Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Blessing

Though I am still in need of packing for my trip home on Christmas Day, finishing three handmade presents, filling stockings, doing dishes and folding laundry, I feel the need to post this note to reflect on the past year and the many blessings that have been born of our earlier troubles.  I am constantly amazed at the abundance my family has been given since starting on this most awesome journey with our beautiful Lord.  So it seems fitting on this day when we honor the birth of the baby Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice for humanity, that I thank all of you for sacrificing your time in journeying with me and becoming part of this blessing.  I was amazed to look at my "audience" of readers and find that almost 20 countries have currently read and followed my simple words.  So in honor, too, of that humbling discovery, I have endeavored to speak to you in your native languages.  (My apologies to those countries whose languages don't include characters on my computer!)

So to each of you in...

Ukraine                Благословення
Germany              Segen, Preisung
Russia                  благословение; благо, благодеяние, блаженство,счастье; 
Romania              Binefacerile
Poland                 Błogosławieństwy
Italy                     Benedizione; Beneficio; Beneplacito
Latvia                  Svētības
Andorra               Bendición
Philippines          Bendisyon
Netherlands         Zegen   
Malaysia             Rahmat

And those in America, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, India, Japan, Kuwait...I say "blessings" to you and yours.  I will pray for each of you and your families as our Christmas holidays continue. 

Hopefully I'll find some time to share more thoughts with you during the week of vacation with my extended family, but until then...

Merriest Christmas!!  And God's blessings on you all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We Interrupt These Advent Messages...

Today's entry has absolutely nothing to do with Advent, Christmas, God, messages or my usual fare.  It's simply a bit of sharing from me to you...a submission I recently sent to a writing contest (clearly I didn't win or else I couldn't print it :) and a story that is dear, yet painful, to my heart.  The topic on which we were asked to write was "Diligence" and the following immediately leapt into my consciousness (maybe today's blog does include God after all?).  I hope you gain some insight from my humble words and a window opens to the challenges faced by parents and caregivers.  During the period described below, I found myself starting on the slippery slope toward losing my voice - which at the time was the most depressing thing I've personally faced - but today is the single largest blessing as it has brought me to this new life and you.


I awoke with a start to a familiar feeling of dread, my blood running cold as I realized I had slept through my alarm in the night.  “Oh, God, please let him be okay,” I prayed, incapable as yet of moving my frozen body from its fetal position on the bed.  Though each ticking second could make the difference between a cheerful morning greeting and deafening silence from the room next door, I lie still, unable to will myself to rise and see if my neglect carried with it dire consequence.

How many months had my husband and I been stuck in this holding pattern of sleepless nights and repetitive warning bells?  Eight months? Ten?  My mind traveled back to a day in February when my son had arisen, shut the bathroom door to empty his bladder of nighttime urine, and crashed to the floor in a fog of low blood sugar. We hoped against hope that it was a singular incident, a fluke that follows the inconsistency of a child’s Type I diabetes. 

As I remained huddled under my blanket, I relived the terror of the moments following his collapse:  his inabilities to walk, grasp a glass of orange juice, answer familiar questions, or tell me my name.  I felt once more the hot flush over my body as my cell phone rang with a return call from the endocrinologist, holding my breath as he responded to my question, “Could this be permanent?”   I experienced again the blessed quieting of my heartbeat as my son slowly came back to himself, the glucose penetrating his bloodstream, returning his brain and motor functions to normal. 

Then I shuddered as I tortured myself with the next horrifying memory: the same scenario repeated three days later, only this time concluding with a trip to the emergency room to check for lasting damage to Braden’s cognition. I remembered with heartbreaking clarity the resolution of meeting my husband’s gaze across the hospital bed, knowing without speaking that we were vowing at that moment to never let this happen again.  The sudden image of Drew’s sorrowful blue eyes snapped me out of my reverie.  “Lord, please, not on my watch,” I begged. 

