Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hope of the New Year

Here is a fact you may not know. I am sentimental. Very sentimental!

Perhaps nothing makes that point quite as much as the small gift tag from Christmas 1992 that I have tucked away in a drawer. As I remember, this tag was not attached to a very memorable gift.  But this tag is in my mother's own handwriting.  It simply says To Bonnie, Love Mom and Dad.  She passed away the following February.  This tag marks the last of the forty Christmases we shared together.

So it comes as no surprise to my family that I tend to become sentimental, okay, pensive as New Year's Eve approaches.  I want to hold on to those precious memories of the past twelve months, and yet, I long for the fresh start the New Year brings.  I have to confess that in my desire to learn from my past mistakes, I often take them to heart a little too much ~ rehashing them again and again in my mind.

I want this year ~ 2010 ~ to be a redemptive one year!

How will God redeem my failings and transform me into a better wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend, and mentor?

With all honesty, I am very hopeful this New Year's Eve.  I am relying on His power that redeems all things to Himself. I am resting in His promise to restore and reshape me for His good pleasure; to re-establish my path; and to renew my thoughts with His thoughts.

As I read the prayers of the Daily Office for December 31st, it included the wonderful story of the healing of the crippled man found in The Gospel of John. Here is the story in the Apostle John's words as it appears in the Book of Common Prayer:

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids ~ blind, lame, and paralyzed ~ waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. ~ John 5:1-15

What an incredible story of transformation! Jesus not only restored this man’s health, but redeemed his future ~ Take up your bed and walk . . . sin no more!  The man did not leave his bed behind, but took it with him, perhaps as a reminder of the transformation he had experienced.  The man obeyed and took those first courageous steps of faith as he walked out into the city of Jerusalem on his own two feet ~ for perhaps the first time!  The man was truly transformed ~ from the inside out as he was encouraged to sin no more.

And yet, as I re-read the story, I find Jesus' question to the man a little strange.  Why would Jesus ask a man who had been invalid for 38 years if he wants to be healed?  Isn't the answer pretty obvious?  I think Jesus asks the question because Jesus knows that lifestyles are hard to change.  We tend to be quite comfortable, thank you with how we use our time, how we spend our resources, and how we treat one another.  In many ways, we have become invalids ~ stuck in our own bed of old habits and traditions.

I want this story of redemption found in John 5, to be my New Year’s story!  I want Jesus to restore to health to those areas of my life that He knows need healing.  I want Him to redeem my future.   May I Him with all of it, and be willing to take some courageous steps of faith as I walk where He leads me and become who He wants me to be!

Yes, I am quite hopeful this New Year's Eve ~ as I fix my gaze on the His redeeming love ~ that 2010 will be a redemptive year .




A Picture That's Worth A Thousand Words

Okay, so I didn't mean a thousand words. But this morning my friend Robin posted this photo on her Facebook profile after a recent day in the snow.  My mind immediately filled with words inspired by this tiny pine tree in the snow.







I hope this picture encourages you in the 'winters' of life ~ to know that He is able to produce in us a life that brings Him glory and draws others to His kingdom - no matter what.

What words does this picture say to you as you consider the new year?

Photo by Robin Manuszak 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Empty Chair

Do you have an empty chair at your table?

We found ourselves with an empty chair in our home almost fourteen years ago. Dinner time became such a severe reminder of our grief. We always set four plates at each meal. We each had our place at the table. Then, in a matter of 30 short hours, our family was forever changed by Scott's accident.

There were times early on that I instinctively included Scott in the count as we set the table for special occasions ~ oblivious of my mistake until someone graciously made me aware of it. It was just normal to count Scott among the guests, especially at holidays and birthday celebrations. But the normal we had always known was never to be again.

As Christmas draws near, I am aware that many homes have an empty chair as families prepare to celebrate the season. Many may be feeling this void for the first time; some have faced it for years. Setting the Christmas table can be as much a holiday tradition as trimming the tree ~ deciding who sits next to whom, and making the table a place that invites everyone to nourish their bodies and their souls as they participate in the family traditions.

