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 Honor of Us

My son was born a protector. When he was just two we found ourselves in front of an animatronic crocodile at the Rainforest Café. He shot an arm in front of his older sister and told her, “Back, Sissy, back!” He was the baby of the family and we hadn’t yet taught him to look out for his loved ones, but something within him came alive when the need arose.

He’s been fighting health problems since birth—could it be he learned to have a warrior spirit early on, or is the politically incorrect idea true that men are natural protectors? I have to say, I’ve noticed a great decline in male protectiveness over the years…cultural influences may have something to do with this. What do you think…nature or nurture?

I’m a 125 pound part-time security guard. Having said that, I guard the elderly at a retirement resort. My job mainly consists of desk work/people work, but when a security issue arises, I’m the one, or my partner working the far side of the building. When I first started working in the security department, I got a lot, and I mean a LOT of comments/jokes about being a guard looking as I do. I worked out, and still do, but six-pack abs and the ability to run laps around most people didn’t matter to the WWII generation. They wanted MEN in the department, even if they were old, fifty pounds out of shape and couldn’t lap the desk if they tried. Men, to them, are the soldiers and the protectors, always and forevermore.

Do you know when I became a soldier? Always. I grew up in the country, surrounded by cactus and boys. I went to a small country school where many of the girls were equally as tough and I had to learn how to defend myself at an early age. The staff turned a blind eye to most playground violence. I punched my first face when I was in fifth grade. In that environment, I learned not to rely on anyone else to protect me, and I’m grateful I learned that when I did.

My biggest advantage, ALWAYS, has been that people don’t expect someone who looks like me, and who is an introvert like me to even have the will to lift my fist.

Not that I don’t know my limits. I mean, I’ve punched faces, forcefully detached too-friendly men and have lifted more retirees off the floor than I can count, but when it comes to the more heavy lifting at work I call my friend—the guy– with all the muscles. I appreciate him, and acknowledge that he has a biological advantage over me in that arena.

Women, until recently, have been the main protectors of babies. This is, without a doubt, a cultural change because I’ve walked the pregnancy road, given birth, and am quite willing to rip anyone’s head off who would try to harm my children. Fact—like my son, from something deep and fierce inside me. Something too ancient to name.

But there are these hurt voices that say women haven’t been appreciated enough, or valued enough and we need to demand respect once and for all. I get it. There is much truth in this. I’ve been disrespected in many ways, including being a called “skinny, weak woman” at the exact time I was lifting my accuser off the floor.

The problem is, I’m hearing these voices about not letting disrespectful attitudes determine a woman’s identity from women who are doing exactly that.

Pregnancy and motherhood are no joke. It’s incredibly difficult—painful in all kinds of ways and I’ve had to put aside many projects I’ve felt passionate about to change diapers, attend field trips, and care for a flu-ridden child. I’ve had to neglect my own health/career/sleep to care for my children.

Isn’t that what a warrior does? When my son put himself in front of his sister, he was allowing the perceived danger to get to him first. When soldiers—real soldiers—fight for our country, they’re risking it ALL to protect us.

That is not a right, it’s an honor. It is complete selflessness.

Ladies, our wombs aren’t showcases for burdens, they are armor. Our biological advantage. God chose us to carry children when they are at their weakest, most vulnerable state. We are chosen to carry all those future Presidents and Doctors and Artists. Every Influencer, every Teacher, every Athlete, every Overcomer. We are their first shield.

When I see women marching for the right to remove children from their wombs, I don’t see virtue. I don’t see strength, I don’t see courage or liberation. I see an army of women hiding behind a political banner of fear.

We’ve been through too many battles to lose our honor, ladies. We have to be stronger than the leaders attempting to manipulate us into thinking we’re fighting for what’s right when all we’re doing is discarding the people who need us the most. The people whose voices we can’t hear. This is a cultural change that is not okay—it’s infanticide.
It’s okay to be afraid, but our army of protectors is dividing, which will eventually lead to the destruction of our nation. This isn’t an exaggeration. Take a good look at the state of our nation right now. Men, women, children. We are meant to be one united team.

