Words of Christmas, Part 3

One of the greatest blessings a pastor’s family receives is the generosity of the people in the church and it is magnified during the holiday season. Cash gifts that came in helped Dad finish paying for Christmas and end of the year bills. More often than not, though, I would open the front door to someone who handed me a bag, said “Merry Christmas,” and ran away before we could invite them in. A ham or a roast, homemade cookies or bread, amazing food created by some of the best cooks around. I know that it is hard to imagine now how important those gifts were to a young family, but at the time, they made a difference between worrying about the holidays to enjoying them. We didn’t see them as charity, they were gifts from the heart. And the number of times my parent took in a transient family for a big meal, served with all the finery we owned (and my mother’s parents made sure we had plenty of that), taught us that generosity goes both ways.

I really never liked this story when I was growing up. It was hard for me to hear, but Dad told it over and over again during the Christmas season. We knew that we were the family behind the window. We had plenty. There was always enough. Our task was to watch for those in need – those outside in the cold.

As young children we learned what great generosity looked like and though we saw it come into our lives frequently, we also learned what it looked like to give. My parents were always caring for others and taught us to give without expectations, to share beyond ourselves. When Dad died, I spent time looking through the files in his office and was astounded at the number of organizations he quietly supported through his life. He never talked about it, no one ever knew. It was just who he was.

The little match girl smiled at her arrival in heaven, my hope is that we bring heaven to more people on earth.

THE LITTLE MATCH-SELLER
by Hans Christian Andersen

5116TUy17-L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_It was terribly cold and nearly dark on the last evening of the old year, and the snow was falling fast. In the cold and the darkness, a poor little girl, with bare head and naked feet, roamed through the streets. It is true she had on a pair of slippers when she left home, but they were not of much use. They were very large, so large, indeed, that they had belonged to her mother, and the poor little creature had lost them in running across the street to avoid two carriages that were rolling along at a terrible rate. One of the slippers she could not find, and a boy seized upon the other and ran away with it, saying that he could use it as a cradle, when he had children of his own. So the little girl went on with her little naked feet, which were quite red and blue with the cold. In an old apron she carried a number of matches, and had a bundle of them in her hands. No one had bought anything of her the whole day, nor had any one given here even a penny. Shivering with cold and hunger, she crept along; poor little child, she looked the picture of misery. The snowflakes fell on her long, fair hair, which hung in curls on her shoulders, but she regarded them not.

Lights were shining from every window, and there was a savory smell of roast goose, for it was New-year’s eve- yes, she remembered that. In a corner, between two houses, one of which projected beyond the other, she sank down and huddled herself together. She had drawn her little feet under her, but she could not keep off the cold; and she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches, and could not take home even a penny of money. Her father would certainly beat her; besides, it was almost as cold at home as here, for they had only the roof to cover them, through which the wind howled, although the largest holes had been stopped up with straw and rags. Her little hands were almost frozen with the cold. Ah! perhaps a burning match might be some good, if she could draw it from the bundle and strike it against the wall, just to warm her fingers. She drew one out-“scratch!” how it sputtered as it burnt! It gave a warm, bright light, like a little candle, as she held her hand over it. It was really a wonderful light. It seemed to the little girl that she was sitting by a large iron stove, with polished brass feet and a brass ornament. How the fire burned! and seemed so beautifully warm that the child stretched out her feet as if to warm them, when, lo! the flame of the match went out, the stove vanished, and she had only the remains of the half-burnt match in her hand.

She rubbed another match on the wall. It burst into a flame, and where its light fell upon the wall it became as transparent as a veil, and she could see into the room. The table was covered with a snowy white table-cloth, on which stood a splendid dinner service, and a steaming roast goose, stuffed with apples and dried plums. And what was still more wonderful, the goose jumped down from the dish and waddled across the floor, with a knife and fork in its breast, to the little girl. Then the match went out, and there remained nothing but the thick, damp, cold wall before her.

