Thursday, December 21, 2017

adoption and christmas

7 years ago and her first christmas home.

i can't perfectly explain it, but somehow experiencing adoption that year made the christmas story even clearer---at least for me it did.

God sending His son so that we might be brought into His family.
brought as if we always belonged.

welcomed and wrapped up in unimaginable love. 

baby Jesus gifted to this undeserving, undignified and unbecoming world ... that we might become sons and daughters of the King.

adopted and redeemed because God loves us that much. 

in no way is it a perfect analogy, but this earthly adoption of our daughter allowed me a deeper understanding of how much we were wanted in heaven.

"this is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son
 into the world that we might live through Him." ~ 1 john 4:9

i made this video 7 years ago ... bella's first christmas home.

merry first christmas bella

Friday, December 15, 2017

o christmas tree, o christmas tree, how lovely are thy branches?

Be honest, are you an ornament re-arranger, like me? I’ve denied it for years, but the truth is, when the little ones leave the room I practically trip over myself making a beeline for the tree. My eager decorator-fingers itch to break up that bundle of 22 ornaments which the children have so carefully arranged on one single evergreen bough. 

I tell myself I do it for the tree. I mean, Jesus cared for the sparrows, right? I am caring for the Christmas trees of this world—One tree at a time. Seems almost spiritual. Seems like something Jesus would do … or so I tell myself.

We’ve been doing Christmas trees with kids for over 20 years in our house. Multiply the years and the five kids and that’s a lot of tree decorating. It’s also a lot of ornaments. Let me be more specific: A lot of handmade ornaments: A lot of droopy tinfoil-halos and glitter-crumbling stars and paper-plate angels and faded red stockings. 

And each Christmas our tree grows heavier and heavier with all of this stuff. Years ago, we even started adding a second tree. But even with two trees, our branches were easily becoming more laden than lovely. 

It’s easy to fill it up. It’s easy to always add more. It’s what we do.

Because in life, like in tree-decorating, we typically don’t see it as too much until we begin to bend and break. 

And sometimes, even when we are telling ourselves that it all looks well-balanced and perfectly shiny, we find out that it isn’t.

A few years ago, we purchased the biggest tree in the history of our family. On the way home from the lot, the kids enthusiastically dubbed him “Fat Sam.” He was 14 feet of glorious greenery and, that evening, we decorated him to the very hilt. I’m pretty sure there was no ornament in our attic left behind. By the time we deemed him complete, there was hardly a trace of green to be seen behind all of those ornaments. He was covered. Consumed. The children were ecstatic. Rick and I were exhausted. Our work here was done.  

But that night, about 3 am, I woke to my young, almost-teenage son shaking me. “Mom, Mom, MOM. Wake up. The Christmas tree has fallen over. And it’s bad.”

In my middle-of-the-night stupor, we raced down the stairs and found that, yes, indeed, our beast of a tree, our beloved Fat Sam, had collapsed across the entire family room. The coffee table and part of one sofa had all but disappeared, and it was, indeed, very bad. Shattered glass and water everywhere. Did I mention it was 3 am? It was a Christmas tree catastrophe. A holiday gone wrong. An evergreen armageddon.

No one likes to have their Christmas tree come crashing down in the middle of the night … (or ever, for that matter). But, what did we expect? We could have decorated an entire Noble Fir forest with the amount of ornaments we had piled on good old Fat Sam. As capable and stalwart as he seemed, it was simply too much. 

That year, we learned our lesson with Christmas trees. But have we learned this same lesson with our lives?

It makes me consider how we fill our time, our days, and our families. We are blessed with so many special, sparkly and shiny fun things—but even all of that goodness can cause us to lose sight of the life behind it all. Our fine intentions in making something wonderful come crashing down under the weight of all we are doing.

In the past few years, as the kids have gotten older, we have learned to put less on our trees. We are making choices and leaving more things in the boxes. Partly because of our experience with our friend, Fat Sam, and partly because we realize it was just too much anyway. 

