What once was lost…

Sometimes I find things and am able to reunite them with the person that lost them. How did you find that!? I have no idea.

It’s happened off and on over the years. Is this what you’re looking for? I ask, holding up an object. Yes! But…I looked there! It’s not me, it’s gotta be a God-thing. Heck, I can’t even find my own keys half the time. It makes my day when I can help someone find something they thought was gone for good.

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Within the past few weeks I’ve had three “reuniting” events. The first concerned a cell phone that I didn’t find – but I did find the owner.

My brother found the phone in the middle of the road. It wasn’t an iPhone, but clearly a nice, new smartphone. My husband walked into the house and said “Can you charge this enough so we can turn it on and see who it belongs to?” as the battery was dead.

He told me where they’d found it, and all any of us could think of was “oh, my heavens, someone put this on the bumper of their car and took off without realizing it…they’re gonna be so upset…” and the middle of a winding Louisiana 2-lane road isn’t exactly an easy stretch to retrace your steps. It’s a dreadful feeling. You lost your phone, your contacts are all on there, you might no longer have a landline, and this was NOT an inexpensive flip phone, either. lost phone contacts

It took a bit of doing. We had no charger that worked. By this time, friend and music partner Bubba had joined the find-the-owner crusade, and we decided to head to WalMart to see what kind of charger the phone WOULD take. Could we use a charger at their display to charge up the phone? No such luck. A kind sales associate told us it was a unique kind of charger, pointed out the only one in the store that would work.

I wound up purchasing the charger, keeping it long enough to charge the phone enough to turn on, then repackaged neatly and returned to the store. “Is there anything wrong with it?” the lady in customer service asked. “No, not a thing,” I replied truthfully. “It just didn’t work with my phone.” (True. It would NOT work with MY phone.)

The phone, of course, was passcoded so we couldn’t access any info about who the owner might be. However, we did figure out the service carrier – one I was unfamiliar with, but that had a local office – and the next morning saw me at the store, explaining to the manager that no, I didn’t want the phone unlocked, but I was hoping they could track down the owner through the SIM or serial number on the phone.

Here’s where it gets to be a God-thing. He powered up the lost phone I’d brought in, and while he was accessing the info in their computer system, the phone rang. Amazing Grace

It was the owner of the phone, who just so happened to try and call at that precise moment when the phone had been turned on. I didn’t realize this at first, I thought it was some higher-up customer service person at Metro PCS talking to the manager. I heard the manager say “no, she’s right here, she just brought it in…sure, hang on” and handed me the phone.

It was the lady who owned the phone! She was overjoyed to know that she would be able to get it back. Sure enough, it was a new phone – and she had been en route back to Lafayette from visiting family. She would have had to have retraced over 30 miles to search for her phone. In fact, they did retrace their route – I can only imagine my brother found it very shortly after it fell off the hood of her car, as it was unscathed except for a scratch on one corner of the case. I was overjoyed to have played a part in saving someone a lot of headache – in this case, there was a team of us trying to reunite the phone with its owner. We were ALL delighted that it was returned.

Fast forward to this Thursday. I’m heading home from work (walking across the yard) for lunch, and I see one of our employees and my husband both searching for something. “What’s missing?” I said. “Hearing aid” said our employee.

Uh, oh. Those aren’t cheap. We started hunting. Another employee came to park a route car and started looking as well. I started praying for help; who wants to have to replace a $$$$ hearing aid? (In addition to St. Anthony, I believe there are “find-it” angels hanging around. I don’t know, I just ask for whatever heavenly aid is available.) We looked. And looked. And looked…. st anthony

Then, there it was. Sort of like picking pecans; suddenly, your eyes shift and you see what was hidden in plain sight. It was lying among the limestone, perfectly camouflaged.  All I saw was the tiny wire leading from the earpiece to the grey battery unit, but it was enough. It’s a God-thing, I said. Go figure.

Today, though, blew me away.

A few months ago, I found a gold earring in a parking lot. It was a coin, in a gold setting, a clip-on earring that had been somewhat squashed by a car wheel. Yikes! That probably has a story behind it, as I recognized the coin. earring upload

 

I contacted the stores adjacent to the lot, TJ Maxx and Stage. I spoke with the managers (or at least, that’s who I asked for) and explained what had happened. Had anyone contacted them concerning a lost gold earring? No? I left my contact information and stressed that this was the kind of thing that someone would be very upset to lose. I put an ad in the local paper….nothing. I tucked it away in my jewelry box, feeling that I needed to keep it safe, but handy, because there was someone out there looking for it.

