Friday, March 30, 2012

One Thousand Gifts

A gorgeous, soulful writer, Ann Voskamp, has given a challenge on her blog ("A Holy Experience" - see button on right side of my blog) to make a list of One Thousand Gifts for which we are grateful.  What a beautiful, edifying way to spend writing time...on a list of gratitudes!  Who'd have thunk that not complaining or commiserating or reveling in the dankness of life would make for interesting reading???  But it does and she has and I'm joinin' in the madness!

So to begin my list...gonna go for the obvious here...

For our Father who has become THE most important thing...a voice in me, a muse, a guide, a friend...
For a husband who loves and laughs with me and lives life to the fullest and leaves me in quiet to write from this muddled brain of mine...
For a daughter who is growing and maturing and LOVELY in so many ways...(she drank a cup of coffee today before school - boy am I getting old!)...
For a son who is courageous and hilarious and finding his way....
For the continued grace of God in keeping them healthy, all three...
For a mother and a father who set such a beautiful example to me in how they lived their lives...
For a mother who selflessly has taken on the challenge of caring for a husband who is slipping away...
For the moments where that father is glimpsed wholly as his prior self and the laughter and love that ensues...
For four sisters who call and email and text and write - who love and laugh and yell and cry - who make me remember that family is everything and if you do not have that, you have nothing...
For the written word and all that it means to me and all that it allows me...

These are my #1-11 gifts...
all important
all real
all delicious
all blessed
Here's to sharing the next 989...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Son

My 12 year old son came into my room to say goodnight before turning in.  After he had done the requisite "night" with the half-embarrassed squeeze that I've come to terms with lately, he turned suddenly on his way out the door and said, "Oh, Mom, I forgot to say thanks for picking up my Humalog from the pharmacy."

My type 1 diabetic son was thanking me for getting his insulin...
that which keeps his blood sugar low enough to manage daily living...
without which he would be very, very sick....
or worse.

I was stunned.

I said, "Come here, Braden," holding out my arms to him and he came readily, for once not holding back his true affection for me in the awkward reality of trying to grow into a man.  I held him close, rocked him back and forth, and finally said, "I can't believe you just thanked me for that.  I can't believe you're so awesome that you're thanking me for getting your medicine ('when we would all give anything if you didn't need that medicine in the first place')...I mean, I really appreciate you saying that but you don't know how special it is."

He pulled out of my embrace and looked at me closely in the eye...
and said, "Well, it helps me to live after all."

Longest moment of blessing in a while...
looking at each other, understanding the gravity of that statement...
No words were adequate so I pulled him in for another long hug.
And he let me.

After, I cupped his face in my hands and said to him, "You make every day better for me."
He said, "You look like you're about to cry."
I just laughed when his dad said, "That sounds about right."

Thank you God for my brave young man...
For the lessons he teaches me daily...
about courage...
Thank you for charging me with his care, and in doing so, making me open to receiving the blessings You pour out through him each and every day.

I don't mean to be cheeky, God, but You know what?
Both of our sons are awesome!!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bridges to Cross

As I read the Gospel reading in church from my Missal, one I have heard for years and years in preparation of Easter, it was as if a very dim light had been lit.  For some reason (maybe I was listening this time?), I heard it as never before.

From John 12:27-28a, a reflection from Jesus to His disciples on what was to come:
"I am troubled now.  Yet what should I say?  'Father, save me from this hour?'  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.  Father, glorify Your name." insolent have I always been.

How, in all the times I felt that I had an unreasonable cross to bear, I would tell God it wasn't fair and to implore Him to please take the cross from me.  (Father save me from this hour.)

How I did not recognize that perhaps there was a grander plan...a reason for the suffering...a way to benefit or even be blessed to bear that cross.  (But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.)

How I never even considered that I should thank Him with a grateful and humble heart for sending the cross from which I could others.  (Father, glorify Your name.)

Of course, my crosses have been nothing compared to the literal one that He had to bear.  And my purposes for them nothing compared to His purpose for us all.  But what a beautiful example of what to do, how to act when these crosses continue to assault me.  Rather than asking to be saved from my darkest hour, recognizing that there is a purpose, whether I know it or not; to then thank Him for the cross as an opportunity to lean on Him, to trust in His higher plan.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The JC 365 Day Diet

Some friends of mine have been doing the GM 7 day diet.  It's a doozy!  As far as I can tell, there's nothing harmful about the food plan but boy, are the combinations weird.  A day with only bananas and milk.  A day with up to 20 ounces of red meat and 6 tomatoes...that's not 5, not 7...but 6.  Lots and lots of fruits and vegetables, thank goodness.  The main purpose of this plan, other than weight loss, of course, is to purge your system of impurities and toxins.  The weight loss, an added bonus, is proclaimed to be 10-17 pounds in one week.  (One friend lost 10!) 

