The Light that Still Guides Us: Reaching Out to Those that No Longer Feel the Joy of Christmas

“When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:9-11

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?” 
― Dr. SeussHow the Grinch Stole Christmas!

 

Three wise men and the star

Well, here it is, Christmas time again, everyone’s favorite time of year…or not…

Unfortunately, with each passing year, more and more people I know have ended up in that second category. For these people and their families, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays no longer hold the joy they once did. They are unable to feel the joy of the season because of the overwhelming feelings of grief and sadness. In many cases, the loss of their loved one has happened unexpectedly, only weeks or days before the beginning of the holiday season. Then too, others are unable to “get into the spirit” because they know they will be spending the holidays alone. Of course, being a “military brat” myself, my Dad having served fourteen years in the U.S. Army, I know first hand, there are many who have a loved one who happens to be deployed at the time of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. I also know what it’s like to feel the pangs of grief because of a loved one taken way too soon, and the big hole it leaves in your heart, and your family. For these reasons, I couldn’t let this Christmas go by without at least offering my take on it all. I know that all the pretty words in the world won’t bring a loved one back, but still, a comforting word from one who’s been there can help more than you know.

No matter what reason a family you know might find themselves with an empty chair at their Christmas table this year, we cannot forget the reason we are celebrating Christmas in the first place, and it is because of Him, our Savior, Jesus Christ, God’s gift to us, that was given so that we could receive the gift of eternal life. We cannot forget that if we have that light of hope in our hearts that comes through having a relationship with Him, then we can share that light with others who are less fortunate than ourselves, those who are hurting, and those who are so overcome with sadness and grief, especially when it involves one who was lost way too soon, who had their whole lives ahead of them. I know several classmates (different schools) who have tragically lost a child. I also know from experience, what my family, especially my parents, went through when we lost my brother, Charles, at only 9 years old. The Christmas of ’77 is forever etched in my memory, and at times over the years, it has seemed almost as if I have been unable to move past that point. There were 3 of us kids, I was the oldest, 12 at the time. Our younger brother had just started school. Charlie’s passing left a big hole in our family that nothing can ever fill…that is, except the love and comfort of our Savior, the “peace that passes understanding”. But those who are hurting will never know we care, and that He cares, if we don’t share it with them.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

For those families, friends, or others we may know who are going through this, it goes without saying that it can be rather painful, to see all of the photos posted on (I’ll just say, “social media”), of the seemingly picture perfect families, and the beautifully set holiday dinner tables. Then too, even for those who still manage to gather together for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, or even a New Year’s party, no matter how nicely and festively, or sparsely, their table might be set, it does nothing for the emptiness and pain of grief they feel because of that empty chair, where someone they loved should have been. Whether it’s a family grieving the loss of a loved one, a family facing Christmas without a deployed parent, husband, or wife, or someone spending Christmas alone for the first time, (I’ve been through my share of “Hard Candy Christmases”, too) it can be all too easy to label them a “Scrooge” or a “Grinch” when they post on social media about how they are unable to get into the Christmas spirit, or something to that extent (Okay, so you just thought it, that’s still just as bad, but hey, we’re all guilty on that one). I’ll even go so far as to say that with all that has been going on lately, and having just lost a cousin on my Dad’s side, I will admit I myself have been feeling more like a “Scrooge” at the beginning of the season. But let’s just back this whole thing up a minute…

This morning, my husband and I were led to Matthew, chapter 18. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus calls a little child to Him, and tells those listening, that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must all become like little children. So, to illustrate my point, I am going to do just that…

My youngest grandson recently spent some time with us during a period of transition with his daycare, and during that time, he wanted to watch “The Grinch that Stole Christmas”, the movie version with Jim Carrey as the Grinch, again and again. So, after awhile, I found myself really thinking about that story. I still remember the cartoon version of it we used to watch as kids. In the story, of course, we all know how the Grinch went to all that trouble to steal all the Christmas gifts, the turkeys and fixings for the Whos’ Christmas dinners, and even the Christmas trees, down to the last ornament, which he snatches up with glee, yet in the end, Christmas still came, without all the boxes, bags, bows, gifts, Christmas trees or decorations.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?” 

Perhaps, if we really stop and think about it for a moment, we can really begin to see how the moral of this story applies to all of us. Christmas will come, whether or not our tables are decorated with all the fancy fixings, or the least that could be afforded. It will come whether or not our homes are all aglow with lights and decorations, and it will come, no matter what is under the tree, or how many or how few gifts there are. And it will come just the same, to those who have empty chairs at their Christmas dinner table.

