Raggedy Ann and Christmas

Standard

This little girl, Raggedy Ann, has a very special story to tell you this Christmas. Here she is, happily sitting on the bed in my guest room, with the quilt that my Mama hand-quilted beneath her, and the pillow that Mama also hand-quilted supporting her as she waits to share a very special story with you.

Raggedy Ann wasn’t always faded and mended, as you can tell if you look very closely at her little legs and the sutures that were lovingly placed to mend the fabric of her legs many years ago. You can’t see underneath her faded flowery dress and dull white pinafore to the faded red heart that says, “I Love You.” You also can’t see the back of her head where her orange yarn hair has fallen out with the years, leaving a bald spot at her crown. Her black button eyes once sat close to her face, while today one of them is extended and hanging on by a thread. But if you look at her smile, you will see that Ann is happy and content, and she is safe with her little girl, Jennie Lou.

Ann was a Christmas gift to Jennie Lou for her first Christmas when she was less than a year old. Jennie Lou doesn’t remember the day that Ann appeared under the Christmas tree, but her mama told her about how she ran (yes, she had been walking since she was seven months old!) to the tree, grabbed Ann up into her little arms, and hugged her tightly. That Christmas, Ann was actually taller than Jennie Lou was, and her mama joyfully related the memory of Jennie Lou holding this wonderful doll in her lap, a doll who completely enveloped the little toddler in her rag doll arms.

That first Christmas was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Ann and Jennie Lou. Ann slept with the little girl every night, and even had a pillow of her own to rest her head. She said her prayers with Jennie Lou, as the little girl would fold Ann’s hands together as she did her own little hands to pray each night. Jennie Lou showed Ann the  portrait of Jesus holding a baby lamb that hung above her bed, and when she was old enough, she told Ann all about Jesus, the good shepherd. Every morning the little child would pull up the dress and pinafore from Ann’s body to look at her red heart, knowing that the words, “I Love You” were still there, long before she was able to read the words for herself. She knew what the heart meant, and she loved her Raggedy Ann with all her heart.

Jennie Lou grew and grew, and in a few years she was taller than Ann. Her love for her beloved doll grew and grew as well, as they shared adventures, went for rides in Jennie Lou’s doll carriage, rocked in the big wicker rocking chair on the back porch together, made blanket forts underneath the dining room table, and went outside together to look for good Thinking Places. Ann absorbed the child’s tears when she was sad or angry, received many hugs and kisses along with lots of loving, and listened to stories of adventures that Ann wasn’t allowed to accompany her on. Ann never stopped smiling. Her love for her little girl was constant and true. Her “I Love You” heart always reminded her that there was a special bond between her and Jennie Lou. She knew that she was loved as much as she loved.

One day when Jennie Lou was a teenager, she noticed that Ann was fading and becoming very fragile. She couldn’t bear to part with Ann, but she was afraid that Ann’s fabric arms and legs were at risk of more injury and becoming torn. She lovingly wrapped Ann in a large towel and placed her in a cedar chest in her bedroom. Every now and then she would open the chest and take Ann out for a visit, and then tenderly put Ann back into the cedar chest where she knew she would be safe.

The years passed. Jennie Lou became a mother and had two sons of her own. While she didn’t dare give Ann to her little boys to play with, she gave them each a Raggedy Andy doll of their own, making sure that each doll had the same red heart as Ann had. She wanted her little sons to know that Andy loved them as Ann loved her. Somewhere along the way, the little boys outgrew their Andy dolls, and they were donated to charity for another child to have. Star Wars action figures, Transformers, and GI Joes took center stage as the little boys grew, and the Andys were soon forgotten.

But Jennie Lou never forgot about her Ann. Ann traveled with Jennie Lou through her life with move after move, from one home to another, where she was always safely tucked away in the cedar chest, never far from Jennie Lou’s bedroom, no matter where she lived.

There came a time in Jennie Lou’s life when she feared for Ann. Jennie Lou was going through a trying and painful period of her life in which she feared for those possessions that she treasured the most. One day, in desperation, she took Ann out of the cedar chest, wrapped her in a blanket, and whisked her out of her house without anyone noticing, taking her to visit a friend. This particular friend, named Dena, had a bedroom in her home that was her Raggedy Ann room. Jennie Lou had visited it and had told Dena all about Ann and how special she was. Dena offered to keep Ann for her until Jennie Lou’s life returned to normal, and Jennie Lou took her up on her offer. Jennie Lou and Dena made a spot for Ann among all the other Anns in the room, making sure she was comfortable and happy. With tears flowing down her cheeks, Jennie Lou kissed Ann goodbye and promised her that nothing bad would ever happen to her.

