Sunday, December 23, 2012

Just Believe: A Christmas Story

Just Believe: A Christmas Story
©2008 Susan Noyes Anderson
All Rights Reserved

Kate wandered through her house aimlessly, as if she were looking for something but couldn’t quite remember what it was. Her family was out of town, and she was trying to get the house ready for their return. The Christmas boxes were still out, and most of the decorations were hung, placed or discarded, but the effect on her flagging spirits was not what she’d hoped. I’m about as festive as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come at the graveyard, she thought wryly, cheered for a moment more by the fact that she’d attempted a small joke than by its actual humor. The brief uplift evaporated as she noted the irony in her choice of subject matter. Since the diagnosis, her efforts to be funny were not only flat but funereal. She tried to think positive thoughts, but she couldn’t hold on to them. Even her sense of self felt slippery. At times, her spirit seemed disembodied. Other times she was so aware of her body that every nerve ending appeared to be screaming for relief. Either way, it bothered her that she wasn’t “together” enough to meet her expectations of how someone facing chemotherapy should behave. The painful surgery was over now, and everything was in God’s hands.

So why can’t I just let go and trust Him? Kate wondered. She didn’t even feel the Christmas spirit, which was kind of like saying that Martha Stewart didn’t give a hoot about Thanksgiving. Kate had always been the queen of all things Christmas, and she liked it that way. Why was she allowing this eminently beatable threat to steal her joy?

What you need is a good talking-to, Kate scolded herself. Or maybe she just needed to forget about herself and go to work. The doctor had said self-care was important, but since finding out about the cancer, she’d been focusing on herself with an intensity that was exhausting. What she really needed was a respite. With a rush of gratitude for something purposeful to do, Katie anticipated for the umpteenth time the annual Christmas program at the Senior Center that night. It had never failed to fill her heart and soul with the spirit of the season, and that’s what she was yearning for, more than anything. Surely remembering the Savior would remind her that He could be trusted, no matter what the future held. Silently…and not for the first time…she prayed for that blessing.

The afternoon passed slowly, with Kate breaking out the Christmas tunes in a conscious effort to cultivate the hopeful mood she was missing. When Amy Grant didn’t do the trick, she turned to Bing Crosby, then finally settled for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But even that inspiration felt hollow. And Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer wasn’t exactly happening either, not on Kate’s radar screen, at least. Maybe wrapping a few Christmas presents would help…or making a batch of her crunchy English toffee for the neighbors.

A couple of hours later, Kate turned off the CD player with relief, cleared up the kitchen, and went to get dressed for the evening. I’ll wear the Santa Claus sweater, she decided out loud…the beaded one…with the “reindeer crossing” earrings. The kids always get a kick out of those, and so do the grandmas and grandpas they’re singing to. Besides, if I wear something fun, maybe I’ll actually have some. Fun, that is. Geez. Now I’m talking to myself.

With a final impulse to walk instead of drive, Kate opened the door and headed down her snow-dusted street. It was almost eerie. Not a thing looked different than it had any other year. The lights twinkled just as brightly; the Christmas trees still stood proudly in the windows, and the air was again fragrant with that unique combination of wood smoke and pine that always spelled Christmas. Lifting her chin and taking several deep breaths in succession, she waited for the desired effect. Moments later, her lips curved in a soft, grateful smile as the familiar smell, so welcome, carried a bit of Christmas magic to her troubled heart. How tranquil the evening is, she reflected, praying once again for the peace and acceptance she was seeking. What was that old saying? “God’s in His heaven. All’s right with the world.” Kate wanted to believe that. She needed to believe, and she needed to help her family believe. Somehow, she would find a way.

Arriving at her destination, Kate almost tripped over a little boy intent on going through and not around her as he chased a playmate across the icy ground. “Sorry Mrs. O!” he yelled as an afterthought. Again, Kate was encouraged by a slight but perceptible lift in her spirits. This feisty friend of her own boy’s never failed to amuse and annoy her, usually in equal parts. Tonight he had managed to break through the shell of her worry, and she thanked him silently.

Entering the building, Kate was immediately greeted by several of her elderly friends. How kind and thoughtful they had been since her diagnosis. Almost every one of them had reached out to her in one way or another. One special lady even made her a service coupon book, full of such treasures as hugs and listening ears and shoulders to cry on. Of course, Kate didn’t plan to impose on any of them. The poor dears had enough of their own problems to worry about, but she did appreciate the thought, all the same.

