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…

Christmas Love

My Grandparents had a simple little house, with sparse decoration and healthy accents of clutter. I think Grandma must have grown up with too little, because she often washed our clothes as soon as we stepped in the door as if they were our only outfits. We hung out in my Grandpa’s t-shirts until the house smelled of downy softness, and our clothes were ready for another day of play. That’s what we did mostly—ran around their expansive yard all day. That is where their wealth was. In the roses that smelled better than any perfume, on the swing placed in the shade of a giant cottonwood tree, and in the rows of vegetables—I can still taste those homegrown tomatoes, spilling down my chin and sliding into my stomach, forever spoiling me for garden freshness.

When we came inside for lunch, we were usually served something like ramen noodles. I thought it was the best meal ever. We ate over a basic laminate table, next to the glass doors where we could see their beautiful yard. There were usually a few piles of mail and Parade magazines strewn about the living room. I can’t pick up a newspaper today without thinking of those piles with the summer light washing them in home-style glory.20151221_084236

Mostly what I remember is the smell of laundry detergent and a whole lotta love. There was never a house redecoration, or new clothes for my grandparents—no brand names haunted them—only ghosts of the Great Depression dressed as frugality. Although they could have lived a little richer, Their values were of family and the spirit of God. No matter what I did, what I said or didn’t say, I always knew I was good enough for my grandparents.

This is the spirit of Christmas. It’s a reflection of Love coming into a dark world haunted by the things that hurt and the things that hide in piles not dealt with. But there’s a light coming in, washing all of us in home-style glory, because no matter how broken we are, no matter how much we mess up, there’s a Savior loving us anyway.

Grace and the Doppelganger

My kids are sweet, round-cheeked, kitten-cuddly miracles. But they have doppelgangers. Oh yes, these creatures of darkness bear fangs. They shout and push their competitive natures into my peace at least three times a day. It’s a tug-of-war about which creature got more juice, who got to sit on Mommy’s lap the longest. Who got the most violent…

“Mommy, he hit me, and threw my baby bear!”DSCF1156


But I know what it’s really about. It’s why when people come to my desk at work and dump their bad day into my lap, I know better than to take it personally (although I do bite on occasion). It’s not about who got served first. It’s not even about the doppelganger who complained about the staff member that refused to personally clear the snow around their car, de-ice the path from their car to the front door andwipeofftheirshoessotheydon’tslipontheimportedtile. It’s really not. And when someone flips you off in traffic because you’re only going 5 miles over the speed limit instead of the expected 15, it’s really not about how much they dislike you or your driving decisions. Like my kids, what they’re really saying, in the deepest parts of their heart is: “What about me?”

People hurt. And they display their pain in various ways. Revengeful natures, criticism, anger, jealousy; it’s all a masked plea to gain the attention of our parent.

“Do you see me God? How much do you love me, really?”

Even those of us who know Him forget how much he has already done for us. Would I, like Him, sacrifice my son for the jerk who spit on me? No, I wouldn’t. But God did.

His only beloved son, who at one time was a child–a round-cheeked kitten-cuddly miracle, minus the doppelganger side.

My kids hear me only when they’ve quieted down and taken their masks off. Otherwise, they get consumed by The Creatures, blinded to how much they’re loved.

A good plan for the New Year would be to live in grace. To give it, receive it, and give thanks for all that’s been given to us. That’s where we find peace.

How to wrap a Christmas gift

Sometimes the most wonderful time of the year feels like living inside a mobile barrel of monkeys. It starts off a jolly good time until you realize it’s just a huge bucket of chaos. One monkey’s using your hair as a steering wheel, tugging you to every Black-Friday-Cyber-crazy-half-off-sale until you wonder how wonderful time became synonymous with stressful.

Don’t misunderstand, there is much joy in giving and gratitude in receiving, but what can we offer our circle of family and friends when the stress gets in the way of the heart of Christmas?

How do those who live paycheck to paycheck give generously?

Or for those who have a few more dollars, what can bless others that will mean more than the newest gadget or someone’s 200th DVD?

Hildreth has been coming to my mind a lot lately as I deal with the monkey barrel. prayercandlesShe lived in the Retirement Resort for a few years before she left us for Florida. She was one of the quietest, but her impression was one of the deepest. How many times she shared her dessert with me, I can’t count…how many times she kept me company after I dimmed the lights and waited inside the empty lobby for something or someone to need my attention…but it was mostly that time she invited me to her apartment that I saw her shine.

