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It is the day after Christmas. How are you feeling? Overwhelmed? Underwhelmed? Maybe you have that nagging feeling that — once again — the holidays have left you…incomplete somehow. What is that hole in our hearts, anyway — a longing for holidays past? Regret that Christmas didn’t “measure up” to our expectations? A sense that somehow we didn’t really get what we wanted?

Maybe what we’re missing can’t be bought from a store. And maybe that feeling you’re feeling is something helpful — a hint that this world isn’t meant to meet all of our needs. That longing you feel? Maybe it’s just a reminder that somewhere up ahead, something better awaits.

When your pockets are as empty
as the sack of your heart,
when you ache for a place
you’ve never been
and cannot find,
you will remember
what you did not get.

It was a stable, warm with hay
and the breath of cows,
a haven heavy with a sense of rest:
a knowing that all is well,
finally, at last and forever.
Do not fret, for this will come.
Keep walking toward the light.
Never let go of the longing,
for it will guide you,
sure as any compass.

Photo by Carlin Leslie

In my day, sonny, Santa was so stealthy, you didn’t hear him at all, even when he trundled his jelly belly into a slim chimney! He kept a low-profile, living a quiet life at the North Pole.

Nowadays, Santa has diversified. Not only is he larger than life, but he’s louder than all get-out. You see him in the mall, sitting there, plain as day, undermining his own mystique. You see him on the back of a firetruck as it blares and beeps its way through town. He’s even got an Instagram account!

Santa has become such a public figure that NORAD tracks him, and the postal service collects letters for him (addressed to 123 Elf Road, North Pole 88888.) He’s even got a Santa Hotline for kids to reach him at any time of the day.

I’m starting to think Santa is really spreading himself too thin, but I guess he’s got a mortgage to pay off, too. He’s even got a second home in Canada: Santa Claus, North Pole, H0H 0H0, Canada.

Maybe he’s got stand-ins, like movie actors do. It could be that some of the bearded fellows at Santa University are his proxies, spreading mirth and merriment when the big guy himself is otherwise engaged. 

Now, I know that Santa isn’t the true star of Christmas, but no matter what religion you belong to, this season is about joy and goodwill. It’s a holiday about hope, and the best part of it is that people are in a good mood and are (for the most part) getting into the spirit and treating each other with kindness. If only we could carry that feeling throughout the whole year!

Early this morning, I opened the blinds and looked out at the yard. Hmm. Frost on the grass. Chilly today. The usual puddle at the end of my driveway is a frozen mini-lake, perfect for passing crows to do a bit of ice dancing and squawking. Oh, great. The mailbox was knocked out of place by wind again. Note to self: Buy sturdier mailbox. Find contractor to install it. 

As I was walking away from the window reviewing my mental to-do list, I saw the edge of a box in front of my porch near the bushes. It was in a secluded location, perfect for passing package-thieves.

I got the package into the house and opened it. Oh! Adorable. It’s a tiny cactus crafted by our own SueBE! Wonder how she made this? Add to mental to-do list: Must find out how it was made.

Cactus sitting outside in this freezing weather? Poor thing. She must be traumatized. I’ll put her right by the heat vent in the kitchen. That’s where my Plantie sits, so I introduced them and sat her down. Looks perfect. 

My to-do list continued in my head: I really should complain about the package being left outside like that. My new mailman, Bob, is great, but he’s on vacation. I know it’s a busy time of year, with all the gifts being sent through the mail, and hate to get the substitute person in trouble, but realized that sometimes feedback is necessary.  

That should be standard on everyone’s mental to-do list: speak the truth in a spirit of kindness. No need to poke at a person with a cactus spine. Feedback should be fair, because someday, the truth might just be fed back to you! Remember: The Golden Rule is the only gift that is one-size-fits-all.

Good tidings could toll, sing out in song,
fire or luminescence, light of any kind
to pierce the dark, a pillar of cloud
exiting Egypt; angels summoning shepherds.
Why send a star? Light already ancient,
a false ringing from a long-dead phone?
(Or does it live? By what name do we call it?)
Could only a star call the wise, with time and
thought to spare for gifts: gold for a king,
resin for the altar, spice for the embalmer,
already waiting to bless the linens
He would shrug off like a memory?
Have we any hope but to go the old way:
step by step across the desert,
to the limits of our imaginations,
and seek and seek the single light that shines
in an otherwise brutish sky?
A message sent light-years ago:
something both living and dead.
A cross is coming, do you see the shadow
pass over the baby’s face?

If a cat has nine lives, during an existential crisis, does it say, What are lives? And why do they randomly stop and stare into space as if seeing a ghost? My theory is that they’re just trying to burnish their mystique. Freaking us out in that way gives them the upper paw in power struggles.

If the only things that distinguish mankind from other species are self-awareness and opposable thumbs, are panda bears our equals since they have opposable thumbs? I suppose not, since they aren’t self-aware. 

Now, there’s no question my cat and dog were self-aware. They could manipulate me with puppy eyes or cat cuteness. It’s a pity they didn’t have opposable thumbs. It would’ve made opening the treat cabinet a breeze!