As the prelude music began playing, the audience tittered with excitement. Kate, on the other hand, felt uncharacteristically anxious and hovered at the back of the room. “Hey, Katie!” called one of the other volunteers. A quick glance revealed several of her friends gesturing to a seat they had obviously saved for her. Wanting to avoid their well-meaning questions and sympathy, she smiled brightly and pointed to the camera she’d almost forgotten to bring. Taking a few pictures would give her a little distance. And if she decided to leave, she wouldn’t be stumbling over knees and purses on her way out.

It had always been a no-frills event, but the All-District Elementary Children’s Choir performance was a mainstay of Kate’s Christmas season. The songs of children always touched her heart, and these hand-picked voices were nothing short of angelic. A sudden thrill of unexpected anticipation made Katie realize how much she’d been counting on this concert to help her find Christmas again. Somehow, her spirit believed the sweet and simple joy of the children would have power to restore her own. Their youthful voices would put Christmas back in its place for Kate, and she would put Christmas back in place for her family. She wasn’t the only one frightened by cancer. Not by a long shot.

The program began, appropriately, with Angels We Have Heard on High. Kate felt like she was listening to angels as the chorus rose and fell and rose again in heavenly praises of the Savior. Her heart was singing with them, in all their unencumbered innocence, and hope seemed to rise up with the music and hover just beyond her grasp.

Kate’s face was still glowing as the children moved on to the first verse of Silent Night, her favorite carol. Beautiful memories filled her mind as a kaleidoscope of images raced through her head: Herself, as a child, hanging bits of tinsel on the tree one strand at a time because that’s how Mother liked it. Being seated in the car next to a brand new baby brother and gazing with wonder at the shining lights of the city, reflected in his dark eyes. Her own children, their eager faces glowing with delight on Christmas morning. Two small, chubby hands clutching a misshapen gift, thrusting it at her with a hopeful smile. Her not-so-mechanical husband, brow wrinkled with concentration as he labored to assemble a bicycle that just had to be under the tree in the morning. Sweet memories of mother, father, brother, husband, children…all of the people she loved most…people who needed her…who didn’t want her to leave. Kate stifled an involuntary sob and thudded back to reality. She didn’t want to leave them, either. She didn’t want to sleep, in heavenly peace or otherwise. She didn’t want to sleep at all. She wanted to live and breathe and be there for the people who loved her. She wanted to keep raising her children until they were old and settled and didn’t need her any more…at least, not so desperately.

Suddenly it was all more than she could bear. The emotion she’d been holding in for weeks was about to explode, and she didn’t want an audience. Desperately struggling to control her feelings, she rose silently and exited the auditorium through the first door she could open. It was the library, a room she often visited and a favorite gathering place for her seniors. Closing the door gently behind her, she scanned the darkened room quickly. To her surprise, an elderly woman was seated in a wheelchair in the far corner.

“What are you doing in here, all by your lonesome?” Kate asked gently, willing herself to stay strong a little longer.

“Well, my dear, I’m hiding,” was the gentle but firm answer. “You see, I’ve been very ill, and I’m not supposed to be here…but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to come down for just a minute and listen to the children.”

She must be the new patient from Holy Cross, Kate mused. What did they say she was recovering from? Some kind of heart surgery, wasn’t it? Oh, dear. Should she tell one of the sisters? Looking the old lady over carefully, she noted that her color was good and that she seemed alert and comfortable. Newly respectful of being a patient, Kate was reluctant to interfere with the woman’s wishes. Maybe the poor dear really did need to hear the children; Kate could certainly understand that, though it hadn’t worked for her. Not this time, anyway.

No. She would not tell; instead she’d sit with the lovely, white-haired woman until the music ended. Then she would walk her quickly back to her room. It wouldn’t hurt anything, and no one would be the wiser.

With the decision made, she sat down in front of the old lady, who was watching her carefully. Looking at Kate somewhat shyly, she queried,  “May I ask your name, dear?”

“Of course. I should have told you sooner. It’s Kate.”

“Oh, that’s a lovely name,” said her new friend. “Are you ever called Catherine?”

“I sure am,” was Kate’s answer. “By my mother. And what shall I call you?”

“Lucy,” she said with a smile. “There. Now we’re acquainted.”

For a while they were silent, listening to the muted sound of the choir. Kate was having a hard time keeping her composure, though she tried to hide it. Against all expectations, the only thing the beautiful songs brought to her mind was loss…lost time, lost opportunities, lost loved ones…

“Isn’t it sweet to hear the children singing?” Lucy murmured. “Puts me in mind of the angels singing on that very first Christmas. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.”

The last of Kate’s resolve crumbled as she realized that she wasn’t going to find Christmas this year, not even in the happy voices of children. She had thought she would surely find it there, where it had always been, but she was wrong. There was no peace on earth for her, not much good will toward men either. Just fear and running away from it.