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.

For My Daughter Someday

About a month ago, One of my coworkers complimented me on my hair—and then he quickly apologized, mentioned the #metoo movement, and we both just ended up laughing over the absurd awkwardness of it all.

When the hashtag first took over social media, I did a silent cheer, hoping things will be better for my daughter. Maybe, like—I’m guessing—80-90% of women, she won’t have her own list of gropes and lewd suggestions to add to her file of memories she wished she could forget. With all that’s in me, I pray she’s not one of those with a traumatizing addition to her list.

I hope she feels confident with how she is, inside and out.

But I also hope she doesn’t listen to all those voices that say it’s all about her, or about getting revenge on men for the sins of their ancestors. That’s not a fight for civil rights–it’s just a fight. I hope she realizes that men and women think differently, interpret things differently, and that our differences are not something to scoff at, but to consider. This is not inequality—its science.

I hope men treat her well no matter how she presents herself—and they should—but I hope she doesn’t feel so powerful in her right to dress immodestly that she forgets these things:

*Dressing is an expression, just like words, tone, and how we use them. People will interpret it how its most obviously presented. It’s a language in its own right. Although, to be fair, everyone has their own boundaries (cultural, religious, etc.) when it comes to where they draw the line on attire. I hope she also remembers that some women dress scantily because they’ve been raised thinking their only value lies in their appearance. Putting one another down will solve nothing.

*Manipulation is wrong, no matter how it’s clothed.

*Just because men may promote her/open more doors for her/listen to her more often if she dresses to please their flesh does not mean that’s how she should achieve her goals. If she wants to work her way to the top, I hope she indeed does it using the amazing work ethic I hope she’ll have, because that of all things is how women will gain more respect in the workplace.

*If she has a friend struggling with alcohol addiction, I hope she would be considerate enough not to leave wine bottles out when they come over. The same goes for any addict—porn included. Recent MRI scans show the same brain activity for porn addicts as those who are drug/alcohol addicts. This could be anyone we run into, which, according to recent statistics is a staggering amount. Would dressing more modestly be more sensitive to those struggling with visual stimulation, or do we go the way culture is going and ignore the humanness of others?

* I hope she interprets women’s equality as fairness, and not power to humiliate men, (say if he compliments her on something appropriate like a new hair-do). If men feel like they have to tip-toe around women, something’s wrong. At the same time, if a man treats her like a thing, I hope she walks away from him as fast as her steel-spiked combat boots will allow.

I heard an interesting story on the radio about a young teen who found himself in the company of a provocatively dressed woman. When his parent (I can’t remember if it was mom or dad) asked him what he thought about the way she presented herself he said something like, “It attracts the male in me, but not the man in me.”

This is what I hope for my son and daughter as they grow, that they will be so wise as to recognize the difference.

And if my daughter calls me in frustration with trying to find balance in it all, and wants to throw in the towel, I will (in hopes that my mind has not completely fuzzed over by this time) remind her that she can’t love/respect herself without it spilling over to others. You just can’t separate the two. Maybe that’s where we’ll find peace in this whole thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol

