Thursday, December 23, 2010

Joy to the World

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you, is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." ~Luke 2: 10 & 11

It's the Monday before Christmas and the babies are arriving at daycare. They're dressed in adorable Christmas outfits,  coincidentally with snowmen on each of them. They look adorable. I have a bag packed with sippy cups, snacks, diapers and wipes. Also, a few special toys that they seldom see. Its a trick I learned when my own children were small. Keep a few unfamiliar toys for "emergency situations" when you need children to behave.

I make the phone call and confirm that yes, we are infact still welcome. We pile into the car, buckle up and sing Christmas songs like Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman along the way. We also go over the rules, as best you can with a 2 1/2 year old and a 13 month old anyway. "Be polite, smile, say Merry Christmas" I urge.....I wonder am I talking to them or myself?

We're off to the nursing home to visit my  83 year old grandmother. I adore my grandmother. During the 50s and 60s she raised four children on her own. Not an easy thing to do during any era but particularly during those years. She was poor but hardworking, firm with her children but she loved them, different from her peers but graceful just the same. I have always admired my grandmother, considering her to be a very strong, brave, independent woman. Its difficult to see her now in a nursing home relying on others for her care.

I admittedly don't visit often. Sad but true. Life is busy and I don't make time. But because its Christmas I am going to. I'm bringing the daycare babies along with me, hoping that they will bring a ray of sunshine into her life. I assume her life is gloomy and gray.

As we enter the building, we are greeted by unfamiliar yet smiling faces. An older gentlemen leans against the wall for support and smiles at us. Just the site of two toddlers toddling makes  pleases him. As we pass by doorway after doorway, we see patients in various states of need. Some are bedridden, some are in wheelchairs, some walking. All of them are smiling. Many of them say "Your grandmother is so excited your coming".

As we enter Memere's room, I prepare myself for what I might see.  Instead,  I am greeted with a grin from ear to ear. She startles and gasps when she realizes not only have I brought along the daycare but my oldest daughter, home from college. She is absolutely,  noticeably,  THRILLED. Her room is decorated with Christmas cards, a tree and photos of her family. When she embraces me I feel  her happiness in her touch.

Over the course of the next hour and half, we open gifts, reminisce over pictures and stories and hug, often. After a while, the babies start to get antsy and I suggest we go for a walk. To my surprise the 2 year old climbs right up  into my grandmothers lap as though she's the Grand Marshall in a parade. As I push Mem down the hallways we are introduced to her friends, wish them Merry Christmas and show off the babies. Every single person in that home, ooooh'd and aahhhhh'd over those babies. Every single person beamed with happiness. And those babies ate it up!!!!! I mean they PUT ON A SHOW :)

My grandmother was in her glory....excited to show us all around the place, the dining hall, the physical therapy room, the TV gathering area. I'll be honest, it surprised me. I expected this visit to be sort of depressing. Instead, it warmed my heart. Memere is genuinely happy. Her friends are sweet and kind, welcoming and loving. The babies automatically feel a connection with these elderly folk and the elderly, well, the only word that comes to mind it JOY. I can see it on their faces. I can hear it in their voices, its the sparkle in those old weary eyes. JOY just at the sight of seeing a child's face.

As we said our goodbyes, passed out one more hug and two more kisses, I realized that this visit wasn't just good for  my grandmother and  the residents at the nursing home. This visit brought ME a sense of peace, a sense of understanding, a sense of Christmas spirit. THIS is what its about, its about loving people, even people you don't know. Loving people, some of whom can't speak. Loving people, so sick they can't open their eyes. Loving them with a hug or a word or a smile. Love is how we can spread Joy to the World.

Dear God~

As the Christmas season draws very near, I pray we experience the joy of personal relationships, especially with your son, Jesus. May we treat each other kindly, lovingly, patiently.  May we share our faith, our time, our money, and ourselves. In doing so, may  we share the love of Jesus and be your light throughout the world.

