Friday, December 12, 2008

A Christmas Tree Adventure

Thursday, December 4:
After deciding that I’d buy and set up a Christmas tree this year – I thought Domino, as an only child, really NEEDED a tree – I set about to research where I could get one at a really good price (think CHEAP), that would not look cheesy and would be the right size in proportion to the area in which it would be installed.

My Library Assistant actually found me a tree online at Home Depot. It was perfect: a 4 ½ foot, Jackson Spruce, pre-lit with 250 clear lights. OK! I was getting in the Christmas spirit. I ordered it from work last Thursday, December 4. Got the email confirmation later that evening from HD that my order was “in process”. I was good to go and feelin’ the spirit of the season!

Friday, December 5: Alas! On Friday evening I got another email from HD saying my order had been cancelled. No reason was given, but I did call the toll-free number to find out what had happened. The representative could not tell me why, but did offer to re-order the tree for me. OK. Christmas spirit suddenly snatched up with in email, but re-gained with the second order all in a matter of minutes.

Wednesday, December 10: Another email from HD. The order had been cancelled AGAIN. Calling HD once more, a better-informed representative told me the tree was out of stock, and that no more would be coming in. The Grinch had stolen my tree!!!

My Christmas spirit was in the crapper. The search for The Tree seemed bleak. It looked like Domino would not have his tree. My assistant, less deterred than I, looked on the Internet and found a similar tree at Lowe’s. It was a 4 ½ foot, Deluxe Aspen with 200 pre-lit clear lights. (The Grinch had stolen 50 lights off this tree; however, I would still get a tree!) But guess where it was?!? In west Dallas, just off I-30 at Cockerell Hill Rd. At best a 45-minute drive in rush hour traffic.

OK. I thought, “I can drive there and back in 90 minutes, giving 5 minutes in the store to purchase the tree, and get back for dinner at my church by 6:00 p.m.” Followed, I might add, with our 7:00 p.m. dress rehearsal for our choir cantata. Picking up Domino right after getting home from school and with him riding shotgun, we made somewhat of a mad dash up I-35 to I-30, hooked a right toward Dallas, put the pedal to the metal, and got out there on the road with all the other crazies during the beginning of rush hour.

When I got to the Lowe’s, there was my tree. Sitting behind the register in the Garden Center. Just as had been promised to me. A nice employee even put the tree in my trunk, and in just under 5 minutes I was on the freeway headed back to Fort Worth. Mission accomplished!

We got back home just a few minutes before 6:00 p.m., and after getting Domino settled, I left for church and the evening’s activities.

As I think back on this adventure, I’m not sure why I got so desperate for a tree. I think it’s because once I’d decided to get a tree, I was going to get a tree. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less. Upon this tree hinged a lot of my Christmas spirit. While I know Christmas is not about trees – or gifts, or parties, or lights, or any other of the many “trappings” of the holiday season – I wanted one to help me celebrate this special time of year. I assembled and put it up late this evening.
Saturday, December 13: Today I will decorate our tree with angel ornaments that I’ve collected over the years. Domino will have his tree this year.

Merry Christmas to you & yours.
May the true gifts of this season be yours
now and throughout the New Year:

Hope, Love, Joy, & Peace

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Hitting the Jackpot: a Christmas Story of 2006"


This true story was written a few days after a service project that was performed by faculty and students of the school at which I work. Although the event occurred two years ago, truly the theme is timeless as well as universal. I hope you enjoy the story.


The private, Christian school where I work had undertaken a most worthy Christmas service project. After purchasing backpacks/duffel bags, etc., students had filled the packs with items that the homeless might need: wooly mittens, warm hats, canned food, bottled water, blankets, etc. The plan was to deliver these packs to these poor unfortunates just prior to Christmas Day. It was a wonderful, heart-warming gesture, and one in which I wanted to participate.

