Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Simple Gifts of Christmas


When this blog was more active, the Christmas gift I offered to my many wonderful readers was always the story used at our family's "circletime" in the previous year. I thought I would revive that custom, and for those who don't know about my family's circletime tradition, you can read all about it right here.

The Simple Gifts of Christmas
©2015 Susan Noyes Anderson

“Can you believe it, New York? Only one more week until Christmas. Santa will be dusting off his sleigh and hooking up the reindeer before we know it!”

The host of her favorite morning show sounded jovial, but Emily’s heart sank. Most days, his buoyant energy cheered her. This day, she grumpily wished him all the way to the North Pole! Maybe a hefty dose of snow and ice would dampen that holiday spirit he dispensed so eagerly. At the very least, he’d have a better idea how it felt to shiver at the very thought of Old St. Nick and his sleigh full of Christmas presents. Non-existent presents, for her children.

Her head bowed. Cade and Chloe deserved better, but Emily couldn’t give it to them, not this year anyway. Maybe if there weren’t so many medical bills they could get ahead…or if Steve had stayed around. At this point, she didn’t even know where he was. No one else knew, either, or so they said. Six months without child support had drained them dry. And the twins’ asthma was always bad in the winter, even now that they were well past the age of outgrowing it.

Hearing the warning bell, Emily left the warmth of the teacher’s lounge. Better get a move on, she told herself. Her job didn’t pay much, but helping young people read was a gift she gave and received every day. It filled her soul, even if it didn’t quite fill her pockets. And it didn’t require that degree she couldn’t afford. Best of all, she was home with the kids when they needed her. Emily smiled. These were tough times, but the small and supportive K through 12 school had stood behind her, waiving the costs of its after-school enrichment programs indefinitely. People could be so kind, she reminded herself, and a bit of Christmas swirled into her heart.

The classroom bustled with holiday-inspired energy all morning, and little Izzy grinned when Emily took her aside for some one-on-one. “What shall we read today?” she asked.

Simple Gifts!” lisped her student, spraying her enthusiasm in Emily’s direction. “Mommy got it. At the liberry.” “Simple Gifts it is,” Emily agreed, chuckling at Izzy’s exuberance. The book was plain and worn at the edges, the illustrations dull and faded. It didn’t look like much, but the story was clearly well-loved. Emily couldn’t help but wonder what the attraction was.

“Read it,” Izzy demanded. Emily hesitated. “Please?” she begged.

“But I thought you wanted to read Simple Gifts to me,” Emily replied.

You read,” the girl insisted. “It’s your turn this time.”

“All right, Iz. This story will be my Christmas gift to you. And you can return the gift by reading it back to me!” Satisfied with that arrangement, Izzy nodded.

Turning the weathered pages slowly, Emily began:

The creatures of the forest
were gathered all around.
The day was Christmas morning.
Soft snow lay on the ground.

A blue spruce stood as tall and proud
as any Christmas tree,
but pine cones were the only gifts
the animals could see.

Who-o-o took my present? cried the owl.
Where’s mine? the chipmunk wondered.
The rabbit wrinkled up his nose.
They’re gone, the brown bear thundered.

No gifts. No gifts, the squirrel chattered.
Wolf howled at the dawn.
How can it be? the cougar wailed.
Oh, where has Christmas gone?

The noble elk stepped forward
and raised his antlered head.
Some gifts cannot be taken from us;
God gives them, he said.

Wisdom is yours, he told the Owl,
and vision in the night.
Chipmunk has much resourcefulness;
and Rabbit, speed in flight.

Bear’s blessed with strength, and Wolf is clever.
Cougar’s claws protect.
These gifts to us are priceless treasures,
worthy of respect.

Squirrel excels at gathering.
As we now gather here,
may Christmas bring remembrance of
God's presents we hold dear.

Our Father gives good gifts to us.
In glad hearts, they are found.
When we receive His Son with love,
it’s Christmas all around.

Emily breathed deeply as a rush of truth and possibility swept into her heart. Her eyes filled as Izzy said, “It’s my favorite Christmas story. My very best.”

“You know what, Izzy? I think it might be mine, too. Thanks for sharing it with me.”

