Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sleeping with Bread

I like the hush and quiet of winter, but I’m not fond of the early descent of darkness.

I struggle with depression.

There. I said it.

Depression is real. There’s no shame in having this diagnosis. Winter just happens to pack a little less light.

Winter is my consolation and my desolation. It’s a snow-laden breath of joy and a dark tunnel to navigate.

Depression is a diagnosis and a battle, so I listen to the Dr. and take my Vitamin D. I long for the seasons coming, when the sun releases unlimited amounts of light, warmth and a sustainable good mood.

The other night, after a long day at work, I lit a cinnamon scented candle and placed it on the coffee table.  The TV and the unopened mail became secondary as I stared at that warm flame, a glowing reminder of divine revelation, even in the darker seasons.

Especially in the darker seasons.

Lately, I’ve returned to a practice called the examen. It’s a simple exercise to recalibrate my soul to the heartbeat of God; to recount the high and low points and take lessons from both.

At the end of each day I ponder two questions:

For what moment today am I most grateful?
For what moment today am I least grateful?

This is a mindful way to: 1) evaluate my day, 2) hold onto what gives me life and 3) let go of what doesn’t give me life

I find I can fall asleep easier when thinking about life-giving moments.

The year before my husband died, a friend handed me a treasure of a book, “Sleeping with Bread”.  It can be read in one sitting. 

I was grateful for the gift, but little did I know the thin volume of wisdom would be a close companion to my Bible in my moments of deepest grief.

On the opening page, the book explains what it literally meant, once, to sleep with bread: “During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. The bread reminded them, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.”

Today I was blessed and I will be blessed again tomorrow.

Today, something life-giving happened to me and it will happen again  tomorrow.

The examen is for me a healthy way to think over the good and the bad stuff that happens on any given day. It keeps the events of the day in balance. It keeps my depression from eating me alive.

Gratitude is the best antidote against the insidious chasm of depression.

Because I collect small, treasured moments anyway, the examen helps make me aware of moments that might easily slip by unnoticed. Each and every day contains divine shards of light – God-infused surprises that comfort and sustain.

Because we live in a broken world, each and every day also contains dread-moments, intervals of fear, times of sorrow, points of regret.

I need to stop and look at these, too, to evaluate what I liked least about my day. I need to remember all day long how the voice of God speaks through the difficult moments, too.

God often speaks through sadness and pain, and I want to hear His voice in the gloom.

Ideally, the examen should be practiced with a friend or a spouse. But, because I live alone, I usually review the day alone, just before bedtime. It’s really okay this way and ultimately I’m sharing my highs and lows with Jesus, my most trusted Friend.

Sometimes I light a candle. I mull over the consolation and the desolation of the day. The consolation is whatever helps me connect with God and others in meaningful ways. The desolation is whatever disconnects me. God speaks in both.

One day, for instance, I had an unexpected encounter with a Sudanese woman, an elderly grandmother with a childlike smile. To find ourselves together was unlikely, and it was a blessing. She wanted to know if she could “practice saying English” to me and I said, sure! She spoke, in halting sentences, of her grandchildren. She smiled every time she spoke their names.

I told her I thought her English was very good, and I could understand her well. “I can hear your heart speaking,” I said.

She beamed. “You have time to listen so I don’t feel in a hurry.” She added, “I can hear your heart speaking, too.”

That was my consolation that day, the sacred space in which God showed up and I was fully present for the occasion.

The desolation came in the same afternoon, when I learned about a 13 year old boy who took his own life. I didn’t know the child, nor do I know his parents. But as a mom, my heart was crushed to imagine what they must be going through.

Can I hear the voice of the Lord in my desolation?

Yes. His loving presence is with us, even at our most bereaved.

Another recent consolation: I had a chance to thank a policeman. My Roger was in law enforcement his entire career, and I like to honor his memory by giving a verbal nod to the men and women in blue.

This young policeman, Josh, was eager to hear my story. He listened carefully to my memories of a husband who loved to “serve and protect,” the logo emblazoned on his patrol car.

Josh talked about his family, his passion for helping others.  When we parted he said, “Thanks for the encouragement. I don’t hear much of that these days.”

There were hefty servings of desolation that day also, some shadowy moments when I felt misunderstood and frustrated.