How had we survived these months of sacrifice?  Night upon night of blood sugar checks; sleepwalking through the pricks, bloody fingers and readings; rousing violently when seeing a number less than eighty; patiently enduring the common diabetic belligerence with a low reading while doggedly shaking our slumbering child, attempting to feed him life from a can of Slim Fast milk chocolate shake and a straw.  The careful planning of tenacious but internally frantic parents, setting alarms, taking turns by night, coming to each other’s aid when exhaustion began trumping functionality.  Most recently, fighting depression, anxiety and morbidity of thought in an effort to persevere through this constant reminder of life’s fragility, the sacred commitment of parenting at the forefront…the sacrifice at the rear.

I looked up at the clock, only moments having passed as I raced through my memories.  A sound next door, a stirring from inside Braden’s room, roused my sense of hope.  “Hey mom, how’s it goin’?” my eleven year old asked as he walked down the hall toward the sports page and his morning cereal.  Then like Heaven’s gates opening to flood my soul with light and life, the realization rushed at me that Monday wasn’t my regular night to check him.  In the haze of morning, the assiduousness of the past year had exhausted me to the point of blurring the lines between delusion and reality.  Now a tiny recollection of my husband arising at 3:00AM pervaded my consciousness, and with it dissipated the nightmare I was suffering.

Before my son’s diagnosis, I had always considered my painstaking attention to detail a virtuous character trait, one distinguished by hard work and pride in my accomplishments.  I tried to exemplify integrity and industriousness in each job, vocation and occupation I pursued.  But never before had I labored consistently in honor of something grander and more profound than ethics. I have learned this past year the true lesson of persistence in pursuit of a cause.  I never realized until this period of tenuousness that diligence isn’t just the difference between an admirable work ethic and an attitude of laissez-fare. Sometimes diligence is a matter of life and death.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ready or Not...Here He Comes!

We lived in a white farmhouse style home in the city of Malbis, Alabama when I was a girl.  I'm sure my mother didn't like much about it at first (rickety might be a generous word to describe it) but I remember loving it, especially the upstairs.  The two bedrooms there were spacious and light-filled and joined by a door.  I wasn't old enough to require privacy so this arrangement suited me just fine.  The bathroom was at the top of the stairs.  On the other side of the upstairs banister was my favorite feature...a walk-in closet for all five of us girls to share.

Now the thing I didn't like about the walk-in closet was that we all had to pitch in to clean and organize it every spring and fall.  But the thing I loved was that it was most definitely big enough for several people to fit quite comfortably in.  In other words, it was the perfect space to choose when playing hide and go seek.  Now, it might not have been the most creative and original space to choose, but it was comforting, quiet and dependable.

Yesterday in Father Jim's sermon, he was speaking about the last week of Advent and how we are preparing for the coming of the Christ child.  But he also clarified that each day of our lives, we are also preparing for Christ's second coming, though we have no idea when this will occur.  We do this by working doggedly on our acts of kindness and behaviors that need tweaking to better mirror those works that reflect God's presence in our lives.  After explaining how to better prepare ourselves, he said, "Ready or not, He is coming."

This brought back a flood of memories from Malbis: closing my eyes, counting to 10 (or 20 as my older sisters sometimes tricked me into doing so they would have more time to hide!), and then yelling, "Ready or not, here I come!"  Or conversely, hearing the steady counting outside of that closet door as the seeker prepared for their search.  I remember vividly the anticipation and the excitement...will they find me?  Will it happen within a few seconds?  Or will it take longer?  Am I prepared for the flinging open of this door?  Will I be shocked or disappointed?  Or will I be happy to know I don't have to be alone for long and feel joyful that I was found?

Similarly, after I heard Father Jim's message yesterday, I began thinking those same thoughts in regards to the coming of the Lord.  Will He find me?  Will it happen right away?  Or will it take time for Him to realize that I want to be found?  Am I prepared for Him and the flinging open of the door to my heart?  Will I be shocked and sad to leave my family?  Or will I be joyful to confirm that I have never been alone and that I am found?  No matter the answer to these questions, I ponder them and realize this mind space is quiet, comforting, safe and dependable.

The countdown continues:  5-4-3-2-1...Ready or He comes.  And I will work diligently to make preparations for that blessed day!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Say Yes to the Bless

See Similar Images(I know, I know, but I had to...)