After church today, I was walking out and stopped to talk to a fellow Epiphanite. As we talked, I noticed her earrings – wait a minute.

“Nancy,” I said. “Did you have an earring like that that you lost a while back?”

Her eyes grew big. “Yes! How did you know?” she asked.

“Because I have it!” I said.

It turned out that she loves these earrings, and after losing one, had finally gone to our local “can-do” jeweler (Allain’s Jewelers in New Iberia) to have one replicated. However, before doing so, she had retraced her steps, searching the parking lot and contacting TJ Maxx and Stage. Nope, no one had said anything about an earring! (That made me fume! Obviously, we’d spoken with two different people at both stores…but you’d think that someone would have at least posted a note on a bulletin board!)

“Now, you can have a matching necklace!” I said. There we stood, in the rain in front of Epiphany Church, with simultaneous jaw drops. We were BOTH thrilled to see God’s hand in this. “I almost didn’t wear these this morning” she said. “I usually don’t wear them to church.”

To me, all of these things are “nudges” from something beyond us. Sometimes we hear these nudges and act on them, sometimes we miss them – or, often, we hear them but don’t believe them or just think “that’s my imagination.” I have to trust that intuitive voice more often, the one that says “hang on to this…look here…go there….”

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I told her and told her, so let’s see what she does now. Ya think she heard? 

The very best part of these stories is how blessed, humbled and happy I felt to play a small part in being God’s hands. Sure, it’s all material stuff. But a phone, a hearing aid, and a beloved earring ARE important, and it’s good to remember that we have Divine help with the “everyday” stuff as well as the “big” stuff. (It also feels good when I know that someone else is NOT going to have to go through the headache of replacing a phone or hearing aid.)

Now, before you think I have some superpower here with reuniting stuff with owners, let me assure you that I don’t. I’m still looking for my beloved Mont Blanc fountain pen, which has been missing for quite a while. And my keys. Anyone seen my keys? Crud, where’s my phone? My glasses? Now, where did I put my glasses?

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Oh, wait. Um. Never mind…

Independence Day: Why I am a DAR

I was tempted to write something related to the founding of our country in honor of Independence Day, but decided to write something more personal (and patriotic): Why I am a member of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

In south Louisiana, it seems that the dead play as vital of a family role as do the living. Before I was born, my grandmother’s youngest sister Louise (“Sweetheart”) had married and moved to the west coast. She was interested in joining DAR, and my grandmother, back here in Sweetheart’s home town, did the genealogical research. (This was long before the days of the internet.) My great-aunt joined DAR years before I was born, but I grew up with a knowledge that I had ancestors who had supported the cause of American independence in the Revolutionary War. “You could join DAR,” my grandmother (not a “joiner” herself) told me. She wanted me to know that my patriotic roots ran deep.

BL Flag

At home, I fly the flag. Solar lights keep it lit at night.

I thought that one day I might do so. I grew up knowing that while the USA wasn’t perfect, it was a very good place to be – and that as a US citizen, I have a responsibility to be informed and engaged. Our children were taught this.

About 8 years ago, I felt the urge to do something more proactively patriotic. I contacted my local DAR chapter through the national DAR website (www.dar.org)and asked about membership. I received an incredibly kind and welcoming phone call from the chapter regent. I remember hanging up the phone and thinking “why didn’t I start this process sooner?”

I’ve been a member now for 7 years. Every once in a while I get an occasional surprised look from someone – a new friend or acquaintance – when they learn I am a DAR. I’ll joke about it: “Nope, sorry, left the gloves and hat at home!” In the words of author Cynthia Moore writing in Town & Country magazine, “We’re not all thin-lipped white women with our noses in the air.” Yes, people have misconceptions about DAR. I’ve heard a lot of them. I’ve even had some of them myself (which is probably why it took me a while to look into membership). But the truth is that this is an incredibly diverse, active organization.