The appointed day for our delivery was Friday morning, December 22, the very first morning of our Christmas holidays. As I woke that morning around 7:00 a.m., I was keenly aware of my surroundings: a warm house, a cozy bed, security in my environment, and knowledge that a breakfast of any kind of my choosing awaited me in my fully stocked kitchen. While I did not feel guilty for having these things, I did feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for my situation, and knew I was blessed beyond what I really needed to exist -- having much that enhanced my life beyond my needs, and in fact, to many of my wants. As I dressed and ate, I continued to experience this sense of gratitude for all that God had given me. And I prayed that God would bless those we served as we worked as Christ's servants.

Our group met at school quite early to pack up our gifts and trek to where the homeless lived -- if that's not an oxymoron. Where DO the homeless live? I was about to find out. We circled up on the parking lot of the Middle School Building, and while holding hands, Kory, one of our faculty, led us in prayer for our mission. There were four vehicles filled to the brim with these gift-laden backpacks.

I was traveling with one of our parents and her daughter; another student from school; and Kory. The back of the huge suburban-type vehicle in which I was riding was chock full of backpacks as well as our good intentions of serving the homeless.

And off we went! While I had been in the "homeless area" of town, having visited the Presbyterian Night Shelter (PNS) numerous times -- and also that of the Women's Haven -- encountering the homeless at that particular level was not an unknown to me. But I was wondering how this particular event would impact me. While I had no fear, coming face-to-face with the homeless was not something to which I was accustomed. It’s easy enough to make sandwiches, then leave only to have those sandwiches served long after I’m gone. It’s another to come into contact close enough as to be able to give a Christmas greeting and shake hands.

As we were driving toward the designated area, the parent who had gone on such a service project before explained how the event would work: we would drive to known areas where the homeless stayed, get out, open up the hatches of our vehicles, and pass out the Christmas bags. I remarked that perhaps many of the homeless had taken refuge at the PNS since the temperatures had been at or below freezing that previous night. Knowing that many sought this shelter in the worst of weather, I didn't really think we'd find many of the homeless out and about at 8:30 a.m. in the morning. Little did I know what was to come. Very little, indeed.

And, in fact, it did take us several tries before we actually found a few of the homeless. We had driven around vacant lots, through "neighborhoods" one could hardly call a neighborhood, and finally came upon three homeless men. As was our plan, we all stopped, got out, opened the hatches, and started offering our bags.

"Would you like a Christmas bag?" was our greeting. "Merry Christmas! Here's a gift for you," was yet another. While I was not fearful of the close encounter with these dirty, battered, forlorn-looking men, I did wonder what our students were thinking. Looking over at Colton, Katelyn, and Elizabeth delivering these packs of clothing and food, I was pleased to see the look of concern, and the love of Christ as they lovingly doled out our gifts.

That first stop garnered only three men. Back into our vehicles, back through some pretty rough neighborhoods, we continued in our search for the homeless. As we drove, the parent related how she and her family come out as a family on Christmas Day, bringing backpacks they themselves had filled, distributing their gifts to the homeless. As we approached a vacant corner lot, she excitedly remarked, “It's usually in this area that we hit the jackpot."


"What?" I thought. "The jackpot? It this what we are about? Hitting a jackpot???" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Her casual remark struck me as rather callous and unfeeling, yet here she was, with her daughter, out on the first morning of their Christmas holidays, sharing in this labor of love. Playing her comment again in my head, I tried once more to understand her meaning. While I did not gain any more understanding of the comment, it did answer my question of how she knew where to go and what to do.