My daughter and I enjoy a guilty pleasure in the form of TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress" where women from all walks of life the world over come to shop for wedding dresses at Kleinfeld's in New York City.  Each episode follows the shopping journey of 3-4 women....the highs and the lows...the angst and the joy...the drama and the tears...the supportive families and the scary ones.  (We love the scary ones the most, of course, because they are totally horrifying...probably makes us feel loads better about our relationships with each other!)  At the close of every sale, the consultant says to the bride-to-be, "So, are you saying 'yes to the dress'?" and we all wait with bated breath for the joyfully tearful "yes!" or the disappointingly dreary "I don't know...I think I should keep looking."  Either way, we are waiting for their commitment.

In today's homily, Father Jim was talking about the "yes" that both Mary and Joseph had to give God in order for Jesus' life to be accepted and cultivated in our world.  And what a "yes" it was!!  What a commitment born of faith.  As Father said, Mary could have just remarked to her angel, "Um, unmarried and pregnant and punishable by death isn't sounding so good right now.  Thanks, but no thanks."  And Joseph could have easily commented to Mary, "Uh, sure you were overcome by the Holy Spirit and that's how you got pregnant.  That's totally believable, Mares."  It is not at all farfetched to think that that could have happened and understandably at that.  How accepting would we have been of this heavenly news flash?  But no, rather than doubt and self-preservation, they each listened to and honored the gifts bestowed on them through their dream angels and said "yes" to the bless!  Thank God for each of them and for their selfless commitment on behalf of our world.

So as we continue to await the arrival of Jesus in this last week of Advent, my hope is that I will listen to and honor all of the dreams that God has planned - for me to touch others, to be selfless, to live as a model of Him who made me.  In doing so, I will enjoy miracles both for myself and those around me and, rather than responding with a disappointingly dreary "I'm not sure if I can help with that, God...I better keep looking for other fulfillments," I will be making a joyfully tearful commitment to saying "yes" to the blessings He has in store for me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Peanut Gallery is Heard

It was almost a year ago that my life turned upside down, and I was unable to use my voice.  The hardest part of the experience was most definitely having to go to speech therapy and learn a new and "correct" way to speak.  During the process, I was put on total vocal rest and had to write messages to my kids on a notepad; couldn't go through a drive through window; couldn't speak on the telephone to family or friends; couldn't sing or teach.  Everything changed.

But the one thing that I couldn't do that was the most heartbreaking to me, I experienced in all of its splendor today.  I attended my daughter, Colleen's, water polo game, and as she caught the ball in position one, aimed and shot a strong and successful goal, I was able to yell, "Way to go Colleen!! Way to shoot the ball!"  I was so proud.  She was glowing.  The team was cheering.

Then I thought back to a year ago when I was depressed and downtrodden in the stands, unable to cheer for my child, and tearful that I had to ask a neighboring fan for the score via my trusty notepad.  In my moment of reverie, I thanked and praised God in the Cerritos Community Center for giving me a voice that could add encouragement to my daughter; a voice that could laugh at my friend's sideline comments; a voice that could thank the coaches and ask Colleen's teammates if they needed a ride home.  I thanked Him for giving me a voice that isn't required to do anything special now to be appreciated and applauded by an audience but one that can give my children, in our everyday, normal, humble, INCREDIBLE life, what they need to know how truly special they are and how blessed I feel to be their mother.

Ra, Ra, Ree!  Kick 'em in the knee!
Ra, Ra, Rass...kick 'em in the other knee!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pray? Or Ice Cream?

I was struggling a bit this morning as I continued my Christmas shopping.  It was time for me to find something to give my dad but the more I shopped, the more upset I got.  I was literally nauseous.  Everywhere I looked, it seemed that nothing was right.  I would think, "Well, he doesn't need that," or "He won't know what to do that with that now," or "That won't bring him comfort or joy."  For the millionth time since our family realized he had Alzheimer's, I questioned, "Why?  What is the purpose of this hideous disease?  Why my dad?"

Then I thought back on my trip to Alabama last week and how, despite his confusion and fear and lack of coherency, he still taught me lessons. 

We awoke one morning and ran into each other in the hall and for the first time, he had no idea who I was.  I have feared this for quite some time.  But in the midst of it, I didn't realize that, rather than feeling hurt and forgotten, I would feel compassion for him who was afraid in that moment.  When it dawned on him who I was, he was so upset, and I just thanked God for taking away that memory as quickly as He could.