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One of our chapter projects: Placing flag disposal boxes in local libraries. Folks know they aren’t just supposed to throw away a worn American flag, but what to do with it? The boxes were generously made by a “HODAR” – “husband of DAR!”

The mission of DAR is threefold: Education, Historic Preservation, and Patriotism. DAR is strictly non-political. There are currently more than 185,000 members in over 3,000 chapters around the world. Membership is open to any woman, aged 18 or older, who can prove direct lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution. This is the only requirement for membership, and the society does not discriminate on the basis of creed, ethnicity, race, background, etc. The ancestor may have provided military service, civil service, or material support, so not all were soldiers.

In Louisiana, we have quite a few members who have ancestors who were part of the Galvez expedition. Some (such as my 5 X great grandfather Joseph Dupuis) were Acadians who had been divested of property and displaced from their homeland in the mid-1700s. (I can only imagine that these Acadians would have welcomed the opportunity to oppose the British!)

Members join DAR on the basis of descent from a single patriot, but members can later “add” patriots. I joined DAR on the basis of my lineage of another 5 X great grandfather, Landlot Porter, of South Carolina. Why him? My great-aunt had joined on that same lineage, making it relatively simple (no pun intended) for me to complete the lineage documentation. These “additional” patriots are other ancestors that you show descent from, and they are called “supplementals.” The beauty of all of this is that DAR members are constantly adding information to the DAR Genealogical Research System database, which is open to anyone for genealogical research – no membership or fee required. (See www.dar.org and click on the green “GRS” button at the top.)

But why did I join? When I first visited a meeting, I met a group of down-to-earth, caring, intelligent, faithful and involved women with whom I had in common several very important things: A love of country, a respect and passion for historic preservation, and concern for the education of our coming generations. Some were women I already knew from church or other connections, others were new faces.

We are not the same, and come from different backgrounds and even different political ideologies. However, we hold some important things in common, and this is the treasure of DAR. Different members tend to focus on different projects that are near and dear to them – that’s another wonderful thing about the organization – there are many opportunities for service, and opportunities for women to stretch beyond their comfort zones. Some of the things we do involves supporting our military and veterans, providing scholarships and taking on conservation and historic preservation projects. Some of our projects are small, and some are connected to larger statewide and nationwide projects. Our members are involved in their communities and volunteer hundreds of thousands of hours in a wide range of capacities. It’s not all just about lineage and genealogy; far from it!

DARling cookies

We have fun. We love our country. And we like cookies.

I laugh about the fact that genealogy is the “great equalizer.” If you go digging into your family tree, you will find that not every branch is exactly stellar! We are all descended from saints and sinners (and perhaps a pirate or two)! We can look at our patriot ancestors and feel some pride in what they did for American independence. I can’t help but wonder – would our ancestors be proud of us?

That’s something that DAR makes me think about. I can be so grateful to those who went before me, to those who – ancestors or not – birthed this country, inspired by ideals and concepts for freedom and self-government. DAR helps me to find things that I can do to help pass on the blessings of liberty to the next generation. Perhaps best of all, I have made some very precious friends through DAR.

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With some awesome friends at the Gumbo Cookoff in New Iberia, LA

President Ronald Regan said “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom, and then lost it, have never known it again.”

Our freedom is a blessed and fragile thing. Today, and every day, I give thanks for those who defend it and pray for their protection. I pray that God blesses the USA, and that God’s gift of freedom may be enjoyed by all people, throughout the world. Lord, guide me to do whatever I can do to ensure and support freedom, so that all may worship and live according to their conscience.

241 years.  Happy birthday, USA. May our imperfections lead us to continue to better ourselves and our country. It’s still America the beautiful, land of the free, because of the brave.

The comments reflect the personal views of the author, and are not an official statement or representation of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  For more information, see www.DAR.org.

The Gift of Skepticism

My faith is not blind.  It is perhaps too wide-eyed, too skeptical, and on occasion probably a bit too snarky.  I have tested many a belief against the cold bright light of rational thought. My cynicism has been a rocky road, and I have admired many people of deep faith and have wished that I, too, had the gift of faith.

Instead, I have the gift of skepticism.  I tend to “overthink,” to chew things up in my brain and consider them from many points of view.  Some great minds sharing this characteristic find careers in writing or philosophy.  The rest of us become garden-variety neurotics.

