Monday, December 29, 2014

6 Little Words

Years ago, I was helping out at Jack's Christmas party at school. I think it may have been 5th grade. One of the activities was to have the kids write something they could give Jesus for Christmas. I can't remember what they did after that-- perhaps we hung it in a tiny stocking on Christmas Eve. I do remember watching Jack as he sat, pencil in hand, and wondering what he would write. Would he take the assignment seriously, or would he make up something silly? The other kids were writing, and writing, and writing. Were the promising they would be more obedient in the coming year, be better siblings, or give their allowances to the needy? I never knew. But I did see Jack write something on his piece of paper and fold it up into a teeny tiny bundle. At some point later I had a chance to snoop look at it. This is what it said:

I want to love you more
6 little words.

I realized in that moment that my heart and my son's hearts were the same. There were many things I could do and could promise to "give" to God in the coming year, but my true desire was to love Him more. And I believed that loving Him more would help me love others better.

But even then, I knew I couldn't WILL myself into more love. I couldn't generate love either, although LOVING ACTIONS can often lead to feelings of love. I knew then, and I know even more now, that as long as I am living in this world with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers, I will need more love than I have. Slights linger. Hurts dull but resist healing. Expectations seem unmet. I don't love God as much as I wish I did (and He's, um, GOD), so how on earth can I love wretched humans like me? Especially me?

Last night Margaret and I finished reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie tells of touring the world speaking of love and hope amidst horrible circumstances, something she learned first-hand while imprisoned in a concentration camp after helping Dutch Jews evade capture during WWII. At one of her speeches after the war, a former SS guard that Corrie recognized stretched out his hand to her. He was full of contrition as he thanked her for her message of God's forgiveness. Corrie couldn't shake it. All of the memories of the camp filled her mind and her heart. She couldn't lift her hand from her side. Despite God's faithfulness and provision, despite all she knew and preached about forgiveness, Corrie could not take his hand. It was simply too much to ask her to do. She prayed, but nothing happened.

"I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. 'Jesus I cannot forgive him. Give your forgiveness.'"

"Into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that is its not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When he tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself."

This made me think again of Jack's "gift" those years ago. 6 little words. It was nothing, really, that Jack could give on his own. Jack needed the receiver of the gift to do the providing, to be the giver of LOVE.

So perhaps the only gift I can give this year is really a humble, silent prayer. For more love to love God with, and for His love to give me what I so desperately need in order to love others.

More Love.

Love More.


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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Finished Night Stands with Crappy Photos

Here's an update on my latest rehab project:
This week I took a little time to transform these dated nightstands, which if you remember, cost me $15/pr:
To these:
The tops were warped, chipped, and stained. I cleaned them thoroughly, then used 2 coats of CeCe Caldwell's Natural Chalk and Clay Paint in Seattle Mist that I purchased in Falls Church at Stifel and Capra After that, I coated everything with a water-based top coat for protection. I distressed them ever so slightly around the sides and edges so that it wouldn't seem traumatic when life happens to them (and it will).
I know most of us wanted to switch the handles out for something contemporary for my friend's more modern tastes. However, the 2 inch spread of the holes made it really, really hard to find replacement knobs, so I decided to stick with what we had. Hopefully the glossy white paint will work with my Arnebya's d├ęcor. If not, I'll sell them on Craigslist and keep looking.
The drawers were grimy inside so I cleaned them and lines them with gray and white scrapbook paper, secured by spray adhesive: 

I'll let you know if she likes them.
Tim's mom and Margaret are in the kitchen making gingerbread cookies, Tim and I will go out to a concert in a few hours, and Shadow is here at my feet. From my house to yours, I'd like to wish you love and peace this week.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Not So Busy

I know this may sound weird, but despite all the talk about hustle and bustle this time of year, it's possible to not be that busy at all.

And if you are already a bit out on the margins, a lack of busy-ness can make you feel even less relevant or plugged into a world where tight schedules are laid out in the smallest of increments, and busy-ness is a badge of honor.

I'm not all that busy for a variety of reasons.

Margaret is at an age where there are no more room mothers, class parties, or nativity pageants. She doesn't play an instrument, so we can cross "recital" off of the list. There are no visits to Santa, and thank God, she can go to the mall with her friends now and not with me.

