women of a certain age are like sunflowers; they know how to turn their faces to the sun.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Gift of Words

“I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”
Ezekiel 11:19-20

As we approach the end of the all-important holiday shopping season touted widely as the remedy for the sluggish U.S. economy, we are egged on daily by television commercials that proclaim our need to “don't just give a gift; grant a wish” and radio ads, which tell us that “Every kiss begins with Kay.” Personally, I have a difference of opinion with the fine folks at the jewelry stores and Sears as to exactly what wishes need granting and where, precisely, the birthplace of love within the human heart might be located.

I don't know about you, but I feel th
e need every year about this time to press the pause button on the Christmas machine, and retreat for a quiet moment from the annual “mistletoe madness” - to gather my thoughts from the four corners of the mall where they are wont to wander. This year I find myself contemplating Ezekiel’s “one heart and new spirit.”

So many of us hope for God to place within us a “heart of flesh” to replace our “heart[s] of stone.” And many try to accomplish this feat throughout the busy holiday season, as if we could grow new hearts as easily as the ever-popular “Chia Pets” grow horticultural hair. Of course, we discard them just as quickly, once the season is past, the tinsel is forgotten, and the decorations are packed away for another year.

We are bombarded from all sides by “to do” lists and “wish” lists, and “Christmas card” lists – shopping lists and groc
ery lists and Santa’s ubiquitous “naughty and nice” list. We are exhorted to give generously, spend lavishly, bake prodigiously, entertain bounteously, and pursue that elusive thing known to all women everywhere (with dread in their hearts) as the “perfect family gathering.” And somewhere along the way, we lose sight of the simplicity of the season, which is the true blessing of the holidays.

Many of us live in such spiritual poverty the rest of the year that we try to cram an entire year’s worth of spiritual sustenance into one short month. We hustle and bustle, fret and fume, simmer and stir, plan and prepa
re, wrap and wrangle, decorate and do, until we want to cry with the lady in the now defunct Calgon ad, “Take me away!” Please! Instead, I say we take a page from John Lennon’s songbook and just “let it be.”

We need – I need – to stop; to slow down to the deliberate pace of a worn out donkey, to see clearly how easily the darkness in our hearts can mirror the depth of a starry night outside a country backwater in Judea; to hear the distant cries of a needy populace mingling with the angels’ triumphant song; to feel the bottomless fatigue of the refugee, carried deep in the bones of a tired pregnant girl; to taste the sharp, acrid worry of an uneducated carpenter who doesn’t know where he will lay his head that night or whether the child carried by his wife is even his to raise; to smell the sweet straw and earthy animal droppings which undercut the heady scent of frankincense and myrrh.

We need to look beneath the weary world, alight with forced gaiety and empty gifts, to find the “one heart” of love and the “new spirit” of hope. This gift is not to be found in any catalogue or store. It cannot be created with pipe cleaners and cookie dough. It is worth more than the most lavish fur coat or diamond earrings, and it costs us nothing we can earn, but all we h
ave to offer.

This gift is contained in the beating heart of God, made fragile flesh in a wee, wailing infant so many long years ago in Bethlehem. Though the gift was given over two t
housand years ago, it remains as fresh, as unsullied, and as newborn as our souls’ bright promise.

This gift is ours to keep, ours to treasure, to ponder, to pass on to those we love most deeply. This gift is ours to receive and ours to give back. This gift is blessed benediction.

Then we will grow new hearts for God to write
upon. Then we will follow, keep, and obey. Then we shall be God’s people. And God will lead us home. To the place we never left.


A dear friend of mine passed along one of his family's Christmas traditions to me some years ago. Every year, before opening their packages, his family would go around the room, one by one, and give each other what they called, "the gift of words," each telling in turn what he or she most appreciated about each family member during the course of the past year.

My family has carried on this tradition in our own family and it has become a cherished part of the holiday celebration, reminding us of the true blessings of family and the only gifts that really matter.

Don't write me off as a "Pollyanna." There was a year where the only positive thing I could think of to say about one person was how much I liked the smile that stretched from ear to ear. That was a tough year for our family. But even then, the glass was half full. And the tradition reminded me of that fact.

There have been many words this past year - more than most - as I moved further into a new calling as a writer and designer, and reaffirmed my old role as wife, mother, and knitter. To all of you who have read my words, pondered them in your hearts, laughed with me, enjoyed my (admittedly slightly skewed) vision of life in this 21st century, or shared my ideas and dreams of wooly bliss, I send my most profound thanks and my heartfelt wishes for a joyous holiday season, however you and your family choose to celebrate it.

Above all else, I wish you wholeness at all times , in all things.



amy said...

Happy Holidays to you & yours. I fervently wish I didn't have such a long to-do list. I didn't mean to be cooking for 15 people on Monday, especially this year, and I'm still not quite sure how it happened. My jaw is killing me (a sign of stress) and I'm just trying to hold on till Tuesday, when it's just the four of us, a quiet, blissful day--which is all I really want.

margene said...

My your Christmas and New Year be full of joyousness and festiveness, too!

Opal said...

What a wonderful tradition you have. A gift of words. I hope you have a wondrous Christmas and New Year too.

Pat K said...

What apt thoughts for the weekend before Christmas. I am so glad that I found your blog, and that you commented to me to begin our cyber-friendship. Merry Christmas and many blessings to you and yours.

punkin said...


I personally don't enjoy the commercial season. It has gotten longer and more intense over the years so that it feels very intrusive to me. I enjoy the simple things. There is profound joy to be found in the meaning of the season. Spending time with my loved ones and bringing a little happiness to them is enough. oh, and Christmas cookies. and some chocolate. and a little knitting time while listening to a Christmas program. and a warm fire in the stove ...

Anonymous said...

Christmas Peace to you and your family, Susan! I count myself blessed to have met you, very blessed indeed.

La Cabeza Grande said...

"...press the pause button on the Christmas machine..." - Indeed! Before you know it, "Christmas in July" will be a reality as the marketeers improbably stretch the holiday (buying) season.

Words: simple, cherish, peace, faith, hope. Merry Christmas to you, my friend.

Donna Lee said...

Peace be with you and your family. We choose to take part in the madness and we can choose to stop and just breathe and listen to the songs in our hearts. If ever there was a time for this, it surely is now. Merry Merry Christmas to you.

Sheepish Annie said...

I think the part about feeling like we have to smoosh a year's worth of goodwill into one month was the part that really struck a chord with me. Part of me certainly enjoys the feeling of "purpose" that comes with the holidays, but it can all be rather overwhelming if I don't keep it in perspective. I like to think that being busy and having deadlines is a nice reminder of my having people in my life for whom I want to make this a special time. Not everyone does, after all.

But the best gift I can give them is me with my full faculties and the ability to stay awake during Christmas dinner. A well chosen present is never going to make up for a giver who is less than pleasant from all the stress, right? It's all in the balance...

Have a wonderful holiday!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tradition! In that spirit I would like to tell you what I most appreciate about you!

I am fairly new to your blog but I now visit everyday because when I am finished reading I leave it with such a warm heart and wonderful optimism just from the beauty of your words.

Thank you for that gift.

Ann said...

That's a wonderful tradition - a gift of words. I will like to do that with my family. Thanks for all your beautiful writings that I have enjoyed reading during this year. You definitely have the gift of words. Have a Merry Christmas & a wonderful 2008.

Lucia said...

A belated merry Christmas and happy New Year to you, Susan. I took a break from all things bloggy over the holidays, in favor of lots of family time. Our Christmas was quite modest and, from where I sit, anyway, a great success. My first New Year's resolution will be to finish the Christmas knitting.