Archive | December, 2014

Hope among the Embers

31 Dec Ocean

Author’s note: This blog was written in response to yesterday’s writing prompt challenge on A Writer’s Path: Ten Quote Tuesday, in which we were to write about “A human cage, built without a lock.” It’s a great writer’s site–very inspiring.

Hope among the Embers

My shelter sits on the edge of the Sea of Fear. I have all I need here.

I’ve been building this place for nearly 50 years, and I’ve stocked it well.

The floor is warm, lined with newspaper clippings and childhood essays with large, red A-plus marks scrawled across the top. The yellowed by-lines on some of the articles whisper my maiden name. I re-read the stories now and cringe at my poor grammar and worldly naiveté. Still, I keep them because of the accolades from teachers and publishers; their sparks ignited a fire that still burns in the shelter’s camp stove.

The shelter beams were fashioned over many years through friendships and mentorships. I run my fingers along the loving, encouraging messages engraved throughout in scrawling gnarled script. “I love your writing.” “Don’t ever give up.” “If you ever write a book, I’ll certainly read it.” Each beam is treasured. Some can never be replaced.

I’ve fortified the walls with tools of the trade. I’ve joined writers’ groups, taken tutorials, purchased How-To books, attended online seminars, and traveled to conferences. I’ve taken more notes and saved more useful files than I’ll ever be able to read, even if I knew where they’re stored on this blasted computer. Still, it gives me peace to know they’re there—if I ever need them.

Photographs pasted on the walls chronicle 40 years of growth and maturity, depicting victories over mind and body. Swimming across the Sakonnet River. Gaffing trees. Rappelling. The first time I fired Expert at the shooting range. Periods of extreme grief. The love of a good man. Raising two boys. Unspeakable joy. Jobs of increasing significance. Walking away from the last job to write. Writing a book. Rewriting the book. Rewriting the book.

Firelight from the camp stove illuminates the open front door and the sea beyond. I sit with my belongings and watch the water’s ripples kiss the shore. Hemmingway, Poe, Harper Lee, Erma Bombeck, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Orson Scott Card, Maya Angelou, Nicholas Sparks. My tables, my chairs, my blankets, my friends. Nestled here, I’m safe and I’m happy, but I’m not content.

There’s something out there, across the water, and it is good. My raft bobs at the pier, like hope ready to burst. It’s big enough to carry me and my shelter, and everything in it. But the sea is so vast. I don’t know what creatures lurk in its depths, or whether a storm sits on the horizon, preparing even now to churn the waters into a frenzy. If that happened, I’d lose everything. I look across the sea, and wonder…

Enough for today. I reach up and pull the shelter door closed, then snuggle against the cold with Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Drowsily, I listen to him whisper from across the years:

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. 
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.” 

The fire in the camp stove has been refueled. Tomorrow, I will try again.


Or perhaps it’s a sea of endless possibility…?

The Christmas Tree of Thanksgiving: Bring on the joy!

17 Dec Gus-Gus the Christmas Mouse

Every year there seems to be at least one well-meaning individual who feels it necessary to remind me that the Christmas tree concept stems from pagan traditions. They insist Jeremiah 10 forbids cutting a tree and adorning it with silver and gold. Actually, this verse refers to chiseling idols from wood, and worshipping them, like the Asherah poles in the Old Testament. Nobody should worship a tree.

However, if you want to show your Christmas joy by decorating a tree, do it in good conscience. Our family enjoys this tradition immensely. In fact, I’m going to dedicate this week’s blog to our tree, because I can think of no better way to celebrate the days leading to Christmas than by reviewing some of the greatest blessings of my life and praising God for making them possible.

Decorated Christmas Tree

Deck the heck outa that thing!

Our Christmas tree has become a three-dimensional Thanksgiving prayer, taking longer to decorate every year, because every year there’s more to be thankful for.

My husband and I started a tradition when we were newly married, when we acquired an “Our First Christmas Together” ornament. Over the years, whenever we travel or reach a milestone of any type, we purchase an ornament to commemorate the event. Among the joyful hodge-podge on our tree is a blue Niagara Falls “Maid of the Mist” globe, a Mayberry Police Department sheriff’s star, and a blown-glass whale from the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts.