I decided against a family Christmas card this year, so there's no licking and sticking. And if our kitchen smells anything like gingerbread, it's because of the talent and generosity of friends, not any grand effort on my part. I'm much more of an eater than a baker.

Shopping took place right here at my computer with just a few clicks. Instead of circling stuff in the ToysRus or Target catalog like the kids did when they were small, Margaret just emailed me applicable links. It's good for me to shop from home, because when I head out on my own, I'm more likely to sneak off to the thrift store and come home with another car load of chairs.

There has been a bit of volunteer work, and some writing for other outlets (including a second article for Woman's Day!) but not I didn't schedule any speaking engagements for December, so my work load has been light.

Many good things can come out of time spent DOING:  connecting with others, making memories, volunteering, and celebrating the season.

But in this culture (and often cult) of busy-ness, it's good to remember that there may be people who aren't as busy as we might think.

They may be grieving, or lonely, or perhaps just entering a different phase of life with a little more breathing room than they are used to. They may not be feeling very joyful at all.

I sent an email out to my fabulous grief group last week, wondering if we could meet up for dinner. I wondered if it was ridiculous to hope to get together before the new year. We hadn't all five been together in at least 6 months. One by one the emails came back, "I'm in!" and we gathered last night at a local restaurant for a wonderful time together. I'm glad I threw it out there and didn't just assume that each woman would be too busy.

As I write this, things will start to get busier for me. Family is coming into town in just a few days, and we have several parties, plays, and concerts to look forward to.

I don't regret the quiet month I've had at all, and in a way it will help me gear up for what is ahead.

But I'm especially glad that this quiet month has led me to think about others who despite all of the talk about the frantic pace of December may be feeling like their days are far too quiet.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this awareness, but I'm grateful to have it.

P.S. Head to Facebook and see the nightstands I  finally found for my friend Arnebya.

I hope you'll check out these recent articles I wrote:
Woman's Day Dec 2014 Print Edition on how to help a grieving friend.
Washington Family Magazine, on some of my favorite books!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Always Learning

Shortly after Rare Bird came out, a friend from my kids' old school invited me to lunch.

We mainly knew each other from the car pool line and quick hellos at school concerts, but I knew enough about Lori to know she is a big pray-er. In Christian circles we call this a "prayer warrior." I knew she had been praying about Rare Bird for more than a year, as well as praying for our family in other ways, because I had asked her to.

You see, Lori's knees hit the floor before her feet do in the mornings. And she doesn't just say, "I'll be praying for you," she does it. It doesn't matter if you are in the Target parking lot or the aisle at church, she will pray for you right then and there, and I love that about her. She is also very real, approachable, and easy to talk to.

When we met for lunch, Lori brought her journals from the time of Jack's accident.

She had something to share, but hoped I wouldn't think it was strange. I assured her that not a whole lot seems strange to me any more. Losing a child is the ultimate in strange.

Lori opened her journal and read about how God spoke to her during her prayers one morning a few days after the accident, telling her, "Go where they found him, and I will meet you there." She knew God was talking about Jack. I asked her what that was like; did she hear an audible voice? She replied that it was a clear knowing inside of her that God was speaking to her. I like thinking about how just as a sheep knows the shepherd's voice, we, too, can recognize the voice of God, especially as we spend more time with Him and know his nature.

The problem was, Lori didn't want to go to the creek. She resisted. Our small community was wracked with grief and confusion, and she didn't want to go to the spot where Jack was found. It was too sad, too hard.

She put it off, but one day, upon driving over the road where Jack's body was found, she pulled over, parked, and walked down to sit in the (dry) creek bed, the steep banks looming up on either side of her.

"Okay, God, I'm here and I'm ready."

And she waited.

She said God showed her a few things pertinent to her own life and her family, but nothing about Jack. Then she looked up toward where she knew our neighborhood was, and the direction Jack's body had traveled. At that moment she saw a large bush hanging out over the side of the creek, in front of a big bend. In that bush were three cardinals, which to her had been signs of God's faithfulness during a very difficult time in her life. At that moment, God spoke to Lori's spirit again, saying,

"Before he was there, he was with me."

God was sharing with her that before Jack's body was trapped and stuck, he was already in God's presence. What Lori experienced that day mirrored what I feel in my heart, and what others have shared with me.

