A Different Take on Valentine’s Day and Anniversaries

Ladies, here’s what’s bugging me: why do you thirst for failure from your beloved?

You know it’s true, girlfriend. In your dark little selfish places, you want to prove to yourself that you’re better, that he’s lesser and so gain the upper hand. What the hell is it you seek, a relationship with a mortal being, or another opportunity to step on someone in your stupid quest for self-esteem?

Here’s my deal: develop a desire for your beloved to be successful in his quest to please you.

You’d listen to that kind of advice from a sex counselor, but you won’t embrace it for your emotional needs, fearing it won’t be “authentic” and worthy of glorious “you.”

Feh. Help a guy out. Help him love you, help him to know how. It’s not a contest of wills, it’s a lovely dance if you want it to be. I see so many petty women around me fiercely erecting walls of unspoken expectations for their man to scale. Then they go out onto the parapets of their pride and deride a man for even attempting the climb. It’s not fair; it’s not lovely or becoming to the sweet graces we’re given.

Guys, if your gal is holding some anniversary date a secret from you, I, a woman, grant you a “get out of jail free” card. I can’t stand that stupid crap; as though going to the altar was a tacit agreement to a game of Memory. Women pretend to airs of romance when they cherish certain days, and it can be that, but not when such tokens are reserved as ammunition instead of loving signposts.

The truth is, men are the true romantics and dreamers and you’d better figure out why you haven’t awakened that aspect out from under his other natural instincts of hard-ass attitude and hard-headed stubbornness. Fact: He loves you. He wouldn’t be with you a minute longer than necessary if that wasn’t so.

Tell him what you want him to know. Unless he has set out to be the Amazing Kreskin, he’s not a mind-reader and he certainly won’t apply for the gig.

But he wants to be successful in his chosen endeavors. So plant big, stupid hints. Cheerfully! Lead him into love and you’ll have something much more meaningful than a card or flowers; you’ll have his love, respect and gratitude.

Do you love him? Then why do you want him to fail in loving you? Why wouldn’t you want him to be successful in the most important endeavor of his life?

*****

Thanks to Big, Bad Blue link here.

Larwyn Links! Thanks!

Cappylanche! Awesome.

The Manger Is Empty – Part 2

The Manger Is Empty – Part 2 —by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Part 1 is here.

On Tuesday, the 22nd of December, Odessa Williams died.

It had been a long time coming, but it was quick when it came. She died in her sleep and went to God without her dentures.

Quick when it came, I say: Odessa left us little time to mourn for her. Gaines Funeral Home had less than a day to prepare her body, because the wake would take place on Wednesday evening. The funeral itself had to be scheduled for Thursday morning. There was no alternative. Friday was Christmas Day; Saturday and Sunday were the weekend; Gaines would be closed for three days straight, and Monday was too far away to make Odessa wait for burial. She would be buried, then, on Christmas Eve Day.

And I, for my own part, was terribly distracted by a hectic week. This was the very crush of the season, you see, with a children’s pageant and extra services to prepare. My pastoral duty was already doubled; Odessa’s funeral tripled it. So I rushed from labor to labor, more pastor than father, more worker than wise.

Not brutally, but somewhat busily at lunch on Wednesday, I mentioned to my children that Miz Williams had died. They were eating soup. This was not an unusual piece of news in our household, for the congregation had its share of elderly.

I scarcely noticed, then, that Mary stopped eating and stared at her bowl of soup.

I wiped my mouth and rose from the table.

“Dad?”

I was trying to remember what time the children should be at church to rehearse the Christmas program. Timing was everything. I wanted to give them a last instruction before I left.

“Dad?”

One thirty! “Listen – Mom will drive you to church a 1:15. Can you all be ready then?”

“Dad?”

“Mary, what?” She was still staring at the soup, large eyes lost behind her hair.

“Is it going to snow tomorrow?” she said.

“What? I don’t know. How would I know that?”

“It shouldn’t snow,” she said.

“You always wanted snow at Christmas.”

In a tiny voice she whispered, “I want to go to the funeral.”

Well, then, that was it: She was considering what to wear against the weather. I said, “Fine,” and left.

Thursday came gray and hard and cold and windless. It grudged the earth a little light and made no shadow. The sky was sullen, draining color from the grass and the naked trees. I walked to church in the morning.

We have a custom in our congregation: Always, before a funeral service begins, we set the casket immediately in front of the chancel and leave it open about an hour. People come for a final viewing of the body, friends who couldn’t attend the wake, acquaintances on their way to work, strangers out of the past, memories, stories, that will never be told. The dead one lies the same for all who gaze at her, infinitely patient. So people enter the church, and they creep up the aisle, and they look, and they think, and they leave again.

