“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” – 2 Corinthians 9:15
I suppose everyone has a memory of a really special Christmas gift. My favorite Christmas gift memory is actually about someone else gift. I was a senior in high school and my brother was already finishing his second year in the Navy. He’d been at sea the year before so having him home for Christmas that year would have been gift enough but he brought a surprise present for my mom that touched us all.
My mom wasn't a fancy lady. She worked hard, loved hard and told it like it was. There was no pretending or fluffing things up, and you always knew where you stood with her. She was honest and probably one of the most generous and passionate women I ever met. She always had this beautiful look of peacefulness about her when she was holding a baby or a rosary. She had a secret wish for a set of beautiful china dishes which always seemed a little strange to me because she wasn’t about fancy, non-essential things; that wasn’t her style.
Some things are sealed tightly on your heart, that Christmas morning watching her open those crates with her beautiful china packed so carefully is one of those memories. The second part of that memory is the smile on my brothers face as he watched her laugh and cry and squeal as she unpacked each piece. When she was finished I remember them hug like they’d never stop. Her first adult child put his hands on her cheeks and said, “I could never tell you how much you are loved or how sorry I am for all the days I made being my mom harder than it should have been but I figured this would help you know.” My heart knew a gift even more beautiful than china was unfolding across the living room.
Mom believed that china was for special occasions and events but at least once a month we’d use the china and she’d always remind us that we were her most special people of all and that even a random Tuesday could be a special event if you brought a thankful heart to the table. After Jim died those dishes took on an even greater pricelessness. Jim was not one for being sentimental but every time she held one of those dishes I think she remembered that Christmas morning. I saw more than once as she’d hold a cup or a plate in her hands, tears streaming down her cheeks how important it was to speak what’s in your heart. One sentence on a snowy December 25th morning brought joy, peace and healing balm for a hurting heart. To this day, I’m still not sure what was more precious; the china or the thought and words that were shared with the gift.
Fast forward nearly forty years and the china found it’s place in our new house yesterday. Mom’s china has been my great treasure for thirty years. She asked me to take it and remember it’s true value when she was dying. I followed mom’s example and used it with my own family growing up to remind them that they were my most special people. I realize it isn’t at all practical but it has some lessons to teach. It’s about connection and tradition and family. It reminds me how important it is to let those we hold dear know exactly what they mean to us. It’s about gratefulness, reconciliation and the beautiful treasure of a great surprise!
As a mom I still find myself still trying to make sure Christmas is memorable and beautiful for my family. The truth is, not every Christmas will be…it can’t be! I remember lots of Christmas mornings and Iots oranges and walnuts in my stocking. I remember ribbon candy pulled from the bottom of my stocking with fuzz on it; which by the way just made it even more delicious. I remember the dog knocking over the tree and a new hand sewn dress hanging by the tree ready to wear to Christmas morning mass. They weren’t all spectacular…they didn’t need to be. I remember my mom praying by the Christmas tree each year praying that God would help us see his Son more clearly than the lights and presents. All these years later I realize how powerfully God worked through her simple prayer. The “China Christmas” was about so much more than dishes; it was about lessons I’d need sooner than I realized. I’m so thankful to be the keeper of my mothers treasure. As I was unpacking her treasure yesterday I was reminded that some Christmases are happy and wondrous and some feel like there are holes and missing pieces. We are so conditioned to want everything to be shiny and delightful. As I stepped back to look at the new cabinet with the china, I realized it was parked right under the Nativity Scene and I remembered mom’s prayer…God, help me see your Son more clearly…there he was, looking right at me from the wooden stable built by my Father -in-law. That little ceramic Baby Jesus caught my eye and buttoned up the lesson. For all the ways this Christmas might be different; the meaning, the promise and the hope are still there. This year perhaps the circumstances that might be leaving us feeling a little hollow, might allow us to see the gift of God’s Son more clearly because he’s the most treasured gift of all.
