Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winter Wonderland

I look out my ice-framed window at the wonderfully white winter wonderland that was simply my front yard the night before. The sun has finally come up to allow his rays to glisten on every ice cycle that envelops every bough of every tree within my vision. The blanket of newly fallen snow that the meteorologist will insist was only four inches looks to me to cover everything within sight. Its crystal surface shimmers in the new light of day. The mere brightness, or perhaps the mere beauty, makes my eyes begin to tear.
Where yesterday there was a messy mixture of mud and slush, hibernating brownish grass, and a driveway that has needed a new coat of blacktop for three years, today there is a faultless layer of sparkling perfection. At this moment, the moment before the first person dares to trod over the new fallen snow, before the dog runs out to do what dogs must do, this moment is the moment I am reminded of God’s grandeur. But even more, the purity, the clearness, the newness of the freshly fallen snow remind me of the grand gift of forgiveness.
Only God can change the ugliness of sin –all our mud and slush and everything about us that is not at all attractive. Only He can cover our inequities and imperfections with the sanctifying Grace of exquisite forgiveness. We still know what lies underneath; we are acutely aware of what we’ve done, and the limits of who we are. But when we ask, when we are very still, God’s grace falls upon us like forgiving flakes, permitting us to be new again.
And so I start the day by staring out my ice covered window, thanking God for the splendor of the seamless snow and the chance to glisten in the rising of the Son.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hold me, Daddy

It’s not that I was surprised to be inspired. I was, after all, in church. It wasn’t so much the location of the inspiration as it was the source.
We had all just stood up. The homily was over and we were getting ready to profess our faith. I know I should have been focusing on the stream of words coming out of my mouth, but as too often happens, I allowed my wavering attention span to wander around, taking my focus with it until landing on the family a couple of pews in front of me.
And then I saw it.
A young girl stood next to her father, leaning into him as if her own body could not support her light weight. He continued to recite his profession of faith.
And that's when it happened.
Somewhere before our petition of prayers, the little girl must have decided the support from the lean wasn't enough, as she instinctively held her arms up to her daddy who picked her up without a moment’s hesitation.
The reason this caught my attention was that she appeared too old to be held. I wouldn’t have paid attention if she were three or under –but this little girl seemed years beyond the holding stage, and yet her father picked her up the moment she asked.
Without any prodding or pleading, he picked up his daughter and held her for the rest of the standing portion of the service. Contented, she nuzzled her head on his shoulder with a look of peace that we adults just can’t mimic.
It was that simple. She asked to be held and her daddy held her. And even though I was surprised by the request being made at her age, it somehow looked so right.
And of course, it made me think.
Why do we too often equate losing our ability to ask for help with losing our youth?
Many times in life we might find ourselves growing weary, hoping for someone to lean on.
But we’re too big, aren’t we? Shouldn’t we find a way to handle it all on our own?
Life would be so much simpler if we could all remember no matter how old or self-sufficient we think we are, we are still God’s children. Like the daddy in church, God is always there for us to lean on.
And when we need more than leaning for support, how happy it must make our Father if we could only remember to instinctively raise our arms to Him and ask to be held. For it is only in our Father’s arms that we might find the true peace of a contented child.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Merge Ahead

My on-line dictionary says the definition of “merge” is: to combine, blend, or unite gradually.
Unfortunately, I think the “in traffic” dictionary would say the definition of “merge” is: to come to a complete and exasperating standstill.
Recently, I had one of those white knuckle days; I was, of course, running late for work when I noticed the darkness before dawn was partially lit with the ominous site of ascending tail lights waiting on the road in front of me.
Was there an accident? Blocked road?
For five minutes and three light changes the parade of paused vehicles sat as nothing but shrinking levels of tolerance moved. At last we began to inch our ways back to some sort of semblance of motion. Fifteen minutes and 1/8 of a mile later, I saw the sign: Merge.
That was it. No accident. No blockage; just the simple directional sign trying to get two lines of traffic to combine into one.
Merging would be so easy –if only the other guy would get out of our way.
Unfortunately, the guy beside us doesn’t know this obvious rule of “it’s my turn”. Or perhaps he does and that’s the problem.
Merging forces us to step aside, work with each other, and give up a little bit to each other.
Unfortunately, it’s necessary not only in traffic, but also in life.
No where is this more relevant today than in politics. Right side? Left Side? Middle? We are now stuck in a traffic jam that is frustrating everyone and putting pressure on more than simply our white knuckles. We’ve honked our horns, counted to ten, and some have even used words and gestures that in some way made them feel better in their incessant waiting.
Perhaps now is the moment to merge.
Without a doubt, this coming together won’t be easy for any of us, no matter what direction you’re coming from.
My faith and heart color me with the label of conservative. Today, there are some life issues I hold dear that are threatened by our new president who has promised to put up a sign that might detour these issues, or close the road altogether.
Should those of us who hold these life issues as basic issues of life come to a complete stop now? Should we change our direction entirely?
Of course not. I wouldn’t begin to suggest we make a U-turn just to keep the country moving in some sort of semblance of motion.
A merge obliges us to work together, to try to find a way to actually make progress.
Those on the right give a little. Those on the left give a little. And, with God’s help, we’ll all arrive where we hope to be sooner, not later.
For too long we’ve been stuck in bottlenecked traffic. We’ve already tried, yelling and waving various fingers at those who disagree with us.
It’s time to combine, blend, or unite gradually.
It’s time to see the sign.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Home Improvement