The week before Christmas shaped up a little better than Emily had envisioned. She made the few, small purchases that fell within her budget, being sure to enjoy wrapping each one in creative ways to please the eye. Santa’s sleigh would not be entirely devoid of packages for Cade and Chloe that year. But the most important present would be her own offering, covered with bright paper and nestled under the tree for Christmas Eve.

That day of heightened expectancy dawned early as the twins flew into her bedroom, nearly beside themselves with glee.

“Look, Mom! It’s snowing!!” shrieked Chloe.

“The kids all wanna go sledding. Can we?” yelled Cade, too close to Emily’s ear. “Jake’s parents are going, too.”

A week earlier, she would not even have considered joining them, but after her specialty breakfast of pancakes and chocolate chips, a big gust of Christmas spirit whirled her out the door. The twins were delighted to see their mom caught up in the joy they’d been feeling for weeks. The air felt sweeter; the sun shone brighter, and the smell of pine reminded them of every Douglas fir they had ever decorated. Sugarplums may even have danced in their heads (or maybe it was See’s candy), as they looked forward to a wonderful evening together.

The moon rose, and the bright lights of Christmas led them home. Beneath the tree was one very Simple Gift, and after Cade and Chloe unwrapped that book, their mom lovingly read them Izzy’s “very best” story. When she finished, the room felt calm and peaceful as the most silent night.

“What do you think?” Emily asked.

“I thought of us.” Chloe smiled. “I liked the idea of animals celebrating Jesus. Not every gift is the wrapped-up kind.”

“Kids’ poetry books aren’t exactly my thing, but that elk was no slouch. He made me look at Christmas a whole new way,” Cade admitted.

“I was hoping you would,” their mom said, “because that’s what happened to me. I got the idea that we could give the same kind of presents the animals received, reminding each other of the gifts God has given us. Does that make sense?”

Both heads nodded slowly. Emily sensed she had captured their interest.

“Chloe,” she began, “your gifts are energy and creativity, sensitivity and compassion. You always seem to know how people feel, and you use your heart and your talent to lift them up. I can’t begin to tell you how many times you have raised my spirits on a difficult day, and I’m grateful for your wise and willing presence in my life. I simply can’t imagine what I’d do without you.”

Chloe blushed with uncharacteristic shyness. “Thanks, Mom.”

“Cade,” Emily continued, “you are blessed with curiosity and intelligence, understanding and humor. You always want to make sense of your world and the people in it, and you make my world a far better place to be. Sometimes you teach me; sometimes you make me laugh, but all the time you remind me that life is as precious as the things we believe and the people we love.”

“Cool,” Cade said, clearly pleased by her words.

His grateful mother had one more thing to say. “I hope you both know that the people I love most in the world are you, and I thank God every day that you are mine.”

Christmas spirit flowed around the room, a river of love that filled their eyes and hearts.

“I’ll go next,” Chloe offered. “Okay, Cade? Because I want to tell you I think your gift is loyalty. Whenever your friends tease me, you refuse to join in. You stick up for me every time, even when they make fun of you for it. Being your sister always makes me feel good. Well, most of the time, anyway.” She grinned. “You’re a pretty big deal, Cade.”

 “Awww,” he teased. “I ain’t all that.”

“True,” answered Chloe. “I’m just using my amazing gift of compassion to boost your self esteem a bit.”

Their laughter, shared, added to the good feeling.

Chloe continued. “Mom, your gift is yourself––or maybe that’s our gift, because you give it to us every day––in more ways than I can even think of. You go without things other moms have so we can eat good food, stay warm, be happy…and even breathe right. You give your love, your time, and your energy. You give everything. Every time we need it. I’d say that makes you the best mom ever!”

“The best,” Cade agreed. “I think your gift is unselfishness, Mom. And charity. Pastor Bob says charity is the pure love of Christ, and I think you have it. I know you do, because I feel it.”

Emily’s heart swelled with joy. What more could she want for Christmas than to be a good mother? And how wonderful it was to hear her children expressing their feelings this way. She could hardly wait to hear what gift Cade recognized in Chloe.