In your sons precious name, Amen

** Todays blog is dedicated to my grandmother, Lorraine. A woman of grace, commitment, hard work and deep love for her friends and family. "Biggie",  I love you, with all of my heart.**

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Christmas Story

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him." ~John 3:16 &17 (NLT)

Have you ever seen the movie "A Christmas Story"?   Set in the 1940s little Ralphie is on a mission to convince his parents that he must have a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. It's his only wish for Christmas.....he's desperate for it! But his parents response is always basically the same "no way! you'll shoot your eye out!"

I have a couple of wonderful family Christmas stories but my personal favorite, involves that clarinet I mentioned in an earlier blog . Although several years have passed, it still brings tears to my eyes when I re-tell it.  My daughter, Chelsea was in 4th grade at the time. Her older sister, Kristi was in 7th grade.

We were in a crazy busy time of our lives. Each of the girls were 3 sport athletes in separate age groups, often playing on two teams EACH  during the same season. Rec soccer and travel soccer for example. There were practices every night of the week for one or both of them. In addition, there were birthday parties, tournaments, appointments, practices, games, CONSTANTLY! It was a very full but very happy phase of our life. We were busy but we were always together.

One fall afternoon, Chelsea came home from school, unloaded her backpack and dumped the contents on the table. With excitement in her voice, she said "Mom, I want to do this" and handed me a notice for the sign ups for band. She described in detail the demonstration that day at school. The musical instrument company had visited and brought along an assortment of instruments for the children to listen to, touch,  hold and admire. Chelsea was SOLD!

"No way! Chelsea, we are already soooooo busy! We have games and practices every night of the week. There is no way, I'm paying for an instrument and then fighting with you to practice. Absolutely NOT! This is not gonna happen" I insisted.

She begged and she pleaded and she begged some more. I said "NO" over and over and over again. For weeks we went back and forth. When I arrived at school to pick her, the band teacher greeted me. "Chelsea really wants to do this" she said. I explained my case, we're too busy, there just isn't time, I'm not wasting money on something I know she'll quit in 3 months. "We have a two week trial period, I can get her an instrument on loan at no charge. Let's just try and see how she does" the teacher persuaded.

I finally relented. Chelsea borrowed a clarinet from a former student and began her lessons. Now, this is going to sound like I'm bragging but the God's honest truth is..... that girl took to the clarinet like a fish takes to water. She didn't squeak and cause her parents to wear earplugs. She didn't fuss and have to be told to practice. She couldn't wait to get home from school and get her hands on that clarient. It was amazing......her passion for music and her instrument was incredible. Not being musically inclined, I had no idea of what she was capable of. Impressed is an understatement!

 By late November, it had become clear that Chelsea was in love with music. She was talented and it wasn't a phase. It would become a lifetime passion. As we worked on our Christmas Lists it became very clear what Chelsea would wish for .....her own, very new, very shiny clarient. She knew it was impossible. She also knew that she wanted it more than anything.  It was an outrageously extravagant gift,  financially,  I mean. Even so, I contacted the instrument company and arranged for monthly payments and delivery of the highly sought after, much loved clarient.

That Christmas morning, I honestly cant remember if it was the first gift or the last. Probably the latter, because.....well, I like to mess with my kids like that! Chelsea stood there ready to open her gift. Camera poised, I waited and watched. She tore the paper...... she realized the gift...... she screamed!......and then in a moment that took me completely by surprise.....she bawled. She clutched that gift to her chest and...... she sobbed. My 9 year old daughter was so touched and awed, she stood there and cried tears of gratitude and love.  It was without a doubt, probably  one the most genuine moments I have ever witnessed  of my children. She was in love. To this day, she loves her clarinet. She sat "First Chair" in the band her Freshman Year of High School and continues to excel and impress us all. The gift of this clarinet far surpassed anything I thought or expected.

This Christmas as we get caught up in all of the busyness, the decorating, the baking, the shopping, the wrapping, let's not forget that we too have been given a gift.  An outrageously, extravagant gift that is impossible to completely understand.

 A gift that arrived wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. God sent us the gift of his only son, Jesus. He came to earth, suffered, died, was buried. He  rose again three days later and ascended to Heaven. He came here so that we would be forgiven of our sins and could have eternal life in Heaven. He came here and left with us, the Holy Spirit, to guide and teach us how to "do life".