I saw Jesus in the gym the other day. An old man—somewhere around 90—walked in with his cane, laid it on a treadmill and walked a good ten minutes before sitting down to rest. He braced himself, hands on knees and pulled in several minutes of oxygen. Then, one by one, he challenged most of the weight machines, setting them to 70 pounds. Biceps, lats, etc., sitting down to catch his breath after each set. Lastly, he cradled a free weight and did sit-ups, then grabbed his cane and left. I believe my jaw was resting on the top of my treadmill by this time. This was two days before Christmas.
A man with Down syndrome pedaled away on one of the exercise bikes while watching a repetitive news station left on from a previous gym-attendee. He said not a word, but just slowly spun his feet around and around. While leaving, he glanced over at me on the noisy treadmill, grabbed his medical helmet and left.
The entire 45 minutes I was there, a man laid on the floor, yoga mat under back, and feet up on an exercise ball. “My back hurts”, he said—”one of those tough days,” while doing random sit-ups and stretches. Sometimes, he stayed still for several minutes at a time, then started again.
I was just trying to get in one more good workout before winter break kept me hair-pulling busy. It’s been a year. Good stuff, busy stuff, stressful stuff. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten so little done with my creative projects. Sometimes I daydream about finishing my book, or dipping my brushes into a tub of paint. I’m not all the way me without it. But my kids needed me more this year, and it’s been a good thing. Family comes before the art, Always, and raising kids is a full time ministry. I saw the fruit of my efforts, however small. But when you’re called to more than one ministry, the activities get a little muddy and as many of you know–exhausting. By the time holiday season rolls around old man fatigue knocks on the door.
But as I observed those champions in the gym that day, I could almost hear Jesus saying, “The amount of reps don’t matter, and the way people see you doesn’t matter, but the perseverance does. Faith does. Success is in the not giving up.”
Were those men my three Christmas ghosts? I don’t know. But I heard the message, and I’m pretty sure Jesus said the message wasn’t just for me.
Maybe this one’s for you today.
Blessings and strength for 2018.

Drum Your Best For Him

Here are some of my favorite things, Drummer Boy style, because I just came in from the crowd and all the “stuff,” and for once, I’d like all of us to go back to that starry night and ask what good gifts we can bring to our King. By this I mean, how do we reflect his character in our giving? A few examples from the Givers in my life:

Miss Baker # 2: My little daughter hand-stitched this monkey for me after I told her the story of how I had lost my beloved Miss Baker on show and tell day when I was in elementary school. What is the root of this gift? LOVE.


My chandelier t-shirt: I found it at Goodwill while stocking my daughter up on books. Whoever donated it knew it was still in good shape, had good taste in unique fashion, and took the time to give it rather than toss it. Sometimes, all a person has to give is what they already own, and I’m not too proud to wear a second-hand shirt. The root of this gift was GENEROSITY.


My SpiderMan bookmark: My son, knowing how much I love to read, made this for me out of what he loved and treasured most—Spiderman gear and his new writing skills. He was learning how to write, and one of the first sentences he wrote without the prompting of a teacher or parent was, “Mome I lu yoo .” LOVE.


My black-pearl engagement ring: A beloved gift from my husband who was wise enough not to run out and buy this artist a gaudy “status ring.” Knowing our tastes were drastically different, he let me show him what I liked. Just something blue and lovely. LOVE and THOUGHTFULNESS.


The family desk: Passed down from a time far, far away, because it was built to last. GOOD CRAFTMANSHIP.


Encouraging words: from a few of my High School teachers who saw what I couldn’t see. I couldn’t touch the words, re-sell them or throw them away, because like the miracles that come from faith, they made a permanent impact.

 

(Here is a wonderful way to give, from the heart of a country that has too much stuff.)

Our best gifts to give come from the character of our King within us.

For the Invisibles

I’m at work after all the experts have gone home and the sun is making its final burn west when we Invisibles take the reins. We answer phones when nightly needs approach, we direct when the directors have retired for the day, we fix what we can when the fixers have clocked out, or make notes for their next shift.

Those of us who look young enough for college are assumed to be students, those of us who have more than a few laugh lines are assumed to be retired and working for something to do, and those, like me, who are somewhere in the middle, well….I get all kinds of reactions, but that’s beside the point. Only a few know I’m a struggling Author, but it doesn’t really matter here. I’m me to those who are interested, to others, I’m one of the Invisibles.

I leave my desk and accidentally fix a resident’s TV. I’m not sure how I did it, but I’m grateful God directed my hand because her TV is her only companion now. Her friend to eat dinner with and a distraction from the empty chair beside her. It’s a priority of the heart.