Today is Easter, the greatest celebration in Christianity, the foundation of our faith.  Christ died for our sins, and rose from the dead.

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I will admit that for many years, my skeptic brain had a problem with that “rose from the dead” part.  “It’s a mystery,” the priests said.  “It’s faith,” the sisters said.  I felt guilty because I thought it seemed…a bit unreal.

I no longer feel that way.  Skeptic that I am, I believe in the Resurrection.  Not because I am blessed with the gift of faith, but because I am blessed – or cursed – with skepticism.

As much as I love to read about the subject, I cannot know how things were 2,000 years ago. Human nature, though, doesn’t change.  Fear, joy, courage, are pretty much timeless.

And you know what?  Something happened on the first Easter morning.  Something really big, really outrageous, mind-bending, life-changing, world-flipped-upside-down-thing happened.

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You see, anyone who had followed Jesus was in hiding.  Jesus was a criminal – a political one – and had died the most gruesome, painful, torturous death in the Roman world (which was pretty much everywhere).  Anyone associating with him or carrying on his message ran a very real risk of meeting the same end.

Do you have any idea how many “alternate theories” of the Resurrection I’ve come across?  It was a vision….mass hypnosis….hearsay….the evangelists were trying to sell the Jesus idea…etc.

Well, an urban legend is one thing.  Telling people that “this guy Jesus was dead, and now he’s ALIVE – I’VE SEEN HIM” under pain of death is something else entirely.

The evidence is plain as day, in the stories of the Resurrection, and in the fast spread of Christianity.  Sure, Paul helped – a lot.  But would Paul have been persecuting Christians in the first place if the sect hadn’t become such a big threat so quickly?

Then, as now, people love to hear and to spread a wild, outrageous story. (Even in pre-social media times!) However, people will abandon a wild story if faced with a choice between truth and torture.  Think about it: It doesn’t matter how much you might think something is true – you’re gonna wind up denying it if you’re faced with something as unpleasant as crucifixion (or stoning).

But the early Christians didn’t.  Jesus appeared to many after his resurrection, and, for want of a better term, they freaked out.  Wouldn’t you?

The actions of Jesus’ followers – to spread the news about his resurrection in spite of what could (and often did) happen to them – is this skeptic’s evidence.  The unstoppable Jesus movement is still alive today. I pray that we may all be infused with the love and passion of the early Christians who knew the Good News and were unafraid to share it.

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Matthias: Lucky Dog?

The feast of St. Matthias was about a week ago (Feb. 24). Now, before you get this idea that I constantly know whose feast days are when…I don’t; but for some reason (probably because it’s near some important birthdays), I remember this one.

But who was Matthias? Well, some might say he was a “lucky dog.”

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Speaking of Lucky Dogs…

Here’s the setting: Jesus had just ascended into heaven. The Apostles who-once-were-twelve were now just eleven due to the suicide of Judas Iscariot. They chose to possible replacements, prayed about the situation, and then cast lots.

Matthias was the winner, and became one of the Twelve. He, like the other possible replacement (Joseph, called Barsabus or Justus), had been a follower of Jesus from the beginning of the ministry, but he lost the coin toss. Matthias won the Apostolic Lottery.

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St. Matthias

I wonder how Joseph/Barsabus/Justus felt about that. Did he take it in stride? Did he shrug it off? When disciples were sent out to the ends of the earth, did he remain sullen, thinking “OK, God, so I’m not good enough,” or did he say “put me in, coach?” Was he disappointed, even a little? Or did he breathe a silent sigh of relief, having a sense of the danger they were in? Did he fade into the dust of history?

Tradition says that Joseph Barsabus was one of the 70 disciples sent out to spread the news. Tradition also says that he became bishop of Eleutheropolis, an area in Palestine, and eventually was martyred. Matthias was also reportedly stoned to death (perhaps being chosen wasn’t so lucky after all). Both men were martyred for their faith, although neither knew what fate held on that day when the luck of the draw dictated who got an apostolic promotion (and probably a few more churches named after him).

How often do we face situations like that in our lives? Two equally deserving candidates are considered for a position. One receives a promotion, the other does not. Is it harder to bear when such things are based on pure luck? Do we see such luck as a statistical coin flip, or as Divine Intervention?

The way we answer that question has a lot to do with what we do with (and how we see) the lots drawn in life.

