A Meaningful Christmas

My son checks the gifts around the tree each morning to see if they’re ripe for the opening. I ask him how he can tell and he said the wrapped gifts are the ones he checks because they’re more of a mystery than the bagged ones. One is almost ripe, he says. The rest aren’t ready yet.

Despite being battered with the knowledge that we not only will we be missing our big family Christmas this year, and that I have to work for the first time since I’ve been a mom, my little guy is holding on to the joyful parts of this season. His eyes, despite some blurry days, are usually fixed on the things he hopes for.

As for me? I’m still reeling from the Monsters of 2020 that have barged inside January’s door and have kept filing in ever since. COVID. The politics, the hate, the name-calling from every side, and the decision on whether or not to get the vaccine accompanied by the criticism we all will get no matter what decision we make. Not to mention the personal challenges we’ve encountered this year.

Because of all these things, I wanted Christmas to be more meaningful this time around. Every year actually, because it seems like commercialism has become the babe born in a manger rather than the Savior of the world. There have been so many things on the to-do list since adulthood arrived that Christmas has seemed like something to briefly enjoy but also to move past so I can depressurize.

There’s no ripeness there, so little flavor. What have we neglected?

When I first learned that I had to work on Christmas disappointment clothed me. The kids hate it. Their faces crumpled when I told them, and the long-held seniority I’ve enjoyed from being at the same workplace for twenty years is no longer a thing, just like bare faces and civil conversations.

So many normal things have become dust under Monsters feet.

But then a light started to awaken in me. I work at a retirement place where people are lonely, quarantined and surrounded by COVID. The outside world throws words at them like retirees and at-risk people are in such a small percentage that they aren’t worth our covered faces. The O.W. says many callous things (although not nearly as many as before). Maybe because they’re on the safer side of the oxygen tanks and…worse. Our retirees are jailed, yet protected: Alone together—two meaningful words that have grown into Monsters themselves.

But here lies the mystery–the loss of my great seniority benefit has turned into my meaningful Christmas. It’s not about my to-do list this year (thank God), or the pressure of all the holiday stuff. I get the morning and early afternoon with my family, and the evening and half the night with my friends at the retirement place. I’ll get to watch my family open their gifts. We’ll have bacon. And then at work, I’ll probably deliver groceries or packages to those who are ordered inside their apartments for the holidays.

Monsters beware. Your giant, bitter feet are no match for the those that follow the Bethlehem Star. Christmas is about loving on all kinds of people this year, and my face –tired as it will be—may be the only one some of them see on this Holy Day. May more hearts ripen, may kindness blanket our nation. You better believe the smile underneath my mask will be visible all around those masked borders.

Merry Christmas, friends.

The Small Percentage That Matters to Me

I wrote this yesterday for my personal facebook page, but it got such an unexpected response, I thought I’d share it here. Post any thoughts in the comments.

 

Let’s talk masks, guns, and freedom. Notice I used the oxford comma—and I’m probably one of a very small group of authors to loathe that ostentatious little wiggle—to make sure there’s no confusion here.

Freedom is a beautiful word that’s been hijacked, much like the words educated, hate, and love.

Although my worldview is largely conservative, I don’t like using that word anymore because people have made it an uncrossable line. I believe immigrants should be shown compassion. Some of them just want to do what our ancestors did and make a better life. I wholeheartedly believe in women’s rights, but I also believe in the rights of the unborn. There are some people who should not. ever. have. a. gun, but I also have the experience of growing up in rattle snake country where shooting them was the quickest way for my dad (the Gunsmith) to keep his three young children safe. Seriously, they often hid underneath the pallets outside the back door, or within the woodpile in which we dipped our arms and feet in quite frequently.

When I run I don’t wear a mask. Can’t. I have allergies that mimic asthma. When we first moved to the Prescott area I had an inhaler for a short time. I want to laugh at people I pass who pull their hats over their faces, or pretend to see something the opposite of where I am so they don’t catch my heavy running breaths. In reality, passing a runner outside is not a good way to get sick.

