Email Signup – New Year, New Fun!

Happy New Year!

Hey, we’re only twelve days in. I can still say those words, right? Of course I can. I could get all cocky and tell you that this is my website and I can write what I want, but that would be silly. I’m not that cocky. But then there’s the great night’s sleep I had, the immense mug of coffee that is racing through my system and … well, I might also be avoiding a small editing project. So … anything could come out of my fingers at this point.

I’ve discovered that I miss you all. I don’t want to complain about what Facebook has done with its algorithms, so I’ll just say that I miss hanging out with you on the Bellingwood FB page. Part of the reason I have so much fun writing my stories is because it gives me an opportunity to connect with people I would never have met otherwise … you.

In order to make sure that we stay connected, I’m going to add another layer … with bonuses. It’s time for me to get on board with email newsletters. I will send a newsletter out once a month with some of my favorite moments from interactions on Facebook, web posts, an update on projects I have swirling around, and other exciting things from the world of Bellingwood.

That means I need something from you … you need to go through the email sign up process.

At the top of the front page of this blog post is a sign up form. Fill it out and wait for the MailChimp monkey to send a confirmation into your email, click on it and you will be added to the list.

Spy Cat Sign UpI promise not to overwhelm your inbox. You have to know that I have fought myself over doing this because I hate getting on a list that explodes on me out of the blue. But, if it becomes too much, the unsubscribe option is easy. You control your inbox.

I also promise not to do anything weird with your email, like sell it or give it away. You mean the world to me. I am grateful for your support and love.

The first email will come out around the 25th of January. I’m working on a special short-short (very short and in case you wondered how short – let’s just say – really, really short. Is it going to be a short story, Diane? Oh, it will be short.) Bellingwood story for everyone who signs up. 

Whaddya know! This is going to be fun! Sign up today. And I’m about to pour another cup of coffee. Whee!

Killer Instinct, Goals, Competition, Never Quit

September 1961

Diane & Frank, September 1961

If there was one thing Dad wished to instill in his kids (after love, family, God, all of that nice gooey stuff), it was how to achieve a sense of accomplishment. He was relentless, often talking about the killer instinct, going for the goal no matter what. None of us really bought into it. He’d spent too much time teaching us about love, forgiveness, family, friends, God and all the other gooey stuff. But, it occurs to me, all of these years later, that those words didn’t fall on deaf ears.

Dad didn’t want us to settle for mediocrity or second-best. If we were going to play an instrument, we practiced … and practiced and practiced. He had high expectations for our school work. If the report card was filled with A’s, he asked about A+’s. He might have sounded as if he were kidding, but he wasn’t.  When my friends were getting monetary rewards for their report cards, I asked why I didn’t. His response was that he wasn’t about to pay me for doing the right thing. Well … darn.

He refused to let us quit … easily. He said more often than not, that he wasn’t raising a bunch of quitters. We weren’t allowed to start something and stop the moment it got difficult. No, we pressed on, worked through the difficulty, kept at it an appropriate amount of time and if at the end of all of that, we decided it wasn’t something we wanted to do, we finished. We never stopped in the middle of a project or activity. We had responsibilities to the others who were part of that activity. Oh, and by the way, just because we might have decided that we weren’t going to do this particular thing ever again, we didn’t have the option of giving it a half-baked response. We were expected to excel … or at least try our hardest … until we were finished.

I spent most of yesterday putting a new computer together, downloading my life from the cloud, arranging everything so that it was just perfect, on and on. Add to that the fact that for the three nights previous, I’d gotten no more than 3-4 hours of sleep each night because I was awake early in order to be alert for a probable (oh, they failed me miserably) FedEx delivery (of that same computer), and you had a completely exhausted girl. I mean … exhausted to the point of pure silliness.

At the end of December, I wrote a post about my challenges / goals for 2015. I created a schedule that seemed doable … not too difficult with all the other things I have going on. The first thing I committed to was writing 1000 words per day in the month of January. This would be the perfect month to do that. I’d still be excited about the commitment, I wanted to kick off the new year right, and that much writing would give me a great push for the year’s writing goals.

Last night I didn’t have it in me. I was done in and nothing creative was floating around in my brain. I’d finished a short story the night before, I’d sent a different short story out to my beta readers the day before. I felt like I’d accomplished enough. It was time to rest and allow my body to recuperate with some sleep.

