Home For Christmas

Barbara S.

My friend, Barbara, died on Christmas Eve.

Barbara and I weren’t close friends, but God used Barbara to challenge and stretch me.  In fact, Barbara intimidated me up until a few years ago.  She was different than me and that can be intimidating.  She was older than I and reserved…I am not.  She was highly educated….I am not.  She was quiet…I am not.  So I found myself falling prey to preconceived ideas about who she was and what she must have thought about me.  Silly me.

About 3 years ago I realized that grace doesn’t work like that and if we both served the same creator, He wouldn’t want me avoiding friendships with people who are different than me.  I was being just as judgmental as I incorrectly thought she was, and so I decided that I was going to break down my walls and pursue her as my friend.  She was going to be my friend if it killed me!

I started innocently via email.  In my line of work I have to email many folks who do ministry in my church, so when I would email Barbara about one of her many ministries like Divorce Care, or Stephen Ministries I started addressing her as “Babs”.  I think it made her smile.  I did ask her permission to do so and she said I was the only person she would allow to call her that, and certainly not in public.  I felt honored.  Walls came down.

Then 18 months ago Barbara was diagnosed with a horrible disease that imitates Parkinsons disease, although different.  It’s an ugly result of the fall that manifests itself at first with imbalance, slurred speech, and then disables muscles and nerves and eventually rendered Barbara speechless and bedridden in the final months of her life.  My fears about dying and disease told me that the investment I had made in Bab’s life wasn’t important enough to minister to her, but the voice that speaks to my inner heart told me that was unacceptable.  So I began to visit Barbara as often as I could.

Don’t think me a saint…there are others who visited Barbara consistently who I watched and learned from.  Cindy 1 went every Wednesday and ate lunch at Barbara’s table…supping on laughter and one-sided conversation for months and months.  Sharing her heart and getting Barbara to laugh – one of the bodily functions that lasted almost to the end – Cindy was a constant encouragement to Barbara.  Her prayer time with Barbara every Wednesday helped sustain her long days in bed.

Rachel, whose gentle spirit would be bedside with Barbara regularly, treating Barbara with such grace and respect with her reports of “life on the outside”- sharing what was going on with her children, showing her their latest projects, talking about what she was growing in her garden, praying with her, and asking Barbara questions and patiently waiting for her belabored answers.

And there were many others; caregivers who blessed her by caring for her every need, friends who cared for her plants and yard, and others who came to chat, and clergy who brought her communion and prayed with her.  It wasn’t easy to come but they did come, faithfully, day by day to walk Barbara through the letting go of this world that held her captive and on the lonely passage into the lasting beauty of the next.

The best part of visiting with Barbara was the knowledge that she was mentally there and understanding everything that went on.  You see, Barbara’s mind was intact to her final breath and so she was fully alive within and as sharp as a tack…something we tend to forget when someone is dying.  In the early stages of her home care Barbara could raise her left arm with a thumbs up to signal the word “yes”.  As her disease worsened she would communicate by squeezing with the one finger that still had movement for a “yes” answer.

Communication could be lengthy…having to spell out words one letter at a time.  It could also be pretty funny.  I once asked Barbara what breed of dog her dog Lady was and she spelled out “I”….”D”….”K”.  I sat there talking out loud saying “I, D, K….what breed starts with Idk?”…until I realized she was telling me “I don’t know”.  We laughed long and hard about that one.

Me…well I would read to Barbara.  Something she and I did share was that we were both educators, and so I read Henri Nouwen’s book The Inner Voice of Love to her.  It’s sub-title is A Journey through Anguish to Freedom which is exactly the place she lived in, tied to a bed, unable to speak her mind or share her heart.  I decided not to sugar coat things, as this book talks about dying, and loneliness, and fears, with chapters entitled Bring Your Body Home, Stand Erect in Your Sorrow, Say Often “Lord Have Mercy”, Cling to the Promise, Live Patiently with the “Not Yet”, Acknowledge Your Powerlessness, and Let Others Help You Die.  Sigh.  Those were all places Barbara lived in each day.  She was such a testimony to me in life, and even more in her death.

I got to play a tiny part in a little miracle shortly before her death, of which I am eternally grateful for.  The second to the last time I visited Babs, about 2 weeks ago when I had finished praying with her, (and wiping my pitiful eyes and hers as well cuz praying about death usually results in lots of tears) on a whim I asked her if she wanted me to play Santa for her and buy her two adult sons a gift from her for Christmas.  She squeezed my finger “YES!”.  After some questions back and forth she communicated to me that she wanted it to be something they would remember her by with a spiritual theme.

Yikes!  You can imagine the burden I felt!  What could I find or buy that could sum up a mother’s love for her children and say her last goodbyes adequately?  Then it hit me…one of our dear friends that preceded Barbara to Glory was a man named Frank James – a very talented actor and artist who had done ministry alongside Babs before he died.  He also has an equally talented daughter who is also an artist and who puts beautiful words to paper with thoughts and prayers, so I asked her if she might write something…as if in Barbara’s words…to her sons that she could leave them with.