But I do wear one when I go shopping. We have an immunosuppressed child, and although he’s doing better than he ever has, we wear our masks for him, but not just him. We have other family members at higher risk, not to mention the fact that my husband and I work at a retirement place. We’re surrounded by those with weakened immune systems.
Masks don’t protect the wearer unless they’re of the N95 variety, but they do protect those around us. How many of us think that matters anymore? Masks will protect others. My son is an other. Our parents and people we care for at work are others. If you are pro-life consider thinking of Others as those who need our help to survive.

Do I think our freedoms are being whittled away? Yes, as a person of faith I see this every day. Do I think there are corrupt politicians? Of course. Where you have power, there will be those who give in to the temptations that come with that. Do I think the media has been irresponsible? Absolutely. But not all politicians and media are the bad guys, and you have to wonder how much harder their jobs are because of those who are. The truth is, we don’t know all the facts, and probably won’t. Ever.

That’s where discernment and thoughtfulness come in. Just like I have to decide whether or not a politician cares for women’s (and minorities) rights or just wants to use us to get our votes, I have to consider my mask and make decisions.
Do we have the right not to wear them? Yes.
Are there circumstances where someone may not be able to wear one? Yes.
But for most of us, does it do more harm or good to others when wearing them in public?

Can we make this thing, this ONE thing about something other than our political leanings? Can we recognize that COVID-19 is the snake underneath the pallet, threatening our loved ones? Can we consider others’ welfare even when we don’t know them?

That’s what freedom is, pushing the might-be intentions of corrupt people aside to be a united people again. Can we start with the mask?

BTW, if my dad the Gunsmith, Cowboy, Soldier, Guy-who-actually-drove-cattle-across-Arizona can, one day, decide that hunting is not for him anymore because he loves animals THAT much and crosses “the line” then so can we.

Onward



My dog knew something was about to happen. And when I say my dog, I mean Bella, and dog spelled backwards.

I had just begun to rise out of a long season of burnout. I’m not going to list the reasons, I’ll just put out a sentence most or all of you will relate to: I’m a grown up.

On the way to one of my daughter’s cross country meets last fall, I had shed enough stress to let some creativity back in; through the hairpin curves and mountain climbing in my rattly Xterra I got an idea so exciting I started tailgating the blue-hair driving in front of me. I felt guilty as she eventually pulled over to let me pass—tailgating is rude, I know—but I was thrilled to be settled onto the wings of my muse again. I needed to fly.

Come November, I was coming along on this new book, polishing the rusty fingers and creative flow, when my dog began to act strange.

My ultra-sensitive boxador has this code for earthquake. She can sense them from a state away. Bella gets fidgety, impossibly restless. If I’m not fixing it, she’ll go outside to our back patio and focus her bark-growl straight through the house to whatever threat she imagines is lurking in front of our house.

There were a few earthquakes, you know, across the world, so her radar was either ramped up to impossible or she was bothered by something else.

Bella moved out of our daughter’s room where she usually slept and started sleeping in the center of the house.

By January, she was mostly back to normal as she always gets once a storm or natural disaster gets underway. The only difference is that she insisted on keeping watch from the living room, where she can keep an eye everything.

Now that we’re in quarantine, Bella is exceedingly happy. Not only has lizard season begun, but her family is home a lot more. More play, more snuggles, more people to go on walks with.

It took me a while to gather my thoughts after the COVID-19 crisis arrived. From re-calibrating at my day job, to my own health issue right before quarantine to becoming a homeschool mom while trying to balance my novel-writing and…..you know. Being a grown up.

It the beginning, there were the haters spreading their angry at a 9.9 magnitude. It was ugly and so was social media.

But then, from across the world, Italy started singing from their balconies. Locked inside their worst crisis, they reached inside and gave forth their best.

As the hoarders cleared shelf after shelf here in America I started watching Bella more closely since I couldn’t go anywhere except when necessary. She has the gift of being exceedingly happy with so very little. Lizards, a nice breeze, her family, walks. Forwards and backwards, her kind is the very definition of love. I don’t believe this is coincidence. Now is the time for all of us to think about these things.

