Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Story: Gifts of the Magi


This post has been a long time coming, hasn't it? Needless to say, I've been busy with my parents, health issues, family needs, funerals, Thanksgiving and now Christmas, but I couldn't miss this chance to wish those who remain faithful to this unreliable blog a happy holiday season. And the way I usually do that is to share one of the Christmas Eve stories I write for my family.

This year we have much to be grateful for, because my daughter Karin, after years of trying, is finally pregnant…with twins, a boy and a girl. I hope you will join us in our prayers that she will carry her babies as close to their March 22nd birthdate as possible. Hers is a high risk pregnancy, but we feel the Lord blessing her daily.

As for this story, it was written with our beautiful Karin as the inspiration, because she had just begun her first series of IVF treatments. It took her three rounds to get her miracle, and we are so grateful that she did. Of course, this is not Karin's literal story, the only part I took from her experience is the in vitro fertilization that was so much on our minds back in 2012 at the time of its writing.

Merry Christmas to you!

Gifts of the Magi
©2012 Susan Noyes Anderson

Gold, frankincense and myrrh. The real thing, in a gilded box. She’d bought it on a whim one morning, more years ago than she cared to remember, for her Christmas baby. It had seemed the perfect gift for a newborn…a sacred offering, of sorts. Maybe even a blessing. Lord knows, they’d needed it.

Megan’s eyes glistened. She’d been a dreamer back then, a believer, but somehow she’d lost it. Not all at once, but by threads…sheer, gossamer ones that glittered as they fell like burnished gold. Inconsequential, they had seemed, and not quite worth the time to pick them up. There were plenty more where those came from, right? And sometimes, you just had to let things go.

Like her baby. She’d had to let her go, and no amount of idealism could have saved her.  A mother is a mother is a mother, even when she isn’t old enough to buy cigarettes. Reality does set in, eventually. Diapers and formula cost money, and that was only the beginning. Her little girl deserved safety and security, party dresses and piano lessons, two grown-up parents to love her.

By the seventh month, she’d known she couldn’t keep her. Or maybe she knew from the first kick, when what had been a beautiful idea first introduced herself as a real person. Megan smiled. Her little Merry, she had called her. M-E-R-R-Y. For Christmas. And for the joy she would bring…but not to her. Not to her birth mother. Instead, she would light up another mother’s eyes. A mother who could give her what she needed. Everything she needed.

The old, familiar pain engulfed her heart. How could it still hurt so much after all these years? And why on earth had she clicked so quickly last week on the site that was offering Gifts of the Magi for sale…genuine gold, frankincense, and myrrh in a wooden box? Did she really need this sad replica of something she had given to her newborn daughter 18 years ago? Talk about pouring salt on the wound. Even the smell of it reminded her of the child she had lost…and of what she stood to lose, too. She didn’t want to jinx anything, just when she’d started to hope again.

A slip of parchment paper attached to the box caught her eye, and she began to read.

“The magi of old were learned men or kings who studied the skies to predict the weather and, perhaps, foretell the future. Legend has it that the imminent birth of One destined to become a king among kings, the Christ child, was made known to them in the months leading up to that event by means of a change in the stars. Forsaking other duties and concerns, they made their way across many miles, guided by a brilliant new star and bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to honor the babe. These gifts, of considerable worth in the marketplace, were also believed to have powers of healing both physical and spiritual. Their value was beyond price, a powerful symbol of the bearers’ esteem and good will.”

Megan flushed with satisfaction. Hers really had been the perfect gift for a birth mother to give at parting: “a powerful symbol of the bearer’s esteem and good will.” The serendipitous words comforted Megan, and so did the double meaning they conveyed to her mind. She had been a bearer twice over…first of little Merry and then of the gifts of love, tangible and otherwise, she had sent with her. At least I managed to get something right back then, she thought. Maybe a few things. And Merry had deserved them all.

Shaking her head firmly, Megan stood up. She was due at the hospital, and her rounds wouldn’t wait. Christmas was a hard time for her, and she frequently took extra shifts so others could be with their families. Not that she and Craig weren’t a family, too. They were, but the kids they were hoping for hadn’t arrived. She always deferred to parents during the holidays. The corners of her mouth lifted slightly. With any luck, soon she’d be one of them.