I make sure exterior doors are locked and that no one has fallen in the park.

I get called to a handicapped woman’s apartment—she was left with only two reliable words after she suffered a stroke: Me here.
“Me here,” she says as she leads me to the room that contains her problem. “Me here,” as she points to her computer.
“Me here,” as she directs me to her CPU that holds her disc captive. I pull it out and place it in its case that’s waiting on her desk. Photos of her family decorate the top, and she smiles huge when I hand it to her. She nods her head, holding it close to her body.

I wheel her back out of the tight storage room where she keeps her computer in and lean down, my hand on her arm, my eyes level with hers so she knows I see her.

“Me here,” she says as she places her palm on the side of my face.

“You’re welcome,” I say, my heart filling up.

As I turn to go, her mouth unleashes a few rare words. “Thank you.”
I smile again, one Invisible to another, and walk back to my desk feeling more successful than anything the Visible world has to offer.

 

I ponder her words, and wonder how many of us have lifted our heads to the sky and whispered, “I’m here. See me.”

 

“Beloved, there is no such thing as obscurity to Christ Jesus. The eyes of El Roi (‘the God who sees me Gen. 16:13-19) gaze approvingly upon every effort you make and every ounce of faith you exercise in Jesus’ name. You have not been forgotten! You have no idea what may lie ahead! No doubt remains in my mind that God spent this time testing and proving John’s character so that he could be trusted with the greatest revelation (Sherry’s note: the author is talking about the time period when John, the one Jesus loved, had little mention in the Bible while Paul and Peter took stage after Christ’s crucifixion). The answers God is willing to give us in our tomorrows flow from our faithfulness when we have none today.” Beth Moore in The Beloved Disciple

The Perfect Gift

What’s to be found on the day after Christmas? The things we received are nice, maybe even needed, but they don’t satisfy–and that’s what we’re really looking for isn’t it? That thing that fills the empty/hurting places.

My greatest gift this year was the ability to attend my kids’ Christmas performances (all 5 of them) without any conflict with my mysteriously increasing hours at work or the stomach bug that resides with us this month. Jesus hears every prayer, every longing.

We were also blessed with a white Christmas–such winter magic is a raritysnow-xmas in Arizona.

And finally, the reminder that Jesus showers us with such abundant grace when we keep our eyes on his star, and not on our disappointments. What’s a disappointment when we have unconditional Love?

The Summer Files: I Made It.

I’m not going to repeat any cliches about sending my kids back to school. If you’re a parent, you’re familiar with that place between the happy dance and the realization that somewhere, in the midst of handling temper tantrums and reading the latest book on parenting a strong-willed child, your kids have grown a few inches closer to your eye level.

What will I see when I can look straight into their blues? Will they have absorbed the stress I feel much of the time? Will they reflect all those mistakes I made?20160808_074738

What will they see reflected in mine? I know what I want them to see: love, acceptance–no matter what. Strength. Wisdom.

Motherhood is, of course, plagued with those days where guilt, impatience and not knowing how to answer some of those freaking hard questions make us feel anything but wise and strong. Scars form in the silver streaks of hair and stress fractures lining the skin around our eyes and the motions of our mouths.

I guess that’s one reason why I love working with the elderly. They’ve accumulated enough battle scars to have lived fully, yet I see something in most of them that makes it all pretty dang awesome. Like sculptures of divine wisdom, they glow with that word at the top of our lists: Love. Of course. But not just Love; it’s out love. Those who out loved what other people thought, out loved anything their kids did or didn’t do, out loved the hard-to-answer questions that scarred a thick layer of life over their youth.

I don’t know, maybe this is one giant cliche after all. But, I guess if it takes that much repetition to drill Love’s power into our hearts than that makes it okay.

Me, Garfield, maybe you– we’re going to learn to out love Mondays and all impossible seasons. Here we go…