She lighted another match, and then she found herself sitting under a beautiful Christmas-tree. It was larger and more beautifully decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door at the rich merchant’s. Thousands of tapers were burning upon the green branches, and colored pictures, like those she had seen in the show-windows, looked down upon it all. The little one stretched out her hand towards them, and the match went out.

The Christmas lights rose higher and higher, till they looked to her like the stars in the sky. Then she saw a star fall, leaving behind it a bright streak of fire. “Some one is dying,” thought the little girl, for her old grandmother, the only one who had ever loved her, and who was now dead, had told her that when a star falls, a soul was going up to God.

She again rubbed a match on the wall, and the light shone round her; in the brightness stood her old grandmother, clear and shining, yet mild and loving in her appearance. “Grandmother,” cried the little one, “O take me with you; I know you will go away when the match burns out; you will vanish like the warm stove, the roast goose, and the large, glorious Christmas-tree.” And she made haste to light the whole bundle of matches, for she wished to keep her grandmother there. And the matches glowed with a light that was brighter than the noon-day, and her grandmother had never appeared so large or so beautiful. She took the little girl in her arms, and they both flew upwards in brightness and joy far above the earth, where there was neither cold nor hunger nor pain, for they were with God.

In the dawn of morning there lay the poor little one, with pale cheeks and smiling mouth, leaning against the wall; she had been frozen to death on the last evening of the year; and the New-year’s sun rose and shone upon a little corpse! The child still sat, in the stiffness of death, holding the matches in her hand, one bundle of which was burnt. “She tried to warm herself,” said some. No one imagined what beautiful things she had seen, nor into what glory she had entered with her grandmother, on New-year’s day.

THE END

#TBT My Grandma

1963 Christmas, Diane & Leona GreenwoodAs I clicked through pictures I’ve scanned, I was pleasantly surprised that we actually had Christmas photos from several different years, but then I saw this and my heart filled to overflowing. I don’t often get emotionally reminiscent about people who have died … I tend to prefer remembering and celebrating the amazing lives they led, but I started to cry when I saw a very casual photograph of me with Grandma.

Grandma Greenwood was the epitome of gentle love. It was readily apparent in everything she did that there were two important things in her life. She loved Jesus and she loved her family. Grandma had a big family to love. She had eight children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. They gave her twenty-three grandchildren and she intended to love each one of us with everything she had.

For Grandma, love was more important than anything else. She gave up a great deal of her education to care for her sisters when her mother became ill … but the woman was so brilliant, she learned Greek while Grandpa was going through seminary to help him study. Every cookie she baked, every meal she put on the table was filled with her love. Grandma loved … simply and purely. If you had asked me as a child to define what a grandmother was … it would have been that one word – love.

Most of her grandchildren lived in Clarinda and were in and out of her house on a regular basis. We lived further away and I missed that easy access to her, envying my cousins as they spoke of stopping by after school or, in the summertime, stopping by just to say hello. Some of them moved in with my grandparents when they were in college, others when they needed to escape the world for a few weeks. Grandma accepted all of us, no matter what and loved us unconditionally.

There were two things about Grandma Greenwood that seemed so ridiculous to me when I was young, but now that I’m older, I find that they complete the definition of this wonderful woman. Grandma didn’t want any books in the house that included swear words … consequently, there were a lot of Readers Digest Condensed books on her shelves. We might have thought she was a little over the top, but we respected that.

Grandma was a pacifist … to the extreme. She had an organ in her living room – she was a wonderful musician and encouraged all of us. One afternoon, while she was doing something in the kitchen, I turned on the organ and began to play. I was flipping through the hymnal and began playing the next hymn, when all of a sudden she was beside me. She put her hand on top of mine and said, “We don’t play those types of songs in this house.” I stopped, she patted my shoulder and went back to the kitchen. I was playing “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Grandma wasn’t okay with Augustine’s ‘Just War’ interpretation. She knew that Jesus had everything in control and we didn’t have to fight about it. I still chuckle at that insight into my grandmother.

