A Seasonal Song for You

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This time of year, some of us are walking on eggshells, wondering if we are “allowed” to wish people a “Merry Christmas.” Is it more proper to say “Season’s Greetings,” or “Happy Holidays,” or perhaps, “Bah, humbug!”? I got news for ya’ folks. If it weren’t for Christmas, there would be no seasonal greetings needed, and also no holidays to be happy about. The “season” was built a long, long time ago, around Christmas! Yeah, there’s New Year’s Day, but…who cares about that?! This lowly holiday gets top billing only because it happens to come a week after Christmas, which is the holiday, and the reason for the “season!!” And folks have been using those different seasonal greetings for years, and they all refer mainly to Christmas, followed by that humble holiday who just happened to be lucky enough to tag along with the Star! (the Star……get it?!) When folks use those salutations of Season’s Greetings and/or Happy Holidays, they are, in fact, wishing you a Merry Christmas anyway…they just don’t realize it.

Here’s what it boils down to – you can offer to me whatever you like, by way of seasonal greeting, and I will sincerely thank you, and then wish you a Merry Christmas, BUT, I will only say that when Christmas is really here. Because here’s the next big surprise that will cause a wedgie in your “holiday” PJ’s…Christmas starts at midnight on Christmas Eve! It didn’t start shortly after Halloween, when the stores immediately clearanced the left-over Trick-or-Treat candy and set out the Christmas sweets, decorations, gift bags, Santa hats, Christmas socks, etc, etc. And, it didn’t start on Black Friday, when people got up hours before the sunrise and started the mad rush to buy gifts for everyone on their list. Nope! Christmas starts on the anniversary (or at least the date that has been agreed upon by scholarly historians and theologians as the most likely anniversary) of the birth of our Lord and Savior.

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So, while you’re all biting your tongue wondering what greeting to offer, I ask you to consider this new approach. Greet people within the confines of the correct season. I’ve decided that’s what I’m going to be doing. When someone tosses any of the above mentioned good wishes my way (or offers a greeting for any other holiday of their choosing), I am going to respond with this gem, “And a blessed Advent to you!” I don’t know why I didn’t think of this years ago, but, this little idea finally found a way to get my attention, and I am groovin’ on this ingenious concept! I no longer have to worry about whether or not to say Merry Christmas, because…., IT’S ADVENT!!

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I have spent the past few days standing in front of the mirror, practicing this response, and I think I have it down pat now. “A blessed Advent to you!” I even made up a little song, just for fun, and in the spirit of the season, I’m sharing it with you.

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I Wish You a Blessed Advent

(sung to the tune of, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”)

(refrain)

I wish you a bless-ed Advent,

I wish you a bless-ed Advent,

I wish you a bless-ed Advent,

Cuz it’s not Christmas yet.

 

Slow down and take time

To truly employ,

The gift of a holy Advent

And the coming of Joy!

(repeat refrain)

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That was my early Christmas gift to you and, yes, I am still allowed to say the word Christmas – I’m not being a tyrannical scrooge, here! If you go Christmas caroling, go ahead and sing the word Christmas at the top of your lungs, but just keep in mind, we’re still waiting for Christmas to arrive. Once it does, I’ll be wishing people a Merry Christmas for at least a couple of weeks, maybe even until Epiphany, and folks will look at me like I’ve lost my marbles, not even realizing that they are being liturgically incorrect by packing the Christmas albums away the day after Christmas! At any rate, right now, in December, we should all be preparing our hearts to genuinely rejoice and celebrate the birthday of Jesus at the proper time. And that, my friends, is what this season of Advent is all about – not shopping, not parties, not gift exchanges, not decking the halls….just waiting, and watching, in the still of the night, as though we were lowly shepherds in the field, always on the alert for the sound of angel voices. They always come when you least expect them, but only if you find a quiet place, and take the time to listen. So….embrace your own holy and blessed Advent, while there’s still time.

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Where Love Has Led

When I was young, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would usually say, “A comedian!” And, although I never made it to the big stage, I am definitely a full-fledged, freelance (read, “unpaid”) comedian. If you need proof, just ask my friends. Everyone I know (with a respectable sense of humor) thinks that I am funny. Or….maybe they just laugh at me because they don’t know what else to do with me. Either way, I’m happy – as long as I can get folks laughing, or at least cracking a smile.