She didn’t have to wait long. “Chloe,” Cade said. “Your gift is that you ‘get it.’ You really get it, and you get me, too. Sometimes better than I get myself. Remember that time I was so mad at Jake, and you helped me see why? Talking to you helps me figure myself out, which is a good thing since my gift is supposed to be ‘understanding.’” He grinned. “Seems like our gifts kinda work together. Know what I mean?”

“I know exactly what you mean,” his mom replied, “and I think you’re onto something. No wonder we’re a family. The gifts we’ve been given complement each other to perfection. And that’s what we’re seeking, eventually…to be perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect. Which brings me to the last and most important gift He has given us, the gift of His Son. Let’s take a minute to tell the Christmas story like Luke did, so many years ago:

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar 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 Judæa, 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 Saviour, 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 to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:1-14).

“As you might have noticed,” Emily said, “earlier this month I wasn’t in the right mood for Christmas. In fact, I was one step away from Grinch status, with my heart two sizes too small and shrinking. All I could focus on were the presents I couldn’t afford to give you, forgetting that the most important one, Christ’s presence in our lives, cannot be purchased. The only gift that really matters is the gift of His birth: including His example, His life, His death, and all they mean for us. Do you understand?”

The twins nodded. “I’m glad you gave up on the Grinch thing,” Chloe whispered. “Me too,” Cade muttered. “That was a gift in itself!”

His mom smiled good-naturedly, ready to laugh at herself now that her worries had passed. “One more thing,” she said. “Thanks to Izzy’s Christmas book, I remembered something I had forgotten. Something important. The best gift we can give is seeing ourselves and others as Christ sees us, naming and acknowledging strengths openly. These are the gifts worth sharing: the simple gifts, powerful gifts. My grandma used to call them gifts of love. And they don’t fit under the Christmas tree. They only fit deep in our hearts.”

∞§∞

This was our circletime story from two years ago, and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Christmas has grown far too commercial of late, and I guess this one was my way of trying to regain some balance. I hope you have found a bit of balance in your celebration this year, and if not...there's always next time around!

In the past, I have always shared my circle time questions with you, so here they are: 

1. Please share with every member of your circle the gift or gifts you see and appreciate most in them.

2. Please share which of Christ’s gifts (comfort, mercy, etc.) has meant the most to you this past year.

I always pass out some kind of pocket token, and last year it was a pewter nativity scene. As I was handing it out, I said, "The image depicted by this token is to remind us that the Star of Bethlehem shines far more brightly than presents under a tree ever could."

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO
ALL A GOOD (CHRISTMAS EVE) NIGHT!

=)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas Joys

Image by Anita Schiller Terry ©2016

Christmas Joys
©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

At Christmas, simple things are best:
A family meal, a day of rest,
A sprig of holly on the tree,
A sweet noel, sung joyfully.

A cozy fire, a child at play,
A tale of Santa on his sleigh,
A glowing candle burning bright,
Reminder of the Savior's light.

A hug exchanged, a burden shared,
A broken heart sweetly repaired,
A listening ear, a gentle hand,
A tender heart to understand.

Hold fast to lovely things and true;
Let peace on earth begin with you.
∞§∞

On Christmas Joys:
“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find Christmas under a tree.” 
–Roy L. Smith
“Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.”
–Peg Bracken
“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” –Burton Hillis
Wishing everyone a warm and wonderful holiday season!
=)

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Friday, November 17, 2017

The Lift

The prompt was to write a poem inspired by the following image:


The Lift
©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

His spirit crawls a lowly road
with little will to rise.
Leaves falling from the trees reprise
tears falling from his eyes.

Shoe leather, laced with mud and muck,
greets shadow on the wall.
The trap once set, now cruelly sprung,
yields no escape at all.

An ill wind blows no body good,
and sometimes life just blows.
Could be that he comes out all right,
could be all wrong. Who knows?

Balloon man, can you spare the fare?
One magic taxi ride.
A free lift for a sorry soul,
jumpstart to the bright side.

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Hold Fast to Hope and Fireflies


Hold Fast to Hope and Fireflies
©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

I used to have a firefly inside me,
a certain spark against the dark of night...
her wings translucent threads of hope and dreaming,
her glow as magical as soft starlight.

I knew she was a gift; I always knew.
There was no capture, no attempt to snare.
She simply was, and so we simply were.
Partners in joy, staunch allies in despair.