Soon some of the mourners remain. They keep their coats on, but they sit in the pews and wait.

And then, ten minutes before the service, I robe myself and stand in the back of the church to meet the greater flow of mourners. Last of all the family will arrive in limousines. I keep peeping out the door to see whether the silent cars have slid to their places at the curb.

And so it was that on Christmas Eve at 11 in the morning I discovered Mary outside the door. In fact, she was standing on the sidewalk while her mother parked the car. She was staring at the sullen sky.

“Mary?” I said. “Are you coming in?”

She glanced at me. Then she whispered, “Dad?” as though the news were dreadful. “It’s going to snow.”

It looked very likely to snow. The air was still, the whole world bleak and waiting. I could have agreed with her.

“Dad?” she repeated more urgently, probing me with large eyes—but what was I supposed to do? “It’s going to snow!” she said.

“Come in, Mary. We don’t have time to talk. Come in.”

She entered the church ahead of me and climbed the steps in the narthex, then started up the aisle toward the casket. She was determined. Though robed and ready to preach, and though people sat face-forward on either side, I followed her.

Mary hesitated as she neared the chancel, but then took a final step and stopped.

She looked down into the casket. “Oh, no,” she murmured, and I looked to see what she was seeing.

Odessa’s eyes seemed closed with glue, her lips too pale, her color another shade than her own, a false, woody color. Her skin seemed pressed into its patience. And the bridge of her nose suffered a set of glasses. Had Odessa worn glasses? Yes, sometimes. But these were perched on her face a little askew, so that one became aware of them for the first time. Someone else had put them thee. What belonged to the lady anymore, and what did not?

These were my speculations.

Mary had her own.

The child was reaching her hand toward the tips of Odessa’s fingers, fingers like sticks of chalk, but she paused and didn’t touch them. Suddenly she bent down and pressed her cheek to the fingers, then pulled back and stood erect.

“Dad!” she hissed. Mary turned and looked at me and did not blink but began to cry. “Dad!” she wept. “They can’t put Miz Williams in the grave today. It’s going to snow on her grave. It’s going to snow on Miz Williams.”

All at once Mary stepped forward and buried her face in my robes. I felt the pressure of her forehead against my chest—and I was her father again, no pastor, and my own throat grew thick.

“Dad,” sobbed Mary. “Dad, Dad, it’s Christmas Eve!”

These were the tears. These were the tears my daughter cried at Christmas. What do I say to these tears? It is death my Mary met. It’s the end of things. It’s the knowledge that things have an end. Good things, kind and blessed things, things new and rare and precious, and their goodness doesn’t save them; that love has an end; that people have an end; that Odessa Williams, that fierce old lady who seized the heart of my Mary and possessed it just four days ago, who was so real in dim light, waving her arms to the music of the children, that she has an end, has ended, is gone, is dead.

How do I comfort these tears? What do I say?

I said nothing.

I knelt down. I took my Mary’s face between my hands, but couldn’t hold her gaze. I gathered her to myself and hugged her tightly, hugged her hard, hugged her until the sobbing passed from her body, and then I released her.

I watched her go back down the aisle like a poker soldier. She turned in a pew and sat with her mother. I saw that her lips were pinched into a terrible knot. No crying anymore. No questions anymore. Why should she ask questions when there were no answers given?

So: the funeral. And so: the sermon. And so I was the pastor again.

This was the text: “But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish.” The prophet Isaiah. It had seemed a perfect text, both for the season and for Odessa. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” I read. That prophecy had come true in Jesus. It would become a truth again for the fierce old woman whose memorial this was. And for us, too, since we were mourning now, but we would be celebrating tonight. I read: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Christmas! I said somewhere in my sermon. Light is shining everywhere across the world, as light is shining first and perfectly in heaven. None who die in the Lord do die in darkness.

But what were Isaiah and prophecy and all the sustaining truths of Christendom to my daughter Mary? She sat through the sermon with pinched lips and a sidelong stare. What was heaven to her? Nothing. Odessa had been something to her. You could touch and love Odessa. But Odessa was dead. The casket was closed. Death was something to her now, and maybe the only thing.

Later, at Oakhill Cemetery, the people stood in great coats round the casket, shivering. My breath made ghosts in the air as I read of dust and ashes returning to dust and ashes. Mary said not a word nor held her mother’s hand nor looked at me—except once.

When we turned form the grave she hissed, “Dad!” Her blue eyes flashing, she pointed at the ground. Then she pointed at the sky. At the roots of the grasses was a fine, white powder; in heaven was a darker powder coming down. It was snowing.

Continued in Part 3.

The Manger Is Empty – Part 1 of 3

This second Christmas story is for everyone, inasmuch as the Christmas Story itself is. The first story I shared unfolded a wondrous, physical miracle that is perfectly explainable. . . yet remarkably outside the spread of galactic chances.