Completely defenseless, she burst into tears. Lucy reached over and patted her shoulder kindly. “What is it, dear? I could tell you were troubled. Can I help?”

“Oh, Lucy. No one can help me. I’ve got cancer…breast cancer…and it’s the aggressive kind. I wanted to have a wonderful Christmas with my family before I start the chemo, but it’s all wrong this year. I can’t feel it…not the tree or the lights or the baking or even the children’s choir, singing like angels. I don’t want to shop for gifts or light candles or drink eggnog or even mull cider. I haven’t made one batch of gingerbread, not one. Every time I start to feel the Christmas spirit, all I can think of is that this might be one of my last. I think of all the things I might be losing before I’m ready to let go…my husband…my children…my life. I think of dying. And I just feel empty and afraid and hopeless, so hopeless. Kate paused for a ragged breath, and a new gush of tears flooded her eyes.

“I can’t find my hope, Lucy. And I can’t find Christmas, either. I just can’t find it.”

“Catherine, child…Christmas and hope are one and the same. You just have to know where to look for them.”

“But where,” Kate whispered. “Where do I look?”

“Up, my dear. You look up. And then you look inside, and believe. Believe what you already know, and if that’s too hard right now, then just try to believe. Remember the man who wanted his son healed but doubted his faith? ‘Lord, I believe,’ he said, ‘help thou my unbelief.’ And what happened? The child was healed. His father believed with everything he had, and the Savior did the rest.”

“I’ve tried, Lucy. I’ve tried so hard. But I just can’t feel it. How can I believe when I can’t even feel?”

“I’m an old lady, Catherine. I’ve lived a long time, and I’ve learned one thing. Faith is a choice, not a feeling. The feeling comes later. It does."

“I want to believe,” Kate whispered. “I want to believe more than anything in the world that things are going to be okay. I need to know that, no matter what happens to me, the people I love will be all right.”

“Oh, my dear, you already do know. I can see that, right now, in your eyes. You just need to be still and let yourself remember. Christ wasn’t born only to lift us up when we die (although that is a beautiful thing); He was born to lift us up while we live. And He gave us the perfect example by lifting those around him every day that He lived––by healing them, feeding them, loving and comforting them, giving them rest. And sometimes, Catherine, in His humility, He even let the people He helped return the favor.” 

Lucy looked deeply into the younger woman’s eyes before continuing: “Christ was born into this world to do all of these things, and then to seal his service by giving His very life to save the ones He loved…you, me, and all of God’s children…from sin. His life was lost in the service of others, but He found the greatest joy imaginable, resurrection for all and eternal life for each and every one who would believe…and follow. Because of Him, miracles happen. Miracles, Catherine. I’ve seen them. Even His birth was a miracle. And that’s where the Hope is––in remembering Him, in believing, in ministering to others––just like you’re doing here at St. Andrews, just like you do at home with your family. And sometimes, in being humble enough to let others serve you, because that brings Hope, too. Trust me, child. Where Hope is, Christmas can never be far behind.”

Impulsively, Kate reached out to hug the elderly patient who had suddenly become her mentor. It wasn’t new information, but her heart must have heard it in a new way because something resonated. Somehow, Lucy’s spirit touched her, or maybe she was just ready to listen. Whatever it was, she offered a quick prayer of thanks and, realizing the concert had ended during their conversation, wheeled Lucy back to her room. A fond farewell was said, and Kate resolved to visit her new friend regularly.

The walk home was a peaceful one, but Lucy’s words kept playing in Kate’s head. She looked around her with new eyes, still searching for the miracle that was Christmas. Arriving at her doorstep, she smiled at the sign she had hung there every December for years. “This house believes.” Strange how old words could suddenly take on new meaning.

Impulsively, she hurried to her scriptures and opened them wide. One phrase almost leaped out at her: “He who findeth his life shall lose it; and he who loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” Reflecting for several moments, Kate squared her shoulders. Maybe she would lose her physical life to cancer. She couldn’t control that. She could, however, make sure that her spiritual life was lost––and found again––in serving others as Christ did. As she lifted their spirits, her own spirit would be lifted too. And one day, because He was willing to lose His life for ours, every spirit ever born into this earth would be lifted forever. “Oh grave, where is thy victory?” she thought. “Oh death, where is thy sting?”