A few years passed. Jennie Lou’s life led her down a lovely and bright new path, the sun came back out in her life, and she moved into a new house of her very own. She was very happy in her home, starting a new and fresh life, when surprise of surprises! Dena came to visit her one day, carrying Ann in her arms. Dena told her that it was time for Ann to come back home.

Together, they placed Ann on the guest room bed, surrounded by photos of Jennie Lou’s family, posters and pictures of happy times and places adorning the walls. Ann sweetly smiled as she rested her head against the comfy pillow, and her red heart underneath her faded dress and pinafore just about burst with happiness and love.

Ann was now sixty-eight years old, the same age as Jennie Lou.

Ann was home.

And so was Jennie Lou.

Raggedy Ann and Jennie Lou wish all of you a blessed Christmas, filled with love and happiness as we once again welcome the Christ Child into our lives! May our hearts always beat with Christ’s love, just as Ann’s has all these many years.

Advertisements

Merry Christmas, 2017

Standard

Christmas 2017

With a blank page in front of me this afternoon, I pause before writing anything, thinking back over this year. I’m not sure what to write. It has been a year that resembles a roller coaster ride of activity and emotions for me. I don’t want to bore you all with a running list of all that has happened in my life, but rather write something that may tug at a heartstring or two, cause you to pause and think for a moment, or perhaps stop to ponder what Christmas is all about.

I wasn’t sure I had a Christmas letter in me this year. I’ve been so immersed in the writing of my two recent books and my blog, I wondered if I had a decent creative thought left in my brain to pass along to you this Christmas. I stare at the page on my computer screen, contemplating what message to convey, if there is one, this Christmas season.

And now, suddenly, I look up, and here it is! My Christmas story is staring me in the face as I sit in my favorite easy chair across the room from my Christmas tree! It is my Angel Tree, adorned with angel ornaments and keepsakes from my life’s history. There are probably close to 100 angels watching me as I attempt to write. Maybe this is my Christmas message this year – angels watching over us. Angels played a major role in the nativity story, announcing the birth of Jesus. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” the hymn writer penned. They had quite an announcement to make to the shepherds on the hillside that winter night. Angels have also been part of my own story all my life, as I have always held the belief that I have at least one, if not more, guardian angels.

I’m not sure how my Angel Tree came to be. I never intentionally collected angel ornaments. It seems that they somehow collected me, every one of them with its unique story to tell. Even some of the ornaments that have traveled with me over the years from my childhood have angels on them. There are a few on the tree that don’t fit the angel profile, but in a way they are angels, too, because of how they came to be. Selected ones from Wade’s and Brian’s childhood are here, as well as ornaments that have something to do with cookies, given to me to honor my Christmas Cookie Baking Day that I have every year. And there are a few butterflies and snowflakes among the collection – which to me are almost the same as angels. They are all special, and they each have a story to tell and a message to share.

I am reminded of a song I sang as a child, “All night, all day. Angels watching over me, my Lord. All night, all day. Angels watching over me.” I believed it then, and I believe it now. I am certain that angels are always around us, and that they most certainly watch over us, whether we pay any attention to them or not.

As Christmas approaches, let’s all make an effort to be aware of the angels surrounding us. You know, they come in all shapes and sizes, and often surprise us with their presence. Angels are messengers of God, and guardians of our hearts and souls. And, like my Christmas story this year, they are often right there in front of us, waiting for us to acknowledge them and give them wings to fly.

Merry Christmas from Sunshine and me!

The Christmas Doll

Standard

 

I wrote this for my blog in 2008. While talking to some friends recently about going to Rich’s Department Store at Christmastime when we were growing up, I remembered this and found it in my archives. This is one of my favorite Christmas memories. Enjoy!

I was five years old and Christmas was getting close. My mother told me that I needed to think about what I wanted Santa Claus to bring me, and that we would go downtown to sit on Santa’s lap once I decided what I would tell him. It didn’t take much thinking for me. All I wanted was a doll that could walk and talk. Nothing else interested me.