I’m grateful to have this photograph. We didn’t often spend Christmas with my grandparents because of all of the church activities and the travel involved. This is a treasure. Carol would have been a toddler and Mom would have been pregnant with Jamie. I still remember that blue dress, she wore it for years. She was soft and loving. No matter which grandchild was in her presence, they received her attention and love. I always knew how important I was to this woman and yet, I also knew how important all of her grandchildren were to her. She spoke of every one of them at every opportunity.

A life well-lived is one whose definition is love. That was my grandmother. Love.

Words of Christmas, Part 2

As a Methodist pastor in the 1960s and 70s, Dad moved every five or six years. Well, we got to the point where we began to recognize Dad’s sermons. Sunday lunch was always a lot of fun when the three of us kids … and Mom on the days he’d annoyed her … teased him about hearing the same thing over and over. He insisted that while he recycled illustrations that he always used fresh sermons. Hah … no, not always. And let me tell you, if he’d had a word processor instead of a typewriter in those days, he’d have been dangerous with recycling and rewording old sermons.

When Advent rolled around, Dad had a cycle of Christmas stories and illustrations that he used quite a lot. They’ve become more familiar over the years, but still mean a lot to me.

Christmas 1968 - 3 kids under treeSince there wasn’t a lot of money in the coffers, Mom and Dad both worried about buying Christmas gifts for us kids. Mom was amazing, though, at creating gifts for us. These are the things I remember receiving. The best memories, though, revolve around her workshop. When she started sewing and creating, she locked us out of her room. We could hear the machine whirring. We probably heard her curse as she messed something up. I have a distinct memory of the three of us little ones sitting in the doorway to that room, leaning back on the door, waiting for her to come out – and hoping we might catch a glimpse of what she was doing.

You know … we never had a lot, but we always had enough and those gifts we received were absolutely perfect. We immediately forgot about all of the things we’d been wishing for and simply enjoyed the presents under the tree.

One of Dad’s favorite Christmas stories was O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi.” What gifts will you give that are so special that your family will remember them because of your sacrifice?

The Gift of the Magi
by O. Henry

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ‘em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Words of Christmas, Part 1

My mother worked to make Christmas joyous for the family, but it wasn’t an easy task. Once Thanksgiving was over, things turned into a full-out race to the end of the year in our house. Both Mom and Dad were busy … with more programs than one person can even realize. For every thing that a church member was involved in, there were five times that many activities going on for the preacher and his family. Dad was at everything, and he turned into a grump pretty early in the season. To top it off, back in those days, ministers weren’t paid very well and that meant presents under the tree were fewer than what he or Mom wanted for their kids. But when Christmas morning came, there was always enough for each of us and along with a sense that the craziest part of the year was past and we could relax again.

Now … the weird thing is, that even though we all remember the Christmas season as being extremely stressful, all three of us kids love Christmas. Mom did it right, I guess. Traditions surrounding ornaments and decorations, music and celebrations were established early on and we’ve carried some of those forward and made our own along the way.

I don’t remember specific gifts, but I do remember packages under the tree. I remember the traditions and experiences we had. I remember being frustrated because when all we wanted to do was get to the presents, we first had to sit quietly as the Christmas story was read out loud and then we had to sing two or three Christmas carols (as a kid, I was distinctly aware that we had JUST done that eight hours earlier at the Christmas eve service. Come on, Dad!). But today, the words of the Christmas story fill my heart. All I have to hear is “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world shall be enrolled …” My heart begins to sing and feelings of joy and hope surround me.

The first Christmas words I want to share with you this year were written by Mom in 1969. The war in Viet Nam stood in stark contrast to love-ins and cries for peace. Take a few minutes with this. You’ll find that her message easily moves forward 45 years.

Holy Child

Christmas LightsPeace on earth! Good will to men!
The sounds ring out with bell-like tone.
Yearly, the tarnished words again
Stand starkly naked . . . alone!