I went to bed. And I read a little bit. Then I tossed and I turned. And I tossed and turned some more. That 1000 word commitment kept floating around in my mind. I tried to tell myself that it was okay – I could write an extra thousand words the next day. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I’d set a goal. I’d challenged myself to stay on task and if I gave in one day, I’d feel free to give in another day.

When a mouse sprung a trap and startled both TB and myself out of bed, I knew that I couldn’t go back and try to sleep without at least attempting to write. I dealt with the mouse, put slippers on my feet and a sweater over my nightgown and sat down at the computer. I wrote the next scene. It wasn’t 1000 words – only 903, but that was close enough. I considered feeling guilty about shorting myself – but that was pushing the limit a bit too much – even for me.

My brother and sister do exactly the same thing … in their own ways. It’s sometimes frustrating for us to not be able to give up easily, but in the long run, we always know we are doing the right thing … even if no one else notices.

Dad’s tenacious commitment to excellence, finishing a task, and competing against whatever bar has been set was one that might have seemed difficult to emulate, but on the other side of that was his verbal acknowledgement that he was proud of us. We never had to question that.

If you wonder why I keep going when I could relax and take a break, this is the way I was raised and it makes me happy to know that I don’t quit or give up. Dad doesn’t have to push me – I push myself. I was up a bit later than I’d expected last night, but it was pretty satisfying to put my head back down on the pillow and know that I’d not failed myself.

Year Two Winners!

Winners!Well, THAT was fun. The contest had well over 250 entries from both the website and the FB page.

Since I have to type each name individually into a list (because FB is not so helpful with this stuff), I got to see some great names for future stories! Yep … working on crazy stuff in my head all the time. It’s what I do.

Okay – here we go with fourteen winners of the 2014 / 1400 likes contest.

Sycamore House T-Shirts (2) 
Andrea M. Olson
Deb McIntyre Kampschnieder

Set of Books 1-3 (1)
Marcie Meeker

Book 8 – Through the Storm (6)
Sarah Studinski
Connie Kay Conrad Jobe
Angelia Schubert
Tanya Saucerman Braun
Barbara Walker
Susan Devine Solovera

Book 1 – All Roads Lead Home (2)
Bonnie Stine
Elli Briggs Strukel

Tote Bag (2)
Michelle Knopp
Marbeth Carmack

Sycamore House Mug (1)
Melanie Pollnow McClure

Message me on Facebook or use the contact form on the website with your mailing address and I will get these things out to you. I need sizes for t-shirts (Small – 4X).

Today I want to finish writing a short story about Polly and Henry, I’m thinking through another REALLY short story for something fun this month and putting words down for Book 9. This is going to be a great year and I’m so glad you all are part of it! Happy New Year!

2015 – Every Day

2015 Every Day ChallengeSeveral years ago, I stumbled across Mary Robinette Kowal’s site as she was preparing to send a piece of mail (through the post office) every single day throughout the month of February. Then … she challenged people to do the same. Because who doesn’t love wonderful things coming into their mailbox?  I jumped on board and had a wonderful time. I mailed packages and letters, silly things and gifts. It was awesome.

This year, I’m going to do it again. I won’t get to the mailbox every day, so it will take longer for my mail to get out, but I will put something in an envelope and stick a stamp on it every day. If you want to know more about this – she created a website – lettermo.com. Check it out.

As I thought about this, it occurred to me that one month of fun wasn’t nearly enough. I wanted to do something to stretch myself every day of this next year. You see, I don’t do resolutions very well. I know better than to set myself up for failure. Short-term challenges are a lot more doable for me. With a little thought, I came up with a year’s worth of monthly challenges. Some will be difficult and others will be a blast. Some I will have to spend months preparing for and others are intended to be spur of the moment. You will be able to share in a few of them, while there will be months that my challenge will be consigned to a series of notes in my calendar and Evernote.

This is going to be a great deal of fun and hopefully it will continue to stir creativity and productivity throughout the year.