Blessings on your day and Merry Christmas!
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord… Psalm 95:1
We made it! It’s Christmas break and teachers everywhere are breathing a gigantic sigh of relief and rest! As challenging as this fall has been I’m so very grateful for nearly 80 days of in person teaching. When I look back over the past few months so much has looked different…but my favorite things have remained the same. Kids are still funny, kids are still curious, kids still laugh and fuss and learn. The kids I spend each day with have rolled with everything we’ve asked of them. They recorded their Christmas program outside, they eat their lunch in the classroom, they have survived without all those delicious homemade birthday treats the St. Mary Mom’s are famous for and the big one…no dodgeball matches!
Last week we added a new tradition to our schedule. Every classroom took to the streets with a list of people who needed some Christmas cheer and we caroled. It was the first activity parents could join us for and we loved having them. More than 300 of us tromped through town stopping at houses, spreading ourselves across the whole lawn and we sang…maybe not well, but each lawn was dotted with about 40 spaced out little bodies belting out a familiar tune. It was such a good feeling to be doing something that seemed normal and while the event was designed to bring cheer to others, we all felt happier when we walked back into the building.
The school caroling event came on the heels of another joyful event in our little town. Just a few days prior, a flat bed trailer decked out with lights, decorations, Santa and five extremely talented men pulled into town. These guys made their way through town stopping in front of church and throughout the neighborhoods for little concerts. King and Country and the Trans Siberian Orchestra have nothin on these guys! The show was amazing and the joy they brought to all the folks lining the streets was matched only by the bands wives and children that followed the float in golf carts and Rangers. The whole thing was such a gift.
In the wake of change and uncertainty and disappointment over the last many months it seems Christmas music has the power to restore order to my heart. Whether it’s kids singing Away in a Manger on a cancer patients front lawn or the school principal playing electric guitar on a flatbed wagon rolling down the street, music focused on the joy of the most blessed season of the year makes a difference. It’s funny that these voices and these songs remind us that something great is coming, even in the midst of the yuck…sort of like it all went down a couple thousand years ago. It’s a powerful reminder that some folks were too stuck in the yuck to notice it when it happened the first time but hopefully a band on a wagon and 300 kids singing on the lawn are a signal for all of us to get ready and focus on the glory of Christmas because it promises to bring the same hope, the same love and the same glory it did the first time.
I heard a Christmas song for the first time last night and it just keeps tumbling in my mind. It was beautiful but more importantly it made me stop and check my perspective. It reminded me that we can see things one way but if we switch our focus things can look all together different. The song was Mary Had a Little Lamb. You’re probably thinking “whose fleece was white as snow” I know I was but then it all changed and I was so surprised. We get so used to seeing things through our tunnel vision, trying to prescribe the outcome that we miss the surprises. The song was beautiful and ended with the words, “Mary had a little lamb and when she looked into his eyes she saw the Lamb of God.” I had tears stinging my eyes. It wasn’t fluffy with four legs, it was Jesus the Little Lamb of God, come to save the world. He came in a way so unexpected…and brought everything a hurting world needed…he can absolutely do it again…in our hearts if we’re ready! Are you ready?
A Seed To Plant: Listen to and SING some Christmas music this week. Fill your heart and your home with some joy.
Blessings on your day!
Straight and Wide
“Make straight the way of the Lord.” John 1:23
As we prepare to enter the final week of Advent, I like to take a look at all the characters in the journey and the story of Jesus; I like to think about what they add to the story of Jesus and our salvation. One of my absolute favorites during Advent is John the Baptist. He was so bold, so unconcerned with the opinion of the world and so devoted to the task of getting to heaven. I guess you could say he inspires me with both his attitude and his words.