She also felt God was telling her the words, "Sacred Ground" about where she sat.

Lori didn't explain why she hadn't shared her journal with me three years earlier, and I didn't ask.

I just figured there must have been a good reason. That is one difference between the Anna today and the Anna of three years ago. I have started to embrace mystery, and let go of having all the answers.

I don't get to choose to have Jack safe and alive with us to adulthood.
I don't get to choose which prayers get answered in the way I want them to.
I don't even get to choose how and when comfort comes to me!

You see, with my conservative faith background,  Lori would have been the ideal, even expected, messenger to deliver God's comfort to me, and I would have surely put her story in my book.

But she didn't share it. Not then.

Yet still the comfort came. Through the Holy Spirit.  Through blog readers around the world. Through a dear friend whose spiritual side had seemed wacky to me. Through dreams and visions. Through symbols as seemingly insignificant as clouds, blue jays, songs on the radio, and now, three years later, the hearts I seem to find everywhere around me.

I believe that if God wants to tell us something, in this case an assurance that Jack was with his Heavenly Father almost immediately, His message will get through. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

I wonder if  this was a case of my being stretched, personally, so that when the time came for me to use my broken heart to start reaching out to many other grievers, I would be able to listen to their experiences solely with love and not skepticism, even if their experiences differed widely from my own. Perhaps it was so that I would have to trust that the examples I put in my book would be the right ones to touch readers in a way they needed.

I don't know. It's a mystery.

But I am grateful to Lori, who listens to God. I am grateful to God, who finds ways to get through to us again and again. And I'm grateful to YOU, for being here with me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

End Times and End Tables, OR, Can this Friendship be Saved?

I think I’m in trouble.

So my friend Arnebya has been itching to do some furniture rehab. We’ve talked types of paint, good thrifting locations, and ideal shades of gray. For months, she has struggled to find the perfect nightstands for her bedroom, and when she came across some on Craigslist, she sent me the link. They looked promising. Since they were in my town, not hers, I ran over to pick them up.

I was hoping they wouldn’t be too heavy for me to carry to the car. Not a problem. The tables were not just small, they were Lilliputian. And as sturdy as a soggy piece of cardboard. In a word, they were ANNOYING.

(I'd love to show you a photo, but after 2 hours of trying to get one to post, and having it want to break my blog, I've decided to forgo putting a pic here. You may use your imagination to conjure up the sheer crappiness of the nightstands or take a peek over on my Facebook page)

Take that bottom drawer, for instance.

If Arnebya happened to be in bed and needed a little something something from that drawer-- say, um, reading glasses-- and she leaned over the side of the bed to get them, she would surely fall on her head.

Did I want to be responsible for Arnebya’s goose egg? I thought about putting wooden feet on the bottom to raise the stands up a bit, but there was nowhere to anchor them. And that top “shelf?” Puhlease. Not enough room for a lamp! Forget about a box of tissues. Annoying.
I tried to decide whether the nightstands were as terrible as I thought, or whether I was just PMS’ing. It’s not like my furniture standards are all that high. Our nightstands, TV cabinet, side tables and numerous chairs came off of people’s trash piles. Choosy, I am not.

But maybe I put too much pressure on myself because I was shopping for a friend, not myself. I mean, when it comes to shabby chic, I am the shabby, Arnebya’s the chic. She wears high heels, she smells good, and her hair deserves its own Facebook page. She has standards. So I turned down the nightstands on her behalf, and promised to find her something much better and much less annoying.

Except now she has no nightstands at all.

I wonder if she’s mad at me. I mean, perhaps a nightstand in the hand is better than two in Arnebya’s um, you know. After 6 fruitless trips to various thrift stores, with no suitable tables in sight, I think I flew too close to the sun on this one. Sure I’ve had stellar thrifting success in my day. Yes, my chair collection is the envy of the dumpster diving set, but what right did I have to turn down Arnebya’s nightstands? What made me think I could find better? What if she hates my taste? I mean, in addition to our shoe incompatibility, she doesn’t like beans. Eep. I think I’m screwed.

So if you are local, and you have a heart:

If you see smallish (but not ridiculously small), vintage (but not fussy), nightstands in need of some TLC, please let me know!