As with any gift, it must be given and it must be accepted. You may be  saying  to yourself, just as I said to my sweet daughter,  "I just don't have time for this"..."There's no more room in my life for anything else! There's no money, there's no time, there's no energy"......"Absolutely not! This just isn't what I need right now".

I can with all honesty tell you, accepting God's  gift will change your life. It's changed mine. Just as I couldn't have anticipated the joy Chelsea's talents would bring to her, and to all who hear her play....I never anticipated the joy having a personal relationship with Jesus brings. Please understand it's  not about going to church on Sunday, sending your kids to Bible School, or obeying all the rules....that's religion. The gift I am talking about is RELATIONSHIP.  Its about having a personal  relationship with God, with Jesus.

The benefits, you wonder? More love to your life, my joy to your world, more peace to your every day existence. It brings the assurance that no, you are not perfect, but you are forgiven and you will be received in Heaven when you leave this world.  It's too easy? You're right, it is the most simple, beautiful gift you ever receive. Here's the just have to accept it! Once you do, I have no doubt the tears of gratitude and love will pour out of you as well.

Have you accepted the gift that God has given you? Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? If not, why? If you want to know more,  please ask.

Father God~

May we never forget the Christmas gift you gave each of us. That you sent your son, Jesus, to save each one of us. May we accept that gift with open hearts and in absolute awe.  May our response be that of a child, clutching tightly to our hearts the treasure it is. May we love that gift and honor it and share it with others,  the way you intended us to do. Thank you Father God for the most incredible Christmas gift we could ever receive. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Holiday Hugs!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Wish List

"Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." ~Psalm 37:4

From the time my girls were very little, as the holiday season approached, they would make me a "Christmas Wish List". It started out being a craft project. We'd sit down with paper and crayons, glitter and glue and work on special "letters to Santa". It was the perfect way for me to find out what their hearts desires were, so that I could make their special wish come true. The "wishes" have ranged from barbies and bikes to tvs and ipods. One year, there was even a wish for a clarinet. That's another story for another day, however.

As the girls have gotten older,  the wish list event has too. Its no longer a sit-down-with-Mom-time to color and dream. Yup, kids grow up, whether we want them to or not.  For a time, Kristi would leave post-it notes, on my bureau or my nightstand.  Recently Chelsea prefers to send me links on FaceBook for the items she's wishing  for. Somehow, they always find a way to communicate with me what it is they want.  I've even asked Chris to give me his wish that he's not disappointed on Christmas morning. There's nothing more exciting that watching someone you love, open the gift they've been dreaming about, is there?

There have been a couple of times I've been able to pull off a full blown surprise. The beloved clarinet (I promise I'll share that story sometime), the all expenses paid trip to the softball coaching convention, and the treasured cell phone. Those are probably my favorite moments....they each knew they'd get a gift on Christmas morning, but they had NO IDEA how awesome it would be!

As I drove home from bible study last night I started thinking about my own wishes.....................

I wish there were more hours in a day

I wish I had more money

I wish I had someone to clean my house

I wish I hadn't said that

I wish I could spend more time with my husband, my daughters, my best friend

I wish I could lose this weight

I wish I could forgive the friend who betrayed me, the father who abandoned me, the people who have let me down and hurt me. I want to know what that feels truly forgive someone, to just "let it go" and move on.

I wish I had faith so deep and so honest and true that I believed everything God says about me. I want to be me, knowing that God created me this way and loves me this way.

I wish I had courage. I want to walk into a room, not worry about what people think, what people say, about me, my weight, my faith.

I wish I could trust God, trust his plan, trust his decisions, trust his Word. I don't want to try to control everything in my life. I'm sick of trying!  I want  to let him to handle the details and I want to follow his lead.

I wish.....I wish I had the faith, love, heart for God the way other people seem to. I WANT to know that kind of love. I want to love God will all of my heart, my soul and my mind.

I wish * I wish * I wish *

I wish for joy.  I wish for peace.  I wish for contentment. I wish for love. I wish for forgiveness. This is the season for miracles! I'm going all out on my Christmas wish list.

