This Christmas Give Hope

Blanket_RF2154987.jpg

What does it mean to give a meaningful present? One that is a true expression of our love… can we truly take our hearts and wrap them in shiny paper, and give them in a way that affirms the worth of the recipient, the very value in their existence? This is a great challenge.

When I was shopping recently for my kids, seeing so many rows upon rows of plastic nonsense toys in the huge box stores left me feeling empty. All this abundance seemed a bit pointless, when so much of it was soon to be destined for the dump. It’s not that I hate toys. I still have stuffed animals and doll house furniture from when I was a kid, not to mention my stamp collection and books.

I think what bothered me was all these unnecessary things being consumed so voraciously, when so many other children in the world don’t even have a bed, or clean water, or a home to call their own. No one has given them gifts to affirm the very worth of their existence. Perhaps they don’t even have parents to kiss them goodnight and tell them how much they are loved. But instead of simply being grinchy and depressed by this, I wanted to do something, even if it was something tiny.

So I found a way to take some of these little broken pieces of my heart, wrap them with love, and send them overseas. The kids and I did it together, because it is so important that they learn to give, and not just to expect gifts from life. They will be happier this way; moreover, they will be more truly human. What did we do then? I usually hate spending money but this was my absolute favourite shopping of this year! We visited charity websites like Doctors Without Borders and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

We read about the impoverished and displaced people they help, and chose the gifts that spoke most to our hearts, like a sturdy tent to shelter a homeless family, blankets and mats to sleep on, and a water filter to provide clean water and help prevent disease. Another that tugged my heart strings was a Kangaroo Care Wrap that can double the chances of survival for a premie baby, by keeping her skin to skin and close to her mother’s heart. Having lost a full term baby girl five years ago, the idea of being able to help another baby survive was irresistible. For a mere $15, I could reach across the ocean and give a baby a chance at life, and a mother freedom from the tragedy of loss. My kids were really excited, too. They felt true joy at doing something so good for others.

KangarooCare3_22e486fe-2495-48b2-abeb-8bd52d6f1e14.jpg

Another wonderful charity is Chalice, which sponsors poor children, helps their parents learn to plan their finances carefully, and gives them support and tools with which to earn a more stable livelihood. So if you want to empower families in need to become more independent by giving gifts like livestock, seeds, farming tools, a sewing machine or bicycle, etc, this might be a great charity for you.

I hope you’ve found inspiration in the great work that many people are doing around the world. If there’s anyone left on your list this Christmas Eve, consider giving them a gift that truly affirms their humanity and your own. The charities will send a nice e-card describing the important gift that was given in your loved one’s name.

Remember, we are not mere consumers! We are not robots who can run on money and possessions alone. We are all, each and everyone of every race and background, children of God who are strengthened by loving each other more deeply. This is what the Incarnation is about. The God who loves us all so tenderly that he wanted to affirm our intrinsic worth and erase all fear or doubt of our worthiness of being loved from our minds. He wrapped his divine heart in the frail paper of humanity and came to live among us, as a shepherd smelling of his sheep. He brought all the light and glory and splendour and magic of Heaven down to earth, to share it with us through his creation, if we would only reach out our hands to touch his and embrace this precious gift of life.

I hope you can find him this Christmas. In all the organizational Olympics of preparing your home for Christmas, may you see God at each turn…in the smiling face of your children and guests, in the beautiful colours of your Christmas meal, in the sparkling colours of lights on your tree…but also in moments of loneliness, sadness or rejection, and in the poor faces of humanity across the world, who need affirmation that they, too, are truly beautiful and loved.

Jug_RF240907.jpg

God bless you all this Christmas, and as my favourite radio man Archishop Fulton Sheen used to say, “God love you!”

To Life!

Christmas is coming and there’s a lot of emphasis on being happy in this season of joy. But life with all it’s challenges continues in December like in any month, with extra business on top of it, so here’s a poem for anyone out there who’s had a bad day recently. You’re not alone!

Sometimes the best way to feel better is to allow yourself to feel crummy for a little while instead of fighting it. For me, writing poetry helps me indulge in my melancholy mood and then let it go, rather than having sadness trapped inside.

