Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Little Feathers: In the Heart of the Beholder (warning, no logic fo...

Little Feathers: In the Heart of the Beholder (warning, no logic fo...: Christmas Eve is my favorite. There is something about the anticipation that captures my imagination. In my mind, the shepherds and the ange...

In the Heart of the Beholder (warning, no logic found here)

Christmas Eve is my favorite. There is something about the anticipation that captures my imagination. In my mind, the shepherds and the angels got to Bethlehem tonight. I realize that if Christmas is the day Jesus was born, there was no baby there tonight. But years of Christmas Eve service with its candles and carols, choirs and manger scenes have convinced me that tonight the sky will be filled with the impossible light that signals the arrival of God's ultimate gift. Tonight is magical, in the very best sense of the word. Magical as in Magi and people who follow a star that leads them to a surprise. Not what they expect to find. The magic that is a quiet moment in the night, a still piece of the year when everything stops to breathe and remembers an ancient story of love so surprising we can't really grasp it and must take it in small doses of understanding. Does it really matter what day of the year we choose to stop in this moment? If I were a wiseman (man as in mankind, a species not a gender), I would choose every moment of my life to remember. But I am more of a shepherd, needing the direct order of an angel, than a king from afar who follows a star. And tonight, the angel tells me to fear not.  I and my sheep (unruly thoughts, in my case) are headed for Bethlehem.
Some think Christmas has gotten out of hand. That it belongs to the admen (more species) and the greedy. Since, for the most part, I have the liberty of choosing the world I live in none of that bothers me. Keeping the Christ in Christmas, for me, has nothing to do with what words we say at this holiday, or what colors are displayed in schools or stores. I'm pretty sure Jesus had neither decorated tree nor candy canes in his stable. It has a lot to do with treating people with respect. It has a lot to do with loving this holy day myself without insisting everyone else must love it, too. A sidebar...why would we want to keep Christ in Christmas? Christ is beyond a holiday, beyond the dogma of any church, beyond the tiny fragment of insight that I can muster. End of sidebar.
Tonight when we light the candles and sing silent night, there will be magic. When the organ stops and only voices are raised, I know I will arrive at the manger. I will stand beside my mom as she spends her first Christmas without my dad, and by Bob who has stood beside me every Christmas since we were teenagers. Babies will be there tonight with parents who are seeing the story in a whole new light. There will be children who hear the story with an acceptance that any theologian would envy. The magic will happen because the story is about love and hope and peace. The miracle this world needs so desperately. What I need most of all. It won't make sense by the standards of logic. Whether I call it a miracle or magic is semantics. God works magic, and it is miraculous. May hearts be filled with peace and hope and love. This night and all nights.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Balancing