A couple of days later, we went to church together.  Mama was directing her choir that night so it was just me and Daddy.  You have to understand that he looks to Mama for everything...she is the barometer by which he conducts himself.  So to say that I was a bit nervous to be responsible for him alone - when I know that he relies on her for social cues, answers to questions and his own wants and needs - is a huge understatement.  I felt we were doing really well together, and we talked on the way home from church about having ice cream when we got there.  But it was clear when we walked in that Daddy was agitated.  He was able to communicate this to me, and I asked if he wanted to pray together.  He said, "I think that would be a good idea."  But when I went to do so, it was apparent his anxiety would not allow him to focus.  We had to fix the cause of it.

I won't go into the problem as it was personal but suffice it to say that, much like him forgetting me in the hallway, we reached another milestone - a first that we had to experience together with this dreaded disease.  It was challenging to come up with a solution, but we worked together and communicated the whole time so we were both at ease.  At the end of our incident, I said to Daddy, "OK, pray?  Or ice cream?"  He asked, "What are those two again?"  I repeated, "Pray?  Or ice cream?"  He exhaled, "Pray."

So we together sat in his room, he in the rocking chair and I beside him, holding his hand and channeling my inner evangelical preacher.  (I'm so very not Catholic in my extemporaneous prayer skills!)  When I finished praying with Daddy, he proclaimed, "Amen," then gave me a sideways look and said, "Good job."  Coming from one of my favorite preachers of all time, I felt pretty humbled by that comment!  I said in reply, "Thank you.  Now let's go get ice cream."  And we did.

So in these moments of sorrow and doubt, I recall the very important lesson my father taught me while home.  Even in his most confused, most anxious, most agitated, most vulnerable state, he chose to pray.  Before crying...before getting angry...before feeling abashed...even before ice cream, he chose to pray.  And now I must take his beautiful lesson forward with me each day and live with that dictate as my order to honor him, to remember him as he was, to lift him up - and in doing so, lift myself  and those around me as well.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Amen, I Do Believe

Displayed over the French doors
in our family room
There are a couple of words associated with church that I just can't imagine the service without.  They are words that I love. 

The first one is "Alleluia!"  I love that it is an exclamation.  I love that it is affiliated with singing and music.  I love that it is an exalted form of praise.

There's actually a great family story about Handel's Messiah that is a favorite of ours.  When we were little, my mom left the house after having had a big run in with my eldest sister, and when she left, Theresa broke out into the glorious "Hallelujah" chorus.  Little did she know that Mama had forgotten something and walked back in while Theresa was singing.  Boy, did she get it!  But still to this day, it makes me laugh to think about.  (Sorry, Mama, but it is hilarious.)

We're even instructed
from the boughs of our tree
The second church word that is essential to the service and to my heart is "Amen!"  It's the perfect little button up to a prayer.  It is one of the strongest expressions of approval. But mostly it is the profound meaning that makes it so dear..."So be it!" or "I believe!"   

I reflect on the meaning during this, the Advent season especially since I have "BELIEVE" displayed throughout my home every Christmas season.  It began as a "Believe in Santa" direction for  my children but has come to mean so much more over the years. 

We believe in the birth of Jesus, our Saviour on Christmas.  We believe in His love and joy in each of us.  We believe in the power of family, faith, forgiveness.  We believe in second chances for those of us who err.  We believe in the spirit of holy reverence for this beautiful season.  We believe in the gifts of life and each other. 

We believe... 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bring Me Your Dreams

(Now that my computer is back up and running, I can resume posting!  Thanks to  my beautiful husband for fixing it...)

I was in charge of carpool and the girls weren't ready to go yet. After much prayer and contemplation, I had decided to go back to work and I was going to be late. I lost it. I'm embarrassed to say I literally screamed at them to get in the car. Once I dropped off, I came home to take Braden to school only to find that Drew had dressed him in pajamas rather than school clothes. Drew insisted no one would be able to tell the difference...but they were feety PJ's so I'm not sure what planet he was on when he picked out clothes for the day. I changed Braden's clothes, dropped him and headed up the 405 freeway to begin my new production position. With every mile that passed, I was questioning my decision to return to work. And the commute...why did I say "yes" to a position in Van Nuys? It was an hour and a half from my house at best. My chest started getting tight, my breathing became shallow, and I realized I was at the beginning of a panic attack. No job was worth this kind of stress. I took the next exit and did a 180 degree turn back to my home. I burst into the house in tears and told Drew he had to call the new job and tell them I just couldn't do it.  I just couldn't take the position.

