Thursday, December 27, 2007

The happy hubbub of the holidays!

This past week has been filled with such holiday fun!

Last Thursday - company Christmas party with yummy tapas appetizers and beverages. I won a $50 Best Buy gift card in the raffle!

Friday - a best friend had her annual holiday Open House. Fabulous time! Tons of amazing food, holiday decor in every nook and cranny, including the ceiling, and a lot of old - and new - friends gathered to celebrate

Saturday - took my grands to see a wonderful play, La Posada Magica. This is our third consecutive year seeing this wonderful, funny, Latin-themed, audience-participation, musical play. We'll be back next year, too!

Sunday - Christmas brunch at my house so we could all celebrate Christmas with my dad. I'm used to preparing food for one person, so cooking for 15 is challenging and brunch started about an hour later than planned. Everyone had a wonderful time, pitching in to help, setting up tables and chairs, laughing, teasing. We exchanged gifts: CDs by the Doors, Beatles, Emmylou Harris, Marvin Gaye; books (Uncrowned King: The Life of Prince Albert, A Thousand Splendid Suns); DVDs (a couple of French films, Orson Welles' Touch of Evil) and other assorted gifts. After brunch and gifts, everyone munched on goodies for dessert (my daughter makes great fudge!), and I played Christmas carols and songs on the piano while folks young and old all sang along. Such a wonderful Dickensian scene!

Monday - baked cookies and tried to recover from the previous few days! I can usually manage the fibromyalgia and spondylolisthesis pretty well with periodic rest and exercise, but by Sunday I was pretty pooped and my body was "talking" to me about it!

Tuesday - blessed Christmas! I drove to my daughter's home to celebrate with her family and open gifts. My oldest grand did a beautiful painting for me; she's a talented artist! Later, I drove to my brother and sister-in-law's home for Christmas dinner with them and my sister-in-law's close family. A great meal, great conversation and the perfect ending to a wonderful week!

I hope you and yours had a wonderfully blessed Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

the breath of heaven ...

Merry Christmas from Huntington Beach, California! Doing a little reading this morning, I felt the ocean breeze gently stir in the room, lightly lifting the filmy sheers at my bedroom window. The sun's rays caught the little mirrors and prisms in the window and cast dancing rainbows around the room, colors twinkling on walls and surfaces. I put down my reading and just watched. The air across my skin and the scattering rainbows just made me feel so filled with love and the magic of Christmas and the miracle of His birth!

The following is edited from last year's December 17, 2006 post:

Advent always draws me to Mary, a young Jewish girl in Nazareth, raised in a good Jewish family, betrothed to a good Jewish man. The stories of Mary were written long after she'd crossed over, long after the events of her life had transpired. There were no reporters to relate her story as it unfolded, no paparazzi snapping away. So my beliefs about those times may not be entirely factual, but they are beliefs of the heart, of what I believe are the intents of the Nativity story.

What must life have been like for this young girl, Mary, anticipating her marriage to Joseph, looking forward to a normal Jewish life with him, raising kids, working, all the normal family things? She was about 15, maybe younger. Then an angel appears to her and tells her that she is to have a child - without having been with a man - and not any child, but the long-awaited Messiah. Faithfulness and prayer was much different then than today, but this would surely have given any young girl pause, to have at least raised questions on her part, possibly denial that such a thing could occur. How many of us - in the circumstances of those times - would have thought "thanks, but no thanks?"

Mary does question, "How shall this be?" Then, her simple, faithful "Yes" - her most obedient response "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’” (Luke 1:38) - shows a complete trust in the Lord, her embrace of God's call for her to change everything she'd planned for her life and to obey God's word without question.

Mary's response inspires me to try to live my life with complete trust in God and in His plan for my life. My Advent journey each year provides a glorious opportunity for reflection and renewal, a special time set aside for just such contemplation on how to live my life in a way that honors and glorifies.

The beautiful song Breath of Heaven reflects the awesomeness of Mary's response to the angel, her fiat. Mary questions God, asking him if He's really quite sure she's right for the job, if perhaps "a wiser one should have had my place?" Faithfully, she responds: "But I offer all I am/for the mercy of your plan" and she asks Him for His help, knowing the difficulties that lay ahead of her:

"Help me be strong ...
Help me be ...
Help me ..."

