The Season of Light and Gratitude

The Season of Light and Gratitude

(There will be more installments of my adventures to come, but for now, my heart simply couldn’t hold the joy of the season inside any longer!)

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When I think of Thanksgiving, I also think of Christmas, because the two holidays are so completely intertwined.  Not in the materialistic or commercial way some people think, but because of the dear meanings they hold to me.

girl and tree

Dealing with a bit of jet lag and waking up at 2 am, I couldn’t get my mind to shut off.  Having recently returned from England, I was already full of happiness after seeing my family again after a month. Though I laid there trying to sleep, I found myself humming a Christmas song and feeling like a child full of excitement. 

Nope, there would be no sleeping for me.  I threw back the covers, pulled out the Christmas decorations, put on the music (quietly so as not to disturb my upstairs landlady) and began to put them up feeling a bit giddy.

Season of Light

With each unwrapping, I couldn’t stop smiling.  Every ornament and decoration held beautiful memories of family and friendships and love.  I hadn’t opened this particular box for several years and I had forgotten.  I put on one of my favorite Christmas CD’s and the familiar music brought tears to my eyes.  I felt joy bubble up inside of me and could only describe it as pure gratitude and love.

The Savior and the child

Gratitude for nature in all of its glories.  Gratitude for my own small home and the peace I feel every time I open the door and step inside.  Gratitude for each and every miracle of love I have received over my lifetime from my family and friends near and far.  And most of all, gratitude for my Savior, Jesus Christ, whom I celebrate with joy and wonder this season.

How could Thanksgiving not be interwoven with Christmas?  A grateful heart finds joy in giving and a giving heart finds joy in selflessly serving with love.  For the recipient, the act of love warms their lives with gratitude.  The circle is complete.  So for those who wish to put up their Christmas decorations alongside their Thanksgiving decorations, you are really just celebrating the joy that comes from the Season of Light, Love, Gratitude and Giving.  What could be more wonderful than that?

Night and Thanksgiving

Out of the Ashes (Dedicated to Notre Dame)

Out of the Ashes (Dedicated to Notre Dame)

I wrote this post a few years ago when an old church I cared about had burnt down.  It seems just as relevant today with the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral.  Since Easter is this Sunday, this post seemed a good reminder that we can all rise out of the ashes to become something better than we once were.

And so today…this is for Notre Dame and all that it has meant to the many over the years.

FRANCE-FIRE-NOTRE DAME

Everyone has been through their fair share of disappointments in life.  I have yet to talk to a single person who has said that their lives turned out exactly like they thought it would.  Even talking with people in their early to mid-twenties, I have found that they say the same thing.  They thought life would be…different.  No matter your age or place in life, you will experience disappointments.  It’s just a part of life.  How we handle these disappointments, though, is what develops our character.  Coming through the disappointments and learning how to handle them can be what makes or breaks us.

Recently, I was reading an article about a local landmark that had burned down a couple of years ago.  It had been used as a church and a meetinghouse for various activities for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Through an accident, the place was practically burnt to the ground with nothing but a few blackened walls and stained glass windows remaining.  It was heartbreaking for all of those who had loved the old building and had many memories of it.  The frame stood empty for a while until those who owned the building could figure out what best to do with the land.  It was announced later that the old landmark was going to be rebuilt into a temple to be used by worthy members of the church.  The building that had been used for Sunday meetings and various other events was now going to be used for a higher purpose.

As I read that article, I thought about my own life.  I thought of the number of disappointments that I have been through in my life and especially in the last few years.  I began to wonder if I was like that burnt-out frame.  After a very recent devastating disappointment, I had decided to just stop dreaming for a while.  I was tired of getting my hopes up to have them crushed again.  But while reading through that article, I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, God had a different plan for me.  Here I am trying to build a nice, comfortable life, but maybe He’s trying to build something grander.  I don’t know what He has in mind, but it’s a beautiful thought: to think that, with His help, that my life might mean something greater than it does at the moment.  He knows so much better than I.

So out of the ashes, we begin to rise once again…

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A Gentle Hope

13253078-a-little-girl-sing-and-dance-in-a-field-of-ryeI walked with my head down and my hands in my pockets, deep in thought and trying desperately to keep the tears from falling. I felt weary and worn out by the world.  Problems that seemed to have no answer were made more complicated by my wavering feelings.  Regrets from the past weighed down my hopes for the future.  Too many broken dreams made it almost impossible to dream again.  I felt old and tired.

