The Day Before the Day Before

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on this earth. ~from “Last Fragment” by Raymond Carver

So here I am today, the eve of Christmas Eve, with one last present to wrap. It is a gift for my “soul sister”, Emily, and I cannot wait to give it to her.  It is a small book by Anne Lamott aptly titled, “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers”. When I heard Anne interviewed recently about the book, I knew immediately that I would be giving it to my friend as her Christmas gift. After church this morning, I went home intent on finishing the last of the gifts. Of course, I was quickly distracted by the book and I sat on my   bed to peruse it! I happened upon a few pages that I feel were quite timely for the season and certainly befitting of my current positive state of mind. One particular sentence struck a chord for me: “Amazing things appear in our lives, almost out of nowhere-landscapes, seascapes, forgiveness-and they keep happening; so many vistas and so much healing to give thanks for.”

This year more than any other in my recent memory, has been a year of miracles.  It began with the return home of my youngest son. He had been living for the better part of his high school years with his father. This was something that was both painful for me and necessary for him at the time.  It afforded him the opportunity to get to know his father on his own terms and to be educated at a high quality technical high school in that district. This is not to say that I did not see my son. We adhered to a schedule of regular time together but it was not the same as it had been for the first 14 years of his life. I had to have faith that the foundation of values that I had laid were enough to keep him on a fairly straight path as he navigated his way through his teenage years without me there full time.  In some weird way, I now believe that while he was breaking free of his attachment to me, he was at the same time maintaining his loving connection. There are too many instances and examples of the latter to talk about here; but suffice it to say that each time he needed advice or a good conversation, he called me. By the time the early part of this year had rolled around,  I was not surprised to get the phone call that he was moving home.

Our new time together began with healing for him. The last year of living with his dad had been one of high stress, neglect and emotional abuse. He came to me thinner than he should have been and in need of strong TLC. We talked and talked and I fed and fed him. He saw his therapist. He lost a job and got a better one. He started dating a young lady who appreciates him. He got regrouped and relaunched. And best of all, he has matured greatly. The other day, when I was sharing a quick meal with him and his girlfriend,  I said how proud I was of his growth this year but I did not want to take the credit for it. And my son, being my son, turned to me and said, “No mom, you deserve a lot of the credit.”

I have also observed my oldest son grow even more mature this past year. I see him now as a young man who feels less responsible for protecting me and being a role model for his brother and more tune into his own  needs. He has come into a different level of independence. And lately, he has been making authentic moral choices that most of us might balk at given the situation or the person involved (especially when that person is ethically challenged).  This is nothing but a positive sign post for his future as a true and whole man.

And what would this year be without the continued and steadfast love of my sweetheart? He is my third miracle, my landscape of a respectful and loving commitment brought to me through the love of my mother.

For me Christmas is not so much about the gift giving-although I love that too! It really is a means for us to be freely generous with our hearts and souls. In this season we remember and reminisce about those we have loved and lost and understand that they are still with us.  It is a way for all of us to come together and express our love for one another.

May the blessings of the season with all its revelry and challenges be with you this year. May you find love and peace within yourself so that you, too, feel as beloved as I do.

The Love Jar

Where there is great love there are always miracles –

Willa Cather

The LOVE JAR. Well, that’s what we call it, anyway. The blue and gray pottery jar with the cork lid sits on the counter near the dishwasher. “Unconditional Love” is engraved across the front. We’ve had that jar for seven years now and it has been incorporated into our family’s language. It was given to us when life as we knew it blew up. Julia’s gift brought me immediate inspiration and became a vehicle for the three of us to experience joy and laughter. When I brought it home to the boys, I told them that the jar would be a means for us to make good memories. Then we came up with an astounding idea:  “Let’s go to New York City!”  So, we devised a plan to put away as much money as possible into our “LOVE JAR”.  Both boys immediately broke open their over-sized piggy banks and poured their change into the jar. I emptied my wallet of loose coins and spare one dollar bills. My oldest son, (who worked at an after school job at the local grocery store) volunteered to contribute a portion of his paycheck to it. My youngest son agreed that anytime he received money as a gift, he would put it in the jar. Spare change from each grocery store excursion was added. We even began to find money on the ground-some in major denominations!  When we told friends about our trip to the Big Apple, they would drop money in the jar whenever they visited.

The jar was magical! When I called my aunt to ask if we could stay with her for four days (she lives in the vicinity), she said that she would be thrilled to have us. We were relieved to know that we would be staying in a safe place with someone who knew and loved us. The trip was to take place right after Christmas- just in time for the school winter break.  And we were ready! We met our savings goal and off we went.

It is difficult to put into words how it felt to be in the warm embrace of my aunt’s hospitality and generosity. Not only were we fed and sleeping in warm beds, but my aunt drove us each day to the train station and presented the three of us with rail passes for the duration. When we went into the city one last time, she handed me cash and told me that I’d better not come home with any change!  The trip was the first of our many happy new memories that we were making during that time. And it would not have been possible if not for Julia’s thoughtfulness.

Needless to say, we came home from the trip with money to spare. It resided in the LOVE JAR where it continued to be depleted and replenished over time. The jar has become a reliable resource for us. We took a second trip to the city six months later, seeing new sights and enjoying warmer weather. It helped us enjoy our “Celebration of Three” party that spring. Part of our recent weekend trip to the mountains was funded by the jar. Sometimes we use it to buy something as simple as a stamp, a gallon of milk, or a loaf of bread. To this day, friends still put money in whenever they visit.

The LOVE JAR is my family’s miracle. It was a way for the three of us to begin to heal from one of  life’s worst heartaches and become a whole family in a different way.  We take care of each other. We rely on each other. We hold one another up. We love one another unconditionally. The LOVE JAR has restored our faith in the meaning of and power in family. THANK YOU JULIA!