Friday, December 24, 2010

When My Heart Finds Christmas, Part 2: A Christmas Carol

I've been rehearsing for Christmas for most of my life. 

It began in junior high school when I joined the choir, then continued in high school, college, and beyond.  The seasons were defined by rehearsal and performance.  And I loved every minute of it.  Well, maybe with the exception of the 30 minutes our church choir director decided to try to teach these non dancing Baptist feet to do some choreography on the risers. 

My feet won.

It just isn't Christmas without music.  In all those years of rehearsal and performance I've sung everything from Handel to calypso to contemporary Christian and back again. But there is one song that stands out among all the rest.  One song that touched my heart with the reality of "That Night."

That night in all of Heaven there wasn't a sound
As God and the angels watched the Earth.
For there, in a stable the Father's only Son
Chose to give Himself through human birth.
And when the cry of a baby pierced the universe
Once for all, men were shown their worth.

And the heavens exploded, with music everywhere.
And the angels spilled over heaven's edge and filled the air.
And the Father rejoiced, for He did not lose His Son,
But He gained to Himself forever those who'd come.

I can still hear the music that taught my heart the joy of that night, and reminds me every Christmas of my worth. 

And the heavens exploded, with music everywhere.
And the angels spilled over heaven's edge and filled the air.
And the Father rejoiced, for He did not lose His Son,
But He gained to Himself forever those who'd come.

When My Heart Finds Christmas, Part 1: Great Expectations

This is the home in which I celebrated 27 Christmases. The picture was taken after a rare winter snowfall 2 years after I was born. The house still stands, but the trees in the front yard have all been replaced after too many insects, hurricane winds, and lightening strikes took their toll.

Apollo snow 1949

Mom and Dad are gone, too, but their memories linger on my life like Dad's shadow on the bottom of the picture.

They taught me that Christmas was about innocence, childhood, wonder, joy, hope.

And extravagant giving.

My Mother loved Christmas more than any other time of year. She enjoyed the decorating, the baking, and the planning of magnificent surprises. For Mother, Christmas was the magical season when all wishes came true, and she and Dad did their best, on a limited budget, to make that happen for their two daughters.

If the tree was less than perfect, and in those days they were, Dad would take a drill and some extra branches and fill in what nature left out. We always had a magnificent tree. Mother would direct the decoration from the couch.

First, Dad carefully strung the lights around the tree, then my sister and I hung the ornaments evenly and symmetrically. Finally, Dad would lift one of us toward the top to place the star. We took turns for this honor, with names duly recorded on the box that safely held that star the other 11 months of the year.

Christmas Eve we would read the story from Luke, and then hop in bed for a restless, sleepless night. After many unsuccessful trips to Mom and Dad's bedroom (has Santa come yet?), we were filled with delight when they finally gave up the idea of any sleep themselves, turned on the lights and stood back in their own delight as two little girls stampeded into the living room to see what Santa had brought. At 4:00am in the morning!

Our stockings were simple--two of Dad's clean socks. Somehow we never noticed they bulged with an assortment of whole nuts out of the seasonal nut bowl from which they were hung. There was ribbon candy too, and an occasional tangerine. But that was just "window dressing." Our real attention was on the tree, both the "Santa" toys and the beautifully wrapped bounty beyond.

xmas guitar copy

I think it was the expectation of what surprise awaited us rather than what we actually received that caused those sleepless Christmas Eves because, looking back now, the one thing I remember most is the one thing I habitually asked for but never found, a horse. A real horse. Like Trigger or Silver. I knew it would never happen, but that didn't keep me from hoping. After all, Christmas was about magic and wonder and dreams coming true.

I feel as though I am just now beginning to understand the deeper magic of Christmas. I find myself lost in the wonder of God's dream coming true in a Bethlehem manger. It is there I find anew the innocence, wonder, joy, hope.

And extravagant giving.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son..."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mission Impossible

She knew it would not be easy. She had tried before, on many occasions, never with success. But this time, this time would be different. She would somehow manage the impossible.

It took planning, lots of planning. And coordination of schedules. And secrecy. Up until the last minute, she was afraid of failure. There were too many details that could go wrong. And yet, she pulled it off without a hitch. This mission impossible, this Thanksgiving surprise.