This story, is a father’s glimpse into a soul so big in one so young. It is a story without guile, unashamed at its own goodness and wisdom. Let it take you where it will:


The Manger Is Emptyby Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Part I

We have a custom in our congregation: Always we gather on the Sunday evening before Christmas, bundled and hatted and happy, and we go out into the sharp December darkness to sing carols. Down the streets of the city we go, the children bounding forward, adults all striding behind, chattering, making congenial noises, puffing ghosts of breath beneath the streetlights, laughing and glad for the company. Does anyone think it will snow? It’s cold enough to snow, and the air is still, and the stars are already a snow-dust in heaven.

We crowd on the porches of the old folks. The children feel a squealing excitement because they think we’re about to astonish Mrs. Moody in her parlor by our sudden appearing—carols from the out-of-doors, you know. She’ll be so surprised! So they giggle and roar a marvelous Hark! with their faces pressed against her window: Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king. . .

Mrs. Moody turns on her porch light, then opens her curtains, and there she is, shaking her head and smiling, and the children fairly burst with glee. They can hardly stand it, to be so good. She turns on her porch light, and here we are, 15, maybe 20 of us, spilling down her steps into the little yard, lifting our faces, lifting our voices—doing silly things, like lifting our key rings to the refrain of “Jingle Bells” and making a perfect, rhythmic jangle.Everybody’s willing to be a kid. Nobody minds the cold tonight. The white faces among us are pinched with pink, the black ones (we are mostly black ones) frost, as though the cold were a white dust on our cheeks.

And down the street we go again, and so we sing for Mrs. Lander and Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Buckman and Mrs. DeWitt.

And though we can be silly, and though this is just an ordinary custom, yet we are no ordinary choir. Many of us sing for the Sounds of Grace, a choir of legitimate repute. And some of us have been blessed by God with voices the angels would weep to own.

Mary, whose heart could ponder so much.

And so it was that on Sunday evening, the 20th of December, 1981, we kept our custom and went out caroling. My daughter Mary was seven years old then. Dee Dee Lawrence, that blinking, innocent child whose beauty was not remarkable until she sang, was eight. Timmy Moore, with his husky and generous tenor voice, was with us, and the Hildreth children. Most of the children’s choir, in fact, had come along. The night was not much different from those that went before – except for this, the when we had finished our round of houses we went to St. Mary’s Hospital to sing for several members who were patients at Christmas time. We divided into three groups. As pastor, I myself led a handful of children to the room of Odessa Williams because her condition was worse than the others.

It was Odessa Williams who made the night different.

The children had never laid eyes on her before. When they crept into the ward and saw her cadaverous body, they were speechless. Scared, I think. Mary’s blue eyes grew very large, and I felt pity for her.

Well, I knew what to expect, but Mary didn’t. I had been visiting the woman for several years now –first in her apartment, where she’d been housebound, then in the nursing home –and I had watched the wasting of Odessa.

Two years ago she had been a strapping tall woman of strong ways, strong opinions, and very strong affections. Fiercely she had loved the church that she couldn’t actually attend. She’d kept abreast of congregational activities by telephone, by a gossip system, bu bulletins and newsletters and friends –and by me. She pumped me for information every time I visited her, striding about her apartment in crushed slippers, waving her old black arms in strong declaration of the things she thought I ought to do and the things I ought not, as pastor, to be doing.

I had learned, for my own protection, to check her mouth as soon as I entered her room. If the woman wore dentures, she was mad: She wanted her words to click with clarity, to snap and hiss with a precision equal to her anger. Mad at me, she needed teeth. But if she smiled a toothless smile on me, then I knew that her language would be soft and I had her approval – that week. She was particularly fierce regarding her children, the choir, the Sounds of Grace, though she had never heard them sing. She loved them. She swelled with a grand, maternal love for them. And if ever I had not, by her estimate, done right by these children, the teeth in the mouth of Odessa Williams were the flashing, clacking weapons of an avenging angel.

The disease that kept her housebound and sent her to the nursing home was cancer.

Cancer, finally, had laid her in the hospital.

And it was cancer that frightened the children when they crept around her bed on Sunday night, coming to sing carols to her. It put the odor of warm rot in the air. It had wasted Odessa to bone.

Mary and Dee Dee and Timmy and the others tried to touch nothing in the little space, not the bed, not the wall behind them. They grew solemn, unable to take their eyes from the form before them. One little lamp shed an orange light on the hollows of Odessa’s face, sunken cheeks and sunken temples and deep, deep eyes. The lids on her eyes were thin as onion skin, half closed; her flesh was dry like parchment; and the body that once was strapping now resembled broomsticks in her bed – skinny arms on a caven stomach, fingers as long as chalk. And who could tell if the woman was breathing?