Amid the tinsel, glitter, laughter,
The message of that grown Child
Who spoke of love, peace ever after,
The man who walked the second mile,
Is guiltily hidden deep down
Under mounds of gifts; pushed aside
By fur-clad shoppers who darkly frown
And snatch a bauble with greedy pride.

Peace on earth . . . a hollow joke
to children whose wide dark eyes,
Terror struck at a world blood soaked
Reflect the carnage and the cries.
Mars, god of war, with smoking gun
Stands on the corpse-strewn field.
Discord, his sister, Strife her son,
Triumphantly lift high the shield.

Peace! The lonely cry of long-haired kids,
Plaintive sounds of ancient songs,
Of gentle Friends . . . of Jesus . . . bids
Us hurry to right the devilish wrongs.
The perfect gift cannot be bought,
Nor gaily wrapped, but found again
Within oneself where love has wrought
The miracle: good will to men.

Lion and lamb, white man, black man;
Nations, people, reconciled;
Rejoice and sing, hand in hand,
to us was born that holy Child.

Margie Greenwood
Dec. 13, 1969

Book 8 – Through the Storm

I’m excited to announce the publication of Book 8 – Through the Storm. The Kindle eBook is available immediately for $3.99 and the paperback will be available soon. Click on the picture to be re-routed to Amazon.

Book 8 - 2 100 dpiOnce things start falling apart around Polly Giller, chaos takes over and all she can do is hold on for the ride.

Sylvie Donovan has finished school and things are supposed to be rainbows and unicorns. Not in Bellingwood. Her oldest son, Jason, has just started high school and isn’t handling the transition well. Within the span of three weeks, his behavior has escalated to the point that she doesn’t know what to do next. Her ex-husband shows up and the mere sight of him drains her confidence, returning her to the days when she lived with an abuser.

Polly’s little family is dealing with bedlam of its own. Jessie Locke is twenty years old and no matter how badly she wants to be an adult, she’s making horrible decisions. When she runs away, Polly has to deal with a furious husband and a devastated little girl. Poor Rebecca Heater’s life is already in disarray as she watches her mother’s health deteriorate.

The one constant through all of the storms that come is the friendships each person has developed along the way. Friends show up when you least expect it and are there when you need them. If there’s one thing Polly knows and Sylvie is learning, it’s that when you need strength to stand against the horrors of the world, you can find it in those who love you.

Words Matter

This last week has been tough for those of us who believe the best about humanity. There’ve been a lot of hits. I’m always disappointed when I watch people attacking others … even when they believe they’re in the right. Bullying bullies isn’t any better than the original behavior, no matter the justification.

But I was tipped over the edge yesterday … in a little town post office. It had been at least a week since I’d picked up my mail, so I thought it might be important to check. As I was leaving, a woman came in and said, “You’re from Nebraska?” She’d seen my license plates. “What are you doing here?”

I told her that my family had some land up here and since I was a writer, I spent time there doing what I do. She asked my name to see if she might recognize it. Nope, but that’s okay.

Then she told me that her daughter wrote science fiction. I asked about it and the next thing she said was, “It’s horrible.”

I was taken aback. So I asked if she read science fiction. “No,” she responded, “but even if I did, she’s a terrible writer. I tell her that all the time.”

Whoa. She wasn’t kidding.

We both got back in our cars and I sat there for a moment … stunned.

Who does that to their own child?

And we wonder why there are so many broken people out there in the world. Folks, this woman was only a few years older than me. She raised kids along with my age group. This isn’t about how the olden days were better. All of us from those wonderful olden, golden days have been raising the kids that are messed up and are raising their own broken children. She drove a decent car – it isn’t about living in poverty and not having enough. She spoke articulately – more than likely had a decent education. There is no excuse that I can attribute to this behavior.

My heart broke for her daughter, who never heard the words “Good job.”

In fact, it wasn’t even about the writing itself. This woman took it one step further and made it personal to her daughter. The writing wasn’t bad – the daughter was a terrible writer. Think about the distinction there.