Suddenly Kate’s mind and heart opened wide as Hope rushed in, accompanied by generous amounts of comfort, joy, and good tidings. In other words, Lucy was right. Christmas wasn’t far behind. “For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” A birth……A Savior. Christmas. And the gifts it brought need never be lost. Life was hers for the keeping, eternal life, and Kate would lay bare her very soul to receive it. With trembling hands, she turned to Luke and began to read:

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 Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 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 to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Thank you, Lucy, she breathed. Thank you for helping me find Christmas.

The next day dawned crisp and cool. Kate couldn’t wait to get back to the Center and tell Lucy what she had learned. Her heart was filled with gratitude to a friend who had understood and calmed her fears, despite having serious health problems of her own. Kate couldn’t wait to find out what she could do to help Lucy…and to invite her home for Christmas Eve dinner. Maybe they would even take her with them to the Christmas program at Church, if she felt up to it.

When she arrived at the Center, Kate walked right up and asked Brenda at the front desk to call Lucy and tell her she had a visitor.

“Lucy?” Brenda asked.

“Yes,” explained Kate, “the new one…with the heart problem.”

“But…that’s not Lucy, Kate. That’s Amanda. We don’t have a Lucy.”

“Sure you do,” said Kate. “I just met her last night…at the Christmas program…I even took her up to the third floor. Here. Let me see that list.” Looking first through the A’s, then the B’s and C’s and all the way down to Z, Kate carefully checked the list for her friend. But no Lucy.

Sensing her friend’s consternation, Brenda smiled reassuringly. “Don’t fret, Katie. I’ll sort this out and get back to you.”

Inexpressibly saddened, Kate wandered over to the auditorium, reliving her feelings from the night before and wishing she could tell Lucy her good news. She had barely met her, but the sense of loss was palpable as she realized she didn’t have a clue where to find her. The whole thing was puzzling. Had the records been mismanaged? Who would have brought her to the event, and why had she been left in the library, all alone? Preoccupied, wanting an answer, Kate walked to the back of the auditorium and entered the room in question. She almost felt that if she could just go back to the place they had met, she would be able to find her again, but no such luck. The library was empty, and a cloud was cast over the whole day as she realized she might not get a chance to talk to Lucy again. She hoped something hadn’t happened to her…another heart attack, or worse. Kate glanced at the wheel chair, still in the corner where she’d returned it last night after dropping off its precious cargo. She went over and sat down opposite it, trying to recapture the moments with Lucy. What was it her new friend had said? “Lord I believe. Help thou my unbelief.”

Just then, Kate’s eye was caught by a flash of light reflecting off the seat of the wheel chair. Shielding her eyes against the glare of the morning sun, she reached down and picked up what appeared to be a small coin. “Odd,” she noted, but then her breath caught as she took a closer look at what was apparently a silver or pewter token. The center was cut out, in the shape of an angel, and underneath that angel was one word, carefully etched. “Believe.”

A heightened awareness stirred Kate’s thoughts. Lucy was nowhere to be found. Not one soul besides Kate even seemed to know about her. Could it be?

Clasping her trembling hands to her chest, Kate remembered a scripture that had comforted her that morning:  “For I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”

An angel? Lucy?? Suddenly, Kate had her answer, an answer she could feel in every fiber of her being. Christmas miracles did happen…and not just at Christmas.

Dazed, Kate walked out into the auditorium, where all of the seniors were gathered for breakfast. She looked around at the dear old faces, really looked at them, for the first time in weeks––those who were praying for her and those who had offered to care for her in so many different ways. It was then that Kate realized they were all angels, the human variety, every single one of them. Lucy had moved on, but there would always be others to bear her up, as long as she didn’t clip their wings.

In the next two weeks, Kate performed a few miracles of her own, transmitting her newfound hope to the rest of her family. Christmas Eve found a brand new stocking hanging in a place of honor from the fireplace mantle. The stocking was made of red velvet and had a beautiful picture on it––an angel––embroidered by Kate with great love and a sense of peace she hadn’t expected to feel again until the chemotherapy was over. The name on the stocking was “Lucy,” and it was filled to the brim…not with apples, oranges, candy canes, and toiletries…but with acts of service both great and small, given and received by Kate and her family members. According to Kate’s instructions, each kind act and deed, whether offered or received, had been painstakingly recorded on a piece of paper and placed in the stocking when no one was looking, as a gift to the Savior. What better way to honor Lucy…and the One who had sent her?

Following a beautiful Christmas Eve dinner, the time for their family program was at hand. After singing The First Noel––sounding very much like angels, of course––they bowed their heads in a prayer of love and thanksgiving. The entire family was going through the hardest of hard times, but they knew they were being watched over. They also knew Who was doing the watching, and they were doing everything possible to return the favor. As Kate took down the beautiful velvet stocking and read each gift of service aloud, her family members were, in effect, wishing the Savior a happy birthday. In the hearts of every child and both parents, this favorite of all holidays had taken on deeper levels of meaning. Losing themselves in service, they had found Him. Finding Him, they had found Christmas…and Hope…and the will to Believe miracles did and do happen. Would happen.