To Life!

Oh, life!

Oh, imperfect messiness!

Oh, easily screwed up days,

repeated mistakes

and ever unchanging weaknesses…

Wounds that hide and reappear

like dolphins under water

surfacing for breath,

seeking light and healing

and disappearing again.

Am I am I am I

ever going to grow?

Going to stop failing,

stop falling,

stop saying bitter things–

crouching under a shield of sarcasm

feeling so small

I have to pretend

I’m invulnerable.

Not likely.

But, oh! God bless me

and help me never give up trying.

Each day let me not be crushed

by insecurity.

I am scuffed up and tiny

but thus you have made me

and love me through it all.

Amen.

Amen to life!

Because I may be a fool

but even a fool can live life

and love.

Little Snail

Little snail,

when poked in the eye,

curls up into his shell

and pretends to die.

Sealed up, breathless,

in his perfect shell,

in suffocating safety

he chooses to dwell.

“Alone in the dark,

do not remain,

for home is a prison

when full of pain.

Do come out,

timid little snail,

to slowly leave your

little silver trail.

People may laugh

but how dare despise

that God made you

with your googley eyes?

Don’t be alone,

but join us here,

there is no life,

where there’s no fear.”

https://unsplash.com/s/photos/snail

Thanks to unsplash for the gorgeous shot above.

This Life

This life–

so beautiful and terrible,

so full of horror and sunsets,

of crushing sadness,

kissable babies toes,

and mellow evening skies through the treetops.

This world of ours,

pulsing with life,

yet ever falling into death.

What is is life, Lord, without you,

who holds all things in being,

from inexpressible richness

to indescribable pain,

from grandmother’s smiles

to pizza.

You stretch our caterpillar spirits,

–too often content

to curl up comfortably at home

in our protective layer of fur–

until we become as expansive as butterflies,

wings dancing across the entire sky,

exposed to the sun and wind and starlight,

and intimately close to you–

face to face,

forever.

Dry Bones Blooming

They look like a bowl of dried bones,

cold and lifeless–

a tragic ode to time lost

and utterly incapable of change–

but look more closely!

Within their crinkled-shut hearts,

clenched in the knuckles of their bony hands,

are tiny gems

bursting with possibility!

When the sun’s warm gaze melts

the unfeeling snow

into lovely spring water,

blooms will unfurl

from these dusty bones.

After winter’s grimness,

we’ll see the world in colour again,

and the flowers will laugh

that we thought them dead.

A Walk to See Her Sister

The toddler tumbles like laughter

over the dry grass.

Disregarding all signs of mourning,

she chases the crows with open delight.

She greets everyone she sees,

all the mummy’s and daddies and “bapa’s,”

convinced each one is part of her family.

She even ambles after a thin, pink-shirted man

with a slight bend in his back,

calling: “Bapa! Bapa!”

When we reach her sister’s grave

she sits happily on my lap,

and leans over to pat the “Staahhh.”

I tell her it’s Josephine, a name she can’t yet say.

Unphased, she takes her nursing blankie

and flaps it about and pats it

until her sister’s stone is nicely tucked in

with her name peeking above the blanket.

“Baby, nigh, nigh,” she tells me.

Then grabbing her blankie

she trundles off to seek new adventures

and waves, “Baa-bye!”

trusting I will follow.

I kiss the dusty stone

and rise.

10 Reasons I love rereading the Anne of Green Gables Books!

If you’re like me and grew up reading LM Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables series, you may also find that rereading them gives all the comforting feeling of coming home again after a long journey, to find that “God’s in his heaven, and all is right with the world.”

No matter what you’re going through, the wisdom, beauty and humour of Anne’s stories can’t help but bring a little more romance and hope to your life. I’ve read or reread them when home sick from school as a kid, on lazy summer afternoons and in the hospital after having a baby. I’ve been binge rereading them last week while my husband was away, but why am I enjoying them so much?