The next night, despite previous misgivings, I found myself back in the college classroom, giving a lecture and demonstration voice class in front of a group of advanced college singers and a visiting academic.  It had been several months since I had been in  the teaching arena, and I had let my piano skills wane in the interim.  As I stumbled over the fingerings of the 32 bar selection, the student demonstrating stopped and refused to continue.  The visiting clinician asked the student why, when he had been given clear instructions as to his direction, would he not continue.  The student, one of my favorites, sighed and said, "I think Cynthia is brilliant at choosing musical theater repertoire for her students but I just don't think she is skilled enough as a teacher to advance my talent."  I was stunned into silence...then into tears.

Last night, I was finally enjoying my decision to stop teaching, stop working in the work force and had decided to do some sorting and clearing out in my house.  Amidst the clutter and piles of categorized chaos in my living room, the doorbell rang.  I opened the door to a family of 12; mother, father and 10 children, some adopted, some foster, some birth children.  Several of the kids were mentally challenged and the whole family entered my home uninvited but profoundly thankful that I had "agreed" to give the children private voice lessons for an incredibly nominal fee.  The mother appealed to my sense of compassion where the mentally challenged children were concerned, as she knew I had years and years of experience working with this demographic.  The father appealed to my sense of femininity as he complimented me and cajoled me into taking his kids on.  So in the final analysis, as the children stared at me with huge, sad, expectant eyes, I shoved aside all of the piles, drug my piano into the living room and launched into a somewhat simulated enthusiastic lesson.  Afterward, I vowed I would never let that happen again.  But before I could make the phone call to stop the family in their tracks...

...I woke up.

Yes, all three of these scenarios were the dreams I was sent as answered prayers to my current dilemma over whether I should go back to work in the spring. My voice is somewhat healed - enough so, I've been thinking, to handle one day a week. I talked to my husband. I talked to my sister. Most importantly, I talked to God. I've prayed...and prayed...and prayed some more. And because I am SO dense, I have asked God multiple times for a clear ambiguity, please, I asked.  So He sent - not one, not two, but THREE separate dreams - in a row - to answer my question.

Do I really need to wonder what He is trying to say?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

American Flag Bikini and Gold Tiara Required

This past week I felt like Wonder Woman.

I flew home (not in an invisible airplane) to stay with my parents for a few days and help them with their Christmas preparations. In only four days, we...

Decorated their Christmas tree and the entire house

Purchased gifts for 6 daughters/spouses & 10 grandchildren

My dad and I purchased and wrapped all gifts for my mom

Assembled three Advent calendars

Attended two church services

PLUS managed breakfast, lunch, dinner, laundry, Art class, church music prep, cleaning the house, boxed items to be stored until after the holidays...did part of this in the pouring rain...all the time talking, laughing, crying, singing, communicating in both words and gestures but always with love.

Essentially I helped Mama get 3/4 of her Christmas jobs done. Maybe I AM Wonder Woman!  Or am I?  Let's examine the evidence further.

I have black hair
I am strong
Obviously I possess super-speed, super-stamina and super-agility (you should have seen my 4' 10" frame hanging the tree angel from a tack on the ceiling!)
Maybe most importantly, I have "Super Friends" who help me.  This trip those "friends" included:

Batman (my husband, who held down the fort in my absence)
Superman (my brother-in-law, for gifting me the airline ticket)
Supergirl (my sister, who lent me her car)
AquaMan (another brother-in-law who lifted my luggage into the car in a single bound)
Catwoman (another sister who talked me through a couple of challenging situations)
The Wonder Twins (my kids who got rides for themselves and fixed themselves meals and were just generally self-sufficient while I was away)

The evidence is stacking up.  By the way, I forgot to mention that the name Cynthia means "Diana," Wonder Woman's alter ego.  Oh my gosh, could it be true?