Dear friends, this Christmas season, the opportunities to fill your days might be many and merry. But—from a woman who has lived to tell the story of Fat Sam (Christmas and otherwise)—let me encourage you to treasure the beauty of less and enjoy the gift of keeping things simple.

"It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”  ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

every, every minute of it

20 years ago today, one of my former students lost her mother to colon cancer. this morning she posted these words about her mom, pixie:

Today, December 5th, marks 20 years since my mom, Pixie, was called to her heavenly home. I refer to it as her “heavenday” on my calendar as her birthday is December 15th. She was 49 when she died, 10 days before her 50th birthday. She told my dad that if she made it to 50 to please still put 49 in the obituary (LOL)!
This year, today weighs on me more than it has in recent memory, as she’s now been gone longer than I had her in my life. I was 19 when she lost her courageous battle with colon cancer. So today, in honor of her life well-lived, I thought I’d share a little about my mom and some of her crafty projects with you!  

read julie's entire post and check out her beautiful blog and business named in memory of her mom: A TRIBUTE TO PIXIE
julie's sweet words this morning reminded me of the impact her mom had on my life.

twenty(ish) years ago, i was an english teacher at a high school in chagrin falls, ohio. i was also in my twenties, a few years into marriage and, eventually, in the very first months of motherhood.

as the english teacher, i was given the opportunity to "run the theater department." for many years, in addition to teaching english, i taught all the theater classes and directed a fall play and a spring musical. (i was also the varsity volleyball coach--good-golly, i was busy)! i loved being a teacher and a director (and a coach), but the truth is, i really didn't know what i was doing all that much. as a young 20-something-year-old teaching 17 and 18 year olds, it was a little touch-and-go at times. to say the least. i was barely older than them, and, i probably looked even younger than some of them. i did my best, but, i'm sure i had to make a few things up, fake it just a bit, and pray an awful lot. (if you've ever taught high schoolers you know just what i mean). i remember days where i doubted my ability. heck, days where i felt a little bit like an actress myself.

one of my favorite stories from these early years of teaching is the time i got stopped in the hall by an older teacher and he asked me where my hall pass was. yep, that happened.

but, even in my lack of confidence, it was a life-changing season for me. the experience grew me up and stretched me in tremendous ways. i worked with some pretty awesome kids in the classroom and on the stage. many of which i am still in touch with today---thanks to facebook!

running from one responsibility to another---from the classroom to the volleyball court to the stage to my home life---those years were an absolute blur. i had to learn quickly how to keep a lot of balls in the air at one time---i also learned how to drop a few as gracefully as possible! two decades later, i can still close my eyes and easily recall the feel of that old auditorium---the sounds and smells and small (and some grand) moments. i remember rehearsing lines and painting sets and fretting over the--almost always--unpredictable sound and lighting system. i definitely remember the kids. i loved working with them, but some days i didn't know which way to turn first: there was always so much to do, so much to be done. i felt like i had so much to prove.

there were a few "stage moms" who impacted me deeply during this time. pixie ferlito was one of them. her two children, julie and greg, were students in my english class and also cast members in several of the shows. their mom, pixie, was exceptional. she was a ball of energy--an incredible "get-things-done" kind of lady, yes! -- but always in the most gentle and sweet way. she had a sparkle about her and a beautiful smile on her face. always.

as a young teacher-director-coach-mother-wife ... i was so often overwhelmed in my various roles. and i think pixie knew that. so many times she had just the right words for me. she would swing by the stage or stop in my classroom and, though our conversations were brief, i always left her feeling so encouraged and capable. she had this special kind of peace about her.

the albums pixie made me
she was also super crafty -- as is her daughter today! (make sure you look at the link above to see julie's work). in the midst of pixie's busy life, she loved to create things for others. she gave me a family photo album at my baby shower for our first born, emily. it is filled with family memories from those early years and i treasure it still.