Later, as Kate turned out the lamp and climbed into bed, a glint of moonlight caught her eye, drawing her attention to the small silver token that sat on her nightstand. For the briefest of moments, it glowed brightly. “Merry Christmas, Lucy,” Kate whispered. “Hope you liked your stocking.”

-The End-

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

Many thanks to you, readers and friends, for taking the time to enrich my life by being an irreplaceable part of whatever magic it is that continues to make this little blog feel like home to me. I want you to know that I strongly believe the principles of this story to be true, a belief that has brought comfort to me all the days of my life. My wish is for each one of you to be blessed with peace, joy, and hope in the coming year. 

Merry Christmas!


PS. If you haven't already done so, I hope you will take a moment to read 
Empty Chairs
my poem dedicated to the children of Newtown, CT and their families. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Empty Chairs: A Lament for the Children of Sandy Hook

Dedicated to the beloved children of Newtown, Connecticut

Empty Chairs: A Lament for the Children
©2012 Susan Noyes Anderson

Why must a mother mourn her son at Christmas?
Why must a father lose his daughter fair?
How will we bear the sorrow of this season,
when days ago their laughter filled the air?

No longer do their faces light the morning.
Each day, the sun falls hard on empty chairs.
When will our eyes stop searching for their presence...
our ears stop hearing small steps on the stairs?

How can a father turn his heart to Christmas,
when evil robs his home of love and joy?
How can a mother heal her stricken family,
while her soul mourns one shining girl or boy?

How cruel to take them when the bells were ringing,
as old St. Nick was packing up his sleigh.  
The gifts around the tree hold little meaning
with none to open them on Christmas day.

Why must the Yule be tainted with such anguish?
Let death choose January, still and bleak.
The birth of Christ should ne'er be scarred by horror.
Give back the downy hair, the rosy cheek.

Give back the peace that once was ours to cherish.
Return to us the hope that saves and heals.
Raise up the fallen, never more to perish.
Remind us of the way redemption feels.

The answer comes from heaven; can you hear it...
as angel voices light the darkened skies?
For unto you is born this day a Savior,
good tidings of great joy for all mankind.

What better time than Christmas to find solace,
to contemplate the message of His birth?
One day, the good shall overcome the wicked,
and Christ shall reign in glory on this earth.

In that great day, all things will be restored.
The pains of death will leave nary a trace.
Till then, we look to Christ for loving comfort,
and find our children safe in His embrace.

David Bowman
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Monday, December 17, 2012

Two for the Road

Andy Magee

Two for the Road
©2012 Susan Noyes Anderson

Life is a wet and dreary road,
oft traveled with a heavy load.
I rarely mind the soggy view
because I'm seated next to you.

These forty years, you've had my side.
Sometimes, it's been a crazy ride.
We've chugged up hills with flashers on,
then hurtled down, our brakes quite gone. 

Of course, we've shared our sunny days,
breathtaking views, and blithe byways.
We've splashed through puddles with a song
as, merrily, we rolled along.

We've crossed high altitudes and low,
sped up too fast and crept too slow,
taken roads that others spurned,
twisted when we should have turned. 

Through all the sunshine and the rain,
'mid fields of pleasure, mists of pain,
our headlights kept us safe and bright
against the darkness of the night.

 O'er peaks and potholes, we have learned
that true companionship is earned,
that tolls are tolls and must be paid,
and detours (mostly) are self-made.

The past is precious in our hearts.
So many stops. So many starts.
This history is yours and mine,
but we're far from the finish line.

Let's mark this anniversary
by looking forward. Can you see
beyond the hill, around the bend?
We're two for the road that has no end.

For Dave, on the occasion 
of our 40th wedding anniversary.

Love you!
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Friday, December 14, 2012

Delightful Decorations

 For me, decorating begins and ends in the kitchen.

That's the heart of the home, after all.

 (Although the dining room gets a fair amount of play, too.)

 Of course, the whole gang loves to hang out in the family room as well.

 It's the perfect place to soak up that old Christmas feeling.

 That being said, I suppose our very best Christmas moments...

 the ones that warm the heart and lift the soul...

 are probably spent in this cozy spot, the living room.

 Our family does some pretty good living here.

 Not because our tree is both ridiculous and spectacular.

But because of the best decorations of all...
 the ones we welcome in most gladly.