But wait! I have no Lasso of Truth, no golden tiara to use as a projectile, don't know hand to hand combat and definitely don't communicate with the animal kingdom.  Who am I then?  As Queen Hippolyte from the comic series said, "Go in peace my daughter.  And remember that, in a world of ordinary mortals, you are a Wonder Woman."  Was she talking to me?

No, my answer is clear.  I am like every other "Wonder" ordinary woman who loves her family fiercely; who would move Heaven and Earth to make sure they have what they need; who loves to serve and care for others; who leans upon the strength of God to get her through challenging and busy situations in order to show His love to those for whom she feels responsible.

I'm not Wonder Woman.  I'm just Cynthia.  And I'm ok with that.  (Although I imagine my husband wouldn't mind of I donned the American flag bikini, tiara and red boots for an evening or two!)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sitcom Salvages

My family and I love watching reruns of the sitcom, Frasier.  It's so smartly written, brilliantly cast, and expertly acted.  We actually had to STOP watching it for awhile as we were beginning to finish every punchline for the actors before they could deliver them.

Anyway, some of my favorite episodes are the Christmas shows.  There is a particularly funny scene in Season 5's "Perspectives on Christmas" which finds Niles in an elevator with three people, two of whom are husband and wife and have a huge, freshly cut Christmas tree taking up most of the space.  The dialogue goes something like this:

Niles:  "What a beautiful Christmas tree."

Husband:  "It's a fire hazard but the wife insists on getting a real one."

Niles:  "You know, they sell a fire retardant spray now that you can cover your tree with and it makes it more fireproof."

Husband:  "Causes cancer."

Niles, feeling hilariously and frustratingly overwhelmed by the man's inability to see anything but the negative finishes with:  "Happy Holidays then."

This punchline gets a huge laugh and the mischievous expression on Niles' face never fails to make me roll.  How many of us have constantly tried to spread Christmas merriment only to be met with Scrooges and "humbugs?"  (And how many times have we been the Scrooge?)

Last week, I was out running errands and during my two hours out was bullied out of my cart's natural path by a cranky shopper; left without help on the floor by a busy salesman; then finally honked at and almost run over by an impatient man in a gorgeous little red sports car who obviously didn't have to spare the 10 seconds time that it took me to cross into the parking lot.  Initially, when he almost ran me down, I said crossly, "Whatever, dude!"  Then in the next few steps, I recalled Niles and said aloud, "Happy Holidays then."  I started cracking up and felt greatly cheered.

So now I have yet another goal for this Christmas season...instead of getting irritated with someone for whom this Season may not mean what it does to me, I will laugh and say, "Happy Holidays then," in an effort to remain full of the Spirit of the Season and keep the laughter and joy alive in all that I do.  Thanks, Niles!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sacrosanct Standup

I think God is hilarious...

I hope I don't get struck down for that observation and assumption.  But I'm telling you, God created me to be funny and to love laughter, so He knows reaching me in this manner will be the way to get me to listen.  Let me explain...

Last Friday, I received some really exciting news.  The press release I was hired to write for my friend, Annie and her event "DANCE EXCELLENCE" was released to the online press and went all over the world, even being picked up by the API.

I had to take Braden to school and then I wanted to call my nearest and dearest to celebrate this milestone...because now I can begin building my writing portfolio.

I called my husband...he wasn't at his desk.

I called my sister...she, who is most times reachable on her cell...didn't pick up.

I called my mom and dad...they are ALWAYS home on a Friday morning...they didn't pick up.

I hollered aloud in my empty house, "WHAT is going on here?  Where is everybody?"

Then I heard a metaphorical clearing of the throat by God, "Ahem, not to rain on your parade, Cynthia, but have you stopped to do your daily devotional reading and prayers yet this morning?"

I burst out laughing and said, "God, you're hilarious!  Of course, that's why no one is available."

I went straight to my favorite, pristine white chair in my living room, read for 10 minutes, prayed for a bit then sat there and looked around.  I didn't have to wait 5 minutes...the return calls started rolling in and those who weren't on the other line the 1st time I called started picking up.  Again...hilarious!!!