In addition to this travel log, our tree also chronicles the lives of our children, from the pictures taken in their first years and the hand-made kindergarten projects, through their Blues Clues and Elmo phases, and on to young adult-hood. The ship in-a-bottle was a gift from my oldest, who, at 12 or so, spied on me as I admired it in a Mystic, Connecticut store, and then ran back to purchase it when I wasn’t looking. His Hylton High School Bulldogs ornament reminds me of his years with the band, and his curled up cat figurine keeps Kris Kringle in our hearts despite the more than 10 Christmases we’ve spent without him.

TARDIS ornament

Angels, check; green canoe with oars, check; time lord transport vehicle, check.

The youngest has his own story splayed throughout the greenery, thanks in great part to a thoughtful Sacramento grandmother. His ornaments include a miniature keyboard, which depicts the joy he receives through music; a canoe that commemorates ten days of lake-hoping in the Canadian wilderness (and Mom & Dad’s prayers morning, noon, and night for safe return); and a fish-shaped Egyptian Mau photo that marks the arrival of his cat, Aslan. (“Marks” is a good term for this cat, considering his household contribution…) The lad’s latest acquisition, a hand-painted TARDIS, shows his interest of the day. (If you’re not familiar with the TARDIS, I’m sorry, but there isn’t enough blog space available here to explain Dr. Who.)

One look at our tree will tell anyone who we are as a family. Bronco fans, surely (although Mom tends to place the Bronco ornaments to the side, because, well…orange?) We’re also hikers, fans of the baked goods, Marines, and patriots. When we place our camouflaged and Stars & Stripes ornaments on the tree, we say a prayer of safe-keeping for all who serve in our nation’s military this Christmas, and appreciation for their sacrifices and those who have gone before them.

Thirty years of ornaments now adorn the tree, to include our 30th anniversary mementos from this year’s trip to Charleston, S.C.—a wine cork in a wire heart, and a red “Moon Pie” ornament, because apparently you can’t go to Charleston and not visit the Moon Pie store.

Shepherd with lost lamb

The shepherd will leave his entire flock to search for one lost sheep, praise God.

Interspersed among this memorabilia, of course, is a story of Jesus. Angels herald the coming of the King, birds nestle in the top branches to cry praises for His creation, and Mary & Joseph look with awe upon their newborn babe. My favorite ornament, though, is a shepherd with a small lamb draped over his neck. This one was added nearly 10 years ago, when my wonderful husband, who had grown up outside the church, saw an amazing and transforming light, which led to his being baptized and declaring the Lord as his savior. I still cry when I hang this one.

Another annual tree-trimming tradition is in the Official Order of Ornament Placement. Breakables go on top (yes, the boys are grown, but there are still paws to be concerned about), and soft, “bat-ables” on the bottom. Then, Mom’s rocking horses must be spaced just so, and the plastic decorations from the early years are given prominence because they remind us how little we once had. After that, it’s a free-for all. Each ornament pulled from the box sparks a memory and a prayer of thanksgiving.

Gus-Gus the Christmas Mouse

Gus-Gus, not just a Cinderella classic, but a Christmas favorite

When the tree is complete, and the 30-year-old wobbly macramé angel placed on top, we stand back and just remember. We’ve been able to see, and do, and be so much over the years, it’s impossible not to be grateful. God is so good!

I hope your tree brings you the same joy and thanksgiving that ours does. I’d love to hear about your favorite ornaments. What’s your story?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. – James 1:17

Peace on Earth? Preposterous! Or is it?

6 Dec

We’re entering what the angels announced to the shepherds as a season of, “Peace on Earth, good will toward men,” according to the King James’ version of Luke 2:14.

No other phrase I know makes less sense these days. As you read this, members of the Islamist group, Boko Haram, are marching across Nigeria, killing all Christians in their wake; ISIS members are beheading children and innocent civilians of all faiths who block their attempts to forcibly institute an Islamic State In Syria; and Russia-funded operations have now killed more than 4,300 people in eastern Ukraine. In our own country, hate mongers are cackling with joy as decent human beings are led astray by the promise of entitlement. “You don’t have to think—we’ll do it for you,” the hate-mongers say. “Don’t waste time examining your lifestyles and searching for answers, just burn, burn, burn and take, take, take!” Our nation is weighed down with rioting and protests, murders, rapes, theft, smuggling, drug dealing…and an increasingly pervasive hate-thy-neighbor attitude.

