Maemae’s Holiday Book–2015 Edition

December 17, 1967.

Forty-eight years ago.

My parents stood before a small group of family and friends in front of the Pastor, and with my Mama’s best friend and my Daddy’s Daddy standing beside them, they said “I do.”

And they did.

They laughed, they learned, they worked hard, they listened, they tried, they failed, they succeeded, but most of all they loved.

Through it all. They loved.

Each other.  Us.  People they met along life’s journey.

They loved.

One of the things they enjoyed most was hearing stories about the children in the family–and those who were not in the family.  They loved the stories, and they loved being with them.  Over the years it became one of their greatest joys to pick out books for the little ones they knew and loved.  On birthdays and especially at Christmas.

It has been one of mine too.  For the past two Christmases I have chosen “Maemae’s holiday book” in honor of their anniversary. This being the third Christmas without my Mama right here with us, I spent a lot of time and energy and thought into making my choice for the book this year.

img_0855

Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman 

This year’s story I had to think about before committing to it.  After all, it is about a mouse.  Mama was not a fan of mice.  As a matter of fact, she could be downright inhospitable to the little creatures.  She never could sit down and watch “Ratatouille.”  A mouse that cooks?  Food?  In a restaurant?  “Blech,” she would say and shake her head.

Oh me.

But this little mouse named Mortimer (pretty sure Mama would have loved his name too, I know I do) is adorable, and the whole book is whimsical at the surface and powerful underneath.  It’s about making room and finding a place and feeling the love of the Gift given all so many years ago.  Without giving the storyline away, we can all learn something about hospitality and welcoming with open arms from this little mouse.  Eventually.  Like all the rest of us, Mortimer is a work in progress.

As I sit here next to our twinkle-lighted tree with “Mortimer” at my side, I give thanks for my parents who loved reading and taught me to do so as well.  I give thanks for them and their love of children and books and how they loved matching the perfect book to the perfect child.  It was a beautiful thing to behold and to be a part of.  Tonight I’m honored to carry on this tradition, and I hope, as the ones loved so dearly by Maemae and Cap/Uncle B and Aunt B find their books in their mailboxes over the next couple of days, that they will remember the smiles and the hugs, and even if they don’t remember that–I hope they will know how precious they are, that they were and are still so loved, and that every person deserves a sweet place where they are always welcome.  A place to call home.

Love to all.

img_0856

As I read Mortimer’s story, I kept thinking of this picture our Princess drew several years ago.  It is all of us around the supper table.  She said that extra seat was in case a special Guest dropped by.  Keeping room for others–at our table, in our homes, in our hearts, and in our lives–that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  

 

PSI have one copy about Mortimer’s little adventure to share.  I’d love to send it to someone with a little one or not quite so little one who would enjoy it.  Comment below sharing your favorite holiday book and subscribe to the blog and you’re entered to win.  It’s that easy.  Winner will be selected randomly Friday 12/18 at midnight EST.  

Jesus on the Roof

“There’s a house…..on that street over near the DQ on the way home, you know?  Well, they had Jesus up on the roof!  I could scarce believe my eyes…..up on the roof–JESUS!”

“Jesus on the roof, huh?  That’s different.”

“But it’s for Christmas!  I think it’s kind of cool…..definitely different.  He wasn’t all lit up when I passed by this morning, but early this evening, there he was, lights all shining!  I’m betting airplanes could see him from the sky!”

“Airplanes?  Must not have been baby Jesus–they had a grown-up Jesus, up on the roof?  For Christmas?”  The disbelief in the tone of the questions made me realize we weren’t on the same wavelength.  And I laughed.

“Nooooo.  Jesus is on the roof.  J. E. S. U. S.  In LIGHTS.  For all the world to see.  Isn’t that awesome?”

“Well, it’s definitely different…..”

A conversation that took place many years ago came to mind today as I traveled down an old road from the past.  As I turned beside the Dairy Queen, I remembered that house.  And those lights on the roof.  And I wondered if I would remember which house it had been that kept the lights up there all year long, but only turned them on around Christmas.

As I rounded the corner…..was it that one, no, the slant on the roof was wrong, it was just a little further, and then…..

there it was.