 Our dear young adult friends, adorning the room with love and joy.

{beyond measure}


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Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Con


Here I am, two days late with the Saturday Centus. (But hey, at least I got one done, right?) I'm so busy this month that even my blogging is suffering. Seems like I'm lucky to post a couple of times a week. Anyway, here it is...100 words and a picture prompt. Thanks, Jenny!


Christmas Con
©2012 Susan Noyes Anderson

Beware the charming Christmas squirrel.
He gathers nuts and such.
His look is soft and fluffy, but
don't trust the rogue too much.

His scampering about is
calculated to confuse.
Those button eyes, that bushy tail
are but a clever ruse.

And now he's wearing Santa's cap
upon his scheming head.
Do not be fooled, my friends. He should
be viewed with creeping dread.

I'm outing him. Right here and now.
The rascal wrecked my ceiling.
He chewed right through without a thought,
devoid of Christian feeling.

Look at him! All up in our faces,
acting like a saint.
He's just a fat rat with a tail,
and don't you think he ain't.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas: A Warm Flicker of Joy

I'd like to share with you a warm flicker of Christmas joy that has touched me this holiday season. My son is a manager for a public accounting firm, and last year he began hosting a dinner party for the people who report to him, one that he intends to make a tradition. It was (and will continue to be, I'm sure) a resounding success, but what delights me is how the whole thing comes together in a way that epitomizes the spirit of Christmas.

The son in question has attended a church (or ward in Mormon lingo) for young single adults very like the one my husband leads. I mention this only because it is people from that congregation who volunteer their time to put on this dinner for him, not for recompense but out of friendship. They come over and decorate the place from top to bottom, prepare and cook a meal far better than any professional caterer, and then dress up like waiters to serve the guests. Even live music is provided, free of charge, by whatever musician friend is free to drop in and set the mood. Best of all, and this is the part that makes me feel the most warm and fuzzy, is the fact that Ryan takes a page from our family Christmas Eve book and creates a "circle time" of sorts. Last year the theme had to do with reaping what you sow, and this year it's something about being a compass for others and always pointing true north. He reads or makes up a story, gives a little token as a reminder (this year he bought inexpensive compasses for everyone), and apparently waxes inspirational enough that his guests last year were visibly moved. One even commented that the group "had a moment."

I think more of our young people (especially those caught up in career, career, career, and the odd night of clubbing) need to "have a moment," and I'm happy my son cares enough to give them one. His borrowing a tradition from our family as the vehicle for that effort moves me on many levels. First, it lets me know that the foundation we tried to give our children over the years works for him and that he values it enough to share it with others. Secondly, it tells me that Ryan understands the power of belonging to a group and working together to reach goals and support one another. (This would give any mother a warm glow, right?) Finally, he has figured out how to promote unity and ethical behavior in a spirit of fun and good feeling that translates to the work place. Talking with him about his upcoming plans, I can feel the joy he takes in providing this experience to the young people he supervises.

Forgive me for what can only be described as bragging, but I am one proud mom!

"A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).

Shine on, Ry!
Hope it goes GREAT this weekend.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Remembering Christ

My heart is full, and I would be remiss if I didn't take a few minutes to share my feelings of gratitude today. There is no time of year that I love more than Christmas, but to be honest, I've been spinning like a top every since Thanksgiving, and the spirit of the season has been in short supply around here. In the rush to write a couple of sacrament meeting programs I agreed to do, compose the poem I send out as a Christmas card every year, dream up and get down on paper the annual Christmas Eve story for my family, plan dinners and activities that will be at my home in the next two weeks, shop for gifts, and prepare to host the family on Christmas Day, I have felt more stressed than blessed. I haven't even been listening to Christmas music every waking hour like I usually do!

Thankfully, the north star that is my church has a way of making sure I receive the blessings I need when I need them. Saturday night, I pushed myself out the door to enjoy the annual Christmas dinner of our home ward (where Dave and I attended before he became bishop of the singles ward and where we will attend again once he is released). Frankly, I very nearly didn't go at all, feeling that my time would be better spent in continuing my preparations for Christmas. I mean, the tree we ordered is in the back yard sitting in a box! We haven't even put it in water yet, let alone attached a stand or thrown on some ornaments. What's more, my Thanksgiving decorations are still up, and I have the whole singles ward coming over for dessert next Sunday and dinner Monday! Tonight we have an activity, tomorrow night we have an activity, and Wednesday night we have an activity...none of which I can miss. On top of that, I don't feel well. But I digress.