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As the years went on, though, the what do you wanna be question was answered rather randomly, just because: a) I really had no idea what all of my options were, or b) I was basing my answer on my current preoccupation. So my response would jump around, from comedian to veterinarian, from bakery chef to writer, from actress to librarian, and finally to photographer, because that was where my interest was when the time came to choose a school. The truth is, though, that I had only one true longing for my life, and it was this….getting married and having/raising children. I can hear the collective GASP! Who would have guessed that a child of the 60’s and 70’s could harbor such a traditional longing? This was the age of women’s liberation, the dawning of Aquarius, the far-out, groovy era of turning your back on the established order of home-life, job, and family. A sacramental, life-long commitment to one person?! Bah! Being open to children, when “free-love,” contraception, and abortion-on-demand was all the rage?! Humbug! I know….what was I thinking?! But, you see, despite the flagrant distractions of the modern culture, my ongoing confusion, and a lack of parental guidance, I still had a great advantage. Because of my baptism, I had the Holy Spirit and my Guardian Angel watching out for me, and leading me gently on, a million missteps notwithstanding.

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All that time, when I was wandering around as a young woman, mixed-up by what the culture was telling me and by what I thought I should be, God (who is Love) was guiding me gently along, there to pick me up when my poor choices had me meandering off of the trail, dangling off of cliffs, or stranded in deep crevasses.

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While in photography school, Love led me to my husband. Almost right away, the Holy Spirit whispered into my ear, “This is the one I have chosen for you.” I listened to those words from Love, and flirted and joked my way right into that crazy man’s heart. (He had a wacky sense of humor, too, one of the first things that attracted me to him. That, and….he was quite handsome!) Even though we were both still caught up in the “misleadings” of our time, we traveled on together, while Love walked closely beside, his hand ever upon us, his wise counsel silently piloting our steps.

We were married in 1982, with a dispensation from the Catholic Church (of which my husband-to-be was a member) to be married in a Baptist Church, in which I had spent almost my entire childhood. Less than two years later, when I realized we weren’t really making it to church every week (my plan had been to switch back and forth, one week at a Baptist Church, next week at Catholic Mass, and so on), I convinced myself (through Love’s inspiration) that I would be willing to attend a Catholic church every week, if it meant we would actually get to church every Sunday. It worked, and, after eight months or so of full immersion, I was hooked. I wanted to learn about the Catholic faith, and be able to receive Holy Communion every Sunday, with my husband (who had now embraced his faith as an adult, and was living it fully). In the summer of 1984, I received the sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion. From there, it was parish retreats (and Love, of course!) that led us deeper into our faith and gifted us with new, Catholic friends. Three years later, we were excitedly awaiting the birth of our first daughter. Even with serious medical complications, we went on to have two more daughters, trusting in Love for protection and aid.

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Because motherhood had been my deepest longing, I was one of those “all-hands-on-deck” kind of moms – staying home most days with them, while working a couple of days a week with my husband in his (by then) own photo studio. The two older girls went off to school before our third one had joined us, and I did everything – room mom, cupcake baker, party planner, you-name-it. I was at the school almost every day, willing to stay and help if needed…until the end of the fifth year, because Love began calling me to an ever deeper level. We pulled the girls out of school to follow the counter-cultural call to home schooling. (It’s hard to pick the absolute best thing about this choice, there were so many – no more rushed mornings, or piles of paperwork and fundraising efforts from the school; we could work at each child’s own pace, using my creativity and problem-solving skills at full-throttle; we met other Catholic homeschoolers and became more deeply immersed in the study of our faith….the list goes on and on!) We loved every minute of it (well, okay…you got me – almost every minute!). When people would ask me (and they did, often), “How can you stand spending all that time with your kids?!” I was left uncharacteristically speechless. It had never occurred to me that moms would not want to be with their children as much as possible! But, Love had called me to this life choice, and through it all, he was there, closer than ever before, still nudging us ever forward.

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And, now, thanks to Love never giving up on me, my husband and I have celebrated 35 years of marriage. We have raised three incredibly awesome daughters, and are blessed with 5 grandchildren (two of whom are already in heaven, due to miscarriage in early pregnancy). Our sixth grandchild is due in late October (from our “northern contingent), and we just returned from four glorious days of visiting with them. Such sweet joy our family gives to us!

