plays in all this?
First, I think Jesus ‘Got’ God. And tried to communicate to us that the creative force behind the universe was not only still alive and involved doing  the creating thing all around us, but also still nurturing an unfinished universe and unfinished humanity from the inside out.

All of the universe, including humanity, is one. And the Whole (God) is greater than the sum of the parts.  Whatever this creative force that we call God is, it is “on our side,” because we are part of it.  But when we see ourselves as separate from, better than, stronger than, richer than, safer than, in other words, predators of the rest of the universe, we are in civil war and the synergy breaks down.

When we watch Jesus grow in truth (understanding) and holiness (response), we see a dance between the divine and the human. God leads and we follow and Jesus not only told us how, he showed us how. The scriptures are the ‘illustrated’ word of God. And Jesus is the illustration.

He is the blueprint for human change from survival of the fittest to a love that makes us willing to die for the least. He also fleshed out the end that humanity was created to reach, oneness with God through surrender to God who is Love.

Watch the dance.
Jesus is humanly vulnerable from the very beginning: his family fleeing in the dark of night to Egypt to escape Herod’s search to kill Jesus.
Jesus  becoming an adolescent,  showing off  his new knowledge and sense of who he is in the temple, only to be reminded by his mother that kindness, considering others, is what he is being called to learn at this point in his life, then his responding by being obedient to his human parents and growing in understanding .
Jesus grows not only in knowledge, but in wisdom, as he recognizes the other side of knowledge and power: the willingness to respond rather than react (letting go of control of his life) and the vulnerability of a loving response. He’s now not quite so eager to leap into the public eye. Then circumstances and his mother’s challenge to kindness again push him out of his comfort zone. (The wedding at Cana.)

Watch the pattern in Jesus life and ministry:                                                                           Challenges to take his mission to a new level, beyond Judaism  – even to the enemy, responding with the healing power of Love, teaching love to those who were drawn by the miracles of healing and nurture, rejection by those without ears to hear, temptation to earthly power even from his friends, and time and time again seeking the grace of time alone with God.

Jesus snapping at Peter for being a Pollyanna about how his mission will end,  showed that Jesus himself was still struggling with his own acceptance of that reality. Like us, he did not move easily through challenges from stage to stage.  But he always reached a point where God alone was his source and his salvation, up to the very end when he moves from the very human “My God why have you forsaken me?” to the spiritual freedom of “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Ahh, that’s better!  Oneness with God.

What is Jesus role for us?  To flesh out the Love that is God.  A Love we can trust with our lives. A Love that saves us from our separation from the Whole. Accepting Jesus as the Love of God for us is our salvation. And Jesus illustrated step by step the dance between the love of God and our growing response of surrender to God (Love) to become the people we were created to be.  Jesus, as the Love of God, frees us to accept our role, however humble, as an inseparable part of the Whole. When we follow Jesus as our blueprint, he is our Lord.

His life and death and resurrection were not only proof that there is more than this life, but that it depends on our dance of grace that ends in trust, in total surrender to the creative power, the Love that is God, however we perceive God.  In His hands we are One.

A Buddhist Christmas

I found this quote on the blog, Make Believe Boutique. It’s Buddhist, but the only difference I can see between this and Christianity is our recognizing that we personally fall short of the glory of God and need the saving grace of Jesus. Otherwise it beautifully describes our human experience, hopes and spirituality.
From Waylon Lewis:
I love Christmas: I love simple, personal presents. I love coziness, and world-quieting white snow, which slows us all down and makes even bustling cities feel like they were Norman Rockwell 1940s landscapes. I love fires, and dinners, and parties with old and new friends and children and elders, people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to talk with much. I don’t see my family, these days, they’re all spread about the US, and money is tight, and that always tinges this time with emptiness. But I love sadness, as my mom’s Buddhist teacher said it’s the most genuine of human emotions though we’re not to covet it. I love, at this darkest time of the year, remembering that life is short, and it progresses quickly, and memory fades and all that really matters is being a good person, and making the better of two iffy choices every step along the way. It’s a wonderful life, after all. So let’s put the ‘holy‘ back in the Holidays. Let’s buy gifts that better the world, and support good people doing good things. Let’s put away our phones and laptops and TVs—if only briefly—and make some eye contact, and say the obvious: ‘I love you, and this is why.’ Or, ‘I’m sorry things have been funny between us. Let’s be genuine, and have a good talk.’ Because, before you know it, one third of your friends will have divorced moved away lost their hair become old people or even died of accidents or dis-ease or, you know, life. I’m still only 35, but I lose a friend a year, whether in China to an avalanche or right here at home, just a month ago, an only-recently-perfectly lovely healthy powerful friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage IV. In Buddhism we say: this precious human birth is fragile. Make good use of it. Think about others as much as you do yourself and you yourself will find that elusive happiness. Meditate a few minutes, at least, each morning, before the ephemeral to-do lists that seem so important, the lusts and the anxieties, clutter up your snowy peaceful dozy mind. Don’t chase after the fast food of life: sex, bad food, money, big houses, cool cars. They don’t make you happy, the only thing that makes you happy is you sorting yourself out…

Life is Like Boot Camp for Living in Heaven

Life is hard, but it’s liberally sprinkled with times of joy, love, insight, courage, hope, faith, and a peace that really does totally pass understanding.

It’s kind of like a boot camp for living in heaven. The hard parts are tests, but not pass or fail or get a grade tests, but tests that stretch us, strengthen us, teach us, even giving us amazing “Ah Ha!” moments where we get a sneak peak at what comes later, what life is about.

Life is about becoming willing and able to love like Jesus did. And Jesus was God’s love for us fleshed out, expressed so we could know it first hand, up close and personal.

