Christmas Eve Light and Love

Twenty-two years ago Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, just like this year.  My baby girl was three months and three days old, and she was being baptized at the morning church service.

Christmas Eves at our church then were quite full.  The church couldn’t be decorated until after service on the fourth Sunday of Advent, which Christmas Eve was that year.  After church, folks ran home, changed clothes, and then came back to decorate or “green the church.”  Another quick trip home and then we were back for a Wassail party (not a fan myself) and Covered Dish Supper.  Caroling was after, and then midnight service began at 11:30.  A beautiful day filled with joy and being together.

Together.

During the morning service, the two dear friends we had asked to be Auburn’s godparents stood up next to us and promised to love her and help teach her right from wrong, kindness from cruelty, caring from apathy.  Auburn’s godfather wasn’t yet married to the woman who had come with him that morning, but I know she must have promised all of those things too, sitting in the pew, watching as these bonds were formed.

I know this because that day she also became Auburn’s godmother.  In every sense of the word.

Over the years she has written notes of encouragement, given hugs of comfort, listened to my girl (and me), and laughed alongside us–often helping us to find the humor in situations.  She loved with a passion that one isn’t always lucky enough to come across.  Bless her, as my sister Mess Cat says, “She was larger than life.”

This past week, this dear soul left this world, ending her fight with cancer.  Amidst people who knew and loved her, her husband, and her son, we said goodbye on Thursday, gathered around the tent as the cold wind whipped around us.  Her husband got up and shared through his tears the joy and love she gave them all these years.  It was a time of celebrating and remembering one who loved and was loved with great adoration.

Last weekend my friend sat and told me and Auburn how when he first met his wife, she had said, moving things out of the seat next to her, “You just come sit right here beside me,” with her lovely Southern drawl.  Bless her, that’s who she has always been–welcoming, comforting, hospitable, and seemingly on the verge of a joy-filled laugh at any given time.

Today, as my littles have the wiggles and giggles and excitement abounds, I remember my friend–this dear woman who never missed an opportunity to make me, Auburn, or anyone else feel welcome and important.  I remember her standing by her husband twenty-two years ago today, holding my baby girl, and smiling with all her heart with joy.  It was a precious day.  I am thankful she was there.

As I am thankful she has been there for so much of our journey.

My heart is mindful of the ones who knew and loved her best–her husband, her son, her sister, her mother–and I know that in great contrast to the holiday music, bright lights, light-hearted movies, and cheerful greetings everywhere we go, they are bathed in the darkness of grief and pain and loss.  I am mindful of others who will spend this holiday missing someone they hold dear, for whom Christmas does not evoke visions of sugarplums dancing.

And I remember my sweet friend’s words, “Come sit here right beside me.”  If you are bathed in darkness just now, I hope that you will hear these words from someone.  I’m here, as are many others who have walked the path you are on, and we understand the darkness.  Come sit by us.

Or perhaps you are like my friend and could welcome someone who needs to hear those words.  They are indeed words that can change a life.

Wishing you all much love and light in the darkness, as the world celebrates glad tidings of Joy and Good News.  As I remember the baby from 22 years ago whom I held close as I sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” walking across the churchyard in the dark, I give thanks for 22 years of wonderful memories.  Time passes way too quickly, so may you all find time to make merry memories to recall and enjoy in the years to come.

Love to all.

IMG_6378

from the outside looking in

my Christmas list

this year

is filled with mere things,

because what I really want

and need and what my heart aches for

can never be given again–

-the sound of your voice

-the warmth of your hug

-the taste of the chewy bars you baked just for me

-the gift of your wisdom

-the wonderful stories you told

that we never wrote down

-the feel of your hand in mine

-the secure feeling of knowing you would make

everything okay

-the joy in standing next to you,

warming our backs against the fire

-the smell of the kitchen

when we’d come home from school

after you’d been baking

-the joy of making you laugh

-an afternoon of watching football together

and appreciating those Clydesdale commercials

and getting in trouble with Mama for betting a quarter

-awakening to the sound of you stirring the grits

or making the toast on a cold school morning

-your face being the last I saw at night

and the first I saw in the morning

 

they were the best of times

but also the worst, to borrow from

Mr. Dickens,

because

I didn’t appreciate

those precious,

ordinary moments for what they were

 

a gift, moments that would all too soon

become a memory

 

and now I stand outside in the cold of winter

looking in through the window

at all that has gone before

 

I cannot feel the warmth of the fire

or hear the laughter or smell what’s cooking

or reach out for you,

the lights twinkle but there is a haze and

it is not clear anymore

 

the door is locked and the key is lost

 

some days I stand there and watch for hours–

they never seem to notice me–

but most days I pull my sweater close around me,

turn

and walk away

 

 

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.

 

 

Tears on a Tuesday…..Loneliness, Laundry, and Living on the Streets

Whoa, Tuesday!  You sure did jump out of nowhere and grab ahold of my heart today.  Totally wasn’t expecting all of that.