A prayer any believer can pray any day, any time, looking to our faith (in whatever very personal way that means to each of us) to sustain us, to help us be.

Tomorrow, Advent's quiet season of prayer-filled waiting and reflective contemplation culminates in the joy of blessed Christmas. Lord, let it be me to me according to your word, and help me to develop complete trust and faith in you in all things, just as Mary did. Emmanuel - God with us!


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Heidi and my Advent practice ...

Last Saturday night, my granddaughters and I snuggled up together on the couch and watched Shirley Temple's Heidi together. I love this film! This is not only my favorite Advent/Christmas movie, but simply my favorite movie ever. Watching Heidi is always a highlight of the Advent season for me.

What does the movie have to do with Advent? Let's start with its themes of unconditional love, of sin and repentance, of forgiveness and redemption. This movie connects with a deeper spirituality within me; it's not just a cute little girl capturing the hearts of everyone she meets. There's so much more that I become aware of with each viewing.

Unconditional Love
Heidi is left by her aunt to live with her grandfather, a recluse in a rugged hut high up a mountain, who is feared by the people in the village below. Heidi, though, approaches this man - a total stranger to her - with a wide smile and an acceptance and love for him just as he is, her innocent child's hands holding a bouquet of wildflowers she's picked on the long hike up the mountain. The sweet innocence of youth holds no judgement or criticism of her grandfather; instead, she offers him a sweet, pure love without any conditions, without any hesitation. Watching this the other night - my heart filled with Advent reflection - I thought that this is much like Jesus loves us, seeing our beautiful, perfect spirits within, loving us unconditionally. There is no "I'll love you if you'll love me back" from either Heidi or Jesus. There is simply "I love you."

Sin and Repentance
In the face of that love, the grandfather's self-imposed isolation turns to a a joyful embrace of this child's presence in his lonely life and he soon loves his granddaughter with a powerful protectiveness, the two of them singing and laughing through their chores and school lessons each day. When they read the story of the prodigal son together, the grandfather wistfully quotes from memory: "'But the father said, 'Bring the best robe and put it on him, and put rings on his finger. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. For this my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost and now is found.'"

The grandfather had rejected his son - Heidi's father - years ealier, when the son married a woman the grandfather did not approve of. And now the son was dead and the old man's regrets are etched in the softness and longing in his expression as he quotes the biblical passage. A tremendously moving scene, you get a sense that the man is talking with both his son and his God, repenting his past sins and asking forgiveness from them both. Then his expression softens further, and we understand that he realizes his son is truly "alive again", through his beloved granddaughter, Heidi.

Forgiveness and redemption
"If a man has a hundred sheep and one is gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go into the mountains and seek that which is gone astray? And if... [Heidi and her grandfather enter the church. Pastor Schultz pauses] ... And if he finds it, he rejoices more than of the ninety-nine which went not astray."

The grandfather's heart is so changed, that he decides to return to the village and take Heidi to church. As they arrive, the pastor is preaching the parable of the lost sheep. He pauses and all eyes turn to the Grandfather and Heidi as they walk up the aisle and take a seat. Whispers and smiles fill the church as the Grandfather and Heidi join in and sing with the congregation. After the service, the citizens of the village all gather 'round the two outside the church, eager to shake the grandfather's hand and welcome him back with warmth and caring. No judgement, no criticism, only joy at his return. A real God moment.

I know these thoughts are very simplistic; after all, this is the movies and Shirley Temple movies were crafted to tug at the heart strings with a three-part plot of happiness - crisis - happiness. Believe me, I know. (And that's why I like them.) But lately, I'm seeing evidence of God in so many things in each day and each moment. Why don't we have more movies like this today, movies that prompt us to live our own lives better and in closer connection with all that is good and wholesome? Movies that draw our thoughts toward God and peace and love toward one another. When Shirley sings "Silent Night", there is a deep sense of peace and calm in my spirit. This is how I want movies to make me feel.

Advent continues to help me see the sacred in all that is around me and explore how Heidi's lessons of love, repentance and forgiveness can be practiced in my own life.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

A very special holiday treat ...