We can learn a lot from animals. For example, my cat was right — food, naps and a pat on the head (or a pat on the back) constitutes a cozy life. And my dog was right — going into the backyard, getting some sunshine and being active makes for a healthy mind and body. 

The upside to animals not being as self-aware as we are is that they live in the moment and don’t stress, agonize or feel regret like we do. 

God provides all of us — humans, animals and every other living thing — with the grace to embrace each day for what it is. The past can be too heavy to bear, and the future is still just cargo in transit. Letting go of what you can’t control may the highest form of self-awareness. Why not be present where you are and let God do the heavy lifting?

Yesterday, pastor included a children’s message as part of the service.  During this time, he sits on the stairs leading to the alter and the children gather there as well.  Yesterday they all talked about what they are thankful for – one little girl loved her nail polish.  One little boy?  Your guess is as good as mine. He’s a two-year-old mystery even when he very sincerely tries to describe something to me.

The problem is that I have to avoid trying to fill in what I think he has said.  I honestly don’t remember what I thought he had said the day he handed me a slightly mushed, dead cricket.

This is the world we live in.  My Christmas reality involves a tree and lots of lights.  So many lights!

Does that make it the only Christmas reality?  No.

Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone.   Some are dealing with the loss of a loved one.  Others simply don’t have the finances to celebrate Christmas the way we are told it should be celebrated – gifts, fancy foods, and so many lights.  Others avoid the lights because they long for a simpler experience.

How do you know which it is?  You have to ask.  Then you need to listen.  Listen with your ears.  Listen with your heart.  Listen to what they tell you and for the still small voice of God.  After all, we live in a world of many realities.  Some people will need and want your help.  Others will long for your understanding.  After all, we live in a world of many realities.

–SueBE

 

“Author of all that is good”: That’s God. Or at least it’s one of God’s common descriptors. When I heard it at Mass the other day, I gave it a good think, this time from a blogger’s point of view. God really is the author of all that is good. But we have a role to play, too. Good is transmitted from God through us, into our acts and words, in whatever role we play: as parents, caretakers, teachers, and yes, even writers. If we are open to it, that is.

 

 

All good is of God,
but who can face it?
Who would not be struck blind
by the beauty of it?
Like coffee too scalding for the palate,
it must be tempered,
sugared, cooled for a receptive tongue.
Who will tend to it?
All of us: the child, when it smiles,
the nurse with deft hand
and bandages, the poet whose fingers
pause above the keys,
listening, receptive as antennae,
waiting for word. Can you see
the author of all that is good
reading love into being?
And will you make it your mantra,
translating and decoding,
through touch and word and deed?
We are needed.
Listen for instructions.
Pass the word.
Dwell in it
as if it were your own skin.

 

 

Loot from the seminar.

At an MS seminar today, I sauntered jauntily (is there any other way to saunter? Not for this lady!) through tables of vendors giving away freebies in exchange for my listening to them talk about their wares. “We’re the only company in the state with (insert unintelligible acronym here) certification!” said a representative of one company. “Not everyone can say that!” I shook my head and offered my own acronym: “TTFN” (Ta Ta for Now!)

I did enjoy the candy in the shape of internal organs that the MS Center of a local hospital was giving out. I’m sure this goes without saying, but nothing says “noms” like chocolate brains!

After a zombie-like chocolate feeding frenzy, it’s official: I now only have half a brain.

As I was walking past the tables, I thought, Hmph. They’ve all got an agenda. They’re just trying to sell me something! Of course they were. That’s their job. Besides, I’ve got an agenda, too: I want free stuff. Specifically, I was looking for free bags for the ladies in my round-loom knitting group to carry their yarn and materials.

Eventually, I was able to unclench my attitude long enough to listen to the shpiels with an open mind. As it turns out, there were a couple of products that might benefit me. 

It’s only fitting that we should each get something out of our interactions. It’s not wrong to earn a living by selling things, nor is it wrong to be skeptical when something sounds too good to be true. Sometimes, somewhere in the middle, there’s a chance to be kind to each other and listen, whether it be to a sales rep or those of a different religion or political party. We don’t have to see eye-to-eye to hear each other from the heart.

“It is criminal that children are being kept in cages.”  Pop.

“No one should go hungry in such a wealthy country.”  Pop.  Pop.

“Young people need more opportunities.”  Pop. Pop. Pop.

Words are mere bubbles.  What an image!  So often we post about things that are wrong – injustice, hunger, impatience.  But posts and comments are nothing more than words.

Only deeds can make a difference.

That can be intimidating.  How can I solve these big problems.  But I had a little reminder yesterday that people working together can make a huge difference.

We attended a Christmas concert Sunday at a local shrine.  Paint swatches on one wall made it clear.  Upkeep in a 200 year old church is a constant concern.  And it takes money.

If the caretaker had asked any one person to pay for the paint required for yards and yards of fencing, that person surely would have taken a step back.  Who knows how much all of that paint would cost?  I certainly don’t.  But she simply asked for anyone who was able to put a few dollars in the collection basket.

I don’t know how many of us there were but the pews were close to full.  The basket that came down our pew was full and I’m sure the other two were equally well fed.

When a group of concerned and caring Christians work together we can accomplish worthy things.  Our deeds are like drops of gold.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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