Her pulse settled into a hopeful rhythm as she stepped outside and joined the holiday crowds. The department stores downtown opened at 8 AM the entire week before Christmas, and plenty of people took advantage of that before their workdays began. Megan couldn’t help but smile at the brightly lit windows, decked in garlands and bedazzled with toys, trains, and movable Santas. She even grinned at the Salvation Army man as a wave of nostalgia prompted her to open her purse and drop a donation in his bucket. What was it about the bells those people rang, anyway? If their steady cadence didn’t call forth the spirit of Christmas, nothing did. It was downright difficult not to get into the mix of things this year, and maybe she would just embrace it, all of it. Every time she thought of the nine embryos her IVF had yielded, a little bit of that believer she used to be came back to her. Perhaps she hadn’t so much lost that part of herself as put it away for a while…or channeled it into her patients. Were mothering energy and doctoring energy really so different?

Her boots crunched the snow, a pleasing sound that ended with a rush of warm air swooping her through the hospital’s revolving door. St. Mary’s had been good to Megan. Over the years, she’d made a kind of home there, for herself and for others. Maybe she could do the same for one or two of those little embryos. Maybe she would have another chance. Maybe this was…

As often happened, the head nurse cut her off in mid-thought. “How’s my favorite doc?” she asked with blustery good cheer. “Did your remember we need to get our kids into the rec room early for the carols and crèche party today? The boys’ choir from St. Joseph’s will be here at 11, and those cool bell ringers from last year are due about the same time. Then we’ll have Father Tim say a few words and serve lunch. What d’ya think? Are you on target for that??”

“You bet I am, Becky,” Megan shot back, hoping that all of her patients would be well enough to join the fun. Pediatric cancer patients needed all the fun they could get, and she wanted to see them have it.

A couple of hours rushed by as the good doctor flew from room to room, dispensing the loving care that made sick patients feel better and worried parents hold themselves together. It was a tall order, but Megan filled it in a hurry, updated a few charts, and got herself down to the rec room to enjoy the festivities.

The boys had already begun to sing, their childish voices reminiscent of the angels they celebrated so sweetly. The First Noel was her favorite carol, and she listened with special interest for the second verse, which had been running through her head of late. “They look-ed up and saw a star, shining in the east beyond them far…and to the earth it gave great light, and so it continued both day and night. Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel. Born is the King of Israel.”

Almost like a reflex, Megan’s eyes searched the high-beamed ceiling. The wise men had taken a leap of faith and followed that star, day in and day out, to wherever it took them. Hope was their vanguard…and their beacon. They did not let fears and uncertainty encumber them; they did not carry with them their burdens of shame and loss. Rather, they bore gifts…priceless gifts, beyond valuation. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh…the gifts she had instinctively given her own daughter, with all they symbolized. In a flash of clarity, Megan knew she would follow her dream of motherhood to its completion, wherever it took her, whatever it cost. For she would come bearing gifts as well… to any child. She always had. It was her nature.

With a sense of peace, she focused her attention on Father Tim, who was reciting the words to an old English lullaby. Not surprisingly, it touched her heart…a mother’s heart.

Low in a manger, dear little stranger,
Jesus the wonderful Savior was born;
None to receive Him, none to believe Him,
None but the angels watching that morn.

Dear little stranger, slept in a manger,
No downy pillow under his head;
But with the poor, he slumbered secure,
Dear little babe in his bed.

Angels descending, over him bending,
Chanted a tender and silent refrain,
Wonderful story of his glory
Unto the shepherds on Bethlehem’s plain.

Dear little stranger, born in a manger,
Maker and Monarch and Savior of all.
Love thee forever; Grieve thee, no, never;
Thou didst for me make thy bed in a stall.

Dear Little Stranger, Megan thought fondly. Like Mary of old, she had borne a Christmas child, a dear little stranger whose destiny was to bless the lives of others. The Baby Jesus had not belonged to His earthly mother; He had belonged to God…and to the world. In a sense, wasn’t the same true of every child? Even her little Merry? Megan had carried her for nine months and given her life. And maybe, just maybe, that was enough.