I am still reeling from the shock. And feeling so very grateful for

smiley cookies,


the airplane that brought our Principessa home,

the van that safely carried the Sprittles and their Mommy and Daddy to visit,

wild Indians stomping through the house in a mini school pageant recreated,


the voices of grandchildren,

the turkey that defrosted in time,

"feathers" of gratitude,

being together,

happy meal toys,

tiny arms around my neck,

hugs and kisses,




angel wings on lampshade,




silly sunglasses,


self portraits,


a scavenger hunt for Mommo,

a coonskin cap,

photo 1

balloons and a floor vent,

Sprittle sleepover,

noodle necklaces,

hand-me-down bling,


blond hair + blue eyes + blue fleece pullovers,


Christmas displays,

hallways and self propelled trucks,


eating out,

a light dusting of snow Saturday morning,


a successful surprise,

the mission impossible made possible,

the love and graciousness that accomplished it.

A wonderful Thanksgiving.

"Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; 
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."

holy experience

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Joy of Naming

It has been a year since I began the naming of gifts, encouraged by a new friend on the internet. A year to name a thousand. 52 Mondays to stop and think and list the moments of grace that make up each 24 hours.

My mind turns to a photo essay from the early 1990s in which a journalist sought to picture average families from around the world, surrounded by their possessions. Included were statistics -- numbers that spoke of life expectancy, infant mortality, energy use.

Each picture spoke a thousand words and more about living conditions and treasures.

But I sit in my comfortable home on my comfortable couch with the world at my fingertips and can't think of a thing for which to be grateful. In 3 days a holiday of gratitude will be upon us and I can't think of one thing I haven't already mentioned in 128 entries. I know there are many, but the mind refuses to focus.

Only 128 in 52 weeks.

I can name other things effortlessly -- the error, the less than perfect, the negative. But I stumble and stutter to name the gifts. The graces.

The treasures. And there are so many.

What seemed so simple is indeed profound. In my silence, I discover my need to see, to hear, to NAME.

Or, perhaps, the seeing and hearing rise from the naming.

Dare I try again?

I name:

preparing a Thanksgiving meal for my family,

sitting down to a meal together,


conversation around the table,

memories of past Thanksgivings,

the sunrise that dispels the dark,



the moon that lights the night,


the electricity that powers our well and the oven,

the smell and feel of a good book,


time to be alone and think,


the realization of my poverty,

the joy of naming.

"But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him." Psalm 103:17 NLT

holy experience

Monday, November 15, 2010

Life Lines


She told the story of threads woven in love.  Delicate, lone strands that became strong together in the twisting and the crossing and the pressing.  She spoke of how friendship had been her lifeline, how we three had held her from harm.  Then she gave the gift as a reminder of hope and help and healing.

A colorful strand woven in love, ends seared by fire to hold it together.


When he could no longer live alone, he came to us.  In early December, bags packed hurriedly with just what was needed.  He left behind 60 years of memories, his friends, his church, his life.  And in his remaining seven months he battled unfamiliar cold, loss of independence, a failing body and mind.

I battled as well, to love him well: to help him along those last few steps, to care for him, to honor him.  In spite of the inconvenience, the lack of sleep, the raging emotions, our relationship grew.

In the twisting, and the crossing, and the pressing.


She arrived on the scene when I was four years old.  I didn't like sharing my spotlight.  Or my bedroom.  Or my toys.  I tied her to a tree when we played cowboys and Indians, ignored her pleas to play games together, and slammed the door on her toe.  It was an accident she won't let me forget.

We laugh and talk like never before, sisters who have discovered each other many years after birth.  Perhaps we needed distance, space, experience.  And a shared inherited love for gadgets (and a perky Cheekywawa named Spike.)

We sift our early days together now, looking for patterns, for reasons, for explanations.  We find them together.  And we find new perspectives and understanding of ourselves and each other.

In the twisting, and the crossing, and the pressing.


The lines of love that hold us together are formed in the difficulties of life.  Our strength comes from the searing, painful events that melt our hearts into one.

The eternal, purifying Fire, molding us into His image.