J. E. S. U. S.

J. E. S. U. S.

AND THERE JESUS WAS.

Still up there.

For the love.

The leaves from the fading trees helped outline the letters.  I could just make out the letters against the brown roof.

And I smiled SO big.

That right there brought me so much joy.

Something that hadn’t changed after all those many, many  years.

Years of heartbreak and pain and loss and tears and joys and love and light.

Something that hadn’t changed one little bit…..

and looka there–

it’s JESUS.

Still the same.

Right where he’s always been.

Up high for all to see.

Shedding light.

Tonight I’m thankful for the things and people who are constant in my life.  Changes are a part of life, but the people and places and Lights who don’t change bring me joy and peace and also bring back happy memories.

And Jesus on the roof?  I think that’s pretty awesome.  Someone showed a lot of love and skill and Christmas spirit about twenty years ago, and it is still bringing me joy.

May we all do something today that will bring joy to others for years to come…..

Love to all.

 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…..

The holiday season is upon us.

I mean, officially.

Hallmark Channel has been showing Christmas movies for weeks, and I actually heard Christmas music on the radio two weeks ago.  It’s just that now I can enjoy it all guilt free.  I used to be one of those who would not listen to a single Christmas carol before Thanksgiving Day was over, but I have to admit that last year and this, I’ve snuck in some listening a little earlier.  I’ve needed what the music does for my soul.  And now, I can listen without shame.  Without hiding.  Without worrying that the littles were going to throw me under the bus about what I’d been listening to.

We have a gentleman who lives about a mile from here who decorates his yard elaborately every year.  Except for last Christmas.  Big trees had fallen on his home after a tremendous rainstorm, so while he was rebuilding, no lights.  But this year, road construction going on in front of his house and all–he’s got them out.  And he started lighting them up at night a week or so ago.  I am so happy to see those lights again.  They were missed last year.

This past week my next door neighbor has been putting lights up all over his house–eaves, around the windows, bushes, etc.  It’s impressive.  A few nights ago he was working on some finishing touches with his teenaged son.  I teased my neighbor that he was trying to make all the rest of us look like slackers.  He laughed and said his goal was to have lights like Clark Griswold (“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”).  That made me laugh and of course I had to say, “Clark, the little lights, they’re not twinkling.”  He replied, “Yeah,” nodding towards his son, “I just asked him if I could call him Russ, just for today.”

I love it.  And I love that I can see their lights from where I’m sitting near the fireplace right now.

But us?

Well, no lights outside.

But turns out, we have decorated for the season.

And it was no trouble at all.

The mistletoe peeking out from the beautiful fall foliage of my Bradford Pear.

The mistletoe peeking out from the beautiful fall foliage of my Bradford Pear.

 

I first noticed this growing on/in my Bradford Pear tree a couple of months ago.  When everything was green, it was hard to completely decide that one of these things was not like the other, but I had my suspicions.  And sure enough, now that the tree that I chose because of its beautiful, flaming, fall foliage is in full “bloom,” I know exactly what that is.

Mistletoe.

See?

Decorated.

I remember stories of folks going out in the woods and shooting down mistletoe to bring back and hang in their homes.  I am delighted–downright tickled–that my front yard can boast such an old-fashioned Christmas decoration!

It is interesting to read about mistletoe.  Turns out that clump was probably started over a year ago, from just a tiny little seed left there by a bird who likely ate a mistletoe berry from somewhere else.  It is slow growing and has to function on its own for a bit until it can really root into its host tree and then it grows right there with the tree.

All concerns about whether this is harming my Bradford Pear aside, this plant that is growing as though it was always a part of the original tree all along got me to thinking.

About Christmas spirit.

And hope.

It’s hard during dark times and times of loss and pain to have either of those.  And yet, one day someone comes along and smiles or offers directions or compliments you on your shirt, and suddenly you are stepping a little lighter, if only for a moment.  And then later on, it takes root, down deep in your heart and soul and it becomes an integral part of your being.  Your way of life.

Hope, spirit, love, light–it’s a part of your very being.

And it stands out just as much as that mistletoe does on my beautiful Bradford Pear.