Mama dressed me up in my Sunday dress and shoes and bundled me in the winter coat she had made for me. We walked three blocks from our house to the trolley stop in Decatur to ride the bus six miles to Rich’s Department Store in downtown Atlanta. Once there, we easily found the line of children waiting to talk to Santa, and took our place with them. My turn came, and I pranced right up to Santa, climbing onto his lap. When he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told him – a doll that walks and talks. Is there anything else you want Santa to bring you? No, thank you, just a doll that walks and talks.

From Santa’s lap, we made our way to Rich’s toy department. Mama and I began looking at dolls to see if we could find the one I wanted. A pretty saleslady approached us and offered to help. I told her what I wanted. She smiled and said, “Well, young lady, I’m not sure we have a doll that walks and talks, but I have lots of dolls that I can show you.” The first one she took off the shelf was a doll that could walk. She showed me how to hold onto its middle and move my hands to propel one leg and then the other forward. The doll was pretty, but she was stiff and couldn’t really walk. She wasn’t the one I wanted. The next doll was one that could talk. But her lips were painted onto her face, and I had to turn her completely upside down to make her chirp a whiny “Ma-ma” from somewhere in the vicinity of her stomach. That wasn’t talking. This doll wasn’t the one I wanted, either. I wanted a doll that could walk and talk.

The saleslady showed me doll after doll, demonstrating what each one could do, but none was the doll I had asked Santa for. Finally, in desperation, she said she had one more, but she didn’t think this doll was right for me, either. Into my arms she placed a big soft baby doll, dressed in pink, with light brown painted hair and blue eyes with real hair eyelashes and eyelids that blinked open and shut as I moved her head. She was soft and plump, and the size of a real baby. She was beautiful! But she doesn’t walk or talk, both my mother and the saleslady reminded me. Thoughts of walking, talking dolls flew out of my mind for a moment as I held this wonderful baby doll. I gently handed her back to the saleslady, and she placed her back on the toy shelf. I had told Santa that I wanted a doll that walks and talks. I knew his elves could make a doll for me that walked and talked. As Mama and I left Rich’s, I counted on Santa to bring me what I really wanted for Christmas.

On Christmas morning, I was awake early to see what Santa had brought me. To my surprise, he had not left a doll that walks or talks under our tree, but the baby doll I had held so tenderly at Rich’s. I gently picked her up and carried her to Daddy’s rocking chair to rock and cuddle until the rest of the family woke up to see what Santa had left at our house. I don’t remember wishing for a doll that walks and talks ever again!

My Christmas doll wasn’t the one I thought I wanted, but she was the one I needed, and she needed me. She couldn’t walk or talk, but that didn’t matter to me. I named her Cathy and loved and cared for her for many years, while she loved me back by simply being soft and huggable, and by gazing at me with those crystal blue blinking eyes.

My wish for us all this Christmas is that we remember that it isn’t getting what we think we want that makes our lives complete. What makes life wonderful is discovering the “baby dolls” we meet along our way who need our love. And it is in our response to them that we become more caring, giving, and compassionate human beings.

Merry Christmas Letter from Jennie

Standard

Here is my annual Christmas letter. I am putting it out to the universe to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

Christmas, 2016

The theme for my life and Christmas letter in 2015 was Grace and Gratitude.

As I look back at 2016, I search within myself for this year’s theme. While pondering my year, I realize that I have carried last year’s theme of gratitude with me this year; however, it has expanded through my daily devotionals and my learning the practice of contemplative prayer to bring me to a heightened awareness of the world around me – the people, the animals, all living things in nature, sounds and music, and the colors, smells, and the feel of this planet we call home, not to mention the awareness of God’s presence in all of creation. For me, God has not been a heavenly father looking down upon me from heaven, but a constant companion in my life and one who is present in every aspect of what I do and who I am, and is in every breath that I take.

Everyday in my journey through life, I thank God for all that has been given to me. I also thank God for taking care of my family and my friends. “Thank you” is something that I say out loud and silently many times during the course of a day. I have made a conscious effort not to make my prayers a grocery list of things I ask God to do, but instead to thank God for being with us all, guiding us, protecting us, and delivering us.

Christmas is now a few weeks away. For years I have struggled with Christmas, with getting into the Christmas spirit, with wrestling with the commercialization and greediness of the season, and with seeking to understand the nativity story and what it means to me personally. It has been elusive, just beyond my reach, leaving me frustrated, empty-feeling, and confused.