My heart is heavy for those of you who have empty chairs this Christmas. Some of you, like me, have an empty chair because you have placed someone precious in the arms of God. Some are praying even now for their runaway to come home and take their place at the table. Some have a loved one serving in the military in far off places. And yes, there are some families who harbor unresolved conflicts and those empty chairs serve as a reminder of broken relationships which need to be mended.

My cousin has not lost a child to death but he has three empty chairs this Christmas, and he is definitely feeling the void. He shared a wonderful idea with me this morning. His son, daughter-in-law, and  granddaughter are missionaries serving in Europe and they will not be home for the holidays. So my cousin purchased large picture frames to hold recent photographs of his son’s family. This year, my cousin is placing the frames around the home to include in spirit those who cannot come home in person.

Well, I am considering including Scott once again in the count this year. I am thinking about setting a place at his empty chair.  I really think I want to make our memories of Scott a part of the celebration. In reality, no one who gathers around our table is unaware of the void created by Scott's death. So why not create a new normal? Why not set a place for him? Why not?

Yes, this Christmas there will be an empty chair and a place setting with a photograph of Scott as part of our table setting. We will remember and laugh at Christmases past, like the year he coined the term glassables for those ornaments that could break. We may shed some tears at what might have been as we long to experience a reunion with him once again. But I am convinced, when the meal is finished and we push our chairs away from the table, we will have smiles on our faces because Scott’s chair was pulled up to the table one.more.time, and we treasured what he brought to our lives.

Do you have an empty chair at your table?

Why not set a place for someone, add a photograph, and speak the name?

Why not nourish your soul this Christmas with some precious memory work?

Why not?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Egyptian Wisdom

Last weekend we visited the de Young Museum in San Francisco to view the King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs Exhibition.

It was an amazing display of wealth and power which filled many galleries in the museum.  As I walked through the exhibit, I was aware of the empty hope the Egyptians had in eternal life.

The final gallery was a display of the actual treasures found in the Boy King's sarcophagus.  Amid the cache of gold and jewels, I noticed a nugget of wisdom ~ an Egyptian proverb written on the wall above the display.  It read ~

To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.

This powerful proverb resonates well with me as I reflect on my own grief journey, and the journey of others who hope to experience peace with loss.  

To speak the name of the dead is to stir the memories we treasure; to rouse the precious hours, months or years we had together; to address the void that is so very present, no matter how skilled we have become at suppressing or denying it.

To speak the name of the dead restores the relationship in our hearts and keeps them a part of us.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I'll Be Home for Christmas

In 1943, a new Christmas carol ~ I'll Be Home for Christmas ~ raced to the top of the charts.  Think about that year in the life of America.  We were in the midst of World War II.  Soldiers, far from home on the front lines, could only dream of being home for Christmas.  Their families, gathered around the Christmas tree, longed for their loved ones to be home at this most wonderful time of the year.

Today, the message of the song remains the same ~ there is a desire to be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

I'm sure the song elicits a range of emotions.  Some will head home to the smell of grandma's cookies and to find their stockings still hung by the chimney with care.  Others will gather together with relatives coming from near and far.

But for many, the song truly depicts just a dream. Christmas 2010, finds children wondering which 'home' they will be in for Christmas as divorce has divided their family.  The current economic hardships have left many families out on the streets, where home is where ever they can find a place to lay their head. Unresolved conflict will keep some families from coming together in the same home, even at Christmas.

For those who find themselves on a journey of grief, this song elicits both dreams and memories ~ I dream about the way things should be and cling to the memories of the way things used to be at Christmas time.  To be completely honest here, it took more than 10 years after Scott died before I could listen to this song without tears filling my eyes.  I longed for Scott to walk through my door and be home for Christmas.  I wanted things to be like they were in Christmases past.  I repeated the last line of the song again and again ~ If only in my dreams ~ long after the music stopped.

What finally transformed my thinking was when I realized the song's attempt to create a picture-perfect scene for the hearer.  Now before you think me a Grinch, please hear me out.  I know the song brings warm thoughts and precious memories for many of you.  It did for me at one time; I believe it will again someday.  But the song also creates many assumptions about the holiday and the experiences it brings. When someone's reality falls short of this wonderful Christmas scene, what remains are thoughts of disappointment and regret. Look at the lyrics ~
I'll be home for Christmas;
You can count on me.
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree.