At the other end of the spectrum is my family's Lenten weight loss "Biggest Loser" challenge.  We weigh in each Friday and share our weight loss percentage (or gain!).  This has been a good motivator for me and a source of never ending amusement as the emails fly back and forth throughout the week...encouraging, teasing, challenging each other.  No smack talk. Instead prolific weight loss haiku's from one brother-in-law and  endless laughter and chatter from all 15 others.  The winner each week receives edifying, encouraging, humorous emails from the other competitors and bystanders.   It has been great fun though the weight loss, on most counts, has been slow.

Almost everyone in the world struggles to lose weight, and if they're claiming not to, they're lying to you and themselves.  I'm not talking about physical weight...I'm talking emotional and spiritual weight.

The weight of pain...
The weight of the past...
The weight of failure...
The weight of worry...
The weight of guilt....

The list goes on and on. 

Retaining all of this weight makes us spiritually bloated and infinitely unhealthy.  Losing it makes us stronger and somehow lighter.  The question is, "How do I lose my emotional weight?"

A year ago, I found the right plan for me...shall we call it the JC 365 Day Diet?  Prayer...gratitude...surrender. 

At first, as my need was great and my focus on fixing it extreme, the weight came off rapidly.  I was shedding pound upon pound of heaviness of heart and mind.  And I kept it off while I was living in a sheltered bubble of prayerful solitude.  But just like the GM 7 day diet, though the loss is amazingly quick, a risk of maintaining it lays in reintroducing those things into your day that were causing the toxicity.  The dangers for me were:  self-doubt, fear of judgement, pride, unhealthy associations and, let's face it, real life!  Not many people can sit in quiet and prayer all day every day in an effort to stay at peace.  The kids need rides.  The laundry needs doing.  The spouse needs help.  The house needs groceries.  And eventually, it would be nice to do something that earns an income!

I am grateful that I shed so much so quickly, however.  Now I only need remember that, as with my Biggest Loser Lenten challenge, the slow and steady work at losing this proverbial weight can be just as effective.  I just  need to continually sustain myself with prayers of thanksgiving; drink in the grace of my Heavenly Father; and chew on verse after verse of Scripture until I can truly discern what my path is.  Such a healthful, healing diet, indeed...I feel lighter already!

Thursday, March 22, 2012


(Warning all writers and English comp majors/graduates:  The following entry is over-punctuated to the extreme.   Read at your own risk.)

I was diagnosed over a year ago with Generalized Anxiety Disorder...G.A.D. (Or as I like to call it in my head - "E-GADS, am I stressed!!!")  What does this diagnosis mean?  Hmmmm, how to put it....

EVERYTHING IN LIFE STRESSES ME OUT!!!!!                         

(Okay, calmer now...)

Seriously, though, when the doctor was going through the list of my symptoms, he began questioning me about my family history. 
"Is there anyone in your family who suffers from anxiety?" 
Uhh, yeah...duh...
"Is there a history of nervousness in either your mother's or father's side of the family?" 
Excuse me, didn't you hear me mention that I'm Italian? Jeez...
"Do you look at small problems in life as things to lose it over?"
Does spilling a glass of milk on the carpet qualify?  How about being 5 minutes late to church?  When my kid forgets their lunch in the morning?  Really?  I'm not supposed to go nuts when these things happen?  Oh, well, I guess the answer to your question is....


All of this time, I just thought everyone lived this way...honestly.  That my being a Nervous Nellie (isn't that a better sounding title than "disorder"?) was a shared quality with all of humanity.  To have my eyes opened to the fact that it is not a commonality was shocking. 

Yesterday morning, my sister had a medical procedure and I was praying for her.  The prayer went something like this:  "God, thank You for holding my sister's hand during this procedure.  Thank You for carrying her through it.  Thank You for calming her nerves as she prepares to go in.  Thank You for giving her the confidence and trust that she is in Your care and that You are in charge of this.  Thank You for blessing her with good health."  At the end of my prayer, I felt settled and nerves or anxiety whatsoever.  Then I remembered back to the countless times I told someone, "I'll pray for you," only to go on my way and worry rather than pray.  I had to chuckle to myself at the ridiculousness of the conversations there would have been if I had really been saying what I was doing:

"Cynthia, work is so stressful.  I'm afraid that I'm going to lose my job."
..."Yikes, that sounds serious.  I'll go home and worry for you!"