Today, I am grateful for--

stories that stir life in me,

the opportunity and heartbreak of caretaking an aging parent,

a close relationship with my sister,


my granddaughter's tears of love when I leave,

my Dear Professor's chronic fatigue that both frustrates and offers opportunities to dispense grace through service,

the endless dirty dishes that offer endless opportunities to think about and pray for the ones who created them,

sorrows that bind us together, enlarge us, and teach us compassion.

holy experience

Monday, November 1, 2010

For Friends

I open wide and swallow hard, like a baby bird with it's first meal. Her words go down smoothly and leave me feeling warm inside. A lasting warmth.

I read them again. And again. She writes about a need, something neglected, and what brings her life every bit as much as breathing fresh air.

We are separated by miles and years and citizenship, but we are the same. The same eternal flame burns in our hearts and leads our path; the same yearning for justice, for love, for truth, and for beauty.


She points the way toward finding all that, and more.

In Him.

In a life spent breathing in the holy gift of a whole God, and breathing out His praises. A life spent turning and pouring and searching for the eternal abundance of the everyday.

A grace hunt.

"He's there!", she says, and she is as right as the spring rains that fall on our familiar fields.


Today I lift my voice in thanks for friends

who write words full of the Living Word, who encourage, who hold my feet to the path,

who weep with me, who laugh with me, who smile,

who listen, who ask, who walk with me awhile,


who offer grace, who show forth His beauty, who share His gifts,


who seek His kingdom, who speak His Truth, who yearn for His appearing,

who pray for me and and with me and love me just as I am.

I thank you all.

"As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight." Psalm 16:3 NIV

I delight in and thank Him for each one of you glorious ones.

holy experience

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Under a western Pennsylvania moon


Under a western Pennsylvania moon, a young man and a young woman fell in love. As they were falling, they shared their dreams.

She: "Long ago I saved the picture of a house from a magazine. I dreamed of living in that house one day."

He: "Long ago I saved the picture of a house from a magazine. And I, too, dreamed of living in that house one day."

They knew it was true love when they compared their pictures . . . of the same white farmhouse with wraparound porch from the same magazine.


So, they got married and started life together on some acreage on a tree shaded country lane in the middle of western Pennsylvania. They contacted the magazine to see if it were possible to find the plans to their dream home.

Yes, it was.


So they built it, as all dreams are built, with blood, sweat, and some tears. When they were finished they started a family.

And built a barn.


And planted an apple orchard, with long straight rows of branches reaching to the sky.


They built another barn, and started selling knickknacks and geegaws and doohickeys made by local artisans. They began harvesting apples and pressing their own cider.



The people started coming for the knickknacks and geegaws and doohickeys and preserves and apples and apple cider.


And they oo-ed and ah-ed in wonder and delight at the beauty they saw in the realized dream. They brought their children to see the beauty and watch the apples being pressed into sweet golden liquid. They ate apple blossoms (a nutty, caramel-ly, apple-ly treat) and drove away with full tummies and warm hearts.

And that man and that woman, now ten years older, tuck their 3 children into bed after a long day's work together, and marvel at the dream come true that was shared while falling


under a western Pennsylvania moon.

(note: Emmett's Orchard is a real place built from a real dream.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

When the chaos gets to me


I find this truth self-evident, that life is too short not to have fun. But sometimes, in spite of my positive attitude, the chaos wears me down. At those times, these words ground me.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Trip to Ashtabula

A mother, a daughter, and four friends set out one day in the rain.  Their objective was a jewelry store in Ashtabula.  What they found was that, and much more.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Such a place of wonder


Saturday morning at sunrise...a solitary Canada goose calling for its mate...and me, standing in the brush, listening, watching, taking a picture of the sunrise over a pond and a pile of earth left from strip mining coal.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fall Leaves and Winter follows

When we moved north of the Mason Dixon line in 1983, my dear Professor and I did not know what to expect. We had both known only two seasons in Texas, hot and hotter, and most of the trees in both of our necks of the woods, even though separated by 500+ miles, were green all year long.

Imagine our surprise that first October in Syracuse. Three year old Principessa, five year old Preacher and I collected as many of the leafy jewel colors that we could find to share them with "Granny" back in Houston. When cleaning out Dad's house last fall I found an old manila envelope with pictures of our first yankee home and a few of those leaves still pressed in wax paper.