Dear God:

You have already given me far more than I deserve and yet, like the child I am..... I want more. I want more of you. Give me a heart to understand. A willingness to learn and  to ask questions, the determination and grace to forgive. Give me the courage to step over my fears and become the person you know I am. Give me the faith to trust you, in all of the big decisions and the smallest ones too.  It is my deepest desire to know you, to really and truly know you. You have  proven time and time again, that you can surprise me with gifts I never expected, never imagined and never dared ask for! With a grateful heart & in your son's name, Amen.

What is it you're wishing for this Christmas? Have you asked?

Holiday Hugs!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fear Factor

"For God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" ~2 Timothy 1:7

The dark
Spiders & Bugs

Psychology Today defines fear as " a vital response to physical and emotional danger—if we couldn't feel it, we couldn't protect ourselves from legitimate threats."  Hmmmmmm interesting!

This morning as I sat in my kitchen, eating a steaming bowl of oatmeal, sipping a second cup of coffee, I looked up at a picture on my refrigerator. I mentioned earlier, my dearest friend Tammy and I took a cruise together in October. There's a picture of our day on the beach in Cozumel, Mexico. We're both beaming, the sun is shining, there's a gorgeous palm tree in the background. There are tropical birds perched on each of our shoulders. This was probably one of my most memorable moments on our vacation.

For as long as I can remember, I have been TERRIFIED of birds. Any bird, large or small, chicken, sparrow, eagle, blue jay, crow and tropical birds included! When I was younger, I'd gone fishing with my uncle on White Lake in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I caught my first fish that day. I caught my first fish AND I acquired a long term fear of birds. Seagulls dive bombed our boat trying to snatch the fish I'd caught. From that moment on, I avoided birds at all cost.

Friends love to reminisce of the "time Michelle freaked out at a softball game when a flock of geese flew over head". My children love to toss a cracker near Mom's chair at the beach to see how close a seagull can get to me.  I know, right?...they're cruel huh? My encounters with birds and the stories are comical for sure, but they are also very real situations where I was truly afraid. I've had a bird trapped in my laundry room , a chicken chase my 3 year old and been unable to help her......AND I've also panicked, locked my children outside of the minivan, while I trembled inside the van in fear of the huge flock of seagulls overhead in the Walmart parking lot. Its ok, go ahead and laugh, I know you want to.

So how in the world is it possible that I had a tropical bird on my shoulder that afternoon in Cozumel? I'm not sure what possessed me to be honest with you. But as I watched the young man, walk up and down the beach, in such a beautiful setting, with such a wonderful friend, I said outloud "I want to do that!"...."do what?" Tammy asked  "I want to have my picture taken with one of those birds. " I replied.  I'm not sure she believed me at first. I'm not sure I believed me either. But the moment passed and the young man kept walking in the opposite direction. It seemed the moment had passed. Oh well. (I seriously wasn't heart broken over it)

Not long after, as we shared our lunch in the shade of the palm trees, you guessed it, he returned. "Go do it!" Tam suggested. "Nah, I'm good" I replied.......and she gave me that look, the look only your best friend can give you and get away with it......"Give me a break you chicken, DO IT.....because I know you can and you know you can!" So with hands shaking with fear, a throat as dry as the dessert and a body trembling with fear I said "You're coming with me!".......and she did what best friends do......she did :)

As that gorgeous blue and yellow tropical bird sat on my shoulder and pecked in my ear, I grabbed Tam's hand and squeezed for dear life....and I prayed "God give me the courage to do this".....and He did. As irrational as my fear was, God gave me the courage to stand there, snap a photo and overcome a fear. Not only that, he gave me the ability to stretch myself even further. "Can I hold him?" I heard myself ask. Before I knew it, the bird was in my hand, I was petting it and realizing how absolutely beautiful this creature was. It brings tears to my eyes as I think of it now.

How many other things have I feared in life? Making a new friend?  joining a new gym? asking a question? trying something new? How many moments have I missed? How many blessings have I willingly given up? When I stepped over the fear, I was able to experience an excitement, a blessing, the beauty of something I'd never known.

What are you afraid of? and what can you do, today to step over that fear?