She wept, holding tight to her grandmother's hand as they lowered her grandfather's coffin into the earth. Sobs shook her eight year old shoulders hard, and Grandmother knelt beside her and took her in her arms, hugging her tight.
"Let them fall, little bird. Let them fall. There is no shame in tears."
After a moment, she pulled back and looked into her grandmother's face. There was no disapproval in that face, only love. And tears. Overwhelmed with a wish to comfort the comforter, the little girl stroked the beloved face before her.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I'm sorry you are sad."
"I am sad, you are right," said Grandmother, " we will be sad together, for we loved him so. But when all the tears have fallen, we shall be happy again. Together."
The little girl believed the promise, and tucked it away to think of it again and again as the days passed, the weeks passed, the months passed.
It was a year to the day, and the nine year old held the flowers for Grandmother as they walked together to the spot where Grandfather's body lay. Grandmother was walking slower now, taking her time moving across the uneven ground. The little girl took her hand, this time to add the strength and steadiness of youth.The breeze was a little cool, the clouds looking as if they might drop rain on them at any minute.
"You'll have to lay the flowers, little bird. I don't want to embarrass Grandfather by kneeling here and not being able to get up again!" Grandmother said with a little laugh.
In spite of the laugh, it troubled the little girl that Grandmother was getting so frail. It scared her. Grandfather was frail before he died. She lay the flowers carefully, then turned to this women she loved more than anyone and threw her arms around her.
"I'm sorry if this is hard for you, sweetheart," said Grandmother softly.
The little girl shook her head against Grandmother's arms.
"It isn't Grandfather. I mean, I still miss him. But Grandmother, I can't bear it if you die too!"
Grandmother stroked her hair, rocking side to side for a long while. "Sit here with me, little bird."
They sat together on the cold marble bench beside the giant oak whose branches spread over half the gravestones. The little girl worked hard to stop her crying, breathing deeply and slowly, drying her tears with Grandmother's soft white handkerchief, the one with the tiny purple flowers in the corner. It smelled like the woman who raised her, who cooked for her and washed her clothes, who helped her with homework and laughed at her jokes. It smelled like the lavender sachets in Grandmother's clothes drawers.
"My girl, we know that I will die too. All people die. When it is my time, I will join your Grandfather. I hope for more years with you. I hope to see you grown and settled and happy," Grandmother said, "but if I die before that happens--"
"No! Please! You can't die. I would be lost without you," said the little girl, "please say you won't die. Please." A new torrent of tears, silent this time, streamed down her face.
"Little bird, let me tell you what my mother told me. It has helped me all my life. It helped when your mother died, when you were just a tiny baby. You see, for every tear we cry, every heavy grief that weighs us down, there is another time when we feel joy. When we laugh or smile, dance or feel such happiness it seems we will burst with it. It is the balancing of life. Without the one, we can't really experience the other. If our time was endless, would we cherish our time together now? It would not be precious. If we never cried great tears, the times of joy would not be so sweet." Grandmother paused. The little girl sat quietly, waiting. She knew more words were coming.
"If babies kept being born and no one died, soon the earth would not hold us all. It is the balancing, sweetheart. If all was sunshine, we would have no water to drink. Do you understand?"
The girl nodded slowly. Grandmother squeezed her hand.
"You don't need to be afraid. We don't want to be sad today about something that will happen another day. Today we have each other. Today we can be happy."
The little girl sighed deeply, leaning her head on Grandmother's shoulder. They sat quietly, listening to the faint tinkle of the wind chimes high in the tree. The little girl shivered slightly, and stood to get off the cold bench. Grandmother smiled as she pushed off the bench and stood. The sun came through a small patch of blue sky, and they both lifted their faces to it, basking in the welcome warmth.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Little Feathers: The Hero's Journey (Thanks, Highlights For Childre...

Little Feathers: The Hero's Journey (Thanks, Highlights For Childre...: My dad died last Wednesday. Since then, the words have been building up inside, and this morning the phrases that must be typed woke me up. ...

The Hero's Journey (Thanks, Highlights For Children)

My dad died last Wednesday. Since then, the words have been building up inside, and this morning the phrases that must be typed woke me up.

In 2009 I went to Chautauqua, NY for a writer's workshop put on by Highlights For Children magazine. It was empowering. Up until then I had written musicals for children, mostly volunteer for church youth groups, and semi-volunteer (wee tiny paycheck) for a couple of schools in Austin. At the workshop I learned many things that have helped me step out into the world of picture books and publishers, young adult novels and formatting, and the murky, intriguing world of blogs, web sites, links and "followers".  But the biggest impact on my imagination was made in a workshop by Peter Jacobi (look him up...it is worth it) called "The Hero's Journey". I remember clearly the moment when Peter Jacobi said,  (paraphrase--the Judy version) "The hero may have followers and many who support and attend him, but there will come a moment in the story when the hero must descend to the depths, to face the enemy, alone."

