Sunday, December 17, 2006

'Tis the Season

A friend made a statement today that spoke to my heart for this time of year. I hope it will speak to you as well. My friend, Arlene, explained to our Sunday school class that the quip is incorrect—it is not the season to be jolly. It is the season to be holy.

I’ve mulled that thought over since we left church and the truth of Arlene’s wisdom shines over competing thoughts and feelings, putting things into perspective for me. This season is filled with anything but jolliness for so many. Suicide is at its peak near the holidays. Loneliness, depression, and helplessness all run rampant.

Our family has experienced three deaths in the last month and a half. Even before that it has been a bittersweet time for us for over seven years—this will be the eighth Christmas without our Ian.

Yet, you hear it on every radio station—‘tis the season to be jolly.

Ever want to fa-la-la the bejeebers out of someone?

I’ll admit I question why I can’t seem to get into the holiday spirit like I did when the kids were little. But I’ve seen a lot since then and have wondered about a lot more things—things like do the kids who receive the Angel Tree gifts really feel a familial connection to their incarcerated parent or maybe do a few just want to forget about the person who used to rage and terrorize and abuse them? Maybe they are feeling lucky the parent was arrested for something else just to get them out of the house? Nonetheless, that doesn't keep me from volunteering--just in case.

However,when one must spend an hour haunting the lanes in the parking lot for a spot so one can spend money one really can’t afford to spend on a gift that will be consumed, broken or unappreciated just so one doesn’t forget to give something to someone whose approval one seeks but will never receive, it tends to take the jolly out of things. (There are some who will be more concerned about the absurdity of that sentence than the truth of its message).

Then Arlene’s statement comes back to me. ‘Tis the season to be holy. What does that look like, sound like, taste like, smell like? What does that feel like?

To me, it’s the red pot outside the store that reminds me my little bit together with others’ little bits can make a big difference. It’s the sound of someone sharing my tears as I remember a missed loved one. It’s the sweetness of acceptance. It’s a newborn baby in a dark, dank cave of a barn, lying in a manger of straw who is beginning the arduous journey to the cross of our salvation—God putting on flesh to enter our world through a womb and exit through a tomb. He didn’t come to make us jolly. He came to make us holy, to bring us peace in the midst of all that confuses, to bring us hope to sustain us, to bring us love to share with the least of these.

He came. We must remember.

‘Tis the season.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Good Samaritan—Cary Version

There’s this in-ground pool in our back yard. It contains no water but once upon a time it did and many fun memories still fill it. One day we will most likely have it filled in but, as of now, the money is not there. So it remains a gaping hole outside our back door.

Last Friday night, I came home after having my fabulous nails redone. Phil was at church so I came home to a semi-dark house and dogs in the backyard. Or at least there should have been dogs in the backyard. Mack was chained up but Daisy, who has never tried to hop the fence, was nowhere to be found. I called and called. No bark. Finally, I flipped on the outside lights and there she was in the bottom of the pool, very happy to see me. She still didn’t bark, though, but she panted hard. I imagine she got down there soon after Phil left and, having been trying to get out for sometime, she was too tired to bark.

In one of her other recent escapades, Daisy’s collar was ruined and I’ve yet to replace it so I had nothing to hook onto to pull her out. I looked around for the pool skimmer or other possible tools, but found nothing. Finally, out of ideas, I went down into the shallow end and sat at the edge of the ramp that ran to the deep end. I thought if I could coax her a little closer with some treats and I might then pull her up.

Instead, I slid down.

Did I mention this was a full-sized in-ground pool with a nine foot deep end?

At the expense of sounding clich├ęd, I tried repeatedly to scale the slippery slope to no avail. Then I figured, maybe if I took my shoes and socks off I could get better traction. Wrong again. Now I’m stuck in this hole with my shoes off, at night, in below normal temps for Phoenix (hey, it was cold!) and had no cell phone, no one else at home, and no means or ideas for escape. Phil wasn’t due home for more than an hour. Panic set in.

So what’s a girl to do? Well, this girl prayed. And prayed. You remember the verse about praying without ceasing? I didn’t cease. However, the only answer I seemed to hear was to call out for help. I did. Loudly. Often. Still nothing.

Finally, after about twenty minutes, I heard a voice. “You need help?”

“Yes, please! I’m stuck in my pool and can’t get out!” It was a new twist on an old line but it was also true and I wasn’t thinking about how my dialogue would sound for posterity—I’ll work on it for the book version. “You'll have to jump the fence.” The back yard is surrounded by a six-foot block wall.

“Okay, I’ll be back in a minute.”

It was one of the longest minutes of my life.

Finally I heard him again. He’d brought reinforcements. Soon I could see him and his friend. They were concerned thinking I’d fallen in but before I could explain, they were coming to my rescue—right down that slippery slope.

Then they needed rescuing. Yep, they both slipped and were down at the deep end with me. Fortunately, they were taller than I am (most twelve year olds are). One of the men grabbed hold of the built in love seat and pulled himself up. Then he held out a stick for his friend who tucked my arm securely under his—my other hand wrapped around his bicep. Slowly, I slipped and slid to the top.

I was out, but that still left Daisy in the pool. She had shied away from the guys when they first joined us and I was becoming more concerned for her.

“Do you have a sheet?” one of the guys asked.

I ran into the house, grabbed one and hustled back. “Here.”

He shook it out and tossed an end to his buddy who was back in the pool with Daisy. The buddy coaxed her onto the sheet and together they got her up. They used the sheet to get the other guy out and then the shaking started. I shook from head to toe, even when I walked them to the front door (didn’t want my rescuers to have to jump the fence again). I remembered to thank them over and over and to ask their names—none of which stuck with me.

And then they were gone.

When I finally calmed, I knew I needed to thank them better than just parroting “thank you thank you thank you.” So I bought a card and some cookies (you don’t want to eat my baking) and began my search for my rescuers. Now, Phil and I know the neighbors around us but over the back fence and on the next street, not so much. After two unproductive trips, my husband finally suggested the house. The one where the police show up every so often. The one where neighborhood gossip has them doing all sorts of illegal things. That house.

Well, I hadn’t tried that house so I decided I might as well. Bingo!

The thing is these are the only people who heard my cry for help and answered. I saw lights go on in other houses as I called but no one inquired or risked getting involved. Plus these guys didn’t just live on the other side of the alley. They lived across the street in back of my house so my voice apparently carried. I don’t know why the police show up at their house occasionally though I could guess right along with my neighbors—the ones who didn’t answer my cries. Or I can thank these men and speak blessings over them and share the love of God through my actions. God certainly blessed me by drawing them toward my need. It makes me wonder if the Good Samaritan felt he was repaying a debt to someone who had helped him once. I don’t know, but I am thankful and pray somehow they do see God’s love in our meeting. I sure do.

Abundant blessings!