Grace-Love-MercyWhat words do we use every day? Maybe we believe snarky, nasty comments will help others get better. We’re wrong. From those we love and trust, those comments eat away at the parts of us which respond to love. This is an impossible cycle to break.

I don’t have the heart to come up with a funny story today. My heart still hurts for the brokenness that shows up so regularly. I want to thwap some people upside the back of the head and others, I want to hug so tightly they can feel what real love is.

Words matter. Fill yours with grace, mercy and love as we begin this Advent season.

The Boy with the Big Heart

An old friend of mine died yesterday. Actually, Brian was one of my first boyfriends and today, I’m thankful for memories that come from days when life was a little more innocent.

Brian had the tenderest heart of anyone I’ve ever known, but he hated that people might know that, so he covered it up. He wore his hair long, trying to cover his eyes. He tried to be tough … and failed miserably in so many ways, because he was such a good kid. He hung out with the tough kids, but when he was at my house, he was sweet and polite and kind and emotional at just the right times.

My mother saw his heart too and even though she and Dad thought I was too young to date (oh, there were more than a few arguments in the house about that), she knew that Brian would never hurt me or do anything that would get us into too much trouble. She loved him … because of that sweet heart.

That summer we were going together, Mom and Dad left for a week. A friend stayed with us in the evenings, but all of a sudden I had a lot of freedom and Brian could be in the house. Oh, I’m sure there were rules and we weren’t supposed to be doing that, but we did. The funny thing is that the only illicit activity happening was the fact that Brian brought over a stack of comedy records and for the first time in my sheltered life, I was exposed to Cheech and Chong, George Carlin, Bill Cosby and others. Brian and I sat on the settee in the living room, holding hands … nothing more, while we listened to those records and talked for hours. My goodness, we talked. It was with Brian that I got into the worst trouble with Mom for being on the phone for hours.

We broke up at some point and life moved on … into high school. And all of a sudden, we were going out again. And then one night, in the back of his parent’s station wagon, on the way home from a Holy Spirit Conference weekend in Des Moines, he kissed me. It was sweet, tentative and full of his heart. That’s as far as things ever went between me and Brian. Oh, we kissed a lot, but we were still pretty young and innocent and it was enough.

Life changed and we both moved on again, friends but never close. Graduation and college, we moved away from Sigourney and I lost contact with him. I knew life had been hard for him. He did it to himself. You can’t excuse the choices a person makes, but I know that for Brian, that very tender heart of his got in his way over and over again. He was either putting it in the hands of people who didn’t know what to do with it or he was trying to cover it up so no one knew it even existed.

I didn’t expect to ever see him again except maybe from a distance at a reunion or something. Our lives had diverged so much that there was no reason.

Until my father died. After the funeral, I was downstairs in the church greeting old friends and family when I looked up and there was Brian. He’d come alone to see me … to tell me what my family had meant to him … to tell me that he still cared for me … for us … that we’d been such an immense part of his life and his heart. Of all the hundreds of kids that my father had touched throughout his life, it was Brian who showed up that day. Alone. He’d driven his motorcycle up from Des Moines to make sure I was okay. He still tried to be tough – he dressed in jeans – hunched in on himself – dark and brooding, his face lined from years of a hard life, and he roared away on his motorcycle – but his beautiful heart is what I will always remember.

care for your heartI’ve never known another person with a heart that tender. It made him vulnerable and he took great measures to protect himself against the pain that the world wanted to inflict on him.

Today I pray that his soul has finally found comfort and peace and that his heart has found where it belongs … in the palm of God’s hand.

Dreams of Dead Bodies

It always seems as if my brain becomes molasses-like mush when I don’t have a lot going on. At a time when when I should have plenty of free time to be creative and write awesome words, no … I lose all focus. Figures, eh?

As soon as I have deadlines on top of me and immense amounts of work to do, my brain cells all explode and start sending signals through every corner of my brain, uncovering stories and thoughts and other creative things. Makes a girl crazy.