DoG spelled backwards is giving us a rest, my friends. He’s allowing this to happen for reasons I won’t pretend to know, but one thing I know He’s doing is reaching inside those of us sensing the change within the change, and pulling out our best.

He knew this was coming, and will remain present with every one of us throughout this whole storm. Right where he can see all of us.

It’s onward with the book for me, although I have to think about the new world it will be published in. How will things change? Will my characters still shake hands, or touch their faces? Will medical facilities wear masks all the time, forevermore?

Will I ever see my sweet Doctor’s face again?

Like Bella, I’m going to have to foresee the change so my book will be relevant when I release it.

I could say we’ve been given the opportunity to thoroughly, quietly (as much as mom’s lives with kids can be), intuitively consider how we’ll forever go about our lives. But doG spelled backwards hasn’t given us the choice this time.

I’ll promise to release the beautiful if you do.

This Little Light

At the gym a few days ago, I took to the last available treadmill and started my usual run. For some reason, I’ve been dragging this month—the cloudy skies, maybe? The chronic lack of a full night’s sleep? More than likely, I’m just run down from a rough year but determined to stay in shape, I was going to do my full 3ish miles.
To my left, a man about a head shorter than I increased his running speed to keep up with me. A competitor, I see. I tried not to giggle as his short legs had to take twice the amount of steps than mine to run a moderate 5.8 METS.
But he worked hard. No matter his motivation, my humor quickly turned to admiration. How many of us feel like the best we can do is to take one step forward, three steps back to keep up with our goals—that we can’t run hard enough to catch them? Can all the strugglers raise their hand?
But this guy, he kept pumping those legs, working almost twice as hard as I did to meet the same stats.
It was the perfect picture of 2018, where almost every circle I belong to are in survival mode–battle-weary from an unusual amount of trials this past year, almost like a surge of darkness is engulfing our nation. I once read about a pastor writing about a season of higher suicide rates in his hometown directly related to the increase of occult influences. It makes me think of the happenings of this year: is there a fiercer battle going on that we can’t see?
Perhaps God is on the move for something big and the darkness is trying to keep us behind it.
Sometimes I think the trials of 2018 have kept me from running hard enough, although God is merciful, even when our best effort is minuscule. He sees us trying.
But that small man next to me, this giant of a competitor ran like there was an ember right in front of him that promised to light his world if he worked hard enough to reach it—even if his struggle was more difficult than it was for others.
So let’s keep going with all we’ve got, even if we have to drag ourselves along the path. Because my friends…..

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Monster Hunting

Who is this monster everyone keeps talking about? I mean, it shoots up our schools, it ravages our kids with staggeringly high rates of depression and anxiety, and it has families running for cover.
I found myself ridiculed the other day when discussing the monster. My crime? I send my kids straight into battle aka public (charter) school. Before you read on or move on, this is not a public school vs. home school blog. It’s about our mission field.


Not everyone is called to the same mission field. As far as schooling goes, sometimes we have the liberty to orchestrate our kid’s education, sometimes we have little choice, but right now as parents argue on social media about the “right” way to protect our kids and to give them the best education, there are young feet walking within the mouths of the monsters’ jaws.
My two are there. Yes, they’ve dealt with bullies, they’ve had classmates whose families couldn’t afford to feed them all three meals, they’ve dealt with the privileged (interpret that as you will), played with kids who go home to single parents, etc. Many of these kids are pretty great, and their teachers are as well– teachers who care—and they receive a very well-rounded education, better than I could give them which is one reason why they attend school away from home.
A few years ago, a former student almost shot up their school. Thankfully, some brave people were proactive in stopping it before it happened. Is this terrifying? Of course.
They also get exposed to all those things the rest of us did: bad language, topics way to mature for their ages, poor examples. Yes, I send them into this, but they don’t go in alone.
Recently, my daughter told a friend about Jesus. Yes, right inside the monster’s playground, she said the J word. When she learns of a classmate’s hardship or family troubles, she prays for them (the power of prayer, friends). Where would this help be without kids of faith to know who/what to specifically pray for?
My son reminds others that Jesus still heals. And he’s shown forgiveness—maybe more than some kids would see if all parents of faith decided to do a mass extraction of their children.
When my kids make their own mistakes, they see the effects, and get the opportunity to learn from them firsthand. Christians screw up plenty, I know, that’s why we love the Great Forgiver.
Just to be clear, this is not a billboard against homeschooling—because there are certainly good reasons for choosing that direction—this is just a message for those who deny support to those called in the other direction.
So yes, some will criticize this viewpoint, regardless. But who would rather they got on their knees and prayed for our youth? Parents send their kids into this battleground every day. Thank goodness. Public school is not a thing to hide from—it’s a mission field. Parents—our kids can’t easily band together when they see us constantly fighting over our differences of opinions. Distraction is dangerous.
Bless those praying from home, and those still walking the halls.