Father Tim concluded the Christmas crèche as he always did, with those well-loved verses from the gospel of Luke. Hearing them, Megan’s spirit resonated with every joy and sorrow the season offered her…from grief to gratitude…from empty cradle to newborn king. And this year, from empty womb to nine, potentially viable embryos. The miracle of Christmas was alive and well:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.) And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 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 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Arriving at her door in the dark of early evening, Megan nearly tripped over the last of her Black Friday purchases. Why did those deliverymen always leave her packages in full view of the street? That UPS guy dropped it right on the doormat, every time. Realizing she sounded like the Grinch and wanting to hold on to the Christmas spirit she’d been feeling all the way home, Meg took a deep breath. With conscious intent, she savored the aroma of snow-covered evergreens and wood smoke that characterized her neighborhood in December, allowing what was probably misplaced tension to melt away like snowflakes. Reaching down to retrieve the box, Megan arrived at grateful. She’d been worrying that her sister’s watch wasn’t going to arrive in time for Christmas, wishing she’d upgraded the shipping. Now she could just wrap the thing up and relax!

Turning on the light to survey her prize, she felt puzzled, then uneasy. There was a note attached, and the first line made her glad Craig was on his way home.

“I’ve been following you around the hospital for almost a week now, feeling closer to you every day. I haven’t had the nerve to speak to you, but I’ve wanted to…more times than you can imagine. Watching your beautiful face as you smile at the children makes me want you to smile at me, too. I feel like I’ve been waiting to meet you forever.

I know this is the perfect time to make myself known. But I want to respect your wishes as well, which is why I have left this little gift at your door. If it makes you happy, call me at the number listed below. I will be close by, waiting.

PS. My mom always reminds me that I am a Christmas baby. I turned 18 yesterday, so I didn’t really need her permission to come. She knows I’m here, though. When she first gave me the box, she told me the story of the Magi and their gifts and promised I could follow my own star to find you one day. Merry Christmas.”

The warming scent of frankincense was strong in the air when Merry’s birth mother raised the faded lid, worn smooth from the touch of her daughter’s hands. Megan’s own fingers trembled with wonder as she drew its familiar treasures close to her heart. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The real thing, in a gilded box.

But anyone could see that the old box wasn’t gilded at all. It was gold, pure gold.

~ the end ~

No two people travel the same road in life. All of us take our convoluted journeys, with twists and turns that are hard to navigate. Sometimes we don’t understand the directions our lives are taking, and it can be difficult to see the top of the next hill, let alone the distant horizon. It takes faith and hope to press on.

The wise men had faith and hope that if they followed the brightest star in the heavens they would find their way to Jesus, and their faith was rewarded.

We need hope and faith to reach our destinations, too. Some of them are shorter trips, like finishing school, getting married, finding a new job, or having a baby. But the long-haul destination is the same for all of us. We are headed home…back to where we came from…and we all have what it takes to get there.

Christmas reminds us why we all have what it takes to get there, because of the birth, life, and atonement of Jesus Christ, His greatest gift to us.

What other gifts has He given to you this year?

What gift will you give to Him in the year to come?

(As you can see, at the close of this story I included our circletime question from Christmas Eve. I wanted you to catch a glimpse of how we do our celebration, in case you are interested in trying out our favorite tradition. First, I read the story, then ask the question. Each family member, in turn, responds. It is a beautiful way to spend the night before Christmas!)

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

No Empty Chairs

©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

In this life, some men stand so tall
that others rise up, too.
We look to their example, reaching
for their point of view.

We know, through them, the Savior's love
and see in them His grace.
Joe Barton was this kind of man.
The sun shone from his face.

He looked on us with gentle eyes,
clear windows of compassion.
His smile was bright and blessed with light
none but the Lord could fashion.

His countenance held warmth and wisdom;
laughter marked it well.
Joe was and is the best of us;
his story's ours to tell.