She danced across my path then.  I was walking through a green field and there she was.  A young, innocent little girl with a flower in her sandy, brown hair. She had a few freckles spread across her nose and she sang as a kitten chased after her. She was laughing to herself at some inner joke that only she could hear.  She stopped just a few feet away and looked up at me.  Looking down into her blue-grey eyes, I saw hope, joy, daydreams, love, innocence, but something else.  I saw wisdom…wisdom beyond her years.

She stepped closer to me and put her little hand in mine. “It’s ok, Melissa.  I’m still here,” she said as she laid her hand softly on my heart.  Then she stepped back, turned away and disappeared laughing with the breeze.

I looked around me.  The sunlight poured down warm and gentle, the spring green of the willow branches dipped and swayed while the blush-colored blossoms of a nearby flowering tree filled the sweet air.  Birdsong and children’s laughter echoed nearby.  Life, love and laughter were everywhere around me, but most importantly of all, they were still inside of me.

I laid my hand over my heart.  “Thank you, Melissa…” I whispered.

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Be Still My Soul

“Be still my soul”

I sat in my bed listlessly staring out at the raging storm. The winds fiercely whipped the trees, stripping off the last of the dead leaves of winter. The rain pelted the window and the house creaked and moaned from the intensity. It perfectly suited the storm in my heart.

Another night…another heartbreak…another hope buried. Another door shut. This one had cut deep. I could do nothing but lay down on my pillow and cry myself to sleep.

The next morning was church. I rose with a heavy weight on my soul. I dressed and went and sat quietly in the corner. As the speakers began, I closed my eyes and no matter how I tried, I could not keep the tears from spilling over. For a while, I didn’t even care. I just let them slip quietly down while everyone else’s attention was on the speaker.

Bitterness began to seep in and a litany of negative thoughts from past inner battles took up their refrain. “You’re not good enough.” “Who would want you?” “Give it up.” At this point, the tears threatened to choke me, so I got up and found a quiet room and shut the door and let the tears just come.

A prayer came then in whispers. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m not strong enough. Please help. I feel so…broken.” I stood there feeling very small and utterly lost.

Moments later, the help came. Somewhere, behind the tears, I heard a quiet voice say “Peace be unto thy soul. Thine afflictions shall be but a small moment…you are not alone.” A peace that did not come from me stole softly into my heart. The lump in my throat disappeared. The tears dried and I felt calm. It was my own private miracle.

As I rejoined the meeting and focused on the speaker, the same words I had heard minutes before were spoken “Peace be unto thy soul. Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.” I caught my breath. The Savior was speaking directly to me.

He knew.
He understood.
He loved me.
It was enough.

“Be still my soul
Thy best…thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways…
Leads to a joyful end.”

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear…

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear…
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear…

I have a love of walking at night when the world is quiet, the darkness envelopes me softly and the moon hears my whispers. Many nights I have walked the streets, my soul restless as I struggled with various dilemmas. In the light of day, the details of life take up all my time, but at night, when the stillness settles, my mind once again takes up that endless litany of questions that seem to have no answers.

Yet it is often in those silent hours, when my soul is wrestling, that peace seeps in quietly. The pressing problems that drive me outside begin to slowly fade. As I pour my heart out to my Father above, seemingly impossible obstacles are melted away and I again find faith for another day.

On a recent night, I was again walking the streets. My heart struggled with sadness and loneliness. I questioned my decisions and inspirations I felt I had received. What was I doing in this new place far from anyone I knew right before Christmas? Why had I left my friends and family to go to a place where I was nothing but a stranger to those around me? No answer seemed to come.

Yet, in my melancholy mood, I stopped for a moment and looked up around me. The rains had just blown away and a small, bright moon lit the path. The wet pavement looked like silver beneath my feet and the air was warm and soft. As I stood there, the line “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear…” came to my mind and I thought that the old Christmas carol must have been written on a night such as this.

The beauty of the night lessened my sadness, but I still felt my heavy burden as I walked home. The heavens seemed silent and the peace I sought did not come. I tried to distract myself by remembering the lines of the old Christmas carol, but I realized I didn’t remember them all, so I looked them up when I got home. Little did I know that there were more verses written than I knew. As I read this verse, it took my breath:

“And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
Oh, rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!”