Mary stood across the bed from me, not looking at me, gazing down at Odessa. Mary’s eyes kept growing larger.

So I whispered to all of them, “Sing.” But they shuffled instead.

“What’s this?” I whispered. “Did you lose your voices? Do you think she won’t like it?”

“We think she won’t hear,” said Mary.

“No, no, sing the same as you always do,” I said. “Sing for Miz Williams.”

Well, and so they did, that wide-eyed ring of children, though it was a pitiful effort at first, “Away in a Manger,” like nursery kids suspicious of their audience. But by the time the cattle were lowing, the children had found comfort in the sound of their voices and began to relax.Moreover, Odessa had opened her eyes, and there was a light in there, and she had begun to pick out their faces, and I saw that Mary was returning Odessa’s look with a fleeting little smile. So then they harked it with herald angels, and they found in their bosoms a first noel that other angels did say, and then a marvelous thing began to happen: Odessa Williams was frowning – frowning and nodding, frowning with her eyes squeezed shut, frowning, you see, with fierce pleasure, as though she were chewing a delicious piece of meat. So then Mary and all the children were grinning, because they knew instinctively what the frown of an old black woman meant.

Odessa did not have her dentures in.

And the marvelous thing that had begun could only grow more marvelous still.

For I whispered, “Dee Dee,” and the innocent child glanced at me, and I said, “Dee Dee, ‘Silent Night.’”

Dear Dee Dee! That girl, as dark as the shadows around her, stroked the very air as though it were a chime of glass. So high she soared on her crystal voice, so long she held the notes, that the rest of the children hummed and harmonized all unconsciously, and they began to sway together. “Round yon virgin, mother and child. . . .”

Odessa’s eyes flew open to see the thing that was happening around her. She looked, then she raised her long, long arms, and there, lying on her back, the old woman began to direct the music. By strong strokes she lifted Dee Dee Lawrence. She pointed the way, and Dee Dee trusted her, so Dee Dee sang a soprano descant higher and braver the she had ever sung before. Impossible! Stroke for stroke with imperious arms, Odessa Williams gathered her children and urged them to fly and sent them on a celestial flight to glory, oh! These were not children anymore. These were the stars. Their voices ascended on fountains of light to become the very hosts of heaven – so high, so bright and holy and high. Jesus, Lord, at thy birth! So beautiful.

And then that woman brought them down again, by meek degrees to the earth again, and to this room and to her bedside. There they stood, perfectly still, smiling in silence and waiting. How could anyone move immediately after such a wonder?

Nor did Odessa disappoint them. For then she began, in a low and smoky voice, to preach.

“Oh, children – you my choir,” Odessa whispered. “Oh, choir – you my children for sure. An’ listen me,” she whispered intently. She caught them one by one on the barb of her eye. “Ain’ no one stand in front of you for goodness, no! You the bes’, babies. You the absolute best.”

The children gazed at her, and the children believed her completely: They were the best. And my Mary, too, believed what she was hearing, heart and soul.

“Listen me,” Odessa said. “When you sing, wherever you go to sing, look down to the front row of the people who come to hear you sing. There’s alluz an empty seat there. See it?” The children nodded. They saw it. “Know what that empty space is?” The children shook their heads. “It’s me,” she said, and they nodded. “It’s me,” she whispered in the deep orange light. “Cause I alluz been with you, children. An’ whenever you sing, I’m goin’ to be with you still. An’ you know how I can say such a mackulous thing?” They waited to know. She lowered her voice, and she told them. “Why, ‘cause we in Jesus,” she whispered the mystery. “Babies, babies, we be in the hand of Jesus, old ones, young ones, and us and you together. Jesus, He hold us in His hand, and ain’ no one goin’ to snatch us out. Jesus, He don’ never let one of us go. Never. Not ever.”

So spoke Odessa, and the children fell silent. So said the woman with such conviction and such fierce love that the children rolled tears from their open eyes, and they were not ashamed. They reached over and patted the bones of her body beneath the blankets.

Mary’s eyes, too, were glistening. The woman had won my daughter. In that incandescent moment, Mary had come to love Odessa Williams. She slipped a soft hand toward the bed and touched the tips of Odessa’s fingers, and she smiled and cried at once. For this is the power of a wise love wisely expressed: to transfigure a heart, suddenly, forever.

But these are good, contemplative tears. They are not like the tears my Mary cried on Christmas Eve.

Continued in Part 2.