And we will tell it gladly, even
as we say good-bye, 
sustained by sacred knowledge that
he lives and loves on high.

And humbled as we understand
another needs him more.
Their sweet reunion heals our hearts,
reminds us what's in store.

For one day we will meet again
when earthly work is done,
and there will be no empty chairs.
The victory will be won.

For Joseph Henry Barton, in love and memory.



My brother-in-law Joe with his sweetheart, Mary... 

then

and

 more recently...

for time and all eternity.

Friday, October 24, 2014

What's Wrong with the World



Lately I find myself almost unwilling to turn on the news. When I overcome this aversion and flip it on anyway, I often end up wishing I had not. Negativity reigns, and one story after another delivers enough bad joss to leave me asking myself two questions: (1) What's wrong with the world? and (2) When on earth is it going to get back on track? Even worse, the list of "wrong" things is growing so fast that I am increasingly convinced the answer to question #2 may be "Never."

No wonder my blood pressure is on the rise! Ebola, ISIS, health care crisis, Congress run amok, war, lame duck (getting lamer all the time)…and no immigration reform or budget balancing in sight. What's a concerned citizen to do?

Well, one thing we should not do (though the prospect sorely tempts me at times) is throw up our hands in dismay and surrender to the prevailing tide. As Americans, we still have a voice, and we need to use it. With elections in sight, we should speak our minds by voting our conscience. This means knowing enough about the candidates and issues to ensure that we have a conscience to vote! Knee-jerk voting along party lines can no longer suffice; we must analyze each person and proposition closely in order to make the best possible judgments––informed judgmentsand not just informed by a biased news station or celebrity, but by our own research. When no candidate or proposal satisfies, we can identify and support the lesser of two evils, using the next two or four years to keep track of how frequently he or she represents us well and how frequently we are let down. If we are let down too often, we react by letting our representatives down when the next election rolls around.

Of course, it's not ideal when the field of candidates makes us want to run full speed in the other direction. Election reform is definitely called for, reform that makes it possible for people to be elected to public office without having to sell their souls to the highest bidder or pretend to be someone they're not in order to get financing. Some civility in campaigning would be nice too, so that decent and relatively "normal" people might actually be willing to step up to the plate and lend us their talents. Equally appealing, what if opponents quit trying to label and villainize each other (because we, the citizens, refused to be distracted by that) and focused on the issues at hand? What if we did the same?

Enough said. I know there's no magic bullet; there rarely is. But I also know that hard times are probably here to stay. If we don't rise to the challenge, we will keep falling––and failing to live up to our legacy as a nation. We are better than this. We have to be. So when we ask ourselves "What's wrong with the world?", let's make sure we are more of the solution and less of the problem. And let's remind ourselves that it all begins with one person…You. Me. (us)

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Victory: Overcoming the World


Victory: Overcoming the World
©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

We come to earth with full intent,
prepared to meet the call.

We cannot know what lies ahead,
but we have pledged our all.

The journey's long and treacherous,
with thorns to hedge our way.

The trail will twist and turn us,
push us forward and delay.

Our stumbles, we will call mistakes;
our summits, sweet success.

We'll know the sting of misery,
the surge of happiness.

We'll rise and fall and rise again
until we find our place.

But no man ever walks alone,
secured by heaven's grace.

In this world and beyond this world,
the Light is ours to see.

The path goes on, and we are born
to claim the victory.


How blessed we are for life and love
the Savior freely gives.

What peace and consolation come
from knowing that He lives.

For all of us belong to Him,
no matter where we roam.

And He stands waiting, open-armed,
to welcome us back home.

"Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, 
and you are of them that my Father hath given me." (D&C 50:41)

For Taggart, in love and memory.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Exposure

Self Portrait, Vivian Maier

©2014, Susan Noyes Anderson

Just when I think that I can see
all of the angles that are me,
another flashes into view
and makes me question what I knew.

So much depends on light and lens.
Great captures fade to try-agains;
and shutter speed, while in my hands,
falls short of what my heart demands.

I thought I had a good eye. Strange,
to watch the composition change
without my knowledge or intent,
by happenstance or accident.