You’ll notice that I’m starting out with a tough challenge for the month of January. Every single day I commit to writing 1000 words. Now, the truth is, when I write, I generally put 3000 – 4000 words down before stopping, so that number seems paltry. However, the other side of that coin is that I don’t do it every single day. This is a big commitment for me and so … while I’m still excited about doing these challenges, I’m going to make sure to kick the year off with a bang.

I am a little rebellious. You’ll notice that I have August marked as the month where I will write a ‘thankful’ post each day. Yeah. Everyone does it in November – I insist on being different (unique is the word Mom used to describe me). I can’t help myself … the crowd is not where I belong.

If resolutions aren’t for you and you want to join me, now’s the time to think about it! You don’t have to use my schedule – many of the items won’t make sense. But I suspect you can come up with twelve challenges – gardening, reading, grandkids, Bible study, exercise, neighbors, painting, crafts, decorating (redecorating) – the list is endless.

I’ve ordered a beautiful journal / calendar for 2015 and will be using it to keep track of all the fun I have.

Anyway … here’s my list:

January – Write 1000 words / day
February – Mail something every day (lettermo.com)
March – New story idea / thought every day
April – Blog every day
May – Sketch or doodle every day
June – Take a photograph every day
July – Say or write “I love you” every day
August – Write a thankful post every day
September – Write a memory post (throwbacks) every day
October – Build meme posts with Bellingwood quotes / book covers every day
November – Post a family / favorite recipe every day
December – Mail a Christmas card / gift every day

YEAR TWO! Huge Giveaway!

This has been an extraordinary year for me. I can’t thank you enough for being part of it. To celebrate, I’m giving away a few things. Enter by liking the post on Facebook (don’t panic, keep reading) by midnight December 31. I’ll start drawing names January 1st.

I’m giving away fourteen items … this is gonna be fun! (Fourteen items, 2014, 1400 FB likes? How cool is that?)

T-Shirt
Two (2) Sycamore House T-shirts (we’ll figure out sizes later)

1st three books
One set – signed paperback copies of Books 1-3

Book 8 - 2 100 dpi
Six (6) signed paperback copies of Book 8 – Through the Storm

All Roads Lead Home
Two (2) signed paperback copies of Book 1 – All Roads Lead Home

Totebag
Two (2) Nammynools Publications Tote Bags

Sycamore House mug
Because we are so close to 1400 ‘likes’ on the Facebook page, there will be a Sycamore House mug awarded to one person. The number will happen and it will be awesome.

This giveaway is primarily for those who have are part of the Facebook Bellingwood community (found HERE). All you have to do is ‘like’ the page and then ‘like’ the post to enter.

Now, if you are reading this on the website and do NOT have a Facebook account, never fear. I won’t exclude your name. Just reply with a comment before midnight December 31 and you will be entered to win. Otherwise, I’d love to have you join us on Facebook.

P.S. I use a randomizer to pick names. I’ll start with the t-shirts and go through the list in the order I presented them in this post.

P.P.S. I have the names of past winners. If you’ve already won a book or a tote, I’ll move you to the next category. I want you to have a variety!

2015 is going to be even more fun!

Words of Christmas, Part 5

We had a wonderful little Christmas morning tradition in our home. At some point, after all of us had gone to sleep, Mom quietly came into our bedrooms and put a very stuffed Christmas stocking at the end of our beds. There were little toys and candies in there, sometimes socks and chapstick, often a book or two. All of the things you stuff in a stocking. Now, what it did for Mom and Dad was give them extra time to sleep … or to finish whatever they needed to prepare in the living room. We knew we couldn’t get up until seven, so this kept us busy.

Even as we grew older, Mom kept up the tradition. I think that we always expected it to end, but were joyously surprised to find the stocking at the end of our bed.

In a short little side story, I must tell you about the morning we woke up to immense Hershey bars at the bottom of the stocking. I don’t know where Mom found them, but they were bigger than anything we’d ever seen – my memory was that they were 1 lb. bars, but that seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? Now, most children would take a bite or two and move on, but not little Carolissima (Dad’s name for her when she was too sweet for words). Carol ate nearly the entire thing – thrilled to have chocolate and no adult supervision.

That Christmas was the end of large chocolate bars in our Christmas stockings. Poor Carol quickly grew more and more miserable and before we had even gotten through the gifts, was in the bathroom, ridding her body of chocolate overload.