Last week, Maureen at Penchants, Ponderings and Posies (I just love that name!) gave me a Friendly Site Award, which I thought was very nice and ... er ... uh ... well, friendly of her! I very nearly forgot to acknowledge it - sorry, Maureen!

There are several blogs that I really enjoy visiting and Maureen's is one of the tops. She is what I would consider a bit of a Renaissance woman; even though we've never met in person, I've known her online since 2001. Mo is a highly skilled photographer, with a tremendous eye for framing a photo in her lens. When she went to Italy (yes, she even speaks Italian), her camera was often in hand as she shot the countryside and places she visited. Some of her most wonderfully engaging photos are a series of door knockers that she captured; they're elegant and beautiful (and I've often thought would make such pretty notecards!).

Maureen's artistic talent isn't just in photography; her home is jaw-dropping gorgeous. She has a way of creating beautiful environments with lovely details throughout, yet with a comfortable, welcoming feel that makes you smile the minute you step in her door.

Christmas time at Mo's is a special treat I look forward to each year and she's recently posted some pics of this year's
decor. Weaving shimmery bronzes and coppers with soft lime greens and warm browns ... mixing natural garden elements with family treasures (where natural-looking birds festoon willow branches with deep kiwi-green ribbon) ... and then topping it all with the sparkle of mercury glass, mirror and silvery tinsel ... she has created a look rich with the magic and wonder of Christmas!

Please visit Mo and enjoy a very special holiday treat for yourself:


Saturday, December 8, 2007

sensing grace ...

Maybe it's my stronger focus on my inner life during Advent ...
Maybe it's just the season ...
But, I'm finding myself more vitally aware of God's presence in all things these days.

Do you sense it, too? Slowing down, I take fuller, deeper breaths. I open my heart to the moment, extending my arms out wide and then back, like angel's wings, heart exposed. I'm finding myself stopping and paying a little more attention, seeing His grace in just every little thing.

... the rain yesterday
... the sunshine today
...the hellos that I exchanged with strangers when I took my walk this morning ... hello! good morning! ...
...the phone conversation with my oldest granddaughter last night, gabbing away and laughing at silly things class this morning ... extending, strengthening, breathing ... holding stillness in the pose, holding stillness in the mind ... chatting happily with everyone after class
... the seagulls playing and calling to one another
... the music playing on this blog
... you ... I see His grace in you

I saw a photo earlier this morning of cats sitting in a window, watching snowflakes falling for the better part of the day. They'd change positions once in a while, but otherwise, simply sat there observing the dancing, whirling flakes, quietly witnessing without fully engaging, in the grace of the moment. We "stare out the window", metaphorically, more as kids than as adults, I think. As a kid, I'd become engrossed in watching a limey green worm inch-inch-inch across the grass, or be fully present as I observed a line of ants busily hauling things along the sidewalk's edge. Or simply witness the splendor of Nature below me as I sat on the edge of a rock atop a hill ... simply looking, and feeling my entire being fill with peace and grace.

I need to "stare out the window' more ... stilling the mind naturally by acknowledging and being present to the moment, the internal chatter on pause, breathing more fully, senses dialed in at the upper range of awareness, naturally aware of God's grace. There is no judgment, criticism, and barely any thought. Simply observant, simply aware of grace.

Fully present to the moment.
Fully present to the Grace of the moment.

In grace, there is a perfect blend of our dual natures, body and spirit in harmony. Everything we need to know, we already know. (Really.) Sometimes it's just a matter of slowing down and being more present to remember. We acknowledge the grace of God in each moment. We acknowledge our own divine grace, too. Blessed be.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

dancing with my Self ...

Golden moments -

You know those times during the week when you are suddenly very consciously aware of how very happy and content you are? When you look up and see the world frozen for a split second and you find your heart simply glowing with happiness?

When it happens, it's as if I'm going through my day, and then someone turns on a beacon of golden light that makes me stop, lift my head from whatever I was occuped with, and take notice with absolute clarity. I breathe. I smile. I AM HAPPY. The feeling floods through me and fills me up. And these golden moments usually happen when I'm with family and friends, the people I love.