This year is different. In the spirit of my theme of gratitude, I am approaching this Christmas with a great big “Thank You” on my lips and in my every breath.

Thank you, God, for being with me through another year. Thank you for lighting my path when it was rocky and dark. Thank you for bringing people and animals into my life to show me your grace and love. Thank you for giving me courage to take risks and travel new paths. Thank you for teaching me how to be more generous, loving, and kind. Thank you for finally bringing a teacher my way to explain the concept of The Trinity in a way that makes sense to me. And thank you for loving me, forgiving me, stretching me, and teaching me.

For all of you reading this Christmas letter, I say “Thank you” for being a part of my life and for sharing a few steps of your own life journeys with me.

May the breath of God touch you in a very special way this Christmastime.

Peace,

Jennie

It’s Christmas, World!!

Standard

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Children around the world will be excited and in full throttle about a visit from Santa Claus, and parents around the world will be putting the last-minute touches to their family’s Christmas experience, hoping that they didn’t forget anything. It will be a busy day for most families, one charged with anticipation and energy.

I remember those years fondly. My Christmas is not like that anymore.

Sunshine and I sit in our little living room tonight, while it storms outside. We are safe and snug indoors. My little Christmas tree is lighted and cheerful, but there isn’t a single package underneath it. Two stockings are hung at my hearth – one for her and one for me. Hers is bulging with some chew-toys I bought for her. Mine is empty. I thought about buying myself some little gifts to put into it, but decided against it, reasoning that doing so would spoil the spirit of Christmas. I have received a few gifts from some special people in my life, which have already been opened. There are no surprises waiting for Christmas morning.

Neither of my sons will be with me for the holiday. One is in California, and the other in New York City. Our family is a splintered one. The last celebration we had as a nuclear family was in 1992. That was a long time ago. With the distance separating us, it is too cumbersome to try to put the pieces together allowing us to be together for the holiday. I had my big day with them on Mother’s Day in New York, which was a logistical feat in itself, getting us all in one place at the same time, while keeping it a surprise for me. That day was Christmas and Mother’s Day, all wrapped up in one wonderful week-end package with my sons.

So, now I look at Christmas with misty eyes of nostalgia, a little loneliness, and wonderful memories of Christmases past. I am not sad. In fact, surprisingly enough, I am content with the way my Christmas is shaping up this year, and I am looking at the holiday with a fresh outlook. I spent a wonderful day last week with my brother and his family, and then another day with my friend, George, and his family. No gifts were exchanged either place – we spent our time eating, laughing, and enjoying being together. The celebrations are over for this year.

I look at my little crèche, tucked underneath my Christmas tree, and ponder the Christmas story. I am not satisfied with the story that has been part of my life since childhood, and I wonder how much of the nativity narrative is actually true. It’s a beautiful story, but I can’t help questioning. I think God understands my uncertainty about believing the tale of Christ’s birth, because I have been given some insight about it the past few days, which I can only explain as coming from him.

Instead of focusing on the birth, I have been paying closer attention to the life and teachings of Jesus this Christmas season, especially the past few days. I have witnessed unexpected acts of kindness and generosity, and I have watched as God’s love has been passed from one person to another in the most unusual and creative ways. I see the life of Christ personified in people I meet as they share love, support, financial aid, and helping hands to whomever they encounter. This has touched my life, as I have had the opportunity to share from my abundance with others, in ways that I hadn’t anticipated or imagined. It has been a season of surprises, as I have put my questions and doubts aside and opened my heart.

Of course, I will celebrate the birth of Christ tomorrow night at our church’s candlelight Christmas Eve service. I will think about the baby Jesus, knowing that he grew up to be The Christ. I will wonder at the love of Mary and Joseph for their infant baby son, as they held him in their arms for the first time. But I can’t keep Jesus in the manger; I have to release him to the world. For, it is there that God’s message is told, and it is there that we find our spiritual path, lighted with grace and gratitude illuminating our way to God.

It is Christmas. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Maybe it is more than celebrating the birth of a baby. Maybe it is really celebrating the birth of love.

And that is something about which I have no questions or doubts.

Merry Christmas, world!

“Gratitude Turns What We Have into Enough”

Standard

This was the subject line of an email I recently received from The Chopra Center. I am crediting this quote to Deepak Chopra, but I can’t be certain it originated with him.