Mom's NativityThis short little series would not be complete without the story of Jesus’ birth. Throughout the month of December, I heard it over and over. Mom wrote and re-wrote a narrative for the children’s program, using the words of Matthew and Luke to tell the story; Dad used it as the basis for his sermons; it was part of everything around us; and on Christmas morning, before anything else (except the Christmas stockings), we sat quietly while someone read these words.

(PS, the Nativity in the picture was sculpted by Mom with clay she dug here at Bells Dell.)

The Birth of Jesus

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.

— Matthew 1:18-25

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

— Luke 2:1-20

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

— Matthew 2:1-12

Words of Christmas, Part 4

The spirit of Christmas can do amazing things to humanity. While we focus on buying gifts and working to make memories for our children, we often forget that it is the smallest things that we remember through the years. The songs, the story, family, laughter … those impressions that occur year after year.

Frank1995DatonDad told this story over and over throughout his ministry – often on Christmas Eve. I can hardly read through it without hearing his voice crack as he imitated the old lady’s voice. I smile a little and then as I approach the climax, tears fill my eyes. I can hardly help myself. I know what’s coming and the truth of the moment stirs my heart.

This story appeared in Guideposts nearly 50 years ago. While its title is “A Song for Elizabeth,” Carol, Jim and I will always know it as the “Doop, Doop Story.”

A Song for Elizabeth
December 1995 , Guideposts
by Robin Cole, Veradale, Washington

December snow swept across the parking lot of Crescent Manor Convalescent Home. As the youngest nurse on the staff, I sat with the charge nurse at the North Wing station, staring out the double-glass doors and waiting for the first wave of evening visitors. At the sound of bedroom slippers flapping against bare heels, I turned to see Elizabeth, one of our patients, striding down the corridor.

“Oh, please,” groaned the charge nurse, “not tonight! Not when we’re shorthanded already!”

Rounding the corner, Elizabeth jerked the sash of her tired chenille robe tighter around her skinny waist. We hadn’t combed her hair for a while, and it made a scraggly halo around her wrinkled face.

“Doop doop,” she said, nodding quickly and hurrying on. “Doop doop,” she said to the man in the dayroom slumped in front of the TV, a belt holding him in his wheelchair.

The charge nurse turned to me. “Can you settle her down?”

“Shall I go after her or wait till she comes around again?”

“Just wait. I may need you here before she gets back. She never does any harm. It’s just that ridiculous sound she makes. I wonder if she thinks she’s saying words!”

A group of visitors swept through the front doors. They came in, scraping feet on the rug, shaking snow from their coats, cleaning their glasses. They clustered around the desk, seeking information, and as they did Elizabeth came striding by again. “Doop doop,” she said happily to everyone. I moved out to intercept the purposeful strider.

“Elizabeth,” I said, taking her bony elbow, “I need you to do something for me. Come and sit down and I’ll tell you about it.” I was stalling. This wasn’t anything I had learned in training, but I would think of something.

The charge nurse stared at me and, shaking her head, turned her attention to the group of visitors surrounding the desk. Nobody ever got Elizabeth to do anything. We counted it a good day if we could keep her from pacing the halls.

Elizabeth stopped. She looked into my face with a puzzled frown. “Doop doop,” she said.

I led her to a writing table in the dayroom and found a piece of paper and a pencil.

“Sit down here at the desk, Elizabeth. Write your name for me.”

Her watery eyes grew cloudy. Deep furrows appeared between her brows. She took the stubby pencil in her gnarled hand and held it above the paper. Again and again she looked at the paper and then at me questioningly.

“Here. I’ll write it first, and then you can copy it, okay?”

In large, clear script, I wrote, “Elizabeth Goode.”

“There you are. You stay here and copy that. I’ll be right back.”

At the edge of the dayroom I turned, half expecting to see her following me, but she sat quietly, pencil in hand. The only sound now came from the muffled voices of visitors and their ailing loved ones.

“Elizabeth is writing,” I told the charge nurse. I could hardly believe it.

“Fantastic,” she said calmly. “You’d better not leave her alone for long. We don’t have time to clean pencil marks off the walls tonight.” She turned away, avoiding my eyes. “Oh, I almost forgot—Novak and Sellers both have that rotten flu. They’ll be out all week. Looks like you’ll be working Christmas Eve.” She pulled a metal-backed chart from the file and was suddenly very busy.