Lesser Prince Cover 6x9 100 dpiI finished editing my brother’s newest book – Lesser Prince – this week. It’s available for pre-order right now on Amazon. What a great story – filled with magic, elves, gnomes, family, friends … oh and an adorable dragon. Check it out.

One thing that happens regularly when I’m actively involved with writing is intense dreams. I try not to be embarrassed about the fact that I incorporate Bellingwood and its characters into my dreams, because I just can’t help it.

The other night, I woke from a crazy dream and had to laugh. First of all, you have to know that my sister and I owned a quick printing business for 22 years, so I often dream of working with Carol. In this dream, she and I were getting ready to start another day of work. I walked past a large swimming pool and noticed that there was a body floating in the water. A dead body, of course. My reaction (in my dreams) was to walk past it and think to myself, “This is nothing new – I’m always finding bodies. I will deal with it as soon as we get the shop opened. Then I will call the Sheriff and he’ll come take care of it.”

Book 8 - 2 100 dpiWhen I first started writing, some of my friends and early readers wondered how I could possibly pull off having so many dead bodies in one small town in one small state. That’s the best part about fiction – sometimes things don’t have to make perfect sense.

Now, however, I do have to draw the line at dead bodies showing up on a regular basis in my dreams. I’m pretty sure I should react more aggressively to them. I wish I had paid more attention to the story line behind the death. I might have been able to use it in a future book.

Book 8 – Through the Storm – will be out the first week of December. Now I need to get back to work. It won’t edit itself.

Lessons from Candy

A short trip to the grocery store in order to stock up for the coming snowpocalypse (okay, I jest) and I saw a bag of candy I couldn’t resist. Not because I love the stuff so much that I had to have it, but because of the memories it evoked (and maybe the lure of fodder for a blog post was too great).

CandyBrach’s ribbon and hard candy has been a part of my memory for what seems like an eternity. Again, not because I love the stuff, but because it was Dad’s candy. Whenever I visited him in his office, Dad would reach down into the lower drawer on the left side of his desk and take out a tin, open the lid, and allow me to choose a piece of candy. Over the years, I learned which pieces I didn’t like and which I loved, but I was never allowed to dig through and touch every piece. I had to take what was on top. If the level was low, we might shake it a little to bring something up that I liked, but otherwise, I took what was available. And you know what? I enjoyed it because it was Dad’s gift to me.

This same candy tin came out whenever there were kids in his office and sometimes even for adults … if they were very, very good.

There were a few things I learned because of this candy. First, the act of giving and receiving was more important than the actual gift. Those few moments with Dad when we shared a bit of hard candy were precious. Secondly, greed is unnecessary behavior. I received one piece of candy. That’s all I needed and Dad taught me to ensure that there was always plenty for others. Thirdly, I learned to be satisfied with what I had. I might not love every flavor of this candy. In fact, as I look at the bag in front of me today, I realize that I like the cinnamon bars, and nothing else. But, it was what I had and it was enough.

In a life where we live for excess and choices and believe the world revolves around us individually, it’s a good reminder for me to open a bag of candy and remember that simplicity, generosity, and a few limitations aren’t necessarily a bad way to live. Dad’s lessons still resonate. And over the next few months, I will slowly go through this bag, savoring even the flavors that aren’t my favorite because with them come memories that can’t be replaced by anything else.

A Preacher’s Wife, A Small Town … and a Hooker (and a Progress Bar)

I don’t know what triggered my memory of this story, but I am at my desk, bubbling with laughter.

When we first lived in Sigourney, my mother’s father moved into a one-bedroom Quonset hut home just down the alley a ways. Poor Mac was an absolutely brilliant man whose loss of eyesight had really messed with his world. He could no longer drive, he couldn’t read, he was pretty miserable.