I remember a stage in my early teenage years when my bedroom frequently looked as if there had been an explosion of some sort, and it drove my mom nuts! One Saturday morning I “cleaned” my room and did not meet her standards. I had cleared a straight path from my bed to the door and quoted a version of these very words from John's Gospel and showed her how I had clearly made “a straight way for the Lord”. She assured me he was going to need a much wider path.
My moms assurance is true today! I realize I don’t always make the path to my heart straight or wide. I need to give God room to come into my heart and do His mighty works of mercy. I have all kinds of things in the way that make His way tricky to maneuver. I make Him wind His way around jealousy and pride and selfishness. The path hooks to the left when I toss in impatience and judgmental thinking. The way really goes sideways when control, bitterness and gossip get tossed into the mix.
Making straight the way of the Lord means keeping my eyes on Him. When my eyes are on Him and I’m preparing for Him to work in my life, I discover I’m moving in a straight and forward direction. He is the guide that straightens my way every time I re-adjust my focus on His way and not my own.
A Seed To Plant: What blocks or kinks the path between Jesus and your heart? Spend some time in prayer asking the Lord to straighten and widen the way to His love and mercy.
Blessings on your day!
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
When I was a junior in high school I was being a goof ball in Swing Choir class and wound up with a solo part in the fall show. I was a “choir” voice and never wanted to do the solo thing but it all just sort of happened. After that show, I started singing a lot. It was fun to discover a gift I didn’t know I had but when I went off to college two years later, I quickly discovered my gift was pretty small town. I remember going to audition for a spot on the music ministry team at the campus parish and I heard the first ten voices ahead of me and I quietly snuck out the back door because I didn’t have a fraction of the gift those folks did. It was a very humbling experience to say the least. I realized I had two choices. I could be jealous and pouty and wallow in self pity or I could go to mass each weekend and soak in those beautiful voices and be grateful for those who chose to share them. I went with the second choice! One year later, I did audition and get a spot on the music ministry team and being surrounded by those whose talent was bigger than mine pushed me to work hard and get better.
Everybody knows you improve your skill when you work with someone who is a little bit better at something than you are. In education we call that scaffolding. We have to seek out those who do well, what we’d like to get better at. God’s kingdom isn’t going to advance much if we become better golfers, tennis players or cooks but it will advance if we become better disciples. Pope Francis recently shared his “Secrets to Happiness”. Since happiness is something this world could use a little more of, I thought I’d share a few of the popes secretes to happiness.
*Play with children
*Spend Sunday with family.
*Look after nature. “We have to look after creation and we are not doing it. It is one of the greatest challenges we have.”
*Respect those who think differently.
*Help people find employment: “Bringing bread home is what gives you dignity.”
If I asked for your new year wish list, I’d be willing to bet many of you would mention the desire to be happy and healthy so these words come at a perfect time. Instead of waiting to “get happy” or “receive happiness” perhaps we need to create it ourselves and your gift this first month of the new year is 5 things you can do to make it happen. What would happen to this new year if we decided in the midst of all of our busyness and nutty adventures, to cultivate happiness and share it with everyone who crosses our path? I think it would be a great addition to 2017. I’m gonna do it! Happiness is a top priority task for the year…who’s in?
A Seed To Plant: Pick one of the secrets from Pope Francis and add it to your week. Good luck and BE HAPPY!
Blessings on your day!
A Mouth Full of Words
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue was freed and he spoke blessing God. Luke 1:64
Sunday was a glorious day!! I had the opportunity to do LIVE ministry. Since last March, speaking to a group in person has only happened a few times. Advent is usually one of my busiest times and this was my first event. It was so wonderful to be doing something I love with real people, in real time in a real church. We were properly spaced and masked and followed all the safety precautions and there was so much joy and connection my heart was full. In my 2 hour drive to the Detroit area parish I did some thinking about this line from Luke’s Gospel.