Time passed, and Frank’s daughter (also named Barbara) thought and thought, feeling the pressure of writing words for someone when not sure of their true feelings, and as the days ticked by I assumed that it wasn’t going to happen.  So I purchased a beautiful stone plaque for each of them that listed all of God’s promises.  Promises like God will love you…God will always respond….God will never leave you…God will forgive you…God will redeem you….God will comfort you….God will strengthen you….God will provide for you, etc.  It seemed perfect, but still lacked the personal touch.

Then on Dec. 23rd I received an email with a draft of a letter that Barbara L. said she felt inspired to write on behalf of Barbara S…although she had no way of knowing if it expressed her heart.  It’s theme was HOPE.  I sent it to both Cindy 1 and Rachel asking for their input.  Interestingly enough, Rachel responded that she had asked Barbara if there were one word she could think of that expressed how she felt in the days approaching Christmas, and Barbara spelled out the word H – O – P – E.  Isn’t God good?  Doesn’t grace abound?

I printed out the letter for each of her sons, wrapped the stone plaques, and headed over to Barbara’s.  Because of the pain she has been in, Barbara’s last days were usually highly medicated and so as I walked in her caregiver told me that she was asleep.  But when I walked over to her bed her eyes were wide open, looking heavenward, and she was alert.  So I took her finger in my hand and was able to talk momentarily with her…and then had the privilege of reading the letter written on her behalf to her boys.  Barbara cried tears of joy, as did I.  After praying with her, I kissed her cheek, reminded her that she was precious to Jesus, and said goodbye…sensing this might be our last embrace.

She died the next day on Christmas Eve night.  On the eve we celebrate our Savior’s birth Babs went home to a new birth herself.  I don’t know if God was just waiting for Christmas to bring her home, or maybe He was waiting for the gift of that letter to put Bab’s mind and heart at ease for her boys.  Who knows.  Maybe it wasn’t as spiritual as that and it was just her time to go Home for Christmas.  All I know is that Barbara’s life was grace-filled….as was her death.

Cindy 1 called me today to tell me Barbara had gone home, and then she shared with me the devotion from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling devotional for Dec. 24th, the day Barbara died.  Here is what it says:

I speak to you from the depths of eternity.  Before the world was formed, I AM! You hear me in the depths of your being, where I have taken up residence….I am Christ in you, the hope of Glory,  I, your Lord and Savior, am alive within you.  Learn to tune in to My living presence by seeking me in silence.

As you celebrate the wonder of my birth in Bethlehem, celebrate also your rebirth into eternal life.  This everlasting gift was the sole purpose of my entering your sin-stained world.  Receive my gift with awe and humility….

Barbara is Home for Christmas and if that ain’t amazing grace….I don’t know what is.

Truth Hidden Under the Christmas Tree

Christmas tree

I love Christmas.  It is really important to me.  Not unlike a baton, it’s full of traditions that remind us of who we are and where we came from, and it’s meant to be passed on to generations that follow.  I have such fond memories of Christmas Eve with my cousins – the cream cheese dip, the popcorn balls, the kids table at dinner, the olives on the tips of our fingers (OK…so we had whacky traditions) and especially midnight Christmas Eve services.  That’s why I want to take good care of Christmas here in my home so that my children can pass those traditions and memories that they choose to cherish, along with new ones they make in their own homes on to my grand kids.  That might be why I love to decorate our house in a festive way (10 Christmas boxes in the shed….really Kris?) and put up garland and hang lights on my tree.

Christmas day is right around the corner and the traditions are in full swing in the Glass house and I’m quite the busy bee.  As usual, Christmas music started playing in our home in mid-November (ummm…well really it started in late October but I don’t want you “early Christmas” haters to judge me), the tree was bought, lights and décor went up the first week of December, the baking has begun, and the finding or making of gifts for friends and family becomes my quest as I hurry and scurry to make sure I have all my bases covered.

I can remember Christmases growing up in Southern California when I was a little girl, where I would arrange all my gifts neatly into a pile on my bed after all the presents were opened.  It was always a smaller pile than I had hoped (that’s cuz I was a selfish little girl always looking for affirmation through gifts) but it was mine nonetheless.  Christmas, in spite of the joy and excitement, was always a little bit of a disappointment when it was over because the gifts ran out. Once that last gift was opened then there was nothing left of the excitement of Christmas.  Maybe, just maybe, my young heart was focusing on the wrong things?

Not everyone loves the whole gift giving schtick. Some (who shall remain nameless) have become cynical about all the gift giving because of all the over-commercialization of Christmas.  But as always, there is truth hidden in the bright lights and colorful boxes and the crowds of shoppers at the mall.  Me…I get a charge out of the crowds and the traffic at the mall.  It’s part of the experience.  But I realize not everyone has my whacky sense of adventure.  And where did all this gift-giving come from anyway?  Was it an evil plot of Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Wards in the 40’s?  Or is God really hidden somewhere in all these traditions?  Well, He did give us the most perfect gift for all seasons – the gift that brought light to the world and forgiveness of sins. But it doesn’t stop there.  His is a gift that keeps on giving.  It keeps on giving because His life is born in all who believe, and His presence in the world is re-gifted by the spiritual gifts that He gives all believers and by which we use (or should be using) to reach out to those around us.