We were blessed as a family to know the end was near for my dad. The hospice workers (who surely will get gold stars somewhere) were able to tell my mom when Dad had hours or days left. For two days, we gathered around his bed in the living room where he spent the last weeks of his life. Sometimes we sang, sometimes we read to him or visited with each other, or sat silently holding his hand. He was unresponsive, but we knew he could hear us. And he knew we loved him. My brother, who was flying his 747 (well, I guess technically it belongs to United, but I'm pretty sure it knows Mike is the real owner) back from Sydney as fast as he could, and he was able to tell Dad on the phone the truth we told him in person. I love you. It's okay. You can go, because I know how hard you've fought, I know how you need relief and release. I will see you on the other side. Peace, Dad.

At the end, for my dad, death was a friend. But the hero's journey formula still applies. Though we gathered around my dad, he took the next step alone, as every one of us must do. I have written before about my dad, the hero. He did many heroic things in his life, serving as a fireman and a father and husband and friend. Maybe his most heroic effort was the way he faced his disease, and his death,with courage and grace and selfless love for my mom, his caregiver.

Like every good story that I love to read,  my dad's hero's journey does not end with that step into the unknown darkness. My dad's story has a triumphant ending. He is already healed, restored in my memory to the strong, adventurous, humble, loving man who encouraged me all my life. He is already beyond the hard part, the cruel disease has no hold on him. My dad is still here with his loved ones, but he is here as the man who stepped into the void and lives on in our hearts. I believe my dad lives on with God, as well. But I don't need to wait and tell him my feelings when I make the journey, because he is here with me now. It is a good story, the Hero's Journey of Frank Todd, with a strong ending that inspires me and others who love him. Well done, Dad. Thank you.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Little Feathers: In the Bleak Midwinter

Little Feathers: In the Bleak Midwinter: Last night, while watching a youtube video of an acapella group singing The Little Drummer Boy , I had an ah-ha moment. The words of In the ...

In the Bleak Midwinter

Last night, while watching a youtube video of an acapella group singing The Little Drummer Boy, I had an ah-ha moment. The words of In the Bleak Midwinter have been running through my mind for days now, and the two combined for a little lesson for my soul.  I hope to get it in writing before the ghost of the thing fades completely.

In my faith tradition, Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. Not only the time we spend at the manger, admiring the babe, the angels who announced him, the shepherds who worshiped him, and the mother who bore him, but also the preparation for the second coming, when Christ will come as King of Kings and end the suffering, war and spiritual illness once and for all. The Lutheran church has centuries-old traditions that mark this time of waiting, like the lighting of the Advent candles to honor the light of the Love of God, incarnate in Christ, that shines in the darkness of winter, in the darkness of our separation from God.

Much has been made of the prophecies of the end times, but the Gospel of Mark reminds us that no one knows when Christ will come again in glory. For as long as I can remember, I have not understood the preoccupation with the end of the world. According to Yahoo Answer Man, 151 people die every second. For them, this world has come to an end. It will come for all of us.

Now, back to the ah-ha (did you wonder if I forgot that part?)-- it's simple really. Like the writer of  In The Bleak Midwinter, we all come to the manger empty handed. The richest people on earth show up with same gifts to honor the babe, and the king, as the poorest. No mansions convey, no gold or jewels, fame or influence make it past our deathbeds. We only have our hearts to give. Laying our hearts before God happens now, in this season of life on earth. It happens when the wealthy give millions in aid to the poor, but it also happens when any one of us looks with compassion on another, seeking to give them hope by any act of kindness. It happens whenever voices are raised to fight injustice. The opportunities to give our hearts are endless, at our fingertips, ever before our eyes and our conscience. No gift of time and effort and love is less worthy than the bequest of a huge monetary gift. We are all wealthy with gifts to give those in need. In the end, only kindness matters (sing it, Jewel!), and that is really good news for those of us who want to show up with a gift in our hands. Philanthropy, defined as love for humanity, is an equal opportunity employer. And it is our only gift to give that lasts beyond our lifetime.

I played my drum for him, pa rum pa pa pum. I played my best for him, pa rum pa pa pum....then he smiled at me, pa rum pa pa pum, me and my drum.

What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. What can I give him? Give him my heart.