Here’s a little tidbit from the generation who constantly receives criticism.

Millennials crave relationship, to have someone walking beside them through the muck. We are the generation with the highest ever percentage of fatherless homes…We’re looking for mentors who are authentically invested in our lives and our future. If we don’t have real people who actually care about us, why not just listen to a sermon from the couch?Sam Eaton

 

Who lives in Arizona? Fancy a trip to Tuscon this weekend? I’ll be at the Tuscon Festival of Books on March 10th, 2:30-4:30, in the Indie Pavilion on the U of A campus. I’ll be signing copies of WAKE, WILD, and I might just be doing a giveaway of ILLUME, the third book in the City of Light Series due out this fall.

The Story Behind the Sweat

Scales can be jerks. You can work and work, burning off everything you ate and more, only to stand on the scale and look down, a drop of sweat sliding down your nose, plopping over a big, fat number.
What? Your face gets hot…your heart starts pumping fast again. You step back and look in the mirror. Eh? You go home, shower and pull on your favorite pair of jeans. Tight. Too tight. Okay, maybe that one area is better, but…what the heck? You go to the bathroom and stand on your scale because the one at the gym, and your pants must be taunting you, right?
But, no. To the mirror again, you notice the seams pulling, the stitches near to popping and realize you won’t be able to replace them for several more paychecks.
What’s to show for all that hard work? Slow and sure, your fist comes up and you shake it at God a little.
You work so hard. So. Hard. At the gym, at your office, in the classroom—whatever this is for you, but the results look nothing like you expected.
Does the effort mean nothing after all?
What’s the point?
You eye the couch, the TV, the Netflix remote, but something calls you. A whisper flutters from above. At the mirror again, something does look different. Your jeans are tight, yes, but you look better in them. Your short-sleeve shirt is digging into your arms, but look—what was too soft is now firm.
You bend down to pick up that darn box you don’t have room for, and move it out of the way to get a better look. Wow, that was easier.
So much easier. Maybe God draws your eyes to the mirror again and says, “Yes. There’s more of you.”
“What? There’s supposed to be less. I worked for it. Isn’t that what you led me to do?”
Maybe He answers, “But you’re not supposed to believe for less. Don’t aim for less. You were made for more.”
“But my pants. The scale. This isn’t at all what I expected. What’s going to happen?”
“Better things, as long as you keep your eyes on Me, and not your scale.”
So you take a breath, and keep going.
Happy perseverance day. Every day.

The Josephine Manifesto

While on duty at the retirement place a few nights ago, a resident called me to her apartment for help. Tethered to her oxygen machine, and lonely, she kept me in conversation for as long as I was able to be away from my post. She told me how much she liked my name because it reminded her of a dear friend, also named Sherry, who was kind, and had a resume most of us only dream about. As I was leaving, she said, “goodbye, Josephine.”
Sometimes the memory misfires.
You know what forgetfulness reminds me of? Many of our News Channels. I’m not a big fan of politics, and I get told over and over—every day—how to hate a certain President, and a certain party, and now even people who practice certain religions. It’s either the article about the wrong shoes a politician’s wife wore, or the too-fancy dress his daughter wore, or the certain religion they assume supports their nemesis with hateful ambition.