A favorite author of mine, John Fischer wrote, “Think about it – there’s a big beautifully wrapped box that arrives for each one of us from God Himself – a personal gift with our name on it.  Inside is a special gifting through which we can touch the people around us by way of the words we say and the things we do.  It’s called our “spiritual gift” but it’s really a kind of gifting which enables us to do something for someone else.  This puts  a whole new slant on gifts, whatever the season.”

The cool thing about God’s gift to us is that it helps us become selfless receivers and selfless givers.  This is part of the scandalous grace I’m learning about.  His gift enables us to turn around and enrich others.  And God’s gift to us is just as attractive as the packages hidden under my brightly lit tree.  They come wrapped in mercy, faith, encouragement, wisdom, knowledge, healing and discernment and they flow out of the brightly colored packages we unwrap every day from our Father.  These are not gifts we pile up on our bed and admire.  These are gifts that reflect the life of Christ in us….kind of like the bright lights on our tree and the packages underneath it.  And they keep on giving for the rest of our lives, as long as we use them, even after the bright lights of Christmas burn out and the wrapping paper on the living room floor has been taken out to the dumpster.

This holiday season I’m going to try to share truth and be a bright light to those around me.  I’m going to think about giving gifts that will warm someone’s heart. Gifts that come from my heart and that keep giving all year long.  Patience.  Time.  Attention.  Trust.  Love.  Forgiveness.  Grace.  And I’m going to be just as intentional about gracefully receiving those as well.

Happy gift giving and receiving!

Christmas Lists

Xmas list

I’m such a list person.  I make lists for everything; it gives me a sense of being organized.  Hah!…who am I kidding?   In reality…lists keep me sane. There’s something spiritual about making lists with little boxes and then checking them off when you accomplish something.  No, actually, that might actually fall under the “works” category.  Anyway, I find great fulfillment when I can check off my boxes and cross off a list.  Now that the holidays are here I’ve started making all sorts of lists; gift lists, Christmas card lists, party lists, cleaning lists, dinner lists, and event lists.  I’m in list heaven.

As far as gift lists are concerned, I’ve made my gift giving list, checked it once or twice, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more blessed to give than to receive.  Not only more blessed, but more fun and way cooler.  And way more rewarding.  I didn’t always think this way, since one of my “love languages” is the receiving of gifts. I like presents….a lot!  I’m not ashamed to admit it.  It use to make me feel loved, but as I’ve let Christ take center stage in my life the need for affirmation through others gifts has faded.  Lately, I’m beginning to enjoy it backwards.  When I think of the favorite gift I give this year, and then compare it to the favorite gift I will receive I’m quite sure the one I give will bring me greater joy.

I think giving is one of the things that gives purpose to our lives.  A certain carpenter reminds us that it might be really great if we were to carry over some of the giving that we experience this holiday season in His honor, and see how we can incorporate more of that purpose and thought into our daily lives – keeping in mind that giving is an attitude.  It doesn’t always have to be a material gift with a price tag on it.  It can be the gift of our time or talents, sometimes our grace and forgiveness…even our thoughts and prayers.

If there were any value in the commercialism of Christmas it would be this – that giving far outweighs receiving.  It’s spiritual!  It gets us thinking about what someone else might like for a change, and it gets us into the selfless giving mode. We spend our money on someone else.  We take the time to make something special for them from our heart. We step into someone else’s life.  We make someone else important. Whenever we give we are taking part in the very nature of God.  It isn’t natural for us as humans to give; rather it is completely God-like.  After all, God was the first gift giver.  I know…that sounds very Christianese…but I just can’t help it.  It’s CHRISTmas for crying out loud!

Being reminded every year of the joy and value of unselfish giving is a great gift in-of-itself to all of us.  It’s the heart of the Christmas season that’s well worth carrying on into next year.  Our nature tells us that the more we hold onto, the more we will have but its really the opposite that is true.  Whether it’s money, or time, or love, or forgiveness…the more we give away the fuller and richer our lives will be.  That’s grace for you…getting something wonderful back that you never expected by giving something (and sometimes it’s undeserved) to someone else.  Do you know someone who needs something from you that they don’t deserve?

Wouldn’t it be just revolutionary if we could think about the joy that giving brings this Christmas and look for ways we can carry that spirit on into the New Year?  Maybe we shouldn’t stop making lists.  It might keep us thinking along the lines of what others need…maybe forgiveness.  Maybe grace.

Knowing that I love gifts, here’s what I want for Christmas:…more reems of paper!  I’m gonna need a lot more of it for all my lists next year!  Either that…or maybe an iPad (hint hint).

Happy list making!