A Christmas Miracle

Reposted, for the new folks that visit here:

Herewith, the first true story I promised you. This one is short enough for its own single post. It was originally published in Moody (the seminary, not the condition) Magazine in December 1988. In re-reading it, I am struck by the level of medical care in 1947. Still, like even our most modern care, it is a byway on the way to a destination that is ultimately out of our control. I hope you enjoy it:
A Christmas Miracle – by Dr. Joseph A. MacDougall as told to Douglas How

Finally, one day that December, I had to tell her. Medically, we were beaten. The decision lay with God. She took it quietly, lying there, wasting away, only 23 and the mother of a year-old child. Eleanor Munro (her name has been disguised) was a devout, courageous woman. She had red hair and had probably been rather pretty, but it was hard to tell anymore, she was so near to death from tuberculosis. She knew it now, she accepted it, and she asked for just one thing. “If I’m still alive on Christmas Eve,” she said slowly, “I would like your promise that I can go home for Christmas.”

It disturbed me. I knew she shouldn’t go. The lower lobe of her right lung had a growing tubercular cavity in it an inch in diameter. She had what the doctors call open TB and could spread the germs by coughing.

But I made the promise. Frankly, I did so because I was sure she’d be dead before Christmas. In the circumstances, it seemed little enough to do. And if I hadn’t made it, I wouldn’t be telling this story.

Eleanor’s husband had the disease when he returned from overseas service in World War II. Before it was detected and checked, they married. She caught the disease and had little immunity against it. It came on so fast and lodged in such a difficult place, it confounded every doctor who tried to help her.

To have a tubercular cavity in the lower lobe is rare. When they took her to the provincial sanatorium in Kentville, it became obvious that the main problem was how to get at it.

If it had been in the upper lobe, they could have performed an operation called a thoracoplasty, which involves taking out some of the upper ribs to collapse the lobe, and put that area of the lung at rest.

Unfortunately, this operation couldn’t be used for the lower lobe. It would have meant removing some of the lower ribs, which her body needed for support. And in any case, it probably would not collapse the cavity.

With thoracopasty ruled out, they tried a process called artificial pneumothorax, which uses needles to pump in air to force the collapse of the lung through pressure. Although the doctors made several attempts, this process didn’t work because previous bouts of pleurisy had stuck the lung to the chest wall and the air couldn’t circulate.

Finally they considered a rare surgical procedure called a pneumonectomy–taking out the entire lung–but they rejected it because she was too sick to withstand surgery and steadily getting worse.

Their alternatives exhausted, they reluctantly listed her as a hopeless case and sent her back to her home hospital in Antigonish.

I was 31, and I hadn’t been there very long. At St. Martha’s Hospital I provided an anesthesia service and looked after a small TB annex, a place for about 40 patients, most of them with little or no hope of cure.

That’s how Eleanor Munro came to be my patient in 1947.

She had weighed 125 pounds. She was down to 87 the first time I saw her. Her fever was high, fluctuating between 101 and 103 degrees. She was, and looked, very toxic.

But she could still smile, I’ll always remember. If you did her the slightest kindness, she’d smile.

Maybe that encouraged me. I don’t know. But I did know that I had to try to help her.

I first called a top expert in Montreal on the use of a new drug called streptomycin. he told me the drug wasn’t available. When I described the case, he said he would advise against its use anyway.

I then phoned a doctor in New York who was experimenting with a procedure called pneumopertoneum.

It consists of injecting needles into the peritoneal cavity to force in air and push the diaphragm up against the lung. If we could get pressure against that lower lobe, we could hope to force the TB cavity shut.

If we could do that, nature would have a chance to close and heal the cavity by letting the sides grow together.

At the hospital, we considered the risks and decided we had to face them. We operated to pump air into Eleanor’s peritoneal cavity.

It nearly killed her. It was obvious that the amount of air she could tolerate could in no way help. Every doctor in the room agreed we shouldn’t try a second time. We were licked.

I told her that medical science had gone as far as it could go. As I explained why in detail, she listened with a quiet dignity and an amazing resignation. I told her that her Creator now had the final verdict. It might not be what either of us wanted, but it would be the best for her under the circumstances.

She nodded and then exacted from me that promise.

Amazingly, she was still alive on Christmas Eve, though just barely. But she held me to my promise, and with renewed doubts, I kept it. I told her not to hold her child and to wear a surgical mask if she was talking to anyone but her husband. His own case had given him immunity.

She promised, and off she went by ambulance, wearing that smile I can’t forget.

She came back to St. Martha’s late on Christmas Day and she kept ebbing.

No one could have watched her struggle without being deeply moved. Every day her conditin grew just a bit worse, yet every day she clung to life.

Toward the end of February, she was down to 80 pounds; she couldn’t eat–and new complications set in. She became nauseated and began to vomit even without food in her stomach.

I was stumped. I called in a senior medical consultant, and when he examined her, he was stumped, too. But with a grin, almost jokingly, he asked me if I thought she could be pregnant.