We carried sunshine as we walked through shadows,
found springtime in our hearts on wintry days.
She danced and floated, every gloom dispelling.
We were as one; and oh, I loved her ways.

But graceful wings of hopes and dreams proved fragile.
Sharp words cut them away, blew out the spark.
She vanished in a flash of light extinguished,
left me to wander, broken, in the dark.

I used to have a firefly inside me,
a healing glow to warm my weary soul.
I bide my time, seek her in clouds and rainbows,
wish on bright stars, Come home and make me whole.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Uncool Kitchen


The Uncool Kitchen
©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

My kitchen is a clone of me,
and at its very heart
hums one cold, stainless giant,
covered in graffiti art.

Refrigerator magnets. {wince}
They do not make me proud.
Unhip, uncool, oft-parodied,
mocked freely and aloud.

My critics can be merciless,
yet I am undeterred.
Some twisted slave inside me
clings to every magnet word.

HOME RULES: The list is lengthy,
unoriginal, and lame.
But everyone who sees my fridge
must read them all the same.

If Grandma Makes Life Beautiful,
and Love Is Spoken Here,
then Life Is but a Song to Sing.
Blech! {gagging on good cheer}

No worries. Home Is Where the Hugs Are.
Family Warms Our Hearts.
There's No Friend Like a Sister.
Home Is Where Your Story Starts.

Time Flies. (It does; I'm almost done.)
Snap Out of It, you say?
I'll try, but When It Rains, It Pours,
and magnets Seize the Day!

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Secrets of the Sea


Secrets of the Sea
©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

When my own tides are at low ebb,
I stand beside the sea.
Bright waves of truth I used to know
come washing over me.

The sand dampens beneath my feet,
connecting me to ground.
A sacred message to my soul
rises in every sound.

Its rhythm whispers ancient tales,
soft secrets of the deep, 
reflections of the promises
my spirit longs to keep.

And I embrace the mystery:
the pulses of the earth,
the highs, the lows, the ebbs and flows,
the watery rebirth.

Peace lands so gently on my shoulder,
lifts me on its wings.
My freed heart opens to the sea
and every gift it brings.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

God Watches Out for Me

Art by David Bowman

God Watches Out for Me
©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

In ways I cannot always see,
I know God watches out for me––
His loving instinct to protect
expressed as I might not expect.

Storms threaten, and I beg release;
instead, He leads me to His peace. 
I call on Him to still the sea;
most times, He simply buoys me.

Illness descends; I pray for cure.
He lifts me higher to endure.
This mountain is too steep, I plead,
yet He removes it not from me.

Ease keeps us small, too weak to stand;
struggle and strength go hand-in-hand.
Still, when woes rush at me in pairs,
sometimes I wonder if He cares.

Then in my heart of hearts I kneel,
as He assures His love is real.
In ways I cannot always see,
I know God watches out for me.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Depression: Cornering the [Black] Market


©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

You don't understand me,
he said.
No one knows
of the suffering
stored in my soul.

I told him of dark days
I stumbled 
and bled,
days when life nearly
swallowed me whole.

But it wasn't the same,
he insisted;
his pain
was unique and mine
could not compare.

My empathy suspect,
my counsel
in vain,
I held back things
I wanted to share.

It bruised me to look
 at him,  
caught up in
misery, claiming
it all as his own.

He holds the black shadow
so close to 
his chest
that he's left
to do battle alone.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Taking Back the Knack


©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

I think I may have lost the knack
that surely was my stock in trade
in days gone by. The years have made
me less adept. I've gone off track.

Relationships: I had a gift
of sensing need, meeting it well.
But lately, I am empty shell,
and every comer gets short shrift.

Oh granted, things are crazy here.
A drooping sun. A spinning moon.
Wheels of (mis)fortune turn too soon.
No respite. Toxic atmosphere.

Machine gun miseries from all.
A clip of trouble raining down.
Can't keep my people off the ground.
Can't always see them when they fall.

It rankles when I fail to see.
Not used to it. Don't like it much.
I'm fading, dropping balls and such.
Not quite the force that once was me.