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Some days, when I am not distracted by worldly concerns (like continued breast cancer survival and related health issues, paying the bills, worrying about my children, arguing with my husband about something stupid, etc), I can spend the entire day just basking in the glow of “my” success. But, right about the time I’m busy patting myself on the back, I’ll find myself falling off another of those pesky cliffs, making a hard and painful landing, right into the arms of Love. And with that harsh reminder, I will once again swallow my pride, and allow Love to lead, because his plan has always proved to be better than mine, and will always be best in the future. Lead on, Love – I’m right behind you! (Ummmm…on second thought, knowing me, maybe you’d better just push from behind, where you can keep your eye on me!)

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Weathering the Storms of Life

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As a country, we’ve been going through the valley lately, experiencing some pretty serious hardship. In our lifetime (despite all of mankind’s advances in science and technology), most of us will face some sort of calamity or painful loss, possibly even catastrophic destruction, sometimes individually, sometimes as a community at large, sometimes as a nation. The United States of America has just endured the one-two knockout punch of back-to-back destructive hurricanes. Add to that the tragic, widespread fires out west, the anniversary of the indescribable terror of 9/11, and the crippling division being displayed amongst our citizenry, and…yeah, we could definitely quote Charles Dickens’ opening line in A Tale Of Two Cities (one of my all-time favorite novels, which I highly recommend, if you’ve never read it!), “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” We have “it all,” and yet we are finding (more and more often, it seems) that it can all be taken away in a heartbeat. The question is, will we confront these challenges facing inward, focusing only on ourselves and our own problems, or facing outward, together, with a disposition of serving others? In other words, will we allow it to make us stronger, more compassionate, and united, or reduce us to an outraged, bitter, broken people? From what I have seen, so far, from the stories of people reaching out to help, sending money, praying unceasingly – most of us have opted for the healthy and fruitful orientation.

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The absolute best perspective on all of this tragedy comes from an (almost) unbelievably sweet and adorable couple, who I know you have all heard about since Twitter (whose existence I usually refuse to acknowledge) is apparently abuzz with the news of these people. I am referring, of course, to Irma and Harvey Schluter, the elderly couple from Spokane, WA (ages 92 and 104, respectively), whose story has been shared on every reliable (and, otherwise) news source since last Friday when the story first broke.

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These are two remarkable people, who survived the challenges of World War II, had three children, and then fostered over one hundred more children. If the story stopped here, that would be enough, but Irma and Harvey also offered some sage advice. This amazing couple (who are still in love and still relatively healthy, with minds as sharp as tacks) shared these pearls of wisdom from their years of commitment and sacrifice:

“Each one’s gotta have love,” says Harvey.

“That, and faith,” adds Irma, “Two things that were here before and will be here after (the other Harvey and Irma pass from history).”

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THAT’S IT, PEOPLE!! Yes, it’s as simple as that! That’s all we need to get through this – faith and love. (And, yes, they are referring to faith in God, because that is their history and their personal motivation – they even taught Sunday school classes together! – and it is what facilitates a growth in self-sacrificing love.) As a former foster-parent of two children, I know, without a doubt, that welcoming one hundred & twenty foster children into your home (and doing the job with the proper spirit) requires a supernatural “inpouring” of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and authentic love (spelled out by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 13). If we open our hearts and our lives to embrace these truths, we will weather the storms of life, no matter how widespread and devastating they might be, and we will do it together. And together (i.e., hand-in-hand, united, with one voice, committed to one another, in concert, linked together, etc, etc.) is where we need to be right now. More “storms” are on the horizon, some we can see, some not even on our radar, but they are there, and they will come. Will we face them together, or separated; in a spirit of “love thy neighbor,” or a spirit of “I’m right, you’re wrong, and I will hate and mistreat you because your beliefs don’t jive with mine”? The choice is ours, and our choice will decide our ultimate fate. As for me and my family, we’re gonna follow the example of our country’s “very own, real-life, time-tested” duo, Irma and Harvey, from Spokane. I speak from personal experience when I say: Love, rooted in faith, will build an effective fortress, a sturdy stronghold, in which we can withstand the onslaught of any and all storms that head our way. Let’s keep building….together!