I swallowed hard. Until now I had loved my independence, my own small trailer. At 22 I was just out of nurse’s training and on my own. But I had never spent Christmas Eve away from my parents and my brothers. That wasn’t in the picture at all when I moved away from home. I planned to go home for holidays.

Words raced through my head: They’ll go to the candlelight service without me! They’ll read the stories, and I won’t be there to hear! What kind of Christmas can I have in a little trailer with nothing to decorate but a potted fern? How can it be Christmas if I can’t be the first one up to turn on the tree lights? Who’ll make the cocoa for the family?

Tears burned my eyes, but I blinked them back. Nodding slowly, I walked toward the dayroom.

Elizabeth sat at the writing table staring down at the paper in front of her. Softly I touched my hand to her fragile shoulder, and she looked up with a smile. She handed me the paper. Under my big, bold writing was a wobbly signature.

“Elizabeth Goode,” it read.

“Doop doop,” said Elizabeth with satisfaction.

Later that night, when all the visitors were gone and the North Wing was dark and silent, I sat with the charge nurse, completing charts. “Do you suppose I could take Elizabeth out tomorrow?” I asked. In good weather, we often took the patients for walks or rides, but I didn’t know about snowy nights. “I’d like to go to Christmas Eve service, and I think she’d like to go with me.”

“Wouldn’t she be a problem? What about the doop doop?”

“I think I can explain it to her. You know, nobody else talks during church, so she’d probably be quiet too. Look how well she did this afternoon when I gave her something to do.”

The charge nurse looked thoughtful. “Things would be a lot easier around here if you did take her. Then you could get her ready for bed when you got back. There’ll be visitors to help with the others, but nobody has been here for Elizabeth in a long time. I’ll ask her doctor for you.”

And so it was that a first-year nurse and a tall, skinny old lady arrived at First Church on Christmas Eve just before the service began. The snow had stopped and the stars were brilliant in the clear, cold sky.

“Now, Elizabeth,” I said, “I don’t know how much you can understand, but listen to me. We’re going in to sit down with the rest of the people. There’ll be music and someone will read. There’ll be kids in costumes too. But we aren’t going to say anything. We’ll stand up when it’s time to sing, and we’ll hold the hymnal together.”

Elizabeth looked grave. “Doop doop,” she said.

Oh, Lord, I hope she understands! I thought. Suppose she gets up and heads down the aisle wishing everyone a doop doop?

I wrapped Elizabeth’s coat and shawl around her and tucked my arm under hers. Together we entered the candlelit church. Elizabeth’s watery old eyes gleamed, and her face crinkled in a smile. But she said nothing.

The choir entered singing. The pastor read the Christmas story from the Bible: “And there were in the same country, shepherds . . . ”

Costumed children took their places at the front of the church—shepherds and wise men, angels and the holy family. Elizabeth watched, but she said nothing. The congregation rose to sing “Joy to the World.” Elizabeth stood, holding the hymnal with me, her mouth closed. The lights in the sanctuary dimmed, and two white-robed angels lit the candelabra. Finally the organ began the introduction to “Silent Night,” and we stood again.

I handed the hymnal to Elizabeth, but she shook her head. A cold dread gathered at the back of my neck. Now what? Would this be the moment when she started wandering down the aisle? I looked at her wrinkled face out of the corner of my eye, trying to guess her thoughts. The singing began. I sang as loudly as I could, hoping to attract Elizabeth’s attention. As I paused for breath, I heard a thin, cracked voice.

“Sleep in heavenly peace,” it sang. “Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Elizabeth! Staring straight ahead, candlelight reflected in her eyes, she was singing the words without consulting the hymnal.

Oh, Lord, forgive me, I prayed. Sometimes I forget. Of course it can be Christmas with only a fern to decorate. Of course it can be Christmas without a tree or the family or cocoa. Christmas is the story of love. It’s the birth of the Son of God, and it can live in the heart and memory of a gray-haired old woman.

“Christ the Savior is born,” sang Elizabeth. “Christ the Savior is born.”

“Merry Christmas, Elizabeth,” I whispered, gently patting her arm.

“Doop doop,” Elizabeth replied contentedly.

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.