Joseph Barsabus could have slunk away in disappointment, saying ‘wow…God sure made that clear, I’m not wanted.” I have no way of knowing if he was a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full kind of guy. Either way, the community of believers could have been supportive in this situation.

The Guys At The Camp come to mind. How might they handle such a thing?

“Hey, man, it’s ok. You know we love you.”

“Look, you’re still coming with us on the road. Pack your stuff.”

“That Twelve stuff is symbolism for people who need that kind of thing. But there’s a lot of s**t to be done, and we’re counting on you. We NEED you. Um, and bring your tools.”

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A Couple of The Guys At The Camp.  You never quite know how God is going to get someone to make a path for others…

“Yeah, man, there’s plenty of room in the boat. And if not, we’ll take Franz’s boat. Don’t worry about that, it’ll all work out.”

It’s great to have a strong inner core, that knowledge, that passion for doing and following a path no matter what obstacles fall into the way. We admire people who do that; they inspire us even as we might envy their focus. We want to be more like that – have more conviction, as my husband would say. But even the most dedicated and passionate among us can have their hesitations – and could use a boost.

Maybe it’s the “lucky dog” that needs encouragement – and maybe it’s just “one of the guys/girls” that could use a little encouragement to realize and utilize more of their gifts. I’m reminded of the ending of The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy’s companions all learn they had everything they really needed and wanted all along – they just needed a little shove, acknowledgement, encouragement. What if Matthias was the guy who needed the encouragement, the designation?

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Be someone’s encouragement.

In the long run, both Matthias and Joseph used the gifts God gave them. They served Jesus and the early church by preaching the Gospel, telling the story of the resurrection and planting seeds of faith. They did what they were called to do, the best they could, and God took care of the rest.

No matter what our own individual gifts, experiences, wins and losses – we can do likewise. Each of us has a ministry of some sort; a calling to show the love of Christ in some way. Sometimes our call is to be the cheerleader or the wizard for someone else, at other times, another will do that for us. We do what we can, do it with love and passion, and let God take care of the rest.

A Rule of Life

I recently decided to begin the path to becoming an associate of the Community of St. Mary in Sewanee, Tennessee.  I met members of this order of Episcopal sisters through friends Diane Moore and Vickie Sullivan, and last spring, Joshua and I performed at a fund-raiser at University of the South for their Organic Prayer Intern Program.  We stayed with them for several days, and were wrapped in their hospitality and the rhythms of their convent life.  I wrote about the time in this post.

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In the garden at Community of St. Mary

As an associate of this Benedictine community, one writes one’s own Rule of Life, based on Jesus’ great commandment: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

A Rule of Life.  I’ve been wondering about what exactly that might look like for me.  My initial responses to writing such a rule were akin to making New Year’s Resolutions – which I don’t make, by the way.  I exercise regularly,  my eating habits tend to be somewhat cyclical but generally healthy, and I usually have some inspirational reading at hand.

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Peace. Pax. At the Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman, Alabama

Then I thought a rule of life might resemble a Lenten discipline.  Well, maybe it does, but not of the “give up” type – at least, I hope not, because (with one notable exception) I haven’t given up anything for Lent in years.  I focus on doing something instead of not-doing-or-having something. (The one recent exception was when I gave up whining for Lent.  That was powerful, and had some long-lasting consequences.  A good thing.)

Then, inspiration came.  Back in January, I went on retreat with a retreat leader I’d met before, Pasha Hogan.  The retreat was hosted at a friend’s home, my friend Lyn who hosts the Sacred Center.

One thing that came clear for me during the retreat was that I really tend to put myself down.  “I don’t deserve it” is a mantra that I know is left over from childhood.  “Deserving” is ridiculous, anyway, in the face of divine grace and mercy – we don’t deserve any of that, but we get it anyway.

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I don’t deserve this scene from the yard, but I am grateful for it.

Who, then, do I think I am to think that I am apart from that?  Am I so specially dreadful that I am Uniquely Undeserving? Just who do you think you are?!?! Do you think you are in a special class of wretchedness?

Nah, I’m just your regular garden-variety wretch, thank you very much.  No special treatment here, just Standard Salvation.