There’s a pretty plaque in my kitchen that proclaims, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
I’m fond of that plaque. I pass the verse every day. And when I actually take time to register what it means, I like to think I am doing just what it says. I am building a house—a family-- that serves the Lord.
But am I really?
As yet another year dawns, it seems a perfect time to take a good look and reflect on the “house” my family and I are forming.
When looking at the value of any house, it’s important to study the foundation. Is it solid and sturdy? Does my “house” have God at the center –always? Or have I admittedly pushed God aside as the foundation when the world comes knocking with more immediate rewards and gratification?
Next, I have to ask what might need patching this year? Are there cracks in my house that I noticed in years past, but ignored, figuring they “weren’t that bad”? After all, other people’s houses had worse problems, didn’t they? Or what about the defects I tired to cover up? Has the fresh coat of paint, meant to distract from the imperfections only made it worse since I never addressed the root of the issue? Might these problems in my house now grow to a level where they will no longer be ignored?
And what about the roof over our heads? Does it give us all the shelter we need? Are we ready for the storms that lie ahead? Will our roof keep out the harmful elements – but still allow the Son to shine in and illuminate everything?
A new year offers us a fresh opportunity to look around and see what might need changing. A new year offers us hope that we will, indeed, resolve to be better. I know I am far from where God wants me to be, but I am grateful He hasn’t given up on me yet. As for me and my house, we will continue serve the Lord. And somehow, I suspect He will continue to bless our feeble efforts --- cracks and all.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Oh, Christmas Tree!

This year, my Christmas tree taught me some lessons I needed to learn.
We found the tree at the same tree farm we visit each year. Of course, in reality, it is just a lot in a shopping area that sells chopped down trees, but that doesn’t sound nearly as quaint as the words “tree farm”.
We went to this tree-farm/shopping lot and brought the too-big tree home, working hard to get it to stand upright in the corner of our family room. Finally the mission was accomplished and it was time to decorate.
Now, I am an admitted control freak when it comes to decorating my tree. I will spend hours putting up the lights, squinting to make sure each bulb is placed about the same distance from the next. Then, I will strategically place the ornaments. As the hours of decorating went on, I soon began running out of lights, ornaments and eventually time, so I stopped, leaving the back of the tree—the side that was shoved into the corner --- completely blank. I flipped the switch and marveled in Advent amazement at the beauty before me. The tree looked …tremendous.
Until Christmas Eve.
Because it was on Christmas Eve, right before we were to leave for Mass that I heard a loud thud, followed by my son affirming my immediate suspicions with the words, “Mom! The tree just fell!”
Running into the room, I saw my beautifully decorated tree looking not so beautiful, sprawled out across the floor, resting on a bed of broken ornaments.
We managed to get “old Tannenbaum” back up, but only by changing the direction the tree was leaning. Because it was such a heavy tree, my husband had to secure it with rope to the side window to keep it from falling again. Once this was finally accomplished, I realized that the only part now visible was the part of the tree I had not decorated since it was originally in the corner.
With mass and Christmas morning both right around the corner, it was going to have to stay this way. And so it was we celebrated Christmas with my humble-looking tree, tied with a rope to the window.
As always, I figured God was trying to tell me something. First of all, I’m sure there was a message there about being a control freak. But more than that, I couldn’t help but to think about the way we hide our less than attractive sides of ourselves everyday. We spend so much time making sure we are presenting to the world only the side that we want them to see. But then, when our balance is off, when we least expect it, we might fall and end up showing the world the side of ourselves we’re not so proud of.
For the coming year, I hope I remember several lessons from my fallen tree. I will try to have less to hide, even through life’s falls. I will also try to be less of a control freak. And yes, when next Christmas comes, I will remember to buy a smaller tree---or bigger rope.