Sunday, October 10, 2010



What choices are ruling your day? I made one that made all the difference.  You can read about it here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Burnt in the fire of love

She spoke truthful words aimed at healing but they shattered, wounding many. And now, with broken heart she asks, was the love wasted? I reply in words from a greater heart than mine, "no, love is never wasted."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Beauty that Awaits

We played peekaboo all the way to work, her peeking above and through the clouds, me weaving the car around the curves and up and down hills.  I wanted so badly to stop and take her picture, but I restrained myself, choosing instead to get to work on time.  But a few hundred feet from my destination, on a slight rise that is the grocery store parking lot just above where I work, I stopped to admire her.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The King and I

Lions stalk me.

It's true. In Texas and in the Frozen North, and even Europe.

Lions stalk me.

The first was Elsa the lioness in the film, Born Free, the story of Joy and George Adamson and their Kenyan rehabilitation center. I decided then and there that I would move to Kenya just like Joy and George. I was born and raised in Texas, I could do big, dry and hot. And poisonous snakes if I HAD to!

Lions are majestic, awesome, dignified, glorious, noble, fearful.

And sort of dangerously cuddly.

When higher education called, I laid aside the African dream and picked up drama and english. Not exactly the perfect training for pulling thorns from a lion's paw in the wilds of Africa. Then I met my Dear Professor and there was no contest.

But the lions are patient.

As my Dear Professor and I strolled hand in hand down the Montrose end of Westheimer one sunny Houston Saturday, they found me once again. It seemed safe enough. Major artists and artisans displayed their wares at a street fair. As we passed the local NBC affiliate interviewing participants on camera, I felt him watching me. And then I saw him. The lion, nestled under the shade of an awning, called.

Rabby's lion

It was a painting by an up and coming Houston artist, Jim Rabby.  I had just recently read CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, and was captivated by this rendering of Aslan.  The rich paint strokes were layered so thickly I could almost hear him breathe. I longed to take him home with us, but this new bride felt awkward asking her groom for such a costly painting.  I took a picture. A faded picture that does not do justice to the richness of color and those extravagant brush strokes.

I said goodbye, never dreaming that we would meet again.

A year later we attended a party given by a friend's cousin.  I could not believe my eyes as my feet crossed their threshold.  Through the crowd I caught a glimpse of something in the den, in an exalted place above the mantle. 

It was Rabby's lion.  What a joy to see him again!  He had stalked me from the far eastern end of Westheimer to the far western end.  All the way across Houston.

Lions stalk me.

Three summers ago my Dear Professor and I chaperoned a student group tour of Europe.  We traced the Reformation movement through Germany, England, and Switzerland.  There were also a few side trips to France and Austria.  It was a sobering time as the lectures recounted the clash of politics, tradition, and faith and the price paid by the faithful.  In Lucerne, we met the Dying Lion.  It is a granite monument to the Swiss Guards massacred while protecting French royalty during that country's bloody revolution.  Mark Twain said it was "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world."

Lucerne--Swiss Lion Monument

I found myself agreeing with Mr. Twain.  As I gazed upon this lion I couldn't help but recall Aslan at the great stone table.  And the deeper magic CS Lewis wrote of in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Lions stalk me.  The dead and the living.

Last year a dear friend found a magnificent lion at the National Zoo.  There is something about her photograph that continues to haunt me.  Perhaps it's the sorrowful nature hidden within his royal bearing and fearful countenance.

Jessica's Aslan
(my rendering of Jessica's Aslan, with her permission)

Yes, lions stalk me.  And I see in their courage, beauty, power, soulfulness, fearfulness a pale shadow of the true image of the all powerful Lion of Judah, who continues to stalk my heart.

And yours.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I passed through fields of silk


and lace



and gold;


Chased the clouds,

the road to the skies

and watched the sun unfold transparent gauze of light.


I drank it in.

And as the blanket, cool, descended on my skin,

I bowed in thanks again


for this small glimpse of Him Who gave a voice to stars


and holds me in His hand.

(For an old friend who is holding on, seeing the beauty in the midst of heaviness)