For those of us who have the Savior, our Lord, Jesus Christ living in our hearts, it is that same light that lit up the night sky those years ago as the bright, shining star that the wise men followed until they came to where the Christ child lay, that is still guiding us. (And by the way, as far as I have been able to see, the Bible does not actually say there were “three” wise men. It doesn’t even mention how many there were, or if they actually rode camels. In fact, although most pictures we’ve seen depict three wise men on camels following the star, and the “stable” in the distance, the Bible actually seems to indicate that it was probably sometime later before they arrived to see Him. Note that in verse 11 of Matthew 2, above, it says, “and when they had come into the house…”, not a stable. Click here to read more on this.)

So what I am saying is…if we truly have His light shining in us, then it goes without saying that we will be looking around us and taking note of those who can no longer feel the joy of Christmas. We will be His hands reaching out to help them in whatever way we can, whether it’s through sending a card, providing some needed food supplies, or a meal. We will be His mouth speaking a comforting word, and His feet walking to do whatever we can to show them we care, for if that light is truly shining within us, then and only then, will they see and feel the true, healing, and comforting joy and peace of Christmas.

That light is still guiding us, for the same Christ that the wise men worshipped that night, is the One Who lives inside of each of us, and “Christmas” is already inside of us. It is that light that they’re looking for, not what’s under the tree or on the table. So, think of this, next time you wish someone a Merry Christmas. And if we can’t show that love of Christ to others in need, whether they are friends, family, or people we don’t even know, then perhaps we’re the ones being a “Grinch” or a “Scrooge”. Besides, if we take even a moment to look at Christmas through the eyes of little “Cindy Lou Who”, perhaps it is then, that it will all make a bit more sense.

If the light of His love, the light of God’s hope that lit that star up those years ago, is truly shining through us, then every day is Christmas! Why wait for that one time of year to actually reach out and show His love to others? With that said, thanks for stopping by, feel free to share this with anyone who could use it! I hope you and your family have a truly wonderful Christmas, and a blessed New Year!

All Writers: Hats off to the Late, Great Natalie Babbitt! #childrensauthor #tuckeverlasting

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In memory of Natalie Babbitt, 1932 – 2016

I write for children because I am interested in fantasy and the possibilities for experience of all kinds before the time of compromise. I believe that children are far more perceptive and wise than American books give them credit for being.  ~ Natalie Babbitt

You may remember from my past posts that my 2nd book, “A River of Secrets, Summer of the Rose”, was in part, inspired by the movie, “Tuck Everlasting”, which was actually adapted from a children’s book by Natalie Babbitt. To be honest, it was also inspired largely by a walk I took one day. I came back in and sat down and felt it coming to me. It has been more than a few times that the ideas for the projects I have been working on so far have come to me from the Great Author Himself, and such was the case this time. It has seemed that this has happened right at the times I was about to just give up and “throw in the towel” on it all. But, I also know that I wouldn’t be the author and writer I am now if it weren’t for the inspiration I have received from other authors.

As writers, they are our teachers, and we can learn much just from reading their work. Natalie said as much in an interview I was able to find. You can read it here. Indeed, she has been one of my greatest teachers. I was doing an internet search for something pertaining to what I was working on and happened to see the news headlines that she left our world on October 31, 2016. She was 84. Read it here.

Although she did not start out wanting to be a writer, but rather, an illustrator, she wrote several books in the span of her writing career and illustrated many others. Here is a listing of her books as well as a bio about her.  You may have seen this movie that was adapted from her book, “Tuck Everlasting”. Here is the movie trailer:

I think I can speak for all writers, who aspire to be great authors one of these days, that we can say, “hats off”, to one who has truly been a great teacher and inspiration to us all. Thank you, Mrs. Babbitt, for all you have taught me as a writer myself, and for the great works you have left us. May they continue to inspire future generations of young readers, as you have inspired us! In one of her quotes from the story, I believe it was the father in the “Tuck” family who says, to “Winnie Foster”, “Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”

I choose to live, live my life to the fullest and to celebrate the gifts I have been given, and what all I can accomplish with the time I have left on this earth. After all, there are plenty of teachers who have paved the way before me, and the Great Author Himself, to guide my way.

I also took advantage of the anniversary edition of her book, “Tuck Everlasting”. I may not be a child reader, but then, there is still a little bit of our childhood left in all of us, I think. Besides, to all of us as authors, reading the works of those who came before us is how we learn. To quote my character, “Anna”, who also narrates the story in “A River of Secrets, Summer of the Rose”, I think this is probably one of my favorite lines in the whole book:

“They say there is a path that winds through the forest that exists deep within our imaginations, in that childlike part of our minds…but that gate is only open once. After this, the adult mind somehow closes it.” – “Anna” 

Why not take a journey back down that path, if but for a little while…

Click here to read a sample of the 40th Anniversary Edition of “Tuck Everlasting”. 

Easter Reflections: Through a Grandmother’s Eyes

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I am taking a moment to venture from the usual fare, of books and writing and so forth, to share my reflections of this past Easter. After all, without our risen Savior as my guide, I most certainly would not be where I am now. I have been many things, but I share this with you, through my eyes as a grandmother.