The suggestion seemed utterly ridiculous. Everything I knew about medicine added up to one conclusion: She was so ill, so weak, she couldn’t possibly have conceived. Her body just wasn’t up to it.

Nevertheless, I did take a pregnancy test. To my astonishment, it was positive. On the very outer frontier of life itself, she now bore a second life within her. It was as close to the impossible as you’re ever likely to get, but it was true.

When I told her, she smiled and faintly blushed.

Legally and medically, we could have taken that child through abortion because it imperiled a life that was already in jeopardy. At that time, TB was the number one medical reason for doing so.

But we didn’t do it. The patient and her husband were against it. We doctors at St. Martha’s were against it, not only on religious grounds, but because we were certain the operation would kill her. Besides, she was so far gone that we were sure her body would reject the child anyway.

So we fed her intravenously and watched her fight to sustain two lives in a body in which only some remarkable strength of character or divine intervention had allowed to sustain even one.

The struggle went on for weeks, and never once did we alter our conviction that she was dying. But she simply refused to die. And she kept her child.

And then an incredible thing began to happen. By late March, 1948, I was confounded to find her temperature beginning to go down. For the first time, we noted some improvement in her condition. She began to eat and to gain weight.

A chest X-ray showed that the growth of the TB cavity had stopped. Soon after, another X-ray showed that her diaphragm was pushing up against the lower lobe of her diseased lung to make room for the child she bore.

Nature was doing what we’d failed to do with pneumoperitoneum–it was pressing the sides of that deadly hole together. The child was saving the mother!

The child did save her. By the time it was born, a normal healthy baby, the TB cavity was closed.

The mother was markedly better, so much better that we let her go home for good within a few months. her smile had never been brighter.

I still remember with delight the Christmas cards she sent me for years. They were just ordinary cards, with the usual printed greetings. But to me, they were like monuments to a miracle of Christmas.

****

Update: The doctor’s own daughter left a comment below. Please take a moment to read it.

Better Than She Has To Be

But then, she is as good as her own personal standard, not mine. And Rachel Elizabeth is someone to celebrate:

How unabashedly good she is, from her soul up. She shines like a smiling Venus in the darkest skies of Internet cynicism and discontent.

“I’m just a service worker doing my job.”

I predict great happiness for her, no matter what her circumstances.

Freedom Is A Default Setting From The Manufacturer.

Minding what's important.


This fleeting moment of pure freedom is brought to you by the many men and women of the United States military who have spent the strength of their youth, the blood of their inheritance, and the heart of their honor in defense of an Idea.

It’s not always all about crusaderism and “making the world a better place.” Sometimes, we need to see what we were created for; and if not for the occasional moment to contemplate pure joy, then what’s a Heaven for? Little glimpses of Heaven, of peace and holy silence– the supreme idea of just existing without someone else’s permission to do so– is a power that used to be reserved for kings. Our American Idea was that it should be available to anyone who valued it enough to go after it. If that’s not an Idea born right out of God’s Heaven, then I don’t know what else it could be.

Thank you, deeply and humbly, to all who fought and died to bring Heaven’s own Idea to earth: peace, dignity, freedom. For all.

The Manger Is Empty – Part 3 of 3

The Manger Is Empty – Part 3 of 3 by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Part 1
Part 2

We have several customs–in church and in my family–on Christmas Eve. As to the church, we celebrate the evening always with a children’s pageant of the birth of Jesus. There never was the pageant in which my children didn’t participate. As for my family, we always open our Christmas presents after the pageant, when the glow is still upon us, when Thanne and I can watch the children and enjoy their joy. Nothing id dearer to me than the purity f their gladness then, the undiscordant music of their laughter then.

And nothing could grieve me more than that one of my children should be sad and lose the blessings of these customs.

Therefore, I worried terribly for Mary all Thursday through. As it happened, she was to be the Mary of the pageant, the Virgin, the mother of the infant Jesus. At 3 in the afternoon I left church and went home to talk with her.

I found her alone in her bedroom, lying on the bed and gazing out the window, her chin on her wrists. snow clouds caused a darkness within, but shed left the lights off where she was.

I stood beside the bed and touched her. The pragmatic pastor was concerned whether this child could accomplish so public a role in so private a mood.

The father simply wished he knew what his daughter was thinking.,

“Mary,” I said, “do you want us to get another Mary?”

She kept watching the snow come down. Slowly she shook her head. “No,” she said. “I’m Mary.”

I didn’t think she’d understood me–and if she didn’t, my question must have sounded monstrous to her ears. “For the pageant, I mean,” I said, “tonight.”

But she repeated without the slightest variation, “I’m Mary.”

