The Day we put a Christmas Tree in the Bird Bath: A COVID Christmas

COVID Stats December 19, 2020: Tennessee-527,000 cases/6,316 deaths *

Walking around the wet, muddy grass on a dreary, chilly December day, my husband and I were hunting for ways to turn our back yard into a place that would illicit warm fuzzy feelings of holiday cheer.

We were not looking to create a holiday display to impress the neighbors or provide pleasure for passers-by but to have our family gather for Christmas outside in our backyard during a global pandemic.

In the weeks prior, there was much discussion about whether we should gather and if we did, how to ensure we would be safe from COVID-19. If we open doors and windows is that safe enough? If we stay on our screened-in back porch would that be ok? We have all become amateur contact tracers. Who has been where? Who has seen who? Who do we all know that has it? Have we been exposed? If we stayed outside, would the two babies in our family just crawl on the cold ground, I asked. My two sons and I had a conference call at one point. I said, I do not want to sit in the yard for Christmas. Mom, the important thing is we are together, they responded.

We finally did settle on everyone staying in the backyard. We will build a fire, we said. It will be fun, we told ourselves and each other.

My father called to say we should not do it. You can skip this one and have many Christmases in the future in the warm house with your family or you can do this and die from the virus, he said. I was struck once again by all the odd, “alternative universe-like” topics of conversation that COVID has brought with it.

That morning of the family gathering, my husband tried to pull our small trailer in the yard to stack all the presents on to keep them off the ground. He nearly got stuck in the mud and it left big ruts in our family gathering space.

It was then that I saw the ugly, tilting concrete bird bath that sits on the property line between our house and the neighbor. It is over 30 years old and neither we nor the neighbor knows who it belongs to so it continues to stay there. We could put our small tree in the bird bath with a tree skirt and small gifts around it, I said. It is at least something. We placed a small decorated tree in the tilting bird bath, leveled it and placed a tree skirt around. We put some small gifts under it. We wrapped a garland around “the sun” – an orange-yellow metal sun in our yard purchased at a flea market a few years back. I put our holiday table cloths on folding tables and placed festive centerpieces on top. We placed a large paint canvas cloth, only thing we could find that was big enough, under the tables so the chairs would not sink in the mud.

Our family arrived and we were happy to see one another and exchange elbow hugs. We built a fire and ate our Christmas lunch on our “good dishes” that we use on the major holidays. Our grandchildren read aloud the birth of Jesus and acted it out with our Melissa & Doug Nativity figures. The babies did fine. We opened presents around the fire and enjoyed dessert.

Not the Christmas I envisioned, but I am thankful for these unique memories, togetherness, and our good health.

If you were not able to see your family this holiday season, keep the faith that 2021 will be better. I wrote about this as a way to show small ways life has changed but there have been many very big ways as well this year. We have all been overcomers in ways we could never have imagined.

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. – Desmond Tutu

I have hope for the new year and will welcome 2021 like no new year that has come before it.

Blessings! Donna

*COVID Stats-New York Times

Light and the Pandemic

I notice light so often now. 

Driving home today the clouds were a silver gray with beautiful rays shooting through the breaks then making their way to a tree line, creating a glow in an empty field to my left.  My photographer’s eye immediately framed a picture, placing someone there as if looking through my camera viewfinder. Seeing perfect light and how it can be used in a photograph always lifts my spirits. When I witness that glow the sun gifts us at dawn or dusk, I always want to capture it now with my camera.  Any photographer knows the crucial importance of light in a photograph. 

In the spring of 2020, when the world was shut down, I began looking forward to daily walks in the sun as the days became warmer throughout the quarantine. Our neighborhood seemed silent with only the passing of the Amazon vans going one direction and another. It felt almost sinister as they broke the silence and stillness.  I learned the medicinal value of, not only seeing the light, but feeling the light on my skin as it warmed the fresh air around me. Some days a friend would walk on her side of town as I walked on mine and we would chat on our phones about everything and nothing. It almost seemed like we were enjoying the warmth of the sun together. The sun as medicine was a new experience. By some estimates the sun has been around for 4.5 billion years but it took a global pandemic in 2020 for me to learn the power of sunlight. 