So as I relish the beginning of a new and exciting career, I am reminded to say first and foremost, "Thank you God for giving me the words, for sending me the opportunities, for loving me and caring for me and allowing me to work for You to expand my territories and Your territories by opening others to news and love of You."

He could quit His day job and become the most successful standup of all time - but thank goodness He won't!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

We Believe in Santa

I feel like I spend the better part of this blog confessing my weird little quirks and human foibles.  I guess after 43 years of living, through both good and bad situations, I don't really feel like I have much to lose in admitting my humanity.  In fact, these idiosyncrasies define much about who I am - again, both good and bad!  
Love the jolly expression
on my Russian Santa
seen here in the foreground

Today, I have a new confession...

I love Santa Claus. 

I was a devout believer when I was a child.  Letters, prayer intercessions, mall visits - the whole nine yards.  And except for the Christmas when I asked for a "real" veterinarian's medical bag and received a plastic Disney one instead (God bless my mother for going to the trouble to find it), I was generally pleased with the answered requests.

In retrospect, rather than the gift giving aspect of St. Nick, I truly think on a subconscious level the appeal of unconditional goodness and generosity was overwhelming to me.  I felt this concept of giving without receiving was so beautiful.

In later years, I've had the pleasure of playing Santa to my children and Secret Santa at our sibling gift exchanges.  I love the secrecy and the anticipation; the surprise and the fanfare.  But my Santa collection has got to be the single most anticipated part of the holidays for me.  (I know, I know...weirdo...)
My first few Santas
 My mom and dad and sister, Christine, have had gorgeous Santa collections for years.  I used to look at each figure and admire the detail and form, so I'll admit that when I announced that I wanted to start my own collection, it was purely for aesthetics and whimsy.  The first few Christmases, I got different styles of Santas engaged in different activities and made out of various materials...some workshopping, some gathering, some made of resin, some wood, some ceramic, a music box, assorted ornaments. 
My first Jim Shore Santa.
How appropriate that he's
holding a lantern, lighting
the way to the glory of Christmas

Then I received my first Jim Shore Santa from my sister, Christine.  I was smitten.

Jim Shore renderings hence became my focus. There is just something about the expressions and posturing of these works that speak to me.  They each convey a different human feeling...merriment, gravity, generosity, benevolence, mischief.  I've added to my collection by purchasing several throughout the years but more often than not, I have received them as gifts.  They are scattered in vignettes throughout my family room.  I unpack them the day after Thanksgiving, the first whisper of Christmas to speak in my house so I can enjoy them for the entire season and as long as possible before wistfully packing them up again.  (At least I'm not wacko enough to keep them out all year long.)

As I stop to think and wonder about this little eccentricity of mine, I know without a doubt the reasons I am drawn here.  The idea of Santa Claus represents all of what we Christians hold dear...hope, charity, selflessness, joy, grace.  Even the accountabilities are similar...see here the "Naughty/Nice Jim Shore Santa" carved with a warning for those who have erred (though bless Mr. Shore for omitting names on his "naughty" list) and a stern look and darkness of color representing the knowledge that our actions have consequences.  Conversely, the joy that we feel, the personal reward to our hearts when we endeavor to help, serve and spread God's love and cheer is similarly represented on the opposite "Nice" side.  And hey, props to those with the names "Robin, Kelly, Wendy, Sandy, Michael" who received a Jim Shore shoutout for their good works!  (Of course, though I wish the name "Cynthia" was displayed on this carving, I'm equally thrilled to note that it is not highlighted on the Naughty list...whew...)

Santa Claus, or the various identities he holds throughout the Earth -St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Babbo Natale, Ded Moroz, Papa Noel, Weihnnachtsmann, Father Christmas - represents all that we reach for in our broken world.  It is telling that each country has a name for and a story about him.  It shows we are all, no matter the location or the circumstance, in need of this legend, this possibility. But the beauty of this yarn is that it doesn't have to be a fantasy.  It can be the ideal displayed in each of our lives, in living with bigheartedness and goodwill.  So this day, this Advent season, and every day throughout the year, I will endeavor to make it on to God's "nice list" thus embodying Santa's spirit of the season for all to enjoy.  Won't you please join me?

This piece is called
"The True Meaning of Christmas"