Monthly Archives: December 2013

Advent encounters

The quick turnaround between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year coupled with some unexpected December events have made for a less than intentional and planned advent season in our home.  Being realistic, I knew that the daily calendar, regular readings or even weekly candle lighting wasn’t happening this year.  So, in the stillness of my soul and in an attempt to prepare for the birth of the Christ child, I communicated to God this message.  Help me to be mindful of your presence during these preparing days.  Open my eyes to truly see and ready my heart for this most holy day.  And along the way, these things happened:

Rushing to leave town, my fingernails looking very ragged.  Not a huge problem, but I slipped into a nail shop hours before getting on a plane to travel north and join family to mourn and celebrate our loved one.  Never totally comfortable with someone serving me in this way, this sometimes happens in virtual silence with a few shared smiles, depending on the communication gap present.   It is a gift to wash and gently care for the hands and feet of another.  This beautiful lady asked me about my Thanksgiving and something in my spirit prompted conversation beyond the surface with her.  With a little extra effort and presence, her heavy Vietnamese accent was understandable to my listening ears.  An illegal immigrant in her early 20’s, she married a man “who was one of those who never wanted to grow up.”  Two precious sons later, she was on her own in a place whose language she did not speak at all when she first arrived.  With great love and pride, she told me of her two sons – one graduating college this year and heading to a prestigious medical school and the other studying international relations and computer science.  She shared that it had been very hard work – I can only begin to imagine – but the education and life of her sons was worth it all.  What a sacrifice.  She shared that a friend told her that when God closes a door, he opens a window.  “No”, she said, “for me, God closed a window and opened wide a front door.”  We shared pictures of our families and she touched and inspired me in deeply profound ways.  The provision of advent.


Snowing and bitterly cold on a Chicago December day.  Tears froze as they rolled down the cheeks of those who loved this dear one.  Yet woven all throughout the weekend was talk and thoughts and promises of life eternal.  The hope of advent.

Rising anxiety mixed with a bit of an adrenaline rush as I readied myself to enter the mall during the days leading up to Christmas.  As we both waited in this small lock and key shop on perpendicular sofas, something was odd and off.  I first noticed her two black eyes.  Internal discomfort began to rise as she stared at me, like a young child who has yet to learn that pointing and staring make others uncomfortable.  I averted my eyes but could feel hers burning into me.  I was texting with someone and she giggled and laughed and kept up the searing stare.  “What is her problem?”, I thought.  With a bit of fear and a ton of squirming discomfort, I walked out into the mall area.  She followed me.  “Do you smoke?”, she asked.  My no was terribly disappointing to her.  She went out into the parking deck and plopped between two people on a bench, continuing her cigarette quest.  I ran an errand and returned peeking in to see that she was still there.  Tempted to just hang out away from those sofas and the uncomfortable staring, my advent heart whispered, “have compassion – she has a story”.  So I went back in and asked her if she had found a cigarette.  In a very child like voice, she said, yes.  “I have quit everything else, but I just can’t quit that yet.”   Compassion arose.  Though I am certain that her current state of mind and behavior indicated that she in fact had not quit everything else, there certainly was a deep part of her that desired to get out from under the weight of addiction and pain.  We talked and I looked at her as a fellow human being struggling to make sense of it all.  The solidarity of advent.


Hurrying along to complete my dreaded mall visit and get out asap, I encountered a group of developmentally disabled adults and their care givers.  They were working on riding up and exiting safely at the top of the escalator.  The smiles, laughs and twinkling eyes as this was accomplished brought a swell to my heart.  The joy of advent.

Bedtime and a strong desire to hurry up and get downstairs to bask in a few minutes of grown up time, peace and quiet.  Something in my heart encouraged me to slow down and enjoy the presence together with this precious daughter.  The gift received was a deep down, heart to heart, soul connecting time of sharing and a better understanding of this precious child entrusted to our care.  The intimacy of advent. 