There have been tears today.  Over the realizing all over again what Thursday is and that she isn’t here to make her dressing.  I’ve only not had Mama’s dressing three Thanksgivings in my life–the year we were in Japan and the two years that Daddy was so sick.  I just don’t even know.  But I know there are harder things in this life.

Later Sister called saying she was thinking about making gingerbread cookies. I laughed, as she often calls looking for a recipe.  Often the same recipe I’ve given her before.  More than once.  She knows it–she owns it.  When I asked if she needed the recipe, she began sobbing into the phone.  Oh baby girl.  I wanted to crawl through the phone line and hug her.  Turns out she didn’t need the recipe after all.  She just needed me to listen.  Whenever she makes those cookies she thinks of Mama and all the times she called and asked Mama for the recipe.  Precious memories.  And hard.  But still I know there are harder things on this journey.

I was with my Sister Circle this afternoon at Daybreak. We had a small group as some of our friends were out of town.  As we talked about forgiveness and what that looks like and what it’s like to apologize, our conversation eventually turned to the holiday season.  We eventually got around to whether or not the holidays were hard for each of us.  One of our sisterfriends said no, that it was about being with family and she was so happy for Thursday and the opportunity to do just that–be with her family all together.  I looked over at Miss N, our sisterfriend who is the artist, and asked her.  She shrugged.  She won’t be going to be with her family this year.  “It’s hard,” she says.  “It’s only one day.  It’s just one day.”  And I could hear her unsaid words echoing in my head and heart.

“Why’s it gotta be just one day?”

I know.  I get it.  She’s lonely every other day of the year.  Why go and do this for just one day when she’ll have to go back as it was the very next day?  And every day after that.

Broke my heart.

I also saw my friend Mac today.  I guess I “conjured him up.”  I hadn’t heard from him in about two weeks, and last week some folks shared how concerned they were about him.  I called his Mama this afternoon to see if she’d heard how he was, and so yes, of course, he was right there in front of me after I hung up with her.  I was glad to see him.

He hung around for us to visit after Sister Circle was over.  It’s been cold, and today it rained all day long.  He looked like he was doing all right though.  But he’s tired.  He teared up as he talked about it.  He’s done with living on the streets.  Again.  He wants to go back to the transitional program he was a part of out of town.  Again.  He had lost the number to the contact there, a man who really cares about Mac.  I have it, so I handed Mac my phone with the number ready to dial. Was I calling his bluff, wondering if he was just telling me what I wanted to hear?  Maybe.  But he took the phone.  He made the call himself.  And he called back.  And he did this for himself.

Turns out he can’t return there.  Long story, but I understand.  And I agree.  But the person there cares so much, he called me back with two places to contact and see if they have an opening for Mac.  I am thankful for him and his caring heart.  Funny thing is, I didn’t see it in the beginning.  This tough love thing is hard to discern sometimes.  And judging someone at first contact almost always gets me in trouble.  He’s a good guy.  I appreciate him.

As I sat visiting with Mac, a volunteer called out a name, and a young couple went over to the half-door at the laundry room where several washers and dryers were working hard to keep up with all the needs for the day.  The volunteer who is there without fail every Tuesday afternoon handed over a basket of clean clothes.  What caught my eye was the look of sheer joy on their faces.  The young woman (honestly she didn’t look much older than my Aub) closed her eyes and breathed in the clean smell.  They both pulled their still warm clothes close to their chests and sighed contentedly.  The woman squealed with delight and her companion laughed loudly at her joy.

Y’all.

I had to look away and wipe my eyes.

I’m a spoiled you know what.
I have my own washer and dryer.  I have a precious family whose clothes I get to wash.  Whenever I want.  We have a place to store our clothes rather than shoving them back in a backpack…..and having to carry all of our clothes on our back or risk having them taken away.   Oh, how I have taken it all for granted.  How many times have I whined or moaned over the laundry, the washing the folding the putting away?

Watching that beautiful couple and their sheer joy over something that is so basic for me and mine…..

it made me thankful.  And ashamed.  And it put things into perspective.

At least for today.

So in the morning, in the midst of the traditional baking and remembering who is not with us this year, and trying to figure out if I even want to attempt Mama’s dressing, I will be making calls for Mac and waiting for him to call me and keeping my fingers crossed that something will work out…..and that this time he can hold his own in his battle with that demon alcohol.  And I will be playing catch-up with the laundry.  I am sure at some point I will find myself breathing in the clean clothes and holding the warmth close to my heart.  And remembering the joy I got to see.
Yes, I know there are far harder things in life.  The realization that the loneliness will return after one day of being with others keeping you from even trying, the horror of fighting a demon that puts your life in danger each and every day–and cold, wet night, and the life of carrying all the clothes you own around in a backpack…..I’ve seen them all today.  All I’m left with is the tears.

Oh Tuesday…..