Mac was a character. He wasn’t terribly comfortable with us kids, but he loved his daughter and some of his greatest fun came from stirring his son-in-law up. He could get Dad going and sit back and laugh for hours at the fun. When we lived in Morning Sun, Mac came back from a trip to Hawaii with slides. The only place to show them was on the large white shade that pulled down over our front window. All of a sudden, Dad gasped, jumped up, ran outside and then back in. Mac was showing the entire community his pictures of naked women on the beaches of Hawaii. He knew exactly what he’d done and took great pleasure in stirring up the preacher.

Mac smoked, drank heavily and … oh, by the way, loved women. A lot.

He was a terrible alcoholic – both of Mom’s parents were, as a matter of fact. The local liquor store in Sigourney was glad to deliver alcohol to him, until Mom figured out what was happening and threatened someone somewhere. I suppose that hearing from the Methodist preacher’s wife isn’t a great thing to have happen. They quit delivering.

When he lived in Iowa City, he met a … pimp. Let’s just call it what it was. Well, his eyesight got so bad that he could no longer live on his own and we moved him closer to us. Oh, what a riot that was. We kids (mostly Carol and Jamie) made extra money by cleaning his little house. It was horrible. Smelled so bad from the smoke … and he was a pig. He never washed a dish or picked anything up. The man either had a wife to do that or he had paid people to clean up after him.

Anyway, one day, Carol answered a knock at our back door. You know … the parsonage? Where the Methodist minister lived with his very young, very nice family? As Carol tells it, this absolutely beautiful woman was standing there, asking for Mac – apparently she was lost and didn’t know which house he lived in. She had a lot of makeup on, dressed in flashy clothes and surprised a very young girl. Carol called for Mom, who knew immediately what was going on and threatened this woman with arrest if she didn’t get back in her car and drive back to whatever hole she’d come out from under. Mom also made her understand that if this pimp (and would you believe that Mom knew his name? I’ve forgotten it now, but it seemed so strange to me that he was a normal guy with a normal name) sent any more women to Sigourney, she would make sure her friends in the police force dealt with him as well.

Margie Greenwood on a rampage was not something most outsiders saw. The woman was scared enough to run for her life. And poor Mac … well, he was lonely that day.

Mom was horrified that this had happened in the middle of the day in a small town in Iowa, to her of all people! She couldn’t tell anyone that her father was bringing hookers in from Iowa City. I suspect that there were plenty of people in town that didn’t even know her father lived there. And I also know that all Mom could imagine was this woman knocking on the door of one of our neighbor’s homes. How would she ever explain that?

To this day, I howl with laughter at the horror in her tone as she told Dad what had happened. Of course he thought it was pretty funny. Especially since he didn’t have to deal with it, it wasn’t his father … and the woman was gone.

Mac lived through five heart attacks. After his last one, Mom begged him to quit smoking. He finally said to her, “Margie, you’ve taken away my liquor and my women, will you please leave me one last vice?” She patted his hand in that hospital bed and told him that she wasn’t happy about it, but that made sense to her.

I love the stories that exist within our family. Some of them are awful and embarrassing and others are adorable and fun, but they are all part of the texture that makes up who we are and where we have come from. But in our family, there will always be a story around that day in Sigourney, when a hooker showed up at the back door of the preacher’s house.

Okay, then there was that time when Dad was in Des Moines at a meeting at the United Methodist Conference Headquarters. He got into the Volkswagen to come home and all of a sudden, a very attractive young woman, all made up and dressed in clothes too tight to do anything but stand or sit, opened the passenger door and sat down beside him. When he asked what she wanted, she asked what he wanted. Yeah. I think he was glad no one he knew was around to see that happen! (Oh, and he asked her to please get out and get on her way.)

~~~

As for the book’s progress, I’m getting there. So close! After writing, I will take it through one heavy edit, send it off to my Beta Readers / Editors and then bring it back in for two-three more runs at proofreading and editing. That’s a large part of the fun of these books for me and when I completely fall in love with the stories. While my Beta Readers have the book, though, I’ll be able to think about some of these short stories. Right now, it’s all I can do to process on Polly and her cadre of friends.

102914 Progress Bar