And many reactions from the accused “haters” are no better.

I could go on, but I’m going to be honest here—watching all this flim flam is kind of like watching my kids when they had toddler meltdowns.
“I don’t like the way my jacket feels on my shoulders.”–Son
“The cereal doesn’t feel right in my mouth.”–Daughter
“I can’t go to school if my toes touch my shoes in a weird spot.”—Son
“Son-or-Daughter, I love you so much, but I can’t help you if you don’t calm down and listen. You don’t have to like what I’m telling you, but you need to remember  what’s important.”—Me


E-v-e-n-t-u-a-l-l-y they calmed down. For the most part, my son’s an optimist, my daughter’s empathy (especially for an oncoming Mommy meltdown) is off the charts, and they’re both very intelligent. But sometimes, they’d get stuck on their frustration—and still do.
That happens when we focus on the unhelpful things, instead of doing our part to help find a solution.
Have a good week, Josephine.

Gifted

As a child, I had a love/hate relationship with Thrifty drug store. Mickey Mouse Band-Aids and ice cream? It was the feel-good place of the 80’s. But a high-pitched squeal that haunted every Thrifty-Drug store we visited in the west cut into my ice cream/Band-Aid therapy as soon as I walked in the door. It didn’t seem to bother anyone else, but to me, it quickly led to a headache and left my eardrums thrumming like the leftovers of a rock concert. The fluorescent lights, perhaps?
The ancient TV at home squealed too. But as long as I didn’t sit at a certain few spots in the room, I managed just fine.
Same thing with other sounds, only inconsistently, and smells. During P.E. class, basketball day left me nauseous when the gym filled (at least to my sensitive nose) with the stench of a fifteen or so sweaty basketballs. Some thought I was making it up for attention. Because shy kids do that.
Along with a list of other goodies, people like this are considered HSP or Highly Sensitive People. It’s not a disorder, it’s just a thing. I only recently learned this after discovering about another family member who is an HSP. I thought we were just quirky.
Today, of course, there’s a diagnosis for everything, and the word quirk has gone the way of outhouses. For example, researchers believe grammar-sticklers may actually have OCD.
So I start thinking about my family member and myself, and all those tests they can do with MRIs now—all those people who we thought just had “that way” about them are turning out to have nameable ways of walking through this world. Before you know it, we’ll all be diagnosed with something. But it got me to thinking: Many people with nameable quirks are gifted in some way. Are we looking at diagnoses all wrong?


Are we so focused on trying to be normal that we’re missing the big picture? Let’s walk through this:
We know that many great artists, academics, etc. have struggled with mental illnesses, disorders, syndromes and all sorts of diagnoses. And then there’s the fascinating Synesthesia.  Billy Joel, Tori Amos and Vladimir Nabokov are among the many creatives with this condition, as are several of my author acquaintances.
To further my study on this, I found a few videos of struggling people who give clear pictures of what it’s like to walk in their abnormal shoes. One was a Ted talk video of a woman with HSP who called it a gift even though her children had it so severely she had to pull them out of school. Why a gift?
Another is this short video where Frank Stevens, a man with Down Syndrome, defends his value to those who would prefer to end the lives of D.S. babies in utero for failing to be normal. They see him as low-functioning, but I’m sure you’ll see something else when you watch him speak. His achievements, knowledge and willingness to offer his disorder as a means to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, but most of all, his general happiness that’s common with those with D. S. is extraordinary. That’s higher than many people hope to function.
To say normal (or undiagnosed) people don’t have problems would be a blatant lie. Anymore, fewer and fewer of us are found to be what’s considered normal. (Of course, God made sure it was documented long ago:

I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.
You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;
Your works are wonderful;
I carry this knowledge deep within my soul. Ps. 139:14, VOICE)