Used up. Burned out. Like melted wax.
Point taken. I'm no northern star.
But they're my heart. Straight up, they are.
And I'll not drop them through the cracks.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

A Postcard Wave


©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

Just jotting down a word or two
to let you know that I love you
and miss you, too, if truth were told.
(The bathroom grout is sprouting mold.)

Just blowing kisses o'er the sea,
hoping you'll blow some back at me.
I've also blown a bit of cash.
(Got super bored and drained our stash.)

No need to fret. I'm A-OK.
Don't hurry home and save the day.
I'm muddling along just fine.
(Wait! When's that income tax deadline?)

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

What Will We Give?


What Will We Give?
©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

The Savior in Gethsemane
consumed our sins on bended knee,
took every sorrow, every loss
and broke them on the rough-hewn cross.

Christ sealed His gift in grief and pain,
renewed each heart in sacred rain
of Living Water, lifeblood spilled.
The ransom, paid. The law, fulfilled.

His temples pierced by thorny crown,
He laid His tortured body down.
The sacred flesh, abused and torn,
roused heaven and earth to weep, to mourn.

The tomb received Him as her own;
disciples wavered, left alone,
forgetting promises profound:
The ties of death would be unbound.

For Christ the Lord atoned for all;
no grave could hold Him, nor forestall
the blessings of eternity.
He lived! He lives! to set men free.

A Brother gave Himself in love.
The risen Lord now waits above.
What will we give? May our lives be
reflections of His charity.

Happy Easter!
He is risen!! 
=)

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Path of Peace


©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

I love those peaceful moments of the heart
when mind and spirit finally run free,
the fleeting moments, seldom set apart,
when every soul is stilled to breathe, to be.

The quiet morning, jeweled in drops of dew,
the dusk as sunset colors fade to gray,
the mountaintop with wildflower view,
the friendly clouds to float each fear away.

A white dove calls; an eagle takes the sky.
A raindrop freshens bits of budding spring.
The redwood tree sends branches reaching high.
Soft sweetgrass waves its welcome, beckoning.

Across the earth, the beauty is profound:
serenity and nature, hand in hand.
The senses rise in sight and scent and sound,
collecting peace from grove to sea to sand.

And yet, absent the grace and power of God,
no wave would crest, no blossom bless the air.
It is His path of peace that all must trod,
and He waits patiently to lead us there.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Touchstones


©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

A rock is sure, reliable,
predictable and sane.
Its nature, set in solid stone,
shows little wax or wane.

Whatever changes must evolve
spread out across the years.
No shock and awe, no sudden swoon
when something new appears.

 Its smooth and soothing sturdiness
feels pleasing to the hand,
so cool against a fevered palm,
so warm in summer sand.

The properties are plain to see;
the texture sleek or rough.
This friend-that-can-be-counted-on
is tested, tried, and tough.

A rock seems an unlikely ally.
Keep one at the ready.
When all the world is shifting shapes,
a touchstone holds you steady.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Woman, Be Bold


©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

Reach up. Draw lightning from the sky.
Call down the rain on shifting sands.
Become the one who understands
where strength resides.
Control the tides; create your wake;
trust in your flow for its own sake.
No looking back, except to marvel
in the glory. You live the story.

And so be bold, be bold for you;
be bold for women far from view.
Be brave and real; contrive to feel
the rightness there.
Summon the wisdom of the womb.
Assume the mantle of your birth.
Ignite a flame across the earth
for woman's due. Begin with you.

My thoughts on International Women's Day.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love Sings


©2017 Susan Noyes Anderson

Love is a shell in golden sand,
a secret in a willing hand,
a piece of beauty worth its keep,
as mighty as the sea is deep.

Walk carefully on distant shores.
The ocean whispers, crashes, roars.
Be not distracted; find that one
reflected in the morning sun.

Embrace the gift, divinely made.
Let not the sacred music fade.
Hear all the magic; guard it well.
Live every tale it has to tell.

∞§∞

I like the notion of love as a fragile yet mighty shell waiting to be found by the right person. Discernment is everything, and choosing the one who will sing his or her music to you over a lifetime should be a careful process. Once found, that lovely gift is worthy of every protection, for it is truly magic. And oh, what stories a true and lasting love has to tell!

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