This past weekend was filled with those golden moments, lucky girl that I am. On Friday, my friend and dance instructor, X, had a dance mixer at his dance studio. I haven't seen X in a few months, and haven't taken lessons or been in his studio for even longer. In his e-mail about the mixer, he also said that one of my favorite salsa instructors and a good friend, Zuly, would be there, too, and that her salsa performing group would be performing. woo-hoo! I called a friend who wants to learn salsa and needed a night out, picked her up and we went to the studio. I was grinning ear-to-ear the entire time. X always has such great parties; he taught salsa, merengue and cha-cha lessons at various times during the night, he had a fun contest, there was the performance (which was fabulous! Zuly is an outstanding choreographer who uses the entire body so amazingly) - it was non-stop fun, and my friend got her feet wet in learning the basics of latin dance. Plus I ran into several old dance friends!

Saturday night, one of my "forever friends" had a gathering at his place for our group. (Chris, Glenn, Paul and I have been super-tight friends for over 30 years, from way back when we'd hang out with each other every day; a regular sitcom we were.) All I have to do is step into a room with these guys and the beacon comes on and I'm standing there grinning. We have always bantered and teased mercilessly and we haven't stopped yet. Thrust and parry, bob and weave - we'd be in mid-conversation when someone would fling some barb and we'd all be on the floor laughing. Super-smart guys, we can hold an intelligent, well-considered conversation - between bouts of laughter - and enjoy one another's company so much, that the conversation is effortless. We have such a wealth of shared experience together and almost our own shorthand way of being together, that's it's like wearing your favorite pajamas.

Sunday afternoon, my daughter had a combination housewarming party and 30th birthday party. Yes, my munchkin, who looks like she's still 14, is turning 30 today, December 6. This was the first time that her family and her husband's family would be coming out to see their new home. Daughter spent two days cleaning, decorating and cooking and she did a fabulous job, with chili verde, chicken enchiladas, beans and spanish rice, all made from scratch. (Her beans tasted just like my mom's; delicious!) As members of both families were happily jabbering away with one another and eating, I looked at them all and felt so happy. I looked at Daughter, gathering the compliments on her new home, and I was happy.

Each night this week, I've lit my 1st Advent Candle, the candle of Hope. With the rest of the house in darkness and only that small purple candle lit, I've gazed into its flame and talked with my God, peace and contentment filling my heart as I watch the Light flicker against the dark.

In these golden moments, I feel happiness. I also feel complete freedom. Freedom from want, freedom from desire. I want nothing else in this moment; I am not in need. It's just all so perfect. Nothing to add, nothing to subtract. Nothing to do, nothing to undo. I imagine this is partly what Heaven might feel like, where we lack nothing and have no wants or needs.

May you enjoy plenty of golden moments this first week of Advent. Namaste.

Monday, December 3, 2007

slow me down, Lord ...

breathing in ... breathing out ...

Slow me down, Lord; slow me down.
Remind me to be vigilant; make my soul more aware of the grace of each moment.
"Stay awake! Be prepared."
Slow me down, Lord, so I may take care in my preparations and not lose myself in distraction.

Lighting the 1st candle, the candle of Hope
recalls the hope of God's people as they antipated the coming of a Messiah.
It recalls the steadfast faith in that anticipated coming.
It recalls the steadfast faith and hope of a young girl who knew of the dangers of her simple "Yes" to God's angel.
With joyful hope, we join her in awaiting the birth of the Light of he world.
Slow me down, Lord; slow me down.

breathing in ... breathing out ...

The Light comes to dispel the darkness, to bring new life, hope, and joy in the Love of God.
Made in the image of God, we are called to be light to the world by reflecting God's grace to others.
Let our actions, our words and our thoughts reflect that grace.
Let me be aware of others' needs around me, and anticipate how I might be gracious toward them.
Slow me down, Lord; slow me down.

low me down and open my eyes that I may see your grace revealed.
My heart fills with love and light.
Slowing down, I can listen more attentively to your voice in my spirit.
Let the words of your servant be guided by your grace.
Let the actions of your servant be guided by your will.

breathing in ... breathing out ...