Still, I went to sleep holding my “loaf of bread”, knowing I ate well that day of the nourishment of life – and that tomorrow, I would eat again.

Just as depression can be treated successfully, so can the winter blues. I will light a candle and tell God about my day. He already knows, of course. Psalm 139:16 “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

He already knows, but oh! How He loves to lean in and listen to His children. How He longs to be in fellowship with us.

Today I was blessed and I will be blessed again tomorrow.

Today, something life-giving happened to me and it will happen again  tomorrow.

The book, “Sleeping with Bread” is co-written by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn. I asked my local librarian to add it to the shelves, and I am thrilled to notice it has been checked out many times over the years.

This blog supports, timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see my newly-launched book, "Breath of Joy! Winter Whispers".

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

When the Kids Don't Come Home for Christmas

This message is bathed in hope for the parent who has not heard from her kids, who might not see them at Christmas.

I want you to know it won’t always be this way.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

My late husband, Roger, was fond of saying, “Let’s make the kind of memories that keep the kids coming back home – even when they’re grown.”

Oh! How I loved Roger’s enthusiasm for special calendar dates – particularly Christmastime and All Things Winter.

To commemorate the First Snow, he and I wrapped a “snow gift” for each of the girls.

For gift-wrapping, he used the funny papers.

He was thrilled at the arrival of egg nog in the dairy section – he went nuts with the stuff, pouring it into his morning coffee and grabbing enough cartons to store in the freezer “to get through the winter months”, he would say.

For years, we bundled the girls and searched tree farms for just the right tree to grace our Colorado home.

Every Christmas Eve, he read from Luke’s account of the birth of Christ; when our daughters became readers, they read it out loud to the family.

We had an advent calendar.

He sang the carols, often adding verses he made up on the fly. 

He insisted on driving us around the neighborhood to look at the festive light displays.

He was big on memories and minimal on material things.

So many rich traditions, steeped in the wonder of raising our girls; the sweet simplicity of being a family together.

And then.

Four months shy of Christmas 2008, Roger died.

The girls were 18 and 15.

A black shadow passed over our little snow globe of a family.

What if they don’t come home?

For three years of emotional drought, they didn’t.

It was dreadful for me, the surviving parent.

A mom who is unsure of her child’s safety and well being is a pile of misery, and that’s what I was during those lean years.

I won’t go into the whys and the pain of those whys. Grief is weird. A sudden loss can unravel a lifetime and reorder it into something scary, chaotic, unknown.

We all respond in different ways. My daughters turned from me, not in open rejection or hostility, but in the throes of sudden, unexpected loss.

What if they don’t come home?

Christmas during those years was the stark reality of an empty chair, a huge hole he once filled with his larger-than-life-laughter. The emptiness was intensified by my fractured family.

And that star? The one shining in the east? That star was shrouded in a fog of grief and worry; I couldn’t see it through the haze and maze of guilt, fear, anger.

All I could feel was the dull ache of my heart, thumping along in spite of wanting to disappear, to fold up, to disappear inside my pain.

I’d become an exile to my husband’s family, through a sad myriad of misunderstandings.

Being an outsider to in-laws, that’s pretty hard to deal with.
Being an outsider to your own kids – that’s impossible to endure.

Fast forward to now: we are in sweet fellowship again, we three: A strong family again, we talk more freely.

The girls remember their dad’s corny jokes. They ask about his favorite movies, then they watch them.

The Lord has restored what the locust has eaten.  
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I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.

We honor Roger’s memory in small, sweet ways. We laugh a lot, we cry some, we laugh some more.

His name is a regular part of our conversation.

Before, we avoided saying it for fear our brittle voices would break and scatter on the floor.

We can now dream of the future and we know the strength of forgiveness, the binding up of wounds.

My daughters call regularly to check in on me; my oldest is planning a June wedding.

It’s not a Hallmark movie; there are still some things quietly coming to the light to be dealt with as we continue forward.

Cars break down, we have health scares, there are often misunderstandings to be ironed out. The point is, we’re doing life together again – as a family.

This year, the kids will come home for Christmas.

And that star? The one shining in the east? That star is a glowing reminder of God’s presence, His longing to be in relationship with us.

“God with us, Immanuel.”

This blog supports, timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see my newly-launched book, "Breath of Joy! Winter Whispers".