I joke about the fact that in my growing up and college years, I had more religion classes and Religious Studies courses than most do unless they take holy orders.  I joke that it made me lose my religion!  The truth behind that joke, though, was that I felt so much focus on the fact that my mere existence was something to be ashamed of. That made no sense, because our human nature is to be – well, human – and therefore prone to mistakes.  Hopefully, this makes us learn from experience.  I was confused, as I would also hear that we were made in God’s image.

At some point, I started over by accepting only one premise: God loves us. God loves me. From that healing starting point, my faith and spirituality grew.

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On the path.  (Natchez Trace)

However, I realized that I sometimes just pay lip service to accepting forgiveness. I still need to forgive myself for not being perfect, AND forgive myself for expecting myself to be perfect!

So, my Rule of Life.  I based it on an adaptation of some things Pasha shared with us on retreat.

Just for today….
I accept myself as I am, allowing Divine Love to work through me
I am my own compassionate witness
I allow myself to make beautiful mistakes.
I ask for and receive Divine Help and Grace.

This may sound all about loving self, but I think it’s a total package – loving God, neighbor, self. If I don’t create time for my spiritual and creative life, I am only “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”  That segment from Paul’s letter is usually interpreted to be about loving neighbor and God, but I wonder – now that I think about it – if he wasn’t including love and caring for ourselves. How can we love God and neighbor as ourselves if we don’t love ourselves?

Accepting myself as I am, and accepting God’s forgiveness and help to do better, I become an open channel for Divine Love to work through me.  I feel gratitude. I feel blessed and want to share blessings with others.  As a beloved child of God, I recognize others as being the same, in spite of our differences. As a beloved child of God, I recognize that my body and mind and talents are all Divine Gifts (as is our earth).  We care for God’s gifts out of joy and gratitude, and share our talents and time from the same love-filled heart.

I invite you to do the same, just for today.  Accept and love yourself as you are, allowing Divine Love to work through you.  And see what happens.

Lighting the fire

It’s the last few hours of 2016. It’s been a drizzly day, and I have a pot of blackeye peas on the stove for tomorrow. Fireworks, various pyrotechnics and fires in general have long been a family tradition around the turn of the year, and this year has been no exception in spite of the rain. Long before the “garden firepit” came onto the scene, we built fires in the backyard.

Each Christmas saw my brother and me heading to the hardware store or fireworks stand to carefully select penny skyrockets, roman candles, and other goodies. Firecrackers were best suited for blowing up crawfish castles (the small chimney of mud that remains above ground when crawfish set up housekeeping). We still enjoy fireworks, and in recent years have undertaken a bonfire tradition.

There’s something primal about a fire, this momentary return to the light as the days grow ever-so-slightly longer. We in south Louisiana don’t have to deal with long periods of darkness, but even so, we love our bonfires, campfires and fire pits. A friend made a fire kettle that is suspended from a tripod. Spent ashes fall through the hole, and fresh wood is added to the top. In the fall and winter, we often hang out around the fire in the evenings. I find myself soaking up the peacefulness – or engaging in discussion about anything from theology to politics to history or philosophy – you know, the fun, lightweight stuff.

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Cast iron firepit, site of many lively discussions.

Yesterday we had our end of the year bonfire. (Said bonfire can be any time we have enough wood, energy, and dry, cool weather around Christmas / New Year / Epiphany. If those things don’t converge, we don’t have a bonfire.) David (husband), Greg (brother) and Bubba (music partner/friend) outdid themselves in the planning and execution.

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Scrap wood used for shipping is bonfire fuel.

The plan was to start it burning at the top so that it would burn evenly and not collapse too soon.

Fireworks (bottle rockets) were strategically placed along the top, pointing in safe directions. Firecrackers were tucked inside. Of course, our bonfire site is in the open, well away from anything that could catch. Fortunately, south Louisiana isn’t the tinderbox situation that exists in some areas.

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My brother, always the ham.  I don’t blame him for being proud of this one, though. They added a “porch,” decorative top and bottle rockets prior to lighting.

Gumbo, potato salad, mulled wine, family and some friends made it a great way to celebrate the return of the light. I can’t help but think of how many families and communities since the dawn of time have celebrated the promise of renewed light with a fire. (Power tools only a recent invention, too!)

 

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Starting at the top of each section.

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Whoosh!! If 2016 was a good year, celebrate!