How did we get here? Does it not make a complete mockery of God’s promise that we would have Peace on Earth?

I don’t think so. I don’t believe the angels were heralding a healed world as much as an escape plan for those who must endure its gradual demise.

To clarify, let’s consider my youngest, who started driving this week (audible sigh). This event forces me to dwell on his impending adulthood. Soon, he will be out there “in the world” making daily decisions about right and wrong without our counsel. His father and I taught him as best we know how to respond to tough situations, but the rest is up to him. My parting words to him as he heads off to college will not be “don’t murder and don’t hate.” Instead, I will tell him two things: “Remember your God, and remember you are a Fitzsimmons.”

That’s all he needs, in any situation. When he’s at a party that turns wild and learns that the punch he’s been drinking all evening has been spiked, I’m counting on him to remember God and say a prayer for protection. If he keeps a cool head, he will then call home, and his father or I will drive to wherever he is to pick him up. When we find him, will he be crying hysterically? Will he have joined the revelry and be hanging from the chandeliers? Not if he remembers who he is.

Instead, I prefer to believe he will be sitting on the couch, or on the curb, watching the world he knows crumble. He will have likely witnessed some incredibly bad behavior by people he’d thought were upright and responsible. Classmates will be smoking and drinking, and doing things they wouldn’t do in front of their families. Some poor girl will throw herself on a boy just to be liked and give away more than she should. Perhaps he will feel the same heartache we feel when we watch the evening news.

In the midst of the chaos, however, he will know peace. He will know his parents are on their way, and that there might be punishment in his future depending on the situation, at the very least, admonishment, but they will forgive him and love him as much as they did the day before. Then he will be wiser about the world, which should help him deal with the next tough situation.

On the other hand, he might choose to forget us and join the ranks of the lost. Should he choose this path, his life will falter, and he will struggle more than he has to, and bad things will happen. He will scoff cynically at the word “peace,” and perhaps convince himself that God is a liar. In his shame, he will likely turn from his parents. Nobody wants to be reminded of the good when they are pursuing evil. But the moment he decides to turn from that activity, the peace will return. His parents will forgive him and help him get back on his feet. They will never stop loving him. He knows that.

He may also fall victim to the revelers and be injured or even killed by their activity. This is a risk he takes, as we all take, just by being in the world. However, he cannot live in fear of attending parties just because someone might show up with a gun. He can have peace though, in knowing that if something does happen, he belongs to God and God will take care of him in life or death.

Luke 2:14 is translated in different ways, from one Bible to the next. When I struggle with a verse in King James, I’ve found the New International Version often does a better job of translating the original Bible into English as we know it today (and yes, Kevin, this book has been vetted, tested, and authenticated). The NIV version of Luke 2:14 is written,“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests.”   

Surprised? I was. Reading this translation changed everything for me. From this perspective, the angels did not proclaim a blanket promise of peace on earth at all. In fact, Jesus told anyone who would listen that there would never be peace on earth. Our world has become an increasingly wild frat party, enticing good people to forget who they are and seek only to make themselves happy, right now. In the process, innocents are hurt, the line between right and wrong is blurred, and many partiers fall hard into the abyss.

Jesus My Savior

Peace on Earth starts in the heart.

Jesus came to remind us to remember God and remember family—you are a child of the King, after all! If you do that, then you will be able to find peace, even in a crumbling world. Wherever you are, and no matter how bad it looks, you can call him and he’ll go to wherever you are and help you escape.

No, you cannot change the world. It is dying. However, you can change a part of it. Use your talents, skills, and every blessing you’ve been given, to make a difference where you can. LOVE your neighbors (we’re talking the action verb, not the noun). In doing so, you will pull people from that frat party, one-by-one, and put hope and peace into their hearts by sending them back to the loving, forgiving arms of the Father they’re trying so hard to ignore.

If you’re still at the party, and you’re looking for Peace on Earth, try getting on your knees. You’ll find it there.

“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 4:7