Tonight I’m thankful for those who light up the world with their holiday spirit–even if it might seem a little early to some folks.  I’m thankful for laughter and funny movies and things that lift our spirits in the midst of times that otherwise might bring us down.  I give thanks for surprises and discoveries that send me reading and learning and that make me smile.  (And I’m thankful that I have a nurseryman/horticulturist in the family whom I can ask what is best for me to do for my beautiful tree and its parasitic friend.)

As we go about our days, may we never miss a moment to drop a seed that could help grow someone’s hope and Christmas spirit.  For it is through those small kindnesses that we can light up the whole world, not just during the holiday season, but everyday.

Love to all.

 

 

The Man from Hollywood…..and the Christmas Spirit

This afternoon I made a trip up to Daybreak.  We weren’t officially having our Sister Circle today, but since the shelter is closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I wanted to go up and see our friends and wish them a Merry Christmas.

As I was saying goodbye to Mac and wishing him a good Christmas, I gave him a hug and noticed that his coat was damp.  The perils of living outside.  When it rains, everything you owns gets wet.  It is hard–this balancing loving someone whose choices put his very life at risk.  He has other options, other resources.  This is his choice at this time, I have to keep reminding myself.  It still didn’t keep me from worrying about the wind that was getting colder by the minute and him in those damp clothes as he limped away to his “camp” with his friends.

I was lost in my thoughts, standing on the sidewalk outside Daybreak watching him go, when this gentleman carrying two bags stopped and said hello. I turned toward him.

“You volunteer here, don’t you?” he asked.

“Yessir, I do.”

He stuck his hand out and introduced himself.  “I’m Sanford Robertson.  I’ve been in Macon twenty-three days now.  I’m from Hollywood, Florida.”

My mouth dropped.  “Hollywood, Florida?  Really?  My Mama was born there.”

He smile grew bigger.  He asked me if it was a specific hospital.  I couldn’t be sure and told him so.  I told him how I’d misunderstood when I was little about Mama being born in Hollywood, as you might imagine.

He laughed.  “Yes.  A lot of people get them mixed up.  It’s not THAT Hollywood.”

Y’all. I felt like I had a wink from my Mama.  Especially with the next words he said.

“You know there’s a blessing coming for you, right?  You just have to hang on a little while longer.  But yes ma’am, there’s one coming for you.”

I felt like Mama was there encouraging me again.  Hang in there.  It will be okay.  Oh my heart.

Mr. R continued to share his story.  He’s in town because he trusted someone, a fiancée, a little too much, followed her here, and gave her all his money. After which she was no longer his fiancée.  And so he’s stuck here.  Until he can work something else out.

In the meantime, he walks the streets of Macon making people smile and blessing them.  And sharing the spirit of Christmas and the Spirit.

Last week he found himself at the bus station.  There was a young woman there, crying her eyes out. “She was a child really,” he said.  “Twenty-two years old.  Babies having babies.  She has two.”

He approached her and asked, “Why are you crying, child?”

She sobbed harder.  He stood there until she could gather herself and speak again.  Turns out she was in a hard place.  She and her sister live in a home together with their four little ones between them–the youngest less than two months old.  She can’t pay the bills and she’s scared.

Mr. R offered to pray with her.  She nodded.  They joined hands and he prayed.  He’s a preacher’s kid, so he’s heard a few in his life.  After the prayer, she thanked him and he started to walk away.

“You ever have one of those moments when the Spirit taps you on the shoulder and wants you to do something, and you look around sure that He’s got the wrong person?  That He doesn’t really mean YOU?”

Ummm, once or twice, yessir.  Sure have.

“Well, the Spirit told me I should offer her the groceries I was about to pick up from the Mission.  I shook my head, and I kept on walking.  At least I tried to.  Yeah, I tried to keep on walking away, but it’s like my feet were frozen in place.  You know what I mean?”

I do.  We’ve all got a bit of Jonah in us, don’t we?

He sighed.  “Well, I finally figured out I wasn’t going to be leaving without doing what the Spirit wanted me to do, so I turned back around, and I told her where I was heading and that whatever I had coming my way was hers.  Hers and that family of hers.”