Despite my heartiest denials,
no matter how I twist the dials,
control eludes me and the frame
finds parts of me I cannot name.

I miss the days when I felt sure
of ISO and aperture.
Exposure offers ways to see,
but is it friend or enemy?

∞§∞

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Susan's Season

Autumn in Madeira - Jacek Yerka


Susan's Season
©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson
Fall is a cozy season, made
to match my patchwork house.
What better spot for cider hot,
doughnuts for man
and holes for mouse?

Fall is a spicy season, round
as pumpkins, brisk as tea.
Red-orange leaves tumble from trees,
crunch crunch and crumble,
all for me.

∞§∞

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Illumination


©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

Moths are drawn to light
and so am I,
wings awave against
the darkened sky.
Free to fly yet 
bound by naked need,
anchored to a source
I can't concede.

Moths delight in light
and so do I,
seeking shining answers
to my Why.

∞§∞

(I fear, sometimes, to meet
their tragic end
and pray the light I choose
is proven friend.)

PS. For those who are interested in family topics, I am guest posting here
today on the subject of how to help our children become friends.

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

On Parenting: Walking the line



On Parenting: Walking the Line
©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

 
Of late, my life is hard at best,
and best is hard to find.
I lay down, but I get no rest
with so much on my mind.

My body's always out of sorts;
my brain is stuck in worry.
I do the things I have to do
but flatly, in a hurry.

I'm eating more than I should eat
and exercising less.
Anxiety and consternation 
crowd my happiness.

The things I fret and fret about
are not in my control.
I know if I would let them go,
then I would feel more whole.

I need to give them to the Lord,
just trust Him and be still;
but it is hard to watch and wait
until I know His will.

That's parenthood: To care so much
yet have so little "juice."
Adult children need struggles. 
Face the facts, and cut them loose.

But don't forget to walk that fine line.
Keep the rope on hand.
Supporting is a parent's role
(at times). You understand?

It's no small feat to be a mom
who gets the balance right,
who listens lovingly by day
and still sleeps well at night...

The one who keeps a boundary, but
knows when to cross it, too.
God's training me again, right now.
(I still have work to do!)

∞§∞

It does help quite a bit to see
the Lord knows what He's doing.
I feel Him with me every hour:
supporting, not rescuing.

{Apparently, He's got this parenting 
of adults thing down pat.}

:)

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Oy vey

 
Oy Vey
c2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

Oh no. Dear me. I'm out of sorts,
sick of the smoldering temp reports.
Each visit to my mom is sweet,
but still I cannot bear the heat.
 
111 in the shade,
the stuff of which Hades is made.
No soft wind ruffling my hair.
No desert breezes in the air.
 
In fact, no air to breathe at all.
It's gone till further notice, y'all.
Evaporated, so they say,
till further notice. Oy vey.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

A Nod to Starry Night

Starry Night by Alex Ruiz...a tribute to The Starry Night by Van Gogh

Nod to Starry Night
©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

In the mind or in the meadow,
we must find our starry night.
From the green hills to the ghetto,
we are moved to set things right.

Through the bars that block our windows,
past the cells our souls create,
we contest the way the wind blows,
brushing off the hands of fate.

Man is weak and prone to stumble.
Let the daylight count the cost.
But the moon will never tumble,
and the stars shall not be lost.

Sailing on a ship of crystal
or a van Gogh-ing to hell,
wrap that starry night around you
and believe that all is well.

∞§∞

The Starry Night was painted by Vincent Van Gogh in June of 1889. It is based on a view from the east window of his room at Saint-Remy-de-Provence, a mental institution. "Through the iron-barred window," he wrote to his brother, "I can see an enclosed square of wheat...above which, in the morning, I watch the sun rise in all its glory." In the end, however, Van Gogh opted for what he called a "night study" of the scene, one which he deemed a failure. "Once again," he wrote his friend Emile Bernard, "I have allowed myself to be led astray into reaching for stars that are too big..." Of course, time has proven Mr. Van Gogh to be considerabaly more successful in his efforts than he imagined. (Perhaps the stars are never too big for our reaching.)

Vincent van Gogh
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