"Cynthia, my mom is going to have surgery next week."
..."Okay, I'll keep you and your family in my worries all week."

"Cynthia, my kid is really having a tough time at school."
..."Oh, I'm so sorry.  I'll light a candle and make sure to worry for them throughout the day."

It sounds so silly when put this way - even comical.  I think I'd like to write a comedy sketch about it.  Essentially, however, all the years of my life, that's exactly what I was doing.  And truly unbeknownst to me, I wasn't helping anybody.  Not myself...not my family and friends...not those watching to see how a supposed "follower" would react.  I was simply worrying...breaking out in hives...wringing my hands...and not trusting that through prayer, there would be peace.  And through prayer, I would find help and solace for all of the lives I had the opportunity to touch.

Today, my 1st instinct is still to go into worry mode though the tendency becomes less pronounced with each passing day.  But as soon as I talk myself off that mile-high ledge of angst, I step back and find God waiting for me, ever watchful and patient, ready to hear my prayers and help me and those around me with His blessed grace.

EGADS!!!  Why didn't I figure this out sooner?!?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

This Little Light of Mine...

...I'm gonna let it shine!

Written in approximately 1920 by Harry Dixon Loes and later founded in 1939 by John Lomax as an American folk song,"This Little Light of Mine" has roots in biblical passages from Matthew, Luke and Mark.  It has been embraced by churches everywhere as a reminder to shine God's light for all to see.

For myself, some of my happiest memories are of singing this song on stage with The Young Americans, the musical group I moved across the country to join in 1986.  The number began with a lone female singer, center stage, under a singular special, sweetness and sincerity embodied.  She was joined by a second girl who provided an alto harmony.  More ladies entered the stage, joined by one male singer per trio on a microphone.  Soon the stage was filled with rows and rows of men and women singing about their inner lights, a veritable caucophany of elated energy.   The thing I loved about this number was, no matter your belief system, everyone could connect with the lyric.  At timesI was singing about myself; at times God; at times someone I knew with that special inner glow.

Still, the opening  solo was a coveted, unattainable role for me.

I knew I would never be cast in this spot.  It was a demure, gentle, soft girl the directors wanted - more often blonde or brown than brunette - between 5' 2" and 5' 4", not too tall and not too short.   Although this sounds incredibly specific, boy, could you spot a "Guiding Light" girl when you saw one.  I could cast them in my head at age 19.  The traits they possessed I most definitely did not.  I was a 19 year old spitfire, fearless and exuberant with endless energy and a big mouth...not gentle or demure in any way.

Then it happened.  A Japanese contingency came to America from Fuji film to produce a tour starring The Young Americans.  Fate stepped in and my friend, Neal Jerry, was asked to drive the Japanese representatives to the airport at the end of their trip.  Neal asked me to tag along.  We drove to LAX in Neal's beat up brown Buick, me chattering the entire way.  At one point, the Fuji translator, Jim Ota, said, "Cynthia, you MUST slow down.  You speak MUCH too fast."  I laughed, apologized and told him I was Italian, so I couldn't help my rate of speech any more than I could help speaking with my hands.  But I promised to try and talk more slowly from then on.  He laughed with me, and a friendship was born. 

When more reps came to Los Angeles a few months later to film a promo for our tour, I was shocked when I was asked to be "THE guiding light girl." I said to our director, "Bill, surely this is a mistake.  I'm not Guiding Light material."  He said, "The Japanese people want you here."  What did they see in me?!?  Later I was on the Seal Beach pier, filming on the Pacific Ocean, in a white circle skirt, white blouse, and red necktie (ya' gotta love the 80's!), with all of my Young American friends around me, singing my guts out. I knew this opportunity would never come again.

In the great history of film and music videos, this moment would be considered insignificant.  But in my life, it was a treasure.  To say aloud:
"I've got a little guiding light, I'm gonna let it shine. 
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine...
every day,
every day,
every day in every way. 
I'm gonna let my little light shine"
with all of the joy in my heart shining forth was a moment I will never forget.  Even when we were on our 20th take; even when it was getting overcast and I was freezing in the March coastal weather, I still wanted to summon that inner light!

Today, I know Who that light was burning in me 25+ years ago, even if I didn't always recognize Him at the time.  I believe I know why I was atypically cast in that role.  I think our Jim Ota was an unsuspecting conduit for Someone else. I was reminded of this moment recently during the Gospel reading at church.  From John 3:  "...the Light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light so that his works might not be exposed.  But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God."