I learned the power of candlelight while teaching small groups made up of youth experiencing generational poverty. Fire, primitive and tiny, but yet a force for calming.  The teens come to our group from a reality of violence, drugs, gangs, and feeling of hopelessness. Some nights we cry together over a family member lost from violence. We light a candle. “You are the light of the world.” and “Jesus came to the world to be a light for us and His light shines through us.” We talk about these spiritual aspects of our faith each week while sharing what is on our mind, heart and plate just then. The light from the candle seems to soothe us, unite us and make our space safe for sharing. When we leave, we always blow the candle out with intentionality and speak of going out into the world and being a light for those who need it. 

Fire, primitive and tiny, but yet a force for calming. (photo credit: dlm photos)

We are all drawn to light whether it is external light or the light someone brings to the world from within them. 

These pandemic days, I feel my inner light diminishing like someone is using a dimmer switch in slow motion, just a miniscule amount over what seems an extended period of time.  I have always felt my inner light burn brightly. Normally active, energetic, a lover of God, of people – especially children and having “FOMO” (fear of missing out) to the max leads me to be involved in all kinds of activities. I love to learn new things. I am grateful for everything you could ever put a name to. All of these things that are a part of me, that are me, are akin to a generator working to keep my inner light burning its brightest. 

I have now gained weight; my hair is a mess and I need a cut and color. I am spending too much time in my own head and too much time alone. I miss my community; my volunteer work and I miss hugs. When our school was passing out food boxes for the hungry and needed help, I did not go as I would be too close in proximity to others and I was fearful. Racial and political divides, which seemed heightened during this global health crisis, have weighed on me as well. 

A truth for me and perhaps all of us is that my inner light seems to shine brightest or even at all when it is reflected off others. 

This is true of all light according to science:

“Reflection is the change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two different media so that the wavefront returns into the medium from which it originated.” 

When I can see smiles on the faces of those I care about, have conversations over coffee with a friend, work to feel I have made a difference in the life of anyone other than myself, or when I can be in the middle of what we call a “beautiful mess” at our house doing art projects with my grandchildren…. When I can cook dinner for a group of people we care about and sit together around the table afterwards catching up… These are all ways I see my light reflected in others and how their light in turn keeps mine burning bright. There can be no light without  possibility of reflection.

As a COVID-laden winter approaches, I find once again I am drawn to the light as we  enjoy stringing the lights on our house and Christmas tree. I notice the other decorated houses more in 2020 as well. 

“To shine your brightest light is to be who you truly are.” ― Roy T. Bennett

In the midst of this pandemic, we can keep looking to the light around us until this pandemic is behind us and we can be who we truly are again. 

Keep the Faith- #ktf

Donna

It’s About Time

So long I’ve heard it said that ‘Time Is Money’. The only source of money for such as myself is labor. Consequently, the more time spent in labor must result in more money. So, I jumped on the wheel and ran.

 Running first with values fairly reasonably stacked by priority but for certain moments, maybe days, weeks…only one ‘priority, one ‘goal’ like the proverbial carrot, nothing else considered. All else falling behind and filling in—squeezing in- whenever there was time for them.

Then a disturbance, an irritation, started working on me. Not only were my priorities- my values-out of order but they were also out of proportion. So much so that some-ones which I had valued at an earlier time- were becoming extinct. 

This disturbance kept questions running through my mind- incomplete thoughts that needed completing. Until one day a transition took place – Time Is Money- Time Is Money- Time is…Time is… Time is…Time Is Love. 

Time Is an act of love when it contains kindness, concern; when it is given to lending a helping hand, admiring, encouraging, comforting, sharing- sharing a loaf, sharing a laugh, sharing a life in a beautiful world. 