We arrived at out next stop -- in a large parking lot right across the street from Broadway Baptist Church. All four vehicles stopped, everyone got out, and once again the hatches were opened. At first no one approached us. Several of the adults in our little group picked up packs and started walking toward some of the people who were standing around the parking lot. Within a few minutes, more homeless folk seemed to pour out from thin air. And they weren't just walking toward us -- they were running! It broke my heart to think that they might be worrying that we would leave. It was on that parking lot that we gave out close to 50 of our gifts. Many "Merry Christmases" were exchanged, hands met with warm handshakes, and the receivers of our gifts, with heads bowed low, softly thanked us for our kindness and thoughtfulness. It was quite a humbling experience for me. And I was simply amazed to learn that this was "how it worked": people came with bags, the homeless approached, and gifts were distributed -- as if everyone knew their assigned part in this strange-to-me one-act play. In the current vernacular, I was really trying to wrap my head around this happening.

After only an hour, we had a few more bags to distribute. Driving a mere 3 blocks from the church on a small street that could hardly even be called a “street“ -- it was more of an alley -- we found other of the homeless sitting on a broken down brick wall. These folk were eager to approach us, as if they knew what we had come to do. Once again, everyone knew his part and played it as before.

"Merry Christmas! Would you like a Christmas gift?" "God bless you -- please accept our gift." And so forth. We were nearing the bottom of our pile of gifts, and I was praying hard that we'd have just enough. Not one single bag left over, but just enough for everyone who came to our huddle of vehicles.

Unfortunately, it was not to work out so neatly and evenly. We had to turn away around ten men. Yet, if we’d had a thousand bags, we’d have given out every single one of them. These ten men would not receive the tangible gifts we’d brought to them. And while the spiritual gift of prayer is not to be underestimated, you can’t eat a prayer; you cannot tuck your cold hands into a prayer. Again, I experienced the heart-breaking ache for these cold unfortunates.

I walked over to our Principal, who had come with her husband to help deliver our gifts. “This is both heart-warming and heart-breaking all at the same time,” I said. “I know,” she observed, and then continued, “And with the resources we have (our country’s resources), this should not be happening.” I mentioned the current war situation and all the money that was being sucked up for that hopeless cause. “Why couldn’t we use that money for the homeless?” “Exactly my thoughts,” she responded. Shame, shame, and more shame on our government's administration and on anyone who continues to say that life is sacred, yet does nothing to help some of the most vulnerable of our society. It is in the New Testament that Jesus remarks that the homeless will always be with us, but He also says that “...anything you do for the very least of my brethren, you also do unto me...”. (Matthew 25:40)

We had given out all of our Christmas bags, and were beginning to feel the effects of the temperature, which hovered between 35 to 40 degrees. It was time to head back to school where we would all go our separate ways for the remainder of the holidays.

Before closing my story, however, I would like to share the blessings of that day: how much more I received than I gave during this event. I will forever remember the men who eagerly, or perhaps desperately, reached for our Christmas bags; the eyes of one of the men to whom I gave a backpack -- the near tears in his haunting, brown eyes where I saw not only his gratitude, but also the hopelessness of his situation; the woman asleep on the porch of a vacant home, how one of her friends told us of her illness due to walking without shoes in the rain of several days past; how I wish I had thought to give her my own shoes! -- but thankfully, one of our own group went back to do so. God bless you, Chris.

Back in the warmth and comfort of my own home, I continue to realize my many blessings, and give God thanks for providing for my needs. But since that day of gift-giving to the homeless, I find myself wondering. “Where are they today? What are they doing? Where is the man with the brown eyes? Does he have any family? And if so, why isn’t he with them now?” And I continue to try and wrap my head around the plight of these nameless, though no longer to me faceless, people who call the streets of Fort Worth home.

An old proverb goes something like this: “May we not be about giving only at Christmas, but be about the giving of Christmas throughout the year.” We are more acutely aware of those who are less fortunate at Christmas, but do they not have needs year ‘round? We know that they do. May we -- may I -- be ever mindful of this, and seek to give out the blessings of Christmas every day of the year. I know this will be my intent for the New Year ahead.