I knew that these sweet words were my answer. Realization dawned…I was never alone. The Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate at this most beautiful season, was letting me know that I was being watched over, loved and cared for at all times. “Glad and golden hours” were coming “swiftly on the wing” and my weary heart had a place to rest.

It was a simple, tender answer and exactly what I needed. Sweet peace melted away my sadness and I felt loved. Since that night, Christmas joy, laughter, wonder at my beautiful, new home and the hugs of new friends have filled my heart. It has been a Christmas miracle and I have been amazed at the love that has surrounded me. At times, I feel as if I have known some of these new friends for years. What a gift!

To those “beneath life’s crushing load”, let your soul “rest beside the weary road” and remember that you aren’t walking it alone. He walks it with you and that is the best Christmas miracle of all.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Why I Celebrate Christmas Early

Why I Celebrate Christmas Early

winter-1927427_960_720As my family well knows, I am a lover of Christmas.  When I was younger, I used to drive my siblings crazy by playing Christmas music in September.  As an adult, I still do this at times.  By the time Halloween is over, Christmas is in full force in my house.  The twinkling lights are up, the soft, sweet music is playing, the warm glow of candles are flickering, the cinnamon cookies are baking and I am planning out the Christmas presents to buy.  I do not ignore Thanksgiving, for if you look, you will see my Thanksgiving decorations mingled with my Christmas, because I’m a firm believe that gratitude is in every way a part of this beautiful season.

But why do I do this?  Why do many people do this?  Others might have different reasons, but this is mine: because it is the season of light, of giving, of sharing, of kindness and love. beautiful hugs

When the daily news is filled with the most evil and depressing of acts (like the shooting last night in California), I want to counteract that with everything I have in me.  I want to spread more kindness, more love to strangers, more love to my family and friends…more light.  I want everyone to know they are loved.  I want to hold a friend or family member or even a stranger until their tears are washed away.

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I wish I could do this…I wish I could somehow get this message out to every person…You Are LOVED! How different it would be if all people understood this one thought: you are loved by the most perfect person who ever walked this earth.  If you are worthy of that kind of love, then wouldn’t that change your perspective about your life, your purpose and your actions?

The-NativityIt is the season to celebrate the Savior, the Son of God, and to remember not only His birth, but His life and who He died for.  I celebrate Him and his perfect life all year, but everything about Christmas from the lights, to some of the beautiful music, to the Star and the small manger scene under my tree…everything reminds me of His perfect love.

Love…to me that’s something worth celebrating all year long.

 

(My Christmas playlist for this year…sending you all long hugs and so much love!)

The Peace of a Quiet Christmas

The Peace of a Quiet Christmas

The spicy aroma of Christmas cookies baking, feathery snowflakes falling outside in the gathering twilight, candles are burning next to me and quiet Christmas music is playing.  To me, this is perfection in winter.  I love all the seasons of the year for their different reasons, but there is something so wonderful about the quietness of winter.

Though there are often more parties, events and errands to attend to at Christmas than at any other time of the year, the peace of winter lies all around us.  Animals curl up and sleep away the cold months, the songbirds grow quiet, all of nature hushes as the silent snow covers.  It is a reminder to grow still…to listen to silence.

cozy christmas

One of my favorite winter memories was while walking alone on a quiet, snowy night. The only sounds were the little puffs of dry snow my feet made as I walked…pouf, pouf, pouf.  Even the wind barely stirred the soft snowflakes as they landed gently on my cold cheeks.

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I paused for a moment and looked around me.  No one else was out on that cold night.  No animal nor human stirred.  I reflected on the calm and the peace and quiet of it all.  It was beautiful and sacred. I whispered “Silent night, holy night, all is calm…” and felt the magic of the Christmas spirit wash over me.  I felt cleansed, refreshed and full of a warm and peaceful love.  I swear I could hear the hushed echoes of angel voices join me in the “well-known refrain.”

Yes, listen to the silence. For it is often in the silence when the sweetest moments of life come.  When peace pervades our being as we hear a faint song from the heavens reminding of us our real home.

Merry Christmas my dear friends!  Peace to one and all!

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men…”

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