Mary, Mary, so much Mary–but I wish you weren’t sad. I wish I had a word for you. Forgive me. It isn’t a kind world after all.

“You are Mary,” I said. “I’ll be with you tonight. It’ll be all right.”

We drove to church. The snow lay a loose inch on the ground. it swirled in snow-devils at the backs of the cars ahead of us. It held the gray light of the city near the earth, though this was now the night, and heaven was oblique in darkness. Surely, the snow covered Odessa’s grave as well, a silent, seamless sheet.

These, I suppose, were Mary’s thoughts, that the snow was cold on a new-dug grave. But Mary’s thoughts confused with mine.

The rooms of the church were filled with light and noise, transfigured utterly from the low, funereal whispers of the morning. Black folk laughed. Parents stood in knots of conversation. Children darted, making ready for their glad performance, each in a different stage of dress, some in blue jeans, some in the robes of the shepherds two millennia and 20 lands away. Children were breathless and punchy. But Mary and I moved like spirits through this company, unnoticed and unnoticing. I was filled with her sorrow, while she seemed simply empty.

In time the wildness subsided. The actors huddled in their proper places. I sat with the congregation, two-thirds back on the right-hand side. The lights in the sanctuary dimmed to darkness. The chancel glowed a yellow illumination. The pageant began, and soon my daughter stood with pinched lips, central to it all.

“My soul,” said Mary, both Marys before a little Elizabeth–but she spoke so softly that few could hear, and my own soul suffered for her–“My soul,” she murmured, “magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

And so: The child was surviving. But she was not rejoicing.

Some angels came and giggled and sang and left.

A decree went out.

Another song was sung.

And then three figures moved into the floodlit chancel: Joseph and Mary, and one other child, a sort of innkeeper-stage-manager who carried the manger, a wooden trough filled with straw and a floppy doll in diapers.

The pageant proceeded, but I lost the greater part of it in watching my daughter.

For Mary stuck out her bottom lip and began to frown on the manger in front of her–to frown fiercely, not at all like the devout and beaming parent she was supposed to portray. At the manger she was staring, which stood precisely where Odessa’s casket had sat that morning. She frowned so hard, blacking her eyes in such deep shadow, that I thought she would break into tears again, and my mind raced over things to do when she couldn’t control herself any longer.

But Mary did not cry.

Instead, while shepherds watched over their flocks by night, my Mary played a part that no one had written into the script. Slowly she slipped her hand into the manger and touched the doll in diapers. She lifted its arm on the tip of her pointed finger, then let it drop.
What are you thinking, Mary?

All at once, as though she’d made a sudden decision, she yanked the doll out by its toes, and stood up, and clumped down the chancel steps, the doll like a dishrag at her side. People made mild, maternal sounds in their throats. The rhythm of a certain angel faltered. Mary, where are you going? What are you doing? I folded my hands at my chin and yearned to hold her, hide her, protect her from anything, from folly and from sorrow. But she carried the doll to the darkened sacristy on the right and disappeared through its door. Mary? Mary?

In a moment the child emerged carrying nothing at all. Briskly she returned to the manger, up three steps as light as air, and down she knelt, and she gazed upon the empty straw with her palms together like the first Mary after all, full of adoration. And her face– Mary, my Mary, your face was radiant then! O Mary, how I love you!

Not suddenly, but with a rumpling, stumbling charge, there was in the chancel a multitude of the proudest heavenly host, praising God and shouting, “Glory to God in the highest!” but Mary knelt unmoved among them, and her seven-year face was smiling, and there was the flash of tears upon her cheeks, but they were not unhappy, and the manger, open, empty, seemed the receiver of them.

“Silent night, holy night. . .” All of the children were singing. “All is calm, all is bright. . . ” The deeper truck-rumble of older voices joined them. “Round yon virgin mother and child. . . ” The whole congregation was singing. Candlelight was passing hand to hand. A living glow spread everywhere throughout the church. And then the shock of recognition, and the soft flight followed: Dee Dee Lawrence allowed her descant voice its high, celestial freedom, and she flew. “Holy infant, so tender and mild. . .” Mary, what do you see? What do you know that your father could not tell you? Mary, mother of the infant Jesus, teach me, too.

“Sleep in heavenly peace. . . ” Having touched the crystal heaven, Dee Dee descended. The congregation sighed. Everybody sang: “Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Mary sat immediately beside me in the car as we drove home. A sifting snow made cones below the streetlights. It blew lightly across the windshield and closed us in a cotton privacy. I had been driving in silence.

Mary said, “Dad?”

I said, “What?”

She said, “Dad, Jesus wasn’t in the manger. That wasn’t Jesus. That was a doll.” Ah, Mary, so you have the eyes of a realist now? and there is no pretending anymore? It was a doll indeed, So death reveals realities. . .