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Seeds of Wonder

Pomegranates are a beautiful fruit, with shiny red "jewels" called arils inside, containing sweet, juicy nectar that surrounds a white seed in the middle.  Opening a pomegranate and freeing the jewels from the fruit is hard work, but totally worth the effort.

Why would you want to spend so much time digging out those seeds? Someone said to me recently.
I was hunched over the kitchen sink, methodically nudging the beautiful shiny jewels from the flesh of a pomegranate.
Arils,” I replied, feeling smug. “They’re arils, actually.” 
My first time tasting the inside of a pom was back in college.
My roommate and I were studying for a Spanish exam. When the task of conjugating verbs became overwhelming, we took a break. “Want a pomegranate?” she grinned.
I’d never even heard of them.
Ten minutes later we were sitting cross-legged on the floor and eating the poms “Rosita-style”. Her method was basically to cut the thing in half and simply crunch down on the juicy center.
The juice dribbled down our chins, onto our arms, our clothes, our Spanish notes.
We laughed. We ran to the mirror to see our crimson-stained faces.
I could not get over the juicy red jewels and the robust flavor! Mother Nature’s pop rocks!
To this day I cannot hear the Spanish language without craving pomegranate, so rich and indelible my experience.
The harvesting must not be hurried.

Google has numerous tutorials on how to get the gems out. There is the cut and beat technique, one I do not endorse. This involves precise and delicate cutting, followed by pummeling the fruit into the bowl. 
One such video claims the whole transaction can be completed in 10 seconds.
No, I prefer the slow method: the gentle nudging-out of each jewel from the pith. In this way I experience the pomegranate twice – once while thoughtfully de-seeding it and a second time savoring the vitamin-laden arils. The Word of God cannot be rushed; it offers lavish jewels meant for gently nudging out.
Packed with Vitamins C and A and high in fiber, these powerhouses fortify me against cold and flu season. Laden with wisdom and daily instruction, the Bible fortifies me against bitterness, anger and depression.
The medicinal plant qualities of the red fruit have 3 times the antioxidant activity of green tea. A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22
The pomegranate is available in my local store from October through mid-January. This is why I have come to associate the fruit with Christmas. I have, in my stash of décor, a precious collection of golden pomegranates, made by Rosita. I can only smile with a grateful heart as I remember my friend who is no longer this side of heaven.
The sweet chin-dribble of red juice is my earthly reminder I will see her  again.
a cantar con los Angeles” dear friend!
Your laughter lingers in my heart’s memory.

This blog supports, timely gifts for all seasons.


Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Christmas Kaleidescope by Kathy Joy

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Do you remember the wonder of a kaleidoscope? As a child I remember peering into a tube with mirrors and pieces of colorful glass. The reflections made amazing patterns that changed when the tube was rotated. 

As a grownup, I'm just as intrigued.

Christmas is a cluster of images, thoughts and emotions; a collection of odd bits of memory, passages of music and  snippets of conversation. When these images are reflected in the mirror of memory, they form a kaleidoscope of the holidays. It's as though we're looking through a colorful lens at patterns and prisms that dazzle the eye and stir up long-forgotten emotions. 

Each element is keenly felt, yet the combination is a heady mixture of joy and pain, fulfillment and need. Please join me as I try to capture sound, color and light in a Christmas collage.

Christmas is the cry of a baby, changing the world forever. 

It's the kiss of peppermint, 

the comfort of hot cocoa, 

a moveable feast.

Christmas is the peal of a bell, 

a tangle of lights, 

a shiver of hope, 

a right jolly old elf. 

It's an awkward hello and a tearful goodbye. 

It's an empty chair, an aching heart.

Christmas is a velvet dress, 

a sticky giggle, 

a weary soldier, 

a solitary meal.

It's a whisper of snow, 

a hint of pine, 

a toothless grin, 

a festive package.

It's a hope deferred, a fragile truce.

 It's a living crèche, 

a dying wish, 

a watchful prayer.

Christmas is a drink from the cup of Forgiveness -- even when the dregs are bitter.

It's the bray of a donkey, 

the blending of carolers,

 a crackling fire. 

And, steady in the East, one bright star presides over all our distress and delight.

Christmas is, forevermore, Emmanuel, God with us.

This blog supports, timely gifts for all seasons.