in december of 1994, i directed thorton wilder's play, our town.  pixie's daughter, julie, was a townsperson in that show and pixie was instrumental, helping me in a multitude of ways. as is sometimes natural with a small cast, the kids and parents who came together were all super close during this time. pixie created another beautiful album for me for this show. the cast filled it with photos and keepsakes and gifted it to me on the final night of their performance. her handiwork in these homemade albums she designed was incredible. i cannot imagine the amount of time it took. but it is such a reflection of the woman she was---sacrificial with her time, beautiful in her work and loving through her spirit.

the play, our town, isn't always a crowd pleaser. it's heavy stuff. when i selected it, i remember one of my administrators questioning me on my choice. "gosh, jody," he said, "this isn't exactly a feel-good, upbeat kind of show, is it? well, he was right about that. it surely isn't. but it's a wonderful and true depiction of real life ... and death. and it has a powerful message---one, in which we all probably need a reminder.

the third act of the play opens with the funeral of emily gibbs. she is a young woman who is granted the chance to go back and relive one day in her life. she chooses her 12th birthday, and from that experience emily delivers this final, heart-wrenching, monologue:

"Let's really look at one another! It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed...Wait! One more look. Good-bye. Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners ... mama and papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking...and mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."

three years --almost to the very day--after that december performance of our town, pixie ferlito lost her battle with cancer and went to be with Jesus -- 20 years ago today. i was home on maternity leave with our second born when i heard news of her passing. i remember weeping and weeping over the ferlito family's loss of their mother and wife.  there i was a new mama, and i couldn't help but think of the words from thorton wilder's play which impacted all of us so deeply three years earlier. that december, i watched a family experience this kind of pain, not on stage, but in real life.

at the end of emily's monologue in our town, she asks the stage manager, "does anyone ever realize life while they live it ... every, every minute?"  and the stage manager replies, "no. saints and poets maybe ... they do some."

all i can say is that pixie ferlito must have had a lot of saint and poet in her! people just don't walk around with that kind of joy in their heart and that kind of smile on their face unless they do "realize life while they live it."

julie's post, reminded me that pixie died at age 49, 10 days before her 50th birthday. and maybe, that's a part of it for me today. but, early this morning, as i read julie's words, i wept again for all of it: for this precious family and for their loss. for the fact that this girl who said good-bye to her mom at 19 is now, herself, a young mom. i wept for the beauty of a life like pixie's and for the beauty of her daughter's tribute this morning.

and i wept for this life ... that we are all given, but don't always appreciate.

this year i am also a 49 year old mother. and, if i'm being honest, i don't feel like i always do a bang up job "realizing life while i live it." when i went through my own bout with cancer, years ago, i thought of pixie often during that time. when i worried that the cancer could actually be something which might take my life and take away my chance to mother my children, i had many moments where i became completely undone by that fear. i begged God. i even made promises. i was sure that if given the chance to make it through cancer, i'd do a much better job living every moment fully --- taking time to realize and appreciate every little thing life gave me. but 7 years later, even though cancer left me changed, i can't tell you that i do that really well.  like our town's emily, i, too want to ask: "does anyone ever realize life while they live it ...every, every minute?"

it's hard to do. i know. but from my perspective, it sure seemed like i knew a lady 20 years ago who came pretty darn close.

dear ones, we don't know what diagnosis is in our future. none of us can possibly know the number of days we have left ... but, gosh, we do--each one of us--all have the chance to live our life a little bit more like my friend, pixie. 

our town cast 1994
this morning, when i was thumbing through the our town album, i came across the show's program in which i had printed this message for my cast and crew back in 1994:  "it is my wish that you "realize life ... every, every minute of it." 

20 some years ago when i was teaching and directing these kids, i didn't know a lot of things. but i knew even then -- practically a kid myself--we were all in need of that message, that wish, that prayer.

and, we still are.

"teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." 
~ psalm 90:12