“Dad?”

“What?”

She said, “Jesus, He doesn’t have to be in the manger, does He? He goes back and forth, doesn’t He? I mean, He came from heaven, and He was borned right here, but then He went back to heaven again, and because He came and went He’s coming and going all the time–right?”

“Right,” I whispered. Teach me, child. It is so good to hear you talk again.

“The manger is empty,” Mary said. And then she said more gravely, “Dad, Miz Williams’ box is empty, too. I figured it out. We don’t have to worry about the snow.” She stared out the windshield a moment, then whispered the next thing as softly as if she were peeping at presents: “It’s only a doll in her box. It’s like a big doll, Dad, and we put it away today. I figured it out. If Jesus can cross, if Jesus can go across, then Miz Williams, she crossed the same way, too, with Jesus. . .”

Jesus, He don’ never let one of us go. Never.

“Dad?” said Mary, who could ponder so much in her heart. “Why are you crying?”

Babies, babies, we be in the hand of Jesus, old ones, young ones, and us and you together. Jesus, he hold us in His hand, and ain’ no one goin’ to snatch us out. Jesus, he don’ never let one of us go. never. Not ever.

“Because I have nothing else to say,” I said to her. “I haven’t had the words for some time now.”

“Dad?”

“What?”

“Don’t cry. I can talk for both of us.”

It always was; it always will be; it was in the fullness of time when the Christ child first was born; it was in 1981 when my daughter taught me the times and the crossing of times on Christmas Eve; it is in every celebration of Christ’s own crossing; and it shall be forever–that this is the power of a wise love wisely expressed: to transfigure the heart, suddenly, forever.


-Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Up The Lazy River

And safely at port. Beautiful day; fair winds and following tides pushed us quickly up the river to our new berth. The J.R. was a great engineer and we both took turns at the helm as we wended our way through the best sailing experience in the S.S.P.S. yet.

Medals were awarded to the crew and grog was provided for all. Here’s some pics from today, since Og asked:

Regarding the unthinking membership of death cults.

In response to this post, a commenter had this to say: the fact that some of us support pro-choice legislation does not preclude [sic] that we are members of a death cult.

Many “good” people share the characteristics of a religious morality and indeed benefit from being surrounded by a Christo-Judeo ethic as opposed to say, an Islamic ethic. It doesn’t make them religious, but one can note the influence of the ethic in several societies. It is truly ingrained. The people with stones in that video would be astounded at my rhetoric and amazed that I cannot see what they see before them.

To note that the pro-abortion “religion” (if you will suffer the phrase for a moment) has in its root an ethic of the ancient and undying death-cults of the world does not make every person who unthinkingly embraces certain tenets of the cult (infanticide) a de facto member of it. For instance, many people do not want to believe that Islam is a death cult, preferring to toe the line of “religion of peace.” This they will stubbornly defend in light of contrary fact and practice, even though they themselves are not members of it. To point out that it is a death-cult is not hyperbole or misdirection. Indeed, it is a clarion that cuts through the swirling fog of an expedient narrative. Because we can feel the threat of the scimitar against our very lives, we are motivated to some rather heightened communication about Islam’s intentions.

The bothersome thing about abortion is that the child has no voice about the threat against its existence. So it’s easy to imagine that abortion is a religion of peace if you’re removed to a sufficient distance from the scissors.

Besides, many unthinking people subscribe to all sorts of outward braces without considering the weak foundations that require them. They may paint “religion” as a crutch for the weak and never once suspect their own peculiar underpinnings and external prosthetics.

Now, perhaps you would like to imagine a society without the underpinning respect for life– whence ever it came– and live there. You may gain a certain respect for the “hyperbole” which so offends. I’d rather offend with hyperbole than extend with blinders.

The damning edge of the pro-choice sensibility is that to have any sort of restraint is to enter a fog of meaning that would undertake to define invisible, fantastical and unprovable boundaries of life that would be the envy of every holy text imaginable.  Yet, to remove all restraint is to have many more Dr. Gosnells in our society, which no doubt we already do.

Moreover, the “sane” pro-choicers have but one, and only one, response to any “insane” pro-lifers’ call for even a scintilla of reasonable restraint: extenuating circumstances.

My response is to be amazed at the sheer instability, penury and backwardness of a society that has so failed its populace it has resulted in 50 million “extenuating circumstances.” However, if that observation is not true, how do you square your morality with such widespread and casual disregard for human life? If we were talking in religious terms, I would have to call you a hypocrite, for you denounce the source of your tenets, and embrace that which you do not understand.

Lastly, for the lowly flower-mongers amongst my remaining handful of readers, I send you to this link, which for most of the lovely article there will seem entirely unrelated, but it is a beautiful paean to a respect for life.