My friend, Jim Ota, a true and lovely spirit, with whom I corresponded and visited for many years has since passed on (his wife and my precious Colleen shared a birthday), but his gift to me lives in my memory.  I am no longer that 19 year old exuberant spitfire with no fear and endless energy.  But the purpose of one singular moment is now evident to me...and maybe more so since I am older and (hopefully?) wiser:  God knew I wasn't always choosing the Light at that time. I was afraid that my lesser works might be exposed.  But He was coaxing me in whatever way He could, speaking my language through song, to move me toward the Light; To share the Light; to bring forth the Light that He knew was burning deep within me.  He lit that flame after all.

He got me to sing about it one overcast day in March 25 years ago.  Today, He gets me to sing about it, writing in His blessedly inspired prose.

This little light of Mine - I've gotta let it shine!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Monkey See, Monkey Do

 \"Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.\" This famous monkey trio has been popular for eons, but this rendition is so finely crafted it catches even the fine detail of the coats.3\" x 3 1/4\" x 10\" high.$14.95
My daughter, Colleen, and I were scheduled to read this morning at church.  While studying the two readings, I passed from the 1st to the 2nd and, though I generally bypass the Psalm in between while practicing to lector, for some reason, this one caught my eye.

From Psalm 137:  "Let my tongue be silenced if ever I forget you."


Now, I don't think this means "make me mute forever, God" or "I'll start practicing the art of mime while living the way I want to live."  As a young girl, however, I do remember being quite frightened at this Psalm since the most horrendous thing I could imagine was to be without my voice for any long period of time.

This morning, however, the true meaning leapt out at me.  All of a sudden, the image of the three monkeys "Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil" popped into my head, and I started cracking up... because they're exactly who I  need to emulate when I forget what the heck I'm doing and how the heck I'm supposed to be acting as a child of God.

I think the verse means (please excuse the liberal and not very religious language):  When I am off course...when I am being mean-spirited and spiteful...when I am being insecure and cowardly...when I am IN ANY WAY far from you, please help me shut my big, fat mouth!
(At least, in my very Italian, verbal, loquacious, expert opinion, that's what I would need to tell myself in order to keep my trap shut.)

It's better to say nothing than to give voice to spite, hate, gossip, judgment, low self-opinions and the like.  I am forgetting God when these times are upon me, and, since they're more often than I'd like to admit still,  the key is to keep them to myself.  To silence my tongue before representing something other than Godliness.  Now that doesn't mean I think we should never discuss with others what is bothering us or how we need help.  I think these qualities are important so that we don't become bogged down in hiding from our true selves, dodging conflict at every turn, preventing ourselves from being transparent.  But I think Christ wants positive language spilling forth from our lips, allowing us to become more like Him in all that we do, all that we say, all that we feel.  Then we will more often seek to "hear, see and speak" things that are is His image.

Monkey see, monkey do - monkey, I should copy you!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ode to a Laptop

I wish that technology could be my friend.
Throws Christ on His ear; lets expletives in.
I feel my best ethics begin to erode
As my screen asks me sweetly, "Shall I start in Safe Mode?"

I want to take flight
But I hang in and fight.
Though try as I might
I can't get it right.

"I know that I'm bright!"
I exclaim with some bite.
No black and no white
In this hideous plight.

The devil's a laughin' and rollin' around.
"Upload an image? Your skills ain't that sound."
He's camped on my back rootin' for my demises.
Designing a site, the frustration rises.

"I know that I'm bright!"
I exclaim with some bite.
No black and no white
In this hideous plight.

With no end in sight,
I'm looking for light.
"Hey God, help me out here!
I just wanna write!!"

Monday, March 12, 2012

Man in a Hole

I've always loved that story about the man who falls in a hole...

The walls are so deep, he can't climb out.
A doctor walks by and the guy yells, "Hey, can you help me?"  So the doctor writes a prescription, throws it in the hole and keeps walking.
A priest walks by and the guy hollers, "Hey, Father, can you help me out here?"  The priest says a prayer over the hole, blesses him and moves on.
Then the guy sees his friend, Joe.  "Hey, Joe, can you help me out of here?"  So Joe jumps into the hole...

Now every time I hear this, I always think that's the end of story.  Hilarious...they're both stuck.  And I think to myself, "What a friend to be willing to stick by his pal to the extent that his path stops completely too.  Foolish, but loyal!"  Then I remember that there's an ending to the story...