God’s love is a love with no illusions, but also no limits. It’s unconditional love, humbling in a way, because we don’t and can’t earn it. And it seems like God has terrible taste, because He loves everyone, even those tacky, awful people we can’t stand.

God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are.

Sometimes God’s love fills our heart with joy until we feel like we may burst.
But, God’s love also opens our hearts to suffer with those we love until the stretching makes our hearts feels like they are literally going to tear in two.
The joy of love and the suffering of love are two sides of the same coin. You do not get one without the other.

“There are faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

In fact, that’s the goal of the first two.

Come, Lord Jesus

Christmas trees, decorations, Christmas music, even in stores pushing the season earlier and earlier for their own purposes, all fill me with wonderful memories, anticipation and joy. I’ve learned over my seventy-nine years, that what puts the focus on Christ at Christmas is my own hunger for his presence.

Advent is the traditional pre-Christmas season of preparing our hearts for his coming.
Those four weeks were arbitrarily set centuries ago to reflect the four thousand years that the world waited in darkness, longing for his coming. Many years ago, I began on the first Sunday of Advent to pray each day, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I watch expectantly for him to become present in small, but recognizable ways in my heart and life.

And some years my heart and mind are actually attentive enough to recognize his coming.

One Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren were all at our home, surrounded by the friendly reds and greens of Christmas and delicious smells teasing from the kitchen. In one bedroom, a grand-baby snuggled into sleep, while in others whispering parents wrapped and ribbonned Santa secrets. Only Granddad was missing, out doing his traditional Christmas Eve shopping.

As excited older grandchildren were setting out to explore the woods and creek, I was making a clean up sweep through the holiday chaos. (Having ended up the “cleaner upper” by default, I was grumbling to myself a little.)

And one preschooler, too young for exploring and too old for a nap, went from room to room knocking on doors only to be told that he couldn’t come in. When I found little David sobbing forlornly in the middle of all the Christmas glitter, I decided to console him(and me) with an outing to feed the ducks that winter over on the lake in town.

When we arrived at the lake, the hungry ducks gobbled up our bread crusts so quickly
and ferociously, that we began to fear we would soon become part of their Christmas Eve
menu.

As we took refuge in the car, I heard our parish church bells ringing for the special Christmas Eve children’s service, The Mass of the Bells. Since the children get to sing all their favorite carols and even ring bells to celebrate the birth of Christ, it seemed like a Christmas serendipity for David. Looking at our faded jeans and muddy tennis shoes, I hesitated, but remembering the ragged shepherds at the first Christmas, I headed on to church anyway.

For lack of having his own bell, David rang my key chain as he sang with off key gusto. Then, as all the children gathered around our parish priest on the floor of the sanctuary to talk about the Christmas Story, David somehow managed to squirm all the way to the front of the group. When Father asked what happened when Mary and Joseph
knocked on the door of the Inn, David’s response rang out, “They wouldn’t let them in.”
Then, with a sudden rush of outraged feeling, he shouted louder, “They wouldn’t open the door!”

It seemed like he remembered his feelings about closed doors earlier at home and identified with the Holy Family.

And then when Father asked how they would respond to Jesus knocking at the door of their hearts right now, David sang out with conviction,

“Come in Jesus. Come right on in!”

On our way home, David joyfully assured me that even if others sometimes didn’t let children in, he and Jesus always would.  At his own level he made the connection between his life and the Gospel story, even realizing that opening his heart to Jesus, also meant opening his heart to others.

And my heart was filled with the joy of Christmas, of seeing Jesus being born once more
in the heart of a child.

As a post script I’d like to share more about David. When he was a college junior he and several other college students took cold water and hamburgers down town in the Memphis August heat to share with the hungry and homeless. As they did this, one man asked for them to pray over him (David said that they needed God’s grace for that). But as they prayed, others began coming forward asking, not for money, or even food, but for prayer. Since then, David has taught in schools in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Bolivia.

Whenever the stores start Christmas music, August or October, let it be our cue to start praying the prayer of our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

Re-posted for the Christmas season 2013 and 2016.

Since We’ve Done Away with Sin and Hell, What’s the Point of Christmas?

To be honest,  I don’t see sin the same way I used to and I’ve discovered that we make our own private hells on earth, when we refuse to grow past needing into loving.

A view currently popular is that a world suffering from some original ancient ancestors’ screwing up isn’t reasonable or just and that tiny babies come into the world innocent and lovable.

I agree with both.

BUT, all tiny babies come into the world Needy with a capital N. Ask any parent. And some are needier than others, through no fault of their own.  It’s just how nature is.

And NEED is the opposite of  love, in fact it prevents us from loving.

We  can’t experience the transforming  joy of Christmas, until we recognize our neediness.

Note: needing to please others or even getting pleasure from doing for others is not always love.  It can actually be a destructive enabling out of our own neediness.

At one point in my life, I recognized that I was a bottomless pit of needs and wants.  And I felt totally unable to truly love- anyone, even parents, husband, children. I was like Snoopy, I loved humanity. It was people I couldn’t accept.

The paradox is this: unless we know, with mind, heart, and soul, that we are loved unconditionally, we cannot grow from needing to loving.  But that requires recognizing and admitting with mind, heart, and soul that we are needy, not loving.

At the point when I recognized that I was too needy to love, I also recognized that there was not enough love in this imperfect world of imperfect people to free me .  Fortunately for me, that is what Christmas is about.

Perfect Love for all of us came as a baby with human needs and offered us a Love that can set us free.

And that is the transforming  joy of Christmas: Saving unconditional love that sets us free and gives us  illustrated instructions on how to grow from need to love.

Joy to the world, for Love has come.  Let us rejoice and open our hearts to receive it.

Come, Lord Jesus, free us to love.