At first glance, when you look at this picture, you might think of it merely as a nice picture of a buttercup. (Yes, I am a flower and nature lover). But then, look closer. There he is, in the background, a simply adorable little boy who was also enjoying the park with his parents, and a photographer.

The park I am referring to is more of a beautiful garden that was created by the owner in memory of his wife as a tribute to her. It is located in Lillington, NC. At the stop light, instead of turning right onto Main St, turn left and it will be down on the left. I am quite certain weddings have been held there as well as other family celebrations. I recently spoke with the lady who is now caring for it. If I remember correctly, he was her father in law. He has now passed on, but the beauty of this lovely place, that few seem to know about, remains to be enjoyed by anyone who desires to stop by. It is where my husband, Keith, and I had our engagement pictures taken, and has long been sort of my “secret place” to go to. It was also part of the inspiration for another of my books I am working on, “Love’s Timeless Garden”, which will be coming sometime in the near future.

After we got out of church on this beautiful Easter Sunday, my husband, Keith, and I prepared to go to visit my daughter and her husband, and my other daughter and my grandsons. We hid Easter eggs and enjoyed watching my young grandsons hunt for them. It was also one of my grandsons’ birthday, so we brought him his birthday gifts as well. We grilled out and took time to visit with them and talk with the children about school and other things. It was a good visit, and we drove back home feeling tired but blessed.

We were also blessed with a wonderful Easter Service at our church. We enjoyed singing with the choir and celebrating our Risen Savior! In addition to the other songs we sang, I sang one that I have always wanted to sing. With the choir joining in with me at the end, once again, the morning of the first Easter came to life with this song, one of my favorites, that has been performed by Dolly Parton as well as others…

Then, as the Pastor brought the message, we took the children back into the fellowship hall for Children’s Church. Although we didn’t actually count them, I am certain we had around twenty or so. As we both have had experience as substitute teachers, our experience came in handy. We did some fun things with them to help them learn what Easter is all about. All in all, it was something we enjoyed doing, and we emerged more confident because of how much easier it is to work with them considering our experience. Here’s where my grandmother radar kicks in.

As a grandmother, I have had many “teaching moments” with my grandsons. We as grandparents look for those little moments to take advantage of. Whether your grandchildren call you “Mamaw”, as my grandsons call me, or “Memaw”, “Nana”, or “Nanny” as we all called my grandmothers, or “Papa”, “Pawpaw”, or “Grandpa”, our greatest treasures in life are in looking back and treasuring these times with our grandchildren as they grow older, and in knowing that those little “life lessons” we have taught them will go with them throughout their adult lives. It is in knowing that we have taken every opportunity we could find to teach them, and to do it in a fun way that will stick with them, and one day become the treasured memories that they in turn will hand down to their children and grandchildren, that we can truly know we have served that name well, whatever it is they call you. It’s in knowing we have done this to the best of our ability that we can be blessed in seeing the smiles that come to their faces when they get to come and see you. Some of my fondest memories are of going on “dinosaur walks” with my grandsons. The sticks were the “dinosaur” bones. Other favorite times I have enjoyed as “Mamaw” are in reading them stories, especially some of the same ones I read to their mothers when they were little, and in sharing fun memories of their mothers and their uncle as they were growing up. Other times, I have taken a moment to take one of them aside and sit and talk with them about their feelings, when they needed to learn self control. I have enjoyed watching their individual personalities and intellectual abilities develop as they grow older.

We could go on all day sharing these memories, but the one thing we know for sure is, once you are a grandparent, you never see children the same way again. Perhaps that is why I have now begun to have a new attitude towards all children. Just like with my own grandchildren, I find myself wanting all children to have those priceless “grandma” or “grandpa” moments. You may not be a grandma or grandpa yet, and your own children may still be small, or maybe even teenagers, but the memories you are creating today are the “grandpa” or “grandma” moments you will one day share with your own grandchildren. Make them great ones, and make them count.

Perhaps that is why the picture above is priceless to me. Sure my husband knows I am quite the “shutterbug” when it comes to taking pictures. He even stopped for me to take photos of some beautiful pink dogwoods I happened to notice for the first time on that lovely Easter afternoon before we got ready to go and visit my daughters and grandsons. Call it one of those priceless moments. The family that was with the little boy, there at the lovely and timeless garden of love that was created out of a man’s love for his wife, seemed to be totally immersed into the moments with this adorable little boy, who looked almost angelic in his Easter outfit and the hat he wore.

Being the “picture taking nut” that I am, I was just itching to ask if it would be alright with them if I took a picture of him. Yet, in respect of their privacy and not wanting to disturb the peacefulness of their moments, I refrained. Yet there he is, in the background of this timeless photo, unintentionally preserved forever in a picture I was merely taking of a buttercup.

Like I said, being a grandparent changes you…forever.