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love-light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.

Here is the assumptions I hear ~

Assumption #1:  We each have a home to which to return ~ a significant, memorable place where you and yours gather for Christmas.  For some, their home was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Assumption #2:  The weather will cooperate to produce a White Christmas ~ another one of Bing's famous recordings.

Assumption #3:  There will be presents under the tree ~ regardless of the balance in one's bank account.

Assumption #4:  A home is filled with so much love that it creates a love that glows.

Assumption #5:  Circumstances and surroundings are what makes Christmas special.

No, my heart is not two-sizes-too-small!  Believe me, when it comes to being sentimental, I am right near the top of the list.  (I have the closets and boxes full of treasured items to prove it!)  But if I have learned anything on my own journey of grief it is this ~ most of us live in an assumptive world.  And our assumptive world almost always disappoint us.

Christmas never was about being home or snow or presents on the tree.  It is kind of ironic when you think about it.  Christmas is the time to remember the Christ Child who left his home in heaven to be born in a manager.  Christmas is not about dreaming and wishing you were somewhere other than where you are right now.  Christmas is filled with promise and hope.  For it is the very Babe of Bethlehem who has secured an eternal home to everyone who believes.

This Christmas,

may you find

your home

in Him.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wet Cement

I was working with wet cement again today. Yep.

And it's not the first time I have worked with this material. I've been in the business for 32 years, to be exact.

The trouble I find working with cement is the potential for it to harden into something I never intended it to become. Sure, I have the mold in mind, but sometimes I just get caught up in accomplishing the job that I forget about what I hoped I would create. Try as I will to control all the elements, I usually find myself trying to smooth out the deep impressions I hope do not leave a permanent mark. But I have learned that most of my mistakes are ~ as they say ~ set in concrete.

Now, before you decide that you would never, ever allow me to lay concrete for your patio, let me explain.

Today I hired my three grandchildren to help me stuff, stamp and address my Christmas cards. We send out almost 200 cards each year and many hands make the work light!

Kaitlyn has assisted me with this project for the past few years. At 9 ½ years old, she can nearly do it all! Kyle is almost 8 years old. He is eager to help but needs a predictable task to keep up his confidence. And then there is Jack! He is 5 ½ years old and full of energy. He thinks he can do it all, but in reality, he requires something that cannot be ruined by bouts of impulsivity. (I think I said that diplomatically, don’t you?)

We really had fun working together. I shared with them about some of the people the cards were addressed to: lifelong friends from elementary, junior high and high school; first, second and third cousins; co-workers; and people with whom we just like to stay in touch.

But I must admit, there were times I really could have lost it this afternoon! I mean really ~ many of our friends will receive our Christmas picture with finger smudges all over it as the photos just did not seem to slide in the envelopes very easily for the boys. A few of the envelopes are badly wrinkled. Some people will receive cards with our return address stamped upside-down. And . . . let’s just say that Jack now knows that the United States Post Office requires ALL postage to be in the top right hand corner – and NO WHERE ELSE on the envelope!

Yes, there were many times I really wanted to take over the tasks I had delegated to them. I could have made the Christmas cards more important than their feelings or self-esteem. I could have taken the joy right out of working together by needing everything to be just so.

But tucked away in my mind is the message found in a wonderful book by Anne Ortlund.  Back in 1977 as I awaited the birth of our first child ~ Kaitlyn, Kyle and Jack's mom, Amy ~ I read Anne's book, Children are Wet Cement. Anne talks about how children are so impressionable ~ like wet cement. As parents ~ and grandparents ~ there is little doubt that we love and value each child. We visualize what we hope each one to become. Yet in the stress of the day, in our rush to accomplish all we think we must get done, in our desire to have everything turn out right, or with our pride on the line, we forget how moldable and vulnerable each child is. The words we use, the tones we add, those sighs we are so quick to express ~ all have the potential of leaving lasting impressions.

Yep ~ I was working with wet cement today.

Eager little hands that wanted to help me stuff, stamp and address my Christmas cards. The potential was there for me to turn the experience into something I never intended it to become. This time, I kept the mold in mind. This time, I did not rush the job. And I am proud to say, the permanent mark left on all of our hearts was love.