This past year was a good one for some, a bad one for others, and a mixed bag for most. Each year, regardless of how the year has been, we celebrate the return of the light at Christmas. We turn inward during the dark of the year. We can either join the fear of the dark, or celebrate the light.

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And if 2016 was a bad year, torch it!

The other day I was in a store, browsing some after-Christmas discounts, and a woman walked by and said “you see a lot of stuff left this year – that’s because no one has any money! People don’t have any money!” I recognized her frustration, and her fear. The repercussions of low oil prices have rippled through Louisiana and beyond, leaving thousands without jobs. For many, unemployment benefits have run out. Some are relocating against their will. Many are fearing this darkness, as well as the darkness elsewhere in the world. We turn to faith and the promise of Christmas.

And we light a fire, whether for warmth, light, or just fun. In doing so, we connect with ancestors of long ago and not-so-long ago as we watch the flames, knowing that light will always dawn again.

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Light awaits.

It is the season of light and miracles. We are still in the “12 days of Christmas” as we move towards Epiphany. This year, the first day of Hanukkah coincided with Christmas Day. I pray on this New Year’s Eve that these ancient celebrations of light and miracles bring positive changes, peace and the ever-growing light of love to all.

Better than a movie.

Tired, overwhelmed, maxed-out shoppers.  People trying to “get everything done.” Kitchen overload (at least here in the land o’ food, south Louisiana). Choirs and choir directors ramping up for Christmas, wondering why the season with the best music is also one of the shortest liturgical seasons.

Hot chocolate, giftwrap and Hallmark Christmas movies.  NOW we’re talking…

Thursday’s end-of-workday chatter focused on Hallmark Christmas movies.  My husband has seen every one of them (more than once).  I’ve managed to see quite a few, and it seems that quite a few of the folks at work watch them, too.

Sappy?  Sentimental?  Trite? Formula?  Who cares? Christmas movies (Hallmark and otherwise) remind us that we humans yearn for happy endings.

Christmas, though, is a season of happy beginnings.

There are many people who struggle with depression during the holiday season.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s…all are milestones, and the years are marked by memories.  Family gatherings can be joyful – or bring out the friction.  We hear endless talk about “the reason for the season,” yet live in a world where many people hesitate to show faith.

Well, heck.  I say Merry Christmas (unless I’m singing at the Temple or texting my adopted brother, in which case the greeting is a sincere Happy Hanukkah, and this year the dates coincide.) We can bemoan the “commercialization” of Christmas ‘til the cows come home (OK, cornball manger metaphor there), but there is a big commercial element, like it or not.

I refuse to moan.  I take joy in giving, and remind myself to receive gratefully and to not wonder if my gift in turn was “good enough.” My white tree #1 is turning a bit…yellowish. The popsicle stick and gold glitter Star of David made by one of my children in first grade (they each did that craft, and I don’t know whose star is up there this year) is my tree-topper, which I find very appropriate.  It’s not Home & Garden, but it is spiritually and biblically satisfying.  I don’t expect much holiday company, but if they show up, they will be offered whatever’s in the fridge – probably chocolate cashew milk or red wine – and whatever leftovers are hanging around.  In other words, “treated like home folk.”

tree-topper

As for old memories – well, we can be sad by what is gone, or we can rejoice in what is.  And what IS is…

…God incarnate, man divine. Jesus, the miraculous fusion of God and human, relatable to us AS us.  Savior for all, way-shower for a path of love and our guide to the kingdom of heaven. We are reminded, with the passing of the winter solstice and the celebration of the birth of Christ, that light returns. We look around, see our fellow humans’ (and our own) best and worst sides all on full display around the holidays, and make a concerted effort to find the good because hey, it’s Christmas.  We deal with our own struggles in life and keep rooting for the underdog in the spiritual and global war of good versus evil. Sometimes we wonder who or what is winning.

Christmas, though, reminds us that there is always a new beginning.  Christ is born, and we can welcome His changing power of love in our hearts, and His healing presence when we are overwhelmed with doing too much or remembering too much. When we welcome the Christ Child fully into our hearts and lives, the question of “which side is winning” becomes a no-brainer.

This is better than a Hallmark movie, because it’s real.  In the end, love always wins.

I wish you all the miracles of Christmas.