He tugged at his jacket.  The wind was picking up a bit. He continued his story. “Then she asked me, ‘Just tell me this one thing.  Why do you want to do this?’ and I told her, ‘I don’t want to do this.  But I’m going to.'”

I laughed.  He chuckled too.

“Well, I went on down to the Mission.  I told the man there, I was straight with him, that things had changed a bit, and that I had a friend who was in a bad way.  Worse than I was.  And he loaded me down with a ham, turkey, case of peanut butter, rice……” He listed all the things he could remember receiving.  They were very generous.  He estimated it was $75-$80 worth of groceries.  But I’m telling you I went to the store just the other day.  It was worth a lot more than that.

Mr. R started thinking about how he was going to get all of these groceries across town.  “That devil was trying to get me to keep those groceries for myself, I can tell you that.  From the moment I tried to walk away from her, he was a’tryin’ to change my mind.  But I was having none of that.  I used to be full of foolishness, but God’s working on me, and I’m not going to go back on my word that easy.”

He stood outside the Mission.  He had $3 to his name, all in his pocket.  He offered it to a few folks to drive him over to the young woman’s home.  Seems they all were headed in a different direction.  Again that devil was offering him an out.  Then he saw a grocery cart close by.  Just there, belonging to nobody.  So he loaded everything in it.  And tried to figure out how he was going to push that heavy cart all the way to her home.

“Then I seen one of them homeless fellas from down here [Daybreak] walk by.  I told him I had $3 and that was all I had, but it was all his if he’d help me push this cart over to her house.”  He paused and waved his arm out.  “We pushed that thing up all them hills, but you know, he stuck with me the whole time.”

When he got there, the young woman wasn’t home.  Her sister was, and she could scarce believe her eyes.  He opened their refrigerator and there was a half jug of milk and a bottle of water.  And that was all.  Hardly anything in their pantry either.  And they weren’t going to get any more assistance before January 1.

Y’all.  I can’t even.

He unloaded, and the sister timidly asked him a question.  “Mr. R?  Do you mind if I give you a hug?”

He said he has granddaughters older than these girls, and that when that “child” hugged him, she held on tight.  “You just don’t know how you’ve saved us,” she said.  “You just don’t know.”

The young woman who hadn’t been home when he made his delivery called him at the shelter later on.  She, too, was in tears.  “I had no idea you’d bring this much.  Thank you.  Thank you so much.”

By now the clouds were gathering and turning into shades of dark gray.  My sweatshirt that had been too warm on the ride up to Macon was nowhere near enough as I stood there listening to Mr. R’s story.  I was thankful he had on a few more layers.

“So you see, like I told her then, there’s a blessing coming, child.  I don’t know from where or when, but you hang on.  It’s coming.  One day.  It will come.” He asked me my name.  I told him. “For you too, Tara.  It’s coming.”

I looked at Mr. R, and for a moment, I was really puzzled.  Could it be that this man, who was headed out this afternoon, walking to the Salvation Army in the hopes of finding a bed for the night, had not a clue that HE was her blessing?  And in many ways–mine for today?

As we parted ways, me not sure if I would ever see him again or if I would get to hear how his story turned out, I gave thanks for Mr. R and his story.  And his birth and life in Hollywood, Florida.  And for his ways, so much like my Mama’s, who also would have given the shirt off her back if someone needed it.  Or her ham and turkey and last $3.  Whatever it took.

What a story for Christmas!  And everyday.  He reminds me of The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke.  He was interruptible, and he changed lives with his gift.  I wonder if those little ones looked at the man coming through the door with all those goodies loaded in a grocery cart, and thought that Father Christmas, Santa Claus himself, had arrived at their door.

The Spirit called him, and he answered.  May it be so with all of us.  (And God, when (not if, I’m afraid) I try to walk away, please freeze my feet too!)

Love to all.  And to all a good night.  Sleep well, Mac, I pray you are somehow miraculously warm and dry.  And Mr. R, may you sleep the slumbers of a soul done good, and those little ones and the sisters with full tummies, may you dream the sweet dreams of those who have been touched by love, a love that asks for nothing in return.  The true Spirit of Christmas.  And the Spirit of every day.