Written by our friend Richard Brewer- 1931-2018
Husband, father, Navy man, Cribbage/Scrabble player, book lover, now a guest blogger.

Keep the Faith- #KTF

#thisearthlyjourney

Donna


Making Everybody Feel Like Somebody

A life isn’t significant except for its impact on other lives.- Jackie Robinson

Antonio Basco lost his wife, Margie, in the El Paso Walmart shooting. She was his only family. He called for the community to join him at her service to say goodbye. The church was packed to capacity with 500 inside with  another 1000 standing outside. He received flowers from around the world and was greeted with hugs and applause as he entered the service which brought a smile to his face. The community came together through love and compassion to make Antonio, a broken and lonely man, feel like somebody that mattered. 

*************

You can find a nugget of  wisdom in the most unlikely of places. I bought a coloring book ,the “Groovy Abstract Coloring Book”, for my grandchildren and I to color together. On the back of  one of the coloring pages was written: 

Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody.

I thought of this when I read about Mr. Basco. 

To overcome we have to believe it matters that we do. To believe that we have to believe that we matter.  

 I am taking a chance  and speaking for everyone when I say we all want to feel significant. It is a common denominator we all share no matter where we breathe in the world or the background from which we come.  

I learned this one night in a small  house in north Nashville where I helped  with leading a small, faith-based group made up of black, urban, loving,  young adults from a background of generational poverty, public school disparity, violence, fatherlessness- you name the social justice issue and it was represented. 

On this particular night, there was a volunteer who helped sometimes who was a middle-aged affluent white man, a good man, doing good things. He came from a background of private school and lived in an upscale part of Nashville. And there was me. Somewhere in between. . 

Our icebreaker question was: What is one goal you want to accomplish in your lifetime? The nice, well -to-do man answered : To have some significance to others. 

I was struck by his answer because he had the thing that our world says would already make someone significant -affluence, correct?  Secondly, it was the same for the young adults there without a privileged background. In the big picture, they were coming to this group looking for significance, to grow, to matter.Two totally different demographics- age, race, background-  all with the same need to feel like a significant someone.

Being a person of faith, I was reading my bible one day and began thinking about the instructions given that we should write certain things on the “tablet of our heart.”  As I thought it through, what is written on this tablet seems a very significant thing as we travel through this life. I do believe that we can write on the hearts of others with our words and actions…for the positive or negative.

How can we make everybody feel like somebody in a positive way? How can we write good things on their heart and help them feel significant?

  1. Be interested-  I believe this is one of the most effective ways of encouraging others. Show that you’re interested in what they’re doing. Get them talking. Affirm what is important to them. Their passion might not be your passion but a friend  once said, “Someone who can’t understand someone else’s passion probably has none of their own.”
  2. Acknowledge contribution big or small–  . A simple “great job” or “thank you” can have a strong impact, which can make the difference between going on or giving up. Even better in today’s world, get that pen, paper and stamp out and send a handwritten note through snail mail!
  3. Gratitude– express it! I told my children “People don’t have to do nice things for you, show appreciation when they do.”
  4.  Be present and listen!  There is nothing that makes someone feel of less value than talking with someone who is constantly checking their watch,  phone, email or staring at the television. 
  5. RAK-Random acts of kindness– A friend recently showed up at my office with a dozen roses and a card on an especially hard day just for no reason at all! I will never forget it!
  6. Kind words– Letting someone know something you admire about them or like about them can change a life. Sometimes we see good things they may never see themselves.
  7. Hospitality- invite someone you might not normally hang with for a meal or dessert and coffee. I know one family who did this with “Soup Sunday” and a woman that has “share my table” Sundays.
  8. Use your gifts– We all have them. Look for ways to use them to encourage and strengthen others. 
  9. Let the other person shine– If they are sharing something they feel good about no need to “one up”- let them have their moment.

Keep the faith- #KTF

#thisearthlyjourney

#tabletontheheart

#weareallsomebody

Blessings,

Donna

What’s in Your Backpack?