My desire to spend time with good friends prevailed, so Dave and I went to the nearby church building to celebrate the Savior's birth with our family ward. After dinner, the primary put on a little program for us, and seeing them all dressed up in their robes and turbans and various animal ears touched me deeply, as did the familiar music they sang. The theme was "What did the Christmas star mean to you?", and our young people played various participants in the nativity expressing their feelings about the Christ Child. We heard from the shepherds, the wise men, the angels, and even Santa, but what really turned me around was Mary, played by a young woman I have known since her own infancy. Her wholesome loveliness and period clothing created an evocative, compelling representation of the mother of Jesus. She must have felt it too, for when she rose to recite the passages representing Mary's thoughts and feelings, our young friend was so overcome with emotion that she could scarcely speak. Her trembling voice, thick with unshed tears, brought her words to life, filling the room with the spirit of that first Christmas. Needless to say, I was more than glad to be there.

I was also a bit envious. I wanted to be as tuned into that spirit as she was, and I realized that I had been so busy managing Christmas...making it happen, so to speak...that I wasn't allowing time or place in my heart to actually feel it. Don't get me wrong. The things I am busy with are good things, important things, things that matter to the Savior...but I need to find and consecrate ample time to be still and reflect for myself upon the wonder and miracle of Christ's birth.

On the way to church yesterday, I inserted a Christmas CD and let Amy Grant sing to me. (Nobody does it better.) In the middle of the third carol, a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Silent Night, my dam of busy-ness broke. The strain of superficial things was swept away, and tears flowed freely. From a practical point of view, this was not ideal, as I was DWK (driving without kleenex). From a spiritual point of view, however, it was perfect. I had the "Mary" experience I was seeking, and I was able to welcome the season and all its sweetness into my soul. After that, the Christmas Eve story practically wrote itself. And I'll be sending the Christmas card poem out tomorrow. (Even the scripts for the programs are completed!)

On the down side, the tree is still in the yard and Thanksgiving is still in the house. (Hey, ya win some, ya lose some, right?)


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

So NOT the Reason for the Season

B is for BLOCKS

For the past 20 years, a set of vintage block letters spelling S-A-N-T-A has graced the top of our family room TV. The A's even have a Santa face. (Very cute, if I do say so myself!)

Anyway, in the olden days, when my rapidly aging sons (sorry, guys) were in their teens, one of their oh-so-charming friends was fond of rearranging those letters when I wasn't looking. Sometimes I wouldn't notice for a day or two, and I've often wondered what visitors to our home thought as they sat in our family room at Christmas time, nonplussed by this supposedly Christian family that apparently felt the need to give a holiday shout-out to S-A-T-A-N.

That kid loved to make me crazy. And you know what? He was good at it!


click below for more B posts

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Fisher Kings: A Winter's Tale

Squall, 1986, by Andrew Wyeth

The Fisher Kings: A Winter’s Tale
©2011 Susan Noyes Anderson, All Rights Reserved