The guy says to Joe, "What, are you stupid or something?  Now we're both stuck here."  To which Joe replies, "Yeah, but I've been here before, and I know the way out."

I've been here before, and I know the way out...
I've been here before, and I know the way out...

These are the words I am now able to speak to my friends and family when they are suffering.  God blessed me with seemingly insurmountable problems last year...problems which I thought I could not solve - or endure - or recover from.  Today I see that not only could I endure them, I have grown from them endlessly.  They were given me for a reason.  What a blessing.  What a blessing to be able to share this pain and recovery with those now wallowing in cavernous holes.  And what a blessing to be able to say, "I have been here before and I know the way out."

The way out is the Way.  No kidding.  So all you folks in a hole, thinking you need a prescription or a surface blessing or prayer to climb out of the darkness, know that you  may need those things - plus a friend who honestly understands, empathizes, and shares your load.  Make no mistake - that person has been purposely placed there for a reason.  And you will likely climb out much more quickly if you call on them for help.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Prayer of Gratitude

Two days ago, I was in the grocery store (does anyone else feel like they LIVE there??) picking up some prescriptions.  As I was walking past the flower department - my favorite - I saw a gal who goes to my church.  I often stop and spend a few minutes chatting with her.  That day, I didn't really have time to stop but called out to her as I was passing, "Hey there!  How are you?"  She looked up from her arranging and said, "Fine.  How are you?"  I said, "I'm great!" to which she replied "You're always great!"  She smiled and I went on my way.

A simple enough exchange...but felt so profoundly by me...

I thought immediately back to a year ago when I clearly was not only not great, but not even fine.  I could barely take a trip to grocery store without heaving myself out of bed, disheveled and panicked, to make the outing.  I would get in and out as quickly as possible talking with as few people as I could along the way.  Ugh...what an icky time.

But sometimes we need those pathetic memories to realize how far we have come and how great God makes our lives.  Because the "flower lady" was right - now I'm more "great" than "fine."  I'm happier more often than I have ever been.  I look at life most days as an opportunity to grow and experience rather than to just endure.

And what a beautiful thing it is for me to know that others see that change.  That the light of Christ is shining forth.  That He is opening up my heart to embrace the many people with whom I come in contact.  What a moment of triumph in its simplicity - and a moment to stop, reflect upon and offer up as a prayer of gratitude for life's blessings.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dog Days of Spring

I have an interesting association with dogs.

When I was five years old, living in the old, white farmhouse in Malbis, Alabama, we had a variety of animals on our property:  cows, ponies, chickens, rabbits, cats...but no least not one that we called our own.  One day, however, as I was standing on the front porch, a huge St. Bernard came bounding down the street, up our driveway and onto that porch, right on top of me. He jumped up, his enormous paws on my chest, bowled me over and hovered over me, panting and drooling and invading my social space. I was scared to death.  He was actually a friendly dog - Big Mac we later called him - but if you know that as a full-grown woman now I am every bit of 4' 10" tall, you can imagine how much smaller I was at five years of age than that huge, slobbery dog.  Since then, I have had a general fear of dogs. 

Despite my fear, however, ten years ago after months of begging from my five year old daughter, Colleen, I finally succumbed to adopting a docile, half German Shepherd, half Alaskan Husky named Cookie.  Cookie is a calm, friendly dog.  She has one blue eye and one brown.  She will approach you, sit and offer up her paw for a friendly shake.  My fears were appeased a bit with this addition to our family.  Then came Bubbles...

Bubbles was adopted two years ago and our lives have not been the same since.  Unfortunately, I don't mean this as a compliment.  She has destroyed every piece of furniture...every plant...our favorite pairs of shoes...frankly, too many things for me to name.  She is a pain in my rear end.  She's so energetic, she can hardly contain herself.  Her tail doesn't wag...her entire back end does.  She's a hunter.  I can't tell you the number of opossums and rats we've found in our yard, her proudly standing over them waiting to be congratulated on her skillful offerings.  Just when I think to myself, "Why did I ever agree to get this dog?" she'll do something so hilarious, I have to admit that she brings laughter to the family.  (Check out the picture at right...Bubbles' solution to a recent rainstorm!)