The Domino Dog

He’s a five-pound, long-haired, black and white Chihuahua who thinks he’s a fifty-pound Doberman. Although Domino is one of the smallest of God’s creatures, he has a big heart and a personality to match. Since acquiring Domino in September of 2007, I’ve taught him a couple of “tricks”. One of these tricks is “dancing”. With a tasty training treat in one hand, I coax him up into a hind-leg stance, and watch him go into what looks like spasms. They are really jigs of joy as he “dances” around and around on his tiny hind legs, whirling and twirling, working so hard to earn the coveted treat. Another is our "high five" trick. From a sitting position, and with a training treat nearby, I excitedly command, "High five! High five!", at which time he leaps up with his two paws matching my two palms in a gesture of love and solidarity. If you ever see Domino and me, ask us about this special trick! It's hilarious.

Domino has beautiful, symmetrical markings. While he is almost all black, he sports four white, tiny paws, and a white chest and belly. The white hair around his neck reminds me of a bow-tie – it’s just that symmetrical! His large, brown eyes sometimes look almost human, and he often gets away with his pranks because of those lovely eyes. Domino’s tail is large and bushy, and can often be seen wagging in pure delight of just being with his mistress.

His personality is just as charming. He is mostly a docile dog, but he gets excited in the mornings when he wakes up and again when I arrive home from work. He scampers around, belly on the floor, tail wagging ninety miles a minute, happy to see me, ready to play and perform his tricks.

Domino’s favorite activity – if it can be called an “activity” – is to lie in my lap in the recliner of my bedroom. There he is perfectly contented to lie in the crook of my knees while I read, watch TV, or nap. Often we cuddle and have what I call a “love fest”. I rub, rub, rub his little perfectly rounded head; his white chest and belly; and then finally behind his soft, fluffy black ears. I think he likes those love fests better than eating! He is a very special dog, and not just because he’s mine, but because he is one of God’s creation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fall in Haiku

Stirrings of crisp air
refreshes mind and body
sun’s warm rays delight.

Leaves of brilliant hues
glimmering gold and crimson
the glory of fall.

Pumpkins and turkeys
fragrant autumnal spices
bring their gifts of fall.

Trees in bare glory
sing in twig language their song
splendor comes in fall.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Significant & Formative Events in My Life (so far!)

  • 1977 Meeting Tim, my husband-to-be, at Southwestern University

  • 1979 Graduation from Southwestern University (B.M.)

  • 1980 My marriage to Tim

  • 1981 Moving to Rochester, NY for Tim to attend graduate school (some very difficult and unhappy years for me)

  • 1985 Moving back to Texas for me to attend graduate school (TCU)

  • 1987 Graduation from Texas Christian University (M.M.)

  • 1988 My Dad dies at the age of 61

  • 1989 Buying our first home (still there after almost 19 years!)

  • 1992 Graduation from UNT (M.L.S.)

  • 1993 My Mom dies at the age of 55

  • 1997 Starting first school library job

  • 1999 Tim is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

  • 2004 Last vacation with Tim to San Francisco (what fun!)

  • 2005 Tim dies of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after a struggle of 5 years

  • 2007 Taking an Alaskan cruise with friend, Sandy (a trip of a lifetime!)

  • 2007 My sister being diagnosed with breast cancer

  • 2007 Taking an interim job as a church pianist

  • 2007 Becoming a pet Mommy to Domino

  • 2007 Taking the interim job as pianist as a permanent position
  • 2008 Joining this church as a member
Dear Gentle Readers:

If you've been reading my blog, you will have noticed that it was rather dated. Today I am turning the proverbial new leaf and reorganizing and updating my blog. You will see some of the old posts, but also new things will start appearing. A lot has happened since the last post in late February 2008, so please check back for the latest.

Welcome to My World,

Friday, February 15, 2008

Head Time (Or My Head’s Not for Rent)

We live in a noisy society. Or had you noticed? Try sitting in your living room without the overt sounds of a radio, TV, computer buzz, or the like, and just listen. I’ll bet you can still identify at least three distinct sounds. Those sounds might be the refrigerator, the washer/dryer, or even the distant sounds of an airplane overhead. Maybe it’s the sound of your own breathing or that of your near companion. You might even hear the crickets on your patio. My point is that even when we think we’re in a silent mode, we’re really not.