Three fishermen set out one dawn
in the land of the midnight sun,
to check their pots for king crabs and
return when day was done.
At Christmastime, their custom was
to celebrate their King
by dining on the very best
the ocean had to bring.
Theirs never was a safe pursuit,
but these were hardened men.
Many a wintry sea they’d sailed,
and so they sailed again.
A red-sky morning…sailor’s
warning…trouble in the air.
But good or ill, ‘twas Christmas still;
they set out on a prayer.
Their women let them go…saw
danger as no stranger cruel
but rather a worthy foe, the ocean’s
mate, and no one’s fool.
Nor were these men, who knew respect
for weather, wind, and wave.
Here was no mystery…The sea
made many a sailor’s grave.
 Deep water was the resting place
more than a few had earned.
Better the bottom of the sea
than cold ground, freshly turned.
Yet drowning did not haunt their dreams,
for they believed in fate.
Death knew your days, and that old pirate
seized you, soon or late.
Then why, as they pulled anchor, did
they feel a creeping chill…
 And why, as they left home and hearth,
did their wives’ hearts go still?
 (But let us not belabor signs
and omens: paltry stuff.
Our fishermen set out to sea
on choppy waves, not rough.)
The day was middling fair as well,
though cold as smoking ice,
and each man’s head was filled with thoughts
of crab and yuletide spice.
Their traps were in deep water, so
they traveled with the wind.
When they arrived, the mast was dropped
at once, the mizzen trimmed.
The men worked hard as waves grew rough;
a storm was on the way.
They needed to move quickly now
before the end of day.
The pots retrieved were nearly full;
there was enough for all.
And if the weather held off,
they’d be home before the squall.
A feast they’d have, a family feast,
with loved ones gathered round.
The memories and crab meat
promised sweetness, pound for pound.
 With main and mizzen raised once more,
they set their sights on home.
Their little ketch was dancing…
flying fast across the foam.
Love was the gift that gave them wings
and made their spirits light.
In their stout hearts, they sang Noel
that silent, starry night.
 Until, at once, the silence broke…
eclipsed by claps of thunder…
a squall so violent that it cast
their Christmas dreams asunder.
The gale was fierce, and driving rain
assailed them, fore and aft.
Their boat rose…fell like flotsam…
took on water like a raft.
They lowered sail, turned leeward, bound
themselves to lurching mast…
and pleaded for God’s mercy to
preserve their souls at last.
They did not beg for life or death;
they prayed for strength and grace.
They’d live to see their children, or
they’d die to see God’s face.
(Acceptance is the sailor’s creed;
man cannot thwart the sea.
But those who would submit to it
may yet find victory.)
And so they did; the tempest stilled.
Their lives were spared again.
The fog was thick and threatening,
but these were stalwart men.
The route they knew; and from the shore,
a lighthouse shined their way.
But somehow, in its signal,
they beheld another day: 
A day of hope and wonder,
of life forever new…
A night one star rose up to light
the world with heaven’s view.
“The beacon! ‘Tis a star…the wise men’s
star.” They whispered, low.
The lighthouse beckoned onward,
urging safety with its glow.
It had to be illusion, but
that bright beam made them feel
like wise men, seeking Jesus.
Such a thing could not be real.
(And yet, it’s true that Christmas Eve
holds wonder all its own.
Who better than seafaring men
to seek the Christ Child’s throne?)
And in a twinkling, they were there
three kings…yet still afloat…
their spirits in the ancient past…
their bodies in the boat.
“What mann’r of magic is this?” said one.
See ye the things I see?”
The others nodded, all amazed.
“Yet, how can this thing be?”
“Here shines the Star of Bethlehem!
And there, the lighthouse beams.
Perhaps we lie unconscious,
dreaming one another’s dreams.”

But reason was suspended when
they heard an angel say,
“Fear not, for unto you is born
a Savior. Come away.”
Their hearts were filled with gladness
that transcended time and space.
Three fisher kings released their world
to take a sacred place.
The star led them o’er hill and vale,
past groves of olive trees,
and finally, to a stable, where
they fell upon their knees.
A Child was born, the Son of God!
His promise was fulfilled.
And angels sang out praises until
every doubt was stilled.
The shepherds came to honor Him
and bowed in reverence sweet,
while fishermen-turned-kings laid gold
and spices at His feet.
They worshipped Him and prayed for Him
and marveled at His glory.
They touched Him and beheld Him, and
became part of His story.
Yet, all the while they felt beneath
their feet the rolling seas.
They saw the star but sensed the lighthouse
and their families.
 A blinding flash!...the stable dimmed,
back through the years they flew.
The songs of angels vanished
into shouts of their own crew.
Turn starboard…Starboard, mate! Look sharp!
We’re headed for the ice.
Now, hold the jib. Tack. Tack! Heave to,
else we’re the sacrifice.
Alas, the looming obstacles
were coming up so fast
that all three sailors knew the air
they breathed would be their last.
And yet their spirits whispered peace;
the Christ Child they had seen,
and lingering traces of the Magi
held their souls serene.
Grateful for the comfort, they looked
up and thanked its Source.
His answer was a miracle…
a gift that changed their course.
It seemed to them impossible
when angels filled the sky…
and turned the boat and sang them home…
Three Wandering Magi.
All were preserved, and even more,
their hearts were made brand new.
Years later, people said the lighthouse
saved them. Partly true.
But more than lives were saved. Those men
were never again the same.
They carried Christmas in their hearts.
They glorified Christ’s name.
And they were wiser than most men
had any right to be.
Some nights, they gazed into the stars,
eyes filled with mystery.
“Wise men still seek Him,” they would say.
“What manner of men are ye?”
As a little bit of background, one of the first incarnations of a Fisher King occurred in 12th century France. He was cast as the brother-in-law of Joseph of Arimathea, who was said to have used the Grail to catch Christ's blood before laying him in the tomb. Joseph eventually entrusts the Grail to his brother, Bron, who becomes first in a line of Grail keepers.
Later, in Le Didot-Perceval, the keeper of the Grail is called the "Fisher King," and he is wounded. His story begins when Percival returns to his castle and asks the “healing question.”
We are all wounded, and there IS indeed a healing question.
 “What manner of men ought ye to be?” Christ asks in the scriptures. “Even as I am,” He answers.

A happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

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