Still my most egregious association with dogs is the fact that I have been compared to one.  Yep, you heard it right.  Years ago, while working with my friend, Annie, on her project, Dance Excellence, a show director that was running auditions at the event talked to me on the final day of the project and said, "You know, I didn't get you at first.  I thought you were a bit outspoken and rough around the edges.  Now I just know you were protecting your producer (Annie).  You know what you are?  You're a little bulldog.  Tenacious and growling at anyone who may hurt your friends."  Needless to say, I was not at all impressed or amused by this comparison.

Now as a 43 year old wife and mother of two, child of two, sister to four and friend to countless others, however, I accept this description as accurate.  I know I can be tough to get.  I know my boundless energy, tenacity and sometimes "ruff" around the edges manner (sorry, had to), can be much.  But walking hand in hand with those qualities are others that our canine friends don't hold the corner on:  loyalty, protection, and companionship not to mention slobbering, hovering displays of love.  Believe me, I don't always like to be "that" friend, "that" daughter, "that" sister...the one that others look upon to protect and guard the lives and feelings of those whom we love.  But I humbly take on these charges because I feel the gifts God instilled in me and the direction He has given me are suited to those needs.  And like Bubbles, even though I may drive others nuts, it's my hope that just before they are thinking, "Why did I ever agree to associate with this chick?" that I may do something so funny or creative or endearing that will solidify the reasons they did...and they'll hopefully realize that along with the craziness, I also bring laughter and love to their lives.

Monday, March 5, 2012

To Become as Little Children

I signed up to receive a Lenten devotion from "Girlfriends in God."  It's delivered Monday through Friday into my inbox, written by three authors.  There have been several entries that I have forwarded because they spoke to me.  The one from this morning, however, moved me so much that I need to share the message with you here in my own forum.

The passage written by Mary Southerland recounts a story that she recently heard where a couple and their toddler were dining at a restaurant one weekend. Their baby suddenly began interacting with a stranger in the dining room.  He happened to be a ragged, smelly man with old tattered clothes...a vagrant, acting inappropriately by playing peekaboo and patty cake from across the room while the other patrons were trying to enjoy a quiet dinner.  The baby was enthralled, however, so the parents doggedly ate while avoiding eye contact with the enthusiastic stranger.

While the husband left to pay the bill and retrieve the car, the mother gathered Erik into her arms, hoping to totally sidestep the stranger.  But while trying to avoid him, passing quickly by, the baby threw out his arms - that precious gesture that babies make when wanting to be held by someone they love - and threw himself out of his mother's arms into that of the stranger's. 

"Suddenly a very old smelly man and a very young baby consummated their love and kinship. Erik in an act of total trust, love, and submission laid his tiny head on the man's ragged shoulder. The man's eyes closed, and tears hovered beneath his lashes. His aged hands full of grime, pain, and hard labor, cradled the baby and gently stroked his back.

No two beings have ever loved so deeply for so short a time. The mother and every other person in the restaurant were awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms and his eyes opened and in a firm and even commanding voice said, "You take care of this baby." Somehow the mother managed, "I will" from a throat choked with emotion.

He pried Erik from his chest, lovingly and longingly, as though he were in pain. The mom took her baby and the man said, "God bless you, ma'am, you've given me my Christmas gift." With Erik in her arms, the mom ran for the car. Her husband was wondering why his wife was crying and holding Erik so tightly saying, "My God, my God, forgive me." Everyone had just witnessed Christ's love shown through the innocence of a tiny child who saw no sin, who made no judgment; a child who saw a soul, and a mother who saw a suit of clothes. The mother was a Christian who was blind, holding a child who was not. A ragged old man had unwittingly preached the message found in Scripture, "To enter the Kingdom of God, we must become as little children."

I will shamefully admit that I have been that mother before...that woman...the one who judges without knowing, avoids contact so as to not sully myself or my pure desire for what I think is an admirable and upright way to live.  And I've done it, actually, more frequently with those who act superior; angry; self-involved; haughty.  It's much easier for me to excuse the homeless or the unemployed than it is for me to excuse the broken and the injured who only appear to have their lives together.  I am mortified that I have been so obtuse.

I have also been the ragged man before. I was he last year, desperate and dying...and in gestures of unconditional love and grace, my friends and family reached their hands out to me and allowed me to hold them, breathing in their sweet love and clinging to their strength. I was given a gift and a second chance at life and living.  I was set free of my worries and anxiety.  My pain was eased and labors lifted.

Today I hope mostly to be like that innocent child.  The one who lovingly and trustingly looks but does not judge.  The one who laughs and giggles and hugs while cradling the poor and the lost and the lonely.  The one who need not know the back story to find the treasure.  The one who looks for the Kingdom of God in the least of our brothers and sisters.