Right from the get-go I will say that I love silence. I NEED silence as much as I need oxygen, food, and water. I need quiet time (henceforth to be called QT) to sort out things in my head. Sometimes I do not sort. I just sit. I simply am. And it seems that the older I get, the more I need large quantities of my quiet or head time. The consequences of not getting this QT are real and severe.

My job – while enjoyable and rewarding – is also quite challenging on any given day. I am a librarian who works diligently every day to meet the academic and informational needs of the school community. Now while this is not physical work, it is highly demanding intellectually. The constant flow of patrons in the Library, each with a different need, requires quick thinking and multi-tasking, not to mention a high degree of knowledge for “where to look” for the required piece of information. It also requires technical knowledge of computers – hardware and software – as well as the ability to search various databases using the most efficient of search techniques and strategies. No, it’s not like digging ditches, but I am mentally exhausted at the end of the day. I’ve definitely given my employer (the school community) the best eight hours of my day.

That being said, silence is imperative at the end of a work day. The silence helps to replenish me; helps me to regroup for the next day; in essence, the silence fills me up so that I am able to pour out the next day. As you can see, silence and QT are not really options for me. They are a necessary part of my work life. It’s also essential for the artistic (music) side of me. Silence provides me an opportunity to reflect, to create, to grow in my artistry. Without silence, art is not made.

I’m happy to report that I almost always get that quiet time. Since I now live without human companionship – having lost my precious husband almost four years ago – I am more able to control the environment of my home. It’s not that my husband was noisy. In fact, he was a quieter person than I and also needed his quiet time. It’s just that I can now know with exact certainty that the house will be mine and mine alone.

Of course, there is Domino. You may have read about him in a prior post. If not, please go back in time and read about this amazing little creature. Fortunately, Domino is not a yapper/barker/noise maker. He serves as an excellent watchdog, or as I proclaimed him recently, Head of Household Security, a job he takes quite seriously and performs amazingly well. When on duty and as warranted, I get a sample of his barking skills. But other than barking as part of his job, he is a quiet, docile little dog who’d rather sit quietly in my lap with me while watching TV, reading, or napping than bark up a storm for no apparent reason. Domino, it would seem, also needs his fair share of quiet time. That’s something we have in common.

And so it can be said that I am able to control the noise level in my home and can get as much silence and QT as I need on a regular basis – that being on a DAILY basis. As previously mentioned, not getting this QT has negative consequences for me: I lose focus throughout the day; I am cranky; my patience is paper thin; and I feel bad physically. I may get a headache; start to get body aches; in general, I start to feel sick. My head also feels like it has a pile of trash in it – trash that needs to be taken OUT but stays IN because of not getting that QT.

I believe that a lot of people have trouble with QT. They’re not comfortable with their own thoughts. They need constant stimulus (noise, eating, fidgeting, etc.) so as to possibly avoid their own thoughts. Perhaps this is why so many people flip on the stereo, kick up the iPod, and tune in to Sirius – to avoid being alone with their thoughts – or perhaps alone with no thoughts. And I do think that some people don’t have nay thoughts. Nothing to sort out. Nothing of consequence to think about. Like, “Nobody’s home.”

Or maybe it’s because we are a society constantly “on the go”. We have forgotten how to be quiet. We have forgotten how to be still. With busy family schedules, it seems there’s always something to do. (And don’t get me started on the troubling fact that kids are way over scheduled these days – that’s yet another post.) It leaves very little time for those simple pleasures – one of which I call my QT.

Whether it’s due to self-imposed noise, or the lack of time for oneself, I believe that we, as a society, will one day pay for this lack of silence, solitude. And the price may be as real and severe as mine are.

Can you hear me America – over all of the noise?