 Author and speaker  Rob Bell, in his short film  “Luggage”, talks about the wounds we all experience. Some are little and we should just get over them but some are big and heavy and deep. We want to be rid of these, free of them, put them behind us, right? Who wants to live life as the walking wounded? How do we do it though?  They can last a day, ten years or a lifetime until they are just a part of who we are. 

“We’ve all got scars. Words that were said to you when you were young… Things you saw that you should never have seen… Lifelong consequences from stupid decisions, whether ours or someone else’s…

Make sure that they are SCARS not WOUNDS. If you keep finding that you are sensitive about certain things, held back by the same unreasonable fears, or that you keep making the same bad decisions repeatedly, or that you have habits you just can’t quit…. chances are good that you have a wound that never healed right. It’s not a scar, it’s a wound or an infection. Get it cleaned out and get it healed. If that means you need to get some professional help, to talk to a trusted friend about it, or whatever – the only person that can make the decision to get that part of your life healed is you. A scar shows you’ve been through the process.

An overly sensitive attitude, a destructive habit, a fearful mindset just shows that you have a wound you need to work on”, writes author Josh Hatcher.

The day we found out a freshmen took his life at the high school where I work is the first night that I talked with James.** He was also a freshmen in that same school as well as a student at the youth non-profit where I volunteer. That evening I noticed he was eating dinner at a table by himself and I went to sit with him. We began to chat  about the sadness of the school day.

 I have never talked to a person who seemed as despondent and depressed as James. I sensed it was not just the loss that had happened at school but there was a heaviness about him like he had been carrying a load for so long. I was very alarmed.   

I spoke with the youth directors, asked our Preston Taylor Ministries (“PTM”) Board of Directors to pray for him at our meeting the next morning and went to school and asked our principal if he  could eat lunch with me in my office once a week. I also learned he was doing poorly in school.

Our first lunch, thinking he would not want to talk much, I was ready with a Yahtzee game. He talked through that lunch and every lunch as the school year progressed.   He shared that he hated school, he liked none of this teachers or classes. He felt dumb and angry that he felt dumb. He had experienced problems and losses at home as well. Things not in his control. He felt interested in nothing and good at nothing. 

I noticed he always wore his obviously heavy backpack on his back, never putting it down. One day I asked him, “James, what do you have in that backpack?”  “It’s just my stuff and I don’t want to put it down.”

I took the opportunity to tell him that every time we experience trauma or hurt in life it can be like a brick is put in our backpack. It gets heavier and heavier until we can hardly stand up if we can’t find a good way to unload the bricks. 

As the year went on, he was surrounded by caring adults  as well as being tested at school for learning differences. It seems the system had failed him as he should have been tested years prior. He did test with learning differences which explained his difficulties at school. How tragic that it took until high school to get the help he needed years before!

We now spent lunches talking through how he should not feel dumb or ashamed any longer. 

With love and support from home, school and PTM, by the end of the year James was smiling and his step seemed lighter. He was making some effort at school as he no longer felt “slow” and “dumb” but more optimistic that he could learn.  Being able to smile seems a small thing but very huge for this young man. #overcoming

What’s in your figurative “backpack”?    Maybe you have been carrying a heavy load for a long time.  I have certainly carried some heavy weights in my life. What wounds haven’t healed? God does not want us to live like that. Rob Bell says that maybe you should say, “I am not going to carry this around for one more day.” 

When I have finished with all I can do , I have found much peace from saying, “God, it is your turn. I  no longer know what to do.” And then I rest as carrying bricks around can be exhausting. And suck the life right out of you in some cases.

I hope you can find what makes you feel centered and peaceful.

I hope you write on the “tablet  of your heart” (from Proverbs) that you are loved and your wounds heal forming a scar that shows you are an overcomer.

This song is beautiful:

Keep the Faith #ktf

#thisearthlyjourney

Donna

**Name changed to protect privacy. I was granted permission to share but decided not to use his real name anyway.