All that comes with winter is here–the snow, the cold, the barren trees and days spent indoors watching endless movies while drinking hot chocolate. Paraphrasing Charles Dickens, “it [is] the best and it [is] the worst of times.” I love winter for so many reasons: Thanksgiving, gathering with loved ones and sharing a meal, Christmas-there is nothing as magical, the birth of Christ, presents, Christmas lights and the Christmas tree, which has always been a favorite part of the holiday for me. This year we bought a new nativity set – a Playmobil Christmas. It was so cute on our mantel. We got one for our friends Skyler and Bill Baskin-Ball, too. Skyler said he loves his as much as we love ours. There are some things about this season that are wonderful and timeless– the memories, the traditions and the spirit.
Holidays, I’ll be honest, are also hard for me. Both my parents have died and it always feels strange not to see them or to call them. I have felt that hole more this year than the past seven since they died. This year I have had a sense that I’m really doing this alone. Part of that sense is because I miss my dear friend, Skyler’s mom. Kathleen Baskin-Ball died last December 2nd, with several of us surrounding her with love. Through November and December I have been reliving those fresh anniversaries as I thought back to “a year ago today I was…”.
At her memorial service there was an celebration of all we loved about Kathleen and a sense of gratitude for all she had given to each of us. I think of her especially this season–she celebrated and loved Christmas. My sons knew why I kept going back and forth to Dallas for her treatments and our visits. My son Zach and I were talking about death. He said, “I’m not scared of death; the living’s just so good!” I love that. It’s a reminder that they are both parts of our lives–life and death, good and bad, back to back, hand in hand.
I am also aware of our turning the calendar page. I have been reflecting on all that 2009 has been and all it hasn’t been, on all of my hopes. There is a longing for loved ones that I will not hold again in this life and a thankfulness for those still within my reach. I stand at the crossroads of hope for a New Year and acceptance that some my 2009 resolutions are still on my 2010 list. I’ll be honest, Zach is right, the living is good, but living faithfully is also hard work. Daily, hourly, second by second, I am working on believing things unseen, trusting that God is still working on me, surrendering, being real and present in the moment and being myself. It means remaining on the lookout for ways to bring the kingdom–helping others, growing and becoming the person I am meant to be.
A friend of mine spent Thanksgiving with me this year and she brought me a Paperwhite [narcissus papyraceus] Bulb Kit. It has sat on my counter for a month and a half. Today I planted them. I was shocked to read that it takes five to six weeks for them to bloom. The first two are spent in the dark, crazy. I love the smell of paperwhites and I love their delicate budding flower. Now I learn that I have to wait 6 weeks. I’m thinking if I had silk or plastic ones, I’d be looking at them now; but they wouldn’t feel like paperwhites, smell like paper whites and they wouldn’t BE paperwhites. It takes time to make a real one; but I know it will be worth it (if I don’t kill them first). I’m going to do my best, Angie!
Beginning with the Christmas story, Zach and I progressed our theological conversation to the topic of the Trinity. We talked about the creation story. Specifically, about how in Gen. 1:26, 3:22, 11:7, God is referred to as us. We talked about how the Trinity-God who creates, Jesus and the Holy Spirit existed from the beginning. Zach said, “well yea,” then they said, imitating their dialogue, “one of us should go down there and look like them …soooo… they sent Jesus as a baby… cool huh?” It was funny to have my 8 year old remind me about what I already know–God is here, Christ is here, the Holy Spirit is here. Like bulbs under the soil, something is already at work, Though I can’t always see it, I have faith.
Winter is a reminder of that for me. Our faith is more than what we see. It is deeper than we can give words to. It has more potential than it appears. I need to keep telling myself that there is us. Winter somehow brings out this thought that we are isolated, that we are alone, that we are facing all of this by ourselves. But that is farthest from the truth; our lives are a wonderful mix. Just like this past year-fullness, growth, dormancy, listening, fulfilling, celebrating, grieving, standing still, flying by, fully aware and totally unknown. I am all of these and more and I see what I am not-wholeness. I may never get there on this side of the Jordan, but I can keep reaching.
January is also a wonderful reminder of do-overs. I’ve been cleaning out for the last few months. It started a need for an empty guest bedroom for Thanksgiving. A friend in my bunco group said, “don’t let your friend open any of your closets, she’ll be killed by all the stuff that falls out!” I started with the guest room closet and slowly made my way around the whole house. It feels good to put your hands on everything in your life and say goodbye to a portion of it. Think of it, how few times in our lives do we do that–ask ourselves, “what do I need to keep and what do I need to let go of? What needs order and balance in my life?” Whew, it has been a journey! In cleaning out the office, I went through papers, lots of papers, and I once again remembered my friend Kathleen. Someone recently told me their favorite part of her memorial service was when I went to sing the song I wrote for her “One Wish” and I realized that I had sang the second verse first and we were going a little too fast. I stopped and said on the mic, “Kathleen was all about do-overs and second chances,” and we started the song again. To be honest I hadn’t really thought much about my saying that until I found an event brochure for an event I sang at called Perkins School of Youth Ministry. In a faculty bio piece about my friend Kathleen, she was described as someone who “believes in offering second chances and has learned from ‘the least of these’.” I just wept when I read that. I had never really read what was said about all my friends who taught during the years of my leadership at that event, but were they right.
January is that second chance time for me. It is crazy that right in the middle of winter, there is this opportunity for new birth, for changes in our lives–a time for second chances, for some do-overs. We all could learn from the least of these. The Bible reminds us again and again–from a little child, from a despised tax collector, from a prostitute, to a lost sheep, to a stutterer, to a young boy with a slingshot. I keep thinking I need to be perfect–whatever that means. I keep looking in the wrong direction, at the wrong things to be my judge of success and setting the wrong goals for myself. Many times I gaze at people to be my models, when I know people and things have nothing to do with goals–mine at least. This new year I am faced with new opportunities, new risks, new chances, new stories to sing, new challenges, new songs to be written and new mistakes to be made. We all have fresh chances to learn how to love and forgive.
The last day I spend with Kathleen, she taught me one of her wonderful life lessons. As I helped her with a sip of water, she turned to me and said, “whatever your name is, I love you.” I smiled at her, as she said thank you. She was someone who had always been larger than life to me, she oozed talent, grace, creativity, integrity, strength and unconditional love. She was for me an overwhelming symbol of hope and strength–her cup really did run over, and some of it got on all of us. In that moment, she became the thing she had preached about all these years–that God was speaking through the least of these. She was in need and for a second, I saw the living Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. I got why Jesus was born and why in life the biggest gifts aren’t wrapped at all. I got that in winter buried deep beneath the soil, the seeds of new life are really there, waiting for what’s next. It didn’t matter at all whether or not she remembered what my name was that day. I was reminded whose I am, who I am and what I am–I am me and I am God’s. I am becoming more and more who I am suppose to be. I am strong and weak, beloved, lovable and capable of giving love.
I am strongest when I care for others, when I’m a servant. Focusing on that reality this winter will help me the most. I am both–full and empty. When I give, I realize how much I really have.
Peace to all of you this New Year, friends…
May you and all of your paperwhites bloom this year!