As I was thinking about my annual Christmas letter, I couldn’t for the life of me come up with something I wanted to share with my friends and family this year. Then I saw this, and – amazing! – there it was. In an email!

In July, I participated in a three-week guided meditation, hosted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. The theme of the daily meditation series was “Manifesting Grace through Gratitude.” It was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life, highlighted by an incident that brought home what grace and gratitude is all about. For those of you who read my blog, you know about Grace, the hen. In brief, Raven, the horse, stepped on her one afternoon during the time I was engaged in these meditations. When my friend, George, told me what had happened, I ran down to the chicken coop to see for myself. She was badly injured – we didn’t know how seriously – but she was unable to stand on her own. One of her wings drooped to the side next to her body. This sweet little hen was on the ground beneath the nests, unable to move. George had placed her in one of the nesting boxes following the accident, but she had fallen out. I scooped her into my arms, held her close to my heart, and began stroking her and talking to her. Through my tears, I told her what a special girl she was, how much we loved and appreciated the eggs that she lay for us each day, and assured her that Raven hadn’t meant to hurt her. I thanked her for being a good little hen and placed her gently back into the nest for the night. I left reluctantly, not knowing if she would survive the night. After I got home from George’s house that evening, I burst into uncontrollable tears, which wouldn’t stop. I was heartsick about this fragile creature, and wanted more than anything to make her well again. I prayed that God would take care of her through the night. What I didn’t know was that after I had left, George took an old dog kennel and fixed her a safe place, lined with hay, to stay in his garage. Over the next few weeks, we took care of Grace, as I had named her the day after the accident. Slowly, she  began to heal, fashioned a nest in the hay, started laying eggs, and began to softly cluck again. We watched her and cheered her on as she struggled to stand and to balance with her wounded leg and drooping wing. Finally, after about three weeks, she was able to stand on both legs without falling over. The day we took her back to join the flock was another day of tears for me. Happy tears, this time.

IMG_1364IMG_1377IMG_1407

As I embark on this Christmas season, I am reminded that I have enough. Little Grace, the hen, taught me what true gratitude is all about. Even though Grace was badly injured, she continued to lay eggs for us. Grace didn’t have much – she had no possessions to call her own. But she had George and me to take care of her. And she did what hens are supposed to do. I know she doesn’t feel gratitude for what we did for her, but I am eternally grateful for the lessons she taught me. What I have is enough. I don’t need more.

And with this thought, I wish each of you a Christmas filled with grace and gratitude.

It is enough.

 

Wise Men and Tennis Shoes

Standard

I attended a Christmas pageant this afternoon at a small church outside of Covington, on the invitation of my friends, Bob and Dena. Bob was singing in the program, invited me, and so I decided to go.

The cantata was beautiful, and the small choir did a great job. What was interesting was that during the narrative portion of the cantata, the nativity story was acted out by church members. And, to make things look more realistic, all of the choir members were dressed as people of Biblical times.

It was one hundred percent small town Georgia. One person apologized to me for having so few people in the audience, with the explanation that most of the church members were in the pageant! I really hadn’t noticed, since I was sitting in the third row, and didn’t bother to look back to see who was seated behind me. There were also a couple of miscues on the projection screen during the production, causing us to sing the wrong words on one song where the audience was invited to sing along.

As I watched the story unfold and listened to the music, I was caught up in the old, old story that I have heard many, many times in my lifetime. Combining the cantata with the living nativity scene in a pageant was very effective and moving.

But what captured my attention in a brand new way was in watching all of these church members participate, costumes and all, as they brought the scriptural account of Jesus’ birth to life in their little church. Here were Georgia folk, dressed up as shepherds, townspeople, angels, and wise men, acting out and singing the Christmas story.

What I loved the very most were the angels with white socks keeping their feet warm,  wise men sporting tennis shoes, and  shepherds wearing wrist watches and  looking more like hippies from the ‘60s than citizens of long-ago Bethlehem. It really brought the Christmas story to me in a new way. Even across the centuries, the story hasn’t changed. And it really doesn’t matter how realistic the costumes are or aren’t. If wise men want to wear tennis shoes, that’s perfectly fine with me. Hippie-looking shepherds are pretty cool! And who wants little angels to have chilly toes?

It is the story that is important.