Here are 10 reasons, cause I’ve got to stop somewhere! 😉

  1. Anne is so dauntlessly hopeful. She refuses to give up on anyone, no matter how prickly on the outside. She truly believes that everyone has a story worth knowing.
  2. There are no boring characters. There are eccentric ones, stubborn ones, gossipy ones, vain ones, humble ones, brilliant ones and hilarious ones, but even one portrayed as boring or dull-witted is so cleverly described that they are amusing!
  3. Gilbert. Gilbert. Gilbert. Ok, if that seems silly to you because you haven’t met him yet, stop wasting your time and get reading! ‘Boy next store’ par excellence. Honest, kind, loyal, generous, funny, devoted and willing to sacrifice for Anne. And of course, super cute, and torturously in love with Anne for years before she clues in! I got the Kevin Sullivan Anne films for my daughter’s 13th birthday recently, and she loved them. “But mom,” she lamented after, “I don’t think they’re very realistic. No boy could ever be that nice!” Don’t give up yet honey!
  4. Every time I read one of the books I learn something new about life. These books, so full of crazy characters are also so full of life, and brimming with wisdom, but it’s shown by example, rather than preached at length. In living, loving, rejoicing and suffering with Anne, I learn along with her as well.
  5. Anne’s zest for life is so attractive. She finds beauty everywhere she goes, and joyfully shares it with everyone, helping them see the world shine through her eyes.
  6. Because in these pages I find my life…like Anne I moved a lot, have “auburn” hair and a matching tongue and temper, went to college, love writing, married my first love, had a big family, lost a little baby girl, am passionately attached to my friends, find God’s presence most strongly in his creation, and can’t quite give up in the romance of believing in fairies.
  7. Because Montgomery’s writing has all the interest of lively fiction combined with the delicious beauty of poetry.
  8. What better escape that lovey old Prince Edward Island…a little sand-swept gem, with red roads winding down blossom-laden lanes, covered in little apple orchards and rolling farms, and sweet houses bedecked with flowers.
  9. Because Anne shows that with passion and determination, humour and joy, anything is possible, even if you started out a skinny little orphan like her.
  10. Because they’re simply the best. And there are so many to keep you company. So there.

As an extra bonus, I discovered a Montgomery novel I didn’t own yet while treasure hunting at a used bookstore with the kids last week. I didn’t know any more existed! “Kilmeny of the Orchard” is a lovely, surprising tale of a beautiful mute musician who discovers love and the power to speak.

I also highly recommend Montgomery’s last book, which she delivered to the published the day she died, though it wasn’t published in its unabridged form till years laster. “The Blythes are Quoted” is full of poignant poetry by Anne and her (by then deceased) son Walter, and also short stories, some of them with a darker flair than usual. It’s a bittersweet testament to the later years of Anne and Gilbert’s marriage, written during World War II, and the sorrow of loss runs through it. Beautiful, mature and challenging…a must read!

Water of Life

Flowers have no muscles

yet they move

open / close

smile at the sun

kiss the sky goodnight

How is it possible?

Have you ever thought about this?

Only through their emptiness

are they able to be filled

The water of life coursing through their veins

gives them strength

Help me remember this

when I am parched and drooping

but refuse to drink

Fill me with this aqua vitae

give my spirit life

make my body rise again

to gaze at the sun

Upstairs, Downstairs

This poem was written for my former downstairs neighbour and dear friend who has now returned home to Egypt with her husband and children. It was an honour and a joy to share our lives with them, and to find a warm connection that overcame any differences.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms everywhere!! Peace be with you. May you always be supported, embraced and encouraged by your fellow moms all over the world! Go team! 🙂

 

Upstairs: a crazy crew of kids

six littles bouncing, dancing, singing, banging.

Downstairs: two small sweeties,

running, shouting, playing, laughing.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the mothers scold, cook, cuddle and caress.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the mothers mother

day and night.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women sing

in Arabic and English,

songs of faith and lullabies

unique yet universal,

of one heart.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women weep,

mourn lost babies–

precious ones snatched away too soon–

in each other’s arms

these mothers find warm comfort.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women pray,

observe Lent and Ramadan,

break their fasts and rejoice together

over homemade sweets.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women hope,

cherishing the new lives

nestled in their wombs…

little tiny babies

due at the same time.

May they be best friends!!

 

In the world there is hatred

but not in our house.

Upstairs, downstairs

there is love.