She had welcomed me inside so she could clean my wedding ring for me, but what a delight I found at her dining room table. She laughed when my smile spread the width of her apartment, and tried to brush off what I saw as a silly thing, but it wasn’t. I can still see inside her dimly-lit apartment, the teddy bears—one in each of her dining room chairs around her table—several were Victorian elegant, some fluffy, but they were all her family. She had flesh-and-blood family, her daughter Jane was just as sweet, but those bears filled the empty places when she was alone.

“They keep me company,” she said, and smiled as she escorted me into her bathroom. She dipped my ring into a tub of cleaner and talked about how it wonderfully it shined up her jewelry and didn’t it make my ring shine too?

“It sure does,” I said, but it wasn’t the ring as much as it was Hildreth. She shined, in her smile, in the way she made a family out of a collection of Teddy Bears, in the way she gave me all that she really wanted—company.

I have this monkey pounding on my head this year, steering me this way and that, demanding I drive it through blocks of politically-correct commerce. It’s annoying, demanding, and works hard to suck the joy out of all that’s wonderful.

I keep my memory of Hildreth in front of me and reach for the catalog on the buffet. That darn monkey is yanking on my hair and pointing toward that stores that won’t let its employees say Merry Christmas, but I turn my head away and look back to my own table. This is the only catalog that hasn’t found its way into the trash can. There are photos of babies. I can pay $9 and feed one of them for a week. There are shoeboxes I can fill with toys and toothbrushes that will be the only gift a child will get this year. I can give to our patriots, help build a school or a church—there is something for every income and I AM IN.

This is stable-love.

This is shaking those monkeys out of my life, the light coming from Hildreth, the Jesus the world needs to see.

This is Merry Christmas.

Show, Don’t Tell

There’s a technique that writers use to help draw a reader into a story. It’s called showing vs. telling. Of course, this is a universal truth. I could tell my kids to eat healthy or I could show them by doing it myself.

I could tell you Jane is angry at me, or I could show you how she tore into my driveway, banged on the door until I let her in, and then leaned into my face with balled fists, face hot-poker red, staring me down until I asked, “What?”image007

A great story will stir something inside you that makes you add it to your kids inheritance, it’s that powerful.

This is how we know Jesus is real, friends. How many religions tell you nice things? Mind-provoking things, even; things that you discuss for hours at a time? How many have enticing arguments against everything you thought you knew?

Now, make a list of all the “gods” that let themselves get beaten to a pulp, spit on, mocked (to this day), and literally crucified – showing you He is the real deal?

It’s Jesus, people. You won’t find that kind of love anywhere else. The generic versions are nothing but one-dimensional talk.

This blog was brought to you by the letter T for Truth.

Don your ball gown

Autumn is a beautiful misery. Shade trees flame into golden reds before undressing for winter. They drop their clothing to the earth, stripped of their ball gowns, leaving their skeletons to point at the sun. After their dramatic exit, our heroes burn through the decayed clothing to protect us from its fury that can turn a town into ash. It’s necessary, I know. Prescribed burns help protect us from the monster blazes, and even promote germination of certain trees. It’s a death to promote life, and in the midst of pumpkin pie excitement, we try not to choke on its polluted breath.

The smoke keeps me on a steady diet of tea and honey. My son has to hole up 1029131129inside to protect his fragile lungs, and in our living room we become part-time hermits for the holiday season. But we still sing to the Silent Nights and lift our tea cups to the King that died on his own tree, bleeding into the earth an invitation where death has no place and the only fires that exist are the ones He placed inside our hearts.

My children marvel at the trees that are in-between green and red, orange and yellow. Something about this season has wired them with energy beyond what sugar can do. They delight in the tie-dye colors and wind that blows the leaves into a confetti spice, weaving in and out of fence posts and windshield wipers. A passion for life has filled them, almost as if the flames are teasing their feet.

And we sniff, and cough and sneeze in the beauty.

When Christ displayed His love on the cross, didn’t He show it with fiery passion? I think on how often I stay in the fire compared to the times I just want to crawl underneath security blankets and block out the smoke and darkness the next few months will bring.
But, the fire, when shaped and pruned by God, is what lights up the world.

So maybe this season is God’s reminder to keep the flames going. If you let yourself get lukewarm, the decayed things collected through the years will ignite uncontrollable and consume all that is good. But if we stoke the fire, and let God strip the dead stuff away, how much more will the world see His glory?

What does autumn remind you of? Tell us in the comments.