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The Chill Pill the World Has Awaited

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Does anyone else out there feel like the world is spinning out of control?! We are all stressed, that’s for sure…some of us way more than others; we all have needs and concerns and desires that are not being met in the way we think they should be. We are feeling lost and scared and angry and abandoned, and unsure of what the future holds. Just look around you, or read the daily news (if you can stomach it and/or put up with the news media’s modern goal of driving an inflamed, suspicious wedge between our country’s citizens). Folks these days get angry at the drop of a hat, or the honk of a horn. I‘ve always liked to give a polite little “beep” if the car in front of me takes longer than 3 or 4 seconds to respond to a green light. I’m not feeling at all angry, I’m just saying, “Hey, if you took this opportunity to read a text or dig in your purse for a tissue, I’m okay with that, but this is just a friendly, light touch of the horn button, to bring you back to the present! Peace be with you!” I mean, I appreciate it when the guy behind me provides that service to me! However, these days, with all the stories of people being shot in their cars from a road rage incident, or dragged out of their car and beaten to a pulp, I’m starting to feel a bit leery of employing the amiable green-light toot. Back in the old days, the worst response I might have received is someone yelling at me to “take a chill pill,” but in this chronically overwrought population we live with, my life could be ended by a misunderstood horn blast. And, of course, there are much worse examples of crazy overreactions to any perceived insult or threat. People are getting run over in the streets, in random acts of violence, by angry, broken (and, possibly brainwashed) people. At the international level, nuclear war threats are making headlines, while the inhabitants of some countries are, realistically speaking, being held captive by power-hungry and (seemingly) insane leaders. What can we do? Is there any hope of a cure for what ails and threatens us? The answer is……yes, THERE IS!

There is a potent prescription for all of us, just waiting to be pulled from the medicine cabinet, dusted off, and put to use daily. It is a balm designed to help us take a step back, and remember by whom, and for what, we were given life. We are made to love and serve and to strive for holiness. We are gifted to be co-creators of life and beautiful works of art, and our minds are made to solve problems and build bridges and give broken objects new life. Unfortunately, as witnessed in the increasingly selfish, ill-tempered, and morose crowd around us, our hearts will continue to grow more and more unsettled, until we are able to grasp the truth and find the courage and fortitude to embrace it. The prescribing physician is well known, even though many people choose to steer clear of his “office,” preferring to deal with sickness on their own, until they reach a point where they can barely function anymore. For so many, I guess that the unrelenting pain and emptiness is all worth it, as long as you can still have “control” over your own life….(sigh). If you, for one, are tired of the daily, meaningless grind, the Mighty Physician’s treatment plan really is quite easy to follow, and you can ramp up on it slowly, if you like.

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Here’s the detox phase, to get you started – begin with a short prayer each morning. Offer your day to God, and ask him to help you be, just for this day, the person that God wants you to be. When you go to bed at night, thank God for the gift of that day. Follow this simple formula for twelve weeks. If your heart begins the healing process (which I believe it will!), you will start to desire more from God. From there on out, “listen to” the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and ask for the gifts that will lead you further and further down the road to wholeness. Sometimes you’ll forget, or be too tired to pray, or sometimes you’ll feel lost and unable to pray. It’s okay. When Peter tried to walk on the water, and he got scared and sank like a rock (which, by the way, Peter was, and is – Petra means rock in ancient Greek, and Peter/Petra was the rock on which Christ built his Church. So, being a rock is sometimes good, and sometimes not so good, depending upon the situation, but that didn’t stop God from using our feckless, fickle Peter in an astoundingly huge way. St. Peter gives me more hope than just about any other saint, when it comes to realizing that my shortcomings don’t keep God from working in me and through me! In my weakness, God is made strong.) Our Lord did admonish Peter gently, by pointing out the smallness of his faith, but then Jesus reached out and saved Peter in his distress. God will do that for us, too. Constantly calling us deeper and deeper, but always traveling right beside us, ready to reach out and grab our hand when we cry out.

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Suddenly, there’s an old song playing in my head, recorded by Bette Midler in 1990. The lyrics tell of a God who is “watching us from a distance.” It is true that God is watching us, but he is not far away, gazing down on us from some lofty height. He is right behind us, just waiting for us to turn around, just waiting to be our healing physician, just waiting to calm our fears and lighten our hearts and lead us to the fulfillment of all that we are created for. And once we take that step, we can lead others, and they can lead more, and we can initiate change in our little piece of the world, one heart at a time, through the omnipotent love and power and mercy of our Creator God. Will it sweep away the bothersome struggles of this world, will it take away all the pain? No, because many will continue to refuse treatment, and that’s their choice, but it will change our outlook and our understanding of life, and give us hearts filled with love, flowing with God’s mercy and compassion. Better than any chill pill, is God’s will pill…(and that’s a motto I’m going to copyright!)

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