People need to be able to cope in this world, of course, and thank goodness there are wonderful resources to help.
But should we consider them less valuable? Because as we already know, people who aren’t diagnosed with something (yet) still have problems. So what is value?
Most people want to be happy—there are pills, therapy, articles, books, movies—you name it, that are all involved in making people happier. I believe God has approached this detail in those with Down Syndrome with excellence.
Perhaps when people like Rain Man, Einstein, and Frank Stephens step forward and pull their extraordinary gifts from places illogical, it scares those who can’t see past the quirks.
I believe the beautiful things that come out of our differences are the most valuable things of all, because they touch the very nature of God.
Whether or not more people are discovered to have disorders or nameable things than in the past, or more are just being diagnosed, I wouldn’t worry so much that there are more people with problems because there aren’t—there are just more people with gifts. Maybe God is opening our eyes to see that we all have them.

“You have to dare to be different if you’re ever going to dare to be great.”-Jeffrey Ford (Asberger’s Syndrome)

It’s About the Rhythm

Every Sunday, we’re met by a cop who may or may not have rhythm. We never know who we’re going to get. He or she (but mostly he) stands at a crossroads, directing cars to either church or the road most traveled by (on any other day than Sunday).

I can’t help but notice their coordination skills. Or the lack of. My favorite cop—*who we rarely see—is one of those dancing cops. He’s got unceasing rhythm. I mean…there’s directing traffic on caffeinated energy, and then there’s the Jedi master of traffic soul. It’s like the holy singing going on around the corner hops across the road, consumes the officer in its jazzy spirit, and shoots out the end of his fingers: this way, now that way, now pivot. Breathe. Go sister! Go brother!
It really does make for kinder drivers.
Most of the officers direct adequately, many of them smile and don’t look one bit irritated by being surrounded by church goers who don’t always drive churchishly. One of them reminds me of Dana Carvey impersonating former President Bush (Sr.). His hand signals are unique for sure, but he can stop one street while making the other go at the same time. And we get what he’s saying.
And then there’s the other one. I call him, “Oh no.”
He works hard, I can tell—you can’t miss the effort. But the guy doesn’t have a lick of coordination. If I did what his hands say I should do, I’d be driving onto the highway below, or engaging my jet thrusters and launching into space. Thankfully, I’m a praying woman, and when I see Oh No, I pray for the ability to interpret his hand signals. Perhaps the police department should require a few dance classes for their traffic controllers.
But he tries. I can tell he puts every bit of control he has in his work—so much so that he can’t see what he’s doing. All my years in dance taught me that strict adherence to the steps is not enough to make art. You’ve got to surrender to the Divine to make your story impactful. The same with whatever your craft is. There needs to be room inside for God to do His magic, otherwise you may just end up with a big mess.
Blessings for your day–I pray it’s full of inspiration.

 

* who is not written correctly as whom because I can’t stand the word whom. It’s stuffy, and I only use it when a fictional character requires it. 😉

For the Brave

For the first time in years, my family and I ventured outside the house for New Year’s Eve. All the way across the driveway to our neighbor’s house.
Several of us from the neighborhood, the neighbor’s plumber, and some who are in recovery, gathered around piles of food to bring in 2018 together. Or at least for the few hours that come before it whispered, “Welcome,” through the door frames.

It was a cautious bunch, keeping the most harmful vices out in respect for those who were beginning again, although new beginnings are anything but safe. They’re scary, and wild in the way a man or woman has to confront their monsters face to face. And the unwelcome vices, having been exposed for the roadblocks they were, were banned from now forward.

A few of us gathered around the fire-pit, its blue flame a perfect circle for us to warm our hands over and watch our kids play together. The best jokes are told in a circle of new friends. Admissions about our imperfections are safe with a little darkness to tuck them away in. Friends to be flawed with.

Throughout the night, we had to scoot closer and closer to the fire as the heat couldn’t keep up with the encroaching cold. I stared at that blue flame and remembered that all of us come to a time where we begin again at something. Maybe it’s a lifetime of starting over. A new attitude, a new faith. Maybe just a single step forward. And like that blue circle of flame, we have the choice to stay low and contained, or to move past the barriers and push back the darkness.

 

A prayer for all who read this–who desire to step forward into 2018 with braver feet. Blessing, my friends.