This verse made me take a hard look at what has got to be my greatest blessing and my greatest burden all lumped into one…my mouth! As a Catholic Speaker and Catholic School Theology Teacher, I have abundant opportunities to use my mouth to speak great words about our God and our faith. I wish this were the case all the time, but truthfully, when I ponder these words from Zachariah I am reminded of the dozens of times each week I use my mouth for words that don’t build the Kingdom of God on earth at all!
I need to take a big lesson from Zachariah. He was mute for months. If I imagine being struck mute I almost panic; it’s like I’d loose my most used human feature! If I did become mute and suddenly and unexpectedly regained my voice, I wonder what I’d say first. Truthfully, it probably would be something ridiculous like, “Lets go get pizza!” or “What the heck was that all about!” Not our friend Zachariah, the first words he spoke after months of silence; blessing, praise and worship. He focused on what he was grateful for and not what he had suffered or missed.
Zachariah used his silence to grow closer to the Father and unite himself to his perfect plan and his impeccable timing. The fruit of that silence was gratitude and awareness of the greatness of God. This passage from the Gospel of Luke contains a golden nugget for growing in holiness; find some silence and follow it with some time spent blessing and praising God for his mighty works in your life.
A Seed To Plant: Take a few moments to sit in the silence and replay your words from the last day or week follow it with these words: “Loving Father, open my eyes and still my words so I can truly recognize your presence and offer blessing to you for the many wonders you are working in my heart, my family and my world.”
Blessings on your day!
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3
When you teach in a Catholic School with nearly 300 students and each classroom has a set of Rosaries, that’s lots of beads and crucifixes that just don’t always stay together. Every year a 6th grader emerges who becomes the “Rosary Repairman”. This year I have a Rosary Repairman Extrodinare! Justin can fix any Rosary no matter how broken it might be. He works with speed and precision and intention. I handed him a whole bag of broken and mismatched and knotted Rosaries thinking it would take him weeks to get the mess tended to. I think he had them perfectly restored using some spare and new parts in less than two days. I’m always a little excited when a teacher brings me the broken ones because it tells me someone has been using them and that is great news!
I was thinking about this scripture the other morning as I watched Justin find the broken Rosaries I had put on his desk, grab his repair kit and swiftly begin his work. To be honest, I think he loves it when he finds some brokenness waiting on his desk for him. There is a challenge to restoring them and returning them to a classroom ready to be used for their intended purpose again. I think he sees those broken Rosaries the same way God sees our brokenness. It doesn’t make us worthless, it makes us needy. Those broken Rosaries need Justin, his tools and his patience in the same way we need the Father in the midst of our brokenness.
Every single one of us is broken. We’ve experienced broken dreams, broken relationships, and broken promises. We’ve lived through pain and loss and consequences that have left us chipped, cracked and leaking but none of that matters to the Father who loves us in the middle of our broken pieces. In fact, he loves us so much he can’t wait to restore and refine and repair us but we have to bring all our brokenness to him. Justin can’t restore all those Rosaries unless someone brings them to him. Just like the Father, he doesn’t ask questions or make judgements or discriminate about which ones get to be repaired, he just restores them and returns them so they can complete their purpose.
I was listening to an Advent video from the Unshakable Joy series by Chris Stefanick and he said something that really hit my heart. He said, “If you use something for a purpose it wasn’t intended for, it gets broken. If you use a microwave as a fork warmer, it’s gonna get broken.” How often are we left feeling broken because we headed down a path that wasn’t intended for us. How many times have we been left feeling cracked, chipped or leaking because we invested in a relationship or a behavior that led us away from God’s intended purpose for our life? How many times have we tried to use a microwave like a fork warmer and found ourselves left like those broken Rosaries that wind up on Justin’s desk?
This Advent let’s take some time to look at our brokenness and lay it at the feet of Jesus and ask him to repair, restore and refine us so we can get busy doing the things we were intended to do.
A Seed To Plant: Make a list of the brokenness you feel in your life and ask Jesus to swoop in and repair and restore you.
Blessings on your day!
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