Skating at our medium size city’s very small outdoor ice rink on a crisp clear December night.  I observed a man approaching people – it was hard to tell whether or not he had a warm place to lay his head down that night.  We both stood outside the makeshift rink and chatted a moment about skating.  At a rink exit, many people came off the ice for a break.  He reached out to each and every one – a fist bump, high five or handshake.  Most grown ups and parents looked at him with discomfort, but each child responded to his touch of connection.  The invitation of advent. 


Though there are no calendars opened daily or devotionals read, this advent has been a gift.  My hope is that long past our Christmas celebration, I listen to the whispers of God to live with open eyes and an open heart to receive all placed right before me along the steps of each ordinary day. 










Saying goodbye

She was born third in a row of four strong, independent girl children, all raised on an Illinois farm.  Each child was given a name that begins with “R”, but this sister made it clear that her name to be called was not her first but middle name – Anna – and woe to the one who called her the R name.  She became my “aunt through marriage” and I always knew that when I married her nephew, I became one of her people.

 She lived big and bold for just over 69 years, but I imagine that even if she had lived to be 100, she would still have had many hopes, plans and dreams unrealized.  She was not ready to go and that made saying goodbye all the more poignant.   She was a sentimental soul, and walking through her home this past weekend sealed that view as the rooms are literally bursting with an eclectic combination of pictures, collections, and precious family keepsakes.  Gift giving and generosity were part of her core being.  Birthdays were always celebrated and gifts could arrive 2 months early or 2 weeks late, but they always arrived and were chosen with love and care.  Even in her last months, she received help from those who cared for her, and there are Christmas gifts waiting to be opened for each and every Wilson.  We are discussing how to honor this beloved aunt as we open these most precious Christmas gifts. 

 Anna’s passion for children, education and the underdog led her on a path of scholarly and vocational pursuits.  While her three sisters married and began families, this was not her particular path.  Though she did not birth or adopt children, there were many, many that she claimed as her own.  As a slew of great nephews and nieces entered into the family, Anna secured her place as beloved by each one. 


 In her professional life, she fought tirelessly for the at-risk, impoverished, outsider, and least among her school district.  She passed this fervor on to many in her family and beyond.  I always knew this was the heart and soul of Anna, but it was during this past weekend that the genesis and inspiration for these values was revealed to me.  At the close of her memorial service, we each received an apple ornament that expressed Anna’s education philosophy as taught to her by a respected professor.  “Every apple, as every child, is different on the outside – in color, texture shape, etc.  Even on the inside there are differences in taste.  If you get to the core by cutting the apple horizontally, every apple, as every child, is a star.”   Her viewpoint of each child as star was certainly felt and deeply known by those children that she loved.


I knew Anna as family and experienced her there.  But getting to know her better as teacher, boss, and community member was such a joy. Spending Saturday afternoon listening to former 6th grade students, teachers under her principal leadership, school administration co-workers and fellow church and volunteer friends was inspiring.  There was not one thing subtle about this larger than life woman.  Yet I heard over and over of her strong opinions so well balanced with a big and gentle heart.  What an amazing combination.  Several times the same message was shared – “I didn’t think I was capable of ______, but Anna told me I was going to do _____ and she was correct;  I could do it!” 

 Anna was passionate with a capital P and could always be counted on to express her opinions and thoughts out loud and with intensity.   This drew me to her and often added spice to family times together.  Children loved being in her presence.  My sister in law said so beautifully, “I’ll really miss her jump-in-with-both-feet life force.” 

 Over the years, we spent many meals, weekends and vacation times with her in our midst.  One thing that always touched me about Anna was that saying goodbye after family time together always brought forth strong emotion – she would hug and hold us tightly, cry and then choke out a goodbye.  Sunday, as we said our final goodbyes to Anna, many a tear was shed.  That seems a most fitting “goodbye for now” to this beloved aunt who will be so deeply missed.